30 November 2008

Thanksgiving in Paris

This was the second Thanksgiving that Linda and I have spent outside of the US (the first was two years ago, when we visited her father in Hungary). Now probably the main thing about Thanksgiving outside of the US which may come as a surprise to many of my countrymen, is well that it isn't the most celebrated of holidays ;-) Seriously, I recently did a little looking online - it seems that at best, less than one out of every five Americans even holds a passport for foreign travel, much less has traveled abroad. I think if there was one thing that would be most helpful in guiding the US towards better foreign policy and interaction with the world, it would be getting more Americans abroad. The best (and perhaps only) way to really begin to understand the way the rest of the world functions, lives, and sees things, is to actually go there (and there are so many places to go). Of course there is one caveat - you actually have to be there, staying at a resort or going on a cruise where you keep yourself segregated from the local population isn't really traveling - it's more like experiencing a live-slideshow with nice weather. Anyway, I'll now return to Thanksgiving.

This meant that Linda and I were absolutely thrilled to be invited to such a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. One of my friends from college, Jen (you may have seen her mentioned several posts back when I first came through Paris), married a fantastic Parisian fellow, David and is currently in town. Well it turns out David's cousin, Michael (might be misspelling this), is going out with an American girl, Lindsey, and they decided to make a Thanksgiving meal, to which we were then graciously extended an invitation.

It really was one of the most Thanksgivingy meals, I've ever been to - mostly because of the inspiring efforts of Lindsey and Jen. You see they didn't just make a Thanksgiving meal; they brought Thanksgiving with them across the Atlantic!

In her luggage, Lindsey brought all manner of Thanksgiving decoration (a banner, shiny Thanksgiving sparkles for the table, etc.), Stoufers stuffing, cranberries for the sauce, and some other foodstuffs as well! Jen wowed us even more. She brought an entire Turkey (free range & organic) in her suitcase, along with fall squashes and other somesuch. I'm not a carnivore, but I was pretty blown away by the effort (not to mention the risk - I mean what do you say to the customs officer if they question you about this one?).

So we ended up gathered around a table with all of the fixings, from cranberry sauce to American pie for dessert, with a group of 20-something American expats and Parisians having a lovely time. The company was great, the food fantastic, and after being out of the States for the longest stretch in my life (around half a year now - I've done a lot of traveling, just not very long-term) it was really nice to be celebrating the most American of holidays the way it should be celebrated - with large table full of great food surrounded by new friends and old!

22 November 2008

The Lighter Side of Presidential Transitioning

I've not been posting much lately. Mostly that's because I've been sick (apparently, it's Bronchitis - so far the antibiotics have not made much impact) and generally a bit down (been thinking about all the mistakes I've made in the recent and not-so-recent past), a little bit because I've been busy with other stuff. And of course, there's always inertia. I think we would perhaps had been better off in Sir Issac Newton hadn't invented the damn thing ;-)

Anyway, in between naps (I've been sleeping most of the day since that appears to be my body's main desire at the moment), I figured I'd put up a brief post of two amusing post-election tidbits, both passed forward to me by my wife, Linda.

The first is a video clip of our now-lame-duck President. Usually lame-duckness means that the President loses much of his influence over the legislative process and other matters that lie outside of the sole purvue of the executive. However, this is the first time I've seen it translate into major public snubbing by practically everyone at a major world-leader's conference (the G20 summit). It was pretty telling, Bush even started slouching his head and shoulders towards the end, before forcibly straightening himself up. Almost enough to make me feel sorry for the guy. Emphasis here goes on almost.

The second tidbit is a rather amusing piece of graphics design that takes a popular Israeli snack Bamaba and renames Obamaba, purportedly in honor of the new US President. Now I'm pretty sure this isn't real, given that an artist's name and email address are on the bottom left hand corner. I'm guessing this fellow is probably the one who made it (it would be pretty low to pass this sort of thing off as one's own work) - he's got a page up at http://mochito.deviantart.com/ I have to say it's really quite good, especially when you compare it against the original from the
Osem Corporation's English website.

He's even managed to turn the somewhat creepy (at least in my opinion) "Bamba baby" into a chocolaty-good Obama baby. Not sure whether I'm tickled or disturbed. Linda sent me this one from jcarrot the pioneering Jewish food blog.

16 November 2008

Chief Justice Roberts Knows Law, Doesn't Know Math OR The Difference Between Polynomial and Exponential

In yesterday's New York Times online, I read the recent news that the Supreme Court Rules for Navy in Sonar Case. For those of you who aren't familiar with the case: environmental groups challenged the legality of the Navy to conduct training excersizes using mid-range SONAR (an underwater object detection and localization method that uses pulses of sound) while aquatic mammals were in the vicinity (and some other circumstances).

As I understand things, their main argument was that these tremendous pulses of sound cause damage to marine mammals (much like someone setting off a firecracker right next to your ear, possibly multiple times in a row) that could potentially result in outcomes such as failure to reproduce, beaching, and death, being that these mammal rely strongly on their ability to hear in order to figure out where they are going.

Meanwhile the Navy argued that (1) it doesn't hurt the marine mammals so much and (2) national security is more important. While lower courts put a hold on the Navy's ability to conduct exercises while the mammals where nearby (agreeing with the environmentalists), our Supreme Court ruled that courts should not second guess the military, or at least not overmuch.

I honestly don't know all of the details of precisely how often the restriction the environmentalists argued were called for by the National Environmental Policy Act and other statutes. Although, my bias is to guess that the Navy probably could have managed to conduct their exercises under these constraints. However one part of the majority opinion text authored by Chief Justice Roberts floored me for both it's lack of precision and misleading nature.

Quoting the aforementioned NY Times article:
Chief Justice Roberts took issue with both restrictions. The Navy had agreed to shut down its sonar if marine mammals were sighted within 200 yards. The appeals court’s requirement that it increase the zone to 2,200 yards, Chief Justice Roberts said, would “expand the surface area of the shutdown zone by a factor of over 100,” given “the exponential relationship between radius length and surface area.”

Now our Chief Justice may be a brilliant legal mind, but he could use a primer in college math 101. The relationship between surface area (A) and radius length (r) on a plane is actually:


(where pi is approx 3.14 and ^2 denotes the operation of taking a number and multiplying it by itself - e.g. 5^2 = 5 * 5 = 25). This relationship is what is know as a polynomial relationship, this one in particular being of degree 2.

What this means in plain English is that as the minimum legal distance allowed between the Navy ships and the aquatic mammals for Navy SONAR use increases, the amount of potential area in which a mammal can show up and disrupt exercises (shutdown zone) grows increasingly faster.

And what the Chief Justice wrote is that this increase is not polynomial, but rather exponential, which is a whole different ball game in terms of fast as can be seen by the graph above. Namely exponential growth works essentially like a doubling process. If that were true in this case, of every single yard increase in distance, the size of the shutdown zone area would double! After a 100 yard increase or so, the shutdown zone's size would far exceed the surface area of the earth (and possibly the milky way, I'm not going to bother checking on this). Anyway, it really gets my goat - particularly given how precise with their language these Justices are supposed to be (I mean for the past 50 years at least, folks have been arguing whether the 2nd Amendment protects your right to a semi-automatic based on the presence and positioning of a comma)!

But mathematical correctness aside, there's a rhetorical issue here that bothers me. Yes, by increasing the distance at which the Navy needs to be away from an aquatic mammal (which is the right way to argue the restriction since the level of the sound is related directly to how far you are from its source), you increase the shutdown area by a larger factor (in geek-speak we call this super-linear). So ten times as far means 100 times more shutdown zone. So what?

The rate of growth, be it linear, polynomial, or exponential only matters if you are presupposing that there is a growth process in the first place. If the assumption is that if the envionmentalists win then they immediately go back to court demanding an even larger safety distance be imposed, and that if they've won once they will win again, then I guess I see how the rate of growth matters. But otherwise, it's empty rhetoric.

The only real issues are (1) what distance won't cause damage to our aquatic friends (2,200 meters claimed by the environmentalists), (2) what the physical size of the shutdown zone will be in order to accomodate that (just around 5 square miles according to my calculation), and (3) whether that is compatible with our national security interest (my guess being yes, given that there is something like 20,000,000 times that amount of oceanic surface area today). The geometric properties relating distance and surface area matter only insofar as they allow us to calculate the value in (2) from the value in (1). Aside from that the relationship really doesn't provide any insight or value into the decision making process. The only other use you could find is a rhetorical one: "look at how quick this function grows, giving up more than one yard for one yard is a bad deal". It sounds good, but has no intelligence to back it up.

So to summarize: Chief Justice Roberts' opinion was both factually incorrect, being ignorant of basic college math, and misleading as well, using mathematical relationships to make a point that was essentially a non-sequitur (10 times increase in distance = 100 times increase in area) to the real question (If 2200 meters is needed for the safety of marine life and that implies a 5 square mile shutdown zone: can a 5 square mile shutdown zone be compatible with our national security interests?).

14 November 2008

Washing Machine Woes

One of the nice things about our apartment in France is that it has a washing machine. Back in the States, we have to walk down the hallway to use the machine, which is with many folks, some of whom don't leave the machines and driers in a clean state after use, and others of whom will pull your stuff out and dump it on the dirty machine tops if you are more than a minute late to pull your clothing out (plus the machines never run according to time so it is nigh well impossible to get there on time - you are either early or late). And this is pretty good for a student apartment living - the folks living in the building next door have to come to our building and then go upstairs to do their laundry, which has got to be an awful pain.

In India we didn't do our own laundry. It was taken away, done for us, and eventually returned folded. The problem was that it wasn't done particularly well. Several times, items were washed in such a way that colors bled unto one another, ruining a couple of my shirts. Moreover, even when this didn't happen, the clothing was often returned not fully dried and smelled moldy.

So getting to have our own washing machine has been such a pleasure. That is until this past Thursday evening. You see, here in France things are smaller and use less power. The clothing is mostly air-dried (dryers being energy hogs). And one of the innovations they've made are really small, yet efficient top-loading washers (they've got these in Israel also). Traditional top loaders have a cylinder which rotates along a vertical axis, which makes sense since it's sort of difficult to put clothing in through the wall of the cylinder. But these aren't efficient water or energy wise. So often side-loading washers are used instead, which lets the cylinder rotate along the horizontal access. The problem with these is that they take up too much space. So where both space and efficiency are at a premium, a new design was introduced that allows the cylinder to rotate along the horizontal access which still top-loading, namely but putting a set of metal doors into the cylinder that must be latched together before starting the machine. This is the type we have, a Whirlpool AWA6094 to be precise.

Therein lies the problem. Thursday night, tiredly I almost certainly forgot to latch these together before closing the top lid (yes, I know - a properly designed piece of equipment wouldn't allow the top lid to close unless the cylinder was locked). I pressed the on button and shortly heard very unpleasant noises. I shut the washing machine off and found that the cylinder had rotated down, dragging the doors with it, and thereby jamming further movement. It was pretty upsetting - I mean how the hell should forgetting one step and pressing a button result in significant damage to the machine (in but a moment - it's not like the machine was making complaining sounds which I ignored for an hour and then found repeated movement had caused the damage), requiring an expensive repair visit! It's a frigging washing machine, not an automotive vehicle for G-d's sake!

But the damage was done, and after looking at the machine and poking about, I concluded that even with my mild engineering background, I wasn't going to fix this without more effort than the cost of a repairman (I'd have to buy the right tools, somehow find a servicing manual, spend a couple of hours working on the thing, and then cross my fingers that I hadn't screwed it up worse). I was really upset. I didn't sleep well. Thankfully, at least Linda was really understanding.

So in the morning I asked around the office if anyone had encountered similar problems (they hadn't), then called my landlordess. She was pretty useless on this one, telling me she couldn't do anything about it, and that I could contact Darty (an appliance seller/servicer) and see about getting it repaired. Wasn't so much her content (I should arrange for repair) as her presentation - a big part of what got my goat is that she said "well the machine is new" and shortly after told me it was out of warrantee. I then asked how long the warrantee ran, she told me 3 years. So I of course said "but didn't you say it was new?" to which she replied "it is new, it is rarely used". Now I know English isn't her first language, but she speaks it reasonably well and I have trouble she doesn't know that "new" and "like-new" are two very different things.

But either way the bottom line was the same and I found myself in Darty where I met a nice fellow who spoke a good English. He told me that once this sort of thing happend it was really difficult to get unstuck without professional help and gave me the repair number. While there I also inspected the machines and found two items of interest: (1) the new ones don't close unless the cylinder locks (wouldn't have had that problem with a truly new machine) and (2) they all had two protruding pieces of plastic that kept the cylinder from turning unless it was closed. The other thing that I found out was that while unpleasantly expensive (just having the repairman visit will be 60-70 EUR) I probably wasn't in for an inordinate amount of financial pain (he said he'd have trouble believing the repair would be more than 100 EUR on top of that) so I'm probably in the hole for 100 to 200 EUR b/c of a stupid mistake and bad luck.

I got home and looked at the machine again. It turns out that it did have the two prong safety mechanism, have being the operative word in that sentence. In my mind there are two possibilities: (1) the plastic got old and brittle and snapped quickly to my misfortune and (2) they were broken off previously (my landlordess did mention that one of her previous subtentant had some problem with the doors). I'm very curious to see if the broken pieces of the safety mechanism are in the machine (imply option 1 more likely) or absent (implying option 2 with almost certainty) on Monday when the repairman comes.

I'll follow up with a short post to let you know how it works out, or maybe just put something in the comments.

10 November 2008


The latter part of this past Sunday took us past an outdoor pet market. One of the first animals we encountered there was a friendly, charismatic, and personable rodent. I guessed it was a Chinchilla, which I have confirmed after checking wikipedia. The video should make clear why I'm bothering with a post about this.

09 November 2008

Yerba Maté

This week, along with really starting to settle into to work at Thomson (as opposed to really actually get much work done (okay I did get lots done, but I don't yet feel truly productive) which is my aspiration for this week) I had a new experience.

Fabio a half Argentinian, half Italian member of my lab kindly introduced me to Yerba Maté. Another new (to me) legal psychoactive drug. Yes, for those Coffee and Chocolate users out there, you too are psychoactive drug users, get over it and move on with your lives.

I had only had maté via a fairly lame "iced tea" variety beverage, which wasn't particularly tasty or impressive. However, I knew that maté was the beverage of choice in Brazil for filling there the same ecological niche in the world of human ingestibles as that occupied by coffee in the West and tea in the East. It turns out I only knew half. Yerba apparently is the hot beverage of choice in Argentina, eastern Paraguay, western Uruguay and southern Brazil. Moreover, while many of it's psychoactive properties are similiar to those of it's beverage cousins, it appears that yerba maté has a superior chemical profile insofar as it increases attentivness to a greater degree than tea (which I've always found quite mild) without the jitteriness induced by coffee.

Of course everything has its tradeoffs and maté is a finicky drink. As Fabio showed me, to make yerba maté properly one first has to loosely pack the yerba herb into a cup (preferably with a gourd shape) into which a special spoon (essentially a straw with a slotted spoonlike bottom). Then hot, but not boiling, water needs to be slowly poured into the herb. The water cannot be poured to fast as it needs to slowly seep into the spaces between the herb particles. If poured too fast the herb will become blocked and little and inferior beverage will result (ditto for using too much water). If the water isn't hot enough, you won't get the enjoyable warm that I at least associate with a good cup of tea, and if it's too hot it will burn the beverage resulting in a very bitter brew.

To drink, you sip through the spoon/straw (otherwise known as a bomba) and then slowly refill your cup with more warm/hot water. It's a fun ritual to share with friends and fairly relaxing in and of itself (I tend to drink my tea compulsively while reading the news, which defeats half the purpose of taking some time to drink a hot soothing beverage). Also while the setup takes quite awhile, once the cup is ready, one can make many washes of drink from the same packed cup (you can probably use a prepared cup of yerba every day for a week before it's time to clean and repack)

I enjoyed drinking maté. I liked the preparation, the taste was a bit strong/bitter and takes some getting used to. I also felt a mild increase in alertness while at the same time felt quite mellow. Of course this could be due to a million other factors including the placebo effect. Nonetheless it was neat and I'll probably add yerba to my collection of drinkables.

So the pros of maté:
  • nice psychoactive properties
  • fun parephenelia
  • soothing preperation ritual
  • can reuse the herb for many washes
the cons:
  • not as tasty as tea, although far better than coffee (yes I don't like coffee, I try it every chance I get, but I still think even the best coffee tastes like a cross been funky chocolate and burnt cigarettes - okay maybe not that bad, but you get the idea)
  • easy to muck up and a bit finicky
  • somewhat difficult to find in many places (both paraphernalia and herb)

08 November 2008

We Did It! (Mostly)

Obama won! And the Dems now have majorities in the Senate (albeit not Filibuster proof), House, and US Governorships! I'm really happy and so are the folks here in France (at least 85% of them) as you can see below. On Wednesday morning I went around the office toasting Obama with a bottle of Cidre Brut (hard cider). Then in the afternoon the lab head broke out the Champagne for another toast with guests.

And Prop 2 passed in California - which makes me truly happy and will improve the lives of millions of farm animal. After spending most of my life being mocked for my belief that animal suffering is an important and valid concern, Americans finally seem to be coming around to the idea (the French though treat vegetarians the way Americans did 20 years ago).

I got almost everything out of this election that I wanted. Although I guess it's a law of the universe you can't get everything you want. Still it really stinks that a bunch of bigotry against gays, dressed up as ballot measures, passed in several states - the most prominent of which was California's Prop 8. The whole thing makes me sad and angry. It's also quite fascinating to me that the Mormon church LDS has put so much effort into defending "traditional marriage" - given that they are a group that had to flee the US, in part, because their marriage arrangements were rejected by greater US society!

I believe in equality - if two given people (say Joe and Mary) have the right to join in a union to live their lives together, gaining both societal recognition, and a variety of benefits big and small in doing so - I see no reason why the legality of that union should be based on one particular combination of sexual genetalia. I'm no lawyer, but it definitely has the stink of an "equal rights" violation - I mean have a century after the civil rights movement we've still effectively got separate water fountains (which is what I'd call a civil union) - that is when gays even get a water fountain in my analogy.

It also gets my goat that so many anti-gay advocates (particularly the evangelicals) make this seem like a linguistic concern 'we are fighting against the re-definition of marriage from time immemorial as the union between one man and one woman' or some other such intellectually dishonest tripe. Have you read the Bible lately? How many wives did Jacob have? It wasn't "one man and one woman". But really if it's just a language issue, let's throw legal marriage out the window and have everyone get civil unions. Then marriages (which seem in this view to be a religious or quasi-religious institution) can stay where they belong in a society with a church-state separation (namely in church, synagogue, or mosque) and civil benefits, rights, etc. can be guided by a completely secular institution. But that probably won't ever happen.

Also I was a bit sad that my friend Roy Simon lost his bid to unseat Republican State Senator Skelos, the third most senior Republican in State government. Have to say, I'm a natural skeptic - Roy was running a seriously uphill battle - but I really admire him for doing it!

So in sum, I'm terribly excited to see what Obama and the D-crats do in the next couple of years. Hopefully it will be magic that will make everything better - but more realistically they'll just stop screwing things up and institute some mild improvements. Either way, I'll be happier and sleep easier knowing our country is out of hands proven to be incompetent and into ones that think "reality-based decision making" is a valid way of governing! This is still just the beginning of the fight to improve things (like in Obama's speach - 'continually striving to perfect our union'), but I'm feeling hopeful - like it actually might be a begining. I guess we'll see where things go.

04 November 2008

Watch the Election Live!

I've spent my entire adult voting life being continually frustrated that my candidate never wins. G-d, I hope Obama wins b/c I don't want this to be the third presidential election that ends with me crying.

02 November 2008

Who I Voted For

Of all the elections I've lived through, this one definitely seems to be the one that has people the most riled up. I've been slightly surprised at how many folks from back in the States have asked me if I've made sure to vote (yes) and pleasantly taken aback by the interest the people in the countries I've visited have taken in the US election and whom I'm voting for (Obama - Biden). In the past when I've walked through international border control the kind of questions I've gotten have been "why are you coming? how long are you staying?" whereas the last time I passed a checkpoint the question was "Obama or McCain?"

People in the countries I've visited are excited, curious, and extremely interested in the US elections and US politics in general. And for those of you knee jerkers who think all non US folks are for Obama and against McCain, well it's simply not the case. Lots of them just aren't sure what they think and some are outright scared of Obama. But having said that, I'll admit most of the folks I come across are really excited that the US may have a change of heart and leadership (I for the one do agree with the implicit assumption here that McCain won't be much of a change), inspired by Obama's message, and impressed that a man of color looks likely to be elected to the presidency.

While every person has their own unique opinion, I've found generalizations can be made. So I'll give you my very brief, unscientific, not-terribly-in-depth, and admittedly biased by-the-country impressions.

India: The average person on the street here tended to know the least about politics, although the educated knew a lot and had fairly strong opinions. With all of the bombings going on there and the Muslim/Hindu tensions there is quite significant concern with terrorism, Islamic militant groups, etc. As in most places, this tends to push the fulcrum towards a more positive view of aggressive/militant US policies and support of both Bush and McCain (by proxy). The perception of toughness and strength resonates strongly in the culture, although the better educated tend to dismiss the implicit premise that [ toughness/militancy = actually having a positive effect towards stopping terrorism ]. I'll admit though, I've come to the belief that being able to reject this emotionally appealing notion is one of the contemporary hallmarks of an ordered, logical mind - or for those of you who are geeks, a second order Turing test (the first order test being something that indicates capacity for written language and use of tools). Now this isn't too say that I don't think there aren't valid arguments for supporting specific military actions taken in specific countries (although I may strenuously disagree with said arguments), but it is to say that I complete reject the notion that being "tough" without regard to whom the toughness is directed against, nor without regard to whether such "tough actions" have any likelihood of succeeding or being sustained, is, in one word, assinine - and to the highest order.
But I digress.

Along with the Indians, there were many foreign travelers that we met. In particular, I had a very animated conversation in Coorg with a very nice Colombian couple with whom we became friends. We spent about 2 or 3 hours talking about US politics - they were really upset with their own country's leadership and thought about the same as I of Bush: namely that his actions and leadership have been disasterous. We also spent quite awhile talking about US funding of what essentially is civil war in Colombia. I've got much to say about this, but will keep my comments (relatively) short:
  1. US polititians are far too eager to declare "war" on problems than actually understand those problems
  2. we haven't won anything we've declared war on in far too long (be it drugs, poverty, illiteracy, terrorism, or crime
  3. we have injured lots of people (our own who languish in jails at rates far exceeding on a per-capita basis any other country in the world and who die in pointless wars abroad and of poor medical care since we'd rather spend money fighting "wars" than paying doctors properly, and those of our neighbors who are killed in civil wars our dollars fund and by the societal disorder our invasions engender - not to metion those accidentally killed by our bombs) and have little to show for it.
  4. Consequently, we really ought to consider trying a different tactic.
That's in a nutshell why I support Obama over McCain. McCain's a war hero and has done some impressive stuff. But aside from making himself a serious sellout over the past couple of years, and demonstrating such terribly bad judgment as to pick a VP who seems to be a female version of W (but even less informed, experienced, intelligent, and knee-jerk - which I previously hadn't considered within the realm of likelihood) when he'd be the oldest president elected, a recent cancer survivor, and of potentially damaged health from his long stay in the Hanoi Hilton: I think McCain is basically more of the same old failed policies. I tend to believe Obama might be different. And even if he isn't, honestly all I want from a US president at this point is that he (or she) doesn't do anything to screw things up further. World peace, universal healthcare, riches for all - all these would be bonuses for me. I'd be happy if we just took the time to obtain a UN resolution before invading any more countries.
Damn, I've digressed again.

Anyway, to sum it up: in India ill-educated people loved Bush, but were intrigued by Obama. Better educated people tended to prefer Obama to McCain (although not always). Most of the foreigners we met were very pro Obama.

Israel: Here the mix was similar to India, although it tended to divide down the same lines as general Israeli politics. Leftists tended to be open to Obama and Rightists tended to go for McCain. Most of the American Israelis I hung out with were strongly for Obama (and sent their ballots in). However, whereas the uneducated in India were likely to be impressed with Obama, in Israel at least one I met asked me "didn't I think he was dangerous?". When I asked why, I was told "because he's a Muslim". I explained that "No, Obama isn't a Muslim, actually he's a Christian and a fairly observant one" (I didn't bother following this up with the question "so what if he was a Muslim though?" which while more directly attacking the deeper prejudice underlying that statement, was something I simply didn't think would be productive or for which I'd have the energy). He wouldn't accept my explanation telling me, "but his father... I've heard Obama is a Muslim". I then told him that people will tell any lie they like if they think it will help their cause and other people will repeat it, simply because people like repeating crap and hardly ever check to see if what they've been told is true. He was wavering on this, so I followed up by bringing up an example that hit close to home - blood libel. I said, "plenty of people say that Jew's drink Christian baby blood and also make matzah out of it, no connection to reality whatsoever, but it doesn't stop them from saying it. Same here." I think that may have convinced him.

France: Not terribly interesting politics-wise. Everyone here (with whom I've interacted) hates Bush's guts, and supports Obama openly and loudly. Politically, it's just like being home in NY! So I get lot's of props for my answer to the oft posed question: "you're American! who are you voting for?" In my first day or two here, I snapped the picture above of an Obama-Biden sign hanging from an apartment in my neighborhood of Butte Aux Calle. Today the vendor pictured below gave us free food for our response (said he would have released the dogs if we had said McCain) although I think he was mostly trying to make a sale. He was successful. Later on after having a wonderful vegetarian brunch at La Victoire Supreme du Coeur we even saw Obama boxer shorts!

So now you know something about my thoughts on US politics and the adventures we've had traveling during this unusual and exciting election season. It's cool when the border guards are more interested in which candidate you are voting for than how long you'll be staying and whether it's business or pleasure ;-)

Post Script (P.S.): I forgot to mention that the attitudes Linda experienced in Italy mirror those we've found in France. Apparently, she needed a cab and the folks there were only willing to call one for her after she confirmed that she was voting Obama! (although, all such comments we've encountered have been light-hearted and good-natured - I highly doubt Linda would have been denied help calling the cab if she had claimed to be a McCain supporter)