Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Meal from Hell

Paul Taylor writes for Reuters about a World Economic Forum dinner that was held in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday night. The "headlined" guest was Senator Joe Biden. The attendees included representatives from the U.S. and Iran, and the diplomacy was presumably to have smoothed over some rough edges of the dialogue regarding Iran's nuclear program.

As diplomatic dinners go, this one apparently didn't go well at all:

  • Someone invited a cartoonist to be on the panel of speakers and then disinvited him, thinking that maybe the issues were too serious for a cartoonist on the panel. Of course, the announcement had to be made at the dinner rather than being handled discreetly beforehand.
  • Then, Senator Biden appeared to be a no show. There was some tapping of heels while everyone waited for him to arrive, which he did--an hour and a half late. He had gone to the wrong hotel.
  • The menu included wine, which is pretty much a no go for Muslim diners. The wine glasses had to be removed.
  • The menu included non-hallal meat (meat improperly slaughtered, pretty much like non-kosher meat), so the menu was removed. There was no indication from the report whether the meat that was served actually turned out to be hallal.
  • The wait staff cooled things off by opening the windows--to an outside temperature somewhat below freezing. Think Switzerland in January.
  • And to cap it off, Senator Biden's wife arrived at a diplomatic meal in pants. Not just any pants, but "figure-hugging leather pants" and a sleeveless top. This was maybe a statement about women's rights?

Taylor's report seems to rehash the same arguments we have heard before: Iran wants nuclear energy and scientific self-sufficiency; the U.S. thinks Iran wants nuclear weapons and really wants all nuclear development to stop. Roosters then strut.

What I want to know iswhat the hell these people were thinking when they set up the meal? Who planned it? What idiot put alcohol on the menu? Who advised Senator Biden's wife about diplomacy and courtesy?

It's one thing for Senator Biden to make the more or less honest (but really dumb) mistake of going to the wrong hotel. It's another to walk in the door with an apparent bimbo.

Now, I really like Joe Biden. He may someday run for president. If he's the Democratic nominee, I will vote for him and not feel bad about it. And I'm sure his wife is a nice person. I'm sure those leather pants would be really fine at some other gathering. So I really hope that someone has a little talk with her about the role she plays in all of this, so she can decide to play the role or stay the hell home next time.

Why am I so disturbed about this?

We are already prosecuting a war in which we have shown incredible ignorance about the culture and values of those we were supposed to be "saving." Even before the invasion began, the troops on the ground we displaying erotic pin-ups on the outside of their vehicles. I have no doubt that there were alcohol stashes secreted away. We know that after the war began, there were innumerable totally unnecessary breaches of cultural tabus.

Now we want to avoid war with another country with similar values--and we just barge in like idiots, yet again. What is it with Americans that they have no clue, zero idea, absolutely nada for understanding that there is a whole big world out there--and many of those people don't salute the American flag, don't weep to hear "The Star Spangled Banner," and do not, not, not appreciate our trying to act like their cultures are worthless?

Yeah, so what? It was only dinner. In the international eye.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tempus fugit

Or something like that. I used to do okay with German and am still pretty much a whiz at Swahili (yes, bwana), but Latin was never one of my languages. Still, time flies when the Texas legislature is in session.

I am getting battle weary, so it is sometimes difficult to get excited about the arrival of another legislative session. Still, when it's clear that mayhem is afoot, it behooves me to find the energy from somewhere. And remember to take my blood pressure medicine!

This session looks interesting if for no other reason than that my particular issue area is more active than usual. The natives are restless. Must calm them down--or at least help them to get it closer to right. That means comfortable shoes and better pantyhose for me. I don't have any money to spread around, that's for sure. So I'll do some legwork and try to look harmless. Grandma can bite, but there's no sense in chomping without giving them a chance to do right.

Among the issues in my tiny section of the blogosphere is drug task forces. It's not my issue, but it does concern at least one fellow that I particularly like. Because I respect his work, I've paid more attention when the subject of drug task forces pops up--and it seems to be popping up a lot lately. There is a strong move afoot to disband the drug task forces in Texas and use the Byrne-grant money that funds them for other purposes.

Personally, I don't have a strong feeling one way or another on this particular issue. I can see both sides (mostly because of the insight provided by that aforementioned fellow whose issue this is). Still, there have been abuses, and there is a critical need for increased substance abuse treatment in this state. Our prisons are near to bursting at the seams, and some are arguing that there needs to be a different approach to some of the drug related cases. On the other hand, if you read what the DEA has to say about Texas, mom-and-pop meth labs abound and heavy traffic from Mexico includes more than what NAFTA intended.

From my own very limited perspective, it seems that the problem is the tension between the need for oversight and the need for freedom from redtape. The task forces are multijurisdictional, and there seems to be a need to eliminate the time and effort of dealing with the bureaucracy of each jurisdiction as well as a need to preserve some element of surprise in task force operation. In opposition is the risk that undercover task force members are still human and come pre-packaged with the usual run of human flaws. Without oversight, some have given in to those flaws.

I don't see Texas giving up $31 million in free money from the feds. I do see some changes in oversight. Apparently bringing in the DPS for some increased oversight was not enough, so there may be some pressure to require more corroboration for task force actions.

Without hearing arguments for the other side, I'm not unhappy with the corroboration requirement. I really would not like someone to raid my house, scare the bejesus out of me and my heart condition, and wreck at least my front door because they got a high heat reading from my windows. I'm a plant killer, so there aren't masses of African violets or something to trigger such a reading. Still, that sort of thing has happened--and the poor guy's plants weren't anything more dangerous than African violets. Apparently there's nothing that requires restitution in such circumstances. That sucks canal water.

Here's what I've found out about the task forces so far:

Corpus Christi Caller-Times (registration may be required)

Gaineville Daily Register

Press release from ACLU

An ACLU Police Accountability Project fact sheet

I found more in another search yesterday, but this will do. The 25% matching requirement and how task forces come up with it may be a problem that needs solving. The emphasis on low level offenders and traffic stops might also need some reconsideration. Maybe some high level rethinking that looks at mission and counters some of risks that come with the need for speed and free rein in task force operations. Of course, high level thinking is not something we usually see in the Texas legislature. More often we get "unintended consequences." [sigh]

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Toilet Brush Warning Wins Consumer Award

ABC News reports that Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has awarded a $500 first prize to Ed Gyetvai, who submitted a wacky consumer warning label to its contest to find the wackiest. The label on a toilet brush said: "Do not use for personal hygiene."

The contest sponsor's contention is that such common sense warnings are only needed because, without them, consumers would file even more frivolous lawsuits. This, of course, means that we really, really need lawsuit reform.


What I'm thinking is that some of the "common sense" warning labels we see these days have more to do with consumer ignorance rather than either a lack of common sense or a burning desire to file lawsuits. Why else would my gynecologist inform me prior to a hysterectomy that I would not be able to have children after the removal of my reproductive organs?

I almost laughed when he said that--and then I realized that some women know so little about their own bodies that some women might not actually know that a uterus is where the buns are baked, so to speak. That is not a condemnation of ignorant women but a condemnation of an educational system--and culture--which shies away from presenting accurate scientific information about reproduction in the part of the system where most people get all the education they're gonna get: high school.

As for the toilet brush warning, I'm also thinking that the general public is generally far too ignorant about infection control and disease transmission. If the human body weren't so effective at fighting off infection, there likely wouldn't be any humans around today. The next time you go buy a taco, check to see if the person adding the lettuce just got through making change at the cash register--without washing her hands or donning gloves before touching the lettuce. Or try forcing yourself to eat a hamburger at McDonald's in LaGrange after seeing one of the clean up crew clear a table with a broom. How clean is your kitchen counter? And did you just add sugar to your cereal with that spoon you just picked up off the counter?

If you already know that something is dangerous, you don't need the warning. Me, I just gave myself a voltage meter for Christmas. I'm reading the instructions--and the full page of warnings included with the meter. Someone else might think some of them silly, basic, and "common sense." All I know about electricity is how to flip a switch and how to make a circuit (yes, I can connect the phone to the answering machine to the computer to the phone jack). I'm pretty sure there's more to it than that.

And lawsuit reform? Why don't we just give our bank account numbers and passwords to the insurance companies and be done with it?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Christmas 2004

Not long after my last post, my mother-in-law called to say that she was in pain and needed My Prince to come take her to the doctor. He rushed out the door, and I called 911. Thus began an endless day--followed by weeks of confusion as one doctor gave us hope while another dashed them. That cycle continued with an ever changing array of doctors.

On Christmas Eve, she died.

I wasn't there. I went to Houston on the Wednesday after seeing that her worsened condition had been diagnosed as hyperkalemia and dehydration. With hydration, she was already more alert, so I thought it "safe" to go on to Houston to have Christmas with my mother. Two days later, My Prince called to tell me that she didn't make it.

Mama and I went ahead with our Christmas plans. My Prince understood the needs that I was meeting, and he thought he could handle another 24 hours before I could get back to him. So I made sure that Mama had her presents to open and that Santa Claus came to see her. (He always leaves a hefty stocking for this 84-year-old kid.) And, on Christmas Day, we drove to Tomball to have Christmas dinner with an old family friend, who needed us because her own son was so neglecting her. We made our visit a little shorter than planned and returned to Mama's house early enough for me to get the car loaded and hit the road by late afternoon.

There are several things about those days that now occur to me. My mother-in-law and I had already said the important things on the first day of her last illness, when we thought she only had hours to live. I am grateful that there was still more time to be with her, that I could do some small services for her, that I could help My Prince by making sure that the hospital staff spoke to him so that he could read their lips and clarifying things for him when the information seemed garbled. I am grateful that my mother-in-law stayed alive long enough for my brother-in-law to return from Germany. I am grateful that she had enough time to see even her great-granddaughter.

I am also grateful that My Prince and his family have such concern for my mother, who is alone and handicapped. They all knew that she would be miserable if I didn't go to her. And My Prince, prince that he is, stayed strong while he sent me off to have a Christmas without him. It's not the first time that he has put others before himself. It's not the first time that he has recognized that, for old folks, the gift of our time is both appreciated and desperately needed.

Christmas at our house was pared down to the very basics. I stopped decorating as soon as my mother-in-law went into the hospital. I had already done most of my shopping, but I made a special effort to find some goodies at Harbor Freight for My Prince. (It's his favorite shopping place.) Our Christmas dinner together was leftover barbecue. He never had time to buy me any presents. But my best present was the time with him, talking, making arrangements, helping each other get through the funeral, standing by each other.

I grieve for the loss of my mother-in-law, who was a very special woman. I celebrate the goodness of the son she raised, her very best gift to me.