Friday, November 19, 2004

Offensive Driving II

Read my first report here.  This time it wasn’t with a UPS truck; it was with a school bus.  Close to the same area, though, and same time of day (9:45 am).

Two lanes turn left from Rainier Avenue onto Dearborn.  Half a mile later, a left turn from Dearborn goes onto the I-90 bypass of I-5.  There is a two-way turn lane on Dearborn which becomes the left turn to the onramp.

I turned from the leftmost of the two lanes on Rainier into the leftmost of the lanes on Dearborn.  A school bus turned from the rightmost of the two lanes into the rightmost lane on Dearborn.  About half a block on Dearborn, the driver (I’ve since learned the driver was female; I only mention that so I can use a pronoun for the rest of this) realized she needed to get into the left lane to eventually get onto I-90, and she started to change lanes.

At first, she just edged into the lane a little, as though dodging around a parked car.  Once I was up almost parallel with her (she could probably see the hood of my car by looking directly down from her seat, but I may have been in a bit of a blind spot), she was signaling.  (She may have been signaling before that.  I don’t remember such, but it may have happened.)  At that point, we were stopped at a stoplight, and she was only a foot or so into my lane.  The only way for me to let her in without her hitting my car would have been to go into reverse, which is not smart in the left lane on city streets.  She edged in a little more, I honked, and I dodged around her.  (At this point, I saw that there were no cars immediately behind me; they had all held back to let her change lanes.)

A kid in the bus seated directly behind her put down his window and started yelling at me (I couldn’t hear what he said, but I can imagine it; I think he may have been the only other person on the bus, but I couldn't really tell).  She then laid on her horn for 5 seconds or more; I flipped her off, naturally.  She then gunned the bus (started to speed) and pulled into the two-way turn lane (maybe 1/4 mile before it becomes a left turn lane for the onramp), intending to at least race up to the onramp, but possibly to either pull up next to me and yell at me (or who knows what!) or else pull alongside me and prevent me from getting in the turn lane myself.  So I had to speed a little myself to ensure I got into the lane.

Once on the onramp, the bus fell back as much as 1/4 mile, since it just didn’t have the oomph that a smaller vehicle does.  Once onto the bypass, though, she picked up speed again — almost certainly speeding, since I was at or near the speed limit.  Three lanes merge into one to enter I-5, and she got in the right-hand lane, the second to merge, and rather than merging at a reasonable time, pushed the bus ahead to merge only when the two lanes collapsed together.  My belief is that she was trying to catch me.

Once on I-5, again at the speed limit, I crossed several lanes of traffic to get to my left-side exit at Mercer.  She continued speeding, pulling parallel to me, but a couple lanes over.  Glances to my right (trying not to impede my driving) showed the kid flipping me off and gave me the impression that she was on the phone (presumably to report the incident).  As a result, I noted the bus company and number, pulled out my cell, and left a message at work to report the incident myself.

When I called and spoke to the supervisor (also female; use those pronouns!), I found that indeed, the incident had been reported, and the supervisor verbally agreed with me that it sounded like there was some aggression and borderline reckless driving occurring (and with kids on board, that’s worse).  (I note that she verbally agreed with me; you can never tell over the phone that they are not just nodding and brushing you off.)  She promised that the driver would receive some additional training or something to that effect.  I did my best to be moderately apologetic and to admit my own part in the incident (the possible lack of realization that she was signaling to change lanes until I was right next to her).

The supervisor also refrained from take my name and contact number, lest it somehow get into the wrong hands and result in some form of retaliation.  I suppose that’s a good thing, although it does restrict any paper trail.  Ah well, I’ve done what I can.  I hold no malice toward the driver, and I apologize for my portion of the incident.  I hope she merely gets a “talking to” and maybe a short training session, and not any lasting job impact.

Updated on May 25, 2011

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The Weight of a Quilt

Two months ago, on September 12, I went to the Seattle Center to view the WTC / Pentagon / Pennsylvania Memorial Quilt, and I volunteered some time while I was there.  I came back with somewhat conflicted feelings, rather underwhelmed by the display.

Part of it is that I don’t know anyone who was killed (or injured; how many survived but were hurt?) in the September 11 attacks.  The event remains for me very much something which occurred in the distance, not unlike the War in Iraq.  The only two panels which had any real impact were one which was just for children who were killed, and one which include Father Mychal Judge and Mark Bingham (and by extension, was probably intended for all gay and lesbian victims).  These last were the closest to being people I know; they were at least people whose names I knew.  There were also a few squares which had some truly innovative work on them, and some panels with extras, such as the lyrics to America the Beautiful stitched into the panel, but even those were interesting to me but not moving.

The largest part of my ambivalence, though, is that quilt memorials have been done before, and done both better and bigger.  Compared to the Names Project’s AIDS Quilt, this is but a shadow of the earlier one.
  • The WTC Quilt took up the space of a large ballroom (albeit hung vertically, and back to back, which reduced the space required by a factor of probably 6 or 8), while the AIDS quilt covered the entire Mall in Washington DC and was laid on the ground.
  • The WTC Quilt uses 25 quilt squares per panel, while the AIDS Quilt uses only 8.  Is that 3 times more impact per panel?  Or only 1/3 as much, since the pieces are smaller?
  • The WTC Quilt largely uses traditional quilting methods and patterns, and mostly limited the colors to a patriotic red, white/cream, and blue; only a few of the quilts included other fabrics or fabric-printed photos.  The AIDS Quilt is a cacophony of colors, materials, and imagery.  As a result, pieces of the AIDS Quilt stand out very strongly, while the WTC Quilt fades into a sea of sameness.  Even standing in front of the right panel, finding a square for a particular person is difficult, and once found, it’s a let down because there’s nothing personal about it: just a quilted square with a name scribbled on it.  (This strengthens the randomness of the attacks, perhaps, but doesn’t really give you a reason to look at more than a fragment of the whole display.)
  • Panels in the AIDS Quilt were usually made by lovers, friends, or family of the deceased.  You can feel the love and the pain that went into every panel, producing a memorial to each person.  With the WTC Quilt, most of the panels were done by people with no direct connection to the attacks.  The panels were largely done blindly, not attached to a name (even to a specific name the quilter knew nothing about).  The WTC Quilt comes off somewhat generic and cold as a result.
  • Not that I wish that more famous people had died in the September 11 attacks, but much of the reason to see the AIDS Quilt, if not to see someone you know, is to see someone you know of.  Celebrity is a touchstone, and it’s a great way to educate.  The reason to see the WTC Quilt is to see the quilt; the reason to see the AIDS Quilt is to see someone’s quilt.
In no way do I want to say that the WTC Quilt is bad or poorly thought out.  It is what it is, and it certainly has a power to it.  (And both memorials utilize an American artform, as well.)  But just as my ability to publicly grieve at yet another death faded over the 1990s as friends and acquaintances succumbed to AIDS (and as half my own family died of mostly age-related causes), so too has my ability to be awestruck by the immensity of such a memorial gone away.  I’ve seen displays of the AIDS Quilt — and outright cried the first time, and halfway wish I had been able to see a full display in DC (but halfway don’t) — and I donated money to the NAMES Project for years.  The WTC Quilt cannot compare, in any direction.

I stopped donating to the NAMES Project in the late 1990s when I recognized that AIDS was not, should not be the centerpiece of the gay community.  A friend and dance partner of mine — Parm Nelson — died in the mid/late 90s, not of AIDS but of melanoma… of cancer.  (And I got to be the one to call everyone in our dance troupe to tell them the news.)  A major tragedy for those who knew and loved him, but is there a quilt panel for Parm?  Nope.  No such memorial for gays who merely died of common ailments, almost as though if it wasn’t AIDS, it wasn’t worth dealing with.  (My choice to no longer donate to the NAMES Project was purely from my own growth, not from any failing of that organization.)  Many organizations in our community have had to and are still having to deal with the fact that, as AIDS becomes less of a deadly immediacy, their structures being built solely on that disease become unstable, unfunded, and less vital to the community.

Updated on April 17, 2006
Comment by Sid M. (Bellingham, WA)

Hi… I recently read your web-log <not blog> and see that your were a friend of Parm Nelson.

I was a pledge  brother of Parm’s at Sigma Nu — University of Idaho and sadly had reconnected with him after many years just before he died.  We were both deeply in the closet then, but in retrospect I think we both “knew”.

I was curious what ever happened to his partner?  I talked him several times but was never able to convey my condolences.

Anyhow, quilt, or no quilt, Parm remains in our memories.

Updated on June 2, 2011
By being presented vertically, the WTC Quilt encouraged people to encounter it in the same way as art in a museum — at face level and with nothing beyond/behind it but a flat surface.  The AIDS Quilt was typically presented horizontally, at foot level.  To encounter the panels, you had to look down and sometimes even kneel.  And you had an awareness of people on the other side of the panel, in the next row, and or the entire scope of the display at hand, be it in a hall or on The Mall.  Brilliance on the part of the AIDS Quilt display designers, exponentially increasing the impact of the display.

The 2004 Presidential Election (joke)

Dr. Seuss wrote a children’s book about the 2004 Presidential Election:
One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Selection 2004: Making Lemonade

  • Even in Mississippi, at least 14% of people thought that preventing gay marriage via constitutional amendment was a really stupid idea.
  • Pete Coors lost.
  • Seattle’s monorail is back on track, and we’ll clean up Hanford, and we won’t have video slots in every bar and convenience store (and Tim Eynman lost again), and we won’t have a sales tax increase to pay for an undefined education “trust fund”.

Updated on May 31, 2011

The monorail later got repealed again and has not resurrected.  But we do now have Light Rail from downtown to the airport, and they will be extending that to the University of Washington and (we hope) up the East Side to Bellevue.  And a trolley from downtown to South Lake Union (and the old monorail from downtown to the Seattle Center).  And they are now starting on a streetcar from Pioneer Square (and past Light Rail in the International District) to Capitol Hill, due to be done in late 2012.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Selection 2004: Flip-Flops

A couple weeks ago, I ran into a display of these at the local Walgreens.  (Click here for the website.)

Apparently these pendants, in all sorts of designs for every holiday and theme you can imagine, are widely available, but I’ve never run into one before.  (I’m not a sorority girl, though.  Delta Nu!!!)  Can’t help but think that there’s a political intent behind a patriotic-bejeweled flip-flop during this Election Year, though.

But what intent?  Are you projecting a constant reminder of the “flip-flop” imagery used against Kerry, like with all the people holding such footwear at the Republican convention?  Or would you be embracing that imagery and saying “Flip-flops are okay, and they can even be patriotic!

Updated on May 20, 2011

Selection 2004: Likely Voters

Repeatedly, we’ve heard about polls of “Registered Voters” and “Likely Voters”.  I had kind of assumed that the latter term meant that the pollsters asked “Do you plan to vote on November 2?” and got some answer other than “No” or “If I get around to it.”

That’s not the case, however.  “Likely” actually means “voted in the 2000 election.”  Suddenly the polls of these people is shown in a different light, and the value of the polls becomes somewhat questionable.  “Likely” voters leaves out two important sets of people.
  • Those who could have voted in 2000 (were registered), but did not.  An oft-quoted statistic is that perhaps 4 million “Evangelical Christians” stayed home in 2000.  This is the group that Bush is trying to pull in via his stances on stem cell research, abortion, and gay marriage, and which assorted bishops and ministers are trying to fire up.
  • And then there are those who could not vote in 2000 but can now: especially young adults ages 18-22, and newly naturalized citizens.  Young people tend to vote the Democrat/liberal side more often, as do immigrants.  There will likewise be millions of these potential voters this year.
There’s no way of knowing just what percentage of each group will actually turn out to vote, nor who they will actually vote for (although we can probably guess for the Evangelical Christians), nor which group will be larger in the end, but with the believed very small set of “undecided” voters out there, these groups loom large in their power.

I have heard is that there has been a much greater volume of new voter registrations this year than in years past — significant enough that there’s one case under investigation of a company in Nevada gathering registrations and then discarding the Democrat ones rather than turning them all in — and that a lot of these registrations are coming from high schools and colleges.

Among other things, these kids are smart enough to see the potential for a draft looming.  I know that when I was their age, avoiding such would have been one of my big issues (as it clearly was for Bush when he was younger, and presumably to a degree for Kerry), and I would have tended toward the candidate less likely to institute such.  (And here, that would be the guy who is opposed to the war.)

Updated on May 19, 2011

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Selection 2004: The Great Debate (#4)

Admission up front: I am biased against Bush, in favor of Kerry.  Admission out back: I’m not overly thrilled with Kerry.

I again listened to most of the debate, all but maybe three questions worth, but did not see any of it.  Nothing surprising, although phrases like “flip-flop”, “I have a plan”, “It’s just not credible”, and “You can run, but you can’t hide” were mercifully absent (or at least less prominent) in this debate.
  • Is there anything which can’t be solved by Pell Grants, Mr. Bush?
  • “No litmus test on judges” as the answer to whether you’ll try to overturn Roe v. Wade?  We’ll take that dodge as a “Yes,” since you didn’t say no.  Not that anything but “Yes” could be expected, given the Republican platform plank this year seeking a Constitutional amendment outlawing all abortions.  (And Bush has already said he does have a litmus test: strict Constitutional interpretation.  Flip-flop much, Mr. President?)
  • Speaking of Dodge City, what kind of an answer was that on the Minimum Wage?  For a 25 year-old single mother working at Taco Bell, education (and Pell Grants) are not the answer.  A 40% pay hike from $5-something an hour to $7-something an hour, that will help.  (Not that education isn’t important, but that pays off 2, 5, 10 years down the line, and it doesn’t do shit for those who are below the poverty line now.)
  • Kerry is being painted as not just a liberal, but a liberal from Massachusetts.  I’m inclined to interpret that as code for “He supports gay marriage,” despite Kerry’s protests to the contrary.  Same-sex civil marriage is the most prominent recent event pushing Massachusetts into the hearts and minds of Americans.
  • In one question, Kerry made a reference to there being two education systems in this country, one for the haves and one for the have nots.  (Or something similar to that.)  While that mostly plays to Edwards’s “Two Americas” speech, it also may be code for Kerry not supporting Charter Schools, since such are usually painted as either a benefit only for better-off families, or as a method for publicly funding religious-oriented schools.

Updated on May 18, 2011

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Winnie the Pooh (joke)

You heard that Winne the Pooh came out of the closet?
He’s a silly willy nelly little bear.

Original to me, circa 2002

Sondheim and King (joke)

You heard about Stephen Sondheim doing the music for the new Stephen King Broadway musical?
It’s called Misery Loves Company.

Original to me, circa 2002

Friday, October 8, 2004

Selection 2004: The Great Debate (#3)

Admission up front: I am biased against Bush, in favor of Kerry.  Admission out back: I’m not overly thrilled with Kerry.

I didn’t get to see or hear all but about 10 minutes of the second debate.  The third one, I listened to about half of it — on the computer at work and in the car — and then saw the last 20+ minutes of it.

A few items that I haven’t seen noted enough:
  • Bush did better with this debate, or at least he did “less badly”.  If my estimation of him didn’ fall as far after this debate as after the first one, does then mean he did well?
  • Yes, it begins to sound repetitive that John Kerry “has a plan.”  But you know, at least he does have one.  Does Bush?
  • The first thing out of Bush’s mouth about what he’s done for the environment is to limit emissions on off-road diesel engines.  Oh, that’s way up there among high-priority items.
  • On one of the last questions (on mistakes, I think) — asked by the gray-haired woman in glasses — Bush was talking directly to her (or at her?), and she had this terrific shell-shocked look on her face, like she was thinking “I wish he’d leave me alone, and God, I hope he doesn’t get re-elected.”
  • I don’t think either candidate did well on the controversy questions — stem-cell research, tax dollars for abortion, Supreme Court appointments — but Bush certainly fumbled his way verbally through the minefield much more so than Kerry did.
  • Bush is still on the repetition track: “It’s just not credible.”  (With little other than repetition to prove the lack of credibility, of course.)

Updated on October 14, 2004

Updated on May 11, 2011

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Selection 2004: The Great Debate (#1)

By now, you’ve read all the pundits about the debate, with the liberals all saying Kerry won and the conservatives mostly saying it was a tie (because they couldn’t say Bush lost, of course).

I listened to the debate on the radio.  The main effect this has is that you hear what the candidates say and how they say it; you are not distracted by what they are wearing or the gestures they make, nor in how a given network displays the debate, focusing on one candidate or the other at critical times.  (On the flip side, you don’t get to see the gestures they make, whether they look at the camera or the moderator, or how they visually project themselves.  Andrew Sullivan’s blog (archives only go back to 2006, unfortunately) had an e-mail from a viewer who saw mostly the reverse of me: he saw the debate with the sound off, and so could focus exclusively on the visuals.)

A few items that I haven’t seen noted enough:
  • Bush sounded uncertain in the debate.  Kerry would hit an answer or a rebuttal hard out of the gate, but Bush tended to spend (waste) the first 10 seconds or so with false starts and the like.  Not only did this cause him to have less time for his answers, but it made him sound unprepared, annoyed, and flustered.  Not a good image to project.
  • Bush had a couple of major flubs, most notably the bit where he conflated 9/11 with Iraq as the attacker.  It’s bad enough that he continues to project this misconception, but it gave Kerry an automatic attack point.  (Bush lobbed the ball up and didn’t defend against a spike.)  Bush’s handlers should have planned for this and directed Bush to never, ever make that sort of a comment, knowing the damning response it would get.  Either Bush’s handlers are overconfident, or Bush ignored their advice. That’s potentially fatal.
  • As I understand it, the focus of this debate — Foreign Policy — was chosen by the Bush campaign.  It is the arena where Bush is supposedly strongest, and if that were true, choosing to do that debate first and giving Kerry a major smackdown would have been very good for Bush.  But that distinctly did not happen.  If this was Bush on his strongest topic, how will he do when discussing domestic issues?  (But Kerry needs to be sure he doesn’t get overconfident by the results of this debate.  I suspect that’s what Bush did.)

Updated on May 10, 2011

Monday, September 27, 2004

What Were They Thinking?: Sweet and Salty

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

These Salt and Pepper packets came from Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Er, make that “KFC”.  The company is trying to disassociate itself from both the “Kentucky” and the “Fried” portions of the name.  Check out their website and you’ll see barely any mention of what the letters stand for.)

It’s kind of surprising to see an ingredients listing on packets like these.  After all, what should they say?  “Ingredients: Salt” and “Ingredients: Pepper”?  Nope.  The salt packet says “Ingredients: Sodium Chloride, Sodium Silicoaluminate, Dextrose, Potassium Iodide and Sodium Bicarbonate”.

Yup, you read that right: one of the ingredients in fast food restaurant salt is sugar.  (As I recall from a few years ago, when I first noted it at McDonalds or Burger King, in some packets, sugar was the #1 ingredient!)  And they wonder why we are fat as a nation.

Note that the pepper packet is fun in its own way, saying “Ingredients: Ground Immature Whole Berries of Perennial Vine, Piper Nigrum L.”  (In other words, pepper.)

Updated on May 4, 2011
According to the Morton Salt website, the dextrose is added to stabilize the potassium iodide (which is added to help the thyroid gland and prevent goiter), and is only a tiny tiny amount (4/100 of a percent).  Which doesn't lessen the weirdness of seeing it on the label.

Selection 2004: The Gender Card

The Washington State governor’s race is now down to two candidates: Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi.  Up until a couple weeks before the primary, every reference I had seen or heard to Gregoire used her full first name, but her website and all the yard signs use the shorter form, “Chris”.

Perhaps the shorter, single-syllable form sets her off from two-syllable competitor “Dino”.  Perhaps it removes any religious connection which might come from having “Christ” in the name.  Perhaps the marketing wonks said that the meter of the two two-syllable names was bad.  Perhaps she saves a couple cents per yard sign by using less ink.  (In know, or perhaps “Chris” is really what she prefers and all the earlier references to “Christine” weren’t especially accurate.)

My first thought when I saw one of the signs, though, was that she was using a shorter, non-gendered name in an attempt to project a masculine image, especially to more conservative parts of the state and to those voters who will go entirely on name recognition, never seeing the face of whom they vote for.  “Yeah, I’ll vote for that ‘Chris Gregory’ guy.  Probably better that the guy named for the dinosaur on The Flintstones.”

Updated on May 3, 2011

Friday, September 17, 2004

When E.F. Hutton Talks…

You’ll get to hear people yapping on their cell phones for your entire flight as soon as 2006, per this article.

It’s bad enough that the moment the wheels touch down, you hear a dozen chimes of phones being turned on, so that people can tell someone “We just touched down.”  Neither you nor your loved one could wait the five minutes until we get to the gate, or the ten minutes until you get off the plane?  But now we’re going to have to hear you all the way from Seattle to Dallas?  ;Oy!

(I recall the flight I took from New York in February, 2003.  The stewardess told the Orthodox Jew sitting in the aisle across from me — not that his religion has anything to do with it (probably) other than the particular outfit he was wearing &mdash that he needed to turn off his cell phone.  He held it up, still glowing green, saying “It’s off, look!”  Ten seconds later, it rang.  I swear, if she wouldn’t have lost her job by doing it, she would have taken the phone from him, thrown it on the floor, and stomped on it.  I was tempted to do so myself.)

When I used to take the commuter train to and from work every day, at least once a week, there would be somebody blabbing on about some business deal or another, probably sharing confidential info with the entire car.  One time, after the person had finished his conversation, I waited about 20 seconds, turned to my seatmate, and said in a loud voice and basically repeated the guy’s conversation, something to the effect of “So, I hear company X is going to be doing a deal with company Y to bring product Z to the market.  Guess I should call my stock broker, huh?”  (Oh, what a look I got!)

(Weblog Title Reference: From an old TV commercial.  “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”)

Updated on May 2, 2011
Fortunately, the enablement of cell phone calls on airplanes is still in limbo.  Mayb it stay there for a good long time.  Having the “Pay $10 a minute” (or whatever it costs) phone available has always been a good balance to me: if you really really need to make that call, you can, but it’s not going to be cheap, so you’ll keep it short.

Selection 2004: Absentee Voting

This question was posed on the whiteboard at work today:
If I send in my absentee ballot on election day and the winners are announced that night, does that mean my vote doesn’t count?
Well frankly, yes.  Your vote doesn’t count in that case.

More to the point, your vote never counts.  Almost.  The only time a single, individual vote ever really counts is when the election is decided by a single vote.  And that never happens.  (But it can sure come close.  Florida, Oregon and New Mexico in the 2000 Presidential election were all won in the hundreds or low thousands of votes.  And the last Seattle monorail vote was won in the tens of votes, and absentee ballots could have changed the poll results.)

The power of democracy is that our votes add up.  Individually, we have no power, but combined with others of like mind, we become a wave, a force, and unstoppable movement.  (Or not.)

The power in voting comes from, for lack of a better term, peer pressure.  “I did my duty, did you do yours?”  On some level, I vote so that I can coerce/guilt other people to vote as well.

I also vote so that I have the right to bitch about the results.  If you don’t vote for anyone, even if you would have chosen a candidate who didn’t win, then you have no right to complain.  (Okay, you always have the right — that’s Free Speech for you — but any reason for people to take you seriously vanishes.)

A third reason to vote is to make a statement.  In the 2000 primary election in California, only registered party members would have their votes counted, but people form other (or no) parties could still vote in those races.  I was registered Green at the time, so I may have had a choice between Nader and some even less electable guy, and I didn’t really care about the outcome of that race.  So instead, I “threw my vote away” by voting for John McCain on the Republican slate.  My vote had no direct impact, but perhaps it (and others like it) were noted by the California Republican Party as an indication of the views of non-party members on the overall race, or even just by the McCain people to encourage his different heading on Republican issues.  Even if there was no formal impact of my vote because of the non-value of it, it still gives me an example to talk about — bitching rights, if you will — something that voting for Nader in that primary would not have done.

Back to absentee ballots, though.

Primarily (ahem), absentee voting is like any other voting: you get to say “I voted, did you?”  You did your civic duty.  You participated.

Washington State, in particular, has a strong tradition of absentee voting.  There have been many close races where absentee ballots affected the outcome of the election (or at least might have done so, as with the monorail vote mentioned above).

Further, remember that come November, you aren’t voting only for President.  (At least I hope you won’t be doing only that vote.)  You are voting for President (and Vice-President and the entire administration which goes with it), and for Governor, and Attorney General, and Senator, and state legislators, and Insurance Commissioner, and whether to switch from a “Montana” style primary to the “Louisiana” style, and probably some tax levies and stuff
like that.  The big races are the ones which get announced, yes, but you’ll probably have to read a newspaper to get all the details on the smaller ones, especially on which ones are close.  Any within a couple percentage points, even if the winner is “projected”, could be affected by absentee ballots, so your vote on lesser issues and races could still count.  (It’s worth noting as well that absentee ballots tend to be more liberal, reflecting people who are intent on voting as much as those responding to a particular issue or race, making your vote in either direction that much more valuable.)

Updated on April 27, 2011
In Washington, we have moved increasingly to “vote by mail” voting — no more going to the local elementary school on election day, instead you fill out your ballot in private and send it in — which effectively makes those elections totally absentee.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Men in Uniform, Right Next Door

Unfortunately, they were firemen.

Not that firemen aren’t sexy, but they were working… if you catch my drift.

At 3:30 am on Saturday, I was awakened by a repeating, high-pitched “beep beep beep” sound from somewhere outside.  I sleep fairly lightly through much of the night, I guess, although the minimal traffic noise in our neighborhood never disturbs me.  It’s things which don’t stop which sink through and wake me up.  (Like the dog next door.  Rrrr.)

My first thought was that it was a car alarm — the California State Bird, as we termed them in the mid-90s.  I couldn’t catch the direction from the bedroom window, so I went out onto the deck, but I still couldn’t tell where it was coming from — the next street over, I guessed.  I closed all the windows, which cut a lot of the sound into the house (so maybe I could get back to sleep) and then I could tell it was coming from next door.

My first thought was that it was a burglar alarm.  Perhaps stupidly, I went out our front door and over to the neighbors’ front porch, only to meet Al and Linda coming down from upstairs.  (Their kids live in the downstairs part of the house.)  And I smelled smoke.

Long story made short: the kids were gone for the weekend.  Al got the door open and clouds of plastic-smelling smoke wafted out.  911 was called, and three police cars and four fire engines showed up (on our narrow street!).  Fire hoses and a big venting fan were brought up.  The source of the fire was found to be small, no major damage and no one hurt, everything calmed down.  The local TV station did have a cameraman there, just in case.

As best we can tell, it was a build-up of lint in the dryer hose.  The lint caught on fire — unknown reason, maybe related to the proximity to the furnace — and burnt the plastic dryer hose, and hence the smell and the smoke.  The fire definitely came from outside the dryer.  (Guess I should check our dryer this week, huh?)

Once the fire engines arrived, I woke Rusty up, but he went back to sleep a couple minutes later, figuring that I (or firefighters) would wake him if the fire was serious and threatened to spread.  Rusty’s daughter Sarah, whose bedroom window faces Al and Linda’s house, never knew anything was going on.

I swear, those two could sleep through Hurricane Ivan.

Updated on April 25, 2011

Offensive Driving

I sent this complaint to United Parcel Service this morning:
I want to file a complaint against the driver of UPS Van #<xxxxxx>, driving in Seattle, Washington.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 15, at about 9:00 am (give or take a couple minutes), I was driving on I-5 north, on the “I-90 bypass” which is just south of downtown Seattle.  This section of road features three lanes of traffic which merge into a single lane before joining the main I-5 freeway: the left lane merges into the middle one, then the right lane merges.

I was in the leftmost lane at the merge location (just shy of where the two lanes fully become one), attempting to merge right.  Fully half my vehicle was ahead of the front of UPS Van #<xxxxxx>, but the van kept coming forward, trying to force his way ahead of me.  This would have required me to either slam on my brakes and attempt to merge behind him (assuming that I could and the such action didn’t cause an accident with the person in the lane behind me), speed up and hit the vehicle I was trying to merge behind, or ram into either the concrete median or the UPS Van.

This forcing by the UPS Van driver continued for several seconds: I would start to merge, he would speed up to prevent me, and I would have to speed up to maintain the ability to start to merge in; at least three repeats of this occurred.  I finally laid on my horn for several seconds, and your driver let me merge in.  He also then backed off a couple car lengths, allowing a car from the right-hand lane to merge between us.

The van had two delivery persons in it, both male (I think; it’s hard to tell from a rear-view mirror while driving); the driver was white, the other one was black.  (I had to read the number of the vehicle in reverse through the rear-view window as well — it was printed on the front of the van — but I have been good at reading things in reverse most of my life, and this was just a short number.)

I clearly had the right of way, due to most of my vehicle being ahead of the front of the van.  Is this sort of polite, defensive driving that UPS encourages of its drivers?  Is delivering packages on time really worth terrorizing fellow vehicles, attempting to force them off the road?

If you would like more information about this event (although I don’t think there is more that I can provide), feel free to contact me at this e-mail address or by phone during the day at (206) xxx-xxxx.

James Drew
Seattle, WA

Updated on October 3, 2004
There has been absolutely no response to my e-mail.  (Their site warned that all e-mails could not be responded to, and even implied that they might not even be read!)  I’m going to see if I can find another complaint submission method.

Life’s Too Short to Drink Industrial Beer

For approaching thirty years, there has been an ongoing boycott of Coors beer by the gay community.  It has lasted so long that many gay people have an ingrained hatred of Coors with no cognition of why there is a boycott.  (Hmm, I guess that makes it kind of a religion, doesn’t it?)  In recent years, though, with outreach from Coors, there has been a softening of the stance from some segments of the community, but perhaps an intensification from others.

Some observations on the Coors boycott:
  • The boycott apparently originated not from anti-gay stuff but from union busting activities on the part of Coors in the 1970s.  Even in semi-rural central Washington in the early 1980s, “Don’t drink Coors” was in the public consciousness for teenagers; that sure didn’t come from a gay boycott.
  • The gay side of the boycott apparently stems from a Bay Area Reporter article listing Coors as a donor to Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign, a claim which was later retracted.  (But retractions never go as far as the original report does.)
  • Coors Brewing has done good things for their gay and lesbian employees.
  • The gay community tends to believe in “Never forgive” rather than just “Never forget”; we remember past slights forever.  Short of shutting down the company and the family committing mass suicide, there is no way for Coors to ever redeem itself in the eyes of some members of our community.
  • The virulence that some people exhibit against Coors is so strong at times that I can’t help but wonder if there’s something driving them beyond “Do good for the gay community.”  Not that I have any knowledge to the contrary, but if we believe that the Republican National Committee (or whomever) is a shadow behind the Swift Boat Veterans, is it impossible that other adult beverage companies wouldn’t like to see the Coors boycott continue and might even work to help that occur?
  • The level of scrutiny on Coors and its major shareholders is great, but has similar research been done on Starbucks, Subaru, American Airlines, Miller Beer, and Showtime?  What do we know about other companies which want our money?  Do we really know that none of their major shareholders are not also donating to anti-gay causes, or do we assume they are fine because we haven’t heard otherwise?  And if it’s the latter, isn’t it a little bit hypocritical to be so concerned with only one company?
  • The recent retraction of some female employee health benefits is a genuine reason for concern and greater scrutiny of the current state of the company.  [I can’t find an online reference now about the health benefits retraction mentioned above and I don’t recall the details to know what was involved. — 04/22/11]
All this said, I personally do not knowingly drink Coors products.  I know enough to have some moral questions.  The “Don’t drink Coors” concept has been in my head for more than two decades, and that isn’t easily bypassed.  But mostly, I prefer local mini-brews or regional beers when I can get them.  As one friend put it several years ago, “Life’s too short to drink industrial beer.”

But if a gay organization wants to accept Coors’ money, I will not damn them for doing that.  They have (presumably) weighed the pros and cons as they know them, and they have made a decision.  My decision to attend or not attend an event is not typically affected by the particular sponsors, so their decision is not apt to color mine.

Updated on April 22, 2011
Since I wrote this, Miller Brewing — a longtime supporter of gay events like rodeos and leather contests — has purchased Coors.  You could just about hear longtime anti-Coors/pro-Miler activists heads explode all across the country.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Selection 2004: Thongs, Sandals, and Pool Slippers

I’m not especially concerned about Kerry’s alleged “flip-flops”.  By and large, the claims of such boil down to two things: change and context.

First is the idea that politicians are not allowed to change their position on issues over time.  Kerry spent nearly 20 years in the United States Senate.  Think about the ways the world (and American society) has changed in the past twenty years.  Think about the ways you have changed in that time.  (Myself, I’ve gone from 18, a single virgin, and on my way into college to be a Physics major, to being 38, a kinky gay leatherman with a partner and two step-children, and a home-owning software tester.)  I see my own attitudes having changed over that period, reflecting both the changing mores of society and my personal educational and economic growth.  I have no problem believing that a politician might have held some views twenty years ago — and made votes on behalf of his constituents’ needs at the time — but would vote differently today due to those views or the needs of those constituents having shifted over the decades.

Second is that complaints about such “flip-flops” are taken largely out of context.  In isolation, it may appear that Kerry voted one way at one time, but the opposite way later on.  But with many of these votes, you have to go a level deeper.  What was it that drove his vote?  Odds are that the details are not identical.  Was one vote on procedural grounds?  Was another to curtail a budget out of control?  Was there an unrelated rider amendment attached to the bill, making it more important to stop the rider than to pass the main bill?

But the ultimate reason I’m not concerned about “flip-flops” from Kerry is because Clinton — perhaps the best overall President we’ve had in my lifetime — was himself accused of “waffling”.  (You may recall that a waffle was used as Clinton’s stand-in in the Doonesbury strips of the time.)  In fact, even “flip-flop” was used on Clinton, such as from an article I read once from The Daily Texan (no archives there, and the original reprinted link I had is defunct).  If they want to put Kerry’s governing style in the same class as Clinton’s, hey, no problem.

Updated on April 20, 2011

Friday, September 3, 2004

Here We Come a WASL-ing

The results of the latest WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) scores are in, and while some scores are up moderately (but see below for more on that), the real numbers are pretty dismal.  (See full article from the Seattle Times.)  Only 38.8% of 10th grade students received “proficient” marks in all three subjects needed for graduation (Reading, Writing, and Math).  “Proficient” is a minimum of 61% correct.  Summarized further:
Less than 40% of students can get at least a D- grade in Reading, Writing, and Math.
The only thing to be cheerful about here is that the numbers are slightly less bad than they were last year.  (But they reduced the requirements for passing this year, so the touted increases and improvements are much smaller than they actually seem to be.)

(Why am I concerned about this, being a gay male who isn’t in the education field?  Rusty’s teenage daughter Sarah lives with us, and she goes to Cleveland High… which is perhaps the worst school in the entire state when it comes to WASL scores.  With the exception of some with “NA” scores, it’s the worst in this part of the state, with a whopping 3% pass rate.  That’s right: of 10th Graders at Cleveland, less than 1 in 30 could pass this test.  That gives me real qualms about the education system in Seattle in general, not just at Cleveland, since the education to pass a test like this has
to have started long before 10th grade.)

Now, you can lay out arguments about how the test — any standardized test — may be biased against some racial groups (or other minorities), or how some students simply do poorly on standardized tests, or how students learn in different ways and at different rates, or that the test doesn’t actually test what the students are learning.  And I would agree with you: to a certain degree, all those things are probably true.  They certainly contribute to some good and average students doing less well than their real potential, and some middling-poor students not being “proficient”.

But we’re talking that 60% of students on average fail this test.  (And 97% percent fail at Cleveland!  Ninety-fucking-seven percent!)  Not “lose a few percentage points,” but “get fewer than six out of every ten questions correct.”  That’s a lot bigger than can be explained by the test not being quite in synch with the students.

Three possibilities seem to be there:
  • The test is completely out of whack.  Frankly, I don’t buy this.  Somewhere along the line, adults have surely vetted this test to make sure it tests pertinent information.  (Of course, this assumes that what is deemed pertinent really is.  But I remember these sorts of tests: addition, subtraction, geometry, spelling, analogies, reading comprehension, synonyms, stuff like that.  The validity of testing these things has not changed in decades.)
  • The students are not being taught what the tests cover.  Given the flack in recent years about schools which teach explicitly and only what the test covers, in order to ensure that students pass it (other valuable teaching be damned), I also don’t buy this one as the One True Cause.  I went to school (K-12) in three different parts of this state, and I know that at least some of the schools (try to) teach the pertinent info.  (I never failed these tests.)
  • The students are what is out of whack.  Now this is what I expect is the case.  I can observe Sarah, and what I observe from her is confirmed by what I know from other kids (including one I heard on the radio discussing this subject): the students don’t care about this test, and in fact, some of them may even actively try to fail it.  (We believe Sarah did that when she took the Food Handler’s Test in June: quite easy for a kid as smart as she is, but since she was going home to Kentucky for the summer the next week, her incentive to pass this test was close to zero.  Why pass a test to get a job when you don’t need to get a job?  So we think she just blew off the questions intentionally.)  This is probably even more true with students at what are largely dead-end schools like Cleveland: how many kids from a school where 3% pass this test do you think plan to go on to college?  (To pull a number out of the air, how about 3%?  Meaning that perhaps zero students there who don't have post-high school education hopes are able to pass this test.  Zero!)  How many aspire to anything more than working at Safeway or driving a bus — unless it’s to be a sports star, a rap star, or a drug dealer?  How many even care if they graduate from high school at all?
Next year or the year after, passing the WASL will be required to graduate.  (Students can take it at least once each year, maybe more often.  It’s not a one shot, “blow it in 10th grade and you’re sunk” sort of thing.)  I’m sure this will boost improvement quite a bit — imagine, actually having to do something other than get a D- in all your required classes in order to graduate! — but it will also show us how many don’t care.  And it will probably be accompanied by even more lowering of standards, because the only thing worse than No Child Left Behind is keeping as much as 97% of your Senior Class another year, or two, or three.

No, I don’t have a solution for this.  I find it very hard to compare to myself, because I genuinely wanted to learn, and these kids — not just the ones at Cleveland, but almost every teen I have contact with — apparently don’t.  Sarah won’t read a book unless it’s required; according to her, she has “no imagination” and can’t get anything out of them.  Gee, do you think that’s because of a steady diet of television, movies, and crude hip hop music?  (“My neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack” [a song by Khia] is not appropriate lyrics for adults to listen to, much less teenagers.)  Overload the senses, dumb things down, and generate a culture of passivity where everything has to come to you, rather than you going to get it.  If it’s not both passive and excessive, the kids don’t want it.

I can’t blame the schools, unfortunately.  They do the best they can, but between students who don’t want to learn and a system which all but requires them to pass the kids just for showing up and won’t let them levy any sort of threats of dire consequences, what can they do?  They put the info out there, but the kids don’t sit down to eat.  I guess you have to blame the parents; I had really good ones, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  (You never do until you have the distance to appreciate them.)

It’s going to be really interesting to see what Sarah makes of herself in 5… 10… 20 years, much less some of the kids who are her peers.  Many of them have great talent — Kerizma sings, Kinsey makes jewelry, and so on — but they are so unfocused, unsupported, and untested that I fear it will be wasted.  Many of these kids live in the poor part of town and can’t even conceive of getting out; they don’t realize that there’s an out to get to.

If these are the future of our country, I’m very scared.

(Weblog Title Reference: From the Christmas carol “Here We Come A-wassailing”Wassail is a spiced holiday beverage given out to carolers.)

Updated on April 15, 2011

Six and a half years down the line, Sarah just turned 24.  She did graduate.  She married an illegal alien.  She has been on the cover of a marijuana magazine.  She has done some recording of hip hop music (but I don’t think anything has been released).  She has been tattooed on her neck.  She has worked as a stripper in Las Vegas (hello, Showgirls!).  She has been arrested for solicitation and other things.


Thursday, September 2, 2004

Selection 2004: Primary-ly Geared to Generate Lawsuits

Washington state has a new Primary Election system this year, as mandated by a court decision.  We used to have a “blanket primary”, where anyone could vote for any candidate — a Democrat in this race, a Republican in that one, and so forth.  In our new system — the so-called “Montana” style (or semi-open) — voters must select a single party and then vote only for people running under that party.  (Everyone gets to vote in the “Non-Partisan” races, like for Judge — we call them non-partisan because there’s no explicit political party listed, but we all know every one of the candidates has a political agenda of his or her own which may color how they perform once in office.)  The winner from each of the main parties (Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian), plus any minor party candidates, ends up on the General Election ballot come November.

Needless to say, a lot of people are angry about this, because it changes how they have been able to vote in the past.  I certainly understand that, because I, too, liked that freedom.  But people miss an important fact there, the purpose of this sort of a Primary Election:

The Primary Election is not intended to winnow the field down to just two candidates.  (At least not in most states.  Some use the “Louisiana” style, which does just that: if the top two vote getters happen to be from the same party, those two end up in the General Election.)  Instead, the Primary Election’s purpose is to choose the candidate from each party.  To that end, the parties are right in wanting only Democrats to vote for Democrat candidates, and only Republicans to vote for Republicans.  Or at least Democrats-for-the-moment: if you are willing to vote only for Democrats, they’ll (grudgingly) take you, no matter what party your official registration is with (if any).

Part of the goal here is to prevent “spoilers”.  You may not care who gets the nod from your favorite party (or it may be in the bag), but you may feel that one candidate in the opposition party has a greater chance of beating out your party, so you might want to throw your vote to his in-party opponent in order to get the less “dangerous” candidate into the General Election.  Needless to say, the political parties don’t like such “spoilers”.  One way around them is to set things up so that you can still vote as a “spoiler”, but you have to be one across the board: if you want to vote for anyone from that other party, you can only vote for that party.  (Or you can still cross party lines and have your ballot invalidated.)

And that’s what my big concern is with this election.

There are two balloting methods going on.  In most of the state, voters will declare which party they intend to vote for, are given the ballot for that party (all three ballots have the non-partisan section attached), and away they go to vote.  There are two downsides to this: first, each precinct has to have enough ballots for every registered voter (although at best half will actually vote) to vote in any party, even Libertarian (which is apt to actually get maybe 5%, tops); this triplication can be expensive.  Second, this presumably means publicly declaring your party intention to people who could be your friends (or enemies) and who might be taken aback at a party affiliation (even if only temporary) which does not match their own; I’m sure there are ways to avoid such declaration, though.

But for six counties — Snohomish, King, Pierce, Kitsap, Klickitat, and Chelan, which contain large Washington cities such as Everett, Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Bremerton, and Wenatchee — there is none of this triple ballot stuff.  Each person gets a single ballot, marks a preferred party, and votes accordingly.  But if there is any crossing of party lines (intentional or accidental), including marking the wrong party and then voting consistently beyond that, those votes are invalidated:
[Secretary of State Sam] Reed expects a number of ballots will be tainted, with voters neglecting to mark their party preference or trying to vote for candidates of more than one party. Those votes won’t count.
Above excerpt from the Seattle Times.  According to the Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet, only votes which don’t conform to the party selection are discounted, rather than the entire ballot.

This thing is bound to be as problematic as the Butterfly Ballot was in Florida in 2000.  In the other counties, there’s no question about keeping to the selected party, but in several of the largest cities in the state — and in the strongest Democratic areas, if that’s important — ballots which can be expected to cause confusion are being used, in the name of saving money.  (Which I’m all for, mind you!)  But you have to admit, things look a little suspicious.

If there are any close races from those counties, you can expect lawsuits up the butt and new buzz phrases to drive “hanging chad” out of the vocabulary.  The state had better plan on recording all the invalid votes in order to provide statistics to refute those lawsuits, and have backup plans in place for handling recounts.

Fortunately (perhaps), Initiative 872 comes along in November, and if it passes (which is considered likely), will move us to a “Louisiana” style primary (the old “blanket primary” was deemed unconstitutional).  Of course, the political parties are campaigning against it, “saying it would deprive voters of party choice and could disenfranchise those who back minor-party candidates.”  (The first part is also known as “It would take away some of our power.”  The second part is truer, but if you can’t make Top Two in September, hon, you ain’t gonna make it in November, either.)

Updated on April 14, 2011
Initiative 872 passed.  The political parties sued.  The Ninth Circuit Court declared it unconstitutional in 2005.  Finally, the US Supreme Court upheld the initiative in 2008.

The net effect being that now the purpose of the primary is to narrow the field of candidates to two.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Clubs, Forums, and Beta Wolves

I am or have been involved in a number of clubs, online message forums, and other groups over the years.  If you have as well, you’ve seen them ebb and flow.  You’ve seen personalities clash.  You’ve seen people drop out, and others never really participate — sometimes because they have nothing to add, but sometimes because they fear being attacked.

Cartoonist Donna Barr makes some good commentary on the matter in this article.  Here is a pertinent quote:
They taught me what groups were all about — internal politics, single-minded subject matter, petty squabbles, and attempts to direct everybody and anybody involved with the Point of the group interest into each little leader’s personal camp.  For this I am grateful &mdash but I'll be damned if I’ll let ’em get near me again.
There are people who seem to survive well in these sorts of environments, though.  (Survive, not lead!)  Maybe these are the “Beta Wolves”: the people who recognize the politics for what they are and don’t let the politics control the people.  They are people with no more than a minimal agenda, but who are willing to give as good as they get: they aren’t afraid of getting barked at, but no “alpha” attacks them without getting bit himself.

Updated on April 12, 2011

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Selection 2004: Undecided

Is there really anyone “undecided” left in this country when it comes to who they are going to vote for in November?  Myself, I’ve been pretty well decided since, oh, December 2000: Anybody But Bush.  Firmly so since this campaign started, anyway, once we knew for sure that only a Democrat opponent would have a chance of winning and that such could be no worse than Bush.

But what about other people?  Are any of them truly “Undecided”, or is that a myth?  As I think about, they are probably real, but not in the way the term is usually batted around.
  • I suspect that anyone who voted Democrat in 2000 — and most who voted Green (Nader) — is in the “No question” camp.  Polls indicate that there are a number of people who voted for Bush last time who are at least questioning it this time.  So some “Undecideds” are actually “Undecided whether they will vote for Bush again.
  • I’m on record as being less than thrilled with Kerry as a nominee (although no worse than I was with Gore in 2000), but I know that I will swallow and vote for him anyway, as the candidate who will do my pet issues the least harm, and because not voting for him is 1/2 a vote for someone who will do those issues some harm.  I’m sure, however, that there are people who genuinely can’t stand either Kerry or Bush, who think that neither one is good for the country, and thus they are “Undecided whether they will vote for either guy.
  • As we all know, there are many who are apathetic about the entire thing.  This is especially the younger crowd, the ones who are old enough to be cynical without being wise, or who simply don’t care.  These are “Undecided whether they will bother to vote at all.
  • Everyone likes to be a winner, or at least on the winning side.  Look at sports fans, who are gleefully happy if “their team” wins (even when they don’t live where that team is based).  I’m sure there are people out there who just want to say they voted for the winner (or maybe gripe because their candidate didn’t win; sometimes they want griping rights more than a winning candidate, because they know they’ll never be happy with whomever wins).  And thus they are “Undecided which way they will throw their vote until the last minute, when they can see who is apt to be the winner.”

Updated on April 4, 2011

In the Mood for a Hero

While reading The Stranger’s review of Hero — which I hope to see tomorrow night — I caught a side mention of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung’s prior movie appearance, In the Mood for Love (2000).  And my mini-review of that earlier film:
Maggie Cheung’s ass in this film would be enough to make any man go straight… if she wasn’t wearing so many fabulous dresses.

Updated on April 1, 2011

Friday, August 27, 2004

Selection 2004/Gay Marriage: Pending Amendments

Hidden down at the bottom of a s CNN article (no longer available, try this summary), after all the stuff about the Republican Party convention platform calling for an amendment to ban same-sex civil marriage, is this little tidbit:
On abortion, the proposed platform again calls for a constitutional ban, asserting “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”
You got that?  The Religious Right now sees Constitutional amendments as the best way to forward their agenda.  (Yes, I’m aware that a call for an abortion amendment has been a staple of their platform for several elections, but this time it has company.)  They realize that the weight of law and court precedent is increasingly against them on the gay rights front, on abortion, on stem-cell research, on flag burning, and so on, and thus that their best (perhaps only) option is to do an end-run to where the courts can’t touch them.  (And then presumably stand there, going “Neener-neener!  We win!”)

You want a slippery slope?  This is it.  If any of these controversial amendments pass — just pass Congress, before they ever get to the states — there will be a rush to push all of them through the channel and burst the dam.

One of the primary purposes of the courts is to protect the individual and the minority against the rule of the majority.  This is the right wing’s method of imposing majority rule.

You want something that will destroy our civilization?  Don’t look at gay marriage.  Look at amendments which restrict the rights of minorities.

Updated on August 31, 2004

Updated on March 31, 2011

Friday, August 20, 2004

Go to Hell

This article (originally on CNN, now from another site due to lack of accessible archives) is representative of the problems I have with organized religion.

To summarize: a girl with celiac sprue diseasewiki (wheat gluten intolerance) is being denied the rite of Communion by the Catholic Church.  Church doctrine requires unleavened wheat as part of the communion wafer.

Regardless of what the Catholic Church doctrine says about transubstantiation — that the wafer and wine change into literal body and blood of Christ, which is pretty sick if you think about it — Communion is a symbolic rite.  I doubt anyone really believes that transubstantiation occurs; they have “faith” that it does, but they don’t believe it.  (Someone will surely pipe up and say they do.  No, you don’t; you have been told to believe it, and you’ve accepted that.  That’s what faith is: believing what you’re told to.)

So in the name of holding to Church doctrine, this child is being given a choice: become ill, or do not receive salvation.  That is, risk your health or go to Hell.  What a choice.

(Now, not to judge the entire Church.  Some individual churches are willing to substitute a rice wafer.  But not the one the child’s parents attend: that one invalidated her Communion done at a friendlier church.  And of course the Vatican has already decided the issue, in the negative.)

In the end, it should boil down to this: “What Would Jesus Do?”  Would he tell a child no?  I don’t think so.  Maybe the Church should give some more thought to this.  And maybe adherents to the Catholic faith should give some thought to what they actually have faith in.

Added links on March 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Gay Marriage: Why Gays Get Married

Jonathan Rauch has an opinion piece on gay marriage in the online version of the New York Times.  (May require registration or paywall access; Troy points me to a no-registration version at Independent Gay Forum.)

There is an understated point in here that I find interesting: the idea that being gay and wanting to marry are orthogonal.  Okay, today, when we’re so wrapped up in the pending possibility, that doesn’t seem unusual (although some seem to fear that “married” will become the new gay norm, that those who are not coupled will be shunned).  But before/outside this current spate of marriage fever is a different matter.

We usually think of gays and lesbians who get married (in the straight manner, to people pof the same sex) as denying their orientation.  However, in an orthogonal world, it’s not so much denial as suppression.  For whatever reason, some men and women feel that being married is An Important Thing.  It is something they sincerely want to do/be.  And thus, in the name of achieving this goal, they put aside any same-sex orientation drive they may have and pursue the left turn at Albuquerque.

Of course, drives — sex, hunger, and I’ll propose a “sexual orientation drive” as something distinct from the traditional “sex drive” — can only be idled for so long, and eventually things break down and they have to be addressed.  Which has been the demise of many an opposite sex marriage where suppression has occurred.

So there’s one more reason to favor same-sex civil marriage: it may actually reduce the divorce rate, by allowing those with the need to pursue marriage to do so without the suppression of the sexual orientation drive which tends to tear such things apart.

Updated on August 18, 2004

Updated on March 23, 2011

Friday, August 13, 2004

Talk the Talk

Submitted for your perverse consideration.
My Fair Lady

Professor Henry Higgins, a scholar of language in all its forms, takes in and educates Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, enabling her to pass herself off as a member of the continental nobility.  Despite his protestations to the contrary, Higgins falls for the woman.
Dr. Dolittle

A skilled veterinarian learns to talk to the animals, and sets off to have great adventures involving giant sea snails and the Pushmi-Pullyu.
Goodness, but these two language experts look alike, don’t they?  (That is: they were both played by Rex Harrison, in 1964 and 1967 respectively.)  What if…

Despite realizing his love for Eliza, it is easy to imagine that Henry might never actually marry the woman.  True, it would be a scandal in that age — but so would taking in a Cockney flower girl, after all, and Henry Higgins was never one to care much for what “polite society” thought of him — so it is not hard to imagine Henry and Eliza raising a son out of wedlock.  Or perhaps Eliza eventually realizing that Henry would never actually marry her and departing for another part of England with her son and a comfortable stipend.

Advance time forward a few decades, and witness Eliza’s son (with a single letter change in the surname) becoming a successful veterinarian, undoubtedly with his education and travels funded by the estate of his father. Although the good doctor has never demonstrated a particular interest in the art of language, blood will tell, and when given the opportunity to do so, he readily picks up the ability to “Talk to the Animals.”

(Further, both the above movies have a non-specific Victorian era setting.  With no specific references to place the two films temporally, that period is broad enough to fit the timeline.  At least to the degree of accuracy any Hollywood film of the 1960s manages.)

For extra credit, find other Rex Harrison (or Audrey Hepburn) movies which fit into this concept, where the character is played by the same actor (or actress) and shares sufficient traits to be a relative of Henry (or Eliza).

Comment by “Sterling” on August 24, 2004
I must admit that I really enjoyed your take on the Doolittle names and Hollywood.  Very amusing.  I will place it in the same chapter as demonic advertising and hidden messages in rock music.  (Two other areas I enjoy reading about for a good laugh!)

Pygmalion (1916) by George Bernard Shaw, coined the name Doolittle in 1916.  [The book] was based on commonly known mythology.

Dr. Dolittle was conceived during the 1917-18 war (in the battle at Flanders to be exact) as a reaction to Hugh Lofting seeing Regimental Horses destroyed when wounded.  (The original story was in a letter to small children that he wrote.)  Once Lofting was wounded himself and send back to NYC, he wrote the story to be published in 1920.  The series of books based on the exploits of Dolittle that followed was begun in 1922.

If you would like to ready why the two could not be related by blood (the child of Eliza and Higgins) there is a great scholarly piece on the web to read.
Updated on March 22, 2011
Here’s a second pair of “What if…” character bridges:

In 1899 New York, rebellious and fast-talking Jack Kelly organizes a newsboys strike against the newspapers run by Pulitzer and Hearst.  At the end of the film, he leaves town, looking for new adventures.

In 1912 England, fast-talking American Jack Dawson manages to wrangle his way onto the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic.
Is "Jack Dawson" his real name, or just a convenient pseudonym?  Underneath, the characters are basically the same, and it's not hard at all to postulate a 12 or 13 year age gap between the characters (make Jack Kelly early teens and Jack Dawson mid-20s).

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Gay Marriage: Talking Points

Stanley Kurtz has an opinion piece on gay marriage in the online version of the National Review.

I don’t agree with much of what he has to say, but one point comes out clear and accurate:
Gay marriage is an issue most people prefer to avoid.  The public may oppose gay marriage, but what it really wants is to avoid having to talk about it.
This parallels the well established scenario where people who are against gay rights (of any sort) tend to change (or at least soften) their stance when they have a family member, close friend, or co-worker come out.  Once they have a face to put with the situation, they tend to actually think about it, rather than going with their squicked gut reaction.

That is undoubtedly true for the same-sex civil marriage side of things, too.  The arguments against it start (and pretty much end) with “It’s wrong!!!”  Once people are forced (er, encouraged) to actually think about the issue (if you can get them to think rather than preach), if you can put a face on it, then you’ll find them at least softening their stance.  (The first sign of that being “Well, I guess civil unions might be okay.”)

People are sheep: they want to be herded from one field to the next.  People are metaphoric ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand.  They will pointedly ignore the truth of an issue in favor of repeating other people’s rhetoric.  The best cure for this is personal activism — “Being out is more important than coming out” — so you need to do what you can to make those around you aware that same-sex couples are here, are queer, and deserve the rights, benefits, and responsibilities which every other loving couple gets in our society.

Updated on March 15, 2011

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Butch Fun Cars II

Land Rover Freelander SE3.  2004.

Rutland Red.  Last night.

More later…

Added links on March 14, 2011

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Conflicted about the Conflict: We Would Have Invaded Anyway

This week, the Butler Review was released in the United Kingdom, reiterating what has been coming out in the United States recently: that the intelligence agencies had reservations about weapon stockpiles, that Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat, and that Blair (and Bush) pushed forward regardless.  On BBC Radio’s “World Service” program yesterday was an interview on the subject with Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons.

The original airing of the program doesn’t appear to be available any more.  It was 4:24 minutes long; the important part started at 3:30 and covered the last minute of the interview.  Fortunately, I transcribed some of that part…
(Symons) The crunch issue is, “If we knew then what we know now, would the decision over what we did in Iraq be the same?” and the answer to that is “Yes.”  Because as the Butler Report makes clear, Saddam had had chemical and biological weapons, he had had a nuclear weapons program, he had concealed them, he had used these weapons in the past.

(BBC Interviewer) If we’d known that there were no stockpiles, no weapons of mass destruction, we’d have invaded anyway?

(Symons) I think that the threat that was posed to us at the time was a threat that we could not have simply passed by.  Because the fact is that at the time, we were getting all these reports, not only about the belief that Saddam could be building up these stockpiles, but of course, as well, it was the coming together, as the Prime Minister made very clear in his statement, of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the terrorist threat.
[Online program ends here.]

In other words, “Yes.”  If we had known at the time that there were no weapons of mass destruction, we (or at least the United Kingdom, and I think it’s safe to say the United States by extension, since the UK wouldn’t have done it without us) would have invaded Iraq anyway.

In short, the war was about deposing Saddam.  And nothing else.

Updated on March 10, 2011

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Conflicted about the Conflict: Big Deal

There has been a big hoopla over the fact that the Philippines has decided to pull its Coalition forces out of Iraq in order to secure the release of one of their people held hostage.

According to this site (currently with information from February 2007), that’s going to be a total of 43 people removed (down already from 51).  Forty-three!  Big fucking deal!  (In fact, the only Coalition members with fewer personnel in Iraq are Norway, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, and Moldova.  Tonga has about the same number as the Philippines; they only just arrived on July 4.  Oh, and of course Spain has pulled theirs out already, and Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua are listed with none present.)

On the other hand, that one hostage equates to some 2% of the Philippine forces there.  If the United States had 2000 or more of our forces held hostage — I’m not sure just what the current number of troops in Iraq is, but it’s somewhere above 100,000 as I recall — then maybe we would do the same.  (Or maybe just when we reach that number of deaths.  We’re only at some 881 today.  Whoops, wait, that was last Friday.  The number is probably higher by now.)

Updated on July 15, 2004

Updated on March 9, 2011

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Gay Marriage: Rotten to the Core

In his July 10 radio broadcast (transcription no longer available), President Bush referred to courts defining marriage as a “mere legal contract.”

From a legal, governmental, secular standpoint, that is exactly what marriage is.  The United States government does not and may not recognize a religious aspect of marriage and instead wraps contract law around and through marriage, pointedly ignoring (but allowing) any religious aspects.

Or at least that’s how law sees it, from an agnostic point of view.  (Note: not atheistic, which would be “There is no God,” but agnostic, “God isn’t required.”  There is a difference.)  Religionists like Bush, however, (claim to) look from the inside out: they see marriage as a religious rite, and the legal contracts as stuff wrapped around the outside.

This is then the crux of the issue: is marriage the religious rite in the center, and the other stuff is just fluff?  Or is marriage the legal contracts, and the religious stuff is an optional piece?  (Picture a toy car given as a birthday present, perhaps: the toy won’t run without the batteries, but the batteries aren’t much fun without the toy.  Of course, the toy car can probably be pushed around and played with to some degree sans batteries.)

As observed on this site, outside of Christian terms, marriage is merely such a contract, a means of establishing whose woman (and children, and associated property) is whose.  Out of that has grown all the other legal incidents involving inheritance and taxes and “in sickness and in health”.

I’m not going to say who is right and who is wrong — that’s a question unanswerable by anyone but God, and He ain’t talking.  But clearly if you don’t accept the religious rite as a required core, then marriage is probably the other stuff.

But if the religionists do manage to push through the Federal Marriage Amendment, or something similar to it, it’s worth considering whether this is merely the first step on a proverbial “slippery slope”.  Once they have had one success in codifying their religious beliefs (note: not religious beliefs in general, since some religions are not opposed to same-sex marriage, even as a religious rite; with the toy example above, you can buy whatever brand of batteries you want) into law this way, the next step becomes easier: tying marriage to the religious right (er, to the religious rite).  Not requiring people to be married, but restricting the benefits and legal incidents of marriage to those who are married.  And then defining “married” as requiring the religious rite.  And then defining just what that religious rite is.

In other words, once they can define marriage as being one man and one woman, they can start to work at it having other limits (in order to make it conform to tradition, of course; to their tradition).  They can disallow marriages done in non-approved (non-religious) ways, including Justice of the Peace, Common Law, shipboard, and of course by mayors and other political persons.  And from there, it’s a simple hop to stripping rights from existing marriages of those sorts.

The FMA isn’t about protecting marriage.  It’s about restricting it, reserving it to only those who the religionists deem worthy.  Disallowing same-sex couples is only the first step.  (Make that the third step: they already kicked out groups other than couples, and they used to have limits regarding race, but lost ground on that.  Perhaps only temporarily, in their view.)

Updated on March 10, 2011

Monday, July 12, 2004

Best Deal for Travel

I don’t want to get in the habit of touting one business over another, but…

When I need to get airplane tickets (and this is fairly often, as I’ve been in, let’s see… Palm Springs, Long Beach, Seattle, Houston, Nashville, Paducah, Vancouver, Kansas City, New Orleans, Chicago, Las Vegas, Columbus… at least 11 metro areas this year, with at least three more to come before the year is over), I go to a variety of websites looking for the best price.  Most of my cross-country flying is on American (for the miles), and my West Coast trips are usually on Alaska (again, for the miles), but I also check Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia as well.  You never know which might have a Web Deal or even just a fare a few bucks lower.

Twice in the past year, poking around for best fares — both times going to Texas, oddly enough, and gasping at the prices — I’ve found my best deal to be through Travelocity, with their “Search Flights + Hotels” option.  They partner with area hotels — anything from a 2-star Comfort Suites to a 4-star Crowne Plaza — and get you a package deal which is below the cost for the items separately.  This has proven true even when I was staying at the host hotel for an event at what should be a cut price off the standard rate.  For my upcoming trip to Dallas, the net savings will be about $80 off the separate pieces, a bit more than one night free at the hotel.

(Of course, I have to be a good consumer of the event as well, and call the hotel to confirm the reservation and make sure they record it as being in conjunction with the event.  Events and conventions need room nights at the host hotel to ensure that they get ballroom and exhibition space at as low a price as possible.)

Updated August 11, 2004
I need to downgrade the above recommendation somewhat after my trip to Dallas this past weekend.  I realized as well that I used Travelocity for my hotel on a trip to Las Vegas back in June, and I’ve used them now and again in the past just for airfare, and that helped establish a pattern.

Both of my airplane seats on this last trip were “E” seats — middle of the right side — and my memory says that this is a pattern.  That is, as a bulk seller of airline seats, they put you in the less desirable middle seats (or perhaps those are the ones made readily available to them; can’t put all the blame on them without knowing all the details).  On both legs of my Dallas trip, the plane was packed to the gills (even on a mid-afternoon flight out of the hub on a Monday!) and there was no availability to change seats.

Worse, though, is that they do the same thing (perhaps) with hotel space.  When I got to the Sheraton in Dallas, I was greeted by “I see you’ve requested a Smoking Room.”  I most certainly did not: with my asthma, it’s bad enough going to bars and dating a smoker, I sure don’t want to breathe leftover smoke all weekend while I sleep.  I had the same situation with the hotel in Vegas; I don’t recall about Houston last October.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to change to a non-smoking room each time, but it was no sure thing in Vegas.

Again, it’s impossible to say whether this is an intentional thing, that the hotel partners offer up smoking rooms because they are less able to fill them, or if it’s just a bad web interface which doesn’t ask about smoking preference and the lack of info gets pushed through to the hotel as a default preference for Smoking.

Whatever the intent, caveat emptor: you can get a better deal this way, but there may be hidden bits of undesirability.
Updated on March 4, 2011
I no longer use this mechanism when I’m going to events where I plan to stay at the host hotel.  The hotel sometimes isn’t able to retroactively apply your externally done reservation to the room block, and getting those rooms sold is often vital to the host club.  (They are on the hook for unsold rooms if they don’t meet a certain percentage.  It is really bad form for you to save $60 over the course of three nights but cost the organizing group 3 x $129 in the process.)

My current recommendation for travel is Kayak, for their combination of aggregating from multiple airlines along with their decent UI experience.  But I do still go to other sites before making the purchase, just to be sure I’m seeing all the options (often I’m not).

Friday, July 9, 2004

Gay Marriage: Change Begins at Work (Conclusion)

Back in March, I wrote (in “Gay Marriage: Change Begins at Work”) about our company’s gay and lesbian employee group’s effort to get our Domestic Partner Benefits requirements changed, updating them to account for today’s domestic partner registrations, civil unions, and legal same-sex civil marriages.

This had been the text from our benefits book:
Domestic Partner Coverage

Adobe extends coverage under Personal Selections (PS) to qualified domestic partners, same and opposite sex, and their eligible dependent child(ren).  Domestic partner coverage applies to the coverages—medical, dental, vision, dependent life insurance and long-term care—in which spouses and children may be enrolled.

To be eligible for domestic partner coverage:
  • You and your partner must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You must be in a committed, exclusive relationship.
  • You must have lived together for at least 12 months.
  • You must be jointly responsible for living expenses.
  • Your domestic partner’s child(ren) must satisfy the same criteria applied to an employee’s child(ren).  (See “Who Is Eligible” earlier in this section.)
Roommates and relatives are not considered domestic partners.  You must also wait 12 months before re-enrolling a different domestic partner.  If you are in a domestic partnership and your 12-month anniversary falls at a time outside of the Open Enrollment period, this will be treated as a qualified change in status, and you may apply for domestic partner coverage at that time.
I’m pleased to say that, after diligent research, Human Resources has agreed to the bulk of our requests on the subject.  (Aside: There was an article in The Advocate in March (online archives only go back to 2008 currently, so no link to the article) indicating that some companies were making changes like this, but without naming any of them.  Well, here’s one to be named!)

Here is the text (effective July 1, 2004 ) to be incorporated into the next printing:
Domestic Partner Coverage

Throughout the year, Adobe periodically reviews our benefit plans and policies.  Due to our review and recent legislation, the following changes have been made to our Domestic Partner policy:
  • Official government registration of an employee’s domestic partnership can be submitted in lieu of Adobe’s Domestic Partner Declaration (Affidavit).
Domestic partner eligibility requirements

An employee and their domestic partner must be:
  • At least 18 years of age
  • In a committed, exclusive relationship AND
  • Jointly responsible for living expenses.
  • A domestic partner’s child(ren) must satisfy the same eligibility criteria applied to the child(ren) of an employee.
A domestic partner relationship must:
  • Exist for at least 12 consecutive months AND during this time, maintain the same principal residence with the intent to do so indefinitely.
  • The domestic partner relationship must be recorded, certified, and/or registered by a national, state, city or regional U.S. government authority.
That is, whether or not they have lived together for 12 months, the presence of a government-recognized and registered relationship is sufficient for Adobe Systems to accept that it is a genuine domestic partnership.

There are two things which they did not approve:
  • Payment for the benefits of the domestic partner come out of post-tax dollars, while that for married opposite-sex spouses come from pre-tax dollars and may cost less.  This is not something Adobe Systems has control over; it is dictated by the Federal Government and insurers.
  • This policy change only affects United States employees whose partnerships are registered in the United States.  Adobe has other policies for its employees in Canada, the Netherlands, and other countries where same-sex marriage laws are different.  In particular, though, U.S. employees who marry in Canada but do not otherwise have a registered partnership in the United States are not covered.
There is also one impact that I note for which we didn’t request a change:
  • Same-sex partners must share living expenses, which implies the earlier requirement to live together as well.  It is unclear how this would affect a couple for which one partner had to live in another city for an extended period due to his or her job (or military service) and was unable to contribute to the living expenses, for example.  For opposite-sex married couples, there is no requirement for shared living expenses or cohabitation; technically, the two never have to see one another again after marrying.
I suppose someone may request an examination of that requirement at some point, although I am personally not too worried about it.  I believe that Adobe would do the right thing by a couple separated for job or related reasons.  There are few couples (same or opposite sex) who would fall into the last class above, and I would be more apt to fight to prevent opposite-sex couples from receiving benefits in such a case than to secure them for same-sex couples.

In all, a very favorable resolution to this issue that I spearheaded.

What’s that?  Will it actually affect any employees?  You bet it will.  One of the female employees has already spoken up to say that it will.  But even more, my partner Rusty currently has no health insurance.  We are still waiting for his divorce from his ex-wife to finalize (it’s been in process since before we met!), but once that happens, we will register our partnership with King County and be able to have him (and his daughter Sarah, who also lives with us during the school year) covered, hopefully by Labor Day, several months before the old policy would have enabled such coverage to start.