Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Katrina - 1 Year Later

My Aunt Renee Sterling’s email regarding the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.


Hurricane Katrina hit one year ago today. That's all that's been on T.V. lately and we watch and watch and watch more of it.

Last week Tom and I went to New Orleans to visit Ben and Stephanie. We had been through Lakeview not long after the hurricane but had never been to the 9th Ward or St. Bernard Parish. Saturday, Ben took us riding.

Things in New Orleans and surrounding areas are terrible. It is not only the poor black people who are still suffering. Although we didn't go through Lakeview, Stephanie told us it doesn't look any different than when we were there 9 months ago except for now having green -- the grass is growing, shrubbery, trees are green whereas before everything, everything was gray.

We rode through a very affluent area in the City Park area and almost all the homes are deserted. Some are being repaired, others are not. Miles and miles and miles, we rode for hours, as far as you could see, down every street, businesses closed -- drugstores, grocery stores, restaurants -- nothing opened. And deserted homes, mile after mile -- deserted!

Every once in a while you'd see some poor soul sitting on their front porch. Sitting. Watching. Wondering. There's still no electricity in many, many areas, no traffic lights, very little traffic. The biggest business is the hauling of debris. You pass hundreds of trucks hauling debris to the landfills in Avondale. One year and there is sadness everywhere you look. For people to say New Orleans will come back is ludicrous. The city will never, ever be the same. At the rate things are moving now, it would take 10 - 15 years, maybe more, to get everything just cleared out.

And we didn't see the mental anguish and struggles that people are going through. Stephanie told us that the day before we went they had to let their CFO go at the bank where she works. He was a very levelheaded man pre-Katrina. His home was badly damaged and is now repaired but even though, his post-Katrina mental state was terrible. He couldn't make decisions and was making serious mistakes. The bank offers counseling but even with this, it's just too soon to see positive results and changes to people whose lives have been affected so drastically. Losing his job certainly won't help his situation but business-wise, they had no other choice.

People can point fingers all they want. The blame can be placed with the president, the governor, the mayor, the police, the blacks, the whites, the poor, the rich, the government, the Corps of Engineers, FEMA -- it won't change a thing. It was a tragic, horrible storm, an act of God, something that we'll never understand in this life, something you cannot possibly fathom until you see it for yourself. And then still you wonder why -- how -- when -- what?

My prayer is that God will hold these people in the palm of His hand and gently, gently press them to His heart until they can adjust to a life they never imagined would be turned into what it is now, thanks to a lady named Katrina.


Where's George?

I got a "Where's George," $10 bill today. This is the first time I've gotten something other than a $1.

I like the whole Where's George thing: fun with money.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Colleague's Book

A colleague of mine, Chris Geszvain, has had his children’s book, Evergreen Academy And The Golden Club published. Here is his review of the book. You can get it through I soon hope to link to the first chapter so that everyone can read it.

He would appreciate and all feedback. I will make sure he gets it.

Read Chapter One Here.


Evergreen Academy and the Golden Club is a book with a heart. It’s a book combining mystery and fantasy. There are two main lines: one is the on-going mystery and the other is the mystery the whole series are based on.

The book starts when the main character Daniel Ray finds his father disappeared into thin air. He is then taken to the Evergreen Academy on Jade Island, where he finds his powers. He soon finds himself facing with problems most high school students facing even though his is an immortal. Meanwhile, he has to deal with his own mysterious past and helping another student finding a stolen magical weapon. To find clues, he has to venture into the sea and the jungle full of mythical creatures and dangers.

I really like the concept of the book, in which the world is not in imminent danger, and the heroes are not trying to save the whole human species. A lot of fantasy books have a super villain. There is only pure evil and pure good. The two battling it out is the main theme. It bears little resemblance to the world as I know it. Things are rarely white and black. In this book, no one is totally evil. There are only good intensions and bad behavior. As one character pointed out in the first book: “There is very little destruction caused by pure evil. Actually in this world, there is very little pure evil. Most destruction is the result of ignorance, greed or cowardice. The best way to make things right is through education, not punishment.”

I think the book carries good messages. For example, Daniel learned that punishing one wrong with another never makes it right. It’s also relevant to today’s world situation. For example, the damage caused by a storm created by one character is a reflection of the environmental problems due to human activities. You can really tell that the author cares about what’s going on and wants things to be better.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Panasonic DMC-TZ1A

We finally bought a new camera: a Panasonic DMC-TZ1A. We have yet to receive it.

Read a review from here. Or, the review from Asia.cnet here.

I will post my own later.

Friday, August 18, 2006

U.S. Judge Finds Wiretap Actions Violate the Law

From The New York Times...

Thank God for the ACLU!

August 18, 2006

U.S. Judge Finds Wiretap Actions Violate the Law

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the National Security Agency’s program to wiretap the international communications of some Americans without a court warrant violated the Constitution, and she ordered it shut down.

The ruling was the first judicial assessment of the Bush administration’s arguments in defense of the surveillance program, which has provoked fierce legal and political debate since it was disclosed last December. But the issue is far from settled, with the Justice Department filing an immediate appeal and succeeding in allowing the wiretapping to continue for the time being.

In a sweeping decision that drew on history, the constitutional separation of powers and the Bill of Rights, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of United States District Court in Detroit rejected almost every administration argument.

Judge Taylor ruled that the program violated both the Fourth Amendment and a 1978 law that requires warrants from a secret court for intelligence wiretaps involving people in the United States. She rejected the administration’s repeated assertions that a 2001 Congressional authorization and the president’s constitutional authority allowed the program.

“It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly when his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights,” she wrote. “The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another.”

Republicans said the decision was the work of a liberal judge advancing a partisan agenda. Judge Taylor, 73, worked in the civil rights movement, supported Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and was appointed to the bench by him in 1979. She was the first black woman to serve on the Detroit federal trial court.

She has ruled for the A.C.L.U. in a lawsuit challenging religious displays on municipal property. But she has also struck down a Detroit ordinance favoring minority contractors. “Her reputation is for being a real by-the-books judge,” said Evan H. Caminker, the dean of the University of Michigan Law School.

The government said it would ask Judge Taylor to stay her order at a hearing on Sept. 7.

The Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union — which brought the case in Detroit on behalf of a group of lawyers, scholars, journalists and others — agreed that her order would not be enforced until then, but lawyers for the A.C.L.U. said they would oppose any further stay.

Administration officials made it clear that they would fight to have the ruling overturned because, they said, it would weaken the country’s defenses if allowed to stand.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, at a hastily called news conference after the decision, said he was both surprised and disappointed by the ruling on the operation, which focuses on communications of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

Administration officials “believe very strongly that the program is lawful,” said Mr. Gonzales, a main architect of the program as White House counsel and the biggest defender of its legality in a series of public pronouncements that began after the program was disclosed by The New York Times last December.

“We’re going to do everything we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue,” he said, because it “has been effective in protecting America.”

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, also described the surveillance program as a vital and lawful tool. “The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out,” Mr. Snow said. “The terrorist surveillance program is firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties.”

Democrats applauded the ruling as an important affirmation of the rule of law, while lawyers for the A.C.L.U. said Judge Taylor’s decision was a sequel to the Supreme Court’s decision in June in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that struck down the administration’s plans to try detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for war crimes.

“It’s another nail in the coffin of executive unilateralism,” said Jameel Jaffer, an A.C.L.U. lawyer.

But allies of the administration called the decision legally questionable and politically motivated.

“It is an appallingly bad opinion, bad from both a philosophical and technical perspective, manifesting strong bias,” said David B. Rivkin, an official in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. “It is guaranteed to be overturned.”

Mr. Gonzales would not say whether the program played any role in foiling a plot last week to set off bombs in airliners bound for the United States from Britain. But Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, suggested that it did play a role in the investigation.

In a written statement criticizing Judge Taylor’s ruling, Mr. Hastert defended the wiretapping operation and said that “our terrorist surveillance programs are critical to fighting the war on terror and saved the day by foiling the London terror plot.”

His office declined to elaborate.

Mr. Gonzales said he expected that the ruling would play a role in the debate in Congress over how and whether to change federal eavesdropping laws. But he said the exact impact was “hard to predict.”

Among competing proposals, Republican leaders have proposed legislation that would specifically permit the wiretapping program. Some Democrats, however, have introduced legislation that would restrict, or in some cases ban altogether, the government from conducting wiretaps on Americans without a warrant.

The White House is backing a plan, drafted by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, with the blessing of President Bush, that would allow a secret court to review the legality of the operation.

But in the view of critics, it could also broaden the president’s authority to conduct such operations. Mr. Gonzales said it appeared to administration lawyers that the Specter legislation, if passed by Congress, “would address some of the concerns raised by the judge in her opinion.”

Another element of the Specter legislation would force other lawsuits over the program — like the one brought by the A.C.L.U. in Detroit — to be consolidated into a single action to be heard by the secret court.

Judge Taylor rejected the government’s threshold argument that she should not hear the case at all because it concerned state secrets. Dismissal on those grounds was not required, she wrote, because the central facts in the case — the existence of the program, the lack of warrants and the focus on communications in which one party is in the United States — have been acknowledged by the government.

The government also argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they had not suffered concrete harm from the program. Judge Taylor ruled that the plaintiffs “are stifled in their ability to vigorously conduct research, interact with sources, talk with clients and, in the case of the attorney plaintiffs, uphold their oath of providing effective and ethical representation of their clients.”

Some plaintiffs, the judge wrote, have had to incur travel expenses to visit clients and others to avoid possible monitoring of their communications.

Going beyond the arguments offered against the wiretapping program by many legal scholars, Judge Taylor ruled that it violated not only the 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but also the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether electronic surveillance of partly domestic communication violates the Fourth Amendment. Judge Taylor concluded that the wiretapping program is “obviously in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

The president also violated the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrines, Judge Taylor ruled. Neither a September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda nor the president’s inherent constitutional powers allow him to violate the 1978 law or the Fourth Amendment, she said.

“There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution,” she wrote, rejecting what she called the administration’s assertion that the president “has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution itself.”

Republicans attacked the decision. “It is disappointing that a judge would take it upon herself to disarm America during a time of war,” said Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Judge Taylor did give the government a minor victory, rejecting on national security grounds a challenge to a separate surveillance program involving data mining. That ruling is consistent with recent decisions of federal courts in San Francisco and Chicago.

Judges in those cases drew a distinction between the wiretapping program, which the administration has acknowledged and defended, and the data mining program, which has not been officially confirmed.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Immigrants' Success Story

Here's a note from my more here.

Hey, Everyone -

I was so impressed last night with a family who came to America 28 years ago.

It was in 1978 that St. Mary's sponsored a Hmong family (the Hmong people are a tribe from Laos.) They lived in a house that St. Mary's owned. The father, Pang, later on became the school janitor. The mother, Chia, stayed at home to raise the children. Today neither Pang nor Chia can read nor write English. They speak very broken English. When they arrived in the U.S. they had 5 children rangeing in ages from about 10 down to a baby under a year old.

The culture that they came from was so different, it was very difficult them to learn our American ways. The children learned the English language rather quickly. The oldest girl became the spokesperson for the parents. This kid would have to do such things as go to the doctor with the parents to translate for the parents. The only way they knew how to grocery-shop was to look at the pictures of the foods on the cans. They had a food disposal in the house. When it broke, they stuffed the garbage into the sink and pushed it down with a broom handle. They put their mattresses on the floor, rather than on the beds.

The children went to our St. Mary's grade school, then went on to Xavier High School. Pang, the father, by this time had started working a 2nd job at Appleton Medical Center as a night-time janitor to help pay for their tuition. I'm sure they got some financial aid. Pang is still doing that working that 2nd job. Those kids all went on to college and got many degrees (I will list them later on.) They decided to throw a party to celebrate their accomplishments.

When the invitations arrived, it read that it would be a "Graduation Celebration for the Children of Pang and Chia Xiong" and it was to be held at the Paper Valley Hotel here in Appleton, a place where many people have their wedding dinners, etc. When Sr. Joanne saw that it was at the Paper Valley she said to me, "I feel bad that they're having their party at the Paper Valley." I asked her why and she said because they can't afford that. I told her, "Joanne, with all those advanced degrees that those kids have they probably all have very good jobs and they CAN afford it. I'm happy for them that they can now do what we, native-born Americans, can do."

The party started at 3:00 and ended at midnight. Sr. Joanne, Germaine, and I went together. There were about 300 people there when we arrived. We got there a little late because we had to get the 4:30 Mass at St. Mary's started, then we left. We knew that Hmong parties go on and on, but we were sorry we weren't there for the first 3 speakers.

The first two were Hmong people, both from Minneapolis. The other was an African-American woman who was the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Penn State Dickinson School of Law from 1994 to 2002. They showed a video with pictures from the time when they were little children. They honored their parents by handing the mother a diploma and the father a cap and gown. When he took it from them, he put it to his face and cried.

I could go on and on about the party, but I will just list for y'all the degrees they have received:

Anne Vang-Lo
B.S. - Education, UW Oshkosh
Bon Xiong
B.S. - Psychology, Brandeis University
M.S. - Education, UW-LaCrosse
A.S. - Fox Valley Technical
Ge Xiong-Moua
B.A. - Anthropology/Biology, Mount Holyoke College
M.A. - Education, Concordia University
ThaoMee Xiong
B.A. - Community and Culture, Mount Holyoke College
M.P.A., Columbia University
J.D., University of Pennsylvania
Pla Xoua Xiong-Hang
B.A. - Chemistry, Yale University
M.P.H., University of Michigan
M.D. Candidate, 2009, Wayne State University
Mary Xiong-Thao
B.A. - American Studies, Carleton College
M.B.A., UW-Parkside
Kathy Xiong
B.A. - Psychology, Amherst College
M.A. - Education, New York University

The second one listed above, Bon Xiong, is the only boy in the family. All the rest are girls. And only two of the girls are not married yet - ThaoMee and Kathy. All the married ones have children -- and lots of children. Anne, the oldest one, has 7 kids. Pla, the one who is in Medical School, has a 14 month old little girl and is expecting another baby in November.

This is, indeed, a great American success story.