Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Pick up your heart my love - Pick up your branch and dove

Jammin’ in the name of the lord

We’ve got a hole to mend - we’ve got a fire to tend

We won’t let these troubles grind us

We’ve got friends and prayers to mind us

We’ve got seven years behind us

- Railroad Earth, Eugene, 1/14/2006

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

G for German

And G for Gewurtztraminer.
G for Good.

And Thelonious rocks.
(For want of a better word.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rum, between, river, alone

Days Between

Thinking about the conversation with k about the hot buttered rum string band got me going. There was a time in college when we would rehearse Shakespeare till the small hours of the morning. Outdoors, Delhi, November. Cold. That's when I got to know S. He wasn't a theater type, really. He wasn't even from our college, he was from across the road. But he'd hang out with us anyway, late at night.

It was he who introduced us to the internal heating device known as rum-and-honey. Take some rum, mix it with some honey. With your forefinger, in the proportions du jour. Preferably in a used Kwality ice cream cup (to cock a snook at nature, as it were). Then everyone gets to dip a finger in, and scoop. Suck in silence, then get thee on stage and deliver thy line, forsooth. We'll save the last go for you.

Funny, but times moved on. S committed suicide the next year. No one knows why. He jumped from somewhere. I wrote a poem for him soon after, at the incredibly banal event of a college festival. The title was Deja Vu, same as a trite Yngwie Malmsteen number that I'd been listening to at that time. The poem won first prize. We all moved on.

I no longer eat honey, and my rum consumption is off ever since I went off cola. But the mention of hot buttered rum, and this recent conversation about happiness, brought me back to S. Standing on the cusp of a new research project about people's lay beliefs about the transience of emotions, this makes me think. Enough research suggests that people adjust to ups and downs in their lives far quicker than they'd ever have believed. What is it about death, then. Many people have died in my life since S -- there was a time when I'd dread the ring of the phone at night (Buddy Guy -- Where is the next one coming from?). Death punches a hole out of you. A part of you stops in time, in a freeze frame, right there. Sometimes you feel as if it's all ended. There's no way forward. There's no way to forget that feeling.

But, strangely enough, a part of you does go on. Life - that word - goes on. A little less rich, sometimes a lot less rich. But go on it does. I think of it as if a person is a fuzzy dust ball hanging in space, with threads reaching out all around, connecting to other dust balls. And each death cuts a line, and a dust ball floats away. And as life goes on, some threads disappear, new ones appear, old friends sit on a park bench like bookends. Silently sharing the same fears. Which brings me back to my conversation with k, and the Black Muddy River she mentioned.

When the
last rose of summer pricks my finger
And the hot sun chills me to the bone
When I can't hear the song for the singer
And I can't tell my pillow from a stone

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own

When the last bolt of sunshine hits the mountain
And the stars start to splatter in the sky
When the moon splits the southwest horizon
With the scream of an eagle on the fly

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And listen to the ripples as they moan
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own

Black muddy river
Roll on forever
I don't care how deep or wide
If you got another side
Roll muddy river
Roll muddy river
Black muddy river roll

When it seems like the night will last forever
And there's nothing left to do but count the years
When the strings of my heart start to sever
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And dream me a dream of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own
And sing me a song of my own

- Robert Hunter

And in case you were wondering, yes, this tune did come up on the iPod's random rotation, just before I started to type.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Back at the Bowery

it's been almost five years since this particular show. the zen tricksters at the bowery ballroom on april 20, 2001. it's not exactly the five-year anniversary yet, but following k's nicely nostalgic post about another great show that we had the fun of sharing, i thought, why not.

non-heads will probably find this post vaguely mystifying, at best. hey, it's self-indulgence.

and ego-stroking. i saw zt a few more times, and they were good each time. so when bob wasserman left ratdog, i had the bright idea of suggesting on the gdh-list that klyph black would make a great replacement. word got through to him somehow, and he v sweetly wrote in with thanks. unfortunately (or otherwise), weir got rob sylvester instead. and i moved to hk. anyway -- the original post, from the archives.


okay, here goes.

k and i reached first of all - actually k was so early she just about caught the encore of the previous night's show - and so we were head of the line waiting outside. three semi-drunk guys right behind us were fighting about the words to me and bobby mcgee. one of them kept hoping they'd play it, and another kept messing it up with me and my uncle. and before the gates opened this normal looking guy with a weird behavioral tic-like mannerism and two kids with long golden hair came and talked to the security about letting them in for a bit even though they were underage.

anyway, we got in first and went right to the balcony and the front most seat where i'd sat for dso. and guess what - the guy with kids lands up and sits right behind us. and starts making conversation about how zt are great. k makes the fatal mistake of asking him whether they're better than dso. oh boy. "these guys are the real thing. they make the music. why listen to the dso when i can just as easily buy a dxpx?" after the fourth time that he said this, i could notice k's smile becoming slightly strained.

anyway, he shifted the conversation to his kids. the elder one had been to his first show in 94. and when he asked the kid what he thought the opener would be, the kid said aiko aiko. this guy scoffed and said, come on! an acoustic aiko aiko?!

and then he introduces himself - hi, my name is rick. my name is ________. he tried that. k. uh, pleased to meet you. and then he says that after the first song he'll go to drop his kids home - "they're not as old as they look" and so could i save his table. i said ok.

and then the show started. guess what the opener was?! like k said (almost four times) she thought it's in the kid's blood.

setlist -

1. Aiko Aiko (!)
2. zt song
3. The race is on
4. Dire wolf
5. zt ("with super jam" - actually, most of the jams ended up being
6. zt (with woman backing vocals)
Now they call in 3 others - folks from Hot Tuna etc., slide, harp...
7. Big railroad blues
8. zt ("Down the road"?)
Back to basic ZT line-up
10. BOX OF RAIN!!!
11, 12 & 13. zt tunes

Special word for the bassist Klyph. Although he tired as the evening progressed, fading a bit in the third set, he was at his *peak* here. playing bass as well as singing. Hugely talented guy. But he did a Bobby on Box of rain, flubbing the last line of verse 1, singing the last line of verse 2 instead. Amusing interplay between the other guys on stage when that happened.

1. zt song > Jam > Music never stopped
2. zt ("Sacrifice?) > (Phish tune?)
3. Eyes (AWESOME!) > zt ("Going down slow"?) > Space > Scarlet > Fire

What a way to end the set. The Eyes was incredible - slow and intense almost hypnotic, and the space was very interesting because thy never let it become totally discordant, and then at the end of space they played a couple of chords of china cat, and the crowd went crazy, and the guy steps up and starts out with "I was walking down Grosvenor Square"...! Amazing- I was caught totally off guard. Anyway, the scarlet was slow, and they emphasized the basic bouncy rhythm over and over again, and kept coming back to it, and then made the transition to fire again slowly, coming back to scarlet a few times before finally going full fledged into fire, and i don't know how it happened - never realised it - but suddenly i found that it wasn't so slow after all, and they built it and built it to a perfectly controlled climax. it wasn't wild, it wasn't crazy, it was deliberate, methodical insanity.

And that was the second set. Like I said to k when it finished, they nailed it. Unfortunately that was when k decided to leave, because it was already 1:30 in the morning and we'd just been through what would have been a perfectly reasonable show all by itself. However I had this feeling that the third set would be the best. The acoustic set was incredible, and the second set had had its points, but an overdose of the drummer singing on ZT originals had kind of dampened it for me - I knew that these guys still had stops to pull out.

The third set began after about another 20 minutes. The crowd had thinned considerably, so a comfortably full venue was now very "intimate", to say the least. Only about 200 or so people left, and *lots* of room to spin. Very fortunate, as it turned out.

1. ZT ("Traveling light"?) > Let's spend the night together (!!!)
2. ZT (funky song) > Unbroken chain (!!!)
3. ALLIGATOR!!!! > Drumz > ALLIGATOR JAM!!!!!!!! > ZT ("Coming back to

No encore, 3 a.m. ran out of time.

As you can see from the exclamation marks - the let's spend the night together was lovely. I never imagined one could de-Jagger that song, maintain its punch, and dead-ify it all at one go. They did. The unbroken chain was divine. Klyph pulled no punches on this one, and the whole band was jamming like The Grateful Dead Machine. It was like they had electrodes plugged into me. And then they started Alligator, and sounded *just* like Pig, and did a wonderful job while at it. It was one song I would *not* have expected and they played it marvellously. And then the Drumz maintained the momentum plus it wasn't too long or exploratory, and then! They brought back the Alligator, did some kind of highly understated rap from about 6 inches from the mikes saying a lot of things you could only half hear while the band was jamming to bursting under them, and THEN! finally! the lead guitar BURST forth with all the violence and vehemence of a 1968 jerry - the passion and fire of the smr too or the live dead dark star just poured forth from this man it was a wall of searing sound tearing into my brain and consciousness throwing me around and up and off the walls and into gravity defying spins in midair i had NEVER thought i would hear that sound live. ohhh, MAN.

I have no clue what they played or how. fifteen minutes later sitting at the subway station i couldn't remember what these guys had been rapping or what notes that guitar had been playing. i just know he blew me away. and that, on two beers for the night.

maybe i just was short of sleep? i don't know.

anyway, after it ended, rick told me i'm a beautiful person. he checked me out, and i was really getting it, and it's all about love, and i'm a beautiful person. then he asked about my "girlfriend - where is she?". i said - she's not my girlfriend, she's someone else's wife. took him back for a sec. and then he looked past me at the three women sitting at the first table and said, now who are those tomatoes - let me see if i can get some pickings.

maybe i get to see him again sometime, somewhere.

and finally, k, here's a poem i wrote for you during the drumz -

Why smoke grass?
She said
I get it anyway.
I thought
It's the difference
between seeing two dimensions
And three
Dark Star
was not made
for closed spaces
But I didn't say it
It's her Dark Star.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

The White One

Phaedrus just crossed the Divide.
Another epicycle imposed on the Digital Revolution.
An iPod.

Blase, he enters the world of MP3 *shudder*.
The Horror.
What became of his Principles?
Why did he Do it?

Reason suggests -- the Forty-plus hours of Solo Flight that stretch out during the weeks ahead.
The electronics chain store adjoining his dinner destination.
The Golden Plastic Line of Promise.
The gleaming disks that accumulate on the peripheries of the Rotation.

Rationalization soothes -- Now he shall be closer to his Miles;
Garcia's Guitar; The Truth: it Will be With him.
As he Rings the Globe. And Pounds the Temporal Pavement.
By the ears. By the soul.

Oh, the water

Due in part to the recent surge of posts on Van the Man (1, 2).
And the 98% humidity in HK today.
And the way I'm under the pump right now.
And track 10 on my JGB at Shoreline disk, which I'd slipped in at dinnertime today.

We just stood there gettin’ wet
With our backs against the fence

Oh, the water
Oh, oh the water

Hope it don’t rain all day

The Jerry Garcia Band covers And It Stoned Me (Halloween 1992). Sometimes one just gets a sign, you know.

And while I'm here -- on a drier note, if you will -- here's Garcia and Grisman doing that wonderful tune Arabia (August 25, 1991).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Wood on Chairman Mao

Shenzhen is the name of the town in mainland China just across the border from Hong Kong. It has a Special Economic Zone status, being a primary source of fake brand name fashion accessories and pirated DVDs. It is also a home of many restaurants that range across the vast variety of Chinese cuisines; restaurants that leave a person familiar with already-low-enough Hong Kong prices gasping at the incredible value for the incredibly little money.

In addition to the above, once every year Shenzhen plays host to a huge furniture expo. I have a couple of colleagues who visit Shenzhen often, and like to check out this expo thing as well. Last year they had invited me along, and having heard much about the Shenzhen food, I'd thought that half a day spent testing couches might well be worth the trouble. It certainly had been. Blessed culinarily as Hong Kong is, not much during the past year had come up to the levels of the Cantonese lunch and Xinjiang dinner of treasured memory.

A short detour about that Xinjiang dinner. Xinjiang is the Northwestern province, also known as Sinkiang. The Xinjiang dinner last year was in a restaurant whose only apparent English name was "Muslin Hotel", Muslin being the - a - local way of denoting Islam, since Chinese people often interchange n's and m's at the end of a syllable -- often with hilarious consequences ("Would you like a juicy bum?"). Well anyway, one course in last year's multi-course Xinjiang dinner consisted of a whole grilled goat. I kid you not. Cooked to ecstatic levels, wheeled into the room on a side table, carved on the spot, and served up on a humungoid platter off which nine of us picked out pieces using plastic gloves that had been provided, dipped the pieces into bowls of rock salt, cumin, and chilli powder, and communed with the Great Barbecuer. Allah-u-Akbar you betcher, and I as the special guest got to smuggle three kilos of leftover ecstasy back into Hong Kong.

As a result of all that excitement, this year when my friends asked if I'd like to come along, the only thing stopping my unqualified yes was the possibility that Dr. Y (see previous post) might want to hang on to my passport. The moment that didn't happen, I booked my spot on the jaunt.

A little after 10 o'clock on a foggy rainy morning saw us boarding the Kowloon-Canton Rail bound for Lo Wu, at the border. Last year I'd had some trouble at the border, since the on-the-spot Chinese visa delivery folks had inserted a typo into my visa, one that the immigration officer and his gunclad buddy hadn't taken too kindly to. This year there was no such hiccup, and it was hardly 12 when we were happily jostling a quarter of the world's population for the right to enter a cab at the station. My friend, of course, said that the ones doing all the pushing were from Hong Kong.

Shenzhen seemed to have grown since last year. It looked cleaner and less dusty, for one. More high-rises than I remembered. A pretty characterless city in all, but with certain parts awfully like India -- here a Sion Circle, there a South Ex part 2 market. The usual cars on the streets -- Hondas, Hyundais, Toyotas, but also a Shanghai GM, a Soueast, a Volkswagen taxi calling itself Santana 2000 (well, alright). The restaurant where we were headed was in a mall that looked more Hong Kong than Hong Kong -- a replica of the Festival Walk mall in the station we'd boarded the train. Our target restaurant was surrounded by the Coke store, the Zippo store, and the Jeep store. It felt weird.

The restaurant itself was Jiangnan style. I'd frequented Shanghainese restaurants before, having fallen in love with Xiao Long Bao, which are known in the US as juicy buns -- little steamed dumplings containing soup, and La Mian, a type of stretchy handmade noodle. Jiangnan is south of Shanghai, so the food is kind of similar, though less salty and preserved. The meal itself was awesome, an adventure of unknown tastes and discoveries. My friends, who had initially been surprised to find that anyone outside China actually eats fish heads, are now acquainted with the fact that it's almost like a litmus test for Bengalis. Hence one of the main things ordered was a river fish, one that sports the informative Chinese name of "big head". I am very proud to report that I ate a full half of the head (it was served in two halves), with chopsticks, without a mess.

After lunch we sloped off to the furniture exhibition. That place is a nightmare come to life -- imagine a dozen Ikeas placed side by side, filled with little Chinese shop assistants whose objective in life is to snare the foreign buyer. Me. And they get to test out their Engrish while they're at it. (Thought for next post -- a taxonomy of the once-overs one gets as a trespasser in a foreign land.) On the plus side, one is allowed to test the couches and massage chairs extensively. And my trademark bored look translates into the acme of intense bargaining inscrutability. Heck, I even negotiated for a rattan swing, hung from a spring on a metal stand. When in China...

Thankfully, the place shut at 5:30. I couldn't really believe that it wasn't even 6 and we were sitting down for dinner. This time, it was Hunan food. I've never had Hunan food. Partly because my colleague is from Hunan, and she has high standards, so nothing in HK lives upto her standards. Actually, I haven't really come across any Hunan restaurants here either. Now, she'd never been to this particular Hunan place, but it had high recommendations from someone she knows. And it had something else. I'd never have believed it.

The restaurant is dedicated to Chairman Mao.

In all seriousness, the restaurant is dedicated to Chairman Mao.

Chairman Mao was from Hunan, and apparently he liked to tuck in. And so after his death, some guys decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a restaurant named after him. A wholly private enterprise, of course, I believe it's now a nationwide chain (The McMao line, anyone?). With the wallpaper done up with prototypes of the Chairman's supposedly distinctive scribbling, and waiters and waitresses running around sporting red napkins on their heads. Unbelievable. (The Chairman was austere, though, he didn't like dessert. Which is why his restaurant doesn't have a dessert menu.)

Hunanese food is spicy, but not as murderous as Sichuan. So it's actually possible to eat the stuff. As usual, there was tremendous variety, in foods as well as flavors. We skipped the frog, but the eel was good (cooked with scallions and enormous red chillies), as was the pork belly, more fish head (sweetish and spicy in sauce), a cucumber dish with the consistency and feel of eggplant, little taro balls, smoky barbecued fillets of dried beancurd, xiao mantou steamed dumpling cakes with dipping cream on the side, stuffed jujube cakes with crunchy skin, chicken broth, and local Kingway beer that tasted like Kingfisher. Man these people do themselves well.

I decided not to stick around in Shenzhen after dinner, opting for the early night home. The train ride home was quiet and contemplative, as well it should be. I'm not sure why I've written all this now -- probably a last act of defiance before another week of sixteen hour days. Another day, another weekend, another furniture expo goes by.

Footnote: The image of the visiting card from the Chairman Mao restaurant seems to not want to go where it should. You can see the "maojia restaurant" in tiny little print on the left. The "Orient the Card" printed at the top is Chinese English for "Show this card to the person who you want to give directions to."

Other footnote: For those who were wondering, the lunch came to 60 RMB per head, and dinner was 55 (four people at lunch and five at dinner). That's under US$ 8 and 7, respectively. Eat your fish head out.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Window to Wonderland

It all started when I had this bright idea of combining a vacation in the Caribbean with the Indian cricket team's forthcoming tour there in May, and a reunion with some of my oldest and closest friends. Rum and beer at the beach, in the stadium, sun, sand, jerk chicken, "rotis" stuffed with meat, it sounded like a plan for paradise. We'd fly down from the east coast, others would aggregate from where they were -- midwest, Rockies, west coast, even a speculative line to the guy now back in Blighty. Mark yer books and make yer plans.

For me, the first step was to figure out how to get a visa. Google searches involving combinations of "Hong Kong", "consulate", the name of the destination country, and various allied terms, all yielded nothing of use. Neither did the guide books. My normally reliable travel agent Enid said, "Dear Professor, Please advise the country of ______." Finally, a friend sent me one possible lead he'd fished out from somewhere. A number and an address. Relief, tentative.

So I called the number one day. The voice at the other end was female, and Chinese, and had a stutter. I said -- is this the _______ consulate? I'd like to get a visa. She transferred me to another voice -- older, male, non-Chinese. Ah, getting somewhere, I thought.

I repeated my line. Hello, I'm an Indian citizen living in Hong Kong, and I'd like to visit ________ for a vacation in May. Could you please tell me what the procedure is for applying for a visa, and what the requirements are?

- You're an Indian citizen, you say?
- Yes.
- And you live in Hong Kong?
- Yes.
- And why do you want to go to ______?
- Um, for a vacation.
- That's not possible.
- I'm sorry?
- People from China don't go to _______. It's too expensive.
- [Double take. WHAT?!] Uh, but I already have tickets. [I do, we finally used my miles!]
- No, no. You shouldn't buy tickets before getting a visa.
- I'm sorry, but most places require you to have a round-trip ticket before they issue a visa!
- That may be the case but people from China don't go to _______. It's too expensive. Why did you say you wanted to go?
- [Gulp] For a vacation? The Indian cricket team will be touring there in May, and I thought I'd relax on the beach and watch some cricket, you know?
- Well, you'll just have to get your friend to invite you.
- [HUH?] Sorry, I don't have any friends in _______.
- You have not a single friend in _______?
- No.
- Okay, any friend in the Caribbean.
- I don't have any friends in the Caribbean.
- You don't know anyone in the Caribbean?
- No, I don't know anyone in the Caribbean. [Visions of emailing Vaneisa Baksh, the cricinfo correspondent.]
- Then get your business partner to invite you.
- But I don't *have* a business partner!
- What line of work are you in, then?
- I'm a university professor.
- Oh, then you should get the University of the West Indies at _______ to send you a letter of invitation.
- Let me get this straight -- you're suggesting that I write to the University of the West Indies at ________ and ask them to invite me over?
- I'm suggesting nothing.
- Oh. Okay. I see. And, assuming they do invite me over, what do I do then? Where do I bring that letter? Is there a form or something?
- Tell me your fax number and I'll fax you all the details.
- Thank you. May I know your name, please?
- Dr. Y___.
- Thank you, Dr. Y.

And that was that. The fax came after two days, along with a cover sheet listing the materials I needed. Prominent on that list was, indeed, letter of invitation.

In desperation, I looked up the University of the West Indies, ________ campus. Did a directory search. Targeted the manager for public relations. Sent him the following:

"I am a faculty member at _________. I am writing to you because I was instructed to do so by Dr. Y, Honorary Consul of _______ in Hong Kong. I had contacted him for a visa since I am interested in visiting _______ for a vacation this summer, and he informed me that I must obtain a letter of invitation from someone in ______ . On learning that I plan to visit as a tourist, and that I do not know anyone in ____ personally, he recommended I contact someone from your University.

I apologize for this undoubtedly strange email. I hope you will take my word that it is not a joke. You may find my professional CV at ______, and I would be happy to give a seminar at your University if you would like it."

I shot that mail off around 1 in the morning and went off to sleep, visions of the vacation fast disappearing. Next morning, I find in my inbox:

"Hi Professor ___

Thank you for taking time to contact us and for the interest shown in our organisation as well as in our country.

I have had discussions with our Executive Director - Dr ______ - on this matter and he is eager to be involved in this development. We are in fact very familiar with your university and will be very pleased to build a relationship with you all. Your offer to give a seminar at our institution is also welcome and we will discuss this in detail at a later date.

By copy of this email, I am introducing you to Dr ___ and Ms ___ (our manager of corporate communications).

Meanwhile, you can kindly furnish us with details such as:
- Tentative dates and duration of your visit
- Area(s) in which you may have a preference for speaking at a seminar / workshop

Thanks again for contacting us and we look forward to hearing from you."


It was at that stage that I began to feel like Alice, looking in on Wonderland. The letter of invitation did indeed arrive, albeit two weeks later. A few days ago I found my way downtown to meet Dr. Y in person. The consulate was a three-room "suite" in the Central district, right next to some of my favorite restaurants. It was populated by three people -- a receptionist, an admin person, and the good Dr Y himself. He turned out to be an old gentleman, of Chinese origin. He invited me to sit on the plush couch while he looked through my papers. It was like no visa interview I've ever had. We chatted for 45 minutes. I felt like I was on a social call -- with an acquaintance's distant relative or something. Some extracts from our conversation:

- So you got the letter? Good, good. See, I told you this was the best way to do it.
- It will take about three weeks. They want to check everything out. Worried about terrorists, you know. So many people carry bombs in their shoes these days. You have to take your shoes off. [Wide-eyed wonder.]
- Well, this is the age to travel. How old are you, thirty? [I nodded yes; heck, why not, between friends?] Add 51 to that, and that's how old I am. Fifty seven years in Hong Kong. When I came here, it used to be like ______.
- So you're from India? What part? Delhi? Ah. Do you know Deeper? [I almost said yes.] And what was his name? Tonoko? Honoko. Do you know Deeper and Honoko? They came from Delhi too. Went to Jamaica.
- You plan to fly from here? It's very long, you know. Oh you'll be in the US? What part? Boston? Much better. You can fly through New York. I don't like New York at all. So many Negroes, as they call them over there. Leave all the public phones hanging down off the cradle. And it's so big. Takes you three hours to fly from the border to Kennedy airport.
- Yes, I went to university in Shanghai. St. John's. You heard of it? Funny, people your age haven't heard of it. [Okay, so I was making conversation.]
- Let me show you a map of the Caribbean. Here. This is ________. And this is ________. And this is Cuba. See, so big.

And so on. He said he'd call me when my visa comes through a month from now. We'll meet again then. We shook hands, and he walked me to the door.

I think this vacation is worth it already.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Whore of the Mensa (Changing-Rooma)

Linking to what other people have written is an easy way of keeping a blog going.

"Yeah, this guy! Like he said! With ya, buddy!"

Falstaff on shopping with women.

The greatest game

Australia 434.
South Africa 433 for 9, with three balls left to go.

I don't normally rate ODIs so highly, but, whichever way it turns out, this one is beyond belief.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Just don't it

Suddenly I've gone all socially-conscious. After that Blank Noise Thing-a-thong (of thickthpenth), here are three short films (1, 2, 3) on AIDS awareness, shot by GhostOfTomJoad for an NGO in Delhi. And here's his write-up about them.

Don't miss the pickles one.

[I just remembered, I'd been talking about focal vs. non-focal attention in my undergrad class yesterday, when a student asked me whether consumers might process AIDS even if they didn't look at them. Given my recent exposure to Blank Noise and (one of) these films, it took me several takes before - thankfully - the kid next to him realized that he'd meant to say "ads".]

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hot spots

The Blank Noise Blogathon. I just woke up, and skimming the blogs, came across this at km's and Falstaff's. Felt like I should be a part of it. Like Falstaff puts it, academics don't really let lack of first-hand knowledge get in the way.

Sexual harassment isn't something that I can ever be flippant or dismissive about, so that rules out most anything that I thought I could say. But, on reflection, given that so much of my research is about self-control, surely there has to be something.

For instance, one thing I can think of is this very insightful theory proposed by Walter Mischel and Janet Metcalfe, which says - paraphrasing wildly - that objects are represented perceptually (in the "mind") across two parallel inter-connected semantic networks -- the "hot" and the "cool". Points in the hot system, aka "hot spots", carry primitive - impulsive - appetitive featural representations, while "cool nodes" consist of analytical - deliberative representations. The response to a given stimulus depends on which system gets activated. A stimulus that triggers the hot system is likely to generate an immediate and uncontrolled response, while one that activates a cool node is likely to get circulated within the cool system, and mulled over and digested to the extent that it may not even generate a response.

How is this relevant? Well, for one I could say that instances of harassment occur when a member of a class of stimuli (say, a woman) is observed by a Neanderthal with a hot system that's chronically activated in a particular way by said stimuli. Chronic activation of a particular response given a particular stimulus is eventually nothing but a personality trait -- person-situation interactions to revert to the words of Mischel, the master. Someone whose first "gut" response is to whistle / leer / grope, who never resists the impulse to whistle / leer / grope, is ultimately nothing but a whistler, leerer, groper. Net net, Metcalfe and Mischel give us an explanation of why this sort of thing occurs.

How does that help? Well, frankly, it doesn't. The theory does suggest how such behaviors may be modified. Associate cool nodes - "desirable" ones - with the stimulus. Repeatedly. Probabilistically, this makes it more likely that the current first (and only, hence dominant) response will be substituted. Over time, these other responses take over. Problem solved. Or is it?

The problem with the solution is -- how (and I mean HOW) does one make this happen? We're talking about a phenomenon that's not restricted to a group of four people dressed in all-white outfits and listening to Beethoven's Ninth, so catching the ringleader and clipping his eyes wide open isn't going to cut much ice. How does one change the culture of a land?

Blog on.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

2x3x7: Baby Pictures

Rant. Includes gems such as: "Nice. What breed is it?" and more.

2x3x7: Baby Pictures / Next time, use the diaper on the other end

(Thanks to India Uncut.)

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Concert for George

Long Time. $%&^ing Busy. Life Happens.

But last night I managed to make the time to pop open my Concert for George DVD. There are two disks, one with the full concert and one with the theatrical release version plus extras. I went for the full concert.


1. I Need You. I'd always regarded this song as a bit of a filler, but somehow seeing it being performed made the mundane-blah lyrics somehow poignant. Said you had a thing or two to tell me. Well, yes, this was good.

2. Something. Again the I-don't-know-what factor, but something in the way this song moves me. Heckuva number.

3. Dhani and Anoushka. The baton passes, I hope. Dhani looked fifteen, playing rhythm as if he were glad the big boys were letting him play with them, and he intended to square his shoulders and broaden his chest while he was at it. It was very interesting how EC kept looking back at him, to check if he was okay. Made me wonder -- George sure did his own thing when he was the same age, didn't he? Anoushka performed a very nice piece, typical Ravi Shankar (you could almost see the Pather Panchali visuals). But then she ruined it by "conducting" a grand composition -- sort of like doing calisthenics on the spot, with an ever-decreasing wing span. Should have just played.

4. The Pythons. As ever! My lumberjack fascination continues.

Biggest disappointment -- The solo on My Guitar Gently Weeps. EC took all the feeling out of it! No weeping, tragic.

Other big disappointment -- The sound quality. I tried the two channel stereo, the 5.1 Dolby, and the DTS, finally settling on the DTS, but none of them were good. The sound was muddy right through. Not good.

Old fart section -- I remember when George died, Phil and Friends were playing six nights at the Beacon. I, with my typical bullet-in-foot planning, had elected to go for the first two nights (or some such thing). The third night was when he died. The fourth night, they pulled out a bunch of great covers. I remember sitting at home following the chat page on thephilzone, as folks inside the Beacon called out with updates on the setlist, and feeling like a complete moron.

Final philosophical comments -- None. It was an evening well spent vegetating in front of the telly.