30 January 2006

back home

or what seems to be the closest to home I've got...

I've posted the blogs from the last few days below, so apologies for overload, but again I was blogging in the dark. lovely staying at people's houses, but sheesh! anyone heard of wireless broadband? okay, apparently not so much in small princely states in the middle of gujarat. I get it.

I'm teaching at noon today so must dash. Make sure you're reading Ruth's account of her lovely tour across India, cow crap and all...

the window seat

written on flight BA142 from DEL to LHR, 29 Jan 2006

we left Delhi a bit late, just 15 minutes, which for India's transportation standards is practically early. and we are promised to make it up between now and landing. according to the ship-board computer (a la startrek) we are in fact 15 minutes early into London. I have issues with these things, as they often optimistically predict the arrival time and then they turn off before landing, not confirming when we actually land. but that's neither here nor there. is it just me or when the pilot says: we're 20 minutes from landing, please fasten your seatbelts--it always feels like an hour between then and our actual arrival? the perils of not wearing a watch.

after taking off from Delhi we flew over Pakistan, splitting the difference between Kabul to the north and Quetta to the south. fascinating. such beautiful mountains from the air--covered in snow, completely socked in. the northwest frontier we've been so intent on to find Osama--it struck me as I peered out of my window (looking for Osama, never fear. no sign of him, sad to say) that this was kind of a bad place to hole up. it looks cold, remote, and distinctly lacking both food and possible fuel. but he's likely in some underground bunker somewhere, right? (I shift from looking for tell-tale "Osama is here" snow markings to looking for melty places beneath which he might be lurking). very few settlements up here, but some signs of human activity--roads and such, a few patterns that resemble agricultural boundaries...it looks quite beautiful, actually.

the next time I open my window we're cruising near Basu on the Caspian Sea, and over Tbilisi in Georgia. Talk about amazing mountains! Absolutely stunning. I manage to catch portions of the Black Sea (we traverse almost its entire width) and then we hit landfall. something about a shore from the sky is very impressive. why doesn't the sea just continue? how can land appear from such flatness? and so on. we're now over a place called Claj Napoca, which I have neveer heard of, headed for Hungary and points west. It's quite astounding that one can traverse all of this geography and history and culture in only 8 hours. the spaces between Britain and India. western Europe is so utterly utterly small.

of aunties and carbs

written 26 January 2006

after the guesthouse was a bit, well, grotty, my colleague here has put me up in the home of one of her neighbors. Auntie (as I call er) is a wonderful elderly woman, who lives now on her own, as her husband passed away only three weeks ago. We have breakfast together after I meander downstairs--she's up at quarter to 6 and I manage to saunter down sometime around 8. initially she assumed I wanted toast, and what with my carb-avoidance policy, I didn't quite know what to say. So I said: Indian bread, curd, maybe some fruit, so as not to be too much trouble. I didn't want her to change anything on my account.

But she's so nice that the first day she got out her english tea for me, so that I wouldn't have to have Indian tea--when I explained that I would be more than happy to join her in her masala chai we had that the next day. And so I've been eating this mound of fruit every morning and trying not to worry about the sugar coursing through my veins. Okay, so it's fructose, but still.

With all of this home cooking (fruit, potato-centered dishes, rotis, rice), I'm realizing how different my body feels with tons of carbs in it. I'm tired in the afternoon, I want to go back to bed after a meal, I have more difficulty concentrating. I'm looking forward to a carb-fast when I get back, to running every day (running here is impossible, what with the gated communities and the social unacceptability of it). I've been doing yoga which helps, but even so, it's just not enough exercise. All this for politeness. My mother raised me well. Now I'll need to go home and lose the 5 lbs I'm sure I'm gaining this week!

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

written 26 Jan 2006

at about the same time that Sam updated our reading list with Middlesex, unbeknownst to him, Ruth left me with her just-finished copy of the book. her one-sentence review was: not the best book, but better than Virgin Suicides, and oh: it's not really about gender at all.

I tend to agree. Sure, it's about gender in some sort of superficial way, but precisely because it remains rooted in a heterosexist framework, it manages to reinforce gender norms even as it uncovers intersexed individuals as one of the core narrative components. and so I'm echoing Ruth's sentiment. perhaps the hetero-centered narrative, in which the central character's intersexuality is continually asserted alongside the equally strong statement that the eventual "he" always liked girls--the fact that the book concludes with the character deciding that he is truly a man means that regardless of how "inter" his sexuality is, it must be resolved, and in the end, his desire was never in question, never outside the heterosexist matrix.

so the book is about an extended Greek family, about genetics, about village life. I find myself unbelievably tired of flashback novels, where the coy narrator "slips" a comment in and then says something like: oh, but we'll get to that later. first I must tell you about the mulberry trees and the silkworms. Rushdie can do that. others fail in every way to be able to pull it off, at least for me. Really excellent authors (Richard Powers) don't need that sort of crap to move between time periods. I'm calling for a moratorium on it, frankly. it's cheap and annoying.

the best parts of the book are in the first generation, the narrator's grandparents, and their departure from what is now Turkey and what was then Greece, as it bloodily transitioned from one to the other. the characterization of the love between the two is the closest one might get to queerness and closeting in the book. the lovely treatment of the grandfather's recession through time before his death is amazing. the descriptions of Detroit are also poignant and quite beautiful, from the pink nights to the discussion of the car factory. Sure, Richard Llewellyn did it better with the coal mining in his 1930s book, but it's still an almost poetic description that Eugenides offers.

My final critique, though (in addition to the thing about the flashbacks) is that at times the book reads like it's a movie script. sometimes quite literally, but it seems out of character to put the narrator's voice in this sort of life-as-film context. It almost seems as if Eugenides is already thinking film rights, which is, again, annoying. they are two different genres for a reason!

Bottom line: a good plane read, an interesting family epic, but I have not yet drafted a letter home about it. a blog, sure, but...

chat on the chat

written 25 Janury 2006

my talk was very well received at Baroda, which was gratifying on many levels. I was a bit worried about the audience, as they are very knowledgeable and in some ways in the midst of this material and so it was very different to be speaking to them when my audience for the book project is very much an audience not as knowledgeable about 20th c. Indian art.

Jyoti Bhatt, Nilima Sheikh, Gulammohammed Sheikh, and several other prominent artists and art historians were in the audience, which was great, but again, added to my stress a bit. Only a bit, though. Perhaps I'm growing, but rather than seeing this as an insurmountable challenge (of course they know more than me! of course they are in some sort of more "authentic" position to read this stuff as they are not only Indian, but Indian artists, and they knew these people personally!) I instead took it as an opportunity. how amazing to have these people listening to my work! what a chance to get some real, concrete feedback! so I opened myself up to the experience rather than worrying about it. and frankly, it's not that I don't care about what this audience thinks--quite the opposite, in fact--it's that I'm growing such that my work isn't me--it's my work. it should be in dialogue with others who disagree. and it's okay if they do. we may never agree on certain things, and as long as I keep that in mind, it's fine.

the audience was very receptive to the work, which was great, and we had a good discussion. there were interesting differences which I'm finally getting confident/arrogant enough to see right through: the centrality of the artist critique (for which I dropped the words "post-structuralist" "author" and "Foucault" and managed to get nods from elsewhere in the audience), the mistaking of my subversive reading of the work for something not-so-subversive, which is linked to the author thing (the artist never said anything about that so how can you say it's there in the work? was he really being subversive in this way? how do you know?), and some very interesting discussion about my use of the term "ruin" in relation to one of these modernist buildings, which I think rubbed some in the audience the wrong way. So an interesting discussion all around. so I have some good notes for the rewriting.

And a milestone for me in terms of presenting my work: I realize that I'm finally over the graduate school worries about questions, challenges, and critiques. to steal from our lovely president: bring it on. except I actually have a sense of both the battlefield and the potential attacks, and, I might (somewhat arrogantly) add, I have a plan for both attack and polite, well-timed withdrawal...


written 25 January, 2006

Before my talk this afternoon I went and visited the two major museums in Baroda, the Baroda City Museum and the Fateh Singh Palace Museum. The former is a colonial era structure filled with the most amazing collection of objects, as is appropriate to the approach to museum construction from the 19th century. Eclectic doesn't even begin to cover it.

My friend and colleague Deepali works at the Royal Ontario Museum in what I suppose might be considered the modern inheritance of the Baroda museum. In Baroda, and in Toronto, we have a dinosaur exhibit, various natural history displays, and then an entire area devoted to art of various regions. In Baroda, it's much the same, except that there's a certain history hanging over all of the objects. The way they are arranged--in narrow corridors behind dusty glass, of course is an 19th century way of display. But the organization is still used now--by culture, by time period, by medium, and by zoological type. It's interesting more for what we still maintain as part of museology than for what we've left behind. What I'm trying to articulate is the incredible 19th century inheritance of knowledge-construction we still carry with us in our museums and our encyclopedias. If art history in India and elsewhere arose in part from botanical categorization of the world's flora, then it makes sense that we should have in a museum the kinds of objects Foucault was so enamoured of in Borges' "Chinese" dictionary: an aging specimen of octopus in sharing the same space as a painting from the hill state of Kangra, sharing the same space as a mammoth skull and a plaster cast of Assyrian reliefs now in the British Museum.

The Fateh Singh museum was less 19th century in that sense, but more about collecting practices and patronage during the 19th and early 20th century. The Maharaja of Baroda was a patron of Raja Ravi Varma, a late-19th century Indian painter who was the court artist for awhile. He also painted Hindu mythological subjects in a European academic oil style, a fascinating construction and resuscitation of Indian iconography. So next to images of various goddesses we have images of princesses of the royal family, looking oddly similar. the king also collected European paintings, some of British painters who clearly came through Baroda, an Italian sculptor, and various Parisian works (they had a palace in Paris as well), and then a whole gallery of Japanese objects: it's clear that the family didn't escape the Japonisme craze of the 19th century. The museum ends with a whole gallery of copies of European masters, primarily Titian and the like, which again is intriguing for what they chose to copy.

at the end I was in visual overload! Off to give my talk now; I will report on that later...

29 January 2006

Getting Older in Wales

Just a quick post to say thanks to everyone for the Birthday wishes - including cards, calls, emails, and blog comments. I had a nice trip to England for a wonderful birthday dinner out on Friday, followed by a fabulous evening with friends in Wales last night. And according to the flight tracker, Rebecca should be landing at Heathrow in a couple of hours (and arriving here in about 8 hours).

My birthday has also led to learning, as I've now read closely all the rules and regulations on postal items sent from overseas. I've thus discovered that even a gift has to be valued at less than £10 or they hammer you with taxes and duties. So if you want to send something, make sure it's cheap!

27 January 2006

big day in baroda

I have many blogs for you, once again trapped on my computer rather than here and accessible. But I wanted to post two things today: one--happy birthday to Sam!!! It sucks to be halfway around the world, but I'll be home soon.

and two: I met the Maharaja of Baroda today. very posh. I'm feeling very elite right now. heh heh. more once I return to the Euro-American center...

24 January 2006

in Baroda

I arrived in Baroda via night train at 4 am, which was an adventure. But, between the train time and the morning in the guest house I managed to get a decent amount of sleep. Ruth and I were spoiled for accommodation in Delhi, and so it's a bit of a shock to leave the home-like space of the master paying guest house to go to the somewhat institutional space of the university guest house at Baroda. Arriving in the middle of the night didn't help!

Baroda is interesting after all the touristy places I've been this time around. I'm generally ignored, which is a welcome change, and the campus is beautiful, right across from a park. Several coffee shops in the area, and obviously an internet cafe or two. So it seems like a friendly place.

I give my talk tomorrow, and we'll see how it is received by an informed Indian audience. I have the luxury usually of giving talks to those who know nothing about my area, even within the Indian art history context. It should be a change to see what those here at the top fine arts school in the country think. I'll report back.

23 January 2006

travel and moving on

one of the things about traveling and being away from home is a suspension of reality, or at least a suspension of engagement with one's "real" life. Tarn blogged about this in relation to not-blogging while she was in California visiting family and hanging out with children. I find that despite the fact I actually read the newspaper more while in India (because it's provided free at these hotels we're staying in), I am basically utterly out of the loop when I come back. It's like I can't absorb things because I'm overloaded with other stimuli and so I can't figure out why I should care about current events.

and travel makes you reassess things. I'm moving on from Delhi today to go to Baroda to give a talk. This will be an interesting experience, working with academics in India and exploring how the rhythm of dialogue and the angle of inquiry differs from my own experience in the academy. but what I'd really like to do is go home now. this is the culmination of several recurring events in my life. when I was away for dissertation research I spent a month in London at the British Library and then went on for several months in India and Bangladesh. Leaving London was unbelievably difficult, because I was leaving but not to go home. I'm feeling the same thing here. Delhi has been great, and it was very fun showing Ruth around and getting the colonial tour of Delhi yesterday with our host and a Lonely Planet writer (impressive, no?) but in a way this next few days is the last phase of my trip, where I'm not showing anybody around, where it's supposedly about my scholarship and my work rather than revealing India to new comers.

and I realized about a week ago that I have no idea what that "scholarship" and "work" thing might be in the future. that is, I'm at the end of one project, the book on 20th c. India, and thus, by the rules of the academic universe, I need to get going on my next project. by the rules of Indian art history, that must be a book, it must be based on a site in India, and it must entail multiple months researching in India, ideally a year. But I just don't have the energy or the desire for that right now. I have a few ideas floating around that I could work very hard to make concrete, but I'm really not that excited about any of them to do that.

So returning "home" involves this idea of moving on as well. I'm moving on from Delhi physically to another location in India, much as I'm (perhaps) moving on from this book project to another project. But what I really want to do in both cases is to go home. to return to someplace that anchors me, that's not new, that's a repetition. when was the last time I had that place? who knows. maybe I need to go home and work on making that space concrete rather than creating some new scholarly object to chase after. hm.

22 January 2006

Waiting for Paul's Second Post

Paul has brought back Calvino and the Stoat in order to dismiss sweepingly and dramatically years of established scientific theory. Namely, he's tossing out the model of multiple universes and the particle-wave theory (neither of which I claim to know much about, other than what I read on Paul's blog and see innappropriately referenced analogically in social science literature). He concludes his first post on this topic (he promises another), as follows:
what I'm making is an argument using Ockham's Razor. Which is more likely: a universe that has a nearly infinite number of states, with more states splitting off every instant (many universes), or a universe that is kind of "fuzzy", where there's no fixed reality unless you force there to be one by making an observation (that is, via the collapse of a wave functions)? From a strictly design point of view, the second is utterly less complex to manage.
Perhaps I'm Paul's ideal reader (or possibly his worst one), because even without the second post, I think I pretty much already buy this. The model he suggests rejects determinism and insists that the outcomes in the universe will be created by agency (by actions and choices, by 'the forced reality' produced through 'making an observation). This is precisely the sort of model I always end up defending in political philosophy.*

And I wonder: does the theory of multiple determinist universes lend itself to taking a deterministic approach to this universe (whichever one we find ourselves in) - to think that history will progress, or at least move in some sort of linear pattern, to conceive of political gains made as something that cannot be lost precisely because we are marching somewhere in time, to think of time itself as a past/present/future that flows like a river? Paul calls the universe 'fuzzy' and I steal from Hamlet/Derrida and say that 'time is out of joint'.

In either case, agency rests not on a fixed identity that will predetermine outcomes, but on a partial and limited capacity to work with, through, and against the fuzzy disjointedness. And the future is not a point that we know and predict but a very fuzzy 'not yet' that we continually look toward just as we strive to bring 'it' about.

*Note: this statement and everything that follows it may all rest on my having utterly misunderstood what Paul is on about.

21 January 2006

India is hard

India is hard. This is my thesis du jour. Or perhaps it's that tourist Delhi is hard. Ruth and I had a lovely morning/midday in old Delhi, one of my favorite places, where we explored the spice market (pretty, coughing from the chillies, piles of dates and cashews, bumping into men carrying huge bags of marigolds on their heads...), the wedding market (Kinari Bazaar, for those following along), the Jain temple (see pics at flickr site), and then walking to the Jami Masjid, which happened to be closed (oops, Friday, noonish, what am I thinking...), lovely kebabs at a local joint recommended in the Lonely Planet and thus easy to find as everyone in the neighborhood knows we're looking for it, as we are white and thus LP readers, and then we decide to check out some hotels in Ramnagar/Paharganj.

Again, for those following on a map or living Delhi with us through that ESPN thing (as Tim says), you will recall that Paharganj is the touristy backpacker area in walking distance from the train station. It's a ghetto of hotels, traffic, rickshaw touts, and various other things, and so if you ask to go there from anywhere in Delhi you can expect tourist treatment. So let's just say I had a bit of a "moment" with the rickshaw guy who wouldn't bargain with me and then wouldn't let me find another rickshaw and then once I grudgingly agreed to his price/rickshaw went to have some chai with his friends and made us wait. So, I got Ruth and I out of his rickshaw and walked down the street to find something else while he was having his tea. This got him upset for some reason, and he chased us down, insisted on taking us, and I ended up yelling at him that he was rude and we weren't standing for it. All over about a $2 ride. So bad behaviour on all sides, and it is clear that my limit had been reached.

Ah well. How many stories like this or worse from India? I suppose it's about traveling, about patience levels, about the dust and the sun and the dirt. And frankly about overstimulation--too much amazing stuff to see, so much assaulting your senses (positive and negative), and just a lot of wonderous things. So it can push you over the edge. In the end we retreated to our retreat and are trying to wind down. I am posting pics to the flickr site as we speak from the last few days.

Why do I do this to myself?

OK, here's a headline at CNN this morning: U.S. bids to allay Japan beef row
A 'row' in this sense is defined as 'a noisy, contentious quarrel' or 'a dispute' or 'a loud noise'. To allay means to diminish, reduce, relieve, or silence. One can allay fears, suspicions, worries, or tensions. One could avoid, silence, or stop a row.

One cannot allay a row.

20 January 2006

Late Night, Random Thoughts on TV

A couple of reflections on the 60 minutes of television I viewed tonight.
  1. Queer as Folk 'Pilot' UK. I thought it would be interesting to see what the original QasF was like, given that I'd seen the first season of the American version, and given that the original writer/creator of QasF is Russel T. Davies, who is now sort of the Joss Whedon of UK television. He's the one doing the new Doctor Who, and he's from Swansea. Alas, there was nothing to see since it turns out the US show and pilot is not just 'based on' the UK version but is an exact replica. The characters, their look, the scenes, the lines, the sets, the shots - all identical, right down to the lead guy's apartment and car.
  2. Gilmore Girls, Season 1. GG starts off very slowly. The first 8 episodes establish characters and seek out a 'feel' that isn't quite there. It surprises me a bit that the show wasn't cancelled, given that shows like Firefly and Wonderfalls can start out so amazingly well and still get cancelled (I know, it has nothing to do with the quality of the show). But Episode 9, 'Rory's Dance' is a true gem that reaches right up there to the levels of great episodes of Buffy or MSCL. I've just tried to summarise the developments of the final climactic scenes in which Lorelai confronts both her mother and her daughter, and Rory fights back, but my summary didn't do the scene justice. The genius here lies in its ability to let the teenagers be both teenagers and thinking, acting, responsible agents, who make real choices in the real world, rather than operating in an artificial melodramatic space. Their actions have a certain poetic/tragic literary quality precisely because they are just kids, but this only works because the writers refuse to place these kids in 'adult contexts' (meaning the life and death hyper-reality of adults on TV). At the risk of offending certain readers, it's precisely its refusal to turn Rory, Dean, Paris, Jess, etc. into 90210/Dawsons/OC characters that makes the show work. (Last night I saw the first episode of season 3 of the OC and it was hard to find it anything but ridiculous - death, murder, mayhem makes it difficult to see teenagers as charming, especially with the mayhem is all quite literal rather than mythical a la Joss. The first season of OC works because the conflict that drives it is all teenage conflict - fitting in, being the new guy, making friends, dealing with folks you can't stand or who can't stand you. Having your girlfriend shoot your brother? Not really kids stuff, and far too dark to allow Adam Brody's charm to shine through.)

A Quick Follow Up

In the comments (which is where he always does his best work) tenaciousmcd makes an extremely sober (certainly in contrast to my hotheadedness), intelligent, and I think tenable case for why the US is justified in trying to blow up houses that contain top Al Qaeda operatives in areas where there really is very little order or rule of law. He also asks - again, reasonably enough - why I should get so upset about the 'Wild West' analogy, given that the wild west was populated by white europeans, i.e. there's no racism here. So, quick responses:

  1. I think when the 'wild west' metaphor is used to described the non-west, then it is hard for it not to link up, at least implicitly, with the discourse of Orientalism (I was going to throw in a wikipedia link there, but frankly I found the entry for Orientalism terribly thin). That is, it's hard (to my ears) for it not to sound as if Pakistan is filled with such unruly, uncivilised savages that the only way to proceed is the way we (civilised, rational westerners) see best. When 'wild west' is applied to the non-west, I don't think it can any longer be called simply (as TMcD does) an 'American example'.
  2. However, I want to make clear: my rant really was meant to focus, somewhat narrowly, on the media representation of this botched mission. I really wasn't intending to enter into the debate over whether the US is justified in sending missiles to blow up homes, when they have very good reasons to be certain that those homes are filled with terrorists. TMcD makes a good case for why that might be justified. On the other hand, when what we do instead is to kill innocent civilians (including many children) and not even get the Al Qaeda leader in the process, then our response ought to be, 'uh, oh, we really screwed up'. It shouldn't be, 'too bad we missed the bad guy, better luck next time'. It's the arrogance in the face of our mistakes, and the seeming disregard of the lives of others, AND the cooperation by the media with this arrogance and disregard, that gets my blood boiling.

19 January 2006

no scratching

Ruth has arrived as you will see from her blog here. We managed to keep her awake until late in the evening to get a decent night's sleep. The pace has slowed quite a bit in the interim for me, as I'm not getting up at 6:30 to depart for a site at 8 am. Feels like cheating a bit. I keep meeting interesting India travelers at the guest house; last night we had a conversation about being a "wife" and feeling worthless with the guest house owner Ushi (she and her husband run it), a young woman from London and an older woman from Sydney. Ushi was the one that started the discussion, despite the fact that she seems to "run" the GH as much as her husband Avnish, if not more. The woman from Sydney agreed with Ushi and I about the pressures and the way you get painted into a corner--suddenly you're the one cooking all the time, or suddenly you're the one staying home with the kids because it's "easier" or you're the one decorating the living room because you're interested in it--and yet you then fall into these easy norms that add additional restrictions to your movements and identity. It was very interesting. The young woman from London said her male friends were just as interested in cooking and entertaining as she is, but admitted that things would likely change once folks had partnered off....Such is the discussion in the guest house these days.

I'm off to visit the Belgian embassy on the invitation of the ambassador (very posh, no?) from whom I asked permission to photograph the building. More reports to come.

18 January 2006

post-tour post

the tour is over, long live the tour. we had a great group of people this time around, which made the experience wonderful. not that last year wasn't great, but with a year's experience under my belt, I found it a bit easier to deal with the ups and downs of the tour schedule, negotiating gender/ethnicity/nationalism with the tour guides, and in general figuring out how this dynamic works. 20 people thrown together to tour India for 2 weeks--sounds like a reality show in the making. The truth is, without the cameras rolling, people are fairly civilized.

I am now ensconced in my new guest house, which I found due to the glories of the interwebs, and which is as promised a family guest house, well-run, and in a nice suburb of Delhi. Ruth arrives tomorrow for her first trip to India, which I will ease her into. And I'm heading down to Baroda in a few days to give a talk at the university there.

Delhi is a bit crazy with preparations for the 26th of January, Republic day, which involves large military and police parades through the streets. They have to do on-site rehearsals constantly, so it gets a bit tiresome being diverted around major sites, and having major sites closed all the time.

But, the food is great as usual, and I'll have a few moments to relax here as well. I'll be posting pictures soon, so watch for it...

17 January 2006

the great game

As someone rather nearer the Pakistani-Afghan border than most reading this post, it strikes me that the senator's comment below rings about the same as many comments in various Rudyard Kipling novels and their various filmic spin-offs. The arrogance and, to go back to an earlier post by sam, unbelievable blindness to history, not to mention disregard of oh, um, numbers and oh, well, facts is amazing to me. It's not as if someone doesn't know what's going on in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it's that we don't have people who speak the language on the ground, and we purposely blinder ourselves to thinking through anything that might be difficult. it's easy to say that the Afghan-Pakistani border has been a fought-over, chaotic region for millennia, that it appears to be the wild west, but it's much more difficult to actually sit back and figure out what kinds of order have been imposed there over these same millennia, to ask about tribal affiliations, regional shifts, politics, and actually recognize that as we see in Deadwood, the wild west was in many respects anything but wild, controlled by smart, entrepreneurial men (and women) who would do just about anything to maintain their independence in the face of governmental/outside control. Sigh. And maybe we should read our colonial history, or hey, even our colonial fiction, just to get a better sense for what we're in here and how not to do it. Just a thought.

More on Macs

I was going to blog about the death of feminism, and then I noticed a few comments in response to my Macworld posting (and I think readers have seen enough rage from me in the past 24 hours - if not, see earlier post, below). So here's a bullet-pointy follow-up.

  • Dan comments on the iPod-as-gateway-drug effect. Yes, I think this is just what Jobs wants to have happen. The idea, extended, is that with Macs running the same hardware as PC's – and soon with the capacity to run PC programs either within OS X or in a simple emulation program (and at full speed) – there will be much greater enticement for switchers. PC users can keep their games and any other essential windows software, but they can also have iTunes and iPhoto, and iMovie, etc. PC users who love how iPod and iTunes 'just work' will have the chance to discover the very same phenomenon in the rest of their 'digital life'. They can also have the Mac design. Will it be as cheap as a Dell? No. But it won't be much more expensive. Early analysis (even by non Mac-folks) suggest that the Intel iMac hardware specs would cost you about the same amount of money in a PC.
  • Ruth worries about the loss of Apple's smallest notebook. There's good news and bad news here. Good news: the rumoured widescreen iBook will be much faster, have much more screen real estate, will be thinner, and might even be a higher lighter than your rightly beloved 12" Powerbook. I plan to grab one of these new iBooks as soon as I can (best guess is summer time). Bad news: a true subnotebook is not likely to appear. To get a machine under 4 pounds you have to take something out, and then you have to deal with docking solutions, port extenders, external optical drives, etc. Steve feels strongly that these things take away from the Mac experience.
  • For Tarn, I only have bad news: the Mac tablet is unlikely to surface any time soon.
  • And finally, the sageman references the rage among the Mac faithful that Apple is charging full price for iLife 06. Yes, we are accustomed to upgrade pricing in the software world, so this move disconcerts. However, it's crucial to keep in mind that iLife only costs $79 ($59 with edu discount). $79 is significantly cheaper than the upgrade price of most software packages. Even better, for $99 you can get a family pack that provides 5 licenses (i.e. convert Rick to the Mac and your per person price drops significantly). Plus iLife is free on new Macs. At any rate, at either the $59 or the $99 price, I'd say buy iLife now. The new photocasting feature is probably worth the upgrade. Early reviews suggest that the iLife upgrade was extensive and impressive (much more so than the iWork update, which didn't do much).
I've already purchased iWork 06. It's probably worth it just for the comments feature in Pages and the ability to do Endnotes. It has one glaring issue for academics: it can't do continuous footnotes. This means that if you have a really long footnote, it will lead to an awkward page break (with blank space at the bottom of the page that precedes the long footnote). Other than that, though, it's what a word processor ought to be. It gives you fast, beautifully rendered text, and it finally makes it clear to me what 'styles' were supposed to be about (I now use them). Thus, even at this stage it's a great alternative to Word. Of course, since the world is still M$ dominated, you have to export your Pages document to Word (works flawlessly unless you have an amazingly complicated document full of tables and/or graphics) or PDF before sending it to people. But Pages opens Word docs (see parenthetical note above) perfectly fine, and even the comments features are inter-operable with Word, i.e. make comments in Pages and the ycome up as comments in Word, and vice versa. Some folks will probably prefer to continue using Word rather than learn a new word processor (an act that really is akin to learning a new language - I find Pages utterly intuitive, but I've still got some hours invested in learning it) and have to deal with importing/exporting. If you long to be free of Word, however, then the liberation is worth the effort to attain it.

As for iLife, I don't use iMovie and iDVD, but they were cool when I played with them (and made the one essential DVD - the Buffy musical). iPhoto, on the other hand, is essential, iWeb sounds great, and the integration with .Mac (while a bit microsofty in some respects) really does make the whole thing work great. I now open Excel once in a while, and I use Camino occasionally for surfing (it gives you a word processor-like interface in Blogger that just isn't there with Safari - anyone know why?) and other than that I run only Apple software. And all of the Apple software is 'universal' (read: works natively on the new Intel chips).

16 January 2006


This morning I read a story in the Guardian with this Headline, Pakistanis' fury over US air strike. It included the following one sentence summary: 'Thousands take to streets to condemn air strike that left 18 dead'.

This afternoon I read the following Headline at CNN.com: Officials: U.S. unsure of al-Zawahiri fate. It, in turn, included this one sentence description: 'U.S. intelligence officials said Monday they were trying to determine whether Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant was at a dinner in a remote Pakistani village and whether he was one of the people killed by a CIA airstrike'.

A. No wonder Europeans and Americans have diverging impressions of US foreign policy and military presence in the word.

B. The facts here are that 18 civilians died, 4 of them children; the US did not tell the Pakistanis what they were doing before hand; and it seems highly unlikely that al-Zawahiri was killed.

So how on earth does CNN conclude that the 'story' can be captured by the line US unsure of al-Zawahiri fate
. That headline suggests that 'we almost got our guy' while upstandingly waging our war on terror. There's just one small drawback, we aren't quite sure if he's actually dead. We are, however, very much certain about the fate of the 18 dead civilians, but I guess that's simply not worth reporting. I mean where's the excitement, the intrigue in that? Plus, CNN's headline comes from an official White House source; it's something someone SAID. And that's what objectivity in US media is, right: reporting what each side says. But there's no one to say that the 18 Pakistanis are dead; they're just dead.

Of course, one might protest at my description here by arguing that if one actually reads the full CNN article it does go on to mention the 18 deaths, and even throws in a one sentence paragraph about the thousands of protesting Pakistani citizens. First, I think headlines and spin matter, since a lot more folks will glance at the headline than read the story. However, if one does read the whole story, look at the lovely quote from Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana that comes at the end.:
"Now, it's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" Bayh asked rhetorically. "It's like the Wild, Wild West out there. The Pakistani border [with Afghanistan is] a real problem."

Oh, I see, they're wild fucking savages anyway, so who cares if we kill a few dozen innocent ones in an effort to get the bad guy. I mean 'what else are we supposed to do?'

I was upset when I read the CNN article. I've now made myself sick in writing this entry.

how I love the Imperial hotel

The Imperial in Delhi is my favorite hotel on the trip. Incredibly expensive (of course--my mother's daughter--I have nothing if not good taste) and just fabulous in every way. They have the best collection of colonial prints and paintings (company school by Indian artists as well as by British artists) that I have ever seen (outside of the British Library, natch) and they are all hanging on the walls for all to see. The food is great, the bar is very atmospheric, and, the best part of all: they scent the rooms and the front foyer with jasmine and something else I can't identify and thus will call "imperial scent." heh heh. Nice digs.

I've posted two earlier posts I wrote while on the road....more to come I imagine.

kite festival, jaipur

I was blogging you just didn't know it...

written on Saturday January 16, 2006
So without any access to wireless internet for the last week or so, it's been a bit difficult to blog with any regularity. dialup just isn't the medium for blogging (or anything else for that matter). Just goes to show you how the IT gap is still incredibly wide--in a country like India with IT supercenters, it doesn't take much distance from a major metro area to lose broadband. Jaipur has 3 million people and yet our hotel has one computer with a dialup connection. And so I am blogging in the dark.

Today was the annual kite festival in Jaipur, a celebration of the full moon in January. It's one of the most amazing, calming, heart-opening things you can see. We climbed up onto the roof of the hotel at dawn (which was late--around 7 ish) and watched the kites floating above the city--kids and adults letting them fly from their rooftops. a sea of little square kites, off into the distance in the morning haze so that you can't tell the difference between the flocks of birds flying across the horizon and the kites themselves. At sunset, back in the hotel, I was looking for a bit of alone,non-people time, and so I went out on the roof by myself and sat and watched the kites, watched the sun sink down, and just enjoyed. Of course, it being India, there's no way you can ever be alone, and me being a white woman on the top of a roof, there was no way that I wasn't going to be engaged in conversation. In this case, a young girl from the adjoining roof, Deepika (aged 5, we established) chatted me up, asking all the usual questions and introducing me to her two brothers (one older, one younger). The family was clearly wealthy, as they had a house in central Jaipur, and she was very sweet. Her mother offered me gajar, which is a cookie-like substance that tastes of honey. So my rooftop retreat turned into a cultural experience, as usual. India is great that way--always someone friendly around wanting to make sure your stay is a friendly one.

The woman on the trip who reminds me of my aunt Shelley told me that I am, apparently, the spitting image of her niece in all respects, from appearance to personality, so I guess great minds and great personalities think alike...the group continues to be in good spirits, with the only complaints being, basically, not enough time for relaxation. As it is India, and as you can see that my attempts at solitary reflection and relaxation were pleasantly thwarted, this should not come as a surprise, but there you are. You need a vacation from one of these vacations after it's all said and done.

How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn

(written Jan 9, 2006)

Llewellyn's book is a classic, and rightly so. Mom gave it to me and Sam when we moved to Wales, as it's about South Wales, where we're living, and its history as a center for coal mining. All one need to is say the word "coal mine" and automatically you know the story is sad, but interestingly, this one is more on balance happy than sad, which I think speaks to a certain Welsh sensibility. It's horrible what happened, but at least I was lucky enough to have some good, positive memories--that sort of ethos.

The use of language is astounding, as he gives you a sense of Welsh without putting very much actually in Welsh. So for example:
There is good a cup of tea is when you are feeling low. This, and plenty of milk, and brown sugar in the crystal, in a big cup so that when your mouth is used to the heat you can drink instead of sipping. Every part of you inside you that seems to have gone to sleep comes lively again. A good friend of mine is a cup of tea, indeed. (p. 192)

"There is" begins a lot of sentences in this way, and it makes for a lilting quality to the sentence that really echoes what I've heard of the accent in English as spoken in Wales.

The story is all memory, another aspect of it that is particularly poetic. Occasionally we snap back to the main narrator, Huw Morgan, now an adult watching as his childhood home is swallowed by a pile of slag from the mine and remembering all of the trials and happiness his family experienced in the 19th c.

Obviously the book deals with politics and particularly the politics of unionization as it effected the family. The narrator's elder brothers work tirelessly at unionizing, there are overtones of "Mr. Marx" in the air (a much resented foreigner meddling in Welsh affairs) and the power of the corporations and capitalists bears down on them as much as the slag heap does. Early passages remind me a bit of Deadwood, with the discussion of the lack of police in the Valley, and the father's attitude that as soon as you have police, you have trouble, and people should be able to take care of justice themselves. The descriptions of the people in the book are amazing, from the preacher who falls in love with Huw's sister and mentors Huw through his education, to the pair of miners that are always together and end up opening a bar together when they get kicked off of the mine--they are both boxers and work out on the mountain constantly. Reminiscent of Jack's dream of a ranch together in BBM, no?

This is a wonderful read—worth the effort to wallow in the language a bit before the story gets going, and an amazing picture of what it must have been like in Wales in the 19th century. In the end, the family ends up scattered all over the globe, from NZ to America to South Africa, a real diasporic scatter to say the least, and indicative of the way in which the demise of the mines led to this kind of migration. Fascinating stuff and highly recommended.

15 January 2006

speaking of short posts

Here's one just to say that after de-icing delays in Newark, track changes in Bristol, and replacement coach service at Cardiff, I am finally home (and, as you can see, the network is UP).

blogging alone

so I'm in Jaipur now, with very little internet for the last few days it has been difficult to get on-line at all. I'm currently connected via dial-up which is not unbearably slow, but still. wow. how did we ever survive?

Jaipur is beautiful. i've been blogging on my computer about the kite festival, I have a lovely review of How Green was My Valley for you, and I'll be hopefully posting more as we go.

But, as this is dialup and one never knows when the power will go out, I will just say: doing fine, things are great, wish you were here, blah blah, and happy sankranti to all as well as eid mubarak from a few days ago.

11 January 2006

Macworld 06

The true Mac fanatics were a bit disappointed that their fearless leader, Steve Jobs, didn't announce a completely unexpected and never-before-imaginable new product when he gave his keynote yesterday at the Macworld Expo yesterday morning. I, too, would have liked to have seen the rumored updated Mac Mini with an Intel chip in it (the Viiv chip, if you care), that will also serve as a DVR. But no worries: Steve is going to revolutionise your living room, it will just take a bit longer, and I think he wants to have the stage again for a separate event that shows how (and a new media cycle to cover this event). Plus, I think the 13.3 inch widescreen Intel iBook (MacBook?) is also on its way in a bit.

Unrealised rumors aside, there is much good news coming from San Francisco:
  1. Apple is making so much money on iPods - they sold 14 million over the holidays - that they'll have the time do their Tivo-killing App the right way.
  2. They are making the transition to Intel seamless, and the press has already changed their tune on this – from thinking it might derail Apple's success to seeing it as part of that successs. The new Intel iMac is already shipping, and the Intel MacBook Pro (note the new name) is just about ready to go. This is impressive when you consider the engineering required to switch the entire platform from one processor architecture to another. And one will never again have to hear Macs are slower than PCs'. Ever.
  3. Apple software keeps getting better, giving folks more reasons to run OS X over Windows. iLife 06 with iWeb is very cool indeed, and iWeb may lead this blogger to abandon blogger. While word is that iWork 06 gives us a version of Pages that will make it even easier to stop using MS Word. The new Pages is said to have endnote capability and track changes, the two showstoppers for academics like me. I've been using Pages as my main Word Processor since the autumn, and it's a nice App.
  4. With hardware based on Intel chipsets (and motherboards), it will be only a short period of time before you can run Windows XP and XP programs on your mac. Toss in the glory and goodness of Tiger and iLife and iWork, and it might actually be possible for Apple to increase market share just a bit and solidify their position in said market.
In other words, by the end of 2006 there will be no reason not to buy a Mac.

10 January 2006

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 1,003 adults found that 50 percent of those polled believe it's OK to forego warrants when ordering electronic surveillance of people suspected of having ties to terrorists abroad.
This poll tells us almost nothing meaningful at all. The fact that some folks think it's OK to spy on people when condition X applies is just fine and dandy. But how do we know if condition X applies? The reason it was clearly wrong and clealy illegal for Bush to circumvent FISA, is that the whole point of issuing a warrant is to give a disinterested body the power to decide if condition X applies. The demos as a whole may, with this system in place, also make decisions as to how to direct that given body as to when and if, certain conditions having been met, specific actions can be taken. My understanding of FISA, limited as it is, was that Congress was saying that the conditions to be met were somewhat minimal (almost all FISA requests have been granted) and the actions to be taken somewhat broad. For god's sake, it's a secret court that issues the warrants.

Thus, to ask individuals whether it's OK to spy on citizens who 'have suspected ties to terrorists' is merely to beg the question of how we know they have such ties. If a court looks at some evidence – even minimal evidence – and says, 'yep, there are terrorist links here, spy all you want', then I say fantastic. But this poll question is asking: 'is it OK to spy on citizens without court approval (even secret court approval), so long as X' under conditions in which X is unkown.

Even worse, the presentation of the poll 'results' is used to suggest that 50% of Americans think it's OK to have no court check on executive surveillance of American citizens, but I don't think that's what people thought they were answering. Because there are two different questions that the Bush administration is successfully smushing together in their moves in the political game. The questions are:

1. Is it OK to spy on US citizens without a warrant?
2. Is it OK to spy on US citizens who have ties to suspected terrorists?

The answer to #2 is almost certainly yes. The answer to #1 should be an unequivocal no. But the media is cooperating with Bush et al when they pose a poll question to Americans that collapses the two questions together.

All of this, by the way, has a lot to do with the conversation at Emery's over rule of law. Sorry I'm not coherent enough to make enough of the links there, but I will say this: I mostly side with Frances on this one. While I'm a big fan of MLK, I think he means something different by 'law' than we do when we refer more narrowly to 'rule of law'. In terms of rule of law, a law can be unjust. It's an external (though very powerful) argument that says an unjust law is no law at all, that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'; it's an argument that shows us, rightly, in my opinion, that rule of law is not nearly enough. Right now, however, it seems to be more than we've got.

07 January 2006

elephant = hathi

Different people experience India differently, and it's one of the more interesting things to vicariously experience it for the first time again through this great group of tourists I'm leading around. the touts that haunt every major tourist site are always a problem for people, as they are aggressive (in northern India primarily) and the more popular the spot, the more aggressive and numerous the touts. this group has taken to calling them the "hello people" because they say hello! hello! to get your attention. some have decided ignoring them entirely is the way to go, others have gone with firm "no"s and others have engaged with them, sometimes buying things, sometimes just trying to make the experience a bit more palatable. This of course backfires because the touts see a softy and go for that person, so you get more touts, but you do in the end get to converse with people who, yes, want to sell you something, but also have families and will chat about pretty much anything.

I've decided after years of following the first two options that the third option is my preferred route. yesterday I practiced a little Hindi with a small girl selling "hathi patas" or elephant images (one of which, yes, I bought). Her name was Usha and she lied and said her didi (sister) made the item, when in fact they are mass produced in Rajasthan by workers there, I'm sure. But she was sweet and was suitably fascinated by my Hindi, all of which worked to give her the sale.

as I've blogged before--negative energy just puts more negative energy back in the world, and it reinforces and heightens whatever negative things you've got going on in your life aside from annoying touts. it's made me more of a target, perhaps, but it's also made my time in India a casual, comfortable one instead of one where I'm constantly fighting for my space and my right to be "unbothered" by touts.

one of the travelers with us, who unfortunately had to leave today because of a death in her family, was saying that she felt especially bad ignoring and brushing aside the touts outside of Ajanta--after seeing these amazing Buddhist excavated spaces with paintings all over them depicting narratives of meritorious and righteous actions, she just couldn't reconcile that with the actions she herself (and all of us) were participating in outside of the ancient realm. I think it's important to make that connection, one which I almost never do, but when you're in the site itself and surrounded by these wonders, it's hard not to be affected by the messages the images are teaching.

It's great to be with such empathetic and inquisitive people, interested in what I'm interested in, and fascinated by the things I know (and the things I don't know...)

06 January 2006

India: highs and lows, very lows.

our Aurangabad-Mumbai flight was unbearably delayd (5 hours) which meant sitting in what barely deserves the name of "bus terminal" airport in Aurangabad. But spirits were high, so we were fine, got into the hotel at midnight, had a quick snack and were in bed by 1:30--no worries. And up at dawn to catch the ferry out to Elephanta. Elephanta was amazing--wonderful sculptures, just a great excavated temple on an island in the middle of Bombay harbor. it's one of those works of art that works primarily because it simultaneously holds together so well and leaves the door open for interpretation. it's not closed off--it begs questions.

and then there's the lows. like literally flushing your brand new cell phone down the toilet lows. Now to be fair, there was no flushing involved on this toilet, so the literal aspect isn't quite right. but yes, I seem to be just that klutzy, stupid, and jetlagged. many expletives were yelled, but luckily (as we were on the boat) there was no hope of retrieval--or else other decisions would have been in my hands (literally, again) that I would not have enjoyed. and eventually, perhaps in about 10 years, I will be able to truly laugh about this. right now it kind of sucks. But trying to move on, and enjoying the wireless internet in the hotels. ichat anyone? it's 4 am there....

03 January 2006

Humor: for those who think marriage has nothing to do with the state

Here's a nice image, captured by a friend of a friend at an Atlanta courthouse:


Ah the joys of the domestic terminal at Bombay. I'm here, in one piece, I still can't hear anything, but the flights were fine--great even, given that they were two long flights with 8 hours in London in-between. I can highly recommend the quiet waiting area at Heathrow Terminal 4, where you can sleep almost horizontally in quiet and low light--I got a good three hours of sleep there before getting on the flight to Bombay. I am now in the "iway broadband internet cafe" inside the domestic terminal, where there isn't really a cafe at all, just some computers, but I will say that the broadband is definitely in evidence and a huge improvement over earlier internet kiosk experiences I've had in India. It is Bombay, after all.

The Aurangabad flight is (natch) delayed, but there is (natch) a fabulous bookstore (in a space smaller than most bathrooms) which has every postcolonial/contemporary INdian novel you've ever seen, including the new Rushdie which may have to be one of the things I lug around this trip.

Tomorrow is the 5th century excavated Buddhist and Jain caves at Ajanta all day, so wish me luck!

01 January 2006


weather and british airways willing, I'll be off on the travel extravaganza of early 2006, and if you already knew what airport IXU is, props to you. I do have to take the free bus to travel the 4 km between international and domestic terminals in Bombay, and if you think that's third world, you haven't traveled through Sydney.

I will say that our arrival in San Jose international (SJC) was a bit of an introduction to the third world. After walking down off of the airplane old-school, we wandered through a makeshift canvas tunnel for at least 100 yards before reaching the far end of the terminal building, which we had to traverse entirely (passing both ticketing and bag claim) before getting to the bus to the rental cars. and the place was packed with people, all grumpy and toting hordes of boxes, bags, and other loot from the recent holidays. most with children in tow. not a good scene. it is just another example of how physical space shifts the way people behave. if you feel like you're in a gritty, disgusting bus terminal, you tend not to be happy. if you're in a high-ceilinged, clean, spacious terminal (new buildings at Detroit, the Chicago terminals, the main hall at Denver, terminal C at Newark, the Bristol airport we have recently become very familiar with), you end up acting differently, carrying yourself differently.

A friend of mine was conveying the difficulty of finding a high school for their child, the struggle of public v. private school and the normal worries about both. But what concerned her most about the public school she visited (which had a decent reputation) was the space: you treat kids like criminals and place them in a space that seems like a poorly-run prison, with flaking grey paint, metal detectors at the door, and nary a color in sight, of course they don't want to learn. Perhaps they learn to live in this world, which I suppose is valuable. But again perhaps the world should change??

So I'm off to India for a month, and will try to post from there when possible (read: facilitated by the 5-star hotels we'll be staying in). I'm looking forward to yummy food, seeing pretty things, and hanging out with Ruth in Delhi. many happy returns for a wonderful new year to all y'all.