Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Saturday, July 31, 2004

Cheney Campaign Hands out Loyalty Oath Forms, Kerry's Daughter Gives First Aid

Want to see your Vice President? Better sign the Loyalty Oath. Link to the Albuquerque Journal article by Jeff Jones: Obtaining Cheney Rally Ticket Requires Signing Bush Endorsement, taken from Atrios's Holden:

State Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, speaking on behalf of the Republican Party, said Thursday that a "known Democrat operative group" was intending to try to crash Saturday's campaign rally at Rio Rancho Mid-High School.

Crash? Otherwise known as peacably assembling and petitioning one's government for a redress of grievances?

More seriously, folks, what's the point of giving a speech to people you know are already planning on voting for you? Well, obviously, to look good on television. And you might be a little jealous of the kind of turn out John Kerry and John Edwards can get going in steaming Scranton PA without loyalty oaths:

John Kerry and John Edwards made their first post-convention appearance in this recovering anthracite city during an event that took on the character of a rock concert. A hot, sweaty rock concert that began two hours late.
But 15,000 people braved what local officials described as the hottest day of the year while they waited for a fleet of Kerry/Edwards tour buses to arrive. Nearly 100 people had to be treated for heat exhaustion or dehydration, according to Scranton Fire Chief Tom Davis. ...A little after 3 p.m., a telephone call from Kerry was broadcast over loudspeakers to the crowd. He told the crowd he was just a few minutes away and advised them to drink lots of water.''Hang in there,'' he said. ''We're going to change America.''...

''It's a huge thing that this many people are willing to come out and stand in the heat to see John Kerry and John Edwards,'' said Mark Nevins, Kerry's campaign spokesman in Pennsylvania. Kerry campaign volunteers left the rally scene and returned with water cooler jugs and passed cups through the crowd.
Nevins took a case of water from the national media tent to hand out bottles to wheelchair-using senior citizens who were baking in the afternoon sun and dangerously high humidity. And when Kerry tried to introduce to the crowd his younger daughter, third-year medical student Vanessa, she had gone to administer first aid to a man who had passed out.

(Slightly reorderd grafs from an article in the Morning Call, by Daryl Nerl; link also from Atrios.) According to the Kerry Campaign Blog, thousands of people braved pouring rain in Greensburg, PA today.

Friday, July 30, 2004
Tryptic in Beans & Pasta

A great ad on Craigslist for a $2800 set of portraits:
Three bean and noodle collages by renowned San Francisco artist Jason Mecier: 1. Maria Callas 2. Jackie O 3. Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra Materials:beans, coffee beans, lemon pits, and pasta.

Link courtesy of Nick, who says he has some dried fava beans on hand, and should get to work. I wonder how much fine art insurance against varmints costs?

Thursday, July 29, 2004
Rest in peace.

Nick has just pointed out to me that the great scientist Francis Crick has died.  He was an enormous inspiration to me, and I am very sorry to hear it.
Delayed Notes on the Democratic National Convention

Yeah, so I'm a bit behind.  I  watched everything delayed a few hours on C-SPAN.  I love C-SPAN. The commentators know no one watches it for them, and they stay nicely out of the way, even when taking calls in between events.   No snide remarks from Wolf Blitzer or Cokie Roberts, no condescending head shaking from George Stephanopoulos, no sneers from Brit Hume.  Then they loop the tape over and over all night for your recording convenience. 

In the same vein as my growing distaste for network punditry, I am also pretty disappointed with the general coverage from Slate.  I really dislike the constant slicing and dicing of a speechmaker's charisma, this utterly factual reporting of the reporters' snide opinions, like Saletan sniping at Christopher Heinz's introduction of his mother: "In the video preceding her speech, one of her sons praises her as "multifaceted" and "multidimensional." This is not the way ordinary people talk. " Oh, really? Has Saletan done a systematic sociological and linguistic study of who "ordinary" people are, and exactly how they talk? No, he just thinks it's a good line, like Maureen Dowd's ridiculous column about Wesley Clarke's argyle sweater. I'm getting really tired of journalists harping on such ridiculous points.

The thing is, I don't mind such opinionating, especially when its funny, in small doses--and from my friends and "ordinary" people.  If Saletan had his own little blog on the side, say, I'd either be amused or wouldn't read it. Saletan is trying to be Matthew Yglesias or Josh Marshall or Andrew Sullivan or even his own colleague, Mickey Kaus. (Actually, Yglesias does more policy analysis than Slate.) But Slate purposefully--and successfully--competes with outlets like the New York Times for the analysis gig, and I dislike such shallow writing in Slate as much as I dislike it in the Times.  When I need to get a feel for the kinds of impressions a speech generated, I either want a systematic person-on-the-street type survey, or some nice conversation with my friends and surfing session through their blogs and their friends blogs.   I want people like Saletan to tell me about things I can't see from the TV, and use the resources of their computer databases and years of political coverage to background me on the content of the speeches.  What exactly is up with veterans' health care? How many reservists are looking at no insurance when they get back? What is the average decrease in a reservist's family income when he or she is sent to war? That's the kind of writing I expect from Slate.

Rewind back to Tuesday night. Barak Obama. Wow. Like most people, I liked this bit:

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States.

Ultracasual is on the money, though I think 2012 might be a bit early, especially after seeing John Edwards last night.  I don't mind taking conventions more seriously than most people, because I still see them for what they nominally are--a rally for the delegates on the floor, who will turn around, come home, and get out the vote.  There's nothing wrong with ringing prose, and rhetoric isn't empty if it's backed up by sound policy and hard work.  You need a pep talk once in a while. I think Hillary Clinton struck the right opening note: John Kerry is a serious man for serious times. 

When the Republican party's mission could be plausibly stated as aiming always for small government, generally low taxation, and individual rights, the opposing Democratic side--progressive taxation, government solutions, and protecting our common environment--stood as a nice opposition in debate. Both sides could press their case, and achieve a policy that balanced their concerns.   But starting with Buchanan's ' infamous 1992 RNC convention speech and moving forward, the Republicans have seized on cultural conservatism as their touchstone, and I feel it has wreaked havoc on our public conversation.  More importantly, in these serious times, it is not relevant. 

If you look at the way the two candidates have spent their lives, regardless of their angle on policy, John Kerry clearly emerges as the more competent and serious man. If you then factor in that the current president's policies are most strongly motivated by cultural attitudes that are at best divisive and at worst ridiculous, in a way that Obama's speech makes abundantly clear, and that Kerry's are motivated by the Democratic ideals like good healthcare  and better education, and protecting environment--ideals that help everyone--the contrast is stark indeed.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
C-SPAN Oddness

I have the VCR recording the DNC on mute while I work; I  glanced up and saw New Jersey's Senator John Corzine speaking.  Below his name in the subtitle he was listed as R- New Jersey.  I don't think Republicans usually address the Democratic National Convention.
Monday, July 26, 2004
Puerto Rico

Last night I played Puerto Rico for the second time, with Scott, Dave, and Emily. I had been playing similar board games  with them, like Settlers of Catan and its variants,  since I came back from New York.  But I find this game particularly enjoyable because it's almost all strategy; there are no dice and it has the most miniscule factor of chance.  Yet unlike Chess and Go, and like Catan, it's not thoroughly abstract.  It's  "story" (plantations, workers, factories, ships, roles like captain and craftsman) gives a player plenty of  colorful mental hooks for hanging decision trees and strategies on.  The turns go around in a bit of a twisting daisy pattern: the first person to go in a round picks a role, and then everyone has a turn making a move in the spirit of that role (if the role is builder, then everyone can build, but the person who picked builder gets a special privilage) and then when everyone has a had a chance to go, the next person picks a role, etc., until the round is over--then the round itself shifts over a player.    Apparently, it's fairly popular with serious board game geeks, and there's even an online version.  

Looking up these links I was intrigued by the fact that this game actually has an author: Andreas Seyfarth, apparently of Munich.  Realizing that one man designed this game almost makes me want to try a hand at the business, but I had probably play more games first.  In the mean time, for sheer silliness' sake, I point you to Google's translations of his profile at Alea, apparently the original maker of Puerto Rico (Google translation of their motto: "alea - the play is good, is pleased humans"), and an article about him on SpielTrieb. Some  quotes, courtesty of the translation bot:

Tuesday, July 20, 2004
GQ: Bush's Missing Years & The Patriot's Test

Gentleman's Quarterly doesn't have a very good website, but the August issue (cover featuring Halle Berry from Catwoman) has an exclusive, uh, story, by Senior Editor Jason Gay, on why exactly we can't prove the Shrub did his National Guard duty. If you've never heard of Special Undercover Missions Service (SUMS), now is your chance to read all about it:

But SUMS agents were more than gentlmen spies. Provided with state-of-the-art weaponry and surveillance euipment, SUMS officers trained in mortal combat and international diplomacy. They were masters of disguise, capable passing themselves off as immigrants, women, even alrge animals. . . The agency was a favorite of then Richard Nixon and his FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, who, before his death, in May 1972, reularly used SUMS operatives for missions both military. . .Before Bush's arrival, SUMS is elieved to ahve briefly infiltrated the Allman Brothers Band, the Students for a Democratic Society, and The Dick Cavett Show. . . .From there [Bush] moved to India, where he helped train a mounted brigade assembled to kidnap the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (a mission that would fail due to an untimely monsoon.) Next for Bush was New Zealand, where he assisted officials with helicopter surveillance of sheep poachers . . As the coup de grace, they lodged a banana in the tailpipe of Vietcong negotiator Le Duc Tho's car, temproarily shutting down his motorcade.

The photographs make the piece.  The back of  the July Issue of GQ, featuring Will Ferrell on the cover, had a helpful list: 32 Signs You May Not Be A Patriot.  Qualifying positive on items like "You listen to NPR", "If twenty mujahideen tied you down and threated you with cattle prods, you would quite willingly give them Dick Cheney's address" and  "You're kind of turned on by the whole Mexican invasion," I'm afraid, gentle readers, this patriot scored a 24/32.

Thanking the Government 

Scott sent me this essay by Garrison Keillor, another reminder that the notion of red states and blue states is specious at best, and that one can be proud to be a liberal in any state. Keillor points out that the notion of enforced self-sufficiency is contrary to the notion of compassionate civilization.  We put up paramedics for each other out of an enlightened self-interest, but even if we never use one ourselves, we don't begrudge others their use out of a fundamental sense of kindness: 
Men and women make love and have babies in the knowledge that if the baby should be born with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome or a hole in its heart and require heroic care, the people of Minnesota and of St. Paul will stand with you in your dark hour. If you are saddled with trouble too great for a person to bear, you will not be left to perish by the roadside in darkness. Without that assurance, we may as well go live in the woods and take our chances.
The essay is an excerpt from Keillor's new book, Homegrown Democrat.

Monday, July 19, 2004
Trudeau in Rolling Stone

I've been reading Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip since I was about seven or eight. There was a point in the nineties when it seemed to lose a lot of its pizazz, right after Mike Doonesbury hooked up with Kim. It became more soap operatic, less edgy. That trend stopped after the last election, and now the years and layers of characterization are really paying off with the sly wit and subtle pathos that's only possible with familiarity.  I, for one, was pretty stressed out when I thought that Trudeau was going to kill B.D. in Iraq, and was suitably chastised when it turned out B.D. "only" lost a leg. And does, in fact, have hair.
With those kind of reactions in mind, Eric Bates's cover interview with Trudeau in this month's Rolling Stone makes for some fascinating reading, touching on both immediate issues of politics and war, and the wider issues of being an author:
Some writers regard their fictional characters almost as real people. But you don't seem very broken up about blowing B.D.'s leg off.

Well, the terrible truth about writers is, they create characters and then they put them in harm's way. That's what drama is about. As a writer, I don't have an emotional link to the characters. I have to summon them up -- I have to pull them out of the toolbox and put 'em to work. They don't live in my head. So I was overwhelmed by some of the letters that came in about B.D. It was so emotional. People wrote that it made them feel they had a personal stake in the war -- like someone they knew had been harmed. People were even more astonished when B.D.'s helmet came off. It signified his vulnerability and made it all the more difficult for them to accept. I was talking to a soldier in the hospital, and I said, "I draw this comic strip, and I have this character named B.D. who lost his leg." The soldier's eyes widened: "B.D. lost his leg?!" Here's this mangled, broken hero lying in his bed, and he's concerned that this character he knows had such a terrible thing happen to him. It was very moving.
.That's an amazing testament to some of the powers of art; it reminds me of Care Packages: Letters to Christopher Reeve from Straners and Other Friends, a sampling of some of the letters that  Reeve got when he was paralyzed after a riding accident.  His wife, Dana Reeve, wrote that within three weeks of the accident, the local post office had processed over 35,000 pieces of mail for him from all over the world, some of which were simply addressed to "Superman, USA."  It's also an interesting approach to the writerly problem of bringing conflict and drama to a world one has created in one's head--a necessity to good fiction that requires torturing one's characters.
Incidentally: you can read about the Christopher Reeve paralysis foundation here.  Read the diary of director of the  the Iraqi National Spinal Chord Injury Center, which was almost destroyed twice in the war, here. The center is being rebuilt with help from the American Friends Service Committee. You can also read about organizations that support wonded soldiers and their familes at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

Saturday, July 17, 2004
Photoblogging, anyone?

This is a test. Dusk over the north bay.  Posted by Hello

Friday, July 16, 2004
Drip, drip, dry: The Oil is Running Out
Slate's round up of other magazines pointed me to this chart in the Economist:  A ranking of the oil-producing nations of the world.  Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and the UAE top the list, with what looks like around 65% of the total between them. What "years left" means exactly is not clear to me at all, and if anyone else can dig out the precise meaning, please let me know. My best guess is that the meaning is if we continue to pump those reserves at rates each of them are currently being pumped, they should last the indicated number of years
 That would explain why, even though Saudi Arabia is sitting on a much bigger pool than Iraq, Iraq is listed as having a longer lasting pool--it's not being very efficiently pumped right now, given problems like a sabotaged pipeline. This only highlights why using current rates of pumping is a bit of a silly metric when projecting how long an oil reserve will last over the course of the century: there's every reason to think rates of pumping will change.  But if we accept that bit of silliness, it does give us a useful way to grasp the fundamental finiteness of what in gallons is a very large amount of oil. 
 The source of all this data is the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2004, released about a month ago.  The dominance of the Middle East in the oil game is pretty clear in their bar graph.  I will revert to a physicist's habits of rounding off numbers and thinking in terms of significant figures and orders of magnitude. It would appear that we provably have about 1200  billion barrels of usable oil in the earth--or, using more handy notation, 1.2 *(10 ^ 12) (pdf).  We consume about 80,000 thousand barrels a day, or 8*(10^7) (pdf). That works out to about 3*(10^10).  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there aren't a whole lot of orders of magnitude difference between our yearly consumption and the provable usable total. A factor of fifty, a factor of one hundred. Fifty years, one hundred years, maybe two hundred years.  This bit from the BP report on terminology seems to cloud the issue:

Ultimately recoverable resource (URR) is an estimate of the total amount of oil that will ever be recovered and produced. It is a subjective estimate in the face of only partial information. Whilst some consider URR to be fixed by geology and the laws of physics, in practice estimates of URR continue to be increased as knowledge grows, technology advances and economics change. Economists often deny the validity of the concept of ultimately recoverable reserves as they consider that the recoverability of resources depends upon changing and unpredictable economics and evolving technologies [Italics mine]

I don't know when economists became post-modernists, but all the economic and technological upheaval in the world does not invalidate the concept of URR. There IS a finite amount of oil in the earth, because, if nothing else, the earth itself is finite. A real and true value of the URR does exist. Our estimate of that value may be incorrect, in fact it almost certainly is. That is why it is called an estimate, and like all estimates, is most useful as a concept and less useful for very precise calculations.  It is not a concept that can be ignored, however, or swept under the optimistic rug of "evolving technologies." Even accounting for the most fantastic discoveries,  unforseeable drops in population grown, and a sudden reverse in global warming, we simply do not have the resources to sustain our current way of living for very long.
I don't know about you folks, but I intend to be alive in fifty or a hundred years, and I certainly intend for my descendants to be alive in two hundred. I don't have children yet, but I'm assuming when I do I will love them, and by extension care about the things they care about, including, say, their grandchildren. Talking about long term plans and the need for foresight and a sustainable energy plan is the most logical extension of true family values.  Fifty or a hundred years. Maybe two hundred. Oil and energy will be the dominating issue of the twenty first century

Disturbing Allegations

Several Australian news sources are posting a story originally from the Sydney Morning Heraldabout allegations that Iraq's new Interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, shot and killed six blindfolded and handcuffed prisoners in Baghdad last month.

Rumors to keep an eye on, sadly.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Positive Action

Given my rant below, I thought now would be a good time to highlight some potential positive actions. This is my 401st blog post, and I hope it will set a trend. Thanks to everyone for reading, by the way.

1) AIDS Walk

I decided not to do the AIDS walk because of some scheduling issues. But actually, it doesn't really matter per se how many walkers there are, as long as people generously sponsor the people who are walking. So if you have a friend walking, please support them--every little bit helps--and either way, please consider supporting my friend Scott. If you're in Southern California, consider participating in the October AIDS Walk there.

2) Other Health and Safety Causes

I've recently been promoting Scott's disaster preparation organization, CARD and encourage you to check them out and think about donating and utilizing their resources. I would also like to point out that the American Red Cross is in desperate need of blood. If you can, please consider donating blood today. On Monday the Red Cross said in a press release:
"There is currently a critical blood shortage, and without more blood on the shelves, the American Red Cross cannot ensure that hospitals will have the blood they need to treat all patients. In fact, there are several hospitals that are already affected by this scarcity
.. . .
The Red Cross is appealing to all individuals to donate blood and is particularly interested in Type O negative blood as this is the universal blood donor type, meaning that it can be transfused to anyone in cases of emergencies. Again, anyone at least 17 years of age, weighing 110 pounds or more and feeling in good health may be eligible to donate blood. Please call your American Red Cross at 1-800-GIVE-LIFE (1-800-448-3543) or log on to and make an appointment today. Keep your commitment. Patients are counting on your generosity."

A lot of people, like me, cannot give blood, sometimes for stupefying and frustrating reasons. But that only makes it all the more important for those of you who can give blood to please do so. And if you can't donate blood, please consider donating to the Red Cross. You never know when they might end up helping you.

3) Education

I firmly believe that a lot of social problems would be greatly alleviated, or at least solved faster, if we could all be a little more educated. More than that, I still feel that learning is one of life's great joys, so why not spread the happiness? To that end, I'd like to point out the great work being done by Dave Egger's 826 Valencia Project: helping students, age 8-18, with their writing skills, in the realm of creative writing, expository writing, or English as a second language. This San Francisco institution (and only independant pirate supply company) is soon going to have a New York incarnation, and if you're in the Tri-State area, I encourage you to attend the Fundraising Bookfair and Superhero Skills Contest July 23-25.
Culture Wars as Smokescreen

There goes George Bush, playing the heartland card again. This CNN story about Bush bashing Kerry for raising money at a star-studded fundraiser made me groan:

Speaking at a campaign stop in Michigan, Bush told supporters that "the other day, my opponent said, when he was with some entertainers from Hollywood, that they were the heart and soul of America.

"I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places right here, in Marquette, Michigan," he said, to applause from the crowd.

I will never understand the logic of playing the coasts against the middle. At the lowest level--where did all that post 9/11 All Americans Are New Yorkers Spirit go? Where does Bush think the United States started? Paul Newman was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Is Bush saying that no kid in Marquette, Michigan wants to grow up to be a entertainer? It seems like the epitome of the American dream--if you're talented and work hard, you can rise to the top. But more fundamentally--this can only make any kind of sense to people who are determined never to leave the midwest or have any dealings with family and friends on the coasts. Not to mention that the American motto is "E Pluribus, Unum."

Bush is in his element when he's beating the Culture Wars Straw Man, surely one of the most loathesome bogeymen of all time considering its affect on American politics, and by extension, world events. Can we talk about how to fund inner city and rural public schools so that kids growing up there can have a fighting chance of getting into colleges? No, we have to talk about making children pray for five minutes a day, hoping that will make up for leaking roofs and watered down reading lists. Can we talk about eradicating syphillis for once and for all? No, we have to talk about how Janet Jackson's nipple ruined America's innocence. Can we talk about fixing our intelligence system in the long term by encouraging young Americans to learn foreign languages and study world history? No, we're too busy kicking out qualified linguists from the military because they happen to be gay. Can our senators spend all their time thinking about important issues like national security and a viable longterm energy policy? No, they're too busy having to block a Constitutional amendment to deny rights to American familes.

I'm never going to be able to adaquately analyze this amazing phenomena by which millions of American voters get hoodwinked every year, but I recommend the writings of one Thomas Frank, native Kansan, on the subject. His new book What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives won the Heart of America details the problem's history and dynamics. His Harper's Essay,"Lie Down for America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plain" helped clarify these issues for me, and he's a frequent contributor to The Baffler.


Time to give a nod and some applause to my fellow bloggers. I've caught some neat waves in the last few days, and thought I'd pass along a bit of the fun to you.

First of all we've got some weird news from Cyrus Farivar: Weird food news includes Star Spangled Ice Cream with flavors like Choc & Awe, Prale to the Chief, I Hate the French Vanilla, and SmallerGovernmint. He also pointed out W. Ketchup, whose slogan is "You don't support Democrats. Why should your ketchup?" Non-food bit: "Weird news: While researching a story for B2, I came across Adopt-A-Sniper. Kinda like Adopt-A-Child around the Holidays, but slightly different."

On a happier note, from Panda's Thumb, a fascinating look on how river dolphins might have evolved. I probably almost tipped over the boat as an eleven year old because I was so excited to see dolphins (dolphins! dolphins!) leaping in classic parabolas against the setting sun in the emerald-banked Ganga. (Or "Ganges" as it was mystifyingly renamed by the Brits.) River dolphins appear to have evolved before sea dolphins, and the question is why are they then similar, given that their three areas of population aren't connected. The paper cited here uses a combination of computational biology and geophysics to attack the problem. Of course I don't really know enough global geology to comprehend a "shallow epicontinental sea" that connected the Amazon, Ganga, and Yangtze, but I sure like thinking about those fascinating phylogenetics.

Speaking of science, Chris C. Mooney at Intersection points out that there's a Senate hearing on stem cell research today. Over at Felix Salmon's blog, Rhian Salmon has posted amazing pictures of the sun beginning to return to the Antarctic.

Stefan at Memefirst gets a little carried away in imagining that this year's will be the last Olympics because of terrorism. I hope he's wrong, but I find the idea of virtual athletic gatherings kind of interesting. Matthew Yglesias celebrates Bastille Day by taking a look at the two deleted, gorier, verses of Le Marseillaise.

Not Blogs:

I just found the magazine Mental Floss, and am totally tickled by it. It's a lot of fun! Check it out if you can find it.

My friend David Goldweber recently wrote this great opinion-piece for the LA Times about how minority writers in college textbook anthologies almost always write about being minorities. This touches on a number of issues I've been thinking about for a while, and I hope to write about them further soon.
Monday, July 12, 2004
Concerts for Kerry

This Thursday (July 15, 8 PM, Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth Street, SF) is the San Francisco launch of Concerts for Kerry. The Ticket purchase ($7! That's all!) is a direct contribution to the John Kerry/John Edwards campaign. There's a concert tomorrow night in Portland, OR, and upcoming shows in New York, New Haven, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.
You'll notice that they've already raised $140,000 from 5500+ concert goers. I find that pretty amazing, b/c I know it just started as a group of friends trying to do something to help. At this point, almost as important as the money raised is the enthusiasm and energy that goes into raising that money. Kerry has broken several fund raising records, and he's done a lot of it with the help of small donors who can't afford the big time donations that George Bush rakes in effortlessly. I think that speaks volumes about the differences between the two candidates and their agendas.

If you check out Concerts for Kerry's Press Gallery,you'll note that below the Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The Daily News, The New York Times,, etc., the first press clipping they have is from a little student webmagazine called NYC24 -- and it's written by yours truly. I hope to see some of you at the concert, and please bring your friends and family.

On Saturday morning I went to Jen Velasco's dan test at the Aikido Institute. It was a chilly morning, the dojo was packed, and several of us had to watch from outside, peering through the doorway. First she defended herself against Martha, who was eventually armed with a wooden dagger, and then she fought Richard, while both Jen and Richard were armed with long wooden sticks. Clack, clack, hai! I forget that Aikido is a martial art that includes dealing with weapons and also using them. Now Jen's a yudansha--thanks to Steve for pointing out the correct terminology.

On Saturday evening I saw Gary Hart speak at Cody's to promote his new book, The Fourth Power: A Grand Strategy For the United States in the 21st Century. It was refreshing to go to a political talk that, by being futuristic enough, could be positive. (I don't hold negativity against politicians mired in the problems of the present, however,--to quote Howard Dean debating Ralph Nader on NPR on Friday, "When the house is on fire, it's not the time to fix the furniture.") Hart asks that we adopt a new grand strategy to replace our Cold-war era strategy of pursuing the "containment of communism." He thinks that a lack of a grand strategy after the cold war helped open the way for the Sept. 11 attacks, and that the ideas being shoved into the vacuum now are troubling. He wants a national debate to create a well thought out grand strategy that's positively defined and truly represenative of American principles. Hart provides a lot of food for thought for someone trying to be a responsible and active citizen in our Republic, and I recommend you check out his other books.

Speaking of being a responsible citizen, if you missed yesterday's disaster preparation event at Barnes&Noble you can still find resources and donate money to Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disaster. It was a nice excuse for me to go bookshopping, and Scott showed me a lovely collection of DC art work by Alex Ross. If you're remotely interested in comic book art and superheroes, check out his website. I think I will use this opportunity to link to my favorite interactive comic, Argon Zark, even though it's a complete tangent.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
Putting the Building Where Their Mouth Was

Published! Please read my article for the San Francisco Business Times about how environmentally sensitive buildings, besides saving a business energy costs, can increase their productivity. If you can pick up the print edition, there are three accompanying photos.

Friday, July 09, 2004
Helping Vulnerable People Prepare for Disaster

Need books? Want to help people? You're in luck! Go shopping at Jack London Square's Barnes&Noble this Sunday, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disaster(CARD). CARD helps prepare service providers (cities, caretakers, non-profits, maybe even you) who take care of people particularly vulnerable to disaster. When the lights go out and the house is shaking, it's crucial to make sure we're ready to take care of our elderly and disabled. (Full disclosure/added incentive--my friend Scott McCormick will be tabling for CARD in front of the store. Go buy some books and tell him hi!) We live in an earthquake zone, the fire season is upon us, the flood season to follow, and you never really know what's going to happen. Preparation is the key, as I wrote for back in February. Preparing for disasters in general is also probably one of the best ways you can preemptively help out should there be another terrorist attack, I think.

CARD will be offering free personal emergency preparedness training, and will have a number of relevant materials and books available. Make sure you mention CARD with your purchase. If you can, please print out this voucher (pdf file) and present it to the cashier. Thanks!
Reflecting on Iraq

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a report about the information that led the Senate and House of Representatives to authorize the war in Iraq:

Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chaired the bipartisan committee, said CIA assessments that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and could make a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade were wrong.

"As the report will show, they were also unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence," he said.

Following pressure from Republicans on the committee, the report is being published in two phases, with the White House being spared the committee's scrutiny until phase two begins. The second part of the report may not be published until after the presidential election takes place in November.(Guardian story by Sarah Left & Agencies)

Many people, like Nancy Pelosi (press release) and are not happy about this.
While I wish the Senate Democrats--the only ones with much real power--wouldn't "wimp out," I think it's important for people to realize what little power the minority party does have. The checks and balances system has been greatly eroded by the Republican party's ever-increasing lock-step. That's why house and senate races are also crucial, and so is getting in the best man for that tie-breaking vote.
Josh Micah Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo indicates that the Senate Democrats weren't too happy about their own report. When people protest the way the Administration is let off the hook until the elction, of course, the charge will be that they are attempting to politicize the process. Given that we have a four year election cycle, and that we are supposed to elect our President partially based on his previous performance, I'm not really sure what's wrong with politicizing the process--it is a political process. Of course, as Wonkette notes, this White House is known for being a bit vague.

Sidenote: TPM linked to an interesting figurative painting by Gene Gould. While I agree with Matthew Yglesias that the no-blood-for-oil argument isn't really relevant, I think the visual arts have to be a little more general and symbolic with their strokes. That's why I actually deeply admire the ability of a man like John Kerry to take advantage of grammar to express complexity. That's what grammar is for.
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Aikido: Completing A Move

So, I am now officially a member of the Aikido Institute.

The main move we start the class with is called Tai No Henko, and I finally caught the name well enough to look it up. After that we practiced being "thrown" again yesterday (ukemi) and for most of the class it was the same as before--an older student, my sempai, Tim, did all the offering and I did all the receiving. (Apparently as a younger student I too get a special term: kohai. These aren't really specific to Aikido so much as a thoroughly articulated part of Japanese culture.) Oddly enough, I had a much easier time yesterday than last week---but I also have a much harder time remembering exactly what I did yesterday. Perhaps going with the flow more adds up to better Aikido, but also less cerebral understanding.

Basically as uke, or receiver, I faced Tim with a triangular stance, or hanmi, grabbing his hand with both of mine. Then he took a sliding step so that he was now standing beside me, stretched my arm upwards, and then pushed me down. The goal for me was to keep my hands in front of my face, step back once he pushed me in a more controlled manner (stepping back from one hanmi position to another), going down as he pushed me and then rolling backwards on one hip--with my hads in front of my face. There's a strong instinct to reach back with one's hands when "falling" backwards, but Peter, the instructor, said that causes one to lose the curve of the back, making it less of a roll--and probably more painful.

Then I got a chance to try being nage, or the offerer. I was a bit anxious because the dojo is quite crowded and I didn't want to throw Tim into somebody else falling, even though he told me not to worry about it. It's tricky to remember to step beside the uke the correct way, because it's the opposite of the Tai No Henko we've been practicing: you have to have the same foot forward as them. It's also tricky to remember to keep your hands the right way. Tim was good at correcting me without talking to much, a problem Peter aped with Jacob:
"No, straighten your feet. Right now step beside me, no step the other way, wait keep your hands straight, drop those elbows, drop those elbows, turn like this, no, like this, try this, you know, Sensei told me this one time, you might want to try it, okay, now reconcile heaven and earth and make yourself one with the universe." Jacob blinked and then nodded sagely. You never know when someone will attain enlightenment, I suppose.

At first, as I "threw," I really sort of went down with my sempai. Peter came around and corrected me, telling me not to follow the uke down, and to keep my feet on the mat and to complete my move. "He might not end up falling. He might just stop right there, walk away. Maybe he'll go take a shower, catch a bus. You complete your move." I'm glad to say Tim did not suddenly leave to go catch a bus.

Afterwards, I watched the "advanced class" again (though in theory now I can join them, and probably will, on occasion, thereby decreasing their collective advancement significantly). They really looked like they were dancing. Just an odd dance that ended with one partner on the floor. There is one instructor, Cynthia, who particularly reminded me of an English ballroom dancer from the Regency era. I was amused by this impression at the end of the class, when Peter had everyone sit down in the back of class, Jen sit at the head, and then had the three black belts attack her in a really no-holds-barred kind of way. (Jen's dan-test, which will make her a blackbelt, is this weekend). Cynthia's enthusiasm and piercing kiai* put a whole new aspect on her grace. As she rushed Jen with an axe-like chopping motion, she reminded me of the monarch of the birds in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series--a tall and possibly deadly crane.

*The cries that martial artists use to express their breath.
John Kerry for President, John Edwards for Vice President

I'm pretty pleased with Senator Kerry's pick for Vice President, though I can't help but worry slightly what it will do to the senate line-up come fall; the last person to win a senate seat in John Edward's North Carolina was Elizabeth Dole. Senate-anxiety aside, this is one exciting ticket--a nice combination of gravitas and youthful energy, political and worldly experience, charming oratory and complex subtlety.

Edwards always struck me as a sincere guy who wants to use his intelligence and charm to do good work--the essence of what makes a good public servant. He seems to have a good record of success and competence. I've been meaning to read his book for a while now, ever since I was moved by the quotes in Chris Suellentrop's odd review of it in Slate. There's a nice collection of Edwards quotes at the BBC. He has a fairly clean record, according to Slate. Some good quotes from the pundits:

"That's the most important thing Kerry revealed today: He understands that the election is about more than what he wants. Sometimes the biggest thing you can do is to accept what's bigger than you."--William Saletan, in Slate, who despite his dislike for Kerry, by ascribing such a careful thinking process to the presidential candidate, demonstrates once again why John Kerry will be a good president.

"John Kerry makes the right call. As I see it, this is good for three reasons. One, it makes it more likely that starting in 2005, George W. Bush will no longer be in office."--Matthew Yglesias, breathing a deep sigh of relief after weeks of bashing Gephardt.

""Never Held Elective Office, Politics Took Backseat To Legal Career." That's an odd criticism coming from people who pretend to abhor Washington insiders, even as they control most of the federal government -- but it's especially strange that Republicans would want to raise the issue of inexperience given who's on top of their ticket. John Edwards was, as anyone who heard him during the primary season knows, born to a mill worker, raised in poverty, and was the first person in his family to attend college. As a young boy, he wanted to become a lawyer to fight for working people. And he did -- a really good one. After his successful career as a trial lawyer, Edwards decided to try his hand at government. (Sounds like the up-by-the-bootstraps, private-sector-success-turned-public-servant stuff of many GOP dreams). Edwards has served a term in the Senate, where he sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-sponsored the Patients' Bill of Rights with John McCain and Ted Kennedy. But, the RNC says, he has only served about six years in the Senate, so he isn't qualified to be V.P. This is, perhaps, the definition of chutzpah." Geraldine Sealey, in's War Room.

I want to emphasize that I am positively for this ticket. I think John Kerry and John Edwards will lead a good administration in absolute, not relative terms. I think they are smart and competent men, and I think they are committed to the real principles of the Democratic party. Matthew Yglesias hit the nail on the head with a recent column:

There's one party that wants the government to do more to clean the environment, to protect workers' rights, and to raise the funds necessary to spend more on health care and education while narrowing the deficit, and there's another party that's ideologically committed to doing none of these things.

Moreover, this is a ticket that has demonstrated a far greater respect for the kind of hard work and dialog that is necessary to maintain America's place in the world in a tenable fashion. Republicans obnoxiously make fun of the fact that Kerry spent much of his youth abroad, a snigger I consider to be an insult to the hard working men and women of the Foreign Service, who like Kerry's father, probably aren't thinking that serving our country now should handicap their children's ability to serve our country later. I think Kerry's diplomatic childhood is yet another badge of honor that will make him a good president: unlike the current one, Kerry soaked up the opportunities privilage gave him and ran with them even as a boy. That's why he can command the respect of a self-made man like John Edwards--and the respect of the world.

While Kerry and Edwards won't cry "War!" every time they want to buck a domestic issue, because they actually have a constructive domestic agenda, they are more than adaquately prepared to deal with national security. Besides positively extolling their value, I can't resist but point out that it wouldn't be too tough to do a much better job than the current administration. In the last election, an unfortunately significant minority of the voters seemed to think that intelligence wasn't as important to the job of being president as factors like cultural issues and down-homeyness. I'm hoping that grappling with terrorism and war has changed at least some of their minds, and that they in principle agree that all else being equal, the smartest and most competent man available should be president.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
A Note on Jeb Bush

Interestingly, the conventional wisdom is that the smart Bush is Florida governor Jeb. Like his brother, he's a big proponent of the kind of incessant testing that puts teachers (whom Republicans usually don't like) in a curricular straight-jacket. From Florida's Dept. of Education Website: "The primary purpose of the FCAT is to assess student achievement of the high-order cognitive skills represented in the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) in Reading, Writing, Mathematics, and Science." Note the word skills, not knowledge. Governor Bush seems to be lacking in said skills:

Bush was giving a speech to high school students who mentor younger children in reading. Luana Marques, 18, asked Gov. Bush a basic geometry question taken from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The question: "What are the angles on a three-four-five-triangle?"
Bush smiled and stalled a bit. His answer was 125, 90 and whatever remains on 180.
Marques corrected him with the answer: 30-60-90.
Bush thanked Marques for the right answer and then launched into a defense of the FCAT. Bush said that to graduate, every Florida public school student must pass the test, which he considers the cornerstone of his education policy.
In his defense, Bush said, "The fact that a 51-year-old man can't answer a question is really not relevant."

I would like to note for the reader that 125 + 90 = 215, which is significantly greater than 180. But my real point is that his quote is very revalatory: he obviously regards this as knowledge that one can forget. He essentially stood there and tried to remember or guess and then blurted out some combination thereof. But he didn't think it out, because if he had thought it out, he would have at least come up with something that added up to 180. Blurting something out and then making lame excuses when you're wrong is no way to run a state or country, as we've all found out over the last four years.
Monday, July 05, 2004
Light and Photography Amaze Me

A 25-second exposure photograph of a chair in a very dark room from [daily dose of imagery], courtesy of Nick. The depth of field is stunning.

When I was a senior in high school, I took Tom Swope's photography class, and at the same time I was taking Art 15 at Cal. I had just learned about depth of field and the trade off between focus and film speed, when one of the artists who came to Art 15 showed us some photographs of polished brass sculptures. He had placed the smooth, curvaceous abstract shapes on his fire escape at night, and set up his camera with a good tripod and very long exposures--hours in some cases. Even though they were only iluminated by the light from a street lamp, the length of the exposure allowed him to use a tiny aperture and get magnificent depth of field. The clarity of the metallic sculptures and the resulting illusion of three-dimensionality made me want to reach into the print and stroke them. Yet I somehow had a strong sense of how dark the fire escape was---the continuous piling of all those photons onto the film somehow did not seem equivalent to a flash bulb emitting the same number of photons in a smaller space of time.
Friday, July 02, 2004
Some News Stories: Essie-Mae Washington-Williams

Back in December I blogged about Essie-Mae Washington-Williams's revelation that she was Strom Thurmond's illegitimate and oldest child, and how the wider Thurmond family reacted to that revelation in a New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman. An interesting post-script to that story is today's story in the South Carolina The State:

"Essie Mae" is now etched just below the names of the late Strom Thurmond's other four children on the State House monument honoring the long-time senator.
This morning, a worker sand-blasted her name beneath those of Nancy Moore, Strom Jr., Julie and Paul — Thurmond's children with his second wife, Nancy Thurmond. The inscription on the monument saying he was the “father of four children” also will be altered with epoxy

Update: My mother just showed me today's fascinating NYTimes article by Shaila Dewan and Ariel Hart about how Ms. Washington-Williams is applying for membership in the Daughters of the Confederacy and Daughters of the American Revolution:

Ms. Washington-Williams is joining the Confederate organization not to honor the soldiers that fought for a Southern way of life dependent on slavery, but to explore her genealogy and heritage, her lawyer, Frank K. Wheaton, said yesterday. In applying, she claims an honor that can be bestowed only on someone of her lineage, he said, and she hopes to encourage other blacks in a similar position to do the same.

In a statement, Ms. Washington-Williams said: "It is important for all Americans to have the opportunity to know and understand their bloodline. Through my father's line, I am fortunate to trace my heritage back to the birth of our nation and beyond. On my mother's side, like most African-Americans, my history is broken by the course of human events."

. . .
Dr. Cleveland Sellers, director of the African-American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina, said that interest in genealogy had burgeoned among blacks in recent years, despite gaps in official records.

"There was a time when it was argued that there was little or no culture that was able to transcend the middle passage, and that African-Americans actually brought nothing but their bodies to the new world," Dr. Sellers said. "That myth has been exploded."

But he called Ms. Washington-Williams' quest to lay claim to her white roots "novel."

This reminded me of two things.

The first is a story about Jean Paul Duvalier, the longtime dictator of Haiti, which Professor Eric Smoodin told me once in the context of a class about social problem films. I found a public health article describing it:
Asked by a visitor how many Whites lived in his country, Papa Doc responded that nearly everyone was White. "The perplexed questioner asked for clarification, as most Haitians are dark skinned. "How do you define White?" he asked. "Well," responded Papa Doc, "how do you define Black?" The visitor explained the one-drop rule. "We use the same definition," replied Papa Doc."

The second thing it reminded me of is an amazing book my high school American history teacher, Phil Garone, had us read ten years ago: Roll, Jordan Roll--the World the Slaves Made, by Eugene D. Genovese. I was just telling Tyler about this book, which I wish I still had a copy of. I might be mistaken, but I believe that Genovese is known for recognizing and always keeping in mind the complex and entangled relationship between the slaves and the slaveowners.

In a very odd way, this book and Richard Wright's autobiography Blackboy, describing as they did some of the very worst chapters of the American story, ripened and seasoned my patriotism into a real part of my life. The tenacity with which the slaves forged themselves a new culture, and with which Wright forged himself a new life, is to me a great component of the American spirit. Defying convention, defying nay-sayers, defying oppression or blind tradition--not to be a knee jerk reactionary, but to deliberately try to make something new and better.

I don't really believe in the phrase As American as Apple Pie (though As American as Pumpkin Pie might hold more cachet with me) and the culture such comparisons try to delineate. Instead, I rather like as American as the Next Great Pie or Your Own Personal Classic. Explore, try something old, try something new, and don't hold back just because something "simply isn't done". And even if you waited until you were 78 to do so, that's no reason not to start.

Thursday, July 01, 2004
George Bush, Interrupted.

An interviewer from Radio and Television Ireland, willing to interrupt, grills the President. Link courtesy of one of my dearest sharp-tongued friends. I don't think you can get away with trying to rename every American thing that's actually Irish. Patriot Pubs? Freedom Whiskey? Nope, I don't think so.
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

A Note on Comments
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A note on permalinks
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