Monday, April 28, 2008

With all due respect, that's crap

Since this would have been too long for comments:

I don't think the constitution allows anyone to do anything they like as long as they veil it all under the cloak of religion. Rastafarians have tried this. US narcotics laws still apply to them. Ganga is holy? Well, it's still illegal.

In this case, the government had long suspected there were polygamous marriages of under age girls and the subsequent statutory rape going on at the compound, but, out of respect for the rule of law, did little since they had no legal reason to search the place. Then they got a tip that gave them legal justification to search and enter, and acted on it. And this is not like an entire community being segregated because of one allegation in one family. The accusation is that the entire community systematizes, institutionalizes and endorses illegal sexual abuse of minors. There's enough evidence to support that, and so the whole community is being dealt with accordingly.

I'll bet dollars to donuts that the DNA testing will show that many of these kids were born to women who had to have been rather under age at the time of their children's births and conceptions, and that many of the fathers sired children by many mothers. And when this comes out, it will be clear that the law enforcement folks will have acted appropriately. Irrespective of this, they have acted appropriately:

It seems you're implying that kids are better off in a polygamous cult forcing under age marriage than the foster care system? It may have its flaws, but the foster care system is the lesser of two evils, for sure. And in this case, law enforcement must err on the side of caution, which is to separate potential abusers from potential victims. The foster care/ separate living arrangements are the only fair legal option. Can you imagine a legal system in which a child accusing a parent of sexual abuse is forced to live with the parent until the trial has been concluded? After daddy beats darling senseless and rapes her a few more times, she might be "convinced" to change her story before the trial. I'm all for "innocent until proven guilty", but when it comes to kids, we assume the worst and hope for the best. And the only rules that would enable these people to continue living together would also enable daddy to keep on abusing. So our rules are as they are, and they're fair and appropriate.

And it doesn't matter to me which flavor of cult this is. Muslims who want to stone a woman to death in their community, or arrange a marriage of an 8 year old to a 30 year old should be treated exactly the same way: That stuff is illegal in America, no matter what your magic books say. Now you go to jail.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sympathy for the devil, or in this case, crazy Mormons

I was rather surprised at the tone of this piece.

Then I realized it's a Salt Lake City local station. Can't call any Mormons, even "not real Mormons" crazy in UT.

It's not an outright defense, but there's not the usual "this is what happens when you live in a weird polygamist cult" tone you see in most coverage. Certainly seems to villify the state, as if it's intruding on folks' right to practice anything they want if it's under the irrational umbrella of religion. The implication that TX can't count seems a bit unfair. At least the other anchor sheds some light on that. But the whole "Evil TX is separating kids from their mommies, heartless bastards" line is not exactly how most folks are seeing this situation. At least, most folks not in UT.

I'm just shocked that anyone anywhere has some sliver of tolerance for this, but I guess if it were to be present anywhere, it's going to be SLC.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Scenes from a Marin County Video store

Interior, day. A standard video store in an affluent California suburb. CUSTOMERS mill about perusing videos. A mindless pop-culture bubblegum action movie is playing in the background on the TV mounted near the ceiling in the corner, which the CLERKS are absentmindedly watching. Two early teenage girls, perhaps 13 are walking through the aisles, considering movies.


OmiGod. Atonement. That movie is SO boring!


Why is it boring?


Well my parents thought it was AMAZING. They were like, "This is so good!"


Well why didn't you like it?


OmiGod. Okay. So in part of the movie, she's like 9, and then she's like 13, and then she's like 18, and then like 25 and then old, like 34.




And she had, like, the SAME haircut through the whole movie.




As if you'd have the same hair at 34 that you had when you were 9. So unbelievable.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mmmmm Donuts

If I were in the US right now (and specifically, back in the SF area), I'd totally do this.

Brits are great with the beer, know what to do with fish (fry it!) but haven't a fucking clue about a donut. The best donut here is like the worst, day old grocery store bakery donut in the US.

I love Donuts. MMMMmmm. Donut.

My first sentence: "I want a donut". True story.

Also, I am slightly drunk.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two things that bother me about America

Unflagging, uncritical reverence for the institutions of
  1. Guns
  2. Religion
Can't speak truth to power when the power is the electorate. But I have no trouble with Obama's comments. And good for him for saying it in public. Let's start questioning the special reverence we give to Religiosity, the free pass from rational scrutiny ideas seem to get if they're based on "religious grounds". Let's call into question the image of "guns as American tradition" which hearkens frontiersmen (who are of debatable moral standing anyway) and fathers teaching sons to pheasant hunt and replace it with the image of drive by shootings in inner cities in which it's inevitably the star academic performer, the one who had a chance to "make it" who gets gunned down by accident on the one night he goes out with his friends.

When "religion" means wholesome church picnics and encouraging neighborliness, no one blinks. But when "religion" means "I shall impose my world view on you, because my god told me to", we should question it. And that kind of "we are a Christian nation" mentality is much more rampant in small, homogeneous communities. The idea encounters no natural resistance there. Since we're all the same religion, we can legislate our religion, or at least talk about doing so, and never meet anyone who will or can disagree, lest he or she break with the community. "Why don't you want to illegalize porn & drinkin', Prudence? You a sinner? You on the side of the Devil? And you got a problem with the 10 commandments? No? Good, I'll put 'em in front a the court house, where I like 'em."

And when "guns" means hunters in the woods, we tolerate it. Get a permit, be careful, wear orange, don't pull a Cheney. But when it's "Let's take a few words of ambiguously phrased technology access law written several hundred years ago in a technologically, socially and economically different age and apply them to modern society, irrespective of the consequences" we should question it. And that kind of mentality also is more prevalent in rural areas, in which there is hunting, there is space to hunt, there is need for guns for pest control and livestock protection. And in which life isn't so different from that of the time the constitution was written. It's these non urban environments in which the consequences of liberal gun laws in urban environments aren't apparent. No drive by's on the prairie. Just the occasional "take your guns to school and kill all your classmates, because you are sullen" day. But no LA freeway style hand gun troubles.

Yes, Barack, please take on these attitudes that come up whenever Americans lead lives insulated form contact with people who are not just like them. I have no problem with it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My new favorite airline

is Virgin America.

Traveled VA down and back to San Diego, and was impressed by many things.

Overall, it seems they stepped back and said, "If we were starting an airline from scratch today, how would we do things?" And the answer was:
  • Civilized self service touch screens like flat panel monitors at a table perpendicular to the counter instead of in the counter slots where other airlines place theirs. This saves them space, and keeps people queuing for counter assistance separate from those wanting to do self check in.
  • No extra papers to manage for your luggage. Your boarding pass has a bar code that's also on your luggage tag. No more little paper folder with a little sticky ticket for each piece of luggage. Just keep your boarding pass.
  • Less paper: Boarding pass the size of a post card. No need to print every piece of crytptic code known to man on it. Name, flight, gate, boarding time, seat, bar code. Don't need much else, and don't need that much paper.
  • Sexified plane decor. Lighting scheme on interior was like being in a hip lounge. Pink and purple (bordering on black) lights gave the plane a cool feel. The seat backs are not covered in fabric, but some kind of cool plastic that gives them the feel like something out of 2001. The tray table has a clever innovation: Option to fold down just a cup holder ring instead of the whole thing. For when you want to have a place to set your drink, but don't want to give p all your lap space.
  • The best in flight entertainment system ever. I flew VA back in 2000 and was impressed with all the fun toys, and things have come a long way. A controller in the arm rest on a retractable cord lets you text chat with other passengers in other seats, play Doom, watch TV, etc. I was most impressed by the music selection, however:
My music tastes aren't exactly mainstream, though far from totally obscure. The Flight attendant noticed I was wearing my Chemical Brothers shirt, and suggested I check out the music because they had The Chemical Brothers in there. I was amazed at her perception, and proactive suggestion. When I looked at what they had, I was surprised. Not only did they have the Chemical Brothers, they had plenty of other pretty cool electronica artists. The business smarts of the whole thing is that it's like Amazon, or iTunes, but you can listen to an entire track, not just a crappy sample. I found myself building a playlist of things I'd never heard before, so I could give them a listen. A few new artists, a few new tracks from artists I knew. Well worth it, as I found myself thinking "I must download this when I get home".

We landed before I could get through my play list. I'd not mind being stuck on a VA plane for a while, as long as I wasn't starving. Great in flight experience, great proactive service, great re-thinking of the airline process. And as an extra bonus, my flight was a little over $100 round trip from SF to SD. Yes, that's round trip. So it's better, and cheaper. I'm impressed.

Monday, April 07, 2008


It will be very gratifying to walk into the boat house for the next year and see this in the trophy case.

My primary concerns coming into the race were:
  1. Potomac, who are a great club and placed very close to us at the Head of the Charles last year, and who, to the man, were huge
  2. Kent Mitchell, who could have anyone from ex-elite collegiate athletes to ex-US national team guys in the boat, and who are never slow
But having done a practice race the week before at the Pac-10 invitational, I had a feel for how well we held up for 2000m. I had visualized many scenarios, and felt confident that, as long as we had contact with the leader at the 1000m mark, we'd be in good shape. My mental preparation was to be ready to get in front from behind in the last 1000m of the race. My hope was to be up on the whole field at the 1000, but I knew that that was rather unlikely: This was the fastest masters event at a well respected race.

My teammates were great. I was originally supposed to row 4, then 2, then, after substituting in for stroke a few times, my boat decided that was where they wanted me. They knew my tendency to assume perhaps more than my fair share of responsibility when in the stroke seat, and all, each in his own way, told me that this race wasn't on my shoulders, but on all of ours, and that my job wasn't to do anything extra, just to do what I usually do.

My cox tuned in to that, and, when I started to think about the race (which my coach forbade me to do) such that I didn't attend to his call to back the boat into the blocks, started to joke with me a bit. I figured it was to lighten me up and to keep me loose, and I figured his judgment was best.

On the start, I focused on being sharp, deliberate, clean, patient, and not going crazy. I don't think we went much over 40 strokes per minute, but I still don't know our rates. Our cox never gave us a number for the whole race. I was delighted to see the stern of Kent Mitchell pull into my periphery. Last year they took a length on the start and went on to beat us by about the same, as we came in second. I had been ready to have to battle back through them. I was glad that wasn't going to be required.

I noticed our cox looking around quite a lot, and not saying anything about the other crews. The intensity of his seeking the positions of the other boats unnerved me a bit, but in hindsight I realize he was waiting to see how the race was shaping up to be very careful about where, externally, he would focus our attention.

"Potomac is 4 seats up."

We took our first settle out of our starting sequence, down to perhaps 38.

"Potomac is 5 seats up."

He made the call for our second settle, down to about 36 1/2 strokes per minute.

Our practiced race plan was to take our first power move at 1:20 into the race, right as we moved through the 500m mark.

Our cox told us we were now down 6 seats to Potomac. The move would be to stop their progress. My team unloaded on the oars for 10, and our cox told us that Potomac was no longer moving on us. Success. And confidence.

I brought my own focus to staying clean and relaxed. I wouldn't use my adrenaline until it was needed, and there was still a lot of race ahead.

Our cox focused us on closing the margin on Potomac. We knew that at the 1000m mark we were going to unload a giant 20 strokes. As we approached the 1000, our cox called that we were moving. We were only 3 seats back. And they were taking their half way move.

Among my favorite calls I've ever heard from a cox is from a friend coxing me back in 1999 at the Head of the Connecticut. I don't recall who were were passing, but he told us that the opponent was taking a move and "We take seats on their move". The psychological effect of answering an opponents attempt to move away from you with actually leaving them worse off in relative position than when they started is huge.

My boat understood this and responded early to the news that the other crew was working its big move, and the power came up, even though we hadn't started ours.

Our cox shifted personalities. No more assertive technical, analytical. Now all animal, aggressive. Drill sergeant screaming in the face of cadets. 20 in 3. 2. 1. My boat loves it.

For the next 20, we just pulled like goddamn. When it was over, we were nearly a length up. Our cox relayed the news that he was looking over at a bow ball. We held the pressure, waiting for a response. We held the pressure, waiting for the advantages of the inside lanes to kick in, but nothing.

At moments like that in a race, if left to think for one's self, one might choose caution. Just keep it sharp, hold the length lead, go merely the same speed as the opponent and you win. But that's why it's not our job to think. Our cox chose the other strategy: More. Win by as much as you can; put up a time that scares people.

He called on our 4 seat to pull. He called on our 6 seat, who truly is the perfect personality cross of the Terminator and a golden retriever, as a 6 should be. The boat pulled for him.

Our cox took us off our sprint plan. The move would be on his call, not at the 450 mark, which had been our pre-arranged go point.

In our course row-over, I had taken care to note the orange buoys marking the last 250 meters, and that there were 5 of them before the finish. I knew orange buoys meant 25 strokes. The call was to take the speed through the water up at 350 to go. Then I noticed orange buoys. Then the call to speed the hands, bringing the rate up again. Then Last Ten. With 2 to go, tack on 2 more. 1. 2. Beep: Finish line.

We put up the fastest time of all the Masters boats, faster than the winning time in the next younger age division, in fact. Our time was faster than the winning times in the event for the prior 3 years, for sure, and probably further (though wind and current conditions at San Diego make this an unscientific comparison).

Our cox wants to know when we can race this line up again. Based on my prior experiences, I have to predict it'll never happen again. But I'd like to be wrong, and I'd like to see us take a shot at the B 8+ as US Masters Nationals. That'll be great.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Face to face with the hop shortage

Of the beers I make, K's favorite is my Red, which I try to have on hand for the summer time. It's my hoppiest beer (I'm more into malty beers). It's designed to show off the crisp, citrusy character of Cascade hops. It's balanced by some caramel malts, among other things, to balance the bitter with enough sweet. I tell people it's like pink grapefruit juice, but beer: Citrusy, sweet, crisp, enjoyable to sip, a wee bit bitter.

So I made a batch a few weekends ago with my friend (who, in his second batch ever, designed a chocolate raspberry ale that smells as if he's pulled off dessert in a glass... quite impressive). But when I got to my brewery supply store, I was very sad to discover that the hop refrigerator was nearly empty.

Instead of selling the hops in 4 oz packages, they were down to 2 oz (which is actually fine with me, since I don't need more than 2 oz of anything for any of my recipes. I had a freezer full of unused hops from prior batches). And they didn't have any American Casacde hops. I ended up using an Argentine version, which won't be the same. I also switched to using my Centennial hops for aroma instead of boil, and used some warrior hops to supplement the whole thing. It'll be close, and okay, but not the same. My Red is one of my recipes with a "do not change" note on it.

It's the first time I've ever not been able to get something I want from a store. We don't deal with scarcity in American markets. Prices may rise, but we can still get some. In the case of Hops, there just aren't any more. All gone. Wait till next harvest.

Which is why this is very cool. The MBA in me can make an ROI case for the behavior, but I believe it's genuine altruism. Selling things at cost means the business is losing money, in that they must engage in the economically unproductive behavior of coordinating the sales and fulfilling the orders, instead of making more beer in better ways. I do think it's part of a culture that says "beer comes first", and (back to the ROI part of it) makes me look more fondly on the Sam Adams brand. Not that I buy beer often, but when I do, I'll look more favorably on the Sam Adams products. And for those who want to see big companies do the right thing more often, you might consider them, too.