Thursday, April 30, 2009

Trangender Woman Awarded Half Million

You might remember we talked about this case when it was being heard last fall. I didn't go to the hearings, but several TTF folks did as well as some locals from the dark side. A man with excellent credentials had applied for a job at the Library of Congress and they were happy to hire him. Before starting the job, though, he told the boss he was going to be transitioning to a female gender identity. Suddenly the job offer was rescinded.

The federal government has no regulations protecting against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but it does have rules about sex. The judge in that case reasoned that since the only thing that had changed was the applicant's sex, the decision to withdraw the offer must have been motivated by discrimination on the basis of sex.

There was a lawsuit, and it was settled this week.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge has awarded a former Army Special Forces commander nearly $500,000 because she was rejected from a job at the Library of Congress while undergoing a gender change from man to woman.

Diane Schroer of Alexandria, Va., applied for the terrorism analyst job while still a man named David Schroer. He was offered the job, but the offer was pulled after he told a library official that he was having surgery to change his gender.

U.S. District Judge James Robinson ruled Tuesday that Schroer was entitled to $491,190 in back pay and damages because of sex discrimination.

Schroer said she was happy with the judgment but more importantly that the judge recognized her treatment as job discrimination. She said it's a problem many transgendered people face.

"They are hugely underemployed, at best," Schroer said. "If they are fortunate enough to get something, it's well below their capabilities. It's not just about money, it's about knowing you are a valuable person."

Schroer said she feels more fortunate than many transsexuals who face job discrimination because her friends have helped her get work as a national security and counterterrorism consultant. Transsexual wins $500,000 lawsuit

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cell Phones in MoCo Schools -- Possible

Lots of schools, including Montgomery County schools, do not allow students to use cell phones at school. That may change soon.

Seems to me this rule was made in a different time, and it is amazing to think how we have changed. I can remember taking a skeptical attitude toward the devices -- somebody told me once, "They're so handy when the family's all trying to get together, you can call each other and figure out where to meet," and I said, "Why don't you just make a plan?" Now of course my family has them -- there is nothing like having a punk kid call you from his room, twenty feet away, to ask you to bring him a glass of water!

Just today, that same kid told me that email is "old fashioned." See, I wouldn't have known that.

Some of you might remember the old crank-handle cell phones we had back when I was a kid. I tell my kids about the old days, when we had to wear a special backpack just to carry your cell phone. You'd get so tired hauling that thing around, remember how your shoulders would ache? And bringing it to school? We couldn't bring 'em to school because they took up too much space in the classroom.

WTOP has the story:
The sounds of hungry students and banging lunch trays could soon be punctuated with hundreds of ringing cell phones if a resolution put before the Montgomery County school board Tuesday evening is met with approval.

The county would be the first in the region to allow high schoolers to check in with parents and friends during the lunch hour. Currently, students are allowed to have cell phones on campus, but they must be turned off at all times during the school day.

Student board member Quratul-Ann Malik proposed the resolution earlier in the month, responding to her 44,000 high school constituents. The school board on Tuesday will discuss whether to support it, and then to send it to Superintendent Jerry Weast for further review and a final decision.

The use of mobile devices during lunch "does not harm or interfere with" education, Malik wrote in her argument for changing the policy. And it would allow for "convenient communications with parents to students and students to parents." Cell phone use may be OK'd in Montgomery Co. high schools

I know some teachers read this blog. Tell me, aren't kids texting each other all day anyway?

I think we can safely say that life in the future will include use of some kind of handheld or wearable communication device, and if I may say so it seems that one goal of education might be to prepare our children for the future. I have a friend whose phone is mind-numbingly powerful, it does everything a computer does and more -- it has taken him months just to figure out how to do the basic things on it, like answer it when it rings. I would not venture to guess where the technology is heading, but I think it is safe to say it's not going away.
The issue has created enough of a stir in the schools that the most viable candidates campaigning for next year's student board member are running on a pro-cell-phone-at-lunchtime platform.

Some parents need more convincing.

Pat O'Neill, a 10-year board member and mother of a recent graduate, said the main issue was ensuring class time free of distractions and without the worry of text-message cheating.

"We've heard quite a bit from teachers who are concerned that if they're allowed on at lunch, they might remain on into the next class," O'Neill said.

She conceded, however, that for the purpose of coordinating schedules or figuring out where your child would be after school, a new policy could be beneficial.

That's just the way people do it these days.

This story reports the other side, as well.
Consultants from National School Safety and Security Services recently said they opposed the idea.

Students have used phones to text upsetting messages to other students, to cheat and to spread rumors, their article said. Teachers become "cell phone police" instead of instructors.

If school boards allow cell phones, the consultants wrote, "they should acknowledge that convenience and public pressure, not school safety, are the real reasons typically driving such decisions."

I suppose "consultants from National School Safety and Security Services" would think that safety and security are the only criteria for a decision like this, you should only do things that increase security. Consultants from National Convenience and Public Pressure Services think it's a good idea, though. However do you decide?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

President Calls for Prosecution of Torturers

President Bush, that is. This has been floating around the Internet. I found an original at the website of the American embassy in Italy.
Office of the Press Secretary
June 26, 2003


United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States declares its strong solidarity with torture victims across the world. Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.

Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice....

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. I further urge governments to join America and others in supporting torture victims' treatment centers, contributing to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture, and supporting the efforts of non-governmental organizations to end torture and assist its victims.

No people, no matter where they reside, should have to live in fear of their own government. Nowhere should the midnight knock foreshadow a nightmare of state-commissioned crime. The suffering of torture victims must end, and the United States calls on all governments to assume this great mission.

I wish the blogs and the media would have gotten involved in the topic of torture a long time ago, but I'm glad they finally are -- I don't want this to become a torture blog, but it is exactly the kind of immorality that we need to drag out into the sunshine and put an end to. When you think of the regimes of the Dark Ages you picture that skinny, lice-eaten guy with the long beard chained to the dungeon wall, and when people in the future think of our times they will see us that way, too. We shouldn't have let it happen, and now we need to clear our name.

At least President Bush had the momentary clarity to call for his own prosecution six years ago. I say, let's take him at his word.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Waterboarding Song

I found this at the web site of the local Fox affiliate, Fox5DC. It is too macabre for words. I am curious to see what Vigilance readers think of it.

This guy, Jonathan Mann, has set parts of one of the torture memos to music. I get the idea Fox thinks it's cute or a joke of some kind. Watching the guy sing it, I don't believe he thinks it's all that funny, and it doesn't make me want to laugh.

It is, however, a very effective way to get people to pay attention to what our government has been doing and how they rationalize it.

Go ahead, click on it, turn the sound up.

You tell me, is this a joke, and if so, what kind of joke is it? Are we laughing at people who think waterboarding is torture, are we laughing at people who our government has tortured, are we laughing at psychopathic bureaucrats who think that by combining "pain and suffering" into one concept rather than two we can justify torturing people?

Looking around the Internet, I see that other local Fox affiliates have posted it, too.

Speaking of waterboarding, what do you think Hannity's going to do?

Extry, Extry: Haloed Millionaire Nurse to Pay Extra Taxes

The front page of The Post today had a story about how President Obama's new tax plan will increase taxes for some people -- as the subhead says, "Under Obama Plan, Some Entrepreneurs' Bills Would Soar." Here's how it starts...
Gail Johnson doesn't think of herself as wealthy. The former pediatric nurse has spent 20 years building a chain of preschools and after-school programs that accommodate sick children so working parents can keep their jobs. Small Businesses Brace for Tax Battle

I'm married to a nurse, and I know it's a hard a job where people, mostly women, give everything to make medical patients happy and healthy. They take care of the sick and the dying. Over the years nurses have been asked to do more as hospitals and other medical providers try to save a buck by cutting back on nursing staff. You take orders from doctors, mostly men, the pay isn't very good, it's tough and most nurses do it because they love it, they care about people.

This nurse, we find in the first paragraph, is even more golden-hearted than most. She has spent twenty years, we read in the first paragraph, building a business to take care of sick children so their "working parents can keep their jobs."

Next paragraph:
But, like most small-business owners, Johnson reports her profit on her personal tax return. In a typical year, she and her husband make more than $500,000, according to her accountant, a figure that throws them squarely into the ranks of the richest Americans -- and makes them a prime target for the Obama administration's tax policy.

Do you get this? In the first paragraph we learn that she "doesn't think of herself as wealthy." In the second paragraph we find out the family brings in a half-million dollars a year. And this makes these wonderful people a "target" for the new tax policy.

Raise your hand if your family income is a half million a year or more. I don't know where the exact cut-offs are, but from recent surveys and discussions it seems that this nice nurse is in the upper one percent of the population. Maybe she doesn't think of herself as wealthy, but she is -- raise your hand if you think we need to feel sorry for rich people who think everybody makes a half million bucks a year.

In 2007 the median household income in the US was about $50,000, according to the Census Bureau. That means that half of Americans make less that that, half make more. This nice nurse's household makes ten times that much and they're whining because their taxes are going to go up, this article says, by $23,000 a year.

The subhead says that "Under Obama Plan, Some Entrepreneurs' Bills Would Soar." It appears that these people's income tax is going up about four percent, which does not seem to meet the criterion for "soaring." Tell me, does it appear that your utility bills have gone up four percent in the past year? Are your gas and electric twice as good as they were last year, or just twice as expensive? Why are we worrying about some millionaire nurse's income tax? Sheesh, people.

I wonder how much the reporters are making who wrote this. Here's what I really wonder. How is it that the richest citizens are able to entice hard-working people, who are barely getting by, into supporting them? The so-called "Republican base" is largely lower middle class white Americans whose taxes have stayed the same or gone down under the Democratic president. The factories and retail outlets where "the base" (it's interesting if you say it in Arabic) works are being shut down while gazillionaire executives continue to suck cash out of the system, but still "the base" supports them. Working people are worried sick over the taxes the very rich will have to pay, how did that happen?

What do you think inspired these reporters to write about this whining millionaire whose taxes are going to go up a little bit? What editor decided this was a story? How many readers are going to point to this over their morning coffee and say, see, it's just like that guy on Fox was saying, taxes are going up? It's amazing sometimes to watch these things happen.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lifestyle -- Huh?

Yesterday a hate group from Kansas visited a school in our county. They protested at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda because the poet Walt Whitman might have been gay. It's a dumb thing to do, no matter how you feel about sexual orientation, for one thing the guy's been dead for a hundred years. And nobody even knows if he was gay, some people think he was, that's all. Never mind the dumbness of protesting anybody's sexual orientation.

Daniel deVise at the Washington Post had a good story about it, written right after the protest happened, and The Post had a video that showed the whole thing and interviewed people. It was worth watching if you like to follow the news in our area -- I quote from it in the blog post right under this one. The headline was Opposing Students Overwhelm Anti-Gay Protest, and that made sense because, well, there were seven protesters and hundreds of students. The students support their gay friends and they overwhelmed the Baptist hate group. Politely, they simply overwhelmed them with numbers.

But I see this morning's paper has the same story on the front page of the Metro section, and now it's called At Whitman, A Protest Over Poet's Lifestyle. Wha?

Poet's lifestyle? What kind of lifestyle did Walt Whitman have? My impression was that he held several kinds of jobs in his life and wandered around New York yacking with people and observing things that he could write poems about. In Leaves of Grass he described himself as "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest," and I could imagine some Baptists objecting to that kind of lifestyle, but that wasn't why the "God Hates Fags" people came to Montgomery County. They came to Walt Whitman High School because they thought Walt Whitman was gay.

Being gay is not a "lifestyle." Especially since I got involved with the sex-ed curriculum in our county I have come to know a lot of gay people, and I can't see any "lifestyle" that they have in common, even any two of them. Some live in mansions and some live in tiny apartments, some eat gourmet food and some eat Big Macs. I know gay people who wear suits and gay people who wear jeans and tennis shoes with holes in them. I know boyish lesbians and foxy dainty ones and ones who look like any other lady walking around. Any gay person can have any lifestyle they like, it's not like they get kicked out of the Gay Association if they don't act a certain way.

Sexual orientation isn't a lifestyle, it's just a way people feel. Do you think The Post would mention a straight person's heterosexual lifestyle? No, it doesn't make any sense. There are all kinds of straight people, too, in fact if you're straight then the concept is obvious to you. The only reason you would think gay people have a certain lifestyle is if you don't know any of them, if you think of them as "others" who are different from you.

Our society has shifted its attitude a lot, especially in the last few months. People are thinking about this subject a little more clearly now, and realizing there really isn't anything in particular to dislike about gay people. You'll see marriage equality opening up over the next few years, and other things, making fun of same-sex relationships is just something that is going away. It really is time for somebody at The Post to have a talk with the headline writer who composed this gibberish and the editors who let it pass through the process.

Sorry, I was just getting ready to go to a band rehearsal and I saw this headline and it got under my skin a little bit.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"God Hates Fags" Protesters Visit MoCo

The "God Hates Fags" group from Westboro Baptist Church came to our county today, because one of our schools is named after a dead poet who may have been gay. The Washington Post has the story -- follow the link for video, too:
A group of seven congregants from Topeka, Kansas, set up outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda today to protest the sexual orientation of the dead poet for whom the school was named.

The police presence -- 40 officers, five horses, blocked-off streets and a football field's length of yellow tape -- seemed comically disproportionate until the counter-protest arrived.

At 2:10 p.m. dismissal, 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up, several students deep, along the police tape, across Whittier Boulevard from their foils. They alternately chanted the school name and "Go home!" drowning out voices from across the street.

Whitman, a 19th century poet with major influence on American literature, is generally regarded as gay, but his sexual identity remains enigmatic.

The Westboro Baptist Church has gained national notoriety for its anti-homosexuality demonstrations, staged provocatively outside military funerals and at schools that are putting on the musical "Rent." This morning, before heading to Whitman, they showed up at the funeral of the Middletown, Md., family that perished in a murder-suicide last week, claiming that those deaths, like the military casualties, were God's wrath toward a godless people. Police asked them to leave.

But at Whitman, the protesters arrived to palpable excitement. Faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson. English teachers spent the day teaching Whitman's verse. Social studies teachers led a unit on tolerance. Math teachers fanned through the crowd, attempting a head count. Opposing Students Overwhelm Anti-Gay Protest

The news story says there were seven protesters, all from the Westboro Baptist Church, so it looks like none of our local Citizens for Responsible Whatever joined them. It doesn't sound like there was any violence or rowdiness, and it also sounds like Whitman kids have their heads on straight.
"This is my school, and this is where I live, and that makes it personal to me," said Maddie Oliver, 18, a senior. She wore one of many blue T-shirts emblazoned with the Whitman passage, "Let your soul stand cool and composed." Principal Alan Goodwin helped choose the slogan and hoped students would see its wisdom.

Indeed, no one was injured, and no property damaged. Rebekah Phelps-Davis, daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, said it was "the duty of the servants of God to go where the message needs to be heard."

Susan Russell, 17, a junior, said she hoped publicity stirred by the protest would "highlight how ridiculous they are. I mean, that sign -- 'You will eat your babies' -- that doesn't even mean anything."

Yeah, you do wonder what the point is.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life Without Parole For Murder of Transwoman

We've been watching this trial in Colorado, a guy killed a woman after he discovered she was transgender. He is charged with a hate crime. From the Colorado Independent:
GREELEY — A man convicted Wednesday of using a fire extinguisher to crush the skull of a transgender Greeley woman was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole just over an hour after a jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts charged, including first-degree murder and hate-crime charges. Weld District Judge Marcelo Kopcow imposed the mandatory life sentence on Allen Andrade, 32, for murdering Angie Zapata, 18, last summer in Greeley.

“Mr. Andrade, I hope as you’re spending the remaining part of your natural life in the Department of Corrections that everyday you think of the violence and brutality that you caused on this fellow human being and the pain you have caused not only on your family but the family of Angie Zapata,” Kopcow told Andrade, who re-entered the courtroom an hour after the jury verdict shackled and wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit. BREAKING: Andrade sentenced to life without parole in Zapata killing


This article has a strange paragraph at the end.
Public defender Annette Kundelius spoke briefly before the sentence was handed down: “I think it’s important for everyone to know Mr. Andrade is not some kind of monster as some have portrayed.” Saying she’d had a chance to get to know Andrade since she began defending him last fall, Kundelius said, “He is a good person and he does care. He does have a lot of people who care about him and he does care about them as well.”

He's not a monster, just a guy who battered somebody to death with a fire extinguisher because they weren't the gender he thought they were. A real sweetheart. I understand Ted Bundy was a nice guy, too.

In fact, this defense attorney took the low road in trying to get Andrade off the hook. From the Greeley Tribune Saturday:
The first few times, it almost seemed like the public defenders were misspeaking.

But then, those watching the murder trial of Allen Andrade started muttering under their breaths. Witnesses on the stand continued to correct the attorneys questioning them.

Family members and friends echoed repeatedly, “my sister,” “Angie,” one by one on the stand Friday as public defenders Annette Kundelius and Brad Martin questioned them about “Justin.” Angie Zapata's friends, family take the stand

Angie Zapata was legally Justin Zapata, a preoperative transgender woman who met Andrade through an online dating site last summer. Three days later she was dead.
To the prosecution, she’s Angie. The defense, in every instance, refers to Justin.

On Friday, witnesses weren’t conforming to the defense.

Stephanie Villalobos, Zapata’s sister, continually corrected the defense. In one exchange while she was being cross-examined about loaning money to Zapata for gas to come back to Greeley after picking up Andrade in Thornton:

Martin: “Justin actually called and asked you for $10 in gas.”

Villalobos: “Yes, she did.”

In another exchange with Felecia Luna, Zapata’s best friend, about two of Zapata’s purses:

Kundelius: “Both belonged to Justin?”

Luna: “Yeah, Angie.”

I guess this approach is supposed to make the judge and jury sympathetic but, uh, I don't see how it's supposed to work. Everybody who knew Angie called her "Angie," nobody called her "Justin" except for the defense attorneys. They counted on the bigotry of the jury and the jury let them down.

The murderer was taped after the incident talking to his friends, referring to Angie as "it." He told one friend, "It's not like I . . . killed a straight, law-abiding citizen."

This is the first time anyone has been charged under a Colorado hate-crime law that includes gender identity. It sounds like the judge had no problem at all throwing the book at the guy, and I say: good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Irony in the News

These are, uh, interesting times. I love how the new guy is turning things around, shaking hands with foreign leaders, actually making decisions about the economy, working on health care and the environment and a hundred other things. But there is something, to tell you the truth, that's getting on my nerves a little bit.

Let's talk about torture. It has never been any secret that the United States was torturing people. Nobody is really surprised to find out about that. It's a subject that has been percolating under the surface for years, but, and here's the part that sticks in my craw, the media have treated the issue as if it was unimportant. I remember seeing Chris Matthews a couple of years ago talking about how such-and-such politician wanted to talk about torture and people weren't interested in that, people didn't care about that, what they cared about was the economy. Well, I watched Chris Matthews last night, and he is, all of a sudden, outraged about torture. I guess now "people" care about torture.

People didn't care about it because they didn't know about it, because the media weren't reporting it (because people didn't care about it, a tidy tautology). Now I see we -- and sorry, people, it's first person plural, we elected the clowns who decided to do this -- waterboarded that one guy a hundred eighty times in a month. That's torture, and it's excessive. Seymour Hersh has looked into the issue and written important articles about the American torture machine, and nobody else mentioned it.

Now, all of a sudden, it's news. My Washington Post this morning had at least three stories in the A section, two on the front page, about torture. All of a sudden everybody's outraged.

This isn't a fad, it isn't like a new singing group that all the kids suddenly listen to. The United States has systematically imprisoned people in secret prisons and tortured them for years. Maybe they were all bad people, I don't know one way or the other, but I know that torture is illegal and worse than that, it's wrong. It has always been illegal and wrong, but the media treated it like it was just a minor piece of collateral damage, like a bomb that hits a house next door to an intended military target.

Another thing: the loss of privacy. During the Bush administration, Americans lost a lot of rights, from the guarantee of habeus corpus to the freedom from warrantless searches and wiretaps. The administration didn't destroy those rights by itself, the executive branch doesn't pass laws, they got the complicity of the Congress in all this.

You know where I'm going with this now, right?

Glenn Greenwald writing in Salon has a devastating piece about the hypocrisy of a particular Blue Dog Democratic Congresswoman who has been busted on the basis of wiretaps. These are the "nice" kind, the NSA actually got warrants for these. Jane Harman was one of the most vocal about the need for the government to be able to listen in on citizens' conversations as easily as possible, and now she's been caught doing stuff and all of a sudden she sees that it was not such a good idea.

She expected privacy after she herself helped give away the right to privacy.

Here's a paragraph from Greenwald.
So if I understand this correctly -- and I'm pretty sure I do -- when the U.S. Government eavesdropped for years on American citizens with no warrants and in violation of the law, that was "both legal and necessary" as well as "essential to U.S. national security," and it was the "despicable" whistle-blowers (such as Thomas Tamm) who disclosed that crime and the newspapers which reported it who should have been criminally investigated, but not the lawbreaking government officials.  But when the U.S. Government legally and with warrants eavesdrops on Jane Harman, that is an outrageous invasion of privacy and a violent assault on her rights as an American citizen, and full-scale investigations must be commenced immediately to get to the bottom of this abuse of power.  Behold Jane Harman's overnight transformation from Very Serious Champion of the Lawless Surveillance State to shrill civil liberties extremist. 

Everybody knows it's a bad idea to let the government snoop on the people. Somebody might not be doing anything wrong, but they still deserve to be able to do it with confidence that the thousand eyes of federal government are not watching them. You don't want the government listening to your phone calls, and look what a nice person you are! You never say anything you wouldn't want repeated in a courtroom or in the news, but you wouldn't want some government employee with headphones on listening to your phone calls. Just imagine if you were pulling crooked backroom political strings. Or hey, imagine if the phone calls of every American politician were recorded and published in the newspaper! You and I would get a kick out of it, but you better believe those rights would be restored very quickly.

The Patriot Act was passed without anyone in Congress even reading it. It was a bad idea. The very first thing the Founding Fathers did after writing the Constitution was to amend it with passages guaranteeing American citizens certain rights, the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of our modern liberal society, but the Bush administration and Congress saw it as an obstacle to their goal of "Total Information Awareness" for the federal government. Anybody who was paying attention was concerned, it is not news that our right to privacy has evaporated.

The word irony is often misused. Ms. Harman's huff about her privacy being violated is a textbook example of the concept. It was a bad idea to make wiretaps easier to get, and it's still a bad idea. All of a sudden the badness of the idea dawns on a victim of her own policy. That's irony. We're seeing a lot of it now, as the chickens come home to roost.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Whitman Sounds Ready for Hate Group

Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda is bracing for a visit by the USA's premier hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church. The Reverend Fred Phelps is scheduled to bring his congregation, which has the website, to our county on April 24th to protest the fact that a high school was named after somebody who may have been gay.

The school paper, Black and White Online, has a good story on the preparations.
Most students don't think twice about the namesake of our school, Walt Whitman. However, one Kansas-based protest group, the Westboro Baptist Church, is taking a vocal stand against our school's name. Church members, who take offense to a school adopting the name of an allegedly homosexual person, plan to protest at Whitman April 24 from 2 to 2:40 p.m.

As news of the protest spread, students quickly reacted and began planning their own demonstration. Sophomore Ryan Hauck created a Facebook group for students to organize and discuss plans for the counter-protest. Within a few days of the group's creation, over 400 people RSVP'd to the event and wrote comments on the wall.

"Really the counter-protest is both to show that Whitman students won't stand for the intolerent attitude that the church represents, and also to give students a chance to point out the logical flaws in the church's ideology," Hauck said.

So far, principal Alan Goodwin supports the counter-protest and will allow students to leave class ten minutes early on April 24 to participate, although MCPS has yet to approve it. Goodwin also met with counter-protestors March 27 to discuss the legal aspects of the event.

Although the police will ultimately determine what students can or cannot do, Goodwin wants to bar students from other schools from attending.

"I don't want to worry about students from other schools coming," Goodwin said. "I trust Whitman students and it's about us, not other schools."

Responding to the protest might help the church gain more media coverage, but an effective counter-protest will cast a negative light on the WBC, sophomore and counter-protest organizer Amar Mukunda said.

"I truly believe that if we conduct the protest in a peaceful and effective manner, our message will be stronger than theirs, and they will not gain any positive attention or support," he said. Counter-protestors prepare for Westboro Baptist appearence

Kids seem more mature these days than when I was in school. Can you imagine being fifteen, sixteen, and your school is singled out because it was named after a poet, perhaps America's greatest poet, and he might have been bisexual or gay? My school was called North High, we didn't get this kind of attention.

Personally I don't read Whitman's poetry as having a homosexual aspect to it. He seems to me like someone who loves life and all living things, his "body electric" gets a charge out of being around people, male and female, he loves to look at people and talk to them and he loves the feeling of friendship and the intimacy of the soul. But you can read him as being bisexual, I suppose you could conclude he was gay. The feeling is that his sexuality is so integrated with his joy in being alive that it doesn't matter, he loves people without consideration for their gender and it may be sexual love, you just can't tell. That's part of what is so cool about Walt Whitman.
Although the protest won't change the WBC's ideology, counter-protesters plan to use a variety of peaceful methods to project their message, including reading Whitman's poetry, presenting speeches or protesting silently in the vicinity of the WBC.

"The only worries I have are that either the church won't show up or a counter-protester will do some stupid high school thing like throwing eggs at the protesters," Hauck said.

Members of the WBC often gain media attention through passionate public response to their protests, Goodwin said.

"The group thrives on riling up counter-protestors enough that they do something and the group can sue and get money," he said.

The church's founder, Fred Phelps, was a civil rights lawyer for 23 years, and gained attention for his work on the behalf of discriminated African American clients, but was disbarred in 1985 for falsely accusing judges. His background in civil rights gives him broad knowledge of protestor's first amendment rights, which he uses to his advantage, Mukunda said.

"What happens is that the counter-protestors harass and act violently or inappropriately towards the protestors and get sued," he said. "This money goes to the church so they can set up more protests and make more money."

If the WBC receives a permit to assemble, they will protest on the limited space on Whittier Blvd. in front of Whitman, but they cannot impede traffic, Goodwin said.

Oh, that's interesting, I wondered how they pay for all this.
Students received a letter from Goodwin March 26, in which he criticized the WBC's protest and assured students and parents that there will be a police presence determined by the size of the crowd that day.

Westboro also demonstrated at George Mason University and Towson High School on March 30, as well as Fairfax High School, in protest to a relatively large homosexual population at the university and the Gay-Straight Alliance and Diversity Club at Towson. A small group from the WBC showed up at the demonstrations and was largely outnumbered by students. A WBC spokeswoman confirmed the planned protest at Whitman in an e-mail to a Washington Post reporter, saying, "The children that attend that high school are taught 'Rebellion Against God 101' every day in every way."

The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, KS, leads daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations across the country to protest the "modern militant homosexual movement", which they say poses a threat to the U.S., according to their web site.

Several teachers intend to use the protest as a real-life example of classroom teachings. One teacher will use the opportunity to read Whitman's poetry in class, while another plans on teaching about civil rights protests in-depth in his NSL class.

This really isn't a big deal, this group of nutty Baptists goes around trying to upset people and occasionally they succeed at it. It looks like the students at Whitman have the right idea, they can turn out and counterdemonstrate, let the press and the Westboro people know that our community does not support this kind of hatred.

Friday, April 17, 2009

CRW Is Anti-Anti-Bullying

Today is GLSEN's Day of Silence. As they say,
The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

Students remain silent for the whole day to protest bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. It's been going on since 1996, when it was started at the University of Virginia.

The Citizens for Responsible Whatever are encouraging parents to keep their children out of school today to demonstrate their prejudice against LGBT people. From their latest newsletter:
If you have children in the public schools, we encourage you to keep them home from school tomorrow April 17th.

Friday is the Day of Silence, a campaign of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which is often used to make homosexual behavior appear normal on school campuses.

We pay Maryland teachers to teach -- by speaking in classrooms -- and teachers should also be expected to fully discharge their duties this coming Friday. If a school allows teachers to stop teaching, it should not get tax dollars for educating our students on that day.

By urging a one day absence, MCRG joins more than two dozen organizations in the Day of Silence Walkout Coalition. The coalition includes organizations such as Concerned Women for America, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and more. It reaches out to parents across the nation who do not want their children focusing on sexuality at school.

What do you think this phrase means? -- to make homosexual behavior appear normal on school campuses. What, exactly, is "homosexual behavior?" Let me guess -- it's behavior that homosexual people do, that straight people don't do. How'd I do? And that would be ...? Interior decorating? No, I think some straight people do that.

They might mean some kind of sexual behavior, though I can't think of anything sexual that homosexual people do that straight people don't do. And anyway, sexual behavior of any sort is frowned upon on school campuses. No sexual behavior "appears normal on school campuses," that I can think of, so they can't mean that.

Well, whatever "homosexual behavior" is, it has the word "homosexual" in it, and so the Citizens for Responsible Whatever are against it.

Oh, and down here it says something about parents not wanting their children "focusing on sexuality at school." Maybe they mean that they are opposed to sex ed, which of course TTF is in favor of, if it's done right.

Or maybe they are trying to get you to think that Gay-Straight Alliances have something to do with "sexual behavior."

They don't. It's gay kids and straight kids meeting together, learning about one another, finding out that they're all just teenagers, not so much different as they are alike. You know how much I hate to upset the fine citizens who make up the Citizens for Responsible Whatever, but being gay isn't about sex any more than being straight is about sex. GSA is a chance for gay and straight teens to get to know each other as people.

Skipping down ...
Call your school to ask whether it is permitting participating in Day of Silence. Schools do not technically sponsor this social protest, but hundreds permit or encourage it. To make sure there is no disconnect between the school office and your classroom, also contact your child's teacher and ask whether students will be allowed to participate in Friday's Day of Silence.

Also check whether your school has a Gay-Straight Alliance Club.

Yes, by all means, call the school, talk to the nice office ladies. I'm sure they'll love hearing from you, and they won't think you're a nut at all. In fact, if they say yes, your child will be allowed to show their support for gay students, it is a good idea to tell them about Jesus, and explain how very moral you are, and how sick gay people -- er, I mean, homosexuals (because it's only about sex) -- are. Keep your kid home from school, that's a good idea, then they won't be exposed to that dangerous wall of silence that makes it so hard to concentrate on what the teacher is saying.

The CRW links to a website: HERE. It's good. Read what they have, and you'll get a good idea of how really moral people think. They have a list of what they call "probing questions." Like these:
  • What is “discrimination” against those in this lifestyle? Does simply having an opposing viewpoint make you a bully?
  • Is violence, where it occurs, going largely “unpunished”? Is it true Matthew Shepard was the victim of murder because he was homosexual, for instance, and did his murderers go free?
  • Are there people who born homosexual? Or born the wrong gender? Are these folks different types of humans? Is this issue just like race?
  • To be a kind person, must you approve of homosexuality and gender change? Is there any room for finding homosexuality—dare we say it—repulsive? Or is that response now going to be viewed as “hate”? Is a student allowed to say a firm “no” to a homosexual advance?

Hmm, <strokes_chin_thoughtfully>, those sure are some probing questions.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

GOP Mad About DHS Report

Nation, I am getting a chuckle out of the way the Republicans are taking this latest document from the Department of Homeland Security so personally. The DHS has issued a report, which you can read HERE, warning of the danger of rightwing terrorist groups. The report was requested, perhaps ironically, by the Bush administration.

This has been a running theme on this blog. I have noted many times the strange fact that the news media will not use the word terrorist to describe individuals who are clearly terrorists, if they do not fit the Bush-era profile, that is, someone connected to Muslim radicalism. For instance, last month I wrote about the guy up in Maine who had all the stuff to make a dirty bomb, he had uranium, everything. He was a jerk, his wife finally shot him. He had nothing to do with al Qaeda, and everything to do with the Nazis. He was "allegedly furious over the election of President Obama," had contact with white supremacist groups. Not a word in the news about him. Contrast with "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla, who took on an Arabic name and knew somebody who knew somebody in al Qaeda, and did not have any uranium.

The report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis says:
...rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.

That seems somehow obvious. We have Fox News stirring up dissent, hoping for revolution with their teabagging parties. You have Texas threatening to secede and Georgia threatening to both secede and disband the United States of America (passed by 43-1 vote of the Georgia Senate, see HERE for more), the wackos on the far right are willing to do anything to undermine the Obama administration. These are times that encourage certain nutty individuals to join up with rightwing militias and other groups.

So Homeland Security is concerned about domestic terrorists, as well as swarthy foreign types. Good.

There was a section that remarked on the fact that some militias are infiltrating the military, and some veterans come back with military training and a chip on their shoulder.

Check it out.
WASHINGTON – Republicans on Wednesday said a Homeland Security Department intelligence assessment unfairly characterizes military veterans as right-wing extremists. House Republican leader John Boehner described the report as offensive and called on the agency to apologize to veterans.

The agency's intelligence assessment, sent to law enforcement officials last week, warns that right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country's first black president to recruit members.

The assessment also said that returning military veterans who have difficulties assimilating back into their home communities could be susceptible to extremist recruiters or might engage in lone acts of violence. Republicans criticize report on right-wing groups

The Republicans are indignant, of course.
[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano defended the assessment and others issued by the agency.

"Let me be very clear — we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," Napolitano said in a statement. "We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence."

Napolitano said the department respects and honors veterans and that she intends to meet with Rehbein next week after she returns from a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border and meetings in Mexico City.

The agency describes these assessments as part of a series published "to facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States."

The Republicans are concerned about a report badmouthing rightwing extremists because that's their base. Moderates are deserting the GOP -- yesterday's teabagging parties show you what's left of them. Hopefully their numbers remain small.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teabagging News Coming In

News from the teabagging parties is starting to come in. Here's MSNBC reporting on the one in Washington, DC:
It was a great idea, really. Take a million tea bags and dump them in Lafayette Park to protest government spending. Hip, hip, hoo-ray!

But a funny thing happened en route to a visually pleasing Tax Day protest. The National Park Service said the tea party protesters didn't have the proper permit to dump their bags.

So instead of a raucous visual demonstration, all that was left was images of the tea party packing up their boxes of tea on a cold, soggy day in D.C.


"We have a million tea bags here, and we don't have a place to put them because it's not on our permit," said Rebecca Wales, lead organizer of D.C. Tea Party.

Fight the power, folks, but next time check your permits before acquiring 1 million tea bags.

A local think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it would allow the dumping of the tea bags in its 12th floor conference room instead. Not quite the same impact, though.

What else could go wrong? Another protest that was planned for the Treasury Department was also scrapped due to permit issues.


But at least they remembered the tea, right? That's a start.

Who's up for protesting Tax Day 2010? (MSNBC) 1 Million Tea Bags, But No Place to Dump

All right, I knew I'd find it -- here's Fox News reporting on the same event.
Live on the scene from the D.C. Tea Party where I just spoke to a rowdy, raucous crowd of about 3,700 people in a pouring rain. They took the day off work, some brought the whole families, to send a strong message against bailouts, massive government growth, and the efforts of elites on Wall Street and in Washington to run our lives.
This is the beginning of a new populist revolt, and it’s happening all over the country. The top-down, big money, big government forces of Soros,, and Organizing for America are about to meet a true bottom-up populist steamroller. Elites will ignore this at their own peril.

The atmosphere is absolutely electric. Nobody who is here could call this “AstroTurf.” The crowd is booming forth chants of “no more bailouts,” and “we’re the boss.” They’re railing against energy taxes, government health care takeovers, and the never-ending bailouts.

Tim Geithner yanked our permit to protest in front of the Treasury Department (scared, perhaps?) at the last second, but the decentralized Tea Party movement was ready to go anyway, combining forces with another Tea Party already scheduled across the street in Lafayette Park.

This is the beginning of a new populist revolt, and it’s happening all over the country. The top-down, big money, big government forces of Soros,, and Organizing for America are about to meet a true bottom-up populist steamroller. Elites will ignore this at their own peril. (Fox) PHIL KERPEN: Live From a Tea Party — The Atmosphere Is Electric!

The Washington Post added this detail.
About midafternoon, the rally was temporarily suspended after what appeared to be a box of tea was thrown over the White House fence and officials evacuated the park as a security precaution, police said.

The Post says that "hundreds of protesters" gathered in Lafayette Square.

Teabags Today

Today is the big day, when some unknown number of Americans will protest the President's economic policies. Nobody has any idea how many people will participate in the teabagging, but you can be sure that Fox News will exaggerate the number.

Yesterday two different people, both immigrants from the USSR, came to talk to me about this big revolution in America that they hear so much about on TV. They were a little concerned and a little fascinated, to think that the great USA would be susceptible to such a thing. One of them did not realize that Fox News is the media outlet for the Republican Party. The other one did understand that, but took a certain comfort in it all, I think the tone of Fox and the GOP reminds him of the old country, in the old days. He loves Bill O'Reilly.

National Teabagging Day is a wonderful great perfect example of the concept of Astroturf, that is, a fake grassroots campaign. It is supposed to look like Fox is simply reporting on a movement in the country, and it is not supposed to look like Fox fabricated the movement.

Maybe some people will buy that. Nobody knows.

I had an email forwarded to me the other day from the Republican National Committee. It started ...
Vice President Joe Biden said during the 2008 campaign that it is patriotic for Americans to pay more in taxes. Since taking over control of Washington, the Obama Democrats have decided we should all be more "patriotic" having passed or proposed more than $5 trillion in new spending and $1.4 trillion in new taxes.

I don't know about you ... but I don't believe there is anything patriotic about giving more of your hard-earned money to the government to bankroll the liberal Democrats' agenda to increase spending to record levels, change the tax code to redistribute the wealth of working families, and destroy the savings of millions of middle-class Americans.

So on this Tax Day, April 15, the Republican National Committee is asking you, along with hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists across our country, to assert a real patriotic act by sending a virtual tea bag to Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of the tax, spend and borrow Democrats. Let them know enough is enough and you don't approve of their plan to pass the largest tax hike in American history.

Their web site,, even has a screen where you can send a virtual teabag to the President, Vice President, or to Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. Cute, you can pick the teabag, there are pictures of four different ones.

The funny thing is that the Obama budget contains the biggest tax cut for middle-class Americans in history. The only people who will have their taxes increased will be the very richest of us, the top two percent of the population. The top twenty percent of Americans make more than fifty percent of the total national income, and they have seen their taxes go down over recent decades. The Republican message that working-class families are going to pay higher taxes is not only misleading, it is false.

So today they will go to their teabagging parties. Maybe thousands of people across the country will participate, nobody knows. This is really a kind of test of the effectiveness of the Republican media machine, which for the past ten years or more has been very effective. Will people who watch Fox News really get up out of the easy chair and go downtown and teabag somebody? We'll know soon enough.

A Gallup poll that came out this week that showed that Americans really don't mind paying taxes. Sure, it's traditional to complain about it, especially on April 15th, but more respondents said their taxes were "just right," than that they were "too high." Gallup says, "Typically, a majority of Americans say their taxes are too high, and relatively few say their taxes are too low." This is a fascinating change, it appears that Americans have realized that government matters, and it is good for all of us if our government is effective.

The GOP/Fox approach to the current economic disaster is to use the same strategy that was so successful during Hurricane Katrina: do nothing. Everybody likes to have government out of their lives, everybody is in favor of reducing bureaucracy and keeping taxes affordable, but most people want their government to govern. That costs some money. We all contribute to the common good, that's the way of civilization, united we stand.

A Tip for Commenters

Something seems to have changed in Blogger, and if you comment here you may want to do it a little differently. As far as I can tell, when there is an HTML tag at the end of a line, for instance if your paragraph ends with a link like this: <a href="">Link</a>, or if you <i>italicize</i> something at the end of a sentence, and then press Enter twice to start a new paragraph, Blogger doesn't insert an empty line. Instead it starts the new paragraph right after your ending tag and things run together. It looks fine in the preview, but once you publish your comment it looks wrong.

The cure for this is not too hard, you will have to write some HTML yourself. After your tag, at the end of a line, type <br> to go to the next line. Put two of them -- <br> <br> -- to start a new paragraph, that is, to insert an empty line. <br> stands for "Break," e.g., a line break. Normally Blogger is smart enough to insert this code for you when it sees two carriage returns, somehow they have broken that feature.

In the preview, you might see too much space between paragraphs. Don't worry, it will look okay when it gets published on the Internet.

I don't know what has changed, and I expect that at some point the Blogger people will realized they have a bug and fix this. In the meantime, this will make your comments a little easier to read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Take Them Seriously

Seeing the Forest has a couple of paragraphs worth considering...
We're all laughing at the right's nuttiness, especially the teabagging campaign. They say Obama isn't an American, that he is a communist, that in ten weeks he is responsible for the bush deficit, that he is planning to put everyone in concentration camps, that he is going to replace the dollar with a world currency, that he is gutting the military... And he has only been in office ten weeks.

In fact they're back to being as crazy and paranoid as they were when Clinton was President. Remember the accusations that Clinton and Hillary were murderers, that Hillary personally killed Vince Foster, that Clinton ran a drug-smuggling operation out of an airstrip, that he was looking through FBI files, that he fired the travel office to put a cousin in, that he "sold" plots in Arlington cemetery, that he held up runway traffic to get a $500 haircut, that he used cocaine in the White House, that he hung obscene ornaments on the White House Christmas tree and the other fabrications that came daily?

We laughed then, too, and how did that work out? They took over the Presidency, the House and the Senate. Then they started wars. They tortured people. They appointed corporate lobbyists to run every agency. They filled the courts with Federalist Society judges that rule for the corporations and religious right every time. They stole billions -- in one documented case actually having the Fed ship truckloads of pallets of hundred dollar bills directly to Iraq to be distributed to Bush cronies. They destroyed the economy of the world. And they worked hard to destroy the world itself -- the arctic is melting, the fisheries are depleted, the resources are plundered... And they get away with it -- who is being held accountable for any of that? Take The Right Seriously, Please

Good point. We call them nuts because ... well, because they're nuts. At the moment there's a tiny seditious minority, but in the age of the soundbite they can get a lot of attention and do a lot of damage.

I'm not sure if this blog post is a response to Krugman the other day, but the two go together, hand in glove.

Speaks For Itself

As we come up to the great day of teabagging parties, rebellion against the "most polarizing president in recent times," as Fox News does all it can to stir up dissent, Gallup releases data on how the American people feel about our leaders' approaches to the economy.

Republican leaders earned more than half as much confidence as President Obama - 53.5 percent, and nearly three-fourths as much confidence as Democratic leaders.

Talk among yourselves.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Amazon's Moral Meltdown

I don't know if you use Twitter, I do because ... I don't know, I'm a nerd or something. Twitter is a kind of blogging environment where you are limited to 140 characters, and you can post from your cell phone or your computer. You can't say much in 140 characters, so the communications are necessarily immediate and generally not very informative. It's funny though what gets conveyed in a simple statement about what a person is doing at the moment. It's especially interesting when all that information gets aggregated and you can see what people are talking about.

I was just showing Twitter to somebody and I noticed something. Twitter has a little box on the side that says "Trending Topics," and shows words that are appearing in a lot of tweets. Like, today you have stuff about the Masters Tournament, Easter and Jesus are mentioned a lot, "Navy SEALS" is coming up a lot, I suppose they were the ones who rescued that ship's captain from the pirates? These are the things that are on people's minds today.

The top topic threw me: "#amazonfail," it says. Sixth on the list was "Amazon" again. Well, the cool thing about Twitter is that you can get the news really fast -- if there's an earthquake, some nerdy person is going to whip out their smartphone and write "I'm in an earthquake right now," and right away you get reports from the scene, well before any reporter or government agency gets information out.

What is this Amazonfail business? The LA Times now has an article online.

It shows two book covers, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and Unfriendly Fire by Nathaniel Frank.
One of these books has been removed from Amazon's sales rankings because of "adult" content; the other has not.

"American Psycho" is Bret Easton Ellis' story of a sadistic murderer. "Unfriendly Fire" is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it's "Unfriendly Fire" that does not have a sales rank -- which means it would not show up in Amazon's bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the Twilight series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon's search results.

Amazon's policy of removing "adult" content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. On Saturday, self-published author Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon's customer service explained:
In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Probst is the author of a novel for young adults with gay characters set in the old West; he was concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted. Amazon has not responded to the LA Times request for clarification.

Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs; "Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, "The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1" by Michel Foucault, "Bastard Out of Carolina" by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), "Little Birds: Erotica" by Anais Nin, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and "Becoming a Man" by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award.

Books that remain ranked include: "Naked" by David Sedaris; "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller; "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis; "Wifey" by Judy Blume; "The Kiss" by Kathryn Harrison; the photobooks "Playboy: Helmut Newton" and "Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds"; "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs; "Incest: From 'A Journal of Love'" by Anais Nin; "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (2007 Vintage International edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 Penguin Classics edition).

Certianly many of the books that are no longer ranked are no more "adult" than many of those that are -- as the list above shows, the same book, by different publishers, might meet either fate. And Kindle editions of some books remain ranked. "Unfriendly Fire," for example, is #1 in Gay and Lesbian Nonfiction on the Kindle -- even as the hardcover of the book, which was released on March 3, does not show up at all when searched for.

When book critic Bethanne Patrick came across the news, she posted in on Twitter, where it circulated rapidly. Sunday afternoon it took just an hour for the hashtag #amazonfail to become the top trending topic on the site. An online petition was created. A site run by romance writers started an effort to redefine the phrase "Amazon rank" as "To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies)."

But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be, it's a bit beside the point. It's the action itself that is troubling: making books harder to find, or keeping them off bestseller lists on the basis of their content can't be a good idea. Amazon de-ranks so-called adult books, including National Book Award winner

When my book was selling well I checked the ranking every day, it is an important indicator of how you're doing. Amazon is removing gay literature from the rankings even when it is not sexual or "adult" in any ordinary sense of the word, so you could be Number One on Amazon while a lot of books outsell you, if they have gay characters. That's the point: to make it harder to search for gay literature.

If you Google "Amazon rank" now you will see the top response is the new definition of the phrase.

I can't imagine what in the world Amazon is thinking. Just sell the books, and if you're going to give the consumer information, make it accurate. De-ranking gay literature will make it harder to find it in searches. In the Internet marketing world, jumped out to the early lead, cornering first the book market and then everything else with incredible high-tech techniques. If they want to act like this, just watch how fast the competition sinks them.

Rhode Island Governor Swings to the Dark Side

What is it with these New England states with their Republican governors? Rhode Island, I'm talking about. New England Cable News:
(NECN: Brad Puffer, Providence, RI) - One day after Vermont approved gay marriage, Rhode Island's governor is speaking out against similar efforts in his state. Governor Donald Carcieri is now lending his support to a national organization and a new ad campaign.

A national defense of marriage organization is launching a new ad campaign in Rhode Island, just a day after Vermont became the fourth state to legalize gay marriage.

"We are not naive about the momentum that is being gained we are not conceding anything," says Christopher Plante of National Organization for Marriage.

Rhode Island is the only New England state not to recognize either gay marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Governor Don Carcieri, and his wife, joined a news conference to make it clear they believe marriage should be between one man and one woman.

Here in Rhode Island there are two bills currently working their way through the legislature that would legalize gay marriage.

But clearly, they do not have the governor's support.

"What I don't want to see happen with this issue is what's happening is courts deciding things or legislatures deciding things this is such an important issue I think its should be put to the voters," says Carcieri. Carcieri denounces gay marriage

Okay, this is bad. The National Organization for Marriage is an anti-gay group that was involved in the Proposition 8 campaign in California. If you want to see some top-dollar hate propaganda, click HERE. Read the HRC's takedown of the ad HERE, breaking it apart lie by lie.

I don't know what "New England Cable News" is, but I have to question wording that describes the National Organization for Marriage as "a national defense of marriage organization." For one, marriage doesn't need any defense, nobody's attacking it and it's doing just fine. For another thing, the group doesn't defend marriage, it opposes certain marriages. The group is best described as an "anti-gay" group, at least that's more objective, and I don't think anybody would disagree with that characterization.

Democrats have majorities in the Rhode Island state House and Senate, as you would expect, but not supermajorities that can override a veto. So somehow the people over there in that little state put this nut in the governor's seat, and he can veto legislation that has been passed by majorities in two houses.

Skipping down, something familiar:
The governor would like to see a referendum on the 2010 ballot. Meanwhile, the legislature is looking at several compromise bills that would create benefits for same sex couples short of full marriage rights.

The way the anti-gay forces like to put these things up to a popular vote shows a basic failure to understand how our system of government works. The point in America is not that everybody should do what the majority wants them to do, the point is that everybody should be free.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Happy News: The Post

There has been a sort of theme on the blog this week, it just so happens. As we tend to focus here on the rights of sexual minorities, we have had a lot of good news recently. States are deciding to recognize same-sex marriages. State and local governments are considering and adopting nondiscrimination policies and laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Public opinion in general has shifted in a positive direction.

Not every step is a step forward, but there are lots of steps forward these days. There are still a lot of states that have laws defining marriage in narrow terms, and the federal government has some turning-around to do, but all in all it is clear that the tide has turned.

It is an amazing revolution, really. Not that many years ago the public image of gay and lesbian people was that they were weird, strange, laughable. The Stonewall riots of 1969 are considered the turning point, where the gay community came together and began to organize to work for recognition by the straight public as ordinary, respectable people deserving all the rights that everybody else got. Paranoid heterosexuals, especially ones with some tendencies they were struggling to suppress, saw the campaign for equal rights as "the gay agenda," a kind of conspiracy of evil people to take over the world and convert adults and children alike to some weird and scary sexual lifestyle. The revolution has been rough at times, the backlash has often been severe, but gays and lesbians and their straight allies pushed constantly and would not accept second-class treatment.

The campaign has been extraordinarily successful. Though a vastly larger percentage of the population is straight, gays and lesbians have been successful at getting the majority to "get over it." It's not just that straight people bite their tongue and accept something they don't like, there has been a more profound change, as the heterosexual community has realized there really is nothing unusually dangerous or scary about gay people.

This morning the Washington Post has a good story about the rapidly-changing tide of public opinion. Before I quote this piece, I want to complain about the headline: Faith Groups Increasingly Lose Gay Rights Fights. Look, they could just as easily have said Faith Groups Increasingly Win Gay Rights Fights. "Faith" has nothing to do with gay rights. There are many religious people -- the majority, I would guess -- who have faith that God loves his creations, each and every one of us, gay as well as straight. There is a small minority of people who believe that loving someone of your own sex, or failing to conform to your society's gender-role expectations, is sinful, and that those kinds of sinners should be shunned and punished. This isn't about "faith," unless by "faith" you mean "faith as an alternative to reason." That might work. Faith, in my experience, more generally leads to tolerance, acceptance, and love than to hatred and rejection of the soul of another pilgrim in this harsh world.
Faith organizations and individuals who view homosexuality as sinful and refuse to provide services to gay people are losing a growing number of legal battles that they say are costing them their religious freedom.

The lawsuits have resulted from states and communities that have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those laws have created a clash between the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion, religious groups said, with faith losing. They point to what they say are ominous recent examples:

-- A Christian photographer was forced by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to pay $6,637 in attorney's costs after she refused to photograph a gay couple's commitment ceremony.

-- A psychologist in Georgia was fired after she declined for religious reasons to counsel a lesbian about her relationship.

-- Christian fertility doctors in California who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian patient were barred by the state Supreme Court from invoking their religious beliefs in refusing treatment.

-- A Christian student group was not recognized at a University of California law school because it denies membership to anyone practicing sex outside of traditional marriage.

"It really is all about religious liberty for us," said Scott Hoffman, chief administrative officer of a New Jersey Methodist group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which lost a property tax exemption after it declined to allow its beachside pavilion to be used for a same-sex union ceremony. "The protection to not be forced to do something that is against deeply held religious principles."

But gay groups and liberal legal scholars say they are prevailing because an individual's religious views about homosexuality cannot be used to violate gays' right to equal treatment under the law.

"We are not required to pay the price for other people's religious views about us," said Jennifer Pizer, director of the Marriage Project for Lambda Legal, a gay rights legal advocacy group.

Twelve states now offer some form of same-sex marriage or same-sex partner recognition. Twenty states -- including Maryland -- and more than 180 cities and counties, including the District, ban discrimination against gays, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. Virginia bans it against state employees. Faith Groups Increasingly Lose Gay Rights Fights

See, this is what I have been calling a "good news" story, and there have been a lot of them lately. I think this is a cat that won't be put back into the bag, gay people have been successful in integrating themselves into a society that is predominantly heterosexual, they have largely overcome the stereotypes and prejudice through constant struggle and insistence on fair treatment. And I don't think it will go back.

In this post I have avoided use of the acronym LBGT, or GLBT. This article is about rights for gay and lesbian people, the "G" and the "L," and I doubt that bisexual people -- the "B" -- have ever had a big problem, except as they are identified as homosexual. But the transgender population, the "T's," have a long way to go. Progress has been made, and many liberal communities have recognized that it is fair and kind to protect that vulnerable population from discrimination, but public acceptance, it appears to me, is still a long way off.

Again, I want to complain about The Post's careless use of the word "faith" here, it really is unconscionable. There are people who use their religion to hurt others, but they do not in any way represent "people of faith." If you want to kill religion in the twenty-first century, then you would do well to frame it in opposition to reason, kindness, and fairness. I happen to think that religion is an important component of life among any community, and would like to see it persist. In an enlightened society, that can only happen if "faith" is understood in a positive way, as faith that the force that brings light to the world is intelligent, loving, and creative.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

More Good News: New Hampshire

We talked last week about the "bathroom bill" in New Hampshire, where the New England shower-nuts were successfully able to frame gender-identity discrimination in terms of men going into women's bathrooms. At that time, the state House voted to keep discrimination legal by a fifteen-vote margin.

They thought again about it and brought it to a second vote -- this is cool.
Concord – By a single vote, the New Hampshire House today reversed itself and passed a bill that bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The proposal was dubbed the "bathroom bill" by its opponents.

The bill, House Bill 415, allows individuals to bring actions at the Human Rights Commission when they feel they have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual identity, or the way they express it, such as with their clothing or makeup. Trans-gender rights bill passes House by one vote

The Democratic governor did not endorse the bill, and it is not known if he will sign it.

Skipping down, the good part...
Early in the debate, Speaker of the House Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, took the unusual step of leaving her podium and speaking in favor of the bill. She said she was disappointed in debate two weeks ago, and by “the muddying of the waters” on the issue.

“New Hampshire and the New Hampshire General Court has always stood against discrimination. Somewhere along the way, that message got lost on this bill,” she said. “We’re not asking you to open up bathrooms to sexual predators. We’re asking you to stand tall against discrimination.”


The first time, the House voted on the basis of stuff that wasn't in the bill. They had a big budget to get out and debate was cut short, and the legislators voted on a "bathroom bill" after hearing from some shower-nuts about how the new law would cause things like men lurking in ladies restrooms, predators, pedophiles, and perverts waving their festering penises around in women's showers, that sort of thing. Say it again: “We’re not asking you to open up bathrooms to sexual predators. We’re asking you to stand tall against discrimination.”

Congratulations to those even-tempered folks up there in that chilly sliver of a state (where I spent the summer of my twentieth year working highway construction) for taking a second look at this issue. It's one thing to con the gullible members of the public like our local Montgomery County shower-nuts did, stopping people in front of the Giant and asking them to sign "a petition to keep men out of ladies' bathrooms." It is another thing altogether, a terrible irresponsible thing, for elected representatives to vote on such an ignorant misconstrual of an important bill.
The bill adds the words “gender identity or expression” to the state’s anti-discrimination laws that protect people from discrimination based on race, sex, religion, age, and national origin.

Sponsor Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart's Location, said his bill simply protects people whose gender is an issue from discrimination in housing and the workplace.

Opponents said it will open bathrooms to sexual predators and child molesters and wrongly penalize employers, schools and churches.

We've heard this all before. In our county the Citizens for Responsible Whatever were able to get almost 16,000 valid petition signatures for a referendum in a county of approximately five hundred fifty thousand registered voters by lying to people about our nondiscrimination bill in exactly this same way. It costs a lot of money to counter a vivid lie, and luckily we didn't have to mount a full public-education campaign here.

In New Hampshire, the legislature voted and then thought better of it, and voted again. They realized they had made a mistake and they corrected it. That is the way to do it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Scales Are Tipping Everywhere You Look

It is amazing to live in a time when the scales tip toward righteousness. We have come out of eight years of desperation, when lying and greed and uncontrolled aggression seemed the norm, when our country lost its way, and now there are positive developments on every front. Did you see the video yesterday of President Obama visiting the troops in Iraq? He doesn't pre-screen his audiences, like the last guy, those hugs and smiles are for real. No plastic turkey this time, the Commander in Chief has the respect and even the love of the troops.

This blog is, improbably, devoted to topics involving gay and transgender rights. I say "improbably" because it never occurred to me in my long life that I would be involved in such topics, and now -- I have attended talks where I am referred to as a "gay activist." All right, I'll take it, it does turn out to be an important civil rights issue and an important battleground for our time. In 2004 some rightwing extremists tried to pull off a coup in our county, they tried to take over our county school board, and our group formed to stop them, and now we are gay activists. Well, cool.

Yesterday the Vermont legislature voted to overturn their Republican governor's veto of a bill that allowed equal marriage opportunities for gay and straight people. That was a big step, no state has proactively legislated such rights before. A few days ago a court in Iowa ruled that gay people should have equal rights to marry, and the wording of that judgment was strong and direct, they ruled for the right reasons. Further, the brave Democratic politicians in that state have put their foot down and are not going to entertain any silliness about taking people's rights away. It's a done deal.

The City Council in Washington DC, the "urb" of which we are "suburb," yesterday voted to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and almost all observers understand that the District is moving closer to legalizing such marriages. Like, here's how Fox News put it:
WASHINGTON -- The D.C. Council has voted to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

Lawmakers say Tuesday's unanimous vote moves the city a step closer to eventually allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the nation's capital. D.C. Council Votes to Recognize Gay Marriages Performed in Other States

Court rulings in Connecticut and Massachusetts led to recognition of marriages between same-sex couples in those states. New Hampshire and New Jersey both recognize same-sex civil unions, with all the legal benefits of marriage, and the governor of New Jersey has said he will sign a bill allowing marriage equality if it comes to his desk. A bill to recognize same-sex marriage has passed the New Hampshire state House and is working its way through the Senate.

The issue got off to a negative start, with 29 states approving state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. government does not recognize same-sex unions, even those that are legal marriages in states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.

There is no sensible justification for the government of a free country telling the people who they can and cannot marry. The "institution of marriage" will survive even if gay and lesbian couples are allowed its benefits. Most people are going to do what most people have always done, they're going to fall in love, marry, set up a household, start a family. This isn't something you have to be told to do, it comes naturally, people aren't instructed to pick a mate, nature drives them to do it.

Our state of Maryland is one of the most progressive states in the country -- at least the citizens are. Our elected representatives have failed to promote marriage equality successfully in the state legislature. Right now a bill to ban gay and transgender discrimination sits in a Maryland committee, where it is going to die, and so civil rights languish.

It's not all so bad in the Free State. State Senator Rich Madaleno sent out an email yesterday where he announced an advance in Maryland's inheritance tax statute:
I am pleased to report that earlier today, the Maryland State Senate passed the bill that exempts same-sex couples from the inheritance tax on primary residences. The final vote was 28-19 and reflected a few surprises. This year, Senate President Mike Miller voted for the bill. Unlike last year, there was no attempt to filibuster the bill and no concerted effort to amend or block the bill. In fact, the Republican leader, Sen. Robert Kittleman (R-Howard County), voted for the bill. Unfortunately, six Democrats voted against the bill, including three from Prince George's County. The vote count demonstrates where we have work to do to pass a marriage equality bill...

So, even here progress is being made.

These are exciting times when progressive changes are being made on every front. The far right has become paranoid and incoherent in its attacks on the new administration, but public opinion is remaining solidly sensible. People are concerned about the economy, but they want to have food that doesn't poison them, they want the earth to survive the plague of pollution our industries have brought, they support a just war but not international bullying, they don't want to torture anyone or be spied upon without a warrant, and they want American citizens to have freedom to make their own personal decisions in their lives.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Vermont Scores!

In Vermont, both houses of the legislature voted for marriage equality, and the Republican governor vetoed the bill. Today the legislature voted to override the veto. This is the first state that has adopted same-sex marriage legislatively, rather than as a result of lawsuits.
NEW YORK, April 7 -- Vermont on Tuesday became the fourth state to recognize gay marriage, and the D.C. Council voted to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states. The two actions give same-sex marriage proponents new momentum, following a similar victory last week in Iowa's Supreme Court.

"I think we're going to look back at this week as a moment when our entire country turned a corner," said Jennifer C. Pizer, the national marriage project director for the advocacy group Lambda Legal. "Each time there's an important step forward, it makes it easier for others to follow."

The issue is also advancing in New Hampshire, where it has passed the state House and is awaiting action by the Senate, as well as in Maine and New Jersey, which are debating same-sex marriage legislation. Vermont Legislature Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Let the nuts scream and yell, it doesn't matter, the train has left the station. "You guys don't understand. You've already lost."

One more thing. An important line from this Washington Post story:
Vermont has no mechanism for a citizen referendum to override the law.

"You Guys Don't Understand. You've Already Lost"

While Maryland Democrats hold up an important bill in committee that would prevent discrimination against gay and transgender people, Iowa has plunged forward, allowing same-sex marriages. Further, the Majority Leader of the Iowa state Senate says he's not going to let it come up for a vote. Listen to this guy -- this is what I'm talking about. The Chicago Tribune:
DES MOINES, Iowa - A key lawmaker Monday ruled out any move to overturn an Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, even as backers of that effort promised to step up pressure on the Legislature.

Meeting with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, was clear about proposals to begin the process of amending Iowa's constitution to overturn the decision.

"It will not come up," said Gronstal. "I have no intention of taking it up." Iowa Senate leader rules out gay marriage debate

It isn't for some politicians to decide who you can fall in love with, who you can marry, whether it's federal politicians or ones at the state level. It's not something people vote on. Here's a politician who gets that.

Skipping down ...
Rep. Dwayne Alons, a sponsor of a resolution seeking to put a constitutional amendment before voters that would ban gay marriage, said his phone lit up over the weekend.

"The people of this state should have a say," said Alons, R-Hull.

No they shouldn't. I didn't have to ask "the people" who I could marry, and I don't see why gay people should have to, either.

Towleroad has video and a quote from Gronstal:
"One of my daughters was in the workplace one day, and her particular workplace at that moment in time, there were a whole bunch of conservative, older men. And those guys were talking about gay marriage. They were talking about discussions going on across the country. And my daughter Kate, after listening for about 20 minutes, said to them: 'You guys don't understand. You've already lost. My generation doesn't care.' I think I learned something from my daughter that day, when she said that. And Ive talked with other people about it and that's what I see, Senator McKinley. I see a bunch of people that merely want to profess their love for each other, and want state law to recognize that. Is that so wrong? I don't think that's so wrong. As a matter of fact, last Friday night, I hugged my wife. You know I've been married for 37 years. I hugged my wife. I felt like our love was just a little more meaningful last Friday night because thousands of other Iowa citizens could hug each other and have the state recognize their love for each other. No, Senator McKinley, I will not co-sponsor a leadership bill with you."

In the meantime Maryland legislators are doing all they can to avoid the subject.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Marriage Equality In Iowa

This just in from the NYT:
DES MOINES — Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage on Friday, after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided that a 1998 law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

The decision was the culmination of a four-year legal battle that began with a suit filed on behalf of six same-sex couples in the lower courts.

The Supreme Court said same-sex marriages could begin in Iowa in as soon as 21 days, making Iowa only the third state in the nation, along with Massachusetts and Connecticut, to legalize gay marriage. While the same-sex marriage debate has played out on both coasts, the Midwest — where no states had permitted same-sex marriage — was seen as entirely different. In the past, at least six states in the Midwest were among those around the country that adopted amendments to their state constitutions banning same-sex marriage.

“We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law,” the Iowa justices wrote in their opinion. “If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded.”

“The concept of equal protection, is deeply rooted in our national and state history, but that history reveals this concept is often expressed far more easily than it is practiced,” the court wrote.

Iowa has enforced its constitution in a series of landmark court decisions, including those that struck down slavery (in 1839) and segregation (cases in 1868 and 1873), and upheld women’s rights by becoming the first state in the nation to allow a woman to practice law, in 1869. Iowa Court Voids Gay Marriage Ban

The story is quite thorough and long, if you are following this topic you will want to read it. I think it's a perfect way to end your work-week.