Are People Essentially Good?

Ervin Peretz thinks so. He got so hot and bothered during an argument over the concept, that he decided to try a little experiment to prove his point. That little experiment meant dropping six figures on start up costs for a new coffee shop in Kirkland, Washington called Terra Bite.

How does opening a coffee shop prove that people are inherently good? It doesn't. But not charging people anything and asking them to pay what they feel when they feel they should goes a long way toward providing the necessary evidence. So far, Ervin says, it seems that the people who pay more than enough or making up for those who don't.

You can read the article for yourself at AZ Central.


Big Invisible Creatures

This afternoon while I was sitting at work, something happened that made me feel like I was in an episode of Lost. It felt like a large invisible monster ran across/through me from my left side to my right side, and taht it made the building sway a bit. I was confused.

Then my boss says from the other room, "that was a nice little earthquake."

An earthquake? Really? That's the coolest thing ever.

I wasn't quite sure she was correct until Pete sent me this confirmation:

2/23/07 Earthquake in the Bay

It was my FIRST earthquake!!!! Pete thinks I'm a dork because I'm all excited about a 3.4, but it's my FIRST ONE!!!

As long as they stay small like that, that's pretty darn cool. No big ones, though, please.


The Real Time View

TV Squad has a great article about Tivo today. Basically, the point is that because Tivo allows you to watch your favorite shows without commercials, it actually becomes a drag to watch live tv with commercials. Pete and I have experienced this phenomenon in our house, as well. We will often note that a show we're recording is starting, but then watch something else that is already recorded instead so that we don't have to sit through commercials. The author of this article speaks directly to me, and I'm guessing many of you, when he says that when we do sit through commercials we are paying a show the highest compliment.
All this has got me to thinking that the best compliment a TiVo owner can give a show is to give it The Real Time View. Quickly defined, The Real Time View is when you love a show so much that you're willing to sit through commercials (like a commoner) because you can't even wait ten minutes to build up a TiVo buffer.
yeah...very few shows make it into that realm. Lost definitely does for us. We can't wait to watch it...especially now that it's on at 10 and waiting might mean a whole day. Everything else, though, is pretty subject to tivoification.

You can read the author's take at TV Squad.


In Need of a Vacation

We returned from Vegas at about 4am today. We were aiming for 8 or 9pm last night. What held us up? I wish I could say we decided to gamble more, but we left Vegas at 1pm yesterday. We were held up by the massive amount of traffic leaving Vegas on President's Day morning after Chinese New Year and NBA All-Stars Weekend. Traffic was 0-10 mph for the first 200 miles or so, and then we hit another patch that was 0-2 mph for another 20. We drove 18 hours. I'll say that again. 18. hours. driving. in a car together. tired as hell.

It wasn't as horrible as it sounds, though. I enjoy driving and Pete and I had fun hanging out. After five days completely with each other 24/7 I was pretty happy with us just getting along. :) That's a lot of time to be in close quarters with one person--even if you love them dearly. We did quite well.

The trip was amazing. We stayed at Binions downtown instead of on the strip and hit a lot of the outer-lying casinos. Definitely took the opportunity to shop around while we had the car. Here are a few highs and lows from the trip:

hi: staying in a downtown quirky hotel with lots of character on fremont street

lo: plastic mattress covers (eeewww--although I fixed them by adding the covers from one bed under the sheets of the bed on which we were sleeping).

hi: winning my first Vegas hold-em tourney ($35 buy-in for a $300 1st place payout at Excalibur, along with another 4th place $75 payout in the second tourney)

lo: losing it all in video poker

hi: The Price is Right live show!!!

lo: paying extra for a specific type of massage that didn't end up being all that great anyway

hi: the spa facilities at Caesar's Palace - the coolest thing was the arctic ice room (pun totally intended). The room is 55 degrees (and remember you're naked) with heated benches and snow. Very very interesting experience.

lo: crazy amounts of people there for the all-star game

hi: celebrity run-ins: Lots of big tall basketball players and wannabes walking around with skanky girls. Busta Rhymes tour bus passed us on the drive home.

lo: Pete's phone went missing in the Venetian (the very same casino where Pete tore his quad last year). We had walked away and Pete realized it was gone, and when I called it someone answered but wouldn't talk. After they turned the phone off, we reported it stolen. A while later I thought I'd try calling it again and the guy finally answered and actually gave it back to us. I'm not sure that was his original intention, but at least the phone wasn't gone.

hi: FABULOUS food. Dinner at Alize was incredible (Thank you, Pete!!!)--probably one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill was amazing as always. And Red Rock's buffet was one of the best we've seen. Yummy yummy food.

hi: finding THE ring I want!

lo: finding THE ring I want only at Harry Winston.

hi: the tigers and Sigfried and Roy's Secret Garden (always my favorite thing)

It really was such a fun trip. I'm so happy to be home, though---and ready to go curl up with our kitty!


Viva Las Vegas

Pete and I will be in Vegas for the next few days. No fun posts from me until we return!

Happy Weekend!


Happy V-Day

I'm not really that into Valentine's Day, but really, any day that gets my man out of bed to make me breakfast is invaluable. So happy Valentine's Day from a full-tummied Me.

More, importantly, February 14th is also V-Day.

Started by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, "V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery."

Although it operates all year, many of the events cluster around Feb 14. Find an event (such as a performance of The Vagina Monologues) near you.


Not That the Grammys Matter

Let's not pretend the Grammys mean anything more than they do, but I sure am awfully happy for the Dixie Chicks. They let rip an album that came back with a vengeance against their deserters and the politicos that led them down that road. They were shunned by the CMAs back in November, but last night they were greatly rewarded. They got all five awards for which they were nominated! Yay Chicks!

Semi-Homemade Cooking?

Anthony Bourdain, although a bit pompous, recognizes Sandra Lee for what she is.
SANDRA LEE: Pure evil. This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She Must Be Stopped. Her death-dealing can-opening ways will cut a swath of destruction through the world if not contained. I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard? None that I can see. This is simply irresponsible programming. Its only possible use might be as a psychological warfare strategy against the resurgent Taliban--or dangerous insurgent groups. A large-racked blonde repeatedly urging Afghans and angry Iraqis to stuff themseles with fatty, processed American foods might be just the weapon we need to win the war on terror.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of half-scratch cooking on weeknights. But the woman is a sorority girl who hasn't grown up and who entertains her sorority sisters by making pink tables full of processed crap--and she's making more money off it than I may ever see in my lifetime. I do think she has a WIDE audience and should be on tv. But I'd expect to see her just before Oprah or after Rachel Ray's new show--not on Food Network. Not that Food Network is what Anthony says it should be anyway. Read his whole rant.


Katrina Lives On

Since I went to New Orleans in October, I've been hyper aware of the lack of progress in the bayou. I usually try not to simply quote an article, but this is the best description of what's going on that I've read in quite a while.

Just KNOW that this is not over. Read this and realize that the Gulf still needs help. That's all I ask. Every person who knows what's going on helps spread the awareness.

New Orleans Residents are Bailing Out

NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans is a city on a knife's edge. A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, an alarming number of residents are leaving or seriously thinking of getting out for good.

They have become fed up with the violence, the bureaucracy, the political finger-pointing, the sluggish rebuilding and the doubts about the safety of the levees.

"The mayor says, `Come back home. Every area should come back.' For what?" said Genevieve Bellow, who rebuilt her home in heavily damaged eastern New Orleans but has been unable to get anything done about the trash and abandoned apartment buildings in her neighborhood and may leave town. "I have no confidence in anything or anybody."

A survey released in November found that 32 percent of city residents polled may leave within two years. University of New Orleans political scientist Susan Howell, who did the survey, said more will give up if the recovery does not pick up speed.

In fact, figures from the nation's top three moving companies suggest more people left the area than moved into it last year.

"People are in a state of limbo. They're asking, `Is it worth it for me to stay? Is it worth it to invest?' If you don't feel safe, from crime or the levees, and you see destruction every day when you drive, it becomes discouraging," Howell said.

If there is an exodus, it could mean more than just a shrunken New Orleans. It could mean a poorer city, financially and culturally, and a more desperate one, too, since the people likely to leave are the most highly educated and younger.

Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco have urged residents to return under rebuilding plans with names like Bring New Orleans Back and Road Home. The mayor has warned that the recovery will take a decade and has urged people not to give up hope.

But New Orleans' population appears to have plateaued at about half the pre-storm level of 455,000, well short of Nagin's prediction of 300,000 by the end of 2006. And in many ways, it is a meaner city than it was before the hurricane.

New Orleans ended 2006 with 161 homicides, for a murder rate higher than it was before Katrina and more than 4 1/2 times the national average for cities its size. After starting 2007 with practically one killing a day, the city has at least 19 slayings so far this year.

The criminal justice system is in disarray, with public defenders so overworked and witnesses so reluctant to testify that the courts are revolving doors, putting criminals back on the street. Mistrust between police and the public is running high, in part because seven officers were arrested in a deadly shooting during the chaotic aftermath of Katrina.

Nagin and Police Chief Warren Riley announced a plan last month to crack down on crime with checkpoints and the putting of more police on the beat.

For Jennifer Johansen, it is too little, too late. Johansen's neat yellow house in New Orleans Irish Channel is for sale, and the nurse, who returned to the city after Katrina, hopes to be in Seattle before spring.

The gunfire she used to hear until about a month ago made her uneasy about watching TV in her living room, and she yearns to live in a vibrant, safe city.

"I kept thinking, things would get better. But it just took too long for a response from the city, the mayor, the police chief, to address the increased crime," she said.

Louisiana demographer Elliott Stonecipher said: "You get the sense talking to people on the ground in New Orleans that a lot of people are right on the edge. They're just about to the point where they believe they have to decide."

Blanco's Road Home program, born 10 months after the storm, has been vilified by politicians and civic leaders as too slow to distribute $7.5 billion in federal aid to buy out homeowners or help them rebuild. As of Feb. 5, Road Home had taken 105,739 applications and resolved only 532 cases, granting $33.8 million. At the current rate, Road Home would take more than 13 years to complete.

Sen. David Vitter (news, bio, voting record), R-La., called Road Home a debacle. In hopes of jump-starting the neighborhood rebuildings, the mayor has put in place a gap-loan program to let homeowners borrow on their promised Road Home grants.

City, state and federal officials have traded the blame over the slow distribution of relief aid.

So far, the federal government has earmarked about $750 million for infrastructure projects. The state homeland security department, charged with distributing the money, has given out only about half that. The governor said the city has been slow to complete the paperwork.

It was that kind of back-and-forth that prompted Ken White and his wife, Kathy, to give up and move to New York last year.

"We came back a month after the flood and thought about what we could do to stay and rebuild, but it became apparent to us it would take a long time and be very difficult," said White, who was director of emergency psychiatry at Charity Hospital when Katrina hit. "We were appalled by the ineptitude of government on all levels."

Gregory Hamilton, a longtime resident of eastern New Orleans, said he plans to stay, but is frustrated, too. "Everybody wants to follow the recovery. Nobody wants to lead the recovery," he said.

Some frustrations are rooted in the persistent widespread damage as well as the lack of a comprehensive rebuilding plan.

On many streets, newly rebuilt houses stand amid empty, decaying ones. In many neighborhoods, there are still heaps of smelly debris and FEMA trailers in front yards.

"Literally, if you want an aspirin in those neighborhoods, you have to go across the parish line or to an unflooded area," said Al Palumbo, a real estate agent.

A $14 billion rebuilding proposal is making its way through city government, and Nagin has appointed a recovery czar, Ed Blakely. But there is no timetable for implementation of a master plan, and no assurances the money will be there for it.

Blakely said he believes it will cost at least three times the $14 billion estimate to restore the city.

Brian Nolan, a photographer who moved to South Carolina after the city's failed levees left his home in Lakeview under 11 feet of water, said he did not believe the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' assurances that floodwalls have been improved.

"After the storm, we were all pumped up to build a new house, but we lost that dream," he said.

Blanco, on a lobbying trip to Washington, said Thursday that she has received commitments from Democratic leaders that the recovery of the Gulf Coast will be a "front-burner" issue. Blanco also said that she, the mayor and several parish leaders have agreed to work together to break the "bureaucratic nightmare."

Demographer Greg Rigamer said that pressure on Road Home and the appointment of a recovery czar are positive steps, but that city must do more to rebuild schools, its health care system and housing to keep people here and bring others back.

"With every passing month," said UNO sociologist Rachel E. Luft, "it's less likely people will come back."


My Boy is Gone :(

It's a tragedy. Truly. This is a momentously sad occasion.

Concussions End Matheny's Career

SAN FRANCISCO -- Catchers are no ordinary men -- they're legitimate tough guys -- and to get an insight into what made Giants backstop Mike Matheny tick, let's go back nine months ago when a foul tip came off the bat like a ricocheting bullet, slamming into his mask at 100 miles per hour.

Matheny, stunned and dizzy, had already taken maybe a half-dozen shots to the head during the week, but even after head trainer Stan Conte pulled him out and X-rays were taken, Matheny was already planning on flying to New York for the next series against the Mets.

Fat chance. He couldn't remember what day it was.

"We're competitive -- we're wired that way," said the 13-year Major League veteran.

Matheny would, however, never play again, and the four-time Gold Glove catcher reluctantly but advisedly retired from baseball Thursday because of lingering post-concussion symptoms.

And even worse...he's moved back to St. Louis to spend more time with his wife and FIVE children. Okay, so not worse...obviously he's a great guy, but we'll miss him here.

With Pujols in St. Louis and Matheny retired, how am I supposed to enjoy my baseball games this season?

Well, we do still have Matt Morris. Time to get more Cards to come over to the Giants.


Cleanliness and Cuddles

If cleanliness is next to godliness, my kitty is going to hell.

We had to take Sebastien to Pets Unlimited's emergency vet tonight. I noticed that one of his claws wouldn't protrude, and it looks like there was an infection around it. Once at the hospital, the vet found ickiness on FOUR toes! Our sweet little kitty--who usually hangs out on our shoulders and purrs the whole time--was hissing and scratching as best he could. It took four hands to hold him down while the assistant used Qtips and a special cleaning solution to clean out his wounds. So now kitty is on antibiotics. We have to deliver milky white liquid--that is for some reason less appealling to Sebastien than whatever liquid I'm drinking at any given moment--through a syringe into his mouth without squirting it down his throat and filling his lungs. AND, we have to continue the cleaning process daily that the assistant started. We actually have to soak his paws in liquid. Yeah.

And why do we have to do this? Because for some reason, Sebastien doesn't like to clean his own paws.

Perhaps we should have named him Lucifer.


WUSTL Rankings

This article gave me justification for the fact that I've got $26k to go on my student loans:

UNIVERSITY HITS THE TOP TEN AGAIN: In three national ratings - faculty
scholarly productivity, black student college graduation rates, and number
of National Merit Scholars in the freshman class - Washington University
ranks in the top 10. The University is ranked in the top 10 in five broad
areas and 19 specific disciplines, according to Academic Analytics' Faculty
Scholarly Productivity Index, a new quantitative method for ranking
research universities' doctoral programs.

The full story is in the Wash U faculty paper, The Record.

Even better is the fact that the Psychology department is listed as 4th in the nation! Now only if I was in a psychology field.