: I'm seeing more Kieslowski today!: From my previous entries, you may think that my life revolves around the filmography of Kryzsztof Kieslowski. It doesn't really. But I get unreasonably excited by the prospect of seeing some large number of films in a row, and today I'm going to see his Three Colors trilogy.

I get troubled when I watch a lot of movies because I know some of my money is going to the MPAA, and thus to the Evil DVD/CCA. But at least independent movies and foreign films are somewhat better, right? The UC Theatre is my balm and my exemption and my redemption, right?

"White" is at 5:30 (bargain!), "Blue" at 7:20, and "Red" at 9:20. The UC Theatre is on University Avenue between Shattuck and Milvia in Berkeley. Each of the movies works as a standalone, so come to one, two, or all three for a night of Polish/French ambiguity.

Egosurfing on Google depresses my good mood. My Dad's work on religion fills up the whole first screen in a search for "harihareswara". I don't show up till match #15 or so. Ergh.

Well, I have stuff to do -- making copies to make a reader for the class I'm teaching this semester (Politics in Modern Science Fiction), dropping off dry-cleaning, doing bank stuff, dropping off said copies at Odin Readers on Center Street, and finally going to movie. Not to mention getting some emailing done if I can. Sigh/Ergh redux.

But hey, at the end of it all, I'm gonna see some movies, and I trust they won't be too bad.

P.S. By the way, I've been noticing that in many situations where two players vie for popularity and dominance, the two products often end up indistinguishable. So as to get "the center," I suppose. Can anyone think of a situation where each stays entrenched in difference, rather than sameness?

Poll: Best (worst?) fake rivalry

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/10/125655/372

: I OD'd on Kieslowski -- next time on Springer: Advice: Do NOT try to watch six hours of Kryzsztof Kieslowski's work in a single night. I was bewildered by "White," annoyed by "Blue," and asleep halfway through "Red."

So Wednesday night we went to see the Big Night O' Kieslowski, the Three Colors Trilogy, over at the UC Theater. Problem: over the past weeks, since my last Kieslowski tasting (see earlier diary entries on "Decalogue"), I'd gotten used to films that have, like, closure.

So I walked in as a lamb to a bewildering French-Polish surreal holodeck. No, not a slaughter. But I'm sure no lamb could be more confused than I.

I had seen/heard description of "White" as a comedy. It had some funny moments, yes. You wouldn't think that a bunch of thugs beating an unarmed man, then throwing him over a mountainside and driving away, could be funny, but it was. However, whoever described the film as a whole as a comedy must have been operating on a different definition of "comedy." As in, "a film in which no one dies."

I liked "Blue," even though I found some of Kieslowski's devices annoying and incomprehensible. In the Decalogue, I could -- with some help from Anirvan -- figure out the purpose of some gimmicks or motifs. But the sudden music swelling and blackout -- I just didn't get it. But it was pretty, and I could actually follow the story.

(Note: I think I understand more Polish than French, even though I took French for four years in high school, and I've never formally studied Polish. It must be the Slavic connection with my current Russian studies.)

And then there was "Red." I can't say much -- I fell asleep around halfway. I remember being excited about the cyberpunkish opening that went inside a telephone wire. But the rest of the movie was pretty person-centric, no hacking or anything. Sigh. I was tuckered out, and I awoke to the sound of applause as the film ended.

(Note: in a foreign film, the barriers to closing your eyes are higher, since you have to keep your eyes open to follow the subtitles. No "I'll just listen to the dialogue" here.)

The last time I fell asleep at a film was also at the UC Theatre, in my ill-advised effort to watch "Hamlet" -- the Kenneth Branagh version, around four hours long. Someday I'll try to see it again. But the newest one, the Ethan Hawke version, was great and quite serviceable, so maybe I should just go see that one twice.

Poll: Favorite evangelist

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/12/123459/371

: Two days till school starts: What to do? Should I review Russian, create flyers for the class I'm teaching, or just enjoy unfettered Berkeley? Ah, a procrastinatrice like myself generally chooses the path of least (immediate) resistance...right now, I'm listening to an XMMS playlist, surfing K5, and delaying going over to a friend's.

(In case you care, I enjoy the music of The Weatherheads, Copperpot, Frisbie, Ben Folds Five, Audra and the Antidotes, and Ten Til'Eight, and you can find music by all of them at IUMA, the Internet Underground Music Archive. No, I'm not a shill, otherwise I would have had a child, named it Iuma, and asked for the million dollars or whatever.

The third semester of Russian is coming, starting Tuesday. I surprise myself at my facility with Russian -- and at gaps in knowledge, or at least memory. I wish I could find some sort of free Linux program that does a flashcard kind of thing, programmable both in Cyrillic and Latin characters. Somehow I think I'd be better, more disciplined, at doing flashcards if I could do them on my computer. I should check Freshmeat.

I'm trying to think of a tagline with which to advertise my class. "It's not just punk, it's cyberpunk!" No. "Watch the Matrix for credit!" Misleading. "Lots of reading, but it's enjoyable!" A bit too James-Morrow-"City-of-Truth" for my taste (though we will read that work in my class, the longest short story -- in fact, it's a novella, I think -- that we'll read). "Al Gore is a robot!" Well, that combines sci-fi and politics, but somehow I don't think it's strongly associated enough with a "take my class" behavioral command.

Got any ideas?

Anyway, I wish I had another week to do research, figure out how this whole summer-in-Russia thing is going to work out, and just hang out at Cody's and watch interesting movies at the UC Theater. But wishing makes nothing so. (Reminds me of a line from Philip Pullman's excellent The Golden Compass, the first book in his His Dark Materials trilogy. You'll find it in the "young adult" or possibly "fantasy/sci-fi" shelves of the bookstore. It's terrific. Gosh, another thing I wish I had time to do: read the second and third books, before school starts on the sixteenth...)

Poll: The Evil Empire

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/14/183533/953

: "Traffic" - an important film to Smokedotters and others: I saw the movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh, with an ensemble cast (the most famous of whom would be Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas). Did you? I was very glad that I saw it, and enjoyed it.

Perhaps it makes few proposals, but it's a big indictment of the current "War on Drugs." As my moviegoing partner said re: the WoD (before seeing the film), "I don't know what we should be doing, but I do know that whatever we're doing, it's not working."

Note: self-indulgent equivocating and rambling ahead. And this is not really a review.

The various parallel plots sometimes converge, sometimes not, and the compare/contrast of plotlines works well. Various artistic devices also help the viewer see the film's viewpoint ... the closer you get to South America, the more jarring and unfamiliar the filming technique gets, it seems.

In my years here at Cal, I've begun to understand the inherent flaws in the Drug War. In a primarily libertarian environment such as K5, I assume most of my (three) readers will agree. But it still would bother me --

you see, I'm not quite a libertarian; I still think that some "consensual" or "victimless" crimes might be legitimate for the government to prosecute. Maybe prostitution is just not a good thing, for individuals or groups in the US culture, and no amount of regulation or free-market influence or education or open-mindedness can make it morally neutral, much less a good thing. Same for drugs in general. What is the best way to draw some sort of legal distinction between crack and pot, among tobacco and alcohol and heroin and ecstacy?.....then, I've never drunk anything more intoxicating than kvas, a Russian fermented-black-bread drink that's (my classmates told me at the field trip) less potent than your average beer. So maybe those with empirical experience should be making policy....those still alive, sane, and able, that is...I suppose --

I suppose that reformed ("recovering?") hard-core heroin addicts have insight to add to drug policy. I further suppose that the types of things they would say and suggest will not become major policy planks until some sort of catastrophe occurs....say, as in "The Mycojuana Incident" by Fran van Cleave in the "Analog" sci-fi magazine of Feb. 2001. (A good and relevant read.) Or a tragic, massive O.D. by the President's wife or child. Or some other similarly horrific and telegenic disaster. I'll simultaneously hope and dread, then.

Poll: What drug would you LIKE to try?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/16/01618/1335

: An extended narrative on teaching, comedy, and temperament: I'm at the life stage where I should be thinking not just about jobs, but about careers. I'm something of an extrovert, I like to write, and I enjoy hanging out with geeks. What to do?
What follows is a meditation/narrative on thought-provoking incidents and situations I've had in the past few years (unless I stretch back to my sixth grade talent show cameo) (which I very well may). Your mileage may vary. The first part of, I think, two.

To back up:

Part I:

I am a student at UC Berkeley, where the research is world-class and the classes are scarce. At least once every year I play The Waiting Game, hoping that enough people will drop a class, or be unwilling to take an 8 a.m. discussion section with a Graduate Student Assistant (a teaching assistant to the professor), so that I can enroll. A good Graduate Student Instructor is doubly precious: she motivates me to prepare for class, and she makes that 8 a.m. discussion enjoyable, educational, and mind-expanding.

I've had a few terrific GSIs here in the Political Science Department. One of them is a particular favorite of mine: funny, down-to-earth, very smart, and a fantastic teacher. He brought me to understand the texts in the course in a completely different way. Everyone in the department, it seems, loves him -- undergraduates, faculty, other grad students. This semester, students practically fought to switch into one of his dicussion sections for the course he's TAing. (The other is -- you guessed it -- ear-lie in the mornin'.)

Once I observed a conversation he had in the hallway in Barrows, the political science headquarters. A friend of his was urging that he acquaint himself with a female friend of hers, possibly with view to a romantic liaison. "She's really funny, just like you, you'd like her," -- I paraphrase -- she said.

And he replied -- was it a joke? -- that two exhibitionists don't go well together.

Part II:

Shortly after taking his class, I learned about the comedy nights that we have here at Cal. The Heuristic Squelch, our comedy magazine, puts them on in conjunction with ASUC Superb, the entertainment arm of our student government. A few professional comedians come in and do their spiels, and then there's an open mic. Students can go up and do five minutes worth of "Catch a Rising Star, Or Maybe Just a Fratboy On a Dare." Once in a while, the audience wishes the limit were ten minutes. More often, it wishes it were two.

I signed up. I did okay. I've performed three more times since them, and will probably do some schtick at the next one in a week -- Sat., 27 January. Once I did great, the other times not as well. But I like it. I like giving people humor, pulling the rug out from under them at the punchline, making them laugh. There's a power there, having them listen to me, their attention focused on my words, my creation. And when they laugh, when my joke has worked as well as any line of code or any Swiss watch -- that's my drug. That's my moment in the sun.

I know, it's not a living. I don't intend to quit my day job.

But first I have to figure out what that will be. Tomorrow: Part III. Teaching and temperament.

Poll: You want more?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/21/03920/3639
Filed under:

: Short/sweet, I hope: Sorry that I never posted that promised "career, exhibitionism, temperament" screed, part III. It'll happen. Netscape crashed. Grrr.

For now, other thoughts. Movies, music, mice, abstinence.

I tend to be doubtful of a medicating approach to personal problems. I would prefer, if the source my problem is not plainly and solely physical, to avoid drugging myself. It messes up the experimentall environment -- too many variables.

These optical mice from Apple are neat. I like noticing how the light gets brighter when the mouse moves, but when it stops moving, after about a second the light dims again.

I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Very entertaining. I haven't seen such a well-integrated musical for a while. And that was part of its appeal -- it was a shamelessly musical film. Even though I can't stand the Hindi-movie approach to music in film, the world of cinema should have more appropriate music in it. It's funny; Save the Last Dance had some really neat music in it, and then during the After-School Special moments in it, which were unutterably bad, the music got really viscous and sappy. Not fun at all.

Now, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, on the other hand, was realy neat. I gasped so much that I'm surprised I ever had a chance to let my breath out. Very awesome, in the original sense of the word. I read in Giant Robot magazine (which I am apt to confuse with the Fresh Robots, a San-Francisco-based comedy troupe) that Ang Lee kind of thinks of the female, Michelle Yeoh's character, as the "hidden dragon" of the title. Gives you something to think about -- would our young female character, Chang-Li, be the crouching tiger? Poll: Movie-betterest

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/29/20446/2498

: Learning to Teach; and, Comedy as Power: Okay, continuing my ramble (not 'babble,' one hopes) on career, temperament, teaching, comedy, and talent.

During the week before my fifth comedy show appearance (it was Saturday, 27 January, in 145 Dwinelle, and I was that Indian female who made the jokes about Russia and Fruit Roll-Ups), I wrote a comedy act, a four-minute comic monologue. A few days ago, I wrote the lesson plan that I'll be using today. How similar the processes are!

What do I need to say? What's the best order in which to reveal each piece of information to the audience? Is this the premise or the surprise conclusion? For it is so true that "Teaching is one-quarter preparation and three-quarters theater." Drama is the seductive element in the best classrooms I've ever experienced. What's next? The students want to know.

I'm not going to claim that I'm an outstanding teacher. I don't think I am. I do think that I'm getting better each semester that I teach. And I think that I've been getting better at my comedy, too.

Preparation is really key. I have to think through the entire class and topic. What do I want my students to know or understand that they didn't before? What is the really interesting question here? Why is this relevant? What examples can I use to make abstract ideas more concrete? How does this lesson work in the overall plan of the course? (And it really should be a course; as surely as the course of a river carries the water in its current, the class should carry the students to some new destination. I want my students to have some new synapses in May that they didn't have in January.)

And I have begun to understand the importance of presentation. I used to be ideologically opposed to applying any effort towards the appearance or style of things. My clothes generally reflect that principled energy-conservation. But I am beginning to behave as though it were all of a piece, the content and the style in which I present it, just as the thoughts in an essay require an elegant and coherent organization into paragraphs and sentences.

I can facilitate laughter by arranging the joke a certain way, by placing a particular joke after its analog, by imitating accents, by speaking clearly and using tonal variation. I can facilitate learning by arranging the chairs a certain way, by taking on the tropes of authority in my behavior, by making clear my expectations. I use ordered lists and headings in my syllabus; I use the premise-setup-punchline-punchline-punchline mold in my jokes. It's all about communication, connection, and the tools I can use to get the message across.

I do a lot of unusual, attention-getting things. I teach, I do stand-up, I advertise my class by barking on Sproul Plaza (in the manner of circus publicists), I regularly wear a Linux pocket protector. A dime-store psychologist or a talk-show host might trace this behavior to my past, and say that I do these things because I feel insecure, because I didn't get enough praise as a child, because I always felt as though I weren't in the "in-crowd." And yeah, I can see some of that.

But maybe some of us are just evangelistic by nature, outgoing, friendly, "leaders," and that's not a bad thing, just a temperament, a trait. A trait is what you make it. I'm a born star, you're extroverted, he's a showoff, to paraphrase (I think) W.C. Fields. I think I just really publicly influencing groups. Political science is the study of power, and I'm a political science major. What is power? It's a meme. And I long to construct and spread a really influential meme, the meme heard 'round the world.

Poll: Most influential meme

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/31/145032/262
Filed under:

: The Arbiters of Funny: I took notes at a lecture, learning about the factors that slow or hasten the formation of new ethnic elites. And then I went to a meeting of the school humor magazine, where white guys decided what was funny. I'm not some reflexively radical affirmative-action equality-of-results By Any Means Necessary gal. But I wonder what makes someone an agenda-setter, even in the realm of humor.

The magazine to which I refer is the Heuristic Squelch, the only intentionally funny publication out of UC Berkeley. And it is funny. It's funnier than a lot of rather sophomoric efforts I've seen. Sometimes it's just, well, sophomoric. But that's to be expected. Humor is, of necessity, a hit-or-miss proposition.

I've been to a few meetings. I've submitted a few articles, and ideas for Top Ten lists, both topics and content. I've gotten little or nothing in, but that's to be expected -- I haven't submitted that much, and editing happens. And my sense of humor is -- again, of necessity -- offbeat. More geeky, more obscure.

Maybe, then again, it's all because I'm an Indian female. What kind of privilege is operating here? Most of the people who work on the Squelch are white guys. I saw a smattering of Latinos and females. I was the only Indian -- I think a half-Asian or two participates regularly.

Maybe, if I had the time and inclination, I'd join the staff, and go to every meeting, and try to get my unique stamp on the humor that the student body reads pretty universally every month. And I'd get experience, and clips, and maybe someday I'd write for Saturday Night Live or a sitcom somewhere or "The Onion" or "Modern Humorist". I'm pretty sure those are mostly guys. Why?

The Kids in the Hall and Monty Python's Flying Circus get cited over and over as comic writers' formative influences. Neither troupe had a single female. Why? And what effect does this have on those who model themselves after them? No wonder sketch shows' casters feel content with a tiny fraction of their casts being multipurpose-workhorse women.

Is it true that women just don't have a sense of humor, or the sense of humor necessary to write humor consistently? There are some consistently funny female comics out there, like Margaret Cho and Janeane Garofalo. Is it a boy's club, where a person who doesn't readily spit out middlebrow tampon jokes doesn't get asked to come back?

I feel whiny. I probably just have to write more and try harder to be funny. I have to work at it -- it's a muscle. Hey -- the same people who don't think my spontaneous ideas are funny in the meeting are the same people who sometimes do laugh at my comedy-night open-mic stand-up routines. So there's probably no conspiracy out there.

I just get a bit annoyed when the prevailing humorous literature out there is banal, often slyly misogynistic, and manifestly unfunny. The free-market and/or punk answer is DIY: Do It Yourself. But I have little time and other, higher priorities. I wonder what I could do to accelerate the pace at which the arbitration of humor is more equally distributed among the truly and consistently funny, regardless of race and gender.



Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/1/31/01840/3680
Filed under:

: Am I a coward?: Cowardice or well-honed evolutionary instinct?

I'm afraid to try new things. I fear the unknown. I'm insecure. How different am I, then?

I'm like mroe and more of the world. I don't like unmediated experience.

I just wish I knew whether it were genetic, or learned, to be fearless. So maybe I could change and not feel this abyss of despair.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/2/3/234936/5051

: Short update: Pills, chills, and goodness.

Overall, I'm feeling better.

Even non-psychiatric medicine, if you forget it for a few days, can mess with your moods. Creepy.

DO NOT waste your time or money on "Head Over Heels."

Updated my homepage.

Teaching is going okay. Looks like it'll be a small class--good.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/2/5/115350/3628

: The right question: I experienced a truly transcendent moment the other day while teaching, and I'd like to share it with you.

(In the CD slot right now: Frisbie, "The Subversive Sounds of Love." Playing the first track, "Let's Get Started.")

Yesterday was class meeting number four -- the second session of the second week. I love having two hours a week to discuss stuff -- the last class I taught had only one. (All right, so they're Berkeley hours, 50 minutes, but still, it's twice as much. I wish my political science classes had two hours a week of discussion, not one.) There's so much interesting stuff to talk about, and I can choose the subjects, shape the discourse.

Yesterday while writing the lesson plan, I experienced a problem I don't think I'd ever had so bad: teacher's block. What should be the milestones in our first discussion of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness? I knew where I wanted to start, but what destination would be most useful, and what route would cover the most interesting scenery? Le Guin (through the Foretellers), Simon Stow, and Steve Weber have all powerfully raised my consciousness of the importance of asking the right question.

I already knew that I wanted to mention a thing that Le Guin says in her introduction:

Yes, indeed the people in it [the book] are androgynous, but that doesn't mean that I'm predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous. I'm merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and though-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are.
So: where is she right? When are we "already" androgynous? Where does, and where doesn't, gender affect us? I also wanted to ask them whether the world of Gethen repelled or attracted them, and discuss ways that gender and biology affects our institutions.

So I finally came up with some concrete details and examples, both in the book and in real life, that we could productively discuss. For example, since each individual Gethenian is sexually inactive most of the time, Earth's sex-drive-based advertising campaigns wouldn't exist there. Also, even though Gethenians don't generally do things based on sex drive, the first country we see on Gethen has a monarchy, a hierarchy, and Gethenians use the institution of shifgrethor in devious power plays. (Don't ask me what shifgrethor is -- read the book or look it up; I can't explain it adequately.)

So the lesson plan got written, and a few hours later I entered 235 Dwinelle, grungy and very student-looking. I'd meant to go home before class and change into teachery-y clothes and exchange my student-signifying backpack for the teacher-signifying portfolio bag. I saw the students -- my students -- with The Left Hand of Darkness on their desks.

[Lengthy Aside: By the way, I get a kick out of the fact that these students were carrying and reading a book simply because I had assigned it. I know, that's kind of a power trip. So sue me, I'm an insecure little dictator. A "desperate little despot," as a teacher at my old high school once wrote:

So good night and good living and good life and get along
And farewell, and be happy and be sure you sing the song
That allows you to be something ... you've been nothing for so long
You desperate little despot ... des spot light's yours.

But that, though it's from "The Pope Pong Song," page 80 of Tiger Pause 1996 from Tokay High School, is beside the point.

Wait a sec -- I guess I've always felt this way. A poem from the same literary magazine, two pages back, by me:

To Buddha
God sits at the desk now
Marking papers red
Subbing for our teacher
Struck this morning dead
God is wearing earrings
White streaks in her hair
If I want to get in AP
Saffron I must wear

It's sophomoric, what you would expect of a high school sophomore, which is what I was. But teaching-as-power has been a theme with me for longer than a year. Perhaps that's because school was, it seemed to the younger me, the one place where I excelled. And if academics are your sports, then teachers are the coaches and referees. They make you and break you.]

I did the administrative things. I took attendance and I dealt with a new student who wanted to enroll. We started talking about the book -- what shifgrethor was, and who thought the world of Gethen was possibly "neat," and who was wary.

And then I asked -- "How are we 'already' androgynous? Where does gender not affect us?" I may have said different words.

And the moment was electric. I looked around the room. Every student -- I think, I hope -- was staring, gazing, not blankly, but thinking, for a second, two, three --

I had asked something they hadn't asked themselves before, and they were sifting their experiences, seeking, seeing with new eyes, forming new synapses, making connections --

And two or three voices called out at once, bursting with the enthusiasm of discovery. On the rowing team. In Wu Shu. Over the internet. And we made connections, categories...

The rest of the lesson went well. Animated discussion ensued about the traditional powers that women have, and what Gethen is like, and why the cold climate is important. I set up my next lesson, about the Self and the Other in Darkness. As with all good lesson plans, mine proved to be the skeleton, not the flesh; the map, not the territory (apoogies to John Chapman).

Le Guin writes in that same introduction:

Finally, when we're done with it, we may find -- if it's a good novel -- that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it's very hand to say just what we learned, how we were changed.

I can't say, either, how I was changed, or what my students learned from Friday's class. But I saw something happen in that moment yesterday, when my question lingered unanswered in the air, and it gave me a high so strong, so clear, that I never wanted to come down.

Poll: Do you want to read more of brainwane's teaching experiences?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/2/10/15221/3922
Filed under:

: I taught, I will listen -- (im)perfective: I had two relatively good teaching sessions this week. Not outstanding, but okay.

Tomorrow I expected to help a friend move, but now it's postponed. Instead, I guess, I'll clean and do work.

In the evening, I'll attend an a cappella competition. I went to this event last year, and loved it. I'm a sucker for certain types of music -- voice, acoustic guitar, and flute, I think. (Note that the UC Men's Octet won first place in the ICCA last year. And that they, along with the other a cappella singers who perform near Sather Gate near noon on some weekndays, are -- in my opinion -- the only real celebrities at Cal.)

I'm thinking of putting my lesson plans up on the web, linked to my syllabus. But are they worth it? As well, if I let anyone and everyone see my little schemes, then I'd be showing everyone how the levers get pulled, and the man behind the curtain would seem exactly as flawed and dirty as he is, and lose all his glamor.

Poll: Put lesson plans on web?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/2/16/21372/6572

: Can you count on me?: Saw "You Can Count on Me" today, alone (odnoy in Russian, I think) and I'd like to talk a bit about it. It's great, subtle and sharp, and -- as in the best of art -- as a multipart mirror, showed me parts of myself in a new light.

It's a drama, mostly, and focuses on the relationship between two grown siblings. Mark Ruffalo plays the brother; Laura Linney ("Meryl" in "The Truman Show," I think), the sister. They lead rather different lives, and conflict arises.

It's also very good. Linney was recently well-deservedly nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. I think Ruffalo deserves a nod, too, and I don't think he got one. Oh, well. The dialogue reveals as much by silences and undertones as by speech; indirection and intelligent editing reveal a trust in the audience's intelligence. And the story forced me to consider how I am like or unlike each member of the matched pair, brother and sister.


This much you may know from the trailers/ads/reviews that give away stuff from the first twenty minutes: Laura Linney's character, Samantha, was abducted by aliens, and Ruffalo is an FBI agent-- No, wait. She is the mysteriously-disappeared twin sister of a phone company employee -- Argh, that's "VR5".

You see, this movie here has no big special effects -- maybe none at all. It's just about ordinary people's lives. When they were young, Samantha and Terry's (Ruffalo's) parents died in a car crash. She's the older one, I'm pretty sure. Now, she still lives in the same small town, a single mother of one young boy, working steadily at a bank. Terry, on the other hand, is a smooth-talking drifter, and has come back home more for cash than for family bonding.

Samantha is an older child, I think--she's so responsible, pushes herself so hard. And Terry leaves other people to clean up his literal and figurative messes. His irresponsibility and impulses to move on, to lose himself, and his flat-out lying to tell people what the want to hear -- Clintonesque, only with less of the charm, thanks to his failed attempts at sincerity. Yet there are times when he IS magic, when he really is a good guy. It's just that he doesn't care to keep up the act when he's not in the mood. He can make lots of excuses, the angry blame-flames of the early-disillusioned.

And Samantha's child is quiet and withdrawn. The kind of withdrawn that I get during conflict with people I love.

Samantha always seems wound too tight, always harried, during breakfast or after sex or whatever. And she feels as though she is always responsible, and she has always had to be the responsible one and it breaks some mechanism in her to find that bad things have happened to ones she loves, because *it's her fault.*

And so she seems more sympathetic to me, most of the time, and yet Terry has something, too. I wouldn't want to be angry all the time, like him, but he's intelligent, and questioning, even if he lets these qualities flow out through destructive and self-destructive channels. He says that he's not looking for anything in his drifting, just trying to get on with it (I think that's how he says it).

Would spontanaeity be such a bad thing? Some things can force you to plan, but what can REALLY force someone to be spontaneous? YOu can never stop someone from making plans. The only way to force spontaneity is to change someone's circumstances all the time, to make previous plans null and void, and force her to react to new conditions. But if that happens enough, she gets dull, withdrawn, passively accepting her reality like a rat in a maze.

I imagine.

As quiet and withdrawn as the kid in the movie.

Unless she can do something about it. Unless she can escape the maze.

Poll: "You Can Count On Me"

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/2/17/20150/2472

: I cried this morning: I couldn't help it. I always felt a bit of contempt for the people who claimed some personal grief at the death of Princess Diana. But I lay in bed and I cried after I heard the NPR story about the school shooting in Santee, near San Diego, California, USA. God, why?

It's been more than a year since the Columbine massacre. More than a year since Voices From the Hellmouth. And it could happen again. It has happened again.

Where will it happen next time? It kills a bit of my soul to know that it will happen again. Where? It will probably be another white boy in some suburban public school, who feels alone and constantly mocked. He sees that he can get guns, and he reads about Littleton and Paducah and Santee and thinks, I could do that.

Oh god, I remember the yearbook photos from Columbine, the girl who was going to college in the fall. I remember the scene in "Heathers" where Christian Slater defends the bomb he's planted under the school and says -- I'm getting the exact quote from IMDB -- "People will look at the ashes of Westerburg [High School], and say, 'Now there was a school that self-destructed, not because society didn't care, but because the school was society!' "

What can I do?

I have Russian to do. And I have a meeting today about which I'm nervous, and I haven't eaten yet, and I re-watched "The Blair Witch Project" yesterday -- just the end! -- and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

Anyway, I know that I will, with much self-loathing, glean through the shrapnel of the latest rage-writ-large, trying to use my writerly sense to find meaning in the small things. Salon.com writers have made many good points, e.g., this never happens at private schools, this happens every day on a smaller scale in inner cities to poor nonwhites.

I read the kukluxklan.org FAQ via Google cache yesterday. They sound so reasonable, if you replace "racial mixing" with, say, "corporate control" or "police brutality." (It does crack me up that a nonwhite can be an "Official Supporter" of the Klan, and that the Klan feels irritated that other nouveau wannabe Klans use their name and logo.)

And all the while I feel as though someone is watching over my shoulder, not as an angel, but as a demon.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/6/114852/8480

: I was wrong. She's a girl, in a private school.: So sue me. I said that shootings only happen in public schools, and that the shooters are always boys.

Elizabeth Bush, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA, fired shots in her private school (Bishop Neumann High School). It's pretty frightening. The only one shot was the head cheerleader, who allegedly was one of a clique that mocked the outcasts whom Elizabeth defended. I feel a lot more disturbingly visceral empathy with Elizabeth than I did with Dylan, Eric, et al.

Poll: With whom do you empathize more?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/12/172258/267

: Crummy Snow Cadence Confederacy Whom Violence and SciFi: A San Francisco columnist's article says much of what I wanted to say the other day, regarding school shootings by females. Well, maybe that's not what I would have said, but at least he brings a new light and new info to the subject.

More in this entry about the unholy death of "whom," the class I teach, Leonard Richardson, protests at Cal, and humor.

My class: It's going well. My students are doing the reading and participating, for the most part. Today we discuss Snow Crash, and Friday we'll move on to The Diamond Age. Note: my Meyer-Briggs Personality Indicator told me that I prefer planning over spontanaeity. Sure enough, I do MUCH better in teaching when I have a well-thought-out lesson plan. I can deviate from it if circumstances arise, but at least I know what my goals are for each session. And since I have a tendency to go off on tangents (e.g., evangelizing open source, mocking Ayn Rand, etc.), the structure keeps my quirks from taking over the show.

Culture v. tech: Salon.com just ran an interview with Norton Juster, writer of The Phantom Tollbooth. (Comment below if you want me to publish here my personal anecdote re: TPT.) I thought the incredibly cool thing was that Juster consciously connected the Digitopolis/Dictionopolis divide to C.P. Snow's famous "two cultures" observation, of the separation between math/science and humanities.

There were themes in there that I threw in because they amused me at the time. The whole conflict between words and numbers, that old thing that C.P. Snow wrote about many years ago. I didn't lay it out as a thesis or anything, but it was fun having it in there. And it doesn't get in the way of the story.

When I told a physicst friend of this, it went something like:
Sumana: So it was really about C.P. Snow and what he said about the two cultures.
Hacker Physicist: Who's that?
Sumana: Primary and subsidiary point. Primary point: C.P. Snow said that the sciences and the humanities are two different cultures, and there's a huge division between them. Subsidiary point: the fact that you didn't know that indicates that he was right.

Of course, my friend also has a k5 weblog. When comparing our journals and their emphases, I see that while k5 may aim to unite "technology and culture from the trenches," my culture and his technology seem pretty separate.

Crummy: Now that the esteemed readership of Leonard Richardson's crummy.com sees this journal as one of the blogs in the top navbar, I feel more pressure to be as prolific as LR himself. I don't have the cojones, stamina, or tolerance for information asymmetry to make this diary as comprehensive and frequently updated as Mr. Richardson's News You Can Bruise. Still, I'll try to give you a run for your eyeballs.

The Demise of "Whom": To paraphrase Mystery Men, "Whom is not dead! Whom is LIFE!"

That one page was right; Russian does help one understand when to use "whom" and when "who." (The Google search I used to try to find that page again also pulled up a site on Russian women's secrets--scary.) So as anyone would, I felt crushed when a friend told me that my new skill was USELESS! "Whom is dead," she said. Some piddly grammarian's piddly new book backed her up, she said.

Bollocks! I will continue to hold the WHOM banner high, to fortify my little bastion of semantic elitism. Without "whom," how do I know whether you're speaking of someone as the direct object or the indirect object, or even in the nominative or prepositional? God knows the vocative case is already rare, but what if? Goodness, man! In my precarious world, I cherish the few certainties I can find. "Whom" is one, and I shan't let go.

Israeli/Palestinian harmony: (Note: this is NOT a reference to Brian's very funny open-mic bit at a Heuristic Squelch Comedy Night about the solution for the Middle East conflict: Arab/Jew buddy cop movies.) A little over a week ago, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students protested at each other near Sather Gate on campus, north of Sproul Plaza. The pro-Palestinians had set up a mock refugee camp, from within which they chanted, "Hey ho/Hey ho/Let the refugees go home." The pro-Israelis sang in Hebrew, possibly Jewish folk songs, possibly the Israeli national anthem. Crowds looked on, argued; mass media members recorded.

Did anyone notice the moments when they seemed to be singing together? I've been listening to a lot of a cappella recently, so maybe my ears were a little more tuned to such things. But I definitely heard the opponents, for a few moments, making beautiful music together, singing in cadence together. Maybe they felt the primal pull of the shared beat, of a uniting tempo that cools tempers. It comforted me as I walked away. No matter how much we try to hate and separate, the urge to join with other humans remains.

Confederate bumper stickers: I thought up a silly bit to try to submit to the Squelch: Bumper stickers from through the ages. I mean, today we conduct 80% of our intellectual discourse through bumper stickers, especially in Berkeley. Imagine bumper stickers from 1640, or 1775, or 1863! I thought up a number of bumper stickers from the Confederacy (that is, the one that seceded from the United States of America in 1861, and which fought the USA in the Civil War). Here are some; vote for your pick of my favorites in the poll.

Poll: Best Confederate Bumper Sticker

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/14/153250/386

: Birdie, birdie, birdie! & beware: I saw a bird
Why didn't they sign?
TV show idea
Yo, Seth; Yo, Michael
A legal idea
Research needed
Salad from tragedy

I saw a hummingbird near my apartment today. Wow! I guess they really go fast. And I thought I was sprightly. I love how they seem to hang in the air, as though the whole world is a toy to them.

I recently read in Smithsonian magazine about one of three men that I like to call The Three Abstainers. George Mason and two other fellows at the Constitutional Convention refused to sign the Constitution. Why? Oh, the article about Mason gave all sorts of speculations, but if you ask me? Aliens. Or possibly travelers from the future. (See Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World from this week for further speculation.)

I have seen part of one episode of "Making the Band." My alternative? "Making the Cabinet." Come on, you could try out for Secretary of Labor! If you're head of Transportation, you can pretty much kick back and just be good as a background singer. As long as you go along with the choreography well, you'll be fine.

Congrats, Seth, for poising yourself on the springboard to stardom. Or possibly not. (Seth would be one of two people I know who will have been in TV commercials, Mike Parsons being the other.)

If corporations are legal persons, then why can't they vote, and why aren't they counted in the census? (I'm assuming they aren't, and that my question is rhetorical. I hope I'm right.)

Political science, as a field, sadly lacks research in the field of possible world orders under alien domination. I'm thinking dissertation here.

This morning, while reading the Almanac entry, the KALW 91.7FM DJ said, "And today is the Ides of March, so ... beware ... beware." I cracked up. I love public radio and the humor it engenders.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/15/18915/2020

: Puns, nuns, and MUN: Happy birthday, In Passing!

In other news: thoughts scrawled in my notebook, also in passing, mostly wordplay.

I think that I shall never see
An Indian character on TV.

I saw a few ads on TV for "Paramount's Great America" (a theme park/carnival sort of thing near San Jose, northern California) yesterday. Oh my goodness, Asians! What the dilly, as Breakup Girl would say? My goodness. Just give me one non-Apu, non-Asok, non-accented Indian character on a mainstream television show. Preferably "The West Wing" or "Law and Order." I'm thinking a judge, like Judge Marilyn Patel (on the Napster case, here in California).

If the Popemobile was like the Batmobile, bout Robin be a Cardinal?

Words that can be funny when you confuse them:

You can't spell "vaudeville" without "evil."

I once thought of joining the Model UN. But the UN is already so weak that if I want to playact, I'll join the real thing.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/16/145037/243

: Questions (unanswerable?), and answers to non-questions: The Phantom Tollbooth
My mom (not *your mom!*)
Books I got for free
What to do with an old monitor and keyboard I can't use?

The Phantom Tollbooth anecdote: When I was in my junior year of high school, I walked in to my first-period honors U.S. History class [with Steve von Berg, the bomb (a good thing) of a history teacher] carrying Tollbooth, which I was rereading.

Amber Hoover asked if that wasn't a kids' book.

I replied that it was.

She asked if I hadn't read it, then, when I was a kid.

I replied that I had, and that I was rereading it.

She asked, "Why would you read a book twice?"

I don't think she was joking.

My mom: She's visiting me this weekend. She's cleaning as I speak. Yes, in my home. (sigh) She's a force of nature. You don't reason with the tides. Or a hurricane. You just name them. Hurricane Mom.

I showed her around Berkeley, which was fun. A very nice day! And we only got scared by one loony.

Correction/update: In a previous entry, I referred to "Brian's" funny bit about Arab/Jew buddy cop movies as the solution to Middle East tensions. His name is Brian Sinclair, and he's a Squelch writer/contributor at U.C. Berkeley. I figured you all should know his last name.

Soon I'll update y'all with info I received from Seth Schoen about corporations-as-persons, Judge Marilyn Patel, and political systems under alien domination. Stay tuned!

Books I got for free: There was a big ol' sale on Thursday and Friday by the Slavic, Celtic, Italian, and Scandinavian departments (I may have missed one) at Cal. But I arrived after the sale, and thus I got stuff for free! Lesson: Ask for exceptions to the rules, and you'll be rewarded. (If you'd like to read the "fractally weird" (thanks, Neal Stephenson) conditions of my free-book-gettin', comment below.)

What to do with an old monitor and keyboard I can't use? The Used Computer Store at Shattuck and Haste doesn't want either. "Too obsolete" and "glut" were the reasons, respectively. Donation bins anywhere? I hate to throw stuff away. Blame my Puritan ancestors.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/18/0634/40271
Filed under:

: Seeking readers of old Indian comic books: Did you read Amar Chitra Katha?
Consistency as hobgoblin...or not!
Seth sent me info that I now share with you.

I'm harried today, writing this application and filling out that financial aid paperwork so as I can go to Russia and keep getting money from the government that I perhaps deserve less than the kids down the street who go to Berkeley High School. The type of thought that makes me think Seth has a point, about government and all.

I spent the massive majority (definitely not a silent one!) of my weekend with my family. No one makes chai like my mom. Er, no one makes chai as my mom does.

As we passed through the Valley of the Windmills (near Livermore, CA) yesterday, my sister and I discussed how ominous they looked. We settled on "sinister," though "pernicious" was also discussed. "No, pernicious is evil that's hard to get rid of," I said. "Like corruption in India." The (until last week) defense minister of India, George Fernandes, has been implicated in a bribery scandal -- he didn't take any bribes, but his underlings did.

George Fernandes? I didn't know there were high-up Hispanics in India. Note also that the leader of the oposition party in India was born and raised in Italy, and is really only powerful because she married into the long-ruling family of the country. Indians still kill outcastes who try to get educations, yet ethnic non-Indians are okey-dokey in the highest offices in the land. Sigh. I hate inconsistency. And this isn't just a breaking of a "foolish consistency," so don't quote Emerson at me.

When I was younger, I read part of "Self-Reliance" and thought that Emerson had written: "A foolish consistency is the *hemoglobin* of little minds." I thought it performed a useful function for those small-minded people! Oxygen, iron circulation, that sort of thing! And maybe I was right, figuratively.

Consistency. Which reminds me: Seth's updates! He told me that:

Thank you, Seth. You get a cookie.

A shout-out: Anyone out there ever read "Amar Chitra Katha" comic books? They are and were comics that presented Hindu mythology and Indian culture/history in a children-friendly format. I have at least a hundred, probably, including the Mahabharata -- all 42 issues! AND the "Bhagavad-Gita" special!

Poll: My favorite Indian mythological artifact

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/19/112033/302

: Three, two, one, impress me!: Happy birthday, Fred Rogers, a.k.a. Mr. Rogers.
Alien domination yet again, and a request for info re: speed dating.

I'm not very happy with my life right at the moment, but seeing as my apartment is unnaturally clean and today is the first day of spring and possibly the nicest day (weatherwise) I've had for a year, I feel ungrateful.

Alexei Othenin-Girard and I had a very nice conversation yesterday, in which we discussed Harry Potter, the fractal indices of go and chess, and his upcoming trip to Japan. Alexei informed me that there are at least two science-fiction/fantasy universes in which aliens dominate Earth and we have a clue of the resultant political system.

  1. The Xenogenesis series (beginning with Dawn) by Octavia Butler. I've heard of her, as possibly the most prominent African-American sci-fi/fantasy writer.
  2. Some intricately involved cosmology devised by some military man who burned most of his work at his death, and whose name/pseudonym Alexei could only recall as "Cordwainer" something.

Thank you, Alexei. You also get a cookie. Incidentally, Alexei was also the one to tell me that I was calling a judo move "the 'friend' throw." More details if requested.

Who out there thinks speed-dating is a good idea? Anyone tried it? Is it more effective/enjoyable in ethnic subgroups, such as Jews/Italians/Indians, than in multiethnic populations? How tough would a speed-dating event be to set up? I assume all you need is a large room and chairs-and-such and publicity. (A few months ago, I heard on NPR about the speed-dating fad among Jews in New York.)

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/20/174917/398

: A phone-thrower!: Wednesday. Bleargh.
I didn't know that Governor Gray Davis has a legendary temper. I heard today that he (at least once) threw a phone at an intern when he was mad. (The make and model of the phone were not available at press time. And that seems to make a difference to me -- not that I sanction phone-throwing, but come on, a little Nokia cell makes no dents, as opposed to heaving the conference-calling equipment across the room.)

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/21/135647/387

: Too...many...choices!: Vagina Monologues v. DeCadence concert v. Homework
My class
Could I help the electricity crunch?

Tonight, I could go to the Vagina Monologues at 8 pm (free), or I could go to the DeCadence spring concert at 7:30 pm ($5), or I could stay home and do homework (free).

I've been wanting to see TVM, but I love a number of songs that DeCadence does (e.g., "Pop Nightmare" and "Mario Brothers Theme"), yet I really should get some Russian done.

I'll probably go see The Vagina Monologues. 8 pm in either 145 or 155 Dwinelle Hall at UC Berkeley.

Tomorrow will be my last day of classes before Spring Break. My DE-Cal class will finish up talking about Stephenson's The Diamond Age, and soon move on to some Asimov and James Morrow ("City of Truth"). Yesterday we talked about comparing international relations and interpersonal relations, as well as what organizing principle might make a sucessful "phyle." Example: a weird dream I had Tuesday night.

I wish I could set up some sort of equipment in my apartment to power, say, my computer or something via, say, a stationary bicycle.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/22/151642/366

: So I didn't do the socially conscious thing.: No "Vagina Monologues" for me: I went to the DeCadence concert last night, and boy was it fun! I got to hear "Pop Nightmare" and "Super Mario Brothers," but what's more, I got to hear their rendition of the "All Your Base" song.

My musings on the implications, below.

In-jokes: I only learned about the All Your Base fad a few weeks ago, through a Techspolitation column by Annalee Newitz (somewhat affiliated with UC Berkeley) in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. But it strikes me as funny, and I felt no qualms about laughing at the skit and song last night.

But I have that same old hypocritical attitude about exclusivity, and in-jokes: I love it when I get it, and I hate it when I feel like an outsider. Just as others do.

But last night, there were lots of laughs -- not many people DIDN'T get the joke, I think. Just today I opened the latest SmartAss, the newspaper of the Cal Berkeley Democrats [sic]. (Do they have a Redundancy Minister of Redundancy?) Back page ad: Black background. CATS figure on top, Nader pic on the bottom. In the middle: "All Your Voter Base Are Belong To Us."

How exclusive is this? It's mainstream, I think. Never going to be on "Friends," but maybe Conan O'Brien will mention it, or has. Heck, Jay Leno has probably already used it in a monologue, it's so mainstream. Time magazine did an article on it.

And the in-crowd disappears. The in-crowd can't survive without an out-crowd, can't survive if everyone gets the knowing wink.

Today is Cal's Charter Day, an anniversary of the founding of UC. The UC Men's Octet and such musical institutions sang and played patriotic Cal songs. The fight songs usually mention Stanford. We define our Self by opposing it to the Other. And that means that we deny the things about us that we hate, saying they're characteristics of that Other. Oh, we're not snobby, that's Stanford. We're diverse, not like Stanford. We have rigorous classes and hard-working students, not like Stanford.

Someone set up me the bomb....and it was myself.

Class today: the Primer in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, why it's effective, and how we can use technology to improve education.

Things to do over Spring Break: worry about the Russia trip, catch up on Russian, work on two different research projects, start an essay on a film from 1939 and some associated text(s) from the same year, and catch up with a few high-school friends, if possible.

Or... I could read a whole lot of sci-fi and watch game shows, sitcoms, "The West Wing," "The Practice," and "Bill Nye the Science Guy."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/23/16341/7136

: Books for Spring Break: I have now finished Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I finished The Amber Spyglass less than 24 hours after I received it.

More: Nancy Kress and irritating MS errors.

Last night I went to Black Oak Books in north Berkeley, and bought all three books comprising Nancy Kress's Beggars series. I read the novella Beggars in Spain about two months ago, and was gladdened & surprised to learn that she had expanded it into a book, and that the book was the first of a trilogy. Three Kresses and The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West (for my "Political Theory: American Movies and American Society, 1939" class with intellectual badass Prof. Rogin), all for $11.34.

I really ought to go to the northern outskirts of Berkeley more often. Black Oak is there, as is the Cheese Board Collective (which sells good pizza, I've heard), and other neat eateries.

Gosh, this sounds like an entry Seth would write.

Servers that use IIS (I think) give, it seems, more aggravating error messages to visitors than other servers. For example, if I try to get to a main page by chopping off the end of a URL (example), then I get "The Virtual Directory does not allow contents to be listed," which oddly reminds me of the quote from "The Simpsons": "Disco Stu does not advertise."

On the way to Black Oak, on the 43 AC Transit bus, I saw the flowers. There's a little shrine now, marking the spot where a pedestrian got killed at Hearst and Shattuck.

Be careful, everyone.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/25/143448/131
Filed under:

: Kress & speciation: Argh. Here I am, trying to soak up enough DMV information to please them, and sneaking away to read Nancy Kress's Beggars Trilogy ten or twenty pages at a time, and now I've been trying to make a Wintel box perform like something better than the dadblamed spit-and-baling-wire contraption that it is. So, for those I haven't emailed in a few days, apologies; I'll get to you soon. *kicks CPU*

I'm on the third book, Beggars Ride. I read too fast; I always have. I used to think it was a good thing, a secret pride, that I read faster than others. Now I see that it keeps me from really nailing the things about a text that make me uncomfortable, until I've given in to the author's assumptions and uncritically accepted her logic.

Examples: Jennifer Sharifi is a fanatic, and she's a Muslim. Kress engages in discourse with the work of Ayn Rand, especially in the first and second books, and yet she's dropped only one tantalizing reference to any of Rand's work, and even that obscure. And a few weak spots -- in the second book, especially -- remind me of the worst aspects of Atlas Shrugged: the deterministic plotting based on characteristics, not characters; implausible philosophical soliloquies and dialogues; complete moral condemnation of a class.

That said, Kress plausibly explores the speciation, through genetic modification, of humans.

Long ago, I was at Black Oak Books with Anirvan and...Greg? Mike? What was the name of that guy from the other side of my cubicle, back when I was at Innomedia? Anyway, we ate at Cha-Am afterwards, I remember, and Anirvan and I talked ancient Hindu mythology, courtesy of Amar Chitra Katha, as Mike (?) ate on, silently bewildered and bemused.

But more importantly, we all went to Black Oak to hear Paulina Borsook, author of the then-recently-published Cyberselfish. The question-and-answer period included discussion of the Bionomics (think Biology+Economics) Institute, which predicted (I think I heard) speciation of humans within 200 years.

I thought I sensed the room go quiet for a moment.

Now, I imagine the Bionomics people were speaking of the scientific definition of speciation. As I remember from ninth-grade biology

(Mr. Porter's class, his windbreaker with his collar up, last I heard he was coaching the water polo team at UOP, the squish and strange hard shiny flexibility of frog parts, winning the Bone Challenge for my team, a t-shirt color-coding my anatomy,

his surprising gentle knowing that I needed to cry after I didn't win any points for my classmates in the biweekly classwide Challenge of the chapter tests, his dropping the femur that comprised a hall pass onto my desk so that I could run across Senior Circle to the Business building restroom to sob, his telling me that I didn't have to be Clarence Darrow)

, speciation is the divergence of two species so far apart that a member from each cannot mate to produce an offspring who can also have viable offspring. (So K'Eylar, Worf's mate, should have been sterile!)

But Kress is more concerned, I think, with cultural speciation. As is Asimov in the Foundation and Robots serieses. Earthers and Spacers, donkeys and Livers and Sleepless and SuperSleepless. The gated communities and the COPS trailer parks, core and periphery. Is the speciation already here?

As long as there is social mobility, up and down and sideways and east and west and full-circle, then we are one people, we humans. To the extent that someone is not part of my "we," my tribe, to that extent she may as well be a different species.

And --thank you Borsook, Kress, Card, Asimov, teachers -- genetic speciation will only heighten cultural speciation, not start it.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/27/235555/369
Filed under:

: Live, from Spring Break, Brain wanes: In which the writer contemplates with horror her popular cultural literacy, resolves to rejoin the elite, and spews her first thoughts upon finishing the Beggars trilogy by Nancy Kress.

I've been having rather disturbing dreams about an emotional situation that I thought I'd resolved.

My sister and I always did like the character of Richard (the cynical artist) on "Caroline and the City" best. I caught a rerun today. It sort of seemed as though he had a British accent, but only for a second.

I should eat more asparagus.

I saw a description of a "Friends" episode recently. Monica and Chandler are getting married? What?! And the second-level response: what am I doing caring about the characters on a sitcom?!

Yes, I watched the Oscars, and cursed myself the morning after for giving in to a Daniel Boorstin-type pseudoculture media event. It's scary thatI used to consider myself less mass-media-influenced than the average American bear -- then I caught myself watching the Academy Awards, and caring who won, and realizing that the names and faces of movie stars were more recognizable to me than the names and faces of high school friends and acquaintances. How conditioned am I that I relax, reassured, when I see Julia Roberts's face? I'm creeped out.

I should read The Economist more often.

I finished Beggars Ride. Give me a few days to think about it. But, a preliminary note: the one who has no stake in The System does not, consequently, necessarily have power. The beggar is only unfettered, not enhanced by isolation.

Note to self: Check when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is playing at the local cineplex, so that my mom, my neighbor and I can go see it today.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/28/17742/2342

: President Barlet, and April Fool's Day: Today, my mother and I spoke about "The West Wing" and nuclear power. Ergo, today's poll.

Today, I think I'm seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again.

Do people actually pull elaborate April Fool's pranks anymore? Please comment below. I'd especially like to know about your personal experiences.

Poll: "The West Wing": Why is it so popular?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/29/143230/286

: Where does the track end? Can I stumble without falling?:

Saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Comb today, as my sister and my cousin call it. It was pretty disorienting to come out from that movie into a bright, bustling cineplex lobby. There should really be a little darkish room to enter after movies like that, a transition point between the film's world and the physical world, to ponder the deeper questions. But then again, there aren't many action blockbusters that actually create wonder. Most philosophical films are rentable. You're not missing much when you see Clerks on a small screen.

Today, a long ramble about myself and feelings of inadequacy.

I feel as though I have only begun the world of learning skills, rather than subjects. And I feel completely unprepared. It takes a different method and a different attitude, a more forgiving frame of mind, to learn judo or Russian or driving, than it does to learn history. I hate making mistakes, and it's difficult for me to conceive of some sort of learning that includes mistakes. I think I especially dislike making mistakes in front of others, more so than all the seemingly relaxed people I see who almost never make mistakes, but when they do, can laugh it off. I really don't like people seeing me do something at which I feel I am no good. And I feel alone in feeling this way, the deep embarrassment and shame that makes a lump rise in my throat just remembering it. (I took one semester of judo. I cried too many times.)

It's unusual that I should feel this, I think, since I'm pretty outgoing and enjoy public speaking. Heck, I teach twice a week! I enjoy the stage! I'm practically an exhibitionist!

But I guess this is all of a piece. Just as people who can laugh off their public mistakes learn from them better, and thus make fewer of them, I clamp up and panic every time I slip up, so I can't learn from them. And I just stick to what I know, and what I do well.

And I never get anywhere.

Or do I? Is it a crime to enjoy the familiar, to not be a pioneer? Is it not noble to be the anchor and the infrastructure that allows someone else to venture forth into danger and innovation?

Oh, well. I feel dissatisfied wherever I am. I see flaws, and feel trapped, and remember (in the shower) those lines from the end of Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis: I've never done one thing I've wanted to my whole life.

I can't hear myself for all the voices in my head. How can it be that everyone else is so fine and dandy and independent and I'm the only one drowning in other people's expectations?

I wrote a poem back in high school -- where is it? -- And The Track Goes On Forever. (Morose, no?) Ah, yes. Tiger Pause, 1997 edition. Also featuring my Just Another Stereotypical Love Poem, and Bookmarks by Mike Parsons (as with all his work, I find more in it each time I read it). Anyway, as I was saying. Page 49.

Fun - playfulness - light joy - relief from consequences
I used to remember what that was.
They say life is a marathon, not a dash.
But I take fifth place in both.
To try to prep for the Olympics, I pace the oval of the track.
Others zoom ahead - are they cheating?
Or am I just not good enough?
And I want to fall down and sob
Because the track goes on forever
And I am no one, never have been, never will be
And the track swallows me as it swallows us all
And I've been sleep-deprived for three years
Because they are always ahead, always ahead

And it sort of ends like that too.

But now I've looked through my old high school literary magazine, and laughed. How unendingly bummed-out we seem! When, in fact, I can recall laughing at least once each day. I remember organizing that poetry festival, "Fire and Water," my senior year, and trying to arrange it so that there were non-downer poems separating the angsty ones, so that we would have no long stretches containing only literary-pretention suburban teen whines. Sure, I wrote bad teen poetry, and so did all these people. The important thing is getting better, and knowing I'm getting better, and allowing myself to feel good about that.

I think I'll submit this and go watch "Popular."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/30/232713/418

: More morosity, & some hope: I've no anchor, and no mainsail.
Women's work is never done.
Maybe if I weren't so fearful--
maybe I could have more fun.

"Time is out of joint"? -- no, the place. Sometimes I feel as though I have no sense of place, of permanent home. So perhaps it's more that the space-time is out of joint.

Tasks v. chores. It has long been observed that men (traditionally) perform tasks, while women do chores. Women are the maintenance crew, the infrastructure that allows all the other stuff to happen. And I'm pretty sure I'd like to be a guy here. Laundry and dishes and such sort of soothe me, since I know how to do them. I can master the art of dishwashing. But I'd really like to do something that stays done. And that is the promise of art. Remember the end of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita? Art is the only way that you and I can live forever, my Lolita. (I wish I had Lolita with me. What a great book.)

Senate confirmation hearings. Perhaps it is not such a good philosophy to life a life continually in fear of the future. Perhaps it does not make for a worthwhile life if I ask myself before every risk, "What if this comes up in my Senate confirmation hearings?"

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/3/31/155628/565

: Space, time, and "take my wife ... please!": Today: Seth's diary, Einstein's Dreams, and free professional comedy!

Seth's diary yesterday contained a hilarious commentary on our historical shortsightedness, titled "California history." I recommend it highly.

Last night I read Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams in a voracious fit of putting-off-Russian. Very thought-provoking. I especially liked Lightman's imagination WRT the people who tried to defy the laws of their respective worlds. The book also reminded me of how difficult it can be to question my assumptions, and that the ones I least question might be the ones I most need to undermine (e.g., the nature of time, the merits and disadvantages of ambition, etc.).

All right! I was afraid that there would be no more Heuristic Squelch comedy nights this semester, but it looks as though that's not a problem. This Wednesday, April 4, there's a free comedy show on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley. The featured comics are hilarious, especially Brian Malow. Again, 11:30 am till 1 pm on Upper Sproul Plaza on April 4th. Great stuff! I imagine there's no open-mic portion, otherwise I'd be doing four minutes of schtick.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/2/12938/28202
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: Cats and Advogato and freedom: Urban astronomy, feline friendships (or tentative steps towards them), and Lodi.

I got new shoes. They're pretty much exactly like my old ones, except that they don't have any holes in them, and they're tight enough so that I have to actually untie and tie the laces, rather than just slipping them on.

There are posters around Berkeley, promoting some meditation class, stating, "Freedom is Overrated." I assume they are pro-stability in the ancient ideological war between security/community and individual autonomy. But how far will it get them, in Berkeley, to put down freedom? This is a place where "freedom" has been invoked to support nearly every cause you can imagine. Then again, maybe that's exactly why they think it'll get them somewhere.

If I had forgotten my Advogato password, what would be the procedure for having it reset and/or emailed to me?

I generally fear animals with fur, and avoid them. But yesterday I was in The Other Change of Hobbit (a sci-fi/fantasy bookstore on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley) and actually liked the cat there, Shagrat. I got it to sit on my lap. That's never happened before. I had to sit still for a while though, reading Stephenson's The Big U, and not pay attention to the thing. It's like the stillness that Pullman writes about in His Dark Materials that allows Lyra to read the alethiometer.

I'm no Piper of Hamelin, but I'm making progress in my animal relations.

Seen, yesterday, on the marquee of the California movie theater on Kittredge:

The Mexican Chocolat is especially good at Mario's La Fiesta at Haste and Telegraph.

I endorse Venus, a slightly-expensive-and-worth-it restaurant between Bancroft and Durant on Shattuck in Berkeley. It's not as expensive as some other places I could mention, and I've never been disappointed with a meal there. Always yummy, and a few times it's expanded my taste bud horizons. I wrote a rather lyrical note to the chef after I first had the apple crisp.

Oddly enough, there's a bar called Jupiter up the street, between Center and Allston. Is there any correlation?

I imagine Earth would be at Bancroft, then, and Mars at Kittredge? No, there's a clothing shop named Mars at Telegraph and Channing. Hmmmm. Would Pluto be the Haas School of Business, along Piedmont?

So Lodi is in the news. It's a Northern California town, near Stockton, that refused to go along with the rolling blackouts for various reasons. I lived in Stockton and went to middle and high school in Lodi. I had thought it would never be in the news, except maybe if some parasite got into the wine grapes.

Horrible thought: Oh no. Lodi completely fits the profile of a town where a school shooting would take place. Dear God no. Small town, lots of religious white people, big high schools where kids who feel different feel isolated. Dear God, no.

Please, PLEASE let the next mention be the wine grapes....

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/3/123725/1733

: Take that, economists!: Me, yesterday, during Political Science 171 lecture:
"If I never hear the term 'Pareto equilibrium' again it'll be too soon."
Prof. Bruce Cain, during the same lecture:
"Don't make fun of economists, now, they make more than we do."

Pareto optimism: I don't want Pareto equilibrium, because that state is, literally, hopeless. I've reconciled myself to enjoying the journey and hating the goal In that way I'm very much unlike Odysseus, or a hypothetical Odysseia. He really wanted to get home, and yet at the point when he's happiest, fadeout and credits.

I actually picked up and read a bit of the Fagles translation of The Odyssey while I was in The Other Change of Hobbit the other day. I love the bit about the bed. That Penelope was so clever! However, I had to pick up and get involved in The Big U before Shagrat came and sat on my lap.

I remember a number of years ago hearing Fagles on Diane Rehm's talk show on KUOP. It was early on some weekday morning, I remember, because I got up early my senior year to do physics homework. I loved those early mornings....

Fagles read the opening of the poem, in the Greek, and it sounded so beautiful and so magical. That's the sort of thing that turns people to becoming classics scholars. Me, I express my orality through the oral epic of our time: jokes and stand-up comedy. The ultimate epithet: "rosy-fingered dawn" or "how many [x] does it take to change a light bulb?"

All Your Base: The definitive satire (not to put down Segfault's much-earlier two cents).

Reading: I went to Black Oak Books last night, and bought The Giver (which I finished last night) & The Big Sleep (which I went there to buy, originally). It seems to me that you can find out a lot about a person by having them read The Giver, if they haven't already, and finding out their opinion on how optimal the portrayed society is. I got this nagging feeling, during and after reading it, that Lowry is unfair to a system that actually keeps a lot of people happy. She is a longtime resident of the USA, which (in my experience) turns people towards individual rights and away from honestly believing in the value of community.

"The Giver" isn't as ham-handed and sinister as Anthem, which allows more subtlety and encourages substantive consideration. Important note: this book has one prestigious award(s) in the realm of children's books. I heard about it on The Looseleaf Book Company, a radio prgram re: kids' books on KALW Sunday mornings.

As more diatribe-style writers would yell: Is this the sort of filth we allow into the hearts and minds of our children?!

I had a very interesting conversation with Alexei yesterday re: school shootings. He also beat me at air hockey. Grrr.

Now I go and see free stand-up on Sproul. Next time: the artist is not the art, the believer is not the belief.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/4/142153/3116
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: And when I die I expect to find Him laughing: "I missed the lecture on sleep learning."
"You mean you slept through it."
"Well, yeah."
"You know, there's some irony in that."
-heard in the Open Computing Facility

As Depeche Mode said,

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumors
But I think that God has a sick sense of humor...

-"Blasphemous Rumors"
Or it might have been "sixth sense of humor." Ah, well. In any case, my confidence in the existence of a Divine Author (akin to Nabokov's role in Lolita), and in the Author's sense of humor, has found new credence.

My mom bought me a used jacket and didn't notice the insignia. Yesterday, when I put it on, I certainly noticed it.

It's the Playboy Bunny.

I'll keep wearing it. The coat is fine, aside from the logo, and no one will much mind in Berkeley. I figure that people who see it will either laugh at the irony or not know me in the first place.

I believe that today was the first time since high school that a teacher has said to me, "Do I have to separate you two?" In this case, it was Russian and my partner in inappropriate socialization was Jeff Good, linguistics man. Some topics of laughter: the word for "grumpy" (mrachnii) and the confusion of the Italian word for "wallet" with the Russian word for "briefcase" (both something like portfel).

I've read ocelot's diary, and really feel a gut-busting fit come on when I read this entry, entitled "A Biscotti Recipe, or Why ocelot rarely cooks." ocelot also gets my comradeship when she mentions in another entry that she lost an entry to a Netscape crash, but stubbornly refused to use a different composer next time around, since that would mean defeat!

I watched four episodes of the Japanese cartoon sitcom "Ranma 1/2" yesterday with a bunch of anime fans. I fear enjoying it, since that would set me swiftly "up the mainstream without a paddle," as Leonard says. Next thing I know, I'll be dragging everyone I know to Neon Genesis Evangelion marathons and spending all my time skulking around Movie Image on Shattuck.

And don't tell me anime isn't mainstream. At Berkeley, there's no better way to label yourself as completely gauche than to say Akira and Ghost in the Shell are your favorite movies ever. I'd have to advance through half of Reel's inventory before I'd consider myself up to par with these learned sages with whom I saw the "Ranma." And why would I start at something where I'd be the worst in the group to begin with?

Well, time to work on my paper about the film Dark Victory and its relationship to James Rorty's remark about the organic culture of humanity and the pseudoculture of advertising. Wish me luck. I'll get around to that ramble about the artist and her art next time, along with films at the Fine Arts Theater that I want to see soon.

Poll: Best phrase

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/9/15310/30865

: And did you always do what Mama said?: So when was the first time your parents lied, and you knew they are lying? --I asked my class on Friday.
Perhaps the best response: "Once, my parents told me to get in the car because we were going to Disneyland, and then they took me to the dentist."

The domain of www.breakfast.com is not taken! How can this be?! Where is General Mills, or some squatter, or something?

(I actually only visited breakfast.com because I haven't eaten yet.)

I am currently wearing a clear plastic pocket protector, which is one of four I bought for 22 cents each from a clearance table at Office Depot. Inside the pocket protector: a highlighter, a mechanical pencil, a pen with black ink, a pen with blue ink. Funny thing is, I never really thought about carrying pens in my shirt pockets until I started wearing a pocket protector. Now I love it; they're so convenient! I may actually be writing more, thanks to the lowered transaction costs of whipping out writing utensils.

I now own six: a white Linux "Open Minds, Open Source" dealie from IDG at the Linux World Expo two years ago; the four clear ones; and a white Buca di Beppo protector. Buca di Beppo is an Italian restaurant, and there is one somewhat near where Seth Schoen used to live. Thus, we often ate BdB food at Seth's gatherings, including the housecooling a while back.

Does ThinkGeek or such sell pocket protectors? Maybe ones in which to hold Visors?

Bird linguists. As I trudged lightly towards my 8 am class today, I saw two birds chirping really near each other, near Dwinelle and VLSB. They looked really different from each other -- different colors, markings, sizes, etc. Maybe they were two different species of birds! Do different bird species understand each other? Maybe these were two bird linguists, breaking inter-bird barriers. Or maybe they were bird ambassadors. Maybe they were dividing up campus territory. "OK, you get to defecate on Sproul, but we get Memorial Glade and the genetically-twisted trees near the Campanile." Or something.

The Fine Arts Cinema, at Shattuck and Haste in Berkeley, will soon be showing several movies that I'd like to see, preferably with others. (I'll probably send out a mention via e-mail to friends who don't read this. Or maybe I won't, so as to punish them...)

For those of you who missed the Kieslowski marathon, this is your chance to see meaningful stuff!

Through today:
Secrets of Silicon Valley
April 11 through April 14th:
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
May 11-17:
Shadows, directed by Cassavettes. (Leonard, you know you want to see this!)
May 18-23:
Charulata, directed by Satyajit Ray. Desis represent, as Anirvan says.
May 24-30:
City Lights, a Charlie Chaplin film. I just saw The Great Dictator, so all of a sudden I'm floating in midair....wait, I'm not stuck in a closet with Vanna White, as Weird Al was. I mean to say that all of a sudden I'm interested in Chaplin's work.
Oh, and by the way, today at 4 pm in 100 Lewis Hall, you could come and see It Happened One Night with my Films of 1939 class. It's a classic screwball romantic comedy, starring Clark Gable and (I think) Katharine Hepburn or some such. I'll be rushing over right after my DE-Cal class.

The artist is not the art. Hitler said some stuff. And some of it was offensive and chilling and so on. But I'm sure he said some things that were not so chilling. "Thank you." "Salad, please, I don't eat meat." And so on.

And then there are the sort-of-scary things. I've been reading a bit of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and I remember that a favorite saying of his was, "retain the essential and forget the nonessential," which actually seems to be pretty good advice, if you can forget from whom it came. And forgetting the authors of advice seems to be a bad thing, in general.

So it seems that I should just retain my critical facilities, and take any advice with a grain of salt, which is tough, as I tend to be too trusting (except when it comes to mass murderers and other such obviously wrongheaded people). And it's just so exhausting to be wary all the time! I want to be a reflexive skeptic, but not a reflexive cynic. A difficult balance. And don't tell me it's not, please, because I'm just saying it'll be hard for me.

Parents shouldn't ask their older children to trust them unconditionally -- asking for blind obedience -- if those parents cannot mediate every substantial interaction between the children and the outside world.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/11/14435/2664

: Comedy Night Is Coming!: Many of you may know that I often indulge at the open-mikes at the Squelch Comedy Nights on campus. Well, here comes another one.

Monday, 16th of April at 8 pm in the Bear's Lair in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Union (near the intersection of Bancroft & Telegraph). At the door, tickets are $8 with a UCB ID and $10 general admission; ahead of time, $5/$7. The professional comedians are Johnny Steele ("Named by SF Chronicle as one of the smartest comedians around") and Becky Pedigo. Arrive early, as doors close at 8:15. Pre-sale tickets are available on Sproul Plaza at noon or so most weekdays, and at 4 Eshleman Hall. For open-mike info (the open mike is after the intermission after the professionals), call 510-642-7477.

And in my last diary, I gave the wrong link for Anirvan.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/11/155212/269
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: So heaven is a slasher flick?: Weekend fun, I had. A Gateway to Heaven, I saw. Various jokes, sight gags, and puns, I discovered. Cheeriest, to me, was the nicknaming of "CollabNet" as "ClamNet."

So Dan, a friend of mine, told me that the two wildly dissimilar birds I saw conversing on Wednesday were, most probably, just the male and female of one species. Hmph. There go my hopes of doing a good-faith "bird linguist" bit at the comedy night on Monday.

I had a great deal of fun this weekend, and it's not even half over. Thank-yous go out to Leonard and to Kevin Maples and Kevin's friends.

I'm really enjoying Leonard's music. He was kind enough to oblige me and play a good deal of it for me (and Kevin and Scott and Shane) last night. In fact, right now I can't really stop listening to "I Screw Up Everything I Touch," "Relativity," and "Royal Jelly."

Okay, I stopped. Copperpot, now, and the Weatherheads, TMBG, TentilEight, and The Carpet Patrol. All of those (except for They Might Be Giants), I discovered through IUMA. Yes, IUMA of the baby-naming scheme. Still a great resource. I wish they had more funding.

San Francisco Examiner headline yesterday: "Drivers killed fewer walkers last year," or something to that effect. Although I'm glad, I seem to sense some left-handed complimentry in the headline.

If I could quantify the voyeurism and low-down wrongness of "reality" TV shows, and somehow evaluate all the TV shows in the history of reality, all the way from "Candid Camera" to "The Real World" to "Survivor/Big Brother/Temptation Island/Boot Camp/Chains of Love," and then I graphed it, what sort of result would I find? And what sort of trend would it really project? What really is the next step in voyeuristic entertainment? Some sort of AllAdvantage-type arrangement where thousands of people can sign up for cash-for-surveillance freelance work? AmIFascinatinglyMundaneOrNot, then, would be the mediator. Hmmm. Perhaps I've said too much already. *calls VC*

Currently reading: Caleb Carr, The Angel of Darkness, sequel to The Alienist. I'm about a third of the way through it, even though I perhaps shouldn't be, since I have work to do for every one of my courses and extracurricular activities. I think it was my sister who said that Caleb Carr actually does in The Alienist what Michael Crichton tried to do in The Great Train Robbery. I have to say that Carr's first-person narration helps avoid the exposition-heavy style that Crichton critics, well, criticize. But the heavy-handed attempts at suspense cliffhangers at the end of every chapter get rather old.

Random sample, from Angel:

The Doctor took the knife again. "The Philippine Islands, Stevie, are one of the most important colonies in the Spanish Empire. A most valued jewel in the queen regent's crown. Well..." He walked towards the center of the room, still examining the knife "It would seem that we have gained an advantage tonight -- and lost one." He gave us all a very serious look. "We must move."

I once heard a Crichton critic, back in high school, state his objections thus: "Okay, let's say he's writing about a guy going to Africa. First sentence: 'The guy was packing for Africa. The first trip to Africa by Europeans was made in...' And that goes on for six pages. Then, 'The guy packed a can of bug spray. Bug spray was invented in....'" Years later, I realize that: the beginning of Congo is, in fact, not quite like this; and that the edutainment of Crichtoneqsue style has its hilarious comeuppance in Modern Humorist's Encyclopedia Brown parodies.

So I was sick this past week. Monday afternoon I ministered to Alexei, who had (he thought) been poisoned by bad fish over the weekend. That night I stayed up late writing an essay on James Rorty, pseudoculture v. mass culture, and Dark Victory, or, as I put it to most of my friends, "Applying a theorist you've never heard of to a movie you've never seen." Didn't eat much or sleep much those next few days, except for some bake-sale goods on Wednesday, early afternoon. What I'm wondering is, exactly what was the tipping point of the illness? What made me sick on Wednesday afternoon, night, and Thursday morning? Did I catch something from Alexei? The brownie? Was it to food, or the lack of food, or sleep, or what combo?

Illness wreaks havoc with the scientific method. I want the independent variable, dammit!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/15/25525/7264
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: Without Darth: there would have been no Luke," said a girl to another girl on Hearst yesterday evening. As my friend Drew would comment, Dostoyevsky was saying basically the same thing.

A report on the Comedy Night. And, "for justice, we must go to..." Judge Bob's Judicial system!

Comedy Night. I performed at the open-mike on Monday night. Anirvan, Leonard, and Leah came with me. WRT the professionals: Johnny Steele was funny, as was (to a lesser extent) Becky Pedigo. Mr. Steele was once a radio DJ for Live 105 FM, which attests to his ability to improvise. Very good.

I was surprised. Usually, there are around six or eight open-mike performers; Monday, there were, three, including me. And I got to go first! I never get to go first, since I'm a repeat performer and we usually have to go after the first-timers. But there were no novices on Monday. I still only had about thirty (if that many!) people in the audience, but I did pretty well. I think this might have been my second-best performance ever. No notes, and quite a few laughs.

I usually don't lie in my act. I may have a bit of comic exaggeration, but I try to avoid lies, profanity, and use lewd humor. But I cracked on Monday that my tax bracket "just went from mobile phone to mobile home," which wasn't that funny anyway, and is regardless false. So, just so you know, in case you were there, I was lying. I never was in the mobile phone bracket, anyway.

Political Science 2 was the first time I learned (explicitly) about patron-client relations as a model of a social system. The canonical example in modern literature may be Mario Puzo's The Godfather, which we referenced in the class.

"The two movies you need to watch to understand politics are The Godfather and Monty Python and the Life of Brian", the TA said.

I just skimmed the first page and a half or so of The Godfather yesterday at Shayna's place after California Politics discussion. Our POV character sees his daughter's rapists sentenced in court. They get off with a three-year suspended sentence, a slap on the wrist. His rage is inconceivable. This is no justice! "For justice," he tells his family, "we must go to our friend Don Corleone."

And it is true that machine politics and the Mafia and so on provided useful services to marginalized communities, especially immigrants. But patron-client relations are diffuse, not specific, which is their strength and their danger. I can rely on one supplier for security, loans, and assistance with the government, but if I annoy that one supplier somehow, I'm out all those services. And that's the inherent problem. It can be "unfair."

But I've recently encountered another mention of patronage that, along with the Puzo page, sent me "reeling around ... in some kind of primal Jungian fugue," as Neal Stephenson said in In the Beginning Was the Command Line.

I had to watch The Philadelphia Story last week. I was caught unaware -- I had thought I was in for It Happened One Night, but that'll teach me to not check the syllabus. And there's a moment where the kindly-intentioned heiress tells the rough-and-tumble reporter who would love to write fiction for a living -- if only he had the money -- that he can use her cottage, if he likes. And he retorts that patronage is out of favor these days. It's 1939.

Yes, it's charity; yes, it's degrading to a proud soul. But what else is wrong with patronage? Was pride the only valid reason (if you do consider pride valid) to take umbrage at her offer? It's not enough to say, "Do you want to go back to the Middle Ages?" We have to understand what's so wrong with the model. After all, there were some good things about medieval times. People had communities -- sometimes dysfunctional, but communities. There was connection and caring -- in a personal way -- and not some slick, efficient, coldly impersonal screen facing you when you made a transaction.

Well, perhaps one might argue that it's a bad thing to have some lord own your life in the way that feudal lords did. He would be able to "volunteer" you for the armed services, to take your crops, to enslave your family and seize your land if he saw fit.

Which, I would reply, is why the protagonist prepares to blow up the credit report services in Fight Club.

Well, I'm off to a lunch from Cheese 'N' Stuff. I've discovered their cheap, filling, and nutritious pasta and potato salads.

Poll: I am, basically,

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/18/14299/4010
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: I done got schooled: Yesterday, after I beat Nathaniel (twice!) at air hockey, a young-looking guy -- Samuel, he said his name was, from the Middle East -- absolutely schooled me. Afterwards, when he -- quite kindly -- explained how I might get better, I realized that he had thought I was wrongly inferring his intended actions, when, in fact, I'd just been trying to guard my goal against any willy-nilly puck. I wasn't even good enough to get tricked the way he was trying to trick me. But it was very fun nonetheless.

I saw Citizen Kane yesterday, for the first time. I wish I could have seen it without all the baggage that a modern viewer brings to the film. I knew what "Rosebud" meant, at the end, and I knew that many critics consider it the greatest movie ever made. It is very, very good. But I'd like to see a lot more cinema before pronouncing it "the best" or only "one of the best."

Citizen Kane: Hot or Not?

Yesterday's class was pretty good. My students cajoled me into doing my comedy act from Monday. I performed for them at the end of class. They clapped.

"Right now, you like me! You really, really like me!"

Tomorrow we'll be discussing The Matrix, and this coming Wednesday too. I encourage interested readers to stop by. It promises to be an interesting discussion. I came up with my frist political interpretation after seeing it the second or third time, I saw it that time on campus, at one of SUPERB's Friday night Wheeler showings, and explained it with great enthusiasm at dinner at Mario's La Fiesta on Telegraph -- the best Mexican restaurant in Berkeley.

I owe a great deal to my friends and family for their patience with my enthusiasms.

Another SUPERB movie tomorrow -- Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, which I have been wanting to see ever since I first heard of it. But I also have a fun party I could attend! Decisions, decisions. I, ever the social butterfly.

Maybe I should just while away my Friday night in the arcade, taking all comers at air hockey and stomping the pads for Dance Dance Revolution as Korean pop infuses my brain.

Poll: What should brainwane do on Friday night?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/19/144930/415

: Watch yo'self!: "Tell me who the infallible philosopher is. I'd like to read her work."
-Me, during discussion of The Matrix today.

"You know, some people just don't want their Ph.D.s."
-Prof. Bruce Cain, yesterday, after a playful insult from a graduate student.


"We should start a chess club."
"Look, we're CS majors, we hang out in a computer lab, and you want us to start s chess club? Why don't we just spray ourselves with pussy repellent?"

-Heard in the Open Computing Facility.

My watch broke. I still have it on, since it feels weird to not wear a watch, but I put it on backwards to ensure that I won't use it to tell time. Perhaps I should simply wear a gaily decorative bracelet instead.

It's rather odd to live without a watch, for me. I find myself continually asking people if they "have the time" -- a curious expression, much like "spend a penny" -- and alternating between drifting, aimless lounging and frenzied rushes of movement.

jwz wrote that no job should require one -- well, him -- to wear a watch. Wearing a nonfunctional watch reminds me of "Chronopolis" by J.G. Ballard. What's better -- being part of a huge watch, or never knowing clocks?

Class: Today we discussed The Matrix and mentioned Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Darwin, Lao-Tzu, Marx, Foucault, Plato, and Darwin, among others.

Today On Calendars: National Condom Day, last day of Sexual Violence Awareness Week, Hitler's birthday, anniversary of Columbine, some sort of Holocaust rememberance day, etc.

Air hockey today: Beat Elliot once, beat Jose once and beaten by Jose once, and beat Jeana twice (!)

Poll: best quote

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/20/20218/2375

: Russkies and Injuns: By request. My trip to San Francisco -- or perhaps I should say "Maya excursiyoo v San Francisco," since I went with my Russian class and the tour guide spoke in Russian and pointed out spots of Russian interest.

And: if you're Indian, and in Silicon Valley, please read this.

So I woke up at 7 or 8 or so this morning and dragged myself to Oxford and University to meet up with my Russian teacher, three of my classmates, and the teacher and two students from the fourth-semester Russian class. Introductions all around. Shivering. Students warming up their Russian in fits and starts.

The history graduate student, one of my classmates, drove up in a (borrowed) candy-apple-red Spider Veloce convertible -- top down, sunglasses on, ponytail flying in the wind. This provoked much comment, many laughs, and a number of jibes, including:

His car and arrival provoked much more comment than the fact that I was wearing a tie.

The tour bus picked us up, then, in San Francisco (alternately "SF" or "The City") a group of native Russians. After that was the rapid Russian, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, North Beach, the Palace of Fine Arts -- I fell asleep, it would seem, during the Castro -- and a lot of other stuff, mixed up with jokes and "Wow"s and broken and fluent Russian. We got back to Berkeley around 3:00 pm.

I warmed the Russians' hearts and inflated my own sense of fluency by almost completely using Russian to offer to take -- and to take -- photographs of them, all together, with their camera. Ah, international communication and cooperation, via the daguerrotype.

I noticed -- on Geary, I think, after the tour guide had pointed out (what I dub) Little Moscow, that a window across the street from an auto-body shop reflected the auto-body shop's sign perfectly. The name was "UNI-ROYAL," and I saw the backwards "N" and "R," which (in Cyrillic) one would pronounce "ee" and "ya," respectively. And this made me think that Russia reflects America back to us, backwards, as in a thought-experiment in Einstein's Dreams.

It was on Geary, in "Siberia In SanFran," less than a year ago -- gode nazad -- that I first used Russian with a native Russian. My first-semester Russian class went there. I collected some of the free Russian-language newspapers. In a Russian bakery, I was scanning the news racks for free papers I didn't have yet. A man said something to me and pointed to a paper in my hand.

I stuttered, in sentence fragments. "Nyet zdyes. Tam. Na ulitsa." ["Not here. There. On the street."]

He understood me! He did! I ran back to my classmates to tell them. They laughed, I remember -- maybe at my enthusiasm. It was my frist triumph. It certainly encouraged me to keep on with the Russian.

Other weekend news: My God, Leonard is too funny for his own good. And together, we're comedy dynamite! Exploding stereotypes, destroying myths, and provoking the founding of the Nobel Prizes!

More seriously, I went to the party, electing not to see the movie, do homework, or dance dance.

I did some ethnographic research today. Translation: talked to Indians in Silicon Valley about their citizenship status, which is basically my project. If anyone reading this fits that profile, please, contact me.

Poll: This weekend: hot or not?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/23/05824/1575

: Do I look fat in this font?: Media experiences I've had today:

In today's journal, brainwane teaches, sees a whore, buys a bookmark, and cannot cure herself of a meme.

Ever since I started hanging out with Leonard, a certain meme has infested me as slowly and surely as syphilis. It's ""Tonight's Episode," the only slightly nonsensical title at the top of Leonard's main webpage. Go ahead, look at it. I dare you.

It's as Neal Stephenson's herpes virus of irony (which infects anyone who lives in California for too long, as posited in Cryptonomicon). I keep coming up with new ones, writing down the good and discarding the bad. It's more distracting than a half-read Orson Scott Card novel. I see parking signs and transmute them into sleazy slogans of corrupted corpses. What a life.

Today in my DE-Cal class, I tried to talk a bit about religion, jumping off with The Matrix. While referring to Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning Was The Command Line, I made a rather inelegant analogy of HIV destroying defenses sneakily to the relativism of the American monoculture, and its disabling of righteousness defenses in other cultures. It's still rather muddled in my head.

I saw a prostitute! I have been told (passive voice intended) that the "massage parlor" next to King Dong (a Chinese restaurant) on Shattuck, between Haste and Channing, is a brothel. And today I was walking home from school when I saw a woman near the place.

[Channelling Raymond Chandler] She was white, thirty and trying not to look so. She had "blond" hair that had seen more chemicals than Erin Brockovich. Come to think of it, she looked kind of like Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich -- not the face, not the pretty lighting, just the clothes. Heels that made her almost seem dainty -- her feet, anyway. And her short pink dress seemed like something Whore Barbie would wear.

She was running, I think -- if you can call anything a woman can do in those heels "running" -- out of the "Massage Parlor" (with the neon sign from ancient times, neverlit), a keyring dangling from her upraised hands. She passed them through the window to a fella sitting in the driver's seat of an SUV. Then she went back in. I caught a glimpse of a dingy, dungy office-looking room just inside the door. I didn't have to wait for the door to close to know that the sign on it simply reads, "Ring bell for service."

It was the first time I'd ever seen a woman and had quite a bit of certainty that she was a sex worker.

My class informed me, later, of the nuanced layers, the levels of degradation, implied by the words "whore," "slut," "skank," "ho," and "slattern." I should have asked about "scarlet woman." Or rather, "pink lady."

I bought a bookmark. It was hidden in the folds of a book at the church thrift sale. It's white paper, with sort of lacily perforated edges and a colored emblem of sort of a Santa Claus in the middle, decorated with red characters, Japanese or Chinese, I don't know which. I didn't buy the book, which may have been Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. I really should read some Pinter and Albee some time. Get in that black-turtleneck-cappucino vibe.

Later, y'all. It's The West Wing and Gogol for me! Tonight, tonight...

Poll: Better alliteration

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/25/213323/223
Filed under:

: In which the writer performs mundanities: Mediocre paper, Square One TV, pens ... oh hell, I'll just call this "Quickies," since that's what it is.

I am writing a long paper about the naturalization rates of Indians (the small subsection that my parents know, really) in Silicon Valley. It is destined for mediocrity. Oh well. As though that's new.

DON'T go to "Venezia," a University Avenue Italian restaurant. It's overpriced and underwhelming in terms of food, although the service and atmosphere are friendly. Best of Berkeley (.com) rated it Best Place to Take a Date. Well, I don't know about that. Go to King Dong (Shattuck and Haste) or Venus (Shattuck and Durant) or Intermezzo or La Fiesta (Telegraph and Haste) or Blue Nile (Telegraph and Blake...?) instead.

Weekend socialization: Yet another Leonard session. A hat trick! Much fun was had, some schtick was developed, and compliments flew like Mountain Dew cans out of a Mountain Dew can shooting gun.

I have only begun to perceive the world through the mediating paradigm of "Tonight's Episode."

My class Friday was suboptimal. There's a reason to hold class indoors when it's cold. Nature tricked me! Darn you, Mother Nature!

I'm not sure what to teach next semester. Perhaps some variant of children's lit? Harry Potter?

I bought a bunch of pens at Alko Office Supply on Shattuck. It's amazing the difference a couple of new pens can make in your life. I may actually grow to like the Gelly Roll pen, despite its mainstreamness.

Is it just me, or are some movie marquees -- especially the one for the Shattuck Cinemas above Kittredge -- unnecessarily cryptic?

There's a Camille Paglia speech on campus in early May. More details shortly.

"My Secret Identity" and "Square One TV": bad and good shows I saw at a formative age. I still wish I could fly using aerosol cans and harbor an unreasoning reserve of affection for any show or film starring that Jerry O'Connell fellow. Conversely, I know why the number 9 is magic, I sometimes wear a tie, and I play "What Do [I] Know?" whenever I think to do so.

I theorize that Tom Green movies exist only as subtle agents of the Hollywood mythos that any jackass can be a movie star.

And, from Sumana's notebook, bad handwriting that reminds us:
lesson plan != lesion plan

Poll: Most mundane

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/29/2196/19709

: A dream I had last night: I had a really weird dream last night. If other people's dreams bore you, then be warned. This one's long, with attempts at interpretation.

First, I was a reporter for some national humor magazine, and I visited some lecture being given to a sixth-grade class (yet it was full of people about my age) by some woman who was very much like Prof. Moran from my 1939 Films class. Only she had written some sci-fi novel called "1/3 + 2 1/3 = 3" or something, and she was a Scientologist, and somehow this formed the rationale for all she did. And the guy in front of me (who was kind of like one of the singers in DeCadence) didn't understand what was going on, so I tried to help by writing down "She's talking about Scientology" in my little notebook, but he didn't understand, so I wrote it again, but he had made some noise, and we were in the front rows, so the teacher began picking on him. I knew that I was an outsider and shouldn't get involved, but I couldn't help trying to defend him. "I was just telling him 'she's talking about Scientology,'" I said. But I couldn't do much as she berated him.

[In Russia, I've been warned, I won't be able to do anything about any domestic violence I see.]

[DeCadence has a free spring concert coming up. And one of my friends is dating a singer in the group.]

[As far as I know, Prof. Moran is not actually a scientologist. But she does enjoy science fiction.]

Then, as the class exited, I rejoined my colleagues from the humor mag. A girl excitedly asked us if we were from the Heuristic Squelch (UC Berkeley's mag), and we were from a paper that also had "Squelch" in its title, but I was also on the Heuristic Squelch, so it was tough to try to disabuse her of the notion.

[I often read The Onion, BBSpot, Modern Humorist, Brunching Shuttlecocks, Segfault, and the Heuristic Squelch. It would be cool to write for, say, MH. As if. But I have had two Segfault stories published, long, long ago. The better one was about a tech support gal. I don't remember what the worse one was.]

Then, somehow, I was home. Somehow saw my dad through the windowshade and we smiled at each other.

[My primary windowshade recently malfunctioned.]

Then I think my sister and maybe my dad and I were looking through a bunch of junk that my dad owned, in some rather foreign environment...or maybe it was like the house my parents rented years ago in Stockton. And somehow my friend Dan was there! And he saw something that looked like a little violin-esque sculpture made out of soap, and said (over and over, and I repeated it once) that it was (I don't remember exactly) a Stradivarius made for Sonny Kennedy. And we had bought it for 75 cents, and it was worth millions.

[Who isn't always looking for the diamond in the rough? I recently bought a blouse at a secondhand store, a tie at a church thrift store, and a corded phone at a garage sale, seeking bargains. And when I was at the secondhand store, I heard the employees mention that they were keeping the store open late to await the arrival of one Secondhand Stew. One of Dan's nicknames is "Stew." I wonder if Secondhand Stu does or does not advertise?]

[I recently heard about a friend of a friend of a friend who was dating a Kennedy. Yes, one of THOSE Kennedies. And I recently made a tasteless joke about Sonny Bono's death, which I often conflate with Michael Kennedy's and John Kennedy, Jr.'s.]

Maybe it was between those two main vignettes that I was with my mom in some high school. I was at the age I am now. And I remember seeing some sort of weird drink mixture. And I remember seeing two high school seniors in chairs in some corner of the playground/greenspace. Both guys. One snoozing, one long-haired and working intently on math or physics, not responding to my presence.

[In Connie Willis's short story "Time Out," which I read yesterday, a number of grown women interact with children at an elementary school. One is testing them. It's a good story, and that is nowhere near the whole premise. As well, drink mixtures are discussed, or at least mentioned.]

[I know a lot of physics/math/CS people, a number of them longhaired (both male and female), and I tend to envy their focus and persistence. I feel as though I don't really have either. I'd be the snoozer.]

So that's my dream. I warned you quite fairly that it was a dream, and I hope not too many of you were hoping for steamy fantasy and are now disappointed. None of that last night, none that I remember.

Other news: Still writing my paper. Thinking about music I like. Poll courtesy of some of the music I've been listening to.

Random note: Driven won the box office this last weekend. (Holds head in hands)

Poll: Every time I close my eyes

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/4/30/103246/410

: Fickle Fiona takes over my dreams: Is being in a teen chick flick a dream or a nightmare?

Another day, another dollar, another dream. This one is much less excruciatingly, er, exhaustively detailed. And I make cranky complaints, too.

Another weird dream. But I waited too long to write anything down, so now I only remember some weird mention of BART, I think, and me as some sort of capricious Parker Posey-type character, and a roller coaster, and some weird teen-chick-flick romance dynamic with a sweet and humble guy, and then me being arrogant and flying/piloting a car off the rails and landing my party in some weird open-air apartment where the owner was about to come home.

I think that there were suggestions that certain people were people I know, just as there were in my last dream. But it's tough to tell, especially after showering and doing other stuff in real life. Note also that on Sunday night, I had discussed teen flicks with my friend Angel.

Once upon a time, Angel and I saw a really bad teen flick, the one saving grace of which was a scene in which the exuberant male lead, having gotten a date with the girl of his dreams, plays a vibrant "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" on his accordion. Oh, and the smart girl uses Salinger to some effect. We came in late, and I don't remember the title. She's All That? Loser? In any case, Angel informed me that Sugar and Spice was even worse than the accordion movie. Wow. That takes doing.

And, in the bad teen flick she and I saw, there was a capricious secondary female lead, the one our hero thought he wanted, and various thoughts over the past week or so had reminded me of her. More fickle than a movie-theater marquee. More arbitrary than a financial aid deadline.

And -- and here's the weird thing -- I was going through my out-box yesterday, and the very first email in my out-box ever on this machine was about this movie, and was the first real email I ever wrote to a person to whom I now write a lot of email. But about ten months passed between me sending that email and me sending my next email to him.

If a feminine-appeal movie is a chick flick, doesn't that create an obvious rhyming parallel for action-type masculine-appealing movies?

It's May Day. But my NPR station DJ notes the most important news, namely, that it's the beginning of National Bike Month! I imagine you can't wish a happy revolution to all the commies out there if you get government funding. Ah, but Morning Edition tells me that there are lots of labor protests today, all across the world. Even in nontrendy places. Good.

There is some sort of cruelty in assigning a paper at Berkeley, hotbed of activism, to be due on May Day.

Today is the anniversary of the capture of Francis Gary Powers, U-2 pilot, by the USSR. And just a little while ago was the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's space journey, the first. Makes me glad to study Russian. Just think, if they'd kept up the good work, maybe I'd be speaking it already.

Hamlet. "This is not your grandfather's lumbering five-act Hamlet," the New York Times informed me of Peter Brook's new production. I always rather liked the old one. I see what he's trying to do, but I never believed I'd feel crochety about Hamlet.

Poll: Most Useful Language

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/1/104514/1325

: Comedy Night II: Canadian Showdown: No, it's not actually in Canada, nor is it a Showdown. It's another U.C. Berkeley Comedy Night, this one put on by SUPERB on Monday, May 7. I'll probably be there; you?

Yes, I borrowed the title from some /. headline this morning.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/2/153057/1075

: Hangman: I played Hangman with a random seatmate in California Politics yesterday. Political Science was the category.

judiciary, resolution, legislation, reapportionment, cabinet, elect, naturalize, parliament, farm. Farm?

"My term paper was on farm labor," he said.

His name was Brian. He was really good. I always forget that short words are harder to guess than long ones.

I know I dreamt last night, but can't remember about what.

I've been thinking about mediation, and lies, and James Morrow's stories City of Truth and Veritas (though I haven't read the first), and Plato, and guilt, and wounds, and vulnerability, and temptation, and pedestals, and proximity, and stubble and, if you will, the incredible triteness of being and feeling this way.

I have a random wound on my hand. It looks as though it's going to leave a mark. I think I got it this weekend, Friday night maybe, but I can't recall how.

Today is the last day of my DE-Cal class. It's going to be weird not teaching this Friday. But I will enjoy the leisure. I may invite everyone to an air hockey extravaganza or something Friday afternoon.

I imagine that if I began to play Dance Dance Revolution, every time I heard Eastern pop, I would think "up down left-right-left." It would have the analogous effect to Tetris and geometric shapes. When I played a lot of Tetris, I looked at the bricks in my family's fireplace and imagined games of Tetris.

I think it's funny that the backwards "r" in "Tetris" would be pronounced "ya," and as such, it's "tetyais." And "Toys Ya Us?"

Ask me to tell you about the cremains sometime.

Poll: Justice is

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/2/102453/1873

: Antics of the Russian Students: We played "telephone" in Russian. Of course, we made fun of the guy who's never there. "I saw him sleeping on the street in big red waterproof boots" turned into "I saw him sleeping with a big dog." "Boots" is suppogi, "dog" is sobaka, it's a mistake anyone could make.

Maybe this is how Gogol got his ideas.

Word of the week: Capricious.

Hamlet line of the week: As if increase of appetite had grown/ By what it fed on.

Movie lines of the week: "The jury will disregard counsel's tempting allusion to Christmas shopping."
-Remember the Night
"All I want is to be a cowboy and to wear pants."
-Destry Rides Again

All Things Considered is thirty years old this week. I used to listen to NPR a lot more when I had a more regular schedule, back in high school. I still try to catch the headlines and the funny little bits at the half-hour of Morning Edition.

I wish I'd kept playing the piano or the trumpet. I gave up on them when I was little. I could start again, but I don't want to make the time. But right now I imagine that it would feel less trite to make music than to write bad poetry to try to express my feelings.

Poll: Most annoying aspect of high-school poetry

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/3/145615/1111

: The Nut That Didn't Crack: I may, in fact, be a figurative nut. But at least I haven't figuratively cracked.

Air hockey and boredom, on today's "brainwane."

I've decided to try to be content with what I have.

"All Your Base is the Silly Putty of memetic technology." -Alexei, during an extraordinarily fun lunch yesterday with Shweta, Dan and me at Mario's La Fiesta.

All my finals are crowded together in the last days of the finals period. I think I have one per day scheduled for three days, straight. Great. Well, at least I get to slack off for a week or two before cramming for them. Tennis, anyone?

In truth, I enjoy air hockey more than tennis. Partly because I'm better at it. And today at 3 pm in the BearCade, in the student union here at the UC Berkeley campus, I'm holding an air hockey extravaganza to celebrate the end of the semester, the academic year, and especially my DE-Cal class. Come on by! Come on, leave work early, skip a class, and come play air hockey while being blasted by Japanese pop from the Dance Dance Revolution machine. It'll be fun.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/4/141833/3360

: The funny: Is "the funny" an ideal? Is it a perception? Is it the manifestation of The Good? Is it a transaction of some sort? An accident of juxtaposition? Why is it that sometimes two people can agree on, say, which of two jokes is funnier, and sometimes not? Ah, I don't think I really care. But I love to laugh, and I love to make other people laugh.

People have different reactions to things they find funny. I, myself, tend to guffaw really loudly, which certainly draws attention in computer labs and restaurants, and which I hope doesn't bother my friends and acquaintances too much. Some people just smile, laughing to themselves silently. And I'm sure there are some people out there who don't react visibly *or* audibly. With each step of self-restraint, the jestee further frustrates, discourages, the jester.

I love a good laugh. I think one of the signs that a person is trustworthy and honest is a good laugh. Because, come on, *I* laugh more like a movie villain than real villains do. I think real villains just crack a smirk, or maybe nothing at all, since they are very aware that allowing others to see any of their real emotions gives others power over them. Ugh, too many pronouns, too little energy to go back and fix it.

Anyway, I just enjoy seeing and hearing people responding to my everyday attempts at entertainment, even when I'm not on a literal stage with a literal microphone. Yes, there's probably some neurosis at work here. I just hope it doesn't get to the point where my need for that sort of attention gets in the way of otherwise healthy relationships with friends who just don't slap their knees at my knee-slappers.

Poll: I am

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/6/2136/36222

: Got your nose!: The game in Russian today was "Find the Nose." The history grad student cut a picture of a nose out of a magazine. Someone left the room, the other students hid the nose somewhere, the seeker came back in, and the other students gave the seeker clues so's s/he could find it. Very droll.

Poll on the moral of Gogol's short story, "The Nose."

Poll: The moral of the story is:

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/7/142621/3334

: Episode I: The Summer Begins: End of classes; woo-hoo. Finals approach; no woo-hoo. Finals still a few days away: woo-hoo.

Turns-on: Proper pluralization. Turns-off: Plagiarism.

More randomness follows.

I, like Seth, am not a vegan yet, though Berkeley certainly makes me feel as though I should be.

The Fresh Robots were completely astounding and hilarious when I saw them at the Punchline Comedy Club in San Francisco on Monday night. I wholeheartedly recommend them.

Looks like IUMA, the Internet Underground Music Archive, is 'back from the dead.' And I'm glad. Over half my xmms playlist came from IUMA.

I have been called "perfect," in some form or another, something like fifteen times in the last two days. Wow! I hope my graders agree.

I think that WarCraft, and games like it, are just trying to make related-rate problems fun.

Quote of the half-week:"Wait, you've got it! No floor! Free-fall! Nothing can go wrong in free-fall!"

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/9/214728/2775

: Slouching Towards Beth El, Hmm?: Very little to say, and I'll go ahead and say it. Today: My friendship braid is neither eternal nor golden, but it's neat nonetheless. And I've watched a bit on the telly, what?

I watched "The West Wing" last night and really enjoyed it. I watch it every week, and strenuously avoid any other television, except that yesterday I saw some European news show. I found out that the weather in Germany might be less-than-pleasant soon. Mwa-ha-ha.

I love hanging out with intelligent people. I can't believe that I've become so lucky as to come to Cal and meet all sorts of interesting people. I can even trace how a lot of it happened.

  1. I moved into the same dorm as Mike, Seth, Michelle, Dan, Kenny, and all sorts of other people.
  2. Mike introduced me to his colleague Anirvan.
  3. Dan and Seth played pool together in the lounge as I watched. Seth explained to Dan and me what this whole free-software thing was about. "Do you ever read slashdot.org?" Seth asked. Dan and I both said, "What's that?"
  4. Slashdot pointed me to Segfault pointed me to Leonard.
  5. I saw Darin standing in Dwinelle Plaza with a "this shirt is classified as munitions" t-shirt and complimented him on it.
  6. Dan introduced me to Sunil, who introduced me to Lia and Steve and Aaron and Laura and the Fresh Robots.

Pretty much the only person here who doesn't fit is Alexei. I have no idea how we finally met. Maybe through Darin? Many of my friends already knew him before Alexei and I met. He's the hub of many acquaintance wheels, the Charlotte in the middle of the web.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/10/142418/401

: Weird Al brainwaneovich: Wow. I've gotten used to cleaning, or maybe it's just that I've cleaned up my apartment so many times in the last few weeks that I haven't had time to get it *really* dirty again, so it isn't taking that long.

I love Weird Al. "Even Worse" is my dishwashing album.

See, I'm coming home from work but I forgot my address
I'm half an hour late for my algebra test
Then, some slimy alien jumps out of my chest
Then I'm falling and falling and I guess you know the rest

Mike Parsons gave me "Even Worse" in lieu of paying back a fifty-cent loan that I kept harping on. This must have been in seventh or eighth grade.

I'm socializing tonight with new friends and old. Mostly new.

Finals approach, and I'm sort of halfheartedly working on a paper on Destry Rides Again, a 1939ish film starring Jimmy Stewart as a Wild West lawkeeper who uses less-than-orthodox methods to get his way. I think it would be interesting to watch that in some sort of movie night with Stagecoach and Moulin Rouge, the new Nicole Kidman flick. All these pivotal prostitute characters, all sympathetic, all sort of soft-on-the-inside-hard-on-the-outside. Of course, I'll probably be talking much more about the weird half-pacifism, half-vengeful anarchy that Destry Rides Again seems to espouse. I'd welcome comments from anyone who has actually seen this rather obscure flick.

It seems that every time I clean, I find that I have more books. This shouldn't surprise me, since I'm the one who buys them, but it does. Hard Times by Studs Terkel, the Hermann Hesse-like The Witness by S.L. Bhyrappa (which I recommend), some random hard-bound Plato, two little paperbacks by Stanislaw Lem that I haven't barely started yet. Purple Dots by Jim Lehrer -- yes, that Jim Lehrer.

From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot:

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Poll: Best media experience

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/11/155744/384
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: I like to go out dancing; my baby loves a bunch of authors: Title: an homage to my new favorite band.

A very good weekend. Some discoveries and such, in brainwaneWatch 200[1].

I had a great deal of fun, on purpose, this weekend. My classes are over for the [academic] year. I could kick back some, and I did. It was amazing. I had forgotten how relaxing it can be to not even have access to homework for a day or two.

Stuff I learned:

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/15/125631/301

: People who don't know me can disregard this: That is to say, people who don't know me in person could probably safely disregard this. Information, I've read, is the decreasing of uncertainty. I don't know if that definition applies, but in any case, this will be much more informative to you if you know me outside the Net.

A relationship of long standing has ended. It was almost three years old.

I do not want to talk about responsibility. And although we were very close, and loved each other (although the last few months have given me much cause to try to figure out what exactly that means), we were no longer suited to fulfill each other's needs.

I'm sorry.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/17/133729/209

: Funny lines from my final: I took my last finals of the semester today. I turned in an extra-crappy paper for my "1939" class, and took my "California Politics" final, and now it's over, the whole semester, the whole year. And I'm listening to Moxy Früvous, and I have all the time in the world to read all this stuff I've been wanting to read, the P.G. Wodehouse and the Martin Gardner and the Gibson/Sterling, and instead I feel kind of alone and possibly just starting down a path of pain and emptiness, so I'll post these funny lines from my final.

Note that I was not setting out to be the class clown of California Politics. I was just emotioned out.

"After apportionment comes redistricting, as after rain the sun."

"Not an election year goes by that the citizenry doesn't vote yea-or-nay on some whack-ass initiative."

On attempts to stem the tide of harebrained initiatives: "But ... there will always be rich people with zany schemes (cf. horsemeat initiative)."

On a proposed scheme to tell voters systematically, via a note in the ballot pamphlet, the probability that a proposition will be found unconstitutional and overturned by the courts: "Voters get more information, writers of inits. get more cautious about writing whack-ass propositions with messy legal implications, and its costs seem negligible. It's a win-win-win situation!"

"... an across-the-board split down the middle ..."

On wedge issues: "Our two-party system requires that each party, like Walt Whitman, be large and contain multitudes -- of opposing views, that is!"

And: "Pete Wilson is the poster child for the use of immigration as a wedge issue."

I'm all right, right now, which is all I can ask for, right? And my friends have been more help than I had realized they would be. Thanks, guys. Being busy tomorrow will help a lot.

Poll: Best Moxy Früvous song on "Bargainville"

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/18/42116/2620
Filed under:

: Fun, fun, fun, till daddy takes my independence away.: "So puns have a slight aphrodisiac effect on me."
"You mean they turn you on. Come on, use street language."
"No! We are not on the street. The street is over there, beyond that plaque that says, 'You are now on UC property.' And so we are still on campus, and so I will use academic language, not street language, and so I will say that it has a slight aphrodisiac effect."

All the fun and sadness I've had for the past 72 hours or whatever. Marketing that makes me shake my head in shame. P.G. Wodehouse. Oh, and candy.

Some people don't like Red Hots! The sweet and spicy little cinnamon candy. How can this be? Red or black licorice, I get. But Red Hots? Goodness. Well, at least I haven't run into too many people who dislike chocolate. Yet.

Hogwarts, the academy of witchcraft and wizardry in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter universe, apparently (according to merchandise I saw over the weekend) has some sort of pseudo-Latin school motto. Hey, Latin scholars! What does Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus mean? Which, of course, reminds me of a Monster.com ad I saw in a BART station (the SF Bay Area Underground/subway/metro) on Sunday. "Carpe better jobium." Aaargh!

If you pass by a Barnes & Noble's, such as the one on Durant and Shattuck in Berkeley, and you resist your natural urge to resist this manifestation of the homogenization of middlebrow culture, then you might go in and see a Scholastic (kids' publisher) book display. And you might see the abomination that is T*WITCHES. Combining the teen-girl wish for a twin and the trendiness of superficial Wicca rebellion! The slogans are:

Radically Different. Identically Powerful.
Twins. Witches. Exactly.

Exactly what? As Leonard said, "Twins. Witches. (That's a stupid idea!) Exactly."

Note that I am not calling Wicca superficial. I'm just saying what you probably already know, that for a lot of kids the idea of Wicca is a trendy little tool for rebellion, and not a really sacred way of life. They wouldn't know what the Rede was if you beat them over the head with it. It's not superficial, but some people treat it superficially, and I'm pretty sure that this wannabe kids' series is trying to ride that wave.

Again, Aaargh!


So I've been reading Wodehouse off and on for a few years now. As with my new favorite band, I wish I'd discovered Wodehouse seven years ago. Wait, maybe I did. Anyway. I finished Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves over the weekend, and found it good, but not as virtuosic and enjoyable as Right Ho, Jeeves, the other Jeeves and Wooster novel I've read. I have recently realized that, in everyday life, I talk more like Jeeves and Wooster than like any other characters in literature. I'm not sure where the causality is there. In any case, I'll be starting Bertie Wooster Sees it Through as soon as I finish or get bored with The George Orwell Reader, which I got over the weekend and which, coincidentally, contains Orwell's essay, "In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse."

OK, "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" is going bye-bye, Moxy Früvous is sliding onto the acoustic deck.

I got back that research paper of which I wrote here about three weeks ago, the one about naturalization rates among Indians in Silicon Valley. It's always great to have your grader tell you that you understated the strengths of your methodology.

A day or more after the final:

"So? How was the test?" -professor
"The test was fair. You, sir, are not." -me

I suppose I've been delaying talking about my emotional state. Well, it's changed. I kept really busy this weekend -- lots and lots of socialization. And, to quote Calvin of Bill Watterston's Calvin and Hobbes, The Days Are Just Packed! And I didn't really feel sad at all, except for brief flashes and memories. But then yesterday I talked on the phone with the person with whom a relationship recently ended, and who told me that I am still a good person, and that triggered something, and I cried for the first time since that dissolution.

I guess I was blocking the pain, and now it's arrived, and George Orwell wrote about the experience of poverty from his life in Paris. From Down and Out in Paris and London:

And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs -- and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.

And, from Moxy Früvous's quill, in a song about heartbreak and getting over a breakup:

He thought about his life, his heart began to rush
He buried the crown, found a bucket and a brush
BJ paints town!

Perhaps I did things backwards. What else is new? Sun Rises, Analysts Stunned, as Segfault will say someday.

Poll: I want x in my life, where x equals

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/22/124043/134
Filed under:

: A short announcement-entry: I'm feeling low, what with the end of the school year, running out of chocolate, and having too much boring stuff to do. But at least I have fun friends. Funny how the two people I'm hanging out with the most these days are people I met not twice two months ago.

Wrote a Segfault story, combining my middlebrow love of Shakespeare with everyone's favorite error messages. Other people seem to think it's good. Check it out.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/23/152741/933

: The Most Recent Picture Show: I saw part of a movie, I read some stuff, I looked at some art, I gotta clean.

I went on Tuesday night to see Satyajit Ray's movie Charulata at the Fine Arts Theater at Haste and Shattuck in Berkeley. Ray is probably the most famous filmmaker ever to emerge from India. (He is Bengali; Anirvan gloats about that, playfully.) But I was so tired that I fell asleep in the middle of the film, so I only saw the beginning and the end. Good stuff, that which I saw. I should probably see it for real sometime.

So now I haven't seen any of the Important Indian films. I really want to see the more recent films by Deepa Mehta -- you know, the ones that were so controversial in India that theaters that were showing it got bombed by fundamentalists. Fire and such. Fire tackled lesbianism, empty marriages, etc. Funny: just as some Christians say that "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," some Hindus say that "God created Rama and Sita, not Radha and Sita."

I've read more of The Orwell Reader, begun P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster Sees it Through, and read through the most recent San Francisco Bay Guardian. In the SFBG, Annalee Newitz writes a thoughtful article on the problems in deliberately trying to connect or separate sex and love. Annalee certainly seems reasonable, in her own way.

I really like potato salad.

I went and saw some art yesterday. Whenever I set out to Look At Art, I feel uncomfortable because I always feel uncomfortable pronouncing judgment, or commenting in any way, really. I feel underqualified. And then I wonder whether it's okay to feel that way. I'm not even sure what I like, and why. As you can tell from a few of my recent diaries, I've been trying to figure out how I feel about art. I mean, thousands of smart people, more, even, have devoted their lives to this idea. It must have some sort of merit. And I get some sort of pleasure from various aspects of experiences and objects, aspects which I might call "elegance" or "beauty."

I'll just stick to creating comedy and nonfiction text, perhaps, in which I have some grasp of the criteria that I share with peers. I'm not sure about music, or visual media, or movies or TV -- maybe I can just try to take one piece at a time.

I helped out some French-speaking tourists on BART today. I believe I was marginally worse at understanding them than I was at understanding Dimitrii, the Russian guy I met on BART five days back. Four high-school years of French, followed by three college semesters of Russian, plus a lifelong exposure to Kannada -- you can understand how I got pretty mixed up in trying to listen to the French speakers.

I need to clean. Perhaps what I need is to invite people over to my place, so that I will then feel ashamed of the mess and clean it up.

Art is...

Originally posted by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/?op=displaystory;sid=2001/5/24/161037/165
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: A short heartache: I have very little right to accuse anyone of "selling out." But a throwaway parody bit on the topic still touches me.

I'm not a baby boomer. I'm in college right now. And as such, I really have no standing to speak of to accuse anyone or any group of 'selling out.' In that context, I still feel a disheartening pulse go through me when I listen to the Capitol Steps' Bob Dylan parody, "Like A Suburban Drone" (also available at capsteps.com in RealAudio and Sun/AU). People in this live version are laughing. Some have been drinking. When I first heard it, I wanted to laugh. Now I don't.

Maybe I need to get out of Berkeley.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/24/17362/4267

: Cold comfort: I'm racing against a clock to clean, which I really don't want to do. Er, that is to say, I have to clean my apartment by the end of the day. But there is some cold comfort.

Some thoughts on consent.

That Vermont Senator's defection. (Jefford? Jeffords?) Great stuff. This is why I love politics: loopholes.

And the knee-slapping understatement of the week, from holeburning: "It's hard to be less hip than Andy Rooney." Funnier-at-the-moment statement by same: "I'm not a hard-core Libertarian. I like roads, and schools."

I have reliable advance info that a soonish diary entry by Seth will contain a reference to one of my recent entries.

I received two books that I had wanted -- Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. And now I'll have time to read them.

So why do I feel so mediocre? My mood, my abilities, my willpower, my ethics, everything.

Seth, Annalee Newitz, Alexei, and I -- and I don't think any of these people have ever met each other -- agree about the centrality of the problem of informed consent in current thought. Ms. Newitz, basically, asserts that the informed-consent panacea -- for sex, but the implications go much further, to contracts and beyond -- means nothing if people delude themselves, which they do regularly. And if I am interacting with others and want to make sure that I am not being unfair towards them, and I think I am, but they say I'm not, do I trust these delusional people, or trust my own deluded judgment? Poll:

On consent

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/25/143650/340

: The Heartbreak Of St. Petersburg: All of a sudden, I have a sense of style. No, it's not sudden. It's just surfacing. I hesitate to either say that it has sprouted, or that I was pushing its head down with my foot till I decided not to drown it after all.

"Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise." -- George Orwell, "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool," 1946

Mutually non-exclusive choices:

  1. I'm very young
  2. I'm very foolish
  3. Orwell was wrong
  4. Orwell exaggerated when using the word 'imagine'

(I'm heading off to Russia in a few weeks. I'll be visiting St. Petersburg for almost two months. If there's anyone reading this who lives there, I'd love to meet you for a cup of coffee or something while I'm there. The first image that comes to mind is myself, wrapped in all sorts of parka and muff, shivering in the snowdrift. But of course I know that's wrong. The average temperature during the summer in St. Petersburg oscillates between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It snows as much in St. Petersburg in June as it does in Stockton in June.)

I've been reading Orwell. I just drink it in. The fiction, the nonfiction, everything. And it's like what I hear dancing with an incredible partner is like: he anticipates my counterarguments and almost always addresses them satisfactorily. Such clarity, such rigor. This is one of the authors who makes me want to create something as worthwhile, something as substantively good as the work I read. Something that people will experience after I die and express some gratitude that I ever lived.

And maybe I'll never do that.

I get so many habits from my parents. I react out loud to movies and television and the radio, sometimes to others' annoyance, expressed or unexpressed. I shirk work, delay it as long as possible when it's something boring or unpleasant. Sometimes it never gets done. And sometimes I talk too much, and don't let others expletive-gerund concentrate.

The thought is slipping away. I had so much to write, and now it's dead, because I couldn't get to the computer soon enough. Goddammit!

I wanted to get here and write something great, something expressive, and something -- goddamit, will people ever stop saying stupid things so loud that I have to hear them so that it ruins my concentration?!

I just want to go back into my room, and listen for the sixth time to Moxy Fruvous's Live Noise, and make that connection again between the live version of Video Bargainville and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. More specifically, the weird love-of-decay-and-death I sense in the exuberance of the crowd in the live recording of Video Bargainville, and the jaundiced hatred of life that Orwell sees in Swift.

I saw some television today. My reaction startled me. Every time I get some TV after not having any for a while -- I mean the bad stuff, the daytime muck, the prolefeed on the networks -- my reaction startles me. I'm getting pickier and pickier, and/or the stuff I see is getting worse and worse.

I'm troubled by the Supreme Court decision on Casey Martin, the PGA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and with the TV coverage I saw of the ruling. I feel uneasy that a private organization can't keep its rules as it likes. The television coverage focused on the debate over whether walking, sans cart, is "an essential part" of the game, when it seems to me that perhaps the relevance of a private organization's rules is not the most crucial point. And then the home-schooled-kids-in-spelling-bees piece was horribly biased and puffy, too. Am I seeing more? Or is ABC World News Tonight actually telling less than it told when I was in high school?

I cried the other day while reading Orwell's account of his experience in the Spanish Civil War. (An excerpt from Homage to Catalonia appears in The Orwell Reader.) He wrote that his few months in the militia, in the force against fascism, were immediately trying and frustrating and irritating, allowed him to see a vision of humanity and of the hope for a classless society, "the idea of equality." And I cried at the possibility of clear-eyed idealism, at the combination of passion with analytic rigor.

Perhaps I would rather make art than have children.

No, maybe not. Over the course of my life, perhaps I will do both. But right now, I think I'd rather write one great book, or short story, or poem, or just an epigram, than ever risk tormenting a child through inconsistent, moody, selfish parenting. Perhaps I'm just fighing the last war -- oh, is that description too general? (Ha ha.) I'm sure you can read between the lines.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/5/30/03633/2584
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: It's brainwane-o Bandito, the Bandit brainwane: What else is there to do in Stockton, California, but write diary entries and emails, delay learning more Russian, get scared at travel advisories, read the work of dead white guys, and complain about the heat?

Orwell, Lem, Wodehouse, Chekhov; Bless you. I've finished The Orwell Reader, I'm rereading some P.G. Wodehouse (Very Good, Jeeves! and the like), I'm about halfway through Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad, and I'm sampling Chekhov stories from
The Image of Chekhov
Forty Stories by Anton Chekhov
In the Order in Which They Were Written
Translated, With an Introduction by Robert Payne

"The Lady With the Pet Dog" is so relevant, and as clear and cold as a block of ice.

Chekhov can be really depressing. At least when George Orwell depresses me he also provides some tiny but explicit glimmer of hope. The Orwell excerpt about his schooldays from Such, Such Were the Joys reminds us, quite rightly, that modern-day teens have no monopoly on horrid school experiences and angst arising from them. Take that, Jon Katz!

I'm not sure whether Stanislaw Lem can be the Thomas Pynchon of fantasy in the same way that Neal Stephenson is the Thomas Pynchon of sci-fi, because maybe Thomas Pynchon is already the Thomas Pynchon of fantasy.

Star Trek: The Next (de)Generation. I'm watching old episodes from the beginning of second season, I think. Riker has a beard, but they still have the old uniforms, which I would call "stupid" only because they signify a lack of quality. How uneven in quality! Even within the same episode! "The Measure of a Man" was pretty good except that the JAG was a character written before TNG writers could reliably handle strong females (compare K'Eylahr, or however you spell the name of Worf's mate). "The Dauphin" was horrible except for some inspired banter between Riker and Guinan. "A Matter of Honor" seemed like an ad for exchange programs; I feel as though there should have been a ten-second ad for Interplanetary Study Abroad at the end, with Riker, the Benzite, the Klingon, and Wesley all giving a Mentos thumbs-up to the camera. Come to think of it, the quality of an episode from this period may have an inversely proportional relationship to the amount of screen time Wesley gets. Hmmm. This calls for the building of a wildly inaccurate metric!

Funny-names-department. I have an uncle Ramanujan who is a math professor. Or, as he would possibly say, a maths professor. That's great. Imagine if I had more relatives with appropriate trade names! Uncle Sophocles, the playwright. Aunt Marie, the physicist. Cousin Thomas, who doesn't believe anything you tell him.

Immunizations. I'm going to Russia in a bit, and the CDC and suchlike are very concerned to see that I don't die of, say, diphtheria, polio, or typhoid. These travel warnings (regarding diseases that the USA, for all intents and purposes, eradicated a generation back) really drive home the fact that Russia is a developing country. Nothing like "causes paralysis and death" to brighten up the packing of the suitcase and the bon-voyage party. Good thing I'm not intending to visit Vladivostok or any of the other far eastern cities, or else I'd really be worried about the currency of my Japanese encephalitis immunization.

Somehow I feel that "I am immunized and super-sized" should have the same tone as "Disco Stu does not advertise."

Heat. Expletive, it's hot. I'm in the agricultural breadbasket of California, and heat exhaustion may soon crop up on this brainwane's frame.

How hot is it? It's so hot, you'd think it's summer!

Hydration, importance of. Wherever you are, make sure you're drinking enough water. Whether it's summer or winter, you need a certain amount of the old H2 (O, that is!) to lubricate all those little biochemical ball bearings. When I remember to drink more water, my mood improves, I sleep better, and my food even kinda tastes better! Drink cool, refreshing water. Now with pretty much the same ppm level of arsenic!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/1/213246/1768
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: In a small golf pond, I'll be a big fish: So much fun yesterday! An all-day Fun Session with Leonard made Stockton more bearable, despite the fact that it was Expletive-Gerund Hot.

So we played miniature golf at Golfland. He beat me narrowly. We both went way above par. Perhaps the "medium" level was a bit too tough. I did, however, beat him handily, twice, at air hockey in the Golfland Arcade. (The air hockey tables there, quality-wise, are simply not as good as the sole air hocket table in the BearCade at Cal.)

Hey people, if you're going to play mini-golf, obey the rules that actually make sense, e.g., the four-people-to-a-party rule. It keeps things from getting backed up, and people don't have to wait for you, and so on. There was a group of about ten people in front of us -- or maybe it was only eight, but there were so many kids running around the group that I couldn't keep track. At least they stopped around hole 12 or 14 to go (I think) eat cake and such. Argh.

We also watched "Terror of Mechagodzilla." I now have seen the canonical mad-scientist who actually says "I'll destroy them all" and so on, and the alien overlord, and the beautiful scientist's daughter, and the evacuation of Tokyo, and -- of course -- the big Godzilla fight scene. Now I can make real knowing references, as opposed to fake knowing references. I will still, however, feel fake about it.

(Katsuhiko Sasaki, the star (well, aside from Godzilla and his fellow monsters) looks a lot like my friend Anirvan.)

I saw "American Desi" twice this weekend. I hesitate to call it "good," but I certainly enjoyed it a great deal. It's a terrific in-joke for American-born Indians such as me, just as I'm sure "Half-Baked" was a terrific in-joke for American-born stoners. I recommend it only for other American-born Indians, or perhaps for people who know American-born Indians well. The acting is good, the dialogue swings between inspired and functional, the characters have more depth than you expect at first, but the most appealing thing about the film is the sense of familiarity with my bicultural situation that I've never felt in any other film.

Why does the film's star, Deep Katdare, look so familiar? I say he looks like a guy in a Mentos Ad. My sister says he looks like Salman Khan (a Hindi film star). IMDB tells me that he was in an episode of "New York Undercover" seven years ago. OK, he just has those All-Indian-American "good" looks, then.

The villain is great. The character is named Rakesh, and he is such a great schemer! It's so fun to watch! You feel as though a "Mwa-ha-ha-ha" will escape at any moment, but of course he just smirks. Fantastic.

I'd rather be a really interesting villain who gets beat in the end than Student Pouring Ketchup, when it comes time to view the credits to life.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/3/154013/3929

: Milk, cheese, bread, diary: A tiny little litany of what I've done today.

I played mini-golf with Steve/holeburning, the second person in two days to drive down from the SanFran Bay Area to come see me in scenic Stockton. I beat him mostly because I had played the very same course the previous day. I also beat him at air hockey. I thought I had beat Leonard handily the previous day, but no. Steve didn't even make more than two points in each game (the game automatically ends when one player, namely brainwane, makes seven goals). I wonder whether I would whip him even better if the table worked the way it's supposed to. Tip: the puck should not ever stop hovering! Jeez.

We also walked around the University of the Pacific, which may be the only fun and free thing to do with someone in Stockton, aside from sitting at home talking.

Finished The Cyberiad, by Stanislaw Lem. Very good stuff. The puns are terrific, the two main characters are different when I was afraid that they'd just be the same, and the surprising sophistication of the philosophical dialogue unnerved and provoked me.

One of the things that amazes me most is how much work the translator must have done to create English puns that, presumably, carry the same flavor that Lem must have created in the original Polish.

To fluffy grue: I know that sometimes Segfault stinks -- hey, even now it's down -- but the geek humor site recently published one of my articles, so it can't be all bad.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/4/22647/37416
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: Dude, Where's My Activity?: Today -- not much. Shopped and otherwise prepared for the Russia trip, took a long nap, reread Go Jump in the Pool! by Gordon Korman, e-mailed a bit, read some of The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple, watched a bit of TV, ate, and talked on the phone with people. No mini-golf whatsoever. That's all.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/5/1153/34531
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: Girlfriend in a SoMa: Kurt Vonnegut, Bertrand Russell, Star Trek, Martin Gardner, The Smiths, Big Tobacco, Angel, Robert Browning.

So today I finished Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Sure, I also packed a great deal for the St. Petersburg trip, and I did housework for my mother, and I ate and talked on the phone and the suchlike, but the primary intellectual activity of my day has been reading -- that and some of Bertrand Russell's Marriage and Morals. (My dad recommended it as an insomnia remedy.)

First, Slaughterhouse-Five. I'd read some Vonnegut before, namely, "Harrison Bergeron" and Player Piano and Timequake. Vonnegut's brand of in-your-face, extremely purposeful absurdism strikes a chord with me -- and, apparently, with millions of other readers. His mainstream popularity makes me suspicious. (This contrarian (read: perverse) attitude is nothing new to those who know me.) But those stories are, indeed, enjoyable, and perhaps even good.

As you probably know (if you know anything at all about Vonnegut), Slaughterhouse-Five is one of his most famous works, if not the most famous. There exists a film version. ("Own" "it" "on" "DVD.") There may be merchandise -- little Tralfamadorians, little teapots, little Montana Wildhack dolls.

I found it extremely similar to Timequake. Lots of rumination on the foolish mortal preoccupation with free will, much Kilgore Trout and reflexive referencing. And I found it quite enjoyable. Yes, Vonnegut sticks much of his craft right in your face, telling you this is what I am doing here on a writerly level, isn't it silly? The insistent denial of subtlety, at times, is the point, no? (At least he doesn't clash symbols in your face as Nathaniel Hawthorne does.) But some of the craft -- such as his fractal detail ad absurdum in the stead of melodrama -- is more structural, more rewarding to ponder.

"There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces."

I'm going to read more Vonnegut when I get back from Russia, if I have time. I'm thinking to start on Welcome to the Monkey House or to restart Cat's Cradle, which I began once upon a time. Any suggestions?

Ah, yes, the Bertrand Russell. Certainly any attempt to rationally review mores and laws regarding sex and love deserves its meed. My quick skim over Russell's waters suggests that he deserves the "reasonable" moniker. I am not sure that I agree with one of his premises: the purpose of marriage is to bear and raise children. If I were to accept that, then I would feel much differently than I would if I were to think, for example, that the purpose of marriage is not only to raise children, but to provide a stable and secure relationship within which two people can support each other as they develop and grow old. Wasn't it Blake? no, Browning:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"

The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Royale" ran on the nightly TNG reruns today. In it, Captain Picard implies rather strongly that Fermat's Last Theorem, "800 years" after Fermat, has not been solved. The show was written and performed around 1988. Andrew Wiles solved the problem in the mid-1990s. Somehow this uplifts me, that the human race moved a bit faster than Gene Roddenberry and Mike Berman et al. planned.

Beginning Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies: In the Name of Science: The Curious Theories of Modern Pseudoscientists and the Strange, Amusing and Alarming Cults That Surround Them. A Study in Human Gullibility. I've read most of the intro, "In the Name of Science," but then I started skipping around a bit. I read a bit on Lawsonomy, and the whole chapter on Lysenko, because Leonard (note the temporary address) hath mentioned those fad-llacies to me. This is my first crack at Gardner's nonfiction; I've earlier read a short story by him about a maths professor who discovers a way to transport himself rather unusually by tying himself in a complicated knot. I think it was called "The N-Dimensional Professor" or something. I found it sort of dry, but then again, Mr. Medeiros in tenth-grade trigonomentry/analytical geometry killed a great deal of my love for math.

Anyway, I like Gardner so far. The dry wit reminds me of a line -- about the efficacy and predictive/explanatory power of witchcraft as compared to modern economics -- from John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society that made me laugh out loud for minutes on the ACE commuter train a few years back.

I'll take more of a crack at Gardner tomorrow.

Listened a few times through, though not thoroughly attentively, to Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths. Enjoyable, in a Belle-and-Sebastian-meets-The-Police sort of way. I'm not quite certain whether they are Good. Hey -- did Douglas Coupland pay homage to their song "Girlfriend in a Coma" with his book of the same title, or is it a coincidence? I'm pretty sure the book came after the song.

Some have remarked upon the crocodile? alligator? swamp-dwelling carnivore depicting Big Tobacco in recent television and billboard adverts by the state of California. Certain ads have compelled me to contribute to the discourse on this topic. The ads take thirty seconds and attempt to dissect the triple-feint PR strategy of the tobacco companies' ads.

"We never say the "c" word -- cigarettes. Oh, lots of beer, and cheese, and community spirit."
"And getting that big smokey brand name out there."
The California State Department of Public Health would have us believe that this is a colossal mind game; The Crocogator and the offscreen voice seem to be playing chess, with the public's hearts and minds at stake. I'm just thinking that most people are not that into the strategy here, and that these ads are effective only on a tiny niche of the audience, much like ads for Archer Daniels Midland (Leonard, as Jim Lehrer: "Mmm, that's some tasty grain!") or 3M (Steve: "OK, I'll buy a *lot* of tape").

Angel visited. Thank God! My third visit in four days. A pre-departure avalanche of affection. And we talked of important things, and I was glad. Coincidences: The first half hour of her visit coincided with the appearance of some Indian guy our family vaguely knows on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" He lost ridiculously early. A discredit to the race.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/6/2815/19904
Filed under:

: Devotion Demotion: Thoughts from the Puja (Brunching style):

(By the way, "puja" or "pooja" is a South Indian word for "Hindu religious ceremony.")

Regarding the first item: I deeply respect the minds of at least two atheists whom I know. And if they're right, then I've been wrong for many, many years. I used to think that it's simply a matter of faith, which I have and they don't, case closed. And now a shard of doubt has entered the picture. I can see that all the explanations and premises and beliefs seem ridiculous and irrational to a nonbeliever. Why do I believe? It can't be enough that "I need God in my life to help me and to explain and guide me through difficult situations." I can't have a solely convenient belief.

I guess I'm having a crisis of faith.

Manual labor today! I beat a bunch of sofa cushions, kneaded dough and made dough balls for puri, and squeegee'd the windshield and back window of my parents' car. On the first two: I have heard people say that kneading dough and beating cushions are great cathartic activities, for stress relief. "Get out all that anger and frustration!" I didn't really feel angry at anyone, though. I imagine the Tick would say, "Take that, Communism! And that, evildoer!" And Judge John J. Justice: "I'm beating the injustice out of these pillows!" But I just focused on getting a lot of dust out of the cushions. I tried singing to make the time go by faster. I wish I knew more slave spirituals and union-organizing songs. All I know is a verse of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the refrain of "Whose Side Are You On?" And I sang "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain When She Comes" and "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land" -- the latter of which, I hear, used to be a leftist song, with verses about union-busting and the like, when Woody Guthrie first wrote it.

Anyway, I overdid it a little bit on the hitting of the cushions, and now I have sort of a proto-callus on one of my hands. Ow. We limp-wristed, lily-livered desk-job types sometimes need a reminder that we are all bodies. We're all, as I think Douglas Adams wrote, just ugly sacks of mostly water. If this callus didn't hurt so much, I'd treasure it even more.

A few weeks ago -- about a month -- I did a bunch of hot, sweaty, dirty manual labor for the first time in years. In the 80-90 degree F heat, I moved stuff, dug up dirty stuff from a garden, cleaned, moved more stuff, and didn't even want to wipe my face because my hands were so dirty. And then I got to shower for the first time in two or three days, and just sit on a couch and bask with the other person with whom I'd done all this. And it was so much joy.

My hands hurt and my brain reels.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/7/15355/28169

: Recent Dreams: Odd dreams I've had somewhat recently, that I feel I should record somehow.

: Panic-p: My last night in Stockton. I'm (re)packing, trying to keep track of about sixteen different things-to-do in my head and on paper. I know that I *chose* to do this, that I'm the one who decided to go to Russia for a summer and study in St. Petersburg. And that seems to comfort me not a whit.

Got my favorite watch's battery replaced. It ticks away merrily now, marking the moments till my doom.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/8/2610/29773

: Just had to record this: Me: Dad, I know there are a lot of things that you wish you'd done, but you can't just use us [his two children] to get them done for you through us.
Dad: Why not?
Me: Because we're different people, with different capabilities, different interests, different attitudes.
Dad: I want you both to get Ph.D.s.

And then there was the "what do you mean, you aren't sure you want to get a Ph.D.?" and so on. At least it only lasted through a short dinner.

That's all for now.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/8/0121/15391

: Quick thoughts: Scared of new stuff, I am. Leaving soon for D.C., I am.

"I want a handbook" as to what The Rules are. I said that to Dad several times over the course of arguing with him in the last decade. I was a legal-rational kid even at the age of ten.

I had to use Windows for the past two weeks, and I really, really hated it.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/9/7177/42221

: brainwane: The Journey Sort Of Begins:

So, in the past 30 hours or so, I left California, stopped in the St. Paul/Minneapolis airport, arrived in Washington, D.C., saw my first Spike Lee movie, and met three libertarians.

Thanks to my sister, to holeburning, and to Leonard for an enjoyable Last Night in California. Especially thanks to my sister for driving me to SFO at 4:30 in the morning.

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, in the "Business Service Center," next to the FedEx box and the phones and jacks, stands a lottery ticket vending machin e.

It's really hard to tell that you're in a different city, or part of the country, for a really long time after getting off the plane. The airports all look alike, as do roads. The most disorienting thing was the license plates on the cars in the airport parking lot. "Wow! Someone drove all the way to California from Virginia! And another! And one from Maryland!...Oh."

Another disorientation: seeing signs that say, "Founded in x," where x is some year significantly before the California Gold Rush.

Reston I only know from The Hot Zone, and Fairfax only form sponsorship tags on National Public Radio.

At Blockbuster: "Dude, where's Dude, Where's My Car?"

Also at Blockbuster, it was decided that the current trend of using the prefix- adjective "American" to connote majesty and grandness and profundity and depth (there was a Slate or Salon piece about this a year ago or so) needs replacement. I suggest "The Big," as homage to "The Big" Chill and Easy and Score and so on. The Big Movie, The Big Beauty, The Big Psycho, The Big Pie.

My newest dear friend Will, who went to Oxford for grad school, on the English, says that they have specific stereotypes and prejudices re: all the other nat ionalities, as opposed to the American habit of painting all fur'nurs with the same wide brush.

English person: "So, Will, what do you Americans think of ... the French?"
Will: "We don't care! You're all the same to us!"

I had really good food, for the first time, originating in the cuisine of El Salvador. (What do you call it? Salvadorean? El Salvadoran?)

A number of us exchanged close-to-celebrity stories, sightings and unknowing interactions and the like. Mentioned were Newt Gingrich, Monica Lewinsky, one of the infamous Menendez brothers, Ted Turner, and Ken Starr.

Unfortunately, my snazzy EFF t-shirt (thanks, Seth!) did not impress my Cato-Institute-lovin' hosts nearly as much as I'd hoped.

I saw My First Spike Lee Movie (surprisingly, NOT a Fisher-Price toy!), Bamboozled. Very thought-provoking, if flawed and oscillating between sly and sledgehammer, subtlety-wise.

Any tips on off-the-beaten-path, geeky things to do/see in DC?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/10/103258/258

: Day of the Dead: Today I used the D.C. metro system for the first time, visited Arlington National Cemetery and the house where Abraham Lincoln died, and read "Surprise" by Martin Gardner. Among other things. More on Lincoln, Gardner, etc. in subsequent entries.

There are many compare-and-contrast points between Washington, D.C., and the SanFran Bay Area. SF feels more crowded and anarchic in its downtown; D.C., more architected (and rightly so!), more self-consciously open and majestic. D.C. has roundabouts (traffic circles), more so than SF. Pedestrians, I think, have it better in SF overall (less sprawl in downtown), but crossing streets might be better in D.C.

San Francisco and D.C. both have mass transit systems that are pretty much subways, but I find the D.C. Metro more confusing than the S.F. BART -- lines indicated by color and by destination, and unfamiliar signage in the stations. There are obelisks on each platform (instead of wall or ceiling-hanging signs) with the name of the station. I kept having to refocus my eyes when looking out a car window, from farsight to middlesight.

One way in which the Metro and BART are alike: big ads on the walls for stupid web sites. Today I saw one ad that realy got my goat. "Run your own web site? Why not perform your own brain surgery while you're at it?" I understand that in-house vs. outsourcing is actually an issue for many businesses, but brain surgery requires an institutional infrastructure that I think running a web site doesn't. Not quite.

I have an idea for a quiz, much in the style of Brunching Shuttlecocks' "Christian Metal Band or Star Trek episode?" quiz. It would be, "Sports Drink or E-Business Company?" Orbitz seems like a good candidate here, as does Eclipse.

So in the morning I saw Arlington National Cemetery. And I was overwhelmed. In the movie Fail-Safe, the President says, "What do we say to the dead?" And the Russian premier says that we must tell them that it will never happen again.

There are more than 260,000 people buried at Arlington (they say). There are so many graves. Everywhere. A mute tribute. And they are in all directions. I could not but turn my back on someone.

We cannot consecrate every piece of ground where someone has fallen, but what is the proper way to pay respect to the dead?

There are signs that explain that this is hallowed ground, that people should conduct themselves with dignity and solemnity. Joel says that such signs tell us what has happened in the past. And he's right. Maybe American tourists are worse than others. But I felt as though people should be more solemn than they were. I felt uncomfortable, even disapproving, when people laughed or gossiped or fussed over camera angles. But who am I to judge? The only people who have a right to mind, maybe, can't say anything, can't tell us how to respect them.

Does this cemetery glorify war? Could a patriot and a pacifist, to borrow Moxy Früvous's terms, equally use Arlington to say, "we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain" and "never again"?

These graves were all Americans. What about the other sides? France and Iraq, Spain and Nicaragua, England and Vietnam?

Man:(explains that the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is "very focused," "ceremonial," and that he can't stray for a moment from his task and his precision.)
Boy:"So, what is it, exactly, for?"

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/10/224625/255

: Diary For the Damned: I'm smelling East Coast smells. Takes me back to my childhood.

Not nearly enough -- proportional to what I want to say -- about Washington, D.C., day two of brainwane the Tourist.

On the Mall: How much neoclassical architecture does one city need?!

I mailed several postcards today.

Would you believe that there is a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue named Poli-Tiki? And there are all these weird very specific fusion restaurants. Italo-Austrian (Cafe Tinolo). Italo-Thai (Pad Roma or something). In California, we have very catholic fusion restaurants -- here, it's only two, two, two cuisines in one!

Today I tried to make sense of the connections among:

I will say more when I can. For now: I've been thinking a lot about the question of the proper way to honor the dead. And the differences between Arlington and the Holocaust Museum strike me deeply. One tries to shout; the other tries to be silent.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/11/22352/1176

: To Russia With Like: I'm in a Kinko's (oi!) trying to write a diary entry in (checks watch) six minutes, before I go back to the hotel, and get on a plane to (what the hell am I doing?) St. Petersburg.

Who invented the footnote?

Someone in the orientation for my study-abroad program said that we should use "common sense," "your best defense." The idea of 'common sense' really disturbs me, because for a long time I was told by people very close to me that I had no such thing. They may have been right, but ever since then I can't really believe that I have it. What is it? Examples?

It's tough to be a vegetarian in DC.

Morton Kondracke wrote a book called Saving Milly. Blurbs from Katie Couric, Christopher Reeves, and Mary Tyler Moore on the back.

There is a Buca di Beppo in DC with the "Sanitary Bathrooms" line in its ad on the Metro.

I saw fireflies and smelled certain smells in the past week that I only recal from my childhood in Pennsylvania.

The new Amnesty International ads bother me, and I can't put a finger on the reason.

The Smithsonian has better toilet paper in its ladies' room than does the Arlington Hilton in Virginia.

The two Justice John Marshall Harlans (Supreme Court) both were "Great Dissenters." I'm imagining a Capitol Steps song to the tune of "The Great Pretender." "The Great Dissenter/Concurrence unknown..."

I got a copy of Good News Club v. Milford Central School when I visited the Supreme Court yesterday. Very seth-y.

More updates from Leningrad.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/14/10037/3737

: Live from Leningrad, it's Saturday Morning: I can't believe it's not butter, and I can't believe I've been in Russia for almost a day.

So, what's to say? Lots of stuff. I have successfully:

I'm sure there's more. I completely failed yesterday at attempting to purchase a phone card at some International Telephone Office. My Russian stinks to heaven, but perhaps not to high heaven.

Right now I'm very happy to be here. I've had a few moments of depression, as in right after I had a complete communication breakdown when trying to buy that phone card. And I know that it would be better for me to be practicing my Russian right now, rather than thinking in English and/or talking with/hanging out with my fellow Americans. But I need a little time/space to think to myself, and I prefer this diary to do that.

Seems that Seth, Steve, Leonard, and Dan have all sort of randomly interacted recently. Huh.

The panopoly of incompatible phone-card systems in this city are, as Neal Stephenson wrote in Cryptonomicon (and about almost the same problem!), "a case study in why gradualism is bad."

I entered Washington, D.C. via Dulles Airport, and left it the same way. "Ashes to ashes, Dulles to Dulles."

Is "I Like Big Butts" (1980s rap song) an homage to that one song in This is Spinal Tap?

Tonight's Episode: A Bicycle Built for Death

I saw Antitrust on the plane. So earnest, so unintentionally hilarious. Actual "found-object" Tonight's Episode within Antitrust: Murdered for Code.

I saw it with The Other Geek (well, one of two, maybe) in my group. There were spots where it was dead-on, and probably much better than Swordfish is (haven't seen the latter) at being somewhat authentic to geekitude and the free-software zealot POV. The RMS figure was Asian, which gladdened me. And/but I'm not sure whether bandying about the phrase "open source" in connection with very ideological, "human knowledge belongs to the world" sloganeering is a good thing. Oh, and also, as far as we know, Microsoft is not akin to The Firm (cf. John Grisham). So the analogy has been dramatized, and thus it seems harder to reallly go after Gatesism, since Gates is not actually (again, AFAWK) sending paid thugs after innovative young hackers to steal their ideas.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/16/03037/2724

: Ochen buistro -- very quick: I'm going to post more later today, but:

: An American Desi in Leningrad: Even yet as quick! I will try and post a great deal tomorrow. As it is, if I take more than about five minutes on this, I'll be late home and my Russian host mother will get worried, and I'd rather not call (I think she's napping).

By the way, thanks for all your encouragement on posting my experiences here in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. I'm having lots of fun and lots of aching and lots of new experiences. I'm glad to share them with you.

Late Saturday night, I think it was -- yes, it must have been -- we took a boat ride through the canals and waterways that span the city. The main river is the Nyeva. It was magnificent. The moment when we came out of a canal into the huge bay was amazing. It's the Belli Nochi, the White Nights, remember? St. Petersburg is pretty far north, so right now we only get a little tiny bit of darkness.

When night is only half an hour
Kogda noch tolko pol-chasa
And I read and write without a lamp
Ee ya chitayoo ee peeshu byez lampa

I think it goes something like that. Pushkin. My host mother recited it to me. Gee, Russians really do love Pushkin.

When I saw the blue-black waves going past the boat (or the boat going past the waves?), I thought of perspective, and of relativity.

Draw a line
To represent
Your plane and mine

The bridge on the river Nyeva went up to let boats pass, as it does every night during summer. The crowds celebrated. Champagne corks popped, and cheers bounced from bank to bank, and fireworks -- modest ones, now, this is twice a night for weeks that the bridges go up on the Nyeva -- lit up the twilight.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/18/122038/153

: I Take My Tea with Murder and Cream, Thanks: So here are some more observations, some less random than others, about my most recent experiences in St. Petersburg.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/19/101847/264

: Deniable Plausibility: It's the ANSI Standard Deviation Cost of Living!

"ISO hate that joke."

Allow me to assume that you actually want to read about Touristka brainwane, living it up in Leningrad.

Today I went to the Necropolis and found a surprise: Euler's grave! Yes, Leonhard Euler (if I spelled it correctly) is buried in St. Petersburg. (Jon, our Resident Director, told me that Euler corresponded a great deal with Catherine the Great, and was invited to her palace.)

I also saw the graves of Rimsky-Korsakov, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Borodin, and at least one other that I'm forgetting. I kind of minded that Mussorgsky and Borodin (and maybe Rimsky-Korsakov) got music engraved on their memorial stones, but Euler didn't get any equations on his.

AT THE GEORGIAN RESTAURANT: Hung out and ate lyubo (?) with Rasa, Ross (who reminds me, in look-and-feel, of Seth!), John, Katya, and Greg. Discovered: When I want to go incognito ergo sumana, perhaps I will call myself Natasha von Chinglestick; and, there are a lot of animals whose names start with the letter "p."

Also: I was trying to think of what a person would look like if she tried to combine the Gypsy look with the Goth look. I concluded that Goths are the new Gypsies.

LUG meeting: The St. Petersburg Linux User Group meets on the last Wednesday of every month. I think I'll try to go to this next one, if only to meet Russians.

There is more to say. For example, A little Russian is a dangerous thing, but I can't decide what the second line would/should be. And I might try to find Mendeleev's grave and lay a copy of the Periodic Table and some roses on it. And I've had some very odd dreams lately, and I still need to write more about that cafe thing that happened the other night. Oh, and now I've been in three memorials-to-the-dead in about ten days (Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Necropolis), and that was certainly thought-provoking, in a compare-and-contrast way.

Certainly I appreciate all your encouragement and comments, and don't really feel homesick. Well, I've been a tiny bit under the weather....but that's another story.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/20/104246/311

: Choco Popov: Still in St. Petersburg, still writing. Since the weblogs I read have made no updates, I have more time to write. Whoopee.

Here are some comments I've made that you might find interesting, on the practicalities of my trip, my interest in Lenin and in Russian music, and on the exhausting effects of the classes.

I have now seen Choco Leibniz, non-Choco Leibniz, and -- yes, really -- candy of some sort packaged in some sort of merchandising hookup with the film From Dusk Till Dawn. Really. A black-and-red package, pictures of George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, and some Russian words that really seemed like the translation of "From Dusk Till Dawn." I think it cost something like five rubles.

I did not venture to purchase said foodstuff. What could be inside?

Places to visit

There is air hockey at the arcade in Gostiny Dvor, an otherwise seemingly non-useful (to me) shopping center on Nyevskii Prospekt. This comforts me. Where air hockey goes, stable market capitalism will follow.

Another song snippet I have overheard in the Gostiny Dvor/Nyevskii Prospekt metro station is from "Blur" or "Fastball" or something somewhat recent. I recall it from ads for the film Starship Troopers.

In India, they say, "Delhi is far away." I have a feeling that, even in Moscow, people here say, "Moscow is far away." The private, sympathetic, hospitable Russian character is very different from the public, shoving Russian character. Home v. metro.

I think ACTR prevents war more than the UNA does, in general.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/21/113942/286

: brainwaneichka: Alexei, a friend and an unbelievably cool guy, is also an expat for the summer. In fact, about a week before I left Berkeley, I was in a car with him and his friend Nicole. She's now in Ireland, he's in Tokyo, and here I am in St. Petersburg. That link was his weblog -- go there, it's a nice contrast to mine. His is actually interesting.

I forgot one of the people whose graves I saw at the Alexander Nyevskii Monastery (which contains the Necropolis): Stravinsky.

My lack of personal experience with death hampers me, both as a writer and as a human being. Yet, what kind of churl would I be to wish that a life would end for my benefit?

I suppose that's my lead-in to talking about the Kunstkammer. Tsar Nicholas had a Museum of Oddities. Today I saw it. I couldn't stand it for more than thirty seconds. Despite the joshing that my friends and I had done before going in, it wasn't funny to see babies and fetuses in jars. The tiny skeleton was pretty unsettling, too.

I didn't stay in there very long, but I think I was there long enough to judge that it was not meant as a memorial to the dead. (I had thought before going in, "Gee, maybe this is an example of how the Europeans are more enlightened than Americans about dealing with death, kind of like with sex and drugs." But no, it was just a carnival of freaks. For perverts, if I may judge, and use the term in an antiquated way.) So my count for the last month stays at four. I've visited the Alexander Nevskii Monastery's Necropolis, the Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the house where Abraham Lincoln died.

I've spoken earlier about my experience of Arlington. In its own way, the house where Lincoln died felt worse than Arlington. It was a forced, one-way excursion through the living rooms to the bedroom and eventually out onto the street. I felt very voyeuristic, and also very sad as I stood in the room, next to the bed where he died, and read the little card with his date and time of death. It was the day after I saw Bamboozled.

What if Lincoln had lived? I know I'm pulling a hypothetical that "Head of the Class..."

And more later.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/22/103319/148

: "I need a syllabus to listen to you talk!": I continue my previous entry, which was quite rudely interrupted by the end of my chas na internyete (hour on the internet) here at the International/Intercity Telephone Office in St. Petersburg. Quote in title is from a gal with whom I went to dinner at the Idiot Cafe last night.

To continue my ramble from yesterday:

Death, continued
What if Lincoln had lived? I know I'm pulling a hypothetical that "Head of the Class" (1980s TV show) would have considered trite (and believe me, some of the historical hypotheticals brought up by the history teacher in that show were pretty darn trite; that show really seemed to advance a rather superficial, "final cause" rather than "first cause" kind of understanding of history, in which individuals and not historical forces were crucial).

But I had just watched Bamboozled that day when I saw Arlington and then Lincoln's deathbed. And I wondered whether my country would be more whole today if some sort of racial reconciliation had occurred back 150 years ago.

I've been meaning for a long while to talk about my experience on June 11, when I first saw the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was the morning that Timothy McVeigh had been executed. The death-synchronicity was heavy in my heart.

(In one of the Dekalog films, Kieslowski contrasts the brutal, senseless killing of a taxi driver with the orderly, legal execution of that killer.)

Arlington -- far away from urban centers, acres and acres of headstones and grass -- had tried to be quiet, I think, allowing the silence of the graves to speak for themselves. The Holocaust Museum (in downtown D.C., opposite the U.S. Department of Agriculture) had the opposite strategy. It fairly shouted that we must never forget. From the moment of entry -- after the metal detector -- everywhere I looked was something to read, to experience, to absorb. Exhibit after exhibit. (I came too late to get a pass that day for the Permanent Exhibition, the rather famous one in which you walk chronologically through the period and carry a small biographical sketch of a Jew from the era. A friend of mine told me that his friend, after several visits to the museum, thought of that card as a lottery ticket. "Does mine die this time? No! Woo-hoo!")

A woman in my freshman-year English class at Cal -- one of something like ten twenty-year-old Jews in that class -- once said something to the effect of, "We're Holocaust kids. Our entire lives, we've been told, 'Never again.' And we've got that message." And she continued that there must be more to teach our children than "never again." (Seth's diary is relevant here.)

I think I need more time to figure out the rather profound problems I have with the Holocaust Museum. I'll write more when I've articulated it better.

Now, on to other topics.

It is rather blind to enjoy the cost of living here whilst complaining about the standard of living. Yes, I'm going to an opera at the Marinksii on Tuesday and I paid US$4 for my ticket, and therefore I will not complain about having to drink bottled and/or boiled water. A metro ride is about twenty cents, and as such, I don't whine about the lines. I get what I paid for.

I went to The Idiot last night, with four? three? girls and one guy.

You mean I'm not the sexiest geek alive? Oh, pish-tosh.

Must speak of cafe experience. The harrowing one.

Independently coming up with the same thing as someone else is cool. Like the calculus, or a joke.

There's a Pushkin story named "The Queen of Spades." The other day I passed by 10 Nyevskii Prospekt, where the story is set. "Once I was the Queen of Spades..."

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/23/7567/42546

: The Tale of the Seven Bookmarks: Reciprocal linking frenzy!

And, my Segfault story made it to the top twenty of all time.

Bookmarks I visited a bookstore the other day, and what caught my eye? Bookmarks, for a ruble each! Twenty-nine for a dollar! Goodness. I collect bookmarks, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

So I used my broken Russian, forgetting the very convenient "kazhdii" (every) in my search for a word for "each." But I succeeded in buying one of each bookmark. There were seven.

Sometimes I just get tired of United States cultural hegemony, y'know?

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/24/102948/198

: Kak ckazat po-russkie, "Windows blows"?: A question for the ages, asked by John, whose computer at an Internet access facility locked up.

More about cafes I've been to here during my eight or nine days in St. Petersburg, and -- if I can get to it! -- more thoughts on the Holocaust Museum in the US. The latter is continuing brainwane's Death Series, for which there is -- fortunately or no -- no Kausfiles Series-Skipper as of yet. (Note that -- rough approximation follows -- Kausfiles is to politics and, sometimes, culture, as Joel on Software is to software design and management.)

The Harrowing Restaurant Experience
Almost a week ago, I tried to visit, on my own, one of the cafes recommended in my three-year-old Rough Guide. I went on the metro three times, took some electric tram after a direction by natives, asked many people for directions, bought and ate a "Super Snickers" to relieve immediate hunger, and -- all in all -- eventually just stopped in at some restaurant that looked established. It turned out to be a relatively fancy dive, and pretty tourist-friendly, although the service was slow. After telling the waitress, "Ya ni yem myasa, riba, ili ptitsa, chto vui rekommenduyete?" (I don't eat meat, fish, or birds -- what do you recommend?), I ended up with a surprisingly good meal of spaghetti with mushrooms, washed down with two smallish glasses of mineralnaya voda (mineral water -- thank goodness for cognates).

The recorded music was fine and cheery -- even the Russian Backstreet Boys clone -- and the people seemed happy and lively, and the food was quite good. But I had second thoughts that grew along with the empty space on my plate. Hadn't there been two columns of prices on the menu? I remembered one of those lines as much higher than the other. One said that my dish was 90 rubles, which is about three bucks. The other had displayed the figure of 260 -- and I didn't have 260 rubles on me!

Food usually doesn't cost more than $5 per entree in Russia! But this is a pretty fancy place. And maybe it's like in some museums, where foreigners have to pay much higher prices than natives. Wait, I saw credit card logos on the door, which had convinced me that this is a reputable establishment. Was the logo of my card up there? I don't remember! Would it be okay to look? I'd have to get up and go to the door. There's a guy who looks a little authoritarian sitting by the bar. Maybe he'll come after me if I look like I'm trying to escape paying the bill, or if I try to pay in "hard currency" (US dollars -- it's illegal to use anything but rubles to buy stuff in Russia). What do I do?

Finally, I got up and walked a few steps to look at the menu again, and breathed a sigh of relief. The column on the left was marked, not "rubles," but "grams." It was telling me the mass of the entree.

I finished my meal, paid about $4 for my meal, left a tip (which they say you don't ahve to do in Russia), and left.

I changed twenty dollars into rubles on my way home.

The Idiot
I had a much different experience on my way to The Idiot -- a restaurant that especially caters to expatriates and vegetarians -- two nights back. John was the token male among Krista, Susanne, Rasa, and me. The food was good and the conversation lively, even as John and I geeked out and had to pull ourselves back far too often to be pretty. Krista, incidentally, was the one to tell me, "I feel like I need a syllabus to listen to you talk!"

At The Idiot, every reasonably-old-looking customer gets a free ("besplatno") shot of vodka with the meal. (The drinking age in Russia is 18 -- on paper, that is.) So all five of us got free shots. After eating my meal, I tried putting about three drops of it -- approx. 1/20th of the shot -- in my mouth. It stinks like a doctor's office, and I really have no need of social disinhibitors, as anyone who knows me knows well. So I don't think brainwane is going to become a pyannits (drunkard) anytime soon.

I'm avoiding the "do as the Romans do" quite consciously. I've never before been in a country where drinking has such an accepted and "natural" place in the national daily life. It's interesting to watch and to try and figure out why I'm a teetotaler.

There was a really friendly Finn who came and talked to us and who mentioned that he had gone to the same university, and school within Helsinki University, as Linus Torvalds.

I didn't want that museum to be crowded and loud, and I didn't want for anyone to be laughing, even though I realize that you can't deny life to consecrate the dead, and that the crowds meant that people were paying their respects -- in some cases.

I didn't want this place to be a tourist attraction, someplace to view in some sort of detached way, but I didn't want to see sentimental schlock either. But "sentimental schlock" is as vague a term as "acting like a tourist" or "acting like a chick."

Martin Gardner's "Surprise," which I had read the previous day, considers atheism and the possibility of a sense of awe and wonder, which reminds me of the last page of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Perhaps the main problem I had with the museum was this: I think, quite tentatively, that maybe the best way to remember the Holocaust is to -- as Avi in Cryptonomicon said our highest duty is -- prevent future Holocausts. And isn't the best way to do that, to nurture independence in the minds of humans, so that no person will blindly obey authority or commit actions unthinkingly, or go against her own conscience or ever become part of an apparatus of massacre? And how does this Museum do that?

But that is not the job of this museum -- this one is more "Never forget" as a means to "Never again." And I could be wrong. And, the only way to keep a human thinking all the time might be to make sure he never gets into a routine, such that he can unthinkingly do anything. And that's sort of a tough call, making sure that no action ever gets routinized.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/24/115548/100

: Short -- books and religion, basically: Yesterday I finished reading Angela's Ashes and started reading We.

Catholicism appeals to me, in the same way as I imagine it appeals to a lot of people, what with the unconditional redemption and state of grace and all. I think Maxine Hong Kingston and/or Maya Angelou commented on this.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/25/84014/2922
Filed under:

: Rimsky-Course-akov: Went to the Marinskii Theater and slept through the odd-numbered acts. Good naps!

And, I'm taking a course on the Russian press. Today we read an article from 1997 on "khackeri" and "freakeri" and intellectual property crime in Russia. I am going to have to make a copy of that article and get Seth to make a two-hour speech or something.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/26/123550/257

: OK, OK, Catholicism, my bad.: I went to Tsarskeyoe Selo today. Rather fun. I find the gardens more enjoyable than the herd experience through the gilt-trip palace itself.

I'm off to the LUG meeting really, really soon.

More on Catholicism below.

OK, OK, a few entries back I mentioned that I find a certain aspect of Catholicism appealing: "unconditional redemption and state of grace and all." But I didn't even begin to mention what I don't find appealing.

For example, I have that sort of Protestant belief that I can talk to God on my own, without an intercessor. And many of my friends who have personal experience with Catholicism (e.g., growing up Catholic) believe that Catholicism fosters unhealthy guilt complexes. That sort of stuff is borne out in Angela's Ashes, and believe you me, I find that stuff unappealing. But that one thing, being able to confess your sins and then -- seemingly -- not have to deal with them anymore -- that sounds great.

I'm a Hindu, by the way. I'm sure I'll mention more on that in later days.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/27/10550/2431

: Obtuse Angling, and Conjugating Imaginary Verbs: Classes here in St. Petersburg have been actual work. And I'm not just talking about homework. Every day it's exhausting to go through six hours of struggling through it all in bad Russian. At least I didn't have to take that experimental test in which subjects conjugated imaginary verbs. (They all had 'i' in them, I guess?)

Below, a pretty much unedited transcript of my personal notes from Russian History lecture.

And here's a shout-out to my new fans, including Susanne Cohen's friend, and Sunil, and John Stange's friends.

(BTW, note that the history lecturer makes us all zone out because she uses lots of vocabulary that we don't understand. We fall into the language holes and -- to mix metaphors -- drift, surfacing into meaning only about once every ten minutes or so.)

Oh, and by the way, the main way Dostoyevsky got famous and financially secure was through his monthly serial, "Diary of a Writer," to which lots of people subscribed. So, Fyodor had a weblog, so there.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/29/14758/1416

: Compare and Contrast...The World!:

George Orwell wrote 1984 after reading We and Brave New World. (I'm reading We right now -- or I guess I should call it Mui, since I'm reading it in Russia and it was written in Russian.) Why did he do that? Probably to give high school seniors stuff to compare and contrast for centuries.

Ever get that feeling that the Divine Author is doing the same goldarn thing?

I didn't get to go to the LUG meeting, BTW. I showed at 7:30 at the Anichovsky Bridge, and so did....no one else. I'll have to contact the group to make sure it still exists.

Anyway. I noticed some oddness a while back, when I saw two similarly themed films coming out at similar times. A Bug's Life and AntZ. The Truman Show and EdTV. And now that I am completing the troika of Orwell, Zanyatin, and Huxley, I get this compare-and-contrast urge.

Actually, I also have all these very interesting people in my life, and a number of them are very similar, as geeks and in other ways (I think; this is one of those situations where one questions the definition of geekitude and its inclusiveness and exclusiveness and explanatory power for characteristics and personality). So I'm forever comparing-and-contrasting, say, Steve and Leonard and Seth and John and Anirvan and Dan and I don't know how many people.

More in a little bit, mostly on the very unexpected concert at the Smolnyi Cathedral and on my stream of consciousness from History Lecture.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/29/13150/3586
Filed under:

: Why HRC and not AR? -- And the Smolnyi.: In the past two weeks (my goodness, I've been in St. Petersburg for two weeks), I've had two dreams somehow involving Hillary Rodham Clinton. But, even though my alarm clock by my bedside ticks really fast, like the stopwatch in the "60 Minutes" opening (it's a newsmag TV show in the USA), I have had no dreams in which I am, say, assaulted by Andy Rooney and Lesley Stahl and so on.

I think Andy Rooney would have a field day here. "Didja ever notice how hard it is to brush your teeth with bottled water?"

So I went to the Smolnyi Cathedral on Thursday night. I shall excerpt from John's journal here, since it says most of what I would want to anyway. Italicized & bracketed comments are mine.

White people! They're everywhere! AAAAAAAGH! So at the Marinsky the other day, Sumana helped some American guy from Yale find something on a schedule board (he didn't read Russian at all), and was subsequently invited to this singing dinner thing at the Smolny Cathedral. Not knowing what to expect, she tapped me for escort duty, and after meeting (and, of course, being fed by) her host mother, we walked our way there 20 minutes late. Fortunately, the people were 45 minutes late. [In between our arrival and theirs, I had a fun time finding a bathroom and using one that wasn't especially prominent. I'm not sure I wasn't forbidden from using it, since I'm not a member of the Smolnyi Institute, and there weren't any RESTROOM HERE-type signs. Oh, well. When you need to go...] They rolled up in a tour bus... then another... then another... 500 or so former Yale choir singers, dating back into classes of the 30s and 40s. [Maybe only 300. And many of them were friends and family of the Yalies. Of course, some of them were part of dynasties. Maybe some Skull & Bones members. Oh, well. And there were some kiddies. You just know that they're going to say, at 15, "Oh, I'm so sick of Russia. Yeah, I've done the Europe thing." And so on.] There was a band there to play marching songs as they exited the busses [sic] and went into the cathedral. Needless to say, we felt out of place. [Well, he did. I kept saying, "You have no spirit of adventure."] The guy's son found us, and hauled us inside, where we watched the massive tide of Conneticut whiteness schmoozing with itself and being touristy with all of the Russians. [I met -- I kid you not -- Anya and Tanya. They recommended Chaif and DDT, Russian rock bands. Also, the American sitting across from me -- Herrick Jackson '62 -- looked like Bruce Willis. John disagreed.] Got some free food and vodka, [I didn't drink at all, Mom. Worry not.] and then sat down to watch various groups of them get up and sing (sometimes spontaneously) old glee club songs. The choir from Smolny was also into it, which was kind of pretty. The translator had an amusing take on some english idioms and song titles ("the whole world is located on his arms" was roughly the Russian she used for "He's got the whole world in his hands"). [John and I had a gay old time with the Russian/English issue. We kept saying Russian words to non-Russian speakers for little things like "Thank you" and "Excuse me." And we were almost called upon to translate -- thank goodness there were enough real translators that we didn't have to.] Oh, and apparently the really elite choir people are called "Whiffenpoofs" (don't ask me to spell that correctly). The cathedral itself, while quite pretty, was blanketed in off-white on the inside, completely devoid of the usual artwork. Creepy. [Yeah, it was really sad and disturbing that this place, built as a house of worship, was now just a pretty place for tourists to visit, and really blank. Of course, the sacred music still touched me, and in fact made me very, profoundly sad at one point, thinking about the one great betrayal, and the possibility of God's forgiveness, and of forgiving myself.] Did I mention the white people? There were lots of white people.

Oh, and I have a new nickname. It's a diminuitive, and -- isn't this great? -- it turns out that "Sumka" literally means "bag," as in "purse, suitcase, etc." At least I'm not Siri. "Sirka" is "little cheese."

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/6/30/5127/32233


Or perhaps, given the foci of my Russian classes lately: Verbs of Motion II: They're Back, and They're Going to Tell You How They Got Here!

I went to the Hermitage for the first time (having been in St. Petersburg for two weeks), I had various multilingual experiences, I saw Tomb Raider dubbed in Russian, and I thought a heck of a lot while doing it all.

Sakura. I think that's the name of a character in Puzzlefighter, which I used to love back freshman year in the Freeborn dorm. But it's also a rather good if touristy Japanese restaurant near the Nyevskii Prospekt metro station.

We were American tourists, speaking English and a bit of Russian, in Russia, in a Japanese restaurant with (I'm guessing) Chinese-Russian wait staff, and the menus were in Russian and English with, in addition, English transliterations of Japanese names. And the instructions on the chopsticks were French, and don't even ask how many countries supplied this place with alcohol.

What is the proper procedure for importing a word into Russian? "Kafe" should be, by all rights, neuter, since it ends in "e," but grammarians (I think) say that it should be treated as masculine, since it's not a native term. "Tempura?" Should one say, "Ya hochu tempura," or "Ya hochu tempuru"? Should I have declined it in the accusative there?

The Hermitage. Students get in free, which is quite a relief, since it's a few hundred rubles for foreigners. I had second thoughts about leaving my camera in the cloakroom, not because I wanted to take photos (although I eventually did), but because the attendant looked shady. I changed sections so as to find some babushki attendants instead.

My Rough Guide (Official Mediator of the Sumana-in-St.-Pete Experience 2001) said not to wander, but to concentrate on my interests, since the Hermitage is so huge. Well, I don't know my interests (and I thought a lot about Leonard's opinions on arts v. crafts), so I half-wandered and half-looked at the famous, tourist-attractor stuff. Renoir, Degas, Monet, Titian, Breughel, Gaugin, Rembrandt, Manet, Rubens. (The room with French impressionists had the NO PHOTO NO VIDEO signs everywhere. And a babushka in every room. A lot of the paintings -- well, to quote Ross, "No temperature controls, no glass, no alarms, just a system of babushki, defending the priceless art." I wanted to take pictures of the babushki, or of the NO PHOTO NO VIDEO signs, or of the captions that had Russian, French, and English on them. But it was forbidden.)

Some of the stuff I saw was really, really old -- 600 years or more -- which just heightened my sense of absurdity regarding being there for only a few hours. I mean, it's an embarrassment of riches, art-wise, there at the Hermitage. (Don't forget the WWII spoils-of-war treasure.) It reminded me, after a while, of Arlington. There, one couldn't help but turn her back on some of the graves. Here, it's impossible to pay respectful attention to every work of art.

I saw a Breughel that reminded my of a W.H. Auden poem -- Musee des Beaux Arts. It was called something like "Robbers Stealing from Peasants," and one of the robbers had this beatific look on his face. It was kinda cool that I got to see the brushstrokes on the painting, since there was no glass between it and me. I was Close to The Machine, er, Art. But that also worried me, since I had heard about, and later actually saw, Rembrandt's Danae, which a visitor slashed and splashed with acid years back. Glass has its virtues.

There was more Russian spoken around me, and less English, than you might think, seeing as this is pretty much The Tourist Spot here in Leningrad. Lots of Russian, some English, some German, a bit of Japanese, some French, was what I heard.


I sometimes forget that, for a really huge part of human existence, works of art were mainly about the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman mythologies and histories. All these religious themes, and all these white people being portrayed. But I'll get to the White Male gaze later, in the Tomb Raider section.

I wandered, while looking for the exit, into a display on trumpets. Dan plays/ed the trumpet. In fact, the last time I was out of the country, in India, I bought a little toy trumpet (not to be confused with the piece "Toy Trumpet," as played by the Canadian Brass, which Dan also enjoys/ed), which I gave to him. I also played the trumpet once, for approximately three months, in fourth grade. But I never settled down to an instrument -- the piano I gave up at an even younger age. I kinda wish I had. Certainly thought-provoking.

I have to write more sometime to articulate my feelings on What It Is to Be a Tourist, and whether I'm getting better at spotting the national origins of tour groups -- distinguishing USA from Germany and so on.

Maybe the Hermitage isn't for me. Or maybe I should, next time I come by, try to sit a while with some stuff that interests me. And I'm sure that there's gotta be something. And, if all else fails, I can look at the interactions among babushki, tourists, Russians, foreigners, and the priceless art.

On my way out, I saw crates and crates and crates marked "FRAGILE" and "THIS WAY UP" and so on. I can only conclude that it's all art, but -- on its way out, or in? (One main way the Russian Museum makes cash is by loaning out its collection to museums in the west. Hence, my group's expedition to its 20th century collection in a few weeks may or may not be worth it at all. Sad.)

I bought some calendars.

Tomb Raider. Saw it last night with Katya, who is terrific, in some theater on Nyevskii. It was rather passable in Russian, seeing as we could rather tell what was about to happen sans audio comprehension. "She just said 'fifteen years.' What happens in fifteen years?...Oh. There's a picture of an old-ish man, and there's a gravesite. Oh, he turned up missing fifteen years ago. Think she'll see him later on in the film? Yeah."

Aha! I knew that I hadn't heard that bit of banter from the trailer!

The Male Gaze was rather prominent in this film, what with all the unnecessary and rather counterproductive PG nudity and nudity suggestions focusing on Ms. Jolie. And every main character was white, and there was lots of exotic-nonwhite-natives-of-foreign-lands cultural imperialism. Rather annoying. My previous exposure to lots of White Male Gaze stuff in the Hermitage probably primed me for this to annoy me.

The theater's concession stand was very comprehensive. Alcohol, popcorn, slices of cake, probably pirozhki. This is something could stand more of in the States -- real food, and not horribly priced, at movie theaters.

On our way there, Katya and I saw -- in the underground passageway/street crossing -- a Russian band covering lots and lots of Tom Waits songs. Katya says they were terrific. We gave them some rubles. Around $3.50 total. They were pretty neat.

We. I finished it. More later.

Note to Alex, Susanne's friend. Cryptonomicon is a book by Neal Stephenson, who also wrote Snow Crash, Zodiac, The Diamond Age, and other sort of cyberpunky sci-fi books, as well as the long essay In the Beginning Was the Command Line. Cryptonomicon is very long and incredibly geeky at times, and covers a wide swath of ... lots of topics. I tend to find opportunities to quote Stephenson often. Once my sister forbade me from quoting or referring to Stephenson, Seth Schoen, or Leonard Richardson for a day's worth of conversation with her. It was pretty tough.

Things that kind of remind me of home. Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, rollerbladers. Oh, and Young Communists. And weird variants of franchises and corporate foods that we have in the US. Example: Pringles, flavored Paprika or Cheese & Onion.

Salon. I think sometimes that Salon is just trying to be the exact opposite of Reader's Digest.

Bluesville, Tennessee. Is there one? There should be.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/1/95917/48550
Filed under:

: Jacques Sirok (Jack, the Little Cheese): Did I ever write about sterile tears? They remind me of the problem of symptoms. I was about to take some sterile tears in my eyes the other days. Then I thought that dry eyes are just a symptom of dehydration and fatigue, and instead of using an enabler such as sterile tears (eye drops), I should fix the "underlying problem" and get some water and sleep. But then I thought that simply taking a nap and drinking some water would just "cover up" a lifestyle problem, and that maybe I need to change my work or study habits more fundamentally. It's layered. One person's "fundamental solution" is another's "Band-Aid."

It's time to quote Alexei's diary of June 30th.

"Tokyo has gone to ground. The heat has now past the point of being oppressive, moving directly into the "Military Dictatorship" phase, where it knocks on your door at three in the morning and demands to see your papers, then roughs you up when you show them. It's not even dry, nice heat, it's muggy, humid, mean heat. It's heat that's wandering around under cloudy skies, that seem to promise relieving rain, but never deliver until you're inside. Then, when you rush outside to cool off in the rain, it's stopped. When you DO manage to catch the rain it's either a torrential downpour or a superheated vapor. In all of this, I have managed to catch a cold. Don't ask me how."

Young Russian pairs. On the metro, I have now met two pairs of young Russians and tried to communicate with them. They have somewhat broken English, I have rather broken Russian, and still somehow we try. A week ago it was the Russian girls who assuerd met hat they love Limp Bizkit and Eminem. Yesterday it was the two young boys, Sasha and Zhenya, who saw me reading the Lara Croft special in Komsomolskaya Pravda. (It's not just Pravda anymore. Really. If you ask for Pravda at a kiosk, the clerk and everyone around you will look at you funny, as though you've been under a rock for the last ten years.)

I'm not quite sure what I've accomplished on these little missions of hope. I mean, sure, I'm an ambassador for my country wherever I go. I kind of have an obligation to try to interact with the young'uns, when they excitedly start conversations. But I also kind of want them to leave me alone to struggle with Pravda.

Oh, and there's a joke section in Pravda. I was able to understand the words of one joke, but the context escaped me -- the punchline turned on the hilarity of some celeb named "My-My" borrowing Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea from a library.

The "Open Your Windows!" Open-Air Rock Concert. I went to Kirov Stadium last night to see some Real Russian Rock. A person named Alexei kindly led me to the stadium from the metro station. He likes to play music of many sorts, and his brother is a computer-graphics artist and wishes to get into Hertzen University, where I'm studying for the summer. At the stadium, a nice young woman named Nastya got me into the show on her ticket, for free. She studies and lives in the town where Tchaikovsky was born.

I heard Chaif, Akvarium, and Aty-Baty. I understand a bit of the craze for Akvarium and Chaif now. They're pretty fun. Chaif did an impromptu (I think) bit from "La Bamba." Cute. It's been a while since I'd been to a rock concert. I felt the thump in my sternum, and felt the at-oneness with other music fans, and that was the type of thing that made me start thinking of St.-Pete as "my city" and resonated with some weird wish-to-be-Russian that I've been feeling. As in, "Gee, I wish I were Russian." Don't ask me.

I keep remembering parallel incidents back in India, the last time I was out of the country. Last night I remembered one time I really felt at one with my cousins and extended family in Bangalore. So help us, we were singing and dancing along to the Backstreet Boys. Jeremy Richards of Lyrics Schmirics called their harmonies "emotion-pimping," and, well, that's what they are. Oh, wait, it was "expectation-pimping." Anyway, N*Sync and the like sort of get past my defenses when I'm abroad and away from the good USA stuff. Russians -- and yes, this is a truism -- take the worst of American culture, as in Britney Spears and greed and neo-Victorian sexual junk. Next thing you know, I'll see pork rinds next to the Fanta and ads for monster-truck rallies at Kirov Stadium.

But I digress.

Rock music is pretty universal. At least, I felt as though Chaif could have been, minus lyrics, some random American (or British, or Canadian) band that I'd hear at Blake's in Berkeley, California. I heard nothing especially Russian about the harmonies or melodies. And I got a little sense of belonging there, in the crowd, cheering Chaif, that I hadn't felt before here.

Yay, police. On the way back from the concert, rather far away from me, I saw two (presumably drunk) people sort of fighting. Within a minute or two, some uniformed cops were on the scene, cooling stuff down. I was actually glad for the large militsia/police presence, for once.

Metro moments. I get lots and lots of eye contact on the metro. Russians stare -- that hasn't changed between 1975 and now (it was around than that Russian Journal was written). I'm not used to it. Probably when I get back to the US, that'll weird me out again, and I'll have to get used to the lack of eye contact. That and walking around without my passport and visa, and not locking my backpack when I get on BART, and ice cream costing more than 25 cents for a popsicle.

Yesterday night I saw a funny little scene, and laughed along with all around me. A man had fallen asleep on the shoulder of a woman he didn't know. She wasn't quite sure what to do. I mean, it's not nice to wake a sleeping person who is obviously very tired (and, one is pretty sure, not drunk -- he didn't smell of alcohol, and so on). It was pretty funny, even to her, and to the babushki and so on around. Eventually she got up really quickly when the train stopped at a station. The guy kind of straightened up, especially when some other guy on his other side sort of told him to wake up. The sleepy guy went back to sleep in some less bothersome-to-others position. Just another day in Leningrad.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/2/85348/18712

: Declension and Fall of the Roman Empire: Maybe the reason the Roman Empire fell was that its inhabitants were just sick and tired of asking, "should this be in the dative or the accusative?" and instead said, "[expletive] it, we'll just stop talking." And the empire was doomed. If only they'd had Esperanto.

I Can't Stop Eating Cheap Ice Cream. Twenty-five cents for a yummy cold chocolatey snack on a hot summer day. Yum.

Today, a small entry, followed by a larger one.

I should mention, regarding Seth's mention of my bit about layers of symptoms and problems inherent in my decision to take or not take some eye drops for my tired, dry eyes, that I eventually took the eye drops. But I'm also trying to get lots of sleep and water. Short-term and long-term solutions. After all, when the short-term and long-term solutions are not mutually contradictory, and one is relatively trivial, why not use both?

At least I haven't had a really bad eye day yet.

Ancient [Chinese] sitcom. I remembered, bizarrely, an episode of the sitcom "Mr. Belvedere" today (premise: he's an English butler, she's a suburban Pittsburgh family, they're cops), in reference to the phenomenon in which a person lies about some fact so well and for so long that he forgets the original truth.

Obligatory Cryptonomicon reference. What is the term Stephenson uses in his description of the -- striated! That's it! Captain Crunch nuggets are "striated pillow"-shaped! Finally! I've been trying to remember all day! I remembered that it was a word like "serrated," but not. And now I remember. "Striated." Ah, I can sleep now.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/3/10152/15800

: Dude, Where's My Dignity?: More seriously, right now I want to note some rather trite-seeming (to me) observations that I have made whilst studying Russian here in St. Petersburg, and before. And a shout-out to Sean and Cinzia, who are classmates of mine back in the States, and who are also in Russia right now.

Neuter. There are three singular genders in Russian: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Mostly the categorization depends on the ending of the word. Karandash (pencil) is a classic masculine word, ending in a consonant. Ruchka (pen) is a classic feminine word, ending in "a" (although words ending in "ya" and a soft-sign, or myakii znak, almost always are feminine as well). Moloko is textbook neuter, ending in "o" or "ye." There are other rules and exceptions that mostly annoy me.

Any regular conversation in Russian forces you to do certain things differently depending on your gender. A female has to use different forms of verbs in the past tense, for example (usually add "a" to the end of them). But, if I were writing in Russian, and I wanted to hide my gender and show that I was hiding my gender, I could use the neuter when I had to refer to my own sex. I couldn't do that in, say, French.

Process v. Product. Imperfective v. Perfective, respectively. There are completely different verbs to refer to process and product in many cases. And native speakers don't even think about which one to use. "I was buying" is different from "I bought." "I will be buying" is different from "I will buy." And there is no perfective present tense. And there's no present tense for "to be."

The difference between "I was buying" and "I bought" (and the future tense equivalent, mutatis mutandis) reminds me of a typical Indian-American error, if you want to call it an error. Indians in the U.S. often use an imperfective-sounding form when they could, and possibly should, use the perfective. And lots of extra forms of the verb "to be." "If you are being late, be calling me. I will be sleeping for a few hours." And so on.

(Students of Russian, e.g., brainwane, sometimes cheat and use the imperfective future instead of the perfective future, because it's easier to avoid conjugating verbs. Bad students! No biscuit!)

Voluntary and Involuntary Actions. Listen and Watch; See and Hear. All of these are different verbs (respectively, slushat', smotret', videt', slishat'). And that reminds me of an opinion that free-speech types (libertarians?) might believe, which is that you should be able to hear/see everything available, and to watch/listen to only what you like.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/3/123530/4112

: Row, row, row...down the Neva: Recently, I've attempted to row a boat, sung patriotic songs, attended (in body but not in spirit) some Russian theater, and seen some Russian art. I guess I'm in St. Petersburg, eh?

Happy US Independence Day, y'all.

It's Wednesday, Weekly Excursion Day for our happy band. So we started out at the Russian Museum (it's the state art museum), which was better than I'd expected. After the Hermitage and Tsarskeyo Selo, I'd thought that I might be tour'd-out. But the guide was suprisingly understandable and funny, even. And I liked the art. Maybe I was in a more arty mood.

It's the Fourth of July here. So a bunch of us set off on a picnic on a nearby island. We walked a lot through some very picturesque areas, where we were the only foreigners in sight. I felt as though I had just stepped into some of the paintings that I had seen a few hours back. We had one Russian with us (a guest of one of my American classmates) who did not speak English. I was the only one to sing patriotic songs in honor of the Fourth of July. And translation...well, it just wasn't possible for some things. She seemed quizzically confused whatever we did and said, so perhaps it wasn't our fault.

Then we went over and rented rowboats. I have more geek cred than anyone in the group, I think, because I can't row. I have absolutely inadequate hand-eye coordination, and/or upper-body strength, and/or whatever else one needs to row a boat effectively. John did much better than I, and he, too, had never rowed before.

(In the interests of accuracy: we were not actually on the Neva, but on some lesser body of water that somehow connected to the Gulf of Finland.)

After all of this, I didn't have nearly enough time to go to the Russian Political History Museum, as originally planned. I just went home and changed clothes (from "Hi, I'm a tourist" t-shirt and shorts to "Hi, I'm a well-dressed tourist" garb) and scarfed some food and went to the theater.

The Maly Drama Theater is near some important Dostoyevsky landmarks. For example, one name of the metro station nearby is "Dostoyevskaya."

Katya and I went in and I really shouldn't have insisted on the better seat that I had paid for (and that someone else was sitting in), because I fell asleep almost immediately, and didn't wake up till ten mintues before the end of the 75-minute performance. Well, I only understood about a word per sentence! At least I don't think I snored. Too much. I also slept quite a bit during the performance last week of "Son Smeshnova Cheloveka" (a Dostoyevsky short story).

At least I only wasted 45 rubles.

Oh, and the woman next to me, after the performance, seemed to be saying that I had made a mistake involving my seating fuss. I meant to say, Prostitye (sorry). I instead said, Cprositye (ask me a question!). Oops. It's not as bad in my application essay, where I used "children" instead of "people." "I must learn from the Russian people...The culture of the Russian people...." sigh.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/4/133523/2939

: Your Mileage May Very Cherry: "It would be nice to have a soundtrack to my life. Because then I could go out and buy it, and I could tell what's going to happen. Like, if Barber's Adagio for Strings is on it, then I know someone's going to die."
"Like, 'hold on, why is the Imperial Death March on track 10?'"

Very little of importance, even though I'm still in St. Petersburg.

A little non-white-looking kid in a wheelchair on the metro last night said "Namaste!" to me quite enthusiastically. It gladdened me. I look Indian (because I am) even though, when people ask me where I'm from, I say, "America" (with all necessary declensions and so on). I guess one thing I liked was seeing a stranger express a smile, apropos of nothing. Maybe I miss that.

Lots of class today. Russian history lecture. Then conversation practice. Then grammar. It's an ostensibly, and most probably actually, useful grind. I suppose I'm the ax, then.

I may have finally acquired a tough city look. People have actually been saying "excuse me" and so on to me recently. That's new.

I guess I'm just slightly down for various emotional reasons that have little to do with almost anyone except myself. Maybe I'm in Stage II of the visit to the other country: Culture Shock. Nah, it's just non-euphoria. I suppose that's acceptable enough. I'm glad I know enough not to medicate away my melancholy.

Anyway, for the first time ever, I will tonight visit a Club. It's called Money Honey. It's a rockabilly club, frequented by St. Petersburg college students. I'm not quite sure why I'm going, except that my Russian peer tutor likes to go, and that I've never been to any club of this sort, in the US or in Russia. So there you go. Trying new things, hoping I feel better soon. Maybe drinking more water will help.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at

: The Pakazhitye Mnye State: Missouri is the "Show Me State" (in the USA), and I lived there once, and "Pakazhitye Mnye" is "show me," and never mind.

I had a very involved dream last night. I've been having lots of very involved dreams recently. A number of the other participants in my program here in St. Petersburg have been reporting the same phenomenon. It's not surprising.

I remember using verbs of motion in this dream, and speaking Russian to my family back in the USA (none of my family speaks or understands Russian). I also remember distorted allusions and references to Kazan Cathedral (near which I study), Ender's Game, alligators and crocodiles, an old political science teacher of mine, the discussions on race that I had with a Dutch woman recently, and my rather unfounded fear of document checks by the militia.

I think yesterday I was just in a pretty bad mood for about three or four hours. I'm a lot better now.

Moscow! We leave on the train for Moscow late tonight, and return to St. Petersburg early Tuesday morning. I'll try to post every day when I'm there.

I miss The West Wing.

The Dutch woman -- Shaklin? -- and I had a lot of conversation about Russia, the USA, Holland, race, feminism, individualism, and community. I really am learning a lot about the USA from being here.

Today, whilst bored in class, I found myself remembering a Disney TV movie -- Principal Takes a Holiday -- and thinking of it as an argument for voucher and charter schools.

Today in Grammar we talked about the logic puzzle of the Christian trying to cross a river and bring across a wolf, a goat, and some cabbage. I had always been too lazy to solve it before, but today I solved it.

There is at least one stunningly beautiful woman in our group. I mean just jaw-dropping, statuesque loveliness in every aspect of her body. It's amazing! I don't think I've ever just wanted to admire the Divine Sculptor's artistry like this before. Walking through museums next to a piece like this is really quite an experience.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/6/51729/34531

: The America Club: Curiously enough, the two topics I have to comment on are related. I want to write a bit on the stuff I've learned about the USA by being away from it. Also, I did *not* go to a club last night.

My tutor and I missed each other. So I didn't go to Money Honey. It's a club. And America is a club, too. In a different way, of course. Especially in terms of race -- and I can only talk a wee tiny bit about this here -- the USA is so very different from so many other countries. In the USA, for example, someone's skin color or race is really not a legitimate reason to identify one person as less American than another. But in ethnically homogeneous countries, or at least countries with more of an ethnic fabric -- let's say India -- I could easily imagine a non-ethnically-Indian citizen being called less Indian than, say, me.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/6/83916/29003

: A Square in Red Square: I'm almost done with my excursion to Moscow. Right now I'm posting a small "I'm alive" entry to soothe my parents. (I'm fine, Mom and Dad.) In something like an hour or less I'll post the really, really interesting journal to document my excellent adventure. Oh, and happy birthday to Leonard.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/9/73032/86991

: Lenin, booze, metro, uniforms, guns: Five-ride pass on the Moscow metro: 20 rubles.
35mm camera film, 24 exposures: 85 rubles.
Finally coming face-to-face with the fact that Russia has not, by a long shot, shed the last vestiges of the Communist State: priceless.

You see, the highlight of my Moscow weekend was an incident on Sunday night on Red Square, in which a member of the militia very politely, if arbitrarily, asked for and inspected my documents -- that is, my passport and visa -- to make sure that I was in the country legally.

I had just been awed. My second time on Krasnaya Ploschad (Red Square) really did it for me. It was night, I walked on the cobblestones, I saw the painted lines that must have indicated parade routes or places for ICBMs. Saint Basil's Cathedral awed me. The Kremlin awed me. I was in love with Russia. I was, as Lonely Planet's guide said, pondering the grand sweep of history.

John and I were walking back towards the main entrance gate, away from Saint Basil's.

What the hell happened here?
The canonical question.

Marx thought that human nature was just a product of economic conditions? That it could be changed? And I thought about some lectures I'd been reading (as a supplement/replacement for my almost-unusable Russian-language lectures on Russian history), and the odd nostalgia for the idealism of the early USSR.

John and I saw a man and a woman walking towards Saint Basil's. She was almost tripping on the cobblestones, what with her heels, and the fact that she and her companion were quite drunk. They were both clutching each other, and beers -- Baltika, I think. They passed us, singing quite loudly some traditional-sounding Russian song. Yet more canon.

And I wrote that down in my notebook, and a militia officer sort of near us approached us, and -- according to John, who heard better than I -- said hello, and introduced himself (obligatory as per Russian law, and to John "the stupid application of due process I've ever heard"), and asked for our documents.

I believe John said "of course." We reached for our money/dox belts. I remember the bright lights over the neighboring restaurants harshly illustrating the scene, the pattern of my clothes, and my hands as they unzipped the pouch. It was my first time that I had been asked for my documents in Russia. I think I was a little nervous, not in a threatened way, but -- at that moment -- more like a child about to recite a poem in front of his class.

He looked at John's passport, and unfolded his visa, and looked at it, and gave them back to John. And then he looked at my passport, and didn't unfold my visa -- my picture doesn't really look like me, everyone says so, what if he thinks it's not legit? -- but gave them back to me, and said something that meant that we could go on our way.

John had the presence of mind to say, Dobrii vecher (good evening). I don't know if I said anything.

So I've been thinking about this for almost a day now, as you might imagine. For goodness' sake, I got my documents checked in Red Square! I may as well come back from Russia right now, as it seems at the moment that nothing here can top that for sheer historical resonance.

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/9/81711/32916

: More later: I'm such a jerk for posting a "more later" entry, but it's true. I have a great deal more to say about my Moscow trip, and I intend on a blow-by-blow chronolog. Maybe in a few days.

Oh, by the way, an explanation of my previous entry's title, "Lenin, booze, metro, uniforms, guns". I'm pretty sure that at least once for each of those items, I've said sarcastically, "You know what Moscow needs more of? [Item]. There's just a decided lack of [item] in this town."

First published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/9/82212/10384

: Political Insane Asylum: Today we are all so, so tired from the lack of sleep on the overnight train ride back from Moscow to St. Petersburg. So, so tired. And then we have classes. Some conversations from this morning follow. Also a poll.

Number one.

Maria (pronounced "Mariah"): I took a taxi home.
brainwane: You taxiied home?
M: No, I took a taxi home.
b: I see. Because you're not an airplane.
Siri: As we can tell, since she does not have any plane features.

One should note that, upon my laughter, Siri disclosed that she had not realized that she had made a pun.

Number two. A number of us were having a conversation about vitamin pills and the tendency to megadose on vitamins and minerals as different as molybdenum and C.

Susanne: I don't know what good it does to take more than your body needs. I mean, it just ends up... (gestures down)
brainwane: My urine is worth nine dollars an ounce at the recycling center.
S: What?
b: It's a line from a song.
S: You just sounded so serious.
John: Deadpan humor!
b: Yes. Putting the "dead" in deadpan. Putting the bedpan in deadpan.
J: Keep this up and you'll have a Tonight's Episode.
b: I think I already did.

I really am working on the huge, huge entry/entries to document my excursion to Moscow.

Would you go on a Soviet roller coaster?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/10/52631/1548

: Moscow, Part I: This is approximately the first third of my Moscow travelogue. I plan to also have it available at my own personal webspace soonish.

Day One: Friday night.
A buoyant bunch of twenty ACTR students and a few authority figures piled into Muscovsky Vokzal (Moscow Train Station) in St. Petersburg around 10:30 on Friday night. (My Russian-language successes that day and in the previous few days included calling a clerk-girl "devushka" for the first time and bargaining down the price of some flowers.) A lot of us brought food and drink -- not by choice, mind you, but because our homestay mothers had made us. I, for one, got away with only bringing a liter of apple juice. Unopened box. No food -- well, none that she had chosen.

We met by the bust of Peter the Great in the big hall. A huge head on a huge pedestal. (A room or two away from slot machines and kiosks selling everything from toothbrushes to CDs to pirozhki.) I arrived early and saw Marcus, a British/Spanish student on a rather ad hoc study-in-St. Petersburg program, outside. I know him only from this International Telephone / Telegraph Office, from which I write these very words. He was leaving for a Moscow visit, too, but he'd be leaving the country soon after. I wished him well. I'm really glad when I contrast my program with his -- I get more time in St. Petersburg, more actual interaction with Russians (with my lovely homestay), and probably a better social and academic overall experience. Thanks, ACTR! Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Kate (a.k.a. Katya, since "Katya" is a legit Russian-declinable name and "Kate" isn't), John and I were the three non-Russians in a four-person "coupe`." The fourth turned out to be "Misha." Misha did not speak much at all. Katya and John and I had been laughing away, and then he entered, and ... silence. I tried to engage him in conversation, at least to introduce ourselves. As John put it, my attempts fell into a conversational black hole.

Translation of the intro. conversation, during which I was barely containing my laughter, since even I knew that it was funny at the time, follows.

[Long pause] We're students from America.
[Long pause]

My name is ... [John and Katya follow in suit]
I am named Misha.
[Long pause]
Would you like some juice?
No, thanks.

Eventually, we got some cracks in Misha's facade. He -- I'm sure quite sarcastically -- asked, "And where did you learn to speak Russian so well?" and spoke some in English. He claimed to be a computer programmer, although John and I now flirt with the idea that he's something a bit more underhanded.

We all tried to sleep, although the noise and the White Nights didn't help too much. I think that when Misha said the next morning that my friends and I had prevented him from getting a good night's sleep, he was joking.

Day Two: Saturday.
Early Saturday morning we arrived half-dead in Moscow. We got on a bus, got to the hotel, waited to be processed (during which downtime Lauren and Melissa ate animal crackers and discussed their favorite authors), checked into our rooms (Hot water! And water I can brush my teeth with! "I'm going to brush my teeth four times a day, for the sheer novelty of it."), ate a non-wonderful breakfast of bread and cheese and blini (pancakes) and cheese, and got on a bus to see the sights of Moscow, narrated by a friendly Russian guide.

The guide was nice, but her cadence and vocab bored and confused us respectively. (When she started mentioning Kiev and early Russian history and names thereof, a number of us got shivers, recollecting recent Russian history lectures that were even more impenetrable.) And I just felt like such a ... a tourist.

I bought a shirt. After some bargaining, it was $4, rather than $5. It featured a map of the Moscow metro. In Russian, of course.

There are lots of clocks in Moscow. I feel as though there are more clocks in public spaces here than in St. Petersburg. Maybe this jibes with the stereotype of Muscovites as always in a hurry. Forget not that

Moscow : St. Petersburg :: New York : San Francisco

A number of people have bought rather large soft drink bottles -- around a liter or so -- and had an odd phenomenon occur in which:

  1. Person opens drink.
  2. Drink does not explode.
  3. Person drinks from bottle, closes or does not close bottle with cap.
  4. A few minutes later, drink explodes, froths over, etc.

John thinks it's the unusually long neck of these particular bottles. Any chemists, fluid dynamics experts, or Coke engineers in the house?

The last stop on our bus tour -- the fifth or so time we got out of the bus -- was Krasnaya ploschad. Red Square. The Kremlin, Lenin's tomb, Saint Basil's, the works. How in the world did I get to Russia?! Saint Basil's Cathedral is amazing, bar none, wow, oh my goodness, wow.

Krista, her Russian peer tutor, John and I wandered for a bit. We ended up eating near the Kremlin at -- I debase myself just mentioning the name -- Sbarro's. Yes, the fake-Italian mall-food-court "restaurant." There is one mall, it has been said, with many convenient locations. Well, one of them is off of Red Square. Yeesh. The soundtrack from The Godfather actually played, a bit, while we were eating.

It could have been worse. There was a T.G.I. Friday's in the same complex. And "Friday's" was not translated into "Pyatnitsa," as one might expect. "Slav Bogu, eto Pyatnitsa." No, it was all just transliterated. Darn it. I prefer more elegant representations of economic and cultural hegemony.

That night was dinner in the Chinese restaurant, inside the hotel, where our waitress spoke worse Russian than we did. Reassuring. I was hoping that that would be a sign -- as in the US -- that the food would be good (where the ethnic staff doesn't speak the native language of the country in which the restaurant in located, the food is usually better, no?), but it was merely adequate and overpriced. John and I did, however, have a great conversation -- which continued throughout the weekend -- about the morals and il/legalities of alcohol ab/use, gun control, and other sociopolitical issues.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/10/101014/296

: Erin Brockovna: The Dostoyevsky museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and other stuff.

The title refers to the transliteration of Erin Brockovich into Russian, which looks very wrong. This goes for the translation of X-Men as People X as well.

acec, who are you? I'm thinking I know -- I took at least two polisci classes with you at Cal, and I've introduced you to Leonard, and you use a free, web-based email service, and right now you're in some rather prestigious summer program on the East Coast of the US. Am I right?

Today was the weekly excursion. We had a bus tour around "Dostoyevsky's St. Petersburg," hosted by a very nice woman whose voice reminded me of Sesame Street Muppets. I kind of got bored -- I haven't read the books she mentioned -- and so here are some of the notes from my notebook.

Then I helped some French tourists find the Hermitage. I only remembered "On y va!" as "Let's go!" because that was the name of my French textbook, during the four years when I studied high school French. Jeff, a linguistics grad student who has studied Russian with me at Cal, is amused that I once assumed that Nachalo, since it was the name of our Russian textbook, might also mean "Let's go." He tells that story to lots of people.

Early-August note: I'm returning to the US on August 6, and to California via San Francisco International Airport on August 7. I would really love for people who know me to meet up with me for some type of celebration soon after that -- or, in fact, people could meet me at the gate and I could feel important! You could email me for more info.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/11/74254/2011

: Feelings Mixed -- Shaken, not Stirred:

Argh! I really should write several entries very soon, about my mixed feelings about mixed -- or any -- alcoholic drinks, and about the last few days of my Moscow trip a few days ago. But I will have to put those off till I have a bit more time. How do you do, hectic life?

Yesterday, I met a fella who looked remarkably like Ben Affleck. When I used my poor Russian to tell him so (I'm never quite sure how to use pohozh), he quite graciously noted that, before, [people had told him that] he resembled Hugh Grant. He told me that he's a musician. Seems as though a lot of people around these parts ID as artists of some sort. St. Petersburg as, once again, the SanFran of Russia.

Moscow: Real Soon Now.

Food. I miss Mario's La Fiesta in Berkeley. Today I played tour guide (the topic was Directions/Locations in Grammar class) and I could have talked for 20 minutes about Berkeley. "And across from Rasputin is Cody's..."

And yesterday I was in a restaurant, where -- as is usual in Russia if there's not enough space -- I was seated at a largish table with a stranger, another solitary customer. She started a conversation with me -- unusual, as usually in these arrangements the two parties don't communicate. (Think Misha & the American Gang from the first part of my unfinished Moscow travelogue.) Turns out that she's a native Leningrader who's been in New York for the past five years to study... accounting. (?!) We spoke in English.


  1. I prefer the Russian solitude/privacy-preserving custom of NOT trying to start a conversation in every instance. Maybe I like the apparatchiks for just doing their jobs and not trying to make a specific relationship into a diffuse one.
  2. I dislike the lack of a formal second-person pronoun in modern spoken English. I wanted to use vui to imply respect and distance, and I couldn't. I felt as though I were taking a liberty.

Sandwich boards. I have seen men wearing sandwich boards to advertise really unlikely-seeming products and services.

  1. Currency exchange.
  2. Strip show. Krasota ("beauty," and yes, John, I'm sure, because every morning on the bus I pass a salon labeled, in Russian and French respectively, "Salon Krasoti"/"Salon de Beaute").
  3. ISP. This one cracks me up. It's a first-wave ad for a third-wave product. It's like billboards with URLs.

Whenever I see someone wearing a sandwich board, I think -- rather facetiously -- Oh yeah, that's why I'm in college."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/12/986/18861

: YASE -- Yet Another Short Entry:

Argh. I saw "Swan Lake" tonight, here in [my hometown] St. Petersburg. And it was rather interesting, especially since I saw it with Susanne, who has actually been in a production of "Swan Lake," but the upshot of the whole thing is that I haven't time to write a proper entry. I don't even have my Harry-Potter-Pensieve of a notebook with me. What follows is just stuff I remember from today. Believe you me, this weekend I'll be writing thousands of words about Moscow, art, alcohol, race, and more.

Opera seems to bemessibng up a bit, so I'll just leave it at that for now.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/13/152320/137

: The Intersection of Doom...and Death:

A lot of very eclectic material in today's entry. The title refers to the intersection near my university (university may not actually be mine), Herzen Pedagogical something-or-other in St. Petersburg, Russia. This intersection has no lanes, no apparent traffic signs or lights, and lots of cars and vans and tour buses whizzing by. I'm thinking that Kazanskaya Ulitsa would be Doom, and the little minor street right behind Kazanskaya Sobor (Kazan Cathedral) would be Death.

You mentioned that the only times you've ever read something in second person was in text adventure games and in A Canticle for Liebowitz. I was rather impressed by the second-person chapters in Dave Barry in Cyberspace.
Also, it turns out that you and I are starting trips on the same day. You leave for Utah on the 18th, which is the same day that I leave for the island of Solovki. Uh, Mom, Dad, other readers, you should know that I'll be gone till Monday, and I am pretty sure that there are no Internet connections on this island that was once a monastery and then was a Stalinist gulag. I'll try to call. Just Mom and Dad. Not you, if you're anyone else. Well, maybe my sister.

I do not think that they will sing to me.
In one of my Russian classes, possibly grammar or literature or current events, we translated in a casual, offhanded manner, davaite syezdim as "Let's go," which now reminds me of that other entry about Nachalo and On y va, but which back then reminded me of the line from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. "Let us go, then, you and I..."

That, then, reminded me of an incident with my "uncle" N.S.L. Bhatta, an Indian poet. He had picked up my mother and me in his car when we visited him in India.

"So, what are you doing these days, Uncle?
"I just finished translating Iliad."
"Wow, that sounds like a big project! Was it from the original Greek?"
"He wrote in English."

And it turned out that he had said "Eliot," not "Iliad," and we had a good laugh.

Reading material.
So I finished We a while back, and enjoyed it, and recommend it. I do recommend that you read it a bit more chunkily than I did, though -- I read a few pages each night for about a week, and I think I should have just read it in a few hourlong sessions instead. (Yes, I am avoiding the perhaps inevitable compare-and-contrast with other dystopias. I may be just staving it off.)

I finished The Nine Hundred Days by Harrison Salisbury a few days ago. That's on the subject of the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, a.k.a. The Great Patriotic War for the Fatherland. It's quite good, if very concentrated on the first few years of the blockade. There are maybe twenty chapters on the first year, and then the next two years are, say, two chapters total. And Salisbury is generally quite good about remaining unschlocky, which is why I was so surprised to read the occasional lines such as, "the Germans had on their sides Generals Cold, Fatigue, and Hunger." It sort of reminded me of my earlier complaint about Caleb Carr's The Angel of Death and the ending of each chapter with some melodramatic sting.

As well, I felt a tinge of disturbance at Salisbury's "Only Leningraders would do [x]" sentences. For example, there were Leningraders who kept feeding their pets a few morsels, and did not abandon or kill them. Perhaps it's not just Leningraders who would do that, or not.

But at least the schlock and stereotyping prepared me for my latest book. Last night, I finished my very first book by [my Aunt] Agatha Christie, Dumb Witness. It has Hercule Poirot.

"Yes, the curry may be of some significance, perhaps."

I mean, come on! And I realized that I prefer "mysteries" in which I have all the facts at my disposal early on. I shouldn't have to know obscure poisons, or Victorian etiquette. I further mention that one Sherlock Holmes story in which it's a lot easier to guess the twist if you live in the modern USA and only think of one thing when you see the letters KKK.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, Christie gives Doyle a nod in the first few chapters of Dumb Witness. The assistant-type, Hastings, who speaks in the first person, speaks with Poirot, and Poirot calls Hastings "Watson"! I was confused for a moment. Was "Watson" just the nom de rigeur or something for these superfluous narrator-assistants in mysteries? But no, it was a little joke.

Why do Poirot and Holmes keep Hastings and Watson around, anyway? The twenty-first century answer: to provide a premise for slash fan fiction. Because there aren't enough premises for slash fan fiction writers already, you see.

Acrobatics of the Mind.
I see "WC" (water closet) and think "W3C."

The graffiti "2KIT" on the steps of Kazan Cathedral remind me of 2 Legit 2 Quit (M.C. Hammer as an AOL chatroom fiend?), which reminds me that in the former USSR, it's Hammer [and Sickle] time, which leads me to conclude that I Can't Stop Referencing!

Notes from Swan Lake:
"What is this juice? It's not cranberry..." "They have a lot of weird berries here. We just got some at my house. There are these really weird green fuzzy ones, and you wouldn't think it to look at them, but they're the best." [sip] "It's ... Russianberry."

The swans in the background -- not the ballerinas who were swans according to the plot, but the setpiece props that actually anatomically resembled swans -- moved on a little rail or something along the back of the stage. I wondered if I would get a prize if I shot one.

When the guy in black, the Evil Enchanter, came onstage, I whispered, "Oh no! It's Alexander Lebed!" See, lebed is the Russian word for swan, and Alexander Lebed is a kinda scary Russian politician, and never mind.

There was sort of a flamenco touch to these dancers in Spanish-looking costumes and their theme during some big scene. I thought that was pretty interesting. I imagine that composers have expressed political sentiments by associating evil characters with the musical motifs of certain cultures and nations.

The cafe in this theater, which was rather run-down and definitely not the Mariinskii, played American music and had a cardboard cutout of the Spice Girls. All five, all together.

My Russian mommy feeds me really well. [I Can't Stop Using Iambic Pentameter.] This morning she gave me some sort of ice-cream dessert. I was halfway through the thing before I realized it was cheesecake. Cheesecake! Covered in chocolate! At 9:30 in the morning! She's fattening me up to make sure I can get through the cold, harsh, Northern California winter.

I've had French fries at some point each day yesterday and today. Here, you have to order the ketchup separately.

Things I see.
I see solitary men carrying objects that can only be called purses. Here, the law says you have to carry some sort of ID with you at all times. But passports fit in pockets in most men's clothing. What's going on here?

I saw graffiti that said "FACK" today. This is a "Collect All Five Wrong Vowels" contest, I guess -- a peer of mine said she took a picture of some scrawled "FECK."

In the past week, I have seen (presumably) Russian men who looked almost exactly (in most cases) like Ben Affleck (see previous entry), Rudy Giuliani, Charles Manson, and Alan Alda.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/14/11196/2357

Mix-'n'-Match Matroshcki

Sat Jul 14th, 2001 at 09:16:43 AM PST

We had a presentation the other day regarding matroschki dolls. Yes, the ones with nested dolls inside. As opposed to Intel Inside. Anyway, the tourist traps here in St. Petersburg are infested with vendors selling cheap knockoffs. Sometimes they feature babushki, sometimes politicians, sometimes sports team members. Wouldn't it be great to have a mix-and-match matroschki? Say, inside the babushki is a ninja, then a Brezhnev, then Kobe Bryant, then Ricky Martin, then a Teletubby, then Nixon, then Cal Ripken, Jr....

I just want the ninja inside the matroshki.

By the way, I bought -- for a ruble -- a piece of gum labeled, "Fruit Flavoured Ricky Martin." Not a word about gum. And a picture of Ricky.

  1. I can buy Ricky Martin on the open market!
  2. Is Ricky Martin ever not fruit-flavoured?

Oh, and it turns out that you can't just add "skii" to the end of a word to try to make it an adjective. My Russian mom laughed at me for trying "gidskaya kniga" (guidebook?) and "marionetskii teatr" (puppet theater?) this morning.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/14/121643/285

Moscow: Part II

Sat Jul 14th, 2001 at 09:28:41 AM PST

Part II of my Moscow odyssey. Part I was here.

Day Three: Sunday.
Some stuff, first, that I had forgotten to mention previously.

First: on Friday night, in Moscovsky Vokzal, belying all the very progressive and enlightened thoughts I've been having about race in this 80% white country, I approached a group of Indians -- familiar faces, what? -- and found out that they identified themselves as Russians, which made me feel like a boor for asking where they were from.

Also: it's a bit of a Russian tradition -- in Moscow, at least -- to see the sights, especially Red Square, on your wedding day. So there were lots of brides about. I liked it. I love feeling festive. I even wished one of them good luck.

Moreover: I was near one of the many metro entrances/underground passageways on Saturday afternoon when I said, "What's that violin music?" I peeked in, and ten people on violins and other string instruments were playing. Not badly, either. Lots of people were watching, and I took a picture, and I was happy. The San Francisco subways can just roll over and die; they can't even compete now. There are no chamber orchestras on BART.

At some point this weekend, I realized that I am a lot darker than I used to be. I am pretty sure that before-and-after pictures will show me a milk chocolate in early June and dark chocolate, kind of like Shweta, in mid-August. I should probably use more sunblock.

So. Sunday. I copied down a bunch of stuff from Kate's Lonely Planet guidebook. (Lonely Planet is the Google of guidebooks to the ACTR kids. There's just no contest.) Netcafes, restaurants, places to go. It may have been that morning, or the next one, that I saw, dubbed in Russian, the prom scene episode from Beverly Hills, 90210. And it was dubbed quite well, too. I could have sworn Brenda was saying, "Konyeshna" (of course), to the question of "shall we get our pictures now?" Also, the previous day, on some channel that never again appeared on our TV, I saw a test pattern and listened to "Walk Like an Egyptian" as I surveyed the Moscow skyline from my hotel window. Very apropo.

We breakfasted to no one's delight, really, on some porridge-and-milk that only vaguely resembled my idea of kasha. I actually like kasha, the way my host mom prepares it, where it's kind of like plain brown rice with butter. Anyway, we headed out for a tour of the Moscow metro system -- ony five interesting stations out of about eighty. I made conversation with our guide on the way to the first stop, and she complimented me on my Russian! Goodness.

I thought of a Kodak ad that features some comically non-native-language-speaking tourists in, I think, Italy. They ask for directions and eventually get where they need to go so that they can get a picture of themselves at some emotionally significant spot (I'm simplifying the ad). Maybe part of what I dislike about tourism is the way it objectifies the place and the people you are viewing. Ray Bradbury talks about this in some short story of his. I can't recall the name.

There are lots and lots of statues in Moscow. My goodness. It's generally noted that Prince Vladimir rejected Islam for his country because of its alcohol restriction. Maybe it was also because Russians can't stand not making representations of the human form. Also, they need lots of public meeting places. "I'll meet you by the bust of [minor bureaucrat who played politics well]." "Wait, maybe it would be easier to see each other at the statue of [obligingly patriotic agitprop hack]."

I wasn't feeling particularly awed during some of the excursion. Maybe I just ran out of awe too early on in Russia, I thought.

Then I saw Mendeleevskaya. I took quite a few pictures of Mendeleevskaya. I am very happy that there is a major metro station in Moscow named after Mendeleev, and also that the chandeliers are shaped like models of molecules. Crystal-formation-looking things. John groused that they didn't look enough like authentic, scientifically valid molecular formations. Don't look the Bronze Horseman in the mouth, John.

A few of us failed completely to find the cemetery attached to the Novodevichye Convent (the entrance was far away from the convent entrance, and the rest of the people went back the next day to look at famous people's graves). But the convent was very pretty and peaceful. I actually saw a nun, dressed in all black, scurrying along to do...whatever it is that Russian Orthodox nuns do. How different our worlds are!

On the way to a restaurant from the convent, as we gradually gave up on seeking the cemetery, we came upon THE CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. EVER. There is a park next to the convent, with trees and a stream. I saw some little bronze ducks that immediately reminded me of Make Way for Ducklings. And I was right! Ten years ago, Barbara Bush (First Lady B.B.) presented this thingie to the children of the USSR from the kids of the USA, in honor of the classic work by Robert McCloskey. And I sat on the big mommy duck and had my pic taken. And then, as I rested on a bench, I saw a little kid of five or so come over with her gramma, and she played with those ducks for half an hour, and set the bar for any future cuteness display I may ever witness. She "fed" things to the duck, she created interactions between some stuffed animal and the ducks, she just embodied cuteness. Oh, and she used (of course) really simple Russian, so I could understand her. E.g., "There!" Yeah, that was the highlight of my day, and possibly of my entire trip to Russia, in terms of cuteness.

From a good lunch at Guriya, a Georgian restaurant on Komsomolskaya Prospekt:
TO DO: Figure out how I feel about alcohol.

On the way back to the metro, I finally realized that Sprite ads that say, "Don't believe ads," are an example of the Liar's Paradox.

To what extent do advertisements and signs in general assume that the viewer already knows the city? That question kept coming up -- as Caleb Carr wrote, "like the only hummable melody in a difficult, nightmarish opera," or something like that. Well, it wasn't nightmarish. Neither was it "like a splinter in your brain, driving you mad," as in The Matrix. It just kept coming up.

Later that day, I remembered Michael Crichton's Travels, a very good book. I especially remembered the chapter involving the Dyaks and the Something-Kundalkiki Gorge. It's a chapter about missing what's right under your nose.

After the restaurant was Gorky Park, which I just viewed from the outside. Today it hardly seems a place of skulking, of Cold War intrigue. Today it just looks like a circus.

The perehod, or underground passageway, to the other side of the street, was chock-full of people selling paintings. Somehow I liked that better, seeing the walls full of art and viewing them as a consumer, trying to figure out what I liked and what would be worth my coin, rather than gawking touristically from one "masterpiece" to the next and feeling some sort of obligation to like everything.

There was a sculpture garden, and then there was rain, and then back at the hotel, there was dubbed X-Files ("Malder"), and I made some joke about the tsar of wishful thinking.

I'll write more about Sunday night in a bit.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/14/122841/118
Filed under:

: Moscow, Part II.V:

This documents Sunday night of my Moscow travelog. Parts I and II, if you please.

Day 3.5: Sunday Night.
The "tsar of wishful thinking" joke was basically a refernce to some 1980s (?) song in which a line from the refrain was "I'm the king of wishful thinking."

I saw, in the sculpture garden (or outside its gate, actually) a statue of several people. One of them was a woman holding a shield, upon which was printed Mir zemle -- World peace. The idealism of that, and of early Communism in general, really hit me. It also seemed connected with my personal/emotional life. This problematic attitude of mine shows up both in politics and in relationships: isn't it possible to just sidestep the bad parts of human nature, with enough planning?

The "advertise on the Moscow Metro" signs in the Metro are rather clever. They insinuate the red "M" logo into unexpected places. Nice.

There are Communists everywhere. Some of them are Young Commies, so they kind of have an excuse -- they weren't around during Stalin's reign. But others are old people who just yearn for order, I guess.

I see too many little tourist-merchandise-vendor stalls and tables wherever I go. This makes me fantasize about two different unexpected vending situations. One is seeing a vendor of standard Russian items (e.g., matroschki dolls, icons, vodka flasks) in some touristy spot in the US. The other actually happened (sort of) today. A random stall in a perehod had incense and Ganesha icons and the like. It took me bizarrely home for a moment. I kind of wanted to pray. (The last time I saw a Ganesha icon was in the Ethnography museum. There I actually did stop and say a prayer.)

I have explained in my entry, "Lenin, booze, metro, uniforms, guns", that I got my documents checked on Red Square. I described it there. I had all sorts of emotions and thoughts running through me all night.

I saw My First Arabic Graffiti in the metro.

Linda Crew's children's book Children of the River made me cry several times when I read it in high school. I remember it now because of a moment when someone cries because someone else calls her a good person.

I miss home, I thought. And I thought of St. Petersburg as home!

There were stares and possibly judgment on the metro that night. It was a long metro ride home, and halfway through, since I had a seat and John was standing, I got up and successfully urged him to take my seat. He later reported stares from other passengers, although I'd hate to employ post hoc, propter hoc. People stare a lot here anyway.

Is the metro faster, louder, and inhabited by louder and rowdier drunkards here, or is it just me?

The hoo-ha over blue M&Ms strikes me as Boorstin-esque fake news.

Argh, I thought, asking what horrible concoction we'd have for breakfast the next day, and thinking I had homework due the day we came back. John and I grabbed a late supper at some cafe near the hotel, where American music from Russian MTV blared from a TV on the counter.

I had weird dreams that night, including a document check at an airport.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/15/10269/3364

: Three Weeks to Leningraduation:

"Want some bread?"
"No, but I'd sure like some land and some peace!"

-Me and Gregg, yesterday.

This is more of a placeholder entry than anything else. It's fifteen minutes till my third class of the day. Here's some more expanded shorthand from my Little Notebook.

When I say the word for "earlier," ranshe, I have this random French-sounding accent that doesn't really show up at any other time. Very odd.

I miss NPR Morning Edition.

I'm going to attempt to visit a club on Tuesday night. Yes, the aforementioned Money Honey. In Russian, if translated literally, Dyengi Myod. Not quite the same effect.

I find myself not actually making jokes, sometimes, but rather design specs for jokes.

If my love were a Supreme Court case, what case would it be?

Who came up with perforations to make it easier to tear off paper? Genius!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/16/52142/2092

: St. Petersburger and Cheese:

"That's not blasphemy, that's just plain common sense!"
-- Katie yesterday

Okay, first priority is a long-delayed link to John's Journal of St. Petersburg happenings. Just another perspective. Link to it, read it, comment on it once he writes his own backend for that.

Note also that tomorrow I leave for Solovki (the actual Gulag Archipelago of Solzenhitsyn fame), and there may be no net access there, and tonight I go to Money Honey, and that yesterday my notebook got soaked in a rainstorm, so before stuff crumbles and smudges and generally disappears, I'm going to try to immortalize the last nine days or so in some diarizing here.

Back when I was in D.C., I saw some color photos of the Caucaus region of Russia, taken a hundred years ago. Very disorienting. I'm pretty sure Slashdot had some mention of this thing. It was an exhibit at the Library of Congress, if I recall correctly.

Stuff to read: A while back I was thinking that I should really read The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin. Now I'm starting Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence, which was a bargain at 62 rubles at Dom Knigi. (It'll take up some time on the train, and I'm glad.)

I'm bonding with some of the people, especially the females, in my group. Erin and I, for example, share a common kitsch experience with Siri. We all watched "Jem" -- the cartoon based on the Barbie knockoff doll -- in our youths. Jem, Truly Outrageous! As well, Kate and John were with me when we got caught in a huge rainstorm yesterday whilst taking in the extraordinary view from the colonnade of St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Incentives. What market incentive makes a currency exchange feasible and profitable? I just wonder why there are so many Obmen baliuti about. Is there some statistically significant relationship among rates, commissions, location, friendliness, service capacity, and so on? What heuristics could help me get the best deal?

Russian roulette is not here called, as I had hoped, American roulette. It's just Russian roulette.

Intimidation. Yesterday at St. Isaac's, the cashier was really gruff and very mad that I didn't have exactly 5 rubles (the student fee). She said something about "these foreigners" in Russian. Excuse me? As John said, "Sorry your infrastructure is crumbling, but that's not my fault." Hey, I gave her a ten. Maybe St. Isaac should switch places with the Patron Saint of Pocket Change or something.

But the other day I saw a guy in a military uniform eating ice cream on the down escalator at Cherneshevsky metro station, and that cheered me up.

Literature. We're reading Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva on love. Which, of course, makes me think of unorthodox love metaphors. Anyone care to take a gander at Love As...

I actually was very bored today during Russian press and tried my hand at a love poem.

My love is like a long, long lawsuit
That's newly appealed in June.
It cannot die, it cannot fade,
Tho' it recesses each day at noon.

For some reason, recently I remembered a moment in middle- or high-school literature. We were quite intensely discussing some metaphor-laden bit of lit. And then someone raised her hand to ask, "Could we open the door?" And it took everyone else a moment to realize that we had to take her literally. It was amusing.

Baby Sitters' Club. A series of books for pre-teen girls, basically. There was -- early on -- a book, entitled New Girl or some such, in which Claudia had a new friend and that took her away from her established group of friends. Claudia was an artist, and so was Ashley! A common interest! But it turned out that Ashley wasn't such a good friend after all. She was untrustworthy. Perhaps I, too, should beware of new friends, and remember that common interests are not all, and do not always supersede personality. Or maybe I should remember that the author of that book had a vested interest in keeping Claudia with the Club and not letting her wander off with Ashley at the end!

Dreams. I've had several strong dreams recently. Making cameo appearances have been Weird Al, Tom Green, Isaac Davis-King, and Alice Hoffman (the last two are people from my high school), for no good reason, really.

Rynok. An authentic Russian market. I've seen one now.

Twisted phrases. One of the first phrases a student of Russian learns is "vui ne znayete, gde... [x]?" because that's the polite way to ask where x is. (The example is usually "metro," aka "nearest metro station.") There's a certain exaggerated intonation, too, coming up heavily (?) on "znay" and down on "ete." So, inevitably, I've combined that oft-parodied phrase with "Dude, Where's My X?" (sort of) to get, "Dude, Where's My Metro?" and (funnier): "Vui ne znayete, gde maya mashina?" (You wouldn't happen to know where my car is?)

Museums. I went to the Russian Political History Museum and the Anna Akhmatova Museum this weekend. I recommend the former highly and the latter tepidly. More later.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/17/10914/1919

Musing over Museums

Tue Jul 17th, 2001 at 07:45:15 AM PST

I'm trying to transcibe my thoughts from the Anna Akhmatova Museum, the Russian Political History Museum, and the Piskarov cemetery here in St. Petersburg. The rain yesterday smudged up the ink in my notebook in some highly symbolic way or another. So here's what I've got.

"Who is not with us, is against us," is inscribed on a dinner plate (!) in Russian at the Russian Political History Museum. 1918, Petrograd.

I have only seen one sculpture, in my life, that I felt might come to life quite suddenly and naturally. That is "Mother," 1945, V. Eishev, in the middle of a room dedicated to WWII and the Blockade. Also disturbing were an actual Nazi flag and a picture of Molotov with Stalin in the background.

Sometimes I see an "i" -- not Cyrillic -- in a Cyrillic word. Yes, it's ancient, but it still bugs me.

Posters, posters, posters. Yeltsin (!) in "Strong President, Strong Russia." "Have you forgotten that you are Russian?" (Have I forgotten that I'm Indian? Or American?) And the very funny one linking your first time voting in free and open elections with your first sexual experience.

A great calendar with wordless and hilarious cartoons for every month.

I got really lost on the way to the Akhmatova museum. I saw a dead cat near 8 Fontanka . "FACK" was near 28.

In the museum, the question (posed by some non-Akhmatova artist) "Is there God on Mars?" interested me.

For some reason, I wrote "Snow Crash and Toilet Paper" in my notebook, next to a note about having to order ketchup separately when eating fries in a cafe here, but I can't recall why the Snow Crash/TP reference is relevant.

I've taken a lot of classes. High school, college, enrichment. And yet I've never received systematic training to enable/aid me in creating a sense of taste regarding art and music and literature, I think.

I visited the British Bookstore "Anglia" (near the Anichovsky Bridge, on the Fontanka) after the cafe, after the museums. It was a weird experience, English shock. There was no Russian! Anywhere! Withdrawal! And then someone spoke in Russian, and I was fine.

Sunday morning, I saw Russian boys running in the park near my house, evidently in a heat for some track-and-field meet.

I was on my way to Piskarov. There are mass graves there, because that's where most of the victims of the Blockade are buried. The ground was so hard, and the dead so many, and the living so hungry and weak, that eventually people dynamited the ground there to make trenches into which to shovel the bodies.

A kid next to me on the metro was also takig flowers and also seemed to take the way to Piskarov, at least, he got off at the right stop...does he come every Sunday? Or is today an anniversary?

I thought of Moxy Fruvous's "The Gulf War Song."

The Eternal Flame at Piskarov was very warm. The mounds covered with grass flickered, distorted in its convection, and so did the statue of Mother Russia, laying a garland on the dead. There is a wall behind here with sentiments such as Let no one forget and nothing be forgotten.

The Germans suffered, too.

I'm glad that there are no tourist vendors outside Piskarov. No Blockade Bread souvenirs. Not even flowers. Only the piped-in music is distasteful at times.

Should the living suffer, as they did during the Blockade, to pay respects to the dead?

But my visit was bookended by two enjoyable food experiences. Kafe Marko on Nevsky ("What country are we in?!") and a place near Vladimirskaya Metro. They played the Beatles in the background. The last time I heard a lot of Beatles was with Leonard.

I have to go to a club with my tutor now.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/17/104515/343
Filed under:

: Moscow Last:

Last part of my Moscow Travelogue.

Day the Last: Monday & Tuesday Morning.
Reclaiming a word, e.g., "queer," that was used in a derogatory manner previously -- it's kind of like off-label prescription of drugs, no?

I marked down more stuff from Katie's Lonely Planet before breakfasting on a surprisingly edible omlet (and bread and cheese and tea, of course.) Then people set off on their own.

The metro in Moscow has something like ten lines. One of them is a circle -- very useful. They call it the Ring Line. I've taken it so much that I'm the Lord of the Ring Line.

I've seen very few really attractive Russians here. In St. Petersburg or in Moscow.

I think it's hilarious that many of the stations still have Communist names. I mean, everywhere I go I see labels marked "CCCP" (USSR) or the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed star, or in St. Petersburg "Leningrad," or the like. But when I give or get directions like "Get off at Proletarian Station" or "I'm sure there'll be a cafe near Place of the Revolution," I crack up.

There is lots of book-reading on the metro here, and less newspaper-reading than I recall from St. Petersburg, D.C., or San Francisco. Books take up less room.

"A three-hour tour" in Russian is Tri-chasa exkursiya or some such.

Kate lost her shirt. Literally. On the train on the way here. And lately, someone gave us the slip - literally, the one we needed to get in someplace. Very funny. (Amelia Bedelia, the children's book series, is basically a bunch of case studies on the dangers of idioms.)

I can so easily imagine a Salon story about sex on Red Square. Communism, sex, travel, etc -- it's all Salon. Related: recently I read some Salon teaser that, while only two sentences long, satisfied me such that I felt that I did not have to read the story. What a failure of a teaser! Doesn't the front page have editors to prevent this sort of thing? We wouldn't have done such a thing back in high school at the Tokay Press! Goodness.

I'm remembering a conversation that Alexei and I once had about kitsch and camp. I noted that loving camp and laughing at yourself for living it might be considered evidence of self-loathing.

I took a boat tour on the River Moskva. Alone. It was a pleasantly brisk day. I got to sit alone and breathe river air and look at lots of sights. I even discovered a brand of chips that I like -- Estrella. A European make, I imagine.

Last night -- I remembered -- John and I had decided not to visist the Bely Dom at night, even thoguh I read that it's spectacularly lit up then. We'd already seen it, not knowing what it was, whilst searching for a bokostore on the previous day. See, the White House was the scene of one of Yeltsin's coups. He shot at the building! From a tank! I think. Anyway, that's partly what reminded me of the Crichton Travels chapter on missing what's right under your nose.

I'm sure that there's some continuity between the old Russian tradition of making icons of Christ and the Lenin fetish in Communist art. Lenin as saviour! And over the weekend I mused that perhaps the Lost Seventh Case (the vocative) in the Russian language disappeared because Stalin didn't like it. (You stll hear the vocative in old constructions, often referring to God. "Bozhe moy!" --My God! Curiously enough, in Fonetika before we left for Moscow, we saw in our old Soviet textbooks that only four examples of the "soft g" were given, omitting the fifth, "Bog" -- God.)

I had thought of the Stalin-didn't-like-the-vocative thing whilst on the bus excursion on Saturday. We saw a Bog-awful statue of Peter the Great. It doesn't even have the virtue of being old -- it was commissioned in 1990. What a boondoggle! Some anarchists tried to blow it up recently. My sympathies for anarchism just went up a notch.

I'm sure you can find a picture yourself.

The hotel window opened out, and was big, and had no screen. We were on the 23rd floor. Easy opportunity for death! Katie is too well-adjusted to see how this is different fron everyday life -- she said, "Yuo have yuor life in your hands every moment of every day." Well, yes. But it just makes one pause to think, "It would take so little, right now. If I really wanted to die."

Note that I did not take the opportunity.

John isn't suicidal. As he said on Sunday, "I would not go on a Societ roller coaster for all the money in your pockets." (We saw one on the way to Gorky Park.) I also saw a Ferris [Bueller] Wheel. Whee!

I've mentioned the weird TV.

I'm reminded in this country of Neal Stephenson's remarks in In the Beginning Was the Command Line on the virtues of transparent failure.

It's overcast today. You wouldn't think it, but perfect boating weather -- for the sole passenger. I liked the lack of a tour guide, the solitude, the sitting.

I've been confusing "ruble" and "rupee" and inordinate amount. Well, it's about the same exchange rate!

I need to tell Lonely Planet and Rough Guide about cafes and such that no longer exist. For example, the netcafe "Chevignon" doesn't exist anymore. I was directed to "Nirvana" (ha ha) a number of blocks away.

I had dinner with Susanne. We met up, discvered that the restaurant where we had planned to eat didn't so much exist, and ate somewhere else, which was more than adequate. We saw/heard a verb that we were pretty sure didn't exist. I made a pun involving the word for "diverse," the word for "vegetables," and Izvestia ads saying "We Have Different Interests." We headed back to the dorm to go back to St. Petersburg.

I volunteered when I heard that someone had to be the only American in a coupe of three Russian strangers. I ended up with a Russian family that was very nice. A man, his wife, and their two children, one of whom was so small that she slept in the mommy's arms. I understood a great deal, and talked in Russian (the dad understood and spoke a wee bit o'English, the older daughter a bit more), and even made them laugh! I learned words for "sour" and "opposite" and got their address. During a mix-up with bedding, I got to say, "I only seem stupid. I'm not, really!"

Oh, and I got to use something from Oral Culture class -- dogs in Russia don't go "woof," but "gaf-gaf-gaf." When telling them my age, I told them that I often confused numbers such as "twelve," "nineteen," and "ninety" (they sound alike in Russian). They laughed at the thought that I might be ninety years old! And then I explained dog years, and said that if I were ninety, I wouldn't speak Russian or English, but only "gaf-gaf."

I thought of hijacking scenarioes when I woke up. But we got back to Piter fine. But then I had to go to class. Argh. Grr.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/18/7272/84743

: Hi, I'm fine, and back in Piter:

This is the "I'm alive, though my forehead is one large mass of bug bites" entry. I'm back in St. Petersburg, working on the Solovki Islands travelogue. John's diary of the trip will probably be updated much faster than mine, since he does macro/summary and I do micro/details.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/23/85021/1510

Some Solovki with your bits today?

Mon Jul 23rd, 2001 at 09:04:55 AM PST

I took a group excursion to the Solovki Isles in the White Sea, escaping St. Petersburg for the past few days. Here's the first part of my travelogue.

Wednesday: The Departure.
So, on Wednesday, we had no class, and -- unexpectedly -- I had not gone to a club the previous night with my tutor (she was too tired), so I got to wake up somewhat early and very bright to pack and do errands before getting on the train for the boat to the Solovki Islands in the White Sea.

Here's my list from that morning, slightly edited to take out really personal stuff.

And I had to change money via a traveler's check and do Internet stuff. (That was when I finished my Moscow travelogue, by the way.) I was able to leave my stuff at the university while doing most of the errands. I did not get to buy a hat or anything else I'd wanted in the way of traveling supplies, or find Gulag Archipelago at any bookstores. I only tried Dom Knigi ("house of books") on Nyevskii Prospekt, the big, well-located bookstore across from the Kazan Cathedral by the university. They're surprisingly low on English translations of Russian authors. All they had was August 1914 and a few Tolstoys, that I could see. I bought really cheap editions of The Great Gatsby (to reread) and a collection of Guy de Maupassant short stories to read for the first time.

While on the Internet and whilst packing, I found out that I'll be arriving in San Francisco, CA around 10:45 pm on August 7, via San Francisco International Airport, on SunCountry Flight #27 from Minneapolis/St. Paul. As a bit of a side note, if you'll be in the area, it would be great if I could arrange some sort of welcoming party at the gate.

When I came back to the university to pick up my stuff and head to the train station, I heard a discussion in progress among three of the four men in our twenty-person group of ACTR participants. It would seem that all of the men had to be in coupes with three unknown Russians each. The consensus (in male-banter manner) was that Gregg would be stuck with three large, hairy, male homosexual Russians, and Gregg declared, in typical profane Gregg manner, "As long as they don't have AIDS, I don't give a shit." (Gregg is John's roommate; they're the only two of twenty not in homestays with Russian families.)

People grabbed their stuff and left for the metro. Poor John had a really hard time with the crowds, cranky turnstiles, the heat, and a HUGE suitcase. We got to the train. Katie and I were in a coupe with a cute little boy of around maybe two years, his mother, and her mother. (The consensus, among those who would know -- namely John and me -- was that this kid was cute, but not nearly as cute as the girl playing with the bronze ducks in Moscow.)

The eighteen hours of train loomed in front of us as a void of pain. It was very, very, very hot and humid, and many of the windows opened little or not at all. As well, no one had a coupe composed of only Americans. Ergo, when we discovered that two of our happy band had only one coupe-mate, and he was away for most of the evening, that coupe became "the party coupe."

The "party coupe" was not just a nice place to socialize, in English, free of guilt at excluding Russians, although it was that. You see, during the Moscow trip, when other passengers in our group had discovered a lamentable lack of vodka with which to socialize, a number of them had vowed to correct the fault during the trip to Solovki. And so there was a great deal of sloshability, of booze, of drink, of alcohol, available to anyone who wished to partake, in the "party coupe." And in Russia the law says that the drinking age is 18 years old, and even that is not so much a limit, as drinking is so a part of the national culture that families teach their young'uns to drink, all together.

I wish that I'd written that long, rather impassioned entry before I left for Solovki, the one in which I described the various pressures I was feeling to change my beliefs, ideas, and behaviors regarding alcohol. But I didn't, so I'll just try to discuss it now.

I was in D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) back in elementary school, and fell for it hook, line, and sinker. (Hey, I won the class essay contest on "Why I Will Never Use Drugs" and I loved it, okay?) I even signed the little pledge to never use illegal drugs -- including alcohol, if I recall corerctly! And my parents don't drink and never have, and since I didn't have many friends of my own before college, in my younger days I didn't see many non-negative portrayals of alcohol use in real life. Only in the last few years have I come to see alcohol drinking, possibly, as a not-necessarily-evil thing. And even that wavers sometimes!

I mean, I don't come up against many huge ethical dilemmas in my life, I think. But the question of substance use makes me wax philosophical, at least privately. If Alice is tipsy, or even flat-out drunk, and she says or does something that she would not do if she were sober, then did Alice really do it? Generally, I believe that if people choose to ingest psychoactive substances, then they should be responsible for what they do under the influences of those substances. But what about opinions? And behaviors? If I ask Alice whether she loves Bob, or feels guilty about using Windows, and when sober whe says yes and when drunk she says no, or vice versa, then what does that really tell me?

I want to be in charge of myself. And I already second-guess myself all the time. I really didn't want to ever do anything that I would not choose to do if sober. So what, then, could be the appeal of alcohol? Differences in perception? But I wouldn't be able to explore those differences without taking some risks and behaving somewhat differently than I would if sober. What a mess.

I generally don't like to mess with my body. It's doing a fine job, on its own, taking care of my business. I generally stay away from caffeine, and don't smoke, and don't do any of the illegal drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana, MDMA), and try to eat and drink in a way that will keep my body slenderish and working well. And most of these precautions and preferences don't set me apart from my peers. Except drinking. Almost everyone my age drinks in the United States, I think, even if it's just one or two drinks a month. And, in Russia, not drinking alcohol sets one apart even more. I, the only vegetarian, the only nonwhite, the only one from UC Berkeley, the only one with less than two years of Russian classes under my belt, in these twenty ACTR St. Petersburg students, was also -- I'm pretty sure -- the only teetotaler when I arrived in Washington, D.C., six weeks ago for orientation.

But I was curious, and it's legal here, and I am with a bunch of people whom I trust not to take advantage of me when I'm vulnerable, and it was a safe environment, and Mom, Dad, I know you won't like this, but I tried drinking alcohol. And I didn't do it to rebel against you, to make you mad or to dash your hopes or anything. I did it to ... well, I'm trying to figure out why I did it, just as I was trying to figure out whether to do it.

Note that all of my previous tiny excursions into trying alcohol were Russian-related and had absolutely no effect on my state of mind.

  1. A year ago, back in the States, on a field trip into the Little Moscow in San Francisco, I drank some kvas at a Russian restaurant. Kvas is a fermented black bread beverage that is -- so I'm told -- an acquired taste. Well, the food was kind of unpleasant, but not nearly so much as the kvas. After a longish car ride home, I threw up. I'm not sure to what I should ascribe the vomiting.
  2. I went to Cafe Idiot almost exactly a month ago. I wrote about it in my K5 diary. Basically, I was with four friends, and everyone gets a free shot of vodka with dinner, and I tried about three drops of it, and it tasted vile and reminded me of a dentist's office and affected my consciousness almost none.
  3. At my homestay, about three weeks ago, I had a sociable dinner with Vera (my homestay mother) and two of her friends. They accepted that I don't drink, but they were drinking, and I decided to try some. I had, on a full stomach, a shot of vodka. I felt nothing in my head, only a burning warmth spreading down my gullet.
  4. Also at my homestay, about three or so days before I left St. Petersburg, there was a little party going on when I arrived home around midnight. I was already tired and my Russian skills were already slightly worse for wear that night. I didn't know the people, they all spoke at the same time, they had already been drinking, and one of them kept trying to speak to me in bad English -- to translate, helpfully, I suppose. So it was already hard for me to understand what they were saying and what was going on (besides the obvious obligation to eat, drink, be merry, and eventualy sleep). I was offered a small glass of "champagne cognac" with which to make toasts and join in the general festivities. I drank most of this very small glass during the course of eating a big dinner -- that took about an hour, I think. I remained confused.

John, who is not opposed to drinking, has had many conversations with me on the subject. He and I have noted a problem somewhat related to my last experience there. I'm already honest (read: uninhibited), extroverted (read: loud), and not completely graceful (read: clumsy). He imagined that I would not change that much, under a mild tipsiness.

Well, I decided to try to find out. I grabbed a plastic cup, and over a few hours, I drank about four servings of vodka, some with pineapple juice and some without, in the convivial atmosphere of a crowded train compartment.

Quotes from the evening include:
"It has been requested that you walk like an Egyptian."
"This is an epistemological problem." "If you can still say 'epistemological'..."

Here are my notes from the epedition into haziness. Actually, it wasn't that hazy. It just felt -- in retrospect, it just felt like a slight exaggeration of my normal clumsiness when tired and trying to maneuver in close quarters whilst on board a rocking (not rockin') Russian train. But, in any case, here are my notes:

So I'm drinking for the first time. Vodka, usually with pineapple juice. After a few drinks, my quick-vision-switching seems somewhat affected, and moving around (getting up, walking) seems different. But inhibitions seem intact, as does fine motor control (I reached into my $ [shorthand for "money"] belt to get this pen & notebook), and hand-eye coordination. Kyem [circled]. Our stop. [Jon Stone, our Resident Director, told us that the town of Kyem -- the name of which which I wrote in Russian -- was the stop where we would have to exit the train the next morning, to catch the boat to Solovki.]

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/23/12455/1352
Filed under:

: Construction:

I'm listening to National Public Radio right now. It's a story about Dmitry Sklyarov. Wow, I didn't know how much I missed Bob Edwards's voice until just now.

"Construction" refers to Nyevskii Prospekt, which is -- by far -- the road here in St. Petersburg upon which I walk the most. There's a bunch of construction going on along both sides. Sidewalks are appearing, slowly, and every day it seems that there are more and more square feet of concrete upon which I may walk. It's an unusual, always surprising feeling to have the luxury of space where before I had to scruffle around Russian crowds. And the relatively steady pace of the construction gives me optimism about this country.

Did anyone else's family ever tell them to "act your age, not your shoe size"?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/24/91538/3717

: Chto-ever!:

Dmitry Sklyarov news has been rather hard to find on the morning news program "Vesti" for the past two days. Blah blah blah, earthquake in Pakistan, raising of the Kursk, Macedonia riots. Tell me about Dmitry! Maybe I need to venture into the world of newspapers, which are much harder to comprehend, what with the lack of pretty pictures.

The title takes the word for "what" and tries to go "Clueless" with it. I tried and it didn't work, back on the train here to St. Petersburg, a few days back. I'm still working on my Solovki travelogue.

I finally saw some proof of Linuxness the other day -- for the first time that I can recall, I saw a fella walking along Nyevskii Prospekt in a shirt with a penguin and a SUSE logo on it.

I've seen some people who, just physically, remind me of my friends back in the US, especially Seth, Darin, Alexei, and Ed Cruz, the brother of my friend Ana. A picture on some ad on a banner near my metro station has this character who looks like a demoniac Ed Cruz. It's rather disturbing. As well, about a week ago, I swore I saw Ann, my old Russian teacher, in the stairwell at the university...but it wasn't her. At least there would have been some rhyme and/or reason to her presence, as opposed to, say, Ed Cruz's. He's an English teacher at a high school back in Stockton.

I had a conversation with John the other day in which he had the gall to call me relatively well-adjusted. Apparently, he knows a demographic that is wildly more mentally off-balance than I am, back in the United States. If I've had well-meaning and intelligent parents, and two or more cultures battling it out for my soul, and a heck of a lot of moving-around and introspection, I mean, sure, maybe I have forced myself to become a little clearheaded, but I think too much to be contented. Voltaire wrote quite a bit about this, especially in Candide and in a short story about the Hindu priest wracked with doubt and his ignorant, contented washerwoman. Can't recall the name.

I still haven't recovered from being told by my family all the time, during the vast part of my life before college, that I was the bookish intelligent one (as opposed to my "smart," social sister) and that I had no common sense. Certainly I am incredibly sensitive now whenever I feel that I've "done the wrong thing," broken some protocol that I didn't know about. There are thousands of rituals -- say, camping, and dealing with pets -- that most Americans my age just know because their friends and families helped socialize them, and sometimes I feel as though I'll never catch up. Being a person is a skill, like Russian or judo or sewing or swimming, and I don't expect to routinize it any time soon.

Perhaps more pleasant topics are in order.

My family had a little saying, when I was younger. "Act your age, not your shoe size." Did anyone else's family say that, too?

It was amazing, the first day back from the Solovki Islands, because I could wear t-shirts and pants/shorts that exposed skin without feeling vulnerable to some raging menace of biting insects. The mosquito bites still itch. Yes, Mom, I'm using lotion and so on.

Yesterday in Russian Press class, after we discussed the Solovki trip and I found that the teacher had heard nothing about Sklyarov, we attempted to learn about the history of Yugoslavia. This reminded me of last year's US Presidential debates, in which then-Vice President Gore made a funny face and used an odd voice to say that the Balkans are "where World War One STAR-ted." If you recall those debates, you may also have independently arrived at my witticism that Gore's main point, in the first debate, was that he would put the wealthiest one percent in a lockbox. I'm still laughing at that now.

Did you know that there is some language indigenous to the Balkans -- perhaps Serbo-Croation? -- in which not only is there a singular and plural, but a DOUBLE tense? Yes! It does happen a little bit in Russian that one must decline something differently, sometimes, if one mentions two of something. But in this language, always! One, two, many. Imagine if it were even worse! Imagine single, double, triple, plural! That would be the anti-Esperanto, I guess. Sort of a human INTERCAL?

In reading news, I finished the book of Guy de Maupassant short stories. Earlier, I had finished The Great Gatsby (which strongly reminded me of Mr. Hatch and eleventh-grade English class, in which I first read the book) and Lady Chatterley's Lover. I'll be talking about Fitzgerald and Lawrence in my Real Soon Now Solovki travlogue.

My sister will be glad to note that I no longer find Dave my favorite movie. I'm getting too old for that particular work of fantasy. Perhaps what I used to find harmless fantasy I now think of as searingly bitter.

My host mother, Vera, is very good to me. And she's very glad that I take an interest in the Blockade of Leningrad that occurred during the Second World War, or, if you prefer, the Great Patriotic War for the Fatherland. I've been to the mass-graves cemetery, I've borrowed her copy of The Nine Hundred Days and read it, I've heard her mention the people who left from her apartment and apartment building for the war and never came back. She believes that I don't really need to go on the Blockade Museum excursion this Saturday. Maybe I'll ask my Resident Director to excuse me from the outing on the excuse that I've been there, done that, got the despair.

Which reminds me: "I went to a real Russian banya [bathhouse] and all I took off was this lousy t-shirt."

The trains I've been on recently, and the metro, remind me of the film Save the Last Dance and one of its few less predictable motifs, which was the association of train wheels with a sense of inevitable tragedy. But then this morning I saw a Starburst ad featuring the Russian metro (the Moscow and Piter ones look the same to the extent featured in the commercial) and that was incongruous, and perhaps tragic in a different way. I'd like my Old World Charm with All the Amenities of Home, please -- Cosmopolitan with Character. I don't want to see Starburst ads in St. Petersburg! I paid thousands of dollars to come to Russia! The nagging inauthenticity of my experience, brought on by this double-edged sword of globalization, moves me to be a MixMaster of Metaphor and get all Gatsby-esque, pouring my hopes and passions into yearning for some purity that never was.

I'm going to go see where Pavlov worked now.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/25/71649/3306

: I only want to find the statue of the dog!:

Yesterday I went and saw where Pavlov worked, here in St. Petersburg. It was pretty funny.

So I searched for No. 12, Akademika Pavlova, near the Petrogradskaya metro station. On the way, I found out that paprika Pringles are not that bad. Hey, a small canister was only twenty rubles at a metro kiosk.

I walked a heck of a long ways to cross a river and Professor Popov Street (really) before getting to Ulitsa Akademika Pavlova. The various Institutes of physiology and experimental medicine are still there. No. 13 has -- no kidding -- a Xerox Service Center. The guys lounging around outside were audibly wondering why I was taking a picture of that sign.

So I sort of snuck through the gate to No. 12. I had read in my Rough Giude that Pavlov had erected a statue of a dog "in the institute's forecourt." I wanted to see it. I took a picture of an actual dog near the sentry's post. I saw a row of busts. Descartes, Pasteur, Pavlov...where's the dog?! I took a picture of a doorbell. I asked a random person if he knew where the statue of the dog was. No luck.

The sentry saw me, called out to me, and rather kindly if gruffly asked me to explain what I wanted. I stammered out, in Russian, that "I only want to find the statue of the dog." He, along with the first fella I'd asked (who had seen it and kindly returned) directed me to the statue. The sentry also told me to return (to the entrance and, presumably, to leave) as soon as I'd finished with the statue. I did.

That was a wee bit scary.

I also "saw" a play based on Gogol's short story "Vii." I say "saw" because -- as invariably with Russian-language theater -- I slept through a good deal of the first hour. From what I could tell, the production alternated broad physical comedy (with a bit of sexual suggestion) with scenes REALLY WEIRD special effects stuff involving silver confetti, black sheets, wind, smoke, and a woman wearing diaphanous white gowns and really disturbing catlike makeup. Very "huh?" - perhaps even to the Russian speakers in the audience.

On the metro on the way home from the play, I saw a woman reading a book. Not unusual. The title made me do a double-take, though. I could tell at first that it was

Skoraya [something in a different, harder-to-read typeface] Pomosh
which means "Ambulance [something] Service." In fact, I have a flashcard I made specifically to learn that phrase. I figured it might come in useful. And, indeed, I could make out some odd scene involving an ambulance on the front cover of the book.

When I looked harder and tried to make out the middle word, I saw "Kriminalnaya." Criminal Ambulance Service?! For criminals? Of criminals? By criminals? My head spun. It felt all Tonight's Episode-y! It must be, I could have concluded, one of the thousands of cheap crime thrillers that flood metro station book kiosks.

But then I read more carefully and saw that the word in the middle was "Kulinarnaya." Sort of Cooking First Aid, then. Silly me.

When I came home, there was some sort of little party going on. Two Americans (me and one other student, sort of) and a bunch of Russians. (The American and I almost never spoke English. Hurrah for etiquette.)

And, now that my host mother knows I've tried drinking, I've given up the "I never drink" excuse, which I now realize was very handy in the face of Russian hospitality. I only drank a tiny bit of what I was poured, which was some sort of "almost no alcohol" (I was assured by Russians) amber-colored wine. Now that I've tried The Alcohol Experience a few times -- not thoroughly, by any standard -- I realize quite empirically what I predicted years ago. I really don't like blurring my senses, and I really don't like second-guessing my decisions, actions, and feelings because I'm Under the Influence. I'm pretty sure I'll avoid most psychoactive drugs for the near future.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/26/9249/38292

: Cheap, Tasty, or Blessed: Pick Two.:

One brand of mineral water available here in Russia is -- it says right here on the bottle -- blessed by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. (When John discovered this, he said, "I hope that's not how they get rid of the giardia.") It's pretty cheap, although Erin (classmate) says that she doesn't much like the taste. How demanding!

Today, homesickness, resemblances, reading material, and conspiracy theory.

On Tuesday night, I forgot to mention, Krista came over for dinner. She's another girl in the group of ACTR Summer-in-St. Petersburg participants. We had some really nice conversation about a wide range of topics. (Me and Krista on Russian TV news and anchors: "Do you ever get the sense that Russian news shows aren't quite as, you know, professional, as in the US?" "He's no Tom Brokaw.") And I was rather embarrassed that her Russian comprehension, with regards to my host mother, seemed better than mine, even though I'm in a "better" group than she in our classes at the university!

As I walked her back to the metro station, I stopped dead in my tracks. Hindi music! And it stopped, and then started again. Yes, a parked car was emitting Hindi film music, which I had not heard in any form for ages. I had to stop for a moment just to listen. (No, I don't know Hindi, but you don't need to understand Hindi to understand anything about Hindi films. Love, songs, dance, women in white under waterfalls.)

Maybe that was the first moment I realized that I was homesick.


Yeah, I have the blues. The postcommunist blues. The St. Petersburg, Leningrad, Petrograd blues. I have the too-long-been-a-tourist blues, the language breakdown blues, the cliche blues, the royal blues.

I've got the blues! The friend-losing blues, the Grand Hotel blues, the another-day-another-29.15-rubles blues.

Oh, yes, I've got the blues. The blues! The lock-on-the-backpack-on-the-subway, spare-change, television-shows-that-don't-start-on-the-hour-and-half-hour, stupid-feeling blues.


I find myself singing all sorts of nonsense, in the shower, on the street, between classes. It runs the gamut from Moxy Früvous to "Dixie."

And she's watchin' him with those eyes
And she's lovin' him with that body, I just know it
And he's holdin' her in his arms, late late at night
Y'know, I wish that I had Jesse's girl
I wish that I had Jesse's girl
Where can I find a woman like that?

And this morning on the bus I saw a fella who looked just like Lenin.

And when we passed a plaque of good old Vladimir Ilyich it was even more obvious.

And I'm reading -- or starting to -- Guns, Germs, and Steel, just to take my mind off it all.

And I wish I had the power of having nothing to hide.

Did you know that in Russia, it's bad luck to give, say, knives or handkerchiefs as gifts (because they have to do with, respectively, cutting and crying), so people give, instead, money earmarked for those items?

Today in Grammar, the teacher got a bit caught on some obscure point of, well, grammar. It involved collective v. cardinal v. ordinal numbers, and the fact that if you're referring to 1, 2, 3, or 4 people you use chilovyek but for more than that (usually) liudey. We saw an example that seemed to break this rule. As she tried to figure it out, I briefly entertained the fantasy that what we're learning is some impossibly complex fake Russian, with four extra cases and all sorts of gratuitous rules. When we're not looking, maybe Russians only use the accusative and the nominative, and they use liudey all the time, no matter what the number, and they're just putting us through this for spite at losing the Cold War! And now, revenge! Bwahahahaha!!!

But eventually we got an explanation and I reassured myself -- mostly -- that we're learning real Russian, and not some ginned-up facsimile thereof.

And today was the last Phonetics class. (Or, as I like to call it, "The Weakest Link.") Thank the Maker.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/27/84638/3955

: The Return of the Native Speaker:

First of all, this Modern Humorist story made me laugh a great deal, and I'm quite grateful.

Second of all, I saw a Britney Spears matryoshki doll today. No, not kidding. It was inevitable, I see now, but Greek tragedy isn't less tragic for its inevitability.

In today's first entry, I hope to cover My Second Boatride Through the Canals of St. Petersburg, My First Bar, My First Club, My First Beer, and lots of other observations from last night.

First, Galen, Katie's old friend from Reed, invited all the ACTRers on this boating excursion with a bunch of Russians who are trying to learn English. We had an excuse to speak ONLY ENGLISH and not feel guilty about it! A number of us (including John, who has new pictures up) jumped at this opportunity.

So last night was this boat tour through the Piter canals. No guide, thank goodness. Just free, awful (or so I'm told by people who know better than me) beer, really stilted conversation, and song. Yes, song. Some of our little exercises involved such classics as Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much." Of course, the first group song was "Yesterday" by the Beatles. That was hilarious. Oh, and sandwiched in the middle was this song that sounded too stupid even for kindergarteners (but then again, my standards are pre-Barney):

Hello, hello, it's nice to meet you
Goodbye, goodbye, it's time to go
Hello, hello, it's nice to meet you
Goodbye, goodbye, it's time to go
and continuing in that vein. Musta been for non-native speakers.

More conversation from the boatride, regarding a guy who looked like a stereotypical geek:

"He uses Windows." "To hell with him."

After the boat and an inordinate amount of photo-taking by Russians, a group of Americans ended up walking way too far to go to a Georgian cafe. Almost everything we wanted from the menu didn't really exist once we asked the waitress about it. "Oh, tonight we don't have that. No, none of that, either." I couldn't even get the canonical Georgian vegetarian bean dish, lobio. Two people ordered Cokes; one got The Last Coke in the cafe, and the other just drank from my liter-and-a-half of Blessed Spring Water. (The Last Coke reminds me of "Kto poslednii?", which means "Who's last [in line]?" and is the standard phrase when you enter a nebulous line situation in a store in Russia. I imagine that Kto poslednii...ymerit'?! would be the translation for "Who's last...to die?!")

Conversation from the cafe:

"That's kind of judgmental of you." "I am judgmental. In fact, I'm Judgmental Judy."
[regarding the "iz" and "izn" convention in Ebonics, e.g., "house" --> "hizouse" or "hiznouse"] "Hey, the "izn" in Ebonics is kind of like diminuitives in Russian!"

It was around midnight (thanks to the slower-than-a-comatose-apparatchik service) when we got out of the cafe. Most people went home. I visited My First Bar, right next door, with Galen.

How do I explain this bar? It has character. Someone spent a LOT of time arranging the decor, what with papier-mache of sows and a "Titanik-2" and a Lenin and so on. It is also where middle-aged Russians evidently go to dance badly to "live" (synthesizer) music. And I danced. Goodness, I'm awful. I haven't tried to dance in any rhythmic/formal way since high school, three or four years ago. Maybe I should take a class.

Anyway, Galen and I then decided to visit a club. (Part of this was the "something to do until the metro opens again at 5:30 am" factor.) At first, it would have been Money Honey, but we decided on Club Havana instead, as it was closer. No difference to me. On the way to the club, we talked about our mutual friend Katie, Reed, and our respective experiences (or, in my case, lack of experience) with psychoactive substances.

The Havana Club. What's to say? It's a club. If you've been to clubs, you know, and if you haven't, you don't. It's impossible to hold a thoughtful conversation over the noise, it's hot and sweaty and everyone is more beautiful than you (especially since I was wearing my touristy "Moscow Metro Map" t-shirt and nonnice slacks), all drinks -- including bottled water -- are too small, the lighting tries to be psychedelic, the coat/bag check guy is gruff and won't break the language barrier first.

But there were lots of chairs, and I liked some of the music, and strobe lighting always inordinately pleases me. As well, there was pool. Galen and I watched a curious pair play a long match. One man danced -- even while shooting! -- to the reggae from the next room. ("This interpretation of 'Don't worry, be happy' is so angsty! As though he doesn't believe it! It's like he's quoting advice that someone else gave him, and that he shouldn't have followed!") He also seemed slightly off, in that mentally-impaired kind of way, and for some reason he got twice as many attempts at hitting a ball into a pocket as did the second guy, but at least you could tell what he was trying to do. He had a bit of strategy. The second, more gruff-looking fellow also danced a bit. He seemed a better player, but would alternate between very good shots and "what the hell was he trying to do there?" moments. He either had no strategy or some brilliant scheme that never quite jelled.

More about the rest of the evening later. I have to go grab dinner and then go to a birthday party. Happy dyen rozhdenia, Casey.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/28/113723/477

: Solovki, Part II.:

Here's the second part of my Solovki travelogue. This promises to be longish, overall, when done. Part I was here.

Thursday: We Arrive.
The next morning, I had no hangover that I could tell -- although the previous night, after about a drink and a half, I had experienced some small headache. Here are my notebook notes, slightly expanded, covering that morning's reflections on the previous night and its effects:

Thurs. Morning. Still on the train, konyeshna [of course]. "This is an epistemological problem." "If you can still say 'epistemological'..." [you're fine.] Last night, I couldn't remember, I think, the word 'experience' and the title Lord of the Flies. Question of fault: since I chose to drink, aren't I wholly responsible for all my behavior under the influence, including spilling apple juice on Carolyn?

And now, the handwriting comparison!...Yes, there seems to be a difference. But the train was moving...but that probably can't account for the whole difference. The alcohol affected the form of my writing -- but the content? How do I know whether it affected the way I think? I'm already, when sober, rather loud, clumsy, uninhibited, and rambling, right? Solutions: recording observations of the moment, and asking others' opinions (during and after), and video/audio recording.

I also compared sober-and-train-moving handwriting with Wednesday-night-train-moving handwriting. Very tough to figure out where the independent variables were.

Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I had some sort of dream in which I saw the Race For the Cure or some such marathon raising money to fight breast cancer, and I looked for Eve from InPassing.org.

For the first time in my life, I think, I peeled an orange completely without assistance from any other person. Yes, I used my Swiss Army knife (possibly for the first time ever) to make a prelimiary cut, but from there on out, it was all me. I ate almost the whole thing. I was quite proud. (The little Russian kid in our coupe ate quite a bit. He was quite an eater. His mom, and his nation, should be proud.)

I read some more D.H. Lawrence. Lady Chatterley's Lover is a very interesting book -- didactic, erotic, very character-centered.

It was still very, very, very hot and humid on the train.

Me: We've got about an hour left.
John: Yeah, only an hour left of this crap.
Me: C'mon, we're bonding.
John: We're bonding because we're sticky!

That, of course, reminds me that John's journal of those days, July 18-22, might be of interest to those who wish a different perspective. As well, he has pictures.

We arrived at some coastal town, and took a bus to the dock, where, ti turned out, the lateness of our train meant that we would have to wait a number of hours for The Boat. (The number of hours that we'd have to wait sort of lengthened as time passed. I think we eventually ended up spending something like six hours on that rather rotty-looking pier.)

We conversed with an Ukraninan girl who spoke English with a British accent, and I discovered that I Can't Stop Using American Idioms. It seemed as though ever sentence I spoke in front of this poor non-native speaker contained some saying like "throw me into the deep end" or something. I felt pretty bad, especially since most of the Russian speakers who have had conversations with me have seemed successful in remaining idiom-free. I know I usually try to keep my speech colorful and vivid, but I felt bad that I couldn't speak clearly and simply when I wanted/needed to. OK, Mom, you're right. I should try and speak simply sometimes.

Oh, and Katy's long hair made her look a little like Venus in Botticeli's painting. And there was a moment when Rasa very kindly and very gently and diplomatically asked me to shut up. (pout) Yes, yes, I talk a lot. It's not as bad as it used to be, okay?

The four-hour boat ride was a relief, post-train. I read more D.H. Lawrence and slept a bit.

We got to the main island on Thursday evening. Immediately we spotted a bus -- hard to miss its plumage. I dubbed it The Beatles Bus. Its colorful paint scheme, in addition to the quickly-apparent engine problems, led me to analogize it with THE GRACE OF GOD from Cryptonomicon.

We drove through the island to the tourist complex. The islands have been a monastery and a Stalinist gulag. But that didn't seem to make much difference to the kids playing soccer under a gorgeous sky, to the forests and lakes and rivers, to the small-town denizens who sat on stoops under street name signs that are faded and unreadable and have been redone with different names at least twice. No one much cares -- they know where everything is. Do they care about the things the tourists come to see? Why did we come here?

My philosophizing didn't stop at dinner. After choosing roomies -- John got stuck with Jon Stone, our Fearless Leader (Resident Director) and putting stuff in our cottages (where Katy and I laughed and laughed and laughed at the pitcher that said "MILK" on one side and had a picture of a cow's teats spraying, presumably, lines of milk on the other), we ate dinner in The Restaurant in the Tourist Complex. The two vegetarians sat together -- that is, me and Anatolik, the helper for our guide (excursavod), Sergei. Not only was dinner surprisingly good, but Anatolik and I conversed -- almost all in Russian! He's been to India, it turns out, and Gets It regarding the spiritual atmosphere that completely suffuses some parts of it.

And then, that night, I discovered a chance and took it, as did many other people in our group. The tourist complex had an authentic, functioning banya, or Russian bathhouse. We went that night. I made a crack about Dyada Banya, punning Chekhov's title Dyada Vanya (Uncle Vanya), but, as usual, most ignored me.

The banya was really quite fun. I prefer for people not to be uptight and Victorian about nudity and so on. (I wonder sometimes, in that respect and others, about the real, fundamental differences between Russia and the US, or "Tennessee v. Solovki.") I now have very vivid memories of the following:

That night I used the Swiss Army knife to open a mosquito-repellent fumigator packet. Have I mentioned the mosquitoes? They're everywhere. It's The Birds in miniature -- a koshmar komarov (nightmare of mosquitoes). At some point during the weekend, I joked with John that the mosquitoes would steal his OFF! and reverse-engineer it. To his discredit, he did not make a DMCA joke. Of course, at that point we hadn't known about Dmitri Sklyarov (Free Sklyarov! Osovobodim Dmitriya!), so it might not have seemed as urgent.

I arrived back home and saw Cara, Susanne, and Erin sitting on "my" bed and being companionable with Katy, who had her foot elevated. Also that night, I remember looking through the first aid kit with Katy, trying to figure out what was what. ("Is this morphine? No, probably not.") Very little English there, so we had to look a lot of stuff up. Katy wished she had brought her more weighty dictionary, and said of the one that she had brought, "This dictionary is completely useless for Russian pharmaceuticals!" There was something called "brilliance of green" that came in a bluish bottle. There was something with belladonna and bicarbonate. I imagined it might try to combine the emetic powers of belladonna with the stomach-settling characteristics of bicarbonate of soda. But...why not just an antacid? In a nice, English-labeled package? And where was the sterile gauze?

But my most vivid memory of that night was the storm. It began while we were banya-ing. I decided to cut my experience short, since I didn't want to risk being in the lake whilst lightning was going on. (The ladder was metal.) As I dressed and ran home, the lightning and thunder got closer, and the rain began. I was already wet from the banya -- I hadn't dried off too thoroughly there. The sky is usually light around half-past midnight at this time of year, near the Arctic Circle, but it was darker because of the storm. I hadn't brought my glasses with me to the banya. Flashes of lightning, twilight, and a little ambient light from the tourist complex lit the dirt road that rose up through the drizzle. The lake was on my left, and beyond that the dark green forest.

And then I got home, and Katy asked me if I would go back and retrieve the soap and shampoo that she had left there when she had so unexpectedly left. And I ran there and back, as the sprinkle turned into rain and then into a summer storm. I got drenched! In three days, I had been drenched three times -- once at St. Isaac's Cathedral back in St. Petersburg, once in the banya, and once in this storm, which I later heard was the worst in three years. It continued until after we fell asleep.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/30/9240/79450

The Almost-Last Weekend in Piter...

Mon Jul 30th, 2001 at 06:28:33 AM PST

I'll diarize it soon, really I will. I had some great and very interesting experiences and I need to empty out more of my notebook. So, Real Soon Now. I promise.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/30/92833/2783

: Lenindependence Day in Less Than a Week:

Today, a bit about dreams and funny quotes from here in St. Petersburg. I leave on Sunday.

Yesterday: "That's a war bookstore." Okay, I'm not going to tell y'all why it's funny, but it is.

Last night I had a dream that reminded me of dreams that we've read about in Seth's diary. In fact, I remember thinking, within the dream, "I'm going to have to tell Seth about this dream!" I was at the U.S. Supreme Court. First I was in the "secret" meeting of the nine justices, and there was an African-American woman who arrived late. I was there, and surprised that I was there and that no one was kicking me out, and also that there was an African-American justice on the Supreme Court, since, as far as I could remember, there was no such person last time I checked. She was wearing a baseball cap. And some other justice was scolding her for being late.

Then I got in line to get tickets to view the "oral arguments," and I had forgotten my passport, so I had to show them my California "driver's license," which doesn't exist in real life. And for some reason it seemed that the arguments might not take place in the main chambers, but in some nearby church. What?!

But then I went into the main chambers, and bought a large blue rug to place on my seat. (I have no idea why.) There were many other rugs of some different hues, mostly blue and green, on nearby seats. And then some people were carrying a coffin down an aisle. I commented that it contained Justice, referring to the Court's decision on the 2000 Presidential election. And it turned out that one of the people carrying the coffin was John, and he dropped his end. That's all I remember.

Oh, and today, when I was playing Guess the Case! in Russian class, sort of trying out suffixes and case endings one after another, my Grammar/Russian Press teacher suggested that I was creating "Some new case in Russian, perhaps." That's it. I'm bringing back the vocative, the Lost Seventh Case!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/7/31/93214/9708

: I Love Dead People:

Possibly the most interesting and relaxing thing I've done here in Russia is spend lots and lots of time in cemeteries. Today was the last time, I'm pretty sure. I leave St. Petersburg in only four days or so. I already miss it.

Today I went to a cemetery in St. Petersburg where a lot of famous people are buried. I laid the Periodic Table of the Elements card that Steve gave me once on Mendeleev's grave. I also paid my respects to Popov, Pavlov, and Blok; couldn't find Turgenev, though I searched hard.

Earlier today was The Best Excursion Ever -- well, at least on this trip. Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was killed the first three times or so. The guide spoke slowly. There were wax statues that scared me a bit, and fake doors and secret corridors and stairways.

At the cemetery was a child's grave. Smaller than a bathroom sink. Near a tree.

Vasileva, Nina Vasilevna.


Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/1/102342/2525

: We'll Always Have Petrograd:

Wow, The Onion actually has some really funny headlines today. I won't spoil it by actually reading the stories, though.

About three days left in St. Petersburg.

I'm just falling further and further behind in telling you all about what's going on in my life. So here's the short version:

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/2/85640/42671

: I'm Alive and Missing Russia Already:

Today I went to Novgorod, basically an old city in Russia. It was founded more than a thousand years ago. And playing at the movie theater there: Moulin Rouge.

Tomorrow I leave St. Petersburg and begin the trip "home."

I'm going to miss a whole lot about Russia. Some of it will be the predictable stuff that I sort of already miss. Vera, my host mom. The mental workout I get every day from just existing where I'm learning the language. The hospitality and the cheap cost of living and the ice cream vendors.

I wonder what else I'll miss, that I haven't thought of already. The fact is that, even though I've been studying here, in many respects this is the first long vacation I've taken in a while. And I feel as though it's the first time I've ever taken a vacation somewhat independently. I'd forgotten that you need to carve out time for relaxation, and for joy. How odd is it that Bakersfield and Russia helped me remember?

I felt really, really appreciated -- I don't know whether this is pathetic or not -- when I got on the Net for the first time in days and saw that Leonard, Steve, and Seth had all mentioned in their diaries that they're looking forward to seeing me again. I know other people are, too -- e.g., my parents and sister, and other people who don't have weblogs that I read. But it's certainly nice that every one of the three weblogs I read today mentioned my return as some anticipated event. I sort of don't want to read Kausfiles or Joel On Software now, for fear of ruining my streak.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/4/131636/3649

: I can't believe I'm not staying:

And yet, I Can't Stop Leaving St. Petersburg!

I hit Frankfurt tonight, then leave there the next day and arrive in Washington, D.C. on Monday afternoon local time. Then I leave D.C. on Tuesday morning for a trip to SFO via Minneapolis. I'll be in SF late Tuesday night. I shouldn't have left War and Peace out of my bags and given it to my host mom to ship to me, should I?

See you all on the other side of the old Iron Curtain.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/5/73531/23933
Filed under:

: From Piter to Frankfurt to Here to SFO:

I'm in D.C., and I'm about to leave for Minneapolis and subsequently SFO. I'll be glad to see the people who are meeting me at the gate -- right now, as far as I know, that's my family, Steve, Leonard, and Camille. See you all in about eleven hours!

And yes, I'm glad to be back in the USA, although it's unnerving to be ONLY speaking and hearing and seeing English everywhere. I think a little in Russian now. I'm glad I went.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/7/14426/41819

To SFO from Pitr

Tue Aug 7th, 2001 at 11:44:14 AM PST

I'm in D.C., and I'm about to leave for Minneapolis and subsequently SFO. I'll be glad to see the people who are meeting me at the gate -- right now, as far as I know, that's my family, Steve, Leonard, and Camille. See you all in about eleven hours!

And yes, I'm glad to be back in the USA, although it's unnerving to be ONLY speaking and hearing and seeing English everywhere. I think a little in Russian now. I'm glad I went.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/7/144414/2352

: Back in Berkeley:

Hi there, all. I'm experiencing reverse culture shock here in the US. Everyone speaks English! (Well, not really.) The PA system folks at airports speak English as though they were native speakers! (Well, most of them are.) I'm listening to Naif -- one of the Russian CDs I bought. I need to keep in touch with the language if I don't want to lose it.

Here in Berkeley till Sunday, then a week in Stockton.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/8/12549/31861

: Resocialization:

Reverse culture shock feels a little harder than the culture shock of going to Russia. There were no orientations for the return.

All the signs are in English. Everyone speaks English. Well, almost everyone. I no longer know, personally, all the English speakers in a hundred-meter radius. And people are so loud and open on buses and BART and they talk to you and make jokes even when they don't know you. And BART is so unnecessarily cushy and not-crowded, and cashiers find it unusual that you make an effort to give them exact change, and cashiers make conversation, and it's okay to walk down the street smiling and singing to myself.

Lots of things, such as transit systems and buildings, seem very new. Compared to construction in some parts of Russia, UC Berkeley construction either seems lightning-fast or crawlingly slow.

I'm listening to DDT, Disk II. It makes me feel more comfortable to have some Russian in my life. And I understand more than one might think, in the lyrics.

I really do like the familiar. I'm enjoying knowing where to go, and remembering the buildings and streets and smells. But I now know that I'm not beholden to the familiar. I enjoy the new, too. Maybe I've finally recovered from all that moving-around that my family did when I was a kid. Maybe I can actually deal with change now. Concept!

I've so far hung out some with Leonard and Steve and my sister. I hope to do more of all that, and also to hang out with Seth and Alexei soonish.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/9/125424/4722

: Wodehouse, Eco, party, transport, language, shopping:

Congratulations, Windows 98, for crashing and erasing my eloquence. Funny, isn't it, that this almost never happened in Russia, and yet as soon as I have to use my father's machine....but never mind.

My father was instigating a jolly good row with my mother, or trying to. He was accusing her -- stay with me, here -- of not defending him and telling me that he was "kidding" when he "joked" at me that he had stopped reading my diary, yes, this very diary, about halfway through my trip to Russia. I do believe that he did, as he claimed, all sorts of photocopying and file-fiddling to preserve my words for posterity. Whether he actually took the time and effort to try and READ those words of mine, I don't know. It would be quite like him to give up. Andyway, this eventually (how could it not?) grew into some accusation that my mother had failed to bring me up properly. And my father just watched nervously as I dealt with the aftermath of the crash, and pleaded with me, "Do not do any innovation on my computer." I didn't make the sort of jokes I'd like. I'm here for a week, you see.

In any case, I'm returning from an extremely enjoyable social period in the Bay Area. Rather a shock to the old system to come back to Tara from Berkeley.

Thursday during the day, I dragged holeburning about Berkeley as I did various errands. He was good enough to sit with me as I waited for something like an hour to speak with The counselor at Financial Aid. (It'll be quite a shock to get out in the Real World where you're not supposed to prove that you're destitute at every opportunity.) His quip in re: the Extreme Joyce Reading that was held around here a few weeks back: Portrait of the Artist as an Extremely Young Man!

As well, I comparison shopped (and saved!) for textbooks for this semester. It's been so long since I registered for classes that I had to derive/remember the topics from the lists of required readings. Evidently I'm taking fourth-semester Russian, a history of tsarist Russia, and some political science course about authority or something. Oh, and handball. No texts for that.

In any case, my comparison shopping, plus the generosity of Ned's Books, enabled me to shave enough off the prices such that the entire total came in to about $146, which just fit on the $150 in travelers' cheques left over from my Russia trip. Hooray! Or, in Russian, Oorah!

Oh, and I gave Steve a graduate degree in getting whupped at air hockey. I even shut him out once. I love feeling powerful. (Once, in Gostiny Dvor back in St. Petersburg, John absolutely schooled me at some nonstandard Russian air hockey. By the way, he has some new pictures and such up.)

Those were really the highlights of my errand excursion.

Thursday night, stretching into Friday morning, I hung out with Seth and met his flatmate, Zack. Aside from the fact that it's disorienting trying to think of Zack as a peer, since he's frickin' ten years older than me, it was quite pleasant. ("It's just hard to believe that someone whose favorite poem is "As I Heard the Learned Astronomer" writes techical documentation for a living.") Seth and I exchanged souvenirs (he got Mini Choco Leibniz, a two-disk Mandrake distro bought at a kiosk in Piter, and a Yuri Gagarin poster, and I got Free Dmitry-type and DefCon paraphernalia), Zack and Seth and I ate at a good Thai place, and the three of us engaged in a neck-and-shoulder massage free-for-all while Dar Williams and DDT played on the sound system and Seth translated Corinthians from Latin and Greek.

As for Friday and Saturday, it was a Leonard weekend. (Imitation Seth: "After I come home from a long, hard day of freeing Dmitry, I like to relax with a cold, refreshing brew.") The highlight of the weekend may have been the CollabNet company picnic. There were almost no mosquitoes! Oh, but you may not bring "modern recreational equipment" on the grounds of Ardenwood Historical Farms. ("How about a Frisbee made of stone?" "Discus, shotput, all the Olympian recreations are A-okay." "The ancient sport of lawn darts.") We played bad badminton (borrowing the institutional equipment, of course), we ate surprisingly good picnic food, social banter occurred, I got "Free Dmitry" painted on my face and evangelized to the staff of the grounds, I met a number of CollabNet employees for the first time, and I re-met Brian Behlendorf (he gave us a ride, since BART was down for the count on Saturday morning. That would never happen in Russia!).

The only other time I met Mr. Behlendorf was also the first time I met Leonard. It was back in January, when I ventured over to the CollabNet offices with a prof of mine to interview some people for a research project. It must have been a Wednesday -- Leonard only met me after his yoga class.

On the BART, after a PA announcement: "It's a good thing I know this is Ashby, because otherwise I'd think this was Aaaihywah Station." "Oh, that's cruel."

On the train on the way from Emeryville to Stockton, a man sat next to me who didn't speak much English, and I speak hardly any Spanish, which he spoke. One reason I couldn't remember the word for "Where," as in "Where are you going?" was that I was trying to remember a directional "where" (akin to kuda in Russian), as opposed to a locational "where" (like gde in Russian). I didn't know/remember that donde in Spanish, like "where" in English, covers both.

I finished A Wodehouse Bestiary and have begun The Name of the Rose. Rather slow going, what? Well, I did start it just before napping. And calming Russian choral music was on the boombox.

When my mom woke me up, not only did she startle me such that she felt the need to remind me, "It's okay, I'm your mom," but I also didn't know in which language to speak.

Oh, and recently I've had a dream or few dealing with Russia, and fellow students on the program, and partly in Russian. Just digestion, I guess.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/12/235647/216

: S-Town, B-Rown:

Er, that is to say, I'm in Stockton for a few more days, and I'm brown.

Trilingual hilarity from the Harihareswara household:
"What is the Russian for [Kannada for 'are you full?']?"
"Why would they say that? They just keep feeding you no matter what."

Talked to Vera, my old host mom, on the phone today. And my Russian is not completely shoddy. Yet. I really want to keep my Russian skills and improve them to (dare I hope?) fluency, since I'm beginning to realize that Russian could be my only really salable skill when I graduate in May.

Okay, I had no idea what people were talking about at the CollabNet picnic when they were talking about Star Wars and clones. Until I saw some offhanded mention at Nightlight Press. I must agree that "Attack of the Clones" sounds like a joke.

Had a driving lesson today. Want to get my license soon. I won't be driving with any frequency for a year, but it'll be good to have that particular skill under my belt.

Explaining to Mom what I like about Russia is sort of tough. I mean, I like it, in retrospect, that people don't make as much small talk with strangers in shops and buses and so on. I like the private-public distinction. But there's more that I have yet to tease out. I have to go back.

I'm working on finishing up Russia travelogues, e.g., Solovki Isles.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/13/19332/1485

Solovki, Part III ...?

Mon Aug 13th, 2001 at 06:53:20 PM PST

The third part, I think, of my travelog of the Solovki Islands in Russia. Parts I and II, if you please.

A note from the Wednesday night-Thursday morning train:

"So, what percentage of the $6,000 [the fee, paid in advance, for the summer program] do you think goes to bribes?"
"None; that's the problem."

Friday: The Monastery
I woke up and, insanely, wished that I had Pinkerdy with me. Pinkerdy is my primary stuffed animal and the only one who still lives with me in Berkeley.

Straight from the notebook:

Friday morning. 20 iulia 2001 g. [20 July 2001], I guess. Damn, a lot of mosquitoes out here by the lake! Not too near, but goodness! Aside from that, a cool, brisk, wonderful morning to walk in natural beauty.

It turned out that the cheesecloth and duct tape that many of us had brought were much more useful for bandaging Katie's foot than for keeping out mosquitoes.

We had an excursion to the monastery on the island. Women were supposed to wear skirts and cover their heads. My colorful head-scarf and flowery skirt led Anatolik to say that I looked like a "Typical Russian woman." Perhaps even a gypsy! But Anatolik was mostly kidding, he said.

I wonder why the Russian Orthodox Church rules that women must cover their heads and wear skirts for church?

I sort of listened to the droning guide. But my attention was more captivated by the man chopping wood in the grassy courtyard. He had a tremendous pile of uncut wood next to him. It looked like a backbreaking task, a penance for some unbelievable, Hawthornian sin.

The most moving moment was in a grand hall with vaulted arches for ceilings. I felt an intense sensation of holiness that reminded me of Hindu temples. My heart seemed to beat faster in this house of the Lord. Anatolik had the same look on his face as I did. It seemed like such a holy place, and the smell of oil lamps and candles seemed so familiar.

For some reason I remembered some morning I'd spent with Dan, early in May, I think. It had been before our finals had begun, or at least towards the end of the semester. He made pancakes, and microwaved some jelly to make syrup. We ate breakfast and watched some sort of home improvement show on TV and talked about what features an ideal house might have. Maybe it was all the renovation at This Old Monastery that reminded me of "The New Yankee Workshop" and "Home Again" and all those shows, and that Saturday morning in early summer on Parker Street. And I remembered the last few times I'd seen anyone cry.

The holy place reminded me of my father. I suddenly wanted to call Dad and check on his health. But making an international phone call from the Solovki Islands is not a trivial matter.

"This Old Monastery" also reminded me of The Blair Witch Project for some reason. Don't ask me.

(Did von Clausewitz say that "War is politics by other means," or vice versa?)

Whilst walking around the monastery:

Me: "What is that music?"
Casey: "That's discotheque, honey."
"Oh, God."
"You just said God's name in vain in a monastery."
"They're playing disco! That's worse!"

From the bell tower, one saw ten or twelve extremely alluring views of the countryside. Rural/Ural. These were the kinds of dizzily romantic, picture-perfect views that make someone want to throw away all the advantages of civilization to live The Simple Life. Much of the trip was, I now retrospectively realize, just a decompression from the hectic pace of St. Petersburg life. It just doesn't do to take the metro every day for a month without a break among "forests, trees, and rivers," to quote Yevgeny Yevtuschenko (from a completely different context, his poem "When First Your Face Came Rising").

In the monastery museum, I saw a photo of the monastery surrounded by snow. In the lower right quadrant of the picture lay a shadow -- that of the photographer.

I was late to the tourist complex and walked with the Russians instead of taking the bus along with the group. We Russians, er, we Russians and an American, were late because we bought souvenirs. I bought a cassette of choral music. The walk back was quite picturesque and pleasant, if I recall correctly, but it's been so long now that I don't trust myself to recall correctly. There were dips in the dirt road that we skirted because the previous night's rain had turned them into puddles. And the grass is always greener on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Anatolik complimented me on my appearance, and then denied that it was a compliment, claiming that it was only a description. Quite slick.

In the bus after lunch, we went rather quickly through a dip in the road -- the driver made up for each twenty-minute stall by going seventy miles an hour the rest of the time -- and Susanne hit her head rather hard. From what I could tell, she was lucky not to get a concussion. John was lucky, as were the rest of the people in the back bench seat. John just flew into Anatolik.

The bus took us to ... boats. About five people piled into each rowboat. I discovered that, though I stink to high heaven at actually rowing boats, I can steer! (The verb for "to steer" is rulit'.) In fact, the others in the boat actually complimented my steering ability. (Later, when I got back to the US and continued my automobile-driving lessons, I found that I'm much better at steering a rowboat rudder.)

By the way, various people were surprised that I can't swim. There was a different and partly overlapping set of people that was surprised that I can't ride a bike. But almost no one, I think, was shocked that I can't whistle. No one offered, in any case, to teach me to whistle, whereas I had offers galore to learn to bicycle and to swim.

In retrospect, it wasn't just a pleasant ride around canals and rivers and lakes. We actually arrived at some landing stage and then unexpectedly hiked for miles on this wooden path through the forest. (As in, one two-by-four after another, the skinny way.) The mosquitoes loved the fresh meat. They were, on his behalf, sucking out all the blood that Shylock wouldn't have been able to touch.

Our guide was the same person we'd had guide us through the monastery. (So there seemed to be one bus per island, and one guide per island. This paradigm also led me to joke during the trip, upon seeing some rather flirtatiously dressed woman, that she was the island's only whore, and that she was also the only cop, leading her to have to bribe or arrest herself -- doubly, since she was, in addition, the only pimp.) The Guide spoke English, we found out, especially when he led us through an impromptu course in Russian swearing. This began when one of our band exclaimed, regarding the mosquitoes, "Shit!" and our guide thoughtfully remarked, "Shit. Da." (A Russian curse word for "feces," he taught us, is blin. The mild and relatively inoffensive nature of this word was confirmed for me when I saw a birthday card, which I subsequently bought and gave to Casey on her birthday: Oi, blin! Opyat ya zabuil tvoi dyen rozhdenya! "Oh, crap! Again, I forgot your birthday!")

Katie's foot didn't much like the hike, and many of us grumbled on her behalf. In fact, I found myself developing a sympathy limp, to which John commented, "You'd better hope she never has a kid."

We saw many pretty views, and I smashed a bloodsucking insect and left a stain on my notebook page, and I'm sure we saw sites of historical and political importance, but at the end of the day -- literally -- it wasn't that fantastic a hike. What I really gained was an appreciation for the more annoying side of nature. As I wrote at the time, "What I'd give for DDT!"

We rowed back, of course. Sergei helped us somewhat, and discussion ensued, and and there was some disagreement over the number of relationships I can claim to be juggling. 3, or 2, or 1, perhaps. Well, it's even more complicated post-Russia, but that's the nature of things, no?

My boat only viewed this from afar -- mostly -- but there was a bit of a fight between two of the boats. Sure, my boat had participated in water fights with other boats -- that's how we lost one oar -- but we'd never graduated or stooped to the level of throwing moss. Carolyn, for one, scored two direct hits on Jon Stone. I saw one of them and it was a doozy. That high school shotput and discus really develops a girl's arms. When we all landed, Jon Stone charged over to the attacking boat and declared, "This is the Bad Boat! You don't get to talk to each other for the rest of the trip!" But he was laughing and everything turned out all camaraderie-like.

Before heading back to the bus, some of us took opportunities to buy foodstuffs at a kiosk -- a rarity on the Island of Three Stores (each of which is labelled something like Grocery # 2). I had no small bills, so I bought a lot to avoid being a troublemaker regarding change. I donated some water, juice, and chocolate to the kollektif.

On the bus, whilst stalled (of course):

Jon Stone: "They're fixing it."
Carolyn, laughing: "You said that with a straight face. Almost."

We had taken to calling the bus many things. The Beatles Bus, The Monkees Bus, the Partridge Family Bus, the Bus of Death, This F***ing Bus (latter two favored by John). I think the consensus view would later emerge that it was the Love Bus.

On the bus, whilst stalled again:
Jon Stone: "Tomorrow's bus excursion is to the highest point on the island." [followed by a bus full of prolonged, high laughter]

After dinner, I read from Lady Chatterley's Lover, though a lot of other people -- almost everyone, even Katie -- went to the banya. I did have a nice conversation with Joe, Gregg, Cara, and Erin. We discussed Jon Stone's merits and what it's legitimate to expect of an RD.

Me: "I don't want to buy into some false cult of authenticity that says, 'if you know what's happening next, it's not really Russia.'"
Me, to Joe and Gregg, regarding friends' names: "Bernadine?! And you make fun of Leonard?!"
Erin:"I love Sumana."

I went to sleep.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/13/215320/410

: Zhili Buili:

Hindi film, steering, reading, writhing, and arithmetic. Title from the intro to most Russian fairy tales, "Once there was..." (mutatis mutandis for gender and number, of course).

Lagaan. Today I finished watching Lagaan, also known as "Once Upon a Time In India." Almost four hours long, and yet only containing about five song-and-dance numbers! And -- my goodness, can this really be a Hindi film? -- the subtitles are excellent, and the songs seem to emerge naturally from plot and character!

Some neat British/Indian compare-and-contrast and fusion -- in fact, the only time you see some painfully stereotypical song scene, with a scantily-yet-traditionally-clad woman dancing about in some historical locale and wind machines running full tilt offscreen, just watch -- it turns out that she's white! That scene just jarred me, because it reminded me that certain film devices really feel more laughable to me when white people do them than when Indian people do them. Perhaps it's just habit.

Oh, a few quibbles. First of all, people don't learn Hindi in a day. My sister didn't, I wouldn't, and some random English woman wouldn't, even in India. Also, I would have enjoyed Lagaan better if I had more tolerance for film cliches and more knowledge of cricket. That is to say, I should be more like an average member of an average Indian audience. But, overall, I would actually pay to see this movie again, whereas I'm pretty sure I could take or leave, say, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, except for camp value.

Driving. Today I had another driving lesson. My U-turns are much less death-defying than they once were. Ditto for left turns, three-point turns, lane changes, and general maneuvering. I like learning this skill, although I also like that my intended lifestyle won't require me to use it much. I think public transit just suits me better.

Writing. I'm actually making some progress on finishing up Russia travelogues. For example, yesterday I posted a big chunk of my Solovki travelogue. As much as I dislike the boredom of Stockton life, and miss my friends, I must admit that I like the way material is flowing out of my notebook and into my diary, as opposed to just accumulating untranscribed in shorthand in my notebook.

Reading. I'm progressing in The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I must admit that the opening seemed pretentious and plotless. Pages and pages of mystical-leaning description isn't my bag. But stuff is sort of happening now. I'd finish the book even if it wasn't improving, just so I could be sure that every single person who raved to me about Eco was a loon. In any case, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis will be my reward for finishing Name of the Rose. At the moment, though virtue may be its own reward, finishing Name of the Rose might not be.

Of course, when I can't read my book, I chew Trident, er, flip through magazines such as Smithsonian and India Post.

Friends. Steve, thanks for the candy -- I'm still chomping away. Angel and I will have one of our far-too-infrequent summits soon, later this week. I'm seeing Alexei and Camille for the first time in months after I come back to the Bay Area this weekend, and I'm quite glad of that as well -- infrequent emails and weblog postings aren't enough. My sister is having various parties soon and I'll get to know more of her BILLION KAJILLION friends at said shindigs. Dan and I conversed a bit on the phone yesterday, and gave each other food for thought.

And here's a shout out to one other friend, who is having a rough time of it lately. I'll be the streetsweeper for your rained-on parade, old chum.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/15/03057/3136
Filed under:

: We Don't Except Checks:

"Gourmet soap" and "If you open it, you buy it. Don't get caught!" and "We Don't Except Checks": seen at Food King yesterday.

Drove with Mom for the first time and second time yesterday. She is willing to help me practice again: a good sign.

Today I saw Angel for the first time in months. We Did The Mall. That is, I actually said to my mother, for the first time ever, "Mom, we're going to the mall." After window-shopping (literally, in French, "window-licking"), we ate and lingered at the Food Court. We also toured Barnes and Noble, where I introduced her to Tonight's Episode. What, you'd like to hear some?

They're really much funnier when you pile them up like that. Until you get sick of them.

Oh, and the author of the play The Raisin in the Sun is Lorraine Hansberry, which I tried to remember while near an airport in Piter. Of course, I've forgotten something else rather memorable, namely, the gift I gave Katie on our last day in St. Petersburg.

Seen on the spines of mystery novels:
I Know my First Name is Steven by Mike Echols
Who Killed My Daughter? Lois Duncan

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/16/184546/293

Uncle Sam Wants YOU Not to Bike in the Mall

Thu Aug 16th, 2001 at 11:44:31 PM PST

You know, I'm really glad I don't use Windows and I don't go crazy installing new hardware or software that often. Right now I'm trying to be methodical about finding out why my father's computer won't recognize the driver that I've installed for his new scanner. But my life is more interesting than that right now -- no no, really.

Oi, oi, oi. Which sounds like "Today, today, today," in Spanish, Angel informed me today. (Which led to the decrees that words for "today," in any language, should be at least two syllabes, and "beer" three, unless there's a silent 'h' involved, and so on.)

Sad news. I've tried three different inanely obvious things, and still the computer doesn't recognize the scanner. Dumb machine! *kick*

Oh, and today my mother, for the first time in quite a while, again made an "if only you'd gone into engineering" remark. Because, after all, I have the mind for it. Mechanical fiddling is my strength, right? It's such a shame that I'm wasting it by not majoring in engineering. *gag* I had thought that she was over that!

And something's up with the Net. Dude, Where's My Google? And my ocf.berkeley.edu? (Or my.ocf.berkeley.edu ? Not that there is such an abomination.)

Okay, yob eto. Which is basically "screw it" in Russian, as far as I can tell from my miniscule Russian obscenities lexicon, and refers in this context to the scanner problem. I'm just going to take a deep breath and call the tech support line tomorrow, since I'll be home all day, and maybe they'll have an in as to why this connection seems so reluctant to occur. Maybe the Dell family and the Visioneer clan have some ancient feud that the Quick Installation Card didn't have room to explain.

Be. I read a blurb on the K5 front page that Be, Inc. went out of business, or will soon. Dan is one of the few Be users whom I know. I used the BeOS on his box a number of times and liked it quite a bit. A shame.

Weird mall signs. In one of the two malls in Stockton (they're right next to each other, on Pacific Lane, across from the community college), Angel and I happened across a sign on a bulletin board. It was directed towards people who ride bikes -- already, Angel points out, a mistake in medium choice, since if a person is riding a bike in a mall, will that person read, or even see, this sign? But, in any case. (My math and science teacher from seventh and eighth grade, Mr. King from Henderson School, said that all the time. It was the solid-state recording gag, even.)

So, in any case, this largish blue paper sign read ATTENTION BIKERS at the top. On the right side was a hand-drawn Uncle Sam-type figure, speaking via a speech balloon..."we want you to please stay off the ledges."

Verbatim from the sign:

Don't street ride. Take my word for it. I've went down that road before, and it lead to a dead end. Now that I know it's wrong, I'm trying to convince you to go in the right direction.

Uncle Sam was a street biker?

Happy news. I had an enlightening conversation with Angel, I had a terrific conversation with my sister, and I got fantastic emails from Leonard and Seth. As well, I found out that I can practice driving as long as some over-21 person with a license is in the car with me and can grab the wheel if necessary. (Before, I thought the age limit is 25 and over, but I discovered today that the 25-and-over restriction only applies if I'm under 18, which I'm not.) This expands the pool of "people brainwane can practice with" to include more of brainwane's friends. I win!

I'll go to sleep soon and try to dream of happy things, e.g., returning to Berkeley in less than 48 hours. Berkeley, where my strong will counts for something, a few people consistently consider me good-looking, and I have many friends, all of whom are far above average.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/17/24431/1246

: Finally:

My mom and I finally lost patience with each other while I was practicing driving -- during rush hour today.

I knew it had to happen sooner or later.

Back to Berkeley tomorrow, the sooner the better. I hope I have most of Sunday free. I think I do. I think I might go with my sister to Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park, but maybe not. Maybe just The Mall again.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/17/205338/377

: Terrific weekend:

I had a lot of fun. I went to my sister's party with Leonard and Camille and so many of my sister's friends. There was much eating and some mall shopping, and I watched "Black Adder" for the first time and MST3K for the third time or so. I ate strawberry shortcake, possibly for the first time ever.

I am SO GLAD that I'm not in Stockton anymore. I actually do fun stuff so I don't have time to write diary entries! School starts in a week.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/20/143751/131

Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit.

Mon Aug 20th, 2001 at 09:36:09 PM PST

I can't believe I lost a friend because I was slow to reestablish contact after I was away for a while. I procrastinated, not because I didn't want to do it, but because other stuff, some important and some not, kept coming up, and I'm lazy. I'm so sorry. Please realize that it was a mistake and that I wasn't trying to send a message.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/21/0369/32230

Good and bad, bad and good.

Mon Aug 20th, 2001 at 09:57:03 PM PST

Argh. Good: I got a bunch of sleep and did two or three errands today. I also drove on the highway (580 East) for an extended period, and went to the Livermore Temple.
Bad: I alienated a friend by being stupid and lazy.
Optimistic, hopeful spin: The wound was not fatal.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/21/0573/91750

: Notes on Neal and Jon:

Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is, or soon will be, an audiobook. The excerpt is worth a listen.

Dan on Slashdot, when I complained that "Stopping the 56K Hate" is almost Jon Katzian but not enough:" I don't really read slashdot anymore except for the headlines. Sometimes I don't even get all the way through the headline."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/21/15928/3100

: Indian Matroshki, Lenin, Ask the Rabbi:

At my aunt's house the other day, I saw various artifacts of various cultures and countries. The matroshka doll sort of disconcerted me. I'm not used to looking at that nested metaphor while hearing women chattering around me in Kannada, in a house where I can drink the water and speak English and ... and be my Indian or American self.

Uncollected thoughts from the past week or so follow.

Ask the Rabbi! There's a fellow, who claims to be an actual rabbi, who sits on Sproul with a sign that invites you to ask him a question. The Daily Californian, the Berkeley campus newspaper, interviewed him. Funny. The last Q&A is the best, as usual.

I'm imagining a New Yorker cartoon in which a preening rich type pulls up to the "Self-Serving" pump.

In Sproul Hall the other day, I saw a bust and immediately assumed that it was a bust of Lenin. It wasn't. It was Sproul. Later, I told my sister that I wished there were more statues of Lenin in Berkeley, to make me feel more at home. She disputed that I could have any claim on Russia as "home." Hmmm.

I think Lenin busts and statues would be perfectly appropriate in Berkeley.

"Words are the map; they are not the territory." So said John Chapman to us. He was a substitute and then a teacher at my high school. Maybe he still is. I hope so. He was one of the first libertarians I ever met, and arranged the Literary Outlaws Friday reading/discussion group.

It's really scary that I might be making all sorts of errors by using the wrong words for ideas and feelings! Muddled words might reflect and create muddled logic. And I wrote this down the day before I went to Seth's place and read half of "Existence and Uniqueness" -- a poem which addresses this issue, among others, in the realm of love.

Social life. So busy! Yesterday I had a very enjoyable lunch and bookstore wander with Steve. He pointed out a title of a discussion on problems in publicizing campus groups: "Dude, where's my flyer?" Note that this is an actual discussion that the Cal Alumni Association will hold on October 22.

Then I went and visited Seth in San Francisco. He helped me read his poetry, played "Are You Out There" by Dar Williams for me, and gave me his extra copy of "End of the Summer" by same. Not to mention that he surreptitiously paid for my cheap Mexican dinner ("I just got a job!") and discussed copyright law and Latin and relationships with me. A most enjoyable and satisfactory trip.

Later today, I'll eat lunch with my sister and hang out with Leonard. Later this week, a party. (I sort of wish my sister had a web page, for completeness's sake, at least within this diary entry.)

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/22/142527/237


Okay, I didn't mean for that to be all caps, but I'll leave it as is. I'll be glad that my guests will get to see a more sparkly apartment, but still, I hate cleaning. I need to figure out what food I need to buy. Maybe we already have everything I need for some sort of pasta salad. Or something Indian.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/23/171833/198

: Party and NonParty:

I'm in Stockton, Calif., now, which is this interesting contrast with Berkeley, Calif. In Berkeley, I host parties and actually enjoy them, since there are lots of interesting friends and acquaintances around, and I feel in-control. In Stockton, my parents host parties and I tire of the socialization after about three hours or less.

But I'm coming back tomorrow, and then my classes start. Hurrah. I think I start off with handball and Russian.

Why does SFGate's ePicks have the categories "Movies, Music, Theater, Art, Events, Lit, Queer"? (cue Sesame Street music) One of these things is not like the others...

My party on Thursday night was unexpectedly crowded, which was flattering, but I'm afraid my guests didn't have the time I'd hoped. I have a small apartment, so fissioning of guests doesn't work as well as it would if I had, say, a large kitchen and patio AND a living room conducive to separate conversations. I enjoyed the copyright law discussion, but I'm not sure everyone else did...

Errands. I'm doing some laundry right now and trying to keep the amount of clothing that I take back to Berkeley as low as possible. I'd prefer to take only the minimum and thus force myself to do laundry, say, every two weeks. That'll be more manageable.

I'm also listening to Moxy Früvous for the first time in three months. I missed you! I sang some Moxy songs on the boat back from the Solovki Islands to keep my mind off of my seasickness. Oh, yeah, rough seas -- that's what you call 'turbulence' when it's not in an airplane.

All the while I'm thinking about a story I'm going to write. This will be my first attempt at fiction in almost a year.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/25/21415/2194

: Cell Heck:

My parents made me get a cell phone. Now I'll be like half the people on the street, idiots who chatter away and forget that other people are around and completely obliterate the private/public distinction that makes life decent.

I met a cool Indian girl, found out that I can return one of the books for my Russian History class since I don't need it, and had three nonbad first classes of the semester.

I also updated my wishlist because my birthday's coming up and, if people are going to get me gifts, they may as well give me things I'll enjoy.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/27/2142/12076

The herd

Mon Aug 27th, 2001 at 07:13:33 PM PST

Today, on Sproul Plaza, at the University of California at Berkeley: "Republicans Register Here." Your call: so that they can form some sort of club, or just so we Berkeleyans can keep track of all of them?

And there's a newsreader on NPR named Laxmi Singh. She pronounces it "wrong," where "wrong" equals "Americanized" -- "Lacks-me," rather than the more properly Indian "Luck-shme."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/27/221333/415

: Seduction:

This technology of the cell phone is so seductive. It slithers into my life, whispering, "Use me! Use me! Rearrange your life to take advantage of me!" But I'm trying to keep my usage moderate. Minute restrictions and health scares help on that account. Also my dislike of looking like a dork. And trust me, even if every tenth person on the streets of Berkeley is holding a little phone as though it were a precious child, it's still dorky-looking. And handsfree units don't help.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/30/13459/2039

: Hardball and contradictions:

First, links. This page of thumbnail pictures really makes me nostalgic for Russia. This Page 2 Interview has better questions than answers. And it really reminded me of the IAQ feature over at Brunching Shuttlecocks.

More on handball (and hardball!), Cyrillic protocol, and a sight gag or two.

Sushi. I ate both lunch and dinner yesterday at Tako Sushi, a new, cheap sushi place on Telegraph between Durant and Channing. Lunch was under $3. I'm going to go there rather often, I think.

I had some green tea ice cream as I talked with the people next to me in the restaurant. Right after I had eaten it, as I was debating the merits of open source with one guy, I felt really jittery. I didn't realize that green tea ice cream had so much caffeine in it, and/or that I had so little tolerance for caffeine now that I've cut back so much. I don't even have the daily cup of tea that I had in Russia.

Handball. I'm improving and I really like the game. Last night I went to an 'open house' that the Women's team held, and got some pointers and drills. This game could be really hard on my joints, and the ball hit me a few times, and I was feeling the soreness in my muscles last night and this morning, but darn it, it's so satisfying to thwack that little thing! Perhaps someday I'll even be able to hit it as hard as the Women's team captain could, so that it makes a really interesting "thwing" sound when it hits the wall.

The West Wing. The new season premieres in three weeks. I saw a rerun last night with my sister, which was fun enough. I'm looking forward to the giant compare-and-contrast orgy that will sweep the Political Science department when the new episodes start. President Bartlet v. President Clinton: Liars? Personally despicable? Honest public servants? Discuss!

Cyrillic. Recently I've had a few incidents when I've read or listened to something in Russian and not even realized that it was Russian until afterwards. Very much like John's experience back in the Chinese restaurant in Moscow.

But more relevantly, I dislike the anti-Russian bias in old versions of sendmail that strip off the eighth bit in KOI8-R text such that it turns into almost-gibberish. I may be terrifically wrong, but I think that's what happened to some Russian spam that a friend forwarded to me, and that is now pretty much unreadable in any standard.

Sight gag. A girl got on the elevator in Barrows Hall, the Political Science/Ethnic Studies/Sociology/I don't know what-all building. She was wearing a shirt with a "NO NUCLEAR POWER"-type logo (a cooling tower with the big circle over it and line through the circle). And then she went up one floor.

If you don't want nuclear power stations built, shouldn't you reduce your demand for power by, say, using the stairs when you only have to go up one floor?

I realize that some extenuating circumstances applied, e.g., the elevator was already going up, she might have been in a hurry, &tc. But still. It provoked thought.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/30/133611/417

: Weekend Update Without Norm MacDonald:

I enjoy a long weekend of fun right now. I have been socializing with Zack, whom I know through Seth, and Leonard. I'm listening to Moxy Früvous's You Will Go to the Moon and loving it. My parents are about to come over and view Stomp (a musical/concert) with my sister and me. And K5 outages such as the one these past few days make me want to switch my diary to something I control more, such as my personal webspace.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/2/161558/3452

: Stomp! And Honey.:

My parents came by and my sister, parents, and I watched "Stomp", which was fun. I liked the effects of the lighting and choreography, which varied between references to tribal ritual and sort of Venetian-blind-neon-sign allusions.

The racial balance of the work bothered me. The performers were obviously making some jokes about the supposed lack of rhythm of whitefolk, and at their expense -- and, since the whole experience is a wordless celebration of rhythm, that's unsettling. The "dorky white guy with glasses" was sort of the underdog/star of the show -- all the other performers showed off how skilled they were, and he pretended (I'm guessing) to lack that facility. It was interesting to try and figure out how much was acting and how much wasn't, and to catch little grace notes and moments of pure artistry.

In other news, I had interesting and fruitful conversations with my sister, my parents, Dan, and Leonard. Oh. and at breakfast with my family, I made this involved joke about how the supposed medicinal properties of honey are made-up by the honey manufacturers, which don't let you know about the Dark Side of Honey. I was just joking. And they didn't really get it. Thank goodness for my friends.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/3/191315/1054

: Despair and Rejuvenation:

Today was a jobbe faire. How depressing. A political science major like myself has to basically sell on the points that aren't so strong, namely, "I know UNIX" and "I speak Russian." More info on being dissed by VeriSign below, along with sightings of celeb look-alikes and books.

I had some good handball earlier today. In an actual game, a ball came to me and I hit it hard and far enough to score a point for my team! I like this game inordinately, at least in some measure disproportionate to my skill.

Russian wasn't bad, either. I may even be the star of the class right now, probably since I lived in Russia with Russians over the summer. So I feel as though my possible superiority "doesn't count," although of course it affects me regardless of its causes. (Actually doing the homework helps too.)

I had a fun lunch with Alexei at Tako Sushi. Then -- thinking about the awful fact that I have to find a job, come May.

So I printed up 31 resumes and went to Ye Olde Jobbe Faire, where the phrase I most often heard was "we're looking for engineers right now." I dropped off some resumes and got some free stuff. I told the Amazon flack that I wouldn't work for Amazon because of the one-click patent (not giving him a chance to first say that he wouldn't hire me because there are no openings for the likes of me).

But the biggest deal was the VeriSign dis.

There were two women at the table, and they should have just said, "You're not what we're looking for, sorry." But instead they made nice-nice, and then, as I was walking away from the table and they thought my back was turned, one said to the other, "Yeah, she doesn't fit at all."

I was stung! They should have just played it straight from the start. I said to her, "I'm sorry about that," and continued walking away.

I really shouldn't dwell on this. I probably wouldn't work at VeriSign anyway, even to try and fix what's wrong with them from the inside. But it certainly helped my non-enthusiastic mood during Russian History later that day.

I don't even know what I'm necessarily looking for in a job, much less a career. Anyone got a suggestion of a career or job that I might like and probably have not considered?

Odd sightings. In the past two days, I've seen a fellow who looks a lot like Detective Munch's character from Homicide (the dead NBC drama) and a guy who looked like a mad Bob Newhart.

And I've seen, in the past week or so, in three different incidents, three different people reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Is this an Oprah Book Club selection? Is it because the 30th Anniversary edition just came out? Why?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/5/181959/2033

: Answers:

Aha. After two more Puzo sightings, I discovered that the reason why so many people are reading The Godfather these days is that Political Science 1 requires it. ??!!, if I may.

More Political Science comedy and tragedy, and job fair triumphs, and private grief, in the full story.

Boring lecture. Whenever I try to imitate my lecturer in Political Psychology this semester, I end up sounding like a Jack Nicholson (or possibly Christian Slater, since, as some comedian once noted, one impression generally degenerates into another).

The lecturer's style has begun to remind me of my father's lecture style -- long and boring, possibly punctuated by bizarre and humorous anecdotes. The subject material in today's discussion and lecture made me feel like a sophomore again (I'm a senior). So obvious and easy! Personal characteristics and environmental factors affect people's political beliefs and behaviors. Tell me something I couldn't tell you in my sleep, Jack.

From a dis to an interview. The job fair was better today than yesterday. I got an interview with RAND that went into overtime. Hurrah!

The business buildings. I may have a discussion section this semester that meets in one of the buildings in the business school. I can't stand the business school. It's so well-kept and corporate-funded and full of self-assured Future Exploiters of America. Biff and Buffy.

Faith. I have had at least one significant experience of loss recently, and now another one may be imminent. A few months ago, I doubted my faith in God for a few days. Recently, it's happened again.

I really don't want to believe in God just because I have been taught to, or because it's habit, or because the idea of God comforts me when I'm sad or scared or tired or lonely. Why do I believe, and should I? And would I live my life much differently without this belief? I already try to make my own meaning; would I stop treating people and things with respect? Where does my belief in God fit in, with regard to my system of values? This is something I'll be thinking about in the next few days, at least.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/6/182754/3396

: Job Fair, Day 3:

This is really almost all I want to talk about (except for the fact that Seth dropping by unexpectedly yesterday was one of the ten best surprises I've ever had in my life). Freebies from the last day of the job fair included: two flying discs, several pens and highlighters and keychains and brochures, a laundry bag, a tote bag, Post-Its, cool Post-It sticky bookmarks, a water bottle, a visor, fidgeting toys, a CD wallet, candy, and a first-aid kit.

If you can believe it, the freebies were better last year.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/7/15240/80820

And we created standards!

Fri Sep 7th, 2001 at 10:38:28 PM PST

Went to a meeting of the Science Fiction Working Group tonight. No, we didn't create standards for sci-fi. We talked about sci-fi in academic terms, more specifically about The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Alert readers will remember that I taught this book in my class last semester. A great book. I enjoyed the discussion, although sometimes I felt in over my head. I was the only undergraduate, you see. The graduate-student host taught me Rhetoric 1A during my freshman year here at UC Berkeley. I'm always glad to (re)meet neat people.

A fun-packed weekend approaches: brunch with friends tomorrow, a Unix billion-seconds dinner in the evening, and then a party I'll hold on Sunday night. Whew!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/8/13828/34759
Filed under:

: Humor for your weekend:

Links this morning. Afternoon. Whatever. Check out John's homepage and Alexei's new diary entry. They're funny.

Also, the Modern Humorist story on fall movies made me laugh out loud in the computer lab. And I certainly couldn't repeat the joke (the Tolkien ref) that had made me guffaw. Not even in Berkeley.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/8/152032/3591

: The Great Conversation ... About Savings!:

So let me contribute to the discourse about yesterday's events. You've heard from Leonard. You've heard from Seth. Now, the third side of the story. brainwane's take.

So Leonard and I wished to join Mr. Schoen in celebrating the billionth second of Unix. We assumed that the proper thing was to meet up with Seth after the EFF Share-In in Golden Gate Park. The Muni bus was late (what did I expect?!), and the driver seemed loathe to, you know, make up for lost time, give out information to passengers and the like, do that whole "friendly service," that sort of thing. At one point a woman who had been dissed by him started rummaging in her handbag, and I was thinking that she might pull out a gun. Good thing it was just a little change purse that emerged.

There was a sign behind the driver's seat: "Information Gladly Given but Safety Prohibits Unnecessary Conversation." Leonard and I discussed it. It's rather not as one-size-fits all as they'd like to think, Leonard noted. (This sort of incident turns me towards Leonard's anti-large-city view, away from my previous city-as-freedom-and-excitement position.)

Result of all this plot: instead of getting there about half an hour before the blessed event (and about an hour after the EFF Share-In ended at 5, I presume), we got there about twenty minutes before 6:46:40, and Seth was nowhere to be found. At first we weren't sure that this assemblage was the right one, since we saw no EFF paraphernalia. Even though we did eventually see people with EFF hats and tie-dyed shirts cleaning up, there were really very few EFF people cleaning up from the share-in, compared to the number of hippie/gutter punk/bum stereotypes who really didn't seem in a hurry to get anywhere else (and were not wearing tie-dye).

So people from the EFF vaguely consensus'ed that Seth and his groupies had left for dinner somewhere. Leonard and I checked out exactly one restaurant on Haight on the vague idea that the party might be there -- also, I'd been there before. They weren't.

I immediately sought a bookstore and we wandered for twenty minutes or so around Booksmith, a not-bad bookshop on Haight. But they have no Gordon Korman. Grr. He's my favorite children's author/young adults' author, and it seems as though I can never find his work anywhere. I recommend almost everything he's done. Start with something like Losing Joe's Place or This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! or A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag or Don't Care High or Son of Interflux.


L-dawg bought some Terry Pratchett. We waited something like twenty more minutes for a Muni to take us back to civilisation. We realized that we hadn't really noticed when the billionth second had passed. Oh, well. Happy billionth second, Unix! Here's to ... well, however many more seconds of Unix are best for consumers and innovation and stability for computing infrastructure in the universe.

Other news. I updated/rearranged my homepage and wishlist. And today I have a brunch that I thought was yesterday, and then parent time, and then a partyish thing.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/9/113140/3157
Filed under:

: Sunday, Sunday:

I had a terrific time on Sunday. I've written a bit here about my brunch and parental interaction and party on Sunday, and on my handball improvement and general viewpoint shift re:skill-learning.

And --does anyone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area want some veggieburgers?

Brunch. I had brunch with friends.

Parents. My parents came over and we socialized somewhat and now I have FAR MORE frozen dinners and veggieburgers than I can eat. Anyone want some? Especially the veggieburgers?

I'm serious. I have something like ten boxes in my freezer, each of which contains six or eight veggieburger patties. Take my burgers! Please! (Henny Youngman died during my senior year of high school. Micah Roy, who was in my AP English class, complained about the way that most people delivered the joke, which did not make "Please" into the punchline it's supposed to be. That was the first time I had ever gotten why that joke was so funny. Micah is now, I think, at some California State University studying towards the law.)

Surprisingly enough, we all got along. Freaky.

Party. This was really neat. So many people came over and had fun! Leonard, Steve, Zack, Alexei, Jeana, Vinay, Adam, Matt, Seth, Aaron, Bem, Nathaniel, and Shweta all were over at various points between 5pm and midnight or so. I'll have to list the presents I got at some different time. I got calls from Dan, from my sister Nandini, and from John. Thank all of you!

Scrabble, Set, and "Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond..." were played. The latter is a Cheapass Game and, as such, is fun. I remember liking "Lord of the Fries" and "Give Me the Brain!" more, but that was over a year ago.

Music played included Moxy Fr|vous, Everclear, Naif, and Chaif. Stuff read included Amar Chitra Katha, Big Science (science cartoons), and The Comic History of Rome (just looking at the pictures of this book from the 1850s).

I played host and laughed a lot. I think other people had a pretty good time, too. One of my most successful parties to date! Of course, now I'm rather fogged from lack of sleep. So I can't give too many specifics. But trust me, it was a good time.

Redecoration. I put up some more posters and things, including:

Handball. Today I discovered the secret to the backwall shot. One really must hit it when it's rather low to the ground. I'm not sure why. It probably has something to do with the fact that such a position makes me bend over and put more power in my swing, or gives me greater accuracy somehow. In any case, after much frustrating repetition, I Got It. That's the main thing I like about sports. As long as I'm not inconveniencing anyone else with my slow learning curve and general lack of ability, I enjoy that process a lot.

Skill-learning in general has become much more enjoyable and productive for me since I started learning to not mind making lots of mistakes. Going to Russia helped with that a great deal. There, I just had to go ahead and make mistakes and just work on making people understand me. I learned to accept the "good enough." Parents should teach their children about the joys of satisficing, don't you think?

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/10/182549/940

Oh yeah, the painting

Mon Sep 10th, 2001 at 03:46:37 PM PST

Yesterday, at the party, Steve, Leonard, Zack, and I painted. That is, we used watercolors (a little box I picked up for less than a buck at some garage sale, I hope) on binder paper with a tiny brush, generic cotton swabs and cotton balls to Make Art.

Steve's looked the best, but he took it home. Zack left his behind when he left the party and we ended up using the back of it to score the Scrabble game.

I recommend having watercolors around the house. You never know.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/10/184637/114

: I exist:

This is my first entry since Monday, 10 September 2001. Very diary verite. Lists as life.

Usually I write stuff down in my notebook that I want to put in my weblog. But I haven't really been doing that so much. So I'll just tell you some stuff I wrote down in my notebook since 10 September.

Today I find out that yet another person I know from my freshman year of college has a child. Dude, I can hardly write a paper, which is much easier labor. Wow. I don't know whether they're more mature than I am, which is a thought that takes me aback.

I saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and I took a dance class in which I learned some rudiments of mambo and a tiny bit of waltz, and I've cried and laughed and had intoxicating and interesting conversations. I'm moving on, and part of that is writing this. Thanks for listening.

And now I am going to go get free food at a recruitment/info session.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/20/21926/9375

: It's been a quiet weekend in Lake Wobegon:

I'm listening to the Dar Williams CD that Seth gave me for my birthday. Mortal City is the title. This weekend: regrets and fun. I missed the birthday party of a special friend of mine, and I wish I hadn't, and only part of the reason isn't my fault. I'm sick, cough sniffle sneeze. Read on, fair K5er!

So, on Saturday, something like five things were supposed to happen.

  1. Steve's birthday party, whose theme was rockclimbing, about 11am-2pmish
  2. Laura's equinox barbecue, 3ish to 7ish
  3. Hanging out with Leonard, time variable
  4. Listening to "A Prairie Home Companion", six to eight pm
  5. Watching The Big Lebowski, late night

But what happened? I got sick. I started coming down with something Friday morning -- I knew I should have gotten more than six or seven hours of sleep -- with the sneezing and the sniffling and the stuffy nose and the slight headache. And then on Friday night I felt myself getting worse, and on Saturday I knew I wouldn't be able to race around that day.

And Friday afternoon I learned -- this is one of the two or three times that the Daily Californian's Daily Calendar has ever been useful -- that West Coast Live, Saturday 10am-noon, would be hosting Garrison Keillor and Douglas Coupland! And I could go to the taping at the Julia Morgan Center on College Avenue! I mean, cool! Garrison Keillor, of whose "A Prarie Home Companion" I'm a fan. Douglas Coupland, about whom I've heard only good things, expecially from Anirvan. And I wouldn't have to do too much walking around and stressful socializing with new people and physical activity! Problems:

Argh! Well, partly out of sickness (I felt that I was too sick to go to a physically oriented event but not too sick to sit in a theater for two hours), and partly out of selfish calculation (how often do I get to see Keillor OR Coupland, much less the both of them?), and a tiny bit out of Leonard's wish that I go with him to the taping, I chose the taping over the party. I'm sorry, Steve. I have presents & a card for ya, and I'd love to treat you to dinner sometime, and I'm really sorry especially because I know that you're really busy these days, with research and other friends and your growing interest in political movements. I hope you forgive me.

So Leonard and I went (his account) to WCL. (We are still laughing over his fundamental attribution error joke.) I enjoyed Keillor's insistence during the interview that we should have specific phrases and terms to refer to the events of September eleventh (e.g., "the terrorist attacks" or "the hijackings and bombings" rather than "all of this" or "the recent events" or even, maybe, "the national tragedy," I infer). I got my copy of Lake Wobegon Days signed, and am quite pleased that someone whose work I so enjoy is such a gentleman when it comes to his fans. He takes the time to make every fan feel as though he cares about her.

Anirvan was supposed to be with us, since he's a huge Coupland fan, but he instead went to the March Against War and Racism in San Francisco. Leonard and I speculated -- at his suggestion -- as to whether a war against war and for racism would work, and vice versa. Leonard suggested that perhaps, to stay on message, War and Racism marches should be separate, so as to stay on-message. I wrote it up as an Audience True Story, and Sedge Thomson (the host) read it on the air! Whooppee! Not counting Segfault, this is the first time I've been published in years. And, after the show, not only did I receive a balloon half-filled with water as a souvenir, AND get my book signed, but I also introduced myself to Mr. Thomson, and he remembered my name from the story, and said that he had liked it. Oh, approval from others, how sweet.

Leonard and I went to Laura's barbecue next. My sister, who lives with Laura, was unavailable to attend, so I was her ambassador. The grilled portobello mushrooms were fantastic, with the green-and-wax bean salad and the roasted peppers tied for a close second. Fun people, too. I wish I could have stayed longer.

The PHC was a rerun from 1985. Boy, they were wacky back in those days. But I'm usually on the side of more skits and less music, and this particular show didn't sketch enough for my taste. Oh well.

I rested in between all this excitement, by the way. I was sick. I took naps.

And, late at night, I went to see The Big Lebowski. Leonard's regard for the film -- well, do I really need to say much except that I felt such praise oddly compelled me to see the movie on the big screen? And yes, I enjoyed it. Recommended. Maybe not for my parents, what with the potsmoking and the 200+ f-words and the complicated plot, but it's an exuberant and nonsensible media experience.

I feel better today. Russian homework, coming up, but not before a list of weirdness I saw in the classified ads of the East Bay Express earlier today:

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/23/192522/427

One more thing

Sun Sep 23rd, 2001 at 04:31:16 PM PST

On Friday night, I had a terrific conversation with Seth, but had to stop because I was tired and needed to sleep. I'm glad we talked.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/23/193116/273

: Have fun in SLC!:

Steve, have fun in Salt Lake City.

Alexei's Diaryland profile reminds me of Katie, that Reed College student who was on my St. Petersburg trip:

"Hands down, the best thing you can do when you have a huge headcold and you sound terrible is to put on a Tom Waits album and sing along, because you've FINALLY got the range to do it."

I'm a little sick. Waaah. I'm feeling better than I was over the weekend, but darn it, it's Wednesday. I shouldn't be coughing and blowing my nose anymore, I feel.

From Russian class yesterday: "It's always March on Mars."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/26/11147/2278

: Not much to say these days:

For some reason I haven't felt a strong urge to write much these days. I've been going to class, hanging out with friends, exchanging e-mail, and doing nothing much out of the ordinary, as far as I can tell. The most unusual thing I've done in the past few days is watching the "Star Trek: Enterprise" premiere, then Burned By the Sun yesterday night, and then the "Friends" season opener. Oh, and forgetting how to spell "premiere" a minute ago.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/9/28/112943/346

: Authorship and Air Hockey:

I feel the need to point out that I receive no explicit credit for number of jokes and other bits that Leonard posted at the backup site whilst crummy.com was down. Namely, I came up with:

None of this is to malign Mr. Richardson, who, if he wished to cite all of his sources all of the time, would find considerably unpleasant aesthetic effects accruing towards an oblivion of footnotes and parentheses.

Unrelatedly: Yesterday I beat Adam Parrish at air hockey. His friend Jeana Jorgensen is a whiz who consistently beats me by ridiculous margins. There's some sort of balance there.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/4/222042/352

: The leaking pen in the shirt pocket of my life:

I've recently been told I have a way with insults. So is it good or bad that I rarely use them?

I'm archiving my old K5 posts on a site over which I have more control. Eventually I'll switch to posting there, primarily, and maybe copy-and-pasting to K5 if I have the time.

So far, in Useless Lecture, I've written a sonnet, almost finished a letter or two, and come up with a semiworkable Guy Noir treatment. This may be my most productive period of the day.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/10/22026/308

: Joke, links, ruminations on hippos, Russian, war:

It's been almost a month since the terrorist attacks on the US. Usually, when I find out how long it has been since some major news event, it seems as though it's been not too long, when actually it's been a year (cf. Florida and the 2000 election). But, looking back, September 2001 seems like a September That Never Ended. (cf. Jargon File)

From Today's Papers, a confirmation of stuff some of us mulled over a month back:

"The WSJ passes along a dust-up in Great Britain: An hour after the Sept. 11 attacks, a top aide to Britain's transportation secretary sent out an e-mail to colleagues advising, 'It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.'"

Modern Humorist is making the best and most jokes on the current war. I especially like Jai al-Leno.

My midterms are half over. On Monday I didn't have enough time to reveal my deep and abiding ignorance regarding the causes and effects of the Pugachëv rebellion. Next week or so I get to blab about cognitive dissonance and the like.

On Monday, in honor of that Russian History test and a Russian language test, I wore my "Ni pukha ni pera ... k chyorty!" t-shirt and something like three or four Russian speakers noticed it approvingly.

Yesterday I had a fun dinner with Anirvan; today I have a fun lunch with Steve.

In conclusion, a joke, told to us yesterday by Zhenia the Russian TA.

A circus act is taking place in which a hippopotamus plays the piano and a crocodile sings. A bystander says to the proud trainer, "That's impossible! How did you do that?" The trainer replies, "I have a secret: the hippopotamus plays the piano and sings."

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/10/123816/20

: Blood, social psych, glass, Enterprise, &tc.:

So this entry is really an agglomeration of a bunch of stuff that's been floating in my head the past few days. Pick and choose from the smorgasbord of Sumana!

Air hockey. When I played against Steve on Tuesday after lunch, I beat him 7-4. But it was close at a few moments! He considered it a very respectable showing. It reminded me that for a great deal of last semester, my weblog entries often seemed to consist of only "lesson plans and hockey scores."

Racial profiling. So now it's happened to one of my friends. Anirvan reported rather clear evidence that officials at four out of five security checkpoints stopped him -- a brown bearded man -- much longer than they did a practically identical Taiwanese man when they flew to and from some spot in Canada recently. I have mixed feelings. It's demeaning. It's also slightly rational. As Michael Kinsley noted, if all we know about the terrorists is their physical appearance, should we really bar ourselves from using that in preventing future hijackings? Then again, given the heightened secutiry measures, will they try to hijack again, or will it be some other method that we aren't expecting? (The elsewhere-in-Slate "we must make the unthinkable evil thinkable to get inside the minds of terrorists" argument by William Saletan.)

A bunch of Russian-related stuff. How should a family decide what to watch on TV? The answers revealed us as very different people. In my Russian class, Cinzia said that people should take turns, easy-going Sean agreed, I facetiously argued that *I* should pick the program (my putative spouse preferring to read), Makiko said that the husband should decide, and Jeff recommended having two television sets, backing it up with an anecdote from a wacky friend. That's our class in a nutshell. Well, there was the time when we talked about people we admire, and I mentioned my old English teacher Sam Hatch, and Sean talked about a musician friend of his, and Makiko talked about Mother Teresa, and Jeff talked about God. Perhaps that's a better nutshell, but it doesn't include Cinzia, since she was absent that day.

Russian children's cartoons. That's what we've been watching. I love them. They have this absurdist sensibility that I've been missing in children's programming for ages.

Almost all of us in the class have some prior experience in French. The most common words for which we accidentally use the French are "with" and "and" and "but." However, on Monday, I think, Jeff said "Apres" for "after" and didn't know how it had happened.

Zhenia, my Russian instructor, is still sick. The FBI just put out a warning that said, in effect, "we're expecting another big terrorist attack, but we don't know when or where. Just soon." Some NBC employee in New York just tested positive for anthrax. It would be paranoid to connect the dots and conclude that Zhenia has come down with B. anthracis, right?


TV. I watched The West Wing and Enterprise. Both could have been better and could have been worse. That afternoon, I had expounded to a few of my Russian Imperial History classmates on the merits and failings of each show, touching heavily on Enterprise. I theorized that:

West Wing was certainly better in the season opener per se, the opener qua opener, than it was last week in its Very Special Terrorist Attack episode that writer/producer Aaron Sorkin wrote in something like a day. As one commentator put it a week ago, "Can we get Sorkin back on crack? This is horrible."

Poor CJ. This show trumps the book Spin Cycle (which was one of my great splurges my freshman year) (I wonder where that book is. Did I loan it to someone? Is it in Stockton, along with the Lost Jacket that Garrison Keillor autographed to me three years ago?) for making a citizen sympathetic to a White House press secretary's job.

We can work it out. I took a shower after handball. It almost made me late for Russian, but goodness that feels nice. It reminds me of a year ago, when on Tuesdays and Thursdays I would shower after judo and tromp off to Steve Weber's excellent International Relations lecture. I think I liked that semester. Funny, I can't recall what I was taking, aside from IR, judo, and Russian. Oh, yes, American Political Theory with Michael Rogin, and I liked his lectures in that class so much that I took the 1939 Through Films class with him and Professor Moran the next semester, and that wasn't nearly as good. I am glad that I got to see all those movies, though. I feel more cultured now.

My closer friends who work out regularly number about three. The two white ones do yoga. The Indian one does not. This amuses me.

Russian history. Professor Reginald Zelnik, the Imperial Russian History professor, is great. He lectures at exactly the right pace, he has this low-key sense of humor, and he makes this material interesting when a lot of lecturers could mess it up. He's a craftsman -- not showy, not bombastic, just producing reliably good work. I admire his lectures for the same reason that Leonard admires the work of Stephen King: reliable craftsmanship.


First blood donation, ever. Exactly a month after the terrorist attacks in New York and D.C., my blood donation appointment arrived. Via the radio in the donation room, we heard Bush's press conference. Not very relaxing, to me -- I talked on the phone to distract myself from the process. (I wonder if they'll find my blood useful -- is there still a shortage? -- or tasty.)

Because I was donating blood, I missed a free showing of a Russian-language film, Mirror. Oh, well. I fell asleep during the one last week, anyway.

Social psychology. Elliot Aronson wrote an outstanding sociology textbook, The Social Animal, which you could almost certainly find on Bookfinder and which clarifies my thoughts on psychology and sociology every time I pick it up. Reading this book may be the best thing to come out of my Political Psychology class this semester. Not only does Aronson convincingly explain causes of and possible solutions to such phenomena as self-justification, aggression, and prejudice, he also gives out how-tos on liking, being liked, making relationships more authentic, and persuasion! This is a terrific book, folks, and I'm not even selling it. (I am, however, composing a note of gratitude to send to Dr. Aronson, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.)

Dr. Aronson mentions the "chillingly manipulative" title How to Make Friends and Influence People (the classic self-help text by Dale Carnegie). I read that book my sophomore year of high school, because my journalism teacher, Mr. Woo, advised me to. I hadn't gotten a page editor position on the newspaper, he and the editor-in-chief said, because I lacked "people skills." And so I got a position that they made up to use my proofreading skills -- "Copy Editor" -- and I trotted off to the school library and borrowed the book and read this book that he had recommended. I don't know whether it helped at all, although I suspect it did, if only in articulating lots of those little rules of social engagement that I'd never learned. I'd never learned them because my family had moved around a lot when I was young, and I'd eventually shut myself off and withdrawn and read books and watched TV while other kids were out there learning social skills.

Once upon a time, I justified my maverick attitude by arguing that friends only hold one back. My analogy was: it always takes longer to make a decision and to get going and to get somewhere with more people rather than fewer. This implied that I was actually avoiding making friendships. In retrospect, that was probably a lot of sour grapes. I probably couldn't have made enough friends to slow me down even if I'd wanted to.

My own tendency to make sour-grapes rationalizations is something about which Aronson, and this Political Psychology class in general, are helping me learn.

And that convoluted sentence structure is the sort of thing that's absolutely fine in Russian but which I find suboptimal in English. Gotta stop that.

Candleholder glass. More than a year ago -- almost two years ago! -- I assisted my father and mother in performing a wedding in Tilden Park here in Berkeley. The happy couple was Lori and Himanshu. Everybody got some knickknack to take home: a red candle in a small glass cup, a sticker on the side reminding one of the blessed occasion.

I only started using the candleholder a few months ago. A few times I've had a wick burning rather close to the glass. I replaced the candle when it burned down all the way. When areas of the glass discolored, I thought it was just soot.

A few nights ago, as a candle burned in this holder, the glass cracked loudly and a piece of it fell off. Fractures remain. I blew out the candle and marveled at the beautiful crack in the dark glass. It looks like obsidian. I think it's the most beautiful thing I've seen this week.

Nobel, info asymmetry, parking space. So one of the three Economics Nobel laureates this year is a UC Berkeley economics prof. This trio worked on the problem of information asymmetry in markets. Hurrah! That's the term I've been using for years to describe what happens to people with weblogs. Seth is forever running into people who know far more about him than he does about them. Me, for instance, before I started keeping a weblog. It hasn't jarred me yet that someone knows far more about me from a weblog than I do about her. Usually I just get jarred because I have a bad memory for meeting people and I think it's the first time we've met when actually we've had three classes together or something.

Oh, and the Daily Californian reassures me that the new laureate will receive the free lifetime parking space, as per campus custom. No kidding. If you look around LeConte and other such buildings, you will see permanent signs marked "Reserved parking for NL." It took me more than a year to get it.

Comedy Night! The Heuristic Squelch is holding a Comedy Night on Tuesday, 23 October, at Blake's on Telegraph. I intend on going and doing open-mic stand-up. It'll be a great relief from my Political Psychology midterm earlier that day.

The two TAs. Two graduate students teach discussion sections for my Political Psychology course. I only have to go to one, but I attend one by each teaching assistant (TA -- but the preferred term is GSI, Graduate Student Instructor). One is by-the-book and very peppy, thoroughly dissects the readings, makes comprehensive handouts, and encourages discussion. The other drawls out a stand-up routine that clearly, systematically, and hilariously covers all the material that the professor covers less well in lecture. Thursday might become my favorite day of the week.

Guy Noir analogies. I'm trying to come up with Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler-style analogies for weather and for beautiful, troubled dames. It reminds me of the "Funniest Similes Written By Students" page that I found at the now-defunct laughpage.com and showed to Angel Ayon and Karl Neuharth and the like back in high school. Angel and I still laugh about it.

Wow, all I had to Google was "hummingbirds analogies" and I got it. Google keeps impressing me.

Doonesbury. The recent strips have made me laugh.

The Onion as unreliable narrator. I recently realized that unreliable narration is the trick, the gimmick, behind most of the fake editorials in The Onion. [Fast voiceover: Other works employing the device of the unreliable narrator include The Raven by Poe and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.]

Fresh Robots. Tonight I intend on showing Leonard the magic and beauty that is the Fresh Robots, a San Francisco-based comedy troupe. I found out about them because I met Sunil through Dan, and then Sunil met my sister, and then he invited a bunch of his friends to see them perform at a San Francisco comedy club, and that's where I met holeburning and Aaron and remet Laura (now Nandini's housemate) and met Lia, whom I introduced to Leonard and with whom Leonard watched the remastered Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And it was a terrific show, even besides the six-degrees business.

Which reminds me, one last link or two: A good "Why don't I know anyone who died in the Sept. 11 attacks?" Slate piece linked to a neat six-degrees meditation. I wonder if I'm like Lois Weisberg. Alexei and my sister and my parents are the Lois-y people I know. On Tuesday, I asked Alexei whether he had ever clocked the length of time he can walk on campus without recognizing someone. Yes, he said -- about two minutes. Oi!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/12/15031/428
Filed under:

: More smorgasbord of Sumana: More smorgasbord of Sumana - 15 Oct 2001

More smorgasbord of Sumana

Silly ads. "'Never again?' This is not the Treaty of Versailles."

Comedy, schmomedy. There will be a Comedy Night on Tuesday, October 23, at Blake's on Telegraph, as I've mentioned before. I will probably do some open-mic stand-up comedy relating to Russia, Halloween costumes, and my job search.

Speaking of the job search: I'm considering Teach For America -- what do other people think of this program? (And about the fact that they sell polo shirts?)

Left-handed compliment. I got a B+ on my Imperial Russian History midterm. Regarding the essay, my grader said,

A fair essay, but pretty bare-bones. You need more historical detail. The simplicity and clarity of your writing saves you.
Well, at least I know that Strunk and White paid off. (Tip from Ellen Rigsby, my old Rhetoric teacher: "to be" bores the most of all verbs. Throw it out whenever you can.)

Russian-studying people: This InPassing quote reminds me of John Stange. The other thing today that reminded me of John was a line in a Russian short story that I read for class tomorrow; translation: "The thing of it is..."

Speaking of people I know from my Russia trip, I'll be seeing Katie this week, since Reed has this weird tradition of a "fall break." In addition, of the five or so Russia-trip people whom I emailed several days ago, each and every one has now replied. Rasa was last, but that's more excusable since she's still in Russia.

From last week:
I conversed with a credit card vendor near the Martin Luther King Student Union. His table was festooned with all sorts of examples of the "free stuff" one gets for filling out a credit card application. I was walking past his table on my way to the Open Computing Facility.

Him: Hey, are you a student?
Me: Yes, but I don't want any of your stuff.
Him: Why not? It's free.
Me: No, it's not. I have to sign up for something to get it.
Him: That means it's free. You don't have to pay anything for it.
Me: You're such a sophist! (stalks off)

Also from last week: Nobel zaniness!

The great inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla never won Nobels because their egos got in the way: They hated each other so much that they literally refused to stand on the same stage together. Disgusted, the Nobel committee withdrew its offer to honor them jointly.


Pedantry. In Political Psychology the other day, a fellow desribed anthrax as "a virus, a bacteria, like Ebola," and I sounded pedantic when I corrected him.

Russian textbook lies! p. 253: "The formation of present active participles is easy." All right, it is relatively easy, compared to, say, the past passive participle. But it's still not a piece of cake.

Reconnection. On a happier note, I just got back in touch with Micah Roy and Mitchell Davidson, politically aware guys I knew back at Tokay High School!

Asimov. Following a link from Seth's page, I saw three recommended orders in which to read the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. Other zany factoids also await you at the Asimov FAQ. Now with the scoop: Isaac Asimov did not write at least one book in every major Dewey Decimal System division!

Reminiscing too soon. The prospect of leaving Cal in what, six months? inspires in me a rather inappropriate nostalgia. I've been at UC Berkeley for less than four years, but I've gotten used to it, and I always dislike leaving something that I feel I've mastered. I know shortcuts through campus, and I know many faces and names, even though I'm losing acquaintances via graduations and other attrition.

Especially on an unseasonably warm day such as this, I look around Sproul Plaza or the halls of Dwinelle and envy the freshmen their youth. *chuckle* My head knows that I probably have years and years ahead of me. My anxious heart grasps at the past because neither it nor my head knows what lies in that future. I thought I'd have goals by now.

Brill's Content has died. More nostalgia. I remember reading that and liking it. The Bill Gates mugshot hanging on my door in the old dorm days came from a Brill's September 1998 cover. Brill's informed me that Scott Shuger likes USA Today. I think of Steven Brill as sort of the RMS of journalism, and Brill's two years ago was somewhat akin to the FSF.

Joel Explains It All: "The moral of the story is that with a contrived example, you can prove anything." Poking around Joel On Software reminds me of:

Michael Kinsley's equivalent of "Why the September 11 Attacks Mean We Should Implement My Policy."

Flag-wearing. I received a small American flag pin when I gave blood on Thursday. What should I do with it? I think there are enough flags in my immediate vicinity. Flags, to me, imply patriotism of the "my country, right or wrong, my country" variety.

Recipe for a great Sunday evening. Take a friend to the Berkeley Rose Garden on a warm October night. Play for the first time ever in the playground on the other side of the street. Watch the sun set while breathing in the aroma of thousands of flowers. On the way back home, stop for ice cream.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/16/0545/2481

: Some of the best things in life might be things.:

"Man is born free..." Can you find the Rousseau reference in this picture?

Immaterial! I was looking through my stuff this morning for various reasons. I have quite a few books and some good CDs. I can get pretty attached to my stuff -- I'm still distraught that I can't find a little red notebook in which I wrote a lot of stuff in Russia -- but overall, I try to remember that the most important things in life are not material objects.

Still, material objects help a lot. They can trigger memories, and keep us comfortable so we can concentrate on more interesting things (cf. Maslow's hierarchy of needs). And yesterday, my friend Alexei had a crisis in which he lost his bags in which he carried his journal and other notebooks. They contained all the writing he had done this semester. He was pretty upset. I think that his notebooks and journal have been returned to him, but certainly it reminded those of us who were with him that little McGuffins can become important, even to people who try not to get attached to mere physical objects.

So I was poking around my books, and realized that I have two copies of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. As well, I own a number of perfectly good CDs which carry music that I just don't care for anymore, if I ever did. I'm going to try to get rid of this stuff. I think I'll give away/sell a bunch of stuff that I'm just holding on to so that I have artifacts around me that remind me how cultured I am.

Books in particular. I'm more than halfway through The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I can't recommend it wholesale, the way Seth and his ilk do. I put it down more than a month ago because the plot wasn't advancing quickly enough for my taste. I picked it up again about a week ago. Now both my reading and the plot have picked up momentum. Unfortunately, because I've read some of Existence and Uniqueness, I know how the book will end. But I knew how Anna Karenina would end when I read it about five or six years ago (wow), and I still enjoyed it. In fact, it was reading Anna Karenina that allowed me to realize why some people like soap operas.

Speaking of Tolstoy, War and Peace was supposed to be in my hands by now. It and about five other books comprised the contents of the box that my host mother mailed off to me about two months ago. I imagine it's lost forever. Argh. More "it's just things/but they're things I wanted to keep and have around" Alexei-ish mixed emotions.

Oh, and the other day I was poking around my domicile for a copy of the Constitution. I found it in a textbook on American politics and government that Sam Hatch, an English teacher who taught me my junior year of high school, gave me. He infiltrated my senior year English class and left it on my desk before I got there. It contained a note:

	Congratulation on your AcaDec
triumph.  I hope this volume is
helpful to you in Mr. Berkowitz's

Note that I was in Academic Decathlon in high school, that I was the "team captain" and highest scorer my junior and senior years, and that Mr. Berkowitz was the teacher of the honors economics/government class. This book didn't help me much in that class, since the standard textbook and Mr. Berkowitz's time-honed lectures contained the entire and relatively meager quantity of information that I needed and didn't already know. Mr. Hatch's gift did help me study for the Advanced Placement exam in U.S. Politics in Government. I studied for this exam almost entirely on my own (in contrast to the help I got from peers and/or teachers in taking the AP exams in European History, U.S. History, Calculus, and Literature and Composition), and I did very well. It was the only AP exam on which I earned a 5 (the highest score possible). My grade pleased me because I didn't have to worry that I hadn't studied hard enough.

There are four more stories behind my AP agonies and triumphs. I should tell them, so as not to lose them.

Art Spiegelman. Mike Spiegelman, the Fresh Robot who made the anthrax joke that Leonard referenced, has a father named Art. However, Mike Spiegelman's father did not draw Maus. However, Mike Spiegelman's father has conversed with the Art Spiegelman who drew Maus, and evidently they both like, as Mike puts it, "bad jazz."

I found this out because Leonard and I arrived an hour or so early to the Marsh's Mock Cafe and I got to converse with this particular Robot, who was also in the cashier's booth. I was the first person in the history of the Mock Cafe e-mail newsletter to mention it and get the two-for-one admission offer, Mike noted.

You're listening to Pterodactyl Edition. Leonard and I have been having fun with the hypothetical screech of the pterodactyl. But we haven't been having nearly as much fun as Alex Chadwick of National Public Radio. Last week sometime, he was hosting Morning Edition and expressed surprise/dismay at some news item with a very pterodactylic cry. "The baby weighed fourteen pounds -- rrraah! You're listening to Morning Edition."

No wonder that's not in Russian! I played some of Tarakani Live! this morning whilst doing Russian homework. It's one of the CDs of Russian music that I got back in Russia. The first track of Tarakani Live! reminded me of tracks on Rock by Naif. If you ignore the lyrics in Russian, you'd think the sound came straight out of mid-nineties Seattle.

More amusingly, it reminded me of an evening back in St. Petersburg. I had just bought Rock and some other CD, possibly Tarakani Live!, in a music store on Nyevskii Prospekt. The grandson of my host mother had a CD player. When I listened to one of the CDs, I thought and remarked that it sounded an awful lot like, I think, Limp Bikzit or some such. The similarity progressed. Finally, I actually recognized that it was a Limp Bizkit/Blink 182/whatever song, and investigated, worrying that I had just bought a CD of bootlegged Western songs, and found out that the CD player, which contained a three-disc changer, was actually playing a Limp Bizkit CD belonging to the grandson.

Fully Committed. Alexei and Steve want to do food-socialization things soon. Wednesday night, tomorrow, I concede to two hours of the telly. Thursday night Katie (of Russia-trip fame) visits. Friday night I think I have some other commitment. Saturday I'm spending with Seth and possibly going to a Dar Williams concert with him. And in the midst of all this I really should study for the Political Psych midterm on Tuesday, and prepare for some open-mic comedy that night at Blake's.

Nandini, Vinay, Nathaniel, Dan, Anirvan, and I saw "Fully Committed" something like a year ago in San Francisco. It was a quite funny one-man show concerning an elite restaurant and its overworked reservation agent.

More Guy Noir. I finished and sent in one outline for a Guy Noir script for A Prairie Home Companion. I'm working on a new one now.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/16/234754/20
Filed under:

: Eco, handball, worrying, and the teevee.:


Finished The Name of the Rose. I stayed up until something like 1 am on Wednesday morning finishing The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. This is a book that Seth and Leonard and the like had liked and recommended to such as me.

And after I read it, I read the author's postscript, and then I went to sleep, and the next day I spent something like half an hour telling Leonard how little it had done for me, and that I loathed the book viscerally. I feel less intensely about the volume now, thank goodness.

Point-by-point breakdown follows:

Handball. Terrorists. Exactly. So I got this newsletter in my handball class Wednesday morning. It was a standard little association thing, desktop-published by some soul at the Northern California Handball Association onto fourteen orange sheets five times a year. In this Issue were hall of fame inductees, a treasurer's report, a silly column, tournament results, a calendar, some other items of the same type, and an article entitled "Cupertino Courts at Risk," by Jack Murphy.

The Cupertino Parks & Recreation Department is planning public forum [sic] for the purpose of hearing from users of the Sports Center about the type of programming they would like to see at the new Cupertino Sports Center. This meeting is scheduled for October 11, 2001...

...have consistently pointed out that Racquetball-Handball is a sport that does not support itself with enough members to warrant a continuation of its facilities....There is even talk of having any new courts (if any) shared with other activites, such as kids taking tennis lessons, which has devastated the quality of the courts in the past and tended to stymie our sport...

I urge you to coordinate all your efforts on behalf of Racquetball-Handball with...

All well and good. All fine. This is exactly the civil society of which de Tocqueville and Madison spoke, what? And then there was a note at the end, in italics:

Editors [sic] Note: Jack lost two relatives at the World Trade Center attack. We offer our condolences to Jack and his family. Please support Jack and handball players everywhere by helping to save these courts.

If I may, What the hell? We'll return to No-Connection Theatre right after these messages...


Mom, I'm not going to contract anthrax. I wish my mom didn't worry so much. I really doubt I'm going to come down with anthrax, or eat so little that my body doesn't get all the nutrition it needs, or get trapped on the BART when terrorists strike. Yes, I'm taking extra precautions these days because I'm brown and really stupid racists could think I'm a Muslim or from the Middle East. But I don't think she needs to worry as much as she does. I imagine I'll be just as much of a worrywart if I have kids. I'm well on my way already, especially when it comes to my personal life.

Seth's diary.


PHC is third-wave! Lookee here, you can submit greetings for Garrison Keillor to read on the air. Some people don't quite get the point.

John's great email. My old friend from the University of Maryland, John Stange, wrote me a terrific email complimenting my recent Segfault stories, "Top Ten Signs You're Using Windows" and "Heinlein Maneuver" (the latter inspired by a Leonard comment). I love praise.

Katie visits. More on that in tomorrow's entry.

Islamic terrorists and Kress. A while back, I wrote that I didn't like how Nancy Kress made Muslims into terrorists in her Beggars series. It seemed too stereotypical. Jennifer Sharifi wasn't what I wanted her to be. But right now I feel less prone to object.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/19/63758/104
Filed under:

: Carrot Stick:

Latin translations, probably bad. "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur (Anything said in Latin sounds profound.)"
"Cogito Ergo Doleo." (I think therefore I am depressed.)

Thursday night.

So Katie came over, Katie of Reed College fame, and she whirled me off to a folk concert and then to a shindig at her friend's place. And I got lots and lots of stories to tell about this evening.

Utah Philips and Rosalee Sorrels. Fun folk singers and folk storytellers. I probably shouldn't tell the most memorable lines and stories. I'm lazy, but in addition, the delivery helps a lot, and I wouldn't want to spoil anyone in case s/he goes to see either Philips or Sorrels sometime.

Hymnals. The event happened in the First Congregational Church at Dana between Durant and Channing in Berkeley. I glanced through the New Century Hymnal. I wish I knew that many songs. I wish I'd been in an organization, when I was younger, that had disciplined my singing voice.

Aphorisms and stories. "A bird in the hand does you no good if you're trying to blow your nose." Okay, I spoiled you on one. There are many more, including some extended and hilarious anecdotes, where that one-liner came from.

Xenocide. The fella sitting near us in the pew was reading Orson Scott Card's Xenocide, third book in the first Ender series. Katie remarked, "I thought everyone who would want to read Xenocide already did."

In addition, almost everyone she knows, she maintains, has read part of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, but not all.

Juggling. After the performance (I fell asleep a bit during the last bit, but only because I was tired and the music was slow), Katie and her friends had scheduled a shindig. But they had just made friends with a girl who was attending a circus school and carrying a "Bag o'Fun," i.e., a bag of juggling balls and pins." So, inside and outside the church, Katie's friends juggled for about 45 minutes. Very amusing. I'd like to learn to juggle. I've tried, but not very hard.

"A few degrees short of cheddar." What does that mean? Even the coiner didn't know.

The Anecdotes From the Party. "The Evil Circus" and "Please don't tell me his name is Mateo Car" and "Lying in a Language I Don't Know to the Chief of Security of Beijing to Get an Exit Visa." These are great stories and I will tell them in person to anyone who asks.

World travels. Peter and David are jugglers -- street performers! they do this for money! -- and recently traveled the world for a year together, performing in various locales around the globe, such as Rotterdam and Hong Kong. I hope to someday do something half as neat.

Penn and Teller. While at Peter's place, I skimmed a volume entitled Acrobats of the Soul that profiled clowns, magicians, and the like. I had never before considered how Penn and Teller consciously involved the audience in their deceptions as a political act. I'd like to see some more of them, or read some of their texts.

Tea. I have never before taken part in such an elaborate tea ritual as the one I did early this morning. It's a Chinese ritual, with a smelling cup and a drinking cup, and probably the caffeine I consumed was one reason why I stayed awake till something like 5am before falling asleep. Another reason, of course, was how Newton's Cannon engrossed me. Thanks, Jeana and Adam!


Good diction. The Infidels Newswire pointed me towards an editorial by another Leonard, this time a Miami Herald columnist. "This is a man who purports to speak for God? God ought to sue for slander.....God help us if this guy represents anything beyond his morally illiterate self." Morally illiterate! At least I didn't call that credit card vendor that. Just "such a sophist."

Both/and thinking. Food AND Bombs. Bringing justice to them AND bringing them to justice. A carrot stick.

Oychen prosto! In Russian class, we listened to and reenacted a dialogue between a candidate for president and a journalist. The candidate said oychen prosto ("very simple") three times in describing his proposals, and every time he proposed a policy -- four times! -- the journalist responded with Da, eto konyeshna khorosho ("Yes, of course that's good"). I'm really glad that McGraw-Hill ginned up this dialogue, because that means they faked it. Right? Right?

Friday night.

I read more of Newton's Cannon, prepared and consumed ravioli, and visited two parties. Nothing very, very exciting. One amusing discovery: a few months ago, Seth called Michelle's cousin, Lia, and asked whether she had just gone to a movie with Leonard. The answer is no. Different Lia. Extra hilarity.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/20/11636/395
Filed under:

: Is a puzzlemint.:

Puzzles. This is the first time in ages and ages that I'm hearing Weekend Edition Sunday for any length of time, and therefore the first time in ages and ages that I'm hearing the Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz. I guess I did really like puzzles once upon a time; I remember sitting in my room in Stockton trying to solve the puzzles along with the hosts and the guest. I was pretty good at it, as I recall, almost always as good as the guest. Perhaps practice would help me get back up to that level so that I would not find humiliation in the kiddie section of Leonard's copy of Games Magazine.

I only have the radio on this morning to wait for "A Prairie Home Companion" to come on at 11. But that means I have to listen to "Car Talk." Ew. I'll turn it off and trust myself to remember to turn it back on at 11.

But here's the NPR Weekend Edition Sunday puzzle. Take the letters N Y X M. What comes next? It may or may not be a letter of the alhpabet, and, as it's an "international" puzzle, doesn't rely on the English language. Send an email to puzzle@npr.org -- 1 entry per person -- by Thursday, 3pm Eastern time (USA), with your name and daytime phone number.

Weekend with Seth. Friday night I went to a party or two. I'd have had more fun if I hadn't been so severely sleep-deprived from staying up late that night with Katie. Goodbye, Lia, and best wishes to Laura, and I have to go now to sleep.

Seth and I went to San Francisco the next day and I read the second half of Existence and Uniqueness and was very impressed. As I told Seth later, if I had a copy of his poem at my house, I would probably read little bits of it as often as I read little bits of Cryptonomicon. Certainly it affected me and triggered many thoughts regarding love and my personal history.

Duncan was kind enough to drive us to Sixth and Mission or so, where Seth and I ate dinner at a recommended Vietnamese restaurant, "Tu-Lan."

We went to a Dar Williams concert at the Warfield, nearby. The security searched my bag briefly -- the first time since Russia that an authority figure has searched me or my stuff. And I saw Darin there! Darin, who wheedled me into joining the OCF, and whom I met one day on Dwinelle Plaza by complimenting him because he was wearing a PGP shirt (I think).

The opener, one Matt Nathanson, was really a stand-up comedian disguised as a rock star, or, as I put it, a rock asteroid.

"This song, like many of my others, has lyrics that don't really make sense. I do that a lot. I mean, lyrics not making sense -- that's rock. That and signing breasts. And since I don't do any of the latter..."
Both Nathanson and Williams play the guitar, which reminds me of Leonard, and reminds me faintly of some musical criticism that Dan and I once did of "The Kids Ain't All Right" by The Offspring. Also, a few people in my high school journalism class -- of which I was reminded recently by looking through my sister's high school yearbook and seeing pictures of me and stories I wrote -- sometimes hung around and played the guitar instead of working. I've always been a sucker for an acoustic guitar.

"You can guess this one, since all my songs start in G."

There were a lot of other fun moments at the concert and I might refer to them in a later diary. I like Dar Williams's low-key sense of humor, and her songs made me want to write more poetry. I'll be posting my first sonnet in years here in a few days.

Plumbing. My toilet has developed a clogged drain thanks to (I assume) an overdose of toilet paper. Plunging and drain unclogging chemicals don't seem to work yet. Next step: calling the manager of the apartment complex.

Reading. I'm not yet done with Newton's Cannon, and I'm almost halfway done with Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This is the third time that I've picked up Good Omens, and I hope this time I'll finish it. Other stuff always gets in the way, somehow. I really like Good Omens and I'm starting to see why people rave about both Gaiman and Pratchett.

Link. John pointed me to Seanbaby's dumb-lawsuit expose. I'm assuming he especially liked the preposition-buzzword form on the first page.

More both-and thinking. "Make love AND war."

"A Melody Out of Darkness" is the one-man show by my new friend David Poznanter, whom I met at Katie's friend's party on Thursday night. Neat fella. It's "about a young man struggling to come to terms with his family's Holocaust experiences as well as his own experiences with anti-Semitism." Traditional Yiddish folksongs and music performed by Estradasphere accompany the drama. It's Friday, October 26, at 8pm, at Porter College Dining Hall at UC Santa Cruz. Cost: less than $8 for most of y'all. More info at 831-459-2857.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/21/163442/41
Filed under:

: Usability, Wobegon, Segfault, Potter:

Today in my life. An hour and a half of handball (making up absences) rather than just half an hour, a Russian test on which I probably got some type of B, a good history lecture about the Decembrists, a spurt of UNIX learning, more fruitless attempts to get NewsBruiser running on my OCF webspace (durn CGI wrapper), and a bit of studying and reading Good Omens sandwiched among constructive conversations with Leonard, Alexei, and my sister.

Tomorrow: a test and a comedy show! I referred to both of these in diary entries in the past week, in case you want to know more.

"Gay hero emerges from hijackings." A fella who graduated from my college and who happens -- happened, I should say -- to be gay helped avert the hijacking on Flight 93 on September eleventh. ("He didn't emerge. He died. His heroism survived," a friend nitpicks.) This reminds me of statues to Crispus Attucks.

Segfault sez: "If Shakespeare Wrote Error Messages" has jumped to #14 in the Top Stories of All Time! I'm glad. Up from #15. Yee-ha. Public approbation: terrific.

No false patriotism here. Fraudulency is still up, despite any alleged obligation of patriotism and support for our kind-of-elected leaders during "all of this."

Heavens, they're tasty! What is so "tasty and expeditious" about Prairie Home Companion's Powder Milk Biscuits? My private explanation: they're high in fiber and help "shy persons"; connect the dots. Incidentally, I scored 8 out of ten (would have been 9 if I had better motor skills) on the Lake Wobegon trivia quiz at the Prairie Home site.

Usability issue. Okay, I'm not sure whose fault this is. I think it's mine. Because there's sooooo much documentation out there for new *nix users, right? So it must be my fault that I have never, until today, read some useful, clear documentation on how to install software on a Unix system. I came across this, half-despairing, after about a year of trying and failing to find the answers in man pages, my O'Reilly Running Linux, and HOWTOs. This lecture finally told me, in plain and simple language, what the several steps are for making something useful out of some foo.tar.gz file. And, since that's the format for almost everything I've ever run into, argh that I lost a year of useful computing because .... well, because not only do I get no signals from my environment as to what to do, but even when I sought out directions, I couldn't understand them.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Taliban. Er, Azkaban. But seriously, folks, Goblet of Fire, the most recent Harry Potter novel, certainly alludes to terrorism, albeit magical.

I think I gave that book back to Dan, but maybe I could skim some passages again at a bookstore or something. The Harry Potter books really do get more thought-provoking and morally complex as the series progresses. I'm looking forward to seeing J.K. Rowling's next work.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/23/13712/233
Filed under:

: First post!

: Just saw and performed in the Squelch! Comedy Night at Blake's on Telegraph. That last sentence had an unusual number of capitalizations, I must say.

Al Madrigal, the second banana, was much funnier than Mickey Joseph, the headliner, who forged on with his act despite his Berkeley audience's decidedly cool response to racial-stereotype humor.

My puns didn't go over so well (perhaps the intoxicated members of the audience couldn't parse "Pepsi and Coke are known vectors of E-Cola" quickly enough), but my "Berkeley questions for a Berkeley sex advice column" bit got 'em laughing and I exited relatively gracefully.

Poor Seth tried to come by and couldn't because he lacked a photo ID. Grrr. But I did see Leonard and Sunil and other acquaintances.

: Leonard: Happy Wodehouse anniversary.

I must mention that Leonard, with his characteristic fiendish cleverness, used a plunger to unclog my toilet the other day. The nonstandard drainpipe shape didn't daunt him. Huzzah!

: Salon's Mulholland Drive dissection reminds me of Kafka's The Trial. I read that in a seminar my freshman year of college. I'm glad I read it, if only so that I can knowledgably call situations "Kafkaesque."

: Who knew I'd ever be messing with server-side includes?:

I'm working with Leonard to get NewsBruiser running at my OCF webspace. Well, that's a lie, as it's already working, but the address is the unwieldy http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~sumanah/cgi-bin/index.cgi, so I'm learning about server-side includes. I've played around with 'em this morning, and must be doing something wrong, even though I can't tell what.


: Who knew I'd ever be messing with server-side includes?

I'm working with Leonard to get NewsBruiser running at my OCF webspace. Well, that's a lie, as it's already working, but the address is the unwieldy http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~sumanah/cgi-bin/index.cgi, so I'm learning about server-side includes. I've played around with 'em this morning, and must be doing something wrong, even though I can't tell what.

(Originally posted at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/24/114148/21)

: So I'm done archiving around a third of my Kuro5hin.org diary entries. There are around 200 of them. I'm glad that I now have at least that many in webspace that I control, but I really want to just complete the transition, convert all of them to entries that NewsBruiser understands, and be able to point people to my personal site and just post a link to K5 every once in a while.

Gotta get dressed and ready for handball.

: Handball really tired me out. More sleep would have been better. By the end of the 35 minutes, I could hardly even serve worth a darn, much less hit serves that came off two walls before I could reach them.

In Russian, I made a puppet out of a brown paper bag, and learned that the word "vrag" means both "marriage" and "deficiency."

Lunch with Steve at Mario's La Fiesta. The cashier noticed that my hair has grown much longer, and complimented me on it. Sometimes I forget how attentive service personnel can be when they see me day after day after day.

On our way to lunch, we passed through this Berkeley USA patriotism fest. Flags, Garth-Brooks-sounding music, flags, signs (a few dissenters, thank goodness), flags, flags, flags. People passed out flags and flag representations.

Obnoxious guy: "Everyone needs a flag!"
Me: "You're wrong."
I felt physically nauseous. Patriotism of this sort, emotion unalloyed by any logic aside from "My country, right or wrong, my country," can find itself used for good and for evil equally easily. Don't they know that? Have none of these people ever taken a history class?

: I should not have forgotten to mention that today, as part of our lunch extravaganza, Steve gave me some CDs of music, and that we had one of the first geeky conversations I've ever felt comfortable having. Perhaps this was because I participated equally and never felt in over my head. (We were discussing, among other things, the problem he recently had with sendmail and the problems I had recently installing NewsBruiser.)

Also, I got to see the "scary chemicals" box in his lab. I think some of that stuff is twice as old as I am. And something like a million times as deadly!

: T-shirt, seen yesterday: "Bush isn't any smarter than he was on Sept. 11th." Yes, I live in Berkeley.

Also yesterday, I met a fella on the BART who used his ticket to Burning Man as a bookmark for his Foundation Trilogy volume. His e-mail domain was avocadolounge.org, which reminded me of Seth's ex.

I unreasonably love the sight of West Oakland from a BART train, especially after emerging from the tunnel under the Bay. I love the lights at night and the industrial yards in the daytime, especially the early morning. I think it appeals to me partly because I have a perfect view, neither on the ground nor miles above (as in a plane), but skimming along 50 or 100 feet up.

: The Peter Thomas Hair Salon at Virginia and Shattuck in Berkeley (510-843-0697) puts classified ads in the Daily Cal asking for models for free haircuts. Today I'll take advantage of their offer for the third time. It's a good place with very expensive stylists, and they always satisfy me, so it's worth the two hours with a trainee. Also, the owner has a lovely British accent, and sometimes I get to hear it.

Since the haircut will take place from 5 till 7 pm, I'll miss the Objectivist lecture on "How the Ivory Towers Destroyed the Twin Towers" or whatever. Oh darn.

: The Daily Californian amuses both deliberately and inadvertently. The most reliable source of amusement of either sort usually arrives in the Daily Horoscope by one Sydney Omarr. (Syndicated, I hope.)

Every weekday, I read the celebrity birthday paragraph, which usually tries for some inappropriate astrological spin. Often Omarr tries to convince us that such-and-so appreciates and uses astrology in her everyday life, or that the stars have something special in wait for her. Today: Billy Crystal. The killer passage:

His "ruling" planet, Neptune, makes him sensitive to the degree of being psychic. It turns out that Billy Crystal can make you laugh and at the same time read your mind.
This is no surprise to those of us who saw Analyze This.

: I sat in on the other TA's discussion section of Political Psychology but left early. A fire alarm interrupted Russian. Political Psychology lecture might have been useful, but I fell asleep and didn't care so much.

On the up side, I got to eat well on my sister's dime at a place called Downtown at Addison and Shattuck, I made a large painting of a happy face, and Stephen McCamant at the OCF helped me understand the not-so-unreasonable reasons why I had difficulties -- and still do -- with server-side includes.

I have to go get my haircut now.

: I actually like the quote/fortune that the bottom of Slashdot featured for me just now:

"But this one goes to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel

: My haircut reminds me that my previous hair arrangement did not look terrific. I like this one a great deal better.

Earlier today, something -- perhaps some idle notion that someone "had issues," or was neurotic -- reminded me of "She's Got Issues," a song by The Offspring. The one and only time I have ever seen the video for "She's Got Issues," I was in a bad restaurant, "Cafe Fiesta" or something, on Nyevskii Prospekt in St. Petersburg, Russia. The television played Russian MTV and for some reason this video played as I ate my fries and ketchup. Ketchup costs extra, most places in Russia.

: Trials and Travails

I'm writing several times a day now at the new location, http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~sumanah/cgi-bin/view.cgi/weblog, and working to get some less bulky address working as well. Today: I got a haircut and reminisced a bit about Russia.

(Originally posted at http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/10/26/23023/162)

: I'll just stay up long enough to archive July, and then I'll go to sleep, I promise.

: All right, I lied. I won't be finishing all of July tonight. Maybe if I have some free time tomorrow morning. I'm not setting my alarm, I'll tell you that right now. I'm sleeping as much as my body wants. (Of course, it'll panic and wake me at 7 or 8, but that'll be its fault and none of my own. My misfortune, yes, but not my fault.)

: Oi! Five messages in my inbox when I wake up, and four of them are from actual people I know, including Susanna wishing to see a picture of my haircut (perhaps next time I see Leonard and his Magical Digicam?) and the guy I met on the BART train. (It's so nice that I can just say "Google me" instead of giving out e-mail or URL.)

Dan e-mailed me in his capacity as www@ocf to give me tips with regard to my NewsBruiser problems. I find this humorous.

As out-of-context pictures of Bill Gates go, this one rocks.

: I am assuming that, if one searches for "sumana" via any relevant search engine, one of the last URLs that will actually refer to me is the alt.fan.dave_barry FAQ. That list is how I met Josh Brockman, of Maine, now at Washington University in St. Louis, which is where Steve Weber did his undergraduate work. Steve Weber is now a professor at UC Berkeley and I do research with him on the organization of open-source projects. Josh was one of the first people I ever met -- well, I never met him in meatspace, if it comes to that -- who made me feel inadequately geeky. He's a Mac guy, like Dan. Last I checked, Josh liked making golf clubs and hot-rodding cars and Ben Folds Five.

Enough reminiscing. Gotta eat a complete breakfast of toast and Nutella and get to Russian.

: Last night, boarding the 43, I think I might have seen Eve, the pseudonymic administrator of InPassing.org. A nice-looking girl holding an O'Reilly book was a bit exasperated when some other woman accused her of trying to cut in line when she had only seen no one else going forward and had, thus, done so herself. Certainly everything I saw in her demeanor fit my "Eve" internal representation, but perhaps that means little. I'd just like to think I'm in on the secret.


"But doctor, why? Why did you create a bomb to destroy all of pop culture?"
"People have become obsessed with the nonsense that the mass media tell them is important! People never talk about anything real anymore, like love! Or Israel!"
-paraphrase of an excerpt from a Fresh Robots act

: I'm tired and blue and I misspelled "brag" as "vrag" a few days ago and I spend this weekend without most of my friends.

But I received a substantial injection of cheer this morning in Russian when Zhenia, my Russian instructor, put a video on. It was "Live from Moscow, Stage II"! John spoke of it so highly, back during the summer! I met Misha and Dennis and Olya and Tania! Olya and Zhenia resemble each other a lot.

: I used to do tech writing for money during the summers. If I'd had fun stuff to write, like this, maybe I wouldn't have gotten sick of it.

: I'm not certain what in my Russian Imperial History class reminded me of Shirin Bakhshay and a song by Cake, "Going the Distance", that she liked back when we were in French class together in high school. Shirin is now at Cal, where I'm sure she's doing well.

It's not a bad song.

: It's easier to trace the mental map to my next reference. Russia in this period had serfdom, autocracy, all sorts of arbitrariness in its political system.

"I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." Soon it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics." When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic]." -- Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Joshua F. Speed, Aug. 24, 1855

I didn't know those first few sentences there until just now. Also, I predict that someday someone will search for "Degeneracy," looking for the game, and will find this entry, which has nothing to do with the game.

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: It's Sunday. Yes, it's always Sunday here at Sumana's Journal. Even when it's Friday, as it is today.

I don't know why NewsBruiser is stamping every message with "Sunday" when all the rest of the timestamnp (month, date, time, year) is correct. I've told Leonard, and I gave him all the info he asked for, so I assume he's on the road to fixing it.

Maybe this is some sort of cosmic balancing act, involving several people, that makes up for TGI Friday's.

: Leonard done fixed up a heap of stuff for me. So real soon now you'll be seeing bits of the diary on my homepage or something really convenient like that.

Also, he discovered some weirdness with how the OCF's installation of python handles strings. This is what made the timestamp on all my entries think it was Sunday. So, until that gets resolved, the day-of-the-week portion of the timestamp is on hiatus.

: I'm still messing around with site design, but now I at least have a reasonable this-month newest-entry-first page up at http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~sumanah/ces.shtml. And, as you may have noticed, the new name of the journal is Cogito, ergo Sumana, which is an offhand creation of Leonard's and is possibly the best wordplay on my name that I've ever heard.

: I'll be busy this weekend, so I won't be updating much till Sunday evening, I expect. At least I've gotten some more archiving done.

: Idea for a really patriotic bumper sticker: "My other car is an American flag."

: At least I know people will miss me now that I'm leaving Kuro5hin.org as a diary-hosting site. It's always nice to know I'm missed when I leave something or someone behind.

I've been thinking recently about how it'll be when I leave UC Berkeley, and I'll probably move to some new city, maybe even outside California, and how lonely I'll be and how much I'll miss my friends, and how I'll wonder whether they miss me. E-mail and even chat are no substitutes for dinner and walks and conversation. And phone calls get expensive. I wonder whether I might indulge my taste for solitude and actually get creative work done, or whether I might find new opportunities to make friends (Linux User Groups and bookstores and the like). Or both.

: So last night I dreamt that -- much as in the movie Antitrust that John and I mocked in the plane on the way to Frankfurt -- some young hotshot programmer got chased down by henchmen of a Microsoft-like company. In my dream, the company was Microsoft, and the Ryan Phillipe-type had pointed out privacy and/or architectural problems with Passport and/or .NET (in hopes of impressing MS with his skillz such that they would give him a job). For this, goons tracked him down until he and his family levitated to Prague.

I don't quite get that last part.

: Back from my 30-hour trip to & from Stockton via Davis and Sunnyvale. I have a lot of stuff to say. First of all, though, I have to remember to set my few clocks back an hour. Daylight Savings madness. Dave Barry once joked that DST was a mad plot by drunken government employees to see if they could get the citizenry to change its clocks twice a year without knowing why. So far, so good.

: I dreamt last night that I reconciled with my old archnemesis from high school, Suzanne R. She goes to Stanford now. I'll send her an email sometime soon asking how things are going. I've changed an awful lot in three-odd years. Maybe she has, too.

: I am sure that I am not the first person to note that the openings to Dar Williams's "The Christians and the Pagans" and the Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine" are pretty darn similar.

Have the Indigo Girls ever performed "Mood Indigo"?

: An incomplete list of stuff I've lost.

: It would be completely unscientific to conclude, on the basis of one evening's anecdotal evidence, that people who ride the BART on Sunday night tend to read more highbrow material than the average BART rider. But an hour ago, the folks transferring at MacArthur were carrying such works as:

Just after I noticed this, Kavalier Man and I struck up a conversation. He asked what good books I'd read lately. I suggested The Orwell Reader, Lady Chatterley's Lover, and Newton's Cannon, and gave my considered disapproval of The Name of the Rose. He said that he read a lot in high school and then tired of reading all the time. I didn't get a chance to tell him that I now spend a lot of time with friends that I used to spend reading, and that I now actually consider declining social activities to make time for books.

Filed under:

: Oh, the last thing that Kavalier man said to me before we parted ways was, "Have you read Siddhartha?" Yes, I have! Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, I think, are the two Hesse works I've read. Right after I acquired them, I recall sitting in a restaurant with Dan when some stranger asked me whether I knew the names of four works by Hesse. I almost got it. Steppenwolf, Damien, Siddhartha, and another. I forgot it then and I forget it now.

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: From Leonard's favorite philosophical tract this week:

Then we replicate in drama what we were spared in history.

Darn, and I got a hall pass, too!

: Today I had lunch at a house with a Silicon valley couple and its tot. I played with the kiddie's Tinkertoys, the first time I've ever played with Tinkertoys that I can remember. I wish I'd played more with such toys as a child. Maybe now I'd be more of an engineering type and I wouldn't have to worry as much about finding a job.

The father, an Oracle employee, asked me for some explanation of IBM's pro-Linux strategy, especially in view of direct competition between AIX and GNU/Linux. I explained it as follows: IBM understands that, in the end, the conflict is between Microsoft's closed standards and the rest of the world's open standards, and since IBM had to pick a side, it realized that it's best to ally with the player who won't eat you.

I'm not certain why I felt uneasy giving this explanation. It's just an obvious application of open-standards advocacy rhetoric to a real-world situation. I think perhaps I'm just not comfortable giving these opinions as my own when I didn't come up with them and yet I can't cite any one source where I got them.

: Before I turn in for the night -- Rick Starr has returned to campus! He's a lounge-singer type what hangs around Sproul Plaza -- usually nearer Bancroft Way than Sather Gate or Ludwig's Fountain -- and sings Sinatra-type songs. He used to hold a microphone whose cord trailed off into nothingness, but I didn't see it when I saw him last week.

What sort of destructive nostalgia makes me glad to see someone with probable mental illness and a tragic personal history return to entertain me?

: At Balboa Park BART station I often see an ad for Contentville. The poster's background features several -- maybe forty -- words and phrases which ostensibly represent subjects one could research via Contentville, e.g., snowboarding, brain surgery, Colin Powell. One of the phrases is "Kevin Mitnick." The only two I didn't recognize were "Joseph J. [something]" and "Herbert Marcuse."

This reminds me of the time that Leonard and I took a practice Miller Analogies Test. Leonard did better than I. Grrr.

: Alexei and I discussed a while back the myth-motif of The Woman Who Has A Secret And You Can't Ask Her About It Ever. Examples abound. Usually the man falls in love with the woman, and she makes him promise never to ask about, oh, the way she kills each baby a day after she gives birth, or where she came from, or where she goes every Sunday morning. And then he asks and something horrible happens.

Well, Modern Humorist's take points out the other side of the coin, and I love it.

: It would seem that John Searle got picketed at one of his public appearances. We in the OCF made great fun of this.

"People who protest John Searle are just making him feel more important than he really is."
"So, what, people stand around with signs reading 'Computers Can Think'?"
"No, all the signs are in symbolic logic."

: Even before I knew consciously how absurd most marketing tactics and political rhetoric sound to a conscious ear, The Tick made me laugh very, very hard. Today's IMDB quote:

Tick: Everybody was a baby once, Arthur. Oh, sure, maybe not today, or even yesterday. But once! Babies, chum: tiny, dimpled, fleshy mirrors of our us-ness, that we parents hurl into the future, like leathery footballs of hope! And you've got to get a good spiral on that baby, or evil will make an interception!

: My two main TV-watching experiences this weekend belonged to "Touched by an Angel" and the TV-edited version of In & Out.

Touched by an Angel. This CBS prime-time drama/anthology (Saturday nights) has s very heavily (if implicitly) Christian point of view. Angels come to various parts of the USA and help people with their problems and losses of faith in the Lord. This episode focused on Jews, surprisingly. Then again, I imagine Christians and Jews are really the only groups the show can do before running into real difficulty reconciling its Christian mythos and point-of-view and the possible goodness of the human characters. (It's high time for Monica, Andrew, and the rest of the gang to run into some sympathetic Muslims, I think.)

I generally disagree with the arguments presented in this show, and Saturday night's episode confirmed the trend. For example, in earlier episodes the Internet has been portrayed as a family-dividing porn conveyor belt. Er, no. And this time, a Jewish cartoonist who mocked Jewish foibles (the plot of the show had it) encouraged skinheads to vandalize a synagogue. Not all culture-specific humor is offensive, I'd venture.

One interesting point in the show, to me, came when the angel claimed that a Jew had interpreted a bit in the Torah too strictly. At least the show got the text-based nature of Judaism right.

More on In & Out later.

: Lunch with Brandon.

"So, I have it from reliable sources that, in case of catastrophe, war, plague, famine, whatever, we only need a thousand people to survive. A thousand people, and the human race can go on."
"But that's only if they're in the same place. They have to find each other."
"You're right. We need to arrange a meeting place, right now!"
"Is Sather Gate good for you?"

: I wanted to go see Barbara Ehrenreich speak from noon to one. But she was speaking at North Gate, which is a rather distant walk from Dwinelle, where my 11-12 Russian class meets, and I'd have had to leave the talk early to meet Brandon for lunch. I'll just make do with what I've read by and about her in Salon and Slate.

I have learned more about politics and political science from reading Slate than I have from at least one of the political science classes I've taken at UC Berkeley.

: Why must Bad Subjects texts be such wankery? Why is "I was ready for punk rock." the first simple declarative sentence in this analysis-cum-memoir of The Prisoner?

Filed under:

: In & Out: This 1997 Kevin Kline comedy focuses on an Indianan high school teacher whose former student says he's gay when he's not. Amusing and farcical.

I first watched this flick with Angel, years ago. I had forgotten that the "I'm Spartacus!" scene at the end of the film actually works. Joan Cusack, as the teacher's fiancée, seems too over-the-top (I liked her better in High Fidelity) -- perhaps this is what doomed the recent ABC comedy "What About Joan?". Finally, I gladly noticed the open ending; less hopeful than Dave, perhaps, but I can live without the saccharine hope of Dave for a while.

: The Sunnyvale Hindu temple -- one of the temples where my family regularly worships and socializes -- renovates and renovates and renovates. But the altar is always there, the children always run around and play, the women always sing, the bell always sounds the same when the priests ring it, and the shoes always lie askew on the ground and the floor near the shoe-shelves.

For years, in one of the multipurpose spaces, a large advertisement has hung on the wall. It reads:

"The HATHI BRAND People"

[a seal depicting two elephants' heads, raised in joy, and the words "HATHI BRAND TRADE MARK"]
Union City, California

This poster has hung in that temple for years. Yesterday I visited the website. After a fancy animated splash screen, most of it displays a fancy animated "Under Construction" logo.

In the five years since that poster went up, you'd think they'd have had time to add some product info. Maybe it took this long to animate the "Under Construction" image.

: Joel Spolsky points to a paper on writing, written by a Harvard philosophy prof for his students.

First, texts on good writing depress me, because I usually treat them as a hypochondriac would guidelines on good health. "I'm not doing this or this or this. Oh, I'm so awful. I can't do anything right." And so on.

Second, the professor's advice on overusing connective words reminds me of Mr. Hatch's warnings on the same topic. The professor says, "Don't throw in a 'thus' or a 'therefore' to make your train of thought sound more logical than it really is." Mr. Hatch warned us against using such signposts as "toothpicks in the swamp."

Finally, philosophy as a discipline also gets me down, since I already feel as though I'm not really learning anything in college, and I don't have the rigor of mind to pick apart dense arguments. I suppose the way to combat that feeling might be to go home and catch up on some reading.

: I just received a spam...wait, is "spam" a collective noun, like "water" or "meat," or some item, like "can" or "book"?

Anyway, I received an unsolicited commercial e-mail advertising life insurance. One line: "Attention All Smokers, you may qualify for special reduced smoker rates!" Shouldn't smokers, since they die earlier and thus pay in less money in premiums (premia?) before they cash out, have higher rates? Are the actuaries completely out to lunch on this deal?

: Seth: Thank goodness I'm not the only one who confuses Jakob Nielsen and Joel Spolsky. I assume Spolsky would take that as a compliment and Nielsen wouldn't; I see references to Nielsen on Spolsky's page but no references to Spolsky on Nielsen's.

I read Spolsky for my usability wisdom, since he writes more entertainingly than does Nielsen, but I know that Nielsen's more of an "expert."

: By the way, I finished Newton's Cannon and liked it. Now I need to read the rest of The Age of Unreason. I'm just glad that this sequel addiction doesn't go for, say, history. "Well, I just read a history of the Civil War, and now ... I don't know what happens next! I need to read about Reconstruction!"

Actually, I can imagine saying that.

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: I've actually caught up a tiny bit on my Russian Imperial History reading, which is quite fortunate, since I have a midterm tomorrow.

Two passages particularly caught my eye. The first, I excerpt from "Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia" (1811) by Nicholas Karamzin. Karamzin was a conservative historian who didn't like Tsar Alexander I's reforms.

Russia, after all, has been in existence for a thousand years, and not as a savage horde, but as a great state. Yet we are constantly told of new institutions and of new laws, as if we had just emerged from the dark American forests!

Second: One cannot discuss the history of Russian revolutions without mentioning the Decembrists. In 1825 tight cadres of (mostly) educated nobles, officers in the army, tried to overthrow the government. One reason for their dissatisfaction: during the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent occupations, Russian officers spent time in Western Europe. How embarrassing they found it to say, "We are fighting for the freedom of humanity, against Napoleon's tyranny," and have to answer for Russian serfdom!

A. Bestuzhev wrote, in a letter to Tsar Nicholas I analyzing the uprising:

The army, from generals to privates, upon its return, did nothing but discuss how good it is in foreign lands. A comparison with their own country naturally brought up the question, Why should it not be so in our own land?

At first, as long as they talked without being hindered, it was lost in the air, for thinking is like gunpowder, only dangerous when pressed....

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: So a bunch of flies decided to make my apartment their home for the winter. This was very, highly, intensely gross to me. I've only partly recovered from extreme childhood phobia of insects.

But half of the grossness of a *shudder* infestation *cringe* is not the critters themselves, but the steps one takes to get rid of the things. Which are grosser, live flies or dead flies? I hate insect spray but I use it anyway.

: The BEARCade, UC Berkeley's gaming facility, is selling off some of its arcade games for a few hundred bucks each. Galaga, SMASH TV, Rampage, Soul Caliber, and Tetris. That last one costs only two hundred dollars. I won't buy it, but you might want to.

You can (as far as I can tell) contact the manager of the arcade, Janet Bilbas, via email (j_bilbas@uclink4.berkeley.edu) or phone (510-642-1269).

: At least three of my partners in diarizing have somewhat recently encountered insect problems in their homes: Steve ("Everyone dies, even the queen"), Seth (ants and peppermint oil), and Leonard ("political intrigue").

: So Leonard was singing "Big Rock Candy Mountain" the other day, so of course I sought the lyrics:
It does seem a little bit absurd to me that, on the one hand, this page encourages kids to learn the song, and on the other hand, it takes such pains to tell the kiddies that actually living among cigarette trees and lakes of gin would not be a good thing.

: Directors who want believable crowd scenes often (I've been informed) give the extras rather random/nonsense words to repeat. Is this, to coin a tongue twister, an oral lorem ipsum?

: Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler looked very much alike. And both of them hated it.

I found this out last semester in my 1939 Films class.

: I'm never certain how to feel about the Berkeley College Republicans. Aside from the fact that its webpage is out-of-date and Javascript-laden, the organization puts out The Patriot, a magazine that generally contributes little to political discourse and prefers sophomoric attacks and smug back-patting. Yes, I've read an issue or two.

The most recent email from the Berkeley College Republicans might reveal how smug the leadership feels on the "liberal" Berkeley campus. Regarding the Teddy Bear Drive community service initiative:

This is one of our last two community service projects, so please get involved. This is very easy, so no excuses. You are putting a smile on a child's face - a great chance to show we really care and rub it in some crazy liberal's face.

When SANE says that atheists are a marginalized group in the USA, I believe it. I'm less apt to sympathize with the "victim" status of a campus group whose Director of Community Service Initiatives seems comfortable referring to "some crazy liberal" as though those words go together.

: Today I got to read some more of Kenny Byerly's work. I've known Kenny since our freshman year in college, when we both lived in Freeborn Hall. I told Kenny about Segfault, the geek humor site, before I had even met Leonard, and Kenny submitted "Microsoft Bankrupted by Foolish E-mail Giveaway" and now it ranks even above my "If Shakespeare Wrote Error Messages" in the Top Stories of All Time.

Kenny writes terrifically, and I enjoy his stand-up comedy, and he's overall a fun guy with whom to hang out. It seems so even more today than it did three years ago when I watched MST3K for the first time ever in his room in Freeborn. I wonder how much that's because I've changed, and how much is because he has too.

: For about three hours I studied -- well, studied in between conversation -- with Robin for my Russian Imperial History class. The Napoleonic Wars confuse me because there were so many of them and countries kept switching sides and forming Grand Coalitions. I know the knowledge will solidify in my mind eventually, but probably not before tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Tomorrow at 3 p.m. (West Coast time) passes the deadline for applying to Slate's Book Club. I think I'll write something during my lunch break and send it on in, either on Name of the Rose or on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. If I'm feeling adventurous, maybe one on each!

: Ray Bradbury is still alive, I infer from his announced public radio appearance (well, not appearance, since it's radio, but you know what I mean) later today.

I'm probably attending at least one Halloween party this weekend. I wonder what I should do for a costume. The really tasteless idea is to go with a friend and have us dress up as the twin World Trade Center towers. The really scary idea is to dress up as John Ashcroft.

: Today is Hallowe'en, Reformation Day (the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed up his [Windows] 95 Theses), and the third day of South Asian Awareness Week at UC Berkeley. So walking on Sproul, I see even more weird garb than usual, I hear familiar Hindi film music, and I stop in my tracks at a table with a sign reading "Tell Us Why You're Not A Christian and We'll Give You a Treat." I thought that last one was a SANE parody of the Christian associations' "Answer One Question and Get a Cookie" table, but it was some other Christian association celebrating Reformation Day.

The people at the Reformation Day table seemed quite amiable. I told them that, although I'm an agnostic, I believe that if there's a God, you don't need a priest to mediate your interaction with Him.

"You're so passionate! You should be a preacher."
"Yeah, 'I'm the agnostic preacher! I don't know, and I'll tell you why!'"

: Susie (of OCF fame) says that "everybody and their mother" has a blog, and proclaims that she will soon set up a parody site with her "blargh." I applaud the endeavor.

: Yesterday, as I walked home in the dark at 5:45pm or so in the pitch-black night interrupted by soft haloes of streetlights and harsh beams of auto headlights-- the time change still disorients me -- I stopped for a few minutes by Pegasus Bookstore at Durant and Shattuck. Some employee posts poems in the window, and the selection changed a few weeks ago. Last night I read Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" for the first time, I think. I also read a poem entitled "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" by Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.

When I searched for the text and author of the poem just now, I found that many people have cited it as an appropriate poem to read and think about in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, and that the New Yorker published it in its Sept. 24th issue. I liked it too.

One reason that I really enjoyed "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" is that I thought the imagery struck the right balance between vivid, evocative language and personal interpretability. I like poems that I can closely read to see more. Example: "leaves eddied over the earth's scars."

It's been a while since I read poetry that didn't disgust me. It was uplifting.

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: Two dreams.

I've had two dreams recently about the destruction of the world. Usually I don't have nightmares like that, and so I think I can safely say that anxiety about terrorist attacks has influenced my nightlife.

A week or so ago, I dreamt that aliens were going to kill us all or subjugate us, and that they were sending us insidious subliminal messages in artifacts and videos that people watched en masse. At one point, I despaired and thought, "I wish this were a dream," but dismissed it as wishful thinking. (Just after that, a girl and I flew for a bit, under our own power, but this didn't seem too unusual.) I didn't get to see whether the aliens succeeded.

Last night, my dream started out confusing and film-noirish. I was dating someone whom the police were tracking, and agents stodd right outside my bedroom door. But the clear, clear part borrowed from Speed, Big Trouble (the Dave Barry novel), and recent attacks. I carried a duffel bag down an escalator, and if it got to the bottom of the escalator with me, it would explode. My sister and someone else fought me and tried to take away the bomb, but I wanted to destroy, I know not why, and I fought back and got to the bottom of the escalator with the bag, which, now that I think about it, reminds me of Leonard's shoulder bag.

I knew as soon as I saw a flash of light that the bomb had gone off and now it would destroy the entire universe. In one long moment I could see a blue wind and all around me the faces of all the people I had just consigned to oblivion. And I hoped with all my might, hopelessly, that it was a dream, and I felt tremendous sorrow at the infinite loss that I had caused. I had completely destroyed all the precious potential that had ever existed, and it would never return.

Then, I fuzzily remember, I played a large-scale SimAnt game while talking with comedian and actor Paul Reiser. As in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the middle was more powerful than the beginning or end. Possibly the most powerful dream I've ever had.

: I applied to join Slate's Book Club using a modified version of my anti-Name of the Rose screed. Wish me luck, less on that than on the midterm I'll take in half an hour. Tsar Nicholas, Tsar Gicholas.

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: Done with my last Imperial Russian History midterm, probably the last ever. The questions seemed to ask very little, which made me panic and babble so as to cover the material "thoroughly" and fulfil my expectations of their expectations of an hourlong test.

I used a small bluebook instead of a regular-sized (8 1/2 by 11) one, which might have helped to throw me off.

: Pretty good episodes of West Wing and Enterprise.

: archives

: Aaron Sorkin often has various characters in "The West Wing" say the same line throughout an episode. "Did you get the new EPA stats on child asthma?" repeated various characters to Josh last night. They also inform each other of things they already know. "We don't have the votes for an override." "We need a whip count." "Seven Republicans just said they're not coming." "The chemical abbreviation for table salt is NaCl."

One reason for this trope -- a trope that Leonard noticed last night -- is to intensify the dramatic sense of the White House as a single entity with many mouths. They try out soundbites on each other, they care about the same things, they intensely focus on the same issues simultaneously, they try to back each other up.

Another reason might be so Aaron Sorkin can save time using copy-and-paste instead of having to write new dialogue.

: Defensive patriotism: My parents hang a little US flag in their car, held in place by the sunshade for the front passenger seat. A few days ago, I sat there and the thing dangled right over my head. Damocles' flag.

: Avoiding dangling participles in Russian class:

"I can hear the TV and I can hear Pavel."
"But can the television hear you?"
"Ahhh... Televizor, eto Bolshoi Brat. [Television, it is Big Brother.]"

: Yesterday afternoon, I saw a young Sikh boy turn the corner of Milvia and Channing, carrying a cricket bat. Cricket! Crikey! I wonder if there are cricket pickup matches at some undisclosed location in Berkeley. Maybe Victory Park.

: I attended Professor Reginald Zelnik's office hours earlier this semester. He teaches Imperial Russian History -- and quite well, too, if I may add. I waited outside as he talked with another student. A woman came by and waited with me. She said that she was a history graduate student and that he was her advisor.

Me: "So, what do you study? What's your topic of interest?"
Her: "I study the Soviet circus."
Me: "The circus?"
Her: "Yeah. You know. The circus. Acrobats, three rings, trapeezes."
Me: "Oh. I thought maybe 'the circus' was some Soviet purge I didn't know about."
Her: [laugh] "Oh, we in history don't do political history anymore. It's all cultural now."

: I wrote a poem a few weeks ago. Here it is.

Consistency Bias

Negotiating with a terrorist!
I did it every day -- no gracious dance
Would save me from my dad. There's no romance
In my dark ages. I could make a list

Of times that tyrant, no Objectivist,
Denied my self, my freedom, any chance
Of sane cognition sans his dissonance.
By heart I know the times he made me pissed.

A monster? No. My data's anecdotal.
But, tell me: can you trust to recollect
All of the good your nemeses have done?
I battle with my memory, subject
As it must be to evidence too modal.
I've washed my brain and made the colors run.

: I found myself, over the past few days, repeating "Happy Halloween!" in a strange, half-macabre voice. Yesterday, I finally remembered why. When I lived in Freeborn Hall, I knew Mike Carns, and his aunt had given him a small stuffed animal shaped like a ghost. When one shook it, it said, "Aahahahaha! Aahahahaha! Aahahahaha! Happy Halloween!" in a voice less spectral than toddlerish. We all got sick of it after a week.

: Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram went to the same high school. Also, a band exists entitled "Stanford Prison Experiment."

One reason I was poking around for information relating to Zimbardo: I've recently started using the phrase, "Because I know you're a nice guy," and Leonard and I figured out last night why it creeps him out. In a video ("Quiet Rage") about the Stanford Prison Experiment, a student who had played a prisoner conversed with a student (nicknamed "John Wayne") who had played a guard, and been the most vicious. After the experiment:

"Prisoner 416": "It let me in on some knowledge that I've never experienced first hand. I've read about it, I've read a lot about it, but I've never experienced it first hand, I've never seen someone first hand turn that way. And, I know you're a nice guy, you know."
"John Wayne": "You don't know that."
416: "You understand, I do, I do know you're a nice guy."
John Wayne: "Then why?"
416: "I don't, I say that because I know what you can turn into, I know what you're willing to do if you say, oh, well, I'm not going to hurt anybody, oh, well, it's a limited situation, or it's over in 2 weeks."
John Wayne: "Well, if you were in that position, what would you have done?"
416: "I don't know. But I think, if I were a guard, I wouldn't have been quite so imaginative. I wouldn't have applied quite as much creativity to it as you did. I would have played the role, I wouldn't have made it such a masterpiece."

John Wayne had been really sadistic, especially towards 416. And so you can hear the bitterness (there's a link to a RealPlayer video of the conversation here) that the ex-prisoner's trying not to let through in his voice. He exaggerates a bright, cheery tone. And it comes through the most when he says, "And I know you're a nice guy." So that's why it's creepy.

As it turns out, the person who stopped the experiment by pointing out to Zimbardo its inhumanity later married him. Imagine if it hadn't been his girlfriend who told him! They had a big fight over it! Would the experiment have continued for another eight days, finishing up the planned two-week run? Would someone have died?

: Ooh ahh, ooh ahh, ooh ooh diddy, tell me about the anthrax found at a mail processing facility in Kansas City.

In retrospect, I was kinda foolish to hope that anthrax would confine itself to the East Cost.

: I find David Denby's Slate article on how Americans can spread the good word (We aren't so bad, here's what's good about our culture) inspiring in a way I have never been inspired before.

: Tonight Leonard and I are going to see The Man Who Wasn't There, the new Coen brothers flick, at a free campus preview. Ads and reviews describe the film as a noir sendup. We'll see. If I'm lucky, I'll see Kenny Byerly there.

: My dad doesn't like that I posted that poem about him. What else is new?

: My parents came over and spent the night because they went to my sister's employer's annual banquet. I declined to have breakfast with them and my sister this morning.

Maybe the best way to keep my dad from reading my journal is to say to him, "Dad, read my journal, really, I wish you would read my journal." But then this morning I actually loaded it up for him on the old Compaq. Even though he'd had no opinion on "Consistency Bias" when he'd read it last night, today he didn't like that I had posted it for all to see. "What will people think?" he asked. "They'll think that I wanted to write a poem about you," I answered.

: Cold and fog mark the weather this morning. Before my parents drove away, I helped them wipe the condensation off the car windows with spare paper napkins from a fast-food joint. They handed the dirty, wet brown napkins to me to throw away when we were done.

Years back, when I had first moved into this apartment, I had a little ritual I performed when my parents drove away after visiting me. I would run on the sidewalk, on my side of the street, as though I were running after their car, and then when they accelerated away I stopped and I waved until they had far outdistanced me, and then I would go back to my apartment.

But today I just said goodbye and waited till the traffic slowed and crossed the street and threw away the napkins in the dumpster they emptied this morning and went back inside.

: It turns out I am going to breakfast with my parents. See you later.

: My parents and my sister and I went to breakfast at Venus. They gave me money even when I said I didn't need it. My mom noticed that I like floating candles and she gave me four of them. They offered me a ride home but I preferred to walk.

This entry is the sestet. The one two entries ago was the octave.

: The other day I lined up to get into a BART car and I smelled some sort of perfume that, I presume, one of the women in the line was wearing. On several occasions, I have smelled such scents in women's magazines (e.g., ym, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen). Advertisers place scented strips -- samples of ther perfumes -- next to pictures of glamorous women or forests or decadent soirées or intimate romance.

But when I smelled that perfume, the most immediate association wasn't to glamor or romance. I thought, "Oh, that smell reminds me of reading ym."

: What have I been reading? The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, and Peter Maass's articles.

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: Scary look-alikes:
I have an uncle who looks a heck of a lot like Saddam Hussein.

I just saw my landlord downstairs, and yet again confirmed that he looks a heck of a lot like Jack Kevorkian.

A somewhat longer story: I theorize that people in their standardized ID photos look like either terrorists or drug addicts. My Indian cousins confirmed this when I visited them three years ago. They said that my college ID photo makes me look like the woman who assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In other words, not only do I look like a terrorist, but I resemble one terrorist in particular!

: The Man Who Wasn't There. I'd seen three other Coen Brothers movies (Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski). Now that I've seen four, I can be pretty sure that I like the brothers' work. The clincher: a visual reference to the double-slit experiment, using the shadows of prison bars.

I hadn't watched a film in a very, very long time. I had forgotten what artistry in film could be, how really good cinema creates the extraordinarily absorbing experience that Pauline Kael hailed so.

As I learned last semester in 1939 Films, in film noir, the plot must always take a back seat to atmosphere. Mood and tone are the much more important effects. The shadows, well, overshadow the things that make them. And the Coens get this.

: Last night I prepared a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, black beans, and Annie's Tuscan salad dressing. I also ate Near East garlic and herb rice pilaf. This was the best meal I've had in quite a long time.

: Today was the first time in ages that I've started and finished a book in the same day. Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog amused me and certainly pulled me along. She surprised me in the intricacy of her plot, and in the relative lack of frustration for her protagonist/narrator. Usually she takes great glee in throwing every conceivable obstacle in your path. (I've already complained about this.) This time, certainly I encountered pages that made me say, "Argh!" and put the book down for thirty minutes. But it didn't nag me as much as it has in her short stories.

Overall, I see this book as a cross between two of her other books, Bellwether and Doomsday Book, both of which I own and have read. I didn't find this book as emotionally moving as Doomsday Book, nor as annoying as Bellwether.

Next: study for Russian test tomorrow.

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: I skipped handball and studied for my Russian test. I might have even done well on it. Won't know for a week. I also turned in my long-delayed sochinenie (essay), which I wrote on the topic of "suggestions to a friend who wants to buy a computer."

While studying, I found two allegedly Russian proverbs. One: "Don't bring your own charter to a monastery." Idiomatic English translation: "When in Rome, do as the Romans." Another: "It's like bringing your own samovar to Tula [where samovars are made]." Idiomatic English translation: "It's like bringing coals to Newcastle [where coal is mined]."

Now to choose interesting and eclectic classes for next semester. I can take almost entirely what I want, since I've fulfilled (almost) all of my requirements.

: I went to another of Alexei Filippenko's Astronomy 10 lectures today. I've heard terrific praise of him all the years I've been at Cal. And it's quite true. If my Computer Science 3 professor had been this inspiring, and Simon Stow hadn't been such a charismatic and fantastic instructor for Political Science 2, maybe I'd have majored in something that could get me a job.

Filippenko strongly resembles Robin Williams. Filippenko's sense of humor does not rise to Williams-level zaniness -- a boon, since that sort of thing could tire me out after thirty minutes, much less fifty -- but Filippenko has the same grounded-in-the-subject humor as Reginald Zelnik, my Imperial Russian History professor.

Today, for the first time, I really tried to imagine how far the Earth travels every year. 584 million miles, I learn. Sagan's blue-green dot, er, speck, hurtling through space! The great black void!

It makes me want to hug someone for protection against the vacuum.

: Joke that Professor Filippenko read in lecture:

Please stop jumping up and down on my wooden board. I'm trying to keep my Planck constant.

: I'm catching up on e-mail while listening to this terrific CD of mp3'd music that Steve gave me. That is, he gave me the media, the CD itself. Whether he gave me the music...well, I wouldn't want to claim any property rights that I don't have, so I'll just leave that ambiguous.

I meant to go to Steve's Halloween party last weekend, but I fell asleep at 8pm that evening, full of pilaf and salad and contentment, and I woke momentarily at 11:45 or something and resigned myself to missing the party. It's too bad. I wanted to go, if only to push myself to develop a costume, and because I missed Steve's last party. Is there some dark force keeping me from Steve's parties? Time will tell.

By the way, this picture of me has these weird historical associations which I just mentioned in an email to Devin, and this Salon story made Alexei and me guffaw rather explosively. We read the pulpy, noir-y parts aloud together. Isn't "Stoner Mayhem" sort of a name for an event or athlete? Isn't the last paragraph of that article a jarring contrast to everything but the beginning, of which it is a clone?

: Rich Fromm, a.k.a. The Guy I Met on BART, on avocadolounge.org:

well, "we" is really just my house. which also happens to have a bar.

: I had a rather eventful evening. I practiced my handball with Robin (not the same Robin with whom I studied history a week ago, for the midterm on which I got a lower score than I had on the previous midterm, despite having studied harder over less material!). Handball Robin helped me out quite a bit by getting me to relax. "It's natural. Trust yourself," Robin kept saying, but the true accomplishment was that I believed it.

Later, I had Alexei over for dinner, finishing off the salad fixins and consuming more pilaf. We had a grand time, at one point disputing "Big Rock Candy Mountain" lyrics -- it seems that every web site has a different version -- and implications.

I really should go to sleep soon, even though I don't have class till eleven tomorrow. I mean, the principle of the things. As well, I might want to go to one of Filippenko's Star Parties this week, and rested Sumana would enjoy that better than wired-tired Sumana.

: I got this very surprising good and fast grade on the Russian test I took yesterday. I got an almost perfect score on the listening section, and five out of five points for the bonus "my best or worst day" essay. Yippee!

Susanna and I talk a lot about our various Slavic language experiences. I'm trying to come up with some crackpot theory about the causal relationship between knowing Leonard and studying a Slavic language.

: My dad told me about this Indian news-site's article about the Indian prime minister's visit to St. Petersburg. I find it refreshing that Atal Bihari Vajpayee can say, in good conscience, "I must confess that I am not an intellectual," and mean it without sarcasm.

: I'm sort of starting to write short fiction again. I might even submit something to one of these contests open to UC Berkeley undergrads. Or even submit to the Berkeley Fiction Review.

: A.O. Scott of The New York Times says of John Travolta (with special regard to Domestic Disturbance), "It is hard to think of anyone who has wasted so much talent in so many bad pictures." A quick look at his filmography reminds me of Look Who's Talking and, even more inexcusably, Look Who's Talking Too. Is there anything that will get you kicked out of the Screen Actors Guild? Mike Parsons, I'm asking you.

: Professor John Searle, philosopher of the mind and language and consciousness, speaks at Black Oak Books in Berkeley this Thursday evening at 7:30. As per a previous entry, I suggest picketing Prof. Searle with signs reading, "If Computers Can't Think, We Can't Either!" or something else suitably catchy.

: Every once in a while, you think, "oh, people have gotten it, Narcissus doesn't have any more minions through which to construct web pages." And then you look up your friends' enemies. The self-indulgent neurosis just keeps coming and coming, as though from some bubbling sewer that no one's inspected in years. Gaah.

: John got my letter (which included a BBC) in less than a week! I was expecting another Ice Age to pass before the mail moved east.

: Another lunch with Brandon. I told all sorts of high school stories starring Aaron Benavidez and Ana Cruz and Angel Ayon and even other people whose names don't begin with the letter A, such as myself. Also discussed: high school standardized tests, Sociology 3 with Andrew Creighton (a class we both attended even though we weren't enrolled because Creighton is the best lecturer I've ever seen), math and physics jokes, and Salon.

I proposed that Salon systematically opposes the conventional wisdom, right or wrong, out of principle. Brandon suggested the use of a lookup table for such an endeavor. It sounds as though it could work...but could it go wrong?

: A photographer snapped my visage for the yearbook. In two to four weeks, I should receive proofs so that I can pick a shot to represent me for posterity.

I ended up putting down silly answers to the questions on the Senior Survey, profound and superficial alike. After all, should Ezra Pound ("Make it new") and Jack Citrin ("Satisfice and move on") really have the same representation in a person's store of wisdom?

: This entry indeed does reference my recent Segfault story on 'Salon headlines you won't see' rather indirectly.

: John's picture reminds me of his difficulties (back in St. Petersburg) in getting merchants to understand that he wanted a "Mountain Dew." If John were a Wiccan, Mountain Dew would be his familiar.

From an email exchange two months ago:

>       I just thought, "I should shower."  The sad thing is that I did
> shower, four hours ago.  I've been sitting in front of the computer for
> almost all the intervening time.  And eating microwave dinner for
> breakfast.  Shame.

*sucks down some more Mountain Dew and chinese food*

-- John Stange

: Enterprise and The West Wing were both non-bad last night. Enterprise certainly didn't reach the same heights as it did last week. A rather interminable "answering schoolchildren's questions" sequence really didn't seem to have much purpose. The away team on the comet acted stupidly. But I'm rapidly coming to understand T'Pal as the most interesting character on the show, and I look forward to seeing what happens between her and the Dubya act-alike chief engineer.

The West Wing--it's tough to watch recent episodes with people who have missed a week. I didn't care for the sports-betting patter, but the revelation about Leo's wartime service made up for it, as did the penny trivia and my favorite line of the episode, possibly the season. President Bartlet on the Second Amendment: "Can't we just agree that it's a stupid-ass amendment?" Maybe I don't agree, but the line made me laugh.

: So I listen to NPR and sometimes browse magazines and news-supply websites (e.g., Slate and Salon). Here's something I know I'm not alone in noticing:

The consensus seems to have arrived: the shorthand for referring to "the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th" is "September 11th" or even "nine-eleven." When referring to the anxiety, increased alertness, anthrax scares, loss of civil liberties, war with Afghanistan, hastened economic recession, surges in outward shows of patriotism and bipartisanship, and other effects of the terrorist attacks, use "recent events," "all of this," "recent times," or similarly vague phrasing.

It's as though the notion that these are all components of some coherent national mood, and that the listener/reader knows this, is as implicit and taken-for-granted as the fact that George W. Bush lives in the White House and San Francisco is in California.

Orwell taught me to trust specifics and distrust easy, common generalities. What does it hide to say "September 11th" instead of spelling out the causes of current actions and attitudes? This phrasing implies that something unprecedented and ahistorical happened on September 11th, and focuses the listener on the events and their aftermath rather than their causes. Using "all of this" or "the current crisis" or "recent events" glosses over the actual actions and agents -- who is doing what to whom -- and keeps a person from specifically tracing and considering each trend and reaction. "After all, we're all a little nervous right now" and "the country right now" let the listener or reader forget that some people (e.g., Muslims, Middle Eastern people or those who resemble them, civil libertarians), in the US and abroad, have more to worry about than others, thanks to their neighbors and from the US government.

I know that most people who will read this try to make allowances for such insinuations when they use the mass media. But I find people around me using such phrases, too. Sure, we all need shorthand and abbreviations. But I want to kep track of how the way that we abbreviate important ideas makes certain thoughts easier than others.

: So, do the medical facilities of the country still lack for blood? I saw a Red Cross volunteer handing out "Please give blood" flyers on campus today. Under questioning, she admitted that she did not know whether there is still a blood shortage.

I have no objection to giving blood. I just want to know how I can know that it won't go to waste. The Red Cross volunteer hazarded a guess that the Red Cross website would tell me how badly it needs blood, but doesn't the Red Cross have a vested interest in telling me a particular answer?

: I'm at Jeana's!

: When I make analogies, I want them to be as erudite as "Setting up sound in linux is about as intuitive as German philosophy in the 19th century."

: Red Cross: Steve pointed out to me that: (1) blood banks can separate out, say, plasma from whole blood and maybe keep that fresher longer than whole blood, and (2) the Red Cross doesn't need blood if there's not a shortage (unless they're vampires), and (3) sometimes blood banks lack more of one blood type than of another. As well, a recent Slate article explains that the Red Cross took this opportunity to expand its reserve, which is good.

: Crying: Last night I read Harlan Ellison's Paladin of the Lost Hour and cried. I've been thinking that nothing lasts. Sherwood Anderson has this great line in Winesburg, Ohio, in the short story "Sophistication."

There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses the line into manhood. ... He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun....
The sun is like time. It nurtures us, it lets us grow, and then it kills us. This particular melancholy thought I first had about three years ago.

(Whilst looking up "Paladin," I found another story by Ellison, "Susan", which speaks to the same sorrow.)

I woke up this morning to National Public Radio. Various listeners spoke of how their lives have changed in the past two months, because of the immediate shock of the terrorist attacks on New York and D.C., and because of the war, antiterrorism actions, and other terrorism-related recent events. One woman joined the Peace Corps. One American Literature class can relate better to Bradstreet, Sandburg, Whitman, and Ginsberg.

I've been paranoid and melancholy for years. The recent terrorist attacks just confirmed it.

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: My Slavic language class is discouraging me, but on the up side, I went to Jeana's last night and baked cupcakes for her whole house. She's so sweet. The frosting was also super-sweet. Too much sugar, not enough chocolate. I saw lots of people I knew via classes and via other people I knew. Jeana and Adam (her boyfriend) were quite surprised.

This (completely truthful!) entry brought to you by Sumana Pretending To Be Susanna. More than a hundred cupcakes. Really.

: Prof. Filippenko (who studied under Richard Feynman, as I learned today) played a funny bit from Futurama and Monty Python's "The Galaxy Song" in lecture today. I must have heard that song once in the last three years, and yet the last memory I have of hearing that song is from my freshman year, back in Freeborn Hall. My next-door neighbor played it via an mp3 via MacAmp and we danced around the room. How very long ago that was.

There are still people who use Yahoo to search the Internet. Why?

: I have to read Fathers and Sons by Turgenev over the weekend. Good thing it'll actually interest me.

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: It took me something like 20 minutes of searching to find the year in which Donald A. Norman, cognitive scientist, was born. It's 1935, just so you know, and I finally hit upon it by googling "cognitive science biographies" and finding this useful list.

: Is there a porn search engine entitled "Ass Jeeves"?

: More Red Cross madness!: From Today's Papers:

The WP front gives the misstepping Red Cross more bad press. It seems that the Red Cross over-collected blood after Sept. 11 and now will have to burn the extra since it will go bad. Worse, the organization knew that the blood it was encouraging people to give would not go to victims of Sept. 11, and it told donors their blood would be frozen for future use even though it did not have the resources to freeze large amounts of blood.

: Frustration. I tried to buy some stamps at a vending machine in the post office annex on Allston Way. It ate my $4.00 and gave me back 60 cents in change but did not give me my book of ten first class stamps. (What went wrong? I assume the book didn't drop from its holder, but since the machine -- like too much government -- was nontransparent, I couldn't tell.) Since it's the Monday after Veterans' Day, the main post office was empty of all but the homeless seeking shelter from the rain. I might go there to complain tomorrow.

In happier news, I'm going out to lunch with Alexei. Sometimes I like holidays. I'll try to cram in a few more chapters of Fathers and Sons before I leave. I enjoy Turgenev's spot-on characterizations and the philosophical arguments, and I half-enjoy and half-dislike that I can spot where a translator found some awkward phrasing for some Russian expression.

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: I went to Camille's birthday party on Saturday night, and the night before, I went to an a cappella concert on campus. More on those later.

As Leonard pointed out, saying "18th century" when you mean "19th century" is an off-by-100 error.

: Mike Parsons told me that Steve Martin was a genius. I usually like his work, and Roger Ebert's interview with him makes me feel secure and justified.

: Notes from the a cappella concert on Friday night:

It was good, I imagine, the concert. I kind of wanted to go home. It was late. I didn't want to be too tired to enjoy A Prairie Home Companion the next night.

I am such a square.

: Camille's party: Camille had a birthday and I wish her well. I attended her party and, while many interesting people joined me, the party was more conducive to dancing than to conversation. I sort of ended up in the kitchen reading the New York Times and going home early because the thumping of the music gave me a headache.

Again: I am such a square.

: I'm really glad I hung out with Alexei. He gave me some great food for thought regarding faith and religion. In addition, he sprang for lunch and I got back Bargainville and Garrison Keillor's The Book of Guys.

I was really glad to find The Book of Guys because I had been looking for it on and off for a year or more. I stopped teaching "Politics of the Midlife Crisis" about a year and a half ago, and I assumed that I must have lent it to someone in that class, and then it turned up in Alexei's bookshelf. Maybe now my luck will turn around and I'll start finding all the (material) stuff I've lost lately. Very frustrating.

Filed under:

: I'm going to catch up on Russian homework right now. Really, I am. Three or four days, all in one morning.

: I should have known that announcements I get via the Berkeley ACLU might be kinda skewed ideologically.

Marijuana Symposium
What DARE Didn't Teach You Part 2: Marijuana

Thursday, November 15 @ 6pm
2050 Valley Life Sciences Building (aka Chan Shun Auditorium), UC Berkeley
Sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Speakers include: *for more info contact Scarlett at sswerdlow@hotmail.com

I went through DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in fifth grade and I primarily recall that I won first place in my class in the essay contest (topic: "Why I Will Never Use Drugs"). I'm rather unhappy now that I received and accepted such a simplistic attitude towards drug use. The nuances of harm reduction seem much more important to me now.

: I wore fancy garb today to attend a luncheon for the Alumni Leadership Scholars and donors to the Alumni scholarships. How small and unaccomplished I felt next to people who have started nonprofits and published papers and been presidents of campus organizations.

(I try to comfort myself -- I studied in Russia, I've taught three courses, I'm somewhat up to speed on civil liberties and technology issues, I'm a relatively authentic person -- but see, the MC read out one or two accomplishments by each recipient, and she chose to say that I've taught "Politics in Modern Science Fiction" and "Politics of the Midlife Crisis," and people laughed.)

And then I went to Political Psychology, where the prof talked about leadership (and, incidentally, called Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program "The New Society"). He talked quite a bit. As Billy Joel said in "Shades of Grey," "The more I find out, the less that I know."

What is leadership, anyway? A motive, a means, an opportunity? Why is it important? Why should I think of it as something I want to cultivate in my life? Should I?

: Today I again visited Jeana and helped her cook a great dinner for her coop. Today I mainly worked on the tofu for the salad, although I had a large voice in meal design.

It is so nice using a big kitchen with lots of supplies and industrial-strength equipment to prepare a well-balanced meal, and then to eat it. Spaghetti with thick mockmeat sauce, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad, cornbread, and chocolate pudding. Mmmmmm.

Another nice thing about living in a coop is that one gets to, while eating, socialize and/or read one of several newspapers on paper, the way God intended. When was the last time I read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times on paper?

So I skimmed the science section of the NYT during dinner, and I stopped and burst out laughing at the article about Alan Alda starring in "QED," a play about Richard Feynman. And I kept laughing, for about five minutes, and thinking, "This is great." I'm not sure why that made me feel so blissful and terrific. Jeana thinks it was the chocolate pudding.

: John tells me that MCSE action figures exist. Some Microsoft salesman gave them to a coworker of his. *recoil*

This came up because I was recounting to John a story from years ago, when Seth took Dan and me to a sushi place in the Metreon (which sfgate recently declared dead). Seth gave us a tour through The Microsoft Store.

Seth: They have Microsoft shirts, Microsoft pens, Microsoft mugs --
Me: Yes, it does.

: Oh yeah, I actually did get quite a bit of Russian homework done this morning. I did not finish the ridiculously repetitive "rewrite this passage in three slightly different forms" portion, nor did I do the listening, since I don't have the audiotape. But a solid chunk nonetheless. I almost feel like a good student. Wait, no.

: I cut myself today while removing the tough outer layers from blocks of tofu. Not nearly as dour as some medical news I could think of, but still annoying. Be careful when using sharp knives, folks. And remember to have bandages around.

: Adam linked to Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think." I've never read it, but since I posit that Google helps us achieve memex-hood, I should.

Once upon a time, Leonard impressed me by instantly recalling Bush's name when I said, apropos of nothing, the title of his famous article. Or it might have been the other way around. Either way, very hip.

Filed under:

: I dreamt a long, complicated dream last night. I participated in a snowball fight, saw Alexei in a line for a movie theater, saw my Political Psychology TA working a minimum-wage food-service job, and possibly saw and did other things I can't recall.

I wonder how much it influenced my dreams that yesterday night I played a lot with Jeana's snake, Jezebel, and finished Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. Good stuff, both of those.

: Even if I move outside of Northern California after I graduate, I'll still keep reading Jon Carroll's column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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: I went to the Allston Way post office today and, after waiting several minutes and filling out a short form, received the $3.40 in first-class stamps that I tried to buy from a vending machine on Monday. I'm glad; I didn't expect that I'd get any recourse and/or compensation.

: George Orwell wrote in "Politics and the English Language" that

incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
I had already been considering this when I came across David Thomson's ode to Frances McDormand. His very first sentence not only ends with a needless preposition, but misuses "vale of tears" (also "vale of sorrows").
As men go through this veil of sorrows, there's a lot of things we have to adjust to.

"Veil of sorrows"? What the hell is that? Are you wearing a really sad piece of crepe over your face? Are you a Nathaniel Hawthorne character? So egregious.

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: A week ago, whilst helping Jeana and her cooking partner prepare dinner, I was listening to a commercial radio station. Quite rare, for me. I only burst out laughing a few times. One ad for some criminal-law TV show that evening told me, "You have the motive and the opportunity...to watch!"

: I now have the address of Mr. Berkowitz, after some rather desultory time at classmates.com. I'll send him a letter soon.

: My current fun-book is Robert Kanigel's The One Best Way, a biography of Frederick W. Taylor. An offhanded remark about transcendentalists seized me -- what's the name of the transcendentalist journal that Emerson started? Ah, yes, The Dial.

Taylor's dad gave him rather touching parental advice when Fred was off at college. It made me tear up to see a dad's letter with that heartfelt compassionate sentiment. If I ever have children, I want to honor them so much. I'm not sure I could stand it. Maybe no one is, until going through with it.

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: I went to a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail today with Robin at some history students' society showing. I'd forgotten how enjoyable it is! A history professor spoke a bit before and after the film about the medieval mishmash that Monty Python put together. In addition, the prof talked about self-conscious anachronistic wackiness in King Lear, the satire wave of the thirteenth century, and his negative experience regarding Umberto Eco.

The more I hang out among history scholars, the more I wish I'd majored in history. A piece of wisdom I heard but unfortunately disregarded when I was much younger: Major in something that will give you a base of knowledge, e.g., biology, history. As it is, Sumana feels as though there's nothing I can point to and say, "That's what I learned."

: "Oh, now we see the violence inherent in the system!"

What a great movie, Holy Grail.

Before the film, Robin and I should have done reading for our classes, but instead we talked about books we'd read and books we wanted to read and recommended to each other. I haven't yet read Brothers Karamazov or Crime and Punishment, but Robin had never read Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams or Jared Silver's Guns, Germs, and Steel. How can a history major never have heard of Guns, Germs, and Steel? Don't ask me.

Robin also recommended to me Harold and Maude, a film I first saw mentioned in a list of recommended movies that Mike Parsons wrote for the Tokay Press.

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: The other night, as I waited for a campus shuttle at Bancroft and Telegraph -- as I have a hundred times -- I saw for the first time that the cement bears pawprints.

: I actually own and have sort of started Shirer's classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I bought for a buck at a thrift store next to the S-Mart Foods in Stockton. A Political Psychology discussion weeks ago reminded me of this, and of the question: Does Godwin's Law apply if one is actually discussing Nazi Germany?

The answer is, of course it does, since Godwin's Law is not actually some normative tool about winning or losing but simply an observation that, "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Usenet tradition might say, "Someone made a Nazi comparison, game over," but (unfortunately?) I can't use that excuse to walk out of my Political Psych lecture.

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: In high school, probably my junior year, I made a poster for my French class to advertise my then-favorite movie, Dave. The last lines was "Regardez-vous sur vidéo!" Only in the past month have I discovered, thanks to Alexei, that I accidentally said not "Watch it on video!" but "Watch yourself on video!"

: Directions. My Russian class is learning about how to give directions. We're learning this for, oh, the fourth time, so we can have some fun with it.

"How do I get to the Marinskiy Theatre?"
"The Marinskiy. Well, you go down Nevskiy Prospekt..."
"And then you turn left on Liteyniy ..."
"Left or right?"
"Left. And then you see a shashlik [meat kabob] store."
"A shashlik store."
"Yes. And you go into the store --"
"Do I ask the people in the store how to get to the Marinskiy?"
"No, no, they're stupid, they don't know anything. Buy a shashlik."
"But I don't eat meat."
"That's not important. Buy the shashlik and go outside. You'll see a man named Pyotr."
"Give him the shashlik. He lives on the street. He knows the city. He'll tell you how to get to the Marinskiy. I don't know anything about that."
The other pair's conversation had Jeff as very, very stupid ("The Volga? Is that a street?") and quite bewildered ("Soccer players selling matroschki dolls?" "No, no, matroschki dolls with the faces of soccer players!"). Cinzia eventually said to him, "Go down this street a little ... and ask someone else," to which he responded, "That's what the last person said."

Another example sentence, which New Yorker Sean composed, bore an eerie resemblance to lyrics from "Take the A Train."

: You might think that "I want to find a book [so as] to read" might be literally translated, without the "so as": "Ya khochu naiyti knigu chitat'". But no. If you wish to say, in Russian, that some action is/was meant to produce some effect, you can't just use the infinitive.

The "so as" is the conjunction chtobiy. "Ya khochu naiyti knigu chtobiy chitat'." And my Russian-learning classmates and I find it tough to remember to use chtobiy. Cinzia called it "the sneaky chtobiy." I called it "The Boris and Natasha of Russian grammar."

Perhaps the best way to think of chtobiy is as the middleman who transmits intent into action. He's the the very reserved but very efficient mafioso who gets your job done. As Cinzia put it, "Chtobiy wears a tie."

Maybe we're cracking up. Today I saw that the word for "three hundred" is "tristo" and I made a "Tristan and Isolde" pun that no one got. Maybe I should have made a Thomas Pynchon reference instead.

: From Jeana's journal:

For anyone in the Berkeley area, today (being Friday) at 4 pm, Ursula K. Le Guin will be speaking in the Morrison Room of Doe Library. The "K" in her name stands for Kroeber, 'cause her dad was Alfred Kroeber, an influential anthropologist earlier this century who has a building on campus named after him.
Of course. Alfred Kroeber. I don't know why I thought his name was Herbert. Maybe it was the Alfred Kroeber --> Ursula K. Le Guin --> another science fiction writer, Frank Herbert connection.

: I really should go to sleep. Then again, I really should eat well-balanced meals every day and keep up on the reading for my classes and take care of other responsibilities as well.

Me on Stephen King this evening, to Robin:

"If I want to get scared, I just think about finding a job after graduation."

: I used to have all sorts of theories about the Harry Potter books. I'd talk about how the weakness of the French and the evil of the Germans had to do with World War II, and how the post-Voldemort wizard vengeance was a rather literal witch hunt reminiscent of McCarthy, and so on.

But I haven't read any Rowling recently, and a Culturebox and another, more involved analysis that I read today rather sated me for Rowling theories for a while.

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: From Steve Hofstetter's Observational Humor:

Most colleges have huge ever-expanding libraries with hundreds of thousands of books, so they need a complex system of numbers and maps to tell you exactly which shelf your book was supposed to be on before it was misplaced.

: Dan and other people in the OCF just found out about INTERCAL. Dan is laughing hysterically.

: Jeff might use information on Ishi, last of the Yahi, in his linguistics dissertation. He mentioned this today in Russian class, which amused me for two reasons. First, the anthropologist whom we most associate with Ishi was Al Kroeber, whose daughter Ursula K. Le Guin I'll see at four when she speaks on campus. Second, the TA taught Jeff the word for tribes. Plemenya. Oh, shades of the summer!

: Poor Leonard. Segfault and his weblog and Scott's and Frances's and Susanna's weblogs are offline and he doesn't know exactly why. To boot, one must use Google's cache of his front page if one has become addicted to his navbar of links to other weblogs.

And to think I thought I had problems with kuro5hin.org hosting my diary...

: I have been thinking for quite a while about the ways in which different technologies lead people to communicate in different ways. Joel Spolsky points out that -- for example -- when a message board doesn't allow threading, offtopic posts are less likely.

: Thanks to Jeana, I attended a lecture by Ursula K. Le Guin today and even spoke with her a tiny bit. She seemed very happy that I'd had such a great experience teaching her book. I gave her a flier that I'd used to advertise my class and that mentioned her book.

During the lecture, I thought about how very, very smart and skillful Le Guin is as a lecturer and a writer, and I grew depressed because I don't know whether I will ever be as good and successful. After the lecture, a man struck up a conversation with me based on a question I'd asked during the Q&A period. He basically told me that I seem to have teaching in my blood, and that someone who teaches even when she's not getting paid is someone who will be a successful teacher.

I can be pretty mystical sometimes. Perhaps today I heard my calling.

: Le Guin reads Jon Carroll and called Carroll's column today a terrific example of politically aware speculative fiction.

: Yes, it's 2:30 in the morning. I just rearranged a bunch of furniture -- and I'm not done yet -- and I still have to clean up the mess I've made. So be it. It was all worth it, because in the course of cleaning, I found my little red notebook, my driver's permit, and my Macy's gift card.

I'll probably go to sleep by 3:30.

: I did, in fact, go to bed around 3:40. I stayed up for a tiny bit reading The One Best Way. I really like Kanigel's method, though he gets repetitive in talking about young Taylor's taste for numbers and measures, and in stressing that "this was a different time, the late nineteenth century, really, remember this, you'd better remember that this was a different time when goods weren't nearly so ubiquitous and easy to make and most every manufacturing process involved craftsmanship." I sort of mind the repetition, but then again, since I'm a modern consumer and I often forget how new and unusual it is to have such abundance of disposable goods, perhaps I need the repetition.

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Leonard: So I heard this joke about the situation in Afghanistan. Now that the war's basically over, the French have decided to send in troops.
Me: Ha ha ha!
Leonard: That's not the joke.
Me: Oh. But you can understand how I would think it was.
Leonard: Yeah. But the joke is that the French are going to go in and teach the Taliban surrender techniques.
Me: Ha ha ha! But wait, wouldn't that be the Italians?
Leonard: Oh, the Afghans already know all about switching sides when the tide turns.
Me: Ha ha ha!

: 11/18, 11:18.

: I just listened to "To the Best of Our Knowledge" on public radio. It's a bunch of interviews and stories about memory, this time. Alzheimers, the phenomenon of songs that get stuck in one's head, memory as unreliable and improvable, and nostalgia were the mini-topics.

The show ended with a bit from The Beatles' "Yesterday." Hi, John.

: Oh, pooh, divorce lawyers are suffering since September 11th.

With all the magnanimity in the air, divorce lawyers are seeing an unmistakable drop in business. Christian Scranton, owner of Divorce Legal Services in Marin County, took a 50 percent hit in September, costing him an estimated $50,000.

"It was looking to be a stellar month, September and October are usually outstanding months," says Scranton. "Then boom. As soon as that thing happened, calls came to a screeching halt. A lot of people who were on the verge of divorce are re-evaluating their lives and trying genuinely to work on their marriages."

I can just imagine those divorce lawyers shaking their fists and muttering, Blast!

: Leonard loved this analogy, so maybe you will, too: Giving humorists Pulitzers for their serious work (cf. Dave Barry, who received a Pulitzer for his column on his mother's suicide) is like the habit of some schools and parents in giving their wards sex education, but wrapping it in a bunch of less necessary non-sex ed. It's as though people won't believe it's a pearl if it's not in an oyster.

: Had I time enough to read, time enough at last, one work I'd enjoy would be Harper's Weekly. I spent about an hour today at lunchtime eating Chinese food and reading the November 2001 Harper's. I enjoyed many articles and found many terrific bons mots, but the best might have been in a Pakistani schoolchild's letter to an Indian schoolchild:

I have never had any experience with an Indian my age, but recently when I downloaded ICQ, I bumped into a guy older than me, Manoj....

Most of the conversations I've ever had over ICQ have been unpleasant, if educational. I associate much more pleasant communication with e-mail, Usenet, and the Web.

: LiveJournal seems down, presumably because of high loads. The page that told me so seemed quite sparse. Sorry, we're having problems, and to find out more go to blah blah blah. When I viewed the source, I saw this wonderful tidbit at the end:

This garbage is to force Internet Explorer to display this page instead of
their stupid default page, which suggests you reload.
Reloading would just make the problem worse.

: I got an email from Angel! I'm so happy!

: My sister's flight from San Diego to the Bay Area somewhere got canceled because of ... fog. Good to remember that sometimes air delays can come from non-human, non-malevolent sources.

: Suzanne R. never replied to my email. Either there's some situation I don't know about that's preventing her from doing so, or she didn't change that much since I knew her.

I sent Mr. Berkowitz a letter.

: I actually did a bit of productive work today, going to the Psychology/Education liberry and picking up a load of text regarding persuasion. I finally decided to stop trying to roll my own topic for the Political Psych paper, and so here I am in the thick of it. Ten pages in nine days. Ergh. I still have yet to pick up some stuff from the Business/Econ library (shiver) and the main stacks.

: Brunching Shuttlecocks does it again! Quatre étoiles!

: I've been listening to Dar Williams's album Mortal City, which Seth gave me. There's a certain passage in "Iowa" that I've been humming to myself recently:

So I asked a friend about it on a bad day, her husband had just
Left her, and she sat down in the chair he left behind
She said, "What is love, where did it get me?
Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine."
I don't feel that despairing these days, and I'm glad. I hope I'm only humming it because I like the music.

: "The case has alarmed First Amendment experts, who believe Dalton is the first person in the United States successfully prosecuted for child pornography that involved writings, not images."

Call me crazy, but I believe that if a particular creative work does not harm anyone, either in its making or in its effects on those who experience it, then maybe, just maybe, it shouldn't be illegal. If I use crayons on paper to make a picture of youngish-looking people engaging in sex, completely out of my own head -- and I'm pretty sure I've never viewed child porn -- and keep it to myself, then that shouldn't be illegal. Nor if I wrote a story about it, nor if I made realistic-looking portrayals using graphics software. The GIMP is not the PIMP; "it might someday indirectly lead to molestation" is not sufficient cause for arrest.

: You might think that http://www.salon.com/people/bc/ could be a shortcut to Salon's "Brilliant Careers" archive. But no, it's a three-year-old post-election pre-impeachment cackle.

: In Russian class the other day I navigated on a map of St. Petersburg from Vasilevskiy Ostrov to Gostiniy Dvor. Pretty much the only thing I ever did on Vasilevskiy Ostrov was visit the "Open Your Windows!" open-air rock concert, during which I heard Chaif play and met some friendly people. Don't get me started (let me tell you!) re: Gostiniy Dvor. DLT was much better. I wish I'd found it before the last week I was there.

: I'm reading a heck of a lot on persuasion for my paper in political psychology. Peter Wright, summarizing an experiment in "Cognitive Responses to Mass Media Advocacy":

Adult women were presented either anaudio or print version of the text of an ad for a soybean-based food innovation....All the women were asked to treat the entire transmission segment as they naturally would in responding to mass media transmissions in their home. Half were also told that the upcoming ad would discuss a topic about which they must soon make a personal decision. This heightened the amount of attention given the ad versus the other message, as shown by reliable differences on a postmessage question.

To paraphrase Phoebe on the television show Friends, you must decide, you must decide, even though it's just an experiment, you must decide!

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: This past weekend, I thought a heck of a lot about birth and death. Today, my mother told me that a guy I knew in high school, Avi Raina, died yesterday. I met him many times. Our families were friends. The last time I saw him we were praying together a few months ago. He was a senior in college studying economics. He won lots of speech and debate awards. He was twenty-two years old, younger than many of my friends. He died of a long illness, cancer of the lymph nodes, and my mom and his family prayed together that he would recover, but yesterday he died, someone I knew, and I never really knew him, and now I'll never have the chance.

When I checked my email just now, I found out that a couple that John knows is going to have a child.

Would I be ready to have a child? Creating the future: how could I have a more important job? How rewarding, how fulfilling, how honorable!

But I would have to accept the possibility of experiencing what the Raina family just did. Is anyone ever ready for that?

: From an InPassing.org entry:

"Some engineer worked for years alone in a lab making circuit diagrams and signal flow graphs to make this sound card. And then some guy from Haas [the UC Berkeley business school] comes along and names it the 'Ultra Super Viper Pro 3800x."

: It's almost 11pm. I should turn in as I have a busy day tomorrow: handball, Russian, Russian history, research in the Business/Econ and main libraries, and television-socializing in the evening. So many of my friends have already left for Thanksgiving holidays; I already miss Jeana, for example.

This mundane, "to-do list" entry does not rise to my usual standards but (to launch into another weblog trope, the 'whine') I'm low on cash, I'm tired, my place is a mess, I didn't accomplish most of what I wanted to do tonight (cleaning and Russian), I do not anticipate great happiness in my Thanksgiving "holiday," I have to write a ten-page paper by next Thursday, I need to get cracking on my work-research, I've barely seen most of my friends this week, I'm behind in all my reading, and I'm saddled with this sense of maturity and mortality that's worse than melancholy, just a burden of death that I'm too busy to examine.

Maybe I'll feel better if I can just do some Russian exercises for tomorrow. Keep a constructive momentum going.

: Wow, I usually make my first entry of the day earlier than this.

Russian class always holds some amusing tidbit. Today I realized that "Sumana" -- with the accents mangled -- turns into "out of head on." That is to say, the first two syllables of my first name are an idiom for "crazy."

In addition, when a group of people should be doing something together but falter (as my group often does when trying to pronounce new vocabulary in a single voice), one idiomatic rebuke is "Who's in the forest, who's picking wood?"

Last for the week: In Russian, it means nothing to say, "Behave yourself!" One must add the adverb "well" or "poorly" for such an imperative to make any sense.

: I think I've only ever felt rather fond of one US holiday, and that's Thanksgiving. Fourth of July -- too jingoistic. Christmas -- too hyped, commercial, and sentimental. Valentine's Day -- too hyped, commercial, sentimental, and contributes to a narrow, anxious, immature, overhyped view of romantic love. New Year's I've always considered part of Christmas, and people around me never seem to be in the retrospective mood I try to assume in the last few days of the year. I'd like Labor Day and May Day if I knew about associated relevant activities and traditions I could cheer. Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, et al., I see as rather low in the fun-to-obligation ratio. I neither commit nor experience clever pranks on most April's Fool Days.

But I like the sanitized, dehistoricized meaning of Thanksgiving. I like thinking about things for which I should be grateful.

But today I experience my first Thanksgiving as an agnostic, which poses particularly new problems: whom should I thank? What does it mean to try to stay in a state of gratefulness when many of the things for which I'd like to thank someone who could appreciate it didn't really happen because of anyone's act of will?

Perhaps I can view this as an opportunity. I'll trace causality -- if I can -- and thank people and places and historical forces, and try to achieve awe at the vast banyan trees of contingency.

: Leonard wishes that Phil Zimbardo hosted a talk show, possibly entitled Zimbarded! I think that Zimbardo's mix of camera-hogging, suave charm, and psychological expertise make him perfect for late-night. Don't you?

In other news, I forgot to attend Anirvan's/Bookfinder's party on Sunday night, and apologized to him yesterday. He's cool about it. I'll visit the company soon, before it moves.

: I just did a load of laundry. (When did people start saying that and stop saying "I washed a load of clothes"? Perhaps gradually, as the human became more and more removed from the process.)

For the first time since early August, I am shod in the tapochki (slippers) that my Russian host mother, Vera, gave to me. I had worn them throughout my stay, so the soles had two layers (one cloth and one cat hair), and I just washed them, and yay. These are the first knit slippers I've had since my old neighbor in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Rogers, gave my family at least one pair of pink booties. I think my sister took them.

: Mixed-up bookshelves: at one Thanksgiving shindig I attended today, I saw Moby Dick next to The Illustrated Adventures of Sherlock Holmes next to The Days Are Just Packed!

I got through half of the Watterston before a family member came and bugged me to socialize.

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: I used to read a Calvin and Hobbes every day, off calvinandhobbes.com. But that habit lapsed, and today I read some Watterston for the first time in months (not counting the strips that I see next to Bizarro and Dilbert and the like pasted to office doors at the U). At first, Calvin sounded a lot like Leonard, but then I got to visualizing him more as me. I didn't particularly see any resemblance between Hobbes and anyone in my life. My better self, maybe.

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: Mary Kay, entrepreneur encourager and cosmetics queen, has died. I imagine Frances already knows that.

When I break the Buy Nothing Day tradition, I do it big. My purchases today included business garb (for interviews and for actual workplaces), boots, Martinelli's cider, chocolate, and a yam. Much savings was had on all.

My parents support a teaching career wholeheartedly. They have both taught and consider it an honorable profession. Now I just have to decide if I want to pursue such a career, and, if so, how.

I will probably get to see Angel today! I'm really glad.

: Goodness, Slate gets slower and slower with every redesign.

A woman outside a supermarket (ostensibly collecting money for charity) asked me what language(s) I speak, probably to derive my ethnic origin. "English and Russian" threw her off and I had to explain that I am not actually Russian. Never did get around to telling her I'm Indian.

: From a Slashdot comment: "Thanksgiving is really about little kids and olives... Ok, big kids too, but mostly olives." I love olives.

: Angel came over and we gabbed, gabbed, gabbed.

If Dia de los Muertos is the Day of the Dead, Dios de los Muertos would be the God of the Dead (as Angel corrected my ignorant-California-resident Spanish), implying that the dead have a separate God, which

  1. would imply big theological ... stuff
  2. reminds me of Leonard's song about letters from the dead
  3. could be really cool, perhaps as a premise for a short story that I will probably never write.

: I wish my dad were more considerate.

: What's this? Cal won a football game? Oh, darn, I was hoping for an 0-and-n season to commemorate my senior year.

: Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgghhh!!!

: Not quite as much aaaaaaarrrrrgh &tc.

: I'm back home, in Berkeley, and listening to A Prairie Home Companion. Hooray!

: Feminists maintained for years that women are the canaries in the mineshaft when it comes to human rights.

The cluster bombs that the US dropped in Afghanistan -- the bombs that inevitably turn into mines -- were bright canary yellow.

: While in Stockton, I saw a Carl's Jr fast-food restaurant or two. What does it mean when a Carl's Jr franchise flies a Carl's Jr. flag at half-mast?

: Tom Tomorrow: "If you don't collect 'em all -- then the terrorists have already won!"

: Leonard and I conversed a great deal yesterday and we probably had around five "arguments," if you could call them that. We weren't angry at each other, so it's not right to use "argument" in the informal sense, but we didn't have any rules set up regarding how long each person could speak, so my high-school-forensics self rebels at calling them "debates."

We talked about some pro-life argument, and what would be different if humans laid eggs instead of giving live birth, and I don't know what all else -- we generally grumble about Salon.com -- and something Steve said about reluctance to see "a movie made to sell toys." And I really admire Leonard's excellent talent in making strong arguments, and in finding the strengths and weaknesses in his and others' arguments.

The thing is -- and in a way this is just a restatement in personal terms of something Randy Waterhouse says in Cryptonomicon -- nitpickiness is a two-way street. I don't like to whine about the quality of a meal or the imprecision of a friend's speech. Just this weekend my parents said to me that finding fault is easy, but looking for the good things makes life better. And yet, if I were to try to write code that a computer could understand, or cogently criticize and argument, I would have to be nitpicky. Trying to be laid-back is all well and good in direct interactions with other people, but actual criticism requires judgment and intense focus and unabashed nitpickness. Which is tough for me.

I'm not sure whether a person is nitpicky or can perform a function of nitpickiness. Can a person turn it on and off? Perhaps a person sort of has an underlying tendency against or towards nitpickiness, and can try to fight it. I sure hope it's like that.

: It is so, so, so hard to try to live the examined life.

I tend to believe that if a lifestyle isn't demanding and painful, it isn't worthwhile. So maybe, now that I know it hurts to give up faith, and that it's okay that it hurts, maybe I can do it.

: I'm going to the gym in just a moment, really I am. I worked on my paper some this morning, skipping handball and Russian (horror!), and then had a very enjoyable lunch with my sister. She helped/made me articulate some arguments I'll use in my paper. Have I mentioned I have a paper due Thursday? I'm going to analyze various proposals which seek to regulate or remove sex and violence in TV and films, and/or to remove or regulate ads for alcohol and tobacco. While talking to Nandini, I articulated the (as always, obvious in hindsight) argument that these proposals seek to attack various parts of the message-reception/persuasion process (e.g., exposure, source credibility, uncontested message).

Russian history lecture: fun! As we approach the end of the semester, we also approach the Russian Revolutions, which makes me feel as though I should hear peppy music, e.g., "Y'all Ready For This," at the end of each lecture.

Russian history amuses and fascinates me. A giant gap emerged, by the beginning of this century, between an ancient monarchical government and a huge, century-old radical movement with this elaborate and ultra-intellectual ideology. I really like tracing those developments.

Really, I'm going to practice my handball now (aiee!) and then go home and work on that paper.

: Kuro5hin.org went down a few weeks ago and has not yet recovered. While I certainly find myself heartened that I now host my weblog on a more reliable site, I will try to take the first opportunity (when K5 comes back up) to archive all my old K5 entries here. Right now I only have the last few months' worth archived here.

The Daily Californian wants columnists for next semester. I'll probably edit a few weblog entries into the three sample columns and apply, apply for the third or fourth time as a student here. Perhaps the Daily Cal will favorably note my status as a senior in my last semester. I've hoped that for years.

: Adam agrees with me (and with Leonard): Phil Zimbardo "would make a good late-night talk show host." The emerging consensus astounds me! Finally, a {president, late-night talk show host} we all can agree on!

: Off to the handball courts. Rah rah rah.

: I am trying and trying to learn to swallow my pride. The universe does not care about me, but some other people do. A difficult mix to master.

: Things I should be thinking about: my paper. Things I am thinking about: humanism, humility, love, logic, meditation, menstruation, food, topics for columns for my Daily Cal application, the most painful sorrow imaginable, and my paper.

: I read a really heartening Associated Press item over the weekend: Turkey's legislature just passed some really sweeping law revisions recognizing various women's rights. Hurrah!

: I just conversed with my sister and lent her: One-L by Scott Turow, Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, Waiting by Ha Jin, and a book of graphic --that is, comic-book style-- retellings of various fairy tales. The first two I bought at garage sales or used book stores. The third I bought new, or Dan bought for me, at Moe's or Cody's on Telegraph. The fourth I received as a gift for my birthday in 2000 from a couple that has since broken up.

I'm listening to You Will Go to the Moon by Moxy Früvous on a disc what Steve gave me. Thanks, Steve.

Speaking of books [disingenuous segue]: Leonard and I browsed at Pegasus yesterday. We saw a book entitled The Maths Gene. (As many of you, my fair readers, already know, "maths" is a British abbreviation for "mathematics," as strange to US-dwellers as "math" is to UK residents.) Leonard remarked that we must be seeing the British version of the book, since the version for export to the US would have an altered title. I said, "Yeah, The Maths Gene and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Filed under:

: I really wanna go but I know I shouldn't. Also, I shouldn't even be on the net right now. Also, I'm sick.

: A professor here whose classes I really enjoyed, who was so smart, so thought-provoking, so accessible to students, so penetrating, so willing to admit when he was wrong, has died. I just got an email from the political science advisors saying that Michael Rogin died over the Thanksgiving holidays, while in Paris.

I didn't know him that well, but I took two classes with him. What a dynamite lecturer he was -- fifty insights every hour, exhilirating and cogent. He sponsored one of the classes I taught. He took practically half a semester off a year ago to have and recover from heart surgery, but now he's dead. Brilliant man. I've cried and I probably will again.

He's left a lot behind. Thousands of students took note of things he said. He made me think. I miss him already.

: Professor Rogin wrote many articles and books. One can read some of them online. Right now I'm reading "Mon Pays" (My Country), a book review. I can hear his voice in my head when I read his words.

He used to put up huge, elaborate, detailed outlines on the chalkboard before he lectured. He'd try to follow them, but sometimes he'd stray into interesting tangents and trivia and coincidences and connections. His graduate students used to laugh about his habit of placing one hand on top of his head as he lectured, as though he had to keep all the information from bursting out of his brain at once.

Sometimes I thought he was pulling one over on us, trying to make an argument out of coincidence, especially in the media-studies realm. But I tried to never miss his lectures, and especially in his American Political Theory class, in every lecture he made many important connections that helped me learn where modern political ideologies originated.

He would have taught American Political Theory next semester.

Once he said "Sinclair Lewis" when he meant "Upton Sinclair." I corrected him in private and he announced the correction -- and that I had made it! -- in the next lecture, in front of hundreds of people.

Several lectures later, in a Q&A session, he corrected my pronunciation of "effete," and joked that we were now even.

I really think that he was a seeker of truth, and it's a sad thing that he has died, because humanity can use all the truth-seekers it can get.

: I went to Russia. Dan didn't understand. But now, it seems, he plans on going to China after graduation, to study kung fu. I wonder if I influenced him at all. I probably can't ask him.

: Paul Ford, a New York-based writer, wrote in 1999 of "[t]he last thing I consider, the thing spinning all night in my head, looming over me like the World Trade Center".

Off to Heller Lounge to skim my readers for paper-worthy material.

: First they came for the "suspected terrorists," and I said nothing...

: Very, very soon, my cell phone will be inoperative. This is my choice. I didn't want a cell phone in the first place, and even though I got used to it and liked the convenience, soon I will no longer have it, and I will feel freer.

: I have no idea how my readers feel about my recent low posting frequency. But it will probably be like this until tomorrow at 2 or so when I turn in this huge paper. I'm probably skipping the majority of my classes today to work on it. I hate Russian class anyway. The teacher is impatient. I might reward myself with Russian History lecture and/or that SANE meeting if I get a lot of work done, though. But no way will I get to see West Wing or Enterprise. Oh well. Back to the grind.

: Lane, W. Ronald, and Thomas Russell. Advertising: A Framework. p. 265. The word "slogan" comes from the Gaelic, slugh gairm, for "battle cry."

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: I should have known that some book entitled In Defense of Advertising: arguments from reason, ethical egoism, and laissez-faire capitalism would revolt me. But the copyright acknowledgments page contains eight items, three of them by Ayn Rand! Aieee!

It gets better. The preface starts out talking about ads that the author, one Jerry Kirkpatrick, once disliked, until he learned more about advertising and now he believes that the ads "all meet the standards of both good advertising and good taste." Well, Mr. Kirkpatrick, if you reacted negatively to the ads -- and, by association, to the products they advertised -- then they were bad advertisements, weren't they? Jeez.

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: The In Defense of Advertising book had nothing I could use, I discovered rather quickly. (No index entries for "children," "minors," "protection," "sex," or "violence.") But our Objectivist friend Mr. Kirkpatrick married a woman named Linda Reardan. Ayn Rand named one protagonist of Atlas Shrugged Hank Rearden. I don't mean to imply anything so much as call it an amusing coincidence. I certainly would never imply that Objectivists are such slavish devotees to Miss Rand that they'll make major life choices based on the details of her fiction.

Filed under:

: Oi, 12:30 already. But my stack of to-skim books has shortened slightly.

: My pile of books to skim is now smaller than the pile of books I've already gleaned for useful information. Hurrah!

A telemarketer just called, and even though I had to say "hello?" eight times before he spoke, and I found it difficult to understand him, and he followed the script that told him to counter my "thank you, I'm not interested" twice, I still remained extremely courteous all the way to the end. I even let him hang up first. Little things like that make me feel great.

: Okay. Off to Russian History Lecture, and then more work -- a good outline? The beginnings of a draft? -- and then the SANE meeting, and then home and more work and probably skipping Russian again tomorrow, but dammit, I'll attend Political Psych section at 12:30, if only to surprise the TA, who is one of the snarkiest people I've ever met.

: "There are many different philosophical positions on what it means to be ethical and what morality means (Frankena, 1973)."

Thank you, Richard M. Perloff and Mr. or Ms. Frankena.

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: I took a break from writing my paper -- at this rate it'll be done in May or so -- to try to finish off my thoughts on something that happened today.

I gave in a bit to temptation this evening. On my way home, I stopped at Barnes & Noble's. I could rationalize it as "waiting for the rain to stop," but that's not why. I saw in the B&N window an ad: Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, will speak about his new book (God's Debris: A Thought Experiment) on 6 December at the Berkeley Barnes & Noble's at Shattuck and Durant. So I stopped in and found the book and skimmed it all the way through. It took me about thirty minutes to read about a hundred pages. I found it useful, but not terrific.

Adams uses the hoary old Socratic-dialogue framing device, which creates some problems. First, our protagonist-questioner doesn't ask some questions or make some counterarguments that I'd like, and the maddening "all-knowing wisdom" of the Old Man goes unquestioned. But -- second -- Adams can deflect criticism of the flawed arguments that his characters make, saying that the book is only a work of fiction, not a philosophical tract and not necessarily representative of his own thoughts.

In addition, Adams can hide behind his subtitle, excusing himself with "it's only a thought-experiment." A thought experiment should contain provocative, well-thought-out questions. God's Debris certainly contains some of those, but there's very little there that strikes me as new. Free will, God, yawn. Adams entertains with his writing style, and makes the questions more palatable for a mainstream audience, but I've asked myself these questions already, so they don't shock me.

In the first third or so, Adams -- excuse me, the Old Man -- tears down the naive reader's worldview. In the second part, he builds an elaborate and (to me) questionable cosmology involving God and probability. In the third, he gives the questioner advice on how to live happily.

The third part is the best.

I found the advice generally useful (except for the "inherent gender differences" parts), so certainly one wonders whether that implies that its basis is valid. Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, which is just another way of saying "be careful of reckless correlation." One does not need to believe the advice-giver's philosophy to recognize good advice. Recognize the probable and act accordingly, the Old Man says, and I agree. As a final note, I must remark upon the Scott Adams media empire and how its existence colors my view of any artifact emerging from it. Mr. Adams has Big Ideas and spreads them quite effectively via his books, e-mail list, comic strips, and other media. I urge caution of Scott Adams's unabashed memery. I sense some large, frightening plan in the offing, and I would rather not be one of his minions.

Filed under:

: The wheels of writing my goddamn paper turn exceeding slow.

: How is it that I went so long without investigating Modern Humorist's hilarious poetry parodies?

: Oh, wow, I forgot that 3am here is 6am on the East Coast and therefore Morning Edition just came on.

My back really hurts. Once I reach my seven-page goal, I'll reward myself with a hot shower and some sleep.

: There's this great photo in Bob Woodward's The Choice (his book on the 1996 US presidential election). Colin Powell is speaking at some press conference with downcast eyes and, on the right, a woman, presumably his wife, is crying. The caption goes something like, "Colin Powell announced in a press conference on February 31, 1996, that he would not run for President. He also revealed that he is a Republican."

The way the photo and caption go together, the woman seems to be weeping, and Powell ashamed, because he has just outed himself as a Republican. Quite funny.

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: "Sex, Guns, and Cigarettes." That is possibly the least imaginative title I've ever devised for a paper. But I'm caffeinated and (it almost seems too obvious to say) low on sleep.

Thanks, San Francisco, for sending your rain over here. Sure, it's all right for all you officeworkers who can just stay inside all day, but I have to walk around in it. I'd rather be sleeping or reading The One Best Way or even catching up on Russian. Argh.

Well, back to work. Now that I've lowered my expectations, I'm doing surprisingly okay.

: I finished my paper, it's done, I took a Russian test that seemed quite easy (a trap! a trap, they screamed), I ate, I went to class, I heard riotously funny anecdotes, my professor told stories in a manner so Keilloresque it woke me up, and now I'm tired but still sugar-adrenaline-caffeinated. I'm going to a free dinner tonight during which students and political science professors will compete in a trivia game. This reminds me of an out-of-left-field Gideon v. Wainwright reference in Russian History a few weeks ago. But no matter.

: Argh, argh, argh. Scott Adams got me! I mocked the imperfect questioner and questioned the Socrates character, and now I find out that this Daily Cal reviewer got the point, and I didn't. Adams was, it seems, deliberately playing with the form of the Socratic dialogue, challenging the reader to herself question the traditionally infallible Socrates character and "think for herself." Cyrus Farivar writes,

Adams twists an ancient tradition of passive Socratic questioning by inviting the reader to directly question the paradox that Avatar is omniscient though he speaks in false syllogisms.

No wonder he had so many fallacious arguments -- that was Adams's intention. Great. I feel had. I shouldn't, but I do.

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: Adam and I were writing papers at the same time:

I think I'm getting delirious. Already. I'm making up sources that don't actually exist and then desperately trying to find them on Lexis-Nexis.

: I may have actually broken some unimportant anatomical item whilst laughing with Leonard over the oeuvre of Paul Conrad, the man who takes the editorial cartooning genre to new extra-dimensional extremes. Kris introduced us to Conrad's bizarre style and commented on it better than I probably could. I found some of them (example and another) like a mental Magic Eye, but probably Mr. Conrad doesn't intend for them to be as such.

Note that the ultimate Paul Conrad cartoon is a cloud of cloned anthrax bacteria spelling out "I [heart] NY."

Osama bin Muppet (credit Leonard for witticism).

What a cute elephant!

A not-so-cute elephant.

I think I understand now why people appreciate Pokey the Penguin.

: Is this the all-time bizarrest Paul Conrad? Or this one? Or yet another?

This is just too fun.

: Paul Conrad has won three Pulitzers. I weep for journalism.

You know, somehow Jim Borgman finds the time to draw Zits every day and draw political cartoons that are, unlike Conrad's work, reliably political cartoons (and not, say, illustrations masquerading as political commentary).

: The end of this FAQ gives a lot away.

: Last night I attended the Undergraduate Political Science Association trivia game. Two undergraduate students and two graduate students answered trivia questions on politics and on pop culture. A diverting event, even if I couldn't tell the contestants apart.

Contestant: Latin American Politics.
Announcer: Which ruler of Chile did President Nixon help out --
Contestant: Pinochet.
Announcer: No, that's not it. What ruler of Chile did President Nixon help out in the 1970s? [pause, squint] Oh, wait. Which ruler of Chile did President Nixon help oust in the --
Contestant: Allende.
Announcer: Correct!
Audience: such comments as "that's a pretty important difference."

: Bem, ranting on how his professor reacted to a query: "Not only that, he's wrong."

: It's a week like this that makes me wish I were going to a concert tonight. But I'm going to see Ghost World instead, thanks to the special Friday night movie showings that SUPERB puts on at Wheeler Auditorium. It has Steve Buscemi. *shrug*

: Wow, a Friday night alone and decisions on a whim. I wrote some emails and surfed the web in the OCF, ate a burger and read more of The One Best Way at Smart Alec's, went to Ghost World (very small crowd), enjoyed it (very indie, huge emphasis on characterization), hung out with a fella I met there named Ethan, and went home.

Ethan, a Seattlite, did not know the joke about the Texan, the Californian, and the Seattlite who walk into a bar. Shock and horror!

But Ethan, it turns out, does know Ken Shields, who lives with Dan, whom I know from living next door to him in Freeborn Hall my freshman year at Cal. Ken also served as an unknowing point of contact between Shweta and me, after Shweta and I met via Nathaniel, whom I met by starting up a conversation with him in the humor section of the ASUC general bookstore.

Ethan noted that, if I'm making some bid to be remembered after I die, my best bet might be to get mummified. He has a point.

: John wrote me, asking: was he not getting the Paul Conrad cartoons because John is stupid, or because the cartoons are stupid? My answer: if incompetent editorial cartooning causes you to question your judgment, then the terrorists have won.

: Aaaaagh. My back hurts again. Time to sleep.

Tomorrow will be the first day of the last month of the first day of the new millennium. Somehow these things seem more important before I write them out.

: Yesterday I had four or more good conversations.

Before my Russian History class, I saw my cousin Vinay and sat with him on an out-of-the-way log bench near Sproul Plaza and we discussed my recent theistic belief changes. After that lecture, I talked film with classmate Alan, who recommended Hitchcock's The 39 Steps -- one of his earlier works, while he was still British. The whole day, I conversed with Kris over email. Kris is the neatest person I've met electronically since Leonard. And then after the movie I swapped stories with Ethan.

Me: I was born in New Jersey, spent some time there, then I lived in Pennsylvania, then in Missouri. I spent about half my life before coming here, so I still have some natural, well, some learned resistance to cold.
Ethan: I knew you weren't a Californian!
Me: Because you like me?
Ethan: Yes.

: I waited so long to pick up The One Best Way again that the time period it covers is the same as the time period we're covering now in my Imperial Russian History class. Three more lectures to the revolution!

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: This Fredrick W. Taylor biography rocks. It confirms the dictum I read in stained glass at the Library of Congress half a year ago: "The history of the world is the biographies of great men." Sometime in the next few years I want to read biographies of other recent historical figures: Freud, Darwin, Marx, Truman, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the usual suspects.

The next few pleasure books I read will include Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. My sister and the fellow next to me on the BART recommended it highly. In addition, I must finish Guns, Germs, and Steel. The last time I read any of it, I was riding on a bus from Novgorod to St. Petersburg.

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: I learned in school, and from journalism stylebooks, that when referring to an entity consisting of more than one person (e.g., "company," "team," "couple"), one should use the singular (e.g., "the team played three games and it did well"). Properly, the writer or speaker is referring to the organization, not the members of the organization, and it only confuses to use the plural (e.g., "the company's president resigned because they're in bad shape financially").

But sometimes it makes about as much or more sense to refer to the members of the organization, and not the group itself (e.g., "the company's president resigned because they're insane and she wouldn't drink the Kool-Aid"). And, as Leonard noted, the British seem to take the pluralist view (e.g., "The BBC present My Word!").

[Yes, I know, that's a lot of "e.g."s. Just so it's worth it, Merriam-Webster tells me that "e.g." comes from the Latin for exempli gratia ("for example"), and that "i.e." is the short form of the Latin id est ("that is"). Remember, don't confuse them, and use two periods.]

In any case, I should hope, writers especially should take care to use the chosen number consistently, either singular or plural. But Pete Carey's San Jose Mercury News debunking of the Cisco Systems creation myth strains the grammar-checker's patience on this matter:

Founding legends are a specialty of Silicon Valley, and none is more appealing than that of Cisco Systems: In the 1980s a young Stanford University couple invent the multiprotocol router and starts Cisco in their living room, using their own credit cards for financing.

I remember when my Russian grammar teacher in St. Petersburg suggested that I was inventing a new case. Perhaps Pete Carey is inventing a new grammatical number.

Update, Sept 2003: Pete Carey has written me and tells me that this is the original:

...legends are a specialty of Silicon Valley, and none is more appealing than that of Cisco Systems: In the 1980s a young Stanford University couple invent the multiprotocol router and start [emphasis Sumana's] Cisco in their living room, using their own credit cards for financing.

Dude, all I know is what I copied-and-pasted, but Mr. Carey says the archives bear him out. Okay.

: Adam, linguist extraordinaire, recommended this introduction to phonetics. Aaaah! I'm taking an introductory linguistics class next semester, supposedly for kicks, and I'll have to memorize all this? Aaaaah!

On the up side, it might make my tongue and lips more agile, which could be useful.

: During Astronomy 10 lecture today, Professor Filippenko explained physicists' search for a Theory of Everything and a Grand Unified Theory. "We want fewer equations! We want everything to fit on a T-shirt!"

But I completely cracked up when he continued on, "One Force to Rule them all, One Force to find them, One Force to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."

: Why did I think this speech would be by Bruce Schneier and not Bruce Sterling?

: When I took Political Science 2 (Comparative Politics) my freshman year of college, Simon Stow pointed out a passage near the end of some article in our reader. "Some people say that [dangerously-close-to-straw-man argument]. They are wrong." Stow told us to remember that sentence, since we'd never again see "They are wrong" in any other article by a political scientist.

Slate just published a New Republic editor's hard-nosed exposé of Republicans' culpability for the current recession. The sentence that reminded me of "They are wrong":

"It wasn't just some giant miscalculation. It was a lie."

From the same article, another great comment that touches on a Leonard gripe:

"So the previous tax cut was supposedly needed to make the surplus disappear. The next one is needed to bring it back. Whatever."
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: Kris: "Yeah, it's always about accidentally invoking unnamable horrors with me."

: When I see the Slashdot.org headline "Rent Music Over Net," I think of my freshman year of college, when my roommate Michal played the Rent soundtrack over and over and over.

Streaming audio is exactly the sort of thing that Rent would make fun of if Rent had been written five or ten years later.

: Last night was the first time in quite a while that I got an email from Dan. Funny how larger events percolate down to our daily lives. Excite/AT&T@Home stopped service, so Dan started using his university-provided dialup account, but I had been using that account ever since he set it up for me long ago, and so yesterday morning my internet access died for no reason that I could discern. Then Dan saw me in the OCF and told me what had happened and told me what I could do to fix the problem by using my own account. It was the longest, most civil conversation we've had in a while.

Dan referred to "the reason why you weren't able to get onto the Internet this morning" -- he didn't know that I'd tried. He just guessed. Just another consequence of being -- as I've realized he and I are -- strangers who know each other really well.

: Another thing that hasn't happened in a while: feeling my heart speed up and my breath shorten as I go to dailycal.org. But the list of columnists for next semester will appear in Thursday's issue and not today's, or it's only in the print edition, or both. I have to go to campus early to record "Little Red Riding Hood" in Russian, so I'll pick up the Daily Cal in about an hour and find out how I'll feel today.

: I just keep listening to "Michigan Militia" by Moxy Früvous on the You Will Go to the Moon album. I like the lyrics, I like the melody, I like the faux country-and-western/hip-hop sensibility. I like it all.

: Yesterday, Professor Filippenko showed a slide detailing possible splittings-off of forces (electromagnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, gravity) during the earliest moments of the Big Bang. The complete lack of scale cracked me up. At the top, with one Grand Unified force: t=0. A third of the way down: t=10-35 seconds. Two thirds of the way down: t=10-27 seconds. At the bottom, with four separate forces: TODAY.

One reason this made me laugh is that -- and I had forgotten this until yesterday -- for years a TIME-LIFE poster hung in my bedroom that depicted culture-streams through history growing or dying and affecting each other. At the top, each vertical inch represented a thousand years, but by the bottom, each inch represented about ten years. You and I usually see wild disproportionate scales in that direction, and not with the opposite perspective, as with Filippenko's graph.

: I recorded my rendition of Krasnaya Shapochka (Little Red Riding Hood) this morning. If you knew me, you'd predict that I would use silly voices. But I didn't, really. Jeff and Sean, on the other hand, are each a regular Robin Williams these days. Jeff and Sean, I think, aren't silly enough in their everyday lives, so they have very few outlets and therefore their silliness comes across potently in the silly voices and plots they use for Russian class exercises.

We've been reading and translating humorous Russian anecdotes for the past few days. The relevant story for today: our narrator comes across a woman who's almost drowned, and urges action, but for every action he suggests (e.g., artificial respiration, calling a doctor), the nearby fat man says that it would be useless. In bewilderment and anger, the narrator finally says to him that he would care more if he thought of this woman as, perhaps, someone's wife. "What do you mean?" he replies. "She is someone's wife -- mine!"

Our instructor set up the silliness by assigning to Jeff the role of the pessimist, and to Sean that of the optimist, in a conversation about a putative stain on Jeff's pants.

"Oh, what an awful stain. And there's nothing to be done about it. These pants are ruined."
"No, no! We can go to the laundromat. And, while the pants are washing, we can have a good conversation!"
"No, I don't want to go to the laundromat. It's too far and too expensive. And look, the stain will never come out."
"Well, what kind of stain is it?"
"It's ketchup. And look, it's the red ketchup and that new green ketchup, too. I look like Christmas. And I'm Jewish."
"That's okay. I love Christmas and I love the Jews. Hey, let's go to Israel!"
"No, I don't want to go to Israel."

Jeff later mentioned that he doesn't like Israel, but he was very quick to add, half-panicked, that he only dislikes the weather because it's too hot for his taste. Sure, Jeff. Sure.

: Last night, for the first time in months, I dreamt a particular sort of dream: I spoke to someone, realized that they didn't understand me, and had to switch to my stumbling Russian. This reminds me of my only analogous real-life memory:

One day in St. Petersburg, probably Monday 18 June, I unexpectedly stayed late talking with John at the hostel, and called my host mother to tell her I'd be late. "Vera, hi, I'm sorry I didn't call before, I'm going to be late, but I'll be home by 7:30 or 8. [Pause. Realize that Vera didn't understand any of that. Try to switch into Russian mode.] Vera, privyet. Aaah, ya chut'-chut', uhh, [John supplies the word for "late," but in the masculine, but I'm so anxious I use it anyway] opazdal, no, uh, ya dumayu chto, uh..."

Not the worst gaffe I made in Russia (war bookstore, anyone?) but the worst I made that week.

: Tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, but not quite till the last syllable of recorded time, my Russian class will take tests. So, celebrating the last real day of Russian class, my instructor gave us each a helium-filled balloon (mine flies proudly from my neck as I type this), and Sean brought in his guitar and played a few tunes, two in Russian and the other by Bob Dylan.

He started, but did not continue, a Russian song that goes, "when love leaves, the blues start." I loved it: "Kogda ukhodit liubov', nachinaetsa blues." Not only does Russian just use "blues," but the word is treated as a singular!

: I will not find out until Thursday my status with regard to the columnist position. Anticipation, bleah.

: Last night I realized one reason that Professor Reginald Zelnik completely impresses me. He gives every lecture without notes. If he has some text to quote verbatim, or tests or handouts to distribute, then he brings those to class, but otherwise, he's completely emptyhanded. And he gives well-organized and fantastically detailed lectures on this very complex subject of imperial Russian history. He has incredible cred.

: I think I've set up my schedule for my final semester. Basic Musicianship, Intro to Linguistics, Intro to Logic, and Advanced Russian Conversation. It all sounds so Cognitive Science! Well, not just the linguistics and logic, but the eclectic mix. I'd take some yoga, too, but I waited too long and even the waiting list is full. Ah, well.

: Some fella from an antivirus/computer security company, referring to Goner, sounded really exasperated in his comment to an NPR reporter. "You would think that, when a file is this patently a virus, people wouldn't click on it, but they do."

: My friend Shweta Narayan drew an insightful comic that references an out-of-context remark by George Lakoff you might have heard about. What's Going On? She'll tell you!

I always forget the difference between metonymy and synecdoche.

: Hey, neat. I just ran into Jade, who tells me that she is also taking Intro to Logic next semester. It's been too long since I had a study buddy. We can sharpen each other's ears into points!

: I didn't make Daily Cal columnist. Shoot. That plus the boring gray foggy rainy weather gets me down. Maybe I really wouldn't want to live in Seattle or on the East Coast, if the weather there is like this half the year.

On the up side, I have the new Heuristic Squelch. And today Kevin the Political Science instructor will hand back our quizzes. My quiz contains much spontaneous poetry, e.g.,

I like leaders
Who put up bird feeders.
Gosh, I wish I'd
Looked more in the readers.

: After I queried Leonard on his favorite logical fallacy (send me yours!), he sent me a link to a giant list of fallacies. Oi, how depressing. I probably commit six of these before breakfast.

: Allow me to retract my earlier comment. The weather has had no effect whatsoever on the logic of my blues. If today had been as sunny as delight, I would have thought, "what an opposite-of-inspiring contrast between my melancholy and my surroundings!"

I really needed to laugh. Thank you, Michael Kinsley. Michael Kinsley could write for Guster!

: Wow, the Amtrak.com website has improved its usability greatly since I last had to interface with it. I can now recommend it!

My classmate Jeff Good, graduate student in linguistics: "there are limits to my ability to gather intelligence on the Slavic dept."

: I finished The One Best Way yesterday evening. I enjoyed it, although Kanigel rather maddeningly draws no concrete conclusions about the benefits and disadvantages of Taylorism today. At least he presents much evidence and argument for several sides.

One reason I chose to read a biography of Taylor: for years and years I have tried to figure out why I worry about wasting little tiny bits of time. These days, I try to indulge myself in the decadence of leisure, taking scenic routes and enjoying the hot massage of the shower, but even so, efficiency hovers over me, the false god of my world.

Steve and I agree that there's a difference between "really inefficient" and "waste." An important distinction.

Filed under:

: BreakupGirl.com. LaughPage.com. Important, popular, useful sites that I visited perhaps a hundred times. Gone, gone.

: Steve likes "slothful induction" (cf. the giant list of fallacies) because of the image it conjures: huge furry three-toed animals debating propositions of logic.

I still haven't perused the list. Every time I look at it I need to lie down. Come to think of it, I should go to sleep.

: It's Friday, the last day of classes, and today I get to hear about the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the search for extraterrestrial life, and in Kandahar Taliban forces are surrendering. Why am I not happy? Perhaps because I gave myself too little sleep.

So, before I go to my 11 o'clock Russian test, I want to do a few errands, including the purchase of a gift for the Russian TA. And somewhere during the day I have to fill out and turn in two evaluations and I want to return the stack of library books that I borrowed during my Political Psychology research frenzy. And that other thing on the B level of Dwinelle. And call my sister to remind her to pick me up. Okay. Okay.

: Slashdot Science headline: Global Warming Mostly Confirmed - On Mars, That Is!

Cinzia, my classmate in Russian and a graduate student in sociology, spells "moola" as "mula."

: Okay redux. Contacting my sister: done. Bouquet for Zhenia: bought and given. Russian test: taken. The secret errand: done for now. I'm not going to go home, to get my phone or to get library books to return, but I will fill out those evaluations and turn them in before history and astronomy lectures.

Yeah, you're reading my to-do list and its progress. Feel free to puff yourself up in superiority or spur yourself on to greatness with me as an example or whatever.

: I found out today that I won't have a Russian final, even though Zhenia told us that the past three days' tests wouldn't count for anything unless we did very well. Wheee! Okay, then, I have two finals, a week apart. This I can handle better!

Today's test included questions in the form "blah blah blah ______ blah blah blah," where I had to choose the conjunction multiple-choice style. One set contained the choice between "therefore" or "because." Is Pavel a good friend because he loves everybody, or does Pavel love everybody because he's a good friend?

: Leonard and I have noted that Hagar the Horrible is uniquely suited to oblique discussion of the current military situation.

: My landlord raised my rent again, as per his right to make yearly cost-of-living adjustments. So I'm looking for a new place to live. I just put up a Craig's List post. Anyone know of a shared apartment or room in Berkeley for $550 or less per month (plus utilities), starting in January or so? Please tell me.

: I don't know the proper superlatives to explain how deeply Professor Alexei Filippenko's final Astronomy 10 lecture moved me. The hour after I heard him speak yesterday was one of the happiest hours of my life. Jade and I spent our conversation in wonder at the wonder he had awakened within us, awed at our own awe and at the unique, thrilling beauty of human intelligence, and oh, there was more, a thousand lifetimes' worth of wonder.

I used to believe that I would despair if I believed that humanity were the most amazing thing in the universe. Now I believe that I could celebrate that. Now I believe that I could be a happy atheist.

You can also watch the lecture using the lecture webcast archives. Mind-expanding bliss not guaranteed.

: Have I yet mentioned how terrific the TakeTransit Automated Trip Planner is? It's awesome! When it comes to San Francisco Bay area public transit, TransitInfo's Trip Planner is as good as gold -- or, better, as good as Google.

For a random sample trip, a detailed itinerary with fares and times and everything. And the usability! Forget classified ads -- here is where the filtering/pull capacities of modern technology shine.

I sound like Jon Katz. Stop! Stop! Get it off me!

: Jon Carroll today:

...we must, as an act of common sense, practice kindness, cultivate compassion, search for the sacred in the mundane.

That does not mean shrinking from a fight. That means understanding that violence is sorrow and that after the violence we are still alone in our souls, trying to find the ember of hope.

: I really enjoy "Guinea Pig" by Moxy Früvous on the C album.

: Rob Walker in Moneybox today:

At this point, [Enron] seems to be pursuing a strategy of looking as shifty, untrustworthy, and arrogant as possible. In fact, I wouldn't be particularly surprised to see CEO Kenneth Lay grow a thin mustache and start twirling it obsessively while answering questions with an evil laugh.

: That previous entry, with its villainous cackle, reminds me of The Great Muppet Caper, which Leonard and I watched last night. Terrific! I got a bunch of jokes that I'm sure I didn't get the last time I watched it, which was probably ten years ago. I had forgotten how self-aware the Muppets get, and perhaps had never noticed how much humans in human-Muppet scenes must overact to keep up with Muppetry.

We might have watched, say, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai first, but Leonard said, "I demand the Muppets!" and so the die was cast.

We did get through the first two hours of Kuch Kuch last night. I last saw that three years ago. And it might have been better last time, when I didn't have the benefit of subtitles. Most of the translation is good, but sometimes I wonder whether it's an inane song lyric on its own, in the original Hindi, or whether the senior translator was on a coffee break. "Either I was insane previously or I've just become so" is an example.

Muppet Muppet Muppet Muppet Muppet.

: I hereby pat Jeana on the back.

I think Jeana's emotional state in that post mirrors my career-hunting state all the time.

: My family evidently gave away our copy of The Muppets Take Manhattan, which I loved to watch when I was young. Anyone else got a copy you'll loan me? The Great Muppet Caper whetted my appetite for hot Muppet action.

: Jeana's doctrine of emotional autarky (self-reliance) strikes me as sort of Deepak Chopra Meets Ayn Rand, but in a good way!

: Well, sometime in the next 40 hours or so I have to commit to memory the gists of about six weeks' worth of reading for Political Psychology. I imagine that'll take about four to six hours, if I keep at it. BART rides are good for that sort of stuff.

During the review session today, Kevin Wallsten (my Graduate Student Instructor) said something very much like, "I really have to start wearing sunglasses to class; your wisdom is blinding me." Mr. Hatch, my favorite high school English teacher, said something very similar once, four or five years ago.

: I have a headache. I should read at least a few articles before I go to sleep. I'm eating bread and cheese. My sister is unhappy with me. I have to call my parents.

But I'll feel better tomorrow morning.

: Expression of dismay and frustration. This morning, my computer developed an incomprehensibly sudden dysfunction in booting up and automatically starting X. Thus, I spent a bunch of time futzing around with X-related files (many props to Leonard for patiently working the tech support gig) and then, once it became evident that I'm stuck in Command-Line World for now, I spent a bunch of time being defeated by ppp. So now I'm on campus in the OCF so I can type this and check my email.

: Aside from my computing difficulties, I should add, I'm feeling fine. My sister is no longer unhappy with me and my parents are sated. Today I study and watch the teevee.

I've been listening to Dar Williams's "Better Things" from The End of the Summer.

: My First Final is in fewer than twenty-four hours.

: Wil Wheaton says that he just knows what he reads on Slashdot. This is like Cokie Roberts posting in The Fray on Slate.

: I just read an article evaluating different theories that explain the Los Angeles riots of 1992. The five theories include "A Black Protest," "Multiethnic Conflict," and "The Bladerunner Scenario."

Politics in Modern Science Fiction and Science Fiction in Modern Politics! Robots! Run-down malls! Genetically engineered superintelligent cats!

: An academic paper I'm reading mentions Plato's proposed myth (as seen in Republic!) that different levels of quality in personalities originate in their different "metals". I've got bronze in me, you've got silver, let's call the whole thing off.

: Off to my final. Oh, I should buy a bluebook first.

: I took my final and now it's over. That was Political Psychology. My next final: Wednesday from 5 till 8 pm. Not only will it demand that I catch up on all my Russian history reading, but it will also force me to miss "Enterprise." Bleah.

I thoroughly enjoyed last night's The West Wing. I was expecting a self-indulgent flashback episode, and yet the self-indulgence was no more than usual and the flashbacks served a purpose (as opposed to the giant flashback that was Star Wars: Episode I).

Heard in the OCF:

"I don't have any exes to be uncomfortable about."
"You want one? You can have one of mine."


For the final final SANE [Students for a Nonreligious Ethos] event of the semester, we're going to be meeting at Mel's diner on Thursday night (Dec. 13) at 8:30 PM. Mel's is on the corner of Shattuck and Kittredge, I think (two blocks from the south-west corner of campus). Bring some money for your own meal and it'll just be socialintellectual fun -- Meet new people! Meet old people! Take a break from studying and finals! Get a milkshake!

I'm going. Are you?

Wow, this will be the very first SANE event I *ever* attend!

: Heller Lounge, in MLK Student Union, stays open 24 hours every day. An informative leaflet tells me that it will continue to be open until 20 December. In addition, "No sleeping, sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, etc. Naps are ok."

Um, how do the relevant authorities intend to tell napping from sleeping? Stopwatches?

: I got to hang out with Jeana a few hours ago. Thought-provoking as always. (Neat factoid: She now knows a guy who knows Eve of InPassing fame!)

Today, in handing in my test, I got back not only my term paper (B, better than I deserve), but also the pop quiz my TA gave a month or so back. He gave us the option of writing poems or drawing pictures instead of trying to answer questions we found impossible, so I did. And he gave me a ten out of ten for creativity. Very neat.

When Jeana and I walked into Smart Alec's and I ordered a small order of french fries, I happened to still be carrying the quiz. My cashier asked, "Is that an A grade?" I, surprised, answered in the affirmative. He said, "then it's free," and stamped my paper with the "A+" Smart Alec's logo.

Free fries!

: Yay! X works again for no discernible reason!

: My fellow OCF-hangers-out and I decided that the criteria for discerning "napping" from "sleeping" might be preparation. If one looks very uncomfortable and seems to have passed out from sheer exhaustion, without deliberation, then that's "napping" and okay. If one seems to have prepared for falling asleep (e.g., stretching out, clearing a space on the desk for one's head, taking off glasses), then the study lounge kicks her out.

: A few nights ago, Leonard played for me his Age of Reason trilogy. I had previously heard the first and third songs, but not the second, which I adore. I encourage you to agitate and force Mr. Richardson to release a recording of Age of Reason so that we, the people, may derive enjoyment from his work without having to go to his house. It's cold and you have to walk up a hill.

: So last night, for the first time ever, I attended a SANE event. SANE held an end-of-the-semester party at Mel's, a "'50s diner," and I went and had a grand old time. As predicted, I knew at least one person there (if only because I had met him in the OCF three hours before), and I discovered one-degree connections between myself and three of my new acquaintances. (I know Kenny Byerly who knows Keith because they both take film classes; I know Melissa Coats who knows Alex Wallerstein because they went to the same high school and even went to the prom together; I know Jeff Good and Julianna who know Pierre via Quiz Bowl). Very satisfying.

Alex proclaimed that he had seen a free preview screening of "Brotherhood of Wolves" and thought it pretentious and silly. Native Americans who know kung fu? Slow-mo shots of water splashing? His comment card asked which of three scenes he had liked or disliked, and he scribbled, "It was all goddamn ridiculous." I found this hilarious.

I felt as though I'd met Pierre before, but I guess I've just met other sardonic erudite mid-to-late-twenties types before. We conversed even after the party. He was impressed that I knew about Linear A and transsubstantiation and the blasphemy of chewing the communion wafer (I hear you're supposed to just let it melt on your tongue). I was impressed, among other things, that he pegged me as a youngest child, what with my tendencies towards rebellion, lack of discipline, and use of comedy to get approval from others. As he put it, "score one for psychology." Remind me not to dis birth-order patterns.

: I missed the review sessions for history. Oh well. More time to clean my apartment before my mom comes over.

"Wonderful" by Everclear is, well, wonderful.

: Columnists Who Are Not Really Pundits Roundup:

: I've been reading The Dispossessed by Le Guin. Enjoyable and thought-provoking. Better get to the housecleaning, though.

Filed under:

: I saw Much Ado About Nothing with my mom and sister at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. I enjoyed it quite a bit, except for some of what I for lack of a better term must call overacting. Benedick is a terrific creation.

Suzanne R. emailed me! My goodness! It turns out that I had used some address that she no longer checks frequently. She wished me luck on my finals and said that it was good to hear from me. I think this closes the book -- well, one of the books -- on high school.

: Woo hoo, Kuro5hin is back up! Thing to do very soon: finish backing up all the weblog entries I made there.

I'm finally deleting my Windows partition, after something like a year of solely using GNU/Linux. I need the disk space. I think my full disk was causing those weird errors recently, and even if it wasn't, it's time to do this anyway. I feel some trepidation, since I'm really burning my bridges now. Sometimes the knowledge of inevitability doesn't help.

: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is better than I'd thought. Wow, subtitles help.

I beat Leonard at Girl Genius by cunningly and unexpectedly popping a dirigible that, since I had two submarines in my score pile, gave me the game, even though he was twenty points ahead of me. Hurrah!

: I should note that Alexei is solely responsible for introducing Leonard and me to the Girl Genius game.

: Eating Double Gloucester cheese straight, as I am doing now, reminds me of Michal, my freshman-year roommate. She liked cheddar and used a special cheese slicer that cut cheese with a wire.

An hour or so ago I picked up stuff I had left at Dan's half a year ago. I remembered the street and the building and the way in; I didn't remember the apartment number or the security code.

His roommate and virtual roommate (roommate's girlfriend who doesn't call herself his girlfriend) were civil to me, even nice, although they all conversed and laughed about the intricacies of some role-playing game the whole time I was there, which was as familiar as the table and the chairs and the dirty dishes.

Aside from the OCF, the main way Dan and I relate to each other these days is to tie up the loose ends we left in each other's lives, property and computer accounts. Very High Fidelity, except that the movie has shifted after the first half and now Rob, not Ian, shows up only at distant intervals.

: My dad shanghaied me into serving as Youth Editor for this year's Kannada Koota magazine. (My parents hail from Karnataka, a state in southern India, where the native language is Kannada and the people are Kannadigas. Kannadigas in the United States have formed various local Kannada organizations, often called "[Area] Kannada Koota.")

Last night my dad asked me to edit the last few submissions, the ones that had come in just under the wire, and to write up a little editorial introducing the section. I whipped something up and edited it with some suggestions from Leonard. My parents and Leonard loved it, to my surprise, so you might too.

: Is Guster hip? I've seen the band's name pop up among my friends recently, and a bunch of the a cappella groups on campus have been performing its songs for years and I didn't even know it, and I've found several lyrics that I really like. Examples: all of "Center of Attention" and the line "Learn to love the price you pay" from "Airport Song".

: Leonard once evinced amazement that some bit of human knowledge was unavailable on the Web. Now it's my turn. Where, sweet civilization, where are the lyrics to "Insomniac," originally (one site alleges) performed by one Billy Pilgrim (a Vonnegut reference?) and covered by Capitol Green and On The Rocks?

I dig my head down deep
so I can't hear the cars
outside on the street
The stars are laughing
They get a kick out of my misery

I've tried everything short of Aristotle
to Dramamine and the whiskey bottle
Pray for the day when my ship comes in
and I can sleep the sleep of the just again...

I can hear your bare feet on the kitchen floor
I don't have to have these dreams no more
and I found someone to hold me tight
hold the insomniac all night

That's from my mp3 of On The Rocks's cover. Can you tell it's good?

: If I didn't have a final on Wednesday night, I'd attend Dmitry's freedom party.

At first I thought the name of the venue was the "22nd Amendment," which doesn't make nearly as much sense, unless you really hate FDR.

: Adam told me that Guster is not only hip, but good.

Wow, I really have no idea what Carol Lay is going to do next. Nor, despite Kris's fears, do I have any idea what the next Checkerboard Nightmare plot twist will be.

: Last night I conversed with my sister on many topics. She came over to discuss Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, which I had lent her, and which had set her head abuzz. (Kress and Le Guin do political fiction so much better than Rand! Unless The Fountainhead, which I have not read, is somehow several orders of magnitude better than Anthem and Atlas Shrugged, both of which I have read.) I recommend Kress's work and haven't read nearly enough of it, as my wishlist attests.

Nandini and I also mentioned our growing distaste for advice columnists. She told me that the new Salon columnist isn't bad, and that she now only reads letters at Slate's "Dear Prudence," not Prudie's responses. What an innovation! This could change my entire advice-column-reading experience paradigm!

Slate recently revealed that Prudie is the daughter of Ann Landers. Nandini voiced doubt that simple heredity gives one advice-giving prowess. I noted that perhaps Prudie is the George W. Bush of advice columnists.

Filed under:

: I just discovered ESheep, a comic site I like.

: I studied for about fifteen minutes before I had to put the book down and converse with Dan for an hour and a half. This is plus the two and a half hours we talked last night. I think we might even be friends now!

Oh, how sad, AdCritic has died. I used AdCritic to see, among others, the Molson's beer ads. Molson's : Canada :: Foster's :: Australia.

: I can't wait for the Self-Made Critic to critique the Lord of the Rings movie. As it is, his Vanilla Sky review amused me:

The sad thing about the film, aside from the idea of millions of people watching it and being left cold and empty, is that they tried to make a good movie. They really did. There's lots of sex in it, that's always a good thing, right? There's some violence, a car crash, plenty of drinking, being disrespectful to one's parents and/or authority. Basically, it's filled to the brim with junk that would have pissed off the CAP Alert guy if he were still around.

: In less than twelve hours, I will be done with the seventh semester of my college career. Today isn't nearly as wrenching as the last day of my sixth semester was. I only did one impossible thing before breakfast today.

: One reason that Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs: a minister of his, Miliutin, pointed out that serfdom interfered with the making and maintenance of a good military. Russia's army was too big to support, yet too small to really respond to its defense needs (remember that this was just after Russia ran home with its tail between its legs at the Crimean War). So, it needed a small army with a large reserve corps. But training serfs and then sending them back to the villages would facilitate peasant unrest. The solution: end serfdom.

As I go through the lecture notes, I see that Professor Zelnik warned us that every year, at least one person says on the final that this is the reason for emancipation, and writes one sweeping answer that disregards all other explanations (e.g., the need to industrialise). Got it. Glad I caught myself.

: My mom and dad have okayed my proposed move to a new apartment. I hope the people there call or email me back really soon so that I can give my current landlord a thirty-day notice, as required by law or something. I'll save a load of money with this move, so I really hope it pans out.

: Off to my final. Jesus, I'm scared. Reminds me of something Steve Hofstetter said about the last final of the semester: you forget to bring a pencil, you can't remember the TA's name to write on your bluebook, and you just can't care enough to do more than try to breeze through the questions and do all the essays half-assed and leave an hour early. Why is that okay? Because everyone else is doing the same damn thing.

: Sing, O Muse, of the blessed sweetness of finishing one's semester, of feeling free to live and love and pay no attention to the Treaty of San Stefano or the Land Captains or the constitution of Loris-Melikov or Zubatov's policy or the coup d'état of 3 June 1907.

I'm done! I'm done! I have finished my semester and tomorrow I go see Lord of the Rings and probably visit Seth and the next day I prepare for my vacation. Set phasers to fun!

I saw a nonbad Enterprise repeat and a good West Wing repeat and discussed the Beggars trilogy with my sister over Chinese food from King Dong. A good way to spend the night after my last final of the semester.

I should go to sleep now since I have to wake up at 6 or so tomorrow morning...

: The Dostoyevsky pun in today's Jon Carroll made me groan.

Argh, I forgot to plug in my phone before I went to sleep and I have to leave in twenty minutes so I'll have to unplug it before it's fully charged and it'll develop a bad battery memory just like my cordless. Argh.

: Salon's AP ticker just don't seem right in its mix of stories. Ebola confirmed in Gabon, suspected terrorist held without bail, India considers making war against Pakistan, state of siege declared in Argentina, and Barry Bonds to stay with the Giants.

: Today felt terrific. I finished The Dispossessed, started Hofstadter's book, and watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and spent time with agreeable people, and liked it all. This is what vacation should be.

I'm probably going to try to sell a bunch of books tomorrow to Ned's and Moe's and whomever will take them.

Filed under:

: Wow, a lot of people have time for this extropian nonsense.

Relatedly, today I commemmorate the fourth anniversary of the start of Leonard's current weblog. He's changed a bit.

: Certain bits of television I'd like to watch all the way through. Examples: Baseball and The Civil War by Ken Burns. The seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that I never saw, and all of Babylon 5. And some Nova and Frontline episodes. Fortunately enough, the transcripts for those last two shows are online at pbs.org, and every so often I go reread the transcript for "The Proof."

STACY KEACH (NARRATOR): The task was to prove that no numbers, other than 2, fit the equation. But when computers came along, couldn't they check each number one by one and show that none of them worked?

JOHN CONWAY: Well, how many numbers are there to be dealt with? You've got to do it for infinitely many numbers. So, after you've done it for one, how much closer have you got? Well, there's still infinitely many left. After you've done it for a thousand numbers, how many, how much closer have you got? Well, there's still infinitely many left. After you've done it for a million, well, there's still infinitely many left. In fact, you haven't done very many, have you?

Filed under:

: Wow, today I saw one of those

rm -rf /bin/laden
bumper stickers for the first time, on an orange VW Bug on Channing.

I spent several quite productive hours selling back books, finalising agreement with the master tenant (not an Ibsen character) on the new apartment, and buying Christmas merchandise.

: What a symmetry between today and a life-shattering day seven months ago! For example, last night Seth, Leonard and I hung out.

: I went to a "ComedySportz" performance and was chosen as an audience volunteer. I made noises to accompany an improvised skit. Evidently I did very well! Great!

Filed under:

: Having a terrific time -- glad I'm here.

I frosted cookies today. The most artistic thing I've done in months.

: I think I understand Christmas now.

: Best Christmas ever! Books, pens, candles, candy, sheets, and a festive, warm family environment. I'm having a fantastic time.

: I played Monopoly with people and we didn't have enough houses and hotels so we used red and green M&Ms. I played Cranium with people and it was really fun and now I'll laugh at reminders of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and "YMCA" and sans serif Is that look like Ls and Daffy Duck/Porky Pig confusion. I met many new friends and we laughed very, very hard at the oeuvre of Clifford Pickover. And I got lots of candy.

: Back in Berkeley. I believe that the good times, as I told Seth, have temporarily stopped rolling, but I had a terrific week or so of vacation.

I'm cleaning and sorting -- err, arranging. My mother is visiting tomorrow and when she leaves she'll take with her a pile o'stuff that I don't want to take to my new, smaller digs. I'm selling, giving away, and archiving many books. I have to fight the packrat tendencies I learned from my dad and (less) my mom; must...discard...useless...notes...from...years...ago!

I think I'll feel better when I have less stuff weighing down my soul. I mean both belongings and intangibles (guilt, &tc.).

: By the way, you may wish to check out holiday pictures and Kris's, Susanna's, Leonard's, and Frances's recollections of the season..

: Cingular Wireless has gotten on my nerves to an extent normally reserved for members of my family. The fella who sold us a Family Plan at the Stockton store made us several -- I'd say "promises" in everyday life -- statements that have since proven untrue.

  1. He told us that all mobile-to-mobile (cell-to-cell) (do-si-do) calls would be free. After the bill came, my sister had to straighten this out with a Cingular rep.
  2. The Stockton rep told us that long-distance calls would incur no additional charge (the base charge applying during Peak Hours usage). Again, the bill came and this savings had not been applied and some Cingular rep bore my sister's wrath.
  3. I may be forgetting another scammish "forgetting" of a deal we got, but the most recent twist: the Stockton Cingular spokesperson told us that portions of phone calls under 30 seconds would not count as a "minute," whilst portions of 30 seconds and over would. Knowing this, I tried to keep my non-cell-to-cell calls below 30 seconds (or 1:30, or 2:30, ...). But this was in vain, my sister discovered today from some phone rep: even a single second over a minute counts as another minute!

I'd ask whether anyone else has had horror-story experiences with Cingular, but I know it's true, and I know that suckularwireless.org or some such probably contains several Hellmouth rants on the topic, and I have begun to understand why Joel and Cam seem to spend a quarter of their time as David Horowitz (not the race-controversy one) from Fight Back! (old consumer-activism TV show).

I know, I know, I know that markets are imperfect (conversations). And I try to seek out good news. So: What's the good stuff (that kids go for)? Tell me about a better mousetrap! Tell me about a cell phone service company that provides adequate or superior service! Please!

: Spent too much time reading books instead of brutally eliminating them from "must have in new flat" selection. Now, checking my grades. And... they're all in! B in Imperial Russian History, B in Political Psych, pass (duh) in handball, and -- wait -- B+ in Russian?! I was sure I took that pass/no pass! Oh well. I think we get 3.25 or some such around here for B+s, and that'll help my GPA.

I'd really like to keep/get my cumulative GPA to 3.5 after next semester and graduation. I hear that'll help keep my options open for fellowships and grad school and such.

: I am considering making a New Year's Resolution. I should probably make any such goal manageable. "Reduce clutter" and the like might be good. I can start the new palindromic year with elegant open spaces and not piles of junk. Perhaps "clean up my living space once a week whether it needs it or not."

I must go to bed so that I can awaken early enough to actually clean (that thing I didn't do today, bleargh) so my mom won't embarrass me by cleaning when she gets here tomorrow with the guest/relative.

: Today's Papers gives me good news and bad news. Bad news: the India/Pakistan situation seems to steadily move towards war. Dammit! Good news: a leaked draft implies that the military tribunals won't be as horrendous vis-à-vis civil liberties as originally believed.

: This set of links on Gödel, Escher, Bach includes a reference to...Clifford Pickover!

: Yesterday I tried to "show San Francisco" to a cousin, Anand-from-Michigan. Of course, that went miserably, because the wonder and loveliness of San Francisco is the many little neighborhoods with distinctive characters, and the bookstores, and the restaurants, and the open and friendly people, and the value people place on freedom of expression, and the geographic unity of the city that enables mass transit as a plausible transit option (cough, cough, LA), and the beautiful views, and the sights and sounds of a million people living their everyday lives. And we were in SF for about four hours on a cold and rainy Friday night between Christmas and New Year's.

So I did the chicken pseudoreality tourist thing and we took the cable car to and from Fisherman's Wharf. We had to wait in long lines for both trips, and on the way there, the car stopped for long intervals for no discernible reason. The windows got so fogged up that we could hardly see the storefronts, much less fabulous views of the Bay. And aside from restaurants and souvenir shops, none of the tourist-trap Fisherman's Wharf stuff was open. We ended up walking around and waiting a lot in the rain while I expounded on my theories of San Francisco vs. Los Angeles (unity vs. fragmentation, togetherness vs. aloneness, joy vs. despair, etc.)

But before Anand and I took the BART back to Berkeley, I took him with me to a nice viewpoint in South San Francisco. In the BART on the way there, between two stations, the car halted, and a voice said that we would have a power outage for about a minute whilst power was shunted from one doodad to another. The car's lights went out, systems audibly powered down, and everything went dark save a light mounted inside the tunnel. I had never seen the inside of a BART tunnel before. It seemed a holy moment, and that we should match its silence with our own. (Anand, however, did not perceive this, and persisted in making conversation.)

(Exit the Balboa Park BART station via the south stairs, turn left, cross the overpass, choose any of the first four or five streets to turn left, go to the top of the hill, look down from both sides of the street.)

The city spread out beneath us, a thousand lights only slightly twinkled by fog and rain, stars above us and stars below.

: Reread Anurag Mathur's book The Inscrutable Americans. Much like R.K. Narayan's My Dateless Diary, which is better and which mentions Berkeley.

The funniest portion of the Mathur novel concerns our Indian visitor's discovery of American girls in the springtime sunning themselves and so on.

Randy walked in and found that Gopal was not in the mood for subtleties.
"Naked women," ranted Gopal. "Bloody damn fool naked women are lying everywhere. Wherever I am going there are damn fool naked women lying everywhere. Why?"
"Yes," said Randy. "I agree completely. Ain't life grand?"
Gopal glared at him. "For you maybe. What about me?"
Randy began to understand. "No luck still?"
Gopal snarled.
"Wow," admired Randy. "Years and years of celibacy. Like Gandhi, huh?"
"Gandhi is not having bloody damn fool naked women lying for miles and miles all around," Gopal groused bitterly.
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: Sometimes dread does have a name. For example, this morning I dreaded my mother. I snuck upstairs with my cereal because every time she sees me make a bowl of cereal she criticizes me for putting too little milk in it. I'm in my twenties, for crying out loud!

: Aaah! I went to my new apartment to pay the January rent and get a key and I discovered that it's not in Berkeley! The house stands just on the wrong side of the Berkeley City Limits/Nuclear-Free Zone sign.

Soon I will live in Oakland. Aieee!

: I needed to send a fax and I don't have a fax machine. The Phone Company doesn't cover the area code I needed (702 -- Las Vegas, possibly all of Nevada). I ended up calling my dad, e-mailing the message and fax number to him, and trusting him to do it on his fax machine, but really. It's very nearly 2002 (Happy New Year!), and this is my best option?

: Leonard says, "The problem is that you have to send a fax."



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