Thursday, January 27, 2005
11:43: So, if I expressed objections to seeing heterosexist portrayals of family life that exclude gay and lesbian families in kids' shows, and said that I don't want my nephews and nieces exposed to them, would you pull distribution of such shows much as you did with the Postcards from Buster show that talks about a legitimately coupled lesbian family in Vermont?
Come on PBS! We count on you to represent ALL aspects of life with balance and fairness, not to kowtow to those who'd like to pretend some things just don't exist.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Condi on Latin America
11:47: Thanks, Senator Dodd. When Condi basically started venting about how horrible Venezuela's Chavez is and equating him to Fidel Castro and how little he's done to help the situation by what he says and how he's not cooperating, he replied "Yes, but Lula in Brazil has said very similar things--in fact following similar lines--and you've found a way to work with Brazil."
Condi: no matter what you may have heard, Latin American politics are not just based on "we like Castro, we don't like Castro". The US has played a serious role in creating perceptions about itself all throughout the continent, and continuing to blame populist presidents for the bad perception of the US in Latin America is as disingenuous as continuing to say "nine eleven" every time there's a question you don't want to answer.
Bushist Outrage of the week
11:27: Ok, so it took Bush a few days to go further than his initial US$15 million to relief work in the Indian Ocean. That's a fumble that almost didn't get caught.
But the big fumble is that the budget for his second inauguration is $40 million. This, at a time when they say there's not enough money to pay for schools or health care or AIDS treatment programs.
But even more outrageous: they tell the District of Columbia that they have to suck up $17 million worth of security related costs out of their general budget. That's $17 million the District didn't have. Of course, the Republican-controlled Congress and White House won't appropriate any funds for this. GOP certainly won't pay for it. Set aside that they paid 10 times as much for NYC security during the GOP convention.
So what do they do? The reach a so-called compromise. What is it? Basically, DC is to divert $11.9 million from emergency regional security emergency funds to pay for things like parade review stands and presidential security.
Add to this that these same parade review stands are not open to the public. The Inaugural committee is charging $60 a pop for a seat at these stands. Where is that money going? Who knows.
That's money that is earmarked for paying for hospital services in case of regional emergency, transit emergency planning, security and safety equipment for first responders, etc. This is not just DC money, it's regional money. Northern VA and suburban MD.
So, basically, those of us living within miles of Nucklehead-in-chief must give up money allocated for our safety and health in case we are attacked so nucklehead can have a second party that costs more than what he initially allocated for aid to a part of the world that is a hotbed of antiamerican hostility based on our inaction and empty posturing.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Die-cast planetoids made in Macau
This looks like either cheap cookware or one of those old-style Monopoly playing pieces that you shouldn't use because you might get lead poisoning.
The Intelligent Design whackjobs will have a field day with this new image of the belt around Iapetus, one of Saturn's moons...
Thursday, January 06, 2005
My TSA No-Fly List Saga, Part 2
01:28: After my return to the Untied--I mean United--States, I proceeded to muster up what remaining patience I may have had for the Transportation Sekurity Agency and called their 800 number to speak to the office of the Ombudsman.
I got an option to hear menus in English. I usually choose this option simply because, often, the people who they have as Spanish-speaking agents in these kinds of settings either choose to become way too informal way too quickly, or because their Spanish is, frankly, quite jarring to my ears. [It might serve as a humanizing disclaimer that my dad has been a writer for many years, a communications professor, a public speaker, and an editor. Anything as minor as a misplaced conditional conjugation in what should be pluperfect subjunctive clause while we spoke was likely to incurr his immediate correction, and request for oral proofreading before he would continue listening to the rough draft of whatever inane story about what happened during recess that day]. The English menu option, however, dumped me right into a voice mailbox wherein I was expected to recite my story and leave all my details, with the hope that someday, someone might deign to listen to it.
I navigated my way out of Touch-Tone™ land and into the Spanish-speaking line. A woman answered, and I proceeded to tell her my story. I told her about how I had grown up in Peru, and how during 14 years I had never, once, been subjected to anything like this. I told her how my family is from Colombia and how, despite all the troubles there, any kind of scrutiny or check we received at airports had never made us feel like we were being singled out from anyone else. I told her how it saddened me and hurt me that my country, where I was born and where I have made my home for 10 years, would treat me like this--how I had nary a parking ticket and yet I was being treated like a state threat. I underestimated the amount of emotional discomfort this whole situation was causing me, because as I said all this I started to cry.
I rarely cry. It's not some macho posture or some fear of it. I wish I cried more often. But truth is, I have a very hard time doing so--tears very rarely materialize, and I very rarely get to that point of cathartic emotional release. It seems to only happen at the end of very sad or hopeful movies--personal crises (and I've had some major ones over the last few years), extreme stress, depression--none of these seem to make it happen.
In any event, as the woman who answered the phone took down my info, and realized I live in Arlington VA (just up the road from TSA headquarters, in fact), something seemed to click there. She had been very comforting, very reassuring, trying to tell me that it wasn't me, that it was just a match of a name and that it was for safety and how it was unfortunate but necessary. Once I told her about living in Peru and Colombia, she told me that she had grown up in El Salvador and also knew what that was like. So at that point I really tried to drive the point--she, of all people, having come to the US as a refugee from the repression that overtook El Salvador during its civil war, should know what horrible things happen when governments stop being accountable to their people and start treating everyday folk like criminals. She definitely seemed to get it.
Weeks passed. Today I got a letter, telling me that the TSA's Ombudsman had received my letter and that I needed to fill out a Passenger Identity Verification (PIV) form. It asks for all sorts of information (name, birthplace, hair color, so on) as well as notarized copies of three forms of documentation from a list of seven. Thing is, some of the ones on the list are the kinds of things not everyone has: a passport, a voter registration card, a driver's license, a military ID, a state ID, a birth certificate. That means that if you're just an average person who only has a birth certificate and a state ID and haven't registered to vote, aren't military and don't have a passport, you have no physical way of getting yourself off the damn list because you can't meet the criteria for three IDs.
I'm sending them three and a notarized copy of my ACLU membership card.
Chances are, though, that this is likely to make my membership on the list definitive.
My TSA No-Fly List Saga, Parts 1
01:10: So, after the highly depressing results of the US presidential election of 2004, I decided that I needed to spend some time outside of the United States, preferrably in a place that had medical care for all, a solid educational system, where "welfare" isn't a dirty word and where "intellectual" is not an insult. Amsterdam came to mind. Certainly, the fact that it was the center of a vast trading empire for centuries, that it has some of the most progressive laws in the books anywhere, and that being a leftist isn't considered treasonous was appealing. The other aspects--decriminalized marijuana, a sexually liberated attitude, and architectural beauty also helped.
It was, therefore, with great irony, that I found myself, 2 hours before my flight was expected to leave, facing a Lufthansa ticket agent apologizing to me because the computer was telling her that she had to call local law enforcement. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my suspicions that all those "random" extra searches while I flew weren't so random after all were confirmed:
I had finally been matched to the Transportation Security Authority's Do-Not-Fly list. Of course, the Lufthansa agent (a very sweet German lady who was trying to conform me and working hard to reassure me that this was not Lufthansa's doing but rather the doing of my government) couldn't tell me that much. All I knew was that my passport went back into some room in the middle island of airline doom at Dulles Airport's main terminal, from where she was expected to call whatever appropriate law enforcement goons were required to verify my identity. About an hour later, after a host of different people in the statspolizei outfits that have become so fashionable in turn-of-the-21st-century USA had come to scrutinize the computer screen and my passport, I was signalled to approach the counter, where I was told that all was cleared now and that here was my boarding pass. They told me nothing. But I did manage to peer over the counter, and did notice that the form they were filling out had a check next to "Do-not-fly-list" match, and that apparently, four different signatures were required--airport security, FBI, TSA and one fourth agency I did not manage to note. Of course, all had come across and confirmed that no, the full name did not match, no, the birthdate and birthplace did not match, no, the nationality did not match, but certainly none of them had the decency to tell me any of this.
I received a one-sheet photocopied letter from the TSA trying to convince me that really this whole treatment was the national security of brussel sprouts ("it will make you stronger"), a spanking ("this hurts us more than it hurts you") or cod liver oil ("for your own good"). They gave me a phone number to call to speak to the ombudsman.
So I managed to make it to Amsterdam that day, but having been close to not being able to leave the country that I was trying to get out of precisely because it was becoming such an invasive, civil-liberties-evading advocate of indecency. My return trip was uneventful (and my stay in Amsterdam was highly enjoyable). However, by comparison to my departure, my arrival in Frankfurt and my interaction with the German immigration agents gave me the warm fuzzies--a delicious historic irony.