Thursday, March 31, 2005

Terri Schiavo has died - finally

Terri Schiavo - a woman's whose legacy may be a much-contested understanding of life and death, has died shortly before 10 AM EST at her Pinellas County hospice, separated from her parents in her last moments.

C'est la vie

The Holocaust was a terrible experience in the twentieth century that raised the essential question "Who Speaks For the Dead?" The Schiavo case seems to raise the question "Who Speaks For the Living?"

Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built
Out of longing great wonders have been willed

Bread: The Half-Baked Truth

Dr. Mercola, natural health maven points out that bread has some characteristics worthy of note

1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.

2. Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.

3. In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations.
13. Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit! That kind of heat can kill an adult in less than one minute.

14. Most bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.

He goes on to propose the following restrictions

1. No sale of bread to minors.

2. A nationwide "Just Say No To Toast" campaign complete celebrity TV spots and bumper stickers.

3. A 300 percent federal tax on all bread to pay for all the societal ills we might associate with bread.

4. No animal or human images, nor any primary colors (which may appeal to children) may be used to promote bread usage.

5. The establishment of "Bread-free" zones around schools.

A denouement follows on his site.

Bread - can't live without it - whether it's good or bad for you.

Michael Moore was not harmed in the making of this post.

Recipe for the best bread ever

The Pleasures of Whole Grain Breads/Beth Hensperger Dr. Mercola's Total Health Program: The Proven Plan to Prevent Disease and Premature Aging, Optimize Weight and Live Longer/Nancy Lee Bentley The Best of Bread/Bread The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread/Ron Manville

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Case Of The Disappearing Bookmarks

I switched my primary home browser to Firefox a few months ago and have been quite satisfied. Tabbed browsing, drag-and-drop opening of links, and overall stability have all been easy (and addictive) to get used to.

I had also built up a vast collection of bookmarks, which I treated as essential to my view of the information continuum. These bookmarks did enforce a certain pattern to my online experience, but I felt them essential.

Yesterday was an aggravating, exasperating, frustating, fucking bad day - I opened Firefox when I came home from work to find it looked somewhat odd. All my bookmarks were missing. Not hidden, not tucked away in some place on my hard drive - just gone - completely.

I tried browsing around to a few familiar sites, but it felt a bit strange, like I had somehow lost my bearings. Visiting a site would remind me of a related trail I usually take from there, I'd move my mouse pointer over to the link bar or bookmarks menu to find it empty. I felt fragmented, incomplete.

Some research told me this problem of disappearing bookmarks was not uncommon. Firefox uses a file on the hard drive to store the bookmarks, and apparently it is possible that the file gets swapped out with a 'default' profile if the computer is shut down while Firefox is still running as a process.
We know that sometimes when you close Firefox, it isn't removed as a running process. In fact, we've seen reports of multiple instances of FF running in Task Manager. Based on everything I've seen to date, when you close FF and it is not ended as a process in Task Manager, re-starting FF (without a reboot) loads a new default profile. Now exactly what is preserved from the old profile and what isn't I can't say; but if this happens, your bookmarks are "lost" - FF essentially created a new profile with default bookmarks.

One of the first things to do, is to close FF, and make sure that there are no instances of FF running in Task Manager. Then, the user should start ProfileManager so that a dialog pops up asking which profile to use. If there's more than one (and they could all be called Default), then it is likely that the old bookmarks reside in one of those profiles.

Another procedure is to find the bookmarks.html files that exist on the hard drive. There are explicit instructions for where these would reside, but in consideration of the fact that some people may log on as a user (XP) and sometimes they may also log in as Admin, the easiest thing to do is to do a comprehensive search for the file across all folders

Unfortunately, all the searching I did was of no avail in finding my personal, large bookmarks file. It seems to be truly gone.

A simple technical solution to this would be to have the browser use a database storage format for the bookmarks, or to auto-backup the bookmarks file regularly, but that is neither here nor there for someone suffering the loss.

After much desultory browsing, I visited early this morning. Some bloke was offering a new, open-source, social bookmarking service called, building on the popularity of the service. I decided to check out both services, which I had not done till now.

I've created an account on - it is a liberating experience - I cannot believe I did not do this sooner. A fuller analysis of it's convenience and ability to tap into other people's mind-maps shall have to wait, but I am quite excited about the experience, and having to build up my audit trails of the web from scratch.

The newer service,, is next up - while it is evidently a close clone of the other, it promises to see rapid growth, with it's open-sourced, creative-commons-licensed model - although some phenomenal utilities have been developed around with the help of their API - a hefty load is available at absolutely delicious

This could happen to you - don't waste time blaming the archaic browser architecture of bookmark files - switch over now to the delicious pleasures of web bookmarking.

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution/Howard Rheingold Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means/Albert-Laszlo  Barabasi Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology/Howard Rheingold Twelve Van Gogh Bookmarks (Small-Format Bookmarks)/Vincent Van Gogh Firefox Secrets/Cheah Chu Yeow Firefox Hacks: Tips & Tools for Next-Generation Web Browsing (Hacks)/Nigel McFarlane

Monday, March 21, 2005

Buckwheat Zydeco Essentials

Zydeco is much more than frenetic, rhythmic, accordion-rich dance music from the Deep South. It chronicles the history of the black French-speaking Creoles of southwestern Louisiana.

Zydeco blends Carribean rhythm and blues, with pedal-to-the-metal rock, and drums, along with Creole lyrics. The accordion, washboard, drums and guitar play prominent roles. (brief intro to zydeco origins)

One of the most accomplished performers is the aptly-named Buckwheat Zydeco. The band is led by Stanley Dural, nicknamed Buckwheat after the Little Rascals character. Inspired by the father of modern zydeco, Clifton Chenier, he formed his ensemble, and won much acclaim outside his stomping ground of the Coast. Initially with a contract with Rounder Records, and then a major deal with Chris Blackwell, and Island Records, who also popularized reggae via the talent-rich Bob Marley. Featured in the film "The Big Easy", zydeco became quite popular post the release of the film, and led to the band opening for acts like U2 and Eric Clapton. (A fabulous write-up on the growth, and beginnings of Buckwheat Zydeco from the liner notes of "The Buckwheat Zydeco Story")

Buckwheat Zydeco

A good introduction to the band is the CD 'Menagerie' or the personally-selected (by Buck) 'Buckwheat Zydeco Story: A 20 Year Party', featuring many of their best pieces, and numerous fine guest musicians. It helps to have an ear for Creole, and to keep a spicy bowl of crawfish & chitlins by your side while spinning the disc.

'Hot Tamale Baby' could be an Indian Bhangra piece, originally by Clifton Chenier, and taken to another level by the band.

'Hey, Good Lookin'" is the Hank Williams composition, sounding quite innovative here, and featuring Dwight Yoakum - fabulous harmony.

"What You Gonna Do?" is a fast, yet introspective number, asking some essential questions when 'you're caught in the desert, and your plane won't fly/ when your rent come due, you gotta pay up or you gotta move/What you gonna do/when the zydeco turn it up on you'

"Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad" is a collaboration with Eric Clapton - fast, two-step swamp rock

Menagerie: The Essential Zydeco Collection/Buckwheat Zydeco Buckwheat Zydeco Story: A 20 Year Party/Buckwheat Zydeco The Ultimate Collection/Buckwheat Zydeco Zydeco's Greatest Hits/Various Artists The Big Easy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack/Various Artists The Big Easy Eve's Bayou Best of Clifton Chenier/Clifton Chenier Zydeco Sont Pas Sale/Clifton Chenier Zydeco Shoes: A Sensory Tour Of Cajun Culture/Alexandria Hayes

Friday, March 18, 2005

Album Covers As An Art Form

CD Covers as an art form may be a trite way of looking for art when there is so much fine art available, yet many CD (and earlier LP) covers were designed specifically with an artistic bent, and must be acknowledged as such.

Here are a few nice ones:

Aoxomoxoa - Grateful Dead

Shaman - Santana

SRarities (Sarah Mclachan)

Rough Guide To Bhangra

Houses Of The Holy - Led Zeppelin

Movement - New Order

Diamond Dogs - David Bowie

Best Of Bollywood

In The Wake Of Poseidon - King Crimson

Between Heaven And Earth

Country Life - Roxy Music
(there's your hands over breasts;))

Weasels Ripped My Flesh - Mothers Of Invention

Chinese Erhu

Armed Forces - Elvis Costello

Peel Slowly And See - Velvet Underground

Worthy of note: The exhibition The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were

Also, the essay The Golden Age of Jazz Covers

and, A gallery of Indian film soundtrack album art

The demise of CDs/LPs as a form of music distribution would also mean the demise of album art. Reason enough to supplant your collection with a few nice ones - preferably DRM-free

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Partner: A Critique

WARNING**** Spoilers

The John Grisham juggernaut is rolling along, with a new book, "The Broker", and "Mickey", the Little-League/ethical-conflict film for which he wrote the screenplay, out on DVD this week. I was recently re-reading his earlier novel "The Partner" and thought I'd share my thoughts.

"The Partner" is reminscent at times of his earlier bestseller "The Firm". Nominally the tale of a Biloxi lawyer, junior partner at a law firm specializing in offshore injuries restitution, who is presumed dead, until the disappearance of $30 million shakes things up in his hometown, and sets off a manhunt that lasts four years, the book packs a lot more in than just a tale of crooked lawyers, insurance scams and all that gumbo.

The main character, Patrick Lanigan, is found in a little town in Brazil, on the border with Paraguay, by some goons hired by, as it turns out, a detective agency funded with money from the original owner of the funds, and the insurance companies involved in the payout. They torture Patrick to try to find out the location of the embezzled funds, but are stopped by the FBI stepping in, who are informed of the event by Patrick's associate in Brazil, a woman lawyer - the first of many twists.

Patrick returns to the United States, and numerous tort lawsuits, as well as a divorce from his wife, erstwhile a rich widow, who has not grieved much. There is also a weighty capital murder charge against him, for the corpse found in his car at the time of his disappearance.

The rest of the book details his travails with the law, his rediscovery of himself, and perhaps redemption. He demonstrates an adept handling of legal affairs, does no time for no crime he did not commit, and rattles quite a few skeletons. The whistleblower who wasn't, the homicide that might not have been one, and the meaning of a true love that may not have been true, commingle with Patrick's search for identity.

Patrick is driven by a desire to be redeemed, to find the father-figure he has never known, and to get his back. He does the deed out of disaffection for his life, his family, and perhaps a historical imperative to move on.
"Everybody wants to run, Karl. At some point in life, everybody thinks about walking away. Life's always better on the beach or in the mountains. Problems can be left behind. It's inbred in us. We're the products of immigrants who left miserable conditions and came here in search of a better life. And they kept moving west, packing up and leaving, always looking for the pot of gold. Now, there's no place to go."

He is not some grandiose tragic hero, however. He might be considered a whistle-blower, but a devious one at that. The only wrongs he sets out to right are his own, for being shut out of the original settlement that generated the millions, and for not being loved, perhaps
"I'm not Patrick anymore, Karl. Patrick is dead. He was trapped and unhappy. He was fat and miserable and, thankfully, he went away. I'm Danilo now, Danilo Silva, a much happier person with a quiet life in another country

The book flows smoothly, and displays John Grisham's expertise at the manifold shenanigans of lawyers - good, bad and amoral. His affection for life on the Gulf Coast, with all it's quirks, corruption, weather, and jambalaya is evident, as is his perception that life is a better place without all that bad jazz. The plot is a bit stale, and the staging seems written for a screenplay, as is common with his books, but an easy read for a shorthaul flight nevertheless.

Appropriate soundtrack for listening to while reading this book:

"Postcards from Paraguay" - Mark Knopfler ("One thing was leading to the next/I bit off more than I could chew/I had the power to sign the cheques/It wasn't difficult to do/I couldn't stay and face the music/So many reasons why/I won't be sending postcards/From Paraguay")

"The Stranger" - Billy Joel ("Well we all have a face/That we hide away forever/And we take them out and/Show ourselves/When everyone has gone/Some are satin some are steel/Some are silk and some are leather/They're the faces of the stranger")

"Drifter" - Deep Purple ("Drivin’ on a highway going nowhere/Desolation destination/Guess I’ll find it somewhere/I know if there’s trouble/I ain’t takin’ the blame/That’s why I keep movin’/So nobody knows my name")

"Running Away" - Bob Marley ("Every man thinketh his/Burden is the heaviest ")

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Islamic Secularism, "24", and transformation

Fox's hit show "24" took a giant leap into fair and balanced portrayals of Muslim characters in a well-directed episode this week, which featured two secular Muslims who aid Jack Bauer and his rival (romantic) to defend themselves against a gang of mercenaries.

This does much more in creating fair perceptions of Muslims than inane PSAs and balances the central Asian Muslim family in the show, who turn out to be sleeper terrorists, out to destroy the social fabric of their adopted society.

Secularism and Exclusivism have constantly battled it out in Islamic history. Traditionalists define the conflict as that between Islam and polytheism. Modernists have sought to embrace progressive thought, such as Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey.
When Mustafa Kamal (Ataturk) founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923 (he was its president until his death fifteen years later), he set as his main objective the modernization of the new republic. His preferred means was speedy, intensive secularization and, indeed, every one of his reforms was tied up with disestablishing other Islamic institutions from their hold on Turkey's politics, economics, society, and cultural life.

Under his guidance, elected parliaments (comprising the only legal party, of which he was the chairman) passed, in rapid succession, a number of daring laws. Among these, probably the most revolutionary were those on education and the legal system. The former uprooted the religious element from all schools, making secularized instruction compulsory; this meant a completely new set of curricula, textbooks, and teachers. The latter abolished all religious courts (Islamic, Christian and Jewish), setting up instead secular courts with sets of laws and procedures based on Western European, largely Swiss, models; this implied the preparation of new laws and the training of new judges. To understand the boldness of this move, it should be remembered that in some of the other successor states of the Ottoman Empire, religious courts were abolished only much later - in Egypt, in 1956 - while in others they are still active, as in Israel and Lebanon.

It should also be remembered that the Radical Islamist movements are relatively new, seeing an uplift post the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and then in the 1980s with the rise of Khomeini, and general tightening of social controls, although they claim to draw on ancient traditions and claim to combat 'jahiliya' or ignorance. Their power base is drawn from the disaffected and disenfranchised masses, who failed to profit from the oil boom. Their support from ruling houses and the wealthy is driven, in part, by self-motivated individuals, who would prefer to export terror, rather than deal with the failures in their own social frameworks.

It may seem, from the reports of violent acts, and general tenor, that Radical Islam is on the upswing, with signficant support in Arab societies. This could not be further from the truth. All through Islamic history, rational thought has contended with narrow-minded ideas.
Secular ideas are, of course, not new in Islamic countries. Ever since the call of the prophet Mohammad in the seventh century, there have been doubters and secular writing. Some of its authors are documented in Abdurrahman Badawi's book From the History of Atheism in Islam, which first appeared in the 1950s and has been reprinted many times since. It brings to light some of the debates and writings that marked certain periods of Islamic history, including the derisive poetry of Abul Ala' al-Maari, the blind Arab philosopher who lived in northern Syria in the 10th century.
No opinion polls concerning religious beliefs are usually allowed in Arab countries, to judge the real spread of secular ideas. An exception is the survey of living conditions of the Palestinian society under Israeli occupation in Gaza, West Bank and Arab Jerusalem, which challenges some widely held notions about religious attitudes. It shows that the percentage of 'secular' men is 20%, going up to an unexpected 30% among women, and that it is on average higher than the percentage of Islamic 'activists' on the other end of the spectrum even in the Gaza refugee camps. Secular is defined in the study as someone who's life is not dictated by religion. The larger middle ground is being held by simply 'observant' moslems. Partial surveys by some university students elsewhere seem to confirm this distribution of the degree of belief.
(The article referenced is highly informative and thought-provoking - worthy of a full reading)

Radical Islam is the last gasp of a culture in transformation. Europe, not for the first time in its history is experiencing this transformation, situated as it is at the crossroads between the old and the new worlds. The erstwhile Islamic West, or Maghreb, brought education and economic growth, before they collapsed under the weight of unresolved social paradoxes, and the force of the industrial revolution. A modern Islamic Europe has been mentioned by a few, and feared by some. The internal conflicts in Islam are significant here, in determining which direction is taken in this transformation
Bassam Tibi, a Syrian immigrant who is the most prominent moderate Muslim in Germany, seemed to agree with Lewis's diagnosis, even while rejecting his emphasis. "Either Islam gets Europeanized, or Europe gets Islamized," Tibi wrote in Welt am Sonntag. Having spent much of the past decade arguing for the construction of sensible Islamic institutions in Europe, Tibi seemed to warn that Europe did not have the ability to reject Islam, or the opportunity to steer it. "The problem is not whether the majority of Europeans is Islamic," he added, "but rather which Islam--sharia Islam or Euro-Islam--is to dominate in Europe."

I have had numerous Muslim friends - all fine, modern people. I have never, though, interacted at length with a 'Sharia-Muslim'. I do hope, and believe, that the 'Euro-Muslims' will win in the end, as I'm sure Jack Bauer will too.

24 - Seasons 1-3 Islam and Secularism in the Middle East/John L. Esposito Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East)/Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`Im The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics/Abdullahi A. An-Naim Muslims in the West: From Sojourners to Citizens/Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Giving Up Dreams - Tibet, China & The Dalai Lama

Dreams can last a long time, but often enough give way to pragmatic reality. A dream that lasted 46 years ended today, when the Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people, in a statement on the 46th anniversary of the annexation of Tibet by China, asked Tibetans to give up their dream of an independent country, saying he believed that "China is the best for Tibetans' progress and future"

This year the Chinese government will mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region. There will be much fanfare and many commemorative events to celebrate the occasion but these will be meaningless when they do not reflect the ground realities. For example, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were celebrated with great pomp as real achievements at the time they took place.

The Dalai Lama

China has made tremendous economic progress during the past more than two decades. China today is not what it was twenty or thirty years ago. Much has changed in China. As a result she has become a major player in the world and China rightly deserves this position. It is a big nation with a huge population and a rich and ancient civilization. However, China's image is tarnished by her human rights records, undemocratic actions, the lack of the rule of law and the unequal implementation of autonomy rights regarding minorities, including the Tibetans. All these are a cause for more suspicion and distrust from the outside world. Internally, they are an obstacle to unity and stability that are of utmost importance to the leaders of the People's Republic of China. In my view, it is important that as China becomes a powerful and respectable nation she should be able to adopt a reasonable policy with confidence.

The world in general, of which China is a part, is changing for the better. In recent times there is definitely a greater awareness and appreciation for peace, non-violence, democracy, justice and environmental protection. The recent unprecedented response from governments and individuals across the world to the tsunami disaster victims reaffirms that the world is truly interdependent and the importance of universal responsibility.

My involvement in the affairs of Tibet is not for the purpose of claiming certain personal rights or political position for myself nor attempting to stake claims for the Tibetan administration in exile. In 1992 in a formal announcement I stated clearly that when we return to Tibet with a certain degree of freedom I will not hold any office in the Tibetan government or any other political position and that the present Tibetan administration in exile will be dissolved. Moreover, the Tibetans working in Tibet should carry on the main responsibility of administering Tibet.

I once again want to reassure the Chinese authorities that as long as I am responsible for the affairs of Tibet we remain fully committed to the Middle Way Approach of not seeking independence for Tibet and are willing to remain within the People's Republic of China. I am convinced that in the long run such an approach is of benefit to the Tibetan people for their material progress. It is encouraging that there is support from various parts of the world for this approach as being reasonable, realistic and of mutual benefit to the Chinese and Tibetans. I am particularly encouraged by the recognition and support that has come from certain quarters of the intellectual circle from within China.

His government-in-exile has had its seat in Dharamsala in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India, nestled among the foothills of the Himalayas. I visited here a few years ago and found it to be a quaint, small village, with narrow streets, smiling little Tibetan children and monks scooping up bowls of tsampa, and the constant chanting of lamas in the Dalai Lama's temple.

The erstwhile Indian government had recognized China's claims to Tibet last year, in part as rapprochment between the Elephant and the Dragon, and in part to maintain a power balance. Perhaps, access to Chinese markets was also part of the equation.

The Dalai Lama has no such interests. He has indicated earlier that he is open to warm ties with China and would not press for a free Tibet. He seems driven more by a desire for making it easier for Tibetans still in Tibet, and those wishing to return.

It is not clear what impact this statement will have on the worldwide Free Tibet movement. Human rights violations are allegedly rampant in Tibet. The recent US State Department "Country Reports on Human Rights", released last month mentions in the section on Tibet that "(Chinese) authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their political or religious views." The United States recognizes the Tibetan Autonomous Region to be a part of China

My Tibet/Galen Rowell Lonely Planet Tibet (Lonely Planet Tibet)/Tony Wheeler Tintin in Tibet (The Adventures of Tintin)/Herge Seven Years in Tibet An End to Suffering : The Buddha in the World/Pankaj Mishra My Land and My People : The Original Autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet/The Dalai Lama

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader