I just re-read the inimitable Hendrik Hertzberg in this week’s New Yorker. His piece is titled “Rain and Fire” and he writes about an unusual movie screening of the short film “Last Best Chance” held recently by some of the most far-sighted individuals in the public and commercial life. I’ve often written and thought about nuclear terrorism (pretty much since I was 13) and I’m nauseously captivated by the catastrophic and hellish scenario that could unfold within our lifetimes if we care not to care. The movie, “Last Best Chance,” can be ordered free on DVD from the good folks at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and NTI puts full blame for the scenario at the feet of the war-torn and internally-focused Bush administration. The NTI board of directors is a who’s who of serious minds that know it will only take one nuclear bomb aboard a shipping container to really change the world. When I have cash, I’m donating to NTI.
On the other side of the coin, Canada today swore in its symbolic Governor General today. Yes, she acts as Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative to the country. And yes, she has roles in the military though she has no formal military experience. But here’s the rub: “Michaelle Jean is the first black person and only the third woman to hold the largely ceremonial post as head of state, designed to defend Canada’s sovereignty and promote its national identity.”
On the edges of this coin, I walked by the Winnipeg School Division’s mission statement which seemed newly posted in the hallways of the school here. It struck as extremely well-written and high-minded and I enjoyed reading it as much as I did Mr. Hertzberg’s article: “The mission of the Winnipeg School Division is to provide a learning environment that promotes and fosters the growth of each student’s potential and provides an opportunity for the individual student to develop the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for meaningful participation in a global and pluralistic society.”
Made it out of Dallas. Actually, it was no big deal. Thought traffic was going to slow me down to the airport. It didn’t. Northwest Airlines, even though it’s in bankruptcy, got me to Minneapolis.
I’m in Minneapolis. Boring. Pretty. Lots of roundish faces and the bookstore in the airport was good. The landscaped streets in and around these Twin Cities, as seen from the air, was gorgeous.
Waiting for Flight 499. Not a good number, imho. Should be in Winnipeg by 11:30 p.m. Hopefully won’t have immigration problems. Hopefully won’t have 90 degree front landing gear problems. Hopefully won’t have to eat cheese and crackers for dinner for a while. Hopefully won’t complain again while 2.5 million people are traversing north, sleeping in cars, handling crying babies with no water or milk, worried about their homes in Houston or south.
Watching CNN at the airport while a disaster unfolds is torture. Literally. Underpaid male and female anchors in Galveston, Beaumont, New Orleans, Lake Charles (future home of the “eye”) are trying to come up with stories about Hurricane Rita even though there are no stories, yet. They’re trying to come up with those stories as the wind is pushing them around. 65 mile per hour winds almost threw an anchor down.
Read in the Times today (purchased for one American dollar) that you should write your social security number on your arm in case you die belly up in the storm and they don’t know who the hell you are. Thinking about all of the people in northern Texas and Oklahoma who will still need to get home after Rita says hello to Minneapolis.
Thankful that there is CNN in this lonely airport at 9:30 p.m. Thankful that I didn’t buy Seymour Hersh’s paperback XYZ for $14.95. Thankful that no one around me has guns, probably. Thankful that I’m full.
In flight now. The world below is lit darkly in areas light-lined streets show the outlines of the Twin Cities below. I’m amazed at the quick height from which I write. The ground swept away from my eyes so quickly, the cars and trucks stream gently below, and all I can feel is myself, high. The world is a beautiful organizational mystery. I devour it. I’m not ready to die.
I’m here in Dallas, Texas, reporting from a place called Paradise. Paradise, in case you don’t know, is in Northern Texas and it’s beautiful.
Ms. Rita is coming north from Houston very quickly and I must say, it’s a bit overwhelming to know that I’m in the eye of the storm. A million and a half people are evacuating Houston to be in Dallas and all the news shows are people buying cartons of water and food at Wal-Mart to stock up. The roads are packed (both ways now) from Houston to here and the traffic is completely snarled in and around Dallas and Fort Worth. Fuel is probably going to run low and, while it looks like the state has everything more or less under control and people here are not scared at all, you can tell that other their breath a lot of worry is going on.
I should be able to make it out of the airport tomorrow but it’s hard to know. Rita is moving fast and I’m looking forward to moving faster.
These are things are good:
Martha Stewart publicly renounces the use of and the wearing of fur. It’s impressive. Martha says: “So much violence in the world seems beyond our control,” says Martha, “but this is one cruelty we can stop by being informed consumers.”
Opera, the browser manufactory, released its product completely free today – it used to be $39.00, believe it or not. It’s a great browser – fast, slick, smooth, and pretty. It’s a great alternative to Firefox and especially to Internet Explorer.
I finally installed the new Mac OS X on my desktop, which hasn’t been used in a few months. It’s nice. No big deal, but nice. BTW, I was greatly helped by Joe Kissel’s well-written and well-documented e-book Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger.
T-Mobile finally released my Brooklyn cell phone number for my Vonage line. That’s sweet. Vonage is great for the price, but like all inexpensive things, it’s not perfected yet as voice clarity is less than transparent. T-Mobile will now get to bill me $200.00 for cancelling my service contract. Lucky them, too!
I have written a few times since my move to Winnipeg about how wonderful it all is but I think I owe it to my stately readers a few lines about the problematic aspects of life here that I’ve found frightfully odd, disjointed, or otherwise simply silly:
- While Canadians all have access to good, if not excellent, healthcare, almost everyone I’ve met does not visit a doctor regularly. Some folks haven’t been to a regular physician in 8 years and they don’t seem to mind. In the U.S., people who have health insurance typically visit their doctor once per annum, just for that check-up. Part of the problem, perhaps at least in Winnipeg, is that there are not enough doctors to have a person relationship with and, therefore, why would you?
- I got used to really, really good organic milk in New York. Horizon brand comes to mind. It was everywhere, in almost every store and it tasted really fresh and clean and wholesome – the way milk never tasted when I was growing up. Back then, it was pretty typical for my parents to make us drink powdered milk. You poured a foil-lined package of white stuff into a plastic container, added cold water, shook and then didn’t drink. Anyway, I don’t miss powdered milk but I do miss the organic stuff.
- It’s looking pretty good on the permanent residence front. I don’t want to give the whole thing a ken-a-herra but so far so good. However, every time I turn around the government here requires a huge dose of application fees from my dwindling bank account. I’m sure the U.S. is the same if not worse.
- I’m having email problems. I don’t know why. A few clients and a few friends are not able to send me email. I can’t tell where the problem is – at Shaw, my ISP, or my host, or somewhere in between. I hate not knowing whether emails are not getting to me. I know it’s a bit like worrying about the next disaster except that there is “supposedly” something you can do about it. Well, maybe if “you” are an email consultant.
- Things are expensive here. It’s not the 7% GST and 7% PST that gets attached to almost every purchase – yes, that is 14%. It’s the duties or tariffs or somethings that gets tacked onto nearly everything. I wanted to buy Newsweek the other day and it was like going out to dinner.
- Amazon.ca is stinky. I don’t like it. It’s interface seems a pale reference to Amazon.com and, while it still kind of knows who I am, it just doesn’t offer the range, variety, and sheer value of its big American sister. For instance, I want to buy Dan Cederholm’s new book Bulletproof Web Design because it looks like a nice read. The price is CDN$39.19. List price is $55.99. The same book at Amazon in the States $26.39. List is $39.99. Free shipping applies to both. And I believe that GST will apply whereas in the States, nada on the tax front. This means that Dan’s books would cost me exactly CND$41.93. Sorry, Dan. On the other hand, perhaps U.S. citizens should all be paying an added 7% tax to help out the families in Louisiana.
The occupation of Gaza (and the vast majority of the West Bank) was a torrid piece of Israeli and Jewish history. It was not helpful to anyone, least of all the Palestinians, and it placed tremendous strain on Israel and the United States to maintain some semblance of political optimism about the future of the Palestinian nation. It essentially helped to bankrupt those living in the Palestinian territories while providing unnecessary fuel for extremists (Muslim, Jewish, and Christian) to aid the murder of innocents. Superbly wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia (friends of Americans like Mr. Bush) used the poverty of the Palestinians as a whip against the West and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, Palestinians themselves remained uncritical of their own leaders and allowed their schools to become recruitment zones for killers and hate mongers.
I saw a fascinating BBC documentary the other day that showed how, previous to 1935 or so, Arabs in the region were very tolerant of Jewish settlers and Christian tourists. During the rise of the Nazis in Europe, very strong ties were developed among them and powerful Arabs in the region and the rise of tyrants throughout the area can be directly tied to European fascism, anti-semitism, and state control. These Arab countries used the Nazis and then the Soviets to maintain power over their subjects and ensure that oil was critical to the success of the West.
What is atrocious and generally unspoken is that the synagogues left in Gaza were burned down by the Palestianians for no reason other than spite. It’s understandable that their hatred has become fierce. But in Israel and other Western nations, the burning of a place of a worship is crime of massive proportions. It’s not acceptable to burn (even abondoned) sites of devotion. Israel protects all houses of worship.
When I visited Poland ten years ago, those synagogues that remained after World War II were rarely used by Jews there; they couldn’t be because there are only a few thousands Jews in Poland out of a population of 40 million. (The Jewish population, pre-war, was about 25% of the total.) But the Poles (almost never) burned the buildings down and instead used them most recently as churches, libraries, gymnasiums or banks.
I’ve been using My Yahoo! since the day it launched (or perhaps a few days later). I’ve found it an undeniably helpful homepage resource for so many years that, if it actually disappaered one day, I think I’d be in trouble. It contains all my lead stories, a lead photo that always has an emotional punch to it, and top-line weather in Brooklyn and Winnipeg (previous incarnations revealed weather in Krakow, Poland and Troy, New York). The map functionality on My Yahoo! is unparalleled and, yes, I can search through the top search bar. Yahoo! really knows me, pushing ads lately for stock photography, laptops and miscellaneous but uninteresting software.
While Yahoo! just pushed out it’s new Mindset tool, Google gave birth in July to an elegant, if too simple, customizable personalized homepage that I’m actually considering switching to. Why is it so powerful. Because of all of the RSS readers and content feed delivery systems, Google’s just works nicely. Using drag and drop trickery, I can load up my favorite blogs, websites and other thangs and then place them on the page where I want and leave out the decoration that My Yahoo! provides and, unfortunately, overuses. You can also customize the screen at any time without having to go into a special “customize” mode as you do with My Yahoo! Finally, your recent Gmail Inbox can appear, which is no small feature, especially when I’m waiting for something important to be sent to me. One feature it’s missing – the ability to box out, through colors or borders, the various kinds of content on the page. That would make the totality of the interface strong.
I’m not convinced it will change my online behavior but it might. Right now it’s a bookmark directly under my homepage button. More information about customizing Google’s homepage can be found at WikiHow and
Here in the mittle of Canada, things look very odd way South. I’ve seen and read the news to the point of almost nausea about N.O. and it continues to be the saddest story of the year, in part because it could have been prevented, in part. But here are a few weird news-worthy tidbits I’ve seen and read, none of which are confirmable, and all of which add up to a stranger story. Radio silence from the official U.S. Government caters to these oddities:
- There are between 5,000 and 10,000 dead in N.O.
- Cuba is publicly offering 1,500 doctors to be immediately sent to the region
- Despite Bush’s grin when he said “Send Cash” a few days ago, that’s actually what non-profits and others need
- Texas has put a limit on either 250,000, or 350,000, or more, “refugees” from coming to Texas
- Residents now homeless are not only “refugees,” but they are “victims,” “civilians,” and “Mississippians”
- Other states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Indiana and West Virginia are taking smaller numbers of residents into their statewide arms but the secret among U.S. state governors is essentially, “We don’t want them.”
- AIGA, an advocacy organization for designers, posted this on their site Hurricane Katrina has brought unexpected devastation to the design community in the Gulf Coast region. This is bizarre.
- Some say that the entire city will need to be leveled.
If it’s true that the first casualty of war is truth, it’s also true today that the first casualty of disaster is truth.