Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I was disappointed by the Washington Post's coverage of the recent nightclub shooting in Northwest Washington ("Hundreds Mourn Slain Teenager," January 27, 2007). Even on the same day as publishing a superb letter to the editor pointing out that we must go after the availability of guns if we really want to curb the fatalities from violent crime in this city ("Target Guns First"), the Post publishes another article that ignores gun control as the central issue in this case. Instead, the article ("Hundreds Mourn Slain Teenager") iterates calls for new regulation to "keep children safe," which indicates that the age of the victim is somehow the central issue here. On the contrary, the death of an adult in this case would be just as tragic, and it is the proliferation of guns that should be the focus of all efforts to prevent this kind of event in the future. Furthermore, discussions about whether music or alcohol had anything to do with the death of Taleshia Ford are untenable arguments; in fact, the person at the center of the shooting was deservedly kicked out of the club for smoking marijuana. Without the presence of the gun in the commission of this violent crime, Ms. Ford would probably still be with us.
After a U.S.-EU agreement last year, DHS can no longer automatically pull information on passengers making transatlantic trips, and it now has to ask the airlines for this information. Then, the other intelligence agencies who use the information need to get the info from DHS, rather than being fed the information through an automated system.

Now the issue on the EP agenda is the role of the Belgian organization SWIFT, which has given banking and other financial information about Europeans to the U.S. federal government. Are SWIFT's contributions to the U.S. Automated Targeting System (ATS) a breach of Europeans' privacy?

This is what will be discussed at the EP's miniplenary today. Sophie In't Veld (Dutch D66 member of EP) complains on BBC radio that the data could easily be used for purposes other than anti-terrorism (infectious diseases is on the list, for instance), and wants assurances that the data really is secure. Canada provides adequate legal protection for mistakes in its new PNR agreement with the EU, she says; so far, there are no such protections for Europeans in the U.S. Sophie says that the U.S. has stronger privacy laws than the EU, thus the EP's requests are actually of a limited nature in comparison.

Timothy Kirkhope (UK, Conservative) has said that the EP's position of trying to limit the amount of information shared with the U.S. risks obstructing U.S. access to important pieces of information that could prevent and fight terrorism.
I must now plug Budova Holland, a great renovation company in Eindhoven, Netherlands, whose website is just fabulous (well, I'm biased cause I made it). You can see pictures of the work that the company has done; pictures of carpentry and construction, tilesetting, bathrooms, stonework, and projects abroad (mostly in France) are all available and are updated with new pictures often.

This website was made on a mac with the ".mac" system. The system is made for people who want to have a nice-looking website that is easy to update and that can integrate media from the rest of your computer without "importation" or manual uploading. If you look at enough websites, you'll see that this website is simply a mac template. Updating the site is very easy -- there is no file transfer protocol (ftp) program needed because the subscription to .mac allows you to update changes on the website directly through the website editor software. This software also connects easily with iTunes and iPhoto so that you can drag your pictures or music directly onto the templates.

Of course, this software would never be used to make a high-end, unique website, but it serves the purpose for a small business owner who wants to have a good-looking and easy-to-update website.

This doesn't mean I am a mac fanatic, however. Having a mac, one can run into difficulties. Last summer, my boyfriend and I were in Poland, about an hour outside Warsaw. All attempts to connect his brand new Macbook Pro were futile; neither dial-up nor receiving internet through our cell phones worked, despite long conversations with Orange communications reps in the nearest town. And no other short term internet options were available, so we were forced to live without internet (horrors!) for a while. I am sure that with a non-mac computer, we would have been able to connect just fine.
13 CIA agents have been targeted in German warrants in connection with the rendition of German citizen Khaled el Masri from Macedonia on to Afghanistan and then back to Albania once it was realized that he was not the Khaled el Masri they were looking for (NYT).

Plane records have established connections between the Americans who stayed in a hotel in Mallorca and the rendition of el Masri. The names of these 13 people are probably fake, and this warrant will probably function as a political commentary about extraordinary rendition rather than as a tool to place these Americans on trial.

Angela Merkel has told the press that Condoleezza Rice apologized to her about the mistaken rendition of el Masri, as he was not the terrorist suspect the U.S. was looking for. Rice has denied making any apology about the case.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I've always wanted to know what that pool between Williamsburg and Greenpoint Brooklyn looked like, the one that's been closed for years. I found it on googlemaps, and that made me happy. Link to the picture.

McCarren park.

I'm on my way to creating the perfect itinerary to convert the boyfriend who doesn't like DC.

I was in DC this weekend looking for an apartment, and my friend Erika took me to Bistrot du Coin on Connecticut Ave. in Dupont. I'd been there before, but hadn't appreciated it. Only now did I appreciate its noise, its food and its liveliness. It's a great people-watching venue too because there are so many tables.

After dinner we went a block down the street to Russia House, a debaucherous clubhouse-type bar that specializes in vodka and sells Russian and Lithuanian beers (one of the owners is from Klaipeda, Lithuania). The place is cozy; you feel like you're in someone's house, as people sink into the deep couches and spill drinks on the carpet.

Other suggestions for the missionary itinerary are welcome.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Shamelessly re-posting items from boingboing, but only because they are super interesting.
A website documenting and fighting the exclusion of foreigners from many Japanese businesses.
I was in Puerto Rico with my boyfriend in January, and we went snorkeling in several places around the island. Our most successful snorkeling was at Steps Beach in Rincon, home to the now threatened -- but once ubiquitous -- Elkhorn coral, which was officially considered endangered in 2006.
So the ONE day that I write about Gardasil on this blog (see directly below this one), I get offered the drug at the doctor's office. I responded by telling my doctor how much I didn't like the grammatical incorrectness of Gardasil's ads (as if that had anything to do with how well the drug worked). She had never thought about "one less" being incorrect, but, she told me, Apple's "think different" ad campaign really got on her nerves.

It took me a second to understand that it's supposed to be "think differently." I guess we all have our mental blocks.
But "think different" could be correct, in the same way that "think France", "think tutus", or think roses" is alright. "Different" as an independent concept, rather than a modifier of "thinking."
This week the Economist features an article called "One less brick in the wall," about China and the press. But it struck me, shouldn't it be "One fewer brick in the wall"? I mean, where is this rule going if the Economist violates it? Perhaps I don't understand the rule of less vs. fewer(?).
If you can count them, then you use "fewer," if it's uncountable (like "water") you use "less". So what's the story?

Literal minded thinks about the subject but doesn't really give me a definitive answer. Tenser the Tensor discusses it too, but I don't agree because I think that "fewer" can be used with a singular noun.

"One fewer wheel than the other cars" for instance.

And there is a reason for this rule. As one poster said:

"Since "less" is also used as an adverb ("less successful"), "fewer" helps to distinguish "fewer successful professionals" (fewer professionals who are successful) from "less successful professionals" (professionals who are less successful)."

And to top it off, there is an entire ad campaign for a drug called Gardasil combating cervical cancer called "One Less."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A white member of the House with a majority of black constituents will not be joining the Congressional Black Caucus (Politico).

Stephen Cohen of Tennessee seems to be very mature about the whole issue. Of course he doesn't want to burn the very bridges he is trying to forge. But you have to ask yourself whether the Congressional Black Caucus is under threat of becoming "diluted", enough so that it would have to reject this new House member who is only trying to work with other lawmakers to benefit his constituents. (maybe they are preventing a deluge of white members?) Considering that they haven't had any non-black members up until now, it seems that they are acting too cautiously, and this may send the message that the group is practicing reverse racism.

Now, we have to understand that this is not a question of one half of the population excluding the other half; minorities need to band together sometimes in order have their voice heard, so that they are not drowned out by the majority. I can imagine issues that would be specific to the minority where it might make sense to exclude. "Sickle cell anemia funding" for instance. But even so, Mr. Cohen would still be working for his black consitutents in supporting such initiatives.

What is worrying are statements like the following from Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo): "It's an unwritten rule. It's understood. It's clear [that only African-Americans may belong to the Congressional Black Caucus]."

Unwritten rules are often ones that are embarrassing if they were written down ["we are excluding people from our group on the basis of race"]. Full transparency on just who may or may not belong to the Congressional Black Caucus would be the best way for the group to be honest about how they run their organization, and it would also avoid these kinds of "faux pas" (as the article put it) in the future.
As a follow up to the post about the WashU student who got in to see Michael Devlin, I wanted to weigh in whether this was ethically acceptable or not. If this journalist had represented herself as a family member of Mr. Devlin, we would be outraged and rightly so. She posed as a friend, and "friend" is a very vague term. The holding cell's visiting policies were unfortunately more unclear than Devlin's lawyers would have liked.

We shouldn't be surprised that this lonely man, both in jail and out, had decided to allow a journalist posing as a "friend" to visit him. But the bottom line is that Mr. Devlin was able to choose who was allowed in to talk to him and who he offered information to. He showed an awareness of his choices by telling the journalist that he would not answer certain questions. This journalist exploited the lax policies of the holding facility, and even though the facility's rules were indeed insufficient to keep friends (in the broadest sense of the word) out, she did misrepresent herself.

The interview that resulted from the visits has made him more human to the reading public than he was prior to its publication, which may help him in the long run in his trial. But is it the journalist's right to decide what the public knows about this guy without the review of his lawyers? What if this interview ends up condemning him in court?

This goes back to another recent post about whether more openness and transparency makes journalists' ethically questionnable acts more acceptable to us. More openness is not always desirable; if the journalist is harming the subject (Mr. Devlin) then we need to take a closer look. Is Mr. Devlin able to make decisions about who he does and does not talk to? He sounds like a sane guy, but he also kidnapped two boys, possibly three.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A WashU (yay WashU!) student snagged an interview with Michael Devlin, the kidnapper of two boys over the course of two years, who was recently apprehended in Kirkwood, Missouri, and who is now in the slammer.

"The New York Post article was written by correspondent Susannah Cahalan, a New Jersey native who attends Washington University in St. Louis and once worked for the student newspaper there." (STL Post-Dispatch)
However, she got in to see Devlin by lying about her relationship
(NYPost story.) She reports on such things as what kinds of books Devlin is going to reading in prison, his social life, his work at Imo's pizza.

DC received lots of snowflakes today, which I suffered under as I traipsed from open house to open house in search of a room to live in. I am interested in living in a good place, but not interested in the search it takes to get there.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The burqini.....a product of Australia mostly intended for Lebanese-Australian women who want to swim but especially those who want to be lifesavers, in order to increase diversity among lifesavers. Lack of diversity has been blamed for ethnic tensions at Australian beaches, especially the 2005 Cronulla riots.
Foreign Service Officers want to serve in Iraq, as a letter in the New York Post from Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes states:

"[It] is simply wrong when he decries the “failure . . . of the State Department (to) . . . get enough volunteers even for its 90-daystints in Iraq.” The fact is that over 1500 State Department employees have volunteered to serve, unarmed, in Iraq since 2003, a figure that represents about 15 percent of the total Foreign Service workforce. Over 300 of our employees are doing their patriotic duty in Iraq now, including dozens working on front-line Provincial Reconstruction Teams in extremely dangerous, “Red zone” combat areas outside of Baghdad. Thus far, despite legitimate concerns about theability of unarmed civilian diplomats to effectively carry outdemocracy-building and economic reconstruction activities in the middle of a war, virtually all of the diplomatic jobs in Iraq have been successfully filled with volunteers."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I don't expect the new Identity, Sovereignty and Tradition Group (read: extreme right) in the European Parliament to last. These guys are loners in their daily political dealings. While by and large they are power hungry like any other bunch of politicians -- and the Group will indeed increase their power -- they are more used to being provocative and less used to compromise, especially when compromise entails agreeing with fellow group members from -- horror of horrors -- a country other than their own. The oxymoron of nationalist political parties allying together will eventually cause the breakdown of such a group. In addition, these politicians constantly decry the bureaucracy of an international institution like the EP -- they should watch out or they may be forced to implement bureaucratic schemes of their own to manage their new group.
(EUPolitix on the far right grouping.)

British MEP Ashley Mote is already threatening defection over one Bulgarian's anti-semitic remarks. (EURSOC)

I think we can all agree that it's unethical if a lobbyist pays for a representative's lavish meal or trip if the lawmaker then pursues the lobbyist's goals to return the favor. That hurts the democratic process. However, do we find it unethical if a journalist takes a lawmaker out to a lavish dinner in order to receive privileged information in return? At present, the rules regarding journalists and whether they can pay for the meals of lawmakers are going to be more limited in an effort to curb lobbyists' abuses, including if they work for a media outlet, as the blurb in NYT points out:

"January 16, 2007, 9:17 am
Rules Change
By David K. Kirkpatrick
Lobbyists are not the only ones who wine and dine lawmakers and their staff members. Journalists hoping to lubricate sources sit elbow-to-elbow with lobbyists at the same Washington steakhouses and watering holes. And, perhaps inadvertently, the new ethics rules passed by the House require lawmakers and aides to be very careful about letting reporters pick up the tab.
The new rule bars lawmakers and their aides from accepting meals paid for by employees of companies that also pay registered lobbyists. Among others, that includes journalists working for the major television networks, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The New York Times Company, however, does not employ a registered lobbyist, so its reporters can still pick up the check" (link)

Would a lawmaker, or anyone else for that matter, be more willing to offer up information to a journalist if they got something of value in return? Offering up information can sometimes come with consequences -- like losing a job or breaking confidences with friends and colleagues. Perhaps people aren't willing to risk these consequences, even for a nice dinner? And perhaps because the aims of journalists are usually in favor of openness and transparency, rather than against it, we shouldn't really care how they get their information and if they have to persuade their sources with dinners and gifts (?).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why does France's proposed merger with Great Britain in 1956 (NYT, tiny article deep inside newspaper) not raise a few more eyebrows? Can you imagine the reaction of each country's respective populations if they were faced with such a merger? The British would finally have access to edible food, sure, but the French would have to call those obnoxious British tourists their countrymen! And Britain would have had access at a much earlier date to convenient retirement communities in Southern France, and perhaps France, with its comparably good weather would have become overrun with British, who would have threatened the purity of their perfect tongue!
On Sunday I watched Paradise Now, a film about suicide bombers which I had been dying to see (no pun intended) ever since it came out last year. Yet I could never find the right mood for watching it. (NYT review) (spoilers ahead).
The film manages to create detailed and plausible scenarios for why these two friends want to become suicide bombers and shows how they prepare for it, while still denouncing the act by including a character who to me embodies life itself and the promise it holds -- Suha, the romantic interest of bomber Said. The seriousness and stoicism of preparing and carrying out the act is broken by mundane events; the camera fails to work after a heartfelt martyr's speech by Khaled, the terrorist organization doesn't prepare for aborting the mission, there is miscommunication with one of its operatives (later Khaled fumes: "why didn't they have cell phones!), and Said is forced to fix Suha's car with a bomb strapped to his chest. This was a great film that manages to describe the extremely personal reasons why these men decide to become suicide bombers while denouncing their decision to do so.
Don't you think Vicky Pollard, the character from the show Little Britain, is underexposed in the United States? (videos)

Yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah but........

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I want to bring the review of Carter's book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid" in the Book Review section of the New York Times last week. (NYT)

They echo my earlier post, that Carter does do a good job of discussing some of the lesser-mentioned issues in the relationship between Palestine and Israel, but alas he does not offer critique or comment to the Palestinian statements against Israel that he quotes at length. There is just not enough critique of Palestinian statements and actions in the book, whereas criticism of Israel abounds. This is the downfall of Carter's book. In an attempt to bring balance to the debate in the United States, he has brought yet another biased account.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

So today held good news, and with it some bad news. I received the message that my secret clearance came through, and that I can start my new job in early February. Which is great. Much faster than I could have ever hoped. But the Albanians' delay of their elections means curtains for my attempt at observing said election; as a federal employee I wouldn't be allowed to observe, and by the time their election rolls around, I will be just that. stinks.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Pawel and I got back from Puerto Rico on the 1oth, and I have found out in the meantime that the Albanian elections have indeed been postponed to February (as they have to take place by February 20, 2007). The postponement has led to statements from NATO, the EU, OSCE and others urging the Albanians to have a free and fair elections, so the postponement has upped the pressure for the process to run smoothly.

The picture is of the celebrations for Dia de los Reyes, (Three Kings Day) on January 6. The band onstage is playing a song from Buena Vista Social Club, and this was not the only time that I heard Puerto Rican musicians getting mileage out of that music's popularity.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Every two weeks, Transparentique will look at congressional steps towards cleaning up ethics rules and preventing and fighting corruption. Will the Democratic majority fulfill its election promises? Will they be able to accomplish their goals without a clear majority in the Senate (now that Senator Johnson is out indefinitely)? Will the strategies and rules they implement make a difference?

NYT article on ethics reform in Congress.
Nixon wanted to ruin the foreign service. (CNN)

The reforms Nixon wanted to implement, with the goal of "ruin[ing] it -- the old Foreign Service -- and to build a new one," have been replaced with gradual change in the Service, so that in many ways the current Foreign Service bears less and less resemblance to the old elitist and male-dominated corps of the past.
At the moment, a third of the U.S. foreign service is women, but women make up 50% of incoming classes. First hand I have seen women's disproportionately greater interest in the service, which leads to my prediction that women will make up more than half of incoming classes in the future.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It might not be cool to say so, but I love Oprah. Not for the school thing, but because of this program on Challenge Day. Maybe I'm just a sentimental sucker, or an incurable optimist, but I love it. And I do think it's true that people can be alone even in a crowd of people, and that this can be the source of a lot of problems.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Romania and Bulgaria have joined the EU! Congratulations!

I am taking this time to praise the Grand Central light show this year, which was vastly superior to the laser light shows of the recent past. Awesome!
Oprah's lack of fulfillment from giving money to charities has led her to start her own project: a school for underprivileged girls in South Africa. (CNN)

The school and foundation's website has set up something like a wedding registry; you supposedly pay for real things that the students need. This seems to tackle Oprah's feeling of disconnectedness from the results of her past philanthropy.

However, I would think that one aspect of her motivation for starting such a foundation is to streamline the money's path to deserving recipients, so that it doesn't get overspent on the administration of the funds themselves. Has her foundation improved this aspect of philanthropy?

The disclaimer at the bottom of the "registry" says: "Donations do not go directly to girls but to The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation that operates the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls South Africa. Your donation selection is subject to change. It will, however, go toward the Foundation's efforts where needed most."

This website lacks the kind of transparency about philanthropy that I would hope for. It seems impossible that all of the $30 for sports equipment will go to the students; instead, some will go towards paying the salaries of the employees of Oprah's foundation.

Or at least, the website fails to disabuse me of this opinion.