Catholic priests from India

A few months ago, in the sparsely populated panhandle of Oklahoma, we were mistakenly taken for friends of the parish priest. Why do American parishes often sport Indian priests? Because the faith is quite strong in India:

The church here is ancient, with three separate rites, each with its own liturgies and bishops. Here in Kerala, a state in southwest India, Catholics of the Syro-Malabar rite trace their roots to the Apostle Thomas, who according to lore arrived by boat in A.D. 52, made disciples among the ruling Brahmin class and planted seven churches.

About 20 percent of Kerala’s population is Catholic, and being faithful is more than a once-a-week event. Families pray together at home in the evenings, kneeling at shrines in their sitting rooms. Mass attendance in many dioceses is over 80 percent. And the entire community turns out for local festivals on saints days.
But that is changing, what with India modernizing and all. There are fewer and fewer Indian Catholics who join the seminaries -- they'd rather be writing software. And as people leave Kerala for jobs in the faster-growing parts of the country, the intensity of their faith also goes down, which means the children of such families do not aspire to the priesthood any more.

Catholic parishes will soon have to start looking elsewhere for their priests.

Sichuan tofu and onion soup

For Christmas, I got the wife "Land of Plenty" by Fuchsia Dunlop. This is widely reputed to be the most accessible and best cookbook on regional Chinese cooking. I know, I know. It's sort of a bowling ball present.

Tonight, she asked me to make something from the book. S1 wanted a soup for dinner. There was a cake of tofu lying in the fridge that dated to last month's visit to Cao Nguyen's (Oklahoma City's Vietnamese grocery store). I found a recipe for fish-fragrant tofu in the book and decided to modify the recipe to be a soup. After all, it called for broth and if I didn't reduce it, it would become a soup. But then, the recipe called for pickled chili paste. Our pantry is well-stocked, but not that well stocked. So, substituted pickled chili paste with a combination of sambal oelek and rice vinegar. No scallions either -- it's been a month since our last visit to Cao Nguyen's. So, substituted onions and cilantro instead. The recipe also called for deep-fried tofu. And we're never going to buy that, so I used instructions from a previous recipe to create "bear's paw tofu". With all these modifications, I don't think it's an authentic Sichuan recipe any more. But it was delicious all the same. So, here you go (it's vegetarian):

Lak's Sichuan-style Bear's Paw Tofu and Onion Soup (with apologies to Fuchsia Dunlop)
Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes Serves: 4 as a main meal

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1.2 lb firm tofu sliced into 1/2" X 2" X 2" slices
1/2 onion finely chopped
6 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
2" piece of ginger peeled and finely chopped
1.5 tbsp sambal oelek [reduce if you can't handle spicy hot food]
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce [reduce if you are using canned broth]
1 tsp sugar
2 cups broth
2 tbsp cilantro finely chopped

(1) Weight the tofu down to squeeze most of the water out. I just lay the cakes flat on a cutting board and press down on them with my palm.
(2) Heat the oils until smoking in a flat bottomed pan
(3) Put in the tofu slices and fry quickly on both slides and remove with a slotted spoon. Do in batches if your pan is too small to hold all the tofu.
(4) Add onion, garlic, ginger and sambal oelek to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes
(5) Add rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and broth. Taste and add water or soy sauce so that the soup is salty enough. [I make my own fish broth -- if you use canned vegetable broth, reduce the amount of soy sauce since the commercial stuff has a lot of salt]
(6) Add tofu slices, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes. This gentle simmer is the "trick" behind getting the tofu to absorb the sauce flavor.
(7) Garnish with the cilantro

Serve in a bowl. Place a tofu slice on the bottom and ladle over some soup. Serve with crusty wheat bread. Serves 4.

Maoists in Oklahoma?!

What should you be more surprised by? That Azar Nafisi, the author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran", used to live in Norman or that Norman was an outpost of Maoism?

Ms Nafisi's own path is full of experimentation and missteps. Studying abroad, she joins a group of would-be Iranian Maoists in Norman, Oklahoma.

To see the irony of this, read the Wikipedia page on "Reading Lolita in Tehran" which gives space to one of her most prominent critics:

[Columbia Professor Hamid Dabashi critiqued]  Nafisi's memoir as evidenced in this quote: "By seeking to recycle a kaffeeklatsch version of English literature as the ideological foregrounding of American empire, Reading Lolita in Tehran is reminiscent of the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India, when for example, in 1835 a colonial officer like Thomas Macaulay decreed: 'We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.' Azar Nafisi is the personification of that native informer and colonial agent, polishing her services for an American version of the very same project."

From Maoist to colonial agent ... Norman, Oklahoma must have really agreed with her!

Mailbox: the denouement

The denouement, hopefully, on the mailbox saga ... When we were in Dallas over the weekend, I found a locking mailbox at Home Depot that said "approved by the postmaster general" and bought it. It's not nice as the tower mailbox that we bought earlier, but it does have the required verbiage and the box does say clearly that it is USPS-approved. They shouldn't have any problems with this one!

Sunday evening, it was a nice and toasty 60 degrees, so I removed the concrete pedestal of the tower mailbox -- the one that the local station master refused to deliver mail to -- and packed the mailbox up in the box that it came in. The manufacturer was kind enough to take it back (making an exception to their usual policy of not taking back already installed mailboxes) if I would ship back to them. I'm pretty sure, though, that they're going to charge me a restocking fee -- the thing was set in concrete and outside in bad weather for nearly two weeks.

Today (Monday), I drilled and put in concrete anchors and set up the new mailbox. I also went to UPS and shipped back the old mailbox ($45!). Then, I went to a nursery and bought a boxwood and a holly to plant alongside the post. Came back home and planted them.

I was putting the final touches on the plants when the local postmaster called. The complaint that I'd submitted last week had finally gotten to her. She said she'd come by our house to talk.

"Is that the mailbox they're refusing to deliver the mail to?," she asked when she got here.

"No, I gave up and sent that mailbox back. This is a new mailbox that I just installed," I told her.

"I was going to say ... this one is approved by the postmaster general, so I don't know what the problem would be for this one."

"Well, the problem is that my wife went to the post office before we bought the previous mailbox and asked whether it was okay. She was told it would be fine as long as we installed it to the right height and setback. They even sent someone to measure it after I installed it and he said it was fine. But the station master refused to deliver mail because it didn't have USPS-approval marking on it."

"We are trying to draw a line here," she said, "and say that new mailboxes have to have the approval designation."

"But then the post office should not have told us that it was okay to purchase the mailbox," I countered, "and besides I can show you pictures of that mailbox and the other mailboxes in town that aren't postmaster approved and have similar slot-type designs."

So, I got out the laptop and showed her the pictures.

"I would have let this one go," she said when I showed her the picture of the tower mailbox we'd purchased and installed, "the slot is easy to get to and quite safe. I'm going to call a meeting of the station master and the mail carrier for this route and talk this over. It's hard to get the right balance between customer service and regulations. But this one could probably have been fine."

They can talk it over, but we're out a couple hundred dollars, a day of work and all the time this month that the wife stood in line at the post office to collect the mail. A better customer-oriented organization would have clear policies that every one would consistently follow. And if a customer made a decision based on incorrect information supplied by a employee, then they would try their best to make the customer whole. It's obvious that the tower mailbox was a marginal decision -- it could have been approved or not -- yet, the Norman post office decided to get all bureaucratic about it.

Still, having someone come to our house to talk it through was a nice touch.

Falling behind

The more you learn about green technology in Germany and Scandinavia, the more you realize that we in the US are falling behind technologically.  For example, the "passive house":
Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants' bodies. And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses.
And of course, the 5-7% differential comes down to economies of scale:
In Germany the added construction costs of passive houses are modest and, because of their growing popularity and an ever larger array of attractive off-the-shelf components, are shrinking. But the sophisticated windows and heat-exchange ventilation systems needed to make passive houses work properly are not readily available in the United States. So the construction of passive houses in the United States, at least initially, is likely to entail a higher price differential.
Germany and Denmark jump started their green industries with government subsidies and high gasoline taxes.  The world will go to Germany for  heat exchangers as it does to Denmark for windmills.  Meanwhile, our traditional strengths of innovation and entrepreneurship are being bled away thanks to short-sighted thinking.

Old,. but not broken

So, there we were at the Dallas Museum of Art, at the King Tut exhibit.  Before you enter the chambers containing the intact artifacts from King Tut's tomb, you walk though rooms containing stuff from other finds.  We were standing beside a statue of Ramses II with broken ears.

"Appa," asked S2, "why is this thing broken?"

"It's very old," I told her, "and things start to break when they get old."

"You are old," she asked with question in her voice, "and you are not broken yet."

Thanks, dear.

A new Santa strategy

The kids opened their presents this morning.  S1 went first, and he thought his new roller skates were awesome. "I didn't really want a game boy," he told me, "how did Santa know I really wanted roller skates?" "Where are my roller skates?," asked S2.  She was crestfallen when her present turned out to be a princess horse.  "Santa got you the princess pony because that's what you asked him for," I told her, "Next time, ask S1 what he's going to ask Santa.  And make sure to ask Santa for the same thing."  She brightened up; she has a strategy for next year.

Empty toy store

On the way back from work today, I bought the kids' Christmas gifts (roller skates for S1; a "princess horse" for S2).  Toys R' Us was surprisingly empty.  You know that times are tough when people are cutting back on gifts to their children.

Right once in a while

Why did Indian banks escape the global liquidity crisis?  Because the head of the Reserve Bank of India, unlike Alan Greenspan who was Federal Reserve Chairman at the time, applied the brakes quite early:
Mr. [Y.Y.] Reddy saw his job as making sure Indian banks did not get too caught up in the bubble mentality. About two years ago, he started sensing that real estate, in particular, had entered bubble territory. One of the first moves he made was to ban the use of bank loans for the purchase of raw land, which was skyrocketing ...  When Mr. Reddy saw American banks setting up off-balance-sheet vehicles to hide debt, he essentially banned them in India ... He increased risk weightings on commercial buildings and shopping mall construction, doubling the amount of capital banks were required to hold in reserve in case things went awry. He made banks put aside extra capital for every loan they made. In effect, Mr. Reddy was creating liquidity even before there was a global liquidity crisis.
But then Indian regulators have always been good at saying no.  This was simply the one instance where the highly cautious Indian approach to regulation worked.  Usually, it just means that the animal spirits of capitalism are throttled, leading to slower growth and less innovation.  Even a stuck clock shows the right time twice a day.  I hope people don't learn the wrong lesson from this.

Eating good food in airports

Airport food is uniformly horrible and overpriced. The food is usually bland and served lukewarm. And fellow passengers keep running into your tables with their rolling luggage. So, this recommendation for Atlanta's Hatfield airport though technically not in-airport sounds very appealing:
Leaving the airport by the north baggage claim, I turned left and walked precisely seven minutes down a dark highway to the taxi assembly, the parking lot where cabbies await the call to pick up passengers. At the rear of the lot lay their break room, which doubled as their cafeteria. When cabbies wait, they get hungry, and since the vast majority of Atlanta's airport-taxi drivers happen to be African immigrants, the cafeteria serves food to fit their tastes: Ethiopian injera, Somali rice and Nigerian fufu, with halal meats and vegetables cooked every which way ... My Styrofoam container held a bread roll, two simple saut├ęs — one of chicken, onions and peppers, the other of beef, both spice-coated and peppery — plus a meaty hunk of fish in a memorably smoky tomato sauce.It was food of refreshing honesty, made for people who need nothing but nourishment, a taste of home and a reasonable price (my meal was $5.35).
I wish there were such an airport taxi stand at Dulles, La Guardia, O'Hare or at DFW (the four airports I find myself in most commonly). So, I've given up on eating anything in airports, except for frozen yoghurt. Instead, I pack food that is solid (and so can be carried through security) and tastes good cold. This is my list:
  1. Tabouli salad: bulgur wheat, cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers [leave out the onions!] marinated in lemon juice and black pepper. Tastes best if you can make it the day before you travel, so that it marinates for a day. Do not use onions as they start to spoil quickly. Otherwise, it's good for up to 6 hours.
  2. Pesto farfarelle: cook pasta in salted boiling water and toss in pesto sauce (I use hazelnuts and pepper-jack cheese instead of pinenuts and parmesan) with sauteed bellpeppers and shrimp. If you take it out of the fridge, microwave before packing. It'll retain its flavor for 3-4 hours.
  3. Handva muffins: We bake this spicy Gujarati batter in muffin pans and freeze leftovers. On the day of travel, I microwave it for a couple of minutes before I pack it. It retains its flavor for a whole day.
  4. Peanut butter jelly sandwiches: I use creamy peanut butter and unsweetened orange marmalade or lingonberry jam and use toasted wheat bread. Even a PBJ is better than airport food.
Other stuff that has worked for me in the past includes Vietnamese spring rolls (the kind served cold in rice wrappers), peas and potato sandwiches with their ends sealed in a sandwich maker, cottage cheese pancakes and pasta primevera. However, the four things above comprise my most common carry-on food.

How to beat the terrorists

The Indian media are full of articles blaming the police for their poor preparation. But this may not be fair.

Like suicide bombers, the terrorists in Mumbai were not interested in negotiating.  However, like the terrorists who attacked the Israeli athletes in Munich, these fellows aimed for publicity rather than damage.  This required the Indian police to formulate a new type of response in real-time.  This is according to an Israeli expert on terrorism and counterterrorism measures who writes (emphasis mine):
It is clear that the Indian security forces made some mistakes. However, mistakes are inherent in such crises. At the same time, given the complex nature of the attacks, it seems likely the death toll could have been much higher. After the initial confusion, the Indians seem to have done a thorough job of gathering intelligence and carefully planning their counterattacks. The execution itself was careful and thorough.
Unfortunately, we are in for brazen terrorist attacks that continually morph in technique -- what doesn't change is their ultimate goal. The terrorists this time failed to provoke either anti-Muslim riots or tensions along the India-Pakistan border.  We need to ensure that they don't succeed the next time either.  That is the only way to defeat terrorism in the long run. To not lose our cool.

Severe local storms: the leading cause of deaths in the US

One of my colleagues (a hydrometeorologist, naturally) claims that flash floods are the leading cause of deaths in the US.  And I always believed him. Why would I not?

So imagine my surprise at this article in the International Journal of Health Geographics of an apples-to-apples comparison of mortality due to natural hazards in the coterminous United States

Note that they have broken tornadoes, severe weather (winds and hail) and lightning into separate categories.  These are what in the meteorological community would be considered severe local storms. Deaths due to severe local storms account for a whopping 41% of deaths due to natural hazards.  Meanwhile, floods (not just flash floods) account for only 14%, drawfed by both heat/drought (20%) and winter weather (18%).

Meanwhile, hurricane forecasting and evacuation have gotten good enough that tropical storms and mass movement account for just 2% of deaths in the US. 

The crooked connection

So what's the connection between Illinois governor Blagojevich who was [allegedly] trying to sell a senate seat and Jesse Jackson Jr. who was [circumstational evidence indicates] trying to buy one?

Two desis [emphasis mine].
Blagojevich made an appearance at an Oct. 31 luncheon meeting at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg sponsored by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak, a major Blagojevich supporter who also has fundraising and business ties to the Jackson family, according to several attendees and public records.

Two businessmen who attended the meeting and spoke to the Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi privately told many of the more than two dozen attendees the fundraising effort was aimed at supporting Jackson's bid for the Senate.
Or maybe, I'm just seeing patterns nobody else notices.

Quarterbacks, Financial Advisors and School teachers

An interesting article in the New Yorker is on the "quarterback problem" -- the problem of hiring for positions where there is no way to predict how well someone will perform unless you actually put them in the job.

Quarterbacks in the NFL are extremely hard to draft because the best college quarterbacks play a spread offense.  A spread offense makes it easy to "read" a defense, but can never work in the NFL where defenders are too fast and athletic for there to be that much space within an offensive line.  So, it's impossible to predict how well a college quarterback will actually perform in the NFL.

Teaching faces a similar problem.  Degrees and certifications are not good predictors of performance.  What matters is classroom skills.  And the only place to gauge those is in a real classroom.  And yet the payoff of having a good teacher is huge:
students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.
The financial advisor industry also faces the same problem.  But they have the money to simply lower the bar, vacuum up every willing brain and actually try them on the job.  A company might hire fifty candidates, spend $250,000 on each and then let forty of them go in a couple of years if they fail to drum up and maintain enough clients.

I can attest to the general workability of this approach in teaching.  I teach corporate workshops on technology-related topics.  The company I teach through for operates on a philosophy similar to financial advisors.  Even the ratios are the same -- for every five candidates it trains, only one is still teaching for the company two years later.   The client corporations and students provide evaluations of instructors and course materials -- these are then used to "manage by numbers" and weed out unsuccessful instructors and authors.  Over time,  they've found that bad instructors are those with poor classroom skills.  These instructors often know the stuff, but can not teach it.  Mainly because they have no control of the classroom and fail to personalize instruction to what students are actually learning.

And from the other side, I see the effect of my children's teachers on them.  It constantly surprises me how little personal interaction there is between the teachers and the kids.   Often, S1 comes home hazy on some material that used an unfamiliar word.  Explaining it to him often takes as little as a minute, but it's a minute that his teacher in school never realized that he needed.   That lack of awareness, from my corporate teaching experience, is a sure indicator of a poor teacher.

There are policy suggestions in the article, about teacher tenure and the rest.  But the most important insight is that we (as a society) need to be willing to hire anyone willing to be a teacher, give them basic instruction on pedagogy and then evaluate them on how well they actually do. Like a quarterback, like a financial advisor, the best teachers are those who can teach.  And there is no way to find out unless you cast a net far and wide and are willing to fire 80% of the new candidates that come in.  And, of course, pay the 20% who make it the way we pay our successful quarterbacks and financial advisors i.e. top rate.

Cartoon for the bridge widow

Sunday's paper carried a cartoon that those of you stuck with bridge-playing spouses can appreciate.

(The Lockhorns, by Bunny Hoest and John Reiner on Dec. 14, 2008)

Mailbox headaches

The wife went for a fancy mailbox to replace the brick mailbox that was hit.  My original proposal didn't fly, but you probably knew that before I did. After talking to a dozen friends, I finally installed it today.  Poured concrete to make a foot-high pedestal, stuck in 4 long threaded rods into the still-wet mixture and bolted the mailbox onto the rods.

I was just about finished and feeling rather proud of myself (Don't scoff: this is all quite a learning experience for someone from a country where labor is cheap. DIY is pretty much unknown in India.) when the mailperson rolled in.

"This ain't gonna work," she said.  Turned out the slot was too narrow.  But it was the right height and distance from the curb.  A few other houses in town have mailboxes with slots. The wife went to the post office last week to inquire if such a mailbox was ok and was told that it was.  "Well, I'll talk to my boss and let you know," she said after I ran through this litany of the steps we'd taken, "but I don't like it."

The wife called the postoffice and talked to the postmaster. He's promised to come by on Monday and measure and tell us whether they'll deliver the mail or not.  

Hope I measured right.  I don't look forward to figuring out how a sledgehammer works.

Against the new jail (silently)

Didn't take me long to miss my first vote . Yesterday, the city held a vote to decide whether to impose a 0.25% sales tax to build a new jail. 

The argument that the capacity of Norman's current jail is not enough and that we're paying neighboring cities to house our felons struck me as being pretty weak. Oklahoma law uses imprisonment way too often, even for non-violent offenders who do not have enough money to post bail or pay fines. Maybe a more libertarian approach to drugs and the like will yield more space in prisons. Also, a sales tax is very regressive especially because Oklahoma does not exempt groceries; if we are going to build a jail, it should be funded by a property tax.

But as I said, I didn't actually cast a vote. Yesterday was a workday.  In the morning, I had to drop S2 at school.  The kids both had programs in the evening -- S1's second-grade class was doing a rap song about recycling in front of the city council; S2's pre-K class was doing their Christmas play.  So, we never made it to the polling station. 

Yes, yes, I should have voted absentee. So, my fault totally for missing the vote. But I wonder why the city couldn't have put this question on the ballot last month ... when something like 75% of registered voters showed up to vote ... Anyway, the measure passed 65% ("Lock 'em up!" always wins), so it probably didn't matter.

The things he has never seen

I was getting ready for a rather formal Christmas party.  My seven-year-old came by and observed what I was doing for a short while.

"What is that?," he finally asked.

"An iron box"

Will it age well?

The insurance company of the person who hit our mailbox will pay to replace it. But there is no masonry company in town that will actually do the job (too little money; a pain to match the brick, etc.). So, if we are not going to build a brick mailbox, what are our options?

I'm considering:
but will it still look lovably corny a few months on? Or just plain corny?

Ah to be young again ...

This email showed up in my mailbox:
We will be holding a MOLA (Meaning of Life Association - exploring the science/policy interface) meeting ...
and it was only when I saw the "science/policy interface" verbiage that I realized this was in earnest.

Mumbai and its micro-minorities

The Jews who were killed in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were not Indian citizens. They were in India to provide Jewish services to backpackers and visiting businessmen (Jews, like Hindus, do not proselytize).  But Mumbai is home to a small (4000 Jews in a city of 12 million), but influential Jewish community that claims:
to be descended from seven Jewish families who were shipwrecked on India's shore while fleeing persecution in the Galilee during the second century B.C. Over the centuries, they adopted Indian language, dress and cuisine.

The Jews in Mumbai are not the only small but influential religious minority in that city.  Parsis, followers of Zoroaster who had to flee Iran due to Muslim persecution, are probably better known.  Ratan Tata, the owner of the Taj Mahal hotel and chairman of the Tata group that recently bought Jaguar, is Parsi.

It's interesting that the world's great financial cities are often havens where groups marginalized elsewhere can thrive (think of London, Singapore or New York).  Or maybe it is, as Richard Florida argues, towns where marginalized groups can thrive are the ones that become megacities. Bombay will soon get past this short-term toll of lives, but more important for the long-term health of the city is that terrorist acts do not destroy its spirit of tolerance:
"This is the first time when a Jew has been targeted in India because he is a Jew," said Jonathon Solomon, a Mumbai lawyer and president of the Indian Jewish Federation. "The tradition of the last thousand years has been breached."

Preventing war

Responsibility for the Bombay attack was claimed initially by an unknown group called the "Deccan Mujahideen".  This is a pretty ridiculous cover story -- the Deccan plateau is inland and east of Bombay whereas the terrorists landed by sea from the west.  To remove all doubt, the terrorists spoke Punjabi (typical of east Pakistan) rather than Kannada which would be typical of the Deccan plateau. The sheer ridiculousness of the cover story is proof that the terrorists wanted it known that the attack emanated from Pakistan. 

Why would there be a terrorist attack on Bombay, in a manner sure to increase media exposure (last year's attack on the Indian parliament didn't garner a fifth of this coverage)? Why would the attacks appear so clearly orchestrated by terrorist groups financed by the Pakistani military?  Because the Pakistani military is afraid of losing power.  They need the low-intensity conflict with India going on perpetually; the thawing relationships are a threat to the survival of the military.

The Indian government is in a bind.  The reaction in India is similar now to the mood in the US after 9/11.  "Attack the terrorist training camps in Pakistan", the public screams.  Except that is sure to bring about full-scale war.  The Pakistani government may be unable to control its territory, but it is prickly about its sovereignty all the same.  School children in Pakistan put on dramas where they kill invading Indian infidels in rivers of blood.  The Pakistani public would want to go down with their nuclear weapons, taking the world down with them. The results would be catastrophic.

Bob Kagan has an idea worth pursuing:

Rather than simply begging the Indians to show restraint, a better option could be to internationalize the response. Have the international community declare that parts of Pakistan have become ungovernable and a menace to international security. Establish an international force to work with the Pakistanis to root out terrorist camps in Kashmir as well as in the tribal areas. This would have the advantage of preventing a direct military confrontation between India and Pakistan. It might also save face for the Pakistani government, since the international community would be helping the central government reestablish its authority in areas where it has lost it. But whether or not Islamabad is happy, don't the international community and the United States, at the end of the day, have some obligation to demonstrate to the Indian people that we take attacks on them as seriously as we take attacks on ourselves?

Would such an action violate Pakistan's sovereignty? Yes, but nations should not be able to claim sovereign rights when they cannot control territory from which terrorist attacks are launched. If there is such a thing as a "responsibility to protect," which justifies international intervention to prevent humanitarian catastrophe either caused or allowed by a nation's government, there must also be a responsibility to protect one's neighbors from attacks from one's own territory, even when the attacks are carried out by "non-state actors."

In Pakistan's case, the continuing complicity of the military and intelligence services with terrorist groups pretty much shreds any claim to sovereign protection.

The exploded mailbox

I ended up talking to as many of my neighbors today as I did all of summer.

At 7.15pm, I got a phone call.  "Are you guys home?," the neighbor to our right asked.  "We are," I replied, "we're just in the back having dinner."  "Do you know what happened to your mailbox?," he asked.

"No ... what happened?"

"The mailbox looks like it's exploded," he said, "that's what it looks like."

"Maybe someone in a pickup truck hit it," I thought.  The wife said the mailbox had been fine when she came in (around 6pm).  I relayed that to our neighbor.

He replied that there didn't seem to be anything unusual at 6.30 when he'd left the house.  So between 6.30 and 7.15, someone had run over our mailbox.  I decided that it could wait until we'd had our dinner.  An exploded mailbox wasn't going anywhere.

A few minutes later, someone rang our doorbell.  This was another neighbor, maybe 20 years old.  I hadn't met her before. 

"Did you see your mailbox?," she asked with a cringe, "I'm awfully sorry."

"Was that you?," I asked.

"No, not me.  It was my mom actually.  My mom and my brother were in the car.  But my brother has to go to the hospital to get looked at."

"Is everyone ok?," I asked.

Apparently they were.  Because the brother showed up a few minutes later and introduced himself.  He was holding a pad to his neck but seemed alert and mobile.

"I was fiddling with the A/C and my mom looked down," he explained, "and she ran over the mailbox."

The two kids gave me their mom's address and phone number, promised to clean up the mess the next morning and said that they would be calling the insurance company. 

"Thanks for owning up to it," I told them, "I thought it was a hit-and-run.  Was it a pickup truck that your mom was driving?".  "No," said the daughter, "it was a brand-new Honda Accord."

The kids left.  I got my camera out and starting shooting pictures.  Another neighbor dropped by and asked what had happened.  I explained.  "Fiddling with her cell phone is more like it," he smirked, "I don't think it was the A/C that she was fiddling with."

Another neighbor walking her dog stopped to chat, inquired whether anyone was hurt and told me: "well, I hope your insurance company is nice to you."

"I hope that her insurance company is nice to me," I responded.  She chuckled and continued walking her dog.

Fifteen minutes later, the neighbor to our left knocked on the door. 

"Do you know who did it?," he asked.

"Yes, she hit it and left, but her kids were nice enough to come back and own up to it," I explained.

This neighbor backed up his car, shone a light on the scene and told me to take better pictures.  Then, we looked at the track of the car. 

"She was drunk and going way too fast," he said thoughtfully, "can you see how far she must have driven on the curb to hit the mailbox at that angle?  What if it had been a kid instead of just a mailbox?"

The mailbox had been hit sideways, not backed into as I initially thought.  And if it was a sedan and not a pickup truck, the impact must have to be substantial. 

"If I were you," he advised, "I would call the police and ask if I should file a report."

So, I called the police non-emergency number.  "Someone took out your mailbox?," asked the dispatcher nonchalantly, "do you want to file a vandalism complaint or do you know who it is?". Once she put it that way ... I explained that the person who hit the mailbox left the scene initially but that her family had come back and assured me that their insurance company would take care of it.  The dispatcher told me I could file a report tomorrow morning if it wasn't taken care of.

So, that's the story of our exploded mailbox.  As I said, one good thing that came out of all this is all the neighborliness.

The obedient spouse

Actually, I did go shopping on Black Friday.  With the kids.  As we came up to the counter to check out, I spied one of my colleagues and waved at him.

"You spend all your time at Hancock Fabrics, don't you?," he grinned.  His wife was ahead of him checking out, so he was probably doing the obedient-spouse thing. I was also being an obedient spouse, but the wife had simply sent me.  So, I had no proof. I had to nod and take it.

What the kids and I were doing was picking out fleece for blankets.  The kids got to each pick out two designs. My job was to make sure that they didn't overly clash.  Then, on Sunday, the wife, S1 and I made the two blankets.  S2, as is her wont, refused to pitch in.  Making the blankets was quite simple: lay out the pieces one over the other, cut fringes all around and tie them together.  This was the result:
The brown-yellow blanket is S1's -- it has an African motif on one side and an Indian motif on the other.  Wonder where S1 gets his tastes.  The pink/blue one is S2's.  Bugs, butterflies and clouds. Don't know where she gets her tastes from either. 

The two layers of fleece really make it nice and warm.  I may have to sneak over to Hancock's to buy me two more pieces of fleece.  A throw to huddle under when reading a book or watching TV ... make me warm just thinking about it!

And talking of watching TV,  a bunch of people came over on Saturday.  I made shrimp creole;  D., our guest, made ground turkey keema, grammy brought pecan pie and S1 made apple crisp. And we watched the OU-OSU game.  

It was a good game to watch with a bunch of screaming OU fans -- it didn't open up until the fourth quarter, but OU was ahead for most of the game. Unfortunately, we had to wait 12 more hours to find out if OU really did win -- the Big 12's rules for determining the winner of the division must have been designed by a Talmudic scholar. 

Now that we know that watching the game at our home doesn't jinx OU, maybe we can do the Big 12 party there too. Subject to spousal veto, of course.

Oklahoma as metaphor

Ask someone (even some one in this state) about cultural mentions of Oklahoma and if you are lucky enough to get three answers, you may get:
  1. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath
  2. Rogers and Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma!
  3. Woody Guthrie's This Land is My Land
But it takes an Estonian to point out that Kafka used Oklahoma as a metaphor for America. And to think that when I went to Estonia, all I did was snark ... (and as the comment on my post implies, I was just being ignorant when I wrote it).

A Black Friday visit to Fred Jones

Over Thanksgiving weekend, good friends of ours visited from Dallas.  He went to school at OU over a decade ago, so the Fred Jones Museum of Art (FJMA) was all new to him.   S1 loves fjma, so he tagged along too.  Some friends of ours (the kids call them grammy and granddad) also met us at the museum.  What else is there to do the day after Thanksgiving?

The new galleries look architecturally wierd, but they work surprisingly well.  Inside, you get an intimate view of an extraordinary collection of paintings:
The exhibit of Clara Weitzenhoffer's French impressionist paintings set in a replica of her Oklahoma City home is easily the most unique thing about the museum. How many of us would get invited to the home of a wealthy, private collector? This is the closest that we can get (that's a Monet right above the backgammon table):
S1 really got a kick when we explained what it was that Native American woman was holding. I explained what a paddle was used for, but he didn't quite believe me. He went to grammy to confirm it, and she had to own up to being old enough that it was used quite frequently in Western Oklahoma when she was a kid.  Not on her, she was careful to explain. Um-hum.
A Western painting of Mexican men standing outside a home reminded S1 of Indian temples.  It's mostly the paint work on the steps:
And his new favorite painting at the museum is one of mares in a circle.  Their rider are taking part in a prayer:
S1's favorite statue on campus is still the one on the grounds of the museum. It's of a farmhand relaxing in an open field:
It barely beats out the ones of the football players in Heisman park.

The Hinjews

One interesting side-effect of the overly-publicized terrorist attacks in Mumbai is that it has brought to the foreground cultural ties between American Jews and Indian Americans :
The affinity ... extends well beyond the shared experience of being the target of Islamist terrorism, or the resulting military and security ties between India and Israel. The softer tissue of human experience — culture, religion, values — also binds Indians and Jews ... In suburbs like Great Neck on Long Island or West Windsor, N.J., the same top-flight public schools that attracted Jews moving out of cities in the 1950s have more recently drawn Indian immigrants. "Some of us in the Indian-American community feel our Jewish-American friends set a very good example of being good citizens," Mr. Anighotri said. "Their activism, their social values, their family values, the educational values. Many of them are professionals and entrepreneurs, and that's what we see in the Indian community as well."

The article doesn't mention an inconvenient fact.  Even though Indian Americans are now at parity with American Jews as the nation's wealthiest minorities, most neo-Nazis in the US still focus on Jews.  However, a white supremacist group in New Jersey who called themselves the Dot Busters targeted South Asians in the early 1990s.  Being targeted for their affluence is part of the Indian diaspora's major nightmares. When I was growing up in Africa in the early 1980s, Idi Amin was never far away from the thoughts of Indian and Lebanese.traders.  So, that too contributes to the special affinity that Indian Americans have for Jews.

But the humor also works across the two cultures:
Hinjew leaders today conceded the merger of Hinduism and Judaism has not worked out as planned, as instead of forming a super-religion to fight off the common Islamic enemy, they have instead created a race of 900 million people who, no matter how many times they are reincarnated, can never please their mothers

You call this dual loyalty?

Considering that this article, or a variation of it, runs every year, I suspect that the reporter for Norman Transcript phones it in ahead of time so that they can spend more time gorging on turkey. Thanksgiving weekend rolls around, and with it, comes the perennial feature about "dual loyalties":
"My first husband, who is deceased, was a big OU fan," Parrish said. "And when we went to games, he had to come to my defense on many occasions. I continued to wear my most obnoxious orange sweater regardless of which stadium we were at."

As Wikipedia points out in in its entry on "dual loyalty" 
the accusation of "dual loyalty" is often used or co-opted by racist or xenophobicgroups within a country, regardless of the original intent of the accusation.
and goes on to point out a few instances, including the Drefyus affair in France, JFK's run for president and  the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War-II .

Do we really need such a loaded phrase to describe supporting a different college football team?

The punchline

Okiedoke is pissed  about left-wing out-of-staters using the past election to paint Oklahomans with a broad brush.  I followed the link  to read the comments and they were usual Internet vitriol.  But the first item on his list was actually the punchline to a pretty good joke:

"Why doesn't Texas secede from the United States?"

"Because Oklahoma sucks"

So that poster, at the very least, ought to be forgiven.

And the pretty brutal comments about the stupidity of Little Axe residents deserve some context if even if the context doesn't quite justify those comments.

How the media make travel less safe for Americans

The latest terrorist act in Mumbai (Bombay) is getting a lot of press coverage. And the coverage is over-wrought, emotional and with no sense of history. Bombay (and India) have been here before. The monsters the western world created to fight the Russians in Afghanistan have always bled across the border into India. Thus, terrorists have attacked the Indian parliament, bombed a train in Gujarat, bombed commuter trains in Bombay and hijacked planes and kidnapped children. Almost once a year, Bombay itself is a target.  But both Bombay, and India, endure.  This time will be no different.

Why is the coverage this time so overwhelming? Maybe because the terrorists carried out a publicity coup by singling out Americans and British citizens and by choosing a Jewish center (yes, there are Jews in India; there have been Jews in India for centuries) as one of the places to attack. By focusing on the USA, UK and Israel, the terrorists are trying to align themselves against our highly unpopular (in the Muslim world) policies in Iraq and towards Israel.  And by immediately jumping in with wall-to-wall coverage when this happens (as compared to more cerebral coverage when American lives were not at stake), the American media is only serving the interests of the terrorists.

A little perspective served with a little less emotion would do wonders to reduce the incidence of terrorism.  It would, incidentally, also serve to keep Americans safer when they travel.

Becoming American

NPR is running a series of interviews with immigrant authors.  Yesterday was Junot Diaz. Today, it was Jhumpa Lahiri. 

Lahiri was simply ridiculous.  She claimed that she did not feel fully American.  Asked to explain why she (who's been in the USA since she was two years old) felt not quite American, she quickly changed the subject to her parents:

For me, there is sort of a half-way feeling ... [My parents have] lived here now for more than half of their lives, and they raised a family here and now have grandchildren here. ... It has become their home. But at the same time, for my parents, I don't think either of them will ever consciously think, 'I am an American.'

The interviewer made the mistake that anyone would make under the circumstances.  He asked whether her parents had not become American citizens.  Lahiri then backtracked, and said that they had become American citizens but that they still didn't feel American.  Steve Inskeep did the classic interviewer's trick of remaining quiet.  Lahiri then rushed into the void, explaining that her parents were always betrayed by their accent. If the family went to a store, apparently, the sales person would talk to her and never to them.

Really! That's it? Doltish salespeople who decide to focus on one person in a group? That's what makes Ms. Lahiri feel less American? The lengths to which some people will go to claim victimhood is amazing.

Junot Diaz had a more nuanced and ultimately more optimistic view of his immigrant-American experience:

"I don't think that I ever would have thought so fondly of Santo Domingo had I stayed there my whole life," he says.

One way he adjusted to his new surroundings was through reading. "The solitude of being an immigrant, the solitude of having to learn a language in a culture from scratch, the need for some sort of explanation, the need for answers, the need for something that would somehow shelter me lead me to books," Diaz says.

Books about car engines, oil paintings and historical figures "became the map with which I navigated this new world," he says.

And as he grew up, Diaz says he came to see the United States as a composite of "multiple Americas": ones that were racist and xenophobic, coupled with Americas where anything is possible — where a kid can "come from a nonbookish culture and be transformed."

Upper crust?

Upper crust? Us?
Instead of one game that matches two upper-crust contenders like Alabama and Oklahoma, a playoff could include teams from football’s neglected working class, like Utah and Boise State.
Oh, football.

Statistic of the day

More Americans own their own business (15%) than belong to a union (12%).  (source here )

Cure cancer or practice football?

Myron Rolle, star safety at Florida State, is on the short-list for a Rhodes scholarship.  The Florida State defensive coordinator opined that he was studying too much, and that all that studying was affecting his football preparation.  The kid nevertheless finished his pre-med degree in two-and-a-half years.  He also started doing cancer research and the faculty advisor on that grant remarks : 
Myron has such a tremendous mind and intellect that it's exciting to think about what he could do if he didn't have all the distractions of football
If it were not football and cancer research, this jockeying between professors for the focus of a star student would be funny.

Of course, this reminds  me of the time that the Norman Transcript chose to highlight the fellow who maintains the lawn in the football stadium over a researcher who'd made an important advance in cancer research. Glad to know that it's not just Oklahoma.

Responsible and hard-working

According to this tool that will analyze a blog and spit out an analysis of its writer, I am:
The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever. 
Being responsible and hardworking, I saved everybody the trouble and tried out friends' blogs.  Sundar and Dave are independent problem-solving types.  58th customer is entertaining and friendly.  TR , Valley Blogzine and Suja especially attuned to people and things around them.  Darwin is good at looking something and figuring out how to improve it.

Not just in America

Could a Barack Obama happen anywhere else but in America?  Is it only in America that a member of a reviled ethnic group can make it to the top political post in the land?  Happens all the time
For one thing, self-made, boundary-crossing leaders generally arise in times of upheaval, when it's clear familiar ways aren't working. Were it not for the French Revolution, after all, Napoleon's "supernatural energies might [have died] away without creating their miracles,'' as Disraeli himself observed. Disraeli's own career took place in a rapidly industrializing England. Fujimori's slogan, in a time of economic chaos, was "Cambio'' or "change.'' As for the Berber, Arab, and Balkan Roman emperors, they were Latin-speaking Colin Powells—outsiders who had entered politics' elite circles via military service.
Napoleon was Corsican who spoke French with a coarse Italian accent.  Disraeli was a Jewish convert to Christianity. Fujimori held dual Japanese and Peruvian citizenship.

Butt of jokes in NYC

S., a classmate from my undergraduate days who runs a metallurgical business in Chennai, emailed that he was going to be in New York City this week.  D., another classmate, works in NYC doing something sophisticated involving financial analysis.  So, the three of us met in a comedy club (Caroline's ) in midtown.  Weekdays are apparently for "up-and-coming" stand-up acts -- ten different acts of about 10 minutes each.  D. and S. both live in cities with great comedy scenes, so they felt the show was only so-so.  Being from the boondocks, on the other hand, I loved it ...

We picked a table right next to the mike, even as D. warned us that we would be singled out if we sat there.  And yes, we did get singled out.  The host asked us whether we worked together.  "We went to school together," I replied.  She asked us where we went to school. "India," we said.  And so, several of the comics worked in Indian jokes into their material. One guy said he was annoyed at how Arabs in movies had Indian accents.  He did a hijacking in an Indian accent, and then repeated the words in an Arab accent.  Another guy said my mustache looked like that of an Indian porn star.  And proceeded to list the differences between an Indian wedding and an Indian porn film. "You're Indian, right?" he finally asked, "God forbid you're from Pakistan and I say you're Indian."

A thrilling memory

An article about science-related things to do in Boston brought back good memories of the Boston Museum of Science and its Van de Graaf generator.  Long-time readers of this blog will remember my thrill  at getting a personal, after-hours tour of the museum.

Kudos on data mining done right

I'm headed to New York City next week and the wife wants stuff we don't get here in the boondocks.  So, decided to see if there was a Trader Joe's near where I'll be staying.  That's when I discovered that Google Maps now gives you public transit directions. 

My directions were to: walk 7 minutes west to Wall St. station, take subway line no. 5, get off at Union square and walk 2 minutes east on 14th St. to the store.  The page even listed train timings, and sported an announcement of when that line is going to experience interruptions.  Now, none of this is data that I could not have gotten on my own, but the sheer convenience of this is amazing.  I probably would not visited the NYC transit page to find train timings or interruption information -- I would have just shown up and cooled my heels.
It's not about the data; it's about how accessible and usable the data are.   Count on Google to get data mining right -- they pulled together a variety of sources into something concise and comprehensive.   The resulting directions and display are so simple that the underlying algorithms must be sophisticated indeed.

Another word on Oklahoma's vote

Via Okie Funk, this is from David Walters, scandal-prone former Governor of Oklahoma and the last Democrat to lose to Jim Inhofe:
... it's not good for Oklahoma to run so counter.  One national media service recently said based on the polls, the future of the Republican Party lies with "old white people and hayseed states."  I don't believe that, but much of the nation does and we don't need to be in that category.  Another pundit said that to understand the current Republican Party one has to "understand the unique culture and politics of Appalachia."  Are you kidding me?  Hayseed states and Appalachia!  Call your local chamber and ask them if they think this is somehow good for us. 
To which the Daily Oklahoman responded:
Obama won the election handily, fairly and squarely. He won it without Oklahoma and other red states. What's the matter with that? Are voters here supposed to refrain from expressing their will because it might affect the state's national image?
Well, the problem with that, as I pointed out before, is not that McCain won in Oklahoma -- he won in Utah too -- but that he won with a greater proportion of the vote than Bush did over Kerry.   When the entire country is giving 6% more votes to the Democrats, this puts us in the company of post-Katrina Louisiana, hayseed states and Appalachia. I don't think the lack of a housing bubble or the high price of oil had anything to do with this.  Texas and New Mexico produced 6% more votes for the Democrats and the same conditions apply there as well.

Now, I'll shut up about the election.  Promise.

Interesting reads

Many newspapers and blogs, including this one, allow you to subscribe to new articles as RSS feeds. That's how I read most of what I read on the net.  Google Reader lets you "share" articles you find particularly interesting, and Blogger lets you make a widget out of them.  That's the "Interesting Reads" section that appears on the right hand-side of this blog. Right now, the list includes:

An article noting that LBJ may have lost the South for a generation with the civil rights bill, but that the generation that LBJ lost is dying off:
Barack Obama is often called a transformational figure, and this election, it then follows, is a transformational one. I beg to quibble. Barack Obama is a confirmational figure, and this election confirms what has been gradually occurring in American society ever since that July day when Johnson virtually outlawed most forms of racial segregation in America. We've been transforming ever since.

A politician with Liberian links who beat out a 5-term congressman in rural Virginia:
A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Perriello worked to end atrocities in Liberia as well as with child soldiers, amputees, and local pro-democracy groups in Sierra Leone. He became special adviser for the international prosecutor during the showdown that forced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power. His work as a security analyst has taken him to Afghanistan and Darfur. Perriello has also been a part of a groundswell of young progressives whose religious faith motivates them to seek social change through public service. One of the most startling aspects of his 2008 campaign was his pledge to tithe 10 percent of his campaign volunteers' time to local charities. Time they could have spent stuffing mailers and phone-banking went to building houses for the poor.

The arms race amongst high school and college swim teams around Michael Phelps-style swimsuits:
Swimmers wearing Speedo's LZR suits set 71 of the 77 new aquatic racing world records at, or just before, this year's Olympics. Now collegiate swimming programs are buying LZRs, and their competitors feel obliged to, um, follow suit. The trend extends to the high-school level, where the suits are showing up at state championship meets. Problem: LZRs cost around $500 retail.

That ethanol replaces the wrong crude oil product, looking from the demand side:
The problem for the ethanol advocates is that there's very little growth in gasoline demand, while the demand for other cuts of the barrel is booming. In short, the corn ethanol producers are making the wrong type of fuel at the wrong time. They are producing fuel that displaces gasoline at a time when gasoline demand—both in the United States and globally—is essentially flat. Meanwhile, demand for the segment of the crude barrel known as middle distillates—primarily diesel fuel and jet fuel—is growing rapidly. And corn ethanol cannot replace diesel or jet fuel, the liquids that propel the vast majority of our commercial transportation machinery.

That it's tough getting Asian parents to participate in their kids' schools:
The Asian parents are anything but uninterested. They call with concern if their children receive "satisfactory" rather than "excellent" progress reports, and bestow so many Godiva chocolates on guidance counselors at Christmas that the gilt boxes are donated to charity. But having come from a culture where performing well on tests was the only school activity that mattered, and self-conscious about their limited English skills, they are scarce at social activities like back-to-school nights, bake sales and football games.

On how many mothers are choosing to deliver their children at home (S2 was born at home, so we know what this article is talking about):
Many women are wary of hospital births, both because of a patient's limited control over the process and because of the growing frequency of Caesarean sections (use of the procedure increased by 50 percent nationwide from 1996 to 2006, to nearly one in three births, according to the National Center for Health Statistics).

If you read this blog by visiting the site, you may not have noticed the new widget.  And if you read my blog through a RSS feed, you wouldn't know about the widget, would you? So, consider this a heads up.  Feed Readers can subscribe to articles I found interesting using this link.

The market in adoptions

This article on adoption statistics in the United States was eye-opening.   600,000 women seek to adopt children every year.   There are 129,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted; yet only 8,000 children are actually adopted.  The usual rationales don't add up: there are 12.5 prospective parents for each black child in adoptive care, six prospective parents for every child older than 13 and nearly as many for foster children with disabilities.

Thinking about all the adoptive children among my friends, there is one child who was adopted when his teenage mother gave him up on birth.  Another child (9 years old) was adopted after he came to the family as a foster child.   The remaining adopted children (more than a dozen) in my circle of friends were all internationally adopted.  Yet, statistically, only 19,000 children are adopted internationally each year: the bureaucracy involved with international adoptions is too expensive for most parents.  This kind of thing never ceases to surprise -- for an average American, only 1 out of 4 of this closest friends graduated from college -- yet, I am sure (if you are reading this on the Internets) that the vast majority of your friends did graduate from college.  So, yes, few American prospective parents can afford an international adoption.

Bottom line: adoption is another market failure in America -- there are all these children in foster care, and all these parents willing to adopt them.  Yet, these adoptions don't happen.  The article proposes that government bureaucracies are so focused on keeping the bad parents out that they fail to provide a smooth path to the good prospective parents they should be adopting.  That may be true, but there is another reason that is probably acknowledged more in private:  one over-riding concern of parents who adopt stateside is that the biological parents would come back years later and sue to get the children back.  Since it's much harder to do so across international borders, parents who can afford it go outside the country.  And since most families adopt only one child or two,  they're willing to shoulder the additional cost as insurance.  So, perhaps, a better legal framework to protect the rights of adoptive parents would help.

S1 spends a day in my office

Due to parent-teacher conferences, S1 has the day off from school today.  But neither the wife nor I can take the time off.  So, S1 did what he does in such situations -- he came to work with me.  Eight hours is a long time for a 7-year old to occupy himself.  But he manages.

First, he made a "drawing book".  He drew a bunch of pictures on paper, stapled them together and plans to take it home to give to S2 so that she can color them.
Next, he did a 100-piece Spiderman jigsaw puzzle. This occupied him for more than an hour.
Then, he commandeered a couple of packing boxes that have been lying around in my office for several months.  I was wondering what he was doing with them. It turns out to be a train.  He is sitting in the first car, reading a book. All his other stuff is in the second car.
So, he's managed to occupy himself for 6 hours now.  I can't imagine S2 being so patient and self-directed.  Difference between first and second children?

Oklahoma election fine print

I'm looking at the fine-print of the election statistics and not liking what I see about Oklahoma.

Obama increased his share of the electorate over Kerry's almost uniformly (by about 6%) across the board -- in some cases, that was enough to tip the state to his column but in other states, it wasn't. That essentially was the election.  This was pretty much in line with the final polls. People who said race was a factor voted identically to those who said it wasn't.  So much for the Bradley effect.  Racism is dead in America. Hurray!

But as usual, the exceptions are interesting.  Obama didn't improve over Kerry's margins in Massachusetts, Alaska or Arizona because those were the home states of Kerry, Palin and McCain.  But Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginiai and Louisiana ... what's up with them?  These are the only states where significant numbers of people who voted for Kerry didn't vote for Obama.  Not happpy that Oklahoma is amongst a handful of states where racists still lurk in large numbers.

Jim Inhofe won without a sweat in Oklahoma.  Even Sarah Palin compares favorabily, corrupt and complexity-free as she may be, to Jim Inhofe.  I didn't expect Inhofe to lose.  But in a heavily Democratic year, one would think that such a bad senator would be somewhat vulnerable.  But no.  Oklahomans will vote for any body as long as he has a (R) by his name.  Sigh.

S1's vote

S1 (the 7-year old) came back from school to report the results of his school vote.  He'd voted for Obama, but McCain won in this school: 438 to 330.  Since children pick up cues from their parents, I wouldn't be surprised if McCain's margin in Oklahoma is right around 57-43. 

"People in the red states vote for McCain because he fought for us in a war," S1 informed me, "why do people in blue states vote for Obama?".  Obviously, this is a question he needs to answer at recess tomorrow to some buddy of his.

How do you come with an explanation fit for a 7-year old? I can not mention torture, the overwhelming moral issue (for me at least) in this election.  And things like science policy, innovation, diplomacy, temperament, etc. are too complex for him.

"Obama will help poor people find jobs and be able to go to the doctor," I finally told him.

(S2, of course, voted early.  Against the black man, and for the blue man.)

A life well lived

What does a "life well, fully, and joyously lived" look like?  James Fallows receives an email about his dad, a small-town doctor.

Norman's new claim to fame

Forget being ranked sixth best small city in America.  Norman's new claim to fame :
The line to vote at the Cleveland County Election Board in Norman, Okla., was two blocks long on Friday.
It was on Friday that I voted early: my wait was an hour and a half.   Slate must have missed Sunday's paper -- the waits on Saturday were close to 3 hours.

Next election, I'm getting an absentee ballot. But ... why don't we all adopt Oregon's system of voting by mail? And while we are cleaning up the voting system, why don't we automatically register all voters who apply for a driver's license, and automatically update their voter registration when they get a license in another community or state?  My magazine subscriptions and junk mail somehow automatically find me at my new address.  Why can't my voter registration?

Rachel Maddow calls the baroque rules and waiting lines an updated form of poll tax.

Coin design

Americans who travel abroad encounter colorful, playful currencies. Ever wonder who comes with those designs and why?

A Dutch artist explains his design of a commemorative 5-Euro coin. The multiple layers of symbolism, and the use of modern media and concepts is simply amazing. As is the coin design itself (one face of the coin, required to have a potrait of Queen Beatrice, is made up of the names of Dutch architects, ordered by popularity).

This puts the extremely tradition-bound designs of our 50 state coins to shame. What an opportunity lost! And to think that 50 different opportunities were squandered!

Race, bigotry and negative ads that backfire

Ruchira Paul avers that Obama's likely election tomorrow doesn't mean that Americans are looking past race-based hypocrisy:
Those of us who grew up in countries where rigid identity politics (religion, caste, gender) is the norm, know that sometimes voters can indeed eschew prejudice in politics without revising broader cultural attitudes. Just because a male chauvinist votes for a female head of state or a casteist elects a candidate from a lower caste, doesn't mean the end of other personal predilections. Think Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto and the status of the majority of women in India and Pakistan.
Bigoted Indian voters could nevertheless vote for Indira Gandhi because she was Nehru's daughter. This is the difference between what you can tell of British attitudes towards women from Queen Elizabeth I becoming queen and Margaret Thatcher becoming prime minister. The regal association trumps all others -- just because the royal family practiced primogeniture did not mean that lower-ranking estates went to the first child: they still went to the first male heir. But Margaret Thatcher's election did show that Britons' attitudes towards women in positions of power had changed significantly.

Obama has no regal background to protect him from racists. So, if he is elected president, it'll be because Americans are looking past race to some extent.

But, only to some extent. I believe the comparison to royalty kind of explains why the negative attacks against Obama have failed so miserably. The USA is a republican country with no royal family: the cultural elite is all it has. Joe Sixpack may hate it, but he looks to it for social validation. McCain and Palin attacked Obama saying that he associated with "terrorists", but the proofs turned out be professors at Chicago and Columbia. And Obama, in his debates, came across as a reasonable, well spoken fellow with a measured way of talking. Not at all angry or sloppy. What the negative attacks served to do was to put him squarely in the elite. In other words, Obama was not like the poor blacks who a bigoted American thinks he sees every day; this Obama guy was on Tee-Vee and palled around with professors. He is part of the cultural elite, and that makes him acceptable.

P.S. This is also why the Rev. Jeremiah Wright videos were so damaging to Obama during the Democratic primary -- they bracketed him within a poor, angry, black milieu. This makes it interesting that even though McCain has a run a very bigoted campaign, only the Pennyslvania GOP has run ads of Rev. Wright. And indeed, those ads have coincided with a tightening of the polls in Pennsylvania.