Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hallooo! A quick note as I recover from a weekend spent in the heaving bosom of my family.

Husband and I looked forward to the holiday weekend with, as always, a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Any fears we had were mitigated, however, by the discovery of the magic-formula-for-burying-familial-tension: intense physical activity followed by heavy drinking.

I recommend this to everyone. Spend your days with your loved ones engaged in some sort of really exhausting exercise- for us it was skiing, but I'd imagine that skating, swimming, hiking or bicycling would do just as well- and on return to the homestead, break out the scotch. Any simmering stress will be effectively tamped down by the third "Jim Beam, neat, with a beer back" and everyone will love everyone, probably demonstrably.

Case in point- this past weekend. My brother and his boyfriend, both normally neurotic and prone to panic attacks, were reduced to platitute-spouting, happy shells of their former selves. My brother and I even vowed to keep in touch more and better (considering that I am what I am, and he's a corporate partner in another biglaw universe, I'm guessing that resolution will be short-lived, but whatevs). My dad regaled us with the same 3 stories 10 times each, as per usual, but this weekend we actually found them funny, at least for the first 5 times or so. We lamented politics, laughed at the absurdity that was the University of Akron playing in a bowl game, and generally had a very nice time.

Happy holidays, everyone. I promise more frequent and hopefully more interesting posting in the new year.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dramatic Recounting

Noisette: "...so I got a response back from Senator Boxer, and it was the same damn hurricane Katrina form letter she sent to me three months ago when I wrote her about Katrina the first time. What the hell? The issues are different now! She can't even be bothered to write a new form letter?"

Husband: "You know what you are, right?"

Noisette: ".....?"

Husband: "You're that crazy woman who writes her Senator every time she reads an article in the newspaper. You know Boxer's staff are totally like- 'Oh god, it's that damn Noisette woman again. What's she griping about now? Good lord, Hurricane Katrina again?? Just send her the Katrina form letter."

Noisette: "Omigod... you're right. What have I become? I've become that insane lady all the staffers hate! All I ever do is write my goddamn congressman/senator/whatever! It's the Bush Administration's fault! 5 years of their bullshit has turned me from a normal, functioning 20 something into a bitter, old, semi-brain-addled crazy lady! Oh, the humanity!!!"

And... scene.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hesitantly hopeful

It keeps coming today!

From Wapo:

Feds to Rebuild New Orleans Levees:

"President Bush is requesting $1.5 billion more to help make the levee system in New Orleans stronger than it was before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.
At a news briefing at the White House, officials dodged the question of whether the levees would be built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, using broader language instead to promise that the city's citizens would be safe and the levees would be "stronger and better." ...

The additional $1.5 billion that the president is requesting would pay to armor the levee system with concrete and stone, close three interior canals and provide state-of-the art pumping systems so that the water would flow out of the canals into Lake Pontchartrain, Powell said.
Officials said the levee system would be rebuilt to its previous level of protection before the hurricane season next year, and that the process of strengthening them further would take two years."

Of course, it's not $32 billion, and they're avoiding the "Category 5" issue, but attention- and money- has been paid.

This is notable too:

In a Shift, Anti-Prostitution Effort Targets Pimps and Johns:

"A national campaign against prostitution has intensified in political, nonprofit and law enforcement circles, so much so that yesterday the House unanimously passed novel legislation, with the Senate expected to follow.

In the past, police sweeps have focused on the women. The new federal law would grant state and local law enforcement agencies funds to investigate and prosecute the men -- brothel owners and pimps."

This end-of-year legislative flurry has yielded some gems (hopefully). Here's hoping the trend continues.

***Update- more good news!
From NY Times:
Senate Is Set to Require Details on Secret Prisons: "The Senate is poised to approve a measure that would require the Bush administration to provide Congress with its most specific and extensive accounting about the secret prison system established by the Central Intelligence Agency to house terrorism suspects."

Heavy Sunni Turnout Is Seen; Attacks Are Scattered and Light: "In a day remarkable for the absence of large-scale violence, millions of Iraqi voters, many of them dressed in their best and traveling with other family members, streamed to the polls today to cast ballots in a nationwide election as Iraqi leaders predicted that the vote would split almost evenly between secular and Islamist parties."

Good times, y'all.

Civilization triumphs

Thank god. Or whomever. McCain. Thank McCain.

From today's WaPo:
"The House gave strong support yesterday to a measure that would ban torture and limit interrogation tactics in U.S. detention facilities, agreeing with senators that Congress needs to set uniform guidelines for the treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism.

On a 308 to 122 vote, members of the House supported specific language proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. Though lopsided, the vote was largely symbolic and does not put the language into law.

The vote specifically instructed House negotiators to include McCain's language, word for word, in the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill, a decision that is not binding but carries significant political weight."

Ok, so it's symbolic. We'll have to watch carefully to see how the final legislation shakes out. But 308-122! 107 Republicans! This is good news, folks.

The upshot (I think, I hope): we don't suck. As much.

And you know, kudos to McCain. He's spent the past month standing up to Cheney, Bush, Hadley and various other minions. The man has balls. And unlike every member of the administration including the Secretary of Defense, McCain knows what it means to be in war, to be a POW, to be tortured.
Thanks, Senator. We can now begin the long process of restoring our credibility in the world.

UPDATE: From the NYTimes: "After months of resistance, the White House has agreed to accept Sen. John McCain's call for a law specifically banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror, several congressional officials said Thursday."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Just in case you thought this problem was solved

From today's NYTimes editorial:

"We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum. ...

The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.

Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies."

Did anyone actually think that our beloved government would make good on its promise to rebuild New Orleans? If so, there's some lakefront property in Cleveland I'd love to sell you.*

This is, of course, unacceptable. The article mentions that the cost of rebuilding the levees, the most concrete (no pun intended) step to rebuilding the city, would cost our coffers $32 billion. By the way? The House just approved $95 billion in tax cuts (even as they contemplate gutting social programs like Medicaid and Medicare, but that's another story). The feeble refrain warbled out by morons shackled to their corporate donors remains that "tax cuts grow the economy." You know what else would grow the economy? REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS.

I'm about to write my senators and congressperson. I'd like to urge any of you who happen upon this post and happen to live in a red state to do so as well. I say this because I know the response I'll get from Barbara Boxer and Henry Waxman. It'll be something like "I, too, am concerned about the state of New Orleans' recovery. I have been fighting in Congress/the Senate to pass legislation to rebuild the levees. Unfortunately, the Republicans have fought my every effort, and the legislation remains stalled in committee."

If you live in a red state, urge your representatives to recognize that rebuilding New Orleans is not a partisan issue. Help them to understand that short-term catering to their special interests will gain them a lot less street cred (and good karma) come the 2006 elections than participating in a national effort to rebuild the city.

As the NY Times editorial points out, time is short for New Orleans. Let's do what we can to force the hands of those who answer to us.

You can find out who your local Representative is here.

*Cleveland does in fact sit on Lake Erie- but much of the Cleveland lakefront is underdeveloped and dilapidated. For whatever reason, a city with amazing access to a great body of water has done little to develop what you'd think would be its most desirable property. Poor Cleveland. Anyway, I probably should have said "property on Lake Pontchartrain" but I thought that might be too cynical, even for me.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Why I Love Andrew Sullivan

I do love him. I do. I don't agree with him on the things that make him a conservative and me a liberal (I don't feel like elaborating), but we agree on probably the most fundamental, crucial question facing this country now: is there any situation, any "ticking time bomb," any extenuating circumstance in which the government should sanction the use of torture?

In the National Review Online (yes, the National Review Online), Sullivan takes fellow conservative Charles Krauthammer to task for writing an article defending the use of torture in particular "ticking time bomb" situations. The idea is this: if you've captured an al qaeda operative who knows the exact location of a bomb that is about to go off and kill innumerable innocents, you should torture him, if need be, to get the essential information out of him and diffuse the bomb. Torture is thus condoned in certain controlled situations.

Sullivan speaks to this and explains why this attitude, while perhaps vicerally understandable, is nonetheless wrong; and why we do much more harm than good, globally, by engaging in torture, even in extreme situations.

"Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person's will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. ...

The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term "break" is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken--of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South. ...

Indeed, the very concept of Western liberty sprung in part from an understanding that, if the state has the power to reach that deep into a person's soul and can do that much damage to a human being's person, then the state has extinguished all oxygen necessary for freedom to survive. That is why, in George Orwell's totalitarian nightmare, the final ordeal is, of course, torture. Any polity that endorses torture has incorporated into its own DNA a totalitarian mutation. If the point of the U.S. Constitution is the preservation of liberty, the formal incorporation into U.S. law of the state's right to torture--by legally codifying physical coercion, abuse, and even, in Krauthammer's case, full-fledged torture of detainees by the CIA--would effectively end the American experiment of a political society based on inalienable human freedom protected not by the good graces of the executive, but by the rule of law."

There is no situation extreme enough to warrant the use of torture. In doing so, we may obtain information (often flawed, actually)- but we sully the very principles on which our society is based, and in doing so destroy it. I'm not ready to do that. I'm not ready to end the American experiment, not yet.

Thanks, Andrew Sullivan, for pointing out that we need to remain on our guard, because the Bush Admin. seems just about ready to indulge the darker, more fearful side of our collective nature and ruin everything we hold very dear.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Another day, another blogfight

Why do I do this?
I posted a "chin up" comment to Opinionista's latest lawfirm lament, and a random commenter saw fit to attack me. And of course I let him/her get to me, and attacked back. Why do I let these people draw me in and ruin my mood?
Here's the thread of the "argument:"

"I've had that happen too. It's total human error- you can think you researched the entire spectrum of cases and there's the one elusive one that you somehow missed. Which is the problem with litigation research- there's ALWAYS an unturned stone. That's why I'm corporate. Anyway, point being that it's a totally understandable error, one that Ogre dude has surely made himself. Don't sweat it too much. You're spot-on with the partners playing on our insecurities left over from childhood- even at my relatively mild bigfirm, I see that happening all the time. We just have to try to stay sane and remember that we are adults and in charge of our destinies." Noisette 12.07.05 - 6:12 pm

"Noisette: Your comment above and the context given in your own blog leave many unanswered questions, let alone "unturned stones." First, you allege a "vast readership" for your blog. Yet barely a handful of commenters even post. Next, you note that you understand that a "noisette," your blog moniker, is a type of rose. You "understand" that it is a type of rose, but don't know for sure. If you live in Los Angeles, don't you live near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena? In other words, couldn't you find out what kind of rose you are? Or are you implicating Shakespeare's retort the unimportance or seeming unimportance of names, i.e. "A rose by any other name..." Or Maybe Gertrude Stein's "A rose is a rose is a rose." Who is your literary partner in crime, Noisette? Last but not least, in your post on capital punishment, you remark that you looked at protesters outside your office window one day. Yet you claim to be a corporate lawyer. In NYC or Chicago, Noisette, you couldn't even draft an officer's certificate or amend boilerplate DE law organizational papers for an LLC or the like without someone coming in to make sure you were actually doing that rather than gawking at a protest. What is going on?"
Smith 12.07.05 - 7:46 pm

Hello? So of course I responded:

"Umm... Smith? Calm down. The "vast readership," the "type of rose"- were meant ironically. Familiar with irony? (Familiar with the phrase "irony is wasted on the stupid"?) (also, just for clarity, there is a type of rose called "noisette.") I work in downtown Los Angeles at one of the 25 best lawfirms in the country. I'm not going to tell you which one. I overlook a main thoroughfare and the other day there was a protest against the execution of "Tookie," the founder of the gang called the Crips. We knew it was his protest because we received a firm-wide email warning us that the street in front of our building would be closed. Finally, what the hell is your problem? And if you have so many complaints about my blog, why not tell me ON my blog, rather than gunking up O's comment box (and O, I know I'm guilty of that too, but assignations like Smith's must be responded to)." Noisette 12.07.05 - 11:01 pm

And I got this response for my pains:

"Noisette: Irony may be wasted on the stupid, but discretion, on your part, is not the better part of valor. If the letter to the editor about capital punishment that you sport on your blog gets published, you will be outter than the parking lot, much less left field or the bleachers over at Dodger Stadium. By the way, while you are standing up for Tookie, have you ever done any charity work across the freeway in Chavez Ravine or down the 110 in South Central? Have you now? Do tell. I won't argue with you any longer or shorter here. That said, who would want to argue with you on your blog? Who reads it?" Smith 12.08.05 - 2:29 am

Well, I couldn't let that lie...

"Smith, for all your fancy phrasing, you sound a bit idiotic. My whole POINT is that no one reads my blog, on which I don't post enough or thematically enough to merit a large readership. My husband and a few friends read it. And so I poke fun at myself. My letter to the editor probably will not get published, but all the better if it does, because I don't make much of an effort to maintain my anonymity. I just don't particularly care to have you know who I am. That said, a few facts: I graduated from a top 10 law school, I'm at a top 10 law firm, I do quite a bit of pro bono and devote my spare time to political causes I believe in. I'm happily married and have 2 spectacular cats. I'm pretty unassailable. I don't know why I let people like you get under my skin.Sorry, O." Noisette 12.08.05 - 11:42 am

I'm of course as much to blame as he/she is for getting drawn in. It happens when work is slow.

But just for the record- I WASN'T sticking up for Tookie. Learn to read, fucktard.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Republican Simplicity

Ok, I promised my vast readership a follow-up to the ABC Aids prevention post. I thought maybe I'd do more research and really compare and contrast different prevention techniques. That's not going to happen. Instead, I humbly offer you my opinion.

I think the Bush Admin's approach to AIDS prevention echoes not only their particular strategy for dealing with just about every obstacle, but really reflects the Republican approach to the world. Here's what I mean:

1) the Bush Admin has made a career of simplification and polarization. 9/11 became "Us or Them." Iran, Iraq and North Korea, despite cultural and historical differences, became the "Axis of Evil." Our "War on Terror" was easily reduced to black vs. white, good vs. evil, holy Christians vs. heathen Muslims. This simplicity, while obviously lamentable in that it glosses over nuance, complication, etc., has advantages- people respond to it. It's much easier to think of Muslims (extremist ones, anyway) as simply evil (and more moderate Muslims as... well... misguided). Why try to understand a people so different, and so violent? There's no point in comprehending why a people hate us- if they hate us, they must be on the wrong side of history. Period.

2) As I've said, this approach is appealing. The Republicans in general grasp this and use it to their advantage. Don't try to present the nuances, the complications of an issue to the American people. Just memorize your talking points memo, repeat ad nauseum. People hear you and understand you, and if enough of you say the same things enough times, people will believe you. Repetition works. Dems haven't grasped this (whether they should or not is another issue).

3) My ultimate point- this simplicity applies to AIDS prevention in the same way that Nancy Reagan's "Just say 'NO'" campaign applied to drug use in the '80's. It's easy, it lends itself to repetition. Fighting AIDS is as easy as A-B-C. Of course it is! It's a sound bite, and its facility is easy to get your head around.

4) The problem with this approach is, of course, that ultimately it doesn't work. Nothing is that simple. "Just say 'No'" didn't work because - what do you say no to, exactly? No to peer pressure, no to curiosity- but is it the same "no" for cocaine as it is for, say, marajuana? If you try marajuana once and you don't die, have you fallen into the abyss of "bad kids" because you didn't "Just say 'No'?" The Reagans' "War on Drugs" failed for many of the same reasons, I think, as the "War on Terror" is failing now. Simplicity is all well and good in theory, but a failure to understand the basic psychology and culture surrounding exactly why people do things, is ultimately fatal to the cause.

5) Ditto for AIDS prevention. Read some of the articles I quoted below to understand why preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa is ridiculously far from being "as simple as A-B-C." And complicated, nuanced problems call for complicated, long ranging, and yes, expensive, solutions. It may not fit into a sound-bite, but real progress against AIDS in Africa encompasses the whole alphabet, and then some.

Shame on the Bush Administration for not grasping this. A lot of people will die, in the many "wars" we are fighting, in the name of simplicity.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Lamenting Tookie

Here's a letter I wrote to Eugene Robinson in response to his column, "No Special Break for Tookie," in WaPo today:

Dear Mr. Robinson,
I was making exactly the point you made today in your column, albeit less eloquently, to my colleagues as we watched a rally for Tookie take place outside our office window in downtown Los Angeles. Tookie doesn't deserve clemency because he is a special case. He shouldn't be executed because NO ONE should. Capital punishment is one of the most shameful stains on a country which holds itself out as civilized (the torture of detainees being perhaps equally shameful). The fact that Tookie might get special treatment speaks to the widespread misapplication of this punishment more than it does to any relative merit Tookie might possess as a celebrity inmate. Those who are advocating mercy in Tookie's particular case should direct their energies toward the abolition of capital punishment in this country in general. Thousands of similarly repentant but unknown men and women might then be spared.
Thank you for expressing so well what I have long believed.


Los Angeles

Here's another WaPo article on the death penalty.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

President Bush said this today:

"We're working with our partners to expand prevention efforts that emphasize abstinence, being faithful in marriage and using condoms correctly. This strategy, pioneered by Africans, has proven its effectiveness, and America stands behind the ABC approach to prevention."

Interesting. I erred in my post yesterday by not including the administration's emphasis on condom usage.
It's important to note, however, that this is not a shift in policy- it's been the Bush Admin's consistent approach to the issue. And yet African AIDS programs that accept American funding in exchange for promoting this program have been markedly less successful in fighting the epidemic, as my post yesterday pointed out. What gives? Let's go back to the article:

"In a news briefing yesterday, Dybul [deputy global AIDS coordinator at the White House] denied that U.S. assistance in the AIDS fight came with strings attached and relied too heavily on abstinence programs.
'The notion that there's an excessive focus on abstinence is just untrue,' he said. 'The policy both in the guidance we issue and in the programs we support is fully A-B-C -- abstain, be faithful, and correct and consistent use of condoms.'"

Ok, Dybul, I'll bite. The Bush Admin's programs have been unfairly slandered. But really? Let's dig a little deeper on this.

Another article in last year's WaPo mentions this:

"Most prevention messages, and certainly those favored by the Bush administration, focus on the "ABC" approach to fighting HIV-AIDS: abstinence, be faithful, and use condoms. While important messages, these things are often not within women's power to control. It is urgent that we develop a "DEF" approach that responds to needs repeatedly expressed by women living with HIV-AIDS and by AIDS activists in Africa.

The need to go beyond "ABC" grows out of the stark statistics. Sixty percent of those living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women and girls. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are infected at rates as much as five times higher than boys their age. This disproportionate impact is linked to social and economic factors that severely undermine women's control over their sexual lives. In a climate where sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls are widespread and usually goes unreported, how can they practice abstinence? When married women, many of whom were child brides, have been faithful to the husbands who are infecting them, how do messages about monogamy help them protect themselves? When girls are pulled out of school to take care of sick relatives and are denied opportunities to gain skills that would break their economic dependency, how can they avoid survival or transactional sex and negotiate condom use?"

Hmm. Interesting. But Wait! There's more.

"Abstinence-only policies
Uganda receives significant amounts of funding from America, and much of the PEPFAR [The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] money is being channelled through pro-abstinence and even anti-condom organisations which are faith-based, and which would like sexual abstinence to be a central pillar of the fight against HIV. This money is making a difference - some Ugandan teachers report being instructed by US contractors not to discuss condoms in schools because the new policy is "abstinence only".
Small community-based organisations are increasingly shifting the emphasis of their prevention programmes to comply with the agenda of PEPFAR's favoured donors. This change is also being encouraged by evangelical churches within Uganda, and by the First Lady, Janet Museveni. Around the country dozens of billboards have sprung up promoting only abstinence to prevent HIV infection.

Condom shortages
In 2004 the Ugandan government issued a nationwide recall of the condoms distributed free in health clinics, due to concerns about their quality. Although tests showed there was nothing at all wrong with the condoms, the government said that public confidence in the brand had been badly dented, so they would not redistribute them. By mid-2005 there was said to be a severe scarcity of condoms in Uganda, made worse by new taxes which made the remaining stocks too expensive for many people to afford.
Some have said the US is largely to blame for the shortages. According to Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, "there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administration in the United States is now pursuing".
Mr Lewis has also said that PEPFAR's emphasis on abstinence above condom distribution is a "distortion of the preventive apparatus and is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred".
However, speaking in August 2005, Uganda's coordinator of condom procurement at the Ministry of Health denied there was any shortage of condoms, and said that new stocks would be distributed soon. She also said the government was committed to promoting all three parts of the "ABC" strategy: Abstinence, Faithfulness and Condoms."

So if ABC doesn't work, what's to be done? WaPo makes some suggestions:

"I asked a leading Ugandan AIDS activist about the lessons of the "ABC" campaign in his country. He replied that "ABC" is insufficient without "D," for "disclosure," which incorporates the importance of knowing your HIV status, changing your behavior appropriately and living positively. Yet women living with HIV-AIDS risk violence or abandonment in disclosing their status and are often blamed for bringing the virus into the household, even when their partners infected them. To address those realities, "D" should be "disclosure in safety," to help women disclose their status with appropriate social and economic support structures, including legal recourse in cases of violence. Training police and law enforcement officials on the links between gender-based violence and HIV-AIDS establishing safe shelters and referral services for women and girls, and providing support to women living with HIV-AIDS are examples of programs that would help women to disclose safely."

I'm not done. The contrary voice needs to be heard as well. But alas, no time. Here's some further reading, if you care:

Why ABC doesn't work:
News South Africa

And why it may:

I want to write more on this. Hopefully I will, later.