Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What bomb?

I wish that they would simply go ahead and make it against the law to scare people, so we can quit pussyfooting around. The magnetic lights that were placed in several United States cities to promote Cartoon Network's "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" show are being refered to by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick as "a hoax," and this blitheringly incorrect interpretation of events is gaining ground fast. Even NPR, whom one would expect would know better, is using the headline "Bomb-Hoax Publicity Stunt Shuts Down Boston." The mayor is bombastically threatening 2 to 5 years in prison for each light for the poor sod who set the things up. Even the Homeland Security Department is getting in on the act.

This WOULD simply be utterly moronic, except that I refuse to believe that the people involved in this misrepresentation of the facts are THAT stupid. Instead, they've decided that WE'RE stupid. Rather than just say: "In the atmosphere of heightened caution brought about by concerns about terrorism, we reacted strongly to what turned out to be harmless advertisements. There was no real danger, sorry if we spooked you," people are making accusations of intentional misleading behavior. If you see a bag of computer parts in my apartment, and mistake it for a bomb, that's NOT a hoax. If I make a device intentionally designed to make an observer think it's a bomb, and it isn't, that IS a hoax. The mayor of Boston, the Governor of Massachusetts and the Homeland Security Department are all well aware of this, and are posturing in order to make themselves look like they're doing everything they can to keep us safe. And they're posturing because they've determined that Joe on the Street is dumb enough to fall for it. Of course, now that they've started this song and dance, they can't back down without looking like idiots, so they soldier on. The promo lights look like pissed-off Lite Brites, for Pete's sake. Let it go. But they can't, and in all honesty, I understand why. Admitting to an overreaction would be an admission of error. And if "to err is human," American culture really only tolerates humanity in children, a lover, political enemies and other people against whom it can be used as a weapon.

This is either about showmanship over security, or we've allowed ourselves to become so afraid of terrorism, that we let our fear trump all sense. No matter which way it goes, I'm not reassured.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Playing Pretend

So the latest Random Act of Controversy to sweep the United States is the fact that in the movie "Hounddog," the pre-teen Lewellen, played by 12-year-old Dakota Fanning, is raped by a twenty-year-old. Perhaps the most fabulous thing about the uproar is that most of the people who have decried this sign of the impending American Apocalypse haven't even seen the movie, since it's only been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, and hasn't been placed into general release yet.

There seem to be several lines of reasoning behind the criticism, but here are some of the ones that have caught my attention:

1) The participation of a twelve-year-old girl, professional actress or not, in a scene in which she must pretend to be victimized is harmful to her. A child this young is mentally and emotionally damaged by being involved in such activities and will be scarred for life. Pre-teens do not have the maturity needed to be able to appropriately assess the potential for self-harm, and thus cannot give their meaningful consent to their participation, and thusly are being exploited by the adults that should be looking out for them.

2) Movies like this will attract perverts out of the woodwork and into the theaters, hoping to see some legal child pornography in the form of the rape of little girl. Because, of course, they'd rather get their jollies out in public.

3) Children should be effectively neuter, with no hint of sexuality about them until they're adults. That someone would think to rape a child confronts us with the fact that people do acknowledge their sexuality.

4) Big-name child actors and actresses should be "wholesome," and only be seen in moves that people would want to take their own children to. In effect, we want the roles that famous children play to be role models for our own children, and therefore we don't want famous children to do anything that might inform regular children that there is such a thing as S-E-X.

Normally, I'd now proceed to explain to you, at length, why this is all hogwash, but sometimes it's pretty obvious the horse is dead, even before you start beating it.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Oh, Those Wacky Foreigners

I found on Reuters, this piece, about a Chinese man who is accused, with the aid of two assistants, of murdering young women to provide "Ghost Brides" for deceased men. It's an interesting story that speaks to a custom that I hadn't realized was still practiced anywhere. You'll find it in the section named "Oddly Enough." Where there are some stories in the Oddly Enough section that do strike one as being odd, it also seems to have become a dumping ground for items that the people at Reuters, for some reason, just don't know what to do with. While a number of these are foreign stories that would likely be taken quite seriously, had they happened in the United States, like Beijing moving to close restarants that don't meet basic sanitation standards or Columbian drug traffickers threatening to poison sniffer dogs, there are also a good number of items that just don't seem to have the sideshow quality that the idea of an "Oddly Enough" section conjures up, such as the fact that Nicole Kidman and some movie crew were injured on the set. Or the fact that 10 staff members from radio station KDND-FM were fired after a contestant in their "Hold your wee for a Wii" promotion died of water intoxication. What's so odd about that? Or the fact that a lawyer for some Guantanamo Bay detainees is alledging that conditions there have worsened for some men, as part of a U.S. government attempt to extract intelligence. Scan the headlines in the U.S., International and Political sections for yesterday, and you won't find this seemingly important story about the War on Terror in any of them. Interestingly enough, I can't be sure of this, because the article doesn't come back in the site search engine. I tried using the name of the attorney bringing the case, Zachary Katznelson. Nothing. Even when I copied and pasted the title of the article into the search field, the search engine could not find the article. Wow. No wonder people think that the media is in cahoots with the federal government. And when you consider the fact that soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful" is filming in Austrailia, which doesn't seem to merit inclusion in the "Entertainment" section, was considered important enough to warrant a headline in Friday's U.S. news (and can be accessed from the search engine), the tinfoil hat crowd doesn't seem so looney all of a sudden.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

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Monday, January 22, 2007


I found this while dinking around in the recesses of my backup files. I wrote it back in 2000, when I was a Quality Assurance manager for a mid-sized software company. It's interesting to go back after all of these years, and re-read it. Sometimes, you don't know how much you've changed until you find an old picture of yourself.

As soon as I saw her, I remembered reading the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article on the state of heroin addiction in the Seattle area. Of course, at first glance, I didn't realize that it was a "her." She was just another obviously (Why obviously?) homeless person, sitting up against a sign by the side of the expressway off-ramp, hoping for handouts from the local commuters. She had a thin blanket pulled around her shoulders; it was patterned in a way that made me think "Indian." (The American variety.) I wondered to myself if she was just trying to bum money for a fix. I didn't really care if she was or not. The long-dormant Good Samaritan instinct in me awakened (perhaps in response to having read about all of those poor, heroin-addicted people), and threatened me with a bout of guilt if I didn't offer at least some minor comfort.
I felt the need to do something small for her, mainly to appease my own feelings of unworthiness, and so I fished a dollar out of my wallet. Only a dollar. I realize, of course, and I knew it then, that a dollar wasn't enough to really do anything for this woman. I could have pulled a gun, and shot her in the head, and I would have done more to ease her suffering than that single dollar. But I'm too materialistic a person to part with 10 or 15 dollars under such a circumstance. At least in cash.
Anyway, I folded the dollar bill in my hand, and slipped it into my front pocket. In case she was a junkie, I didn't want the embarrassment for having her reach for, or possibly grab, my wallet, which had substantially more than one dollar in it. I'm not a very good Good Samaritan, you see. I don't believe that my whole heart is really in it. Had she actually stolen my wallet, it would have been a windfall for her. She could have gotten a few good, hot meals with the money inside. For me, it would have been inconvenient, but not tragic. A couple hour's worth of work, and I would have made up the lost cash. Okay, losing the cards and ID in the wallet would have been a bummer, but still, nothing Earth-shattering. But I wasn't up to risking it. (But I was up to the possibility of being knifed, had the woman been violent. Go figure.)
I walked up to her. I was coming from behind her, on her right, and traffic was coming from her left. Her attention didn't have room for me, even as I walked around in front of her. A handwritten sign sat in her lap. (Of course it was handwritten. When was the last time YOU saw a homeless person whose sign was professionally printed?) I can't even remember what it said. I looked at it mainly out of habit, not because I cared what it said. She was dressed in dirty clothes (no surprise) and wore her dirty black hair short. She was dark complexioned, but clearly not black or Hispanic. I guessed that, as the blanket had suggested, she was Native American. She probably wasn't as old as her shabby condition made her look, but I would have guessed that she was in her forties, maybe fifties.
She didn't notice me at all until I said something to catch her attention. She was too busy being on the lookout for a motorist who might be kind enough to give her something. Even so, I didn't startle her. I wonder if she was too out of it to be surprised by my presence. Once she realized I was there, she looked over at me, and I handed her the dollar bill.
She said "Thanks." She had several teeth missing. I wouldn't have been surprised if more than half of them we gone. Suddenly the cavities that I had had racked up in avoiding going to the dentist for a decade just didn't seem very important anymore. Then she proceeded to tell me that it got cold at night around here, as if that alone would explain why she was out panhandling. I pretended to sympathize. Pretended, not because I couldn't sympathize with the idea of this poor woman having to sleep outdoors at night without heat, but because I still, even after three years, have difficulty with the idea that the Puget Sound region is ever really COLD. I'm from Chicago, born and raised. I have a coat, a nice long one, reversible black and green, that hasn't been out of my closet in over three years. I bought it about a month before moving out here, and I wore it perhaps half a dozen times, in January and February of 1997. It's been on a hanger in my bedroom closet every day since then. Most of the time, I don't even remember I have it. I've been out in weather so cold that when the wind blows your breath back into your face, your eyebrows ice over. Immediately. I know what it's like to loose the feeling in your fingers and toes, to be afraid that your extremities are becoming frostbitten. Compared to a Lake Effect wind chill of 80 below zero, it's hard to conceptualize Bellevue in April as being able to manage "cold." But I had been out in the freezing gale because I'd been too stupid to keep my butt inside, where it was warm. Not because I didn't have anywhere to go inside to. I realize (intellectually) how that makes a big difference. Just like I was out of doors now, on a day that was marginally chilly, and just starting to become wet, because I was avoiding having to eat the junk food that my company provides me for free, not because I didn't have anyplace to go.
It strikes me as only somewhat strange that I can understand more why she felt the need to tell me that. I’ve given explanations for things when they weren’t needed, out of nagging shame before in my life, and I saw nothing strange about this woman doing the same thing. But I couldn’t find any real reason to tell her that she didn’t need to justify her actions to me. So I didn’t.
Having done my Boy Scout Good Deed™ for the day, I went on to my destination - a local grocery store where I hoped to pick up some food that I could snack on that wouldn't pack on the pounds, or raise my blood pressure. I settled on a couple of packages of "homestyle" dinner rolls. They would fill me up, but not over do it on the calories (I hoped). I bought the rolls, then set out back to the office.
I was returning the same way that I had come, and so I looked to see if the Indian woman were still where I had last seen her. The idea to give her a package of the rolls had come to me. I figured that it would make up for the pittance that I'd given her at our chance meeting, although I don't pretend for a moment that it actually allows me to define myself as a "generous" man. I thought I caught a glimpse of her, but I couldn't actually see her anywhere. I was impressed by how thoroughly she'd managed to disappear.
It occurred to me that I know some people who are religious enough to say that I'd had some sort of Visitation. That the Case of the Vanishing Homeless Woman was actually a message from a God that I didn't believe in. But the reality turned out to be much more mundane.
I looked over my shoulder, and saw her, emerging from some bushes onto the walkway, with a gray haired Anglo man, also obviously homeless, who looked like the stereotypical homeless veteran. I guessed that he had been either resting, sleeping or hiding in the bushes while she panhandled. They saw me, and the man flashed me a Peace sign. Whether it was simply a greeting, or a sign that they were non-hostile, I don't know. I'm somewhat troubled with myself that I would wonder about it.
I beckoned the woman over with my hand. As she approached, I reached into the grocery bag. Perhaps I've become TOO suspicious a person, but I was struck by the fact that she seemed to have no hesitation in coming over to me. Had the simple act of giving her a dollar really created, in her mind, enough of a bond that she felt that she could trust me? More logically, I suppose, is the idea that she simply saw me as a potential repeat benefactor, and wasn't about to risk passing up whatever largess I would share with her this time. I don't claim to be a consistently rational person - not by a long shot. But, you probably guessed that by now.
Anyway, she came close enough for me to give her the bread, and I handed it to her, with a casualness that surprises me now. She thanked me, obviously glad for the food. Well, at least it was obvious to me. Then I simply turned, and resumed walking back to work, while she hurried back to show my gift to her partner.
"Thanks, man!" he called out, and when I turned to acknowledge him, he flashed me the Peace sign again. Somehow it was more satisfying than the "God Bless" that I had learned to expect to hear in such situations.
Then I turned my back on them for the last time, and resumed the 20-minute stroll back to my comfortable chair, in my warm office.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Running Away

A nine year old boy, with a history of running away, finally decided to put some real distance between himself and the neighborhood that he disliked - he hopped a plane from Sea-Tac [Seattle-Tacoma] International Airport to San Antonio, Texas by way of Phoenix. The story was picked up by the Associated Press, and different versions are currently in the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

It seems that the child's normal MO up until this point was to steal cars and try to drive - presumably to Texas, where his grandfather lives. On Sunday, he'd stolen a car parked outside of a neighbors and fled the police until he blew the engine. When caught:

"He refused to come out of the car, so officers broke a window to unlock a door and immediately recognized him as a frequent runaway and car thief, [Lakewood police Lt. David B.] Gutto said."

The story relates two other instances in which the child had stolen cars in the past month. The P-I reports that his mother and another person had called Child Protective Services, but he wasn't put in a placement. And even though the mother had requested that he not be returned to the home, Pierce County's juvenile detention center refused to admit him.

Having worked in a residential treatment center myself for a few years, I'm not a fan of just plucking children out of the home. But the mother was clearly unable to keep the boy safe and at home, and was asking for help. He's in custody NOW, having been arrested at the airport in San Antonio, while trying to get on a plane to Dallas. But even though charges have been filed, the Lakewood Police Department wants to treat this as a missing juvenile, rather than an extradition.

This seems like a case that cried out for some sort of intervention. Just because you want something, or feel that you need something, that doesn't entitle you to do whatever you think you have to do to get it - especially when that extends to stealing and putting other people in danger. Children who don't understand this don't magically become adults who do understand it. It's easy to blame the mother for all of this, and say that this all happened because she's a bad parent. But she realized that she was in over her head, and asked for aid from the authorities (even if you find fault with how she went about it), who couldn't or wouldn't intervene.

This is the kind of case that comes back to haunt us later, and it's important that we understand that. It's really a "pay me now or pay me later" situation. We expend the resources now to get this child under control, or we run a very high risk of winding up with an out of control adult on our hands.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stabby Bits

This is a photograph of a selection of polearms from the Tower of London, that I took when I visited in 2004. It's here, on N.I.P., because I'm experimenting with Picasa, and decided to give the "Blog It" functionality a try, and see what the results would be like.
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Monday, January 15, 2007

The Quotable Bush

For many people, especially those who identify themselves as Democrats or Liberals, the notion that President Bush is an idiot is accepted without question, and is often used to justify the belief that he is a puppet of Karl Rove, or whichever version of Satan is "actually" running the country. But it can't be said that the President has never been dead right about things. Take this quote from an appearance on "The Today Show," from back in 2004:

"I don't think you can win [the War on Terror]. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

The President wound up distancing himself from this line later, after being labelled "defeatist" by the Democrats in a pretty obvious bit of political turnabout being fair play.

But the simple fact is, this is, and has always been, true. Only rarely do you get a lone wacko, with NO ties to anyone or anything using terror tactics against whole nations or societies. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but many terrorists commit their acts with a certain expectation that they're going to earn some sort of approval for them. If blowing up obvious non-combatants with a car bomb meant that the very people in whose name the act was carried out spit on their graves, shunned their families and denounced their names in their prayers, you'd see quite a bit less of it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


So I went down to the demonstration. It was in the next suburb over. But since the near Seattle suburbs are each about the size of postage stamp, it wasn't a long drive.

They do this every week, rain or shine. The orginal agreement, as I understand it, was that the pro-Administration, support-the-troops crowd would wave their flags by the corner from about 10 to 11. Then the pro-opposition, end-the-war crowd would take the stage until noon. I don't think that either crowd had a permit or anything, and I'd been told that the times were a gentleman's agreement between the two groups.

The pro-administration crowd had always been the smaller and the older of the two. I suspect that its mainly a group of retirees with children or other family in the military. One of the local AM radio stations gives them some of their signage.

The anti-administration crowd is significantly larger, and somewhat younger, although I doubt that more than three or four of them come it at less than their mid-forties. They have a bunch of handmade signs and the like, although occasionally one of them comes up with something that looks really good.

Well, I went down this particular time because the last couple of times that I'd driven down there before 11, I'd noticed that a couple of the peace activists were out, along with the support the troops crowd. So I took my camera, and went down to see what the deal was. I found out that a few of the peaceniks had "resigned" from the larger group, and now felt free to come down whenever they wanted.

As much as I find protests and marches to be usually waste of time and energy (marching changes very little - voting changes quite a lot), I do find them intensely interesting events, so I took a bunch of pictures. (THIS is the truly great thing about digital cameras - you can take a boatload of pictures, and you don't have to pay to see how badly you suck at photography.) Now, I've done this maybe two or three times over the past couple of years, and I've noticed something very interesting. Men at these events do their best to be photogenic. If they see you with a camera pointed their way, they literally pose for the picture, and seem genuinely interesting in making sure that you get good shots of them - regarless of which side of the issue they're on. I've had men ask if I wanted another shot, and had them put no small amount of effort into making sure that I got snaps of all of the their signs, and making sure that they were at a good distance for group shots, and the like - it's quite remarkable. But it also makes perfect sense - the men aren't afraid of anyone who'd obviously stand out in the open with a camera and a tripod. The women, on the other hand, tend to think that one is up to something - today I had one pull a camera at point blank range to get a picture of me - I'm waiting to see the "Have you seen this spy?" posters go up in the peace activist community. They ask questions like "What publication are you with?" and "Where will these pictures end up?" Again, it doesn't matter which side of the line they're on - they're suspicious in a way their male counterparts are not.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Social Diseases

I've been reading a couple of articles (one from Reuters, the other from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) about how the fight against HIV and AIDS is moving to the Black community in the United States. Both take pains to bring to light the fact that Blacks are very much over-represented in the ranks of the HIV-positive. I know that it sounds morbid, but I wish that the articles had also given the raw numbers, rather than just the percentages. The fact that 50 percent of new HIV cases in 2003 were diagnosed in Blacks sounds really alarming. But is that out of a grand total of 5,000 cases nationwide, 500 cases or 50,000 cases? And are those numbers going up or down?

Both articles cite the social obstacles that have to cleared in order to reduce the spread of the disease. But the Reuters article goes a little further, and summons up the ghosts of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and quotes a man saying: "My first question was 'Wait, are you going to inject me with the HIV virus?'" But if you only know the basics about how vaccines work, this is a perfectly logical question, fears of racism or none. I seem to remember being taught that anti-viral vaccines work somrthing like this:

1) Kill or severely weaken a virus.
2) Inject the crippled virus into a person.
3) Person's immune system uses the crippled virus as target practice.
4) Person's immune system is ready for the real thing, should it ever appear.

Of course, sometimes the virus isn't as crippled is you thought it was, and someone contracts the disease for real. And when you're dealing with something that can kill you (or, make it easier for something else to kill you), that's a very real concern.

In any event, it doesn't take concerns about past injustices to be concerned about a vaccine trial that's testing a countermeasure for a disease that many people still regard as unfailingly lethal. I don't know if it's ironic or not, but it seems to me that perhaps the most enduring legacies of racism in the United States has the expectation of racism. Blacks are expected to be suspicious of Whites' intentions, almost for it's own sake, and Whites are expected to prepared for and understanding of that very suspicion. Steven Barnes (the science fiction author), in an NPR commentary, "argues that one of the reasons Sen. Barack Obama could be such an appealing candidate is that he doesn't carry the cultural baggage of slavery, since his father was an immigrant to the United States." But I would submit that the rest of us don't need to carry that baggage either. Just because our parents and grandparents taught us to lug it around doesn't mean that it's good for us. Maybe it's past time we just dumped it by the curb and went on.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

It's No Sacrifice

I was listening to Steve Inskeep interview Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer from California about the environment. With the handover of control in Congress, Senator Boxer is the new chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

At one point, Mr. Inskeep asks her if she's prepared to ask or demand that people make sacrifices in the name of energy efficiency. Senator Boxer's answers are telling, in the fact that they give insight into the way that politicians deal with delicate issues -- or, perhaps more accurately, issues that some of their constituents might not like.

Senator Boxer actively avoids saying that there will be anyone who is hurt or pained by initiatives to increase fuel efficiency. She focusses on the idea that we in the United States as a whole will benefit from reducing our reliance on oil, especially foreign oil. But just because we, as a whole, will come out ahead doesn't mean that each of us as individuals will be able to make changes painlessly. Mr. Inskeep pushes her on it a little bit, but it becomes clear the Senator Boxer is not about to address what we as individuals are going to have to do to make her new environmental policies work.

Whether she really wants people to hear her saying "there's no downside for you if we do this" is debatable, but it's pretty clear that she understands that in this case all politics is, even more than local, personal. So she dodges the question of what we're going to have to do as individuals, and focusses on what we're going to gain collectively. Of course, this was really sort of a "gotcha" question on Mr. Inskeep's part, and I would have been surprised if he'd hung on to the question long enough to risk alienating the Senator.

But I think that Americans have become estranged from the idea of personal risk and sacrifice, and that modern political discourse contributes to that. Our current standard of living drinks energy resources like Kool-Aid, and if we're going to put the brakes on things like resource depletion and/or man-made global climate change, we're going to have to change our ways. And that means that there is a chance that certain among us won't be able to maintain our current standards of living. The pay off for that MIGHT be that all of us benefit down the road, but it might not -- these things are always uncertain. But risk is a part of life, and they say "Who dares, wins." This country was built on risk-taking - mainly because it turned out to be a remarkably useful material.

(If you have the chance, listen to the audio file of the interview. The posted "transcript" is abrdiged, so you miss a lot of what was said, and in any event, you can't hear HOW things are being said, when you just read it.)

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Hey, it's not MY fault...

I was reading a story on MSNBC/Newsweek online about 5 cheerleaders at a high school in a suburb north of Dallas, Texas, who allegedly could do whatever they wanted and get away with it. "By many accounts, the group of cheerleaders, known as the 'Fab Five,' were out of control—an elite social clique that flagrantly flouted school rules but faced few sanctions."

Okay, nothing really out of the ordinary here - this sort of thing happens all the time, in schools all over the place. There always seemed to be one group of students that could get away with things that would result in expulsion for "lesser mortals," and they gloried in it. When I was a freshman in college, for instance, the football team was known for being more or less above the rules. Just about anybody on campus could tell you a story about something that they'd seen or heard of a football player doing that we'd been SPECIFICALLY warned would get you thrown out of school during student orientation. But this particular story gets a little better...

"But there's an added wrinkle to their tale: the Fab Five's alleged ringleader was the daughter of McKinney North's principal, Linda Theret."

Is good to have friends in high places, no?

So anyway, after the girls post pictures of their exploits on their MySpace pages. (One of these days, people are going to learn that posting pictures of yourself doing things you ought not to be doing on the World Wide Web is a bad idea. Until then, they're going to provide the rest of us with no end of water-cooler chitchat.) With the help of a cheerleading coach who'd decided that she'd had enough of being one of the girls' targets, word gets out, and the school district hires a lawyer to investigate how such goings-on could be happening in their upstanding little community. Perhaps not surprisingly, said lawyer finds that there's more than enough blame to go around, including a helping for Principal Theret.

But here's the best part, and the point of all this.

"Theret recently reached a settlement with the school board, agreeing to resign in exchange for a payment of around $75,000 and a letter of recommendation."

Wow. THIS is why people spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years going to law school. (Ex-) Principal Theret's lawyer(s) likely made a bundle by getting the school district to pay their client off, AND agree to write a letter recommending her for a job that they just ousted her from. This is where people point when they say that the American legal system is out of control. Even if the school disctrict turns out to be able to prove that Principal Theret was derelict in her duties as principal, it would like cost them at least $100,000.00 to prove it in court. By seeing to that, the principal's counsel was able to, in effect, get the school district itself to cast Principal Theret as a victim of what happened, rather than someone who should be held accountable.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007


So I get this e-mail, from a mailing list to which I belong. Here's part of it...

"Right now, there is a crime being committed which means that quite a few Immigration Employees promised to play with our files and use us as their new Sexual Plaything and then kick us out of the USA."

Once you get past the poor grammar, it becomes quite the narrative, ranking up there with the literary gems that Nigerian scammers cook up for their 419 schemes. This is allegedly the tale of a husband and wife who are fighting deportation, even though they each posess an "Authorization Employment Card and a Social Security Number." It's signed by the wife - we'll call her "Mrs. M" - so I decided to look her up on Google, and see what I could find.

And what I found looked to be mainly blog and message-board comment spam, and a couple of URLs that Mrs. M has in her name. It appears that the Ms are attempting to call attention to their plight via the web, and have been for some time. It turns out that this story has been kicking around the net for at least the past 18 months, with Mrs. M posting their sad story to a number of different websites, both in the United States and abroad. It's not always the same message - it's evolved over time. For instance, in one of the earliest postings that I found, Mrs. M claims: "My husband is a retired Colonel in the Military," and mentions a "$100 Billion Dollar Lawsuit against this Crooked Attorney." The sexual threats that they allege have been made by INS personnel aren't mentioned at that time. Another recent development in the case is "a miscarriage on the streets of Florida" from all the stress. There is also a call for a boycott against one "Ms Tanith Belbin," whom I gather is a skater. Congress and the President are accused of having "Politically interfered in the Olympics so they could send Tanith Belbin to the Olympics." It does keep up with the times - the amount of time that Mrs. M and her husband have been fighting to stay in the United States tracks with the dates that the messages have been posted, so the one I received today says they've been at for a year and a half longer than those of 18 months ago.

Mrs. M's name, while rare, is not apparently unique, so I found several hits that don't seem to have anything to do with them or their crusade, and since her full last name is that of a popular mixed drink, I found a few alchoholic recipes while snooping.

But there's nothing else about the Ms. No news stories or anything else like that. I haven't done an exhaustive search for the Ms, but most of what I did find that relates to them are posts on message and comment boards. One blogger does mention them, but only to direct people to their website - he appears to take them at face value, and holds them up as someone whom the government is screwing over even worse than they are him. But it seems that the only publicity they're receiving is self-generated, without even so much as a group of freinds promoting their cause.

I have no idea what to make of this. One person who posted about their e-mail conjectured that they were running a "[...] pay-for-protest site. You pay them money they pester people with your protest." My first theory was that someone's attempting to engage in "viral protest," putting this out there to generate buzz, and then pulling out the real issue once they have a large enough following. But after eighteen months of this, it doesn't seem to have caught on, so I'm starting to think that it's simply another conspiracy theory, courtesy of the Tinfoil Hat crowd.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Six Words

SMITH magazine had a contest earlier this month to write a six-word memior. I don't subscribe to the idea that you can tell your life story in a meaningful sense in only six words, but nevertheless six words came to me not too long ago.

"Reached for Nirvana. Couldn't maintain grip."