Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Loving Rhody Bishop Spits



Massachusetts marriages seem to be as insidious as homosexual lobbying, according to Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin. For him, it would appear no wall is high enough or sealed tightly enough to keep the sin on the other side.

Following last week's evaluation by R.I. Attorney General Patrick Lynch, Tobin was fairly flapping his frock. After a review of R.I. law and consideration of comity, Lynch concluded that his state would begin recognizing Massachusetts marriages.

Well, don't ever let anyone say that the bishop does not live up to his self-defined motto on his coat of arms -- STRONG LOVING WISE. He brought it right to Lynch and his minions.

The strong, loving and wise bishop's brief statement ended:
It is clear that the Attorney General’s thinking on this issue has been influenced by the relentless gay agenda so prevalent in our State. It is ironic, however, that his decision was announced on Ash Wednesday, when so many citizens of our State were beginning a special time of repentance and prayer. His decision has given us another reason to repent of our sins and pray for forgiveness.
There you have it. Accusation of agenda-following is as good as refutation!

While the silly AG was off thinking legal thoughts, Tobin was not alone in his criticism. Not only do folk know that Gov. Donald L. Carcieri opposes marriage equality, the surely impartial president of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly was beside himself. That very same Robert T. McKay said, "This is a great miscarriage of justice and law by the individual who is charged with the responsibility of enforcing Rhode Island law and protecting our state constitution."

He suggested that Lynch "should have deferred to lawmakers or federal law, specifically, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which says states do not have to recognize same-sex unions from other states." He did not add, although he should have, that these separation of powers and U.S. Constitutional things are overrated.
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Romney Pegged Big Time

Those of us around here muttering about Williard Mitt Romney's amorality is one thing. It's quite another for Slate to nail him in their lead piece by Daniel Gross.

Now that Cap'n BrylcreemBrylcreem ad is pandering to the early-primary states, national media and bloggers have been collecting his various inconsistencies in their flip-flop files. There's a solid yellow-journalism purpose to that, of course, but finding those from the Cap'n are about as hard as locating cigarette butts on Revere Beach.

Instead, Gross actually thinks about it all. He quite accurately defines how this reflects the Cap'n's career. The piece notes that he doesn't cover his butt very well when folk catch him in doublespeak. Gross writes, "It's easy to conclude that Romney lacks core principles and will say or do anything to get elected. But I think there's something deeper at work. Romney's behavior—and the fact that he doesn't think his obvious flip-flopping should arouse suspicions—suggests that he may be the first real CEO/MBA candidate."

Gross does not add that typical politicians have many years of tuning themselves to issues that play well with their constituents. That alone produces at least the appearance of consistency.

Instead, Romney doesn't believe and may not really think about the things he says. "But such hypocrisy, which turns off voters, is something like a job requirement for CEOs. In the executive suite, abandoning deeply held attitudes and reversing positions are job requirements."

True to his experience, whether in power in Boston or seeking it in Iowa, Romney does strategic planning. He adapts to the changing market conditions. We may think this is gutless and rudderless, but this is way business often works.

As Gross concludes, "It's not surprising that Romney has fled from his public record and is running to the right. What's surprising is that the man who has usually been so competent is proving to be rather poor at execution, and timing. He's moving hard right at a time when the national mood seems to be swinging in the opposite direction."

So, there the nation has it, boys and girls. The Cap'n's amorality is there for all to see and plainly described. Those who dwelt on the little contradictions did not see what was happening. Now a big player has put it on the table.

The Cap'n just can't help himself. It's all he knows.

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Unicorns and Judeo-Christians

cross on star of David tattoo
His clients are "devout Judeo-Christians" averred the attorney -- orally and in filings here (first page, Introduction) and here (page 1, Statement). No one laughed out loud, but during the hearing I put a an index finger and thumb to my chin and saw puzzled glances elsewhere in the courtroom.

This not only appeared repeatedly in the Mad Dad case in federal court. This specious and oxymoronic epithet turns out to have been brought back from a well-deserved death several times. Today, like a golem, it is serving its extremist masters politically.

You don't need to look very far on the Net or in a library to get your fill of Judeo-Christian values, Judeo-Christians, and Judeo-Christian worldview. Its coinage and usage have been as first a propaganda device and more recently as a political/public-relations gimmick. Today, it really is camouflaged code for increased theocracy disguised as merely wanting to maintain positive moral teaching.

Most citations are on right-wing Websites and many of these include calls for theocratic political aims. A few are way out there. There are Judeo-Christian tattoo sites (the one above taken from one), dating connections, jewelry selections, and a health center. The most bizarre take on the term surely has to be from a Ku Klux Klan site. While many racists seem to like the phrase, this group goes beyond disdaining Judeo-Christian. They deny that the Ahrahamic patriarchs -- and even Jesus -- were Jewish (that would be lowercase on their site).

Curiouser and curiouser...

In this clutter, there are a few understandable uses. That clinic in Tampa, for example, is the project of a Presbyterian minister who just wants to help the poor. He subsequently found support from other clerics, including rabbis. Hence, he expanded the name to be inclusive.

Likewise, some UU and UCC ministers, mostly older ones, use the term synonymously with Abrahamic to describe inclusive religion evolving from the Torah. the Christian Bibles and Koran. It is not unusual for Jews to attend and belong to UU churches and for liberal rabbis to swap pulpits on occasion with their UU counterparts. This has even led to some of them using the term Jewnitarian to refer jocularly to the affinity. Here in Boston, the Arlington Street Church had a rabbi-in-residence, Howard Berman, who had retired from the biggest synagogue in Chicago.

Certainly there is no church or denomination or seminary of Judeo-Christianity. It is instructive to see how the term became woven in the weft of American life and how the right came to appropriate it.

A wonderfully succinct recap is available on NPR as a sound clip. Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman tracked down its origins and subsequent submersion and resurfacing.

Reframing the Framers

Our fabulous, famous Founding Fathers and framers of our U.S. Constitution did not know from Judeo-Christians. To a one, even if they did not strongly identify as Christians, they described this as a Christian nation. By that, of course, they mean Protestant. As Waldman said, Judeo-Christian "was not a term the Founding Fathers or their grandchildren would have understood."

Yet well over 200 years later, we recently find articles, sermons, sites and speeches holding forth to proclaim that those who wrote our Constitution used Judeo-Christian values and standards, which, of course, must be restored through these organizations' political actions.

Consider Rev. Jerry Fallwell on Ronald Reagan: My Christian Hero. "He was pro-life. He affirmed the Judeo-Christian values of our Founders." Further, the Stop Activisit Judges group became Vision America and reflects the use of the term clearly in its self-description:
Our mission is to inform, encourage and mobilize pastors and their congregations to be proactive in restoring Judeo-Christian values to the moral and civic framework in their communities, states, and our nation.

No other organization exists exclusively to involve, represent, and serve pastors and their congregations in the realm of reforming culture and government from a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective.

Christian involvement in civil government is not optional. It is an essential part of our calling from God to be salt and light in a dying culture. God’s people in Christ must address the great moral issues now before the nation. The church has been entrusted by Almighty God with the tools necessary to reverse America’s moral decline and effect lasting change if only she will engage in this momentous struggle before it is too late!
This is typical of what a search for the term shows. The Christian Coalition of America has a similar call in its belief statement, including, "...we continuously work to identify, educate and mobilize Christians for effective political action! Such action will preserve, protect and defend the Judeo-Christian values that made this the greatest country in history. " It prepared a pastors' handbook for this purpose, which takes the media to task for failure to acknowledge:
  1. public policies offend or oppose Christian values;
  2. Christians have a right to be involved;
  3. the media is failing in their constitutional responsibility to inform the electorate by promoting their agenda;
  4. erosion of Judeo Christian values, which is the basis of our morals and civility is not good for society;
  5. our cause is right and will preserve the future of this country for our children.

Jews? Muslims?

It should be no surprise that we don't see Judeo-Islamic-Christian or Abrahamic in this catchphrase. It goes beyond destruction of the World Trade Towers. In fact, it is easy to find right-wing denunciations of Muslim associations, such as they had nothing to do with the Constitution (David Limbaugh; Church State Separation as a Weapon) and are our enemies (Franklin Graham; "Islam has attacked us.")

The real irony is that having said or written Judeo-Christian, these groups suddenly forget the Jews. Those sites citing the term invariably mention it in passing and then go on at length only about Protestant values and aims.

A literature or Net scan shows a preponderance of works describing the irrationality, oxymoronic nature and historical fallacy of Judeo-Christian. Theologians in general and Jewish scholars in particular point out in detail how meaningless and even offensive the term is. For example, consider a lits of belief and practice differences and one of many articles describing The Myth of a Judeo-Christian Tradition.

There were certainly Jewish Christians in the first 50 years of Christianity (although they had a hard sell in conversion as they demanded male circumcision, including adults). Today, we have such small groups as Jews For Jesus too. It would be fun to ask a winger if these were the groups they mean by the term.

Nazis and Commies, Oh My

How we got to today's gimmicky use Judeo-Christian is easy to trace. In 1984, Trinity College Professor Mark Silk researched the term and found that it served both WWII and Cold War propaganda purposes.

In WWII, the Nazis began referring to "our Christian civilization" as part of their justification for pogroms, death camps and imperialism. Religious News Service writer Mark O'Keefe revisited this with Silk. "'Judeo-Christian,' which in 1952 looked like an incredibly inclusive term, doesn't look very inclusive now," said Silk. "So we probably need a new term."

The U.S. Government was also quick to repurpose the term for the next generation. During the Cold War, it came to mean our tolerant society in contrast to godless communism.

"More recently, conservative Americans have adopted it as a way of promoting a pro-religion agenda without seeming exclusivist or scary," said Waldman.

So, what we see from self-described Judeo-Christians is an effort to implant their particular politics into government at all level. Beware of Judeo-Christians bearing petitions!

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

In Service to the Lurid


A lot of years ago, I kept company with a woman prone to superlatives. Everything was the most something -- best, sweetest, tallest, smartest, biggest...

She was one devil of a lot better looking (and much, much brighter) than Article 8/MassResistance's Brian Camenker. Yet, I think of her when he holds forth. He too seems to have a real adjective jones. Not only does he often lie or misstate; he tends to describe everything related to politics and particularly gay people in the extremes.

[Numerous pix of him floating around the Net always seem to have him tilting right. Hmm. Tic, geometry, or coincidence?]

We here had been hoping for a superlative tirade this morning on his conservative talk show. It turns out that their description of "News you won't hear anywhere else" is also news you won't hear even here. It quickly became apparent that the pre-taped show did not receive tweaks to accommodate yesterday morning's dismissal of the federal suit to try to force the Lexington school system to agree to anti-marriage-equality parents.

Schadenfreude aside, I anticipated a hyperbole/superlative fest this morning. There should have been high dudgeon, no, highest dudgeon, at the U.S. District Court decision. Following that should have been rallying cries, banner unfurling, and the inevitable call for donations.

Not Internet Time

Lackaday, the show started just after 10 this morning on 1150 AM with non-news. Brian said he awaited a ruling on the case. He also incorrectly claimed a couple of times that the judge had asked the head lawyer for the defendants to provide a rebuttal document in response to amici briefs from the ACLU and others. In fact, that lawyer, Robert S. Sinsheimer, claimed that he had not gotten a chance to rebut the brief and requested that the judge give him time to do so. Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf granted him a week.

The result seemed pretty weak to me and apparently did not change Wolf's mind. By the bye, in that same week and change, Wolf had the three books that the plaintiffs allege are sex-education materials, books he admitted as exhibits. I would not be at all surprised if he went through the early readers and slapped his thigh in amusement at the allegations about them.

Apparently, Bud over at MassResistanceWatch has a much higher tolerance for the MassResistance radio show. Searching for radio on his site produces numerous hits about the show.

So, instead of the railing and fulmination,this morning we got:
  • That a failure of Wolf to dismiss would be "a huge possible threat to the homosexual agenda in the schools."
  • Those picture books showing the reality that some homes may have two moms or two dads were "teaching elementary school kids homosexuality."
  • That the defendants were promoting "the bizarre idea that a majority should trump a minority." (Don't tax his brain with comments about the current anti-same-sex-marriage amendment effort.)
  • That telling kids things like SSM is legal is "brainwashing."
Facts and reason have never been plants in his garden. Also how mentioning something becomes proselytizing for it seems to be a mystery to all those outside that peculiar patch.

Waiting for Purple Prose

While Brian and likely his sidekick Amy Mann load up their rhetorical weapons with sufficient adjectives, we must wait to see how florid and torrid the display will be. Meanwhile, his immediate reaction to the Boston Globe following the dismissal was disappointing. He reused some of his chestnuts.

The Globe has been overly generous in letting him promote his anti-Willard Romney screeds. Their reporter must have been sad that there were no new slogans or insults. Instead he pulled out two of his standard slurs, calling the ruling "unbelievably odious and horrific."

Note to myself: I tend to use odious to describe efforts to take away other people's rights. I must find new terms.

He did expand this to tie his recurrent anti-gay theme again. He said of the ruling, "It reinforces the rights of schools to normalize homosexuality without parents' knowledge and consent."

Website Teasers

The plaintiff parents feign that they are not anti-homosexual. Brian make no such pretense. He was at his best when his self-defined analysis of Wolf's decision stated, "This bizarre ruling is every parent's nightmare. But more than that, it's a complete abandonment of right and wrong, civil rights, or even common sense."

Other gems from that page include:
  • Judge Wolf makes the absurd claim that normalizing homosexuality to young children is "reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy." This means teaching "diversity" which includes "differences in sexual orientation." This is lunacy...
  • Wolf claims that the flawed and badly argued Brown decision is now the "law" of the United States. Did Congress pass this? No, it didn't. It's merely a ruling in a case. This ruling is full of use of "case law" from obscure decisions, as if it were real law.
That wheezing argument that courts cannot interpret law goes beyond an intentional misunderstanding of their role in our branches of government. In fact, interpreting law is their mandate. They make sure disparate laws work together and they interpret laws when folks like these plaintiffs ask them to do so.

Much as Goodridge is the law of the land following a Supreme Judicial Court interpretation of the commonwealth constitution and equal-rights laws, the referenced Brown case in yesterday's decision is law because federal courts say it is. The confused little groups who insist that only legislatures can determine our effective laws need to get with the program or at least read a civics text or even the U.S. Constitution.

Regardless, surely before next Saturday at 10 AM, the blog and Website will get some new, improved hyperbole. There is so much promise there now, such as:
  • September 2006: Parker's lawyers file GREAT rebuttal to motion to dismiss.
  • August 2006: Defendants file blistering 57-page motion to dismiss Parkers federal lawsuit.
Surely, Brian can't just leave such loaded lingo lingering.

Diversification

Fortunately for Brian and Amy, they are already marketing a new product line -- that anti-Romney stuff. In fact, because of the hooha nationwide about the 2008 election, they got much longer than their 15 minutes of fame and have fared much better than they have with the Mad Dad case.

In fact, when they accept that this is a lost cause, this will be a wee pony they stop riding at all. Then, we'll look to see a flurry of bluster about this case, dribbling off to silence.

It suddenly comes to mind to wonder how the Mass Family Institute/VoteOnMarriage and Catholic Citizenship folk will take it when their amendment and related anti-marriage-equality efforts eventually fail. I haven't seen a second product line like MassResistance's. Yet surely they must have other mean-spirited tricks in their dark bags.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Wyoming Redeems Itself

Okay, Wyoming got it right, by one legislative committee vote in a tie-breaker. That's representative democracy at its best, right?

I confess to ragging Wyoming about its almost certainly un-U.S.-constitutional effort to void Massachusetts same-sex marriages for anyone that moved into that state, a.k.a. The Equality State. Note here that push came to shove and they didn't do it.

The House Rules Committee found the bill (SF0013) on its agenda. According to the Wyoming Capital Outlook, it promised to be nasty. Anti-marriage-equality legislators "said they were defending 'traditional family values,' and straightening out some contradictions in Wyoming’s law, which describes marriage as between a man and a woman, but also recognizes marriages from other states, which in the case of Massachusetts might include same-sex unions."

There was also emotion from other sides. For example:
Several citizens and legislators defended the rights of gay couples. Rep. Pat Childers (R-Cody) spoke proudly of his gay daughter, "who was born that way," and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) said that his study of American history revealed an ongoing extension of liberties and freedoms, "and if it costs me my seat…I can say I stood up for basic rights, and history can be my judge."
In the end, it was the speaker of the house -- a Republican -- Roy Cohee who broke the tie to kill the mean-spirited bill. According to the AP report, "Cohee said afterward that he mulled over the impassioned comments from residents and legislators on both sides of the issue before deciding to oppose the bill. "Is it a responsible thing of government to say that, OK, as a government, we'll provide certain benefits, and entitlements and rights to the people of this country and of this state, unless you are this or that?" Cohee said. "Is that our responsibility to do that? I don't think it is."

Speaking well for the legislature though, no lawmaker stood to speak in favor of the bill. However a Republican representative from Cheyenne,
Dan Zwonitzer, seemed to rivet the body with his comments, including, "This is the civil rights struggle of my generation."

His whole comments appear in the blog the Petrelis Files here.

Good on ya, Wyoming.


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Mad Dad Loses a Huge One

Winger control freaks took a big hit today. The judge in the federal Mad Dad case told the four plaintiff parents to take a hike.

This one was so easy to predict that we can't even be smug. If you scan the past couple of weeks of this blog, you'll see that we were torn over whether U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf would let this go to trial or dismiss it. We never seriously entertained the idea that the two couples could prevail on such a theocratic suit.

The gist of the suit is that the four claimed that their First and Fourth Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution were violated by the Lexington schools' diversity program. They alleged that mentioning the reality of same-sex marriage and the possibility of homosexual couples would deprive them of their freedom to practice their religion in teaching their kids.

Wolf howled, "No!" His whole ruling is here. At the same site, there are views very opposed to mine. You can also find the ruling at the Mass ACLU site, along with the we-told-you-so press release.

This ruling may be no huge surprise, perhaps even not to David Parker and his uxorial unit. Theirs, indeed, was a quixotic charge. They gambled that stringing together key amendments with such concepts as parental duty and traditional values would outweigh tomes of law and case law. Honk. Thanks for playing.

The suit also included the whipped cream and cherry of a state law requiring parental notification of sex education. Wolf dismissed the federal claims and also the state claims, without prejudice. That means that the foursome can continue to take action at a state level to try to argue that showing pictures of the reality that a family might have two moms -- legal here -- is somehow sex education.

Any bookie would love to take that bet.

In the ruling, Wolf expanded on the questions he asked during oral arguments earlier this month. He telegraphed his decision by suggesting that 1) same-sex marriage is the law of the land here and that the foursome's kids would go to class with children with two dads or two moms, 2) the foursome was free and expected to provide their moral and religious instruction in the other 18 hours and weekends when the kids were not in school, and 3) parents who had real problems with normal reality had the obligation and perhaps duty to home school their kids or send them to places that exhibited their peculiar religious tics.

Here I agree with the Parkers that these are fundamental issues. However, it bewilders me that they would think that they would expect to be able to move their theology into the school system to dictate curricula, to determine when and under what conditions their children could be exposed to concepts and laws that affect all children in the school. That would be theocracy and that would be unacceptable under that First Amendment.

Perhaps the best outcome of this suit was that the plaintiffs' claims were so outre that they forced Wolf to respond in wording that other federal and state judges will use to quash such frivolous actions. For example, Wolf stated:
In summary, the court must dismiss plaintiffs' federal claims because this case is not distinguishable in any material respect from Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, 68 F.3d 525 (1st Cir. 1995). In Brown, the First Circuit held that the constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children and that teachings which contradict a parent's religious beliefs do not violate their First Amendment right to exercise their religion. [page 3]
A key allegation in this suit was that even mentioning something that conflicted with the parents' beliefs somehow interfered with their religious practice. Again, as with his questions in the oral phase, Wolf noted that the parents could preach whatever they wanted, but not mandate what public school could present.

Wolf expanded on that with:
In essence, under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy. Diversity is a hallmark of our nation. It is increasingly evident that our diversity includes differences in sexual orientation. Our nation's history includes a fundamental commitment to promoting mutual respect among citizens in our diverse nation that is manifest in the First Amendment's prohibitions on establishing an official religion and restricting the free exercise of religious beliefs on which plaintiffs base some of their federal claims. [page 4]
The right for parents to raise their kids does not extend to controlling the curriculum of public schools. On the other hand, Wolf presented the foursome with what they say is an hard choice. In addition to other schooling, Wolf suggested that they could campaign among their peers and neighbors to elect a school board with similar view to their own.

Rather than depicting them as a set of oddballs mumbling amongst themselves in a corner, their lead attorney, Robert Sinsheimer said in the oral phase that they considered themselves "a minority" in the community. He did not elaborate about whether their extreme religious and political views created this status. However, he implied that they held little hope of prevailing in such elections.

In the ruling, Wolf seemed to affirm one argument after another from lead defense attorney John J. Davis. He interpreted the constitutional and case law as Davis did. Sinsheimer's efforts to twist the citations to prove the opposite of what others think they do had some literary merit, but apparently little legal worth to Wolf.

We are reminded of the Alice in Wonderland snippet:
Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.
Alice: The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is: which is to be master - that's all.
Even to the repeated claim that the foursome's kids were special because they were kindergarten or primary student didn't cut it with Wolf. He ruled, "Neither the Supreme Court nor the First Circuit have suggested that parents have constitutional rights concerning public elementary school students that are different or greater than their rights concerning older students." [page 23]

That may be harsh reality to the fantasy prone.

Key to the defendants' arguments was that the commonwealth mandated that the schools teach diversity. Wolf came down heavily in favor of this fundamental point. In several sections, he noted that the schools had both right and duty to follow such direction. He also cited case law as having already decided this with such comments as:
In view of the foregoing, Brown's holding that parents do not have a fundamental liberty interest that permits them to prescribe the curriculum for their children means that the defendants' use of the books at issue and related teaching is constitutionally permissible if there is a rational basis for the instruction. [page 27]
Furthermore, Wolf was strong in his assertion about education that went beyond defense arguments that a major purpose of eduction was to prepare kids for citizenship. He cited Thomas Jefferson there and added "One of the most fundamental of those values is mutual respect. Indeed, our nation's devotion to such respect is manifest in the First Amendment itself, which prohibits the majority from establishing an official religion or prohibiting the exercise of any sincere religious belief, no matter how abhorrent it may be to many or most people." [page 29]

This will surely appear in related cases going forward. Those who would deny respect to homosexuals or any minority group they disfavor may disdain Wolf's decision in such matters.

More narrowly, Wolf dismantled and tromped on the plaintiff claims of hybrid rights violation and of conspiracy. Here again, he concurred with assertions of defense attorney Davis.

From here, it appears as though the plaintiffs from the beginning alleged a persecution that never occurred, violation of religious rights that did not happen, interference with their private practices that they could not begin to prove, and most of all, a parental privilege to control the progress of the external world that does not align with reality or reason.

Follow-Up Items: Saturday's Boston Globe quotes the foursome's attorney as saying they would appeal and soldier on at the state level. Unless the only aim would be increasing winger cred, that should be a waste. Wolf's decision doesn't leave wiggle room. Instead, it tears apart the plaintiffs' arguments and allegations, down to the central issue about whether parents can specify curricula and classroom procedures to suit their wishes and beliefs.

Over at MassResistanceWatch, Bud helps us keep our focus by reminding us of what's important here. "My sympathies go out to the children who were caught up in all this mess and the Lexington same sex parents who had to witness this nasty and bigoted attack on their families in their own town."

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Avaricious Poetry

Warning: Off-topic babbling and musing follows.

The unpraised -- and perhaps kudos unworthy -- spammers may reflect this era's stream of consciousness poetic artisanship. A scan of the titles in my spam buckets is often amusing and even thought-provoking.

Any given weekend, the spammers off from their jobs or studies try pathetically to entice us to open their offerings. I have seen estimates that they can profit even if they get one out of one hundred of us to look at their spam and one of a thousand of those to give them money.

Perhaps, but let's consider the literary and theatrical aspects.

On a few accounts and a mail reader with several others, my spam filters catch almost everything. I have these set to hold messages for a week. A couple of times a month, something I want -- generally with a link or two embedded -- ends up in one of these bit buckets.

I am paranoid about email. I never open anything that is clearly spam. Also, even for my sister and other angel-loving types, I don't open inspirational videos, PowerPoint presentations or even JPEG images -- nothing that can hide an executable.

For my slightly twisted amusement, before deleting these, I can scan down the amusing fictive senders and subjects.

Try as they might, spammers can't seem to rise to the level of refrigerator magnetic poetry or even to Dave Berry's standard of that's a good name for a rock band.

A couple of years ago, the subjects seemed to make a (dis)honest effort to trick you. The sender had a common WASPy name (Susan or Charley) and the subject was something like they were expecting you for dinner or such.

Recently though, there are a lot of single-word subjects, apparently generated from an English-language dictionary, or a random, nonsensical phrase or text captured off the Net. Consider:
  • irrefutable
  • petal
  • harpoon agitate
  • stealth packer (actually a candidate for Dave Berry)
  • THE WHITE RIVER STAGE WAS 28.
  • truth acute angle
  • brandenburg unary
  • engineering inconsistent
Gertrude Stein might have been inspired by some of this.

Petal. Petal. sleepwalk we talk and walk Irrefutable latch. Heigh ho, Oakland. talk and walk

In the main though, rhymers would have to collect many weeks of such gems to assemble even a short poem. The blank verse folk would have an easier time, but verbs are hard to come by.

Instead, the free-association sorts can revel in the subjects just for the stimulation. Consider:
  • Be sanhedrin of salty
  • bed logo
  • by proscribe the marjorie
I consider these small gifts, offerings left by the demented, scattered freely about in the off-chance they will find a home.

It was like a moment last weekend when the family left the Chestnut Hill multiplex (I recommend Pan's Labyrinth) and I noticed a folded sheet of stationery on the pavement with visible writing showing through. I felt the compulsion of my youth to pick it up and voyeuristically enjoy that offering. I can control myself now, most times, but did note it to a son to see his response. He was indifferent to that personal artifact and strode on.

He also can ignore the subjects of spams.
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Rhody Waves a Dead Chicken

The magic in the near south was slow, but Rhode Island apparently got it done. Its attorney general said the state should recognize Massachusetts same-sex marriages.

Genuflection to eeka at 1 Smoot Short for the alert.

This is certainly better than the marble-mouth New Jersey AG's statement. They did the Nelly version -- Oo, oo, just don't call it marriage.

According to the Providence Journal, AG Patrick Lynch responded to the Board of Governors for Higher Education. They had three employees married in Massachusetts requesting personnel-file updates to show their status.

Small inconvenience: The ProJo link requires free registration.

Lynch's magic wand has a very limited range though. He was plain in adding that this in no way permitted SSMs to start happening in his state. The governor is very anti-marriage equality and the legislature regularly refuses to handle bills that would legalize SSM.

Otherwise, Rhode Island has fairly liberal marriage laws. It is in a sweet spot legally for never having limited marriages to a man and a woman. I had expected them to be the second state offering full SSM.

Given the opposition from the governor and a few key legislative leaders, Lynch was real cautious. He justified his opinion based on a 1904 ruling from the state's high court. That said marriages are valid unless "odious by the common consent of nations, or if its influence is thought dangerous to the fabric of society, so that it is strongly against the public policy of the jurisdiction."

With that very narrow set of limits, Lynch concluded, "The only marriages declared contrary to public policy [and void] in Rhode Island are bigamous marriages, incestuous marriages and marriages between two mentally incompetent persons."

Makes-You-Go-Hmm Follow-Up: The editorial in today's Kent County Daily Times suggests that the AG's comments are leading:
So legislators have straddled the fence for a while now - and while they said early this year gay marriage might hypothetically make it onto the 2007 legislative agenda, it's not particularly likely.

It's beginning to sound more and more like they won't have a choice.

...(Lynch's) written opinion has no technical legal weight; it's strictly advisory - but don't mistake the impact of a statement from the state's top lawyer on an issue of such great social importance.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Marriage Gust in Augusta

It is to laugh a common-sense laugh. At the behest of a minister, a Maine legislator has filed a bill to remove ministers and other clergy from those who can sign wedding certificates in that state. The theocrats who love pretending that marriages are just religious ceremonies will be a dither. They conveniently forget that these are civil contracts and clerics are add-on solemnizers.

It's bad enough when the anti-gay/anti-marriage-equality ranters fantasize aloud about the way marriage always has been. They have even fallen into a chant implying it is actually the ministers or other clerics who make marriage in Massachusetts or Maine or elsewhere legal. Apparently many ministers, driving while looking no farther than their hood ornaments, buy into that too.

That only goes beyond coffee hour conversation when those folks want theocratic legislation -- that is, if they would like to legislate their religious practices and beliefs for all adults.

Let's say it firmly and slowly enough in short enough words for all to understand.
  • The government permits and legalizes the marriage.
  • The state license permits various appointed or elected officials and most clergy to sign the license as agent of the state for that marriage.
  • In Massachusetts alone, plain folk can solemnize one marriage per year.
  • The majority of us who marry get our marriage solemnized by someone other than a cleric.
  • The religious ceremony can be the highlight of your life if you feel that way, but it is in no way required to make a marriage legal.
  • Likewise, if you divorce, you do so through the state, not your cleric.
  • Constitutions in the states make it plain that marriage is a civil contract.
The bible thumpers seem to overlook much in their holy book. Our patriarchs apparently to a one (if they could afford it, and nearly all could) were polygamous. Many with one wife had numerous mistresses. For most of history, people just lived together and formal marriage was relatively rare. It was only in the last century that weddings were truly the norm throughout our society.

With the political issues to fight, we can understand, if not condone, the lying hyperbole. However, when it comes to legislation that affects all adults, let's keep it clean.

Up in Maine, the legislative geste and jest is the bill 779. It would return marriage to its original form around there, supposedly leaving folk to continue to arrange their parades down the nave on their own. By inference, it would make the religiously inclined take a separate trip to a notary or justice of the peace for the legal side.

An Act To Remove Clergy as Signatories on Marriage Licenses strikes or an ordained or licensed minister of the gospel from the list of official solemnizers -- those who can legally sign a marriage license to make the union legal. Given our U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, this makes legal sense, but the emotions surrounding such plainspoken separation of government and religion should make for some interesting debate.

I'm betting the committee studying it finds a way to kill it.

By the bye, my own marriage is coming up soon on 31 years. It is legal under the authority of a notary.

Rep. Boyd Marley introduced the bill at the request of North Deering Congregational Church (Portland) Rev. Mark Rustin. He figures clerics need a clear distance from the legal stuff, and they should concentrate on parishioners and souls and such.

As the article puts it:
Rustin said the role of clergy as marital contract agents puts them in a difficult position when the very people they married need help getting through a divorce. “We tied the knot that they’re desperately trying to untie,” he said, and that, too, often stops people from coming to get help from the clergy who married them. He also said there are times when older couples want the clergy’s blessing to live together, but don’t want to lose Social Security or other benefits that come with the marriage contract.

“My main emphasis is to separate us, the church, the clergy, from the legal entanglements that people get themselves wrapped up with in marriage,” Rustin said.
He dismissed that this might have anything to do with marriage equality or future related legislative debates and actions concerning that.

Rustin and Marley are neighbors. The latter said the minster "doesn’t want to be 'an agent of the government,' but rather a clergyman in charge of a 'religious ceremony in the eyes of God.'"

For his own historical perspective, Rustin noted that it was a quirk of the Colonial times that even led ministers to get the right to solemnize marriages in Maine. Town governments needed to find people who could read and write to make the civil contracts legal. "Clergy were the only ones literate in large measure and the extra income came in handy." However, he added, "Being agents of the state isn’t an appropriate place for us to be. I can’t serve two masters at once."

The bill is in the judiciary committee. If it emerges, there will be a public hearing.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cirignano Riding the Wheel of Justice

In a closed proceeding in Worcester today, Larry Cirignano apparently heard that he remains on the hook for attacking protester Sarah Loy two months ago at an anti-marriage-equality rally in that beautiful burg.

The initial report came from BayWindow's Ethan Jacobs. The clerk magistrate found probable cause for both assault and battery, and civil rights charges against the former executive director of Catholic Citizenship.

While Cirignano resigned his position and headed off to D.C. for a to-be-created role doing the same dirty work at a national level, he is scheduled to return to Worcester District Court on April 11th for arraignment.

I would love to be a D.A. in Worcester hearing Cirginano's lawyers trying to strike a plea bargain on this set of charges. Originally he had stonewalled, claiming total innocence. Some of his supporters even claim the slight woman protester flung herself to the ground, even though witnesses say Cirignano shoved her from behind to the pavement.

Keep checking with BayWindows and Pie and Coffee for news on this.

Next Day Follow-Ups: The Boston Globe got a super-light quote from the victim and the Worcester Telegram has a little more detail. Both published these today, Wednesday.

The Globe couldn't get anything from the defendant or his side. From Loy by phone, they heard, "I'm very glad that the city of Worcester and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are taking civil rights seriously. It's good news, because my civil rights were violated."

The Telegram included snippets from the investigators' report:
Several people held counter-demonstrations at the afternoon rally. Sarah Loy, 27, of Worcester, who was holding a sign defending same-sex marriage, told police Mr. Cirignano pushed her in the shoulder area with both hands while repeatedly saying, “You have to get out of here. … Now,” according to a police report. Ms. Loy initially told police she was not injured, but investigators later photographed a small bruise on her elbow.

Three witnesses said they saw Mr. Cirignano push Ms. Loy “with force,” according to the report. Police said Mr. Cirignano told them he “lightly” pushed Ms. Loy with one hand to prevent her from moving into the area of the podium.
KnowThyNeighbor wonders whether the anti-marriage-equality running dogs -- Ray Flynn, Kris Mineau and Evelyn Reilly -- will feign distance from the accused's actions or maybe actively disavow them.

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Mad Dad Mouthpiece Mumbles

Maybe the lawyer for Mad Dad and his aggrieved chums has been out shoveling snow and chipping ice. Robert Sinsheimer didn't appear to have put that effort into the response to the ACLU amicus brief he wheedled a week's delay for from the U.S. District Court.

Ever eager to serve, the Article 8/MassResistance folk have the nine pager up for your perusal. They also offer the related documents, including the amicus filing.

Sinsheimer is clearly an excitable and emotional guy. He can hardly stay in his chair while others speak. Unfortunately his counter-counter-arguments here fall into did-not/did-too class.

He argues:
  • Separate, new limits for these very young children. Despite the reading materials in questions that mention or allude to marriage equality here where it is legal being at age-appropriate in level, schools should not expose kindergarten and primary kids to mentions of it.
  • Conflicts between parental belief and curricula must lean to the parents, even it that means separating their kids in school as needed. If parents say a concept "offended their faith," the school must accommodate them. (I think that is called theocracy, but so what?)
  • Regardless of the ACLU saying that parents have some rights in school, they really mean that parents have no rights that go over the school threshold. (Don't claim school systems have rights and duties too. Parents rule. Nay nay nay.)
  • It is not enough to say that the parents can exercise their religious upbringing out of school. He briefly states that this is a constitutional privacy right in school.
There wasn't any new in the document. Unfortunately for his arguments, Sinsheimer admitted that his original complaint failed repeatedly in drawing the connections between case law and this matter. For example, he admitted that this does not hinge on First Amendment establishment-of-religion. Instead, he suddenly claims that "That these cases are primarily 'establishment clause' constructions does not detract from their value here. The 'establishment clause' and the 'free exercise clause' are doctrinal cousins."

That just screams pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain. Yet, this is a federal suit, not traffic court.

He also tried some hand waving, apparently to try to erase some of the original case's more absurd demands for remedy. Take the requirement that even spontaneous classroom conversations initiated by classmates should trigger removing the Mad Dad kids. In this document, Sinsheimer writes, "Noting in the complaint is directed at children. The defendants and the ACLU have sought to alter the discussion by suggesting that the plaintiffs wish to chill the rights of other children to talk about their families. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Yet the heart of the complaint and subsequent filings for the plaintiffs is their assertion that the early-reader books in question and any related diversity curricula have evil intent. As Sinsheimer wrote here, "The adult plaintiffs fear that their families' deep, sincere and abiding faith will be eradicated..." Later in the filing, he added, "The defendants' sole motivation is their own political determination that the Plaintiffs' faith should be eradicated, and the place to start this process is with their children."

That kind of crazy speak and mind reading probably deserves a dope slap more than serious consideration. However, Chief Justice Mark L. Wolf loves constitutional issues. Sinsheimer is making increasingly hard to take the arguments seriously.

During the orals last week, Wolf ask whether the complaining parents couldn't and shouldn't show and tell their own morals, and more than counter the school and commonwealth's position that same-sex marriage is the reality in Massachusetts. He said that he'd like to hear from the plaintiffs on these issues, but Sinsheimer has given him no more that a 50% incentive to allow a trial. Even Judge Wolf would need some sense that the plaintiffs' had a shot.

I have no doubt there are topics in addition to same-sex marriage that those parents don't want to discuss with their kids. As a parent of three, I can tell them surely that they and their kids will be much better off discussing moral and other issues rather than ignoring them or pretending all that kids learn will be in Sunday School.

As a judgmental person, I might add that they have an asthenic and sad little faith if it cannot stand up to such weak challenges as hearing that some families have two mommies. If that eradicates their faith, they'd be better off with a stronger one.

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N.J. Man Behind the Curtain

mug of Tomicki
Seems like a lot of anti-marriage-equality folk in Jersey are in concert -- and a lather -- following the beginning of civil unions there. Seems is the operative word, because it may be so much crap.

There are no original interviews here, but the thin facade of the Garden State anti folk is heartening. It turns out that the logorrheically self-titled New Jersey Coalition to Preserve & Protect Marriage is highly inflated balloon of an organization. Pop it and there are a couple of much smaller toys inside.

You couldn't click among Web pages or flip an article on N.J. unions without reading a quote from John Tomicki (the seemingly autopsy-ready fellow in the cropped AP pic right). The problem is that his personal and professional presence is as pale as his face. Where does he come from, who pays him, and what the devil is that coalition?

Greed Notice: The New York Times citations are all behind their for-pay wall. You can cough up per piece or if you are a subscriber, you can enroll in Times Select and get 100 articles a month from the archive. Either way, at the top of the NYT site, search for Tomicki to get the links and similar ones.

You can look real hard to find a mailing address for the coalition. It does not have a Website and Tomicki's résumé is not floating in the ether either.

As it turns out, those listed in the coalition must prefer it that way. At least some of the group apparently pay Tomicki to lobby for anti-gay and anti-SSM causes. Otherwise, this is so much dryer lint. Despite repeated claims of representing tens of thousands of Jerseyites, the facade coalition is nothing for legislators to fear or even take seriously.

From the looks of it, a couple of those listed as members of this coalition are small, but real and are almost certainly Tomicki's patrons. The others are just that much air in the balloon.

It can be hard to sort them. They use Mad Libs-style, mix-and-match names chosen from a small list. The seven are:
However, several of the endorsing organizations may have more power, at least to chip in if necessary to keep Tomicki talking. These are:
So, Tomicki appears to bump elbows with the big kids, but stalks the N.J. legislature halls alone. At the least and for the present, wingers with bucks probably take his calls and throw him some crumbs.

Tomicki has a long record of losing sooner or later. Not only did the legislature pass civil unions under his watch and over his efforts, he backed losing conservative gubernatorial candidates repeatedly and even failed to keep the state from mandating sex education in public schools.

You have to wonder whether the likes of Focus on the Family's James Dobson will continue to take Tomicki's calls...particularly if they figure he is asking for money.

Descriptions of and comments from Tomicki in various NYT articles help put some mortar on the coalition's facade. The lead on his support for the to-fail campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler is, "John Tomicki, a lobbyist for conservative social causes, usually shuffles through the corridors of the State House with a stooped gait and a resigned smirk on his face, the product of too many legislative and political disappointments over the years." (June 24,2001, In Schundler, A Rallying Cry for the Right.) It adds to his description with "(he is) essentially a freelance operator here, but has the ear of right-leaning state lawmakers..."

That appears to be the key epithet. He seems to have built a recent career of rousing the right-wing voters and their related small organizations with focused lobbying efforts. He'll figuratively stitch an emblem from one of those organizations he creates on his latest hat. He names himself executive director of the group. Then, poof, he represents everyone associated in any way with the cause or even vaguely related groups.

Nice trick, if it works.

Consider over 20 years ago, his effort to stop the state Family Life sex-ed mandate. "One of the leaders of the opposition, John Tomicki of Ringwood, associate director of the New Jersey Coalition of Concerned Parents, said that the Family Life mandate 'tramples on parental rights' and that sex education belonged in the home.," (NYT, December 11, 1983, Family Life Belies Its Beginnings).

He lost that one.

He apparently also is no big fan of the personal responsibility side of the Thoreau or Gandhi protest stuff. He was one who thought that free-speech trumped risk of punishment for civil disobedience. If God's with you, you should have free get-out-of-jail passes.
After sit-ins at abortion clinics, he said, "There has been an increased police and judicial heavy-handedness." he said. "We see it in the free speech area, and we see it in the sit-in, demonstration area." There is no doubt, he continued, that the access law "had a chilling effect on civil disobedience" in front of clinics, he said. "If he same rules had applied to civil rights sit-ins at lunch counters, on buses, people would probably still be in jail today." (NYT, June 3, 2001, Arrest Me, Please (But Jail? No Thanks); Rediscovering the Price of Protest.)
That particularly offensive set of comments seems to show both ignorance of history and disrespect for the thousands who risked health and life as well as jail -- willingly -- to secure rights for themselves and all of us. Facts? Wingers have little need for facts.

For another example, consider his currently circulating petition promoting a one-man/one-woman amendment to the state constitution. It leads and follows through with, if you pardon the expression, liberal use of distortions, lies and clichés.

It reads:
Whereas, social science research irrefutably supports the fact that God-ordained marriage, between only one man and one woman, is the time-tested foundation of a strong society, providing the best environment, on average, for the raising of children, thus benefiting society as a whole; and,

Whereas, for more than a decade same-sex “marriage” proponents have actively worked to radically change and redefine marriage by demanding that all barriers to the number, age, and gender of partners participating in marriage be removed; and,

Whereas, marriage is threatened by judiciaries in other states, such as in Massachusetts where the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in early 2004 that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry; and,

Whereas, we already have evidence that marriage is threatened here in New Jersey with the lawsuit of seven same sex couples suing the state for the right to redefine the definition of marriage, and in so doing, seeking to reverse the lower NJ Superior Court ruling which had earlier stated that there is no statutory constitutional right for same sex couples to marry;

I, therefore, as a member of the Clergy in the State of New Jersey, support the goal of preserving and protecting the institution of marriage, as being between only one man and one woman, and request our legislators to do the same.
So there you have it. This tripe may be Tomicki's best argument. From his opening words, his deceit rolled in the dung. He held up threats to opposite-sex marriage, defamed the Bay State, and threw in pedophilia and polygamy. I wonder how he missed bestiality.

Is this stooped and sallow old fellow fighting his last failing campaign? It looks that way...and the Garden State will smell better for it.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Kiss...Get Over It!


The New York Times is rarely more than a year or two behind trends. Today's Sunday Styles lead on public displays of affection by homosexual couples proves that and something else -- when they get around to discussing a trend, they do a good job.

Greed Notice: In a week, the NYT link will require subscriber access or a fee. Boo.

A major point is that we Americans still have emotional problems seeing gay men or lesbians touching each other, even non-sexually. When it comes to a public kiss, oldsters, even Baby Boomers, are likely to go, "Eeew."

At its extreme, it can be much worse, even in Manhattan. "But people are still verbally harassed and physically attacked daily for engaging in simple displays of affection in public," said Clarence Patton of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. "Everything changes the minute we kiss.”

It is no secret that we as a nation are known widely, particularly in Europe, as prudes about a wide range of sexual and sensual practices. We do have the pale excuse of living where most citizens do not routinely hold hands or kiss cheeks as greetings.

Yet, that doesn't cover the hooha over what fundamentally should be of no concern to anyone. A few repressive nations outlaw public display of affection (PDA), including some that may imprison the habitually lip locked. Nearly all disapprove both by law and by custom of couples of any sexual orientation groping each other or engaging in foreplay openly.

Yet, the I-like-you or I-love-you kiss may have to wait for wider legalization of same-sex marriage and homosexual civil unions for us to get beyond or national priggishness.

Back to the thrilling days of my youth, I recall when I was dating in the 1960s, that the WWII types felt free to literally yell at any of us -- straight couples -- who dared kiss or neck in public. The associated words were indecent, disgusting, and immoral.

While most Americans have gone beyond that, many of the early Boomers who witnessed or suffered that kind of bluenose behavior are among those still appalled by homosexual PDA. The same sweet kiss, thigh touch, or hand holding that brings the "Aw" for a hetero couple can produce that "Eew" for the gay one.

Already polls of the Gen-Y folk show a so-what attitude and the Gen-X is mixed. As with SSM, we may have to wait until my cohort group is out of the way to get beyond this silliness.

Meanwhile, the creeping openness of homosexual couples is coupling with entertainment showing a hug or kiss as normal behavior will help. (Why do we always have to ride in the social conventions caboose?).

As we wait, consider:
  • Brazil atwitter and coming to a halt for two guys kissing on TV.
  • Two guys kissing on camera at at D.C. hockey game (mostly applause and cheers), but it was news.
  • Security at a Mexican luxury hotel roughing up two men and tossing them in the street without their luggage for a peck, without lip contact.
  • Flooded ABC message boards protesting a kiss on Desperate Housewives.
  • In Indonesia, a comedy film showing a gay couple kissing is a huge hit, although some in the audience come to jeer.
  • Of course, the Snickers accidental lip touch.
It goes on an on, even beyond our borders. Yet, we likely will be another decade before gay PDA is as acceptable as hetero. It is understandable where you fear getting slapped around that you would hesitate to hug.

Yet, this is one of those incremental improvements. As more homosexual couples mirror the PDA behavior of their heterosexual counterparts, the eeew factor fades toward aw. It's about time.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Garden State, Gonad Short

They try in Jersey, but on same-sex marriage they continue to fail in courage. Most recently, State Attorney General Stuart Rabner formally declared yesterday that he'll have no civilly united homosexual couples calling themselves married.

The New York Times story didn't say whether he made a face when he said that.

The AP version in the Trentonian reports some more gutless blathering from the AG. First, he claims that the state will recognize marriages from Massachusetts, Canada and other places that permit SSM. They'll have the same legal rights and benefits according to the state as married couples. However, in his opinion to the N.J. state Department of Health and Senior Services (which as of Monday, will register civil unions), the couples definitely may not use the title married.

WTF?

So, this isn't Wyoming, that may declare a couple married in Massachusetts unmarried there, but it leans that way. According to the piece in the Trentonian, there is likely to be a suit in the matter, said Steven Goldstein, the executive director of Garden State Equality.

For praise of the AG's clarification, Lambda Legal's Director of Marriage Law Project David S. Buckel offered, "In the nick of time before next week, the attorney general has given peace of mind to a lot of families.'' On the other hand, the state ACLU's legal director, Ed Barocas, said, ''New Jersey should not be in the business of stripping individuals and couples of rights they already lawfully obtained."

Meanwhile, the anti-gay/anti--SSM forces have not given up. You might file that away for the next time you hear one of them saying that if the legislator votes, if the people "speak" on a ballot initiative or the like that they'll accept it. Quadruple B.S.!

The New Jersey Family Policy Council and the amorphous New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage (is a a one-man group for John Tomicki?) have announced a drive to get an amendment on November's ballot to define marriage as limited to one man/one woman.

Amusingly, New Jersey is in that half of states blissfully free of the onus of ballot initiatives, which have become some badly abused in recent decades. So, the anti-gay folk intend to kind of make up a ballot initiative for this purpose. They are informally gathering signatures with the hope that the timorous legislators will be cowed into introducing this themselves.

Hey, given the lawmakers' milquetoast actions in the past year, it is tempting to figure you can make them dance to any nasty tune.

Back on planet Earth, the regional paper, the Courier-News reports that the Garden State has Massachusetts-style poll figures if not SSM. "
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released last October, at the height of the debate over civil unions and gay marriage, found that by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent, New Jerseyans opposed amending the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman."

Goldstein's reaction to this clumsy attempt at discrimination said, "
If anything, the momentum of the state is going entirely in the other direction towards marriage equality. There's not going to be a ban."

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Very Own Free, Plastic CharlieCard

Mild Warning: Second off-topic post in a row. It must be the cold.

As much as it distresses me, I have to admit that I am unable to rant against the T for the short term. I went to Forest Hills a few days ago looking for a specific kind of trouble, knowing full well that I would find it, but the T folk foiled me.

I avoided heeling like a trained animal when they announced that new plastic CharlieCards would be available in limited places on limited days in early December. Arf. Please, Daddy, let me have this treat!

Because I still had value on a couple of CharlieTickets, I had no immediate need.

The T has pretty much screwed with me enough. There's the irregular non-schedules, outages, less service for more money, ignoring the results of public hearings, and its choice of what appears to be the very worst fare-card system in the world. So, I bike or walk, and depending on whether I can get cheap or free parking by time of day and on how many people are going, justify a short car tip downtown.

I am too wimpy to bike in wind chills below zero. Also, if I can't see the truck or bus drivesr, I figure they can't see me either. So, I don't bike ina slicker in pouring rain or sleet. Then, lo and woe, I was down to a single CharlieTicket with $5 on it, which rode in my credit-card case through the washer and then twice through the drier. I knew that those fragile decrementing papers are hydrophobic.

When I headed to Forest Hills, I ended up unable to justify self-righteousness, on this one matter at least. Foiled. I got the damned card without significant word or angst.

Of course, in keeping with its long and deep tradition of inefficiency, the T installed millions of dollars of new fare equipment, with no provision for dispensing the essential cards. Amusingly enough, in T-speak, their page on the cards cheerfully brags about their beneficence -- On December 4, 2006, we began giving away free, plastic CharlieCards.

Okay, let's consider for a moment that this is the one thing you need personally to make their lives easier, to spend money on their fares, and to operate their new hardware and software efficiently. So, we should be grateful that they "give" us the cards? Harrumph.

My trepidation came from the line about where the cards would be available:
  • At T sales offices: Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, Harvard, North Station and South Station.
Knowing the T since the 1960s, I figured you had to pay the $2 rate to get to one of these sales offices, at an inconvenient time, for a free, plastic CharlieCard.

Well, instead, they got me, in a good way. All I had to do was ask at the large information booth they just built in the lobby of the station. There, T ambassadors were eagerly awaiting to serve me.

Not really. In typical T fashion, the booth is user hostile, surrounded with Plexiglas and with sliding clear doors and a tiny sound opening, to minimize the ability to communicate in either direction. Then, when I asked, there was a long pause during which the three idle ambassadors (T-speak for old employees not ready to retire, apparently) stared at me open mouthed. I couldn't tell if they head or understood me, but my hopes soared when I was a small stack of what appeared to be CharlieCards on the counter inside the information fort.

After close to a minute with no sound or movement or even chatter amongst them, the oldest, most bent over ambassador, resplendent in T uniform, hobbled out. I didn't see a card and he said nothing, but he headed toward the fare machines 40 feet or say away. He made it, and I figured my best shot was to follow him.

He was crooked enough that his head was right at the screen level of the fare machine. Perhaps years of speaking into those booth holes and twisting down to push tokens through the slot is like osteoporosis.

Regardless of my demented thoughts, when we were together, he pulled a CharlieCard from his jacket pocket and handed it to me. I must say I've had better instructors, but we got the job done.

He had clearly been through the training, by script. He asked how much I wanted to put on the card and even though I said $20 and had one of those bills in hand, he ran through the options on the screen. Then when I pushed the on-screen space for $20, the display read to put the money in, which I did.

Aware that these cards are proximity devices and work best when brought near but not touching the sensors, I was curious about his next instructions. Sure enough, my ambassador continued by script telling me to "tap the card."

Instead, while he repeated that phrase several times, I brought the card to about 2 inches from the black lighted circle. The machine beeped and I was set.

Mildly goofing on my ambassador, I asked whether the right way to use the card was to bring it near the black circles on the fare machines and the readers into the trains. He'd have none of it. He agreed and disagreed -- "Yes. Tap it."

So in T-speak, "tap" has a non-dictionary definition.

Unlike the D.C. Metro and the NYC subways, we have added a true Boston layer on this process. We have the nation's oldest subway (sure looks and acts like it too), and we have made using it as convoluted as possible.

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Post-Storm Visitors

Flocking, fluttering wrens, the bully jays, cuneiform-tailed magpies and a few plump tits showed no fear of me this morning.

The crusty, frigid and just nasty residue of yesterday's storm -- glory be that NStar didn't fail us again -- filled the rhododendrons below, the beech above and the forsythia beyond with eager patrons of the feeder. Proof of their hunger to get energy to heat themselves came when I pounded on the window.

Many stayed put while I loosened the storm window to get to the feeder. The sleet had coated the outside and made a gelid epoxy. I ended up with a huge screwdriver as a wedge and a rubber mallet to operate the slides on the window.

As you might suppose, the roundest patrons were first to the feeder and were hovering within reach as I closed the window.

Other regular visitors did not risk life, limb or lemon to gather deposit bottles. These modern gleaners are extras on the urban stage. The old man who arrives after dark, driving what my grandfather would have called a flivver, is part of the night shift. He is considerate and quiet at his task. If I am putting recycling at the curb when he comes, I greet him and he responds, but nothing more.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is a small kindness we can do, one that costs us very little. As with Ruth and Naomi, such gleaning can be significant to those who must do it.

Woe to those who tell me they resent the bottle gatherers. We place our deposit bottles in separate bags for the ease of our evening visitor. If he passes with $1 from us, a quarter elsewhere and another $1 down the block, it is the preponderance of the small -- negligible to us and together meaningful to him.

On this nasty morning, it doesn't hurt anything to hold back the deposit-bottle bags for a week.

The best side-effect of this is that when we take the little care required for our visitors, we often think of other small favors to do.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Buying Mooninites with B.S. Bucks


Like a drunk snorting himself awake every once and awhile, the great Boston-Pee-in-Our-Pants Party won't stop. It seems longer than two weeks ago that a couple dozen advertising boards laid our beautiful burg low -- and with it our fantasies of sophistication.

Now Slate's Explainer by Kathryn Lewis piles it on. She further humiliates us by answering, "Did Boston's Bomb Scare Really Cost a Million Bucks?" The short answer is that this is a B.S. figure, inflated to overstate the importance and short-term, to massage our egos. In the real world, it keeps us down there with other hick towns with pretensions of worldliness.

More specifically, the bribes that stopped our mayor from stomping his loafers were rounded up -- way up several times -- by nearly everyone. That seemed at least temporarily to add a touch of gravitas to our stumble or at least tone down the world's snickering at our expense.

It seems the commonwealth's attorney general asked the eight affected agencies or departments for their best estimates of likely extra costs. Results included:
  • The state police were absurd, providing an impossibly round $200,000. That's a SWAG for sure.
  • The highway department seemed to have been reasonable and honest, at $13,157.
  • The total of Boston, Somerville, Cambridge and the agencies was $578,766.
So, how did we get from that suspect total to $1 million costs plus a $1 million blackmail tribute? As the Explainer puts it, "...the attorney general's agreement with Turner included another $421,234 in 'additional restitution funds,' divided proportionally among the claimants. That conveniently put the total value of the prank at $1 million even. (Turner's payment included another $1 million in 'goodwill' money for the Department of Homeland Security.)"

Even our otherwise savvy new governor and his attorney general got sucked into this vortex of pretense. Gov. Deval Patrick stuffily declared this was "not funny." AG Martha Coakley failed this first real test even worse. She doesn't seem to realize she's in the big time now.

She doing what she used to with street criminals, holding a hard line and exaggerating the charges against these two guys, expecting to dicker down to something more reasonable. Yet, by maintaining her position that she would charge them with "placing a hoax device" when everyone agrees that she can never, ever prove intent, she looks like quite an alarmist and pretty unprofessional. She should look around and notice that she is in the State House not a courthouse.

We avoid talking about this topic over the dinner table and at bars. We hope not to hear any more. Shame on Slate for harshing our mellow.

Here, all of our huffing and puffing and all of our self-righteous attempts to justify our being crippled by our overreaction to these devices don't cut it. The other cities that handled this with sangfroid and in ways that gave their citizens faith in their ability to deal with threats are still chuckling. So is much of the world press.

Starting with our mayor, we put our fingers in our ears. We don't hear you!

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