Polar explorers

on March 31, 2009 with 2 comments » |

I will likely never go to the poles...but I remember getting so engrossed and feeling like I had been taken away to the frigid poles when back in 2005 I read the book (later saw the documentary also) about Shackleton's famous failed (or successful, depending on how you see it - #Fail for not reaching the South Pole; #WIN for surviving the Antarctic winter for that long and the entire team - more or less, if memory serves me right - coming back alive) expedition.

So, I am familiar with the Amundsen-Scott rivalry and Amundsen's successful conquest of the South Pole but there seems to be high adventure and intrigue about the conquest of the North Pole too.

Fascinating story this, from this month's Smithsonian magazine.

Who Discovered the North Pole?
A century ago, explorer Robert Peary earned fame for discovering the North Pole, but did Frederick Cook get there first?

On September 7, 1909, readers of the New York Times awakened to a stunning front-page headline: "Peary Discovers the North Pole After Eight Trials in 23 Years." The North Pole was one of the last remaining laurels of earthly exploration, a prize for which countless explorers from many nations had suffered and died for 300 years. And here was the American explorer Robert E. Peary sending word from Indian Harbour, Labrador, that he had reached the pole in April 1909, one hundred years ago this month. The Times story alone would have been astounding. But it wasn't alone.

A week earlier, the New York Herald had printed its own front-page headline: "The North Pole is Discovered by Dr. Frederick A. Cook." Cook, an American explorer who had seemingly returned from the dead after more than a year in the Arctic, claimed to have reached the pole in April 1908—a full year before Peary.

Frederick Cook and Robert Peary
Frederick Cook and Robert Peary both claimed they discovered the North Pole.
© North Wind Picture Archives / The Granger Collection, New York
Anyone who read the two headlines would know that the North Pole could be "discovered" only once. The question then was: Who had done it? In classrooms and textbooks, Peary was long anointed the discoverer of the North Pole—until 1988, when a re-examination of his records commissioned by the National Geographic Society, a major sponsor of his expeditions, concluded that Peary's evidence never proved his claim and suggested that he knew he might have fallen short. Cook's claim, meanwhile, has come to rest in a sort of polar twilight, neither proved nor disproved, although his descriptions of the Arctic region—made public before Peary's—were verified by later explorers. Today, on the centennial of Peary's claimed arrival, the bigger question isn't so much who as how: How did Peary's claim to the North Pole trump Cook's?

I think some day I should go read another such book - this one perhaps, The Story of Polar Conquest by Logan Marshall. (Indeed - no physical activity for this geek -- reading about such adventures is all I can indulge in! ;) But hey... at least I don't drive an Explorer ;) I remember this from Paul Reiser's book, Babyhood:
“Suddenly you understand those behemoth station wagons your parents had.  But because we [baby boomers] are, as a group, so very much more clever, we now surround ourselves instead in hulking tanks - uglier by far than anything we sat in the back of when we were 5.  But this time they have much cooler names.  Names reeking of adventure: Explorer, Expedition, Outback, Range Rover, Land Cruiser, Four Runner, Trooper, Pathfinder... Where do we think we’re going?  We’re picking up diapers and dropping off a video.  We’re not bagging a cheetah and lugging it across Kenya.”  
I love those lines and always remember them - especially the "We’re picking up diapers and dropping off a video" part! :)
P.S. In similar vein, I will never go mountain climbing but back in 2003 or so, I got so immersed in reading Eiger Dreams, a book of essays by Jon Krakauer about climbing various mountains, incl. the Eiger in the Alps. I have not read his more famous book - Into Thin Air - which I think, if I remember right, Sumit, you own and were reading at one time when I was visiting you. Did you ever finish reading that book?

And so, for more vicarious living, I share with you these two videos of high-adrenaline rush activities.
Youtube - Ski-Gliding the Eiger

YouTube - Speed-Riding Down The Eiger
P.P.S. Yikes.. reading the wiki entry for Eiger, note that 2 people died on that mountain just last week!
24 March, 2009: Two Swiss climbers froze to death near the summit after successfully climbing the North face.

And so it goes...

What a beautiful picture!

Walk on Water
Walk on Water
© Hayden Carlyon (Fort Collins, CO)
Photographed January 2008, Uyuni, Bolivia 

That's one of many amazing pictures submitted to the Smithsonian Magazine's 6th annual Readers Choice Photo Contest. You can go and see the pictures and vote here.

I had almost forgotten that I had started this series earlier in the month! Here's a worthy addition today!

Pimp pays hooker girlfriend in chicken nuggets

An Australian man pimped out his girlfriend to have sex with other men and then paid her in chicken nuggets.
And a second bonus, to make up for not updating this WTF series for so long (see note below):
Police in Ohio arrested a Columbus-area man for drunken driving after he crashed this motorized bar stool, which reportedly can travel up to 38 mph.
Ohio man charged with drunken driving on bar stool

The 28 year old, Kyle Wiglie of Columbus, OH is actually quite an innovative man. He's motorized his bar stool to go up to 38mph! But he made the mistake of actually driving to the bar and back on the bar stool..and has now been arrested "for drunken driving after he crashed this motorized bar stool."

Picture © Newark, Ohio, Police Department/AP

Related news on CNN last year: Driving a tricycle - a 50 mpg engine-powered tricycle

Actually, there's a lot more. You can follow @weirdnews on twitter or read the Quirkies at Ananova.com or other offbeat news sections in various MSM outlets to read other oddball news from around the world. Since there are already such interesting compilations, I wonder if I should stop compiling these oddball links; considering that this is not my focus at this blog anyways and its likely I'll go for days and weeks again without updating this series! I'll still post interesting oddball news from time to time but no more "WTF" links for the day.

A smart chip, indeed!

An international team of scientists in Europe has created a silicon chip designed to function like a human brain. With 200,000 neurons linked up by 50 million synaptic connections, the chip is able to mimic the brain's ability to learn more closely than any other machine.  Although the chip has a fraction of the number of neurons or connections found in a brain, its design allows it to be scaled up, says Karlheinz Meier, a physicist at Heidelberg University, in Germany, who has coordinated the Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States project, or FACETS.  The hope is that recreating the structure of the brain in computer form may help to further our understanding   of how to develop massively parallel, powerful new computers, says Meier. 
Picture © Karlheinz Meier 
But well nigh impossible (yet) to make something that functions like a human brain, I think... but this is an interesting small step towards that sci-fi-ish goal!

Errol Morris has an interesting write-up yesterday (which is how I found the set of pictures from Bush's last week, which I just blogged about) about the Unknown Gettysburg soldier.


The soldier’s body was found near the center of Gettysburg with no identification — no regimental numbers on his cap, no corps badge on his jacket, no letters, no diary. Nothing save for an ambrotype (an early type of photograph popular in the late 1850s and 1860s) of three small children clutched in his hand. Within a few days the ambrotype came into the possession of Benjamin Schriver, a tavern keeper in the small town of Graeffenburg, about 13 miles west of Gettysburg. The details of how Schriver came into possession of the ambrotype have been lost to history. But the rest of the story survives, a story in which this photograph of three small children was used for both good and wicked purposes. First, the good.

 Three children

More at the post - the link above. The second part has not been posted yet but he'll post it soon, I suppose.

Related book: Gettysburg's Unknown Soldier: The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston

This is couple months old but I found the idea of holding up an acetate window intriguing... 
We are at a crossroads. It is the beginning of a new administration and the end of an old one. There are those who would like to forget the last eight years. It’s the magic-slate idea. As if you could lift up an acetate window and those eight years would suddenly vanish.

Photographs make this somewhat more difficult. They are a partial record of who we were and how we imagined ourselves. They remind us that we have a past and that we are the sum of our past experiences. They reassert that unassailable fact.

Btw, that's from a post by Errol Morris, a filmmaker whose movie The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara won the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2004.

You should go read the entire post as it is a neat photographic coverage of George W. Bush in the last week of his Presidency.

The traveling pool of press photographers that follows presidents includes representatives from three wire services — AP (The Associated Press), AFP (Agence France-Presse) and Thomson Reuters. During the last week of the Bush administration, I asked the head photo editors of these news services — Vincent Amalvy (AFP), Santiago Lyon (AP) and Jim Bourg (Reuters) — to pick the photographs of the president that they believe captured the character of the man and of his administration.
My favorite picture is this one:
INSERT DESCRIPTIONUNITED STATES, Washington : US president-elect Barack Obama (R) waves while walking with President George W. Bush after arriving at the White House November 10, 2008 in Washington. Obama is visiting the White House at the invitation of Bush ahead of his January 20, 2009 inauguration as the next president. (Tim Sloan/Agence France-Presse)
ERROL MORRIS: Yes. Why do you like the picture so much?
VINCENT AMALVY: We don’t understand what is going on. Why does the shadow appear? I suppose it’s a shadow of somebody else beyond the corner. But the picture is only of two guys walking. It’s a profile of George Bush and Barack Obama. And he’s near the Rose Garden of the White House. And so in the back is a shadow of somebody who says, “Bye-bye.” And it is looking like a joke, but it is amazing.
Indeed! Bye-Bye, Bush!

Let people keep whining about how Obama's govt is unconstitutional & capricious.. (I'd rather live under this kind of a 'socialistic' unconstitutional govt. than the kind the Bush-Cheney administration blatantly indulged in.) 

So, I'll keep posting examples of the welcome change in the government's positions on various issues that affect life in the US. (And in today's global "flattened" world, most of these issues affect every one in the world. 

What a difference this example is of change-for-the-better, especially when compared to the the 'Drill, baby, Drill' stance of the previous administration! That stance about drilling in Alaska was driven by the greed of oil-$, of course...though if it were up to Ms. Palin, she probably would have said so because disturbing the environment probably makes moose and caribou run helter-skelter -- the easier for her to shoot them dead from her helicopter!! (I say that facetiously, of course. :))  

Congress approves landmark conservation bill   
The Democratic-led U.S. Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to sweeping land and water conservation legislation that environmental groups praised as one of the most significant in U.S. history. The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, would set aside about 2 million acres -- parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest and trails -- in nine states as new wilderness and render them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development. The House of Representatives approved the measure on a vote of 285-140 a week after it cleared the Senate, capping years of wrangling and procedural roadblocks. It now goes to President Barack Obama to sign into law, which he is expected to do swiftly.

RELATED ARTICLES
P.S. I do not have the link handy but I remember reading some years back about some advocate for drilling saying that caribou nuzzle against the warmth of the Alaska oil pipeline, showing they quite like the change in their environment i.e. animals adjust and adapt to the new environment. Au contraire, read this excellent article from some years back in the SF Gate about caribou migration & the politics of oil drilling.

Logging into Yahoo! Mail just now, I  see these two news items this morning (URLs changed since Yahoo! News links expire and I want something more permanent.)

Then, Now, and the Future (in reverse order):

Future:  Obama wants high-paying, high-skill jobs in future

Now: A gloomy economic stasis has taken hold (see below)

Then: Jobless claims set new record; GDP down more in 4Q 

..so, how big the awning gap between the now and the then. When will we get there, Mr. O?

Related: Economic Conditions Snapshot, March 2009: McKinsey Global Survey Results

Executives forecast ongoing economic gloom, but, for the second survey in a row, the percentage of the respondents who think the situation is getting worse hasn’t increased. Many say their corporate-management team is doing a good job in the crisis.

A gloomy economic stasis has taken hold, responses to a McKinsey Quarterly survey—in the field from March 10, 2009, through March 16, 2009—indicate.1 The percentage of the executives who say economic conditions have gotten worse at the national level hasn’t increased, but fewer than a third expect an upturn this year.

Executives overall are confident with how their companies are managing the crisis, though 53 percent expect profits to drop in the first half of 2009, and the number expecting to shed workers has jumped eight percentage points in six weeks. Companies that executives describe as well managed are likelier than others to be reducing both operating costs and capital spending—and perhaps not weakening operations a great deal, because these companies are also likelier than others to be improving productivity. Overall, the results show that most companies are not actively seeking more cash.

This survey also solicited executives’ views on some topics of intense public debate. Respondents think “bad banks” are a good idea, disagree on whether CEOs are paid too much, and overwhelmingly say the public trusts business less than it did before the crisis—and lay the blame at the doors of financial firms.
 
And so it goes....

The hybrids are here

on March 25, 2009 with 0 comments » | ,

No.. not hybrid cars. Hybrid animals! :)
A froppotamus; a frogodile; a cat-cow (does it go meow-moo?) (All photographs are © BNPS.co.uk).

Note that these are just flights of fancy - thanks to Photoshop - and were entries to an online competition.

But these "new" animals are for real: a striped gecko and three frogs - including one with a loud ringing call.
Scientists have discovered dozens of new species of animals and plants in a remote 'Lost World' in the dense forests of Papua New Guinea, an island north of Australia. Among them are 50 new types of spider, a striped gecko and three frogs - including one with a loud ringing call. The unique creatures, which have never been documented before, were found by a team of scientists with Conservation International, who made the discoveries during a four-week expedition to the country's unexplored Kaijende highlands and Hewa wilderness 
New Species Discovered: A frog : The Kaijende highlands and Hewa wilderness Papua New Guinea
   Litoria frog © Steve Richards/CI/Reuters

NO words/explanation necessary from me... the look says it all! ;)

Obama fires back at reporter
President Barack Obama listens to a question at a news conference, Tuesday, March 24, 2009, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)One question elicits an icy stare and sharp words from the president.

After an uncharacteristic gaffe on 'The Tonight Show' and an unfortunate case of the giggles on '60 Minutes,' President Obama had a lot riding on his Tuesday night press conference. The president largely stayed on message, using the hour to focus on the economy, the budget, and his anger (even if was delayed) at those darn AIG bonuses.

The buzziest moment came about 35 minutes into the press conference when Ed Henry of CNN asked the President why he didn't spew outrage as soon as he learned about the AIG bonuses. Why, Mr. Henry asked, did the president wait several days before speaking out? The president, with an icy stare, responded that he "likes to know what he's talking about" before he speaks. It was a pretty testy exchange that brought about nervous laughter from the other reporters and snarky responses from Twitterers. Boom! Next question.

More at the link.

Understanding life

on March 24, 2009 with 0 comments » |


Found here; via here.

As if in a subliminal note being sent to me, have run into wwo articles in the last 2 days that emphasize the importance of social interaction and human company in life. The second is specifically talking about friendship between women and though I'm not one, the learnings about the need for friendships in getting through troubled times apply as much to men as to women, I think. The flight-and-fight vs. tend-and-befriend responses to stress need not be independent of each other.

1) This piece by Dr. Atul Gawande in this month's New Yorker is more about solitary confinement & torture but it begins with a good introduction about the human need for social interaction.

Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.

Children provide the clearest demonstration of this fact, although it was slow to be accepted. Well into the nineteen-fifties, psychologists were encouraging parents to give children less attention and affection, in order to encourage independence. Then Harry Harlow, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, produced a series of influential studies involving baby rhesus monkeys.
He happened upon the findings in the mid-fifties, when he decided to save money for his primate-research laboratory by breeding his own lab monkeys instead of importing them from India. Because he didn’t know how to raise infant monkeys, he cared for them the way hospitals of the era cared for human infants—in nurseries, with plenty of food, warm blankets, some toys, and in isolation from other infants to prevent the spread of infection. The monkeys grew up sturdy, disease-free, and larger than those from the wild. Yet they were also profoundly disturbed, given to staring blankly and rocking in place for long periods, circling their cages repetitively, and mutilating themselves.

At first, Harlow and his graduate students couldn’t figure out what the problem was. They considered factors such as diet, patterns of light exposure, even the antibiotics they used. Then, as Deborah Blum recounts in a fascinating biography of Harlow, “Love at Goon Park,” one of his researchers noticed how tightly the monkeys clung to their soft blankets. Harlow wondered whether what the monkeys were missing in their Isolettes was a mother. So, in an odd experiment, he gave them an artificial one.

In the studies, one artificial mother was a doll made of terry cloth; the other was made of wire. He placed a warming device inside the dolls to make them seem more comforting. The babies, Harlow discovered, largely ignored the wire mother. But they became deeply attached to the cloth mother. They caressed it. They slept curled up on it. They ran to it when frightened. They refused replacements: they wanted only “their” mother. If sharp spikes were made to randomly thrust out of the mother’s body when the rhesus babies held it, they waited patiently for the spikes to recede and returned to clutching it. No matter how tightly they clung to the surrogate mothers, however, the monkeys remained psychologically abnormal.

In a later study on the effect of total isolation from birth, the researchers found that the test monkeys, upon being released into a group of ordinary monkeys, “usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by . . . autistic self-clutching and rocking.” Harlow noted, “One of six monkeys isolated for three months refused to eat after release and died five days later.” After several weeks in the company of other monkeys, most of them adjusted—but not those who had been isolated for longer periods. “Twelve months of isolation almost obliterated the animals socially,” Harlow wrote. They became permanently withdrawn, and they lived as outcasts—regularly set upon, as if inviting abuse.

The research made Harlow famous (and infamous, too—revulsion at his work helped spur the animal-rights movement). Other psychologists produced evidence of similarly deep and sustained damage in neglected and orphaned children. Hospitals were made to open up their nurseries to parents. And it became widely accepted that children require nurturing human beings not just for food and protection but also for the normal functioning of their brains.

We have been hesitant to apply these lessons to adults. Adults, after all, are fully formed, independent beings, with internal strengths and knowledge to draw upon. We wouldn’t have anything like a child’s dependence on other people, right? Yet it seems that we do. We don’t have a lot of monkey experiments to call upon here. But mankind has produced tens of thousands of human ones, including in our prison system. And the picture that has emerged is profoundly unsettling.

Among our most benign experiments are those with people who voluntarily isolate themselves for extended periods. Long-distance solo sailors, for instance, commit themselves to months at sea. They face all manner of physical terrors: thrashing storms, fifty-foot waves, leaks, illness. Yet, for many, the single most overwhelming difficulty they report is the “soul-destroying loneliness,” as one sailor called it. Astronauts have to be screened for their ability to tolerate long stretches in tightly confined isolation, and they come to depend on radio and video communications for social contact.

The problem of isolation goes beyond ordinary loneliness, however.

2) UCLA study on friendship among women - Tend and Befriend vs. Fight or Flight response to stress 
 
Of course, this is nothing new. Some would argue it is stating the obvious. Afterall, Alfred Adler wrote in the early 20th century..
"Man is a social being. Expressed differently: The human being and all his capabilities and forms of expression are inseparably linked to the existence of others, just as he is linked to cosmic facts and to the demands of this earth." - Critical Considerations on the Meaning of Life, IZIP, Vol.III, 1924
 
And since true happiness is inseparable from the feeling of giving, it is clear that a social person is much closer to happiness than the isolated person striving for superiority. Individual Psychology has very clearly pointed out that everyone who is deeply unhappy, the neurotic and the desolate person stem from among those who were deprived in their younger years of being able to develop the feeling of community, the courage, the optimism, and the self-confidence that comes directly from the sense of belonging. This sense of belonging that cannot be denied anyone, against which there are no arguments, can only be won by being involved, by cooperating, and experiencing, and by being useful to others. Out of this emerges a lasting, genuine feeling of worthiness. " - Individual Psychology, Einführung in die neuere Psychologie, 1926
Even Mahatma Gandhi is said to have said:
Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
And also Rochefoucaul:
What men have called friendship is only a social arrangement, a mutual adjustment of interests, an interchange of services given and received; it is, in sum, simply a business from which those involved propose to derive a steady profit for their own self-love. 
And so it goes....

Immigrant sacrifices

on March 23, 2009 with 0 comments » | ,

Missed this good article in the NYT last week.

Family Stories as Secret Text for Immigrants 

Though children of immigrants may generally know the broad arc of their parents’ lives, the details — of lives lived before America, of hardships in leaving and struggles to adapt — are frequently lost in the rush of assimilation, a time of forging ahead rather than looking back.

And so it is that each year, when Nancy Foner, a professor of sociology at Hunter, requires the students in her course “The Peopling of New York” to interview a close relative about the family’s recent history, the discoveries are often startling, to the students as well as to their classmates.

In a class where most of the students are either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants, the assignment is not simply an exercise in historical inquiry but also an intense exploration into their own lives and the sacrifices of their forebears.
Like this letter to the paper says:
...the extraordinary sacrifices their immigrant parents have made on their behalf offer a deep insight into the lengths people will go to bring their children better lives. The cumulative impact provides a powerful argument for passage of the Dream Act, which Congress is expected to reconsider later this year
....
The stories deserve to become part of the debate over the Dream Act, for they are dramatic proof of how greatly immigrants enrich our nation and how much we need to rationalize their path to citizenship.

Op-Ed by Richard Cohen on Obama's (welcome) overtures towards Iran..
..confrontational American high-handedness has been a disaster; that facile analogies between the Iranian regime and the Nazis dishonor six million victims of the Holocaust; that the regime’s provocative rhetoric masks essential pragmatism; and that the best way to help a young, stability-favoring population toward the reform they seek is through engagement. Obama has now taken all the steps I called for then. The policy changes emerged from an interagency review of the failed Iranian policy of recent years. The shift demanded courage.
Brilliant speech, btw.



Incidentally, the Iranian supreme leader has rebuffed Obama's overtures saying they await concrete changes in US policy. Ahmadinejad has not responded by mouthing off some rhetoric.....yet! But it will come, given that he faces a tough election in June and nationalistic rabble-rousing is one way for him to gain a foothold.

That said, the rheotric of "axes of evil" did not help us get anywhere with the fundamentalists in Iran and alienates the moderates with anti-American hatred, which the world can live without! Like Cohen writes - the path ahead is tough and many in the US media and population may not agree with Obama's engaging Iran but Obama has taken the right first steps in seeking reform through re-engagement.

Reminds me of this speech!
" ...somebody somewhere stood up when it was risky, stood up when it was hard, stood up when it wasn't popular. and because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up then a few thousand stood up and then a few million stood up. and standing up with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world."
Bravo! Anyone can engage in bragaddacio with slogans of "Mission Accomplished" and spew the rhetoric of "we'll blodgeon them with shock and awe." Only the brave stand up when its unpopular and say lets change this world with passion, empathy, understanding, and engagement - not with a war of words and worse still by rushing into an endless futile real war that leaves a nation fragile and gasping for breath.

Update: Time magazine explores Why Khamenei Won't Budge

Obama makes history again.This time by appearing on Leno and becoming the first sitting president to appear on a chat show. (NBC, whose ratings have been flailing - just 1 program - Sunday night football - in top 20 Nielsen ratings - and whose sister-channel, CNBC has received a lot of flak in recent days, pulled a big one with this interview! Even Leno thought so wondering why O would choose NBC to make an appearance: "You would think by this time he (Obama) would be tired of big companies on the brink of disaster with a bunch of overpaid executives." :) Even NBC CEO Zucker's cheerleading for his cheerleaders may not be enough! Saying things like "I don't want to say ratings don't matter. It's just that they are not the only gauge anymore" seems to me to be ostrich-with-head-in-sand syndrome!)

Back to Obama and the interview. When we're talking about Obama, the eager-to-judge critics cannot be far behind!
While most of the people on The Tonight show will promote a film or record, Mr Obama will be pushing his economic rescue plan for America. Critics accused him of dumbing down the presidency and of blurring the line between politics and entertainment....via

Dumbing down the presidency? Diminishing the presidency? Really? (most comments to the article say NAY!) Sigh! Expected partisan response to the interview overall!

More right-leaning: Faced with plummeting polls and Boston Tea Party-like rebellions popping up all over the country, President Barack Obama is attempting to save his faltering presidency by going to the last place that still accepts him: Hollywood.
More left-leaning: With rock solid poll numbers (higher than Reagan at this point in the presidency), President Barack Obama has the courage to leave the Washington echo chamber and talk to the common man.

To me, his appearing on the show shows that he is not going to let stupid rules stop him from connecting with the people. Break old norms. CHANGE. This is what he is about!

Like this article says:
The appearance will extend Mr Obama's habit of speaking past the Washington media and ditching the capital for events that distance him from the Beltway status quo. For those keeping account, Mr Obama might be sending a signal by going on the Tonight Show and skipping Saturday night's Gridiron Club dinner. The dinner is a white-tie highlight of the capital's social season. But Mr Obama plans to spend the evening with his family, becoming the first president since Grover Cleveland not to show up for the first such dinner of his presidency. "He's kind of setting a tone that he's not going to be restrained by the rules," said Michael Dimock, associate director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Centre.

Unbelievable though that he has to defend himself for even the smallest of things. Obama should not have to answer to every barking dog! I think he should not have even responded to the critics - esp. when their whines are ridiculous... a short interview is keeping him from his real work? Really? Geez!!
President Barack Obama is defending his appearance on Jay Leno's late-night talk show. He says his Thursday appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" is not keeping him from pressing matters. Some critics have questioned whether the television stint distracts from his work to fix the economy. Obama says he can do more than one thing at a time and is working on a host of issues, including climate change and health care reform.

Because you can bet... right-leaning people will wring their hands in desperation over his "callousness" over this remark during the Leno appearance though his comments about AIG, tax policy, and his taking full responsibility "to fix" the economic woes the US faces formed a major part of his discussion with Leno. Of course, as things go, the Simon Cowell/American Idol comment probably gets the most coverage in newspapers this morning!
"I'm excited, I'm honored to introduce my next guest, the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama," Leno said as his studio band played "Hail to the Chief."

...
Leno asked if it was fair to be "judged so quickly" after less than two months in office.

"I welcome the challenge," Obama said. "In Washington, it's a little bit like 'American Idol,' but everybody is Simon Cowell. Everybody's got an opinion."

And more humor, including the witty comment that it was "mere coincidence that his Final Four picks were all from swing states"....
Leno pressed him on when daughters Malia and Sasha would get their pet dog.

"This is Washington. That was a campaign promise," Obama replied to the pet question, drawing audience laughter. "No, no, no, no, no, I'm teasing. The dog will be there shortly."

Anyways, why am I quoting excerpts. Here's a transcript of the interview, if you want. But better to hear it from the Chief's mouth. Here's what you are waiting for - a link that leads to the video. Happy viewing, in case you didn't catch it on tv last night.

P.S. The subject title is not something I made up. Its a headline which the Brits thought up! ;)
When Big Ears met Big Chin - Telegraph.co.uk

A charmed life

on March 19, 2009 with 0 comments » |

A heartrending and yet inspirational story! (I could hardly bear to read it at times for fear of tearing up!) I would not do justice even if I tried to summarize what this article is about. Go read it in its entirety.

Anyone who is in love is living a charmed life, especially if you’ve been in love for many years, through good times and bad.
Quotable quote these lines that end this article.
We are two, but we are one. And I love those numbers.
More power to Layng Martine and his wife as they take on life - with all its uncertainties, challenges, and unforeseen indignities.

P.S. Another well written and moving article that I saw yesterday in the LA Times. This one is about a simpler matter - a blood stained $100 bill. But how nicely the story has been developed and written about!
A Note of Suffering

Nobody wants blood money. Nations spend billions of dollars to wage war, but a $100 bill smudged with a man's blood makes the superstitious queasy.

Some days I feel like this - like I'm that man walking with life's ominous uncertainties creeping up on me...



Maybe I'll try to inspire myself with some quotes (A quote is like "bread for the famished", the Talmud says!)

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” - John Allen Paulos



“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don't let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.”   - R. I. Fitzhenry 

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.” - Ursula K. LeGuin 

The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”   - Erich Fromm 


Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing, through the overtaking and possessing of a wish discovers the folly of the chase.”  - William Congreve


Certainty is the mother of quiet and repose, and uncertainty the cause of variance and contentions”   - Edward Coke


Uncertainty will always be part of the taking charge process.”  - Harold S. Geneen
And so it goes...

Great scene from the aforementioned movie from 1957, Twelve Angry Men. (Along with the much-acclaimed 1962 movie To kill a mockingbird, this movie is a classic for all times!)



Quotable quote this!

It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know.
Hmm.. I think I need to see this movie again! 

This one sounds promising..

Surveillance - Trailer
It’s been a hell of a day on the highway. When Federal Officers Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman) arrive at Captain Billing’s office, they have three sets of stories to figure out and a string of vicious murders to consider. One zealot cop, a strung out junkie and an eight year old girl all sit in testimony to the roadside rampage, but as the Feds begin to expose the fragile little details each witness conceals so carefully with a well practiced lie, they soon discover that uncovering ‘the truth’ can come at a very big cost…

There was another such thriller movie which I had thought may be interesting (or total JT*) when I saw the trailer when I went to the theater to see Slumdog Millionaire. Something about evil bankers taking over the world.... which I think will go well in today's world where the US masses are outraged at bankers and bank executives.

* JT = jabardasti tension, a phrase my friend coined for movies that forcibly create tension in a movie where logically there should be none.

Aah...seems that movie is already out and it has gotten mediocre reviews!
The International *ing Naomi Watts and Clive Owen

Btw, couldn't remember the name of the movie and so googled and found this good site with list and trailers of upcoming movies -- Cinemarv.com

I see some other promising ones (based on brief synopsis given) at the site. Here are a few..

Will this be this year's Little Ms Sunshine kind of quirky feel-good movie? Or maybe something like that quirky and enjoyable 2003 Katie Holmes movie - Pieces of April.
Phoebe in Wonderland
A rebellious little girl clashes with the rule-obsessed authority figures in her life, and seeks enlightenment from her unconventional drama teacher.

Another feel-good movie ... I'll skip this one!
Everlasting Moments Trailer
Centers on Maria Larsson, a young, poor woman who in the early 20th century wins a camera at the lottery–an event that not only makes her see the world through new eyes but also changes her life.

This is a remake from Russia of the 1957 classic movie* -- Twelve Angry Men


12
In Twelve, one juror on a murder trial manages to convince his fellow colleagues that the case is not as clear cut as it might have seemed in the courtroom.

*
12 Angry Men has a 100% rating on the Tomatometer. Wow! The first 100% that I have seen on that site. Also it makes it to many Top Movies lists.

Btw, this movie was remade into a well-made
(I thought; this video shows otherwise! Typical over-acting & melodrama.) Hindi movie Ek Ruka Hua Faisla *ing KKRaina etc which I saw in India on TV in late 80s.Btw, you can see the entire movie Ek Ruka Hua Faisla on Youtube.


A couple other interesting ones I perused...
Triptych feature telling three separate tales set in Tokyo, Japan. “Shaking Tokyo” centers on a man who has lived for 10 years as a hikikomori, (a term used in Japan for people unable to adjust to society and so they never leave their homes) and what happens when he falls in love one day with a pizza delivery girl. “Interior Design” follows the story of a wannabe movie director who arrives in Tokyo with his girlfriend only to find that parts of her bones are turning into wood.

Must Read After My Death
Filmmaker Morgan Dews was very close to his grandmother Allis, but it wasn’t until after her death in 2001 that he became aware of an astounding archive she’d amassed throughout the 1960s. Filled with startlingly intimate and candid audio recordings detailing her family’s increasingly turbulent lives, the collection also contained hundreds of silent home movies, photographs and written journals. Using only these found materials, Dews has fashioned a searing family portrait that affords fly-on-the-wall access to one family’s struggles amid an America on the verge of dramatic transformation. Must Read After My Death follows Allis, her husband Charley and their four children in Hartford, Connecticut. Charley’s work takes him to Australia four months each year, so the couple purchases Dictaphone recorders as a way to stay in touch throughout Charlie’s extended absences. A modern woman at least a decade ahead of her time, Allis struggles against conformity –against the conventional roles of wife and mother. She finds the recordings cathartic and, with the family’s cooperation, incorporates them into their everyday existence. When the family turns to psychologists and psychiatrists, their strife increases and the recordings turn progressively darker — even desperate. All the while, Dews employs the family’s many home movies and the seemingly placid, typically American facade that they convey, as visual counterpoint to the raw and sobering tape recordings.

And yet another Holocast era film....such fodder the shenanigans of that bastard Hitler have provided for movie makers! Also book-writers!

In German-occupied France, Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema. Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine organizes a group of Jewish soldiers to engage in targeted acts of retribution. Known to their enemy as “The Basterds,” Raine’s squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich. Fates converge under a cinema marquee, where Shosanna is poised to carry out a revenge plan of her own…

Enuf now... go along. See some movies. Or read books. :)

Nandan Nilekani (ನಂದನ ನಿಲೇಕಣಿ), Co-Chairman Infosys, was on The Daily Show yesterday.

He's doing the US media rounds promoting his recent book Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation. More about his book here.

Btw, seems he is kinda responsible for the phrase Friedman made popular... "The World is Flat"

The book's genesis is a conversation Friedman has with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys. Nilekani causally mutters to Friedman: "Tom, the playing field is being leveled." To you and me, an innocent throwaway phrase—the level playing field being, after all, one of the most oft-repeated stock ideas in the history of human interaction. Not to Friedman. Ten minutes after his talk with Nilekani, he is pitching a tent in his company van on the road back from the Infosys campus in Bangalore:  


As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: "The playing field is being leveled." What Nandan is saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened... Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!
P.S. Subject line sobriquet "Bill Gates of India" was uttered by Jon Stewart yesterday but its been said before. Eg: see this Time magazine profile: "Seattle has Bill. Bangalore has Nandan." 

Aaah...I see now that Friedman wrote that profile. And he writes: "It was his insight that the global playing field was being "leveled" by technology that inspired me to write the book The World Is Flat."


Btw, Stewart also kinda calls Nandan the "Madonna" of Bangalore. :)




On this day in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the start of war against Iraq. (Because of the time difference, it was early March 20 in Iraq.)

Six years and hundreds of thousands of military and civilian deaths and $600 billion later, an end to this "most disastrous, misguided and dangerous military actions in our history" may be near. Obama has said, "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in." and lets hope we (both the US and Iraq) can put this war behind us soon.
  
Although, I should add -- using a quote from a Founding Father (Thomas Jefferson) that this this op-ed uses --- Even the most successful war "seldom pays for its losses."

And though one may argue if this has been a successful one (re-writing history is well in progress!), one has got to agree that the losses have been many! And the costs (emotionaland $-wise - 1, 2, 3) staggering!

But the past administration would rather us not ponder over these issues and even after they have left office would like to take this occasion to deflect the truth and indulge in the same fear-mongering and sabre-rattling that got us into this mess in the first place even as they gloat in a strange sense of accomplishment!
 
Anyways, instead of further partisan finger-pointing, lets take this occasion to remember the casualties (1, 2, 3) of this war - the thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost and affected in this mis-adventure. One can only send wishes of hope, peace and goodwill to their families.

Bravo! Great response! When was the last time we had a President who took responsibility for his actions (and even other people's actions!). In fact, when was the last time we had a President who even acknowledged problems -- let alone one who denies he ever messed up or created his own reality about a war he started! (More about that tomorrow, the 5th anniversary of the ill-advised and disastrous war!)

[Obama]President Barack Obama said he will take the blame for bonuses being paid at AIG Inc. if it will settle an intense finger pointing under way over how such payments were possible at a company that has received tremendous taxpayer aid.

"Washington is all in a tizzy and everybody is pointing fingers at each other and saying it's their fault, the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault," he said at a town hall meeting Wednesday. "Listen, I'll take responsibility. I'm the President." He also make clear that it isn't really his fault. "We didn't grant these contracts," he said.

But he added: "So for everybody in Washington who's busy scrambling, trying to figure out how to blame somebody else, just go ahead and talk to me, because it's my job to make sure that we fix these messes, even if I don't make them."

The comments were an effort to change the subject, which has engulfed Washington this week, and pivot to his push to overhaul financial regulations that govern the system and that many blame for the underlying problems.

JS ..as in Jon Stewart! :)
Great article at HuffPost. 
What if Jon Stewart had interviewed Cheney
Stewart kept popping into my head as I watched John King interview Dick Cheney on Sunday. Each time King let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and revisionist history, I kept thinking how different things would have been had Stewart been asking the questions. Stewart without the comedy and without the outrage -- just armed with the facts and the willingness to ask tough questions.
..
"You are pretending that you are a dew-eyed innocent," Stewart might have said, as he did to Cramer. But even without Stewartesque flourishes, shouldn't King have challenged Cheney's ludicrous claim with some facts about how the fervor for financial deregulation championed by the Bush administration fueled the economic meltdown? Instead, King let Cheney off the hook: "We may get back to how we got here. But let's talk about where we are."

...
This is the problem with King and too many in the Pontius Pilate traditional media: They are so caught up in the obsolete notion that the truth always lies in the middle, they have to pretend that there are two sides to every issue -- and even two sides to straightforward data.


Someone needs to kidnap King and take him to a deprogramming center -- preferably one run by Jon Stewart and his team. That way, the next time a denier of truth or an apologist for the broken status quo -- whether Republican or Democrat -- sits across from him, King can skip the qualifiers and do what journalists are supposed to do: hold public figures' feet to the fire. If it will help, he can even crib a line or two from Stewart's Cramer interview:

KING: Mr. Cheney, these Wall Street guys were on a Sherman's March through their companies financed by our 401ks and all the incentives of their companies were for short-term profit. And they burned the fucking house down with our money and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that that was going on.
Okay, King could have dropped the "fucking" -- but how much would you have paid to watch Cheney's response to that one?

Until the Jon Stewart Journalism Deprogramming Center opens for business, all TV interviewers should ask themselves a simple question right before the camera goes on: What would Jon Stewart do?
P.S. Cramer vs. Jon Stewart may blow off soon... but the issues remain.
But the larger problem won't go away. And it's not just a matter of people missing the biggest economic story of the last 20 years. It's a matter of those who minimized it and those who blew it off because it didn't fit their worldview continuing in their plum positions of authority. Mr. Stewart wasn't rude enough to ask it, but over all his inquiries there hung the obvious question: Why do you still have a job, Mr. Cramer?
If the world of financial infotainment can itself be described as a "market," it is a market where accountability does not seem to exist, where the heaviest of incentives seems to carry no weight, and where consumers, to judge by what they get, seem constantly to choose the lousy over the good. The old order discredits itself, but the old order persists nevertheless. 
P.P.S. Also, seems Tucker Carlson is itching for his time in the limelight. Tucker vs. JS may be next. 
P.P.P.S.  England wonders where's their Jon Stewart 

Blood Money

on March 18, 2009 with 0 comments » | ,

A friend shared this well-written and moving article from the WaPo last week as an example of how well-researched and well-written articles in Western world newspapers can be ...in comparison to what Indian newspapers churn out!

"We protect against a common risk, and increase the chances of a rare risk"
Just ran across another well written article... this one is from LA Times.
 
Nobody wants blood money. Nations spend billions of dollars to wage war, but a $100 bill smudged with a man's blood makes the superstitious queasy. The note is my companion, a reminder, like a curled picture that resurfaces from the back of a forgotten drawer, of the cost of conflict and the price of moving on.
This one is about a simple mattter like a blood stained $100 bill. But read how nicely the story has been developed and written about! Moving!

This is a must see!

This talk was the buzz at TED Talks this year -- Game-changing wearable tech



Related article in Wired: MIT students develop a wearable computing system that turns any surface into an interactive display screen.  

"The wearer can summon virtual gadgets and internet data at will, then dispel them like smoke when done."

My first thought was that this was like the movie Minority Report! Actually, this is quite different. I googled to remind myself of what Tom Cruise did in Minority Report and I think that was something like this "intuitive, interface-free, touch-driven screen".... also presented at TED Talks earlier.
 

Interesting article.

The least religious nations are also the most healthy and successful

..from Nebraska to Nepal, from Georgia to Guatemala, and from Utah to Uganda, humans all over the globe are vigorously praising various deities; regularly attending services at churches, temples, and mosques; persistently studying sacred texts; dutifully performing holy rites; energetically carrying out spiritual rituals; soberly defending the world from sin; piously fasting; and enthusiastically praying and then praying some more, singing, praising, and loving this or that savior, prophet, or God.

But that is not occurring everywhere. I am referring to two nations in particular, Denmark and Sweden, which are probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world. Amidst all this vibrant global piety — atop the vast swelling sea of sacredness — Denmark and Sweden float along like small, content, durable dinghies of secular life, where most people are nonreligious and don't worship Jesus or Vishnu, don't revere sacred texts, don't pray, and don't give much credence to the essential dogmas of the world's great faiths.

In clean and green Scandinavia, few people speak of God, few people spend much time thinking about theological matters, and although their media in recent years has done an unusually large amount of reporting on religion, even that is offered as an attempt to grapple with and make sense of a strange foreign phenomenon out there in the wider world that refuses to disappear, a phenomenon that takes on such dire significance for everyone — except, well, for Danes and Swedes.

What are societies like when faith in God is minimal, church attendance is drastically low, and religion is a distinctly muted and marginal aspect of everyday life?
Read more at the article. I have not read it entirely yet...so, no comments from me. Just thought I'd share it here -- although something like this could probably just be shared through Twitter (which I have started using since February '09) or Delicious (if I used it).

In a recent TED talk, Dan Ariely, author of the recent book, Predictably Irrational (which I partly read in December 2008) explores the hidden reasons behind why humans think it's OK to cheat or steal only a "little" -- It's all about feeling good about oneself and our impressions about ourselves.



He also explains some of the decisions that went into the "cheating" in the stock market that has led us to the current mess. You can read more about his studies on how our intuitions are wrong in an interview with him at this Wired blog post and also this article at the Harvard business blog. Also this review of Dan's book.

P.S. Line from the talk that elicited the most laughs from the audience: "MITdoesn't have an honor code." :-)

Today, my fiancee broke up with me. Via a myspace message. While we were in the same apartment. FML.
FML, indeed! This one almost beats the 'divorce via Facebook wall message' news some weeks back! (OTOH, FB updates have led to husband-wife squabbles that ended much worse!!)

There are many other gems worth sharing at the site... but instead of excerpting more, I'm going to just point you to the site.
fmylife : my life sucks and I don't give a f**k. Share your every day life unfortunate moments and other fail funny stories.

The Wisdom of Your Face

on March 16, 2009 with 0 comments » | ,

President Obama's face 'shows he's highly independent and doesn't do what other people want him to do,' says Haner.It seems President Obama's face 'shows he's highly independent and doesn't do what other people want him to do.'

Question is does he (will he be able to) do what HE said he will do. 

The same  whatchamacallit face-reader expert also has tips for New York's single females (or single females everywhere, I suppose - the New York mention is probably because this is an article in the New York Daily News.)

"If you want a sensitive guy who is emotionally available, go for a big mouth and full lips. If you want them to be spiritually sensitive, they'll have a bony nose [and] sunken or hollowed cheeks." ..... But be careful if your guy's upper lip is much thinner than his lower one.  "It's a sign they're more hedonistic and have a tendency to be unfaithful. Maybe one woman isn't going to be enough."
Hmm... big mouth and full lips, huh! Where was botox when I needed it! :)

Connecting in a Wired World
1 person + 1 Internet connection = endless possibilities
On March 15, 1985, the first domain name was purchased. Mark the occasion of this anniversary with Ann Shin's film about people who use the Internet to connect with like-minded souls in surprising ways…



If it feels the same, if it looks the same, it is the same...

creditcrunch.jpg
Crowds in front of Federal Hall during the Great Depression & the Credit Crunch.

More look-alikes here.

Carnatic music

on March 11, 2009 with 0 comments » | ,

I am not an avid listener of Indian classical music but do enjoy the occasional Hindustani and Carnatic music (mostly instrumental; rarely vocal).

So, 3 videos today from Carnatic music instrumentalists who I have enjoyed in the recent past.

First up, U. Shrinivas on what is not a traditional Indian musical instrument - the mandolin.



Next a performance by Lalgudi Jayaraman on the violin, which also is not innately an Indian instrument but has been adopted by Carnatic musicians for quite a long time now.






and last but not least, a mridgangam solo -- shout out to my childhood friend, Rama, who used to play this instrument quite well.



A post with some of my favorite Hindustani instrumentalists next week...