Tuesday, March 27

Two terrible stories

Ohhhhh, these stories are heartbreaking.

  1. A U.S. attorney
    • didn't prosecute men who sexually abused teenagers under their guard and who
    • let his employees say on behalf of his department that the department wasn't prosecuting because the teenagers didn't speak out against the very people guarding them at the time and therefore it couldn't have been sexual abuse & because the teenagers didn't get hurt enough for it to have possibly been sexual abuse
    and nevertheless wasn't fired by people higher up in our federal government.

    (The TX Atty. Gen. also refused to prosecute the case, as did the relevant department of the US Dept. of Justice. I don't know if their justifications for not prosecuting were quite as fire-worthy.)

  2. Our federal government and various state governments haven't been prosecuting corrupt companies at the level we've come to expect them to. These two articles should've been about state or federal investigations and punitive actions years ago, not just coming out now.

    Based on my reading the past few months (and NPR reports on Sarbanes-Oxley repeal efforts), it seems the main reason for the rare and slow uncovering of these horrible business practices is that our federal government (and to a lesser extent certain state governments) has an overall policy of allowing more corruption than previously tolerated--in the belief that it'll be good for the economy overall.

    Anyway, that's the most forgiving way of looking at it. Of course, the least forgiving way of looking at it is to believe that the whole economic theory was a deliberate lie meant to convince people throughout the country and the federal government to give these policies a try, but that the developers and top-level proponents of the economic theory actually knew it would never help the United States population as a whole and that it would merely put wealth into the hands of their friends and the hands of people they could relate to by class & lifestyle. Tough call which it really is. Will I ever know?

    And, if it turns out that I'll never again be able to count on the government prosecuting this kind of corruption at the level it used to, what can I do to investigate on my own and make sure that my mom, who was going to start putting money into a long-term care policy, will actually be able to make claims on her policy when the time comes? Obviously, "Don't buy Conseco!" is one answer, but beyond that...what do we do?

    And after my mom comes me. How do I assure that if I need surgery, my health insurance provider won't suddenly say, "You lied by omitting the fact that you had a toothache in 1993! You had a previously existing condition you didn't tell us about! We're kicking you off and not covering your surgery!" like BCBS did to people in California?

Friday, March 23

Turned into a spy

Though they buried it on page A17 (perhaps appropriate, since it was an Op-Ed), the Washington Post did a great thing today by publishing an American citizen's account of being served a National Security Letter.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

Dang. I'd resent being made to mislead my clients, people close to me, etc. as a secret informer, too. Wow.

Wednesday, March 21

Ask your local newspapers to feature Egypt's big news

Egypt's about to get a government like the worst of the sub-Saharan African dictatorships.

Contested Presidential elections will be virtually impossible, since candidates must come from a licensed party with so much representation in all elected bodies that in practice only the NDP will ever get over the bar.

The opposition, from the MB to Kefaya, has been placed in an impossible position. Participating in the referendum will legitimize the results, particularly since nobody doubts for an instant that the regime will falsify the results if they go badly. The most extreme option, a collective resignation from Parliament, seems to have been taken off the table: even the MB seems to feel that this would be going too far, and that this would only please the government which would be able to replace the troublesome MB deputies with more accomodating deputies. That leaves only boycott, which will not in the end have much impact - as above, even if only 10% turn out and vote, the regime will happily claim 70%.

At the end of the day, there's only one opinion which Mubarak and the NDP really care about: the United States. The Constitutional crisis has not been front page news here, and even where it has been covered, the criticism has been tepid.

Call your local public radio station. Call national public radio stations. Write 60 Minutes. Call your local newspapers either asking their foreign bureau to work on it, since you want to read about it, or asking them to buy an AP or Reuters story on it. Heck, write Jon Stewart and see if he'll skewer Mubarak--maybe he can put a Scottish beret on a picture of him. Just drop a line saying you're curious about the situation and want to hear more.

Can't hurt. Takes 10 minutes. Might help.

Friday, March 16

Prisoners vs. Gays

Wow! Talk about accurate sizing up of people's probability of harming other people:

Given the number of criminals they're letting into the services these days just to fill recruiting quotas, I'm betting the average troop is a lot more concerned about sharing a foxhole with someone still suffering from a prison sex jones than being in close proximity to your average straight shooting queer.

Garrison Keillor vs. Dan Savage

I never listened to Prairie Home companion in all these years, even since I heard last year that it's going off the air within a year or so.

Until a couple of weeks ago. I've caught bits of it twice now, and I have to say that those descriptions of the cold were hilarious!

I sure wouldn't have had quite as good a weekend without them.

But not everyone who makes my world a better place sometimes makes it a better place all the time.

What a crock of baloney, Garrison Keillor. Even if you were trying to be tongue-in-cheek, did you have to do it so badly that it sounds like you're dead serious?
(And, though Dan Savage has apparently contributed to making my home state area a worse place by generalizing like a good classist that we don't need to bother to care about the cultural education levels of people in red states, these [ironically...culturally educational!] arguments make him someone who, today, is making my world a better place.)

Wednesday, March 14

Language & Words Anger

Arrrrgh. I hate stupid people.

I hate it when people misuse English and build entire points out of their misused words--
--points where the causation the speaker describes is logically impossible if the word is heard accurately.

Commenter on Fox News said:
...black folks...[doing] stuff like that's out of control...and it's...because--not all, not all, not all--but most of them lack moral characters. Look what they did in three days: they turned the dome into a ghetto.

I wanted to punch my monitor, because I was thinking, "You moron! Do you know what 'ghetto' means? It means, 'overcrowded place that people aren't allowed to live outside of.' Look it up in an encyclopedia: check out the very first ghetto (in Rome). Moron!"

I mean, for Pete's sake. "Ghetto" doesn't mean "violent hell."

Of course, overcrowding and not being allowed to live elsewhere usually cause violent hells, which is why ghettos are often violent hells.

However, it's not like black people had to come in with preexisting violence to turn the place into a violent hell--and it's certainly not like doing so would turn a place into a "ghetto." After all, again, a place can be a violent hell without being an overcrowded place you don't get to live outside of--that is, without being a "ghetto." No causation there.

Three days to earn the title "ghetto?"

More like the moment it got...hmmm...lemme think...oh! overcrowded!
(with any color of people)

Wednesday, March 7

How to escape that dumbass fashion advertisement scenario

Sometimes I really wish there were one central IMPACT-style self defense PHPBB forum where graduates and potential students all got together & gabbed.

There's a dumbass fashion ad that finally got pulled because, surprise, surprise, people were horrified that it looked like a gang rape!

Now that it's existed and we can't undo its existence, it sure would be fun to discuss with other Multiple Unarmed Assailants Class graduates how to get out of the scenario depicted in that ad (1 man to the side of her closed legs, pinning both arms (using one hand to pin each of her wrists to each side of her head); 4 accomplices not yet touching her (but 2 look like they might jump in any moment); and the woman, wearing high heels, seems to be in mid-motion--her butt is off the ground, so she's either not landed on the ground completely or has lifted it, perhaps as part of various motions to see if she can break free). Perhaps links to the discussion and musings of, "Do you really think it might work?" would catch on in Livejournals, the blogosphere, and even discussions over coffee!

We, bloggers and residents of the world, can never criticize or critique the ad enough to nullify its negative effect on people's minds. Doing that takes a positive new creation, too.

What a great way to help turn around the ill effects of that ad. Get viral tip-sharing going among women.

Tuesday, March 6

Eating local, part 2: helpful winter words

I have no idea if these will be what grows in your part of the country, but bookmark this post and keep checking back. As I find helpful words to punch into Google Images as you look for meal inspiration for January/February/March produce available in a part of North America where all the easy and common food stops growing, I'll update it:

  • Spanish radish:

  • Jerusalem artichoke:
         topinambour / topinambours

  • Ginger:

  • Celery root:

  • Beet:
         betterave / betteraves

  • Nut:

  • Cream:
         crème / creme
         ("Cream" might be a type of soup, which almost makes it belong in the 2nd category, or it might be an ingredient in a particularly appetizing dish. Give the search a try even if you don't ever use heavy cream--you might see the dish and realize you can make the same thing with milk or melted cheese.)

    References to preparation
  • Gratin:

  • Cold dish; salad:
         (Warning: "salade" also means lettuce, which you won't find at this time of year, so do pair it with the type of food you're looking for or be prepared to see a lot of mouth-watering recipes you can't make!)
If you find a recipe that online translators and friends just can't help you figure out, leave me a comment and I'll be glad to help.

Eating local

If you're in the north midwestern United States or in Canada (I presume) and you're struggling to eat locally this time of year, it's helpful to know some French.

I don't know what to do with "Spanish radishes" that feel nothing like radishes and "Jerusalem artichokes" that look more like ginger than artichokes. But that's what the Minnesota co-ops are offering from local farms!

I'd all but given up on eating fresh food like a good seasonal shopper any time before late April--last night I hunkered down with greens out of a can, spaghetti out of a box, and tofu out of a box all mixed together. If I can't do local food that has to be prepared before tasting good, well, at least I can do long-shelf-life ingredients that have to be prepared before tasting good. After all, an addiction to 5-minute prep time kept me from preparing as much local food last summer as I would've liked.

But, looking up "jerusalem artichoke" after reading an article that indicated celery root, another one of those co-op mystery items, could be used as a main ingredient (puréed), I stumbled upon a picture labeled "topinambours."

That changed everything! The word in French isn't of the form, "place that isn't here" + "vegetable we do eat here," so the chances of Frenchies considering this vegetable something as normal as we consider cauliflower seemed high!

(I'm also convinced that we're more intrigued by the flavor of lime than they are because we have a distinct word for it--they call it a "green lemon," and I swear they flavor things with an attitude of, "lemon or lime...doesn't matter" more than we do.)

Sure enough, a Google Images search on "topinambours" turned up Jerusalem artichokes cooked in cream, Jerusalem artichokes shredded up & made into cake, Jerusalem artichokes cooked and cooled and covered in mustard dressing as a form of salad...

Just look at those lovely pictures. They're so messy...so obviously homemade with ease!

I mean, there's just something about "[rare vegetable name] salad" that makes people around me think of using [rare vegetable name] as a garnish on a salad of lettuce rather than using it as the only ingredient of substance. Much as we think of "tomato salad" or "carrot salad" as cold dishes consisting of tomatoes or carrots, the French think of "topinambour salad" as a cold dish consisting of Jerusalem artichokes.

I've experienced this, "Wow, it's nice to know the word for the food [or way of preparing food] in two languages" phenomenon before. I'm sure it holds true throughout more languages, but unfortunately, I don't know any besides French. How much more simple could the "weird local vegetables" seem to me if I knew the words for them in Wolof or Tibetan?

Recent headlines from the blog "Black and Missing but Not Forgotten:"