A Long Slow Golden Fall

I’m temporarily plumbing depths of procrastination and self loathing that I haven’t seen since my thesis.  I should be writing testimony for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to ignore right now, but I’m not.  Because it seems futile?  Because it’s so impersonal?  Because the box we’re supposed to stay in is so small and lame?  Maybe this means it’s time for a more different job.

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Some folks who lived at Masala when I moved in are moving back to Boulder. I didn’t get to know well enough before they left and got married and reproduced.  I’m looking forward to getting to know all three of them better.  To maybe having a persistent interaction with a kid.  And an excuse to make a bike that carries kids.  Always looking for an excuse to make another bike.

Some good friends are leaving the co-op, pulled away by academia.  Social churn and transience.  It seems strange to be the stable one.  Only person in the house that’s been here longer than me now is Lincoln, Our Founder.  It’s interesting to see how the relationship with the house changes over time.  Still love it, but would be up for another incarnation too.  With more stability and people who have all already learned the basic lessons of living together… rather than always having a few people that don’t quite seem to get it.  We have most of the money and people that would be required to buy our own place and make it a co-op.  But that would be illegal.  Which is infuriating.  So we’re trying to change the law, but it feels like a distraction — I’d much rather do the work of creating community itself, instead of the meta-work of making it legal to live in communities.

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The long slow fall has been wonderful.  Golden leaves and freakishly warm days juxtaposed against each other.  I sleep out on my little deck every night and watch the stars slowly wheel across the sky as the season changes.  Orion and the Pleiades.   It’ll be snowy soon.  The weather could be completely different in a week.

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It’s been a celibate year.  The first once since 2001-2002.  More than friends, less than lovers, and back to singledom.  I’ve felt old this year — a pinched nerve in my neck, lots of gray hairs.  I’ve also felt superhuman — a 150 mile bike ride across the continental divide and back.

I need to read more books.  I’ve even thought that maybe I need to write a book: Amateur Earthlings.  The two might go well together.  Long form ideas are the best.  Impossible to hold in your head all at once, but wonderful.

I need more quantitative folks in my social sphere.  More scientists and engineers.  I miss being embedded in a microculture that not only values that kind of knowing, but where it’s the default — where there’s an underlying assumption that people can understand the world that way.  Not to say that it’s the only valuable way of knowledge… but it’s my way most of the time, and being outside of that sphere makes me feel like an outsider.

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Local politics is both fun and frustrating.  I’ve made enemies for the first time.  People who actively want to undermine me because of my ideas and values and willingness to participate.  That’s been an interesting experience.  There are also unexpected, almost uncomfortable allies.  It’s interesting to work with someone on something you agree on, while knowing that you disagree on something else, and might end up working against each other there. And of course it all feels glacially slow.  There’s always that voice the the back of my head that wants a revolution.

And always that voice in the back of my head that wants a bike tour, too.


We are made to be destroyed

A quote from Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons that I cannot get out of my mind.  For me, it is relevant in the context of continuing to be optimistic that we can construct a sustainable civilization, even though the current Plan of Record is clearly to burn it all:

I decided that many of Bear’s stories and comments shared a general drift. They advised against fearing all of creation.  But not because it is always benign, for it is not.  It will, with certainty, consume us all.  We are made to be destroyed.  We are kindling for the fire, and our lives will stand as naught against the onrush of time.  Bear’s position, if I understood it, was that refusal to fear these general terms of existence is an honorable act of defiance.

Bear is a Cherokee chief that adopts Will, a bound boy working in a frontier trading post.  They spend winters alone together in a kind of meditative semi-hibernation with a small crackling fire in a tiny snow-covered lodge.


Experimental vs. Experiential Truth

Science is a strange kind of reality worship.  We want to know what really is, out there in the physical world, independent of the vagaries of our internal experience.  We try to find what’s true for everyone, all the time.  It’s easy for me to forget that there are some contexts in which what is actually happening, in a measurable sense, is not what matters most.  Sometimes, it hardly seems to matter at all.  Corporate PR hacks, religious proselytizers and other propagandists understand this intuitively.  If you tell people a story they want to believe, often they will go ahead and believe it, regardless of any countervailing evidence.  They will thank Big Brother for increasing the chocolate ration from 30 grams to 20 grams per week.  But this kind of disconnection of external from internal reality isn’t always sinister.  Sometimes it isn’t even a disconnection so much as it is an orthogonality.  Disconnection suggests that the two were once connected, or are intended to be one, but our internal experience is just not the same thing as external reality.  They are related, but separated, by warm vitreous pools of light and hairy waveguides.  There is some part of us which is intrinsic, or such a distant and distorted echo of the outside world as to be unrecognizable.


Letter to Adam Schiff on Open Access Publishing

Dear Congressman Schiff,

I note that you are on the House Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering H.R. 801, sponsored by John Conyers (D, MI), and entitled the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.  I also notice, courtesy of, that you received $6,000 from the publishing industry in the most recent election cycle, which is actually more than the average received by those representatives who co-sponsored the bill.


How I voted in 2008

I sent in my ballot on Saturday, after spending Friday evening discussing the propositions with a bunch of people over dinner at our house.  There seemed to be broad consensus on them, which isn’t too surprising, given that I avoided inviting people I thought I might disagree with.  I did that on purpose.  I wanted it to be an analysis of the questions at hand, not a personal policymaking session.  Ballotpedia had a lot of information on some of the propositions.  I’m guessing it will only improve in future elections, and I think the wiki model is actually close to being perfect for coming up with summaries of contentious political topics. Here’s how I ended up voting:


California Ballot Initiatives, 2008

A surprising amount of information and linkage is to be had at the Wikipedia.

CA Ballot Initiatives:

  1. (1A) Bond for high speed rail: UNDECIDED (requires federal matching funds, probably will run far over budget because it was priced years ago when commodities were cheaper, won’t be functional for many years, now is a crappy time to take out a loan, but it sure would be nice to have a high speed train between LA and SF… would tickets cost more or less than Southwest?)
  2. Revised CAFO standards (more space for chickens, pigs, veal): YES? (Seems petty – unclear how slightly more space for chickens will result in fewer antibiotics being used, and better water quality near CAFO facilities… it’s still a hundred million chickens, isn’t it? but it’s a step in the right direction – similar to legislation in the EU, doesn’t fully take effect until 2015… dunno)
  3. Children’s Hospital Bond: NO (Provides public subsidies for private for-profit hospitals, without also giving public sector a share of the profits, or any control over the organizations they are funding, nearly identical bond measure passed in 2004 – and they’ve only spent half *that* money!)
  4. Require parental notification and waiting period for abortions: NO
  5. Reduction in non-violent drug offense penalties, treatment in lieu of incarceration: YES
  6. Capital expenditure for more prisons: NO (we have enough prisons already!  Just let out the non-violent drug offenders if there’s not enough space)
  7. Renewable energy portfolio standards: NO (based on UCS analysis)
  8. Outlaw Gay Marriage: NO
  9. Victims rights and harsher parole requirements: UNDECIDED
  10. Subsidies for some fuels (esp. natural gas): NO (based on UCS analysis)
  11. Non-partisan congressional districts for CA: YES

Local Measures:

  • Measure R (transportation sales tax in LA County): UNDECIDED No bike/ped call outs (does complete streets apply to this?), way too much focus on highway projects.

Obama and McCain in their own Wordles

The first debate, in Wordle format. Not too hard to tell who’s who:

A Wordle of Obama in the First Debate
An Wordle of McCain in the first debate

It might be better if Wordle would pick up on phrases. It would be interesting to see if one could extract a candidate’s talking points from this kind of stream-of-consciousness format, or even identify talking points they didn’t know they had. Not clear if it will be worthwhile running the VP debate through this… some of Palin’s comments seem to be pre-wordled!


Note to my CA state reps on water conservation

Regarding: AB2175 (2008) (PDF)

Dear Senator Scott and Assemblyman Portantino,

I’ve recently come across AB2175, a bill aimed an improving water conservation in California. I am strongly in favor of the provisions it details, especially with the looming $10 billion water bond measure we face this fall. However, I am disturbed to see that it includes no real improvement of agricultural water use. As I’m sure you know, ~70% of the water used in California is used for agriculture, and it is not used efficiently, because it is sold at far below cost to farmers (and at far below the rates that residential and commercial water customers pay). No serious water conservation effort can leave agricultural water efficiency out as this bill does. Instead of a vague and unspecified target for agricultural users to be established in 2009, we need a hard number now, before we start investing tens of billions of dollars in new water infrastructure for our state. Agribusiness has had a free ride on water for long enough. If we really have a water problem now (and I believe we do) it’s time for them to do their part in the conservation effort, and footing the bill for new infrastructure.


Is Contraception the New Abortion?

I ran across this article at Science Progress, about efforts to aggressively enforce the Weldon (or “church”) amendments, which make it illegal to compel a health care worker to provide a service they find morally objectionable.  The author focuses on the possibility that the new rules would change the definition of conception from the time of embryo implantation, to the time of conception – but really, what they do (if you read the PDF) is give broad freedom to all medical personnel to decide for themselves what exactly they do and don’t find conscionable.  Which sounds fine of course, from a libertarian point of view.  But it also sucks if you happen to have accidentally gotten pregnant in Montgomery, AL, or some rural town in North Dakota.  It seems like the rules are so broad as to allow a doctor to refuse to prescribe birth control to an unmarried woman.  Additionally annoying is that this is just another example of the Feds bullying the states with money they took from the state’s citizens – the rule only applies to institutions that take federal money… like just about every public hospital (if there are any left that is…), and it will have the effect of shifting federal funding to conservative institutions, insofar as liberal ones are willing to refuse the federal funding in order to be able to require their personnel to perform all legal and medically advisable procedures.


Virtue, Beauty, and Function

Michael Pollan talks about American gardeners (including himself) being unable to bring themselves to cultivate beauty, or to see that as their purpose.  Instead, he says they cultivate virtue.  Sometimes I wonder if American liberals also suffer from this affliction, except instead of seeking virtue at the expense of beauty, they seek it to the detriment of functionality.  It doesn’t matter if this works, only that it’s right.  And maybe American conservatives do this too.