Saturday, July 24, 2004

"The Desperate Town in the West"

After a 4.5 hour flight from Nashville next to a reasonably well-behaved baby, I'm now camped out at a hotel in Pleasanton, CA. According to in-room literature provided by the helpful folks at Hilton:

In the mid 1850s bandits and desperados gave Pleasanton the title of "the Desperate Town in the West." Main Street shootouts were not uncommon. Infamous bandits, such as Joaquin Murrieta, would ambush prospectors on their way from the gold fields and seek refuge in Pleasanton.

So far all I've seen is two Interstates, a Denny's and a Home Depot. I'm going to be disappointed if I don't get to meet a few desperados while I'm here.

Not sure what the plan is tomorrow except that the rehearsal dinner is in the evening. Might try to go into San Francisco for a bit.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Car bomb at Opry Mills?

This is bizarre. Some guy's car blew up (with him in it) in a remote corner of a mall parking lot.

We already have his neighbors weighing in: "I have to be honest, we have always been afraid something was going to happen," says one.

Of course, this story is getting buried by the much more weighty material. The Titans are dropping Eddie George.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Saddest Music Movie in the World

I saw this movie. I like artsy flicks as much as the next guy. And if you're looking for some interesting visual effects, it might be worth a glance. But otherwise this is simply a piece of disorganized filmmaking that revels in its own artsiness without actually making much of a point. Sure you can glean meaning from it. If I try hard enough, I can glean meaning from a pile of rotten broccoli. (I am an English major after all! <g>) But that doesn't mean I have to happily fork over $8 to do it.

I have a tolerance for bad movies that don't purport to be anything special. For example, I'm willing to (somewhat) forgive the makers of the insanely-bad Stepford Wives remake, because it was obviously intended as summer-movie pap. But when a director goes out of his way to show off how artistic and avant-garde he is, he better have something to back it up. In this case, Guy Maddin comes up with nothing.

For what its worth, I remember having a similar reaction to this.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

They say money can't buy happiness. But if it could...

Two economists, apparently tired of letting those psychology prima donnas grab all of the juicy sex headlines, have taken it upon themselves to study the economics of sex and happiness. According to the New York Times:
In their study ["Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study"], Mr. [Andrew J.] Oswald and Mr. [David G.] Blanchflower analyzed the self-reported sexual activity and levels of happiness of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a number of social surveys since the early 1990's. (Happiness is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.) By factoring out the measurable effects of other life events, the study revealed, to no one's surprise, that, "The more sex, the happier the person."

Furthermore, the economists compared the levels of happiness produced by a vigorous sex life with other activities whose economic values had been calculated in prior research, allowing them to impute, in dollars, how much happiness sex was worth. They also estimated that increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse from once a month to at least once a week provided as much happiness as putting $50,000 in the bank.

A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000 worth of happiness a year -- that is, on average, a single person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as happy as a married person with the same education, job status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year, though there may be a short-term economic gain from the immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.

So, the way I figure it, that means that happily married folks should have to pay more income taxes!

Oswald acknowleges that there are some limitations to his statistical methodology, but he says it's difficult to carry out controlled experiments in the field. "It would be great to assign Mr. and Mrs. X a certain amount of sexual activity and a certain amount of income, and see how it impacts their happiness," he said. "But I think it would be hard to get government funding."

Here's the actual study (PDF), but be warned that it has, like, numbers and stuff! ;-) The NY Times story is now stuck behind their paid archive, but you can read a similar account over here.

Westward ho!

One of my projects for the weekend has been planning my upcoming trip to California/Oregon/Washington.  I made my plane reservation to get to San Francisco for the wedding several weeks ago.  But my plans were very vague. So I've been trying to hammer down the details -- I've been camped out at Fido all afternoon with my travel books and computer.

When I went to Mexico City, I was able to find a family owned guesthouse in the heart of the metropolis for about $30/night. Alas, I'm quickly realizing that traveling to the high-rent district that is the Pacific Northwest is an entirely different story. In the U.S., guesthouses of the sort I've encountered in Italy or Mexico have been pushed out of the market by the the ubiquitous chain motels that spring up like mushrooms around Interstate exits.  So if you're looking to stay "in town" in a place with a bit of character, you end up perusing the "Bed and Breakfast" market -- complete with antique furniture in the room, breakfast served on crystal, and a hefty price tag.  Definitely overkill. But I'm really not thrilled about spending every night in a generic motel room out by the Interstate -- I want to be where I can walk around and sightsee, and where I'm likely to meet other people in the process. So that makes things a bit more complicated.   

Plus, the stuff I'm interested in seeing in Oregon and Washington is less centralized than Mexico City -- I'm considering trying to see Mount Hood, Crater Lake, the falls on the Columbia River, etc. This means that to do this with any sort of speed, I'm going to need to have a car. And the cost of the car rental is probably going to dwarf the cost of my plane tickets to California.   

The end result is that the trip is going to be a lot more expensive than I initially thought. Still, though, I'm looking forward to it. Now the big challenge is simply figuring out how to cram everything into 11 days.   

Right now all I know for sure is that I'm arriving in Oakland on Friday night, and leaving from Seattle the following Tuesday afternoon. Everything between that is up in the air.

 In addition to sightseeing around the Bay area and the actual wedding on Sunday, here's a rough list of things I may want to hit on this trip: 

  • Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (I've been under it before on a boat, but think it would be cool to drive across as well.)  Go to Muir Woods and possibly a few other things in that area. Then figure out some sort of scenic route from there north to Oregon.
  • In Oregon, I'd like to see some of the coast, Crater Lake, Portland itself, the Columbia River gorge, possibly Mount Hood, and other things if there's time.
  • In Washington, I want to get to Seattle itself (including the givens: Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, etc.), as well as perhaps Olympic National Park and maybe a daytrip over the Washington Cascades to the farmland beyond.

I have no idea how exactly I'm going to accomplish all this, however.  If y'all know anything about this area and have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.  

Those who don't study history...

Friday's USA Today had an interesting article about A Short Guide to Iraq, a training manual produced by the U.S. Government about 60 years ago. It was designed to provide common sense advice to GI's who were occupying the country during World War II. Things like:

American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis ... like American soldiers or not. ... One of your jobs is to prevent Hitler's agents from getting in their dirty work. The best way you can do this is by getting along with the Iraqis and making them your friends. ... Every American soldier is an ... ambassador of good will.


Kerbela (and) Nejef ... are particularly sacred to the Iraqi Moslems. ... It is advisable to stay away from them.

Apparently the folks running the current occupation hadn't read this book.

The complete document is available as a PDF right here.