Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weird Words of the Week: Dactyloscopy and Bertillonage

Dactyloscopy is fingerprinting, a way of identifying and distinguishing between individuals by their individual fingerprints. It has become the tool of choice for police and other investigative agencies.

Bertillonage, also called anthropometry, is a way of identifying individuals by measuring distinct parts of their bodies and the relationships between them. Bertillonage is named for a Paris policeman, Alphonsxe Bertillon, who noted that adults don't grow or change much after the age of 20, and so each adult has distinct measurements, such as the size of their head, arms, legs, and so on.

The Bertillon method spread throughout the world and was very accurate, though it proved to be not as accurate as fingerprinting. It was phased out when two men imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who claimed to be unrelated, had the same identical appearance and measurements. (It turned out that they were estranged twin brothers, which explains the similarities in their Bertillon measurements.) At any rate, they had different fingerprints, which sealed the case for dactyloscopy over Bertillonage.

That's just as well, because anthropometric methods have been misused so often; in the 1890s in England, for instance, it was used to measure head size to "prove" that Irish and Africans were "lesser species"; and later it was used by the Nazis to "prove" that Jews were inferior to the "Aryan race."

Here's more about the Bertillon method from the New York State Division of  Criminal Justice Services. That state and many others in the U.S. used the Bertillon system before fingerprinting became widely used. New York's Bureau of Identification, started in 1896, took the Bertillon measurements of every criminal who entered the system. This enabled them to find that many "first offenders" were actually repeat offenders. These efforts led shortly thereafter to the founding of the National Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner to the FBI.

The New York State website also has fascinating information about the beginning of the use of fingerprinting (dactyloscopy, remember?) by police throughout the world. Madame L hopes you'll follow the link to learn more about it, if you're interested.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, May 27, 2012: Poirot (Third Girl) Vs. Van Veeteren (Mind's Eye)

Madame L enjoys mystery and detective novels. She likes trying to figure out what really happened, why it happened, and "whodunit," even though she's not very good at figuring that out before the detective does. 

Madame L thinks many people who read any and all novels do so for the same kinds of reasons: to understand more about human nature, why people do what they do, and how the dominoes fall after that first one topples. Mystery and detective stories, even when they have so-called happy endings, tend to focus on the rough, the nitty-gritty, the parts of human nature whose existence we don't always like to admit. 

Is "human nature" different in different countries? Apparently not that different, at least judging by the detective stories from countries all over the world.

Motivations are very much the same, with love (or lust), greed, and jealousy topping the list. 

And the fictional detectives are very much the same, with their single-minded dedication to righting wrongs and bringing justice to those who would otherwise not be punished, or helped, by the formal machinery of justice.

This holds true not only for the detectives who operate outside the system, like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, but also for those who are formally employed by the police, like Hakan Nesser's Chief Inspector Van Veeteren.

While Madame L loves the Poirot stories, she's always looking for new ones, and since Agatha Christie isn't writing any new ones, she has had to look elsewhere. She found "Mind's Eye," by Hakan Nesser, in her local Borders store when it was closing (grrr!) months ago, and wishes she'd gotten around to reading it sooner because she enjoyed it, though she doesn't recommend it for all her Dear and Gentle Readers.

Here's why: If Madame L had to choose between Poirot and Van veeteren, she would choose Poirot. 

The Belgian with the elaborate moustaches and patent-leather shoes is courtly and gentlemanly and has the disadvantage of working outside the police system and therefore having to get his information without official help. He also has to deal with English-speakers who tend to treat him with marked disdain as a "Frenchie."

In "Third Girl," Poirot also has to deal with a young girl who initially refuses his help because he's too old; in addition to his faintly ridiculous friend the female crime novelist who hasn't had any actual experience solving the kinds of crimes she's famous for writing. 

Van Veeteren is, by contrast, an established detective in an unnamed country (might be Sweden, since the novels are written by a Swede, in Swedish; but could be Poland or Holland?--Madame L is no expert!). The cases he deals with are far removed from the genteel murders of Poirot's, and Christie's, time, and the details are sometimes gruesome and the language often objectionable. 

In short, while "Mind's Eye" was engrossing and enthralling and gave deep and valuable insights to human nature, Madame L won't be picking up any more of the Van Veeteren mysteries. 

Madame L will continue to enjoy reading the exploits of Hercule Poirot and the other great and idiosyncratic Agatha Christie detective, Miss Marple.

It's not that Madame L thinks crime or criminals or detectives were really different in the 1930s than they are now. It's all the same. We're all the same. Human nature is all the same. 

As one of Van Veeteren's police officers, C.G. Reinhart, says, "When we finally find what we have been looking for in the darkness, we nearly always discover that it was exactly that. Darkness."

And darkness is all the same, so Madame L sees no reason to read darkness tinged with gratuitous ugliness.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Commas, More

Dear, Gentle Readers,

Madame L has found what seems to be the definitive article on comma use.

Some examples from the article:

     My son, John, is awesome. (If you have just one son.)
     But withhold the comma if not unique:
     My son John is awesome. (If you have more than one son.)

Enjoy, but beware: There's a mistake in it.

Madame L was writing about commas because as an editor and teacher she noted that students often followed the "sound rule: for commas: If you hear a pause when you say the sentence aloud, you should insert a comma in the written sentence.

This "rule" is bogus. The only way to get commas right, for sure, is to follow the grammatical rules, and the best way to learn them is not by memorization but by reading a lot of correctly edited writing. (In other words, reading a lot of stuff on the Internet won't help.)

Here's another great article with more on grammar and punctuation.


Madame L

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sasquatch Hairs?

Dear Gentle Readers,

Madame L has just heard that some European scientists are planning a DNA study of Sasquatch-Yeti-Bigfoot supposed hairs. 

As many of you know, Madame L is fascinated with the idea of Bigfoot and is planning an expedition into the wilds of western Washington to find a specimen herself.

The article notes that Mark Thomas, a professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London (who is not connected to the Bigfoot project) was "unsure how likely it was anyone might have actual Yeti hairs."

Thomas did admit, though, that "... It's not as insane an idea as many might think, but the chances are pretty small."

Madame L says to all Bigfoot researchers, "Seek on!" And if you do have any Sasquatch hairs, please submit them to Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, who is doing the hair DNA study with Lausanne Museum of Zoology scientists.

Best wishes,

Madame L

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Politician

Madame L loves the Urban Dictionary's definitions of this word, which include the following (and more, which you can read by following the link):

     1. A person who practices politics.

          "Politics" is derived from the words "poly" meaning "many", and "tics" meaning "blood-sucking parasites."

     2. One who was perfected the art of lying.

     3. A highly paid yes-man.

 Even the Free Online Dictionary's definition includes a rather disparaging remark:

     1.a. One who is actively involved in politics, especially party politics.
     1.b. One who holds or seeks a political office.
     2. One who seeks personal or partisan gain, often by scheming and maneuvering: "Mothers may still want their favorite sons to grow up to be President, but . . . they do not want them to become politicians in the process" (John F. Kennedy).
     3. One who is skilled or experienced in the science or administration of government.
Madame L is thinking of this word lately because of the switcheroo that Republican politicians are pulling in their remarks about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Madame L remembers when Rick Santorum said, "He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” 
Later, Santorum wrote in an email to supporters, "I am also comfortable with Gov. Romney on [every issue].”
Madame L remembers when Newt Gingrich said, "”We are not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together and understand what this is all about.” 

After Ginrich dropped out of the race, he said, "”I’m going to campaign for him, I favor him over Obama... I’ll do everything I can to help elect Romney...."
Madame L remembers when Michele Bachmann said, "He’s been very inconsistent on his positions. He’s been on both sides of the abortion issue, on both sides of the issue with same-sex marriage … he was for the TARP bill, the $700 billion bailout and the global warming initiatives.”
Later, Bachmann endorsed Romney, saying, "He’s very smart. He has a very optimistic message. Women trust him because they see, this is a man who started a business from scratch, for heaven’s sake.”
What about Ron Paul? Asked if or when he was going to endorse Romney, he said, "Not soon."  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Commas for Nouns in Apposition

Dear Gentle Readers,

Madame L hopes you will be patient with her while she vents on the subject of the correct use of commas.

It's not that Madame L is grammatically perfect in every respect, but she does wish that writers and editors would be more careful in their use of commas.

Madame L realizes that some writers just don't want to overuse these punctuation marks, because it may make them appear officiously and self-righteously over correct. But it's obvious that many of the errors in the use of commas come from pure ignorance. And Madame L is, as you all know, willing to cure that ill by educating the public.

Madame L is not a great reader of gossipy news, but she did click on the ABC News article this weekend about the marriage of Mark Zuckerberg, and Madame L was appalled at the omission of a comma in the following sentence:

"The 28-year-old tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, the recently graduated Dr. Priscilla Chen in a private ceremony at the couple's home in Palo Alto, Calif."

The missing comma? It should come after the name of Dr. Priscilla Chen. The sentence should read:

"The 28-year-old tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, the recently graduated Dr. Priscilla Chen, in a private ceremony at the couple's home in Palo Alto, Calif."

This use of the comma is called appositive. It sets apart the name of a person, place, or thing (a noun) from the preceding bit that it goes with.

Did that make sense? Please, Dear Readers, tell Madame L if it didn't make sense. Madame L has searched online for a reasonable and sensible explanation of this use of the comma. There are plenty of websites with this kind of information, but not all of them are worth reading. Here are two of the best:

Look at this one for a great, logical, and grammatically correct explanation which however is difficult to read if you don't have a degree in philosophy or logic or linguistics.

Here's another explanation, this one more readable and understandable, without all the logic jargon, though it's a bit long. Here are some examples and a good definition (from "The Loyal Apposition") which show why the second comma is necessary in the Zuckerburg-Chen marriage story:

     Usually an appositive adds parenthetical, nondefining, information, so it is nonrestrictive. A nonrestrictive (parenthetical) element is set off by commas.  For example:

    Mr. Smith, a well-respected lawyer, has just retired from active practice.
    Professor James, an expert in Victorian poetry, will be giving a lecture tonight.
Madame L thanks you for letting her vent. She will undoubtedly be writing in the future about other issues of grammar, spelling, and punctuatioin; and will enjoy receiving questions from any and all of her Dear Readers who wish to know as much about grammar as Madame L does.


Madame L

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, May 20, 2012: Geek Logik

So, everyone knows how to make important decisions, right? 

Make two lists, pros and cons, and see which list has more items in it. 

So various organizational gurus and business experts have come up with all kinds of branching charts and  decision matrices to help people make decisions. 

These may help for business decisions, but what about whether you should get married in Vegas? Or go to Vegas at all? Or skip out of a previous obligation to your in-laws? Or " something scary from the back of the fridge, or just order Chinese again?"

Ah, Madame L has found a book with solutions to all these problems, and the book comes with a refresher course in algebra (because these decisions can only be made with the help of a few hilarious equations) AND a calculator.

The equations go from fairly simple, like "Should you apologize?" to extremely complex, like "Whose family should you visit over the holidays?"

"Geek Logik," by Garth Sundem, with tongue firmly in cheek (metaphorically speaking, of course), will help you  resolve issues such as "Should you follow the advice of a self-help book?" (The answer to that one includes a calculation of how many times the word "Geek" appears in the title and the warning: "If the word 'Geek' appears in the book's title, you will of course want to think twice before actually following any of the advice contained therein.")

Madame L found Geek Logik at for $5.90, and it's also available at for $5.18. (Madame L recommends the Bas Bleu website because it has many other interesting, fun, and useful items; and she enjoys supporting companies like Bas Bleu, Isabella, Signals, and Chinaberry.)


Friday, May 18, 2012

Solar Eclipse on Sunday

Dear Readers,

Madame L hopes that if you live anywhere in the southwestern U.S. where the Sunday (May 20) eclipse will be visible, you will make a point of watching it.

This will be an "annular eclipse," not the kind where the moon blocks out the sun entirely, but where the sun will look like a very bright ring around the moon. 

From the ABC News website, here are some sample times and places for viewing:

Eureka, Calif.: 6:28 p.m. PDT
Reno, Nev.: 6:31 p.m. PDT
Grand Canyon, Ariz.: 6:35 p.m. MST
Albuquerque: 7:36 p.m. MDT (note time zone change)
Lubbock: 8:36 p.m. CDT (another time zone change)

A NASA satellite will be watching the eclipse from space. For those of us on Earth, we need to be very careful, as NASA scientists point out every time there is an eclipse: 

"NEVER look at the sun — either with the naked eye or through a telescope or binoculars — without proper filters or other equipment. Serious and permanent eye damage, including blindness, can result," the site reminds us.

Madame L will be watching, even though in her location she probably won't be able to see the full eclipse.

Happy Sun Day,

Madame L

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Friends and Relatives---and Facebook

Dear Madame L,

I just realized I gave you the wrong information before. It's not, but rather Interesting play on names, eh? Kin to Me. I am not planning to use that website, no. I learned about it from this news story, that was posted on Facebook by "Mormon Times," a business that I "like."

The thing that bothers me is that neither this news story nor the webpage seem to care or mention the very concerns that you and I have. And if a relative looked you up on a genealogy website, specifically to find your birth place and your mother's mother's name, then, wow, that is NOT good. Those genealogy websites are supposed to list living people as just that, living--no name or other identifying information.

Anyway, I just sent an email to that news station that says: "Where is the information that tells about the dangers of identity theft by linking yourself up with all your relatives and friends by entering names and dates into some online database? I've gone to this website,, and I find nothing that explains any privacy safety nets. Will you please find out about that for me? The concept is great, but the repercussions could be devastating."

I'll let you know if or what I hear back.


Ellen (in a comment on July 9, 2012)

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for checking on that. 

Dear All Gentle Readers, Including Beloved Relatives,

Now Madame L hopes you will understand why she has not responded to your Facebook attempts to identify yourselves as her relatives. She loves you dearly and she knows she's related to you, and so do all our other relatives, so she doesn't see any reason for every person who looks us up on Facebook to know.

Madame L thinks we all must be more careful than we have been in the past, knowing that Google, Facebook, Amazon, and every other company with an online presence is tracking information about us.

Have you ever noticed that when you go to your Facebook page, the ads that appear are targeted exactly for you --- for someone of your age and gender and buying habits? 

Have you ever received an email message from a bank or credit card company or PayPal or insurance company asking for more information so they can verify a transaction? Same thing. And it's no accident. 

When you receive something like that, do NOT open it or click on any button in it. Instead, forward it to the customer service email address of the REAL company. 

This happened recently to Madame L, who received an email message supposedly from PayPal, saying she had paid more than $700 from her bank account and giving the name of the person she had supposedly paid it to (someone Madame L had never heard of or dealt with, of course). 

Madame L went online to, found their e-mail address for addressing those issues (spoof[at], and forwarded the message to them. Within 24 hours, she received a reply reassuring her that the message was not from them, and thanking her for helping them in their fight against scams.

Please, all Gentle Readers, feel free to share with Madame L and all of us any additional information and/or experiences you've had with these issues.


Madame L 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: APOCALYPSE

Admit it, Dear Readers, you've probably been hearing this word a lot lately, and you still don't know exactly what it means.

Madame L hereby enlightens you (with the help of Wikipedia, of course):

APOCALYPSE ( ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis; "lifting of the veil" or "revelation") means to reveal or disclose something to the world that has previously been hidden.

Thus the New Testament "Book of Revelation," as it's called in the King James translation, or "The Apocalypse of St. John," as it's called in earlier Catholic translations, reveals truths about the last days.

Of course "apocalypse" can refer to any final-days scenario, as we all know from the false hubbub about the supposed Mayan prediction of the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012.

From Digital Trends
Check out this article for fascinating information about a newly discovered Mayan calendar and why the Mayans did not expect the world to end at the end of this year.

Now, can you use the noun "apocalypse" or the adjective "apocalyptic" or the adverb "apocalyptically" in a sentence?

Monday, May 14, 2012

JPMorgan Chase and Jamie Dimon

Dear Madame L,

I've been hearing a lot on the news about JPMorgan Chase's loss of $2 billion, and I can't believe they're going to get away with that. Apparently world markets plummeted at the news, but what is the U.S. government going to do about it? Just let them get away with it? 

And their CEO, Jamie Dimon, what a jerk! Giving that fake apology and saying it was mostly his fault, blah blah blah, as if that would make everybody say he's a good guy after all and let him keep his $23 million per year salary. Are you kidding me?


Where's MY Bailout?

Dear Bailout Sufferer,

Madame L feels your pain, but because her understanding of economics and the world of finance is about as deep as a very small puddle, she has only been able to do some quick research to get a feel for the issues involved and to point you to some other websites with more information.

Even that much, however, has engendered in Madame L a sense of outrage to match yours.

It appears that Jamie Dimon objects to federal regulation of investment banks such as his own, while supporting bailouts.

In addition, while Dimon claimed to accept responsibility for the huge loss, he actually let someone else take the fall for it: JPMorgan Chase's chief investment officer, Ina Drew, who had to resign, along with two other JPMC officers in London, Achilles Macris and Javier Martin-Artaj.

Yet experts in the field know Dimon is completely to blame: "Those excess deposits [from trading mistakes in the London office] weren’t gifted to Dimon on a plate so that he could gamble them on the CDX NA IG 9. Rather, Dimon’s job is to take those deposits and lend them productively into the real economy. Every extra dollar in the CIO is a sign of his failure to do that. And the $2 billion loss is really just a symptom of what happens when banks get too much money, and don’t really know what to do with it all."

In fact, under Dimon's leadership, "... total shareholder returns for J.P. Morgan have recently trailed peers significantly. Over the past three years, ISS says J.P. Morgan’s shareholder returns have risen 3.3%, compared to a 13% gain for its peer group.  Dimon has been chairman and CEO since 2006."

What's worse is that Dimon "...sits on the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank—the very organization that is supposed to oversee his bank’s financial practices, the organization that is supposed to issue all sorts of regulations that control what his bank can do, the very organization he has been lobbying to relax the rules about the bets he wants to make."

Is this like putting the fox in charge of guarding the chickens, or what?

Then what should be done to Dimon? At the very least, he should resign from the New York Fed, as Eliot Spitzer points out. Spitzer's article is full of information and is easier to read than some of the analyses Madame L found. Here are some bits from it:

"It was Chase’s own lobbying on Capitol Hill and with the Treasury, the Fed, and other agencies that made these bets arguably permissible within the scope of hedging under the Volcker rule. Had they not lobbied and pushed and delayed and made the rule more complicated, these bets  would have been illegal or at a minimum so transparent as to have been smaller and less damaging.  The banks love to complain about the complexity of these rules. But the rule as proposed by Paul Volcker was simple. It is only because of the very lobbying by the banks that the complexity and loopholes crept in.

"...Warren Stephens, CEO of the Stephens Bank, argues that we should slim down “too big to fail” institutions by a significant factor, reducing their deposits and assets as a percentage of GDP to a more manageable 5 percent from the existing 10 percent—and bring back Glass-Steagall, which separated commercial from investment banking.  That way taxpayers would guarantee only what should be guaranteed: deposits and basic lending...."

"So here is a modest solution: Dimon should resign from the New York Fed board immediately, acknowledging that his role is incompatible with what he has been trying to do in terms of lobbying and his abject failure as a manager to control risk within his own organization." (Emphasis added by Madame L)

Madame L likes this suggestion from Slate's Alex Pareene even better, though: Let's put him on trial:

"So let’s haul him before a judge (I would be fine with Judge Judy) and ask him to explain, without jargon, what positive role JPMorgan plays for the American and world economies that a few much smaller, less leveraged firms couldn’t also play while not being at risk of losing billions of dollars by accident in a “hedge” and sending world markets reeling.

"I mean, I’m sure he’d never admit to any sort of culpability for our current morass (it’s the gubmint’s fault!) because he clearly believes his own bull@#$% and he’s never faced any sort of serious challenge to his viewpoint, but it still might be very good television."


Madame L

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, May 13, 2012: Willpower

Madame L wishes all the mothers across the land a very Happy Mother's Day! 

And now Madame L is going to write about something only peripherally related to mothers, related to mothers only because most mothers have at some time in their lives dieted.

Madame L hasn't finished reading the book "Willpower" yet. She checked it out of the library and then had trouble getting started with it because the very title, "Willpower," put her off just a bit. 

If it was all about what we generally call "will power," then we would have all won that diet battle, right? But authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney explain that it isn't just that.

So, once Madame L realized that and got into the book, she had several "Aha!" moments. (But then she had to return the book to the library: it's in such high demand that she had to wait 4 weeks for it, and there's a big waiting list still.)

To cut to the chase, since all we care about is the dieting section (right?), we read that "self-control depletes the glucose in the bloodstream....The body 'knows' that it has depleted the glucose in its bloodstream by exerting self-control, and it also seems to know that sweet-tasting foods are typically the fastest way to get an infusion of energy-rich glucose." And so we eat. We can almost not help ourselves.

And so we see that many dieting methods are not only priming us not to succeed, but are essentially guaranteeing failure.

So what does work? There are lots of answers, but one that really rang a bell with Madame L was this one:

Never say never. 

Madame L first learned this concept from a tennis partner years ago. This woman had finally managed to quit smoking after many attempts, and the way she did it was by always keeping a half-pack of cigarettes in her purse, one in her car, one by her bed, one at the kitchen table, and so on. 

She said, "Whenever I get a craving, I tell myself, 'Sure, don't worry, they're right here, just wait a few minutes, okay?' And in a few minutes the craving has gone away. All those times I tried to quit by getting rid of all the cigarettes---never worked."

Same thing with diets: Depriving yourself almost inevitably results in indulging later. If you allow yourself enough energy-providing foods to keep on an even keel, if you don't let yourself feel deprived, you'll be more successful at your diet---and everything else. 

"Willpower is still evolving," the authors conclude. "Our willpower has made us the most adaptable creatures on the planet, and we're rediscovering how to help one another use it. We're learning, once again, that willpower is the virtue that sets our species apart, and that makes each one of us strong."

Madame L checked this book out of her local library, but it's available in new hardcover at for $16.06. She recommends it and may even buy it when it comes out in paperback. (Or maybe she'll exercise a little will power instead, put it on hold again and wait for it to be available again, and then read the whole thing.)

By the way, when you go to the Amazon page, check out the many other books on the subject, and if you're familiar with any of them, Madame L would love to hear what you think of it.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Big Issues

Dear Madame L,

What do you think about Pres. Obama's announcement that he supports the idea of gay marriage? I see he's having a fund-raiser tonight with a bunch of very wealthy and famous people at George Clooney's house, and I wonder why he isn't focusing on jobs, like John Boehner and the Republicans are.


Worried About the Big Issues

Dear Big Issue Voter,

Madame L is glad that Pres. Obama finally came out and made the big announcement. She thinks that people who object to marriage equality wouldn't have voted for Obama's re-election, anyway, so it doesn't matter as an election issue, and she's glad for Obama that the rich and famous of Hollywood will be supporting him. 

Madame L is glad that Pres. Obama cares about issues of equality and fairness. She thinks this issue will be regarded 50 years from now as the equivalent of rights for other minorities (as in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s). 

Madame L doesn't think a white president could have gotten away with such an announcement. And she doesn't care about the famous and infamous people on either side of this or any other issue.

Madame L thinks John Boehner's ridiculous statement about how he and the Republicans are focusing on jobs is .... ridiculous. Madame L has not seen one single sign that the Republicans, led by John Boehner and his frenemy Eric Cantor, have done one single thing for jobs or the economy in America (except when forced to take positive action by the outrage of their constituents).

On the contrary, they have stalled on every effort and impeded every movement toward the creation of new jobs. And they have admitted that their primary goal, since the day of Pres. Obama's inauguration in 2009, has been to defeat him and get him out of office, at whatever cost, even at the cost of jobs and our economy. 


Madame L

More on Internet Privacy

Dear Madame L,

I read your discussion of the issue of Internet privacy, and I hope you'll add something to the discussion. 

It's not just scammers who want to know all about you. The government is also accessing every bit of information it can about everyone who has ever gone online, used Facebook, or sent an e-mail message.

I know some people say if you're innocent you shouldn't be worried, because the government only wants this information to go after criminals. But I don't think you have to be a criminal or a paranoid person to be concerned.

What do you think?


Really Concerned

Dear Concerned,

Madame L thanks you for bringing up this issue. Thanks to your concern, Madame L has done some online research (with the government tracking her, or not!) and has found a very interesting article about the way our own government is collecting and using information about us, and the way that Congress and journalists are not defending our privacy. 

While Madame L doesn't agree with Glenn Greenwald about everything (or even very much), she thinks he's right on the button on this issue. He quotes from other commentators here, too, which helped Madame L accept his argument on this point. Here's what Fareed Zakaria wrote about the issue of privacy in our over-sharing electronic age:

"While we will leave the battlefields of the greater Middle East, we are firmly committed to the war on terror at home. What do I mean by that? Well, look at the expansion of federal bureaucracies to tackle this war.

"Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for the intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet – the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. The largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs is now the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.

"The rise of this national security state has entailed a vast expansion in the government’s powers that now touch every aspect of American life, even when seemingly unrelated to terrorism. Some 30,000 people, for example, are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications within the United States. . . ."

And here Glenn Greenwald cites what Edward Wasserman wrote about the media's "'fearful silence' in the face of the Obama administration’s systematic, unprecedented attack on whistleblowing:"

"When President Obama addressed the American Society of News Editors convention last month, the real news was what didn’t happen. The watchdogs didn’t bark. No discouraging word from the gathering of 1,000 of the country’s top news people, facing a president whose administration has led a vigorous attack on journalism’s most indispensable asset — its sources.

"Obama took office pledging tolerance and even support for whistleblowers, but instead is prosecuting them with a zeal that’s historically unprecedented . . .

"What’s behind the administration’s fervor isn’t clear, but the news media have largely rolled over and yawned. A big reason is that prosecutors aren’t hassling reporters as they once did. Thanks to the post-9/11 explosion in government intercepts, electronic surveillance, and data capture of all imaginable kinds — the NSA is estimated to have intercepted 15-20 trillion communications in the past decade — the secrecy police have vast new ways to identify leakers.

"So they no longer have to force journalists to expose confidential sources. As a national security representative told Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “We’re not going to subpoena reporters in the future. We don’t need to. We know who you’re talking to” . . .

"[T]hat silence constitutes an abdication of the media’s role as a voice in shaping public policy. After all, the ultimate purpose of reporter shield laws and the defiant tradition of protecting confidential sources isn’t to make writing stories easier for reporters, it’s to ensure that publicly significant information comes to light.

"If the news media publish sensitive information, fully believing it ought to be made public, how can they stand by without protest when the government punishes the people who furnished it?

Madame L is reminded of living in a certain foreign country where one knew that every phone call was being recorded, every conversation at work reported, and every drive in the car monitored.

Madame L hopes you and all her Dear Readers will take care about what they say and write. You've heard that writing an email message is like sending a postcard, but Madame L thinks it's even more revealing than that, because only a few people ever see your postcards, but anyone now, including any scummy low-level IT professional in any government or telecommunications office, can read your emails, your Facebook timeline, your blog posts, everything.

Madame L hopes to hear from more of her Dear Readers about this issue.


Madame L

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Too Many Connections?

Dear Madame L,

In your review of, near the end of the article, it talks about being scammed due to family relationships, similar to what you mentioned in a previous post. 

I just became aware of a Facebook app (at least, I think it's an app--I'm not sure) where you can enter all sorts of familial relationships and have this program come up with how many "degrees" of relationship you are away from any given person, such as one of your Facebook friends, or a celebrity. It's called "Kin2," as in "Who are you kin to?" 

While I think it's a pretty cool thing to figure out, I'm nervous about the fact that it uses the very public site of Facebook as its interface. I've made a point of not accepting Facebook "relationship" requests in the past, specifically because I don't want the whole world to know if or how I'm related to my Facebook "friends." 

But this Kin2 seems to take those relationships to a whole new level, tying them in to your family tree and everything. With all the identity theft going on in the world out there, and other kinds of scams as well, I'm really nervous about putting that information out there. 

What do you think about that, Madame L? Have you heard of Do you think it's legitimate and safe and all that?


Too Many Connections

Dear Connected,

Madame L had never heard of until she read your comment. She typed in her browser and found that it doesn't appear to be a real website, but a portal for people who want to buy the that name and/or register for it.

Madame L would have gone to her Facebook page to look for the "Kin2" app there, except that she has stopped using Facebook once because of the intrusive apps and information collection going on there; and is seriously considering stopping again, once and for all. 

This is because Madame L feels very uneasy about those apps and others like them, to the point that, like you, Madame L has declined in the past to accept invitations from friends on Facebook who are also relatives. (Madame L feels that everyone she's related to knows they're related, and Madame L doesn't see the need to broadcast that information.)

Similarly, Madame L doesn't accept every invitation from the very nice people at to be linked with every person she has ever worked or rubbed elbows with. 

Madame L has also very recently had the experience of someone telling her, "We looked you up on [some genealogy site] so we could find out who your mother's mother was and where you were born." That didn't bother Madame L because that someone is a relative, but Madame L is bothered by the idea that anyone, related or not, and for whatever purpose, friendly or not, can access that same information...

...And, therefore, any scammer can call you to tell you that Aunt Louise, for instance, is stranded in Mexico City and needs you to wire a thousand dollars, and can tell you when and where she was born, who her husband and parents are, and so on...and you might, being the kind and generous person you are, send that money. 

So, Madame L hopes you'll resist the temptation to use that app. Please write again to let Madame L and her other Dear Readers know what you've decided. 

And, other Dear Readers, if you would like to contribute your own opinion and experiences to this discussion, please do so, because we all benefit from each others' experiences and knowledge.


Madame L

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: COTUTELLE

When Madame L  first saw this word on a university's online catalog, she thought it was a joke or a misprint.


It isn't. It is a joint degree program common in many universities in which doctoral students from one university can participate with adviser(s) at another university, even when the two universities are in different countries.

One university website explains it like this: "The aim is to establish deep, continuing relationships with international research universities through the joint research candidate supervision."

Origin of the word: It comes from the French, where it can mean "joint guardianship" or "teaching participated in by several persons."

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Book Review, Sunday, May 6, 2012: Amazon

Dear Readers,

Madame L is not reviewing a book about the Amazon, but rather the online book-and-everything-buying service she often recommends,

As you may be aware, Amazon uses what it likes to call a "dynamic" price system, in which the price you're being charged for an item may change over time---and sometimes over the amount of time it takes to look up an item and put it in your shopping cart.

You may think of this as a bait-and-switch tactic---Madame L certainly does!---but it's legal. According to this consumer advocate, "Not only do prices move up and down on a regular basis, but also they're often adjusted based on exactly which customer is mulling a purchase. The practice, called price customization or dynamic pricing, weighs factors as it sets prices such as a customer's income, buying habits, or the popularity of an item on a given day."

The Romans said it best: "Caveat emptor." If it happens to you, you should contact to complain, but be prepared to be persistent.

Although she has had problems with this in the past, Madame L has complained about it, with the result that it hasn't happened to her since then. She continues to use, but very carefully; and hopes all of you Dear Gentle Readers will use care, too.

Also, please share with Madame L any "dynamic price" experiences you've had with and any other retailers.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Writing to Congress

Dear Readers,

Madame L realizes she has forgotten to put contact information for writing to your Senators and Representatives where you can easily find it.

Madame L is remedying that problem so you can always find this information. It's in a new box at the top right of this page.

Madame L appreciates your staying active in the political progress. People like us are going to have to work hard to keep our democracy safe from the big companies and super-PACs and other organizations that would deny us our rights.
Other resources:

From About.Com: This site suggests a straightforward three-paragraph structure and provides sample letters as well as contact information.

From CitizenRedress.Com: This site provides even more information on how to contact your Senators and Representative and how to track their voting and legislative records.

From Bread.Org: This site explains why hand-written letters are more effective than any other form of communication with Members of Congress, gives the important points to include in letters, and provides a sample letter addressing the issue of hunger in America.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Dear Madame L,

I have a friend who really believes in Sasquatch, based on some ridiculous reality TV show where these so-called scientists are going out at night and doing so-called research, looking for the creature. 

My friend showed me an episode online, and I couldn't believe it. It was like those ghost-hunters or something, with hand-held cameras and night-vision goggles, scary noises, and so on. Or like one of those teen horror flicks, where they go into the dark house at night, and they're the only ones who are stupid enough not to know something terrible is going to happen.

Please tell me you're not a believer! And give me some evidence to share with my friend.



Dear Skeptic,

Madame L reminds you that it's very difficult (impossible) to give evidence that any thing or phenomenon does not exist. In addition, Madame L  is no expert on Sasquatch (Bigfoot) or any of its putative cousins, the Yeti, the Yowie, the Fouke Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or any of them. 

Like you, Madame L has heard the stories and seen at least bits of the footage of so-called sightings, many of which are available (ubiquitous) on YouTube. Madame L has recently also been introduced to a little-known (and justifiably so) movie about Bigfoot, the trailer of which she hereby shares with you:

You might want to check on YouTube for videos of supposed sightings of the creature from all over the U.S.  And let Madame L know what you think.  (Madame L must admit that she finds major flaws in all of them.)

Stay tuned for more, as Madame L will be writing more about this subject in coming days.

Meanwhile, hang on to your skepticism.

Somewhat Sincerely, 

Madame L

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rachel on Meet the Press

Thanks, Ellen, for your comment and for taking the time to follow that link to watch the video. 

Madame L has found the video on YouTube of the "Meet the Press" discussion between Rachel Maddow and the condescending jerk Alex Castellanos, and presents it here for those Dear Readers who didn't follow the link in the earlier post. Here's the short version:

And here's Rachel on her own show expounding on the differences between women's and men's employment and pay in this country:

Women's Employment --- Still Unequal

Dear Madame L,

I have a wife and two daughters who are victims to a complex set of employment biases - and this has bothered me for a long time. 

What makes it worse is that some people (generally so-called conservatives) keep saying there's no employment gap at all.

What's your opinion?


Concerned Husband and Father

Dear Faithful Husband and Father,

You're right. Women still experience inequality in employment. AND some men, and women, are still claiming that isn't true.

For example, Rachel Maddow got into an argument on Meet the Press last Sunday when Alex Castellanos kept interrupting her, she said: 

"It's weird that you're interrupting me and not letting me make my point, because we get along so well, so let me make my point. But the interruption is important, I think, because now we know, at least from both of your perspective, that women are not faring worse than men in the economy, that women are not getting paid less for equal work. I think that's a serious difference in factual understanding in the world, but given that, some of us believe that women are being paid less than men."

When Castellanos had to admit that she was right with the numbers, he tried to make excuses ('give reasons") for the disparity in pay for women and men. 

When Rachel pointed out that those were just excuses, he condescended, in much the same way many women have experienced men (fathers, brothers, teachers, coaches, etc.) condescending to them from the time they were little girls to even after they are grown up: He said, essentially, "You're so cute when you're angry." 

Those weren't his exact words, of course. His exact words were, "I I love how passionate you are. I wish you were as right about what you're saying as you are passionate about it. I really do."

Rachel's reply was perfect:  "That's really condescending.," Maddow said. "This is a stylistic issue. My passion on this issue is actually me making a factual argument." 

Madame L is glad you only asked for her opinion, because she can't do anything about this issue except express her opinion when asked. But she hopes that you will do everything in your power to change this employment inequality. If you have any hiring power where you work, are you trying to get qualified women hired? Are you writing to your Members of Congress to express your opinions? And are you standing up for women in other situations?  Of course you are! And Madame L commends you for it!
Best wishes, 
Madame L

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Inheritance Scam

Dear Readers,

Madame L has just read of a new wrinkle on the money-for-nothing-but-you'll-have-to-send-us-a-lot-of-money-scam: A man received a phone call saying he could claim an inheritance that would otherwise go to his cousin if he didn't send money.

The scam didn't work, in spite of the scammers' having knowledge of names of family members and many other details that made it seem like the real deal, because the man's wife was suspicious, and they called the cousin.

What gave it away for good was that while they were talking to the cousin, they received calls on another phone from one of the scammers claiming to be her. 

The wife wondered "whether the family tree information posted online helped the fraudsters create their story," according to The Oregonian.

And that, Dear Readers, is why Madame L is telling you about this scam. Madame L knows you're too smart to be taken in by most of those ridiculous scams, but these people have taken the fraud to new levels, even using family information that you have innocently posted online. 

So, in addition to being cautious about any offer of of anything that seems to be good to be true, and any phone call from any bank or insurance company or lottery or (fill in the blank) offering you money for an up-front fee, do also be careful what you post!


Madame L

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Exploiting Military Exploits?

Dear Madame L,

I see that Pres. Obama has released a campaign video in which he takes credit for the raid that killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden, and I think that's low. I agree with former Sen. John McCain, who said it was a "pathetic political act of self-congratulation."

What do you think about it?


Just Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Madame L wonders about the political climate in which someone like Sen. John McCain, failed presidential candidate and self-proclaimed self-righteously right-about-everything critic of the current administration, can get away with saying nonsense like that.

Madame L notes that Pres. Obama DID authorize the SEAL raid that got rid of that terrorist menace. 

Madame L notes that former Pres. George W. Bush took credit for a war victory that didn't even happen (in 2003, in his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech).

Madame L notes that, in addition, Bush's surrogates never stopped praising him for such "victories" as serving a dinner for U.S. troops at the Baghdad airport in 2003. 

Madame L would like to ask YOU, Dear Wondering Reader, why it's okay for the former (Republican) president to make a big deal about victories that never even happened, but not for the current (Democratic) president to point out that he has rid the world of a real menace?

Sincerely, Wondering, and Bothered That Someone Has Even Asked Such a Question,

Madame L