Dec 23, 2004

Inch by inch

Digital Rotation:
Liquid Tension Experiment (Dream Theater without the occasionally grating vocals)

Still working through my applications. It's been rather slow of late, though I had a spurt of activity for a while. I think that I'm suffering from some sort of application fatigue, even though it's been surprisingly painless to actually fill them out. I think that I have about 4 left before our trip, which is fast coming upon us. But more important even than these last few applications is the search for scholarships, fellowships, and other things to apply for. So this trip has to be a respite before that aspect of the work kicks in.

Still, I have actually been enjoying this process - there's something fresh and fun about sending out applications in the mail, the new sortie from the postal service that much more exciting with each delivery - perhaps today will come the news that can change my life for at least the next 3 years, probably longer....

Of course, this is the eve of Christmas eve, and the fortunate Federal employees have tomorrow off, which means no mail until Monday now. So I'll just have to hold on and wait it out. Still - with email notices all the rage now, I wouldn't be surprised if I get some news even while intermittently checking my email from abroad. Here's to good news over the information super-fly-over...

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Dec 21, 2004

Aloha, Po'ouli

New York Times
Aloha, Po'ouli: Farewell to a Hawaii Native We Will Never Meet Again

December 19, 2004

The people who try to save endangered species in Hawaii are
immune to despair. They have to be, to keep doing what they
do. They dangle on ropes from 3,000-foot sea cliffs on
Molokai to brush pollen on a flower whose only natural
pollinator - some unknown bird or insect - has died out.
They trudge into remote forests to play taped bird calls,
hoping that a survivor of a vanished species will reply. Or
they capture and tend one small bird, old for its kind and
missing an eye, then spend fruitless months searching for
another to be its mate.

That bird, a po'ouli, the last known member of its genus
and species, died in its cage on Maui on Nov. 26. The news,
briefly noted in the papers, was another milestone in a
long-running environmental catastrophe that is engulfing
the islands.

Hawaii does not look like an ecological disaster area. It's
too lush and sunny, too green and blue. But the state's
natural splendor masks a brutal, often desperate battle
against extinction. The islands' native animals and plants,
many found nowhere else in the world, evolved in splendid
isolation for millenniums. But in the two centuries since
Captain Cook, their numbers have plunged. Of the more than
1,200 animals and plants on the federal list of threatened
and endangered species, one-fourth - 317 - are Hawaiian.

Development, disease and predation have taken a ruinous
toll. Aggressive invaders like rats, mongooses, pigs,
mosquitoes and habitat-choking exotic plants now dominate
the lowlands. Many endemic species have retreated up the
mountains, clinging to patches of protected land - islands
within islands.

One such refugee was the po'ouli, a shy, nearly silent
brown bird with a black face that lived on the upper slopes
of the Haleakala volcano, climbing tree trunks and eating
insects and snails. The species was not discovered until
1973, when it was already in a death spiral. In 30 years
its numbers fell from a few dozen to three. The other two
are feared dead, though teams continue to trek through the
dense forest, hoping.

Wildlife biologists everywhere are accustomed to hard work
and heartbreak, of course. In many states it's a race to
save habitat from sprawl, as government agencies wage
political struggles and cut deals with private landowners
and commercial interests in rear-guard actions to spare the
marbled murrelets and spotted owls of this world from
oblivion. In Hawaii the battle is literal and immediate -
to destroy or deter invaders. Two of these are the
ecological equivalents of nuclear bombs: the brown tree
snake from Guam and the West Nile virus, either of which
could decimate native birds with appalling speed. Neither
has gained a foothold yet, thanks to luck and frantic
prevention efforts.

The po'ouli's demise is a signal that Hawaii's imperiled
species have received nowhere near the attention and money
needed to match the immensity of the problem. Teams of
biologists from federal and state agencies and private
organizations manage species-protection programs with
budgets totaling in the mere hundreds of thousands of
dollars, cobbling together grants and annual allocations
that are continually subject to being cut off, and begging
for private donations of money and time.

They make do with slivers of federal pork, and yearn for
someone in Hawaii's four-member Congressional delegation to
take up the cause more loudly. The federal Fish and
Wildlife Service, which recently cut funding for the
tree-snake interception efforts on Guam, has 49 other
states to deal with, and getting the Bush administration to
push for a major increase in the agency's budget seems
beyond hope.

Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii proudly points to her budget
request for $4 million to fight invasive species, noting
that this unimpressive sum is larger than any the state has
spent before. The state, in fact, has starved its
Department of Land and Natural Resources, which operates on
less than 1 percent of the state's $7.9 billion operating
budget and, according to an analysis by Environment Hawaii,
an advocacy group, recently had a grossly disproportionate
share of staff positions eliminated in a cost-cutting

For doses of optimism, it helps to talk to biologists in
the field. They point to progress in reforesting
pastureland and the surprising adaptability of some native
birds. A modest amount of money can go a long way, they
say, since Hawaiian species live in tight quarters -
wildlife refuges cover mere thousands of acres, making it a
relatively manageable job to fence out intruders.

Those who have made do with so little say they could do
much more. The captive-breeding program that tried
desperately to save the po'ouli, run by the San Diego Zoo,
has had several other successes, hatching and rearing the
'alala, or Hawaiian crow, which is extinct in the wild, and
the state bird, the nene goose. Dozens of puaiohi, small
thrushes, have been returned to the Alakai swamp on Kauai.

But the federal portion of the program's $920,000 budget
has been cut for the 2006 fiscal year, from $550,000 to
zero. Where the money might come from to keep the program
going is anybody's guess.

The po'ouli's quiet struggle to survive is over. There is
no time for silence about the struggles that remain.

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Dec 19, 2004

The New Colossus

Thought that we'd moved so far away from this that perhaps it was time to remind myself of what a more welcoming immigration policy was supposed to be about.

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazurus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she
With silent lips. 'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'

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Dec 18, 2004

So why not end the death penalty?

NY Times Quote of the Day
"The comment may sound a bit whimsical, but it's literally true that the leading cause of death on death row is old age."
- RONALD M. GEORGE, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court.

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Dec 17, 2004

Sad Revelations...


ANDY BELL, singer for British pop duo ERASURE, has announced that he is H.I.V. positive. Bell was diagnosed in 1998 and has been undergoing combination therapy. "I am feeling fine," he said. "My life expectancy should be the same as anyone else's, so there is no need to panic. Let's just get on with life, i.e., making music." Erasure's next album, "Nightbird," is due January 25th, with the single "Breathe" out the week before.

This is a sad day in music. I'm listening to Chorus right now, another one of those college albums that just takes me right back to freshman year, like Achtung Baby. I'm glad that he's feeling okay about it, and the rumors about their "last show" have been circulating at least since the time that I saw them live, on Halloween in 1993... Wow - that was more than 10 years ago. And they're still making happy music...

In other music news, since I haven't been posting regularly, I missed the chance to pour a drink onto the pavement for "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, former Pantera shredder, who was shot and killed (age: 38) while performing last week. I actually found out in the Rolling Stone daily missive, which I'd been missing when it mysteriously stopped appearing in my inbox, and then just as mysteriously, began to appear again. Anyway - so I was curious about his former blowhard bandmate, and found this waiting for me in my inbox today...

PHIL ANSELMO spoke about the murder of his former PANTERA bandmate, DAMAGEPLAN guitarist "DIMEBAG" DARRELL ABBOTT, this week. "I love him like a brother loves a brother," said Anselmo, who had feuded with Abbott in the press, recently telling "Metal Hammer" magazine he could "kill [Abbott] like a fuckin' piece of vapor." "I never got a chance to say goodbye in the right way, and it kills me," he continued. "This is the last you'll be seeing of me for a long time." Anselmo was asked not to attend Abbott's funeral in Dallas on Tuesday.

Say Phil, I know that science isn't really a focus in Texas, but a) how do you designate a piece of vapor, and b) once you do, how do you kill it? Regardless, peace to brother Dimebag. May he shred with the best where he is now.

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Dude... where's my car?!

Got up a little late this morning, 20 minutes after the time when I was supposed to move our car. I got up begrudgingly and walked to the spot where we left the car. The street had been swept clean of all vehicles. Still trying to wrap my head around what that meant, I spoke with a crossing guard on the next corner, who only mustered "I didn't see anything."

I walked 2 blocks to the police department, thinking about how ironic it was that this happened the morning after I realized that my congresswoman lives around the corner from me (we tried to park behind her shiny blue SUV, but couldn't fit). At the PD, they told me that it would take another 15 minutes before they could find out if it had been towed, or if it didn't come up on their system, whether I'd have to come back and file a report. They wished me luck with the phone call to the DOT, since "they haven't been picking up their phone lately."

I walked back to my apartment, not at all anxious to tell my partner that her car of 8 years was missing. It was not the best way to start friday morning, not even mentioning my pounding headache.  She took the news very well, and we waited until 8 AM, when we were to call the DOT to figure out if they had our car. Meanwhile, I found the site online where I could check, and to our relief, our car came up.

So I took a cab to the Brooklyn Navy Yards, stood in line, and went through the process to claim my car. After the relief of finding the car wore off, the annoyance at why the car was towed at all became my primary emotion. I began to think "wait, there wasn't any sign up that said tow-away zone, and I don't have any outstanding tickets on the car... isn't this excessive?"

When I was shuttled out into the lot of hundreds of cars, I was apprehensive about ours. Over the months together, we had anthropomorphized the car to the point of her naming it. When I saw the little car in this big lot, it had a sort of dejected and forlorn look on its grill, if you buy that whole Herbie the Lovebug emotional thing. I almost muttered an apology as I drove the car out of the lot.

Aside from the time off from work that I needed to take care of this mess, I had to take a cab, and the charge for towing the car was a smooth $185. On top of that was the actual parking ticket, for $60. I couldn't believe it. I'm going to fight this - because I can't believe that they can charge that much. It's literally, highway robbery.

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Dec 16, 2004

Bitter pill, starlight, and pledges

I can't believe what absolute posers some people can be. Angry? About what - the movie premiere that you got to attend? Or the fact that you have to "work for the man" and trying to come across as if you're going to be some crazy subversive while there? Hell, man - I temped for JP Morgan and made sure to call my friend in South Africa for an hour at a time while there. That's giving it to the man. You should just give it a rest.

Forgive my bitterness, but some people tick me off.

In other news, I got a chance to attend a small benefit gathering for South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!) tonight. Actually - it was more than just a small gathering - I think that about 200 - 225 people showed up to support this wonderful organization. However, Sarita Choudhury, a pet project of Mira Nair, was the guest of honor, and though I really appreciate that she was stepping up and using her star power to support a good cause, I wish that her remarks were a bit more scripted. For some folks it's better when others write their words for them.

Still, can't be too harsh on her - she's on new turf here, and it's honorable for her to be at the podium and say that she hasn't done enough at all for the community to a room full of young desi professionals who haven't done much to stay quiet during the presentations, let alone anything to give back. The pleas at the end of the event for these folks to pull out the checkbooks may have been a bit premature. They still have a ways to go before they recognize that there is more to life than blowing a few hundred dollars a night going out, being seen, and watching others. That if you miss 4 or 5 of those nights a year and use that money to support a youth for a year, you could actually make a difference in someone's life, rather than pay for a couple of nights you'll forget in a fortnight anyway.

But I guess, I already know that we're planning to give to organizations that we believe in this year, and that we want to continue this tradition of giving and pass that legacy down to our children. I feel like no matter what work you do in your day job, there's nothing like writing that check out for a group, and doing it because you believe in them, not because you get something out of it (like free wine, or a nice dinner).

'Tis the season.

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Dec 13, 2004

DC: Chinatown and NMAI

This is from my trip to DC  on the weekend of December 4/5... it's raw, but I guess that's okay.

Searching for Chinatown
I walked about 6 miles this weekend, in highly uncomfortable shoes, but it was interesting nonetheless. In my work, I'm always interested in seeing where communities are and where they live. In urban centers, that generally means, for Asian communities, at least, that I should look for Chinatown. Though it's not the only Asian American neighborhood, it's often the most defined, and gives you a sense of where the community is at in relation to the City. NYC is unparalleled in the US on this regard - its main Chinatown (there are 5) is the largest settlement of Chinese outside of China. But most cities have a Chinatown - and I thought, I wanted to start there in my exploration of DC. So I walked (quite a distance from where we were staying). I walked, referred to my map, and kept walking. When I got to the general area where Chinatown was supposed to be, I saw nothing but tall buildings, and both an old and a new Washington Convention Center. I walked around for nearly 1/2 hour and couldn't even FIND Chinatown - for me, that was a real wake-up call. I have had times when I felt like I couldn't get OUT of manhattan Chinatown, it's so large. So... that was a little sad. Because I felt like Washington's Asian American communities, at least, would be a big adjustment for me - because they are quite small compared to NYC, and that's my base.


I’m sitting in the National Museum of the American Indian, having walked here from Dupont Circle on a bit of a pilgrimage, the hunger of which I had to satiate quickly in the Mitsitam Cafe at the ground floor of the museum before seeing anything else here. The Potomac Room is really quite breathtaking – it is an enormous round open space – 120 feel tall, and 120 feet across – that extends higher than the 4 floors of the building, opening up in a small round sunlight that makes you feel like you’re in an open space, in the outdoors. It feels more grand than a room, and remains transformed by the light of the sun, both through clear glass, and well-placed prisms that splash small, poignant rainbows on the opposing wall. This main room, unencumbered by tall exhibits in its center, draws immediate reference to the main hall of the Guggenheim on Fifth Avenue. But this room feels far more grand and more intimate at the same time.

I’ve overheard mumblings of “waste of space,” and in the most linear conception of what a place should be, that may be true. But it’s remarkable, and awe-inspiring, and a room that you’re likely not to forget. Kids seem absolutely delighted at the opportunity to break free of linear 10 – 12 foot ceilings, and you feel a release from whatever heaviness or thinking that you may be feeling from the exhibits inside. This space may be less a waste than what you may see in other more “traditional” museums like the Met and the American Museum of Natural History, the multiple exceptionally tall and grand halls clearly not being utilized for anything more than providing a secular cathedral in which visitors seeking sanctuary can lose themselves in their own relative insignificance in the universe.

Next stop: Mitsitam Cafe
I think it was a good decision to make the cafe of this brand new museum reflect the peoples and cultures to whom the exhibits were giving voice. I was anxious to have a piece of frybread, the last that I’d had years ago in a previous trip to the Southwest. But I wasn’t expecting the myriad choices and strangely nouveau cuisine dreamed up by the chef in charge.

I sat alone with my frybread taco (next time, I just get frybread and a plate of veggie beans or something, and eat it the way that it’s meant to be eaten – torn apart with two hands and unencumbered by too much pomp and circumstance) and chili fries, the total of which, with my requisite root beer, put me back a hamilton and a lincoln. That’s a lot of dough for lunch, but I guess it’s still less than I’d spend just to get into the stupid MOMA, and I’ve already been in one other museum to boot (and the Air and Space Museum next door was really looking tempting).

While eating, in such close quarters, you inevitably hear the conversations around you. On one side, a woman and her husband, her mother and her grandmother. From her it seemed like they were in their forties, but looking at him, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were just a few years older than me – it’s amazing how old some people seem when they choose specific lifestyles. Though living in cities makes us tired, it keeps us young – the pulse of the city invigorating our own bloodstreams and making certain that we don’t forget what it means to be open to new possibilities. It seemed like they were from somewhere in the Midwest that isn’t cosmopolitan or progressive – could be Ohio, western PA, even Delaware – somewhere without a strong and defining accent like Georgia, MA, or even MN.

Their conversation seemed innocuous – droll, and innocuous, mind you – and then I found out that at some point, the mother was talking about something, and 50 Cent came up. The younger woman looked blankly and said “what’s that?” And the mother either said that it was “recording guy” or a “rapper guy”, but the woman had never even heard of him. Not even a clue – and she asked her husband, and he didn’t know either. It was a funny thing, actually, though I guess not at all uncommon – I was just taken, because they didn’t seem that old, and for God’s sake, your mother knows about him. It was just odd.

On my other side, there was an older couple, the man sounding off about the museum as a whole, and not really leaving any space for his wife to say much. He spoke about how he was surprised and disappointed that there was such a strong focus on contemporary communities than the anthropological side of things. He said that he was sure that there was tremendous pressure from the native communities to make sure that it represented them (which is true, and regurgitated from the many reviews about the place). But it was generally a dismissal of the importance of this place as a living museum, and maybe he went over those facts too quickly, but I’m looking forward to actually seeing a reflection of the communities now – that’s really my interest, far more than what were they then. And his wife’s contribution was a reaction to his “we’re talking about a lot of money for this place” in which she said “who’s paying for it? I’m afraid to ask”. I bit my tongue to stop from saying “who is paying for the bombs and machines we’re using to kill innocent people around the world every day?” Who’s paying for your impending social security checks? Who’s paid for your kind’s genocidal tendencies that wiped out cultures and peoples for hundreds of years? And your white guilt holds you from being able to deal with the fact that this is a testament to peoples who have fought just to maintain, just to survive, and that they, too, are America.

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Dec 9, 2004


love, shade of gray.
somber, soft
like october mist.
quiet. brisk.
(tremors of what might be)
your quivers full
of unspoken hope.

we hold the night,
a warm blanket
wrapped around us
and count stars
as daydream caterpillars
emerge at midnight;
soaring dreams.

-for D

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