March, 2003

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Suicide bombing’s real casualties

Monday, March 31st, 2003

Seven members of an Iraqi family were killed when US troops opened fire on their truck which failed to stop at a checkpoint in southern Iraq. There’s no doubt in my mind that the most terrible impact of last weekend’s suicide bombing—and Iraq’s threat of more to come—is that these kinds of tragedies will become all too frequent. Sadly one could view this from the Iraqi regime’s point of view as a “side benefit” of suicide attacks, as incidents like this are likely to erode support for the US-led coalition and its efforts.

Still, I’m surprised whenever I hear suicide bombings described as “unprecedented” war tactics; doesn’t anybody remember the kamikaze attacks of World War II?

That being said, I would hesitate to compare the latter with this new breed of suicide bombers: from what I’ve read and heard, kamikaze attackers (pilots mainly, though attacks occurred on land and sea as well) were volunteers—and they didn’t try to hide themselves amongst civilians. The contrast could not be greater: the Japanese willingly died to save their own people; the Iraqi regime willingly sacrifices its own people to preserve its grip on power.

Dark headline humour

Monday, March 31st, 2003

The main headline at CNN’s website currently reads “Pentagon: Some Iraqi elite forces cut in half”.

Well, some were probably blown to bits, too.

Death, taxes and stupidity

Monday, March 31st, 2003

I liquidated a couple managed-asset accounts last year, each of which held between fifty and a hundred different stocks, thereby creating almost two hundred taxable stock sale events on my 1099B forms—all of which had to be entered into the TaxCut Pro software I used.

To make matters worse, I switched investment firms last year, and while the aforementioned accounts did get transferred, all the cost and purchase date information—how much I paid for each stock and when I bought it—somehow got lost in the process. Consequently, a couple tedious hours of data entry became a dozen hours of forensic excavation through a year’s worth of transaction records and account statements.

And finally, to add insult to injury, according to TaxCut Pro I can’t file my taxes electronically because “the IRS doesn’t accept returns with more than 97 capital gain transactions”. Funny, I must have been crazy to think that the point of using computers was to reduce paperwork…

So, what we have is information that was in Merrill Lynch’s computers, got printed and sent to me on paper, got re-entered into the TaxCut software, will get printed out again as my tax return, only to be re-entered by some unfortunate cog slaving away in the bowels of the IRS. The pointlessness and stupidity of it all never fails to astound.

Real reality TV

Sunday, March 23rd, 2003

This weekend the fighting in Iraq started looking more like a war in all its chaos, confusion, ugliness and tragedy. I can only hope that the all-too-vivid details seen on television will not wear down Americans’ resolve to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion, for (in my mind) the worst of all scenarios is not war or no war, but a war of half-measures fought to no particular end.

Watching as enemy fire throws sparks as it ricochets off the armour of American tanks, as coalition troops spray bullets at Iraqi positions, I’m struck how the live coverage on CNN eerily resembles scenes from the Ghost Recon games I play, the crucial difference being that it’s real, and terribly nerve-wracking as a result. I’m thankful I don’t have to be out there—something foremost on my mind this tax season. Granted, being Canadian I wouldn’t be out there regardless; nevertheless, paying a heap of money to have someone else face those dangers seems like a pretty good deal.

As the horrors of war begin to surface, the words of a U2 song keep running through my head:


Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth?
This peace on Earth

Catch(word) o’ the day

Friday, March 21st, 2003

CNN and the American news media seem to have locked on to a new catch word/phrase with the new war in Iraq:

“The battle for Umm Qasr had been expected to take between one to two hours but took four hours, CNN’s Jason Bellini said. He is embedded with the USMC Expeditionary Unit, 15th Artillery.” (CNN.com)

“In Ar Rumaylah, U.S. Marines battled four oil well fires during the night, bringing two of them under control by dawn, said Philip Ray Smith, a pool reporter embedded with Britain’s 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.” (CNN.com)

Embedded with the troops, Fox News’ Oliver North interviewed the commander of the helicopter unit that crashed, Jerry Driscoll.” (FoxNews.com)

Okay, so we get it: there are reporters with some of the troops in Iraq. When did simply “with” become an insufficient term, necessitating “embedded with”? I take it “embedded” means that the journalists are not simply just tagging along on their own. Still, the term seems to have quickly fallen into overuse.

Interesting times

Thursday, March 20th, 2003

At least I won’t have to hear about the Smart case for the next little while…

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

Monday, March 17th, 2003

[shamrock... of course]

Being mindful of the state of the world today, here’s my (non-Irish) Saint Patrick’s Day toast for these troubled times: “Happy Saint Patrick’s to all: may we live to see peace in our time. Sláinte!

I don’t get it

Friday, March 14th, 2003

It seems I’m the only one who gave only passing interest to this story about the recovery of abducted teenager Elizabeth Smart. Sure, I’m happy for the family, but other than that I just don’t see what the big fuss is all about. Thousands of children go missing every year. Many meet a tragic end; many don’t. The reporting of one such case—as unusual as it may be—seems purely incidental to me.

I suppose it’s just a sign of the masses desperately hungry for a feel-good story in these times of war and conflict…

Yay!

Wednesday, March 12th, 2003

Seems to be a pretty good week for consumer rights, given the following stories I’ve spotted in the past few days:

  • “Bush signs bill to help block telemarketing calls” (CNN): hopefully this means the national “do-not-call” registry to opt-out of most telemarketing calls should be online soon. Wish they’d take out the loopholes, though.
  • “Chips losing some antipiracy support” (CNET News.com): the continuing uncertainty over digital rights standards, laws means that digital copy protection measures are not being implemented in hardware, which will hopefully make it easier for people to circumvent those measures and make fair use of the content they purchase.
  • “Lofgren bill backs digital copying for personal use” (San Jose Mercury News): a bill that affirms consumers’ fair-use rights and takes some of the bite out of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

March always sneaks up on you

Tuesday, March 4th, 2003

Or rather, the end of February. Why does February have a measly 28 days anyway? I researched the question a bit and found somewhat non-overlapping answers from WebExhibits and Georgia State’s CHARA website. Guys like Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and a whole bunch of monks throughout the ages had the chutzpah to change the calendar to their liking; I think the calendar is broken and should be fixed once again. Of course, that would probably make the Y2k Bug seem like a stroll in the park. And we call that progress?