Sunday, August 31, 2008


Eight years ago, Grover Norquist explained the agenda for the Bush Republican Party in these famous words: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." In accomplishing that goal, the Bush administration has been spectacularly successful.

New Orleans is their bathtub.

The disaster of Katrina in 2005 was one of the most horrible examples of the incompetence of government that has ever been known. The storm's approach was well documented, its danger was well known, and one of our most cherished American cities was destroyed by inattention -- and not accidentally, either, this was the perfect application of Norquist's principle.

We are reading that the hurricane approaching New Orleans now is twice as big as Katrina, they're calling it "the mother of all storms," the "storm of the century." Gustav is still out at sea, gathering strength, and these things are unpredictable but it looks to be headed straight for the same stretch of Gulf Coast that Katrina hit. Do you think we have fortified the levees for a Category Five storm? Do you think we are prepared for a disaster there? Did we learn anything from the Katrina experience? Ah, the trick there is in the word "we." Yes, "we" learned something, "we the people," but our government did not, it has been busy flailing in the bathtub, and has nearly expired.

People use the word "ironic" wrong all the time, but this is it: it is excellently ironic that the Republic convention is going to share the front pages of the nation's newspapers with this reminder of the consequences of their political philosophy. They should be proud, but I have the feeling they will not want the voters to draw a short straight line between the coming disaster and their party's policies.

I'm curious to see how they'll play this. They talked about re-scheduling the convention, but apparently that's not going to happen. Now they're saying that President Bush won't attend, because of the storm -- the collective sigh of relief could have created a storm of its own over the Twin Cities. Why would a hurricane affect his decision to give a speech at the party convention? I guess it's supposed to look like he cares this time.

Somebody said there was talk of turning the Republican convention into a telethon to raise money for the hurricane's victims. I hope they do that! I hope they come on the TV screen, one after the other, and tell us how concerned they are about those poor black people down there who have lost their homes. Irony irony irony. You know how Karl Rove has said he runs all of his campaigns as if people were watching television with the sound turned down; this year they'll be watching shots of sorrowful (but perfectly groomed) talking heads interspersed with familiar scenes of chaos and destruction. How's that going to look, with the sound turned down? The message will be, we've been running things for eight years and this is what you get, but don't blame us.

Irony is a tough concept. Let's say there will be irony when a political party drowns the government in a bathtub and then expresses sadness and sympathy for the drowning victims. Irony-deficiency is sometimes seen as a defining feature of conservatism, but the American people are perfectly capable of appreciating irony. We get a laugh out of hypocrites who try to talk out of both sides of their mouth. Let them come on the television with their flag lapel pins and furrow their well-powdered foreheads in significant expressions of sympathy for those brave souls who have lost loved ones etcetera etcetera. We'll watch, we won't actually laugh because it's not funny, New Orleans was a city with a lot of character, good music, good food, a cool way of talking, we won't be laughing but we will note the irony of these expressions. There will be some who miss it, some who will believe the expressions of sympathy are sincere, and who knows, maybe there will be enough of those to make the November election a close one.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Government Blocks Mad Cow Testing

This is the kind of story that just shouldn't be, but in these days it doesn't even elicit a roll of the eyes.

Here's the AP version of the story:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration can prohibit meat packers from testing their animals for mad cow disease, a federal appeals court said Friday.

The dispute pits the Agriculture Department, which tests about 1 percent of cows for the potentially deadly disease, against a Kansas meat packer that wants to test all its animals.

Larger meat packers opposed such testing. If Creekstone Farms Premium Beef began advertising that its cows have all been tested, other companies fear they too will have to conduct the expensive tests.

So this little company in Arkansas wants to produce quality beef, they'd like to be able to tell their customers it's not going to kill them. They want to test their beef for disease and the federal government won't let them!

You tell me how this represents the conservative principles of small governments and a free marketplace.

In fact, if you were to believe in the power of the free market, you would see that a small company like this can have the positive effect of forcing quality up. That last paragraph says what will happen. If Creekstone offers guaranteed un-sick beef, then the big companies will have to test, too. Consumers benefit as the market stabilizes around a safer product. It sounds to me like it comes right out of the book. If a big company doesn't want to test, they can produce cheaper meat and pass the savings to the consumer -- you can save money by buying the cheaper beef, at the risk of catching a disease that turns your brain into a sponge, your choice.

This is as pure an example as you will find of the Bush administration putting citizens at risk in order to protect the interests of big business. This is not free enterprise, it is not small government, this is greed, pure and simple, dangerous greed.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Birthday

We don't get involved in partisan politics here, but you know John McCain is from my home state of Arizona, and today is his birthday. So without actually coming out and saying we endorse him, I just wanted to wish him a happy birthday as he prepares for the convention and Gustav heads for New Orleans. McCain is 72 today.

(Thanks to Firedoglake for the picture of our leaders taking a break from protecting the city of New Orleans from hurricane Katrina three years ago.)

The Governor Weighs In

The Blade had an interview on its blog with Governor O'Malley this week, which touched on some interesting topics. For instance, O'Malley expressed his intention to sign a marriage equality bill if it came to his desk. He also was asked about the Montgomery County gender identity nondiscrimination bill:
Blade: Last question. There is a transgender rights measure that is going to the ballot in Montgomery County in November. Do you expect to become involved in that battle at all to help protect the rights of transgender people?

O'Malley: You know, I think we passed a similar bill in the city of Baltimore when I was mayor, if my memory serves me correctly. So, you know, there are bills at the local level. There's bills at the state level. I typically don’t get involved with local ordinances. I try to focus my attention on statewide bills. But we did it in the city of Baltimore and dogs and cats didn't fall from the sky. You know? It was — I think these bills — I don't know. I think it would probably be a good thing for Montgomery County to do. I don't have the legislation in front of me, but if it's like what we did in Baltimore, it caused no problems whatsoever.

Blade: So it's got your thumbs up?

O'Malley: Yes. O'Malley reiterates call for civil unions

They did it in Baltimore and dogs and cats didn't fall from the sky. Let's do it in our county.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


How about that acceptance speech?

We Get Email

We get email, if you know what I mean. There's one lady who writes us regularly, in particular. She seems nice enough, just wants to point out different ways that gay and transgender people are disgusting and dangerous, because we seem not to have noticed this obvious fact.

Like the other night, we got an email... Here's the whole thing:
Kids in the locker room: Y not?

I got a note last week from a friend in the neighborhood who swims with her two young daughters at the downtown YMCA. Finding the family changing rooms occupied, she decided to use the regular women's locker room, only to be told that children between the ages of four and fifteen can't enter the locker rooms of the Y, even accompanied by their parents. She and her two children waited in vain for ten minutes for one of the two family restrooms to open up

An email exchange with Bryan Huffman, executive director of the Durham YMCAs, revealed the following thinking:
Our primary goal is to prevent any potential of sexual abuse or misconduct from occurring to children. Protecting our youngest members is our utmost importance. While no known misconduct has occurred at the Downtown YMCA, we are not willing to take that chance. Statistics show that locker rooms, specifically shower areas, are one of the leading public locations that child sex abuse occurs. By allowing children and adults to shower side by side is inviting predatory behavior to occur. The YMCA cannot tolerate that risk. We care too much about children to allow it.

The first thing you notice is the pure irrelevance of this item. TTF supports a new county law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. A small group of radicals has redefined the issue, saying the bill is about predatory men claiming to be women and lurking in ladies locker-rooms.

This tidbit does not have anything to do with our county's new law at all. Some person in Durham, North Carolina (where I lived for a few years, by the way), has said that he doesn't think kids should shower with adults at the YMCA. There is nothing about transgender people or discrimination in the story, and it doesn't even assume that men will go into the ladies shower-room. It's like, now that they've connected shower-rooms to the new law, anything scary about shower-rooms supports their point of view.

The next thing you notice is the "statistics show" wording. What statistics? Child sex abuse makes the news pretty often, and I can't remember a case -- ever -- where a child was molested in a public shower. I know somebody will dig up a story about that, but really, it doesn't seem like a "leading location" for that sort of thing. For one thing, there are usually other people around.

But this gets funny. You know there's this new thing out there, it's called a "Google," and it knows everything. You can ask it any question, just about, and it's so dad-gum smart it can find you the answer, just like that. So I asked the Google to tell me where this little story came from, and it said: RIGHT HERE. It's a story in a web site about Durham called Bull City Rising. It turns out there is a bit of a problem there in the heart of the South, because the director of the YMCA won't let kids use the public showers.

The problem is that families want their kids to use the public shower at the pool.

Read some more:
Apparently, this new policy -- about ten months old -- has raised a hue and cry from a number of downtown Y members who've brought their kids to the YMCA for years and taken them into the regular locker rooms to get changed. Four new temporary changing stations have been added on the pool deck, too, but none of these contain showers or other bath facilities.

Our correspondent suspects the policy may be in place due to concerns from older, childless members who don't want to hear young children being, well, young children in close proximity to them. And she points out that her children would always be accompanied in the locker room, not left on their own.

This blog has links to two stories, one was an incident where a guy with a camera phone was arrested taking pictures of a boy in a shower-room, the other is a link that doesn't work, apparently another YMCA had some sort of incident.

So the story is, really, a paranoid YMCA director won't let kids from four to fifteen use the showers because he's afraid of sexual predators. Real parents, real families, are unhappy with the decision and some are leaving the Y, because of this rule. A kid comes to the Y with their parents and can't use the showers, even with their parents right there, because of the possibility that something bad will happen.

Do you know why somebody sent us this? There is nothing about gender identity, nothing at all, except that the CRW wants to associate transgender people with locker-room perverts. The good people of Durham, NC, think this guy's off his rocker, they're going to swim somewhere else, that's the story here, it has nothing to do with anything we're involved in.

There are criminals out there, even sexual criminals, and it is not impossible that one tries to do something in a shower-room. None of it has anything to do with controversy over a nondiscrimination bill. None of it has anything to do with gender identity, transgender people, or anything else that has happened or will happen in our county.

There is simply no overlap between the story described in this email and the controversy over a new bill in Montgomery County, Maryland. None.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some Stores Not Selling the Gay Hallmark Cards

AmericaBlog picked up on this, and since we were just talking about the new Hallmark cards I thought it'd be good to bring up here.

From Nampa, Idaho's, 2News-TV:
NAMPA (AP) - A manager says seven Hallmark greeting card stores in the Treasure Valley will not carry the company's new same-sex marriage cards.

Cassi Jacobsen, an assistant manager for the Jordan's Hallmark store in Nampa's Karcher Mall, says the family that owns the seven area stores has decided against carrying the new line of greeting cards. She said the owners were out of town and not immediately available for comment.

Reaction to the cards has been mixed.

Idaho Family Values Alliance Executive Director Bryan Fischer sent out a press release Thursday calling for local-area Hallmark stores not to carry the cards.

But Delmar Stone of Nampa, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers Idaho Chapter, called the cards "wonderful."

Jody May-Chang, the Boise editor of the gay rights Web site, called the decision a bullying tactic. Treasure Valley Hallmark stores won't carry same sex greeting cards

That's the whole story.

AmericaBlog's John Aravosis seems to want to boycott Hallmark over this. I guess I see his point, but you also kind of want to give the company credit for making cards in the first place for the gay market. I mean, that's a big step forward, now gay people can express their feelings as superficially as everybody else. Well I hope Hallmark will work out a deal with their franchise owners so they put the product on the shelf and take people's money. It sounds to me like a good business tactic, but what do I know?

Ah, I just Googled this nutty guy. It's really the Idaho Values Alliance, not "family" values. They say they're the "Idaho affiliate of the American Family Association." He says:
Realize that if gay activists get their way, and introduce "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" protections into Idaho law, these owners could be sued for discrimination for their conscience-driven decision not to sell pro-gay greeting cards.


Let's make it a "buycott" instead of a boycott, and show our support for local businessmen who are committed to doing the right thing. Be sure to thank the staff for the store's stand when you make your purchase; they will pass on your word of encouragement to the owners. Local Hallmarks will not stock gay marriage cards

Buycott. Actually, that's pretty good, I hadn't heard that one before. Well, I never heard of Nampa, Idaho before, and I don't expect this is going to affect me any. There're probably other things they do in some places that I wouldn't like if I lived there. Eventually the the people of Nampa are going to get over their fear of gay people, that's my prediction, they just might be a little slower than more progressive places in the country, for instance Montgomery County, Maryland.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Supporting Hallmark and Their New Line of Cards

I'll admit it, I think PZ Myers is kind of fun. He's an atheist professor who has just been having a big time lately making fun of religion. I personally don't think that's worth doing, but his exploits definitely have a sting to them -- he's the one who stole the consecrated Eucharist wafers and broke them up and threw them away, thereby offending many thousands of people while claiming that all he did was throw away some cookies. He does that sort of stuff.

Today he's got a new idea. It turns out that Hallmark has started producing wedding cards for same-sex couples, and the Family Blah Blah groups are, as expected, offended. So for instance HERE you've got an American Family Association "Action Alert," telling people to send emails and letters to Hallmark. Actually, this one is updated, check this out:
Hallmark pushes same-sex marriage

Ask them to stop promoting a lifestyle that is not only unhealthy, but is also illegal in 48 states.

UPDATE!! Hallmark is blocking emails from those who support one-man, one-woman marriage!

Read the alert below, then, PLEASE make a personal phone call to Hallmark’s corporate headquarters. Be polite, but firm in telling Hallmark that gay marriage cards are a bad business idea. Their corporate number is ... [deleted]

Imagine that, Hallmark doesn't want email from a bunch of nuts... hard to figure out why, isn't it?

PZ Myers suggests that people who appreciate Hallmark's inclusiveness should send email directly to Donald J. Hall, the chairman of the board at Hallmark, expressing their appreciation. My guess though is that if Hallmark is "blocking emails from those who support one-man, one-woman marriage" they're probably also blocking emails from godless deviants and sodomites, too.

Myers goes on:
Bonus action! Since poor Don [Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association] is having a snit over being left out, maybe we can make it up to him. Next time you're in a store with the gay greeting cards, buy one! Make Hallmark happy by giving them a little money. Then the fun part: send it to Don! I'm sure he'll appreciate a coming-out card or gay wedding announcement. Do it even if you aren't gay or aren't getting married — it's the thought that counts, you know.

Here's his address:

Donald E Wildmon
PO Drawer 2440
107 Parkgate Drive
Tupelo, MS 38803

Just watch. With this outpouring of love and happiness, Don's heart will grow three sizes that day, and he'll realize that love is love and he doesn't have to dictate who may share their love, and that his love for his wife (or his dog or George W. Bush) is not diminished if two other people of the same sex care for each other. Pharyngula blog

Personally, I usually stay away from Hallmark, to tell you the truth I don't like the way their stores smell, it's too sweet, too much foo-foo in there. I don't like the cute stuff, I don't like the idea of mass-produced sentiment in general. But ... what's more typical of our American culture than a Hallmark card? And what would be more annoying to a hypocrite like Wildmon than a mailbox full of cards about love?

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Meet With Basic Rights Montgomery

Yesterday I posted a piece criticizing a presentation by Basic Rights Montgomery. Today I went to their office and had an interesting meeting with some of their managers. After some good discussion, I feel confident the organization will successfully manage the referendum campaign. Let me tell you about the meeting.

The Montgomery County Council passed a bill last year that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and some extremists got up petitions for a referendum to rescind the law. There is a lawsuit, it's still under appeal, but at this point a referendum is in line for the elections in a little more than two months. Last night I attended a public presentation by Basic Rights Montgomery at a Unitarian Church in Rockville, where they were going to present their strategy for winning the referendum measure that will probably appear on the November ballot.

The meeting yesterday got off to a good enough start, there was some talk about how many votes we need to win, what kind of base we can count on, there was mention of some planned research to find out more about the voters and how to reach them, stuff about fund-raising and volunteering, it was all good.

But somewhere along the way the presentation ran off the rails. Pretty quickly, actually. People started asking questions and making comments -- there were about forty people in the room and at times it looked like most of them had their hands up. The presenters tried to play along but the meeting got disorganized, and a lot of things were said that they hadn't really intended to say. By the end of the meeting a lot of people were frustrated, including me.

I went home and blogged about it. There is no question where I stand here, I think the referendum is an embarrassment, our county needs to adopt the nondiscrimination law decisively and run the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever out of town on a rail. Basic Rights Montgomery is the group that will manage the campaign, and I want them to kick some butt. But ... you saw what I wrote.

I think stuff started happening this morning pretty early. The campaign staff at BRM started analyzing the presentation and what had gone wrong -- they didn't need me to tell them it had gone badly. They did see the blog and, not surprisingly, they weren't happy about it. A lot of phone calls were made, though interestingly none to me.

Eventually word got to me, and I decided to go down to their office to meet with the campaign managers, Opel Simmons and Eric Anthony, plus a couple other people. It's funny, I write about people on the blog but I usually don't have to deal with them afterwards. I knew they were unhappy with me, I was told that somebody had suggested taking the blog post down (not gonna happen), well I'm sure they didn't like what I said. My feeling about that is, if you don't want to have that kind of publicity, don't give that kind of presentation.

It turned out to be an amiable enough gathering. They explained to me some details of their strategy and activities so far, and things really are going well, especially when you consider they've been at it less than two weeks. Their fund-raising activities are indeed raising funds, they have plans for getting information to the community, the staff is coming together to support the campaign. They have clear plans about concrete things like mailings and phone banks, polls and message framing, and I have confidence that they will be successful in this. For them it's all something that builds up to election day, there are some activities that are important now, especially fund-raising, and there are other activities that will be more important as it comes down to the wire. They know how many votes they need, how many likely votes they have already, and their goal will be to reach those who will support the cause in the voting booth.

I told them that I want them to win and I am willing to cooperate with them toward that end but I'm not going to be a puppet. The credibility of this blog depends on us reporting the facts, warts and all. If you follow the comments here, you will see that I am called a liar once or twice a week for something or other, but if I really was a liar nobody would read this stuff. And the fact is, much as I agree with their aims, yesterday's presentation was not good, so that's what I wrote. I think by the end of the meeting we understood each other. I respect their abilities and professionalism and trust that they will run a winning campaign, and they know they have my support but I will criticize them if I think they are underperforming.

It appears to me that Basic Rights Montgomery is going to do everything right as far as getting people to vote Yes on C. Talking to them today without the distraction of people raising their hands and changing the subject every two or three minutes, you could see that these people are committed professionals who know what they're doing. The problem yesterday was really one of presenting themselves to the public. When you have a roomful of people who care passionately about a subject, they don't want to hear about polls you plan to conduct and problems with your web server. They want to talk about the issues, people want to talk about discrimination, gender identity, bigotry, the culture wars. Basic Rights Montgomery is fully prepared to fight the campaign we need here, and I'm afraid they simply didn't give enough thought to how they would present it to the public.

I know these guys weren't happy with me, but they were nice enough about it. I told them they were lucky it was me and not some reporter from one of the big newspapers. They understood before I got there that the problem was not my blogging, the problem was their meeting. Though, in fairness, they were not happy about my blogging. I asked them if I had any facts wrong and offered to fix them, but no.

I know that Basic Rights Montgomery managers are revising their approach to public presentations. It sounds like several things went wrong at this one, it was scheduled for too long, they were not permitted to bring in a speaker, a confluence of things resulted in an unsuccessful presentation and bad publicity. This is going to be a good campaign, it was just a presentation that got away from them. They are taking the lesson learned and making the best of it, and that's the most you can hope for.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Woman Fired For Wearing Pants

No, it didn't happen, but it could have. As it is, an employer in Montgomery County can fire somebody because they don't meet expectations for their gender. A man with a high-pitched voice: fire him. A woman with short hair: fire her. There is no legal protection for people who deviate from gender norms in our county, until Bill 23-07 goes into law.

We treat 23-07 as if it was about transgender people, but the word "transgender" doesn't appear anywhere in it. The bill puts the term "gender identity" into the existing nondiscrimination wording, adding it to race, color, religious creed, ancestry, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, presence of children, family responsibilities, source of income, sexual orientation, and age. You can read the final version of the bill HERE (there is a later version, signed by the County Executive, but this one is the same in content, the copy is cleaner, and the file is about one-tenth the size) (See the other one HERE if you like).

So what is gender identity, exactly? It is a much broader concept than transgender. Here's how the bill defines it:
Gender identity means an individual's actual or perceived gender, including a person's gender-related appearance, expression, image, identity, or behavior, whether or not those gender-related characteristics differ from the characteristics customarily associated with the person's assigned sex at birth.

A lady wears pants to work, that's "a person's gender-related appearance." Currently she can be fired. Restaurants can refuse to serve her. Taxis can pass her by. The cable company can refuse to hook her up, because she's wearing pants. This law, Bill 23-07, would prohibit that.

I just came from a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville where some leaders of Basic Rights Montgomery presented their strategy for supporting the nondiscrimination law if it makes it to a referendum vote in November.

I'm worried.

The shower-nuts started back in November, maybe earlier, screaming and yelling -- literally -- that predators and pedophiles were going to go into ladies locker-rooms and molest our wives and daughters if the bill became law. They got more than 25,000 people to sign petitions by telling them that. It's a lie, but it's a vivid lie and it hits people personally -- nobody wants their daughter to be molested, so they sign a petition opposing that, even though the law doesn't say anything at all about bathrooms or locker-rooms or change anything about who can go into them.

Basic Rights Montgomery was formed specifically to support the nondiscrimination bill in the referendum election. They have campaign managers, field organizers, volunteers to work the telephones, an office in Silver Spring.

Here's what I learned at today's meeting, which by the way was open to the public:
  • Their web site doesn't work because the person who developed it left and nobody has the "access codes" to log on and fix it.

  • Basic Rights Montgomery plans to sponsor a poll to get demographic information and find out how different kinds of voters will respond to different kinds of information, for instance how they'd feel if they were told that the law would let men use the ladies room. But they haven't picked a company to conduct the poll yet. They won't be able to decide on a "message" until after the poll is done.

  • The organization has the plan of "making information available."

  • As of now, their slogan is "Prohibit Discrimination, Yes on C."

  • They have no response to the bathroom issue except to change the subject.

  • If I understand what was said, there is apparently no way to contact them to volunteer to help, they have to contact you.

Look, this isn't croquet we're playing here, this is a fistfight. The other side has been throwing punches for months, and our side is waiting for funding so we can have a poll so we can decide what we want to tell people. "Making information available" is important and so obvious it shouldn't need to be said. It is also not a persuasion strategy. People who want information need to be able to find it, I agree. But your average ignorant voter doesn't care that much and isn't going to look for it. If you want to give them information you've got to give it to them. In their face.

"Prohibit discrimination" is the wimpiest campaign slogan I can imagine. It's got more syllables than impact. The people of our Blue county oppose discrimination, and would support this bill if they knew what it said. That's why we elected the Council who passed it unanimously and the County Executive who was happy to sign it. But the anti-gay, anti-transgender bigots are making sure people don't know what the law is about. They're not conducting polls and adjusting their message for the "median voter," they're waving their arms and getting red in the face, telling lies and misrepresenting the law in any way that will get people's attention. When one side is saying your daughter will be raped and dead girls will be turning up all over the county, "prohibit discrimination" is not an effective response.

Basic Rights Montgomery is just getting started. They said today there are seventy-two days till the election, that's seventy-two days to educate the public and undo the damage the shower-nuts have done with their bathroom story. If people understand the issue, the nondiscrimination bill will win the majority of votes in November and go into law, it's as simple as that. If they think it's about bathrooms then discrimination will remain legal, women can be fired for wearing pants to work.

This referendum is an embarrassment to our county, it's incredible to think that we are actually going to vote on whether to re-legalize discrimination against a group that needs protection more than just about anybody. The other side is fighting dirty, and that doesn't mean we should fight dirty, but we need to fight -- we need to take the initiative, frame the topic, throw the big punches. Basic Rights Montgomery is our guy in the ring, we've got to cheer for them and support them. I'm sure they don't like for me to criticize them, but those of us who care about this issue need to see some action.

A lot of people at today's meeting were concerned. A kind of alternative meeting started in the next room, six or eight people who got up and left the BRM talk to meet in the next room, and a good proportion of the audience walked out during the presentation. The organization needs contributions, they need volunteers, and they need to know that the community is paying attention. They're getting a late start and the other side is well funded, well organized, experienced; their campaign has been going strong for nine months, since November, and our side is just considering who to hire to conduct a poll so we can decide on a "message." The community needs to support Basic Rights Montgomery, that means we get behind them and help when we can. Get in touch with them however you can and volunteer, let's help them get into the game.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Blurred Lines of Gender

The Washington Post has a long and interesting story this morning about Stella Walsh, a Polish-American Olympic athlete who set or matched the world record in the 100 meter dash six times. Upon her death, according to this story, there was a controversy:
Walsh, [Cuyahoga County, Ohio, coroner, Samuel Gerber] wrote, had had a mixture of male and female chromosomes. She had no internal female reproductive organs, and possessed an underdeveloped and non-functioning penis, "masculine" breasts and an abnormal urinary opening. Gerber said that Walsh's sex was likely ambiguous at birth, and that she could have been raised a boy or a girl. But perhaps mindful of the charged environment, he added that Walsh "lived and died a female. . . . Socially, culturally and legally, Stella Walsh was accepted as a female for 69 years." The Runner's Secret: A Blurry Line Can Divide Male and Female Athletes

Her ex-husband once told a reporter that he felt "stupid as hell" about marrying her, that they had only had sex a couple of times, "and she wouldn't let me have any lights on."

The International Olympic Committee was asked to open the case and consider taking back medals she had won competing as a female, but declined.

I am skipping a lot of this article, it is very readable but not concise. Here's the meat of the story, it seems to me:
Modern scientific techniques might have provided an answer to an old question: Did Stella Walsh really cheat?

The answer appears to be no.

Experts on human sexual development say it's not accurate to call Walsh a man, as many media sources have in the years since her death. The reality, in fact, is far more complicated.

Walsh's condition is uncommon, but not unheard of. Severe cases of sexual abnormality -- "testicular feminization," in which a genetic male has some or all of the characteristics of a female -- occur in about one in 20,000 births, according to the National Institutes of Health. Milder sexual abnormalities, such as an undescended testicle, occur in about 1 percent of all births.

These abnormalities occur in the developing fetus and go by various medical names -- congenital adrenal hyperplasia and androgen insensitivity syndrome, among others. The labels for children with mixed anatomical or genetic characteristics are ever-evolving and much more imprecise: "mosaics," "hermaphrodites," "intersex."

The confusion over Walsh's sex appears to have started immediately after her birth in rural Poland. Although Walsh's first name in Polish was often given as Stanislawa -- a traditional female name -- the Austrian historian Erich Kamper found a birth certificate sometime after her death that indicated she was baptized with a boy's name.


Starting in the 1950s, parents began sending such children to surgeons for genital reconstruction procedures. But the children often suffered from sexual identity issues as they matured. The contemporary approach is to wait until a child reaches puberty or later, at which point the child can make his or her own decision, says psychiatrist William G. Reiner, who has studied 400 children with genital abnormalities. The best way to determine such children's sexual identity, says Reiner, who directs the University of Oklahoma's psychosexual development clinic, is simply to ask them.

Montgomery County voters may be asked in November whether to allow discrimination against people like Stella Walsh. Our County Council voted unanimously to prohibit it, and a small group of local extremists has distorted the issue in a so-far-successful effort to relegalize discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

These are hard topics -- it's impossible to say definitively, scientifically, whether Stella Walsh was a man or a woman. I think the wisdom is in that last phrase: The best way to determine [a person's] sexual identity ... is simply to ask them. You can count chromosomes and test for hormones, examine someone's genitals, but importantly the gender of a person is whatever they believe themselves to be. Some people are uncomfortable with that, that's understandable, it would be easier to live in a tidy black-and-white world, but we don't. The kind thing, the right thing, the moral thing to do is to offer equal opportunities to those who have been dealt a difficult hand in life.
Eric Vilain, a leading authority on genetics and sexual development at UCLA's medical school, says that in ambiguous cases, no one test can strictly define what's "male" or "female."

"I'd be damned if I could judge" sexuality, Vilain concludes. "There would certainly be cases where I could not come up with a definitive answer. . . . If you abide by some social construct hoping it will give you a clear-cut distinction, I think you're in for a lot of trouble."

In the end, the strange saga of Stella Walsh might have left behind a legacy of more than records and medals. Her track career raises some profound questions about human beings.

Such as: What's a man? And what's a woman?

"What it tells us is there are different degrees of maleness and femaleness -- a range," says Bill Mallon, an Olympic historian, a former pro golfer and an orthopedic surgeon who practices in North Carolina. "There are," he says, "all sorts of shades of gray."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Was McCain Tortured?

Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan had an interesting point yesterday:
In all the discussion of John McCain's recently recovered memory of a religious epiphany in Vietnam, one thing has been missing. The torture that was deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

According to the Bush administration's definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.

Thoughtful post, read the rest HERE.

So, was he, or wasn't he?

Meeting Sunday in Rockville

For some reason, a small group of nuts has decided to make Montgomery County, Maryland, their proving ground. First of all they embarrassed us nationally by opposing a public school sex-ed curriculum that was science-based and fair, then, failing at that, they have decided to embarrass us by opposing a law that says you can't discriminate on the basis of gender identity. I don't know what they see in it, this is one of the Bluest counties in the country, people here don't want to discriminate, we are not prejudiced against gay and transgender people. We're a live-and-let-live county, well-educated, prosperous, and diverse.

They have managed to get a referendum included into the November election to repeal the new nondiscrimination law. They got petition signatures by convincing people at grocery stores and other public places that the bill would allow predators and pedophiles to lurk in ladies locker-rooms. It is likely that they will play this same tune in the lead-up to the elections, and the truth is, nobody wants creepy sex-maniacs in the ladies room, they will vote to repeal this if they believe that's what it's about. So organized support for the bill will be necessary. Of course, the bill says nothing about showers and locker-rooms, it doesn't change the existing laws regarding who can go in what place.

The law is about discrimination.

Some groups are organizing to fight back. In particular, Basic Rights Montgomery has been formed to campaign to preserve the law that was passed unanimously by the County Council and signed by the County Executive. If you want to get involved, I suggest you contact them and volunteer some time.

There will be a meeting Sunday afternoon at four o'clock at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, as grassroots supporters of the new law begin to organize.

This referendum really is an embarrassment to all of us. MoCo is the last place that wants to vote to legalize discrimination. Here's the UUCR announcement:

Defending Montgomery County's Trans-gender Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Unitarian-Universalist Church of Rockville ( in Founder's Hall, Sunday,
August 24, 2008, 4 - 6 PM.

On August 24th, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville will host KT Thirion, a field organizer for Basic Rights Montgomery, who will discuss a strategy for defeating the Referendum to repeal Montgomery County's Anti-discrimination for Transgender Individuals law.

Basic R ights Montgomery is a broad-based coalition of community leaders and organizations formed in response to the efforts to repeal Montgomery County’s recently passed transgender anti-discrimination law. The law bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations, and taxi and cable service. The measure, passed unanimously by the Montgomery County Council late last year and signed into law by County Executive Isaiah Legget, was to have taken effect on February 21, 2008, but was put on hold when signature gatherers potentially reached the number needed to place a repeal on November’s ballot. For more information see:

Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville
4:00 - 6:00 PM
Sunday, 08/24/2008

I expect other groups in our community will be coming together, too, to stand up for goodness. If you can make it to this meeting, I think it will be an important one. Someone from Basic Rights Montgomery can talk about their plans, everybody can get on the same page and work together. If all the various community groups stay in touch with one another and get the message out, if the citizens of the county can learn what this law really does and why these particular people are opposed to it, the nondiscrimination bill should pass into law. It will require a lot of education and a lot of organizing, and that is starting now, even as we speak.

This is your chance to get involved.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Somebody Needs to Take Charge

During the hearings over the referendum petitions, the lawyer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections argued that it isn't the Board's job to make sure that the signatures on the petitions were not forgeries. Their job, he said, was just to check that signatures matched names in the voter-registration database. The judge didn't buy that, in his ruling he said, "While the Board does not consist of a group of handwriting experts, its role is something more than that of bean-counter."

Sitting in the courtroom listening, I was wondering, what is the Board of Elections' role?

To get a referendum on the ballot, a sponsor has to get signatures of five percent of the registered voters of the county. The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever didn't do that. They needed 27,615 signatures and they got 26,813. As Judge Greenberg wrote, "Plainly, MCRG [CRW] did not gather enough signatures to meet the five percent threshold."

But it's close enough for the Board of Elections, they're going to put it on the ballot anyway.

I can't swear this is true, but it is my understanding that members of the Board did not themselves look at the petitions at all or oversee any of the process of verifying them. They didn't even meet during that period of time, they were busy putting together the primaries. They won't meet again until September 15th.

One person certified all those bad signatures. That was Montgomery County Election Director Margaret Jurgensen. She's the one who wrote the letter to County Executive Ike Leggett telling him that they had enough verified signatures, that they looked fine.

The Board of Elections reports to the County Executive. Members are appointed by the governor with approval by the state Senate, and their terms expire in 2011. The Board appoints the Election Director. Ms. Jurgensen was appointed to that position in 2001. After the debacle of the 2006 primary elections, then-County Executive Doug Duncan called for her to be fired, but apparently that was easier said than done, as she's still here.

The Election Director reports to the Board of Elections who appointed her, she represents them -- for instance, the letter to Leggett certifying the petitions was signed:
Sincerely yours,


Margaret Jurgensen
Election Director

In all the days of hearings, I never heard Ms. Jurgensen's name or position mentioned, just "the Board." It was the Board of Elections who got sued, and they didn't have anything to do with this mess, they didn't know anything about it.

It seems to me that perhaps the Board has some responsibility to oversee their appointee. As it is, the November election may include a referendum that did not have enough signatures, because nobody will take the authority to obey the law. The Board made a mistake, there is no doubt, they gave the CRW the wrong number. They used active instead of registered voters, they didn't check it and they didn't ask where the number came from.

There are two main questions. The first one is simple: who's in charge here? Who runs our county's elections? Who certifies that enough petition signatures have been turned in to put a referendum on the ballot? Is it the Board of Elections, or the person who works for them? The second question is a little trickier: what does it take to get them to enforce the law?

There's time. The ballots aren't printed, we're waiting for an appeals court to make some decisions. The Board should meet with their Election Director and come out and say, this referendum did not have signatures of five percent of registered voters as required by law, we are hereby de-certifying it.

You've got an organization with the County Executive at the top, the Board of Elections reporting to him, the Election Director reporting to the Board. The person at the bottom of the totem pole is making all the decisions, embarrassing everyone above her, and, indeed, the whole county. Montgomery County, Maryland, of all places, is going to vote on whether to keep discrimination legal, as if citizens here wanted to keep it legal. Now we may have a referendum on the ballot even though the sponsors did not get enough signatures, in clear violation of the law.

Will someone please claim responsibility for this mess?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Survey Shows Oldsters Staying Peppy

I live in a state of denial about this getting old business. I actually know people my age who get the senior discounts, but I can't let myself do that. Last year a journalist wrote about me and referred to me as "white haired" -- I considered that an error, there is a little gray in this hair, what's left of it, but white? Tell me it ain't so.

Hey, I've been trying to remember something. They say memory is the second thing to go, but what is the first thing? I used to know.

Some of us may find this report on MSNBC encouraging in some way.
CHICAGO - Getting old does not mean saying so long to sex, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

More than three-quarters of American men aged 75 to 85 and half of women that age are still interested in sex, a survey of the elderly by University of Chicago researchers found.

"It's not age per se; that when you get to 80 it's all over with," said sociologist Edward Laumann, who led the study of 3,000 American men and women aged 57 to 85 who lived at home, not in nursing homes.

"It's driven by more proximate factors such as if you become obese, or you're smoking too much, or you contract diabetes. Medications can depress sexual interest. The aging process itself is not a major factor driving these results," he said in a telephone interview. For elderly, sex doesn't have to get old

On this blog we have focused a lot of attention on people at the beginning of their sexual maturity, that is, teenagers. In general we hope they are responsible, we try to teach them the facts so they can make the right decisions, but there is no hard and fast rule about, say, when you are "old enough" for sex, or how long you should wait. We know that almost nobody waits until they marry, but we do tend to hope that teenagers will at least wait until they are in a serious relationship and they have the maturity to keep some kind of grip on their emotions.

We don't talk so much about the other end of the cycle. You kind of think of older people as fading out sexually, having less and less interest in it until it's just not part of their life any more. Maybe it's not like that.
Laumann and his team, who performed a companion survey of younger adults nearly a decade ago, found that sexual dysfunction such as experiencing pain during sex or an inability to achieve orgasm tend to increase as adults reach middle age but then plateaus.

In the survey of elderly Americans, two-thirds of the men and nearly half the women had been sexually active in the past year, they reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The reasons for losing interest in sex are wrapped up in several physical and mental health factors, Laumann said.

"If sexual health goes to hell, it may be a canary in the mine shaft. It may be a sign of health problems," Laumann said, urging doctors to investigate if sexual problems arise.


Erectile dysfunction increases from 31 percent among men aged 57 to 64 to more than 40 percent among older men. Laumann said he had found in other research that 14 percent of men of all ages had tried erectile dysfunction drugs.

Those who have attended college are less likely to have sexual problems than the less-educated, Laumann said, presumably because the educated tend to dismiss myths about sex and aging and are more likely to seek out answers.

Last month, Swedish researchers reported that 70-year-olds of both sexes are having more sex than they did 30 years ago, with 68 percent of married men and 54 percent of women saying they were having sex in 2001, up from 52 percent of men in the early 1970s and 30 percent of women.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Court of Appeals Takes the Case

We just got news through the grapevine that the Court of Appeals will hear the case.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections certified petitions calling for a referendum on the gender identity nondiscrimination law, even though there were very many errors on them, including apparent fraud and forgery. The Board argued that it's not their job to check whether signatures are forged or otherwise meet legal requirements, they said they're only supposed to see if the names are those of registered voters.

The group that submitted the petitions did not have the number required by law, which is five percent of registered voters. Nevertheless, the Board determined that the referendum should be held.

A Circuit Court judge heard arguments and ruled that it was okay if signatures failed to meet the legal standard in some cases. He also verified that the petitions did not have a sufficient number of signatures, but said that the complaint had been filed too late so it didn't matter.

Plaintiffs in the case, a group of MoCo citizens, appealed the ruling, and yesterday we learned that the court has decided to hear the case.

Here is the schedule as it's proposed so far:
  • August 20: Plaintiff's brief
  • August 28: BOE brief
  • September 3: Plaintiff's reply/cross-appellee brief
  • September 5: Cross-appellee reply brief
  • September 8: Oral arguments

A decision needs to be made pretty soon. Ballots need to be printed up, and if the court decides to allow the referendum there will be a lot of educating to do, gigantic campaigns on both sides, money to raise, publicity to put out. Attorney Jonathan Shurberg will argue this case for the plaintiffs.

Chicago's Talking About Us

The Chicago Tribune took a stab yesterday at writing about our current Montgomery County controversy regarding the gender identity nondiscrimination law. It's pretty long, and I'm not sure I can select passages that represent the twists and turns this piece takes. It starts by talking about our friend Maryanne.
WASHINGTON — Maryanne Arnow has learned not to cringe at the stares and whispers that follow her whenever she leaves her house.

Arnow, 42 and a resident of Montgomery County in Maryland, was born male. But on her birthday five years ago, she said, she realized she didn't fit in her own skin, and she began transitioning that day. Now living as a woman, she wears make-up and dresses, paints her toenails and worries about how her long hair looks.

She also struggles to pay her bills, because she can't find a job. She said she was fired by the country club where she cooked when her bosses found out she was switching her gender, and now no one will hire her. "Everyone is worried what the other employees will think," she said. "It's just sad."

The lawmakers of Montgomery County, a wealthy and generally liberal enclave outside Washington, D.C., responded to such stories by enacting a measure earlier this year that forbids discrimination based on gender identity. Thirteen states and about 90 municipalities have similar protections, including Illinois, which passed its law in 2005. Chicago has had a similar policy in place since 2002.

What was different in Montgomery County was what happened next. A group called Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government launched a campaign called "Not in My Shower" to repeal the measure through a voter referendum. Last month, a judge ruled that the county must put the question on the ballot in November.

Proponents of the bill have promised to appeal. If they fail, this will be the first time voters decide the fate of gender-identity legislation. Transgender protections trigger backlash, referendum

So far this is all right, I don't see them taking sides, do you?
This potential precedent has groups on both sides of the issue watching closely. Transgender rights advocates say it is dangerous to allow the majority to decide which minorities deserve rights. Conservative activists view the Maryland fight as a test case for overturning transgender protection laws nationwide.

"These laws have been passed mostly without controversy," said Chris Edelson, state legislative director for the Human Rights Coalition. "The concern is that people will say, 'Let's repeal these laws.' "

TheNot in My Shower campaign is not focusing on whether gender change is immoral but asserts that cross-dressing men could use women's restrooms and locker rooms, and possibly assault the women. "Our concern is this would leave the door wide open for an individual to dress as a woman, giving him access to private areas," said Michelle Turner, a spokeswoman for Not in My Shower.

The ordinance's supporters say transgender individuals have never been accused of harassing anyone this way. But that has not dissuaded opponents from making their case, sometimes vividly.

One of the group's fliers shows a gaggle of happy kids and a mom in a pool. "It's pool time!" the flier says. "But who will you and your children see in the showers? ... Your fines could actually be as high as $5,000 for failing to accept a man in a dress as a female or for complaining about indecent exposure when the male undresses right next to a young girl in the female locker room."

I love it that they're calling the shower-nuts "Not in My Shower." It's got a real ring to it, don't you think?

Our top-secret surveillance experts have important evidence that some officers of Not in My Shower actually have unisex bathrooms in their own homes!

Obviously there is a culture war going on. It's fading somewhat, as tolerance and good-heartedness win out on nearly every front, but there are persistent pockets of bigots out there who demand that everybody should be like them. So you can't stop fighting, you can't loosen up, you have to stop them. Just a few years ago they almost took over this country, it's true their influence has weakened but they're still out there, we even have them in blue Montgomery County.

There's a lot more, if you're following this controversy you should click on the link and read the rest. Looks like there's a huge free-for-all in their comments section, too.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Does Spelling Matter?

I scrolled past this one, then scrolled back and started thinking about it. From the BBC:
Common spelling mistakes should be accepted into everyday use, not corrected, a lecturer has said.

Ken Smith of Bucks New University says the most common mistakes should be accepted as "variant spellings".

He lists the 10 most commonly misspelt words, which include "arguement" for "argument" and "twelth" for "twelfth".

Mr Smith says his proposal, outlined in an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, follows years of correcting the same mistakes.

Mr Smith, a criminology lecturer, said: "Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea.

"University teachers should simply accept as variant spellings those words our students most commonly misspell.

"The spelling of the word 'judgement', for example, is now widely accepted as a variant of 'judgment', so why can't 'truely' be accepted as a variant spelling of 'truly'?"

Mr Smith also suggested adding the word "misspelt" to the list and all those that break the "i before e" rule - weird, seize, neighbour and foreign.

He said he was not asking people to learn to spell words differently.

"All I am suggesting is that we might well put 20 or so of the most commonly misspelt words in the English language on the same footing as those other words that have a widely accepted variant spelling," he added. Bad spelling 'should be accepted'

There is a part of me that says, hey yeah, language is a living, evolving thing, written language should reflect the spoken language of the people. Language doesn't follow rules very well, there are gazillions of exceptions, asymmetries, unique situations. I've said here before, language is not algebra.

So why should we all learn to write schoolteachers' English? I admit, there's a part of me that favors doing it the old-fashioned way, the right way. Maybe it's because I had to learn there's no "e" in judgment, and so everybody else can, too. "Variant" spelling really is "wrong," it's illiterate. In fact, in this one I would vote in favor of keeping a dictionary handy, there should be a right and wrong way to spell everything except "Veirs Mill," I mean "Viers Mill."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Do Not Use Whilst Driving

The school district came under attack for a new curriculum that had two features that annoyed the local nuts. It talked about sexual orientation and it talked about condoms. Oh, they had fun with that cucumber! Oh, they were outraged by it all!

As somebody said recently, "It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant."

The CRC blog quoted a web site columnist who said, "At one time, the new curriculum was going to feature information on flavored condoms." It was a favorite talking point, but only off-camera, because everybody knew there was never anything about flavored condoms. It sounded so outrageous they just couldn't help themselves.

Thanks to the great guys at Alternate Brain for this relevant item. Maybe this warning message ought to be added to the MCPS condom video.

Aw, come on, that's funny!

Site Visitors Over Three and a Half Years

We started this blog in December, 2004, so our first full month was January 05. The Montgomery County Public Schools were just coming under attack for trying to implement a sex-ed curriculum that talked about gay people and how to use a condom -- the US had just elected George W. Bush to a second term and the so-called "religious right" felt they had a mandate to make America a Christian country. There were a few of that type in our county, and they joined together shortly after the election with the stated intention of recalling the entire county school board. Teach the Facts got together a week or two after that, somebody volunteered to do this and somebody volunteered to do that, we had bases covered, and away we went, supporting the school board as they came under attack.

Here is a graph of "unique visitors" to this web site from January 2005 through July 2008.

You can see in those first few months we had a steady but modest stream of visitors, mostly people who were involved in the controversy. There is a spike in May 05, when the school board voted to throw out the original "old new" curriculum and disband the citizens committee, after the school district lost a scuffle in court, and then after that, you notice, readership maintained a higher level.

I think that spike in December 2006 came when several major blogs linked to us. I had noticed James Dobson plagiarizing from one of his own writers in Time magazine, and several people used that and gave us credit for it. There is a spike of one-click visitors, but not everybody is really that fascinated with the goings-on in our little county, so they never came back.

But -- a lot did. After that spike there was a plateau where readership remained significantly higher throughout 2007 than it was in 2006. During this time, the controversy was boiling along. The school district was developing a curriculum, the CRC was threatening and lying and filing motions with the state and with the courts and everything else they could think of, and were being rejected left and right. Meanwhile, the schools got the curricula for eighth and tenth grades in place, pilot tested them, and everything was fine.

Late in 2007, the gender-identity nondiscrimination bill got the CRC's attention, as they realized they were losing in the schools, so the focus of the posts here shifted as the exact same people began to bad-mouth transgender people instead of gay people, who had held their attention during the curriculum battle.

There's another spike through Febrary and March of 2008, as the shower-nuts turned in their petitions and the pro-LGBT groups filed to challenge them, and interest has not dropped substantially since then. February, March, and April of this year had approximately six times as many unique visitors as we had in our first three months online, about three times as many as we had in 2006, and about twice as many as a typical month in 2007.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fantasy and Reality

The people who are trying to re-legalize gender-identity discrimination are relying on a fundamental psychological principle: imagining something vividly makes it seem more probable.

This is sometimes called the "salience effect." Say an airplane crashes, and the news is filled with pictures of burning debris and injured people. You will find that people are especially afraid to fly right after that. The actual probability of a crash hasn't increased measurably, just the vividness of the idea. A kid gets abducted and all of a sudden playgrounds are empty as parents fear it will happen to their child. There's a nasty car-crash and drivers white-knuckle the wheel and keep a foot hovering over the brake pedal. Thinking about something makes it seem more likely to happen.

Now the shower-nuts want you to imagine something terrible happening if transgender people get the same rights as the rest of us. They can't point to a time that anything terrible has happened in any of the very many places that already have equal rights, so they have to make up something for you to focus on.

Their argument is very simple. It goes like this: imagine a creepy male sexual predator lurking in a ladies locker-room.

That's the whole thing. There is no rational link between that image and the nondiscrimination law, there is nothing in the law that will make that sort of event more probable. There is no law at the present time that says a man can't go into a ladies room, and it's not a problem. As it is, you don't even have to claim to "feel like a woman inside," a guy can walk in there any time he wants, as far as the law is concerned, as long as he behaves himself. He should put the seat down afterwards, but I don't think there's a law about that, at least in our county.

You can use your mind for dreaming, or you can use your mind for thinking, it's your call. In the dream world, things that happen at the same time cause each other; good people are beautiful and bad people are ugly; big things and things that are nearby are more important than small and distant things; famous people are more truthful and knowledgeable than ordinary people; strange things are dangerous; brightly-colored things are more significant than dull things; good and evil are real qualities that characterize individuals and even entire countries.

These are natural psychological responses, based on the fact that we evolved as social mammals with inborn talents that helped us survive in a dangerous world. Advertisers know how to capitalize on this kind of thinking, politicians know how to manipulate it. Some people never realize that there is another way to use your mind, where you confirm facts and sources of information and use valid reasoning to come to conclusions.

Here: Imagine what it would be like if we passed a law that said you couldn't discriminate against transgender people, and then a perverted ugly guy in a dress lurked in a ladies room, waving his festering penis at the women and children, drooling lewdly through the stubble of his untrimmed beard, staring at the smooth skin of their fertile, virginal bodies. Just imagine! Close your eyes and think about it, picture it, dwell on it. It could happen!

That's what we're up against. We all use this kind of thinking sometimes, when we make snap decisions, say, about who to be nice to and who to avoid, it is human nature. But civilized human nature is capable of knowing that the world can be seen from multiple perspectives. This is the beauty of being social mammals, we have a gift for taking someone else's point of view. Once you've made that leap, once you have realized that your own perspective is but one of many, egocentric dream-thinking seems insufficient and primitive. I want our political decisions, policy decisions, decisions about the direction of our society, to be made by a reasonable process, not by people imagining hypothetical possibilities, as if they were dreaming.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bad-Brain Mailbomb

Weird, somebody is mailbombing our Inbox with news stories. I read the first two. In the first one, a registered sex offender was caught molesting some kids. In the second one, a registered sex offender dressed up as a woman and changed his clothes a couple of times in the women's locker room, in front of some children.

We don't know why this person sent this. Do they think we would be surprised to know that there are perverted, dangerous individuals out there committing sex crimes?

The people in these news stories broke laws and were arrested, as they should be. The cross-dressing exhibitionist was charged with one count of invasion of privacy, one count of misuse of a public restroom and one count of failing to register as a sex offender. Pretty good, I don't think he'll see the light of day for a while. The other guy was charged with two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, theft, and criminal trespass.


You do see, don't you, that these crimes had nothing at all to do with discrimination against transgender people. We at Teach the Facts abhor predatory sex criminals, and we abhor bigotry and discrimination. There are people, like whoever sent this stuff, who seem to believe that discrimination is necessary, or sex-crimes will proliferate. Those people have other issues, let's just say.

These criminals would have been arrested in our county, too, even with the new nondiscrimination law in place.

We are advocating the implementation of a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. I can't believe that this needs to be said, but we do not advocate sexual predation of any kind. We are in favor of personal liberty and respect for good, law-abiding citizens.

We cannot let ourselves be dragged into an argument with people who think this poorly. It is simply wrong to discriminate against people because their gender identity is hard to understand. Transgender people need to be able to work to support themselves, they need to be served in a restaurant when they're hungry, just like everybody else. Transgender people have nothing at all to do with these kinds of deranged perverts who expose themselves to children and molest them, there is simply no connection.

Looking on the bright side, I did learn something. I learned how to go into the server and block email from a particular source. Pretty cool, the torrent of email stopped. just. like. that.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Basis of the Appeal

Jonathan Shurberg and other lawyers supporting the County in its fight to ban gender identity discrimination have filed their "cert" in the Court of Appeals. The Petition for Writ of Certeriori and Request for Expedited Review in a Referendum Election Case asks the Maryland Court of Appeals to give an expedited judgment and summarizes arguments for why the referendum should be blocked. The other side has until next Monday to file their side of it.

This is another scanned PDF, meaning that if you want to see it, I have to type it in. I didn't transcribe the whole thing, but the major section, I'd say. And let me tell you, there are a lot of ways to spell "referendum" wrong!

The case is made up of four sections, representing four reasons the Circuit Court ruling should be reviewed. The four reasons are:
  • This case raises important questions of statewide concern regarding Maryland political process and election law
  • Time is of the essence, warranting expedited review directly in this Court
  • The Circuit Court's ruling regarding the time in which a challenge to a referendum petition must be filed creates an improper and unworkable standard to be met by concerned voters, and
  • The Circuit Court improperly held that compliance with signature requirements specifically mandated in the Election Code no longer is necessary, departing from this Court's precedent calling for strict compliance with such provisions

Here's the first section -- again, please forgive my typos.
This case raises important questions of statewide concern regarding Maryland political process and election law

In a long line of consistent decisions, the Court has affirmed that the right to referendum is "drastic in its effect" and meant to be used sparingly, only when the specific requirements prescribed for its exercise by governing constitutional, statutory, and local code provisions are complied with strictly. [Legal references will be replaced with ellipses throughout]

The Montgomery County Council passed the anti-discrimination law after hearings and a deliberative process taking into account the interests of the transgender and broader communities in the County, while the referendum process offers a tiny minority the opportunity to block such duly-enacted legislation from taking effect. This Court has recognized that the referendum is "a concession to an organized minority and a limitation upon the rights of the people." ...
The exercise of the right of referendum is drastic in its effect. The very filing of the petition, valid on its face, suspends the operation of any of a large class of legislative enactments and provides an interim in which the evil designed to be corrected by the law may continue unabated, or in which a need intended to be provided for, may continue unsatisfied.

[quote from Takoma Park] ... To ensure that referenda are not abused, this Court consistently has held that there must be "strict compliance" with the prerequisites specified in State law. [...]

This Court likewise recently held that "any statutory provision or administrative regulation which treats 'inactive' voters differently from 'active' voters is invalid." [...] Yet the Circuit Court's ruling permits a referendum concededly in violation of this precept and the constitutional rights of inactive voters to proceed.

The BOE's certification of a manifestly insufficient referendum petition and the Circuit Court's erroneous ruling upholding the referendum strike at the heart of the stringent protections held to be so important to prevent abuses of the privilege of referendum. This untenable situation undermines the integrity of the referendum process in Maryland, rights of representative democracy, rights of inactive voters to participate in the political process, and rights of a vulnerable minority of individuals to the protections of a duly enacted anti-discrimination law. This case, which has garnered wide public attention, is of broad concern in the State.

I won't dwell on this section, but the fact is, this case has revealed serious holes in the law. The law seems to be clear about what to do if your petitions are rejected by the Board of Elections, but there's nothing about how to protest somebody else's illegitimate petitions. Deadlines are undefined, procedures are unclear, and these problems need to be addressed if the referendum process is going to be able to work at all.

The next point is also, in my opinion, not the most important one of the four. They're saying, let's get 'er done.
Time is of the essence, warranting expedited review directly in this Court

Expedited review directly in this Court is especially warranted given the referendum's "drastic" effect on a duly enacted County law and the need for a speedy resolution in advance of the November election. The General Assembly has recognized the critical and time-sensitive nature of referendum challenges, specifically calling for expedited judicial review of referendum issues in § 6-209(3) of the Election Code: "Judicial review shall be expedited by each court that hears the cause to the extent necessary in consideration of the deadlines established by law."

A concededly insufficient referendum petition is preventing an anti-discrimination law to protect a vulnerable minority from taking effect. The law should be allowed to go into operation without further delay. Moreover, in September, the State BOE must finalize the general election ballot and start to allocate administrative resources to prepare for the referendum vote. Both supporters and opponents of the referendum will need to invest time and resources to engage in public education efforts. If the case were to proceed first in the Court of Special Appeals, in all likelihood the losing party will seek review in this Court on the important issues at stake, leaving little time to complete appellate review in both Courts before significant resources are expended and the November election arrives.

Under these circumstances, bypassing the Court of Special Appeals and expediting review in this Court furthers the legislatively-approved goal of speedy resolution of election law issues.

It is a good point there, that while all this silliness is going on, a law that was passed unanimously by the County Council and supported enthusiastically by the County Executive is not being implemented. Well, that phase only extends until November but in the meantime people need their rights. Another big point is that both sides are going to have to do a lot of campaigning and educating before November, and they need to start getting ready if that's going to happen -- they need to know.

To me, this next point is the central one.
The Circuit Court's ruling regarding the time in which a challenge to a referendum petition must be filed creates an improper and unworkable standard to be met by concerned voters

The Circuit Court ruled that a referendum petition carrying insufficient signatures may nonetheless continue to block a unanimously enacted law from taking effect and that the referendum may proceed to the ballot in November. It did this based on a particularly confused and irrational interpretation of the time limitations imposed under § 6-210(e). If allowed to stand, this interpretation not only allows a concededly illegal referendum to proceed, but also establishes a dangerous and unworkable standard in the State.

In an important safeguard against referendum abuses, the General Assembly expressly codified in § 6-209(b) of the Election Code the right of the general public to challenge referenda efforts. That section provides that "any registered voter" may file a complaint in circuit court for declaratory relief, and that the court "may grant declaratory relief as to any petition with respect to the provisions of this title or other provisions of law."

In addition to this broad right of review of violations under Title 6 of the Election Code and any "other provisions of law," § 6-209(a) also permits "[a] person aggrieved by a determination made under § 6-202, § 6-206, § 6-208(a)(2) of this subtitle" to "seek judicial review." That provision is particularly designed to give aggrieved petition sponsors recourse to challenge several specific determinations that the BOE might make, to the detriment of a sponsor, during the petition process. Section 6-201(e)(1) provides in relevant part that "any judicial review of a determination as provided in § 6-209 of this subtitle, shall be sought by the 10th day following the determination to which it relates."

Although Petitioners filed their challenge to the BOE's certification of the referendum within 10 days of the March 6, 2008 certification, the Circuit Court applied an incorrect -- and indeed, incomprehensible -- standard to hold that Petitioners were required to file an objection to the then unknown exclusion of inactive voters by February 20, 2008. There is no explanation offered in the Circuit Court's opinion as to how that date was reached, given that no conceivable triggering events of record occurred 10 days earlier on February 10, 2008.

Beyond this, as Petitioners intend to address in depth on appeal, the 10-day period specified in § 6-209(e) relates only to challenges to the specific "determinations" enumerated under § 6-209(a)(1). Petitioners did file within 10 days of the BOE's final determination under § 6-208(a)(2) to certify the petition, and hence are not time-barred under § 6-210(e) from bringing their challenge. Moreover, § 6-210(e) should not be read as a limitation on the time in which registered voters may challenge referenda efforts under the separate declaratory judgment provisions of § 6-209(b), which broadly permit members of the voting public to assert claims under any provisions of Title 6 of the Election Code or other provisions of law. Thus Petitioners filed their petition within 10 days of the only date that could be viewed as triggering a time limit -- March 6, the date the BOE determined (wrongly) that MCRG had submitted sufficient signatures for certification of the referendum.

Only in discovery did Petitioners learn that at some point before the petition drive was even underway, the BOE advised MCRG in an email that five percent of registered County voters amounted to 25,001 individuals. This was done without explanation, and certainly without notice to the public until well into this proceeding that the BOE had improperly excluded over 50,000 inactive voters in its methodology. As Petitioners will demonstrate on appeal, contrary to the Circuit Court's assertion, it was impossible for Petitioners or anyone other than the petition sponsor to glean this error from the BOE's website. Indeed, as outlined in § 6-210(b) of the Election Code, the only party given notice of and participating in BOE decisions and process throughout the petition gathering period was the petition sponsor.

The Circuit Court's reading of the limitations period creates an unfair, unconstitutional, and unworkable standard that must be met by concerned members of the voting public in order to exercise their right to challenge illegal referendum efforts. Under the Circuit Court's ruling, a voter is expected to file a lawsuit by an arbitrarily early date, perhaps before even knowing whether a petition gathering process is underway; the identity of the sponsor; steps taken and determinations made by the BOE; methodologies used by the BOE; what, it any, defects may exist in the process; or whether the sponsor is succeeding in gathering sufficient signatures by the deadlines.

Since only petition sponsors, not the general public, are entitled to notice of BOE determinations, even the most diligent and resourced voters would rarely, if ever, be able to meet the deadline imposed by the court below, and their efforts could be easily thwarted by election authorities' and petition sponsors' refusal to respond to inquiries about whether a determination has been made and how it was reached. Concerned registered voters who want to ensure that an enacted law takes effect and is not blocked by an insufficient referendum effort will be compelled to hire counsel and file preemptive lawsuits in a virtual vacuum, before it is at all clear that a serious petition effort is even underway or that it suffers from legal infirmities. The courts will then be burdened with what in many instances will be premature, academic, and unnecessary cases, which nonetheless must be adjudicated on an expedited time-frame under § 6-210(a)(3).

Most likely, however, the overly restrictive time-bar created by the Circuit Court will be an impossible hurdle for concerned voters to meet. Egregious errors in the referendum process, as occurred here, will go un-redressed, with manifestly insufficient refenda petitions permitted to block duly enacted laws, contrary to our system of representative democracy and rights of due process.

Review and clarification by this Court on this issue is critical to ensure that registered voters can effectively access the courts to safeguard against illegal referenda efforts.

The Circuit Court's interpretation of the deadlines is just impossible. If it was correct, the courts would be tied up because everybody would have to sue for every little thing in case it happened. You'd have to file before you knew it happened, like, if you thought there would be forged signatures you'd sue to complain, even though you had no idea if there were forged signatures or not, just to meet the ten-day deadline. That won't work. The system is a mess and somebody -- that would be the appeals court -- needs to straighten it out.

This can't be what the legislature had in mind, but again, it looks like they just didn't think about what happens if somebody complains about somebody else's petitions. The law assumes that the complaining group has had their petitions rejected. In this case, the petitions were accepted, and shouldn't have been, and somebody else wants to complain.

Finally, the fact is, a lot of signatures did not meet the standard set by law. You might remember, the judge didn't like it that you had to have your name on the petition just like it is in your voter registration. And that might be a good reason to lobby the General Assembly to change the law. But the judge should have enforced the law as it's written and as it has been interpreted by other courts, whether anybody likes it or not the law demands strict adherence to details of the petition signatures.
The Circuit Court improperly held that compliance with signature requirements specifically mandated in the Election Code no longer is necessary, departing from this Court's precedent calling for strict compliance with such provisions

The Circuit Court disregarded clear, specific signature safeguards mandated by the General Assembly in § 6-203(a) of the Election Code to ensure the referendum process is not abused. The lower court's ruling runs counter to the specific terms of the Election Code and this Court's repeated admonition that only strict compliance with the prescribed referenda procedures will suffice. ... The BOE itself stipulated that thousands of petition signatures -- far more than the number that would invalidate the entire referendum -- failed to include the full name or registration or such other portions of the name as is called for by § 6-203(a)(1). In a case particularly on point, this Court held in Barnes that referenda petitions must comply with precise signer requirements like those specifically codified in § 6-203. Barnes ... (holding that such requirements as that signers print their names below their signatures were constitutional and must be satisfied for each signature counted in a referendum petition). These requirements are designed to ensure the integrity of the referendum process. "[S]tringent language employed [by the referendum procedure] ... shows an intent that those seeking to exercise the referendum in this State must, as a condition precedent, strictly comply with the conditions prescribed." Takoma Park ...

In the face of the strict compliance standard dictated by this Court in an unbroken string of cases and the unmistakable terms of the statute, the Circuit Court erroneously held that a different provision of the Election Code enacted in 2006, § 6-207(a)(2), concerning the BOE's "verification" that signers are registered voters, effectively eliminated the mandate of § 6-203(a)(1) and the strict compliance requirement. ... As Petitioners will assert on appeal, this was a serious misreading of the statutory provisions at issue and an unwarranted departure from the standards articulated by this Court.

Whether the signature requirement must be met presents a potentially dispositive issue in this case; a resolution in Petitioners' favor indisputably would require de-certification of the referendum. Moreover, in light of the Circuit Court's novel ruling, guidance is sorely needed from this Court for future referendum sponsors and concerned voters regarding the proper scope of the well-established strict compliance standard.

The people of Montgomery County are entitled to rely on the protections afforded by legislation enacted by their County Council, without fear that a small faction can roll back civil rights advances with a legally insufficient referendum effort. This Court's intervention is needed to prevent abuse and confusion in the referendum process.

The shower-nuts like to say that a referendum is real democracy, the exercise of the will of the majority, and that reflects a mistaken view of how our government works. We elect representatives who can study an issue and vote intelligently on it. A referendum is a chance for a small group to take over the law. When you're looking for a majority vote, it's like selling soap, you just find a message the public will hum along with, and when they go into the booth they'll support it, just like they buy the soap with the best jingle. That's not the way to run a government. This subject does not belong on a ballot in November, it is a pure abuse of the opportunity offered by the referendum process.

That Deadline Business

After the recent ruling by Judge Greenberg, you saw news stories that a judge had "cleared the way" for a referendum on the new gender-identity nondiscrimination bill in Montgomery County, that he had "approved" the referendum, and so forth. The case is under appeal, so the way is not cleared quite yet, but it may be interesting for readers to see what the judge actually said.

The Board of Elections screwed up. They told the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever that they needed 25,001 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, but they based that on the number of "active" voters, not the number of "registered" voters as required by law. In fact they needed 27,615 valid signatures, which they did not have.

The judge ruled that the CRW had not collected enough signatures to meet the requirement of five percent of registered voters. On that basis, the referendum should have been thrown out. But -- isn't there always a but? -- he also ruled that the plaintiffs filed their complaint too late. And this is where the appeal will come in.

The law says you have ten days to file a complaint on something like this. There are lots of good reasons for having a deadline, that makes sense. But the law does not say when the ten days start ticking down. So the question of the day is, when does the timer start?

Here's how the judge looked at it. Note, I am transcribing this from a smudgy and messy PDF document, and probably got some letters wrong. This is the section from the Memorandum Decision and Declaratory Judgment Order issued by Judge Robert A. Greenberg of the Montgomery County Circuit Court that discusses the deadline issue.
V. Statute of Limitations

The final question remaining for the court's determination is whether the statute of limitations contained in §6-210 bars the relief sought by Plaintiffs. Limitations was pled by Defendant in its answer as an affirmative defense, and raised in its response to the supplemental memorandum filed by Plaintiffs on the issue of the correct denominator.

Statutes of limitations exist to encourage promptness. "They find their justification in necessity and convenience rather than logic. They represent expedience, rather than principles ... They represent a public policy about the privilege to litigate." Walko v. Burger Chef Systems, Inc., 281 d. 207, 210, 378, A.3d 1100, 1101 (1977).

Such statutes are to be strictly construed and the court is not to give them "a strained construction to evade their effect [citation omitted]." Decker v. Fink, 47 Md. App. 202, 206, 422 A.2d 389, 391 (1980).

In a pre-election context, time is of the essence. The General Assembly made a legislative determination in enacting §6-210 that those aggrieved by a decision of the local board must promptly lodge an objection by requesting judicial review.

Defendant claims that any challenge to the denominator should have been raised within ten days of the determination by the Defendant that the referendum petitioner (MCRG) needed 25,001 signatures to place the matter on the ballot.

Plaintiffs aver that any 10-day limitations requirement is triggered by the date that Defendant certified the petition, see MD. CODE ANN., ELEC. §6-208 (2003), and point to the letter sent by the local board to the county executive, dated March 3, 2008. By that calculation, say Plaintiffs, their judicial challenge was timely filed.

The court notes that information regarding the number of active and inactive voters in Montgomery County was available throughout the time period at issue, on the State Board of Elections website, for any interested citizen to view. The Plaintiffs, and members of MCRG, had unfettered access to these numbers. All of those citizens are presumed to know the law regarding the "active-inactive" dichotomy, with the Court of Appeals eliminated in Green Party.

After the decision in that case, it is inescapable that five percent of the registered voters in Montgomery County on November 21, 2007, was not 25,001. Plainly, MCRG did not gather enough signatures to meet the five percent threshold.

Plaintiffs, however, judicially challenged the denominator too late. As was the case in §[unclear], above, a judicial challenge to the fixing of the denominator should have been filed on or before February 20, 2008, and perhaps earlier. Certainly, Plaintiffs had constructive notice of the denominator no later than that day, when the first set of signatures was verified and counted by the Defendant.

The court rejects Plaintiff's suggestion made at the July 9 hearing that the date the petition was certified to the county executive is the measuring date for seeking judicial review. Certification under §6-208 occurs at the end of the signature-gathering process. While it is true that §6-209 provides for judicial review of the certification, it does not give Plaintiffs a second bite at the apple on the denominator issue.

Roskelly mandates that where referendum petitioners are aggrieved by a rejection of signatures at the first step of the signature-gathering process, they are required to seek judicial review within 10 days of the determination. Had the denominator in this case been artificially high, Roskelly would have compelled MCRG to seek judicial review within 10 days, lest they be bound by the higher number. It would not have been permissible to allow MCRG to wait until the certification process to seek such review.

Plaintiffs are not entitled to a more deferential standard than the petition sponsors. Because their request for judicial review was filed on March 14, limitations bars any remedy.

I know some lawyers read this blog, and I hope they'll jump in and clear some of this up in the comments. Here's what I think he's saying. You have ten days to complain. In the case of the first set of signatures, you had ten days from the day they were verified (February 20th) to complain that they were invalid for some reason. Then, when the last set of signatures is submitted, the Board of Elections looks at them all and declares at some point that they are "verified," and then you have ten days to challenge that. Unfortunately, the Board only tells the people who submitted the petitions, they don't announce it in any public way, so if you want to challenge the signatures you have no real way of knowing when the Board verified them or when the ten days run out. There is a specific moment when the Board sends a letter to the County Executive, telling him that the signatures are verified, and as I understand it, that was considered the start of the ten-day countdown for the general challenge to the signatures, which is why the complaint was considered at all. The letter was sent March 6th, the complaint was filed March 14th.

But here's where it gets tricky. There are two things. First, the plaintiffs didn't realize at first that the Board had calculated the number wrong, and they didn't include that in their original complaint. On that account, Judge Greenberg ruled that this was just a new "theory" and could be added later to the list of complaints about the signatures. Second, and this is critical, the judge seems to have opined that since the number was wrong as soon as the Board said it, you had ten days from then to challenge it. As he says here, anybody could look on the web and see that they'd used the wrong numbers.

First of all, a little contradiction. The overall complaint regarding the second batch of signatures was submitted before the deadline. The "denominator" issue, regarding the required number of signatures, was considered to be part of the general complaint. But Judge Greenberg expressed the opinion that that part of the complaint should have a different due-date from the rest of the items. Does that seem a little fishy to you? It can be included, but it won't count because it was included too late. What sense does that make?

I don't know when the Board said the target was 25,001, and have not heard any date proposed for when that was. The judge's words are strange here: ... a judicial challenge to the fixing of the denominator should have been filed on or before February 20, 2008, and perhaps earlier. First of all, what is the word "perhaps" doing in there? He is saying he doesn't know when it should have been filed! He just knows it should have been "on or before February 20, 2008, and perhaps earlier."

So if February 20th was the deadline, you count back and ask, what happened on February 10th? If you have ten days, and the ten days run out on the 20th, then I guess they started on the 10th. So what happened on February 10th that was so special? I don't know. Nobody knows. It was right before the primary elections, the shower-nuts were still trying to get signatures -- there does not appear to be any reason for the judge to select February 20th as the deadline, and his "perhaps" wording does make you think he's pulling it out of ... thin air. It's like it just seemed to him that February 20th was a good-sounding date.

Looking back at the blog, I see mention as far back as December 1st that the CRW need 25,000 signatures. It's a number that was always there, my guess is that they went to the Board of Elections in November and asked, what do we have to do to get a referendum on the ballot, and the Board said, you need 25,001 signatures. The CRW took them at their word, and I have already admitted, I almost sympathize with them on this one, because they trusted their government officials and those officials were just plain wrong. The CRW trusted the government, and our side, the anti-discrimination side, also trusted them, so nobody thought to go back and check their numbers. As far as sympathy goes, though, it is good that the judge noted that the CRW could have found the correct numbers on the Internet, too -- in that sense it is their own fault they didn't have enough signatures, they believed the Board of Elections' arithmetic instead of doing the math themselves.

There is an interesting comment right at the end of the judge's opinion, which has to do with using "a more deferential standard" for plaintiffs than defendants. Okay, so let's imagine the CRW goes to the Board of Elections and says how many signatures do we need? Say the Board says you need a quarter of a million signatures, and the CRW says, but that's too many, and the Board says, that's our determination and that's that. In that case, the CRW would want to go to court right then, to get a ruling that five percent of the registered voters is not a quarter million people. Now the judge is saying, if the CRG would've had to sue right off the bat if the number was too high, the other side should have to, too, when the number is too low. Think it through, that's a little too "fair and balanced" for my tastes.

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking the obvious here. Everybody agrees the CRW did not submit as many signatures as the law requires. The Board of Elections made a mistake, a judge has confirmed that the number was wrong -- so why does it matter that a deadline was missed? The law says that to have a referendum you have to have five percent of the registered voters, and they didn't. Why does it take a group of citizens suing to set that straight? It seems to me that the responsibility of the Board of Elections at this point should be to say, woops, we made a mistake, and reverse their determination that enough signatures had been submitted. You don't need a lawsuit to do that. They should take responsibility for this -- as it is, they are knowingly allowing the law to be broken, they know the threshold was not met and yet they are going to let this referendum go to the voters. They should be responsible for enforcing the law, not just seeing that the lawbreaking is orderly.

It has now been determined that there were not enough signatures, but somebody has to file an appeal and pay for lawyers to argue about when a deadline was, in order for the law to be followed.

The legal process is plodding along as it should. An appeals court is considering whether to hear the case. If they do, things should move swiftly -- we don't have all year, there are ballots to print up! Even though it seems crazy, the legal question is identifying the date by which the plaintiffs had to have filed something challenging the number of signatures needed. You can see, there are a lot of ways to look at it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Something Different: Woodrow Wilson

I'm just an old guitar player, I don't know much about history and politics and such things, so I don't know if Woodrow Wilson turned out to be a good president or not, or who decides, or what. I'm sure some anonymous person in the comments will set us straight on all that. But I came across a page of quotes of things Wilson said, and I have to say, this is what I'm looking for. Remember, he was President from 1913 to 1921, this was nearly a hundred years ago.

But man, wouldn't it be nice to have somebody leading the country who could say things like this?
A conservative is a man who just sits and thinks, mostly sits.

A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.

America is not anything if it consists of each of us. It is something only if it consists of all of us.

America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses.

America was established not to create wealth but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal - to discover and maintain liberty among men.

Caution is the confidential agent of selfishness.

Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.

I am not sure that it is of the first importance that you should be happy. Many an unhappy man has been of deep service to himself and to the world.

I have long enjoyed the friendship and companionship of Republicans because I am by instinct a teacher, and I would like to teach them something.

I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.

A conservative is someone who makes no changes and consults his grandmother when in doubt.

I will not speak with disrespect of the Republican Party. I always speak with respect of the past.

I would rather belong to a poor nation that was free than to a rich nation that had ceased to be in love with liberty.

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

Interest does not tie nations together; it sometimes separates them. But sympathy and understanding does unite them.

It is the object of learning, not only to satisfy the curiosity and perfect the spirits of ordinary men, but also to advance civilization.

Liberty has never come from Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.

Neutrality is a negative word. It does not express what America ought to feel. We are not trying to keep out of trouble; we are trying to preserve the foundations on which peace may be rebuilt.

Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.

Property as compared with humanity, as compared with the red blood in the American people, must take second place, not first place.

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world.

That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.

The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.

The history of liberty is a history of resistance.

The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.

The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.

The seed of revolution is repression.

This comes from THIS SITE.

Conservatives Want to Use Our County to Set An Example

The Examiner has tended to be a little conservative for our taste through the sex-ed controversy, less so as the gender identity nondiscrimination bill has been the center of attention. Today's story by Kathleen Miller seems all right to me, what do you think?
Religious conservatives are hoping a referendum on a Montgomery County law protecting transgender people could become a template to repeal similar measures across the country.

Montgomery County Council members unanimously approved a measure last fall that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, public accommodations, and taxicab and cable service. Council members included an exemption for “personal and private” places, but nonetheless drew the ire of local conservatives, who said they feared men would be allowed in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

A local group, Citizens for Responsible Government, ran a successful petition drive to get the 25,000 signatures required to put the law on the county’s November ballot for possible recall. MontCo referendum seen as guide to nixing transgender laws in U.S.

It is surprising that they should get this wrong. A judge recently ruled that it was not 25,000 signatures that they needed, but 27,615 -- and they didn't have that many legitimate signatures. He is letting the petitions stand, however, because according to his method of measuring the complaint was filed too late. So, yes, it was a "successful petition drive" to get the wrong number of signatures. An appeal has been filed.
Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst for national conservative group Focus on the Family, said his organization is tracking the Montgomery issue.

His Colorado Springs-based group is waging its own battle against a new Colorado transgender rights law, along with other groups. Focus on the Family ran radio and print ads focusing on one thing: bathroom access.

“There’s no strategy, there’s just similar concerns among people in Montgomery County, Maryland, Colorado and Gainesville, Florida, where they’re also facing a referendum on a similar law,” Hausknecht said. “This is precisely what the transgender community ultimately wants: to open up bathrooms, locker rooms across the country.” Transgender rights advocates say the bills are about ensuring no one is denied a meal at a restaurant or an apartment because of gender issues, rather than bathroom access. But they acknowledge what they call a campaign of “fear and misinformation” has been tough to fight, even in liberal strongholds like Montgomery County and Gainesville.

Why would the "transgender community" want to "open up bathrooms, locker rooms across the country?" I mean, why? This kills me. They just make up something like that, they tell you some crazy thing that this tiny population of people supposedly "ultimately wants," out of the blue. And yes, that is hard to fight. People tend to believe other people when they say something. It's hard to realize that these people who claim to have God on their side just make it up. But that's what they do, that's what they're doing here.
“Transgender is still new to a lot of people,” said Chris Edelson, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. “[Opponents] know they are working on a blank slate and if they can write something scary on it, it gets them a long way to accomplishing their goals.”

Since Minnesota outlawed discrimination against transgender people in 1993, 11 other states and the District have followed suit, as did more than 90 cities and counties, Edelson said, adding that no crimes have been linked to the measure.

“As the public becomes far more accepting of gays and lesbians, the religious right is looking for a new way to drive out their support base at election time, and they think this is going to be it,” said Steve Ralls, communications director for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Representatives of the Family Research Council did not return several phone calls. Its Web site, however, showed it is activating prayer networks to kill new laws (“including one in a D.C. suburb”) that ban discrimination against transgender people.

“May God move the Church and morally minded Americans to exercise their citizenship to restore balance before it is too late,” a prayer on the site reads. “May efforts to impose sexual identity confusion upon our children through law fail at the federal, state and local levels.”

Efforts to impose sexual identity confusion. Again, why would anybody want to do that? This only makes sense if the person speaking has doubts about their own sexuality and assumes everybody else does, too. It's not like a little boy is going to be tricked into thinking he's a girl because transgender people were treated fairly.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Gender in the Olympics: The NYT

This morning's New York Times has a fascinating piece today about gender in the Olympics. You know they test sometimes to make sure men don't compete as women, that's pretty easy to understand and goes back to the sixties, when it was believed that Communist countries were sending guys into the women's competition.

But when you look at it very closely, it turns out not to be actually possible to crisply classify individuals into one of two bins, into 100% male and 100% female. There are different measures and they give different results. In fact, the Olympics don't have a rule against transgender athletes competing, under certain conditions, it must be so-many years since their surgery and they must take such-and-such hormones.

I am tempting to copy and paste this whole thing, but it's so long. Well, it could be worse, I guess, I could have posted one my Sunday morning brain-dumps. I'll post some sections of it. This was written by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender English professor and much-published writer.

First, I skip the catchy introduction...
On the surface, it seems reasonable for there to be some sort of system by which Olympians can be certain that female medalists really are female. The problem is that China’s tests are likely to produce the wrong answers, because they measure maleness and femaleness by the wrong yardsticks, and in the process ruin the lives of the innocent.

It would be nice to live in a world in which maleness and femaleness were firm and unwavering poles. People can be forgiven for wanting to live in a world as simple as this, a place in which something as basic as gender didn’t shift unsettlingly beneath our feet.

But gender is malleable and elusive, and we need to become comfortable with this fact, rather than afraid of it.

At the original Olympic Games, no gender testing was considered necessary. Back in 776 B.C., the Games were for men only, and they were conducted in the nude (with female spectators prohibited).

The modern era of gender testing began in 1968, at the Games in Mexico City, when it was believed that Communist countries in Eastern Europe were using male athletes in women’s competitions. (The truth was that some of the Eastern European athletes had been on a regimen of testosterone and steroids, giving them the physiques of young Arnold Schwarzeneggers.)

Over the past 40 years, dozens of female athletes tested in this manner have tested “positively” for maleness. That’s because these tests don’t measure “maleness” or “femaleness.” They measure — and not always reliably — the presence of a Y chromosome, or Y chromosomal material, which no small number of females have.

The condition, known as androgen insensitivity, occurs in about 1 in 20,000 individuals. Basically, a woman may have a Y chromosome, but her body does not respond to the genetic information that it contains. Some women with androgen insensitivity live their lives unaware that they have it. By any measure, though (except the measure of the Olympic test), they are women.

In 1996, eight female athletes at the Atlanta Games tested positively. Seven of these women were found to have some degree of androgen insensitivity, and one an enzyme defect. All were subsequently allowed to return to competition. The XY Games

In our county, a large part of the uproar over the new gender identity nondiscrimination bill comes from the implication that transgender women are "really" men in dresses. I think it's perfect to see how this question is addressed in the Olympics, where it is strictly necessary to make sure there are no "men in the women's locker-room," where it would be unfair to let men compete as women. A lot rides on the Olympics, there's a lot of hard work and money involved, and you can see these rules are important.

Skipping a little bit ...
You might think that gender testing at the Olympics is conducted to weed out transsexual women, who might be perceived to have some sort of physical advantage over natal females. Yet this is not the case. Since 2004, the International Olympic Committee has allowed transsexuals to compete as long as they have had sex-reassignment surgery and have gone through a minimum of two years of post-operative hormone replacement therapy. (As for the advantages that people born male supposedly have in competing against people born female, the combination of surgery and hormones appears to eliminate it entirely. Studies show that postoperative transsexual women perform at or near the baseline for female athletes in general.)

In the four years since the ruling, there have been no transsexuals — or at least no athletes who are open about it — in Olympic competition. But this year, Kristen Worley, a Canadian cyclist, came close to qualifying. If transgender athletes are now allowed to compete officially, and if gender testing has been shown frequently to render false results, then what exactly are the Chinese authorities testing for?

The Olympic hosts seem to want to impose a binary order upon the messy continuum of gender. They are searching for concreteness and certainty in a world that contains neither.

Most efforts to rigidly quantify the sexes are bound to fail. For every supposedly unmovable gender marker, there is an exception. There are women with androgen insensitivity, who have Y chromosomes. There are women who have had hysterectomies, women who cannot become pregnant, women who hate makeup, women whose object of affection is other women.

For most of us, the test proposed by "Doctor J" at the CRW blog would work: most people can just look down in the shower and know all they need to know about their gender identity. But that doesn't work for everybody, there is some complicated stuff going on with the chromosomes, the hormones, the whole body is involved here as sex and gender identity are not as tightly linked as we tend to think.
So what makes someone female then? If it’s not chromosomes, or a uterus, or the ability to get pregnant, or femininity, or being attracted to men, then what is it, and how can you possibly test for it?

The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day. Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within her, or his, heart.

How do we test for the gender of the heart, then? How do we avoid out-and-out frauds, like Hermann Ratjen, who said he was forced by the Nazis to compete as “Dora” in the 1936 high jump? (He lost, finishing fourth.)

A quick look at the reality of an athlete’s life ought to settle the question. Ratjen was male not because of what was in his genes, but because of who he was. He returned to his life as Hermann after the Berlin Games. “For three years I lived the life of a girl,” he said in 1957. “It was most dull.”

It’s hard to imagine a case like Ratjen’s recurring today, but if it did and he slipped through the cracks, then so be it. Surely policy for the Olympics — and civilization — shouldn’t be based on one improbable stunt perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

Nor should our county's law be affected by one improbable stunt perpetrated by the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, who sent a man in a dress into the women's showers at a local gym, hoping to attract media attention.

Which brings us back to Stella Walsh [mentioned earlier in the story, a female Olympian who, after her death, was discovered to have male sex organs]. While the autopsy revealed that she had male sex organs, a chromosome test ordered by the coroner was more ambiguous. She may well have had androgen insensitivity or some other intersex condition. More important, she spent the whole of her life as a woman. She should be celebrated for her accomplishments as an athlete, not turned into an asterisk because of a condition beyond her control.

The triumphant fact of a life lived as a woman made Walsh female, and the inexact measurements performed by strangers cannot render her life untrue.

Maybe this means that Olympic officials have to learn to live with ambiguity, and make peace with a world in which things are not always quantifiable and clear.

That, if you ask me, would be a good thing, not just for Olympians, but for us all.

It sounds like the Olympic committee did learn to live with the ambiguity. It's hard to tell here how much of this year's absolutism is coming from the international committee and how much is coming from the Chinese hosts.

As grown-ups, we have to learn to live with the ambiguity here in Montgomery County. It usually works to put people into one of two boxes, you can tattoo an "M" or "F" on most people's foreheads and that will work. But it's just more complicated than that in some cases. Some people aren't what they look like. And those people need to be treated with respect, if they hail a cab the cab ought to stop, if they have to pee they ought to be allowed to use the restroom.

Brazil Takes a Different Approach to AIDS

You might have noticed the news this week, the AIDS rate in the United States turns out to be higher than they thought. There are forty percent more new cases of HIV discovered each year than previously estimated. According to The Post, 56,300 new HIV infections were reported in 2006 in the US. The good news is that that's about half what the rate was in the 1980s, the bad news is that it's higher than it was in the mid-1990s.

But did you see this story, about how Brazil is treating AIDS?
Brazil, long considered a model country in the fight against AIDS, depends on cheap retroviral treatments secured from the big drug companies after fierce struggle.

That fight goes on today, with Brazil also manufacturing its own generic anti-AIDS medicine.

The strategy has created friction with the pharmaceutical groups investing billions in new anti-virals -- but it has also proved successful in this vast country, population 190 million, which has a third of Latin America's HIV-positive patients.

Around 32,000 new HIV/AIDS carriers are detected every year, a proportion that has stayed roughly the same for the past two decades.

That in itself is a triumph for a nation which was once predicted to be on the same path as parts of Africa where AIDS transmission has exploded, creating a veritable crisis.

The director of the Brazilian health ministry's AIDS program, Mariangela Simao, told AFP that in 2002, the prevelance rate of HIV/AIDS per 100,000 people was 22.2 cases. In 2006, it was 17.5, "which confirms a slightly lower trend," she said. Brazil's success in AIDS fight depends on cheap drugs

The article explains that the Brazilian government buys great quantities of medicines and so is able to negotiate a good price with drug companies. Some companies won't give them a break, however, for instance:
Last year, Brazil failed to secure a deal with the US pharmaceutical Merck for the HIV retroviral efavirenz.

It decided to break the patent on the drug -- the first time it has done so -- and is importing it from India pending its own generic production.

The 30 million dollars per year it is saving by doing so is being reinvested in HIV prevention.

"Between our trade and our health, we have chosen to look after our health," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at the time.

Man oh man. If I understand this right, they're basically pirating AIDS medication.

And look at that last sentence again: "Between our trade and our health, we have chosen to look after our health," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at the time.

Did you realize there are still world leaders who think like that?