Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, February 28, 2005
Happy 131

"If the only goal of my life is to serve the Lord, then I should not humiliate and disrespect anyone in this world. If the world belongs to the Lord, then I should know what my relationship is with His world."

Well, regardless of your goals, I hope today you find a chance to wonder at the wonders of the world, and that your learning always leads you to good things.
Deep Sea Thrills

I don't have all of James Cameron's oeuvre on easy access in my memory, so it just wasn't all that relevant when we went to go see the his 3-D IMAX Aliens of the Deep. Slate's Bryan Curtis missed the point in his Slate column on the film--or rather, he missed the opportunity to review a really fun and informative experience. It seems that he was too busy thinking about his theory of Cameron self-aggrandizement and megalomania to actually notice the work. After reading his piece I was expecting a goofy, uninformative, glitter-driven show. Instead I got a refresher course in how absolutely gorgeous science can be. Aliens of the Deep promised to show us the wonders of life in extreme conditions and use those ideas and examples to build a good argument hypothesizing the possibility of exraterrestrial life--specifially, life on Jupiter's moon Europa. It did so with panache.

First of all, I was impressed with how much voice and emphasis were given to the actual scientists in the film. I was particularly impressed that the main narrator was a graduate student, Dijanna Figueroa of UCSB. How often does the public get clued into the role of graduate students in most research?! Cameron clearly gave them all their dues. Secondly, Curtis' snide dismissal of Cameron's scientific sincerity betrays Curtis's own shallow idealogy of science: "He lovingly films exotic deep-sea creatures, then neglects to identify them, reducing them to his own bug-eyed reactions: "It's like the ugliest fish in the world!". It's a stamp collector's view of science, where the important thing is just labelling and categorizing. Instead, I found that Aliens of the Deep told a very clear story, suitable for a ten-year old or this one-time microbiologist: Most life depends on the sun and photosynthesis as the base of its food chain. Near the bottom of the ocean energy from the mantle burts out into the ocean in thermal vents, deeper than sunlight has ever penetrated--and the heat creates enough volatile chemistry to feed a whole food chain built on chemosynthesis, not photosynthesis. It's a food chain that ranges from giant fields and plumes of the basic building block bacteria to curious octopi and swarms of shrimp and crabs and red-tipped worms. Given the liveliness of our terrestrial extreme conditions, there's a distinct possibility similar conditions on Europa could also host life. If Cameron was promoting anything, it was the idea that we, as a society and a species, have to exercise our own explorations skills here on earth if we're really interested in exploring them in space. Sure, you can find plenty of people--like Figueroa, a marine biologist--who are probably perfectly happy to explore extreme life conditions without reference to space travel. But science thrives on the cross polinization of ideas, interests, and investigative motives, so if Cameron can hook a young generation of space junkies on oceanology, more power to him.

Judging a 3-D IMAX movie with a host of commerical films in the back of your head is missing out on how much more delightfully juvenile an experience it is. The loud whispers of children all around me going, "Mom! Mom! Look its an octopus!" or "It's like a volcano!" were a perfectly welcome addition to the soundtrack. If you want to rekindle a little of your bug-eyed enthusiasm, or have some little bug-eyed enthusiasts with hungry minds to feed, then I highly recommend it.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Red vs. Blue and House vs. Statehouse

Matthew Yglesias
has some interesting ruminations on governor-driven pressure on Republican congressional delegations. Medicaid (which he distinguishes as the one that helps poor people, not Medicare, the one that helps middle class old people) is on the Bushian chopping block, an easy place to make at least a little bit of room for the tax cut. Yglesias:
What's especially appealing about it from Bush's perspective is that it doesn't require him to actually take anyone's health care away. Instead, he's going to try and cut the amount of money the federal government gives to the states to spend on Medicaid. This will force state governors and state legislatures to cut people's Medicaid coverage, but since each state will have a lot of flexibility in deciding exactly who to screw over and how to screw them, the hope is that governors and state legislators will wind up getting blamed by the voters rather than the president and congress. Nowadays, of course, most governors are Republicans, and they're not going to like this. The issue in play, then, will be whether or not Republican governors have any sway over their states' congressional delegations and senators.
This got me thinking about the red vs. blue map of governors, which rather different from the more famous red vs. blue map of the presidential election (from The Democratic bastions of CA and NY have Republican governors. Supposedly heartland red-states like Oklahoma, Montana, Wyoming and North Carolina have Democratic governors. I also pulled up maps of the House of Representatives. (Here's CNN's 2004 flash map; it's approximately the same as the 2002 one I use below, with the notable exception of Texas.) The congressional map is a little hard to read for our purposes, since we're not interested in the demographics of geography but the relationship between a states House caucus and its statehouse. It might appear, for example, that California has a Republican caucus when it's actually very Democratic; it's easy to forget that Wyoming and Montana only have one representative. (I'm ignoring Senators for now, for simplicty's sake; they provide yet another interesting level of complexity.)

It seems to me that, in terms of power, such a relationship must be almost entirely mediated through party lines: governors play an important part in their party's state level committee, which in turn plays an important part in the primary and general election campaign funding for congressional races. In the aforementioned Montana and Wyoming, the governors has little direct influence over the representatives; if the governors are sitting on higher electoral margins they might try and run ads or otherwise use their "political" capital to push down the rep's numbers. Later maybe I'll actually look up each representative's margin of victory and each governor's margin of victory. Until then, though, I'm going guess that with voters inconsistent enough to elect two statewide officials from different parties, such tactics are probably futile. Texas had an impressively bluish delegation in 2002, now almost totally red, so a governor might try the threat of redistricting. In general though, consistent states like Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho ought to be better at presenting a united front regarding their states' interests than New York, where the Republican governor hobnobs with the Republican Congressional architect of cuts in New York's transportation funding. For the purposes of the Medicaid problem, we can ignore the Governator and Pataki and rely on the coastal delegations to stand on their own. The single Democratic reps from the Dakotas might need a little encouragement. But, on this very first analysis, it does seem like the red-red states like Nevada are where citizens interested in saving Medicare should try to apply some pressure. I'll be particularly interested in the case of Colorado, where it seems that the Republicans represent the poorer parts of the state.

Synchronicity of Indeterminacy

Two dogs are sitting in a car, one in the front and one in the back. One turns to the other, opens its mouth, lets out some sound, the other seems to respond. Is it random? Is it dog-talk? Is it a conversation? On a street you see three girls wearing superhero outfits. Maybe they're just going to a costume party. Or maybe they're superheroes. At the hospital an anxious man stands nervously in the waiting room, hoping no one will notice him. The light seems to bathe him too much. Maybe he's just nervous--or maybe his shadow is too small. Are those four ordinary girls on the beach-- perhaps they are the new year?

Finding pattern in coincidence, pouncing on meaning when you can never really be sure what's going on--these are ancient tools of the fictionwriter's trade. Fiction is my first love, but it's usually not something that makes it onto the entries of this blog. Somehow the random pointing of Blogger's NextBlog! button brought it here, in the form of commenter indeterminacy, along with a link to a fantastic, ongoing opus: a blog, The Synchronicity of Indeterminacy. Almost every day, it seems, indeterminacy posts a photograph, and a tale to accompany it. The most fabulous caption. Just a paragraph or a two. Clean white lines of sudden fiction that jar your imagination out of cyberspace and into the land of Borges and Cortazar, which you find has been growing and changing all along, just like ours. Suddenly your attention may not be on the screen but on your twitching mouth and your stimulated brain. Addictive.

A sampling, to get you started (titles mine):

Dogs in a car. (#170)
Three girls in costume. (#165)
Shadow on the tile. (#43)
Four girls on the beach. (#120)

The timeliness of this post, however, is that the magician has asked for a volunteer. That's right, you too can participate in spinning a tale from a found photo! indeterminacy has declared that "it's your turn," and I couldn't resist presenting the opportunity to my creative readers.
Friday, February 25, 2005
The Last Straw

I remember watching part of Doctor Zhivago when I was very young and being absolutely horrified when the good Doctor comes home to his beautiful house and finds it overrun with comrades because the revolution has claimed it. In typical good Doctor fashion, he tries to welcome them and even sees the merit of the case that in freezing Moscow shelter should be shared, but despite his positive attitude it smelled wrong. He owned the house, it was his house, and the arrogance and unfairness of someone taking it from him stung me to my child's core. Somehow I felt they could have asked for all kinds of things--more money, more labor, more whatever--but taking away his house, ad hoc, was impermissible. That's not fair. It was a thought followed by relief that it wasn't a problem I'd ever have. I lived in a country where things were fair. I was probably only a little older when fair came to mean something more precise: due process, the right to counsel, property rights, freedom of religion and speech and the press and of the right of the people to gather and petition.

It's usually infringements on the first Amendment set that infuriate me, because they're more common--I thought. But apparently even the right to property--a right you'd think would span across the political spectrum in its universal appeal--is not remotely safe. From a stellar column by Carol Lloyd in today's SF Gate:
Property seizure has always been an option for governments when a given piece of land is needed for a public use such as a park or school, or a freeway or a military base; in return, the government is obligated to pay fair market value. But in the case of the Kelos and six other families who have sworn not to leave their little cottages in New London's once vibrant working-class, waterfront neighborhood of Fort Trumbull, invoking eminent domain was justified not by a need for a public use, or even to rid an area of urban blight, but by the city's desire for hard cash. . ..New London has hit on hard times, and after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer built a $270 million research facility on an adjacent property, the city saw the possibility that Fort Trumbull could be more than a collection of modest single-family homes. With the right mix of retail, recreation and residence, it could attract the kind of shoppers, . . . So the city invoked the power of eminent domain over the neighborhood and slated it to be leased to a private developer for 99 years for $1 per year. In exchange, the developer is supposed to develop a high-end office building, a hotel, condos and other as-yet-undetermined projects.[emphasis mine]
Slate's Dahlia Litwick covered the actual Supreme Court hearing with her usual irreverent wit early this week, but for once I am not amused:
Scott G. Bullock represents the homeowners, and his first words to the court strike terror in the heart of anyone who looks into their backyard and sees the ghostly outline of the Target housewares section looming over the trees: "Every home, church, and corner store would produce more tax revenue if it was turned into a shopping mall," he says. There can be no limit to what the state can condemn if the only requirement is that the proposed project improve the tax base. . . .[Scalia] describes Horton's [the pro-development lawyer's] position as: "You can always take from A and give to B, so long as B is richer." And O'Connor offers this concrete example: What if there's a Motel 6 but the city thinks a Ritz-Carlton will generate more taxes? Is that OK? Yes, says Horton."So you can always take from A and give to B if B pays more taxes?" asks Scalia."If they are significantly more taxes," says Horton. [Emphasis mine]
Litwick ends her dispatch with a silly guessing game about Horton's mysteriously truncated closing statement, and her "strike terror" line is dismissive in a cliche. But it's exactly right. It should strike terror in the heart of individual property owners everywhere. Because there is always going to be a better way to generate taxes off your land--and there is always going to be a large corporation or private conglomerate who can make a case for their ability to generate those taxes. Instead of a communist government ganging up on property owners for the sake of poor people, this is government ganging up on property owners for the sake of wealthier entities. That just makes it more wrong.

Lloyd's article has plenty of history about eminent domain, and how private developers are increasingly using it to get a hold of land they want. The cottage owners of New London are just the first group brave enough to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Odd as it sounds, I hope that Justice Scalia can save the day. Thanks to Andrew for pointing all this out.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Foreign Legion

From Armchair Generalist, an LA Times proposition by military writer Max Boot:
The military would do well today to open its ranks not only to legal immigrants but also to illegal ones and, as important, to untold numbers of young men and women who are not here now but would like to come. . . .The simplest thing to do would be to sign up foreigners for the regular U.S. military, but it would also make sense to create a unit whose enlisted ranks would be composed entirely of non-Americans, led by U.S. officers and NCOs. . . .Call it the Freedom Legion. As its name implies, this unit would be modeled on the French Foreign Legion, except, again, U.S. citizenship would be part of the "pay." And rather than fighting for U.S. security writ small — the way the Foreign Legion fights for the glory of France — it would have as its mission defending and advancing freedom across the world.
I can't tell if his substitution of "Freedom" for French is ironic--the whole piece seems a little wild-eyed in its enthusiasms, especially considering Boot is not a scribbling columnist on weekly deadline, but a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and an award-winning war historian.

According to Boot, "only" (his phrase) 7% of our military is foreign born, and only 2% consists of noncitizens. According to Census Bureau data released this week, 12% of the American population is foreign born, and if I've crunched the numbers from the 2003 age and citizenship report correctly, 12% of the 15-29 year-old age bracket is foreign born. (It occurred to me that the foreign born population might disproportionately consist of babies and old people, but apparently not.) By the way, I find lumping naturalized citizens in with noncitizens rather distasteful--the only occupation it's relevant for is President. Unfortunately, to compare with 19th century statistics, it seems necessary.

Boot compares this to the apparent glory days of the 19th century, citing a 20% foreign born military, including a German-speaking regiment during the Civil War. According to this Census table, our foreign born population spiked from a fairly steady 9.7 percent in 1860 (and much of the Cold War Era) to a steady flow of 13-14% between the Civil War and World War II. So, war aside, our population immigration mix is very roughly similar to the Civil War and post-Civil War era, but our military immigrant mix is not. Boot doesn't bother to provide an explanation for this discrepancy before exhorting Uncle Sam to recruit illegal immigrants and people who haven't even gotten here yet.

Our current legal immigration stream tends to be a lot more educated than in the 1860s---fewer people come here to be farmers and factory workers. So there are a lot fewer economic incentives to step off the boat and put on a uniform. Citizenship makes an interesting carrot, but globalization might decrease its value--not to mention our demonstrated willingness to ignore citizenship when it comes to holding people without a trial. I'm not sure why opening a separate branch would make them feel so much more welcome, as opposed to simply upping efforts to recruit them into our regular army.

This proposal does have a significant advantages over what we're currently doing by default: outsourcing large chunks of the war to private contractors and mercenaries. (Summary of a new Foreign Affairs article.) Besides making it easier to manage security within a single chain of command, it will also make it easier to keep track of the true cost of a war: a foreign legion will have to report its dead and wounded like any other branch of the military, unlike the currently difficult to track list of private contractors killed. (Assuming, of course, that the officially reported numbers are true.) It would be upto the citizens who vote, of course, to make sure that these foreign soldiers didn't get wasted like canon fodder on ill-conceived war. But we owe that to our regular army already.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Google Movies!!

Check it out. [Wine bachelor's] = Sidways. [puppets terrorists] = Team America. [Airplane Himalayas] = Sky Captain. [Camels World War I] = Lawrence of Arabia. It's not perfect, but Google's new "movie:" operator is a lot of fun (announcement on their blog). Add a zipcode and it will get you local showtimes. Who know's what they'll give us next? From Jess Lee at the Blog:

Popcorn and a date to snuggle up with are up to you. For now.

Oh my. Oh, and full disclosure: I'm related to a Googler and totally crazy about the company. Whee!!!!
Medical Malpractice

The day before yesterday the New York Times had a big article on the link between medical malpractice premiums and medical malpractice payments. As Kevin Drum noted yesterday, a good infographic is worth a 1000 words. What jumps out at me is that even at the point of narrowest difference, there's at least $1 Billion in gross revenue for the insurance industry--and at some points, as much as $4 Billion. That's a lot of medical expense that doesn't really have anything to do with medicine. As Drum writes:
To me, the weirdest thing about this whole mess is that doctors continue to follow the insurance companies' lead and demonize trial lawyers as the cause of their problems . . . .common sense suggests that doctors should be genuinely interested in keeping premiums under control, something that even insurance companies admit won't be accomplished by payout caps. . . .California is often held out as a model for the nation because we instituted payout caps a couple of decades ago. But so did a lot of states, and it hasn't helped much. What everyone chooses to forget is that California also did something else: it instituted some of the toughest regulations in the country on insurance companies. That's done a lot more to keep malpractice premiums under control than the payout caps. . . .If the AMA had any sense, they'd team up with the trial lawyers to agree on some sensible restrictions on malpractice suits and then train their collective guns on the insurance companies.
Our malpractice system, as it's currently set up, is a tangle of for-profit industries leeching off of what should be a fundamentally nonprofit or lowprofit patient-doctor interaction, and there are too many players in healthcare who are either directly or indirectly arrayed against the patient. A lot of cost and animosity might be saved by realigning healthcare around the person whose health is being cared for.

Which is what makes Andru Ziwasimon's no-insurance clinic so interesting. In a recent highlight of my blogroll I pointed out some of Ziwasimon's work. He used a lot of clever but obviously safe tricks to pare costs for his often impoverished clients: donated diagnosis equipment, volunteer-built facilities, and no need for clerical staff to fill out insurance paperwork. But one cost-saving measure alarmed his friends--he doesn't carry malpractice insurance. A few days ago he explained himself:
for me, malpractice insurance represents a big fat target for frustration and cynicism. the very act of having it invites lawsuits. this dynamic, i've seen in action. patients may even love you as their doctor, but they feel they are "sticking it to the man" by getting money from a big old greedy insurance company, and guess what, they need that money to pay their outrageous medical bill and future medical costs. . . .bottom line is that we all do "mal" practice, we all make mistakes in this work. and we all need protections, but is malpractice insurance really protection? research shows that apologizing is a powerful form of mal-practice protection, but if you have mal-practice insurance or are part of an HMO or mega-system, you will be advised not to admit fault! who does this protect? who is harmed? i apologize when i mess up, it's a basic form of courtesy. . .and here's a connected point... i don't have assets, i don't have a huge salary that can be attached for future earnings. . . .
I recall reading about the preventive power of apologies before, and this AP article highlights some of the psychology involved. Basically, patients are less likely to sue if they don't feel their doctors are being arrogant and uncaring jerks. Yesterday in Slate, David Dobbs explained a Swedish no-fault system which seems to be saving costs too. It isn't clear to me if Swedes still do have the option of legal recourse should gross negligence in fact be the issue, but by allowing patients to get some reasonable recompense for honest mistakes, it makes it less necessary for them to aggressively pursue the big payments which necessitate their aggressively proving gross negligence in an adversarial setting. Let's see if doctors can realign themselves with patients.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Mmm, Private Accounts

If the war was for oil, it really didn't work. The stock market just had its sharpest drop in 21 months. This, apparently, because the price of oil is rising. Aren't you glad your social security isn't tied to the stock market yet?
That Sounds Expensive

Armchair Generalist highlights Germany's intense security preparations in welcoming President Bush for talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. According to the Financial Times a 60-80 strong column of vehicles is just the beginning of lockdown in the city of Mainz, and it follows today's deployment in Belgium. Generalist noted the last sentence in particular,
"Although the country has no history of terrorism, more than 5,300 policemen will be deployed, supported by 400 soldiers, 400 firemen and elite anti-chemical forces."
I'm thinking soon it might be cheaper and safer to employ holographic video conferencing. We could launch a satellite fleet that's dedicated to the president and the top ranking diplomats, with the highest possible encryption, and just have some more expendable lackey travel from capital to capital with 3-D cameras, projectors, and stereo audio transmitters.

I didn't know Hunter Thompson had gone to Columbia's J-School. (He didn't, see below.) I'm always discovering some odd, unexpected fellow alum---the biggest surprise last year was the former head of the KGB, an absolutely charming man with whom I got to have dinner. Makes me wonder what will become of my seemingly sweet and normal class. I wonder if Thompson ever spoke at the school. I hope so, at least once. From this morning's SF Chronicle, a quote from Dean Lemann:
"Is he a hero at Columbia Journalism School?" asked Nicholas Lemann, the school's 50-year-old dean. "Sadly, I think no. He's much more a hero to my generation of journalists. He's sort of a giant, but I don't think rising young journalists are reading him with the same degree of admiration." Nonetheless, Lemann said, Thompson's legacy can be seen in the fact that he was one of those media stars created by the campaigns, much like author Theodore White, famed for his quadrennial "Making of the President" books. If White was the straightforward traditionalist, Thompson was the "weird, alternative type voice," Lemann said. "That was clearly his slot. And the closest thing to it (today) is the bloggers."
Considering Dean Lemann helped get the funding for the the first major official blog associated with the school (well, really with the Journalism review which it publishes), I wonder if this means blogs could become a bigger part of the curriculum. Kind of makes the whole mainstream media vs. bloggers fight a little topsy turvy. It would also be fun to have a workshop type course built around writers like Thompson and his less extreme fellow New Journalists. There might actually be time for such craziness in Lemann's new two year program.

Update: You know, the article I cited above said "he studied Journalism at Columbia University." That's possible to do without going to the J-school. And not too many other obits are mentioning Columbia. So let's say I have no idea if if he went to Columbia, but it's a fascinating idea and I'll get back to you.

Update II: That's what I get for not reading MTV copy closely enough. At least the back of my brain caught up by the time I finished typing two grafs. In an email from Assistant Dean Melanie Huff, the Journalism Librarian Deborah Wassertzug found that, "According to the Columbia University Registrar's office, Hunter Stockton Thompson was enrolled in the School of General Studies from 1957-1958 and took the following classes: Short Story Writing I and Structure and Style II." He is not listed in the J-school's Alumni records. I'm not sure I call Short Story Writing I journalism, but that's oddly appropriate somehow.
Monday, February 21, 2005
I could get into that

I don't know anything about fox hunting or horse riding, but if the foxes of Britain aren't overpopulated, I don't have any sympathy for fox hunters mourning the recent banning of their sport. All the traditions and costumes and dressage and skills in the world won't really move me on that count, since killing animals for pleasure doesn't rank very high in my ethical actions list. But this 100 year old replacement game, reported by Slate, sounds more like my cup of tea:
Another alternative to fox hunting, called "hunting the clean boot," got its start closer to 1900. To hunt the clean boot, a field of riders tracks down a human quarry with bloodhounds. The target is given a half-hour head start, and then tracked by dogs bred to follow a natural human scent. The "kill" at the end of the hunt is a rather cheerful affair, involving lots of licking and slobber.
Neutralizing a Tunnel

Loitering around DefenseTech, I caught a story about how Israel is trying to collapse or fill up underground tunnels that have been dug beneath the Gaza Strip for smuggling weapons. From a strategic point of view, it's understandable that Israel would want to get rid of such tunnels. The Defense Tech blogpost quotes a DefenseNews article by Barbara Opall-Rome, and apparently the Palestinian Authority has taken responsibility for destroying some of the tunnels themselves--and with a little more gusto:
Since late January, when the Palestine Authority assumed responsibility for security in Rafah, Palestinian security forces have uncovered and destroyed two arms-smuggling tunnels. In at least one of those instances, local security officials filled the tunnel with raw sewage. "When we go in and destroy tunnels, it's sometimes only a matter of time until the debris is cleared and the tunnel is reopened for business. But they filled the tunnel with [excrement], which totally clogged all the air holes for breathing. That tunnel won't be used foryears," an IDF officer said.
So the PA has actually done a more effective job than all the expensive mechanical processes the Israelis use (which are the main subject of the article)---but at what cost to an already beleagured water table?
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Holy Crap Is Right

Hunter Thompson is dead. He seems to have shot himself. I guess that's not entirely surprising. Dammit, I was just getting around to reading Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. From Atrios.

Some links: (The Great Thompson Hunt), Rotten's biography, and a grammatical analysis of his style.

Hunter Thompson 1937 - 2005. . .Requiescat in Pacem.
Paging Miss Manners

So a large chunk of the blogosphere has recently been devoted to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, which credentialed several bloggers to cover it. It sounds like interesting stuff, and it's cool that they are letting bloggers cover it, even after Davosgate--people at a conference might be a bit nervous about letting people cover them in realtime while they're still formulating their ideas. But watching people discuss and synthesize on the large scale is exactly why conferences are interesting, and I can see why an old school journalist from a respectable paper like the Wall Street Journal might be feeling a little threatened.

Or something. How else to explain a grown man--indeed, a middle aged man, presumably socialized in kindergarten like the rest of us--walking over to somebody else's unoccupied laptop, ask nothing, and use it--for half hour at a time--twice? From The Agitator:
After an odd episode earlier this morning, it seems Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund returned to Bloggers' Corner later this afternoon, this time knowing full well that the unoccupied computers left on the tables were private property, belonging to the bloggers. He hopped on another open laptop, again without asking permission from its owner, and took about a half hour to file a story, even as the blogger whose computer he'd commandeered stood waiting.
The second blogger is Robert Cox of The National Debate, and the man has got photographically documented patience on the geologic timescale--from Crosswalk's Kevin McCullough:
Cox in a very coy voice asks Fund, "will you be long?"Fund: "Nope I just need a minute more..." (he had already been on about 20 at this point...)Cox: "I believe they had some software installed on these machines - so be careful - they may be recording your every keystroke."Fund: (A dumb-founded look upon his face, a medium size gulp in his throat) "Um...ok...well that should be fine. I just wouldn't want anyone to read my e-mail..."In the length of time that he persisted on Cox's machine I was able to snap the photos you see in this story and e-mail them one by one from my phone to myself.Not long after that - Fund departs, no "thank you"s, no "I'm sorry for using your private computer, etc.".
Then McCullough recounts how Cox, upon repossessing his computer, discovered that John Fund had left himself logged into the Dow Jones server and left himself logged into his email account. The ever helpful Cox then sent the following email:
John,Good to see you at CPAC. Recall that you were using my laptop while I grabbed lunch.I hit the BACK button to get back to where I was when you sat down and found your Outlook Inbox was displayed. You also left my computer logged into the WSJ mail server; anyone could have come by and sent e-mails from your account and possibly used your remote connection to access the Dow Jones servers.You might want to be more careful when you jump on someone's PC.
Cox has generously started a Fund for Fund to get this employee of the impoverished Wall Street Journal a Blackberry, but I'm thinking it's the two bloggers who deserve a second laptop, or some other large shiny gadget, as a reward for their extreme politeness.

Beyond the amusement factor, I don't really see this incident as a blogs vs. mainstream media thing, and it certainly seems to be bipartisan in its outrage factor. (I found out about it on Atrios, where Fund is wanker of the day, and Fund's first victim was an equally patient if slightly less comically lucky Doverspa at But the WSJ may want to hire Judith Martin for a weekend workshop soon.
Saturday, February 19, 2005

Joe Conason's Salon piece on how "Jeff Gannon" was involved in the take-down of former Senatre Majority Leader Tom Daschle is interesting enough for its main content. But a phrase he cites particularly caught my eye:

Yet to understand who "Gannon" really was -- and why he obtained such special treatment from Karl Rove's White House communications operation -- one useful exercise may be what intelligence analysts call "walking back the cat." In essence, this means running the movie in reverse slow-motion to see where the suspect came from and what he did along the way.

Walking back the cat. Nice. Link thanks to Robert Stribley.
Friday, February 18, 2005
Angry Heroes

A fun if gory gallery of Hong Kong comic book covers, apparently from the 60s and 70s. ( I really have no idea, and a translation would be much appreciated!) It looks like the hero is almost always angry. Neat to see the Bruce Lee photomontage series.

Gah. I am so behind the times. Science Tuesday of the New York Times, that is. But thanks to the web you can still read about the wonders of Lunar Seismology, feauturing my own amiga Renee Bulow! Her work is also mentioned in Discover, and she won the Outstanding Student Paper Award for Planetary Sciences at the AGU conference. From Kenneth Chang's article in the Times:

Nearly identical squiggles emerged from the Moon seismographs over and over, indicating that certain parts of the Moon's interior broke repeatedly in the same way, almost like someone cracking his knuckles. Dr. Nakamura and other scientists counted 108 of these regions, which they called nests. The rate of moonquakes seemed to ebb and flow on every 27 days, the time it takes the Moon to circle the Earth, suggesting that they were caused by the pull of tidal forces.

A wonderful demonstration of how every force has an equal and opposite force--and smaller objects get more acceleration from the same force. We just have tides. The moon has quakes!

I've kind of been staying away from Gannongate because it is so very sordid: I think pretty much everything you need to know is at Americablog, and I warn you that, even censored, the page is a little racy. To summarize: He was discovered thanks to an improbably sycophantic question he asked the President during a televised press conference:
Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock-solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?
Blogger investigations, now closely followed by newspaper investigations, have revealed that he was regularly given daypasses and called upon in White House Press conferences despite being employed by a new, little known, & partisan online news service. Then it turned out Jeff Gannon is a psuedonym, he's really called James Guckert, and he seems to be connected with/featured on a whole lot of very racy escort sites--which apparenlty raises the possibility of blackmail being involved.

The problem is this is all so tangled and mucky, I'm not sure what the legal issues actually are anymore. Americablog is probably your best bet for keeping track. The reason why people are pissed--the principle of the thing--however, is more obvious. This is an administration that has been deeply unfriendly to the press in any real sense. (Giving people nicnames is not a sign of friendship.) Its lack of transparency is mindboggling. A simple example: try to figure out what the structure of the National Security Council is . A simple search (Google [national security council]) lands you on its page: and the only links are to press releases, speeches, a brief historical overview, the biography of the National Security Advisor, and three documents. No list of offices or responsibilities at all. In fact, if you Google [national security staff] the first official site you get is a national archive reproduction of the Clinton White House National Security Council webpage, complete with a detailed list of all the major offices, and biographies of the two deputy advisors.

So this is White House that doesn't want to disclose simple information about its staff, but does want to coddle a reporter with no experience and a negligible readership. The Administration doesn't view the press as agents of one of the oldest and most fundamental principles of democracy--transparency and accountability. Instead it sees the press as either a tool or an enemy. George Bush doesn't want the people to be informed. He just wants them to be sheep.

UPDATE: Hee hee. Watch the Daily Show. Hits all the right points and then some.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
SouthPark Meets Current Events, Part II.

From Armchair Generalist--a unique patch for soldiers.
The Town Square in Syria & Lebanon

Bush is telling Syria to quit Lebanon. What seems key to me is that the Lebanese opposition is also telling Syria to quit Lebanon. Quite loudly. From a Reuter's article by Nadim Ladki:
"The day will come when we will get brooms and sweep away this dirt, the criminal authority, the terrorist authority," Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told
reporters at Hariri's house. "This day will come soon and all of the Lebanese people will rise and send them to hell." . . . Lebanese newspapers said Wednesday's scenes of grief and anger among more than 150,000 mourners in the streets of Beirut amounted to a national referendum against Syria's military and political influence over its smaller neighbor.
Let's assume Bush is serious about his endorsement of Natan Sharansky's Town Square Test ("Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?"--Condi Rice's summary at her confirmation hearings). Then news of such vigils, protests, and press conferences is important data. Really, Syria should leave Lebanon, regardless of whether or not it turns out to be responsible for Hariri's assasination. (Remember, there's no proven connection yet except proximity.) But the fact that the Lebanese can make their own loud and willful case for that should give anyone else pause before stepping in.

Tangentially: I'm not completely sure what I think of the Town Square Test. I think it's a good opening metric for most societies--especially most old world countries where a) democracy is fairly new and b) there are probably plenty of Town Squares. But it's possible to envision a society which has free speech but is still oppressive. There are other ways to oppress people besides making them shut up. It's just that not letting them talk is so very awful that it's a clear and immediately repulsive kind of oppression.

Also, a subtle, clever way to get around the Town Square test is to get rid of the Town Square. If there is no central, visible way to get out there and shout--if no one can hear you anyway--then why not let everyone have that freedom? But these are much more subtle issues than those facing most of the world. We Americans might want to ponder them a little more.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Newsbot Coincidences

Just glancing at Google News, I noticed that the top headlines in both the main headline column and the side, narrower column, are about Circuit City. And apparently, they don't have anything to do with each other. The bigger headline is about a plane crash in Colorado, with no survivors. The plane seems to have been owned or registered by Circuit City, and had some employees on board, but no "company officers." I guess they have to say that to forestall a stock panic.
Something they might be worried about now, since the smaller headline is about a $3.25 Billion takeover bid. I hadn't realized that public companies could go private.

I wonder if it's really just pure coincidence or if financial websites were keyed up to look for Circuit City news by the smaller headline, leading to prominent linking to the crash story, leading to Google's newsbot bumping up both.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Blogger Trouble

I'm having a little bit of mysterious blogger trouble, where edits to posts I'm working on don't "take", or posts get eaten. Please let me know if you find broken links or see other oddities. Thanks for your patience!
Syria: Oh Boy

Is this a case of here-we-go-again? The news today, of course, is about the bombing in Syria that killed the former Prime Minister of Lebanon--who was potentially going to make a comeback, after resigning in October to protest Syrian meddling, and joining the opposition to protest the 14,000 odd Syrian troops in Lebanon. From Slate's Today's Papers:
"It's almost too easy to accuse Syria," one Lebanon-watcher told the Journal.
"Don't forget—this comes at a time when Syria desperately tries to engage the U.S. on issues like Iraq, to divert attention from its presence in Lebanon."
A "senior State Department official" told the NY Times it doesn't matter: "We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure. Even though there's no evidence to link it to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilized."
Could it be Al Qaeda, trying to raise America's easily raised hackles? It just doesn't seem like it should be the fairly wily Syria. Why tickle Bush's tail when he's already so eager to pounce? The Administration has withdrawn the American ambassador to Syria. Matthew Yglesias neatly summed up why not everyone will be pleased with America trumpetting for aggressive punishment. Only last week The Daily Show inaugurated the Mess O' Persia segment--do they have to make a Mess O'Syria segment now too?

I remember when the older Assad died and his son came to power, while I was in college. It was around the same time that the Kings of Jordan and Morocco died, and their sons were crowned---people were calling it a potential renaissance of reform. At best, it seems the Kings of Jordan and Morocco have held back the tide of fundamentalism. I read a lot less about Syria, but on Saturday Laura Rozen at War and Piece presciently pointed to a New York Times profile of a liberal Syrian activist:
Even so, the liberals seem to be gathering a little momentum. Recently, intellectuals from Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia petitioned the United Nations for a tribunal to prosecute both terrorists and the religious figures who incite violence. In Egypt, two new publications, Nahdet Misr and Al Masry Al Youm, fault the region's leaders and clerics alike for keeping Arabs from joining the modern world. The Iraqi election posed a stark challenge to regional autocrats. While Abdulhamid harbors mixed feelings about the United States' decision to invade Iraq, he says he believes that the American presence in the region is vital to the prospects for reform. ''We are an important part of the world,'' he says, ''and our inability to produce change on our own terms invites people in. The world is not going to wait for us.''

Well, let's see if the world can give Abdulhamid a little more time to do his work. Some resources for Syria watching: Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma's blog Syria Comment, Abdulhamid's Tharwa Project, and the official news service.
Monday, February 14, 2005
Kyu Test

Envision these colors: The off-whites of canvas and wall and Japanese paper, black, and some natural wood tones. The colors of Aikido and my Dojo and my Sempai and Kohai. (Well, their gis and hakamas really; they themselves come in all of the usual human colors. Add those in for good measure). Keep these colors in mind. Click the Timestamp to read why. (Rest of the post)

Dedicated readers of the blog might remember that I somewhat casually started taking the beginner's class back in early June of last year. My friend Scott talked me and Emily into trying it out, and it was a bit of a lark, inspired by his enthusiasm as much as any native interest I had in martial arts. Partially because of this very blog, I took an increasingly serious interest in it over the course of the summer, and the blog often seemed like Aikidoblog. I was immediately amazed by the mysterious tumbling and falling, relentlessly compared to my experience as a Bharat Natyam dancer, and watched a student become a black belt. Oddly enough, it's after I stopped blogging about it regularly that I really became a more involved student, with a regular membership and at least biweekly visits most of the time. By the time the holiday party roled around, I had snagged some new close friends and a sense of community. So when I came back from Japan, two weeks ago, walked into the Dojo and saw my name on the bulletin board as up for the 6th Kyu* with two weeks to prepare, I was both terrified and touched. I still have a lot of trouble with the forward rolls that first so amazed me--they're significantly less mysterious, but terribly difficult for me.

I didn't feel ready for the test, but my name on the board served as a challenge, a vote of confidence, and a dose of psychic adrenaline. The last two weeks have seen a drastic increase in my training. I got Jacob to be my Uke--a senior student, or Sempai, to practice with me before hand, and receive my techniques during the test. He patiently and cheerfully egged me on in my rolls and coaxed loud kiais out of my strikes. He's also extremely tall which forced me to really work on my techniques. Sara was going to be my Uke, until she realized she'd be out of town, but before that she worked on my rolls with me after every class. There are a bunch of students up for kyu tests later this week, which really added to the air of intensity and preparation. Josh, an extremely helpful yudansha I haven't gotten to train with in a long time, was up for his second Dan on Saturday, and his renewed presence added a level of intensity and another expert to grill. I went to every class I could possibly make it to, even a Saturday morning class. Last Saturday we had a special class for Josh's Dan test, with lots of Yudansha, and time for a few rolls afterwards. I actually got to train with Peter, who's usually an instructor! Josh's test went wonderfully, of course. I don't think there has been a single adult training in the Dojo at the same time I've been in the Dojo who didn't at some point train with me, watch and point things out for me, or at least heartily encourage me. Even former students who came back just to see Josh's Dan test took some time out from their reunions to watch me roll and give me feedback.

And it all led up to tonight, my 6th Kyu test. Earlier, when Scott asked if I was ready, I said I was in as much as I wasn't ready to quit. My forward rolls--still not so great. I would have to do them with everyone watching. It was pouring rain and I had been hiking around town for much of the day so I was already sore. My gi managed to rip in the knee just in time for the test. It's been a long weekend. I was pretty nervous.

When I got to the Dojo, pinned on the door was a note of encouragement from Yudansha and Kids Class Instructors Lars Erik and Martha--they had to chaperone a dance, but they would be thinking of me. Right before the test Sara gave me a big hug and told me that when I went up I would look out and see my fellow students sitting there and watching, and they would all be sending me vibes of love and good wishes and encouragement, willing for me to succeed. Well, if nothing else hers alone would probably do the trick! I nodded, I didn't really understand. After a long class during which I felt increasingly awkwrd, the instructors, Peter and Alberta, lined us all up and then called me out. Jacob and I "stepped" forward from the line to knee-walk to the front, bow to the Shomen, bow to them, and bow to each other. Jacob flashed me a big, bright, encouraging smile. I didn't breathe that well. I didn't get my feet over my head that well. I lost my balance a couple times. I got confused at one point between the technique I was demonstrating and a subtle variation we'd been practicing in class earlier in the evening. I was totally nervous and terrified of forgetting to bow properly. But boy, did I feel the love. I certainly couldn't focus enough on the line of students watching to make out their individual faces--they were just one blurry line of gi's and heads and affection.

You might recall my earlier Valentine's Day post about how love comes in all colors, not just red and pink. I hoped you'd have a good Valentine's Day, regardless of what color you were on. Tonight I found I was on a new set of colors--the ones I asked you to keep in mind at the beginning of this post. I hope you had as lovely an evening as I did.

p.s. Oh yeah--I passed.

* Aikido, like most Japanese martial arts, the Game of Go, and other pursuits, uses a system of Kyus and Dans to rank. You start with a high Kyu number--at my Dojo the first ranked Kyu is 6; I suppose ostensibly before your 6th Kyu test you are 7th Kyu. In the Game of Go it starts around 30 or 29. As you get more advanced, your kyu ranking goes down. 1st kyu is the highest kyu ranking. From 1st Kyu there is a switch over to Dans, which go up in number--first Dan (Shodan) being the lowest, second Dan (Nidan) being higher, etc. I'm not sure what the how high Aikido goes. Dan ranking are black belts in the martial arts, and in Aikido people with Dan ranking wear billowing black pants, or hakama, over their regular white gi uniforms, and are called Yudansha.
Blog Roll: To The Teeth on Providing Healthcare for the Poor:

On Friday, Andru Ziwasimon of To The Teeth posted some simple arithmetic demonstrating the economics of his no-health-insurance clinic in Albuquerque. Ziwasimon doesn't take insurance, but charges about $25 per visit and treatment and $10 or so for lab supplies used. By cutting out malpractice coverage, using donated medical equipment, and charging cost for the supplies, Ziwasimon appears to be making ends meet. He also moonlights as an emergency room Doctor on the weekend--because, of course, medical school loans have to be paid. Ziwasimon also details some community struggles with the local public hospital.

The local publication, The Alibi, featured Ziwasimon's clinic in a December article by Tim McGivern, who wrote a followup the next week:
Since our piece on Dr. Andru Ziwasimon, Alma Olivas and Sylvia Ledesma appeared last week, I've received a steady flow of emails and phone calls from people wanting to learn more about the South Valley health clinic these folks founded in September. Although all other organizations mentioned in our “Heroes of 2004” feature included contact info, the number for Just Healthcare was conspicuously absent. . . . Who new that I'd receive calls from people with an eye infection, toe inflammation or colic-stricken baby wanting to make an appointment?The story further illuminates the point already touched upon in the article—that our American health care system is irrational and incompetent when it comes to offering primary care to the people that need it the most. We'll try to follow-up on the clinic's work in the next few months or more info. . . .Meanwhile, I felt sorry as hell listening to a crying baby in the background, as a young woman asked me if I could help her get an appointment.
Looking forward to reading more about the clinic as it grows. In the meantime there's an interesting discussion over at Matthew Yglesias's blog, based on his slightly fuzzy ruminations about the potential affect of importing a large quantity of Indian doctors. Tweaking Supply and Demand only works as long as Doctors aren't prescribing as much care as their patients can pay for.
What Day Is It?

I went to a Valentine's protest party on Saturday night, but really, I'm not a Valentine's Day hater. Despite the work of people like The Underminer. I was just part of a couple's ransom to get into the party and onto the dance floor--and a sweet dance floor it was.

I don't recall Valentine's Day in Kindergarten, which is odder than it might seem, since I have a sharp memory for such things. My neighborhood was beeing buried in snow at the time, so it's possible we just had other concerns. I do distinctly recall Valentine's Day in 1st grade. I was a new kid, and I had somehow missed the teacher's instructions. A pouty, rheumy-eyed classmate with long corn-silk hair regarded me with utter bewilderment and exasperation. She was all decked out in a red sweater with little white hearts and red corduroy pants. "It's Valentine's Day. You're supposed to wear red. Red! Or maybe pink. You are wearing Blue! Blue. Don't you like love??" I'm not sure what my witty comeback was, but I wish it was something like, "Love comes in all colors, duh! Besides, when I grow up, I'm going to Berkeley. Go Bears!"

Not sure what the emphasis on specifically wearing red was for, it seems a little intense for first graders. I guess it was the 80s. But yes, love comes in all kinds of colors. Hope you all have a great day, regardless of what color you're on right now.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Numa Numa Iei!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you are in luck! I link to all the Numa Numa needs you never knew you had, right here. But you need sound on your computer. If you're at work, I recommend you use headphones. I don't want to get you fired. But you definitely need sound. If you don't have sound, I'm sorry, no Numa Numa for you. You miss out on a major cultural moment of the early 21st century. You will also need the Macromedia Flash Player for your browser.

Ranajit Dam sent me the original link, with the subject-line of "stop what you're doing and watch this!!!".

The original version, and versions without the extra pictures, one subtitled and one not subtitled, are all available here, wrapped up in one SWF file that takes a while to load. The song is apparently a smash hit by a Romanian boy-band that's called O-Zone, and Fobiopatel (my main source) has links to their original video, which itself seems rather anime influenced. The newly famous vide seems to be the work of one Gman250. And here are the lyrics, in both Romanian and English. Just for kicks, the Technorati index of "numa numa". Over 400 blog mentions already.

I wish everyone could have this much fun listening to music, always.

As a side note, the first page of lyrics I found was not labelled as being in Romanian. I was trying to figure out what language they were in, so I could figure out what translator to run them through. Part of it seemed latinate, but part of it seemed more Eastern European. When I found out, I cracked up, laughing at myself. Of course! Once on an airplane ride I was totally discombobulated by the books piled up between me and the girl next to me--they almost looked like they were in Latin. . .I tried hard to read it. . .but. . .was it just such late medieval Latin that my Republican Prose training was useless? Had I already forgotten so much Latin? I mentally ticked off the countries of Western Europe. . .didn't look like French, Italian, Spanish, or even Portugese. . . Or. . .or. . .what? Finally she took pity on me, and explained that she was Romanian. Get it? Romanian. She read a little bit of it to me, and it sounded just beautiful. The best of both worlds, really. The easily-forgotten Eastern Land of Romance reminded me of one of my favorite childhood novels: The Dancing Bear, by Peter Dickinson. Worth a read at any age.
Friday, February 11, 2005
Koranic Duels Reform Terrorists?

Go read this article now! Right now! By James Brandon at the Christian Science Monitor!

SANAA, YEMEN – When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.
Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.
"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."
The prisoners eagerly agreed.
Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Sebastian Holsclaw.
Democratic Leadership

As you probably know, Howard Dean will almost definitely be elected the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, a position that has traditionally been reserved for fundraisers, not former and potential candidates. The outgoing chairman, Terry McAuliffe, raised a record amount of money for the Democrats--and lost a rather large number of campaigns. Dean has a pretty good record as a fund raiser, but the real question is--what else will he do with the job?

Josh Marshall links to an Ed Kilgore blogpost on the matter. Kilgore is the unofficial blogger for the Democratic Leadership Council--an organization famous for championing "centrist" Democratic ideas, and for vociferously opposing Dean during last year's primaries. Much of the analysis I've read has been pitting Dean against a wholely perceived dichotomy between his idealistic appeal and the practical duties of the DNC chairman. Kilgore writes:
Above all, the changing of the guard at the DNC should be an occasion for Democrats to remind themselves they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Yes, we need an energized activist base, but we also need to expand that base into hostile or indifferent territory until we get a majority. Yes, we need more (and more broad-based) money and better mechanics, but we also need a winning message. And yes, we need to reform the party, but that won't matter if we don't stand as a party for reform ideas which address the weaknesses (above all on
national security, values and culture, and the role of government) that unnecessarily keep voters from supporting our candidates--ideas which enable us
to expose the inner rot of the Republican ascendancy.[
Emphasis mine.]

It's a little convoluted, but basically Kilgore is saying--"screw the dichotomy." I can sign onto that.

Kilgore also discusses the fact that the DNC, as a mainly fundraising organization, doesn't really seem connected to Dean's porgressive, policy-oriented goals of revitalizing Democratic activism, and calls the DNC a "pretty much an empty fortress." The blogpost is essentially serving as Kilgore shrugging his shoulders and saying he's not too worried about Dean changing the Democratic party too fast, because all he can do sitting in the DNC Chair is raise money anyway. "The Doctor's campaign for the party chairmanship focused on the need to broaden the party's financial base, tap the activist energy so evident in 2004, and rebuild threadbare state party infrastructures nationwide."[Emphasis mine] Therein lies the key to Dean's strategy. As we painfully learned last fall, Get-Out-The-Vote cannot be built up months before the next election. It has to be an ongoing, constant operation, and that can only work with vital, states-level party organization. The DNC can coordinate that.

I am impressed that I am still getting email from John Kerry. He waited a while, which was good, but the fact that they're keeping their electronic infrastructure, built up for the campaign, alive and kicking seems like a healthy sign of fighting spirit to me.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
The Chilean Blood Shortage

Must be really, really bad: according to a recent Ananova piece, Talca Regional Hospital makes visitors donate blood before they're allowed to visit their sickly friends. But the hospital claims the policy is 'normal' and is practised by many hospitals. A spokesman said: "We do this because we don't have enough blood to satisfy the demand." I guess that's one way to do it. I just hope they screen it properly afterwards.
Remember, we can always use some voluntary, qualified blood donors over here.

Gratuitiously cute link to the musings of three-year-old Zoe over at John & Belle Have A Blog: she names some Tibetan demons (comic book time!), ponders death, and declares her selfhood. The pictures of the demons are pretty cool.

I think it's kind of funny that John and Belle use pulp fiction covers to represent themselves, but a real photo to represent Zoe. I wonder if they could even find an appropriate analog for her. Here's another interesting conversation. Right now, I'm definitely on Zoe's side in this one.

That reminds me, a belated Happy Chinese New Year to everyone.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Happy Birthday, Neil Gaiman's Blog!

Today is the fourth birthday of Neil Gaiman's Journal.
Happy Birthday to this blog, four years old today. It can walk, talk, it
knows its alphabet and it's probably prone to staring intently at people before
making peculiarly personal remarks of the "Why've you got such a funny nose?"
It's pretty much the blog that got me started on reading blogs, the first one I regularly kept track of, and a partial inspiration for my own humble attempts. It's a fun place, and he's even posted two of my FAQ submissions over the years. In general, because of his slightly. . .eccentric. . . .readership, it's often brimming with terribly fun and weird links.

When I got to attend a Gaiman signingon the day The Endless launched in New York last fall, I told him how the difference between his blogging voice and more official writing voice helped convince me that blogging wouldn't be so scary. Yes, he agreed, just be yourself. He's a pretty cool guy, and I look forward to reading many, many years more of it.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Drug War: 20 Years for Selling Two Pills of Oxycontin

Last week, 27-year old Travis Johnson of Warsaw Indiana was sentenced to 20 years in prison for selling two pills of Oxycontin to an informant, according to this article by Jen Gibson of the local Times-Union. The steep sentence seems to have been prompted by "aggravating circumstances." All the cited ones have to do with drugs: "prior convictions for possession of marijuana and cocaine, possession of controlled substances and other charges. "

20 years is a long time. 20 years ago the Internet's domain name system was brand new, Mikhail Gorbachev wasn't yet the leader of the Soviet Union, and the blood supply wasn't yet being tested for the HIV virus. A zygote becomes an adult in 20 years, with time to spare. 20 years is 80% of the sentence given to Alice Sebold's rapist. 20 years is more life than some of the soldiers dying in Iraq have seen.

Prescription drugs should be prescription drugs. I'm sure Oxycontin can be dangerous. But 20 years is a long time.

I figured this out a long time ago, and even demonstrated it to my parents with Photoshop. I couldn't decide if it was so trivial that it was obvious, or if it was worth telling people about--but I was so jaded at the timeI didn't feel particularly secure advertising my (purely demonstrative and very short-lived) Photoshop escapade. But now that Slate's pointed out that the Emperoror's nekkid--yeah, it's a very silly system. I mean, we have bar code readers at my neighborhood grocery store. I'm not sure why major airports can't have them at the security lineup.
A Really Stupid Thing To Miss About New York

Today was an absolutely glorious day---despite an exhausting schedule, running around from the early morning until a couple hours ago, I got continuously recharged every time I walked outside and saw the almost blindingly blue sky and almost manically blossoming oxalis everywhere. I hope I get a chance to photograph some of it in the next few days--it's such a stunning, delicious, happy weed. So I'm really glad I'm here right now, and not dealing with Manhattan's last lurch through winter. Nevertheless, the day the President's FY06 budget came out, there are a few things I miss about New York. Some are less obvious than others.

For example, last year I had an impossibly cheap subscription to the ridiculously expensive Wall Street Journal, part of some kind of semi-accidental student deal. Despite the often infuriating editorial page, I actually love the Journal--the old school line illustrations, the wacky front page trend article, and clear cut, nitty-gritty, concrete articles about the kind of geeky stuff I love reading about: trade policy, military budgets, medical law, you name it. As the semester wore on, however, reading anything I didn't absolutely have to read became almost physically painful, and trade policy couldn't compete with the mountains of locally angled New York news I was trying to keep up with. Mountains of Journals in the plastic bags accumulated in my room while I found myself having to buy copies of the Daily News and even the Post at news stands. When I went home for winter vacation, my beloved ponderosa pines seemed to regard me accusingly in the mist. I axed the subscription with the new year.

And then I discovered that you can very often pick up a copy of the Journal on the subway system. Many people in my building also subscribed and never read their subscription, and set them outside a few days later. (This was also more convenient to my increasingly blog-influenced reading cycle anyway--I'm usually much more interested in journalism from two days ago than yesterday's news.). I also found that the J-school's subscription to Dow Jones's Factiva electronic indexing service was easy to use and tree-friendly. I could easily get my WSJ-fix without expending anymore cash, or accumulating my own piles of paper to deal with.

None of those things are true now. I'm lucky if I can get an unmolested front section of the San Francisco Chronicle on Bart, and I don't think I've ever seen a Wall Street Journal on the train. There is no building to go scouting around piles of papers for, and I've never seen it on any of the block's driveways. And really, the most horrible thing about graduating--the thing that kills me at least once a day--is not having such perfect library privilages, both physical and electronic.

I've pined for about five WSJ articles in the last seven days. The $79 online subscription fee is lookin' mighty reasonable now, and I have to give them props for making a paperless subscription an option. Sigh. Why can't it all just be free??

Monday, February 07, 2005
Memoirs of a Geisha

I thought the headline of thisthis New York Times article about the upcoming film version of Memoirs of a Geisha was a bit misleading. "Memoirs of a Chinese-American Geisha" almost implies that the title actress is Chinese American, when she is not--in the starring role is the PRC's Zhang Ziyi, of Crouching Tiger, Hero, and Flying Daggers fame. It doesn't really matter, except that would have been rather remarkably odd in its own right; instead the title refers to the fact that this is a story written by Americans and produced and directed by Americans, starring mostly Chinese stars, about the Japanese Geisha culture before and during the War.

I was taken aback by the still the Times published--Zhang Ziyi is almost unrecognizable in profile. The difference is particularly notable since, in the last film I saw of hers, The House of Flying Daggers, she basically opens up as an ancient Chinese version of a Geisha. So the difference isn't the fact that she's actually smiling and graceful, but that she's caked in white make-up. It will be interesting to see her in a movie where she doesn't try to kill anyone. Unless they changed the story considerably to better suit her repertoire.

Friday, February 04, 2005

In light of my citation of Timothy Noah's recent column about awareness wristbands, Scott sent me a link to another example of awareness wristbands backfiring: Apparently an antibullying wristband in England has caused a wave of bullying--bullies assuming that those wearing the wrist bands are afraid of being bullied and are, therefore, perfect targets. Perhaps I'm too horribly cynical, but the fact that the people who created this campaign are amazed at this result indicates to me that perhaps different people ought to be in charge of curbing bullying.
Happiness and Robots: Two Great Things That Go Great Together

Seaching for fun? Searching for happiness? Clearly you haven't gotten yourself a Sony QRIO (pronounced Curio), which unambitiously aims to be "an entertainment robot that lives with you, makes life fun, makes you happy." QRIO is both physically and intellectually innovative. (Wait, what's the adjective/adverb for having to do with computation and AI when applied to robots? Intellectual? Cognitive? Mental? Those all sound horribly wrong. We need a new word, people!) QRIO can walk, dance, kick balls, adapt its stance to various surfaces, and--apaprently--even do Tai Chi. (Quicktime Video.) Actually, considering its seemingly misplaced hara, or center, I'd be most impressed if it could do Aikido--and apparently one of its most touted features is knowing when to fall, and how:
When QRIO determines that its actions will not prevent a fall, it instinctively sticks out its arms, swivels its hips, and assumes an impact position. At the same time, the control system instantaneously commands the servos in the joint actuators to relax slightly. In this way it lessens the shock of the fall, enabling it to survive unscathed.
Equally impressive are the AI claims:
QRIO can have an entertaining conversation with you. It analyzes the words you speak using its voice recognition technology, and responds in its own words. It will ask what sort of things you like and remember them, getting to know you better all the time.
Actually, they aren't commercially available and at a recent demonstration at Carnegie Mellon University, Sony CEO Hideki Komiyama refused to quote a price range or put timetag on its availability, and for now the Robot functions mainly as a goodwill ambassador for the company. From QRIO's Flash homepage: "Sony decided to create a 'partner' that talks to you, plays with you, encourages you. . .For example Qrio uses body language and words to create a feeling of intimacy." Sounds like Komiyama and the Sony execs wants to keep all the partnership and intimacy for themselves!

American robotics companies have been focusing on adding functionality and autonomy to practical tools in fields like surgery and manufacturing; Sony, on the other hand, is not the only Japanese company working on humanoids--according to Byron Spice's Post Gazette article, so are Honda and Kawada. One reason for the difference, Komiyama said, is simply that "the Japanese people like this type of thing." This reminded me of a recent New Yorker article my mother showed me when I got back from Japan, a long profile of Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki. Margaret Talbot wrote: "One reason the Japanese are so good at this kind of thing is that many adults in Japan are curiously attuned to cuteness. Even in a cosmopolitan city like Tokyo, kawaii--or "cute" culture--is everywhere. . ." * I should have some minor photographic examples of this in a little bit. In the mean time a photo of me playing with Sony's mewling puppy robots at the Sony building in Tokyo's Ginza district.

Saheli playing with ABIO puppy Robots in the Sony Store in Tokyo's Ginza District
Link from Ruchira.

*A little later in the Talbot article: Althought much of Japan's kid-oriented anime has been exported to the U.S., a great deal more--such as "Anpanman," a hugely popular series about a bean-paste-stuffed bread roll--has not.(A fan Web site notes,"To a non-Japanese person, the concept of a living bread superman who fights giant germs and feeds the hungry with pieces of his head may seem bizarre.")
Thursday, February 03, 2005
What Are They Going To Be Selling In Iraqi Flea Markets Five Years From Now?

So apparently in Bosnia, about ten years ago, they were selling hand grenades in flea markets to German tourists. Well, to one particularly dumb tourist. I guess they had to do what they could to revitalize their economy and get rid of the excessive arms build up, and I can think of worse people to sell a hand-grenade to, but still.

Note to self: if someone shows me a hand grenade they bought in a former war zone, I will pretend I think it's real even if I don't actually think it's real. I will not, in any way, incite him to demonstrate its veracity to me.

Considering he's not the sharpest tack in the box, and considering the ready supply of beer in Frankfurt, it's amazing it took ten years for him to get drunk enough to use the thing. Luckily, it appears that no one was hurt.
Army Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith

Intel-Dump links to and extensively quotes a St. Petersburg Times article about the death of Sgt. Smith, and the recent decision to posthumously award him the extremely rare Medal of Honor.
Smith could have justifiably ordered his men to withdraw. Lt. Col. Smith believes Sgt. Smith rejected that option, thinking that abandoning the courtyard would jeopardize about 100 GIs outside - including medics at an aid station.
Sgt. Smith manned a 50-caliber machine gun atop an abandoned armored personnel carrier and fought off the Iraqis, going through several boxes of ammunition fed to him by 21-year-old Pvt. Michael Seaman. As the battle wound down, Smith was hit in the head. He died before he could be evacuated from the scene. He was 33. . .Sgt. Matthew Keller was one of the men who fought with Smith in the courtyard. "He put himself in front of his soldiers that day and we survived because of his actions," Keller said Tuesday from Fort Stewart in Georgia. "He was thinking my men are in trouble and I'm going to do what is necessary to help them. He didn't care about his own safety."
That's intense. The St. Petersburg Times had already created an impressive new media site devoted to Smith's life and final battle: a traditional prose narrative of the battle and Smith's life, based on interviews with Smith's soldiers, an animated slideshow schematic that makes the sequence of battle events much clearer, and several photo galleries and audio clips about the Seargent, his soldiers, and his family. To summarize the accounts: it seems he was a party boy who settled down and became a deeply serious family man after the first Gulf War; he trained and disciplined his soldiers mercilessly, relentless about getting them ready for war, which he had known and they had not. A quote from his last, unsent, letter to his parents:
There are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane. It doesn't matter how I come home because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home.
Regardless of your opinions on the war, I think it behooves all citizens of the Republic to give a little time and attention to stories like these. Respectful time and attention. I don't think anyone who isn't actually fighting has the perogative the whoop it up and suck an adrenaline high out of these deeply impressive tales of toughness. And no one--not even the soldiers themselves, and certainly not the President--has the right to use this bravery to demand silence from dissenters. For the advocates of war, be relieved and grateful that you have such brave and dedicated men to do your bidding and even advocate alongside you. But if you want to prevent war, this kind of immersive media might help you get a better understanding of your toughest opponents while providing inspiration. It's quite an inspiration to keep war at bay, the wish that the next Sgt. Smith might also train his soldiers mercilessly--and needlessly.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Sometimes, Your Blood Just Boils

I can't really think of a clever dismissal or arch comment to make about this. It just makes me mad. It seems that a stooge for the White House has been systematically railroading White House press conferences for a while now. What the hell is wrong with this country? What has happened to us?
Aneurysm courtesy of Nick.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
A Cracking Voice

There's a particular genre of opinion column that either must have a name, or should have one. It's a rant against some sort of sociopolitical or sociocultural phenomena, a contemptuous dissection of why the new trend represents fuzzy or hypocritical thinking, how it is not what it appears to be, etc. . It's an excessive debunking of the conventional wisdom that is one of journalists' particular rights. It requires a biting wit and an ability to make fun of people even if they're being earnest, but especially if they're merely pretending to be earnest. It's the bread and butter of the backpages of magazines like Time & Newsweek, and a speciality of Slate. It's designed to either get you nodding in furious agreement, part of a writer-reader conspiracy of self-satisfied superiority, or work you into an inarticulate rage, furious but unable to respond. It's rare that it leaves you with tears in your eyes.

But I have just read exactly one such column, Timothy Noah's on Slate, and I think it's a remarkable example of how far Slate has gone in pushing the envelope on personalizing its writers' voices and capitalizing on their emotions. I feel that it would be disrespectful to steal Timothy Noah's mournful thunder, so you'll just have to go look at it. Suffice it to say I found the conclusion to his most recent column to be heart-seizing even though I saw it coming. I read Slate pretty often and knew of the recent events of his life. I had even thought about sending him a note, just because I feel like I know and like him (and many of his colleagues at Slate)-- not just because I enjoy their writing so much, but also because they allow themselves into it a little more often than conventional writers. You can almost hear their actual voices in their writing, and therefore it's no wonder that sometimes those voices crack. I finally decided sending a note would be kind of ridiculous, since that's the only reason I had to send the note.

But it's a remarkable person who can inspire a pining so strong that its secondary shockwave, transmitted by a few fairly ordinary lines of text on an electric display, elicits a tear in a person on the other side of a continent, someone who is otherwise completely disconnected from the source. Whatever else one does with one's life, being that kind of person seems like a fairly decent goal.
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
I find that a lot of people don't know about permalinks. When you want to have someone read a specific blog entry, then you should find that blog entry's permalink, click on that, and send them the resulting browser address. Otherwise they will just be sent to the blog in general, and between your reading the blog entry and your correspondent's or audience's getting to it, a whole slew of material may have pushed the entry off the front page. In this blog, the permalinks are the timestamp at the end of the entry. (Feel free to frequently send your friends and family permalinks from my blog!)

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