Sunday, May 31, 2009

Didn't Know That

Matt Yglesias debunks an urban rumor that I myself believed was true: that the building height restriction in DC has something to do with the height of the Washington Monument or the Capitol. Turns out, it's far more mundane:
The actual rule is that a building can be no more than 20 feet taller than the width of the street it’s on. Given that DC folks both seem very attached to the policy and also mistaken as to what the policy is, I’ve often wanted to propose that we actually adopt the rule that people think we have, limiting buildings to the height of the Washington Monument. This would approximately triple the permitted density in the central business district.
I had no idea it was that simple, and thinking about it, I pretty much agree with Matt. DC is an incredibly popular city, lots of people want to live there, and artificially limiting building height like this is an example of zoning run amok.

The Great Ping Pong Quest

In the order they were located:

#1: Under the bed
#2: Under the wine cabinet
#3 & #4: Behind my mini-filing cabinet
#5, #6, & #7: Under the living room couch
#8: Behind the stove

There are at least 3 more in the apartment that continue to elude me.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Does Sam Schulman Even Know Anyone in a Gay Relationship?

Seriously, that was the question that kept running through my mind while reading Sam's latest essay in the Weekly Standard. I definitely encourage you to read the whole thing, because you really really need to. However, here's the synopsis:

Gay Marriage is a Bad Idea Because:

1) Marriage is fundamentally about deciding who can and cannot have sex with a woman
2) Gay marriage means two brothers could have sex, or that an Italian may marry an Irishman
3) Sex before marriage is bad (which isn't actually an argument against gay marriage)
4) Marriage means you're an adult (which also isn't an argument against gay marriage)

If you think I'm making these up or exagerating, please, by all means, go and read the essay. I'm not. He even helpfully numbers them for you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Crazy Cat Blogging

Lucy versus a pingpong ball!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Very Disappointed

Refusing to release the rest of the prison abuse photos is the probably the first big dissappointment Obama's delivered. He asks us to believe that they are both unsensational and inflamatory at the same time.

This argument was crap when Bush used it, and it's still crap when Obama uses it. If they're unsensational then there's no good reason not to release them, and if they're inflamatory then that's a reason to release them.

After all, it's not as if we're disinterested parties. These were actions by the US government, and by extension the US people, and I for one want to know what was done in my name.

Monday, May 11, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Found an interesting blog post on public enemy #1 in the world of health: high fructose corn syrup. The blog's author is a physiology student, so I'm inclined to take most of what he says as fact, and he says that high fructose corn syrup isn't really that bad:

The increase in HFCS has correlated with an increase in obesity in the US, but correlation is not causation. We've also had an increase in the number of people leading sedentary lifestyles, the number of people who own cars and drive everywhere, and the number of McDonald's chain restaurants. Correlation is not causation, and though the jury is still out on high amounts of HFCS, it doesn't look like it's much worse than anything else we're doing.

The whole thing is well worth the read, but the basic gist is that HFCS, by itself, isn't very bad. Its fructose/glucose ratio is only slightly higher than regular sugar and isn't something to worry about, and it isn't some kind of unnatural concoction like sucralose or splenda or asparartame.

Instead, the problem is basically a second order consumption problem: the stuff is fantastically cheap to make and use, which in turn makes sweetened goods fantastically cheaper to produce and sell, which in turns leads to fantastically increased consumption of sweets. Which in turn leads to fantastically increased waistlines.

Moral of the story: everything is good in moderation

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekend At Lancaster III: Barnstorming the Barnstormers

About two weeks ago, I received a cryptic call from my mother:

"So, how would you like to do me a favor while you're up here during the weekend?"

Apparently my little brother's volleyball team had signed up to work the concession stands at a Lancaster Barnstormers baseball game as a fundraiser (the stadium only employs a handful of full time workers; volunteer groups work the stands and get half the proceeds in lieu of being paid), and now they were short a few people. So, mom wondered, wouldn't I like to help out the team? "Sure", I said, "sounds like fun!"

And it was tons of fun. I enjoy doing things like that. However ... turns out my little brother wouldn't be joining us behind the stands, as he was too busy entertaining the female:

Way to support the team there Wilbo! :P In all fairness, it was her birthday, and he had special tickets for the game before the team signed up for the date.

But of course we had to wear funny outfits, which meant funny pictures! This is Mom and Dad:

No comments about the hair. And yes, Pizza Hut is the official pizza of the Barnstormers.

Weekend at Lancaster II: Lunch with PopPop & Drive to Lancaster

Instead of driving straight to Lancaster, I stopped at Harrisburg to visit PopPop and have lunch with him. About a year ago he moved out of my parents' house and into Essex House, a retirement home that's closer to his great grandchildren. He'll be 90 in October, but he's still as sharp as ever, and I always try to visit with him whenever I'm up in PA.

Of course, it's a retirement home, and let's face it, sometimes old people can be amusing in their own special way. Lunch that day was Brunswick Stew, and none of them had the slightest idea what it was (think chicken pot pie without the pastry). So as soon as it came out, all 100 residents were facedown in the stew, poking it to figure out what it was:
What is this? Is this chicken?

I think it's chicken.

It can't be chicken, it's too dark! I think it's pork.

That's dark chicken meat!

I don't think it's chicken, call the girl over, find out if it's chicken.

And then there was PopPop's friend who ate with us, who was really pretty fun to talk to, he just had a funny moment:
A few nights ago I watched some tv show about a guy ... can't remember his name ... he did something big on the internet ... can't remember what ... do you know him?

Anyway, had a great lunch with PopPop, great conversation, good times, and then set off for Lancaster. I thought that because 90% of my driving for the day was over, that I was essentially in the clear, and the rest of the drive would be uneventful. Boy was I wrong. A few miles down the road I encountered a woman in a turquoise green convertible driving the wrong way down the highway. Don't ask me how she got in there, or what she was thinking, all I know is somehow suddenly all traffic on the highway screeched to a halt, and there was lots of beeping as she puttered by at 20 mph. Honestly, sometimes I think the human race is doomed.

Weekend at Lancaster I: The Drive Up

Happy Mother's Day to all moms out there! Your offspring offer their utmost thanks to you for bringing us into existence.

I spent the weekend up in Lancaster visiting with the parents. Our family does a Sunday brunch with some close friends every Mother's Day, and so I decided to drive up Saturday morning, stay the night, have brunch, and then drive back Sunday afternoon. It's also a chance to visit with my grandfather, who moved out of house and into a retirement home about a year ago, so I made plans to stop by and have lunch with him on Saturday.

The drive up was mostly uneventful, except for one thing. I drank a lot of coffee Saturday morning, and about halfway between the DC beltway and Hagerstown I had to pulloff for a bathroom break. No problem, I thought, I know there's a rest stop in just a few miles, and I'll go there. But as I approached, there was a giant sign advertising that the bathrooms were closed. Still not a problem, I thought, I'll just get off at the next exit and go at a gas station. Well, the next exit turned out to be 15 miles away so things were getting slightly more urgent, but the exit advertised gas stations, so I took the exit, and then followed the arrows that directed me to go north.

And then the arrows disappeared.

Ok, I thought, still not a problem, I can see in the distance there's some newish looking storefronts, so I'll just drive to them and there'll probably be something there that I can use. Nope. It was an unfinished dual-use retail/residential urban-style walkabout development that's all the rage these days. And it was also completely empty. So I turned around, drove a quarter mile in the other direction, and went from ultra-modern to hicksville. BUT, it was a hicksville with a gas station! "Finally!", I thought. I pulled in and went inside ... where an old lady with about 3 teeth left in her mouth told me that the 'bathroom' was the PortaPotty out back that hadn't been emptied in about 2 months. Gross. Somedays, I'm very happy to be male.

Monday, May 04, 2009

What are We 'Best' At?

Over at The Corner, Jonah G publishes this little gem from a reader:
Senator Specter... You went to Canada for all your cancer treatment, right? RIGHT!?
It's pretty standard for wingers to boast that we've got the 'best' healthcare system in the world, but without getting into the mess of public vs private vs single payer vs insurance companies, it's worth thinking a bit about what 'best' means.

When it comes to healthcare, 'best' doesn't actually mean most effective or efficient, neither of which describes the American system. Instead, 'best' essentially means 'we can do things no one else can do'. This definition of 'best' isn't limited to healthcare, and probably stems from America's deeply engrained sense of exceptionalism, and is so deeply engrained that a lot of people don't even realize how much it influences their argument.

When I was debating healthcare with my parents a few months ago, one of my mother's arguments was something along the lines of "the first open-heart surgery was in America", which was supposed to be an argument for our system's superiority. What it really is, though, is an argument for the above definition of superior. No one's arguing that our healthcare system can't do amazing things; it certainly can, and all else being equal, I would like to be able to do amazing things. But what I and other reformers are arguing is that all else is NOT equal, and that our focus on the amazing is coming at the very real expense of the non-amazing. We have state-of-the-art technology, wonder drugs, and miracle treatments ... but we also have 1 out of 5 people going without any kind of healthcare at all. These two things are not independent of each other. Healthcare resources are scarce, not infinite. If you use them up on extremely specialized and expensive treatments, that comes at the expense of other, more standard treatments.

For a very personal and tragic example, look at Natasha Richardson. It's widely known that the technology to save Richardson's life exists, and if it had been used, she would probably be alive today. Winger blogs have trumpeted the fact that the Canadian system failed her as proof that the American system is superior. But it's just not that simple. The technology that could've saved Richardson's life is expensive, about $20,000 per use. And Richardson's specific condition is very rare, about 1 out of 1000 people who suffer similar injuries have it. So the cost of saving just one life isn't $20,000, it's $20,000,000. And every $20 million you spend saving one person's life is $20 million you don't spend on other people. Canada could spend that money saving one person's life, or it could spend that money providing diabetes treatments worth $2K to 10,000 of its citizens. The Canadian view is that it should be spent improving the quality of life for 10,000. The American view is that it should be spent saving the life of 1. Both of these come with their benefits, and their tradeoffs.

Of course, simply understanding this really doesn't make the issue any easier to grapple with. How do you possibly say that the discomfort of 10,000 people is or isn't worth one person's life? And even though these procedures are terribly expensive today doesn't mean they always will be, nor that they aren't valuable. Polio vaccine was extremely expensive and unreliable when it was first developed decades ago ... now it's part of the standard suite of vaccines all children get as they grow.

But even if understanding isn't sufficient, it's still necessary. If you argue in favor of expensive specialization to treat rare and complicated conditions, you have to be candid about the fact that it's coming at the expense of basic healthcare for millions of people.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Case of the Forgotten Doughnut: Update!

Ok, after some research and a call or two to the parents, we are down to two main possibilities:

1) Maiers Bakery Doughnuts, a local chain in Reading, PA
2) Stroehmann Bakery Doughnuts, a local chain in Lititz, PA

It's a testament to how local these chains are that google.images doesn't have any pictures for their doughnut products, so I can't confirm either of them that way.

But, next weekend is Mother's Day, which means I'll be up in Lancaster, which means I can do some first-hand investigation, and bring back some samples!

Seven Sins by Geography

Some enterprising researchers at Kansas State University have plotted the 7 Deadly Sins ... by geography. While their methodology leaves a little to be desired, it's an definitely an interesting visual representation. For example, it appears I live at the crossroads of gluttony and lust (blue = good, red = bad):
Pride is the root of all sins, but since KSU couldn't do a causal analysis, they settled for a correlative one instead, and aggregated the other six sins into Pride. Interestingly, the Bible Belt is teeming with sin, while the mid-westerners all appear to lead completely virtuous lives:
One thing that's kind of weird: outside of the bible belt sin is concentrated in large metro areas ... except around Chicago and Boston. Both show up strong red when you look at Greed, but I can't find any strong blue in other sins to offset the red. In fact, the entire state of Massachussetts comes out pretty clean.

Oh, and if anyone points out that the Philly side of PA is red while the Pittsburgh side is blue, we will no longer be friends.

Pho So 1, and The Search for the Elusive Cream Filled Doughnut!

Friday night was the biweekly dinner with Justin and Danielle, and this week we decided to go to Pho So 1 for some good, old-fashioned, hole-in-the-wall, excellent noodle soup. If you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend it, and as always, Pho So 1 did not disappoint. BUT, this week was even more exciting than normal: for the first time ever, our dinner bill came to over $30!!

How did we manage that, you ask? Well, Justin, being Justin, decided that one large bowl of pho wasn't enough to sate his appetite ... he also needed a large bowl of barbecued pork and rice. So even while Danielle and I were still having trouble finishing our soups, he was already mostly through his second entree. The man can EAT, and I don't think I've ever been prouder to call him my friend (it's a guy thing).

Anyway, on the way back we got to talking about doughnuts, and I remembered an amazing cream-filled doughnut from my childhood that my dad would always bring home on Sunday mornings. Light, flakey, yeasty, and with amazing cream inside. Naturally, we decided that heavy cream-filled doughnuts would be the perfect dessert for spicy noodle soup (and in Justin's case bbq pork as well :P), so we went looking for them at Kroger. Alas, Kroger didn't have what I was looking for, and so we went back to my place disappointed.

Kroger, though, was only the first step in the quest. You see, even though I could picture them in my mind, I couldn't remember what brand they were. So I called my sister, described them, and asked if she could remember the name. She thought I was crazy. Hmph, and she calls herself a Heberlein!

Then I went online, and started searching, hoping that maybe I'd get lucky. This led to several insights:

  1. Searching for 'amazing cream filled doughnuts' on Google.Images without SafeSearch turned on returns a lot of pictures that make you go "eeeewwwwwwww!"
  2. Even if you tell Google you don't want images of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, approximately 99.87% of all images returned will still be Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
  3. The American Institute of Baking does a biannual analysis titled Doughnut Statistics and Trends which includes all sorts of interesting data, such as the fact that a brand called Entenmann's Extreme Popems (not to be confused with regular Entenmann's brand) is #7 in the US in terms of dollar sales of doughnuts. Huh, fancy.

As you can probably guess, my online search was fruitless, but I remain undeterred! I am determined to share the glory that are the [insert name here] cream-filled doughnuts with all my friends! And they will love me for it!