Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New TSA Procedures

Much has been said about the new TSA procedures of body scans and hands-on searches being an invasion of privacy and a violation of the right to protection from unlawful searches. I have a different point of view. Disclosure: I have been working in the Pentagon for most of the last 10 years (do the math), except for excursions to some of the world's finest resorts and garden spots. I didn't get out of bed this morning to talk about airport security, but I feel that I have something worthwhile to add to this conversation—mostly because my perspective is so different from most others.

Anyone who thinks that we are not already using behavioral profiling is simply not aware of reality. There are some people who are being watched very closely because of their behavior (not race, age, or religion) and these people will never come close to an airport. Meanwhile, there are probably others whose behavior has escaped attention. What about them? I would support making public the fact that we are giving additional behavioral profiling training to TSA agents. Still, behavioral profiling is only a deterrent. It can be defeated by clever and determined terrorists.  

Anyone who thinks racial, age, or religious profiling is the answer has probably not thought the issue though very carefully. Terrorists who see that we never check old ladies, ever, will simply exploit that weakness. We are talking about people who put IEDs in dog carcasses because they new American soldiers or Marines would stop to move a dead dog off the road.

Any citizen who submits to mistreatment by the government is asking to be exploited. We need to keep our eyes open and our brains engaged to understand what is going on, and why. We need to hold our elected representatives accountable. That said, whether one thinks he’s being mistreated is a function of his understanding of the situation and the options available. We may hate the new TSA procedures, but let us hate more the circumstances that make them necessary. Are they, in fact, necessary? What would be the public reaction to a second underwear bomber? I believe people would be furious that we had not found a way to screen for and prevent this type of attack. Granted, terrorists will simply look for another weakness, and we will react. Again, what are the real options? Do nothing? Out-spending the enemy is what won us the Cold War.

The relevant poll question is not whether one feels safer now compared to 10 years ago, before 9/11. How could anyone know? How could one measure the level of safety and security one feels (or inversely, the level of threat and fear) consistently over time? How could anyone measure—right now—the safety they felt back then, given all that has happened since? The world is changing. Our frame of reference is changing. As it is unanswerable, this question is moot.

No, the relevant poll question is: Has a terrorist ever tried to kill you, personally? A person’s judgment about new TSA procedures is a function of how they perceive the terrorist threat.

The second most important question is, what would you have our government do about terrorists who want to kill us?  If the answer to the first question is "No," then you are likely to think the government is, and since 9/11 has been, over-reacting.

Here's the typical logic: Death on a plane = Death on a plane, i.e., the cause (mid-air collision, lack of maintenance, shoe-bomber) is irrelevant. Since the incidence of any Death on a plane is low, then Death on a plane is not an important problem compared to the economy or health care. Therefore, any attempt to reduce the incidence of Death on a plane should be treated proportionally to all other problems. Out of each dollar, maybe we spend 40 cents each on the economy and health care, 10 cents on the debt, 7 cents on other services, and a penny each on air traffic control, better maintenance, and counter-terrorism. Anything more than a penny on counter-terrorism is going to seem disproportionate to most people.

My point: "most people," thanks to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, still have not been personally attacked by a terrorist.

If "most people" want to complain about heavy-handed, over-reacting, freedom-stomping government, that's fine. In fact, that’s a good thing, since it shows that “most people” have never been on the same plane with the shoe bomber, or walked past an SUV-bomb parked on Times Square, or attended a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, next to a would-be van-bomb.

Meanwhile, having a security conversation with people who have never been bracketed by mortars is likely to be an exercise in frustration for those on both sides.

Getting frustrated with people who don’t get it--that’s not why I got out of bed today.

I have had more than a few near death experiences. There are many ways to die, and they are not all the same! 

Seven Beers for Seven Books

Brewer Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head published an interesting beers-and-books pairing on the Huffington Post. sam-calagione/beers-and-books

1. 'Moby Dick' by Herman Melville with a Leviathan Series Baltic Porter from Harpoon Brewery

2. 'The Encyclopedia of Herbs' by Thomas DeBaggio with Saison du Buff

3. 'The Book of Genesis' as Illustrated by R. Crumb with Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley

4. 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov with a Belgian White Beer or German Hefe

5. 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley with Samuel Adams Utopias

6. 'The Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad with Heart of Darkness Stout from Murray's Brewery

7. 'The Call of the Wild' by Jack London with Cantillon Kriek

Can you think of any other natural beer and book pairings? This is going to be a lot of fun!

Here is a sampling of what my creative and literate BeerPals come up with on this topic! 

1. Magic Hat Wacko - Alice in Wonderland (farginbastige6)

2. Two Brothers Cane and Ebel with East of Eden (Cottrell)

3. Cantillon Vigneronne with Grapes of Wrath (Cottrell)

4. East End Kvass with The Idiot, The Brothers Karamov, or Anna Karenina (Cottrell)

5. Flying Monkey Amber Ale - The Wizard of Oz (bluesandbarbq)

6. Laughing Dog Huckleberry Cream Ale - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (bluesandbarbq)

7. Fantome Strange Ghost – Hamlet (bluesandbarbq)

8. Lonerider Peacemaker Pale Ale - Lonesome Dove (bluesandbarbq)

9. Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred & Kens Lager - The Three Musketeers (bluesandbarbq)

10. Bonfire Burning Brand Bitter - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (farginbastige6)

11. John Harvards Steamin Demon and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (FoamDome)

12. AleSmith Speedway Stout and Yesteryear at the Uniontown Speedway by Marci Lynn McGuinness (FoamDome)

13. Ceredigion Barcud Coch (Red Kite) and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (FoamDome)

14. Achilles Serafijn Christmas Angel and The Christmas Angel by Thomas Kinkaide (gag!) (FoamDome)

15. Milwaukee’s Best and The Shadow God, by Aaron Rayburn, voted The Worst Book Ever Written (FoamDome)

Join BeerPal (it’s free): http://www.beerpal.com?friend=1787

The Measure of America

I want to highlight another fascinating website dealing with measurement science. This one is called The American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council.

I would like to draw your attention to the interactive map on the website. The link to the map is found in the lower left corner of the home page. By clicking the icon, you will find yourself transported to an interactive  map built on the data from the Measure of America project. The teaser describes what is in store for you there: 

Ever wondered how your state or congressional district stacks up compared with your neighbors on life expectancy, preschool enrollment, earnings or dozens of other indicators? Create customized maps by state and congressional district and by county for Louisiana and Mississippi. Build and sort data charts for over 100 indicators.

Data-driven decision making requires data, obviously, but data alone are insufficient. Equally important is a way of visualizing the data so that sense can be made of it. 

With a tip o' the hat to Angelo D.

Fundraiser for Fisher House Raises $1800!

We just learned from  El Trauco, President, Desert Knights of America MC, that $1800 was raised for Fisher House at the recent Veteran's Day Poker Run sponsored by the Desert Knights of America Motorcycle Club.

Saturday Nov 13th, Jeff (Martian) and I (Foam), representing Chapter 20 of the  Green Knights Motorcycle Club, participated with roughly 70 motorcyclists in the annual charity fundraiser.

Poker Runs are a great way to enjoy Virginia's beautiful byways. If you are not familiar with Poker Runs, here's the skinny: five stops, usually at bike shops or restaurants (bar and grill variety). At each stop, you collect a playing card--one for each hand that you are playing. The more hands you play, the better your odds of winning. At the end, there are prizes for the best and worst 5-card stud hands.

And if you are not familiar with Fisher House, they are a very worthy charity for Veteran's Day and every day. Fisher House provides housing for families that are caring for a wounded warrior during periods of recovery and physical therapy in places like Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. 

Thanks to the Desert Knights for organizing a fun day and a successful fundraiser for a great cause.

Thanksgiving in New York City

River to river, with a harbor in-between
Out of the past and into the future
Sunrise to sunset, every day and any day
There's no end to downtown New York

My continuing love affair with New York City just gets better and better. And I am so happy to be sharing the passion now with my youngest daughter. We arrived last Wednesday night, just in time to watch the inflating of the balloons that would be featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday morning. Long lines, barricades, glimpses of the balloons, and a vague sense of what was going to be unveiled during the actual parade.

The inflating of the balloons was a good time, and I recommend it. But from there, things got even better. We moved on to Times Square. I wish I had words to describe the way my daughter's whole face lit up when we walked out of the subway and into that amazing space. She was enthralled. (And so was I!)

Bright lights, big city.

Thursday, after the parade (which I have described in a previous posting), we sailed aboard the ferry to Staten Island, passing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, to share a meal with the family of a friend of mine, a Navy Corpsman who joined the military as a path to citizenship.

Our host family was very gracious, feeding 16 people around their table. We were a diverse group: they are immigrant Italians; other guests includes people from Jamaica, Trinidad, Mexico, and sort of Welsh-Scottish-English-German hybrids. It was warm and wonderful. The Island of Tears and the Land of Opportunity. What a memory.

Friday, er, Black Friday, was filled with more fun in the shops and stores on Times Square.

We even got to meet and jam with Floyd Lee, 80 year old blues man, subject of the upcoming documentary called Full Moon Lightning. The Floyd Lee band was playing in the subway near Grand Central Station. Imagine hearing Mr Lee howling over his electric guitar and the amped waling of his outstanding harmonica man, "Bright lights, big city!"

In a very short 48-hour period, we had just enough time to see Central Park once by night and once by day, Times Square night and day, Staten Island by ferry, and Brooklyn by bridge. We can hardly wait to go back!

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Ever heard of the movie, The Bucket List? When I was young I made a list that I called 100 Things to Do Before I Die. I have since put the list on a spreadsheet and I still maintain it. That's my version of a Bucket List. And watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was the fulfillment of one of my Bucket List items!

Madeline and I got up early and staked out our claim at 71st and Central Park West. Hot Chocolate, cameras, and cell phones in hand, we waited for the parade to start at 9 am. What a thrill when the first balloon came into view.

The whole morning was like a dream come true--from Snoopy to Santa! Between those traditional first and last balloons, we saw others including Sponge Bob, Kermit, Spiderman, and Kung Fu Panda as well as celebrities Kanye West, Joan Rivers, Jessica Simpson, and Miranda Cosgrove.

Santa was the real headliner, and he was clearly having a ball, rockin' the sleigh!

After Santa passed by, we walked around the corner to a tiny little bar called Saint Honore's Cafe and had a slice of Margarita and a warm beverage in the mezzanine. The TV was on over the bar, and we enjoyed listening to Matt, Meredith, and Al describe the 15 giant character balloons, 27 floats, 1600 cheerleaders, 800 clowns and a dozen marching bands we had just seen, live.


Small Steps Toward a Much Better World

Today I am highlighting a blog recently added to my blog roll: Marginal Revolution. Economists and authors (econo-web-loggers?) Tyler Cowan and Alex Tabarrok write mainly about how insights gained from economic data may be used to nudge the world toward a dramatically better state. Note the emphasis on achieving dramatic (revolutionary) outcomes from seemingly small, carefully selected actions taken in the margin.

According to game theory, there are two common strategies that people employ in their approach to competitive situations. One is summarized by the slogan, "Play to win." This strategy is aggressive, offensive, oriented on running up the score. The other could be described as "Play not to lose." This strategy is defensive, with the goal being to create and sustain a solid base and, rather than rushing to the finish line, merely stay one step ahead of the competition. We're talking about greed and fear.

I really like the blog because the two authors cover a very wide range of interesting issues. They occasionally highlight one or both of the two perspectives I described above: that is, to maximize the best possible outcome, or to minimize the worst possible outcome. Whether a person is fearful or greedy depends on many different factors. Two different people might take very different strategies in the exact same circumstances, so personality (risk-seeking, risk-averse) is one factor. Others might include time horizon, margin of safety, etc.

For example, you may want to maximize the return on your investment portfolio. To accomplish your objective of higher returns, you might take on higher risks, including options strategies and real estate investment trusts and commodities trading. After losing big in the housing collapse, you might switch to a risk-averse strategy of defensive investments that are unlikely to lose value. Of course, they also have very limited upside potential. Over time, and with experience, you might adopt a portfolio of investments that allows you reach your return objective without excessive risk. The curve that represents the balance between risk and return in a maximization function is called the "efficient frontier." Cowan and Tabarrok speak to sliding along the efficient frontier to get the maximum return without excessive investment.

Minimization functions are a little different, in that there is more emphasis on avoiding pain. The key question is how best to delay the worst possible outcome, be that on a global, national, regional, local, or even personal level. As a father, I consider it part of my job to push Armageddon to the right just long enough to ensure that my children get a shot at a good life.

Cowan and Tabarrok are fairly neutral in their outlook. I identify with their "play to win" philosophy when they are writing about optimization problems. They keep fear and greed in balance, sliding along the efficient frontier in what strikes me as a consistently reasonable manner. They also write very plainly about some of the more stark and dismal aspects of modern life. The problem of overcrowding in Chinese cemeteries caught my eye as one example. When it comes to major cultural impacts of small changes to death rituals, a "play not to lose" strategy is needed.

Check it here: Marginal Revolution

Tip o' the hat to Angelo for bringing this blog to my attention.

The Misery Index

What is happiness? There may be many definitions of happiness, making it hard to measure. Taking the glass half empty approach, some economists define happiness as the absence of misery. The so-called Misery Index is a new counterpoint to the Happiness Index I blogged about back in August, in relation to the Global Peace Index.

David Brancaccio, a blogger in economics and the host of public radio's Marketplace, has described an interesting alternative indicator called the misery index. Moody’s economist Pierre Cailleteau devised a formula to calculate a new version of the Misery Index wherein he added the unemployment rate to a country’s deficit as a percentage of its GDP.

More information is here: The Misery Index

As of August 2010, the U.S. Misery Index was at 10.75. It reached its highest level in June 1980, when it was at 21.98, and its lowest was way back in July 1953 when it reached 2.97. Visit the Misery Index website for lots of data on the MI for different countries over time.

The US Misery Index

Misery Index (10.77) = Unemployment rate (9.6) + Inflation rate (1.17)

The misery index was initiated by economist Arthur Okun, an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960's. It is simply the unemployment rate added to the inflation rate. It is assumed that both a higher rate of unemployment and a worsening of inflation both create economic and social costs for a country. A combination of rising inflation and more people out of work implies a deterioration in economic performance and a rise in the misery index.

The Current Misery Index is
High: 21.98 June 1980
10.77 October 2010
Low: 2.97 July 1953

Tip o' the hat to Angelo for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Can a Universe Create Itself Out of Nothing?

In his most recent book, The Grand Design, famous British Physicist Stephen Hawking asserts that a universe can and will create itself out of nothing. His conclusion, which seems to counter some of his earlier thoughts on the subject, is that God is not necessary for creation.

Enter Dr Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at C.U.N.Y. and a popular radio host and television personality. Dr Kaku explains that the universe is really a multiverse--several universes sharing the cosmos. These universes are like soap bubbles in a cosmic bathtub: bubbles have a fixed amount of matter even when they are expanding; the forces of acceleration and gravity are working to control the shape of the bubbles; the bubbles can inflate slowly or rapidly, attach to other bubbles and deform, deflate and collapse, or burst, returning their matter to the bathtub.

In this model, one can imagine universes forming and moving through a life-cycle pretty much on their own in a manner consistent with string theory. Matter is conserved and forces are balanced. It's really quite elegant. As for the source of the soap, or the water, or the tub, or the energy that put the whole thing into motion, well, Dr Kaku leaves that question up to our imaginations.

More is available here: Dr Kaku's Universe

With a tip o' the hat to Renee T.

Note that I added "Big Think," the host site for Dr Kaku's blog, to my Link List. Check it out and enjoy.

My Best Face

All for science!

I participated in an OK Cupid experiment called My Best Face. The objective is to see which of two photos of me people would choose, and to gain some insight into the types of people who did the choosing. Voters who described themselves as free-spirits, extroverts, and girls 31 and over seemed to like both photos. One photo barely edged out the other in the competition (56 to 55). The winner attracted more artists, divas, dorks, and vegetarians. Hmmm.

Christopher Coyne of OK Cupid described the experiment this way: "How did it work? A group of real humans compared your photos with others', and each time your photo was selected - or not - the information we gleaned was a complex function of how well the opposing photo did in its own report. In other words, we weren't simply counting votes. We considered all the other votes, too, and converged rapidly on your best face."

Here are the results: My Best Face

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Race v Ethnicity

My interest in genealogy and recent DNA testing lead me to an interesting question: what is the difference between race and ethnicity? I have come to think of myself as of the Caucasian race and most likely Welsh / English / German in ethnicity--although, as an 11th generation American, some of the European connections are stretched.

At some point, ethnicity--and even race--will be a matter of personal preference instead of appearance. And then at some later point, these distinctions will not matter much at all.

Here is a good Race v Ethnicity Comparison Chart. Do you see anything missing?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Greetings from Mid-Town Manhattan where I am currently resting in post-feast bliss. Today was a day I will certainly treasure forever. As I am posting via Droid I will keep my comments uncharacteristically brief. Watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade with Madeline, then took the ferry to the Staten Island home of our gracious host family, the Peritos. There we were treated with a wonderful home-cooked meal. There were 16 people around the table! After lots of laughter, fun, and karaoke, we finally bid farwell and returned to our hotel to reflect on the day and prepare for tomorrow's shopping spree and then our bus to DC.

So much to be grateful for today! Though we are far from home, we think of those deployed even further from loved ones such as those in harm's way and are grateful for their sacrifice. I am grateful for the good health and mobility that enabled me to share this spectacular day with my daughter. And grateful indeed for people like the Perito family who took us in, and made us feel at home. Life = Good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Annotated Set List for Ian Anderson Concert at Birchmere

Ed and I sat right next to the drummer on the edge of stage left. After the show, I urged Ed to swipe the drummer’s copy of the set list, which was sitting an arm’s length away, under the drummer’s seat. Instead he asked the stage manager if it was alright to take it. “No, we reuse those,” came the reply. Really? As we walked toward the exit, I saw the stage manager hand the setlist to an attractive brunette who had been sitting front and center. Life….
  1. Life's a Long Song This was an upbeat way to start the show. Ian sells a t-shirt with a rather bleak sounding message, “Too old to rock and roll and too young to die.” The image is the cover of his 1976 album of the same name. Well, he’s still rocking. And this song’s message is quite different: life is a long song which ends all too soon.
  2. Up To Me. Bit of a youthful independent streak.
  3. Nursie. A “mercifully short” tune bout the cute Nurse that moved in to take care of his Dad in his last days.
  4. In the Grip of Stronger Stuff Instrumental inspired by former Tull guitarist’s legendary taste for booze. By the way, Ian himself is quite well-known for his anti-drug stance. He did not glamorize his bandmate’s self-destructive behavior. Instead, he commended him for eventually drying out and for still playing today with a different group. 
  5. Set Aside Having to do with a government program paying farmers to leave a portion of their fields fallow.
  6. Hare In the Wine Cup A rabbit crawled under the fence and into a water feature in the back yard.
  7. Wond'ring Again  Update on an earlier song, Wond’ring Aloud. Ian admitted that he had a hard time getting his mind around the lyrics and is not entirely sure where they came from.
  8. Adantino German guitar phenom Florian Opahle composed and performed this dramatic Classical / Flamenco guitar tune.
  9. Adrift and Dumbfounded About his rocky relationship with his daughter.
  10. Hare that lost his speCtacles Performed as a dramatic reading as he pranced and paced on stage, saying speck-a-ta-cles. He made it look like he was reading, but he never turned a page. I couldn’t see the book cover, but am convinced it was just a prop.
  11. Bach Prelude in C Minor Once again featuring Florian’s guitar finesse
  12. Bourèe A brilliant end to the acoustic portion of the show.
  1. No name song Nothing sharpens the mind, says Ian, like springing a new song on your band and telling them learn it fast, because we’re going to play it live tonight! He did say that the band offered a name for the song, but it was unrepeatable.
  2. Thick as a brick--long version. Classic:  “Sand castle virtues are all swept away in the tidal destruction, the moral melee.
  3. Jam instrumental with guitar solo. This was a delight. Imagine the old icon, Ian Anderson, in an instrumental dual with the young upstart. A battle of flute and guitar.
  4. A Change of Horses. Never change horses in mid-stream.
  5. Budapest. Hauntingly familiar tune, and an obvious crowd favorite. 
  6. Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. You know the piece as the quintessential Hallowe’en scary organ number. Florian’s treatment on guitar was powerful and enchanting.
  7. Aqualung. Crowd favorite and everyone was on their feet and jamming. 
  8. Locomotive breath--encore Complete with unique kung fu playing posture, wild gyrations and gesticulations, and plenty of snorting and scat notes—a dynamite finish!

Ian Anderson at the Birchmere!

“Sand castle virtues are all swept away
In the tidal destruction, the moral melee.
--Ian Anderson, Thick as a Brick

Notre Dame classmate (and BG select—woot!) Ed Burley invited me to a fun night out just before his departure for a short tour of A’stan. The gig: Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and his current band live at Alexandria’s Birchmere. This was my first time seeing Ian Anderson perform live, and my first experience at the venerable venue. Raves for both!

Another ND classmate, Patty Perry Geiger, joined us virtually by commenting on my Facebook status update within seconds of my posting it. And of course, I could not help but think of best bud Tom Anhut, in whose Morrissey Manor dorm room I had listened to Jethro Tull for the first time, years ago.  It was a concert, yes, but it was also a Notre Dame reunion of sorts.

An advantage of advancing age is the delightful way in which experiences and connections can infuse present moments with pleasant bits of nostalgia.  Readers under 20 years of age will just have to wait a few decades to fully appreciate what I mean by that.

We’re all a little older now, but Ian is holding up very well. He’s lost a lot of weight in the past three years and is again as thin as a rail, just as he was circa his 1976 album Too Old to Rock and Roll and Too Young to Die. He was all of 30 years old then, and here we are, 34 years later! His voice is more subtle. He wears a dew rag in place of his long-lost flowing curls. I loved his confident stage presence and the eloquent and witty introductions he gave for his fellow musicians and for each song they played. During the performance he still prances on the stage, still holds that one-legged tree stance while playing his flute, still makes those bizarre, eye-popping facial expressions, and still gesticulates wildly—very much the conductor, leader, and center of attention. I absolutely loved the way he often half-sang the notes he played, treating his flute like a kazoo and his voice like Louis Armstrong scat.

Speaking of aging well, the Birchmere was completely enjoyable in its 44th year of serving up decent food and beverages and some great music. We arrived at 6 for the 8 o’clock show, and found ourselves near the end of the 500-person line. Seating is first come, first served, so lesson learned! We did get great seats, right next to the stage but off to the side. Ours was the last table to fill because of the angle. People who came at 7:30 sat behind us leaving, as far as I could see, only two unfilled seats in the house.

I was quite impressed with the young German guitar impresario, Florian Opahle.  Ian, his keyboardist, bassist, and drummer are all from southwest England, and Florian is the only Continental European. He seems young and not entirely comfortable on the stage, but the kid can play!

The setlist for Mon night was the same as last Fri's concert in Orlando setlist.fm/setlist/ian-anderson, except they added Florian’s brilliant guitar rendition of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor between Budapest and Aqualung.

I hope Ed’s pics turned out better than mine. Meanwhile, feast your eyes and ears on this, the encore performance of Locomotive Breath captured by someone sitting just to our left: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbfKT5flRdU

In commemoration of the night, I added three Ian Anderson songs to my Foam Fan playlist: Bourèe, Aqualung, and Locomotive Breath. I added an annotated setlist as a comment to this post. If you go to setlist.fm, you will see video clips next to the songs. If you search YouTube for “Ian Anderson Birchmere,” you will see at least 3 videos posted there (including the one I linked to). I have also posted lyrics to many of the evening’s songs as comments to this post. The complete discography including all lyrics can be found here: http://www.collecting-tull.com/Albums/Discography.html


Brilliant Mistakes

The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten has written an insightful and engaging profile of Our Favorite Artist called, "Brilliant Mistakes: Elvis Costello's Boundless Career."

New Yorker Paumgarten Brilliant Mistakes

Favorite snippets:

"Costello is several Elvises removed from that persona the Village Voice in 1979 christened the Avenging Dork, a confection of Buddy Holly and Johnny Rotten."

"To a certain crowd of people who were in school in 1977 and are now about fifty, Costello's stature is almost Dylan-esque." (Almost?)

"Costello's mind works a bit like one of those impossibly complicated Pentagon PowerPoint presentations."  (Actually, that explains a lot!)

"He's a professional omnivore, a master, for better or worse, of eclecticism."

Tip o' the hat to Tom for sending me this article in the mail.

For Elvis Costello Fans...

...you've simply got to hear this!

You've seen Elvis' appearance on the Colbert Report, and you've listened to the brilliant Tom Ashbrook interview on NPR. All well and fine. But this new interview and solo acoustic concert at Avatar Studios is so intimate and enlightening, you will feel like you are right there in the studio asking the questions yourself. All the songs he plays have unique twists--different lyrics, new flourishes, and inventive endings. At one point, he plays a little guitar riff in lieu of the yodeling that you expect. The back story on songs like You Hung the Moon is fascinating.

Avatar is the studio in Manhattan where Elvis recorded North.  He is clearly comfortable in the surroundings, and the WFUV interviewer and studio audience provides just the right amount of support and stimulation for Elvis to create in the moment, giving songs off of his current album, National Ransom, an inspired new feel.

Elvis Costello Interview / Concert at Avatar Studios

Listening to a creative genius makes me want to write and draw and perform something.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

WWR vs WBC @ ANC 11/11/2010

#WarriorsWatchRiders cordon and squelch hate speech from  protesters at  today. 

Story and photos here: http://tiny.cc/b63o5

The McGurk Effect--Did You See What She Said?

We cannot always trust what we hear, because sometimes, when there is conflicting information coming into our brains, our sense of sight over rules our other senses. This phenomenon is known as the McGurk Effect. 

Here is a convincing example of the McGurk Effect, taken from the BBC show Horizon.  

This makes me wonder about the myth of multi-tasking!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peace—as easy as imagining it? Tell that to a vet!

Earlier this week I went looking for confirmation of how to spell Chrissie Hynde and stumbled upon this site.  


And there I saw a video of a person make the most disappointing comment I have heard in some time.  "Peace is as easy as imagining it." 


The history of nonviolence: ask the Huron Indians how non-violence worked out for them.  Oh, that's right, you can't--they 
converted to Christianity, laid down their arms, and promptly got wiped out by the Iroquois.

Meanwhile, except for ending slavery, Fascism, Nazism, and Communism, war has never solved anything.  To this list we may one day add Islamo-fascism, or radical Islamic terrorism, but for now I would say, that's a work in progress.

There is evil in the world, and the answer to evil is most emphatically not non-violence.  Tolerance and cooperation must be backed up by strength.

I doubt even John Lennon himself, were he alive today, would agree with the person in the quote above.  Peace is imaginable, and possible, but surely it takes work and cooperation. Peace does not happen just because enough people like the same song.  Peace is the goal, but there are some important intermediate objectives. Such as stopping deranged assassins.

I admire the Beatles as a band and John Lennon as a writer, philosopher, musician, artist, and activist.  I have a hard time with some of Lennon's comments, such as the Beatles were more famous than Jesus.  But mostly I feel deeply disturbed by comments from ignorant idealists who really believe that peace is as easy as imagining it, and who believe, by extension that:

     (a) war is always wrong, never justified; and 

     (b) warriors are either just social misfits, willing tools of greedy capitalists, or mercenaries looking for a fight.

In this country, the widening gap between Armed Forces and Society is quite disturbing to me.  Isn't it ironic?  The more freedom people have, the less they appreciate it, and what it takes to make and preserve it, and what cost others have borne on their behalf for it.

When I came back from Baghdad and rejoined polite society, I was appalled at the insignificance of what passed for real problems among my fellow citizens.  Cold French fries sent a fellow diner into a tizzy. Too few choices on the shelf caused a fellow customer to lose composure.  Somebody drops a ball. In a game. Oh, the drama! You'd think we were dodging mortars again.

The irony of the Law of Supply and Demand is that in the abundance of freedom, freedom is devalued. At some point, truly clueless people who have no appreciation for the cost of the freedom they take for granted are perfectly willing to go on camera and proclaim their ignorance, saying, "Peace is as easy as imagining it."

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Don't wait till the last minute to think about what it takes to live in peace. It takes more than imagination.

26 years in 
Army green
... and still serving!
Builder, mapper, bridger, sapper!
Turkey, Korea x 2, Germany x 2
NATO mission in Kosovo (’99)
9/11 survivor (Pentagon)
Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran ('07-'08)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Long (and sometimes funny) beer names

I get a chuckle out of some of the beer names I have seen recently. There's a trend for brewers to use ridiculously long and sometimes funny names distinguish their beers and maybe get a little free advertising.

Here are a dozen good ones that have caught my eye:

  1. Tyranena Doubly Down 'N Even Dirtier Imperial Oatmeal Stout Brewed With Cocoa Nibs and Aged In Bourbon Barrels With Cocoa Nibs And Vanilla Beans 
  2. Tyranena Three Beaches Filled With Hundreds Of Angry, Hate-Filled Bitter Women That Want To Rip Your Tongue Out Honey Blonde 
  3. McGuire's I'll Have What the Gentleman on the Floor is Having Barley Wine 
  4. Terrapin Side Project Volume 10 Capt'n Krunkles Black India Pale Ale 
  5. Flossmoor Station Barrel Aged Man Skirt Wee Heavy (Man Skirt Wood) 
  6. Tyranena The Devil Made Me Do It Imperial Oatmeal Porter  
  7. Terrapin Wake-n-Bake on Wood Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout 
  8. Bartrams Comrade Bill Bartrams Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout 
  9. Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Pooh Coffee Cask Festival Edition 
  10. Tyranena Bourbon Barrel Spank Me Baby! Barley Wine  
  11. Terminal BrewHouse You’re a Good Beer Terminal Brown 
  12.  Shoreline Big Bourbon Series Discombobulation Celebration Ale  
What are some of your favorites? Post a comment here, or join the fun at BeerPal: http://www.beerpal.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=5317

Monday, November 8, 2010

Best Pun Ever?

Something a little lighter today.

"Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (oh, man, this is so bad, it's good) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis." 

I am told this pun was a finalist in a 2008 pun contest. It has been so widely circulated since that I could not determine the original author. Perhaps you've seen it before, but it was new to me and it made me laugh.

What's your favorite pun?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Joseph's House

I stayed after church today to hear a presentation about Joseph's House, a home for otherwise homeless terminally ill (mostly cancer and HIV / AIDS) patients in DC. It's a small house, with room for only 6 at a time. This is like a hospice in that it's where dying patients go to live out their last days in dignity. More information is at their website:http://www.josephshouse.org/

Our presenter gave us a moving account of life at Joseph's House. They celebrate each patient as a uniques and loved individual. Many patients have not felt loved in years. Staff and patients have vigils for those closest to death. Every patient dies surrounded by people who know and care for them. Each time someone dies, the staff and residents have a service where they make a card with the person's name on it. Then the card sits on the mantel for a time. Each May, they have a service for all the patients who died in the past year. All the cards are buried in a box, and flowers are planted on the grave. They had 37 cards in last May's box. 

You may know that DC's HIV / AIDS incidence rate is among the highest in the world. TheCDC's official definition of an epidemic is: "The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time." Since some diseases become more prevalent or lethal over time, while others become less severe, the CDC must adjust its statistical models to alter the definition of what's truly more than expected. Currently, HIV / AIDS is epidemic in an area if more than 1% of the population is active. In DC, the reported cases affect 3% of the population--and it's widely believed that as many as half of the cases are not reported.

DC has over 15,000 people living with HIV in a population of under 600,000. Using the population and illness data in the World Clock app at the bottom of this blog, that rate is almost 500 times the global rate.

In addition to attending to the sick in their last days, Joseph's House also calls attention to issues of social justice. Why do we have an HIV / AIDS epidemic in the Nation's capitol?The question is even sharper when one realizes that 90% of the District's cases are found in less than 20% of the District's area. Poor housing conditions and a lack of opportunities lead many people to lose hope. The black community in Southeast DC is disproportionately involved in drug abuse, crime, and the incidence of HIV / AIDS. With 25% of the black men in prison, women outnumber men. This severely reduces their power in relationships. Women, especially those with children to care for, often tolerate abusive behavior from men just to survive from day to day. Many black women with AIDS at Joseph House are rape victims who didn't even bother to take their medicine. Getting medicine is not the issue. They have no home, so there is no way to keep their medicine refrigerated. More to the point, they have no hope for a long term future. Life is a daily struggle to survive.

I applaud Joseph House for alerting these terminally ill patients to the dignity that is theirs as members of the human family. Yet I remain concerned about the conditions of poverty, ignorance, and despair that have filled Southeast DC with so many homeless, terminally ill HIV / AIDS patients. I have the sense that, were AIDS cured today, soon a new pestilence would strike in this disadvantaged group. When I think about the obstacles and challenges in my own life, I can imagine everything working out fine. I have a hard time accepting that many people are convinced they were born to die alone and forgotten on the street.