Tuesday, June 24, 2008


1. Brawndo. Watch the ads. (MR)
2. Nietzsche Family Circus. Good times. (HP)
3. Blattman summarizes studies of the awesomeness or possible non-awesomeness of locavorism.
4. My favorite local bookstore closed. (AL)

I finally finished my first textbook's worth of studying--Robert Cooter's The Strategic Constitution. I also took a two-day course on SAS. It's more powerful than STATA. Sorta like how LaTeX or UNIX are more powerful. Or something.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's the first day of summer, and that means it's...

Hike Naked Day! Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the rest of you, I won't get to participate this year. How sad.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Should Be Studying

Sweet. I am going to Burning Man. My low-income ticket application was accepted, so I'll be enjoying commerce-free living and installation art with my Mormon friend and possibly her mom while likely being quite weirded out by a million raving hippies in the desert for a week after my exam and before school starts.

Speaking of cavorting with hippies, I spent most of Wednesday watching the football stadium tree-sit sh-t hit the fan. Arborists started cutting down the ropes and structures that the tree-sitters built. The fence was lined with 20 or so police officers, but one dude managed to climb up a telephone pole, and one of his friends on the inside threw him a rope and he managed to make his way inside. One guy got arrested for grabbing the tools of the arborist who was trying to interfere with the guy who was trying to make his way into the trees. Some people shoved the cops arresting him, and the cops responded by cross-checking the shovers with their billy clubs. The craziest part was the gigantic crane that lowered baskets with arborists to the vicinity of "the God box," this ridiculously unsafe little platform the tree-sitters have built up about 10 feet higher than the top of one redwood in the grove. Imagine a bathtub propped up by an umbrella and a couple 2x4's on the top of some Dr. Seuss-esque stack of random stuff on top of one finger of the Grinch, all 150 feet off the ground, swaying in the wind. This girl Dumpster Muffin (which I have to admit is a pretty awesome trail-name) was inside the box, and she'd scream like a banshee and bang on the side of the box any time the crane got near her. News came that the court decision came down upholding the injunction against cutting cutting down the trees (but the police have long had permission to remove the sitters) and things calmed down a little.

Here are the latest Chron stories about the affair (1, 2) Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera to school that day.

It was really interesting to watch. Some of the protesters are ridiculous, some are intelligent. It was interesting to see how arborists (not trained to deal with riots or protests) reacted arrogantly to verbal abuse from protesters, and the cops (trained) made absolutely no reaction to you unless you spoke to them politely or starting pushing on the barriers or something. It makes sense that the arborists are the ones to go in and cut down the stuff since they know how to climb trees, but they're not trained to restrain or arrest people, so there's a very real chance that somebody will get hurt. Of course the sitters would say there's absolute certainty that the trees will be hurt if construction goes forward.

And maybe to gain back some environmentalist street-cred since I'm on the side of the athletic facility (although both sides seem to be totally intransigent), I'll tell you how much I loved, loved, loved Peter Heller's The Whale Warriors, which I just finished listening to. It took me a while to get started because the guy who read it has the most soporific voice I've ever heard in my life, but once I got used to it, I was able to really appreciate the book. It's by a National Geographic journalist that tagged along on one of Sea Shephard's missions to stop whaling by the Japanese in the southern oceans. Sea Shephard is run by Paul Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace who, depending on who you ask, was kicked out for his extreme tactics or left because of personal differences. He runs his small all-volunteer crewed ship the Farley Mowat down to the antarctic where the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) kill whales in the name of "research." There is an international moratorium on commercial whaling (which Iceland decided to blatantly disregard in 2006), so the Japanese call it research, but several respectable peer-reviewed scientific bodies say that (a) you don't need to kill whales to do the research that really needs to be done, and (b) the only research that the ICR does is to say "yep, that's another dead whale," and then the meat is sold for consumption. So Watson takes his shoe-string budget ship around and tries to foul the props on the whaling boats, ram them, or otherwise physically prevent them from whaling. Greenpeace is also active in the same waters, but they don't actually stop the whalers and instead just hold up banners and take a bunch of photos. Sea Shepherd has never hurt or killed anyone, but their extreme methods get them labeled as pirates and eco-terrorists, which doesn't entirely distress Watson since increasing the stakes could help with the PR battle he's waging.

Anyway, the book was really good. I found it thoroughly convincing that, even if you disagree with Watson's methods, the seas are dramatically over-fished and already existing international law should be enforced to stop all whaling. It's part adventure-travel narrative, part peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and part beautiful and poetically written stories of the writer's and others' experiences while diving with marine mammals that clearly show their amazing intelligence (I wish I had a physical copy of the book so I could quote the one or two that made me cry).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obscure References to Dead Languages that Only I Knew to Be Hilarious

We always joke about how a typical Christmas day in my family was one hour in the morning with everybody opening their presents and then everyone spending the rest of the day in their own individual room by themselves reading a book they'd gotten--Dad in the living room, Mom in the basement, and the kids all upstairs in their own rooms. I just got back from a family reunion in Chicago, and apparently we've advanced a little since back in the day. Now we just stick to our own hotel rooms and use our laptops to check e-mail and occasionally instant message each other.

Seriously, the reunion was pretty fun. We stayed right downtown, we all tried to be really chill about how much touristy stuff to do, and we only discussed politics or religion when we were in self-selected groups, so everybody got along. Good times.

I am horrible with children.

I am horrible with children.

My conservationist brother-in-law scored us a behind-the-scenes tour at the aquarium. This catfish is humongous.

Gecko, failing at camouflage.

Ferris wheel at Navy Pier.

Lighthouse at Navy Pier.

Kidney Bean at Millennium Park.

Spitting Fountain at Millennium Park.

I also got to hang out with a buddy from grad school that's working on the Obama campaign and a hilarious friend of mine from junior high (watch a video of his) that is doing comedy in Chicago. We saw a long-form improv show at the Improv Olympic that was quite good. I volunteered for a bit they did in an interlude where I told them about my day and they acted out what my dreams for the night would be like that turned out quite well, especially since I gave them a lot of juicy family gossip to work with.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Juggling Fire

Saturday was National Trails Day, so I went to a trail maintenance project at Redwood Regional Park. Some people recognized me from the Backpacker article. That was weird. Also, I am awesome with a pulaski.

Sunday, instead of doing the Mt. Diablo 50K like I'd planned (since I ran there on Tuesday), I went to the city and watched the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon.

Most importantly, my coworker juggles fire.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I still pay for music. On occasion. Then I regret it.

In the past 6 months I've noticed that soundtracks are one of my best sources for discovering music that I like. Not all of it is new or anything, but I guess I haven't been diligent in listening to NPR's All Songs Considered anymore, so movies fill the void.

The top 5 most played songs in my iTunes library are Society--Eddie Vedder (Into the Wild), All I Want Is You--Barry Louis Polisar (Juno), Whole Wide World--Wreckless Eric (Stranger than Fiction), A New England--Billy Bragg (Half Nelson), and Mad World--Gary Jules (Donnie Darko).

And when I bought Weezer's Red Album this morning, I also picked up Substance, a Joy Division best-of, since I loved Love Will Tear Us Apart when I re-watched Donnie Darko last week. (As a side note, the Red Album sucks big dong. Just watch the Pork & Beans video twice and call it a day. Or to rub it in that I wasted a bunch of money, read this Pitchfork review. Then, since Pitchfork is annoying, read these fake reviews on Pitchfork making fun of Pitchfork by David Cross.)

OK, maybe I'm acting like a bad journalist (do you expect any less from my blog?) in pretending that since there's two of something it's a trend, since, upon further reflection I also remember really liking Coyotes--Don Edwards (Grizzly Man), the entire Cat Stevens Harold & Maude soundtrack, and the entire Garden State soundtrack from viewings a few years ago, but still, I think it's new that all of my most-listened to songs are from movies.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mt. Diablo is really far away from my house.

On Tuesday I biked to campus and then ran from there to Mt. Diablo and back. Here's the route. In brief, it's Cal, Tilden, Sibley, Huckleberry, Redwood, EBMUD, Las Trampas, Las Trampas to Diablo Trail, Diablo, Diablo Foothills, Briones to Diablo Trail, Briones Regional Park, Briones Reservoir, EBMUD, Tilden, Cal.

It took me one or two minutes over 25 hours. The route I g-mapped says 59 miles, so I'd say it might be around 75. I started at 4 AM with my buddy Zack. He just PhinisheD and is moving next week for a faculty position at UCSB (congrats, and thank you for imparting so much Tilden-knowledge over the last few years), so we decided to get a final crazy run in together. We got to the summit in a decent 11 hours, bought ice cream at the summit gift shop, and turned back. Zack bailed at Walnut Creek BART, and I kept going, but the next several miles of asphalt bike-path through downtown Walnut Creek were killer on the feet. I didn't get much sleep Sunday or Monday night, so after dark I was really tired and a couple-three times I laid down and took a nap in the middle of the trail. Then after maybe 30 minutes I'd wake up shivering and start going again. I rolled into campus at 5AM. I was kind of hoping to see some early-riser just getting to the department, but the place was empty.

Diablo from Redwood (zoomed in a bunch). This wasn't the first time we could see Diablo during the day, but it was the first time it was light enough for a decent picture.

Alligator Lizard. In other animal sighting news, we saw a gray fox (the only canine that can climb trees), and I got swarmed by bees.

Zack in Las Trampas. Happily, it was overcast for a lot of the morning.

The Summit

Me back at the lacrosse field, lit up in case you want to get your game on at 5 AM.

Overall, I felt good for the daylight hours but pretty crappy during the last few hours, I didn't do a good job loading my iPod (I find books more helpful than songs over ridiculously long stretches), I certainly wondered why the hell I do stupid stuff like this, and I certainly had fun doing it. Also, this trip strengthened my convictions about Bay Area awesomeness, since there is public land the entire way, which made for very little road-walking.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

John Muir and Hunter S. Thompson's Love Child

Just finished reading Ed Abbey's Desert Solitaire. Basically, it's a collection of essays and narratives from a few years in which Abbey worked as a ranger in Arches. He asks the question, "What is the peculiar quality or character of the desert that distinguishes it, in spiritual appeal, from other forms of landscape?" But I find his answer unconvincing. There are some pretty cool travel narratives (being one of the last people to raft the Colorado before Glen Canyon was filled, hiking to the floor of the Maze, etc.), interesting historical tales about hardscrabble locals (miners, ranchers, Mormons) and polemics against industrial tourism (it is Ed Abbey, after all), but I had trouble plowing through the long stretches that were either philosophical mumbo-jumbo or lengthy descriptions of desert scenery. Maybe this is just my innate preference for mountains over desert canyons coming out, but I feel the same way when I read John Muir talking about the Sierras--when you're telling stories, I think people are much more interesting than rocks.

A friend of mine told me about this org that he used to volunteer with a bunch, One Brick, which basically creates easy low-key no-commitment volunteer opportunities in a social setting. So I spent the afternoon shadowing this photographer getting photo releases signed for her at a fundraiser at the Randall Museum, a kid's nature museum in SF. Good times.

I also decided to be smart and back up my computer. So I newegg'd myself a 500 GB hard drive, and while I was at it I loaded up the computer with 4 GB of RAM. So now I can browse four times as much of the interwebs. Or something.

I did actually start studying this week, which is pretty awesome. In reading about voting models I read some stuff on Keynes' beauty contest and guessing 2/3 of the average guess. (The latter is actually pretty cool, check it out.) I also realized that, as cool as economists, myself included, like to think Arrow's Impossibility Theorem is, the proof is way harder than I remember it being in the first year of grad school. Oh well.

Also, I watched Network again. It is the greatest film ever. There is only one holistic system of systems.