Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Thursday, December 25, 2003
A great bit of public radio.
My sister and I went out for a drive along the sunny East Bay ridge that is the topological essence of what I call home. The flowers were sparse but still everywhere and bright, and I was very happy not to be having a white Christmas.

And there was public radio, just like old times when we used to drive up and down that ridge several times a day, sometimes. First 'Another Lousy Day', about two pairs of diaries found in a Chicago thrift store.

Then a half hour of segments about Charity: Detroit gives more per capita than other people, an interview with Amanda Gebhardt, the new 26-yeard old director of a family foundation created by her aunt's will, a profile of a Bay Area fundraiser, and of the founder of a charity-watchdog group.

This made me think of Bowling Alone, a book I've left in New York. I was surprised by the sunny tone of the NPR pieces. Friends have told me that the non-profit sector is an increasingly depressing area to work in, where more time has to be spent raising less money to help now needier people. Another book I bought several years ago, Civil Society, opens with a reminiscence by the author, Brian O'Connell:

"I hadn't realized that there was a sprawling and deeply layered web of voluntary associations and institutions, that religions did more than preach their gospels, that people are often ahead of their leaders, and that democracy really rests on the underpinnings of citizen participation and influence."

Economic indicators like consumer confidence, job growth, unemployment, etc., are all easily bandied about. Indicators like absolute amount of charitable donation seem easily skewed by anomolies, like tycoons setting up business schools and gallery wings. (See Slate's biggest donor list from last year.) In general it seems like the nonprofit sector isn't reported upon often enough, and that most people (myself included) don't have much of a grasp on the role it plays in keeping our social engine going. This is particularly unfair because, as I've learned this last fall in Journalism school, the nonprofit sector--with its advocacy groups, research institutions, and street-credibility--is often a journalist's best friend.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Home, sweet home. The piano is tuned, my sister is playing it, and my mother has laid delightful little treasures and art all over the house for me to find and marvel at. She made me a lovely dinner of nice, warm, mommy-food. Can you hear me purr?
A very happy holiday season, everyone! Be well and safe.

Monday, December 22, 2003
Blog This! Is not working so well.
Anyway, Doublethink has a very comprehensive discussion of the Strom Thurmond's daughter story.
Another great Slate article, this one about the American painter James Whistler, accompanied by some lovely paintings. I'll have to look for a book on the man, and remember to check out the Freer Gallery when I finally get to visit Washington D. C.. I'm not usually a fan of abstract art, but Nocturn in Black and Gold is really elegant.
A Long Post on Strom Thurmond's Daughter

The New York Times article which prompted this.
This Thurmond New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman, about the reactions of Strom Thurmond's legitimate family's reaction to Essie Mae Washington-Williams revealing that he was her father is interesting. All of the quotes that The Times got directly (as opposed to the attorney-crafted statement released by Strom Thurmand Jr., the Senator's oldest son and "heir") are at least border-line negative and somewhat self-centered. They're all from neices and nephews and one grand neice, reflecting on the difficulty they have dealing with this news. The kindest one is from one neice, Ellen Senter:

"Ellen Senter, a niece of Mr. Thurmond, also praised Ms. Washington-Williams' handling of her announcement after remaining silent for so long.

"Essie Mae Washington-Williams's humble spirit and kind nature has made it easier for us to bear this news," said Ms. Senter, 58, a teacher in Columbia. "But it was hard when I first heard it because it was surprising to me that my uncle had any sort of illegitimate child, black or white."

Another neice, Mary Freeman, admits that her cousin being black is an issue, while a nephew, James Bishop, says "I don't why this lady is doing this" and his daughter, Robyn Bishop, says, "I just hope this woman is coming out for the right reasons." The piece ends with Mary Freeman saying:

"Ms. Freeman said she was not sure if she was ready to meet Ms. Washington-Williams, who has said she wants to connect with as many members of the family as possible.

"If I do, I'm not going to go with open arms," Ms. Freeman said. "It's too much to accept right now."

Gettleman describes the reaction of Thurmond's son so:

"On Monday, two days after the news broke about Ms. Washington-Williams, Mr. Thurmond issued a statement for the family acknowledging her "claim to her heritage" and indicating he would like to meet her."

Gettleman immediately follows it with quotes implying that it's the only thing the man (a 31 year-old U.S. attorney) could have said, and that the lawyer-crafted statement is not as candid as the kinds of quotes Gettleman got from the other branches of the family.

My musings on the article.
What I find interesting about all this is that none of these relatives reflected on what it must be like to be in your seventies before you can freely state who your father is. None of them make any statement of compassion or sympathy to a woman who is the oldest child of one the last century's most towering political figures, but who lived her live without the family atmosphere--or instantaneous networking benefits--that graced them as neices and nephews. By all accounts Mr. Thurmond supported his daughter, and perhaps he pulled a few strings for her over the years. Nonetheless, she hardly had the benefits of being raised by her father, a value that his party and his people have trumpeted endlessly. Mary Freeman seems openly hostile in the article, and James Bishop and his daughter Robyn Bishop's use of the adjective "this" is symptomatic of their chilly tone. Where is the famous Southern graciousness now?

I am hoping that Gettleman's spin on Strom Thurmond Jr.'s spin is overly cynical, and that despite the fact that the heir to the Thurmond mantle is a lawyer who used another lawyer to release his statement, he might still be sincere. On one hand, this whole matter is somewhat trivial; the Senator is finally dead, and this is simply one of many cases of illegitimacy and racial double standards. On the other hand it has some disproportionate symbolic significance, the reason, I think, it was fronted on the The Old Gray Lady. In a January, 2001 NYT article about his then unannounced but still impending appointment as U.S. Attorney, David Firestone wrote of Strom Thurmond Jr.: "Friends described him as a moderate conservative who enjoyed prosecution more than private practice and was undefeated in the five or six felony trials he prosecuted." An editorial from the same time was headlined "Thurmonds Forever."

Barring the hand of bizarre fate, it seems inevitable that Thurmond Jr. will have a long and influential political career. He has a task before him now: through his actions and future policies, he must prove that families, opinions, and cultures do in fact change and evolve over time and over generations. If his actions show that his "white" Southern family is truly able to embrace the black blood which has watered the success of their family tree for centuries, and which is inextricably mixed with their own, he will be an accomplished man. The embrace has to be egalitarian and uncondescending. If instead he provides yet another example of a stagnant family culture, he will help extend the shadows of racism far into the new century.

Some other links on the topic.

I first read about Essie Mae Washington-Williams in a Slate article by Diane McWhorter, and found this New York Times article through Slate's Today's Papers feature on Saturday. A Slate Frayster posted an interesting reminscence on interracial dating. My own Fray post overlaps with this one, but not completely. It's also pretty long.

The deepest--and interestingly, apparently frankest--coverage I've found so far comes from South Carolina's paper, The State:

"Thurmond's Past Invites New Scrutiny"

"Critics of Thurmond's Daughter Change Tune"

"Dad walked the walk"--a retrospective on his childhood by Thurmond Jr., written for the Senator's 100th birthday. A quote:
"He taught me, as a boy, how to ride a bike, and I'll never forget that day now more than 25 years ago that he did away with the training wheels, gave me a big push, and sent me pedaling unsteadily through our neighborhood, running behind me, cheering, his arms raised over his head.

This rite of passage has been repeated between many a father and his children, and it did not matter that mine just happened to be a United States senator; he was always just Dad to us
." --Probably more notable at the time written because it is describing a 70-something year-old man, it is also notable as an example of what Essie Mae Washington-Williams did not get as a child.

This International-Herald Tribune article discusses this as an example of the usual dismissiveness faced by black oral history, as well as the intricacies of the one drop rule. I got it from Gavin's Blog.

And I've got to wonder why Boondocks hasn't said a word. . .

I fixed a few more typos and set the quotes in italics to make them more clear.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
What a great lede.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
I just discovered the online Comic , courtesy of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light blog.
Some random googling led me to Edge, an online journal that seems almost excessively brainy. While the site organization is a little mindboggling and cramped, it seems to have some really substantial and intelligent content. It also had a link to Seed Magazine, which I'll have to go look for now. Who said surfing doesn't get you anywhere?

I'm working on my master's project on Hepatitis C in New York. If you are involved with this disease in anyway, please contact me. I especially need to talk to patients--they have to volunteer to talk to me, as their doctors cannot tell me about them, because of stringent new privacy regulations. It's been difficult reporting this because I didn't have my voice for all of last week. While it's back now, I still have a reflexive cough, which makes interviewing rather unpleasant.
Monday, December 15, 2003
A great little story about how the digital soldiers in the Lord of the Rings were made a little too intelligent, courtesy of my friend Andrew.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
This Making Light post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden pointed me to a New York Times article uniting two of my favorite college subjects: classics and combinatorics.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend's roommate at Harvard over Thanksgiving break. He's studying East Asian Studies now, and majored in Classics for his undergrad. We were talking about how Classics can be very useful, but it's not always obvious what those uses are--or well publicised or well exploited either. As a result, it always seems like a closed field, with not much hope for aspiring young classicists. This is an example of new stuff going on.

But like Nielsen Hayden says, it's all a little suspicious.

They say they've captured Hussein. I'm waiting for the DNA test, since he has so many look alikes. But, yeah, they probably have. People are probably going to forget that we didn't go in there to capture Saddam, we went in there to find weapons of mass destruction.

Bah Humbug. It's snowing. Big, big white flakes.
Friday, December 12, 2003
What San Francisco worms have in common with most of the journalism school today.
Suellentrop's book review of John Edwards' memoir of Four Trials in his previous career as a trial lawyer is a little odd--after a damning-with-faint-praise opening:

"On the plus side, it's affecting if a little bit corny, and in parts it's enthralling. But it's also thin on policy, focused on a past that bears little relation to the candidate's merits, and filled with eye-rolling paeans to the virtues and dignity of "regular people." And like the Edwards campaign, it's headed for the remainder bin before you know it."

Suellentrop summarizes the News in the book, which is that Edwards finally, if briefly, talks about the death of his 16-year old son Wade 7 years ago. (He would have been my age, the same as many of my friends.) I had never even heard of this before, so perhaps it was the surprise factor, but I found the rest of the review moving and enticing. It seems obvious that this tragedy helped propel Edwards into public life, and at the same time admirable that he has not milked it. I have to wonder if the top of the review was a mild and political example of what Heidi Julavits calls Snark, or at least a weak cousin of it--dissing for the sake of dissing.
Oh my. I don't ever want to cover a war, but if I end up in one, I hope my companions are this brave and smart. I had just decided that my Speakers Committee goal for next semester is recruiting the legendary war photographer James Nachtwey to come speak to us next spring. Now I just hope he makes it home alright, wherever home is.

I'm assuming Weisskopf is right-handed, and I can't even imagine what it must be like for a writer to lose his writing hand. Time Warner better take good are of him.

13 journalists have been killed in Iraq this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. These aren't guys who were trained as soldiers and who signed up to defend their country and die if necessary. They have the luxury of going home, but they choose to stay so that the rest of us can know what it is we do to our young men and women, and other people's children.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Plaudits for some California Representatives asking a very logical question of National Security Advisor Condi Rice---why are we spending so much money on looking for WMD without spending money making sure smart Iraqi scientists don't sell their expertise elsewhere? From Talking Points Memo.

Allow me a sentimental moment as a I reminisce over the old days when George Miller was my representative. As my sister wanted to tell him when we got redistricted out of his constitutency, "I never needed to write to you before because you always voted the way I wanted you to."
This Slate cover article by Steve Chapman, about the taxpayer burdens of supporting the elderly, is astonishing. While it makes a lot of logical points, its tone is so blatantly callous I have to wonder what the author's intention was.

If you're offended, you're probably not remotely interested in agreeing with him. But if you can laugh at his chutzpah, are you really going to take his arguments seriously? On the other hand, he makes a memorable case. While this article pretends to be addressed to Chapman's fellow baby boomers, it's real audience should probably be the "luckless 25-year-old, [who] by contrast, can count on paying $322,000 more in payroll taxes than he will ever get back in benefits." Just the audience most likely to have their eyes gaze over from yet another article on social security, and to be too worried about securing that entry level job to be hooked by a lede mentioning their own retirement. But also an audience that gets much of its news from The Daily Show and The Onion.

It reminds me of one of the only good scenes from the movie Boys and Girls, set in Berkeley. This scene was shot in Blake's, and the Freddie Prinze Jr. character's best friend/side kick, played by Jason Biggs, has finally acceped Freddie's admonishment to "just be himself." So on a double date with the heroine and a community service loving beauty, he goes on and on about how "old people are annoying and gross and freeloaders." (paraphrase, not exact quote) It's funny because while it's patently absurd, we all know that at least someone out there actually thinks it. Apparently Chapman is that person.

I disagree with his philosophy if not with his numbers. What's the point of civilization if people can't enjoy retirment after a long life of working hard? And what's the point of medical advancement if only rich people can use it to soothe the pain of old age, while the poor are left to suffer? It's cruel to just let someone rot away and die from high cholesterol, when we have the power to keep them healthy. There's nothing wrong with our cultural impulse to protect and care for the elderly.

There is something wrong with several our relatively new cultural impulse to do it out of sight, and out of mind. We all know that two can live almost as cheaply as one, but by relegating our elderly to retirement homes and home nurse checks, we increase the cost of their care. There was a set of Salon articles not so long about having children, or rather not having them, as several childless staffers explained their choice. Laura Miller's column had the tagline:"News flash: Having children won't save you from a lonely old age." Cary Tennis wrote,

"My dad always said, Be independent, do your own thing. I took him at his word and put 3,000 miles between us. And now that he is 80 the terms of our pact of protection have been reversed. It is my turn to look after him. But from this distance I cannot look after him. That makes it all the more troubling that I may have let him down by doing what he suggested."

Why do these authors just take it for granted that that's the way it will be, or should be? I find it rather appalling. It's one thing not to take care of a parent that you're simply not able to take care of, lacking the medical expertise. But it's quite another to shrug of responsibility altogether. The cultural impulse that pushes all children out of the nest and frowns upon their "needing" their parents past the age of 22 is the flip side of this coin. Children who grow up believing that they must form their lives completely independantly of their parents in order to be "healthy" human beings
are not going to have room for them when their parents need them. I'm not advocating parents who inculcate neediness and dependency in their children as a means of insuring their retirement homes. But I think American society has too much of the other extreme--adults who have no real relationship with their parents, to whom the people who first passionately loved them have now become strangers or mere aquaintances.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
I feel somewhat chastened by this Slate article praising the book of literary criticism, Mimesis. I've been meaning to read it for over a year now. Just think, if I had only read it before, I would be ahead of the curve! Now, I'm just one of the pack.
This Slate article on this years flu strain mentions how avian flu--flu passed directly from birds to humans without a porcine intermediary--are particularly dangerous, and says,

"While one bird flu incident might have been interpreted as an isolated occurrence, multiple bird flu incidents increase odds that eventually an outbreak of a newly mutated strain will not be contained. The risk is exacerbated by the ever growing sizes of flocks kept in factory farming production. Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude Hospital, an expert on influenza ecology, flatly predicts, "We will have a pandemic sometime in the next 10 years. The clock is ticking.""

I resent this. I'm a vegetarian, yet because of other people's demands for chicken, and the meat industries willingness to profit of feeding that demand cheaply, I'm going to be at greater risk to catch some awful flu.

Update: Perhaps I should disclose that I'm really quite sick right now. Might explain the depthy of my irritation.

My beloved older sister is now a Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics, obtained at the University of California, Berkeley.
Fiat Lux and Go Bears! Three Cheers for Doctor Datta!
Journalists need to explain these things better. I got this link from Talking Points Memo, and what I can't understand is how exactly this is an offer India can't refuse. Why on earth should India, or any country, for that matter,
particularly forgive $ 2 billion of debt? Out of some goodness of heart, maybe, as Bono would have developed countries forgive African debt. But James Baker is no charismatic rockstar. What kind of pressure or incentive is he bringing to bear as a counterbalancing force against the very real and concretely explained bonds being payed for by Indian taxpayers? How does this work in the rest of the world?
Whoah. And yes, it's apparently actually happened. That was not something I was expecting.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Scott just sent me this Christian Science Monitor online exploration of terrorism. It's really interesting both in content and presentation, an example of the power of new media to communicate complex ideas. The only thing I'd want more of is a newsy edge and more concrete, statistical kinds of information on the subject.
It's either entirely too early to be at the Journalism School, or entirely too late. I haven't quite decided which it is.
Saturday, December 06, 2003
The snow was starting to get to me, but hot chocolate is making it better. I like the picture on the J-school's front page. Outside there are still people frolicing the snow (more like tackling each other into it), despite the cold and the darkness. Ah, to be so athletic and playful. Inside mostly fellow classmates working on their final projects for Reporting and Writing I.
This Wired news report, India Fires Supercool-Fuel Rocket, is a little bittersweet. My first thought was: Cool! Cryogenic rockets just sound amazing.

Diversity in research is a good thing, and if we want to keep space exploration and satellite development going strong, the more players, the better. But of course everyone ends up having to worry about nuclear weapons. While I think most Western commentators can be rather one-sided in their analysis of India's nuclear program, I do hope that the rapidly multiplying hosts of Indian technologists will be able to think of exciting and peaceful things to do with this.
Friday, December 05, 2003
Don't these MSN filler writers know what they're doing? Women all over the world who have have consoled their egos by saying, "well, they don't notice me because I'm the smart one," will now have to face up to the fact that they might be dumb too.

I love the headline that pops up with msn: "Do men prefer brains?"
On toast? In their skull? Instead of computers?

And you can't beat the scienthe scientific sound of " We took a survey of single guys who date online, and they say it ain't so. The results weren't iffy, either: The guys said by a nearly two-to-one margin that if asked to choose between beauty and brains in the perfect long-term partner, they would choose brains"--as in, the two guys down the cubicle alley to the left chose brains, but the guy behind me chose body?

I shouldn't be making fun of Hecht (any relation to the famous optics guy, I wonder. . .). I will probably be doing this job in six months.
Rum and Monkey figures out which historical lunatic you are.
It's snowing.

It's pretty, but I'm not really ready for this.
For a few months now, I've had a perverse interest in the ostensibly boring policy ruckus about steel tarriffs. The effects of obscure policy on the Electoral College can elicit a greater thrill this election season, after we all breathlessly watched the wavering reds and blues in the map of the last presidential election. From this NYT article by David Sanger:

"Having seen the brutal politics of steel up close, Mr. Baily wonders now whether Al Gore would have won West Virginia and thus the presidency three years ago if the Clinton administration had acted more vigorously to protect the American steel producers. "We resisted the pressure on economic grounds, and it's possible that Al Gore paid for that," he said."

The thrust of the article seems to be that the WTO has seen how to exploit Bush's sensititivies to that wavering red and blue map. In Slate's Today's Papers, summarizes the article:

"The New York Times, meanwhile, takes a moment to appreciate the Karl Rove-like moves of the World Trade Organization and the European Union, which determined that the best way to beat back the tariffs would be to go after American exports from states deemed more crucial to Bush's re-election efforts, such as Florida citrus and Michigan's automobiles."

How is the map going to be tugged and pulled this season?
An interesting story about White House officials changing their story yet again.
Thursday, December 04, 2003's article on The real fellowship of the ring is an example of how friendships and personal relationships have a lasting impact on significant ideas and events in the wider world. How is it that smart people like Tolkien and Lewis manage to find each other? I suppose hanging out at Oxford would be a start, but the pool of people at Universities--even good Universities--is pretty wide and deep. Can one deliberately construct a truly helpful salon?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Why I wanted to work for Wired magazine. Where else would I be able to ponder what kind of video games Jesus might play?
Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com


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Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
The Bellman
Mine's On The 45 (Brimful)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Combing the Sphere
Crooked Timber
Daily Dose of Imagery
The Daily Rhino (Bong Breaker)
Dark Days Ahead
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
Daniel Drezner
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Green Ink!
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
India Uncut
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Scott Rosenberg(
Rox Populi
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman

Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
Neil Gaiman
Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud

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