Friday, April 29, 2011

Lawyers Lag and Limp to Leveling

Fifty years in the making, lawyers finally getting equality is the tale told in today's NYT by law prof. Dale Carpenter. He sketches how the profession and related courts moved from strong gay bashing to mild acceptance.

This is the phantasm that so haunts anti-gay/anti-marriage equality sorts.

A small group of equality-minded lawyers did exact what the queer haters feared the most. They relentlessly pointed out the cruelty, illogic and unfairness of harming and hating homosexuals. They worked like water on the stone to erode the absurd assertions that gay people where abnormal, inferior and deserving of only a sliver of the equality cake.

Life must be getting tougher for the hoary haters, including SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia. Like the current madness over the President's birth certificate, actual scientific findings prove to nearly everyone that homosexuals are born that way. Logic and the law increasingly are on the side of civil rights for LGBT folk.

Carpenter phrases some of this very kindly, as in "the legal profession was not in the vanguard of gay rights." Yet given a half century of steady work to, as the haters would have it, make people think homosexuality is normal, lawyers are finally, in the main, with the obvious. Some folk won't accept even the most obvious. The indoctrination and propaganda as they might call it, is simply showing and teaching. Some refuse to deal with it.

Well, gayness is normal, is innate, and is worthy of fairness.

Some folk may never get there and admit that. Unfortunately, this is another cultural area where Americans lag the rest of the industrialized world. We'll watch the old nasties die and take their emotionally based prejudice with them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tail Chasing Birthers

First, the keenest insights...deliciously riddled with humor...on the post-certificate birtherism is over at Salon. Alex Pareene lists the ploys the buffoons can pull now.

The astonishing sadness rational sorts have seen in the past day following wide dissemination of President Obama's long-form birth certificate has to be that the haters, racists and irremediable loonies insist on carrying this grotesquerie high, loud and proud. I confess with mild shame that this is similar to my mother's mental change for the worse.

My late mother was not yet a birther when she died a few years ago. I have no doubt that she'd parrot Rush Limbaugh's version of this among other irrationalities were she still alive. To her defense, I note that she had reasons and excuses. Perhaps many of the other crazies do as well.

Therein lies the question for me. Some birthers, such as Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich, are disingenuous and manipulative jerks who have no shame in fooling plain folk. Yet, from my familial experience, I wonder how many of the oh-no-there's-real-doubt sorts have biochemical or other reasons why they are so weird.

I had and have a deep respect and love for my mother. She raised two of us solo with no help from a deadbeat ex-husband. She demanded that we love learning, read newspapers and books continually, and speak out among ourselves on ideas. I lost track of chums who would say how they wished their parents were as logical, open-minded, and reasonable. She raised us in true liberal fashion, considering people individually and without prejudice.

That changed...suddenly.

In her mid-50s, a confluence, a sort of River Dreadful, swept away the Wanda we knew. Among her changes' catalysts were:
  • Her long-term employer sold itself to a larger pharma company, which paid off the entire sales force (love the drugs, but we have all the sales reps we need) and dismissed them.
  • She had a lump settlement to invest in a few months or lose most to taxes.
  • She expected to "retire" (something we all knew she was incapable of) with her sister in Santa Fe, but in her late 60s. Instead, it was Pittsburgh to NM without job or full identity.
  • Her long term lover's ex-wife filed suit to get much more alimony and child support. He cowardly split to Singapore.
  • Her diagnosis of breast and lymph cancer predicted under five years to live. This came with a radical mastectomy, chemo and radiation.
  • Her doctors, faddishly following the latest study, immediately stopped her heavy dose of estrogen she was taking for a hard menopause. Most know better now but not then.
There was even more, but that's plenty for any human. She went through a major personality change, which I attribute in large part to the sudden estrogen halt. So instead of the tolerant and rational women we had always known, we found a ditto head.

Her personality revolution included listening to and parroting talk radio, including Rush. She had raised us differently. When I visited or called, we'd invariably debate. She'd bring up the latest winger conspiracy theory or defamation of the sensible and compassionate. As I out-reasoned the Limbaughisms (as she had raised me to do), she would eventually drop the issue, but I grieved that I could tell she remained dissatisfied and wanting to believe the winger fantasies.

Eventually on one Christmas visit, I heard, "Let's not talk politics anymore." Thus it was and we were better off as mother and son for that.

So it is, with a heavy mask of disdain, I have to wonder about the birthers and larger world of extreme wingers. Are they also imbalanced and thus unable, instead of merely unwilling, to plug in facts and reasoning to the questions at hand?

My mother and I grew up as great buddies and intellectual companions. With the big exception of politics, we remained so to her death. Yet, while she kept her huge store of knowledge, she turned crazy enough to let her emotions respond to vetting by the dishonest and dishonorable talkers. Moreover, there was no way even I could sway her on a given topic, much less her new gestalt. Her emotional needs overpowered her reasoning.

Many of those who give a response to the call of a Hannity, Trump or other professional liars seem relatively old, although I have met a few serious, conspiracy-oriented wingers in their 20s. I have to wonder if they too have migrated from the lands of reason to those of fantasy and feeling as results from the ill effects of aging and brain changes.

If that's the case, there's little to be done. Without the personal connection, they are not likely to propose the truce my mother did.

Yes, such trends as yet another solid proof that Obama was born an American pare off more and more of least on this one issue. They marginalize themselves, ending up with fewer and fewer ravers in the increasingly empty room. Some remain, ranting on and on to each other. Unfortunately, those who drop out of one crazy position when it is just too obviously untenable even to them are likely to come back to the ranters and ravers for the next big lunacy.

As much as I was raised to attempt to include people in the discussion and larger community of mind, some repeatedly prove themselves not worth the trouble.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wrists Out for the Cuffs!

How did Americans become some groveling servants? Even the apparently blustering, gun-in-pocket wingers bend over for the swift kicks from the TSA and other hectoring oppressors.

Only the latest catalyst for that question was the ignorant and authoritarian rousting and persecution of plain folk on child-porn downloading snafus. The double bladed ax on this latest included:
  1. Federal and local cop-like-bullies — FBI, Homeland Security, Immigration, adding local police — forced their way into citizens homes, roughed them up, took them in on porn charges, and seized their computers and routers.
  2. In these various states, the now-victim citizens were innocent. Others had piggybacked on their unprotected wireless routers and downloaded kiddy porn.
  3. The citizens are not irate new litigants demanding their constitutional rights. Rather they buy into the feds' better-safe-than-sorry scam.
  4. The AP story clearly concludes that it was their own fault for not figuring the arcane tricks to setting up a password system to the Wi-Fi box. So there!
So much is wrong with that, so much is un-American/anti-freedom, but it's easy to parse.

We have seen this from when Dwight Eisenhower was President, and really back to FDR if you include our concentration camps for U.S. citizens in WWII. From Red Scare to Yellow Peril through Cold War...into 9/11 and now to the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration we have increasingly become a nation of capons or sheep. We do as we are told and think ill of those who dare to question or refuse.

While the WWII generation (my parents' era) was redefining necessary deference to authority, we boomers grew up in their counterbalancing fantasy. We watched Westerns, war movies, and TV full of pioneers, frontier heroes, and all manner of those who fought and died for American freedom.

Meanwhile adult America gave it up at work, grateful for permanent employment and pensions and economic subsidies for housing, education and such that they were convinced they'd earned forever for freeing the world of Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini. (So long as you were white), we'd have a never-ending growth spiral of prosperity and security. That of course required keeping out or crushing spies, communists, anarchists, racial-equality agitators and such.

We have only escalated that craziness and hypocrisy. I long ago came to the stunning (for me at least) conclusion that not only was the WWII generation's bluster about freedom just that, but the current Tea Party and Second-Amendment shouters about liberty are also bleating sheep when it comes to personal freedom and integrity.

Given the slightest tinge of perception of perceived danger, they baa and maa, "Better safe than sorry! Better safe than sorry!"

I try in vain to imagine the heroes of the movies and novels and history books of my youth doing that. Break down the door, throw them to the ground, point assault weapons to their temples, confiscate their property, and assert they are guilty of sexual felonies...against children. Frisk them, parade them through denuding scanners, or pluck random seniors, children and adults for interrogation by non-police acting like special forces.

In print and online, one citizen or even commentator after another bleats "Better safe than sorry!"

The Administrations of George the Lesser and now Obama fall back to the disingenuous. They would have citizens disprove negatives to have their rights we allegedly have long earned as a nation. They ask the unprovable. How do you know Homeland Security has not stopped 1 or 14 or 1,014 bomb plots? Can you prove that the often capricious and sometimes despotic TSA procedures and individual abuses have not prevented comparable numbers of airline highjackings or explosions? Are you willing to take the chance that if we let down our guard for an instant terrors will immediately follow?

The real questions are in many ways more demanding and scarier:
  • Why do we pretend these anti-liberty intrusions keep us safe as individuals and a nation?
  • Why don't police, federal agents, and screeners have to be responsible for their abuses, like other common criminals?
  • What would it really take instead of these pretend solutions to keep us safe while respecting our Constitutional freedoms and rights?
Those are much harder than genuflecting and accepting the intrusions, blunders and abuses too many Americans do now. We can bleat, move to another patch of grass and feel gratitude in the delusion that what we have given up — our essence as Americans — is safe only when we are obedient. How very Orwellian!

We have not and do not have a President or Congress dealing with the underlying issues and solutions. Every so often someone notes that Israeli security does the right things at airports, mingling with travelers and having highly trained agents actually thinking.

In contrast, our own airport-security sorts check their brains at the automatic doors. In fact, they likely have been that way from childhood or birth. A recurrent theme at this blog and Harrumph is there is an innate difference between the literal, rules-are-rules types and people who think. Like so many jack-in-a-box toys, they pop up to repeat that they are only following the rules, regardless of inanity, inefficiency and even destructiveness that may ensue from doing so.

Within the past decade, we have experienced the extreme of this bifurcation. The better-safe-than-sorry types seem absolutely proud of their submission. Ceding the rights that have long distinguished Americans apparently is not a concern. So long as they can pretend that giving up their liberties makes them secure, they eagerly do it.

Such a deferential attitude should really have gone out with George II and George III, along with the Tories here. Our ancestors did put their collective necks and all they possessed on the block to change their status from subjects to their own selves.

Alas, our current large flock of sheep don't seem interested in real solutions. Nor are they willing to turn the tables on the authoritarians, demanding that they justify their abuses and negation of citizen's liberties and rights.

As so often in recent history — think Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, marriage equality — this falls to the progressives, with support from libertarians and such. The sheep and literal thinkers won't define the problems nor attempt to solve them. It is ever so much easier to get along and go along.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marrying in MA, III

A couple of ministers have accused me (jocularly I think) of poaching. I doubt my two weddings I have conducted are much of a threat to a standard ministerial side business, not even with the pending third one.

Certainly the then unique provision in MA (General laws Ch. 207, §39) that permitted citizen solemnization was an inspiration for this blog. Along with the Goodridge decision legalizing same-sex marriage, we were, to co-opt a winger phrase for a real meaning, marriage friendly. Postings here from 2004 discuss my discovery of the wonders of being able to solemnize friends' marriages.

Subsequent copying of our solemnizing laws by California is not exactly a trend. They did do us one better, in that they did not also copy the limit of one wedding per year for a designated solemnizer. There, without being a justice of the peace, judge or other official, plain folk can churn 'em out.

Subsequently, I bemoaned my infrequency of solemnizing. I got to do one couple before SSM here and another afterward, one straight and one gay. Both couples were long-term friends. When I tell people from elsewhere or even those from here who aren't aware of the possibility, their reaction is always along the line, "What a great idea! It must be really moving to do that." Indeed it is.

After a long, dry-eyed spell, I get to do another. The eldest of my three sons will marry here in June. (The accompany image is from awhile ago, although a moment in a father's mind. He appears somewhat differently today.)

Not surprisingly, the couple has no interest in the old standard ceremony, such as from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Nor are they hippies or New Age sorts, who might lift Hindu walking vows or Gaea invocation. So, I get to create an original that relates to their commitments and vows, drawing on their characters and my long-term marital experiences.

This may well be my last solemnizing. I long ago had to give up on doing one a year. One of my minister friends then in his 80s spoke of his own children and grandchildren, thinking ahead to mine. In effect he said that young adults today don't view marriage the same as his generation or mine. Many will never marry and a permanent living-together relationship was surely a norm.

He and I know enough about the culture and history of marriage to deride the anti-gay/anti-marriage equality sorts. They would have it that the very new addition of same-sex marriage somehow caused the decades-old decline in marriage rates. He and I figure that if people are ready for the commitment — and it is legal for them — they'll marry.

I was one of the last of my friends to marry. In fact, several had already divorced by the time I found someone who did not create a real or imagined reason in my mind not to marry. Tomorrow that will have been 35 years. I want at least as much for our first son.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AZ Gov. Brewer Nails Two

OK, Jan Brewer done good, as a Looney Tunes character might way. Arizona's governor confounded me with two vetoes yesterday. I had been perfectly happy to put her in the irredeemable winger bucket and to ignore a suggestion on my FB page to friend her. Now, I actually have to think about it all.

The short news is that she stomped on:
  • A birther bill that would assert her state's authority to demand any Presidential candidate produce long-form birth certificate, baptismal and circumcision records and such to prove U.S. citizenship to local satisfaction before getting on the AZ ballot.
  • A concealed-carry bill that would expand the right to have guns on school sidewalks and campuses, specifically of community colleges and universities.
I figured, wrongly, that she'd let both slide through and wait for lawsuits to invalidate them on unconstitutionality and craziness. For the gun bill, she is a huge second-amendment supporter and even in the letter accompanying her veto of it wrote, "...while I support the thoughtful expansion of where firearms should be allowed, the actual legislation that does so much be both unambiguous and clear to protect the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners."

She noted that act was vague enough to include K-12 schools and did not define public right of way. She said AZ law had four definitions of the latter.

This knocks the concealed-carry proponents down, but they can rise in one of two ways. If they think they have the votes, they can try to override her veto. If they pay attention and agree they were sloppy, they can start again with a carefully worded version and populate colleges with people packing hidden heat.

By the bye, several university presidents asked her to veto the gun bill, with comments like, "Guns have no place in schools." Likewise, even in an atavistically Wild Wild West state, calls to her office tipped against the bill.

She had even plainer talk about the birther bill. Everyone except the AZ legislature seems to realize individual states can't clog up federal elections, even as cheap political tricks. In her letter on that veto, she wrote:
...As a former Secretary of State, I do not support designating one person as the gatekeeper to the ballot for a candidate, which could lead to arbitrary or politically-motivated decisions.

In addition, I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for President of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their "early baptismal or circumcision certificates" among other records to the Arizona Secretary of State. This is a bridge too far.
There I was happy to lump Gov. Brewer in with Donald Trump and other irrational or manipulative, mendacious sorts. She caught me short. While I think her written reasoning on the gun bill was far too spongy, she did the right thing in both cases.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Notes From a Library Junkie

Even on libraries...

We can forget just how gutless Brits can be. That is my genetic and cultural heritage — deference and melancholy. I have a more personal experience with loving libraries.

To the point, about two weeks ago, an acclaimed young English author, Zadie Smith, made an emotional appeal, with intellectual undertones, on BBC 4, calling for maintaining local public libraries even with demands for austerity. I would link to her nearly five minute speech, but the Beeb has been chastened for running it without its usual snarky challenges it makes to interviewees. Instead of its typical iron maiden sort of guest torture, the Today segment let her speak and paid heavy penalties. Rather than say it was her opinion, the Beeb biggies folded and groveled.

You're in luck though in that at least two of the rebutters are online and available even after they removed Smith's originals. I did find her remarks on YouTube though. A puerile poster there accompanies her speech with crude graphics calling her a socialist, "shit writer" and so forth. If you want to keep a little objectivity, you can minimize the window during audio play. If you're hardcore right wing, you can hear like-minded critics of her position here and here. Moreover, the English press was all over her and the Beeb for calling for continued public funding for public libraries; more such links are here.

The Brits seem to have stopped demands for rights with Magna Carta and really don't relate much to our whole First Amendment/free speech thingummy. Also unlike U.S. libraries with citywide funding in most cases, most English public libraries are under controls of local councils, nearly autonomous hyperlocal groups that seem to operate like U.S. home owners associations, with all the power and none of the wit of big-picture people.

Likewise, most American seem content to fund public libraries and accept that local access to books and other educational resources is necessary, wise, and, well, American. In contrast, conservative Brits who have spoken up take the position that as fewer go to libraries regularly, that means these deserve less or no funding. Also, they say familiar winger stuff like saying, "If I don't use this service, my tax-funded government should not pay for libraries."

For the moment, set aside the arguments about schools, highways, rail, and mass transit. Do you think it is unfair that services for the commonweal require funding from those who at a given time in their lives or locations may not use all the service? Those who understand the basics of democracies and nations should, but not all do.

Libraries I've Known

Maybe because I've been around awhile or perhaps because I grew up in homes with many hundreds of books, I believe in libraries. As we always got many magazines and several daily papers, my family in my childhood through adulthood read at home, in school and in libraries. I always had at least two sets of encyclopedias available, along with big atlases, unabridged dictionaries, almanacs, and many other reference books. From an early age I was sure to hear the same response whenever I asked by widely and deeply knowledgeable mother something — "Look it up!"

Sometimes, we didn't have the books with the right answers in house. From an early age, I trotted to the library. School libraries were pretty limited, so it was to the public ones.

DanvillelibraryI was eight when I truly got into libraries as lifestyle. In Danville, Virginia, the public library was in a mansion built by a Civil War era officer and tobacco magnate, Maj. William T. Sutherlin. His home became the last capital of the Confederacy where the decision to surrender occurred. I was vaguely aware of the history, but much more attuned to the huge number of books.

It surely was a grand home and it was a wonderful library. The kids' and young adults' books were in the basement, which was cheerful with numerous windows up high.

There I discovered and devoured whole ranges of books we did not have at home. I remember reading everything that was in whole or part of Norse mythology and of dinosaurs. Apparently too I read virtually everything, checking out the maximum (eight at a time as I remember it). The chief youth librarian there pulled me aside and presented me with an adult card after I had gone through her goods. That let me upstairs into an even wider world. I kept at it until we moved when I was just short of 13. Bless her.

We lived for a couple of years next in the middle of Virginia, Chester. It had a pathetic library. I read everything we had at home, turned to randomly going through encyclopedia articles and our many history books, and spent more time and money visiting bookstores in nearby Richmond and in Washington when we saw relatives near there.

PlainfieldfrontThen the summer of my 15th birthday, we moved to Plainfield, New Jersey. It had a 1912 Carnegie library, one of many the steel magnate funded for the betterment of the common folk. Bless him too.

While the city had good book stores, as well as cheap and easy bus access to Manhattan where I visited constantly, the library was both a community center and educational resource. While it was replaced with a bigger, glassed, community-hospital looking place a few years after I graduated high school, my friends and I haunted and loved this one.

It abutted the big public park with the high school. We ate, debated, sang, necked and studied in the park and did everything short of eating and drinking in the library. My friends were often astonished at the number and variety of books in my apartment and for those without such absurd amounts of reference material, the library was key to decent grades and being able to converse with your chums.

There must have been classmates who didn't read. I honestly don't recall any. After all, this was also the Sputnik/space-race era. We were getting pushed from the President to teachers to parents to get smart, get smarter, and take America to the stars. Ta da.

[Of course, there were neither personal computers nor even the earliest forms of the internet (not even ARPAnet, bulletin boards, nor telnet command-line connections before browsers existed). Seeing that, kiddies should probably look up archie and particularly gopher. Information was available online before the World Wide Web GUIs, but you actually had to know how to get to it.]

View Across the Pond

For all reactionary craziness and vitriol toward Smith and secondarily the BBC, I didn't really dig into this until the Financial Times' Christopher Caldwell waved his right-of-center wand over the proceedings. In today's FT, his column attempts a Newtonian objective distance for observation.

He agrees that Smith clearly and accurately sees libraries as cultural levelers, gateways for those who take advantage of them. Yet he criticizes her for not understanding the economics and politics behind the 400-plus libraries at risk of closure there. He writes that the snooty upper class sorts are not the problem here, rather that libraries "are imperiled for different reason: because (local councils) have better things to do with the money."

He finds the grand public libraries both there and here as atavistic, belonging to "a brief transitional period at the end of the 19th century — after the rise of democracy but before the rise of the welfare state." He adds that in such tight times as now, governments decide what's really necessary.

In that, he mentions an article by Eleanor Jo Rodger in American Libraries. He really doesn't get too deeply into that, but I suggest reading it. Her primary theme is librarians need to define which of their services are necessities and which are amenities. From there, they can make the case and get steady supporters for the essentials they deliver.

Caldwell is certainly not anti-library. He does brush aside advocates' personal and emotional calls. Instead, he cites the goals of the founders of the library systems as seeing "that a certain amount of intellectual infrastructure is necessary to the maintenance of a free society." They aren't to produce erudite gentlefolk, rather to help provide the public with "a basic toolkit of literary communication that leaves them uncowed by accounts built out of words, sentences and paragraphs."

He concludes that the political reality is that defending such amenities as DVD checkouts and internet access "may work better than defending necessities."

I suspect pitching necessities as well will be necessary. There are plenty of Americans, even more than usual in hard times, who are eager to forgo egalitarianism. The have-nots don't get a lot of support in rough times, and little enough in good ones. Simply appealing to the American ideals of giving everyone a chance at the dream is seldom effective.

I am a book guy, one who has spent and still spends far more than my share of time in libraries. I am not a homeless fellow using a library to stay safe and warm. I'm not someone who needs to be there to access a computer and the internet. I'm not a teen who gets homework help there. Yet each of our groups and others uses and benefits from our branch libraries. That seems as American as it gets.

Cross-post, yet again: As this is both political and personal, I also put it on Harrumph.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Mass Ave Bike Lanes, For Real

I was wrong (not unusual) and impatient (usual). Last evening's presentation of the proposed Mass Ave bike lanes proved both.

By the end of 2011, the allegedly intractable problem of adding lanes from the oddly named Harvard Bridge (crossing the Charles at MIT) South to Roxbury seems solved. The always chipper, relentless efficient Boston Director of Bicycle Programs Nicole Freedman brought on the consultants and wowed maybe 150 jammed into and pouring out of the Copley Library ground floor meeting room.

The show-and-tell largely fell to Senior Planner (and cyclist) Nick Jackson of Toole Design Group. As an update on 4/19, Freedman sent the proposal. I extracted the real proposal diagram and reproduce it here.

The idea is to claim two five-foot cycling lanes by removing parking from the West side of Mass Ave in the stretch. Then it's 5' bike, 11' travel (bus/truck), 10' travel, 10' travel, 11' travel (bus/truck), 5' bike, 8' parking.

This is where I was particularly wrong. I have been sure this city lacked the political will to take parking. Even though numerous U.S. and European cities have done that for years, we have seemed to have been short on the guts. No more.

Of course, this being oddly suburban-ish automobile-centric Boston, it did not approach the ideal of isolated cycle tracks, so motor vehicles, pedestrians and bikes each got safe, separate paths. Hey, this is still a huge advance and again, a solution to the insoluble.

We should note that NYC does it far better, but it has considerable advantages we lack. Most obviously, its avenues, the North/South arteries, are almost entirely much wider and either one-way or two way with a wide median of some sort. There's a lot more real estate for redevelopment.

Here, the city and the designers headed off the big problems. They surveyed the devil out of the abutting businesses and residents as well as the commuters. They also worked internally and with cycling groups to count who uses Mass Ave throughout the day and week and overnight. They know when cyclists are up to 16% of all traffic, when and where the LOS (level of service for traffic) was great (A, B or C) or sucky (D, E or F), and how filled the parking spaces were when.

The stretch runs from the river South past Symphony (connecting the heavy blue existing bike lane streets). With only 60 feet in play, solutions that worked elsewhere didn't in this stretch. However, they found that overnight parking took a quarter or fewer of the spaces, permitting removing them from one side.

They also knew that Mass Ave is the location of 10% of bike crashes and EMS reported from Halloween to Halloween 2009-2010 that they hauled away 25 cyclists, mostly hit or doored.

There are issues to resolve, such as enforcement of bike-lane parkers and stoppers, loading zone times and locations, HP spaces and such, but last evening's hearing got a great response from the almost entirely cycling audience. The residents and businesses seem to be at ease after all the outreach and study.

This effort is only the latest and most visible of Freedman/Tom Menino's to continue and complete Boston's transformation into a bike-friendly and 21st century city. She said we have 50,000 regular cyclists now, but she is aiming for five times that in the next decade. That would be 10% of all trips here.

Freedman returned repeatedly to a theme I have heard her sing many times (including our Left Ahead podcast with her and a similar one with her Cambridge counterpart Cara Seiderman). Real and imagined the number one complaint of motorists and some pedestrians is a perception that all cyclists run every read light, endanger walkers, and otherwise act as scofflaws — while of course, all motorists are safe, considerate and law abiding.

She was quick to poll the audience and lump us together as jay walkers, red-light runners and so forth, regardless of our mode of transit. However, she said during this expansion of cycling, it behooves cyclists in particular to behave legally and respectfully. As cycling-oriented cities have seen, when enough cyclists use the roads, everyone obeys the traffic laws and regulations much more.

The local D-4 police captain, Paul Ivens (also a cyclist), backed her up. He was jolly but firm. Along with their regular duties, his officers have issued several hundreds of tickets to bike-lane car parkers since July. He noted that they would likely be handing out non-ticket tickets to cyclists soon as warning educational devices.

Freedman added that the city had already expanded its educational efforts with info in auto excise tax statements. She added that as more cyclists participate in the pending bike-rental program and otherwise feel comfortable enough with bike-lanes and other safety features her department will be expanding its how-to-bike safely (and legally) efforts.

The car culture certainly is entrenched here, with many non-cycling drivers clinging to fantasies that they are safe and bikers and walkers are all idiot scofflaws. Yet advances like these Mass Ave bike lanes hearten me. I'm a constant cyclist who drives weekly for major grocery shopping and such. I am a very law-abiding and safe driver, who never runs a red light, always signals lane changes, turns and rotary exits and such.

I'm getting there with cycling. I do signal unless it is patently unsafe to remove a hand from the bars. I stop and yield like I was in a car. Now, if I can made the emotional sacrifice to wait for every red light to change...

Cross-post: This being political and avocational for me, I post it at Harrumph as well.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Deval-ution on Display

As always, our governor was composed, witty and above all splendidly sincere. On his autobiography-shilling tour, he hit several NYC media yesterday, including The Daily Show.

Click below for the 7:40 minute segment. Go to the media link above for a Globe recap of his even more serious commentary on other LITE news programs.

I won't spoil the short clip of him and Jon Stewart. Suffice it to note that Patrick was savvy enough to let the host make the jokes — from thanking him for also being short to repeatedly and variously contrasting him with Mitt Romney.

Patrick skated around the icy edges of the platitude hole with his sincere answers, never slipping. The young, pinko audience loved it and showed that with repeated applause. After all and as he hit again and again, his administration far bettered the performance of other states, from education to health care and more.

To the obvious, his book sales will surely take a jump. It's doubtful that the oldsters and more conservative sorts watch his show or would be consider what Patrick said though. The rest of us can share nearly eight minutes of giggles and smugness.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ain't Got No Right!

Public places and words = felonies right here in your commonwealth. See MA General Laws Ch. 272 §99.

Today's news had yet another example of the abuse of recording laws here. A couple of young students in a Salem public school, apparently being bullied and at the urging of their parents, recorded in the classroom. When the administration began to listen to a recording, they were mad, but not at bullying. Instead, they told the students and parents in strong terms that this was a felony...which seems to be the current interpretation of the MA law.

That's up to $10,000 and five years in prison per offense, citizen.

A law intended to protect criminals from invasions of their civil rights has been turned on its head and spun until it's dizzy. In Boston and elsewhere here, cops have arrested citizens and even won a few convictions for being audio recorded while they were doing questionable or illegal things. Video taping still seems to have the protections of photography, but the audio portion has been jammed into 272-99.

The term invasion of privacy has real and important meanings in common parlance as well as law. However, the current MA audio-recording law is perverted so that it violates civil rights instead of protecting them. It's as though Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There had visited the State House — “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

This is a state matter and we are among the very worst here. Check the overview and then compare a few states. In general, audio recording parallels photography. That is, you have no expectation of invoking privacy restrictions if you are out and about in a public place holding forth.

272-99 on the face of it should do the opposite of how it too often is applied. Instead of preventing secret wire taps and other recordings, the law is also a tool of the rules-are-rules types. It's well past time to refine this travesty of a law.

Our version reads that audio recording requires permission of all parties, either explicitly or by being so obvious that everyone knows there is recording happening. That is to prevent the old FBI/Nixon-style spook work. The Citizen Media Law Project has a good recap as well.

Understandably more than just professional criminals prefer to avoid responsibility for what they say and do. Cops who far overstep the power of their badges, guns and nightsticks likewise want the freedom to lie about it if it comes to that rather than having evidence of misdoing. On a much lower level, but with the same intent, teachers and school administrators who don't want to be reasonable and to obey those troublesome behavior rules themselves eschew evidence.

Public Deeds, Public Places

Put me down on the long list of parents and plain old citizens who think we all need to be accountable for our actions and words. I find it particularly offensive that those few law-trampling police would twist this law far from its intent to break other laws with impunity.

On the street, in a church, in a school, in a restaurant and other public places should not offer screens and shields for lawbreakers...cops and teachers included. If you are speaking up and acting out where we can see and hear you, what you do should be fair game for recorders as well as cameras.

I don't know how outraged you are about this, but I feel another call and visit to a legislator coming on. I'll see what kind of tweaking this law needs to protect citizens from real privacy invasion as well as from teachers, cops and others hiding behind it.

We can all understand why teachers won't want disruptive video and audio recording. However, it is common in colleges and many high schools for serious students to record lectures as form of note taking. Here though schools can have policies limiting or even forbidding digital recorder use as they do with cellphones in class.

The idea that 272-99 precludes what everyone can see and hear in public places is an affront to each and all of us.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Cap'n's on Deck

Our shiny old Cap'n Brylcreem is thumping around the deck, like Ahab with a tailor. Known to many as Mitt Romney, our slick-haired and slicker-tongued champion of all that benefits him is gathering supporters and bucks to run for President.

cap'n brylcreen

His campaign exploratory-committee site presently opens with a smarmy video. His vapid insincerity is as relentless and unconvincing as ever. He pretends that by siphoning off profits via his venture capital org that he was really in it to create jobs for others. He makes no mention of the health-care reform he drove to completion here while governor.

Of course, current Gov. Deval Patrick has made it work and made MA the state with the highest percentage of insured American, no small feat during these awful economic times. So from the GOP administration to the Dem one, a great idea that became the base of the national health reform underway is pretty much the only real accomplishment of Gov. Romney's tenure. You wouldn't know it from hearing him.

I suspect by this evening, his competitors for the GOP 2012 nomination will be piling on the Obamacare slurs. Here's betting they don't stop so long as he keeps running. Here's also betting that the party has so overplayed that hand to a huge table of voters who benefit from Medicare and will get even more from the new health reform that this is a losing issue for them as a whole and not just for the Cap'n.

We'll have to see who else claims to be an explorer soon. We can be sure the incredible loon Michele Bachmann will strap on her leather stockings and play Natty Bumppo, blazing frontier trails. She is someone most of us would not trust alone in their bathroom during a party, much less elect to our highest office, but she sees no flaws in herself. FOX folk Sara Palin and Mike Huckabee likewise have terrific confidence, but she has lost nearly all luster according to the polls and he seems to have an appeal limited both geographically and philosophically.

At the moment, Cap'n Brylcreem has an afternoon of, if not blazing, at least glowing self-praise. He can tell his many grandchildren to come about it. They'll at least have the incentive of an inheritance to make them feign interest.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Pay the Male-Bashing Jar

We humans often just can't help ourselves. We like to bond with our peers, which often means a laugh at the expense of the other.

For an hour and one-half today, this it's-only-human trait trotted around the dais at Suffolk Law's Rappaport Center panel on women in MA politics. Knowing the human wont, I still found it hard to believe that the four panelists, moderator and center's exec all kept up the theme of light to moderate male bashing.

To read the powerful messages and musings from the panel, check the coverage.

I was one of a tiny number of men in the auditorium. That was odd by itself. While the topic was Women in Politics: Challenges and Trends, nothing limited the attendance to women. Moreover, a typical Rappaport Center program has a fairly balanced gender mix. Regardless, the audience was women and they made it plain that female bashing was awful but male bashing was pretty damned funny.

Having been raised around women and spent my time in living rooms, backyards and occasionally beauty salons, I heard much worse. I know that know that there is a real hypocrisy by women as well as men about bashing the other. Moreover, the worst I heard growing up was invariably in the homes of classmates raised solo by their divorced moms.

The far more lighthearted teasing of men in general was much gentler today. It was odd only in that the same women returned repeatedly to the theme of how unfair it was of the media and male pols to slam women candidates and officials. Huh?

It all started with the introductory remarks by the center's executive director, Susan Prosnitz. She's a bright, fun and funny person, who runs this great series of public-policy events. Yet, she set the tone with remarks about how pleased she was that everyone on the panel had shown up on time. She joked that this was because they were all women, implying men aren't as considerate and efficient.

That and each other thread of sexism throughout the next 90 minutes got laughs and sometimes cheers and applause. Imagine if women came into a seminar or panel where the all-male participants regularly spoke in negative stereotypes of women and the nearly all male audience hooted. Here though, men when mentioned were incompetent, vain, and too dumb to know they were dumb.

And so it went. The panel discussed serious topics, presented the fundamental problems, and proposed fixes. They couldn't stop piling it on men though.

For another example, a topic was how it took a political party eight times of asking a potential woman candidate to run to get her to accept. Typically, a man only has to receive a single invitation. That led to numerous jokes over a half hour or more. Men think they are qualified for anything and everything, in fact, they know it. Even totally unqualified men will be sure they should run for any office.

The bashing was not only without any rational basis, just stereotypes of manly men. It avoided getting to the real subject and problem. How can parties identify and recruit women candidates if they require so much cajoling? What can be done to inspire women to feel confident enough and be willing enough to face the rigors of campaigning?

Toward the end of the panel, I recalled where I had heard this kind of double talk before. Racists and sexists I had met or known, many in the South and a few in-laws, would say likewise insulting things, laugh, and if called on it say it was just in fun and they didn't mean anything by it.

Among the what-to-do parts of the panel, they had some related suggestions, although they were talking about sexism directed against their own gender. There was that Name It. Change It. project intended to stop media sexist stereotyping of women, in particular.

While the panelists of successful women pols did not think they personally had been hurt by media gender bias, they seemed convinced with good reasons that such sexism could make it hard for women candidate to be perceived fairly and get their share of respect and votes.

How odd though for this group to call for fair treatment and no sexism directed against women candidates, and then to fall back into the lowest common denominator male-bashing humor. I have a digital recording and could count the anti-man jokes and jibes. I'm sure it was a dozen or more, nearly all endorsed loudly by the audience.

To play the alter kaker, I have to wonder whether this is the way they think and speak all the time around other women. I honestly must have spent too much time with other UUs. My own stereotypes of raw gender bashing is generally of barbershops/hair salons, frats/sororities, and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Maybe I need to think of any single-sex gathering, including a public policy panel.

No men were actually harmed in the making of this panel. Then again, no cross-gender bridges were constructed today either.

MA Women Pols - 8 Times?

Data careered about Suffolk Law today as the Women in Politics: Challenges and Trends panel started. The inferences were obvious, quite possibly useful in the necessity the panelists seemed to concur on — getting more women elected in MA is going to require well crafted strategies by the political parties and others, as well as a long view of perhaps a decade or more.
Usual Plug: This was yet another in the splendid series by Suffolk's Rappaport Center. They present a consistently thought provoking series of public policy lunchtime programs.
Unusual Pointer: The pretty mild but relentless male bashing by the panel — to resounding applause and laughter of the almost entirely female audience — deserves a separate post. I'll link here when it goes up. It is only remarkable because the entire panel, including the moderator, plus the head of the center played, while they damned female bashing.
We are in the national middle in terms of percentage of women pols — 23rd in the country. Most of the figures to start the discussion came from panelist Leanne Doherty. She is assistant professor of American politics at Simmons College and author of Level Playing Field for All?: Female Political Leadership and Athletics, based on her dissertation. She is active in helping young women enter politics.

While we like to think of ourselves as diverse and open here, we presently have a single woman in Congress and overall 23.5% in legislative office. The highest was 26%.

So while WCVB reporter Janet Wu moderated with a range of questions, all seemed to come down to two angles — why so few and how can it improve? Along with Doherty on the panel were three women MA pols:
Oddly enough, party affiliation was not too important today. For the record, Walz is a Democrat and Healey and O'Connell Republicans.

A Little Great News

The status of MA women pols seemed at best static and overall pretty grim. The most upbeat stat was that women who do run for office are just as likely as men to win.

That was much more than counterbalanced by the fact that election after election, far fewer women run. To the three who had run and won, the reasons for that disparity were numerous and obvious.

To outsiders, the immediate question might be whether the two major parties discriminated against women, discouraged them from running, and did not support them when they decided to go for it. That not what Healey, Walz and O'Connell had found though. In fact, Healey was quick to dispute that, piling on that the MA GOP had three female state chairs, including herself in the past decade.

Instead, they started from an eye-opening stat from Doherty. On average, a party has to ask a potential female candidate eight times before she agrees to run for office. For a male, a single request is all it takes.

Moreover, she said later that a typical age for a woman to run the first time is 45. For a man it is in his mid-20s. Some of this is cultural/biological in women raising kids before entering politics, even at the town level. It also has the unfortunate effect of once they are elected that the women will not have the tenures and steps on political office ladders to achieve high ranks. Thus, as Wu put it, "How many Terry Murrays are there in Massachusetts?" referring to the president of the state Senate.

In particular, MA is a very expensive place to run a campaign. That is not likely to change any time soon. An implication is that women pols who start earlier have more chances over greater periods to plug into political and funding networks. Great fund-raisers tend to win more often.

Asked about their personal motivations for running, the three elected pols spoke of how terrifying the prospect was, whether they took a long time to get in a race or as in O'Connell's case were ready quickly when key issues became obvious.

With her usual wit, Walz compared running to going on "a blind date with 40,000 people." She said it took her years to get her self-esteem primed to put herself out for office.

The others had personal motivations but agreed with the emotional preparation. O'Connell started working to pass Jessica's law, and then found other causes that inspired her. Healey said she has researched and published massive policy papers, but found "I never saw any change" after the powerful pols got the reports. O'Connell said she then won on her first go, while Healey said she "got mushed" in her first two tries before becoming GOP chair and then Lt. Gov.

They all said it is a big risk to expose yourself, particularly when the conventional wisdom is that you'll lose a few times before winning. Yet as Healey put it, "It's a big risk to take the leap and risk losing again and again and again." She later added that yes the odds are against first-time candidates, male or female, but that for women the bigger risk is not running at all.

In the Game

As part of her drive to get more elected women her, Healey's Political Parity aims to get more to run, regardless of party affiliation. That includes "the asking piece," identifying possible candidates and getting them interested. Then there is helping them feel qualified, inspiring their confidence. Then there is the impact of the media, which she called "a blood sport here."

None of the pols said she had be the subject of unfair media attacks. However, they and Wu had examples of how broadcast and print can skew stories. They may ask questions of women they do not of men, such as why don't they have children and if they do, will their kids suffer if they run and if they win. Moreover, they cited such women as Hilary Clinton when she was running for President in 2008 and was sometimes depicted as cold or brutal for appearing strong.

As Walz put it, "There is a very narrow range of acceptable behavior for women." Showing the same strengths or passions or other emotions as a man, they might alternately be called cold (or worse) or weak if they dare to choke up over a powerful issue.

Healey added that "If you inhabit this very safe will you ever be charismatic?" The powerful personality tends to get people elected.

As an aside almost, Walz had special warnings about social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. From her own campaign experiences, she found that some people are nastier there than anyone on a newspaper or TV news program.

Same But Different

Fielding more women candidates will take some time and several different approaches, said the panel. For that media part, Healey and Walz in particular urged calling people on comments, questions and analyses that are off base.

A resource for doing this the Name It. Change It project. It aims to identify media sexism, call it out and thereby reduce it.

Mid-term and longer, Walz called for helping women advance by:
  • Training them
  • Mentoring them
  • Helping them learn fund-raising
She asked rhetorically what if rather than bemoaning the lack of women candidates, "what if we actually had a plan in place?"

A Task for White Progressives

Among the gems in the packed half-hour podcast with Horace Small yesterday was his call to action by white progressives. As head of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, he is in the business of coalition building and cooperation among various interest groups. However, his call has a clear economic, cultural and political basis.

Over the past decade, the UMN has been about advancing solutions and policies to benefit largely African-American and Latino MA residents. Click the player below to listen in as Small touches on some of the Union's successes and their ongoing efforts. Also, check they site for details on current efforts and what human and other resources they can use.

To his call to progressives, he sees a need and fit. That branched from our discussion of how groups that should have a common set of interests don't see that and don't work together. I thought of the poor blacks and whites I knew in the South, who kept their distance despite strong similarities in economic needs as well as heritage and culture. Here, Small noted that the need to look down on somebody, no matter how bad your situation is, trumped common interests.

Yesterday, he called for greater activism by MA progressives into working-class communities. "Why won't white progressives talk to them?" he asked. Instead, it is the Tea Party sorts who go into a town like Weymouth, somehow convincing them to vote their way when in reality they are anti-working class, anti-union, and against the political interests of the residents there.

Small sees solid chances for organizing in blue-collar communities here, most effectively done by those who look like the residents. "They're your people. They are the people who raised you."


Monday, April 04, 2011

Stepping Up for Recovery

Those terms have close links in the financial bog that holds nearly all and devours many Americans. For these, the boomer generation who was supposed to know and do better than their often delusional parents are not stepping up to extract us from the mire.

My generation really doesn't have the excuses of lack of resources and information. We also are not so dull-witted as many moderns, who say, "I wasn't even born yet," as though that excuses every ignorance and lack of analysis. Instead, we largely grew up at my end of boomer-hood studying under pressure. We were the Sputnik/space race era, driven to learn history and civics as science and math. We read newspapers as well as books. We took standardized tests only for class assignment heading junior, then senior high, and for SAT, not to placate the rules-are-rules education overlords.

So everyone really should expect more of the early half of the boomer generation. Unlike the apple-skin thick mini-fact view of history, foreign policy and economics favored now, we had to discuss current events as well as historical ones daily and often at home. After all, our parents were of the WWII generation, who eagerly lectured us on their interpretation of history and humanity. Grunting saying you had no opinion was not acceptable.

So, you'd think that boomers 1.0 would:
  • Not live in the economic fantasies of an endless growth spiral as our parents did, the Utopian lifestyle that made the U.S. founder repeatedly
  • Not engage in military adventurism so favored by Presidents Kennedy through Reagan...and unbelievably into the next three boomer ones
  • Have learned from the examples of nearly every ally and enemy not to sacrifice the commonweal to irrational, unsustainable military spending (Russian was the exception and suffered even more than we)
  • Laughed off the pretext that we operate under a pure capitalistic supply-and-demand economy, and installed safeguards on the crooks and liars in huge corporations and financial institutions
But noooo, as the SNL types are so fond of calling.

I expect more of the boomers and shall continue to demand it. We and the whole nation are at stake. Join me. If you are of a different generation, likewise demand that your peers get their act together.

Tasting Recovery

To the opening terms here, we don't have to pore over enough sources to strain minds and exceed internet-age attention spans. Consider a few pieces in the Financial Times:
Read the three. Recapping them would be far too sketchy. I do see a seminal theme among them though.

Frank spotlights Greenspan's laissez-faire fantasy, the fund-management piece details how overpaid managers are sucking over a trillion out of our economy instead of leaving it for recovery, and Crook mentions the cowardly (my word) avoidance of hiring and paying well by cash-rich U.S. corporations when the economy needs the opposite. Together, these shine lights from different angles on how it is we are staggering and sputtering toward a recovery.

Facts include that government needs to pay enough attention and guide enough to keep money flowing and economies growing. We can't justify pretending we have a 19th century or earlier world economy before massive industrialization and global interdependencies. We as a nation share the European reality that we can no longer suck human and natural resources from developing nations for our own growth. They no longer are our real or de facto colonies.

Moreover, I return to a frequent theme here and on Left Ahead — corporate heads need to show some guts and wisdom. We early boomers grew up on a diet of history books and message movies. Americans are supposed to show courage, take calculated risks, and advance the nation. Companies that sit on bags of cash, refusing to do their parts in healing our economy by hiring and paying enough to provide disposable income, are abject failures at the American ideals.

We can see and smell and taste recovery. This is absolutely the wrong time to allow greed and irresponsibility to drown us all.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

New Podcast Reality

We have unusual day, time, and length...this week on BlogTalkRadio. Those are not capricious, rather BTR driven.

Hard is it to believe, young Jedi, but true. We at Left Ahead have hosted podcasts almost weekly for four (all the limbs on a typical human body) years. We have been in a groove or rut, depending on the spin. Sometimes we have guests and sometimes it's the two or three of us aiming for wisdom and release from a progressive prospective.

From the beginning until a month ago, we have almost always hosted at 2:30 PM Eastern on a Tuesday for an hour. Occasionally a campaigning pol could not fix that time/day and we shifted, but rarely.

The week is an example of BTR's new reality. We'll have Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, on at the usual starting time on the usual day, Tuesday 4/5 at 2:30 PM, but only for 30 minutes. Then, it will be Ray Sullivan, the campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, on Friday 4/8 at 6 PM, again for 30 minutes.

Our regular and our periodic listeners who click the live streams, as well as those who look in the right column of LA to read Live stream at 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays should know the reason for the changes. It was a cost decision based on BTR's understandable move to make more cash.

They announced that they wanted everyone to stop using the free version and upgrade to one of three premium ones — at $399, $999 or $2,490 a year. Woe to us. We do this from political conviction and moral drive. We don't make any money from the podcast and would be pressed to upgrade.

What we lose in the transition:
  • Shows can only be 15 or 30 minutes now instead of up to 90 minutes.
  • Only premium members can host from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  • At the two higher rates, they don't insert a lead-in ad to the podcast file.
As a note, the 6 p.m. show is limited to a time when Sullivan could join us. They are in the middle of fighting for same-sex marriage legislation and he's a busy guy. He would have preferred 7 p.m., but we couldn't book then. Plus I was scheduled to start grand-jury service and was unsure whether I could host at the usual time.

So, I've gone from a huge promoter of BTR, particularly to my chums at Boston Media Makers to a mild huzzah utterer. It was a great free service, which has degraded into pretty good. It still has an easy-for-guests-and-hosts call-in to record system that's smart and highly functional. There's just less to praise when we fly with the poor people in the back of coach in the small seats near the lavatories.

Oddly enough, we're not so stodgy that we can't cope. Long accustomed to the flexibility of an hour with a guest or even just us, we may have been lazy. Now, limited to 30 minutes, I do more research and prepare more focused topics and questions.

Listeners who didn't want to commit to starting an hour can do the stream or click a selection from our archives expecting less (and maybe more focus). What doesn't kill us makes us terser.