Tuesday, July 29, 2008

FYI: Appeal Has Been Filed

If you're following the situation involving the referendum to reverse the gender-identity nondiscrimination law, you will be interested to know that attorney Jonathan Shurberg did file a motion for appeal yesterday.

A circuit court judge ruled last week that the petitions that were submitted for the referendum did not have a sufficient number of signatures on them, but that didn't matter because the complaint was filed too late. There is a ten-day deadline for filing, but the law is not clear about when the ten-day timer starts ticking. Judge Robert Greenberg decided that the complaint should have been filed before or by February 20th. I haven't read the appeal documents, but assume that Shurberg will argue in support of a different deadline for the complaint; previously he has argued that the deadline should occur ten days after a March 6th announcement by the Board of Elections to the County Council stating that signatures have been verified. The complaint was filed on March 14th, and so would have fallen within the 10-day period.

On the Tennessee Shootings

We need to talk about the killings at that Unitarian church in Tennessee. You know what happened, here's the Washington Post discussing it this morning.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn., July 28 -- An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, including its acceptance of gays, police said Monday.

A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson's SUV indicated that he targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because "he hated the liberal movement" and was upset with "liberals in general, as well as gays," according to Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV.

Adkisson, 58, had a shotgun and 76 shells with him when he entered the church Sunday during a children's performance of the musical "Annie." Six adults were wounded in the attack. Rampage Attributed to Hatred of Liberalism

It is tempting to generalize from this case. Well, first it's time to think about that word "hate." I have mostly avoided the topic here, even though what we are dealing with on this web site is the topic of hate, we exist to oppose some people who espouse hateful beliefs.

This is America, you don't have to like everybody, you're free to hate. I don't think anybody has a problem with that. It's not pretty, and there are some of us who try to pull the hatred out of our hearts by the roots, but there are people who cherish it and they are free to feel that way.

Haters don't often use the word "hate." Or if they do, they turn it around, we have heard people in our county for instance say "Love the sinner, hate the sin," as if you could love somebody but hate everything about them. The point of saying this is that the person is claiming not to hate somebody, it makes them appear to be less of a bad person.

It is exactly the same thing to say that you hate somebody as to say that that person is evil. When the President of our country declares that entire countries are evil, and even that they are aligned together somehow in an "axis of evil," he is recommending hatred. He is removing people in those countries from the category of human beings. He is saying it's all right to kill people who populate those countries, and in fact that's what we've done, at least with the first one on the list. Attributing evil to a person is the same as hating them.

There are plenty of people who attribute evil to liberals, and certainly to gay people. Mostly those who feel that way do not become violent about it, they tend to express their hatred in different ways. In our county, we are now looking at a new law that prohibits discrimination against someone on the basis of their gender identity. This law would be unnecessary if there were no such discrimination, but there is -- lots. Again, this is America and if a transgender person creeps you out or offends you, that's cool, you can feel that way, but the fact remains that they are people and if they're trying to hail a cab the cab ought to stop just like it would stop for anybody else.

Some conservatives try to make it sound like hate laws are about thoughts. They like to talk about the "thought police" regulating our beliefs and feelings. They like hating and feel threatened when somebody says they can't act on it. But the fact is, a civilized society has to allow and accept diversity among citizens, you don't have to like everybody but law-abiding people deserve their rights. This is a hard balance to maintain, because if you feel a certain way you will find beliefs that support your feelings, and then you will behave in ways that are consistent with those feelings and beliefs, and the next thing you know somebody's getting the short end of the stick, rudeness spills over into discrimination or even violence.

It is tempting to generalize from this one nutty guy to the whole group of liberal-haters and gay-haters, and in fact it's not a bad idea. You can disagree with liberal ideas and argue with liberal people, you can disapprove of homosexuality and dislike gay people, whatever, but there comes a point when feelings and beliefs are transformed into actions. This sick man only acted out the attitudes that are expressed every day by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and the others. It's not a giant step from hating in your heart to acting violently against others.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Local Republican Leader Apparently Expresses Self Here

We have had a number of illustrious visitors to our blog, prominent members of the community, powerful people. Today it appears we had a comment from a prominent member of Montgomery County's Republican Party.

First, a little background. Last November the County Council voted unanimously to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Council members voted and left the room, leaving a room full of angry shower-nuts. According to news reports, County Republican Central Committee member Adol Owen-Williams II shouted "Heil Hitler! Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature."

This is in reference to a bill that says you can't discriminate against transgender people in certain situations.

I won't comment on the (in)appropriateness of shouting "Heil Hitler" in a County Council meeting, if that's the way the guy feels then I suppose he has the right to say so. You know the leader of one of the main American Nazi groups, Bill White, comes from right here in Montgomery County. Can't say we're proud of that, but they're here.

Shortly after that I blogged one of my Sunday morning self-indulgences, and Andrea posted a comment where she referred to Owen-Williams as a "moron" and talked about him shouting "Heil Hitler" and also about a fist-fight Owen-Williams had gotten into with another local (at the time) Republican.

Eight months later, it appears that Mr. Owen-Williams noticed her comment.

Let me say, I cannot confirm that the comment made on our blog was made by Mr. Owen-Williams. I do see that the same person just started a new blog today, called Adol Owen-Williams, II, with a picture of him, and one post so far, which was written today, titled "For America's sake, we must support John MaCain!!" You never know on the Internet, somebody could be impersonating him. It's his picture, sounds like him from the description, but it could be a fake.

Here is the comment that was left today, with his name, linked to his Blogger profile and blog:
I can't help but notice that when some of you so called "blogers" choose to post an insulting or derogatory comment about someone you've never met, you conveniently choose to do so anonymously; that is the true sign of a thoroughbred pusillanimous coward! Might I suggest that you 20, 30, and 40 something year olds stop behaving like a bunch of preteen social retards. Stop prancing around all day in your underware in you mom's basement attacking complete strangers from a secret and safe distance via the PC you use the remainder of the day to watch porn when you are not anonymously insulting complete strangers. Why not go out into the real world and get a life?

[Comment left HERE]

If anyone has evidence that this quote is not authentic and was not posted here by Mr. Owen-William, please contact us immediately at the email address at the top right corner of this page and we'll do what we can to correct the error.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Muggy Sunday, Nearly August

It's an overcast, quiet morning in Rockville. The family is sleeping, even the dog is trying to stretch this night out. It's been a big week, and I'm going to do something I've done before, which is to go through the open tabs in my browser and tell you what's caught my eye that I haven't mentioned here.

First, I thought you would find it interesting to see this AP story that says that the US is winning the war in Iraq.
BAGHDAD - The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace — a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government. Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost

I'm not going to say anything about that. The story doesn't really say who lost the war, who we beat.

Oh, and here was an interesting story. In California, you know, there will be a referendum to overturn a law that lets gay people marry each other. The Secretary of State there yesterday changed the wording that will go on the ballot.
When Californians get their ballot pamphlets in the mail, they'll see a new description of the proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Proposition 8 on the November ballot had been described as a measure to limit marriage between a man and a woman.

But the Secretary of State's office says that description was changed to reflect a May 15 California Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

The ballot title and summary now describe the initiative as a constitutional change to eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry.

The revised language also says California could lose several tens of millions of dollars in sales taxes if same-sex marriage were banned.

Critics of the measure say the change accurately shows the initiative would take away a current right of Californians. Title for Calif. gay marriage ban changed

The nuts are howling, of course. You can read the new wording HERE.

This one caught my eye. A local MoCo Gypsy is suing the county because they won't let him tell fortunes in Bethesda.
A fortuneteller is suing Montgomery County after he learned he would not be allowed to open a shop in Bethesda because the county bans the business of forecasting the future.

Attorneys for Nick Nefedro, previously of Key West, Fla., say county officials violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and discriminated against his “Roma,” or Gypsy, culture when they refused to give him a business license. Montgomery code dating back to the early 1950s prohibits collecting cash for predicting the future.

“The underlying purpose is to prevent people from being taken advantage of, because it’s a scam,” Clifford Royalty, a lawyer in the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said. Fortuneteller suing to overturn Montgomery ban on forecasting

Luckily no other businesses in our county are scams. All stores sell good quality products at reasonable prices.

Skipping down...
Council Members Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich, who both sit on the economic development committee, said there did not seem to be support for repealing the measure.

“There are a lot more important things for us to worry about,” Floreen said. Elrich said the county should not encourage businesses “that take advantage of people.”

Seems to me there is a big difference between encouraging a business and having a law that says somebody can't do something harmless. Fortune-telling is legal in all the jurisdictions around us, only Montgomery County residents are so helpless they need protection from palm-reading Gypsies taking advantage of them.

Here's a story you might miss, with some interesting implications. The LA Times (I'm skipping the first part):
The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, where researchers have tracked network news content for two decades, found that ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign.

You read it right: tougher on the Democrat.

During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.

Network reporting also tilted against McCain, but far less dramatically, with 43% of the statements positive and 57% negative, according to the Washington-based media center. In study, evidence of liberal-bias bias

I saw one of McCain's tear-stained campaign emails this week, and that isn't what he's saying.

In other election news, something you might want to hear about. From The Post:
Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his opposition to the federal ban on offshore drilling.

Oil and gas industry executives and employees donated $1.1 million to McCain last month -- three-quarters of which came after his June 16 speech calling for an end to the ban -- compared with $116,000 in March, $283,000 in April and $208,000 in May. Industry Gushed Money After Reversal on Drilling

Our Republican readers will see that as good news.

What else ... the people who live on the island of Lesbos filed a lawsuit to stop calling lesbians "lesbians." They lost.

Oh, I almost forgot this one. P.Z. Myers is a biologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, and one of the current crop of strident atheists. He did something this week that caused a lot of people to grit their teeth, but I guess he made his point. He had somebody steal a consecrated Catholic communion wafer, and then broke it up using a rusty nail and threw it in the trash along with a copy of the Koran and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, who is another strident atheist arguing that belief in God is delusional. Myers' point was that these are merely inanimate objects. I guess if you're trying to pick a fight with religious people this is the way to do it! BTW, I am not expressing an opinion about his acts, just relaying it to you as a significant event in the culture wars that we are part of.

Something else you might have missed -- girls do just as well as boys in math, at all ages: No Gender Differences In Math Performance.

This week, as you know, the court ruled that the referendum on the new nondiscrimination law can go forward. The judge ruled that the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever did not gather a sufficient number of signatures, but that doesn't matter because the paperwork complaining about this was not filed on time. I'm sure an appeal is being considered, but don't know what the decision will be on that. It seems to me that the legal fees for an appeal are peanuts compared to the cost of a countywide publicity campaign, and if you can stop it in court it would save everybody a lot of hassle. I think the appeal would have to focus on demonstrating that the law is not clear about when the deadline for filing is. And it's not. A ten-day deadline is specified, but nothing that says when the ten days start.

While I wrote this the clouds cleared away, it is one of those intensely muggy summer days out there. Could be thunderstorms, might hit ninety or close to it. Well, now I can x out of some of these tabs on my browser and start surfing the blogosphere all over again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ruling Summarized

I got a chance to read through Judge Greenberg's ruling. Here's a kind of summary of what he decided. As usual, remember I don't know anything about this legal stuff. Whenever I've dealt with the law, the law won.

He agreed with some complaints about the signatures and not others. Most importantly, he didn't think the signature had to be exactly what is on the voter registration -- that was a big number of signatures, where middle initials were missing, nicknames were used, things like that. He let certifiers certify their own signatures. He did not let certifiers predate their petitions. He did not accept petitions on non-standard forms. He did not accept the Board of Elections' argument that they're not responsible to identify fraud; he said, "While the Board does not consist of a group of handwriting experts, its role is something more than that of bean-counter." Ouch. Following this logic, he threw out a number of signatures that were clearly not signed by the person whose name it was, though the Board had approved them. Finally, he disqualified a number of the "miscellaneous" signatures, where things were just screwy.

In the long run, the judge decided that the CRW had turned in 26,813 valid signatures.

Here's a big one. Judge Greenberg did agree with plaintiffs that inactive voters should have been included in the denominator to determine the required number of signatures. He concluded, "... it is inescapable that five percent of the registered voters in Montgomery County on November 21, 2007, was not 25,001; it was 27,615. Plainly, MCRG [CRW] did not gather enough signatures to meet the five percent threshold."

But -- that's not the end of the story. He continutes: "Plaintiffs, however, judicially challenged the denominator too late..." There is then some discussion of what the deadline should have been etcetera. Basically what it means is that none of the rest of it matters, because the papers weren't filed in time.

The summary line is near the end: "Plaintiffs are not entitled to a more deferential standard than the petition sponsors. Because their request for judicial review was filed on March 14, limitations bars any remedy."

Therefore, the referendum can proceed.

This is a fascinating twist of events. The judge agrees that they didn't have enough signatures, after he's eliminated some shady ones and added the inactive voters into the denominator (I am assuming the reader has been following this situation a little bit -- go back in the blog and read HERE, HERE, or HERE for background.). They didn't have enough signatures, but the complaint was filed too late, so none of it matters. And remember, nobody knows when the deadline actually comes, because the law doesn't define it. Even Judge Greenberg was not sure of the deadline to challenge the denominator.

Judge Greenberg seems to fully expect an appeal. I'm not going to predict, this will depend on factors that are out of my hands but I'd love to be a fly on certain walls this afternoon! My opinion is that it's better to spend a five-digit amount of money now to try to win an appeal than to give up and spend six digits or more fighting in the arena of public opinion. There will be some discussions, trust me, over the next few days. We'll keep you informed.

Judge Rules Against Transgender Rights: Appeal Possible

Judge Robert Greenberg has just issued his ruling on the gender identity nondiscrimination bill referendum. I haven't had a chance to read it closely yet, and what I got was a scanned PDF file, meaning I can't copy and paste from it.

As I understand it, the judge ruled that the complaint was not filed within the allowed filing period. You have ten days after the Board of Elections verifies the signatures to complain, but the problem, as you recall, is that there is no legal standard for when the ten day period starts. The Board doesn't announce their decision to anyone except the person who filed the petitions, so people opposed don't have any way to find out.

I'll read through this more carefully tonight and let you know what the judge said. For now, here's the important part:
It is therefore this 24th day of July, 2008, by the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.

ORDERED, that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the Complaint for Judicial Relief and Declaratory Judgment is hereby GRANTED, and it is further

ORDERED, that judgment is entered in favor of Defendant; and it is further

ORDERED, that this court declares that the petition brought by Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government contains the requisite number of signatures necessary to place Bill No. 27-07, "Non-Discrimination -- Gender Identity" on the November 4, 2008, General Election ballot, for consideration by voters of this county, and it is further

ORDERED, that Montgomery County certify the ballot question and wording thereof for inclusion on the November 4, 2008, ballot no later than August 18, 2008.

There's a very good chance this goes to the Court of Special Appeals immediately.

Several things can happen. One, our side appeals and win, and the referendum is called off. Two, our side appeals and loses, and there is a referendum. Three, no appeal, all efforts go toward winning the referendum in November. Some of the decision will depend on costs -- it costs a lot to keep a legal staff working on an appeal, but it will cost a whole lot more to educate the public on the issue and mount a campaign to win the election.

I'll keep you informed as news trickles in. Right now it's chaos.

CRW Not Happy With Wording

You could've seen this one coming. Turns out the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever don't like the referendum wording that will appear on the ballot in November, if there is a referendum.

Kathleen Miller at The Examiner has the story this time around:
Leaders of a group seeking to overturn a new Montgomery County law that bars discrimination against transgender people object to how local leaders worded a ballot referendum that could overturn the rule.

The referendum's wording, as approved by Montgomery County Council members Tuesday, mimics the language of the law itself, saying: “Shall the Act to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service on the basis of gender identity become law?”

Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for the social conservative group that spearheaded petition signature collection to allow the public to vote on the law, said the ballot measure's language focuses too much on the discrimination angle, and should center more on personal privacy.

Her group, Citizens for a Responsible Government, has told people the law would allow men to enter women's restrooms. The group is an offshoot of the socially conservative Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum that unsuccessfully tried to bar Montgomery public schools from teaching students that homosexuality is a biological trait. Conservative group objects to wording of referendum on transgender law

Oh my. Where'd they get that? There was nothing and is nothing in the sex-ed curriculum that says "homosexuality is a biological trait." Sounds like the reporter let the person she was interviewing define the frame for her.

Oh well, it doesn't matter, that battle's behind us. And I should note that The Examiner has erred consistently, let's say, in the conservative direction regarding the sex-ed controversy. I hope they're going to pay a little better attention to the nondiscrimination referendum.

So the CRW thinks the referendum should talk about "personal privacy" and not discrimination. Wouldn't that be something! The fact is, the law is about discrimination. There is no "personal privacy" aspect to it at all, nobody's "personal privacy" will be affected. They'd like you to think that's what it's about, but they're just making that whole thing up. It is a classic red herring.
County leaders say the law would not change current restroom protocol and changed the measure to exclude “distinctly private and personal” settings after initial protests from the group.

“They make it sound like we are trying to deny these individuals basic everyday rights,” Turner said. “All we are asking is that the citizens of Montgomery County, primarily women and children, be afforded privacy in bathrooms, showers, locker rooms, etc. We are not advocating that anybody be denied a taxicab.”

I should point out that CRW members frequently say that we're exaggerating the importance they place on the "locker-room" aspect of this law. It's not all about locker-rooms, they say, liberals like Teach the Facts just make it sound like that's what we say.

No, in fact, that's what they say. Their web site is notmyshower-dot-net, it isn't keepdiscriminationlegal dot net.

Hold the presses. This just in. We have just reeived a copy of the CRW's proposed wording for the referendum on the ballot: Do you believe that deviants and sodomites and sissy-men in dresses should be allowed to wave their festering penises at our womenfolk and children anytime they want to, and there's nothin' the rest of us normal people can do about it? Huh? Do you? If you do, vote Yes. If you are a decent God-fearing American, vote No.

Let me state the obvious: they need for the issue to be locker-rooms because the people of Montgomery County will never vote to support discrimination on the basis of gender identity. We're not that kind of county. Keeping perverted men out of the ladies room, maybe you could people to vote for that. But that's not what this law is about. The referendum wording may be a little hard to understand, but it does reflect the actual content of the bill in question, and not some fairy-tale the shower-nuts want you to believe about pedophiles and predators in the ladies room.
Mary Anne Arnow, a transgender woman and employee of gay rights group Equality Maryland, said she is not surprised to hear Turner's group has a problem with the referendum's language.

“The fact is the people who are the most conservatively opposed are always going to take issue with anything that validates the public existence or presence of transgender individuals, regardless of political or legislative precedent,” Arnow said, adding that Montgomery followed 13 states, the District, Baltimore City and 90 other local jurisdictions in approving protections for transgender people.

Both sides of the measure are sitting tight right now waiting for Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg to decide whether the November ballot referendum can legally proceed. Gay rights groups argue that the county's Board of Elections improperly calculated the number of signatures necessary to qualify for the November ballot, relying on a percentage of the total number of active voters, rather than registered voters.

I'll have word on that ruling in just a minute.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Referendum Wording Is Out

We are waiting for a judge to rule as to whether there will be a referendum on the ballot in November to reverse the Montgomery County Council's unanimous adoption of the gender identity nondiscrimination bill. He could rule today, tomorrow, everybody's waiting for that shoe to drop. Whichever way he decides, it seems like everyone is expecting an appeal.

It could matter how the text appears on the ballot. Like, it could say, "Should perverted pedophiles and predators be allowed to molest our women and children in public restrooms, yes or no?" Or, one thing that bugs me, it could be so overridden with double-and-triple negatives that nobody knows what it says: "Vote Yes to oppose the rejection of the bill banning discrimination ..." See what I mean? How about this? "Vote No to keep discrimination legal ..."

Well, we don't know if it will be on the ballot, but if it is, we have received wording that has reportedly been approved by the County Council:
Gender Identity Discrimination

Shall the Act to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service on the basis of gender identity become law?

I can't swear this is the real deal, it came to me from somebody who got it from somebody who got it from somebody, but I'd say this is it. So, what's your opinion? Do you think this wording favors one side over the other? Is it too vague? Confusing? Clear enough?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

State Spying on Activists

This whole thing is kind of chilling. The Maryland State Police infiltrated groups of anti-war and anti-death-penalty activists, logged them as potential terrorists, and kept files on them. There was no evidence that anyone in the groups had any intention whatsoever of doing anything violent or out of line, they were basically going to carry petitions and put up flyers.

Here's what The Post had on Friday:
Undercover Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year while Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, documents released yesterday show.

Detailed intelligence reports logged by at least two agents in the police department's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal close monitoring of the movements as the Iraq war and capital punishment were heatedly debated in 2005 and 2006.

Organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils, rallies outside the State House in Annapolis and e-mail group lists were infiltrated by police posing as peace activists and death penalty opponents, the records show. The surveillance continued even though the logs contained no reports of illegal activity and consistently indicated that the activists were not planning violent protests.

Then-state police superintendent Tim Hutchins acknowledged in an interview yesterday that the surveillance took place on his watch, adding that it was done legally. He said Ehrlich (R) was not aware of it. "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state," said Hutchins, now a federal defense contractor. Police Spied on Activists In Md.

No, you don't "do what you think is best to protect the general populace," you do what you can to enforce the law. You'd think somebody in a high-ranking position like "state police superintendent" would understand that distinction, wouldn't you?

I think we should note that Governor Ehrlich was not aware of this surveillance, even though it happened under his administration. And as Paul Gordon at Maryland Politics Watch notes, "our current governor is not off the hook. Nowhere does the Washington Post article say that this odious practice has ceased under the O'Malley administration."

The more you read about this, the creepier it gets. I don't mind if the government watches out for terrorists and dangerous people, but obviously we support the rights of people to organize and express their opinions on controversial topics. Can you imagine having to worry that somebody in your group is a spy? I mean, I shudder to think if the Teach the Facts double-secret cross-your-heart mysteries were ever exposed!

The fact is, this is not activity that can be permitted in a free society. No one in the state police should have permitted it or gone along with it.

If you are interested in this story, I recommend following THIS link to MPW, they're all over it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Rambling: My New Hat

I bought a new hat yesterday for a buck. Let me tell you about it.

Last week I was riding on the Metro, and I noticed a woman waiting for the morning train. She seemed "foreign," that's all I can say, she had a round face and a ski-jump nose, blonde but with a Mediterranean complexion and an air of self-composure that Americans don't tend to have. Dressed nicely but not strikingly, in the understated way that women from certain regions of Europe adopt. She was riding by herself and I did not get to hear her speak, which is how you figure out where someone is from. I have seen her before on the platforms, well when you ride the Metro every workday for fourteen years you do start seeing people repeatedly.

In the evening we crossed paths again. I don't know where she got on, but she was on my car. I was sitting in the last seat on the train (which is what I try to get), and I was surrounded by a family speaking French. Beside me was a breathtaking adolescent girl with big dark eyes; her mother and little sister sat in front of us. Brother stood in the aisle -- I was amused to watch him try to tear a piece off a loaf of Safeway French bread, he may have wondered why they call it that. He shouldn't have been eating on the train, and that usually does annoy me, but it's tourist season and lots of people do things like that, eat on the trains, stand on the left, block the turnstiles. The family was all blonde, except the brother's hair was light brown and there was another sister, maybe fifteen, sitting across the aisle, who had dark hair and limpid dark eyes. I'll tell you, I'd like to get a look at her in four or five years. They were a lovely, well-behaved family, and if you ride the Metro during tourist season I think you know what I mean there. Not every glassy-eyed tourist is a Pure Pleasure to ride with, you might say, some are a pain in the you-know-what.

They were somewhat agitated, looking at the Metro map and then out at the signs of each station we passed through, so I asked them what station they were going to. The girl next to me and the brother immediately explained that they were going to Bethesda. They spoke perfect English and understood me perfectly. I asked them where they were from, and they said "France." I noticed that they pronounced it in the American way, and not "Frongs," like French people say.

The foreign lady I had noticed in the morning stood by the door of the car and watched them; it's funny how the locals sometimes look out for lost tourists in the Metro system. As the family jabbered among themselves I heard the phrase "Friendship Heights" several time, and I assumed they understood that their station was the one after that. I talked to them and realized they had no idea how far that was, so I told them about how many more stops it was and said I'd let them know when we got close. I was working on reviewing a paper on the train, which is typical, but I kept track of the stations for them. I pointed out when we got to Friendship Heights and they were up and ready when the train pulled in at Bethesda. The whole family was very gracious in nodding to me and thanking me for helping them. The foreign lady and I both got off at Twinbrook.

Yesterday morning my wife and mother-in-law (who is staying with us this month) and I went out to yard sales. We did pretty well, I found a couple of unusual Tarot packs and my wife bought a box of boxes of beads and sewing things. Also, we found a cane for her mom for two bucks, which was something she needed, it was a nice little short one, just perfect for her. At one house the guy seemed to know us, but I didn't remember him, he was like, "Oh, hi, how ya doing!" My wife thinks we knew him from the grade school, which would seem right, but that was a long time ago. He was collecting money for Haiti. At another yard sale there was a guy about my age (approx. 1 million years old) who plays drums. I yacked with him for a while and got his email address and phone number. I play with a bass player in the neighborhood, and it would be really cool if we found a drummer right here around the corner who could play with us. You might see us on Ed Sullivan someday, and now, a really big shoe, Gerry and the Atrics. What? Ed Sullivan's not on any more? Oh.

We went to another house where when I walked up I noticed a little drawing with deep red ink on a blue mat, it seemed to be a stylized seated woman with her head bowed. A young man and woman were minding the store, and I asked the guy if one of them was an artist. He pointed to the lady, she was in her early twenties I guess, I am tending to refer to her as a "girl" but that's because I am so old relative to her, and I asked her about the drawing. "Oh, that's my mother's," she said. "So your mother's an artist?" "Oh, no, my dad is the artist, but that drawing is one she got in Mexico."

There were some hats on a table and I tried one on and my wife said, "That looks good on you." Let's say, I don't hear that a lot. Also, it was my size, seven and three-eights, which is unusual. Also, it seems that in recent years the sun has figured out how to penetrate through my hair and burn the top of my head. Also, the hat was a dollar and appeared to be new.

Prominently standing on the table was a book of text and drawings by Antonin Artaud. This <adjective_has_not_yet_been_invented> Frenchman is not the kind of author you typically see at Rockville yard sales, I guess you could say. I pointed to it and said to the young lady, "Somebody here has cultivated tastes." She said, "That would be my mother."

It is really interesting to go to somebody's yard sale and see the things they have picked up in their lives, and the things they are willing to part with. Mostly, you know, you see the same old stuff, with some variations. Every house has some kind of surprise. This house had lots of surprises.

While I was looking at a piece of Mexican folk art, the young lady went in and brought her mother out. And wouldn't you know, it was the foreign lady from the Metro. I said, "I saw you on the Metro," and at first she looked at me like, everybody sees everybody on the Metro, Jack, you gotta do better than that! But then she said, "Ah, you were sitting with those French people." She explained (in a decidedly Spanish accent) that she is half Spanish and half French, and though she grew up in Spain she speaks and understands French, so she knew what they were talking about. After a few seconds I let my wife take my place in the conversation, talking about our trip to Spain and so on, and I looked over the treasures I had not seen yet.

I am trained in science, in the use of inferential statistics to identify causality, in the use of sample statistics to make estimates of population parameters. I know something about probability, about randomness and chance, I run with a crowd where we use the word "stochastic" in ordinary conversations. Never mind that, as a human being I find that it is important to me to let coincidences illuminate my life. Sometimes things happen and you don't know why -- like here's one: two different people last week talked to me about the Spirit album "Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus." I have not heard that album mentioned for decades, and then there it was, two entirely unrelated individuals mentioned it. When something like that happens, there is a part of me that tunes in and asks, what is the lesson here?

Science assumes that events cause other events, generally through physical contact. In recent years the trend has been to look at complexity, the effects of great numbers of causal forces acting simultaneously. The useful word in that discussion is "emergence," which is a phenomenon that happens when many lower-level causal interactions produce a higher-level phenomenon. A cloud, for instance, emerges from the change of state of gazillions of molecules under certain conditions. A human body develops out of a single fertilized egg though the actions of millions of genes directing the synthesis of proteins, many simultaneously, each one affecting the growth of the embryo and all of them together interacting in a way that is described as "the edge of chaos," that embryo growing and being born and raised in a society of similar beings to produce the living breathing emergent phenomenon we call a "person." The thing about truly emergent effects is that they are impossible to predict. You could never take a set of human chromosomes and say, this is going to be Johnny who likes Insane Clown Posse and is good at badminton and calculus. You could never map out a region of the sky and say "At 11:37.15 a cloud will form here."

Emergent things, when they happen in life, seem uncontrolled and surprising. Think about a game like billiards, or even chess, where you have a small number of pieces and strict rules about how they can behave (billiards will include the laws of physics and Euclidean geometry). Even with such a stripped-down set of possibilities, every pool game, every chess game, can be different. You play just to see what's going to happen. Possibilities in the real world, continuous in extension and unbounded in size, teeming with the multitude of objects and their combinations and movements, are uncountable, unthinkable. Even given the constraints of physical law, just about anything can happen, including amazing coincidences.

It seems to me there is another factor here, which is the mind. Scientists can talk about the world in empirical terms, and ordinary people do, too, we talk about what size nut you need for that screw, or describe what happened at the scene of the accident as if it were a real scene, but really all we have is some sort of representation of the world. The problem with solipsism is that it is not only absurd but correct. The same neurocognitive mechanisms that create a world out of sensory information create dream-worlds without it, and the dreamer rarely realizes his world is not the real one that is validated by social consensus. Since all we know is a representation, it cannot be proven that all this is anything more than a dream, and sometimes human life operates under a set of rules closer to dream-rules than physical ones.

We are coming into an important presidential election. Two guys want you to vote for them in November, and they're doing all they can now to win your vote. You could decide based on real-world features: how does each candidate feel about the war, the environment, the economy, privacy and citizens' rights, and so on. A "campaign" could just be the publication of a list of positions, and people would have their own beliefs and they could go down the two guys' lists and see who comes closest to doing what they want.

People don't do that.

Apparently the appeal of George W. Bush, when he had appeal, was that he was a guy you'd want to sit down and have a beer with. He's the last kind of obnoxious frat-boy I'd ever want to have a beer with, but apparently a lot of people felt that way about him. Importantly, a lot of people who feel that way would actually cast their vote for the individual to run the entire country based on which candidate they'd most like to have a beer with.

See, we're not in a world of causation any more, where decisions are made by creating logical links between facts. We are now under the rules of the dream-world. They took this buffoon, put him in a flight suit, posed him on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and took his picture. The Commander Codpiece picture represented a nice heroic archetype, that's the way you win votes in the dream world! Do you remember when the President was wearing those weird uniforms, back at the start of the war? Do you remember all the photographs where the Presidential seal or some other round illuminated object was behind his head, so it looked like a halo? The guy was marketed as a dream character and that worked.

Several hundred years ago some philosophers had the insight that you could live your life by the laws of logic. You could put some effort into gathering accurate facts, you could study the chains of causation and learn how to produce desirable effects and avoid undesirable ones. There was an assumption that people would prefer the good over the bad, we'd prefer to live in comfort rather than misery for instance; though sometimes those things were hard to define, it seemed that you could make conscious decisions based on known facts that would guide your life toward prosperity and happiness.

The idea caught on, with many results. The young United States were organized around these kinds of principles of reasonable living, the explosion of technology and science of the past two hundred years or so is a direct consequence of the shift from dream-world thinking to Enlightenment thinking. But it never caught on entirely. First, I think it is possible that the purely rational life leaves something to be desired. Everybody needs love, adventure, thrills, rock and roll. Everybody needs a break in the routine.

But there's more than that. We could rationally build "escape valves" into our social world, and maybe that's what we do with art and music and war and other things. But it would be best to develop a theory of causality that included human behavior, including the tendency to act irrationally sometimes. There is nothing rational about a war, about going into people's houses and raping their children and then killing the whole bunch of them, about bombing city blocks of buildings full of innocent people, but we do it, the American people accept it, in fact nearly half of us think it's a terrific idea. Do we have a way of understanding this sort of thing? How did we accept that an entire country was "evil?" It seems that everybody lives partly in the dream-state and partly rationally, with some people favoring one more than the other, and some societies or Zeitgeists favoring one over the other.

In a rational world language would be algebra. Symbols would be applied to discrete things, verbs would describe their actions and interrelationships, sentences would be formulas. But language is not algebraic, not much at all. Words are not rationally assigned, words come to have meaning and the meanings evolve with time. The words we use today come down from the Romans and the Vikings, they reflect the sounds of our cultural ancestors more than any logical scheme for encoding the world and the things in it. You wouldn't want to speak in algebra, the perpetuation of culture through spoken and written language is not only fun but it is essential to us as persons in ways we can hardly understand.

So rationality has the disadvantage right from the start. Romans and Vikings, great. It seems to me we have to find a way to make rational decisions that take into account the phenomenological richness of real existence as irrational human beings, there's no joy in pretending to be robots but we can use logic to fortify the structure of our lives and to help us make important decisions. There will be catchy archetypes and irresistible images, and there will be rational discussion of the implications of seeing things a certain way.

America has polarized into dream-world people and real-world people, and it is impossible for them to talk to one another. The keyword for the dream-world is "faith," which means "belief without evidence." People who live in that dream-world see a battle between good and evil raging around them, they blow their leaders up into mythical heroes, they see their opponents as disgusting subhuman creatures -- just listen to Anne Coulter talk about "liberals" sometime. I don't know how this happened, but I can see it won't be resolved through discussion and debate; you can't debate a person who clings to beliefs without evidence. In the long run, the superiority of the reasoned life will be demonstrated, I think, and in the short run we just have to fight for what's obvious and right.

Friday, July 18, 2008

MPW On The Politics of the Referendum, Part Two

Marc at Maryland Politics Watch has posted Part Two of his discussion of the referendum to re-legalize discrimination against transgender people. This time he focuses on the politics of it. You know I'm not an especially political creature, but I find it interesting to see how the wheels of bureaucracy churn away at something like this that affects real people's lives in a personal way.

It is sometimes hard to imagine why it is better to elect representatives than to simply have people vote on the issues. The effect should be the same, right? Majority rules in either case. Our current controversy demonstrates exactly why it is better to elect representatives.

First Marc discusses the important topic of using referendum initiatives instead of legislative action to make law, using California as an example. In that state, he says, "As of 2003, 85% of California’s over $100 billion budget was controlled by state initiative and not the legislature and governor."

I'm skipping down into his post, you should follow the link and read it all.
The biggest problem with the growth of ballot initiatives is that complex issues of public policy are being boiled down to single paragraphs on ballots, thirty second commercials, and knee jerk reactions by voters. The latest example is a Colorado ballot initiative which would declare a fertilized egg a person for the purpose of constitutional rights. That’s an important issue, but probably one that should be informed by oversight hearings, scientific panels, and careful deliberation, not attack ads.

Unfortunately, Maryland seems to be joining the ballot initiative trend with not only the transgender referendum, but also the slots referendum which I consider an abdication of responsibility by Annapolis. Our country and its states are famous for democracy, but that word does not appear in the US Constitution. Republic does, because we elect representatives to go to Washington, DC and state and local capitals to do the hard work of research and deliberation on matters of public policy. They do not always do it well, but it is their job and instead of taking it off their hands through ballot initiatives, we need to hold them accountable at elections.

The post ends up in a good readable analysis of the situation from a high-level perspective, and a word of conclusion. Hope the bloggers at MPW don't mind me cutting-and-pasting from their site -- follow the link and check them every day, they keep good up-to-date discussion flowing there on issues that affect us here in Maryland.
Rewarding the Far Right
Now all my reasoned policy and political process discussion gets cast aside in favor of cold, partisan politics. I do not believe that most opponents of the transgender bill are discriminatory, but I do think they are discomforted. As with many white Americans when it comes to African American equality and many heterosexual Americans when it comes to gay rights, they do not hate, they just do not know. The problem is greatly enhanced with transgendered issues because there are fewer and people are less likely to meet and know them. With time, as with these other communities, understanding will grow. Just as with discrimination against African Americans, homosexuals, and other groups, there will always be stragglers, but change will come.

However, those who will be rewarded should the referendum succeed are not just the discomforted. Some are discriminatory, and many more are just politically motivated. They will revel in the success of the referendum regardless of the policy because it comes in liberal Montgomery County. They will crow on talk radio and use it as a tool to raise more resources and recruit new members. The same organized right wing groups have already been rebuffed by the Maryland courts over the sex education curriculum. They need to be defeated here too or they will be empowered to challenge progressive Democrats throughout the County in 2010. Would they win much? Probably not, but it is a fight that could be entirely avoided by defeating the referendum.

For policy and political reasons, I oppose the transgender referendum. But, as my contracts professor always said, “reasonable minds can differ.” I hope as the debate continues we remember that it is reasonable that we need to be, not prejudiced or dogmatic.

This is an important point. As in other controversies we have talked about here, it is possible to discuss various aspects of the nondiscrimination bill intelligently. There may be legitimate reasons not to extend protection to transgender people, and there may even be legitimate reasons not to protect any groups at all, there may be details that should have been excluded and ones that should have been included. We can discuss those things, it's good for the community to find a balance that everybody can live with.

It is not true that passage of the bill will cause young girls to be raped all over the county, as one loudmouth suggested, or that predators and pedophiles will start hanging around ladies locker-rooms. If we need to have a discussion on the topic, then let's go ahead and have it, but you're going to have to figure out a way to keep the radicals from dominating the conversation, no matter what. Their goal is not to find a reasonable solution to a problem, but to shut down discussion altogether. You want to include the entire community in the debate, but that presupposes good faith, it is impossible to include people who just shout out the first thought that comes into their mind.

We should have a ruling soon. Maybe there won't be a referendum.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

MPW Comments on the MoCo Nondiscrimination Bill

[Update: it was just pointed out to me that Adam isn't writing this series, but Marc Korman]

Adam Marc at Maryland Politics Watch has started a two-part series on what he calls the "Transgender Non-Discrimination Act." It is a very informal discussion, where he starts out talking about the bill over dinner with his dad and ends up studying the bill and considering it from various points of view.

I'm going to cut and paste one section of his post here for you -- if you are following this topic then you will want to follow the link above and read his full post. He seems to expect this to generate some comments, too, probably because he sees what happens over here!
So Why All The Controversy?
I think to most people, those protections sound sensible. I have heard two major complaints about what the bill does. The first is on whether or not employers will be able to control the appearance of their employees. The second is about restrooms, which has monopolized most of the coverage of the legislation.

Regarding employee appearance, the bill specifies that an employer may require an employee to conform to reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards. Insofar as those requirements do not violate state or federal law, are consistently applied, and allow employees to dress consistent with their gender identity, the business can impose appearance requirements. I believe that means they can require their employees to dress neatly and in sync with the rest of their employees, but still leaves some discretion and rights to the employee. I am not entirely sure why there is an issue here. I mean, why do I really care what my cable repairman, doctor, or waiter wear, as long as they act in a professional manner and do their jobs?

The more controversial issue is about restrooms. While being considered by the County Council, the issue of restrooms and locker rooms drew the most interest. There was a concern that the legislation would lead to men, or those who appear as men, going to the bathroom in the ladies room or vice versa. Or that men, or those who appear as men, would change in the women’s changing room.

Speaking from nothing but gut feeling, my impression is that even a transgendered individual would probably end up going into the changing room that most conforms with their physical appearance. The bill also makes no changes to sexual harassment or assault law, so if any individual, transgendered or not, acts inappropriately in one of these rooms then they could be subject to prosecution. But if that is not enough, the bill also specifies that the bill does not apply to accommodations that are distinctly private or personal, which the Human Rights Commission can easily define to include restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms. Enhancing that interpretation is that the Council removed a provision explicitly allowing transgendered access to accommodations consistent with gender identity, demonstrating that they did not intend to allow that type of access.

It's always interesting to hear someone's interpretation of the bill. Adam Marc says that part one -- today's post -- deals with the "policy grounds" of the bill, and part two will deal with the "political grounds." Twill be interesting to see how he sees that.

Nuts Nearly Ready to Give Up

This does sound encouraging!

Out in California they've extended their marriage law to include same-sex couples, and certain "types" are sponsoring a referendum to exclude them again. I wonder what kind of guy is afraid his marriage will be trouble if some gay people tie the knot, well, I guess I don't need to spell out the absurdity of all that. Anyway, there was a ruling yesterday that makes it pretty sure that California voters will decide in the November election whether to amend their constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

You can imagine, the Family Blah Blah groups are beating their drums, trying to get their gazillions of true believers to get out and vote against allowing people of the same sex to marry. You know this is one of their favorite issues to get their noses out of joint over, heaven forbid a couple should marry and settle down just because they love one another.

This newsletter called OneNewsNow has an article about the referendum where they interview Donald Wildmon (and man, I wish I had a catchy name like "Wildmon," everybody could call me "Wild-Man" and I would have been so cool back in school...) and he seems to think it's nearly time to give up on some of this ridiculousness:
Dr. Donald Wildmon is founder of the American Family Association and an organizer of the Arlington Group. He says passage of the California marriage amendment is critical.

"If we lose California, if they defeat the marriage amendment, I'm afraid that the culture war is over and Christians have lost," says Wildmon, a 30-year veteran of the culture war. "I've never said that publicly until now -- but that's just the reality of the fact.

"If the homosexuals are able to defeat the marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, then the culture war is over and we've lost -- and gradually, secularism will replace Christianity as the foundation of our society," he adds. Wildmon: Prop. 8 vote crucial in culture battle

It sounds like if the referendum fails the nuts will give up. Would that be cool, or what?

Ah, but he does leave a loophole, this is very sly. In that last paragraph he says, "If the homosexuals are able to defeat the marriage amendment..." Okay, let's say that gay and lesbian people probably make up less than ten percent of the population, even in California. So when it comes to voting on things, it seems almost impossible for them to win anything! Even if there is high turnout of gay people -- and you can bet there will be, for this -- there is no way ten percent of the population can win an election by themselves.

See what he's getting at? He could have said, "If the sensible people of California are able to defeat the marriage amendment..." Because that's who's going to vote against this stupid law. Gay people can't do it, but if intelligent people, fair people, people who care about others, people with a strong sense of morality and justice, and people who believe in freedom and dignity will vote against it, then I do have the feeling the initiative referendum will fail.

As it is, when the bill fails he can always say "but it wasn't defeated by the homosexuals," and then he can keep calling for those all-important donations to keep the culture war going.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Good Story on Page One of the Post Today

I'm sure you saw this on the front page of The Post this morning, but we should be looking at it together. I'm a baby boomer, approximately one million years old, we used to have to play the old crank-handle video games when I was a kid. When I was in high school -- and I went to a pretty big school -- I don't remember there being one gay kid. There certainly wasn't anybody who was out about it, and I don't even remember there being rumors. It wasn't something we hushed up, it was just something that never occurred to us. I'm sure there were gay kids at my school, and I'll bet it occurred to them, but for most of us homosexuality was something exotic and weird, something they might have in New York City or someplace, there wouldn't be somebody at our school like that!

So it has been amazing to me to watch my own kids growing up through high school and accepting their gay and lesbian friends without question. It isn't something they make a big show of, they have some friends who speak Spanish, some with jobs, some with cars, tall ones, short ones, some who are gay. A bunch of kids hanging out together don't seem to distinguish in any noticeable way. I'm not saying all teens are like that today, but I have seen a gigantic shift since my generation came through the torture of adolescence. Nowadays it looks like the worst pressure comes from adults, not necessarily family but sometimes.

Front page of The Post:
School's out, and Saro Harvey and his best friend, Samantha Sachs, are hanging out in his Arlington County bedroom. She is slouched across his bed, and he is poised on a chair, posture-perfect, wearing dark, skinny jeans and a ruffled shirt meant for a girl. A rust-orange purse he sometimes carries hangs behind the door.

The 15-year-olds were voted most popular last spring in their section of ninth grade at Wakefield High School. Still, Saro knows there are those on and off campus who don't like him, who never will.

He has grown so used to the stares and laughter of strangers that their insults slip off his 118-pound frame like an oversize shirt.

I think I've dealt with it so much my whole life that it really doesn't bother me anymore, not as much as it used to," Saro says. "If you have a birthmark on your leg for so long, you don't even notice it."

Saro, who first said he liked boys to a classmate in sixth grade, is like many of today's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths who openly discuss their sexual orientation and identity with friends, and sometimes family, before entering high school. In doing so, experts say, these youths are escaping the isolation of generations before them but also finding themselves vulnerable to harassment -- or worse. A California eighth-grader who expressed interest in asking another boy to be his valentine was fatally shot in February in a case that drew national attention. Owning His Gay Identity -- at 15 Years Old

There's a nice video at The Post web site, too. Follow the link to watch it.

Skipping down ...
While children are coming out younger, studies show that they are doing so in schools where staff members have received little training in the area, where their fellow students use such language as "That's so gay" every day to express dislike, and where anti-bullying policies often don't exist or don't specifically protect students on the basis of sexual orientation.

In May, Maryland became the 11th state to enact a law to protect schoolchildren from being bullied because of sexual orientation. The District has had such a law since 1973; Virginia does not have one.

It seems kids are coming out at a younger age, as the stigma wears off and being gay ceases to be something you have to hide. Much as some Family Blah Blah types don't like to think it, a lot of gay and lesbian and transgender people know they're different at an early age. There are social pressures to conform, but less than there used to be.
A generation ago, the typical coming-out story for a young person involved a college student and distraught parents, said Lindy Garnette, executive director of Metro DC Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Now, she said, the more likely scenario involves a minor living at home, and the questions from parents have evolved from panicky to pragmatic. "What do I do when my 16-year-old lesbian daughter wants her girlfriend to spend the night?" some have asked. "What about if she wants to go to an all-girl sleepover?"

Emily Harvey, Saro's mother, said she long believed that her son was gay. When he told her at the end of eighth grade that he liked boys in addition to girls, she said it was a relief.

"I think he really became complete the day he told me that," she said. "It really made him be more comfortable in all aspects of life."

I'm afraid this is getting a little long, but there is one more section that I think is really interesting -- the parents.
What did surprise her, however, was "how far out there" he was in style and expression. She said she sometimes asks him to tone it down, not because it bothers her, but because she has seen how it bothers others. She notices the stares from strangers and the way children ask innocent, yet hurtful, questions, such as, "Is he a girl?"

"For an average kid," Emily Harvey said, pausing on the adjective before continuing, "for an average kid, you don't really have to say, 'Maybe the ruffled shirt is not a good idea.' If he was going through a punk stage and dyed his hair purple, it would not be the same conversation as, 'Maybe you shouldn't carry my purse to school.' "

"I worry about him all the time," she added. "All the time."

Her immediate fear: Will someone hurt him? Her long-term concerns: Will he find someone who loves him for him? And if he does, will he have the same rights as everyone else?

Saro's father, James Harvey, said he loves his son but confesses that he has faced his own prejudices as he watches Saro change.

"Sometimes I have the feeling I want to toughen him up," James Harvey said. "It's something I completely don't understand."

He said he struggles to grasp what "triggered" Saro's interest in the same sex. Had his son been molested? he questioned. Could this be just a phase?

The mother is caring and protective, the father would like to get a handle on how this happened.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Morning Fever

This might not be as long as some Sunday-morning ruminations. I woke up this morning with a temperature of 102.9. Yesterday it bounced back and forth between about 99.5 and 101.6 or so. You should see me sitting here shivering, with the thermostat set to nearly eighty degrees!

There don't seem to be any real symptoms with this, I have a dull headache off and on but basically I just feel crummy. And man, this is rotten, getting sick on the weekend! What a dirty deal.

The final hearings on the gender-identity nondiscrimination referendum were held this week in the old courthouse in Rockville. I described the testimony as "mind-numbing" at one point, but mostly it was fascinating. Yes, there was a part where they had to show one page of petitions after the other where somebody had printed one name and signed a different one or something, but generally the two lawyers were well informed and argued well on their feet, and it's fun to watch them work the issues, each side telling the story so their protagonist is the good guy. This was complicated by the fact that the Board of Elections' lawyer needed to make it clear that he was not representing the bigots who ran the petition drive, but the Board who verified the signatures.

The law is clear, and a lot of signatures did not meet the requirements -- I think the lawyer said forty percent didn't. Of course the judge will decide how to interpret the law, and nobody has any idea how the ruling will go. He doesn't feel good about rejecting signatures because somebody left out their middle initial, but that is what the law says. Some of the things were bizarre, whole pages filled out with the same signature, lines without any name or signature at all verified as registered voters, some were relatively petty but still in violation of the regulations.

There was also the new thing, the number of signatures required. The Board of Elections told the CRW they needed so-many, and they really needed quite a few more than that. Turns out the Board had derived the target number from "active" voters and not "registered" voters as required by law. I sympathize if they complain that the Board told them the wrong thing, but the law doesn't say "get however many signatures the board says," it says "get five percent of registered voters." Ironically, the Board's lawyer tried to say that the plaintiffs had missed a deadline for complaining about this, by saying that the actual numbers were available on the Maryland State Board's web site. But that means their side should have known too, funny how that works out. There's probably a Latin term that you learn in law school that means "argument that backfires on you."

The judge will rule soon, maybe this week but there's no guessing. Two things might happen. He might rule that the signatures are valid and there were enough of them, and the referendum will go on the ballot in November. Or he might decide that one or many screw-ups justifies calling it off.

The shower-nuts want us to believe it is somehow more "democratic" to have the citizens of the county vote on the bill. The problem here is that the average citizen doesn't know anything about gender identity, or care. It is estimated that about one tenth of one percent of people are transgender, and that's not very many people. For most folks it's not worth putting a lot of energy into learning about it. You can be sure, if it does go to a referendum, that they'll try to twist the issue around to predators and pedophiles in the ladies locker-room, like they did when they were gathering petition signatures. And what that means is that somebody is going to have to spend a lot of money and a lot of effort to educate the public. People will need to learn what the law is really about, which is discrimination. The public will learn about the kinds of discrimination that people with unusual gender identities deal with, and why there is a need for such a law. But the hard part will be educating the public about gender identity, about transgender people as people. The sad thing is that this is a lot of work, and the County Council already did this, they studied the issue, got the facts, and made a well-informed decision.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bush Brags: We Can Be So Proud

Did he really say this?
It was his final summit with the Group of 8, the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia as well as the United States. President Bush, the most senior member of the group, was attending his eighth summit, and for years he withstood pressure to take a firmer stand against global warming.

It was the topic on the minds of summit partners and demonstrators.

His final words to the likes of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

That was the report from the British press, citing "senior sources" who said Bush made the private joke as he was about to leave Japan on Wednesday. Bush to partners: 'Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter'

I could see if he wanted to make a joke about the world's greediest or richest country, something a capitalist could brag about. But "the world's biggest polluter?" Is he proud of that? I can't believe that any American would see that as a positive thing, even if you were in favor of mining all the oil in the planet. I would think anyone would feel a little bad about the mess we're making, even if that feeling is overwhelmed by the thrill of profit-making.

The rest of the world thinks we're all like that, you know. They were sympathetic after the 2000 elections, but when we re-elected this guy in 2004 we lost all credibility as a society.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Channel Seven Does Okay

I should mention that Channel Seven's news story last night about the hearing in Rockville was fine. Reporter Greta Kreuz has been known to be a little biased in her coverage of things having to do with gay and transgender people, so when I saw her at the courthouse yesterday I did not expect the best, you might say. I also overheard part of an interview where she was talking to somebody about men going into the ladies room, and expected that to be part of the story. But it wasn't. Well, only a little teentsy bit near the end.

Here's how it starts on the Channel Seven web site:
Supporters and opponents of Montgomery County's new law designed to protect transgendered people met in a Montgomery County court room Wednesday in a dispute over plans to put a referendum aimed at overturning the law on the November ballot.

At issue are the nearly 27,000 petition signatures gathered by opponents of the law, who say voters would overturn the council-passed measure if given a choice. The lawsuit seeks to have 12,000 of those signatures thrown out.

"There are very specific requirements in the election code. They weren't followed, and the board of elections has taken the position that they don't have to check," said Jonathan Shurberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "There are a lot of problems. There are a lot of signatures with problems."

The plaintiffs claim many of the signatures appear to be in the same handwriting, or that spouses wrongfully signed for each other. Many signatures were incomplete, missing, or otherwise questionable, the group contends. Transgender Law Controversy Heads to Court

There's more, it's a pretty good story.

Again, there's that thing at the end: "the group contends." C'mon, everybody saw the documents projected on a big screen, there was stuff missing, there was incomplete stuff, there is no "contention" here ... This is my newest thing to hate in the news, attributing observations to somebody when the reporter himself or herself actually saw the event with their own eyes. This technique allows liars to have equal time with truth-tellers, which has turned out to be a serious problem for our country in recent years.

Anyway <takes_deep_breath>, the story is unbiased and informative, and I give Ms. Kreuz and her crew credit for that. We know she has an opinion about the subject, and to her credit that opinion was kept to herself. I don't know if someone at Channel Seven had a talk with her, or if she thought this through a little bit, but let's give Greta Kreuz a nice round of applause for covering the story well.

There is also video at that web site, the TV version is different from the text. They're both okay.

By the way, if you look at the picture on the right you'll see the petition where there is just a squiggle, no name, no address, nothing, with an "OK" next to it. Nobody has to "allege" or "contend" that the Board of Elections screwed up when they approved that "signature," you can see it with your own eyes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Evidence Is Heard; Judge Will Rule Soon

The judge has seen the evidence and heard the arguments, and will issue a judgment soon in the lawsuit to block a referendum on Montgomery County's new gender-identity nondiscrimination bill. The County Council voted unanimously last year to adopt the new law, the County Executive signed it, and then a group of "conservatives" gathered petition signatures to get a referendum to rescind it. Advocate groups assembled a team of volunteers to go through the petition signatures, and sued the county Board of Elections when numerous irregularities were found.

Today two kinds of things were debated. First, the group that submitted the petitions (Citizens for Responsible Whatever, or CRW) had been told by the elections board that they needed 25,001 verified signatures in order to get the issue on the November ballot. That number was derived, following the law, by taking five percent of the number of registered voters in the county. Except it turned out that there are more than 50,000 voters who are registered but were not counted in the total because they are "inactive," that is, they have not voted in the past two general elections and when the Board sent them a letter asking if they were still residents they did not respond to it. Five percent of the number of actual registered voters -- active plus inactive -- would be more than the CRW gathered. Further, it appears that nearly 800 of the petition signers were in fact inactive voters, so this is a nontrivial population. The plaintiffs in the case then argue that if inactive voters are going to be part of the numerator of the ratio -- that is, if you are going to count them as "registered voters" and legitimate petition signers -- then they should be part of the denominator as well. Or, to put it more simply, where the law says they needed five percent of registered voters, the Board of Elections should have required ... five percent of registered voters. Not five percent of active voters, which is what they used.

Jonathan Shurberg, representing the plaintiffs, noted that counting inactive voters when they sign the petition, but not counting them in the total from which the proportion is calculated, amounts to disenfranchisement of individuals who oppose the measure. When the "no vote" is not counted, the Board of Elections "only franchises the activist," he said. He made a further point that Montgomery County is a "one-party town." There is not, and has not been for years, any Republican elected official at any level in Montgomery County. "Inactive" voter status is defined in part by whether someone votes in the general election, and voting in the primaries is not considered. Lots of voters only vote in the primary elections here, knowing that the Democratic candidate will win anyway, so it only matters who the party selects.

The Board of Elections lawyer, Kevin Karpinsky, tried to argue that the plaintiffs should not be able to bring up this subject, since it was not mentioned in their original complaint. Karpinsky asserted that there was a 10-day deadline for filing, and the complaining citizens missed it. I'll spoil it for you: the judge didn't agree. Judge Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg said that the complaint was filed on time, this new argument regarding the number of registered voters is really just a new "theory," not a new complaint.

I will not predict the judge's decision, but one thing seemed obvious to everyone in the courtroom: the Board of Elections screwed up. They told the CRW they needed so-many signatures, and the CRW went out and lied to people to get them to sign and they got that number, and now it turns out they were given bad information. The BOE gave them the number for "active," not "registered" voters, as the law requires. For one second I felt sorry for the bigots. The fact is, they got about as many signatures as they possibly could, if they needed more they would have simply failed. But they had their victory party, they took their smiling photographs, they said "We did it!" in big letters on their web site, and they didn't do it. It is very clear that the CRW did not have the required number of signatures, based on the unambiguous wording of the law. They did not have five percent of registered voters. The judge may decide otherwise, he may decide that the Board's word is the law, but I think everybody in the peanut gallery saw that they made a mess of this.

Then they argued about the signatures themselves. This got tedious, as Shurberg went through page after page of these things, showing where people signed for each other, people didn't print their name or printed a different name from what they signed, where the circulator signed for people -- he showed one example where there was a blank row with nothing but a squiggle through the name, signature, address, and birthdate fields, and the Board of Elections wrote "OK" in the margin next to it! The Board's attorney tried to argue that there weren't very many bad petitions, but really, there are. I don't see it in my notes, but I think Shurberg said that about forty percent of them should be thrown out.

The real issue is, what is the Board of Elections supposed to do? There was some discussion of "validating" versus "verifying," you know how lawyers are (signatures need both verification and validation, if you want to know). The Board says they are supposed to make sure the names on the petitions represent registered voters. The plaintiffs say the Board is supposed to use common sense to identify places where the law was broken. The state and county laws are very clear, regarding the information that must be present; it is strict, but the law does say you have to sign and print your full name, you have to give your address and birthdate. The judge said he didn't like the law, and I can see why, it does seem bad to throw out a signature because the guy didn't include his middle initial, but as Shurberg noted, the state General Assembly passed this law, there has been no challenge or movement to change it, and there is no Constitutional issue that the court can rule on. The judge's decision should interpret the law as it is written, even if he doesn't agree with it.

One point that Karpinsky repeatedly made is worth mentioning. The judge quoted this too, I think they had discussed it in chambers extensively. Karpinsky said, "It is not the Board of Elections duty to do the bidding of the CRG [CRW]." He cannot be responsible for defending or rationalizing the behavior of the petition circulators, which as we have seen was ... irresponsible, to put it mildly. He was in court to defend the Board of Elections, which was accused of not scrutinizing the petitions that the CRW gathered, and didn't want to get backed into the corner, defending the unscrupulous behavior of the anti-transgender group. Several times he referred to his belief that the Board has to assume that petition gatherers are following the law, the Board doesn't have the resources to scrutinize every signature. But with that approach you can have a situation where somebody just writes down some names of voters, all in the same signature -- somebody has to check, and the law is not unclear, the Board of Elections is supposed to do that, of course. You sort of feel sorry for the Board of Elections, they never dealt with people like our MoCo shower-nuts before, they think you have to assume that people are honest.

I should mention that Channel Seven's anti-gay, anti-transgender reporter Greta Kreuz was in the courtroom and interviewed people during a break. She is the only journalist in the area to actually report the CRW's man-in-a-dress hoax as news -- her name comes up here fairly often. Maybe she wanted to make up for her previous offenses by running a story that talks about why one of America's most persecuted minorities needs to have the same rights as the rest of us, and how a tiny handful of lying religious hypocrites has fought to re-legalize discrimination. I wouldn't hold my breath. Watch Channel Seven News tonight if you want to find out. I probably won't.

A major issue here for the plaintiff is the "circulator's affadavit," a statement on the petition form where the circulator swears that they witnessed the signatures. In many -- many -- cases, Shurberg noted, it would have been impossible for the circulator to witness the signature, for instance where somebody signed for somebody else. They swear they saw Joe Blow sign, but it's Joe Blow's wife's handwriting: it would have been impossible for them to see Mr. Blow sign the petition.

The case comes down to this: the Board of Elections doesn't think it should be their job to check for fraud on the petitions, and the plaintiffs believe the Board should follow the law. There was a lot of technical talk, legal wordsmithing, but it is clear that the law calls for the Board to make a reasonable judgment about whether signatures are valid, and it's clear they didn't really do that. It's all a matter of degree, they obviously can't call everybody whose name appears there and ask them if they really signed the petition, and confirm their middle initial or whatever. On the other hand, there are lots of obvious things, names with the same handwriting, information missing or wrong, and they went ahead and okayed it. Is it enough to call off the referendum? We should know in a few days, at most; there is time pressure because the Board of Elections needs to know what to print on the November ballots.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Go Ahead: Ask, Tell

Our society is turning a corner in the way we consider sexual minorities, especially on the dimensions of sexual orientation and gender identity. I remember reading a passage in Keouac, maybe from the late forties or early fifties, where some guys are walking along and they meet some gay men and beat them up. There's no explanation, they just beat them up because that's what you do. It seems to me there's a story in Hemingway, too, the same thing, our macho hero meets a gay guy and just punches him in the face for being gay.

That wasn't that long ago, fifty, sixty years.

Gay people were excluded from the military until the Clinton years, when the compromise of "Don't ask, don't tell" allowed them to participate in the armed services as long as they kept their sexual orientation to themselves. You ended up with some crazy situations -- a 2005 study by the GAO found that 10,000 individuals had been released from duty because of their sexual orientation. A BBC article from that year noted:
Of those, 757 were in critical occupations such as interpreters and intelligence analysts.

Some 322 had proficiency in strategically important languages that the Pentagon has said are in short supply, the GAO concluded. US military's gay policy 'costly'

You tell me why it matters whether an interpreter is gay or straight? Remember after 9/11 when they said we had intercepted some phone calls but didn't have anybody who could understand them? This is why. Somebody asked, or somebody told.

"DADT" is a vestige of olde-thyme anti-gay prejudices, and most people today have gotten over all that. Oh, straight people might be a little uncomfortable when they see two guys kissing or whatever, but most Americans agree they have the right to kiss, they deserve the same rights the rest of us get. And most members of the armed services would have no problem serving next to a gay person.

The news this week is pretty blunt -- Don't ask, don't tell should go:
SANTA BARBARA, Calif., July 8 (UPI) -- A study by senior U.S. military leaders urges the end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays serving in the armed forces.

The report, commissioned by the Palm Center at the University of California-Santa Barbara, included 10 findings and four recommendations, the research center said on its Web site.

Key findings include the policy prevents some gay service personnel from performing their duties, gays already serve openly and "military attitudes" toward gays and lesbians are changing.

Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion," the report said.

The report by retired military personnel recommended Congress return authority for personnel policy under the "don't ask, don't tell" law to the Defense Department. In addition, the report recommended that Defense Department directives' language be neutral regarding sexual orientation and set up safeguards to maintain confidentiality between service members and chaplains, doctors and mental health professionals. Report: Repeal 'don't ask, don't tell'

Have you seen the statistics on how many criminals, mental patients, and other scary people they're accepting in the military now? But they won't take a perfectly well qualified gay person?

You can read the study itself HERE.

From the first page, a summary:
The Study Group has made ten findings, including:

Finding one: The law locks the military’s position into stasis and does not accord any trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances

Finding two: Existing military laws and regulations provide commanders with sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct

Finding three: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and undermining the cohesion of their units

Finding four: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has prevented some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from obtaining psychological and medical care as well as religious counseling

Finding five: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has caused the military to lose some talented service members

Finding six: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has compelled some gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to lie about their identity

Finding seven: Many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are serving openly

Finding eight:“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has made it harder for some gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to perform their duties

Finding nine: Military attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing

Finding ten: Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion"

The report elaborates on these findings and makes four recommendations:
Recommendation 1. Congress should repeal 10 USC § 654 and return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense.

Recommendation 2. The Department of Defense should eliminate “don’t tell” while maintaining current authority under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and service regulations to preclude misconduct prejudicial to good order and discipline and unit cohesion. The prerogative to disclose sexual orientation should be considered a personal and private matter.

Recommendation 3. Remove from Department of Defense directives all references to “bisexual,” “homosexual,” “homosexual conduct,” “homosexual acts,” and “propensity.” Establish in their place uniform standards that are neutral with respect to sexual orientation, such as prohibitions against any inappropriate public bodily contact for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires.

Recommendation 4. Immediately establish and reinforce safeguards for the confidentiality of all conversations between service members and chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.

This isn't written by a bunch of activists -- trolls in our comments section will be shocked to learn that Teach the Facts had nothing to do with the preparation of this report. The report is authored by a team of Generals and an Admiral, from the Marines, Air Force, Army, and Navy.

Will the policy change? Elections are coming up, America may emerge from the darkness, maybe some rational decisions will be made, for a change.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Shower-Nuts to Haunt Fireworks Shows

Here she is again -- Citizens for a Responsible Whatever President Ruth Jacobs has sent a newsletter out to the shower-nut mailing list, trying to get them motivated -- the CRW believes that the Fourth of July is about re-legalizing gender identity discrimination. This thing is too long to reproduce here, and anyway if you wanted to get it you'd be on their list already.

It looks like the main thing they want people to do is hand out flyers at the fireworks shows. They've got the flyers online that they want people to print out, and then you are supposed to turn out November 4th to vote to rescind the nondiscrimination law that was passed unanimously by the Montgomery County Council and signed by the County Executive.

Wow, this newsletter has a link to Dr. Jacobs' letter to the editor with the fake quote in it, you'd think they'd have wanted to edit that one. Well, they're safe, they know their people won't go to the source.

The newsletter includes a nice concise list of the things they are whining complaining about:
  1. Letters to the Gazette expressing concerns about women's rights to privacy and discussing the concern that female impersonators would be covered by the bill have not been published.
  2. A recent Gazette article essentially described concerned citizens as fevered bookends.
  3. County media simply ignored a press release by MCRG concerning harassment of petitions gatherers (despite video documentation).
  4. When Channel 21 planned to have a show on the bill it was canceled.
  5. Despite emails requesting a balanced program the Kojo Nnamdi show titled "Transgender Rights" included only transgender individuals Dana Beyer and Colleen Fay and the DC Transgender Health Empowerment Director, Brian Watson.

With reporting like this the citizens of Montgomery County will not get the facts without your help!!!

I'm not going to go through each of these things. The fact is, they want the commercial press to give them free publicity and it isn't happening. People in our county don't like the CRW, don't agree with them, don't want to hear their lies and distortions. They've worn out their welcome, it's as simple as that.

This has been a real test for the media. The CRW has been seeing if they can manipulate them, creating a "story" out of nothing, pretending there is some danger to innocent women and children if gender-identity discrimination is prohibited. They have tried various publicity stunts, press releases, they have faked incidents, and the only journalist to fall for it has been Greta Kreuz at Channel 7, who has promoted them consistently -- she even reported the "man in a dress in the ladies showers" hoax as news.

We have been proud of our local press -- there were times during the sex-ed controversy that some of them were tempted to go with the juicy story, the outraged religious groups etcetera, but this time there has been no such tendency. The county passed a law banning discrimination, the people want that, and our county's little group of radicals looks like what they are: nuts. They hate gay people, they hate transgender people, they claim their beliefs come from their religion but I don't believe there is any religion practiced in the United States that demands its adherents discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

Our local reporters saw what these guys did when the schools tried to update the sex-ed curriculum, and they're not going to fall for any of it this time.

Last year the CRW's (then the CRC) lawyer John Garza gave a talk to the faithful where he said:
We at the CRC want no change, we like things the way they are, and the way they've been for the last 6,000 years. The burden of proof is on those who want to institute change, who wanna make things different. We have nothing to prove here, folks. They do.

I think that sums it up neatly. In Montgomery County we have some forward looking people, people with hope in their hearts, people who have seen our country dragged down by greed and fear and hatred, people who desperately desire change. On the other hand we have a handful of people who like things just how they've been for the last 6,000 years. And they wonder why everybody doesn't jump into the parade behind them.

Well, if you're at the fireworks and somebody hands you a flyer, maybe you should try to engage them. Most of the people doing the street-level work are just following instructions, they hear something at church or over the backyard fence and they think predators and pedophiles are somehow going to infect our county if this law isn't beaten -- they are literally told that. Maybe you can talk to them for a minute. A lot of them really just don't understand what they're promoting here.