Friday, July 18, 2003

The Story of Lost-and-Found
One cannot--CANNOT--make this up*: a 55-year-old congressman called the cops because a 75-year-old congressman called him a "fruitcake". Seemingly this was considered a personal threat: (this is Robert's Rules of Order, fruitcake. It's the biggest, baddest guide every written. If you're lucky I'll let you say your piece before I shove it down your throat. So I want you to ask yourself, fruitcake, are you feeling lucky today? UH?Are you feeling lucky, fruitcake?)

Sorry. Got away from me for a minute there.

So rather than compete with the real world, I'm going to tell you about Lost-and-Found.

He's a cat. Small, wiry, pure black except for a white "fingerprint" at the base of the throat. He showed up two days after we moved into our new house and sat by the door, meaowing piteously. My father picked him up--he allowed it and even rubbed his head against my father's hands--and checked him over. The poor kitty had been completely declawed. One of his eyes had a thin film of blood-colored scars over part of the pupil. He had no tag or collar.

My father was not in the mood for a pet; we had had to put my sister's cat down recently after he launched vicious attacks on several family members, and we were all traumatized. So the appearance of this little skinny mongrel at our doorstep was almost more than he could handle. However, since Dad is constitutionally unable to let any living creature starve, he took some milk and put a little plateful on the stoop.

The cat drank all the milk and then lay down for a nap in the middle of the flower bed nearest the front door. My father gave him a malevolent look, then stomped back to the car and drove off. He returned a short while later with a bag of cat food.

"Outside!" He thundered. "The cat stays outside--and it's just until we can find the owner!"

"So what do we call him?" asked my sister innocently (yeah, right), "He has to have a name."

"Lost-and-Found. He's lost and we found him." He dumped the cat food on the dining room table and ignored us.

We asked around the neighborhood, and nobody owned up to having lost a cat. The next door neighbor thought Lost-and-Found may have belonged to a family that had moved away a few months before. They either abandoned him or he ran away. Either way, it seemed Lost-and-Found was ours.

Cats, I think, are born knowing which side of their bread is buttered. Lost-and-Found sized up the situation and spent his days doing his level best to charm my father. By the third week, my Dad would spend hours sitting by the flower bed playing with him. Lost-and-Found still was not allowed inside the house, but his food and water dishes were always full.

One day, my father noticed that Lost-and-Found seemed listless. He moaned when Dad picked him up and even vomited a little. Dad wrapped him in a towel, and he and Mom headed for a veterinary clinic near the house.

It turned out toads had been getting into Lost-and-Found's water. It seems toad skin is covered in a mucus that is really dangerous to cats. That night, Lost-and-Found and his food and water dishes (washed in the dishwasher at the hottest possible temperature) took up residence in the garage.

"Only in the garage!" thundered my father. "He's not to come inside the house!"

Two months later, Dad had knee replacement surgery. After returning home, he slept in the living room sofa, since it was the only place where he felt a bit comfortable. His sleep was really disturbed, and he often moaned loudly. In the garage, a distraught Lost-and-Found whined and yelped until we let him into the house. He then marched over to my father, jumped on his stomach, and curled down, his head on my father's chest and one paw on my father's cheek. They fell asleep together.

Lost-and-Found has been inside ever since. When Dad moved back to the bedroom, Mother would not let Lost-and-Found jump in bed with them. He got even by lying along the ledge of the window behind the bed and swishing his paw over my mother's nose to make her sneeze in her sleep. His game went on until one day he discovered that I had no objection to his sleeping in my bed.

That's where he is right now, and he's pissed because it's late and I'm not in bed yet.

*Unless you're Carl Hiaasen but he lives in Miami-Dade where things like this would be normal, so it doesn't count.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

From the Totally Fucking Clueless Department
More, a new magazine created to "celebrate the woman over 40", has decided to do so by having a......model search.

So, lessee here....the pinnacle of achievement for a woman over forty much her body approximates that of an anorexic 20 year old.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

That sound is rising from the bowels of all Republican haunts.

A friend e-mails me to tell me that the online version of Hello Magazine says that Bill Clinton's autobiography is due out soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Terrorists and Profiling: Why I REALLY Have to Give Up TV
So today I get in late (due to car breakdown and other things not so negative), plop down on the bed, kick off the shoes, and turn on the tv.

Bad, Bad, Bad idea.

I keep it on PBS. There's a show I've never seen before. Gwen Ifill and Bryant Gumbel. This one dealing with the tradeoff between freedom and security in the "post 9/11 world".

Part of the show includes a survey. Here's two of the questions, with their answers:

4. Do you favor or oppose the use of security cameras in public places to conduct facial-recognition scans?

5. Do you favor or oppose the retention of the digital images from facial-recognition scans without the approval of those being scanned?

Does anyone other than me notice the weirdness of this? While 67% would favor facial-recognition scans in airports, only 41% favor the retention of the images?

What in the world do those 26% switchers think these systems could compare their faces TO if there are no stored images? Do they believe that there is somewhere out there the perfect terrorist face and all the computer has to do is do a point-by-point match? Uum, no beady squinty sneer....wait, wait, is that a tick on the upper part of the left eyebrow... no, false alarm....this one is a good guy, let him through...aha! this other one, notice the mustache? Just like the guys in Topkapi...

One of the most amazing things I've encountered in the United States is this persistent belief that people can be somehow be placed in context by their appearance. For example, both my best friend and I are dark haired and brown eyed. She is slightly paler and taller than I am, and her hair is wavier. During our teenage years we occasionally swapped clothes, and at those times people who did not know us well would sometime get confused as to which was which.

Strangers, though, would always assume we were both (1) hispanic and (2) related. This would be especially true if they heard me speak first, as I have a definite accent. Trouble is, my friend is German, of Bavarian Catholic descent, and would not know a papa from a salchicha (well, she learned, but that's a whole other story :-)).

What I found funny was that since I lived in a Greek-German neighborhood, I was often assumed to be Greek, but never German although there were several examples of dark-haired Germans living right there among us. Funnier still, blond greeks were automatically assumed to be Germans. One tall, willowy Greek woman I knew was often asked which of the Spaleros boys she was married to. She would reply that it was actually her mother who had married a Spaleros boy; she came by her last name honestly!

Funniest of all was when they ran into a blond, green-eyed Latin....

I know that this kind of tribal-level, you-look-like-me recognition is a common human response. But we better get out of tribal thinking quickly. There are plenty of light-haired-light-complexioned Muslims out there (conversion, anyone?); for crying out loud, there have to be at least some light-haired-light-complexioned Arabs out there, if only because there were these little events called the Crusades, and where war goes, rape, consensual sex for financial reasons, and illegitimate children follow. Not to mention that a great many of the terrorist groups with a hard-on for America are not composed of Arabs or Muslims at all! And those groups have no problem cooperating when it suits them.

Racial profiling in the terrorism business sucks not because of the constitutional freedom issues, but because this kind of profiling can make you miss as many as you catch. Do you really think we would have caught John Walker Lindh through racial profiling? Racial profiles wouldn't tell the customs agent to give a second look to the nice, tall blond couple coming in from Germany...with instructions to lie low and wait...and then hit the local power plant.

Wake up, folks. No matter what the government tells you, facial recognition systems are likely to work on an exclusionary, not inclusionary, manner; that is, they recognize YOU and clear you for travel, rather than they recognize Mr. or Ms. Terrorist and ship them straight to Gitmo. The dirty little fact of this war is that it is probably damn near impossible to have photographs of most of the terrorists out there; the next crop is probably 16 years old and training somewhere in Pakistan.

I hope our anti-terrorist planners are thinking better than that 26%. If we are basing decisions about national security on the they-look-like-us theory, we are already in a heap of trouble.