Archive for August, 2008

Goodbye Brooklyn!

August 30, 2008

So I have officially moved away from Brooklyn!

In light of this, I should probably change the title of this blog…but, I do like it. So I’ll keep it for now.

I wrote a previous post about how comfort can be perilous — when you achieve a certain level of comfort, especially in an urban environment, it’s possible to get caught up in a senseless routine. On the other hand, restlessness and moving from place to place doesn’t do much to address this problem; it only complicates things. I’ve spent a few years entrenched in a pattern of moving somewhere, finally settling in, then leaving for greener pastures…it can be quite a stressful experience. And here we go again!

Not enough time has passed for me to really get nostalgic. But here, in no particular order, is a non-exhaustive list of Brooklyn-related things that I have enjoyed:

Loud hip hop. It’s a public service! It imbues the surroundings with a syncopated rhythm for your walking pleasure. If you’re walking down the street in the ‘hood, as it were, there’s nothing like a dose of loud hip hop to give you a little more spring in your step — a little boost of joie de vivre if you will.

Patties, especially those hailing from Flatbush/Crown Heights, are a terrific way to warm oneself up on a cold day. I’m not talking about the sad yellow ones under the glass counter at the deli — I mean the fresh ones from the Caribbean bakery. Even Golden Krust is great!

The Subway system — even if the map *is* ridiculously distorted! What was once an impossible labyrinth became a way of life. The futuristic DC system does have its advantages, such as cleanliness and air conditioning, but the MTA will be missed!

24 oz Coors (and 23.5 oz Arizona) tall boys are only a dollar! You’d be a fool not to buy them. How could they be so cheap? Well, if you haven’t already, check out The Story of Stuff for some perspective on that question.

The Brooklyn Public Library is my true love — for reasons I’ve articulated in a previous post, as well as the fact that they recently hosted transcendent the amazing Scott McCloud to speak about his work. He is great.


The Chinese for Obama

August 11, 2008

I’ve been trying to brush up on my Chinese reading skills lately and I noticed that the Chinese name for Obama is 奥巴马 (pronounced “ào bā mă“).  Now, the first syllable “ao” is a word often used to render into Mandarin certain English proper nouns unwieldy to the Chinese tongue — like “Australia,” “Oslo,” and the ubiquitous “Olympics”.  What’s funny to me is that apparently this “ao” also means “mysterious” or “obscure”…

The second word “ba” is also commonly used to convey the sound of English words, as in “Ba xi” for Brazil or “Ba li” for Paris. *Supposedly*, though I’ve never heard it used this way, “ba” can also be used as a verb meaning “to hope” or “to wish”….

The third word “ma” is a very common one meaning “horse”.

So…all of our hopes are riding on the mysterious hope horse!

Ride onwards, hope horse. Ride onwards.

JC Pain-y! :-/

August 6, 2008

So I was doing the dishes. It often takes me a long time to get up the gumption to approach a mound of dirty dishes festering in the sink…so it’s more accurate to say that I had finally mustered the will to do the dishes. Then I was doing them. Then something untoward happened. This:

“What is this commercial? You have to see this! It’s, like, The Breakfast Club except with different kids?” my girlfriend cried out in confusion from the living room.

Impossible. Besides, I was immersed in dishes.
“Ummm…I don’t understand. Is it that movie? Is it Not Another Teen Movie?”

“No it’s like a Breakfast Club commercial!”

“Um…riiiight,” I intoned, still absorbed in my task. I promptly forgot about the whole thing.

Some days later we were watching TV again and, even though I had ample forewarning, I was totally dumbfounded by this commercial. Watching it is like getting your teeth drilled for a week — your jaw can’t do anything but drop. I still can’t quite believe it.

Here are some reasons why I hate this JC Penny nonsense:

Music. I really liked the original Breakfast Club music. It wasn’t for everybody, sure, but even the soundtrack’s fiercest critic would maintain that it didn’t suck so unapologetically as this soulless JC Penny remix.

Diversity. In the movie Judd Nelson is working class, for example, and the main source of his frustration throughout the film is his forced imprisonment with irritatingly naive middle class kids. The JC Penny ad does feature multi-ethnic actors but I’d argue that the original movie makes more of an effort to present a diverse picture of the teen population in a podunk Illinois town while the ad whitewashes such a picture.

Desecration of the sacred. Seriously! I was and am outraged — there’s no better word. Maybe The Breakfast Club is like a sacred text for me; the film has an iconic status that stretches beyond its actual content. Looking at the string of comments after the video (on youtube), I don’t think I’m the only one for whom this is true.

Facts Trump Krugman’s Wager

August 2, 2008

Paul Krugman wrote an excellent column about the ridiculous off-shore drilling controversy. He writes:

“If a completely bogus claim that environmental protection is raising energy prices can get this much political traction, what are the chances of getting serious action against global warming? After all, a cap-and-trade system would in effect be a tax on carbon (though Mr. McCain apparently doesn’t know that), and really would raise energy prices.”

So Krugman is both confronting the ineptitude of politics-as-usual in the face of looming environmental crisis and showing up John McCain for the tool that he is. These are important truths that should be written about more often.

However, there is some misleading rhetoric in Krugman’s column that blurs the issue quite a bit. Krugman writes:

Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist who has been driving much of the recent high-level debate, offers some sobering numbers. Surveying a wide range of climate models, he argues that, over all, they suggest about a 5 percent chance that world temperatures will eventually rise by more than 10 degrees Celsius (that is, world temperatures will rise by 18 degrees Fahrenheit). As Mr. Weitzman points out, that’s enough to “effectively destroy planet Earth as we know it.” It’s sheer irresponsibility not to do whatever we can to eliminate that threat.

We shouldn’t be debating about something that has only a 5% percent chance of happening. We should focus on what is and most certainly will happen i.e. a global temperature rise of several degrees. It’s pretty obvious that a 10 degree increase would be catastrophic but considering that it took only a few degrees (Celsius) to shift us out of the last ice age, we need to “get real” as it were.

Also, since I was subjected to Catholic schooling for many years, I have to take issue with Krugman’s rhetorical variation on Pascal’s wager:

It’s true that scientists don’t know exactly how much world temperatures will rise if we persist with business as usual. But that uncertainty is actually what makes action so urgent. While there’s a chance that we’ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction were catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?

Pascal’s wager is a logical trick which implies that you should believe in God even in the absence of empirical evidence. Krugman’s version goes like this: If global warming exists and you believe in it, you will go to Heaven. If global warming doesn’t exist and you believe in it, nothing will happen. If global warming does exist and you don’t believe in it, you will go to Hell! Hence, you better believe.

But global warming and the accompanying convergence of environmental crises is not a myth, not an object of religious devotion. Rather it is a scientific fact based on rigorously reviewed empirical evidence.

Here are some facts to think about, fellow Krugman readers:

  • Every living system is in decline, and that decline is accelerating
  • 70% of biologists view the present era as part of a mass extinction event, possibly one of the fastest ever, according to a 1998 survey by the American Museum of Natural History.
  • The global economic system is a subsystem of the biosphere — It would cost an estimated 35 trillion dollars a year to do what nature is doing for us for nothing (thanks David Suzuki)
  • We have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 30 to 35% — an astonishing figure
  • 95% of old growth forests in the US are gone and will not grow back
  • In the past 50 years we have observed a 50% increase speed and duration of hurricanes.
  • In the past 50 years we have observed the destruction of 90 percent of the big fish in the sea
  • There will be 150 million environmental refugees by mid-century according to UN estimates

Government is very responsive to the needs of the rich and powerful, hence there is a vested interest in keeping these facts under wraps.

There is hope

August 1, 2008

This just in: MIT researchers, up to their necks in old fashioned Yankee ingenuity, may have revealed an elegant solution to our energy problem!

What’s really interesting about this is that the process is described as “artificial photosynthesis” i.e. Nature already figured out the best chemical solution to the energy problem, all we had to do was imitate her.

The question remains whether we can transmit this insight to other global crises as well.

Check out this video for yet another breakthrough from the folks at MIT, published in a recent issue of Science. It’s about “a sophisticated, yet affordable, method to turn ordinary glass into a high-tech solar concentrator.”