html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

OH! My friend. I found my friend.

In junior high and high school, one of my closest friends in the world was Hoa. I loved Hoa. When he was good at something, he was amazing at it. He drew, did all of our party announcements for years; he was just an incredible artist. He was so damn smart, and funny, and way stylish, and profoundly, overwhelmingly good. Most of the time he was just another sharp kid with us, you know. But sometimes we'd talk, and I'd get afraid that he was too good for the world. That the world would take someone like him, someone who never ever saw a person do something bad, who wanted to understand every single person to their core, who was open to the best of everyone, and hurt him.

He stayed in LA when I left for college. We stayed close; not talking often but talking intensely when we could. We visited each other. He got a fiancée who wasn't so sure about me, so I kept my distance for a while. They didn't marry. Then I heard he won a Fulbright to Vietnam, his first trip back since leaving. He came home, won an architecture contest and used the proceeds to go straight back to Vietnam. This time he became a monk. My friend Hoa. A monk.

You know, when I heard that Hoa was a monk, I had two immediate thoughts. The first was grief for all that talent, lost. He won't be drawing and making buildings for the world if he's a monk. My second thought was "Of course. Of course he's a monk." I was relieved. A monastery will be a safe place for my friend who is too pure and good to live in the world.

It is a little strange to have a friend who's a monk. I visit him every few years at his monastery. The first time, he wasn't there. He was at a nearby campus, holding a retreat. I got to the campus way late, but it turns out that if you ask people where the monks are, they can generally tell you. I found other monks, who didn't know his pre-monk name. We finally tracked him down (he was working with the LGBT teens group), and when they finished he came out and saw me. It was amazing, watching my old beloved friend walking toward me in monk's robes. He was exactly the same, only purer, distilled to essence. More him. I was desperate to hear about becoming a monk, but also desperate because at that point I had twenty-two minutes to get to the airport, return the car and get on my plane. I told him I wanted to hear everything, but he had to tell it to me while walking me to my car. He just beamed at me.

We started walking to the car and whenever I'd tell him where I was and what I was doing, he'd stop to listen and give me his full attention. I'd tug him towards the car and ask him "how did you become a monk! what is it like! what did your family think!" and he would stop to think and answer me. I looked to the car one more time, and he said in the most loving tone "Megan, I wish I could tell you more about our practice. We practice mindfulness. So, when I am walking with my friend Megan, all of me is walking with you. When I am talking to you, that is all I am doing." DUDE! But you can't hurry a monk.

I've seen him again since then. That must be odd for him, 'cause I don't call ahead. I mean, he's a monk. He'll be there, right? So every few years, he turns around at his monastery and there I am. His life is pretty worldly; they're definitely engaged with the community. I asked him if he was going to be a monk his whole life; he said "This and many lives to come." He means it. He looks so whole. I still can't totally understand that he's a monk. I want my piece of him, where we stayed friends our whole lives and our families visit each other. I'm not going to get that. He gives all his pieces to his monastery and his practice.

I can still love him, though. Tonight I found pictures of him and I'm missing him badly. But look how happy he looks. You can see it, right? How good he is? He was always like that.



Aron sent me this:
Have you seen what Megan McArdle is throwing down? I think she’s deliberately provoking you:

“At any rate, do I believe that it takes longer to do things now because Progressives thought that there was no project that couldn't be improved by a really awesome committee full of smart, well meaning people thinking Big Thoughts about The Future? Yup, I do. I really do. And I invite anyone who does not think this to go sit through a public hearing on some trivial change to a valve in the sewer system, and then tell me with a straight face that I am wrong.”

But, see, I have no grief with Megan McArdle. In fact, I don't often read her. I don't think her pieces are rigorous and I don't share her biases, so I don't bother. Those qualities don't bug me; in fact, I think they are great for this media and it has clearly rewarded her. But they don't interest me either, so I... don't read them. I'm also starting to get tired of bloggers refuting her. Those posts are predictable too. "McArdle said this thing, based on no evidence but her gut feeling." And then you get thirty easy comments, half of which are bitchy attacks on Ms. McArdle and the other half are evenly split pro and con. She shows up, writes a long comment and you're good for another twenty comments. Rebutting Ms. McArdle gives off the feel of a cheap post for an afternoon when you've got nothing.

I'm kinda torn on the whole blogging-in-opposition-to-something dynamic. It is easy to be rebutting something. Whole thing just flows; you have something to expose as false, which is fun, and then you get to be even more right! That feels great. I do think I've written some good posts in rebuttal to the freakshow things y'all have said. My most-linked posts were rebuttals. Taken too far, it becomes inter-blog masturbation and that is only good for the participants. It has its place, and I'll keep doing it. But I have more respect for people who create content from scratch.

Aron clearly wanted me to respond to Ms. McArdle. I didn't read her whole post, so I can't put it in context. I had a couple thoughts on the quote he sent me. It reminded me of something my irrigation professor told me. He said that a District Board of Directors will take fifteen minutes to approve a $300,000 installation of a big gate without a single question, once they've accepted his credentials. But they'll argue for four hours about whether to get the thirty dollar shovel or the forty dollar shovel. He said they don't know enough to ask him questions on his gate design, but everybody has an opinion about daily tools and they will talk about that shovel until two in the morning.

The other thing I thought about Ms. McArdle's quote was that it was kinda cheap of her to make big assertions without telling us the details we need to understand them. She glossed over the important parts, so we're left without any way to understand the problem from here. I wish she'd been more careful, and told us: What kind of valve? Big valve? Little valve? Flow control or pressure control? Will it be remotely operated? What was it doing in the system? What were the consequences of that valve failing? Will the valve have to operate under a wide range of flows, or under constant conditions? Is it tied into the stormwater system, and does it need to do different things in storm events? Have they used this valve before? Will it be a trial for installing other similar valves throughout the sewer? What is the lifespan for that valve, and is anything likely to change about sewer usage during that lifespan? Too many bloggers tragically skip over this kind of important information, and Ms. McArdle is no exception.

Monday, July 30, 2007

We don't brag about it, but sometimes it comes up.

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy wrote in the comments:
And the thing is: this sort of story isn't just obnoxious in the obvious way. It's also about seeing someone who is doing normal professional stuff through the lens of her cleavage. -- My sister used to have a job that involved supervising construction sites. She thought that was really cool, since she loves construction sites. The very first time she ever got to go out to one of the sites she was supposed to be supervising, she was really excited, and really psyched to do a great job. And the first thing that happened was that the guy in charge made a pass at her. And it was bad not just because strangers making passes at you is always obnoxious, but because at this moment when she was really psyched to do a really good job, it was as though he had walked up to her and said: you might see yourself as a professional; I see you as genitalia prancing around in a hard hat. -- Which is a different sort of insult entirely.

Posted by: hilzoy | July 29, 2007 at 06:06 PM

Hey! My sister worked on construction sites too! My sister told me about her first ever business meeting as an industrial engineer. She had just been hired on with an engineering firm, and they took her to her first business meeting at the P*rt of Oakland. As the consultants, they got to the meeting early and set up in a super intimidating conference room with the big table and lots of steel and glass. All my sister wanted to do was listen so she would understand her new projects. A couple managers from the Port show up; everyone passes out business cards. It is still early, and one of the managers starts looking at my sister and looking at her card. (From her first ever stack of business cards.) He's looking over at my sister and she's getting nervous, 'cause she doesn't know if this is how all business meetings go. She's the only woman in the room. Finally, he asks her. "Were you an actress?" Now she has no idea where this is going. Is he saying that she doesn't look like an engineer? Why would an actress be at a meeting at the P*rt of Oakland? Was the client going to ask her out? What does she do if the client asks her out in front of her new boss in her first ever business meeting? "No", she says. "Why?" "Your last name," he said. "There's four or five actors who play Ronald MacDonald in the TV commercials. One of them has your last name." Oh. My sister denied that she was transitioning from her lucrative career as a Ronald MacDonald into industrial engineering and then the meeting started.

I called my sister to ask her if I could tell that story. She said "sure, but I have better ones." She worked onsite at the P*rt of Oakland for a while, walking past the guys every day. One guy's job was to count the number of blows the pile driver had applied to the pile. You know, those giant steel rods getting driven into bedrock, shaking the ground for blocks around. Takes 63 blows to drive a pile deep enough and he counted them for hours a day. My sister's walking by the pile driver counter and he says "Hey! My friend has a crush on you. He thinks you're cute." "Your friend? What friend?" And the counter-guy points way out to the water and my sister sees this teeny-tiny centimeter big guy, all covered in soot and getting shook to pieces. His job was to hang in a harness next to the pile and make sure that the pile driver didn't get caught in the rabbit, which my sister says is a U-shaped cup around the top of the pile, keeping vertical. My sister laughs just to think of it. He was so far away! How could he possibly have an opinion about her? She says the guys on a site can sense women at any distance. She told the pile driver counter-guy to say thanks, and the pile driver counter-guy said "I think you're cute too."

ADDED LATER: I didn't mean for this post to protest against harassment at work. I was contrasting Hilzoy's sister's first day on the job to my sister's, where the attention went off in such an unexpected direction and wasn't gender-based after all. See?

But then I wondered why my sister and I don't get hit on/harassed much, despite working on construction sites or ag fields. Don't know about my sister, but I'm pretty sure I switch to friendly, one-of-the-guys mode, which I must have picked up in my long, long history of being the only girl in the room. Math/science school, when my Asian girlfriends weren't allowed to stay late or go out? Me and the guys. Martial arts, lots of nights when I was the only girl there. Engineering school at CalPoly, only girl in a couple classes. Not often, but sometimes I'd get to pick-up Ultimate and be the only woman for a while. I remember a conversation on Unfogged when women commenters were saying they got very slightly revved and nervous alone with several men, and I remember thinking 'What? Only woman there is my natural state.' It is fun, with more moving about and knocking people around and trashtalking. I love groups of women and mixed groups too. But hanging out with only guys is great. I'm very grateful that it has never gone sour for me, at work or anywhere.

1. Look it up. 2. Kidding.

One of the things my sister and I couldn't figure out is where I would be when I moved in with her. She has a sweet little bungalow, with two bedrooms. If the kids have one room, than my sister and I... share a room? Really? It has been twenty-five years since we shared a room. Besides, as my friends immediately pointed out, there are some obvious flaws in sharing a room with my sister:

Dennis: You’re sharing a room with your sister? I thought the plan was to move here to date a lot.
Me: I know. We haven’t figured that part out.
Dennis: You’ll have to have a hanger-on-the-doorknob arrangement.
Me: Yeah. *sigh* But, you know? Maybe we’re old enough that the guy would have a room. Like, we could go to his place.
Anand: OOooohhh. You’re goin’ classy on us. Guy with his own room!
Me. I know! Big step up for me! But, if the plan is for me to get some…
Dennis: Oh no. We’re skipping right over that. The plan is for you to get lots.

My friends have faith! They think I could land a guy who has his own room!

Now we're thinking of fixing up the garage, turning it into a livable space. The idea is starting to take shape. A very simple room. Muted colors this time, and maybe just the essentials, bed, chair, rug, books and plants, sling. The new door will open straight into my garden plot; I think checking on my seedlings morning and evening will be less ridiculous when I'm not riding a mile over to my community garden each time. I want a dutch door, I think. Top half open for light and my cat; bottom half closed against chickens and surprise nephews.


Sister: If we put the door under the eaves on the side, it can only be six feet tall.
Me: Six feet tall? Isn't that short and squatty for a door?
Sister: Yeah. Guys who aren't all that tall would have to duck under it.
Me: And since the point is to have a large parade of men in and out...
Sister: We can't have them hitting their heads. We'll need an overhang.

She's a planner, my sister. Always thinking.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

It was horrible.

There I was, digging at the juniper roots we're trying to take out, my sister giving the littler one a bath. I saw it and screamed out. My cry echoed through the neighborhood, but somehow my sister didn't hear it. "Oh god!" I shouted to her. "We're gonna have to move." "What?", she came out to see. "Don't get any closer. How fast can you sell the house?" "What? A snake?" "Worse." "A dead body?" Worse." Understanding and horror dawned on her face. She came over to hold my hand and lead me away. "We're done working on these stumps. Just come inside."

Inside we discussed what to do with it. Bag it up and send it to Dad? Send it to her old landlord, who wont give her the deposit back? My sister feels real bad that she's sent him a couple firm letters and is debating small claims court, but when the alternative is sending him potato bugs in the mail, we can all agree that she is taking the high road.

We gave it half an hour to vacate, then went back to digging out the juniper stumps. Ten minutes later we unearthed it. With the fury of a mama bear her Tiger nature, my sister chopped it in half. I don't know how she could make herself get within a shovel's length. No doubt thinking of her perfect boys out in that same yard gave her the courage.

We're inside now, recovering, drinking cool water and trying not to re-live the encounter. We will never be the same.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Happy birthday, Jin!

Jin and I went to junior high and some of high school together. So far as I know, he is the only person who knows me who has independently found the blog.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

They're purely mean.

I have to scan my spam subject lines these days, in case it is you. They've been emotional hooks recently. I guess they're working, 'cause they catch my attention. But man. They're so sad.

Just now I got: Are you still struggling to get it?

I flash to this poor guy who knows, he just knows that other people are getting it and he isn't. He isn't keeping up and it is about to matter at his job, or he's never gonna get a place and a girl the way he's going, and he knows that he just doesn't get it. Things don't come fast to him like they do to the people around him, and he is always the last to laugh and sometimes he knows they are laughing at him. He wants to get it. He would do what it takes, if he could just get it like the guys do, so he clicks on the email and it tells him to get an unaccredited degree and my heart just falls 'cause that is not going to help him.

A couple days ago, I got: She won't turn away from you anymore.

I wanted to cry at the thought of him reaching for her, and her eyes go off to the side and she steps away from his path and he knows deep down that she isn't happy. Or he reaches for her in bed and she rolls away and he's scared that it is 'cause his dick is too small but he can't ask her that so he just lies back scared she's gonna turn away forever. It is not fair to sell him something that can't fix it.

Yes. I do this all the time, which is why I arrange my life to keep the doses as small as possible. I really cannot go to a movie that is actually meant to be sad.

An anxious two minutes.

My cousin works here. It took a couple minutes to round up his number and check in. He's fine. It was a lot of fear and relief for two short minutes in which nothing changed.

Very different thoughts on Morford's column (1 of 2)

Reading Mark Marford’s column yesterday, I was surprised to see this:

I have to practice sifting out all the women who insist on listing Dave Matthews and/or their five cats as their BFFs on Craigslist or Nerve personals.

WHOAH! Mark Morford is reading CL ads? He’d mentioned becoming single, and he lives in SF and he’s all savvy with Teh Internets, but it never occurred to me that he would be online dating with the rest of us. (Besides! He’s a yoga instructor, and the number one perk of teaching a physical activity is sleeping with your students. And yoga. Yoga. All those lovely, strong women. He’s pretty sharp, so he can’t have failed to notice. Why isn’t he pursuing this very conspicuous avenue?) But he writes it, so I guess I believe that he really is trying the methods that the non-columnist, non-yoga teachers have to use.

Now I want to test that. I don’t have time this second, but I’ve got the pieces of an ad for him rattling around:
Yearning for a columnist

Something something transition

Oh, who am I kidding?! Mark! I want YOU! I need YOU! I have things in my house that haven’t been described as if they were sex toys! I know of Republicans that haven’t been compared to the unpleasant aspects of anal sex! I’ve gone for entire hours without thinking the words “lick”, “slippery” or “divine”. You’re the one who can help me! The only one!

If you’re really reading these ads, Mark, ….

Obviously, it isn’t finished. I’ll work on it (and put it up on CL) later today. I’d feel bad about misusing Craigslist, but I happen to know that this ad:

Seeking Busty Females - 32
Reply to:
Date: 2007-07-23, 12:03PM PDT

I know you ladies don't get enough attention.

But I'm a guy who actually appreciates large, supple knockers.

We should share a soda and see what pops up.

Is the “reject me in fifty words or fewer” guy. If he can use Craigslist for his art, so can I.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'll have you know that Chris started the French Maid Brigade.

Over at the SLOG, a poster thinks it is ironic that:

Burning Man Protest Protested by Burning Man Protesters.

That strikes me as perfectly natural and right. The time I went to Burning Man, tens of people dressed like rabbits and hung out at Bunny Hour. Of course a dozen carrots showed up to protest that, with signs and chants. That's how it is at Burning Man.

Also, I'm pretty sure I'm going this year. If you'll be there, we should hang out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

beautiful and exuberant and brave and sweet

She leaves today for Peace Corps Caribbean. My house will be quiet and empty.

We got each other immediately. The same things were obvious to us both; of course we would ride our bikes, of course we would share food, of course we'd get up early to go to the park, of course she should put on music. The answer to "want to?" was "YES!! Fun." We both know all the lyrics and we both sing loud. We both know the other can do anything she decides to.

She taught me some stuff. She always has art supplies on hand, and she brought them out for projects. I've never thought of having art supplies and I didn't know I could do projects. She didn't pick the things I always pick at the co-op, but I'll be eating anise-fig bread from now on, and I'll think of her when I do. She taught me what I kindof knew, that The Kids Are Alright, that her crew ten years younger than me is activist and involved and feminist and great.

She is goofy. At swimming she'd swim the length of my laps with me, swimming beneath me, facing up, never surfacing, making faces at me. She doesn't know how talented she is. We wrote each other notes and she is one of the best writers I know of, as expressive and inventive as I've ever read, but I can't get her to believe that. She is beloved, because who wouldn't love Ali?

She will have a wonderful time in the Caribbean. I'll see her again. I'll visit her there. Two years is not so long; Anand was gone for ten, but now he's back safe where I can see him lots. She should go; there's more new things for her there than there are in our life here. I will miss her a lot.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Advice: unsolicited, but not wrong.

I've been watching a seminar on stream restoration happening over at the EPA building. Since you libertarians are so hot to personally manage all the complicated environmental issues that bureaucrats tackle, I'm sure you'll want to spend a lot of time watching public meetings, so you can learn all that stuff you'll need to know to preserve your air and water and transportation and freedom from disease and food supply and infinitely more. (The webcasts are genuinely convenient, and I very much appreciate them.)

Snark about libertarians aside, I have a couple points for presenters.

1. DO NOT self-deprecate, either your topic or yourself. Do not do that shit. I will believe you and ignore your talk. Do not open with a joke. If you take your topic seriously, treat it that way.

2. For the love of god and feminism, hear yourself and eradicate upspeak from your habits. You have a Ph.D. and have conducted tons of field experiments. You know what you are talking about. I don't even know what you are asking us. Are your findings correct???? We will think so if you announce them decisively. Is it OK if you keep talking about them???? Do not make us wonder that. It is your research and your room to control. Deepen your voice and own both.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


It was rather an amazing evening on YouTube. It started 'cause I don't have a car anymore so I don't listen to the radio, so when I saw that Rihanna has a new hit, I was bummed I hadn't heard it yet. I went looking for her song Umbrella and was completely disappointed. Why would that be a ten week hit in Britain when Pon de Replay is about twenty times catchier and funner? From there, I remembered SOS, which I am not ashamed to love. The video is boring, but the song gets props for resurrecting Tainted Love for me, which I really thought I was done with. Lots of my friends are nostalgic for 80's music, but I listened to it lots the first time. I don't need to hear it again. Bored with the SOS video, I thought I'd check whether the Pussycat Dolls song Buttons was any better. It doesn't live up to that catchy beat underneath and is instead a lot of half-dressed women dancing all over things. Whatever.

Disappointed, I switched to something I knew wouldn't let me down, and Christina Aguilera, you truly are the talented one. There's a reason you have a future and Britney doesn't. If you haven't seen the Dirrty video, I'd say she defines the skank dancing genre. I have no idea how many times I've listened to that song, but if you're looking for something for your work-out mix, I strongly recommend it. You might think you are tired half an hour in, but then Dirrty comes on, and you remember that at any point, you might be the lead in a warehouse girlfight and dance off, and Dirrty gives you the strength to keep training for it. I like the song Can't Hold Us Down (which will also never let you down during a workout) better than I liked the video, which was apparently filmed somewhere very warm. Her video for Candyman is fantastic, better even than the song.

That was fun and made me wonder what something authentic would look like. I listen to the Andrews Sisters all the time, but I was stunned at how good "Gimme Some Skin" was:

I should have known. Every time I hear that song, I wonder if they didn't really introduce the notion of high-five to white 1940's America. Maybe they really were explaining about this new greeting. We are teaching my 18 months old nephew high-five then knuckles, because nothing is cuter than toddlers doing age-inappropriate things. After the Andrews Sisters, the Puppini Sisters were fun. Stick with that clip. My sister told me about them.

Dance videos took me through the dance scene in Little Miss Sunshine (and I am so glad that exists in the world) and Spiderman and the one in Napolean Dynamite. But I knew what to expect from those. I didn't expect to come across the dance scenes from Pride and Prejudice set to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Dirty Dancing seems to bring out the best in people though. Here's another fantastic version, silent olde style. This couple did a great job with the final dance from Dirty Dancing, but I loved this one more. I am suavé like Antony, don't you doubt it. This was also a particularly great first wedding dance, although perhaps I am partial to whitegirl, shorter Asian boy couples. Had we married, there's a pretty good chance our first dance would have been very like that. The Michael Jackson brings me back full circle, 'cause I took Defective Yeti's recommendation, and watched a 1500 Pinoy inmates dancing to Thriller to start the evening. They are a musical people.

Finally, it doesn't fit the dance theme, but I would be a bad friend, no, a bad person if I didn't tell you to watch the chase scene from Ong Bak.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Libraries and rainbows and pools, oh my!

Riding my bike to the train station this morning, I St was being repaved. Very fine white sand is somehow involved in the process; the sun behind me cast a circular rainbow in the sand. In thick patches of sand, the colors became more vivid, but the rainbow stayed with me for blocks. I think that giving every rider her own rainbow is a very good use of my property taxes.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I've read but not bought all of the previous Harry Potter books. If you hold out for a week, there are always a flush of copies and it is easy to borrow one from someone. Now I'm feeling left out, though. I kinda want to read it this weekend and this weekend they'll be hard to come by. I could just buy one (if I can), but I don't own any of the others and it seems silly to only own one of the series. I suppose I'll end up waiting a few days and it will all be fine. I'll likely know the ending by the time I read it, but that type of thing doesn't bother me.

In the meantime, I'm hold number 619 of 619 at the Sacramento Public Library. They have 194 copies, so the turnover shouldn't be too long.

Liked it.

I was wrong about Kieran. I apologize.

Kieran said...
Kieran’s tone rides a mean edge, and the comments on his posts are markedly meaner than others.

Not that one is able to remove the plank from one's own eye, but I'd disagree with that characterization. I'd say that your view is colored via a selection effect: the awful comments on that post about you and kids (the post itself was not at all mean), and the couple of posts I've written this week in sharp disagreement with someone else.
10:35 AM

I answered:

1. Seems like there is data enough that the hypothesis is testable. Some grad student could code the posts and comments for a year of Crooked Timber, whom we presume are a common pool, and see whether the effect I see is really there.

2. Do your co-bloggers get that same effect?
11:30 AM

After saying that Kieran was mean and getting that brutal response from him, I got to thinking that I would prove it to him. I would prove it to him using numbers and science, just like I wrote. After all, if you’re faced with numerical proof that you’re a big meanie, there isn’t much you can do but admit it and change your ways. Armed with a hypothesis (Kieran’s posts are meaner and elicit a meaner response) and some vague memories of my methods classes, I spent a few hours coding nearly three hundred Crooked Timber threads (Jan-April 2007) by number of ad hominem attacks. My dear readers, as a special treat, today we have data.

The thing that immediately jumps out at you, the startling outlier, is, of course, Kieran’s outrageously high score. That score is based entirely on the number of fights he incites as a blogger, the fights that are a reflection on his personal nature, the inner viciousness his blogging has inadvertently revealed to the world, spotlighted by my startling perceptiveness and willingness to Call It Like I See It.

Except that I was wrong. There is nothing remarkable about Kieran’s score. I knew that early in the project, because when I re-read Crooked Timber posts and comment threads as a block, it became obvious that Kieran’s posts are not mean, nor close to mean. His comments threads don’t stand out. Kieran’s explanation, that selection effect was coloring my memory of his posts, is right. In addition to being wrong about the nature of his posts, and wrong to impute that to his character, I was wrong to do all of that before going back to check his posts and comments, which were available to me. Kieran, I owe you an apology; I am sorry to have libeled you in the previous post. I take it back, of course, and will prominently correct that in the post itself. I owe my readers an apology as well; if any of you got a bad impression of Kieran from what I wrote, I am sorry that I led you wrong. My regret over this will be a sharp reminder to be very slow to accuse people, especially when I am emotionally involved. I am sorry, y’all.

P.S. In our email exchange where I apologized to him directly, that son of a bitch called me a bad blogger:
"you know, all this openness to data and willingness to recheck your assumptions and basic generosity --- are you sure you're really cut out to be a blogger?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This is where the party ends...

In the Marginal Revolution comments comes:
Tyler, after reading this post and comments, I have a post title request: should you judge a blogger by his commentators?
Looking forward to it.
P.S I'm a loyal MR reader.
Posted by: seer at Jul 18, 2007 2:29:04 PM

I’ll take a swing at that one. OH YEAH. If a blog has an active comments section, you can absolutely judge a blogger by her commenters. In fact, commenters filter themselves; the frequent commenters reflect the character of the blogger. Bloggers, if you want to know who you are, read your comments.

I believe that Seer was asking a slightly different question, the question of whether you should hold the bloggers responsible for a nasty racist discussion in the comments to a post. I’ll also say yes to this question. I subscribe to the “blogger as host” model, and hold the masthead responsible for what happens in their house. I think the blogger has an active duty to counter comments that he or she finds repugnant. If they don’t, I’m completely willing to hold the blogger to that sentiment; if not that she believes it, at least that she doesn’t care enough to say anything against it.

There is probably some point where a blog’s comment section is too big to reflect the blogger, but for most of the medium size blogs I read, the aggregated commenters look just like the blogger. Defective Yeti – friendly, offering information and jokes, not contentious. Baldwin mostly keeps it light and so do his commenters. Unfogged, you look exactly like Ogged. Focus on cleverness above all else, occasional serious and sweet flashes, more often funny snark, and a need to keep talking rather than do anything. Crooked Timber is interesting because even within the group blog, the comments reflect the individual poster. Kieran’s tone rides a mean edge*, and the comments on his posts are markedly meaner than others. Bérubé writes long thoughtful posts and gets thoughtful comments in return. Lawyers, Guns and Money get interesting esoterica and partisan agreement back from their posts. Pharyngula writes smart stuff that looks down on religion; he gets smart and dismissive commenters. On Sherry’s blog, she got back the love and honesty she pours out.

So, Seer, yeah. You can not only judge a blogger by his commenters, you can know a blogger by his commenters.

Me? It is harder to say for yourself, and the part about how my readers largely originated from the same source makes it a little different. But I’ll go with – mostly interested in the topic and problem solving, stubborn about ideology, occasionally snap judgments and righteousness, willing to make fun of me and themselves, occasionally insightful and kind.

CORRECTION: I now deeply regret having written this about Kieran. After writing this, I read back through a few months of Crooked Timber archives, and quickly realized that nothing about Kieran's posts is mean, not his tone, not the content, not the threads in response. I was biased by a post of his that ended up going very poorly for me, but my impression of meanness was my bias and not an accurate perception of Kieran's blogging. I should have checked that before I posted, not after. I am sorry.

She's awesome.

From today's Savage Love:
I'll never forget the day my mom found my porn magazines. She never confronted me; I simply lifted the mattress one afternoon to find my precious Penthouses gone. In their place: Sunset magazine and Good Housekeeping. It was a reminder that (1) I needed to do a better job of hiding my porn, and (2) that she wouldn't have found it in the first place if she didn't have to clean my damn room for me. It was the most effective nonconversation we ever had.

It isn't exactly a physical solution, but it is super excellent. I'd be dying of laughter as I substituted Sunset magazine.

Back in the day, my seven year ex was at an adult bookstore when he noticed he was getting the eye from a guy standing across from him. My Asian-Am ex was sorta flattered, sorta put-off and then genuinely creeped out when he saw the guy was reading Oriental Guy magazine. I have to say, the editors of Oriental Guy magazine knew their niche. It was spread after spread of nekkid Asian guys playing Nintendo, posing in basketball shoes, leaning over their slammed cars, using some electronic gadget. They all had neo-Tokyo bangs falling in their eyes (it was the mid-nineties).

After that, we regularly discussed my subscription to OG magazine, but it was left to the listener to wonder whether we meant Oriental Guy or Organic Gardening.

New things in my house.

Last time I was in Los Osos, a kind person lent me a box full of videos of old Community Services District meetings. You can imagine how impatient I've been to watch those! Butcept, I can't, 'cause I don't have a tv or vcr. I mentioned that to Margie and she offered to lend me a little joint tv/vcr that they never use. Then she brought it over, and now I have a tv in my house.

I am very skeptical. A tv. In my house. I haven't lived in a house with a tv since I went away to college. What will it do? Right now it is on a table in the living room. It isn't plugged in, so I don't think it can hurt anything. Still, I give it a wide radius, walking in a cautious circle, never turning my back on it. I will have to plug it in to watch all these years-old public meetings, but I suppose it is worth it. I expect it to come alive at night and strangle me in my sleep. If they find my strangled body, it was the tv.


I decided that I am tired of being an ignorant peasant; I am ashamed of my poor knowledge of geography. I decided to solve my ignorance about countries of the world in the most classic manner. I bought a map-of-the-world shower curtain. I will study the shower curtain as I lather my breasts (you're welcome) and I will no longer miss the geography questions at Pub Quiz.


Ali goes away to Peace Corps on July 23rd and I will be despondent. Nothing could cheer me. Nothing at all. Nothing but a really hot new roommate. Rebecca is moving in for five weeks before she too moves away. That gives me until mid-September to figure out the rest of the move to Oakland. It looks like I'll rent the place to a couple of guys from Ultimate. Wow, I have a lot of work to do to get ready for that.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Army Corps website is shockingly bad. I'll get you a link for the Draft Guidance tomorrow.

In April, the federal Army Crps of Engineers issued new Draft Guidance for Treatment of Vgetation within Local Flood-Damage-Reduction Systems. I’m sure you remember the uproar. The new Draft Guidance says that all l*vees in the country must remove all vgetation besides grass. In California, this turns out to be a spectacularly bad idea. In California1, rivers are confined to fairly narrow channels (compared to their flood flows), so the river usually comes up to the toe or banks of the l*vees. There’s farmland or city on the other side of the l*vee. Removing trees and shrubs from l*vees would remove almost all lowland riparian habitat in the state2.

Why does the Army Corps of Engineers want all vgetation removed from all l*vees in the country? For three reasons. First, they say that if there are shrubs and thickets on the l*vee banks, inspectors can’t see holes (mostly burrows) in the l*vee. Second, they worry that vgetation being ripped out of the ground in high flows will rip chunks of l*vee away and weaken l*vee integrity. The third concern is that vgetation on your l*vee bank takes up flood capacity3.

All of those sound very plausible, and may well be true on the far side of the Sierras. Maybe those river systems are different. But here in California, they aren’t incontrovertibly true, or even straightforward. Here in California, the native vgetation evolved for annual floods. UC Davis researchers just released a study showing that in large floods, willows lie flat. They aren’t taking room or causing turbulence (and may be reducing it, by acting as straightening vanes). They protect the ground from erosion. They do not rip out of the l*vee under high flows, leaving holes in the l*vee for the floodwaters to gouge out. Removing all willows and other native vgetation from California l*vees, in addition to the environmental costs of losing nearly all our lowland riparian habitat, would counter the goals the Army Corps is trying to further4.

So the Army Crps of Engineers has issued the national Draft Guidance and they are a bad plan for California. The Dprtmnt of Wter Rsourcs has opposed them; local l*vee districts don’t know where they would get the money to take out all l*vee vgetation; state and local politicians are lobbying the Army Corps to change them or make an exception for us. Opposition here is pretty stiff; everyone wants the Draft Guidance to be overturned, or at least not finalized into regulations. Since no one here is rushing out to mow their l*vees and rip out trees, what can the Army Corps do to enforce their new guidelines? Well, what the Army Corps can do is refuse to certify your l*vee.

The Army Corps is the agency that sets standards to certify l*vees to draw 100 Year Floodplain Maps. Those maps are what insurers use to set the price of flood insurance. The Army Corps has two settings in its fancy-dancy flood models to make maps. In the fancy flood model, you can say that there is a certified l*vee in place or you can say that there is no certified l*vee. Then the model draws the floodplain boundary that determines whether you pay $600 per year for flood insurance for your house (inside the 100 Year Floodplain) or $150 per year for flood insurance for your house (outside the 100 Year Floodplain). There is no model setting for “perfectly good l*vee that would have passed under the old guidelines but now fails under the new guidelines and in any case is the exact same physical structure in the exact same place as last time when it was certified.” If Californians do not remove all vgetation from our l*vees, the Army Corp will say those are not certified l*vees. Their model will now ignore most of the l*vees in California, meaning that it will draw 100 Year Floodplains extending over most of the San Joaquin and Central Valleys. That will mean a huge increase in flood insurance costs for all the interior cities and farms, although the physical conditions will not have changed.

What is likely to actually happen? Well, it doesn’t look like we will actually remove the l*vee vgetation. I wish that were because of our dedication to the environment and not because the cost is prohibitive, but you take your victories where you find them. It would also require an ESA permit that could never be issued because you can’t remove all riparian habitat without damaging endangered species. If the Army Corps looked serious about finalizing the Draft Guidance, California’s national level politicians would oppose them from Washington. If the Army Corps wants a way to adjust the Draft Guidelines for local conditions, studies like the one at UC Davis gives them a way to say they are taking new scientific findings into consideration. If they don’t want to change the Draft Guidelines, but face too much political opposition to make them regulations, they can postpone for another year and a half and then let them fade away in the confusion of a new administration. That’s my prediction.

UPDATE: Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters' take. Much like mine, but mine was first.

1This is not the case for big Eastern rivers, where the l*vees are set back quite a ways from normal river flow. The part between normal river flow and the toe of the l*vee (if there is one) is called a terrace. Hmmm. I would call regions 3 and 5 in this diagram terraces. I also note that the upside-down triangle that this diagram uses to mark the water surface is not the same one I was taught, although I understood what it meant. Margie, Tracy and I discovered one day that the three of us, water engineers all, had been taught three different versions of that triangle to mark the water surface. You can count on nothing in this world.

At any rate, big Eastern rivers have considerable terrace space between the low water channel and the slope of the l*vee. You could clear vgetation off your l*vees and still maintain riparian habitat in the East. Not so in California.

2 It will also be incredibly expensive, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re talking about hundreds of miles of l*vees. There are lots of other good reasons not to denude the l*vees, but the part that will end up winning big politicians over to the side of the angels is that doing the wrong thing in this case will be very, very expensive.

3I misunderstood the part about flood capacity at first. First time through, I thought they meant that trees and bushes inside the l*vees would take up room, that it is the volume displaced by the actual trees that diminishes capacity. Nope. When vgetation is a problem, it isn’t the space it takes up that eats up your flood capacity. Turns out, the turbulence it causes (making the water all swirly and reducing how fast your flood flows can move through the system) is most of the capacity loss. Who knew?

4The other Army Corps reason, that vgetation hinders a visual inspection, still holds. Although, it isn’t clear that thickets obscure a burrow more than a foot of grass would. And usually reliable sources in the hallways here say that visual inspections only catch the stuff above the waterline (naturally) and that don’t catch most structural failings, like underseep. The change in ability to do visual inspections probably doesn’t outweigh the damage caused by the loss of the vgetation.

Side by side.

I went into so much detail on the Army Corps of Engineers Draft Guidance for Treatment of Vegetation within Local Flood-Damage-Reduction Systems because I thought it provided an interesting contrast with another recent case of incorporating science into policy decisions. As an exercise, let us contrast the case of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Draft Guidance with Dick Cheney’s intervention in the Klamath. Both are cases where a bureaucratic decision is/was challenged by new scientific evidence. People argued that that is how the system works, and Cheney’s actions were indistinguishable from normal practices. I don’t think so, and I have prepared a little summary table for our use.

Look. Governmental agencies, even the ones I defend, don’t always get it right. When they get it very wrong, people in that field take notice and challenge the policy. When the challenge is strong, because there is good evidence to counter the policy and because the policy will lead to such bad outcomes that you can get a lot of people to oppose it, there are ways within the system (public comment, political pressure, going to the legislature, challenging it in the courts) to get that policy changed. When respectable new science contradicts the policy, it should be incorporated to make the policy serve our new understanding of the greater public benefit. Some agency decisions should be changed or re-written.

The public and its representatives should use new science to change an agency policy though the usual checks and balances in our government because we now understand that the policy would lead to a bad outcome. That is how our messy system works. When you see a lone political figure pressuring underlings, overturning all our standard practices to avoid the codified will of the American people to direct wealth to a narrow constituency to get them to vote for his political party, that is not correcting bad policy. That isn’t even politics as usual. That is pure and out abuse of executive power. It is cynical manipulation to cement political power and it threatens our whole system of self-governance. It is wrong and it is dangerous to democracy. Impeach Cheney.

Maybe that reporter is new.

Huh. I am very surprised at the lead on the SF Chronicle's site right now. I'll be even more surprised if it lasts, so here's a copy:
Park Coyotes Shot Dead
Feds shoot the two varmints that attacked a pair of leashed dogs in Golden Gate Park. Comment.
Chronicle Breaking News 11:49 AM

Really? They called coyotes "varmints"? In San Francisco? Are they begging for indignant letters from hippies? Here, every last one of them will sound like this:

...noble scavengers... ...tawny fur... ...we invaded their territory... ...precisely adapted for their niches... ...golden eyes... ...we need to learn to live with everyone... ...this is the mentality that lead to the War in Iraq...

I even agree with all that. On a back road one time I saw coyote carcasses nailed to a barn wall and I cried. I'm not indignant enough to fill in the rest of the words and send it, but I do think it was a poor choice of words. Well, reading the letters it gets will be lesson enough for that SF Chron reporter.

UPDATE: Changed an hour and a half later to "male and female".

Sunday, July 15, 2007

No judgment.

I have noticed that some people do not fully interweave their lattice tops, but instead lay strips in one direction and a second perpendicular layer of strips. I'm sure they are good people anyway.

Boys, bhangra and a bounce house.

Holy fuck Chris's house threw a good party tonight.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Why am I finding out about this from the newspaper?

I'm reading the SacBee and excited to see an article that we too are Hip, since we too will have an urban winery. That was kinda exciting, since a while back I went on a CL date in Oakland with this urban vintner guy who was pretty interesting because he was one of the few guys I've been out with who could talk knowledgeably about both the grape and the almond glut in California. I don't mean to make the rest of you feel inadequate, but it is sort of nice to chat with someone who understands the Problems Facing Ag Today. I also appreciated that he was utterly unfazed by the notion that I don't like wine. I am very often told that I would like wine if I drank it regularly and I am missing out on the finer things and I should keep trying it. Not this guy. He was all "Eh. Some people don't like wine. There's a huge range of wines, so I bet there are some you would like. But if you don't miss it, I wouldn't bother hunting for it." That was also nice.

So I am up to speed on these hip urban vinter types, and was reading along in the paper that an urban winery is coming to Sacramento and like everyone who lives on the Grid, looked to see exactly where. WHAT? That is my neighborhood. Why do I not know this already, since I am possessive and gossipy about my neighborhood? Wait a minute. Why do I not know this already since I ride my bike past that location every day? Oh. Because I ride down the alley, and I did, in fact, notice all the repainting and stuff. WAIT ANOTHER MINUTE. He'll expand into the salon next door, who isn't renewing the lease? That's where I get my hair cut! WHY am I just reading this in the paper, I ASK YOU? I also address that question to my haircutter lady, who is actually really neat and doesn't force me to chat when I don't want to and gives me flattering haircuts.

I am not surprised that the salon is giving up the ghost. He never staffed all his stations. He hand-made the frames for all these giant floor-to-ceiling mirrors, probably eight feet by fifteen feet tall. But they were all canted backward, which makes the viewer look short and squatty, which is not the best look for a salon. But I picked that salon for proximity to my house and lucked into a good haircutter. Now proximity to my house just gets me some local award winning wine. I don't want some local wine, and the good urban vinter said I don't have to.

UPDATE: It is OK!! You can all relax and stop worrying. We stopped in at the new hip winery and my salon last night. My haircutter is moving, but not that far. She'll be a half-mile farther, but I'm willing to make that kind of sacrifice to keep seeing her. Breathe easy, folks. It all worked out.

I also hate "Let's not go there". I would probably like to go there, or at least hear why not.

I hate clichés because people use them as a shortcut, but they are often an imprecise shortcut and then I never got to hear what the real thought would have been. It might have been fuzzy, but I'm sure it would have been more interesting. The one I hate right now is that stupid "the Perfect __________".

If what you mean to say is that a series of actions and coincidences came together to amplify each other and cause a disproportionate effect, that would be interesting. I would like to hear what those are. But I do not understand them just because you eluded to them by mentioning a movie title. Please actually tell me the things you mean.

My sister saw The Perfect Storm. She described it as two hours of sheets of water and people shouting SHUT THE DOOR!!!!. Then I understood the movie perfectly and I never bothered to see it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I apparently don't write real posts any more.

I used to generate content, but that's for losers. Here. One of Mark Morford's good columns, which he managed to write the entire way through without mentioning n/pples or an*l sex*.

President Bush today made the stunning yet somehow entirely understandable announcement that all Republicans in his administration are hereby officially excused from any and all crimes they have committed....

Come to me and be not someone's prison bitch despite how you really, really deserve it! I hereby pardon you aaaaaalllll!"

*I actually do not want those hits. Do you know, I just figured out a little while back that searches for "megan good porn" are not "megan, good porn" but are instead "Megan Good, porn". I am deeply sorry to everyone this blog has disappointed, although I continue to believe that you should be using image search for your porn queries.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I don't want to jinx it.

Wow. This is an amazing article.

My sister said that as women on her team got pregnant, they tended to fall into either the "I love the miracle of my beautiful pregnant body" or the "how long until I get a beer?" camp. I've assumed I'd be in the first camp, 'cause I have hippie tendencies and 'cause I'm just generally chill about stuff. One never knows, of course, either what the pregancy will be like or her own reaction to it. It is silly to speculate about something that isn't a current possibility and that can't be known in advance. But I was reassured to read this. And I can absolutely promise any imaginary boy who is thinking of becoming real and getting involved with me, that should we decide to be permanent and have children, I will not ask you to be the pregnant one.

UPDATE: I've been really enjoying the SLOG recently, and very very often, when I'm especially taken with a piece, it was written by Charles Mudede. Some of his posts make me tilt my head and then think 'perhaps I'll understand when I am enlightened'. A lot of his posts make me decide that he must have a gorgeous baritone voice and a huge vertical and then think 'perhaps he is single'. He had another take on the Empathy Belly article. It falls into the 'perhaps when I am enlightened' category, and I think the last paragraph was kinda tacked on, but he is always interesting. Comments 8 and 13 cracked me up.


A friend's housemate has to drive to LA for work; she's gotten ticketed for speeding three times. She just received this awesome letter from the DMV (I would scan it, but I don't want to have to cover all her identifying marks. I'll let you enjoy the all-caps of the original.):








Dude. The bummer is that she lives in a house of bike activists. She would love to give up her car, but she needs it for work.

I guess the letters work. If they do, I bet they're a cheap intervention system.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

'Course, it doesn't get me laid.

People have told me over the past year that I am a good writer. I don’t understand what that means, to be a good writer. I’ve heard that I have a strong voice; one kind reader told me my prose is muscular, another said it was compulsively read-able. Oh. Right. That. I get the part about grammar and vocabulary, but since I think of that as the pay-off for reading through my childhood because everyone at school hated me, I don’t appreciate it the way others might. I also don’t think that I am interesting because of how I write. As much as I’m interesting, it is because I am thinking all the time; thinking when I swim and ride my bike around and do the dishes. I still haven’t quite accepted the idea that blurting out esoteric shit is appealing in this format. Usually it makes people remember that they were on their way to get another drink. But here, things are different. Writing is intrinsically valuable, and not just for reporting your findings. Thinking about things draws people in. Weird.

I’m beginning to see blogland as millions of thought-junkies. Holy shit. They read anything, all hours of the day, follow links anywhere if they can just find some thought. They cluster around new thought, talk about it and move on as soon as they’ve processed it. They sit at their desks, hitting refresh, hoping for thought. Thought, thought, thought. Emotion and thought. I do it as much as anyone, but it makes me sad that I’m pulled out of my own life into a world of others’ thought.

I’ve slowly been puzzling out what people like about my writing. I hit on a chunk of it when someone suggested I write about the Salton Sea. Write about the Salton Sea? I couldn’t. I haven’t been there and I don’t understand the inflows and outflows and impacts and I don’t know how the Salton Sea works. I can’t tell you a story about that and I wouldn’t try. That was when I realized that a large part of the ‘Megan’ tone is certainty. When I tell you about weirs and underflow gates, I am certain about them. I am sure of my dating experiences or personal history. If I write it here, I mean it. (Or I am making fun of something. You will have to tell those apart on your own.) I pick my words so that I can mean them. I qualify and set limits, so I can be sure of what I say. People seem to like that certainty.

Today is not a good day for that, though. Today everything is swirly and unresolved; I have no clean thought for you to critique. The only points I can come up with are “it is complicated” or not very interesting or said better by others. Today is a good day to break free of fast moving thought and intricate conversations between strangers. I have nothing to add today. I should remember the worlds that most people live in. A long slow book, or the feel of stretching muscles, or chopping and frying garlic, or mowing the lawn. I can do better than flailing here when I should be there.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Better, thank you.

Early in today's increasingly headachey and miserable afternoon, I decided to stop making the taxpayers pay for my sulky do-nothing presence in the office. I left to get a massage. I love getting massages. I wish I could afford a weekly massage. I wish I remembered to get massages more than twice a year. I got the same massage lady as last time, which worries me. I don't want her to be my regular masseuse (and by "regular" I mean "twice a year"), because although she is pleasant and professional, she gives a good but not great massage. Her technique is fine, but her touch is only neutral. I am a big believer that people have an intrinsic quality of touch. I also believe that this quality is unrelated to how much I like a person, and trumps everything about a potential sweetheart except for smell.

I don't react to most, nearly all, people's touch. There's temperature and clamminess, but otherwise most touch is neutral. A few people though, have a distinct good or bad touch. Good and bad touches both feel like an electric charge. Bad touch is a negative aversive shock, and good touch is a surge of warmth extending past the contact. My ex-best friend and I had mutual negative touch. We never touched. In all those years of being constantly together, we didn't hug for greetings or sit close or stand arm in arm. I suppose in retrospect you could say things about that, but at the time, we just thought it was a odd aspect of an otherwise intense friendship that touching each other felt yucky. I remember different boys for different qualities of touch, but they all had good touch, or I wouldn't have been close with them. I've dq'ed otherwise great boys for bad or neutral touch, which feels sorta unfair to them and is impossible to explain in words to some good guy who did nothing wrong. But it has to be. I've also not gotten crushes on boys who should have been great because they smelled wrong (not bad, not body odor, not cologne. Just... wrong for me.). So unfair, but touch and smell are always gonna be part of a romantic relationship and your body cannot compromise, even when your self would happily be with someone.

The best touch I have ever experienced was my first yoga teacher, whom I didn't much like as a person. Her touch was incredible. Just correcting technique, her touch would be a warm surge, and when she gave the occasional face massage during shivasana, it was nearly overwhelming. I am not one for New Age-y talk of energy fields and auras, but she made me wonder if there wasn't something to it. My old housemates in the co-op used to talk about 'energy' all the time, and it made my mechanical engineer boyfriend crazy. Once, in the kitchen, I was ladling honey from the five gallon bucket into smaller jars. The hippies were being especially sincere, so just to bait them, I wondered aloud how long it would take a kitten to drown in honey. They squawked and fluttered, which I watched with big wide eyes and no give-away smile. One of them said that she could never eat that honey now, what with all the negative energy I'd just put into it. I didn't particularly care, but my boyfriend pulled me aside. "Do you want me to explain energy to her? I can explain it. At house meeting. I could give a lecture on the forms of energy and how it is transferred and how the honey Did Not Store negative kitten energy. I think your whole house should go. I could help them." I would have gone to that lecture, but I wouldn't have listened. I would have watched him write out equations and objectified him.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Alpha Team, GO!

We just saw Ratatouille. I have never been prouder of my kind.

Must be the one in Plumas.

I stepped off the train in Sacramento and thought 'fire'. It is the fire light, orange tints in the blue, thick and blurry, a faint rich smell that means the mountains are burning. In a few hours, my throat will ache. We don't get it here like in LA, when the San Bernadinos burn. Then skies go grey and red, and at recess, soot would fall on our hair and sleeves and smudge our books.

I watch the light change all year. White behind the blue in winter. Clearest in the spring, until it greens in the summer. In fall the light slants yellow and my heart hurts for another year gone. In October one time, I was walking with a guy who had just moved out from the East Coast. I said, wistful, "Oh fall is here. Look how yellow the light is." He asked "Are you telling me that you notice the changing of the seasons by the quality of the light?", but we don't need that garish "leaves dropping" and "snow" that you East Coasters are always on about. We have the mountains on the horizon and the light in between.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I haven't decided my entries. You still have a chance.

The 7th Annual Pie Contest
Sunday, July 15th
Registration opens at 6:00pm.
Presentation judging will be promptly at 7:00pm.


* You can enter pie(s) in any division: Fruit Pie, Non-fruit Pie, Savory Pie, Presentation and That's Not A Pie.
* A pie is baked in a round dish with sloping sides and has an unleavened bottom crust.
* Cheesecake is not a pie. Pizza is not a pie.
* Anyone may enter; everyone judges all pies.
* Remainders of any pie must go home with the baker.

What to expect:

* A big Pie Contest will have about forty-fifty pies, and I expect this year to be a big Pie Contest. We'll have table and tables of pie.
* Each pie is assigned a number and gets judged anonymously. This is a pie contest, not a popularity contest.
* Everyone will get a ballot. You can assign three points as you like in each division. You can give all three points to one pie that wins you over; you can give one point each to three delicious pies.
* Pie Contest runs late because it takes so long to count the ballots. Winners will be announced at about 10pm.
* I would love to meet you, but you won't get a chance to talk to me that night. Pie Contest is a blur of coordination for me.


* Eat a meal first. You'll be sick by the end of the evening if you don't and maybe if you do.
* Berry pie virtually always wins the Fruit Pie division. Winner of the Fruit Pie division usually wins Best In Show. Peach pie often comes in third in Fruit Pie.
* Savory Pie never gets the attention it deserves. It should attract a much stronger field, especially considering that everyone is sick of sweets by the end of the night. Anything with bacon will do well.
* Come even if you don't want to bake a pie. There is more than enough for every guest.

I hope to see you at Pie Contest! Bring your friends and family and your pies! Email me for my address - you are invited.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Have a good weekend!

Sorry, y'all. Nothing's gelling into a post.

Perhaps a weekend full of doing things with real people will prime the pump. Have a good one.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Oh never be cruel to a duck...

Fireworks make me purely happy.

Enjoy your Fourth of July!

I'm out for the day but when I return, I don't know whether I want to keep this conversation going. It must be boring a whole bunch of my readers. I don't think I'm changing any minds. I'm getting to the point that I can't tell if my reasoning is defensive or objective, and that isn't where I want to be writing from.

I don't want to ditch this if I haven't answered any of your core concerns, so this is your last chance. If there is some really key part of this that you think I've evaded, this is your chance to bring it up.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Here you go, Quirkybook.

This is pure speculation, unlike the rest of my posts, which are nothing but fact.

Was Cheney gambling by getting the National Academy of Sciences to review the Klamath River Biological Opinion? After all, the NAS is not known for being political hacks; they might well have supported the Biological Opinion.

Well, in the first place, Cheney had nothing to lose. A legitimately completed Biological Opinion had already been issued, saying that water had to remain in the river for the continued existence of endangered suckerfish in the lakes and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River. Presumably, if that Biological Opinion could be challenged in court, it would have been. Cheney wasn’t willing to call in the God Squad, which is the appeal process outlined in the ESA. Since he’d already lost, calling in the National Academy of Sciences couldn’t make it worse.

Second, no matter how it turned out in the Klamath, Cheney had achieved a different goal. Cheney had introduced a whole new level of review of the ESA. That never existed before. Even if it changed nothing in the Klamath, it was a concept that could be used next time. Adding a new layer of review is one more chance for each decision to get reversed. Also, it was a snide dig at agency science and a way to pit scientists against each other. In the long run, the NAS supported the Fish and Wildlife Services analysis, but in the meantime it let people say that the quality of agency science is questionable*. So Cheney weakened the ESA and strengthened the idea of science "controversy". Since that worked so well for the Bush administration in evolution and global warming, why not throw it into the mix in species protection?

I have another idea teasing me, but I can’t get it to resolve fully. I wonder if Cheney wasn’t cynically taking advantage of science’s reliance on the null hypothesis and statistical significance. He knew that the NAS approach would be the null hypothesis, that water levels in the lake would not influence suckerfish, and that they would be trying to disprove that. That is a really high threshold and very hard to meet in the three months they had to spend on this. He knew those stuffy-ass scientists weren’t going to say, yes, it is perfectly obvious that low flows will get hot and cook the fish. Instead they would say, no, null hypothesis isn’t disproved. That was enough for him. He can take that to the public, count on them to not understand the null hypothesis and standard for significance and say “Fish and Wildlife Service makes shit up, but I have real scientists who say it isn’t proved yet.” He may have predicted that NAS would say what scientists say, and that was good enough.

I never get tired of saying bad things about Cheney, but I should spread that around some. I think NAS got used and that they weren’t clever enough see that they were doing damage. I wonder if there wasn’t some hubris involved in that, and I think they should feel ashamed of their participation. They didn’t mean to, but they caused harm by getting involved in political machinations they didn’t understand. They cheapened the NAS, if nothing else. Also, the top bureaucrats at Rclmtn shouldn’t have caved. I understand why they did; they are also political appointees and the Vice-President flew out to see them personally. But they failed their duty to the public, which was to stand by the results of the processes the public decided they should follow.

*Dudes. It is not perfect. It is fine to say that agency science should be reviewed. There are venues for that, like in the public process, where both sides pore over agency analyses before they are issued. (Yes, they do. Do not assert that public comment is a half-assed mechanism unless you yourself have submitted or read public comment on an agency document and can give concrete examples. I’m getting tired of this shit where you know things to be true about bureaucracies, and then that turns out to be based on academic articles or your ideological beliefs about agencies. In fact, if you can’t actually name the management agencies in the fields you care about, I do not think you know much about how agencies work.) Another venue for review of agency science is a court challenge, where competing experts tear the document apart. The ESA has a review process built into it - the God Squad. But agency science is experts doing a credible job, knowing full well that there are consequences to their analyses and that no matter what they write, someone will hate it and try to discredit them. You can be as skeptical of agency science as you are about any science, but there is no reason to assume a priori that agency science is not solid.


Francis knows what he is talking about, and corrects some points I made:

Delegation to the NAS: there are two ways of looking at the reference to NAS. One is the way you did, in which the NAS review is an insult to NOAA scientists.

Another is that NAS review can add legitimacy to the government's view of the science in a hotly disputed area.

As usual, the devil is in the details. It is possible to stack NAS review boards (which may have happened). And it is certainly possible for a vice president to deliberately mis-read the conclusions of a NAS review (which appears to have happened).

Second, the God Squad is not an appeal process so much as a bypass process. The God Squad does not determine whether the bio. opinion is correct; instead it determines whether the national interest so outweighs the conclusions of the bio. opinion that the project should proceed.

Third, federal district court review of a bio. opinion does not, except in the rarest of cases, involve expert testimony. Courts leave to the agencies the weighing of expert testimony. Courts only determine whether the agency followed statutory law and applicable regulation in coming to the conclusion it did.

Restricting the comments in the last post so that we didn't hear the same arguments repeated seemed to work. I'm going to do it again. If you want to weigh in on the quality of agency science, your first sentence must include the name of the agency document you personally have reviewed. It can be a Biological Opinion, an EIR, an EIS, a Habitat Conservation Plan, a Timber Harvest Plan, a General Plan, any substantive document put out by an agency. I do not want to hear how all agency staff are blinded by their biases so they do shoddy science because you just know it is true even though you've never read an agency document.

Got that? Name of document first and your interest in the document, or no assertions about agency science.

Update: If you want to comment on other aspects of this, go ahead. It is only for critiques of agency science that I want you to have actually been in contact with agency science.

DisapPOINted! (like Otto in Fish Called Wanda)

I cannot believe I do not like the new Pollination stamps. I should have loved them. But they're a garish mishmash, and I weep for lost opportunity. Pollinators! Stamps! So much potential and it went so wrong.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Some links I liked today.

Eric put a lot of thought into critiquing this series of posts. I'm backlogged on the posts I want to write, so I'll just say that I don't agree with some portions of it. I liked a fair amount of the background he dug up. I do want to add three things:

I do not understand Tyler's attentions to me, either. I am flattered and grateful, but I'm as puzzled as Erik is. I think it is because I generate content.

I am getting increasingly pissed at the accusation that I only mind abuses of power when they work against my interests. That is accusing me of cynicism, self-dealing and hypocrisy. I am only a person, so I am as subject to confirmation bias as anyone, but I work hard to be an ethical person and I believe in the rule of law. Several of you have repeated that accusation and at this point, you can prove it or you can stop saying that crap. I wouldn't refuse an apology, either.

I am with all of you on saying that a big part of the problem is the creeping allocation and re-allocation of different kinds of rights in the Klamath and in water-related systems in general. As a hobby for my idle moments, I've given a lot of thought to the rights system I will install when I am finally your benevolent dictator. I would love to tell you about that. I won't though. I have written a lot of crazy shit on this blog. I am still afraid it will get me fired. But, you know, maybe some enviro-type-people will agree with what I wrote here and wouldn't mind hiring me despite my saying what I think. I love this outlet and I want to keep on these topics. Except in this. I am genuinely afraid that talking at length about California water rights would make me politically unhirable in Water in the west. So I'm leaving that topic be. I have enough self-preservation left for that.


Since I'm doubting economic theory today, it was nice to see someone else doing the same. Via Ezra.


I thought this piece on hypocrisy and contradiction was beautiful and very helpful. I need to process it more, but I think it does a much better job getting at some things I've been thinking. Via Majikthise.

Coase is an informative theory. I like it myself. But it isn't magic.

From the comments at Marginal Revolution:

Even more odd than the notion that whomever does own the rights would have access to data to signal when marginal returns occur and when it would make sense to sell/lease those rights to another party.
Posted by: fustercluck at Jul 1, 2007 12:58:07 AM

Fustercluck: I don't understand. If the next mega-gallon can produce $100 worth of crops or $200 worth of fish, are you saying that a farmer who owned it would not sell it (for between $101 and $199) to the fisherman? Just out of spite? Or stupidity? That strains credulity.
Posted by: David Wright at Jun 30, 2007 2:39:41 PM

I don’t know if Fustercluck is saying that, but in case she isn’t, I’ll say it. I’m saying it loud and clear. I know that you’re going to want to explain Coase to me, because if I don’t think that property rights allocations are the solution, then I must not understand the Coase Theory. Dude. I understand the Coase Theory. I have read, graphed, proved and taught Coase. But understanding isn’t agreement, and I do not agree that a Coasian allocation of rights would lead to an optimal distribution of water in the Klamath Basin.0

Coase requires low transaction costs, which is a stumbling block between two multi-party resource users, but maybe not insurmountable. It also requires perfect information. That is harder. But the real problem is that farmers are not profit-maximizers along every variable that they manage. Oh no they aren’t.

Farmers are generalists, and often very good ones. They keep everything on their farms running at, say, seventy percent1. But they are manifestly not nearing the marginal returns on nearly everything they do, and they do not respond to profit motives the way you think they do. Two concrete examples, off the top of my head:

1. Farmers on furrows can improve their irrigation efficiencies drastically by applying surge flows for the first hour of the irrigation event. Send a huge pulse of water down to the end of the furrow and that means that the rest of your water will reach the end of the furrow faster and infiltrate more evenly. It is worth an increase of about twenty percent to your distribution uniformity. In any irrigation event, using surge flows means that you can use ten or fifteen percent less water. In California, at least, water is now predominately billed by volume. They could save money by switching to surge flows.

There are no technological barriers to adoption of surge flows. You do not need new equipment. I suppose you might have to buy more siphons, but those are not a substantial cost. Surge flows require slightly more labor, but again, the costs of siphons and labor are small compared to the costs of the water they buy now.

It is, I tell you, a bitch to convince furrow irrigators to switch to surge flows. The work on surge flows has been done for decades and they are still not widespread. You tell a farmer about surge flows and he looks at you, says he never heard of such a thing. You say that it is working real well for those guys in the Friant, and he says they probably have different soils. You say, hundreds of dollars every time you irrigate, and he says he’ll think on it. Three years later you go back and he is still thinking.

2. Farmers in California at least, and my impression is that California farmers are as sophisticated as any in the world, profoundly over-fertilize. They over-fertilize until it burns their crop and then they cut back. Their excess fertilizer runs off their fields, carrying little tiny dollar signs with it. Your theory of profit-maximization says that farmers should apply fertilizer until the fertilizer-yield curve flattens out, and then stop paying for more fertilizer. But they don’t. They fertilize long past that point. Why?

I’ve wondered at this one myself, and the best I can figure out is that they are thinking superstitiously, putting the magic crop-guarantee on their fields, sure that more is better. It isn’t. But all the labels and all the instructions from the ag advisors and all the wasted money on fertilizers don’t stay their hand in the moment of application.

Even in the absence of complicated calculations about whether someone would pay them more than they could reap from their next unit of water, real farmers in the real world do not respond to a profit motive the way a rational economic actor would. What is going on?

Well, farmers are notoriously slow adopters. Many are strong traditionalists, and chose an autonomous life-style because they do not want to have to change. It is a privilege they sacrifice money for. For some farms, the biggest source of change is generational succession.

More than that, though, is that farmers are incredibly busy, doing a very wide variety of things. They manage machinery, the crop, fertilizers, pesticides, harvest contracts, labor, water, soil, and their personal lives all the time. Frankly, they don’t manage all of them well enough to be finessing things like whether they could make more money selling the next acre-foot or using it themselves2. Some of them get all-fired-up for one or another aspect of farming. I remember one guy (surface drip on almonds, Sac Valley) who had an incredible system. His distribution uniformity was the highest I’ve ever seen. He went to irrigation conferences. He would know how much water he’s putting on and the value of the next increment. But I remember him because he was an exception. And, I’d be surprised if the time he spent on his irrigation system didn’t come out of somewhere else on his farm.

If you absolutely must believe that farmers are rational economic actors, then I could agree with you thusly: They are optimizing their personal preferences in time allocation and operational costs and adherence to tradition and desire for isolation and autonomy. I’d believe that. But they are far, far from maximizing any of several types of resource use, and they are never going to as long as farming is a generalist profession. What farmers are doing is a fine way for them to do business on their own farms. But it is not an acceptable way to allocate resources that matter to people and fish outside their farms.

A Coasian property allocation cannot work in a system where half the participants are not profit-maximizers in that resource3. Transaction costs are a problem and information is far from perfect. But even if those could be fixed, you’d have to overcome the problem that they are at the limits of their management capacity and more money in any particular area doesn’t tempt them enough to change what they actually do.

0I said below that I would trust Klamath irrigators to run the river to maximize their own profit. I am contradicting that now. I believe they would suck the river dry in support of their farming operations. I do not believe they would balance the value of the next unit of water they could apply to farming against the value they could get by selling it to fishers. (I remember that I also once said that a Coasian allocation would be the solution to drainage problems on the West Side. I'll stand by that. The growers are much bigger and more industrialized on the West Side, the problem is simpler and there is only the Feds on the other side of the negotiating.)

1You know who does do a much better job at nearly every aspect of farming? Large scale agribusiness. Those guys have Cadillac irrigation systems and they do not waste much. They have a person who does just irrigation, all the time. I would guess that they are equally proficient across the board. I’m opposed to large scale agribusiness for other reasons though (the vulnerability of monocrops, the mining of soils, the destruction of habitat they wreak (which is worse than small-scale farming), the concentration of wealth, the long-distance transportation of food.). Weighing my opposition to large scale agribusiness against their efficiencies in resource use is a particularly painful dilemma for me.

2Even when growers do take a strong interest in their own irrigation, they don’t have a good handle on what goes on in their fields. They aren’t the ones putting out siphons and moving pipe. They hire laborers to do that, and they do not pay their laborers enough to get a good job. A grower tells his irrigation foreman to have his crew move the siphons by five the next morning so that the night set was exactly twelve hours like the day set. The irrigation foreman isn’t going to wake his guys by five when they only make seven dollars an hour, and they get it done at six-thirty, right before the grower’s first drive-by. Day set is 11 hours; night set is 13 hours; your efficiencies are down and you wasted a couple acrefeet you could have sold in your imaginary market. But you get the job you pay for, and growers do not pay their irrigation laborers enough for finesse management

3I don’t know much about salmon fishers, but I can imagine an equally persuasive story saying they have lines to mend and boats to maintain and weather to watch and they are busy. You would have to convince me that on top of that, they are attentive enough to the Klamath River to decide whether they want to spend the next piece of money to get an extra cfs in there since it is predicted to be hot for the next week and that’ll raise the temperature of the river by a half a degree, increasing fry mortality by ten percent.

I know how bad you need to tell me one more time about Coase and say “Well, when the incremental value of water is high enough to fishers, they’ll pay enough to get the farmer’s attention.” BEFORE YOU DO THAT, you must explain to me why that is different from farmers fore-going free money now (surge flows, fertilizer over-applications). Tell me why, based on your observations of what people really do on farms (or maybe in another comparable industry where it worked). “Because the theory I learned in economics is right and all my textbooks say the same thing” does not contradict the widespread practices I’ve seen or tell me that a Coasian allocation of property rights would work.

If your first sentence doesn't overcome the problem that farmers are not profit-maximizers in water use, DO NOT write a second sentence explaining a theory that depends on that assumption.

Sigh. We should start a pool for how many people are going to violate this comment stricture. My bet is four.

ADDED 9/26/7: A farmer, talking about the kinds of work he does.

Oooooooh. You think they're all like the TSA.

I was entirely delighted with Jan's comment:

As soon as you chose a side, I imagine myself on the other side and see that I wouldn’t want someone like you to have power over me.

It was, sincerely, the most helpful access to libertarian thought I’ve seen in the year that I’ve been honored with libertarian readers. In any governmentally enforced societal trade-off, you immediately seek out an injured party and identify emotionally with that person? Really? That would explain the aggrieved and strident tone. You can ALWAYS find someone being hurt by government (taxes, if nothing else) and you constantly feel their pain. No wonder you want less government.

I understand better now what fuels your libertarian outrage, but it is an awfully silly way to think. That last story, farmers vs. fishers was a cliffhanger. It could have gone either way, so did you not know whether farmers or fishers could make better use of the water until (you thought) I picked a side? It looked for a good long time like the farmers weren’t going to get the water, so were you fully appreciating the GRIEF and INJUSTICE and SUFFERING of the farmers when all of a sudden Cheney stepped in and reversed it, so you switched to the GRIEF and INJUSTICE and SUFFERING of the fishers? Moreover, why, when you feel the full pain and resentment of the fishers, do you not also feel the relief and satisfaction and joy of the farmers? The saga had a collective emotional weight, with winners and losers and their attendant emotions. Thinking government is bad because you only feel the pain of the losers is as silly as thinking government is good because you only feel the relief of the winners.

I loved the idea that you automatically identify with the side I don’t chose, and I wonder how far I can push that. If I tell you “Jan, as a power-mad bureaucrat, I am going to force that city upstream of you to clean up their wastewater before they discharge it into your drinking water source”, do you immediately identify with that poor upstream municipality, tragically forced to bear the costs of cleaning their sewage before dumping it into the river you drink from? Does none of your sympathy stay with your shit-drinking self? Are you only contrarian with me, or does your heart bleed for the governmentally oppressed all the time? When you drive through a green light, does your heart ache for those drivers forced by city transportation engineers to wait for you to pass? It is not right, what they suffer. When you wait at red lights yourself, it must all come together, your identification with the governmentally oppressed and your own circumstances, into the righteous suffering that living with a whole bunch of other people causes.

What do you get out of this sense of injustice, that you should hold on to it so? I’m guessing that the reward is the feeling of oppression and righteousness. As a feminist and an environmentalist, I can vouch for how satisfying those are. I’m going to guess it also feeds a need for some sort of Rugged Individual self-image. Lots of Americans have that. That is also some silly self-deception, since I suspect the readers of this blog are predominately a bunch of desk-jockeys, but I yearn for the Agrarian Utopia, so I can’t exactly cast stones.

How much education and expertise and disinterest on my part would justify my forcing you to move to Kansas based on my claim that it would be better for the world?

OK. We know that I would be extremely reluctant to move to Kansas, since it is on the far side of the Sierras and I don’t understand the world out there. So, it would take some substantial education and lots of expertise and authentic disinterest, plus a really compelling need. But, given those things, I would move to Kansas. Let’s think about your example.

I don’t know of any forced relocation programs (besides the Japanese detention centers) in the US*. Forced re-location is strong stuff; I don’t know what would provoke that. But perhaps the civil servants did the analysis and figured out that The Tsunami was coming and we all have to leave California. They somehow got regulations through the public process (it isn’t clear to me why this would be regulatory and not legislative and what grant of legislative authority this agency is implementing. But we’ll say that is all in order.). Then what? Well, I would read their analysis. I can do that, you know. It is a public document. They have to put all their reasons in order and give them to us; they don’t just issue mysterious edicts. This document is their best shot; this is where their education and expertise has a chance to be persuasive.

So. I’ve read their document, and to perpetuate your argument, it isn’t persuasive. I mean, maybe it is borderline plausible, but it isn’t good enough to persuade me that I have to move away from the only place on the planet worth living. What then? Well, then I have options. I can meet with the bureaucrats, but if they’ve already gotten to the point of issuing regs, they are not going to want to re-open that. They’ll think I should have spoken up four years ago when they started this. I would probably sue, on any justification I can find, just to force a judge to take a look at the document and balance that against the consequences of forced re-location. I would simultaneously start in on my legislator. For a result as stark as re-location, a legislator would take it up for me. A pretty white girl like me? So articulate? I could get heard for sure. Presumably The Tsunami is going to force my neighbors to move too. It shouldn’t be too hard to mobilize them. That would help with the legislative approach. My job is to persuade a judge and a legislator that the document doesn’t support the result. Here’s what it comes down to for me. If I can’t convince a judge (who is obligated to listen if I have standing and can find a cause) or a legislator (who has incentives to listen because of my all-powerful blog and mediagenic smile) that the bureaucrats have overstepped their reasoning, then… maybe I am wrong. Maybe I should just move, even if it sucks, because maybe that’ll save me from The Tsunami or maybe it is just worth it to everyone else for whatever mysterio reason (maybe a quarantine is the analogy here).

Look. That would SUCK. But if it had to happen, I would want it to happen in an open process of checks and balances. I would want the people who decided that I have to move to have to receive public opinion and be explicit about their reasons and write those down and give me access to them. I would want there to be a couple different ways to appeal that. I would want there to be laws, which are formal declarations of the public’s decisions. I wouldn’t want corrupt politicians stepping in to override those laws. Having all those things doesn’t guarantee that I’ll win. It doesn’t even guarantee that the best outcome will be reached. But you haven’t persuaded me that there is a better option out there.

*That is not true. The Bureau of Reclamation is forcing a hundred mobile home and trailer park residents out of their long-established parks on the edge of Lake Berryessa so the public can have access to the lake. But dude! The mobile home and trailer park owners’ lease ran out years ago. They’re just squatting now. They don’t get a private fiefdom on the shores of an attractive lake just because they are used to it. (Jan, how’re you feeling now?)