Friday, September 30, 2005

Lost Girls

"Let's ordain Wendy as an honorary Boy."

"Honorary Boy!" the throng cried.

The unanimous cheering caught me off guard.
A bubble of nausea made its way up my
throat and I succumbed to a hiccup. For
there it was, a small voice inside me wondering,
If I was being accepted for who I was, why
did I have to become a boy in the process?

--"The Lost Girls" by Laurie Fox

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


A last difference about that morning was the way her world seemed layered into three different parts, all the twelve years of the old Frankie, the present day itself, and the future ahead when the three of them would be together in all the many distant places.

  --From "The Member of the Wedding" by Carson McCullers

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I'm losing faith in my country.

If you want some idea of how fucked up the United States is, just type "[social issue] cross national" into Google and you'll find a nice study demonstrating that we have higher rates of crime, teenage pregnancy, teenage abortions, underrepresented women in the sciences, poverty, and illiteracy than other developed countries. For example, take a look at the results from a study on teenage pregnancy I found here:

The primary reasons why U.S. teenagers have the highest rates of pregnancy, childbearing and abortion among developed countries is less overall contraceptive use and less use of the pill or other long-acting reversible hormonal methods, which have the highest use-effectiveness rates.

Overall, declines in the adolescent abortion rate between 1980 and 1995 are less prevalent than are declines in the adolescent birthrate. However, the decline in the U.S. teenage abortion rate between 1985 and 1996 was one of the largest in the developed world—the rate decreased by more than one-third (from 46 to 29 per 1,000). Nonetheless, the U.S. adolescent abortion rate remains one of the highest among developed countries.

My inner pessimist conjectures that the reasons why we have less use of the pill and declines in abortion is simply due their unavailability. Rather than provide education, choice, and opportunities for safe sex, the United States relies on abstinence to prevent these social problems. In 1996, Congress attached a provision to welfare legislation that established a federal program to exclusively fund programs teaching abstinence-only. In 2005, Congress ear-marked $170 million for abstinence-only education. Fewer than half of public schools in the U.S. now offer information on how to obtain birth control, and only a third include discussion of abortion and sexual orientation in their curricula. Moreover, these abstinence-only cirricula contain misinformation and other innacuracies, including,

Choosing the Best, The Big Talk Book states, "[R]esearch confirms that 14 percent of the women who use condoms scrupulously for birth control become pregnant within a year." In fact, when used correctly and consistently, only two percent of couples who rely on the latex condom as their primary form of contraception will experience an unintended pregnancy (Hatcher, et al., 2004).

Abstinence is one of the most unrealistic forms of birth control. Certainly, people can be self-righteous about abstinence when they don't have the opportunity for sex, but the human brain has evolved to turn off when reproduction is on the line. The U.S. preaches abstinence to its teenagers, and it has the highest teenage pregnancy and abortion rates of all the developed countries in the world.

I am pro-choice. I am not pro-abortion. I want to see the rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion decline just as much as the pro-life supporters do. I wish that everyone would realize that simply preaching "abstinence" to our country's teenagers is not having the effect that the right would have you believe that it does.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Like a cat, tied to a stick (Part III)

Scene: I'm presenting for my class today. I'm wearing clean, nice clothes with my usual subtle-though-funky fashion sense.

Teaching Assistant: You didn't dress up?

Me: What, you wanted something boobier?

Like a cat, tied to a stick (Part II)

I saw a recent NY Times article referenced here, here, and here. The article is about female students at universities like Yale and University of Pennsylvania who are already planning to opt out of a career to be a stay-at-home parent, or plan to reduce their working hours during their child-rearing years. The article states:

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

It goes on to say,

"I've seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn't, and it's kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it," said Ms. Abugo, whose mother, a nurse, stayed home until Ms. Abugo was in first grade.

Oh yeah, like, I totally know what you mean. This guy?

His mom stayed at home.

* * *

This article is the kind of really poor reporting that has altered the history of our nation. The formula is this: an interview of one of two people lends to the reporter's conclusion about a "trend" taking place in our society today. Consider the following trends:

  • Crack babies: To supplement the "War on Drugs," the 1980's media fostered the notion that thousands of babies all over America were born addicted to crack, and would be a serious burden on our society. Later research showed that babies of mothers addicted to crack had no lasting effects.

  • Welfare mothers: The media likes to report on myths of welfare, on black women with 4 children by 3 different men, yet over 70% of welfare recipients only have 1 child. More welfare recipients are white than black.

When I get my time machine finished, I will go back in time and publish a far better, and more responsible article in the New York Times. It will begin in a similar fashion, that some of today's young women have decided to become stay-at-home mothers, just like millions of women have before them. I won't say "many women," because as a responsible reporter, I will realize that I haven't surveyed the nation's 20 year-old women to determine if a significant portion of women have made this decision.

I will then discuss the options that mother's have, both as stay-at-home mothers and working mothers. I will not pit one against the other in some kind of cat-fight or mud wrestle. I will not vaguely suggest that one is better than the other, because I will recognize that likely every mother will be one or the other at some point. I will point out that despite being an industrialized nation with a strong economy, we still have no federally funded child care like nations such as France, Denmark, and Finland. I will discuss that a lot of research--done as much as twenty years ago by folks like Clarke, Belsky and Steinberg--shows that children who spent time in quality day-care facilities are "seen as being more socially competent and independent." Other more recent reports highlight the positive effects of day care on low-income children, including increased reading and cognitive abilities. I won't scare families from day care by writing about lone cases of child molestation at nanny facilities. I will encourage them to do their research. I will write about the top ten places for women to work, and encourage other companies be as positive towards women.

I will write an accompanying piece, a commentary! I will remind my readers that it's not just women that raise children, but men as well. I will encourage paternity leave as strongly as I encourage maternity leave for companies so to support healthy families in our society. I will remind my readers that families aren't punched from a stamp, that some children have two mothers, two fathers, step-fathers, step-mothers, half-brothers, single mothers, and single fathers. I will help to wake up a nation that has become complacent against one of the most important primitives of society: The Family. I will remind them that women's issues are everyone's issues.

That is, I'll do all of that once I get my time machine finished.

I'll leave you with this little gem from the article.

Ms. Ku added that she did not think it was a problem that women usually do most of the work raising kids.

"I accept things how they are," she said. "I don't mind the status quo. I don't see why I have to go against it."

Forgive me now, while I barf into my shoe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Like a cat, tied to a stick (Part I)

Operation Ivy was an underground punk band in the late eighties. The band was only together for a couple of years before it broke up, a break-up which later on healed to form the punk rock band Rancid. OpIvy is responsible for many catchy tunes, including the following little ditty:

I know that things are getting tougher
When you can't get the top off from the bottom of the barrel.
Wide open road of my future now,
It's looking fucking narrow.


Whatcha gonna do with yourself,
Boy better make up your mind.
Whatcha gonna do with yourself boy,
You're running out of time.

--"Knowledge" by Operation Ivy

I heard the above song today while I was taking my ten minute dinner break between swimming and working. It seemed perfect given the day I've been having, and given the month that America has been having.

My preoccupied mind can be broken into three compartments.

That which is petty: ...why did I just eat those reese's, my thighs are always going to be huge...why can't my computer science building install some fucking tampon am I ever going to graduate if I don't get time to focus on my actual research...why do I have to be so hard on myself...why does my boyfriend put up with me...will I ever have time to have kids and get tenure...why does my dog have to roll in dead animals...

That of local importance: can I increase diversity in computer science...why is my country's president such an incompetent moron...why do so many people own those damn hummers....why does Texas have so many freeways...

That of global importance: ...what is going to happen when the world's oceans rise 5 feet...will my father be the 1 in 3 that dies of avian my country working to make more vaccines so its citizens will be safe...why can't the world's countries just sign the damn Kyoto agreement...

It is the third compartment that gets me into serious trouble. It has been working in overdrive today. I'm not sure if it's my obsessive personality, my predisposition to depression, or my oversensitivity, but when I think about the trouble that the human race has gotten itself into, I fall into a tear-stricken panic. I am paralyzed, and I think, "Why is it all so horrible?" I think, "I can't fix this, nobody can fix this, what's the point of any of this?"

Why do I work so hard to get a PhD in computer science when I'm just going to die anyway? A single life can make no difference, as Milan Kundera so gracefully points out in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." I think only hope for surviving without going all Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys (translation: completely nutzoid) is to hunker down, put my head in the sand for a while, and read about Domain Driven Design.

Exchange Programs

"The Projects" or public housing projects are, "owned and operated by local public housing authorities for occupancy by low- and moderate-income households. The federal government covers the costs of development and the sizable share of operating and modernizing costs not covered by tenant rent payments."

While the federal government providing housing to the poor is a good idea, the notion of concentrating a society's poor all in one location leads to a concentration of social problems. Many have spoken out against the negative effects of the projects, including two teenaged boys who live in a Chicago Housing Project and their documentary entitled Remorse. In 2005, when the Chicago Housing Authority tried to revamp their image with their CHAnge ad campaign, it was hijacked and mocked by a CHAos copy-cat who hoped to put the spotlight on the existing problems with CHA.

The projects have been a sad story about social design. Huge, high-density apartment buildings are located behind the walls of huge interstate highways, segregating the poor from the rich. Consider how Interstate 35, known as the NAFTA highway, cuts through the heart of Austin, separating the affluent University area and entertainment district from the poorer communities (Texas loves their freeways, and watch out any environmentalists who "devastate" their plans).

Newer programs offered by the HUD include tenant-based assistance which "allows eligible households to select their own units in the private housing market and receive a subsidy to cover part of their rent." Programs like these echo the belief that "the best way to improve social conditions tomorrow may be to improve the circumstances and life prospects of low-income children today." Programs which actually help children in terms of their performance of school are those which help their recipients to work, AND subsidize thier income in order to elevate their economic standing. It's not a matter of seizing a recipient's welfare once she gets work, it's about continuing to give her subsidies to help pay for child-care and housing so that she can help her family out permanently. It's about raising children in a safe neighborhood, rather than a high-density slum where drug and gang activity are high, slums hidden away from the rest of the city by insurmountable highways.

* * *

I was thinking of welfare families today as I had lunch on campus. I thought of how much they benefited when they had the opporunity to change their environment. I thought of them as walked two blocks from my building to the little truck that sells sandwiches. While I waited for my sandwich, among the group of men that always people the line of the truck, I looked up when I saw a woman approach the truck to buy a sandwich. In all the times I'd bought sandwiches from the truck, I'd never seen a woman.

My computer science building is located in the heart of the science building quads on campus. I can throw a stone to buildings in which research into self-healing materials, theoretical bio-physics, rocket propulsion, and nanotechnology take place. Women are underrepresented in all these buildings.

Back when I worked, I remember riding on what had been termed, "The Nerd Bird." The early morning flight from "The Silicon Forest" to "The Silicon Valley" generally consisted of men and their laptops headed to whatever conference was taking place in San Jose that week. One morning, I counted three women on the flight, excluding the flight attendants.

I am not suggesting the my environment is anything like the projects. I'm thinking about the general concept of human environments. Our environments are important to our well-being. Our environments tune who we become as people. I'm constantly in an environment of at least 90% men. For the most part, I don't pay attention to it. But sometimes, I look up from my little desk, and I wonder, "What the hell?"

I was wondering about the purpose of having all of the science buildings concentrated in a single place on campus. It makes sense, I suppose. As a science major, I'm going to be taking classes mostly related to science, and I don't want to have to go very far to get to class. In many universities, like my undergrad, this isn't a problem since all the buildings are within visual sight of each other. But for universities such as the one in GradShitTownVille, this is a factor. It also helps for related research groups who want to collaborate. I wouldn't want to walk 20 minutes to a research meeting every week.

Still, I wonder about the benefits of being surrounded by, say, the law building and the art building. At some point, many of the lawyers, the artists, and computer scientists are going to have kids. When they suggest vocations to their children, they will do so based on their own biases. Ever notice how many computer science females have at least one parent who is a programmer?

There are all kinds of vocation biases, many which are perpetuated by the media. For example, I think all lawyers look like:

Yeah, laywers are just a bunch of uptight dorks that wear Ann Taylor sweaters. I would never tell my child that she could become a lawyer, unless of course I saw a bunch of lawyers who seemed like cool, normal people.

Similarly, the general public thinks all computer scientists look like:

It would be impossible to simply move all the buildings around on university campuses. But when the oceans rise 3-5 feet and my campus is a flooded swamp, and after 1 in 3 people die from avian flu, and our society finally gets to the point of rebuilding everything, we may consider how university campuses are designed.

Overall, I think the computer science community would benefit from some kind of exchange program, where we send out representatives to public forums so that people can see how normal and cool we really are. Other groups have tried, but guys like this aren't really helping us.

* HUD program descriptions taken from here.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Last reflections on the conference

I get hit on very rarely. I'm generally not in environments where hitting on a woman makes sense. The bars I do frequent in GradShitTownVille are overrun by half-naked sorority girls, so I can easily slink into the back of the bar unnoticed. I'm perfectly content with this. I prefer being a wallflower to being groped.

The computer science conference I attended a few days back was the last place on earth that I thought I would get hit on. It was during breakfast, sitting at a table with six other male computer scientists. After a series of weird jokes and awkward touching of my arm, the guy next to me delivered the following gem,

I bet you are a Nine Inch Nails kind of girl.

As I excused myself from the table, I replied, "Well, I've always thought 'Head Like a Hole' was a catchy little tune."

Of course, I wasn't sure that I was being hit on. I was running on 1 hour of sleep, and I'm pretty naive about such things. Later, I asked my Spanish friend who also happened to be at the conference, "Erm, was that guy hitting on me during breakfast?" To which he replied in perfect Indigo Montoya pentameter, "He was hitting on you so hard."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Today was a gastronomical sort of day. Thanks to being T-3 days from my cycle, I am compelled to eat my entire weight in food. Unfortunately, I'm also a workaholic, so I generally can't tear myself away from my desk until my stomach is loud enough to interrupt my neighbors, or I fear I might pass out. Just the other day I ate lunch at 4 pm. That usually results in these weird eating binges. Today it was a bag of carrots and two bologna sandwiches for dinner followed up by a scoop of ice cream. To counter the effects of my bizarre binges and my emotional instability, I exercise 5 days a week. As the days have gotten shorter, I've moved from my evening bike rides to evening swimming, from my summer exercise regimen to my autumn one. At one point, I'll start going to Pilates again.

After swimming a half mile (which takes me an embarassing 35 minutes), I was so t-h-i-r-s-t-y. I find it odd to be so thirsty after swimming since I was immersed in gallons and gallons of water, but anyway. I wanted nothing more than to pay 150 yen for one of those satisfying Active Diet beverages that I loved so much while I was in Japan. Instead, I bought some FUZE Green-Tea flavored drink to compensate. It tasted foul. Damn you Coca Cola for your demographic-based products.

In other gastronomical news, I have the results of the recent Pop-Tart taste test suggested by awu. I made two versions of homemade poptarts and bought two versions of the real thing.

1. Strawberry Pop Tarts with festive white frosting and sprinkles

1. Strawberry Pop Tarts with buttery crust (I tried to mimic the presentation with festive sprinkles). Ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, butter, water, Welches strawberry jam, and powdered sugar.
2. Strawberry Pop Tarts with not-so-buttery crust. Ingredients: water is replaced by Seven-Up Beverage (which is how my mother makes her pie crust).

The homemade tarts won hands down. My neighbor put it best when she said, "They taste much better because they don't taste like Pop Tarts." I had to agree. If anything, this helped me realize how disgusting Pop Tarts are. Thank you awu!

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn is one of the best cartoons of all time. A Japanese animation released in 1986, it was dubbed into English. It stars the voice talents of Alan Arkin, Mia Farrow, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury and Jeff Bridges. It tells the story of a unicorn who finds herself to be the very last known unicorn in her world. Armed with a little gossip about a red bull from a zany butterfly, she sets out on an adventure to find her kind.

From a feminist point of view, the Last Unicorn is a fabulous movie. There are an equal number of strong male and female characters, each with his or her own vulnerabilities. The magician, Schmedrick, has a kind heart and is guided by his own home-brewed sense of wisdom, but isn't without haughtiness when his spells actually work. The cook, Molly Grue, is a strong, independent woman though unable to guard her emotions, quick to flare into anger or to break into tears. The prince, able to kill dragons and execute other dangerous tasks, cannot find a way to woo his beloved. The unicorn, though brave and powerful, is a creature confused and sometimes intimidated by how the world has moved on without unicorns. In the end, as prophecied by the butterfly, she is brave, but it seems that almost everyone was a hero. Compare this to Disney movies like "Toy Story" where the only female character, "Little Bo Peep" waves goodbye as all the boy toys go off on an adventure. Or "The Little Mermaid" where Ariel can have what she wants as long as she doesn't talk. Or "Snow White and The Seven Dwarves" where the first thing that Ms. White does after a murder attempt on her life is clean a strangers' house.

These days, the following scence is repeating in my head. In this scene, Schmedrick the Magician and the Unicorn are travelling to the castle of King Haggard, and Molly Grue spots the unicorn from her hiding spot. She confronts the travellers.

MOLLY GRUE: (gasps) No. Can it truly be? Where have you been? Where have you been? (yells) Damn you, where have you been!?
SCHMENDRICK: Don't you talk to her that way!
UNICORN: I am here now.
MOLLY GRUE: (laughs bitterly) Oh? And where were you twenty years ago, ten years ago? Where were you when I was new? When I was one of those innocent, young maidens you always come to? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this? (She begins crying.)
SCHMENDRICK: Can you really see her? Do you really know what she is?
MOLLY GRUE: If you had been waiting to see a unicorn as long as I have...

Recently, I was approached by a professor outside my department to write a paper regarding diversity in computer science education. We'd been having a discussion about the lack of women in computer science, and he pointed out that I have the makings of a good paper on the subject. It's one thing to gripe with my female colleagues about how my department sucks. It's another to have a professor say, "Your knowledge on this issue is legitimate."

I feel like Molly Grue. Entering my fourth year in graduate school at a place where I don't feel a sense of belongness or even particularly welcome, I wonder, "Damn you! Where have you been?!" On the other hand, I'm happy to have a professional relationship with someone who thinks that diversifying cs education is a task that needs dedicated people and resources, that it is a legitimate research endeavor. I'm happy and relieved to finally see the unicorn.

Not very christian

He also promised to reimburse states for the costs associated with taking in people forced out of their homes by the hurricane, telling state leaders, "You should not be penalized for showing compassion."

This is a Christian man? This is a man who wants a "day of prayer" for the victims of hurricane Katrina, and then talks about compassion as exacting a penalty? Let me quote a few phrases from the bible:

John 3:18 - Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Matthew 7:12 - Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

I Corinthians 13:3 - And thou I bestow all my good to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

All over the United States, citizens are offering compassion and charity to the people to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They are travelling south to help with rescue efforts, they are donating clothing and money and blood, they are doing what they can. They aren't worried about the "penalties" of compassion and charity. Whether or not they believe in God, they are certainly acting more "Christian" than the president.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Back when I was an engineer, I developed operating systems. I wrote a lot of very low-level code. Sometimes I worked in the depths of the operating system, as when I implemented the memory manager. Sometimes, I worked on device drivers. At one point I was assigned to write a device driver for an ethernet card. The ethernet card is what allows a computer to access a network and receive data from other computers. There are three modes. In the first mode, "loopback mode", the card can hardwire its output to its input. Loopback mode is generally used for testing purposes for the developer. In the second mode, the card will only listen to data intended for its computer. This is the standard mode for most cards under normal use. In the third mode, it will listen to all of the data being transmitted on the network. The third mode is known as "promiscuous mode."

Though Webster's third definition for the term promiscuity is "not restricted to one sexual partner," promiscuity is associated in different ways with the two genders. There remains fierce debate as to whether male promiscuity is innate--and thus normal--and whether female promiscuity is abnormal or wrong. In all the times I've heard the word used, it's been attribute to women, and generally in a negative way. I'm pretty sure that when my step-father called me a promiscuous bitch when I was 17 years old, it wasn't a compliment.

This is another example of the little things in computer science that, when examined individually don't mean a lot, but when summed up point to a male-dominated field whose internal and external attitudes can often make women feel uncomfortable.

My first experience with "boys do math, girls cook" was when I attended a city-wide TECHNICAL job fair in Portland in 1996. I was just finishing my sophmore year at the University of Portland, and I was looking for a summer internship in electrical engineering. I approached the woman in the Tektronix booth and asked, "Do you have any internship openings." And the woman, at the TECHNICAL job fair replied,

"I'm sorry, we don't have business internships."

I smiled and gently corrected her. "Engineering," I said.

I, personally, can deal with having to correct people in this way. Sometimes it's gentle. Sometimes it's not. Certainly, I never feel like I'm allowed to get angry when stuff like this happens. I never feel like I can voice my concerns in a legitimate way, except with other enlightened men and women in quiet corners of the building. And why? Because of promiscuous mode and all the other little things that point to the fact that I don't "belong" here.

This must change.

I find myself needing a little push.

It's 11 pm and I've just started my work day. This morning I worked with my father to clean up the five truckloads of yard debris from the previous day's tree pruning. The afternoon was spent in meetings. The evening was spent at day one of a conference. I'm sitting in front of my computer with three different projects to work on, two of which involve writing, but my brain is stuck on processing the days events. Pardon me for the blatant clearing of my cache.

I hate conferences. Ideally, they should be a place where smart people gather to talk about a common topic. Sometimes that happens. The benefit that I've gotten from conferences aren't in the big rooms where an author stands in front of everyone describing the vision he wanted to impart in his particular conference paper. It's in the little conversations in the hallways between two people. That's where I find the regular people who don't have all the answers to all the questions, and are interested in finding answers. These are the people who offer their e-mail address with the genuine intent of keeping in touch to discuss domain models or component-based system architecture. Little conversations aside, I usually just feel like a glaring zit on the face of a teenage beauty queen. This conference is no different.

I'm one of the student volunteers for the conference (translation = 10 hours of work for registration fee waiver). As one of the volunteers, I was in charge of helping with registration, mostly because I'm especially good at making eye contact and smiling while talking to strangers. I handed out name tags and t-shirts, signed people up for conferences, and chatted about the drives and flights that helped attendees arrive to the conference. One particular gentleman was new to this conference and found talking to me easier than mingling with a bunch of strangers who all acted like old friends.

"Everybody checked in?" he asked.

"Nope. That's why I'm still standing here. Once everyone checks in, then I can..."

"And then you can..." Yep, he's going to do it. He's going to indirectly reveal to me that he thinks I am just a secretary, or maybe affiliated at the hotel. I'm so embarassed for him right now, "...go home?"

I reply, "No, I'll attend the rest of the conference."

Then the look comes. The same look I got when I said "Noam Chomsky" to the webmaster at the swing dance. It's a look of surprise, confusion, and, with this particular gentleman, a sudden understanding that I am not who he thought I was.

I work every day in a place where I'm the only woman in an entire wing of a building's top floor. I don't mind that there are so few women in my field. I mind all of the stupid crap that results from not having many women in my field. I mind that these are some of the reasons why other women aren't joining the field. And the reasons are all very small when examined independently, but when summed together paint a very patriarchal picture of computer science.

At the conference, one of the attendees was talking about one of the papers he had read. He was explaining that Section I seemed very introductory and that Section II was more technical. He referred to the subject matter as having a "hairier chest." To describe it in this way me feel that only men can understand this technical material. I felt like I didn't belong. I would have liked to pose a question to the speaker. What if I had said that Section II was "boobier" or "titty?" I remained silent, mostly because I've been in a male-dominated world for over a decade, and my skin has thickened to these frustrating comments. Still, they remind me of how far the computer science culture has to go if it really wants to have 50% women instead of 9%.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

You haven't learned anything, have you?

DeMint says he'll announce a bill within the next two or three weeks to create a national All-Hazards Alert System that would take advantage of technological advances in cell phones, BlackBerries, and the Internet to allow government to provide disaster information in real time -- and to get messages back from stranded citizens. As with New Orleans now, "it would be great to know where all the survivors are," DeMint says.

Riiiight. What a good idea. It's such a good idea because everyone has cell-phones, especially poor people like those we are seeing in New Orleans.