Monday, June 30, 2008


Here is an interesting story on the mentally freeing facilities of direct democracy FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES:

An Honor That Bush Is Unlikely to Embrace By JESSE McKINLEY
Published: June 25, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Reagan has his highways. Lincoln has his memorial. Washington has the capital (and a state, too). But President Bush may soon be the sole president to have a memorial named after him that you can contribute to from the bathroom.

From the Department of Damned-With-Faint-Praise, a group going by the regal-sounding name of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is planning to ask voters here to change the name of a prize-winning water treatment plant on the shoreline to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

The plan, naturally hatched in a bar, would place a vote on the November ballot to provide “an appropriate honor for a truly unique president.” Supporters say that they have plenty of signatures to qualify the initiative and that the renaming would fit in a long and proud American tradition of poking political figures in the eye.

“Most politicians tend to be narcissistic and egomaniacs,” said Brian McConnell, an organizer who regularly suits up as Uncle Sam to solicit signatures. “So it is important for satirists to help define their history rather than letting them define their own history.”

Not surprisingly, those Republicans in a city that voted 83 percent Democratic in 2004 are not thrilled with the idea. Howard Epstein, chairman of the ever-outnumbered San Francisco Republican Party, called the initiative “an abuse of process.”

“You got a bunch of guys drunk who came up with an idea,” Mr. Epstein said, “and want to put on the ballot as a big joke without regard to the city’s governance or cost.”

The renaming would take effect on Jan. 20, when the new president is sworn in. And regardless of the measure’s outcome, supporters plan to commemorate the inaugural with a synchronized flush of hundreds of thousands of San Francisco toilets, an action that would send a flood of water toward the plant, now called the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant.

“It’s a way of doing something physical that’s mentally freeing,” said Stacey Reineccius, 45, a software consultant and entrepreneur who supports the plan. “It’s a weird thing, but it’s true.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Out in the Weather

I rode my bike to work tonight through rain the size of small clear grapes. Each drop smacked at my eyes trying to claw their way into a socket and the brain behind it. I let out small protesting yelps like a girl half in panic half in excitement at an out-of-control party on a late night in June. It’s pretty interesting watching the Hudson squall and squirm in a blur under a storm of lightning and thunder with branches whipping at you. My newly acquired vintage road bike built when aluminum was still sturdy creaked and muttered but stayed strong and square against the wind and the need to get to work on time. I made it to work sopping wet dodging fallen branches and stranded people – my change of clothes in my backpack soaked as much as me. Fortunately a nice warm set of mechanic blue Dickies awaited me in my locker. So no socks but at least I’m dry and happy.

Before all of this excitement with the rain and the bike, I met with my new friend M. a medical researcher at Columbia University who is helping me to orient myself with the local Uyghur community. M. who is one of the few Uyghurs from China here in the city tells me that lately he has been getting tired of constantly hitting the redial button on his phone when he tries to contact his family in Xinjiang. Since March all telephone lines which lead to Uyghur homes have been hopelessly jammed. He says when he tells Han people about his father’s unending wait for a passport none of them believe him. “They just don’t know.” Uyghurs are one of China’s family of 56 nationalities but it doesn’t appear as they have much reason to be happy. Even if Uyghurs decide to become “ting hua” people who do exactly what they are told, they can be cut down in an instant as Rebiya Kadeer was not long ago.

I wonder how my friend E. enjoyed the CCTV version of the Olympic torch relay when it passed through Kashgar this week a few hundred yards from his home. Like the rest of the Kashgarliks, I’m sure he was locked up for safekeeping in the old town under the strict lockdown imposed by the Chinese security forces. The game goes on, but not everyone is playing. Mother China will not let all her foster children go out until she is sure they will behave as if they are good Chinese.

Read what my advisor Robbie Barnett has to say about it

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Saturday, June 07, 2008

In Alaska

A few miles south of where Christopher McCandless disappeared into the wild we trudged a small trail cut through the taiga towards the treeless tundra above. Early spring, and signs of caribou and bear are everywhere marking the trail with bullets of brown and smears of black. Fiddlehead ferns are just now beginning to play their bright green song across the lower reaches of the Alaska Range. We wade after the snowshoeing tracks of bears above the treeline into the snowfields where, kinking our necks, the glory of Denali – the High One – is finally revealed to us under the glare and chill of the arctic sun and wind. Huddled in an alcove shared with arctic ground squirrels we marvel that our place is one in a million “Indian Points” in the mountains of Alaska – yet it feels pretty special to us. We are glad to be alive and here.

Alaska peels the skin off our ears and eyes. The primordial breath of a whale jetting a stream of mist out of the glassy fjord a few rocky steps away; the clarion screed of bald eagles wheeling over our popping and crackling inlet of exposed blue muscles and washed-out mollusks; the same eagles enveloping a deciduous rainforest with the sounds of wings against branches and air – brilliant flashes of white through spruce draped in moss.

We blow bloated sounds over blades of grass in our clenched fists at Jennifer and the clear air and Hans and I laugh maniacally. We melt ancient ice in our mouths – assisting the planet in melting earth’s glaciers. A thousand smooth stones are skipped. Beluga whales are not seen; grizzly bears are spotted (and thought to be heard by Jennifer – “we need to make a lot of noise so we don’t surprise him!”). The tide rushes in and out as if we are not there at all.

Alaska makes me feel small. It also makes me want to live: to be outside and healthy in a world of living things.We had a nice trip.