Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Aid my ass.

So there's this:

"Bush said U.S. aid to Africa has tripled during his tenure" (CNN online, June 8, 2005)

"Mr Bush has pledged $15bn to fight HIV/Aids, primarily in Africa, over the next five years." (BBC Online, July 8, 2003)

And the most egregious:

AIDS alone has left at least 11 million orphans in sub-Sahara Africa.

The Bush Administration launched the Global AID Fund and initially contributed $200 M.

Today the Administration has committed $500M for FY02 and 03.

The Administration is providing approximately $1B in FY02 and 03 for global HIV/AIDS." (Whitehouse.gov)

I'm touched. Really. The Bush Admin trumpets again and again the fact that they are giving more aid to Africa, in monetary terms, than the Clintons. But I don't have to tell you that it's not just the amount of money that counts, it's what you do with it.

See, the Bushies are in thrall to the Religious Right. And while we all may suffer here for that allegiance, third-world, AIDS-ridden nations are suffering all the more. Why? Because the beloved Bushies REFUSE TO GIVE MONEY TO AID ORGANIZATIONS THAT PROMOTE CONTRACEPTION AS A MEANS OF THWARTING THE TRANSMITTAL OF THE HIV VIRUS.

But say that the sex you have is not the result of your proclivities, but the difficult, powerless situation in which you find yourself. Here in America we have the rule of law; women who are sexually abused can bring charges against their aggressors; there is punishment for men who take advantage. But in, say, Uganda? Not so much.

What if abstinence isn't an option for you? Or what if, even if you remained abstinent until marriage and faithful during your marriage, your partner does not?

Instead of promoting practical measures to avoid the transmittal of HIV/AIDS in many parts of the world where sex is currency and abstinence not an option, "abstinence-only" programs completely ignore the situation on the ground in these places and promote Christian morality at the expense of peoples lives.

Human Rights Watch honored a Ugandan woman this year who advocates for the rights of women and children affected by HIV/Aids. Beatrice Were contracted HIV/AIDS from her husband to whom she was faithful. One of the first Ugandan women to openly declare her HIV positive status, Beatrice fights against the "abstinence-only" programs that the US and US-funded agencies promote exclusively across Africa.

"Since 2004, Ms. Were has worked with Human Rights Watch and other organizations to highlight Uganda's recent and dramatic backslide in HIV-prevention policy. Uganda earned international praise for its highly successful HIV prevention programs in the 1990s. But the country has recently embraced U.S.-funded “abstinence-until-marriage” programs which deny young people information about any method of HIV prevention other than sexual abstinence until marriage, including information about condoms." (Human Rights Watch: Uganda)

This is the brave African aid package that the President trumpets. Not only is the HIV situation not getting better- it is getting worse on his watch. Bush should be ashamed- in this as in much of Bush's domestic and foreign policy, the President imposes a narrow Christian morality on a world he doesn't, and doesn't care to, understand. This willful ignorance is not only pathetic, it's dangerous. And cruel.

Beatrice Were spoke to us at the LA Human Rights Watch dinner. She spoke plainly about her own life and Uganda's struggles. I was both impressed with her courage and ashamed for my country- conflicting feelings that I've had a lot, lately.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New fun toys for your procrastinating pleasure

It's going to be a late night for me here at Lillyfirm. I've made my peace with that. Still, as I look with trepidation toward the at-least-12-hours that stretch before me, I long for silly distractions with which to procrastinate. And- lucky me (and you)! Ask and I shall receive!

From the lovely Ms. Gumption comes this: an email time capsule to the future. Write yourself an email that will be delivered to your inbox in 5, 10 or 20 years. I'm doin' it.

I also urge all you desk-bound saps to check this out: www.pandora.com. Aptly named "The Music Genome Project," Pandora allows you to create innumerable playlists based around the musical attributes inherent in your favorite song or artist. For instance, if you enter "Thievery Corporation," it will create a playlist that exemplifies electronica roots, a tight base sound, acoustic riff and trippy instrumentals (their take on Thievery Corp). I believe this little algorithm has saved my career. Try it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cutting/Pasting: The Return

No time, no time but heard the below on NPR this morning and was struck by how eloquently Penn Jillette (yes, the magician) summed up similar thoughts to mine on god, or lack thereof:

"I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire? ...

Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."
-- From "This I Believe," on NPR's Morning Edition

PS- I have so very much to tell you. Maybe there will be time tonight.
PPS- I passed the California Bar Exam.
PPPS- Dick Cheney is the essence of all that is very, very, very not good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Early Evening Anecdotes

I'm actually home at a reasonable hour this evening, my husband has a dinner, I have filled a glass of wine, and before I get too drunk to write I thought I'd regale my legions of faithful readers with this:

Once upon a time I was a housewife in a French public housing project. That is absolutely true. My boyfriend/fiance at the time (we were planning to get married, but engagements weren't as sort of formal there) worked for the state train company, the SNCF, and as a perk to offset his paltry salary we were offered cheap state housing. What we got was a three bedroom apartment with paper walls in a public housing unit outside the city limits for about $200/month. Not bad. We also got free first class tickets on any train anywhere, but that's another story. Nico worked long hours and although I supplemented our income as best I could with private lessons and a part-time job teaching English in a vocational high school, I only worked about 20 hours a week. I was also doing a master's degree at the local university, but that required little class time and a lot of independent study. I would eventually depart for a research trip to Senegal which would change everything. I'm telling you about the months before Senegal, though; when I spent inordinate amounts of time alone in that crappy apartment, with two semi-feral cats, teaching myself the best ways to cook horse meat or skate. I am not exaggerating for effect. This was my life.

I had no car and the public transport in Nantes was dependable but slow. Nico had got me a dirtbike for Christmas one year- with huge tires and a funky frame it was completely ill-suited to suburban streets, but still I rode it all over that damn town giving English lessons. I would advertise in the local newspaper: "American Student offers private lessons at $15/hour." Don't forget that French is an inherently sexist (or sex-filled? both, really) language. In English you could print the above phrase and noone would know whether you were male or female. In French, though, your sex is obvious. "EtudiantE americainE donne cours particuliers d'Anglais a 100F/l'heure." As a result we received hundreds of obscene phone calls. "I want to fuck me a little American student." "You can give my cock English lessons, American bitch." Eventually I stopped answering the phone completely and let Nico sort the good apples from the bad. Usually he could tell a dangerous call right off- male, over 20, no address, no reason for wanting to learn English, just wanted lessons from "la petite americainE." And so it went.

One evening we got a call from an older woman, who explained that she wanted a refresher course in English before travel to America. She lived in a working-class area where I had several clients, and seemed eloquent and nice. Normally I would insist on meeting any future student for the first time on neutral ground, in a cafe or restaurant, before agreeing to meet them at their home. This particular woman seemed so innocuous I was willing to bend my rules. We made a date and I biked the 40min ride to her apartment complex. Like mine, it was state housing; prettier, though, with hedges and flowers and cut grass. I buzzed her apartment and she let me in.

The first thing I noticed on exiting the elevator and entering her apartment was the darkness; then the smell. Both were startling. The woman was already seated at a long table in the family/dining room. Someone else was rustling in the kitchen. The woman gestured to me and I sat down. "I've hurt my leg," she explained, "I can't stand up." I pulled my materials from my bag; a workbook, a tape recorder, some copied articles from Newsweek. "Oh no, I have my own methode." She produced a book from 1960 or thereabouts, no doubt her high school workbook, it emphasized the old French way of learning English- direct translation and grammar, no conversation. Whatever- I never insisted on following a curriculum if the client had their own ideas on things- whatever kept them happy.

For ten minutes we played a boring game of language ping-pong: I read her a phrase in French; she translated it; I corrected her. She stopped, then; "I've actually prepared something in anticipation of your visit. Would you read it and tell me if it's accurate?" Sure. She handed me a piece of paper. The words written on it were in French. I was puzzled.

"Mademoiselle: I am being held hostage by the French government. Do not react visibly to this letter as my apartment is bugged and they watch everything I do. The French government wants to keep me quiet. They broke my leg and have since kept me too drugged to leave the apartment. I am so drugged as I am writing this that I can barely keep my eyes on the paper and my hand steady. I contacted you because you are an American citizen. I want you to take a letter to the American Embassy in Paris. The letter explains how I am being held hostage in this apartment and how my human rights are being violated. I know the American government will help me, and I need you, a citizen, to deliver my plea. Please help me- you are my only hope."

I dropped the piece of paper to the table; I looked at her, completely stunned. I glanced around the apartment- it was a typical state apartment, bare, decent- no bugs or security cameras. I looked into the woman's eyes. She was crazy. I listened for the person I'd heard in the kitchen. Where was he/she? Did they know about this?

"Madame... I don't understand. You called me and hired me to give you an English lesson."
"That was a pretext. I need you to carry my plea to your embassy in Paris. Is it a money issue? I will pay your way." She took a checkbook out of a bag.
"NO- no, madame. It's not a problem of money..." I was desperately confused. "I understand that you're in trouble- but I don't think my government can help you."
"Yes, they can. The American government helps those in need. Please, you must understand."
"But, Madame, there's no way I can help. The embassy and consulate are there for official state business and to help American expatriates. They will never interfere in a French domestic situation. Please... I don't understand what you want me to do." I felt myself becoming frantic. I felt faint and I checked the hallway for a quick way out of the apartment. What the FUCK was going on?
"PLEASE. Just take the letter. Deliver the letter. I'll pay your way." I was panicked. I quickly thought through everything I knew. This was completely beyond my realm of familiarity.

The woman swayed in her seat. "Don't you SEE? They are drugging me!" The person in the kitchen came around the corner, slowly, alarmed by the noise. I looked to her and tried to gesture- HELP! She disappeared again.
"Madame, madame, I'm sorry. I can tell you are in distress and I want to help. But don't you see that I can't? I wouldn't even know whom to give the letter to! I can't accept your money when I know I can't do what you want!"
"Please help me, mademoiselle."
"Madame, this is absolutely crazy! I don't understand what you are asking me to do! The French government isn't keeping you hostage! This apartment isn't bugged! Please stop!!" I yelled. She grew quiet.
"You won't help me, then." I felt terrible. This woman was obviously insane- her leg was in some sort of splint and whatever drugs she'd been given must have addled her brain. There was no other explanation. I thought of yelling for the (caretaker?) in the kitchen. I didn't dare, though; the woman's twitchy nature in the dark apartment made me sure that she'd jump at me if I yelled for assistance.

She was Miss Havisham in a French working class apartment. She was evidently desperately unhappy- she had determined that her injuries and her confusion were a government plot, and that America was her only salvation. She had seen my ad for English lessons and grasped at it as her only hope. I felt awful for her, and very frightened.
"I am sorry, Madame." She didn't respond. Her head fell to her chest. I waited.

She snapped up. Her attitude had shifted- she was smiling. "Ok, mademoiselle. Shall we continue with the lesson?"
Are you fucking kidding me? But she opened her workbook and gestured to me. Slowly, haltingly, I read a sentence in French. She translated it. I corrected her.
15 minutes went by. She looked up from her workbook. "Thank you. May I call you to schedule another lesson?"
I got out of there as quickly as I could. I raced home on my awkward dirt bike, conscious only of the fact that I had just lived the strangest hour of my life.

A few months later I would leave for Senegal and not come back, not really. In the meantime I would give countless lessons to Nantais convinced that my American-ness meant that I'd make a good English teacher. The woman never called again for another lesson; obviously I'd never have come near her again. Five years later I'm still completely amazed that that happened to me, and I wonder what became of that poor woman. Was she eventually committed? Did she ever sober up from the drugs that were making her paranoid? Did anyone ever manage to convince her that America was not her salvation?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

All we have is a voice...

Compassion is the most human of feelings. It transcends sympathy. It mitigates the mindless barbarity and animal instinct that propel us through our days.

Milan Kundera has this to say about it: "There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels for someone, for someone, pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echos."

Last night, at the Human Rights Watch annual dinner, the banquet hall was thick with the word. But when one of the honorees, Salih Mahmoud Osman, a lawyer from Sudan, looked at the audience intently, imploringly, both kindly and combatively, and urged us to understand that "Darfur is not so far from here, not really," did we get that? Did we catch that phrase, in between our mouthfuls of chicken kiev and our well-meaning but somewhat awkward applause?

I can't help but worry that compassion is a load that I'll find, on balance, too difficult to carry.

More later.

Friday, November 11, 2005


The Standard Hotel downtown has a funky rooftop bar - white bubble chairs (or whatever you'd call them), foosball tables, yellow plastic chaises longues on astro-turf, fabulous people, etc. At the moment, this bar is empty. Next door to the Standard, on the roof of a nondescript office building, 100ish people are milling about setting up to shoot (film or still, can't tell) what can only be an exact replica of the Standard rooftop bar, down to the chaises longues and the foosball tables. I am VERY amused.

Friday Morning %$&**&!!!!

I just discovered Opinionistas (I know, I'm late to the party, welcome to my life) and I do recommend it, it's quite well written (although her habit of sticking a last-sentence "twist" on the end of every post gets a little... predictable). It's also got me thinking (like any good blog should do)... I got it MAD good here at Lillyfirm. A few observations:

1. Although "O" definitely hyperbolizes a little for literary effect, I think she's right on in most of her descriptions of NY lawfirm life. I was a paralegal at a NY firm in a former life, and a bigger bunch of womanizing, sexually harassing, back-slapping, kiss ass carnivorous boys-club denizens I have never since encountered. (I apologize to any of my old firm friends who may read this - I can think of one who might- I love you but you know what you are).

2. Her expositories on the hours and hours of mind-numbing work are right on vis-a-vis big firm law in general. That is not avoidable, if you choose this life. And I do say choose because, no matter how much we whine that we had to take this job because we owe so much in loans and public interest jobs are so hard to get and our law schools forced us to be here etc.- we all had a choice. Bottom line- there were other jobs, from government to non-profit, out there for us and we took this path willingly.

I digress a bit- but I have had the dubious honor of working in four different biglaw firms in the four top US markets: NY, DC, Chicago and LA- and although the atmosphere and attitude change the work is always the same- soul killing. Either you become the obnoxious, aggressive partnership-grubber for whom you currently harbor disdain or your ideologies and dreams you carried with you through law school devolve into depression. There's no way around it, kids- this is what you get (or give up, maybe) in exchange for that fancy six-figure salary.

3. That said (or belabored- I'm a grouch this morning), Opinionistas' well-crafted blog makes me selfishly happy, because the above complaints notwithstanding, I got it good here at Lillyfirm. The work is the work, and it's always the same, but the people I work with are kind, forgiving, patient and generally happy with their lives. Sure, there are the screamers and the malcontents- at a firm this size there are bound to be- but generally, those with whom I've come in contact have been extraordinarily pleasant. Maybe it's LA (all that sunlight addles the brain), or maybe it's Lillyfirm (I haven't visited Lillyfirm's NY office so I can't make the city comparison), but I've said it before and I'll say it again: If it's firm life you want or need or can't avoid, work for Lillyfirm. The end.

Of course, I realize the silliness of all of the above, because although I'm recommending my firm I'm not about to divulge its actual name. Oh well- it's my blog- I can be silly if I damn well please.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Right back where we started from!

Eureka! The great state of California and its progressive citizens have chosen... the status quo. But that's a good thing, when the alternative is a hard-core power grab by Ahhhnold. One would think he'd have known better, with poll numbers sagging, than to attack public employees and unions in a left-wing state. Will it be "lesson learned" for the governator? Or will he follow the lead of his GOP elders and refuse to listen when the people tell him to stuff it?

Importantly, too, Proposition 73 (parental notification for minor abortions) failed 52%-47%, despite a last-ditch effort by conservatives to guilt Cali's evangelicals to the polls. A Christian right leader on NPR this morning lamented that they had been out-spent 3-1. I for one am glad my Planned Parenthood donations are paying off, so to speak.

I am punchy today as I arrived at my desk with satchel and shining morning face ready for an 8am meeting, only to find out that the meeting had been cancelled at 2am by a harried associate (and rescheduled for tomorrow morning 8am, what joy).

Ah Lillyfirm, your minions do march into battle smiling wide, we do.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Yes, I'm procrastinating...

This is an email I just wrote to Andrew Sullivan:

Dear Andrew,

I think "Dr. Dalyrimple" as quoted by Ian Murray makes a very valid point. I am a lefty and a francophile but I completely agree that the riots that are occurring in France right now are not the result of Muslim extremism but rather result from a disaffected population of children-of-immigrants that has no productive outlet for its frustration and aggression. I do admire France's social programs and the willingness of its population to pay a great deal in taxes toward general social welfare; the problem with this, as we're seeing now, is that welfare programs take the edge off surviving but don't address the malaise that comes with institutionalized joblessness and discrimination. The French need to face this problem head-on. Yes, that probably means some liberalization of the market and concomitant marginalization of the unions, in order to grow the economy and increase jobs. It also means educating the greater French population as to the history and the current situation of these mostly North andWest African immigrants and their children, instead of ignoring them and relegating them to ghettos. Until the government and the French as a whole address the underlying source of the aggression and frustration expressed by these young people, the tension we see now will not abate and France will face a violent future.

Los Angeles

***Update: Andrew Sullivan made exactly 0 references to my email in his recent postings about the France riots. Sniff. I want some Sulli love. Why, oh why doesn't he love me???

Friday, November 04, 2005

Mali, more or less, from the spectacularly-technologically-challenged...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

l'embarras du choix

So, so many things to blog about today. So, so very little time. I'm also jetlagged out of my mind. Hallucinatory dreams brought on by malaria pills wake me up at odd points in the night. (Oh, poor baby! Had to run off to Mali! Has to take special pills! Is tired from her flight! Has to make a living!)

I'm going to limit my comments today. First, appealing to my love of irony is the recent revelation via WAPO that the CIA interrogates "terror suspects" (and has since 9/11's aftermath) at a series of "black sites" including former Soviet detainment camps in Eastern Europe. I defer to my favorite libertarian pundit, Andrew Sullivan, for appropriate elaboration:

"You have to hand it to the Bush administration. They get their symbolism right. In Iraq, they chose to commit some of their worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, Saddam's former torture hell-hole, and at former Baathist Secret Police headquarters in Basra. Witnesses attest to the sound of screams coming from the Basra facility as the United States continued its diplomatic offensive to win over the Mulsim world to democratic values. And when needing a secret site to torture other detainees, where else but the former Soviet Union?"

(then he says something about Reagan's commitment to human rights which I am choosing to omit because I don't agree with him. I feel justified in selectively quoting him because the Reagan comment is beside the point.)

Deuxieme probleme du jour: According to this morning's LA Times, Proposition 73, which Californians will soon vote on and which would mandate parental notification for minor abortions, is favored by a slight majority of Cali's voting public. Now, if the idea of California, that bastion of social liberalism, imposing such a requirement on its teenage girls is not enough to make you shudder, consider this, brought to my attention via a colleague here at Lillyfirm:

"Prop. 73 is essentially a parental-notification amendment. However, there's a much more sinister problem with the proposition; the Right-wing is clever and, as usual, they're operating under the radar. Prop. 73 also includes language that specifically defines the embryo as "an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born" -- a dramatic shift in defining when life actually begins. If this proposition passes, California will have a constitutional amendment that defines life at the point of conception. This would be a lethal blow to the right to an abortion in the state of California."

Et enfin, I bring to light this surreality- although I am back at my desk here in Los Angeles, my digestive tract remains firmly anchored in the Sahelian plains of Mali. Good times.