Archive for the ‘writing and books’ category

Another poem about history

January 12, 2011


A Scholar’s Passion

The historian

flits between massacres, a fickle lover –

one minute hustled by an old chronicler

into congress with Fortune the Strumpet, still reeking

of battle, of armies mingling desperately at the junctures of continents –

and the next minute,

gently opening up the quivering

pages of an untouched little war that is

ready to bleed for him,

and leaving the old

series of deaths

musky with carnality and



Judah’s Foresight – about the Transcontinental Railroad, again

January 7, 2011

Is it ok to use a stentorian tone when speaking in a 19th century voice?

Theodore Judah

My dearest Anne,

I could not help but smile last night,

Wrinkles creasing my cheeks that in two months’ time

Will be wracked by deadly fever,

When you showed me your painting of our noble mountains –

A good painting – or so it seemed illumined by our campfire –

The painting not noble

But made by a woman’s fine hands

With intent that goes before the work,

Not so much like a siren as a bell.

It is our destiny, my dear, to burst our sacred wilderness apart,

As that other jungle will rupture me.

Some are cursed to step before they see, weary shovels preceding shoulders,

but you and I, we have a different doom

To see where we may never tread,

Or watch the creases between mountains where we once sat

Submerged in splitting trunks and melting rock.

I wonder if nature will forget to know

To tell the trees that summer’s coming:

Oil your engines, unfurl your leaves.

I wonder if men will forget to look to the ground before them,

Or if the ground will move too fast to look.

From my last bed in Panama,

Perhaps I will wonder what I have been doing,

Sowing the sterile seeds of our undoing

Into the knowing earth.


February 19, 2010

My first short post on this blog was titled “As a luddite…”, but visiting the steampunk temporary exhibit at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science  has made me reconsider my Luddite position (aesthetically as well as functionally – as my use of a blog indicates, of course, I have my uses for techology, but before now, I rarely found it appealing in itself). In a short article in the broadsheet for the exhibit, which opened in October and closes this week, Brian Catling from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford notes, “Steampunk rewrites technology without the aid of electricity or nuclear power. It gives its sermons and tells its tales in an ornate courtly language that has never been mass-produced or suffered the humiliation of being simplified by plasticity.” Catling’s article is called “Steampunk: A Calibration of Longing.”

“Pachydermos,” gas mask – Tom Banwell

It is plastic-ness above all things that I dislike about technology. While I sometimes fear that the internet is giving me ADD, taking up too much of my time that could be spent with people in the flesh, etc., it’s more often than not the aesthetics (or lack thereof) of modernity that really get to me. I am more shallow than I’d like to think?

I’m not a huge fan of lab science, or of the celebration of hard steel and churning gears. In, say, Atlas Shrugged (which will certainly get a post when I’ve finish reading it), these elements creep me out aesthetically as well as morally. But I really like the aesthetics of steampunk. There’s enough old-ness and history in it to counteract the new-ness. It’s personable and dirty. Catling writes that in steampunk, “the mechanical is given a new status that elevates it beyond slavish function.”

I thought this guy’s bio was especially cool:

though I’m maybe less excited about his pieces than some of the others in the exhibit:

The blurbs of several artists in the exhibit stated that they had always had the steampunk aesthetic – the future imagined from the past – but hadn’t realized that it was a distinct subculture with a name.

That is, in part, because steampunk is a pretty new movement. While it got its name in the 80s as a more nostalgic relative of cyberpunk, recently it has been gathering…steam. It is principally a literary genre, but it also surfaces in other forms, like the The Wild Wild West TV show from the 60’s, before steampunk had its name, and the movie remake, in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book and its movie, and (again) in Sherlock Holmes. These are not stunning specimens of quality cinema, etc., but then again steampunk in general doesn’t take itself too seriously, and maybe that is refreshing in itself.

Steampunk goggles, “Squid Attack” – Dr Grymm

Looking at these goggles and other wonders in the exhibit, one little boy, probably about six years old, said to his mother, “So this is what was meant to happen?”

Electric Skull – Amanda Scrivener/Professor Maelstromme

His Dark Materials is apparently considered to be steampunk or steampunk-inspired, with its zeppelins, clockwork, etc. So is the computer game Myst.

Most of the artists in the exhibit have unusual pseudonyms: Datamancer, Molly “Porkshanks” Friedrich, Doctor Grymm, Mad Uncle Cliff, Professor Maelstromme, Herr Doktor. It seems there is a certain sort of person who creates steampunk art.

Arachne Mechanica – Thomas Willeford

Many current – would they be “steampunks”? – cite Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and the like as inspiration. I am and especially used to be a fan of those authors myself, and maybe I have a little steampunk in me: here’s a mechanical fish I drew my freshman year in high school – long before I knew about steampunk:

I don’t think my fish would actually work, but that’s ok: Catling points out that mystery of function can be one of the most appealing aspects of a piece of steampunk art.

Incidentally,  when I was in London a few weeks ago, before I went to this exhibit, I bought myself a quite steampunky pocketwatch for just £9.

The long chain lets me wear it around my neck rather than in my pocket. I’m a little embarrassed to actually take it out and look at it in public – even around my neck, it is, so obviously, a pocketwatch – and I can’t tell if this embarrassment will get better or worse when I return to the US.

The issue of what constitutes steampunk music is apparently hotly debated. One group often classified as steampunk is Rasputina. Observe the steampunky wooden-gear-contraption at work around the middle of the video:

I liked that one, I think.

This one, not so much:

It reminded me of what I really don’t like about technology. Also, I swear the little boy near the end is Spoilsbury Toast Boy.

Some of the pieces in the exhibit were also quite creepy, sometimes in a fun way and sometimes not. For example, Molly “Porkshanks” Friedrich’s “Complete Mechanical Womb”:

Less ambiguously than cyberpunk, steampunk seems to delight in what is to me often disturbingly mechanical. And the delight is for the mechanics itself, rather than for any sort of dystopian message, though I can’t help but see a mechanical womb as dystopian. I like a good creepy image, but I don’t know if I’d want to live in a steampunk world, or at least not in Molly “Porkshanks” Friedrich’s.

…and now my laptop’s hard drive is apparently fried, reminding me of why actually I do hate technology. Now come barren days of work in Hertford College Grad Centre’s stark, modern, fluorescent computer room, without the pretty view out of my room’s two windows:

back when it was snowy here…

and without a pretty steampunk keyboard:

Ergonomic Keyboard – Datamancer

to keep me aesthetically satisfied.

The rest of my NAM pieces and other tidbits

August 25, 2009

Finally, I have time to post again. My last few weeks at NAM were busy, though lots of fun.

Here are the rest of my NAM stories from this summer. I definitely feel like I know more about how various organizations work. Yay!

A few other papers and senior-focused orgs have picked this one up.

Since my photos didn’t get used with my HSF story on the NAM site, here is one:

Healthy San Francisco Silver Avenue Clinic

Someone from CNN booking emailed me after reading my HSF story, asking for a pre-interview on skype. We skyped last Thursday, and she’s forwarding my contact info to the editorial and broadcasting teams (no guarantees that they’ll contact me, but they now have my info), and she told me to email her if I’m interesting in contributing writing/reporting for them!! (She thought I had an interesting perspective on health care as a college student..)

Healthy San Francisco Silver Avenue Clinic

I wish I liked taking photos more. It always feels so much more intrusive than reporting to me, or less respectful, even though I ask permission.

This story of mine broke before the Chronicle’s story about the Nichi Bei Times, first in the Nichi Bei Times itself and then on the NAM site, and a few other Asian American news sources picked it up. In fact, looking at the way the Chronicle structured their story and the information they included, I wonder whether they used my story for guidance.

I also got an email from the Asian American Journalists Association, for whose listserv I’m registered because I got a grant from them for my NAM internship, called “Save the Nichi Bei Times.” AAJA asked for members to support the new Nichi Bei Foundation and referenced my article. In other words, I got a general, anonymous blast that referenced my work! It was great seeing that someone was actually using my reporting to promote a cause. If my job is to be simply shifting information around, and maybe also digging up something from time to time if I’m lucky, it’s good to see that the shifting might matter.

Other NAM news:

Shane Bauer, one of the three hikers detained in Iran after accidentally crossing the Iran-Iraq border on July 31, is a freelance journalist who contributes to NAM. So the day the story of their detention broke, CNN and two or three other mainstream news organizations burst into NAM’s little, very-non-mainstream office to interview our director and others about the detention, and other media kept the phones ringing all week about the story. Iran has released little information about the status of the three since detaining them.

Random: someone recently found my blog by searching “What do dolphins eat.” Alas, poor searcher, my blog has given you only more questions, and no answers. Though I might suggest “fish” as an answer. This blog has also been the destination of the searches “what do ladybugs eat and drink” AND “what do deer eat.”

On another note, how did I manage to see 40 or so meteors the Wednesday before last and forget to wish on a single one?

NAM 7 week update

August 4, 2009

I think I missed a great editorial meeting last week. As I tried to get off the phone with Dell tech support, I wandered in and out of the meeting and heard something about an upsurge in leg extensions and other cosmetic surgery among Asians – someone asked how they did it, and someone else explained that she thought they broke the leg, and then added titanium piping. Then Dell told me I had to install something I didn’t need on my computer. (It turned out that one of our writers is working on a story about a dramatic increase in middle-aged Chinese-American men getting plastic surgery to compete better in a difficult job market. Their wives used to encourage them to come in – now they’re doing it on their own!)

When I got back to the meeting, I heard someone saying, “It’s a little late. I mean the movie came out two weeks ago,” and someone else saying, “Yeah, but he has a pretty unique perspective as a bank robber himself.” I correctly concluded NAM has connections with a bank robber who reviewed Public Enemies:

I recently had to do a lot of outreach for these roundtable discussions on women immigrants that New America Media was hosting in Washington, D.C., Chicago, LA, New York, and Miami. As an offshoot of the discussion, NAM decided to post blog entries by various contributors about their women immigrant relatives. Since I’d written about my grandma leaving China after World War II in my Writing About War journalism class last semester, I modified that piece and they posted it:

I mentioned looking for a family to interview about long-term care of a family member. I arranged to go meet the Waltons in Berkeley – Carol takes care of her husband Ortiz – and went to interview them last Friday with Paul on the video team. We got there 30 minutes early, and as we were waiting outside the house, a firetruck and ambulance came speeding down the street. Paul said, “They better not be coming here,” but sure enough, they stopped right next to us and five or six officers and medics went into the house.

They came out a few minutes later – it turned out the husband had had a fall, and then the wife had passed out as she was trying to help him. They were okay now, but we told Carol we’d come back and interview them another day, after they’d got some rest. That this had all happened just when we came to interview them about the difficulties of being old and ailing without support.

We came back on Monday, and in our interview, we learned that Ortiz Walton is a fairly famous jazz bassist – the youngest person and first African American to play in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, who has since then written about called Music: Black, White, and Blue in America, and held benefit concerts to raise money to support voting rights, and started a foundation for vulnerable students with his wife, and received a doctorate in Sociology from Berkeley, and been mentioned by Duke Ellington in his book, and been called by Max Roach “the greatest jazz bassist of all time.” And so on. My feature on them will be going up soon, but it was an all-around surreal experience.

Second NAM story

July 22, 2009

Here’s my second full story. They had a lot fewer edits for this one, and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, except for an extra, unnecessary “Perez said” – which has now been fixed. Here’s to having the intern-guts to point out even small problems!

Now I’m working on two health-related stories. For one, I’m interviewing  a family involved in long-term care of an elderly family member. My interview will be part of a policy piece on the place (or lack thereof :() of long term care in state and national health care plans. Apparently, 27% of national Medicaid spending on long term care services goes to home and community-based  services (HCBS), while 73% goes to nursing homes. 89% of Americans of 50 year and older want to stay in their homes as long as possible, and the unpaid contributions of the US’s ~34 million family caregivers are valued at over 375 billion.

I’m also working on a story that assesses the success of Healthy San Francisco so far and looks at how its principles might apply to national health care in light of the current national discussion.

And next Thursday, I’ll be reporting (maybe on camera :o) at a rally organized by the Ella Baker Center in Oakland calling for more California budget cuts in incarceration for minor offenses (they say these cuts could save 12 billion dollars over the next five years) so that cuts won’t be made in social services, education, health care, etc. (yay!).

More stats, a link, and a poem

July 7, 2009

Well, as intended, a post called “My sex statistics,” coupled with a very tempting first few lines to appear under the results for the tag “sex,” has attracted to my blog a few more wayfarin’ strangers searching the  tag “sex”. Only 4, this time, which, given the post’s tantalizing beginning, I can only attribute to the fact that the “sex” searchers are generally a small, regular group of people who have begun to learn that I cannot offer them what they seek.

Still, it seems now that something more complex than simple search results is drawing people to “My Sex Statistics.” 35 page views, my largest number so far, happened on the day I posted “My sex statistics,” with most views of that page in particular. Also for the first time people visited my “About” page. The increase in number of visitors was much larger than either chance or the four “sex”-searchers could account for. I guess it could just be a few visitors looking at many pages.

Apparently, one person also found my post by searching for “sex dreams.”

On an unrelated note, you can now read my first published NAM reporting piece (Note: I just collected the parents’ info and quotes. Someone else wrote it up; grammar and formatting is not mine.):

Also, a silly poem I wrote a few months ago, but which no one has seen and I just re-discovered on my computer:

The hem of my skirt touched the ground

and I winked at you just so, hoping that by quaintness

I could enchant your heart that beat to the rhythm of

hip hip, and I never thought to wonder why

rhythm has no vowels when

doom da dum dum dum

where would we be without vowels?

I shouldn’t have been wearing a long skirt in that club

anyway, and the way I was thinking chant came from enchant

I knew I had it all wrong.

But I can always hope.