Her Name is Janet

...Or Smartass, if you were to ever ask my mom. If only she'd had the foresight.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Torture: Excruciating or agonizing physical or mental pain. As defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Yes, hello! Thanks for still checking in every now and again, I’m back. Still breathing.

And I’m angry.

About what, you ask?

About women who have approached a certain age and still think it’s acceptable to wear pigtails?


Well, yes...sort of.

But no…not really.

About a president whose administrative actions mock the tenets of the “faith” he claims? About warrantless surveillance, violating international laws, and subverting the Constitution’s separation of powers—in the name of fighting a war on terror?

About how, rather than fighting terrorism, it looks a as though he’s laying the groundwork for a police state?

Yes! You’re getting warmer!

About living in a society that has reduced itself to earnest discussions concerning “What constitutes torture?”

Yes! Hot! Very, very hot!

Didn’t this conversation already occur in August 1947? At the Geneva Convention? (“Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana)

We’ve all been listening to this conversation lately, on the radio, in the news, etc…about whether the U.S. military breeches the ethical limits of war-time conduct, and whether a ‘stress position’ and a bag over a prisoner’s head really constitutes torture.

Let’s say—just for giggles—that it doesn’t. The United Nations Committee Against Torture happens to disagree, but whatever. (Expert-schmexpert). Put that aside for a minute.

How about water-boarding? Does that constitute torture? If someone blindfolded me and strapped saran wrap across my face, flipped me upside down and poured water over my head to induce a repeating gag reflex that simulates drowning, I’d feel tortured. You?

Yes? No? Unpleasant certainly, but it is perhaps not torturous to everyone.

How about then, administering electrical shocks to a prisoner by attaching electrodes to his testicles? Does that constitute torture?

The ACLU issued a report to the UN on April 27th of this year documenting evidence of the United States rendering prisoners to Egypt in order to do this. Now. Not 50 years ago, but today. In the war on terror.

How about beating a detainee so severely (no renditions here, this was all American military) that the U.S. medical examiner described the body as “pulpified”? Does that constitute torture?

The interrogators, by the way, deemed the 22 year old man innocent.

Sometimes I tell myself that I’m overly dramatic. That I’m too reactionary. Perhaps I should be more reasonable and give the government the benefit of the doubt. I do recognize—in all sincerity—that 9/11 changed everything for most Americans. I was personally effected by the deaths of two people who were in the Towers. But exactly how much abuse will we allow this government to perpetuate in the name of “protecting” us?

Because perhaps, I say to myself, it only seems likes stuffing a man headfirst into a sleeping bag, wrapping it (and him) in electrical wire, and then sitting on his chest until five ribs break and he suffocates to death constitutes torture.

Human rights lawyers issued this report in February that we do that, too. Today. In the war. On terror.

Apparently, in an advanced, civil society such as ours--the "role model" for the rest of the world-- whether or not these actions are barbaric needs to be debated.

Don’t forget about psychological torture. It turns out that the CIA has known for years (years!) that sensory depravation and physical disorientation can induce a psychotic dementia in a coherent person in under 24 hours.

Perhaps that should make us all pause and reconsider whether a stress position—aka: physical disorientation—and a bag over the head—aka: sensory deprivation—constitutes torture.

(If you feel compelled to know what this government is doing in America’s name, go here to the ACLU report delivered to the United Nations on April 27, 2006).


The indifference to this evil is what astounds me most. That we look away, carry on, and rationalize that we can’t do anything about it. Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers rape 15 year old girls and kill their civilian families.

Don’t get me wrong—I think most people feel a pang or two of empathy. But, as Alfred Kazin once said, we are too self-involved and too disinterested to pay much attention to anyone else’s circumstances. Particularly if the government has slapped on the label “enemy combatant.”

The thing is, we are not helpless to act, not any of us. I include myself first and foremost in this statement. But the reality is, we (I) simply choose not to. I suppose though, that if human beings have the capacity to carry out such unspeakable atrocities, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that other human beings have the capacity to ignore it.


Monday, May 29, 2006

"There is nothing like a dream to create the future."
Victor Hugo

But sometimes, dreams are actually delusions.

It can be helpful to know the difference.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Contact Sago Mine Here: www.intlcoal.com, contacticg@intlcoal.com

Sooooooo.....3 years in the back pocket of a sweaty giant wasn't quite so useless afterall.

True, I was badgered.
True, I was pummelled.
True, I brought some of it on myself.
But today, what's important, is that true, I was a filter.

Like a kidney?


The damp pocket happened to be attached to the president of, among other things, a big ol' coal mining company. And I, as his closest minion employee, filtered his mail and determined which letters landed squarely on his big,(self) important presidential desk; and which kinds got routed indefinitely.

It's worth mentioning that if, way down at the very bottom of the page, in smallish font, "c: PRN newswire" appears, said executive will sit straight up in his chair. He might even pale a little.

The wire thing aside, which is pretty funny witnessed firsthand, please take away this bit: Once a letter makes it to a presidents' desk, it cannot be ignored, it must be acknowledged.

Other tidbits learned: certain kinds of information are legal and legitimate to share with the public. The contact information for coal mining executives that isn't published publicly?


Linking to a company's website?

That's just free advertising.

I'll bet they'd be grateful to hear from you, if, say, you are inclined to share your thoughts about their company's safety practices. Why else would they provide their email address???

I happened to write a very polite letter tonight. It's just a warm up for what I'll be composing to Mr. Hatfield in next day or two. This one's directed to the two senior vice presidents responsible for the mine conditions and employee safety.

Dear Messrs. Kitts: (they happen to have the same last name!)

The egregious negligence you repeatedly allowed at the Sago mine that lead to the deaths of your employees is morally criminal.

As senior vice presidents responsible for mining, and the state of West Virginia, respectively, your work is compensated generously because you possess superior knowledge and skills (theoretically) to:

1. Produce coal for the benefit of your customers;
2. Create profit for ICG, and;
3. Safely lead subordinate employees in dangerous work.

It is overwhelmingly and tragically obvious that, after numerous and serious MSHA citations, the safety of your employees is the least of these priorities.

Setting up a $2,000,000 fund for the 12 families is appalling. $166,000 per family? ICG should be ashamed of such an insignificant amount. I suggest that you both, along with the other executives at ICG, contribute your bonuses and profit shares to the families who must survive without their husbands and fathers. I'm quite comfortable assuming that you have an extra financial cushion; the bereaved families most certainly do not.

You may, upon reading this, resort to defensiveness and dismiss this message because I suggest something that falls completely outside your thought realm. That doesn't mean it lacks merit. Do some soul searching about the role you've played in this tragedy and what actions you will take to fix it.

Janet Sxxx
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(I also included my phone number, just in case either of them would like to contact me directly to discuss my ideas in further detail)

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New year's Eve: A Completely Ficticious Hour by hour count down...

8:00 Gracious, this wine is good.
9:00 Noble resolutions
9:30 Wow, these words just flow out my mind, through the keyboard, and onto the page.
9:45 Why bother with a glass? Straight from the bottle now cuts down on dishes later.
100:00 Feeling distinctly....queasy
11:00 I need to drink some water.
11:10 What was I thinking? I'm allergic to red wine, for heaven's sake.
11:11 I'm not known for making the best decisions, and this evening is an0other classic example.
11:12 Seriously, what was I thinking?
11:14 An0other?
11:16 Now seems like a good time to write all my holiday thank you notes.
11:18 oooooooo...pasta helps. something nice and bland to settle the stomach. Could the fact that it's the first food I've eaten today be a factor?
11:19 Reference 11:11 pm.
11:20Note to self: this is why you don't ever drink, Dumb Ass.
11:22 Lying on the floor making cell phone calls to everyone in my contacts list, while the room sways to and fro is equally respectable as going out for the evening. (If you were the recipient of a phonecall/message, please accept my heartfelt apologies).
11:31 Houston, we have a problem.

I'm sorry to all the people who read this who don't drink, because I was completely buzzed while writing. But it's new year's eve, after all.

David, a person for whom I have much respect (and feel fortunate to call a friend), recently asked, quite forcefully, "what do you want for your life, Janet?"

In a nebulous manner, I've been thinking about it for the past two years. Having the question posed so directly though, made me consciously reflect on it.

Most of my adult life I've felt as though I'm a rock in a riverbed, life flowing over me like water. Getting whatever happens to flow by. A few exceptions exist, times when I made concrete decisions and sought to execute them. Mostly though, like a rock in a riverbed.

But David asked me this question. And then I read about the Pakistani man who slit the throats of his daughters last week, three of them, in order to preserve family "honor." The article brought to the surface all the expected angry, sad, and helpless emotions that each of us feel when confronted with such obvious cruelty. We are better than this, as human beings. The trouble is, the magnitude of these kinds of problems is so daunting. And I am so small...just one tiny individual...affecting change seems completely out of reach.

The truth is, I am not helpless to act. I simply choose not to.

I choose it in small ways...not writing an objection letter, or donating spare change, or disagreeing during a political conversation, in order to maintain harmony. I choose it because not acting is effortless, taking action isn't.

But David asked me this question. And upon reflection, it turns out that what I wanted as a child, when my life was full of potential and possibility, is still what I want now. To make a difference. To affect change. The impulse may have been dormant, but hasn't disappeared. Remember my question from "that" post, about being here? About just what's the point of it all? The answer is, being here is more than just about me. More than preserving my own comfort and security. I have enough education, compassion and initiative to work for change. Individually I don't have strength, it's true. But there is strength in numbers. Margaret Mead once said to "never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of making a rash decision or committing to a new ideology in a way that isn't sustainable. But this isn't entirely new; I've been volunteering and blathering away on my soapbox about social injustice since I was 13. I've decided what I want my life to look like, and I will act on it. Clarification is still in order, but the decision's been made.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Grad School Admission Essay, Draft 1

Dear Public Health/Social Work/Language Pathology/Graduate School Admission Board(s):

Why would I like to attend grad school? Because enough fat old rich guys with questionable ethics have reaped the benefit of my hard work and loyalty for 10 long years, and I’ve had enough of that. Also, it is honestly more flattering to be hit on by a homeless man with minimal access to toiletries than by my drunk boss at one more staff Christmas party. Or staff picnic. Or staff golf outing. Or MLK Jr. Day. Or Tuesdays.

So you're wondering whether you should accept me into your program. That answer is a resounding yes. You’d be lucky to have me, if I do say so myself. But I don’t have to…just read my recommendation letters.

I jest with you. The first reason, and come on, be honest, the most important one, is that I can pay your absurdly outrageous tuition.

We should just end this essay right now, huh? Not because you’re offended by that last sentence, oh, no no, but because in the end, it’s the only question that really matters. No further reading needed.

But there are some other, arbitrary reasons to accept me:

1. I know that sometimes “Sally” and “Tony” aren’t capitalized. No kidding!
I also know big words, like rodomontade and small ones, like ab ovo. Not only do I know them, I know how to use them.

2. I know just enough about statistics, human nature, philosophy, politics, and how to appeal to mankind's inherent decency (even the fat old rich ones) to hold my own in any bar room, or boardroom, conversation. (This is helped tremendously by the fact that I'm usually the only sober one in both of these locations.)

3. Is it worth mentioning that I happen to be incredibly passionate about this field? And that that will serve as a driving force in my success? Maybe this too: I might just turn out to be a compassionate, persuasive, revolutionary voice for the marginalized. You never know. Wouldn’t you like the opportunity to educate someone like that? Think about your social responsibility here. Are there enough of these types out there in the world, for you to be rejecting them from graduate programs all willy-nilly? No! You want to accept them, and educate them, and then turn them loose into society so they can empower and equip others. And by them, who I really mean is me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

December 13, 2005

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar; not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”

—William Wordsworth

Welcome to the world, Rex. I would wish for you a life of curiosity and love, but there is no need. I know from whom you come, and wishing would prove unnecessary; these things will be, for you, as effortless as breathing.

You are a gift, a reminder that hope is born anew.
I hope you enjoy your stay here, sweet one.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sometimes Cecily Takes A Bath