Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Saturday, January 31, 2004
Wow. Here's a randomly good indication of why marriage as a legal institution still matters in our society, and should be made available to romantic couples of all types*: if Cary Tennis, a seemingly progressive advice columnist at a modernized, liberal joint like can so easily consider a girl with a boyfriend "fair game," we obviously need something a little bit more protective than "they've been together for a long time."

He writes,
"That's one reason people get engaged -- to signal that, even though they may be capable of screwing up, they are trying to make this one work, so please back off and don't make it harder. Wearing a ring is sort of a request: Please don't hit on me, I'm engaged. But in my view, boyfriends and girlfriends are in a provisional status, a kind of limbo; they're still on the market until they do something to declare themselves otherwise."

Personally, I think one should respect a person's declared intentions more than perceived secret ones, and if one is going to try and sway them, one should do so very carefully, respectfully, and with every readiness to accept defeat. But perhaps guys (or girls!) should take this into account when they feel pressured into going shopping for rings by their significant other---perhaps your significant other just wants a piece of armour to keep away the sharks.

Apologies to those who can't read Salon Premium. Subscribe and support independant online journalism!

*That is, all types not subscribing to "open relationships."
Friday, January 30, 2004
This is just an amazing news story. The power of optics. Don't try to look into the future. It might burn you.
Go to Save the Hubble. It's worth a try. Thanks to .brian.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Thanks for the Memoriesis an interesting flash slideshow about the 40 year plus American relationship with Saddam Hussein. I found it a little perturbing that the citations (Frontline, UPI, etc.) stopped coming after a while. It would be worthwhile to investigate and document each slide's representation carefully--because if it's all true, that's something people should be made more aware of.
I love how Eric Umansky summarizes a Washington Post editorial on the Whitehouse's Budget practices in today's papers:"today's papers A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.

"A Post editorial all-but accuses the White House's budget crunchers of lunching on peyote and mushrooms."
I finally watched the infamous Dean speech and I have to say, I just don't get it. It really doesn't seem awful to me at all. Alright, it's a little weird to name so many states, but hey, it's kind of cool too. We are the United STATES of America. I mean, you'd expect presidential material to be kind of excited about a bunch of 'em. I mean, it is pretty wonderful that we've got 50 great states and they're all a bit different.
The gristle in his voice just seems like he's trying to match the energy of the crowd. The elderly statesman behind him (Harkin?) on his right (left of the screen) in the Mister Rogers outfit seems to be digging it.
I'm starting to think journalists just wanted to something to get all worked up about. Like Slate's Timothy Noah, I also rather wish Dean hadn't given in on it.
Monday, January 26, 2004
Rishi sent me a profile of the guy who madeSuperSize Me and only ate at McDonalds for 30 days. Man. Talk about dedication to your art.
More State of the Union fun, courtesy of darkstar on linkfilter.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
This web journal of one man's fitness transformation is a little awkward to navigate but high on content. From timbley on linkfilter.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
I have to say, this The Advocate cover shot of Wesley Clark is pretty impressive. I don't know if "gay issues" are going to really matter in this election or not, but I have to admire his biting the bullet and taking a visible stand, especially given the backlash following last years court decisions. From Electrolite.
Friday, January 23, 2004
Some more State of the Union humor: check this bit out:
"The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you act -- (applause) -- unless you act -- unless you act, the unfair tax on marriage will go back up."
Courtesy of Rishi.
A hilariously astute comment by Scott Rosenberg on the political applause track at the State of the Union.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
See below for more on the following update to my post about Sesame Street: I have posted the pdf form to enclose with donations to Sesame workshop on my webpage here. The address to send donations to is:
Sesame Workshop, P.O. Box 5136, Toms River, NJ, 08754-5136.
And finally, here you can listen to version of Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (from Monty Python's Life of Brian) , though you can get more Monty Python songs here.
Oh, I'm afraid I'm on a roll. While we're at it:A Flash Animation to go with Tom Lehrer's The Elements.
That inspired me to find the The Bjork Song by The Brunching Shuttlecocks. Download it.

"What's this about Leptons and Quarks?"
"Oh, you see, they're subatomic particles--"
"In a love song? It's a quantum physics love song?"
"Yes. That's precisely what it is. It's my love song, and it's a quantum physics love song. Of sorts."
A Flash animation of Cows With Guns!! Many thanks to Rishi.
I can't say this better than Talking Points Memo.:
"This story in today's Boston Globe should knock everything else off the front page. It's an amazing story, a huge scandal. Read the lede ...."
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Support Sesame Street

If you know me, you know that I am a Sesame Street fan. It is perhaps one of my favorite TV shows, though I'll admit I'm significantly less fond of its current incarnation than I was of the one I grew up with. Nonetheless I think it's a good project that does great things for kids. I was terribly excited to meet Oscar the Grouch this summer, and get Big Bird's autograph.

So I was kind of sad to read this Salon article about what seems like yet another commendable Sesame Workshop project: the creation of a few special shows called "Sesame Neighborhood" meant to showcase off Arab-American culture and children, and promote harmony and pluralistic integration between Arab-American children and other children. In the wake of post-Sept. 11 backlash this seems doubly important--both to protect children from hate and also to prevent their growing up into alienated youth. With spots like Global Grover, and the innately pluralistic, tolerant aesthetic of Muppets in general, Sesame Street could pursue such a goal with the kind of style and panache that would inevitably elude others.

But the article is about how this project simply hasn't happened because the cash isn't available. Sesame Workshop has been unable to get either corporate funding or Arab-American funding. The point of the article seems to be that this is an example of either how mainstream non-profits in general, and public television in particular, doesn't know how to appeal to minority groups OR how it's an example of the the possibility that currently Arab-Americans don't really want to integrate. Both of these might have elements of truth, but they can hardly be the whole truth. I think the main thing is that non-profits in general are suffering, and Sesame Street in particular.

In the summer, when I met Caroll Spinney, the voice and puppeteer inside Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he mentioned (in the gentlest way possible) that the reason Sesame Street now shoots a much shorter season every year is because its strapped for cash. Its primary source of funding comes from product-licensing, and small kids now agitate for stuff covered with Barney logos--or worse yet, for-profit Disney logos. As a result, I make a point of buying Sesame Street themed products when I have the option to. (Note to friends: I really miss my old Ernie Puppet. A Big Bird doll would be nice too. And possibly this DVD.) But Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit, and there's nothing wrong with just donating to it. I realize most of my readers are my fellow cash-strapped students, but for those of you who are a little more flush--please think about funding some great public television.

Update, January 23, 2003

I emailed Sesame Workshop and asked about online donations. Veronica Koo emailed me back, with characteristic Sesame appreciation:

Thanks so much for your kind words and for thinking of Sesame Workshop. Our
web giving will be up soon, in the interim we asked that donors use the
attached form
to give gifts. The mailing address is on the form, it is not
the same as our offices in NYC.

To reiterate, I have posted the pdf form to enclose with donations to Sesame workshop on my webpage here. The address to send donations to is:
Sesame Workshop, P.O. Box 5136, Toms River, NJ, 08754-5136.
Go to Neil Gaiman's Blog. Download the song.
What a charming article in the Times!!!
Monday, January 19, 2004
Sigh. This would have been a fascinating, elegant essay if it wasn't for the thin line of possible anti-Semitism sitting in the middle of it, like a droplet of scummy oil atop a bowl of clean water. Is it really that difficult for this essayist to employ a little discipline and clean up otherwise lovely copy and intriguing sentiment? We need more Arab essayists to realize that the only way to give the Palestinian cause the High Moral Ground is to embrace the common humanity they share with Israelis and Jews. Remember Gandhi. . .
From the New York Times: Editorial Observer: The Whole Cow and Nothing but the Whole Cow. Yuck. Sent to me by Aaron Friedman.
I finally finished updating Saheli's Current Links on my homepage with all the stuff I've accumulated here on the blog since early November. I find that a lot of the links to wire reports and the like are now broken, and will try to fix that later when I have more time. It's quite a long and interesting list of links, if I must say so myself.
Sunday, January 18, 2004
My loyal friends .brian and Rob have started blogs, and of course they neither told me nor linked to me. Well, to be fair, Rob let it slip and then emailed me the link, but still!
Saturday, January 17, 2004
NASA will no longer maintain the Hubble Space Telescope, saying that after the Columbia Shuttle explosion it is no longer safe to send shuttle maintenance missions to the beloved telescope. Of course, many people feel that this is actually because of the cost that will be incurred to sending humans to Mars--a project that has an even greater potential to be dangerous, and far less potential to as efficiently produce beautiful science. I remember after the Columbia explosion when pundits were sniping that they produce no good science I was aghast that they had forgotten Hubble. I don't think any single big science project, at least not in physics and astronomy, has engaged and enthralled as many people in my lifetime. A quote from Dr. James Beckwith, the director of the Space Telescope Institute at Johns Hopkins University, at the end of the NYT artice:

"We at the institute are devastated by the potential loss of Hubble. But we will do our absolute best to make the final years of its life the most glorious science you've ever seen.'"
Friday, January 16, 2004
Well, this is shamelessly consumerist but it's kind of cool.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Only in India department. When I was little, and would watch old Hindi movies, I would imitate how the villains always stroke their curling moustaches with their pinky fingers. Because I was (and am) a girl, this was very amusing to all. Courtesy of Rishi.
A great little piece of science writing at Slate. Christine Kenneally explains a paper that shows that in a very safe environment, it's healthier to be brave. The extra explanation of natural selection subtleties was a nice touch.

I thought this article on a recent paper tracking the diet and exercise habits of Canadian Amish was interesting. Kind of nice of the Amish to agree to wear a footstep-counting device for the sake of all the rest of us lazy modernists. The impressiveness of their activity-levels notwithstanding, their pre-WW-II diet, while rich and fatty, still seems healthier to me than Big Macs and fries.
Monday, January 12, 2004
According to Slate's Today's Papers, this Washington Post article and it's accompanying article in the LA Times were "stuffed." A major military institution (The Army War College) finds enough merit in a scholarly report criticising the War on Terror to publish it, and the director of the College doesn't shy away from its conclusions. Seems like an important contribution to the national discussion. The War on Terror is our single biggest policy concern right now, especially in it's all-digestive capacity of including the occupation of Iraq, airline security, myriad domestic activities of the Justice department, and our entire foreign policy. A credible and thorough military criticism of it seems newsworthy.
Why is it stuffed? Well, this isn't news, it's just a report--and there are more important, timely items for the front page. I haven't seen a paper copy of the Post yet, but judging from their website, war-human interest and election politics stories dominate, with an important opener about the new Federal airline passenger tracking system. This kind of big picture, policy item is going to get stuffed during what is anything but a slow news day. But now is precisely the time when a policy report like this should not get stuffed---we need analysis and perspective over a wide range of data precisely when we are facing too many issues, not when we have the leisure to read such reports comfortably.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
This Slate slide-show by Elizabeth Eaves, on the mathematical art of Kenneth Snelson, has some lovely pictures, a good format, and deserves extra plaudits for delving into a difficult but fascinating topic. But somehow it's a little disappointing--Eaves keeps telling us that this art is mathematically sophisticated, and difficult to understand and therefore underappreciated, but doesn't try to explain the mathematics more deeply than cursorily describing the overall topic (the way components can exist in simultaneous tension and compression to create a flexible but stable structure) and citing prestigious science and engineering which has been inspired by Snelson's work.

But the beauty of science and engineering is precisely that it does not depend on authority--that in theory, at least, it should be explainable. I don't think this is Eaves' fault--in fact, I think she has done an admirable job, using every day examples like stone arches to explain what a standard compression-only structure is like. In the end, however, she must rely on metaphor and not the exact communication which is Mathematics' special province. I think the height of the bar is partially symptomatic of the great gulf that lies between the educated reader and a grasp of mathematical topics. On the other hand, this also seems like a particularly difficult topic. All of the explanations and websites I've found could benefit from more moving images, either animation or video.

It's incredibly beautiful stuff, and you have to wonder why more of it isn't being used in architecture. Lover of all things old and elegant that I am, if we're going to have modern architecture every where, we should really go for it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Here's a picture that is going to show up at this kid's wedding when he grows up. Courtesy of Neil Gaiman's Blog, where Gaiman observes with characteristic wryness:
"Which is a wonderful news story, and makes me wonder which genre the boy lives in. I mean, mysteriously getting into one of those toy-crane places means different things to someone in a horror story than it would to someone in a light and fluffy comedy or a medical drama. Right now it's almost a locked room mystery."
If Bollywood is going to adapt "Western" stories, Maqbool sounds like a good step in the right direction. Of course The Scottish Play is one of my favorites ever, so I'm a bit biased.
My friend Lior sent me this picture he took yesterday in Reykjavik.
Sunday, January 04, 2004
I'm surprised at how relatively gracefully my compatriots in Brazil are dealing with their fingerprints being taken when they land in Brazil. A judge has ordered that Americans visiting the land of Carnevale be fingerprinted and registered, just as Brazilians will be when they visit America, apparently starting Monday. In Sunday's Washington Post, Jon Jeter writes:

"In his ruling last week, da Silva delivered a withering attack on the new U.S. measure and said Brazil must implement the same policy to protect the integrity and dignity of Brazilians traveling to the United States.

"I consider the act absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis," da Silva said."

and then

"None of the Americans interviewed on Saturday seemed to consider the process more than mildly irritating.

"You have to expect delays anytime you travel anywhere in the world these days," said Eric Wesson, 24, of Michigan, who arrived Saturday and said he planned to spend the next six months hiking around the continent.

"They were polite about it, and I can understand their point," he said. "If we're going to treat them like criminals when they visit our country, they are going to make sure we feel the same way. It's kind of like a humiliation war rather than a trade war."

I suppose people visiting Brazil don't (or, more accurately, the handful of people visiting Brazil this weekend whom Jeter happened to interview) don't form a representative sample of the American people's attitudes to foreign policy. While I'm glad they're not making a righteous fracas about it, I have to wonder if simply accepting that we will no longer be treated so grandly abroad is the most useful response to our government deciding to selectively be a little less hospitable here.
Saturday, January 03, 2004
This story about a giant python makes a lot of ancient myths a little less surreal. I have to wonder how big its brain is---while size doesn't correlate with intelligence over small size differences, I think over big size differences it's safe to assume a bigger brain means a more intelligence creature.
Friday, January 02, 2004
It's Aaron Friedman!!!! Thanks to my sister, Ruchira.
Back To Work.

Break's over, and I'm "home" after a day in the airline system. Since stale air and pressure changes wreak havoc on my system, don't expect any brilliant witticisms from me for a while.

I found the "We are on a Homeland Security Alert of Orange, please be extra vigilant" announcements to be very frustrating. I'd really love to do something to help out, you know. Have a firm plan of steps I should take when I hear the word Orange. I actually do want the Homeland to be secure, much as I dislike the term. But of course, I have no idea what to do. I realize that the feds can't tell us exactly what to do, but I just think there's gotta be something better than "watch your luggage." I mean, you should watch your luggage anyway--so it doesn't get stolen. Unfortunately, I can no longer even think of a wild suggestion for what the government should be asking us to do. How many more years are we going to be living in this weird keyed up state of anxiety?

On the plane, I sort of watched (and didn't listen to) Runaway Jury through half-closed eyes in brief flutters between unsatisfying naps. Yesterday I saw Paycheck. They both reminded me of the way developers and users of sophisticated technology are always portrayed using very sophisticated technology for everything else. The true duct-tape- and-shoestring natures of most science and engineerings labs is not often splayed out on the big screen. I used to think this was a bad thing--that it lead to a misunderstanding of what science and engineering are really like, and how they work. But as I grow older I'm able to appreciate action movies more for their eye-candy aesthetics, and have to wonder if it was a little patronizing of me to assume that "regular people" actually think giant plasma screens are the norm in the average laboratory.

I had a great evening yesterday playing boardgames (though technically two of them were card games) and may have to reacquire them. I never liked computer games or videogames, and rarely played regular cards, but there's something about the human element in board games which makes them totally different. I was also taught how to play a child's precursor game to Go, and will have to investigate that some more. It's probably good to keep some of the nonverbal aspects of my mind sharp. (Well, keep them from getting any duller.)

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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