Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
 
Blog Day, Part II

3108 This!

I wanted to post more blogs today, but I got a late start on the whole project. One more. Ethan Zuckerman, who pretty much personifies the whole spirit of BlogDay, is a friend of Colin's, so indirectly I heard about BlogDay from him. (The submoral of this story is that the danger of RSS readers is you dont always notice additions to the side template.) A while I ago I got a link to a great Jordanian blog from Ethan that I copied away and then lost. For Blog Day I have found it: 360East, Ahmad Humeid's blog and podcast. Humeid has all kinds of great stuff about the Middle East (see this post on the Palestinian Lyrical Front), life in Jordan (t-shirt sales at a bazaar, or a smoky lasered punk Rai show in Amman), and ordinariy charming bloggery--help him find his lost IPod shuffle in Frankfurt!

Technorati tag:
 
 
Blog Day

3108 This!
Colin brought Blog Day (or 3108 day) to my attention yesterday, just in time for me to participate. The idea is to take the day to highlight five new blogs you plan to start reading.

I may do more, but for now five blogs pulled from the blog-rolls of people already on my blog-roll:

By the Bayou
: I got this from Maitri's Vatul Blog, which has some poignant coverage of her evacuation, explanations of and tracking of the devastation wrought on her city by Katrina. The Bayou name caught my attention, but John lives in Houston. He has some good blogging on the subject, too--like the planned evacuation of the Superdome refugees to the Houston Astrodome.

Red State Son: One Color in the Rainbow of Chaos: Saurabh of Rhinocrisy pointed this out in comments. Dennis Perrin is the author of "MR. MIKE: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue, The Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous" and "AMERICAN FAN: Sports Mania and the Culture That Feeds It." Here, for example, is an interesting take down of Hitchens' credibility on the subject of anti-Semitism. Politics, humor, life.

Brooke and Lian: In correspondence Zwichenzug pointed out that his friend Brooke has moved to my part of the country, and Lian is travelling in Ecuador. Brooke is an activist with Ebase (and says we should boycott Gallo), and Lian has found some amazing sand castles in Atacames. Labor, travels, and life.

The Becker-Posner Blog
: Or Dick and Becky as Geeky Chic 2.0 cheekily terms two venerable professors conversing about law and economics. Right now an interesting discussion of corruption.

Brad Plumer: A writer for Mother Jones in San Francisco, I got him from the Current.TV blog run by Robin Sloan. He finds an interesting tidbit about the discussion of the press in wartime from Hendrik Hertzberg's Politics.


(Technorati tag).
 
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
 
Neology

Yesterday Matt at Snarkmarket coined a new word: lipocrite. In neology solidarity I suggest you use it liberally. It shouldn't be hard--I'm sure we all have a not alittle bit of liopocrisy in our day. It got me thinking about what kind of neology is going on these days, and I did a quick Technocrati search. Its mostly course stuff: the disdainful epithet peckermullet, whose etymology I'd rather not consider, the descriptor douche hatcheries; the usage of greenlighting which caused my friend Cyrus so much trouble. The peckermullet people pointed out that Wikipedia doesn't seem to like neology. I did, however, stumble on a whole new snark-blog--Snarkhunting, the naming and branding blog. Good stuff, but sadly lonely. Hopefully some neoblogging will soon raise the quality and quantity of blogspheric neology.
 
Sunday, August 28, 2005
 
Not Getting The Concept of Freedom of Speech

Recap: Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Casey Sheehan, an American soldier who died in Iraq, and she or her associates have been camped out at Crawford, demanding a meeting with the President to request that we withdraw from Iraq. They call their set-up Camp Casey. Pro-War protestors have also camped out at Crawford, and they call their installment Camp Reality. From a Los Angeles Times article on the opposing Camps Casey and Reality at Crawford:
Mark Crowley, a sheet metal worker from San Ramon, Calif., stood with pro-Bush activists under a tent called "Camp Reality." Though surrounded by people wearing "I'm 4 W" pins and shirts, Crowley said he was a union member and a Democrat who did not vote for Bush or support the invasion of Iraq. His son, Kyle, was an 18-year-old Marine who died last year when his unarmored Humvee was ambushed — and Crowley objects to Sheehan. . . ."What she's doing is not right, and it's setting a dangerous precedent for our troops in the field," said Crowley, who joined several other parents in asking Sheehan's supporters to remove their children's names from small white crosses at the antiwar protest sites. [Emphasies mine.]
This is one of the milder things you hear coming out of Camp Reality, the pro-war protestors. It's far more worrisome to me than even the war itself. Let's repeat that again: What she's doing is not right. What does that mean exactly?

You could make an argument that what she's saying is not right. Christopher Hitchens makes a nasty, snarky, but essentially sound counterargument to Sheehan's demands, one that I basically agree with. Simply withdrawing now is neither pragmatic nor compassionate--neither good for America nor the right thing to do. We have to at least contain the mess we've made. I wish we hadn't made the mess in the first place, and I wish that, having made that mess, we had put different people in charge of cleaning it up, but that doesn't change the fact that simply leavng it would be both morally and practically disastrous. You can debate Ms. Sheehan on the merits of her request, and still stay well within the realm of the patriotic, decent American. You can decry and analyze the possibility that she might have said anti-Semitic things at some point, you can get angry if she implies she's speaking in the names of other people's dead children.

But as soon as someone sincerely says that what she's doing is wrong--that her very action of expressing an opinion is wrong, that her attempts to get media attention are wrong--that person is stepping out of patriotic, decent American territory. And of course they have the right to say that, but the rest of us have the right to call them out as misled and far more dangerous to America's well-being than any mere protestor. Now Mr. Crowley might very well have not been thinking of such distinctions, perhaps he's being misrepresented, and I'm sure he's normally a nice guy, but he's flat out wrong if he thinks it's dangerous to America to protest a war or its handling. Who wants an America where it's wrong to complain about your government? That wouldn't be the United States of America. That would be a pretty but unfortunate chunk of land between two oceans with a couple of outlying territories.

At its root, Crowley's (common) complaint is based on a nonsensical idea, symptomatic of a lack of critical thinking. Giving succor to our enemies? How are we giving succor to our enemies? Do you really think insurgents are hiding out in Iraqi shacks, reading up on Sheehan and deriving some kind of magical power from that reading which allows them to bomb more efficiently? Even articles on the subject from foreign publication like the Tehran Times and and Jordan's Ali Bawaba give plenty of quote-space to those who are pro-war, making it abundantly clear to their readers that the American state is not going to just get up and leave anytime soon. There is no evidence for a real, unimagined connection between protest and discussion and the well-being of our troops in the field. Simply saying a phenomena exists does not make it exist, you have to show us.

The real succor to our enemies stems from citizens lazily giving into mismanagement, and young Americans being raised to think so murkily about important matters.
 
Friday, August 26, 2005
 

Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam

Thought for the day: the whole universe is one family.

" I am victory, I am adventure, and I am the strength of the strong." -- Shri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, 10-36.


"May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified." -- Srimad Bhagavatam,5.18.27

Have a good day, and if you are so inclined, Happy Shri Krishna Janmastami!
 
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
 
Old Friend, New Friend

My Columbia buddy Rick Streicker was in town. We kicked off our somewhat businessy tour of Silicon Valley--and a daylong conversation about the future of media--appropriately enough. We stopped in at the San Francisco studios of the newly launched Current.tv, where we got to chill with a local friend of mine, Current's (and Snarkmarket's) blogger Robin Sloan. We closed the day equally appropriately by hanging out with local friend of Rick's, musician and software engineer Tim Perkis.

Wow, where to start. The video editing equipment brought up the topic of a film Tim is working on about the local sound-art/electronic music scene, Noisy People. That in turn brought up the topic of his own music. Tim put together his own degree-program in Vidoe and Computer Art--back in 1974. He came out to the Bay Area to go to art school, and has a list of musical performances extending back to 1978 and including several countries. His groups include Hub, the League of Automatic Music Composers, Rotodoti, the Natto Quartet, Fuzzybunny and All Tomorrow's Zombies.

I'll be frank and say I don't know a whole lot about sound-art, super modern electronic music, or edgy jazz and composition. I've got some John Zorn, some mildly abstract Joshua Redman, some trance, the Pi soundtrack, and that's about it. But it's been coming up socially fairly often, and things like surfing the hyperreal music archive, as well as the very recent death of Robert Moog have been making me want to check out this kind of stuff more and more.

Tim was kind enough to give me a couple of his CDs. I'm now listening to Motive, from Praemedia (originally from Artifact). So far, it's rhythmic, creepy and affecting--textured patterns of sound that lope and jog and even gallop, all the more suggestive for often being difficult to recognize or place. It's music to ponder the future with, in bits and pieces.

I was particularly intrigued by reading about his past project Rasamudra, a performance system at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1994. Rasa can mean mood or feeling in Sanskritic languages, and mudra can be meaningful hand gesture. It seems that Rasamudra teamed up two human performers and a sound-generating computer system. The computer generated sounds, to which the performers reacted--both by giving the computer reactive instructions and by communicating to each other with hand gestures, allowing the performers to also interact with each other. The classical Indian dance form I practice, Bharat Natyam, also uses mudras to communicate both meaning and pure design. (Indeed, illustrations of some of these mudras decorate the Rasamudra website.) Also, besides the traditional notion of music creating dance by inspiring and directing it, we have a strong notion of the dancer creating percussive music with his or her bell-bedecked, stomping feet. So I am just entranced by the notion of also creating music with my hand gestures. Goodness, if we had the ability to control harmonies with facial expressions and eye-movements, we could dance out entire abstract symphonies.

Amusingly enough, I hung out plenty at the Exploratorium around 1994. Tim doesn't live very far away from me, in a charming Berkeley neighbhorhood I've often examined from a Bart train zooming above, but never explored down below. It took Rick visiting from New York to find these things. So much to see right around town, like the dew drop on the stalk of rice two steps from the house.
 
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
 
Vancouver Aquarium

In Vancouver, we went to Stanley Park, and after being confounded by the parking ticket machine, we fled to the park's aquarium and grooved out on ecology. Here, for example is a fish in a display that shows you how sea creaturs manage to fill every nook and cranny of a reef:

nookandcrannyfish

Besides the obvious fish, the little calcified-shell tubes mostly hold somekind of weird tonguing creature that pumps in and out of its pocket and waves around feather tentacles, apparently sucking in plankton or crill or somesuch.

We actually had the most fun in an Amazon exhibition with the landlubbing creatures--the brilliant scarlet ibises were nesting and strutting:

scarletibis1

and this turtle blended in pretty well, and moved quite fast:

blendingturtle

I, however, did not blend in so well:

saheli2

You can see the flickr set here.
 
Monday, August 22, 2005
 
Next Year, Scotland

Anyone? Anyone? Perhaps we can bring a moose. Link from Fuzzytopia.
 
 

Fanning the Game

Yesterday afternoon I went to an Oakland A's game. That's A's as in Athletics, not grades, in case anyone was wondering like my 11-year old self. The national anthem caught me with a full left hand, cold soda in my right hand, and nowhere to put it down, so my heart was mildly chilled by the time it was over. But the air was warm without being grilling, the sky was bright and clear and striking blue, the sun dazzled but not too much, and red-winged blackbirds and yellow-flecked swallows swooped and dipped over the stadum. The field was a lovely patterned green, aching to be stared at sans sun glasses. Luckily I kept my glasses and jacket on because more than halfway throught the game the Scoreboard display system informed us that the UV rating for the day was VERY HIGH. "Now you tell us!," we griped, and further cowered beneath jackets and bandanas. But we were happy to see some sun after so much fog.

We left early, which was probably a good thing--exactly as we got up and made our away around the stadium The Kansas City Royals recovered from a 3-0, Oakland winning, seemingly done-deal in the 8th inning, and got to 4 runs before we even made it to the BART station. The Royals stuck it out to a 12th inning to win with 5. D'oh.

The Athletics are famous for their efficient, low-budget, very rational way of maintaining talent and playing ball. It's been detailed in Moneyball by Michael Lewis, and it's a fair guess that letting the former bond trader sit in on the A's scheming was a stroke of publicity genius for general manager Billy Beane. A number of my East Bay fellows have brought up the book's description of a rational, thrifty underdog team up when describing why they're fans. The result, however, is that if someone gets really good, the team sells them.

Scotto was saying how his fandom of certain players basically ends when they leave. He's really a fan of the team as an idea and an organization--how it's run, how it plays--and not as a collection of individual stars. He likes the combination of rational, statistical analysis, and (usually) winning underdog status. Later Scott's model of fandom struck me as a more accurate reflection of what professional sports are. These teams are franchises--companies-that provide a pretty cheap and gratifying product (the entertainment of winning). One can be fan of them much the same as one can be a fan of Google or Six Degrees Records or Mini-Coopers. But it seems fundamentally different from the idea of fandom I grew up with--supporting members of my community in their pursuit of athleticism and the fulfillment of talent much as they would support me in my pursuit of writing. I'm beginning to accept that that's really only a realistic model for school and amateur sports. But it's interesting that the professional version generates a lot more action, attention, money and glory than the amateur version.
 
Friday, August 19, 2005
 
Of Ships and Glass in Canada

Apparently The Company kept fort in British Columbia. It was of course illegal for them to operate within the United States, but not on the banks of the Fraser River. Naturally, the fort is called Fort Langley.

The Company, of course, is the Hudson Bay Company, a British concern organized to take advantage of the salmon and fur trade on the Fraser river and keep an eye on greedy Americans who might try and push the border north. Actually, this fort is now mostly a reconstruction. But it's pretty!

fortlangley

We took a ferry from Tsawwassen on the coast of the British Columbian mainland to Vancouver Island, passing several small and lushly wooded Islands on the way. It all seemed very peaceful in the summer, but I can't help but wonder what it's like living on a small, isolated Island with only limited ferry service when it gets stormy:

IslandinStraight

We drove down from the Ferry landing to the southern tip of the Island, where lies the graceful town of Victoria. I got to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia right before closing time, and the kind host would not charge me admission. I've been fascinated with sailing ships ever since a childhood visit to the reconstructed Golden Hinde of Sir Francis Drake, which circumnavigated the world. Inside the museum I found the Tilikum, originally a native canoe fashioned from a single cedar log, which almost circumnavigated the world:

tilikum

The wharf at Victoria is criminally charming, with flowers and art galleries bathed in the sun and reflected sea-glitter.

victorianwharf

Walking around, I could not pass up a moment of Go Bears solidarity (oops! I'm wearing red!):

gobears

We stopped at the Starfish Glassworks, an ingeniously set up workshop wherein the gallery is a mezanine overlooking the workshops where artists take up fiery honey-like blobs and turn them into translucent shimmering stuctures. It's clearly long, hot, hard work to make even a single piece:

glassfactory1

and therefore all the more amazing to turn around and survey the collection of unique pieces:

glassfactory2

Back on the mainland I saw this sign:

relevanthigh1

As opposed to all the Irrelevant High Schols the rest of us went to?
 
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
 
Seattle Photos

I was amused by the carriage-driver talking on her cell phone:

seattlecarriage


In Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, apparently everything is real except for one item. For some reason I was morbidly fascinated with the one fake:

seattlemermaid

From the caption:
"Credited with almost human intelligence and the uncanny ability to hide, the duogong appears to have been plentiful before the turn of the last century. . .Our specimen was purportedly captured by a fishermen named Smith off the shores of Duckabush, Washington, in 1924. He reported that the capturing of the creature was traumatic for him because it looked so human."
This Seattle Post-Intelligencer article says, "she was made by an artist who fused the head of a monkey onto the body of a seal and attached a salmon tail." What does it say about humans that we spin such tales to the point of requiring elaborately-fashioned show-and-tell props to go with them? Is literature and art partially an obsession with the externalizing the pain we cause others into something cartoonish and laughable and therefore dismissible?

On to the mundane. For a while now I've been interested in the fact that grain--the staff of life, the staple food for most of the world, the building-block of most civilization--is actually quite dangerous in large quantities. So I was impressed with this amazing granary structure on the Seattle Port.

Architecture, schmarchitecture. Respect is due to a structure quite probably responsible for feeding thousands if not millions of people.

cseattlegranar

Well, okay fine. You get a canonical shot of The Space Needle from the harbor:

seattleneedle

and another shot of the sunset from the Needle itself:

seattlesunset
 
Monday, August 15, 2005
 
Danger Danger

Oh what was I thinking?! I should have known there was a good reason I had never heard of the JASONs before! After my last post about the role of big oil and the industrial military complex in lowering undergraduate GPAs, the hulabaloo of consequences forced me to take some pretty drastic actions.

I'm pretty patriotic, so my first instinct in flight was to simply go underground. The cobwebs on the door gave me pause:

seattleunderground2

But you cannot be squeamish so in I went. It was dark downt there. And surprisingly crowded.

seattleunderground

The hiding fugitive can often survive cold, hunger, and cockroaches, but inner emotional storms will coax them back out into the dangerous open. So it was with me. I could not resist the opportunity for a moment of emotional solidarity with Lee Carter, a fallen colleague, pausing at the scene of her downfall--the assassination site of Senator Charles Carroll. Well, if you had to pick a place to get assassinated you could do worse than this view:

spaceneedlesunset

I realized my mistaken when I saw the sophisticated surveillance technology at the site:

surveillancetechnology

and fled for the border:

border

but somehow, I still wound up at Langley!

langleysign2

Time to give in, I guess, and let them interrogate me. After all, it's all just a game.


Yes, I realize there are some very interesting and serious issues regarding JASON, oil research, the suppression of information, assassinations, and harrassment of the press. More seriousness later.
 
Friday, August 12, 2005
 
Followup--some Caltech-Centric Cyberhypercavicunicucunctatalinkus

Regarding the last blogpost: here's a Google Image Search on Rick Moranis. Here's Steve Koonin's webpage. And here's the wackiest tidbit I've seen so far: he has taken a leave of absence from Caltech to be the chief scientist of BP. Yeah, BP the energy company that puts out the famous energy report every year. But he seems to have started out as a theoretical nuclear physicist. Koonin's got quite a resume:
Koonin is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served on a number of advisory committees for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense and its various national laboratories. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research interests include theoretical nuclear, many-body, and computational physics, nuclear astrophysics, and global environmental science.He is a longtime member (and most recent chair) of the JASONs, advisers to the Department of Defense on technical issues associated with national security. While serving as Caltech's provost, Koonin has continued to conduct research. His most recent project involves "earthshine" a phenomenon that allows the state of the earth's climate to be monitored by the brightness of sunlight reflected off the earth onto the dark part of the lunar disk. That brightness has diminished and then increased by a surprising amount during the past decade, suggesting a more variable global climate than is commonly assumed. (emphases mine.)
I can't believe I never heard of this JASONs business before! Or maybe I did, and then they burned it out of my memory! It sounds like something out of a comic book or an action movie. (And we've already selected part of teh cast.) From the Nautilus Institute:
JASON keeps an intentionally low profile, largely because of its classified work. There is no comprehensive list of members, and professors who are JASONs rarely mention the job on their resumes. Originally all male due to the era in which it was founded, 10% of its current membership is female. Since the group was founded, its research focus has shifted from a heavy emphasis on physics, to include other fields. Of the group's current membership, 19 are biologists, chemists, engineers, computer experts and other non-physicists. In an effort to remain young and relevant, new scientists are routinely rotated in and older members become less active senior advisors when they turn 65
I'm all over the Hellenic mythical references, and the association of Jason and Defense gives me blogospheric warm fuzzies because of the wonderful Armchair Generalist, but I hope they keep in mind the dangers of dragon's teeth.
 
 
Negative Quantum Information

I asked Dave Bacon, the Quantum Pontiff and UW Quantum Computer Scientist, to give a little commentary on a recent Nature paper stating that negative Quantum Information exists. He obligingly endorsed the authors' explanations (and if you're interested in such things, I recommend reading them), and offered this fun anecdote instead:
When I was a freshman at Caltech, I was wandering around campus a few weeks after I showed up on campus, and I saw these two guys having a really animated conversation outside on a bench. One of the guys was really really tall, and the other guy was fairly short and looked EXACTLY like Rick Moranis. I mean exactly. This being Los Angeles, and me being a hick from the sticks, I was only a few feet away from asking the shorter guy for an autograph, when I chickened out. Which is a good thing, because it turns out that this guy was none other than [Professor] Steve Koonin!
This follow-up comment by Bacon also amused me: Did you also notice the resemblence of another professor, who will go unnamed, who had a stricking resemblence to Nintendo’s Mario? But in general I love the idea of movie-stars---even movie stars as nerdy as Rick Moranis--hanging out at the Caltech campus. It's not that far-fetched, I know that producers and their ilk, at least, often make their homes in nearby snootily gorgeous San Marino. If I was a movie star and lived in LA, I would totally go to quantum computing seminars at Caltech.

When I was a sophomore at Berkeley, Robin Williams' Patch Adams was partially filmed in the physics building over spring break. (Chairman Falcone rather endearingly took every possible opportunity to mention this to alumni, often mere breaths away from heady discoveries like about dark matter and super nova.) The story goes that as Williams was wrapping up an interview with the local news channel, a grad student friend of mine walked past and shouted out, "Hey Robin, want to see some really cold atoms?" and Williams responded, "Yes!" conveniently supplying the newscrew with some wacky B-reel of him bouncing off to the basement of Birge with my friend, which then caused me to choke on my dinner as I watched the evening news. Apparently Williams had quite a blast examining what was one of the densest, largest optical table laser sets ups on the continent.
 
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
 
Now For A Little Science

First, check out this article in the LA Times, by Rosie Mestel, about the search for artificial sweeteners. In explaining how taste-bud receptors work, the following sentence is gifted to us:
Part of each receptor hangs into the mouth's slimy void and the other end into the cell. When a sweetener binds, a message is sent into the cell's interior and ultimately to the brain.
Mmm. Mouth's slimy void. Apparently the speed and exact manner of binding is registered by us as the different "flavors" of sweet, and everything from Sweet'n'Low to Equal to Splenda can't quite fool us. With the isolated genes for the receptor, Senomyx, a company in La Jolla, has created dishes of petri cells filled with mammalian cells that glow green when they (the cells!) "taste" something sweet. It's pretty mindboggling to think of how little changings in timing and pressure on a switch attached to some nerves in our mouth produce such a spectrum of flavor in our brains. I was surprised the article put such an emphasis on the dieting benefits of sugar-replacers; I would think that a more important function is serving diabetics.

Now for something completely different. Check out this NASA photo TK sent me:


Large version here. Stare at it for a while, and then click here for questions and comments. So how long did it take yout to figure out what it is? Quick, quick, what's behind the Astronaut?

I think it's the sun, perhaps somewhat obscured by something else, hence no blinding halo around the astronaut. The earth, barely visible "below" the astronaut and the shuttle, seems lit up, so I'm guessing it's facing the sun in the picture.

It took me at least a couple seconds to realize what it's really a photo of. For those of you who've read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, I thought this was an interesting extreme on the spectra of detail and recognizability. A cartoonish face--just a circle with two dots--immediately strikes us as a human head; an increasing amount of detail usually only confirms this cognitive striking, but decreases our ability to project ourselves onto the head. In this case, however, the head is presented with perfect detail, yet is notably unrecognizable.
 
Sunday, August 07, 2005
 
Rest in Peace, Peter Jennings

I can't remember when I started watching World New Tonight With Peter Jennings, but it was before I started going to school, and before I could read long words and small print properly. Indira Gandhi's assasination, the Oliver North hearings, the aftermath of the Challenger disaster, the conventions of '88, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Kuwait, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi, the break-up of the Soviet Union, the election of Bill Clinton--these were all shaped for me by the calm and measured tones of Peter Jennings. He came to LA when it rained, breaking the drought of my childhood. Every New Years Eve I religiously watched the end of the year salute. Even after I cut my teeth on the LA Times as a child and even, much later, after I got my subscription to The New Yorker, Jennings was my guide for the events of the day. Through several moves, two states, and three or four houses, there was an unbroken family ritual. Come home, take a shower, watch Jennings. When high school started, I was given the choice of one hour of tv an evening. Resignedly I said goodbye to my beloved Star Trek--giving up Jennings wasn't even an option.

Sticking with him was almost an impossibility in college though; with an hour long commute on the train and lab classes that went till 5, my habit was broken. I was more likely to get my news on the drive to school via NPR. Later I turned to Abcnews.go.com, and for years that and the New York Times were my internet news sources. Eventually Akamai and then Google opened up the wide world of hourly news. Sadly, by the time I heard that Jennings was ill and wouldn't be sitting in the anchor desk regularly, I had long ago stopped regularly watching news on TV. In a lot of ways, I felt I had outgrown it. Broadcast segments really didn't do it for me, and the instantaneity and sense of being there had largely been superceded by blogs and wire services. More than anything it was the lack of routine--I had just lost the habit of getting home in time for his broadcast.

I made one major exception--the New Years eve broadcast of 1999 turning into 2000. I had stayed up late watching the sad resolution of the Indian Air hijacking--a dark foreshadowing of events to come--and barely caught the dawning of the New Year in India. I didn't miss any after that. I stayed glued to the TV, as much fascinated with Jennings' stamina and familiar wit--I have a vague memory of Bill Blakemore doing card tricks on TV to keep them all awake?!--as with the perfect, beautiful hourly celebrations of the new millennium sweeping from capital to capital, from Moscow to Paris to Rome to London and Paris to Newfoundland to New York to me. Despite the foreshadowing and some recent sad personal events, that day seems to epitomize everything hopeful and worldly and eager about our era. It was only right and proper that Peter Jennings would chaperone it.

When 9/11 happened I didn't have proper TV signal, and I gnashed my teeth for a Jennings fix, but it just wasn't possible, and the habit seemed broken. Sadly, now it has to be.

My understanding of the building of the atomic bomb, and the physicists who made it, was greatly influenced by a documentary he made, and that directly contributed to my desire to major in physics. My understanding of the situation regarding Israel and Palestine was also influenced by his work. He consistently reported on India when no one else really cared. I don't really know what to say, except he's the single most present public figure in my life so far, even counting the relative recent absence. I really can't imagine my childhood and youth without him. When considering the formation of any of my thinking on politics, my sense of the globe, my sense of what's current--at the beginning of all of it is some World News Tonight segment, some introduction by Peter Jennings. I'm just so sad that I was in New York, with people he knew, and I never got to meet him.

I'll close with one of my favorite Jennings clips ever. You know the joke about Anchors not wearing any pants? Well, at some point I was flipping channels and I caught part of an ABC anniversary special. I forget what the context was but there was a great clip of a young Peter Jennings reporting from Egypt. He was standing on a balcony overlooking the city, delivering some fairly serious commentary but in his shirtsleeves. Then he signs out. The tape keeps rolling; he clearly thinks he's off camera and he's almost certainly off the air. He furrows his brow and says to the Cameraman, "Uh, ---, what are you doing?" The camera tilts down. No pants.

Rest in Peace Mr. Jennings. Thank you for everything.
 
Friday, August 05, 2005
 
Arrests and Unrest in China

This has to be one of the odder senteneces I've read in foreign coverage. From a New York Times article about a Hong Kong based journalist who's been arrested by China with charges of spying for Taiwan:
The restrictions also coincide with a surge of local protests in many villages and cities across China for a wide range of reasons, from commercial disputes to environmental damage. There has been no sign, however, that the protests are centrally organized or pose any immediate threat to China's political system. (Emphasis mine).
I realize that "or" is one of the weakest conjunctions out there, and makes no true implications. Both clauses on either side of the "or" seem perfectly credible. Nevertheless I can't help but feel that the implication of this sentence is that centrally organized protests are more dangerous to the PRC than a spontaneous, decentralized surge, which strikes me as exactly wrong. And so, oddly, the feeling you're left with at the end of the graf is, "hmm, something's really up." Even though that's exactly not what it's saying.

It's particularly difficult to get a grip on what's going on in the PRC. Arresting a journalist for spying is a pretty low blow, and I expect nothing more than a show trial at best. Zhao Yan, a researcher for the New York Times, has been detained in Britain since September of last year without any formal charges. From the article:
Mr. Ching is the chief China correspondent of The Straits Times in Singapore. Born in Shantou, China, and raised in Hong Kong, he holds a British National Overseas passport, which was issued to nearly half of Hong Kong's 6.8 million residents before Britain returned the territory to China in 1997. The passport does not entitle holders to move to Britain but does allow them representation by consular officials; a British consulate spokeswoman here said late today that Chinese authorities had denied access to Mr. Ching.
That's particularly worrisome, as that British National Overseas passport was supposed to be a lifeline. I hope Britain doesn't take no for an answer.

Most of the news from China is economic. The famous Left Hand Side column of the Wall Street Journal loves to profile the faces of globalizing China--workers moving from brick huts in the country to shiny apartments in the city, American executives moving to previously minor inland cities, antique salesmen making fortunes on E-Bay. Wal Marts are opening. The August issue of Business 2.0 has an 8 page spread on Making it in China, complete with a Checklist that casually includes: "Follow the Rules--The Chinese government is swift and effective when offended.") A recent Fortune Magazine cover depicted Uncle Sam as a 97 lb weakling whom a buff PRC couldn't even deign to beat up. The Zeitgeist wisdom seems to be that the Tiananmen Square stand-off is firmly in the past, and that the new China is all on one page and all about making money. A homogenous, obedient mass of cheap workers under the firm control of the government.

There's plenty of evidence that we might want to ignore the conventional wisdom though. That mass of workers is not necessarily so obedient. From an Asia Times article last October:
In the latest incident on October 18, 40,000-50,000 demonstrators gathered before the local government offices in the Wanzhou district of southwestern China's Chongqing municipality, protesting the reported near-fatal beating by an official of a migrant worker.
That's a lot of protesters. According to the China Digital Times, a Berkeley-based Chinese news blog, Rand Institute Researcher Murray Scott Tanner testified before a UC commission about "Rising Social Unrest" in China in April. And only today, from Reuters:
About 800 policemen clashed with armed villagers during a pre-dawn raid in southern China and arrested 47 people after residents defied a crackdown on illegal mining and went on a rampage, a local paper and officials said.
With all the talk of a rising dragon, let's keep in mind who powers the dragon in the first place.

 
Thursday, August 04, 2005
 
Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi wrote My Son the Fanatic, and numerous other tales that often make him seem more of a prophet than a mere fictionalist in these dark days. But in his championship of critical thought he'd scoff at the label and ask that people copy his methods and not his prescriptions. Check out this essay in the Guardian:
This is what an effective multiculturalism is: not a superficial exchange of festivals and food, but a robust and committed exchange of ideas - a conflict that is worth enduring, rather than a war.
Indeed, this goes all ways. Until we are all willing to sit down and thoroughly understand both the genesis of our own often sheepish thoughts and the rationales faced by others, all the food fairs in the world won't bring us peace. (Though they won't hurt, either!) We've got to be willing to try on each other's shoes, not merely politely admire the label and style. If after an honest, good faith examination, you can sincerely claim your shoes fit better--all the more power to you.

I've mentioned The Chosen in this blog before; it was a profoundly influential book on me. In a free society you cannot protect your children from ideas. But those who would isolate their children to protect their religious beliefs are demonstrating an extreme lack of faith in those very religious beliefs. Political freedom, economic freedom---these are nothing compared to the power of intellectual freedom.

Link from Amardeep via Sepia Mutiny.
 
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
 
Judge Roberts

I've been following the Roberts saga with interest, but not with enough focus to get into the nitty gritty. Echan, a lawyer, sent me this Washington Post article a couple days ago as particularly trenchant: working off of Reagan memos from the National Archives, it paints the most relevant picture of Robert's thinking. As Daniel Sanchez wrote a couple weeks ago,
"It's all well and good to hear that Roberts gets a lump in his throat when he thinks about the Supreme Court and that he's "anchored in modern law" (New York Times). But we've got ourselves a ballgame here, with big-time consequences. The mainstream media would do us a lot of good by not being obtuse about it."
Slate has too many interesting articles to even cite. The line of inquiry I'd like to see more of stems from Chris Mooney's Intersection science policy blog: Mooney wondered if Roberts had had anything to say about the main Evolution case of the Reagan era, Edwards v. Aguillard. This is now a really interesting question in light of Bush's recent bizarre mouthings on Intelligent Design. (I dislike Christopher Hitchens and his often uselessly broad strokes, but this frayster made a good summary of Hitchens's most possibly relevant point regarding Roberts's Catholocism. I don't think it is relevant per se; what is relevant is a candidate's willingness or unwillingness to do his law and politics without calling upon his religion.) Evolution might be a hotbutton issue, but there's a deeper, wider issue we need to discuss. Quoth Intersection commenter John Hrynyshyn:
"While the notion of "litmus tests" for judicial appointees is rife with problems, it strikes me that asking Roberts about his views on evolution are entirely appropriate and constitutes a superior line of inquiry than those involving the likes of Roe v Wade. Surely we should demand from our judges a respect for the scientific method. Has any nominee ever been asked such a thing? If not, now is the time." (Emphasis mine.)
Back at Columbia, when Dean Lemann was outlining some of his ideas for the new second year MA program, he mentioned wanting courses that discuss the relationship between journalistic, legal, and scientific evidence. (The necessity for this is sadly apparent when reading coverage of Bush's mumblings: see Mooney today.) Writing about mistaken convictions, I spoke with a Judge who spent a lot of time worrying about how to best instruct jurors in the consideration of scientific evidence. But who instructs Judges in the consideration of scientific evidence? Now Harvard Law School, Roberts's Alma Mater, has a seminar on the "Treatment of Scientific Evidence in the Courts" and for all I know the many Evidence courses substantially treat the subject. (Anyone know?) But it will be a while before today's Law School grads are candidates for Supreme Court Justice. Was this part of Roberts's education? If not, has he caught up with the times? He's young and healthy and if appointed should preside well into the 21st century.

He almost certainly will be appointed. But not with a rubber stamp, I hope.
 
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
 
Farm Wages and Organic Food

Matt Yglesias made a good point about the need to fight poverty from the bottom world: firms are going to be able to suck workers into working under sweatshop conditions as long as the workers' alternatives are so absolutely worse. The root of third world povery is, so to speak, at the bottom of the food chain, with the famers. A big reason why third world farmers experience so much crippling instability is because of our dumping of cheap, subsidized food. We insist on subsidizing our farmers (giant agribusiness farm companies, more like it) instead of either letting them compete in the market or at least keeping cheap grain off the market. (Look for the bit on Roosevelt in this NYT Magazine article by Michael Pollan.)

The first couple pages of the search [organic subsidies site:usda.gov] gets me nothing indicating that the United States significantly subsidies organic farming, and every indication that we do it least among the developed nations. Any further insight on this would be much appreciated. But buying organic food, especially organic grain, might be a good consumerist action to take on more than the environmental front, buying into a more fairly structured market. I want to note that I dislike intensely the notion of buying organic food as a kind of status consumption. There are people who will insist that any discussion of organics is mere yuppie tripe. You know the genre--Maureen Dowd and her bashing of Wesley Clark's argyle sweater; pure straw man distraction. Philia at Bouphonia had a skillful dissection of such nonsense in last week's New York Times. I know plenty of people who work hard and budget carefully so they can buy their organic food, and they are fully aware of the difficulties involved. Implying that they look down upon those who can't afford to--say, they themselves at other times of the year--when there are more important issues to discuss is the height of editorial stupidity. Don't fall into that trap.
 
Monday, August 01, 2005
 
Dru Blood's Music Meme

Zwichenzug has tagged me with a music meme, which is particularly exciting in that it's apparently new, and he's an original tagee. It's also particularly difficult. Here goes:

Number of records/tapes/cds I own: It's necessary to go with a wild back-of-the-envelope estimate because I exiled the majority of my jewel cases to a basement long ago. I'm guessing about 300. I buy almost all of the music I have, with the exception of some borrowing, so it's I both listen to less and own more than most people I know.

First record/tape/cd I bought: Oh yeesh. When I was six I agitated for the purchase of a toy bundle featuring Jem and The Holograms. I'm pretty sure that it was the non-casette part of the toy that I wanted; but I also have no memory what it is, and for the longest time that was the oldest tape in my possession that was both mine and not my parent's idea. With a music loving mother and older sister I subsisted happily enough on borrowing for a long time; I'm guessing the first tape I actually chose and bought was one of Beethoven's symphonies or piano concertos, most likely the 3rd or the 5th symphony. The first album I bought was U2's Achtung Baby. I actually had no idea how famous they were at the time; I had merely heard it playing at a friend's place and wanted to get myself a copy.

Last record/tape/cd I bought: Bah. Icelandic folk songs doesn't count. (Though I highly recommend them.) Not totally sure, but probably Afro Celt's Seed or The Killer's Hot Fuss. Maybe the soundtrack to House of Flying Daggers. I'm a sucker for soundtracks. . .

Recordings or songs that mean a lot to me (and/or changed my life): This is a really good question and therefore hard to answer. I'm leaving out religious music because at some level, it's not about the music; sort of unfair competition. In general I definitely have to think about it more. I know it's terribly cliched, but when you love something, you love something, and I love Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It amazed me when I was a child, and it still amazes me. There are no other obvious standouts, though. I think trying to pick songs like that is almost like trying to pick people like that: it's painful to even try.

If I had to choose a soundtrack of my life, what 5-10 songs would be on it: I'm sticking to the original caveat--this is bound to change from day to day, perhaps even hour to hour. I'm definitely one of those people who hears most music as a soundtrack to a film going on somewhere in my head, usually deeply out of focus.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture
Bishop Allen: Things Are What You Make Of Them
Susheela Raman: Song to the Siren
Afro Celt Sound System: Nort Part II
Venus Hum: Sonic Boom
Arcade Fire: Une Annee Sans Lumiere

Let's tag Reneebop and Robert Stribley.

Update: Reneebop and Robert both played, and Robert sucessfully passed it on to the fifth generation--Robert's brother Chris. I was counting on Renee for the Cake reference,but pleased to get some Susanne Vega in for free. As usual Robert opens up a whole new list for me to go exploring in (perhaps we should start with some Caving?) but U2 is a dependable common band. And I'm pleasantly surprised that Chris's list shares something with mine, of sorts: Song to the Siren, which I cited as Raman's cover, but which he knows in original from Mortal Coil. Huzzah for connections and overlap, expansions and exposures, and especially for music!
 
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)
ChennaiCentral
ClimateBoy
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
Ennis
Ephemera
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Forsv
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Geomblog
Green Ink!
Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
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)
1Locana
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)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
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
Subjunctive.net:klog
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Wonkette
WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



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
Eschaton(Atrios)
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
Wonkette
Yglesias:Tpmcafe

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Ephemera
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
InSpiteOfEverything
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
Neil Gaiman
Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud


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