Monday, November 28, 2005
This Iowa billboard is so impressively offensive, on so many levels, that I won’t even bother telling you what they all are.
This Iowa billboard is so impressively offensive, on so many levels, that I won’t even bother telling you what they all are.
From the blockbuster-news-from-other-countries-that-you-have-yet-to-hear-about-in-the-US-for-some-reason-best-not-thought-about department comes this deeply disturbing item: on November 22nd, The Mirror in the UK published a story claiming:
PRESIDENT Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a “Top Secret” No 10 memo reveals.
But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.
A source said: “There’s no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.” Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.
The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.
Dozens of al-Jazeera staff at the HQ are not, as many believe, Islamic fanatics. Instead, most are respected and highly trained technicians and journalists.
To have wiped them out would have been equivalent to bombing the BBC in London and the most spectacular foreign policy disaster since the Iraq War itself.
The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors.
In 2001 the station’s Kabul office was knocked out by two “smart” bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station’s Baghdad centre.
Spookily, there is now a blog online called “Don’t Bomb Us - A blog by Al Jazeera Staffers”. It offers 5 things you should know about Al Jazeera , which includes the facts that Al Jazeera has never broadcast a beheading, has a global audience of 50 million people, and has given approximately 500 hours of airtime to President Bush, against 5 for Bin Laden. It’s also a great clearing-house for stories about the memo.
Back in the UK, the Blair administration has threatened legal action under the UK’s Official Secrets Act against anyone who publishes the memo (which has not yet been made public in its original form). True to form, the web promptly spawned a tribe of websites pledging to publish the memo and risk the consequences, coordinated by the BlairWatch site.
For its part, the White House has dismissed the reports as “outlandish”:
“We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response,” a White House official told CNN. A Pentagon official called the Daily Mirror report “absolutely absurd.”
Later in the same article, though:
Downing Street spokesman Ian Gleeson said Blair’s office would have no comment since the memo the Daily Mirror cited is the subject of court action.
The newspaper reported that two people have been charged with violating British secrecy laws in connection with its release.
It’s curious that two people would be charged with leaking a fictional document.
One last note: the UK Parliament seems to be taking the matter at least somewhat seriously: the Telegraph reports that “A Labour MP has tabled a motion in Parliament calling on Tony Blair to publish the transcript of a discussion with George W Bush in which the American president allegedly proposed bombing the Arab television station al-Jazeera”.
Turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid which is a natural sedative. But tryptophan doesn’t act on the brain unless it is taken on an empty stomach with no protein present, and the amount gobbled even during a holiday feast is generally too small to have an appreciable effect.
Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill is one of our favorite places to hang out on a weekend. We took Ryan down there in her Silver Cross pram (which Laura found for a song at a garage sale), and there was some cool backlighting from the big windows inside while Laura was holding her:
Well, the long Thanksgiving weekend is over, and tomorrow it’s back to work.
When I first moved to the States, I thought it was funny how much of a production Americans made over their Thanksgiving. In Canada, Thanksgiving is also a time for family to get together and have a nice meal, but it isn’t taken as seriously as in the US, or at least I don’t remember it being such a big deal as a kid. So I found it strange that in the States, millions of people travel across the country to reunite with their families, everything closes down, and there is dicussion on national media of how best to cook turkey and stuffing!
After thinking about it for a while, though, I think the Americans might be on to something. Although the Christmas retailing frenzy started early this year, Thanksgiving day has so far not been tied to any egregious, debt-inducing consumerism. In this respect, it has stayed much more pure than Christmas: its focus on family and thanks-giving is pretty much unalloyed. This year we were fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving with some good friends and their family, and it really is wonderful to sit down to a comforting meal in good cheer, surrounded by multiple generations.
This year, I am inexpressibly thankful for the safe arrival of my captivating daughter, Ryan Marie, and to my beautiful wife Laura for carrying her, and for laboring so hard to deliver her to us safely. Getting to hold my new baby girl has been a singularly transformative experience in my life, and it is all thanks to my wonderful partner.
I’m also enormously thankful for the unflappable and inexhaustible love and support of our friends of family, who turned out in staggered waves to shower us with clothes, supplies, equipment, advice, and food. Just tonight, caring friends of ours showed up with a three-course meal in tow, and proceeded to assemble and serve it to us in our own home! My Mom has been instrumental in holding our newly altered household together, and Laura would have gone to pieces but for the loving support, commiseration and counseling of her close friends. For all of your kind acts, I am thankful.
Finally, I am thankful for something you may find inscrutable. I am thankful for every moment of calm contemplation that I have experienced, in which I manage to be calmly attentive and humbly appreciative of the world around me, rather than dashing through it as though it were a maze to navigate or a puzzle that must pressingly be solved. I always took it for granted that my life would consist of going as fast as possible; as I approach 30, I find myself increasingly wanting to slow down. Believe it or not, for that I am thankful.
I heard an interesting story on NPR the other morning as I was heading to work; it was an interview with Tom Bettag, senior executive producer of ABC’s Nightline. Bettag is leaving the show along with Ted Koppel, the longtime anchor. In the interview, which you can listen to by following the link to the story, Bettag says that one of the things that came to bother him and Koppel is the commercialization of TV news. Over time, he says, TV stations began tailoring the news more and more to appeal to the demographic segments most sought-after by advertisers, instead of, say, choosing to focus on those stories that seemed most important to the nation, in the judgement of the news crew.
I was initially surprised and discouraged by this, and then I remembered that all TV content exists only to get people to sit still long enough to have ads blared at them, and then I got depressed. In fact, this TV Week article has the strange sentence:
[...]Mr. Koppel, who understands that TV programming was created to induce people to watch commercials.
In the depths of my depression, I remembered my TiVo and everything was OK again.
But seriously, doesn’t it seem out of whack that the nature and texture of the news we receive should revolve first and foremost around what appeals, in an entertainment-sort-of-way, to the segments of the population that advertisers have the most success getting money out of? Let us all take a moment to consider supporting independant news sources, like National Public Radio.
I’m a big fan of the separation of church and state, but I’m not so zealous as to ignore the deeply religious nature of American society in the past and present. Even so, I found this Thanksgiving Proclamation by Congress in 1782 surprisingly religious, but touching in an ultra-earnest sort of way. I have reproduced it here for your edification:
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.
There were many other Thanksgiving Proclamations by the Continental Congress; the first was in 1777; I picked the 1782 one more or less out of a hat. Later on, there were a great many Presidential Proclamations of Thanksgiving.
Ryan Marie is one month old today; hard to believe, isn’t it? In the early morning of Saturday, October 22nd, Ryan was born at Swedish Hospital. She’s been home for three weeks, as we brought her home on a Monday.
She’s continuing to thrive, although for the past couple of days we suspect she’s been going through a growth spurt: she is eating more frequently and sleeping less. Apparently this happens periodically.
Over the weekend, we gave Ryan her first proper bath; Laura got into a full bath and we put Ryan in there with her. We were expecting Ryan to be disapproving of being lowered into a tub full of hot water, but she loved it! She got all relaxed and cozy and didn’t want to get out. Here she is:
This is a little obscure, but quite interesting: Slate reports that “the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is introducing futures and options on housing prices in 10 cities for the second quarter of 2006 (Here’s an overview of the products, and CME’s White Paper on the topic.)”
Who cares about something as obscure as futures for housing markets? Well, Robert Shiller, the author of Irrational Exuberance, has argued that homeowners need better financial tools to protect themselves against fluctuations in their home’s value. Many American families have the bulk of their net worth tied up in a (leveraged!) investment in real estate, aka their home, but have no way to hedge against a potential decline in their home’s worth.
The Slate article points out that the upcoming options and futures contracts aren’t yet an easy-to-use tool for individual homeowners, but this may be the beginning of a trend towards the availability of more flexible financial tools for managing the risk of exposure to real-estate markets. Shiller is already part of a project targeted at individual homeowners called the Home Equity Protection Project.
Ryan Marie’s official existence is beginning. We got a health-insurance card for her in the mail the other day, along with the very first package addressed to her. She still needs a Social Security Number, and we need to file a notice of her birth with the Canadian consulate, but she has definitely entered our Information Society.
In hindsight, I should have used a tighter aperture with this shot to show the label in the background as well. Sorry about that.
Ryan Marie got a checkup today and weighed in at 6 1/2 pounds, for a gain of 8 ounces in less than a week. That means she’s besting the recommended 1 ounce / day weight gain rate for a newborn.
Laura and I got flu shots, and Ryan was pronounced in admirable health. Yay, modern medicine!
It’s been a year and a half today since I got hit by a car while minding my own business on Laura’s motor scooter in downtown Seattle. Today, my bionic leg is feeling great, to the extent that I have no plans to have the titanium hardware removed. And, of course, I have a beautiful little girl to come home to each day, in addition to my lovely wife. Plus, it’s snowing in the mountains!
So, things are pretty good. Just in time to stare down my 30th birthday, arriving soon.
Slate is running a trenchant article deconstructing Bush’s new counteroffsensive, which takes the form of his insistence that charges that he mislead the country into war are tantamount to “rewriting history”.
Just to pick one of the fresh Bush claims that the article critiques, take the claim that investigations into the runup to war have already vindicated the White House:
Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.
The Slate article charges:
This is not true. Two bipartisan panels have examined the question of how the intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs turned out so wrong. Both deliberately skirted the issue of why. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence deferred the second part of its probe—dealing with whether officials oversimplified or distorted the conclusions reached by the various intelligence agencies—until after the 2004 election, and its Republican chairman has done little to revive the issue since. Judge Laurence Silberman, who chaired a presidential commission on WMDs, said, when he released the 601-page report last March, “Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.”
The article has much more point-counterpoint analysis of recent Bush claims.
Podcasting is cool. If you’re interested in trying it out (I am trying to establish a workable routine for loading up Laura’s iRiver player with podcasts), check out Slate’s podcasting roundup page, with handy links to Slate podcasts in a zillion different formats, and pointers to handy software.
Laura looked after Ryan all day yesterday on her own; this was the first time either of us has taken care of her solo since she left the hospital. So far, Laura’s head hasn’t exploded, and I’m taking that as a good sign.
We’ve been really pleased with slings and wraps for carrying Ryan around; she sleeps most of the time, and if you bundle her up in a sling, you can use both hands and pretty much get on with your life while she snoozes. Here is a picture of me with Ryan in a Moby Wrap. The picture also gives you an idea of how very small she still is:
Well I think winter has officially arrived in Seattle; the temperatures at night are in the low 40s, and I’ve broken out the fleece + jacket combo for taking the bus to work.
If I can take a moment to complain about the length of the days, though: it’s like living in a friggin cave! I took the bus home from work yesterday at 5:30 and while I was waiting for it to arrive, I was admiring the beautiful nearly-clear moon shining brightly over my office building. It was pitch black!
As always, there are two great things to celebrate on December 21st. One of them is the days finally getting longer.
Interestingly, this short MSNBC article mentions a recent study that shows that regular meditation can actually alter the physical structure of your brain:
“What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone’s gray matter,” said study team member Jeremy Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale. “The study participants were people with jobs and families. They just meditated on average 40 minutes each day, you don’t have to be a monk.”
I gather that scientists are increasingly learning that the “mind” and one’s physical brain are intertwined: the way you use your brain affects its physical structure.