moldybluecheesecurds 2

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Whither the weather

Having just passed through Memorial Day weekend and the customary complaining that the weather never holds up, I remembered a really cool fact from my college days. That fact in a paragraph or so…

First, many urbanites have this underlying suspicion that the weather is always nicer (read: sunnier and warmer) on Mondays than on the weekend. While the meteorologist on the local news is too busy wearing a cute hat or interview John Q. lawnmower, some fascinating studies reinforce something I found out about in Environmental Chemistry several years back.

The weather on the weekend actually is different. One study explores temperature variations across the United States and concludes that human activity is responsible. Another clearly shows that in Atlantic states rain is more likely during the weekend than it is Monday thru Wednesday. For nerdier, comment-laden coverage of this phenomenon, check out the article on Slashdot from 2003.

What’s remarkable is that we’ve basically screwed ourselves. The increased activity on the workweek – rush hours, factories running, computers computing – means more “stuff” in the air. When the weekend rolls around, this stuff interacts with the atmosphere to make the weather less ideal for outdoor activity. And then just as we’ve given up all hope, we find beautiful, sunny skies just as we head to work on Monday.

All the more reason to lobby for the 4-day work week :-)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Professionalism and mixed metaphors

I received a haircut yesterday. If by haircut one means “butchery by an unprofessional hack.”

Maybe a little background is justified. I tend to get haircuts at the chain places. My hair doesn’t “style,” tends to stick up in the back, and can occasionally be encouraged to stay out of my face. It’s usually cut every 2 months. I have a simple formula to minimize mishaps: #4 clippers on the sides and back, blend it in, not too short on top (I have a cowlick). It has led to a long series of unremarkable haircuts.

Yesterday the wheels came off the haircut wagon.

Wagon ride begins: “stylist” ignores me for a personal phone call. When I give instructions - #4 clippers on the sides and back, blend it in, not too short on top – she nods. She asks questions as though making conversation and proceeds to ignore responses while chatting with another stylist. We have a brief connection – that Interpreter flick with Nicole Kidman was good. She asks a few questions about my personal life, I respond.

The wheels come off.

Apparently my life does not measure up to “stylist’s” expectations. Because three things occur simultaneously:
1) Conversation ceases
2) Clipping proceeds at a faster pace
3) Flashback to beginning of haircut begins - #4 clippers on the sides and back, blend it in, not too short on top

She cuts it short – it’s Cowlick City. And instead of admitting her mistake, she populates the entire Cowlick metropolitan area. She cuts it shorter.

I’ll admit that I’m the quiet, non-confrontational type. It probably wouldn’t have hurt to intercede before Cowlick suburban sprawl destroyed all hope of decent personal appearance for the foreseeable future. Instead, I decide to respond in capitalist fashion – no tip. I pay by credit card. I sign the receipt. The tip line remains blank.

“Stylist,” like all hacks, blames the victim. “You have to fill this in,” she says, writing a big zero on the tip line with a disgusted look.

Never trust a wagon in suburbia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

For you or them

I'm selling my house sometime soon and am surprised and dismayed by how much work needs to go into it. On the plus side, it's going to look great. On the minus side, it will look great for someone else.

There's the real quandary. There are 8 million things that can be done to raise a home's value: carpeting, painting, window coverings, appliances. But what it really comes down to is a cold calculation: will the money I put in pay back in the sales price?

Take window coverings. If you have a blank window, do you do blinds, blinds and curtains, just curtains? Do you do cheap blinds, moderate blinds or nice ones? Do you pick things to impress or just plan for the new buyer to install new stuff?

I almost feel like all these questions could somehow be formulated into yes/no questions and that a coin flip would be as reliable as consultations with friends, relatives, and realtors.* Of course, you'd need a fair coin and for those of you who've studied probability, that's a whole other ball of wax.

*for friends, relatives, and realtors who read this, I do value your advice. That's more of a "big thought" for blogging.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I was walking to work today and passed a row of cars at parking meters just after the parking police had visited. With a wry smile, I noted the several vehicles with tidy little envelopes wedged under the wipers. I also noted a big van wedged between two ticketed cars who must have had the grace of God. As the police officer got back into the squad car just thirty feet away, the van’s meter read 0:01. The beauty is that the officer isn’t likely to return any time soon, so that van’s driver will get away with several free minutes of parking, having just avoided a ticket.

Life is full of split-second timing that way. Various survivors of the September 11th attacks in New York spoke of stopping for breakfast or otherwise altering their routine just a bit. News stories occasionally lament fatal accidents that could have been avoided had one of the parties just been a little further down the road. Husbands and wives celebrate unique circumstances or events that brought them together.

So celebrate every minute, I say. You never know how valuable it could be.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Good opportunity or getting suckered?

Where does a solo worker find leverage at their job? I’m finding myself trapped between a rock and a hard place at my current job.

I’m delighted to have a job that I find interesting and challenging. It’s a rare opportunity to use your mind in the American workplace, so I’m pretty thankful. I got the job while being unemployed in January, so I accepted the offered wages and the temporary status without much argument, especially since I had already been rejected for the same position full-time.

But here’s the rub: four months later I’m still here. Pay is the same, job duties are significantly expanded. And ironically, the boss no longer seems to be searching for a full-time replacement. In a recent conversation regarding my future, I was told that while the work I do is great, I’m still lacking in a few key areas.

Note that despite my apparent deficiencies, no interviewing is happening, no job posting is up. So am I really just a temp worker filling the gap or a really cheap employee, getting suckered into working a temp wage with no holidays or benefits?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Abort, retry, jail?

Should it matter? A study released in 1999 (it’s new to me!) shows a strong statistical connection between the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and the substantial drop in crime during the 1990s. Conclusion? That unwanted children – the ones whose poor nurture makes them more likely to commit crime – were not born as often after legalized abortion. As much as half the drop in crime during the 1990s can be attributed the effects of Roe v. Wade.

Here’s a question, though. Assuming this study is correct – one of the authors offers a very open and honest assessment – then legalized abortion might mean a higher quality of life for the rest of us. But in deciding if abortion should be legal (the ongoing political debate), should the results of this study matter?

My guess is that pro-life folks don’t give two gerbil poops about crime rates. And pro-choicers don’t feel that using external data is necessary to buttress a right to private health decisions. It’s a shame, really. Politicians infrequently have tools that actually accomplish their policy goals. Too bad it’s taboo to debate this one.

Gorgeous George

Rare is the time when an American can listen to a politician and think to himself: “damn straight.” Tuesday was such a day. It’s too bad the politician in question had to come from across the pond. In testimony before the US Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, English MP George Galloway gave eloquent testimony criticizing America’s lax system of justice, its foreign affairs, and the grandstanding of its politicians.

He had been invited to speak to defend himself against allegations that he had profited from kickbacks from the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program, run while Saddam Hussein still ran the country. In addition to refuting the criminal allegations, Mr Galloway took umbrage with his name being publicly smeared, American hypocrisy regarding policy toward Iraq, and the gall of US Senator Norm Coleman to convict him without even offering him a chance to defend himself.

After blasting Mr Coleman for his hypocrisy on Iraq and refuting the main charges, Mr Galloway began his conclusion with an oratorical gem:

“Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies. If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens.”

Amen, Mr Galloway.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The political implications of the Star Wars universe

There are a surprising number of reviews and commentaries on Star Wars that are highlighting it's political implications. For example, this review looks at the decline of democracies into dictatorships by popular consent, as the Republic slides into Empire. Other reviewers also suggested that the political commentary in the new movie makes up for Lucas moving movies away from political commentary in the 70s.

However, the best political analysis of Star Wars came from user Simian Overlord on Slashdot.

Any movie that creates thoughtful debate about the direction of the American political system is a good thing. Especially with lightsabers...

Childhood...a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

I’m one of those folks who grew up obsessed with Star Wars. I had the figurines whose elbows and knees did not bend. I breathed like Darth Vader. I spent gorgeous summer afternoons watching the entire trilogy and eating candy. So of course I attended the two new episodes when they were released in theaters several years back.

I’ll admit I was disappointed.

The question is, can something that was such a big part of my childhood ever live up to the expectation? Ever since I left Episode I with an unsatisfied feeling I was wondering if I had just expected too much. As the third episode comes out tomorrow, I’ve finally realized:

It’s not my fault.

My rationale? The Lord of the Rings movies. I’m a nerd, I loved the books. I viewed the release of the movies with anticipation and trepidation after seeing what George Lucas did to my childhood memories of Star Wars. And they kicked ass. So the only hope for Star Wars redemption is a good third movie.

I’m in luck.

By most accounts, Episode III is not only far and away better than I and II, but even better than Return of the Jedi. As I liked that film a lot, I’m excited about Star Wars again for the first time since leaving Episode I.

This is good, because the older I get, the fewer things you can indulge in that still seem like somewhat childlike pursuits. Such as eating macaroni and cheese and drinking cherry Kool Aid while watching Star Wars. Or spending an entire day reading a book, or two or three. Or riding my bike aimlessly around town.

But for this week, there is Episode III.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Income disability - the new American Dream

The New York Times is running a fantastic feature on class in America. The highlights include: a story about three heart attack sufferers and their disparate care after the incident, a story on declining income mobility (the American Dream), and an interactive feature to learn more about who is middle class.

I’m fascinated by class because I grew up in a family without financial difficulties. Will I end up as wealthy as my folks? Will my kids?

The United States makes itself out as a great egalitarian nation, where anyone with grit and determination can improve their lot. And yet many countries, including those welfare states we love to deride, have much greater income mobility. That means if I start poor, my children are likely to ascend the economic ladder much faster across the pond. It’s too bad that the American Dream is more about political rhetoric these days (are you a patriot?).

If the American Dream is so great, maybe we should put some money on it.

Rainbows and vaginas

There are a number of conservative groups out there these days condemning colleges and universities as liberal indoctrination centers. These folks run around campus in the name of intellectual diversity with martyr-like expressions committed to exposing every professor as a liberal hippie. I enjoy their imperviousness to the irony: they get all sorts of attention in the press and on campus for their views while complaining that no one respects their views. Many of these same activists will also complain about the moral decline of America and the need for stronger moral standards without batting an intellectual eye.

I wish to thank them for one thing. Free speech depends upon the willingness of nutjobs like them believing so strongly in something so dumb that they’re willing to talk about it nonstop. It’s those warriors tilting against liberal indoctrination like Don Quixote against his windmills that keeps free speech alive for two very real and very important causes that recently hit the news.

Rainbow sashes
It is now apparently a mortal sin to wear a rainbow sash to a Catholic Church. Several dozen Catholics bravely wore rainbow to mass on Sunday in support of GLBT members of the church, and were summarily denied communion. According to church law, only those in a state of mortal sin shall be denied communion, something apparently attainable by sash these days.

Vagina t-shirts
One would think an educational institution would be more intellectually open than the church, but Winona High School in Minnesota begs to differ. A young woman, touched by the open and frank nature of the play The Vagina Monologues wore a t-shirt to school that said, “I [heart] My Vagina.” Ignoring a perfect opportunity to address America's deep-seated sexual taboos, school administrators first threatened and then did send the girl home. Given that the vast majority of sexual education seems to come from television, movies, and pop culture, you'd think some savvy educators might like to fight back a bit. Or not.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Better Business Models

My goal today was to downgrade my cable service. I have one of those bundles with cable TV and internet service, and they have quite a racket. If you have the bundle, you get a discount on cable modem service. When I called to say “no more” to cable TV, the representative reminded me that the price of internet service goes up if you completely cancel cable. Ah, but here’s the zinger.

If you have no cable TV service, the price of the internet service rises by $13. Which is EXACTLY the same amount as the basic cable service. In other words, there is absolutely no reason to cancel cable.

As a bonus, this “customer service” representative, while polite, also reminded me that to re-up cable TV service at a later date would require an installation fee of $15.99, to remove the filter. Nice. So it’s free to have the filter installed to downgrade my service, but it costs money to have them basically remove the plug. What a business model!

It made me think of other remarkable business models out there. Such as electronic filing for taxes in Minnesota. Unless you use a tax preparation service, it costs you EXTRA to file electronically, which incidentally saves the state money in processing your return. So a real penny pincher is actually more motivated to file a paper return, which in turn costs everyone more to have some bureaucrat file the form. Brilliant.

Next entry – another fascinating look at consumer society: Why we wait in line to pay for things (thanks to KMR for this idea).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Give me an N, give me a U, give me a T, give me an S

You gotta love Texas. Their House of Representatives passed a bill this week banning "sexually suggestive" cheerleading in public schools. Before it was stripped out in amendment, the bill even included a provision to cut funding to schools that failed to address the issue. As a public policy nerd, I'm waiting breathlessly for the part of the bill that explains what sexually suggestive actually means.

It brings back glorious memories of the Clinton years, when we could all be titillated with the debate about "what your definition of the word is is." [ has 14 definitions - maybe the confusion makes sense] Getting the facts straight is pretty important, though, when dealing with the potential ramifications of lewd cheering. One Texas rep is arguing that a suggestive cheerleading move "encourages teen pregnancy, boosts dropout rates, and increases the spread of sexually transmitted diseases." Hmmm. Not unless you can spread syphilis with a pom pom.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Smell the gaiety

A story today from those crazy Canadians revealing that Response to scent linked to sexual preference. What? Maybe it's that straight guys smell like pizza and gay men like oranges. It would help explain some of the fruitiness in the few gay guys I know.

If only it was that simple. Instead, it's all about chemical reactions in the brain to different hormones. What it does suggest is that you can't really help who you are attracted to. If a kangaroo had the right hormone, you'd be game for a tumble. Note: this statement not backed up by any scientific evidence.

The question I have is whether it will ever matter what scientists prove about homosexuality. Even if it becomes irrefutable that being gay is biologically driven, will those Christian fundamentalist nutters be willing to embrace their gay neighbors? Doubt it. It's probably a scent thing. You have to smell "Christian" enough to attract a fundamentalist. Part incense, part martyr, and part Republican.

Eau de Republican. Coming soon from Chanel. Just you wait.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The spirituality of recycling

There's something cathartic about recycling. I just put nearly a ream of paper back in the re-use economy. It starts in the plastic bin by the copier, proceeds to a larger bin on the custodial cart, to a large metal container on the loading dock. Sometime this week, that pile of useless readings will be transported to a recycling facility, re-pulped, and re-produced. Will it be a new TPS Report? A print ad for cialis? The Sunday Times crossword? All of the above?

Of course, I could have simply trashed that ream. It could have started just three feet away in a waste bin and finished in a buried pit where decomposition is so constrained by lack of light and air that the print on the pages would likely last longer than my entire life.

Maybe recycling should be an article of the Hindu religion. After all, recycling is sort of a karmic invigorator. I suppose Christians can be reborn as well (on earth if you believe the born-again lot). Do people who attend religious services more often recycle more?

Gray and grey

I'm fascinated by the way gray - there is no better way to describe the local weather today - perfectly fits both the weather and the mood. Who started interchanging the meaning of the word? Was it Shakespeare? Was he also responsible for cloudy thoughts or sunny dispositions? Today's outlook is for morning overcast, eventually simmering into evening showers, but clearing late.

What's your forecast?

Saturday, May 07, 2005


Watched some folks doing prom pictures today. Seems like such an odd ritual, prom pictures. Everything on that day seems so important, but I honestly can barely remember what my own prom experience was like. Except that I definitely was uncomfortable being the center of attention.

The irony is that for many of these kids, prom seems like the coolest thing ever and in four years they'll all be laughing about how important it seemed to them. Makes you wonder, is anything in life any different? What experiences never lose the luster? Wedding day? Death of a relative?

It seems like time heals all wounds and mutes all joys. So given infinite time, we'd all be mellow. I guess MJ is a quicker way to mellow. Maybe that's what makes it so popular.

Hmm, prom to drugs. Not an unlikely connection.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Paychecks and crimefighting

I'm glad that I've never had to live paycheck to paycheck. I'd like to pat myself on the back re: spending habits, but I also grew up with the silver spoon treatment, so I don't feel like it's any great accomplishment. It just so happens to have come in handy today.

The saga:
For the second time this month, my paycheck is missing an entire week's pay. Perhaps I've not explained that I am a full-time employee. Perhaps payroll has more important things on their minds. Maybe it's just that I don't really understand the full scope of responsibility that payroll employees have.

Maybe I'm missing the point. It could be that these "payroll" folks are not actually bean counters. Instead, they are a crimefighting trio. Mild mannered Paycheck Guy is actually Absolute Values Man! Defender of Christian traditions against the threats of evolution, birth control, and loving committed couples who are gay. His and his two teammates are the Holy Trinity of justice in our humble metropolitan area.

I wouldn't have felt so upset had I only known that my missing paychecks were a small price to pay for peace, justice, and safety for fundamentalist Christians everywhere. What else could it be, after all, for all three payroll employees to be out of the office on the same day?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A blessing for secularists

In today's Minneapolis Star Tribune, George Will had a really insightful look at Christian fundamentalism in America. He notes that Christian fundamentalists love to play the martyr, acting as though their way of life and values are constantly under seige by rogue government, judges, and secularists. You may have heard about it during Christmas, where many conservative pundits complained that Christmas is being cleansed from public spaces.

Well, apparently some of these would-be martyrs have realized that while many Americans share Christian values, they don't care to have religion stuffed down their throats. Even President Bush admits that, "If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship." How generous of him.

I will wrap myself in the warmth of that presidential benediction for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Smelling grass

There is nothing like a freshly mowed lawn. The smell evokes all sorts of childhood memories of summer. In some ways I consider it a religious experience. The Church of the Grass. It's never political, fortunately, so it wouldn't try to keep you from cutting your grass. It wouldn't refuse to dispense fertilizer.

Makes me wonder what the prayers would be like. Our Mower, who art in heaven?