Sunday, January 31, 2010

That Superbowl Ad

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon has an interesting theory about Focus on the Family's anti-abortion ad that's going to be shown during the Super Bowl.

The ad is not available online yet, but it is said to be about a football player, Tim Tebow, and how his mother's doctors had told her she needed to have an abortion when she was carrying him, for medical reasons. But she didn't do it, and now look! He's a football star. I am not sure of the logic here, is the point that the many paths of destiny have converged to bring us this one fantastic human being? I am surrounded by former fetuses that were not aborted or lost in miscarriage, I work with them, ride the train with them, they live in my neighborhood, and I notice that unaborted fetuses tend to grow into ordinary schmoes. There was also no noticeable shortage of football stars before this guy came along.

The lady had a choice to make, she made it, and now they are using that to demonstrate why other women should not be allowed to make that choice. I believe that understanding this example requires a brain unlike mine, an entirely different anatomical structure, I really don't get it on any level.

Amanda Marcotte:
There’s been a lot of talk about how Focus on Family---which has been on the financial brink and has had to lay off a lot of its workforce---is stupid to spend $2.5 million on the ad time alone for this anti-choice Tim Tebow ad. But CBS has had the rule against political advocacy ads for awhile now, and even as recently as last year, they denied an almost identical anti-choice ad, generating the usual faux outrage on the right. Is it possible that Focus on Family made the ad with the intention of it getting rejected?

Think about it. The ad gets rejected, and so they’re “forced” to put it on a website and send out a mailer about it, with a fund-raising appeal attached. The pose they affect is the absolute favorite one of wingnuts, which is that they’re victims of the evil liberal mafia that controls everything. It’s a very effective fund-raising ploy, and goes a long way to explaining why Pat Robertson is always there in a crisis, saying something horrible that gets everyone up in arms. “We piss off the liberals!” is exactly the sort of thing that opens wingnut wallets. But the plan was thwarted when CBS actually accepted the ad, probably in part because they don’t want to have to go through this crap every year with the antis. Tim Tebow ad thought

I had never thought of it this way. I figured, CBS is a person now, maybe he or she just liked the ad. No, really, I assumed there were conservative people making the editorial decisions, or they felt that anti-abortion dollars would be good for business, or something, it never occurred to me that CBS accepted the ad to bankrupt Focus on the Family and take the wind out of their sails. But I like it.

Marcotte elaborates:
Of course, the gamble was probably a “win-win” thing in their minds. If the ad is accepted, they get a bunch of free press and win. But if the ad is rejected, they get a bunch of free press and win. But in the latter scenario, the fund-raising appeal is strengthened and they don’t have to spend $2.5 million on the ad space. Now, the fund-raising appeal is weaker. They’re going to have to go with, “They tried to censor us!” instead of saying they were actually censored. Of course, to the wingnut mind, feminists even having the nerve to speak out is horrible anti-Christian oppression, so perhaps this is a distinction that’s too fine for them. Still, I have to think that actually being prevented from running the ad has more oomph than running the ad and getting criticized.

I keep thinking about the logic of this ad. I think the point is that we are supposed to imagine what a loss it would be if Tim Tebow had not been born. But the world is populated with real people, it is nonsense to speculate about possible people who might have been, and their wonderful possible accomplishments. If one unaborted fetus in a gazillion grows up to be a football star, that just means that a gazillion minus one didn't, doesn't it?

And of course the complementary example could be proposed: what if Adolph Hitler's mother had had an abortion? If there is logic to this sort of example, it works equally well in both directions.

There are so many ways of looking at this example, and none of them even begins to convince me that women, once impregnated, should be forced by law to give birth. I wouldn't mind if they ran an ad that made sense, even some "abortion is murder" kind of thing, but this example simply offends the intellect.

One more important paragraph from Amanda:
I’m not taking a “ignore them and they’ll go away” approach, of course. But I do wish that more of the feminist response had been centered around the inherent contradiction of anti-choicers celebrating choice, and less in demanding that CBS not run the ad. There’s a strong possibility that the more Focus on Family does stuff like this, the closer they get to bankruptcy, after all. But more to the point, instead of playing the role of censor in their fund-raising appeals, we could continue to point out that they’re buying into the pro-choice framework, and that if women like Pam Tebow don’t have a choice, they don’t get to be heroes. Just victims.

Sunday Morning: Doing the Right Thing

I am waking up slowly this morning. Got up, came downstairs, put on some snow boots, and walked the dogs. We go over by the woods at Rock Creek, they like to sniff around where the deer have been. In the snow, halfway down a block where nobody lives, I found a woman's purse in the snow.

I picked it up and carried it with me. There was also a ballpoint pen with the name of a church on it in the snow, too, I picked that up as well. The dogs and I went over to the woods and they played, throwing the snow with their noses, rolling in it, wrestling, tangling their leashes. The strap on the purse had broken, so I held it by the ... I don't know what you call it, the part that opens. It was a small black leather one.

When the dogs had done their business we headed home again. A guy had a little tractor and was plowing the sidewalk in front of the school and in front of his house. A snow-plow came around the corner, too, and drove over the snow where I had found the purse. So it was good I had it.

Some guys don't like to hold a lady's purse. I'm one of them. I can't tell you why.

My thermometer is in the sun, and it says it's sixty degrees outside. When I first went out I thought maybe it was, not that warm, but warm. The first blast of a breeze though disproved that theory. Snow is not melting, it is colder than a ... it is very cold out there, still.

I had started the coffee maker before I went out, and when I came back indoors the kitchen had a nice smell but I didn't pour a cup quite yet. I set the purse on the counter and went through it, looking at the cards. There was a Costco card, a hair appointment card, something from a church, a little notebook with heartwarming sayings written in it and a shopping list. Ah, there you go, an ID from work. This is a government worker, there's her picture, hmm, not bad.

I came over to the laptop and put her name into Google. A white-pages site came up, and it gave an address right here in the neighborhood, in fact it was on the street where I found the purse. She had an unusual name with a unique spelling, her name alone brought up only one instance. I called her number and got voicemail.

Man, that coffee looked good.

I put the snow-boots back on, and picked up two packages of trash that needed to go out. Nobody felt like carrying them out into the snow yesterday, so they were by the door, a plastic bag and a box with some broken glass in it, from a picture frame that had fallen sometime over the last year, which we discovered when we moved the TV out of the family room yesterday, long story.

I live on the corner of two streets, this lady's address was on one of them. I took a guess and went left, but the numbers got smaller and so I turned around. There is a stretch of road with a school and no houses, which goes down into the woods to an apartment complex. My daughter used to have a friend there who was Polish, so I always think of it as a Polish neighborhood, but I was talking recently to a guy who lives there, he came to one of our gigs, and he said no, there might be one Polish family. This lady had a name that is probably Italian, possibly Iranian or something. It was an unusual name.

I walked in the street by the school, but they had the sidewalk cleared at the apartments, so I used that. Looks like somebody there has a snow-blower. I was walking along carrying this purse, and there were a few cars out but not many, nobody I knew.

Luckily the lady's apartment was the second one, I didn't have to look all over for it. There were cars parked in a row, and an empty spot in front of this apartment. I hoped I didn't find out that she had disappeared overnight, and that I had the only evidence of her disappearance, or that I'd find a bloody mess where she's been killed after they robbed her, or something. I hoped it was a girl who maybe had gone out for some drinks on a Saturday night and didn't notice that her purse-strap had broken as she walked unsteadily home, something pleasant. I had found it in a weird place, not where somebody would be likely to walk at night, as I knocked on the door I figured I'd find out pretty soon what had happened.

I heard sounds inside and then they stopped. Well I guess if I was a lady looking out through my peephole and saw me I might not throw the door open. I hadn't had a shower, I had run a brush through my hair so that wasn't too bad but you know my hair is long, I had on some flannel pants and a sweat shirt, and a jacket. The sounds stopped and I was about to knock again when the knob turned and then the door opened.

It was the lady on the ID. I held up the purse and she smiled. "I think you want this," I told her, and I handed it to her. I was glad to get it out of my hands.

She was definitely happy to get it. She said they had come home from a restaurant in Baltimore last night and discovered it was missing, and had called the restaurant to check. Even though she had stuff from a Christian church in her purse, I figured that the word "restaurant" meant "bar," and I did not think it was likely she went out to Baltimore for dinner. I know someone who went to Baltimore yesterday and they said it took three hours to get back in the snow, where it should be well less than an hour. The roads were really bad yesterday, there were wrecks everywhere, events were canceled, I don't know who would go to Baltimore for dinner on a day like that. So, whatever, I don't care what she did last night or if she lies about it, here's your purse lady.

She asked me if she could give me something and I said no. There was some money in there, I knew, if I wanted her money I would have taken it already. Once when I was young and poor I did that, I found a wallet with a few hundred bucks in it, and I took the money and put the wallet in a hiding place and called the person and told them where it was. They didn't even know they'd lost it yet. I figured it was a surcharge for leaving their wallet on the sidewalk, price you pay. Was that the wrong thing to do? I don't know, they did get their credit cards and stuff back, I guess it won't end up being a new parable in the Bible or anything but it could have been worse. The Parable of Serendipitous Opportunity. No, I don't think so.

The lady was very cheerful and glad to see her purse. She didn't look as glamorous as her government ID photograph, well I guess that can go either way. I work with people whose ID's don't look anything like them. Sunday morning, I suppose she didn't have any make-up on or whatever they do, she was just hanging out at home after a night of ... eating at a restaurant in Baltimore. She embarrassed me with her energy and cheerfulness, I still hadn't had any coffee yet, I had had a sip of whiskey last night myself, and I was relatively apathetic about this lady and her life.

I stood on her doorstep for about a minute, saying the things that made this random encounter less awkward. She was trying to figure out my motives and how I happened to have her purse, and I was somewhat curious about how it had ended up where it was, but basically it was a conversation with a purpose, I had found her purse and was returning it to her, she was showing appreciation and checking if I was a bad guy who had stolen it or something.

I walked home without a purse in my hand. The wind kicked up sometimes and man, it was cold. The zipper on my jacket doesn't always work, and so I had it unzipped and unbuttoned, and those surprise blasts hit me hard. The lady's cell phone was missing, so I kicked the snow where I had found the purse to see if it was there, but I didn't see it.

I was thinking about doing the right thing. I know people who think that morality comes from God, and only Christians can do the right thing. I was thinking about Wiccans, who are about as not-Christian as you can be, and the ones I have known make really sure to do the right thing all the time, because they know people are judging them. And they also believe that everything comes back to you threefold, which I hope is not true. Well, I don't see how that would work, anyway. I have known atheists, lots of them, and they seem like good people too, they do the right thing, they help you out when you need it, and why? Not because they're afraid of the judgment of God, that's for sure, and the ones I knew didn't wear "Kiss me I'm an Atheist" buttons or anything, they were just scientists who didn't believe in things they couldn't see or measure. I don't think they did the right thing to make a point, or even because they calculated that their payoffs would be greater if they used the Cooperate rather than Defect strategy, assuming this was an iterated game.

No, you don't have to be a Christian to do good things, and you don't have to have an ulterior motive. It's going to come down to the economic principle we call the Golden Rule. Because we're all in this together, it is better for us to help one another, because at some point we might need the help. It feels good to do good things, and somewhere in your mind you think about how it would be if it was turned around. What if this lady found my wallet in the snow, what would she do? I think she would do just what I did. I know she's a Christian, I saw the papers in her purse, but I don't think she would have returned my wallet because of something Jesus said. She would have done it for the same reason I brought her purse to her, because we're all in this together.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Banning Books, and Snow

Wow, I think this is a little more snow than the weatherman expected, isn't it? They were saying 1-2 inches, now they're saying 4-6, and it could keep falling until four tomorrow morning.

We've got a log burning in the fireplace but my toes are cold. I suppose that's because I'm sitting at this computer in the kitchen instead of stretching my legs out on the recliner in the living room.

You have probably heard about the school system in Virginia that has banned The Diary of Anne Frank. The story is this: a parent in Culpeper County complained that there were "sexually explicit material and homosexual themes" in the later edition of the book, and the school district pulled the book. An intriguing paragraph from The Post:
Culpeper's policy on "public complaints about learning resources" calls for complaints to be submitted in writing and for a review committee to research the materials and deliberate, [school district director of instruction James] Allen said. In this case, the policy was not followed. Allen said the parent registered the complaint orally, no review committee was created and a decision was made quickly by at least one school administrator. He said he is uncertain about the details because he was out of town. School system in Va. won't teach version of Anne Frank book

That is scary. One parent complains and the whole school district responds.

Valerie Strauss, writing at The Post's blog, explains:
... according to the Star Exponent, which quoted Jim Allen, director of instruction for the school system, saying, “What we have asked is that this particular edition will not be taught. I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. So we listened to the parent and we pulled it.”

The problem for Allen is that it IS a big deal when books are pulled off shelves because a parent doesn’t want their student to read about female genitals in the context of this Holocaust memoir, which is the passage in contention here.

The passage in question is one where Frank talks about her vagina, and this is the most commonly cited passage in the book:
"There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!" Taking Anne Frank off shelves: Indefensible

Okay, so that's it. The girl discovers her vagina.

This is a big world, there are all kinds of people, but it seems there are some who think their peculiar way of thinking should become the standard for everybody else. We have seen them try to do it in Montgomery County, it takes a lot of effort to fight it, especially when lazy bureaucrats like this Allen character are perfectly willing to go along with them.

On the other hand, great news! This is a real breakthrough. According to Huffington Post the students at Oak Meadows Elementary School in Menifee, California, will be allowed to use Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, even though naughty students can find dirty words in it, after the issue was studied by a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators.
However, parents can opt to have their kids use an alternative dictionary.

Sometimes there's just nothing to say.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Demonstration Tomorrow at Baltimore GOP Retreat

The Republican Party holding a big retreat in Baltimore this week. Today President Obama addressed the group, tomorrow Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dick Armey will speak to the group.

There will also be a demonstration tomorrow by health-care reform supporters. The group will be demonstrating outside the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, 202 E. Pratt Street, in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The demonstration will begin at noon eleven o'clock [this post has been edited, note update below].

It's interesting to see how the various media have played today's speech by the President. Look at these headlines:
  • Wall Street Journal: WSJ: Obama Spars With House Republicans At Baltimore Meeting
  • ABC: President Obama: Republicans Portraying Health Care as 'Bolshevik Plot'
  • AFP: Obama to Republicans: 'work with me'
  • Business Week: Obama Tells Republicans Voters Tired of Partisanship
  • USA Today: Obama and Republicans: Let's try to work together
  • LA Times: GOP freshman congressman stands up to accuse Obama of broken promises; president pushes back
  • Fox News: No Bipartisanship for President Obama

You get the picture.

This is your chance to be heard. Republican leaders are holed up in Baltimore, planning strategy. Somebody needs to tell them we need better health care in this country -- this is your chance.

[ Update: the protest has been changed from 11AM instead of 1PM. ]

News on Marriage Equality, Local and National

I don't subscribe to any politicians' newsletters, but I know people who do, and sometimes they send me some good stuff. Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno sent out an email yesterday that has some important news:
Today was another important day for marriage equality in Maryland. I am pleased to report two new cosponsors of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act: Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Bethesda) and Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Pikesville). We are continuing to gain momentum.

Today was also the hearing on House Bill 90, introduced by Delegate Emmett Burns (D-Catonsville), that would bar Maryland from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. Del. Burns introduced this bill to preempt the opinion I requested of Attorney General Doug Gansler on whether our state would recognize these marriages. As you have probably read, Maryland has historically recognized marriages from other states, even if those marriages could not have been performed in our state.

Opponents of marriage equality stated that polygamous marriages and marriages between closely related family members have long been prohibited from being recognized in our state on the grounds that they are “abhorrent” to public policy of the state. They tried in vain today to make the case that our marriages and relationships are equally abhorrent, but the legislature’s actions through the years to grant rights to same-sex couples legally invalidate this position. Our modest domestic partner protections clearly show that Maryland has an interest in supporting same-sex marriages and it was our work as legislators and your work as advocates that set up the framework for our arguments today.

We will continue to fight the mean spirited efforts of our opponents which were on full display at the hearing. Del. Don Dwyer (R-Glen Burnie) went so far as to imply that if Doug Gansler issued a positive opinion that he would be in violation of his oath of office! While we still have no word on the Attorney General’s opinion, I am confident we are closer than ever to having a mechanism for marriage equality in Maryland.

There is no reasonable argument against allowing same-sex couples to marry, and lots of reasons it is a good idea. Stigmatizing gays won't make them straight, there is nothing to gain by denying committed gay couples the same rights that committed straight couples enjoy.

Madaleno suggests two openings here. First, Maryland recognizes heterosexual marriages from other states, even if those marriages could not have been performed here. Maybe the couple was of legal age in their home state, but too young here, we still recognize that marriage as legal. Second, Maryland gives some protection to same-sex domestic partners, and that does suggest that the state agrees there is something special in those relationships, something deserving legal recognition, the same quality that distinguishes married couples.

Interesting to see what's happening with Proposition 8 in California. As Shannon Minter at Pam's House Blend wrote this week:
It has been an amazing two and a half weeks. This trial has been a truly historic moment for our community. It is the first time a federal court has heard, first hand, from real live witnesses, about the harm that the denial of marriage equality causes lesbians, gay men and their families every day. It's also the first time a federal court has heard the arguments in favor of marriage equality presented live in court by an array of internationally renowned scholars who are truly experts in their respective fields.

What stands out the most after having seen all the witnesses on both sides is how overwhelmingly one-sided the evidence in this case turned out to be. The plaintiffs, represented by some of the most skilled attorneys in the country, laid out a well-crafted, meticulous case, backed by the testimony of half a dozen of the most respected historians, psychologists, economists, and political scientists who study marriage, sexual orientation, and child development. Using the Prop 8 proponents' own outrageous and inflammatory words, ads, and emails, the plaintiffs powerfully demonstrated that Prop 8 was a direct product of hostility, fear-mongering, and demonization of lesbians and gay men. And through the deeply moving testimony of the plaintiffs and other members of our community, they proved beyond question that denying same-sex couples the right to marry causes great harm to LGBT people and their children.

Stacked up against this mountain of facts, scholarship, and science, the Prop 8 proponents - though represented by fine attorneys - were not able to come forward with a case of their own. Before trial, they dropped nearly every witness they had planned to present and relied entirely on two poorly qualified, ill-prepared expert witnesses, neither of whom was able to establish that banning same-sex couples from getting married has any rational or legitimate purpose relating to procreation, child rearing, tradition, or any of the other justifications that have been offered in the past in support of anti-gay discrimination. In fact, nearly all of the defendants' experts agreed with the plaintiffs that marriage equality would benefit same-sex couples and their families in many real, tangible ways.

There is no argument for banning marriage between two individuals of the same sex, other than bigotry, or as Minter put it, "hostility, fear-mongering, and demonization of lesbians and gay men." The people of California might have been persuaded to vote against allowing it, but the mob is not allowed to rule lawlessly, our way of government includes measures to protect the rights of minorities and underprivileged individuals. As we noted recently, groups like the Alliance Defense Fund exist solely to force the the majority's will on minorities. Gay and lesbian citizens are definitely a minority and always will be, in this country we respect their rights, whether we personally approve or not. News from Madaleno is encouraging, and we hope that Minter's analysis is in line with the way the court sees it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Our President in the Post president Christine Grewell is featured in the Washington Post today. Yesterday she took part (as a citizen, not a representative of TTF) in a demonstration to promote health care reform in front of the US Chamber of Commerce in DC and a hearing before Congressman John Conyers, Jr., on Capitol Hill. The second half of this video features an interview with her.

Yeah, they spelled her name wrong. She's also not a real estate broker. Somebody has spoken to The Post about that.

Here's the text from The Post web site:
About 250 people staged a protest on the steps of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today in an effort to urge Congress to pass the health-care reform plan.

According to Health Care for American Now, the Chamber of Commerce has been fighting health care reform with ten to twenty million dollars it has received from insurance companies, while the insurance companies themselves officially stated that they were in favor of reform.

Yesterday's protest featured a number of individuals from around the country whose lives have been tragically affected by the expense or unavailability of health insurance. See more footage of the demonstration HERE and HERE.

[ Update 3:00, MSNBC's coverage of the demonstration HERE ]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Democracy and Mob Rule

The Slacktivist blog is saying something that I have tried a dozen times to get into words, always giving up in an incoherent tangle of concepts. They are talking about the cases being made in the Proposition 8 case in California, where people voted not to recognize same-sex marriages. I would love to copy and paste this whole thing, but it's a little long. Let me pick pieces for you -- this addresses, I think, a very fundamental issue facing our country.
The Alliance Defense Fund is fighting for its life.

It's current case -- defending the constitutionality of California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 -- cuts to the heart and soul of this organization and, indeed, to the core and essence of the religious right groups who came together to create it.

The ADF was founded as a sectarian, conservative response to the ACLU.* Where the American Civil Liberties Union exists to protect the rights of minorities from being denied or eroded by the majority, the ADF took on the opposite mission. It was founded to defend the majority's privilege, to ensure that the rights of minorities are not regarded as equal to the rights of those who outnumber them, and that these minority rights not be allowed to deny or erode the hegemony of the majority perspective.

The defense of Prop 8 is therefore the archetypal ADF case. It gives their legal team the opportunity to argue, in court, that the constitutional guarantee of the rights of minorities must not be interpreted as overriding traditionally practiced limitations of those rights and that majority rule must never be made subservient to the rule of law.

And to be clear, the ADF is arguing exactly that. Explicitly that. That is their case in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Here is ADF lawyer Austin Nimocks:
"The fundamental issue here is whether or not in America we respect and should uphold the right of a free people to make social policy choices through the democratic process."


For the ADF and the religious right, "the right of a free people to make social policy choices through the democratic process" means this and only this: the majority of American citizens are Christians and thus that majority has the right to pass laws expressly and exclusively based on their Christian beliefs.

In the particular case in California, the ADF is vehemently arguing that the Constitution doesn't mind that the heterosexual majority has voted to restrict the rights of the non-heterosexual minority. Contrary to what Mr. Nimocks might like to think, that is not "the democratic process." The technical term for a majority voting to give itself rights while denying those same rights to the minority is "mob rule." Which is different.

Nimocks is saying that the majority has the right to be a bully. Such bullying is not simply an incidental tactic of the religious right, it is it's raison d'etre. And like many bullies, the ADF and the religious right tend to crumble when anyone stands up to their bullying. Like many bullies, they like to pretend that they are the victims -- hence the incoherent Persecuted Hegemon phenomenon that characterizes so much of the religious right (not to mention the pathetic spectacle of the ADF bullies crying and running away when faced with the prospect of cameras in the courtroom). Bullies

Our suburban county came close to having a referendum to relegalize discrimination against transgender people, and there was a good chance that the majority of people, even in our liberal county, could be persuaded to vote for continued discrimination, for instance by telling them the vote was about whether male predators and pedophiles would be able to legally lurk in ladies locker-rooms. Democracy is not mob rule, a reasonable representative democracy like ours is hung on the framework of a constitution that protects the rights of minorities.

Go read the whole thing.

Changing Your Gender, Changing Your Name

We have not really talked about it here because cool heads working behind the scenes seem to have a handle on it, but Maryland may potentially introduce a bizarre new law that will make it very hard for transgender residents to get the correct gender designation and their new name on their drivers licenses. Here's Equality Maryland's explanation of current and proposed laws:
Current Policy: To change the gender marker, an applicant must provide a physician or psychologist’s report to confirm that the applicant is in active treatment. The MVA requires annual re-evaluations until the applicant "meets requirements for permanent gender change." If you are using a name other than your birth name, you must bring the document that initiated the change of name, such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree or court name change order and your current License.

Proposed Policy: The new policy would require an amended birth certificate. This requires going through the court system. Maryland code states that they will issue a birth certificate reflecting the proper gender only upon receipt of a certified copy of an order of from a court indicating that the sex of an individual born has been changed by surgical procedure and whether such individual's name has been changed. You cannot change the sex on a birth certificate simply by providing proof that you are undergoing medical treatment or procedures for gender reassignment.

The proposal would have created additional hoops and legal fees for transgender Marylanders who are looking to update their driver's license. Having a legal identity document that does not match a person’s gender exposes them to potential risk not just of embarrassment, but of harassment as well. UPDATE: MVA Cancels Dangerous Policy Change

From the same page, a quote from the MVA:
"At this time, MVA is not effecting a change to that policy. However, written legal advice received from the Office of Attorney General clearly states that MVA's current policy does not meet all statutory requirements and we are therefore continuing to work with the Office of Attorney General before making a final determination on whether a policy update is appropriate."

You see that these policies affect not only the little box that says "M" or "F," but changes of name as well. Is difficult enough already to make the transition, and the proposed new regulation will make it even more difficult. Keep your eyes open as this situation evolves. Even the Attorney General says, in this same letter, ""MVA believes that the current policy on gender designation which has been in practice for almost a decade is secure and the procedures we have adopted ensures reasonable accommodation for individuals who are making a gender transition change."

The new policy was supposed to go into effect at the beginning of January, but the state has decided to delay it while they look into it. You can't take anything for granted here, it is understood that politicians are not afraid of inconsistency when it means avoiding controversy. We'll keep an eye on this situation as it develops.

The New York Times has an article this week that focuses on a most important aspect of gender transition, and that is changing your name.
Katherine used to be Miguel. Olin had a girl’s name. And in October, Robert Ira Schnur, 70, became Roberta Iris Schnur, a Manhattan retiree with magenta lipstick and, she noted the other day, chipped silver nail polish.

“I wasn’t like other men,” she said.

Theirs are among hundreds of names a Manhattan court has changed over the last few years for transgender New Yorkers. That tally, specialists in the relatively new field of transgender law say, may make the borough’s workaday Civil Court one of the country’s biggest official name swappers — male names for female, vice versa and ambiguous.

Changing a name might seem like a minor matter for those who are changing their gender identities and, for some, facing challenges like finding knowledgeable doctors, trying hormones and experimenting with painful hair-removal procedures. But many who have gone through the switch say a name change sends an important message to the world, a message solidified and made official with a court’s approval.

In many courts around the country, what were once risky or shocking name-change requests are becoming more routine as the sting of gender taboo has lost a little of its edge. But in few places has this shift been more dramatic than in New York, where two recent and little-noticed rulings helped clarify the murky area not only of the law but also of modern gender identification. They have contributed to Manhattan’s becoming a capital of Joe-to-Jane proceedings. A rare network of some 200 lawyers now works on such cases filed in the Centre Street courthouse, and nearly 400 of their transgender clients so far have, more or less, become someone else. For Transgender People, Name Is a Message

Hopefully over the next few years we will see bureaucratic obstacles swept out of the way so people can adjust to society in a way that is straightforward and preserves their dignity. We need to make sure that Maryland does not take a big step backward here, it appears so far that the MVA and Attorney General understand the situation.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Embarrassment in Loudoun County

Loudoun County, Virginia, is having a real problem with a real jerk. They're just a stone's throw across the river from us here in Montgomery County, Maryland, and we ought to be paying attention to their problem and how they are dealing with it. The Post had a summary Sunday.
Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), a longtime opponent of gay rights, is coming under increased criticism for recent comments viewed as homophobic and embarrassing to the community.

At a Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, five of his board counterparts used personal time to chastise the Sterling supervisor for anti-gay comments. One member, Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac), apologized that Delgaudio made some of the remarks from the board dais.

At a Jan. 6 meeting, supervisors voted to expand Loudoun's nondiscrimination policy to prohibit bias on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring by the county. Delgaudio fought the change in the meeting, saying he was especially offended by language in the measure that sought protection for transgendered people. In the debate, he called the board's attempt to protect transgendered people "freaky" and "bizarre." In a subsequent newsletter to supporters, Delgaudio wrote that "if a man dressed as a woman wants a job, you have to treat 'it' the same as a normal person."

Those comments drew a sharp rebuke from the Loudoun Times-Mirror on Jan. 13. In an editorial, the paper scolded the supervisor for "sustained and unrestrained demagoguery targeting human beings." The paper called for an apology and went on to say it cringed "with embarrassment for the image of Loudoun" that the supervisor was projecting.

At the board meeting last week, other supervisors joined the criticism.

James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said Delgaudio had "conducted himself in a manner best described in my opinion as histrionic, and his choice of words were and should have been an embarrassment to this board and to the county."

Burton challenged Delgaudio's use of the word "it" to describe transgendered people. "Regardless of how one may feel about the policy in question, there's no excuse for referring to fellow human beings as 'it,' " he said. The use of the word "it," he said, was "demeaning, insulting and dehumanizing." Loudoun Supervisor Delgaudio rebuked for anti-gay remarks

Delgaudio had issued a newsletter where he said:
“The board votes six yes, Waters and Delgaudio ‘no,’ with York abstaining, to add ’sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to the hiring of employees which means if a man dressed as a woman wants a job, you have to treat ‘it’ the same as a normal person.”

The Loudon Times-Mirror said:
Delgaudio said he stands by the statement he made in the Jan. 5 meeting when he referred to the amendment as "freaky, bizarre and fruity."

The language, he said, was aimed at what he described as a militant group of individuals.

"It's freaky because most don't think about homosexuals," Delgaudio said. "It's bizarre because they want us to think about homosexuals." Group decries supervisor's comments

In an editorial, that same paper wrote:
Further, instead of using the personal pronouns of “him” or “her” during his remarks, Delgaudio preferred to use the term “it” to describe people who might be protected by the new county guidelines.

This was sustained and unrestrained demagoguery targeting human beings.

Delgaudio saw fit to drive the bigotry home – literally -- by sending a mass e-mail to residences across his district that went on to restate the same offensive terms, such as “cross dressing freaks,” and railing against how the county might now “have to treat ‘it’ the same as a normal person.”

Leniency has been granted to Delgaudio in the past for what has been described loosely as “clownish” behavior. We often hear, “Oh, that’s just Eugene.”

Not by us. Not this time. It’s time to say, "Enough." We cringe in embarrassment for the image of Loudoun in 2010 that this projects to the outside world.

These are comments unworthy of being spoken from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors dais. 'It' is a shame, Supervisor Delgaudio

Let me point out that Equality Loudoun is pursuing this situation doggedly, with class and diligence. They are documenting everything this nut says, with quotes, newspaper articles, links to video. Delgaudio is a disgrace to whatever community he lives in. I don't know what it takes to remove a Loudoun County Supervisor from office, but I can guarantee you there are people over there looking into it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

So It's Come To This

Check this out.
A Southern California school district has pulled dictionaries from classrooms because a parent complained when a child came across the term "oral sex."

District officials said Friday that the Menifee Union School District — which serves 9,000 kindergartners through eight graders in Riverside County — is forming a committee to consider a permanent classroom ban of the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

A memo from Assistant Superintendent Karen Valdes acknowledged it is a respected resource but district officials found that "a number of referenced words are age-inappropriate."

Some parents and free-speech advocates said the district is overreacting.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition says "common sense seems to be lacking in this school."

Menifee is a city of about 67,000 people 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles. SoCal district pulls dictionaries over sex term

Do you remember being a kid in the library and looking up dirty words in the big dictionary? I remember doing it, and I remember my kids and their friends doing it.

The dictionary contains, let's say, every word in the English language. Some of the words are not very nice. Therefore dictionaries must be banned. What do you say to people who think like that?

The Week In a Nutshell

There is a lot going on this week in the news, almost too much to keep track of. Let's just run through it real quick.

Here's Tristero at Hullabaloo, commenting on this week's Supreme Court decision that corporations are people and can donate to politicians just like the rest of us:
Editorial in today's NY Times:
With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.

Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.

Let me see if I have this straight. The latest Supreme Court ruling will permit previously unavailable millions, if not tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars to be spent on American politics. And the Times is calling on the direct beneficiaries of all this spanking new cash to limit their own access to it. Not Gonna Happen

Proposition 8 is on trial in California.
Over the past two weeks, the plaintiffs have sought to prove through experts and personal testimony that the gay-marriage ban harms gays and was motivated by hatred toward them. On Thursday, they introduced testimony from a backer of the ban, Hak-Shing William Tam, who said he thought legalizing gay marriage would lead to legalizing prostitution and sex with children. Defense Set to Press Gay-Marriage Case

And tell me, are Brangelina going to break up, or what? We need to know.

And here, an excerpt from the Democrats' talking points after they failed to fight for their 60/40 majority in Massachusetts:
It is mathematically impossible for Democrats to pass legislation on our own.

Dem Talking Points: We're Screwed!

And there's this story, which is fading in the national consciousness as we approach the moment where we learn exactly what is in Lindsay Lohan's sex video.
The confirmed death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake has risen above 150,000 in the Port-au-Prince area alone, a government minister has said.

Communications minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue told AP the count was based on bodies collected in and around the capital by state firm CNE.

Many more remain uncounted under rubble in the capital and elsewhere, including the towns of Jacmel and Leogane. Haiti capital earthquake death toll 'tops 150,000'

This week we started learning how China hacked into Google -- apparently there is a bug in Internet Explorer that let them do it:
Last week, Google traced the sabotage back to China and says the break-ins were part of a pattern of cyber-attacks on human rights activists who criticize China.

"It's very difficult to tell whether or not these are really Chinese government officials," said Larry Clinton, president of Internet Security Alliance. "More likely they are people who have a loose affiliation with the Chinese government." Hack Attacks Test Google's Link to China

And the one everybody's talking about, are Jay and Conan still friends?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Heroic Rescue On the Red Line

Maybe you saw this in yesterday's Post. Somebody linked to it in a comment yesterday, and I think it is a really cool story. I take the Metro every day, and you see people going near the edge of the platform, you see kids goofing around, but I have never seen anyone fall onto the tracks. I wondered what you would do, should you just jump down there and lift them up? If you do that, how do you get back up? Would the people on the platform help you? I could imagine the commuters standing there thinking, I'm not going give him my hand, I might get pulled down there, too.

Here's what you do -- I'm just pasting the whole article into this post...
"Help!" the disabled woman cried, her motorized wheelchair overturned a few feet away as she lay sprawled on the Metro tracks at Union Station just before midnight one day last week.

Michelle Kleisath, a 29-year-old anthropology doctoral student from Seattle, was among a crowd gathered on the platform, watching aghast. She pulled her phone from her pocket to call 911 but realized there was not enough time.

"She's going to die," Kleisath, who was in the District attending a conference on race relations, recalled thinking. "Someone has to get her off."

But thanks mainly to Kleisath and her partner, Chilan T. Ta, 26, a transportation engineering student from Seattle, disaster was averted. The couple, with help from other bystanders, rescued the woman.

The incident Jan. 13 had all the makings of another Metro tragedy.

Two weeks earlier, a blind Rockville man who tumbled from the platform of the Gallery Place-Chinatown Station was hit and killed by a Red Line train. According to Metro, at least three other riders have fallen onto tracks in the past year in what appeared to be accidents.

A man in a wheelchair rolled off a platform onto the track bed last summer at the Southern Avenue Station, injuring his head; a 22-year-old man was struck by a train and killed at the East Falls Church Station in March; and a woman was rescued from the Gallery Place tracks, escaping with minor injuries, during the presidential inauguration in January 2009.

A Metro spokeswoman confirmed that a woman fell onto the tracks last week, but the transit agency would not identify her. "We don't give out the names of customers," Lisa Farbstein said.

In a telephone interview Wednesday from their home in Seattle, Kleisath and Ta described the incident.

Ta ran up the stairs to the mezzanine to alert the station manager. "My thought was, if the train driver knows they should not arrive at the station, it would give the people more time," she said.

Meanwhile, swallowing her fear, Kleisath climbed down onto the tracks and started moving toward the woman, who was near the tunnel exit on the side headed for Shady Grove. As soon as she did, another wave of panic broke out among the onlookers.

"The electric rail!" a man yelled at her.

"They are both on the tracks! There are two on the tracks!" a woman screamed.

"That's not helpful," Kleisath recalled thinking. "I was already really terrified."

Kleisath, a bicyclist, said that when she reached the woman, she realized she would be unable to lift her alone. She looked up to the platform, spotted a tall man in a dark jacket, and realized he was the panhandler she had just given a dollar to after he had complained about rising Metro fares.

"Please, come down and help me," she called. The man immediately jumped down. Another man followed, and a third. Together, they lifted the injured woman onto the platform.

Kleisath was trying to comfort the woman, who was bleeding profusely from her nose and mouth and was unable to use her arms and legs, when suddenly the woman said: "Get my chair!"

"I thought if we didn't get the chair, the people on the Metro might die, so me and the man I gave the dollar to went back and got the chair," Kleisath said.

By then, the station manager was on the emergency phone talking with the operations center, and Metro police officers had arrived. Paramedics were on the way to take the woman to a hospital.

"Apparently, she told personnel that her wheelchair malfunctioned," said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, who confirmed the incident Wednesday. The station manager alerted the Metro operations center to cut power to the third rail, and the center stopped the driver of a train bound for Shady Grove.

Kleisath stayed with the woman, keeping her hand on her shoulder. A pool of blood was forming under the woman's face, so Kleisath helped her blow her nose. She pulled down the woman's sweater to cover her exposed stomach, put her loose wallet in her purse and placed a shoe that had fallen off into her shopping bag.

The last train of the night pulled into the station. The operator looked out from his cab at the scene.

Kleisath and Ta got on the train and rode away. D.C. visitors help rescue woman from Union Station Metro tracks

Maybe you saw the video of the lady who fell on the tracks in Boston recently -- HERE. She looks like she had had a few drinks, whatever, she falls off the platform onto the tracks and apparently passes out. That train misses her by an inch.

This Washington Post story has so many cool angles to it. The heroine had just given a guy a dollar, and he came to the rescue, too. Out of towners, didn't know what to do, risked their lives, caught the next train and moved on. More like this, please.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Possibly More Americans Killed in Haiti Than 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan

This is an interesting observation from a blogger who follows naval affairs.
The State Department told NBC news on Tuesday that there are still 5,500 missing Americans in Haiti. What the article does not mention is that no Americans have been pulled out of rubble alive in 2 days, and the odds of finding more survivors is very low.

Missing does not mean dead.

There are still no fixed estimates how many people were killed in the earthquake, but the UN is now saying they have already buried 50,000 bodies. That does not count the many thousands who died and are buried inside collapsed buildings.

I have not seen any estimates of how many of the estimated 250,000 wounded in Haiti were American, but there were an estimated 45,000 Americans in Haiti at the time of the earthquake.

For context, there have been 4,373 American citizens killed in the Iraq war, and 962 Americans kill in the Afghanistan War.

With such an incredible loss of life, is anyone still curious why I have believed from the beginning this will be an enormous political challenge for the Obama administration? They are doing a great job, but cannot afford at any point to appear politically distracted from an event that potentially might represent the largest loss of American life in decades. Haiti Earthquake Impact on America in Context

Another relevant number, 2,973 victims were killed in the 9/11 attacks, though those were not all Americans -- victims came from 90 different countries. And more than 1,800 people died in Hurricane Katrina.

With this blogger's comments in mind, consider Glenn Beck's statement last week:
I also believe this is dividing the nation…to where the nation sees him react so rapidly on Haiti and yet he couldn’t react rapidly on Afghanistan. Beck: Obama is ‘dividing the nation’ by reacting ‘so rapidly to Haiti.

I suppose the President could have reacted like the recent Republican administration did when New Orleans was destroyed...

Haiti is still chaotic, nobody knows how many people have died or will die as supplies are delayed, and we don't know how many Americans will have been lost in the earthquake. That number will almost certainly be large.

Open Thread: That Election Yesterday

So the Republican candidate won Teddy's Senate seat yesterday. What does that election say about the mood of the nation? How does it affect health care reform and other policies? Is the election a judgment of the President? What can the Democrats accomplish without the ability to prevent a filibuster?

Optimistic Report on Cervical Cancer

Good news, published in the UK's Telegraph:
The cervical cancer vaccine will reduce rates of the disease in women under 30 by two thirds within 15 years, experts have predicted.

Based on current uptake rates of the cervical cancer vaccine, cases of the disease will be cut by around 63 per cent by 2025.

Around eight in ten girls eligible for the vaccine are accepting it, meaning by the time they reach 30 years of age, cancer rates will have started to drop, a study published in the British Journal of Cancer found.

Girls aged 12 and 13 are being offered Cervarix, which protects against two strains of the human papilloma virus which causes cervical cancer.

It had been thought that seven out of ten cases of cervical cancer could be avoided through the vaccination programme but this was based on 100 per cent take up.

The programme has been running for a year with uptake at 80 per cent, meaning the number of cases prevented initially is lower but is expected to rise to seven out of ten in the long-term, a spokesman for Cancer Research UK said. Cervical cancer vaccine will cut cases by two thirds, experts calculate

A 2007 study found that 45 percent of American women aged 20-24 tested positive for HPV infection, and it is widely believed that most people are infected with it at some point in their lives. The infection often presents no symptoms and clears up without treatment, but certain of the approximately one hundred known strains of the virus are strongly associated with cervical cancer. It is great to see medical science knocking out a killer like this.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Racism and Haiti

The Haitian catastrophe has proven to me that American society is different from anything I ever imagined. Maybe I was blindered as a kid, but I can't imagine a disaster like this, with people suffering, starving, dying of thirst, victims trapped in debris, where any American would say, let's not help them.

It's one thing if it happens halfway around the world, say the tsunami in Indonesia, it might take twenty hours to get a plane there, never mind load it up, there are other major countries closer that can coordinate the response to the emergency. We might let Japan or China lead the effort, it doesn't mean we don't care. But this was 700 miles from Miami, and we have major American leaders saying that our government should just let the Haitians die.

The first shot over the bow came from evangelistic nutcase Pat Robertson, who asserted that the Haitians had a pact with the devil that had brought this disaster on them. He started his statement by suggesting that the earthquake, which has destroyed their capital city and killed perhaps a hundred thousand people -- maybe two hundred thousand, the fact that the estimate is that imprecise tells you something about the chaos there -- might end up being a good thing for them in the long run. Haiti may be one impoverished little third world hell-hole, but there is nothing good about killing a whole city full of people and knocking all their buildings down, silver linings are irrelevant in that situation. Maybe it will be better off in a hundred years, but, people, there are better ways to get there. We could have, say, not overthrown their government, and maybe invested in their commerce, if we wanted to see them thrive. You don't kill off the population to help them.

Even the Washington Post has a Page One story this morning about how this earthquake is an opportunity for Haiti to overcome its shortcomings. No! We could have helped them at any time, this is not an "opportunity," it is a horrible disaster.

A lot of Americans apparently did not want to see Haiti thrive, and there is one clear reason for that, and this is where it is hard to handle. If Haiti is anything, it is a country of black people. Nearly the entire population was descended from African slaves who rebelled against their brutal masters, they are black and their traditions come from Africa, hardly Westernized. Haiti is a country of poor black people, and the United States' response to their horrific disaster is an expression of our country's opinion of poor black folks. I don't see any other way to look at it. I am not mentioning Hurricane Katrina, but let's say there is more than one data point in this series.

And of course there are those who will point to our black President's statements as if he is only concerned because most Haitians are black, they will make this a political thing. Again, no: any human being should want to help those people, it is cynical to evaluate anybody's skin color in this kind of situation.

Pat Robertson says the earthquake is a consequence of the Haitians' pact with the devil. Rush Limbaugh has said we should not send anybody to help Haiti, we already have done our part, "it's called the US income tax." He said the disaster in Haiti is "made to order for" President Obama, he's one that has suggested that Obama's response to the rescue effort was motivated by racial and political desires.

And while they're saying this, children are crying out under collapsed buildings, families are dying for lack of water, people are fighting to the death over scraps of food, there are real people with real needs.

You probably saw the Media Matters report that showed that while MSNBC devoted entire prime-time shows to the tragedy in Haiti, Fox News barely mentioned it. Conservatives see the Haitian catastrophe as a political event, a chance to consolidate their white base, to capitalize on the latent racism in our country, and they see that if human beings in Haiti get too much publicity public opinion might turn against heartless conservatives as Americans sympathize with survivors.

I don't like to accuse people of being racists when they don't like something a black person has done, just like I doubt you will find many instances of my use of the word "homophobic" on this blog. You are allowed to dislike black individuals and gay individuals here, whatever, it doesn't necessarily mean you have a nasty agenda. But I do not see the sense in disliking someone because they're black, because they're gay, because their gender is not what you expected or hoped for. It seems reasonable to recognize that minority members are people, first and foremost, and then find out what kind of people they are. If they're decent folks then good, if they're not, if they have bad intentions then all right, respond to them on the basis of that. But when you look at a whole country of black people and say, let's let them die, I only see one way to look at that. I'm calling it racism.

I'll admit I don't understand racism. There are some nuts out there who consciously believe that their race is better than others, that evolution somehow tied virtue to pigmentation in a certain way. I can see the ordinary person having stereotypes about an outgroup, and I can see having negative stereotypes about members of an impoverished, disadvantaged outgroup, maybe people without a lot of education, people who have to hustle to live, but at some level it seems to me there is compassion, there is recognition that those outgroup members are people just like ourselves. We aren't talking about someone with an ideology we disapprove of here, or a business with corrupt practices, we are talking about human beings who are thirsty, who have broken bones and are in pain. It doesn't matter what religion they are, what language they speak, what they look like, somebody needs to help them, and as the Greatest Country on Earth it should be us.

A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to say, let those people die. I understand that Rush Limbaugh has the highest ratings in the radio world, more people listen to him than anybody, and maybe a million people a day watch Pat Robertson on TV. And these guys are saying the Haitians deserved what happened there, that our government should not help them. As Americans we need to put an end to this hardness, maybe you or I wouldn't want to vacation in Haiti but we can empathize with those poor suffering people as individuals, there should be no question about helping them.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Good Ruling in DC

The Washington DC City Council recently voted to allow marriages between same-sex couples. There was some indignation, Marion Barry predicted it would be "civil war," some preachers got in an uproar and decided they wanted to overrule the council by holding a referendum. Pretty much what you expect, I guess.

The referendum went to court and lost. Here's The Post:
A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that same-sex marriage opponents do not have a right to call for a referendum to determine whether such unions should be legal in the District.

The decision, a major victory for gay rights activists, makes it more likely that the District will begin allowing same-sex couples to marry in March.

In the 23-page ruling, Judge Judith N. Macaluso affirmed a D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics decision that city law disallows the ballot proposal because it would promote discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Macaluso also concluded that previous court decisions outlawing same-sex marriage in the District are no longer valid. D.C. judge rules against marriage referendum

There is a kind of fundamental tension between the will of the majority and the rights of minorities. If everything went up for a vote then the laws would simply encode the norms of the community. By electing representatives to debate and decide on new laws we add a layer of prudence, and by hanging all of it on a Constitution that guarantees rights to individuals we take away the majority's ability to force popular norms and customs on nonconformists.

This case of the District's marriage law seems to me to be a perfect instance of how the system was intended to work. You know, it might be that once those preachers got to preaching, a majority of DC residents would go out to vote against the rights of gay citizens to marry the one they love. Maybe most of the people there disapprove of that sort of thing. But guess what: it doesn't matter. The rights of the minority are not up for a vote, they are guaranteed.

Here's the meat of the judge's opinion, as relayed through the morning paper:
In her decision, Macaluso stated the board "properly rejected the proposed initiative" because of the Human Rights Act. The judge also rejected arguments that same-sex marriage should be illegal in the District because of the 1995 Dean v. District of Columbia decision.

In that case, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the city did not have to recognize same-sex marriage because the government's intent to oppose such marriages was clear. Now, Macaluso concluded, the intent of the government in favor of allowing two men or two women to marry is clear.

"These clear manifestations of intent to alter the traditional definition of marriage did not exist when Dean was decided," the judge wrote. "Dean expressly relied upon the absence of such indications in concluding that the Council intended to retain the definition of marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman.

"Under these circumstances, Dean's holding is no longer controlling."

Despite opponents' plans to appeal, they are running out of time to block same-sex marriages in the District. Congress has begun the required 30-legislative-day review of the same-sex marriage law.

City leaders said that, barring intervention by Congress, marriage licenses will be available to same-sex couples around the first week of March.

Nobody expects Congress to do anything to block this one.

Congratulations to the District of Columbia.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson on Haitian Disaster

A friend of mine who had studied to be a Catholic priest stopped by yesterday and said something about the catastrophe in Haiti. He said, "You can't look at this and believe in a just god." There is no country in the Western Hemisphere poorer than Haiti, no country more in need of a blessing, if there is justice. Instead, they received devastation.
Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal.

And they kicked the French out, you know the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.

That island of Hispaniola is one island. It is cut down the middle; on the one side is Haiti on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etcetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to god and out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come. But right now we are helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.

The history of Haiti is unique. It was originally settled by Christopher Columbus' crew when the Santa Maria ran aground there. The local Indians ran them out though, so they moved to the other side of the island, which is now the Dominican Republic. Haiti became a haven for pirates, well situated as a kind of gateway between the American continents and the wide open sea leading to Europe, and eventually some of the pirates settled there and farmed.

In 1697 France and Spain split up the island, with France getting the Haitian side, and through the 1700s Haiti was a brutal slave colony. The slaves revolted in the late eighteenth century, and Napolean lost more than 50,000 soldiers trying to subdue them. The rebellion resulted in the deaths of 100,000 slaves and more than half of the 40,000 colonists living on the island, and resulted in the establishment of Haiti as an independent country in 1804. At that point they kicked out or killed the rest of the white colonists.

The "pact with the devil" that Pat Robertson is talking about is the decision by the African slaves to rebel against their white owners. Haiti has been punished for that insolence ever since, and is now -- before the earthquake -- one of the poorest countries on the planet, with most of the population living on about two dollars a day.

Did God send this earthquake to punish the Haitians for forming a pact with the devil? Pat Robertson thinks so. Q: How far gone do you have to be to think this way?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Horror in Haiti: How to Help

There's just too much news coming out of Haiti right now, following that terrible earthquake. How many dead? How many lost? Buildings destroyed? There are no numbers, only horrible stories. The question that TTF readers will want to know is how to help. A lot of charities and emergency relief organizations are gearing up, and every one of them will need money.

Relief organizations realized they were not well coordinated after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and are now working together through the United Nations Cluster System to maximize their effectiveness in a disaster such as this one.

CNN has a good list of organizations you can contribute to. Browse through these and see if there's something you can do to help.

(CNN) -- The next question on many people's minds after learning about the earthquake devastation in Haiti has been: How can I help? Most organizations are asking for monetary donations. They are not seeking material items, like clothes or food, or volunteers at this time.

These agencies have set up phone lines, online donation pages and even texting for individuals to contribute to their relief efforts. We've compiled a list of a few organizations who are in Haiti helping those in need.

These resources include the highest-rated charities by, which is an independent, nonprofit organization that evaluates charity groups based on effectiveness and financial stability. These sites are vetted by CNN journalists for credibility.

For additional resources, go to Impact Your World

American Red Cross
The American Red Cross' primary focus during the initial response of an emergency is feeding, sheltering and supplying any other basic needs. To donate: Go to, hit donate now button at top and then International Response Fund. You also can text "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 to the International Response Fund. The money will go directly to relief efforts in Haiti. Or call 1-800-Red-Cross.

This nonprofit disaster relief organization delivers medicine, medical supplies and aid to people in crisis around the world. To donate, call 1-800-486-HELP or go to Donations will go toward medicine and medical supplies and for expenses for providing that medical aid. Care

This humanitarian organization's main focus is to fight global poverty, specifically by empowering marginalized women and girls. To donate to the Haiti relief fund effort, go to or call 1-800-521-CARE. Money will go toward food, water and sanitation, shelter and emergency health response.

Direct Relief International
Direct Relief provides medical attention to those in need on an ongoing basis and in emergencies. Monetary donations go toward medical aid, supplies and equipment in Haiti. To donate, go to or call 805-964-4767 and 800-676-1638, or go through Google Checkout.

Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) The humanitarian organization delivers medical care to people caught in crisis. Donations to its Haiti relief efforts will go toward repairing the obstetrics and trauma hospitals in Haiti that were damaged in the earthquake. They also will go to transporting an additional 70 doctors and medical supplies to the island in an effort to set up makeshift emergency medical response centers. To donate, go to or call 1-888-392-0392.

International Medical Corps
This emergency response agency focuses on health in emergency situations. Monetary donations go toward purchasing medical supplies, medicine and emergency kits and transporting these supplies. 1-800-481-4462 or go to

Medical Teams International
The Christian global health organization sends volunteer medical teams and supplies to those in the midst of disaster or poverty. Monetary donations will go to supporting the medical teams being sent to Haiti and to the cost of shipping the medical supplies donated by corporations. Donate by going to and clicking on the "Donate Now" button, or call 1-800-959-HEAL (4325) or send a check to Medical Teams International, P.O. Box 10, Portland, OR 97207.

Mercy Corps
The organization provides humanitarian assistance and economic opportunities in the world's toughest places, specifically those dealing with poverty, conflict and instability. To donate, go to Money will go toward immediate humanitarian needs in Haiti, which may include, food, water and temporary shelter.

Operation USA
The international relief agency provides funding for reconstruction and development aid to communities that have experienced disasters, disease and poverty. For its Haiti relief efforts, the agency plans to use donations for health care materials, water purification supplies and food supplements. To donate, go to or call 1-800-678-7255, or mail a check to Operation USA, 3617 Hayden Ave., Suite A, Culver City, CA 90232.

Save the Children
The independent organization focuses on children in need in the U.S. globally through programs for health and nutrition, child protection and education. To donate, go to and look under "latest news" for the Haiti press release, which has a link to the donation page, or call 1-800-728-3843 or 203-221-4030. Donations will go toward purchasing relief items, such as hygiene kits, family kits (pots, pans, food preparation items) and tarps.

The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army's mission is to provide food, shelter, clothing and spiritual comfort during disasters. To donate money, go to or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY. Make sure you designate the donation for "Haiti Earthquake." Money will go to the Salvation Army in Haiti, which will determine the country's immediate needs, including water, food, medicine and transportation.

The nonprofit delivers boxes of supplies to families of up to 10 people. The boxes contain a tent and essential equipment to use while individuals are displaced or homeless. To donate, call 941-907-6036 or go to U.S. Fund for UNICEF The national committee for UNICEF is responsible for the organization's fundraising. UNICEF uses the money for health care, clean water, nutrition, education and emergency relief. To donate, go to or 1-800-4-UNICEF.

World Food Programme
The food assistance agency's main focus is to fight hunger worldwide. The organization is working to bring food to Haiti. To donate, go to

Yele Haiti
This organization, founded by Wyclef Jean, creates projects to improve the quality of education, health, environment and community development in Haiti. To donate to to its Haiti relief efforts, go to or text YELE to 501501 to donate $5.

Other organizations seeking donations

Catholic Relief Services
International Relief Teams
Operation Blessing International
World Concern

If you hear anything or have suggestions please feel free to use our comments section for that. Rightwing trolls' comments will be deleted on this one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Macho Gangster Was Raised as a Girl

You could almost feel the rush of air as the entire population of South Africa gasped when they discovered that their local toughguy drug kingpin is intersex. From New Zealand's Times LIVE:
On the drug-ravaged streets he's known as Fat Murphy. Feared by many, the burly suspected drug lord is clean-shaven and wears his second wife's name tattooed on his arm.

Police and the underworld were shocked this week when Fadwaan "Fat" Murphy, 37, stood up in court to face charges of possession of stolen property, and declared under oath that he was born with both male and female sexual organs.

Police claim they discovered Murphy's "true" gender when a strap-on penis fell off while he was being searched during a raid at his Kuils River home two weeks ago.

A visibly upset Murphy was forced to discuss his gender during a bail application in the Blue Downs Magistrate's Court in Cape Town.

"I had a vagina that could not be penetrated. But I also had male organs, testes. But I always knew I was really a man and that was what I wanted to be," he told the court. A startled public gallery had to be told by court orderlies to keep quiet, as he dropped the bombshell.

Murphy applied for bail after being charged with possession of stolen property and corruption - police claimed he offered a member of the force R9 100 not to search him during the raid.

"I am what I am through the creation of God. I stand firm as a man, as a husband and as a father," he told the Sunday Times on Friday.

Murphy, who is persona non grata in Mitchells Plain after the community marched on his house in Lentegeur to protest against his alleged drug dealing, talked openly about his gender.

"God created me with both sexual organs. It was God's decision, not mine," he said.

"I was born with a disability that could have happened to anyone. Children have been born with two heads."

Murphy's mother, Faiza Allie, 59, told the Sunday Times that she tried to bring him up as a girl, but he never wanted to wear dresses.

"He wanted to wear pants, Nevada's, and Grasshopper shoes. Not even on Christmas Day did he put on a dress.

"When he was at school he used to go out of the house with his school dress on, but around the corner he would take it off and go to school in pants. Just before he got home, he would put the dress on again," she said. 'I look like a man, I talk like a man, I am a man'

This guy says he had surgery in his teens and that he had been issued identity documents describing him as male, but the cops want to charge him with fraud because they found him carrying identification as Fadwaan Murphy and also as Hilary Murphy. They say the male documents are forged.
Allie said her troubled and short-tempered son wrote her a letter when he was 13. In it he told her there was something that was bothering him, and that there was something wrong "down there". It was only then that she realised the magnitude of his problem.

Murphy said: "I would not describe myself as having a sex change - I only had the female parts removed.

"My kids, a girl of four and a boy of one, come from my testes. I never developed breasts. I look like a man, I talk like a man. I am a man," he told the Sunday Times.

It will be pretty interesting to see the case that says he is "actually" female, if all this is true.

This is one bad hombre.
He was charged with three separate cases: kidnapping in May 2008 when the state alleged he ordered drug-runners to capture a woman suspected of stealing drugs; intimidation of a neighbourhood watch member in May 2009; and pointing a firearm at a neighbourhood watch member who had found drugs in October 2009.

The cases are still before the court and, as part of his bail conditions, he was not allowed back into the Lentegeur area. Murphy said that bail conditions had been lifted but he chose not to return to the area.

"If Director Jeremy Vearey (Mitchell's Plain police station commissioner) and his fellow officers (who arrested Murphy during the raid) think that they have robbed me of my pride and dignity as a man, then they are fooling themselves.

"Vearey is harassing me because I am suing him for crimen injuria. He says that he is pursuing me for drug dealing - what has that got to do with my gender? My sexual status is not a criminal offence," said Murphy.

That's a good point. But I doubt that Americans would be reading a New Zealand newspaper's account of a drug dealer in South Africa getting busted if there wasn't something more interesting going on. This particular case is fascinating because of the shock of thinking of a person raised in dresses and frills growing up to be one bad macho gangster -- this guy is like Bonnie and Clyde all in one. Let the stereotypes tumble.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The End of Privacy?

Somehow this concept is shocking to me -- "privacy is no longer a social norm."

Here's a British article about the guy who started Facebook.
The rise of social networking online means that people no longer have an expectation of privacy, according to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Talking at the Crunchie awards in San Francisco this weekend, the 25-year-old chief executive of the world's most popular social network said that privacy was no longer a "social norm".

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," he said. "That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."

Zuckerberg said that the rise of social media reflected changing attitudes among ordinary people, adding that this radical change has happened in just a few years.

"When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was, 'why would I want to put any information on the internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?'."

"Then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way, and just all these different services that have people sharing all this information." Privacy no longer a social norm, says Facebook founder

Over Christmas vacation I finally gave in and set up a Facebook account. The company says that there are 350,000,000 members, and half of those do something online each day. I don't post something every day but I do look to see what's new.

Waste of time, you say? Probably. Whatever, I'm going to give it a shot and see what the big deal is. So far I admit there is a certain kind of fascination with seeing comments and postings by people you thought you knew. I have put a couple of comments up, but I don't know why anybody'd be interested in my life!
Launched in 2004 as an exclusive network for Ivy League students, the site grew in part because allowed people to communicate privately – or at least among small groups of friends.

The constant tug of war between public and private information that ensued led to a series of embarrassing incidents where individuals published information online thinking it was private, only to have it reach the public.

These episodes are partly the result of the way people use Facebook, which has changed its service on several occasions in recent years. Each time the site brings more information into the public domain – and at each point it faces a series of protests and adverse reactions from users.

When we behave in public we are subject to scrutiny and judgment by the people around us, that's an important part of how a society works, norms can be enforced, penalties and rewards can be dealt. But if you are unique or creative at all, or if you are introspective or perhaps working on some ideas that would be pearls before swine in a public forum, you need to have privacy.

Privacy can be restricted to your own mind, it can mean that only you know what you're thinking, or the circumference of privacy can extend to certain others that you choose to include. Maintaining personal privacy is, I think, a serious and gigantic challenge in this age of video cameras and GPS. People need to be responsible for their own lives, they need to breathe, they need to make mistakes and try dumb things, they need to be able to show their love without being judged by people who don't care about them.

Of course you choose to join Facebook and you choose what you're going to do with it. There have been some times that the site has publicized information that people didn't want known -- well, I'm new to Facebook, I don't understand how some of it works, I don't think I'll be sending my innermost fantasies to all my "friends" out there, just yet.

Skipping down ...
Meanwhile, others have rejected the idea that younger people, in particular, are less concerned about privacy. Last month Microsoft researcher and social networking expert Danah Boyd told the Guardian that such assumptions often misunderstood the reasons that people put private information online.

"Kids have always cared about privacy, it's just that their notions of privacy look very different than adult notions," she said.

"As adults, by and large, we think of the home as a very private space … for young people it's not a private space. They have no control over who comes in and out of their room, or who comes in and out of their house. As a result, the online world feels more private because it feels like it has more control."

At least online you can choose your friends, though it seems like people connect to a lot of people they don't know that well. And I suppose that's part of the fun of it. An online friend who I know but don't actually socialize with has been posting baby pictures of her new grandchild, and it's kind of fun, and people I don't know comment on them and it is a nice thing. The politician talking about her new hair color, I know her but we don't talk about things like that when we see each other. It is good, though, to know that she has a life besides debating budgets and policies, it builds a personal connection that could be lost in the impersonal world of computers and mass media.

There is a kind of closeness that comes from seeing someone's more or less spontaneous comments on their life, it is definitely a permeation of the boundary between public and private presentation, and there is a warm and friendly feel to it -- I can see what people like about the Facebook world. But you can imagine that as our public selves become more personal and more similar to our private selves, we could see the extinction of the private self altogether. Think about it, you already know people like that, people who, when you get to know them personally, are exactly like they were when they were strangers. Some people have no private thoughts, no original ideas, their feelings are entirely publicly acceptable. Funny, the word that comes to mind when I think about the purely public self is fascism. I don't want to live in a world where people are exactly as they appear to be and social norms dictate their every thought, I enjoy everyone sharing their thoughts and feelings, their insights and worries, but I will always hope there is something hidden, something surprising about people. You don't have to tell me your secrets, but I sincerely hope you have some!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Rumination: Looking Back Over Five Years

Man, it is cold out there! I took the dogs for a walk and it was all right until the wind kicked up. Now I see they've found a sunbeam in the kitchen to snooze in. WPFW is playing some rather loud electric guitar jazz this morning, not the mellow stuff you expect. I think the DJ said they were doing a tribute to Django today, but I hear a little more Larry Coryell in this. Well I suppose, like all of us, Larry Coryell was influenced by Django.

This blog began in December of 2004 -- it's been five years. So far we have had 1,962 posts here. At first other TTF members wrote for the blog, but somehow after a month or two it ended up being me. We jumped into the sex-ed controversy with both feet, I'd never been involved in anything like that before and it was invigorating. Allies quickly came to us, it turned out our little group of parents was just the tip of the iceberg, lots of people in our county were unhappy about the far right's attempt to take over our school district -- you might remember their web site was, they came in on the back of Bush's 2004 "mandate" and hoped to replace our school board with people who would support their rightwing vision. They trimmed their ambitions back quickly when they were overwhelmed by opposition.

It turned out to be important for citizens to support the bureaucracy as the district worked on a sex-ed curriculum that would teach students a little bit about sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as showing them how to use a condom correctly. The school bureaucracy was easily influenced by noisy nuts, the district was perfectly willing to negotiate with them, to make changes to the curriculum in order to appease a tiny fraction of our community, and our job was to make sure that they were aware that the majority of us take a fair and kind view of individuals of various orientations and identities. The extremists attracted the news cameras, and even though there were only a handful of them the impression in the media was that there was a big revolt by citizens over this new liberal curriculum. Except that everywhere they went, we were there too.

In fact the curriculum that resulted is hardly liberal at all -- it is only liberal in comparison to the previous one. In the new curriculum, teachers have to read a script, they don't get to teach. And woo hoo, the big controversy was that they allowed to say, if a student asked a direct question, that homosexuality is "not a disease." Where most people in Montgomery County would want their children to get a scientific and accurate education, a tiny band of nuts was able to influence the process enough to result in a watered-down classroom presentation. But at least it was something, it went the right direction.

And when the County Council added "gender identity" to the nondiscrimination bill, the nuts regrouped and attacked again. The bill passed unanimously and the shower-nuts tried to get a petition for a referendum to recall the law, telling people that they were signing a petition to "keep men out of women's restrooms." The law said you can't discriminate in hiring and some other things on the basis of someone's gender identity, but they told everybody that perverted male predators would be lurking in women's shower-rooms if the bill became law. In the end they lost, their petitions were riddled with fraud and irregularities and the state appeals court threw them out. In the meantime they made a lot of statements that showed they were even nuttier than we realized. We remember Adol T. Owen-Williams II, of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, shouting in the County Council chamber, "Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature." And that was after he had shouted "Heil Hitler." It's been more than a year since the bill became law, and to date exactly zero little girls have shown up dead as a consequence. But still, if you talk to one of the shower-nuts you will find that they still believe it, they believe that the law really will result in pedophiles and predators lurking in the ladies room. The fact that it hasn't happened in reality does not affect their opinion. Which tells you something.

We have been going for five years now, and have seen a lot of action. Soon we will post the two-thousandth item on the blog. It is pleasing to pause at the start of a new year, to look back and to look forward. We have no way of anticipating what issues we will face this year or where the challenges will come from, our nation seems to be foundering in the dark water of anomie, unable to tell right from wrong, unable to make a commitment to benevolence, and though we cannot directly affect decisions at the national level we can pay attention as policies are formed and decisions are made here, where we live, in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Now PFW is playing a classical guitarist, this sounds like an adaptation of something by Mozart or Handel perhaps. The dogs are sleeping, the furnace is humming. My coffee-maker broke this morning, so it seems I will be forced to get into some real clothes and go out in pursuit of some caffeine.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

First Transgender Presidential Appointee

I'll go ahead and use the FOXNews take on this one:
One of the first-ever transgender presidential appointees, a former test pilot named Amanda who used to be called Mitch, began work Tuesday at the Commerce Department.

Amanda Simpson was appointed to be a senior technical adviser in the department's Bureau of Industry and Security.

She worked in the aerospace and defense industry for three decades and most recently worked for Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz. According to MyFoxPhoenix, she made history in 2004 by becoming the first openly transgender candidate to win a primary -- she ran for the Arizona House of Representatives but lost in the general election.

Simpson said in a written statement that she was "truly honored" to join the Commerce Department.

"As one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government, I hope that I will soon be one of hundreds, and that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others," she said, in a statement put out by The National Center for Transgender Equality, where Simpson served as a board member.

According to a 2002 article on Simpson in the Arizona Daily Star, she went under the name Mitch for 39 years until undergoing six surgeries at a cost of $70,000 to make the transition from male to female. Transgender Appointee Begins Work at Commerce Department

She'll settle into her job in the Bureau of Industry and Security, and that might be the last we hear from her. I mean, have you ever even heard of that Bureau before? There will be a couple of speeches and then the lady has work to do.

Thirty years in aerospace and defense, and it sounds like she is qualified. What else do you need to know? This is of course a groundbreaking appointment, but there is no indication that she was hired because she is a transgender woman, it sounds like they picked the best person for the job. I can't imagine why a person's gender would have anything to do with advising the Commerce Department on industry and security issues.

Of course the nutty ones are clamoring. "Porno Pete" LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, said to CitizenLink, "Is there going to be a transgender quota now in the Obama administration? How far does this politics of gay and transgender activism go? Clearly this is an administration that is pandering to the gay lobby."

Y'know, Pete, the "gay lobby" doesn't think so. There has been a big movement among some gay activists to Don't ask, don't give to Obama or the Democratic congressmen who have failed to support LGBT causes. Course, it could be a trick, you know how they are.

Now that there's been a first transgender appointee, I don't expect the second to get much press, and that's how it should be.

Monday, January 04, 2010

County Attorney to Join Justice Department That Is Investigating Him

Interesting twists and turns to a story that touches us here at TTF. You will remember that County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg and her staffer Dana Beyer, who is running for Maryland delegate and is a member from nearly the beginning, had asked for an investigation of Montgomery County Attorney Leon Rodriguez, after his office searched County Council computers and conducted a very poor, biased investigation of Beyer at the request of the Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG), aka the shower-nuts.

Introducing a sort of hometown angle to the complaint, Council member Duchy Trachtenberg requested that the US Justice Department send the chief of their Civil Rights division, Tom Perez, to look into the case. Perez is a former Montgomery County Councilman himself, was state Secretary of Labor, and might have been Maryland Attorney General were it not for some nasty partisan hardball a few years back.

That was interesting enough, but Maryland Politics Watch is reporting a new wrinkle. This week County executive Ike Leggett announced that Leon Rodriguez is leaving his position at County Attorney and will join the Obama Justice Department, where he will be working for Tom Perez. Yes, he will be part of the department that is supposed to be investigating himself.

Rodriguez had been looking into allegations that Beyer behaved inappropriately in countering a referendum petition drive in Montgomery County. All allegations were dismissed except one, which is a he-said-she-said disagreement between Beyer, who is a transgender woman, and an obnoxiously anti-transgender CRG member. The County Attorney's investigation took statements from CRG members, including some who were not present during the alleged incident, and took one statement from a witness written entirely in the hand of CRG president Ruth Jacobs -- the investigators never spoke to the witness himself. No one who might have supported Dana Beyer's side was interviewed -- and that includes myself and several other TTF members who were monitoring the petition gathering process.

The County Attorney's secret investigation of Dana Beyer was shamefully unethical, and the Justice Department needs to look into it. I don't see how they can ever do that fairly, though, if Rodriguez is working for them.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

US Security and Israelification

This morning we started out in Phoenix with an eight-thirty flight to BWI on US Airways. We were in the check-in line an hour and a half before our departure time. Right now it's nine-fifteen at night, and we are still in Phoenix, staying in a Quality Inn, thanks to a discount offered by the airline after we stood around the airport all day.

I don't see it in the news, but apparently US Airways is having some kind of sick-out, crews are failing to show up for work and flights are being canceled and delayed. With that in mind you can almost understand why it took forty-five minutes to get through the line to the ticket counter to check our one cardboard box full of presents. It's unforgivable, but understandable.

It is not understandable though that people have to stand in line another forty-five minutes while the Transportation Security Administration x-rays their shoes and measures their shampoo, scans them for loose change, peeks through their clothes. This is supposed to make us safer. It doesn't. It only takes up everybody's time and frustrates people.

Reading about the Nigerian Underwear Bomber, you realize that they should have stopped him at every step of the way. Nobody could look more suspicious than that guy, from paying nearly $3,000 in cash for a ticket and checking no baggage to the call his father placed to the American embassy warning our government about him, to the briefing President Obama received a few days before Christmas telling him that al Qaeda was planning something, to the fact that this guy was in the government's terrorist database. And still they take your shampoo away from you. Leaving Chicago, I was randomly picked to be scanned in one of those fully-body scanners that reveal your body underneath your clothes, I'm sure you could feel the ripples of excitement spreading out from the TSA Voyeurism Kiosk throughout the airport as they peeked at the stuff in my front back pocket. I'm a middle-aged federal employee going on Christmas vacation with my wife and children to see the kids' grandparents, do you really think anybody thought I was a security risk? And the Nigerian Underwear Bomber gets on with no questions.

Security expert Bruce Schneier uses the term "security theater" to describe the kinds of activities that might make people feel safer but don't actually increase security in any real way. His article on the CNN website is a concise summary of his opinions on the subject, I recommend you read it HERE.

It is time for Americans to get serious about security. We should accurately estimate the probabilities of various threats and devise rational strategies for combating them. It's not easy defending yourself from an enemy who uses randomness and the element of surprise against you, but it can be done.

You know who does it? The Israelis. There is an interesting and little-cited article at, a big Canadian news site:
While North America's airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.

"It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He's worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport."

That, in a nutshell is "Israelification" - a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

"The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport," said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of "distress" — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

"The word 'profiling' is a political invention by people who don't want to do security," he said. "To us, it doesn't matter if he's black, white, young or old. It's just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I'm doing this?"

Once you've parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal are trained to observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion's half-dozen entrances, another layer of security are watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

"This is to see that you don't have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious," said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

"The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds," said Sela.

Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a purpose-built area. Sela plays devil's advocate — what if you have escaped the attention of the first four layers of security, and now try to pass a bag with a bomb in it?

"I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with play-doh in it and two pens stuck in the play-doh. That is 'Bombs 101' to a screener. I asked Ducheneau, 'What would you do?' And he said, 'Evacuate the terminal.' And I said, 'Oh. My. God.'

"Take Pearson. Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let's say I'm (doing an evacuation) without panic — which will never happen. But let's say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, 'Two days.'"

A screener at Ben-Gurion has a pair of better options.

First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain 'bomb boxes'. If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

"This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports," Sela said.

Five security layers down: you now finally arrive at the only one which Ben-Gurion Airport shares with Pearson — the body and hand-luggage check.

"But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America," Sela said.

"First, it's fast — there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

That's the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

This doesn't begin to cover the off-site security net that failed so spectacularly in targeting would-be Flight 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

"There is absolutely no intelligence and threat analysis done in Canada or the United States," Sela said. "Absolutely none." The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother

Figuring out how to tell the good guys from the bad guys, that's the real question, isn't it? Everybody knows there is no danger if grandma carries a bottle of shampoo onto the plane, nobody has ever been caught with a bomb in their shoe since the original shoe-bomber, though millions and millions of shoes have been x-rayed. It's not the shampoo that's a problem, not the shoes, it's the intention of the passenger. We want them to catch bad guys, not hassle grandmothers for carrying cold cream in their hand bag.

The Israeli approach is not security theater, it's not designed to make people feel that their Big Brother government is taking care of them -- it is designed to actually make them safer. This will never happen here, you know -- such a concept is absolutely unthinkable to Americans. How did we get like this?

I love how this piece ends:
But even without the intelligence, Sela maintains, Abdulmutallab would not have gotten past Ben Gurion Airport's behavioural profilers.

So. Eight years after 9/11, why are we still so reactive, so un-Israelified?

Working hard to dampen his outrage, Sela first blames our leaders, and then ourselves.

"We have a saying in Hebrew that it's much easier to look for a lost key under the light, than to look for the key where you actually lost it, because it's dark over there. That's exactly how (North American airport security officials) act," Sela said. "You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training. But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept."

And rather than fear, he suggests that outrage would be a far more powerful spur to provoking that change.

"Do you know why Israelis are so calm? We have brutal terror attacks on our civilians and still, life in Israel is pretty good. The reason is that people trust their defence forces, their police, their response teams and the security agencies. They know they're doing a good job. You can't say the same thing about Americans and Canadians. They don't trust anybody," Sela said. "But they say, 'So far, so good'. Then if something happens, all hell breaks loose and you've spent eight hours in an airport. Which is ridiculous. Not justifiable

"But, what can you do? Americans and Canadians are nice people and they will do anything because they were told to do so and because they don't know any different."

The point then: Americans get nonsensical security theater because we're sheep. We put up with it. You listen to the grumbling in line, everybody knows this is ineffective, but we shuffle through the process and try to pretend that these rude TSA goons are there to make us safer. As long as Americans (and Canadians) let government play to their fears instead of demanding that they do a competent job, in security and everything else, we get what we deserve.