Mr. Sandman's Sandbox

The musings of a Deaf Californian on life, politics, religion, sex, and other unmentionables. This blog is not guaranteed to lead to bon mots appropriate for dinner-table conversation; make of it what you will.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Well, Alito has been confirmed, and as I speak, Smirk is giving the State of the Union. Interesting when you look at the final vote tally: 42 against. If all of those 42 had voted against cloture just as they had voted against Alito, there would have been a filibuster, and who knows? The nomination might have been killed. Instead, we're going to have a justice just like Smirk wanted, in the mold of Scumlia and Uncle Clarence (Junior didn't unequivocally state he wanted a pal among the Supremes exactly like these two, but the implication was clear enough). Uncle Clarence, by the by, is only 57; Alito and Roberts are also in that same decade, so you can be sure this conservative troika, joined by Scumlia, will have quite an impact on the country for the next few decades.

A lot of noise has been made out in the liberal/progressive blogosphere that the next battle that counts will be the elections this year and in 2008. My opinion? *bzzz* WRONG. The election that counted was 2004. Congress can always amend/repeal/reverse their legislation with other laws; a President can review and submit new executive orders, lean on members of Congress, and otherwise influence changes in policy and law. We get a new "leader" every four to eight years; Congress can theoretically change hands every two years, at best; sometimes it takes longer, sure. But the Supreme Court? These guys (and they're mostly guys-- we only have one woman left, and she's only the second one ever appointed) get lifetime appointments. What part of that that the Democratic Senators failed to understand, I'll never know. Given the proclivity of presidents of late to ignore the fact that historically seats on the Court were considered to cap one's career, and instead appoint younger and younger nominees virtually assures that a particular nominee's sway upon the Court could have a long-lasting influence. At present, the conservative wing is poised to exert its opinions/influence for up to the next thirty years-- these fellas don't retire early, you know...

I did my bit-- my Senators are Feinstein and Boxer. I knew Boxer was reliable enough for a vote against both Alito and cloture, but Feinstein initially made the choice of political expediency: vote no on Alito, but yes on cloture. Such a vote is/was meaningless; with the current Republican majority, a "yes" on cloture is essentially a yes on Alito. So I joined hundreds, if not thousands, of others, and contacted her. I called, faxed, and e-mailed, just for emphasis. Surprisingly enough, she changed her mind. I'm not a one-issue voter, like lots of people in this country, but I'm glad to know Feinstein was responsive and thoughtful enough to change her mind. Too bad others didn't/wouldn't.

I'm a bit depressed; I could easily just say, "the hell with it." After all, this was *the* battle, and conceivably, the war. Whoever won in 2004 got the opportunity to shuffle the Court, and unfortunately, Junior snuck in and jiggered things for his buddies and supporters. But I've since reconsidered. I'll need to continue being an activist, because, lord knows, there's ever more stuff that needs to be fought off. Exhibit A: The renewal of the Patriot Act.

Right now, it expires very shortly, on Friday, February 3. But as I write this, it looks like it's going to be extended again. No matter; now that the House and the Senate are back in session, it's a good time, folks, to pick up the phone, man the keyboard, and warm up the fax machine, and let your representatives know you're against the Patriot Act. If you care at all about our Constitution or civil rights and liberties, then be an advocate just this once. Let's keep the United States we know and love the same, and not let it mutate into some unrecognizable morass, a shadow of its former self. Of course, that depends on how you feel about the right to privacy, invasive, secret searches, and a gummint increasingly unfettered by checks and balances. Regardless of where we all stand on myriad issues, I hope and pray that enough of us value the Bill of Rights and what they stand for to stand up now in defense of the grand experiment that is the United States.

Friday, January 27, 2006


There's a lot of frustration in this house these days. For me, it's the lack of steady employment, the uncertainties regarding future plans: will we remain in California? Should I go back and finish my Ph.D.? Should I take the plunge and write full-time? Should I write part-time and continue looking for a day job to cover the bills? Will I ever become a mindless drone, or will I remain unique? Can I maintain my current starring role as the "family bum," an expert on unemployment and the current trends of unstable job markets? Or will I join the tie-slacks-and-8 a.m.-rush-hour crowd? Only time (and luck, or lack thereof) will tell...

For the distaff side of this abode, it's the frustrations associated with studying for the bar exam. This saga started on the second day of Christmas, for those of you keeping track at home, and has definitely continued way past Twelfth Night. The first part started back in October, with the purchase of Bar Breaker and a set of Bar Cards, both from Jeff Adachi (despite the links, Amazon took forever- I eventually ordered from here. Much quicker!). Despite the money we had to lay out for these materials and more, it's been worth it so far. Any law student reading this should plan to buy these books and materials! After the materials arrived, studying commenced, with a bar prep class (yep, Bar/Bri!) starting in late December. Thus far, the Bar Bri materials and the Bar Breaker/cards complement each other. Despite these aids, it's been non-stop studying around the clock for our resident legal acolyte. If you want to learn more about her travails, go here for a peek into her life the last several weeks.

The latest frustration for both of us came today. Ms. Legal Eagle-to-be is scheduled to take the dreaded California Bar Exam less than a month from now, in sunny San Diego. The scheduled site was Town & Country Resort, a sort of upscale "resort" just around the corner from Fashion Valley. This place is on the north end of Hotel Circle, where we booked a much cheaper pad for the few days we needed it. However, today, the State Bar sent us one of their increasingly frequent bar-related missives. This one said that because Town & Country had another "client" using the facilities, that the bar exam couldn't be held there, and that it would be moved to downtown San Diego, at the Concourse, just a hop, skip, and jump from Horton Plaza and City Hall.

It's only a couple miles south, but with arrival time coinciding with rush hour, and the need to eliminate as little stress as possible, it's a pain in the neck to make this kind of change at the last minute. You'd think a supposedly posh place like Town & Country would have done a better job coordinating their events calendar and guest lists? You'd think perhaps the Bar folks would have also have been as firm as possible and try avoiding these last minute changes? To their credit, they did include a list of hotels in the downtown area, but somehow places like the U.S. Grant, the Sheraton, the Hilton, The St. James, and Wyndham aren't exactly where the budget-conscious stay... We were able to secure a room in a more modest property that is within walking distance, but I feel bad for those that couldn't change their room reservations. Now they'll have to drive, battle traffic, and find parking. Those that choose to remain at Town & Country will have a shuttle, courtesy of Town & Country (I hope T&C is also providing a discount on those rooms, in exchange for royally screwing up! Now instead of walking yards to the exam, being able to head back to the room during lunch hour, etc., bar examinees will have to board a shuttle and buy lunch downtown).

Hopefully the remaining weeks will bring only the usual study-induced stress, and nothing else catastrophic. It's been a dry year, so there'll be nothing like the floods that closed the Pasadena location a couple years ago, and forced the State Bar to cancel a portion of the exam, thus adding even more stress than humanly possible to Bar applicants! Here's hoping it's smooth from here on out-- as few frustrations as possible...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Valuable Resources

One of the things that really bothers me a lot these days is the weakening of civil liberties; you know, those seemingly inconsequential items contained in The Bill of Rights. For example, the "right of the people peaceably to assemble," and "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Things like that.

These immunities that we possess as citizens of the United States have been chipped away at from time to time, or clarified, stretched, and mutated by legal rulings. But weakened to the point that George Orwell's 1984 seems less like a political commentary on Stalinist Russia and more and more of a prescient look at the future-- our future to be exact-- it seems to be happening here in the good ol' USA.

There seem to be elements of Brave New World here too-- discussions about and advances in medicine, cloning, reproduction, and other elements of what was once considered possibilities in the far future.

To illustrate my concerns, here are two articles: the first is from a couple months ago, courtesy of the WaPo (registration req'd): "The FBI's Secret Scrutiny: In Hunt for Terrorists, Bureau Examines Records of Ordinary Americans." It discusses the FBI's seeming predilection for wasting their time by buttonholing and intimidating citizens rather than attending to more important duties.

The article starts out by describing an encounter between agents and their target du jour:

The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue, across from the tennis courts, two special agents found their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender "all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person" who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But the vendors of the software he operates said their databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse, the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow.

Christian refused to hand over those records, and his employer, Library Connection Inc., filed suit for the right to protest the FBI demand in public...
The story goes on to state that this particular case highlights the use of "national security letters" under the Patriot Act-- the very same Patriot Act that is due to expire February 3, and will be revisited by Congress as they determine whether to renew it or not. These "letters,"

created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.
While I don't think anyone would object to surveillance of spies or terrorists, I think you'd find the average American would be at least a wee bit concerned about clandestine snooping into the lives and business of citizens and visitors who have no ulterior motives other than to visit our country and leave behind some cash. These provisions within the Patriot Act permitting such "intelligence" work worries not only people like me, but such strange bedfellows as Bob Barr.

"The beef with the NSLs is that they don't have even a pretense of judicial or impartial scrutiny," said former representative Robert L. Barr Jr. (Ga.), who finds himself allied with the American Civil Liberties Union after a career as prosecutor, CIA analyst and conservative GOP stalwart. "There's no checks and balances whatever on them. It is simply some bureaucrat's decision that they want information, and they can basically just go and get it."
Barr was a Gingrich-era Congressman, who ideologically is not a pal of mine. But unlike many of our representatives on both sides of the aisle, Barr knows when our liberties are being threatened. While the library case outlined at the beginning of the article highlights one well-known aspect of the Patriot Act-- the possibility of seizure of library records-- the rest of the article really focuses on the use of national security letters by the FBI and the gummint in particular. This constitutes a grave danger to a valuable resource-- our liberties. Right now, it is very possible that in a few weeks, the use of national security letters could be made permanent. As the article indicates, these "tools" can be used to snoop into every documented aspect of your life, without ever having to tell you or reveal to practically anyone that you've been investigated. Anyone old enough to remember COINTELPRO is gonna have a huge sense of deja vu.

It isn't just through electronic surveillance and court records that our privacy is being invaded. Our First Amendment rights are being whittled away as well. There have been quite a few examples over the last few years, but one of the more recent ones occurred in Florida, as outlined in this piece, "The Price of Domestic Spying: Infiltrated by Feds, Antiwar Group Turns on Photographer." In this one, published just today, the travails of an antiwar group in the Miami area is documented. They were infilitrated three times by gummint agents, to the point that many members became extremely paranoid. The end result? A photographer was assaulted.

While I'm not a fan of bad behavior, and if the photographer chooses to file charges, he's totally correct to do so, it's chilling that the gummint succeeded in creating fear and paranoia where it wasn't totally necessary. They also sent in rather rank amateurs as well, as Ray Del Papa of the Broward Antiwar Coalition recounts :

For example, the first time the group was infiltrated was in 2003, when Del Papa was befriended by a new employee at his job in a hobby store.

"He would come in and work on Saturdays. He was an active duty officer stationed in Miami. And he knew a lot of stuff about me. What my interests were, people I associated with outside of politics.

"On his first day, he drops the name of a close friend of mine who lives in Baltimore. That was a red flag."

And as they got to know each other, the man kept prying into events that Del Papa attended with the Broward Antiwar Coalition.

"He told me he was a sympathizer to the cause and that his wife is a socialist," Del Papa said.

Del Papa, who is a professional model builder, said the man claimed to be a model aficionado.

"But as we started working together, I realized the man didn't know a whole lot about the hobby," Del Papa said. "I never trusted him. I always kept him at a distance."

Two months later, after the man stopped showing up to work, never to be heard from again, another man started showing up at the group's meetings. On Nov. 11, during the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami, the man showed up with a woman they had never seen before.

"They were dressed in Black Bloc attire, but he was wearing Nikes," Del Papa said. "Nobody in the Black Bloc wears Nikes. And he said he was from Pittsburgh, but when I asked him about Pittsburgh, his knowledge was very limited.'

What bothers me a lot about this is that information was obviously culled and pieced together to create profiles of people exercising their First Amendment rights (and doing so in a peaceful way!), and agents were dispatched to spy on this group. Not only is this a chilling violation of a principle many of us cherish, but it's a waste of valuable resources. First of all, we're supposedly chasing down Al-Qaeda members, and trying to safeguard our country from attacks. I somehow doubt it strongly that members of an antiwar group are a threat to the nation. Every minute some agent is monitoring this group is a minute taken away from more important matters.

Second, time had to be taken to gather the necessary information in order to infilitrate such groups. That means doing whatever data mining (and this is where those nifty national security letters come in handy! Research the past of anyone you don't like, without the threat of disclosure or ever having to give a reason to do so!) is needed, then educating and training the poseur in his "role," then transporting said snooper to where he or she is needed to be able to be a fink. That takes money and time-- both valuable resources that could be used elsewhere.

So in the end, what happens? A group that knows it's being conned by some outsider is being bothered by our gummint, which claims to have our best interests at heart. That same gummint also claims that in order to continue bothering harmless individuals exercising the same rights that we sent our soldiers overseas to die for, we must give up those very same rights, and waste time, money, and energy doing so.

I don't know about you, but I'd prefer the time, money, and energy of our gummint to be spent more wisely, and certainly without infringing on our Constitution-- the document we claim we want to share with the world, but a set of principles we seem to be having a difficult time upholding here in our own country.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Fatal Mistake

Insomnia and I are old friends. About every 2-3 months, I have a night or two where no matter what, I just can't seem to sleep. Sometimes it's merely a matter of my not feeling tired, and already being preoccupied with something or other. Other times, like last night, I'll go to bed at a reasonably decent time, but then finding myself just-- Not. Being. Able. To. Sleep.

So I lay there, eyes wide open in the dark. Unlike the cliches of yore, I can't and don't count sheep. I don't count pigs, rats, ducks, cats, dogs, cans of Fresca, corrupt politicians, naked ladies, or anything else. I just lie there, trying my best to drift off to the Sandman's realm. Despite my nickname, I don't get to dreamland as easily as I'd like.

So I decided at 2 a.m. to admit defeat. "Ok," I thought, "I'll get up, go in the other room, get some boring book or do some other mundane task, and that'll help get me drowsy fairly quickly." So with that in mind, I eased my way out of bed, grabbed my robe, and toddled out to the living room.

Alas, it was there I made the Fatal Mistake. A few months ago, my lovely walking companion and her one-time roommate enthusiastically promoted the TV show "24" to me. It was great, they said. It was addictive, they said. I'd really like it, they said. Although we have a TV, it's used primarily to watch movies. I've never been a big TV fan, and the last few years, most of what I've bothered to watch on TV can be broken down into two or three specific categories: the Olympics, football games (especially the 49ers-- yeah, yeah, I know they suck, but I stand by my guys through thick and thin), and occasional big events, such as the political conventions every four years (even though they're basically infomercials these days). If I like a series well enough, I'll put it on my Netflix queue and rent it when it comes out on DVD.

As for "24", I said I'd check it out when I had time. But eventually, I capitulated. I got the first disc, and thought it was an interesting show, but hardly the stuff of addiction. It seemed better written than most of the junk that passes for television, but I wasn't ready to rave about it.

Well, I couldn't find a book that I wanted to read. I certainly didn't want to waste hours spinning my wheels online. There was no one online on AIM at 2 a.m., and in any event, getting into an interesting, lively conversation wasn't exactly conducive to making me sleepy. So... what to do? Oh, well, I've got a the next disc of "24". Hm, maybe I'll watch just one show, then I can read a boring academic tome for fifteen minutes or so and get back to bed.

So I pop in the disc, settle back, and start watching.

One show down-- hm, I really want to know what happens next. Guess I'll just watch one more.

Um, two shows-- wow, it's really late. Eh, ok. Just one more, then that's it for tonight.

By now, it's well on the way to 5 a.m., and I can't seem to stop watching. While I wouldn't put it on my list of all-time best shows, it's definitely uh, gripping. What the hell-- there's just one episode left, and my sleep is screwed up anyway. So I decide to keep going.

By the time I finish, the paper has arrived, the greyish tinge of an approaching dawn fringes the edges of darkness, and I'm definitely going to have trouble staying awake today. *sigh* Definitely a mistake, and most likely the sign of a new obsession. It's just a good thing I only have the one disc, I guess.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Labor of Love

It's been a while since I've made a relay call, but I had a couple to make today. If I need verification for later (such as a call to the IRS or some similar gummint agency), I use the trusty ol' TTY (TDD for those of you that are sticklers for that term!), with its printer paper. If I'm out and about, sometimes I'll use the IP Relay function through AIM on my Sidekick. But usually I'll use a web-based IP Relay; infamous among various reporters and newspapers as the communication mode of choice for Nigerian scammers and con artists, sad to say (here's an interesting link to a bulletin board discussion populated by relay agents themselves discussing the topic). I know there are options for saving/printing those conversations as well, so either way I'm covered.

Today I decided to use the web, as I was already online taking care of personal business, and made my calls. Usually in the past, when I've had problems with an operator, I've either tried to correct the situation on the spot, or in extreme cases, asked for a supervisor. Sometimes I've just let it slide, though, as I know others may need an operator's services. Often on a relay service's website, there's a survey or feedback form, but I've often wondered if there's a better way of obtaining customer feedback and prompting telecommunications companies running relay systems to do a better job.

Such a way now exists, thanks to Relay Review, a new website that allows us deaf consumers to record our experiences and rate relay operators. At this site, users have the opportunity not only to rate the relay agents handling their calls, but also to see which companies are the most highly rated, and what a particular agent's feedback rating is. While people may be tempted to just provide feedback on poor experiences, it's important to also offer praise. So far the ratings seem to be a mix of that: comments range from "fast typist" to "had to repeat spelling more than twice." Some users simply offer a point-based rating, resulting in 4 or 5 stars, while others enter more specific commentary. Overall, though, it allows people to better assess a company's service, the quality of their employees, and the opportunity to provide feedback. For the companies, it allows their customer base a chance to holler back, and gives managers another form of measuring their employee's productivity, skills, and effectiveness. I think it offers a happy medium all around, and welcome the chance to provide my own feedback. That doesn't mean I'll pick and choose individual relay operators though; I don't have the time or inclination to keep track of every single number, and then try to get a different operator if I see a number with a bad rating. Besides, often I'm just calling for a pizza or making a call for some other similarly mundane reason.

But when I'm making a Very Important Call, like receiving or returning a call concerning a potential job or something equally Important, I'd like to have a good operator. I think it's probably more of a concern for VideoPhone calls, where comprehension and smooth interpreting is essential. Still, I know that many of the VP companies take pains to hire the best interpreters possible, and it's been reflected in the community at wide: most of the "good ones" are now working for Sorenson and the like, leaving shortages in other areas, such as higher education.

So while I don't see Relay Review as a way to nitpick or try to cherry-pick to obtain the best agent possible for all calls, I do see it as a way to give a voice to the customer, and another avenue for the companies and services to evaluate their workers and overall performance.

So far what I'm seeing is good-- most comments are productive, and there's quite a bit of praise. Of course, there'll be the occasional comment or rating that perhaps doesn't jibe, but hopefully this site will be used and not abused.

I'm not sure at this time, since the site is so new, if any of the middle managers at places like Sprint, Sorenson, or HOVRS have spotted Relay Review or taken advantage of it. Hopefully they will, and the site will benefit everyone all around. Relay Review was started by Tayler Mayer, whose name may be familiar to some of you. While Tayler's day job is at Crave Online, he owns his own company, TaylerInfoMedia, where he also offers sites for the deaf community. His earlier effort was a fun one, focusing on the location of deaf community members, through Frappr! This latest offering is far more useful and beneficial to the Deaf World at large.

Relay Review is a free site; it also doesn't currently have any advertising or visible means of support. Tayler worked on this, fine-tuned it, and opened it up to the public on his own dime and with his own time. Some websites, publications, businesses, and the like that deaf and Deaf people work on are for-profit enterprises, and show the ambition, creativity, and versatility within our community. I applaud these efforts. But there are also projects that are labors of love, done with only a sense of altruism behind the initial idea. Relay Review is one of them.

[full disclosure: Tayler is a good friend of mine. That doesn't mean he put me up to this, though. *grin* It's all my own writing, my own opinion, etc., ad nauseam, ad infinitum...]