Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gender Identity Bill Passes Committee

A lot of people were pessimistic about this one. Though a majority of Maryland state Senators actually sponsored this bill, it needed to get through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in order to be voted on, and that committee was not necessarily friendly to the cause. The bill sat there for several weeks. Until today.

The Blade:
The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would ban anti-transgender discrimination in the state.

The 8-3 vote took place slightly more than two weeks after lawmakers held a hearing on Senate Bill 212 that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced last month. The measure would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation and credit.

State Sens. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City), Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery County), Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) and James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) voted for Senate Bill 212. State Sens. Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil and Harford Counties), Christopher Shank (R-Washington County) and Joseph Getty (R-Baltimore and Carroll Counties) opposed it.

The committee by a 7-4 vote margin also approved Raskin’s proposed amendment to SB 212 that would allow for “private and functionally equivalent” spaces, such as locker rooms, for people of different gender identities. Maryland Senate committee approves transgender rights bill
Well, this is nice. Looks like a party-line vote in the committee. Not a surprise, the Republicans want to keep discrimination legal.
Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who announced late last month she will challenge Madaleno in the June Democratic primary, specifically applauded Stone, Muse and Brochin who voted against a similar measure last year. She also thanked Raskin and attorney Jonathan Shurberg for securing the necessary votes on the committee to ensure SB 212's passage.

“I thank Senators Brochin, Muse and Stone for joining their fellow democrats and taking a stand for fairness and decency today,” Beyer told the Washington Blade. “It is much appreciated.”
Oh, and wow, this is surprising, the Citizens for Responsible Whatever still have a member.
Elaine McDermott of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government and Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council are among those who spoke against the measure. The Maryland Catholic Conference and other organizations submitted testimony in opposition to SB 212.
And Peter Sprigg is not described as representing PFOX any more, interesting.

I have not seen any news about the not-my-shower types complaining about bathrooms. Maybe that has run its course. Let's see this thing sail through both sides of the legislature and get signed by the governor.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' visit to the US and their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Fifty years. That television show was a pivotal moment for the generation that was born immediately after World War II. It was the visible form of a surge of irrepressible teenage energy and optimism -- there was really strange and different and great music and girls screaming and weird haircuts, it was an awakening moment for a generation. It is impossible to explain to someone who wasn't part of it, just as it is impossible to identify the awakening moments of another generation. Like, South Park? Seriously?

The LA Times had a story yesterday that went back and looked at what the pundits of 1964 had to say about The Beatles when they first arrived here. The comments are hilarious in retrospect. You can't say that after a mere fifty years, the Beatles have stood the test of time, their music could die as the baby-boomer generation dies out, but certainly they proved the cynical sourpusses of the middle sixties wrong.

I will select a few quotes from the Times article. Like, here is what the giftedly vocabularistic conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr., said:
The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as "anti-popes."
You can just see his nose wrinkling as he contemplates the thought of Beatles. Appallingly unmusical, that is good.

Newsweek wrote, in February, 1964:
Musically they are a near disaster, guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of "yeah, yeah, yeah") are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments ...
It is actually a preposterous farrago (a phrase I use all the time in conversation) to criticize the harmonies and melodies of the early Beatles.

The band I am in has been experimenting with "She Loves You" in rehearsal lately, and that early Beatles song is amazingly rich in melody and harmony. Listen to the first line of the verse: "You think you've lost your love," where the first part of the line is sung in unison, with the final word and the following line done in two-part harmonies, with one voice breaking up and one going down in what are essentially two coequal blended melodies. Listen to the tom-tom triplets after the "Yeah yeah yeah" choruses. Look at the inventive way those young musicians used the four-minor chord, how natural it sounds to go to a C-minor in the key of G. The motif in the lead guitar that goes into a verse, and the line on the bass that brings you into the tag ending, are perfect, seamless arranging. And it rocks. And they go "Yeah yeah yeah" on high notes, in unison, and then end on a big, fat triad of clear voices singing full-throatedly in perfect pitch.

It is indeed preposterous farrago to criticize the 1964 Beatles for their melodies and harmonies, never mind the more sophisticated music that came later.

Here's another one. Theodore Strongin, writing for the New York Times exactly fifty years ago today, said:
The Beatles' vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with the minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts.
Hey man, wait a few weeks until you hear how Mick Jagger communicates the schematic texts. The Beatles will sound like music to your sensitive ears.

One more. George Dixon, writing in the Washington Post:
Just thinking about the Beatles seems to induce mental disturbance. They have a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning, yet people hereabouts have mentioned scarcely anything else for a couple of days.
Yeah, and for a couple days after that. And a couple days after that. For fifty years, so far.

Nate Silver's 2012 best-seller "The signal and the noise: Why so many predictions fail -- but some don't" contains many beautiful examples of pundits, experts, and economists making judgments and predictions that are just plain wrong. Maybe the LA Times took only the most sensationally misguided comments from the 1964 media, but I'll bet you would find that almost nobody in the grown-up mainstream media guessed, when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" went rocketing to the top of the charts, that we would have a vocabulary in the twenty-first century that is peppered with Beatles allusions, that getting the two surviving Beatles together at an awards show in 2014 would be The Big Story from that night of celebrities and glitter, fifty years later. The pundits had no idea what they were talking about, but they got paid to talk about it, and Wise People nodded in wise agreement. Fortunately the experts' tone-deafness had zero impact on the Beatles' actual audience.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Chaos on Both Sides

This week Dana Beyer announced that she is running against Rich Madaleno for Maryland state Senate in District 18, and so far the reaction is fascinating, with chaos on both sides.

District 18 includes a chunk of downcounty MoCo, including some of Silver Spring, Kensington, Chevy Chase, and Wheaton. Politically this is as blue as you get, I doubt that there is any place in the country that is more solidly liberal and Democratic than District 18. (In 2010 the Daily Caller rated Montgomery County, Maryland, as the second most liberal place in the US, and that includes the relatively conservative upcounty communities.)

The incumbent, Madaleno, is popular in his district. He is known as a guy who loves to study budgets and finagle the details of complicated policies. He is a practical negotiator in the legislature who picks his fights and sometimes wins them. Beyer, in contrast, is a principled progressive who positions herself solidly -- usually at the left end of the spectrum -- and is willing to take the losing side of a vote if she believes she is right. I am not a profound political pundit but if I was voting in that district I would see this race as a choice between pragmatism and principles. As the campaigns gear up I'm sure the candidates will clarify their differences on the various issues.

Remember that the Republican Party is dead in Montgomery County. Last time I looked, there were no elected GOP officials in the county at all. That means that the Democratic primary effectively determines who will win the office. Beyer and Madaleno are both Democrats, and the primary election will be held in June.

Honestly, this is not a big deal. The Senator from District 18 works on legislative business with 46 other people in one chamber of a bicameral state legislature. If there is a big deal, it has to do with the observation that Madaleno has never faced a Senate primary challenge, and Beyer is an underdog whose declared candidacy is unusually bold.

Oh woops, hold the presses. This just in. Madaleno is gay, and Beyer is transgender.

A paragraph of review here. Sexual orientation means who you are attracted to, where "gay" means that a person is romantically and sexually attracted to those of their own sex. Gender identity means who you are. "Transgender" means that someone was assigned the wrong sex at birth, and has changed their presentation, for instance their dress and maybe their name and maybe they have had surgery or other treatments, to correct the error. "LGBT" means lesbian gay bisexual transgender, and is a blanket category for people who are in the minorities of sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation and gender identity don't have anything to do with one another, but the prejudice gay and transgender people face is similar and the groups have found it practical to work together to fight bigotry and carve out a place for themselves in society, so LGBT is a sometimes-uncomfortable but useful aggregate concept.

The idea that a transgender person would challenge a gay person in a political contest has both sides in a tizzy. Both Beyer and Madaleno are well-known and well liked in the LGBT community as activists and promoters of LGBT rights, and the gay activists seem to feel a sense of conflict in having to choose one or the other, though so far they are lining up behind Madaleno. The Advocate reports a feeling in the Maryland gay community that it was not a good idea for Beyer to push the issue:
Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, questioned Beyer's intentions, as the battle to pass Madaleno's antidiscrimination bill rages on. "We really are questioning the timing of her announcement," Evans said in a statement to the The Baltimore Sun. "We need to all be focused on getting this bill passed."

Equality Maryland will support Madaleno in the primary. "He has been a champion of our community for decades, and we will stick by him and ensure that we do what we need to do to get him re-elected," Evans told the Sun. "This is a district that feels very connected to him. I absolutely know in June they will send him back to Annapolis."

Evans expressed concern that Beyer's entry into the race will force Equality Maryland to devote resources to support of Madaleno that would have otherwise gone to other races, as up until Beyer's announcement, Madaleno was running unopposed. Trans Woman and Gay Man Vie for Maryland Senate Seat
Now, this is The Advocate, and they have to see the world through this particular prism, they are looking out for gay people. Also, I should note that some transgender people do not feel that Equality Maryland represents them very well.

The other day Madaleno posted a link on Facebook to a CBS News article about the District 18 contest, and it is an eye-opener. The story itself is nothing, the headline is ""Transgender Candidate to Challenge Gay Senator in Maryland", because I guess that is the news story, as far as CBS editors can see. But you should see the comments on this thing.

Click that link only if you have a strong stomach. As I write this, there are more than a thousand comments, and they are almost all, as far as I can see, variations on the "Democratic depravity on parade" theme. These people find ways to impugn LGBT people that I never heard of, it is one of the most repulsive displays of mass ignorance I have ever seen. I will copy a few for you:
  • This is an example of Obama's America at its most repulsive, ridiculous, and morally disgusting.
  • The political parties are filled with the most heinous immoral corrupt beings that the earth can produce.
  • I'm thinking the bearded-lady will announce next, or possibly, snake-boy.
  • Montgomery County looks like a great place to avoid like the plague it is.
  • Let's see, gender identity versus sexual preference. Why does either identity qualify them for election to anything? Oh, that's right, it's "Progressive."
  • So, will the he-she-its settle the race by swinging their purses at each other? I am SO glad I don't live in Maryland!
  • I hope someone can find a cure for gay soon. I don't know how much more I can take.
  • maryland voters must be so proud to have not one but TWO immoral homosexuals for the same office. the democrats have to be wetting their pants over which one of the perverts they want.
It goes on and on like this. And yes, this is hate. The lucky thing is that probably zero of the commenters live in District 18, and plus they are almost certainly not Democrats and thus won't vote in the Democratic primaries. But man oh man, they are seething.

So, oddly, the LGBT activists and the Nutty Ones are united in seeing Dana Beyer's decision to run against Rich Madaleno in terms of sexual identity. Meanwhile the actual voters in District 18 have to ask themselves, does that matter? These are two intelligent, well-informed, articulate and passionate human beings, either one of them will make an excellent leader, and in June the community will vote and choose. Beyer is perhaps more stridently progressive than Madaleno, and Madaleno is more centrist, let's say, and some people might prefer one approach or the other. Rich definitely has the advantage at this early point in this race, but Dana is charismatic and popular and well-connected and I wouldn't count her out quite yet.

Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal issued a statement on Facebook supporting Rich Madaleno this morning, and I think he put himself right in the middle of the wrong place to be. He said:
It is surprising that Senator Madaleno would face a challenge within the LGBT community, since his passion for human rights and marriage equality has consistently put him on the front lines on those issues.
But, no,there is nothing surprising about a candidate having a challenger in the primary election. It happens every day. It would be surprising if you thought all LGBT people were the same, or if all that mattered was loyalty to your sexual identity group. Remember last year, the president of the state Senate allowed "one gay bill" to be voted on. Maybe this year there will be two, or even three. That's not very much, it isn't how you decide who to send to represent your district. Rich didn't run because he's gay, and Dana isn't running because she's transgender. They disagree on policy priorities and now the voters get to choose.

I remember a time, a couple of years ago, when a straight person ran against another straight person. It was terrible, I couldn't decide, they both seemed perfectly straight and advocated for straight people. How do you know who to vote for? See how dumb that is?

Rich will be hard to beat but Dana will give it a good shot. If they can paint a clear picture for the voters to see the differences between them, then at least they can choose the kind of person they want to represent them in Annapolis. Maybe it will be a choice between principles and pragmatism, and I wouldn't try to guess how it will come out.