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Saturday, December 31, 2005

High Speed Rail & the SF Transbay Terminal

I wanted to save this link from yesterday's NYT Business section: "Overseas, the Trains and the Market for Them Accelerate".  Here's an excerpt which describes what we in the U.S. (both we the public, as passengers, as well as U.S. manufacturers) are missing out on:
a coming together of two developments in high-speed passenger train travel: technical breakthroughs in the way the bullet-shaped trains run, and the opening of vast new markets in Eastern Europe and Asia that are combining to give a steady boost to the business.

Unless they have traveled abroad, most Americans have had little first-hand experience with high-speed trains, and the problems with the Acela service on Amtrak have left its customers with a slightly bad taste. Hence, as countries including Italy and Spain - and emerging markets like China and Russia - open their pocketbooks for huge high-speed railway development, the United States remains on the sidelines, vulnerable to losing out on new technologies for propulsion and vehicle control.

Anj pointed out this article that was in the Times last week, about the proposed Transbay Terminal in downtown SF: "Trying to Build the Grand Central of the West ". Key to funding the Transbay Terminal will be high-speed rail to LA:

The Transbay Terminal - expected to be complete by 2013, three years sooner than previous projections - will serve nine Northern California counties and various transit agencies both public and private, including trains, subways, buses and ultimately, it is hoped, high-speed rail to Los Angeles. The surrounding 40-acre area, much of it opened up after highways damaged in the 1989 earthquake were demolished, is to become San Francisco's most densely populated neighborhood, based on a planning model known as Vancouverism.

Named after the city in British Columbia, Vancouverism is characterized by tall, but widely separated, slender towers interspersed with low-rise buildings, public spaces, small parks and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and facades to minimize the impact of a high-density population. The Transbay neighborhood would have an estimated 350 people an acre, whereas the typical residential neighborhood with four-story flats has about 60 people an acre.

My favorite Bay Area transit website is SF CityScape; check out his page on the Transbay.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

a 3rd mellow day in Mission, TX

Another eventful day. Though today we did venture out into public. We went to lunch at Sahadi's, and then some shopping at the (in)famous La Plaza Mall. That place is crazier, busier, more crowded every time I visit. This must have been my 4th or 5th time there. Based on a limited sample (walking from our distant parking spot to the mall entrance), I'd say ~40% of the license plates in the massive parking lot are from Mexico: Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, another one or two that popped just once or twice. Mostly Tamps.

Inside, I'd estimate 80% of the conversations among shoppers were in Spanish. Life on La Frontera.

Lunch was good. Sahadi's is a nice lunch spot + gourment/int'l grocery store + nicely stocked wine shop. Lebanese proprietors. Not what you expect to find in the middle of the 10th Ave strip in McAllen. After lunch, I selected a six of Anchor Porter, and a 6 of an El Salvadorian pilsner that I hadn't seen before.

Before we all went out for lunch, Anj and I went for another walk. This time we walked to the main entrance to the subdivision, in a quest to get a real paper. We were unsuccessful in that respect, but we had some fun tossing and kicking around the tennis ball we'd picked up the previous day--until we lost it down the drain. Also, we found some graffiti! We stopped by on the way back from the mall and I took a few snapshots. Look for them on flickr.

I didn't watch as much soccer today. A bit of Man U-Bolton in the early evening on FSE, but then we watched the end of the Alamo Bowl after dinner. A few years ago I watched Nebraska win another Alamo Bowl in person, over Northwestern. Ina and Suvranu wanted to go, so the 5 of us drove up and back. I think it was Dec 2000, so 5 years ago! Come to think of it, it must have been 2000. The previous year my parents were just moving into this house, and in 2001 we were in India for our wedding.

Back to soccer--I just turned on FSE: UNAM v. Corinthians right now (Mexican clubs). Just flipped to FSC and found something more appealing: Man City v. Chelsea.

Little reading today. I did get into some fiction finally. My goal was to knock off a quick novel this week. It took me a while to settle on something. I read a few pages of Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring" but was not feeling it. But then found something manageable: Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilych." Only 60 pages, and fits into my plan to get through some Russian literature. Though I didn't get through Gogol's "Dead Souls" earlier this year. Krops and I were talking about making "Anna Karenina" a selection for our (currently dormant) book club. Ina's copy of "War and Peace" that she bought in Ann Arbor is in our room here, but that will have to wait for some future time when I've got a few weeks w/o anything else to do. After hearing Vikram Seth talk about it, I have to get to Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin." (Especially since Anj and I started working through Seth's "Golden Gate" after we brought back her copy from Saginaw.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

NYT: Letter from Estonia

Ina wanted me to save the link to this NYT article from last week, headlined
"A Land of Northern Lights, Cybercafes and the Flat Tax". An excerpt:
Fired with a free-market fervor and hurtling into the high-tech future, Estonia feels more like a Baltic outpost of Silicon Valley than of Europe. Nineteen months after it achieved its cherished goal of joining the European Union, one might even characterize Estonia as the un-Europe.

"I must say Steve Forbes was a genius," Prime Minister Andrus Ansip declared during an interview in his hilltop office. "I'm sure he still is," he added hastily.

The subject was the flat tax, which Mr. Forbes never succeeded in selling in the United States. Here in the polar reaches of Europe it is an article of faith. Estonia became the first country to adopt it in 1994, as part of a broader strategy to transform itself from an obscure Soviet republic into a plugged-in member of the global information economy.

By all accounts, the plan is working. Estonia's economic growth was nearly 11 percent in the last quarter - the second fastest in Europe, after Latvia, and an increase more reminiscent of China or India than Germany or France.

People call this place E-stonia, and the cyber-intoxication is palpable in Tallinn's cafes and bars, which are universally equipped with wireless connections, and in local success stories like Skype, designed by Estonian developers and now offering free calls over the Internet to millions.

The flip side of Estonia's market ethos is a thinner social safety net than those in Europe's welfare states. Opponents of the flat tax here - and there are some - say it has widened the divide between rich and poor, making Estonia less like its Nordic neighbors and more like the United States.

This reminded me that I saw a short article in the Economist at some point over the past couple months, which discussed flat tax systems in Eastern Europe. I couldn't find the link to that one, but did turn up this one, which was published last April:

Simplifying tax systems | The case for flat taxes |

A 2nd chill day in Mission

Another uneventful relaxing day. I read some more of Grinstead and Snell at the kitchen table, Anj read Nature Biotechnology outside in the sun. It was HOT--a high of 89F. Anj and I went for a 45-minute walk around the subdivision, and we were beat after we got back.

I watched a bit more soccer on Fox Sports Espanol--but just bit of a rebroadcast of
Liverpool-Newcastle. I did see Gerrard's goal--the kid is for real, apparently.

Also watched most of Arsenal-Charlton for a 2nd time late last night. Henry is still the man, but seems to be having some problems finishing. Who is the young cat Reyes they have him paired with up front? Freddie Ljungberg was creating stuff on the wing, but muffed on a 1-on-1 with the keeper in the first half.

Kolkata photos on flickr

During our last visit to my parents' place, I scanned in a handful of slides from my father's collection. They were all photos of my extended family, taken during two different visits to West Bengal in the 1970s. I found the jpegs still on my parents' computer today, and uploaded them to flickr. Go here to see them.

In tag-surfing from there, via the kolkata tag, came to a fantastic set of Kolkata photos. Take a look.

I'm hoping to scan a few more old slides later this week. Look for them in my photostream.

Monday, December 26, 2005

this morning: probability and fox sports en espanol

Yesterday was Xmas dinner and gifts, and sports on TV (Pistons blowing out the Spurs, in our intra-familiar rivalry--Anj and I being Pistons fans, my parents being Spurs fans; and later the Vikings losing to the Ravens).

This morning: I finally started reading Grinstead and Snell's probability text. It's a very basic and accessible undergrad-level intro to the subject. It reads quick--got through two chapter this morning--and there are copious historical remarks at the end of the each section. Plus it's free! So I highly recommend printing it out, chapter-by chapter say, if you want to learn probability theory, but have never studied the subject before.

Right now we're watching an EPL game on Fox Sports Espanol: Arsenal vs. Charlton. Another thing I wanted to get started on was getting back to studying Spanish. This seems like a good way to do it.

Somehow, even though the Tivo records Champions League games for me whenever they come on ESPN/2, I don't often find the time to sit down and watch a soccer game (even in English, let alone in Spanish.)

Looking forward to the World Cup next summer. Though I'm intensely disappointed that we won't be able to follow through on my idea of travelling to and through Brazil during that month. A fortiori, it's going to be difficult for me to watch many games, since I'll be in the middle of the 2nd MFE term. Hopefully the class schedule will leave some openings in the afternoons, and I can do some reading in the bars and restaurants from the mental list I've been compiling, of locations to watch games(Balompie Cafe, Mad Dog in the Fog, ...).

Update: Arsenal won that game 1-0. Reyes scored off of a Thierry Henry rebound. FSE followed up that game with another EPL match, Liverpool v. Newcastle.

Update 2: 3rd EPL game in a row! FSE just started showing Aston Villa v. Everton. Liverpool won the previous game 2-0.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

urban growth and education: Vancouver vs. American cities

The Times had an article earlier this year about how certain American cities, although vibrant culturally and economically--I think it mentioned Portland and SF in particular--are losing young families and school-age children. Today's Time had something of a followup, which contrasts that with what's happening in Vancouver: "Spurring Urban Growth in Vancouver, One Family at a Time":

Over the last 10 years, cities across North America have attracted thousands of new residents to revitalized urban areas. Vancouver is no exception. About 40,000 people have moved into the downtown peninsula in the last 15 years; the downtown population is expected to reach 110,000 by 2015.

But there is a difference between the urban growth taking place in Vancouver and the development occurring in many American cities. In the United States, many of the new urban residents are young professionals or older, wealthier people whose children are grown. In fact, enrollment in Portland, Ore., and Seattle public schools has dropped by thousands of students because of declining numbers of urban families with children.

In Vancouver, the number of children living downtown has doubled since 1990; there are now 5,000 children living in the central core. Last year, the city opened the first new elementary school in an inner-city neighborhood in more than 30 years.
How is that happening in Vancouver but not American cities? In SF, the school district is talking about closing a number of schools.

It seems that much of our generation wants to live in the cities. It'll be interesting to see how many of us stick it out as the next generation starts growing up. The central issue is education. For persons of certain SES, it seems that big city public schools are a non-starter. (Note this line from the Slate article I blogged earlier today, discussing the decisions of today's typical yuppie couple: "When children arrive, the couple has to choose between living in an expensive town with good public schools (which means long, painful commutes), or the prospect of private-school tuition at $25,000 per kid per year.")

My impression is that Chicago Mayor Daley have explicitly identified improving the public schools as a necessary condition to attracting and retaining a population of middle-class families.

It will be interesting to see what our friends--and we ourselves--will do by the time its time for the wee ones to to kindergarten.

John Yoo profiles in the NYT

We landed in McAllen a few hours ago, after a full day of travel: walk to bart, bart to oak, oak to dtw, 2 hours there, and then finally dtw-mfe.

Just got Firefox 1.5 and Performancing installed. So look for plenty of posts over the next week that we're here.

Thanks to John's list, this Salon landed in my inbox":"Bush's impeachable offense."

Decided to forward it to a few guys, and since one of them is a lawyer, also forwarded a couple pieces about John Yoo that ran in the NYT over the past couple weeks.

Anj and I made our first visit to the The Canvas Gallery Friday afternoon--a stop on our way to the new de Young. While we were sitting there, I read this profile of Yoo: "A Junior Aide Had a Big Role in Terror Policy."

In searching for that link, I came across a short piece by Jeffrey Rosen titled "The Yoo Presidency". It's one of the 80-odd such short essays highlighting the Mag's choices for "The Year in Ideas."

A few paragraphs from that profile:

Mr. Yoo is often identified as the most aggressive among a group of conservative legal scholars who have challenged the importance of international law in the American legal system. But his signature contributions to the policies of the Bush administration have had more to do with his forceful assertion of wide presidential powers in wartime.

While Mr. Yoo has become almost famous for some of his writings - the refutation of both his academic and government work has become almost a cottage industry among more liberal legal scholars and human rights lawyers - much less is known about how he came to wield the remarkable influence he had after Sept. 11 on issues related to terrorism.

That Washington tale began about a decade before Mr. Yoo joined the administration in July 2001, when he finished at Yale Law School and won a clerkship with Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a keen spotter of young legal talent and a patriarch of the network of conservative lawyers who have occupied key positions throughout the Bush administration.

By then, Mr. Yoo already thought of himself as solidly conservative. He had grown up with anticommunist parents who left their native South Korea for Philadelphia shortly after Mr. Yoo was born in 1967, and had honed his political views while an undergraduate at Harvard.

From the chambers of Judge Silberman, Mr. Yoo moved on to a clerkship with Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, stopping briefly at Berkeley. Justice Thomas helped place him with Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, as general counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Along the way, Mr. Yoo passed up a chance to work in the Washington office of the law firm Jones Day, where he caught the eye of a senior partner, Timothy E. Flanigan. After five years that Mr. Yoo spent at Berkeley, writing on legal aspects of foreign affairs, war powers and presidential authority, the two men met up again when Mr. Yoo joined the Bush campaign's legal team, where Mr. Flanigan was a key lieutenant.

Mr. Flanigan became the deputy White House counsel under Alberto R. Gonzales. Mr. Yoo ended up as a deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, or the O.L.C., a small unit of lawyers that advises the executive branch on constitutional questions and on the legality of complex or disputed policy issues.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, Mr. Yoo - the only deputy with much expertise on foreign policy and war powers - began dealing with the White House and other agencies more directly than he might have otherwise.

Friday, December 23, 2005

new 19th @ mission graf

new 19th @ mission - 2
Originally uploaded by shooGu.
3 posts in one day!

i'd been thinking i should blog from flickr more often. here's a shot of the wall at the NW corner of 19th and Mission, which I took a litle over a month ago. it was a Wednesday afternoon, Nov 16--don't recall exactly why I made a trip back to the Mission, but I did, and I happened to have my camera on me.

As I noted in the description, you can see previous incarnations of this wall on the Graffiti Archaeology site. Which is the site that inspired to me to start taking graf photos in the first place.

Haven't been carrying the camera around over the past few weeks. Got to get back to it. Maybe tomorrow, as Anj and I are going to spend a day in the city, including a trip to see the new deYoung.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Passion of the Spaghetti Monster

Anj wanted to save this to add to her lab's wall shrine to the FSM: Wired News: Passion of the Spaghetti Monster. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Bobby Henderson is holed up in the boonies -- Corvallis, Oregon -- hard at work on his next entry into the fray over just what students should learn about the origin of species.

When the Kansas Board of Education proposed balancing evolution instruction by teaching intelligent design, said to be a scientific theory that supports an "intelligent creator" of all life, the decision outraged many, including 38 Nobel laureates (.pdf).

Henderson responded with a satirical letter to the Kansas board demanding equal time for a different, "equally scientific" theory of intelligent design, in which a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism, turned into a phenomenon, appealing to scientists, academics and many others, who flock to Henderson's website to pick up FSM mugs and T-shirts, play games and learn about other school boards hostile to evolutionary thought. The site now draws as many as 2 million hits a day.

That link came to me via digg.

And Performancing is making it easy to blog it.


Did a quick browse through my Rojo account just now, and came across a TechCrunch entry titled
Flock Says "Enough", which in turn led me to Performancing for Firefox (which in turn led me to finally upgrade to Firefox 1.5.

All I can say is wow. I haven't been too good about blogging up in here this past year, and I can't say that to improve on that is one of my goals for the new year. OTC, one of my goals is to spend less time on the web! But I can see how this could lead to more regular blogging--more production of content, instead of the passive consumption I fall into too often.

Look for some posts here next week, since we'll be in Mission. Been meaning to at least blog regularly about whatever it is that Anj and I are up to here in the Bay, or elsewhere, so maybe I'll get around to posting little bits about what we've been doing the past few months. What comes to mind: living in Nob Hill, Vikram Seth reading in Berkeley, John Arnold Ayro at Social Club, trip to Michigan for Thanksgiving, the 2nd Wonder-full party.

Not to mention I've got to write our annual letter. Every year (well, for the past 2 or 3 years that we've been writing them) I say I'm going to write a draft as the year goes by. But instead I put it off for as long as possible. Look for it in your inbox sometime next week.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stones Throw Holiday Mix by PB Wolf

For your holiday season listening pleasures, go here:

Streaming mp3 of a holiday mix by Peanut Butter Wolf. From what little of the tracklist I do recognize, it looks to be good:

1. Hello World – Rudy Ray Moore
2. Peace On Earth – Hopeton and Primo
3. Where Day At Yo – K. Nock feat 24K
4. Rappin Christmas – The Cold Crew
5. Jingle Bells – Dudley Perkins and Georgia Anne Muldrow
6. Seven Days of Kwanzaa – Georgia Anne Muldrow
7. In The Hot Sun Of A Christmas Day – Caetano Veloso
8. My Lovely Christmas – Baron Zen
9. Irie Christmas – Freddie McGregor
10. Christmas Will Really Be Christmas – Lou Rawls
11. Go Power at Christmas Time – James Brown
12. Seasons Greetings – Sound On Sound Productions
13. My Christmas Bells – Hard Call Christmas
14. Broke At Christmas – Jacob Miller & Ray I
15. Broke Christmas In Brooklyn – Baron Zen
16. Night Before Christmas – Rudy Ray Moore
17. Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) – Free Design
18. Glory, Glory – Al Green
19. What You Want For Christmas – 69 Boys
20. Little Saint Nick – The Beach Boyz
21. Christmas – Beat Happening
22. Got The Beat For Christmas (Breakdance) – Monyaka
23. Sound The Trumpet – Bob Marley & The Wailers
24. Christmas in the City – Marvin Gaye
25. Silent Night – Peanut Butter Wolf
26. Tidings – Phil Spector, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Esquivel

The link came to me by the 313 list. It's for mix pointers like this (including regular reminders about's latest show) that I keep lurking on there.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Kruman on Drucker and the Age of Discontinuity & Anxiety

Krugman column from Monday about Drucker, GM/Delphi, and the breakdown of the American postwar social order:

Age of Anxiety

Published: November 28, 2005

The opening grafs:

"Many eulogies were published following the recent death of Peter Drucker, the great management theorist. I was surprised, however, that few of these eulogies mentioned his book "The Age of Discontinuity," a prophetic work that speaks directly to today's business headlines and economic anxieties.

Mr. Drucker wrote "The Age of Discontinuity" in the late 1960's, a time when most people assumed that the big corporations of the day, companies like General Motors and U.S. Steel, would dominate the economy for the foreseeable future. He argued that this assumption was
all wrong."

and later:

"Many of the corporate giants of the 1960's, companies whose pre-eminence seemed permanent, have fallen on hard times, their places in the business hierarchy taken by new players. General Motors is only the most famous example.

So what? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: why does it matter if the list of leading corporations turns over every couple of decades, as long as the total number of jobs continues to grow?

The answer is the reason Mr. Drucker's old book is so relevant to today's headlines: corporations can't provide their workers with economic security if the companies' own future is highly insecure.

American workers at big companies used to think they had made a deal. They would be loyal to their employers, and the companies in turn would be loyal to them, guaranteeing job security, health care and a dignified retirement.

Such deals were, in a real sense, the basis of America's postwar social order. We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, not like those coddled Europeans with their oversized welfare states. But as Jacob Hacker of Yale points out in his book "The Divided Welfare State," if you add in corporate spending on health care and pensions - spending that is both regulated by the government and subsidized by tax breaks - we actually have a welfare state that's
about as large relative to our economy as those of other advanced countries.

The resulting system is imperfect: those who don't work for companies with good benefits are, in effect, second-class citizens.

And in closing:

"Regular readers of this column know what I think we should do: instead of trying to provide economic security through the back door, via tax breaks designed to encourage corporations to provide health care and pensions, we should provide it through the front door,
starting with national health insurance. You may disagree. But one thing is clear: Mr. Drucker's age of discontinuity is also an age of anxiety, in which workers can no longer count on loyalty from their employers."

I haven't read anything by Drucker. Sounds like "The Age of Discontinuity" would be a good one to choose.

Some places will suffer from these discontinuities more than others. It was interesting being back in Michigan last weekend, seeing the pervasiveness of that fading industry. We pass a GM "Malleable Iron" plant on the way from the highway into Anj's parents' place, one of their friends works for Delphi, ...

Here is one of those many eulogies to Drucker:

Peter Drucker
The one management thinker every educated person should read
(From The Economist print edition) Nov 17th 2005