Friday, January 30, 2009

Wrap-Up of CRW Court Date

I got an email from someone who had been in court this morning for the CRW's big lawsuit, and explained what happened. I asked them if I could use their text and have not received a response, so I am going to paraphrase. This is not an official account, but this person is a trustworthy friend of TTF and I'm sure this is pretty accurate.

Turns out the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever had filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to dissolve or suspend the new gender-identity nondiscrimination law, 23-07. The case was heard in Judge Rubin's court at 8:30 this morning. I am told he was "a bit incredulous at the audacity of the showernuts" but allowed the legal process to play out.

The whole thing was over in a half hour. The CRW's new attorney, Daniel Cox, was said to be "clearly out of his league." Their argument was that they would suffer irreparable harm if the court allowed the new law to stand. Also, since they didn't have a fair chance to get their referendum, they should have another shot at it. (You will remember that the county Board of Elections told them they needed the wrong number of signatures, the Court of Appeals threw out nearly half the signatures they had gathered, etcetera.)

According to my information, the judge said it was “well-nigh” impossible that any further litigation would succeed based on the High Court’s rulings, that in spite of it being 4-3, the matter had been settled already.

There will be another hearing on summary judgments, date not set.

The CRW is out of gas. The law has been in effect for a long enough time now, it is clear that none of the horrible effects they told us about are going to happen. Men do not lurk in ladies rooms in Montgomery County, there has not been a big surge of sexual predators moving here so they can dress as women and prey on innocent women and children, little girls have not "started showing up dead all over the county," as the local Republican Party leader had predicted. There is no reason to relegalize discrimination against transgender people in our county, no one wants to do it, and there is no legal ground for allowing do-overs on the referendum. They had their chance, they failed. In the meantime, America has turned a corner and moved on.

CRW In Court Today - Wha?

The strangest thing. It appears the CRW is still fighting about the gender nondiscrimination law that went into effect last year. They sent out a newsletter this morning that said:
Right before Christmas, the Maryland Court of Appeals released it's written opinion (they had simply issued a three sentence judgement earlier).

They found in favor of Equality Maryland on not only counting the inactive voters, but also ruled that an additional 10,000 signatures should be thrown out. If you couldn't remember exactly how you signed your voters registration card, you weren't alone. Based solely on Equality Maryland's claims of which signatures were invalid, the Court of Appeals discarded almost half of them.

Again, the intial target number of signatures was 25,001. The board of elections certified 26,892. The new target number handed down by the MD Court of Appeals three sentence ruling one day before the ballots were printed was 27,615.

You can read the ruling here :

Yes, that's right -- they linked to our web site!

Well, we are happy to provide that service to the community.

The newsletter continues:
Court date today.
Today, Friday, January 30th, at 9:00 court starts. The trial will be held at the Rockville County Courthouse in Judge Rubins chambers.

Circuit Court for Montgomery County
50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850

We believe it will be on the seventh floor. Please feel free to come join us if you get this note in time.

To tell you the truth, I don't know what "court date" this is. They aren't going to the circuit court to challenge the appeals court ruling, are they?

A while back, a little birdy told us that both John Garza and the Alliance Defense Fund were abandoning the CRW, and that a guy named Daniel Cox had taken over the case. But again, I don't know what "case" they expect to make. They certainly can't get their refenedum back, there are no grounds for overturning the new law.

There is one extra little piece to today's newsletter:
Website Change

The website and all emails have changed to We have had some difficulty with the site, and it is no longer active. Please use in the future.

The site and emails were just restored today, otherwise we would have gotten notice on the trial date out to you sooner.

Oh, and this...
Please, please contribute

Our legal bills are mounting. If you can help us with a donation, it would be greatly appreciated.

Please Contribute.

There is no hint here about what this tiny band of radicals is trying to accomplish. They apparently have filed some sort of lawsuit, they have let their web site go to hell, they need money, their lawyers have wandered away.

Republican Attempt to Undermine Stimulus Is Backfiring

It looks to me like the Republicans might have shot themselves through the heart this time. President Obama did everything to negotiate with them and compromise on a stimulus package to save the economy, and after the Democrats had watered it down to win their approval the House Republicans banded together, as they have done for years, and voted against the bill. Every single Republican Congressman voted against it. Rather than thinking for themselves, rather than promoting something that would be good for the economy, rather than negotiating something they liked, they did what they could to ensure that this administration fails.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she didn’t come to Washington to be “bipartisan”, one day after shuttling through an $819 economic stimulus bill without a single Republican vote.

“I didn’t come here to be partisan, I didn’t come here to be bipartisan,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference. “I came here, as did my colleagues, to be nonpartisan, to work for the American people, to do what is in their interest.”

Pelosi expressed no regrets over passing the stimulus measure without any GOP support. Republicans followed their leaders in objecting to the bill on the grounds that it was put together without GOP input, and that it would not do enough to stimulate the economy.

Repeating the term “nonpartisan” on more than one occasion in describing the bill, the Speaker said her goal was to put President Obama’s vision on paper for the good of the country regardless of the type of support it garnered.

“The president’s agenda is reflected in this legislation,” the Speaker said. “People vote for what they believe in. Clearly, Republicans did not believe in [that] agenda … I think they probably voted their conscience.” Pelosi dismisses need for bipartisanship

Obama is trying to be nice to the Republicans, I hear he invited them to the White House for drinks, but if they choose not to play ball, the Democrats have the Presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress, they can go ahead without them. There's really nothing to be gained by being nice.

I defended Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the prayer at the inauguration, I do believe it is wise to include all segments of society in the new administration, but that doesn't mean the Democrats need to compromise their principles. You certainly don't need to make promises to these guys if they're only going to undermine you no matter what. You give them a chance and if they don't want to play you go ahead without them.

It's not like the Republicans can recover from the failure of two terms of George W. Bush by being even more pig-headed than they were. If they want to be part of America's future they're going to have to participate in the process. They've been invited but if they don't want to take part in governing the country, well, nobody will miss them.

Here's John Kerry, speaking my mind:
Sen. John Kerry says Democrats should ignore Republicans’ demands about the stimulus plan if they’re going to vote against it anyway.

Reacting to Wednesday night’s vote in the House — where not a single GOP member supported the stimulus package — Kerry told Politico that “if Republicans aren’t prepared to vote for it, I don’t think we should be giving up things, where I think the money can be spent more effectively.”

“If they’re not going to vote for it, let’s go with a plan that we think is going to work.”

The Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate suggested tossing some of the tax provisions in the stimulus that the GOP requested. “Those aren’t job creators immediately, and even in the longer term they’re not necessarily. We’ve seen that policy for the last eight years,” he said.

A lot of people are feeling that the Republicans have become irrelevant, and this vote on the economy does make you see that. This is a time for strong leadership, a strong government to get the country back on its feet, and if they're only going to undermine our leadership and weaken our government, then why would anybody care what they want?

I'm no political expert, but it looks to me like the best the new President can do is to unite the American people, and let the Republican politicians implode into their own private pity-party, disconnected from the real world. Maybe a new political group will emerge to represent the wishes and opinions of conservative Americans in an effective way.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Believers Squawk About Nonbelievers

I think just about everybody was surprised during President Obama's inaugural speech when he mentioned nonbelievers in a non-condescending way:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers.

Well, first of all, the list is not comprehensive, there are lots of people here who practice Buddhism, Shinto, Santeria, Mormonism ... hey, and what about Scientologists? And I might have put these world religions in a different order, but whatever, I think he's having a little fun playing with the "Obama's a Muslim" meme that the rightwingers love so much.

Nonbelievers have been integral to our country since its inception. There is still a stigma attached to the label of atheism, but atheists have always been there, even if they haven't always called themselves that. Somebody might say, "I'm just not that religious," and what they really meant was that they didn't believe in a god.

Anyway, AOL News points out to us that some "believers" are unhappy with his choice of words.
By mentioning, for the first time in an inaugural address, the 16.1 percent of Americans who check "no"’ when asked about religion, Obama turned it into the most controversial line in his speech -- praised by The New York Times editorial board and cited by some Christians as evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.

With that one line, the president "seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian," said’ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. "The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.’"

Earlier this week, Jackson was a guest on the popular conservative Christian radio show 'Janet Parshall's America,' where a succession of callers, many of whom identified themselves as African-American, said they shared the concern, and were perplexed and put off by the president’s shout-out to nonbelievers. Obama's Nonbeliever Nod Unsettles Some

I know, huh? It's hard to imagine why a guy who's just been elected President of the United States of America would want to acknowledge citizens who aren't Christian. I mean, America is a Christian country, right?
Parshall noted that atheists were celebrating the unexpected mention, and indeed they were: "In his inaugural address … President Barack Obama did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of America as part of the nation's great strength, and including 'nonbelievers'’ in that mix,’" said Ed Buckner of American Atheists.
"His mother would have been proud,"’ Buckner said, referring to the fact that Obama’s mother was not a church-goer. "And so are we."

Look, it was perfectly appropriate for President Obama (there you go, Andrea) to acknowledge the diversity of beliefs held by Americans -- his election to the presidency is proof that we as a country are able to accept diversity. And there are, actually, lots of nonbelievers.

Here's what happens. Somebody says something and it sets the nuts off, they start whining complaining about some trivial comment. They make so much noise that everybody else has to stop what they're doing and address the nutty concerns of the noisy minority. Politicians and those who fear controversy avoid mention of the thing that elicited the nutty noise in the first place, and pretty soon you've got a cone of silence around some topic, breeding ignorance. It can be sexual orientation, evolution, abortion, any of a number of things, for no good reason these topics are simply eliminated from public education and public debate, or if they are discussed the conversation is skewed to pander to the extremists.

Nah, there are nonbelievers in America, lots of them. It was great for our President to mention them without denigration, I hope the new guy has what it takes to keep pushing forward in the same way, saying what needs to be said without compromise.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yike - A Cold One

A little snow can be a beautiful thing. But this morning, everything is sealed up in a thick layer of ice. Schools are closed, there is hardly any traffic on the road.

Put a log on the fire, people, tomorrow you can get all those things done that you had planned for today. Make an extra pot of coffee, pull out a novel, take it easy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Good News

I can't help it. Even on a cold morning like today, I go out and pull the newspaper out of the snow, bring it into the house and open it up and see a story like this and it makes me feel all warm inside.
President Obama announced a series of new policies yesterday intended to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, capping a week of widespread changes aimed at reversing the legacy of George W. Bush.

In his first seven days in office, Obama has banned the use of controversial CIA interrogation tactics, ordered the closure of the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and begun planning for the drawdown of troops in Iraq. He also imposed stringent limits on lobbyists, unveiled an $825 billion stimulus plan, and ordered a halt to any last-minute rules and regulations put in place by his predecessor.

The moves are part of an effort by Obama to follow through on his campaign promise to forge a new direction in Washington, administration officials said. "What you have seen in the first week is rapid change and a resetting of our global agenda," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "The president believes we can't afford to continue what we are doing. We can't afford to slow down." The Effort to Roll Back Bush Policies Continues

Hee -hee! See how good that feels?

Metro Is Back to Normal

It took me two hours to get from Twinbrook station in Rockville to Union Station today. Our packed train got as far as White Flint, when it stopped and immediately the driver told everyone to get off.

I don't like words like "off-load," as in, "We are off-loading this train, everybody please leave the train." "Off-load" just means that the customer is not getting the service he or she is paying for. It means you and hundreds of other people are going to be late to work, you're going to try to squeeze into the next train for an uncomfortable stand-up ride after waiting in the cold. We should not accept "off-loading" as normal performance by the Metro, but they throw it out there so you feel like you are part of their routine, not that they are part of yours.

Our train sat there empty for twenty minutes or so, and then another train came out to push it. That train was full of people, too, and when it got the the platform Metro made all of them get out. So you had two trainfuls of people standing on the platform, and that is a nice word, "trainful." Then they told us the next train would be coming on the other side, so we all moved to the opposite side of the platform, mooing and bleating. Eventually a train came on that side, jammed full of people, two or three people got on and the rest of us stood there and let it pass.

I could have punched a guy today. We had gone back to the usual side of the platform, and a Glenmont train stopped and maybe there was room was three or four more people on it, it was just full. I was in about the fifth layer of people, and some ... guy ... behind me kept pushing me. He and I got into an argument, and eventually he pushed past me and everybody else on the platform and got on, shoving everybody in the train out of his way, too. He was pushing keys on his Blackberry before the doors closed. I used some language I will not replicate here for you.

It is interesting to me that some people think they are more important than the rest of us. This guy just needed to go to the front of the line. He didn't say anything about having an emergency to attend to or anything, he just thought the world exists for him, and if the rest of us slackers want to stand around being polite he'll be more than happy to take advantage of us. Let me guess: you're a Republican, am I right? You see this in the lines exiting the stations, too, there are people who just walk past the whole line and go to the front.

While we were on the platform, Metro was announcing that they had stopped and off-loaded other trains in other stations, too, because of our breakdown, and had turned the trains around. I don't know what the strategy is there, unless it's just to spread the unhappiness evenly throughout the rail system.

It was snowing this morning. When I left the house my thermometer was saying it was about thirty degrees, just cold enough for snow but not so cold that, uh, trains can't run.

When I got to Union Station, I noticed that the turnstile still took my money. I don't pay four and a half bucks one-way for failing to get me to work on time, I am paying for relatively reliable transportation. I can't imagine that you or I would be able to perform this poorly at our jobs without some kind of penalty, how does Metro get away with it?

At Union Station hundreds of us lined up, mooing and bleating, to walk up the broken escalator.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Something Different

Here's something from an Australian newspaper, to see how your brain works. Look at the spinning lady and see which way you think she's going around.

Here's what The Herald-Sun says about it:
THE Right Brain vs Left Brain test ... do you see the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?

If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa.

Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it.

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

It seems obvious to me that she's going around clockwise. What do you see?

New Revelations About Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard has become a sort of pet for us here, a kind of mascot. His is a story that ties all the rest of it together, it's the story of a man who has been a traitor to his own heart, who has taken his own dearest feelings of love and turned them into something ugly. Even beyond denigrating and denying his own natural sense of love, he went on the attack against others who loved in the same way, making their lives harder wherever he could, convincing others to join him in oppressing them.

Ted Haggard wasn't just a preacher, he was God's own preacher, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals -- this group has thirty million members. Imagine being able to make a statement and get it to thirty million Americans. Haggard was able to do that, and the message he sent was not one of healing and caring, but one of intolerance. He taught his followers that homosexuality is an abomination, he campaigned in favor of anti-gay laws, and at the same time he was hopelessly attracted to men.

His life collapsed around him when a male prostitute went to the news with his story of meetings for paid sex and crystal meth. It wasn't just a lapse, it wasn't that Haggard had a male lover in the community, these meetings were sordid by any standard -- and not because it was a man. This wasn't loving that got out of hand, there was no overwhelming passionate emotional attachment, this was a hooker and drugs. The leader of the nation's largest evangelical group revealed an inability to control himself that haunts the entire group.

I first got involved in the issue of discrimination against sexual minorities when a noisy group of nuts wanted to gut our county school district's new sex-ed curriculum, back in 2004. I didn't care about gay people in any special way, in my life gay people have simply been people, their sexual orientation never seemed to matter in any way that affected me. And to tell you the truth, I think that in the long run that's the best attitude for straight people to have about gays, it seems ideal to treat them as individuals, one at a time, you don't need to judge or stereotype. I don't feel obligated to like every gay person I meet, and I can't get too excited when they want to raise funds by sponsoring drag bingo or something, that's their thing. But it certainly doesn't hurt me any if they want to play drag bingo, I don't feel challenged or threatened by it, I just don't go.

There are those who feel that everything gay needs to be suppressed. Not only do they apparently feel a need to suppress homosexual tendencies in themselves, they need to suppress them when other people experience them. At first I was uneasy theorizing that anti-gay activists were people who "had issues" with their own sexuality, it seemed unkind or un-generous to think so, but it has become clear over the years that that is often the case. Otherwise none of it makes sense. Why would anyone care whether another person is attracted to the same or opposite sex? How could it possibly be anybody else's business? Why would somebody want to decide who somebody else should fall in love with?

We're supposed to feel sorry for poor Ted Haggard, "struggling" as he is with his sexuality. The solution to his problem is so obvious that no one can say it out loud. He is doing everything he can to focus on being heterosexual -- but Ted, the rest of us don't have to do that. In an interview with the Washington Post he said, "I have had to deal with issues, other issues associated with sexuality, and with the complexity of homosexuality and bisexuality and questions and feelings and thoughts and all that kind of thing." He is married to a woman, and he says he loves her and enjoys their relationship, and I don't have any reason to doubt him. But somehow the attraction of men was too much for him, and the marriage bed was not enough.

I can't advise him on what to do with his personal life. Maybe he shouldn't have married in the first place, he says his first homosexual experiments began at an early age and he certainly knew his own feelings by the time he married. Maybe he thought being married to a woman would make those feelings go away, I don't know, but it didn't. Now he's got a wife and family and I understand not wanting to give that up.

He is, though, in a position to do an incredible amount of good in his public life. Thirty million evangelicals could well benefit from Haggard's lesson. He didn't turn to homosexuality because he is a dark-hearted sinner who hates God, he had relationships with men because that's the way God made him. His life would have been entirely different if he had allowed himself, from the start, to date those who actually interested him, rather than who his church believed he should date. His marriage might not be the mess it is now if he had married a man in the first place. Outed, Ted Haggard is in a position to teach his evangelical following something important. He can teach them to love gay people and appreciate them as people. You don't have to "struggle" with your sexuality, trying to force love where it doesn't belong, it is fine to accept your natural feelings and let your love flow.

From this morning's Washington Post:
Two days after new allegations surfaced about the sexual behavior of the founder of a megachurch, the current pastor of New Life Church said Sunday that he was "sorry that this wound has been reopened for many of you" and said the church would recover from the latest report.

"One day we may have a little scar tissue, but the wounds will not define us," pastor Brady Boyd told the congregation.

Church officials learned more than two years ago about the alleged relationship between a male church volunteer and then-pastor Ted Haggard, Boyd said Friday.

Haggard left the church in late 2006, after a male prostitute in Denver said he had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard. The former pastor has declined to comment on the new claim, reported by a Colorado Springs television station.

Boyd said an "overwhelming pool of evidence" pointed to an "inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship" between Haggard and the male volunteer for an extended period of time.

The pastor said that under a legal settlement the church reached with the man in 2007, neither side was to discuss the matter publicly. He said he went public only after learning that the man had talked to KRDO-TV.

Boyd said that the man was in his early 20s at the time and that he was certain the man was of legal age when the relationship began. At Church Founded By Haggard, an Apology

The story here is ... well, there are several stories. One is that Ted Haggard had a boyfriend in the church as well as his once-a-month prostitute. There is some question about the young man's age when the relationship began and about exactly how consensual their interactions were. There is no question that the church gave the young man a good amount of money with the agreement that he would keep the affair quiet. They say it wasn't hush money, but that is what that's called, people.

Ted Haggard is a homosexual or bisexual man who overcompensated in the ministry and built up a gigantic following of people who hung on his every word. He is attracted to men and claims also to be attracted to women, at least his wife. I don't think most people have a problem with that. Most people would disapprove of a married man going out and having sex with people he is not married to, and especially if he is a straight-and-narrow evangelical preacher who is telling other people to live humbly and faithfully. Most people would have a problem with an anti-gay gay man, the word "hypocrite" bubbles right to the surface in this discussion. He can un-do the hypocrisy though in a heartbeat, by spreading the word that gay people are just people, they can have pure hearts, Jesus loves them, Ted Haggard is in a position to bring an incredible amount of love and goodness to the world, if only he will quit the self-pity and the soap-opera terminology about "struggling" with his sexuality. Stop struggling, start accepting yourself -- the problem is not Haggard's sexuality but his community's illusions and prejudice about it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Nightmare We Are Waking Up From

Harper's has a list of "statistics" summarizing the Bush years.

This is long, but you don't have anything else to do, do you? A hundred or more measures of corruption, greed, and ineptitude, presented with some wit.
Number of news stories from 1998 to Election Day 2000 containing “George W. Bush” and “aura of inevitability”: 206

Amount for which Bush successfully sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1999: $2,500

Year in which a political candidate first sued Palm Beach County over problems with hanging chads: 1984

Total amount the Bush campaign paid Enron and Halliburton for use of corporate jets during the 2000 recount: $15,400

Percentage of Bush’s first 189 appointees who also served in his father’s administration: 42

Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98

Years before becoming energy secretary that Spencer Abraham cosponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy: 2

Number of Chevron oil tankers named after Condoleezza Rice, at the time she became foreign policy adviser: 1

Date on which the GAO sued Dick Cheney to force the release of documents related to current U.S. energy policy: 2/22/02

Number of other officials the GAO has sued over access to federal records: 0

Months before September 11, 2001, that Cheney’s Energy Task Force investigated Iraq’s oil resources: 6

Hours after the 9/11 attacks that an Alaska congressman speculated they may have been committed by “eco-terrorists”: 9

Date on which the first contract for a book about September 11 was signed: 9/13/01

Number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African men detained in the U.S. in the eight weeks after 9/11: 1,182

Number of them ever charged with a terrorism-related crime: 0

Number charged with an immigration violation: 762

Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0

Minimum number of calls the FBI received in fall 2001 from Utah residents claiming to have seen Osama bin Laden: 20

Number of box cutters taken from U.S. airline passengers since January 2002: 105,075

Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39

Chances an American in 2002 believed the government should regulate comedy routines that make light of terrorism: 2 in 5

Rank of Mom, Dad, and Rudolph Giuliani among those whom 2002 college graduates said they most wished to emulate: 1, 2, 3

Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”: 1

Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations: 22,000

Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50

Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069

Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100

Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0

Date on which Bush said of Osama bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him”: 3/13/02

Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games: 1

Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”: 25

Number of books by Henry Kissinger found in Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz’s mansion: 2

Number by then–New York Times reporter Judith Miller: 1

Factor by which an Iraqi in 2006 was more likely to die than in the last year of the Saddam regime: 3.6

Factor by which the cause of death was more likely to be violence: 120

Chance that an Iraqi has fled his or her home since the beginning of the war: 1 in 6

Portion of Baghdad residents in 2007 who had a family member or friend wounded or killed since 2003: 3/4

Percentage of U.S. veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have filed for disability with the VA: 35

Chance that an Iraq war veteran who has served two or more tours now has post-traumatic stress disorder: 1 in 4

Number of all U.S. war veterans who have been denied Veterans Administration health care since 2003: 452,677

Number of eligibility restrictions for admission into the Army that have been loosened since 2003: 9

Percentage change from 2004 to 2007 in the number of Army recruits admitted despite having been charged with a felony: +295

Date on which the White House announced it had stopped looking for WMDs in Iraq: 1/12/05

Years since his acquittal that O. J. Simpson has said he is still looking for his wife’s “real killers”: 13

Minimum number of close-up photographs of Bush’s hands owned by his current chief of staff, Josh Bolten: 4

Number of vehicles in the motorcade that transports Bush to his regular bike ride in Maryland: 6

Estimated total miles he has ridden his bike as president: 5,400

Portion of his presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3

Minimum number of times that Frederick Douglass was beaten in what is now Donald Rumsfeld’s vacation home: 25

Estimated number of juveniles whom the United States has detained as enemy combatants since 2002: 2,500

Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8

Minimum number of extraordinary renditions that the United States has made since 2006: 200

Date on which USA Today added Guantánamo to its weather map: 1/3/05

Number of incidents of torture on prime-time network TV shows from 2002 to 2007: 897

Number on shows during the previous seven years: 110

Percentage change since 2000 in U.S. emigration to Canada: +79

Number of the thirty-eight Iraq war veterans who have run for Congress who were Democrats: 21

Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62

Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10

Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40

Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4

Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4

Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000

Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15

Percentage change since 2002 in the number of U.S. teens using illegal drugs: –9

Percentage change in the number of adults in their fifties doing so: +121

Number of times FDA officials met with consumer and patient groups as they revised drug-review policy in 2006: 5

Number of times they met with industry representatives: 113

Amount the Justice Department spent in 2001 installing curtains to cover two seminude statues of Justice: $8,650

Number of Republican officials who have been investigated by the Justice Department since 2001: 196

Number of Democratic officials who have been: 890

Number of White House officials in 2006 and 2007 authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the DOJ: 711

Number of Clinton officials ever authorized to do so: 4

Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130

Number of U.S. cities and towns that have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush: 92

Percentage change since 2001 in U.S. government spending on paper shredding: +466

Percentage of EPA scientists who say they have experienced political interference with their work since 2002: 60

Change since 2001 in the percentage of Americans who believe humans are causing climate change: –4

Number of total additions made to the U.S. endangered-species list under Bush: 61

Average number made yearly under Clinton: 65

Minimum number of pheasant hunts Dick Cheney has gone on since he shot a hunting companion in 2006: 5

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit that Cheney’s office ordered an electric company to restore power to two oil pipelines: 1

Days after the hurricane that the White House authorized sending federal troops into New Orleans: 4

Portion of the $3.3 billion in federal Hurricane Katrina relief spent by Mississippi that has benefited poor residents: 1/4

Percentage change in the number of Louisiana and Mississippi newborns named Katrina in the year after the storm: +153

Rank of Nevaeh, “heaven” spelled backward, among the fastest growing names given to American newborns since 2000: 1

Months, beginning in 2001, that the federal government’s online condom fact sheet disappeared from its website : 17

Minimum amount that religious groups received in congressional earmarks from 2003 to 2006: $209,000,000

Amount such groups received during the previous fourteen years: $107,000,000

Percentage change from 2003 to 2007 in the amount of money invested in U.S. faith-based mutual funds: +88

Average annualized percentage return during that time in the Christian and Muslim funds, respectively: +11, +15

Number of feet the Ground Zero pit has been built up since the site was fully cleared in 2002: 30

Number of 980-foot-plus “Super Tall” towers built in the Arab world in the seven years since 9/11: 4

Year by which the third and final phase of the 2003 “road map” to a Palestinian state was to have been reached: 2005

Estimated number of the twenty-five provisions of the first phase that have yet to be completed: 12

Number of times in 2007 that U.S. media called General David Petraeus “King David”: 14

Percentage change during the first ten months of the Iraq war “surge” in the number of Iraqis detained in U.S.-run prisons: +63

Percentage change in the number of Iraqis aged nine to seventeen detained: +285

Ratio of the entire U.S. federal budget in 1957, adjusted for inflation, to the amount spent so far on the Iraq war: 1:1

Estimated amount Bush-era policies will cost the U.S. in new debt and accrued obligations: $10,350,000,000,000 (see page 31)

Percentage change in U.S. discretionary spending during Bush’s presidency: +31

Percentage change during Reagan’s and Clinton’s, respectively: +16, +0.3

Ratio in 1999 of the number of U.S. federal employees to the number of private employees on government contracts: 15:6

Ratio in 2006: 14:15

Total value of U.S. government contracts in 2000 that were awarded without competitive bidding: $73,000,000,000

Total in 2007: $146,000,000,000

Number of the five directors of the No Child Left Behind reading program with financial ties to a curriculum they developed: 4

Amount by which the federal government has underfunded its estimated cost to implement NCLB: $71,000,000,000

Minimum number of copies sold, since it was released in 2006, of Flipping Houses for Dummies: 45,000

Chance that the buyer of a U.S. home in 2006 now has “negative equity,” i.e., the debt on the home exceeds its value: 1 in 5

Estimated value of Henry Paulson’s Goldman Sachs stock when he became Treasury Secretary and sold it: $575,000,000

Estimated value of that stock today: $238,000,000

Salary in 2006 of the White House’s newly created Director for Lessons Learned: $106,641

Minimum number of Bush-related books published since 2001: 606

Number of words in the first sentence of Bill Clinton’s memoir and in that of George W. Bush’s, respectively: 49, 5

Minimum number of nicknames Bush has given to associates during his presidency: 75

Number of associates with the last name Jackson he has dubbed “Action Jackson”: 2

Number of press conferences at which Bush has referred to a question as a “trick”: 14

Number of times he has declared an event or outcome not to be “acceptable”: 149

Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1

Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37

Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

Harper’s Index

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Equality Maryland Classified as Terrorists

The Maryland State Police, we knew, had infiltrated groups of potential terrorists and kept files on them, for instance people who opposed the war in Iraq, and people who were against the death penalty. Friday's Post tells us that they also kept files on Equality Maryland, a group that promotes LGBT rights in our state.

We know those guys, this is really getting close to home.
Equality Maryland, the state's largest gay rights group, was among the peaceful protest groups to be classified as terrorists in a Maryland State Police database.

The group was designated a "security threat" by the Homeland Security and Intelligence Division, which also kept dossiers on dozens of activists and at least a dozen groups. Police kept files on Equality Maryland's plans to hold rallies outside the State House in Annapolis to press for legislation reversing the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Police plan to purge the files.

The files were revealed yesterday at a news conference, where a dozen Democratic lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation to prevent future surveillance of nonviolent groups.

Police would need "reasonable articulated suspicion of actual criminal activity" before they could conduct surveillance, the legislation's sponsors said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) also plans to call for a similar bill. The measure also would prevent police from keeping files on citizens, unless the information is part of a legitimate criminal investigation. State Police Classified Gay Rights Group as 'Threat'

I don't understand why the names are leaking out so slowly, in dribs and drabs. There's a database of "terrorists," it has been found and is being analyzed -- how about putting that database on the Internet, and letting people know if the government has been spying on them. We'd all like to know who's in it.

I made a joke last time there was a news story about this, I said the first thing I did was scan the article for the phrase "Teach the Facts." Am I paranoid? You may not agree with Equality Maryland's aims, you may be anti-gay, say, but even the most conservative citizen must recognize that they aren't terrorists, for crying out loud. They want the right, as gay people, to marry, again you may or may not accept that. But terrorists?

The people responsible for this should not only be fired, they should be charged with crimes. No American should be subjected to this kind of treatment when they are obeying the law and exercising their freedom.

New Condom Study Raises Questions

The other day I arrived at the citizens advisory committee meeting a little early. They were orienting a couple of new members, and when I walked in they were showing the MCPS condom-use video. I sat and watched as a man's voice droned on and the words he was saying appeared on the screen, screen after screen. At one point they replaced the text with a picture of a wooden dildo, which they unrolled a condom onto, and then back to the man's voice and text. It is the most boring video in the world. A committee member was explaining that there had been a big controversy over the previous video. One of the new people asked, "What was wrong with the other video?" The committee member said, "It was too much. It had this attractive blond ..." Somebody said, "Wasn't there a cucumber or something in it?"

There was nothing wrong with the first video. Maybe it was dumb to use a cucumber instead of an inanimate dildo, like they use now, but there is nothing inherently immoral or controversial about using vegetables in health videos. The "attractive blond" was simply a young woman whose hair was blond. It wasn't Pamela Anderson, it was some teacher, and it doesn't take a lifetime NOW membership to recognize the sexist implications of replacing a live woman with a disembodied male voice. Even some liberal committee members seemed to agree that it was offensive to have an "attractive blond" telling students how to use a condom. No, it wasn't, and there is no payoff for putting the bigots' frame around the issue. That original video had some production, it had music, it showed various personalities on the screen, this one is dry, it is intentionally boring.

They say there is a female voice in it somewhere, but I never heard one -- I came in in the middle, I only saw the last half of the video, there could have been a female voice in the first half. This video is for the guys, anything that may have engaged or interested the female student was removed by the school district. The message is that it's the man's job to make sure you don't get pregnant, honey, just lie back and let him take care of things for you. If the goal is to teach students that sex is aversive, this is the way to do it. I guarantee the school district has no other video production where all you see is the narrators words scrolling on the screen, this video does present some important information but it is a lame compromise with people who should not have any influence at all on our county's public education.

The reason you want to have a condom video is so that young people learn the right way to use one. Used properly, a condom can prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Used improperly, you might as well not use one at all.

A new study demonstrates this fact. From Medical News Today:
Some teenagers and young adults might overestimate how often they use condoms during sex, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Reuters Health reports. Eve Rose of Emory University and colleagues studied 715 black women and girls ages 15 to 21 who were enrolled in an HIV prevention program. Researchers asked the participants how many times in the past two weeks they had sex and how many times they used a condom. The participants also provided vaginal fluid samples to be screened for Y chromosome DNA, or evidence of sperm.

The researchers found that among the women who had sex during the past two weeks, 186 reported condom use every time. However, of the women who reported consistent condom use, 34% had Y chromosome DNA in their fluid samples. According to the researchers, the reasons for the discrepancy are not known. Possible explanations include that the participants were mistaken, had misused the condoms or had provided the "socially desirable" response, researchers said. They added that "regardless of whether the problem is condom user error or misreporting, the unfortunate result, in terms of risk for [sexually transmitted infections] and HIV, is the same." The study's findings also have implications for young people's sexual health and studies on the issue, the researchers said. They added that studies using both self reports and objective measures of condom use might provide a more thorough understanding of young people's sexual behavior and their STI risk (Reuters Health, 1/14). Teens, Young Adults Might Overestimate Condom Use, Study Finds

Without knowing the details, it seems to me that this test might not pick up the presence of sperm after two weeks, in other words this probably underestimates it.

This report doesn't say where the study was conducted. The question would be, are these young women who have been taught how to use a condom, or do they just put it on in some way that seems to make sense? The fact is, almost nothing is going to get past that latex, not a bacterium, not a virus, not a sperm cell. It's a barrier and if it's put into place correctly it is going to keep stuff out. Yet a third of the time these researchers found that the woman's vagina had stuff in it that should have been blocked. Were they lying about using the condom? Did they misunderstand the question? Were they using it incorrectly? The answers are, most likely, yes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Metro Did Good, But ...

Last week I predicted that Metro would be the weak link during the inauguration. I could picture trains breaking down, thousands of people sitting in steamy cars in tunnels while history moved ahead without them. But I was wrong, that didn't happen. It appears that Metro moved people as it was supposed to, that day at least. Wednesday going to work the trains got behind schedule, I was standing on the platform at Twinbrook when they had to off-load a Shady Grove train, escalators were torn up, and everything was back to normal. But for the inauguration, you couldn't complain about Metro.

A celebratory cartoon from this morning's Post:

Here's what WTOP had to say:
For months, Metro has been predicting that it would carry a record number of riders on Inauguration Day.

It turns out the transit agency was right.

"Will it be the largest crowd we have ever seen? We think so," Metro General Manager John Catoe said at board meeting in November.

On Jan. 20, Metrorail carried 1,120,000 passengers, 423,000 bus riders and 1,721 MetroAccess riders for a total of 1,544,721 trips, the highest ridership day ever in the transit authority's history.

"Our Metro system wasn't designed to transport this many people in such a short time, but we did it," Catoe said Wednesday. "Months and months of planning paid off. Throughout Inauguration Weekend, we effectively dealt with record-breaking crowds."

In fact, Tuesday wasn't the only record-breaking day for Metrorail. On Monday the rail system carried 866,681 passengers. At that moment, it was the highest rail ridership day ever for the transit agency, but the crowds on Inauguration Day quickly surpassed that number.

"The 10,000 employees of Metro stepped up, and we feel a glowing sense of pride in knowing the important role we played in making the Inauguration a success," said Catoe. Metro beaming after record-setting days

Now, if they could just get the trains to run on the other 363 days of the year ...

That is not to say that everything went well during the inauguration. The NYT:
Inaugural organizers fielded a flurry of complaints on Wednesday from people who had tickets to see President Obama’s swearing-in, but who were left stranded in an underground traffic tunnel near the Capitol.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Congressional committee that handled the ticketing arrangements, said Wednesday that the Rules Committee would investigate the problems that kept thousands of ticket holders from seeing the event.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, in a statement on Wednesday, expressed regret that some ticket holders could not get to their sections, primarily in the standing-room area below the Capitol that was designated by the color purple and in the nearby blue zone.

Many people with tickets and even more who arrived without tickets, hoping to see the event from the Mall, endured long waits and frustrating delays in the subfreezing weather. But the purple-ticket holders appeared to have been abandoned by event organizers as they stood crowded, frustrated and cold in what some referred to as the Purple Tunnel of Doom in pictures posted on the Internet.

One purple-ticket holder who said he wanted an explanation and an apology was David Meyer, a Washington political consultant, who along with his girlfriend, missed the ceremonies as they stood in the tunnel for hours without any information.

“The problem was that police directed a large number of people into the tunnel and then they were ignored,” Mr. Meyer said. “There was absolutely no organization at all.” Guided Into Tunnel, Ticket Holders Missed Swearing-In

Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people who had tickets, many coming from all over the country for this once-in-a-lifetime event, missed it because of bad organization. Maybe an airline can figure on some percentage of passengers not showing up, they can overbook a flight, but for something like this, you have to assume that people with those precious tickets are going to attend. I saw a cop on the news saying they didn't know where to put people, more people showed up than they expected.

It looks like there will be a Congressional investigation and probably some lawsuits. Did you see the pictures from that tunnel? They herded everybody in there early in the morning, and that's where they stayed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Turning It Around

I'll tell you what, here's a headline I have been looking forward to: Obama Starts Reversing Bush Policies

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change Comes at High Noon on Day One

For the past eight years, the official White House web page,, has been a place for ... propaganda. It was a dry, uninformative web site, rarely cited, rarely read except by the very gullible.

Yesterday, by the time Barack Obama had fumbled through his oath of office, there was a bright new spot on the Internet. Here, let's let the Wall Street Journal tell us about it:
At noon Eastern time on Tuesday, the very moment that the president-elect Barack Obama officially became Commander in Chief, the presidential Web site also made the switch from outgoing President George H.W. Bush to Obama.

The new site promises more interactivity than that of the Bush administration, with a presidential blog as well as a briefing room, where President Obama will give a weekly video address. A “citizen’s briefing book” will allow users to add suggestions to posted proposals so that heads of agencies and the president will see them, and another feature called Your Seat at the Table lets users follow the proceedings of government meetings and add their commentary. Change Has Come To WhiteHouse.Gov

Two things: web development, and government. It isn't hard to make a primitive web page. HTML is hardly a "computer language," just about any kid can write some code inside angle-brackets to make their blog or MySpace look nicer. But to scale up an enterprise system that will get millions of hits per day, that accesses hundreds of databases which are all being updated constantly, that has to have government-level, absolutely leakproof security, is no kid's game. In these days of Web 2.0, a web site is interactive, dynamic, it might route messages from users to the appropriate recipients, it has to be accessible to all kinds of disabled people, it might answer your questions in plain language from a database of solutions, there can be audio, video ...

The second thing: government. Nothing in the government happens in one day. Our little Maryland county is a bedroom community for Washington, DC, a lot of TTF readers work inside the bureaucracies of government, we know. After a few years you don't even tell the stories any more. Everything requires consensus from a bunch of silver-haired old-timers who are looking at budget spreadsheets when they're not studying the disaster of their TSP accounts. You want to set up a new web site? You propose it, you pitch it, you tell your supervisor what you have in mind, you write up a statement of purpose and a ton of other documents that will never be read, your boss takes it to a management meeting, they beat it around and almost certainly have a "better" idea, you charter a team, you try to please management while still doing something tolerable ... years pass.

I am amazed and heartened by the fact that as soon as the Constitution assigned power to the new President, his new web site went live. It appears some of the stuff came from the portal, but there's nothing wrong with borrowing a little code, there's nothing wrong with setting up one web site to prepare for another one. That's just good planning.
Barack Obama’s meteoric rise to popularity via the Internet and his record breaking online fundraising efforts have the new administration promising it will continue to use the Web to make its actions more transparent. On the site’s blog, director of new media Macon Phillips calls for users to contact him with suggestions for the Web site, and in a blog posting he writes that the site “will serve as a place for the President and the rest of the administration to connect with the nation and the world.”

Doesn't it seem funny to capitalize "Web" and not "Director of New Media?" I remember fighting with a publisher back in 2000, my co-author and I insisted that "web" should not be capitalized, though "Internet" would be. Their stylebook differed. We won.

You've read about Obama's insistence on keeping his Blackberry. They wanted to take it away from him, you know how it is, somebody can sue and read all your emails. Our previous President, shall we say, didn't seem to know what email was or how it worked, and when the subpoenas started coming, all the email his demons from hell staff had sent and received turned out to be lost, simply evaporated. One techie knew how to get it back, but unfortunately he died in a plane crash before he was able to recover the lost email. I'm not saying that was suspicious or anything.
Web archives show that the Bush administration’s Web site did feature an interactive section called Ask the White House, in which users submitted questions and the answers were posted. And press releases, historical documents, and house and senate proceedings could be accessed via various government Web sites and THOMAS. But the recent presidential campaign seems to have prompted a demand for the so-called Googling of government, with a smattering of sites such as Open Secrets as inspiration for a more comprehensive, central place where users can track government proceedings and data. In the same vein, both the House and the Senate have created YouTube channels to address the American public directly.

That's nice, unfortunately government employees at many agencies are denied access to YouTube. I wonder if that will change.

Readers of this blog will be interested in the Civil Rights page of the site, especially the section called Support for the LGBT Community, which includes these bullet points:
  • Expand Hate Crimes Statutes
  • Fight Workplace Discrimination
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
  • Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell
  • Expand Adoption Rights
  • Promote AIDS Prevention
  • Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS

People might want to complain about Rick Warren saying a prayer, but the fact is, there was nothing -- nothing! -- like this at twenty-four hours ago.

All this looks like a move toward transparency in government. The first thing that happened was that an information connection was established. I doubt you can send "Dear Barack" emails directly to the President's Blackberry, but you can ask questions and get answers through this revamped web site. We read that today President Obama has scheduled a full day of meetings with big-shots, he will be getting briefed, making decisions, reviewing the mess he has inherited. The new web site is a visible indication that he is going to take responsiveness to the public seriously. Let's watch skeptically but hopefully, and see what happens.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome, President Obama

Four years ago America was swearing in George W. Bush. A certain element of our society took his re-election as a mandate to return our nation to the Middle Ages. Across the country, and even in our deep Blue county, there was an uprising of haters hoping to seize the moment, to take the enlightened philosophy of our forefathers and trash it. The President had declared that "dangerous enemies have declared their intention to destroy our way of life." Until his Presidency America was proud not to have a "way of life," but many ways of life. The administration built its power on the fear that people like us were threatened by people who are not like us.

It is time now for the United States of America to join the world. We can't live in fear of foreigners, we can't base every decision on our fear and mistrust of one another. We're good people in this country, and there are good people around the world, and we need to work with them to the benefit of all of us.

Today we inaugurate President Barack Obama. Nobody knows how the new guy will do. He will probably get caught up in some Washington politics sometimes, he will certainly be criticized and attacked by those who prefer to live in fear of the unknown. His proposed changes will be tempered by the unforeseen demands of reality and the erosive effect of operating in a gigantic governmental bureaucracy, so be it.

Today people will be dancing in the streets. Washington has never seen a crowd like this, I have never seen this kind of glow in people. Four years ago people were gloomy, walking slowly with their heads down, today strangers talk to strangers, people sing walking down the street.

The next four years may not be as good as we hope, but they will be better than the last four.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Anti-Choice League

I wasn't going to say anything, but let's get this on the table. Krispy Kreme is having an Inauguration Day special. Here's their statement:
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. (NYSE: KKD) is honoring American's sense of pride and freedom of choice on Inauguration Day, by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day, Jan. 20. By doing so, participating Krispy Kreme stores nationwide are making an oath to tasty goodies -- just another reminder of how oh-so-sweet "free" can be.

Mmm, free doughnuts, that sounds good. No, wait, New Years resolution, no doughnuts for me, man, this is some bad timing!

Here's how the American Life League sees it:
Just an unfortunate choice of words? For the sake of our Wednesday morning doughnut runs, we hope so. The unfortunate reality of a post Roe v. Wade America is that "choice" is synonymous with abortion access and celebration of 'freedom of choice' is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand. KRISPY KREME CELEBRATES OBAMA WITH PRO-ABORTION DOUGHNUTS

I guess I ... I ... I don't know what to say here. The old beatnik existentialist in me says that choice is the crux of being human, some have written that we are only truly human beings when we are making a choice. Even if you're just choosing which kind of free doughnut you'd like.

But to some people, choice is only a dirty word, it's something they are opposed to. Choosing a free doughnut means you support baby-killing, see?

They're not finished ...
President-elect Barack Obama promises to be the most virulently pro-abortion president in history. Millions more children will be endangered by his radical abortion agenda.

Celebrating his inauguration with "Freedom of Choice" doughnuts – only two days before the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion – is not only extremely tacky, it's disrespectful and insensitive and makes a mockery of a national tragedy.

A misconstrued concept of "choice" has killed over 50 million preborn children since Jan. 22, 1973. Does Krispy Kreme really want their free doughnuts to celebrate this "freedom.""

You know how they say, just think about people starving around the world and your life won't seem to bad? This is one of those. My little life may be boring, but at least I'm not one of these people.

A Party for the Shoe-Thrower

I've been worried about the guy who threw his shoes at George Bush in Iraq. They knocked him down , whisked him away, and nobody heard from him for weeks. They said he was locked in solitary confinement and word was that he was being tortured.

Remember, his crime is throwing his shoes at someone. He didn't even hit him. What is that, attempted assault?

There was some good news this week, though. ABC News has this:
The Iraqi journalist jailed since throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush got a visit from his brother Friday and a birthday party from his guards as he turned 30.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who has gained cult status for his bizarre protest, is in good shape but has been denied access to his lawyer, relatives said after his brother Maitham visited him for two hours in his detention cell in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Al-Zeidi has been in custody since the Dec. 14 outburst at Bush's joint news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Thousands demonstrated for al-Zeidi's release and hailed his gesture.

But concern was raised about his welfare after allegations that he had been severely beaten and tortured in detention.

The case's investigating judge has said the journalist was struck about the face and eyes, apparently by security agents who wrestled him to the floor after he hurled his shoes, forcing Bush to duck for cover. Iraqi Guards Said to Throw Party for Shoe-Thrower

Okay, that's better. He was roughed up, probably by American Secret Service guys in Iraq, but it seems he is recognized as a hero by his countrymen, including the prison guards.
Maitham al-Zeidi was not available to comment on the visit, but another brother, Dhargham, told The Associated Press that he was told the wounds had healed.

"Muntadhar was in a good shape ... and his morale was high. Yesterday was his birthday and some patriotic officers there organized a party for him and brought birthday cake," Dhargham al-Zeidi said.The case became a focus for Iraqis and others in the Muslim world who resent the U.S. invasion and occupation. But it also embarrassed al-Maliki, who was standing next to Bush at the time. Neither leader was injured.

Al-Zeidi had been due to face a trial in December on a charge of assaulting a foreign leader, which his defense team said carried a maximum sentence of 15 years. But an appellate court is considering a motion to reduce the charges to simply insulting Bush.

Defense lawyer Dhia al-Saadi said it was a matter of freedom of expression.

"Al-Zeidi's act was symbolic and in no way was it a murder attempt," he said, adding that he had been allowed to meet his client only once.

Can you imagine trying to murder someone by throwing your shoes at him? I mean, maybe Chuck Norris could do it, but all an ordinary dude like Muntadhar al-Zeidi can hope for is to throw a strike and hit his target, or at least make him duck.

Skipping down a little bit ...
But his brother said information about the international wave of support had been kept from the journalist.

"Some officers told him that half of the Iraqis were against him. But he was very happy when he heard that all the Iraqis support him. He even cried when he heard that there were demonstrations on his behalf even in the United States," Dhargham al-Zeidi said.

It is the perfect symbolic gesture, throwing your shoes at someone like you'd shoo away a noisy old pussycat. George Bush has lived in a bubble so long, he seems unaware of the world's opinion of him. At the end of his eight years as President, he crows about liberating millions of Iraqis, when the Iraqis wish he'd left them alone. A good, well-aimed shoe is the perfect way to end his term.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Internet Not So Scary, Study Finds

The findings reported here are not so surprising, but the fact that anyone would have the nerve to say this out loud is. The NYT:
The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all.

A task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

The findings ran counter to popular perceptions of online dangers as reinforced by depictions in the news media like NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series. One attorney general was quick to criticize the group’s report.

The panel, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, was charged with examining the extent of the threats children face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid widespread fears that adults were using these popular Web sites to deceive and prey on children.

But the report concluded that the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults. Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown

(Forty-nine states -- don't you wonder which state's Attorney General did not back this study?)

I know there are readers of this blog who have Facebook accounts and use them regularly. I have heard there is even a TeachTheFacts Facebook page, not that I'd know how to find it. I did recently spend some time putting together a MySpace page for the band I'm in. Naturally, I needed to ask my kids how to do it. I don't know why MySpace is the standard for musicians, but every band has to have one. When you go to book a gig now, the club owner says, "Leave me your MySpace, I'll get back to you."

The kids have gone through different phases. There was one, maybe seven or eight years ago, where you posted your photograph and people commented on you. That one made me nervous, of course the kids were little then. Do you remember when every kid had a Xanga site? Now my big kids have their Facebook pages and I don't even know what they're called. I've looked at them a couple of times over the years, when somebody's left a computer logged in, and I don't see anything that worries me. Kids talking slang, being cool, whatever. I'm glad they're happy.
“This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding, which maintains a sex offender database and was part of the task force. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.”

The 278-page report, released Tuesday, was the result of a year of meetings between dozens of academics, experts in childhood safety and executives of 30 companies, including Yahoo, AOL, MySpace and Facebook.

You know what's going to happen. Somebody's going to have a horrible story to tell, someone was abducted or molested or disappeared because of a social networking site, and that one story will outweigh the experiences of tens of millions of people.

A few years ago a friend from France visited, and wanted to rent a car. We took him to Enterprise and he looked at the cars. The main thing he wanted (besides manual transmission) was a car that was big enough to pick up hitchhikers. What could we say? Maurice, here in America we're afraid of hitchhikers. People don't pick up hitchhikers because anybody who would hitchhike would be an insane psychokiller, and people don't hitchhike because only an insane psychokiller would give you a ride. We're afraid of each other, try explaining that to a foreigner sometime.

It's just how we are. This article says the coolest thing: "Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons." You forget, most people in the world are good people. You don't have to assume that everybody who looks at a building is a terrorist. Your kids can socialize on the Internet just like we used to do on the playground before it was too dangerous to let them out of our sight, most likely nothing's going to happen to them.

It seems like such a brave statement. The sky's not falling! The sky's not falling!
The task force, led by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, looked at scientific data on online sexual predators and found that children and teenagers were unlikely to be propositioned by adults online. In the cases that do exist, the report said, teenagers are typically willing participants and are already at risk because of poor home environments, substance abuse or other problems.

Not everyone was happy with the conclusions. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, who has forcefully pursued the issue and helped to create the task force, said he disagreed with the report. Mr. Blumenthal said it “downplayed the predator threat,” relied on outdated research and failed to provide a specific plan for improving the safety of social networking.

“Children are solicited every day online,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Some fall prey, and the results are tragic. That harsh reality defies the statistical academic research underlying the report.”

In what social networks may view as something of an exoneration after years of pressure from law enforcement, the report said sites like MySpace and Facebook “do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation.”

Children are solicited every day. Listen, in September, 2008, according to Nielsen, there were 39,003,000 Facebook users. Plural children are solicited every day. I'm sorry, schoolyards are dangerous, church is dangerous, children are solicited every day everywhere. I'll never understand what thrill certain people get from scaring everybody.
Attorneys general like Mr. Blumenthal and Roy Cooper of North Carolina publicly accused the social networks of facilitating the activities of pedophiles and pushed them to adopt measures to protect their youngest users. Citing studies that showed tens of thousands of convicted sex offenders were using MySpace, they pressured the networks to purge those people from their membership databases.

The attorneys general also charged the task force with evaluating technologies that might play a role in enhancing safety for children online. An advisory board composed of academic computer scientists and forensics experts was created within the task force to look at technologies and ask companies in the industry to submit their child-protection systems.

Among the systems the technology board looked at included age verification technologies that try to authenticate the identities and ages of children and prevent adults from contacting them. But the board concluded that such systems “do not appear to offer substantial help in protecting minors from sexual solicitation.”

Keep an eye on your kids. Talk to them about what they're doing. Ask them if there are weird people on the Internet, and don't freak out when they tell you a story about it. Generally, they've figured out how to deal with the creeps. They know who their friends are. It's no different from what you and I did when we were young, except it's on the Internet now. Lighten up, let them live.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Don't Let the Door Hit Ya on the way Out

I don't usually link to cartoons, but ... these are the kinds of illustrations you'll see in the history books of the future when they talk about these times.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interesting Correction at the Smithsonian

Here's what we like to see. Even before the doors have slammed shut behind this administration, the propaganda machine is losing ground. From WTOP:
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has persuaded the Smithsonian Institution to change the caption on a new portrait of President George W. Bush.

The Vermont independent had objected to wording in the caption that said Bush's time in office was "marked by a series of catastrophic events" including "the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."

In a Jan. 7 letter to the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sanders said the notion the terrorist attacks were linked to or led to the Iraq war has been widely debunked.

Gallery Director Martin Sullivan wrote back Monday to say the label will be revised and will delete the words "led to." Smithsonian OKs tweak to caption on Bush portrait

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gainesville Shower-Nuts, Here We Go Again

You will remember that a group of extremists here in Montgomery County, Maryland, tried to relegalize discrimination against transgender people by telling citizens they should sign petitions to stop men from going into ladies rooms. In fact there was nothing in our law about restrooms. There had been something in an early draft of the bill, but because the shower-nuts complained during the legislation development process, the County Council removed that wording.

We came close to having a referendum on the nondiscrimination law, based on the allegation that it would allow creepy perverted men to lurk in ladies locker-rooms and restrooms. Luckily, there weren't enough signatures. The Citizens for Responsible Whatever turned in 30,087 signatures. After one court got through with them, that was down to 26,813. After another court looked at it, by my arithmetic they had 15,937 signatures. They needed 27,615. They did have more than half the number they needed, which tells you how many gullible people in our county are able to sign their correct names.

Down in Florida they passed a law that did put in wording about restrooms. The Gainesville city council voted 4-3 to allow transgender people to decide which restroom they would use. Now they've got shower-nuts of their own down there, saying the exact same stuff ours were saying. And why not? It worked so well in Montgomery County.

See if this doesn't sound familiar. The NYT:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A blond girl heads from a playground into a women's restroom. A scruffy-looking man, lurking outside, darts in behind her. "Your City Commission made this legal," the words on the television screen read.

The advertisement came from opponents of a gender-identity provision added last year to Gainesville's antidiscrimination ordinance. The provision allows the city's roughly 100 transgender residents to use whichever restroom they choose.

Foes want to repeal the provision with a ballot measure on March 24. The issue has divided Gainesville, a generally gay-friendly university city in staunchly conservative north Florida.

Supporters of the transgender protections say opponents are using the dispute to unleash a broader attack on the rights of gay and transgender people in general. Foes Say Law Protects Predators

Honestly, I should tell you, yesterday I got a phone call from a friend who's visiting in Florida. He called me from the highway on his cell phone to say, "You might be interested in this. Did you know that down here they have a new law that anybody can use whatever bathroom they want?" We talked.

This ad actually makes exactly the opposite point from the one the Florida shower-nuts want to make, but people are so ignorant they don't get it. Here's the stupid video they're showing down in Florida.

Look, when I saw this, I thought it was showing a transgender man, that is, a person who has transitioned from a female to male gender identity, going into the ladies room, which he'd have to do if the law is repealed. Like, for instance, CLICK HERE for a photo gallery of real transmen, men who were originally assigned female gender. There're a lot of beards, chrome-domes, rippling muscles, whatever, these are guys. They look just like the guy who is going into the ladies room in the Gainesville ad.

Now, the funny thing is this. The new law down there says that men who used to be designated female can use the men's room. And this video is a perfect example of why you'd want that. You don't want this macho, bearded transman going into the ladies room, he'd make the other ladies very uncomfortable, even if he used to be a lady himself. Look at the video. You want that person to go into the men's room. But if you forced people to go into the restroom for the gender they were assigned at birth, that is, if the shower-nuts get their way, this is exactly what you'd get.

Turn it around, look at the ladies. CLICK HERE. Do you want these women going into the men's room? Unh-uh. No, you don't.

Why in the world would those idiots down there want to force people to use the wrong restroom? This is one of those examples where the answer is actually embedded in the question. Hint: look at the word "idiots."

It might make you uncomfortable to know that the person in the next stall used to be ... whatever you aren't. I'm sorry, that person needs to pee sometimes. I really, I mean really, can't see why anybody wants to pick on transgender people, of all the things in the world. And it makes absolutely no sense to demand that men use the ladies room and vice versa, which is essentially what overthrowing the Gainesville law would do.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Strange Case of Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard was a powerful Baptist minister, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he was an anti-gay homosexual. His story came to light when a gay prostitute squealed on him. Turns out Ted was visiting this guy, doing meth, and when the guy realized how dangerously anti-gay Haggard was he went to the press.

It is bizarre and amazing now to watch Ted Haggard squirm, trying to be both gay and anti-gay, trying to win sympathy points while at the same time denigrating the gay population, of which he is a member. The AP caught up with him recently.
Speaking out two years after being embroiled in a gay sex scandal, former evangelical pastor Ted Haggard said Friday his sexual identity is complex and can't be put into "stereotypical boxes," but that his relationship with his wife is stronger than ever.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Haggard did not rule out a return to public life or the pulpit. He spoke before he appeared before TV critics in Los Angeles to promote "The Trials of Ted Haggard," an HBO documentary on Haggard's exile after his confession to "sexual immorality" and fall as a top evangelical leader.

"I am guilty. I am responsible," Haggard, 52, said Friday in a phone interview. "I got off track, and I am deeply sorry and I repent ... I'm moving along in a positive direction." Pastor in gay scandal: I'm back from 'wilderness'

A positive direction would be to come out to his congregation and tell them, gay people are just people, like me. We don't choose to be the way we are, we just are, and you need to learn to accept us as the caring and loving and fallible human beings that we are.
Haggard resigned as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals and was fired from the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., in November 2006 amid allegations that he paid a male prostitute for sex and used methamphetamine.

In a written apology at the time, Haggard confessed to a long battle against feelings contrary to his beliefs and admitted buying the drugs but said he never used them.

During a guest sermon last November at a friend's church in Illinois, Haggard said a co-worker of his father molested him when he was 7, an experience that "started to produce fruit" later. Clarifying that Friday, Haggard said: "I'm certainly not saying that because of that, I did this. I did what I did by my choice, and I'm responsible for it."

And with these words he conveys to his millions of followers that gay people choose to be who they are. Haggard visited that particular gay prostitute by choice, perhaps, but he was driven by forces that he could not resist. He needed the love of a man, not by choice but because that's the way he is.

It is not clear to me whether he is backing off blaming his pedophile father for his sexual orientation. He seems to be holding that escape valve open, as if he did what he did by choice, but only because his father had molested him as a child. Again, misleading his followers about the roots of sexual orientation.
Haggard said he isn't qualified to judge what factors into one's sexuality, but still believes it's "God's perfect plan" for marriage to be between a man and woman.

"I think sexuality is confusing and complex," Haggard said. "I am totally completely satisfied with the relationship with my wife now, but I went through a wandering in the wilderness time, and I just thank God I'm on the other side of that."

Asked whether he could define his sexual identity, Haggard said: "The stereotypical boxes don't work for me. My story's got some gray areas in it. And, of course, I'm sad about that but it's the reality."

So maybe the guy's bisexual. As MCPS students learn, that is one of the three kinds of sexual orientation, you are attracted to both males and females. It's not something you choose, it's just how you are.

As for God's perfect plan, I'm sure in His plan everybody is good-looking, prosperous, and intelligent, but that isn't how the reality works out. In God's real world, you are dealt a hand and you play it out, you make the most of it. Ted Haggard has been given an incredible opportunity here to enlighten people, be generate understanding and spread love through the world, and he is using God's name to fail.

The stereotypical boxes don't work for anybody, and I don't just mean sexual orientation but everything. We are not a world of Rambos and Barbies. Ted Haggard is not some weird out-of-the-box exception to the stereotype, he is the stereotype, the confused, self-denying gay man in the closet. The problem is not being gay, or even being in the closet, the problem is the stereotypes -- both the stereotype of the gay man and the stereotype of "God's perfect plan."

We have watched this story unfold in parallel to our MoCo battle over the school sex-ed curriculum and our county's battle over a law that protects transgender people from discrimination. Ted Haggard was dragged kicking and screaming out of the closet, he went away for some kind of counseling, and if you remember, after two weeks he was declared "entirely heterosexual." Now he is saying he doesn't fit into the usual boxes, but of course he is just a regular person with homosexual feelings, there are millions like him, including millions who deny it like he does. He needs to take the next step and forgive himself, accept himself, and defend others who are like him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Anti-Gay Donors Want to Hide

Here is a case where some people don't understand how the Internets work, or how public debate works. They demand that somebody put Humpty Dumpy back together again, and they want to be able to destroy people's lives without anyone knowing who they are.

Here's the AP, writing in the SF Press:
Supporters of the ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California have filed a lawsuit seeking to block their campaign finance records from public view, saying the reports have led to the harassment of donors.

"No one should have to worry about getting a death threat because of the way he or she votes," said James Bopp Jr., an attorney representing two groups that supported Proposition 8, Protect and the National Organization for Marriage California. "This lawsuit will protect the right of all people to help support causes they agree with, without having to worry about harassment or threats." Calif. gay marriage foes want donors anonymous

In journalism there is something called inverted pyramid style. This means you put all the most important information in the first sentence - the who, what, when, where, and how, with importance decreasing as you go farther down into the story. Back when I was a pup, newscopy was printed out in strips and an editor would cut it off with a razor blade to fit it into whatever space in the layout was left on the page after they had sold advertising. A reporter could be sure that their story would be truncated, but wouldn't know where, so you had to write in such a way that any sentence could be the end, and the reader would know the important facts of the story, no matter where they stopped.

You note that the anti-gay groups got their statement in first. Two paragraphs into this and we are already worrying about poor anti-gay donors being harassed and threatened. Lots of readers will only get that far, that's how the inverted pyramid works. In another discussion, this would be called "framing," it's about who sets the tone of the discussion, who decides what "the story" is. The AP decided the story should be that donors are being threatened and harassed, and are afraid they will be victimized further if their names are made public.

Look, this story could have been written another way: Donors Afraid To Deal With Consequences Of The Public Knowing What They Have Done. Pro-Marriage Backlash Intimidates Anti-Gay Donors. Religious Right Demands Secrecy. There are lots of ways this could have been presented.

In that second paragraph, they are implying that people are being harassed, getting death threats, "because of the way he or she votes." Unh-uh, these have nothing to do with voting. Voting is private, as it should be, there is no social pressure on a voter, you can click whatever checkbox you want with the curtain closed behind you. These are people who contributed money to ensure that gay people can't be married. They have stepped into the public debate -- these are not voters, they are activists.

(Also, I also don't believe anyone has said they received a "death threat." At least it isn't mentioned in this article.)

More boo hoo:
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to order the secretary of state's office to remove all donations for the proposition from its Web site.

It also asks the court to relieve the two groups and "all similarly situated persons" from having to meet the state's campaign disclosure requirements. That would include having to file a final report on Proposition 8 contributions at the end of January, as well as reports for any future campaigns the groups undertake.

Proposition 8, approved by 52.3 percent of California voters on Nov. 4, reversed a state Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage. The measure's opponents have asked the Supreme Court to overturn it.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday cites a series of incidents in which those who gave money to support Proposition 8 received threatening phone calls, e-mails and postcards. One woman claims she was told: "If I had a gun, I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter."

Another donor reported a broken window, one said a flier calling him a bigot was distributed around his hometown and others received envelopes containing suspicious white power, according to the lawsuit.

Businesses employing people who contributed to the Proposition 8 campaign have been threatened with boycotts, the suit said.

Wow, those gay people are really scary.

This is something that has amazed me over the past four years, dealing with rightwing activists. They want to make a statement about a controversial issue, but they don't want to face the consequences. We're supposed to feel sorry for them because they want to destroy thousands of marriages in California, not just "want to" but actually laid down their own cash to make it happen, and then some people are angry at them.

They love being the victim.

I don't condone threatening people or sending suspicious packages to them, that's really a dumb and ineffective way to get your point across, but if you're going to support a controversial position, now and then things are just going to happen. People are going to point you out, they're going to talk about you and say things about you that might not be accurate, you may be on the receiving end of an emotional expression or two. Like, you ought to see TTF's inbox. You should have seen the stuff the county council was getting last year, and the school board was getting the year before. You take a stand, you're going to get some heat, no matter which side you're on. Nobody forced these people to contribute their money to the cause of breaking up and preventing marriages between loving couples.

And of course -- once these people's names and contributions have slipped into the labyrinthine tubes of the Internets, the truth is out there. Forever. You can't stuff every instance of the data back into the database.

Really, that's a nontrivial aspect of all this. Once something has been put on the Internet you can never take it back. Somebody somewhere has made a copy of the information. They may share it publicly, or they may share it privately, but once that database has been left outside the firewall you have to figure somebody's got a copy of it. So no matter what they say, you can't make the information secret any more. If you take it off the web server, it'll still go around as an email attachment. So the request to make this information secret is really impossible to fulfill, after the fact.
Supporters of the gay marriage ban fear the donor backlash will hurt their efforts to raise money in the future, perhaps to fight an initiative seeking to overturn the ban.

"Several donors have indicated that they will not contribute to committee plaintiffs or similar organizations in the future because of the threats and harassment directed at them as a result of their contributions ... and the public disclosure of that fact," the lawsuit said.

The suit said courts have held that laws requiring disclosure of campaign contributions can be overturned or restricted if a group can make "an uncontroverted showing" that identifying its members can result in economic reprisals or threats of physical coercion.

California's Political Reform Act, which voters approved in 1974, established disclosure requirements for candidates and campaign committees.

Listen, if you can't stand up for what you believe in, you should keep your mouth shut. The public has a right to know who's behind these things. There's a good reason for government to be transparent, there's a good reason for the public to know where the money is coming from. The code-word is "accountability." It means if something happens, we can look back and see why it happened and who was behind it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Metro Is The Weak Link

It's Friday night, I got home from work a couple hours ago. I live in Rockville, take the Metro to DC. Like everybody, I grumble. The prices ... I pay nine bucks a day to get to work and back. That adds up. The broken escalators. The stops and starts. Off-loading. Feedback on the intercom. Moldy-smelling cars, theft in the parking lots -- and have you ever dealt with Metro lost and found? See something, say something.

In a little more than a week, they're saying there could be four million people going downtown for the inauguration. Repeat, four million. They're closing down roads into the city and within the city, blocking bridges, so anybody going to the celebration just about has to take Metro. This week, Metro has been practicing "eight-car stops," they call them, the train doesn't stop where you think it's going to, it stops where it would if it had eight cars, as they will during the festivities. That's cool, good for them for planning ahead, I don't mind running to the other end of the station while the bells are chiming and the disembodied female voice says, "Door closing."

This morning, going into the city from Twinbrook, our Red Line train stopped before it got to Grosvenor. We sat there. The operator got on the intercom and said there was something wrong with the switch, or something - c'mon, it wasn't even eight in the morning yet, I wasn't taking notes. So we sat there. Eventually he told us we would be moving, and then we waited some more. I was sitting next to a Middle Eastern lady with a head scarf on, who said "I hope it doesn't do this during the inauguration. Anyway, I wouldn't go to that." I asked, "Why not?" She looked at me as if the answer were obvious, and said "I'm afraid of all the terrorists." "You can't live in fear," I said. I'm not going to go, but not because I'm afraid of all the terrorists. I'd love to see the inauguration but it just seems a little too crazy for me. I like crowds, I like parties, but that's too many people for me. Eventually the train dislodged and we chugged ahead, I got to work twenty minutes late.

I left work tonight late, on a Friday most people had already left work by then. But when I went down into Union Station, well, guess what -- the place was jam-packed. A train was sitting there, but it was clear it had been there a long time, people kept trying to squeeze onto it, but there really wasn't any room. There was barely enough room on the platform for people to stand and wait.

It would be nice if they told you the trains weren't running before you put your money into the turnstile. I believe it costs a dollar just to go down and come back up without going anywhere.

On an ordinary day, I worry about security in some of the larger stations -- I'm more worried about a fire than a terrorist attack. You might have five hundred people down there underground, maybe a thousand, and an escalator at each end to evacuate them two abreast if something happened. When I go to work in the morning I stand in a line that's probably a hundred fifty people, shuffling along, our hair still wet, starting our day like cattle headed to slaughter, but mooing less. With four million people in town ... I hate to think what would happen if there were a panic.

This afternoon coming home, there was a cracked rail near Woodly Park-Zoo, and trains had to single-track between Dupont and Van Ness. My ride home took twice as long as usual, I'm not kidding. I fell asleep and can't tell you about every bit of it, but I would like to send a shout-out to the loudmouth on the cell phone who was telling somebody to pick him up at Dupont "because they're kicking us off the train there and we'll have to take a bus to Van Ness." He was yelling into his phone that there was a two hour delay. People sitting in their seats hear that and they might think you know what you're talking about, Smart Guy, thanks a lot. It wasn't two hours, and there was no bus. It was a good hour, by which I mean not a very good hour.

Washington DC has staked everything on Metro to move a gigantic number of people, more than we've ever seen before. Remember the Million Man March? This is four of those. I'm going to watch it on TV.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bragging About Our Schools

We ought to brag a little! Our state has the best schools in the country. Here's how The Post put it:
A six-year Maryland effort to spend billions of dollars more on public education has led to major performance gains that have helped make the state's schools the best in the country, according to a pair of independent reports released yesterday.

A three-year study of the Bridge to Excellence Act came as Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes the trade newspaper Education Week, announced the results of its annual survey of state school systems. In the latter report, Maryland was ranked first among the 50 states and the District. Last year, the state ranked third.

"I'm elated," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said at an Annapolis High School event to promote the two reports. "We now have the No. 1, the best public school system in the United States of America, and we need to do our best to defend that."

The Education Week study evaluated school systems on several criteria, including accountability standards, college readiness of high school graduates, spending and equity. Virginia ranked fourth and the District last. State Public School System Ranked Best in U.S. by 2 Reports

It's kind of fascinating that you would find such disparity within the same geographical area. Maryland number one, Virginia fourth, DC last, all states that share borders, the worst nestled between two of the best.

I won't pretend it's all so straightforward and simple. We know there is some kind of budget screw-up at the state level that is shorting Montgomery County schools, some finger-pointing and frantic ... uh, franticness? franticity? It looks like we will get the money after all, but it is a constant fight to keep education on track.

Hey, while Googling for news I just noticed this Post story, put on the Internet an hour ago:
Course fees charged for workbooks, art supplies and other items would be cut by more than half in Montgomery County schools under a proposal Superintendent Jerry D. Weast announced yesterday to ease the burden on parents.

Across the Potomac River in Loudoun County, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III proposes to raise fees for students to park cars and play sports to ease the burden on the school system's $758 million budget.

They are contrasting responses to the economic downturn pinching public schools and the families they serve.

Montgomery parents rebelled last fall against course fees, which have multiplied in schools regionwide at a time when families, too, are minding their dollars. Schools' Reaction To Tight Times Seen in Fee Rules

We have not been following that particular controversy on this blog, but it is not far outside our little circle of light. Some groups, notably the Parents Coalition, have been putting a lot of pressure on MCPS to stop charging lab fees and other costs. Their argument is that public education ought to be free, but if taken to its conclusion that argument would simply bankrupt the school district, which I suspect is the motivation for at least some of the parents who are part of that movement. On the other hand, it does get expensive for families, costs add up, and it isn't fair if richer students have opportunities the poorer ones don't -- though I think in most case schools are careful to avoid that. Anyway, it is a little too much to tuck into a blog post about our state being rated highly.

Back to the original Post article:
Maryland student performance on standardized tests, another factor in the Education Week report, has steadily improved since passage of the law. Annual state education spending is now $4.6 billion a year, up 80 percent from the 2002 level, according to the report. In addition, local governments have raised education spending 34 percent in that time.

The report by MGT of America found that "proficiency levels statewide have improved dramatically for all students," particularly in elementary schools. Elementary students cut in half the gap between where they were in 2004 and the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, the report said.

The MGT report found that for every additional $1,000 spent per elementary student, proficiency rates rose 4 percent. They rose 8 percent on the same measure for middle school students.

"Additional money, with strong accountability, can make a difference," Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, said in response to the two reports.

I think Grasmick nailed it here. First, we need legislators who will support education in the bottom line, by funding it generously. Second, we need educators, especially the superintendents and boards at the state and county levels, who will administer the money responsibly. You see here that MoCo and Loudon County made entirely opposite decisions about what to do, for instance, about the accumulation of fees and charges. You can't say that one approach is "right" and the other is "wrong," but if administrators are responsible, it is possible that either one can solve the problem.

It's a lot of tough, thankless work, especially in this economy, but we can be proud to see our state's schools rated at the top.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gazette Reports on the Appeals Court Opinion

Because the appeal court's opinion just came out, The Gazette had a longish article yesterday, reviewing the gender-identity nondiscrimination case and what the court's decision implies. It starts like this:
A decision by the state's highest court last month on the county's transgender case upheld rules that make it more difficult for groups to put referendum issues on the ballot.

The Court of Appeals issued the 63-page opinion after ruling in September that a referendum proposed by a conservative group seeking to overturn the county's new law that bans discrimination against transgendered people could not go on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the Montgomery County Board of Elections erred in saying the group needed signatures from 5 percent of active registered voters. Instead, the elections law requires signatures from 5 percent of all voters, whether active or inactive, thus requiring a greater number of signatures. Inactive voters hadn't voted in more than three election cycles.

In addition, the court ruled, the elections board should not have simply checked the signatures of those who signed the petition to see if they were registered voters, but also should have checked to see if the signatures were valid. A valid signature has a person's full name and complete address. Transgender decision tightens referendum rules

Skipping down, I liked the way The Gazette described the controversy:
A group called Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government claimed the law would allow men to enter women's restrooms and changing areas and sought to overturn it.

I notice that this has not happened.
"The referendum process is drastic, and the Court of Appeals has said repeatedly the rules must be strictly complied with," said Natalie Chin, an attorney for gay activist group Lambda Legal who worked on the case.

"What the Court of Appeals did is say the referendum process cannot be taken lightly, and if you're going to change a duly-enacted law you have to strictly comply with the law."

"We think it''s a big loss for democracy, for Montgomery County and for privacy and safety for women," Ruth M. Jacobs, president of Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government, said in September.

You would think it would be embarrassing, wouldn't you? This law has been in effect now for nearly three months, and there is no loss of privacy, nothing dangerous for women. Before the law passed they could scream and whine that such-and-such was going to happen, but it didn't happen. The only man-in-the-ladies-room we have seen here is the one the Citizens for Responsible Whatever sent into the ladies showers at Rio as a publicity stunt before the law was in effect. Oh, and a foreign guy who helped his wife with the baby while she tried on clothes at Kohls.
But Chin said the appellate decision strengthens democracy.

"It doesn't break new ground. But it is nice to have a newer case on the books to strengthen the idea you have to follow election law very strictly," she said.

Jonathan S. Shurberg, an attorney for Equality Maryland, said the county's charter, state election law and the Court of Appeals' previous rulings made it clear that Citizens for Responsible Government needed more signatures and had not gathered them properly.

Shurberg had argued that the county's charter, state law and a previous Court of Appeals ruling require that petitioners meet the higher number.

"You should err on the side of allowing people to vote, but this wasn't about voting," he said. "This was about a referendum and the signatures."

This can be a good exercise in democracy. Maybe it's unfair to make referendum petition signers use the exact name that they used when they registered to vote. Maybe the law is too strict. In that case, our elected representatives are fully empowered to change the law. If it's unfair, throw it out, re-write it, make it legal for Roberts to sign as Bobs and husbands to sign for their wives. The law needs to be enforced as it's written, and this one is written to be strict.

I don't see any stampede at the state or county level to re-write it.

This was a complicated case that was finally came down to the ineptitude of the county Board of Elections. They told the shower-nuts they had enough signatures, and one, they counted all kinds of invalid signatures as valid, and two, they told them they needed the wrong number of signatures in the first place.

To my mind the real issue was misrepresentation of the law to potential petition-signers. I myself heard them say "Would you like to sign a petition to keep men out of the ladies room?" The law itself is pages long, the county's version online has all kinds of strikethroughs and brackets and special marks to show what was added and what was changed, and when. The ordinary citizen can't wade through that to determine what an "accommodation" is, or a "facility." It is not right to ask people to sign a legal petition and lie to them about that it is. But there is apparently nothing in the law that says you have to be truthful with people in getting them to sign.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Too Funny

This morning's Washington Post has this great Tom Toles cartoon.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday Morning: Spying on the People

After 9/11 our country became crazy. Before that, you know the story, the intelligence community knew that al Qaeda was going to attack us but there was nothing more than a big yawn from the country's leaders. "Terrorism" was a word, maybe, in a foreign language, it was something that happened somewhere else. Then we watched our televisions that day in 2001, we saw the flailing bodies leaping from buildings on fire, the people running from storm-clouds of debris, the flames, gigantic buildings collapsing into themselves, and it was just like it happened right here. You would have thought Rockville and Olney and Germantown had come under attack, it was like it could happen, some vague Arab underground had organized and plotted against each one of us. We all took it personally, our own town was in danger, they hated each of us, individually, and our unique "way of life." And they were everywhere, terrorists plotting horrible things, and we had to do anything we could to stop them. Somebody taking a picture, somebody looking at a building, somebody mumbling, all had to be investigated.

For some reason, our little state took it more seriously than most. Little old ladies walking with umbrellas on a sunny day, people listening to incongruous radio stations, men who shaved their beards off, became objects of suspicion. Last year the news media got wind of the extent of the surveillance, today there is more. At first we thought it was just people against the war and people opposed to the death penalty. The Washington Post:
The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights."

According to hundreds of pages of newly obtained police documents, the groups were swept into a broad surveillance operation that started in 2005 with routine preparations for the scheduled executions of two men on death row.

The operation has been called a "waste of resources" by the current police superintendent and "undemocratic" by the governor. More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying

The previous governor would have said that it was "unrepublican," except ... this was extremely Republican behavior by the police state, conducted under a Republican governor.

I'm not usually like this, but I'll tell you a secret, when this article came out I scanned it for the text string "teach the facts." We seem to fit the profile, people who care what happens enough to get involved.
Police have acknowledged that the monitoring, which took place during the administration of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), spiraled out of control, with an undercover trooper spending 14 months infiltrating peaceful protest groups. Troopers have said they inappropriately labeled 53 individuals as terrorists in their database, information that was shared with federal authorities. But the new documents reveal a far more expansive set of police targets and indicate that police did not close some files until late 2007.

The surveillance ended with no arrests and no evidence of violent sedition. Instead, troopers are preparing to purge files and say they are expecting lawsuits.

The effort, made public in July, confirmed the fears of civil liberties groups that have warned about domestic spying since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Interviews, e-mails, public records and an independent state review reveal that police in Maryland were motivated by something far narrower: a query about death penalty activism directed to a police antiterrorism unit that was searching for a mission.

But some observers say Sept. 11 opened the door. "No one was thinking this was al-Qaeda," said Stephen H. Sachs, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to review the case. "But 9/11 created an atmosphere where cutting corners was easier."

So when cutting corners is easier, the thing they want to do is spy on us.

There is something you hear, people shrug and say, "I got nothin' to hide." I am always a little bit sorry for people whose lives are so boring that there would be no surprises if you found out what they were really up to. It doesn't mean everybody is planning to crash airplanes into big buildings, but people do have private lives, and there's a reason that's important. People have secret thoughts and secret desires, and sometimes they share their secrets with someone else in a private setting and that's just the way people are. The government has no business hanging a microphone boom over their conversation, sometimes people need to speculate, blow off some steam, sometimes people need to act to take something that some powerful group has taken away from them. Sometimes people need more from life than playing by the rules will give them. That's just how it is. You can't stop that. People are alive, people need privacy.

Skipping down, here's how it works.
After trawling the Internet, an analyst reported a "potential for disruption" at both executions. Mazzella dispatched a corporal who needed experience in undercover work to the Electrik Maid community center in Takoma Park, where death penalty foes were organizing rallies.

At a rally to save Vernon Evans Jr. outside the Supermax prison in Baltimore a few weeks later, the woman who said her name was Lucy McDonald asked veteran activist Max Obuszewski how she could learn more about passive resistance and civil disobedience.

The activists recall that she had a genial disposition and refreshing curiosity, and she quickly became a fixture at meetings and rallies of death penalty opponents and antiwar activists. She used a laptop computer at meetings, but the activists say no one was alarmed. "Maybe I wondered what she was typing," said Mike Stark of Takoma Park. "But you always check yourself. In our movement it's very important to be outward and not paranoid."

The trooper provided weekly reports to her bosses, logging at least 288 hours of investigative time. She did not return phone calls seeking comment, and The Post is not identifying her because of concerns about compromising her cover in other possible operations.

The logs described silent vigils outside the prison and a ceremony of poetry and songs to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. The activists pledged nonviolence. Yet she closed several entries this way: "Due to the above facts, I request that this case remain open and updated as events warrant."

The woman's bosses considered her surveillance a low-risk training exercise; it quickly expanded to the antiwar movement as she met activists whose causes overlapped, police said.

To the average person sitting at home with the TV on, this story is going to be nothing. You don't do anything to call attention to yourself, you keep your mouth shut, nothing will happen to you. Make yourself interesting at all and suddenly you are a test of freedom. Will the secret police come to your door? It seems to me America should be different from that, we are a country based on an incredible combination of cynicism and trust, we are cynical about the intentions of the powerful and trusting in the goodwill of the ordinary citizen and that's how it should be. Our state, our country, somehow got it turned around when we the people were looking somewhere else.

There's a lot more to that story, if you are active in your community at all you ought to follow the link and see the rest.

There was one other little paragraph on the front page of The Post that seemed too important not to mention. Let me just copy and paste this one little thing.
Over the past 15 years, during which a large majority of current lawmakers were first elected to Congress, partisan feuding has reduced Congress's output to a bare minimum of must-pass measures. Party-line voting peaked during the Bush presidency, while productivity slumped. In 2008, the Senate voted the lowest number of times since 1951, according to a Congressional Quarterly survey. Tone May Be Key to Obama's Agenda

That's how this happened. There are people who say government is bad, they are anarchists but white-collar anarchists so they talk about stuff like "free enterprise" and "capitalism," they are anarchists because they don't want any government to be examining their books and making them play fair. They dress their anarchy up -- "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem" is nothing more than an anarchistic slogan -- and people like you and me might think it sounds pretty good, but it's not about us, it's about the rich getting richer. Our nation's legislative body has been locked up for fifteen years, eight of which they had the compliance of the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary leans their way more with each new appointment. The white-collar anarchists' idea was to drown government in a bathtub, and they almost succeeded at that. But government exists to take care of the citizens, it's protection for you and me, you don't want it drowned in a bathtub, you want the government to make big decisions and do jobs that are bigger than what you can do, thankless jobs that don't necessarily make a profit. Somehow Americans let government turn into a bad thing, and not surprisingly it became an arm of the powerful, it got to the point where they spied on you if you were opposed to the death penalty, if you were a softy for animals -- if you wanted bike lanes, for crying out loud.

I am hopeful that all this will change.

There is a nice light jazz guitar on WPFW this morning, the drummer is playing with brushes. It's cold outside and they're saying it might even snow on Tuesday. I slept in today, we are trying to buy a new car and last night we sat up playing with numbers, one point nine percent for sixty months, how much is that a month? Our old car is a disaster, it has a blown head gasket and it looks like we won't get anything for it as a trade-in. Don't you hate that? Twenty thousand dollars for a car, it's got like fifty-five thousand miles on it, it's junk. A 2002 Suzuki, even if it was in good shape we'd only get a few thousand trade-in on it. Well, the holidays are over, tomorrow is going to be a real work day. I imagine we'll slide back into it slowly, don't you figure? Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Krugman on the Historic Collapse of the GOP

This has been bubbling under the surface for a long time, the latest "Magic Negro" incident coming from the highest levels of the GOP has brought the party's inherent racism out into the open. Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has nailed it.
As the new Democratic majority prepares to take power, Republicans have become, as Phil Gramm might put it, a party of whiners.

Some of the whining almost defies belief. Did Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general, really say, “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror”? Did Rush Limbaugh really suggest that the financial crisis was the result of a conspiracy, masterminded by that evil genius Chuck Schumer?

But most of the whining takes the form of claims that the Bush administration’s failure was simply a matter of bad luck — either the bad luck of President Bush himself, who just happened to have disasters happen on his watch, or the bad luck of the G.O.P., which just happened to send the wrong man to the White House.

The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.

If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: after the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.”

Contempt for expertise, in turn, rested on contempt for government in general. “Government is not the solution to our problem,” declared Ronald Reagan. “Government is the problem.” So why worry about governing well? Bigger Than Bush

This is not a partisan blog. We have our principles, and those principles are best represented, in general, by Democratic politicians, but they're no angels. For instance, if the Democrats in the Maryland legislature had any backbone our state would have marriage equality now... don't get me started.

I don't care one way or the other about any political party, but the principles that the Republicans have embroidered on their flag are the exact opposite of what I believe. It didn't have to be that way, you can stand for free enterprise and self-reliance and even straight-and-narrow moral principles and if you make a good case, then fine, there's a lot to talk about there. But instead they have come to stand for underhandedness, for divisiveness, for bullying, they have become the anti-intellectual party. They are not a party that disagrees with the other side's beliefs, it is a party that doesn't like the other side, personally, that thinks the other side is made up of bad people.
Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the G.O.P.’s “Southern strategy,” which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: “You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.

Oh, and the racial element isn’t all that abstract, even now: Chip Saltsman, currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” — and according to some reports, the controversy over his action has actually helped his chances.

So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process. And despite the claims of some on the right that Mr. Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party’s divisive tactics — long before Sarah Palin, Mr. Bush declared that he visited his ranch to “stay in touch with real Americans” — and its governing philosophy.

That’s why the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.

It is interesting to analyze the party's platform as an expression that emanates from a nucleus of racist feeling. They maintain a social dichotomy based on disgust for the other, it's always us against them, we're good and they're bad -- ask a pro-lifer what kind of person gets an abortion, and see how long it is before they use the word "welfare." And just what would a woman on welfare look like? Just a guess: they will have darker skin than the average Republican. That Atwater quote really says a lot.

I've copied and pasted almost all of this column here, I might as well finish the job.
The reality of this strategy’s collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers. Thus, some commentators warning President-elect Barack Obama against bold action have held up Bill Clinton’s political failures in his first two years as a cautionary tale.

But America in 1993 was a very different country — not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes — and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the G.O.P. into a cul-de-sac.

Mr. Obama therefore has room to be bold. If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to.

Will the Republicans eventually stage a comeback? Yes, of course. But barring some huge missteps by Mr. Obama, that will not happen until they stop whining and look at what really went wrong. And when they do, they will discover that they need to get in touch with the real “real America,” a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.

Every once in a while a newspaper columnist gets it just right. This is one of those times.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Here it is, 2009, we've got a chilly one. No snow, there's clear sunshine and a little wind, but nothing like yesterday. We lost our recycle container yesterday, it just flew away. Same thing with a tarp on the deck the other day. We had bought The Boy a bumper for his car for Christmas, and hid it in plain sight - well, where do you hide something that big? The box was almost as big as a refrigerator, so we set it on the deck with a tarp on it, and one of those windy days before Christmas there was a gust of wind that felt like a little tornado, everything was banging around and later when I went out the tarp was just gone. Maybe one of the neighbors ended up with it, I don't know, there is simply no sign of it. And then yesterday -- on the news they said there were gusts up around sixty miles an hour near here. That blue recycle container disappeared, we'd left it out at the curb in the morning and when we came home in the evening it had blown away.

We watched Dick Clark last night, and I guess the "world's oldest teenager" label doesn't apply any more. He looks good, but he's had a stroke and it's affected his speech. Still, it's cool to see him looking better each year. I noticed something interesting, the younger world's oldest teenagers who had microphones and introduced the pop stars had a certain tone. They all said things like, 2008 was a hard one, but I have the feeling things are going to get better. I heard one guy talking about how there was hope and change in 2009.

America is experiencing a sigh-of-relief moment.

I remember after the 2004 elections, my office was like a mausoleum. People walked down the street with their shoulders slumped, Metro cars were silent, it was pitiful to see that our nation had chosen -- chosen! -- a dangerous ignoramus to lead our country, to represent us to the world and make important decisions. All my life I have felt good about my people, I could go into a store or a bar or a bus stop or whatever and strike up a conversation, but I began thinking, is this somebody who voted for that guy? Nobody I knew would have, but millions of Americans voted to support the destruction of Iraq, torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and who knows where else, warrantless wiretapping, corporate greed, destruction of the environment, millions of Americans chose to believe that we were in constant danger of being attacked by swarthy foreigners who hate our way of life, and that the response to that was raw blustering ignorance. It was heartbreaking.

Okay, that's ended. In a few weeks the core of our urban center will be repopulated. The faith-and-greed crowd will be moving out, the hope-and-change crowd is moving in. According to the polls there are still some people who are sorry to see the current administration go, like maybe a quarter of Americans, well it just goes to show you. Three-fourths of us are breathing a sigh of relief.

Here's where I hope we're going. I think I spelled this out back in 2005, but I will reiterate here. There is room in America for liberal and conservative people. I have taken a position regarding the Rick Warren prayer, I think it's okay to acknowledge that there are conservative people in our country, we might think they're wrong or stupid or even hateful but they're Americans and we're all in this together. We can't do anything without them. I think it's fine if there are people who disagree with me, I will take it as a challenge to persuade them to change their minds but I do not consider mere disagreement to be a crisis. We can argue, make our points as forcefully as we can, go home to our families and come out tomorrow and do it again, that's wonderful, that's how it works.

But we have seen the emergence of a group that wants to shut down the dialogue. We saw it at the national level, there were years where you would be unpatriotic if you asked why we were attacking a country like Iraq that hadn't done anything to us. And they tried to impose silence at the local level, too, they tried to remove any mention of sexual minorities from the Montgomery County Public Schools' sex-ed curriculum. It wasn't just that they wanted a more conservative curriculum, they wanted the discussion to stop, where we needed to talk they reduced the discussion to name-calling, misconstrual, lies, and you ended up having to argue about the lies rather than discuss the details of the curriculum. We claim success, but the curriculum is still ridiculously conservative, kids don't really learn anything about sex. We claim success but we didn't really win. It's not much more than we got from Mr. Holland the shop teacher in the sixties. Big controversial breakthrough: if a student asks, the teacher is permitted to tell the class that homosexuality is not a disease. In the twenty-first century, is that enough? Is that where we stop? No, now we need to start talking about it, in 2009.

This is a time for hope and change, no doubt, the November election was a gigantic weight off our back. Not only does the New Guy make sense, but he can fight a tough fight. He is putting his foot down and making it clear that he really does intend to include everybody in the discussion, not just people who agree with him. Our side is going to have to relax a little, there isn't going to be any "mandate" this time around, we won't automatically get our way on everything, but we will be at the table when the discussion is held. And that has to be the goal. You may have an opinion about any of a hundred things, and you can't expect the government to do everything you like, but now you can expect that they'll talk about it, they'll consider your side. It just might be that the leadership decides to go with the conservative idea sometimes, and we'll have to live with that, at least the logjam is broken.

I know how I feel about things, and I've known a lot of people in my many years and have some idea how ordinary people feel about things. American people are not hateful, they're just people, and they can be manipulated by propaganda, they'll take the easy solution if you can frame it in a way that makes it sound obvious and sensible. They're just people. If we can get to a point where the knee-jerk response is labeled for what it is, where we can consider all sides of a situation and choose the best one, then I'm good with that. We don't have to choose my favorite idea, though I'll argue as hard as I can for it. Mainly I just want to see the dialogue opened up again.

I think that's what 2009 will be for America. It is a year for change and hope. We'll win some, lose some, but people are crawling out from under their rock, we are ending the reign of fear, terrorists won't decide what we can and cannot say any more. We have real problems and need to figure out real solutions to them, we've had enough slogans, it's time to get together and use our brains.

I'm feeling good about this two thousand nine thing. Happy New Year to everyone!