Thursday, December 31, 2009

Friends and Family

Time for one last post this year, I guess!

Sometime in the fall of 1987, I got my first apartment on my own. I had been sharing apartments with others for years, so I needed to acquire a lot of furnishings. As luck would have it, my friend Rod had recently moved into a house, and the previous owner had left a couple of pieces in the basement that Rod didn't want, so I inherited a big, solid woodblock chair and a credenza.

The credenza I ultimately gave away a couple of years later before I moved back to California. But I kept the chair. And it has followed me through several more moves, and eventually settled in our living room, where it became a favorite place for my daughter to curl up and read. It was quite worn and shabby, but the cushions and upholstery were really soft, so she liked it.

When we bought a ski house this summer, we decided the chair should move up there, and my mother-in-law took it upon herself to make the chair nicer. I had been thinking of reupholstering and restuffing the cushions, but she took it to a whole new level. Not only did she find terrific fabric with bears and moose on it, but she took the whole chair apart, refinished the wood, and just did a tremendous job of making it a whole new chair.

And here is the final result:

Not the best photo in the world (all I had with me was my iPhone), but you can see how cool it is! I know Rod, in particular, will appreciate the appropriateness of the moose motif. Hard to believe that this chair that has been cast off a couple of times and dragged across the country and around the state now has a whole new life. It's a really comfortable place to site and read or work.

So thanks again, Rod, and thanks to Cathy and her minions who made the whole refinishing and reconstruction project come off so well. I plan to enjoy this chair for many more years to come!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who Could Have Predicted?

A year ago I was gloating about President-elect Obama's choice of John Holdren to be his science advisor. And I'm still quite pleased with the choice.

But it appears that Holdren is in the cross-hairs of the anti-science crowd:
But thanks to the magic of the Internet, right-wing blogs, newspapers, and television networks have seized on Holdren's old work and painted him as a wild-eyed environmental extremist — a crazed, misanthropic ideologue bent on controlling our lives and mass sterilization.
But the reality isn't quite like that:
Holdren and Erhlich considered a variety of other options for limiting population growth. Perhaps we could slip sterilization drugs into the water or food supply. Or force the mothers of illegitimate children to give them up for adoption. Or force pregnant single women to marry or have abortions. Ultimately, they decided that such options probably won't work. But they didn't exactly recoil from the ideas in moral horror. And therein lies the rub.
The article does a good job talking about the nature of scientific investigation, and how politics doesn't handle that well. For example:
At a time when populists distrust expertise, every scientific endeavor is politicized, and the Internet preserves your every utterance, it's getting harder and harder for scientists to do what they're supposed to: think out loud.
And this:
Nothing is more complicated than the weather, and as scientists try to predict the future of climate change, they're bound to make mistakes. But Holdren is operating in a different world now — a world where complexity is a liability or an irritant, where nuance is ignored, and activists on all sides strip away context as they search for something that can kill your career when framed in the right way.
Good article, especially for the local alt-weekly. It does a good job of comparing Holdren's situation with that of Van Jones, who shares local roots.

Anyone who has actually met or talked with John Holdren, even a little bit, knows that he's not a crazed, genocidal, eco-terrorist. He's a calm, thoughtful, and intellectually honest man who doesn't shy away from the findings of science or the hard policy choices they might dictate. At the same time, it's easy to envision him dispassionately evaluating even extreme policy options and dismissing them without getting riled up. He's a scientist. That's what they do.

One of my favorite memories of Holdren's class at Berkeley was his lecture on carcinogens. Instead of either dismissing or hyping the risks, it was all about evaluating the research and the numbers, even if it meant that peanut butter or tasty, dark beer might turn out to be seriously dangerous. He was trying to teach us to think like scientists and evaluate the evidence.

But our current political discourse doesn't have much room for nuance or dispassion. It's all about sound and fury, which has no place in scientific discussion.

I know Holdren is capable of handling the storms that are already swarming around him. I just hope the same is true of those around him, because I think he can be a tremendous contributor to solving some of the key issues facing the country and the world.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What Digby Said

I think Atrios or someone should have a copyright on that title, but whatever: Digby is right, as usual:
There were those who warned that allowing anyone president to have unaccountable powers would lead to every successor to fight to maintain them. But no one wanted to believe that a nice Democrat would ever do such a thing. Ahem:
Read it. And weep.

For Real This Time

Real ski weekend this time.

Started off with Opening Day at Alpine Meadows on Saturday. Although they only had two lifts running, the runs they had groomed were in really good shape. They had a few glitches with the new RFID gates at the lifts, but overall, things went well, and it was really fun. I'm glad we had a few practice turns last weekend at Northstar.

Rumor was that there would be snow pretty much after we left on Sunday, but the snow came early. And since we needed to get home early on Sunday, we decided to blow off the skiing and head out early. But a couple of accidents had closed the highway, so we decided to buy some groceries, head back to the house, and hunker down.

Here's what the deck looked like early on Sunday afternoon (it had been clear in the morning):
Then it really started snowing. Ski resorts were closed due to high wind. We stayed hunkered down. And when I got up Monday morning, the deck looked like this:
Needless to say, no heading home. Jan did go ski at Alpine, where she said the powder was excellent. I was under the weather with a headache, and besides, I needed to work. By today the roads were clear and we could drive home easily. So we've already had many of the season's experiences.

Looks like a great start to the season's snow, though. I can't wait to get back up on the hill!