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Wednesday
Jun012016

Gabon

Tuesday
May312016

Weirdest perfume brand ever

Huh? Playmobil perfume? Who is this marketed at? Four year olds who have a refined taste for expensive perfumes? Completely clueless rich relatives? I just don't get how this exists.

Sunday
May222016

Family portrait

Sunday
May152016

Pike Place Markets, Seattle

Friday
May132016

I’ll be there to wake you up

Nausea roiled in her stomach and bile rose up her throat as she walked down the long metallic corridor, illuminated by a harsh artificial light. Could be worse, Jill thought.  For many, the longevity treatment left them puking in their cabins for days, racking up debt to the colonists. Jill could still work at least, long hours of systems analytics to repay her berth on this intergalactic cattle-car.

“Diff”, Jill acknowledged the dour man passing her, clad in the same grey overalls.

“Diff”, a grunt in reply, without eye contact.

Diff. Doing it for frosties. The emotion had drained from the phrase decades ago. For many, it had been said with irony and a tinge of bitterness, resentful of the inhuman requests imposed upon the crew in service for the colonists. For Jill, it had been said with pride and defiance. Like others in the crew, she was buying her way to the new world through lifetimes of servitude, while the colonists lay there cryogenically frozen, to be thawed upon arrival as if no time had passed in between. Unlike most, though, she harboured a love for two of the frozen. Jill and her husband wanted nothing more than to give their son a chance to grow up on a fresh planet, an opportunity to escape the stifling mass of Earth’s demoralised humanity. Every credit they were able to put together could only buy two colonial tickets, so Jill was buying her future as a member of the crew. It was the hardest decision of her life to separate, but she couldn’t bear to imagine her little boy frozen in solitude.

I’ll be there to wake you up in our new lives, Jill had whispered as her son had cried during the freezing procedure, scared by unfamiliarity. I’ll be there to wake you up in our new lives, Jill had promised her husband, as gave him one last savage kiss.  I’ll be there to wake you up in our new lives, Jill had told herself over and over during the mind-numbing first years aboard the claustrophobic hulk accelerating towards the stars. A lifetime later, and Jill could barely remember those moments. Like the rest, Jill felt more automation than person. Oh, Opportunity held recreation rooms and amusements, but Jill shunned those. The fools who used them would find their place on the new planet no better than that on Earth. No, constant work would buy a berth and the longevity treatments and no more, and Jill refused to start her their new life in debt.

Four centuries changes a person. Most learned to adapt. Longevity treatments sustained the body, but the human brain has a finite capacity for memory. When the old life was washed out, the new became normal. Others couldn’t take it, and spaced. A quick override of an air-lock was the easiest out, but others were less predictable. After a crew member in the cryogenics department spaced and started to smash life-support units, Jill gained a promotion and the hours of leisure time needed to live and love once again. The well-worn metallic walls were home now, and the crew were friends and enemies, with even a few ex-lovers.

The approach to Kepler-452b was causing Jill insomnia. Opportunity was her world. The steel shell was her protector. Its corridors she could navigate by memory alone, and every room held memories. Deceleration had started a hundred years before without fanfare, but tomorrow she was starting the unthawing process for the colonists. She was finally having to face the end of the voyage. Could she bear to live beyond the familiarity of these walls? The thought of being on-planet, with no protective steal between her and the void of space, scared her. How lost she would be without all she knew?

“Perhaps I should sign up for the return voyage?” Jill whispered into the night. Most of the crew already had. Even without her work in the cryogenics unit, which would be empty on the return, the pay would be significantly better, open access to more little luxuries. No skilled technicians on Kepler-452b looking to return to Earth. Jill still couldn’t understand why she hadn’t signed her contract, sitting now on her workspace. She could not imagine any other life, yet something inside her was holding her back. “Just sign, Jill, don’t be silly”, she told herself. Instead, without understanding why, she started crying, and sobbed into her pillow until sleep came.

The indecision still consumed Jill the next day. She shoved down the turmoil as she initiated the defrost procedure on the first batch of cryogenic units. Procedure complete, she turned to the second batch as the medical team moved in. She bit on her lip as she tried to concentrate beyond the rising noise of the bay.

“Jill!” the shout penetrated the fog of her mind just as a hand on her shoulder spun her around. An unfamiliar face laughed and bent in for a kiss. She staggered as she pushed away the stranger. Confusion joined fear as she saw the hurt on his face, “Jill, it’s me, what’s wrong?” Paralysis still gripped her as she was hit in the stomach, the full-force of an enthusiastic five year old jumping into her arms. “Mummy!”

Knocked down to the ground, overwhelmed with emotions and a little boy’s kisses, without understanding why Jill whispered, “I’m here to wake you up for our new lives”.

Saturday
May072016

A spring day in St Truden

Thursday
May052016

This escalates quite fast

Story from Hayden

I sometimes worry about what happens at school. "Daddy, today I wasn't punched in the face by anyone". Ah... good?

Saturday
Apr302016

Things I had forgotten about the US

Toilet doors. The doors have this big gap at the top and the bottom. I have a theory about the bottom gap. My guess is that toilet doors were designed by a cat, and they wanted to ensure that they could walk anywhere, any time. Why should humans be able to shut out cats when they go to the toilet? What I don't get though is why toilet doors only come up to eye-height. In such a puritanical country, why do toilet doors need to be made so that tall people can see over them?

Polished fruit. Having a fruit bowl at conference breaks is nice, but it weirds me out just how perfect and reflective each piece of fruit is. Is there someone who's job it is to pick out the fruit with the perfect shade and then polish the surface? Along with the fruit there are the unhealthy nibbles, like every conference internationally, but here they are all pre-packaged bags of chips and bars. For some reason it feel odder to pick up a bag of chips then to take a handful from a bowl that has been put out.

Getting carded when asking for a beer. I am literally a grey-beard now, and yet I still got carded when I asked for a beer at a coffee shop. The barista took my Belgian ID card and examined it carefully before saying she couldn't work it out and giving me the beard anyway. 

 

Sunday
Apr032016

I feel the Bern, but I would love to see Hillary as President

Bernie Sanders is my type of politician. A dishevelled cranky old man, not afraid to call himself a socialist and willing to remain an outsider his whole career? Yes please. I've followed his career for more than 10 years, as the only politician that struck a cord with me when I moved to America. I'd love to see more like him in the Senate, and hopefully on the Supreme Court too.

Hillary Clinton is a woman I admire immensely (and I'm not alone, she has been the most admired woman in the world for 20 times in a row). She has stayed strong and true to herself despite 25 years of the most vitriolic attacks in political history. In today's world it is often easy (especially for men, and younger women) to forget just how ground-breaking she was. Hillary broke through the glass ceiling again and again in her legal career, and when Bill's political career took off she got an enormous amount of criticism for not fading into the background, only to be heard of when giving out cookie recipes. I've wanted Hillary to be President since 2008, when the policy wonk in me preferred her 20-point plans to Obama's Americana rhetoric.

When there are two good candidates (a problem Republicans would love to have!), why do I prefer Hillary?

First, I admire Hillary's heart. Hillary and Bernie have very similar politics*. But Bernie's progressivism is driven by righteous anger (like mine), while Hillary's is driven by compassion and love (like Lydia's). Always has been, going back to her highschool days. Bernie has had the luxury of being himself in public, while Hillary has had to hide that behind a public persona**, thanks to her position and the double standards of sexism. But the heart shines through. 

Second, I think Hillary has a better shot at winning the general election, and this will be one of the most important elections in American history. I know, Bernie-bros, that right now Sanders has better general election polling than Clinton. But the difference is, no one has ever run an attack ad against Sanders. You are dreaming if you think that the Republicans will pull their punches, and Sanders (like everyone) has dirty laundry that will be aired. There is nothing new that can be raised against Hillary - the Republicans ran out of real attacks years ago, and even their manufactured pseudo-scandals have been pre-factored in with the polls. And let's not forget - Sanders is not even winning Democrats - at the moment he has 2.5 million fewer votes in the primaries, and (except online) more Democrats are enthusiastic about Hillary than Bernie.

Third, symbols matter. Progressive politics is not just about the White House, it is about transforming society. Probably the most important transformation is one of equal opportunity. This needs to happen not just from the top, but also from the ground-up, which means every child needs to really feel like they have opportunity. With Obama, a whole generation of black kids have grown up knowing that a black man can become a great President. With Hillary Clinton, girls will finally have a role model succeeding to the very top. Will it end sexism? Of course not, but it will provide strength and inspiration to some women to defy sexism.

Fourth, I just think Hillary Clinton would make a better President. The President is not a King. The President needs to assemble a team of the very best, and then negotiate with some of the worst (most importantly, the Senate). Hillary has the A-team already lined up, the very best of Bill and Obama's team, plus her own network from an entire lifetime in service to the Democratic party. Plus, Hillary knows how to negotiate in the Senate. As Senator for New York, she was well recognised by both parties as being the person to cross the aisle and get deals through. Hillary may not be the natural in public that Bill or Obama are, but in these small groups she shines. How about Bernie? One of the most progressive Senators, Barny Frank, is blunt: "Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out". I love the fact that the guy is pure, but being unwilling to negotiate often means you get nothing. Like the way he voted against the auto-bailout, which he liked, because it included the bank-bailout, which ended up making money. Ultimately, I want a Democrat President who can get progressives onto the Supreme Court, and I think that Hillary's negotiation skills will do more than Bernie's ultimatums***. 

So, Hillary Clinton / Cory Booker 2016!

 

*They voted the same 93% of the time in the Senate. And the 7% difference was not always with Bernie to the left. On financial regulation he was mostly to the left of Hillary, but on guns and science Bernie was to the right.

** Which is not to say that she is dishonest, just justifiably guarded. Objective fact-checking puts Hillary as the most honest candidate in the race. Bernie is not far behind, and both are miles better than the Republicans

*** Not to mention, Hillary's willingness to raise money to get more Democrats elected. Those expensive fundraisers that Bernie criticises Hillary for? Most of the money goes to down-ticket Democrats. Bernie's never raised money for other Democrats

Saturday
Apr022016

Living under military occupation

Four months ago, Paris was hit. Two weeks ago, we were hit in Brussels. It was a senseless tragedy, violence destroying lives. Does that make anything and everything a government does in the name of security allowable?

In most countries, being the target of an attack brings out the patriotism, with the city targetted becoming a symbol of the country. In Belgium, just an association with Paris attacks was enough to have leading politicans come out against Brussels, slandering the city every which way. It is hard to blame the international media for buying up gullible stories of Brussels being jihad-central, when those same stories are peddled for political purposes by certain Belgian politicians. Still, it is tough to bear the self-satisfied smugness of American media claiming that Europe is much worse than America in integrating Muslims. Clearly they are clueless about Muslims in Belgium, and just as clearly they are drinking the kool-aid of patriotism when they ignore the racial, religious and social fragmentation of America (especially when the US primaries brings it up for such clear display). 

So we had our idiotic lock-down after the Paris attacks. And it turns out, putting military boys with big guns on every street corner does not actually stop explosions. Huh. Maybe the Belgian security apparatus would have been better served by concentrating on intelligence rather than repressive symbolism. You know, the opposite of capturing Salah Ab Salah Abdeslam, issuing a press release that he is going to help the police, and then taking a long weekend rather than actually asking him about any plans for an attack. 

Now what?

I want my city to heal. In the short-term, we need to make a conscious effort to bring normality back to our lives. We need to walk through the city, have a beer, eat chocolate at a cafe, smile at strangers. In the long-term, we need to fix the economic situation of immigrants, and we need to tear down the barriers that hinder integration. We need to make sure immigrants can buy houses and get jobs, becoming invested in the community. We need to hire immigrants for our police forces and put them in parliament and on TV as role-models. We need to make sure that children going to the poorest schools have the brightest opportunities. Yes, we are far ahead of America and even much of Europe on most of these fronts, but there is hard work to be done. We need to start today.

That is my vision for the future. What about the vision of the Belgian politicians who toy with Brussels for political gain? They advocate the opposite. In the short-term, they want Brussels to cower in fear, to be... terrorised. The arteries of the city, the metro, is either erratic or shut-down (with mysterious inconviences that seem to actually decrease safety, such as shutting down almost all the exits). We are told to not come out in public. In fact we were actually admonished for coming out to demonstrate for peace and healing of our city, to which I, for one, said "tough luck":

As for the long-term... well, there is no long-term plan. One suspects that the planning ends at the next election (although how they plan to campaign mystifies me: "vote for N-VA/MR, we took away civil liberties, destroyed tourism and didn't keep you safe!"). There is good work being done at the local level, but at the Federal level, there is no interest in helping Brussels. No, check-that, there is an actual interest in holding Brussels up as a threat or a warning, in painting Brussels as a hell-hole to gain votes in the rest of the country.

Today the American embassy sent our a warning to all American citizens living in Belgium:

The U.S. Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to continue to maintain a heightened sense of awareness, and to continue to avoid large crowds or areas that might attract a substantial gathering of people. 

Additionally, several other simple security processes can also help mitigate risk as you go about your day.

When possible, vary your route to work or school or to shopping. Rather than taking the same route each day, you should have two or three deviations you can randomly choose from. The entire route need not be different, but even minor deviations can be beneficial. Also, leave from work or school at different times.

Searching your automobile each morning, especially if you park outside, is also an important safety step. Start with a 360 degree sweep, looking around and under the vehicle. Be alert for anything suspicious, such as wire, tape or string. Be systematic -- start and finish your search at a predetermined point. Look for any out-of-place packages or items in, on, attached or under the vehicle, and/or tool marks on the vehicle or other indications of forced entry.

I mean, come on! Brussels is not Baghdad. It is a thriving, cosmopolitan and international European capital, which just happened to get hit by a couple of criminals. The life you advocate is... not living. I can deal with a remote possibility of a freak death. Plane crashes, factory explosions, terrorist attacks - they happen. Not often, but they happen. It doesn't keep me awake at night, and I'm not going to be unhappy today about what probably won't happen tomorrow. What I can't deal with is the daily repression we are currently dealing with. For four months Brussels has been under military occupation. I hate seeing camouflaged boys with machine guns on every corner. I hate being worried that some freaked-out over-trained kid will panic when they see someone running for a train, and respond with a shower of bullets. I moved out of America because I don't want to be surrounded by guns. I don't want Hayden to grow up thinking it is normal to see machine guns and tanks outside our house. Knowing that their presence is the equivalent of Trump protesting he has large hands just makes it all worse. 

I love Brussels and I love Belgium. I want to be part of the movement to make our city better than it ever has been. But I can't live under military occupation indefinitely. 

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