Friday, September 28, 2007

Parity in Baseball

Going into the last weekend of the Major League Baseball season, we've seen a remarkable amount of parity between the teams. With each team having three games remaining on the 162-game schedule, note the following points:

1. No team in the National League has yet clinched a postseason spot. The three division leaders and the wild card leader all still have at least one team within striking distance.
UPDATE: The Cubs clinched that night, but the postseason invites weren't set, of course, until after the 13th inning on Monday, a day after the regular season was supposed to end. That was a fantastic ballgame, one of the best in recent memory.

2. No team in the majors has a record of .600 or above, nor is there a team with a record of .400 or below. No team will win or lose more than 97 games.
UPDATE: This held up. No team won or lost more than 96 games. Arizona's 90 wins was the fewest for a team with a league's best winning percentage since the season expanded to 162 games.

3. If the Padres and Mets were to both fall out of a playoff position, then no National League team will get a repeat trip to the postseason from last year. Five of the seven teams vying for the four playoff spots did not win one last year.
UPDATE: Both the Padres and Mets missed the playoffs. The National League's postseason delegation has no repeats from last year. In fact, none of them had been in the postseason since 2003.
UPDATE 2: Somehow it slipped my notice that 3 of the 4 American League teams in the playoffs weren't there last year. With 8 postseason berths each year, the only team to repeat is the Yankees. Fully half (15 of 30) of the teams in MLB were in the playoffs either this year or last.

4. There is still a possibility for a massive four-way tie at the end of the season that would lead to three days of playoffs. Until last night, there was still a chance for a five-way tie.
UPDATE: Three teams tied, but one of them (the Phillies) was their division leader, so there was just the one playoff game.

Things will either get a lot clearer by the end of the day on Sunday or very, very muddy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Adam Villani, Paparazzo

This is probably as good a time as any to unload these photos of Phil Spector's house that I took last month. Phil doesn't live in the Hollywood Hills or Malibu, as you might expect, but off in suburban Alhambra, about 3 miles from my own apartment, where he gets to play the role of "crazy old recluse who lives in the big house at the top of the hill."

Here's the neighborhood, looking south on Grandview Ave., with his house hidden amongst the trees at the top of the hill.The gate to his estate.Yes, it reads "Phil Spector's Pyrenees Castle," in case you weren't sure if it was really his. It also says you're under surveillance.From the air, via Yahoo! Maps, his property is the big forested triangle in the middle of this view.Sorry the photos are blurry; lighting was bad and I didn't want to stick around and get yelled at or anything. Also sorry for there being nothing of value in this post whatsoever. I just thought it was weird how Spector lived nearby in a big house amongst a bunch of normal-sized houses in the suburbs.

The TV Station that Cried "Special Report"

KNBC just broke into their regular programming for more than five minutes to deliver an important special report telling us about... a terrorist attack?... a local plane crash?... an assassination?... did we bomb Iran?... No! It was to tell us that the Phil Spector jury had deadlocked and that the judge declared a mistrial. That couldn't wait for a commercial break? A scroll across the bottom? The top of the hour?

There are going to be some angry Days of Our Lives viewers out there. Media pundits can rail against the sorry state of local news* all they want, but any TV station should know not to mess with soap opera fans.

*Incidentally, how pathetic are those spots NBC has with Brian Williams telling us that he can't imagine reading about important events online, and that the only real news is TV news? Somebody needs to tell their local affiliates.

Environmental Markets

I liked the sentiments expressed by commenter "kolmogorov" here on Slate expressing his desire for environmental markets rather than environmental puritanism.
I want an environmentalism dominated by environmental engineers and economists, by markets working out the most efficient solutions, not by envionmental shamans shaking their rattles and checking my piety.
This was in response to Emily Bazelon's article on how the motivations behind the Prius's success may have more to do with a desire to advertise oneself as being environmentally conscious rather than a primary desire to take action on the environment. That being said, a Prius does use a lot less fuel than a similar gasoline-only car. But it is still an automobile.

Preach all you want against consumptive habits, but if you want to reach beyond the already-converted, you're going to need to establish some sort of environmental tax structure that builds in the cost of the externalities into the cost of production and transportation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Congratulations, Roto!

Friend and college classmate (actually, he was a year above me, but we lived in the same student house) Paul "Roto" Rothemund was awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" yesterday for his work with nanotechnology, specifically, his "DNA origami." Awesome! Paul is a good guy and a smart guy, and it's great to see his research recognized.

*Note that the L.A. Times gives his age incorrectly as 25, making him seem like some sort of young genius prodigy. He's actually 35.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The State Department Loves Me

Speaking of quick turnarounds, this past Friday I got my new passport in the mail. You've heard all the stories about how there was a big backlog of passports, right? Well, now they're working hard on eliminating the backlog, and I believe them, because I had just sent in my application Wednesday of the previous week! That was just nine days before, and I didn't pay extra to have the processing expedited or anything.

If he could turn back time

Usually Hugo Chavez is kinda scary and ass-like, but this time he's just comical and ass-like. What's up now is that he decided that the standard time zones separated by sixty minutes were some manifestation of U.S. imperialism and that they should create their own time zone 4:30 behind Greenwich Mean Time. I guess that's because Newfoundland and South Australia are such paragons of socialist revolutionary fervor. The time was supposed to change today, just eight days after making the announcement, but apparently screwing with the clocks is something that takes a little more preparation, and they've pushed the time change back to January.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

(Belated) Honeymoon Photos!

I've finally put all of my honeymoon photos up online and labeled them, even the ones Jen took. Yes, my honeymoon was in May of last year. There were so many beautiful things in Maui that I highly encourage you to check out the whole photoset here.

It got off to a bumpy start when we narrowly missed the cutoff to check in for our flight to Maui (thanks, United!) This turned out not to be such a big snag, since not only were we able to instead get a flight to Honolulu and take a short interisland flight the next morning to Maui, but thanks in part to booking through Pleasant Holidays, we got what would have been our first night in Maui refunded. We ended up spending three nights at the Hyatt Regency Maui in Ka'anapali, which was really nice.We had never snorkeled before, but with the help of Snorkel Bob (tip o' the hat to Pete Choi), we did a lot on this trip. It was loads of fun, and a lot easier than we had imagined. At Black Rock Beach in Ka'anapali, in front of the Sheraton, there are a ton of fish in the water. Later, we got a waterproof camera, but I haven't scanned those photos in, so you'll just have to imagine the tropical underwater wonderland beneath the surface in this photo.In nearby Lahaina, we attended the Old Lahaina Lu'au, which is said to be one of the most best and most authentic lu'aus in Hawaii. There was a ton of good food, including a pig cooked in an in-ground oven called an 'imu.Dancing, too!

After finishing up our stay in Ka'anapali, we took the scenic route (Kahekili Highway) around the north side of West Maui.We stayed the next three nights at a pleasant bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Wailuku. Since Wailuku isn't really a tourist area, there were several excellent, cheap restaurants serving "local food," including one place, Nazo's, with the best oxtail soup we've ever had.

One all-day trip we made was the big loop around Haleakala, starting with the amazing Hana Highway and continuing clockwise around the eastern lobe of the island. The Hana Highway takes you around the rainy side of the island through some of the lushest scenery imaginable.There are so many waterfalls on this route that eventually you'll reach waterfall fatigue from seeing so many.It had been pretty rainy when we went and the flow of the waterfalls was all quite heavy. Contrast the video I took with the shot of the same waterfall that I borrowed from this excellent photography site by Katrin Andreeva.

One side trip will take you to Ke'anae Peninsula, where there is a small town and an awesome volcanic shoreline.At Wai'anapanapa State Park, there is a black sand beach.We continued past Hana to the Pools of 'Ohe'o. I've seen photos where there was just a trickle from pool to pool, but with the rain there had been, the water in the pools we saw formed a veritable raging torrent. Compare my photo (first) with a more typical shot of the same area (from Maui Traveler).West of Kipahulu you're on the much drier lee side of the island, and the road (Pi'ilani Highway) gets pretty hairy for a while.Another day we went up to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala. Seeing the clouds move beneath us as the sun set was one of the most astounding, surreal spectacles I've ever seen.We also did some snorkeling down at Ahihi Bay in South Maui, too, but I don't have any photos of that. The guidebook we used the most was Maui Revealed, which is especially good for locating points along the Hana Highway and Kahekili Highway. Anyway, the whole trip was totally awesome and I highly recommend going to Maui.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Misleading headline

Check out the sidebar in this article for the video clip titled "Kerry Stunned by Student Tasing." Actually, it was the student who was stunned, not John Kerry.

Monday, September 17, 2007

How 'bout that?

My sister Dorothy introduced me to this "Career Matchmaker" toy (use the username nycareers and the password landmark) yesterday. I plugged in my preferences and came up with the following career suggestions list after a single pass:

1. Planner
2. Civil Engineering Tech
3. Home Inspector
4. Cartographer
5. Electrical Engineer

Astute observers will note that the #1 suggestion, Planner, is, in fact, my actual career. #5, Electrical Engineer, is, more or less, what I was doing before I became a planner. My Bachelor's degree was in Geology, and Geologist is their #15 suggestion. Not bad.

My sister's actual career, high school teacher, came in third on her list, but I think that was after making a bunch of refinements to her preferences. I think originally her list had things like "upholstery cleaner" on it. The odd thing is that I think she's about as well-suited to teaching high school as anybody ever was.

UPDATE: See the comments; I guess that username wasn't supposed to be public, and now it doesn't work.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Saipan sucks, apparently

One U.S. territory that sounds like it's definitely not ready to become a U.S. state is the Northern Marianas. The anonymous author of Saipan Sucks says the islands are a hotbed of institutionalized nepotism, corruption, theft, and sweatshop owners who get to slap a "Made in USA" label on clothing made without the legal protections guaranteed to American workers. Tom DeLay and some of his buddies apparently thought this system was great, even though employers keep workers in a situation akin to indentured servitude and even force them to have abortions.

In the previous Congress, a number of Democratic representatives (including Hilda Solis, my local congresswoman) introduced the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Human Dignity Act to stop these abuses, but unfortunately that bill was never voted on. Let's hope they introduce it again now that Democrats have a majority. Here are the transcripts from a Congressional hearing earlier this year on the subject.

On the good side, the President signed a bill into law this May that will, among other things, steadily increase the minimum wage in the Northern Marianas until it reaches that of the rest of the country. The article misidentifies the bill, though; it was really H.R. 2206 (See Title VIII, Section 8103).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Representation for D.C.?

Matthew Yglesias brings up the fact that he is a taxpaying U.S. citizen living in the United States who has no Congressional representation. A sort-of bipartisan* group of Senators and Representatives have sponsored a bill to give DC a voting representative (presumably a Democrat) in the House, balanced politically by an extra representative for Utah (presumably a Republican) that it barely missed out on at the most recent reapportionment.

*The sort-of-bipartisan group includes Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, not-really Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, Republican Representative Tom Davis, and Democratic non-voting DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

On the one hand, I can certainly understand how it's kind of sub-optimal that a city of nearly 600,000 doesn't have any real representation in Congress, especially since it's a fully-incorporated part of the U.S., and not a tax-exempt territory. More than just the vote, the District's non-state status means that services and infrastructure in the District that doesn't directly serve the government is something of an afterthought. But on the other hand, this solution sounds like a temporary compromise that still leaves the people of Washington without full state status, is of very questionable constitutionality, and rewards Utah with an extra Congressman (and Electoral College vote) just as a political favor ("almost" shouldn't count in reapportionment).

The comments to Yglesias's post have all sorts of arguments pro and con, as well as alternative proposals. Some suggest turning the District of Columbia into a state. I'm not sure about the interpretation of the clause in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizing the formation of the federal district, but I think most people interpret it to mean that a non-state federal district must exist. If that is indeed the case, the Constitution would need to be amended if the District were to be done away with entirely; alternately the District could be reduced to simply the Federal Triangle (i.e., the Mall and its immediate environs) and the rest either retroceded to Maryland or become a state by itself.

Getting back to the Constitution, I think the point of the aforementioned clause was to set aside an area for the federal government outside of the influence of any state. I don't have anything against that, but I think it may have surprised the Framers of the Constitution to learn that such a large city had grown within the District's limits. While perfectly legal, it does seem contrary to many of the basic principles forming this country for so many people to be disenfranchised. Furthermore, I think at the time there may have concerns that a state government might conflict with the federal government, but since then the federal government has certainly proved itself capable of operating independently of any states on federal property.

If it were all up to me, I'd probably amend the Constitution to allow the dissolution of the District and retrocede the whole thing back to Maryland, but the people in Maryland might not want Washington and the people in Washington might not want Maryland. It might be more preferable to have the District become a state.

But I think to a lot of people (self included) the idea of the capital becoming its own state just seems weird --- not just because it hasn't been for two centuries, but because aesthetically it just doesn't seem like a state. Its population is very small (though greater than Wyoming and not that much less than a few other states) and its area is tiny. And much more so than in other countries, states in the U.S. are supposed to be kind of like little countries, with fully-developed economies of urban and rural areas working together. The District of Columbia doesn't have any real industries besides tourism, and the museums and such are free anyway. Even more than politics, the lack of a money-generating economy may be the biggest stumbling block to statehood, and would also be a good reason for Maryland to be wary of taking them back on. I dunno how to solve that, but it would probably be easier to absorb it into Maryland than to support itself.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joe Biden?

I actually saw a car with a Joe Biden for President bumper sticker on Saturday. Bizarre. I wanted to stop and ask the guy if he was serious.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Maps of L.A.

The L.A. City Nerd compiled this set of nearly 100 links to different maps of Los Angeles back in February, but I just found it now. It's great!

I like this map showing how the City of L.A. is big enough to fit St. Louis, Boston, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Manhattan, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh inside.

Son of Geography Trivia

Today I have one question I'd like you to try to think of the answer to without consulting any references and one in which you're welcome to use references.

1. (No references.) California is in the Pacific Time Zone. Disregarding Daylight Saving Time, or whether the same time zone in a different country might have a different name, can you tell me where you would be if (A) you traveled north along the coast from California until the time zone changed, and where you would be if (B) you traveled south along the coast from California until the time zone changed.

Take a guess and post it in the comments. You're welcome to consult a reference after you've posted a guess, but please don't post the answer after you've consulted a reference.

2. (References OK -- except for Wikipedia's ordered list of islands by population.) Can you name the five most populous islands in the United States? I'm not including territories and such like Puerto Rico or Guam. Can you put them in order?

UPDATE: I've now listed the answers in the comments.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

New county-counting map

I updated my county-counting map over on Marty O'Brien's site to show seven different colors instead of the old four. Formerly I color-keyed things by decade (red for the '70s to blue for the '00s), but now I've divided it into five-year increments, from red for ages 0-4 to green for ages 30-34.

Here's the old map:Here's the new map with prettier colors (click here for full size):I just turned 34 yesterday, so I've got another year to color things in green before I'll inaugurate a new color (and become eligible to be President of the United States).

Note: I don't know why the background color turns up as black on the blog.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quick movie thoughts

Back in college I used to write a column for The California Tech called "Adam Villani: Media Guy" where I wrote short reviews and commentaries on movies, plays, etc. I think that somehow my ability to write reviews has declined since then, but maybe if I start more consistently writing reviews on my blog I'll improve. The notes on movies below are really short and don't really bear mentioning unless you're really interested in whether or not I liked these. I'll try writing longer pieces in the future.

I should note that the tallies after the movies reflect the settings and the number of feature films I've seen starring the given actor or by the given director. This is a thing I started keeping track of several years ago just as a little OCD-type thing. It is of no importance unless you want to compare for yourself.

1. Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou at the Nuart. This was definitely one of the good Godards. I think a lot of pretentious French filmmakers *cough* Bruno Dumont *cough* Catherine Breillat *cough* Godard himself these days *cough* make movies that imitate only the most annoying aspects of his 60s films (the preachiness, the nihilism, etc.) without any of the joie de vivre. I liked how the actors were almost never holding still on screen. Check out the scenes by the beach where Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina seem to be in constant motion, balancing on downed trees, sliding off of the roof of a house, or otherwise exploring their surroundings.

Paris, FRA; Nice, FRA; points between
Jean-Luc Godard (d) 7
Jean-Paul Belmondo 3
Anna Karina 3

2. The Bourne Ultimatum. Pretty damn good. Still no ultimata being issued in this one, just as The Bourne Supremacy didn't involve Bourne being supreme. At least the first one did, in fact, involve his identity. Lots of suspense, lots of the guy using his wits, etc. Watch this if you want to see a guy kick ass all over the world and have it not be stupid.

Moscow, RUS; Paris, FRA; London, GBR; Madrid, ESP; Tangiers, MOR; Langley, VA; New York, NY
Paul Greengrass (d) 3
Matt Damon 19
Julia Stiles 5
David Strathairn 6
Scott Glenn 11
Paddy Considine 5
Albert Finney 7
Joan Allen 7

3. Bad Santa (via cable) - pretty amusing to my inner misanthrope, and lots of funny lines, but not really as funny as I was expecting. More alcohol abuse than perhaps any movie I'd seen since Leaving Las Vegas. Maybe The Real Cancun is up there, too.

Milwaukee, WI; Miami Beach, FL; Phoenix, AZ
Terry Zwigoff (d) 4
Billy Bob Thornton 9
Tony Cox 9 + short Captain Eo
Lauren Tom 3
Bernie Mac 7
John Ritter 2 (Sling Blade)
Cloris Leachman 4

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (Netflix) - I'd never actually seen this, though I'd half-assedly read the book in high school. It was pretty fascinating the way they presented the adult world through the kids' points of view. Definitely earns its status as a classic. Wears its nobility on its sleeve, and bravo for that.

Macomb, The South
Gregory Peck 2 (How the West was Won)
John Megna 2 (The Godfather Part II) [I mention this only because it seems strange that the kid who played Dill later played "Young Hyman Roth"]
Brock Peters 4 (incl. two Star Trek movies)
Robert "Boo Radley" Duvall 14

5. The Blues Brothers (extended cut - Netflix) - Jen had never seen this; I hadn't seen it in 20 years, and we'd recently returned from Chicago. It still holds up. Great music, great car chases, and great comedy, but it's more than just that; it's the sort of movie that elevates its protagonists to the status of heroes I want to cheer for, not just chuckle at.

Joliet, IL; Calumet City, IL; Chicago, IL; elsewhere around Chicagoland; Kokomo, IN
John Landis (d) 7 + short Thriller
John Belushi 3
Dan Aykroyd 13
James Brown 4
Cab Calloway 1
Ray Charles 2 (Spy Hard) [I think I saw Spy Hard. It was pretty forgettable.]
Aretha Franklin 1
Carrie Fisher 17 + I once saw her in the audience with her mother at a show
Henry Gibson 7
John Candy 9
Kathleen Freeman 6
Steve Lawrence 3
Frank Oz 13 + shorts Time Piece and Muppetvision: 3D
Charles Napier 8
Chaka Khan 1
Paul Reubens 8 + short Star Tours
John Lee Hooker 1
Steven Spielberg (as an actor) 5

6. Superbad - I like this trend of R-rated Judd Apatow-involved comedies that side with the goofy, sensitive guys. Gut-bustingly funny and an After Hours-style picaresque storyline. Not really believable that the hot chicks would go out with our trio of nerdy protagonists, though.

A mysterious "Clark County" in an unnamed state with fictional license plates
Jonah Hill 4
Michael Cera 2 (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)
Bill Hader 2 (Knocked Up)
Seth Rogen 5
Kevin Corrigan 7

Saturday, September 01, 2007

More Photos from Indiana and Kentucky

As promised, I've now labeled the photos I took in July of last year the first time I went out to visit Jen in Indiana. This was also my first real visit to the Midwest; previously the extent of my travels in the Midwest was driving over the Williamstown Bridge to Marietta, Ohio on Christmas, 1997, and then promptly turning around on the other side to head back into West Virginia.

On this trip, we flew in to Indianapolis and then drove into Kentucky, another state I'd never been to. We then went back up through rural Indiana and then spent a few days getting acquainted with Indy before I flew back home and Jen began work at Lilly.

Our first stop was in Columbus, Indiana, a town whose largest employer, Cummins Engine Company, instituted a program sometime around WWII to pay the architect's fee for buildings in the city, starting with public schools and then expanding to other public and private uses. The result is that this small town of 39,000 has a most remarkable collection of world-class public architecture; they're proud to note that the American Institute of Architects ranked Columbus sixth on a list of best cities for architecture in the U.S., behind only Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington.

Here is Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church:
And here is the Second Street Bridge, designed by J. Mueller International:
Across the river from Louisville we stopped at Falls of the Ohio State Park, where there are a bunch of exposed limestone beds with fossils in them. One of the main streets in downtown Louisville was renamed Muhammad Ali Boulevard some time back.
Louisville has some classy old hotels for the Kentucky Derby set, and then they also have this goofy place, Lynn's Paradise Cafe, where we ate breakfast.
Louisville is also home to the corner of Penile Road and Manslick Road, although the two signs don't appear on the same post.
In Kentucky we visited Mammoth Cave National Park, which is awesome. It includes more than 367 miles of passages, and on our tour we only saw a tiny fraction of that, of course. Photos from a cheap camera can't possibly convey the size of even the part of the cave we saw; I highly recommend you see it for yourself.
The Green River Ferry:
This is what tobacco looks like growing in a field.
We went to a nice fireworks display at Western Kentucky University. Check out WKU's weird "Big Red" mascot that looks like a red Grimace.
We were going to visit Beech Bend Amusement Park, but their new roller coaster got struck by lightning and was down for the day. We headed back into Indiana and visited Holiday World, a small amusement park that prides itself, deservedly so, on its excellent wooden roller coasters, cleanliness, value, and friendly employees. The Voyage holds the top spot on my list of favorite wooden coasters; it really doesn't let up from the first drop to the end.
Those of you used to Disney or Six Flags putting their hands in your wallet at every turn will be dumbfounded to note that at Holiday World, parking and Pepsi products are free! And at their waterpark, so is sunscreen! You know how on some roller coasters, parks will have cubbyholes for you to keep your bags in while you ride? At Holiday World, the ride attendants actually collect your bags for you and stow them themselves.
Nearby is Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, a very nice place to visit, not overrun with tourists.
On the way back to Indy, we stopped to get a yummy butterscotch pie at an Amish bakery and took a look at uber-college town Bloomington. Here's a shot of the Indianapolis skyline.
Indianapolis has a nice medium-size zoo that also has a botanical garden attached to it. Here is a picture of an elephant.
Here is a picture of Gentoo penguins.
And this was at the gardens.
I like these keen split I-65/I-70 Interstate shields in downtown Indy:
So there you go.