Monday, December 31, 2007

Cartoon of the Day -- New Year's Edition


* Gary Markstein, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Cartoon of the Day

* Steve Benson, Arizona Republic

Tis the Eve

Along with the revelry of New Year's Eve, the approaching new year always brings the end of year Lists -- Best, Worst, Favorite, etc.

My list is The List of Lists that I like.

Bill Maher's Dickheads of the Year in the Rolling Stone is a must see/read, in which Maher provides his picks for biggest assholes of 2007. All good, but my favs are:

Congressional Democrats

Who, when it came time to render judgment on the administration's patently illegal wiretapping, took advantage of a deeply unpopular lame-duck president by caving in to his every whim. They agreed to allow the Justice Department to spy on Americans without a warrant. I know it is unconstitutional and all, but hey, if you can't trust the sober judgment of Alberto Gonzales. . . .

Alberto Gonzales

At the Bush White House, a constitutional crisis is when somebody actually reads the Constitution. Gonzales obeyed Karl Rove's orders to decimate the Justice Department by firing the U.S. attorneys who weren't Bush loyalists to the point of corruption, then told Congress, I can't recall who put together the list of which attorneys to fire. But I stand by the decision to fire everyone on the list. Which I never read. Also, nothing improper occurred. And I know, because I can't recall.

George Bush

Come on, no list of assholes and fuck-ups could be complete without the Dipshit in Chief. Who will tell this president what everyone but him already knows? The theory of evolution. And the times tables. And where the sun goes at night. And that Iraq is going to be three different countries. And that everyone hates us and we've run our military into the ground and the Taliban is back and we still haven't caught bin Laden and the economy is tanking and we wasted eight years blowing the oil companies while the Earth is melting. We had a pretty nice house when this Cat in the Hat of presidents came in and made the mess of all time. And who's going to clean it all up — Rudy Giuliani?
Lawyer that I am, I have to include Slate's contribution by Dahlia Lithwick, The Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year, in which she noted that her 2006 list of worst civil liberty violations remains intact, since "Bush administration continues to limit our basic freedoms, conceal its own worst behavior, and insist that it does all this in order to make us more free. In that spirit, it seemed an opportune moment to commemorate the administration's worst legal justifications and arguments of the year." So hard to choose, but a few memorable legal whoppers:

10. The NSA's eavesdropping was limited in scope.

Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched earlier than we'd been led to believe, scooped up more information than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored, as we'd been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.

8. The vice president's office is not a part of the executive branch.

We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an "entity within the executive branch" and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that his fight with Cheney's office was a "contributing" factor in his decision to quit after 34 years.

5. Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege.

This little gem of an argument was cooked up by the White House last July when the Senate judiciary committee sought the testimony of former White House political director Sara Taylor, as well as that of former White House counsel Harriet Miers, in connection with the firing of nine U.S. attorneys for partisan ideological reasons. Taylor was subpoenaed in June and, according to her lawyers, she wanted to testify but was barred by White House counsel Fred Fielding's judgment that the president could compel her to assert executive privilege and forbid her testimony. As Bruce Fein argued in Slate, that dramatic over-reading of the privilege would both preclude congressional oversight of any sort and muzzle anyone who'd ever communicated with the president, regardless of their wish to talk.

2. State secrets.

Again, it's virtually impossible to cite the single most egregious assertion by the Bush administration of the state-secrets privilege, because there are so many to choose from. This doctrine once barred the introduction into court of specific evidence that might compromise national security, but in the hands of the Bush administration, it has ballooned into a doctrine of blanket immunity for any conduct the administration wishes to hide. The privilege was invoked in 2007 to block testimony about its torture and extraordinary rendition program, its warrantless surveillance program, and to defend the notion of telecom immunity for colluding in government eavesdropping, among other things. No longer an evidentiary rule, the state-secrets privilege has become one of the administration's surest mechanisms for shielding its most egregious activities.

Next up, the 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2007 from The Beast. Another rave rant on the year as it goes. Another one that should be reviewed in full. A few highlights:
9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump.

2. Dick Cheney

Charges: Worst president ever. So openly horrible, he now makes jokes about being Darth Vader. Unashamedly advocating for executive abuse of power and corporate theft. In and out of public office since his congressional internship during the Nixon Administration. Didn't care about the quagmire he foresaw in '94, because since then he'd deftly maneuvered to profit from it. Polling lower than HPV.

Exhibit A: His Halliburton stock options rose 3000% in value from 2004-2005. No joke.

Punishment: Raped by the sun.

1. George W. Bush

Charges: Is it a civil rights milestone to have a retarded president? Maybe it would be, if he were ever legitimately elected. You can practically hear the whole nation holding its breath, hoping this guy will just fucking leave come January '09 and not declare martial law. Only supporters left are the ones who would worship a fucking turnip if it promised to kill foreigners. Is so clearly not in charge of his own White House that his feeble attempts to define himself as "decider" or "commander guy" are the equivalent of a five-year-old kid sitting on his dad's Harley and saying "vroom vroom!" Has lost so many disgusted staffers that all he's left with are the kids from Jesus Camp. The first president who is so visibly stupid he can say "I didn't know what was in the National Intelligence Estimate until last week" and sound plausible. Inarguably a major criminal and a much greater threat to the future of America than any Muslim terrorist.

Exhibit A: "And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I'm sorry it's the case, and I'll work hard to try to elevate it."

Sentence: Dismembered, limbs donated to injured veterans.

Dan Kurtzman, writing as a guest humorist at NYTimes' Laugh Lines, on The Year’s Most Laughable Political Antics.

From Dick Polman's American Debate, The 2007 Aberrant Behavior Awards. As always, Polman's take on the political landscape is on target. My favorites here:
Updating FDR, The “We Have Nothing to Spin But Fear Itself” Award goes to President Bush, for invoking the specter of “World War III” while discussing Iran’s nukes in October - even though he had been privately tipped off months earlier that an impending intelligence community report would reassess whether Iran had any nukes in the first place. Turns out, the intelligence community concluded that the nuke program was halted in 2003. But after this report surfaced earlier this month, Bush (true to form) insisted that his bellicose talk remains entirely appropriate, because, even though he acknowledges that the Iranians did halt the program, they might some day opt to restart the program…which apparently means that “World War III” rhetoric is justified regardless of the circumstances. Sort of like tax cuts for the wealthy.

And The "Ouch, that Hurts! Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?" Award naturally goes to the Democrats of Capitol Hill, for their year-long inability to thwart an unpopular president’s unpopular war. Granted, they did show courage on a few major matters of statecraft – such as voting to condemn moveon.org for its nasty newspaper ad about General David Petraeus, and voting to condemn some mass atrocities committed by the Ottoman Turks 92 years ago. But it seems like a lifetime ago – it was actually only last January - when the Democrats warned that if Bush didn’t change course in Iraq, the new majority would be “showing him the way.” Dream on. I’ll stick with what Washington analyst Charlie Cook said to me back in 2002, when the Democrats were first fumbling for a response to Bush on Iraq: “They couldn’t find a unified message if it was tattooed on their butts.”
And then there's Salon's Glenn Greenwald on his Favorite Quotes of 2007, including:
'Our most basic civil liberty is the right to be kept alive' --

Mitt Romney, invoking the cowardly flagship of the modern GOP in arguing for limitless presidential powers and, with one short sentence, completely repudiating the core, founding American political value as most famously expressed by Patrick Henry.


'What the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years' --

Sen. Arlen Specter on the Military Commissions Act, in a speech he delivered on the Senate floor almost immediately before voting in favor of that bill (that was actually from September, 2006, but I cheated and included it anyway because it's my all-time favorite political quote).
Dave Berry provides his annual month-by-month distillation of the year, in An Inconvenient Year. As he summarizes:

It was a year that strode boldly into the stall of human events and took a wide stance astride the porcelain bowl of history.

It was a year in which roughly 17,000 leading presidential contenders, plus, of course, Dennis Kucinich, held roughly 63,000 debates, during which they spewed out roughly 153 trillion words; and yet the only truly memorable phrase emitted in any political context was, "Don't tase me, bro!"

* * * *

But, other than that, 2007 was a disaster. American consumers came to fear products manufactured in China, which covers pretty much everything in the typical American home, except the dirt. Global warming continued to worsen, despite the efforts of leading climate experts such as Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio, who emerged briefly from private jets to give the rest of us helpful tips on reducing our carbon footprints.

On the economic front, the dollar continued to lose value against all major foreign currencies and most brands of bathroom tissue. There was a major collapse in the credit market, caused by the fact that for most of this decade, every other radio commercial has been some guy selling mortgages to people who clearly should not have mortgages. ("No credit? No job? On death row? No problem!") It got so bad that you couldn't let your dog run loose because it would come home with a mortgage. The subprime mortgage fiasco resulted in huge stock market losses, and the executives responsible, under the harsh rules of Wall Street justice, were forced to accept lucrative retirement packages.

(For prior Barry years, see Mirth, Musings, & More).

Almost Update:

Sure, just as I'm ready to post this, I discover that Kurtzman has compiled the List of Lists at his About.com Political Humor site, 2007 in Review: Best of the 'Best of' Lists. Of course, he has most of mine, plus many more.

Good time to break out the bubbly.

Happy New Year's!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cartoon of the Day

* Jim Morin, Miami Herald

It's the Season

Christmas may be over, but I like to think that the Christmas Season lasts through New Year's Day. You know, that time of year referred to as "The Holidays."

In keeping with those feelings of tidings and joy, it's hard to focus on all of the gloom and doom of the political scene, with things such as the possible selection of the GOP's version of the Pope (non-Catholic edition, of course) as a presidential candidate, the debacle of the lackluster Democratic Congress failing to stand up for important issues and rights, the pending gun control issue before the Supreme Court along with the rising rate of gun violence in our fair land. And then, of course, there's Iraq, Iran & Afghanistan, along with the Israelis & Palestinians -- and now Pakistan. And let's not forget the forgotten genocide in Darfur.

Yet, I'm not quite ready to tackle those issues in any meaningful, in-depth way just yet. I'd rather savor the spirit of the holidays a bit longer.

In keeping with that frame of mind, I can't resist this holiday treat. From Lugosi at Mirth, Musings & More, who shares my view on the "War on Christmas," Fun Facts About Xmas Guaranteed To Piss Off Christians, and who notes:

Over the last several years quite a controversy has erupted over the use of the term "happy holidays." I personally used to favor it only because it seemed like a shorter way of saying "merry Christmas and happy new year." But then somehow political correctness crept into the matter, quite a few people got their panties in a wad over what they perceived as a war on Christmas.
Yes, Virginia, there may be a Santa Claus, but Lugosi also provides this delicious tidbit on that most sacred day, commemorating the birth of the Baby Jesus:
That is why I finally decided to make a stand. It's time to forget the happy holidays crap and return to the TRUE roots of Christmas.... And it has nothing to do with the birth of the baby Jesus.

Saturnalia was a Roman festival that was celebrated around the time of the winter solstice.
"Saturnalia was a big holiday- businesses and courts closed for days. The halls were decked with holly branches and evergreen wreaths. People visited family and attended lavish banquets and holiday parties. Gifts of silver, candles, figurines, and sweets (often tied to evergreen wreaths) were exchanged. It was also customary to light candles and roam the streets singing holiday songs (albeit often in the nude). Even the "Christmas Tree" was a common sight."
So there you have it: Christmas traces its origins to an ancient pagan holiday.
And that's also why every word of the Bible should be taken as literal truth.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cartoon of the Day

* Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News

"The Family" Christmas



Since I've been reminiscing about my Italian Family, see Twas the Night Before Christmas, I thought that I'd give another version of an Italian Christmas -- from "The Family."

Ho-Ho-Ho!!

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

As can be seen, Santa paid a visit to our house, leaving lots of goodies behind, including the Tiffany bag and mini-fridge for the teenage daughter and a desk top speaker system for the iPhone mom.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 24, 2007

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Growing up, Christmas Eve was almost as important as Christmas itself.

My mother's side of the family -- the Italian side -- all got together on Christmas Eve for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, La Vigilia. My memories of Christmas Eve are of my grandmother, Noni, who was the mainstay of the family (my grandfather died when I was young) and she ensured that we were all there for dinner.

It didn't matter what was happening in your life, you had to make it home for the holidays and you had to go to her house for Christmas Eve. No matter where we were or what we had planned, she always managed to get us home by saying that she was old and she might be dead next year, so we had to make it this year. She lived to be 97, so her annual threat went on for many, many years. We used to joke that she was going to live forever and that she just used her upcoming death as her excuse to get us there. It was & it worked. No one ever missed. Italian guilt doesn't have its name for nothing.

Of course, the main part of the dinner was the Seven Fishes. Not my favorite dinner, since I don't eat seafood. Yet, even though the dinner featured the Seven Fishes (which we had in abundance), the true meaning of the dinner was the family gathering. My aunts and uncles and cousins.

In typical Italian fashion, I lived on the same block with several of my relatives, including my grandmother. We certainly saw each other on a regular basis. Yet, the night was special. It was Christmas Eve.

No one knows for sure what the Feast of the Seven Fishes actually symbolizes. As noted in Traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes:

By all accounts, the Feast of the Seven Fishes began as a southern Italian custom. The tradition was hugely popular in Italy's most southern points, including the island of Sicily. At one time, Rome, the Eternal City, seemed to the farthest point north where La Vigilia was celebrated, although today, although Italians throughout the world celebrate it. No one knows for sure the significance for offering seven fishes, although there are numerous explanations for it. Some believe that seven fishes are served because it took God seven days to create the world, while others mention the Seven Hills of Rome. There is also the possibility that the seven fishes symbolize the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, along with the seven sins. Today, the number of fishes served varies. Although seven remains the historical number.

For La Vigilia, there are no requirements as to which types of fish need to be served. In Italy however, eel is regarded as a delicacy and so, it is perhaps the only non fish on the table. Other popular fishes that are eaten on this special holiday are prepared versions of calamari, baccala (codfish), kale patties, oysters, scallops, whiting, clams, and shrimp. At the Feast of the Fishes, the meal usually begins with antipasto, the Italian equivalent of hors d�oeuvres.
We were a lot like Anita Campbell, who writes, Christmas Eve - Dinner of the Seven Fishes:
Everyone in our family agreed that the 'seven fishes' symbolized something important. We just couldn't agree on what.

Some think it symbolizes the seven days it took Joseph and Mary to get to Bethlehem. Others think it symbolizes the seven sacraments in the Catholic church. There are other theories, as well. No doubt the controversy will continue long after I am gone.
For me, it symbolizes my grandmother and her family. A tradition of family togetherness that has stayed with me, at least in my memory.

Day before Christmas

I'm back in Philly after a long week-end in Pittsburgh, celebrating an early Christmas with my husband's family.

I'm usually finished with my Christmas shopping by this point, but this year I'm a bit behind. My surgery in late October, while relatively minor, ended up taking me a while to fully recover. I also had a death in the family a few weeks ago, so had family come to Philly and then we traveled to Scranton for the memorial service. A cousin, who was 39 years old, died of a rare form of cancer. Very sad.

With this and that, I needed to go out on Christmas Eve. Normally, I would avoid that at all costs. I ended up going shopping near the King of Prussia Mall and then I ended my excursion in Chestnut Hill. I was surprised to discover that the traffic wasn't too bad and the stores weren't crowded. Good for me, bad for the economy.

This brought home the words of Bob Herbert in Nightmare Before Christmas, who observed:

Christmastime is bonus time on Wall Street, and the Gucci set has been blessed with another record harvest.

Forget the turbulence in the financial markets and the subprime debacle. Forget the dark clouds of a possible recession. Bloomberg News tells us that the top securities firms are handing out nearly $38 billion in seasonal bonuses, the highest total ever.

But there’s a reason to temper the celebration, if only out of respect for an old friend who’s not doing too well. Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life-support.

I had a conversation the other day with Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He mentioned a poll of working families that had shown that their belief in that mythical dream that has sustained so many generations for so long is fading faster than sunlight on a December afternoon.

* * * *

“These are parents who cannot see where the jobs of the future are that will allow their kids to have a better life than they had,” said Mr. Stern. “And they’re not wrong. That’s the problem.”

Record bonuses on Wall Street at a time when ordinary working Americans are filled with anxiety about their economic future are signs that the trickle-down phenomenon that was supposed to have benefited everyone never happened.

The rich, boosted by the not-so-invisible hand of the corporate ideologues in government, have done astonishingly well in recent decades, while the rest of the population has tended to tread water economically, or drown.

* * * *

What seems to be happening now is that working Americans, and that includes the middle class, have exhausted much of their capacity to tread water. Wives and mothers are already working. Mortgages have been refinanced and tremendous amounts of home equity drained. And families have taken on debt loads — for cars, for college tuition, for medical treatment — that would buckle the knees of the strongest pack animals.

* * * *

Instead of celebrating bonuses this Christmas season, too many American workers are looking with dread toward 2008, worried about their rising levels of debt, or whether they will be able to hang on to a job with few or no benefits or how to tell their kids that they won’t be able to help with the cost of college.

It’s not the stuff of which dreams are made.

Nor is it tidings of good cheer for the holidays -- or the New Year.

Cartoon of the Day


* Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Blank Screen

I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I am a big fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and I have missed their take on the news during the writers' strike. In solidarity with the WGA, I have not even watched re-runs of the shows during the course of the strike.

It's now reported that both shows will be coming back after the New Year. The go-to place for all things Colbert, No Fact Zone first report on the news. The NYtimes reports, Stewart and Colbert to Return Without Writers:

Comedy Central’s pair of popular news satirists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, will return to their television shows on Jan. 7, two months after production was suspended because of a writers’ strike.

Mr. Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” and Mr. Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report,” will have to improvise their monologues and interviews without the help of their writing staffs.

In a statement, Comedy Central said, “We continue to hold out hope for a swift resolution to the current stalemate that will enable the shows to be complete again.”

It was unclear why the two men decided to return. The announcement came days after the NBC hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien and the ABC host Jimmy Kimmel said they would resume their late-night shows on Jan. 2.

The Huffington Post also reports on the news, "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" To Return In January — Without Writers, noting the reaction of Stewart and Colbert:
'We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence.'

— Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
As Deadline Hollywood Daily added, Official: Stewart/Colbert Return Jan. 7th:
Meanwhile, the WGA issued this response to the news: “Comedy Central forcing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air will not give the viewers the quality shows they’ve come to expect. The only way to get the writing staffs back on the job is for the AMPTP companies to come back to the table prepared to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild.”
This puts me in a real quandary. Much as I want to watch -- can I? Will I?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dog Gone It


A friend directed me to this NYTimes article because it deals with an issue that has arisen in another context of late.

In a piece entitled Who Invited the Dog?, the Times explores the increasingly frequent situation where dog owners have adopted the bad habits of parents with young children. Like those parents who feel that they can bring their infants everywhere -- invited or not -- some dog owners have likewise felt the need to come with pet in hand. The results are not always a wag of the tail, followed by a puppy treat. As the Times article notes:

Difficult guests are no longer limited to humans. The boundaries between humans and animals have been so eaten away by pet therapists, pet designer outfits and pet bar mitzvahs, that it has reached a point where devoted owners, who treat their animals as privileged children, lose all perspective on the pet’s role in their social lives.

More American households have pets than ever — 68.7 million of them in 2006, according to a new survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, up 12.4 percent from 2001.

Among dog owners, 53.5 percent considered their pets to be members of the family, the survey found. For cats, the number was 49.2 percent.

In one incident mentioned in the article, family members ended up on non-speaking terms for several months over a family holiday visit. The pet owners who traveled home for the holidays seemed put out when the brother's fiancee was allergic to the dog. In order to head off the inevitable upcoming holiday pet mayhem, the piece is devoted to a guide for owners and hosts alike.

I grew up in a pet-free family. Interestingly, now that we are all adults, my siblings and I have pets, mostly due to the influence of spouses and children. Although I've never been particularly comfortable around dogs (having been bitten by a stray dog when I was younger), somehow our dog Ginger has managed to become "my dog" (as she sits here beside me while I write this). See also, Oh, Unlucky Day.

However, I'd still be in the "no pets allowed" club when it comes to parties and other events. Ditto for the thumbs down on bring your pet to work policy. The Times had a few pets at the office stories earlier this year, Can Your Dog Humanize the Office?, discussing the popularity of dog days at the office:
A MEMO was sent last month to the 125 employees of Archer Malmo, a marketing agency in Memphis. Titled “Office Dog Etiquette,” it said in part:

“If you bring your dog in, you also need to keep an eye on Spot’s whereabouts during the day. So, having a marathon all-day meeting and having your dog here on the same day probably isn’t advisable. Someone’s Fido got into someone’s office on Friday and pillaged through a private stash of Pop-Tarts. (Yes, if your dog had crumbs on her muzzle, she is the guilty party.)”

Rest assured, dogs are still going to offices throughout the land. Take Your Dog to Work began as a quirk of the dot-com boom — another perk that employers could offer to employees to persuade them to stay.

It had been thought that the patter of paws would go the way of casual Fridays and massages at your desk, but, alas, what has been disappearing instead are salary increases, fully funded pension plans and robust health insurance. The dogs, it seems, are here to stay, based on the volume of e-mail that I receive from readers.

See also, Is Bringing a Dog to the Office a Good Idea?. Dog friendly sites, such as DogFriendly.com, promote the idea of permitting dogs at work, suggesting benefits such as:
- Staff morale and worker productivity increased by bringing pets to work
- Increased camaraderie among employees
- Happier employees result in enhanced job performance
Of course, this is only true if everyone at the office is on board with the concept. Otherwise, morale can instead suffer, it can be divisive and strain relationships among employees. If dogs are allowed to roam the office, it can also interfere with job performance. In fact, shortly after Liza Belkin wrote her piece in the Times, she followed up with Dogs at the Office: Not Always So Cute, saying:

I often write about children in this space, and no one has ever sent me a photo of their baby. I write about dogs at work once, and now I have a gallery.

There was another kind of mail last week, no photos attached. Few complete names either, because the writers were sharing thoughts that they feared could hurt them at work — namely, that they don’t think pets belong at the office. “You can’t use my name because then I’ll be known as the one who hates dogs,” one anonymous caller told my voice mail. “I don’t hate dogs. I love dogs; I grew up with a sheepdog. But it just seems unprofessional.”

Many who contacted me described their allergies.

* * * *

Others objected to the smells, noise and mess that come with animals.

“On a recent Monday,” one reader wrote, “I began my workweek with the discovery that a dog had defecated under my desk. When I tracked down the pooch’s owner, she informed me that her pet had wandered off while she was working in the building over the weekend. I own a dog myself, love my furry friend, but wouldn’t dream of bringing her to the office. It’s highly inappropriate for a business setting.”

A few acknowledged out-and-out fear.

“My boss thinks his Shepherd is the sweetest thing in the world,” another wrote. “But I have always been nervous around dogs, and I have to take a deep breath every time I walk past the copy room, where Killer (not his real name) spends most of his day, because I have visions of the creature jumping out at me.”

There are employees who fight back, but they are rare, and even when the workers win, they are reluctant to use their names.
Pictured above is Ginger -- at home, where she belongs.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Emergency Rules Do Apply

Keith Olbermann of Countdown was on Bill Moyers Journal this week. Two of my favorites together, sharing a table and a conversation about journalism and politics. A fascinating interview of Olbermann and his evolution from a sportscaster to a political commentator.


video

The above video is a segment of the interview from the latter part of the show, when Bill Moyers posed questions from younger journalists on his staff. The question that struck me was from Jesse:

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “I have long had mixed feelings about Keith Olbermann. While it’s nice to have a cable anchor how doesn’t obsequiously parrot Republican National Committee talking points, I struggle with the fear that angry histrionics on both sides create more of the ugly polarization that paralyzes our institutions and prevents Americans finding common ground. How does Mr. Olbermann differentiate his ad hominem attacks from those we see on the other side?” What do you say to Jesse?

KEITH OLBERMANN: Well, they’re better written. The first– no, I hate to– I– it’s the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. It do– it’s the one criticism that I think is absolutely fair. We’re doing the same thing. It is– it becomes a nation of screechers. It’s never a good thing. But emergency rules do apply. I would like nothing better than to go back and do maybe a sportscast every night. But I think the stuff that I’m talking about is so obvious and will be viewed in such terms of certainty by history that this era will be looked at the way we look now at the– at the presidents and the– the leaders of this country who rolled back reconstruction. I think it’s that obvious. And I think only under those circumstances would I go this far out on a limb and be this vociferous about it.

Of course, the full interview is a must see. The complete video (and transcript) is available at PBS, Keith Olbermann Interview.

The video is also available at Crooks & Liars, Bill Moyers Journal: Part 1 and Bill Moyers Journal, Part 2.

During the interview, Olbermann discusses a new feature on his Countdown show called "Bushed," that "that goes beyond just skepticism" as Moyers said, where he provides a list of the various Bush scandals. As they discussed:

BILL MOYERS: What inspired that? You're doing it every night.

KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah, well, I seriously, it was-- when the NIE about Iran, the National Intelligence Estimate, was this overarching story consuming almost every news organization, left, right, and middle, for two or three days. And then, bang, here comes the water-boarding tapes, or if you prefer, Water-boarding Gate, out of nowhere. And no one mentioned the NIE again. Just-- it just vanished. And it occurred to me that this had been bothering me for some time, that we had had so many scandals, so much scandal fatigue that literally people were going, "What was the name of that attorney general who was-- who was-- who was-- what was-- didn't he get fired? Did he fire somebody? What was his name? What-- I can't remember. Who was it? Was it Ashcroft? But after Ashcroft? Who was it?" I said, "Well, look, this is-- this is-- this is literally a problem." I began to ask friends and people that I work with: How many scandals have we covered in this administration?

BILL MOYERS: It all happened so fast. Amnesia sets in immediately.

KEITH OLBERMANN: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: What does it mean for journalism?

KEITH OLBERMANN: It means you have to do something like that. That part of the news is not just saying, "Well, this happened in the last 24 hours," but here's something that happened six weeks. There's been a development in it. You're just not reading about it, you're not hearing about it because there's so much else to worry about. The list, Bill, of things that we could attach the word "gate" to in the Bush administration is now 50 items long.

The Bushed videos can be found at OneGoodMove. See Bushed Part 1 and More Bushed.

Cartoon of the Day

* Robert Arial, The State

Burnt Out


With the veneration being paid by some to Geno's owner Joey Vento, as noted in my previous post, He Did Say Please, is it any wonder that the racists are making a re-emergence on the scene? Almost coinciding with the Vento hearing being conducted at the Arch Street Meeting, just a few miles away, racism was being demonstrated in another way.

The photo tells the story almost better than words could. As described in the accompanying article, A SCRAWL OF HATE:

The first-floor windows are shattered, the screens behind them torn and frayed.

The inside of the red-brick rowhouse - which was recently cleaned, cleared out and painted in anticipation of new renters - is now stained with venomous hatred in every room.

Grafitti on the floor declares, 'All n-----s should be hung,' next to a spray-painted cross and the letters 'KKK.' Similar phrases are tattooed in stairways and even the bathtub.

While this disturbing act of vandalism reads like a page from a civil-rights-era history book, it actually occurred earlier this week in a predominantly white Port Richmond neighborhood that police say a black couple soon planned to move into.
Ah yes. As is the case elsewhere, racism is alive and well and flourishing in Philly -- City of Brotherly Love. Despite the assertions of conservatives on the right that we're past all that, I believe bigotry (against blacks, gays, Arabs and Mexicans and others) is on the rise. Fueled by the venom of those who persist in promoting racist sentiments under the guise of an aversion to "political correctness," as evidenced by a rise in hate crimes, bigotry has become more mainstream. See e.g., Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Silence.

We like to think things have improved, yet reality sometimes has a way of intruding, to show us that it's not so, in an ugly way. Those of us who are more "privileged" may not have the right vantage point to really understand that the words of a Vento are empowering to bigots. Others have a better understanding, as observed in Advice about racism proved to be prophetic:
Looking back now, the older construction worker's words were downright prophetic.

Earlier this month, when Shawn Jenkins and his girlfriend decided it was time to move out of Feltonville, he asked his fellow construction workers for their opinions on his planned destination.

Jenkins had fallen in love with a tidy, red-brick Port Richmond rowhouse that was being rented out by a relative of one of his co-workers.

The neighborhood was quiet, tree-lined and clean.

The block of Edgemont Street near Cambria that Jenkins and his girlfriend - who are black - soon planned to call home was predominantly white, but he didn't expect any racial tensions.

"Everyone said we should be fine, but this one older guy at my job, he said, 'You don't want to do that. They'll burn you out of there,' " Jenkins said last night.

"I guess he was right."

Though they didn't actually resort to arson, vandals broke into 2917 Edgemont St. earlier this week, shattering windows and scarring the walls with hate-filled graffiti, declaring "All n-----s should be hung," police said.

Jenkins and his 21-year-old girlfriend - who was also verbally harassed when she visited the house over the weekend - were left shaken by the hate crime, which sounds like a leftover nightmare from the Jim Crow era.

"You just don't think that this kind of stuff would go on today," Jenkins said.

It goes on in big and little ways. From the noose incident at the Comcast construction site in Center City Philly, Inquiry sought in racial incident involving noose, to this.

He Did Say Please

The question of the day was whether Geno's Steaks owner Joey Vento discriminated against non-English speaking patrons by posting an 'Speak English' sign at his South Philadelphia shop. See, e.g., earlier posts on this never-ending saga, It's a No-No, Ge-no and No Cheese Wid for me.

And of course it was only fitting that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations hearing on the issue was held at the Arch Street Meeting House, which was given to the Philadelphia Quakers by William Penn in 1693 -- considered to be a symbol of "tolerance, equality and peace."

As University of Pennsylvania professor Camille Charles explained, Penn prof: “Speak English” sign like Jim Crow era:

Charles, a professor of sociology, said the number of foreign-born residents living in the South Philadelphia neighborhood near Geno's grew more than 200 percent between 1980 and 2000.

When shown historical signs from the Jim Crow era in the South that read 'Whites Only,' Charles said Vento's 'Speak English' sign had the same impact on patrons.
You think I'm stupid? was the essence of Vento's defense to the charge that he was being discriminatory. That is, why would he do something that would turn away business? Of course, unstated by him is the fact that Vento's business has been "phenomenal" since the controversy erupted last year. Vento steaks his claim: Sign isn't discriminatory. There are a lot of bigots out there who have come to his support. In fact, Rudy Giuliani even did a campaign stop at Geno's, to show his anti-immigrant credentials. See What's With My Paisans?.

Testimony at the hearing was a reiteration of his stance since the controversy first arose, Pa. Shop Owner Backs English-Only Policy:
A small sign that asked customers to order in English at a famous cheesesteak shop was never meant to be offensive, the shop's owner testified Friday at a hearing to decide whether the policy was discriminatory.

Joe Vento, the owner of Geno's Steaks, defended his policy before the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which filed the discrimination complaint.

'This country is a melting pot, but what makes it work is the English language,' Vento told the commission. 'I'm not stupid. I would never put a sign out to hurt my business.'

Vento posted two small signs in October 2005 at his shop in a diverse South Philadelphia neighborhood, telling customers, 'This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE 'SPEAK ENGLISH.''

He said Friday that he posted the sign because of concerns over the debate on immigration reform and the increasing number of people from the area who could not order in English.

But he said he also wanted to keep the line moving at his busy store.
Really. This is all just much ado about nothing. Despite his Confederate flag tattoo (and related flag paraphernalia scattered about the store), The Flag Flies, Vento isn't a bigot. Really. Although he's not a Southern boy, his affinity for the Rebel flag doesn't mean he's at all racist. Really.

So that this story that never ends, never ends, we'll have to stay tuned for the answer to the question of the meaning of "The Sign" and other questions. As noted in Vento steaks his claim: Sign isn't discriminatory:

But is there anything wrong with "The Sign"? Specifically, does it violate the city's Fair Practices Ordinance by discriminating against immigrants and non-English speakers who frequent Vento's business?

That question wasn't answered yesterday at the Arch Street Meeting House, where a three-person panel heard more than six hours of testimony from witnesses for the HRC, which wants the sign removed, and Vento, who refuses to comply.

A ruling won't come for at least a couple of months, said Joseph Centeno, who chaired yesterday's hearing panel. The panel will make a recommendation to the full commission, but the parties have about 60 days to file post-hearing briefs.

An interesting footnote to this case relates to Vento's legal team. As noted in Vento: No barrier, just a view on English:
Vento is represented by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm in Atlanta.

* * * *

Leading Vento's legal team was Shannon Goessling of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.

While some people might be offended by Vento's signs, she contended, they aren't illegal. "Do you want the freedom from being offended?" she asked the three-member panel hearing the case. "Or the freedom of speech? You can't have both."

This legal team of 1st Amendment proponents is slightly more than your run of the mill ACLU wannabes. As is described in detail in this handbook on conservative foundations by Lee Cokorinos, The Assault on Diversity, Phawker also looks into the Atlanta legal foundation representing Vento, JOEY VENTO IN BED WITH SOUTHERN AGENTS OF INTOLERANCE & INDECENCY? OH MY!, finding there's a bit more to it than a "public interest law firm":
A cursory glance at the Southeastern Legal Foundation’s web site reveals a different picture. If anything, Southeastern Legal Foundation appears to be the Bizarro Universe version of progressive constitutional watchdogs like the Southern Poverty Center. They parrot all the usual suspect Karl Rove/FOX NEWS memes: Gay People Are A Lesser Species, No Mercy For Stinkin’ Wetbacks, It’s All Bill Clinton’s Fault. In fact, SLF was started in 1994 to put an end to Affirmative Action in Atlanta AND get Bill Clinton disbarred. (To date, they have received $285,000 from the Castle Rock Foundation, right-wing welfare arm of Adolph Coors Foundation, named after the Coors family patriarch and founder of the Coors brand. Adolph Coors committed suicide in 1929 when he jumped out of the window of the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, Virginia.)
The Foundation has also received substantial donations from Pennsylvania's own Richard Mellon Scaife, who has spent millions going after Bill Clinton and other right wing causes. See Mr. Mellonhead.

It's interesting what's left out of some of these news pieces. Like the non-mention of the Southeastern Legal Foundation's ties in the Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine did an in-depth article on Vento in its November issue, Lost in Translation, but neglected to mention his fondness for the confederate flag. Really.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Halls are Decked


In answer to a Commenter on my post about my Christmas frog, Oh Christmas Toad, the tree is up and trimmed, and the rest of the house is decked. As I mentioned in The Grinch Almost Stole Santa, my husband and I have the annual debate over how early is too early to put the tree up. For my husband, anything sooner than Christmas Eve is early. Obviously, it's a battle I always win.

This year, we got the tree last week-end and began the decoration extravaganza throughout the week. We finished decking the halls (and nooks and crannies) a few days ago.

Now, all we have to do is await Santa's arrival.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bush League (in)Justice

Dan Abrams of MSNBC is doing a series this week on the politicization of the Department of Justice under the Bush Administration.

Via Crooks & Liars, Abrams first covers the politicization of the Civil Rights Department, describing how the Department that was created to address racial discrimination has instead abandoned that mission to protect the "rights" of white males and religious "discrimination" against Christians. Of course, we all know how difficult it is to be a Christian, white male in this country. They certainly need protection from the rest of us.

Abrams then turns to the use of Signing Statements by the Bush Administration as a way to re-write or ignore laws enacted by Congress. The impact is to affect the balance of the three branches of government and to subvert any controls or oversight of the executive branch.

The issue that brought Gonzales down, the unprecedented Partisan Corruption of the DoJ is detailed in his next segment in the series. There has been the prosecution of more than five times the number of Democrats as Republicans by DOJ, and Bush loyalty as the overriding criteria for hiring attorneys.

I've covered each of these issues in various posts over the past few years. The summary provided by Abrams in these videos is compelling. The statistics are a stark backdrop to this tale of corruption.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flush That

With the flush of a toilet, the citation against Dawn Herb for cursing at her toilet is dismissed. She was found not guilty of disorderly conduct by a district magistrate, who found that "even loud cursing is protected speech." Woman not guilty in cursing incident. A follow-up article in the Scranton Times reports, Woman who cursed at her toilet found not guilty:

Magisterial District Judge Terrence V. Gallagher said the 31-year-old West Scranton woman did nothing wrong when she cursed at her overflowing toilet Oct. 11, then cursed at a neighbor — an off-duty Scranton cop — who told her to watch her language.

In a decision filed late Thursday, Judge Gallagher dismissed the disorderly conduct charge filed against Ms. Herb, 924 Luzerne St. A conviction carries up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.

Although the language she used “may be considered by some to be offensive, vulgar and imprudent ... such representations are protected speech pursuant to the First Amendment,” the judge wrote Thursday.

At a Monday hearing on the matter, Officer Patrick Gilman said he heard someone yell, “Are you (expletive) retarded? Get me the (expletive) mop.”

Patrolman Gilman said he then yelled, “Watch your mouth,” to which the person replied “(Expletive) off.” He then called Patrolman Gerald Tallo, who was on duty at the time. Ms. Herb allegedly admitted cursing at her toilet when Officer Tallo interviewed her about the incident.

In statements to the press, Ms. Herb said her neighbor told her to “Shut the (expletive) up,” and her response was “Mind your own business.”
As noted, Dawn Herb is the woman from Scranton who was issued a citation when she was overheard cursing at her overflowing toilet by a neighbor, who was an off duty policemen. See The Toilet Tirade and The Terrible Toilet. Rather than come to her rescue with a plunger, he came with back-up police to charge her.

For us potty mouths of the world, we can breath a sigh of relief, as we mutter, "That's a lot of crap."

Long live profanity!

~ ~ ~

There's a postscript to the case. Many may have thought this case was nothing but a silly matter of profanity and the potty. Not so!

This case is cited under the Educational Section of the National Constitutional Center's website, Profanities Lead to First Amendment Case, which notes that "A Pennsylvania woman facing charges for allegedly swearing loudly inside her home has prompted a case on a citizen's First Amendment right of free speech."

At least the 1st Amendment is alive & well in Scranton. The jury is still out in many other locales.

(Updated 12/14)

Cartoon of the Day



* Pat Oliphant, NYTimes

And He's the Best of the Bunch

Is it any wonder that we are the butt of so many lawyer jokes? Only an association of attorneys would celebrate the worst as the Best of the Bunch.

As Paul Kiel of TPM put it:

Yep, that's right. The American Bar Association Journal has named Alberto Gonzales Lawyer of the Year. Wait a minute, you say, isn't that like naming Alec Baldwin Father of the Year?
See LAWYER OF THE YEAR.

As though the Lawyer of the Year is a reverse popularity contest, which should be based upon infamy and notoriety rather than skill or acumen, the American Bar Association "awards"its Lawyer of the Year to Alberto, Lawyers of the Year 2007 & 2008:
The top legal story of 2007 was unquestionably the unraveling of support for the Bush administration’s expansive view of presidential power during wartime, and with it, the slow-motion destruction of Alberto Gonzales’ reign as U.S. attorney general. Add to that the controversy over whether the administration fired eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons, and no single lawyer made more news in 2007 than Gonzales.

* * * *

The most talked-about attorney this past year by a mile, Gonzales, 52, rose from being the grandson of illegal immigrants to the first Hispan�ic attorney general of the United States. George W. Bush appeared to be grooming the man he affectionately calls “Fredo” for the U.S. Supreme Court. But after Gonzales appeared veracity-challenged when testifying before the Senate Judiciary Com�mittee, he resigned in August.

Gonzales went from “Latino Lawyer of the Year” in 1999 to become the subject of several investigations involving use of the Justice Department as a political tool.

Before becoming attorney general, Gonzales authored—or at least authorized as White House general counsel—a memo describing the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and presided, at least nominally (see David Addington), over what now appears to have been a stealth campaign to reinstate pre-Watergate presidential authority.

His determination to do so is epitomized in a now-infamous hospital-room meeting with an incapacitated John Ashcroft in an unsuccessful effort to gain approval for a secret wiretapping program. The highlight: Ashcroft’s wife sticking her tongue out at Gonzales and his entourage as they retreated from Ashcroft’s bedside."

He's definitely someone for the profession to be proud of. For some Gonzo memories, see Jon Stewart's farewell:

video

And then there's SNL's Weekend edition on Gonzales, "Really." See He's Gone, Gone, Gone.

UPDATE (12/15): And who says you can't shame a lawyer?

Via TPM:
First Alberto Gonzales was forced to resign in disgrace. Now they've stripped his Lawyer of the Year crown from him. What next?

Earlier this week, the American Bar Association Journal, to universal derision, named Gonzales Lawyer of the Year.
After the outcry over naming Gonzales "Lawyer of the Year," the ABA backtracked and changed its award to "Newsmaker of the Year."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cartoon of the Day


* David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Oh Christmas Toad


Those of you who know me will appreciate this little addition to my Christmas collection. My husband brought this guy home last night. Now, if I can only get him to put the lights on the Christmas tree, I can decorate the tree.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 07, 2007

Cartoon of the Day


* Nick Anderson

I've Got Rhythm

Back in the dark ages, I attended an all-girls Catholic college. Abstinence would have been the norm, but we didn't speak of s-e-x at all, so we couldn't discuss not having it.

On the other hand, whenever I read about the abstinence programs of today, I am reminded of an old joke from those days:

Question: What do you call a girl who uses the rhythm method?

Answer: Mommy.

For the heathens (i.e., non-Catholics) out there, the rhythm method was the preferred (and only) permissible contraceptive method sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Why? Because it didn't work.

This method (and joke), of course, came to mind again when I read about the news of the rise in the teen birth rate, First rise in U.S. teen births since '91:

In a troubling reversal, the nation's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years, surprising government health officials and reviving the bitter debate about abstinence-only sex education.

The birth rate had been dropping since its peak in 1991, although the decline had slowed in recent years. On Wednesday, government statisticians said it rose 3 percent from 2005 to 2006.

The reason for the increase is not clear, and federal health officials said it might be a one-year statistical blip, not the beginning of a new upward trend.

However, some experts said they have been expecting a jump. They blamed it on increased federal funding for abstinence-only health education that doesn't teach teens how to use condoms and other contraception.

Some key sexually transmitted disease rates have been rising, including syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. The rising teen pregnancy rate is part of the same phenomenon, said Dr. Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health.

"It's not rocket science," she said.

I guess abstinence-only is the modern version of the rhythm method. Same method, same results. As Dr. Hogue said, it's not rocket science.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Face in the Mirror

Sometimes the poetic justice of it all is just too delightful.

Facebook has been in the news of late for disclosures of its misuse of the privacy rights of its members. See my previous posts, Suckface and Two Faced.

Yet Mark Zuckerberg has been assiduously trying to protect himself from the same level of scrutiny about his own affairs. Zuckerberg is the face behind Facebook. The NYTimes exposes the hypocrisy of Facebook's founder in Facebook Founder Finds He Wants Some Privacy:

Social networking Web sites can seem dedicated to the idea that nobody’s personal life is worth keeping private, but when it comes to Mark Zuckerberg — the founder of Facebook, one of the largest networks — Facebook disagrees.

Facebook tried last week to force the magazine 02138 to remove some unflattering documents about Mr. Zuckerberg from its Web site. But a federal judge turned down the company’s request for a court order to take down the material, according to the magazine’s lawyers.

The dispute stemmed from a lawsuit charging that in 2003 and 2004, as a student at Harvard, Mr. Zuckerberg stole the idea and some of the computer source code for Facebook from some fellow students. They were planning a networking site of their own and had hired Mr. Zuckerberg to help with the programming.

Their project fizzled, while Facebook made Mr. Zuckerberg a billionaire — at least on paper — at the age of 23.

As The Harvard Crimson describes it, Facebook Founder Loses Court Battle:

A federal judge ruled against Facebook Inc. on Friday, denying two emergency motions to force 02138 magazine to take down documents regarding Mark E. Zuckerberg, the company’s founder.

The documents—which included Zuckerberg’s Harvard College application, his personal diary, and an e-mail he wrote to the College’s Administrative Board—are evidence in an ongoing court battle between Facebook and ConnectU, a social networking site founded by Harvard students who employed Zuckerberg before he went on to found Facebook.

The ConnectU founders allege that Zuckerberg, formerly of the Class of 2006, stole their ideas, including some of the source code for their site.

The information was inadvertently disclosed by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Apparently, the Court had sealed the documents, but a reporter was able to review the documents in the Clerk's Office. A similar court error happened to Richard Mellon Scaife, who tried to keep details of his personal fortune confidential during the course of his nasty divorce. The clerk's office accidentally put the information on-line and the Pittsburgh paper published the information on its website. This of course is the same Scaife who spent millions trying to find and publish unflattering information about Bill Clinton. See Mr. Mellonhead. Hard to feel to badly for either of these fellows.

Looking at the issue from a pure privacy perspective, Daniel Solove of Concurring Opinions, in Facebook Founder Zuckerberg's Lost Privacy, discusses the real concerns raised with the inadvertent disclosures by the court. As he explains:

Since the documents were leaked by the court, the First Amendment bars the newspaper from being sued for publishing them. See Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975).

The Zuckerberg incident raises an issue that I find to be occurring far too often -- courts inadvertently leaking sealed and confidential documents. As businesses have discovered, after the spate of data security breaches in 2005, keeping people's data secure is no easy task and demands training and resources. But courts, it seems, have not thought much about data security. One of the problems is that a victim of a judicial leak of information has little recourse. The First Amendment prevents stopping a newspaper or blogger or anyone who obtains the information from publicizing it. As for the court, the court clerk and officials are typically immune from liability. So if a court leaks your confidential personal information, it's tough luck for you.

There needs to be a better incentive for courts to protect personal information. "Oops, I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it if a court is negligent in keeping information secure.

While I certainly agree with that sentiment, I cannot but wonder whether the problem arises because the court is too willing to grant certain parties (read that: rich and famous) additional confidentiality protections that the rest of us don't ordinarily get. If most the information that is accidentally disclosed is of the kind that is ordinarily public, then it's understandable that the mistake is made. Some of the documents referred to in these high profile cases don't necessarily seem the type of information that is put under court seal. I admit that I am rusty on this, since I have been a litigator in a million years, so I can't speak on the issue with any degree of certainty.

To the extent that there is a legitimate protective order, however, I do concur that the court needs to do a better job protecting the confidentiality that it granted to the party. The fallout that can occur when the information is disclosed because of the reach of the internet is much more devastating than merely being viewed by a few people in the confines of the courthouse.

The fascinating, in depth look at Zuckerberg and the details of the case can be found here: Poking Facebook.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Kamikaze Bombers

Judith Warner writes about the extremes of parental over-involvement in children's lives, using the tragedy in Missouri as an example, which resulted in the suicide of 13 year old Megan Meier, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. In her NYTimes blog, Helicopter Parenting Turns Deadly, she writes about the case and its consequences:

But for me the tragedy highlighted another troubling issue that threatens our homes just as steadily as poisonous online communications. That is the disturbing degree to which today’s parents – and mothers in particular – frequently lose themselves when they get caught up in trying to smooth out, or steamroll over, the social challenges faced by their children.

You only hear about the most freakish cases, like that of Lori Drew or of Wanda Webb Holloway, the Texas mother who in 1991 tried to pay someone to murder the mother of her daughter’s chief cheerleading rival. (“The motive here was love, a mother’s love for a daughter,” said a police investigator at the time.) Yet everyday examples abound of parents whose boundary issues are not so extreme, but still qualify as borderline wacko.

This reminded me of the latest local example of the helicopter parents who need to be grounded for interfering in their kids lives. The Main Line high flyers, of course, are the Pouls family, who are involved in nasty litigation with a former Baldwin 2nd grade teacher, Patricia Tollin.

The gossip that this case has generated revolves around a donation that the Pouls made to the Baldwin School, which they then threatened to pull unless Tollin, their daughter's 2nd grade teacher was fired. The Pouls claim that Tollin was "mean" to their daughter (although an older daughter had also been taught by Tollin and liked her) and Tollin claims that the Pouls assaulted and harassed her and threatened to pull a large donation to the school for construction of a new athletic facility if she weren't fired. Teacher files lawsuit against Baldwin donor, school. The October issue of Philadelphia Magazine has the whole sordid affair in juicy detail, Class Warfare (and don't miss the priceless comments).

Charges and counter-charges were exchanged over the past several months. The school finally settled with the teacher, Baldwin, ex-teacher settle one legal fight, but the Pouls are in this fight to the finish.

In their latest salvo, the Pouls allege that Tollin, a teacher at the private girl's school for 22 years, was a monster. As the Inky notes, Couple sued by Baldwin School teacher file response claiming she had poor record:
The Gladwyne couple who are being sued by a former second grade teacher on grounds they cost her her job at The Baldwin School have responded to her allegations by detailing 72 complaints from parents and others about her loud, threatening classroom manner.

In documents filed yesterday afternoon, Michael and Sheryl Pouls charged that rather than being the model teacher as she has claimed, Patricia Tollin "had one of the worst records--if not the worst record--of all the teachers in the roughly 120 year history of The Baldwin School."

The documents from the Poulses includes a counterclaim in which they are suing Tollin for defamation, invasion of privacy, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The 86-page file from the Pouls family is the latest salvo in a bitter, Main Line dispute that erupted in June when Patricia Tollin, 67, filed suit against the Poulses and against the private girls' school in Bryn Mawr where she had taught for 22 years.

* * * *

The Poulses' filing, which includes what the complaint says are excerpts from Tollin's personnel file, maintains that Baldwin parents have been complaining for years that Tollin screamed at and belittled their daughters and that school administrators had admonished her to change her behavior. The Pouls attorney subpoenaed the file as part of their discovery in the lawsuit.

"It is my belief that the teacher was very embarrassed by the fact her contract was not renewed and has tried to lay the blame on my family," Michael Pouls said.

See also, Move over Main Line Mama...You Can't Compete With Baldwin's Dirty Laundry.....

After reading the various articles (and assorted comments by other parents, teachers and former students), it appears that the Pouls just had to viciously retaliate against a 77 year old woman who spent her life at the Baldwin school as though she were a child abuser rather than a strict teacher. Their daughter had problems well before she entered the classroom of Patsy Tollin. But they didn't like the way she was treated by Pollin and had to strike out. These people seem like they decided to trade up -- being helicopter parents just wasn't good enough. They are the new breed of interfering parent -- the kamikaze bombers.

Cartoon of the Day

* John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune

Two Faced

Just when you thought that progress had been made with Facebook's privacy-invading advertising strategies, see Hidden Behind the Face and Suckface, when word comes that the level of intrusion by Facebook and its business cohorts is even worse than originally understood.

The Washington Post carries a PC World story, Facebook's Beacon More Intrusive Than Previously Thought, involving the new Beacon advertising program. As it explained:

Beacon is a major part of the Facebook Ads platform that Facebook introduced with much fanfare several weeks ago. Beacon tracks certain activities of Facebook users on more than 40 participating Web sites, including those of Blockbuster and Fandango, and reports those activities to the users' set of Facebook friends, unless told not to do so.
Despite its heralded retreat on the ad programs features, the tracking of user information seems to be much more invasive and intrusive than anyone knew, as discovered by Stefan Berteau, a senior research engineer. The article reports:

A Computer Associates security researcher is sounding the alarm that Facebook's controversial Beacon online ad system goes much further than anyone has imagined in tracking people's Web activities outside the popular social networking site.

Beacon will report back to Facebook on members' activities on third-party sites that participate in Beacon even if the users are logged off from Facebook and have declined having their activities broadcast to their Facebook friends.

* * * *

Of particular concern is that users aren't informed that data on their activities at these sites is flowing back to Facebook, nor given the option to block that information from being transmitted, Berteau said in an interview.

It seems like everyone just wants to get all of our information, any which way they can.

And in other Facebook news, the anti-Walmart, Target, got caught trying to hide it's marketing promotion on Facebook by student marketers. Target set up a new Facebook page and suggested that college students, called "Rounders," who receive discounts and prizes for marketing Target products, promote the new campaign without disclosing that they were part of the Target Rounders. Bloggers seeing red over Target's little secret. The retailer was exposed when one of the student Rounders questioned the ethics of keeping her role secret, as requested, and posted her concerns on-line, which caused a quick attempt at damage control by Target.

Once again, it's one step forward, two steps back.

(Facebook/Target story via Fergie's Tech Blog)