Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some Thanksgiving-Weekend photography

The city of Ann Arbor clears out during Thanksgiving (at least it seems that way east of Main Street). While cycling in town to get ready for prelims on Thanksgiving Day, as well as on my to write my prelims yesterday and today (and on my way home), I took some photos of things I just happened to see.
Empty Huron Street looking west

Empty Huron Street looking east

You know the economy is bad when you see this...

New really low signage telling where things are... (It's really low if you are tall and riding a tall bicke. I know I won't hit my head on the sign, but it is just a little too close for comfort.)

Green house on 1st Street has lotsof knick-knacks outside.

This used-to-be-red house on Spring Road has even more knick-knacks than the green house above.

Ahh, the University Graduate Library's north stacks. (Very short ceilings and narrow staircases make me glad that I don't have an office down here...) Okay, so I didn't cycle down here, but I did cycle to get to the Hatcher Library...


I'm writing my prelims right now... but saw this funny via PhD comics.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day before Thanksgiving

I feel that this image best sums up what Ann Arbor felt like today - as all the students stream out of town for the Thanksgiving extended weekend. I'll be staying in Ann Arbor to write and be alone with a quiet (for now) town.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eating at Blue Tractor (again)

I just got paid, and to celebrate, Koskie and I went to the Blue Tractor. Having gone there before, I decided that - yes - it would be a good idea to go to try more of the food there. Koskie ordered the smoked chicken & sweet corn chowder ($4.95) and the fried catfish ($11.95). I ordered the creamed wild mushrooms ($12.95) and a side of butternut squash soup ($2.95 as a side).

Koskie felt that the corn chowder (left) was really quite good, and well-worth the free-ness of me buying dinner. (Hahaha.) However, he was not enamored with the coleslaw that came with the catfish (right). Having tasted a little of it myself, I have to agree with his assessment: not enough flavor, and very (perhaps too) crunchy cabbage. The catfish was reported to be flavorful and crunchy without being too greasy or heavy. (The phrase was, "somewhere between what you would get at Real Seafood Co on the good-and-healthy end, and at the ghetto-chicken place on the greasy-and-tasty end.") The sweet potato fries were also reported to be delicious.

The butternut squash soup (not pictured) was good, but not very different from the butternut squash soup that one might get anywhere. Still, as a seasonally delicious addition to a meal, this was a really good thing to get. The creamed wild mushrooms (below) was good, but it seemed to me that the cornmeal waffles were heated up after the fact. Still, the greens, together with the cooked mushrooms and cream sauce was delicious! (I would have eaten the whole thing with biscuits if it were an option!)
Again, the food was generally good, and this time I didn't have any beer (but last time, it wasn't anything to write home about...)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Snow on campus

It's beginning to look a lot like winter... But altough it's snowing, I'm still riding my bike (!?!), and it's not that bad right now. Of course, accumulations could make it "fun" to ride home...

Saturday, November 22, 2008


When looking around for iPod accessories, you should be careful: you never know what you might find.

Amusing "insight" of myself.

I went over to Typealyzer (link from Dispatches from the Culture Wars), entered my blog, and got:
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.

The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.
Methinks, "Not really."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Europeana suffers from typical shortsightedness

Like the tree of life that was done ~1/2 year ago, the European-launched crashed the same day it was launched:

The EU's new Europeana digital library, an online digest of Europe's cultural heritage, was forced to close temporarily on its launch Thursday after it was swamped by Internet users, a spokesman said.
"We had 10 million hits by the hour of interested Internet users across Europe and that led to the fact that at 11:30 am, we had to take temporarily the site down to double the computer capacity," spokesman Martin Selmayr said.
The site, which allows access to more than two million digital objects like films, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, documents and books had only been open a short time.
Selmayr said six computer servers, instead of three, were now in action.
"It is now up and running again," he said. "We hope we will be able to survive the next storm of interest."
With 14 staff members and at an annual cost put at around 2.5 million euros (3.15 million dollars), Europeana -- which can be found at -- currently has around two million digital items online.
By 2010, the date when Europeana is due to be fully operational, the aim is to have 10 million works available.
I wonder how much bandwidth they allotted, and how much is actually needed.... This seems to be something common... Why don't they just over-allocate, and then cut back when they recognize that there is less space required. Hell, if they knew that they were going to have this huge unveiling, why not - say - provide much more bandwidth than expected for everyday running. (Maybe they did, but merely under-estimated the popularity of European culture?) And maybe providing more than 14 staff members to take care of tech-related issues would have been a good idea too...

Anyway, I tried to access it today at 4:40PM Eastern time, and got the following:

Differences in POV

I saw this article come across my newsfeed from PhysOrg: New material could make gases more transportable. Looking through the article, I saw nothing about using this as a preventative against increased methane production in northern latitudes as an outcome of global warming. That was the first thing that I was thinking about.

I was all like, "I wonder if this compound - "a material made out of a mixture of silica and water" - is environmentally problematic." Looking throughout the document, I see nothing about this aspect to the problem. Hmm... With all the discussions about geo-engineering our way out of the "global warming" problem, I'm surprised that these engineers missed this one.

Of course, this could be a problem of thinking within a discipline. It could well be that the engineers on this team didn't think about the potential of capturing methane from melting permafrost areas to help minimize the impacts to the greenhouse effect. It could be that the didn't know that the permafrost was melting. It could also be that they didn't check to see what the environmental impacts of their compound would be, and therefore didn't want to forward its use in this manner as a suggestion...

Remember, though, that methane is roughly 24x more potent of a GHG than CO2. Providing a mechanism for mitigating its release from the high-latitudes would be a good way of minimizing the forcing in the not-so-distant future. (I wonder if there are contact e-mail addresses for the authors.)

UPDATE: Looking over at the Prof.'s lab's website, I see the following:
But there remain many obstacles to making this a viable industrial process. For one thing, the hydrate remains stable only if kept cold. It must be refrigerated to about minus 70°C at atmospheric pressure, although this temperature threshold is higher if the hydrate sits within an environment of pressurized methane. The methane is released again if the material warms up.
So not very useful as a preventative for global warming, then. Still, though, quite interesting.

Cars making love to cars making love to them?

What women want: Cars.

Now that she's won her election...

... she doesn't have to recognize reality, history, or what she said before the election. Strange... she looks young enough to realize that these things are taped and can be reviewed in the future...

October 17, 2008

November 18, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

IPhones, voice recognition, and British accents

Ahh... the problem of the British accent in voice-recognition has been something I've been wondering about in my spare time, but never did anything to look into (even news stories). However, this one came up via PhysOrg:
A new voice-recognition search tool for the iPhone has problems understanding British accents, leading to some bizarre answers to spoken queries, a newspaper report and users said Wednesday.
The free application, which allows iPhone owners to use the Google search engine with their voice, mistook the word "iPhone" variously for "sex," "Einstein" and "kitchen sink," said the Daily Telegraph.
A video demonstration of the Google Mobile App on the online giant's website shows an American engineer successfully asking for pictures of the Golden Gate as well as cinema timetables and temperature conversions.
The website also includes a link to a video showing people with Irish, British and Chinese accents asking for relatively complicated searches, with apparent success.
But British iPhone owners had less luck when speaking the word "iPhone" into the application -- a Scottish user was offered a porn website after it mistook his search for "sex," the Telegraph reported.
A user from Surrey, south of London, had his request mistaken for "myspace" and "Einstein" was another option offered for "iPhone" spoken with a Kent accent, it said.
The only British accent which correctly understood the request was for a user from Yorkshire, northern England, although he was also offered "bonfire."
"I've got a traditional Kentish accent and the thing kept on spitting back ridiculous things," said Roger Ellinson, 26, from Maidstone in Kent, southeastern England.
"I asked it to find my nearest pizza take away and it came back with something about volcanoes," he added.
"I asked it to find my nearest pub and it gave me a link to some kind of weird dating website," said Ellinson. "I'll have to try to put on my best American accent to get it to work."
One British user, Edward Parsons, says on the site's comments board: "This is fantastic, except for the North American accent bias.
"It actually works pretty well, but I have to disguise my (North London) accent with a terrible folksy Texan tourist voice to get results. I can see this is going to be the source of much amusement and confusion."
This is humorous since I am now imagining British people desperately putting on horrible fake American accents in a vain attempt to use their voice recognition software. It speaks, though, to imposed language and accent norms because of the overwhelming American technology bias (one more way in which the US is a cultural imperial power and likely doesn't even know about it).

Any public health people out there thinking this is a bad idea?

Via PhysOrg:
The computer mouse may someday become an endangered species. Instead of rolling a mouse around to move a cursor around on the screen, more and more users will gesture with their fingers on touch screens and multi-touch trackpads, analysts say.


"The demise will be hastened by the move toward 3D environments, which encourage a more complex range of movements to move around, and by the growth of multimedia applications and manipulation, which encourage a more natural user interface," he said.

Already, Hewlett-Packard makes a TouchSmart personal computer with a touch-screen monitor. Apple's new laptop computers have trackpads that support gestures with two, three or four fingers. And the upcoming Microsoft Windows 7 will also support multi-touch.


A glimpse of the future can be found at the Microsoft Technology Center in Manhattan, where visitors can get their hands on a Surface table.

The Surface computer, which debuted for commercial use in July, has a 30-inch screen on which users can tap, drag, spin and zoom in and out with their fingers or an object such as a paint brush.
I personally think that my labmate had it right when he said, "That will be a great way to spread germs." True, if you let a person who is all germ-y touch your keyboard or mouse, you will likely to pick up those germs yourself. No difference from a touch-screen, right? Well, let's think about it. How many times have you been sitting there, and someone is trying to explain something on the screen to you? It's a pain in the butt to move out of the way and let the other person sit in the chair to operate the keyboard and mouse. (And if you are all phobic about germ contamination, you are not likely to let them sit and touch your keyboard and mouse.) However, if the screen is the interface... (Don't you have hands-y labmates or co-workers who come over and actually touch your monitor? Think now how often they will do it when it's touch-screen!)

I'm waiting for the studies to come out on how sanitary people's touch-screens are, how much of disease vector they might become, etc. (These dissertations and theses don't just write themselves, you know!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Planet -- Documentary (all 9 parts from YouTube)

DieterVog has - on YouTube - the nine-part Swedish documentary The Planet. I've provided them all below (don't know how long they'll be up on YouTube, though).

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Part V:

Part VI:

Part VII:

Part VIII:

Part IX:

If life gives you lemons...

wait for them to rot and use them to extract gold from e-waste!

Via TechOn:

A Japanese university professor developed a technique to selectively recover precious metals from the fluid of melted electric/electronic parts by using adsorbent made from biomass waste.

The new technique can reduce the cost of recovery and environmental load because it can reclaims metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium by using, for example, used paper and rotten fruit. The technique was developed by Hidetaka Kawakita, an assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Chemistry of the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Saga University.

There are several methods to recover precious metals from waste including solvent extraction process, which uses activated carbon, and other extraction processes that use polymeric resin adsorbent made of ion-exchange resin or chelating resin.

However, the adsorption capacity of these methods is as low as 1-3mol/kg. And, if a metal identification block is designed to selectively extract specific metal, the cost will increase to more than double. Furthermore, solvent extraction processes require a large scale wastewater treatment system because they use organic solvents such as toluene.

In regard to the extraction process based on polymeric resin adsorbent, the absorbed metals and the resin are separated from each other by burning the resin. This leaves tar, coke or other waste material, which requires cumbersome treatment, after the incineration.

In the new method, on the other hand, an adsorbent is made from biomass waste. Specifically, selected constituents are extracted from waste paper containing cellulose or lignin, or waste fruits, such as persimmon or lemon, containing a large amount of polyphenol. Then, those constituents are adjusted by an amination reaction. In this way, the new method can reduce the cost to 1/10-1/2 that of the existing methods.

In an experiment where a fruit-derived absorbent was used for the waste fluid made of electric/electronic parts melted by hydrochloric acid, the recovery rate of gold was 100%. Also, it was observed that a waste paper-derived absorbent selectively recovered platinum, palladium and rhodium depending on the kind of functional group used in the experiment.

The recovery rate of platinum and palladium reportedly exceeded 80%. The absorption capacity of the absorbents range from 3 to 10mol/kg, which is three times higher than that of activated carbon or polymeric resin. And the new method can reduce the environmental load because it does not use any harmful organic solvents.

This research was conducted as part of the Industrial Technology Research Grant Program promoted by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Hell's bells, if this were done... then the cost of gold would plummet further! (And the cumulative cost to human health of the current e-waste metals extraction process would be much lessened, thus hopefully costing the world economy less in the long-run than a drop in gold prices.)

Musings on a commentary

Over at Treehugger, a commenter on the CBC documentary The Disappearing Male wrote:
No wonder there are so many females at high schools and universities (especially Ohio State). Not that that's a bad thing, but in order for a population to sustain itself, the sexes need to be in balance as much as possible.
I understand that this might have been a facetious comment, but to the point of "in order for a population to sustain itself, the sexes need to be in balance as much as possible" I have to say, "Ummm.... No." In order for a population to maintain itself, it has to have enough source from the limiting gamete-type. In most cases in nature, it is usually eggs that are limiting. In humans, especially, eggs are the limiting factor (roughly only one egg per woman per month). If there was only one man in a population of multiple women (lets use a ratio of 1:10 here), there is a possibility for continued population (possibility of up to 10 children per ~nine months). However, if the future ratio of males to females doesn't change, inbreeding will likely occur, since all offspring in the first generation will be 1/8 related to each other.

If there is only one female in a condition with multiple males (say 10 males to 1 female), then that population is limited in the number of possible offspring produced to one per woman per ~9 months (assuming no complications) for the entire population. Again, if the ratio of males to females doesn't change, then inbreeding will become a problem in future generations. This rate is up to 10 times slower than in the previous condition (assuming no complications in either).

In order for a population to reach, say, 30 people, in the first scenario, one would only need two additional sets of offspring, while the second would require twenty sets of offspring. The first condition provides additional sets of stability, since birth-spacing would be possible in order to reach that target population (in this case 30 people). However, the second condition would require that the female be constantly making babies, and would unlikely be able to produce enough on her own before reaching menopause. (Therefore, assuming that she only produces girls, and the girls reach sexual maturity at 15, then to reach 30 people would take a minimum of 17 years, with the first daughter having two children, and the second daughter having one child).

Now, societal mores are all that keep us from having a condition where it is "okay" for one man to have several wives. However, imagine - if you will - a condition where there is only one male in a population otherwise comprised entirely of females. One has to ask oneself if - in such a condition - would all females decide that the "normal" social more of one-man and one-woman is adequate, or would some of the population see the male as a source for fertilization? I doubt that the first alternative would be the one followed in the long run if the group feels that their situation is unalterable.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm proposing that this whole problem of disappearing males is not a problem. Of course it is, and the social impacts will be much greater than what I outline in my very simplistic thought model above. However, I'm only discounting Ken's statement that a balance of the sexes is what is important to sustain a population. (Again, though, I haven't looked at the implications of a 1:10 ratio with regard to future inbreeding/bottlenecking.)

Has Obama taken away your guns yet?

Since this isn't a major piece of concern for me (I don't own a gun, and personally think that if anyone wants to own a single-shot muzzle loading musket or pistol, that's well within their Constitutional rights), I am just going to have to look in on this site, which is maintained by someone who (I assume) is more interested in the subject than I am.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On David Brooks' "Bailout to Nowhere"

Between the first two sentences of David Brooks' Op-Ed in today's NYTimes, I found a cognitive dissonance:
"Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm [sic], ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target."
Ummm... It should have read, "... Pan Am, ITT and Montgomery Ward ... Southwest, Microsoft, and Target."

Seriously, who's paying for these people? On another note, though, the point that Brooks makes is a good one, but for a few other points: the supply chain and the international condition of the problem.

First, the supply-chain problem. All the car companies used to own the supply-chain companies that provided the materials for assembly and servicing - this includes all the companies involved in making the parts, distributing the parts, and selling the parts. Since the Big Three (and all other car companies) were set up as independent companies, their supply chains are independent, because their parts requirements are independent (again, as are all other car companies). Letting the Big Three die will mean the destruction of more than just the Big Three (and the jobs of the people they hire), but also the destruction of three major independently owned (and probably quite dissected) supply chains, amounting to (estimated by some) 250,000 jobs - all down the drain because of non-interchangeability of many key components.

Second is the international condition of the problem. Here, I'm talking both about the fiscal problem as well as the automotive problem. Thirty years ago (hell, even fifteen years ago, probably), if the United States' economy started to cave, then the rest of the world could bail it out, since a lot of the flow of capital was between the United States and Western Europe/Japan, with very little flowing to other countries/regions. Since the Carter/Reagan era, though, the world economy has grown to be quite complex, with growth not only being seen in SE Asia, but also China, India, Brazil, and much of the former Eastern Bloc in terms of both gross numbers and relative growth. Additionally, many countries in Africa and South America have grown (if not as much as Brazil in terms of total GDP growth, then definitely significantly in terms of relative GDP) considerably. Many of these countries were not at all affected by the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, and therefore didn't suffer massive downturns in their economies. (Many of these countries rely primarily on an extractive economy, and so long as global manufacturing continues with a need for raw materials, their economies will continue to grow in terms of GDP.) This time, though, they are affected because of how American investment (and many global investment mechanisms) is tied into farm subsidies in this country (and the expanding global market for food) and manufacturing to name just two big ones.

Due to this interconnectivity of US (and major global) investment with agriculture and manufacturing, the 'sourness' of the US (and global) investments are having bitter knock-on effects in areas related to agriculture and manufacturing. (I'm not getting into an argument about why investments went sour here, just the consequences of it.) The US farm bill is - to some extent - a give-away to the ethanol producers, and the production of ethanol for fuel means that there is out-investment in agriculture-for-food. Due to the international market for food (and price speculation in those markets), this is having major macro and micro-economic impacts in poorer countries where food prices are skyrocketing. This means less local investment in other areas as people spend ever-greater proportions of their incomes on food.

Next is manufacturing. With a downturn in the "global" economy viz manufacturing, there is less need for raw materials. Deflation is something that people are starting to talk about, and while deflation is a great thing for the consumer in the world of "right now" (because prices are falling on manufactured goods), the implication of that is - barring the ability to introduce a demanded product that will be inflationary in nature - people will not buy now if they know that the same product will cost less in real dollars later. (Note, this isn't the same thing as last year's top-of-the-line computer costing less today.) The compounding (future) problem of a deflationary market is that products don't move off shelves, meaning that manufactured goods lose their value, meaning that the investment used to purchase, build, and ship those products will fall through (i.e., they won't be able to make a payment on that), meaning that the manufacturing company (and the shippers and sellers) all lose profits.

So, in the international front, you have two major forces at work: a major increase in the price for food in poor countries, and a major decline in the cost of manufactured goods in developed countries (the cost of delivery of manufactured goods to developing countries - combined with usually high tariffs and delayed shipping times - means that prices of manufactured goods are not likely to drop for a while here). The former means that people have less money to buy other goods, decreasing that country's import market. The latter means that companies have no money to pay off loans and other debts, decreasing that country's export market (and - if left unchecked - their import market, too).

What does this have to do with bailing out the big three? Well, remember that it isn't a 'bail out' in the sense of me giving you money to pay off your debts before you scarper off to somewhere else before you ever pay me back. To quote my father in a recent e-mail,

"First, what interest rate would be charged on the $700 billion borrowed to fund the bailout.  That interest expense and not the $700 billion would be added to the national deficit.   And second, if the bailout funds were spent to purchase assets (whether bad loans or shares of stock in banks) that were at least equal to the value of the amount paid, then that purchase would not produce an expense and in that case the deficit would not go up."

The first condition is true: the US government isn't printing out money to possibly "give" to the big three. The second condition has recently seem to become true, with the US government using the money to purchase assets in banks, and - so long as on average the asset isn't worthless - then the government deficit isn't going to increase dramatically. (Remember, if the government does the second option, these are not 'bailouts' so much as 'buy-ins', and - apart from making Sec. Paulson (and by extension the President) the largest socialists in American history - it would have the potential of decreasing the amount of the national debt from the other extreme possibility of just going out and handing out money). If the second condition is extended to the big three, then the government might not have much of a deficit, either.

What does this have to do with interconnectivity? Well, the problem is that instead of the government 'bailing out' the big three, the government has the possibility to avert roughly 250,000 job losses in directly related industries (and possibly many more in industries related to serving those workers and companies), as well as investing (not throwing money at the problem) in the future of the country's manufacturing - and thus have the opportunity of making a return-on-investment, thus loweing the national debt... That's one of them. However, another major point is that not investing in the big three (but instead doing what was done during Reagan/Bush) means that there is no government oversight to a national investment.

But these are only the national immediate concerns. A major international concern is that without the big three, we lose our standing in the world. Ford and GM are major international car manufacturers. They play a major part in the markets in Europe, Australia, Japan, and China. They are competitive there, but each have an Acchiles heel grounded in Detroit. Allowing their deaths will mean that the US will lose its manufacturing capability in the world economy. Now, although socialists and communists get hard/wet when thinking about the importance of manufacturing, let me point out that - unless there is no tariff cost - it is really good to have a strong national manufacturing sector. It means that the country is able to have legal oversight over safety and minimum standards. It means that the country is able to rely on a steady production system during a period of national military crisis.

Getting back to Brooks. He does pose a good questions when he asks whether or not the $50 billion (or more) should be spent on the autos or on the workers who are going to get the shaft in the end anyway. He makes comparisons to the airlines and steel. However, I think these are false arguments. The airlines are primarily a service industry, and steel production is not manufacturing. I'm all for getting rid of the stupidity of the big three, but I don't think that the answer is to let them fail, since I think the government would have to spend more than $50 billion to take care of the workers of parts-suppliers, parts-manufacturers, shippers, sellers, etc. that would also become unemployed. (Because I don't think that they would be "incorporated" into German, Japanese, or Korean auto manufacturing lines so easily.)

Is it a good Op-Ed? I think it's one of the better ones. Without knowing how the government plans on possibly helping out the big three (investment vs. throwing money at them), I would say that it is not well-conceived on the economic front. However, the argument that they are dinosaurs trying to compete in a modern world was what I said ever since I saw the first Suburban on a trip back to the US. (If you ever travel again to Europe or go to Japan, Korea, India, etc. try and imagine how that - or any other 'mid-sized SUV' - would be a conceivable option there.) That argument is one that I keep on shouting out when I hear that the Libery Foundation is saying that there shouldn't be government investment in rail because it's a losing proposition, while roads are better (forgetting, of course, that road/bridge construction are both 100% subsidized by the government in most places). That argument is one that goes through my mind when I see people proudly (?) display bumperstickers saying, "This car was made in the USA" - like supporting the big three's non-innovation is a good thing.

Now, I think that Daniel Gross at Slate has it closer to what I think (and he's a lot more succint, too).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Congrats Sol.

My friend finished his Preliminary Exams yesterday... I suppose I'm up next...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blue Tractor in Ann Arbor

The Blue Tractor opened up in Ann Arbor on Monday. The An Arbor Chronicle wrote up a piece about it, and yesterday, I decided to "lunch" there, and so - after my Spanish class - cycled down Washington (to where Jewel Heart used to be) to pop in there. The decor is very blue-collar, Midwest-farmer kitch (if that is even something you might call "kitch"), with weathered wood on the walls (hope they sand them down a little to ensure that kids don't get splinters) and radiator grates of old tractors lining the walls like pictures. The lighting is provided by large glass "headlights" that hang from the ceiling chandelier-style. Looking up into the ceiling-space, you notice large exposed ductwork hiding against a blacked-out background; the "exposed infrastructure" look mashing together with tractor-and-weathered wood.

One small note - the layout is a little odd, probably due to the fact that it is spread out over two store areas. The side with the restaurant entrance does have a nice anteroom/foyer that doesn't have two doors in-line with each other (a really great thing when it's winter in Ann Arbor, and opening a door - or two in-line doors - forces bitterly cold air into the restaurant). However, once you enter the restaurant - if you want to go to the bar - you have to walk through the dining area. Although this is a similar situation to what you find at Grizzly Peak, in that multi-storefront restaurant/micro-brew you walk through the waiting area to get to the main bar (the "Den" has its own entrance, along with the shared entrance with the Peak). Here, there will be always be the chance that there will be a few diners that will be seated next to the high-traffic path to the bar (unless they decide to provide a dedicated bar entrance). It is also quite dark in the dining area, and while this might not be a hardship for dinner during the winter, it was a little off-putting to be seated in a dim room with rough, dark wood walls during an otherwise relatively bright late-fall day. The bar area, however, has large floor-to-ceiling windows that let in a lot of light.

Since I knew that Blue Tractor was associated with the same company that owns Grizzly Peak - located two blocks west - and Cafe Habana - located almost directly east - (at least it seems that way on the website), I decided to try the beer sampler, and at $5.95, I thought it was a good deal. Perhaps continuing on with the Midwest-farmer theme (there only needed to be large pictures of "amber waves of grain" to complete the image), the beer sampler arrived in a six-muffin tin, with one glass given over to a helping of honey-roasted peanuts. IMHO, a nice idea for a serving tray, especially with the provision of the peanuts. One problem is that if the beer selection increases beyond six beers, the tray would become obsolete... This makes me wonder if Blue Tractor will increase their selection in the future (or not)... VERDICT: 3/5. The beers were decently good, but most were much lighter than I prefer (the seasonal autumn ale I really liked, though).

Looking over the menu, I decided to go for the five sliders with shoestring fries. At $9.95, this, too, was (IMHO) a good deal - so long as the sliders were good. I was not disappointed. They came out in a basket - the sliders stacked on top of the fries. The mayo-based sauce used in the sliders was quite good, and each patty was cooked to perfection. It was also a lot of food. VERDICT: 5/5.

Now, would I go to Blue Tractor again? Sure, if not for the beers, then to see if the rest of the menu items compare favorably with the sliders.

UPDATE: Apparently, other people also found it to their liking...


I saw this on the discount-books racks at Borders (store #1) and thought that it was an unfortunate encapsulation of our society. (Mind you, I'm not saying philosophy ain't important. I'm just saying that more people should be interested in mathematics and physics.) Hopefully the reason why biology ideas or ecology ideas weren't on the shelf was due to their massive popularity... (but I somehow doubt it.)

Construction progress

The North Quad has been slowly rising. Now that the structure has taken its (apparent) final shape, I expect "filling in the gaps" (with exterior walls, interior walls, windows, etc.) will be pretty quick.
Lofts 411's central crane is being taken off in this photo. The exterior facade seems to be almost completed - just some "fillin in" along the central line of the building. Of course, now that the crane is off, all heavy lifting is being done from the street by a massive truck-crane, blocking another lane of traffic going down Washington... (Oh, well, such is the price of progress.)

View out my door

Monday, November 10, 2008

Funky planters

Inhabitat has a nice story about an upside-down planter that supposedly saves lots of water, not to mention space and generally looks cool. The planter is from Boskke and costs a whopping $75 - $195. Inhabitat claims that this will pay for itself since the system saves lots of water while also being an easy path to green-thumbness (saving cost in water bills and plant costs), I am a little dubious on this claim.

I do think that having upside-down planters are pretty cool, don't get me wrong. However, I don't think that paying $75 - $195 for a smallish planter, hung on the ceiling, is really going to pay for itself, save for in spaces with lots of ambient light. (Plus, I don't think I can pay for the extravigance, based on my graduate student salary.)

I also have to wonder how the plants will grow over time. The site shows basically three types of plants, a Wandering Jew plant, a type of palm, and an orchid. Now, the Wandering Jew plant is a plant that does well in situations where it hangs, since it is a ground-cover type of plant. However, I don't know how palms and orchids would adapt to living upside-down. These are - I believe - plants that grow (generally) "upward", and so my initial thought is that they will eventually try and grow "upward". This is - if my botany memory serves - a growth-movement that is based on gravity. Since the plant is hung upside-down, it will, therefore (if I'm correct), be "forced" by its own growth plan, to grow upward. This will eventually make very interesting shapes of growth, with an orchid who's stem curvs "upward" from the initial "down" position, and palms that splay outward in an attempt to grow eventually "up".

This may mean a growth in the diversity of plant forms that we find "pleasing" (or not). After all, if upside-down fake Christmas trees are "desireable" then upside-down orchids may well likely be, too.

Roosevelt and my dad

FDR said:

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
My father said:
Do something, even if it's wrong.
Wikipedia calls Adaptive Management:
a structured, iterative process of optimal decision making in the face of uncertainty, with an aim to reducing uncertainty over time via system monitoring. In this way, decision making simultaneously maximizes one or more resource objectives and, either passively or actively, accrues information needed to improve future management. AM is often characterized as "learning by doing."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More on Palin's deficiences becoming exposed

This time from a clip on the "Oh, Really?" Factor. Full transcript below (names might not be spelled properly):

O:        Joining us now from Phoenix with the inside story on the governor’s odyssey, FOXNews Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron who has covered the entire McCain campaign. Alright, let’s take it from the beginning, in the, um, convention in, uh, *sniff* Minneapolis-St.Paul everybody was happy big bump, this-and-that. When did the first signs of tension develop?
C:         Well, it was actually before the convention. There were some people in the McCain campaign who thought that the selection of Sarah Palin was risky because the didn’t believe that she had enough knowledgeability to carry it off, and there were some objections. The McCain campaign needed a game-changer, they said as much. Some might even describe the selection of Palin as something like a Hail Mary. But early on, they began to discover that there were these gaps in her knowledge. I just want to rattle off a couple of the things that insiders say she simply didn’t know. There were real problems with basic civics: government structures, municipal, state and federal government responsibilities. She didn’t know the nations involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement we’re told. Those, of course, being the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA: a major campaign issue that woulda been something of a deficit. We’re told that she didn’t, she wasn’t actually able to name all the countries in North America as part of that debate, and she didn’t understand – McCain aides told me today – that Africa was a continent and not a country, and actually asked them, they argue, they say if South Ameri- South Africa wasn’t just part of the country as opposed to a country in the continent. They go on to say that she didn’t understand the idea of American Exceptionalism – a classic principle of Wilsonian doctrine that says that the United States is exceptional in the world and therefore has a very special role in leading the globe.
O:        Yeah, okay. So her frame-of-reference in history and geography and current events was weak, according to your sources. And so that – but she can be tutored. I mean, the woman’s not a stupid woman. Ah…
C:         That’s right.
O:        You, you can tutor people, and you can get people up to speed on the basics of, “here’s the government, here’s the excpetionalism that we’re talking about, here’s the world map, here’s our interactions. So it’s gotta be more than that. Go.
C:         Well, one of the things that happened was that she took a little bit of interview preparation before the Charlie Gibson ABC interview, and by most accounts that went fairly well, although she was left a little bit irritated by some of the questions and the general reporting of that interview. But then, the Katie Couric interview came and for that the refused any interview preparation. It didn’t go well, and she blamed, ostensibly, Nicole Wallis, a senior adviser who, in fact, worked for CBS with Katie Couric and had organized some of that interview, and then the rift really began to sort of unfold. That refusal of debate prep caused some problems.
O:        Alright, so she didn’t wanna be, uh, bogged down with a lesson before Ms Couric talked to her, and then she goes in to talk to Couric, and it “doesn’t go well”? What does that mean?
C:         No.
O:        I mean, what was the deficit of the interview?
C:         Well, in fact, McCain aides will argue that there were no unfair questions from Katie Couric, though the reporting of the interview might have been snarky and an example of the mainstream media beating up on a Republican conservative and a woman. They argue that the questions from Couric, on the merits, weren’t unfair. Well, afterwards, Palin began to attack staff and suggest that she was mishandled, and communicated that to a handful of people both in the McCain/Palin campaign and outside.
O:        What was her beef that she was mishandled?
C:         Well, that she hadn’t been warned. That she hadn’t been steered to opportunities where there might have been a more friendly audience, and mostly she said that she wanted to get out on the campaign trail and speak and defend herself. That was something that the campaign was definitely afraid that she wasn’t prepared to do, so there was resistance. Now, there are other anecdotes, Bill.
O:        That’s what happened with me. I talked to her on the phone, she wanted to do the interview, and then the McCain people wouldn’t put her out there alone. The senator had a sit-down next to her and logistically we just couldn’t pull it off. Okay. So all of this now makes perfect sense up to… say a week ago. Then there were reports that Sarah Palin herself, under the pressure – and she was under enormous pressure – started to crack. Is that true?
C:         Yeah. There are stories that say she would look at her press clippings in the morning and throw what has been described to me as tantrums. The way I understand it, there were time when she would be so nasty and angry, uh, at staff that they would virtually be reduced to tears, there was the throwing of paperwork and things of this nature. And a whole series of descriptions, anecdotes all, from the McCain campaign and other insider side of it that suggest a certain level of performance that they were caught off-guard by. One of the more infamous stories that’s now come out is that there was a time when McCain staffers went to collect her at her hotel room and she had just stepped out of the shower and essentially met them wrapped in a bathrobe. They were taken aback by that, found it rather uncommon. They have suggested that she is a bit of a shopaholic, and that on more than one occasion she would go out and buy clothes that to many seemed unnecessary because the campaign had already provided her with a very large wardrobe. Ah, a wardrobe that famously rang up a bill of about $150,000, mostly because they bought extra sizes to make sure everything fit. But the aides say she took a lot of extra clothes.
O:        That sounds like nit-picking now, you know?
C:         Oh, listen. There’s a lot of back-biting that’s going on here, not just between the McCain staff and Palin, but also within the McCain staff, and last week Randy Schuneman, the former foreign policy adviser for the McCain campaign was fired for allegedly leaking some of the back-biting about Palin. He is reported to have been a real Palin fan and didn’t like the fact that they were nailing her and talking behind her back. He put it in the newspapers, and for that he was fired! Well, at the last minute, the McCain campaign – Senator McCain himself – said that, “let’s not make that public, let’s keep it quiet.” That’s not the kind of message that they want. He had been under fire for a chaotic campaign that was often sort of contradicting itself and wrapped up in this type of pettiness. It was almost omnipresent in the staff in the final week, not withstanding Senator McCain’s campaigning barnstorming at a frenzied pace around the country. This is something that the campaign staff says was unprecedented.

Palin's deficiences becoming exposed

I think that there will be more finger-pointing down the road. This first one, though, is not too surprising in the big-picture; the implications, though, are staggering:

I had thought - and I said as much - that Palin had laughable foreign policy experience (let alone foreign experience). Seems like the former McCain staffers are saying that she didn't know Africa was not a single country and which countries are in NAFTA. These are two things I had to learn in 7th grade (when NAFTA was still on-the-table)! These are not new. These are not "gotcha" issues.

If she didn't know about the implications of French, British, and Belgian colonialism in Sub-Saharan African politics that would be one thing. If she didn't know about the problems of apartheid in South Africa, that would be another thing (less forgivable in my book). If she didn't know about the causes of the Ethiopian civil war that led to massive famine in the mid-1940s, that is another thing still (even less forgivable in my book than the lack of knowledge of S. African apartheid). But that she apparently DIDN'T KNOW that Africa is NOT A COUNTRY? Boggles the mind.

The reporter said it right: it was a Hail-Mary pass. Unfortunately, governance has more long-term implications for those Hail-Mary passes than in football. (Hell, a single Hail-Mary pass is unlikely to give you four more years of good football; and football has an off-season for recovery. In contrast, politics is continuous and has NO off-season.)


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why am I not really surprised?

A story from the Huffington Post: Right-wing bloggers not really the best-of-sports (and that's putting it really nice).

Again, I personally lay this at the feet of McCain/Palin. It was their fear/hate mongering that lead to the condoning of this sort of angry rhetoric. Of course, this only also goes to show how much out-of-touch the GOP is with Real Americans (as opposed to Sarah Palin's "real" Americans). I mean what the frick:

Obama won around 52 percent of the popular vote, defeating John McCain by between five and six points. That's nothing like the true landslides of the past: Reagan by ten points in 1980 and 18 in 1984; Nixon by 23 in 1972; or even Bush by eight in 1988. And yet, with hindsight, it is remarkable how much Obama had going for him. After breaking his pledge to take public financing he raised more money, by far, than any Presidential candidate in history, outspending McCain nearly two to one. Millions of new voters, many of them minority voters, were registered, and they went heavily for Obama. Obama enjoyed the monolithic support of the entertainment industry and was something of a fad among the young. He benefited greatly from being an African-American; the idea that his victory would be a good thing for America, on that ground, was widespread even among his opponents. He ran largely against a retiring President who, for three years, has rarely seen his name appear in a sentence that did not include the word "unpopular." He had the active support of essentially 100 percent of the nation's news media. And, perhaps most important, he benefited from a financial crisis that struck at the most opportune moment (for him) and was unfairly blamed on the Republicans by most voters.
Despite all of this, Obama mustered only a five-point win.
Wha...? This peeves me (even though ideologically I can't stand them), because it will waste a whole bunch of time and effort in keeping a large number of people (who - for greater or lesser reasons - have decided to tune in to these bloggers for their opinion of the world) in the dark by consciously trying to deny the new reality in which we reside. What happened to all those people who said that God would decide what would be best for America? (If that were true, then wouldn't that mean that God decided that Obama should be President, and that you should accept it?) What happened to all those people who were so sure that they would win? (Oh, yeah. They conflated their desire with reality - something that has been happening to them more and more often.)

I do, of course, want to see how much "Presidential deference" Fox News ends up showing to Obama come January and beyond...

Obama in Obama

As part of my semi-regular writing topic, I am including this nice story coming out of my other nation - Japan. There is a small town in Japanese called Obama (小浜). Throughout much of this past US presidential campaign, this town has gone Barack Obama-crazy. They sent the candidate a pair of lucky chopsticks (what they were known for prior to having a US president with the same name... and likely becoming more than a casual speck on the map of Japan) back in February (or January) and received a nice letter from Obama, which included the Japanese sign off: あなたの友達 [Barack Obama].

I expect that they are hoping for a personal visit by the 44th President once he is able to travel to Japan. We'll see if that happens. (I sure hope it does.)

In English

Kind of in English

In Japanese

In Japanese

In Japanese

"IMPEACH?!?!" Barack Obama? For what?

Via PhysOrg:

Apparently, there are some people who can't really get themselves to accept that their candidate lost the presidential election. Some people on Facebook have decided that they are going to try and get support to impeach Barack Hussein Obama. For what? Apparently PhysOrg doesn't know:
Barack Obama has not even been sworn in yet as the 44th president of the United States but groups are springing up online calling for his impeachment.
On Facebook, an "Impeach Barack Obama" group has attracted more than 700 members and a lively debate about the Democrat's election victory on Tuesday over Republican John McCain.
Another Facebook group of the same name has 160 members and urges others to join because "we might as well get a head start on the impeachment of Obama."
"There are a lot of Americans out there that do not fully understand the concept of Socialism or Communism which is why they've elected Obama as president," it says.
Yet another Facebook group, "Impeach Barack Hussein Obama," has 160 members.
It decries that Obama "has voiced support for various unconstitutional programs such as the assault weapons ban, universal healthcare, and various schemes for wealth distribution."
"What are we going to do about it? IMPEACH HIM!" it says.Obama still has some way to go, however, to equal the number of "Impeach George Bush" groups on Facebook, which lists at least 95 such groups with varying membership.
  I can't really figure it out, either... From the first one on the list (with over 900 members at 6:50PM on Nov. 5, 2008):
Get on board if you want to be ready to impeach Barack Obama.

Each president recites the following oath, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

This group has been created under the assumption that it takes approximately 7 seconds for a modern day President to violate this oath. So we should be ready.

"In some governments it is held that 'the king can do no wrong;' here we know no king but the law, no monarch but the constitution; we hold that every man may do wrong; the higher he is in office, the more reason there is that he be obliged to answer for his conduct; and a great officer, if treacherous, is a great criminal, so that he ought to be made to suffer a great and exemplary punishment."

--Elementary Catechism on the Constitution of the United States, Arthur J. Stansbury, 1828
WTF? I just don't know... This does, though, seem to relate to what I was saying in my other post about how McCain/Palin are leaving behind a fractured, fractious, and wounded country of their own creation.

The shift in voting.

Razib has (as usual) an interesting piece that only makes me think more about race and voting. Linking to the NYTimes (but not to anyplace in particular), he shows a graphic of how people voted in 2008's presidential race in relation to the 2004 race, by county.

Two things are clear to me (and to him). The first thing that is apparent to me is that - holy fuck - Indiana shifted overwhelmingly toward Democrats! This state hasn't voted Democratic for decades, the rate to which they didn't vote Democratic is indicated by the fact that although Obama was able to shift their vote by upwards of 20%+ in much of the state, he just barely won the state (1,367,264 for Obama vs. 1,341,101 for McCain and 29,186 for "Other" -- just over 26,000 votes between the two -- meaning that if Indianans voted McCain instead of "Other", then Obama would have not won Indiana, even though he shifted the state 20%+ toward the Democrats!!)

The second is that large parts of the traditional "South" and parts of Appalachia went more Republican than much of the rest of the country. (I'm not including Arizona and Alaska here, since these two states are where John McCain and Sarah Palin, respectively, are from.) Remember, if a county is shifted toward a grey-like color, then it didn't change it's voting standard by much this year around (0-4.9% change since 2004). That means that large parts of the country voted 5-19.9% Democratic than in 2004, and almost all of Indiana voted 20%+ more Democratic than 2004! Other places that changed more than 20% toward the Dems include much of the Texas-Mexico border counties, western Montana, eastern North Dakota, New Hampshire, and parts of New Mexico. However, it seems like much of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and (especially) Arkansas and West Virgina voted for the Republican in even greater numbers than they did when the country re-elected Bush in 2004. The deep-red of Arkansas and West Virginia (20%+ shift Republican) indicates that many more people had to have voted Democrat that voted Republican in this election. The question is, "WHY?"

Well, Razib thinks it might have to do with race:
If you filtered out blacks I'm pretty sure that the swath of red would be far more discernible in the South.* The blue patches match up very well with the Black Belt. It looks like the East South Central Census division, the core of Old Dixie is for now the Other America, along with parts of Appalachia.

I spot checked 2004 exits and compared them to this year. Whites in the deep South seem to have shifted Republican against the national trend. We're back to old school sectionalism, but now blacks can vote. People have said that the white vote barely budged; I don't think that's true, Southern and non-Southern whites shifted in different directions and balanced out. That's not a trivial detail.
I think that while it might have to do with race, it may also have to do with the GOP campaign whipping up such a partisan campaign in the last few weeks as to make the atmosphere in Palin's "real America" a poisonous one, and - might I add - one smacking of more than just a splash of racism. That McCain would be openly boo-ed during his concession speech when he first mentioned Obama gave me serious pause after all the shouted commentary from the campaign trail about, "Kill him!" and "Terrorist" and "He scares me" etc., alongside the (luckily) foiled neo-Nazi serial murder plot, the (still apparently baseless) GOP attacks on ACORN's voter-registration drives, accounts of voter intimidation, and attempts of disenfranchising Democratic voters from their right to vote. All of these took place during the last few weeks of the campaign, tacitly condoned by McCain, egged on by Palin and Joe-the-Plumber. (I'll admit that I watched Obama's acceptance speech with the fear that someone would use the setting as a perfect one for a televised attempt on his life.) I personally feel that large parts of the American population have been "broken" by the GOP election campaign, and - like many small shop owners - I say, "You broke it, you own it. Pay up." I feel that the GOP election campaign should the time and effort to campaign in those states where they so heavily campaigned for their vision of a "true America" to help heal the wounds that their divisive campaign had caused. However, that's not going to happen. Sarah Palin - in a post-election interview - said this:

I can’t wait to get back to work full-time, which we’ve been continuing to do as governor of Alaska, but there in Alaska. ... Don’t know what the heck’s gonna happen in 2012, again just very anxious to, um, get back to work there in Anchorange and in Juneau, making sure that the people of Alaska are well-served. ... [It's] time to move forward, move on. I certainly am not one to ever waste time looking backwards, pointing fingers and playing the blame game – I’m not going to participate in that at all.There are good things in store for this nation, and we’re only going to get there in reaching America’s destiny if we all unite, work together, and, um, certainly put aside the pettiness and obsessive partisanship that just gets in the way of doing what’s right for the people of America. So I won’t participate in any of the negativity.
She's not going going to "waste time" looking backwards? She's not going to "participate in any of the negativity"? She's just "can't wait" to get the frick outta Dodge, leaving  her own steaming pile of hate and soreness behind? 'Coz that's the right thing to do...

I'm going to let the social scientists analyze the crap out of this election, what happened leading up to it, why people are sore afterwards, and let them decide whether McCain/Palin are ultimately responsible for creating an image of a divided America of "us 'real' folk" vs "those 'liberal, elitist, uppity, socialist, communist, fascist, god-hating, take-your-guns, baby-killing, effete, soft-on-terror, Iran-loving, Al-Qaeda-colluding, San Francisco-value' non-Americans". (I think they are. It's irresponsible to do that to form of fear-mongering and hate-sowing to a single person. It's even more irresponsible to do that to a group of people you supposedly want to help.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I watch history

History happened today at 11PM... The second the polls closed on the West coast, the news organizations called the election for Obama. WooT!

While watching the McCain concession speech, I was disgusted by the amount of boo-ing that was going on. It was embarrassing. It was unhonorable. It was - imho - exactly to be expected from the type of crowd McCain's campaign seems to have attracted over the past month.

Does a single vote count?

Over at Pure Pedantry, Jake posits the following:
I always get in arguments with mathematically-inclined people about whether to vote or not. The mathematically-inclined point out very reasonably that the chances of your vote being decisive are perishingly slim.

(These mathematics are explained clearly in this PBS video by economist Gordon Tullock explaining why he does not vote. Hat-tip: Marginal Revolution)

I've always felt that the mathematical argument is the wrong one to take. The election is not a lottery, where there is a single winner (or a set of winners). In that case, there is a definite chance of being "the one" who is chosen. An election, in contrast, is not at all like a lottery. The "deciding" vote could be any and all of the votes that push the election toward the winning candidate. No one person is a "winner" in an election. Rather, the winning party is the "winner". Since it was a group effort, then all the ballots cast toward the winner are "winning votes."

Of course, we like to say, "so-and-so cast the winning vote", like this is something in a movie. However, unless a person has knowledge that his/her vote would be the vote to decide the election, then that vote is as consequential as any other one cast. After all, if the first person who voted didn't cast a vote for candidate A, then the total number of votes cast for candidate A would be one less, regardless of what the last person does. If the last voter KNOWS what his or her vote will do, then that person is - imho - a "winner", but - then again - that vote would be rigged.

So maybe, then, the winning candidate is the one who casts the winning vote, since that person would be the only one who directly benefits from the outcome of the vote, while also (presumably) having voted for him/her-self. Therefore, in all possible iterations of voters-casting-a-winning-ballot, the only constant would be the candidate (except in the case of a 100% win). I've not done the calculations on this, but (to go back to my original point), I've always thought this was a bit of a nonsensical question (at least from the mathematical POV).

Finally, this whole thing seems to me analogous to making a mathematical argument about the non-existence of North Korea. I mean, mathematically speaking, its estimated population is only 0.36% of the total world population (23 million/6.5 billion), but you cannot say they don't exist. In fact, the North Koreans - even though they have such an insignificant impact on world population that they statistically won't exist in a random sample - have been a significant player in East Asian politics. The impact of something, therefore, cannot be based solely on numbers.

VOTE! ... or shut up.

For everyone (who happens to be reading my blog who can vote in the US): Go out and VOTE today, or shut the fuck up!

For everyone else: Hope that enough clear-headed people go out and VOTE today.

Interesting Get-out-the-vote images

Cycling in to campus today I saw some interesting get-out-the-vote images. Some tagging images of Obama, others tagging McCain. There were two messages about Obama that student groups used on a series of Obama pictures: anti-abortion and communist imagry. In the first, you can see a pro-life (aka "anti-abortion") sticker placed over Obama's eyes, blinding him. This is an interesting image, since you could argue that it is trying to say that Obama is blind to the immorality of abortion or you could argue that the position that abortion is immoral is a blind one. Not absolutely clear, but that's the problem with imagry-warfare.

The second one has sticker of a Soviet Union flag above Obama's head, almost like he's looking up towards it (although if the person who stuck it there was as OCD as I can be, it would have been more obviously in Obama-image's line-of-sight). It is trying to link Obama with the idea of socialism (something the McCain-Palin ticket has been trying over the past several weeks, ever since their plant - Joe the pseudoplumber - asked Obama a question about the taxes a company he couldn't have purchased would have to pay under an Obama presidency). Unfortunately, the people don't seem to grasp a couple of points. First, communism and socialism are not equivalent (and university students who have taken a class in politics should know the difference). Communism is a form of governance where the mode of production is governed by the people, and governance is done at the commune (or local) level. Socialism is a form of governance where government decisions are made with the idea of benefitting a broad swath of society. The mode of production does not need to be governed by the people (but it is owned by them), nor do governance questions need to be taken at the local level. It is, at best, a middle point between out-and-out capitalism (which we never had) and communism, and it is practiced in many different ways throughout the world. (One could argue that the United States has a form of socialism: corporate socialism.)

Second, the thing that Republicans seem to constantly downplay is that the color of socialism (and communism, and anarchy, too) is red. The color assigned to the Republican party (which they have embraced) is red. Of course, when people call Obama a "red" they mean a communist red, not a Republican red. Still, it is - as an image - a funny one (to me) since Republicans share the color red with the communist movement.

Third, one of the constants in many successful communist movements throughout history is the attacks or dimunition of the intelligensia by communists. In Phol Pot's Cambodia, Western educated people were killed. In Mao's China, higher education was frowned upon (yay for the Great Leap Forward?). In Lenin's (and later Stalin's) Soviet Union, engineers and scientists were respected only to the extent that they could help maximize output from production.  Much of this sentiment seems (to me) to have arisen because the intelligensia were of the middle and upper classes - the bourgeoisie and (at one point-in-time) nobility - while the communists were trying to get the support of the working-class - otherwise known as the proletariat. Now, look at the Republican strategy in this campaign: a belittling of the intelligensia (Palin's mocking of community organisers sticks out as one early example), a major effort to get the support of the working-class (appeal to the proletariat) via people like Joe the [pseudo]plumber (and earlier with images of "Joe Sixpack" and "hockey moms"), and the painting of regions of the United States (which "just happen" to include large areas including the majority of universities) as liberal or non-American. These tactics seem to be a call for a rousing populism very similar to those used by Lenin, Mao and Phol Pot. ... and Republicans call Obama a socialist. (Not only that - they contradict themselves by calling him and his followers elitists, conflating "elitism" with "socialism"! Ironic much!)

Finally, why choose the flag of the Soviet Union? Why not choose China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Mongolia, North Korea, or Cuba? Is it because the person happened to have a USSR flag at the time, having placed all the other current and former communist country flags on other posters throughout the university? Is it because the "red scare" is tied most strongly with the USSR? Is it because people recognize the symbol of the USSR? It is funny to me because the person chose to use a sticker of a country that no longer exists, and one that (arguably) never came close to meeting the standard of Marxist communism (devolving into a form of dictatorial pseudocommunism). Following this logic, one might argue that it was chosen because that great neo-conservative Republican president, Ronald Reagan, was the one to destroy Soviet communism, thus saving the world (regardless of evidence showing that it was likely to collapse anyway, and Reagan might have actually prolonged its life or could have transformed it into a thermonuclear-hot war through his constant provocations if it weren't for Gorbachev), and is therefore the appropriate symbol (somehow) for this occaision. (I would have used the Eretreian flag, since it would harken to both communism and Africa, but that would be elitist of me, right?)

These attacks of trying to paint Obama as an elitist socialist are laughable when you break it down, but that's just an uppity elitist hapa talking, not some everyday-American. (Of course, I personally feel that everyday-Americans should try and take higher education seriously, but that must be my elitism shinging through.)

On the other hand, I saw quite uninspired Obama sticker attacks on McCain. These only involved placing Obama stickers over McCain-Palin ones. Not really thought-provoking. Very effective, though.