Archive for April, 2005

Six weeks and gone

April 30, 2005

In 45 days, I will be on the road to Portland, Oregon in a big yellow moving van, with all of my worldly possessions in the back.

Do I know where I will live when I get to Portland? Nope. (Though my sister has a spare basement to loan me for a few weeks.)

Do I have a job lined up in Portland? Nope. (Though I have six months’ living expenses saved.)

Do I know what kind of job I will look for when I get to Portland? Nope. (Though I’m working on it.)

Um…have I lost my mind? I don’t think so. But the way I’ve been living my life hasn’t been working, and the familiar ways I know for making it better are failing, too; so why not head in the most attractive direction and cast my fortune to the fates?

I’ll miss Houston. Of all the places I have lived, Houston is my favorite. The people are great, and the city has a lot of hidden pleasures that take a few years to ferret out.

Even after five years here, though, Houston doesn’t feel like home, and I doubt it ever will. I wouldn’t want to stay here forever, or marry here and settle down. Having realized that, and seeing my 35th birthday staring at me just down the calendar, I think it’s time to move to where I would settle down.

Now I’ve just got to come up with a new blog name…


Efharisto Hellas!

April 29, 2005

I spent last week in Thessaloniki, Greece, visiting a Thessalonian whom I had dated when we were at Ohio State.

What a city! What a country! I had a great time. I didn’t want to come back.

Some random observations:

The food in restaurants was fresh, good, and cheap. In six days, I had one bad dish, and I tried all kinds of things. (Of course, local guidance helped here.) The tomatoes and beets in particular were like nothing I had ever tasted in the United States.

Greece has less anger in the air than the United States has. I never felt afraid on the streets. I would pass groups of teenagers on the street in the early hours of the morning, and never worry that they would mug me.

On the other hand, the Greek public sector lived down to its reputation. Olympic Airlines booked me onto a flight that didn’t exist. A taxi strike seriously inconvenienced Anna one night. And I was fortunate that a one-day strike at the Athens airport happened the day before I left rather than the day of.

English is prevalent in Greece—almost all signs are in both Greek and English, and English-language programming is common on television (I flipped past “Rocky” one night). Most businesses have at least one person on hand who can speak at least passable English. (Historical note: One hundred years ago, the signs in Thessaloniki were also in two languages: Turkish and French.)

In Greece, the museums realize that of course you would not be so stupid as to put your hands on a 1500-year-old piece of art, so they need not post “do not touch” signs everywhere. I found this attitude refreshing. I wish American museums had the same confidence in their patrons, though I suppose not having the signs in place makes it harder to sue someone later if they misbehave.

Greek drivers are insane. Highly skilled. Impressively daring. But insane. And they don’t wear seatbelts.

The most shocking thing I saw in Greece was a car pulled over by the police on the Leoforos Nikis (the seafront avenue in Thessaloniki). After a week of watching Greek drivers in action, I can’t imagine what you would have to do to actually be pulled over.

In Greece, a Dodge Neon would be a mid-sized car. You can’t buy a car in the United States as small as the average-sized car in Greece. It was exciting to see so many cars that I have never seen in the United States, but the place of honor goes to the two Ladas which I saw on the Aristotle University campus. (My ensuing hopes to see a Trabant, though, were cruelly dashed.)

Folks in Dallas will be glad to hear that Frito-Lay moves a lot of product in Greece. I saw two flavors of Pringles that I have never seen in the United States: Paprika and Texas Barbecue Sauce. Also, if my tastebuds did not mislead me, Nacho Doritos are marketed as Tex-Mex Doritos in Greece. (I will ask Callie Markantonis to do further gustatory research on this vital question when she visits Greece later this year.)

In Greek, “ni” sounds like “no” but means “yes”, while “ochi” sounds like “okay” but means “no”.

I saw the Greek flag in Thessaloniki more often than I see the American flag in Houston.

In Greece, there is a brand of cigarettes called “Assos”. I can only imagine how they smell.

Finally, I can strongly recommend the Hotel Le Palace in downtown Thessaloniki. The location is excellent, the rooms are comfortable, and the staff are friendly. (Also, I note for my Canadian readers that the top floor of the hotel is Thessaloniki’s Canadian consulate.)

All in all…wow. I hope to go back someday.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

April 29, 2005

Good movie, though heavy-handed with its anti-capitalist framing. Go see it.

(I have to add that it was strange to watch a movie owned by Mark Cuban in a theater owned by Mark Cuban while the Rockets play Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks in the NBA playoffs.)


April 28, 2005

Mark Hasty tags me as someone who reads. (It’s the librarian job that tips people off, isn’t it?)

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
I’ve never read Fahrenheit 451, but I think I understand the question (didn’t characters memorize books before they were burned?). I would choose the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Yes, but I can’t remember which one.

The last book you bought is:
The Call of the Mall by Paco Underhill. An anthropological study of the structure and culture of malls. Good.

The last book you read:
China, Inc. by Ted C. Fishman. A readable account of the rise, extent, and possible future of Chinese manufacturing, and how it is affecting the economics of other countries.

What are you currently reading?
Volume 29 of the collected writings of G. K. Chesterton, comprising his newspaper columns from 1911 to 1913. I wish someone wrote newspaper columns as well today. Also, I borrowed Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides from my sister, and will start reading it soon.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
1. The Odyssey by Homer. What better place to read it?
2. Heretics by G. K. Chesterton. For the style.
3. From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun. To remind me of Western culture.
4. The Heart of Rock & Soul by Dave Marsh. To remind me of a lot of great songs.
5. The World Almanac. I’m an incurable trivia buff.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Glenn Reynolds, Josh Marshall, and Andrew Sullivan. Why not?

Legitimate grievances

April 12, 2005

Tom Kirkendall posts Paul Johnson’s tribute to Pope John Paul II.

One paragraph from it:

Not that the pope condoned terrorism in any form. He was never among those clergy in the West who mitigated their disapproval by pointing to legitimate grievances.

…which reminded me of another paragraph I read recently:

Finally, I don’t know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country — certainly nothing new; we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that has been on the news. I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence, certainly without any justification, but that is a concern I have that I wanted to share.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn then goes on to discuss at length what he sees as the legitimate grievances of these criminals.

Two days earlier, Cornyn had written:

In a world that frequently rejects the idea of moral absolutes, John Paul politely but firmly offered truth, love and justice.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn


Tradition and the Roman Catholic Church

April 5, 2005

Before Albino Luciani took the name “John Paul I” upon his accession to the Holy See in 1978, the last time a Pope had chosen a name that no Pope had chosen before was in 913.

Before the two John Pauls, the last Pope whose name ended in “the Second” was Marcellus II, who reigned in 1555.

On moving beyond your way of seeing

April 2, 2005

From an interview with baseball statistics guru Bill James:

[Question: ] I have to ask you this. On an internet baseball fan site, I recently saw you quoted to the effect that veteran leadership had enabled the Red Sox to come back from down 0-3 in the ALCS. But, in that forum, the immediate response was to doubt your sincerity. Bill couldn’t mean that! And these were people who held you in high regard. Are you resigned to your reputation at this point in time?

[Answer: ] Well, believe it or not, I don’t worry about my reputation in that sense. I’ll let that take care of itself.

This is probably a long-winded answer, but I’ll try to explain it this way.If I were in politics and presented myself as a Republican, I would be admired by Democrats [but] despised by my fellow Republicans. If I presented myself as a Democrat, I would [be] popular with Republicans but jeered and hooted by the Democrats.

I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world—a paradigm, if you will—and we need those, of course; you can’t get through the day unless you have some organized way of thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by our theories—no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.

As in politics we have left and right—neither of which explains the world or explains how to live successfully in the world—in baseball we have the analytical camp and the traditional camp, or the sabermetricians against the scouts, however you want to characterize it. I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that paradigm.

It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage and self-confidence; it is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role on real-world baseball teams. The people who think that way. . .not to be rude, but they’re children. They may be 40-year-old children, they may be 70-year-old children, but their thinking is immature.

[Link courtesy of Daniel Drezner.]