Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
 
Too Cool For School

From O'Reilly's Make magazine, I find the mindboggling proof that all is not lost with American youth--they still posess the creativity and resourcefulness required to make prom clothes out of duct tape. And win scholarship money for college while they're at it! While I normally wouldn't promote corporate marketing schemes, I have to say, Henkel Consumer Adhesives seems to have hit upon a great idea.
 
 
A Revolution In The Schools: Not Quite What We Meant

Engadget points to a Guardian article which in turn points to the AP: all West Virginia Middle Schools will be installing Dance Dance Revolution consoles to combat childhood obesity in one of the most obese states. From the AP article, the pricetag breakdown:
The school project starts with the state's 64,880 middle school students and then calls for an expansion into high schools. By year three, state officials hope to have the project set up in the state's elementary schools.
Overall, the game is expected to be available to 279,788 public school students statewide.The statewide project is expected to cost $500,000, with part of the funding coming from PEIA and Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield. Game manufacturer Konami Digital Entertainment in Redwood City, Calif., has agreed to provide $75,000. The state is seeking private funding for the remainder.
I suppose $500,000 for more than 50,000 students is a pretty cheap price tag, but I have to wonder about the efficiencies. Have we really reached a point where it is cheaper to buy a game console than, say, taking students hiking or teaching them how to dance the old-fashioned way?

I don't really play video games, but Dance Dance Revolution has struck me as one I'd play if convenient opportunity presented itself. I know that the topic of addiction and gaming is a bit of a touchy subject with the geek crowd--I think the addiction angle is of much greater concern than the violence and sex angle--but I couldn't help but remember this Pitch.Com article from a couple years ago about a DDR "addict." Don't have time to reread it right now, but thought I'd share the link. Engadget's linking to the heart-revival incident reminded me of a story Toasty blogged a while ago, about a man in Korea who died after gaming for 50 hours straight.

Given the revolutionary title of the game I was amused in a very black-humor kind of way with this comment on Engadget by atomb:

1. this will probably result in a massive increase of dancers from that state that can follow directions really well....hmmm where to employ that trait?

maybe a special division of the armed forces


 
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
 
She's Baaack (from India)

Actually, I've been back for a few days, but very busy and just a little sick still. (I'll write about air pollution and The Challenge of the 21st Century later, but let us say that it's a topic very much on my mind even as it slowly fades from my lungs and sinuses.)

Vignette: I spent a morning in a monastery, waiting for a ceremony to be completed in an inner sanctum. A monk very busily circled through the room, out one door, and around, behind it, on the veranda and its kitchen, and back again through another door, checking up on all the vegetables being cut and pots being washed and work being done, too busy to sit down as he munched on his breakfast of puffed rice and salad. A young man lay on a sleeping pad on the floor, his eyes closed. A little girl in a skirt sat on a pile of cushions near him, long hair in her face, armed with a knife and a cucumber, ponderously taking off thin slices and dropping them upon his lids. When did this monastery, so dear to my family, start dabbling in matters of the spa? The puffed-rice eating monk paces around on his dutiful rounds to check the cucumbers-on-the-eyes. "Feel better?" "Yes!" "Good! Just lie there! You! Change the slice!" Another man, quite elderly, comes in and laughingly accuses the girl of playing a trick on the supine youth by throwing cucumber on his sleeping face, to which she angrily responds by explaining that it's medicine and the shush-eyed one is not asleep. The elderly man does not believe her, and he then so carefully slips the green rounds off the "sleeping" youth that the youth does not stir. Around again comes the monk, finishing his breakfast, barely able to put the plate down and wash his mouth before he notices the lack of salady eyes and asks the girl why she decuked the youth. She makes the universal pout of "wasn't me!" and points at the dubious elder, who is still laughing at her silliness. The busy monk gives what I can only describe as a very, very modulated roar. "It's medicine!" and then he lets out a small scolding, light and hard and quick, like a boxing teacher to a child. The elderly man sees the folly of his way, the girl gherkins up the burning eyes, and the pacing monk picks up work and has finished three jobs before he makes it around the other side."Everywhere it is like this," my mother whispers to me, and I am baffled until she continues. "One person does the work of twenty."

I'm not sure what it was about this scene--the morning light streaming through the bars of the glassless windows, the scent of sliced cucumber, the busyness of the leader who always ends up carrying much of the yoke--but it has rather stuck with me. I have not really mused out its lesson, still just observing.

One lesson, always relearned harder, is to not carry what you don't need to carry. On the Air India flight back, one elderly Sikh gentlemen demonstrated this principle with a new panache. Well, he had to have his elegant rose-tinged white turban, wrapped straight around his head, no lissajous twisted twirling. And he had to have his foot long white two-pointed, effortlessly curled beard. The heavy bangle, of course, was not going to be checked in. One needs a shirt to be allowed on a plane, and he had quite a shirt---an elegant knee length tunic, slightly off-white, perhaps a tussar silk and cotton blend, so shiny and smooth. Similarly one needs shoes, and everyone knows shoes work best with socks---elegant khaki argyles, pulled all the way up to the knee.

And with all that, really--even if the kurta-tunic has side slits that go up past the knees---with all that, a man does not need pants.

Thanks to my guest bloggers for doing such a wonderful job. I have some further plans for sharing their musings with you, but for now, I'll give them a big round of applause.
 
Monday, January 23, 2006
 

Where's Saheli?

I can't help noticing that my Naughy Bits have been up now or almost a week. You're probably all clamoring for the real thing.

In fact, I should admit that I know where Saheli is and what's occupying her, but asking was a good excuse to post this picture...
 
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
 
Naughty Bits in the News


This might be my last post before our darling Saheli takes back the reins with serious news, so I'm going to get it all in now. I'll skip right over Al Gore's remarkable comments and go straight to the salacity.


A new study by the U.K.'s Royal Society has found that, in bats, at least, bigger testicles means smaller brains. Shockingly (or not), there are no plans to check this pattern with humans.


At a recent meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, researchers announced a whole new problem with the surge in obesity: injections into patients' buttocks fail to even reach muscle tissue two times out of three.


Two British psychologists have determined that, at least within their survey, artists and schizophrenics have more sex than everybody else. They delve into some interesting details about natural selection and the seemingly too-large prevalence of schizophrenia. NB: "Some of the genes that predispose to schizophrenia might be carried by artists and in many cases play a factor in their creativity, but because the artists do not develop full-blown schizophrenia and are able to direct their creativity, they are able to pass the genes on to their children."


Meanwhile, at least one Scottish researcher has finally launched a scientific study of the eternal question: "Does this make my butt look big?". Results aren't due until May, sadly.


And finally, this is only tangentially related to naughty bits and it was a good 9 months ago, but I'm going to bring it back to the table: Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University Medical School spoke at the 2nd International Conference on Healthy Ageing & Longevity last March about the fact that "85 percent of centenarians [are] women." Dr. Perls submits that this might be due to menstruation, because of the aging effects of iron. Regular blood loss = less iron = less aging. He may not have proven it yet, but he's convinced: Dr. Perls has taken to donating blood as an alternative: "I menstruate, but only every eight weeks ."


You could do it, too. Or you could learn more here.

 
 
New (Old) Ways to Protest?

The recent post about activism, and subsequent discussion has me thinking about the effectiveness of protest in general. One of the things that really saddened me about the Iraq war protests is that despite the massive number of people that marched, and called, and contacted the administration, including the largest protest the world has ever seen, it all seemed to make no difference - Congress passed the resolution, and surprise!, we went to war.

I have been musingTM for some time that what we need is a new way to protest. One of the problems, I think, is the fact that is so much easier to arrange a mass protest now than it used to be - with email, text messages, posts on internet boards, etc., it is just easier to arrange large groups of people in one place. Consequently, any one protest doesn't seem as meaningful any more. The March on Washington for example had 250,000 people, and was HUGE by the standards of the time. Now, in the age of Million Man Marches, etc, that number seems smaller.

Similarly, with the abilty to generate auto-emails, blast faxes, etc., a technological protest to a Representative or Senator's office is just as likely to be ignored.

This is why this article from the Boston Phoenix caught my attention. A group of anti-war protesters in Maine have met with what seems to be quite a bit of success using an old form of protest: essentially, the sit down strike.


In December 2004, 13 anti-war activists gathered in Senator Susan Collins’s office in Portland, Maine. They read the names of American soldiers who had died in the Iraq war, as well as an equal number of Iraqi civilians who had died. They occupied Collins’s office for roughly four hours and, before leaving, they asked the senator to hold a "town meeting" to discuss the war with her constituents.

What I thought was interesting about this is that they consiously based this on old sit-down labor strikes from the 1930's:
Gagnon based FVP on the 1930s General Motors sit-down strikes conducted by United Auto Workers in Flint, Michigan. That movement is recognized in activist circles as one of the most important labor strikes in American history, because it was the first time workers seized control of a building from the inside, rather that simply picketing on the outside. The Flint strikes also influenced the civil disobedience used by various protesters in the ’50s and ’60s. Maine’s FVP organizers understand that it belongs to a long, effective tradition of protest.

Of course, it has been updated a bit to include modern technology:
If they don’t get a commitment to a town meeting, or a reasonable promise of one, they make phone calls, send letters, and write e-mails, several times a month, over and over and over, repeating the request. They apply frequent, pointed pressure.

It is the frequent, pointed pressure that I think makes this so effective. By going to the offices and being face to face with the representative, they are not just a seething mass of angst, but real people with real concerns. This form of protest seems to be spreading, and if it continues to be as effective, may be the model for protest in the future. What is old is new again.

Read the whole article here: Peace Corps
 
Friday, January 13, 2006
 
Greetings from Kolkata

Or, the city formerly known as Calcutta, West Bengal. I missed the chance to say greetings from Delhi, but I was there too. I can't really blog much now--we actually have work to do here, and still an army of relatives to see and be seen by--but I will say that the traffic situation is noticably better here than it was, say, 8 years ago. The streets--in my home neighborhood of Ballygunge, anyway--are mindbogglingly well-lit at night.

Our first morning in Bengal was somewhat amusing. We managed to make it through Hyder's Bad, the hometown of Tipu Sultan, and the land of the Mughals without really thinking much about the growth of Islam in India. Only in a sleepy suburb of Kolkata called, ironically, Narayanpur (village of Narayana could be one translation) did two or three very loud speakers remind us of this phenomena at 5:10 in the morning---and kept reminding us of it until well past the dawn. Apparently it was some kind of Eid and so the call to prayer was loud and long, but it sounded to me like the two Masjids were competing with each other. After about a half hour, the roosters decided to join in, and then the crows, and then just about everything else--cars, buses, goats, cows, you name it. Even so, it was a while before the Masjids stopped being the dominant sound. Having slept through many conch and drum equipped pre-dawn aratis in monasteries over the years, I was amazed that a religion that some interpret as forbidding music could make so much noise with just a couple guys' ululations. The combination of comprehensible Bengali and the Arabic name of God, and incomprehensible Bengali and Urdu made the broadcast sermon even more distracting--I could understand enough that my brain wanted to keep listening, but not enough to listen passively. To a lesser extent that's my general experience of language here--I can't quite tune out all the people, but I don't quite catch everything.

Also, banana trees are really pretty, and it's cool to see them in clusters of dozens again.
 
 
Mysteries of the Moon

You've probably noticed that the moon looks a lot bigger when it's near the horizon than when it's high up in the sky. What you probably don't know is that there is, as of today, in the year 2006, no scientific consensus as to why this is so!

There are many hypotheses, of course. They include the idea that we have buildings and trees to compare the moon to at the horizon so it looks relatively bigger (but the illusion persists even on flat, featureless terrain), the idea that there's some sort of atmospheric effect involved (there isn't), the idea that we have a mental map of the sky dome that's flatter than it really is so the same angle translates to a bigger object (maybe part of the explanation, but no real evidence of that), etc. etc. etc.

Here's a page that argues in favor of an "oculomotor micropsia" explanation, that our eyes focus closer when we look up, because there are no visual cues to focus far, so the moon looks bigger because of that. It seems pretty convincing, but here's a page with lots of info on different explanations for the Moon Illusion, which also says that ocolomotor micropsia doesn't make a big enough difference to fully account for the moon illusion. It concludes that we still just don't really know why it happens.

I'm just amazed that something that seems so simple, like it should be basic math or physics, but it actually turns out to be an unsolved mystery!

I almost forgot to add my postly image! Well, here's a picture of a bunch of zebras:



I found it from the Cellar Image of the Day, where there's more information about it, namely, that zebra use their stripes not to blend in with trees so much as to blend in with each other. Apparently, predators have a hard time tracking individual zebras; they just see a big mess of stripes. And who can blame them!
 
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
 
Instant Karma?

MSNBC: Israel pulls plug on Pat Robertson deal.

I suppose, in principle, attributing Robertson's business troubles to karma is theoretically as unjust as his own attributing Sharon's stroke to divine retribution, but there's something so deliciously precise about the reaction to his action, when the Israeli tourism agency rejects the plans of a white Christian American, who believes he knows what's best for Israel's future.
 
Monday, January 09, 2006
 
Literary Deceit

Not one, but two huge stories of literary deceit today. In short: James Frey makes stuff up. Lots of it. And JT LeRoy may not even exist!

The Smoking Gun, long an excellent if somewhat salacious resource for all your celebrity run-ins with the law, has posted an extraordinarily detailed account of how Frey apparently (that's just me being unnecessarily careful, really) fabricated his memoirs. Now, when I read A Million Little Pieces, I did find some sections difficult to believe (especially the dentistry sans anesthesia), but Smoking Gun reveals Frey has hardly spent a day in jail, despite his elaborate claims to the contrary. Check out the Smoking Gun expose and note its wonderfully subtle, yet satirical header graphic.

As for LeRoy, I haven't read much of his, um, work, but the NYT contends that the person often presumed to be LeRoy in photos is actually a woman. Furthermore, she is apparently the half-sister of Geoffrey Knoop, one-half of the couple who supposedly rescued LeRoy, a runaway 16-year-old truck stop prostitute, who they found stumbling about in a daze. So, there's question as to whether LeRoy even exists and who actually writes his material. New York magazine believes it's Laura Albert, the other half of that literary couple. (It's quite fascinating to look at photo of the supposed writer at the link above and to realize that the real writer may actually be the woman beside him/her.) Under the name Emily Frasier, Albert has even left rave reviews of LeRoy's book Sarah on Amazon. Also, the two psychologists form a band Thistle and LeRoy supposedly writes their lyrics. Neither of the couple use their real names in the band. There's no indication on the band's site that the couple claiming to be band members with LeRoy, also claim to be his rescuers under different names. Coupla hustlers, I reckon.

Two literary rock stars exposed, almost simultaneously. Makes you wonder: who else out there's a fraud? In the comments recently, Scotto asked, "what's the difference between a real and a fictional person?" It's an interesting question. How about, what's the difference between a real and a fictional author? And what are the important distinctions between a pseudonym (Mark Twain), an embellished persona (James Frey?), and an utterly fictitious fabrication (JT LeRoy?).

The NYT article concludes with a sobering thought:
It is unclear what effect the unmasking of Ms. Knoop will have on JT LeRoy's readers, who are now faced with the question of whether they have been responding to the books published under that name, or to the story behind them.
The latter is certainly possible I should think, but in that case, why not just publish the work under your own name (or a pseudonym if you must) and let its themes speak for themselves? Unfortunately, I suspect, it all comes down to the $$$.

On a lighter note, Neil Pollack confesses (in typically profane fashion) to his own sordid past and literary misdeeds.
 
 
Moonshot II and Are Rovers Peppy or Broody?

I guess I care so little about our next trip to the moon that I didn't even read about what the plan is until recently. Well, here's how we plan to do it. There's going to be two rockets. One will basically be a cargo-only rocket, very similar to the current shuttle, minus the orbiter. It'll carry the cargo at the top, and it'll carry more cargo than the shuttle currently can. Then there's the crew rocket, which will be a single solid rocket booster, with the crew module at the top. That way, the crew can't get hit by debris, and there won't be any foam to worry about.

For the moon mission, the cargo rocket will send up half the ship that'll get them to the moon, and they'll dock in orbit before taking off. It all just makes so much, well, SENSE, compared to the current shuttle. :P But as I've ranted before, it's also super boring to go back to the moon. Still, it's interesting reading the design for the mission, because it's all but a checklist of all the lessons we've learned from the poorly-designed shuttle.

Also, did you know that Spirit and Opportunity have their own Livejournals? I like how Opportunity's is all girly and bubbly, and Spirit's is all cantankerous and goth. Spirit's has a link to her calendar view. You have to do some URL-hacking to get Opportunity's calendar view.

I love Spirit's post about the Beagle's demise, complete with pretentious goth poetry. :) Here's Spirit's post from the day she landed. Opportunity first and second posts mention the difficulty communicating with Spirit when it originally landed.

And now, your unrelated image of the post, the prototype design for the $100 laptop that MIT is developing for the UN, for use in third world countries. Note the hand-cranked power!

 
Friday, January 06, 2006
 
NIMBYs Battle Windmills Like Quixote

This Wired article points out a couple of organizations, Save Upstate New York and the Concerned Citizens of Steuben County, that are waging a campaign against energy-generating wind turbines, as though someone was trying to build a nuclear power plant in their backyards. These groups are comprised of property owners worried that the wind turbines will bring down their property values and mar the scenery of rural New York. The Wired piece points out, in this campaign, they've cited the following health concerns in opposition to the turbines:
Group members also warned of health problems ranging from strokes caused by the sunlight as it pulsates through the spinning turbine blades to mange in cattle. Others claimed that women living near the wind farms are having as many as five menstrual cycles a month.

While I can see the dangers of turbines physically falling over, the hurting someone, I don't take these other health concerns seriously (5 periods a month??!!). As for their aesthetic worries, one of my favorite sights on childhood drives were the windmills near the Altamont pass. Plus, in California the windmills give us the added aesthetic pleasure of cleaner air, since they generate 1.5% of the state's electricty (see link in preceding sentence for reference), thus, decreasing smog.

In another universe, ToastyKen links to this other wacky Wired article regarding wind farms in the sky, oh my!
 
Thursday, January 05, 2006
 
The Nunchucks of Peace

The recent U2 stuff reminded me of their 1997 concert in Sarajevo, where they took a loss by keeping ticket prices low, and people of different groups got along to The Power of Rock Music. :) Anyway, how do you follow up U2? Why, with Bruce Lee, of course!

Back on November 26, 2005, Mostar in Bosnia erected the first ever statue of Bruce Lee (beating out a Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong by one day).
Lee was chosen by organisers as a symbol of the fight against ethnic divisions.

"We will always be Muslims, Serbs or Croats," said Veselin Gatalo of the youth group Urban Movement Mostar.

"But one thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee."
:) What also amused me is that the statue faces north, because that's the only neutral direction.
"If he faced west he'd be defending east Mostar from west Mostar, or west Mostar from east," Gatalo says. "And he can't face south, because that's Croatia. Facing north, he looks nowhere."
 
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
 
Reverse Extinction?

No, they're not bringing back dinosaurs (tho you have to admit, Jurassic Park would be kinda cool), but did you read where scientists are bringing back the Quagga? The last of the Quagga died out 'round 1883. Its resurrection will be thanks to remnant genes still found in modern-day zebras.

Hmm, Brontosauri next?
 
 
Hard to Swallow

So you might have heard this story: Last month, a woman in Missouri went to the hospital having swallowed her cell phone.[1] She'd attempted this, apparently, to keep it away from her boyfriend. Stupid? Hard to believe? Well, yes. But if the odds are 6 billion to one against something like that, then I guess it'll happen sooner or later. Besides, there's no shortage of people doing stupid things.

Still, this might not have been as cut and dried as first glance. Later articles revealed some doubt about the details -- and once the woman could speak again, she reported that her boyfriend had, in fact, forced it down her throat.

Mildy interesting -- but as I read through dozens of very short articles, I notice that it's entirely he-said, she-said. He called the police and told them she'd swallowed it: well, let's tell his story as fact. But later, she contradicts him: well, let's all tell it that way. Sadly, violence is always more believable, of course. But it makes me wish there was a chance of basing our public perception on something more solid.

Which is, perhaps, a tolerable segue into my own inadequately-verified comment last week. When I made reference to something I'd learned in college -- that the Mormon church (properly speaking, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) owned a big percentage of the orange groves in Florida. This was reinforced by a Time Magazine article from 1997 detailing the enormous wealth the church possesses, and some related commentary. Put simply, they have a impressively strong work ethic and an equally strong tithing policy. And they've chosen to invest that wealth in line with their theology and philosophy. Orange juice is a popular substitute for alcohol as a social drink. From my own disaster-preparedness perspective, I've always been impressed with their readiness to feed each other.

But, referencing 8 year old documents isn't terribly good research for something like this. I linked to the Deseret Management Company -- perhaps I should have chose the Farm Management Company -- as a prominent corporate holding entity for the church. I didn't link to anything more specific. In fact, information is hard to come by. The Wikipedia article on DMC's holdings is noticeably short on hyperlinks. A recent list of holdings is posted by "Secret Agent ex-Mormon", for whatever that's worth. A few of the more promising articles I found, such as this one, are paid-subscription only.

All of which means: I can't back up my earlier comment. This maybe isn't as grievous a journalistic crime as some of the more famous recent scandals, but I thought I ought to cop to it. If you're at all curious[2], I recommend perusing the links and making your own call.

---

[1] In line with ToastyKen's comments on life imitating art I was reminded of the episode of Futurama in which Amy's cell phone is the size of a cheezy poof. [sound]
[2] Hard to believe you would be, at this point.
 
 
Also, WTF?! U.S. Iran Edition

Um, and could someone please explain to me what's up with all the news stories about U.S. Plans to attack Iran? They all seem to source a Der Spiegel report, but all I can find (admittedly quickly) on the English website is this skeptical article. Enligten the weary traveller, please!
 
Monday, January 02, 2006
 
Lal Bagh in Bangalore



As you can tell from the comments, I haven't been quite as netless as I'd have liked to be. This is mainly because I'm still under the weather. On the other hand, I hadn't done too much exciting except experience the chill of the Bangalore hotel experience. Today, however, I ventured out and did a bit of siteseeing.

One thing I've got to get out of the way before I say anything else is that I am struck by the proliferation of the mustache in South India, and because of Bangalore's association with Thomas Friedman, check out the Mustache of Understanding via Snarkmarket. There must be a lot of understanding here. Other satorial observations--wow, South Indian women really do wear long strands of jasmine and (still unidentified) orange blossoms in their hair--it's not just a dance costume thing.

Before I knew about Infosys and IISC, and before I was a science geek, I was a comic-book reading book geek, and I grew up with imported copies of Amar Chitra Katha. One of the older titles I recall reading was about Tipu Sultan, so I was pleased to see his gardens and the remains of his palace and fortress today.

The gardens are known as Lal Bagh, or the red gardens. Apparently this is because of the roses, which must not bloom in December--but there was tons and tons of bougainvillea everywhere, most of it in the classic fuschia, a little less in the familiar white, but also large quantities in shades I'd never seen before--orange, pale pink, and yellow. (I find the French connection interesting, since Tipu was known for his affection for the French.) The entrance of the park sports a large hill of pale yellow rock, with some kind of viewing tower on top, but it was too bright and hot to tempt me to climb. The plan of the park was not remotely clear to me, and we just wandered about. There was a dissappointing amount of litter around, despite trash bins being everywhere. I saw many little yellow butterflies or moths, the very shade of oxalis, several larger pale lemon ones, and others that resembled Monarchs. There was also a frighteningly large (two inches across!) black flying insect that chased me and my sister across a bridge. If I had known what a bird haven the park was, I might have brought binoculars--cranes, swooping birds of prey, grey-blue crows, and more swooping birds of prey. The bridge over the lake (or "tank") was surrounded by them. The lake itself seemed to be swarming with fish.

It seems that the popular thing to do for Bangalorean couples is to sit on a park bench and hold hands, or have the guy wrap his arm around the girl's shoulder. There were dozens and dozens of couples arranged like this all over the park. There were plenty of women in black purdah, but their robes were less tightly arranged and more elaborately embroidered, and I often caught glimpses of brilliant salwars underneath the edges.

Some pictures after the jump (click on the timestamp to see the rest of the post, or here.) I have to finish packing now!


Remember, you can see a larger version of the photo by clicking on it.


Heels and bright salwar pants beneath a black purdah robe.


A worker in the Lal Bagh.


A woman and some children strain to get a closer look at the lotuses in the "tank."


A corn vendor and her clients at the park.




A tree in the Lal Bagh with dangling grey fruit. I saw this tree on the streets of Bangalore as well.


There were dozens of these swooping birds of prey in the park. They often came very close, but moved very fast, like the butterflies.

Lotuses! Or some kind of pink water lily. I think there's a blue bird hanging out in the rushes.


These were all over the park. I didn't really appreciate them until later, when we were stuck in traffic, and I watched a woman spit out what seemed liked a pint of red saliva, presumably having just chewed some paan.


Bangalore Detective Agency.

This was quite an impressive house that I saw from the window of a software company I was visiting.


But even more impressive was its roof:


Now that's what I call a roof.


I saw several Tata Indica cars sporting these little fire extinguishers mounted on the side of the windshield. (Note that this is not the driver's side.) It wasn't in the one we were running around in, though--curious if it's an option provided by Tata, or a separate accessory. If it were the former, it wouldn't be very confidence inspiring! But if it were the latter--hey, that's a good idea. It reminded me of Scott, who often has a fire extinguisher in the back of his car.


 
 
"I am done for"

This Chicago Tribune article regarding how the Defense Department has failed to implement an anti-human trafficking plan alerted me to the fact that U.S. defense contractors are involved in overseas human trafficking and use slave labor. Some of this trafficking is direct, for instance, the article points out that employees of one such contractor, Dyncorp, bought and sold women in Bosnia as sex slaves in the late 1990s. At other times, it's indirect. KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, uses over 200 subcontractors in Iraq and cannot police the labor practices of them all. The bill to address this problem was passed by the House "only after a provision creating a trafficking watchdog at the Pentagon was stripped from the measure at the insistence of defense-friendly lawmakers." Human rights groups also disapprove of the DoD's draft measures because it "institutionalizes ineffective procedures currently used by the Department of Defense contractor community in handling allegations of human trafficking."

This article also pointed out an excellent and long Tribune series from October detailing 12 Nepali men who were sent to Iraq after paying brokers to secure them jobs in Jordan. They were to "work" for one of KBR's sub-contractors and while en route from Amman to Baghdad they were kidnapped and subsequently shot (one was beheaded), and their murders were broadcast over the Internet. The last words from one of the slain workers to his mother was, "I am done for," and this was before he had left Jordan.

Also, if you're curious about human trafficking, in general, you may want to check out Kevin Bales's Modern Slavery: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

**

Oh, and speaking of the Edge, not the U2 guitarist, but the intellectual foundation, here is the 2006 Edge question (suggested by TK's favorite, Steven Pinker): "What is your dangerous idea?
 
 
International Men of Mystery (& Science)

Since I mentioned the other day that Alan Lightman would be featured this morning on NPR's This I Believe, I'd be remiss if I didn't feature some of his thoughts, which tied in perfectly with my post:
Einstein once wrote that "the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science." What did Einstein mean by "the mysterious?" I don't think he meant that science is full of unpredictable or unknowable or supernatural forces. I think that he meant a sense of awe, a sense that there are things larger than us, that we do not have all the answers at this moment. A sense that we can stand right at the boundary between known and unknown and gaze into that cavern and be exhilarated rather than frightened.
Lightman also confessed that he hopes some mysteries of the universe remain hidden:
One of the Holy Grails in physics is to find the so-called "theory of everything," the final theory that will encompass all the fundamental laws of nature. I, for one, hope that we never find that final theory. I hope that there are always things that we don't know -- about the physical world as well as about ourselves. I believe in the creative power of the unknown. I believe in the exhilaration of standing at the boundary between the known and the unknown. I believe in the unanswered questions of children.
Since Lightman mentioned Einstein and NPR closed the segment by mentioning that Einstein had contributed to This I Believe back in 1954, I had to look that up, too. It appears the entry was actually translated from an existing essay by the good prof, and he expressed similar themes to Lightman, as well as Darwin and Sagan below:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious -- the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of -- and glimpse into -- the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.
Einstein gradually shifts gears to express his concerns about the individual's place in and dependence upon society and prescribes "the establishment of a planned economy coupled with an education geared towards social goals." Considering the implications of that term "planned economy," I wonder how Einstein's thoughts played with the American public back in 1954. Nonetheless, so much of his fifty-plus-year old advice still sounds relevant today.

Also, this aside: Speaking of U2, I'm watching the DVD from U2's Elevation tour as I type this up. Great stuff!
 
Sunday, January 01, 2006
 
Am I bugging' you? I don't mean to bug ya. Okay, Edge, play the blues!

I don't mean to bump SSR's own post off the top so quickly, so go read it, but I couldn't restrain myself from posting this story...

Back in September 2005, when Gillette announced a 5-bladed razor, literally one-upping the Schick Quattro, people pointed to The Onion's Feburary 2004 op-ed, F*ck Everything, We're Doing Five Blades, attributed, in fact, to the CEO and President of The Gillette Company.

A couple of weeks ago, when Time announced Bono and the Gateses as People of the Year for their efforts against global poverty, I discovered a brilliant Onion article called, Rest Of U2 Perfectly Fine With Africans Starving, which had choice quotes like:
"Yeah, that Africa stuff is Bono's thing," The Edge said. "I don't mind if he pursues other interests, but I really try to focus on the guitar riffs that give U2 its characteristic sound."
Also:
"When Bono starts telling the audience how messed up the world can be and how we should work together to make things better, I usually just zone out," Mullen said.
:) Well, it seems that the Onion was once again close to the mark. From my friend Vinod, Bono told BBC Radio about tensions with his band:
"They (the band) are hugely supportive spiritually and financially of the work I do, but they are in a rock 'n 'roll band, and the first job of a rock 'n 'roll band is not to be dull," Bono told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Also:
"When I do my rant on making poverty history, I have got Larry Mullen, our drummer, behind me looking at his watch, timing me."
:D

I think this pretty relevant to SSR's recent activism thread. :)

On the live version of Silver and Gold from U2's 1990 Rattle and Hum album, Bono goes off on the following rant toward the end of the song, while the rest of the band plays on in the background:
Yep, silver and gold. This song was written in a hotel room in New York City, 'round about the time a friend or ours, Little Steven, was putting together a record of artists against apartheid! This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg, a man who's sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa, a man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor, a man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the West, while they argue, and while they fail to support a man like Bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa.

Am I buggin' you? I don't mean to bug ya.

Okay, Edge, play the blues!
And Edge plays the blues.
 
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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