You know those international ovals, the car stickers? Their proper use is to denote an automobile's nation of registration. In the US, the pretentious "D" sticker on the back of a German import gave rise to a host of faux international ovals, most of them also pretentions: In the Boston area, an MV or BI oval on your car tells the world of your association with Martha's Vineyard or Block Island. Out here in the Bay Area the LNX sticker serves as geek credential. And I always smile at drivers with a PH, SCI or GD or their car.
So, this morning, I see a car with a KZ on it, and of course I think, KZ - Law of Nations! (That's an inside joke as well, right HLSL folks?) The driver probably fancies himself a Kazakh patriot, but I like to think of him as a subtle advocate for international law.
Harbin postmortem: Ilya, who had just flown back from Moscow, was not feeling well when he arrived to join us at the hot springs Saturday evening. He blamed jetlag and bad Aeroflot air. In solidarity, the three of us slept in the back of his van that night, rather than outside. [Note to Shenly: you're so sweet, and it was so great to spend this weekend with you...but this was not a good idea.]
Anyway, by the time we'd convoyed back to my house Sunday evening, he could travel no further. So they both slept over, and Monday morning we all dispersed to rejoin the rat race. Now I get a phone call: they both have strep throat. How about me?
I feel fine. Go immune system!
I'm torn. I want everybody to have the wonderful experience of a visit to Harbin, but if everybody goes, it'll be much too crowded. So maybe I'll just wish that everybody reading these words has a chance to go some time. It really is a very special place. Any time spent in the little Harbin kingdom is a joy, but to really receive the benefits requires a two-night stay, as it is the day between those two nights that allows for a flowing, unstructured full day of relaxation and delight.
And so by going up there with Shenly on Friday, my Saturday went something like this: wake up early, walk a beautiful wooded path, eat breakfast, soak in delicious pools of naturally warm, hot and cold water, lie out in the sun on one of the large wooden decks, soak, eat lunch, soak, lie out, read fiction, nap, sauna, soak, eat dinner, soak, sauna, soak, and go to sleep. Simplicity itself. No work, no news, no cars, no need for clocks or expectations. Very close to a Perfect Day.
The area around the pools and decks at Harbin is clothing-optional, and almost everybody opts for unclothed. Why? Because you can, because it's safe, because it's a place to enjoy inhabiting your body. And to consider the bodies around you as aesthetic, rather than sexual, when you consider them at all. Conversations flow freely on the redwood decks, but in the pools voices must be kept to a whisper. Sharing those deep, quiet pools of water flowing up out of the earth is a primordial experience. Without the honesty of nudity, it would not be so primordial.
Thinking about it now, what's remarkable about lounging around with dozens of nude people is just how unremarkable it is. If you've spent time at such a place, this is obvious to you. But if you haven't, you may have a hard time believing it. In talking with people about it, most say the same thing: they felt at least some trepidation beforehand (though obviously they did decide to come), but within a short period of time, it seemed so natural that they forgot that they were anxious about it just a short while earlier. (Simon Firth tells his Harbin skeptic-to-convert tale well.)
Somewhere deep inside us is the understanding that nudity is okay, and once experienced, that reality melts away a lifetime of socialization. It is replaced with a palpable sense of liberation, and that, I think, is an experience worth having.
I'm back from a perfect weekend in the womb of Harbin hot springs, back to the world of the stressed and the clothed. I have to go overprepare for a class I'm co-teaching this afternoon, so I can't tell you about it right now. It was everything it was last time, only better.
Today is Cesar Chavez Day, a California holiday. The library is closed. I am home. I'm leaving now to go camping at a hot spring. I leave you with the two best things I've found on the Web today.
Yeti: 9/11 Commission hearings flowchart. It's all so simple.
Mimi: "I wonder what an oversouled Transcendental Airlines flight would offer to give up your seat."
Last night Philo, Aimée, Amy & I convened the first meeting of a new book club, at Marta's apartment in SF. I'd given Aimée a ride over from the East Bay, and at the end of the evening we walked outside and down the block to where I'd parked my car.
It wasn't there. We walked up and down the street several times, slowly surrendering to the reality that yes, this is the spot where we'd left it, and no, it's really not here anymore.
It being a perfectly legal parking spot, I was forced to reckon with the liklihood that it was stolen rather than towed. I called SF's finest, and after several referrals, learned that it had in fact been towed. And so off we went to meet The Man, and get my car back.
Aimée & I took a cab ($16) across town to the Hall of Justice (open all nite!), through metal detectors, down sterile hallways and up to a bulletproof glass window. They take credit cards. $171 later, we were on our way to the city tow lot, beneath the elevated I-80. And there it was, with yellow grease pen indicating the date and time of impounding...and a ticket under the wiper.
Yes, the insult to injury - and only explanation for this all - is the $75 ticket, for the stated violation of "driveway complaint." Apparently, I was parked in someone's de facto parking spot, and that someone had me removed. I was not blocking the driveway. Oh the injustice. And what sort of life lesson do I get for my $250? Don't mess with folks in The Richmond. Don't even park on their streets.
Being an inveterate pack rat, I find that I end up accumulating bits of evidence indicating my past activities. I don't organize them, but a recent pile of handbills, ticket stubs and other such stuff gave me an idea: Why not get a big picture frame and make a collage?
So I got a big picture frame, and started assembling materials, from shoeboxes and file folders, but mainly from big piles of paper detritus. But when I began to realize just how much of this stuff I had, the question of organization arose. I narrowed it down to two options: by chronology or by subject matter. As a test case, I began to assemble a paper trail related to live music events I've been to. And to my surprise, the amount of stuff that I'd thought to save -- and that I was now able to recover with little effort -- amounted to an entire 18x24 frame covered with nothing but ticket stubs.
In related developments, I now have tickets for:
Mornings just won't be the same: After 25 years of waking up at 1am, Bob Edwards is giving up the Morning Edition mike. He will continue on as a senior correspondent at NPR.
Update: Very solid op-ed in tomorrow's WaPo about Edwards & NPR. Excerpt:
[D]ay in and day out it is the best thing in broadcast journalism and so superior to television news that you might as well be comparing Shakespearean theater with burlesque.I second that. Every day NPR enriches, informs and makes me a better citizen. And it can do the same for you.
Seven hundred feet of poly tubing will fit in a 2 door Honda Civic. But just barely.
Is it time for another hoop-making party!?
As part of my ongoing effort to keep people on their toes, I am once again clean shaven.
One of my beard's last acts took place Saturday night, while waiting for the Keller Williams show to start. A twinkly-eyed man I don't recognize walks up to me, an enormous smile on his face:
Guy on E: Hey, you were at Particle last night!
Jason: I sure was!
E: [puts his big hands on the sides of my face]
E: You were so full of light...
J: ...[offers enormous smile back]
E: ...[slowly rubs my beard back & forth]
E: You want some E?
J: Nah. Thank you though.
Alas, boundaryless strangers will have to find some other beard to rub for a while.
* KELLER WILLIAMS *
at the Mystic Theatre!
* PACIFIC SOUND *
Sunset Party at Stafford Lake!
bring yer hula hoops!
The Cal Golden Overtones sing a capella in the sun, every Friday at 1pm next to Sather Gate. They're terribly charming, they sound better than they look, and they look pretty fine indeed.
From the Connoisseurship of Spectacular Views dept.: The nighttime view from a north-facing room on the 26th floor of the Hyatt at Union Square is stunning. Off to the right - and very close! - is the financial district and the Transamerica Pyramid, and straght ahead, rising up beyond the neon, is Coit Tower. And back beyond it all is the darkness of the Bay.
Lucky Dalsook has been flown to SF and put up here for a few days. After hanging out at Jupiter last night (again), I had the pleasure of a late night, unimpeded drive into the City, and a visit to her cushy-yet-temporary home. Sorta like Lost in Translation. But not really.
I'm still re-cataloging old Germanic books. In the latest batch I've had brought out of storage is the one that's in front of me right now. It's a 1903 book, published in Leipzig, about religiosity in Goethe's works. The most recent due date stamp reads Feb 7 1955. So it's been in the deep freeze for a long time.
Flipping through the brittle pages, I've just found a partial sheet of old notebook paper stuck inside. It's a pencil drawing of a man in a tophat, viewed in profile. He's seated inside the bubble dome of a sleek futuristic vehicle. Looks like either a speedboat, or a spaceship. He's smiling.
I'm going to put it back inside, for someone else to find someday.
From UC Berkeley's Moffitt Library - looking West
Kevin Drum, whose thorough and brilliant Calpundit political weblog has been one of my very favorites since its inception in 2002, is turning pro. Beginning tomorrow, he'll be writing for the Washington Monthly's new weblog, Political Animal.
If this brings Kevin's insights to a larger audience, I'm all for it. And if being paid allows him to devote more time to this, I'm all for that, too!
To increase your enjoyment of fortune cookies, my colleague Steve advises adding two words to the end of your fortune: in bed. As in:
OK, time for me to get to work...in bed. ;-)
Like the soothsayer said, Beware the Ides of March.
But also beware: American taxes are not due on the Ides of April! The Ides of March is today - March 15 - but the Ides of April falls on April 13.
For details on the Ides, Kalends, Nones and more, see this Columbia Encyclopedia entry for calendar.
Among the many flowers I've been happily surprised to find in my backyard of late are a few dozen white calla lilies. In celebration of having cleaned off my desk at work last Friday, today I brought in a single graceful flower with 18" of stalk, and a svelte glass vase. It looks so nice in the newly reclaimed real estate of my desk. Walking through campus to the library a short time ago, with my flower and vase, I had women throwing me (or the flower?) the most wonderful looks. Although my sample size is small, I must conclude that chicks really dig a guy with a calla lily.
Next time, a debriefer should follow behind me, and ask for an explanation for that smile.
When it's after midnight, you're in the East Bay, and you've got nothing but adult beverages in you, I hereby recommend a visit to Daimo Chinese Restaurant. Daimo is open every day 9am-3am, and when our party of six showed up late last night, the big, bright dining floor was packed, mainly with young Chinese-American TGIFers.
The caucasian Chinese-speaking jokesters among us hammed it up with the waitress, and then ordered for us: big steaming bowls of thick rice gruel, and platters of spinach, fried tofu, and some non-vegetarian unmentionables. Into the rice gruel we mixed fried peanuts and condiments to taste - and it was SO good. (Don't let the name fool you: this isn't your wicked stepmother's gruel!)
To get there: Daimo is on Pierce Street, adjacent to the big Asian mall, and just off I-80 between Albany Hill and the Bay. The menu is enormous, but just get the gruel.
I've just had my mind blown. I love when that happens. Background: The Hubble Space Telescope has just released a composite image offering what is by far the deepest look into our universe. The image shows 10-15,000 galaxies, and includes some that are over 13 billion light years away. Ira Flatow is interviewing astronomer Michael Shara, about how these incredibly faint and distant objects were captured.
Michael Shara: ...We're seeing really, really infant galaxies, extremely young objects right at the beginning of the history of the universe.Wow, indeed! I don't know what's more astonishing and magnificent: that our universe is so incredibly vast, or that we have developed the technology to witness its vastness.
Ira Flatow (host): And what makes this possile for us to do that?
MS: Well, we have this fabulous time machine called the Hubble Space Telescope. It is above the earth's atmosphere, has stupendously sensitive cameras and the ability to hold itself very still. It locks on to a pair of guide stars - essentially through specialized telescopes that look out the side, and prevent it from jittering or drifting - and then you just open up the shutter and take a long, long time exposure to build up photons, to capture those few very precious photons from those distant, faint objects.
IF: And how weak - can you give us an idea of how weak the light is, by the time it gets here from the other end of the universe?
MS: Well, some of the galaxies that we see have managed to deliver only a few hundred photons over the several hundred orbits. So we may be collecting only one photon per orbit. We might be waiting 60 or 80 minutes for a single photon from a distant galaxy to reach us.
IF: Wow. Wow.
Ugh, what a day. In the morning, the horrific series of bombings in Madrid. In the afternoon, the shutdown of same-sex marriages here in SF. And tonight comes the news that South Korea's president has just been impeached, throwing Korea into what is likely to develop into its worst political crisis since 1987.
RSS appears to have arrived: The RSS feed for this weblog is -- from negligible use two months ago -- now being heavily accessed. (Perhaps *you* are reading this through an aggregator right now?)
Today's Darwin Award* winner: "A Masonic initiation ritual ended in tragedy when a man was shot in the head and killed with a gun thought to contain blanks, police said on Tuesday." [via Reuters]
* given in recognition of an individual who, through a singular act of self-sacrifice, has gone above and beyond the call of duty to remove undesirable elements from the gene pool
Alistair Cooke, living legend of radio journalism, has just delivered his final installment of Letter from America. Cooke, now a hale and hearty 95, has been serving up the weekly audio Letter for an astounding fifty-eight years.
It is heart-swellingly beautiful here again today.
I hate to sound like a broken record*, but I've just been through my first winter in Berkeley: A winter as genuinely beautiful as any spring I've experienced in the Northeast. And now? Now the quality of the light, the smell of the air and the endlessly moderate temperatures are almost too much to bear. And as I walk through campus, bursting with gratitude, I pause to ask myself: How could I ever go back?
* perhaps we should finally replace this with 'scratched CD'?
Meanwhile, over on Mars, NASAs twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue to exceed expectations. This week's blockbuster news is that fresh evidence strongly suggests that parts of Mars were once water-soaked.
In related news, Ladbrokes, the UK bookmaker, has stopped taking bets on whether life existed on Mars. The odds were 16/1 before the water announcement. (Ladbrokes is also currently offering 6/4 odds that Bush will be re-elected, for what it's worth.)
The JPL Rover homepage has all the latest images and news from the red planet. So cool.
From the department of flighty flights: On very short notice, Jiwon flew to San Diego this afternoon, to have dinner. OK, not for the dinner per se, rather for the fellow diners. She'll probably miss the last flight back, so I expect her return tomorrow.
Party at my house tonight!
We're now into the third week of same-sex weddings at San Francisco City Hall, and already some 3,500 couples have been married there, and counting. After the initial days of long lines, the city began taking appointments. Weddings are still being performed non-stop throughout the workday, and they are fully booked for the next 60 days.
I happened to be in San Francisco yesterday, a weekday, and so I went over to City Hall to watch. I passed through the metal detector and walked into the great rotunda, sat down on the marble floor and took in the scene. Here is what I saw: two women in their 60s, in matching outfits, holding bouquets, having their picture taken at the top of the grand staircase. On the landing, two middle-aged men in dress shirts, a white-haired man with a name tag officiating. The guys are beaming with happiness. The vows, the rings, the kiss, and they're done. They're married.
The next couple, waiting below with family and friends, comes up to the landing. They face each other. They are two guys in their 50s in Hawaiian print shirts, both with corsets, one of them in tears. I follow suit, imagining how it must feel. How validating it must be for them to be standing there.
Next up are two middle-aged gentlemen in dark suits. After exchanging their vows, they kiss, and then hug each other for a long time, swaying back and forth. Again my eyes fill with tears. (And I'm not one to cry at weddings, I swear!)
Then come two women in their 40s, dressed casually and holding red roses. And then two slightly nervous women in pantsuits. In all I watched seven couples get married.
The number of guests for each ranged from two to more than thirty. For most of the time I was the only pure observer there. City officials walked through the rotunda, and pre- and post-wedding couples hung around, taking photos and laughing.
Something wonderful and historic is happening at San Francisco City Hall, and I'm so lucky I had a chance to see it.
I'm still naïve about traffic around here. I hear the traffic reports all the time, so I should know how bad it is. But what I ususally listen to is just how darned cold and amoral they are (ie multi-car crash, ambulances on the scene, and oh the inconvenience!). And I'm not really aware of just where all these highways are & where the lead to.
So I get an email from Dalsook (friend since 1992!) saying she's in San Jose for a few days on business. And I say, sure!, I'll drive down after work & pick you up at your hotel. It's only 45 miles, and highway all the way. And no bridges. How bad can it be?
We went out for Vietnamese food, visited the marvelous new library, and sat at the hotel bar like real adults.
And what took two solid hours on the way down to Silicon Valley at rush hour became 45 minutes of late night empty road on the way back. And to experience an evening of Dalsook's exuberance, the human equivalent of a fine bottle of bubbly? Priceless, of course.
What do you think about this photo?
I'll tell you this:
What you think about it will say something about how you view the world. I'm not sure what, but it will say something.
I'll admit to not knowing much about kids, but don't these kids look awfully calm?! I mean, they're covered in blood! I know it's for the Shi'ite ceremony of Ashoura, but I don't imagine it makes any more sense to these children than it does to me.
So I just went and voted (right after hearing through my headphones that Edwards is dropping out - D'oh!), but I fulfilled this civic duty in an upset state of mind. Why? I'll tell you why. The enormous century plant (Agave havardiana) next to the bus stop has been uprooted and removed!
How many otherwise dull minutes waiting for the bus did I spend gazing up at the bloom of this spectacular plant? MANY!
The century plant grows slowly and steadily for decades, masquerading as an unremarkable spiny, fleshy plant. BUT THEN! It musters all its energy and shoots a fat flower stalk up thirty feet or more into the air, and adorning it with yellow flowers. This is how my local century plant looked when we moved here last August, and that's how it still looked six months later, but with the flowers having browned.
I read that this agave is destined to flower once and then die. So I guess its time had come, and the town pulled it down before it fell on someone. I can see the headline now: KILLED BY A FALLING FLOWER!
In any event, it made quite a spectacle of itself, and I'm sad it's gone.
If you've seen the film Tampopo, you know there are some among us who take their ramen noodles very seriously. Yesterday evening, Jiwon & I pulled open the glass door of Ryowa Ramen House on University Ave., and entered the Cult of Ramendom.
To say that a fresh steaming bowl of Ryowa's ramen is better than the instant variety is akin to saying that a fresh pie from a great pizza joint is better than your average frozen pizza from the supermarket: They're just not in the same league.
I could tell you that for $6.95, you can have placed before you a bowl of something approaching ramen perfection. And that would be true. More true still, however, is this review of Ryowa. It's in Japanese, but in the wacky world of the Babelfish translator, it includes this unintentionally hilarious bit, perhaps somehow wiser than the original:
If thickly the noodle which is stocked in special order present filter densely perfect thickness of the chashaomian which wraps the impression and entire taste well, it keeps increasing, one one charm such as boiling egg and the topping of the laver which increase the enjoyment in the vessel, there is no drill. But those where it is at all delightful are that the largest weapon here is soup. Because "the original" the leader is proud young, taste of this soup cannot taste by the other store.
Fifty years ago today, the US detonated an enormous hydrogen bomb over the Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. Known as Bravo, the March 1, 1954 H-bomb was the largest US nuclear test ever. The 15 megaton blast was a thousand times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima nine years earlier.
The entire island on which the test took place was instantly evaporated. The native inhabitants, who had been relocated by the US government before the testing began, still cannot return home.
Bikini Atoll Senator Tomaki Juda has released a statement marking the 50th anniversary.