Friday, January 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang

250 years old today. I bought some Mozart Kugeln in his honor, and am listening to a live broadcast of Idomeneo from the Vienna Theater.

This is in honor of my late mother, too. She had a tradition of sending out Mozart's birthday cards every year on January 27, to all her friends and family. Occasionally she forgot my birthday, but she never, ever missed Mozart's. Have a Mozart Kugel, Mom.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ordering pizza in 2010

Just click here.

Good video clip

Let's see, at a guess President Bush's State of the Union Speech ("my speech to the nation, whatever you wanna call it") on January 31 will focus on how his administration is controlling health care costs, protecting America, supporting the troops, creating jobs and economic growth, and increasing America's energy independence.

Americans might want to watch this first.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More on a nuclear Iran

This started out as a comment in response to sodiumhydrid's comment on the previous post. It got a bit long and I wanted to include some links so I'm upgrading it to the status of new post.

SH, thanks for commenting. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, and tried to learn from them to avoid repeating them in future. The people and institutions driving U.S. foreign policy could stand to do the same, especially considering that their errors of judgment and irresponsible behavior affect—often fatally—a lot more people than do the ones I make in my fairly insignificant little life. In particular, they might try weaning themselves off the “Well, he may be a son of a bitch, but at least he’s our son of a bitch” school of international diplomacy, which prevailed during the Cold War and lives on unrepentant and unreformed in the so-called War on Terror. Yes, some (though by no means all) of its earlier practitioners are dead, but the mentality survives. And it has a nasty but at this point entirely predictable tendency to lead to a) a backlash among the populations suffering most directly under same SOB, as in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, etc., with a wave of resentment directed, quite understandably, at the superpower without whose support local SOB could not have remained in power, and/or b) local SOB and one-time faithful U.S. ally turning against his former patron—e.g., Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and more recently, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan. See former UK diplomat Craig Murray's website for an exposé of how Anglo-American policy propped up this utterly hideous regime because Karimov was a "valued ally" in the war on terrorism.

I’m concerned myself about Iran going nuclear, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be. However, many of us are justifiably skeptical of the way the U.S. is whipping up hysteria about it, especially given the false WMD scare used to justify the invasion of Iraq. According to the reports I’ve read, Iran is still some years away from a weapon and delivery system. And to understand the dynamics of what’s driving it, one needs to go beyond the “crazed terrorist-supporting mullahs with nukes” scare-mongering, and fill in some context. Here's a bit to start with:

First, Israel already has nuclear weapons, along with a history of aggression against its Arab neighbors. Second, not only is the U.S. continuing to actively develop nuclear and other WMD, in contravention of international treaties (not least of which is the NPT—so you tell me, how serious is the U.S. commitment to non-proliferation?), its leaders are unabashedly threatening to use them in battle. The United States has military forces and bases in nearly 130 countries around the world. It recently waged a war of aggression to instigate regime change in neighboring Iraq and it is constructing permanent military bases there, which no one seems to want to talk about.

Further: Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. Iraq was invaded by the U.S. North Korea apparently does have nuclear weapons. North Korea has not been invaded. If you were in Iran (the third member of the so-called Axis of Evil), would you not feel a little safer from U.S. aggression if you had a nuclear deterrent? Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program reportedly has the support of much of the population, both because of the need for new sources of energy to fuel economic development as the world approaches peak oil, and because the saber-rattling of the U.S. has the (counterproductive, from the point of view of U.S. policy-makers) effect of rallying Iranians, even those who are otherwise critical of the regime, around their leaders in the face of an external threat.

Iran has a rich and complex culture, an educated class, and a thriving civil society at the grassroots level, for all that it takes place largely out of sight of western eyes (as was also the case in the USSR in the 1980s, with which I have some direct experience). The best thing the United States can do to strengthen moderate, reformist and democratic voices in Iran is to stop the saber-rattling, scare-mongering, and demonizing of Iran. This is essentially the message of human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi , among others. I have far more respect for her moral authority and knowledge of Iranian history, society and politics than I do for those of American media pundits and politicians, hence prefer to pay more attention to what she says.

Update: Steve Clemons over at The Washington Note has a post and discussion going on the subject.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Stating the obvious. Or not.

Somehow I missed reading The Sunday New York Times yesterday, but apparently I didn't miss much, especially on the editorial page. It was largely devoted to hand-wringing over Iran going nuclear, and, as Elizabeth points out, the Times omits the back story. Namely, that a) the United States overthrew the democratically elected President Mossadegh of Iran in 1953 and installed an autocrat in his place, who ruled fairly brutally with the help of the CIA and SAVAK for the next couple of decades before being deposed by some understandably pissed off and anti-American Iranians. And b) there is already a nuclear power in the Middle East. It’s called Israel and it acquired those weapons with the active assistance and blessing of the United States government. So if the region is unstable and going nuclear, well, American foreign policy played a pretty major role in bringing that about. Which is one reason why most of us global villagers outside America tend to roll our eyes when U.S. politicians and pundits talk about promoting democracy and prohibiting nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Not much of a track record.

Happy National Sanctity of Blastocysts Day

Looks like I missed suitably commemorating it, since it was yesterday. It's actually called "National Sanctity of Human Life Day", but as Whatever It Is I'm Against It points out, the date coincides with the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Which is either a very odd coincidence indeed, or a not so subtle way of reminding his fundamentalist base that George Bush feels very strongly about protecting the rights of Blastocyst-Americans. Though not so strongly, I understand, that he wouldn't wiretap their cell phones in the womb in the interests of national security. Okay, even I know that fetuses don't have cell phones--though there is evidence they carry handguns --so let's just call them stem cell phones.

On this solemn occasion the sickeningly sanctimonious smirking chimp says
Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we underscore our commitment to building a culture of life where all individuals are welcomed in life and protected in law.

America is making great strides in our efforts to protect human life. One of my first actions as President was to sign an order banning the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas.

Among those programs are the ones administered by the United Nations Population Fund. The Bush administration's withholding of funding from this organization for the fourth year running (a total now of $125 million) has resulted in countless unnecessary deaths, as women and children in countries around the world are denied the care they urgently need. In response, two American women founded 34 million friends of UNFPA, to try to make up for the funding shortfall through private contributions from Americans who do not share the adminstration's position.

Over the past 5 years, I also have been proud to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, my Administration continues to fund abstinence and adoption programs and numerous faith-based and community initiatives that support these efforts.

Ah, yes. Abstinence education. A surefire method of preventing pregnancy and STDS, right? Or, er, not.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve in creating a society where every life has meaning and our most vulnerable members are protected and defended including unborn children, the sick and dying, and persons with disabilities and birth defects. This is an ideal that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts within us, and this is the America we will achieve by working together.

Included on the "protected" list: Blastocysts, white human females in a persistent vegetative state.

Not included: convicted criminals on Death Row (some of them juveniles at the time of the crime, some of them mentally and/or physically disabled, some of them--oops--innocent of the crime); poor, black, non-Republican residents of New Orleans; Pakistani villagers, Afghan villagers, Iraqis, detainees in American custody...

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 2006, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to reaffirm our commitment to respecting and defending the life and dignity of every human being.

I suggest marking the occasion by making a donation to UNFPA via 34 Million Friends.

Got any others?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Aussie meets border collies (and other breeds)

Hmm, I'm not so sure I like the look of this...
What does this creature want from me?
I think I feel safer over here
What's she looking at so intently?
Where'd my Monika go?
Ah, now I feel much braver
Don't even THINK about stealing my treats

These pictures were taken two weeks ago at Olivia's first introduction to agility. (Okay, I know these posts are out of sequence, but a blog is like life: sometimes it goes forwards, sometimes it goes backwards). As you can tell by her body language in most of the photos, she did not feel entirely at ease. She'll have another opportunity tomorrow, which I expect to be less overwhelming. Actually, judging by her nonchalant, curious and outgoing attitude at the Ljubljana Dog Show (which freaked me out), she'll do just fine. (Thanks to Lilit for the photos!)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Well, that wasn't so bad

Olivia remains unfazed by all the commotion at the Ljubljana International Dog Show

Last Sunday Lyra got some competition experience (always welcome) and Olivia some socialization experience (ditto) at the Ljublana International Dog Show. Well, for that matter, so did I (double ditto).

My first impression on arriving at the fairgrounds was: lots of dogshit. And I mean LOTS. Which is just what one would expect from ca. 1500 dogs kept in a limited area over a period of several days. With, apparently, no clean-up, at least not by owners, and you can hardly blame them since I didn't see any bags, scoops or receptables for dog waste, or signs politely but pointedly requesting, in multiple languages, that owners clean up after their animals, or marked off areas for use as designated doggie bathrooms, etc. I suspect the crew of the fairgrounds made valiant efforts after hours to pick up all the accumulated crap (along with all the garbage humans left behind, which was also not insubstantial, despite the strategically located garbage bins). But it seems to me it could have been better organized if owners had taken responsibility, and been provided with the means for doing so.

My second impression was: man, is this a stressful, unpleasant environment, and boy am I glad I don't do this kind of thing on a regular basis. In addition to the dogs on display (click here for some photos, some of them quite ridiculous), there were hordes of people, hundreds of booths peddling all kinds of stuff (I didn't bother to check them out, though my daughter did), trash everywhere (and an occasional dog pile, even inside), noise, bad air...If any of my students are reading this (or anyone else who has read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), it was the kind of place that would have driven Christopher to moan, rock, and desperately seek out a small, closed space to hide in. I came pretty close to doing that myself, actually. I was a little panicked, too, because I couldn't immediately find the hall where the agility was to take place, didn't know if they'd set up the course already, worried about missing out on walking on the course, and and and....

Okay, big breath, calm down. In fact we had arrived in plenty of time, especially since the events were behind schedule. Lyra's growing fan club was there (Jana and Dean and their circle of friends; more about J and D and the role they play in Lyra's life in a later post), and of course the increasingly familiar faces of the agility crowd, the people and their dogs that we see whenever we go to competitions. I find it an amazingly supportive, welcoming, and friendly community; I'm glad we discovered the sport (more by accident than design), and I can't imagine a better place than Slovenia to do it in.

Anyway, after some delay the ring was cleared and the course set up. We even got to practice a few obstacles. For some reason Lyra has been balking lately at the teeter totter, like she's scared of it. I don't know why, it didn't pose any special challenge when we first started training about a year ago. (Slalom, on the other hand, has consistently been our biggest stumbling block to a clean run--she often enters it the wrong way or leaves out a pole.) Most exasperatingly, she also freaked out at the bridge. Now, at home, she gallops over the bridge (and pauses on command in the target zone at the end) with no fear or hesitation whatsoever, sometimes even on her own, just for fun, while chasing after a ball. But a bridge in an unfamiliar environment that looks and feels different from the one at home intimidates her. All the more reason why we need more experience and exposure, by going to competitions and training on other courses/obstacles at other clubs.

Our agility performance wasn't quite the fiasco I had feared. I've let too many days go by before writing about it and now it's hard to remember, but as I recall, on the first run she was too hasty and unfocused (often a problem for us at competitions) and erred repeatedly on the slalom, which disqualified us. She did, however, get through the teeter and the bridge, though not without some coaxing. The second run was pretty funny. She narrowly missed going off course on the first set of jumps (I was pleased that she didn't--the course was harder than what we're used to, with much tighter turns, and she listened to me and corrected her course in time), galloped unhesitatingly over the bridge this time--good dog!--then, at the end, inexplicably took a right turn instead of a left and jumped right out of the arena. Oops. DQ. At least she jumped right back in again when I called her. Well, after that, she started going every which way on every which obstacle. I think the A-frame was next, then a jump, then a U-turn and into a tunnel running underneath the A-frame--she did the A-frame in both directions, a couple of times I think, before finally entering the tunnel. Then a jump, U-turn, and the dreaded teeter was before her. She didn't like it, but she took a big gulp, gave me an OK-if-I-absolutely-have-to look (not entirely without reproach) and obediently ventured onto it, crawling up it oh-so-slowly until the midway (tipping) point, then flattening out completely on her belly with legs splayed, stopping for an interminable period, during which I stroked her back, since we were already disqualified. I rarely remember much from agility runs, even immediately afterwards--it all goes by in a blur--and while on course I'm unaware of what goes on outside, but I swear I heard a huge collective sigh of relief rom the crowd as Lyra made her way down and off. Then there was the tunnel again, from the other direction, then slalom, which again she executed too hastily to do correctly, then a few more jumps, the last of which was the wrong one. Oh well. Good practice for us. And fun.

The best part of the day came at the end, after the course was taken down, the hall emptied, and a few people and their dogs, mostly border collies, ran around loose and had a free play session, chasing balls and other toys and one another. It's so relaxing and fun--great way to decompress. I love watching the dogs' movements and behavior. Olivia got in on the action, too. She was exposed to all kinds of strange stimuli, and seemed to take it all in stride. Charmed quite a few people, too, especially among aussie lovers, of which there is a dedicated and growing group in Slovenia. (Thanks, Nadja, for the photo! And to many others we met, for being so helpful and supportive.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Border blogging

Some scenes of Lyra in the snow. Photos were taken December 28/29. Apparently this amount of snowfall was so unheard of for these parts that the mayor of Sezana actually declared a state of emergency.

And an aussie update: Olivia has started trying to hump the (neutered male) cat. Should I be worried?

Slovenia to send soldiers to Iraq

So, looks like Joe Biden's wish will come true

“I don't want every kid that is blown up at a checkpoint being an American soldier." (Senator Joseph Biden, July 2003)

Border collie meets aussies

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More progress!

A victory for slow food over fast food:

"After a five-year battle, the fast-food giant McDonald’s has retreated from a southern Italian town, defeated by the sheer wholesomeness of a local baker’s bread...[The baker] had merely offered the 65,000 residents tasty filled panini — bread rolls — which they overwhelmingly preferred to hamburgers and chicken nuggets."

So maybe there's hope for civilization after all. (Thanks to Libby Pratt for the link.)


"One of the big advances towards civilization this century is that politicians like Sharon, indicted in Belgium for war crimes in Sabra and Shatila, along with Pinochet, Kissinger and others like Milosevic, have begun to check with their lawyers as well their travel agents before setting off on a journey."

Ian Williams, The hole where the heart should be

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A taste of things to come

This is Olivia (aka "Open Mind's Foreign Affair"), an Australian shepherd and the latest addition to our family. She was born October 24, 2005, the firstborn of a litter of six from Angel and Ranger at the Open Mind kennel. There were three blue merle females, one blue merle male, and two black bi females in the litter.

The photos above were taken at one-week intervals from birth to eight weeks. Watch this space for more!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year's resolution for 2006

My New Year's resolution for 2006 is to get this blog up and running and post on a regular (daily?) basis.

My 2005 resolutions were to a) get fitter and b) train my border collie for agility. I went to the gym three times in 2005, and my border collie went off course and was disqualified in all but one of the competitions we went to.

Let's hope the blog fares at least as well.