Author Sam Harris likens our love of wood fires to other unshakable beliefs:
The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe. Even if you reject every intrusion of the “nanny state,” you should agree that the recreational burning of wood is unethical and should be illegal, especially in urban areas. By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. It might be the clearest day of the year, but burn a sufficient quantity of wood and the air in the vicinity of your home will resemble a bad day in Beijing. ...
Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.
The entire essay is worth reading. And when you dig into it, given how few people have ever tried to annihilate their neighbors over wood smoke...well, you can see where Harris is going.
I've spent the morning working at the Peet's Coffee in Half Moon Bay, Calif.. For some reason, this location has blocked HTTP access to most Google addresses.
The most obvious symptom is that browser requests to Google, Youtube, and other Google properties (including GMail) simply don't go through. Chrome reports "connection reset" after timing out; IE simply spins into oblivion. Another symptom, which took me a few moments to figure out, is that sites that have Google Analytics bugs (like this one) sometimes, but not always, fail to load. Reading the page source shows that the entire page has loaded, but the browser doesn't render the page because part of it is being blocked.
Using nothing more sophisticated than Ping and Tracert, I've determined that the block occurs pretty close to my laptop, possibly even in the WiFi router or in Peet's proxy server. Pinging Google's public DNS service (184.108.40.206) works fine, as does making nslookup requests against it. But pinging www.google.com, www.youtu.be, and www.gmail.com all fail. Tracerts to these URLs and directly to their public IPs also fail at the very first hop.
Google IPs appear to start with 74.125.x.y. Tracert to 220.127.116.11 passes through 18.104.22.168 a few hops away; www.google.com resolves to 22.214.171.124; etc. However, reverse DNS lookups show something slightly different. 126.96.36.199 resolves back to google-public-dns-b.google.com; however, 188.8.131.52 resolves back to nuq04s07-in-f20.1e100.com. 184.108.40.206 (www.youtu.be) resolves back to another 1e100.com address.
All other sites appear to work fine, with decent (megabit-speed) throughput.
So, the mystery is: who has blocked Google from this Peet's store, and why? I have sent Peet's a request for comment.
There are a few examples of public transportation in the world that double as fun things for tourists over and above their practical uses for commuters. The Chicago El's Loop section, for example, or New York's Roosevelt Island Tramway.
In San Francisco, tourists mob the cable cars, pushing regular commuters aside, and removing them from this category. Same, to some extent, with the Muni F-line streetcars. but near the convergence of the F and California St. Cable Car is the Ferry Terminal Building, which, despite its transformation in the last 20 years into an urban market, actually has ferries. I took one of them yesterday.
I had to get from the city to Sausalito. The Sausalito Ferry is, it turns out, the best way to do that. The $4.85* fare not only gets you to Sausalito, but it also gives you this view:
The whole trip is like that. In fairness to the city, it wasn't as gloomy as it appears in the photo; I just caught it at a particularly dramatic moment.
Upon disembarking in Sausalito, however, this sign greeted me:
I have no idea what that means, especially since without cholesterol, animals die. But, hey, it's California, and no one from the Sausalito Police came to steal my cholesterol.
* It's $4.85 if you have a Clipper Card. Otherwise it's $9. If you regularly travel to a particular city, I recommend getting a transit card.
Krugman adds his voice to the chorus slamming Charles Murray's new book positing that declining morals are responsible for white, working-class problems. Bull:
Mr. Murray and other conservatives often seem to assume that the decline of the traditional family has terrible implications for society as a whole. This is, of course, a longstanding position. Reading Mr. Murray, I found myself thinking about an earlier diatribe, Gertrude Himmelfarb’s 1996 book, “The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values,” which covered much of the same ground, claimed that our society was unraveling and predicted further unraveling as the Victorian virtues continued to erode.
Yet the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. ...
Still, something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.
This is obvious, which means the right has to change the conversation to something else. They do post hoc ergo propter hoc better than anyone in history, so it's almost a children's game for them to shift the blame for people's anger from rich white guys to poor white guys. And if you dig a little deeper, it turns out the things the right blames on the poor aren't actually there.
Shorter Republican: "Barack Obama is to blame for the monster under your child's bed!"
Do they even believe themselves any more? (Side note: this is the question Paul Suderman at reason.com raises about Romney.)
I'm back in San Francisco for a couple of days, narrowly escaping Chicago's lake-effect nightmare yesterday. I enjoyed walking around without a coat last night, until the rain started. (Did you know it rains here in February? Yes? You're ahead of me, then.) A friend and I wanted to check out a bar over by Civic Center, Smuggler's Cove, which I might Yelp later today. I must say, waiting outside in the rain for 35 minutes to go into a bar has lost its appeal for me over the years. Fortunately, the bodega right on the corner had umbrellas. This, by the way, is why I love San Francisco and New York: you can get what you need with a minimum of fuss.
Today will see me ferrying across the bay for lunch in Sausalito, then heading down to the Ps. Apparently there are ribs in the future for me. I might skip food at lunch, just in case.
Earlier I mentioned how technology makes aviation easier. Now here's how it makes aviation cooler: For the first time in Daily Parker history, I'm writing about a flight in real time.
I am approximately here:
FlightAware adds the third dimension, putting me at FL360.
Of course, I have actual work to do, which is really why I bought Internet access for this flight. I still think this is incredibly cool.
(For the record, my flight didn't leave on time, but it did leave. At takeoff, O'Hare conditions were 1600 m visibility with 400 m indefinite ceiling, blowing snow, and 48 km/h wind gusts. Had my plane not gotten to O'Hare when it did, it might still be holding over Janesville. Also for the record, the picture above shows my location when I started this post; the little globe icon below right will show you where I was when I posted it.)
Via James Fallows, here is the FlightAware track (and the KML) for yesterday's Boeing 787 test flight:
That. Is. Cool.
I remember traveling in the 1970s and 1980s, when no one could reliably answer this question until the plane actually left the runway. But today I'm at O'Hare while snow is falling, and it looks like my flight will in fact take off on time despite the snow and the lengthening list of delayed flights on the arrivals board.
How do I know?
First stop is the American Airlines website. Their flight status tool says my plane departs on time from gate K5. And the page has a link to "arriving flight information," which tells me that the plane I'm on will land in 10 minutes.
Oh, really? Yes, really, as Flight Aware's real-time tracker shows me. At this moment, the airplane taking me to San Francisco is heading straight for the O'Hare VOR about 70 km away. (It's over Joliet—no, wait, now it's over Naperville!)
The airline has done it right. By providing real-time information, they're putting me at ease. Even if the incoming plane were circling over Springfield, that would still help me by letting me plan how long I can sit here working before I have to schlepp to the gate.
Update: In the time it took to write this entry, my plane has arrived, and I can see it taxiing towards me right now. I am not making this up. That's not my plane, by the way. That's a plane being de-iced, to show you why I might be a little on edge about my actual departure time today.
That's the gist of an article in this month's Atlantic, profiling the work of biologist Jaroslav Flegr:
[I]f Flegr is right, the “latent” [Toxoplasma gondii] parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”
Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.
The idea that parasites affect our behavior is relatively new, but gaining ground. And T. gondii may not be the only one that affects human behavior. This is a bit of science to watch.
Zack Beauchamp, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog, has a well-argued explanation of how the Obama administration is not threatening the religious freedom of the Catholic Church by enforcing regulations on health insurance coverage:
Allowing "conscience" exemptions whenever an employer doesn't feel morally clean when complying with regulations in principle neuters all regulation. The argument for allowing Catholic hospitals a pass on covering birth control has to rest or fall on the specifics of the case rather than a general commitment to protecting "voluntary communities."
This is where the case against the Administration's ruling is at its weakest. Birth control is for 98% of women the principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty - the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.
I'm fine with religious freedom. I am not fine with religious organizations taking public money, and then claiming special conditions on how they'll accept it.