Faine Opines

Southeast Asia, liberation technology, drones, and pontification

Month: February 2014

I Drive to Half Moon Bay A Lot

I drive to Half Moon Bay a lot, and I take pictures of landscapes. My one complaint is that it’s still too damned cold this time of year. Otherwise? Perfect.
kids at hmb

I don’t know these people, but they’re cute.

pint reyes textures

Weathered rocks, which are always appealing to me.

more abstract HMB

Wistful.

more surfers

Paddle boarders and using vignetting to compensate for over-exposure…beach footprints

I like this one.

more deets hmb

Nothing living in those tide pools — I think.

abstract HMB

Better you than me, swimming in that.

hmb viewMagic Hour, or just about.

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Thailand’s Woes – UN Dispatch

getoushinawatra

 

Thailand’s Woes – UN Dispatch

At least thirty-five Thais were wounded on Saturday, Feb 22nd after gunmen attacked an antigovernment rally in Trat province, including a five year old girl. Bangkok fared poorly as well: 12-year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman were killed after a bomb attack at an anti government rally, held at a shopping mall.

It’s been a bloody weekend in Thailand, and the recent influx of violence highlights an uncomfortable point: the tense political situation here between the ruling regime of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the opposition People’s Democratic Reform Committee shows little sign of getting better.

2014 may prove to be a decidedly interesting year for the Southeast Asian peninsula. Which means that, complex as it may be, it’s worthwhile for outside observers to get a handle on the potential impacts of Thailand’s recent tumult for the country and the region…..

Read more at UN Dispatch….

 

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The Koke Bale Harvest Ceremony in Flores

Lewokluokwomenbringingofferings

Men in elaborately beaded costumes are seated regally around a torch that burns from pork fat. A boiled, off-yellow chicken sits on the altar table, and dogs sneak around the doorways, waiting. I am watching from just inside the door, out of the rain, and I am wearing a terrifically ugly Panasonic-branded poncho. This is my first Koke Bale harvest ceremony, on the Eastern Indonesian island of Flores.

The Koke Bale is the harvest ceremony practiced by the Lamhalot people who live near Larantuka, the Portugese settlement on the very tip of Eastern Flores, in the Indonesian state of Nusa Tenggara. It’s one of the most remote places I’ve ever been: Flores, not exactly a beacon of tourism, sees most of its visitors concentrated near the dramatic diving sites and malevolent Komodo dragons of the western end of the island.

Getting here requires a lot of bumpy driving through uncertain roads, the consumption of a lot of slightly stale beef rendang, and a certain fondness for isolation: upon arrival, the locals treat you with both deep appreciation and mild caution, as if you might be slightly nuts for making the trip. But it’s worth it. Here in the damp forests of the East, traditional rituals have retained considerable import in daily life, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to see one.

My guide, Evi, discovered that the ceremony was going on by happenstance, after we headed back from the marginally interesting traditional village of Mangarak — about 10 kilometers out from the little fishing village of Larantuka.

Just about everyone here in far Eastern Flores seems to know each other, and that’s how Evi found out about it: after we stopped for gas. A mechanic friend told her that the Koke Bale (whatever that was) was taking place in the settlement of Lem, about 28 kilometers away.

“We have to go!” she said with extreme enthusiasm. “They only have this ceremony once every year!”

“It’s how far?” I asked, remembering the extreme posterior pain I’d suffered a few days earlier during a marathon research session, riding pillion for upwards of seven hours.

“We have to go!” she said, either misunderstanding my trepidation or cheerily blowing past it, as is probably best practice in most circumstances. I took the order and got on the bike. One doesn’t get the chance to see a Florenese harvest ceremony every day.

larantukaview

We drove up the rugged blue coast of eastern Flores to the village, the not-so-distant and seemingly bone dry shore of Solor visible from the road. It was a misty, maritime sort of day, and by the time we arrived at the village, it was raining a bit. Evi parked the bike behind the pink Portugese-style church that dominates the center of town, and I walked away and waited for her. Strains of Eminem, the local musical favorite, carried across the way from a small house. Everyone else appeared to be gone — up at the ceremonial village, which was located at the top of a hill.

As soon as we reached the top of the stone steps, we entered into a hive of very particular activity, centered around three traditional houses, placed at approximately triangle points around a rocky yard. The stones were sacred, and were very much like the megaliths one might associate with the Salisbury Plain, and eager-looking local dogs teetered precariously on seemingly every available stone.

Lewokluokmenmeat

The object of such devout canine affection was a circle of men who in their turn circled around a massive pile of pork, which they were busily putting into palm-leaf packages. Other men tended enormous cauldrons of bubbling pork meat and bones, and I was instantly reminded of cartoon depictions of explorers in pith helmets being toppled into boiling water by hungry locals. Except everyone was much nicer here, and I noticed at least three of the local women taking photos of the proceedings with their Samsung tablets.

“They are going to distribute the meat to the Eight Clans of the area,” Evi explained. “All the clans come here to celebrate the harvest festival, and bring offerings.”

Lewokluokceremonyyard

I stood with extreme awkwardness in the middle of the hubbub and tried to parse what was going on: first was that everyone was dressed traditionally in the local-style Ikat, which has pretty little cowrie shells woven into the fibers.

Men wore black and embroidered shirts that reminded me of something fitting for a Nevada cowboy and the aforementioned sarongs in dark shades of maroon and red and black, while the women wore lightly-colored embroidered tops and yellow and orange ikat sarongs.

“It’s just beginning,” said Evi.

“What’s beginning?” I asked, noticing that a quantity of women were heading to the largest house in a long row, carrying wicker baskets full of betel nut and multicolored varieties of rice, some sculpted into elaborate mounds.

“They’re brining the offering to the kekat, the men’s house,” said Evi. “That’s part of what the Eight Clans do this time of year, everyone brings the food together and then they have a big feast.”

Lewokluokmanoutfit

“Hello mister!” a few young girls said to me, in the typical gender-bending fashion of the area, and the women carried wicker baskets past me and smiled in a friendly fashion. I did not know if it was appropriate to take pictures, and I reached for my camera tentatively, hoping to avoid the classic entrapment of the Idiot Photographer grossly cheapening rare cultural events.

“Take a picture!” Evi said cheerily. I raised up the camera. A couple of local men began cheering and getting the attention of the file of women, who looked up in amusement. “Smile for the cammeerraa!” they said. I shot picture after picture, somewhat emboldened, stepping away from my at times perhaps too conservative approach to photographing people I feel I can’t entirely verbally communicate with.

TFLewokluokbaskets

The women laid their offerings at a low table made of bamboo and palm by the side of the men’s house, and gathered around it, looking with what appeared to be extreme interest at what everyone else had brought.

A Southern church social popped into my mind, and a bunch of women standing around a folding acrylic table, looking at the spread.

“That Upton woman brought the ham and cheese casserole again,” one says, shaking her head. “Bless her heart. She just hasn’t got any cooking skills at all.” I imagine this might very well approximate the conversation in the local language I was overhearing, uncomprehending.

“Only the men can enter the men’s house,” Evi said. “It’s not for people like you and me. Maybe it will be better later,” she added, thoughtfully, a small riff of feminism amidst a rather masculine gathering.

TFLewokluokwoman

I could perhaps see the point: the rain had started to fall heavily again and the men were perfectly dry beneath the heavy roof of the men’s house, while the women and girls (very few young boys were in evidence) huddled beneath the eaves, crowded together in clumps beneath a few luridly pink umbrellas. I shrugged on a massive blue poncho that said “Panasonic” on it. I received at least three different compliments on it immediately.

Lewokluokofferings2

The gatherings continued to stream in, and then on some cue I failed to notice, a quantity of elderly men dressed in the full Lamhalot ensemble begin walking towards the house on the right side of the triangle-shaped complex, and taking seats within the interior. About twenty men managed to wedge themselves into the rather small bamboo complex and they all sat cross-legged on the floor.

A bottle of arak, inevitably, emerged. The oldest man began to chant swiftly in the Lamhalot language, beginning a call-and-response round, as he spoke for a few seconds and the other men then responded with a brief phrase. It was melodic and sounded very old, the sort of singing-talking that has fallen out of vogue in the more civilized portions of the world — or perhaps, this is why the locals have taken such a shine to Eminem.

The men continued in this fashion for a good 12 minutes, and Evi whispered in my ear. “They are telling the story of the village,” she said. “Once upon a time, the village was very dry, and there was no food or water. A maiden went into the jungle, and she found this jewelry. When she picked up the jewelry, water began to gush. That is why the village is here today.”

Lewokluokmenmeeting

The men stopped their chant all of a sudden, and a gaunt man with a luxurious ponytail — indeed, I first mistook him for a woman — stood up, holding a pack of cigarettes. He solemnly distributed a cigarette to each man in turn, and they all silently lit up. The arak was passed around.

The spell broken, they began to talk and laugh again, standing up to leave the small house. They now headed to the left corner of the complex, to another rather modern looking shack. “Now, they go to this house for the final part of the ceremony. But you should stay here, there’s something else going on.”

A group of excited women and children had gathered around a small door in the back of the bamboo hut the older men had just vacated, and I peeked around the corner to see an older man in traditional attire crouched inside a small closet of a room, facing an elderly wooden chest that contained a seemingly random assortment of items: a drum, a few tools, a few wood clubs.

whole gang koke bale

Wax and rice were strewn haphazardly around the room, and he was eating off a plate of stringy chicken and white rice, alternately swigging arak, as the women and children watched him with great interest. He continued in this way for about five minutes, and then all of a sudden he stopped: the women gathered in close. He began depositing rice and chunks of chicken to them all, ladling it into their bare hands. The women took it eagerly, handing small pieces to the children.

“What’s this all about?” I asked Evi, completely stymied.

“It symbolizes what the young woman did when she brought into the jungle. Now, only the women can accept the offering from here,” she noted.

The man inside the closet stood up when the rice was through and left, and the gaunt man with long hair took his place. He opened up a small box and removed a golden necklace and some golden earrings, and then he took a piece of tissue paper and animatedly rubbed the little bits of jewelry, seemingly to clean them.

This finished, he handed the tissue to one woman, and then he repeated the procedure, handing off the tissue to another person, and so on. A few men came to take the pieces of tissue paper as well. All regarded the tissue paper as an item of considerable value.

“The people believe that the jewelry gives good luck, so you take the tissue paper that’s rubbed on it, and it’s lucky,” said Evi. She nodded to the man, and he rubbed the jewerly and gave her own piece of tissue paper. “He’ll show us the jewelry,” she said. “It’s the same jewelry the woman found in the forest.”

The man cheerily held up the jewelry and allowed Evi to photograph it. You may notice I didn’t photograph it. I suppose I felt odd about it. I regret this now. These are the complexities of photographing things and not wanting to offend people, and sometimes making the wrong call.

Lewokluokfireoffering2

We left the bamboo hut and proceeded to the smaller house, whereupon I walked into the room and was confronted with a tableaux of three men in traditional costume, a vat of rice, a boiled chicken, and an enormous flaming torch made of pork fat. Just as the women had done, now it was largely men gathering to receive a bit of rice and a bit of chicken. Rice was inevitably all over the floor.

floresharvestceremony

The chicken was nearly done for now, and I took a few photographs, watching as the rain outside continued to pour. And suddenly – everything happens rather suddenly in this ceremony – the man with the torch headed for the door, as I leapt aside in fear of having my blue plastic poncho painfully melted right over my back. He was headed for the stone circle again.

I followed, and a few of the older men eagerly gestured for me to take photos. One man neatly decapitated a coconut with a machete, and broke it over a waiting pile of rice and meat, the coconut water running into the stone. The torch-bearer waved the flame over the small mound. At another rock, the two did it again.

This duty complete, they took the torch in the pouring rain inside the men’s house, mounting it in the center of the room.

A dog sprang up and swiftly devoured both offerings on the stone, and no one seemed to care.

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Don’t Expect a Cambodian Spring – UN Dispatch

cnrprallybig

 

Don’t Expect a Cambodian Spring – UN Dispatch 

Prominent Cambodian human rights activist Ou Virak came to Stanford to speak last week, and his stance on the possibility of a political “spring” in politically tense Cambodia is clear: not likely.

“I don’t think a spring in Cambodia will happen, nor do I think it’s desirable,” Ou said, in the early February talk. “We don’t even have a word for spring in Khmer. The closest word is revolution, which reminds people of Khmer Rouge.”

Ever since the hotly contested July 2013 elections, Cambodia has been experiencing political turmoil unprecedented since the 1997 coup by current Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have been calling for “change” — and for Hun Sen, who helms an unquestionably corrupt and undemocratic government, to step down from the post which he’s held since 1986.

See more at: http://www.undispatch.com/dont-expect-a-cambodian-spring#sthash.D7BeJy2C.dpuf

 

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The Time I Dreamed of Revolution

russian revolution

When I was in my early teens I was very interested in the notion of revolution, in the abstract way of children who have been exposed to too much literature.

I was a fan of Kerouac and had been subjected to the Communist revolutions of the 20th century in my mildly cracked sixth grade class in Salt Lake City: I had read about the hippies and about Che Guevara and about the Russian revolution and the French variant on the theme as well. All these things struck me as fascinating and exotic — adventure-stories for petulant youth (and in many ways, that is what they are).

My friend Kelly gave me a book on Revolutions for my 14th birthday, which focused on the concept of revolution and considerably less on the actual reasons why one might do such a thing: this was in retrospect ideal.

Those were the days when I wanted a revolution, when a revolution sounded like a great and vague idea. I would read books about Marxism by our swimming pool on summer days back then, and read the Anarchist’s Cookbook, and quietly, abstractly seethe in the car as my parents drove it to a local gastropub. It was the early 2000s, and everything in American life was going exactly as planned. It was really pissing me off.

 9/11 had happened and George W Bush had also happened, and the Iraq War too, but on the whole, America remained insulated from the nastiness of economic upheaval and poverty.

At that time, my family and myself lived in a suburban California world of organic food and reasonably nice lawns and BMWs — calm and stable and quiet, with clean air and water and the sort of crime that breaks into your house when you’re away, but doesn’t kill you. We had no Vietnam War to galvanize us then, and World War II was a distant memory. Racism and sexism were being pushed back and most people were making a reasonably adequate amount of money.

cultural revolution

The outlook was bright, and to my mind, distressingly lifeless. The future looked calm as a glassy Swiss lake, and just about as stimulating. In such a pretty, painting-like aspect of the future, I reasoned, I’d have no chance to distinguish myself, or test myself. Homework and Getting Into College were the sum total of my world’s expected challenges, and this felt totally inadequate — not when I read the histories of people who had battle for civil rights, had slogged through World War I, had stormed the palace of the Russian czars.  I wanted a revolution not because I had anything in particular to battle against, but because I thought it sounded much more exciting than doing algebra problem sets at the tutoring office.

And it would be much more exciting than algebra. At the time, I agreed with the ancient pundits who are published (eternally) in the hoariest of publication: my generation had it too easy. We had been gifted educations and an economy that generally promised good things to us if we got decent grades and behaved: it all seemed so easy, and as a kid who did not in fact get decent grades or behave (prior to a certain revelation at age 16), I was suspect of the entire principle. I was a fool. I did not know better. 

And then it actually happened in 2008. Everything really did go to shit.

I remember this clearly, the moment that I realized that things had actually changed, in a way not unlike that I’d dreamed of with such innocent dimness at the age of 15 while dipping my feet in our swimming pool. It was the late and waning summer of 2008 and the cicadas were humming outside of my New Orleans apartment – I had recently returned from a long stay in India, and the sound was pleasingly exotic to me, the South encapsulated in insect-song — and I went onto my computer and saw the news.

It was bad news. Very bad. The economic implosion was upon us. A photo of George W Bush looking tired, terribly tired. Ben Bernake, looking the same. The news media wrung its hands, and the blogosphere did the same. The collapse of the economy and Life As We Knew It was prophesied, and I read for the first time (or soon thereafter) the words “too big to fail” and “great recession.”

I was twenty years old. My reaction was muted. I believe that I went to make some tea, and my thoughts had drifted to what I was going to have for dinner, before they came back to the grave matter at hand.

soviet propaganda

Could it be this bad? Was this what I wanted when I was fifteen? Can I believe it would be this bad? There is no way it could be this bad. We are untouchable.

I walked to school that morning down St Charles Avenue in New Orleans, past the oaks and the torn-up sidewalk, past streets where National Guard vehicles had rolled scant years before when the city descended into anarchy, when I was 15 years old and struck with unholy indigence at how New Orleans had been treated, how no one particularly cared.

I walked through the geography of the first major betrayal that the US had exacted upon me to my private university, and I wondered at that particularly analogy, and my confidence upon going out the door that We Are Untouchable began to falter, began a slow slide that has continued into the present day.

I got to campus and I walked, and I wondered how bad it would be. I wondered this and then I got an overpriced coffee and then I went to class and spent my day happily learning about the rise of satire in the English novel, and attending a class where we did a lot of different drawings of a box with a light shone on it.

new orleans flooding

The tuition at Tulane in 2008 was approximately $45,000 a year, and most people I knew had gone into debt to pay it — a debt they assumed would be paid off promptly enough, once they secured the jobs that were due to them as good students who had committed no major crimes. No one talked about the recession on campus on that day. It did not really come up for the next two years, until I graduated.

Perhaps we assumed — the sketchy kids who smoked outside the library, our tribe — that it was happening to other people, to people who lived in suburban homes that were painted coral and were now unspeakably underwater on their mortgages, and to men in bespoke suits, to small and pissant Eurozone nations, or whatever. New Orleans had weathered Katrina against all the odds and projections, and so would we. We’d find a way to get someone to pay us to do work that didn’t involve the tender mercies of Walmart, or working as a receptionist for someone who sold equestrian laxatives. We had talent and hard work and had been reassured for years that that was enough. We didn’t need a revolution.

I had just turned twenty years old.

It is 2014 now and I am 25 years old, and the thoughts of revolution, of wanting it, of wanting to be in it, have faded completely.

I moved to Cambodia after college and was faced with the evidence of what happens when a bunch of idealists with too much education and too little common sense decide to remake their country in their own shape: the shreds of stained and stinking clothes stored at the Tuol Sleng torture prison and the shards of bone and funeral mounds that criss-cross (terrible, beautiful) Cambodia are evidence enough of that.

soldiers khmer rouge

I got older and learned that Che Guevara was a bombastic ass, and that Stalin caused a famine that killed millions, and the baby-boomers that had ushered in the Age of Aquarius were now frantically attempting to justify screwing my generation out of everything we had been promised scant years before.

Now, I’m scared of revolution. I have traveled in a lot of countries where revolution was a good idea at the time, now.

Revolution is the disappearing brother and the back against the wall – the dull thump of an iron farming tool against the back of the skull, the burned school and the man with no legs who sits on the corner. Revolution is a luxury resort in Bali built above the bodies of purged Communists of the 1960s, and it’s the red-resin roses painted into the cracked cement streets of Sarajevo, put there by mortar-blasts. It is journalists imprisoned in Egypt in early 2014, and it is the grey, devastated cities of a stinking, burning place they once called Syria.

The purge of revolution is intoxicating. It is alluring, especially to teenagers (like I was once) and to those who think like teenagers. It always seems like a good idea at the time. I’ll cede, perhaps, that sometimes it must be done — this purgative state, a cleansing of the humors to return to health. But it is never fun. It is best avoided.

I have lost my faith that we, in the US, are going to be able to avoid it unless something changes soon. Not just that. I’ve lost that sense that We Are Untouchable, and I have also lost that confident perception that if revolution came and upheaval took over the world, I would come out of it OK, by sheer force of will.

The suburban lawns and the regularly maintained swimming pool of Northern California are not ancient realities, now now: the villas of Phnom Penh and the dachas of imperial Russia were probably thought to be perfectly permanent by their residents at the time, too.

stanford quad

Even Stanford, where I attend classes, is a small holdout of obliviousness. The lawns are manicured and do not look real, and you could lose count of the number of fountains on campus that burble clear blue water, and employment recruiters wander around campus with their high-heels clicking on the slightly wobbly tiles. The students weigh multiple job offers, and talk of both social responsibility and the money they will make, of the Google or Facebook employee IDs they will sometimes flaunt at parties.

I leave Stanford often, both to report and both to clear my head. The white Google vans glide noiselessly by me on the road when I am driving to and from various points on the Peninsula. Meanwhile, the Palo Alto homeless shelters close and close, and four people froze to death during our recent cold snap. Market Street in San Francisco no longer reminds me of Christmas shopping in 2004, and the snowflakes over the Macys, but instead reminds me of the Delhi bazaar, of darker corners of Phnom Penh, where the people have been left to molder. I can buy a $13 hotdog, and I can cross over a few blocks and deign to step over a sleeping man who reeks of urine and neglect. I am on the right side of the divide, for now. I have expensive shoes. I go to Stanford. I have health insurance.

chinese revolutionaries

I am on the right side of the divide, and I wonder about how long I will remain on the right side.I spend a lot of time both using and reading about and thinking about Disruptive Technologies and these are their own revolution: rending capitalism in its own image, creating a large class of economically less-than-essential people, whose ranks might include my friends and my family and maybe myself.

Now, I’m afraid of revolution, but I also know there is little I can do it stop it from coming, for the oncoming wave of change and upheaval to break with a sudden, solid crash upon the shore.

In these days, I concern myself with pointing to the wave, and shouting that it’s coming, and hoping that someone will pause and listen. At the same time, I am angling crab-like uphill, hoping to secure for myself a patch of dry ground.

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Pay and Gender in Silicon Valley: It’s Bad, Folks

Courtesy of Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

Courtesy of Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

Gender gap: Men getting paid more than women in Silicon Valley

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Silicon Valley may have a progressive reputation, but as data crunched by the researchers behind the 2014 Silicon Valley Index shows, it’s decidedly old-fashioned when it comes to the gender gap in pay.

Men who hold graduate or professional degrees earn a whopping 73 percent more than women with the same educational qualifications, while men with a bachelor’s degree earn 40 percent more than women with the same credentials, the study found.

Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a regional civic and trade association, discovered the gap as they looked at U.S. census data for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, comparing the median pay of men and women.

 Read more at SFGate….

Well, that’s the most depressing thing I’ve reported on this month.

 

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Ou Virak at Stanford – Video

Lots of people were asking, and I’m happy to say that the video of Ou Virak at Stanford is ready to go. Please watch and share.

 

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Dangerous Face Water: Lay Off the Journalists


Journalists are posting hilarious images from Sochi, everything from “dangerous face water” to the Buddy Toilet to an endless succession of stray, every-so-often disappearing local dogs. Most observers have, quite rightly, found this stuff absolutely hilarious.

But a minority is wringing their hands. “What did you expect?” they cry. “Suck it up, journalists! The athletes worked way harder than you to get where they are!”

All this indignation over the Sochi journalists and their hilarious, Twitter missives from the barricades (or crap hotels) of not so-Soviet Russia is missing an important point.

Journalists, we are made to bitch, it is the reason we get up in the morning, the reason we continue to draw breath. Further, we bitch because it’s funny, and because the inherent absurdity of the most expensive Olympics ever being plagued by stray dogs draws us like a moth to a one-line Twitter flame.

Asking journalists to accept the infrastructure problems all-Nun-like both denies them their essential nature (LOL look at this fucking mistranslated menu item) and also sets up for them a trap.

If they do NOT report on the fact that, say, their hotel doesn’t have a lobby, invariably some frothy gentleman from the non-liberal media will claim that they are 1. not doing their jobs and 2. probably are in bed with Putin and 3. Communists.

You can’t win. Might as well continue Tweeting about face water, and have a good time.

buddy toilet

I should add something else, vis a vis the athletes. Sirs, madames, do you realize how hard it is to be a journalist right now? I can answer that question for you: quite fucking difficult! Almost as difficult as avoiding falling into an uncovered Sochi manhole.

Look it at from my perspective. Us young journalists, mired in Content Aggregation gobbledygook jobs, gaze upon those reporters who somehow convinced a publication not largely devoted to cat photos to send them to Sochi with great admiration.

“I, too, could someday be on a press junket!” we think. “I would accept the Dangerous Face Water. And Tweet about it. But accept.”

Perhaps they are not Bode Miller launching themselves off a mogul (smoldering all the way), but these journalists in Sochi are survivors in quite another way: of the great Journalist Purge of the last ten years. They still draw breath — and expense accounts.

Leave them be, tweeting away about the Buddy Toilet.

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Ou Virak Lecture Podcast – Stanford University, February 3rd

ou virak

Here’s the audio podcast of Cambodian Center for Human Right’s chief Ou Virak’s lecture at Stanford University on February 3rd, 2014. I should have the video up soon. Thanks again for coming, Ou Virak!

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Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Half Moon Bay

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 12.59.43 AM

I’m new to the Bay Area, really. I went to high school in Sacramento, but that flat capital feels more similar to the desert or the mountains than the coast. I always feel like I’m crossing a distinct border when I drive through the gap to Vallejo: I’m getting closer to the sea.

I grew up with and have been living with tropical seas: the Florida of my childhood, the warm Southeast Asian waters of my post-college life. I learned to dive off Bali where a wetsuit is more of an anti-jellyfish formality than anything else at shallow depths: the Pacific Ocean off California, meanwhile, is considerably more intimidating. Cold as balls and full of kelp ready to entangle you, Great White sharks and rocky cliffs and gigantic, pyramid-like waves — well, it scares the living hell out of me, on a primal level, right under the skin.

rockfield sea

That’s why I like to go stare at it as much as often. For that, I go to the tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Half Moon Bay. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Palo Alto if you hit the traffic right, through the winding hills and eucalyptus forests. You drive by Pillar Point, where tourists are milling on the jetty looking for Terrifyingly Large Waves, and surfers are actively pursuing them, and you just keep going until you see the turnoff for Vermont avenue.

There’s a little parking lot there and you can walk down to the sea. That’s where the tide pools are.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 12.59.53 AM

I’m a life-long tidepool aficionado. Sort of a snob about them. These are pretty good, when you catch them right. Electric green and unexpected sunburst anemones, that catch your finger for a second when you touch them then unhand you again. An abalone shell, flashing silver and hidden underneath of a rock — soon scooped up and shined and displayed on a rock by an old Mexican woman who is also combing through the flotsam. There are also bright red, shelled crab parts, likely deposited by the seals that occasionally pop up to look at the people on the shore: they are strangely beautiful for table scraps.

The cute park ranger in khaki tells me there are many-colored nudibranchs and even red octopi here but you have to look for them very carefully: sort of stake out a tidepool when the time is right, I suppose, and get lucky. This is the ethereal, random nature of tide pools. It is one reason why I like them.

through the trees

It’s not just tide pools. You can walk left from the parking lot and there are trails leading through a stand of immense cypress trees — planted for a now defunct resort, in direct lines with light filtering through them that reminds me of something right out of Tolkien. You walk through the path here, usually quiet, or with just a few other people, through an arbor of vines that creates a natural roof. Some of the cypress trees have died long ago and are now bleached white, standing out against the tree in stark bone shades.

beach views more

Then you can walk down some steep stairs to the beach at Seal Cove, where red seagrass washes up on stark white beach sand, and people who are considerably more cold resistant than myself swim.

Anyway, this is where I go to sit, and be disquieted by the sea, disquieted and also deeply fond of it.

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