Saturday, December 13, 2008

When I was 7 or 8, I learned that my father dreamt in black and white. I found it very upsetting. I always dreamt in color as bright as it is in waking life and it disturbed me to think that Dad's dream machine was faulty. I was sure he must have been brain damaged.

"You only dream in black and white?! WHY?!" I demanded. He thought about it for a moment and said, "Well, I didn't grow up with color TV like you did."

I didn't buy it.

"Yeah, but you had color when you were a kid!" I argued, convinced he was inventing answers in to cover up some serious personal flaw. What did TV have to do with dreaming, anyway, I reasoned.

So recently, I was reading the New York Times and look what I found. The old man was onto something!

December 2, 2008


The Claim: Some People Dream Only in Black and White

In an age of high-definition television and vivid cinematography, it might seem peculiar to think that anyone would experience colorless dreams.

For many people, the dream state can be the most turbulent, emotionally intense part of the day. Falling, flying, failing exams and being chased are among the most frequently reported themes when people are asked in studies to describe their dreams. And yet for a small segment of the population, drifting off at night means reverting to a world of monochromatic hues.

Childhood exposure to black-and-white television seems to be the common denominator. A study published this year, for example, found that people 25 and younger say they almost never dream in black and white. But people over 55 who grew up with little access to color television reported dreaming in black and white about a quarter of the time. Over all, 12 percent of people dream entirely in black and white.

Go back a half-century, and television’s impact on our closed-eye experiences becomes even clearer. In the 1940s, studies showed that three-quarters of Americans, including college students, reported “rarely” or “never” seeing any color in their dreams. Now, those numbers are reversed.


A small percentage of people dream in black and white.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I woke up this morning with messages from a from a former student, and his dad, announcing that they have both joined the wonderful world of Twitter.

What?! I have been technologically outdone by a 12-year-old AND his middle-aged father?!

(OK, now I realize, some of you might not even know what Twitter is, which means that you have ALSO been outdone by a 12-year-old and his middle-aged father, but like, BY A LOT. But that's alright. Twitter is kind of like a blog, except all the messages are very short and you send them to your Web page via text messages from your phone.)

So, feeling very unhip and pressured to do what the cool kids are doing, I went an signed myself up for my own Twitter account. You can check it out at .

However, I also found that Twitter is friendly with Blogger, so anyone using Blogger can add a Twitter box to their side bar. (Yes, go look at the side bar.)

So now, anything I send to Twitter will be instantly sent to my blog here at MonkeyPrints. (Take that 12-year-old boy and middle-aged dad! I see your Twitter and raise you one Blogger widget!)

This means of course that I will be updating my blog more often, but that those posts will be shorter, and probably less well written.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's looking bleak, folks. Bleak, bleak, bleak...

November 30, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

A Penny for My Thoughts?


I visited the future, and it was wearing a bow tie and calling itself “Thomas Edison.”

The newspaper business is not only crumpling up, James Macpherson informed me here, it is probably holding “a one-way ticket to Bangalore.”

Macpherson — bow-tied and white-haired but boyish-looking at 53 — should know. He pioneered “glocal” news — outsourcing Pasadena coverage to India at Pasadena Now, his daily online “newspaperless,” as he likes to call it. Indians are writing about everything from the Pasadena Christmas tree-lighting ceremony to kitchen remodeling to city debates about eliminating plastic shopping bags.

“Everyone has to get ready for what’s inevitable — like King Canute and the tide coming in — and that’s really my message to the industry,” the editor and publisher said. “Many newspapers are dead men walking. They’re going to be replaced by smaller, nimbler, multiple Internet-centric kinds of things such as what I’m pioneering.”

I wondered how long it would be before some guy in Bangalore was writing my column about President Obama.

“In brutal terms,” said Macpherson, whose father was a typesetter, printer and photographer, “it’s going to get to the point where saving the industry may require some people losing their jobs. The newspaper industry is coming to a General Motors moment — except there’s no one to bail them out.” He said it would be “irresponsible” for newspapers not to explore offshoring options.

He said he got the idea to outsource about a year ago, sitting in his Pasadena home, where he puts out Pasadena Now with his wife, Candice Merrill. Macpherson had worked in the ’90s for designers like Richard Tyler and Alan Flusser, and had outsourced some of his clothing manufacturing to Vietnam.

So, he thought, “Where can I get people who can write the word for less?” In a move that sounded so preposterous it became a Stephen Colbert skit, he put an ad on Craigslist for Indian reporters and got a flood of responses.

He fired his seven Pasadena staffers — including five reporters — who were making $600 to $800 a week, and now he and his wife direct six employees all over India on how to write news and features, using telephones, e-mail, press releases, Web harvesting and live video streaming from a cellphone at City Hall.

“I pay per piece, just the way it was in the garment business,” he says. “A thousand words pays $7.50.”

A penny for your thoughts? Now I knew my days were numbered.

I checked in with one of his workers in Mysore City in southern India, 40-year-old G. Sreejayanthi, who puts together Pasadena events listings. She said she had a full-time job in India and didn’t think of herself as a journalist. “I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always,” she wrote back. “Regarding Rose Bowl, my first thought was it was related to some food event but then found that is related to Sports field.”

Macpherson admits you can lose something in the translation — the Pasadena City Council Webcast that the Indian reporters now watch once missed two African-American lawmakers walking out in protest — but says the question is, how significant is it?

At first the reaction to covering Pasadena from 8,000 miles away and 13.5 hours ahead was “absolutely brutal,” Macpherson recalled. Journalism professors keened and Larry Wilson, the public editor at The Pasadena Star-News, called it “nutty.”

But then in October, Dean Singleton, The Associated Press’s chairman and the head of the MediaNews Group — which counts The Pasadena Star-News, The Denver Post and The Detroit News in its stable of 54 daily newspapers — told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that his company was looking into outsourcing almost every aspect of publishing, including possibly having one news desk for all of his papers, “maybe even offshore.”

Noting that most preproduction work for MediaNews’s papers in California is already outsourced to India, cutting costs by 65 percent, Singleton advised, “If you need to offshore it, offshore it,” and said after the speech, “In today’s world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”

Macpherson feels “vindicated,” but also “conflicted” about the idea of having an American newspaper industry fueled by Indian labor. “I mean, I am an American too,” he said. “I had two ancestors in the Revolutionary War. My mother was in the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

It’s not easy being a visionary, he said: “I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that’s a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you’re nuts.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So here's something I know about news production: When someone chooses a photo to be put in a newspaper or on a Web site, they generally choose from a series provided by a photographer, or a newswire, such as the Associated Press. Generally speaking, the person doing the choosing must choose the best photo from a particular series--one that fits the story well and does justice to the subject (for example, you'd probably choose an image of a politician smiling over an image of the same person mid-yawn, or if it's a lady figure, you might choose a photo that didn't accentuate a double-chin, etc.).

Take a look at this photo from the New York Times today. Can you imagine what the OTHER photos in the series must have looked like?!

Monday, August 18, 2008

I'm in New York! It's awesome!

Here's something from the NYT. It's a doozy...

Dr. Doom
Published: August 15, 2008

On Sept. 7, 2006, Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, stood before an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced that a crisis was brewing. In the coming months and years, he warned, the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The audience seemed skeptical, even dismissive. As Roubini stepped down from the lectern after his talk, the moderator of the event quipped, “I think perhaps we will need a stiff drink after that.” People laughed — and not without reason. At the time, unemployment and inflation remained low, and the economy, while weak, was still growing, despite rising oil prices and a softening housing market. And then there was the espouser of doom himself: Roubini was known to be a perpetual pessimist, what economists call a “permabear.” When the economist Anirvan Banerji delivered his response to Roubini’s talk, he noted that Roubini’s predictions did not make use of mathematical models and dismissed his hunches as those of a career naysayer.

But Roubini was soon vindicated. In the year that followed, subprime lenders began entering bankruptcy, hedge funds began going under and the stock market plunged. There was declining employment, a deteriorating dollar, ever-increasing evidence of a huge housing bust and a growing air of panic in financial markets as the credit crisis deepened. By late summer, the Federal Reserve was rushing to the rescue, making the first of many unorthodox interventions in the economy, including cutting the lending rate by 50 basis points and buying up tens of billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities. When Roubini returned to the I.M.F. last September, he delivered a second talk, predicting a growing crisis of solvency that would infect every sector of the financial system. This time, no one laughed. “He sounded like a madman in 2006,” recalls the I.M.F. economist Prakash Loungani, who invited Roubini on both occasions. “He was a prophet when he returned in 2007.”

Over the past year, whenever optimists have declared the worst of the economic crisis behind us, Roubini has countered with steadfast pessimism. In February, when the conventional wisdom held that the venerable investment firms of Wall Street would weather the crisis, Roubini warned that one or more of them would go “belly up” — and six weeks later, Bear Stearns collapsed. Following the Fed’s further extraordinary actions in the spring — including making lines of credit available to selected investment banks and brokerage houses — many economists made note of the ensuing economic rally and proclaimed the credit crisis over and a recession averted. Roubini, who dismissed the rally as nothing more than a “delusional complacency” encouraged by a “bunch of self-serving spinmasters,” stuck to his script of “nightmare” events: waves of corporate bankrupticies, collapses in markets like commercial real estate and municipal bonds and, most alarming, the possible bankruptcy of a large regional or national bank that would trigger a panic by depositors. Not all of these developments have come to pass (and perhaps never will), but the demise last month of the California bank IndyMac — one of the largest such failures in U.S. history — drew only more attention to Roubini’s seeming prescience.

As a result, Roubini, a respected but formerly obscure academic, has become a major figure in the public debate about the economy: the seer who saw it coming. He has been summoned to speak before Congress, the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Economic Forum at Davos. He is now a sought-after adviser, spending much of his time shuttling between meetings with central bank governors and finance ministers in Europe and Asia. Though he continues to issue colorful doomsday prophecies of a decidedly nonmainstream sort — especially on his popular and polemical blog, where he offers visions of “equity market slaughter” and the “Coming Systemic Bust of the U.S. Banking System” — the mainstream economic establishment appears to be moving closer, however fitfully, to his way of seeing things. “I have in the last few months become more pessimistic than the consensus,” the former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers told me earlier this year. “Certainly, Nouriel’s writings have been a contributor to that.”

On a cold and dreary day last winter, I met Roubini over lunch in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City. “I’m not a pessimist by nature,” he insisted. “I’m not someone who sees things in a bleak way.” Just looking at him, I found the assertion hard to credit. With a dour manner and an aura of gloom about him, Roubini gives the impression of being permanently pained, as if the burden of what he knows is almost too much for him to bear. He rarely smiles, and when he does, his face, topped by an unruly mop of brown hair, contorts into something more closely resembling a grimace.

When I pressed him on his claim that he wasn’t pessimistic, he paused for a moment and then relented a little. “I have more concerns about potential risks and vulnerabilities than most people,” he said, with glum understatement. But these concerns, he argued, make him more of a realist than a pessimist and put him in the role of the cleareyed outsider — unsettling complacency and puncturing pieties.

Roubini, who is 50, has been an outsider his entire life. He was born in Istanbul, the child of Iranian Jews, and his family moved to Tehran when he was 2, then to Tel Aviv and finally to Italy, where he grew up and attended college. He moved to the United States to pursue his doctorate in international economics at Harvard. Along the way he became fluent in Farsi, Hebrew, Italian and English. His accent, an inimitable polyglot growl, radiates a weariness that comes with being what he calls a “global nomad.”

As a graduate student at Harvard, Roubini was an unusual talent, according to his adviser, the Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs. He was as comfortable in the world of arcane mathematics as he was studying political and economic institutions. “It’s a mix of skills that rarely comes packaged in one person,” Sachs told me. After completing his Ph.D. in 1988, Roubini joined the economics department at Yale, where he first met and began sharing ideas with Robert Shiller, the economist now known for his prescient warnings about the 1990s tech bubble.

The ’90s were an eventful time for an international economist like Roubini. Throughout the decade, one emerging economy after another was beset by crisis, beginning with Mexico’s in 1994. Panics swept Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, in 1997 and 1998. The economies of Brazil and Russia imploded in 1998. Argentina’s followed in 2000. Roubini began studying these countries and soon identified what he saw as their common weaknesses. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs. Most of these countries also had poorly regulated banking systems plagued by excessive borrowing and reckless lending. Corporate governance was often weak, with cronyism in abundance.

Roubini’s work was distinguished not only by his conclusions but also by his approach. By making extensive use of transnational comparisons and historical analogies, he was employing a subjective, nontechnical framework, the sort embraced by popular economists like the Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz in order to reach a nonacademic audience. Roubini takes pains to note that he remains a rigorous scholarly economist — “When I weigh evidence,” he told me, “I’m drawing on 20 years of accumulated experience using models” — but his approach is not the contemporary scholarly ideal in which an economist builds a model in order to constrain his subjective impressions and abide by a discrete set of data. As Shiller told me, “Nouriel has a different way of seeing things than most economists: he gets into everything.”

Roubini likens his style to that of a policy maker like Alan Greenspan, the former Fed chairman who was said (perhaps apocryphally) to pore over vast quantities of technical economic data while sitting in the bathtub, looking to sniff out where the economy was headed. Roubini also cites, as a more ideologically congenial example, the sweeping, cosmopolitan approach of the legendary economist John Maynard Keynes, whom Roubini, with only slight exaggeration, calls “the most brilliant economist who never wrote down an equation.” The book that Roubini ultimately wrote (with the economist Brad Setser) on the emerging market crises, “Bailouts or Bail-Ins?” contains not a single equation in its 400-plus pages.

After analyzing the markets that collapsed in the ’90s, Roubini set out to determine which country’s economy would be the next to succumb to the same pressures. His surprising answer: the United States’. “The United States,” Roubini remembers thinking, “looked like the biggest emerging market of all.” Of course, the United States wasn’t an emerging market; it was (and still is) the largest economy in the world. But Roubini was unnerved by what he saw in the U.S. economy, in particular its 2004 current-account deficit of $600 billion. He began writing extensively about the dangers of that deficit and then branched out, researching the various effects of the credit boom — including the biggest housing bubble in the nation’s history — that began after the Federal Reserve cut rates to close to zero in 2003. Roubini became convinced that the housing bubble was going to pop.

By late 2004 he had started to write about a “nightmare hard landing scenario for the United States.” He predicted that foreign investors would stop financing the fiscal and current-account deficit and abandon the dollar, wreaking havoc on the economy. He said that these problems, which he called the “twin financial train wrecks,” might manifest themselves in 2005 or, at the latest, 2006. “You have been warned here first,” he wrote ominously on his blog. But by the end of 2006, the train wrecks hadn’t occurred.

Recessions are signal events in any modern economy. And yet remarkably, the profession of economics is quite bad at predicting them. A recent study looked at “consensus forecasts” (the predictions of large groups of economists) that were made in advance of 60 different national recessions that hit around the world in the ’90s: in 97 percent of the cases, the study found, the economists failed to predict the coming contraction a year in advance. On those rare occasions when economists did successfully predict recessions, they significantly underestimated the severity of the downturns. Worse, many of the economists failed to anticipate recessions that occurred as soon as two months later.

The dismal science, it seems, is an optimistic profession. Many economists, Roubini among them, argue that some of the optimism is built into the very machinery, the mathematics, of modern economic theory. Econometric models typically rely on the assumption that the near future is likely to be similar to the recent past, and thus it is rare that the models anticipate breaks in the economy. And if the models can’t foresee a relatively minor break like a recession, they have even more trouble modeling and predicting a major rupture like a full-blown financial crisis. Only a handful of 20th-century economists have even bothered to study financial panics. (The most notable example is probably the late economist Hyman Minksy, of whom Roubini is an avid reader.) “These are things most economists barely understand,” Roubini told me. “We’re in uncharted territory where standard economic theory isn’t helpful.”

True though this may be, Roubini’s critics do not agree that his approach is any more accurate. Anirvan Banerji, the economist who challenged Roubini’s first I.M.F. talk, points out that Roubini has been peddling pessimism for years; Banerji contends that Roubini’s apparent foresight is nothing more than an unhappy coincidence of events. “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” he told me. “The justification for his bearish call has evolved over the years,” Banerji went on, ticking off the different reasons that Roubini has used to justify his predictions of recessions and crises: rising trade deficits, exploding current-account deficits, Hurricane Katrina, soaring oil prices. All of Roubini’s predictions, Banerji observed, have been based on analogies with past experience. “This forecasting by analogy is a tempting thing to do,” he said. “But you have to pick the right analogy. The danger of this more subjective approach is that instead of letting the objective facts shape your views, you will choose the facts that confirm your existing views.”

Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard who has known Roubini for decades, told me that he sees great value in Roubini’s willingness to entertain possible situations that are far outside the consensus view of most economists. “If you’re sitting around at the European Central Bank,” he said, “and you’re asking what’s the worst thing that could happen, the first thing people will say is, ‘Let’s see what Nouriel says.’ ” But Rogoff cautioned against equating that skill with forecasting. Roubini, in other words, might be the kind of economist you want to consult about the possibility of the collapse of the municipal-bond market, but he is not necessarily the kind you ask to predict, say, the rise in global demand for paper clips.

His defenders contend that Roubini is not unduly pessimistic. Jeffrey Sachs, his former adviser, told me that “if the underlying conditions call for optimism, Nouriel would be optimistic.” And to be sure, Roubini is capable of being optimistic — or at least of steering clear of absolute worst-case prognostications. He agrees, for example, with the conventional economic wisdom that oil will drop below $100 a barrel in the coming months as global demand weakens. “I’m not comfortable saying that we’re going to end up in the Great Depression,” he told me. “I’m a reasonable person.”

What economic developments does Roubini see on the horizon? And what does he think we should do about them? The first step, he told me in a recent conversation, is to acknowledge the extent of the problem. “We are in a recession, and denying it is nonsense,” he said. When Jim Nussle, the White House budget director, announced last month that the nation had “avoided a recession,” Roubini was incredulous. For months, he has been predicting that the United States will suffer through an 18-month recession that will eventually rank as the “worst since the Great Depression.” Though he is confident that the economy will enter a technical recovery toward the end of next year, he says that job losses, corporate bankruptcies and other drags on growth will continue to take a toll for years.

Roubini has counseled various policy makers, including Federal Reserve governors and senior Treasury Department officials, to mount an aggressive response to the crisis. He applauded when the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to 2 percent from 5.25 percent beginning last summer. He also supported the Fed’s willingness to engineer a takeover of Bear Stearns. Roubini argues that the Fed’s actions averted catastrophe, though he says he believes that future bailouts should focus on mortgage owners, not investors. Accordingly, he sees the choice facing the United States as stark but simple: either the government backs up a trillion-plus dollars’ worth of high-risk mortgages (in exchange for the lenders’ agreement to reduce monthly mortgage payments), or the banks and other institutions holding those mortgages — or the complex securities derived from them — go under. “You either nationalize the banks or you nationalize the mortgages,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re all toast.”

For months Roubini has been arguing that the true cost of the housing crisis will not be a mere $300 billion — the amount allowed for by the housing legislation sponsored by Representative Barney Frank and Senator Christopher Dodd — but something between a trillion and a trillion and a half dollars. But most important, in Roubini’s opinion, is to realize that the problem is deeper than the housing crisis. “Reckless people have deluded themselves that this was a subprime crisis,” he told me. “But we have problems with credit-card debt, student-loan debt, auto loans, commercial real estate loans, home-equity loans, corporate debt and loans that financed leveraged buyouts.” All of these forms of debt, he argues, suffer from some or all of the same traits that first surfaced in the housing market: shoddy underwriting, securitization, negligence on the part of the credit-rating agencies and lax government oversight. “We have a subprime financial system,” he said, “not a subprime mortgage market.”

Roubini argues that most of the losses from this bad debt have yet to be written off, and the toll from bad commercial real estate loans alone may help send hundreds of local banks into the arms of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. “A good third of the regional banks won’t make it,” he predicted. In turn, these bailouts will add hundreds of billions of dollars to an already gargantuan federal debt, and someone, somewhere, is going to have to finance that debt, along with all the other debt accumulated by consumers and corporations. “Our biggest financiers are China, Russia and the gulf states,” Roubini noted. “These are rivals, not allies.”

The United States, Roubini went on, will likely muddle through the crisis but will emerge from it a different nation, with a different place in the world. “Once you run current-account deficits, you depend on the kindness of strangers,” he said, pausing to let out a resigned sigh. “This might be the beginning of the end of the American empire.”

Stephen Mihm, an assistant professor of economic history at the University of Georgia, is the author of “A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States.” His last feature article for the magazine was about North Korean counterfeiting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Alright. I admit it. My photoshop skills are rough. But this image was inspired by a headline from the New York Times today:

"Bernanke Is Pessimistic, but Bush Urges a ‘Deep Breath’"

Fret not, fellow Americans! Our economy is taking a turn down the shitter, but all will be fine if we just BREATHE a little! Let's hope that Unkie George doesn't just pass out, or do something like learn to read, with all that oxygen going to his brain for the first time in his life!

In all events, I'm in a chipper mood because I'm in Montreal! What a great city! I got a sublet for the month of July and I'm smack dab in the middle of downtown. I'm living on Bishop Street which is one parallel street over from the celebrated Crescent Street (the reasons for which it is celebrated are unknown to me, especially as it looks a lot like MOST of the streets surrounding it, but all the guidebooks suggest that it's something special). I'm studying French at the YMCA and that's just three blocks away. Classes run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and in the mornings it's grammar and in the afternoons, conversation. I'm learning all sorts of things that I should have learned ages ago and I'm finally developing a base on which to attach the many colorful French words and expressions I have learned over the years. This means I can now use slang and vulgarities in the passive voice, the past conditional and the plus-que-parfait. Si tu n'avais pas ete un connard saoul le hier soir, tu n'aurais pas eu la guelle de bois ce matin. (If you hadn't been a drunken bastard last night, you wouldn't have had a hang-over this morning.)

Like most YMCAs, this one that houses a language school is also home to a fitness center--one that is very well-equipped and well-maintained. They offer dozens of classes, a lap pool, an indoor running track and an impressive array of resistance training equipment. They've got a class I've been to twice called "Boot Camp Circuit Training". The first time I went, we went outdoors, climbed a million stairs, then the height of Mont Royal four times (I only did two), played tag, did a bunch of push-ups, then worked with resistance bands in pairs. Last night, I went back for more torture, but this time we stayed indoors. We ran, hopped, jumped, did a lot of push-ups, worked with weights and stretched and by the end of it I managed to bruise my right thumb in a wheelbarrow race (oh! it was so much easier when I was 8!) then scrape open AND bruise my left shin leaping over a step that was clearly too high for my 26-inch inseam. Awesome!

Aside from studying and working out, I have settled into my neighborhood and found a health food store, a Chinese supermarket and a very good western supermarket. I've been cooking a lot and I find that making my own food makes me feel more at home.

Other interesting events:

Ingrid, a girl I met in France in March recently came to Montreal with her boyfriend. It was her first trip to North America. We met up for lunch and we both came to the conclusion that my French is improving and no, no one but the Quebecois can understand the so-called French spoken here. This was very reassuring as I find little difficulty getting around France, but can't always understand basic conversation here.

The Montreal Jazz Festival was in full-swing when I arrived. I didn't get out to too many of the events, but I did see a silent film that was part of series shown in conjunction with the festival. It was "Underworld", from 1927, and it is considered to be one of the first films of the gangster genre. Being a silent film, there weren't any words spoken, but there was live music accompaniment which was pretty cool.

Last Friday, my school hosted an "International Lunch" whereby all students were invited to bring a dish representative of their home country. My school hosts an enormous number of South Americans and Mexicans, but there are also some students from Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. My contribution to the event was six Spam musubi, cut into small pieces, then two cucumber and avocado rolls, cut maki style. To keep it simple, I told them it was "Hawaiian sushi". The Korean students seemed especially appreciative of the Spam musubi.

That evening, I was killing time on Facebook when I saw my old roommate from my time in London (circa 2000), Ryan, a Canadian, come online. I wrote and told him that I was in-country and he invited me to his "birthday weekend" at St. Sauveur Water Park. His brother lives in Montreal and I caught a ride up with him. His brother, Deryk, is an academic. He's working on his PhD in management and the conversation up to the water park went into the cerebral very quickly. It was really kind of nice, especially after an intellectually lonely and stifling year in Kona. The water park was wicked, too. (As Ryan best described it, "It's not just water slides. It's water slides that you have to take a ski lift to and wear helments for!") Ryan was with his girlfriend, her sister and another couple, and we all had an excellent time. Apparently, in Canada, going to a water park is kind of a big thing that everyone does during the summer. Given the length and intensity of the winters here, I guess I can see it, but you don't really see a lot of Americans in their 30s get excited about water slides.

I have a new student. I lept into the elevator at school one day (literally, the door was closing, so I ran and jumped in) and the woman inside was a bit surprised by my action. She was clearly Chinese so I smiled at her and asked her where she was from. "China," she said simply. "Where in China?" I pressed. "In the north", she said. "OH! Ni shi dongbei ren" I said ("You're a northeasterner!"). We got to talking and it turned out that she was from Dalian, the first city I lived in in China. I told her I was a teacher and then, on the spot, she asked me to give her lessons. Never one to turn down easy money, I accepted her offer. I now teach her twice a week for an hour and a half each time and we focus mostly on pronunciation (liaison and intonation). She's a very nice lady. She and her 12-year-old daughter came to Canada three years ago when her husband got a job here.

It's really quite nice to have the Chinese connection. Michelle, my student, has shown me how to get around and where to buy food at the best prices. Also, last Friday, she took me to a tofu factory run by a Chinese lady who grew up in Taipei. Apparently all Chinese people know this place that is tucked away in a very residential area. The factory produces all sorts of soy products, including soy milk, and for less than $5, I walked away with a brick of firm tofu, a bag of fermented soy beans and a litre of soy milk. The proprietess, an absolutely glamorous middle-aged lady who wore red lipstick and kept her black hair in fingerwaves under a discreet hairnet, was also very proud to inform me, in a mix of Chinese and English, that her operation produces strictly organic products and had the certificate on the wall to prove it. She also doesn't believe in waste, so when customers come directly to the factory for tofu, they have to bring their own containters. The woman who came in after us, followed by a rather patient looking laowai who clearly spoke no Chinese, brought in a giant silver dish that looked like it was going straight back into the kitchen once it left the building. Hooray for being Chinese!

On Sunday, I went and saw David Sedaris speak at Indigo Bookstore. He was brilliant, as expected, and I was chuffed to be able to attend such an event, free of charge, just by virtue of being in a major world city again. The place was packed, but as I was on my own, a security guard led me to an empty seat in front of the stage! Sedaris read a bit of his new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, then he took questions from the audience. Someone asked about his writing process and he mentioned that he often gets people in graduate writing programs at his readings. He says that he always tells them: "Don't waste your time with grad school! If you want to be a writer you should become a prostitute! And there are two very good reasons for this. The first is, when you're young, people will want to sleep with you. Even the most homely 25-year-old can find a 50-year-old who will want to sleep with them and who will pay for it! Second, being a prostitute will get you into all kinds of adventures and you'll have plenty to write about when you're old and withered." This I found rather amusing. And it reminds me of something I read in an interview with Hemingway. When asked what he "would consider to be the best intellectual training for the would-be writer", he said, "He said, 'Let’s say that he [would-be writer] should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.' I have so much to do before becoming a writer...!

David Sedaris also shared, the exact details of which he found in a little blue notebook he kept in his breast pocked, that the night before he had met a woman whose mother's name was Jackie Chan and whose father's was Dick Hornballer. (To which he responded, "Why didn't he just go by Richard?") I liked this story because this is the kind of stuff I note, as well.

So that's the current run-down. There may be more henceforth.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

OK, so I realize this blog has become more of a Tom Friedman fansite than a blog about the life of Maile, but really, the man has things to say!

This was in the paper this morning. He is brilliant! I wish he'd run for president.

June 29, 2008
Anxious in America

Just a few months ago, the consensus view was that Barack Obama would need to choose a hard-core national-security type as his vice presidential running mate to compensate for his lack of foreign policy experience and that John McCain would need a running mate who was young and sprightly to compensate for his age. Come August, though, I predict both men will be looking for a financial wizard as their running mates to help them steer America out of what could become a serious economic tailspin.

I do not believe nation-building in Iraq is going to be the issue come November — whether things get better there or worse. If they get better, we’ll ignore Iraq more; if they get worse, the next president will be under pressure to get out quicker. I think nation-building in America is going to be the issue.

It’s the state of America now that is the most gripping source of anxiety for Americans, not Al Qaeda or Iraq. Anyone who thinks they are going to win this election playing the Iraq or the terrorism card — one way or another — is, in my view, seriously deluded. Things have changed.
Up to now, the economic crisis we’ve been in has been largely a credit crisis in the capital markets, while consumer spending has kept reasonably steady, as have manufacturing and exports. But with banks still reluctant to lend even to healthy businesses, fuel and food prices soaring and home prices declining, this is starting to affect consumers, shrinking their wallets and crimping spending. Unemployment is already creeping up and manufacturing creeping down.

The straws in the wind are hard to ignore: If you visit any car dealership in America today you will see row after row of unsold S.U.V.’s. And if you own a gas guzzler already, good luck. On Thursday, The Palm Beach Post ran an article on your S.U.V. options: “Continue to spend upward of $100 for a fill-up. Sell or trade in the vehicle for a fraction of the original cost. Or hold out and park the truck in the driveway for occasional use in hopes the market will turn around.” Just be glad you don’t own a bus. Montgomery County, Md., where I live, just announced that more children were going to have to walk to school next year to save money on bus fuel.
On top of it all, our bank crisis is not over. Two weeks ago, Goldman Sachs analysts said that U.S. banks may need another $65 billion to cover more write-downs of bad mortgage-related instruments and potential new losses if consumer loans start to buckle. Since President Bush came to office, our national savings have gone from 6 percent of gross domestic product to 1 percent, and consumer debt has climbed from $8 trillion to $14 trillion.

My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I continue to be appalled at the gap between what is clearly going to be the next great global industry — renewable energy and clean power — and the inability of Congress and the administration to put in place the bold policies we need to ensure that America leads that industry.

“America and its political leaders, after two decades of failing to come together to solve big problems, seem to have lost faith in their ability to do so,” Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib noted last week. “A political system that expects failure doesn’t try very hard to produce anything else.”

We used to try harder and do better. After Sputnik, we came together as a nation and responded with a technology, infrastructure and education surge, notes Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. After the 1973 oil crisis, we came together and made dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. After Social Security became imperiled in the early 1980s, we came together and fixed it for that moment. “But today,” added Hormats, “the political system seems incapable of producing a critical mass to support any kind of serious long-term reform.”

If the old saying — that “as General Motors goes, so goes America” — is true, then folks, we’re in a lot of trouble. General Motors’s stock-market value now stands at just $6.47 billion, compared with Toyota’s $162.6 billion. On top of it, G.M. shares sank to a 34-year low last week.

That’s us. We’re at a 34-year low. And digging out of this hole is what the next election has to be about and is going to be about — even if it is interrupted by a terrorist attack or an outbreak of war or peace in Iraq. We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started. Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I've finally left Hawaii! Wahoo!

I'm in Boston now, staying with my friend, Laurie, and her fiance, Todd, at their home in Wakefield.

It's really weird being back. Boston has gotten a lot cleaner, a lot swisher and it's a lot smaller than I remember it. I've spent the past few days just walking around the city and it's a bit strange to know how to get around a city so well, but to feel so detached from it.

Last weekend, I went with Laurie and Todd to Lake Winnipesaukee, in New Hampshire. Laurie's family has a house on the lake and in celebration of Todd's and Laurie's brother, John's, birthdays, there was a party. The festivities coincided with "Laconia Motorcycle Weekend" and thousands of bikers were in town for the event.

In the last couple of years, I have developed a fondness for motorcycles, so this event was of certain interest to me. One of John's friends, Joe, came to the party after a ride through Canada and Maine. He humored me by taking me on his Harley for a short trip through the neighborhood. That was good.

We all came back Sunday evening and since then, I've just been hanging around the house in my pajamas, reading, napping and catching up with old friends. Two nights ago I went out with Kevin and Daniel, friends from a more politically-active time. We went for dinner in the North End, Boston's Little Italy and my old neighborhood. The area has been taken over by yuppies, but save for that, it is as charming as ever. I went by my old apartment, only to learn it is now an office for some company. I did bump into my neighbors, an Italian couple who run a coffee shop across the alley, and they recognized me. We had a nice chat.

Last night, I went out with Heather, my college roommate, and we took a tour of our old stomping grounds. It turns out that Emerson College has sold all of its old brownstone buildings that once housed students to real estate developers. Our old dorm was gutted and is in the process of being renovated; there was a huge sign announcing "Luxury Residences" on offer.

I leave for Montreal on Monday. I will post again from there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We didn't go to Iraq for oil! We went in the name of FREEDOM! (original link)

Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back
Published: June 19, 2008

BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.

Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war and already under pressure because of record high oil prices, senior officials of two of the companies, speaking only on the condition that they not be identified, said they were helping Iraq rebuild its decrepit oil industry.
For an industry being frozen out of new ventures in the world’s dominant oil-producing countries, from Russia to Venezuela, Iraq offers a rare and prized opportunity.

While enriched by $140 per barrel oil, the oil majors are also struggling to replace their reserves as ever more of the world’s oil patch becomes off limits. Governments in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela are nationalizing their oil industries or seeking a larger share of the record profits for their national budgets. Russia and Kazakhstan have forced the major companies to renegotiate contracts.

The Iraqi government’s stated goal in inviting back the major companies is to increase oil production by half a million barrels per day by attracting modern technology and expertise to oil fields now desperately short of both. The revenue would be used for reconstruction, although the Iraqi government has had trouble spending the oil revenues it now has, in part because of bureaucratic inefficiency.

For the American government, increasing output in Iraq, as elsewhere, serves the foreign policy goal of increasing oil production globally to alleviate the exceptionally tight supply that is a cause of soaring prices.

The Iraqi Oil Ministry, through a spokesman, said the no-bid contracts were a stop-gap measure to bring modern skills into the fields while the oil law was pending in Parliament.

It said the companies had been chosen because they had been advising the ministry without charge for two years before being awarded the contracts, and because these companies had the needed technology.

A Shell spokeswoman hinted at the kind of work the companies might be engaged in. “We can confirm that we have submitted a conceptual proposal to the Iraqi authorities to minimize current and future gas flaring in the south through gas gathering and utilization,” said the spokeswoman, Marnie Funk. “The contents of the proposal are confidential.”

While small, the deals hold great promise for the companies.

“The bigger prize everybody is waiting for is development of the giant new fields,” Leila Benali, an authority on Middle East oil at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said in a telephone interview from the firm’s Paris office. The current contracts, she said, are a “foothold” in Iraq for companies striving for these longer-term deals.

Any Western oil official who comes to Iraq would require heavy security, exposing the companies to all the same logistical nightmares that have hampered previous attempts, often undertaken at huge cost, to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

And work in the deserts and swamps that contain much of Iraq’s oil reserves would be virtually impossible unless carried out solely by Iraqi subcontractors, who would likely be threatened by insurgents for cooperating with Western companies.

Yet at today’s oil prices, there is no shortage of companies coveting a contract in Iraq. It is not only one of the few countries where oil reserves are up for grabs, but also one of the few that is viewed within the industry as having considerable potential to rapidly increase production.

David Fyfe, a Middle East analyst at the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group that monitors oil production for the developed countries, said he believed that Iraq’s output could increase to about 3 million barrels a day from its current 2.5 million, though it would probably take longer than the six months the Oil Ministry estimated.

Mr. Fyfe’s organization estimated that repair work on existing fields could bring Iraq’s output up to roughly four million barrels per day within several years. After new fields are tapped, Iraq is expected to reach a plateau of about six million barrels per day, Mr. Fyfe said, which could suppress current world oil prices.

The contracts, the two oil company officials said, are a continuation of work the companies had been conducting here to assist the Oil Ministry under two-year-old memorandums of understanding. The companies provided free advice and training to the Iraqis. This relationship with the ministry, said company officials and an American diplomat, was a reason the contracts were not opened to competitive bidding.

A total of 46 companies, including the leading oil companies of China, India and Russia, had memorandums of understanding with the Oil Ministry, yet were not awarded contracts.

The no-bid deals are structured as service contracts. The companies will be paid for their work, rather than offered a license to the oil deposits. As such, they do not require the passage of an oil law setting out terms for competitive bidding. The legislation has been stalled by disputes among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties over revenue sharing and other conditions.

The first oil contracts for the majors in Iraq are exceptional for the oil industry.

They include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today’s prices: the ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash.

“These are not actually service contracts,” Ms. Benali said. “They were designed to circumvent the legislative stalemate” and bring Western companies with experience managing large projects into Iraq before the passage of the oil law.

A clause in the draft contracts would allow the companies to match bids from competing companies to retain the work once it is opened to bidding, according to the Iraq country manager for a major oil company who did not consent to be cited publicly discussing the terms.
Assem Jihad, the Oil Ministry spokesman, said the ministry chose companies it was comfortable working with under the charitable memorandum of understanding agreements, and for their technical prowess. “Because of that, they got the priority,” he said.

In all cases but one, the same company that had provided free advice to the ministry for work on a specific field was offered the technical support contract for that field, one of the companies’ officials said.

The exception is the West Qurna field in southern Iraq, outside Basra. There, the Russian company Lukoil, which claims a Hussein-era contract for the field, had been providing free training to Iraqi engineers, but a consortium of Chevron and Total, a French company, was offered the contract. A spokesman for Lukoil declined to comment.

Charles Ries, the chief economic official in the American Embassy in Baghdad, described the no-bid contracts as a bridging mechanism to bring modern technology into the fields before the oil law was passed, and as an extension of the earlier work without charge.

To be sure, these are not the first foreign oil contracts in Iraq, and all have proved contentious.
The Kurdistan regional government, which in many respects functions as an independent entity in northern Iraq, has concluded a number of deals. Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, for example, signed a production-sharing agreement with the regional government last fall, though its legality is questioned by the central Iraqi government. The technical support agreements, however, are the first commercial work by the major oil companies in Iraq.

The impact, experts say, could be remarkable increases in Iraqi oil output.

While the current contracts are unrelated to the companies’ previous work in Iraq, in a twist of corporate history for some of the world’s largest companies, all four oil majors that had lost their concessions in Iraq are now back.

But a spokesman for Exxon said the company’s approach to Iraq was no different from its work elsewhere.

“Consistent with our longstanding, global business strategy, ExxonMobil would pursue business opportunities as they arise in Iraq, just as we would in other countries in which we are permitted to operate,” the spokesman, Len D’Eramo, said in an e-mailed statement.

But the company is clearly aware of the history. In an interview with Newsweek last fall, the former chief executive of Exxon, Lee Raymond, praised Iraq’s potential as an oil-producing country and added that Exxon was in a position to know. “There is an enormous amount of oil in Iraq,” Mr. Raymond said. “We were part of the consortium, the four companies that were there when Saddam Hussein threw us out, and we basically had the whole country.”

James Glanz and Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from New York.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Anybody need a new used car?!

So, I'm on my way to Columbia, but I recently learned that my financial aid package got slashed by $6,000! (That is, last year, I was allotted $6,000 more that what I can get this year.) That's the result of the sub-prime loan crisis. Apparently, student loans were also affected by this, specifically Perkins loans; I lost ALL of mine.

I was relating my financial woes to the father of two boys I tutor, and he gave me a job selling cars until I leave! Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took him up on the offer, so here I am, selling used cars! I've sold two already, but man, it's been slow.

If anyone out there needs a car, DO LET ME KNOW! And we have some really nice, almost new cars to boot! (We have a really slick 2008 Nissan Altima and I can't understand why it hasn't been sold, yet. It's absolutely perfect, though not exactly cheap.)

You can also check out our Web site at

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Here's something you'll never read in our local papers!

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald is owned by Stephens Media, the same company that owns the West Hawaii Today, my former place of employment. The Trib is, according to inside rumor, the only paper in all of Stephens Media (which owns a bunch of papers on the Mainland) with a union, and that's because they had a union before it was purchased. It's not really a secret that the Stephens Media is evil. When I worked there, I once asked why the employees weren't unionized and people looked at me as if I asked for 1000 percent pay increase. Then someone pulled aside and told me never to mention it again.

Anyway, I'm glad the judge ruled against these bastards. It's just a shame that most people on the Big Island will never hear about it. (original source)

11 Mar 2008
Judge rules newspaper acted illegally
Fired reporters must be offered their jobs back

The Hawaii Newspaper Guild

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald violated federal labor law when it suspended and fired two reporters for their legally protected union activities, a judge for the National Labor Relations Board ruled on March 6.

The 41-page ruling released Monday also found the newspaper guilty of violating labor law for suspending reporter Peter Sur and taking disciplinary action against another employee, Koryn Nako. Sur and Nako were also disciplined for engaging in federally protected union-activities, the judge ruled.

Thirteen separate complaints against the newspaper were heard at a trial held in Hilo in October, including the firings and suspensions. The other complaints upheld by the judge included:

  • The newspaper’s ban on union-related buttons and arm bands in the workplace in support of the fired employees

  • Interrogating employees about their own and other employees’ union activities

  • Discriminating against union officials by requiring them to request permission before entering the newspaper building

  • Maintaining an overly broad rule prohibiting employees from making secret audio recordings, and

  • Failing to provide the union with necessary information about the actions taken against employees of the newspaper.

Judge John J. McCarrick ruled in favor of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild on 12 of the 13 complaints brought to trial. The judge ruled on one count that there was no effort by the company to lead employees to believe they were under surveillance, as the union alleged.

“It’s a big win,” said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer for the union, which represents about 50 employees at the Hilo-based newspaper.

Bishop, a union shop steward and former chair of the Hilo unit of the Newspaper Guild, was fired in October 2005 for insubordination after he intervened on behalf of an employee who was being taken into a meeting with management officials. McCarrick ruled, however, that Bishop was acting legally as a shop steward in attempting to ascertain whether or not the meeting would involve discipline against the employee, which would trigger the employee’s right to union representation under the Weingarten provision of the federal Labor Relations Act.

Smith, also a shop steward and member of the Guild’s bargaining committee, was fired in April 2006, after he secretly made an audio recording of a meeting with management because he believed the meeting was disciplinary in nature and that he would be denied union representation. Possible disciplinary action against Smith for low productivity was discussed at the meeting and he was denied a witness. When Editor David Bock learned of the secret recording, he suspended and then fired Smith. There was no company policy regarding secret audio recordings of conversations, and they are legal in Hawaii as long as one of the parties involved is aware of the recording.

The newspaper was ordered to “cease and desist” its illegal and discriminatory actions against Guild employees and their representatives, and to “make whole” employees who lost earnings and benefits due to the firings and suspensions. The newspaper was also ordered to expunge from the employees’ personnel files any record of the disciplinary actions.

The newspaper may appeal the judge’s decision to the National Labor Relations Board.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

This was in the New York Times today. It's reassuring to know that SOMEBODY gets it!

May 4, 2008
Who Will Tell the People?

Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.
And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gotta love Sarko. At least we are no longer the only ones embarrassed by our president.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I am becoming my mother.

So here I am in London. Landed. Situated. It is my first morning here and what is the first thing I do? I take the tube into Leiceister Square, walk past all the theatres, ticket sellers, Italian cafes, go down into Chinatown and get myself a sesame bun filled with red bean paste for breakfast. I would have gotten a vegetable baozi, as well, but they weren't ready.

I have no real agenda for my time in London, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I am staying in East Finchley, in northern London, with the family of a former colleague from the Korean International School in Beijing. The colleague, Jung Sook, is in London on a state-sponsored scholarship to attend King's College, University of London, and she brought her two girls with her. I used to tutor the girls twice a week, two hours each time, for more than a year; it's very good to see them all again. Last night we had a long chat: The girls are experiencing what can only be described as culture shock. They told me about how her classmates misbehave and shoplift, the boys wear pants so baggy that everyone can see their underwear, and far and away, they are the best math students in the school, so they tutor the other students. They are attending a Catholic school in their neighborhood which they say "is not English! It's Black and Polish!" But both girls seem to be doing well, and they like not having as much homework. They are both picking up English accents, too.

I leave for Paris on Saturday and I will try to post once more before I go.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Forgive the delay. Nothing much to report for the moment. Here's an article from the New York Times; it's stuff like this that still makes me feel weird about being back in America. In all of my 27 years, I've never had a pedicure. I clearly have had a misspent childhood.

Never Too Young for That First Pedicure
Published: February 28, 2008

ONE recent rainy afternoon, Eleanor LaFauci, 7, sat with her feet in open-toed foam slippers, admiring her toenails, freshly painted watermelon pink.

“Look, we’re reading an adult magazine,” Eleanor told her mother, gleefully waving a copy of People with a desultory-looking Britney Spears on its cover.

Eleanor was in the bubble-gum-colored pedicure lounge of Dashing Diva, the Upper West Side franchise of the international nail spa, with her 3 ½-year-old sister and a half-dozen or so friends. The girls were celebrating her birthday with mani’s, pedi’s and mini-makeovers with light makeup and body art — glitter-applied stars, lightning bolts and, of course, hearts.

Eleanor’s mother, Anne O’Brien, stood watching and shrugged. “What can I say?” said Ms. O’Brien, whose husband suggested the party. “She’s a girly girl. I’m not quite sure how it happened. I didn’t get my first manicure until I was 25.”

Traditionally, young girls have played with unattended M.A.C. eye shadow or Chanel foundation, hoping to capture a whiff of sophistication. In the recent past, young girls have also tagged along on beauty expeditions by their mothers and teenage sisters.

But today, cosmetic companies and retailers increasingly aim their sophisticated products and service packages squarely at 6- to 9-year-olds, who are being transformed into savvy beauty consumers before they’re out of elementary school.

“The starter market has definitely grown, I think, due to a number of cultural influences,” said Samantha Skey, the senior vice president for strategic marketing of Alloy Media and Marketing.

Reality programming like “America’s Next Top Model” often hinges on the segment devoted to a hair and beauty transformation for the contestants, Ms. Skey said. On social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, members’ intense self-focus and their attention to how they present themselves also affect 6- to 9-year-olds, even though technically, they aren’t allowed to set up profiles on the sites, she added. “We live in a culture of insta-celebrity,” Ms. Skey said. “Our little girls now grow up thinking they need to be ready for their close-up, lest the paparazzi arrive.”

Sweet & Sassy, a salon and party destination based in Texas for girls 5 to 11, includes pink limo service as a party add-on, which starts at $150 a ride. And Dashing Diva franchises often offer virgin Cosmos in martini glasses along with their extra-virgin nail polish, free of a group of chemicals called phthalates, for a round of services for a birthday girl and her friends.

At Club Libby Lu, a mall-based chain and the most mainstream of the primping party outlets, girls of any age can mix their own lip gloss and live out their pop idol fantasies. Last year, the chain did about a million makeovers in its 90 stores nationwide, said Ari Goldsmith, the director of advertising and marketing.

Many of those were Hannah Montana makeovers, which entail donning blond wigs, makeup and concert costumes like the ones the girls’ idol wears. Mom and dad capturing them on the camcorder belting tunes is optional.

Dozens of results can be seen on YouTube, including one zealous poster’s series of “Rebecca as Hannah Montana.”

Brides and bachelorettes have long thrived on beauty services done en masse. But now primping parties are even popular for first graders.

Tracy Bloom Schwartz, an event planner at Creative Parties in Bethesda, Md., said that she ordered beauty-theme stock invitations a couple of years ago. “I figured we’d sell them for bridal and bachelorette-type of events,” she said.

“But now the parents of little girls — easily 6 years old — use these cards as invitations for their daughters’ birthday primping parties. And, the slightly older girls, say, 8 and 9, use them for makeover slumber parties,” she said. “Sometimes I want to ask, ‘makeover what?’ ”

In a study last year, 55 percent of 6- to 9-year-old girls said they used lip gloss or lipstick, and nearly two-thirds said they used nail polish, according to Experian, a market research company based in New York. In 2003, 49 percent of 6- to 9-year-old girls said they used lip gloss or lipstick.

Youth market analysts say this is part of a trend called KGOY, “kids getting older younger,” and cultural observers describe a tandem phenomenon, more-indulgent parents.

It’s a point that vexes Rosalind Wiseman, the author of “Queen Bees & Wannabes” (Three Rivers Press, 2003). “Mothers and fathers do really crazy things with the best of intentions,” she said. “I don’t care how it’s couched, if you’re permitting this with your daughter, you are hyper-sexualizing her. It’s one thing to have them play around with makeup at home within the bubble of the family. But once it shifts to another context, you are taking away the play and creating a consumer, and frankly, you run the risk of having one more person who feels she’s not good enough if she’s not buying the stuff.”

A generation ago, girls had fewer products to choose from. Now, they have nail art; fragrance roll-ons; and all manner of glitter for face, neck, shoulders and hair marketed to them. That’s in addition to staples like lip balms, lip glosses and nail lacquers.

These products are moderately priced so that grandparents and parents can treat. Or so the very young can afford them with nothing more than change from the sofa, or their meager weekly allowance.

“Packaging is key,” said Ricardo Cruz, the marketing and licensing manager of the youth division of Markwins International, a company that licenses and manufactures a Bratz line of cosmetic gift sets as well as ACT, the company’s own brand. Because it’s makeup for little girls, Mr. Cruz said: “We’re not going to put lip plumper in there. It’s just little things the girls can test out, try on with their friends.”

With more-pressing issues of online predators, fast-food consumption and homework that needs to be done, the 10 parents interviewed for the article all said that they had allowed their daughters to attend a primping party.

“Of course, it depends on your environment, but here, I’ve even heard of Girl Scout troops doing this kind of social beauty thing,” said Stacie Christopher, a mother of three from Chevy Chase, Md.

And yet, there is always potential for backlash.

Last summer, when Bonne Bell and Mattel announced a partnership to introduce a line of Barbie-inspired Bonne Bell beauty products for 6- to 9-year-olds at the end of this year, a modest firestorm was set off online. A debate followed on Jezebel, a celebrity and fashion blog, on how young was too young for girls to wear makeup. One commenter reduced it to a simple formula: “Lip gloss and mascara at age 12 = sure. Anything other than pink nail polish on anyone under 10 = no.”

But cosmetics for girls at any age worries Lucy Corrigan, a mother of two daughters, 8 and 11, in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. Still, last year she allowed her younger daughter to go to two salon birthday parties for 7-year-olds. “Of course, it was alarming,” she said. “But I’d rather my girls try it and decide they don’t need all these products to be beautiful, and then do something more vital with their time and money and efforts, like write a poem or take a walk or save the world.”

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I'm a bit sad.

I have just received word that I did not qualify for a very big scholarship to study journalism in the UK. I knew it was a long-shot--the organization who manages funding has a thing for over-achieving Ivy League undergrads and does not consider financial need--but still, I'm a little disappointed.

So, here I am, back in my old situation: What to do next? I can still go to Columbia, and I think this is what I would like to do, but the tuition is absolutely obscene: $65,000 (all expenses budgeted). And since I've been looking after my dad, I've barely been able to work. (Well, actually, I work around the clock, everyday of the week--I just don't get paid for any of it.) AND, because Dad's been ill, there's not a lot of money coming in, and things are just tight. (Being here with him, I've also learned about his VERY IRRESPONSIBLE financial management--but that's a BLOG unto itself.)

Now, a lot of people have been telling me just to borrow the money. "It's COLUMBIA, after all!" But I just think that's foolish. I've been in touch with LOTS of people who have gone to the journalism school, and they all say the same: Columbia degree or not, journalism just doesn't pay. In fact, the average starting salary for a Columbia J-school graduate is $28,000/year. On top of that, interest on federal loans for graduate school is 8 percent!

Twist the knife a little deeper...

Columbia's already promised me $20,000, and I'm still shaking their tree for more, but I simply won't go $45,000 into the hole for that Ivy League paper (that damned thing must be printed in platinum). REMEMBER THE RECESSION?!

My family, which consists only of my father, mother, and younger, and definitely not richer younger sister, (we don't really have extended family) can help me with about $10,000. That leaves another $35,000, or so.

I'm applying to scholarships as fast as I can find them, but last year, I applied to about a dozen and got only two little ones (though believe me, every little bit helps).

So I'm going to put this out there: HELP.

If you like my blog, throw a couple bucks my way. If you like my blog and can afford it, throw a few more. If you know anyone who wants to sponsor a hard-working, multi-lingual, well-travelled, non-22-year-old-Harvard-graduate who is, however, totally dedicated to mastering the craft of journalism, do let me know. I'd be glad to learn about more scholarships, too, and would be happy to discuss some no-interest loans with anyone who'd consider it.

Also, if I can offer my services as a writer, teacher, tutor, tour guide (need to plan a trip to China? Hawaii?) in exchange for some cash.

A PayPal button has been tackily added to the top of the sidebar. Contribute freely and often. You can even use a credit card!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

An op-ed piece from the New York Times on the proposed "solution" to the recession. You can also check it out here:

Stimulus Gone Bad
January 25, 2008

House Democrats and the White House have reached an agreement on an economic stimulus plan. Unfortunately, the plan — which essentially consists of nothing but tax cuts and gives most of those tax cuts to people in fairly good financial shape — looks like a lemon.

Specifically, the Democrats appear to have buckled in the face of the Bush administration’s ideological rigidity, dropping demands for provisions that would have helped those most in need. And those happen to be the same provisions that might actually have made the stimulus plan effective.

Those are harsh words, so let me explain what’s going on.

Aside from business tax breaks — which are an unhappy story for another column — the plan gives each worker making less than $75,000 a $300 check, plus additional amounts to people who make enough to pay substantial sums in income tax. This ensures that the bulk of the money would go to people who are doing O.K. financially — which misses the whole point.
The goal of a stimulus plan should be to support overall spending, so as to avert or limit the depth of a recession. If the money the government lays out doesn’t get spent — if it just gets added to people’s bank accounts or used to pay off debts — the plan will have failed.

And sending checks to people in good financial shape does little or nothing to increase overall spending. People who have good incomes, good credit and secure employment make spending decisions based on their long-term earning power rather than the size of their latest paycheck. Give such people a few hundred extra dollars, and they’ll just put it in the bank.

In fact, that appears to be what mainly happened to the tax rebates affluent Americans received during the last recession in 2001.

On the other hand, money delivered to people who aren’t in good financial shape — who are short on cash and living check to check — does double duty: it alleviates hardship and also pumps up consumer spending.

That’s why many of the stimulus proposals we were hearing just a few days ago focused in the first place on expanding programs that specifically help people who have fallen on hard times, especially unemployment insurance and food stamps. And these were the stimulus ideas that received the highest grades in a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
There was also some talk among Democrats about providing temporary aid to state and local governments, whose finances are being pummeled by the weakening economy. Like help for the unemployed, this would have done double duty, averting hardship and heading off spending cuts that could worsen the downturn.

But the Bush administration has apparently succeeded in killing all of these ideas, in favor of a plan that mainly gives money to those least likely to spend it.

Why would the administration want to do this? It has nothing to do with economic efficacy: no economic theory or evidence I know of says that upper-middle-class families are more likely to spend rebate checks than the poor and unemployed. Instead, what seems to be happening is that the Bush administration refuses to sign on to anything that it can’t call a “tax cut.”

Behind that refusal, in turn, lies the administration’s commitment to slashing tax rates on the affluent while blocking aid for families in trouble — a commitment that requires maintaining the pretense that government spending is always bad. And the result is a plan that not only fails to deliver help where it’s most needed, but is likely to fail as an economic measure.

The words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to mind: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

And the worst of it is that the Democrats, who should have been in a strong position — does this administration have any credibility left on economic policy? — appear to have caved in almost completely.

Yes, they extracted some concessions, increasing rebates for people with low income while reducing giveaways to the affluent. But basically they allowed themselves to be bullied into doing things the Bush administration’s way.

And that could turn out to be a very bad thing.

We don’t know for sure how deep the coming slump will be, or even whether it will meet the technical definition of a recession. But there’s a real chance not just that it will be a major downturn, but that the usual response to recession — interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve — won’t be sufficient to turn the economy around.

And if that happens, we’ll deeply regret the fact that the Bush administration insisted on, and Democrats accepted, a so-called stimulus plan that just won’t do the job.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

There is hope yet for our mighty legal system! Many months ago, I posted about my run-in with the police over a broken headlight. It seemed at the time that I had two options: paying the fine (which was nearly $150) or fighting the ticket in court. Actually, there was a third route: writing a letter explaining the situation (that I had essentially been fined twice for the same offense)--this is what I did. I just got the reply in the mail and the second, more expensive charge was dropped. I still have to pay $47 for driving without a headlight, but in fact, I was driving without a headlight, so this was difficult to dispute without lying.
Hurrah! I fought the law and I won!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nothing new, slightly depressing, but a very well put together presentation.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Made a trip up north and stopped at an old (as in ancient and no longer inhabited) fishing village along the way. It was windy.
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