Tuesday, May 17, 2011

O vs O

According to the Google Ngram Viewer tool, Osama was ahead of Obama for a long time, by a 10:1 margin before 2002.  Though Obama recently scored the final win in 2011, Ngram doesn't presently go past 2008, and so doesn't show it.  Still, it's clear by Google that Obama had Osama beat by mid-2004, somewhat surprisingly.  I would have predicted that Osama would be ahead of Obama until 2007.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Planet Money & the national debt

Great "Planet Money" podcast today.

I learned that (1) our founding father's decision to run a national debt is what made the US such as desirable place for investors to park their money, leading to the long term dominance of our economy, and (2) the one time when we paid off the national debt, it was immediately followed by one of the worst depressions we've ever experienced.

I think I've listened to every single Planet Money podcast to date.  They've produced almost 300 of them since the early days of the financial crisis of 2008.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

winter solstice in my San Francisco neighborhood

My little part of San Francisco is Bernal Heights, which is an isolated hilltop at the transition between the Inner and Outer Mission Districts and the eastern edge of Noe Valley.  Here's a taste of my neighborhood from Christmas/solstice 2010:

Red Hill Books, 401 Cortland Street

Ducking into my the neighborhood bookstore, I get recommendations on Brazilian authors and children's books. The folks there always have answers. 

La Altena, Mission & Virginia Streets

At the counter of this cheap Mex resto on Mission & Virginia, I order my usual chile relleno plato in Spanish.  They answer me back in English.  I then speak to them in English.  They answer me back in Spanish.  As usual.  In spite of the language confusion, they don't forget that I like extra corn tortillas.

Mission Street

I'm now walking north on Mission St, towards the Mission District itself.  Though it's early, it's long since dark on this shortest day of the year.  Post-rainful, I occasionally squish cardboard food containers, now pulp.  I pass my old night time cafe haunt, Socha Cafe.  They're going out of business.  It's inexplicably staffed tonight, but as has been the case these last few weeks, the door is locked.  The night shift guy - who is superficially charming, but on a closer look has a malevent edge - is apparently running out the clock on his employer.  Collecting his minimum wage while he sits with friends inside drinking beers.  I gotta find a new place.

Esmeralda Minipark

I hike up the steep stairs of the Esmeralda St mini parks.  These parks are built around stair cases that run through city land, threading from the western lower reach of the Bernal Heights where it almost reaches Mission Street, extending all the way to the park up on Bernal hilltop.  Each set of stairs has a narrow little park around it, and each has been made in a different style.  Near the middle park - which is a block below where my house is and one park down from the slide  -  I hear soft music, but coming from out-of-doors.  Clearing the last step, I see a handful of people and a handful of dancers in the flat concrete platform at the top of the stairs.  Someone is playing an old accordian, and another person is holding sheet music under an umbrella to shield the sheets from the drizzle.  Turns out they are "sword dancers."  Sword dancing is apparently some kind of traditional English dancing.  I know this only because of an old-fashioned sandwich-board style sign, hand-lettered, which gives a few details on the group.  Resting on the traffic bollards ringing the minipark are small cooking pots with lids.  I edge over and lift the lids, and smell cider and punch.  Another bollard holds a bowl of popcorn.  A kid motions for me to help myself to the treats.

The swords are clearly dull, but they are heavy metal.  In one maneuver, the dancers form a circle, raise their swords and interweave the blades together to create star-shaped object that one dancer can hold aloft and parade around.  They repeat this several times - it's kind of cool.  One time, though, a dancer got clocked in the head during this complicated move.

The dancers wear a kind of uniform: white puffy shirts, black pantaloons, yellow stockings and shoes with buckles.  Everyone is middle aged.  Everyone wears glasses.  Rain drops bead up on the greasy lenses of the dancers that move by me, the drops briefly glinting yellow light from the sodium street lamps.

The gathering is too small in number to clap hands rhythmically, though it's obvious that is what we should be doing.  Some observing kids hold lanterns, their parents appearing intent on making this into a holiday ritual.

The dancing line snakes away.  One dancer announces the name of the group and invites everyone to her mother's house to finish off the punch.  Instead, I take my plastic cup and continuing walking up the Esmeralda steps, through the rain, home.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

observations in the wake of OBL's death

Some observations in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death:

(1) In spite of all the fears we have, we're among the safest, most secure people who have ever lived.

(2) National unity is nice, but uniting around an assassination, no matter how richly deserved: not so nice  (the President's call for unity notwithstanding.)

(3) bin Laden and al Queda never presented an existential threat to the US, to Western civilization, or to our way of life.  Only our reaction to him and to them could existentially threaten our society.

(4) There is really only one thing to worry about with respect to al Queda and Islamic terror: the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists.  We can pretty effectively prevent hijackings, mass murders, other terrorist "spectaculars" with modest defensive measures like changing airline procedures, selectively guarding high value, high risk facilities like chemical factories and famous buildings.  We should really only be focused on halting nuclear proliferation.  That task is technical, diplomatic, economic, intelligence-gathering in nature, with only a weak militaristic component. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

turning the other cheek

Me: "The Internet thingee is saying that Osama bin Laden is dead"

Policeman friend: "Think they'll drag his body through the streets of Kabul or where ever?"

Chaplain passing by: "I sure hope so!"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Who let the dogs out?

The Chronicle goes on record supporting new rules and new enforcement of existing rules on dogs in federal park land in San Francisco.  Good for the Chron.  Dog owners in America have become very self-entitled through the years.  The presumption used to be on the side of controlling your dog in every encounter with humans, pets or wildlife.  Now the default is to let dogs be dogs, and only control them in certain situations.  Not so much "Dog Is My Copilot" as "Dog Is My Frat Brother".

Things I've heard over the years from Bay Area dog owners:

"Haha!  He's never done that before!"
"Oh, he's just being friendly."
"Dogs!  What are you gonna do, huh?"
"If she wasn't jogging so strangely, he wouldn't have reacted that way."
"Oh, he just likes to act tough!"
"Ginger!  Come here!  Come!  Here!  GINGER!  COME!    Oh, well, hahahaha!"