Formula One, Alonso in Ferrari, Vettel in Red Bull, Button in McLaren, Kimi in Lotus, Schumacher in Mercedes and Senna. And Me in Honda Civic.

This was Formula One’s final race weekend of the season.  What a cliffhanger the Brazilian Grand Prix was.  Even having been a Ferrari liker for many years, I didn’t give Alonso a single shred of hope, going into the final race of the season without the championship lead, without the better car, without the momentum of winning and without a headstart on the starting grid.  But the opening sequence of the race turned the championship on its head, with Alonso’s customary brilliant start and Vettel’s uncustomary position at dead last after a collision at Turn 1.  Hopes rose and ebbed with the rain, and in the end, close but no cigar for Alonso and Ferrari.  So much ado about not much. At least it was entertaining.

So fittingly, the final race of the year was won by one of two lefties on the grid—Jenson Button.  How did I know?  I got it from this my second most favorite blog of all (today)—a right-handed girl who loves lefties (cool…). (And of course I verified this against some other sources, and unearthed the fact that Kimi was the other lefty.  But if not for this page, who would know, the guy talks so little.).  But the sport is owned by the greatest driver of all—he didn’t win the most championships like Schumi or Fangio, but the left-handed Ayrton Senna is considered the enigmatic genius, the most talented driver ever, whose 3 drivers’ championships only serve to describe how short his time was in the sport and on earth.

Senna’s success in his sport is a symbol of how lefties are better at driving.  A driving school in the UK (where the shifting hand is the left. Does it matter? Maybe.) found that 57% of lefties passed their driving tests, compared to 47% of righties.  That is a >20% success rate over those using the wrong hand!  The story of my own driving test was consistent with this claim.  I was a poor undergrad (ironic that I describe myself as such considering that I was making more then than I am making now) in drivers’ city Los Angeles and wanted to get a drivers’ licence with the lowest possible capital outlay. So I decided to take the test in automatic transmission (they don’t really care what kind of car you drive even if you passed in auto) after having taken 3 lessons with the driving school. Passed by the skin of my teeth.  But like Alonso (or Schumi or any other cynical F1 driver) would say, it doesn’t matter how you win, so long as you win—it didn’t matter how I passed, so long as I passed.

So congratulations to Vettel, I don’t like the man, but it must take more than luck and wagging that irritating index finger of his to win 3 championships.  For Alonso, another year of finishing second, I have lost count how many seconds he has clocked (pun not intended).  This guy is in the right team at the wrong time. Expect him to consider new teams when his current contract runs out.

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James Bond’s Right Arm is Busted. He will have to learn to shoot left-handed, or he slings a rifle everywhere he goes.

I am so proud to have accomplished what I have only managed like twice in the last 8 years. Watch a movie on the weekend of its release. Why is that? Once kids come into the picture, catching a movie in its year of release becomes a challenge.

(Spoiler alert) Yes, who can resist James Bond (seen above using deft hand to sort out his crocked right). The girls all want to watch him. The guys got no choice but to go along (hence unable to resist as well), and engage in the extremely twisted exercise of being party to their girl swoon over another man for two and a half hours. Oh what to do. I retaliate by acting positively disposed to the is-he-gay-or-is-he-not-but-he’s-got-no-teeth-so-he-mustn’t-be bad guy played by the actor par excellence Javier Bardem (seen in picture violating the ramrod straight James Bond with deft hand).

Thinking again, it’s funny. Why did I think first of Bardem when there are the Bond girls?

Awkward silence.

Ah the stunning Bond girls (seen here strategically concealing their right arms so they could appear on this blog), of course. Berenice Lim-Marlohe’s looks are as mixed as her name. When her name first came up, I first thought Singapore, and then the better senses kicked in (System 2 thinking in behavioral science parlance), and so let’s be more accurate. It’s the name of a person of Chinese descent originating from Southeast Asia, where names are not pronounced in Mandarin but in the dialect group to which the person belongs. Which is how my name (pronounced Zhang) metamorphosed into Teo of the Henghua dialect. Turns out she is French and 33. It may sound like she’s a bit mature in age to be a Bond girl, but with Daniel Craig (only 44) trying to looking 60 in this movie, 33 certainly sounds more politically-correct than 22.

Speaking of political correctness, how about that, no white Bond girls this time. Those looking for Caucasian beauty would need to plonk Judi Dench (seen here using deft hand for facial hair removal while the other hand awaits to pass the pen to it) in a time machine and crank back about 130 years. (This demographic is strangely reminiscent of the recent presidential elections…creepy.) And even then she will be taking a break the next movie. Then the same people will have to imagine Ralph Fiennes in drag (I recall he has done it before, just can’t place the movie). Though with Bond movies, miraculous resurrections are a dime a dozen, why should we be surprised.

I can imagine Ralph Fiennes’s character being really pissed though if Judi Dench does return.

Final Research Paper: Social Media in War

In the latest conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, taking place even as I blog, more than 422 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza City, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  Hamas gave conflicting information, tweeting that it had shot 527 rockets instead.  Wait, did I hear Hamas making a news release on its conflict with Israel through Twitter?  There is more.  IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich tweeted a photo of a baby bloodied from a Hamas rocket attack.  Hamas had a similar riposte, tweeting a screen shot of the mangled body of a child, presumably from heavy Israeli bombing.

This current conflict could be the one in which Twitter and other social media platforms play a most significant role in war.  Indeed, social media’s influence in armed conflict is set to grow.  Every physical, kinetic conflict has had an intangible non-kinetic side.  Of the latter, a considerable portion lies in the information realm.  From high-level strategic communications right down to tactical disinformation, information has been and will continue to be a critical instrument of power.  As the latest and most rapidly-growing propagator of information, it seems as though social media will be featured for a long time to come in war.

Thus far, much of the hype about social media has been about its democratizing effect, its ability to mobilize, to set off revolutions, and to overthrow governments.  However, not much has been discussed about its role in war.  What is its history thus far in war?  Why do warring factions appear to be employing this medium increasingly?  Has it been effective for those who use it?  What is unique about it that separates it from other forms of mass media?  How does it change the nature of information in warfare, or does it even change the nature of warfare itself? What are the other questions that need to be addressed, that are not yet addressed at this point in time?

The research paper will examine the trends in the use of social media in war, through a broad survey of the history of its use.  It will also look at the other areas in which social media has been active, and attempt to apply the discoveries and lessons of its use into the context of warfare, in order to predict the kind of influence it that is capable of having in war, as well as to examine the changes; possibly fundamental changes; that it could make to the very nature of warfare and how it is practiced.

Excuses

It is absolutely ironic that I would not have had the time to post on a 3-day weekend.  But there’s a lot going on.  A dinner party that lasted till 1:30am Friday night (a belated happy birthday to me), a sports shopping spree (I exaggerate, but how does one resist a 20% storewide discount) on Saturday morning, needing to sleep early Saturday night (the prime time of blogging – I know, I need to get a life) due to the need to arise at unearthly 5am on Sunday morning to start a half-marathon at 7:30am (brilliant, brilliant race, I ran out of my skin, I could start a new blog on it), and then now, after hammering out a draft project proposal for a left-handed professor about how to design interventions for stressed-out kids.

(There, an absolutely justified 101-word sentence.)

And my final excuse is that it’s 2 in the morning and I ran a retirement-inducing (cos it will never be bettered, not cos it stank) 13.1 miles and I should really be in bed recovering from my exertions.

So I leave you, the esteemed reader, with this left-handed link called Left Handers Day (sic).  It designates 13 Aug as the day.  A bit of fun. Just that every day for me is Left-Handed Day.

PS. The next blog post is my final project proposal for the digital media class to which this blog owes its existence.  Please excuse it, it’s the last one of those crude interruptions.

PPS. What left-handed issues do you want to read about?  Please comment.

Social Media and the Arab Spring

This post reviews the reading this week that covers social media and its role in the Arab Spring.  The article A “Cute” Facebook Revolution? by Basem Fathy posits that the 2011 Egyptian Revolution was neither one purely borne out of social media, nor one that was pre-meditated, pre-planned  and carefully pre-conceived.  It says instead that this revolution was ten years in the making, with offline actions and activism preceding the same online, and that the organization was loose and non-hierarchical.  Fathy also makes a seemingly innocuous-looking point in his conclusion that the pouring of people onto Tahrir Square on January 28, 2011 was the result of the Egyptian government clamping down on the internet and preventing people from viewing events unfold online.  This last point ties in with Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cat Theory, which says that social media sites are fertile places for dissident movements to start.  This is because when authoritarian regimes shut down sites like Youtube, the masses who use such sites to look at cute cats sit up and take notice.

A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History by Kirkpatrick and Sanger is an excellent summary of how the Mubarak government was brought down; owing in no small part to the roles played by Egyptian bloggers and Wael Ghonim’s activism on Facebook.  Tufekci’s article The #freemona Perfect Storm is an excellent anecdotal piece on how Twitter was used to mobilize action to release an Egyptian-American writer from Egyptian captivity.  Finally, The Net Delusion (afterword to the book here) is Evgeny Morozov’s argument about how those who think the Internet is the ultimate liberator are sorely mistaken.

There is absolutely no doubting the major role played by online social media in the series of dissident movements in the Arab Spring.  This is only the latest instance of the mobilizing power of the Internet and social networks.  The earliest internet-facilitated mobilization I can personally recall was just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  According to some estimates, a total of 36 million people were mobilized for protests against this war from January to April that year.  From these readings though, one moves away from the simplistic claims of social media as the harbinger of global democratization and liberation, to the more sober realization that there is so much more to just social media generating movements and liberating masses.

Consider the humble telephone.  A great piece of technology in its time, it connects people, enables them to communicate, and even though communication is point-to-point, it can, with repeated use, enable groups of like-minded people to gather at one place to partake of an activity of common interest.  Much like social media, it can be (and indeed has been) used for benevolent and malevolent ends, and is a useful—in times gone by, essential—tool for those who seek to organize.  It is plausible to imagine that with its invention and proliferation in the late 19th century, people might have been wildly optimistic about the good things it could bring to humankind.

Yet, more than 125 years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the apparatus to telegraphically transmit sound, it is inconceivable that one might hail the telephone as the technology to liberate longsuffering peoples and democratize societies.  This is because, having thoroughly understood what the telephone is about, we know what it is capable of achieving, what its role in life is, how it can be manipulated, and when over-grandiose claims about what it brings to our lives is just hot air.

And so it could prove to be with social media.  We have seen what it can do in democracy movements.  But just as one swallow makes not a summer, it is much more prudent to not just make conclusions from the information that is easily available (what I learn from Todd Rogers’ behavioral science class as the availability heuristic).  Rather, there is a need to synthesize as well the information that is not easily apparent, and that which is not available at all (meaning, we need to go search and research).

It has only been ten years since social media burst into the scene, and there is much about it that is not yet known and understood.  While I applaud the pivotal role social media has played in liberation movements and other mobilizations that make for a better world, I am nevertheless clear on two things about it: one, that it is a vehicle and a tool (or perhaps, weapon) that serves the intention of the one who wields it; two, 125 years from now, we would label it just as what it fundamentally is—a great piece of technology, no more, no less.

Lefty Blog’s Endorsement of Whoever’s Left in the Presidential Election

Following our fellow reputable publishers The New York Times and The Economist, this blog has something to say about this election.

After a fierce campaign so close as if trying to tell one’s left hand from one’s right, it is time for Americans to choose their President.  And so it is for the rest of the world, never mind that they have no say on the matter whatsoever—my son who is in elementary school is still being asked by his teacher to vote in class tomorrow, never mind that he is underaged, and not a citizen. Now even though at this point the left hand (read: rest of the world) does not know yet what the right hand (read: Yanks) is going to do, it will all become clear, perhaps even before the last Californian at the poll booth votes—that is, if the West Coast states; also known as the left-hand-side of America; know there is an election going on, given how little they have seen of their candidates.

The election of Barack Obama as the 8th left-handed president of the United States was a landmark for us minorities, and cut our ever-closing American president handedness deficit to 28 (8-36).  However we would have to agree with the NYT on the fact that his election did not usher in a new era for minorities in America, given that he did not pass any new legislation that recognized our rights as minorities during his term in charge.  However, we believe that such legislation, although firmly out of left field, remains a greater possibility under Obama.  Our hopes are left slightly dimmed but unextinguished.

Voters need to know the last four right-handed presidents since Kennedy.  They are: Johnson, Nixon, Carter and W. Bush. Compare their tenures with those of the last four left-handed presidents: Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama.

This is in fact all that we have to say that is relevant to the election (we are after all a small publication).  The rest is left to you, the (eligible) voter.  The picture below sums up our choice for the 2012 presidential election (and serves as evidence for those of little faith in our fact-checking).

(We are not sure why we use the word we to describe ourselves, when there is clearly only me behind this publication.  Sure sounds a lot more authoritative though.)