February 2006 Archives

Spring Break

Apparently we've got some manner of "spring break" thing coming up in a couple of weeks. I suppose I should make some effort to get out of here for at least a few days. Chicago, maybe? Feels like I haven't been back there in forever.

Personal Mission Accomplished

You know how one of the symptoms of being busy is slacking off on opening your mail? Now normally, I open everything, recycle the junk, toss the window envelopes, and file the important stuff. Then you get busy, you leave the junk in a corner and just pull out the bills and correspondance. And that's how it starts. So back before I left for Israel I started getting busy. Then I left the country. Then I came back to a year's worth of piled-up mail and never had the time to tackle it. But I kept meaning to, so new mail just went on the pile. Until now.

Last night I sorted out every piece of mail I've received since returning from Israel, and made a good start on the while-I-was-gone pile. And have a couple of dozen paper cuts for my trouble. And an entire extra shelf in my room that is free and usable again. Sweet.

Today we're entertaining a prospective post-doc, so that'll at least be different.

Other News


Apropos to previous posts on the fallout from al-Askari, Juan Cole points out that while central Iraq is under a curfew, large demonstrations are gearing up in Pakistan and Lebanon. So we'll see how and how far this spreads.

On a completely unrelated item, I would point out that I know a thing or two about modern technology, but this is not a technology blog. There are lots of those. Still, this is just too rich to let pass. The background is that Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of those Blackberry text-email-pager thingies, is being sued for patent infringement by a patent holding company called NTP, Inc. Now NTP has no products; its business model is to collect technology patents, hang onto them, and launch lawsuits if someday someone manages to make money using techniques even remotely related to the claims of their patents. Now it's trying to get a judge to shut down the Blackberry service unless RIM gives them lots of cash. There are lots of firms like this, and they're just one visible example of the many ways in which the USA's patent laws are broken. That said, here's what an NTP spokesman had to say after a hearing today:

"We want to keep you in business," James Wallace, an attorney for NTP, said in reference to RIM. "It's just time to pay up. What we have got here is a squatter."

Squatter, says the guy using second-hand patents for corporate blackmail? Like I said. Too rich to let pass.

On the Hebron Road is a checkpoint, a couple hundred meters from the actual gap in the Separation Barrier. Through this interstitial runs a barbed wire-lined road, flanked by an IDF installation and a cargo screening facility that might become active should the Israelis ever ease the restrictions on movement in the West Bank. 2005:06:06 06:28:41

A while back the BBC posted a gallery of photographs highlighting attempts ranging from graffiti to comissioned murals to annotate The Wall. This one in particular struck me, in an "I've stood right there" kind of way.

Recall that shortly before leaving Israel I walked the eight-ish kilometers down the Hebron Road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. In most places the Green Line itself is demarcated hardly if at all; technically the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem crosses it twice without visible indication. Likewise on the Hebron Road there is no way of telling when Israel proper ends and the West Bank begins. The first few kilometers of the walk are dominated by Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, and are lands that every Israeli assumes will be incorporated into West Jerusalem in any final peace treaty. It is the Separation Barrier, as it is properly known, that indicates the transition to unequivically Palestinian lands. I had first seen it some months before, from a distance. But on this final excursion I touched it and crossed it.

The Barrier cuts right through the outer neighborhoods and fields of Bethlehem, and my guide was more than happy to drive me along the road paralleling it on the Palestinian side, stopping to point out where his family's fields, which he hasn't been allowed to visit in years, would be. It is often compared to the Berlin Wall, but let's be serious. Berlin had nothing on this thing. (Click for a larger version.) 2005:06:06 06:43:38
Seen wandering between the Wall and the checkpoint, I still wonder where this donkey belonged, and whether its owner was even allowed to follow it here to retrieve it. 2005:06:06 06:29:35

Graffiti that has been stenciled on the gate at the opening in the Barrier. It's hard to make out, but I'm pretty sure the dark blob next to Jabba is supposed to be Sharon. If you look closely at the photos of this gate in the BBC gallery, this stenciling is there, too. 2005:06:06 09:53:29

Let's have no illusions here: I deplore the barrier. It is Palestinian lands, not Israeli, that are expropriated for its construction, and Palestinians who are cut off from jobs, markets, fields, and relatives; thus it smells like collective economic punishment. Palestinians, not Israelis, are harassed, searched, arbitrarily denied passage, and occasionally shot at the checkpoints; so it looks like their human rights are being denied. It forms a de facto border well inside territority that nominally belongs to the future Palestinian state, and since the Palestinians have minimal power to negotiate the route, it must inevitably complicate any final settlement between the two sides. Not that either side is well-served by wedding itself to the Green Line, but it is a useful spatiopolitical fulcrum that ought not be unilaterally or casually tossed aside. Israelis would do well to keep in mind that their own roadmaps are the only maps in the world that do not demarcate the Green Line as something like an international border.

However, the Middle East would be a simpler place than it is were it possible to routinely paint issues in black and white. Reasonable people disagree over the Separation Fence as well. While the terrorist attacks against Israelis are tragic, they are at most sporadic, so there is surely a limit to the hardship that the Palestinians can be made to endure as prevention. Similarly the barrier is a problem, but especially in light of the Israeli Supreme Court's interventions to correct the worst faults, it cannot be said that no atrocity would warrant its emplacement. Justice depends on identifying and adhering to a fair balance -- one that I do not think the Fence as it is presently conceived can easily satisfy.

Incidentally, her failure to recognize this reality is just one of the many reasons why I'm not inclined to support Senator Clinton's probable bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. It's emblematic of her larger failure to confront, or even seriously consider, difficult positions.

Not everywhere is the Barrier a ten meter concrete wall. Along much of its planned route, it is still just a road, a no-mans-land, and an electrified barbed wire fence. From a Bethlehem hillside one can see how the town is hemmed in by less visible barriers of this kind. Across the Fence, Jewish settlements are spreading like wildfire. 2005:06:06 07:43:16

On a Lighter Note


Connor's quip the other day cracked me up. "Dude. I didn't know Minneapolis had aqueducts," quoth he. Now that he mentions it, the Stone Arch Bridge (creative name, eh?) does have a bit of a Roman look to its engineering. Actually, until relatively recently it was a rail bridge connecting the flour mills on the west bank of the St. Anthony Falls to the railyards east of the river. Then the Parks District converted it into a foot / bicycle crossing.

Around here I suspect we can mostly agree that it's fairly scummy behavior when Republicans start trying to brainwash preeschoolers. But frankly, with two Senators and a circus donkey under my bed, I'd be a tad unsettled too. The inevitable Democratic counterpunch emerged recently, but is so wishy-washily done that in Blogistan it is widely believed to be a Republican plant.

Beaverottypus! Platybeavotter! Yes, those names are misleading, since it has no known living descendants, but they're more fun to burst out with. Naturally, it took the creationists under 12 hours to discover an exciting new way to make fools of themselves.

We are used to seeing the Dome of the Rock soaring into a clear sky, and forget how close-packed the Old City of Jerusalem is, and how awfully vulnerable this makes it. From atop a wall in the Jewish Quarter the golden Dome peeks above the rooftops with the Mount of Olives in the background. 2005:03:05 13:25:36

In response to yesterday's post, John expressed some concern that bombing the Dome of the Rock would lead more-or-less directly to the end of the world. Set aside for a moment the fact that that's the whole point for those who would blow it up. Let's consider a little further in relation to the fallout from al-Askari.

The Times tells us today that over a hundred have died in the violence that followed yesterday's bombing, including several Sunni imams. The Iraqi government, which was already nearly stalemated over the composition of the new government, is in turmoil. Juan Cole indicates that the Shiite militias are likely to become involved, and there is every chance that the present Iraqi civil war could transform from guerilla to hot. That's the bad news. On the other hand, the initial wave of violence has abated, many influential religious leaders are actively working to calm the air, and there is little evidence so far of spillover to other countries. Iraq might yet get through this in one piece.

While the sentiments evoked would be analogous in the case of the Dome of the Rock, events would surely play out differently, in part because of the fraught political dimension, and in part because of how Israel is arranged. While Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad would take the lead in focusing popular outrage, there would be less opportunity for an initial flash of sectarian violence; Israel already has robust mechanisms in place to prevent transmigration of Palestinians into Jewish-controlled areas, and curtails Palestinian mobility as a matter of course, anyway. The outposts and the colony in Hebron would be in grave danger. Does this aid or exacerbate? One can argue that a flash of violence helps quickly exhaust the passions raised, but it could also be the spark that leads to a more general conflagration. Iraq will be instructive in this respect.

At any rate, the reaction of the Palestinians would be somewhat inconsequential to the wider geopolitical ramifications which, I contend, are dominated by national actors, and while noisy would change little. The military disparity between Israel and its Arab neighbors has only grown since the last war they lost badly, so large scale conflict is not something they are eager to repeat. So long as the Israeli government could plausibly make the case that it had tried to prevent the disaster, the USA would continue to support it. There would be increased pressure for Israel to part with portions of Jerusalem in a final peace deal, but this would be countered by pointing to the inevitable and probably dramatic increase in terrorist attacks. In short, the extremists would probably get away with it, whether or not the example of Iraq turns out to predict war.

Shrines Falling

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Reuters and AP photos via this BBC News gallery.

A few hours ago the present wave of insurgent bombing in Iraq resulted in the destruction of one of the holier sites in Shia Islam, the al-Askari mosque in Samarra, Iraq. This happens to also be a particularly visible attack, as the century-old golden dome was one of the largest of its kind. Naturally, angry calls for revenge have begun.

The reason this catches my attention today is that there is another prominent domed mosque that is perenially at risk of destruction by bombing. The Israeli far right calls for the Dome of the Rock to be demolished to make way for the construction of the Third Temple, and the security services occasionally uncover plots in various stages of preparation to blow it up. The two are parallel insofar as both are highly visible targets, and are advertised as one of the holiest sites in Islam. In that sense, what follows in Iraq may serve as a preview of what would follow should the Israeli extremists succeed.

There are important differences, of course, the most significant of which is the fact that the Dome plays the parallel role of symbolic anchor for the Palestinian claim on Jerusalem, and on the West Bank by extension.

[Update: 14:30] The tremendously useful Juan Cole now has a couple of posts up tracking events, and adding additional context.

Don't Punish the Palestinians

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A heavily damaged factory building near where the Separation Fence slices through Bethlehem. My guide indicated that it has been hit by an Israeli shell or missile several months back. Between restrictions on movement and the tendency for things to get blown up, it's no wonder the PA is nearly the only economic game in town. 2005:06:06 14:44:59

Taking the day-to-day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a familiar point of departure, let's talk about Hamas. As everyone on the planet has heard by now, Hamas won an absolute majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in last month's elections, somewhat to the dismay of essentially everyone involved. There followed a bit of debate in the international community about the appropriate response, the choices being to either engage with the PLO via Abbas and bypass Hamas until it can be prodded into moderating its positions, or else to squeeze and isolate the Palestinian government so Hamas cannot govern and thus force new elections. That new legislature has now been sworn in, and most of the world has opted for engagement. Israel, and to a lesser extent the USA, have decided to basically push for a do-over of the elections by bankrupting the Palestinian Authority. Unless replacement funds can be found in Europe and the Muslim world, the Territories will lose their single largest employer and a good deal of infrastructure.

Jimmy Carter has issued another of his absurdly sensible editorials, Don't Punish the Palestinians, pointing out that dramatically damaging (further) the Palestinians' quality of life is probably not the best strategy. Forcing them to rely heavily on Iran the the Arab League for financial support is probably also counterproductive. And all in all, encouraging democracy and then punishing peoples for their choices is not much better than previous administrations' support of friendly autocrats. Given the history of the region, it's a bit rich all in all to expect Arabs to elect secular pro-Western liberals when given the choice.

Even in Israel, some commenters get this, but especially as elections are impending the political classes are falling over themselves to look aggressive. Which, come to think of it, probably explains the USA's stance as well.

The view south from west Jerusalem, near the Knesset. As far as the eye can see, Jerusalem suburbs cover the hilltops. Many of which are on the Palestinian side of the Green Line and are thus, technically, illegal "settlements." 2004:10:22 16:34:51

Diving In

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Sorry to go quiet right after promising a week of interesting content, but sometimes the lab will do that to you. I did manage to solve a long-standing mystery yesterday, which had been causing actual problems for a couple of weeks now, so I think it was justified.

At one point, there were also geese.

Geese making themselves comfortable on one of the few patches of open water remaining on the Mississippi, where the agitation of the St. Anthony falls prevents freezing over. Normally a fair flood, the ice capping this portion of the river has reduced this segment of the falls to a spillway. 2006:02:19 14:17:44

Since we finally broke the -10°F mark over the weekend, I decided make another photo-expedition to see if the river had frozen over yet. With the exception of the immediate vicinity of the falls, it turns out that it has. Although with the warmer weather this week, that probably won't last. It nearly broke above freezing today!

Looking over the highest of the St. Anthony falls towards the Stone Arch Bridge, the river completely ices over just past the exit of the locks. 2006:02:19 14:17:03

Review and Preview

Positive temperatures have returned to Minnesota, somewhere or other, but here's it's still 5 below or so. Yesterday demonstrated most adequately why I don't bike in temperatures that low. It's not the cold per se, but one does have to bundle up pretty well to avoid windburn, which I had to do anyway because of the wind. It seems there's some trick I still haven't worked out, because whenever I do that below about 5°F, my glasses promptly ice over. Makes it very hard to see. You'd think I'd work out a way around that, but both morning and evening yesterday, by the time I made it to the bus stop the optics were uselessly opaque.

Hereabouts it looks to be a fairly mundane week I'm heading into. However, the world does chug along, and I've had a not especially novel ideal. In light of the rolling disaster that is Israeli-Palestinian relations kicking into high gear in the past couple of weeks, and since I've still got a thousand or so unpublished photos from my time over there, I propose to spend the next week blogging the Levant. Because I can, and because Juan Cole doesn't write about it enough, and when he does he often comes off sounding a bit, well, unreasonable.

Glance at the Ha'aretz front page today for a preview.

Brrr! Still Winter!

Got up to a balmy -5°F this afternoon (our high temperature happened back at midnight, when it was still above zero), but now that the sun's set it's at -11°F and falling. So I'm heading home soon, but will be delaying until the bus is just about to arrive. Bad weather for hanging out at the bus stop. And I'm not being a wimp; look at the plot below -- the entire day it was well below seasonal norms.

Courtesy of Weather Underground, today's trend lines. It's pretty clear what happened; as the high pressure ridge moved through, cold air poured in on top of us, and cleared the skies up dramatically, so there's nothing to keep the heat in.

A couple of days ago we got into the composition of mist clouds when warm air hits cold, which can be anything from building exhaust to your breath on a cold morning. The verdict was that because the clouds were short-lived, they were made of water droplets. This morning I'm not so sure; these clouds hung around a lot longer, and there seemed to be a component that persisted after the rest had evaporated. And it was 25°F or so colder than the previous shot. So I'm speculating that this time there was some ice forming up there, although the majority of the water was still evaporating as droplets.

Somewhat different clouds on a much colder day. Does it look like there's snow forming up there? Possible. 2006:02:17 10:52:22


Good morning! We may not have gotten any snow from the front that passed through, but finally it feels like winter. Just too bad our visiting Israeli student left before experiencing any cold weather.

As the windchill is somewhere below -30°F at the moment, I have decided to forego biking in today. Time to put that bus card to good use. Not to fear, though; as soon as we get back out of instant frostbite territory I'll be back to the pedals. This is Minneapolis after all. Winter biking isn't even that unusual. Although if we could get a Bike Winter thing going here, that would rock.

Blog Linkage

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I have no idea how I wound up on this list of science blogs, but it's kinda cool that I did. Especially since I'm sharing a screen with the likes of Quantum Diaries (inactive now, since it was a one-year project, but really neat archives to peruse) and Mike the Mad Biologist, who just today was exclaiming at his apparent metastasis through the internet.

I guess I should write more about science.

Speaking of links, while I don't normally link random news articles, this is absolutely hilarious. I'm assuming it's quicker to pronounce in Persian.

Things Which Take Hold

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You've gotta love those weeks when you spend a solid two days trying to find a satisfactory way to integrate some expression. Which was way more work than the problem actually called for, but sometimes I get dogged that way, and usually over the wrong things. And I still feel like I'm missing some aspect of the stationary point method, at least as applied to complex functions.

John complained about Where's George, mostly that he disapproves of defacing currency and putting it back in circulation. Kind of like shaving coins, back in the days of gold currency, in extracting some private value for yourself before passing it along at full face value. That bill I mentioned yesterday was the first time I'd ever seen one, though, so I'm puzzled at how John's gotten enough of them to be annoyed at them. Have you ever seen these before? Let me know in the comments.

For whatever reason, though, the project really inspires some people. From poking around on the site, there are folks who report having stamped and entered into circulation literally thousands of notes. At least one of whom appears to be on the Uof MN campus, so there's probably a disproportionate number of them floating around hereabouts. Like a message in a bottle, except there's no message. Actually, it's more like putting dye in a river, and it's exactly like tagging migratory animals. So in fact, it's a big experiment on the ecology of greenbacks.

Poor Sara. Whoever she ticked off was willing to go to significant trouble to return the favor, it would seem. Pity I didn't manage to snap a clearer picture, but you get the idea, and I was in a hurry. 2006:02:11 17:30:19

Abstraction by Quantification


A bit of bookkeeping has a marvelous effect, sometimes, on perspective. Keep track of the motion of a single dollar bill as it circulates in the world, and it becomes not just currency, but an emissary. Although the project has been running since 1998, just the other day I intercepted my first dollar bill tracked by the Where's George system. Tragically, I spent it (Breakfast bagel! Not yet awake!) before remembering to take a photograph, so you'll just have to believe that it was prominently stamped to that effect. But from now on, you can track the bill if someone happens to report seeing it.

A friend in the department is getting little toys in the mail from a thus-far-anonymous party. Including pirate-themed rubber duckies, which is so awesome, I might have to steal one. But they're numbered, and seem to be counting down. So on the one hand, it would seem somehow more wrong to take one and break up the set. And on the other, I wonder what happens upon the arrival of Toy Zero (or, perhaps more likely, #1; I guess most people don't actually count from zero).

I made an effort a few days back to quantify my Jekyll'n'Hyde routine. Unfortunately the site was badly overloaded at the time, so I didn't get many responses. Maybe a few more will try now? To review, we had Milligan who wants to save the world via electing Democrats and Milligan who wants to save the world via global conquest.

Funny the effect a little change of perspective can have. How long did it take you to realize that you're looking at a skyscraper sideways, I wonder. Dain Rauscher Plaza, to be exact. 2006:02:11 16:12:33

Sunrise: Photoblogging


Eesh. After UThink upgraded the site's software the comment spam problem went away for a while, but it's clawing its way back. For now it's easy enough to use the new junking feature to dump a spam or two per day, but that's already up from one or two per week earlier this month. Hopefully this isn't indicative of the future growth rate.

First really chilly weekend in a while is coming up, and this morning it felt that way. Thought I'd share.

Downtown Minneapolis as seen from across the Mississippi on the East Bank campus. You can always tell when the temperature is comfortably below freezing because the exhaust from the heating systems of the city becomes strikingly visible. I think this is because it's now cold enough for ice grains to condense from the moist outflow before the water vapor can dissapate. 2006:02:15 09:10:42
Really strikingly visible. Especially at sunrise. This is the power plant on the river by my house. 2006:02:15 08:34:16

[Update from the comments]: Dean Armstrong points out that these clouds actually are liquid droplets, not ice crystals. Doh!

With that in mind, now I know why the condensation clouds are so visible on cold mornings, and it's exactly the same process that makes your breath visible. Remember from weather reports that low dewpoint and low humidity are the same thing, meaning that cold air can carry less dissolved water vapor. If you take warm humid air and cool it down to its dewpoint it becomes super-saturated, the water spontaneously condenses out as droplets, and a fog forms.

When warm, moist building exhaust (or your breath) hits the outside air, the two begin to mix. The mixture cools, but the water vapor is also being diluted, lowering the dewpoint. So it's a race. If the temperature difference is large, the hot air doesn't have to mix with very much cold air to cool down a lot, and the temperature can catch up to the dewpoint on the way down. But eventually ambient conditions dominate, since there's a lot of air outside after all, the dewpoint falls back below the temperature, and the tiny droplets evaporate.

So on a really cold morning, the temperature difference is huge (by tingly fingers standards, anyway, writes the guy sitting in the lab full of cryogens), the temperature gets down to the dewpoint quickly and stays there for a while. Meaning thick fluffy clouds that hang around for a bit and stand out in the sunrise.

The Surveilance Beat

Continuing with the Minneapolis skyline theme, a face atop the State Theater keeps watch in front of the US Bank building. This is more coincidental than it looks; there is a roughly ten square foot patch of sidewalk on Hennepin from which one can take this picture without obstructions. 2006:02:11 16:24:10

Corrente has been running a decent series on Bush's domestic surveilance. I linked to a CNet puff piece the other day describing in minimal detail what the NSA has to do to implement such a program. Little did I know that Corrente had already posted a fairly comprehensive analysis (and if you find that useful, they have an entire domestic surveilance category to click on).

One wonders whether this excellent WaPo article on national security letters -- each basically a low-oversight warrant and gag order rolled into one -- might have attracted more notice if run now, instead of a few months back.

Protests continued around the world this weekend over the Danish Muhammed cartoons, although they didn't quite make it into the current news cycle, having been displaced by Washington who-knew-when-ism over Katrina and the Veep's lousy gun handling. There's a sense in Gaza that they're winding down, or at least have turned peaceful, and Norway is reopening its offices there. On the other hand, there is fear that things are escalating in Pakistan. Condoleezza, naturally, is continuing to blame the whole mess on Iran and Syria. So it's a mixed bag.

It's instructive to recall that a similar cycle played out last year after Newsweek reported that the Quran had been desecrated during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay. In the end, there were a few deaths and dozens of injuries, plus a probable boost in recruitment by militant extremists, but the phenomenon was largely confined to Afghanistan with some spillover into southeast Asia, Indonesia in particular. It was widely recognized at the time that the violence was a reaction to pent up grudges over a variety of issues that melded easily into the persistent regional anti-Western narrative. At the time there was concern that a fire had been lit in the Arab conciousness that would long poison relations and create tension, although it's unclear why this would do so more than the West's other, more serious indelicacies. After a month or so things died down and the world largely forgot about the story, except insofar as Republicans in the USA used it as a club to help keep the mainstream media in line.

There are important differences, of course. The present flare-up is a more spatiotemporally diffuse phenomenon, as it happens, slowly building over the past four months, and presently spread across the Muslim world from Jakarta to London, with relatively sporadic violence. Unlike outrage over Quran desecration or Abu Ghraib, there was no horrifying story to break abruptly; just a creeping insult gradually spreading, occasionally stoked by political opportunists here and there. And for a change, the outrage is neither sparked by nor directed at the USA.

In a sense, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the like all contribute, of course. But of more particular concern this time is the second-class treatment that immigrants and their descendants, often Muslim, receive in Europe. In this sense the close recent parallel is the immigrant riots in France last year. All of these factors play straight into the overriding narrative that the West has no respect for Islam or Arabs. The burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut is only tangentially related so the particularities of some ill-conceived sketches, but has everything to do with a large segment of the world's population that has for as long as anyone alive can recall been just on the edge of integrating with and reaping the benefits of the modern world, and seemingly always frustrated by the powers that got there first.

Still, the fact that these affairs have generally burned themselves out relatively quickly should not be taken as absolutely predictive of the state of the world at large. Sometimes small triggers do indeed spark a forest fire, in terrain you didn't even know was dry. The Palestinians didn't fight the Second Intifada for five years to keep Sharon away from the Temple Mount, except in the most figurative sense, but his visit helped spark a mass uprising over the slow expropriation of what the Palestinians had come to see as the small portion of their birthright that they would be allowed to keep. There is, frankly, not even a useful lesson here, though. If you happen to be in Sharon's position, you're an idiot if you don't make sure to know your terrain. Jyllands-Posten however can be faulted for gratuitously offending part of its community, but can't reasonably be expected to have forseen the wider ramifications.

Complementarity: Photoblogging

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Some days a skyscraper is just like so much abstract art. It's the sky that makes the difference. When it's the blue that extends undifferentiated right out to space, there's no reference points for the eye to latch onto, and the whole affair collapses down to colors and plane geometry, and you forget all about the recognizable IDS Center. 2006:02:11 16:19:00

So, there's this intriguing automated JoHari Window thing going around. It's really a distributed sieve for personality traits, but while the categorization is quite simple, you could debate forever what exactly of significance is being extracted. Anyway, I'm going to take this in a slightly new direction.

At various points it's been widely speculated that I've got an evil twin somewhere, or perhaps more likely, that I'm somebody's evil twin. More specifically, I do enjoy cultivating a certain Jekyll'n'Hyde ambiguity, which I'll play into here. So, I present two complementary profiles; attack one or both as strikes your fancy.

Milligan the Basically Decent

Milligan the Maniacally Evil

Compare to this shot, of an objectively much weirder looking skyscraper. But I've included abundant visual cues in the foreground and background, and it safely remains the AT&T Tower. 2006:02:11 16:22:33

Icy Patch: Photoblogging

Look closely -- can you read the sign atop the Gold Medal Flour mill? Shockingly enough, the Mississippi has still not yet frozen over; at this late stage of the winter, there's every chance that it won't. It's tempting to link our missing river ice to shrinking glaciers and ice caps, but it's nothing so simple. Rather, it's this zonal flow that's been gripping North America all season, keeping us awash in Pacific air. 2006:02:11 15:23:36

Our first extended, if not especially severe, cold snap since November is underway, meaning we've actually had a bit of snow on the ground all week. It comes in fits and starts, but since it's been below freezing for some days now, the next day's sun doesn't melt it all away. Friday night brought less than an inch, but was notable for the well-developed flakes; my first thought on heading out that evening was that the air was full of white dragon scales. Not as descriptive as I should have liked, though, since myth outlines any number of varieties, but few zoos have a specimen handy for comparison.

Wandered across the river and through downtown yesterday, and took a number of pictures, including the one here. Crossing the river on the stone footbridge was chilly, but overall it was a pleasant day for a walk. Really, but for the lack of snow, I can hardly complain about this season we're having -- it's been like a perpetual November, which in Chicago was always my favorite time of year.



A birthday shout-out goes to Gemma today.

Today's link, something G should enjoy, though it's quite likely she's already run across it. I direct you to the Propaganda Remix Project, source of the poster featured here.

Elsewise, curious day. On the one hand, we've got undergrads running about underfoot, since student projects for the Experimental Methods class are getting underway. On the other, NASA bureaucrats are poking about, investigating what juicy technologies we might be sitting on, plus general spot checking that we're doing something sensible with the grant NASA gave us.

White Out!


Snow's mostly tapered since this afternoon, but visibility got pretty low for a bit. Couldn't make out even the barest shapes across the Mississippi for much of the day. Now that the sun's set it's difficult to tell from inside how much snow is falling, but it's clearly less. Now there's a couple of inches on the ground, which would ordinarily be minor, but this winter constitutes a major snowstorm. Especially since for a change it's cold enough that it'll likely stick around for a few days.

Since it's been a while since my last post, here's what I've been reading online:

I've been tracking the various scandals in current circulation, of course. As I've previously mentioned, Bush's error in the espionage blowup was using the NSA's cababilities so blatantly as to get caught. Nevertheless, the NSA has always had the capacity to record most any electronic communication; CNet has a mildly technical overview describing how. Abramoff's error was also in getting caught, but his far greater sin (well, one of several) is probably perfectly legal -- aiding Congress in its age-old passtime of screwing the Native American, this time to the tune of billions of dollars in BIA revenues. Then there's the Arab world up in arms over tasteless Danish cartoons; Juan Cole outlines how things escalated to this point.


No, seriously. Though almost nobody noticed at the time, Western Union discontinued telegraph service on January 27. Now they only send money. The Independent ran a good piece; read part of it for free from South Africa, but the original is in the pay archives. Said the technology editor of The Economist, "Imagine a news headline from 2150 that says Microsoft has just shipped its last copy of Windows." If it's any consolation, apparently telegraphese is found to live on in text messaging abbreviations.

And rounding out with a bit of humor, How to Survive a Robot Uprising sounds like a must-have reference. Shelve it with your Max Brooks collection.

Finally, and I meant to post this sooner, The BEAST has posted its annual list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America. Cathartic for liberals (Barbara Bush, God, and Sam Alito hold adjacent slots in the top 20), but hillarious for all as American culture is the real target here. I was going to post a representative entry here, but I really, really couldn't pick just one. So go read the whole list, unless you're easily offended or something.

"Treating people like Arabs"

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First, as always, a dab of history:

Until a couple of years ago, Amona was just one of dozens of hilltop settlements in the West Bank, generally built on misappropriated Palestinian lands, consisting of a few families living in motor homes and trailer houses. Such caravans can pop up overnight, and the routinely do.

This one had a good location, and grew rapidly. Last year they did something unusual -- the settlers built nine permanent houses on the hill. Fearing they would become entrenched and seed another settlement "bloc", Shalom Acshav (Peace Now) challenged this before the Supreme Court, which ordered the houses demolished. But even empty houses have symbolic value to the settlers, so they reached a deal whereby the houses could remain, so long as nobody occupied them. This deal held until recently, when the strains between the government and the settlers caused by the Gaza evacuation led to the breakdown of this deal as well.

This week, the IDF came in to demolish the houses. The settlers decided to make a last stand, and called in thousands of supporters. Chaos ensued. Given that context, the following is offered without comment:

From Ha'aretz reporting on the demolition,

At yesterday's confrontation, some 3,000 settlers - many of them teenagers - faced off against thousands of soldiers and policemen during the three-and-a-half hour operation, which both sides agreed had been far worse than the disengagement from Gaza. Some 75 people were arrested.


The ensuing six-hour wait, until the court finally cleared the demolitions to go forward at about 10 A.M., strained the nerves of both sides, and when the operation resumed it was open war: The settlers holed up in the houses hurled stones, iron bars and concrete blocks, and police responded by clubbing anyone within reach - even those who were merely trying to flee the scene. Mounted policemen rode down anyone in their path.

Among the wounded were right-wing MKs Effi Eitam and Aryeh Eldad - and the latter, furious and in pain with a broken hand, let his true feelings slip: "They're treating people like Arabs here," he spat.

In March, 2005 ...

The equinox is just next month, and what with the unusual weather patterns of late, you'd almost think spring has nearly arrived. Punxsutawney Phil notwithstanding. As Connor asked, what were you doing in March 2005?

As March kicked in, we were about midway through the season of Lent. The desert had bloomed and the country was still green, but no longer vibrant. Summer would soon be upon the Levant. As of March, I had been in Israel longer than planned when I left the States.

Presently, I made by first overnight trip to Jerusalem. Friday was shopping and then walking the Via Dolorosa with the Franciscans. After more exploration, eating and finally sleep at a Hebrew University dorm high atop Mt. Scopus, overlooking the entire city. Saturday was for tooling around the Old City taking photographs until Shabbat ended and the buses started up again. We walked the length of West Jerusalem then, from the Green Line to the central bus depot on its western edge. I would be back.

Eventually Easter came. For the first time in my life, I wasn't at church. Services are generally Saturday evening to coincide with Shabbat, but the buses don't run until after sundown. I couldn't figure out how to get to one in time, which I considered a deep personal failure.

March was also the month I marched in Tel Aviv with the Israeli left in favor of the disengagement from Gaza. I hoisted a sign I could barely read, and let firey speeches I couldn't hope to follow wash over me. A futile and largely unnecessary gesture in terms of politics, but educational for me. I had not before been in Tel Aviv after dark, after the train home stopped running, without a local holding my hand.

I was Father Christmas at a Purim party, photographer at a farewell party, and host to a dinner party or two. I knew enough Hebrew to get by and to get around. I was beginning to adapt, to no longer feel like a guest in a foreign country, but like I'd found a bit of a home away from home (away from home...). And as of March, I did not know for how much longer I would live in Israel.

Ariela, the woman in the middle, headed back to Argentina the next day, so a farewell party was in order. From left to right behind her, myself, Lynn, Miriam, Sergei, Olivia, Jimmy, and Christiaan. 2005:03:30 01:09:24


Eesh. Every time I decide to go back to posting daily 'round here, I go and have a week like this and don't post at all. They're invariably the more interesting weeks, too.

Say, can you guess which side of the street faces north? A few days of 40°+ weather will have that effect. 2006:01:26 11:19:16

Rather than attempt to dig into the news of late, I'll direct you to consult the journalism supplier of your choice. Except that I will note that, contrary to what I posted last time, Hamas wound up not with a slight, but with an overwhelming victory in the Palestinian elections. Just so someday I don't go browsing through my archives and think, "Gee, I sure wasn't paying much attention, was I?"

The weather, on the other hand, has been odd. For days on end, the water lying around on the ground underwent this strange phase transition and became something physicists call a liquid. I'm told that for much of the nation, this was the warmest January on record. Before you ask, no, there's no evidence that it's related to global warming, at least not in any simple way. The jet stream has simply been hanging out far to the north, preventing arctic air from moving south out of Canada. I will hypothesize that this pattern is made more likely by recent changes to the global climate, however.

Thankfully we got some wintery weather again, although it was actually above freezing when I took this picture. Much of this had already turned into slush or ice by morning. Made good packing snow in the meanwhile, due to its extreme wetness. 2006:01:31 23:16:21

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