Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Drudge Distort

This is a screencap from today's Drudge Report.

Hey kids, here's a SAT word association question for you.

Question: Matt Drudge is to "responsible journalist" as Sarah Palin is to:

Answer: "qualified candidate."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Express Elevator

Why am I now flashing on that line from Aliens?: "We're on an express elevator to hell - Going down!"

Stephen's Meat Products Neon Sign

While the Stephen's Meat Products building has been demolished and the land transformed into a parking lot, its famed neon pig was saved. That was nice enough, even though it hadn't been lit in months. Then a few nights ago I was heading home and saw -- the return of the dancing pig! Why San Jose is maintaining this thing, lighting it up at night... I haven't a clue. But I'm glad to share the good news: The neon pig dances again.

Trouble viewing the video? Visit this site and select "view in high quality" for best image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InICmKLQRKA

Do you know more about the decision-making process that led to the sign being lit again? Post a comment!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Live Blog - First 2008 Presidential Debate

As you can see, I live-blogged this debate, and I surely made some mistakes in grammar and spelling (and even fact). Time permitting, I'll revise this document a tiny bit.

6:00: An empty stage...

6:03: Well, they say that 80 percent of life is just showing up. And after the silliness afflicting Washington and Wall Street this week, I'm amazed that both candidates are on stage. After some strange days, after months and months of endless electioneering, this campaign is finally reaching its culmination: a debate about America's future.

6:03: Moderator Jim Lehrer asks, "where do you stand on the economic recovery plan." Obama speaks first.

6:04: Obama speaks directly into the camera, "$700 billion dollars is potentially a lot of money." Yeah, I'm gonna have to agree with you there.

6:05: Obama adds his note about an economic foundation that led to this current crisis being "supported by Senator McCain." First shiv of the night.

6:07: McCain on the greatest fiscal crisis in our time: "And I've been around a little while."

6:08: Lehrer: "Let's go back to my question..."

6:09: Obama pivots away from the question and returns to the attack, "how is it that we shredded so many regulations."

6:10: McCain adds, "I also warned . . . a lot of us saw this train wreck coming."

6:10: What's with the Eisenhower references?

6:10: McCain notes that Eisenhower wrote a letter of resignation about the failure (were it to happen) of the Normandy landing. I've read that letter. Was it a resignation? Or just an acceptance of blame? I recall the latter. [Here's the document.]

6:12: Lehrer: "Say it directly to him." Nice.

6:13: I get tired of wealthy politicians talking about "folks." Is it just me?

6:13: McCain: "I have a fundamental belief in the goodness and strength of the American worker." Bold, bold talk, you maverick, you.

6:14: McCain refuses (yet, at least) to mount an attack. When asked about fundamental differences between himself and the candidate, he complains again about how "we came to change Washington, and it changed us."

6:15: Again with that line, "I will make them famous."

6:16: McCain ends with an attack on Obama's earmarks. Obama turns on McCain's tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

6:17: Obama promises tax cuts for people trying to "fill up on gas that is killing them."

6:18: McCain on Obama's earmarks: "Maybe to Senator Obama that's not a lot of money." Yuck.

6:19: Obama interrupts, "I don't know where Senator McCain is getting his figures."

6:19: Obama turns to McCain, "You are neglecting people who are really struggling right now."

6:20: McCain responds to Lehrer's invitation to respond to Obama by... explaining the cost of high taxes on American businesses to Lehrer.

6:21: One of McCain's advisors needs to tell the candidate to stop using the phrase "my friends" as a comma.

6:22: Obama reaffirms: "95 percent of you will get a tax cut." For some reason, though, he chooses not to chide McCain on his previous definition of "rich" as making about 5 million dollars.

6:23: Obama talks about "workin.'" Dropping your 'gs doesn't make you down with the folks, senator.

6:23: McCain: "This is a classic example of walking the walk and talking the talk."

6:25: Obama calls McCain on a tax plan that gives oil companies more benefits.

6:25: McCain smiles at Obama as if he's dealing with an errant kindergartener.

6:26: Lehrer: What will you have to give up to pay for the $700 billion plan?

6:27: Obama pivots again, turning to what he wants to do: freedom from middle-east oil and fixing our ailing health care system.

6:28: . . . broadband lines into rural areas...

6:28: Lehrer: What priorities would you adjust, Senator McCain?

6:28: McCain: Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the senate.

6:29: McCain: We need to cut spending. Even defense spending. "I saved the taxpayers $6.8 billion by fighting a contract..."

6:30: Lehrer responds: Neither one of you seem to have made any changes because of the bailout.

6:31: Obama: "John's right. We need to make some cuts."

6:31: Obama: Being "wildly liberal" is mostly opposing George Bush's wrongheaded policies.

6:32: Lehrer: "One of you is going to be president." One gets the sense that he's a little depressed by both choices.

6:33: Obama: A spending freeze is using a "hatchet when you need to be using a scalpel."

6:33: McCain: We need to have off-shore drilling and nuclear power.

6:34: Lehrer is grinding on: Won't this bailout change your presidencies in some way?

6:35: Obama used the "d" word: Depression.

6:36: "McCain: Obama's health care plan amounts to handing health care to the federal government.

6:37: McCain: "I have plans to reduce . . . unnecessary spending." To which Obama notes, "It's your president" who has presided over these budgets.

6:38: McCain returns to the I-am-not-Miss-Congeniality line: an old favorite.

6:39: Lehrer asks about the Lessons of Iraq. McCain proposes that failed strategies lead to failure. Makes sense to me.

6:40: Obama returns to his old-standby. "I opposed the war when it was politically risky to do so."

6:42: Obama: "We took our eye off the ball."

6:43: McCain sticks the blade: Obama was wrong on the surge, despite all evidence to the contrary. He never went to Iraq. He's never had a hearing.

6:43: Unlike some presidential candidates, Obama can say, I'm very proud of my vice presidential running-mate.

6:44: Obama: "John, you like to pretend that the war started in 2007." You were wrong . . . You were wrong . . . You were wrong.

6:45: McClain: "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy." Snarl!

6:46: Obama needs to stop staring at the moderator as if to ask, "Are you going to stop this lunatic?"

6:47: Obama: "I absolutely understand the difference between tactics and strategy."

6:48: Obama flexes: "... so we can capture and kill" Osama.

6:49: McCain drips a bit of sarcasm: "I understand why Senator Obama was surprised..."

6:50: Lehrer: "Having resolved Iraq, let's go to Afghanistan."

6:51: Obama on the comparative numbers of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, "And that is a strategic mistake." He's not going to let go on that word.

6:53: McCain is now berating Obama for threatening strikes in Pakistan. Not for launching them, but for threatening them.

6:54: Can you imagine a McCain candidacy without General Petraeus?

6:55: Obama: "We should take 'em out."

6:57: McCain: "I don't think that Senator Obama understands..." Just a tiny bit of condescension here.

6:58: Obama is unwisely allowing McCain to run down a litany of "I have a record" bullet points

6:59: McCain is now on autopilot and Obama is a bystander.

7:00: Oh God. "I've got a bracelet too." Dueling bracelets!

7:01: Obama reminds the audience: The issue is judgment as well as experience.

7:01: McCain is again on the attack: Obama hasn't traveled adequately to Afghanistan.

7:02: McCain: "Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand..."

7:03: Turning to the threat from Iran.

7:03: McCain: Iran is an existential threat to Israel. What would Camus say?

7:04: Why does it seem that "straight talk express" only makes stops in banaltown, clicheville, and obviousland?

7:04: What the hell is a "League of Democracies"?

7:06: Obama does some damage control. "The single thing that has strengthened Iran is the war in Iraq."

7:07: Obama anticipates cooperation with Russia and China. Yeah, that's going to happen.

7:08: Oh no. Here comes the old "without preconditions" line. Ooops - McCain really should avoid trying to pronounce Ahmadinejād.

7:09: Obama: I'll meet with anyone if it'll keep us safe.

7:10: Obama uses McCain's advisor, Henry Kissinger, against him.

7:11: Obama has been reading the paper. North Korea, once proof that we've got a grip on things, proves that just about no one takes the U.S. seriously.

7:12: Obama nails McCain on his forgetting that Spain is both (a) in Europe, not in the Americas and (b) an ally.

7:14: Obama keeps pronouncing the Iranian president's name properly. He's been practicing.

7:15: Again with the "my friends" line.

7:17: Obama sounds pretty darned nuanced in his analysis of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

7:19: McCain, accusing Obama of naïveté: "I looked in Putin's eyes, and I saw three letters: K-G-B."

7:21: McCain is dropping the names! "Watch Ukraine." Geek slogan of the night?

7:21: Once more, Obama largely agrees with McCain.

7:21: McCain has done a good job of clearing away some of the cobwebs that his previous gaffes hung over him.

7:23: Obama: "We cannot drill our way out of the problem." I've got a plan...

7:24: Obama claims the "walk the walk/talk the talk mantle." Look at McCain's record.

7:24: McCain claims that Obama is for nuclear power, but against reprocessing and storing. That was tacky.

7:25: The candidates talk over each other until Obama turns once more to the boss: Jim Lehrer.

7:26: Last question: What are the chances of another 9/11?

7:26: McCain is taking credit for the 9/11 commission.

7:28: Will Obama get a chance to reply?

7:28: "Two minutes, Senator Obama." Back to the threat of suitcase nukes.

7:29: The basic thesis of Obama's campaign: The other guys are keeping their eyes off the ball. Will it work?

7:30: Obama: "We are less respected now . . . We have a lot of work to do in the next administration."

7:30: Obama refers to a shining "beacon" on a hill. I think he's referring to "shining city on a hill."

7:31: McCain's basic thesis tonight: Obama doesn't get it. We can't turn our country over to him.

7:32: Obama on China: The conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence. Nice line.

7:34: McCain: There are some advantages to experience and judgment. Rorrrw!

7:34: McCain: "I know the veterans and I know them well."

7:35: McCain: "I don't need any on-the-job-training. I'm ready to go right now."

7:36: Obama is shifting somewhat awkwardly from his personal narrative to our national exigency.

7:36: For those of you who placed bets on how long it would take for McCain to cite his POW experiences, I'm calling it: 1 hour and 36 minutes.

7:37: Jim Lehrer: "And that ends our debate tonight."

So, who won?

That's a tough question to answer. In these debates, politicians rarely depart from their scripted patter; there's just so little genuine clash of ideas.

Moreover, many observers score victory by recalling the most memorable quip, as if our next president should inspire an "Oh, snap!" to earn our confidence.

Me? I'd prefer to evaluate a debater's broader ability to attack and defend at the level of policy. From that criterion, I'd award more points to Obama. He demonstrated a broader, deeper, and more nuanced understanding of the problems we face.

Still, John McCain was more effective in maintaining the attack on his opponent's comparative experience.

Bottom line: Supporters will find reason to find plenty of good news for their candidates either way.

Pushing the Pile

Today marks the beginning of the end of a multi-year process aimed toward my promotion to the rank of full professor.

For those readers who may not know, there are several steps along the path of advancement for tenure-track professors. In my case, the process began in 1998 when I was hired as an assistant professor of communication studies, an entry-level position for folks completing a doctorate and planning a career of teaching, research, and service. As an assistant professor, I did pretty much everything that any other professor does. But I knew always that colleagues were assessing whether they made the right call in hiring me. Tenure is a lifelong commitment; they have to be sure.

Fortunately, my university provides several opportunities to receive feedback on progress toward tenure. On the second and fourth year, candidates are asked to produce detailed dossiers of work to date, and they receive feedback from every level of university governance. Moreover, candidates receive more observations from their local department and college each odd year. No one wanders in the dark about this process.

In fall 2003 I submitted my dossier (copies of syllabi, teaching evaluations, peer observations, copies of published work, conference presentations, evidence of service to the university, field, and world beyond, and more) for tenure and promotion to associate professor. Thanks to the guidance of departmental colleagues, my dossier passed muster and I received the final OK at the end of the spring 2004 semester.

That's right. The final review process, from department to college to university to provost and president to board of trustees, takes a full academic year.

Since I did my best to follow Ray McKerrow's maxim during my probationary period, "when in doubt, act tenured," I observed little difference in my day-to-day life after receiving that promotion. I could serve on more committees and I got paid a bit more, but otherwise I remained pretty much the same guy who shows up to class in tacky aloha shirts.

However, I did note how the obligation to balance individual academic freedom with a focus on the needs of the larger community becomes more real, more tangible, after tenure. Reaching this point of job security is no license to goof off. It's a call to tackle ever more leadership on and off campus, to take responsibility for a university I call my own.

In the years from 2004 until now I've worked to earn advancement to this culminating point. I think I've been more productive since getting tenure than before. Perhaps I just couldn't stop thinking about the next dossier. But I prefer to imagine that I simply acculturated myself to the demands and delights of professorial life. And now it's time to undergo one final year of intense evaluation.

The paperwork is gathered (now including more external review, more articles and books, and even more piles of internal documentation), the pages are hole-punched, and the binders are organized. From the loose pile of paper you see in the photograph above, I've completed a bound dossier that looks fit for review.

It's amazing to think of all those years-old letters of observation and student responses and yellowed newspaper clippings that have endured to this point. I can't even imagine how I'd respond if a fire had swept its way through my file cabinet… We're talking about a thousand pieces of paper, some easily downloadable, some existing only in one copy. I never did count the total, but it's a lot. Finally it's all put together.

Now I can begin to relax. A little. After years of preparation and weeks of editing, my dossier is off my desk and working its way through the university. While I cannot guarantee the results of this process, I have submitted my work with confidence that this department has given me a fair chance to make the case.

I hope I'll have good news next May.

May 22 Update: The letter I received this morning started with "Congratulations!" I'm delighted to report that my promotion to full Professor is effective August 20.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Come back, John McCain!

So, apparently the nation's economy is swirling down the drain, dragging much of the world with it. Oil prices are gyrating wildly (but trending toward outer space), the dollar continues to sink, and millions of people are still clearing the debris of yet another hurricane. Now is clearly the time for John McCain to "suspend" his presidential campaign and race back to Washington for a photo-op.

Yeah, that's what we need.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Maybe the GOP nominee genuinely feels that his insight into derivatives and stock-swaps is critical to cleaning this mess. This candidate who recently admitted that he really doesn’t know much about the economy is now threatening to bring a whole new storm to Washington: a press corps looking for news amid the tedium of real policy-making.

Only incidentally do we awaken this morning to Senator McCain setting up a new string of attack ads against his opponent. Speaking at the Clinton Summit, McCain opined that there's no time for frivolity, that the "real debate" transcends politics. Sure, the commercials have been pulled. But the edit suites are humming with fresh vitriol.

I'm with David Letterman on this one [video pops in new page]: something smells. The very candidate who marched lockstep with the president, assuring voters that the economy is sound, the one rightly suffering in declining poll numbers for such cluelessness, doesn't want to debate a strengthening opponent. At least not on a debate floor.

Time to seize the high ground.

Here's the problem. Although Senator McCain claims that he is putting country first, the candidate is clearly trying to paint his opponent as a politician in an age that demands statesmanship. It's a campaign funded by the taxpayers. And it stinks. Sure, we tolerate our candidates skipping votes to raise money in the endless campaign. But shouldn't we draw the line at a candidate who would transform the senate floor into a commercial studio?

This is the sad fact. Our economy is sufficiently screwed up - experts refer to this crisis as a once-in-a-lifetime event - that Barack Obama and John McCain are rightly marginalized. We don't demand their expertise, because they have little to offer. Better that they debate the broad parameters of the various solutions on the table and leave the details to the experts.

Senator McCain, here's what you should do: Find a glimmer of hope, some justification for reversal, and un-suspend your campaign. Our presidents must be multitaskers-in-chief, able to walk and chew gum at the same time. And the American people need to hear their political leaders debate the issues that confront our nation. Demonstrate our resilience, our ability to trudge forward, to those who believe that our nation is falling apart. Get back where you belong.

The election is fast approaching, and a critical mass of Americans still aren't sure which way to vote (amazing, but true). That's why, senator, you should return to the campaign trail and make your case. Eat stale pie at some small town diner. Entertain some bizarre question about riparian rights at a town hall meeting. Kiss a baby for the photographers. Just stay out of Washington.

That place needs real help.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Sarah Palin

CNN's Campbell Brown offers a clever twist on the "sexist treatment of Sarah Palin" argument...

Difficulty seeing the video, click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSNkloIFTQ0

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Peek at Peak Oil

In time for our nation's latest economic woes (with more and more references to the 30s-era Depression popping up in the news), here's yet another article about the woes of Peak Oil, a scary thesis proposing that our world's inability to keep up with oil demand presents a race between a promising transformation to a more sustainable civilization or a collapse of social order leading to a cycle of poverty and violence on a global scale. Images of gas lines in the South (reminding me of the Bad Old Days in the 1970s) offer a tiny glimpse of what that future might hold. But not everyone agrees that the tap is shutting off forever.

Writing in Fortune (CNN/Money), Brian O'Keefe presents Matt Simmons's compelling viewpoint from a doomster's perspective. Here's a snip:
[T]the era of easy oil is over, and the world is about to enter a period of convulsive change. (Hint: Learn to garden, and buy some comfortable walking shoes.)
Read the entire piece, Here comes $500 oil

Monday, September 22, 2008

Josh Groban at the Emmys

Got another bad "case of the Mondays"? Check out Josh Groban's tribute to 30 television theme songs. Wait for the X-Files bit. It's worth it.

Trouble seeking the link? Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9cQWelvgC4

Friday, September 19, 2008

Omnitopia Back-Matter

The publishing process proceeds. I was recently asked to develop a draft of text to appear on the back of the book. Here it is. Any thoughts?

City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia explores an emerging structure and perception of urban life that is both familiar and startlingly new: a continuum of places, technologies, and performances that stitch together disparate enclaves into a seemingly coherent whole. We may access this convergence of terminals to the same place by way of interstate highways, internet connections, and personal media devices, even as we encounter ever more unyielding barriers to meaningful human communication. City Ubiquitous represents a synecdoche of the world that floats above the world we call real.

City Ubiquitous is written for students and scholars of the built environment, but it is also meant for anyone who recognizes the odd and frightening pleasures of today's urban flow from airport to hotel to coffee shop to chain restaurant, the mobile alienation and fascination of looking, consuming, and communicating in the staccato rhythms contemporary life, alone in all-place. City Ubiquitous investigates this phenomenon, this omnitopia, by investigating its origins in Parisian arcades, world's fairs, and military-industrial superslabs, its manifestations in airports, hotels, and shopping malls, and its potential undoing through performance, placelessness, and reverence.

Andrew Wood (Ph.D, Ohio University, 1998) is an associate professor of Communication Studies at San José State University. He has authored or co-authored books on internet communication, reality television, roadside Americana, and the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. His peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Text and Performance Quarterly, Communication Theory, Space and Culture, Communication Education, and Southern Communication Journal. Dr. Wood blogs regularly at Woodland Shoppers Paradise, a mini-mall of media, critique, and commentary. Visit woodlandshoppersparadise.com to catch up with his current work and engage in conversation about City Ubiquitous.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Omnitopia Book Cover

No, this is not the official cover. But it's a draft I developed and sent to the publisher. Her initial response is positive, so we may go in this direction.

Note: We'll surely play with the lettering of "City Ubiquitous" to ensure that it pops off the page more...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Great Game in the Arctic

Here's another article about how climate change-induced melting of polar icecaps is creating a 21st Century "Great Game" among the industrial powers seeking to tap oil and gas reserves said to be waiting in places that were once inaccessible to drilling.

The Telegraph reports that Russia is planning to occupy a large chunk of arctic territory, even sending a submersible to plant a flag in the deep. Here's a snip:
"Global warming has stepped up the fight for the disputed Arctic, believed to be laden with vast reserves of oil and gas. Russia has pitted itself against Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States to fight for a greater part of the region, arguing that most of it is Russian territory since an underwater ridge links Siberia to the North Pole's seabed."
Read the entire piece: Russia threatens to seize swathe of Arctic

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Washed Away

Days after Hurricane Ike blew through southeastern Texas and drenched the midwest thereafter, a financial tsunami is swelling, one with dangers and costs that surpass that massive storm.

Over the weekend, financial services firm Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch, the firm whose famed bull seemed synonymous with Wall Street, fled into the waiting arms of Bank of America. And the bad news keeps on coming.

The American auto industry is begging Congress for billions of dollars in loans to stay afloat, WaMu's value has been downgraded to junk status, and insurance giant AIG increasingly looks insolvent.

Yesterday, the stock market had its worst day since 9/11.

This is a scary time to be hooked into the financial grid, and the Wood Family is hooked in tight. We own rental properties in an era of real estate free fall. We have invested in stocks and mutual funds just as Wall Street teeters. Even our pension fund is heavily invested in heretofore solid markets that now face an abyss.

And I know just how comparatively fortunate we are. Many, many other people face far graver threats than Jenny and I.

Still, the question remains: How did we get here?

It will take years to unravel the mess that has overtaken the global economy. Risky financial "products," debt-feuled spending, and good old fashioned graft will likely provide short term explanations.

What of the long term? I think we face a fundamental transformation toward an entirely new and challenging world.

Yes, I'm writing this after a few days of bad headlines. Ideally, I merely suffer the same myopia that afflicts most writers when they feel they should write something. Perhaps the news isn't so bad. Today the Fed is likely to infuse some support to struggling banks, maybe even lowering a key lending rate [update: injection of cash, yes; lowering the rate, no]. The market seems less panicky this morning, heading into positive territory as I write this. Moreover, some economists offer assurances that we're simply shaking off an era of bad debts, taking strong medicine after a period of debauchery.

But the world seems to be tacking between an untenable present and an unknown future, a reckoning that we've long avoided but always known to be inevitable. Former Fed chair Alan Greenspan says that we face a once-in-a-century financial crisis, and he warns that we have a long way to go before our problems can be resolved.

In those better times ahead, I wonder: will we look back on our era -- a time when home-ownership seemed to be a right rather than a responsibility, when regulations were written by those most needing regulation, and when the highest qualification for president was whether he could share a beer with a Red State voter -- and laugh.

I hope for laughter in that happy day. I hope we'll wipe sweat from our collective brow and breathe a sigh of relief. Right now though, I'm worried. Jenny and I will continue to hold onto our properties, our stocks, our mutual funds, and our optimism. There's little more we can do but wait.

Storm clouds gather and we all feel the drops.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ninja Cat

Case of the "Mondays"? This video should inspire a smile.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Omnitopia Wordle

Celebrating the progress of the omnitopia project as it moves from copy-editing to composition stage, I thought I'd post a link to a Wordle depiction of the book's introduction.

Like Wordle? Build one of your own!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shameless Media Plug - Washington Square

Mansi Bhatia has published an article entitled "Wired 24/7" in the Fall 2008 issue of Washington Square. She was kind enough to include some quotations I provided during one of our interviews for this piece. Here's an example:
Andrew Wood says: "We are more connected to more people in more ways and in more places than at any time in human history, and that's wonderful; but the connection is often only at a surface level."
Read the entire piece: Wired 24/7

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stuck on Lipstick

Let's get this out of the way. Yes, John McCain has used some variant of the now-forbidden phrase, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig" on two or three occasions, one being February 1, 2007 when he dismissed efforts to make an Iraqi troop withdrawal plan more palatable.

CBS News adds that McCain also deployed the reference to mock Hillary Clinton's health plan.

Indeed, a review of that CBS story, along with a check of Lexis Nexis, reveals how popular that pithy saying is among leaders of both parties. With the lipstick line, we see a well-worn attempt to appeal to the Just Folks crowd.

That being said, Obama still managed to bungle it. His recent use of the line has stirred up a firestorm, one he should have anticipated. Whether it's fair or not, Sarah Palin owns all references to lipstick for a while, thanks to her recent deployment of the "Hockey Moms wear lipstick" line.

The GOP's appropriation of all-things-lipstick is little more than a group of picnickers putting up a fence around a public park, but there we are. Anything goes in this crazy political season.

They got you, Obama, suckered you into mud-wrestling with a vice presidential candidate that hardly anyone could recognize two weeks ago. Your predicament is cheap and tawdry, and it's a shame. Now you can only hope against experience that voters await serious debate about issues in a dangerous time. Talk about plans. Talk about records. Talk about vision.

Just don't talk about lipstick.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

End of the Line?

The Associated Press reports that the University of Kentucky is removing land lines from its student dorms, now that virtually none of them use old fashioned phones any more. Here's a snip:
"I grew up on the cell phone," said Tyler Fleck, 22, a senior from Louisville who majors in political science. "This generation, we've moved to the cell phone. Even my parents have cell phones."
Read the entire article: UK to cut dorm land lines

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin Who?


I'm still trying to figure out John McCain's choice for vice presidential nominee.

Sarah Palin is undoubtedly savvy, an astute reader of the Red State ethos. And there's no doubt that Palin is tough enough for the sharp elbows and bloody shivs of the political game. Finally, as a sop to those women (and men) who genuinely feel that Hillary Clinton was treated shabbily by her party, Palin provides Republicans an ironic opportunity: The GOP, not those so-called progressives, will put a woman in the White House.

McCain bet the ranch and drew aces.

The only problem? Palin seems less prepared for her position than Dan Quayle.

That's OK, say many of her supporters (most of whom had never heard of Palin until learning of her imminent nomination). She's got heart. She's got values. She speaks her mind. Echos of Ronald Reagan. We're going back to the future!

We've been here before.

Since I've been a voter, I've seen time and time again the values-trumps-competence argument swing the electorate rightward. And with the exception of that horndog Bill Clinton's era in which the deficit was balanced and the economy grew upward, we've seen exploding debt, corruption, and negligence from our leaders, a government not worthy of its name.

More amazingly, those values-voters counting on the GOP to turn the tide on abortion, gay rights, and gun control have gotten precious little for their investment. Yet they still return to the well.

Me? I'd rather support people who can extricate our nation from an endless war, collect sufficient revenues to close the deficit, take a chop to government fraud, waste, and abuse, and take steps to fix our housing mess.

Like most Americans, I don't care about the gender of the persons doing the job. And as an independent, I don’t care about the party in charge. I simply prefer that we hire people who are serious, sober, and honest about the problems we face.

Which brings me back to Sarah Palin. A vice president who will help us manage our relations with the leaders of a complex and oft-unfriendly world needs more than soundbytes and pre-debate cram sessions. Our next vice president should also be able to articulate an opinion about our economy with more nuance than "cut taxes and eliminate red tape." Heck, while I'm shopping, our next vice president should be able to face the tough questions of the press without hiding behind Fox News for cover.

Not to misunderestimate a potentially brilliant leader, but Sarah Palin has a lot to prove.

We're waiting…

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Price of Anarchy

I recently came across a preview of a forthcoming article to appear in Physical Review Letters about the role of selfishness in the perpetuation of traffic. I had to check this out. After all, as a lover of all things roadside, I must admit an abiding hatred of one thing: unnecessary traffic.

To me, the heart of the road is the freedom it affords for a motorist to find a horizon and meet it. Slowing or stopping due to rubbernecking, improper merging, road-boulders (eg, an RV trying to pass an 18-wheeler on an uphill climb), and similar obstacles, causes me no end of frustration. Jenny reminds me that much traffic is caused simply by congestion: too many cars for too little space. That may be true in many cases, but as this article illustrates, plenty of traffic is preventable.

The article describes conditions by which individuals pursuing their own interests rather than making choices with the broader continuum of motorists contribute to a situation in which all drivers suffer. Interestingly, the article proposes that removing some options rather than adding them results in less traffic, an illustration of something called Braess's Paradox.

Read the entire piece, Selfish driving causes everyone to pay the Price of Anarchy

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Portland Hollywood Theatre

While visiting Portland recently, Jenny and I came across the famed Hollywood Theatre, a 1926 example of the age when exoticism helped sell a night at the movies. As the theatre's history page indicates, the Hollywood endures because of the loving efforts of preservationists and movie buffs who resist the multiplexation of contemporary cinema. Visiting the Hollywood is an experience that lasts, even when you forget whatever movie they played.

[Photo by Andrew Wood]

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Portland Neon

I've just finished a brief video depicting some of my favorite neon signs in the Rose City.

To get the best resolution, I recommend you click this site:


Select "watch in high quality" and you'll see the video as it should appear online.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Portland Hellos and Goodbyes

We just returned from Portland, where we drove Vienna to her first semester at Reed College. Jenny had been dreading this transition for years, knowing how much she will miss our daughter. I've been more excited, anticipating the adventures that await this amazing young woman, knowing that she'll be surrounded by people as cool and quirky as she is. Even so, I've carried seeds of my own personal sadness at the prospect that our little girl has become a young woman set to embark on a life of her own, with Jenny and I as a smaller and smaller part.

We departed barely a week after our 2008 summer vacation, me having just begun classroom teaching for a new semester and my second year as director of the SJSU peer mentor program. Class ended at 1:15 and we were on the road north at 1:30, settling in for a 12-hour haul to Portland. It's a boring drive; there's no other way to describe it. We took I-5 the entire way up, pausing only to refill our tank and bellies from time to time. We arrived after one in the morning and checked into our hotel. I'll admit it: we stayed at a Comfort Inn, forgoing the undeniable funkiness of old-road motels for something quiet and consistent for the six-day stay that would follow.

The next morning, we went to Reed with our young college student. Vienna snagged a so-called "quiet-dorm," remarkable mostly for the fact that most of its denizens have no interest in quiet. Her two-person suite is small, but it has a door for Vienna's private room and windows overlooking a leafy green park with a swing-set. New Reedies were walking the campus with smiling parents; some kids jamming on musical instruments, others playing Frisbee, and a few young women sunbathing topless.

The rest of the day was dedicated to sessions teaching the three of us about the college experience to come. That night, we left Vienna on her own. Jenny and I found an amazing old-school steak place called Sayler's. Thereafter we shot some video of downtown animated neon signs (with me nearly getting my camera stolen by a genuinely scary guy outside of the Alibi tiki bar). We closed out our night with a return to Thatch, a tiki spot we first visited in April.

By Thursday, Vienna had pulled her dorm room into shape, and we three completed more Reed welcome activities. Our spirits were high, even though we knew that our next step was to leave Vienna on campus that evening and not see her again until Sunday. We learned about the campus health plan and Reed's plentiful on-campus jobs. Given the famously intense workload of this place, we weren't surprised to hear that first year students who exceed more than five hours of employment per week jeopardize their studies. That afternoon, we said our goodbyes to Vienna and I kept a close eye on Jenny. She was a little somber but not too sad, knowing that we'd see our daughter one last time before we departed back to California.

Friday was the beginning of two days dedicated to Jenny and I visiting Portland. We knew that Vienna had a packed schedule: meeting with her adviser, choosing from Reed's numerous fall kick-off activities, and getting to know her dorm neighbors. We committed to not calling her, affirming her independence. But we checked Facebook for her updates. Otherwise, Jenny and I got to know and love Vienna's new hometown. The weather was warm and the skies were clear; we felt lucky that we caught such a nice day.

Our tour began with a drive to Council Crest, following up on a friend's suggestion to glimpse a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. We then visited the Japanese Garden, proclaimed to be the best of its kind outside of Japan. Afterward we wandered the International Rose Test Garden, amazing ourselves with the hundreds of aromas waiting among the gravel rows.

Jenny and I drove back to town afterward, grabbing a tasty al fresco meal at La Buca (across from a streamline moderne Coca Cola bottling plant) and visiting the terrific Velveteria, a museum dedicated to -- velvet paintings. And yes, there are sad clowns, kung fu fighters, tributes to the King, and even an entire wall labeled "Unicornucopia."

The most memorable part of the collection was a singular painting of the creepy leader of the Heaven's Gate cult. [Note: Don't have time to visit Portland anytime soon? Visit Amazon and grab a copy of Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin's book, Black Velvet Masterpieces.]

That evening, Jenny and I caught a second-run flick at the Laurelhurst Theater where you can have pizza and beer on individual tables while watching your movie. We concluded the evening with more neon photography before returning to our room, tired but happy.

Saturday began with breakfast at the Byways Cafe, a popular spot known for its long lines and lengthy inside wait-times. The food is undeniably good, and the decor is a road-tripper's mecca filled with an impressive collection of kitschy souvenirs from tourist traps around the country. Afterward, we wandered the stacks at Powell's, one of the largest and coolest new and used bookstores in the country, and ambled around the Saturday Market. Wherever we toured, we passed folks walking and carrying dogs, so much do Portlanders love their canine friends.

In the afternoon, we walked around Chinatown and dropped by Voodoo Doughnuts, a strange but tasty stop known for its weddings under the "Holy Doughnut." Jenny got something called a "Triple Chocolate Penetration," which seemed to balance out my plain 'ol glazed. It's best not to dwell much further.

Later on, we sojourned in the Chinese Garden, a one-block portal to a quiet and serene world of flowing water, lotus flowers, and gingko. Jenny and I stopped for an hour at the tearoom, finding a table upstairs that overlooked the grounds. Jenny savored a hibiscus herbal concoction while I learned how to steep a sampler of Oolong teas in the traditional Chinese style. We then walked about the gardens some more before returning to the loud world beyond.

Dinner was at 50 Plates, a new place we saw reviewed in the local paper. Reservations had already booked every seat until nine, but we stayed anyway to sample food available at the bar. Perhaps there's a difference, but I'm pretty sure I ordered everything I would have wanted anyway. The bar menu is terrific. I was particularly entranced by the "meat stick," priced to inspire patrons to wonder whether the server must stop at a convenience store before bringing the meal. This restaurant, a high-end interpretation of lowbrow comfort foods, was entirely worth the visit.

We made a quick stop at Cargo, an across-the-street shop brimming with unique and fascinating furniture and pop culture detritus from Japan, Vietnam, and related parts of the world. The artifacts, advertisements, and communist propaganda posters from Indochina were particularly eye-catching. We then made a quick stop at Cacao to satisfy Jenny's love of drinking chocolate, and then checked out some other Portland neighborhoods in search of animated neon. At this point, I couldn't get the sound of The Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five" out of my head; I'm sure that that this tune will help me produce a swell video of the gorgeous signage [select 'view in high quality' to see the video properly] that blinks and pulses throughout the Rose City.

On Sunday we visited with Vienna one last time (for a while), anxious to swap stories about our various adventures. Jenny and I were thrilled to hear that she's making lots of friends and remains excited about her choice to come to Reed. Our daughter seems to have made this new home her own already, speaking like an insider, an owner of her new life. She spoke glowingly of her anticipation of forthcoming psychology classes. No doubt: these folks are going to push Vienna in challenging and fruitful directions.

That afternoon, once Jenny and Vienna returned from church, we said our real goodbyes. It was sad for us all, a sense that this transition is permanent. But it's exciting too. Our daughter is where she needs to be, where she deserves to be. She worked hard for this, and she merits all the good times she's going to have. Jenny and I tried our best to think positively about the home to which we would shortly return, a much quieter place than we left. We enjoyed a relaxing Sunday in Portland, balancing ourselves between joy and sorrow. Then we plotted our course south, just the two of us.

[Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood]

Monday, September 1, 2008

Simon's Cat: TV Dinner

Here's another one of those awesome Simon's Cat videos: "TV Dinner."

Difficulty seeing the video? Visit the site.