Confessions of a "Woman Owned Business" Owner

Tama Starr's "Confessions of a 'Woman Owned Business' Owner" (July) made me smile. Decades ago I received a phone call from a representative of the long-departed Mountain Bell, the West's legacy from the AT&T breakup. He had found my name on a list of women in business and wanted to know if I would sign up for their special program for women-owned businesses.

When I explained that two humans, my husband and myself, owned and ran our little research and consulting firm, he told me he could send me work, guaranteed, if we would just incorporate our business with me as the owner and majority stockholder. I told him I was proud of our work and we would be happy to apply through the front door and compete with other businesses—even with (gasp) businesses owned and run by men. But he was in desperate need of WOBs to fill his quotas and said that if I insisted on being a regular business, he had no work for me.

The representative was very nice and eager to sign me up, and he seemed very puzzled when I turned him down; I was the only one of dozens of women who had said no. I won't judge people who sign up for similar programs, but I do take some pride in the fact that our business has never earned a penny in 29 years that was the result of any type of set-aside program.

Pat Wagner
Pattern Research
Denver, CO

Tama Starr accurately portrayed the absurdities of set-aside regulations. For several years I worked for a company that did contract work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The work involved clean-up of Boston Harbor, and set-asides for WBEs (women business enterprises) and MBEs (minority business enterprises) were mandatory for bidding contractors. For one proposal to the state, I interviewed a large environmental laboratory that was certified as a minority-owned business. I toured its facility and met the management to determine their qualifications.

I saw at least a dozen employees; none was a minority. It turned out that the owner, whom I did not meet, was an Asian Indian; according to Massachusetts regulations, this qualified the company as an MBE. Why are Massachusetts citizens responsible for compensating the offspring of those who may have been aggrieved by century-old British imperialism?

It's also ironic that if someone wished to discriminate against this company on the basis of race, the most convenient way to see if it was owned by a minority would be to check that state's list of certified MBEs.

Robert Larkin
Center Sandwich, NH

Tama Starr's article was the most refreshing thing you have published in a long time. Your articles usually leave me feeling depressed, frustrated, or angry. This one left me laughing and optimistic. When injustices become laughable, it is the beginning of hope.

Ardell L.D. Taylor
Patagonia, AZ

Bloody Shame

My husband and I read Caroline Waters' article "Bloody Shame" (July) with interest, as we are both ineligible to donate blood for a period of two years due to our travels.

While our deferral in itself did not come as a surprise, the destination that caused our exclusion did. We lived in Singapore and the Philippines, which both have the dengue fever-bearing mosquito, and Singapore was one of the countries at the heart of the SARS crisis last year. But those locations were not the problem. The reason we were deferred was a one-day visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border of North and South Korea.

Apparently, the DMZ is home to a mosquito that bears a particular strain of malaria that can remain dormant in the bloodstream for up to two years. We were in the DMZ for only one day, in January, in subzero temperatures. It is doubtful that a mosquito would have reared its head in those conditions, but the rule had to be applied, and the blood center will now miss out on our blood donations for two years.

Marie Matta
Colorado Springs, CO