Meanwhile, back in our galaxy

Alright, alright, yes, I am probably blogger No. 234,807,097,921 to link to this video today. But come on. How can you not resist The Empire Strikes Barack.

Enjoy:

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Siderodromophilia and other loves

This is why the Intertubes rock. How easy it is to delve off into tangents. Superficially, such tangential escapes may suggest a threat to concentration, but I see them more as starting point for ceaseless mental explorations. It allows one, to refer to another passion of mine and a conversation I recently had with a friend, to electronically clatter about the world like a pinball.

Here’s one adventure I took:

In compiling another post (I’d say earlier today, but it might happen to be posted after this … don’t you love distraction?) about a transit center proposed for Dodger Stadium, I wanted to refer to myself as a lover of train travel, and I wanted a word for it. I recalled how, a fear years ago, I penned an article for Citations, the newsletter for the Ventura County Bar Association, about lawyers and judges who love trains and remembered the word “Siderodromophilia” bandied about at the time. I don’t quite recall why it didn’t end up in the piece, but perhaps the subjects of my interviews were hesitant their colleagues would think when it came to trains, getting on meant getting off.

In writing my piece about the transit center, I wanted to employ a better word for train enthusiast than the phrase “train enthusiast.” So I tried to recall that word. I checked with my mother, who happens to be the editor of Citations, to see if she could recall what the word was (I couldn’t remember it exactly at that point in this journey). She pointed out a site called The Phobia List and suggested it should point me in the direction of the root word I needed. Searching for “trains” I found “Siderodromophobia,” the fear of train travel, railroads and train travel.From there, I replaced the “phobia” with “philia” in Google and learned “siderodromophilia” means “arousal from riding on trains.”

Yes, I enjoy trains, and there is a certain sensuality in the rhythmic motions (and let’s not mention stock footage and visual double entendres of trains entering tunnels), but that’s not what I was driving at, although there doesn’t seem to be a dictionary definition for simply enjoying trains.

Fortunately, Googling the word siderodromophilia wasn’t as disturbing as I’d feared (If there is a phobia for disgusting or plain trashy Google search results, I couldn’t find it on The Phobia List). What it did, however, was send me cascading around the Internet to some fascinating pages, pages of which I am now presently using to distract myself from my original blog entry about the transit center. Not, mind you pages about siderodromophilia, but pages discussing the act, especially a number of people’s surprise upon learning the word and one person’s amusement toward someone who identified himself as a siderodromophile and another discussion about the etymology of the word itself.

Also of note were a variety of slang dictionaries, many of which were focused on so-called “bizarre sexual practices.” I’ll leave the debates about how we discuss our desires, fantasies and turn-ons and what constitutes “bizarre” to blogs focused on sexuality. Because you can guess what happens if you put “sexuality blog” in Google, I’ll point you to two, erotica writer and educator Susie Bright’s Journal and Violet Blue’s Open Source Sex (If you need a warning, you may encounter nudity and various forms of arousal along the way, but these aren’t porn sites), from which you should be able to dive deeply into discussions and explorations of sex and its intersection with culture, society, politics and technology without losing sapiosexuality street cred (Speaking of which, try the purity test for people with large vocabularies — no, you don’t get to know my score).

Anyhow, I’m really slipping away from a point now, and that is the vast and quickly accessible wealth of information available on the Internet. Yeah, not exactly news, but in this day and age of search engine battles, social networking, narrow-casting, and audience fragmentation, it’s worth remembering that the opportunity in the Internet lies not in its commodification or packaging, but in its wide-open frontier-like nature.

How can one not be fascinated, amused and amazed by the fact that within minutes we can debate the changing possibilities for traversing our physical landscape to traipsing across the electronic landscape?

How can one not enjoy the passion for learning, for education, and for enlightenment a medium like this can spur. Yes, there are dark sides to those potentials in the risk of misinformation, distortion and inaccuracy, but the sheer possibility, I believe, outweighs the threat.

All roads lead to Dodger Stadium

Okay, so this may not be Ventura County related, not that most of my blog entries have tended that way anyhow, despite my intentions, but I couldn’t ignore this comment from a discussion on a transit center proposed as part of a refurbishment of Dodger Stadium announced today.

As some astute readers might know, or those who know the me behind the scenes, I’m a diehard Dodgers fan. I’m also a fan of things that go “choo-choo,” or at least, “clackety-clackety” (or whatever sound train wheels make). When it comes to actually getting to a Dodgers game there’s perhaps nothing more enticing than the opportunity to indulge some siderodromophilia.

Those who are familiar with Dodger Stadium know it is beyond a pain in the ass to drive there (insider tip: park your car off Sunset early, grab a beer and a game of Elvis Pinball at the Shortstop, then walk up the hill)

Commenter Charles hits the nail on the head though.

“This whole plan is about increasing their revenues. Parking lot fee revenue is ** chump change ** compared to the potential retail revenue they will realize with this project.

I think it is the responsibility of the City of LA to insist the Dodgers & Co. install a mass transit station … I’d ride a mass transit line that drops me off right behind center field….. where I could spend money at these beautiful new shops and restaurants.”

Charles isn’t alone. I would readily choose this option to get to a game, and I imagine many fans would, as well as casual Angelenos and Southern Californians who just want a nice day out. If Frank and Jamie McCourt genuinely want to endear themselves to the Greater Los Angeles Community, they could volunteer a little scratch up front for a lot of dough down the line.

That doesn’t exactly help Venturans, although the possibility to get to Dodgers games easily would hopefully mean renewed attention to expanding connections from Ventura County to L.A.’s transportation system. Even so, think of the revenue potential for Los Angeles if Ventura County residents drive to Warner Center and hop on the Orange Line to connect to the game, or drop their cars off at Universal City Walk to get to a red line subway leading to or near Dodger Stadium. Yes, it’s hard work and massive infrastructure development required, but a little ingenuity, sacrifice and the aforementioned work could go a long, long way.

A nation locked up

Thanks to a post from Liz Cox Barrett of the Columbia Journalism Review, I was made aware of a startling story in today’s New York Times. The story, titled “Inmate Count in U.S. dwarfs other nations“, reveals the startling news that although the U.S. is home to only 5 percent of the world’s population, it is also home to nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Talk about nation of freedom.

Times reporter Adam Liptak reports how American courts sentence offenders to prison time for crimes that many countries would not, and how our prisoners are kept in jail longer. As Liptak reports, experts from other countries have expressed shock at the stark figures.

As our cover story by Butch Warner from last week illustrates, though, incarceration is a reality for many Americans — a reality that takes years to adjust and recover from. Recovery and restitution is, of course, not always possible, and so many who enter the prison system — for whatever reason — do not emerge unchanged.

Liptak’s article is a fascinating examination of these startling statistics. Naturally, the article explores the devastating impact the failed, yet ongoing, “War on drugs” has had on our society and the severe strain it has placed on our jails and prisons, a strain that, in my opinion, has weakened both the courts and the prison system’s ability to handle and process crimes that are truly a threat to society.

The article also points to another fact, however, one critics of the penal system may not readily address: crime has dropped as incarceration rates have risen.

Nevertheless, it is unclear from the sources citing those statistics in Liptak’s article, or from Liptak’s otherwise great reporting, where that drop in crime occurred. It would be interesting to delve further into those statistics and determine whether violent crime has dropped in conjunction with a rise in incarceration for those crimes, or if the drop in the overall crime rate had more to do with punishment for lesser crimes.

Either way, the report raises important questions about how our society operates.

Touché

Just saw this site: Stuff White People Like.

All I can say is guilty.

Just for the heck of it, I’ll point out a few I don’t happen to like, but that’s only 14 out of 95 items. And among those 14 that are left, I certainly see where this grand ethnography is coming from. Of course, I’m sure that just furthers inherent social critiques of the generalizations white people — particularly self-styled progressive, tolerant, intellectual whites — often bring to their contemplation of people of color and cultural diversity.

This is perhaps one of the funniest, yet wisest, things I’ve seen online recently.

Anyhow, for those who care, here are the items I don’t happen to enjoy, and my reasons why: Continue reading

New York’s pot to San Francisco’s kettle

I’ll leave the debate about elitism in the presidential race to the drones and foot soldiers of the 2008 campaign, as well as the more articulate prognosticators on the 2008 election season (or is that too elite a wording?). Besides, so far, I’d say John Stewart probably said it best during the April 14 edition of The Daily Show when he reminded us the President of the United States of America is possibly the most elite position in the entire world (Hi, Yale grad, Skull & Bones member and son of a Bush; Hello Mr. Rhodes Scholar).

No, I’ll focus on a different hypocrisy among this deluge of hypocrisies surrounding these false accusations of elitism. Within Maureen Dowd’s New York Times op-ed on the subject she writes the following:

“Behind closed doors in San Francisco, elitism’s epicenter [Emphasis added], Barack Obama showed his elitism, attributing the emotional, spiritual and cultural values of working-class, “lunch pail” Pennsylvanians to economic woes.”

Who would have thought a Southern Californian like me would so readily stick up for San Francisco, but WHAT? A high-profile columnist and supporter of one of the most mainstream of mainstream politicians, writing for The New York Times, the “Old Gray Lady” of modern journalism, is calling San Francisco “elitism’s epicenter?” Penning a column for the pre-eminent publication in a city that claims to never sleep, dubs itself “The Big Apple,” acts as the arbiter of American fashion, the heart of global business, and acts as if it is the urban reincarnation of Jesus, Dowd still somehow believes San Francisco is the epicenter of elitism. Continue reading

An instantaneous eruption of absence

Conceptualizing sheer nothingness is quite befuddling. I think it might be the human equivalent of telling a computer to divide by zero. Perhaps now I understand why they exhibit such antipathy toward doing so. That and the whole mathematics thing, but I’m not a computer scientist, I’m a journalist with a degree in history.

Nonetheless, before my introductory digression we were discussing the potential of existencelessness. Why? Well, the most recent report on the impending activation of the Large Hadron Collider has burrowed under my skin.

A Los Angeles Times article yesterday lifted my eyebrows.

There’s something awe-inspiring about the simple statement:

“The most complex piece of scientific equipment ever built, the collider will send particles crashing into each other at just a wink shy of the speed of light, generating energies more powerful than the sun.”

Before delving deeper, has anyone mentioned the fact, at all, that using the modifier “large” to describe the Hadron Collider is a bit overly cautious? It’s like calling the ocean damp. There is no melo in this drama, and hyperbole just doesn’t apply. I think an $8 billion, 17-mile ring of man-made equipment capable of producing more energy than a star 870,000 miles across and 330,000 times more massive than the Earth is worthy of a scientifically applied title of Ginormous.

Delving into the thick of reporter John Johnson Jr.’s article (awesome name, by the way) only further solidifies why the collider merits such a title. Its main purpose is determine whether a theoretical particle responsible for giving other particles their mass, known the Higgs-boson, the so-called “God Particle,” actually exists. In doing so it will produce an extremely massive particle in an apparently tiny space:

“But how could a collision of tiny particles like protons produce a massive particle like the Higgs?

In our macro-world, crashing things together, like cars, makes big things into smaller things, like broken headlights and fenders. But it’s different in the subatomic world, where crashing two Priuses together can produce a 10-wheeler.”

This entire situation is unbelievably fascinating yet incredibly underreported. Continue reading