Sunday, December 27, 2009

Takengon-->Banda Aceh

I'm in Takengon. I did a short solo trip in Gunung Leuser National Park (guides apparently are not required, but should you actually want to get to any specific location as opposed to just wandering around, it might be a good idea.) The jungle was cool, but it's not my favorite--you don't get any vista-type views--it's solid jungle canopy all the time that in some sense doesn't really change. Leaches and insects and monkeys and hot springs are fun, but I prefer alpine country. So now I'm a little further north in Takengon, with one more horrible bus ride (and, ummm, GI issues) remaining between me and surfing/snorkeling in Banda Aceh. 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eat Mangosteens and Live

Greetings from Kotocane, Sumatra, Indonesia. You haven't lived until you've eaten mangosteens. Seriously. So good. Also, I ate a chocolate and sweetened condensed milk sandwich fried in a crap-ton of blue bonnet. I cannot believe this was concocted in any country other than the USA.  Being vegetarian takes a little fun out of my point-and-eat approach to developing country street food (especially since I was stupid and forgot to bring a phrasebook), but all is well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boring Update

I've been doing research. Or trying to. Mostly on the Forest Service's 2001 Roadless Rule. I'd be interested to see if I could estimate its effect on local employment. I can't think of an identification strategy other than diff-n-diff, and I'm not sure how well even that will work, plus I have to build the data using GIS. Also, importantly, it's been done before. But right now I have 935 pages of exams to grade. I bailed on the WFR course I was going to take in January so that hopefully I can get more some research done (down time between semesters seems like a good time, and although I'd love to learn the material, if I ever want to graduate, I definitely don't have time to join a S&R group right now, which is a good chunk of why I wanted to take the course). I leave Sat/Sun for Indonesia. I'm TA-ing again next semester but I applied for a short job in February teaching impact evaluation stuff abroad. More on that later if it actually happens.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Surviving Deep Survival

I just finished reading Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival, which I guess is about the psychology of surviving. I disliked it a great deal and would absolutely not recommend it, except for the appendix which makes up the last 20 pages. The book is a very unorganized collection of ideas from Zen, Tao Te Ching, Heroditus, philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology. It's also an attempted memoir, a tribute to Gonzales' pilot father, and a collection of very short re-tellings of survival tales. I know, sounds great, right? But in trying to do all these things, and jumping around between them, it ends up doing none of the above well. Also, you may already know some of the survival accounts from Alive, Adrift, and Touching the Void, and the original accounts are far more interesting. The stories you've likely never heard of are re-told with aggravatingly little detail. I was also irked by Gonzales' repeated mentions of spirituality and following hunches, but it's not my preference for hard statistics that made me dislike this book--I consider even the most reason-based of Gonzales' writing, in both this book and his National Geographic Adventure columns, to be totally uninspired.

The subtitle is Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. In retrospect this makes sense--it's Why, not How, which I guess is what I expected. Virtually none of the information is useful in any practical sense. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw, as even though it might not be useful information the next time I'm lost that my amygdala (or whatever) is responsible for spatial mapping, if it were written well, it might at least be interesting. This book is, however, not written well. If you want a brain book, read Oliver Sacks. If you want a random collection of scientific findings loosely connected by an unconvincing central thesis, read Malcolm Gladwell.

I did find the appendix, which attempts to synthesize the book into something practical, to be worthwhile. Gonzales offers two lists:
1. Perceive, believe, then act.
2. Avoid impulsive behavior; don't hurry.
3. Know your stuff.
4. Get the information.
5. Commune with the dead. [Read accident reports.]
6. Be humble.
7. When it doubt, bail out.


1. Perceive, believe (look, see, believe)
2. Stay calm (use humor, use fear to focus)
3. Think/analyze/plan (get organized; set up small manageable tasks)
4. Take correct, decisive action (be bold and cautious while carrying out tasks)
5. Celebrate your successes (take joy in completing tasks)
6. Count your blessings (be grateful--you're alive)
7. Play (sing, play mind games, recite poetry, count anything, do mathematical problems in your head).
8. See the beauty (remember: it's a vision quest)
9. Believe that you will succeed (develop a conviction that you'll live)
10. Surrender (let go of your fear of dying; "put away the pain")
11. Do whatever is necessary (be determined; have the will and the skill)
12. Never give up (let nothing break your spirit)

Those lists are actually pretty interesting. If you want a useful and interesting reading experience, I'd suggest reading the appendix, writing down these lists, then keep them handy while reading the books and accident reports that were Gonzales' source material yourself.

I'll end with a rare good turn of phrase I liked, written from Gonzales' stunt-pilot perspective:
Survivors know, whether they are conscious of it or not, that to live at all is to fly upside down (640 people died in 1999 while choking on food; 320 drowned in the bath tub). You're already flying upside down. You might as well turn on the smoke and have some fun.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Kayaking, Che

I did a 10 or 11-mile kayak route around Brooks Island yesterday [map]. I'm beginning to think I'm a land mammal. The funnest part was getting out and walking around on the island. Also fun is when you're within 20 yards of the shore and can see the big pelicans and other birds flying around. The rest of the time on the open water is kind of boring. Plus I got seasick and puked while paddling back. It's always on the way back when I'm moving in the same direction as the waves so I get lifted from behind. Maybe I'll get used to it, or maybe I'll sell the kayak for a profit and buy a packraft or a bike.

In hindsight, Steven Soderbergh's movie Che is probably not worth watching. I seem to recall reading reviews when it came out about how you had to already agree with everything Che did to enjoy the film. More than that, regardless of your opinion, I think you have to not be interested in history or politics at all, because the film doesn't investigate any of the politics behind Che's fighting, and it barely even mentions Che's internal motivations and just languorously follows Che and his fighters (none of whom other than Che speak enough to be at all developed as characters) through the woods. The first half about the Cuban revolution at least shows Che speaking at the UN, but the second half is literally two atmospheric and moody hours of Che walking around the Bolivian jungle. I guess a good documentary featuring analysis of his actions from both sides would be a lot more interesting.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Links: Politics & Movies

1. A good argument from Albany this morning:
[ht Indecision]

2. I just saw Precious. I thought Lee Daniels' cinéma vérité-esque rapid zoom and shaky camera work were distracting. I also thought it was manipulative of your emotions. At one point while I was sobbing, I realized everyone else in the theater was sobbing too, and pretty loudly, but it was just so obvious that was exactly what we were supposed to be doing at that moment that I then laughed a little. However, I thought the acting was fantastic and the movie was absolutely worth seeing.

3. After Obama's speech yesterday, I was struck by this quote in a Joan Walsh column at Salon:
I'm deeply disappointed, saddened even, but I don't feel betrayed. Obama has governed like the centrist he told us and showed us he is, from his early flip-flops on FISA to his Goldman Sachs-friendly bailout policies to compromising on the job-creation parts of his economic stimulus to his tepid backing of a healthcare reform public option. It's going to take hard work by activists on all of those fronts to push him to better solutions.