Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Aikido: Moving from the Center
In the wider context of this blog that might sound like commentary on a sappy political strategy, but in fact it was the theme of yesteray's class. Peter was at a meeting, so we were taught by Kim Peuser Sensei, the actual Sensei and head of the Dojo
. Moving from the center is important in most martial arts, and yoga, and dance. The Center: A few inches below one's belly, in the middle of the body. The Sensei said moving from one's center is more likely to generate a calm reaction than moving from one's shoulders or head. He asked us to feel the tension in our shoulders and neck and by letting them relax, bringing the nervous energy stored in them down into the center, where it would be stronger and more stable.
He exhorted us to feel confident, and even if we didn't actually feel confident, pretend to be confident, like an actor on the stage. He's a very cheerful looking man with a wonderful wide mustache, and I could easily imagine him fighting on an Elizabethan set. "Be King Lear!" was followed by nervous giggles, and I for one first envisioned Laurence Olivier's once mighty monarch lost in fragile senility
."The Young King Lear!" the Sensei clarified. Some roared with laughter, and I couldn't stop grinning for a long time. I found this oddly poetically apt. Who the hell knows what the Young King Lear was like? And yet he must have been a great king, a warrior of great confidence and fire, in order to elicit such passionate feelings from his courtiers and kin. Imagine all that backstory with your being, project it into your center, then walk onto the stage: I bet your whole physical attitude will shift and the tragic arc will become so much more lucid. So even if I'm not actually a self-confident and experienced Aikidoka, pretending I am just might help.
It was a difficult thing to pretend, though, with the increasingly complicated moves we were doing. The hardest thing for me was coordinating "sides" with my partner, first Scott and then Scott and another new student whose name, most embarrassingly, escapes me. She was a very good sport though. It seems that in every Aikido partnered interaction there is the uke
, the one who receives, and the nage
, the one who throws or acts. The nage
gets to decide which "side" everything is on, but I wasn't even always aware of who was uke
and who was nage
. So first we did an excercise where one person steps forward and punches towards their partner's stomach, and their partner dodges the punch and the last minute, stepping around so that instead of being at the receiving end of the puncher's first, in front of them, they are actually standing beside them, facing the same direction, hands stretched out and parallel to the puncher's outreaching hand. So, that seems like the puncher is the nage
, and the person turning around is receiving as uke
, right? Not so fast. The move gets more complex.
After practicing this dodge, we were told that the dodger, besides merely dodging was supposed to grab the punchers arm (not fist, because a fist is merely a point and easy to miss, but an arm is more substantial and can be grabbed blindly, as the Sensei demonstrated with his eyes closed.) Your hand slides down the puncher's fist as you turn to stand beside them, and you wrap your hand around the fleshy thumb-part of their hand hand as your thumb rests between last and second-to-last knuckle. That part I could grasp. The really tricky part is then turning them around while holding onto their hand, pushing down on their fingers, and using that grip to push them down onto the ground. Did you catch that? The puncher is the one being pushed down onto the ground--the puncher
is now the uke
. Besides this confusing me even more about which side to start on, I also found it difficult to push my partner down properly. Perhaps more amusingly, when Scott was pushing me down, I was finding it difficult not to simply give in. "Don't fall until I push you!" he explained. I guess my instinctive self-defense move is the "flop over and pretend you're dead
" move. When in doubt, I reach for the classics . . .
A Thread of Links
A great interview with Ronald Reagan Jr.,
in the New York Times, courtesy of Stribley
. I particularly appreciated this exchange:
But you and Patti were constantly getting into trouble. Didn't she later pose nude for Playboy?
I never really talked to Patti about it. She said that she had done it, and what do you say to your sister who poses in the nude? It's not like you are really itching to see photographs of your sister naked. I mean, it's just something that is not too exciting.
The bit Stribley quoted, "If you are going to call yourself a Christian -- and I don't -- then you have to ask yourself a fundamental question, and that is: Whom would Jesus torture?
" reminded me to give another plug to JesusPolitics
, a blog that's a constant source of good links on the topic of Christianity and politics in this country. Reagan Jr.'s carefully wrought words about Dick Cheney reminded of something I read earlier in the evening: apparently the Veep got booed at a Yankees game. It was possibly first reported
by some blogs
; better than milk-soppy coverage from ESPN
Ah, the Daily Show
I humbly suggest that you right click on this link to a quicktime movie
, download it, and watch it. Dick Cheney offers "unsolicited press criticism" in his "darkened lair."
Let the Email Wars Begin
Rediff takes on Google
. Who would have thought an Indian media
company would be the one to join the 1 Gig freemail world, upping the ante over Microsoft and Yahoo? Reuter's Narayan Madhavan
finds plenty of skeptics, all of whom seem to be looking at it as a simple revenue-earning business model. But I wonder if this is more like branding gimmick. People who may never have heard of Rediff before might now be paying attention. It looks like even some Rediff writers
might have been a bit surprised by the move. I love how the default country setting in the form is not
the United States, but India. Can I no longer make friends by getting them Gmail invites
I forgot to mention something which regular readers will know, for the sake of full disclosure. I'm a bit partial to Gmail because my sister works for Google. Also, I've just given Rediffmail a spin, and it doesn't have any of the threading or search features Gmail does. Actually, considering I have every manner of free email account, it doesn't really make sense to think of these services as being in competition with each other. It will be interesting to see what people will think of doing with these new huge freemail accounts.
Thanks to Rishi, I just noticed that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed
that the American government cannot just throw people into prison without giving them a day in court. Is the tide turning?
Getting French Money
Bruce Birkett, my first physics professor at Cal, just sent me a very amusing clothing label
attached to an American product sold in France. Patriotic companies engage in precise marketing for the sake of building up those foreign currency reserves, of course. This brought back happy memories because Bruce would always tell us that physics was like a language one had to practice thinking in all the time, and look for everywhere, just like he used to count things in French and look for French labels to read when he was learning French. I guess he hasn't stopped!
Just got back from a fabulous morning with Rishi and Dana at the San Francisco Pride Parade
. I was mostly motivated by a desire to see my friend Mike Wong play with the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Freedom Band
, but the whole thing was a blast. My favorite floats were a Latino float topped with an Aztec pyramid, a Hawaiian hula dancers float, the Taiko drummers (I simply adore Taiko drummers), but most of all, the Barbary Coast Cloggers
. These guys rocked
. Fantastic dancing on top of a moving flat bed truck! The City Hall float won for heart strings, probably. I was very excited to recognize a couple from the Justly Married section of Ephemera's website
--Marvin and Bill, apparently. It was nice to see the actual people I had blogged about back
in New York, back in February.
Given the great dancing and music from all the other groups, Rishi and I were a bit disappointed with Trikone
's quiet desi showing--very near the end, a few marchers holding a droopy banner and a man in a sari. "Yay, Desis!" we screamed, and then, Rishi, indignantly, "Where's the music
?!" I suppose that might be a reflection of the South Asian community not yet being that comfortable coming out ("But. .But. . you're Indian!") but there's no way an ethnic group's mainstream parades should be more fabulous than its representatives in the Pride Parade. Maybe we'll pitch in next year, "gay for a day."
Poker with the Veep
Ruchira just sent me this:The Poor Man: Poker With Dick Cheney.
Check it out, it's well worth your time. Boy am I glad I know how to play poker!
Lost in Translation
sent me a lovely press release
about a survey of translators and interpretters asking what the most difficult words to translate are.
"And the winner is ILUNGA
A Word In The Bantu Language Of Tshiluba For
A Person Ready To Forgive Any Abuse For The First Time; To Tolerate It A Second Time; But Never A Third Time."
I can't tell which I like better: pochemuchka
--Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions--or radioukacz
--Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain.
More seriously, it's interesting that two of the top ten have to do with sadness (altahmam
, Arabic for a kind of deep sadness and saudade
, Portuguese for a certain type of longin) and that only two of the top ten have a positive connotation.
Coalition of the Wild-Eyed
Rishi points out that this theoretically anti-Kerry
ad on GWB's blog is downright inspirational for those planning on voting for John Kerry. Personally, I love the title. There's something deeply romantic and compelling about "Coalition of the Wild-Eyed." A poet could get really carried away with that one. Men of passion. Men on fire. Men desperately digging policy out of the wreckage.
Watch the video and see Al Gore rock out.
A little virtual travel
You can visit a tea shop in Darband
courtesy of Daily Dose of Imagery. A nice picture to use the flash magnifier on.
The War on Terror Goes Horribly Wrong, Part N
Wow. I don't know how I missed this. A war against terror that went very wrong Fabricating terrorism to win U.S. approval / 7 innocents killed in Macedonian plot to show nation's zeal
by Juliette Terzieff of the San Francisco Chronicle. I got the link from Sandeep Sood over at Mahoot Media
, and he says it best. WTF?
A SAJA shout out from Badmash
. I think I should have gotten an award for "woman who comes to a journalism conference without
A beautiful story
from the Wall Street Journal by Barry Newman about the Strand Bookstore in New York and buried treasure in used books. Courtesy of Nick.
Yesterday, Pt. III: Aikido--More Ukemi
So enough of my philosophizing, here's what actually happened. We did a lot more vigorous stretching at the start of class, and I realized I need to stretch more. Flexibility has always been one of my biggest weaknesses. I think I operate better in compression than tension. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that.) The opening two-step, from one hanmi
(triangular stance) facing the shrine of the school to another facing Telegraph avenue, and back again, was smoother, and I found it easier to "do it together" while still looking straight ahead. Peter put more emphasis on the hands this time, reaching out to the ground with fingers spread wide.
What seems like the most basic partner exercise, with which we open class, starts as partners face each other in hanmi. One person offers a hand, and the other, receiving, grasps their wrist. "Hold on tight
!" is the advice I've gotten from most partners offering. The offering partner then takes a step forward and turns themselves around so that they are now facing the same direction as the receiving partner, and positioned next to them--both the hand being grasped and the free hand extended out--"ready to catch a piano." Or a baby, as Jen more reassuringly described it to me. If, as the receiving partner, one focuses on grasping the offerer's hand, neither resisting nor being floppy, it seems that one's body naturally crouches down to accomadate theirs. Last week, in being the offerer, I think my focus--mainly via the direction of my partners, who are all my Sempai
, or students senior to me--was on my legs. Getting the front foot bent forward (but not too much--gotta keep it out of the way of that falling piano!) and the back foot stretched straight, for stability's sake. This week, there was more focus on keeping my hands open--offering the hand not as a handshake but really reaching out with all the fingers spread and the palm facing down. Peter asked me to imagine that my two hands were connected by gears, and when one was open the other had to be open too, even if it didn't seem like it was "doing" anything.
For the rest of the class the newbies like me were the uke
, or receivers, the whole time, and I was lucky enough to get two Sempai, which I think made things go a bit quicker--one Sempai would do two exercises on me, and as I was standing up from the fall the second was ready to go. It also meant I always had a watcher to point things out. The first exercise involved the uke (me) grasping the offerers hand with both of mine, and being pulled up and pushed back by them in such a way that the least awkward thing for me to do was to step back into a hanmi, then go all the way down so half my weight was on the back foot's toes, and the other half on the whole of the front foot. From this I rolled back. The second exercise was a lot trickier for me. We had to make a strike at our partner's raised hand, and then as they captured our striking hand and turned us around, basically go with the flow as they pushed us down to a kneel and then down onto the ground. My problem was I gave in way too easily--my instictive reaction was to simply flop to the ground, instead of practicing the technique of how
to get to the ground in response
to my partner's action. My other problem was I kept looking at my partner, and you're supposed to look away from them and the captured hand. My two partners were very nice about working with each other to help me get better.
The older students have this great procedure where everyone is lined up against the walls and then Peter shouts out, "Jen! You're up!" and then I think he shouts out "Uke!" and whoever he calls out jumps up and goes to the middle of the mat--and other people jump up trying to be the person who fights the person who's up, and I guess the first person gets to do the attack. So the person who's up never quite knows who's going to jump up and attack them. When Scott was up, Josh, sitting right next to him jumped up and started attacking him almost immediately. I see Scott mainly at parties and playing games, generally fun times, and he's a very smiley guy. I don't think I've ever seen him grin with such wide delight as when he was attacked like that. Later, in the free-practice after class, Jen was doing some kind of exercise where she was sort of kneeling on the ground, and one after another her friends, standing in line, attacked her, and she threw them or pushed them down without actually getting up. When Peter was showing her how to do this, he positioned himself on the ground and then said, "Smile!" and kept smiling. One student in line to attack even mimed taking photos of this rather odd Kodak moment. I should ask about taking pictures later myself.
It reminded me of yesterday morning, at Cody's. After I bought Clinton's biography I went to the Aikido section to look for Andrea Siegel's book. Instead I bought Invincible Warrior
, by John Stevens, a biography of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. But while I was browsing, I came across another book by a sensei that opened with a "Come into my dojo. This is what you will see" type description. (The name of the book escapes me, I will have to go back and look it up.) Before the page turns the man starts talking about how while all the students flipping each other are extremely serious, they are also often laughing. There's a chicken and egg problem here. Do you enjoy it because you're smiling, or do you smile because you're enjoying it? For years my dance teachers would practically yell at us to smile, and it seemed a bit counterproductive to me. But the habit was forced upon me, and then one day, it stopped being merely a habit. Turning on my smile made dancing easier and more fun. So I think it goes both ways.
When I was buying the biography of Ueshiba, the cashier, who had been harried and tense because of all the distraught, bookless Clintonites, suddenly grinned when he saw my purchases. "Do you practice?" Uh. . .I thought. .wow, I guess I do. "I just started," I explained, and he said he had done Aikido for years but quit after moving, and that many of his friends had told him to try the Aikido Institute. I found myself pitching the membership-buys-you-all-the-practice-you-can-take structure, even though I myself haven't signed up. I'm such a born recruiter, it's ridiculous.
Please don't forget to donate blood tomorrow at the Pauley Ballroom if you're on Berkeley's campus. Thank you!
Yesterday, Pt. II: Aikido--groups and classifications.
While I was standing in line I ran into my friend Annie, who just graduated from Berkeley in physics. I remember when she was a bright eyed high school student visitng for Cal Day, and I gave her the classic recruiting speech on how a physics student can go on to try anything, even if they leave physics or science altogether. I suppose I just had
to prove myself right. Annie eventually held a job I once had, undergraduate coordinator of the Society of Women in the Physical Sciences
. It's a program that tries to address the gender imbalance in physics by providing female students with more of a sense of critical mass. It was always a tough balancing act for me--there were obviously
problems for women in physics, and I obviously
wanted to do something about it, but I'm naturally mildly uncomfortable with anything that sets women and minorities apart simply based on their non-male or non-white status. I like to think of people as just people, but I also don't want to be naive about certain realities. I was thinking about this because when I told Annie I was taking Aikido, she said that she had often stopped to watch in front of the windows of the Dojo
, and had been impresssed by the large number of women training. I've never done a headcount, but my sense is it might even be half, and they range in all levels of experience. My friend Rick Streiker, now wandering the Amazon, told me a friend of his, Andrea Siegel, wrote a book called Women in Aikido
Yesterday after class Peter was telling me that one of Aikido's benefits is that even if one can't do all of it, all the high falls and hard throws, because of age or some physical disability, one can usually still get something out of it. Later another blackbelt (I believe they're called udancha
), Josh, and I were talking about Aikido as a subculture. The journalist in me loves getting into the nitty-gritty of subcultures, analyzing differences and classifying groups and subgroups. (Scott told me that even though he couldn't physically tell who asked the question about Aikido's mission statement, he knew it must have been me.) Women in Aikido! Minorities in Aikido! Bharat Natyam Dancers in Aikido! I am still utterly fascinated by the historical relationship between Indian Dance and East Asian Martial arts. But Peter made a a great point when we were talking---beneficial practices fundamentally have things in common because they are all done by people. The novelist and humanist in me reaches for generalities and truths and commonalities. I don't see this as a conflict so much as a balancing act between two paradigms. To capitalize on my physics education: one has to constantly remind oneself to look at a situation using different vector bases. Nothing is actually different in one basis or another, and yet something intractable in one basis will suddenly become clear when you're working in another.
The answer to my mission statement question, given by Kim Sensei himself, was that the mission statement of Aikido is to "Reconcile the World." Afterwards another blackbelt, Richard, who was one of my Sempai yesterday, said Aikido was a middle way between the "harder," more agressive martial arts, like Tae Kwon Do, and the "softer," more passive ones, like Tai Chi. Instead of attacking or withdrawing, the Aikidoka wants to blend
. This appeals to me. Someone who knows me very
well might understand the special place I give to the concepts of harmonizing and being a harmonist.
Yesterday, Pt I: Bill Clinton's Autobiography
You would think that staying at home would encourage more current blog posting, but you'd be wrong. That would require that SBC dsl not cutting out for hours at a time.
Yesterday morning I was the last person standing in the long line at Cody's
to get a copy of a Bill Clinton's new autobiography, My Life
. I doubt I'll get a chance to read it for quite a while, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to possibly see him next week. This thread at Atrios
seems to sum up the kind of discussion it's stimulating among liberals. Michiko Kakutani's New York Times review
should keep those who dislike the man happy. It was vitriolic enough to make my friend Tyler question the neutrality of the Times in justifiably puzzled tones late last night. I never read Kakutani's reviews because positive or negative, I've never found one really helpful. I appreciate the place criticism has to play in the literary world, but first I need reviews
. So I referred him to the McSweeney's explanation
. My weak guess, from flipping through the tome, is that I'll agree with none of the reviewers. The kinds of little stories, random examples, and bits of policy that seem like they bore everyone else are exactly the kind of thing I want to read.
Please Donate Blood
As of this morning the Northern California blood reserves are down to less than a day's supply for some types, according to a representative, and just above a day for the rest. This is way too low
. The Red Cross likes to have a five day supply in a given region, and is minimally comfortable at three days. 41 units makes up a day's supply of O negative, and they currently have 16 on the shelf. They are also below a day for O positive, at a day for A, and at about a day and a half for the rest. They collect less on Fourth of July weekend and in the summer, and there are always more opportunities for accidents during a long weekend. Blood saves lives
. You can sign up to be a donor here
, and people in Berkeley can donate at the Pauley Ballroom on campus between 10 and 4 this Thursday. The restrictions on who can and cannot give blood are pretty strict (I can't, for example), but even if you can't give blood, please pass this on to others in case they can. Thank you!
Rushdie & Lakshmi, New Magazines, Gala Dinner, Shazia Mirza
A note wrapping up the SAJA conference: Friday night we had a reception with Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi. Beforehand I met a reporter who looks like he could be Rushdie's younger twin. I managed to park myself directly in front of the celebrity couple, so I could glance over to my right and compare the two. Lakshmi was wearing iridescent strappy stiletto sandals, and I finally understood why designers make shoes like that. She has a ballet dancer's legs and feet, even though she's probably too tall to be one, and the stiletto heel essentially put her en pointe, creating a straight line down from her knees to her toes. She rather amusingly shoved her shorter husband aside from the mike whenever she wanted to interject a point. They did not disappoint, though I find these free-for-all question and answer sessions less than profound. Ultracasual was there
, and Seshu Badrinath of Tiffinbox took a photograph
Saturday morning revealed that the South Asian community is simply churning with start ups and projects. Shruti Reddy was representing the Arizona based EW: East West Woman
, a glossy magazine aimed at women with Asian roots. I also met Pamela Arora, the editor of AnokhiVibe
, Radhika Singh from the upcoming Ego Magazine
, and Navdeep Kathuria, the editor of ABCDLady
(opens up a PDF of the cover). It will be interesting to see if the market can sustain four glossy women's magazines. I particularly liked EW's concept of trying to appeal to a broader range of cultures. There was a representative from an incipient digital tv company who spun his company's vision as aimed at South Asians--and anyone else interested in South Asia. That appeals to me much more. I prefer to focus less on simply writing for and about South Asians in America, and more on getting all kinds of Americans talking and learning about South Asia and South Asian culture--both there and here.
At the reception for the Gala dinner I was wandering around when one gentleman's nametag caught my eye--or rather the affiliation. "Springer-Verlag!" I gasped, "What are you
doing here?" He was as mystified about my enthusiastic recognition as the man standing next to me, who had never heard of Springer-Verlag. Springer-Verlag
is one of the premier publishers of math and physics books, though of course a Springer-Verlag author probably didn't expect to find one of their fans at a journalism conference. Sharing a room with my sister
as a child, I was often surrounded by piles of yellow books with the Springer seal on the spine, and in college I actually used to look forward to the annual "Yellow Sale
." Lior once relayed a tale to me (I don't know if it's an urban legend) of the Springer-Verlag truck being hijacked in Cambridge, MA--probably one of the few cities where a book truck might be considered more lucrative a target than a gasoline truck. Well, besides math and physics, they publish books on things like business and economics, and the gentleman I met,Mark Kobayashi-Hillary,
has written a book on Outsourcing to India
. The Gala featured a wonderful slideshow of SAJA members' photography set to music by Seshu Badrinath's Pipal Productions
--keep an eye on his site for it to be posted. It made me hungry to travel.
Yesterday we got a performance by Shazia Mirza
, Britain's premier Muslim Comedienne. Probably only Muslim Comedienne. I was amused, though her schtick about asking any man who spoke up if he was single, and then saying (if he answered yes) "I can see why," got old fast, and I had already heard many of the jokes on radio shows about her.
I'm at a panel on blogging at the SAJA conference
, and I guess I'm going to try and Blog it, but the wireless in this part of Lerner Hall is not very good. We've got:
Seshu Badrinath, Tiffinbox.org
, Jen Chung, Gothamist
; Mark Dery, new media professor, NYU and commentator on the digital age; Anil Dash, AnilDash.com
; Prashanth Kothari, Finding My Voice
; Nimesh Patel, Badmash.org
. Apparently Nimesh worked for American Express; you gotta love it when people turn down real jobs to make comic art.
We're focusing on blogging and its relationship to blogging and participatory democracy.
I'm totally going to update and correct typos and even edit, both later and as I go. Huge Caveats. Don't take this too seriously. This is just for fun--I'm experimenting.
The moderator, Mimi Hanaoka
, is particularly interested in the ability of blogs to raise funds for political campaigns. Anil Dash, with Movable Type, worked with the Dean campaign, and now both the Kerry and Bush campaigns, helping set up their blogs. Comments might not actually filter up into the campaign, but community members feel like they're really helping out when they're asked to spread the word. It "feels a little bit like Tom Sawyer getting you to white wash the fence, but at the same time you do feel a little more connected." Jen Chung points out that blogs "complements our lifestyles more." Mimi wants to know if it's like the "Deanie-baby" phenomena, a closed off youth phenomena, and Jen Chung thinks there's a real trickle down effect to older and less digitally obsessed people. This makes sense to me--my Mom has gone from an email-only person two years ago to a habitual reader of political blogs and my friend's blogs. (Her favorite is my buddyultracasual.com
Professor Dery wants to know if anyone has any hard data on the ethnic and gender demographics of bloggers, and Anil Dash says anyone who says that have hard data is lying. "Terms like democracy make me really goosey. . .they feel like clouds of methane gas to me, it means nothing," says Dery. He wants to focus on specific analyses.
Prashant Kothari wants to emphasize that there's still a big element of bloggers talking to each other, though he thinks it has the potential
to be a lot more democratic, despite its innate dependance on people who have computers and more rather than less leisure time.
Anil Dash has no problem with the idea that most bloggers are young. He points out an interesting idea: take an event, say a Zoning law meeting, that most reporters aren't too interested in, and commission a really interested party (those city council backbencher hobbyists, say) to blog about it expertly, rather than sending in a bored journalist who has no idea what's going on.
Hanaoka wants to talk more about the interaction of locality and the globe. Kothari points out that he's not a professional writer or journalist, but an entrepreneur, and that he writes often about outsourcing. He was frustrated with the coverage he saw from the pros, and wanted to put out something that better reflected his experience.
Seshu Badrinath injects a dose of humor, noting the chagrinizing
affect of expecting great feedback in comments and instead getting mostly spam. (I hope I'm not jinxing myself here.) He says that most of the new people who write to him are other bloggers, which mirrors my experience.
Hanaoka wants to know more about the community building efforts and missions of blogs, and Jen Chung rattles a list of great Gothamist projects, like happy hours and a Little League sponsorship. Anil Dash says he gets most of his local government news from Gothamist, and that Chung has more credibility with him than most local tv journalists.
Now Hanaoka wants to talk more about journalistic integrity. "I have to say the pungent phrase journalistic integrity always drips irony to me," responds Dery. "The Stephen Glass syndrome is not something that springs from the brow of the twentieth century." He's delighted to see some "very wrongheaded" notions of journalistic integrity erode, such as the doctrine of objectivity. Dery compares the "hour long ad for embalming fluid that is known as the the Newshour with Jim Lehrer" to Fox News--"I loathe it, I feel that it rides into battle with the mark of the beast on its forehead," but it's fun, he says. Derry applauds backtoIraq.com as an exmplar of the full disclosure with fairness. Anil Dash says he's suspicious of any definition of journalistic integrity that doesn't include telling people what you really think. "Inspire me to disagree with you," he says.
Kothari likes the ability of blogs to act as a check on journalists, noting the "now sort of the legendary tales of the outing of Trent Lott" He continues. "95% of the stuff out there is crap. But 95% of anything out there--people's pictures and home movies--is crap." But he thinks that ranking systems and searches will get increasingly important.
"I think it's common sense for things to be supply and demand," says Patel. "What's good will stay."
Dery does worry that blogging is just as balkanizing, if not more balkanizing, than mainstream media. "It seems to me that blogs encourage that sequestering in these little cellular units." Anil Dash readily acknowledges his bias as an advocate, but disputes this. "Fox news is never going to say here's a story we disagree with, and we're going to go through it line by line." He thinks its absurd to look at blogging through the same lens as mainstream journalism because most of it does start out aimed at friends and family. (SSRD smiles here, fondly.)
Jen Cheung describes Gothamist: "It's a friend of yours at a cocktail party who knows all these little random facts that you would never know." She says she'll happily link to a more conservative friend if she respects their opinion and thinks they have something to say on a topic. "People can explore and see what they like and develop their own taste." She's very happy with the arguments-in-comments that her readers engage in every time Gothamist posts something political, and says she finds out more about the topic from these readers. Anil Dash says he loves this "collaborative serendipity."
Dery refers to Louis Rosetto (??) as John the Baptist of the ethos of the web, and Anil Dash puts his head in his hands--"That's a terrifying image." Dery is talking about how the Times only recently added live email addresses for its reporters, and Jen Chung reminisces on the Times readers forums ("I don't think anyone uses them anymore," she says. "It's the cave, you get banished there" replies Dash) where she complained about a Times story in 1999. (David Grimes (?) had a $1000 meal at a restaurant but didn't really review it. "If you're going tohavea $1000 meal, I want the review!") Now she complains in her blog, and she knows people will see it. Dash insists that blogs are only a danger to bad journalism.
Dery tells the story of Marty Rimm as classic example of blogs being corrective to journalism, but worries about mobocracy. He also worries about a pundit on top of a pundit on top of a pundit (Yurtle the Turtle?) resting on the back of the tired reporter who actually got the facts. Anil Dash immediately says that it's currently a very "unkind culture." Dash says the more famous bloggers are war bloggers and often have a war like subculture. "There are probably twice as many people blogging about knitting as there are people blogging about war and politics, but the knitting bloggers tend to be pretty nice, so they don't get as much attention." Dash wrote something once on his blog and made one war blogger angry, who then asked his readers to "go get this guy." Dash says he got 11,000 emails in four days, calls at home, and calls at work. Once he put up his own picture, and offered to meet anyone at a restaurant and explain himself (no one showed up) he was left alone. He thinks they calmed down once they had a human face. Dery says that's more an issue of anonymity drying up civility, and that he's more worried about punditry echoing itself. Chung says that people are always going to link to pundits as a way to get attention ("Attention is the only currency" says Dash), but that good blogs do bring in new ideas and those will be noticed by people like her looking for something new.
A woman with the Neiman foundation for journalism wants to know why blogging wants the mantle of journalism, and sees blogging as "alternate media" rather than alternate journalism. "One of the bases of blogging is to reject mainstream media."
I want to inject here that I think blogging is a media--like paper, tape, flash, and video--that can be done in a professional manner (journalism) or an amateur way (personal diaries and videos for your friends.) The only difference is now everyone can see your amateur work, so it's harder to immediatley tell the difference between that and professionally published work. But as someone who was forced to watch a "film" about a laundromat on public access tv last night, I think that if you're willing to take a little more time, you can tell the difference on your own. It's really just code. There may be cultural biases because the people who started Blogger had certain friends, but anything you can do with it (fictional blogs! photographs of your dinner!) will work.
I just made this point, badly, and Professor Dery wholeheartedly disagrees with me. :-) Unfortunately I have not yet figured out how to blog as I am actually speaking, so you're not going to get that discussion, but I'll ask him aftewards for a more thorough rebuttal.
Someone has asked about ads. Nimesh and Jen say that there's nothing wrong with taking ads because it helps maintain the site, but that it's not yet a real income source. Nick Denton seems to be only named bandied about as someone who makes real money blogging. "There's about 12 people in the world who make their living blogging," say Dash, and Nimesh points out that none of them are here. Dash says that people see ads as a legitimizer. Dery says this isn't unique to online, and that start-up print magazines are desperate for ads.
A student wants to know where it's all going.
Dery is talking about a linguist Jackie Nunnberg (sp?) who reported that Webster's dictionary will include blogs in the next edition (Now what about the OED?)
Dash says that the era of punditry as the main definition of blogs is almost over, and that mobile devices and mobile phones will be much more common. He points out that America is very far behind in terms of texting and mobile information. He says that mobile blogs with visual and audio elements are going to be a big deal especiallly in South Asia.
A woman behind me identifying herself a middle aged member of the mainstream press says the blog will solidify into a pulse. "We look to you as a sort of cutting edge--we're not going to you for reporting at this point--but you're a good starting point."
Another student wants to know about video blogging. Dash says it's just a technology issue of and will be possible eventually, estimating at 18 months in the US. There's a higher barrier because editing video is a less common skill than reading and writing.
And that's it. Whew.
Update after the fact:
Dery was talking about Marshall McCluhan
, a communications theorist. I think maybe I didn't disagree with him as much as I or he thought I did. Ironically, I find it hard to make my point without visuals or at least a hand gesture, but I abstractly think that the variable of analysis which is journalism vs. fakery is fairly separate from the variable of analysis which is the media difference between blogs and other media.
I'll fix this later; there's a convention to go to.
Back in the City
Arrived at JFK this afternoon, following a fitful plane ride filled with dreams of . . .Aikido, of course. What do you expect with all those fluffy white clouds tumbling outside my window? In my eager use of the JFK WiFi I fixed a double posting, and apparently thereby nixed a comment. Silly Rabbit.
It's cloudy and warm and very green; the thin sheen of sweat on everyone's forehead takes down all that sophistication a notch or two. Spent the evening attempting to listen to Madame Butterfly on the Great Lawn of Central Park with my friend and her mother, but the soaring baritones and orchestra were almost dim amid the sounds of 10,000 plus people chattering, grilling, chewing, and popping open bottle after bottle of wine. And their dogs barking and babies squealing. Our experience of opera in the park was totally impromptu and uninitated, and without the blankets and tubs of food everyone else had brought, we decided to give up about halfway through the second act. Picking our way across dark patches of grass between encampments was like trying to find our way out of a maze and after a while I gave up and stomped on the corners of those blankets that seemed to have the most inconsiderate owners. About three quarters of the way across, something familiar and stirring suddenly reached out across the lawn, and I spun around and held up my hand to my companions. "Wait!" I said, "This is it! This is the Aria." The Soprano sang and sang, and the orchestra swelled, and the crowd quieted just enough, and the only piece of Madame Butterfly I've listened to more than once floated over all of us, perhaps a minute or two in all. Cliched, common, but oh so very classic.
Aikido: Ukemi is the act of receiving with one's body.
This blog is fast turning into Aikido-blog, and I'm only taking a class once a week! But it's really fascinating. I was on time. Got my gi on in good order, not inside out this time, and somehow, like in the first class, I gravitated right towards the front, right in front of Peter. This was the same in college---I usually ended up either right in the front, or all the way in the back. But in college you aren't usually moving
in front of all those backseaters. I held back a little, when I realized how far forward I was. "Don't worry, I don't smell!" said Peter.
Peter broke down the different kinds of rolls and falls for us, and then got us going in a very small piece (first third) of a back roll. He emphasized that ukemi
is not just about rolling or falling, but about receiving with one's body. Uke
is the act of receiving, and mi
indicates the body. It's an interesting concept to have such a carefully constructed word for. I wonder what receiving with one's mind or with one's heart would be.
It seems that the basic position of Aikido is a hanmi
, or triangular stance
: front foot "laser straight," point forward, with the back foot at slightly less than 90 degrees to the body, pointing to the side, and a little (or a lot) bend in the knees and spread in the hips to stabilize the body as necessary. It would be interesting to go through various martial arts and classical dance forms, just diagramming the basic position, and see how that reflected each style's mood. I know between the main kinds of classical Indian dance the basic starting position is very indicative of each style. The Aramandali of Bharat Natyam being is most basic and central, with knees turned out and a deep sit, but feet spaced just inches apart. Grounded to the earth, totally symmetrical, straight posture, but a nice acute angle at the ankles emphasizing the beauty of the feet. It's traditionally a male dance that's totally adaptable to women, and the emphasis is on power and balance, I'd say. I quibble with this picture
: the dancer's heels shouldn't be touching, I think. But it gives you an idea. The more curvaceous Odissi has both the basic Chowka,
with arms pointing forward in the manner of Orissa's most famous Resident, and the more fluid Abhanga position
Oh, but I digress. Back to the baby steps towards an ukemi. You started at hanmi with one foot (the first foot) forward, took a bit of a rotating step backwards so that the hanmi now had that first foot in the back, and tried to kneel in a single motion. The foot in the back is bent onto its toes and you rested most of your weight on the heel, keeping the knee off the ground, while the other leg pointed forward, with a foot resting flat on the ground and the knee pointed dully towards the ceiling. Balancing this was no trouble for me, but a kind black belted woman behind me pointed out that my back leg with the pointed foot was pointing out to the side too much and not forward enough. "You want me to point it forward?!" I was really a bit horrified at the prospect. For, oh, 12 odd years, dance teachers yelled at me (or gently scolded) if I pointed my knees forward while balancing on my toes. The starting sit I described above, the half sit, is easily converted into the full sit by simply lowering one's body to rest on one's heels. If you do that nicely with your knees pointed out, the fan of your dance costume
will spread out like a fully bloomed lotus. If you point your knees forward, the fan will be crumpled. It's going to be a very difficult reflex for me to quell.
Oh, so much more to describe. The first move where one realizes this is a martial
art was today. Then there were partnered wrist exercises, like playing cats cradle with ones' arms. At first I couldn't get them at all, and Scott just kept looking at me while he nudged my hands into the correct position, first pointing out one aspect of the motion, than another. It was odd to have a friend explain something to me without speaking. I think I did finally get it, but gosh I wish I had more opportunities to practice. So many things to make stick
. Well, I guess you all will just have to try Aikido for yourself, since I can't possibly describe even an hour's worth before I leave for New York. . .far too soon.
Akamai and the Global Infrastructure
I'm curious as to why this
family of news stories doesn't seem to be getting much play on mainstream newssites like CNN.com. Akamai routes a lot of traffic for a lot of important domains; I remember first noticing its odd name crawling across the status bar back in 1998 or 1999, and hearing tales of MIT grad students being lured away to dot.com millions around the same time. It showed its mettle during the 9/11 attacks, helping to at least stabilize the huge assault on news servers as everyone wanted to know what was going on--despite the loss of one its founders, Daniel C. Lewin, who was aboard the American Airline's airplane which crashed into the World Trade Center. If Akamai simply screwed up, that's bad news enough, but news that can be fixed in the long term by the free market and other business maneuvers. But if the two hour denial of service to important sites like Google and Yahoo really was caused by a "large scale international attack," then it seems like a major international issue. I want to know who's doing the attacking, how they did it, and how it can be prevented in the future. I don't understand why the mainstream press (as opposed to the geek press) isn't talking about it more.
Living Vicariously Through My Readers, Or, You're Only Young Once
I'm leaving for New York tomorrow so I can go to the South Asian Journalism Association
Convention. This is a great convention because you don't have to be South Asian or a Journalist to attend--just interested in some combination of the two. You're probably also going to want to go if you were a student of the organization's founder, Sreenath Sreenivasan, (that's Sree
to you) at Columbia, where the convention is held every year.
Naturally my friends have decided that now is the time to remind me of the Bay Area fun I'll be missing, like Friday's free outdoor showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark
in Downtown Oakland, or Radio Alice's free Summerthing concert
at Golden Gate park on Sunday. So I thought I'd go complete the torture, and point out other fun events--like Summer Rooftop Drum workshop
on Saturday or the the Native Contemporary Arts Festival
on Sunday, both at Yerba Buena Gardens. Other things I might want to check out if I was in town: A weekend of noirish Los Angeles Plays Itself
movies at the Pacific Film Archive
, the opening of the summer festival series at Stern Grove
, or just some general good music and style at Jazz at Pearl's
But instead I'll try to catch Bishop Allen
at the Mercury Lounge
. Have some fun for me, lectores
*In this lifetime, anyway.
Wedding, Pirates, Aikido
The wedding was fabulous. It's nice to be able to sincerely gush, surrounded by other sincere gushers, about love and friendship and a sacred relationship, and know that you are in an irony free zone. Sincerity and ernestitude are underutilized. I want to experience them more often. It was also just a really good party. However, I think I'm going to have to take up ballroom dancing. Both the bride and the groom were gifted with a large number of very graceful and youthful older relatives, most of whom could dance up a storm. Our generation's pseudo-hip-hop air jabbing and furtive wiggles just didn't hack it.
I went to an impressively decorated pirate party on Saturday, where I saw a really nice sword. I mean, from my point of view it was a really nice sword--I don't know anything about fencing, though I've always wanted to try it. But besides the edge not being razor sharp, there was no reason for one to doubt its authenticity. The tip was sharp enough, and the thing was big enough, that it certainly seemed potentially dangerous. So I had a question--could one get arrested for walking around with a sword in full display? For reasons I won't dive into, involving a member of my blogroll, this turned into "If one person is walking down the street with an open sword, and another one is walking down the street carrying a large plastic owl, who is more likely to get arrested?" With strong roots in experimental physics, the relevant people decided to simply find out. But as I've already noted, CA is nothing like New York, and even in a city, that late on a Saturday night there was no one to interact with their experiment. Thank goodness. After all, there are technical legalities
and then there are the "disturbing the peace" kinds of arguments that DAs can often make and win.
We got to practice some Aikido in a park yesterday, and while the ground beneath the deceptively soft grass is itself much harder than a mat, I'm still glad. I think a weekly lesson alone wouldn't have "stuck" to me so well, and another difference between Aikido and dance is that it's proving rather difficult, so far, to practice Aikido on one's own. The first day I stayed some to observe the more advanced class, I remember that Peter kept talking about the importance of contact
. Besides conjuring up 80's era PBS jingles
in my geeky brain, it made me think about how even though Bharat Natyam is very much a soloist's art, I really, really loved having partners to dance with. I'm trying to think of other physical activities that have that kind of one-on-one engagement with another person. Rock climbing and tennis come to mind.
Scott showed us a little bit of the magic rolling I am so enthralled and intimidated by. I don't seem to keep my neck rolled in enough, but I think at this point only practice can get me to the next stage, as opposed to more technique. It was a little maddening to kneel down as he knelt down, put my hands on the ground as he did, bend down on one arm as he did, and then flop over sidewise while he executed a graceful forward somersault. My friend Emily Cooper
picked it up in a jiffy. But I think that sense of maddening frustration is healthy, because it might get me to the park more often to keep trying.
The falls I've been describing are called ukemi, and Aikdidoists are called Aikidoka. This vocabulary list
looks like it will be pretty helpful. It finally spelled out the formal end-of-of-class thank you phrase for me--Domo Arigato Gozaimashita
--and explained the derivation of Kiai
, which is the name of the Dojo's newsletter
. You can read a note on what it's like to live in the Dojo from Jennifer Velasco
, the kind uchi-deshi
I mentioned before. Scott says her ukemi
are beautiful to watch--"she's like a yo-yo." I didn't get such a clear view of her last week, but I hope I get to watch the advanced students practice more often as my schedule loosens up. Many of them have kyu-tests coming up--wish them luck.
Chagrin, Aikido, Wedding and the Airplane
The idea of person A's reaction to person B being unwanted enough to fill person B with chagrin (for example, person B does something he thinks laudable and instead person A laughs) came up, and I used the phrase chagrin-producing to describe person A's reaction. Scott thought this concept should have its own word, and came up with chagrinizing, sounding similar to and constructed much the same as agonizing.
I'm trying to figure out why I didn't use the word embarrassing or mortifying or humiliating. Chagrin seems to me very different from mortification or embarrassment or humiliation. Embarrassment seems to be the most general term--it includes chagrin, but is not as precise as it. Mortification seems to be extreme embarrassment. You don't just blush
, you want to die
. The cause and structure of the circumstances are still general, however. Humiliation seems to involve an element of victimhood. A humiliation is caused by a malicious other party. Your pants falling down slightly is embarrassing. Your pants falling down all the way is mortifying. Being "pantsed" by someone mean is humiliating.
To me chagrin has a slightly different quality. Pants falling down slightly, and perhaps no one else noticing. Taking your pants off on purpose and not getting quite the reaction you wanted. Bragging about how tight your pants are only to have them slip down. There is a quality of self-directed ruefulness or self-causation. A person who is embarrassed to themselves, more than to anyone else, is experiencing chagrin. It's sort of a darker, involuntary version of laughing at oneself. It doesn't always have to be because of someone else's reaction, but it can be, when said reaction doesn't do well with the person's self-image. I can't justify this difference from the etymology or definitions
I've found at all. But I'm sure it's not just my idea.
Well, all that said, today ended up being a bit chagrinizing. I was all excited and eager to go to Aikido, and I ended up being really quite late instead. But the wonderful uchi-deshi
Jen was kind enough to help me get into my gi faster, and the instructor was very gracious about accepting my apologies afterwards. Still . ..
I stayed late to watch the non-beginner's class, and I've decided the one thing that totally bowls me over and is completely not in common with dance is the falling and tumbling. All the other motions I've seen, even if I have no idea how to do them, still don't look like magic
. Twisting, sliding, pushing, jumping, alright. But the Aikidoists fall and tumble as if they're falling into bed or moving through water. It is completely beyond my comprehension. The physics almost seems a bit off to me--like, how can that change in momentum not hurt
horribly? I have no idea if we'll get anywhere near doing that in this already short seeming 8 week course. But even if I don't ever get the chance to try it, I'd really like to understand the mechanics of it better. It's quite addictive to watch.
I told my friend Kevin about my new class, and he dug up this website on Aikido.
Kevin is getting married in three days, to one of my oldest and best friends from college, Rebecca. I'll be out of town for that, so blog postings may be even more spare than they have been. Wish them all happiness in the meantime!
I went to visit my high school, The Athenian School
, last Saturday, and I found out the students are building an airplane. I saw the airplane. It's a two-seat Piper, and the wings were built in the woodshop. Wowza. And that's all I have to say about that, for now anyway.
I got the link to look! cute little kittens! blogjam random kitten generator
from Jennifer Esty
and I'm pretty much posting it for the benefit of Asad.
Oddly, suddenly having a lot of free time seems to mean not having much time at all; I spend so much time running around, not chained to my computer by this or that project, that I just really haven't had a chance to blog, or even read much.
I started taking Aikido at the Aikido Institute
. The Dojo was amazingly gracious, throwing in a ghi with the generously low starting fee. It was the most physical thing aside from partying I've done in a long while, and it aroused a bit of the Bharat Natyam Dancer in me. A similar insistence on bended knees and a wide stance grounding you to the Earth, for instance. After not dancing for so long, it was odd to feel old habits immediately rearing their head, woken up quickly by the format of the class. In dance we want the eyes to follow the hand, but during one exercise, the instructor, Peter, specifically said to keep the eyes focused on the walls. There were times when I really wanted to bend my foot up in a folding motion, the sort of excessively graceful gesture that adds flourish to Bharat Natyam, and which would be superfluous and distracting in Aikido. Yet trying to really feel motion is common to both, an attempt I found both difficult and welcome.
I visited Google and I won't say anything except that there is an awful lot of food there, and the people were very nice and very smart (of course). Also, they really do
like primary colors. I also ran around Silicon Valley a bit with my oldest buddy, John Osborne
, reminiscing about the past and plotting grand schemes for the future. I also had lunch with my friend Jan Liphardt
, who is the Berkeley Physics Department's newest professor--Go Bears!! With characteristic speed he's already begun moving into his labspace in Birge Hall. I also learned how to play poker. It's an interesting game (set of games), though I'm glad I don't gamble, since I could see how people can get caught up in it. I'll have to investigate it some more, and maybe finally read Poker Nation
If you're dying to actually read something outside of my fabulous life, check out this AP article
by Lisa J. Adams, on a Mexican woman who reportedly gave herself a C-section, resulting in the survival of both her and child, about four years ago. (Courtesy of Scott.) You could also pay a visit to the charmingly grateful and gracious Ultracasual
, or check out Alexandra's experiments with photographic serendipity
You know you've left Manhattan when . . .
It's pretty much the middle of the day, warm and with very sunny, glorious blue skies. I just opened my garage door (we have a garage!) and saw a big beautiful doe with huge floppy ears bound out of my front garden, across the street, over the neighbor's hilly front yard, and down the block.