Thursday, December 30, 2010

Palate Cleanser #139

Sometimes it's good to still be able to find beauty in the muck.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

O, rare full eclipse....

on a Winter Solstice, I have found you.

You look ancient and awe-inspiring. I shall not see you again on this date in my lifetime.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Dawning of the Sea Otters!!!!

Wiiiiiiiiiiii! How did I miss this? Thank you, Cristina, thank you!

Full episode here.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ways to Give to Those Who Share Your Planet

Helping Hands
(Image credit: Erin Bowley)

'Tis The Season... Two of my readers have been asking me by email where they could donate this holiday season. One of them is a student who is donating $25. But she's a smart reader. Where can she best give it, she asked? Who could she give her money to where it would make a real difference.

While any of the links I have on my Marzie's Favorite Links page (which is on the page list right below the blog title) are great in my mind, maybe you have other interests. I'm mindful of the fact that I've seen friends donate to organizations that serve their passion but that don't have the best reputations, even though they may have a pretty high profile. So what's a person to do? Research.

I have added, at the bottom of my favorite links page, some information about wise giving. When  you give wisely, you know where your dollars are likely to go. If percentages as large as 15-20% of every dollar you give are going to raise more money, and another 5-10% or even 12-15% of your dollar is going to administrative costs, what are they doing with the rest of that 65%? Are they spending that wisely? Hmmmm. 

You can check out how your favorite charities rate with the links to three organizations that review charitable and non-governmental organizations. Those links are at the bottom of the Marzie's Favorite Links page, along with some graphical information about where money goes. Sometimes you may find disagreement between the rating organizations. For instance Doctors Without Borders has lost its accredited rating from the Better Business Bureau's while it still enjoys a four star reputation with Charity Navigator. The former gives clear reasons as to why the organization has lost the BBB recommendation, including a Chairman of the Board of Directors who is directly compensated as a staff member and unclear marketing schemes for CDs that are to benefit DWB. With only 2% of their income going to administrative costs, perhaps you can let the fact that their Chairman is getting some of your money slide. But what is up with 12% of every dollar going to raise more money? Still, you're looking at 86¢ on every dollar going to programs. That's pretty good, actually.

But, let's say that in a year with a tight economy you don't have a lot of cash to spare. Or say, you're 14 and you're motivated to do some good. What are things that you can do to give without a direct cost to yourself?

One of my favorite sites is, which benefits the World Food Programme. It's fun, it's easy (well, sometimes!) and every correct answer buys rice. The subjects (see menu at top of the page) aren't just limited to vocabulary. You can do geography, art, chemistry, and all kinds of stuff. It's great when you're on hold on the phone. I put a FreeRice banner in my sidebar, so it's easy to get to for you. FreeRice has a Yahoo-based toolbar search engine, too. Using it will allow further contributions, up to 5000 grains per day.

You can also use the search engine portal, to help give back to charities of your interest. Every time you search, or if you purchase, you may be making a small contribution back to a charity of your choosing if you use this shoppers search engine. They work with a large variety of online retailers, including AbeBooks, Amazon, Apple, just among the A's I saw on the site.

If you're a pet lover, you might want to check out The Animal Rescue Site which has a click and donate option for donation of pet food.

In fact, if you have a few minutes, you can check out One Click at a Time to see a selection of agencies that have click to donate features in place.

And if you know of any easy, quick ways like those above that readers can use to contribute to good causes, please, share them.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Palate Cleanser #138

What would I do without NatGeo? I would surely be a less sane individual. They are such a source of Nepenthe...

Lagoon, Iceland

Photograph by Mark Reimer, Your Shot
This Month in Photo of the Day: Travel and Adventure Photos
"I travelled around Iceland for two weeks with my girlfriend this past August. Jokulsarlon was my most highly anticipated place to photograph. It rained heavily the entire morning, but when we pulled our car up to the lagoon full of icebergs floating out to sea, the rain magically stopped right when I opened the door. I was blessed with the perfect photographic conditions: dead calm and gently overcast. This was my favourite shot of the day." ~ Mark Reimer

Visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Palate Cleanser #137

Water lilies at Shark Valley, Sumi-e style
click image to enlarge

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

A Sunday Chuckle

Well, shucks!

It was 'Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer' if you're curious.

I just couldn't resist. It's my youngest's all time favorite Christmas fun song.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Harsh Reality of Sakineh: *Not Free*

Remember this image from just yesterday?

That was supposed to be Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, free, in her garden at home.

Fact is, it was Sakineh, being televised while forced to "reenact her husband's murder" for Iranian TV. She's smiling because she's just so thrilled, I guess. Although, maybe just because they told her to? Um, yeah. That one, I think. Or... Maybe she's happy because her purported lover, Isa Taheri, who purportedly planned her husband's murder, is off scot free, while she's scheduled to be stoned/hanged/televised eternally saying she's guilty, until death prevents her from being forced to make anymore televised confessions?

Iran has fervently denied that Sakineh has been released. And I have to believe them on that one. The television program is apparently a direct missile to human rights supporters who believe it when her lawyers say her confession was coerced.

But Sakineh doesn't want you to believe her attorneys:

“They are taking my side unnecessarily, I do not consider them legitimate at all,” Ms. Ashtiani said in comments shown on domestic television in November that her lawyers have said were made under pressure during detention.
~as reported in The NY Times

Sadly, for the Iranian Republic's pseudojudicio-, defactoreligio- political regime, I don't believe Sakineh.

Do you?

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Geeky Girls

I was over at Uzza's, catching up, and I found her post on the Katie Goldman story, which I'd read only about a hour before on CNN. I went back and read another CNN story there titled "Girls Get Your Geek On." And now I've spent the afternoon thinking about geeky girls. I pretty much think, though they might possibly deny it, that Uzza and all the Comtesses are geeks. In an entirely self-centered view, I think this is a compliment. My BFF, who disguises herself as a middle-aged bald concierge but is secretly a retired rock climber like me, and is also, totally a geek. (The continuing obsession with chalk bags is a dead giveaway, if you ask me.) Although I know she's going to deny it, even my daughter is something of a geek. She hides it even better than my BFF.

What is a geek in this day in age, I wonder? has this really funny table in its definitions of 'geek':

................ Technical ...... Social 

Title ............ Skills ......... Skills 
---------- ---------------- ------------ 
Normie ......... No ............. Yes 
Geek ........... Yes ............. Yes 
Nerd ............ Yes ............. No 
Dork ............ No .............. No 

This table seems to correlate geekiness with technical skills, although some definitions mention love of video games, comic books, programming and the internet. Some also mention the idea of being obsessed with a topic (e.g., my son is a total Star Trek geek and CNN's Suzanne Kelly, author of the "Girls Get Your Geek On" article is a Battlestar Galactica geek.) 

To be honest, I can't tell if I'm a geek or a nerd. Whichever I am, it is a terminal condition that first manifested early in childhood, just like it has with Katie, who is only 7. Early on, I was the tomboy who liked lavender. I took apart my first phone at age 5 (I was told I was in big trouble if I couldn't put it back together in perfect working order, but I did, so it didn't matter, did it Mom? ;p) I took the back off the TV to check out what was going on in there when I was about 6. These antics did not endear me to my mother, who thought I was likely to get myself electrocuted one of these days. She liked them about as much as my tree climbing exploits. After the sobering elementary years (Barbie was so stupid to me. I practiced Anne Boleyn's scaffold speech and beheaded Barbie, feeling that she was finally being useful, innumerable times, much to the horror of my two female cousins who were my age and who thought she was a style opportunity) I glided through junior high and high school skipping two grades. Thanks to work sent home when I was really sick at age 12, that put me ahead a full grade, and then my relative intolerance for the entire high school scene, I managed to exit high school early. Favorite possession in those years: my slide rule and calculator. That's right, I had a slide rule. My grandfather and father showed me how to do all manner of math tricks on it. I thought it was cool as all get out. 

I have to say, I never got much guff from any of the guys in school for liking all that "guy stuff". Maybe they were too busy trying to get me to help them figure out how to solve their trig problems. Some of the girls were occasionally insulting. But the comments had more to do with my frizzy hair or the fact that I wore black every day for a year, than it did with the fact that my idea of fun was taking apart a microscope or the wonders of trigonometry. My best friend the last year in high school was another girl geek. We shared nail polish and left our peers in the dust in math and science. (She went on to own her own software business for a time, I might add...) At 19, I was the first girl I knew to own a desktop computer (A TI-99 if you're wondering) and I learned to program in Basic and Pascal and felt all powerful. At 20 there wasn't a power tool I didn't like. No one but NO ONE was allowed to use my Makita drill and if you damaged my fine point tweezers I would likely have done you serious harm. I made my own photographic papers, stretched my canvases for paintings and could do all manner of electrical stuff. (This presently amuses my father-in-law.) I simply loved equipment. My husband would tell you that I still pretty much do, although I'm over the power tool thing. Now I like electronic things, although I worry a lot about where their metals like tin, tantalum and tungsten come from these days. And I like kitchen gadgets a lot, too. Anyway, I think it's in my genes because my maternal grandfather was an electronics engineer and I used to sort his resistors and capacitors because he was totally color blind. But my Dad never met a gadget he didn't like, unless it was a badly built or really stupid gadget, either. (We do have standards- the gadgets had better be good.) And actually, I wonder about this whole technical component of geekiness because my Mom, who is a total Luddite, is the garden tool geek of all time.

Don't even get me started on Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter geekiness. There was the X-men comic geekiness, that has now been supplanted by Firefly/Serenity comic geekiness. (How bad is it that I enjoyed the almost universally decried Shepherd Book comic? Baaaaaaaaad, people.)

After reading about Katie Goldman and a few others out there in the blogosphere (see here, especially comments, as but one example), I can only conclude that I must have been living an ivory tower existence because I really do not recall much teasing because I was a geeky girl. The characteristic was revered in my maternal family. I think it made it hard for my father's side of the family to relate to but they didn't exactly make me feel bad about it. Although maybe I was too obtuse to notice. (Based on the chart above, would that make me a nerd?) Anyway, I have to say that being a girl geek has paid off really well. I was super at taking apart lab equipment and repairing things in the lab and at home. I was a whiz with stuff I need to do for my degree.  Plus, I don't have to get anyone to put together A/V stuff for me, and I can do all kinds of stuff without needing a guy. And I can still wear high heels and a dress and look quite presentable. 

So Katie, after all the media hubbub dies down, I have some advice for you. Start watching Star Trek. And if people start slinging the pink again...

Assimilate them, honey. Assimilate them.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Palate Cleanser #136

Snow falling in the forest, Great Smokey Mountains
Attribution Unknown

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Bibi Aisha Update

Bibi Aisha (with prosthetic nose)
(Image credit: Grossman Institute)

A number of my readers have asked about how Aisha is doing here in the States. Aisha is actually currently living in Brooklyn, under the care of Women for Afghan Women. (Their US office is based in Brooklyn.) While Aisha has been relieved of some of her stress by venturing to the US for reconstructive surgery, it was quietly announced last month that there would be a delay in Aisha's treatment. Aisha is currently participating in intensive psychotherapy for emotional issues related to her injuries (translation: PTSD). The Grossman Institute in Los Angeles felt that she needed this time, and the therapeutic services, before embarking on what they term "a series of invasive surgeries that she is potentially not yet prepared to handle."

On the justice front, it was announced earlier this week that Afghan police arrested Bibi Aisha's father-in-law, Sulaiman, when he ventured to the bazaar in Chora district, and out of the Taliban stronghold area in which Aisha was a child bride both abused and then mutilated by her Taliban fighter husband and his father. Salaiman (who goes as do many Afghans, by a single name) has reportedly confessed to participating in her mutilation. The police chased him on foot more than a quarter of a mile before apprehending him. Clearly, he has some concept of having erred somewhere... Mohammed Gul, the district police chief in Chora, revealed that there has been a fair amount of attention (translation: pressure) to apprehend those involved in the horrific mutilation of Aisha. He noted fifteen letters and warrants received for Sulaiman and his son, Aisha's erstwhile husband and principal abuser. The Afghan Interior Ministry reportedly took up the banner after receiving numerous complaints about Aisha's abuse from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. And there was that little magazine cover, that garnered world-wide attention.

For those who don't remember my first post on Aisha, she and her younger sister were given to the family of Sulaiman as "baad", a feudal Afghani practice in which girls or women are given as marriage chattel, to settle a dispute between two families. The family receiving the girls for marriage can then rape them and beat them as much as they wish and the girls just have to take it. Because, that's what happens when daddy gets into a disagreement and people fight. You just have to bear it. Only Aisha didn't. She ran away. Unfortunately, when she was caught,  Sulaiman put a gun to her head and it was decreed that his son should cut off her nose and ears. Details General Himat, of the Oruzgan region where Aisha lived:

“Sulaiman then took her amputated nose and proudly showed it off around the village.”
~quoted in The New York Times

I know it will shock everyone to hear that the Taliban continue to deny their involvement in sanctioning Aisha's disfigurement. Sharia law does not proscribe the cutting off nose and/or ears for any crime. Some have even contended that Aisha is actually a girl by the name of Nazia, who was mutilated in 2007 by her husband. The Afghan authorities are not disputing the stated facts of Aisha's case however, and the arrest of her father-in-law appears to give credibility to the fact that at the very least her husband's family thought it was a fit punishment to visit on a 17 year old girl tired of being beaten, raped and otherwise abused. Irrespective of her real name, Aisha has suffered unimaginably at the hands of her husband's family. Baad can't get much worse, other than death, perhaps.

Luckily for her younger sister, Hajii Mohammed Zai, Aisha's father, has not yet turned over the 12 year old for consummation of her marriage.

One can only imagine the horror that awaits her if he does so.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Special December Giveaway: Transformation

"I believe that whatever you go through, there is always new life, a new beginning. So even a bullet that has killed someone can be the same one to help a new generation." 

This December I am honored to be able to offer, in a random giveaway, an Akawelle pendant designed by Lovetta Conto, raising funds on behalf of Strongheart Fellowship House. Lovetta's design is a moving one. It is all about transformation. The pendant is formed from the end of a bullet casing and a leaf made from the recycled casing metal. The leaf is stamped "Life". The bullets are from Liberia and were fired during the war there, which ended in 2003. Bullet casings can still be found all over the place in Liberia today. (That should give you pause for thought. Exactly how many bullets were fired that there are still shell casings everywhere seven years later?) Lovetta and her family fled Liberia to Ghana when she was a toddler. When she went back to Liberia, to see where her family had lived and fled, all she saw were bullet casings everywhere she looked. Only Lovetta saw a way to transform them into something beautiful. Something that would help children and youth of her generation, who were displaced, refugees, lost, hoping for a better life and education.

You can watch Lovetta's story here:

My (True) Fairy Tale from Strongheart on Vimeo.

But no matter what you take away from this post, take with you Lovetta's quote about her design:

"I hope they remind each person who wears them that no matter what they’ve been through, they can rise."

~ Lovetta Conto

All you need do to be entered into the random drawing for this beautiful necklace is follow this blog on Google's Blogger Following or Facebook's Networked Blogs.* (Family members are excluded!) A winner will be chosen Sunday night at midnight. International followers are included but may not receive the item timely for a holiday gift, if won.

*If you don't know how to follow Bright Nepenthe through Google's Blogger or Facebook's Networked Blogs, email me at and I'll tell you how.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Sakineh FREE!

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani at home in her garden in Osku
(Image credit: Reuters)

In an amazing turn of events, it appears to have been confirmed that the Iranian Republic has released Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and her son Sajjad Ghaderzadeh. Photos of Sakineh in her home and garden appear to indicate that she has, indeed, been released. She was flogged 99 times in 2006 as punishment for her conviction for adultery she said she never committed. Retried in for murder of her husband but acquitted, the judge then subjectively decided that she was even guiltier of adultery and though she had already been punished according to sharia law, sentenced her to death by stoning. Her son, who witnessed her flogging in 2006, at the age of only 17, says that he has yet to recover from the experience:

"They lashed her in front my eyes and this has been carved in my mind since then." 
~ quoted from The Guardian

While the release of Sakineh is nothing short of a minor miracle, one should be mindful that there are still another 12 women under the death sentence by stoning in Iran. Human rights supporters around the planet should remember that Sakineh was not alone in her plight. Among these women is Mariam Ghorbanzadeh, who was so savagely beaten while in prison Tabriz last August, that she miscarried at six months. All these women need our vocal support.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Palate Cleanser #135

If this isn't some Nepenthe, I don't know what is...

DECEMBER 7, 2010

Point Reyes, California

Photograph by Anton Barmettler, My Shot
This Month in Photo of the Day: Travel and Adventure Photos
Point Reyes, California, near the top of the cliff, under fog. The windswept trees forming a kind of tunnel, the sun piercing through the upper layer of the fog and the limited visibility provide for a very special effect. It appears quite unreal. Kind of spooky, especially considering that there were very few people around.
(This photograph was submitted to My Shot.)

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2010


I've been working on a new template for a friend's blog and thinking about brightening up this blog and while rooting around, I came across this incredibly amusing image by Nicci/Fairygodflea at deviantArt:

Nepenthe by Fairygodflea

Anyway, the kitty reference reminds me that I promised a reader a picture of my delicious kitty. So here 'tis:

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Story of Two Girls

Snow White and Rose Red

I have been the GAL for two young women who aged out of the foster care system last year. They have now aged out of extended jurisdiction (which covered them until age 19), as well. For a time, these two girls' cases were managed at the same foster care management agency, and for a brief three month period, though they didn't know it, by the same case manager. Because of some of their behaviors, and our concerns about those behaviors, that case manager, who was as good as gold, and I decided never to introduce them or even mention them to each other. We were worried about negative synergism.

I have known these two girls since they were age 14. I was assigned their cases, which fell in different ranges of the alphabet for case names, by two different GAL supervisors. Although both had been in the foster care system since birth, and both were truant from school when I met them, and both had a slew of other things in common, they were like night and day. In fact, though they were totally unrelated to one another, I thought them like Snow White (quiet, shy, given to reading) and Rose Red (outgoing, in every sense).

As the years passed I saw one mature into a more responsible young woman. She had a child at 17, and the child had a number of daunting health problems, including for a time, colic so severe the baby had failure to thrive according to her pediatrician. Snow White was such a good mother, it amazed me. She struggled in school but never failed to take her child to a single scheduled doctors appointment. She dropped out, but signed up ahead of time for GED courses. She got a part time job to cover the added costs of specialized formula (the WIC only covers so much and the baby spit up a ton of formula), disposable bottles and all the extra diapers. She was such a good mother, I can honestly say that I've seen adults who would have struggled to be handling all she had on her plate. She turned 18 a year ago and against all odds continues to try to build the family she never had. The system, however, being what it is, has tried to slam her for her missed school time, her many starts and few finishes. They have tried to cut off her federal Road to Independence funding that could help her seek and education until age 22. We appealed and await news. She's concerned about how she'll make ends meet, complete her license courses, and take care of her daughter if she loses her funds. They do not care about her specifics, and that being a good mother to her child was all important to her and that she took to heart what her judge told her in court one afternoon when she told the judge she was pregnant and wanted very much to keep her baby. "Don't let what happened to you, happen to your child," we all said. She hasn't. And I'm starting to think that she really may make a go of it. That she will be one of the rare ones who can break the cycle, not just for herself, but for her child.  

When she had delays in taking her GED, Snow White had already signed up for a beauty licensing program. She's due to finish in early 2011. Rather than just get a stylist degree, she applied for Pell Grants to do an aesthetician's license. She said she decided it gave her more options because you can work in Assisted Living Homes for the aged, or dermatologist's offices and such. She ultimately wants to go to nursing school and says that she'd prefer to be in a more serious setting. Besides, she told me the other day, what if she cut someone's hair and they hated it? She very much wants to make people feel good and to do good. We've talked about her getting the extra certification to do electrolysis, too. She's very keen on the idea of getting additional skills on that license. 

Meanwhile, her daughter, in spite of some serious health issues to this day (asthma that leaves her shackled to a nebulizer whenever she gets a cold, and she's only 19 months old) is ahead on all her developmental milestones. She babbles and plays with her toys and pets. She loves shoes and is prone to taking a lot of time fussing over which of her few pairs she wears with any outfit. She is read to and has stimulating baby toys (some of which, admittedly, I supplied) and her room, in contrast to the dingy white and water stained walls of the rest of the apartment in which Snow White resides, was painted a spectacular shade of lilac within 24 hours of their renting the apartment. They painted it before they moved so the fumes from the paint wouldn't aggravate the little one's asthma. Snow White's modest, tiny apartment is neat as a pin. Her clothes, and that of her child, hang neatly in closets, and her toddler only has a few toys out of her room at a time. Her pets are all vaccinated and groomed. They were strays and two she raised off bottles. They got mange once this past summer, and this young woman, who when I first met her was so stubborn and proud that she wouldn't even discuss her poor math grades with me, called me right away and asked for help getting them care. I've paid her cellular phone bill every month, for the past three years. She has never, ever, failed to thank me, even if just sending me a text message to do so. Every month. For three years.

Recently, an event in her life gave me, and her independent living case manager, cause for concern. I talked to her about it, after finding out second hand, and she told me she knew she handled it badly. I thought back to how she was as a 14 year old and joked that I was worried about body snatchers. Was she really telling me she handled it badly? Yes, she laughed and nodded, she had changed quite a lot since then. She says she is happy with her life, even though she struggles and is poor. She loves her child, loves her little home, is happy with her boyfriend and her cobbled together family. She has distanced herself from some of her former friends from foster care. She told me that she felt bad about it sometimes, especially with one friend in particular, but that they just seemed to be living a life on diverging tracks (her words). She is crossing her fingers that she wins her appeal and can continue, more easily, to forge a life for herself. But she says no matter what, she is determined that she will succeed.

Rose Red has, alas, struggled in contrast. The changes that I see from age 14 to age 19 are largely external. She's grown taller than I am, and has been at times when she's cared for herself or allowed others to, been a strikingly beautiful girl. Unfortunately, that's kind of been a problem, a distraction. Truant, runaway, sometimes for months at a time, she struggled mightily. Her 19th birthday arrived with bleak prospects for her future. After months of not taking things seriously, she has lost her RTI funding. She is in 10th grade, pregnant, confused, and will shortly be struggling even more, without her monthly funds. An appeal wasn't really an option. I have worried about her from long before she even aged out of the foster care system. Worried that she would end up as she may yet, homeless, with children she can't care for, repeating the same horrible cycle that she herself has lived, or more accurately, survived.

Last night at dinner, a good friend asked about whether I believed in mandatory sterilization of parents who enter dependency court. I took it as his A Modest Proposal moment, although I think it's borne of genuine frustration with a very broken system. You'd have to know him, and how liberal he is, to get it, so don't take it the wrong way. It was asked in the context of looking at young people who age out and repeat the same cycle, again and again. And in the real paradigm of a state and county which is struggling to meet its needs in the dependency case scenario. After all, you see some girls who age out and have two, even three, children by the time they turn 18. I once had a case in which a mother had been in care herself and she had, count them, seven children, who were all removed in succession. I was appointed on five of those kids at one point. The older two had aged out. She had substance abuse, and the concomitant legal, problems. We tried to reunite the children with their maternal grandmother, but it was a disaster. Grandma still had the same problems she had when her daughter was in the system. I'm actually appointed as GAL on another five children case right now, same deal, but thus far, better outcome. Snow White herself was the youngest of at least six (one of whom is a convicted murderer), while Rose Red is the second youngest of five, that I know of. There were rumours of as many as eight. 

Often, women lose their children in Dependency Court and just have more. It is not the first time that I have heard the concept of dependency, TPR (termination of parental rights) and sterilization raised. A lot of people who have been in the service sector for quite some time believe strongly that there should be abortions, mandatory contraception, if not sterilization. So when my friend asked, we discussed. We discussed the fact that if society is so unwilling to offer welfare to these women and financial assistance to these families in the specific form of child welfare, then why should we let these parents reproduce at all? And make no mistake, the lack of funding for child welfare results in simply ghastly decisions that leave children at dreadful risk, at least in my state and county. Is a form of eugenics really the most cost effective and expedient way to handle our child welfare woes? Is there a second tier of society that should not be permitted to reproduce?  Should we just starve them, let them stay ill? Maybe like Jonathan Swift suggested, we should just kill them in some fashion... (We don't have to eat them, though.) Well, I am, in spite of being what my mother recently termed to my father as "Left of Lenin", cautiously optimistic at heart. I told my friend that while I could see trying to impose mandatory birth control for parents who couldn't parent at present, (you know, an IUD or methods that didn't require daily pills or trimonthly injections, or rely on barrier contraception that might be forgotten, or badly done), that no, I couldn't see the idea of mandatory sterilization. (Again, I don't really think he meant it anyway, since he's such a liberal... So please don't flame him here, okay?) Anyway, I believe in the capacity for change, in individuals, in families, and in the system itself. I have to. Otherwise I wouldn't be a GAL and I would stay far, far away from children in dependency. To me, sterilization means that you don't believe that people can change or that a person could be raised without family and could successfully build one on his or her own. I just don't want to believe that. But I'm betting that secretly there are a lot of people out there that do believe just that. And I can honestly say that I know that Snow White is a very rare bird in these situations. A lifelong foster child successfully parenting? What are the odds?

So I've pondered my friend's question all day and I have decided I think it's putting the cart before the horse. After all, in order to even make rules about things like having more children when you can't parent the ones you have, you have to have these cases in court. And to have these families in court, our state has to parse the fine line between leaving families intact and leaving children at risk of physical neglect and abuse, rape, incest and worse. Hard economic times have always increased the stressors on families and increased the likelihood of abuse and neglect of children. If we don't start to come up with a plan to build meaningful change in this state, we will see more and more children born into, and remaining in, abusive families. That's not breaking a cycle. That's ignoring it. Perhaps society could effectively just go back to pretending they aren't even there if we stay on the track we're on. If we don't take note of these children and protect them, sterilization and birth control won't even be on the table for their parents or for these children when they become parents themselves. It's my firm belief, however, that more crime, more homelessness, more public healthcare concerns will be on the table, if we don't shore up the child welfare system in my state. People who say they want to meaningfully cut costs ought to look at doing it with evidence-based practices so the funds we spend will be put to better use, rather than just cutting the budget across the board and pretending children aren't being abused and neglected. 

Rose Red is one of many. I personally know at least three other young women just like her right now. Watching Rose Red is like watching another slow motion crash. What services will be there for her family, her child, when she inevitably crashes? I shudder to think of it and I ache for her situation. She is on the brink of repeating the same cycle she lived as a child. Or should I say, so is her child.

Snow Whites are, sadly, few and very far between.

And...  hope, along with me, that the State of Florida comes to its senses and supports Snow White.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Zee Palate Cleanser du Jour

This huge spider web was on the Otter Caves Path yesterday at Shark Valley. In our path, as it were. The web was truly glorious. Ellen and I spent at least ten minutes photographing it. I could make some Arachne comments but I need more coffee to do so, so you're safe.

Lest Les Comtesse think there were otters and that photos of otters were taken and not proffered, let me clarify that there were NO otters. Otters are seldom seen at Shark Valley, which is loaded with alligators. Really, the place ought to be called Alligator Valley, because there are also no sharks, since it is a fresh water swamp. The naming of things here in south Florida is quite paradoxical. I could get a lot of mileage out of the situation re: political issues, but like I said, I really need coffee.

Here are the 'caves' which are actually holes in the limstone shelf on the path itself.

But, so as not to disappoint Les Comtesses d'autre, here are otters:

The young otters - Otis, Eliza and Ella - have finally come out of hiding at the Edinburgh Zoo. 
from The Scotsman,  Image credit: DAVID MEIKLE

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shahla Jahed

(Image from the New York Daily News)

Shahla Jahed had the misfortune of being involved in a religiously sanctified sexual affair a sigheh marriage with Iranian 1980's soccer (football for the rest of the world)  star Nasser Mohammed Khani. Khani's wife, Laleh Saharkhizan, was murdered in 2002. Mr. Khani was a suspect in her murder until Sahla Jahed "confessed". There are a number of interesting aspects of this case, namely that the confession was later retracted and some Iranian anti-death penalty advocates state that Jahed had confessed after being threatened that a relative's child would be raped. Mr. Khani was spared being lashed 99 times for having committed adultery thanks to the wondrous sigheh. But when it was revealed he had smoked opium with Jahed, he was lashed 74 times. I haven't found mention of whether Ms. Jahed was lashed, too. She survived eight years in Evin prison, while her case was tried, then overturned on 'procedural problems" (like the first examiner who listened to her case believed her innocent... that was a really serious problem because that might lead them back to the famous Mr. Khani...). Ms. Jahed was retried, and convicted, in 2009. She was sentenced to death. Of course, I guess the sigheh marriage spared her a stoning sentence like Sakineh Ashtiani.

Ms. Jahed's execution by hanging, the 146th execution in Iran this year, was carried out this morning. It was a family affair. Mr. Khani was present, of course. And Laleh Saharkhizan's brother (or son, according to some sources) yanked the chair out from under Ms. Jahed's feet. Ms. Jahed was reportedly praying for a reprieve to the very last moment, then burst into tears and shouted that her life should be spared.

The case of Shahla Jahed was much publicized in Iran, which evidently has some of the same lust for grime and gossip about stars as does the USA. She was a famous, or should we say infamous, woman. But many believed her innocent. Being an innocent woman in Iran is evidently not much safer than being a guilty one, however. It's that woman part that seems to be the sticky issue.

There were a number of anomalies in her final days, including the fact that her attorney did not receive proper notice of her impending execution, which would have allowed him to seek the final appeal, to the Saharkhizan family to spare her life, though given the way that execution went down, I'm thinking that was a big no way

Human rights groups have decried Ms. Jahed's execution and the fact that there is much suspicion that her confession was coerced. But the execution itself is as bad as the trials,  tribulations and injustice that Ms. Jahed endured to get there, in their eyes.

"I am dismayed by this latest execution in Iran and also by the inhumane way in which it was carried out," said the Council of Europe's secretary-general Thorbjorn Jagland.
~ from the BBC

I know some Iranian news outlets are saying that Iran was just lusting to kill some woman, and since Sakineh is still attracting too much attention it couldn't be her.

I'm just hoping this wasn't the dry run for Sakineh. I can't help thinking that maybe Iran is just trying to get the world to see that Sakineh is just one of the many. Actually, it's working really well. At least for me. 

Shahla was one of the many.

One of the many suspiciously convicted women. 

One of the many victims of injustice.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Palate Cleanser #134

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

TSA and Reason, Pt. 1

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. 

Back around the time my world was getting sloshed around, there was this quiet little announcement on the TSA website. It was evidently really an opening salvo presaging a new stage in the battle between security (or so they call it) and personal privacy (what some might say that Franklin intended with his term 'liberty'). 
October 28, 2010
"TSA is in the process of implementing new pat-down procedures at checkpoints nationwide as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe. Pat-downs are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others."

In recent weeks there have been myriad concerns voiced by doctors, pilots unions, flight attendants unions and regular citizens about not just body scanners, which some say pose risks for frequent travelers and TSA employees themselves (due to substantially more ionizing radiation than originally stated) but also just merely invasion of privacy. After all, if you don't go for the groping pat down, we now know that in contrast to their stated policy that there is evidence the federal government does indeed save the images they capture from the body scanners. As a result, the ACLU issued a petition calling for respect of privacy. You can see it here. Anyway, I posted it on my personal Facebook page:

And I got an eyeful from a FB friend:

FB Friend:

IMO, if you don't want to be searched don't fly, simple easy.
17 November at 18:59 · 


And just so practical for people whose jobs require travel....
17 November at 20:42 ·

FB Friend:

Take the bus, drive, get a train. Or how bout not have a job that "requires" travel if one has such a problem with airport security to begin with. No one forces people to get on planes. Entitlement and privacy are not the same, IMO. If your on that plane solo, do as you please but your not so...
17 November at 22:36 · 


"Or how bout not have a job that "requires" travel if one has such a problem with airport security to begin with." Can you really believe that? I think it is very naive in the present economic climate to suggest that someone just get a diferent job, XXXXX, I'm sorry. I'm thrilled for you if you have that kind of marketability yourself, but certainly many people do not.

The erosion of privacy and civil rights in this country is a worrisome trend. It is not clear that these losses have any correlation with greater safety of our citizenry at all. History shows that escalating restrictions on the liberties of a country's citizens are, in fact, often correlated with shifts toward totalitarian regimes.
18 November at 07:23 ·  Liked: 2 people

FB Friend:

You may perceive it as naive, I see it as living in the real world, and not expecting to be treated with kid gloves and a spoiled baby all time. The fact remains time have changed and we no longer live in a world where everything is sunny & and roses. The fact remains that people want harm the citizens of this country by bringing bombs & whatever onto planes. The fact remains it is Not civil liberty to fly but a luxury...

18 November at 07:44 ·


I think we shall have to agree to disagree on the point.
18 November at 12:33 · 

Several other friends took up a spirited argument with my FB friend, including sharing their thoughts that the TSA has a lot more to do with expensive government contracts than actual security. But no minds were changed on either side. Two weeks later and I'm still shaking my head. Find another job? Really?

I've read so much about the TSA body scanner and pat down situation in the past two weeks that it makes my head spin. I've read about Thomas Sawyer, the cancer survivor on a urostomy bag, whose bag was ruptured during the clearly misnamed "pat-down" search, covering him with urine. Or how about Cathy Bossi, breast cancer survivor, who was told to remove her prosthetic breast from her bra during what she describes as a humiliating and aggressive pat-down because she didn't want to be exposed to any more radiation after her breast cancer treatments. I feel so very much safer knowing that Mr. Sawyer's urine isn't flammable and that Ms. Bossi's breast is not C4. Not.

And what about all those rules for liquids in your carry-ons? Can it really be safer to have a whole bunch of 3-oz bottles of liquid versus a single 12 oz bottle? Really? Wow, I'm thinking they are really hoping terrorists are very stupid people who cannot mix chemicals. And btw, there are a great many solid, low volatility options out there. I think that athletic shoe guy Richard Reid was using a form of plastique that wasn't detected. But I won't get into info about explosives because I don't want to have my name put on some watch list and be strip searched and have a gynecological exam at the airport the next time I fly to NYC to see Cynical Nymph or something.

When the TSA was trying out their fancy-dancy body scanners earlier this year, Adam Savage of Mythbusters had his own charming experience with the efficiency of the TSA methodology to detect potential weapons. 

You know when I felt safe flying? When I flew El Al to Israel. And you know what? Israeli security experts agree with me. They don't touch people. They don't need to break your ostomy bags or see your prostheses or figure out if you can get that metal implant out of your hip during the flight to use it as a weapon. Unfortunately, they are profiling and sometimes their profiling is utterly ridiculous. Here in Miami, we remember when Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and former Secretary of Health and Human Services under Clinton, was detained and interrogated by the Israelis for 2.5 hours, evidently on the basis of her last name. Essentially the Israelis are preserving the safety of the many by discomfiting, sometimes a great deal, the few. And the few are often Arab in heritage.

I don't know what will make us more secure when we fly but I do know that I no longer want to fly. It has become so massively unpleasant an experience that I really dread it. I'm steeling myself for going to the UK in the summer. I'm thinking about driving my child to North Carolina for his summer program at Duke. I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who has to fly. I don't think, like my friend on Facebook, that it's a luxury.

But privacy and lack of humiliation evidently were.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Palate Cleanser #133

(Image Credit: JW Johnston)

Cette image est pour certains une Nymphe.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010