Thursday, March 31, 2005


First he counted down the days, then the minutes, and ultimately the seconds. At last it is here -- today my father retired, 11 days shy of his 63rd birthday. No longer will I have to explain to people who ask that not only are some Floridians my father's age not retirees, but that there are even enough families to allow someone to make a living as a pediatrician.

At 36, I have finally begun to grasp the magnitude of the number of years he worked (fully understanding that many work even longer), first toward supporting his family, and then toward covering the costs of my parents' retirement. In some sense, he began his professional career when I was born -- my Mom's water broke his first day on the job in the Navy (and because it was his first day, he made Mom iron his uniform before he took her to the hospital -- that was the last thing my mother ever ironed). It gives me pause to think that he has worked all those years (and for years before then as a resident, etc.), and that as a doctor, he often had to get up in the middle of the night to take calls (during the decade or so he was a solo practitioner, he was on call every weeeknight but one, and every other weekend), occasionally having to go to the hospital then as well. He would do this after working a full day, and before the next full day of work. That part of his life is now over.

The field of medicine has changed greatly during his 30 years in private practice -- insurance companies, hospitals, and even medical practices that want to squeeze every last penny have made it so that their judgments play a role in how medicine is practiced. And of course, the rise of malpractice suits has made it so that every decision is second-guessed in a lawsuit when a patient doesn't fully recover, even when the doctor followed a reasonable course of action. Such stress above and beyond the stresses inherent in simply being a physician has made my father ready to leave the field for several years.

He has retired at a young enough age that I can reasonably hope that many years of good health will accompany his retirement. Mom has no plans to retire yet, so he'll have full control over keeping himself busy. He wants to travel more (this weekend he heads to Israel for a 2-week trip), and at his suggestion his children got him a gift certificate for scuba gear (he is certified). He also wants to try to introduce the game of Bridge into schools. He sees chess there, but believes Bridge can be better -- it encourages teamwork; and it teaches that while luck will determine the cards you're dealt, your success depends on what you make of them. I admit that I am skeptical whether he can succeed, but I do see it as an interesting endeavor.

Retirement is a transition, and as I've learned by observing my father-in-law, it can take a while for one to find one's niche. I hope that my father gets comfortable with his quickly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Monstrous Regiment

If you haven't read Terry Pratchett, you've been missing a treat. Monstrous Regiment is Pratchett's 30th Discworld novel, and I've read most of them. The books are satires and parodies, set on a flat world that rides through space on the back of a turtle. There are recurring characters in a number of them, and while a few of them appear briefly in Monstrous Regiment, the tale is really about Polly Perks, who disguises herself as a boy to join the all-male Borogravian army. She enlisted to find out about her brother, the one she always had to look after before he joined the Army, who's gone MIA. In telling Polly's tale, Pratchett primarily mocks religion, war/the military, and of course, gender roles.

Perks is an intelligent and well-developed character, who quickly discerns reality from what people claim it to be. No reader would be surprised to discover that she makes a fine soldier "despite" her gender. Her sergeant, the legendary Jackrum, is the gruff, know-everything NCO who's less concerned with rules and more concerned with getting done that which needs to be done. Most of the other new recruits aren't noteworthy, though Maledict, a reformed vampire (he doesn't drink blood), is enjoyable for a while.

The plot is eminently readable, and fairly entertaining, but it doesn't meet the standards of his best works. Almost all of the Discworld books are designed to be funny (Night Watch is the only exception that comes to mind), but a number of them lose their humor (and consequently, their direction) in the telling of the tale. Monstrous Regiment is moderately funny at first, but then Polly's story gets bogged down by the mission she and her regiment find themselves on. The story doesn't get boring, but it nevertheless failed to keep me engrossed. It's worth a read, but not before a number of the other books in the Discworld Series (Mort, Witches Abroad, Thief of Time, and Night Watch all spring to mind).

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mexico Day 4

We finished our sightseeing on Saturday, because Easter Sunday was the day of the game. The U.S.-Mexico World Cup Qualifier was held at Azteca, where Peter and I joined ~400 American fans (including a number of fellow DC United fans I know) sitting in a police-cordoned section among ~100,000 Mexican fans.

It was hot, and I drank plenty of water (it was easy enough to skip the Mexican beer). Our seats (to be more accurate, the place where we stood for the entire match) were shaded the second half of the game, for which I was grateful. The U.S. lost 2-1, and the result was more than fair -- the way the team played a 2- or 3-goal loss would have been reasonable. They didn't attack much, and when the Mexicans figured out how to attack our defense, they scored two goals in rapid succession.

The only time I had stuff thrown on me was when the U.S. scored, when I received a splash of beer (and a bit of silly string). Chants were given in both directions, and most of it was clean fun. Once the game ended, we got some jeers thrown our way, to which I responded by applauding, something more than a few of us did -- theirs was the better team that day, and deserved the congratulations. Some appreciated that, some were still assholes. Then again, there were several ungracious losers among the Americans. After the game some Americans and Mexicans traded shirts &/or flags over the fence that separated us from Mexican fans on one side of our section. I can only wonder if the fairly kind treatment we received would have happened had the U.S. tied or won.

It was an exhilerating experience to attend the match. The passion on display was fantastic, and my being part of the badly-outnumbered visiting contingent of fans did nothing to curb my enjoyment. I hope I can do something like this again.

A tangent on my fandom is that I find it a bit odd that my patriotism seems limited to U.S. soccer matches -- at other times I'm indifferent (or less) about being an American.

After the game, Peter and I cooled down while waiting for Kathy to return (Kathy felt intimidated by the conditions for the game, and instead opted to visit John and his family in the afternoon, after watching movies at Peter's in the morning). When Kathy got back, we walked to a neighborhood restaurant, then hung out for the rest of the evening.

Early the next morning, we went to the airport for our return to DC. And so ended our first trip to Mexico.

Mexico Day 3

(side note -- i've created a new word. when playing catch-up in one's blog, one is dealing with an ackblog)

Saturday we played tourist all day long. First we went down to the Coyoacan section of town to the Frida Kahlo Museum. The house was interesting, the paintings on display were noteworthy, and the hour-long film on her made it all worthwhile. Of course, at ~$3.50 admission, it's hard to find fault with any Mexican museum (that was the cost for the Anthopologica as well). I found it interesting that she and her spouse, the muralist Diego Rivera, lived in such a large and beautiful home, all the while being Communists. You'd think they'd have seen a bit of hypocrisy in their being so well off as compared with their comrades.

Frida Kahlo's Marxism will Give Health to the Sick

After hitting that museum, we wandered around the center of the Coyoacan district:

Hanging out in Coyoacan

After grabbing lunch, we drove across town and parked below the Belles Artes building, which is truly lovely:

From there we walked to the Zocalo, which basically is the city center. Things were going non-stop there, with protests in the middle of a giant traffic circle:

A bazaar was taking place outside the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the biggest church in the country, and one of the largest in the world:

After briefly touring the church, we walked a few hundred feet to the ruins of the Temple Mayor. The Temple Mayor was discovered in 1978, and contained all sorts of amazing archaelogical finds:

Statue amid the Ruins

In addition to seeing the ruins, some of the materials found amid the ruins have been collected in the Temple Mayor Museum, which we also visited. Unfortunately the museum was very dim, which made it difficult to take pictures (no flash allowed). The skull mask picture is one of the few that came out well:

Posted by Hello

After all that sightseeing, we went back to Peter's to relax for a little bit before heading to the Villa Maria, where we stuffed ourselves on authentic Mexican cuisine.

What a great day!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Pictures from the Anthropological Museum (Day 1)

The following pictures are of pre-Spanish artifacts:

Posted by Hello

Mexico Day 2

By staying with Peter, we were both tourists and guests -- he took us around to the must-see tourist spots, but we also had a home to stay at, and someone to take us to nice non-touristy restaurants for dinner.

On Friday, Peter took us to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan. It was a sunny and fairly warm day, and it being a national holiday, the Pyramids were packed. We went up the Temple of Quetzcoatl, which is the little one by the Visitors' Center, as soon as we got there. Unfortunately, during that climb Kathy discovered that her shoes were not good for uneven climbing, so she didn't undertake any more pyramids. Peter and I next tackled the Temple of the Sun, which is the largest of the pyramids. Unfortunately, it was completely surrounded by people climbing it -- the actual climbing probably took around 10 minutes, but all told it took us a full hour with all the wait time included. We the hiked around some, and took in some non-pyramids. Finally, I climbed the Temple of the Moon, at the far end of the Avenue of the Dead. It gave me some spectacular views of the main street through the ancient city, the Avenue of the Dead. All told, I think we did ok handling the altitude, but the sun really wore us down.

View of the Avenue of the Dead from atop the Temple of the Moon Posted by Hello

After hiking around the pyramids, we went back to Peter's and relaxed for a while, before Peter left (while we relaxed more) to pick up Maria Esther, his new fiance. When they returned, the four of us went to a Tapas place, with very good food and not-so-good beer. It was great meeting Maria Esther -- she seems like a really nice person, and we look forward to getting to know her better in the future.

And so the things we did that day made for a Good Friday.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Mexico Day 1

My Blog as Travelog:

The only touristy thing we did yesterday was visit the Anthropological Museum, but that's a major event all by itself. In addition to Peter, we were joined by John at the museum (and for the day). John also went to college with Kathy and is one of her best friends from then. Like Peter, John's wife Anne-Marie is in the foreign service in Mexico City.

We spent three hours inside the museum, skimming through the entire first floor, which covers the pre-Spaniard part of Mexico's history, divided by culture. And skimming is definitely the right word, as it would have taken more than twice as long to take it in properly. There were sections on the Aztec, the Mayan, the Oaxaca, the Mixteca, and a couple of others. Much of it was devoted to artefacts, but there was certainly enough context, even though not all the signs had English versions. Outside the museum, there were re-enactments. Before we went in, we saw a ritual that involved five people climbing to the top of a pole, four of whom wrap rope around a platform and tie one foot to it. Then, while the fifth plays a sort of flute as the platform slowly rotates, the others slowly descend as the ropes holding their feet slowly unwind. And slowly is the right word (good thing, because I keep repeating it) -- by my estimate, the event took at least 5 minutes. As we were leaving, an Aztec ritual dance of some sort was taking place. Not as interesting, as least to me, but by then we'd been in the museum for hours and were hungry.

After the museum, we ate lunch at a cafe/bookstore near where Peter lives. Then to Peter's for a little while before going to a distant part of the city, where John lives. We hung out with John's family for a while, finally meeting his young daughter Caitlin (~18 months), who other than being a bit sick and dealing with the previous day's immunizations, seemed like a lovely child. We eventually left there and headed for dinner at the area's only brew pub. Food was ok, beer ranged from ok to poor, but I definitely didn't want to miss the only brew pub in town.

After dinner we dropped John back home, then headed bak to Peter's, where he and I watched the end of the NCAA games (and Kathy headed for bed).

Sorry no pictures, but uploading will probably wait until we get back home.

Today we'll be headed for the pyramids. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I just got to Mexico City, it is late, I will try to post something more after I've actually done something.

Monday, March 21, 2005

NCAA Tourney Update

For one brief moment, I was on top of the NCAA Tournament world. Sure I'd only gotten 23 out of 32 first round picks right, but all sixteen of my Sweet 16 picks had won. And on Saturday, the first 6 of those 16 had won their next game, including Wisconsin-Milwaukee (at 12, the lowest seed to advance) and Texas Tech (a 6 seed). #7 was tough, but Kentucky pulled through. #8 was Wake Forest dropping the double overtime game to West Virginia. Since I had Wake losing the next round that wasn't such a big deal, but then, in the first game of Sunday, my runner-up pick, Connecticut, was sent packing by N.C. State. Just like that, and fantasies I entertained of being the top entry in the ESPN pool (where until the Wake loss I was in the top 5000 picks out of 3 million) were erased.

Tourney time is great, and it didn't take long for me to get re-energized about the tournament. Anything can happen, and it's amazing when it does. Even Kathy was watching the end of the Syracuse-Vermont game with me. Not sure how much I'll watch when I'm in Mexico, but I'm sure I'll be following it.

Schiavo 2

A very thoughtful piece on the Schiavo case from a bioethicist can be found here.

Meanwhile, I don't know how much more disgusted I can get with this proceeding, but I'm certainly more pissed off than I was before. I'd like to know why the media isn't discussing this little factoid in the context of the Schiavo case:
  • George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that gives hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient can't pay and there's no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It's called the Texas Futile Care Law. Last week under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes.
Hypocrisy knows no bounds here.

On the bright side, it looks like a lot of people are as bothered by this as I am.

Oh, and before I forget, lest there be any doubt about my wishes:


  1. I direct my attending physician to withhold or withdraw treatment that serves only to prolong the process of my dying if I should be in a terminal condition or in a state of permanent unconsciousness.
  2. I direct that treatment be limited to measures to keep me comfortable and to relieve pain, including any pain that might occur by withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment.
  3. My wife, Kathy, is designated as my surrogate to make medical treatment decisions for me if I should be incompetent and in a terminal condition or in a state of permanent unconsciousness. In the event my wife is unable to act as my surrogate, I designate my father, Mark, as my surrogate.
  4. It is my intention that my wishes shall be honored by my family and physicians and others responsible for my care. I further direct that anyone acting in good faith reliance on this instruction (my physicians, surrogate, family or next of kin) shall not be subject to either civil or criminal liability or be found to have committed an act of unprofessional conduct.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Walking Man

About eight years ago, I twice walked home from work. Work being in the district, and home at the time being in Virginia well past the district line at the time, it made for quite a substantial walk. The weather called out for me to do it -- 50s or so and a light rain to cool me off. It felt so good, like I could walk all night (the second time, because I tried a "shortcut," it almost seemed like I did walk all night). The first time I saw a roommate right after I got back, and the euphoria I had felt from such a wonderful experience made him think that I had been doing drugs.

Today, I metro'd over to Virginia to get my game tix for the USA-Mexico match next Sunday. Then I walked the seven or so miles home. I had been toying with the idea, but didn't make up my mind for certain until I was ready to head home. I wasn't ideally prepared, already feeling a bit thirsty as I set out. The route I took was the GW Parkway to the 14th Street Bridge, up to Independence Ave and straight on home. My right pinkie toe started hurting after a while, but quieted down once I tightened up the laces. The last couple of miles got a bit tough -- I had stopped for water just off the Mall, so that helped with dehydration, but the sun unkindly appeared for the home stretch as well. Still, I made it and other than some soreness that will surely linger into tomorrow (especially my Achilles that likes to act up), I think it went pretty well. No euphoria (perhaps it was having music in my ears the whole way, perhaps all the cars right next to me during long stretches), but a fair amount of self-satisfaction.

Why did I do it? The weather was overcast and low 50s, which made for an inviting opportunity. The fact that I felt like I needed some exercise contributed as well. But I think the main reason I did it was because I needed to break out of routine -- too often I find myself having done little during the weekend, and regretting not carpeing the diem. Winter exacerbates the feeling, because I usually don't feel like going out unless I have to. Spring is slow this year, but it's finally starting to come on. And I'm ready to resume activity -- the time for hibernating is over.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Our Congress:
  • does nothing to interfere when people are executed, but fights to keep someone in a persistent vegetative state alive;
  • closes avenues for death row inmates to appeal their sentences in federal court, saying that the states' decisions should be respected, but has no problem trying to override state court decisions in this instance; and
  • spends all this time "protecting" the "life" of someone against her wishes while ignoring the deaths that keep mounting in Iraq, as well as countless other issues of national significance.
Then again, can I really expect better from an august body that yesterday also conducted hearings on steroids in baseball for the simple purpose of grandstanding?

Terri Schiavo essentially has no brain left, there is no hope that she will ever regain consciousness, and Congress is fighting to keep her alive. Senator Frist, one of the proponents and a physician to boot, characterizes Schiavo as a "living person who has a level of consciousness but cannot feed herself." Frist hasn't actually examined Schiavo but has seen video. Is he serious?! I have to wonder what his malpractice rate was when he practiced, if he made diagnoses based on video.

This whole spectacle is disgusting, particularly that it has to be carried out in such a public forum. I feel for Schiavo's parents and the agony of losing a daughter. But let's face it -- they lost her a long time ago, and they're acting irrationally and out of desperation, even if it is understandable that they would do so.

I hope this all comes to an end very soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Soccer in the Hinterlands

Almost anyone familiar with professional soccer is aware of the Champions League, the European season-long tournament among the best clubs from all over Europe. The Copa Libertadores is the South American equivalent, and is highly regarded, though it pales compared with the Champions League. In this part of the world, we have the CONCACAF (the Confederation Of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) Champions Cup, or the CCC, a much smaller (and way less prestigious) tournament that few have heard of even here. DC United won it back in 1998, and we're back in it this year, as a result of winning the MLS Cup this year. There were a couple of rounds played last year, but the top 2 US and top 2 Mexican squads were automatically entered into the quarterfinals. With a second 2-1 victory over Harbor View last night in Jamaica (which I listened to on Internet radio), DC United advanced to the semi-finals, to face UNAM Pumas, with the games April 6 in DC and April 13 in Mexico. It's a good start to the year, as the MLS season hasn't even begun (and doesn't until April 2).

So how does the team look (or more accurately to me, sound)? They seem to be in good shape front and at midfield, especially given they're not exactly in mid-season form. Their clear weakness is the defense, which lost its captain and best defender (possibly in all of MLS) to Blackburn of the English Premiere League (where he's starting and has already been declared the coach's best pickup). Good for Ryan Nelsen, bad for United -- the team is looking for someone to anchor the defense, and without that anchor, it'll be hard pressed to advance in the CCC, or be successful in the MLS regular season.

This year success in the CCC could pay very big dividends. In 1998, United's victory resulted in playing the South American champ (Vasco de Gama from Brazil) in the infrequently-played Inter-American Cup, where United surprised everyone by winning (noteworthy for United, a yawn for the South American squad which was returning from playing the European champion). This year, the winner of the CCC is scheduled to play in an end-of-the-year tournament against the champs from the other continents, with over a million dollar payout to the winners. Big stuff indeed, at least to the small-budgeted CONCACAF-region teams!

I could ramble about the team for much longer, but better to stop here so as not to bore those who are only mildly curious. Go United!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Complicity and Simplexity

I want to live simply. I want to give up 90% of my worldly possessions, move into a small place, be environmentally friendly. I want to own a few possessions, rather than have the sum of my possessions own me.

I want stuff -- I'd like at least 20 or so new cds, another new digital camera, a new dining room table and chairs, and I'd like to renovate the second floor so it's as nice as the first floor. I don't think twice about buying beer I haven't tried before.

I don't have cable, and hardly watch TV. I don't buy much, and given my income, could even be considered cheap for what I pass on.

I don't know what I'd do without my computer and a DSL line, and my music.

I have been raised in a consumer world, and I want off. But there's a large part of me that embraces it. I want, and I hate that I want. It is an internal conflict that I consciously think about almost every day.

The NCAA Tournament

The NCAA tournament gets underway tomorrow, and I'm somewhat surprised at how little I care. I hardly watched any college basketball this season, and while I intend to watch some of the tourney, I'm not particularly empassioned at the thought of it. On three different occasions, Dad and I have gone to the games at one of the first weekend sites. We didn't go far -- each time the games were either in DC or in Tampa. No plans this year -- none of the games are near either of us.

I find that I still enjoy games when I have them on, but I rarely have the games on. Why do I deny myself the pleasure of watching the games?

Despite my ignorance, I still have thoughts on how the games will shape up (though I didn't enter any pool except the free one on
2nd Round (these picks'll make it obvious who I pick in Round 1):
Illinois over Texas
Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Boston College
Arizona over UAB
Oklahoma State over Southern Illinois
Washington over Pacific
Georgia Tech over Louisville
Texas Tech over Gonzaga
Wake Forest over West Virginia
UNC over Minnesota
Florida over New Mexico
Wisconsin over Kansas
Connecticut over Charlotte
Duke over Mississippi State
Michigan State over Syracuse
Utah over Oklahoma
Kentucky over Iowa

Final 4 (making obvious my picks in the Sweet 16):
Illinois over Oklahoma State
Texas Tech over Georgia Tech
Connecticut over UNC
Duke over Kentucky

Illinois over Connecticut

Naturally, this'll be the year I'd win almost any pool (except the espn one with several hundred thousand entries).

Tom Tomorrow

Tom Tomorrow does a weekly political cartoon that I read faithfully. Gotta say that I was a bit surprised with his cartoon for this week. On bankruptcy. Title is Moral Bankruptcy (no biggie -- there are only so many ways to be clever with the subject). First panel refers to credit card companies "handing out credit cards like Halloween candy" (an apt simile that readily comes to mind). The cartoon points out many of the same flaws with the bill that I did (duh, of course he did), and acknowledges that some Dems joined with the Republicans (factually correct).

Of course I'm not so full of myself that I think he stumbled across my blog, took many of my ideas and used them (adding things like the Silent Movie villain). When there are thousands of people addressing the same subject, there are only so many different ways to express yourself -- there's bound to be significant overlap in a number of cases. I just find coincidences like this both fascinating and a bit disconcerting.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Age-old Observation

When you're in your 20s, you take advantage of the new-found freedom that accompanies your departure from your parents' home in choosing not to do anything you don't want to do (or doing anything you weren't able to do before).

In your 30s, you find yourself (not) doing many of the things you stopped (started) doing in your 20s in recognition that there was a legitimate reason you were supposed to (not) do those things in the first place.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Black Sweater 23

To give you perspective on how many sweaters Kathy has had, several years ago we gave a tour of our house to some friends. After seeing the piles of Kathy's sweaters in both our walk-through closet and the closets in the loft, one of the friends told us that after the tour, she dreamed that later we continued the house tour in our basement, and there she found shelves upon shelves of additional sweaters.

To her credit, Kathy is largely reformed as a sweateraholic. She has given away a number of her sweaters, and now rarely buys them. There are occasions such as this past Saturday, however, when I am reminded of her tendencies in this regard.

While getting ready to go to Delaware, Kathy was going through her black sweaters, and was upset that the sweater she wanted to wear was not there. Note that I did not say "going through her sweaters," but "going through her black sweaters." Upon seeing her distress, I had to count how many black sweaters she actually owns. The true number may never be revealed, but there were 22 black sweaters in that assemblage, plus the one she was seeking (which she eventually did find). Perhaps there is reason to have three black sweaters -- one can button, one can be crew neck, and one can be V-neck. Almost certainly there is a gender gap, and if so women can rush to her defense in explaining that there are other styles of which I am woefully ignorant, and no wardrobe can be complete with these other styles. But can anyone truly need 23 different black sweaters?

Coincidentally, today's Sherman's Lagoon seems right on point, especially after I made slight modifications:

(click here to see the original) Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Doing Delaware

Between us, Kathy and I have one surviving grandparent, Kathy's 93-year-old maternal grandmother, a.k.a. Mum Mum. Today, we went up to Delaware to visit her. She's mostly blind (and has been for years), and is slowing down a bit, but she still lives by herself (in a retirement home). She also has retained a good sense of humor, if not all her hearing.

It's about a two-hour drive, so it isn't that big of a deal to make a day trip. We got there just in time for lunch, and after that the three of us went over to Winterthur to tour for a couple of hours. Winterthur is a former DuPont estate, now museum, and is a 3-minute drive from Mum Mum's house. We did a tram tour of the grounds (not much in bloom right now), then viewed an exhibit of centuries-old porcelain. Some of the pieces were tacky, others gorgeous. After that, we made a quick stop at the museum shop before heading back to the house, and after a bit had an early dinner out (with Mum Mum and Kathy's great uncle and great aunt) before heading back to D.C. All in all, a nice visit with a wonderful old lady.

The photos below are some of the first we've taken with the Canon SD300 -- they look good to me.

Kathy and her Grandmother

Crocuses on the Winterthur Grounds

Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

Stubbornly Wet

Have you ever done something like this:
Get off the Metro to begin the seven-block walk home. By the time you've crossed one street a few drops have fallen. You don't pull out the fold-away hood your jacket comes with -- after all, it's only a few drops -- instead keep walking as the drops become a light rain. Only after another block or so, it gets a little heavier, then a little heavier in another block, so that by the time you're about two blocks away it's coming down pretty good. But you're only two blocks away, and you're already wet, so might as well keep the hood tucked away for the home stretch. And so you do, and you're moderately soaked by the time you unlock your front door.

No real reason I'm asking-- it's not like I did that this evening or anything.

Bankruptcy Addendum

A recent Harvard study suggests that about half of bankruptcies take place due to illness and medical expenses, even though over 75 percent of the filers had health insurance. Read the article, and you realize that such a thing can happen to almost anyone. Needless to say, the bankruptcy bill's tightening of the screws makes no allowances for those unlucky enough to be struck by medical calamity -- indeed, the income calculations for deciding who can file under which bankruptcy provision can include income from a job someone had to leave due to health. I don't want anyone to face such a situation, but I'll keep my fingers crossed that, given that such catastrophes do occur, it befall loved ones of the Senators and House members who support this legislation rather than random people on the street.

Post-accident Update #2 -- I seem to be pretty much back to normal.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Needed -- Color in my Blog

At the moment, my blog is too many words and not enough pictures. Unfortunately, I haven't taken many photos recently, so here's one from last February, when our friend Todd visited us (all the way from Ottawa, eh?). The background is the ravine formed by the Potomac River, and Maryland beyond that -- this is at a "scenic spot" along the GW Parkway:

And here's one of the Smithsonian Castle that I took as I walked into work on a pleasant day last March:

Posted by Hello

Moral Bankruptcy

The Senate has just passed one of the nastier bills I've seen. If enacted (and the House is almost certain to pass it), the bill will make it harder for people to use bankruptcy to avoid credit card debt. Now as someone who generally favors personal responsibility, I don't necessarily have a problem with asking folks to pay back expenses that they have chosen to incur. If you're stupid enough not to realize that using a credit card is not the same as printing money, well then, that's your own fault.

But when much of the debt is due to usurious interest rates, as high as 40% per year, I'm bothered. And when the entities that are benefiting from the bill are those same credit card companies that assess that interest rate, and that have been handing out credit cards like candy at Halloween for all these years, I'm angered. And when certain kinds of debts and assets that might affect the wealthy aren't affected by this bill (e.g., expensive houses are protected from creditors), I'm outraged. And when the Senate voted down an amendment to exempt certain kinds of debt, such as that incurred due to failure to receive alimony or child support, or both (in other words, debt that quite literally is someone else's fault), I'm not sure there are strong enough words to express how pissed off I am.

You would think that there might be a trade-off for the credit card companies -- we want to pursue this debt, and in exchange we agree that interest rates should never exceed 18% -- but no need thanks to their friends in Congress. You would think that members of Congress would treat all debt (and assets) equally, instead of being more harsh on the debt most likely to affect the poor, but apparently not. Sadly, all of the Republicans and a substantial minority of the Democrats voted in favor of this bill (though some who voted for it also voted for changes that might have improved it) -- the vote was 74-25. Isn't it nice to know that we have a Congress that's determined to protect the needs of the wealthy, and of corporations against those terrible poor people?

America -- Land of the Fees, Home of the Brazen

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Revisiting Costa Rica

The Quaker Earthcare Witness group that coordinated the volunteer portion of our trip to Costa Rica has just issued their newsletter, BeFriending Creation, for March & April. The first four pages are devoted to our trip, with articles written by several of the people who went, including me.

Speaking of that trip, we had brunch on Sunday with three of the others that traveled with us, including the group's organizer. It was quite nice to see them again -- such a nice reminder of what a positive experience the trip was. Kathy and I are still amazed by the experience, and are so glad we went.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


It's not Thanksgiving, but I feel like counting my blessings:
  • I have a loving, intelligent, beautiful, and compassionate wife:
    • whom I love so much,
    • who loves me so much,
    • and who understands me.
  • I have a wonderful family, both my own and the one I married into.
  • I have great friends, spread out near and far.
  • I am in reasonable health.
  • Most of the people in my life are healthy.
  • I have an intellectually stimulating job:
    • that I can walk/Metro to,
    • with nice co-workers,
    • that pays fairly well,
    • with enough time off to take advantage of the decent pay.
  • I have a great house.
  • All the people in my life are in adequate financial shape.
  • I live in an age where there's lots of readily available good beer.
  • I have two sweet dogs.
  • I live in walking distance to DC United games, and they won the MLS Cup this past year.
  • The Red Sox finally won.
  • Lots of musicians I enjoy come to the DC area.
  • I have neat stuff, from my Jukebox to a DSL connection for my computer, from a bunch of CDs to neat artwork.
This is a list to recount whenever I feel even remotely unlucky -- truly I am a fortunate individual.

Concert Review -- Mark Olson and Gary Louris

Mark Olson and Gary Louris are the founding members of The Jayhawks. After three albums, Olson left the band. Louris has kept the band going, and after a few albums where the band moved away from its Americana roots toward pop/rock, its most recent album, Rainy Day Music, is a return to the style of the early Jayhawks. In the meantime, Olson has played with a group known as Mark Olson and the Creekdippers, which includes his wife (Victoria Williams) and Mike Russell (who played with Louris and Olson last night).

The concert was very good, it was decent, and it was painfully bad. The performance of the early Jayhawks tunes was somewhat ragged at times, but very moving as well. The rawness worked with the songs, as there's a plaintiveness that could draw from it. The vocal harmonies that Olson and Louris created were at times beautiful, just as they are on the albums. I lost myself in the music several times -- it was simply breathtaking.

When the newer Jayhawks tunes were performed (there were four, and all were from Rainy Day Music), local musician Steven McCarthy joined them on stage (as he did at a Jayhawks show I went to a couple of years ago) and contributed more to those songs than Olson did. I would have liked to see Louris and Olson develop harmonies here, as I'm sure they could have, but instead Olson kind of disappeared, serving as a backup guitarist. No complaints on the songs though -- they're all top-notch, just like the rest of the album, and Louris more than capably provided the lead vocals.

The painfully bad part of the concert was material from Olson's latest album, Political Manifest, which as the title suggests, is a political album. If the songs they played from that album were its highlights, I don't want to hear the lowlights. Lyrically, the songs stank (an opinion shared by the four of us in our group), and I'm saying that even though I generally agreed with the substance of them. After the concert, I suggested that we should write him with tips on how to construct better political tunes -- my friend Brent said that the best tip would be to tell him not to try ever again. I did enjoy the performance of "December's Child," a song off the Creekdippers album of the same name.

At some level it seemed as though Louris was doing this tour as a favor to Olson. The Jayhawks still have a decent following, whereas Olson has mostly vanished off the scene (Political Manifest isn't even on Also, I believe they played more Olson solo tunes than post-Olson Jayhawks. And judging from the quality of Olson's post-Jayhawks work, it seemed like he needs the boost from a reunion much more than Louris does.

As a whole, I enjoyed the concert, and have no regrets on attending. But if the songs from Political Manifest had been replaced by something else (anything else, even an earlier ending), the evening would have been more enjoyable.

Post-accident update: I woke up this morning with the left side of my neck and shoulders moderately sore, but I appear to have a full range of motion, and movement doesn't cause additional pain. I feel somewhat better this evening, and I figure I'll be ok in a couple of days.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I'm a Wreck

To be more honest, I was in a car wreck. Actually, it was a fender bender. It happened this evening on the way to a concert (I'll save the review for another post). I always wear my seatbelt, even in the back seat, but for whatever reason, this time I forgot when I got into the cab. The cab was in the left lane pulling up to the rest of traffic, and a pizza delivery guy pulled out from the strip mall on our right. The car in the right lane had stopped to let him out, and there was no traffic at the left when he started, so presto -- the cab hit the pizza guy's side. We had slowed most of the way, but it was still fast enough for seatbelt-less me to go face first into the driver's seat. It was just for a split second, and I didn't hit hard -- my glasses left no mark on my face or nose. Dave (a friend who was in the cab with me) was able to brace himself before impact. After the cab pulled over, Dave and I paid and walked the four blocks to our destination. At this point, five hours later, my neck and shoulders feel a little sore, but they often do, and I also have no idea how much of it is hyperacuity to the fact I was in an accident. I've taken three ibuprofen, and my neck and shoulders are on top of a heating pad. I expect to be a bit stiff tomorrow, but hopefully nothing will linger.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Doing Nothing All Day

Today I sat around the house all day and did virtually nothing. I sat in front of the computer for hours, contemplated/researched our second digital camera (Kathy is indeed getting the Canon Elph SD300, and it should arrive on Monday), went out of the house for a matter of minutes (to walk the dogs, get the mail, and grab groceries after Kathy had gone shopping), put away some groceries, talked to some family members, bought some plane tickets, paid a bill or two, played with the dogs some, made myself lunch, cleaned up after lunch and dinner, consumed three meals, and napped for 30 minutes or so (and lay in bed for a while after that trying to go back to sleep). I also interacted with Kathy at various times during the day, and had a friend pop by for about 30 minutes. I truly think that covers everything I did today.

So is this a good thing or a bad thing? Am I a slug or recharging my batteries? Should I have been more productive in any sense, or is it ok to be a vegetable/engage in non-productive thinking, for a full day? Maybe I'll spend all of tomorrow contemplating this.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Test Photos

Testing out the picture software/photo server that you can use with this site. These are a couple of photos from our recent trip to Costa Rica. The first is just another Costa Rican rainbow -- taken New Years Day, 2005, at Amapala; and the second is a coati, taken near Lake Arenal thanks to our driver -- he knew where to look for them and how to lure one (snack food). You can click on the photos to see bigger versions. Posted by Hello

The Life of the World to Come

Kage Baker has developed one of the most interesting and entertaining series I've read over the past several years. The Company series tells of a universe where travel to the past is possible, but what can be done there is limited to that which does not change written history. Immortality is also possible, but only for those who are "modified" at an early age, to the point that they become cyborgs. And in this universe, the Company is the entity that controls both time travel and the immortality process, and they have used that knowledge to get very rich and very powerful. The first four books are set in the past, telling of several of the cyborgs in the employ of the Company. Primarily we are introduced to three of the cyborgs: Mendoza, a headstrong botanist who has fallen in love twice, once to a mortal man in the 16th century, and again in the 19th, to his doppelganger; Joseph, a very wise and clever "Facilitator," trained in the art of communication; and Lewis, a well-meaning but somewhat clueless individual. Baker has created many intertwined plots, with lots of unanswered questions leading us deeper into the Company universe. Always in the background of the stories is the question of what happens in the year 2355 that has made it so that no communication after that point has ever been sent to the past. The Life of the World to Come is the fifth book in the Company series, and it does much to move things forward in the main story line (there have been numerous short stories devoted to the series, but generally speaking, they don't follow the main story line).

I'm not going to get into the plot of this particular story, as it would have minimal meaning if you haven't read the other books (which I strongly encourage you to do). I will say that most of the activity takes place in the "present," the 24th century, and we get to see some of the decision-making that goes on in the Company. We also are introduced to Alec Checkerfield (unless you've read the three or so short stories about him in Baker's collection White Knights, Black Shadows), someone from the 24th century who appears identical to Mendoza's two previous lovers, and who evidently will be a critical person for the rest of the series. Indeed, the suggestion is firmly placed that he plays a crucial role in the mystery of what happens in 2355.

I will say I enjoyed the book, but that I found some of the details that reference what's gone on previously somewhat obscured by time -- the series has been written over several years (it started 7 years ago, and I discovered it about 5). The 4th book was released 4 years ago, and I read it then. Perhaps I'll need to re-read all the Company books once the series is completed. For what it's worth, it seems like Baker has caught her second wind, as she's hoping to release the next book in the series by year's end.

The fact that this book takes place in the "present" allows Baker to explore the other side of the Company series time travel logic. Previously, the cyborgs in the past were generally concerned with following orders to rescue that which will become extinct or destroyed by events. Here, we see how decisions are made in the "present" and how they "cause" the actions of the past, already in recorded history, to occur. The different perspective has caused me to re-think how I understand her vision of time travel -- it seems consistent, it's just that I hadn't looked at it that way before.

I've got some nits with the book (which I won't go into, because I'd need to get into plot specifics), but my biggest complaint with the book is one common to many books in series. Namely, there's no end to the book, so it might as well be a chapter end. To me, a book needs some sort of closure -- it doesn't need to resolve all outstanding issues in the series, but it does need finality of the basic story thread presented within its pages.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Damn Nationals

DC has a new baseball team, the Nationals. Previously the wandering Expos, the team is being embraced by the region. They were the rejected team, having to travel to Puerto Rico for some home games over their last two seasons in Montreal, and they are coming to a long-rejected town, it having been over 30 years since the second franchise calling itself the Senators left town. Many think that such histories makes this a match made in heaven, but not me. If the Expos were a bunch of cast-offs, the Nationals are essentially bullies.

The games will be played in walking distance from where I live. In fact, I already walk there 15 or so times per year, to watch DC United. And that's one of the problems -- my team now has to share its field with a baseball team. It is possible that the seats will move readily between baseball and soccer configurations, and the pitcher's mound won't be noticeable when there's a soccer game, and the dozens of things necessary for a smooth transition between the layouts for the two sports will go as planned. On this front, I can remain cautiously optimistic, at least until failure strikes. But several thousand lower bowl seats will no longer be available, thus reducing the atmosphere (and noise) generated at games. And suddenly, we who had been the principal tenants ever since the Redskins left, are now left with the scraps, squeezing games in at our beloved RFK during Nats' road trips. Long-suffering though the team may be, baseball still has clout over soccer in this country.

As a resident of DC, I'm also disgusted by the hundreds of millions of dollars we're giving to multi-millionaires in building the Nationals a new, 100% publicly-financed stadium. The greatest insult added to that injury is that the new owners will have naming rights for a stadium to which they contributed nothing. Hard to feel much pity for a team that came to town on its own terms, and to which my government kowtowed.

No, I won't be going to a Nationals game any time soon, if ever, even though the new stadium will also be close to where I live (though a much longer walk). Call me a curmudgeon (you wouldn't be the first), but I'll stick to rooting for the Red Sox from afar.

Beer Fame

For the past few years, has held a "Battle of the Beers" to recognize the best American beer. They do an NCAA-tourney format, with 64 beers facing off two beers each time, with the winner, as determined by a popularity contest, advancing to the next round. They only have one beer per brewery, and there's plenty of arbitrariness in which beers are selected. In addition, certain breweries have "stuffed the ballot" by sending out e-mail to those on their mailing lists to vote for their beers. That being said, their contest generates interest in craft brews and breweries, and so overall I think it's a good thing.

This year, it turns out that is working with them, in that each pairing includes links to RateBeer for the competing beers, where you can see the overall rating of each beer, and the five ratings from the sitemembers with the most ratings (if #3 hasn't tried the beer, #6 is included, etc.). As the site's #5 rater, and the rater with the most ratings of American beers, I appear there a lot (argo0, same as this site). Today, for instance, for the eight beers competing, the ratebeer link takes you to my ratings seven times. I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing -- is my mother proud?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Death of the Juvenile Death Penalty

The United States was the last nation to ban juvenile executions. Amazing, but true. I feel that we as a country have taken a giant step forward in this decision to join the rest of the world.

That being said, I find the logic of the majority weak, relying as it does on international standards and a growing consensus in the states. I don't know that the Supereme Court has ever before relied on international standards in its law, so I am quite surprised the court felt that it could look there today ("The overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty is not controlling here, but provides respected and significant confirmation for the Court's determination that the penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18."). And despite the fact that five states have changed their laws to prohibit the death penalty on juveniles since the Supreme Court last visited the issue (and upheld the ability to execute juveniles), of the states that allow the death penalty (38), the majority of them (20) allow its application to minors.

To be fair, the Court relied on more than just consensus. It also applied the following logic, which it had previously applied to juveniles under 16, and to the mentally retarded:
  1. The death penalty is reserved for "those offenders who commit 'a narrow category of the most serious crimes' and whose extreme culpability makes them 'the most deserving of execution.'"
  2. Because juveniles are not fully mature, they lack such extreme culpability, and so not "even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character."
This decision will give strict constructionists fresh meat to bemoan judicial activism -- at its core, the majority substitutes its judgment for those of 20 state legislatures. Also, Scalia pulls no punches in his dissent as to how the majority has contorted itself in reversing a 15-year-old decision. Still, it's hard to complain with the result. And the beauty of the decision is that it should prevent the issue from arising again (and letting the court change its mind) -- the "consensus" on which the majority relied will be preserved by this very decision. Should a state wish to try to re-institute capital punshment for juveniles, it would be the only one, and would completely lack any sort of consensus on which to rely. And I can't imagine talk of a constitutional amendment to reinstate the juvenile death penalty would get far.

Jury Duty & Peremptory Challenges

I was called for one jury panel, and I wasn't selected. That was it, and so I served my civic duty for another couple of years. For the panel, the charges being considered were for a lesser felony, and according to the judge, it probably wouldn't go on for more than a couple of days. Despite that, 55 of us sat on the jury panel, to select 14 people. There were several people let go for cause, and the lawyers were each allowed to use 11 peremptory challenges (i.e., for any reason (except illegal ones like racial discrimination)).

In truth, I don't see much reason for any peremptory challenges. I understand that occasionally there's something about a certain juror that seems a bit off, even though no cause can be stated, so I wouldn't object with keeping a couple of such challenges. And even 4-5 when you're talking about a capital case. But the number in this case was just too high. If there's a reason to dismiss a juror, then by all means dismiss him/her. But if there's no reason, then forget it -- seat the individual and move on. This would save the court time (shorter time necessary to interview the potential jurors, etc.) and make jury selection much more efficient. And of course, it would balance out, since both sides would lose their peremptories. It made me curious about other states, so I googled some, to see how many peremptory challenges they get:
  • Arizona: 10 for a capital case, 6 for other felonies, 2 for misdemeanors
  • California: 20 for a capital case, 10 for most criminal cases, 6 for criminal cases punishable by less than 90 days in jail
  • Florida: 10 for capital cases, 6 for other felonies, 3 for misdemeanors
  • Georgia: 20/10 for capital cases, 12/6 for other felonies (first number is for defendants, second is for prosecution)
  • Oregon: 12 for capital cases, 6 for other felonies, 3 for misdemeanors
  • Pennsylvania: where there is a single defendant, 20 for a capital case, 7 for other felonies, and 5 for misdemeanors
  • Texas: 15 for capital cases, 10 for other felonies, 3 for misdemeanors
  • Wisconsin: 6 for life imprisonment cases (like DC, they have no capital punishment), 4 for other crimes
The case I was hearing was a felony, so as near as I can tell, DC has among the highest number of peremptories for such cases. The joke in DC is that while you don't get called for jury duty for at least 2 years since the last time you were called, the reality is that you get called almost as soon as you hit two years, due to the amount of crime relative to the number of registered voters in the district. Seems like reducing the number of peremptories would help on this front as well.