Personal Stories [en]

Starting my journey at the fray, I’ve been reading through accounts written by those who were there on September 11. I’m a bit late, maybe—but that’s understandable, given where I was at the time.

The web offers us something the mainstream press cannot: collections of personal stories. Voices of those who saw things happen with their own eyes. People who do not write for newspapers, or tour the world to cover stories, but who for one event turn into instant reporters. If the Internet is also about connecting people and bringing to your eyes what the other media cannot, this is your chance to see it in action.

I won’t link to everything. There are hundreds of pages out there. Here are some I have read, and appreciated.

  • the fray: devoted to personal story-telling, the fray would be the obvious place to start reading; feature stories and reader comments—yours to add too if you feel like it.
  • Anil Dash: I have all these other ideas, I’m going to write about something other than those fucking terrorists and what they’ve caused. And then, tonight, the smell came back. That burning plastic, electrical, city on fire smell. You know all those clichés about how the smell is the sense most closely linked to memory? They’re true.
  • Usman Farman: Had I taken the late train, or gotten a bite to eat, I would have been 5 minutes late and walking over the crosswalk. Had that happened, I would have been caught under a rain of fire and debris, I wouldn.t be here talking to you. I.d be dead.
  • Tamim Ansary: Some say, why don’t the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they’re starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan–a country with no economy, no food.
  • Maggie: scroll down a bit, and you’ll find lots of linked quotes.
  • Zeldman: My doctor may be among those killed on 11 September. I’ve tried three times to reach him, and all I get is the same eerily calm voice mail loop.
  • Ben Curtis (Purportal): lots of misinformation has circulated after the attacks. Links to relevant documents on the web to make up your mind yourself about these things.
  • and finally, a pilot’s speech on his first flight after the attacks: how to deal with hijackers.

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Thoughts… [en]

…on the current events. They might well be totally unrealistic (you know how bad I am with politics and economy), but nevertheless.

First of all, let’s remember what Kristin was saying during the Kaycee affair: things will be accepted as true because they have been heard or repeated over and over again, rather than because they make rational sense. This is the principle which allows urban legends to spread—and this is the reason media coverage is so crucial for public opinion.

People are repeating that if the US do not react (understand: strike, attack, military), it is opening the door to more terrorist actions in the future. This is being repeated so much that nobody puts the statement into question—but I definitely think it should be. I don’t believe that aggression in return for aggression is the best solution (or the only one, for that mattter).

It makes much more sense to turn to the inside, concentrating on the security issues and politics which have brought about such a situation, rather than rush into military action and bomb terrorist camps in retaliation. Vengeance makes one look weak.

Force used as a response to force can only lead to escalation of violence, particularly in a world where more than one nation has the necessary power to blow up the whole planet.

At first I was worried (like many people, I guess) that the US would react in a stupid way. I think that as time goes by, anger will cool down, and the risk of some disastrous response will become less.

As for Bush, it seems that this tragedy may in some way be a stroke of luck as far as his career is concerned. Look at the polls: 86% of americans (or something like that) approve his handling of the crisis. From a president who was not convincing to many, he has turned into a hero. This is clearly a case of what Thomas Nagel calls “moral luck”. Outside circumstances are giving him a chance to turn otherwise doubting public opinion into his favor.

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Marasme [en]

L’Inde n’est jamais calme, mais en même temps elle est désespérément inerte. On s’enlise dans la lourdeur de la passivité ambiante – et toute notre énergie s’en trouve drainée. Déplacer un caillou requiert autant d’efforts que de faire bouger une montagne. Le temps s’étire en longueur, mais on ne peut rien en faire. Les projets tombent en ruines comme la voiture sans roues abandonnée dans le jardin de notre hôtel: c’est certainement le travail de quelqu’un d’autre de s’en débarrasser.

On y apprend l’attente. On y apprend la passivité, si on avait encore besoin d’entraînement. On y apprend aussi l’ennui, cet ennui qui ronge au fond de la solitude; car en Inde on est seul, même si la foule autour ne nous laisse jamais tranquille.

L’individu est seul, parce qu’il n’a pas de place, parce qu’il n’est pas reconnu. Il n’y a que les rôles, ici. Le groupe, la famille, la communauté, et dedans, rien que des rôles. On s’appelle “Grande Soeur” ou “Petit Frère” – pas “Juliette” ou “Léopold”. Le petit “je” est oublié, caché sous notre rôle de videshi.

Mais pourtant, d’une façon un peu inexplicable, j’aime ce pays.

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Best Memories [en]

I have often expressed my regret that the portions of my Indian life which I get to tell over and over again are the ones which were the most painful to live. We all know this phenomenon: the worst moments make for the best memories.

Anne-Marie came up with the very simple answer I had been awaiting for ages: these difficult moments, these “adventures”, contain drama, and therefore they can be told. They make a good story. Happiness cannot be told. It is a state of being, not a series of events.

Do remember this when I write or talk about India: you are often hearing about the most negative things. I love being here, but there is no way I can really tell you this without boring you to death.

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Dress Code [en]

I am always amazed that foreign women of my age group dare walk around in India wearing strappy tops or shorts. I usually go by the rule that I will avoid wearing anything that an Indian women of my age and “status” would not wear – in terms of “sexiness”.

The most revealing dress that young Indian women in the city will commonly wear are a pair of tight jeans and a fitting t-shirt or blouse. I daresay strappy tops and naked legs are out of bounds – and so they are for me too, even if I am happy to wear such clothing at home.

I think it is important to follow this line of conduct for two main reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to shock people. How would we feel if people who are used to living naked came and walked our streets with no clothes on? This is what I call “intercultural awareness”.

The second reason has to do with the image that a lot of Indian men (sadly) have of western women: sexual objects. I would rather avoid clothing (or attitudes, for that matter) which would seem to encourage this way of thinking: things are bad enough as they are.

There is also a third reason for being careful about one’s clothing: foreigners who neglect the “dress code” tend to be either “freshly arrived”, hence full of illusions, gullible, and with no sense of what things are worth, or “hippies” – people who come to India because it is “cool”, has “real spirituality”, or is a great place for drugs.

These rough categories are of course just what they are—a tool for thought—but they are close enough to the representations many Indians (especially those dealing with “tourists”) have of foreigners. And personally, I try to avoid classification in either of these categories as much as possible.

I would rather be stared at because I am wearing a pretty sari or salwaar kameez suit than because I am showing too much of my body. In my experience, wearing a sari can only have a positive influence on my interaction with people: I am bothered less, complimented more (by women), and it opens the door to genuine interest about my position as a (“non-standard”) foreigner in India.

Last but not least, saris and salwaar kameez are pretty and feminine. During my first months in India, I wore exclusively the pants & t-shirt uniform, and got really sick of it. It was nice to be able to feel like a woman again. All that in a dress considered modest and respectable by everyone – in a country where this is important.

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Principe RDA: Répété, Déformé, [en]

C’est ainsi que nous parviennent la plupart des informations, que ce soit de bouche à  oreille, ou bien via les médias. Réfléchissez-y une secode: qu’est-ce qu’on répète? Ce qui nous marque d’une façon ou une autre. C’est un fait accepté que l’on se donne la licence (pas toujours poétique!) d’exaggérer un tantinet les paroles que l’on rapporte, afin de garantir que notre interlocuteur les trouvera également marquantes, et verra l’intérêt que nous leur avions trouvées.

Il n’y a rien de mal à  ce comportement innocent – mais il fait parfois bon de rappeler son existance.

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Mars and Venus [en]

After a long and fruitful phone call with my sister, we have reached the following conclusions:

  • we both are “John Grayish” in our way of viewing relationships
  • most women who think John Gray is a backwards machist keen on bringing relationships back to the previous century have enough anger stocked up against men to last them a rather long time; the same phenomenon can be observed for a certain type of “man-hating feminism”
  • most men who think John Gray is a brutish machist with no sensitivity have enough wagons of anger against women at their disposal to last them a rather long time; they also seem to have a healthy load of anger against men, too, and to have dismissed a good part of their masculinity
  • inspired by the previous observation, we notice that the women stated above tend to have a troubled relationship with their “inner woman”
  • all this brings us to believe that the healthy development of one’s inner man is dependant on one’s overall relationship with women, and vice-versa

The observations above are generalities based on our personal experience. There are (and will always be) exceptions. Please do not feel free to flame if you disagree.

; )

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Kaycee et la presse [en]

Oui, encore. Un article a paru dans Libération, auquel j’ai d’ailleurs
réagi. Profitez-en pour lire aussi ce que Karl a à  ajouter.

Toute cette histoire m’a donné l’occasion de réfléchir un petit peu à 
la presse et à  son rôle. Ça m’était déjà  arrivé
avant, bien sûr, mais c’est toujours intéressant. C’est surtout lorsque
l’on vit une histoire de l’intérieur et qu’elle est ensuite
couverte par les médias qu’on a l’occasion de se rappeler la fiabilité
parfois douteuse des informations qui nous sont servies.

Lorsque les articles en anglais ont commencé à  paraître, on a tous été
étonnés-amusés-choqués-effrayés par la quantité et la qualité des
distorsions dans la présentation de l’investigation et des
résultats produits
. Je parle bien ici de
l’investigation, et non des spéculations sur ce qui s’était
véritablement passé. L’investigation, ses conclusions, c’était notre
groupe qui l’avait produite, nous étions donc bien placés pour connaître
son déroulement et ses conclusions.

Des emails sont partis, des coups de fil ont été lancés, certains
articles ont été corrigés, d’autres pas. Je suis bien consciente que
souvent les journalistes écrivent des articles à  la
, et qu’ils n’ont pas forcément le temps de se documenter à 
fond sur chaque sujet. Je trouve cependant appréciable lorsqu’ils ont la
conscience professionnelle de réagir aux alertes de ceux qui “baignent

En ce qui concerne l’article présenté ici, j’ai réagi sur un
certain nombre de points
qui portaient aussi sur les faits. Ayant
suivi l’histoire depuis le début, ayant lu à  peu près tout ce qu’il y
avait à  lire pendant que le sujet était “chaud”, et connaissant au moins
un des acteurs principaux de ce drame, je pouvais sans trop de danger
tabler sur la qualité de mes informations.

Ce qui me dérangeait le plus concernait la nature de l’intérêt
de Randall pour Kaycee
. Nous parlons donc de faits, je vous
l’accorde, et personne ne saura jamais pour sûr le fin mot de la vraie
vérité sur le sujet ; ). Si vous lisez l’article, vous en retiendrez
probablement qu’il y avait de “l’amourette” dans l’air.

Je ne peux pas exclure qu’il y en ait eu – tout comme je ne peux pas
exclure, dans l’état actuel de mes connaissances, que les pas de l’homme
sur la lune aient été un gros canular amerloque. Mais disons simplement
deux choses.

  • Premièrement, je connais assez bien Randall pour
    le croire quand il dit que ce n’est pas le cas (sans même prendre en
    compte qu’il est nettement plus agé que dix-neuf ans et qu’il est marié –
    on sait que ça ne veut rien dire…) D’autres personnes que moi diront la
    même chose. Certes, après toute cette “Kaycee-story”, vous me direz que ce
    genre d’argument ne tient plus la route.
  • Ceci nous amène à  mon deuxième point, peut-être plus intéressant au
    niveau journalistique. Nulle part, que ce soit dans la version des
    faits de Randall, dans les essais et weblogs de ceux qui ont mis à  jour le
    canular, dans les hypothèses un tant soit peu sérieuses faites à  divers
    moments par les investigateurs, a-t-il été suggéré que Randall nourissait
    des sentiments incestueux pour sa petite soeur, comme il
    l’appelait toujours.

Je crois que ce dernier point est important. On peut bien sûr spéculer
sur la nature des sentiments de Randall pour Kaycee. Mais ces spéculations
reposent au plus sur une intuition de l’auteur, basée au fond sur le
stéréotype suivant: un homme s’investit pour une jeune fille leucémique,
c’est donc qu’elle lui plaît.

Je ne vais pas m’étendre plus longtemps sur ce sujet, dont tout le
monde commence à  avoir la nausée. Je tenais surtout à  vous dire que
lorsqu’on a la “chance” d’être mêlé à  une affaire dont s’empare la
, c’est une occasion inouïe de lever un peu le voile sur
son fonctionnement, ses rouages, ses insuffisances… et de
remettre en perspective la nature des nouvelles que nous lisons

Du coup, j’en profite pour vous offrir une petite compilation de mes
au sujet de l’histoire.

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Truth [en]

Another thing I’ve wanted to note for a while was pointed out by Kristin
concerning the Kaycee affair. Although I may not agree with everything Kristin
says, her article makes a very interesting and thought-provoking read.

Kristin points out that a story
becomes true through mere repetition
more often than through

We are more likely to believe something because we have heard it many
times, than because we have actually had proof of it or learnt it by
observation (and here, can you smell a tinge of Quine’s
Web of Belief

Now, think about it. How many things to you hold true simply because
enough people have told you? Well, don’t think about it too hard, it might
make you dizzy. It’s making me dizzy, in any case. If it came
public tomorrow that no man ever walked on the moon, I’d
only be half-surprised (yes, I’m aware that “conspirationists” have
gathered plenty of evidence to prove the hoax).

There are some famous examples. Besides the one Quine cites in his book
(about the area of Monaco, which turned out to be falsely
stated in all the major encyclopedias and atlases), do you remember this
thing about spinach containing incredible amounts of
iron? Well, it all started off when somebody messed up one decimal in
their calculations – and it was copied for years ever after without a

So these are examples where academics and books get it wrong. But
normal people do the same thing, of course. How much of what you know
about economics, politics, religion, history and the like
is based on repetition? And how much is based on your direct observation?
Or on proof which has been demonstrated to you?

I don’t mean to say we should stop believing what we are told. I really
hope I don’t mean that. But I find it a little scary –
unsettling, for the least.

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Indecision [en]

I’ve been wanting to post a note about this for ages (at least as
web-time goes). As Matt puts it very well concerning the blogger fallout,
is a decision

Not taking a decision is already taking a decision. Think
about it. It’s probably much more important than you think at first.

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