html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: July 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ideas I heard once and liked a lot.

It’s not a small world, it’s a small middle class.
Jack said this in the Loth kitchen one evening. Jack was amazingly pretty and really popular in the house. I wasn’t in the pretty and popular clique, but one evening Jack came home from somewhere or other and sang a verse of Danke Schöen while looking deeply into my eyes. That memory still makes me flush, even though the last time I saw Jack he looked gaunt enough to worry me.

A good metaphor can stop analysis for fifty years.
One of my law professors attributed this to one of the famous judges (Holmes?), but I’ve never found the original source. I've hated metaphors ever since I saw one derail a public meeting that was important to our program. I sat in the back, fuming at the phrase “cookie cutter”, and thinking that it didn’t even apply well. Any other metaphor could have been just as apt and gotten a different result. Anyway, I don’t use metaphors any more.

There are only three days in a month anymore. A day goes by, and it’s the middle of the month. Then another day happens, and the month is almost over. Then you’ve got one more day and it’s a new month.
Some guy from my former Ultimate team said this, some guy that I never see anymore and barely ever think about because I am so over him. Isn’t he totally smart and right?

God loves to make a man break his promise.
I am absolutist by nature, but I have learned that life is long and you can’t predict the circumstances you’ll find yourself in or how you’ll react. So I try not to tempt fate with declarations of what I’ll never or always do.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I don't even like Yosemite that much. Too crowded.

I suppose I should weigh-in on Hetch Hetchy, since all the cool people are talking about it and I just know all y’all are looking to me for an authoritative answer. (Or, alternately, y’all haven’t even heard of Hetch Hetchy, can instantly form an opinion from a quick summary of the issues, and would prefer that I tell you again about my breasts. Hetch Hetchy, then.)

Hetch Hetchy is the name of the valley containing the primary reservoir holding San Francisco’s water supply. It collects very pure snowmelt from the Mokelumne Tuolumne River; it was built after Congressman Raker passed a bill in 1913 allowing O’Shaughnessy Dam to be built in a new national park. It also provides 20% of SF’s electricity through hydropower. Hetch Hetchy Valley was said to be unbelievably beautiful; it is constantly compared to Yosemite. Some say that losing the fight to save Hetch Hetchy killed John Muir.

My professor at UC Davis used his integrated engineering/economic model of California’s inter-tied water system to show that there is enough capacity downstream of Hetch Hetchy that the dam could be removed or opened without costing SF any drinking water. (He offered me a chance to do that study and I turned it down. I’m still good with that decision. It would have been pretty glamorous to be the Hetch Hetchy girl, but it is no Los Osos.) My department just issued a report saying that it would cost $3B - $10B to remove the dam and restore the Valley. There are governance issues with the irrigation districts who own the dams downstream where SF would have to store water. Still, it seems clear that if we really wanted to, we could have Hetch Hetchy Valley back again.

I’ve watched hearings on Hetch Hetchy and read news stories and executive summaries of the reports about it. I haven’t seen an argument that wasn’t either “It was really beautiful” or “It would cost so much”. I think that is pretty much it.

I come down on the “really beautiful” side, of course. State money, even with big numbers, all seems imaginary to me. It doesn’t seem likely that the state will spend $3B - $10B in ways that will improve my quality of life more than knowing that Hetch Hetchy was restored. But that isn't based on an intellectual argument; that comes from my core values. I believe that damming beautiful valleys (and other large scale manipulations of the environment for human benefit) is wrong. I would love for us to be a people that spent a lot of money to fix what we did wrong.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

No honor among thieves.

A snide and fun editorial in the L.A. Times, laughing that it is San Francisco's turn to be put on the spot for its water-diverting past. It is something of a stretch for LA to claim credit for returning water to Mono Lake, which the LA Dept of Water and Power fought bitterly until they lost all their court decisions. And preserving the Owens Valley as a wilderness was an unintended side-effect of sucking it dry. Still, the editorial is a nice display of open gloating.


I'm not opposed to the sewer/park combination in downtown Los Osos, and I would also drink tertiary treated wastewater that had been blended into my city's drinking water reservoirs. So, I'm with the crew supporting the plan that the City of San Diego augment its water supply with treated wastewater. But I must say, their opponents won that fight years ago when they named the proposal "Toilet to Tap". Man, that's just untouchable. I've yet to see a newspaper article that doesn't reference that phrase. The pro-treated wastewater side tried to re-name it "Showers to Flowers", but is getting nowhere. Water from other sources is going to have to get a lot more expensive before SD will agree to this reasonable plan.

I especially don't like the Bay Bridge, because the shipping lanes beneath are deep.

When I did taekwondo in undergrad, the team worked out every MWF from 7pm ‘til 10pm. On TTh, we worked out with the rest of the tkd community from 6pm ‘til 9pm. We were supposed to run stadiums three mornings a week, but sometimes I cheated and only ran a couple flat miles. Spending every weeknight at tkd didn’t get to me, because that’s how it had been since I was twelve. The workout that I sometimes resented was Saturday morning, from 10am ‘til 1pm. It just felt like there hadn’t been any time since I left the gym at 10:30 the night before; my legs were heavy and slow. We had no workout on Sundays, and by Sunday nights I was bouncing off the walls, couldn’t stand still, would hop in place just to burn energy.

I knew to the minute when I had to leave for workout. My bag was always packed, so I’d grab that, hop on my bike and fly down Bancroft to get to the gym. I always knew that rushed trip was far and away the most dangerous part of my life. No helmet, steep downhill, lots of traffic. I was sure for two years that I was pushing my luck and that I was likely to die on my way to tkd. When I moved to an apartment closer to the gym I breathed a sigh of relief that I had dodged that bullet.

I wear a helmet now that I’ve fallen off my bike and broken my arm. But I didn’t for years, which is ridiculous considering that I know four or five people who wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for their bike helmets and will stridently tell you so. But not wearing a bike helmet feels great and I didn’t want to for the longest time. I felt guilty about not wearing one, though. I went to excellent public schools in California for twenty-two years. For twenty-two years the state of California subsidized my education; they must have put two or three hundred thousand dollars into me. (I didn’t pay taxes for years because I was too poor. And now they pay me for my work! They will never get their money’s worth out of me.) The state should rightfully be pissed that I used to put all that at risk by not wearing a bike helmet.

Now that I wear a helmet and don’t weave in and out of traffic on steep downhills, I can’t say which part of my life is most likely to kill me. Not driving and eating well takes care of the biggest risk factors. I have a fear though. About once every two years I have a nightmare about drowning in my car. I have no idea where that came from; there was no childhood incident behind it. But I roll down my windows and unlock my doors when I drive over bridges, just to be prepared.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I'm fond of the Capitol Corridor myself.

My perfect nephew likes to swing, so that’s what we do. I push him and sing the Up and Down song, and everything is great until the light rail train goes by, when it gets even better. Then we stop swinging and run to the edge of the play yard so we can watch the train as long as it is in view. We do that for every train. My perfect nephew is two.

My baby brother is eleven. He probably liked it that I took him to the unreasonably expensive IMAX movie, but not nearly as much as he liked taking the light rail to get there. Real freight trains cut through Midtown and the best is when we’re at a crossing when the train comes. Then we edge up to the rails as close as we can get, so the whole world is a thundering train passing a foot from our faces.

Anand is in his early thirties. I was trying to explain to Dubin and TJ that we wouldn’t mind stopping by the dog park on our walk. In fact, I said, three months from now, when we talk about this trip, the first thing Anand’ll mention is that we got to go to the dog park. “That’s only because I didn’t take the train from the airport.” Anand corrected. When I travel with Anand, I leave transit details to him; poring over train routes and schedules is his idea of a great time. We take the train a lot.

I know all sorts of bike and public transit advocates. I believe that they are profoundly environmentalist and have good reasons for choosing that cause. But as much as I think the reasoning behind public transit is sound, I also think that’s a small part of my friends’ dedication. Mostly, I think boys just love trains.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

They never let me down.

I have such high expectations for Los Osos that you would think disappointment is inevitable. Surely they can’t keep making spectacularly poor decisions or amazingly inept mistakes forever. There must come a time when the directors of the Los Osos CSD realize that they have driven the District into dissolution, that outsiders are stepping in to clean up mistakes that now include the retraction of a $135M loan to build a sewer, $6.6M in fines, and thirteen lawsuits against them (contractors who started work on the previous downtown sewer location are suing for $28M). With all that hanging over them, you would think they would be grateful that Representative Blakeslee’s bill dissolving the CSD has cleared the Assembly committee, especially considering that the directors of the Los Osos CSD all backed that bill.

They said they backed the bill. In public, they said that the County of San Luis Obispo should take over building the sewer, in whatever location the County chose. In private, though, the directors went to their fancy LA lawyers, the ones they’ve spent a couple million dollars of loan money on, to write up an assessment of their options. The fancy LA lawyers sent over a draft to the CSD lawyer, who wrote a bunch of comments and sent it on to Blakeslee’s office without taking the comments off. There was some good shit in those comments, stuff that Blakeslee’s office thought we should all know.

In the comments, the CSD lawyer pointed out that if the loan money for building a sewer were actually applied to building a sewer, the CSD would be unable to use it to litigate their thirteen lawsuits. In the comments, she said that they should try to amend the Blakeslee bill so that the County of San Luis Obispo would assume all of the CSD’s debts and legal liabilities, instead of just the responsibility for building the sewer. In the comments, she suggested that the CSD declare municipal bankruptcy, to clear their indebtedness to the contractors they hired and then fired from the sewer project (and yet I imagine the fancy LA lawyers would somehow get paid). My favorite is that in the comments, she recommended selling the location for the downtown sewer plant before the Blakeslee bill passes, so that the County would have to buy it back to build a sewer there. Awesome.

You know, I genuinely believe that serving on public committees and boards is a civic responsibility. I think that stuff like deciding details of public utilities is hard, thankless, and only interesting to utilities geeks. I very much appreciate that people are willing to put effort into boring things that make cities run. In general, I think those citizens do their best and should be insulated from the costs of honest mistakes or sincerely made wrong decisions. But not these directors. I think these fuckers have long since abandoned their fiduciary duties to the Community Services District. I think they should be held personally liable, and should lose their fucking houses as a first step toward paying the debts they would like to shift to everyone in San Luis Obispo County.

Proof that the Los Osos septic tanks are leaking and polluting their aquifer.

Don’t be so scared of the sewer/park combination. Other people are doing it. You could shape it like a beautiful butterfly.

Oh, City of Byron. For your own sakes, learn from Los Osos. It can go so, so wrong.

Did I mention that the fancy LA law firm charges unusually high overhead rates?

Monday, July 24, 2006

I'm still a peasant about a lot of things.

It is a blog cliché, isn’t it, to come home from a trip all smitten and swoon-y and gush about what an incredibly wonderful time I had with the other bloggers? And maybe it seems a trifle self-satisfied to tell you how beautiful and witty and smart our hosts are. In both cities! I mean, these amazing people invited us into their gorgeous homes where they actually frame and hang their art, rather than keeping it in the closet where it is safe until a person figures out what to do with it. Some of the art they made themselves! They walked us around cities with lovely streets and knew where all the yummy food is, and then, in the parks at night, there were fireflies! It was the first time I’ve ever thought that there could be places outside California that are worth living in. For other people. Other really great people.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

And I met some cool readers. Y'all are neat.

I have all sorts of reasons for wanting to not have a cell phone. But whatever. We can talk about that next week.

Dennis and Anand and I went to the Natural History Museum today; Dennis and I spent the afternoon scaring ourselves with the fossils. They're HUGE!

"See the jaw of that giant shark! You could stand in that jaw!"
"But not for long... ."

"OK, dire wolves, they're like wolves, which are already scary, only they're bigger! They would hunt you down in packs, bigger, faster packs!"

"What if... you were just sitting in your second story window, reading your book, and all of a sudden, a giant sloth reared up and looked in the window. What would you DO?"

"See, like, that's bigger than a hippo. Only it is fast, and all carnivore and has claws and teeth. I mean, you'd just have to hope it wasn't hungry when it saw you."

Two hours of that was super fun. And Anand and Dennis and I all knew with all our hearts that the answer to the question: 'so, if you were the geneticist in charge of the top secret project to extract DNA and make dinosaurs, would you go through with it?' was HELL YES. We would know full well it was a terrible plan the entire time and we would absolutely make dinosaurs and giant mammals again. Then we would watch them FIGHT!


Thursday, July 20, 2006

When the Cat's Away . . .

Dear Readers,

Meg has abandoned you all for the weekend, but don't despair - there's no reason we can't have a little fun here without her.

So, who the hell am I and how did I sneak past the gatekeepers of the blog? The details aren't important; all that matters is that I'm a good friend - and entitled to take certain liberties.

Even the avid readers among you likely don't know many details of Meg's life - I don't mean the deep, dark secrets that she would, no doubt, gladly share with you Imaginary Folk anyways - but the subtleties of her day-to-day existence that she might not bother to mention. For example:
  1. Her home computer runs Windows 98, which is only worth mentioning because she can't install iTunes. The poor girl goes door-to-door begging for new music like a sugar-starved kid on Halloween night,
  2. She refuses to use a microwave, even though (to the best of my knowledge) there's no sound environmental reason to avoid them, and, most relevant at the moment,
  3. She doesn't own a cell phone. Or Blackberry. Or two-way pager. Relevant, I say, because my flight to Philly is running late and I have no easy way of letting her know that she should go to dinner without me.

I'm sure I'm not alone here - we've all got plenty of technology laggards in our lives. [My parents, for example, still have trouble with the 3 TV remotes, but I forced a cell phone on them and they've been grateful ever since.]

My question for you, good folks: do I simply tolerate this backward-ness with her? Or is it my duty, as a friend, to leave her stranded at PHL, at the mercy of the Hare Krishnas, until she realizes the error in her ways?

[Update - I'm still in Atlanta; Meg just called me from a payphone. She got lucky this time: I gave her everything - the restaurant location, her friend's phone numbers, my expected arrival time - and not one moment of preaching from me . . . I'm such a softie . . .]

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

See you Saturday night!

DC folk:

Looks like the plan is to meet at Open City for dinner or drinks on Saturday night.

Open City
2331 Calvert St NW
Washington, DC 20008

Looking forward to meeting you!

Rest of you, I'll be back Tuesday. Have a good weekend! I will.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Last post about personal ads.

Tyler Cowen suggested that I write an intelligent but bland personal ad to maximize responses. The grad-student ad got me about thirty responses, of which six were interesting, including the naughty ones I posted Saturday. If I included a nice picture, I would get eighty or ninety responses and nearly all of them would be like this:

  • Here I am my dear. I have come to take you away from all the boring world has to offer you. I believe in making my woman happy(to a fault) and I will get happiness in return. Me: 5'11, 210, 43.
  • Hi, my name is *** and i'd like to get to know you better. I'm 36, college grad., personal trainer, massage therapist, and logistic broker. I enjoy the outdoors and looking for someone to enjoy this summer with. Please read my profile and see if we have some commonality...hope to talk soon..take care ...
  • Hola ! Bearded Grad Latino guy here ready to introduce myself to you. I am fashioned in the old school era. I live by the words "treat others as you like to be treated". I had a wife once,but things never really worked out like I would have liked. I am well educated and a professional (teacher). I have eyes that are destined to please and be pleased. I enjoy travelings and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I love kayaking down the river or hiking in the mountains. I'm always finding new projects to do around my house. I work well with my hands. I can build almost anything as long as I can visualize it in my brain. I have a bearded face with long black hair to go with it. I love to laugh and be laughed at. I am 38 years young. I like to reduce some of my daily stress by riding my motorcycle or runnig with my dogs. I'm easy to talk to and enjoy meeting new people. Would you like to know more? Send me an email or give me a call. I live in Sacramento (by the river). Hope to hear from you!!
  • Hi there, my name is *******, I'm 5'9", 190, black hair and brown eyes, most women find me very attractive. I'm a supportive and loving man. I would like to hear from you. I'm a very well rounded person who enjoys many things in life. I'm classy, fun and down to earth. Please drop me a note and send me some pictures of you and lets see where things will go. Hope to hear from you soon.
  • Hi I would like to know more about you, I just moved to this area and I wish to make new friends, I have a degree in Business and working for my masters degree, Do you have msn or yahoo to chat online? I like outdoors, movies, read abut economy, finance. I was living in Canada but I decided to move down here, I do not drink or smoke, Like working out and walks.

Seriously, how could I ever tell those men apart? It would take forever to meet them all and there's no wheat in that chaff. When I put my doubts aside and actually do meet someone from a pleasant, uninteresting email, I find a pleasant, uninteresting guy. Then I come back from my date completely uninspired and my friends tell me that I am being too picky because I got hurt by my last boyfriend and I don't really want love. When he writes later, I have to feel bad about turning him down.

What I really want in a reply to a personal ad is personality. I would love to get something with as much fire as UnderwearNinja's letters in yesterday's comments. Honestly, the email from the football player who likes southern food was better than any of the ones above; at least it was vivid. An ideal response would go with one of the themes from the ad and take it in a direction I don't expect. I'm not partial to replies where the guy describes himself, because I don't care. If a guy is sharp and funny and nice, I don't care about height or weight or hobbies or life philosophy. We can work any of that out. Truly. I'll raise dogs or fix motorcycles or rock climb or whatever freak thing he likes. Or, I'll kiss him when we get back from our separate weekends. I don't care. If he isn't sharp and funny, I don't care if his interests align perfectly with mine. It isn't enough. Nice inside, really smart, funny as me, in two or three paragraphs. Please.

Getting meta with it.

Hey y’all. I hate being meta, but I wanted to say some things.

I am fine with being critiqued. Any good point you have, I want to hear. I don’t need gratuitous meanness, but if it is funny that’s probably fine too. I have ways that I am touchy and can get hurt, but a hard-thinking conversation isn’t one of them. I’m pretty secure, so I’m willing to entertain negative thoughts about me. If they just don’t ring true, I move on. If they do, I’ll sit with them for a while and ask people who really know me to evaluate them. A reasonable tone will help make your point.

I’ve gotten a couple emails recently saying that you’re coming through Sac and wonder if we could meet. I love that. I started this blog to meet real people; that’s the point. Don’t feel tentative about writing me at all. If I’m around I want to meet. Even better, I would like to have you over. You’re the reason I keep beer in my fridge that I’ll never drink. I’ll say no if I’m busy. You are invited. Bay Area people driving to Tahoe, give me a heads up so I can make you dinner on your way. Send an email that shows you aren’t a crazy person and come on by.

The incredible Dubin sent me an email recently saying that we need a way to tell the anonymice apart. She suggested ear notches or cutting off toes. I’m not bloodthirsty like she is, but now, in addition to being imaginary, you are all super cute and furry with little twitching noses. Since I am a Rat myself, it makes me feel even closer to you.

Be nice to your fellow commenters. One day, when this blog is gone, all you’ll have is each other.

It hasn't been a problem recently, but I'll throw in a quick reminder that otherwise contentless compliments to me bore all of us.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, July 17, 2006

Pop Quiz

I think of myself as socially mal-adept, not able to talk to a wide range of people, prone to say the wrong thing and only find that out when the table falls silent. The solution I've found is to stay very close to people like me. Ultimate players work well for that and if I find myself in an awkward silence, I can always recover by wondering aloud if there is a real difference between a lax four-person cup and a clam formation. That brings the conversation back every time. Talking to (and meeting) you guys has lulled me into thinking that I can just write what I want to strangers and trust them to figure out what I mean or ask me. So it is pretty much your fault that I chased off one of the bearded grad-student guys.

He sent an email saying he was was working on his dissertation or would have written me sooner. He included a picture of a regular looking man. I of course wrote to ask him what his dissertation was (so forward! so smooth!). He sent me:

My dear Megan,

A very good question. My research focuses on the link between economics, **** ******, and ******* ********. I have developed theories that address the ******** issue, and as a result have spent a lot of time in Sacramento recently. I have been using Sacramento as my "base" since last October.

I would prefer to explain my theories to you in person. You'll understand them better that way. Do you have a photo of yourself?

You can see how that would totally piss me off. I mean it. I really was angry. But, the new, openminded Megan doesn't rule people out - even for shit like that. I graciously gave him a chance to redeem himself.
Hey ****,

I would much rather hear your theories in person.

I'll send you a picture if it is important to you, but wonder a little at the implication that there is a threshold level of attractiveness for the people you are willing to meet and chat with about your research. I mean, even if I disappoint, how high can your opportunity costs be? If it is a great picture, does that make me more worth meeting than a cheerful personals ad does?

Coffee sometime? Or ice cream?
See? Nothing but sweetness. I didn't say "how high can your opportunity costs be, loser? When's the next time someone's going to want to talk to you about your research? Right, never. How bad can twenty minutes at a coffee shop, even with an ugly girl, be? Which I'm not, but you'll never know now." But for some unexplainable boy reason, he didn't write me back.

Alright, internets. You choose:
1. Megan, honey, you were:
A. Fucking ridiculous. Asking for a picture is a regular part of online dating. If you refused to send one, you must be hideously deformed (or a man!) and definitely not worth writing back.
B. Absurdly righteous. You know you have some nice pictures tucked away. Why not just send him the pretty one in the red sweater without the kid? What were you proving? What are the priorities here?
C. On the right track for the wrong reason. There's a condescending tone behind that email; he probably didn't write you back because 1) he isn't used to people fronting him and 2) you might be hideously deformed.
D. All of the above.
E. Other.

2. (True/False) He might still have potential, and we love us some economists. When you get back from the East Coast Tour and can meet for ice cream, you should send him a link to this post.

3. (True/False) Whatever. He's some sort of half-assed economist if he doesn't already know you from Marginal Revolution. We have standards around here. You can do better.

Bonus Extra Credit Question:
Why did his innocuous letter set me off as strongly as it did? (1 paragraph)

This weekend: DC and Philadelphia

We should figure out plans for hanging out in DC the evening of Saturday the 22nd and Philadelphia the evening of the 23rd. Seems like lots of you are in DC; could you suggest a central pub-type place where we can chat over food and pitchers? I'll be with Anand and Dennis and Amber, I think. 7pm?

Philadelphia, want to meet the spectacularly cool Dubin and I hope TJ and, of course, Anand? Where?

In the House and in the Senate.

My parents divorced my first year of college. It was and remains a loving, generous divorce. I have had exactly one conversation with my father about the divorce. We were standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, when Daddy, looking into the distance, said “You’ll notice that when your mother decided to leave, she had the financial wherewithal to do so.” Then we both cried and said that we loved each other so much and he never wanted to go on business trips when I was little and I’ve only ever wanted to make him proud.

From the Archives has been a repeated exercise in realizing how homogenous my community is and how sheltered my life has been. It hadn’t occurred to me that men would hesitate over the word ‘feminist’ in a personal ad. My default assumption is that every man and woman I know calls him or herself a feminist. I can imagine talking about whether s/he has come to prefer the term ‘humanist’, but I have never been in a conversation where feminists were belittled. Really. My father, my friends from college, my co-workers, my friends from Ultimate… I can’t imagine any of them even pausing over the word feminist in a personal ad. If it weren’t there, they would assume that it didn’t need to be said.

I won’t be pulling the term feminist from any future personal ads. I didn’t think I needed to filter for that, but I am perfectly happy with never meeting men who don’t want to date feminist women*. In this I like my sheltered world.

* I would understand an aversion learned from dating dogmatic, newly-awakened feminist undergrads. Sorry, Mike. Sorry ‘bout that.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

In the field today.

Don't know when I'll get back, and tonight I leave for the weekend. This may have to hold you until Monday.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

CalPoly was good to me.

My irrigation professor at CalPoly recruited me away from the Bureau of Reclamation; he liked the way I edited one of his reports. I hadn’t thought about being an engineer before. When I called my Dad to tell him I chose that program, I said “Wow, you’ll have two engineer daughters” and my Dad answered “At least.” I think my baby sister was four at the time.

My irrigation professor is an extremely honorable man; I’m proud that he is part of my academic pedigree. He knows a phenomenal amount about delivering water to fields, but that’s about what you’d expect. I was more impressed with how much attention he paid to how people interact with water projects. The week we designed hand-move sprinkler systems, he took us out to the practice field and made us carry pipe. He wanted us to know what our design was requiring of field workers.

I’d never met people like my classmates at CalPoly. Most of them were white, sons of growers from the Valley. They may well have been the third or fourth generation of their family at CalPoly. I remember one ranch kid telling me he had never eaten meat bought from a store until he went away to college and he’ll never do that again. There were a handful of Mexican-American men, taking the step that was going to move them out of being laborers. (Respect.) When they met each other, they would exchange names and the crops they grew up picking. “Anselmo, tomatoes.” “Hector, peaches.”

I was too different to become friends with the farm kids, but I liked them. For one, they are pretty. Oh man. A lifetime of constant work gave them muscled builds and a graceful, economical way of moving. They worked together in a way I have never seen in urban people. Not much discussion, but all patient and alert to what has to happen next, providing the right lift or tool or shifting a burden. I expected them to be more racist, but most knew good and well how hard field work is and respected the people who did it. The one time I heard picking lettuce referred to as “Mexican golf” my professor put an authoritative stop to that.

My professor believes there is exactly one correct way to do engineering, or really anything. He demanded a rigorously methodical approach, zero shortcuts, everything meticulously spelled out and justified. He himself never varied. That was good for me because I was new to engineering, but it exasperated some of my classmates. I asked my professor one time what he did in Vietnam. He defused unexploded bombs and mines. One correct way, indeed.

Them Azores.

The only overt racism I heard from the farm kids completely shocked me. There was a common, unselfconscious disdain for the Portuguese communities in the Valley. The Portuguese?! Here? Why bother? Why such an unobtrusive group? Why not the Basques, who are also in the Valley and genuinely strange?

It also seemed like a bad move on my classmates’ parts. There were three whole girls in my engineering classes, including my freak Berkeley self. By far the most gorgeous was a woman of Portuguese descent with big black eyes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The few of you who care will be happy to get an answer to this.

No, it is not ridiculous for Valley growers to be running their sprinkler systems during a spring rainstorm.

Soils have a moisture holding capacity. Crops, depending on their size, have a certain depth their roots can reach to. The soil moisture reservoir for a field is the (volume of soil crop roots can access) times (the moisture holding capacity of the soil).

Vsoil * Moisture Holding Capacitysoil = Soil Moisture Reservoir.

During the summer, a grower has to schedule irrigations. Some systems, like furrows, can entirely re-fill the soil moisture reservoir very quickly. Sprinklers, on the other hand, deliver water relatively slowly. Hand-move sprinkler lines are set far apart. Each line waters a portion of the field for a couple days before an irrigation crew breaks it apart and moves it to the edge of its spray radius. In the heat of the summer, it is entirely possible that the crop sucked more water out of the soil than the sprinkler line was able to replenish in that position.

When that happens, the grower is depending on a slowly depleting soil moisture reservoir. He or she is trying to keep wet soils wet and losing that battle throughout the summer. If she times it perfectly, her soil moisture reservoir will be empty when it is time for drydown. If she mis-times it and the soil dries out first, she’ll lose her crop. She doesn’t have an irrigation system that can deliver enough water fast enough to save it.

It is crucial that growers with hand-move sprinklers enter the summer with a full soil moisture reservoir. That’s why they are running their sprinkler systems over an empty field in the late spring. A rainstorm is great, but it could be too short to deliver the full amount of water. She can’t take that chance. She must irrigate a known amount of water to be sure the soil moisture reservoir is full. She could monitor her soil moisture profile during the rainstorm/irrigation event to see if the combination fills the soil moisture reservoir faster than the sprinklers would alone. If she does adapt to the rainstorm, she would move the sprinkler line down to its next position sooner. You would still see sprinklers on during the rain. That is cautious behavior on her part, not wastefulness.

Not what I expected.

I was going to spend the whole week on irrigation, because having readers and commenters is so 2005. But I got a couple more responses to the Craigslist ad that I had to tell you about.

I was a little nervous about the email from 'Pete the Meat', but it turned out nice. He wished me luck and suggested a local cafe as a hangout for intellectual types.

This morning I got an email from 'good guy', which was immediately promising because he changed the subject line. Very few guys do that and I am almost never impressed with the ones who don't. But when I opened "Secret Sacramento Hang Out", it said:
If you tell me that you wear size 6 jeans (or thereabout) I'll tell you where that "hideout" is.
Not even close, fucker. You're no bearded grad-student guy. That wouldn't even cross a bearded grad-student's mind. The last thing I need is the location of his hang out. The location of the secret Sacramento hang out of jackasses is something I can live without.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A short term solution at best.

I love irrigated agriculture. When I drive to southern California, I’ll add hours to my trip by taking county roads. I’m as interested in the thirtieth field of cotton as I am in the first. If you were with me and noticed that I’ve fallen silent, it is not because I am tired of the drive. Nope, I’m trying to figure out if the spacing on those hand-move sprinklers is why that stand of tomatoes looks behind. I love the look of working landscapes and not just the picturesque ones either. I’m a born Californian; parched gold foothills behind geometric lines of truck crops look lonely and gorgeous and utterly right.

When I went to CalPoly we took field trips to big and little farms all over the San Joaquin Valley; that summer I hit another thirty farms in the Sacramento Valley doing irrigation system evaluations. I wasn’t entirely upfront about being a rabid environmentalist from Berkeley; in fact, I may have entirely neglected to mention that. It was certainly no coincidence I wore a CalPoly school of engineering shirt every single day. That shirt is the secret handshake to working in the Central Valley. I loved walking fields in the heat, talking to growers and pickers and irrigators. I loved driving a dusty truck full of gear that I knew how to use.

So when people who just read Cadillac Desert for the first time get real righteous about agribusiness millionaires farming in the desert with subsidized water, I sort of hem and haw and say something about it being ‘complex’. It is complex. Up in the Sacramento Valley, I’d work in some gorgeous orchard. The strips between the trees would be full of flowers for pollinators, frogs would jump away from my steps, spiders would hang webs between the trees. Those lovely farms? Inadequate irrigation systems, “wasting” delivered water, uneven crop yields. On the west side of the San Joaquin, which you drive through on the 5? Those huge even fields are horrible places to be, straight-up factories, biodiversity wastelands and you know what else? They have got some excellent irrigation systems. Those agribusiness millionaires can afford to buy drip systems and fix small leaks. Their crop yield to irrigation water ratios are remarkably high.

So I’m not reflexively against Big Ag, but when I read that the Bureau of Reclamation may be re-opening the Kesterson drain*, my first thought was “Are they out of their fucking minds?”. They aren’t out of their fucking minds; they have no good choices. A judge has held the feds to their 1960’s promise of a drain for the west side of the Valley and there are no good options. Pipe drainwater over the Coast Range to the ocean ($!) and deform the fish there? Put in the already collapsing south Delta, which most of southern California’s drinking water flows through? Put it offstream somewhere and let it evaporate? That’s the best of some bad options and we call it Kesterson.

There’s another solution. Stop irrigating soils high in selenium. The problem is so Coasian it almost hurts to contemplate engineering solutions. Given my green biases, you won’t be surprised to hear that I think farmers should pay the public for the right to consume freshwater and dispose of drainwater. But instead the feds are desperately trying to find ways to pay those growers not to farm; land retirement is politically anathema. The growers are opposed to selling out, leaving their farming lifestyle, walking away from their lands. They are fools not to take this offer, though. As you drive down the 5, you can see fields that look covered in a light snowfall. Those are salt drifts. It is absurd to build a drain to hold poisonous water from fields that will be unfarmable in a generation or less.

7/12: More on fallowing in Westlands.

*If you irrigate land, you have to drain it as well or salts accumulate. When Reclamation built a canal to provide water to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, they promised the growers there a drain. The first time they tried to provide that drain, they built a huge marsh and filled it with tailwater from west side farms. Turns out that west side soils are naturally high in selenium, which accumulated in the Kesterson drain. Two short years later, living creatures in the water started showing unbelievable deformities.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I would change it, but I'm already tired of it.

I’ll make a half-hearted attempt at defending mentioning sex in a personal ad, then I’ll just believe you when you tell me I’m wrong, because I am not attached to either that ad in particular or to talking about sex in ads in general.

A couple responses to the comments:
Robert graciously wrote:
But your sexy side is not your comparative advantage in this enterprise. I'd use the space to emphasize your passions, your athleticism, and your intellectual curiosity.

I am not sure I agree on that one. Not so much the Craigslist ads, but definitely on the Salon/Nerve ads and in real life, I see a lot of freakin’ amazing single women. Smart, interesting, photogenic, athletic women post ads. I’ll click over from the mouth-breathers on the men’s side and wish I had options as good as the single women who have ads up. I don’t think I am very different from those women. But raunchy is unusual, and can be fun.

Ennis, who always has great suggestions, wrote:
Talking about sex directly (and in that way) in an ad confuses people as to your type.

This is a hard one, because ‘enthusiastic about sex’ is my type. But I think what Ennis is tactfully getting at is that I’ll come across as a skank. Perhaps wrongfully, I just don’t worry about that. Partly, I’m trusting my readers. That doesn’t work so well on Craigslist, where the obsessed lurk. But I’m hoping that the ad will find its way to men like my friends from undergrad, who don’t confuse sex-positive or promiscuous with skank and would at least hold off judgement until writing further or meeting me.

I don’t think anyone who meets me could be confused. People who judge based on my appearance won’t think I’m a skank, because I don’t look like one. On the axes of pretty, cute and sexy, I skew strongly to pretty, some cute, very little sexy. I look much more Madonna than whore. People who know better and judge me on my personality will find out soon that I think hard about stuff and will make fun of anyone and am interested in who they are, and by the way, also like sex.

I got a couple promising responses, from men who don't seem to mind that I'm practically a crackwhore. If all goes well or even neutral, you'll never hear about them again.

Second degree

The hardest comment for me to think through is from Macneil, whom I nearly always agree with. He wrote:
Here are qualities that I believe someone like me would be looking for: Intelligence, attractiveness, trustworthiness, dependability, consistency, and ready-to-commit. And: Instead, they would use terms like "serious relationship" or "looking to share my life."

He’s exactly right in one way. Those are the things I am looking for, and indeed, the things that I’m offering. But it would make me cringe to write an ad that used those words to describe my hoped-for, and the responses would be almost too painful to read. They would be sincere, which is just heart-rending in responses to personal ads, and not funny, so I wouldn’t even get anything out of them.

I talk about wanting to be with someone funny. There are lots of types of funny that crack me up, but the kind I love best, the kind I try to use, depends on a strong understanding between the speaker and listener. The unspoken trust is that we are both alike, and couldn’t mean the horrible things we say, and are therefore freed to laugh at the situation (and often our pretentious liberal reaction to it) and ourselves. I heard it last night at the party I was at; a white guy turned to his black friend and offered him watermelon. He turned it down, saying that what this party needs is some fried chicken. They all seemed easy and calm, but my shoulders were at my ears and my eyes were huge; that’s not a game I’ll play. You know what, though? With my Asian-Am friends I’ll bring that shit and more.

So, although it doesn’t have to be about sex, I guess I’m always hoping that someone who reads one of my personal ads won’t come in sincerely through the front door. I’m hoping he will instead leap to that level of trust and go with one of the riffs in the ad, or make fun of some aspect of it (and himself or convention or me). It is a dangerous game, and it can’t be forced, and the front door is open to a great guy who is funny in a different way. But when it is played right, it is a certain road to my attention and heart.

I won’t get that if I post a sincere personal ad. I just won’t catch the attention of some snarky man, who is also looking for a kind, trustworthy, ready-to-commit woman. He won’t see the edge or offer it in return. The talk about sex isn’t necessary and I would hate for guys like Macneil to run from me, but I don’t want to branch into phrases like “looking to share my life.” True as they are, they won’t get me where I most want to go.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Beyond parody.

I'm pretty ambivalent about posting this, mostly because some of you have written me to ask me out and I keep putting it off. I honestly really am looking foward to meeting those of you a couple hours away, but I just don't know when I'm both going to be there and have enough time to meet up. Also, even though this is the new, open-minded Megan who isn't going to rule anything out, in my heart of hearts I keep hoping to date someone local, who can meet me at the park minutes after I call. So this morning I was inspired and I posted this on Craigslist:

You know whom I really want to date? I want to date one of those twinkly-eyed grad students with a beard. Not necessarily one who is in grad school, or one with a beard, but one of those thoughtful, cheerful, feminist guys who amble through the halls of their department and who are so kind in office hours (sadly, not the type of office hours I could write letters to Penthouse Forum about). Those guys have dogs, and do projects, and are often Jewish, and play sports. The pretty ones are graceful and slightly bow-legged, but the key is the smiley eyes.

Thing is, I don’t meet guys like that here. Where are you, bearded grad-student guy? Don’t tell me you are home with your wife and baby, ‘cause that doesn’t help. Are you out in the field, tracking Sudden Oak Death? ‘Cause if you came home to me sweaty and hungry, I would have dinner waiting and join you in a cool shower. Have you just not had time to call, because you finally got scheduled for some time on the telescope? Well baby, you can wake me when you call; I would never want to miss talking to you. Are you at some local café, working on a proof? I would meet you there, but bring a book so I won’t interrupt you. Just smile at me when I get there, so I can watch the lines around your eyes crinkle.

Are you at the secret Sacramento hang out of bearded grad-student guys, where dozens of you joke around and build things and complain about how you can’t meet easygoing, stacked, blue-eyed brunettes with more degrees than you who are ready to settle down into a routine of lots and lots of blissful, raunchy sex? ‘Cause, holy shit. I need to know where that is.

(Fellas, if you are not a bearded grad-student guy, or you aren’t sure if you are but you went to grad school, please do not write me just because I mentioned sex. I’m not going to answer many emails from this; just the ones that sound really promising. Also, if I do answer your email, I don’t want to have a long correspondence before we meet. Hope to hear from you, bearded grad-student guy!)

I'm not going to post the good answers, but some emails are so amazing I had to show you. They make me wish that the clichés weren't so completely inevitable and that I didn't have to wade through them.

Clear out space in the dresser for me, top or bottom
shelf is ok, I like both spots. I'm moving in. Your my
type of lady. Great post, but were already having
issues, just got home, very sweaty, and other things
too, and no, your not going to have dinner ready, one,
you WILL be dinner (my favorite type of dinner, love
to eat down south, and am dam good at it), I'll grill
some steaks on the grill, after dinner. But where in
the hell are you? I'm getting in the shower, with out
you? Whats the problem, dear??? Not a grad student,
but thinking of going to grad school now, and shoot
for the PHD after that. Why couldn't this be last
year, when I had a beard, going with the shaved head,
and goat-tee look now. But dam, may never shave
again!! Just so you have hair, one of us going to need
something to pull. I'm a white male, 40, its OK, you
need an older man in your life anyway. retried from
the NFL, football, but do not watch sports much, been
there, done that. In banking now, Sooooooo tell me
more. You sound sooooooo dam hot!! Forget the coffee
house, let hit the brewy instead.

I know I mentioned sex, but did you have to tell me about how you love to eat down south? In your first (and hopefully only) email to me? We haven't even met, Mr. Former Football Player.

This guy isn't such a giver, although it appears that he also enjoys oral sex:
.... I'm looking for a nice bj, sucking me dry, hopefully weekly and I pay $100 cash ($400 monthly).... I'm very healthy, love to cum and cum when told.... 6', brown hair, hazel eyes, professional occupation, honest and easy going.......Flexible schedule around the Sacramento area…………. Picture? interested?

sweet thoughts.........

This one arrived within minutes of posting my ad:
You are over educated, and under experienced. Get a life, instead of a book. Do something. Poor girl.

I'm adding that to the Wall of Shame. I'll post other funny responses.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cracks you like a whip but it feels so right.

I’ve thought a lot about why some people don’t like to dance, because it makes me sad. When dancing is fun, it is as good as the best of any physical activity I’ve ever experienced. The best night of dancing rivals running down a disc, eating spectacular food when you are hungry, jumping into the river on a scorching day, utterly involved sex with an excellent someone. That doesn’t happen often. Most of the time, the music is good but not great, the lighting a little bright, there’s too much social awareness on the dance floor and dancing isn’t any better than mildly fun. On a good night, the music grabs and rocks you, the dj keeps it coming and amps it up, the lights are just a little dizzying, and you are delighted in the cleverness of the dj for blending those songs and your dancing friends for their witty moves. That’s very fun, and the most I usually hope for. But on the best nights of dancing, the music will entirely move through you, providing constant energy; your whole body will resonate and move in ways you never thought of, and indeed, thought will fade into a joyous, inexhaustible dissociated state that stays as long as the music rocks. From other sports, I know what it feels like to be flooded with endorphins, but I don’t know any way besides dancing to stay there for hours.

So I am always sad when people say they don’t like dancing; that avenue to that feeling is closed to them. I believe them, that dancing isn’t fun for them. I never pressure them, because if it isn’t fun there is no reason to do it. But I wish I could make them like dancing. I have a theory about why people don’t like to dance, and it isn’t about their capacity for movement. It is about their music.

I don’t usually believe people when they tell me they can’t dance. Almost always, if I get them to imitate and make fun of other dancers, if I can get them clowning around, they come up with motions that would pass for dancing in any club. The range from just thumping around to mad skillz is so big that most everyone fits in somewhere. (And, just like at the gym: 1) no one is watching you, and 2) fuck ‘em if they are.)

But I can see that there are people who aren’t motivated to dance by the music itself, and I don’t see how they will enjoy dancing. If you don’t hear the beat, if you don’t listen to songs so you can learn them, their lyrics and pauses and climaxes, if a catchy song doesn’t make you want to hop around or sway, well, moving gracefully won’t make you like dancing. From what I’ve seen, people who don’t like dancing also don’t listen to dance-able music. Some don’t respond to any music, some like stuff that just doesn’t thump; I wouldn’t enjoy dancing to that either. I don’t know when those people split off, either, because babies and toddlers love to dance.

People who love to dance also love to listen to dance-y music. All the time. They pay attention when it comes on the radio, learn and sing the lyrics, always have music on in the house. I listen to some pretty trashy music; if I had any shame I wouldn’t play it so loud you can hear it down the block. But that music makes me move and reminds me that I will have other nights of dancing. Not many, but a few of those will be among the best things I ever do.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm the girl on the dance floor, wanting some more...

I have a theory that you can either like Bob Dylan or you can like to dance. You can't do both. I also think the correlation is strongly negative; the more you like one, the less you like the other. Discuss.

P.S. If you chose Dylan, you made the wrong choice.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

They wore fedoras with lingerie tops and multiple belts. I would just look silly.

I am not “cool”. I am friendly and enthusiastic and animated, but I am not in the least cool. I am at my best in domestic situations, making breakfast for a crowd, welcoming people at my door, keeping the music playing and the snacks interesting. Doing cool things like going out to see new bands sounds dangerously like staying up past eleven and poses terrible questions about what to wear. I’ve known for a very long time that cool is not an option for me and instead I rely on genuine.

But here’s the thing! I have cool friends! My sister and her girlfriends do cool things at amazing places; if I listen in I get ideas that I can adapt to my own scale. My old friends from the hippy co-op do things like become culture editors of smart online magazines before going off to film school in London. My friends in LA who keep up with music fill my iPod with bands I’ve never heard of, but that come up in conversation three months later. So perhaps because we go back a long ways, or perhaps because they know they can always spend a very comfortable weekend getting fed on my porch, or perhaps because they are cool enough that they can afford to include a country mouse in the mix, I sometimes get invited to where the cool people are.

On Monday, some folks from the co-op threw a party at their loft in the Mission. My friends and I debated whether to go. I was intimidated because the hosts are so beautiful and are all programmers by day and lesbian dancer/choreographers by night, even the men and straight girls, and their clothes are all ironic and wouldn’t look good if the wearers weren’t so stunning. But I swore I would try new things this year, and the hosts have never been anything other than welcoming and nice, so as long as I got a solid nap, I thought I could manage it.

And it was fun! I didn’t talk to anyone besides the people I came with, and I noticed we were the only people who ate food. My clothes were sincere and covered way too much of me. But the music was so great (you know, just DJ’s who are friends of theirs, and of course the band likes to come over to project their films) and I’ll tell you something you wouldn’t guess from my appearance. I am a better dancer than my staid clothes would suggest. So I danced hard (soaking through my shirt, hips fully loosened, delighted at the beats but not quite reaching an ecstatic fugue state) for a good couple hours. I didn’t try the stripper pole, but this isn’t the first party where the only place I found room enough to dance was up on a table or the go-go platform.

For once, I wasn’t the first person in my group to want to head home. Today I am quite proud of my bravery and pleased that trying a new thing turned out so well. I should do that more.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

There'll be no barging in; there'll be no dissin'.

It is all a cover. Fresh Pepper is not an attorney living in New Jersey. Fresh Pepper is really an old housemate who is postdoc-ing at Stanford; he came to our gathering this weekend. When he asked me what was new, I told him about From the Archives. When he asked if my blog had a theme, I said it is: “I’m too dorky to get a boyfriend, despite my huge rack”. Then we had the following conversation (and if you are wondering how a person says such things, he says them in the most casual, affectionate murmur you can imagine).

Him: And is it working? Are you meeting guys?
Me: Yeah, I guess it is. I mean, really cool people are writing me, and I’m meeting someone for lunch tomorrow.
Him: Quick nooner?
Me: Um, I don’t think so. I’ve never met him…
Him: BJ, then? To say ‘thanks for lunch’?
Me: Dude, I’m vegetarian. How grateful do I have to be?
Him: So true, so true. Have you met anyone else?
Me: I’ve met a couple guys…
Him: Git yourself nice and spit roasted?
Me: You asking if I been the cross-bar in an A-frame?
Him: All the attention a pretty girl like you deserves. Eiffel Tower, baybee.
Me: No! No. Not spit roasted.
Him: But you keep blogging anyway? What for?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Fourth of July y'all. Watch extra fireworks for me.

My friend Dan is going to be in Berkeley this weekend, so a bunch of us who pretended to be hippies in college are gathering. We'll meet at Cafe Gratitude. Anand can't be there, but he sent me an email a couple days ago with some of the menu:

I AM BOUNTIFUL live bruschetta - Four slices of our live toast topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, stone ground olive oil and brazil nut parmesan. $7.50

*I AM GENEROUS guacamole -
Authentic guacamole and spicy tomato salsa with live flax chips $6.50

I AM HAPPY live hummus - Sprouted almond-sesame
hummus with assorted live crackers $6.50

I AM PRESENT cheese & fruit - Soft cashew “
cheese” of the day served with apples or grapes,
olive tapenade, assorted live crackers and toast $7.50

I AM MAGICAL stuffed mushrooms -
Six cremini mushrooms stuffed with sprouted
sunflower seed-walnut pâté, sprinkled with Brazil nut parmesan $7

I AM INSIGHTFUL live samosas - Two spinach wrapped samosas filled with almond sesame seed pâté and marinated veggies, comes with spicy fresh mint dipping sauce. $7.50

Anand wrote that he'll be having the 'I AM NAUSEOUS', which comes with a bucket and cool minty water. Man, Dallas has made him weak. Back when he lived here, he could have held his stomach.

'Don't know when the weekend will end. See you Tuesday or Wednesday or so.