Sunday, April 29, 2007

is it just me?...

i´ve been trying to find the following article, received today via an e-mail alert:

An Italian Federalism ? - The State , its Institutions and National Culture as Rule of Law Guarantor

Author(s): Del Duca , L . F . ; Del Duca , P

ISSUE: 2006 ; VOL 54 ; PART 4

Jrnl: Am. J. Comp. L

so, i go looking for it, because the hyperlinks in the alert don´t take me to the actual issue, but to earlier issues of said journal. moreover, the databases h/linked to, seem to have some sort of embargo going, and just-published stuff are not available. of course, this means i need to go looking in other aggregator databases. so, i enter my search text, and get the following error:

somebody slap me!!

for those who cannot read the image text. it says:

"Your query has been intercepted because you may have intended to FIND a document."


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Friday, April 27, 2007

conferenciante /conferencer

first. an amusing quote:

QI Quote of the Day
“Dealing with network executives is like being nibbled to death by ducks.”
ERIC SEVAREID (1912-92) US journalist

given the context, i guess he meant "broadcast tv networks", but my mind hopped to Internet networks and wondered whether the same could be said there. i don´t know. i just wandered (sic).

it is high time that i write about the UniPID/EADI symposium of last week. more especially so, since they today announced an Open Access Dossier on the EADI web site. Some background: UniPID is the Finnish Universities´ Partnership for International Development.
Their mission is "To promote and implement ethically and culturally sustainable development in the world through establishing long-lasting research cooperation, based on the principles of partnership and institutional cooperation, between universities in Finland and their partners in the south."
EADI is the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes, and aims to be the prime professional association for development and regional studies, with member institutions numbering at least 150 across Europe.
the particular aim of the one-day symposium was to look at the problematic of accessing development knowledge. what was interesting to me was to meet persons from the development studies domain (one which i am not too familiar with). the acid test is "will EADI create a domain/subject archive?"; "might they consider encouraging (in some way/shape/form) their associated researchers to deposit their papers in an institutional archive?". i don´t know, and i am not going to try and speak on their behalf. but i did see some encouraging signs, in that the meeting was positive and upbeat, and there was a willingness to grapple with the Open Access debate (the EADI Executive were having their meeting the friday after the thursday symposium). you can see the programme and presentations linked-to from here. as i prepared for the talk; mulling over issues particular to access to development research, i thought, imagine what could be achieved if only African researchers located on other spots on the planet could still stay connected and in tune with their country´s research trends by merely having good (unfettered) information to the research output coming out from their places of origin. people always speak of born-digital documents. so, let me use this shorthand. there i was talking to development studies researchers born-Europe, concerned about having and expanding access to development knowledge. but let´s not then lose sight of the born-Africa or born-LAm researcher located outside of, Africa or Latin America, respectively, who also needs to be "kept in the loop". because, quite obviously, we do consider that the born-African in-Africa researcher needs access to scientific output from his/her country (though it might not always be country-specific -- depends on the discipline e.g. some social science questions may be developing country-specific, for instance; sometimes agriculture, etc). imagine the plusses vis-a-vis countering brain-drain effects if you could just keep researchers connected in such a way to their countries as i think too often when people leave for other climes the connections can become porous. and of course, what i say applies to all disciplines and not just that of development studies. i will not attempt to provide a summary of the papers presented, but merely want to mention my excitement when i saw the empirical research work of my co-presenter, Finnish musicologist Philip Donner. it was a good graphic illustration of the notion of "exposure to ideas", and why it is that we need more systematic archiving of such research materials.
he said "Finland has a number of valuable collections of cultural material from developing countries. Some of them are well documented, and they would deserve to be easily accessible in a dedicated archive. As existing archives have chosen to give priority to national content, it unfortunately seems to be difficult to find a working solution. This situation appears to be similar in other European countries. "
see for instance his video of Selo greetings from Tanzania.

this brings me to a lecture i attended this evening. since it is freedom day, it was rather appropriate that i end up seated in the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre at the Saïd Business School here at Oxf. this was to listen to Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, giving the John Berger lecture, which he titled "Things subverting ideas: Africa in the British Museum". (if you´ve not read Berger´s "Ways of Seeing" then you´ve missed out... I read it at age 18 and it just about changed my life. seriously.) and MacGregor began his talk by saying "you look in terms of what you know, and sometimes knowing inhibits the looking". indeed. and then he went on to give an eloquent lecture on historical views of Africa, and of how much this has evolved during the past 100 years. for instance, he quoted from the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 which claimed that Africa was devoid of development save for that given it by its colonial rulers, that it was "a continent practically without history" (yep, that was MacGregor´s quote from the EB), which he said represented liberal thinking for that time. and so he went, illustrating how some facets (and objects in the British Museum) proved that Africa had always been global and of course was capable of inventing lost wax bronze casting, creating hand-axes which were of aesthetic significance rather than just functional, how Europe had at a point been exporter of raw materials to West Africa (ca. rise of the Ashanti Empire) for processing/fashioning in what is now Benin.
(did you know that Gothic representations of the Madonna swayed because they follow the curvature of the ivory tusk from which they were carved?)
the long-and-short of the talk to me, was how scientific thinking progresses (or not). and more particularly, of how scientific, cultural, and historical thinking about Africa has evolved away from that represented by the 1911 EB. moreover he made an argument for multiculturalism (something i´ve been bumping up against, and see the lack of, in a lot of the legal literature -- legal pluralism as a rather PC notion, but something cast aside rather quickly in most of the scholarly legal discourse). but i digress. he said "we all need to have a deeper understanding of the histories of Africa." and "How do new histories get written?."

this theme of "looking" takes me back to the talk i attended yesterday. it was the talk titled "Next Generation Web in a Nutshell" run by the Science Enterprise Centre of the Saïd Business School. Last night folks from the OII spoke, so my coursemate Sangamitra and I attended. We were at the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre again. The speakers were Bill Dutton (OII), Nir Vulkan (SBS), and Jonathan Zittrain (OII). Well, of course, strictly speaking we would have heard it all before, given that we are OII DPhils. But well, it is interesting sometimes to see how something specialised is packaged for public scientific consumption. The talks were good. i finally understood the philosophy underpinning the project. before, i knew its nuts-and-bolts, but somehow the context had escaped me. but this brings me to this matter of "looking" (as had been mentioned by MacGregor above), and Jonathan´s longitudinal illustration of the interfaces of various "computers" through the decades. what we saw was a series of limited vendor-defined fx. well, pick- or wake up your mobile phone. probably you have 9 little icons splashed across the screen. the scary thing, as seen from JZ´s presentation, is that this UI (user interface) pattern is repeated when looking back across the decades, and what it illustrates is the vendor deciding which applications you are wont to use.
what you end up with is that users resort/default to this vendor-decides-the-fx-i-have model of information experience and use, since the threats on/via the network are such that the unsuspecting user prefers to rather then relinquish decision-making about the applications s/he wants to install/use, as the risks for attack just become too great. so we move closer to an idiot-box and away from a pc, in the end. dumb terminal, anyone?

the classic blogquote award goes to Jonathan for his declaiming that kids today see TV as a "weird soporific aberration" in response to someone´s question re web 2.0 and convergence.
that´s not funny for its content. no. i think it is true (depending on where on the planet you are; i mean, let´s not get carried away by the notion that "tv is dead" just yet. it still lingers in many parts of the globe. well, i guess he didn´t say "tv´s dead"...) bueno. well, i don´t have a tv here in the UK. i refuse, on principle, to pay a TV licence. same as i did in SA. that´s why "no tv". but.
the quote was funny for being a discordant yet catchy wordstring.



about writing histories. i was today thinking and half-amused in my thoughts about south african literature, and questions around representivity. i never became enchanted by south african literary fiction at an early age (and the stuff they shove at you at a young age) simply because i couldn´t relate. i mean, i saw a copy of Olive Schreiner´s "Story of an African Farm" in the bookstore yesterday. nice story, saw the series, etc. but let´s get real, that was not my experience of life in South Africa. i´d not been to a farm ever during my childhood. that´s because i was confined to the city and suburbs. and that was the thing: the literature being published represented the experiences of those who had access to the publishing scene and market. that has changed now. there are some stories out about life in the townships, for instance. and they even get translated into spanish (i recall seeing a work last year in casa del libro in madrid). and yet, that township story has not entirely been my experience either. but, in the end, my early unhappy experiences with South African fiction just turned me away from reading that in my idle moments. sometimes i wonder to myself what it is then that i would write, if i, of a day, sat down and gave myself this task of writing a story representative of my South Africa... dunno... too ill-defined for now.

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freedom day, south africa

it is like one of those events, say a birthday of someone you know. in the run-up to the thing you know that it´s coming, and you tell people about it, but then the day in question, you forget. it is as if there is a disconnect between the date "27 april" and the event "birthday" or in this case "freedom day". (thanks to hussein for reminding me what it is called (oops)). yes, it is freedom day in south africa. it is a holiday to celebrate the first democratic elections held 27 april 1994. as i´ve said, i didn´t forget the day and it´s significance, but somehow forgot that it was called "freedom day". i do remember it well, that 27 april 1994. there was a light rain, a drizzle, as it is called. but not really cold; only a bit chilly. i lived in the city, so walked to my nearest polling station which was the cape town civic centre. there was a long queue, but it didn´t really matter. the longer queue made things all the more pleasant in that it gave everyone an excuse to linger-longer. there was a buzz in the air, with people chit-chatting to whoever was ahead or behind them: the rainbow nation out in full colour, queueing excitedly to make their mark. that was a great morning. i remember what i felt on walking home that afternoon. and i probably looked a lot like... the cheshire cat (since i am in oxf, there must be an oxf reference (hahaha)).

oh, later the day was (only) slightly marred by reports of alleged voting irregularities in places, but it was difficult to discern if these were legit or merely the usual party-political bickering that occurs (what´s referred to as "crispación" in Spanish, and of which there has been a lot of of late in Spanish politics.).

so, it´s freedom day. happy freedom day to all my S. African compatriots!

some days are just one of those where you "don´t know your arse from your elbow", as my mom would say. well, she said that of other people, never about us, and for sure never about herself. there is the more colourful afrikaans semantic equivalent, which is "rigtingbefok". afrikaans is a beautiful language -- people don´t always seem to understand that i have no hard feelings about having been forced to learn it.

well, thinking about my mom, i thought about how one knew that she was angry. it was always rather subtle. she had no need for harsh words. it was more in the tone. you knew you had pushed your luck when she stopped to look at you with those green eyes of hers, and said "i´ll box your ears". or another indication was when she would run through the names of siblings before she got to yours. and at that, there aren´t many siblings, so the list was not a long one. but it rang "Sean, Gail, Jennifer!", in that order, from oldest to youngest. then you knew she meant business.

and i write in the past tense because these are things from my childhood. it´s been a long time since i´ve experienced this kind of treatment from her. these days, when i am able to visit, the best thing is when she makes me a scrambled-egg-and-onion sandwich, and a cup of tea. it´s that simple.

but so, i was remembering these things on this freedom day.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007


i´ve been spending much of the afternoon sifting through papers. you may think: you´ve only been in oxf 6 months, so there shouldn´t be much to sift. well, well.

funny thing is, i´ve just stumbled across a paper; a napkin from a spanair flight i took to barcelona back in january 2006. i remember at the time reading the in-flight magazine, and prompted by that, i´d scribbled on the napkin, places where i´d wanted to go still in that year. they were:


funny. i´d forgotten about the list. well, the romantic hollywood thing to say would be that i´d compiled that list and set out to achieve it. (yeah, right).
i´ve always believed it is the very act of compiling the list, rather than holding on to it, that makes all the difference.

so, i can cross of my list above: maastricht, brussels, helsinki, berlin, granada. hhhmmm. five out of nine: not too shabby.
funny thing also about being in the UK is that i am reconnecting with a whole lot of things from my childhood. i think i´ve made mention of this before. i guess it is because we had so many connections tv-wise or literature-wise with British things.
Rupert Bear -- i used to love reading rupert bear, too bad they got rid of the golliwog, which was one of my favorite characters (and then at some point it became politically incorrect to have the golliwog -- this is how adults make kids´ lives complicated...); Paddington Bear -- the other day in the airport i looked at some paddington bear books, and discovered for the first time that his byline had been "the bear from darkest peru" or some such. never knew that. i didn´t really read paddington, but had stuff: like clay/putty set with paddington bear moulds. Pooh Bear i never got the hang of, then nor now. Wombles I used to watch and read avidly. also liked Morph a whole lot.

Ha! Genial! I just googled the title of the first book I´d ever read independently when aged four. It was "Rug plays ball".

And people might say "how is this possible, if you grew up in sanction-isolated apartheid-era South Africa". i guess because life still goes on, regardless... people always try to create a certain kind of normal in abnormal conditions.
the thing about lists is that there is a pattern for me. i make lists. and i´m not talking about day-to-day to-do lists. i make dreamy lists: of things i´d like to do. then i put them aside and they get lost in the papers i tend to amass. then months (18 in the case mentioned above) or years later i find the list when sorting papers. and it´s always weird how much of what i´d written in some act of quasi-whimsy, i had actually achieved by then.

back to the childhood theme: one of my dad´s favorite musicals is South Pacific, and so i know the soundtrack by heart from having heard it 1000+ times during my childhood. so this whole list-compilation thing reminded me of that song that one of the characters sings, which goes

happy talking talking
happy talk
talk about things you like to do
you´ve got to have a dream
if you don´t have a dream
how you gonna have a dream come true



Saturday, April 21, 2007

just a quote

i was browsing through some literature and found the following:

De todas las formas que el hombre encontró
para hacerse daño a sí mismo,
la peor de ellas fue el Amor.

by Paulo Coelho
El Peregrino de Compostela (Diario de un mago).

Of all the ways which man has found
to hurt himself,
the worst has been Love.

It caught my attention, precisely because people don´t think of love in these terms usually. Anyhow.


yet another helsinki pic

another pic of Finland. more precisely, from Helsinki, and the memorial to Finnish poet Runeberg. what i did in Helsinki was walk around without having looked at too much detail/homework on the city beforehand. i wanted to know the minimum, broad brushstrokes, and walk around and "see" things for myself, and not be told what must be seen by some guidebook. i wanted to encounter things without having been prepped too much beforehand. anyhow, i saw this monument but what struck me was not the poet on top, but the "Maiden of Finland" as depicted in the pic above. there was something about her expression which was sad yet beguiling. this is one of my favorite pics from my visit.
another aspect re my Helsinki visit, was that it was great to be close to a working (as opposed to "decorative") harbour. i had not been close to a mass of water for a year now (was 1 year ago in Cape Town --- you wouldn´t believe how much i miss the ocean, or the joy of being at the coast) and i had lived for 8 yrs in the city (cf. suburbs) in Cape Town, and walked every Sunday almost through the harbour with my dogs. you can´t begin to imagine how happy i was to hear a seagull; see at a distance the harbour cranes reaching skyward; or eventually get down to the water´s edge. i ran. i´m not kidding. i´d walked south-west to the non-touristy part of the city, and got to a hilltop park. from there i caught my first glimpse of water, looking ahead between a clump of buildings. so, made a beeline for the water´s edge.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

helsinki / helsingfors

i write from Helsinki. I am here for the UniPID-EADI Symposium: Accessing Development Knowledge – Partnership Perspectives. It´s been a good day. I will do a write-up on the symposium later. For now, I post a pic from the sky as we approached Finland. if you look closely you can see little specks of island (there are 188,000 islands in finland; so said my guidebook)


Sunday, April 01, 2007

note to self (otra parte)

i found the big answer to my big monday question. specifically, questions 6b.i and 6b.ii.
it had been there for some time, right before my eyes almost, but somehow went undiscovered.