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Friday, May 23, 2003

In From the Cold?

Saddam and family are living in a Baghdad suburb, apparently...:

U.S. officials in Washington had no comment. Uday Hussein, who is hiding in a Baghdad, Iraq suburb, wants to know what the charges against him will be, and the process for interrogation and custody, the person familiar with the discussions said. He is working through intermediaries. U.S. officials don't seem especially interested in cutting a deal, because they assume Uday will be caught sooner or later, the person said.... He is No. 3 on the coalition's most-wanted list, after his father and his brother, Qusay.

Uday fears that Iraqi citizens will kill him if they find him, and may instead choose the safety of a U.S. prison, the person said, adding that Uday frequently changes his mind about surrendering...
What's all this about "choosing the safety of a a U.S. prison" (among the most dangerous in the industrialized world) anyway? WSJ's Jeffrey Walstrow is credited as contributor to this Yahoo story

- bruno 5-23-2003 7:33 pm [link] [add a comment]

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Relatively Speaking

The Einstein Show at the American Museum of Natural History, (although $15 for non-members), is the best example of explaining the theories of relativity and space-time to non-physicists I have seen in years. Combine it with the Hayden Planetarium and a gawk at the repainted (and now anatomically correct) blue whale for a fun afternoon.

And courtesy of the offbeat dutchbint:

Albert Einstein is on a train from Brighton to Bedford. After several stops in small towns, Einstein takes the conductor aside and asks "Excuse me, my good man, does London stop at this train?"
Well, you had to be then to find it funny...

- bruno 5-22-2003 10:48 pm [link] [1 comment]


Widely linked, (boingboing, flutterby, etc) but cool nevertheless, James Dyson's water sculpture gets top billing at Chelsea Flower Show. Of course, the English love their gardens way more than they do conceptual art, so this is totally the way to unveil it.

Now the $64K question: is it for sale as a one-of-a-kind art object or proof of concept for a must-have lawn accessory?

And talking of grass and slopes, the Famine Memorial (now undergoing refurbishment after a hard New York winter) is worth a visit -- stopped by on a bike tour of lower Manhattan last weekend with Theo.

- bruno 5-22-2003 7:49 pm [link] [3 comments]

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Links and Oligarchies

I wonder whether to post a links column at left, but every time I get started I think: It'll just have all the same links as everyone else, so why bother? Does anyone still use 'em now? There is the reciprocal promotion angle to linking, of course, that two-edged thing which is at the center of the great "should Google offer a no-blog filter" question. But haven't search engines made front-page links kind of obsolete?

So I get this feeling of being back in high school: do I like something because it's inherently cool, or because other people I like think it is? And how many people can glom onto something before it becomes terminally uncool, anyway? I mean when you live on the Lower East Side, you gotta pay attention to things like "Can I wear a trucker cap today?" As the Fool says to King Lear: Oh, that way madness lies.

BIMBO, the "Blog Intelligent Moderation By Oligarchy", is UK host Mythic Beasts' program for sorting through topical blog stories, with human moderators (the soi-disant oligarchs) deciding on what makes the final cut. It's one alternative to Blogdex or Daypop Top 40, but BIMBO also features its "did not like" list, showing what their reviewers rejected, and why. One rejection footnote for an item called Eating reads "I'm not a foodie." Other sample nixes: [item] " incomprehensible (to me)" " content-free "'s a weblog." Snarky, huh?

Most of the time I consult these indexes only to confirm my worst suspicion: i.e. that 95% of general-purpose bloggers are linking to the same 50 stories at any one time -- even in the UK, it would appear. (And I'm not excluding myself here). Yep, everyone's linked the NYT story on "Dating a blogger," and its popularity numbers are depressingly huge...Anyway, I appreciate BIMBO's showing us their sources and rules in the interests of transparency.

As for improving search-engine tools, I would like something that would sort query results by date of posting in some way, so one could trace the ur-form of a meme, quotation or other citation, the hierarchy in time, without having to wade through the original pages. Maybe it would be vulnerable to fakery and other tricks, but it might be made robust enough to help web-etymologists and others interested in precedence. I know of Jorn Barger's various timeline projects for dating , but what I have in mind would operate on a more micro level -- any ideas?

- bruno 5-20-2003 9:52 pm [link] [4 comments]

A Heartthrobbingly Modest Propsal:

Why not open a thousand-foot seam in the Earth's crust, fill it with molten iron and send down a robotic probe into the core? Since radio waves can't penetrate rock, communication with the basketball-sized probe would be by sound. A Times story on this project concludes:

"What I'm imagining is the solid throbs like a heart, pumping in and out and creating vibrations in the surrounding media, which then propagate to the earth's surface," [David J Stevenson] said. The 2.5-mile-long instruments that physicists have built to detect the cosmological rumblings known as gravitational waves could be adapted to hear the probe's faint sound signals, he said.

Scientists would also have to get regulators to sign off on a whopper of an environmental impact statement. To open the initial crack about a thousand feet long, a thousand feet deep and at least four inches wide would require energy equal to a few million tons of TNT, a magnitude-7 earthquake or a nuclear bomb. "Yes, of course, you'd have to be careful," Dr. Stevenson said.

But he said the effort would cost less than NASA has lavished on space exploration. "I think if it costs less than $10 billion, we should do it," Dr. Stevenson said.
It's that "of course, you'd have to be careful" part that gets me -- I guess what it means depends entirely on how he said it.

- bruno 5-20-2003 7:39 pm [link] [add a comment]

Monday, May 19, 2003

Light up

A peculiar result of the Bloomberg ban on indoor smoking in NYC restaurants and bars: all those ultracool Lower East Side clubs & bars which deliberately avoid any exterior signage now have clusters of tobacco fiends lighting up in front of them. You just have to know what block they're on and head for the crowd.

- bruno 5-19-2003 6:44 pm [link] [add a comment]

Who Won the Culture Wars?

Frank Rich's essay Tupac's Revenge... is a surgical dissection of the GOP "moralist" Bill Bennett, explaining why he deserves public scorn: for his hypocrisy and cynical fear-mongering; for his contemptible attitude toward public funding for the arts; for the selectiveness exhibited in his chosen targets (ignoring the faults of political allies); for his relentless pandering to racism and homophobia. But the most interesting paragraph is the polemical last one:

To say that Mr. Bennett lost all his culture wars as decisively as he lost his $8 million would not be an overstatement. Hip-hop is the dominant youth culture of the land, and a number of its top acts, including Eminem and 50 Cent, are at Interscope. The entertainment companies Mr. Bennett testified against in Congress are bigger than ever. The federal humanities and arts endowments he helped maim are being supported, not undermined, by the Bush administration. Rick Santorum, spewing Bennettesque ignorance about gay people, seems to have disappeared into the Dr. Laura witness protection program. Larry David, whom Mr. Bennett attacked for a supposed "Christian-bashing" joke in 2000, is a smash hit on HBO. Mr. Bennett's afternoon talk-show nemesis, Jerry Springer, is not only still on the air but is contemplating running for the Senate. Should Mr. Bennett reemerge in public to campaign against him, Mr. Springer just might win.
The culture wars over? Conservatives lost? Who knew?

- bruno 5-19-2003 9:16 am [link] [add a comment]

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Quarantine or Panic?

The main effect of China's SARS outbreak on America thus far: a slowdown in business travel to Asia, (and cheap fares for those willing to go) and a temporary halt to the adoptions of Chinese infants. Now the Latest SARS Victim is Clothing Industry, due to fear of infection from fabrics, tanned hides, zippers or buttons, combined with the slowdown in travel noted above. Some 40% of America's clothing imports come from the Far East.

From personal observation, the main effect of SARS-phobia on New York's Chinatown is empty seats in normally packed dim sum parlors and restaurants. All of the above are quite impressive for a disease that has so far claimed fewer than a thousand lives worldwide.

Update: according the UK Gurdian's Victor Keegan (link courtesy F-Train) China's current annualized growth rate of 9% makes it a potential "engine of global economic recovery." But all bets are off if it can't export its goods due to fear of SARS, justified or not.

- bruno 5-17-2003 7:12 pm [link] [add a comment]

Friday, May 16, 2003

National Insecurity

This week's bombings in Saudi Arabia, timed to coincide with Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit, prompt NYT columnist Paul Krugman -- who usually focuses on budgets and taxation sleight-of-hand -- to ponder: Did the war on Iraq provide a respite for Al Qaeda to regroup?

The central dogma of American politics right now is that George W. Bush, whatever his other failings, has been an effective leader in the fight against terrorism. But the more you know about the state of the world, the less you believe that dogma. The Iraq war, in particular, did nothing to make America safer in fact, it did the terrorists a favor.

How is the war on terror going? You know about the Riyadh bombings. But something else happened this week: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, a respected British think tank with no discernible anti-Bush animus, declared that Al Qaeda is "more insidious and just as dangerous" as it was before Sept. 11. So much for claims that we had terrorists on the run.

Read the rest of this post...

- bruno 5-16-2003 7:49 pm [link] [1 comment]

Wilkommen, Bienvenue...No Comment

Would the US Department of State care to comment on this?

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela's government on Thursday sharply criticized U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro for hosting an event at his official Caracas residence during which an impersonator used a puppet to ridicule President Hugo Chavez....

Shapiro hosted an event at his residence on Tuesday marking International Press Freedom Day during which he criticized what he called a deterioration of press freedom in Venezuela.

The event was broadcast on local television and was attended by several anti-Chavez media personalities. It ended with the appearance of a male comedian dressed as a Venezuelan female media broadcaster and carrying a large puppet wearing a red beret representing the Venezuelan president.

Shapiro planted a mock kiss on the comedian's cheek.

"As a citizen and a diplomat, I am surprised and horrified by this media witches' sabbath held at the home (of the ambassador) of a friendly country in Caracas," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton said in a statement from Russia...The ambassador and U.S. Embassy officials were not available for comment.
Or perhaps Ambassador Shapiro is pioneering a new cultural trend: political drag cabaret hosted in American Embassies around the world and boadcast on local TV, no less. If so, bravo, sir!

- bruno 5-16-2003 7:47 pm [link] [1 comment]