Friday, September 30, 2011

Due Process

In light of the fact that the President can now unilaterally assassinate American citizens far from the battlefield without a shred of due process, I thought I'd share this piece from the NYT by Lawrence Wright, written in 2006, on what he thought we should do with Osama bin Laden when we caught him. (Hint: it wasn't to shoot him unarmed and bury him at sea.) It's probably for the best that he's dead and not captured, because I don't know of many politicians, or humans, for that matter, who actually have this much courage in their convictions, even if those convictions are due process, the rule of law, and justice.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Maybe there's Hope.

NY state AG insists on punishing bankers for wrongdoing.

NYTimes: Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim

From The New York Times:

BIG CITY: Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim

Demonstrators who occupied Wall Street had many causes but seemed to have at least one thing in common: a lack of hard knowledge about the system they were fighting.

God I love this article. I'm in Nairobi (at a coffee shop!) and headed to Atlanta and Chapel Hill for a couple weeks. Saw orphaned elephants this morning and had fun haggling at the Masai Market just now. I'm testing posting via my new Samsung Galaxy Mini smart phone. It will be good for navigation on long rides.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Cleaned my bike chain in methylated spirits (AKA denatured alcohol), spent $6 for installation of a new motorcycle horn, and Obama said something encouraging (complete with odd tilt-shift photography in the NYT--

Read more than you ever wanted to know about cleaning a bike chain at or

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Less

Dam Removal. Yes, please.,0,5450869.story

Monkeys and Motorcycles

I went to Kisumu.

There were monkeys.

They have bright blue scrota.

My dogs almost ate a lizard.

It fought back.

Then I saved it.

I bought a motorcycle.

I'm doing a deep clean/tune of my bike.

The rear brake pads are almost worn out after two months.

I need to get some degreaser and clean all the components. The rear derailleur wasn't springing back to take up the slack when I was trying to shift onto smaller cassette cogs.

The spokes are fine, so I don't really need to take this guy off, but it might be nice to have the nut for this just in case.

I gave George another bath.

Clouds here are awesome.

Regarding the motorcyle, it's a 5-speed Chinese brand (Igo) 125 cc with the engine design ripped off of Honda. I was a little worried about 125 or 150 being too big since I'd only ever riden a 100 (and only once). Then a friend reminded me that 125cc is for scooters in the US, and real bikes are 700-1100cc. So my bike is wimpy, which is great since I'm a total beginner. I got up to 100km/hr once on the way home, given traffic and road conditions I was mostly going 60-70 km/hr. I made the ride from Kisumu to Busia in about 2 hours, which is about the same time it takes in a private car--they can obviously drive faster on clear sections, but there are lot of potholes (craters, really) and speedbumps that are less of an obstacle for motorbikes.

The bike cost $700, and another $50 for a year's insurance. I don't expect it to last long, but I'm pretty disappointed that there's already an electrical problem. The horn quit working 1/4 mile from the house. There's a loose wire that I didn't notice; I should be able to figure that out myself or get it fixed in town pretty easily though. Other than that the ride was a lot of fun. Given my inexperience I was concerned about getting passed too closely by matatus or facing oncoming vehicles trying to pass each other, but it wasn't that bad. I'm headed to the US in a week, so I might not be able to go for a long ride for another month.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Today was a most excellent day

Video chatting with friends, comments on the IRB protocol at work (exciting!), a muddy bike ride, and dinner at Chauma.

Happy Adventure Links

Here are some links of a happier variety.

First, the whole idea of jobs and careers spent making stuff might be obsolete. We've got enough stuff. (h/t Squatch)

Second, some adventures:
A friend LB is finishing her bike ride to the tip of Chile, and another friend Boomer is in Antarctica. Also, some dudes rode fat bikes around Alaska, which seems like an inefficient way to travel (h/t MRB), and a Japanese dude is riding around the world and paying for it with magic tricks. (h/t Billy)

Lastly, Roger Ebert does not fear death. (Plus, he's an awesome atheist liberal.) The money quote in the article comes from Brendan Behan, an Irish poet:
I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

Links of the Usual Variety

Paul Krugman on 9/11. Truer words.

I finally watched "Waiting for Superman." Just because it can make me get teary-eyed doesn't mean it's true. (I'm looking at you, Spiderman 2.) That is to say, public education probably isn't as bad as you might think, charter schools are not uniformly excellent, and teachers' unions are not the devil. My favorite ridiculous lie in the film is claiming that more money clearly does no good and it's not a question of bad neighborhoods or broken families, then holding up the success in Harlem as a shining example, while ignoring that those successful charters receive tons of extra private financial support and have an approach that starts with the parents in the child's infancy.

NYRB has a fantastic takedown of the movie here, and another couple related book reviews by the same author here. (h/t JS)

USA Today is looking into whether there was cheating during Michelle Rhee's supposedly miraculous tenure as DC schools chief here.

The New Yorker film review, with some insight, is here.

Here the New Yorker says the crisis is overblown.

Lastly, no matter how much I ride my bike, or we all choose to conserve on our own, Earth is doomed without major policy changes. Isn't that a happy thought?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dog Fence Garden Sunburn

The road looked like this for a long time

Then they finally fixed it.

My housemate's water tank project. The solution: use washers!

The parking lot/swimming pool

The M/Th used clothing market

The veggie/fish market

They demanded I take their picture.

The only road in town

The new bike lane

Mobile sales force

I learned to ride a motorcycle. I plan to head to Kisumu this weekend and buy one. I built a fence to keep the dogs out of the trash. I commissioned a compost bin from the carpenter. Mack and George get along great, much to the chagrin of discarded shoes. I made stationery from beer labels attached with water-soluble glue. I planted a garden of sweet corn, broccoli, zucchini, beets, and chard. Of course I got stupid sunburnt, you don't even have to ask.

Lastly, Crossing to Safety was brilliant, and I want to make babies with Wallace Stegner's prose:
"In my experience, the world's happiest man is a young professor building bookcases, and the world's most contented couple is composed of that young professor and his wife, in love, employed, at the bottom of a depression from which it is impossible to fall further, and entering on their first year as full adults, not preparing any longer but finally into their lives."

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Solution to All My Problems

I really think this is the best idea I've ever had. A brand new one is about $1000. It's an Indian brand, there's also Bajaj, or the considerably more expensive Yamaha. A coworker in Kisumu has one and has put 10,000 miles (kilometers?) on it. It'd take just as long to get places like the Masai Mara, Kisumu, Sipi Falls, Mt. Kenya, Homa Bay, and Kampala on weekends, but it would make the getting there a lot more fun. It would of course be more fun getting there but more tiring, although riding in a matatu (the Nissan minivans into which they cram 20 people) is pretty tiring too.

If it's not raining, I might try and borrow my friends and learn to ride it on the airstrip tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Links for Cynics

Waddya think--would I be better off if I were less well informed? At certain times I've read every single post on Talking Points Memo, and most political articles on Salon and NYT. I scaled way back so I wouldn't waste time on the job market. Currently I'd say I glance at Salon and NYT, then go back to work, and spend my free time reading the stack of old New Yorkers I brought with me that piled up during the job market. I do get a lot of utility out of walking around thinking I'm better informed than everyone else, but everything I read makes me angry. It's a quandary.

Here are some examples.

One, Texas executed an innocent man. I actually don't have strong anti-death penalty opinions, but Scalia's thoughts on the matter are repulsive.

Two, government prosecutors, like anyone with authority, push little people around because they can instead of going after wealthy people who run banks and tank the world economy. To make it even more awesome, the reward for this behavior is becoming a Republican congressman.

Three, the only people Obama is prosecuting for Bush's warantless wiretapping are the whistleblowers.

Here's a less cynical article about great tennis rivalries. And a pretty good satirical piece that Blattman linked to on how white people should write about Africa. I definitely don't think it's entirely fair, but it's funny.

Back to being cynical. As an adventurer, and someone who thinks it's crazy that Americans don't own passports and don't travel, it upsets me that there's apparently a lot of backlash against the US hikers who are imprisoned in Iran. (1, 2)

Since the root of my cynicism is my belief that all organizations are corrupt, basically there's no good way to aggregate preferences, here's some evolutionary evidence that I'm at least not too far off when it comes to large groups. I read this in John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent (which, other than this tidbit is way too much geology for my tastes.) A Psychology professor at Liverpool University, Robin Dunbar found a strong correlation between primate neocortex size relative to the rest of the brain and their social group size by species. This relationship applied to humans would imply an natural group size of 148. There are several societies through history that have had about that size (e.g. Hutterites split their farming communities once it's bigger than 150.) So maybe I shouldn't be so disappointed in Obama--the real problem is that the US has more than 150 people. So there are two take aways--(1) who wants to join me and 148 other people in the woods? (2) [For the Econs] Is that Hutterite 150-cutoff a strict rule? If so, are there Maimonides' rule-type regression discontinuity papers to be written?

Let's end this on an upbeat note: Jeff Mangum is touring again and Neutral Milk Hotel is putting out a box set with previously unreleased material on November 22! Somehow, I've already heard several of the "previously unreleased" material (thank you, Internet). Still, if I lived where I could get a copy of this, I might buy a record player just for these few records. You can download some live recordings from Mangum's recent performance in Toronto here.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Lake Victoria is not that far from my house.

I rode the ~100km from the house to Lake Victoria near the village of Sio Port and back today. There was a little more pavement than I'd like (you have to take the main Busia-Kisumu road to Matayos to take the only bridge over the river), and I got lost a little on the way back trying to cut out some of it. I plan on buying a smart phone (probably the Huawei IDEOS) so I can use google maps for navigation--the detail on the unpaved roads is pretty good, and cell reception is ubiquitous thus far in my experience. I took a brief boat ride to get closer to some birds. As usual, when I was fairly exhausted and almost all the way home a dude on a bike decides to race me the last few miles, so now I'm completely exhausted.