Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Ancient Words of a Confirmed Bachelor

Sherman Oaks, California

Around the year 1711, Arnolt Bitter, a 48-year-old stationed in the colonial capital of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, wrote to his sister and explained why he had no interest in marrying:

To attach myself at this age to a marriage and risk my peace of mind with the fickle temper of a wife I do not (I beg your pardon) deem expedient; even more so as a marraige would place me once more on the centre stage of worldly life. If I resolved to do so, I would throw in my lot with a wife who could give birth to children. Then I would not be able to decide when to return to my dear old Patria but would run the risk of being forced to remain here all my life and slave away until my last day. Nowadays money cannot be married anymore, all must be contributed by the vigilence of the husband in order to support his family.

Source: Leonard Blussé. Strange Company: Chinese settlers, mestizo women and the Dutch in VOC Batavia. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Foris, 1986.

Pictured: The Cnoll Family of Batavia, who were Arnolt Bitter's in-laws. Note that all of the women were Eurasian. The portrait was painted in 1665 by Jacob Coeman.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Story With A Happy Ending


I pick up my Breakfast Special from The Daily Grill and can't find a place to sit. All of the seats in the cafeteria section are taken, and all of the seats in the restaurant section are roped off. I see that the bar has empty seats, so I take one and eat.

A few minutes later, a waitress approaches.

Waitress: What'll you have to drink?

Me: I have a coffee.

Waitress: You need to order something to drink.

Me: I did.

Waitress: This is the bar section. If you want to sit here, you need to order something to drink. That's the policy.

Me: No, all of the tables over there are taken, and I'm sitting here. If you want a policy, the policy should be that you open the restaurant when there's no place to sit in the cafeteria.

Waitress: There's a poli--

Me: Let me explain to you what is going to happen. I am going to sit here quietly eating my breakfast, and you are going to go away and leave me alone.

She looks befuddled for a moment, goes away and leaves me alone.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mapping North Korea

Sherman Oaks, California

Big props to my travel buddy Curtis Melvin, who was profiled in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

Curtis created North Korea Uncovered, a Google Earth application which details -- and I mean details -- the buildings, dams, prisons and other components of the secretive East Asian state. Curtis showed me a prototype while we were sitting at a hotel bar in Dasoguz, Turkmenistan, and I'm glad to see it's a success.


Monday, May 11, 2009

So Cool It Can't Last

Sherman Oaks, California

Book parties in Delhi are public events, according to Tripti Lahiri of The New York Times. You may have to work a little to find the date and location, but, once you do, it's a snap to get in.

Cool, but it can't last. Publicists justify their fees by creating
needless barriers and exclusions. Once there's real money to be made in the Indian book publishing business, publicists will limit access to events in the name of "protecting the client's brand." Admission to a book party will become a status symbol, incentivizing current and wannabe insiders to work within the PR system. Then the private security people will reinforce the barriers.

So the book people in Delhi should enjoy the openness. It won't be there in a few years.

Pictured: Delhi Bookseller.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Doctor Who and the British Empire


Monday, May 04, 2009

Visit The Campuses of Britain From Your Desktop

Sherman Oaks, California

No opera. (I'll explain what that means at the end of this post.)

The Union View website hosts short video tours of the major universities in Great Britain, and it's a fun way to kill time. The videos are produced by student government types, and they're promotional pieces -- you never see a snowdrift.

But you get a good feel for places, nonetheless. Edinburgh is a jewel of a city. No one outside England has heard of Royal Holloway (pictured), but it looks like a fantastic place to study. Aberystwyth University in Wales does the best it can with what it has.

Strikingly, all of the videos discuss pubs and nightclubs. I roll my eyes whenever the web page for a U.S. university discusses the local opera or symphony; that may sucker the parents, but most undergraduates aren't interested. Due to the U.K.'s sane liquor laws, a reality of student life can be truthfully addressed.

And the South Asian girl in the SOAS video is cute as a button.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Defining "An Original Contribution To Knowledge"

Sherman Oaks, California

One of the intimidating aspects of a doctoral dissertation is the oft-stated requirement that the work be "an original contribution to knowledge."

What makes a thesis "original"?

I found a good answer in the book Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D. by Robert L. Peters. He quotes an earlier author, named David Madsen, as follows:

"Original" means "the potential to do at least one of the following: uncover new facts or principles, suggest relationships that were previously unrecognized, challenge existing truths or assumptions, afford new insights into little-understood phenomena, or suggest new interpretations of known facts that can alter man's perception of the world around him."

Still a tall order.

Pictured: Three chevrons on the sleeve of an academic gown signify that the person holds a doctorate.