Blogging from Newark airport

I find it strangely comforting to blog while in transit. Right now, I’m making my way from Toronto to San Francisco — via the Newark airport. I’m logistically closer to home, with only one more flight separating me from my own bed, but geographically I’m hundreds of miles farther away from my goal than I was this morning. Though it is unlikely that there is anyone at this airport who knows me, I’m not alone. I rest secure in the knowledge that I can reach out to my loyal readers on the blogosphere, make my presence known, if only virtually, while I’m in neither of my homes.

Although air travel can be incredibly aggravating, I also treasure the time it gives me to reflect. Some of my most fruitful reflective moments over the last year have been granted to me while sitting at airports such as the one I’m at right now. I’m usually full of excitement, new resolve to do good and truer things when I get home. Such is how I feel right at this moment.

A couple of weeks ago, humanity commemorated the centenary of powered flight. Though air travel was well-established long before I was born, I still find flying amazing, almost miraculous. There are a lot of astounding things in this world, many technologies that are arguably more advanced than human flight. I suppose my amazement has a lot to do with being physically transported among the different worlds I inhabit. Virtual reality does not come close to physical reality at this point. When I am physically in Toronto, my entire life in Berkeley more or less vanishes — sure, it still continues, but it more surely enters the realm of suspended animation. So must it be with my family’s life in Toronto. They are as real as I am — but when we are thousands of miles apart, it must appear to my dear family that I’m gone into some twilight zone while they go about the daily business of living.

Can’t I live in both worlds simultaneously? As miraculous as air travel is, it has yet to allow me to pull off that trick.

Mad cow disease in the USA — what next?

Today’s breaking news: “a single Holstein on a Washington state farm has tested positive for mad cow disease (search), marking the disease’s first suspected appearance in the United States”.

A big question immediately emerged for this Canadian who happens to in Canada while the story broke: will American beef be banned worldwide as was Canadian beef was earlier this year under very similar circumstances? As the Fox story points out:

Lawmakers are keenly aware that a case of mad cow disease in Canada last May — which officials described as a single, isolated incident — still had devastating economic consequences.

“If it’s anything like what happened in Canada, it will be bad. The problem won’t be that people will stop eating meat in the United States; the problem is the exports will be shut down like we did with Canada,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

A little thought experiment

One of things that fascinate me most about living in complex human constructed environments (such as great cities) is the question of who actually knows what. No matter how much one knows theoretically and practically, one is bound to be surrounded by so much that one knows basically nothing about. I know next to nothing about where my food comes from and how to grow it. I get on planes that I don’t really understand and type this entry on a computer made of components whose function I have never studied. It’s actually amazing how little each of us knows individually — and yet, collectively things manage to work (for the most part). So where does the knowledge lie?

A couple of weeks ago during some after-dinner conversation, my friend Krista and I took up a very specific and somewhat related question that I hoped would get me a bit further in my thinking. The question we posed is this: if somehow all records of Shakespeare in every media (print, electronic texts, the google cache, CDs, film) — save human memory — were to magically disappear without a trace, to what degree would it be possible to reconstruct the Shakespearean texts? For the sake of argument, we assumed that we would somehow also have access to all contemporary forms of communication and transportation devices and a good amount of resources to deploy in our reconstruction efforts. In other words, we could fly a bunch of Shakespearean scholars and actors to a desert island to which they would be confined (with their notebook computers) to see what they can pull together.

I wondered how much of Shakespeare is in active memories of living humans today — or is latent in the community of Shakespearean students. I can certainly believe that the most famous of Shakespeare’s works could be reconstructed with little effort. After all, how active performances of his plays are happening today? Quite a few I would imagine. But how about his more obscure plays? His sonnets? Are there people who have committed those texts to heart too? We were guessing yes.

As we varied the object of disappearance from Shakespeare to other matters, we came across a wide range of behaviors If the essays that I published were to perish, for instance, they would not be coming back since they neither live actively in the memories of readers nor the author. I naturally was curious about the case of Bach’s music. Is his case like that of Shakespeare’s works, which we were surmising, is fully recoverable — or would there be parts of his music that would be gone forever? My guess is that the Bach oeuvre is large enough that it contains works that are not in the living memory of any musician at any given point. It’s just a guess and nothing else though.

This question of recovering things from memory barely begins to scratch the surface of the question of what we know. Indeed, it’s really a side issue — but a fun one to consider nevertheless.

Some things that have been on my mind

I’m writing this post from my parents’ place in downtown Toronto. On Wednesday night, after characteristically long hours of winter air travel from Boston, I arrived in one of three cities that I call home. It wasn’t quite the start of my Christmas vacation yet. On Friday, I spent a big part of the day at the University of Waterloo, giving a talk co-sponsored by the library and LT3. (I hope to write more later about the day — but I had a wonderful time!)

Alas, soon after I gave my talk, I started to experience the onset of postnasal drip. I’ve been drinking a lot of fluids and am about to turn in for a long night of sleep. With any luck, I’ll fight off any impending cold.

So that’s what’s been happening…..When I started to compose this entry, I wanted to enumerate what’s been on my mind. Alas, I’ll have to forgo that plan for the sake of my health!

Hello from Harvard

After a very long day of travel, I’m happily ensconsed at the Inn at Harvard for what I have been longing for the entire day: a good night’s rest.

I woke up at 5 am this morning in Berkeley with a gnawing “I don’t want to travel — don’t make me feeling”. I can say right now that I’m glad to be here on the other coast. Of course, I was surprised by the freezing rain covering Cambridge right now.

(It was a bit surreal to get in the Bayporter shuttle this morning to hear the news of Saddam Hussein’s capture — which despite my misgivings of the war — is great news.)

On the road again

Tomorrow morning at 6am, I expect to board a Bayporter shuttle to take me to SFO. Where am I going? Hopefully to Cambridge, MA for a meeting at Harvard — and then on Wednesday, to Toronto.

I should be more excited. But a lot of travel tends to stress me out, especially after a week like this in which I have had to fight with my travel agent and the airlines to get my tickets straightened out (more later!)

I hope to blog on the road.

A technical note about documents….

Amen:

I’m off to NYC – let’s hear it for Amtrak! – to give a talk to customers of Pitney-Bowes about why documents aren’t really containers of information. Why would we ever think that they were? Perhaps because we’ve viewed ourselves as containers of information. Plus, we’ve recently managed to informationalize all of business. But, you know what? Information isn’t really the lifeblood of business. Lifeblood is the lifeblood of business.

Of course, I’ll probably rewrite the whole thing on the train ride down. [Joho the Blog]

Amen: I’m off to NYC

Amen:

I’m off to NYC – let’s hear it for Amtrak! – to give a talk to customers of Pitney-Bowes about why documents aren’t really containers of information. Why would we ever think that they were? Perhaps because we’ve viewed ourselves as containers of information. Plus, we’ve recently managed to informationalize all of business. But, you know what? Information isn’t really the lifeblood of business. Lifeblood is the lifeblood of business.

Of course, I’ll probably rewrite the whole thing on the train ride down. [Joho the Blog]

Soporific Sophomoric Sophistry

It’s easy to pontificate to little children that they should go to bed early and on time because it’s good for them and that they’ll feel good when they wake up with enough sleep.

If only I could be good at living out the truth of going to bed on time. I’ve lived through enough evenings of not going to bed when tired only to hit that second wind of wakefulness when I want to do everything but sleep. “Oh, only one more chapter from a book — or one more article from The New Yorker“. I know that the next morning will be painful — yet I don’t want to sleep quite yet.

Now who is more clueless — the kids or I?

Ozu and the universal

Last night, I hastily promised that I would write more about Yasujiro Ozu and universality. So I’m here to deliver on my promise, as underwhelming as my performance will be.

Why is it that I want to spend many of my hours watching the films of a director whose name I did not even know two months ago? Am I just caught up in the type of fashion that afflicts middlebrow intellectual wannabes? (The PFA says Ozu is great — so I must go around watching these films, professing Ozu’s greatness even if I can’t quite see it for myself.) Maybe.

But that doesn’t explain how moving the films have been to me. I biked home last Saturday evening after seeing Late Spring with tears streaming down my face. It was just a film about a father and his daughter, how she doesn’t want to get married because she does not want her father to be alone, and how her father convinces her to get married, thus condemning himself to loneliness. I thought that Tokyo Story was absolutely gripping, speaking to my sense and understanding of family. I want to know more about the film, what makes it tick. I spent two hours on Sunday with the new DVD of Tokyo Story looking for insight.

Does it help to be Asian or specifically Japanese to really get Ozu? Some European American friends of mine did not respond to the portrayal of family in Tokyo Story the way I did. They were surprised that the film is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever. I myself am delighted to see the recognition that Tokyo Story has received. It’s good for me to read many who don’t have any problems associating artistic experiences originating from Japan with the universal. I’m tired of hearing primarily ideas and art from Western contexts described as such. I’m refreshed by seeing faces on movie screens that look more like mine crying, speaking (or not expressing) heart-felt emotion — and moving viewers around the world in the process.

Yes, I know that I’m shedding very little light on whether Ozu’s work is universal. Maybe I’ll answer that question some other day.