Tuesday, July 31, 2007

tunak tunak tun

Went to a wedding recently where the groom, the groomsmen, and their friends were highly-educated, self-proclaimed geeks. Maybe for this reason the dance floor wasn't particularly crowded during the reception. Wasn't crowded, that is to say, until the groom asked the DJ to play Daler Mehndi's Tunak Tunak Tun. Then he and all his friends formed a circle and danced as Daler Mehndi does in the video below.

I didn't find out how it came into their lives, but I believe Wikipedia gives a clue: "Blizzard Entertainment [used the music] in their game World of Warcraft for the dance emote of the males of the Draenei race, as well as in the game Medal of Honor: Allied Assault - Spearhead as an easter egg.."

Here's a link to the tune on Last.fm: Tunak Tunak Tun (5:06) ...

... and a Youtube video of it which Wikipedia says was the first music video made in India to use bluescreen technology.

And here's a rough translation of the lyric from Lyrama.
Tunk tunk Tun
Tunk tunk Tun
Tunk tunk Tun
Da Da Da

Sweetheart, the strings of the instrument play
listen to what the heart says
Come and love me

The world is a colorful place
it's not good nor bad

Listen friends the iktaara(1) says
Mehndi's friends

Sweetheart, come smile with me sometimes
My heart's keeper (lover) look
This body is not under your or my control

Sweetheart, you are moon and I am Chakor(2)
there no one like us
Our thread of life is in the hands of god

(1): iktaara = Musical instrument with one string
(2): Chakor = A mythical bird that is supposed to look at the moon continuously like it is in love with it

a better way of life for urban citizens?

I've observed an enormous increase in traffic during the three decades I've lived in the near suburbs of Washington DC. Studies, such as this one, show that we who live around here suffer greatly from this problem, more so that people in many other metro areas. Local jurisdictions have tried to make our lives a bit easier by promoting mass transportation alternatives and car pooling. And also through construction projects which encourage yet more congestion. Though I see increasing numbers of mopeds and other alternative means of transport, the efforts of our local advocacy groups have done little to dent the American love affair with the automobile. I wonder whether we should consider what Europeans are doing:

I read today that Paris has joined other major European cities in an innovative bike rental program that seems actually to work. Though still new, it gives promise of improving the urban environment by reducing noise, congestion, air pollution, and production of greenhouse gasses. It's a simple idea. A stub entry in Wikipedia explains:
Vélib’ (“vélo libre”, English: free bicycle) is a public bicycle rental programme in Paris, France. Starting from July 15, 2007, 20,000 bicycles are available for rental from 1,450 automated stations distributed across Paris.

The system is owned and operated by the city authorities and co-financed by the JCDecaux advertising corporation. Bike rental is free for the first half hour, then costs one to four euros for each subsequent 30-minute period. The increasing price scale is intended to keep the bikes in circulation. A credit card is required to sign up for the programme and to rent bikes.

As of 2007, similar schemes are also in effect in other European cities, including Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lyon, Stockholm and Vienna.
A French blog called Ma ville à vélo says that Parisians used the bikes 440,000 times during the first two weeks of operation and that the system will be expanded to cover nearby suburbs.

Vélib' is the French homepage for the program. There are many news accounts, including the LA Times (Paris, the city of bikes?) and AP (Paris on two wheels).

Ma ville à vélo has this video showing the introduction of Vélib' in Paris --
Inauguration de Vélib' envoyé par mairiedeparis

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Joost's a winner

Joost has won the Sachsen Tour. Here's the announcement from his team sponsor:

Wielernieuws ProTeam

29/07: (Sachsen) Posthuma seizes final victory

Joost Posthuma

Rabo-cyclist Joost Posthuma (picture) has won the Sachsen Tour. In the last stage of the stage course, the final victory was never in danger. "It is nice for him that he is this good again this quickly," said team manager Frans Maassen shortly after the national anthem had been played. William Walker also found himself on the podium to receive the purple mountain jersey. That jersey was also never seriously attacked in the final stage from Dresden to Dresden (157 kilometers).

The weather in Eastern Germany had been nice earlier this week, but it rained cats and dogs on the last day. It was so dangerous that the jury wisely decided to draw up the final classification before the three local rounds. After that, the cyclists could only compete for the stage victory. That went once again to T-Mobile-cyclist Stephan Schreck. "They might have won four against our one, but ours was most the important one," concluded the team manager correctly.

No crashes Rabos

Schreck was part of a lead group of seven cyclists that stayed ahead in the difficult stage. That escape took place in the first eighty kilometers already, which were also this stage's center of gravity. "The team cycled so strongly that it was no more than logical that no dangerous cyclists got away," said Maassen, who saw many crashes, including one by Bobby Julich but fortunately none including guys of his own. "All in all, it went super here."

The team manager also wanted to set yesterday's classification straight. Sébastian Langeveld was listed last in Saturday's classification but that was not correct. "He had overtaken five people, so something must have gone wrong with the timer. Sébastian's position has been corrected today; he turned out to be tenth. So the overall picture of the team was already very good at that point." It was there that the Rabo-formation laid the groundwork for the victory in the team classification.


Sachsen Tour.
Stage 5, Dresden - Dresden, 157,7 km.

Stephan SchreckGerTMO3:24:49
Erik HoffmannNam3CG0:00
Tom StamsnijderHolGST0:00
René WeissingerGerVBG0:00
Pieter GhyllebertBelJAC0:44
Eric BaumanGerTMO0:44
Kenny de HaesBelJAC0:44
Marcel BarthGerTET0:44
Karsten HessGerTET0:44
Kenny LisabethBelJAC0:44
Pedro HorrilloSpaRAB0:44
Mathew HaymanAusRAB0:44
Joost PosthumaHolRAB0:44
Marc de MaarHolRAB0:44
Koos MoerenhoutHolRAB0:44
William WalkerAusRAB0:44
Sébastian LangeveldHolRAB0:44
Thorwald VenebergHolRAB0:44


Final General Classificaion.

Joost PosthumaHolRAB18:28:59
Bobby JulichUSACSC0:29
Michael SchärSwiAST0:31
Björn SchröderGerMRM0:45
Nicki SörensenDanCSC1:17
René WeissingerGerVBG1:18
Sebastian SiedlerGerMRM1:46
Serguei YakovlevKazAST2:03
Matti BreschelDanCSC2:03
Mariusz WiteckiPolVBG2:05
Marc de MaarHolRAB2:10
William WalkerAusRAB3:07
Koos MoerenhoutHolRAB27:58
Sébastian LangeveldHolRAB44:54
Pedro HorrilloSpaRAB45:15
Mathew HaymanAusRAB46:36
Thorwald VenebergHolRAB49:48
Fair use notice: I've reproduced this page on the understanding that Rabo prepared it in the manner of a press release for widespread distribution. I'll take it down if I'm wrong about that.


I'm waiting for the close of the Sachsen Tour and that of France. Both are winding up today; in both leadership has switched from rider to rider with close times separating the top riders. I can follow the one on a German-language site, the other on the Beeb.

I don't speak German and rely on babelfish to pigeon-English the text for me This produces funny results, particularly when it translates riders names literally. So Sebastian Schwager becomes Sebastian brother-in-law, René Obst becomes René fruit, and Stephan Schreck becomes Stephan fright.

Meanwhile, here's something else that's been on my mind.

I read an excellent blog called If:Book which recently had a post on transitions from one technology to another. The new technology may be revolutionary, but the first instances of it frequently don't appear so. We can all think of examples. The first printed books imitated codex manuscripts. The first factories that used steam power worked just like mills that used water power. And, most-famously, early motor cars were built like horse-drawn carriages.

The post, by Dan Visel, says we get trapped by the metaphors we use. He's referring to designers mostly, but the same works for consumers, entrepreneurs, and just about any social group you can mention. Edmund Burke wrote his most compelling prose on the power of such metaphors. As vehemently as Visel deplores this influence, he celebrated it.

For all that he supported the American colonies in their rebellion against the Crown and for all that he advocated free trade and abolition of the mercantilist policies, he was a strong advocate of social hierarchy, established authority, and the hereditary ruling class. He would say, "A perfect democracy is, therefore, the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made subject to punishment."

The Burkes of the world aren't always wrong. As Burke said, the Terror set off by the French Revolution can't be defended without serious moral contortions. More recently we know that some of the 20th-century's most vicious dictators were innovators as well as destroyers. Totalitarianism itself was a kind of visionary innovation.

Neither, of course, are the technological visionaries always wrong. Think about what Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston came up with in producing VisiCalc in 1979.

Or about Hypertext, a vision of Ted Nelson's from 1965. More than 40 years on, we're still working out the implications of his revolutionary thought.

So where does Buckminster Fuller fit in?

This implicitly, is what Dan Visel asks.

Eighty years ago, in 1927, Fuller began to think about motor transport. Like Nelson's his ideas have yet to be fully realized, though like Ted's many of them have become commonplace.

Fuller's idea: the Dymaxion car, a transport system that bears family resemblance to the VW bus and ubiquitous minivans of the past decade, but which still appears revolutionary to us, both in the working designs he developed for it and in the ideas which it embodied for future development. Here's a link to a short Dymaxion car chronology.

And a YouTube video about a working prototype:

Read Visel's post to learn more.

{Picture sources: karellen1975 and dworld. Click to enlarge.}

While I was writing this post, Spain's Alberto Contador won the Tour de France. I still don't have the outcome of the Sachsen Tour.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Joost wins a stage and dons yellow

Here's a bit of good cycling news. Joost Posthuma is racing again. He's recovered from the injuries he suffered when a motorist hit him during a training ride a couple of months ago and he's won the time trial stage of the Sachsen Tour in Germany and in doing so has taken over the overall lead in the five-day race.

He came in 26th and 23rd in the first and third stages, in that order. He was in a large, successful break in the second stage and came in 19th.

I've copied a description of his time trial win from the Rabo site, below.

Tomorrow's stage is the last.

His achievement gives me something to cheer about. You can read the result in this Cyclingpost article, from which I got the photo that appears above.

Joost's web site has a full account as does the Sachsen Tour site which has this photo:

Meanwhile, you can read about today's stage in the Tour de France, here, if you wish.

Here's the account from the Rabo site:

28/07: (Sachsen) Double win for Posthuma
Joost Posthuma

In the last few days, Rabo-cyclist Joost Posthuma was keeping up well with the pack. Remarkable, because the Dutchman only made his comeback on Wednesday after being out for a few months. In the Sachsen Tour's time trial on Saturday, Posthuma proved that the perceptions were not wrong. He defeated the big favorite Bobby Julich. Because of his stage victory, the Rabo-cyclist, who would probably have been in the Tour de France right now if it had not been for his training accident in mid-April, is now also the new leader in the general classification. The last stage is on Sunday.

Afterwards, Posthuma was also surprised that he had been faster than everyone else. "They told me shortly after my accident that I would not be racing at all for the rest of the year. And now this happens. I am really going to enjoy this tonight." He had shared the good feeling that Frans Maassen had about him. "Friday's stage was the queen's stage. I was okay uphill; I was at least as good as the others."

Posthuma 28 seconds faster than Julich
The time trial was far from easy. "Difficult actually. The same road up and down, but the way back going slightly up. I totally went for it. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to. It is always uncertain how your time trial will go after a long period without coursing." Posthuma took an impressive 28-second lead over Julich. "With a team like this we should be able to hold on to the yellow jersey. After all, the center of gravity in the concluding stage is in the first eighty kilometers already."

The cyclist from Hengelo, the Netherlands, is now aiming at the Vuelta because he is determined to be in one major tour every year. But there are two other 'dishes' on the menu before the Spanish roads: the Classica San Sebastian and the Tour of Germany. But Posthuma first wants to finish the job in Sachsen. There is a chance that the Rabo ProTeam will return home with two jerseys on Sunday if William Walker manages to hold on to the mountain jersey on Sunday as well.
Here's a final photo from the Sachsen site. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

no Yellow Jersey in Tour today

Oh Gawd. The Rabobank cycling team kept Michael Rasmussen in the Yellow Jersey for a week. A huge, crushing, self-destroying effort by all, but particularly by Denis Menchov, the man whom they expected to have the best chance for a podium finish in the Tour. {Update: Denis Menchov abandoned the Tour half-way through today's stage. No details yet on reason for his withdrawal.}

And now Rasmussen has been ejected from the team and pulled from the Tour. A press release from Rabo explains. See below.

Rasmussen is not the only presumptive druggie ejected. A pre-race favorite and hero of the individual time trial, Alexandre Vinikourov, was removed a few days ago. This, of course, on top of prohibition of many riders from participating in the Tour at all.

There's lots of coverage of this tragedy. Here are some links.
Leader Rasmussen pulled from Tour -- BBC
Reeling Tour de France hits the road again -- Reuters
Rabobank riders to stay in Tour de France -- Cyclingpost
Prudhomme: The Tour is better off without Rasmussen -- Velonews

Here's the Rabo press release:
Cycling team withdraws Rasmussen from Tour

Rabobank is shocked and disappointed of the fact that Michael Rasmussen gave false information in regards to his whereabouts. Apparently he did not stay at the address that he reported to the UCI and he did not send the report in a timely manner.

UCI has issued a rightful warning to Rasmussen for this delayed provision of information. As to giving false information in regards to his whereabouts is a flagrant violation of the UCI rules and therefore is unacceptable. Rabobank supports the decision of the Rabo Cycling team to pull Rasmussen out of the competition and to immediately dismiss him from the team.

Rabobank understands how this has affected the morale of the team that they are not able to decide whether they will continue with the Tour tomorrow. This is a black day in the history of the Rabo Cycling Promotions Programme. Rabobank has no plan to withdraw from its role as a sponsor to the cycling sport. They are now discussing the situation.

Piet van Schijndel, Member of the Executive Board responsible for the Rabo Cycling Promotions Programme was appalled by this new development. “I thought we have gone through the worst when dealing with all the warnings from UCI, it was of course very unpleasant but now I really don’t know what to say. I can’t think of any word to describe it. A nightmare. It is such a wonderful sport and the team has worked so hard and now this. The team leaders have done the right thing. I completely support their decision. I have a lot of respect for the team and understand their disappointment. We will first discuss on how to take things further, but one thing is for sure that Rabobank will remain as a sponsor of the cycling sport, in its broadest sense.”

Rabobank Head of Sponsoring is also stunned, “A black day. I feel so powerless and actually very angry. The team has worked so hard, as well as all the people who work in the bank’s sponsoring department and they are treated in such a shameful manner by the team’s foreman. I feel very badly for Michael Boogerd that he has to endure such a thing in his last Tour. This is such a big disappointment to Rabobank. We were busy organising a celebration party, in case that we reach Paris with the yellow jersey. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. I find this very sad and unfair and does not deserve to be part of Rabobank.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

fast, oh so fast

Update: The stage has ended. Rasmussen stays in Yellow another day. The winner, South Africa's Robert Hunter, covered the 113km stage (70.5mi) in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 50 seconds, an average of roughly 29.85 mph. Though the terrain was flat, the racing wasn't easy because of high ambient temperatures and stiff cross winds from the south.

Today's Tour stage is a flat one. The riders are racing westward along the northern coast of the Mediterranean. Their average speed is amazing. For the first two hours, they've averaged 50kph thats just over 30 miles per hour. I'm capable of sustaining 20mph for an hour or so and can ride 23mph for shorter distances. The drag effect of air resistance increases in geometric, not arithmetic proportion so each increase in average mph gets harder and harder. With my experience of speeds in the low 20s, it's just about impossible to imagine sustaining 30mph. Of course they don't all have the same drag problem; there's always a few out front breaking the wind for others. And of course they take turns at the front. Nonetheless, an average of 30mph is just astounding.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

a tour encounter

Michael Rasmussen has held on the Yellow Jersey since last Sunday -- that's two days of racing since Monday was a rest day. The Tour is not only the most physically taxing sporting event, it's also one of the more dangerous ones. It's surprising that there are so few crashes given the bunching of riders in the peloton, the extremely high speeds at which they ride, the crowds, the weather, the risk of equipment failure and other factors. Still, if some well-known riders were banned from the Tour for use of performance enhancing drugs, some others were done in by the race itself. (Here's a description of a rider exhibiting both positive drug test and crash.) It's not a laughing matter, nor one for thrill-seekers. At least not normally. Here's something of an exception. Yesterday, on a mountainous stage . . .

. . . a big, galumphy dog wandered out in front of the riders. Here's a video of the encounter. Neither rider nor dog was injured, but look at what happened to the outrageously costly front wheel!

{Caption: Marcus Burghardt collides with a dog on TDF Stage 9 (Val-d'Isère to Briancon). The wheels have been reported to be Lightweight Obermeyers which cost £2800 - well over $5,500 USD. Source: Youtube.}

If you've time, here's a recap of the 8th stage showing Rasmussen's dominance.

Here's a photo of the wheel un-taco'ed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

jungle book story

A favorite blog, Corriente Textual, has a post today on a 2-CD set of symphonic songs by Charles Koechlin from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

The blog's author, Alan, provides a link for downloading the music. I hadn't known this piece before; am listening now and like it much.


A family member is performing in a children's theater production of portions of The Jungle Book. Links to articles and announcements: here, here, here, and here.

And, outside the theater following the opening performance of this production, I found my first Bookcrossing book, which, naturally, was a paperback copy of The Jungle Book. Bookcrosser, MaryZee, says she left it "on the stairs (abandoned), after the audience had left. (Well, the performers and a few patrons were still inside at a theatre workshop.) Hoping someone will pick it up." (I did!)

Kipling was a powerful story teller who influenced Rosemary Sutcliff's writing. I love almost everything that they both wrote.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

a winner for rabo

Joost Posthuma isn't in this year's Tour de France. As you know, he's still recovering from injuries suffered when a car crashed into him during a training ride last May. Others, including many favorites, are not in the Tour because they've been caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. Despite these many absences, this year's edition of Le Grand Boucle has been a good one. Joost's team, Rabobank, has placed riders in the top ten, but -- until today -- hasn't really shown its stuff. Thursday, I thought things were looking a bit bleak for the team when Oscar Freire, their sprinter, dropped out. Before that, in the early flat stages which usually end up in mass sprints, he'd done well: been second once and third twice, but he hadn't won a stage.

Today's big change was a win by Michael Rasmussen in the first of the difficult Alpine stages. He dominated the race from about the half-way point and is now both race leader and leader of the mountains points competition. The BBC web site has a good summary of his achievement. Though he's a climbing specialist and not known for time trial skills, and though it's frequently the time trial specialists who also do well in the mountains who win the Tour, the article says he thinks he might have a chance:
After Monday's rest day he has another day in the Alps to consolidate his lead and the first time trial - the format in which he generally struggles - is not until next Saturday.

Asked if he would aim to take the yellow jersey in Paris in a fortnight's time he said: "The way I'm riding, I would be stupid not to."

"I am a pure climber so I need to grab as much time as I can in the mountains.

"When I came close to the podium two years ago, it crossed my mind I could win the Tour in the future.

"This could be my year as the Pyrenees are extremely difficult but, again, I need to improve in the time trials."
It might be thought ironic that the Rabo site has an interview with him yesterday in which he's not nearly so confident of ultimate victory. In it, he says today's stage would be an important one, "But," he went on, "I do not think that tomorrow's winner will be the one standing on the number one podium spot in Paris. It will give an idea about how strong everyone is but it will not be a decisive stage. I do think it will only be decided in the Pyrenees. The Alps are only a foretaste for things to come."

Given what Rasmussen says on the Rabo site today, I think the BBC article is quoting somewhat selectively. Today's Rabo Tour commentary says the team will defend the Yellow Jersey but will see how things develop. Though unlikely, it's possible Rasumussen will come out on top. It's also possible that Denis Menchov will have a shot at it. From the Rabo Tour commmentary:
The director of the Rabo cycling teams Theo de Rooij was also overjoyed. "This has immediately made the Tour a big success, at least for now," is what he said somewhat cautiously still. "But, we have again won a wonderful mountain stage. Rasmussen experiences a day like this every year and he knows how to plan it too. But what happened behind him was also great: all classifications are open and Rasmussen profited well from it."

{Click image to enlarge. Captions: (1) "Shot at 2007-07-15 Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank/Ned) starts his breakaway from the group of riders during the eighth stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Le-Grand Bornand and Tignes, 15 July 2007. Ramussen won the stage and took the yellow jersey as overall leader." (2) "Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank/Ned) rides uphill during the eighth stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Le-Grand Bornand and Tignes." Credit: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)}

Friday, July 13, 2007

Emerson the existentialist

"How does everybody live on the outside of the world!" -- Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, July 11, 1833, in Paris.

I've been neglecting the journals of Emerson's travels. We left him in Rome in April. Since then he's gone across northern Italy to Venice, then northwest to Milan and on into Switzerland and Geneva. From there he journeyed to Paris, London, the Lake District, and Scotland, and now he's in Liverpool waiting for fair winds for his return to Boston.

Before I cover highlights of these adventures, I'd like to give a couple of his philosophic musings on the whole of this European excursion. Emerson's philosophy is elusive; it emerges uneasily from the journals, essays, lectures, and sermons. Some have said it is solipsistic, subjective, rose-colored, and damnably earnest, and it's true that he tends frequently to invoke God as benevolent overseer, to observe nothing but balance and order everywhere, and to neglect the pervasiveness of aggression, envy, melancholy, and despair. Others contend that these views are one-sided. He is not a naïve idealist, but a forerunner of American pragmatism and European existentialism who struck the mean between the excesses of positivism and romanticism. As summed up by one of this camp: Emerson provides "a richer notion of 'experience' than the British empiricists by maintaining -- in anticipation of Heidegger -- that moods, feelings, emotions, and imagination disclose experiences that yield knowledge and truths, about ourselves, nature, and the self-world connection."*

The first of Emerson's insights into this poetic absorption of the natural world come in the days of 1833 which correspond to the days of this week in 2007.

On July 13, while in Paris, Emerson visited a "Cabinet of Natural History." It seems to have been a transformative experience leading directly to the composition of Nature, the first of his books. His experience is summed up in one of his striking epiphanies: He says "I feel the centipede in me, — cayman, carp, eagle, and fox. I am moved by strange sympathies." The passage reads in part:
The upheaving principle of life everywhere [is] incipient, in the very rock aping organized forms. Not a form so grotesque, so savage, nor so beautiful but is an expression of some property inherent in man the observer, — an occult relation between the very scorpions and man. I feel the centipede in me, — cayman, carp, eagle, and fox. I am moved by strange sympathies.
It's difficult to make sense of the phrase "expression of some property inherent in man the observer." For me it ties Emerson directly to Heidegger and the belief that we cannot observe the world with cold objectivity -- dispassionately, mechanistically -- but only as our complex selves: nuanced by mood, feeling, and a host of internal, immaterial influences. And for Emerson this package of personal being includes a species of intuition which he calls "reason" (it's obviously neither the deductive reason of mathematical calculation nor the inductive reason of empiricism). He doesn't say so, but it's this form of intuition that permits the scientist to frame the hypothesis and set the experiment by which deductive and inductive reason operate in the scientific method.

Emerson recognized that we don't commonly acknowledge how much our experiences are colored by our feelings nor give our intuitive reason free play. As I see it, he took as goal the full marshalling of implicit, internal experience, as means of realizing explicit, external knowledge. It is for me, a quest for a kind of Heideggerian authenticity, the kind of thing Joyce had Stephen pursue.** So, a couple of days before he absorbed the meaning of the Cabinet, he had observed the variety of occupations of Parisians and exclaimed "How does everybody live on the outside of the world! All young persons thirst for a real existence for an object, - for something great and good which they shall do with all their heart. Meantime they all pack gloves, or keep books, or travel, or draw indentures, or cajole old women."***

In England a month later, Emerson added a bit to this thought stream. Visiting Kenilworth Castle, with its history of bloody dynastic power struggles, he writes about the application of this power of observation applied to human experience:
How reared himself old Kenilworth into the English morning sky. The ruin is as lordly as was the perfect state. I thought, if I had a boy to educate, I would carry him by moonlight into the inner floor of the Lancaster building. It would doom him a poet. The smell of the fresh ground, the cellar smell in a hall so princely as Lancaster's, was tragical.
The hall of Cyndyllan is gloomy this night, Wanting fire, wanting candle. I will weep awhile and then be silent.****
Here he seems to say, as he actually writes elsewhere, that the bards of the time when history was oral made easier contact between interior states of being and exterior ones. And he adds, what we'd all acknowledge, that poets strive to keep alive this bardic tradition.


*Robert Hollinger, reviewing American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition, by Russell B. Goodman (Cambridge, 1991) in The Journal of American History, Dec. 1992, p. 1161.

**This is Joyce via Stephen speaking with Cranly: "You know what Aquinas says: The three things requisite for beauty are, integrity, a wholeness, symmetry and radiance. Some day I will expand that sentence into a treatise. Consider the performance of your own mind when confronted with any object, hypothetically beautiful. Your mind to apprehend that object divides the entire universe into two parts, the object, and the void which is not the object. To apprehend it you must lift it away from everything else: and then you perceive that it is one integral thing, that is a thing. You recognise its integrity. Isn't that so? .... First we recognise that the object is one integral thing, then we recognise that it is an organised composite structure, a thing in fact: finally, when the relation of the parts is exquisite, when the parts are adjusted to the special point, we recognise that it is that thing which it is. Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance. The soul of the commonest object, the structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany." My source.

***Here's more of this part of the journals:
How men live in Paris. One man has live snakes crawling about him, and sells soap and essences. Another sells books which lie upon the ground. Another under my window all day offers a gold chain. Half a dozen walk up and down with some dozen walking sticks under the arm. A little further, one sells canetassels at 5 SOUSe Here sits Boots brandishing his brush at every dirty shoe. Then you pass several tubs of gold fish. Then a man sitting at his table cleaning gold and silver spoons with· emery and haranguing the passengers on its virtues. Then a person who cuts profiles with scissors -" shall be happy to take yours, sir." Then a table of card-puppets which are made to crawl.

Then a hand-organ. Then a wooden figure called [?] which can put an apple in its mouth whenever a child buys a plum. Then a flower merchant. Then a bird-shop with twenty parrots, four swans, hawks and nightingales. Then the show of the boy with four legs, etc., etc., without end. All these are the mere boutiques on the sidewalk, moved about from place to place as the sun or rain or the crowd may lead them.

July 9

How does everybody live on the outside of the world! All young persons thirst for a real existence for an object, - for something great and good which they shall do with all their heart. Meantime they all pack gloves, or keep books, or travel, or draw indentures, or cajole old women.
****This comes from an ancient lament by Llynwarch Hen, Llynwarch the Old. He had been a prince. Defeated by invading Angles, he became bard to another prince, Cyndyllan, in what is now Shrewsbury. Cyndyllan ultimately fell in battle with the Saxons, his house was burnt and his family massacred. Llynwarch sang: "The hall of Cyndyllan is dark tonight, without fire, without songs. Wanting fire, wanting candle. I will weep awhile and then be silent." An article on this fragment suggests that "these wild chiefs felt that poetry and music contributed as much to their comfort as fire itself." {Before the Conquest, Sacha Stookes, Music & Letters, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Oct., 1954), pp. 287-293.}

Thursday, July 12, 2007

one more voice for fixing US ag policy

In today's WaPo, George Will's column addresses the farm subsidy fiasco. He points out something that's relevant to the discussion of biofuels: price supports foster overproduction. His focus is entirely domestic and aimed at eliminating welfarestate-ism, but others point out that agricultural protectionism in the US prevents poor nations from hoping to compete in world agricultural markets -- with government subsidies, US prices are always too low. Will says:
Fifty-seven percent of farms receive no payments and two-thirds of those that do receive less than $10,000. The largest 8 percent of farms receive 58 percent of the payments. Farms with revenue of $250,000 or more receive payments averaging $70,000. Lugar wants to redirect the flow of federal funds from subsidizing favored crops to rural development, because fewer than 14 percent of residents in rural areas work on farms.

Under the continuing New Deal approach, five commodities -- corn, soybeans, cotton, rice and wheat -- got about 90 percent of last year's $19 billion in subsidies. This is a perverse incentive for overproduction of the five, which depresses prices, which triggers federal supports.
Here's the citation:

The Farmer to Fix Farm Policy
By George F. Will
Thursday, July 12, 2007; Page A23

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

alternative energy source that might work?

There's an intersting essay in Slate that showed up in Sunday's Outlook section of the Washington Post. Here's the citation: HUMAN NATURE, A Corny Cold War, by William Saletan, Sunday, July 8, 2007; Page B02

Outlook pieces are usually earnest, one-sided, wonkish, and written in self-consiously persuasive manner.

This piece is glib, ironic, and self-consiously quotable. It's Gibbon-esque in its twists and turns, though not in its sentence structure.

The subject is bio fuels. The author tells us that what seems obvious just isn't so. It does make sense to use agriculture to make fuel. Yes, the result will be higher food prices, but the increase in available energy sources, and presumably the restraint on energy price rises, should (not definitely will) more than offset them.

He says, "Fuel is the whole point of food." Which just isn't the way we're used to thinking about food: fuel for conversion to energy in animals, yes, but fuel to power motor vehicles?

What about the corruption of agricultural price supports in industrial nations? He says they're a problem: "Yes, ethanol subsidies are a scam. Yes, we should drop our trade barriers and let Brazilian sugar cane wipe out American corn." (As if they're political will for that.)

But he also says an enlighted biofuel policy can help lift third-world nations out of poverty: "Sugar cane, wood chips and switch grass. Such 'cellulosic' ethanol could lower the output of greenhouse gases and deliver up to six times the amount of energy its production requires. If you want to help poor people, biofuel beats the heck out of oil. In a biofuel economy, the chief asset is open land. Who has open land? Poor countries. Latin America has sugar cane. Africa and Asia have cassava. Switch grass, which grows in dry regions, will level the playing field further. Bush says that switch grass will empower the western United States. That's nice, but the real story is that it'll empower the Southern Hemisphere."

It's all pretty neat -- though fearfully difficult to achieve.

Read the whole thing if you have time. And notice how the author ironically pits Bush against Castro, ironically turns environmentalism and anti-globalism upside down, and uses abundant catch phrases and some provocative statements to make his case:

A fuel that literally grows on trees.

The old buzzword was "job security." The new buzzword is "food security."

Most of the corn we export today feeds livestock, not people.
Two months ago, a U.N. report calculated that one-third of the increased demand for food over the next 30 years will come from people shifting their eating habits to meat and dairy -- a net loss of dietary efficiency -- as they become able to afford it.

We're studying the use of microbes to extract fuel from straw and wood waste. We're trying to grow biofuel in algae. We're even learning to make fuel from animal fat and excrement.

Yes, we need solar power, conservation and efficiency. But don't give up on biofuel. It just needs time to grow.

William Saletan covers science and technology for Slate, the online magazine at www.slate.com.

Friday, July 06, 2007

bike story

Gobbergo has a couple excellent posts on his bike rides on the Madison loop. He rides amazingly fast, sees amazingly much on the way, and has some amazing encounters with locals.

Though not so bucolic, I had a bike experience yesterday that may be worth reporting. On the way home from work I got a flat. This is unremarkable, in fact hardly unexpected since the rubber on my front tire is just about worn through and these summer months bring with them plentiful broken glass on the pavement.

What's worth recording is that my flat occured as I approached the new Victims of Communism Memorial on the little triangle where New Jersey crosses Massachusetts Ave. Just above the star on this map.

{click to enlarge; source: Mapquest}

Without much thinking about it, I had assumed that the heyday of memorial statues had come and gone. But it seems we do keep getting new ones.

This one, the statue, is modeled after the one that was paraded on Tiamamen Square during the democracy demonstrations of 1989. It's not very imposing or particularly aesthetic, but it's well proportioned to the space it's in -- a little triangle-shaped pocket park. I've put some Flickr photos at bottom taken on the day of dedication, as well as a photo from Tianamen, and an image of the dedication program.

I recall the day it was dedicated, just about a month ago. It was a Tuesday. I was doing my usual 6am inbound ride and encountered DC sanitation trucks blocking the street ahead. In fact, cop cars, sanitation trucks, and yellow tape had been used to seal off the whole area surrounding the little triangle where the statue had been placed. Usually, I'm able to by-pass police barriers on my bike. I do this when streets are blocked for fire emergencies and the like. The police almost always let me pass. Not this time. I had to re-route via 2nd street. There, I encountered a woman coming out of her condo building for a morning jog. She told me President Bush was arriving later in the morning to dedicate the memorial and that was the reason for all the security.

So, here I was yesterday in the same place, using the plinth of the statue for a table top as I removed tire & tube, replaced tube, mounted tire & tube, inflated, etc. All the time being grateful that for once I wasn't awkwardly squatting on the ground while doing these tasks. I even sat on the handsome granite bench to re-flate the tire, much easier on my back than the normal bent-over position.

Maybe I wasn't sufficiently respectful. The millions of victims of Russian and Chinese Communism deserve my sympathy and I have no reluctance in according it to them. But I didn't think that at the time, I just felt gratitude at the functionality of the place for my purpose and thought about the extreme preparations for Bush's visit a month before.

{flickr photos}

{Tianamen Square, 1989; source: http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=56097}

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Happy 4th

July 4th -- the Fourth of July -- is Independence Day, the date of the Declaration of Independence and a public holiday in the U.S. But the proper day for this celebration isn't as obvious as you might think. Arguments can be made for June 17, 1775, when the Battle of Bunker Hill took place, or June 4, 1776, when a motion for independence was first laid before the Continental Congress, or July 2 of that year, when the Congress voted unanimously for independence, or even July 8, the date the citizens of Philadelphia first celebrated their announced independence. John Adams thought July 2 was the right day.

July 4th is indisputably the day on which 10-year-old Alice Liddell asked Charles Dodgson to entertain her and her sisters with a story. Says wikipedia: "On July 4, 1862, in a rowing boat travelling on the River Thames from Oxford to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (age 8) and Lorina (age 13), with a story. As Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell through a rabbit-hole. The story was not unlike those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Alice asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented Alice with the manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1864."

So, a bit late, I wish you a happy Through-the-Looking-Glass day.

To celebrate, here's a link to the episode guide for Joss Whedon's homage:
Through the Looking Glass, written by: Tim Minear, original Air Date: May 15, 2001. The plot is hilarious and complex beyond belief. Here are some thumbs with brief descriptions:
Cordy as princess in a realm located in another dimension.

Angel primping himself in a mirror; he's fascinated by his reflection and is self-conscious about his hair.

In the background, you can see Numfar doing the "Dance of Joy"

The inevitable library scene, poring over books to find secrets that will solve the dilemma of the moment.

Angel enjoying a brief moment as folk hero in a realm without the moral ambiguities that dog his life back home.

Cordy in obligatory fairytale princess bikini, along with drab Wes.

This is a woman named Fred who befriends Angel. One of them is unreal and she hopes it's not her.

You can see the Looking Glass manuscript on the British Library web site - the one by Lewis Carroll that is. And here's the precursor with linkable images.

{Click to enlarge. Source: http://www.the-office.com/bedtime-story/aliceunderground.htm}

On the combined theme of "Happy 4th" and Dance of Joy:

At the office this morning, I turned over a leaf in my calendar and found this. It commemorates a huge national celebration on June 30, 1878, in Paris and reminds one both of the Independence Day bunting in the US and the impending start of the Tour de France in London.

{Click to enlarge. Source: http://www.angelo.edu/faculty/rprestia/1301/list_of_illustrations9.htm}

wedding receptions are for dancing, but ...

Friends and relatives are getting themselves married - quite a few this season. Meaning lots of opportunities to dance. I like to dance and open bars reduce the crowd fear.

Dances of joy, yes.
dance of joy
{Caption: Hot Weather. The Friar proposes cider-"cupping" as a remedy. Dance of Joy in consequence. Click to enlarge. Source: http://www.classicistranieri.com/punch/1/4/7/0/14707/14707-h/14707-h.htm. See more about this at bottom.}

But not quite like Numfar's.

Here's the source of Juliet and the Friar dancing joyously.
Hot Weather. The Friar proposes cider-"cupping" as a remedy. Dance of Joy in consequence.

Monday.—GOUNOD's Roméo et Juliette. Les deux frères ("Brothers of Corse"), JEAN and EDOUARD, excellent respectively as Romeo and Friar Laurent. EDWARD looked the reverend, kind-hearted, but eccentric herbalist to the life, singing splendidly. But Brother JOHN, in black wig, black moustache, and with pallid face, look so unhealthy a Romeo that his appearance must have first excited Juliet's pity, which we all know is akin to love. My advice to JOHNNIE DE RESZKÉ is to "lighten the part," and "do it on his head,"—which, being summed up, means flaxen-haired wig and light moustache. Juliette Eames charming. Nurse Bauermeister too young. Tybalt Montariol, when killed, must not lie "toes up" too close to Curtain. Friendly members of Capulet faction rescued his legs, otherwise these members must have suffered. M. DUFRICHE, as Mercutio, mistaken for EDOUARD DE RESZKÉ. Subsequent appearance of the real Simon Pure as The Friar only complicates matters, but death of Mercutio settles it. The survivor is EDOUARD DE RESZKÉ. Mr. ALEC MARSH, late of English Comic Opera, appears as the Duke of Verona, and everyone admires his Grace.
{Source: Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol. 102, June 11, 1892 - on Project Gutenburg}

Addendum: Cider can be very intoxicating. In hot weather, too much can be debilitating. Here is a report (from H.W. Turnbull out of DNB) on the death of a man I'm studying: "In 1682 Collins was invited to advise on a proposed canal between the Isis and the Avon, and while engaged on the project became ill with asthma and consumption (which he was said to have contracted while riding on a hot day and drinking too much cider). He never recovered and died at his lodgings on Garlick Hill in London on 10 November 1683; he was buried in the parish church of St James Garlickhythe on 13 November."

Turnbull: H. W. Turnbull, ed., James Gregory tercentenary memorial volume (1939)
DNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Sunday, July 01, 2007

government-directed investment funds

I haven't written on global finance in a while. Some recent news accounts led me to take another stab at understanding the subject.

So, first off, some basic facts:

(1) Foreign individuals, institutions, and governments own a huge and rapidly growing quantity of US assets. This is dramatically shown in a graph of the US current account balance showing how many more goods and services* people in the US buy from foreigners than they sell to them. This goods and services deficit is covered by purchases of US Treasury Securities and other US investments by foreigners.

{Click to enlarge. My source: http://i17.photobucket.com/}
(2) Other advanced industrial nations need to sell their assets to foreigners but their negative account balances are much smaller. A table in the CIA World Factbook shows that the advanced industrial nation with the next largest negative balance (UK) has a negative balance a good deal less than one percent of the US negative balance (about $58 trillion vs about $862 trillion).
(3) The countries with the largest positive balances are China, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and (a bit of a surprise) Germany. Though large, the combined surpluses of China, Japan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are only equal to 65% of the US deficit. The other countries with large positive balances are for the most part oil producers, like Saudi Arabia, or industrial nations in Europe, like Germany.
(4) There's a risk that individuals, institutions, and central bankers in countries with large postive balances will disrupt the US economy by deciding not to fund the US negative balance. This risk is said to be negligible because the disaster that would result would greatly injure the economies of those countries.

That said, there's a new set of fears:

Although individuals and institutions in the countries with the largest positive balances have bought a whole variety of US assets -- stocks, bonds, and real estate as well as Treasury Securities, the central banks of these countries have tended to use their surplus cash to make extremely conservative investments, mostly purchases of US Treasury Securities. This situation is rapidly changing as the central banks are setting up Sovereign Wealth Funds which they use to invest in stocks, bonds, and real estate. This graph gives some idea of the size of SWFs.

{My source: http://goldseek.com/}

The first fear is that the SWFs will increasingly put their investments outside the US. This fear stems from the slow down in the US economy, particularly in contrast to other advanced industrial economies. On the whole, the US slow down is good news since it means the economy is gradually retreating from overheating (as represented by the melt-down in housing). The fear arises as the US economy is seen to lag and investments elsewhere become more attractive. This lag can be seen in this graph showing the gap between the gross domestic product of the US compared with the rest of the world.

{My source: http://www.ers.usda.gov/}

The second fear is that a country such as China or Russia could use its SWF to interfere in the internal affairs of the US. Think of the way the US likes to put pressure on Japan to prevent Japanese automakers from destroying the US auto industry.

A recent blog entry on the Financial Times web site points discusses the growth of SWFs and points to some of the potential outfall of this growth: Sovereign wealth funds and the $2,500bn question

Sovereign wealth funds are rapidly becoming a huge force in global markets and economies, as the world is seeing in China's move to kick off its own SWF with a $3bn investment in the IPO of private equity group Blackstone. But equally compelling issues lie ahead in the nature and operation of these often opaque investment vehicles, says the FT.

Driven by trade surpluses unequalled as a percentage of the global economy since the beginning of the 20th century, official reserves held by some governments are now astronomically high, amid mounting pressure to earn better returns by putting the money with specialised investment agencies.

How and where this massive – and often secretively managed – pool of funds is deployed will be one of the big investment themes of coming years.

The IMF warned recently of the risks arising from the fact that public sector institutions such as SWFs are now large players in world financial markets.
A column in the Washinton Post gives a more acute presentation of risks:

The Next Globalization Backlash
Wait Till the Kremlin Starts Buying Our Stocks
By Sebastian Mallaby

Mallaby says SWFs are large and growing. Financial reserves held by central banks has more than trebbled over the past five years. This money is finding its way into SWFs. To take one example, the SWF of the United Arab Emirates is estimated at a trillion dollars. SWFs are virtually inevitable. The countries that set them up first, years ago, have profited greatly. A recent book** declares that governments would be irresponsible if they did not set them up.

Here's his statement of the fear:
Chunks of corporate America could be bought by Beijing's government -- or, for that matter, by the Kremlin. Given the Chinese and Russian tendency to treat corporations as tools of government policy, you don't have to be paranoid to ask whether these would be purely commercial holdings.

But the final straw may be that even the least threatening form of investment -- the purchase of publicly traded equities -- will not escape controversy. This is because of that second upheaval: the advent in the United States of something approaching shareholder democracy. As Alan Murray writes in his new book, " Revolt in the Boardroom," companies are no longer controlled by all-powerful CEOs. Instead, chief executives increasingly live in fear of activist shareholders and directors. Bosses from Harry Stonecipher of Boeing to Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard have been ejected from the corporate suite in a manner that would not have been conceivable a generation earlier.

What if the Chinese are seen to have a hand in the firing of some future Fiorina? The more shareholders exercise power, the surer the backlash against governments that buy up chunks of the stock market.
*Actually not just goods and services, but also income from US investments abroad and net unilateral current transfers (such as foreign aid).
**This book is forthcoming from a UK publisher: Sovereign Wealth Management; see the chapter by Larry Summers, former US Secretary of the Treasury, Opportunities in an era of large and growing official wealth.