Sunday, February 25, 2007

I thought that getting a laptop with a Windows Vista operating system would be a good idea. Wouldn't I be ahead of the changeovers that would be happening in the next few years? Even if Vista is not really a leap forward from XP, aren't I being smart?

In the midst of moving, I had not tried out my webcam on the new laptop. When I finally tested it the other day, it refused to work. Thinking it was broken, I called the manufacturor (DYNEX). After half an hour of troubleshooting with the rep, he determined that my camera was broken. He was also fully aware that I had Windows Vista.
Next step, I found my credit card statement showing that I had indeed purchased the camera within the time limit for the warranty. Best Buy didn't want to do the exchange, but I got on the phone with the manufacturer and after another half an hour, I had a new camera. When doing the exchange, I asked the store employee if the camera really worked with Vista. "I don't know," he said.
When I came home the camera didn't work - in the same manner that my first camera hadn't worked. So when I called the manufacturer asking if their cameras worked with Windows Vista, the answer was "no." I feel like an idiot, because I should have known that having Vista this early would cause all sorts of problems, and I should have spotted the problem yesterday morning, not yesterday evening after hours of telephone conversations and a trip to Best Buy.

Dynex won't tell me approximate dates for the release of the driver (one week? six months?), there is no telephone number to call to find out, and there is not even an email address to write to. All I got is an address to write to in Minnesota. BestBuy also can't tell me when the driver will be available, and they also can't identify even one webcam that works with Vista.

I feel like I'm having deja vu, and that this is what happens when me and hardware come together.

But seeing as how Creative is not releasing its Vista drivers until the end of 2007, so I am selling this Dynex camera.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Geert Wilders' party the PVV has begun protests against recently named ministers/staatssecretarissen Nebahat Albayrak and Aboutaleb's second passports. Albayrak has a Turkish passport, and Aboutaleb has a Moroccan. Albayrak could give up her Turkish citizenship, but Aboutaleb cannot, according to Moroccan law.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Being someone who lived and worked in New York City during September 11, 2001, thereafter I took quite seriously any bags without owners I happened to see. The European Parliament's security being notoriously lax (why should assistants or MEPs have to put their bags through the metal detector!? - what an outrage!), when I saw a large unattended bag inside the building I paused. I went up to my office to talk to my colleagues; should I notify guards, I asked them? They scoffed at my concern -- how could they be the targets of terrorism? Didn't everyone know that it was someone else who would be at risk? Suffice it to say, I returned downstairs, found a guard and showed him the bag. His response was to look at me with bewilderment. Why was I telling him about this bag?, he wondered. Finally it dawned on him that this bag was a security risk. "Yes, that is a problem, isn't it," he chuckled to me and hopefully went to go and get reinforcements. I didn't stick around to find out.

This report describes the new efforts at securing the European Parliament buildings, complete with revealing pictures of MEPS.

  • New Dutch cabinet under Jan Peter Balkenende sworn in by Queen Beatrix. The youth of some of the members is amazing: CDA Camiel Eurlings is minister at 34 years old, and PvdA Sharon Dijksma is a staatssecretaris at 36. Nebahat Albayrak, PvdA, (above) looks younger than her 39 years.

  • Bomb threat on Zaventem airport in Brussels, and it was briefly evacuated. Makes me think of the bomb threat questionnaire next to our desk so that we can write down everything a phoned in bomb threatener is saying.

  • Wimbledon finally decides to pay women the same award amounts as men.

Monday, February 19, 2007

There was an interesting review in the New York Times Book Review yesterday about a book entitled Overblown, by John Mueller. The book argues that the threat of terrorism has been overstated, and that likewise the response has been more about making money than about protecting Americans from real threats. Anatol Lieven is critical of his arguments, and thinks Mueller overlooks some burgeoning threats, like Europe's radicalized Muslims. But there is a chicken-egg aspect to his argument, as Lieven notes that Mueller admits that the lack of terrorist cells in the United States may be due to increased attention to the people we let into the country. I can see in the first chapter of the book that he compares the number of people dying from terrorism to people dying from more mundane - but nevertheless deadly -- activities. The problem is that without intervention from a variety of sources, the number of dead from terrorism would go up, whereas an awareness campaign probably won't do much to decrease the number of fatal hairdyers dropped into the bathtub every year. Furthermore, it is highly psychologized battle, unlike our battle with Katrina or other natural disasters; what we do to combat terrorists has direct effects on how, when, and where they attack.

You can read the first chapter of the book.
I haven't read this book (I'd like to!), but I can say right now that in order to overstate a problem you have to understand its real nature. And that in and of itself is an enormous task for governments all over the world -- to fully understand the level of threat coming from secretive organizations, cells, groups of people or individuals who would like to take those institutions off guard. It sounds cliched, but "better safe than sorry" is what we will hear an awful lot when we are talking about measures to protect people against new and misunderstood threats.
I'm almost finished with the book Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky, the unfinished collection of two novellas that were written contemporaneously with the historical events that formed the background for their action. (NYT review)

With so many books, I find myself skipping over descriptions of people and places because they are boring or cliched, but Nemirovsky's descriptions are very original and economical. The author uses her omniscent narration to good effect; arrogant characters also have their well-intentioned sides, while at the same time Nemirovsky enjoys poking fun at the hypocrisy of members of the middle and upper classes trying to cope with the disruptions of war. In the second half of the book, the calm atmosphere of the occupied French village reminds me of the order and rationality of Imre Kertesz' Fatelessness, the characters who win our admiration are not the heroic, principled ones, but those who focus their decisions and choices around the present day, around current circumstances. It's more principled to refuse to speak to the Germans in their midst, but it's the French women who relent and exchange pleasantries with the soldiers who are the happiest and most successful at continuing their lives instead of putting them on hold. In Fatelessness, there is no heroism, just getting through the day and rationalizing the world as it confronts you; that's how one survives.

The very subject of the book is less about survival than Fatelessness; the point is that the lives of the book's characters are seldom threatened. That brings a subtlety and a nuance to the choices they make that is usually absent from books about World War II. Somehow, this lack of contrast makes the book seem realistic, even though the Holocaust was all too real for those who suffered from it -- including the author of this book, who died at Auschwitz before completing the three subsequent novellas she had foreseen. This book, coupled with books like Fatelessness, contribute to a more complete picture of what Europe and Europeans experienced during World War II.
Just looking at the idea for another centerpiece exhibition in Rond Point Schuman in Brussels, which usually entice innocent pedestrians to attempt crossing this traffic nightmare and risk death or serious injury in the process. However, I think the idea is kind of cool; the noises from the circle will be translated into light colors and patterns. The installation will convert annoying sounds like honking, yelling drivers, and blaring police sirens into pleasant light pulses. I suppose the translators slaving away nearby would appreciate this metaphor for their work.

On the other hand, I empathize with its critics.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I don't like winter anymore. While the boyfriend was enjoying brisk mornings on the slopes of Mont Romeu, and the sunny days of the Pyrenees where he drank the Trouillas wine to his heart's content, I suffered under falling ice in Washington, DC. And so I was happy 1) that our friend Gilles agreed with me about the Trouillas' Gouverneur Cotes de Roussillon, and 2) that he toasted to me on my absence.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This past week, an agreement was hammered out between three Dutch parties to govern the country: PvdA, CDA and ChristenUnie are in the coalition. One of the more interesting psychological differences between the US, winner take all system, and the parliamentary, coalition system in countries in the Netherlands is that that victory feeling is largely absent from the Dutch system. A poll of PvdAers shows how the excitement is decidedly muted; Balkenende remains as prime minister, and the future will be full of compromise.
After watching Dick in a Box recently, I thought I would try to find that Chronic(what?)cles of Narnia video which is so wonderful. Nowhere to be found. Seriously. What is the story? the NBC video doesn't work and it's not on YouTube.

Would people know about that video if it weren't for the internet? I don't know many people who actually watch SNL on television anymore. The really good clips make it to the internet, and then, after they have sucked the internet dry, they take off again, leaving us with rednecks ranting about conspiracy theories into their home cameras, random Turkish shows about Kurdish terrorists and japanimation that amounts to sexual harassment. It makes me sad. Those videos create buzz for shows; especially since they are not show length. I wish they wouldn't systematically take them away.

Wikipedia explains how it was pulled, rereleased on the internet, and pulled again.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Unlike the rendition cases of Maher Arar and Khaled El Masri, the case of Zammar is more difficult. Maher Arar and Khaled El Masri were the victims of mistaken identity, whereas Zammar was very much a terrorist. There are few who would dare protest the torture he is undergone, which has been confirmed by Maher Arar, who was aware of his presence in a prison he stayed at in Syria. But MEP Cem Ozdemir is one person who has stood up and decried Zammar's torture.

It goes back to the old dilemma; if torturing someone meant that he would give you information that would save thousands of people from a terrorist attack, isn't it worth it? This assumes that torture elicits truth rather than fear. Or that it elicits something other than what U.S. servicemen are trained to offer up: tidbits that are confirmable and no big chunks of information so that they can stall their captors. Or that those who are being tortured have not been brainwashed to no longer care about death or death threats.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More news on whether or not the U.S. foreign service has enough qualified volunteers to man Iraq's diplomatic posts. (NYT) The NYT reports that there are not enough older and mid-level people who want to go to Iraq in the foreign service, but that there are a bunch at the junior level who are offering their services. However, as we have heard from the yahoogroups and others, it is not advisable to go to Iraq on an early tour, because a junior level officer is not learning the basic skills that will serve them in the long run as they go through various embassies. Worst of all, Condi Rice has asked the arms of the military to fill in for those posts left empty by those missing mid- and upper-level diplomats in Iraq; military types are irate.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

These are the people we let fly millions-worth of equipment in space.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

So I watched the finale of Top Chef yesterday. I think that no one could have predicted that Marcel would be in the final two; he almost got kicked off numerous times for unsuccessful dishes. But Marcel is not as bad as all the other contestants make him out to be. He lacks social skills, sure, and he has a strange insecurity about him that the other contestants sniffed out and fed upon like playground bullies, but in the end Marcel doesn't mean anyone any real harm--he was always baffled that the other contestants despised him and sabotaged his dishes. I can't say the same for other contestants who made it their mission to slander Marcel every chance they got (Betty). In reverse, Betty's hatred of Marcel led her to fawn over other contestants like Ilan--it was sickening and immature. And Marcel changed a lot during the show. He gained more confidence, he became more open to the other contestants, and I think his cooking improved (or at least the judges liked his food better toward the final episodes).

Yesterday's NYT article about the show likened the cast assembly to a microcosm of a high school; the constant ganging up on Marcel proved that this was only too true.
Paul Wolfowitz has holes in his socks! He's just a regular guy like you and me! (AP)
Was it right that two guys who placed LED signs around Boston as part of a guerilla marketing scheme for a television show have been arrested?

And why were these guys targeted if this was a plan that went all the way to Turner Broadcasting Corporation and was created by a PR firm?

I don't blame Boston for its reaction to these devices, which were obviously part of a coordinated plan to send a message. Unfortunately, Boston thought the message was something more menacing than "watch our show."

The biggest problem is that there was no communication among the various component companies of Turner Broadcasting. News outlets at Turner continued to carry the story of "suspicious devices" around Boston despite the fact that their colleagues had in fact coordinated the stunt. I imagine that the people who placed these devices allowed the panic to continue for a while before explaining the stunt to authorities because of the chance for more publicity (which has definitely panned out). I don't think there's anything wrong with placing weird devices around, but maybe next time they should inform the police and their fellow news outlets.