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Cleaning the Guru's Garage

As I did in 2006 and 2007, I spent Saturday in San Ramon, preparing the house in which Amma will stay during her visit to the ashram in early June. Now that I have begun attending church again (St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Orinda), I have my feet firmly planted in two religious camps.

My wife is a follower of Amma, and I find the idea of seva (selfless service) to be appealing, so I do support work for Amma's semi-annual visits. In addition to cleaning out the garage in late May, I also volunteer to handle the walkie-talkie base station. And, of course, I get hugged by Amma twice a year.

This spring, some other people had done part of the work in the garage--cleaning out the cabinets--but we still had the floor to sweep and wash, the cobwebs to remove (while not harming the spiders), and the garbage cans and fluorescent fixtures to wash. All while being careful not to use too much water--they buy it by the truckload at the Ashram's rural location.

In addition, I tithe to St. Stephens. Not the biblically suggested 10%, but a significant amount, because I don't think any church should be totally dependent on whatever randomly drops into the collection plate on Sunday. As time goes on, I hope to add personal involvement in the church's good works. And let me say I am proud of the role the Anglican Church (the mother ship, as it were) has been playing in providing asylum to persecuted foreigners in South Africa. I like being part of the St. Stephen's community too, in part because the Episcopal Church was the church of my youth.

Ever since my irregular heartbeat and my solo car crash, I have been asking myself why I'm still here. I look for the answer in many places, among them religious faith, mine and my wife's.

Political Briefs


by Craig Reynolds

Lieberman, YouTube and terrorism: Sen. Joe Lieberman belatedly discovered free speech and decided he didn't like it: Senator targets YouTube, but law not on his side. Here is blow-by-blow coverage from from the Hartford Courant: Lieberman Wants Google to Block Terrorist Videos, Google Responds to Lieberman's Call to Censor and Lieberman Responds to the Google Response.

Nanotubes, we hardly knew ye: for years we have heard of the potential applications of nanotube technology, and some uses have already made it into the market. Now, oops, it turns out those tiny little carbon whiskers bear more than a passing resemblance to asbestos fibers: Study Says Carbon Nanotubes as Dangerous as Asbestos and Mice Study Suggests Potential Health Risk in Tiny Carbon Fibers.

OLPC in turmoil: after being a pure open source Linux-based project since its beginning, the One Laptop Per Child project has recently embraced Microsoft: One Windows User Per Child ("Nicholas Negroponte's presentation at the MIT Media Lab on Tuesday was a crowd-pleasing performance of nearly Steve Jobs-esque proportions"). This led Walter Bender (longtime MIT colleague of Negroponte, once his student) to resign and form a new company to push the Sugar desktop software: Bender Forms Group to Promote OLPC's Sugar UI and Linux start-up Sugar Labs in informal talks with four laptop makers. It has also unleashed a storm of criticism of OLPC: XP on XO: Negroponte has lost his bearings and OLPC's a con - former insider and conversely: WinXP on XO laptops OK as long as Linux runs, too. At the same time, OLPC unveiled a new "two page" design: Design revamp for '$100 laptop'.

Games: A survey of the top consoles and predictions for the future: The state of the next-gen video game console. Rave review of a new nonviolent game with nontraditional gameplay: PixelJunk Eden Hands-On Impressions. Reflections on Wii Fit: Resistance Is Futile. This survey of Blu-ray players says the best one is PS3: Blu-ray wins HD war; prepare to pay, while this talks about clustering them into a supercomputer: Lockheed breaks WPA encrypted wireless network with 8 clustered SONY Playstations.

Roku: a lot of people think the Roku set-top box and its partnership with TiVo have finally gotten the "movies at home via the web" formula right: 20 Seconds, and a Movie Has Arrived, Why the Roku Netflix Player Is the First Shot of the Revolution and Netflix to Sell a Device for Instantly Watching Movies on TV Sets.

Apple: the folks at Apple say its OK that they call their device the Mighty Mouse, because they licensed the name from CBS. Trouble is, CBS didn't own the rights: Company cheesed off at Apple, CBS over Mighty Mouse mark. Here is a surprising factoid: Apple dominates the high-end PC market.

Cell phones: two notes from the wireless world: Shops secretly track customers via mobile phone and Exclusive cell phone deals called into question.

Technobits: Warming and Storms, Uncertainty and Ethics --- Scientists See Supernova in Action --- Napster MP3 store: great selection, bad interface --- 42 Awesome Business Card Designs --- Biggest Drawing in the World.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

4 stars out of 5

Wow! Harrison Ford still has it; so does Karen Allen. The supporting cast is remarkable, the stunts are to die for (God Bless You Spielberg, for using people instead of CGI), the plot is stupid, but moves things along. What more could you ask from an Indiana Jones movie. It literally takes your breath away. Non-stop action. Too bad it didn't stop now and then, but complaining about that is like pointing out a pimple on the butt of the Statue of Liberty--in the overall scheme of things, who cares?

It is remarkable to compare this to the Star Wars episodes 1-3. Both they and Indiana Jones 4 were widely anticipated, The difference, of course, is that Lucas didn't deliver and Spielberg does. This is everything you could ask for from an adventure movie, and it is family friendly to boot. Clever, witty, with just the right number of references back to previous films in the series. Not art, for sure, but amazing commerce and impressive entertainment. I didn't even notice it was too long (just over two hours), and you won't either. Don't get there late! The movie kicks off with a bang. I missed five minutes, and apparently I missed a lot. [I went back and saw it a second time with my wife; I missed less than some reviews indicated. Still, get there on time!]

Dan Grobstein File

  • Josh Marshall, publisher of, winner of the Polk Award will be speaking on the Stanford campus Wednesday about the state of journalism and the effect the internet is having on it. Wish I could be there.
  • Newsweek: Support for terrorist groups is way down. Terrorism itself is way down over the past five years. it's reported as increasing because they include iraq war civilian casualties in the total. But Iraq's a war zone. Terrorism down doesn't fit into the narrative that the government pushes. Terrorist groups that lose the support of the public can be marginalized and defeated. You just have to have a government that isn't blinded by certainty.

The Blogosphere: Doing My Part

I shudder to think what my program choices say about me, but my favorite shows were nearly all renewed. I loved Journeyman, and it didn't make it, but Boston Legal (can't get enough William Shatner and Candice Bergen), Eli Stone (also a big favorite of my younger daughter's) and Reaper (my first favorite on the CW since Pinky and the Brain) are all reportedly returning. Woo-hoo!

I decided to list them because one way networks now judge a show is blogosphere buzz. I want these shows to have buzz. Buzzzz. Oh, and did I mention that Merv Griffin's Crosswords has been picked up for another season? Look under "permanent" in the right hand column to find out all about my connection to the show. Watch it! Save it! It's the New Jeopardy!

Bush Attacks Obama From Israel

Dan Grobstein pointed out that Bush in Israel quoted isolationist Sen. Borah as saying, in 1939, "Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided.'' The quote was used to denigrate Obama's plan to talk to our enemies. There is some controversy about whether Borah ever said any such thing.

So much for politics stopping at the water's edge. Wonder whether Shrub will have the courage to imply Obama is an appeaser in front of an American audience.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)

Also Obama responds to Bush accusations of 'appeasement']

Elsewhere: One hopes that Chris Matthews will remember how to conduct an interview the next time an alleged government official is on his show: Matthews slams radio host defending Bush 'appeasement' jab. Matthews talked with right-wing radio host Kevin James who defended Bush’s comparison of Obama’s foreign policy position with the appeasement of Hitler. James doesn't know what appeasement means.

And this, children, is why you should pay attention in history class. These guys really do just memorize the talking points, don't they. I mean, even my 8th graders know you should never give an answer if you don't know its meaning.

The same advice might even go for Bush. Does he really want to open the can of worms of who helped Hitler during WWII? Frank Rich suggests maybe not...

In a political speech to the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset), George W. Bush "implied that Mr. Obama would have enabled the Nazis even more foolishly than his own grandfather, Prescott Bush, did in the 1930s when he maintained "investment relationships with Hitler’s Germany," as Kevin Phillips delicately describes it in "American Dynasty."



  • This must be politically incorrect, or in bad taste, or something, but how about a list of things that are younger than McCain... and then turn the list into a song!
  • The New Republic writes about Hillary: What Went Wrong (assuming anything did)
  • ABC News:

    As previously reported by PSACOT, various poseurs (Shrub, Shooter, McCain, Chertoff, Rummy, Condi) purporting to understand "national security" have absolutely no idea what the term means or how to promote, preserve, or protect it:

    Domestic Spying Program Could Aid Terrorists, Experts Say
    Domestic Wiretapping Could Pose 'An Awesome Risk' to National Security
    Feb. 1, 2008—
    Although the Bush administration calls it a vital weapon against terrorism, its domestic wiretapping effort could become a devastating tool for terrorists if hacked or penetrated from inside, according to a new article by a group of America's top computer security experts.

Larry King Letter from London: American Ex-Pats Vote

After hearing a BBC podcast reference to American ex-pats voting in the U.K., I asked Larry King [now a London businessman--not the CNN Host or the author] for his thoughts. After a little throat-clearing, he let men know what he knows...

There is a ]deep- seated fatalism of the British soul, which as someone said not long ago, means all Brits are not only aware death is a certainty, but are pretty sure it's coming by no later than next Tuesday if you're not pretty damned careful...

So life is good. Summer is here, the sun is not only warm but visible for most of the day, and I had a picnic with a pretty girl yesterday. Omar Khayam talked about a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou, and he just about nailed that down, although he might have included an addendum about stopping after the first jug of wine. But as Oscar Wilde pointed out, anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, and at this point I think I'll leave Omar and Oscar to thrash that out between them and address your actual question:

The role of the American expat in the coming elections. Uh, damned if I know. I haven't voted for an American presidential candidate since 1992. And I'm not (yet) a British citizen, so I can't vote for the locals. I'm slowly reclaiming my political virginity, to coin a wildly improbable metaphor. But as I understand it, the wider role of the expat largely defies analysis, anyway. I hear different numbers about how many Americans live in the U.K., but the one I hear most often is around 200,000. That's undoubtedly more than any other single European country, since living here is like Expatriate 101, the introductory course. You don't have the language issues (or you don't think you do; then you refer to a pair of trousers as pants and everybody giggles nervously, since ``pants'' in Britain always and only refers to underwear). The food is familiar, if your mother never learned to cook very well. More important, London is the banking center of Europe and in some respects the world, so a lot of American banks and brokerages and such have big branches here. They ship over their young Master of the Universe types in car-load lots, to put a little polish on them and show the locals how things are done. The locals regard them balefully, as you might imagine, but the first rule of finance is that for every trade you must have a buyer and a seller, and the second rule is, the man who stands between them and handles the deal can earn a very comfortable living. The Brits have several centuries of experience acting as middlemen, and they'll tolerate Americans if they can make a few quid off them. All of that is largely off the point, to which I now return. People in banking and finance tend to be Republicans. This is because they make obscene amounts of money and they would prefer to keep as much of it as possible. They feel about taxes the way vampires feel about garlic. So, a disproportionately large number of American expats expatriate themselves to the U.K., a disproportionately large number of those are in finance, and a disproportionately large number of the people in finance are Republicans. It's a big bloc of votes. On the other hand, you have a lot of other expats who are here and, more frequently, on the Continent for far different reasons. They are the neo-bohemian, left-over-hippie, spiritual descendants of the Lost Generation of the 1920s. If you could round them all up, they probably would form a larger bloc of votes than the London finance crowd. But the absentee-ballot process more or less requires a certain amount of stability, since you need to have some evidence of the last place you lived and voted in the U.S., and neo-bohemians tend to be rootless and disenchanted, almost by definition. So they aren't really a bloc and a lot of them don't bother voting. Those who do, or at least those I know, lean so far left they're all but horizontal. That makes them Democrats, when they're not off voting for Ron Paul or Ralph Nader or some other wild-eyed spoiler. What that all means, I think, is that the Republican expats and the surly hippie-come-latelies cancel each other out, numerically speaking. Students, of whom there is a very large number doing their junior year abroad may hold the balance of power, and military personnel, of whom there is also a very large number, doing what they hired on to do. And here again, for every art history major hanging out in Florence and learning to drink wine and eager to vote for Obama, you've got a hard-bitten master sergeant whose political inclinations are probably somewhat less dewey-eyed, I think it's fair to say. So, as I said earlier, damned if I know. Handicapping this race is probably harder than most, since we have no incumbent and people in general seem, as the master put it, if not disgruntled, certainly far from gruntled. Expats are no different from other Americans in that respect. How that will play out in November I'd hesitate to say. I do seem to detect somewhat more enthusiasm for Obama than I saw for either Gore or Kerry. Conversely, I think the Republicans are more enthusiastic about McCain than they were for Dole in 1996 or Bush in 2004, although not necessarily than they were for Bush in 2000. And I think I can safely say that if Hillary somehow pulls a rabbit out of the hat and finangles her way to the nomination, a fair number of nominal Democrats will say the hell with it. The leftward crowd here appears to think the first thing Hillary would do with a rabbit is go all Glenn Close on us and boil the poor beast alive. So those are my thoughts, disheveled and rambling as they may be. Sorry, but I really shouldn't have opened that second jug of wine.


by Craig Reynolds

Facebook v. Google--pot calls kettle black: be it LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook or others of their social networking ilk, I've always been a little uncomfortable about trusting a third party with a comprehensive list of all my friends. Even if the current management of such sites is benign, who knows who they will sell themselves to next year. Now Facebook is very annoyed that its users may share their contact information with other sites via Google's Friend Connect. Since Google only looks at public information that Facebook offers to everyone through its API, how can there be additional privacy concerns? The real privacy risk is making your friends list public by using Facebook in the first place: Facebook's Glass Jaw, Facebook flap: Google’s side, How Google's Friend Connect works, Facebook Disconnects Google: Protecting Users... Or Itself? or as Yoda would have said: Begun, the Data Wars Have.

Games for the greater good: I am fascinated by the rise of "human computation", where humans join together to solve big problems, often attracted by the task being structured as a game. I have previously mentioned reCAPTCHA and foldit.  Now Luis von Ahn and colleagues at CMU have established a new hub for these "games with a purpose" at, see New games are designed to make computers smarter.

Space: new digger-bot nears the Red Planet: How NASA's Phoenix Will Land on Mars and New Mars Lander Looks for Water, Old Signs of Life (be sure and watch the slick animation). Meanwhile on Earth, Google and Microsoft battle it out online for "space, the final frontier": Two New Ways to Explore the Virtual Universe, in Vivid 3-D and Peeking through Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope.

Personal aircraft: looking like some 1940s pulp sci-fi fantasy, new amazingly small flying machines: Swiss man soars above Alps with jet-powered wing (videos) and GEN H-4 Helicopter To Take Flight in Leonardo da Vinci's Hometown.

Technobits: lies and the lying liars who tell them: Comcast Restricted Bandwidth To BitTorrent Users 24/7, Study Charges --- Verizon goes Linux, shuns Google's Android: Verizon Wireless, Mozilla Join LiMo Foundation --- Stolen Laptop Helps Turn Tables on Suspects --- 5 Tools for Keyword Brainstorming --- when image search by keyword just doesn't cut it: Picitup Visual Image Search --- Google celebrated the birth of the laser on May 16, 1960 --- crazy raspberry Ants swarm over Houston area, fouling electronics --- will the EPA be forced to act on global warming to save its habitat?: Polar Bear Is Made a Protected Species --- belated NYT article about the Maker Faire --- better living through container design: easy pb&j --- sorry, this is off topic for TB: my wife just made this website for our family's music teacher Jeff Sanford’s Cartoon Jazz Orchestra and this is just here to nudge up it Page Rank.