No man is a failure who has friends

December 24th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Goddamn you, Frank Capra, for making me cry at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life every single time I watch it.

In which I find a way to mention robots in a post about the Gettysburg Address

December 18th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the finest oratories in American history, six score 120 years ago yesterday. Would that more writing were so powerful and eloquent. (Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address comes close.)

NPR aired Sam Waterston’s reading of the Address on Morning Edition, but I confess that his delivery did not impress me much. Also, ever since Saturday Night Live showed that damned Old Glory Robot Insurance sketch, I have trouble imagining him in any other role.

I’ve got bags of amchoor powder, I’ve got sumac, who could ask for anything more?

December 16th, 2003 § One comment § permalink

My last final for the semester was on Friday, and I turned in my last assignment on Saturday. I am officially done with my first semester of graduate school. Hooray!

I kept myself entertained during finals week by writing a top ten list of horrible, horrible pickup lines for first-year city planning students. Here’s an example: “Why don’t you come up to my studio and we’ll overlay our natural resources.” Trust me, if you were in my graduate program, you would find this hilarious.

Today, reveling in the glorious gift of free time, I biked to the Halal market on San Pablo to pick up some Indian and Turkish spices. The proprietor was using a band saw to slice a huge slab of lamb for an Indian woman and her Iranian friend. After he wrapped up their meat and pointed them towards the 20-pound sacks of basmati rice, he looked at me, the white guy from the suburbs, and grinned. “You see all kinds of people in this place,” he said. “I love it. I love it.” So do I.

Oil be seeing you

December 4th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

George Monbiot, a British journalist who writes for the Guardian, has a new column that explains how quickly the world is running out of oil and how drastically our society will have to change in oil’s absence. Oil production could very well peak in the next decade, he argues, and alternative energy sources are either not viable or chronically underfunded. He is not optimistic about our ability to adjust to a world without oil:

The only rational response to both the impending end of the Oil Age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure, and our problem is that no one ever rioted for austerity. People take to the streets because they want to consume more, not less. Given a choice between a new set of matching tableware and the survival of humanity, I suspect that most people would choose the tableware.

There’s a little Dr. Moreau in all of us

November 25th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

One of my brother’s friends is applying for a job as an animal care technician. I asked her if that meant she would be inventing new cyborg animals, like a helifrog or a pelicanoceros. Sadly, it does not.

Rolling back prices! Rolling back wages!

November 23rd, 2003 § Seven comments § permalink

The Los Angeles Times has another excellent article about Wal-Mart and the harms it inflicts on American workers. (Use “pinchydotorg” as the login and password.)

All Wal-Mart, all the time: That’s the pinchy dot org promise!

The high cost of low prices

November 17th, 2003 § Three comments § permalink

Fast Company has a great article about how Wal-Mart’s relentless push to lower its prices has forced its suppliers to move even more manufacturing jobs overseas. The whole article is worth reading, but there are a couple of paragraphs that absolutely nail the biggest problem with the way Wal-Mart does business, and with American capitalism in general:

Wal-Mart wields its power for just one purpose: to bring the lowest possible prices to its customers. At Wal-Mart, that goal is never reached. The retailer has a clear policy for suppliers: On basic products that don’t change, the price Wal-Mart will pay, and will charge shoppers, must drop year after year. But what almost no one outside the world of Wal-Mart and its 21,000 suppliers knows is the high cost of those low prices. Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.

Of course, U.S. companies have been moving jobs offshore for decades, long before Wal-Mart was a retailing power. But there is no question that the chain is helping accelerate the loss of American jobs to low-wage countries such as China. Wal-Mart, which in the late 1980s and early 1990s trumpeted its claim to “Buy American,” has doubled its imports from China in the past five years alone, buying some $12 billion in merchandise in 2002. That’s nearly 10% of all Chinese exports to the United States.

Oh, and it gets worse: Even Chinese companies are neglecting safety and reducing wages to keep prices low. (To read that last article, use “pinchydotorg” as the login and password.)

Goodbye, butterfly

November 11th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Global warming—or “climate change,” as it is now euphemistically known—may wipe out the world’s monarch butterflies within 50 years. Monarchs need a relatively dry habitat during the winter, and according to current climate models, the forests where they spend each winter are likely to get a lot wetter.

Would people be as willing to ignore global warming if they believed that it would wipe out such a universally adored creature as the monarch butterfly? Is there a way to help people understand this stuff without making them stick their fingers in their ears and say “LA LA LA I AM NOT LISTENING”? Hey, George Lakoff: a little help?

More than mediocre

November 5th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, on the difficulty of creating something interesting:

Basically, anything that anyone makes… It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre. The natural state of all writing is mediocrity. It’s all tending toward mediocrity in the same way that all atoms are sort of dissipating out toward the expanse of the universe. Everything wants to be mediocre, so what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such a fucking act of will. Anyone who makes something for a living, or even not for a living, if they’re really excited about it… You just have to exert so much will into something for it to be good.

The voice of experience

October 18th, 2003 § Three comments § permalink

If you ever decide to roast chestnuts in your oven, make sure you cut a slit in each one first so the steam can escape. Otherwise, instead of eating delicious roasted chestnuts, you’ll find yourself doubled over with laughter in the next room, listening to the muffled cannon sounds of chestnuts bursting all over your oven’s walls.

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