Saheli*: Musings and Observations
I think tomorrow I will sit down and read Cameron Marlow's
paper on Weblogs and authority.
Watch a discovery channel commercial: go to
Discovery Channel - Know More Than You Should,
click on "Watch the TV Spots" and then watch "Milk Truck." Trust me, it's worth it. Link from Rishi.
---interactive map of Europe. I like it. Link from Ruchira
Moved by Art
My friend Emily Cooper has a website filled with beautiful art and exquisite illustrations.
Go check it out and commission her the next time you need something beautifully drawn.
That is some camera.
Clifford Ross' 110 lb, 6-foot film camera takes high resolution landscapes. How high resolution? Scanning in a single 9in.by18in. negative yields a 2.6 gigabyte file.
Link from Nick.
Flash and Hood and Media
Scott McCloud, a renowned comic book artist, always has all kinds of goodies at his website and blog, but I wanted to particularly point out the current Morning Improv: Mimi's Last Coffee
. The Morning Improv is whatever Mr. McCloud can draw in an hour each morning, and it usually goes in little series. This one is not so interesting for its content (I rather like the drawing style and rather don't like the plotting and characterization) but for its medium: an interactive Flash window that allows you to navigate different outcomes to the story. McCloud says it's called the Tarquin engine, code invented by D. Merlin Goodbrey
. I think it could be a useful device in nonfictional stories.
My sister Ruchira was hooded for her Ph.D. on Monday, and there was much rejoicing. I got to meet some of her professors, and hang out with her advisor Bernd's charming children. Talking with his daughter reminded me of how bright children often see things without assumptions, forcing you to reexamine yours.
In her new blog, Ruchira proposes that making political ads part of the FCC licenses
granted to TV and radio stations would both greatly reduce campaign spending and be in the interest of most corporations--excepting, of course, broadcast media. It's a good point that needs to be made over and over again--the public owns the airwaves, and the FCC should be acting as the guardian of the public's interest in them.
I quibble slightly with her using the monolithic term "media money" to describe an interest held quite specifically and only
by the broadcast media. Of course, conglomeration has united broadcast special interests with those of many print media companies. But strategic corporate decisions are often still made at the division level, and many great print organizations are still free of significant broadcast affiliation. The fact is that print media, especially magazines, see broadcast ads as eating into their adbase significantly and unfairly--tv ads aren't that effective, and because they're so expensive, they cause corporations to decrease spending on magazine ads. Back in April of 2001, Josh Gerstein, then the author of White House Wag for abcnews.com, wrote a column highlighting the fractured interests of "the media."
If you want to quash astronomical campaign spending by reducing the amount networks charge for campaign ads, you should factor the structure of "the media" into your political strategies.
This NYT article by Pam Belluck on Extreme Ironing
made me smile. Found it courtesy of Belle Waring,
has more links.
Journalists' war stories.
Interesting first person essay by SF Chronicle journalist Colin Freeman on what it's like to get shot in the butt by an angry mob in Basra.
I hope I always maintain such a healthy sense of humor about dire circumstances.
Fascinating Knight-Ridder article by Seth Borenstein about truckers working for Kellog,Brown&Root in Iraq,
twelve of whom claim that the Halliburton subsidiary had them drive empty trucks back and forth across dangerous desert country and then billed the government for the hauling:
"The 12 drivers, all interviewed separately over the course of more than a month, told similar stories about their trips through hostile territory.
"Thor," a driver who quit KBR and got his nickname for using a hammer to fight off a knife-wielding Iraqi who tried to climb into the cab of his truck, said his doctor recently told him he might lose the use of his right eye after a December attack. Iraqis shattered his windshield with machine gunfire and bullets whizzed by his ear. Glass got in his eye, and he broke two bones in his shoulder, he said.
His truck was empty at the time.
"I thought, `What good is this?'" he recalled.
I'm home! Three Cheers for California! & Go Bears!
Goodbye, Gotham. It was nice living here. I'll come a-callin' soon. Be well, all!
Great Slate article by M.v. Lee Badgett on how conservative claims that gay marriage in Scandinavia has hurt straight marriage
are full of hot air. Lots of great statistics.
Personally, I think the biggest threat to the institution of marriage is the social pressure conservative culture puts on people to enter it. Before gay marriage, the legal ease of getting a divorce was the whipping boy most often made to stand in for failed marriages. A quick spin through such 19th century American classics as The Age of Innocence
easily shows how oppressive divorce laws were. If shruggingly easy J.Lo-style divorces are the price society pays to give women a reasonable exit from abusive marriages, more power to J. Lo. There's nothing more American than the idea that instead of tolerating a desperately wrong situation, one should try to change or escape it. In my humble opinion (and this is all based on observation of my friends, not personal forays into the realm of the engaged), if you want a sacred institution, you have to give couples the space and time to develop a relationship worthy of being called sacred. History has shown that ceremony alone will not do the trick. If a little cohabitation and even a baby is required, that is what is required. But I feel much better going to a wedding where I know the bride and the groom are already married in their hearts than I do going to one where they see the wedding ceremony as the beginning of a serious relationship. When less people get married, we can take the ones who do get married a lot more seriously.
Not what I was worrying about the last time I graduated . . .
This CNN.com article on the FBI warning about possible suicide attacks here
makes me want to cry. In my mind waging a war on terror should have meant that at this point, more than two and half years and tens of billions of dollars after the Sept. 11 attacks, these would be less
likely than they were in 2001.
Turtles, hackers, and inside jokes.
The last line of Jim Holt'sSlate article on Andrei Linde's chaotic inflation theory of big bang physics
almost made me spew. (With laughter.)
What a long, fun, crazy day.
It started off incredibly wet and uncomfortable, and ended with much food and many laughs, and basically went in a steady increase from bad to good like that, with just a few odd dips and spikes. Sad I couldn't introduce my parents to all my friends, but good to suddenly realize in the mad rush of the last reception that in fact I had that many new friends. I also managed to survive insane mess of wet newspaper, plastic bags, and tangled up audio and video tape that we journalism students left behind us on the bleachers.
For those of you who are sad to have missed the webcast this morning, there's an archived version
. If you move the slider forward to 2:09 and watch the the three minutes that follow, you can catch Dean Lemann introducing us, and then us screaming and throwing newspaper and audio tape in the air. If you watch very carefully, during the last segment of us screaming just about halfway up the screen on the left hand edge of the screen you can see a robed figure with long black hair. About halfway through that segment of cheering, that figure's cap falls off, and she bends down to pick it up. That figure is me. Take a moment to appreciate the enthusiasm with which we cheered. If you're really into it, you can then slide back to 1:19, when we journalists took President Bollinger's mention of New York Times vs. Sullivan as a shout-out. (I actually jumped the gun and cheered a bit early on that, but the audio isn't fine enough to catch it.) "Presbo" went on quite a bit about rivers and such, somehow equating the Hudson with free speech and freedom of thought as well as time and family. I missed a chunk of the metaphor somewhere, but I like rivers and I like free speech, so it's all good.
On anther note---woohoo
! I think that's the most public recognition of my work that I've yet had, and it couldn't have come on a better day. Cheers!
Well, here we are.
In a little less than twelve hours we'll commence the 2004 commencement exercises of Columbia University, 250 years after the University was founded, and this time tomorrow I should have in my posession a Masters of Science in Journalism from said university.
In other words, I'll be done. In a few weeks I'll probably totally rearrange this blog and my web presence, just as I'll totally rearrange my life. This blog started as an exercise in observing life from the vantage point of a Columbia student in New York. I really got into it mainly because it became a letter "home" to my beloved friends and family around the country and around the world. While I've been very pleased to acquire some "stranger readers" and virtual friends, these friends and family are definitely the bulk of my audience, both intended and real. But soon it wil be time to go in earnest search of a wider audience.
You can watch me commence, if you reall want to, because Columbia webcasts the ceremony
. I just watched the combo clip from 2002 and 2003, and with my newfound awareness of camera angles and shot transitions combined with the itchy reality that is the gown I'll be wearing, it served as a strong reminder of the power media has to alter an experience even as it is communicating it. There are the dramatic shots of students standing and cheering, the swelling music, the dramatic sweep of this or that dean's robed arm as he or she presents the future to the past. Yet as I pack a bag to hold water and umbrellas and tissue paper, I'm quite aware that the three hours will not feel like that. There will be no hip soundtrack, no slow motion rise. You do not view your own graduation from above. Even scrupulously nonfictional journalism must present an altered portrait of reality, and the best journalists embrace their toolbox and choose the alterations as deliberately as possible.
The challenge is using that altering effect wisely, and I humbly request that you all will keep helping me as I try to make good choices. I also want to humbly thank you for all the encouragement and feedback and amusement you've all been sharing with me this year.
I have a feeling I already know what I'm going to miss the most about being in school: access to subscription databases like Lexis-Nexis. For the first time in more than ten years, neither me nor anyone in my immediate family will be associated with an academic institution, and therefore none of us will have a password to access these library databases at home. Furthermore, the last time I hung around Berkeley, such passwords were becoming increasingly necessary even to use the campus library computers. For the first time since I started University almost 9 years ago, and first delighted in getting lost in the Main Stacks of Berkeley's Doe Library, metropolitan public libraries will be my main source of extra-Google information.
While I'm very happy to be graduating, this is a bit of a quandry for a freelancer/stringer/lonely pamphleteer type. A big advantage of being at a newspaper or magazine company is that the company pays the database subscription. I wanted to find out if the Berkeley Public Library
has Lexis-Nexis on site, to supplement the InfoTrac it gives to library-card holders via the web--but despite the fact that it's about 2:45 on a Monday, the library answering machine came on with a "We're closed," message. That didn't bode well, nor did the FAQ about how the budget shortfall will affect library services.
Public libraries, like public schools, are particularly vital American institutions that often get lost in the popular roll call of what makes the USA, the USA. In my humble opinion it is not apple pie, or baseball, or hot dogs, or NASCAR. Somehow knocking any of these out would not vitally affect the country in any lasting way. But the ideal that the public--i.e. anyone, no matter how humble or poor theya re--should have access to information helped make this place different, and the further we devalue and deviate from that ideal, the weaker is our Republic.
Check out the The New York Review of Magazines,
produced by some of Columbia's own journalism students. Includes some pieces by our buddyUltracasual
Fun with words
In case I didn't post it before, check out the visual thesaurus people
. Via Sree
Fun Stuff: Ducktales, Art & Rockets.
All the information on Disney comics
your heart could desire.
, courtesy of Robert Stribley
Historic Tale Construction Kit
--flash game built from the Bayeux tapestry; Something Awful does some awful if sometimes amusing
things with it. (I may have linked this before butI think its a nice complement to Mr. Picassohead.)
must be a fun game, because I actually felt like playing it more than once.
NYC24: Special Report -- 24 Hours of New York City.
It's done. Check it out. Real New York Stories from 24 Hours of New York City
. Production editor was yours truly. Executive Editor (head cheese) was the amazing and brilliant Jennifer Esty
. Managing Editor was the fabulous Lane Johnson
. My design editors were the creative Alexandra Huddleston
and the gritty Erica Gonzalez
It's our take on a single date (April 18, 2004)--- a typical day in the life of New York, a day unlike any other. Please leave comments here too. Enjoy!
I just had an enormous free lunch at Google in New York. And now I know it's not just my sister; they're all generous and charming and fun and interesting--and also amazingly secretive. I guess if I want to know what she's doing I'll have to go to her new blog just like everyone else
. Welcome to the blogosphere, o beloved elder sister!
Sleep and Change
Gah. I fell asleep in the middle of my work last night (this morning) and not only is it not quite done, but I see all kinds of crazy things have happened in the meantime. Atal Behari Vajpayee may resign
. What happened
? I really want to go to India and check things out for myself, but considering how much the New York heat/rain storms are bugging me, I guess I'd better wait till fall.
Geez, now I'd better finish.
More Thunder, More Rain
Once again its thundering and raining like mad. It simply will not let up. It's disconcerting. I still associate this type of weather with winter -- except it's also warm.
Here's what looks like a very serious and substantive book club discussion
on Slate between Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan. I don't have time to read it, but I hope one of you does.
They Rule Rules!
is a Flash-powered search engine and network visualizer focused on powerful people in business.
"They Rule aims to provide a glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class. It takes as its focus the boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, which share many of the same directors. Some individuals sit on 5, 6 or 7 of the top 500 companies. It allows users to browse through these interlocking directories and run searches on the boards and companies. A user can save a map of connections complete with their annotations and email links to these maps to others. They Rule is a starting point for research about these powerful individuals and corporations."
I don't even know how to describe how exciting I find this. I'm almost willing to declare that it's the sexiest piece of serious new media I have ever seen. I only wish I had more time to play with it right now. Besides being a fabulous well of content, the conceptual idea is simply brilliant. This is the kind of thing I want to learn how to do. Wicked, sweet, and
awesome. Found though Gawker
Mexicans, Hugs, and Tea.
Wow, I wish I could be in California to see this film when it opens: A Day Without A Mexican
. I have no idea how accurate it is, though it sounds fairly plausible. But I don't really care because it sounds like good political fun too.
This morning I had planned, but forgotten, to blog this fun NYTimes Metro article
by the legendary J-School alumna Andrea Elliott. I forgot until I saw that Robert Stribley has noted it
. It's about Jayson Littman, who bestows free hugs on passers by at Washington Square Park on Sunday afternoons. Besides reminding me of my dear buddy James Gill, whom I got to know during his phase of hugging everyone in the physics department who would stand still, it also brought back very fond memories of one of my early ventures at Berkeley: The S
ociety of M
al (SMHAC). We served iced tea for no good reason---have a good day! Over the course of the spring of my freshman year we had about six tea parties, followed by another two in the fall, all over campus, delighting and confounding strangers and invited guests alike. Some of the alumni of that august organization are still my best friends. It seems impossibly cheerful and goofy now, and I cannot tell if that's because I am older and less wise, or because 1997 was in fact a happier time. But I do hope that, despite the current chaos in the world, out there are rambunctious college freshman doing similarly goofy things.
Thunder and Blog
The thunder is driving me crazy. It sounds like it's crashing just blocks away, and it simply won't let up.
Good to know I'm not the only one who's a bit behind on the national reading list: Cyrus Farivar notes some comic relief
from the last administration in Richard Clarke's book. Cyrus is an impressively accomplished tech journalist and a new recruit to Columbia Journalism, about to graduate from Berkeley with a degree in Political Economy of Industrial Societies (PEIS). Go Bears!
Like Anguished English?
Dr. Michael Pinsky from University of Southern Florida has three amusing galleries
of screwed up sentences written by real students.
I laugh because I sympathize.
Department of You've Got To Be F---ing Kidding Me
When Nick sent me this article from Time by Vivienne Walt
about how the Pentagon has asked employees not to download the Taguba report
from the Internet because its ostensibly still classified, I thought that it was pretty amazingly stupid, but perhaps an artifact of the monolithic nature of the Executive branch's bureaucracy. But according to Al Kamen in today's Washington Post, apparently the Legislative branch has the same problem
. The Director of the Office of Senate Security sent out an email saying,
"Please advise your staff not to download and/or print the report from the Internet. They should review official copies that you obtain through normal channels. Staff should inform Members that, despite its public appearance, the report remains classified."
In other words, precisely those people who need to be reading this report cannot read it smoothly and efficiently, whereas the rest of us can download it at will.
If we insist on fighting a lot of wars and taking on a lot of other massive world-changing projects, and if we want to control the hemorrhaging of our national credibility, it would help if we didn't act like idiots.
Happy Mother's Day
I found a poem from the founding of Mother's Day at Jesuspolitics
, and thought I'd share one of its lines:
"Let [the mothers of the world] then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,"
It would be impossible for me to list the gifts my mother has given me through the years, and foolish to try to rank them in this space, but it seems appropriate, today, to cite one idea in particular that she has tried hard to teach me--the idea that we are all, really, one family. (Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam.) More concretely, I have always been struck by her practice of considering the needs of people my age with the thought, "Well, if this was my child, how would I want them to be treated or situated?"--a practice that seems to go to the heart of the Mother's Day peace movement. It perhaps is not enough to use the Golden Rule alone, because we are often unkind to ourselves and it is also difficult to transfer our own point of view to someone who is the object of our actions. But if we combine the Golden Rule with our sense of love, presumably that which is best and brightest in ourselves, we probably have a better shot at getting it right. I know if more people had a mother as wonderful as mine, the world would definitely be a much better place. It's terribly trite, but I honestly think I have the best mother in the world.
And, in the spirit I mentioned above, I'd like to say that because I have a very cool bunch of friends, I've managed to meet a very cool bunch of mothers--women I hold largely responsible for producing some of my favorite people. So, a salute to good mothers everywhere--thanks so much and please keep it up!
Whoah. Blogger looks completely different. I think
I like it, though I don't really have the time to go exploring now.
[staggers around in confusion before shaking head and attempting to post what's been sitting on Notepad for several hours.]
Subtleties and Distinctions Matter
Scott once told me that, and I am thinking of making it my motto. I have been avoiding commenting on recent events in Iraq because I'm sort of trying to write about them for class, and I don't want to let my opinions gel too much. But I am also struck by the extent to which people on both sides of the red and blue divide have made sweeping statements and declarations without really slowing down and taking careful stock of the situation.
During the Washington trip it occurred to me that the constant need for talking points (apologies to Mr. Marshall) and policy summaries is satisfied at the great expense of both accuracy and precision. That is, if you are trying to understand a big, complex set of information and ideas in order to solve a problem, always
summarizing and condensing it to either an average generalization or a few "key pieces" may help you grasp the breadth of the set, but it also entails a huge risk: obscuring and twisting exactly those details which might be the key to unlocking the solution or at least best action for whatever problem you are trying to solve. If you need to analyze river traffic in Rouen, a painting by Monet
might give you a good general feel of the area, but it's certainly not enough information. Yet I think the American people and even, perhaps, a large chunk of the Government (both the executive and legislative wings) are probably operating with that kind of impressionistic information. It seems like this flow and processing of information by the various elements of The Republic has plenty of room for optimization, and I'd like to start reading about what others think of this problem. Please send me anything you have on the topic.
I also think that this is not just a concern for policy wonks, journalism buffs, and information geeks. Efficiently processing and dealing with information in an accurate and timely manner seems like an increasingly large part of the moral core of modernity. Issues of ethics and morality for the individual as they have always been framed still exist, and are important. But in what one hopes is an increasingly democratic world, issues of political ethics and political morality are increasingly the concern of the individual-turned-citizen. Even the humblest citizen of the most vaguely democratic state has some moral responsibility to take an interest in the affairs of their society. We have to look at the need of both citizens and bureaucrats to be constantly evaluating and making political choices as a moral need; that is, ideally, we want those citizens and bureaucrats to make ethical and just choices. Therefore, efficiently presenting them with accurate information that preserves as many subtleties and distinctions as necessary becomes a moral imperative, not just a pragmatic one
Given the situation our nation finds itself in now, and the role bad information flow played in getting us into this situation, I think it should be pretty obvious why I am saying this.
The King of Jordan
I've been saying that King Abdullah II is the Middle East's Can-Do guy
since the early days of his reign. (Slate article by Lee Smith.) It is my guess that America and Americans reaching out to Jordan and Jordanians is probably the single most constructive thing we can do to stop the Clash of Civilizations model from taking over the global conciousness.
That's a lot of brains.
Holy Brain Trust Websites, Batman! I just found a doozy. Robert Wright runsMeaningofLife.tv
with speakers like Freeman Dyson, Francis Fukuyama, Steven Pinker and Huston Smith. Wowza. I must bookmark it till after graduation, but in the mean time, enjoy yourselves, o gentle readers/watchers.
That's a lot of popcorn
: Reuter's article about Crazy Legs Conti, a competitive eater, at the Tribeca film festival premiere of a documentary about him by Chris Kenneally.
And, thanks to Asad, McSweeney's Open Letter to Google
Blogging from a DC Starbucks.
Well, don't I feel hip. I'm sittin in the Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue, accessing the internet with their TMobile wireless. I should have gone up to Dupont circle and blogged from there, just in case I might get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Matthew Yglesias or Josh Marshall. Some kind of fancy motorcade just went by, sirens blaring.
It's been a really interesting if tiring trip, though I'm not going to blog about it until I'm totally clear with my professor who was on the record, who was on background, and who was off the record. People called out these signals with dizzying frequency, and I half suspect it was partially to impress and intimidate us more than anything, because very little sounded that revolutionary to me. What I can say is that I've had dinner with a (former) spy, and that was cool.
I thought this blog entry
from "John and Belle have a blog" (two Crooked Timber bloggers, John Holbo and Belle Waring) was a charming example of blog as interesting public journal (as opposed to running commentary on news and events and links, like mine usually is.) I've been pretty lax about reading Crooked Timber even though I usually like it when I do. But I recently realized that I had met Waring back in the day, when she TAed (briefly) for my first Classics course at Berkeley with Mark Griffith. She compiled the Latin 2 reader which is still my favorite example of well-done desktop publishing. Now she's young mother in Singapore and I can read about her children's adventures. Ah, the internet.
Well, I need to actually do some work while I've got this connection.
Three Cheers for Google
Well, let me start of with full disclosure. My sister now works for Google. But she is incredibly tight lipped about it--in my entire life she has never been so darn secretive about stuff. She won't even tell me what they serve in that famous cafeteria.
This AP article on the IPO letter
pans Google based mainly on the opinion of "Tom Taulli, an author and lecturer at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business." But I think it sums up the griping of naysayers pretty well.
The gist of the "problems" seems to be that a) with two classes of stock, Brin, Page and Schmidt intend to retain directorial control of the company, and b) they have layed out a list of ways they will defy Wall Street convention, the most notable of which is getting rid of quarterly reports.
The first part is not that
revolutionary, and I first heard about the practice regarding a company where it both makes good sense and provides some context for Google's choices as well: The New York Times. The New York Times has supervoting shares that are controlled by the Sulzberger family, though the family has some kind of internal agreement as to their administration. Many see this as the key to the Times maintaining its integrity, credibility, and gravitas. If you buy New York Times stock public stock, you buy it knowing that this is the case.
Which also reflects on the second "problem." By attaching all kinds of riders to how their company will operate and how much control stockholders can expect to have, regardless of their size, Google risks having a somewhat less than astronomical IPO. If their goal was to cash out and leave, that goal will be foiled. If they're goal was to raise as much cash as possible without any mitigating concerns, that goal will also be foiled. Wall Street tends to think of things primarily in terms of that last idea. But because of its health Google can afford to have a more complex goal.
I think their goal is to raise as much cash as possible while maintaining the don't be evil policy and ensuring the long term health of the company as an institution
. What a concept! Multivariable thinking! By saying from the get go that owning a piece of Google is fraught with more possibility and responsibility than merely owning a piece of paper that earns some dividents every month, Google revives the idea of stock ownership being a more permanent relationship and begins to create the possibility of corporations that are about more than just profit.
. I do not think this is naive. I think this is the key to a sustainable future.
Sorry about the infrequency of postings, the end of the semester is really catching up with me. I'm going to DC this afternoon for several days and possibly won't get a chance to post again for as much as a week. But if I have time, I'll see what I can do. Be well, all.