Commentary

Commentary from other people:

Matthew Parris hits the spot.

Martin Woollacott is perhaps a bit too optimistic.

The Dalai Lama states his hopes plainly.

Robert Fisk puts the arguments forcefully.

(I’m going to try and mirror copies of these articles to Sunpig, because I don’t want to lose them when the newspapers in question reorganise their sites.)


BBC2 hosted an evening of Star Trek yesterday, in honour of the series’ 35th anniversary. I found it curiously uplifting. At least in one corner of the popular media lives a TV show which at its heart, presents a positive vision for humanity.

They showed Trek IV at the end of the evening. Abi pointed out the similarity between Kirk & Spock in Trek IV and Jay and Silent Bob in Kevin Smith’s films (Chasing Amy, Dogma, et al.)

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Days away

We’re back from a few days away. On Thursday we drove up to Aberdeen to spend some time with Grandma McLean. On Friday we trundled around Deeside, ending up at the Gairnshiel Lodge. The Lodge is located about six miles out of Ballater, just before a humpback bridge. When we drove over that bridge last year, we were met by a horse charging straight at us. Nothing quite so interesting this time, though.

Saturday, we went to Mum & Dad in Murthly, and spent the day there, before driving back late in the evening. We would have stayed the night, if B hadn’t been sleeping so poorly. In Aberdeen and at Gairnshiel he woke up in the middle of the night (2/3 am), wanting to be fed. Strange places, restless bunny. He settled fairly easily in his own cot last night, and didn’t wake up until 06:30 this morning.

He’s been a bit grumpy this afternoon, though. I wonder if he’s missing all the constant social stimulation he’s been having over the last few days?

He’s in the front pouch, screaming his head off as I’m writing this. He’s getting too big and active (not to mention too heavy) to be carrying him around in the pouch all the time, though. So on Thursday, before we headed off for Aberdeen, we stopped by at Mothercare and bought a baby backpack. Big success! B loves it! It puts him up much higher than he is accustomed to being, and as a bonus it allows him to play with our hair.


He’s asleep in the pouch now.


The trip was a nice break, but it was emotionally exhausting. Abi and I were both struggling to deal with the events in the US; not just the attacks themselves, but how people, and especially our so-called leaders are dealing with them.

In the car, with B asleep in the back seat, we talked about a lot of things: our families, our countrymen, war, global capitalism, poverty, human nature and the “selfish gene”. Probably some of the best intellectual discussions we’ve had in a long while. And although we’re still both feeling very depressed, I think we’ve hit bottom and are on our way back up. For now. (Abi’s in the kitchen with the light box. Last year’s winter was a struggle for me too, so I think I might also start taking some light soon.)


Song for today: Zero 7 — Destiny. The chilled out beat fits the slow gloominess of the afternoon. “When I’m weak, I draw strength from you.”


B has gone through several stages on his way to crawling. First, he was just pushing off randomly with his legs. Then he started coordinating the legs, and bringing them up under his hips. His arm strength came later, but he couldn’t work the arms and legs together, and so he ended up moving backwards! All the while, though, most of his progress has been by bursts of frantic leg action. This afternoon, in his lovely and soft new trousers, was was on our shiny wooden floor. His hands could gain purchase, and the rest of his body could slide freely. And for the first time, he pulled himself forward. Cool!


And finally, some thoughts on the current polical situation (turn away now if you’re easily offended):

  • When president Bush talks about a “War on Terrorism,” the terminology and rhetoric sounds sensible because we are used to hearing the phrases “War on crime” and “War on drugs.” But when politicians talk about the war on drugs, they don’t generally mean sending warships, planes and troops to Colombia, and carpet-bombing the coca plantations on another nations soil.

    The “War on social problem X” rhetorical construct is now being used a smokescreen to cover up manoeuvres in preparation for military action. For the US, waging war on terrorism is much more acceptable in the international arena than, for example, declaring war on Afghanistan.

    We need to beware of a “bait and switch” being pulled on us: we (I’m talking Europe, here) cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into a real war, against targets as yet unnamed, under the guise of tracking down and prosecuting specific criminals, who so far remain unidentified.

    Fortunately, European leaders seem to be taking a stance against president Bush labelling this criminal investigation as a “War”.
  • The media are severely distorting reality.

    What we’re seeing on TV is not what is really happening. The news channels have a vested interest in showing forceful and shocking images, and telling dramatic stories. They have to, because otherwise we wouldn’t watch them. They need to make us watch them to ensure their survival, and they make us watch them by appealling to our rubbernecking fascination with tragedies that happen to other people.

    They can claim all they want that they are showing their footage and commentary because of public interest. To a certain extent, this is true. But we must also remember that the news editors report to managers, who report to boards of directors, who report to shareholders. If CNN had not devoted 100% of its coverage to last week’s disaster, people would have lost money, and lost their jobs.

    The media are driven by innate human selfishness.

    The counterweight of human altruism is provided by the rescue workers, and everyone at ground level who has given aid, blood and money. Eventually, the media will cover this as well. It doesn’t make them as much money, though.
  • Abi has pointed out to me that on certain on-line forums, anyone who does not speak out in strong favour of immediate action, or who favours a moderate course in addressing the socio-economic and political causes of terrorism rather than their aftermaths, is being flamed out of the water, labelled as a troll, and called anti-American. Well, guess what? That kind of arrogant, superior and nationalistic attitude is precisely one of the reasons the US is perceived so badly in international politics. Think of Microsoft, and its blatant disregard for honesty, fair competition and legal strictures. Now multiply that up to a global political scale. The US is big and powerful enough that it can generally do as it pleases.

    Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    With great power comes great responsibility.

    How do these two statement tie up? With great difficulty, and much pain. Striking back is quick and easy, and satisfying in the short term. In the long term, it will be disastrous unless the US also shows that it is willing to learn a lessons from this disaster. This will be made all the harder because any steps to take on board any of the terrorists’ grievances will be seen as giving in to them.

Knee-jerk reactions

The knee-jerk reactions from yesterday seem to be starting to wear off. The media seem to be willing to contemplate the victims themselves now, their friends and relatives, and the ongoing rescue efforts. There are even a few rational voices calling for restraint, and for the crime to be investigated before taking blind revenge.

I feel sad and depressed, like a great weight is pulling me down. And I feel guilty for feeling like that, because I haven’t lost anyone. What right do I have to claim sadness? How do I, sound of limb, with my family intact, dare try to own a tiny piece of this disaster, when tens of thousands of people have just had their whole lives shattered?

It is this feeling, and these questions, that depress me even more. Because I realize that politicians, the media, and other people “in power” are trying to claim this tragedy as their own. They are determining that it is their responsibility to take action against the perpetrators.

A parent who loves his children, or a friend who loves those who are close to him, wants to retaliate against anyone who hurts them. I know this feeling. But it stems from close, personal friendship and love.

Politicians want to step into this same role. They want to be the “protectors” of their constitients. They want to act as parents to a city, or a nation. But with a very few exceptions, I do not believe that they do this out of love or concern for the people they purport to serve. They do it to enhance and maintain their own positions of power.

The politicians don’t care. The media don’t care. The capitalist bosses don’t care. Yet they all pretend to care, because that is how they cement their own positions. They need to fool us into giving them our collective trust.

The only thing that really matters is the people you love, and interactions you have on a personal level. A president, prime minister, or king can’t care about millions of people. It’s not humanly possible.

My own participation in Western capitalist society depresses and angers me. Humans are selfish. I am selfish. I am too attached to my own comforts, and this attachment binds me to those forces I have just reviled.

One’s own morality only stands up to so much scrutiny before breaking down. The only way to continue to think of yourself as a moral person is to turn a blind eye to things you know would be wrong if you examined them closely enough.

As I write this, I find myself spiralling down into even more unhappiness and depression. I can’t try to comprehend all the evils of the world at once. The simple thought of losing anyone close to me is enough to make me cry for everyone who has lost a loved one in this disaster.

It seems inconceivable that life should go on after yesterday. But somehow, it must. It always does.

(Abi has a more hopeful view of humanity than I do.)

B is five months old

B is five months old today.

I also forgot to bring my phone and wallet with me when I left for work this morning. Once I got back to Cedalion after a visit to one of our clients, I called Abi and she and B came down to Leith to meet me for a late lunch. We bought sandwiches, and sat down by the bowling geen opposite my office building to eat, and to feed B. Autumn is on its way, but there was no wind, and the sun was warm. At just after 14:00 I went back to the office feeling full and rested.

I sat down with Craig to discuss the project we’re working on. We chatted through the relevant sections of code, and decided how to proceed. I went back to my desk, and settled down to hack away at my bits.

From behind me, in the room where the dev leads sit, Pete called to me: “Martin, come in here, you’ve got to see this.”

I went in. Pete was sitting at his desk, his face tense. James stood behind him. They were both looking at his monitor, and listening to a news report on the radio Pete keeps around for listening to the cricket. “There’s two planes crashed into the World Trade Center,” Pete said.

I looked at the screen. Internet Explorer was showing Sky.com’s news headlines page. At the top of the screen was a photo of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, fire licking up around the top floors. On the radio, a shocked journalist explained how two aircraft had flown straight into the towers.

At first, I thought it was some kind of joke. You know, there are spoof web sites all over the place. The Onion, a satirical news site, makes its business out of lampooning news stories in a true journalistic style. I thought that this was a sophisticated site that had air time on a radio station, so that you could pull a friend colleague in, show them the site, and make them listen to a fake news report on the radio at the same time.

It would be quite a neat practical joke to pull. But it wasn’t. I scanned the URL to see if it was a spoof web address. It wasn’t. It started, appropriately, with “http://www.sky.com/”, so whatever web page I was seeing had really come from the official sky.com servers. It was true.

I don’t remember much about what we said immediately after that. The news was trickling in slowly. The word was that the first plane had been small, but that the second one had been a 737. I think we talked about how the buildings were engineered to withstand the impact of a plane, but that no-one would ever expect that to really happen.

I went back to my desk to try and find out more, but the main news sites (bbc.co.uk and cnn.com) were off the air. As millions of people tried to get their news feeds all at once, their servers must have been overwhelmed by the load. So much for internet broadcasting.

A small knot of developers stood around Kevin’s PC. More people joined the crowd, and I went over as well. Kevin had managed to get through to a news site, and had a video clip of the second plane actually crashing into the tower. As the footage rolled, and we all saw these images for the first time, the cries of shock went up: “holy shit!” “fuck!” Rodger stood with a client at a nearby desk, and tried to shoosh us, but we ignored him, and a few moments later the two of them gathered round and joined us.

Minutes later, more news. The Pentagon had been bombed. (At the time we didn’t know it was another plane.) There were explosions on Capitol Hill.

Most of us went back to our desks, and tried to work, but we were all distracted. We were all hungry for news. The main news web sites were all down, so we all tried our own favourite sources, and emailed or messaged each other when we found a snippet. Dave Winer was keeping scripting news up-to-date with headlines and pointers to other blogs, and I that’s where I got most of my initial information. I called Abi, who was still out in town with B, to let her know what was happening.

A fourth plane down, somewhere near Pittsburgh. And then one of the towers collapsed. It collapsed. I could hardly imagine it. That collossal structure–one of the defining images of New York–almost a geographical feature–gone. I was stunned. I called Abi again.

The second tower collapsed. The two towers hold tens of thousands of people. My mum & dad took Scott & me there in 1985. We ate in the “Windows on the World” restaurant on the top floor. I remember my ears popping as we rode the elevators to the top. Abi and I walked past it when we were in New York in 1999. We didn’t go up, but we had spend over an hour walking from midtown to downtown, using the twin towers as landmarks, and indicators of how for we still had to go.

It was clear at that time that thousands of people were dead (although, as I write this, at 22:45, no-one in authority has dared to make even a preliminary estimate of the fatalities). But more than anything else, it was the complete destruction of the twin towers that stunned me and brought home the scale of the tragedy. Comparisons are meaningless, but it was like someone had blown up the pyramids. It was like the giant space ships in Independence Day blowing up the Empire State Building, but this was really happening.

I don’t think any of us got much done the rest of the afternoon. By 17:30, I had a thumping headache, and I headed home. I had planned to defrost a couple of pizzas for comfort food, but Abi was ahead of me. On her way back home she’d picked up a large sourdough bread from Valvona & Crolla, and so we defrosted some venison sausages and bacon instead. Carbohydrates & fat. Comfort food. We were both stunned, and both needed comforting.

B was picking up on our distress, and he has needed lots of cuddle time this evening.

We’ve been watching BBC News 24 all evening. Most of the news has now broken, but the commentating is only just starting. And all of the nutcases are coming out in force and being listened to seriously. Comparisons with Pearl Harbor. Talk of immediate retaliation. But retaliation against whom? Terrorists in general, apparently.

Our “Western civilised society is under threat”, a former US State Department official said. Those italics are mine, because the implication is that whatever ideologies underlie the terrorist groups responsible, and whatever countries align themselves with those ideologies, are uncivilised. The spin is already working: “they” are not attacking attacking Western imperialism, or specific Western foreign policies and actions, they’re attacking freedom itself.

Never mind that these groups, whoever they are, probably think that they’re fighting for their own version of civilization and freedom, because ours is obviously the right way.

It’s war. With war comes rhetoric and propaganda. I deplore the attacks, but I don’t have to like the spin, the propaganda, and the inevitable fervour the media, politicians and other opportunists will whip up. Because we’re not at war with a specific organisation. We won’t be at war with a specific country. We’ll be at war with principles, ideologies and ghosts. The enemy will be smoke and air, and politicians can shape that into anything they want. Consider carefully who is the threat to life and limb, and who is the threat to freedom.

What happened today was a hideous crime. It was incredibly well organised and highly co-ordinated. There will be evidence. They will have left behind tracks and traces. Maybe this is Osama Bin Laden, maybe not. It behoves a “civilised” country to seek out the perpetrators, and to punish the guilty; not to lash out at whoever presents the broadest target.

The commentary on CNN is making me sick. I’m off to bed.

Google is at it again

Google is at it again. Not only do they now allow you to search for images on the web (rather than just for web sites), they have also built in a map locator, and a telephone number lookup.

If you go to Google, and type in something that looks like an address, e.g. 1 Market Street, San Francisco, California, it will recognize this as a street name, and show you links to maps of the surrounding area at the top of the page.

Likewise, if you type in a telephone number (including the area code), it will give you the name and address of the person this phone number belongs to.

As usual, Google is quietly upgrading the web, without making a big song and dance over it. Why do this without a big marketing push? Probably because the Google brand stands for a tacit assumption of competence. They don’t get in your face: they just let you do what you want, quickly and efficiently.

I like that.


Note to writers: If you don’t use Epinions for three months, they’ll delete your user account, and all the reviews you’ve written. They don’t send you an email notifying you that your account is about to be terminated, either. So if you’ve written anything for them (or for any other web publication, for that matter), make sure you keep a backup copy of your own. You never know when it might vanish forever. (Grumble.)

Found it!

Found it!

For months now, Scott and I have been trying to figure out a song. It features on the trailer for the film Pay it Forward. We both heard it on that trailer, and thought: I know that song, and I like it. But who sings it, and what’s it called?

So started the search. We downloaded the movie trailer off the internet, and tried to identify the small snippet of lyrics that are sung. We got as far as “I feel like a…”, but the word after that was unrecognizable.

We searched the internet for these lyrics. We hunted movie web sites for any reference to the music used in the trailer, because it didn’t appear to be on the movie soundtrack. All we found were a couple of people who also seemed to be trying to track the song down. A few helpful people pointed out that the other song on the trailer was Wonderful by Everclear, but that wasn’t really of any use to us.

Then the song showed up as a snippet of background music in the MTV show Cribs (the episode featuring Robbie Williams. Scott emailed MTV, but they wrote back saying that they can’t answer specific questions regarding shows. Scott also wrote off to a DJ at Forth One, but they haven’t replied at all yet.

But when Scott & Ange were in Belfast the other week, they went to see the film Heartbreakers. And there was the song again, this time in yet another trailer, being shown before the film.

They came round this evening, partly so that we could watch the film Pay It Forward to see if the song was featured in the film, but hadn’t been included on the soundtrack. If it had been in the film anywhere, it would have shown up in the end credits. It wasn’t, and it didn’t.

However, we tried to track down the trailer Scott & Ange had seen in Belfast. Ange didn’t remember the name of the film , but she thought it had the word “beautiful” in it. A quick check on IMDB for a list of upcoming releases didn’t give us anything. A few more searches on Google, gave us the answer, though: Crazy/Beautiful, starring Kirsten Dunst.

We downloaded the trailer, and there it was! Our song, featured as the first chunk of music.

A short hop onto Amazon.com to see if they had the soundtrack. They did, but we didn’t recognize any of the names on the track listing. But as we read through the list of comments on the soundtrack, the following quote jumped out at us:

“The long-form movie trailer used three songs, beginning with Filter’s “Take a Picture” (which can be found on their album Title of Record) and then The Crystal Method’s “Keep Hope Alive” (available, among other places, on their debut album Vegas).”

Bingo!

The song is Take A Picture by Filter.

Scott and Ange had to leave, because it was getting late, but I’ve just downloaded it via Morpheus, and I’m listening to it right now. I like it. I suspect Scott will be buying the album tomorrow just to get hold of this one track.

The film (Pay it Forward), was okay until about the last ten minutes. That ending is just wrong. The film doesn’t lead up to it. It’s going off in a completely separate direction, sparking off threads that never get resolved, and then suddenly it runs into this dead end. Didn’t like that.