Monday, April 28, 2008

My Condo, Pimped

Today was the big day: the first open house for my condo. I was too exhausted to be nervous, excited, or even civil.

As this day grew near, I've been getting very little sleep. The place still looked like a construction zone yesterday. My friend and Realtor, Theresa Immordino couldn't even put any recent interior photos in the initial listing.

Theresa and I have been getting increasingly snippy with each other--and now I think I understand why homeowners are expected to stay the hell away from their own open houses. I was irritable and unwilling to take shit from anyone--and my perception was that everyone was trying to give me shit.

Yesterday I got some help from friends Derek and Robin. This morning, with fewer than three hours to go before the house was scheduled to open, there was still an insurmountable amount of cleaning to be done. Robin came over to help again, also bringing me coffee and a bagel.

Robin was patiently trying to get me to prioritize. Then Theresa called me on my cell phone. "I found a housekeeper to help you clean up. You're going to have to pay her. She'll be there in 20 minutes <click>."

The housekeeper, Anglea, arrived, and she and Robin took over. I felt like one of the kids in The Cat in the Hat, who stood dumbfounded while Thing 1 and Thing 2 frenzied about cleaning. Theresa (who had just completed a quest for the perfect shower curtain) showed up and played the role of The Cat.

The video quality is terrible. But thanks for the literary reference to my roommate, Don--who got out before anyone could put a broom in his hands.

At the exact time the open house was to start, Robin was left alone in the condo to stand watch while Theresa handed over the Open House signs to me. This took longer than expected, and Robin spent about 20 minutes with a seemingly interested potential buyer--and not having answers for her questions. Apparently they talked about the photos we had hung on the walls less than 30 minutes earlier.

I put up the Open House signs around the neighborhood. Then I had nothing to do but stay away. It felt like a restraining order.

I went to Borders Books and fell asleep in a chair.

By popular demand, here are some before and after photos

According to Theresa, the Open House went well. I can't thank Robin enough. Derek too, who not only helped but referred me to my wonderful contractor Chris Stanton.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alas poor cabinet door, I knew him well

Sometimes I think animism is hard-coded into our psyche.

My new kitchen--vain, arrogant, and self-superior--is nearly finished.

Today I hauled the tattered remnants of my old kitchen cabinets to the dump (the Shady Grove Solid Transfer Station).

I backed the pickup truck up to a large concrete well. At the bottom was a dumpster the size and depth of a boxcar. I began throwing in the scraps of solid wood framing, and doors of plywood and veneer.

I paused for a moment as I held a cabinet door, and considered keeping it as a memento of the kitchen I had for nearly ten years. I felt disloyal tossing this wood into the mass grave. The clunky solid-wood square door handle, so familiar--yet being discarded and replaced with particleboard, melamine foil, and polypropylene. Why? To please the presumptive shallow tastes of an unknown home buyer; someone whom, at that moment, I knew I would dislike. Yet, for this person, nay for this person's money, I would betray a reliable friend of ten years.

Before that sentimentality could take hold, I devised a way to use one of the larger panels to more quickly scoop the smaller pieces out of the pickup bed.

Functional to the end.

I also had a box to take to the electronic recycling area. Inside the box were more old friends: The shortwave radio that kept me connected to the larger world while I was in the Peace Corps. My first CD player, which, after Peace Corps, accompanied me on a 3-month-long motorcycle trip around America. That was when my one and only CD was Elvis Costello's Brutal Youth.

The box also contained a broken cordless phone of no sentimental value. I salvaged it. It will be a useless prop in my "upgraded" kitchen. Take that, home shopping sucker.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

God's Gift to Atheism: Monique Davis

It was a jaw-dropping moment when Illinois Rep. Monique Davis lashed out at Rob Sherman earlier this month. Davis, a Chicago Democrat and member of the Illinois legislature, apparently didn't believe that an atheist had a right to testify before a committee of the Illinois House.
It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat! (Link)
There is audio of her hostile rant here. You really have to listen to it to understand how vitriolic she was--not to mention her disregard for the Constitution.

This outburst has generated plenty outrage, and plenty has already been said and written about this, including a
press release from Council for Secular Humanism calling for Davis to resign, and Keith Olbermann's declaring her "The Worst Person in the World" for April 8 (beating out perennial favorites Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly).

Davis' Wikipedia page instantly graduated from "stub" status the day after her comments made her notorious.

However, Davis may just be the kind of crackpot that atheism needs.

This is a life lesson I learned two years ago: Ranting lunatics can be a blessing.

The lesson of Green Skate Lab

I was involved in building a public skatepark in Washington DC, called Green Skate Lab. The project was rejected by at least two DC communities who didn't want skateboarding riffraff coming to their neighborhoods. Finally, DC Parks and Recreation, allowed construction to begin at Langdon Park, a quiet, predominantly African-American residential neighborhood. This time, they didn't bother holding community meetings. By the time the predictable community fuss arose, the bowl was 80% complete.

A lot of misinformation had spread among the neighborhood. There were rumors that "some rich guy" had paid off the city to allow a for-profit park to be built.

A meeting was called, and held at the construction site. The people behind the project were primed with tons of information on the social, recreational, environmental, educational, spiritual, etc. benefits of a community skatepark. But the community members were having none of it. They legitimately felt they should have been consulted before the project was approved. Some seemed to have no specific objection to skateboarding. The park as it was was fairly disused, and they liked it that way; they didn't want anything happening that would bring more recreation to the park.

The meeting reached an impasse, and nobody was satisfied.

Then a miracle occurred.

A little old lady with a cane rose to her feet, and spoke. I don't know who she was, but those assembled gave her noticeable deference.

"I know what's happening here," she said. "These people want our black kids to ride skateboards!"

Holy shit! Was this the elephant in the skatepark that I hadn't seen? Cultural imperialism from skate culture?

"Well," she continued, actually raising her cane and shaking it like Granny Clampett, "black kids don't skateboard; black kids play basketball."

Terri Nostrand (pictured above, with Granny seated behind her), was the driving force behind the project, and a DC public school teacher. She had the foresight to stack the meeting with her skateboarding students. They were black kids with skateboards, and Granny had just offended them. Moments before they were visibly bored, but no more. A few of them lined up to speak after Granny, and declared themselves skateboarders.

But it wasn't the kids that turned the tide that afternoon, it was Granny.

All of the other community members there were reasonable people with a legitimate gripe. Now they had to choose whether to line up behind a crank, or allow the meeting to end with no definite resolution--virtually guaranteeing that the skatepark's momentum would continue. The skatepark opponents chose not to follow Granny's crotchety act.

Back to Rep. Monique Davis, the anti-atheist from Illinois.

There are nearly 10,000 Web pages that refer to her hostility towards Rob Sherman. But, as far as I can tell, the right wing punditocracy has been pretty silent about this issue. This was their opportunity to embrace an African American woman Democrat who stood up to one of those church-state-separation types--an atheist no less. You'd think they'd be pursuing her like she was Joe Lieberman in drag, cheering "Finally, a Democrat who will put a goddamn secularist in his place!" You'd think she'd be offered a seat of honor at the Republican National Convention--in front of a camera, and preferably a spotlight. Instead, they're keeping pretty silent about it--just as the Langdon neighbors in Washington DC responded to Granny's tirade.

To her partial credit, Davis apologized to Sherman, and he forgave her. However, it was one of those, "I'm sorry, but I have an excuse" apologies--the kind that I teach the kids to never use. There is no but--no excuse for lashing out with bigotry.

Freedom of religion and the freedom to have no religion are core American values, so I will remember Monica Davis outburst. She spoke what many people believe about atheists, she just spoke it crazy. When I have the chance, I will offer people the chance to stand with her, or to step slowly away.

Updated 6/3/2008: I found a larger picture of Terry and Granny. Click here to see Granny in her glorious crotchitude.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Springtime in Takoma Park, MD

It's Spring! The cherry blossoms are in bloom in the Washington DC area, it's sunny, and becoming safe to go out without a jacket.

Yet, this is a snapshot of my life these days:

Wanna buy a condo?

Click on the image to see it in full glory.

Hopefully there will be a dazzling "after" photo within a couple of weeks.

It's stressful to live with so much clutter, but I've done it before--except it was called squalor the other times I've lived this way, not renovation.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bedtime in Flagstaff

Tonight I found this video on our digital camera. In case anyone is wondering how I'm adjusting to life with kids, being helpful and all that, this should put any concerns to rest. When it's bedtime in Flagstaff, I get the kids nice and calm.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

University of Florida Case Recalls Dark College Days in the '80s

This item caught my attention today on Boing Boing:
Michael Moulton, a prof at the University of Florida, is suing a company that republishes his students' notes from class, because he says that taking notes on his classes and selling them violates his copyright.
There is interesting reader commentary on this story both at Boing Boing and Much of the discussion centers on the legal ramifications, Professor Moulton's motive (profit), and the students' motives (ditching class).

The legal ramifications are important, of course. But I recall a case where a different motive made me much more sympathetic to the professor involved.

In the mid-1980's, Mark Reader, one of my Political Science Professor's at Arizona State announced that his lectures were copyrighted--but not because he objected to for-profit note takers. It was because Accuracy in Academia was sending its McCarthyist goons to spy on professors suspected of being too leftist. This was during the Reagan presidency (pre deification), and ASU was one of several campuses where "preppy conservatism" was running amok.

Dr. Reader was trying to prevent A.I.A. from recording and/or republishing his lectures in their witch-hunting materials.

If academic freedom is the motive, does that change the calculation here?

Yes, Dr. Reader was a total Marxist, but that's not the point. A.I.A was orchestrating a hit job on Reader because they didn't like his politics.

Why, you might ask, do I remember these events so well?

One of those A.I.A. goons was Matthew Scully, who years later would become a speech writer for George W Bush.

In 1985 Scully was also an editorial writer for State Press, ASU's student newspaper. Len Munsil was the editor and enabler. Among Munsil's conservative credentials at the time: he refused to publish in the events calendar the meetings of a student gay and lesbian organization.

Scully, Munsil, and their associates became known on campus and off, as "The God Squad."

I was reporter for the State Press for a time, and got caught in the politics of the conservative student insurgency.

In order to keep his job as editor, Munsil had keep in the good graces of the student body president--because the president appointed members to a board overseeing student publications. The president at the time was Ray Burnell, a handsome young poster child for the Religious Right.

I covered Burnell's participation at an an anti-abortion conference. I interviewed Burnell, and found him to be surprisingly likable. I reported that the "non-partisan" organization sponsoring the conference was electioneering exclusively for Republican candidates. I also noted that, although Burnell was not speaking in his capacity as student body president, his introduction at the conference left room for ambiguity.

I'm not saying what I wrote was a great piece of journalism, but it was all accurate.

The story never ran. A few days later, I was personally canned from the paper by Munsil.

I was devastated at the time, but have come to regard it as a feather in my cap.

Last year, Scully penned a whiny article for The Atlantic on how Michael Gerson hogged all of the credit for putting pretty words in the mouth of George W Bush.

Also last year, Munsil made an unsuccessful run for governor of Arizona, on a platform of immigrant phobia. I was happier than most to see him fail.

UPDATE: A few hours after I posted this, I received a call from Keith Dungan, founder of Faulkner Press, one of the plaintiffs in the Florida case. That was interesting. Someone actually read my blog? Dungan thanked me for my posting, and said he appreciated that I alone had commented that the Florida case was about academic freedom. I don't think that's what I said. In Florida, the intent of the professional note takers is not to intimidate and undermine the professor, as was the intent of A.I.A. in Arizona.

To be honest, I'm not sure where I stand. In the case of Prof. Moulton, the lawsuit seems petty, unreasonable, and perhaps a bad precedent were it to succeed. On the other hand, Prof. Reader's tactic of asserting copyright seemed like a bold and clever counter threat against the A.I.A. creeps. Could Dr. Reader have been wrong? (I certainly believe he was wrong about Marxism.) Maybe I'm making a false parallel, but the central issue seems the same in both instances: Can college professors copyright their lectures?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Update: Google Bomber Pilot

A couple of weeks ago, I pondered whether creationists should pilot planes.

Using disparaging language, I linked to three pages selling a particular creationist book. I just checked, and my links are having an effect. These pages are now indexed in Google just as I hoped they would be--even though the disparaging term does not appear anywhere in the indexed pages.

In the same post, I used a microwave oven as an example of technology that a creationist should not use. Today, I got a bit of cosmic payback. I was Googling for information on Galaxy brand microwave ovens. The terms "galaxy" and "microwave" returns lots of information on astronomy--but I utterly failed to find the Web site of the appliance company.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Today I was in a rare face-to-face meeting with a client. I was describing how social content and social network tagging would be an easy way to generate lists of news articles that they could syndicate their own or other Web sites. Yawn, right? Then I mentioned in passing that I use on my personal blog.

"Really? You have a blog? What is it? Can we read it?"

"Oh, you really wouldn't find it interesting. It's just, y'know, stuff I write so people can ignore it on a mass scale."

"So you're not going to tell us the Web address?"

I was in a bind. I really don't want my politics and crackpot opinions to intruded on my relationship with my clients. If I'd enthusiastically encouraged them to come look at the blog, it would have guaranteed they wouldn't. But at that point, I'd become evasive. Being more evasive would only make it worse. So I gave them the URL, and hoped they would stay away.

So, dear client, if you are reading this: Congratulations. You found it. Now please get back to your vital work. Every second you spend here is comes at the cost of your mission. Lives are at stake.

Still here? Damn. Then I'm going to have to write about technology.

Leveraging social networks using RSS feeds, chat, video, file sharing, and discussion groups is a mission-driven strategy for engaging stakeholders as a community, not just as "end users." These tactics, when incorporated into a comprehensive strategic plan, will have positive externalities, including enhanced search engine optimization... blah... blah...


Whew. That was a close one.