Christmas 2014

December 31, 2014 3:49 pm

I started Christmas off with a nasty cold starting on the 22nd which didn't reach its peak until the 26th. But at least until the 26th it responded well to ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine. So I was able to enjoy Christmas Day still, but the 26th was fairly miserable.

Anyway, it was raining a lot leading up to Christmas which helped clear the air. So, unlike last year, we were able to have a fire on Christmas Eve. I found a 1080p HD video clip on YouTube of snow falling in some woods and we had that playing on a loop in the family room for most of the evening. Between the two it felt more Christmasy, at least if you ignore the windows.



By Dickerson tradition we had wassail, little weenies, Wheat Thins, Triscuits, cheese, etc.  And then it was bedtime.  Heather gets up between 7:00 and 7:30 pretty much every day so we were counting on that happening.  But by 8:10 she still wasn't up.  Shortly after, though, we heard her little feet running down the hallway towards the living room (she usually finds me out on the couch when she wakes up).  Then she came running back down the hall and into our room excited and confused about what she'd seen in the living room.

During the night, some of the critters from around the house had gotten dressed up in new play clothes that Santa brought:

IMGP2451asHeather got a kick out of that.

But first, the obligatory family photo:


A small gallery of our morning.  Heather loves the trains and has played with them every day so far.  Side note: reflective strips really screw up a camera's light meter, so you need to use the exposure compensation to fix it so all of your pictures aren't totally underexposed; luckily I figured that out fairly quickly and prevented all of our pictures from being useless.

After playing for a bit, Heather started combining activities.  She would place an obstacle on the train tracks, the train would derail, then we'd call the fire department, and she'd come in as Fire Chief Heather to put out the fire and fix the train.  Here's a video; it's adorable. (Or download it with this link, "right-click, save as...": Heather sabotaging and rescuing trains.)

It would have been nice to see some family, but we had a lot of fun and it's at least less stressful when you're just staying home. We're grateful for the time we get to spend together and for our safe and comfortable home.

Tree Crystals

December 26, 2014 4:33 pm

A general Christmas post is forthcoming, but take a look at this grow-your-own-Christmas-tree kit (spoiler: it's actually salt crystals, not a plant). Thanks Mollie.

Here's a 2.5 hour time lapse of it growing (or download it here: Tree Crystals using right-click, save as...), and below is the fully grown tree.


"Discomfort" or Torture?

December 9, 2014 7:55 pm

Former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin tells NPR, "We may have made a few terrorists uncomfortable for a short period of time in order to get information that we felt was essential to protecting the United States."

By which he means:

In November 2002, a detainee died from hypothermia after he was held "partially nude and chained to a concrete floor."

Some detainees were kept awake for up to 180 hours, "usually standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads."

Some naked detainees were "hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched."

"At least five CIA detainees were subjected to 'rectal feeding' or 'rectal hydration' without documented medical need."

Detainees were kept in total darkness and shackled in isolated cells, bombarded with loud noise and given only a bucket in which to relieve themselves.

The CIA may have waterboarded more than the three detainees it said it waterboarded.

...chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.

Multiple CIA detainees subjected to the techniques suffered from hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and tried to mutilate themselves.

...became completely unresponsive after a period of intense waterboarding.

At least 26 were held "wrongfully," partly because there was no information to justify their detention.

The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting.

Detainees were often held down, naked, on a tarp on the floor, with the tarp pulled up around them to form a makeshift tub, while cold or refrigerated water was poured on them.

Others were hosed down repeatedly while they were shackled naked, in the standing sleep deprivation position.

...the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take "precedence" over his medical care.

CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to "cut [a detainee's] mother's throat."

Quotes from NPR, CNN, and SF Chronicle articles; and from the document itself.

And it goes on and on and on and on....

Is this what you consider acceptable treatment of prisoners?  Would we ever accept this if done to U.S. military personnel?  Is this simply making them uncomfortable?  How could anyone read those descriptions and say all we did was, "made a few terrorists uncomfortable."?

Torture - Not In My Name

4:06 pm

Having just finished my graduate course on terrorism the release of the summary of the report regarding the CIA's interrogation activities is particularly interesting to me.  [NPR coverage here.]

A lot of words have been written about whether the treatment of prisoners was "technically torture."  First, I think it should be seen as a clear sign that you're doing something wrong when you have to spend that much energy arguing over whether something is technically torture or not.  If the best you can do to defend your actions is to say "it wasn't 'technically' torture, so it was okay" then you're doing something wrong.

Second, instead of spending pages and pages (as the Department of Justice did) analyzing the legal definition of torture and whether you've violated it; let's use a much easier route.  Sample the population and describe the actions as having been committed against U.S. civilians captured by, let's say, North Korea.  If we consider it torture for North Korea to do that to our citizens then it's torture for us to do it to anybody else.

The argument then usually falls back to, "well, so what if it was torture, we needed the intel it resulted in."  Despite this being a highly disputed claim (especially within the new report) it's irrelevant.  Torture is wrong.  Efficacy does not matter.  Why?  Why is torture wrong?  The simplest argument is that it's wrong for the same reason that capital punishment is wrong.  At some point you're going to do it to someone who is completely innocent and there's no taking it back.  But it's wrong beyond that.  It'd be wrong even if you absolutely knew without any doubt whatsoever that the victim was guilty.  Despite the copious quantities of evidence that torture probably doesn't work, results in backlash, alienates allies, and radicalizes enemies we need no data points here.  This is moral conviction.  Treating another conscious, living thing that way is wrong.

The only thing I find more disgusting than the fact that these actions were carried out in our names is that no one will be held accountable for it.  No one has been or ever will be charged with violating human rights or international conventions.  They did these disgusting things and told the world they did it for us.  Your name, my name, my daughter's name, our flag, our country have been slapped on the use of torture claiming "We Approve!"

I do not approve.

It was wrong.

We as a country need to change.  We need to apologize to the victims and their families.  Yes, even though the prisoners most likely were awful people, what we did was unacceptable.  The idea that the victim was a bad person does not excuse mistreating them.  We need to do something to ensure it doesn't happen again.  We need to show why the United States is better than a terrorist organization, not stoop to their level.  If we're going to claim to stand for freedom and justice then we need to actually practice what we preach.

We need to be better.

Christmas Crafting

December 6, 2014 8:52 pm

First things first, I had to make a countdown chain like we had last year. I fancied up the posterboard it'll get mounted on a little bit, though.

P1010341asThis is what it looks like a few days in:

P1010360asNext, I saw this idea on Pinterest and thought Heather might really like it: a felt Christmas tree with felt ornaments she can decorate and play with all she wants. I freehanded my own tree, but used the templates here for the ornaments and star. I can't sew, but I can cut and glue, so it seemed like a good project for me. I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, and Heather got super excited when I explained that it was her tree for her to play with however she likes.P1010344asLastly (though actually, it was started first), I crocheted a garland. Once again, I found the patterns online (stars, trees, and snowflakes) and went from there.P1010348as P1010351asAnd as a final bonus, I also just ordered a couple of canvases. The first is a page from a coloring book that I colored. I think I'll put it in the nursery.

Secret Garden 1sThe text on this second canvas is the chorus from a song our Primary learned this last year. The chorus has always moved me in particular, so I put this together (with a lot of help from Kyle) and had it printed up. the family is of Gods