When I mentioned to my parents that I'm going to California next week, and hoping to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it prompted them to reminisce about some unusual circumstances surrounding my birth, which for some reason I had never heard about before.

I had known that my parents had lived in Monterey. They were both in the Air Force (my mother for about seven years, my father for nearly 30) and, when my father was assigned to be a cultural attache to the French armée de l'air, they spent several months studying at the Defense Language Institute. My mother was pregnant with me when they arrived, and I was due on St Patrick's Day. They expected I would be born there; their short-term lease ended on March 31st, at which point they planned to briefly return to Scott Air Force Base, in southern Illinois, before setting off for France. 

Yet March 31st came and went without so much as a rustle from me, and my parents, having arranged a hotel for a few extra days at the end of the stay, decided to chance the return trip. Even when my mother's contractions began, on April 2nd, they decided to proceed with the return flight to St Louis, scheduled for that day. They reasoned that it would be impractical to bring a newborn to a hotel, and difficult to travel with me just a few days later.

On the first leg of the flight, from San Francisco to Denver, another passenger, visibly alarmed, asked my mother how far along she was. "Seven months," my nine-and-a-half months pregnant mother lied. "Oh, honey," said the woman. "You need to get a new doctor. You look like you're about to have that baby today." Just about. By the time they reached Denver, the contractions had worsened, and my mother thought they might want to stop off at a hospital there. But my father prevailed on her to push on: a hotel in Denver would be as impractical as a hotel in Carmel, and the next leg of the journey was a short one. My mother reminded herself of a military dictum: feet and knees together!

They landed in St Louis around midnight, and were greeted by my aunt, who had moved to St Louis partly to help my mother care for my older brother, the only child at that point. My parents asked her to take Danny home, because they had to go straight the hospital. The obstetrician, hearing this story, scolded my mother for not having called him. She explained that she hadn't called because she thought he might tell her to stay put. He said that he certainly would have told her as much. I was born at five in the morning on April 3rd. My aunt returned around seven, pale and shaken, with my brother Danny and a box of Dunkin' Donuts.

As they were talking, it occurred to me that this story has some similarities with Sarah Palin's account of the birth of her youngest child, Trig; she was in the early stages of labor when she boarded a flight from Texas to Alaska, where the baby was born a month early. Palin arguably had extra reasons to be careful, because of the length of the journey to Alaska, the baby's special needs, and her relatively advanced age. On the other hand, Palin had given birth four times before, apparently without extenuating circumstances. My mother had only given birth once before, and it was long and difficult and involved medical complications. But both cases involve women who were far from home, due to their professional responsibilities, and who experienced an inconvenient onset of labor. What carried the day for my mother was a sort of homing instinct, more practical than instinctive or emotional. Anticipating the constant needs of a newborn, my parents wanted to be near their friends and family, among the familiar comforts of even a temporary home, preferring the short anxiety of a tense journey to a potentially prolonged dislocation. 

In retrospect, my mother reminisced, she regrets having rushed away from California under the circumstances. But I liked the story. I had no part in the decision to journey from sunny California to snowy Colorado to moonlit Illinois, but having been born I've continued to hopscotch around the country with equally deluded optimism and similarly successful results. My father went ahead to France shortly thereafter, and my mother followed about six weeks later, carrying a toddler and an infant and no francs and no address or telephone number, another odd decision that gave us an early example of an observation I've found to be true in my later travels: you can typically depend on the kindness of strangers. My greatest regret about the situation is that I didn't have the foresight to be born on April Fool's Day, which would have been an enduring source of fun and mischief.
 
 
 
 
This week's story in the print edition, on tort reform, contains a headline that I'm very proud of having written.

For the blog, I did a series of posts looking at how other countries handle immigration, and whether their approaches might work for the United States: Canada, Australia, and France & Britain.

And here's a post about Rick Perry's presidential prospects, and one about the deceptions of Chester A Arthur.

Also, here are 32 funny pictures of animals.
 
 
I have a new article on concealed guns on campus in the print edition, and about half the article on natural gas extraction. New posts: how is Sarah Palin like the Westboro Baptists? and how are undocumented immigrants like bears?

Also, I would like to share the following video of baby elephants playing at the Houston Zoo. As a commenter points out, "this video is relephant to my interest."
 
 
From the New York Times:

“I was delighted when I first saw one in my yard, but when you have a flock of 300, it’s a different matter,” said Dick Hayden, a retiree who was volunteering at Long Lane Park. “They eat all the berries. They ate all the food from my feeder in one day; it was ludicrous. I had to stop putting it out because it got too expensive."
 

Creeping

05/12/2011

1 Comment

 
This is from March, but still funny. With Radiohead having published a newspaper to mark the release of their new album, The King of Limbs, some staffers from the Guardian decided if Radiohead can be a newspaper, they can be a band. This is the result. And here's another cover of "Creep," from the Chinati 14 (Orange Beach, AL, May 2010): 

(I like The King of Limbs, and I would posit that the best way to listen to Radiohead is when you're disgruntled in circumstances that normally would not warrant it--like, say, laying on your bunk bed after a long sunny day at lacrosse camp.)
 
 
 
 
On the occasion of Eeyore's (perhaps apocryphal) birthday, Chris Cox profiles A.A. Milne's gloomy donkey:

But the key thing that makes Eeyore a great character is that essential literary ingredient: conflict. Eeyore is profoundly conflicted. He craves love – indeed, he's always lamenting his outsider status – but he struggles to give and receive it. When it's offered to him, he puts out his hoof and waves it away. There are many occasions when Pooh and Piglet, who love Eeyore unconditionally, pay him a visit only to be greeted with a barrage of sarcasm. Nowhere is this more poignantly displayed than the scene in The House at Pooh Corner where Piglet realises that Eeyore has never had a bunch of violets picked for him. When he finds Eeyore to deliver the bunch, however, he gets shooed away. "Tomorrow," says Eeyore. "Or the next day."

Eeyore being a donkey, I naturally didn't consider him in my assessment of archetypal English and American bears. I link this here as a supplement for those fictional animal scholars who want a better sense of Winnie-the-Pooh's sociohistorical context. Eeyore enthusiasts might also be interested to know that there's an annual birthday celebration for the poor beast in Austin, on the last Saturday of April. The last time I was there, I turned a small child's unraveled balloon sword from a balloon back into a sword without bursting it (she said smugly).
 
 
Alissa Rubin, the Times bureau chief in Kabul, writes about her first experience wearing the burqa:

I looked out at the men in the small bazaars we passed through. I could see them and they couldn’t see me, and I felt a certain satisfaction — and dismay. They did not care about seeing me. I knew that many Muslims would say that when a man does not look a woman in the eye, it was a sign of respect, but for me it was also a sign of their not being interested in who I really was. I was simply “a woman,” and “a woman” deserves respect — not necessarily this particular woman.

A really interesting piece. Most of us, men and women, have the option of being invisible (sub-visible? semi-visible?) at times, if we want, for reasons of modesty or shyness or privacy, and most of us assert it at times. In fact, when the option is not available, it's because something's gone awry--there's some interruption of privacy, or some difference of race or ability or custom that invites intrusive public comment.

But there's a big difference between choosing invisibility and having it chosen for you. And of course the semiotics of the hijab vary depending on where you are. In some contexts there's no dismissing the wearer as "simply" anything. Running the trail this evening, I passed a family out for a stroll--a husband and wife, with two small children, a boy and a girl. The father and the kids were in western clothes, but the wife (I assume) was wearing a niqaab--an unusual get-up in this part of Texas, although the head-scarf hijab is common enough. As I jogged past, in the traditional tank top and running shorts, the man looked me over. I didn't know what to make of it. Mild social judging? People-watching on the trail? (And which of us was doing which?) It may have been the woman's choice to wear the niqaab on a hot afternoon. If so, customs were upheld, as was honor, if she conceives it in those terms; but the ability to go unseen in public? Severely abrogated.

(H/T: Sullivan.)
 
 
The other night I went to see In A Better World, the Danish film about a doctor working in a refugee camp in Africa while his pre-teen son grapples with his own troubling experiences of anger, violence, and vengeance back in Danesby. I really disliked it, on the grounds that it was smug, self-righteous, pretentious, and predictable, and on top of that, its moral reasoning and character development were a total mess. My companion ceded all these points but nevertheless liked the film because he liked the message, which was, as far as I can tell, that you shouldn't do anything aggressive to other people unless they're so obviously, comically, committedly monstrous that you probably should have done something much sooner. 

So that was what we had been talking about when we heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American forces in Pakistan.

Here I argue that Bin Laden's death will help Barack Obama be re-elected, and here I explain the thinking behind that prediction. And here's a post about fake quotations, inspired by the mangled Martin Luther King Jr comment that was making the rounds.