Saturday, June 27, 2009


I am fairly obsessed with this band. There is surely not a better post-hardcore spoken-word indie folk rock band exploring Christian and Sufi themes out there. As evidence, I present this wonderful music video, for their new song, "The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie".

The lead singer, Aaron Weiss, is an amazing lyricist. I gotta respect a songwriter who can outdo my vocabulary several times in a single song, and do so in such a creative manner. As in the spiel from the Crow in the above song:
Your subtle acclamation's true!
Best to give praise where praise is due.
Every rook and jay
in the corvidae's
been ravin' about me too.
They admire me, one and all,
must be the passion in my caw,
my slender bill
known throughout the escadrille,
my fierce commanding claw!
Without being preachy, Weiss' lyrics deal with sins of various sorts (like pride, as in that snippet), and the struggle to do away with all that, to renounce all attachments to worldly goods and passions, and instead become one with God.

And although one can never tell, there is at least some indication that he actually means it: Weiss is a freegan (i.e., he dumpster-dives instead of buying stuff), and he has apparently sworn himself to celibacy.

Plus, he's been arrested protesting at the Pentagon, and mewithoutYou's tour-bus runs on used vegetable oil instead of gas.

If it weren't for the fact that he was celibate (and certain other technical difficulties) I would totally want to have his babies.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Environment Illinois

What good little liberals we are! During a trip to the gay neighbourhood--to drop off two huge bags of stuff at one thrift store, and buy a smaller bag of some other stuff at another thrift store, with a stop for lunch at the vegan/vegetarian Chicago Diner--we ran in to some recruiters for Environment Illinois, and signed up.

I was moved to do this in part by this article, about how the fight for American climate legislation is losing out to the fight for health care reform. And this is bad.

Now, of course America desperately needs health care reform. (What it really needs is a proper universal system, though I suppose this "public option" business will help.) But, as Fafblog put it, "The good news is you might get health care! The bad news is everybody is going to die." Or, as Dawn put it, the poor you will always have with you, unless we kill them all.

So, while Obama's celestial gaze is focused elsewhere, our climate woes need all the attention us lesser mortals can afford it.

(Not that I'm likely to do all that much work with this group. I have other commitments to juggle, like, to other community organizations, and also to the intensive Latin courses I'll be taking this summer. Because, you know, saving the earth and all the humans on it from ecological disaster is great, but so are dead languages!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The death of Mr. Hooper

I've outed myself before, but I really love classic Sesame Street. There's one scene in particular which I've searched and searched for in the past, and I just now found it: Big Bird starting to come to grips with the death of Mr. Hooper (more context here).

They don't make 'em like they used to.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I know the pieces fit

I really love this picture of the rally at Azadi square in Tehran.

I've had a weird sort of special fondness for democratic movements in Iran, since some time in undergrad when I started reading about how Iran ended up with its current theocracy. As was bizarrely acknowledged by Obama in his Cairo speech (I say "bizarrely" because I didn't realize he was allowed to do so), Iran used to be a democracy, until 1953 when there was a western-backed coup. (Because the PM dared to nationalize the oil industry, of course, of course.) This was followed by the illegitimate, autocratic, and oppressive rule of the Shah, which was then overthrown in the Iranian Revolution. Although the Revolution led to a theocracy, it did not begin as a movement united behind Khomeini, but originally included liberals and Marxists, who had always been active in opposing the Shah.

So I think I'm so fond of the Iranian reformist movement because I especially love to follow a true story when I'm pretty sure the good guys are going to win.

Not that I'm particularly confident that that will happen just right now. But this recent round of unrest is the natural expression of the democratic aspirations and potential which have always existed in Iran, and are increasingly active. There have been protests in previous election cycles. But not on this scale. And this time, they have the public backing of top-level political figures. There are reports that there are plenty of police officers joining in with the rallies (not that an armed uprising has any chances of success). The regime's veneer of legitimacy is peeling terribly. For years, the majority of Iranian university graduates have been women (a good sign of other forms of progress). These are trends won't be reversed. Eventually, batons and tear gas and bullets won't be enough to keep them down. Inevitably, Iran will recover from the political sickness brought down upon it in 1953, and it will re-democratize.

Unless the west (or Israel) does something stupid, again. But, hey, what are the chances?

Scavenging 2009

We learned our lesson last year, so once again Dawn and I went out in the weekend following all the graduation ceremonies, rescuing things from the alleyways behind student apartment buildings.

I'm pretty sure this year's haul was much weirder than last year's. On the one hand, there were a lot of repeat goods. For example, for the second year in a row I expect I will have no need to buy new vinegar. But there were also some things you truly wouldn't expect, like lace curtains (in good condition), or a whole smoked salmon in one of those wooden gift boxes (like you see in airport shops or touristy stores in Vancouver). It was still in the original shrink wrap, and it's still good for another couple of years (not that we'll let it sit around that long). Who throws that away?

(We also discovered a big-ass box of hon dashi, but it was opened, and had possibly been rained on, so Dawn decided it actually was garbage. So sad--that probably could have lasted us the rest of our time in Chicago.)

As we were meandering around, we ran into a couple of undergrads I knew. I wonder how your average student would react to seeing his TA picking salmon out of the trash?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting my geek on

It's time I started creating documents like an adult, so from now on I'll be writing my documents in LaTeX, on Emacs. Of course, first I have to learn the damn things.

After I managed to put together the bare bones of a document, my first real project has been to put together a new kind of list. I like to enumerate my block quotes ("T1", "T2", etc.), and then refer back to those quotes by those labels. (A trick used by Gregory Vlastos in his papers.) I couldn't find any ready-made set of commands that would do this for me quite how I wanted it, so I decided I'd go ahead and define some myself. Totally doable. I used to be a comp sci major, you know.

Well. Call to mind the stereotype of the middle aged man who used to play baseball back in the day, and suddenly finds himself on a diamond again after a decade or two devoid of real athletic activity. The baseball-playing part of his brain still remembers what it used it used to tell the limbs to do when they were fully functional.

You know what happens next.

(I do have my list type now. I won't say how long it took. With my luck, all the work has probably been done and is nicely laid out in a LaTeX package somewhere.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Victory smells like whoa

As I mentioned when I talked about going to Springfield, SOUL, this community organization I've been working with, has been pushing for a green jobs bill. This was one of the reasons for the trip to Springfield. Details:
If passed, the state would devote $500 million over the next five years to retrofit urban housing stock, a great way to conserve energy use and protect people from spiking utility rake fees. Companies awarded the contracts would be required to hire and train people from the local community, as well. SOUL estimates that 50,000 jobs could be created in cities hardest hit by deindustrialization and the recent economic crisis.
And now it's been passed: $425 million for the plan.

Holy crap.