Live from Brussels

Musings from a bored analyst/project-manager.
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Saturday, September 13, 2003
Another Lefty with a Shattered Worldview

I just had a conversation with the webmaster of Stopusa (don't bother to visit, it is a forum with about the content you'd expect).

We got into a heated argument about the war and everything, and of course Israel came up.

'But the Palestinans declared a truce', he said. 'I've seen it on TV and read it in the papers! And still the Israeli's went on with military action...'

Luckily I had my laptop open, and a short google later... I pointed him to this page: 160 attacks and attempted attacks during the hudna.

'But... but... I haven't seen any of that in the media here... you mean they're... lying?!'


He then went off in search of a drink. I don't think I convinced him completely, but at least I've sown the seeds of doubt about the media, wich is more than enough for me!

Friday, September 12, 2003
Observations on America (7)

Back in full force...

  • In Belgium, radio stations are classified by audience: the 'serious' news channel, the family channel, the alternative youth channel, the mindless fun channel, the high-culture channel... (I'm sure my Flemish readers know which is which). In America, on the other hand, radio stations are classified by the musical genre they interrupt their commercials with now and then.

    My First Blog Party...

    Well, sort of... Yesterday I went to the launch party for the paper version of 'The Sprout' (website here). The Sprout deals mainly with internal EU shenanigans, but there is also a column reserved for Belgian and Flemish political news and commentary, which is written (among others) by yours truly.

    Well, sort of... I write stuff on this blog, and Gawain, the editor of 'The Sprout' picks out the things about Belgian and Flemish politics, polishes up my horrible writing and puts it on the site or in the paper, with my name on it. All of this with my permission, of course...

    But back to the party: except for Gawain, whom I knew only from his e-mails, I knew nobody at the pub in question where the event was scheduled. Luckily Gawain introduced me to three very nice chaps who were also blogging (the unpersons) and we spent a large part of the evening bashing socialism, drinking beer, ridiculing the French, drinking beer, getting worked up about the EU, eating subsidized burned pork meat, blaming the U.K. for everything in the world (including Belgium) and of course drinking beer.

    Apart from two short conversations with two other guys whose name I didn't quite catch, I didn't really talk to many other people. But that's probably because most of them were these suit-wearing, serious-looking E.U. types. But I'm sure they were also nice guys or they wouldn't have been invited to a Sprout party...

    Anyway, I look forward to attending more of these gatherings in the future...

    Damn! International: BREAKING NEWS: U.S. country singer Johnny Cash dies at his home near Nashville, aged 71. Details soon.

    He'll be missed...

    Thursday, September 11, 2003
    My September 11 Story

    I still remember the moment I first heard about the events of that day: it was afternoon here, and I was checking my inbox at work. Since we received a direct newsfeed from Belgium's main press agency to put on our portal website, I also got a copy of those dispatches in my mailbox (I was the technical guy responsible for the feed).

    Suddenly there was a message about a plane hitting one of the WTC towers in New York. I was baffled: a year before I had been on a road trip in the U.S.A., and while passing through New York I had decided due to time shortage and traffic madness not to visit the towers and keep that for some other time. But I had seen them from up close and couldn't imagine what it would be like if a plane hit those towers.

    I remember telling the people at the desks around me about the first plane, and the disbelief on their faces. 'This can't be true, some journalist overreacting, probably', someone said. So I decided to hit the news websites: CNN, dead, MSNBC, dead, BBC, dead... Oh, oh, oh, this looks really big... By now my colleagues were also searching for news. I checked my inbox again, and there was more: a second plane, and a report of a carbomb in Washington...

    Since major sites were down, we hit, a geek message forum/news site, and through the posted messages were able to piece together what was going on. We also went on IRC (internet chat) and joined the #NewYork and #WTC channels which had sprung up. There were literally hundreds of people in those chatrooms! I had never seen anything like it.

    The confusion was terrible: people were typing live news updates as they watched their TV-sets, and others were commenting at the same time. Messages flew by at an amazing speed. Rumors went wild: there were ten or fifteen other planes missing. There were potential other targets being discussed. Jets were being sent up to shoot the missing passenger planes... or weren't they? Someone even said one of the towers had fallen down, obviously a troll looking for attention. Surely such a thing could never happen?

    By then, we managed to get some pictures of the burning towers from a news site that wasn't down yet. The bigger sites also started coming back, slowly, with lighter and faster loading front pages in order to handle the avalanche of visitors. More reports on the chat: indeed, one of the towers had fallen!

    But the rumors continued: some guy kept repeating that the U.S. had declared nuclear war against Pakistan. People quickly scanned the news sites and their TV, but nobody could confirm it, and the guy gave no source. Relief set in, if you could call it that, and the troll was ignored from then on.

    Meanwhile, I read more news e-mails: NATO-headquarters, just two kilometres away from our office, was being evacuated, along with all offices near to it. I remember thinking: "Great: the closest thing to WWIII is happening, and what do the folks at NATO do? Take a day off!".

    By this time, we remembered there was a TV in the break room in the basement, and we headed down there. The fact that the ceiling there was made of reinforced concrete surely had nothing to do with that at all.

    It was eerie, seeing the images on TV for the first time. Upto that moment, we had seen everything happen over the internet. We had some pictures, a few video clips and loads and loads of comments and chat messages. But on TV everything looked much clearer and more horrifying.

    I remember thinking: "It is going to get really hot real quick somewhere once the Americans figure out who did this!"

    September 11 in Belgium

    So far, the only mention of this 'anniversary' in the media here today seems to be the release of the 'new' Bin Laden tape. Unfortunately, as always since the end of major combat in Afghanistan, it is impossible to verify the time the tape was made from the contents of it. This could mean a few things:
  • Binny is a brown smear on a wall in some Afghan cave, and various of his 'supporters' keep cutting and pasting old footage to make hime look more alive than he really is. This is vital in attracting new jehadi warriors and for securing funding.
  • Binny is not dead, but just resting or something. He is also afraid that the CIA will be able to find him if he appears in a clear video which can be dated. Better to keep the infidels guessing if he is really dead or not, by releasing distorted and undateable footage on purpose. This footage also serves to keep up the spirits of his 'loyal followers', giving them something to talk about.
  • Binny is not dead, but hiding and staying out of sight. Even many of his followers don't have a clue where he is or if he is still alive. But in the best Arab media tradition, they try to keep the illusion going for the outside world. See also: Ali, Comical and Peace Process, Israeli-Palestinian.

    Observations on America - None Today

    For today I thought it proper to observe a moment of silence instead...

    Wednesday, September 10, 2003
    Observations on America (6)

    We continue...

  • Although fuel is (by European standards) extremely cheap in America, driving isn't: just try finding a free parking spot near any place worth going to and you'll discover why...

    I Love It When That Happens...

    This morning on the Belgian radio news: Fientje Moerman, minister of economic affairs, lamenting about the woes the Kyoto protocol is causing. Either it means very heavy investments in even further (minimal) polution reduction (which causes companies to run away and jobs to be lost) or it means sending large amounts of cash abroad for no good reason ('buying clean air elsewhere'). And some people in the government even want to put a cap on the amount of 'clean air' that can be bought elsewhere, thus forcing the loss of jobs.

    Oh, and since there is policy to 'get out of nuclear energy' in Belgium, the pollution reduction forced on the industry has to be more severe than it already was when the protocol was signed: Nuclear plants don't emit greenhouse gasses, but their future replacements surely will.

    Freya Van Den Bossche, the minister for the environment, refused to comment.

    Some in the current cabinet blame the cabinet of two governments ago for having made a bad deal: the Germans and the French, you see, are much better off... They just have to close some old plants they were already going to close anyway, and their commitment is fulfilled. Not fair!

    Seems reality is finally setting in on the 'new' cabinet: Kyoto is nothing but a sham to extract jobs and money from rich countries in exchange for... air!

    However, logic is still problematic for them, because so far nobody even suggested maybe we should get out of the treaty entirely. That solution would probably be too... American ;-)

    Tuesday, September 09, 2003
    Good News!

    You have to dig deep to find it, but here it is: : No U.S. Casualties in Iraq for 7 Days.
    Now you try searching Google and see if there are more sites mentioning this:Google News search for 'seven days'. So far it's just Rush Limbaugh and MSNBC reporting it...

    Observations on America (5)

    And more...

  • People say the average American is bad at recycling. I found that not to be true at all. One of the things most recycled in America seem to be geographical names. It must have been that the early settlers ran out of names for new towns pretty quickly so they started taking names from places back home and simply put 'New' in front of them (New York, New Hampshire...). After a while that source of names ran dry too and they had to re-use names of locations that already existed. And so they ended up with over thirty towns called 'Springfield', to give just one example...

  • Monday, September 08, 2003
    Observations on America (4)

    We keep on observing...

  • From popular movies and books everybody in the world knows that various Indian tribes once lived and still do live in various parts of the United States of America. Less well know is the existence of large numbers of Indian tribes in China. They must live there, because of the many 'Indian' souvenir shops in the Southwestern areas of the U.S. selling stuff that comes in boxes marked 'Made in China'...