So it's been an entire month since I posted here. Huh. That's rather impolite of me.
Story is, I've been a bit occupied with the whole grad school thing of late (more so than usual, that is), and side projects (like blogging, e.g.) have taken a hit. One thing is that on my experiment, we've reached the point where the subsystems I develop have suddenly become crucial for day-to-day life around here, and now I'm supporting considerably more users than before. Let's see, what else? Oh! I've been accepted to attend and speak at this workshop, so I get to visit Montreal at the end of the month. My attempt to give a 20-minute practice talk today turned into a two hour debate about the correct philosophy and strategy to use in approaching this audience. But I also got some good tips on my presentation.
Also: I have a minion now. Just a freshman undergrad, who requires enough babysitting that I'm not sure he's a net gain yet, in terms of productivity, but he seems to be a pretty quick study.
I'm enough of a politics/news junkie that I've read an enormous number of things since last time I posted. I'll just highlight two. One is an actual book: just after the invasion of Iraq Dahr Jamail declared himself an independent journalist and headed there to try and report what the embedded media wasn't. He wound up spending large chunks of 2003 - 2005 there, living and reporting from among the Iraqis, until it simply became too dangerous for a westerner to do that anymore. Now he's written a book: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. It is not an especially easy read, especially if you're American (and thus, by extension, largely responsible for this mess). The writing reflects the Iraqis', and Jamail's own, evolution over the three-ish years chronicled in the book: at the start optimistic, if dismayed by the ongoing chaos and evidently poor planning, with time the mood grows darker and, yes, angrier. On the ground the occupation is seen first as bungling and ineffectual, then progresses to arrogant, dangerous, and finally malevolent and tyrannical. By the time Jamail left for the last time, the Iraqis with whom he interacted were mostly of the opinion that things were better under Saddam Hussein's regime. According to the afterward, most of the people he knew there have either fled Iraq or are dead.
Beyond the Green Zone, I should note, isn't a political text, and doesn't purport to explain why things turned out as they did, nor does it even try to describe in any systematic fashion what exactly happened. In fact, it reads like a diary: often scattered or hastily written, moving simply forward in time the reader is mostly allowed to discover things as Jamail did. Great literature it isn't, but if you don't read Arabic it's probably the best source out there to learn what the Iraq war looked like from the outside of a Humvee.
The other: Jack Hedin is the farmer who runs Featherstone Farm, to which my house subscribes through a CSA membership. (We're still finishing off the enormous amount of assorted greens pesto I froze last summer.) Anyway, Jack had an op-ed in the Times a couple of weeks ago on the farm bill and a problem for supporters of local agriculture: in some cases, it's illegal to plant those watermellons! In particular, there's an obscure provision of the farm subsidy rules, jealously protected by the California growers in particular, that effectively bans planting fruits and vegetables on land that used to be used to grow staple crops like corn or cotton. Which is, basically, all farmland around here. Funny, that.