Adventures in Bureaucracy
Saturday, September 27, 2003
This just in: Reuters will no longer use the term "Yellow Sea" in its reporting in order to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. It shall henceforth be known as the "Asian Sea".
Why Australia is our best friend (via Tim Blair). My favorite line:

In short, we need a great and muscular ally if the satay hits the fan.

The piece boils everything down to pure politics and self-interest, but I think there's a lot more to the relationship than that. The cultural bonds are strong as well. I think that's because Australia has become much more confident in its own identity, particularly in the last decade or so. The days of trying to be like Britain are gone. Australia also doesn't have that inferiority complex that Canada seems to have, so that the Canadian identity is defined by its contrasts to the United States. Thus, Australia can share America's values - things like freedom, openness, fair play, and the like - without feeling that its own identity is being swamped by a creeping tide of Americana (not that there hasn't been enough whingeing about that, talk of being the 51st state and all).

A closer look at the American entertainment juggernaut that is destroying all in its path (like, say, the French film industry) reveals that it's not just American. Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett... They're everywhere! Aussies in Hollywood - it's not just the Paul Hogan-Crocodile Hunter stereotype any more. Those numbers have got to mean there's some deeper affinity to the United States.

Is Australia with us in the war on terror because of self-interest? Sure. The war is about Islamic fundamentalism, and though it may be far from everywhere else, Australia is close to a country where that fundamentalism is spreading. This war is Australia's war as well. But is that the only reason? Maybe there's something to all the talk about an Anglosphere after all.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
There's been a good amount of complaining over perceived slants in Reuters' coverage of just about everything. I've got nothing to say about that in particular, but it certainly does look like the place has been taken over by the over-sensitive.

Not to announce where I stand on this particular issue, but this question makes it seem that Reuters has picked a side whether it meant to or not:

"Why do you use 'anti-abortion' instead of 'pro-life'?
The logical linguistic counterpart for 'pro-life' would be 'anti-life'. We feel this would oversimplify the debate over a very complex and emotionally charged issue.

By that argument, wouldn't the "logical linguistic counterpart" to "anti-abortion" be "pro-abortion"? Other papers get around that quandary by using the terms that each side uses to describe itself - thus "pro-choice" vs "pro-life". But my personal favorite bit from the Reuters style book:

"Why do you say 'The Gulf' when you mean the Persian Gulf?
Persian Gulf implies the waterway belongs to Iran. Gulf is neutral.

That has got to be the single most idiotic statement I have read in a long time, and I read a lot of government memoranda. Since when has it been non-neutral to call a thing by its name? As far as I'm aware, there is no Falklands vs Malvinas thing about that particular body of water, in which competing claimants give the same place different names. And how does "Persian" imply that not that it's a body of water located near historic Persia (the country changed its name a long time ago), but that the whole place is territorially part of Iran?

By that line of reasoning, shouldn't Reuters neutrally describe Diego Garcia, the Maldives and the Seychelles as being in "the Ocean", since they wouldn't want to imply that the whole place belongs to India? And how do they refer to that body of water between Texas and Florida? Is it "the other Gulf" so as not to infer ownership by Mexico?

Perhaps if they'd stop worrying about being emotive and started trying to be clear...
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
I've heard of cutting off a nose to spite one's face, but this is just ridiculous.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
How easy it is to take the conveniences of modern life for granted. It's been days since hurricane Isabel tore through the area, and people are still without power in the area. Thunderstorms last night didn't help much. I stopped off at the grocery store last night to resupply, but their supply line hasn't been fully restored yet. The office computer network was completely screwed for most of the day, and try doing anything productive in a modern office without a computer. The produce section was stripped of almost everything but root vegetables and the shelves of bottled water were almost empty. I stopped off at a Vietnamese grocery this evening, and the lights were still out in the refrigerator case, and all the meat and fish sections were empty. By this time next week I'm sure life will be completely back to normal with Isabel a fading memory, but for now it was still a sobering reminder of how fragile the constructs of urban life can be.

Still, Mona Charen's piece on the subject is a little harsh. Yes, most people bear the situation with good grace, but try living the better part of a week without electricity and power. Frayed nerves are understandable. It's one thing if you're in Yosemite and quite another in your own home. Reading things like thispiece on life in Richmond make me more thankful that the worst thing to happen to me was the lost of some frozen chicken breasts.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
This needed to be said. The trend among people I know has been to give their children last names as first names, which is irritating, almost as annoying as "non-traditional" spellings. Of course, if I ever have children, I want old-fashioned names, like Margaret or Prudence. This may in part explain why I don't have children already.
OK, I'll admit it. I'm vain and I periodically check this site out in Google. Today I tried the sites that Google that are similar to this one, and the top one is KyberSmok, a Czech-language blog on current events and such. I don't flash back to the old country that much, do I?

Anyhow, scanning the site reminded me of how much Czech I have forgotten, and of how rough the language is. Like most of my classmates, I studied the language after learning some Russian (although about all that's left of THAT is the Cyrillic alphabet). I'd always thought of Russian as a rather difficult language, but it's got nothing on Czech, which has seven grammatical cases as well as a few sounds not present in Russian (or English either, for that matter). Seeing the entry "Dobré a spatné clanky o blozich" reminded me of the consonant shifts that I had forgotten about almost entirely, which Russian didn't do so much. The base word in the second part of "o blozich" is "blog" (took me a few seconds to figure that one out) - the "g" converts to "z" when it's put through the declensions.

It may be time to go back to re-learn the language... ale bohuzel muj prizvuk byl a bude strasny (ja neumim psat hacki, carki a tak dale, mam americky komputr).
Opus vivat. Not everyone is happy.
So that was hurricane Isabel. The Washington area got off pretty lightly, all things considered. My power came back late Friday afternoon, but it was off long enough to necessitate tossing all the meat and dairy products from the fridge and freezer (as well as lots of unidentifiable stuff at the back that I probably should have dumped weeks... well, OK, months ago. So I'm not the best housekeeper. Some big tree branches came down in my neighborhood, and my building's parking lot is still littered with all the other stuff that blew down in the storm. That means I had it easy compared to other people in the metro area. Isabel seems to have come apart pretty fast once it came ashore, so we in northern Virginia were largely spared the damage that happened further south in Virginia and North Carolina.

The biggest criticism I've heard has been that people in the Washington area overreacted to the whole hurricane situation, and in fact to weather in general. A friend of mine (another fed) thought that there was no reason for the government to close down on Thursday, since the storm didn't get really bad until that afternoon, but in retrospect I don't think it was such a bad idea. The people who make the decisions have been burned by criticism for staying open on some snow days, with resulting traffic snarls, confusion and general chaos. All the predictions on Wednesday night had Isabel affecting the DC area by mid-afternoon, the Metro was closing at 11 a.m. and just about every school district in the area had closed down already. By closing the government on Thursday, OPM kept the roads clear and allowed everyone to make last-minute preparations.

I feel bad for all the children in the Washington metro area. Here it is, still September, and already the little tykes have missed two days because of Isabel, with many missing yet another day tomorrow. This is on top of the days missed after thunderstorms caused extensive power outages during the first week of school at the end of August. If there are snow days this winter, those kids are going to be in school through next July.

And a note to Steve at PragueBlog - I remember that blizzard. You should have been here for the one we had over Presidents' Day this year, which was bad even by Central European standards. And don't worry about me. Domino's is still delivering!
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Oh, whoops. I forgot to mention the obligatory shots of lone surfers on the waves as part of every TV report. And I watched CBS tonight, but Dan Rather was in the studio, keeping a tight rein on the similes.
OPM says it's another day off because of Isabel. It felt like I was playing hooky today, but at least it got me out of a meeting. If I'd known I would have four days off I would have gone to Las Vegas.
Let Hurricane Isabel serve as a reminder that EVERY TV report of EVERY hurricane is exactly the same. There's always some reporter in a poncho standing on a beach next to a pier (and you just know the reporter is hoping part of the pier comes crashing down during a live report), shouting to be heard over the wind noise that the worst is yet to come. The reporter then motions to the cameraman to get dramatic footage of waves, bending trees, downed power lines or flapping roof, but the camera lens is always obscured by rain.

I want something different. At 6:30 I want to see Dan Rather lashed to the main mast of a sailboat at some Chesapeake Bay marina telling the world about Isabel.
Washington may be the capital of the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, but it's always interesting to get the reminders that there are higher powers that just can't be ignored.
Another federal employee with the day off. He's also better prepared than I am, with a 12 pack of Saranac Trail Mix and a fifth of Maker's Mark. I've got tuna, peanut butter, and some cooking sherry, which somehow doesn't sound nearly as good.
Looks like a lot of people are in the path of the storm, and Meryl Yourish is banding them all together in the Axis of Isabel. At least she's prepared. Sure, I've got water, food and a manual can opener guaranteed not to be affected by any power outages, but she snaked her drain AND has an operational flashlight. If things get bad, I'll just be sitting in the dark eating tuna out of a can.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Looks like I don't have to go into work tomorrow. I think the government usually goes by the Metro system, and they're closing that at 11 a.m. Apparently the winds are supposed to gust above 40 mph, which could blow people off platforms and in front of subway trains. In a city full of lawyers, that's probably a prudent move by Metro. And God knows that a normal rainfall does enough bad things to traffic around here, so I can only imagine how badly a hurricane would snarl things.

At least my hatches are battened down - the plants are off the balcony, the supplies of food and water are in the cupboard, and I'm ready for any power outages that come my way.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Uh oh. This isn't good.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
"They gave up the rights to justice when they embraced the hippie lifestyle."
NOTE TO FRENCH "SATIRISTS": Irak - 2003 n'est pas Algerie - 1954. Merci.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
Oh my. (via The Corner)
Damn that Rupert Murdoch and his networks! And to think that Al Gore has been warning of the danger all this time.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Interesting move, and it makes a lot of sense in some ways. Morale in the air marshal program by all accounts is in the sewer for a lot of reasons, but I would think a dead boring job and lack of advancement opportunities play a big part in it. This move should give them hope.

Of course, the rest of the agents who are suddenly drafted as "reservists" probably won't be too thrilled with temporary airplane duty.

And it looks like no matter what else happens with the Department on the first of March, the people who do training have lots of job security.
Arellanes celebrates the pleasures of being a carnivore over at his blog, and PragueBlog picks up the thread. As much as I enjoyed Czech cuisine, the Slovenes have got them beat. They don't call the place "Hot Horse" for nothing. It actually wasn't too bad. It kind of tasted -no, not like chicken- a gyro. They say it's just the thing for a cold winter's day...
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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