March 2004
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Posted March 19, 2004
Special Guest Blogger

The US Census is seeking $205 million in 2005 for intercensal work, to include a measurement of migration across our borders. Well I think I can save them a lot of time: 'It's happening'. $205 million, please. But seriously, who better to reflect upon the multicultural character of the USA than someone who by her very existence embodies multiculturalism? Mr_Blog therefore asks you to give a warm round of applause for our first Guest Blogger, Mr_Blog's east coast cousin, everyone's favorite Vestal Vermin: Hannah... C... Feldman! Hannah, thanks for digging into your archives for this interesting and worthwhile entry. Take it away!

Fitting a melting pot into a census box. The new census is underway, and this year, for the first time, individuals will be able to list themselves under more than one racial category, a nod to the United States' ever-increasing multiracial population.
      I will not be checking the box marked "Chinese." I will be checking the box marked "White," which makes sense since I am white and in no way could be mistaken for someone of Asian descent. If you were to guess my ethnic background, you'd probably choose Jewish. And you'd be right. Sort of. But only half right, or maybe a third right. The truth is, I am American, and in the new millennium that's not something that can be easily quantified.
      The thing is, I'm also Chinese.
      Let me give you the background: My father is the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. My mother, who is white, was raised Southern Baptist. My stepfather Kevin, with whom I have lived since I was 10, is Chinese-American. Because much of his extended family lived in Seattle where I grew up (while my own lived across the country in Florida), my experience of family has been shaped in large part by Kevin's tightly knit Cantonese clan.
      It's an odd thing, to be a stealth Asian like this. I have been party to some of the most racist comments--if I tell you they often involve missing pets, you get the idea--made by relatively politically correct individuals who would never have said any such thing if a visibly Asian person had been in the room. And I've grown used to the puzzled look that invariably greets my first mention of "my Chinese family" in conversation.
      On the flip side, I've sometimes caught strange looks from racially Asian people as I casually slip into an imitation of my late step-grandfather's heavily accented English, or make joking reference to "icky Chinese vegetables," an old family joke. My family is no more functional than any other, and the only way to survive it is to cultivate a healthy sense of self-deprecatory humor. I have to remind myself, however, that to strangers this can sometimes sound disturbingly close to the missing-pet jokes.
      But it's not all angst and identity crisis in the Realm of Racial Ambiguity. One of my favorite stories involves the time I started getting homesick for dim sum, a traditional Chinese form of restaurant meal where you order little plates of appetizers off carts that attendants roll past your table. My step-grandfather worked at a Chinese restaurant for most of his life, and the whole family used to meet there regularly to eat steamed dumplings, sweet rice in lotus leaves, and the occasional chicken foot.
      After years of living without dim sum in Baltimore, I heard of a restaurant just outside of town that served it, and persuaded my friend Kerri to come with me. Kerri grew up in a white, meat-and-potatoes family in New Jersey, but she's Korean by birth--her parents adopted her when she was a toddler. She's very open to new experiences, which was important because dim sum is pretty intimidating if you aren't familiar with the food. I was; for me, dim sum is comfort food, and I was ready to return to my roots.
      At the restaurant, I was in charge of ordering. But then things got weird: No matter what I ordered, the cart attendant would double-check it with Kerri. It didn't matter if I knew the names of the dishes, while Kerri kept eyeing the next thing to hit he plate with slight skepticism. To everyone else in that restaurant, Kerri was the native guide, and I was the clueless foreigner.
      Similarly, even on the new and improved census forms, Kerri will be classified under an Asian category, and I will be classified as white. I know this and am content to check my one uncomplicated box when I get my questionnaire.
      But I also know that whatever data this census gathers, it must necessarily fail to show how truly complex our ever-more-melted pot has become. Because there is a sense--a very real sense--in which Kerri is white, and I am Asian. No census in the world is going to be able to explain that.
Originally published March 20, 2000 in the Baltimore Sun

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Posted March 11, 2004
Susan Lindauer: Spy or Activist?

A story on AP by Larry Neumeister broke today, and is receiving wide circulation. Susan Lindauer, 40 (or 41, depending upon your choice of news source), the story goes, a former congressional aide and reporter (including the Seattle P-I), has been indicted for spying for Iraq. Excerpts:

"A former Northwest journalist and congressional press secretary was arrested on charges she acted as an Iraqi spy"
"Susan Lindauer... was accused of conspiring to act as a spy for the Iraqi Intelligence Service and engaging in prohibited financial transactions involving the government of Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein."

       Spying! Wow. That's heavy. But the story's description of her actions don't necessarily lead to a conclusion that she was spying:

Lindauer "made multiple visits from October 1999 through March 2002 to the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations"
"met with several members of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, "
"accepted payments from the Iraqis for her services ... violated a law prohibiting transactions with a government"

       Where's the espionage??? Unmentioned in all the coverage is the fact that in the language of foreign affairs, "agent" does not necessarily mean "spy". ANY person acting on behalf of a foreign government is technically a "foreign agent," meaning simply that they are representing that country's interests. For example, American lobbyists whose clients are countries seeking changes to U.S. trade policy are "agents", and they must register with the U.S. Government. Violating the law is illegal, but it ain't hiding microfilm in a pumpkin field.
       Neumeister's story, picked up by dozens and dozens of other news outlets, goes on to prominently mention the accused's job history as an aide to Democratic congressmembers, and her self-description as an antiwar activist. You can bet Fox News is going to be giving this one massive airplay. One fair and balanced® report goes beyond the usual AP rip-and-read, listing Lindauer's transgressions, in addition to the financial dealings, as "conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government" and "acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government".
       In fact, all but one of the counts in the indictment that pertain to Lindauer are exceedingly mundane:

  • Violating US Code Title 18, sections 951 (being an unregistered foreign agent), 371 (conspiracy, specifically communicating by email), and 2332d & 2 (transacting business with Iraqi government, traveling to Iraq)
  • Violating US Code Title 50, sec. 1701, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act ("IEEPA"), a blanket law that, in a declared national emergency, "grants the President the authority to, among other things, 'investigate,... prevent or prohibit, any acquisition, holding, withholding, use, transfer, withdrawal, transportation, importation or exportation of, or dealing in, or exercising any right, power, or privilege with respect to, or transactions involving, any property in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States...'"
  • Violating Title 31, sec. 575, pertaining specifically to travel to Iraq.

  •        Unlike the others charged, she is NOT charged with violating Title 18 sec. 1001, making false statements.
          The only part of the indictment in which Lindauer's actions may approach the level of espionage deals with her meeting a "Libyan intelligence agent" (really an undercover FBI agent) seeking to "support resistance groups in post-war Iraq". But what is the definition of resistance? Political? Guerilla action? If the latter, then by all means put her on trial. But if the former, this is a signal case that is a shot across the bow of antiwar activists-- be careful who you meet with, and with whom you exchange emails.
           Otherwise Lindauer is only charged with being an unregistered agent, traveling to Iraq, and accepting money for meals and travel. Therefore the AP story is at best poorly researched, and at worst alarmist distortion. But either way it will exist to be used by the conservative press to associate Democrats and all Bush opponents with spying.
           Finally, one new wrinkle. Supporting Lindauer's contention, that she was seeking ways to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq, is a report by CNN that she sent a letter to an Administration official who is her distant cousin, offering the help of her connections in the Iraq government. Do you think a real spy would do that? Of course you don't, and neither do I. The cousin's name? White House chief of staff Andrew Card. He didn't read the letter. Instead, he dropped dime on her to the FBI, leading to today's arrest.

    Sidebar (Posted March 12): The Seattle P-I take on the Lindauer story makes a great deal of her history of "erratic behavior" and being "a bit unstable". Depending on the results of a court-ordered psychological evaluation (and leaving aside that the good ol' Soviet Union used to use mental illness as an excuse for locking up dissidents), Susan Lindauer's history and recent actions point toward activism, however deluded, more than espionage.

    Update (Jan. 2009): Government drops case

    Update (March 2009): Lindauer says she was working for CIA handlers!

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    Posted March 3, 2004
    Lowest rates for Schwarzenegger household!

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    Posted March 1, 2004
    More Three-Day Weekends!

    Let us celebrate the arrival of March with a moment of silence for the American worker. Here is the roll of shame:

  • Americans have the least amount of free time than anywhere in the first world;
  • Americans work nine weeks longer than the average European;
  • Americans work more than medieval peasants (Source)
  • The Bush II Labor Department plans to make millions more white collar workers exempt, i.e., ineligible for overtime pay.
  •        Why now for this observance? Why not wait until Labor Day? Because that's just one day. March 1 begins a shameful annual stretch of time: two entire months without a federal Monday holiday. The no-holiday timespan actually begins February 17 after Presidents Day, and drags on until Memorial Day weekend at the end of May-- this year nearly fifteen weeks. I find this to be an outrageous imposition, especially since so many of us are working longer hours each day, or even multiple jobs.
           We are already far more productive than other nations, but we are pushed harder and harder in the name a twisted Puritan work ethic, or some sort of national pride that links overall prosperity with these long hours. This is at odds with our so-called family values because it means less time for our supposedly-all-important families, as well as for self-improvement, friends and leisure pursuits.
           Let's set a long term goal of eliminating the nine week differential with Europeans. Nine weeks covers 45 working days, about 1 day per week on an annual basis. So how does a four-day workweek sound?
           In the short term, let's aim to break up the 15-week March-April period with some much-needed Monday holidays. Here are some possibilities:
  • St. Patrick's Day (March 17): Support your local brewpub and demand off the third Monday in March to honor St. Paddy!
  • Passover: A floating holiday in March-April to coincide with the Hebrew-calendar-determined freedom celebration.
  • April Fool's Day: Take a day off to celebrate your Congressman, reality-TV personality or brother-in-law!
  • Holi (Feb-Mar): celebrate the end of winter Northern India-style by spraying your friends with colors-- or just work in your garden!
  • Earth Day (April 22): Give the ground a break and stay in bed!
  • Arbor Day (last Friday in April): If you don't go to work, you won't use all that expensive stationery-- so save a tree and stay home!

  •        A number of other obvious, culturally important opportunities exist to justify Monday holidays at other times of the year as well-- Tet (January), Groundhog Day (February), separate Washington and Lincoln Birthdays (February), Cinco de Mayo (May), Mothers Day (May), Fathers Day (June), Grandparents Day (September), Indigenous Peoples/Columbus Day (October), UN Day (October), end of Ramadan (November), Hannukah and Kwanza (December).

    See other holidays
    Take Back Your Time
    International Labour Organization
    Slow Food USA

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