Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You're Welcome, Unknown Colleague O' Mine

This isn't going into the clip file, and under ordinary circumstances I wouldn't even post it here. Not that there's anything wrong with it; I just prefer humorous pieces. Also it feels oddly wrong to me, writing a story where the government spokesperson is the sort-of Good Guy. It's like being trapped in one of those scary alternate universes where the men all wear black goatees.

But here's the thing: when I tried doing some online searches about these folks I found nothing (with one exception too minor to mention). So I'm thinking, if these people are for real then the next reporter who tries to do some preliminary background research on the Web will at the very least find this little blog post.

You're welcome, whoever you are. And if you don't exist, I'm sure this is neither the first nor the last pointless posting I've done.

Ranch of Dreams

On the surface, there’s nothing going on in Stafford Springs but a mundane zoning/school funding dispute.

The Ranch of the Risen Son is the name of a group that proposed to create a sort of therapeutic children’s work farm there. Rancher Donna Russell-Smith went to a zoning commission meeting in July, seeking approval to build on land out by Lake Mark. The commission rejected the application due to paperwork issues and concern over the impact the ranch’s 200 children would have on the school system.

If you walk through town asking the locals what they think, you’ll find plenty willing to speak about how they’re afraid the ranch might break their budget. “It would be a huge addition to school attendance rolls,” some will say, while others add, “And since they’re a non-profit, they won’t even pay property taxes.” You can use their names, if you write about that.

Just another school-funding dispute. But if you put your notebook away and ask questions in a low, off-the-record voice that promises not to name names, you’ll hear whispers of other concerns.


According to a promotional booklet titled The Ranch of the Risen Son, Inc: His Concept, “The Ranch … will be spread out over 200 acres of prime land in Connecticut and will house 200 children full time. The children will range in age from 8-18 and will be schooled on the property.” (Ranchers later explained they wrote that before they knew about Stafford Springs’ schools.)

Children at the ranch “will care for the horses and barnyard animals, grow and harvest hay, grow vegetables, make quilts, candles, etc..” The kids will be divided into groups of 10, spread out among 20 huge homes, each headed by “a married Christian couple.”

A section called Our Focus says “Our desire is to redeem the whole little person to the state that our Lord designed them to be … nurture will come from a Christian couple who will become Mom and Dad 24 hours each day in a log home beautifully designed for the children on a horse ranch and farm where they will remain until at least 18 years of age.”

No way, said Gary Kleeblatt, spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, when the Advocate called to ask what sort of requirements you’d have to meet to open a place like that in Connecticut. DCF’s policy is to try and reunite kids with their families; if that’s not possible, the department prefers adoption or foster homes over warehousing kids until adulthood.

Kleeblatt didn’t sound too enthusiastic about the size, either. “The Department [is moving] toward smaller, more community-based programs … serving five or six children each.”


The booklet talks about a horse ranch focusing on “hippotherapy,” riding horses to heal the emotional traumas of children whose families broke “down due to violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, mental illness, etc.” There’s also mention of a “behavior modification program” where kids earn privileges by working their way up through five levels. No details for how this works.

Finally, there’s a “Contact List” with a PO box in Middletown, and the names, phone numbers and e-mails of five people: Donna Russell-Smith, Carol Hamel and Mark and Ann Giangarra in Connecticut, and Honey Svoboda, whose cell phone number has a Pennsylvania area code.


If you walk through Stafford Springs asking what life would be like on the Ranch of the Risen Son you’ll hear nothing beyond the vagaries in the Ranchers’ booklet. But if you write the contacts listed therein, expressing an eagerness to learn about the ranch and its lovely horses, Donna Russell-Smith herself might get back to you and say “This is going to be the birth of something big.” The ranchers would be happy to chat the following week, but wouldn’t speak individually.

Svoboda was a no-show, but the ranchers from Connecticut met at Russell-Smith’s house in a shabby part of Middletown. The interview took place in a small dining room, barely lit by four oil lamps in wall sconces and a slightly larger one on a side table. Russell-Smith and Hamel did most of the talking; the Giangarras seemed there mainly for show.

The light made reading faces hard. More than half the discussion took place during those periods after Russell-Smith said “put your notebook away, don’t write this down, let me explain the background first.”

She didn’t explain much. Russell-Smith said the ranchers decided not to build in Stafford Springs after all. The land isn’t really suitable, they said, so they’re looking elsewhere in Connecticut. Eventually there is to be one ranch in each of the 50 states, but “the Lord said the first one has to be in Connecticut,” said Russell-Smith.

The ranchers know each other from church? “No,” she said. There’s no formal church behind this.

A few hundred acres of prime Connecticut horse land must be expensive. How will the ranchers get that money? “With loans,” Russell-Smith said.

The booklet mentioned that “there will be a log chapel on the grounds of the Ranch. All of the staff will have a personal relationship with our Lord. Each child will come to know that God is very real.”

However, Hamel hastened to add, although it will be a Christian camp “We won’t discriminate against Jews” or other religions. But will non-Christian children be required to attend services in the chapel?

Yes, said Russell-Smith, but they’re perfectly free to switch faiths once they turn 18 and leave the Ranch.

Kleeblatt, of the DCF, says regulations state “that the religious faith of each child shall be respected” and that kids “be given opportunities to participate in religious activities of his or her faith whenever possible.”

How will the five-level behavior modification system work? What sort of privileges does each level convey?

“That’s something we don’t want to write in the paper,” said Russell-Smith.

Well, what sort of things do the kids have to do? Obey the rules, Russell-Smith said. What are they?

“That’s not really something I want to get into,” said Russell-Smith. “People would pick it apart.”

What sort of things might make someone go down a level, then? “Disrespecting.”

What are the punishments for breaking the rules? “We don’t want to talk about that in the newspaper.”


We talked for an hour without talking about much. But the ranchers said that each child’s individuality will be respected. And there will be horses, and exercise, and 20 loving families with 10 kids apiece.

Or maybe not. “Please keep in mind that this entity has not applied for a license at this point,” said Gary Kleeblatt of the DCF.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thy Brother's Keeper (And Thy Bank's, Too)

An ordinary person might find herself a bit annoyed to receive a form letter telling her she numbers among the 106,000 taxpayers whose personal information was on a laptop computer stolen from the state tax people. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic (sort of), since it gave me an excuse to write this story, which in turn was a bit of a rehash of a post I wrote last October explaining why identity-theft laws are bullshit.

Thy Brother's Keeper (And Thy Bank's, Too)
Protecting the assets of wealthy lending institutions is your personal responsibility. Seriously.
By Jennifer Abel

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Here's how the five stages of grief play out when you learn that your lucky self is at risk of identity theft because you're one of the 106,000 taxpayers whose names and social security numbers were on the laptop stolen from the Department of Revenue Services last month:

Denial: I don't believe this!
Anger: Dang government, always making innocent people miserable.
Bargaining: I'd give anything for competent leadership.
Depression: Yeah, right, that'll happen (sniffle).
Acceptance: I can't afford to move to Amsterdam.

Once you complete the final phase you can start taking steps to regain control of your destiny, by contacting either Equifax, TransUnion or Experian, the three credit-reporting agencies listed on the DRS letter, and telling it to put a credit alert on your accounts. Whichever agency you call is legally obligated to contact the other two on your behalf.

What's the benefit of a credit alert? According to a Sept. 14 press release from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (who did not return our calls for this story), "Credit alerts require companies to make a good faith effort to verify the identity of anyone seeking credit or a loan. Alerts must be renewed every 90 days."

Envy me, reader, for the security that's temporarily mine: over the next three months minus the time it takes for this to get to print and thence to you, if anyone contacts the Gigantobank Corporation to say "Hi, I'm Jennifer and I'd like to take out several thousand dollars in high-interest, unsecured credit-card debt," Gigantobank has to make a good-faith effort to ensure it's actually me before burdening my credit record with a legal responsibility to pay them back this money.

This is a special privilege, not a default setting. After I activated it for myself by calling the first company listed on my DRS form letter, I made a few more phone calls in hopes of learning why anyone need bother with credit alerts anyway.

"Protect yourself from identity theft." That phrase, in quotation marks, yielded 141,000 hits in an online search. Take the quotes away and it's nearly two million. Who in America hasn't heard it at least that many times? It's a bona fide part of the zeitgeist. Yet the assumption behind it is false.

The classic identity theft scam works something like this: the thief manages to convince Gigantobank he's actually you, and borrows money in your name. It will be a very annoying and time-consuming process for you to straighten out the mess, but at least you're not liable for the money Gigantobank lost.

Read that last sentence again: it's not your money you're protecting. So how did it become your responsibility (or mine) to protect the assets of wealthy corporations which, in most cases, we've never even done a lick of business with?

The folks I spoke to said that expecting financial companies to make sure it's really you they're lending money to would bring the credit card industry to its knees, which would be an undesirable outcome.

Let's say you've just been informed of the presence of one or more previously unknown credit cards in your name. It's up to you to prove that it's not yours. No "innocent until proven guilty" assumptions apply. Why can't you just tell the company "I never borrowed this money, and if you think I did then prove it?" Why is the onus on you to prove your innocence?

"That's simple," said Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center. "The fact that your personal information was used to open the account."

But calling it my "personal" information sounds like a bit of a stretch these days, doesn't it? Given how commonplace identity theft cases and database security breaches are, it seems folly for credit-card companies and the like to continue pretending that on all God's earth, the only person who could possibly know my social security number and date of birth is me. My credit alert requires companies to make a good faith effort to ensure I'm responsible before loaning money in my name. Why isn't that standard practice?

Foley spoke for several paragraphs that boil down to: this would kill the credit industry as we know it. "If it fell to credit card companies to prove the individual opened the account ... if I walked into a Kmart, or a Wal-Mart, or a Sears," he'd no longer be able to apply for and receive on-the-spot credit.

Nessa Feddis, from the American Bankers Association, put it more succinctly. "If consumers were simply allowed to make the statement 'I owe you nothing' and avoid payment, all consumers could simply make the declaration and avoid paying legitimate debts."

Well, all consumers could certainly try that. But the assumption of innocence until guilt is proven hasn't prevented society from imprisoning criminals, most of whom vehemently deny having committed the crime for which they were convicted. It's up to the prosecution to prove guilt. Why isn't that the case with debts incurred via identity theft?

"Criminal transactions are far less frequent and presumably more serious than loan transactions," Feddis said. "Resolving every loan dispute would clog the courts and make loans far more expensive ... the burden of proof in a criminal case is stronger than in a civil case."

Speaking of civil cases, consider this: if a thief steals your identity, you are (at least) not required to pay the actual bills your identity thief rang up. But neither are you entitled to compensation for the dozens of hours you'll spend clearing up the mess. And if you're unfortunate enough to suffer additional financial consequences, like being denied a mortgage or even turned down for a job because of your unjustly low credit score, you can't sue for damages in a civil court. Why not?

"State laws often allow victims to get compensation from criminals," Feddis observed. "Whether the victim is entitled to compensation from others ... is a matter of state law and tort law. It is no different from any other case where someone incurs damages due to someone else's actions."

Oh, but it's very different from such cases. If I, as a private citizen, make an honest mistake that causes you to be rejected for a loan or denied a job, you can sue me for damages in civil court. But if you suffer this same consequence due to the honest mistake of a credit-card company or credit reporting agency, you have no legal recourse at all.

"Unfortunately, that's right," said Jay Foley. "As much as I hate to say that, that's true."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Right To Dissent

The right of redheaded female bloggers to bitch about power-tripping authority figures must not be infringed, which is why I had something of a personal stake in writing this story about the Avery Doninger case, a small-town Connecticut school issue with disturbing national implications concerning just how much leeway public schools should have in dictating the off-campus behavior of the students legally required to attend said schools.

Thursday, September 20, 2007
The Right To Dissent
School officials clamp down on student blogger
By Jennifer Abel

Food for thought and mental indigestion: even though you've committed no crime, government agents whose six-figure salaries come out of your tax dollars can make you spend most of your waking hours in a lockdown facility. When you're not there, they can still regulate what you write, say and do. And when election time rolls around, if these government agents don't like who you voted for they can decide your ballots just don't count. Best of all, they'll tell you with straight faces that they're teaching you how to be a free citizen of a democracy.

So far the above paragraph only applies to students enrolled in Connecticut's Region 10 school district. But if Region 10's administration gets its way, it will eventually apply to every public-school student in America.

Get this: a few months ago Avery Doninger, a Burlington resident who is now a senior at Lewis Mills High School in that town, sat at home and wrote a Livejournal blog entry that referred to unnamed school administrators by the misspelled insult "douchbags."

So Lewis Mills principal Karissa Niehoff, with the approval of Region 10 superintendent Paula Schwartz, removed Doninger from her elected position as secretary of the class of 2008. And a month later, when new class elections were held, they wouldn't allow her name on the ballot. Though Doninger was still elected in a write-in campaign, Niehoff and Schwartz chose not to count those votes, rationalizing that referring to administrators as feminine hygiene supplies was inappropriate for a Class Leader.

Had Doninger said this at school, or directly to an administrator, they'd probably be right. But can public schools dictate students' off-campus, non-illegal behavior all throughout the school year? If the Doninger case becomes a binding precedent, the answer will be "yes."

It all started last April, after Doninger and some classmates had spent several months trying to organize an at-school student music festival called "Jamfest."

"I'm a student council representative and I was helping to organize it," Doninger said. But the kids couldn't use the school auditorium to host the event. The giant building that houses the high school, Har-Bur Middle School (a punny abbreviation for Harwinton and Burlington, the two towns of Region 10) and the district administration offices has been undergoing construction for well over a year.

"They demolished the [old] auditorium," Doninger said. And the new auditorium always had problems, said the administration: audio, lighting, something. So "they kept pushing back the date ... to April 28."

Then that date was put on hold, apparently because no adult could be found to work the sound system. The administration didn't want to entrust the task to a teenager even though, according to Doninger, "there were kids who knew how — one whose job is to do it in Torrington." Also, "we were told it was 'the taxpayers' auditorium' ... the school owned the old auditorium, but the new one is owned by Region 10, the whole community uses it."

So Doninger and her friends decided to go straight to the taxpayers and ask permission to use their collective auditorium.

Doninger's mother Lauren described what happened next. "[Doninger and some classmates] went to the school computer lab and sent a mass e-mail to taxpayers, asking them to tell the central office to let them" use the auditorium. And "it had an effect. People started calling [superintendent] Schwartz's office."

If you check the Lewis Mills Web site you'll find the school's list of "Student Expectations," which include personal and academic goals like developing an "awareness of rules and responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society."

So Avery Doninger and her friends did the sort of thing civics textbooks gush about: wanting permission to use property collectively owned by the taxpayers, the kids asked them directly, and received overwhelming support. The people have spoken! Thus did Superintendent Schwartz, acting in her capacity as a well-paid public servant, cleave to public opinion and allow Jamfest to proceed, and everyone involved lived happily ever after.

Just kidding. If it happened that way you wouldn't be reading about it here. What really happened, according to Doninger, was this: "The next day Ms. Niehoff said 'I need to talk to you ... as of now Jamfest is cancelled' ... she said, 'Mrs. Schwartz is really upset, getting all these calls and e-mails.'"

The Advocate couldn't talk to anyone in the administration (that's usually the case when there's pending litigation) to ask their side of the story. So let's continue with Doninger's: the cancellation of Jamfest left her in a vile mood, so she went home and made the infamous "douchbag" blog post. As a result, she was removed from the class secretary position she already held for her junior year, and forbidden from running again as a senior.

The Doningers decided to go to court, and hired attorney Jon Schoenhorn to represent them. "We just wanted the school to count the votes for Avery and reinstate her as class secretary," said Lauren Doninger.

But on Aug. 31, Judge Mark Kravitz ruled with the administration, reasoning that since Doninger wrote something on a Web site that could be read by people at school, that's essentially the same as if she'd stood up in class and shouted it.

"There's three lines of cases that allow restrictions on student's first amendment rights," says Schoenhorn. "One ... developed in the '80s, and had to do with indecent, vulgar or obscene language in school. You can't yell 'fuck you' in the hallways. That is the standard the judge has applied to the Internet."

Free speech isn't the only right granted by the first amendment, which contains other rights that schools can arguably curtail. For example, Doninger's right to freedom of religion probably wouldn't allow her to give in-school speeches exhorting classmates to convert. But suppose she wrote such an essay on her blog. If Kravitz's ruling stands, wouldn't it be possible for school administrators to punish students for religious commentary posted online, too?

"It could," says Ethel Sorokin, a retired attorney who's now president of the Center for First Amendment Rights in Hartford. "Carrying the authority of the school so far out of the school is inappropriate ... schools are supposed to teach citizenship, but students aren't allowed to behave like citizens ... schools should allow students to dissent."

Beth Duffy, chair of the Region 10 Board of Education, takes a different view. Though she wouldn't speak to the press, at a school board meeting on Sept. 10 she handed out a release telling the school's side of the story. "Despite what has been reported in the press ... Ms. Niehoff and Mrs. Schwartz did not infringe on Avery Doninger's First Amendment rights ... citing Constitutional rights as protection for bad behavior does that incredible document a grave disservice."

Schoenhorn countered. "Obviously, whatever document they're talking about isn't the U.S. Constitution," said Schoenhorn. "Are they talking about Azerbaijan?"

"Free speech is [to protect] what we dislike, not what we like," Sorokin added.

So which should prevail: Doninger's Constitutional right to be critical of authority, or the administration's presumptive right not to have its authority criticized? Schoenhorn has filed an appeal, but doesn't yet know when it will be heard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Ever since I started at the Advocate I knew I'd have the chance to take on the TSA sooner or later. And that glorious day has finally arrived.

Face Crimes
Bradley airport may have behavior detection officers checking you out. Smile at the airport so they don't think you're a terrorist.

By Jennifer Abel

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let's play "Name That Background Noise," where the Advocate lists the sounds of a given location and you guess where it is. Ready? Here goes: "Take off your jacket and shoes. I'm confiscating your shampoo because it's in a four-ounce bottle and any bottle bigger than three ounces is a terrorist threat. Seriously, that's our official policy."

If you guessed "an airport checkpoint staffed by the Transportation Security Administration," you win! For your prize, here's some useful advice (which the losers should also heed): next time you fly somewhere, schedule it for when you're in a good mood and can remain so even if TSA says they're taking your deodorant so nobody can hijack the plane with it.

The good mood's important because a bad one might attract attention from Behavior Detection Officers, TSA agents trained (more or less) to wander through airports looking for secret hidden facial expressions that indicate you're up to no good.

Seriously, that's their official duty. "There are physical and psychological signals that manifest themselves when an individual is ... feeling fear and anxiety [such as] trying to hide a fear of discovery," said Ann Davis, a TSA regional spokesperson in Boston.

TSA's Web site says the same thing with slightly different words, describing BDOs as people who go around "identifying potentially high-risk individuals based on involuntary physical and psychological reactions."

They're talking about something called "microexpressions," which supposedly make a person's hidden feelings visible, albeit briefly, to anyone who knows how to look. Paul Ekman, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC San Francisco, discovered the phenomenon nearly 40 years ago.

Early in his career, Ekman determined that certain facial expressions remain consistent across all societies. Though cultures disagree on some facial issues, like whether eye contact is respectful or rude, feelings like disgust, sadness, fear and their opposites look identical on faces all over the world. This implies a biological, rather than cultural, component. Ekman catalogued the myriad involuntary muscle movements that make these faces. Here's how they tie in to microexpressions: say you're feeling some intense emotion like anxiety. You want to hide this, and you're a good actor, so for the most part you're successful; everyone who sees your face thinks you're happy.

But at some point, you'll still make the muscle movements that form the "anxious" expression. Anxiety might only flash on your face for a fraction of a second, but it will appear.

Ekman discovered this during slow-motion studies of videotapes. In one famous example, he viewed a tape of a woman who'd suffered through a bout of severe depression, but insisted to her off-camera psychiatrist that she was feeling much better and not entertaining suicidal thoughts, so could she please have a weekend pass home?

The woman was lying but her doctor believed her. (Fortunately, she confessed the truth before leaving that weekend.) Ekman, while studying the tape, caught a look of utter desperation that distorted her features for only a few frames. Her microexpression told the truth where her macroexpression (and words) did not.

But Ekman, in a 2006 interview with Scientific American, cautioned that knowing what a person is feeling isn't the same as knowing what they're thinking. Identifying anxiety, for example, doesn't let you know "whether a person fears that I'm seeing through their lie or that I don't believe them when they're telling the truth." Or any of the other reasons they might feel anxious in an airport.

Nationwide, TSA hopes to have a total of 500 BDOs by 2008. Does Bradley International have one on staff? An airport spokesperson referred the question to local TSA administrator Daniel Lee, who sounded puzzled when he heard why the Advocate was calling. "I haven't had the media call before" to ask about BDOs, he said. But "there is a BDO at Bradley," though he had to check with his boss before discussing what the job entails.

Next morning he called back. "Did I say bee-DEE-oh? ... I meant bee-AY-oh. Bomb Appraisal Officer." TSA keeps a bomb guy at Bradley, Lee confirmed, but "with BDOs, we don't tell the public whether we do or do not for obvious reasons. If a terrorist knew what airports have BDOs, they'll avoid them."

Lee referred further questions higher up the command chain. "I can't give you any additional information ... if you have questions about BDOs, give Ann Davis a call."

Ann Davis, the TSA regional director in Boston, was friendly but not too informative. She spoke in generalities, and only confirmed specifics if the Advocate mentioned them first.

What does a BDO do? "The BDO is essentially a security officer trained in our SPOT program," Davis replied. That, like her earlier mention of involuntary "physical and psychological reactions," closely mirrors the wording on the TSA Web site, where a July 2006 press release about new career opportunities in the agency lists "Behavior Detection Officers who execute TSA's Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program."

Neither Davis nor the Web site mentioned the term "microexpressions," but Davis, when asked, admitted that's what all the psycho-physical wording alluded to.

But consider: Ekman's shown a remarkable success rate finding and interpreting microexpressions — when given unlimited time to study individual tapes. That's quite different from walking through a busy airport seeking microexpressions in the crowd.

"Well, I'm personally not trained in the techniques," Davis said when asked about that.

Also, BDOs are reputed to work in teams; if one detects a suspicious look, for example, he'll approach the person and try to start a conversation to glean more information. Considering how Americans are supposed to be always on alert in airports these days, it seems counterintuitive to quell suspicions of anxiety by sending a stranger to start up a chat.

Their training covers that possibility, Davis said reassuringly.

Ah, yes, the training. Ekman needed decades of experience and advanced education to achieve his microexpression proficiency. TSA agents, meanwhile, have been known to do things like confiscate a one-inch plastic gun from a child's GI Joe doll, apparently unaware that such toy weaponry is no actual threat. How do BDOs compare to the TSA rank and file?

"Behavior Detection Officers come from our security officer corps, and receive additional training," Davis said.

What credentials are needed to become a regular TSA security officer, then? And how much training to upgrade to the behavior detection ranks?

The minimum requirement to be a TSA security officer is "A GED or equivalent ... high school equivalency," Davis said. A BDO gets an additional "four days of classroom instruction ... and on-the-job training."

Dr. Michael Stevens did a lot more than that to become Director of Clinical Neuroscience at the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center in Hartford. He's also done much research on the issue of psychopaths, which is why we called him.

A psychopath in this case is loosely defined as someone who is sane, in that he's in touch with the same reality as the rest of us, but completely lacks any conscience or sense of empathy.

Such people also lack the emotions, like fear and anxiety, which BDOs are supposed to spot, but Davis assured us a BDO would still be able to spot one. "They're under stress," Davis said. "Again, the more someone tries to suppress that, the more some of it shows through."

Stevens disagrees. "A psychopath would not feel the emotions," that manifest themselves as microexpressions, he said.

But to be honest, the psychopath factor isn't much of an issue when dealing with terrorists of the 9/11 sort.

"The current crop of primarily religious terrorists are not psychopaths," says Robert Trestman, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center. However, if such terrorists "are comfortable in their belief they will not demonstrate the anxiety ... if they have come to terms with ... what they are doing, the anxiety you expect won't be there." They won't attract attention from the BDOs either.

So the TSA, implemented after the World Trade Center attacks to upset future terrorist plots, is hiring new agents who probably won't have much luck in stopping terrorism. Of what use are they, then? According to Davis, they've had success in standard law enforcement. "The program has resulted in a lot of arrests, ranging from illegal immigrants ... to individuals with drugs or large amounts of cash." They may not stop the next Bin Laden, but college kids with marijuana brownies had better watch out.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Unscientific Disaster Poll

So how likely do you think it is now that we'll play some idiotic military gambit in Iran? Once we'd hit about last May without a strike I'd figured someone in the administration had acquired enough sense to avoid overextending ourselves. Damn, I'm tired of thinking I'm wrong.

The Dorkitude Of Nostalgia

September again. Goddammit. My birthday month stopped being a good thing once I reached the legal drinking age many dozens of moons ago.

Get this: I’ve been in a story-drought at work lately. A couple weeks back not only did I have but one story to turn in; it was, quite possibly, the lamest piece of writing I’ve ever put my name to. (I was tempted to ask my editor to give the byline credit to Alan Smithee, only I didn’t know how to do that without sounding whiny.)

But things are looking up! The drought is not yet over but I see rain clouds on the horizon; soon the various branches of local government will reconvene from their summer recesses and resume their life’s purpose of doing stupid stuff upon which people like me can wax snarkastic.

Last night (or rather this morning), after the Man Of The House went to bed, I locked myself in my office to work on a piece about the latest bit of buttholery from the fine folks at the TSA. While distractedly researching a couple of things online, I actually clicked on one of those annoying banner ads you see for “”

Odd. I was absolutely miserable in high school, and viewed childhood as an annoying phase to be finished as quickly as possible so that real life could start. But I was curious to see how friends and others turned out, so I applied for one of those free memberships and filled out the multiple-choice questionnaire.

When it asks for your political viewpoints, there is no “libertarian” option. You’re either a liberal or a conservative, in the Classmates universe. (Artificial restrictions of options. Hey, it is just like high school!)

Once I registered, I went through the lists of names, occasionally clicking on one to read the profile of some person I haven’t thought about since graduation. Here’s something I found a little sad: with rare exceptions, those people who seemed the most unique and rebellious in school are now the most likely to have settled into the standard mortgage/office job/2.4 children adult-life template.

On the other hand, they’d probably feel horrible pity for me, if they knew I’m a childless woman who’d just made a midlife career change to a low-paying entry-level writing job where my most notable achievement to date has been getting fired from a phone-sex line. Whereas that’s exactly why I consider myself so lucky these days, current drought notwithstanding.

P.S. For my birthday present I’m buying a digital camera tonight, and as soon as my next Good Hair Day happens I’ll take a new photo for my profile. In twenty years I can look at it and think "God, I was so young."

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