May 5, 2005

That end-of-the-chapter feeling

I've been kind of out for a couple months. The truth is that I'm kind at loose ends. Between my job disappearing - my last day was Friday - studying Dutch, studying the Belgian driving code, trying to catch up in Russian (I'm spending the summer in Saint-Petersburg learning Russian), trying to get my doctorate going (still no progress) and seeing the wife off for most of a month... I've been kinda hard pressed creatively, weighted down by a sense of grand change and uncertainty about how I feel about it.

This sort of thing used to happen to me a lot. I had a... well, a kind of sense for the big transitions. You could say that I could tell when my autobiography was reaching the end of a chapter. It was always a bit of a weird feeling, and it usually involved travel. The crisp memories of my life always seem to involve moments of transition. I can still close my eyes and see the lights of Chicago from I-90 headed east; flying over Newark as I left New Jersey that last time (and flipping the entire state the bird through the window); the bar at Keflavik airport; the smell of my first night in Montreal, in a little hardwood-floored room on the Plateau; Donner Pass out the window of a Greyound bus; customs in Munich a week after 9/11... all clean breaks, where clear lines separate the before from the after.

And this time, no clear line. Months - over a year - of quiet and growing frustration at my situation, ending in its replacement. A slow withdrawal from work, leading to an unemotional last day. The discovery of my impending fatherhood, followed by weeks of having the idea seep in.

Last week, on the way to work, my bus passed by a small sheep farm. It's passed by that small farm every day for over a year. But this time, the spring lambs were out, bouncing around, munching grass. I just about broke down and cried. When I got home, I told the wife about it, ending with "This is you're fault. YOU got me pregnant!"

It's all kinda weird. and I just don't quite know what to say about it. Things like international politics just, suddenly, seem awfully remote and not too important. I find myself unable to write even the most trivial things. Like, I promised to write a recommendation letter for my intern at work, who is applying to Saarbrücken. I've been putting it off since yesterday, and need to get it out tomorrow, but I just can't quite pull it all together.

I'm trying though.

Several people have recently gotten on my case to get back to blogging. Besides, I'm going to Russia for threee months, and I'll be damned if I'm going to do it without saying anything about St-Petersburg. So, starting tomorrow, with the British general election, I'm going to do my damnedest to be back, both here and on AFOE.


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The England Mistrial

So, I'm watching coverage of this declaration of a mistrial in the court-martial of Private England in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and I have to wonder about this declaration. It sounds a lot like the judge was looking for a reason to do this - I mean, this can hardly be the first time in the history of military courts that someone has told one story in their guilty plea and another at sentencing time.

I'm more willing to see mercy towards low ranking troops who behave terribly than towards their officers, who are responsible for them both in practice and in the law. Unless I've missed something, not a single American officer has been charged.

One has to wonder if there was some pressure to throw the book at enlisted suspects in order to keep the scandal from growing. Or maybe I'm just feeling conspiratorial.


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Waiting for the polls to close

I've had a bit of an embarassing day. I got my stuff together, went out to Leuven for my Dutch class, noticing only that traffic was kind of thin, and discovered that today is a national holiday. It's my own damned fault for cutting last week, but I'd had a day, and my wife was leaving in the morning. Now, I've got to make sure I get to the date of the exam right on Monday.

Anyway, so instead of Dutch, I'm at home waiting for the Beeb to start election coverage. The forgone nature of this election is taking all the fun out of it though. So, I'm spending the time trying to catch up on the blogs rather than studying, and now I'm starting to think about studying again.


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May 6, 2005

Great...

I try to get back into blogging on a day when nothing whatsoever seems to be happening in the world. Ye gods, it's a slow news day. Everything is about the UK election - which was such a foregone conclusion, except Howard's resignation - and a little bit about the elections in Palestine, which don't seem any more interesting than the UK ones.

Oh, and Texas is banning sexually suggestive cheerleading, which seems pretty much to defeat the purpose. Honestly, every now and then I wonder if I've fallen into a parallel universe. A couple months ago, everyone is discovering that Lebanon is full of hot Arab chicks, but in Texas, they want cheerleaders to wear burkas. Pretty soon, they be bitching about how promiscuous Islamic girls are corrupting the morals of Our Brave Troops.

If it's going to be a useless news day, I'll see if I can get a chapter from Grandpa out tomorrow.


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May 10, 2005

The PhD proposal - part 1

Real life strikes again. I'm moving forward on the PhD, doing some fixes on the proposal. This, once again, interrupting my ability to do other things, but that's for the best. I'm not going to flunk Dutch, so the studying can wait. I'm not going to have trouble with Russian - although why it takes five weeks to get an invitation letter through the Foreign Ministry is beyond me. I ought to be getting it in a week.

So, below the fold, part one of the PhD proposal. Critiques solicited. I will probably delete the content below the line after a week or so because I don't really want the search engines finding it. The idea is simple enough, and I really don't want to see someone else doing the same thing in the middle of my doctorate. Call me egotistical, or paranoid. Whatever.


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May 11, 2005

The PhD proposal - part 2

This is part 2 of the PhD proposal. It, too, will not last on the web. This part covers some of the more innovative elements of my proposal. Once again, I am soliciting comments. However, I did use AppleWorks built-in HTML converter, and that may cause some display problems.


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May 13, 2005

Is Newt changing sides?

From the NY Times:

Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, has been working alongside the former first lady on a number of issues, and even appeared with her at a press conference on Wednesday to promote - of all things - health-care legislation.

But more puzzling than that, Mr. Gingrich has been talking up Mrs. Clinton's presidential prospects in 2008, to the chagrin of conservative loyalists who once regarded him as a heroic figure. Last month, he even suggested she might capture the presidency, saying "any Republican who thinks she's going to be easy to beat has a total amnesia about the history of the Clintons."

What gives?[...]

The Clinton-Gingrich connection comes as Mrs. Clinton has increasingly staked out moderate positions in several areas. She has recently promoted a more gradual approach to guaranteeing health care for more Americans, a departure from her efforts in the 1990's, when Republican critics like Mr. Gingrich accused her of advocating a big-government takeover of the health care system.

Her recent views on the subject struck a chord with Mr. Gingrich, she recalled.

"Newt Gingrich called and said, 'You're absolutely right,' " Mrs. Clinton said.

As it turns out, Mr. Gingrich and Mrs. Clinton have a lot more in common now that they have left behind the politics of the 1990's, when she was a symbol of the liberal excesses of the Clinton White House and he was a fiery spokesman for a resurgent conservative movement in Washington.

Beyond the issue of health care, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich have forged a relatively close relationship working on a panel the Pentagon created to come up with ways to improve the nation's military readiness, according to people close to them.

Mr. Gingrich says he has been struck by how pro-defense Mrs. Clinton has turned out to be at a time when other Democrats have criticized President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq. He chalked that up to her experience in the White House, where her husband, as commander in chief, had to deal with grave national security matters.

"Unlike most members of the legislature, she has been in the White House," he said. "She's been consistently solid on the need to do the right thing on national defense." [...]

On Thursday, he reiterated his belief that she will be a formidable challenger if she decides to run for the presidency in 2008. "Any Republican who thinks she's going to be easy to beat in 2008 really misunderstands the Clintons."

Exactly why Mr. Gingrich has been so effusive about Mrs. Clinton is an open question. He says he has been impressed by the job she has done since becoming a senator.

But others say that he gains as much politically as she does by sharing a stage with her, at a time when he is said to be mulling over the possibility of running for the presidency in 2008

"It's mutually beneficial," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist. "He gets to appear to be a mainstream figure and she gets to appear as someone who is willing to work with everyone, no matter their ideology."

But Mr. Gingrich may end up paying a price politically for engaging in what many conservatives regard as heresy. "He is trying to change his image into a softer and more gentle Newt," said Michael Long, the chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. "That is a major mistake on his part."

Between this and the sudden vote of no confidence in John Bolotn as UN ambassador, is it possible that there are elements in the Republican party running scared from their own success?


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The Reds among us

Turns out I'm very close to a big Chinese espionage ring:

Une universit? belge pourrait abriter un r?seau d'espionnage industriel chinois

[...] Dans sa lettre d'informations bimensuelle Strategic Asia, l'Esisc, un centre de recherche stratégique basé à Bruxelles, affirme qu'"un véritable réseau multinational de renseignement économique piloté depuis la Belgique" serait à l'oeuvre. Une organisation "très classique" aurait été mise en place, explique l'Esisc : "Une association d'étudiants et de stagiaires totalement indépendante des structures diplomatiques chinoises, qui, pour des raisons évidentes, ne sont pas officiellement liées à ces opérations." [...]

L'Esisc ne cite pas cette organisation, "qui est dans le collimateur de plusieurs services de renseignement depuis plus de deux ans" , mais contre laquelle aucune action judiciaire n'a jamais été entreprise. Selon les informations recueillies par Le Monde, il s'agirait, en fait, de la Chinese Students and Scholars Association of Leuven (CSSAL). Elle regrouperait de 400 à 700 étudiants et chercheurs dans cette ville de Flandre où est basée l'Université catholique flamande de Louvain (KUL). Cet établissement a une longue tradition d'accueil d'étudiants chinois.

Trees Deloddere, qui dirige le bureau international de l'université, dit tout ignorer des soupçons éventuels pesant sur le CSSAL, indépendante de la KUL. Elle souligne toutefois que le dossier de chaque étudiant étranger est soumis à un examen attentif et examiné par la Sûreté de l'Etat, le service de renseignement intérieur et extérieur belge. "Pour quatre étudiants chinois admis, nous en refusons six, qui ne répondent pas aux critères requis, à savoir notamment des diplômes de haut niveau et la connaissance des langues" , explique Mme Deloddere.

La présidente chinoise de l'association affirme, elle aussi, tout ignorer des soupçons exprimés par certains services, où l'on dit avoir été alerté par les nombreux et fréquents déplacements des dirigeants de la KUL et leurs liens, discrets, avec les milieux diplomatiques chinois.

Of course, I know members of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association of Leuven, and I helped place a Chinese student in an internship at a technology firm his spring, as well as giving him recommendations for admission at Saarbrücken and the University of Memphis. So, I may have unwittingly been aiding a Chinese spy ring.

Probably not. Not that it's terribly unreasonable to think the Chinese government might want to spy on foreign high-tech firms, or that they would use the sharp increase in Chinese students in Europe as a cover to do so, but the terribly tentative and evidence-free nature of the accusation in Le Monde makes the whole thing seem more like a witch hunt than an actual discovery.

But that part abut "detailed examinations of ever Chinese student's application by the Belgian police and intelligence services" is just so much crap. The PRC could infiltrate a brigade into Belgum before anyone noticed. A lot of the Chinese students here are here because it's a lot cheaper and less complicated than trying to get into post-9/11 America.


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May 17, 2005

Galloway tells Senate to fuck off

I'm not a fan of George Galloway, but it's hard not to cheer this:

Galloway defends himself at US Senate

[...] "I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice," he told Senator Norm Coleman, the Republican subcommittee chairman.

"I am here today - but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever having written to me or telephoned me, without any contact with me whatsoever - and you call that justice." [...]

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong - and 100,000 have paid with their lives, 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies," Mr Galloway told Sen Coleman. [...]

Galloway's furious defence

[...] "As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns, I met him to try and bring an end to sanctions, suffering and war." [...]

I'd kinda like to see the full transcript. All the coverage has been brief, I gotta wonder what doesn't fit into a soundbite.

Update: You can download the video from here. Go Gorgeous George, go!


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May 18, 2005

Bookbuying when you're not the ordinary reader

John Emerson over at Idiocentrism has a piece up on finding those hard to get volumes. I can relate - I'm trying to get a Latin edition of Busbecq's Turkish Letters. If Niblett's going to have to learn Latin in the Belgian school system, I figure I ought to brush mine up. :^)

As for his specific questions, I have no answers. For Chinese books, I use a local shop specialised in Chinese, although I came across an excellent Chinese section at a small bookstore in Geneva a while back, but I've forgotten the name of the store. I had the same experience with ordering European books to come to an American address, but now that I live in Europe, I use the wife's APO box to order stuff from Amazon, and FNAC for most other stuff.

My Dutch exam is tomorrow, and the paperwork came through from Russia. So in the morning I'm off to the Russian consulate - which has no known open hours - and in the evening, the written exam in Dutch. Then, hopefully, I'll be posting.


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May 20, 2005

Y'know, I'm not sure this is technically impossible

Via Crooked Timber, what every blogger needs...


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May 21, 2005

And, the product my wife knows I don't need...

Via Electrolite's sidebar, a robot that does something I have no trouble doing myself.


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May 28, 2005

No title, no topic, just numbness and fear

I will not be blogging for a while. The truth is I don't know when I will be again.

My wife is experiencing a relatively rare side effect of amniocentesis - it has torn the chorion and she is leaking amniotic fluid. She is in the hospital with a week of forced bedrest. I don't know what the distribution of outcomes is in this kind of case. I do know that women and fetuses do recover from this sort of thing, that some pregnancies continue without trouble. I also know that many do not. And I don't care what the odds are - I only care what the outcome is for my wife and baby.

For those of you of a religious bent, please pray for my wife and child. I'm an agnostic, and I'm not really sure how God would treat prayers from the likes of me, but I'm trying anyway.

Obviously, I'm not going to Russia any time soon. I know the European referendum is coming up, I know there's a lot going on in the world. And I've had a hard time lately finding it in me to care enough to blog. Now, I can't even imagine it. I can't imagine any event taking place further away than my wife's room having any effect on me at all. I'm sorry.


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May 30, 2005

It looks like it may be okay

Kiera had another ultrasound today, and things are looking pretty good. Fluid looks a little low, but it may simly be normal for Kiera. It seems that it's not dangerously low. I cannot tell you what a relief this is. The chromosome test came in today too - my baby doesn't have trisomy 21 - a.k.a. Down's syndrome. Making sure of that was the whole reason we did an amnio. One more thing to be terrified of that I don't have to be terrified of. The rest of the chromosome test won't come in for a couple of weeks, but we're not at an elevated risk for anything else they can test that way. I still don't know the gender - they'll tell us when they've done the full work-up - but there's no important choices resting on that.

They only do an amnio when you say that you intend to take action based on the results. But if they do it, they do the full work-up. Abortion is not fully free in Belgium. The law does not recognise the notion of a "woman's right to choose" the way it does in the States. However, in practice there are few restrictions, and even when there are, the Netherlands isn't far away. But this is one of those categories that the law fully recognises in Belgium.

There were some tense moments though. They brought in an old analog baby heart monitor, and it took a while - I think about ten minutes, but it seemed like hours - to find the baby's heartbeat. Hearing it, getting that kind of reassurance... I can't tell you how that felt.

She's still in the hospital, and I'm not even going to consider going anywhere until she can go back to work. But, it's definitely looking up. Thank you everyone for your support.


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May 31, 2005

...and then, much worse...

There's an added complication. Now, my wife's blood test shows an inflammation. If it has passed to the baby, then the pregnancy has to be terminated. Unfortunately, the only way to be sure is to do another amniocentesis, but the fluid around the baby is still too low to do one.

One of the questions I thought I had an answer to has a different answer than the one I thought: It takes a week or more for anmiotic fluid levels to return to normal. Now we have to wait and wait before we know if we can continue with the pregnancy... and the doctors are saying it's maybe a 50-50 chance...

Oh Lord, this is hard. I don't know how I'm going to take a week of this. Yesterday, things were looking so good, now... all I know is that my baby is alive, his or her heart is beating at a normal rate. The amniotic fluid levels were much lower on Friday than I thought... Kiera stopped leaking because there was no longer any fluid to leak. Now, they've begun to come back up. Maybe the hole sealed, maybe it sealed before the infection. Maybe the amniotic membrane was intact enough to protect the baby. Maybe the inflammation they found in her blood was just a by-product of the trouble they've been having giving her an I.V. Maybe it will all be okay... and maybe not.

A life lesson for everyone: Worrying about things that haven't happened doesn't stop them from happening. If pre-emptive fear could immunise you from bad things happening, I would have no problems in life whatsoever. I've been so scared for so long... After all the trouble we had just conceiving, I was so terrified this pregnancy wouldn't last... and now that there's really something to be scared about, I haven't been spared an iota of that fear.


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