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May 2003

It's Official: Elizabeth Can Crawl

By yesterday afternoon, Elizabeth had definitely mastered crawling. She doesn't go far, about 2 - 3 feet at a scuttle, but she's crawling, and not using rolling for the longer stretches anymore.

I'm in deep trouble.

She's crawling a little later than Peter, who'd mastered what's know as the marine crawl in the 5-month range, but her form is better. She learned how to pull up a few days ago, so I expect she'll be cruising shortly. (For the non-baby-initiated, cruising is walking by holding on to the furniture for support).

Yesterday was my stepson Geoffrey's 26th birthday. He had us meet him and his girlfriend Annie for celebration at the Tap House Cafe in Bedford Hills where he was playing blues later in the evening.

Today is Peter's Kindergarten recital, a must-see performance.

At his school, PTA volunteers have the Kindergartners dictate stories and illustrate them and them bind them as hardbound books. Peter brought his home yesterday.

Peter's is entitled A FIRE IN THE HOUSE WHEN NIKKI'S NANNY IS KNITTING. According to the author bio, Peter is 5 years old and likes to draw lots of pictures. He really likes his cat. She was skunked by a skunk she couldn't see in the dark. Her name is Belinda. Dedicated to my bunny, it is a terse and evocative tale with an ending in the tradition of Michael Crichton (everything burns up). My favorite two page spread has a picture with lots of dots with the text These are all the animal's footprints but they've gone out of the picture. A fine debut. Recommended for all library collections. Rated: *****

Actually, though, the PTA volunteer seems to have caught Peter in a reticent mood. His stories are usually longer and more complex, for example Stretchy Aliens' Underwater Worlds or Dog Rollercoaster.

FAVORITE PETER LINES FROM YESTERDAY: Do babies have tongues? I guess he was meditating on their lack of teeth. I suggested he go check. Answer: Yup, babies have tongues. Another favorite: The TV looks as though it's about to make an obnoxious noise. A video was having a tracking problem.

MEANWHILE: Elizabeth's trying to get at my credit cards and car keys, so I'd probably better stop now.

What Your Brain Is For

I've been playing with Movable Type plugins and I'm trying to install one that will link to all inbound discussion of items on this site using the Technorati database, but it's not working yet. This is what's behind the mysterious notations at the bottom of some of the pages on this site.

There's an interesting piece in the new issue of Nature on the mind-body connection that strikes me as spot on:

Nature 15 May 2003:
Mental self: The person within by ANTONIOÝDAMASIO

. . . some parts of the brain are free to roam over the world and to map whatever sound, shape, taste or smell or texture that the organism's design enables them to map. But some other brain parts -- those that represent the organism's own structure and internal state -- are not free to roam at all; they can map nothing but the body, and are the body's captive audience. It is reasonable to hypothesize that this is the source of the sense of continuous being that anchors the mental self.

We are beginning to discover the neural machinery that is required to map the body. This machinery includes pathways that transmit chemical signals from the internal milieu, through the bloodstream, directly to brain regions such as the area postrema or the hypothalamus; and neural signals from the viscera and muscles that are conveyed by nerve fibres to brain regions in the spinal cord and brainstem. Within the brain itself, dedicated pathways signal this body-related information to certain sectors of the thalamus (a nucleus known as VMpo), and of the cerebral cortex (a sector of the insula). The integration of such signals constructs composite and dynamic maps of the body's state from moment to moment.

These dedicated pathways and regions did not evolve so that we could build a mental self, but rather because continuously updated maps of the body's state are necessary for the brain to regulate life. How intriguing that nature, ever the tinkerer, may conveniently use the same equipment for another purpose: grounding the mental self. Curiously, seen in this light, the mental self becomes a closer relative of the immunological self.

Wow. This is a really promising direction for both scientific research and philosophy.


RAIN & THE PARADE: Before I get into the thick of this, I want to talk about real parades.

The towns around here all have annual parades for the volunteer firemen. During the season for such things, I keep folding chairs and little American flags in the car so that we will always be prepared. Last year, Peter and I attended two firemen's parades and also Pleasantville's Memorial Day parade. We even attended Pleasantville's firemen's parade in the rain. (We sat in our chairs in raincoats and waved out little flags.)

These are cheerful small-town affairs in which group after group of uniformed volunteer firemen, town police, and volunteer ambulance corps troop by, usually followed by gleaming equipment. There is also music, provided either by highschool bands or local pipe and drum corps. The next Pleasantville Firemen's Parade is scheduled for May 30th at 7:00 PM in Pleasantville, NY.

That having been said, discussion on this transcript of Hardball questioning why democrats want to "rain on the president's victory parade" had me sputtering last night:

Robert Byrd called President Bush's speech on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln flamboyant showmanship.

And Congressman Henry Waxman wants to know how much it cost tax payers.

Why do Democrats want to rain on the president's victory parade?
But first, the latest headlines right now.

MATTHEWS: The HARDBALL debate tonight, why are liberals raining on President Bush's victory parade?

On Thursday, President Bush dramatically flew on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Now Democrats are blasting his motives. Here's Senator Robert Byrd himself of West Virginia.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: This is not some made for TV backdrop for a campaign commercial. To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq, for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech.

MATTHEWS: From the House of Representatives, Congressman Henry Waxman of California, another Democrat, wants the government to investigate the cost of what he says was a political event.

Congressman Waxman will join us in a moment much but first, "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman is an NBC News political analyst.

Howard, why are the Democrats pointing to the president's greatest dramatic TV success and lingering it in our minds for another week or two?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Self-destructive impulses, perhaps?

I've got to say, even though Democrats are mad, and they may have a point, every president uses the full panoply of presidential picture making to get things done.

The interesting thing, I was in South Carolina last weekend with all the nine Democrats running for president. Not a single one of them mentioned any of this. They knew about the fact that the aircraft carrier was only 30 miles on. That he could have choppered out instead. They knew all that stuff then.

But the people running for president didn't want to get near it. It's Bobby Byrd and Henry Waxman who may have a point but not one that the Democrats seeking the nomination are going to underscore. Because the president has a good answer. Namely, I was honoring the troops.

I didn't comment on this last night because I'm committed to maintaining a civil tone in this space. Instead, I went straight to Photoshop. Hence, the graphic. Now that I've had a night to sleep on it, I will say that Bush's authoritarian display on the aircraft carrier bears very little to a celebretory parade. For one thing, it was not about them. It was all about him. Symbolically, he was not so much honoring the troops as asking them to honor him.

Why didn't the democrats running for office attack Bush on this issue during the debate? I have a very different answer. Never mind that the democratic party as such lacks spine and should be attacking Bush on many more things than they are, the main reason why the candidates did not address this bit of expensive grandstanding was that today's presidential campaigns are made up of a long series of staged artificial events in which politicians and press conspire to conceal the artificial nature of the "events" of the campaign. (Joan Didion's book POLITICAL FICTIONS is terrific on this subject.)

Today's democracy on a national level is a toxic brew of a deeply corrupt media, cowardly politicians, and a relentless and vapid polling process. If any of the democratic presidential candidates had seriously attacked on that subject, they would have limited their ability to campaign using staged events. And democrats who have spoken out have mainly complained about the expensive production values of the event and the fact that taxpayers footed the bill. This comes up at all because by using taxpayer money to stage such a thing, Bush ups the financial ante of an already outrageously expensive campaign.

In my view, not nearly enough rain has fallen on this "parade," as it debases the notion of parades that truly do honor those in uniform.

UPDATES: Bob Herbert in this morning's NYT on the Iraq shoot-to-kill policy:

Now, in the dawn of the 21st century, when this nation above all others is supposed to be a model of progress and fairness and justice and due process, the U.S. military was to be given the high sign to start shooting Iraqis like dogs in the street.

To state the obvious, the US is incompetent to act as Iraq's interim government and should turn control over the to UN. Otherwise, stupid stuff like the shoot-to-kill policy is going to land someone in a war crimes tribunal. Frontier justice lifted from old westerns just won't cut it.

MEANWHILE, Hyperbole explained by Rumsfeld:

[Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld] denied reports that U.S. forces had orders to shoot looters.

"That was hyperbole," Rumsfeld said. The rules of engagement for troops in Iraq have not changed, he said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It is likely that if Saddam no longer had a WMD program he did not know it." Jim Lacie, National Review Online

*Wow.* Stay tuned today's top stories. The US now has in custody the dog suspected of eating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction . . .

Are Snapdragons Carnivorous Plants? (or Prison Guards from Mars)

My favorite question of the day so far -- Peter asked Are snapdragons carnivorous plants? as we pulled into the driveway with a small batch of annuals and herbs to plant in the yard. I think the answer is no, but apparently thare are some carnivorous plants that look rather like snapdragons. Smart boy.

I'm not sure what to say about this news story from the LA Times. It renders me quite speechless:

Union Targets Inmates' College Program
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer
May 10, 2003
SACRAMENTO - California's powerful prison guards union is trying to kill one of only two programs in the state allowing inmates to earn college degrees, angering advocates who say that educating felons prevents many of them from committing crimes after their release.

The popular program at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe enrolls 280 inmates pursuing a two-year associate of arts degree through the local community college. It has 800 more convicts on a waiting list and has won accolades as a model that should be introduced at all 33 prisons.

Can we, like, ship the leadership of the prison guards union to Baghdad to that mental hospital I was talking about? One way or another, these guys would be right at home: They'd have jobs and they'd be receiving treatment! (Via Busy, Busy, Busy.)

MORE LATER. I have to go plant snapdragons now.

BACK AGAIN, snapdragons plus some marigolds planted, Peter fed and put on the school bus.

OK, let's be a little bit fair to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (trans. from the Newspeak: prison guards union). The State of California is facing a bugetary crisis and the organization is trying to keep too many of the cuts from falling on their members and their salaries. Nonetheless, programs allowing inmates to earn college credits while doing time reduce the rate of recidivism by about a third, and also such prisoners behave better while still in prison. Inasmuch as the purpose of a criminal justice system is to keep people from committing crimes, these programs which allow inmates to earn college degrees should be much more widespread than they are and are (or should be) absolutely central to the mission and purpose of prisons.

Cuts aimed at increasing job security amoung prison guard should come from elsewhere.

ANYWAY, while we were out getting snapdragons, I also bought more sand for the sandbox. (I'm very loyal to our brand of carribean beach sand as the cat shows no interest in it and it makes great sand castles.) Also, I took this occasion to let Peter dump bag after bag of brightly colored aquarium gravel into the sandbox. Several years ago when I must have been insane, I bought a whole bunch of different colors of gravel with the thought to use it when making stepping stones for the yard as a probject to do with Peter. Now I'm older and wiser and know that I should not do any project involving substantial amounts of wet concrete and Peter any time in the near future. So instead, the aquarium gravel is treasure for the kids to find in the sandbox. (Elizabeth may try to eat it, but at this age she tries to eat everything.)

INCOMING LINKS: I am surprised to discover that I've made Totem News: apparently they appreciate my posting the photos of the partly finished totem pole being transported into Seattle's Burke Museum. Glad to be of assistance to the Burke Museum and to the artist, Israel Shotridge.

Also, Dave Trowbridge wants to see pictures of Peter's circle of stumps. I'm looking for the CD with pictures on it from Peter's birthday party. I'll post some soon.

Iraqis have a very close relationship with books.

I found a really nice webzine on ethics last night: The Ethical Spectacle

Here's a nice line I think I'll add to my sidebar from "The Chill" by Jonathan Wallace: You can't force freedom of speech on people who no longer want it.

There are also some good humor pieces, like Empire Appreciation month by Wayne Grytting which has good lines like: A rumor had it that Iraqi army officers trained for possible surrenders by watching videotapes of U.S. Democratic party leaders. This was not true.

And this one: While our nation campaigned against weapons of mass destruction in the hands of others, the Pentagon asked for the lifting of the ban on our development of small nuclear weapons. These weapons may be needed because of the existence of small countries. (We don't want to take out adjacent nations when making those surgical strikes.)

I think this is the best explanation we're going to get as to why the Bush administration wants to lift the ban on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons.

Good stuff. Go read!

USA Today has a thought-provoking piece on friction between the Bush administration and Republican politicians:

Several Republican lawmakers and top aides use the same word to describe their sense of the administration's attitude toward Congress: arrogance.

There's lingering irritation among members of Congress over Bush's refusal to tell them until the last minute how much money he wanted for the Iraq war. There are broader complaints about his administration's penchant for secrecy, his reluctance to invest much time lobbying and socializing with them and his pattern of sending vague principles to Capitol Hill instead of detailed legislation. . . .

White House officials "don't feel they need to" always share their strategies with Congress, says an aide to a top Senate Republican. Hastert had to publicly signal his discomfort over the president's plan for prescription drug benefits earlier this year -- a sign that he felt he was not adequately consulted. . . . The view among some of the longest-serving Republicans in the Senate, says a Republican lobbyist, is that Bush and his staff "are not good listeners." Some members of Congress believe that David Hobbs, Bush's chief lobbyist, doesn't command the same respect on the Hill as his predecessor, Nick Calio. . . .

Some Republicans feel neglected, and others feel bullied. White House officials, they say, often are unwilling to temper their initiatives, even in the face of political realities. Korologos says the president's "take-no-prisoners approach" to Congress has alienated some members.

For the most part, US Republican politicians are not fascists. But the Bush Administration is disturbingly right-authoritarian. I am wondering what the precise distinction is between right-authoritarian and fascist. Is Bush a fascist? I'm trying to sort this out for myself.

IN THIS MORNING'S NEWS (via Breaking News):

LEARNING THE MEANING OF AMERICAN JUSTICE: NYT: New Policy in Iraq to Authorize G.I.'s to Shoot Looters, by Patrick E. Tyler

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 13 -- United States military forces in Iraq will have the authority to shoot looters on sight under a tough new security setup that will include hiring more police officers and banning ranking members of the Baath Party from public service, American officials said today. . . .

Asked what this meant, the official replied, "They are going to start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around" that assaults on property, the hijacking of automobiles and violent crimes will be dealt with using deadly force.

How Iraqis will be informed of the new rules is not clear. American officials in Iraq have access to United States-financed radio stations, which could broadcast the changes.

Why does this news story conjure up visions of gunfighters in Western movies blowing smoke off the tips of their guns after shooting outlaws, rather than an orderly Baghdad? Word will get around, uh huh. Right. Why don't they get the electricity, the TV stations, etc. working again so they can communicate with the people they're trying to save? This does not bode well for the shining vision of democracy in Iraq. But then, not much does.

I certainly hope this one is true, rather than something exaggerated to appease world opinion:

Boston Globe: Library's volumes safely hidden, by Patrick Healy, Globe Staff, 5/13/2003

BAGHDAD -- On a rundown street of auto repair shops in old Saddam City, a Shi'ite mosque run by men in tattered clothing has become a secret safe house for Iraqi treasures.

Now that coalition forces are arresting looters in the streets, the mosque's leaders say their story can be told: Contrary to widespread belief, the antique books of Iraq's National Library were not stolen by thieves last month but were removed for safe keeping by self-appointed guardians of Iraq's cultural heritage.

Inside a cavernous room at the Al Hak Mosque in the newly named Revolution City, roughly 400,000 manuscripts, biographies, religious works, and graduate-school theses are stacked to the 12-foot ceiling and gathering dust in the dry, 95-degree heat.

In the Judaica-Hebrew section -- a small pile against the southern wall -- one history book about Jews in Iraq dates to 1872, and a Talmudic text to 1880. There are newspapers recording the revolutionary days of July 1958, when the British-installed monarchy was overthrown and replaced by the republic. One book of folklore was largely indecipherable to the men at the mosque, but they said it was almost 500 years old.

Self-appointed guardians of Iraq's cultural heritage? Now, it's really nice that some people who care about books went in to the library and saved some great stuff, but anyone who knows much about the transportation of libraries knows that they cannot really have saved very much of the total library collection.

We have a fine collection of science fiction books. If there were a war and self-appointed guardians of sf's cultural heritage arrived at our house, they'd have a pretty hard time getting it all out. The Boston Globe asks us to believe that this happened with a National Library.

The key word in the discussions of the extent of museum looting was key. This allows US media to give the impression that not much was lost since most key pieces are returned. Adjust the definition of key as required to maintain the illusion that nothing that really matters was taken. I was pleased to see that the word appears in the Globe story only in the context of a guard saying Come back at 2 O'clock Wednesday when the man with the key arrives.

But let us not belittle the accomplishments to these heroes of culture and literature. Congratulations on a job well done!

. . . Amid Kharban, said he was proud to watch over the library because "Iraqis have a very close relationship with books."

"I know the value of books, that's why I'm protecting them," Kharban said. "They are beyond value. Priceless."

These are my people! Book people!

Democratic Roundup #1

What have they done for us lately? Here's a summary of the latest as presented on the candidates' own web sites. What I found falls into 3 categories: democrats trying to appeal to democrats, democrats trying to appeal to republicans, and a few candidates who's info isn't up-to-date.

HOWARD DEAN announces his healthcare plan:

May 13, 2003
Democratic presidential candidate Governor Howard Dean, M.D., announced his health care plan in a speech delivered today at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. The four point plan, which builds on pre-existing programs such as Medicaid, will offer access to health care for all Americans.

"As a physician, I've seen the suffering caused by this nation's health care crisis," said Governor Dean. "As a Governor and a doctor, I know how it can be solved. This plan is a targeted, affordable, and realistic approach to expanding access to health care now."

JOHN EDWARDS discusses his economic agenda in Oklahoma:

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - Senator Edwards traveled to Oklahoma City today to talk to members of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. During the stop, Edwards criticized the Bush administration's misguided economic agenda and discussed his plans to get the economy moving again. . . .

"While George Bush calls for more tax cuts for the wealthy, Oklahomans and the rest of America suffer," said Senator Edwards. "Behind every lost job and every new statistic, there's a man in Alva worried about how he's going to pay for his son's education and a woman in Edmond spending her savings to pay for her mother's healthcare. We are facing real problems today and unfortunately, this president doesn't even see it, much less understand how to solve it."

"George Bush has promised 'prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country,' but here's his record: $400 billion in lost retirement savings. $4.5 trillion in stock market losses. A $400 billion deficit. This country has lost over 2.6 million jobs and the unemployment rate jumped 5.8 percent in March to 6.0 percent in April," added Edwards. "Since the beginning of the Bush administration, Oklahoma has lost nearly 28,000 jobs. Americans deserve better than this - they deserve a strong economy, a chance to work hard, and a chance to get ahead."

DICK GEPHARDT's mother died:

Loreen Estelle Cassell Gephardt, mother of Dick Gephardt died Friday, May 9, 2003. She was 95 years old.

Gephardt's Statement on Passage of Bush Tax Cut: "WhileÝtheÝBush administration devotesÝitsÝenergies toÝcuttingÝtaxesÝfor theÝwealthy,Ý2.7 millionÝAmericans haveÝlostÝtheirÝjobs"


Fla. Sen. Graham Impresses Republican

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- It didn't take Florida Sen. Bob Graham long to find a nugget as he bustled around a crowded diner, polishing tables and carting away tubs of dirty glasses and dishes in a classic presidential campaign endeavor.

"We'd like Bush fired, and I'm a Republican," said Louis Smith, a retired college professor taking out his wife, Joyce, for a Mother's Day brunch.

That's a line guaranteed to get the attention of a candidate for the Democratic nomination. "What don't you like about him?" Graham asked, after ensuring the other tables didn't need a senatorial busboy.

It seems budget deficits were troubling Smith, and Graham informed him of his vote against the latest round of tax cuts.

JOHN KERRY: The Chicago Sun Times declares that he's got what it takes:

He's got what it takes. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is gaining momentum in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, delivered a winning performance in the first nationally televised debate of the 2004 presidential season.

In his closing remarks, he declared that the nation's next chief executive must take the lead in making health care accessible to every American, improving the quality of public schools, ending the nation's dependence on foreign energy sources, and "making America safer, stronger, and more secure."

What gives Kerry, 59, an edge over the Democratic pack is that he projects a sense of command and has a record of substantial accomplishment.


Washington Post - Kucinich's 'Medicare for All' Offers No Role for Private Insurers

NKENY, Iowa, May 10 -- Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), campaigning in Iowa today for the Democratic presidential nomination, outlined how he would transform the nation's health care system into a government-run, single-payer program if elected.

While several Democratic presidential candidates have detailed how they would help cover the nation's 41 million uninsured, Kucinich's "Medicare for All" proposal is far more interventionist because it would eliminate the role of private health insurers altogether. The plan, which largely mirrors the Canadian model that came under fire when President Bill Clinton tried to revise the U.S. health care system in the early 1990s, would cost $2.2 trillion a year once it was fully implemented in 2013.

Addressing a group of painters union representatives here, Kucinich criticized the current health care system as "a market system" based solely on how much Americans could afford to spend.

"It's long past time we should take the word 'profit' out of health care," he said, sparking applause from the audience. "How many people's lives in this country are shortened because they can't get access to health care?"

JOE LIEBERMAN is endorsed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

(May 10, 2003) Joe Lieberman today won the backing of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Iowa?s first statewide elected official to offer an endorsement in the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign.Ý Miller, a longtime friend of Lieberman?s dating back to Lieberman?s service as Connecticut?s Attorney General from 1982-88, is in his sixth term and is a leading voice in Iowa?s Democratic Party.

CAROL MOSLEY BRAUN's news page in her website hasn't been updated in 6 weeks.

AL SHARPTON's web site tells us "Check back soon for our On the Road With Al Sharpton sectionÝ You will be able to get updates on Sharpton's speaking itinerary."

From My Email

FARBER IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Email from former NYSFR staffer Ken Houghton, with the subject line The WSJ is praising your ex-roommate, isn't it?, concerning this quote from Gary Farber:

One problem I see is that only some leftists I know have actually engaged in a years-long course of education in the history of international politics (no, Howard Zinn isn't sufficient), or long study of military theory and history, or even, in many cases, long study of political history that isn't simply doctrinaire propaganda from a similar didactic point of view.

(See also the original in full.)

Ken had me going for a momemt: Was I ever Gary's roommate? Then I saw that the original message was to Robert LeGault and a bunch of the rest of us were cced, at least one of whom had Gary living on her couch for a while. But I really had to think. First I was in the Columbia dorms, and then I was Shelly Frier's roommate, and Gary worked at Avon then. And then I moved to Milford, PA, to work for Virginia Kidd . . . . I remember driving in from Milford one Sunday to have lunch with Susan Palwick (then a roommate of Ellen Kushner's) and Tom Webber and Gary (who were then roommates), and it requiring two and a half hours of intelligent discussion in pick a restaurant.

A piece of furniture of mine, which I'd lent to Tom, resided in the Weber/Farber apartment for a while. I think that's as far as I went, Ken.

I feel like I ought to remember all this better, but the late '80s/early '90s begins to seem like a long time ago.

FROM Emily Pohl-Weary:

This Wednesday, I will be joining cartoonist [email protected] and zinester Bill Brown on the...

An indie press touring circuit with stops in Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Chicago.

Kiss Machine Operator EMILY POHL-WEARY from Toronto! Emily Pohl-Weary does Kiss Machine: A Conga Line of Arts and Culture with Paola Poletto. She wrote a book about the little mother of science fiction (her grandmother Judith Merril) and is currently editing an anthology about witches, mutants, slayers and freaks. She is the books and fiction editor for Broken Pencil magazine (Canada's zine guide) and a regular writer for the book section of Toronto's alternative weekly, Now magazine. She will be introducing the audience and reading fiction about a girl who is haunted by her dead boyfriend.

Dream Whip Zinester BILL BROWN from Chicago! Bill Brown is the editor of Dream Whip, a travel zine about rest stop coffee and boxcar graffiti. he's recently written a book called Saugus to the Sea, in which the protagonist stumbles across a secret conspiracy to destroy the world with underground sprinklers. bill will be passing around snapshots of his favorite abandoned buildings and revealing embarrassing details about his life.

Wide Collar Criminal MATT "[email protected]" BLACKETT from Toronto! Matthew Blackett is the three-dimensional person behind the autobio comic [email protected] The comic, distributed for free in Toronto, has become part of the urban fabric of the city. Matt will be pushing Wide Collar Crimes, a collection of eight [email protected] issues produced between 2000 and 2002. He will also be detailing how he goes about making his comic from the original zany moment to the moment is reaches you, the reader. Blackett also hopes to use some firearms, and swear like a discharged sailor, while visiting the country to the south.

Join up with us in your town...

TORONTO: Wed. May 14th, 8 pm: Clinton's Tavern (693 Bloor Street West) w/music by Golden Dogs, $5

MONTREAL: Thurs. May 15th, 7:30pm: Zeke's Gallery (3955 St. Laurent) w/Sherwin Tjia, PWYC

BOSTON: Fri. May 16th, 8pm: Oni Gallery (684 Washington St.) w/Mrs. Potatohead, $5

BROOKLYN: Sat. May 17, 2pm: Shortwave (71 Bond Street) w/Vikki, $5

CLEVELAND: Sun. May 18, 7pm, Barking Spider Tavern (11310 Juniper Rd.), free

CINCINNATI: Mon. May 19, 8pm, Sitwell's Coffee House (324 Ludlow Ave.) w/music by Selfless Union, free

CHICAGO: Tues. May 20, 8pm, Quimby's (1854 W North Ave.), w/Brian Costello, free

Also, listen to our Pay Phone Tour Diaries, which will be posted on the
website each day on the tour.


Secret Service Questions Students
OAKLAND (KRON) -- Some teachers in Oakland are rallying behind two students who were interrogated by the Secret Service. That followed remarks the teenagers made about the President during a class discussion. The incident has many people angry.

For years the classroom has been the setting for the free expression of ideas, but two weeks ago certain ideas led to two students being taken out of class and grilled by the United States Secret Service.

It happened at Oakland High. The discussion was about the war in Iraq. That's when two students made comments about the President of the United States. While the exact wording is up for debate, the teacher didn't consider it mere criticism, but a direct threat and she called the Secret Service.

Improve the quality of American education; fire the teacher.

Helping your child through medical unpleasantness is good parenting, but it sure doesn't make a parent feel good.

I'm up in the middle of the night for no good reason except that David's out of town and yesterday was full of unanticpated challenges. Sometimes modern medicine takes you by surprise, and we're going through the process with the school district of customizing my son's education for next year. (He's a bright little boy with some motor skill issues.)

Most of the examination the school district doing, but a few things I'm having checked out privately. Yesterday's appointment was with an ENT to get Peter's palate checked. It was my second attempt, since the ENT on our insurance didn't have the equipment. Somehow I think I should have been aware that this procedure involved puting a small camera up his nose and was going to cost about $700 (possibly reimbursible by insurance at 80%, but still). It needed to be done. And so it was.

Now, I'm a well-seasoned mother, and I've been through much worse with Peter -- nothing major in the medical scheme of things, but I'm quite adept at restraining him when he's receiving a type of treatment he doesn't want.

After the doctor sprayed anesthetic into his nose and while it was being given time to take hold, Peter told me quite vehemently that he didn't want the doctor to put anything up his nose. I asked him to look me in the eye. Then I told him, that whatever happened, I wanted him to trust me. Amazingly -- to me at least -- this tactic mostly worked. After a few moments of panic when the scope was first inserted, Peter managed to calm down.

Nonetheless, it is unnerving and the experience brings back memories of other medical situations in which he didn't reign in his panic. Quite unfairly, having the psycholgical distance to restrain your child for medical treatment gives one the uncomfortable feeling of being capable of other things: It was really disturbing to come home afterwards to the news story about the Texas woman who did in her kids. (Not Andrea Yates. This is a new one, probably someone unduely influenced by the media coverage of the Yates case. And no, I'm not linking. We won't go there.) Helping your child through medical unpleasantness is good parenting, but it sure doesn't make a parent feel good. And I'm still vibrating with the experience. I'm really pleased that Peter was able to control his panic: That means there's light at the end of this tunnel.

I had some things from my email I wanted to post, but I think I'd better go back to bed if I want to be a pleasnt person tomorrow. I'll add them when I get up in the morning. And now, back to sleep.

IN THIS MORNING'S NEWS, via Making Nuclear War Thinkable.

The King of Hearts 2003

This NYT story of a Baghdad mental hospital raised the same question raised by the 1967 film The King of Hearts, set in WWI, in which a Scottish soldier wanders into a a small French village populated only with the patients of the local mental hospital: Who are the real madmen?

One of the tragedies of the war -- a preventable tragedy in the view of many doctors and nurses -- occurred here. Iraq's only hospital providing long-term care for chronic schizophrenia and other serious disorders, Al Rashad was all but destroyed. When American marines clashed with Saddam Hussein's irregulars trying to block their advance into Baghdad, the marines came through the gates here and knocked down the walls with their tanks. . . . Waves of looters came in with them, staff members said.

One of the oldest health institutions in Iraq, Al Rashad has long been designated a civilian hospital. The director, Amir Abou Heelo, told the Marine commander on April 8 that he was entering a psychiatric facility, staff doctors said in interviews. But the protest did little good.

"I am disappointed," said Dr. Raghad Sursan, a psychiatrist. "I am mad, and if there is a word that is bigger than mad, I am that, because the marines were there and could have done something to stop it."

. . .

Of the more than 1,400 Iraqis institutionalized here at the beginning of the year, 300 remain. The staff has been able to cope only because the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, having adopted this facility three years ago, raced emergency food and medical supplies here as Baghdad was falling.

The complaint of the Iraqi psychiatric staff is that the marines stood by as looters carried away every bed, basin, cooker, air-conditioner, piece of furniture or thing of value.

The marines broke the door down on the maximum security wing, and in no time the patients were gone, untethered from the antipsychotic drugs that stabilized many of them.

One doctor said he was told by a Marine officer that the officer was there to "liberate and then leave."

Please Don't Eat the Trilobites!

Mooommmy! Get the Basket of Fossils Out! Mommy, pleeeez give me that trilobite back, the one that's all rolled up. Can I sleep with the baby trilobites? Please, oh please!

We live in, shall we say, an information-bearing space.

Peter has spread trilobites out all over my mouse pad, plus some shell fossils and a fossil bone. There are stone tools on the floor around my ankles.

David bought them about 10 years ago at a yard sale. There is a fine line we must walk with artifacts like these between the impulse for prehistorical preservation and providing a hands-on natural history experience.

And, oh yes, I have to keep Peter from feeding trilobites to the baby who just this morning is cutting her first tooth.

FURTHER ADVENTURES: We went out a little early to wait for the school bus that takes Peter to his afternoon Kindergarten so that we could watch the ladybugs he'd spread in the garden last evening. We bought a package of 1,800 live ladybugs and also 2 praying mantis egg cases, at the nursery last night. The praying mantises take two weeks to hatch and are in a terrarium, but the ladybugs Peter released last night after we got home from a Mother's Day dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

As Peter, Elizabeth, and I were watching what Peter described as an army of ladybugs crawl around in the pachysandra, it began to rain. I hearded Peter to the driveway and got the umbrella out of the car and we sat down on the garden bench I assembled Saturday. It began to rain harder. I left Peter in the driveway holding the umbrella and went inside to get his raincoat.

When I came back out, it was hailing. It rained harder and harder, and presently the little yellow shuttle bus (called "the Bee bus") arrived for him. I hurried back in the house holding the umbrella in one hand and Elizabeth in the other. Once in the house I went to the local radar on a weather site to see where this storm came from. At first I thought I'd pulled up an old map. There was no precipitation anywhere around our area, except that right on top of us was a big red dot, indicating heavy rain. Never seen that before!

I think I'll go change out of my wet clothes and make myself a cup of hot tea!

The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind

From the Observer; The alleged mobile bio-weapons lab was turned in by looters:

In a quiet corner of Baghdad International Airport sits a truck and trailer painted military green. Its canvas sides have been rolled up to reveal the pipes and vats of some form of biological fermentation machine. It was stolen in Mosul two weeks ago then handed over to Kurdish militia when the thieves realised it was no ordinary truck. The Kurds passed it on to the Americans.

It is the only concrete sign that any weapons of mass destruction may have existed. The firm which made it has said six others were similarly kitted out. It has a strong resemblance to the 'mobile bio-weapons labs' described by Powell to the UN, but is it the smoking gun? Not even the most desperate Pentagon official goes that far. No trace of biological weapons residue has been found inside. The truck was apparently thoroughly cleaned out with bleach before it was stolen.

Yet many experts believe something will be found. Before the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq did have a massive chemical and biological weapons programme. Some is probably still lying around. If sufficient quantities can be uncovered, perhaps it will be enough for a public eager to feel the war was worth it. Finding nothing is unthinkable.

(Via Scott M. Baron)

So . . . um, guys, if you find any of that uranium lying around in your garage, can you remember to turn that over, too? (Via Blog Left.)

(I have to drive David to the airport for a flight to Toronto, so I'll stop now.)

BACK AGAIN. I'm a former Enron shareholder, so here's one of particular interest to me. CBS Marketwatch - Enron back in the virtual focus:

The infamous energy trader announced Friday that it would use its international utilities and pipelines to form a new company after attempts at selling the business for a satisfactory price tag failed.

Dubbed "International Co.," the fresh entity didn't exactly elicit a cuddly reaction on the message boards. . . . Enron buzz has always been politically charged, and Friday was no different. Take LeeA7: "This has Bush and Cheney written all over it."

On that note, a rehash from HayBog, shortened for mass consumption: "With Republicans trying to play the Enron collapse off as no big deal, people must keep in mind the essence of the issue. The issue is not that Ken Lay was one of President Bush's biggest campaign contributors. Nor is it the fact that Enron contributed to Democrats and Republicans alike, even though 70 percent of Enron donations went to Republicans.

Now, I nearly broke even on Enron. I sold when it was way up during the Bush vs. Gore campaign; Bush was ahead in the polls and the stock was way up because it looked like Bush and Enron were really tight. I thought the election could go either way. So I sold half my stock. So I personally don't feel I'm owed anything on this.

But can someone please explain to me why Enron wasn't sold for parts quite a while back and the proceeds used to reimburse the workers and investors who really lost everything?

Now, I'd always thought the Republican Party was for the rich. But what the Bush administrations handling of this and other matters relating to the stock market brought home to me was this: Bush has no use for the average millionaire, nor even multimillionaires poor enough to have most of their money in publicly traded companies. His actual consitutuency is much wealthier.

Life, Inc.?

From the Christian Science Monitor, Run Your Life Like a Business: Once you know what businesses you are in, you can decide how much further you want to go in using tools from the corporate world for everything from budgeting to strategic planning. Oh no.

Possible sequels:
Don't Sell Yourself Short: Capitalizing on Your Sexuality
Run Your Neighborhood Like a Business
Have Children for Fun and Profit: Maximize Return on Your Home Workforce
Anger, Inc.: Making the Most of Your Hostility
Because You're Worth It: Get the Most for Your Organs
and the perennial bestseller
Family Downsizing


1. Which business is your family most like?

a. Union Carbide
b. Microsoft
c. Enron
d. a gas station on the Jersey turnpike
e. Ceasar's Palace

OK, let's be serious. Run your family like a business is a meme that should die right here right now. I'm glad someone out there read the Covey books and got the idea to take habits of highly successful people to the next level, and is getting her family all organized, and look they're getting to go on vacation! And they even got in the paper! And who knows, they might even get on TV!

But ideas have histories. People who REALLY try to run families like businesses run afoul of the law in the US and in most western countries pretty quickly. No matter how much your healthy white newborn might command on the open market, you cannot sell it. Nor is it legal in this century to send your four-year-old off to work in the textile mills. There are child labor laws. You are required to send your children to school, not off to work. (Ever wonder why there are truancy laws?) You cannot sell off or even rent unproductive family members who are not pulling their weight. Your daugther is not your property here, so you cannot trade her in for a herd of cattle. Nor can you terminate sickly or elderly family members who are a drain on the family resources. I could go on, but I don't think I need to.

Why on Earth would the Christian Science Monitor publish that?

Misty Morning

This post was the beginning of the previous entry, but Movable Type wasn't cooperating, so I've broken the post into two pieces. -KC

Rising a bit later today (6:15 A.M.): it's a misty morning and while the birds were chirping early, they were not as exuberant as yesterday. We're expecting thunderstorms later in the day, so I'd better get the power conditioners I bought for cheap at the Congregational Church Sale last week hooked up to the computers I've been buying lately. Inexpensive equipment just keeps coming my way. Yesterday, I bought a nice iMac at a yard sale around the corner. It will be the computer for the kids. Peter hadn't yet done anything terrible to the machines we do our work on, but he's a bright imaginative boy, so I'd been wanting to stop sharing equipment with him.

When I was growing up, we were the first family I knew that had a home computer. It was a 64K Compucolor. My dad, a physicist, bought it with money from his personal research budget. It had a color monitor and games: 3D tic-tac-toe was one of them, and I was good at it. One of my brother's friends spilled orange juice (or was it coca cola) on the keyboard. I remember my dad rinsing off the keyboard in the bathtub and leaving it face down on a towel to dry.

The boy in question grew up to work for Microsoft and I think now runs an ISP. One evening a few years ago, at Christmas when my family was gathered in Seattle, he was over at my parents visiting with my brother. After he left, I turned to my father and said, "Isn't it nice to know that when he was spilling orange juice on your computer keyboard, that you were moulding young minds?"

So now the kids have a computer of their own. (Think Elizabeth is too young? Think again. We have Reader Rabbit Baby!)

I got a nice note from Dave Sifry at about my post of yesterday. When I set out to draw back the curtain and show how I was finding the news stories I was interested in, I wasn't thinking in terms of th transformative nature of tools, but ended up exploring that topic. I'll try to write specifically about that in the next few days.

Speaking of transformative tools, note the translation links on the sidebar. I found that on the sidebar of Jay Joslin's Bird on the Moon. I'm not sure I've got the arabic translation working properly, but the rest looked OK.

Yes, automated translation tools are clunky. But given certain recent Orwellian trends, we need all the external references we can get. I'm going to try to set up sidebar links to foreign language news sites via translation sites, to give one-click access to major foreign language news sites. This will be a bit time-consuming, so I'm probably not going to get to it this week.


David and I read the NYT's lengthy Jayson Blair piece last night. I had been reluctant to read it, because I am very cynical about journalism in the first place. But the story behind the NYT scandal was a bit different than I expected. Their charismatic sociopath went considerably beyond more conventional journalistic lapses. They say he should have been caught earlier based on the evidence from his expense account: He was filing expenses for trips to a wide variety of cities using receipts clearly marked "Brooklyn." Damn right.

But what struck me most about the article was the passages they cited was that I recognized a few of them and remembered being irritated by them when I read them for the first time. This one, for example:

As he often did, Mr. Blair briefed his editors by e-mail about the progress of his reporting. "I am giving them a breather for about 30 minutes," he wrote to the national editor, Jim Roberts, at one point, referring to the Gardners. "It's amazing timing. Lots of wrenching ups and downs with all the reports of casualties."

"Each time a casualty is reported," he added, "it gets tense and nervous, and then a sense of relief comes over the room that it has not been their son's group that has been attacked."

Other than the fact that Blair made it up, what's wrong with Blair's description? It violates literary point of view. He's doing screen writing, instructions for how this ought to look in your mental cinema, rather than describing observed behavior. People watching television just don't emote visibly enough for a live reporter on the scene to have written this honestly. I remember thinking Oh, please!

A more egregious example -- which is also the fabrication which probably caused the most trouble -- was in the DC sniper case:

Just six days after his arrival in Maryland, Mr. Blair landed a front-page exclusive with startling details about the arrest of John Muhammad, one of the two sniper suspects. The article, attributed entirely to the accounts of five unidentified law enforcement sources, reported that the United States attorney for Maryland, under pressure from the White House, had forced investigators to end their interrogation of Mr. Muhammad perhaps just as he was ready to confess.

What's wrong with this picture? How did Blair's unnamed sources know what Muhammad was about to do? Why would Blair report on a speculation about what the subject was about to say? Why would the NYT publish an unnamed source's speculations about what someone was about to say? Again this is screenwritng, not journalism. I remember rejecting the claims of the story when I first read it, because neither journalist nor law enforcement sources could have known what Muhammed had not yet said, and at best it was a reporting of an irresponsible statement from one of Blair's sources. What it was NOT is what it was sold as: NEWS.

These problems are not specific to the NYT, but are epidemic in journalism.

Speaking of problems with evidence, consider two of this morning's top stories: US weapons investigators, under the gun to produce, attempt to equate possible means of production with the actual smoking gun:

[the team leader, a 20-year veteran of Special Operations forces and explosive ordnance work and a nuclear weapons expert] contended that this could be construed as the kind of "smoking gun" that his team was charged with finding to substantiate the Bush administration's allegations that Iraq was making biological and chemical weapons.

(And did you know that YOU MAY ALREADY HAVE WON!? I contend that this could be construed to mean that Ed McMahon and camera crew may be on their way to your house with a check for a million dollars!) A whole lot of the smoke we've been asked to see so far has been just vapor from dry ice. This smoke has the strong smell of vapor. The NYT hedges a lot, but is this just vapornews?

And consider this one: New Find Reignites Anthrax Probe. First of all, the anthrax probe had better not need reigniting, or someone ought to be fired. Secondly, don't I remember that Steven J. Hatfill has taken legal action against investigators for defaming him? This story smells like a plant to derail Hatfill's lawsuit. My favorite line it the last: The FBI has reviewed the manuscript of Hatfill's novel, which is on file at the U.S. Copyright Office.

THEY SAY that where there's smoke there's fire. I say that where there's vapornews, there's dry ice. Today's journalism could do with a good bit less dry ice.

Dawn at the Bird Cathedral

OK: It's 5:28AM and I'm bright-eyed awake. Now I know why my kids woke up at this time yesterday. It's when the birds start chirping and it begins to get light. Because of a nearby rock wall, sound has interesting properties in our back yard, and we have some very tall trees. At dawn at this time of year -- between now and late July -- our back yard becomes a bird cathedral; there is a choir of birds and the patches of bright orange sky through the trees are like stained glass windows.

SO here I am. I've made coffee and switched on one of the ambient space stations available over the cable modem which plays music I won't even notice while concentrating on what I'm doing.

I jot down stuff that was kicking around in my head during the night:

ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW: (1) Is anyone actually running against GWB for the Republican nomination? ANSWER: It's not allowed; forwards into Man and party are indistinguishable. (2) Does Santorum have a dog? What kind? Are there any pictures of man and dog on the web? ANSWER: Though Santorum wants his constituents to know that he is deeply concerned about dog breeding, I have found no information available on the web about whether he has a dog.

NEXT, I go to Breaking News at to see what other people (mostly to the East of me, given the time) think is important in this morning's news cycle. Technorati is quite handy at this time of day. Topics haven't yet been beaten to death. Also, there are a lot of smart bloggers who have an eye for important stories, but who aren't writers (lowercase 'w'). They either make links without comment, or their comments read like this: Disgraceful and disgusting acts of atrocities are ignored. So provides first readers for the slush pile of the morning's news. I'm a morning person.

Speaking of morning people, baby's awake. David brings her to me and goes back to bed. I nurse her and type with one hand.

The moment's top story is from the Independent: The allies' broken promises:

Tony Blair: 'We don't touch it, and the US doesn't touch it'  MTV, 7 March
The reality: Yesterday's draft UN resolution gives total control of Iraq's oil revenues to the US and UK until an Iraqi government is established

etc. Glad someone's keeping track. I've been exploring this general theme of shifting political realities, but have nothing immediate to say -- brief mental flash of the cover of Philip K. Dick's MARTIAN TIMESLIP. I'm not sure what to do with it yet. So I put this shiny infopebble in the bucket and move on down the beach.

The #2 technorati item is a fairly hard-hitting editorial in the Guardian, also on the proposed UN resolution: The new caliphs; US and Britain seek a free hand in Iraq

The new joint draft resolution is in other respects a deeply unsatisfactory document. Common sense again suggests that the UN should be afforded a leading role, as in Afghanistan, in facilitating the creation of a post-Saddam system of governance. Impartial UN mediators would be far better positioned to instil confidence, among Iraqis and in the wider region, in a process that will at best be complex and arduous. The contrary US-British intention to direct political reform via a new legal entity, the "Authority", controlled by them, and with only an advisory, non-executive role for a UN "special coordinator" is ill-conceived and potentially divisive. 

The resolution envisages a similarly tight US-British grip, also for at least one year, on exploitation of and revenue from Iraq's oil once UN controls, specifically the oil-for-food programme, are phased out. The proposed international oversight by a board of absentee luminaries drawn from the UN, IMF and World Bank is no real safeguard against the sort of abuse EU commissioner Poul Nielson warned about yesterday. Nor is it responsible to assume that the 60% of Iraqis who rely on UN-administered food aid will soon be able to do without it. While the US and Britain now - finally - accept their obligations under international law, what this resolution boils down to is legitimisation of an illegal war and of an open-ended occupation. It gives them a free hand in Iraq. What it will give Iraqis is much less clear.

Story #3 is Bush unveils Mid-East trade plan. I check it out. After reading it, I'm still not sure what Bush's plan is, but I have a few sacrcastic thoughts: What does he want to trade it for? To which US corporations does he want to trade it? I click on some of the blog links to see if anyone else understands it, but I find something better at a site called Nurse Ratched's Notebook, which she saw via atriosPresident Bush's Movements and Actions on 9/11 by Allan Wood and Paul Thompson. I skim it. This is real historical reseach, important stuff, a must read. It's full of things I didn't know.  I'll read more later.

Baby Elizabeth gets tired of playing with the toys on the floor by my feet and trying to learn how to crawl and starts to fuss. I turn on the TV and put on an infant stim video: Newton in a bottle: Physics for kids! For children 3 months and up.  I turn off the space music because it competes with the music-only soundtrack of the TV. (The bird have piped down by now, and the sky is between the trees is pale yellow. It's quarter of 7.)
Skimming down technorati, I see various stories I've read already from different sources . . . . Now here's a lurid one! Doctors 'stole brains for research': The brains of thousands of mentally ill people were illegally removed after their deaths. But this is really just a variant on a story I've read before about body parts illegally removed in UK hospitals, yes? Nonetheless, it's going to confirm the worst suspicions of some poor paranoid schizophrenic out there: His doctor really is trying to steal his brain! Whoopee!

Now here's someone who needs his brain removed for examination:

But John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "Without committing to deployment, research on low-yield nuclear weapons is a prudent step to safeguard America from emerging threats and enemies."

Newton in a Bottle ends just as I find out that army ants are a truly ancient species originating over 100 million years ago on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. Sunbeams are coming in the window now. I put on Baby Einstein and get a refill on my coffee.

Checking out CNN, I don't find much new . . . except, here's something:    fly fossils in Antarctica. I was wondering about the fossils of Anarctica just the other day, wondering what they might find if all that ice weren't in the way:

The tiny fossil of a fly discovered 300 miles from the South Pole could help scientists figure out what life was like millions of years ago in Antarctica.

Peter just woke up and brought me two books he wants me to read, one about aliens, and the other about jellyfish. So I'll stop here.    

8:43AM: Here's a few things I missed:

Washington Post: Med Students Performing Unauthorized Pelvic Exams on Unconscious Women

When Zahara Heckscher went to George Washington University Hospital last month to have an ovarian cyst removed, she asked her surgeon if medical students would be practicing pelvic exams on her while she was unconscious. She was shocked that the answer was yes.

Medical students, interns and residents at teaching hospitals across the nation routinely learn how to perform such examinations by practicing on patients under anesthesia, medical educators say, and GWU Hospital officials say their program is no exception.

Also from the WP, Seven Nuclear Sites Looted. I took this for an old story, but there are more sites than previously reported.

MEANWHILE, Arthur Hlavaty directs our attention to this marvelous graphic by Edward Tufte: Thinking With Bullets.

Verb: to Weaponize

I learned a new verb yesterday in the vetenarian's office: Reading a newsmagazine from last December in the waiting room, I happend across an opinion piece about how naive we had been to not conceive of the idea that someone might weaponize small pox. (The piece speculating also about Iraq's dreadful stocks of bioweapons now itself seems quaint.)

I typed weaponize into Google and got plenty of hits, which suggests that this new verb had probably washed over me before without my even noticing it. My favorite usage was weaponizing humor. The verb was used as recently as yesterday by the Globe and Mail in the sentence Anti-missile defence without weaponizing space is like being half-pregnant.

But, you know, as the mother of a little boy I have a more apropriate, context in which to deploy this verb: If you weaponize that stick, I'll have to take it away!

Or consider this annecdote, told to me by another mother: A little boy attends a nursery school in which they don't allow war play of any sort and in which such things are stongly discouraged. His also mother does not allow war toys nor does she allow him to watch any violent TV shows. One day the children paint birdhouses in nursery school. When the mother picks up her son at school, she sees him hold out his birdhouse in the direction of another boy and yell, "BANG! I kill you with my deadly birdhouse."

He weaponized the birdhouse.

For me, weaponization is not a scary new concept in terrorism or military strategizing, but rather a tendency to be gently blunted every day whenever it arises.

ON MATURE CONSIDERATION, I don't think I'll be needing this verb. I tried it out on Peter. He was unimpressed.

Also, it occurs to me that it has a sinister utility. Imagine a police officer explaining the shooting of an unarmed person: He was weaponizing his cup of coffee, so I shot him.

If any noun can be weaponized, no one is ever unarmed.

What concrete nouns cannot be weaponized? Tutu? Rubber duckie? Powder puff? Suggestions?

MEANWHILE, tornados passed through Lawrence, Kansas today. Kij Johnson reports:

The tornado was about four miles due west of us, and had lifted before it went directly over our offices in Wescoe on the KU campus. As is typical of Kansas, we (and all our neighbors) were out standing in our driveway hoping we could see it, but no luck.

Just Sign Here . . .

I got up at 5:30 AM with the kids, both of whom were awake for reasons I don't quite understand.


The US asks the UN security council to sign off on giving the US control of Iraq's oil and money. (Haliburton expects to be paid, after all.)

The resolution would eliminate all non-military trade sanctions on Iraq, endorse the administration of Iraq by the United States, Britain and other countries that took part in the war, and give its blessing to U.S. efforts to form a transitional government known as an interim Iraqi authority. . . . The proceeds would be placed in a trust fund controlled by the United States and its military allies. . . .

the United States and its allies would control the political and economic life of Iraq until an internationally recognized Iraqi government emerges. Under the system proposed by the administration, the proceeds of Iraq's oil revenue would be placed in an Iraqi Assistance Fund held by the Central Bank of Iraq, which is being managed by Peter McPherson, a former deputy Treasury secretary and Bank of America executive.

The United States and its allies would have the sole power to spend the money on relief, reconstruction and disarmament and to pay "for other purposes benefiting the people of Iraq." The "funds in the Iraqi Assistance Fund shall be disbursed at the direction of the [U.S.-led coalition], in consultation with the Iraqi Interim Authority," the resolution states. It adds that Iraq's oil profits shall remain in the assistance fund "until such time as a new Iraqi government is properly constituted and capable of discharging its responsibilities." According to some estimates, it may take years for such a government to be established.

UPDATE: In this new resolution, the US for the first time refers to itself as an occupying power. Under the Geneva Convention, an occupier has the following responsibilities:

An occupier must:
€ Restore and ensure public order and safety.
€ Provide the population with food and medical supplies.
€ Cooperate with aid and relief operations, if needed.
€ Ensure public health and hygiene.
€ Faciliate work of schools.
€ Uphold criminal laws of occupied territory, unless they constitute a threat or contradict international humanitarian law.

An occupier cannot:
€ Loot.
€ Compel residents to serve in its armed forces.
€ Forcibly transfer residents out of occupied territory to its own territory.
€ Exploit resources of occupied territory for own benefit.

IN OTHER NEWS, Guardian reports that foreign visitors to the Gaza Strip are asked to sign "waivers absolving the army from responsibility if it shoots them ":

The Israeli military yesterday began obliging foreigners entering the Gaza Strip to sign waivers absolving the army from responsibility if it shoots them. Visitors must also declare that they are not peace activists.

The move came hours before an autopsy on James Miller -- the British cameraman killed in a Gaza refugee camp -- confirmed that he was almost certainly killed by an Israeli soldier, despite the army's assertions to the contrary.

And consider this: Parents, Shopping for Discipline, Turn to Tough Schools Abroad

"It was nighttime," Ryan recalled. "I look around and I see kids sleeping on cement. I was really, really scared." . . . Ryan quickly learned the rules: stay silent, be compliant, don't look up, don't look out the window, don't speak unless spoken to. The punishments for breaking the rules included solitary confinement, lying on the floor in a small room, nose to the ground, often for days on end. . . . Ryan was not a criminal. He was only skipping school, his parents said in telephone interviews. But in August 2000, they said, in the middle of a bitter divorce and custody battle, they decided to send him away to Casa by the Sea, which calls itself a "specialty boarding school" for behavior modification. . . . Ryan's mother, Carolyn, said: "We were expecting treatment, not a minimum-wage person to watch over your kid like he was an animal in a cage."

Surely, parents could not have been so foolish as to pay college tuition rates to send their son to what amounts to a privately run Mexican jail? Check out these scenes from the company web site:

Upper Levels "Vacation"

On the weekend of November 9-10, upper-level students went to Guanacaste on a snorkeling, sportfishing, turtle and monkey watching trip. There were 16 total persons on the trip. The group spent the night in Brasilito. Dundee Director, Joe Atkin reported that, "It was great."

. . . and these scenes from the web site of Casa by the Sea, the school profiled in the NYT: A Whale of an Outing; A recent ocen [sic] trip for some PC-3 students.

Good thing for the school that their contract specifically does not hold them accountable for anything promised (from the NYT again):

While some dissatisfied parents have sued Wwasps and its programs, the contract that parents sign with Casa by the Sea sets high hurdles for them. It states plainly that the program "does not accept responsibility for services written in sales materials or brochures" or promises made by "staff or public relations personnel" and that any dispute between a parent and the program must be settled in a Mexican court, not in the United States.

MEANWHILE, the Green Party looks toward 2004.



This is the sort of facoid that used to make computers in old sci-fi shows go into recursive loops and explode.

Bush, Blair Nominated for Nobel Prize for Iraq War

Dumbfounded? See also the Reuters version.

I feel my brain overheating already.

UPDATE: Not this year:

Geir Lundestad, the director of the Nobel Institute where the five-member committee meets, said Simonsen's proposal would have to wait for the 2004 award because the deadline for nominations for 2003 passed on February 1.

MEANWHILE, CBS MarketWatch reports that Fidelity executives went to Washington to tell President Bush that the firm's investors are behind his stimulus plan.

Fidelity's shameful partisan politics
Commentary: Firm wrongly claims to speak for its investors

Has Fidelity crossed the line? Yes, and here's why. Fidelity manages $1.4 trillion of assets for a total of 18 million investors. Only after its management announced their support for the president's stimulus plan did they decide to survey 559 of their 7 million retail customers.

A "livid" investor encouraged me via e-mail to check out Fidelity's Web site. What I found there amounts to a political advertisement that might cost a registered lobbyist more than $100,000 if it were a full-page ad in a national publication reaching an audience of 18 million people. Here's the message:

"You can help eliminate the taxes you pay on dividends and boost the economy... The cornerstone of President Bush's economic stimulus plan seeks to eliminate the double tax by excluding dividends from your individual income tax. Fidelity believes President Bush's proposal is good for individual investors and the U.S. economy, and encourages you to voice your support to Congress." . . . Look, I don't care if you love President Bush's stimulus program or you hate it. I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. None of that matters.

This is not a political issue. Your politics are irrelevant. Yes, mutual funds are political animals, but fund managers should not become partisan lobbyists. Spending investor money to promote the political agenda of one party is a breach of fiduciary duty.

. . . and the plot thickens:

The New York Times reports that:

When the Republican leaders of the House defied President Bush last week and dropped his plan to eliminate the tax on dividends, liberals were not the ones high-fiving each other victoriously in the hallways.

It was, in fact, the most conservative members of the House who enjoyed a moment of triumph, thrilled that one of their most cherished goals, reducing the tax on capital gains, might now have a real chance of passage. . . . Democrats consider the capital gains plan even worse than the president's dividend tax cut, noting that capital gains are concentrated even more heavily among the wealthiest Americans. "The Thomas bill actually, and I never thought I could see this, gives a greater benefit to millionaires than the president's original bill," said Representative Robert T. Matsui, Democrat of California.

So . . . the Clinton-era surplus is gone because the stock market went down that was because of capital gains taxes, because if people don't have capital gains, then they don't pay the tax, right?

So, they want to reduce (or eliminate) capital gains taxes so that . . . ? The rich can get richer? No?

Oh, I get it! So we won't have another surplus? Right? So they want to preemptively take any possible government surplus and give it to the rich so they can be richer? And their riches will trickle down upon the rest of us who are busy paying down the national debt. Or something.


daaaaisy daaaaisy, give me your answer, doooooooo . . .

Literary Babies

It's raining babies. Jack and Valeria Womack's baby, Lillian, was born this weekend. And Laura Tucker -- formerly of the NYRSF staff and formerly an agent with the Richerd Curtis Agency -- just cancelled lunch with David because she seems to be going into labor. (She's past her due date.) More on this later.

Haliburton Doing Well By Doing Good?

This was bound to happen as other civil liberties were curtailed. Here's a civil liberty actually in need of curtailing: Bush at odds with the NRA

President Bush and the National Rifle Association, long regarded as staunch allies, find themselves unlikely adversaries over one of the most significant pieces of gun-control legislation in the last decade, a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons.

At issue is a measure to be introduced by Senate Democrats on Thursday to continue the ban. . . . Despite those concerns, the White House says Mr. Bush supports the extension of the current law Å\ a position that has put him in opposition to the N.R.A. and left many gun owners angry and dumbfounded. . . . The N.R.A. has maintained a polite civility toward the White House, even though it insists the [assult weapons] ban is a violation of the Second Amendment that deprives hunters and sportsmen of many high-powered rifles.

One would hope that the NRA would remain civil to all Presidents, given that its members are armed.

Haliburton is "proud to help restore Iraq's oil infrastructure" to meet "the needs of the Iraqi people":

Halliburton, the company formerly run by the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, has been granted a far broader role in Iraq than previously disclosed and is already operating oilfields in the country, the US army admitted yesterday.

Kellogg Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, is pumping up oil despite earlier claims that its contract with the American government was for fighting oil fires, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers told the Guardian.

The bigger role, said corps spokesman Scott Saunders, was being exercised "due to the needs of the Iraqi people". About 125,000 barrels a day were produced, he said, for domestic purposes only.

The revelation came after Henry Waxman, a Democratic congressman, published correspondence in which the army said KBR's emergency contract allowed for its involvement in "operation of facilities and distribution of products". The existence of the contract, awarded with no competition before the war, was made public only in March.

A purely philanthropic enterprise, a public service, yes? Dick Cheney is actually still being paid by Haliburton. (Yes, it's a pension or some such, and yes, it's backruptcy procected, but still, the are actually paying him.) They must be very proud to have a United States Vice President on the payroll.

The White House really wishes the news story about the looting of the Baghdad Museum would go away. I noticed a story yesterday or the day before in the Chicago Tribune (which I now can't find on their web site, but here's a second hand reporting of it from another source: No mass theft of antiquities; Inventory compiled of pieces in storage refutes reports artifacts taken by looters) suggesting that not much had really been taken. And now we have this bit of face-saving:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Customs agents, working with military and museum experts at the National Museum in Baghdad, have recovered nearly 40,000 manuscripts and about 700 artifacts, government officials announced in Washington Wednesday, leaving perhaps only a few dozen key pieces missing

While it's nice that artifacts are being recovered, I sense a trend here: Give it a month, and in the US press, the looting of the museum will have gone away. Any missing artifacts will soon have been taken by the outgoing first family.

Things As They Are: Juxtapositions

Thomas Pynchon on Orwell's 1984:

Orwell was amused at those of his colleagues on the left who lived in terror of being termed bourgeois. But somewhere among his own terrors may have lurked the possibility that, like Galsworthy, he might one day lose his political anger, and end up as one more apologist for Things As They Are. His anger, let us go so far as to say, was precious to him.

A German diplomat expressed concern that the US government is becoming too authoritarian:

The strained relations between Germany and the United States took a turn for the worse yesterday after a senior Berlin diplomat was reported to have told Foreign Ministry colleagues that America was turning into a "police state."

The comments of Jrgen Chrobog, the State Secretary, reported in the German Focus magazine, threatened to disrupt intense diplomatic efforts to repair the relationship between Gerhard Schrder, the Chancellor, and President Bush.

Herr Chrobog is said to have given a blistering critique of the US-German relationship during the annual meeting of German ambassadors, complaining that America was "restricting more and more its civic liberties at home."

The German Government said that Herr Chrobog's comments had been misrepresented, but at least one participant was struck by the "distanced, even sceptical tone he used when talking about the US Administration."

The US Embassy, sensing another brewing scandal, was unhappy. "If true, someone's made a big mistake," a diplomat said.

Chrobog was also Germany's ambassador to the US from 1995 until 2001.

Senator Byrd tells it like it is:

"I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and yet that is what I saw," Byrd said on the Senate floor.

A Bush spokesman clarifies that the President was seeking thrills:

President George W. Bush's dramatic jet landing aboard a US aircraft carrier last week was unnecessary, but he wanted to experience the risky maneuver, his spokesman said.

MEANWHILE, the US finds documentation that Iraq declined to buy uranium for weapons production because of the UN sanctions:

What began today as a hunt for an ancient Jewish text at secret police headquarters here wound up unearthing a trove of Iraqi intelligence documents and maps relating to Israel as well as offers of sales of uranium and other nuclear material to Iraq. . . . Of even greater interest to MET Alpha was a "top secret" intelligence memo found in a room on another floor. Written in Arabic and dated May 20, 2001, the memo from the Iraqi intelligence station chief in an African country described an offer by a "holy warrior" to sell uranium and other nuclear material. The bid was rejected, the memo states, because of the United Nations "sanctions situation." But the station chief wrote that the source was eager to provide similar help at a more convenient time.

Help Those Afflicted With Nationalist Rage

In his op-ed piece entitled Missing in Action: Truth, Nicholas Kristof continues to press the issue of the mystery if the missing weapons of mass Destruction.

When I raised the Mystery of the Missing W.M.D. recently, hawks fired barrages of reproachful e-mail at me. The gist was: "You **! Who cares if we never find weapons of mass destruction, because we've liberated the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant."

But it does matter, enormously, for American credibility. After all, as Ari Fleischer said on April 10 about W.M.D.: "That is what this war was about."

(Is Ari's head going to pop off if he keeps on spinning so fast?)

Also, read the comments section:

Your allegations against the US Government are treasonous and should land your [expletive] in jail.

Sir, you are full of [expletive], you lying mother [expletive] . . I hope you get SARS and die. . . have a nice day, dimwit.

Why do you hate America?

It seems to me that there ought to be a psychiatric name for this condition: these people have clearly been driven into a nationalist rage by over-exposure to the news.

Consider this guy, using his police uniform to sneak into a school at night to take pictures of student art projects:

A uniformed police officer persuaded a custodian to open a school in the middle of the night so he could photograph class projects he found objectionable as an American and as a military veteran. . . . "I wanted everybody else to see what was in that room," said Mott, who convinced a custodian to unlock the classroom door last month. . . . "I'm just taking a stand on what happens in that classroom as a resident and a voter and a taxpayer of this community," he said.

What does this man need? A life? A prescription antipsychotic? A dog? A nubile young radical under his bed? Clearly, something is lacking in his life.

MEANWHILE, the BBC reports that US troops may have encouraged some looters.

Rasool Abdul-Husayn , an unemployed school teacher, says he saw one American signalling the crowd to move in, with a repeated wave of the arm. Another eyewitness, Kareem Khattar, who works in a bread shop across the road from the college, saw the same thing.

"I saw with my own eyes the Americans signal the people to move in and the looters started clapping," says Mr Khattar.

Air conditioners proved popular with looters.

"The Americans waved bye-bye and the looters were clapping. They started looting quickly and when one man came out with an air conditioner an American said to him 'Good, very good'."

Maybe the soldiers thought it was an Easter egg hunt.

Invisible Swingset: Swings in the forest that seem to hang from nothing

We have an emergent, work-in-progress play area in the back yard, halfway into the woods called the circle of stumps.

It started four years ago with an enormous dead white oak: The neighbors told the treemen to leave the tree sections in the woods when the tree was cut down; it all rolled down hill into our yard. At first, I was terrified that Peter would be crushed if one of those rolled over him.

But David had the idea to make a stone henge-like circle of stumps as a play area. So David and Geoffrey rolled them into a rough circle in a relativly flat area and turned them on end: Stumphenge!

I attatched a slide to the tallest one and pulled up all the poison ivy , and added woodchips to keep the weeds down, and we were off. Every summer, the circle of stumps gets more elaborate.

Two years ago, I put in a tire swing down there. After that, I decided I wanted a swing too. So -- in consultation with my dad, a physicist who used to win knot-tieing contests when he was a boyscout -- I slung a rope between two trees about 20 feet apart, and hung my swing from that. My dad made me get a better, longer rope and tie it differently than I had at first. There is a mechanism for controlling the tension, too, which uses one of those ratchet things for tightening boats to the tops of cars.

I was looking for a place to hang the baby swing, and at first I was going to hang it on the screened porch, where it used to hang when Peter was an infant. But I wanted it down where the bigger kids play. So I hung it from the rope in the circle of stumps.

Peter is really good with Elizabeth, and I don't have very many serious sibling rivalry problems, but I had crossed a line and the baby swing in his area when he didn't have a swing like the girl next door has on her swingset led to a temper tantrum that I should have anticipated. So now Peter needed a swing.

I am planning to buy a kit to build a real, wooden swingset, but in the meantime, an opportunity presented itself: The first Wednesday of every month is heavy trash day, and about a block away I saw the remains of a playstructure that had been torn down and put out by the curb. I stopped the car and rooted through the pile. Sure enought, there were two sling swings and a trapeze to be had, all a bit rusty but in servicable shape.

The hardware to attach them to the ropes costs about $10 per swing. (Do you know that good rope is really expensive? I'd already bought the rope, so I didn't have to pay for that this time.) So I hung them up, right before Peter came home on the school bus.

Yesterday afternoon, when both kids were swinging and I was sitting on a stump considering the engineering aspects and thinking I'd better call my dad for another consult, I realized that what I'd created here was an invisible swingset -- swings in the forest that seem to hang from nothing, an oddy magical plaything, somehow symbolic of the nature of childhood.

The swings do feel different than those attached to a fixed beam because there is a lot of subtle motion in the system. I'm still going to build a real swingset, but I'm really pleased with how this one turned out.

Oh, and this year, I may finally build a treehouse.

Regime Change in 2004 Will Require a Strong Stomach

Debate Bares Democrats' Great Divide (

Reading the summary in The Washinton Post this morning, I'm glad I didn't watch the Democrats debate on when and whether to be Republicans. Gephart is right that "offering the voters 'Bush-lite' on the economy and domestic problems [is] a formula for certain defeat in 2004. " But this doesn't stop them from trying the strategy. After all, it worked for Clinton.

So far, I'm most in favor of Howard Dean because he had the guts to publically and vocally oppose the war.

Kerry spokesman suggested Dean wasn't fit to be commander in chief because "he did not support U.S. military supremacy." You know what? I don't support U.S. Military supremacy either, and guess who I am? Part of the democratic core base. Remember us? The people who never, ever vote for Republicans and don't go off and vote for third party presidential candidates either? We can help you, really we can.

Lieberman, whom the Post claims came off best in the debate, apparently said all the things that put him at the bottom of my list of Democratic hopefuls (OK, ahead of Sharpton, but so what). Can't we just give Lieberman to the Republicans and have him run against Bush in their primary? (That position appears to be vacant!)

Update: Here's a view of the debate quite different than the WP's: Abstract Dynamics: Reflections on the First Democratic Presidential Debate