29 Jan 2004

Biking through the frigid snow

Man oh man. I got so many environmentalist points today---biking in the cold is one thing, and biking in the snow is one thing, but biking in the cold snow is something else entirely. You have to go slow (because of the snow) and so the cold has much longer to act.

I've said before that when I lived in Providence, I biked every day, cold, snow, whatever. Today it occurred to me that it doesn't actually get this cold in Providence. Quite the revelation, really.

"This is exactly why I have a hunting dog. He is all over alerting me to any animals in the house, especially the ones on tv." --Jonathan Wagner

Posted by blahedo at 11:27pm | Comments (2)

28 Jan 2004

Electric bill of Doom

Two pieces of mail awaited me. One was St Viator asking me for money. The second was the power bill. I opened the power bill and glanced at the sum. Then I realised this wasn't my credit card bill, it was my electric bill, and HOLY JESUS GOD why was it $620??? What the hell was short-circuited? The previous month had been estimated, so maybe this had been going on since Thanksgiving. But I was away for amonth of that, so it should be lower.

That's when I noticed that the previous estimated reading as 34,100-some and the new reading as 43,400-some. Hmm. A suspicious concordance of digits. A quick trip out to the meter confirmed that the mouth-breather that took the reading just screwed it up---it's really 34,400-some. Whew. Well, I'll call them first thing in the morning. Easily fixed. Still, quite the panic moment.

UPDATE: I just went ahead and called, because duh, they had night staff too. And I gave the woman a number off the meter (more or less; the last three digits are off, but it'll come out in the wash next month), she wrote it down, and they'll send me a fixed bill. Whew.

"A proper baseball team is composed of gentlemen who remember to wear hats outdoors and observe traditional patterns, such as taking turns and spitting on their hands." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 11:20pm | Comments (0)

To-do list

I've been dragging my heels on a bunch of stuff, so I decided it would be helpful to write down a to-do list on my whiteboard. It is surprisingly motivational to see seventeen items, all of which are some variety of "overdue" or "urgent".

None of them, incidentally, was "post to blog about to-do list". So you can see how effective it has been already.

"Predictions, gut feelings and polls have proven all but useless so far in this campaign season so I beg of you, do not mark my words." --Eric Zorn

Posted by blahedo at 6:22pm | Comments (0)

26 Jan 2004

Homework grading

Do you think it would it be too terribly passive-aggressive to take the homeworks that people handed in unstapled, shuffle the pages, and hand them all back separately and in random order, claiming to have "accidentally" dropped the pile on the way to class?

Oh, pooh. Who asked you anyway?

"I think Kerry's major appeal must be to the "I have a funny feeling about Bush but I don't really want anything else to change" demographic. Which could be significant." --Brent Spillner

Posted by blahedo at 4:49am | Comments (2)

25 Jan 2004

Carl Sandburg

Today I went and spent some time down at the Carl Sandburg Birthplace Museum on 3rd Street. He was a pretty cool guy---hardcore socialist, which I hadn't known. I really should put his Lincoln biography on my to-read list (all six volumes(!) of it).

I continue to be annoyed at people who describe Dean's outburst after the Caucus as "a scream", "a tantrum", or "anguished". I mean, these people obviously were not watching the same speech I was. I saw it that night, and I've seen it several times since, and it was obviously not anguished, clearly he was exhilarated and excited. It was the sort of yell or cheer one makes at a pep rally; which, strangely enough, was exactly where he was. Even if you hear the scream out of context, it's a long stretch to say it sounds upset. (At least it's getting him a lot of screen time. No press is bad press, eh?)

"Googling suggests that mplayer is the answer (as it is to most questions for which emacs or perl are not the answer)." --Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 8:13pm | Comments (0)

24 Jan 2004

Weekend in progress

Well, I saw My Fair Lady last night. And it has some hilarious scenes, especially for someone who's a linguist. But I was surprised to find that, deep down, it really isn't a very good movie. Like, at all. It's a musical, but one of the leads and a major supporting role can't sing and end up speaking their songs---which is a trick you can get away with for a line or two, but it becomes painfully obvious when it is used and re-used for song after song. Even within the "break randomly into song" context of musicals everywhere, a lot of the numbers make no sense; either they are tossed in with minimal setup to a scene where they are barely relevant, or they make no sense at all. ("I could have danced all night"---eh? But you weren't dancing. Or at a party. Nor are you talking about the past, but the present.) There is some interesting commentary on the role of language in class distinction. But then the promising discussion on the role of women in society seems to be resolved in favour of the "she shouldn't work; she'll only be truly happy if she's at home, fetching her man's slippers". Pretty awful stuff, really.

Today my job is working on catching up with my classes. Unfortunately, I've spent the afternoon rearranging and cleaning my living room. Which is, to be sure, a productive use of my time, just not what I'm supposed to be doing. I actually broke down three boxes from the move (you know, last September?), giving me significant space. The new arrangement reminds me of my apartment in Providence, not because the layout is the same, but because my couch is now in front of a window. Really gives the room a different feel.

"I appreciate the irony of this rich, pampered, oft-rescued son of a president admonishing athletes that there are no "shortcuts to accomplishments." I marvel at how Bush devoted more time to homosexuals than he did to the environment." --Burt Constable

Posted by blahedo at 5:32pm | Comments (0)

23 Jan 2004

Weekend plans

They're having one of their monthly "classic movies at the Orpheum" tonight---and they're showing "My Fair Lady", which I still haven't seen since I started doing linguistics (!), so I'd have to go even if I weren't already planning to.

Other than that, though, it's a whole lotta Catch-Up Time for me. I'm behind on grading and lecture notes in both classes, *and* they both just turned in a project today. Fortunately, I have no other plans for the weekend....

"Do you know what I love about corporate CEOs? Their commitment to honesty. I like to think we owe the free market for that. In a more regulated system, they might lie sometimes." --Bob Romashko

Posted by blahedo at 2:58pm | Comments (0)

22 Jan 2004

All I want to know is...

...is there some planet where it is considered acceptable to dig out your professor's home phone number, and then call them, at 10:45 at night? And then, when the professor does give you some hints, have the nerve to sound annoyed when the professor doesn't tell you exactly how to solve the problem due the next day?

I mean, I'm not even particularly annoyed. I'm just completely floored that anyone would even remotely consider it as an option. Not even a last resort; other options, like email or the course message board, were not even attempted.

'Resisting says, "I am a gourmet dessert, rare and expensive." Being too eager says, "I am a cheeseburger. You know what I taste like and you can get me anytime you want."' --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 11:11pm | Comments (4)

20 Jan 2004

Caucus notes

So tonight I went over to Burlington, Iowa to observe the caucus. I went to precinct 6, since that's where I was doorknocking on Saturday (and I recognised a few people, even). It was just about the coolest thing I'd seen.

There was a long line of people signing in, and once they were in, they sat down in the middle section of the school auditorium (except for those of us who were observing---we didn't need to sign in, we just went straight in to the "guest seating"). It was supposed to start at 7, but it took longer to get everyone registered and signed in; the precinct has 680-some registered Dems, and usually gets a turnout of about 50 or 60, but tonight there were well over a hundred.

Once they were all in, the chair called the caucus to order and everyone counted off, military-style. This has the advantage of feeling participatory and making everybody sure that they were counted. Total: 144 people. This meant that the "viability number" (more on that later) was 22. That done, the chair had everyone break off into their preference groups, scattered around the auditorium.

Lieberman, Clark, and Sharpton all had exactly zero people, and the initial breakdowns in the various camps was as follows: nine or ten for Kucinich; about 25 each for Dean and Edwards; over 50 for Kerry; about 15 for Gephardt; and five or six uncommitted. These last were mostly enticed to Gephardt, I think. That's how it stood for the next half hour, with maybe a couple people changing hands. There was some fairly active campaigning---at one point an old guy with a cane wandered from the Dean group to lecture the Gephardt-ites, saying, "We've already had plenty of wars! I was in WWII. If you've been in a war, you don't want to go back to war!" At the two minute warning, the Kucinich people joined the Edwards camp, to much applause from the latter.

See, the way this works is, if your precinct is sending four or more delegates to the county convention, the minimum viable group size is 15% of those in attendance. That means that even if your precinct has many delegates (this one had 14, each representing about 7% of the crowd, or ten caucusers), you need to get over that viability threshold or you won't get any. Now, Edwards and Kucinich had struck a deal earlier in the day that if either or both were unviable at a given precinct, they should unite under the banner of the larger group. I suppose this went in Kucinich's favour in a couple cases, but mostly this benefitted Edwards. Certainly at my precinct, the deal got Edwards an extra delegate.

So anyway, at the 7:45 tally, the numbers were these: Dean 29; Edwards 37; Kucinich 1 (that was the caucus chairman!); Kerry 57; Gephardt 20. That left only Dean, Edwards, and Kerry viable, Gephardt missing the mark by two people. I had overheard one of the Gephardt guys saying "If we're not viable, we're gonna challenge the whole count," but nothing really came of it. The non-viability of Gephardt, though, caused that group to disperse. They went in ones and twos, and as each batch of people joined some group or another, there was raucous applause from the group they joined. Only a couple went to Dean, a few more to Kerry, but the most of them to Edwards.

The final 7:55 tally: Dean 32; Edwards 49; Kerry 63. They calculate the delegation as follows: 32 votes, times 14 delegates, divided by 144 caucus attendees, yields 3.111 or 3 delegates for Dean. Edwards got 5, and Kerry 6. Apparently, I got Iowa in microcosm right there in my auditorium.

After the voting was done, and some red tape involving appointing delegates, the caucus put up resolutions to be sent along to the county convention. Apparently these resolutions are submitted at the precinct level and then wend their way up through the county and then the state convention to become part of the state party platform. Participatory democracy at work. The resolutions:

  • Social security: reform it carefully, keep it basically intact, encourage investment alongside but don't carve it out of the main social security fund. Passed by acclamation.
  • Two on health insurance, both substantively the same: establish a proper single-payer government health insurance. Passed by acclamation.
  • Medicare: remove the coverage gap. Passed by acclamation.
  • Drug laws: This one was really interesting. Apparently, in Iowa, if you are convicted of any form of drug offence at all, you mandatorily lose your driver's licence for 180 days. As you might imagine, this gives a lot of people a choice of 1) lose your job or 2) drive on a suspended licence. They do the latter, it gets permanently suspended, you lose your job anyway... as the resolution put it, it creates a "permanent underclass", and it doesn't even make sense since the drug offence has nothing at all to do with driving; the resolution was to work to repeal this sentencing system. Well, in the discussion section one cranky old lady piped up with "you should revoke it permanently, they can carpool", to some vocal agreement from her neighbours. Put up for a vote, the "aye"s sounded pretty even with the "nay"s, and they had to take a hand vote. Happily, it passed, 32-24.
  • Education: fully fund it by the state of Iowa. Passed by acclamation.
  • Iraq: UN in, US out. Passed by acclamation.
  • Prescription drug ads: ban them. Let your doctor prescribe drugs, not the drug companies and lobbyists. There were perhaps four or five nay votes, but the "aye"s carried it.
  • Amendments: I didn't really understand this one, but it appeared to be some sort of screed against attaching random, unrelated rider amendments to big bills. Again, a few "nay"s, but the "aye"s had it.

Finally, the caucus ended. I drove to the downtown headquarters, where Josh had said there would be a post-caucus gathering, but it was a ghost town. There was a sign on the door that said that the "Perfect Storm" (that's what they called the big volunteer effort) was out at the Best Western, so I thought I'd try to find it. I figure, probably off 34, right? I'd gone way past the edge of Burlington, and figured I'd just take the next exit to turn around. But there was a Comfort Inn and so... maybe a Best Western too? Sure enough.

Inside, I asked a waitress and she said the Dean folks had all left already; the other waitress said that no, there was still a group there. So I chatted with them---a family from Arkansas that had driven up to help with the weekend. They'd been in Ottumwa all weekend, but were told to come up to Burlington today to help out with the effort there, but then apparently the campaign organisation totally dried up this afternoon. We're not really sure what happened. At their precinct, Dean was unviable by two votes, which could have been picked up several different ways if the campaign had been on the ball (two Dean people walked in too late, two Dean people were at the wrong precinct, and a few couldn't get rides---which the Arkansans would've been happy to give if the precinct 10 captain had had contact info on her list of thirty or so probable voters). Alas.

Anyway, I hung out with the Arkansans for a while and watched Dean's speech in Des Moines; we also met a couple of local Dean folks who were getting dinner there. They were particularly riled, one of them to the extent of claiming he was making preparations to move to Canada, if Dean didn't win (and hence, in his mind, that Bush would win). Fascinating.

And that wraps it up. Memorable evening. I really feel like this caucus system is the way to go. Illinois needs to get us some o' that.

"All this talk in the ongoing immigration debate that immigrants "do the jobs that Americans don't want to do" is misleadingly incomplete. In fact, immigrants do the jobs that Americans don't want to do for the wages American employers are willing to pay." --Eric Zorn

Posted by blahedo at 12:26am | Comments (0)

10 Jan 2004

I love Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington just wrote a piece about Dean entitled Unelectable, My Ass!. It's a great look at all the stupid stuff that the DLC and others have been saying about Howard Dean.

We like that he's angry. So are we. We've got a lot to be angry about. How is it that the other Dems are not?

What's with all the 1972 McGovern comparisons? How about let's compare him to 1968 Bobby Kennedy, instead.

Why are they sticking to the "tried-and-untrue" swing voter strategy? Sure, if we can convince a Bush voter to vote Dem instead, then that effectively counts as two votes, where enticing new voters only gets us one. But getting the two votes is A. Lot. Harder. It's like saying, "hey, you can buy one of these widgets for $5; but I've got a great deal, you can buy two of them in a package... for $20." I mean, sure, we need to continue thinking about the swing voters, and go for the easy ones, but not at the expense of strategies that will bring in new voters (especially as those are more likely to work *and* the people they bring in are much more likely to stick with the Dems than to swing right back for the next election).

And why have we let the Democrats abandon FDR's great vision? We used to really believe that a truly advanced nation could provide for those who didn't have enough. Where did we let it go?

"No Democrat can win by playing 'Whose swagger is swaggier?' or 'Whose flight suit is tighter?'" --Arianna Huffington

Posted by blahedo at 1:46am | Comments (2)

8 Jan 2004


I woke up and my watch said 10:26.

This was not an error; it was, in fact, 10:26. AM, even.

That gave me slightly under fourteen minutes to get to school and in the lab. Somehow, I made it. Boy, I haven't done that in years. I'm actually kind of impressed that I made it on time. Three or four students were a few minutes late, and I don't think they really understood why I laughed it off. :)

"We have to pretend problems don't exist. Gets difficult when there are odours involved." --Tom, "Daria"

Posted by blahedo at 12:02pm | Comments (3)

7 Jan 2004

Day two

Technically day three, of course, but I didn't teach yesterday. Oddly enough, 141 went worse today and 395C went better. Last night I was not very worried about 141 (thinking I had plenty to cover) but was unsure about 395C. A lot of it boiled down to the 395 kids being much more participatory, which helped me pace the class, but in 141 I sort of raced through, finished, and sort of floundered for a bit before eventually dismissing them early. Ah well, live and learn. :)

"Don't get me started on Hawai'i drivers. I think it's because there's nowhere to go." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 2:56pm | Comments (0)

6 Jan 2004

Sleepy day

Apparently, today was the day for my body to inform my brain, "Enough with the sleep deprivation already!" I got up at a moderate 11am, took my shower, checked my email, and was going to be at work by noon. But sitting there on the couch I fell asleep. And drifted in and out of sleep all day, finally rousing at about 7. It's not even that I was all that sleep deprived, but I suppose that all those 4.5 and 6-hour nights finally caught up with me. :P

Fortunately, this was my day off from classes. I still need to write my lectures for tomorrow, though...

"Watching Elmo be joined by the Backstreet Boys is like having the person who is repeatedly kicking you in the balls suddenly say, 'Oh. I'm sorry. I forgot to set you on fire first.'" --Jeff Vogel

Posted by blahedo at 9:19pm | Comments (0)


I just deleted two spam comments, rebuilt, and banned the IP they (both) came from. Hopefully I got them before the spiders came through. Email me know if the ban accidentally hits you.

"Humorous and detailed stories that people aren't bound to take seriously make for excellent smalltalk. If you can hide the fact that you're just retelling an old X-Files episode, even better." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 11:08am | Comments (0)

5 Jan 2004


Well, I headed to the city council meeting and watched a bunch of people scrapping over a 50c trail fee at the golf course, and railroad crossings. Fun. Then I got home and discovered that my phone's speaker doesn't work, just the headset---so I'll need to go in to Verizon and see what they can do about it.

It's now exactly one degree outside. It's supposed to get down to -17 tonight---not including windchill. Yay Midwest.

"The worst thing about being a libertarian is realizing that all of your fellow travelers are also white male college sophomores, even if they're in their fifties." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 11:59pm | Comments (1)

One day down

I hate the first day. I never know what to say or how to gauge my time; and there's always the tradeoff between covering material the first day (and losing the people who physically weren't there or were just mentally absent) and not covering material the first day (and losing precious time). Ah well. Done now. Now to write up the notes for each class and prepare the new BlueJ version for installation downstairs.

Well, now to eat lunch. *Then* to do that other stuff.

"Jonathan, you just need to start every sentence you say with 'Assuming we exist...'." --Kristi Foss

Posted by blahedo at 2:21pm | Comments (0)

4 Jan 2004

Ancient game shows

Super late at night, the Game Show Network shows old, old black-and-white game shows, and they're awesome. I just finished watching "What's My Line", where the mystery guest was Johnny Carson---and they announced that he'd be taking over for Jack Paar come the fall. Wild. I'm also struck by how educated the panelists are, compared to modern game shows... *sigh*

"Mormon girls make really bad lesbians" --Eleni Moraites

Posted by blahedo at 3:58am | Comments (0)

3 Jan 2004

Happy new year

Happy New Year!

I seem to have lost a post I made a couple days ago. Damn. Anyway, the music party was fun; there were three groups, including Theory of Everything whose CD I bought and am well pleased with. Then there was a sing-a-long, which was ok but dominated by songs that didn't have much in the way of melody; ah well.

Kim and Al's party was excellent as always. It's one of the very few parties all year where I sit in one conversation and can hear one or two others that I'd actively really like to participate in. Such fun. :) I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen since last year, and got to meet a few people I didn't know or didn't know well; like Mike's sister Kristi, who is way cool. She spent a lot of time mentioning relevant legal facts, presumably due to being halfway through law school. (It reminded me of Theresa's ability to inject random medical facts into a conversation and pitch them at exactly the right level that they remain comprehensible and interesting to the lay person.)

Yesterday we sat around and talked for a while, then went on a sushi run to finish off the week. I left right from there rather than get sucked in for the whole evening.

Political thought of the day (courtesy Mike): you probably were aware that in Nazi Germany you needed to be a member of the Nazi Party in order to get government funding for your business. You've seen it in non-fiction and novels about the era; if nowhere else, you saw it in Schindler's List or some similar movie. Likewise, in Soviet Russia you needed to be a member of the Communist Party in order to get anything accomplished. Again, you'll probably have seen this in some Cold War spy novel or movie; I actually had it personally confirmed by someone who lived there---it was true at least up into the early 90s.

Well, Congressman Hall (D-TX), long known as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, having the stated goal of remaining Democrat in order to shift the party rightward, has just announced that he's turning Republican. Why now? Because his district had been denied funding solely due to him being a Democrat.

This is a relatively new feature on the American political landscape, and it's not a pretty one. I think we're still a ways off from anything like a totalitarian regime; but it's becoming ever harder to answer the five-year-old's question "why were those countries bad?" with something that doesn't also apply to our own country. The differences are becoming ones of degree rather than qualitative, and it's disturbing.

"This shirt is for *your* protection." --Scott Harris

Posted by blahedo at 5:10am | Comments (2)