Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, August 28, 2006
 
The Right to Travel

I don't normally reblog stuff from Sepia Mutiny, since they have a larger and more focused audience, but this is too important and too general to ignore. Siddhartha brings our attention to the news that the United States has denied re- entry to two American citizens--one naturalized and one-native born--unless they first agree to be interrogated by the FBI abroad without a lawyer and take a polygraph test. They have not been charged with any crime. From the New York Times article by Randal Archibald:

In Hong Kong, Ms. Mass said, they were told there was a problem with their passports; other family members traveled on to California, while the Ismails returned to Pakistan. There, a consular officer suggested there had been a mix-up and advised them to book a direct flight to the United States, but at the airport, they were told they were on the no-fly list, she said.

Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, was questioned by the F.B.I. at the American Embassy in Islamabad, but his father, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan, declined to participate, Ms. Mass said. Jaber Ismail has refused further interrogation without a lawyer and has declined to take a polygraph test; Ms. Mass said the men were told these conditions had to be met before the authorities would consider letting them back into the United States.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Demian Bulwa appears to have broken the story, and here is more coverage from Reuters and the Stockton Record. Ms. Mass is a lawyer with the ACLU.

As you can tell, these two American citizens are Pakistani-American. They are from Lodi, and are also related to Hamid Hayat, the 23-year old Lodi resident who was convicted of supporting terrorists earlier this year. They have apparently been in Pakistan for more than four years. It would not be surprising if the FBI had a good reason to want to question them.

But let us not forget that the FBI has a long and storied past of using its powers unjustly. Let us not forget the right to counsel in the Sixth Amendment, or that Habeas Corpus cannot be suspended for a citizen. The FBI could arrest them, handcuff them, and bring them home to be questioned in the presence of a lawyer. Instead it is treating them like foreigners and convicted criminals.

In some sense the specifics of the case are irrelevant to general discussion. If they are guilty, or dangerous, there are constitutional ways of dealing with that. What is relevant is this: two American citizens are being prevented from coming home except on condition of giving up the very rights of their citizenship. They are being deprived of liberty without trial or even accusation. There are two interpretations of this.

Either all American citizens now forfeit their rights by traveling. Or these two are not really considered American citizens.

The former is a disastrous attack on our liberty. And the latter is a disastrous attack on our citizenry. Please don't ignore it. Please support the ACLU.

 
Saturday, August 26, 2006
 
Squeaky Crooners
by Colin


Well, I knew it. It turns out that mice sing, probably to attract mates. Timothy Holy and Zhongsheng Guo of Wash U. in St. Louis put male mice in a teeny tiny sound booth along with cotton swabs soaked in (presumably hot) female mouse urine. The little hombres started crooning away, at ultrasonic frequencies, of course, and their songs show surprising structure. You can hear slowed-down recordings fit for human ears (ladies, don't get excited now) here, although I'm told that this is best done with cats in the room since it drives them absolutely bonkers.
 
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
What not to do with LN2 dewars
by Colin


In case you missed it, Birge LeConte Hall at Cal had some liquid nitrogen excitement a week ago, as reported by Arcane Gazebo. Remember, don't take large dewars down stairs, and don't leave undergrads unattended for too long at a time ...
 
Saturday, August 19, 2006
 
Pachyderm polo
by Colin


This is great: as the Washington Post reports today, North America will be represented in the World Elephant Polo Association tournament next month in Thailand by a team from the DC area. Of course, the DC team's elephant stable numbers exactly zero, and they practice by standing on a playset in somebody's backyard that's roughly elephant-height. But they have two advantages: enthusiasm, and the fact that they're probably the only elephant polo team in our hemisphere. The article contains such gems as a description of elephant polo by the Thai Elephant Polo Association president:

It creates a fantastic adrenaline rush, and elephants enjoy it, as their natural instinct is to thrive in a herd environment. There is a lot of lively banter and much discussion of the rules. Elephants are, for example, not allowed to lie down in the goal mouth.

Our valiant team will face stiff competition, and if things go well they may go up against the feared Scottish team, led by the Duke of Argyll, who are the current champions. Having ridden elephants once or twice, I can't really imagine doing anything other than trying to stay on the top side rather than the bottom. But maybe things get easier after a nip or two of Chivas Regal, the official sponsor of the World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA).

Of course, the DC team is not the first American elephant polo team. In 2000, the WEPA Amateur Chivas Regal Quaiche (look it up) Cup (yes, it's redundant) was won by Eldorado USA, from Palm Springs, and the runner up was the Screwy Tuskers, also Americans. And in case you were confused, there are indeed two people on each elephant, the player and the mahout, who actually does the driving.
 
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
 
The Birth on the Eighth Day of the Moon

It's still my favorite story. The sleepy guards of the jail, the sudden, fragrant rain, the lining up of constellations and half moon as the sun has swung completely away, leaving behind the cover of a darkness that's humming with anticipation. And then. . .

Happy Sri Krishna Janmashtami everyone!

"May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified." -- Srimad Bhagavatam,5.18.2
 
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
 
The Creatures Who Sit Around Watching While We Use Our Inner Eye

So over the years I have spent hours and hours reading and writing in my living room, and glancing out at our wide view of the north bay every now and then. My attention is frequently grabbed by something quickly moving across the blue. It's usually a bird of prey or carrion or sometimes even a hummingbird.

Now I have an office window with a much more industrial but still somewhat large view--three or four downtown office buildings, the new condos of SOMA, the port of San Francisco, Hunter's Point, a good portion of the bay, and of course, a large blue chunk of sky. And again that motion across the sky catches my attention.

The thing is this time it's usually planes, not birds. But even though I've been sitting here for weeks, there's no reason to see a bird around here or expect a bird to go so fast, and the motion is pretty unbirdlike, I keep thoughtlessly expecting to see a bird. And I am viscerally surprised when it's not a bird. Then I feel this odd mental hiccup, a weird dream-like tug on a body memory, and almost a sense of a barely visible sense of my living room *rushing away* as if it was, somehow, sitting silently around my working mind until focusing on the real world in front of me forced me to notice it wasn't really there.

It reminded me of this post by Matt at Snarkmarket, which is an excerpt from the book
The Singularity is Near describing some Berkeley research about how compact and brief optic information is as it travels from our eyes to our brain. It also made me think about all the things that visual cortex is doing when it's not actively looking around and being a wonderful camera and watcher.

I was at a conference recently filled with bloggers staring at laptops, and it's a bit eerie to see so many people whose eyes are so tightly focused on the area of the screen, and so carefully processing it for abstract informatoin. You can see them thinking. They are oblivious to their real periphery because their real focus is so densely occupied by virtual thoughts. I'm sure, of course, that I spend the vast majority of my day looking like that. And I wonder what the part of our brain that deals with peripheral vision does to amuse itself while we starve it all day. I wonder if it revels in reprocessing scenes and backgrounds from childhood and other times when we gave it a little more attention.
 
Friday, August 04, 2006
 
Popularity Dialer

ToastyKen sent me this amusing link: A web-service that places a prescheduled callt o your phone (most likely your cell phone) with a recording of one side of a conversation. Your options are a male friend, a female friend, an affirmation monologue or a boss demanding your immediate return to the office. The idea is that you either need to seem popular, get out of meeting, get some AI companionship, receive a reminder that isn't obviously a reminder, or play hipster pranks on your friends. Listen to the four types of calls if you can.

The idea itself seems obvious in retrospect. Cell phone calls have become acceptable interruptions of pretty much anything, and there are tiny but unsettling shifts in power dynamics that result from someone getting a phone call. Too many is just annoying, but a couple does indicate that a person has other people to talk to and other people to hang out with. It's also a sign of how phone-speakers have gotten really loud--you can no longer fake a call to yourself because people can catch snatches of your conversation. Though I try to step away from the group when I'm taking a call, as much to allow the group to continue its conversation without me as to protect my own privacy.

The affirmation call is silly and should be more creative and contain more pauses. The boss call is funny---the boss irately wants you to come back to the offie to fix a copy machine that is vomiting ink everywhere. It makes me wonder how many hipsters really have Marten-like drone jobs. It's prety useless for me, though--my boss would have to be insane to ask me to cure a hungover copier. I can barely move the monstrous paper tray to fix a jam. The first two calls, however, the male and female friends calling to find out what's up and if you'll hang out, are eerily familiar: overly mellow laughs, the gratuitiouslyinsinuating tone, the generically playful coaxing whine. My friends don't talk like that, but I've certainly overheard a lot of conversations that sound like this. I guess a Saheli-tailored version would insert some extraneous discussion of cephalopods. That would sound pretty authentic.

UPDATE: Cephalopod-oriented half of a conversation for your talking pleasure, courtesy of ToastyKen.
 
Thursday, August 03, 2006
 
Josh Wolf In Jail

Er, I just found out about this and am rather sketchy on the details. In late 2004 when I was thinking about learning more about video, I met a young guy named Josh Wolf whose enthusiasm and dedication to becoming a documentarian was almost overwhelming. I quickly decided that running around with a video camera was not something I felt like doing at the time, so I only hung out with him and his fellow camera-geeks a few times. So now, apparently, he is in jail for contempt-of-court because the judge wants him to change his mind about handing over footage of a demonstration (turned violent) to the feds. This is quite in line with the feds constantly obsessing with chasing dissenters. On the face of it, this seems wrong to me, and this SF Chronicle column seems to make the case quite well.

To spell out for people what's wrong with this picture---if journalists have to hand over their outtakes and their notes and negatives, if every camera--even a journalists's camera--at every protest or gathering automatically becomes federal property, nobobdy will talk to us, and nobody will let us take pictures of their gatherings and videotape their opinions. And it's not because people know they're doing something illegal. It's because people know that even legal things can be held against them, and they don't want to have to deal with the incovnenience of being on a mistaken no-fly list or proving their innocence. And if journalists are not allowed to check things out and write about them, independent of the government, you, the citizen, won't know anyone else's side of the story.

I can't say I knew Josh terribly well. I only met him a few times, mostly in loud bars where everyone was awkwardly talking about their camera-size and editing software. But he was a kind and patient explainer of technical details, and even so kind as to worry that I had become ill or something when I stopped hanging out. So I hope things work out with his legal battles. Here's a blogpost from his mom, and here's a Huffington Post article.
 
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
 
Awesome! My Superhero Diagnosis! And Other News!

Your results:
You are Wonder Woman
























Wonder Woman
90%
Spider-Man
80%
Superman
80%
Supergirl
70%
Robin
60%
Green Lantern
60%
Batman
55%
The Flash
50%
Hulk
50%
Catwoman
45%
Iron Man
35%
You are a beautiful princess
with great strength of character.


Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...



Aw shucks. I was barely hoping for Catwoman, but I guess I'm not quite villainous enough. The description here seems calculated to appeal to 9-year olds. The kind whose fallback Halloween costume was frequently "magical princess." Though that was usually because I could never remember to ask for blood and teeth for a vampire.

From Kevin "Iron Man" Powell.

In other super hero news: On Saturday I was presented with a can of Muscles in Heavy Syrup (to be consumed, along with the can, when needing super strength) from the Brooklyn Superhero Store. I've decided to save it for emergencies. But when the emergencies come--I'll be ready!

Yesterday I was delighted to be given a just-because gift of "Superman, the Dailies: 1939-1942" from a friend who's also a reporter and who remarked on how much more central Clark Kent and Lois Lane's journalistic careers are to the plots. Superman's also a bit of a of a jerk, and not in the wackily insane ways carefully preserved on Superdickery.com, but in a more realistic and therefore scary way---he intimidates criminals into talking with little cause (though of course he's always right), and frequently arranges matters to make sure Clark Kent gets a scoop, even if that's slightly suboptimal morally. Nevertheless, the comics are still thoroughly delightful, especially the simple art. I've carefully loaned it to the art director for the day so that I actually get some work done.

Scott just showed me this interesting site, girl-wonder.org. Filed away for future investigation!
 
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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