Monday, April 30, 2007

Smile for the Camera and Kiss Your Girlfriend Goodbye!

A while back I mused that coming out in high school these days must be a heady experience that flings the doors of life's possibilities wide open at a conveniently early age, giving kids a jumpstart on figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world. It was pretty easy for me to focus on the generally more open, accepting atmosphere of now compared to the more closeted era I grew up in, and not think in much detail about the inevitable bad reactions gay kids still face.

Nice myopia, Boltgirl! Welcome to Gig Harbor (Washington) High School!
Restrictions on the use of school security videotape have been tightened after images of two [female] high school students kissing were shown to the parents of one of the girls, officials say.

Keith Nelson, dean of students at Gig Harbor High School, said he saw the [girl]s kissing and holding hands in the school's busy commons, checked a surveillance camera and showed the parents the tape because they had asked him a few weeks earlier to alert them to any conduct by their daughter that was out of the ordinary.

They then transferred their daughter to a school outside the Peninsula School District, which lies northwest of Tacoma.

Unreal. Maybe we should be relieved that they only transferred to a different school instead of packing her off to ex-gay camp or disowning her. Maybe we should be relieved that the principal stepped in belatedly to say that this was a grossly inappropriate use of the school security cameras, and that it wouldn't happen again.
Kissing and other public displays of affection were at the time and remain violations of school rules, but violators will first be given warnings and will be disciplined only for a second offense, Schellenberg said. In addition, school employees are barred from sharing surveillance video in response to an open-ended parental request.

The fact remains that the dean responsible for reporting the same-sex peck in the first place still thinks he did the right thing.
Nelson said he respected the change in policy but added that he believes his first obligation is to parents. "They're paying good money for us to make their kids good citizens," he said. "Whatever that means to the parents, I'll do it."

Nelson said students could not have any expectation of privacy in a crowded place and maintained that he would have taken the same action had the students kissing been a boy and a girl.

Uh-huh. Sure he would have. Certainly there must be a long record of boy-girl kisses captured on video that the dean has been reporting to parents, so that they can relocate their kids to schools far away from their unapproved beaus. Right? And if there isn't any record of the sort, it must be because those hetero Gig Harbor kids don't engage in any public displays of affection while at school, right? Because otherwise Dean Nelson sounds rather like a hypocrite and rather unlike a model "good citizen."

Bil Browning's take is over at Bilerico, where I first read about this.

Draft Day Drama

Well, that took long enough. The Browns took Quinn with the 22nd pick overall after trading next year's first-round pick to the Cowboys. The Steelers have along been my AFC team of choice, so this sets up some interesting ethical issues. I'll muddle through somehow.

It was hard not to feel a little bit dirty after watching the draft. The pre-event hype had been going full steam for a couple of months, finally hitting a crescendo in the last couple days of last week that had to have left even the ESPN execs feeling a little sheepish. How many preview shows does the draft really need? Why have we collectively consented to a national platform being given to Mel Kiper Jr.'s breathtaking ego?

Actually, the best part of the whole thing was watching Kiper's head bob and sweat ever more violently with each team that took a pass on his sure-bet number three pick. Next year I'll have some pride and just read about it in the paper the next morning.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Utter Randomness, and Some Eye Candy

Watching the NFL draft, still shaking my head at the Browns taking Thomas instead of Quinn, and wondering how far Brady will fall now that the middle of the first ten teams have specific needs that do not involve a quarterback. Hmmmm, if the Vikes take (and keep) him, I may need to re-think my decade-old defection to the Packers. But probably not.

Brady Quinn: eye candy for any orientation.

In other news, In-N-Out Burger finally opened in Tucson on Wednesday, and people predictably flipped out, spending up to two hours in the walk-up and drive-through lines for a Double-Double and fries. Last night I drove by on my way to someplace else, around 7:00, and the drive-through line looked to be at least 30 cars long. Reinforcements had been called in, possibly from Phoenix, in the form of a In-N-Out semi trailer concession stand that was taking walk-ups. The line there was immense, as was the line snaking 50 deep out the front door of the place.

I don't get it. In-N-Out is reasonably tasty--frankly, I'm a sucker for just about anything served in a crisp paper wrapper as long as it isn't raw fish--and the shakes kick righteous ice cream ass, but I'm not sure it's an earth-shaking experience of the order of magnitude required to make hours in line worthwhile.

Draft note: the Vikes take Adrian Peterson with the 7th pick. Ah shite.

Things I have waited in ungodly long lines to purchase or partake in, in order of reward:pain ratio...

1. Cubs home opener tickets. Every year in college we traipsed over to Rose Records on Davis Street in Evanston in the middle of a February night and waited for the TicketMaster window to open at 8:00 the next morning. It was always cold and sometimes snowy, and we never thought to bring chairs or coffee. Just 5 or 6 layers of clothes and lots of stamping our feet to stay warm, giddy with growing anticipation as we watched the city slowly wake up and start its day, knowing we'd get our tickets but still worried they'd sell out in the five seconds it would take to sprint from the door to the TicketMaster counter.

2. Um. I don't know that there is a number two. Let's keep things in realistic proportion and skip down to

10. Return of the King. I guess that was worthwhile.

10. The Indiana Jones ride at Which one's in California? That one. That's a pretty cool ride that's almost worth waiting an hour for.

Guess I'm not much of a line person, or maybe it's that I'm not much of a delayed gratification person. Nothing has come close to the flush of victory that comes from skipping out of the record store clutching my bleacher tickets after eight hours of freezing my ass off, heading back to a hot shower and the happy promise of Opening Day on the horizon.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Reader

Forthwith, a laundry list of thought-provoking pieces by folks with nimbler brains and better distribution than me. Amazingly, I agree with all of them. What are the chances?

Dahlia Lithwick, on AG Gonzales' amazing imploding testimony before the judiciary committee:

One of the key issues in the early battles over unitary executive theory was the president's firing power. In its first incarnations, the notion of a unitary executive shored up the president's claim that he was entitled to fire executive officials—including the independent counsel and agency heads—as the mood took him.

If you watch the Gonzales hearing through this prism (and in this White House, even the bathroom windows look out through that prism), they were a triumph. For six impressive hours, the attorney general embodied the core principles that he is not beholden to Congress, that the Senate has no authority over him, and that he was only there as a favor to them in their funny little fact-finding mission.

Ellen Goodman writing last week in the immediate aftershock of Gonzales v. Carhart:

May I remind you what else was happening on the very day in 2003 when Congress passed the partial-birth abortion ban? In Florida, the Legislature passed a law that gave politicians the power to override Terri Schiavo's wishes and have her feeding tube reinserted.

Up and down the East Coast, under two Bush administrations -- George and Jeb -- politicians were playing doctor and God and patient, trumping both medical opinion and individual rights.

May I also remind you of the day President Bush signed the partial-birth abortion ban into law? The photo op had him surrounded by an all-male chorus line of legislators. These men were proudly governing something they never had: a womb.

Goodman today, on the court's disturbingly paternalistic turn to the right:

There was a small relic hidden in the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. For the first time, Justice Anthony Kennedy justified banning an abortion procedure not only to protect the fetus but to protect the woman.

"While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon," he admitted, "it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained."

Reliable data or not, the "regrets" of these women became another reason to ban a procedure for all women. The state could protect her, the justice implied, from her own ill-informed, misguided decision.

Lynn Paltrow
, chiming in:

The Court also made clear that when it comes to women's health, Congress need not legislate based on scientific or medical evidence. The leading medical experts and the lower federal courts have found that the now-banned procedure is the safest option for some women, and that it is significantly safer for these women than other abortion techniques. And yet, the Supreme Court decision acknowledges, Congress ignored these factual conclusions. Yesterday's decision marks a radical departure from previous Supreme Court abortion decisions that required law-makers to legislate based on facts not politics.

Indeed, the ruling effectively reverses more than 30 years of precedent requiring that laws regulating abortion ensure protection not only of the woman's life, but also her health. In the majority opinion, Kennedy makes clear that the most critical reason for upholding the law is to express the government's interest in the value of fetal life regardless of what that may mean for pregnant women.

Sarah Blustain
, on South Dakota's informed consent law (currently under review in the 8th Circuit; companion piece to the voter-overturned draconian abortion law) and its implications for the concept of informed consent nationwide:

The first bit of advice the law would compel doctors to give, about the abortion terminating the life of a human being, rests on the notion that a woman seeking an abortion doesn't actually understand what being pregnant means...

The second bit of information that abortion doctors would be required to tell a woman seeking an abortion is that she has a "right" to continue her pregnancy. The South Dakota law, as well as the Mary Doe and Acuna cases, assumes that women considering abortions are generally so coerced by outside forces and by their own "crisis thinking" that they need the state to step in to protect them...

This line of thinking makes clear that women are too ignorant to realize that they are carrying some sort of nascent life in them, and too weak to possibly decide for themselves whether to have an abortion. Even worse, drafters of the South Dakota law do not think women are competent to state whether they have absorbed all of this helpful state information properly: The law would require the doctor to certify, in writing, that he "believes she [the pregnant woman] understands the information imparted."

Alice Cherbonnier supplies a delightfully high-snark rejoinder to South Dakota:

The real problem with this South Dakota law is that its pre-abortion informed consent requirements are incomplete. Those doctors should be required to provide more warnings during this last-minute disclosure session.

Let's have every South Dakota woman seeking an abortion acknowledge that she knows, if she bears a normal child, that the cost of raising that child to the age of 18, in today's dollars, will average $190,528—not counting the costs of her prenatal medical care and delivery, and postnatal follow-up care.

She should be informed, if she is to continue the pregnancy, of exactly how much financial support she can realistically expect from anti-abortion advocates and their organizations, and from government sources like Medicaid and social services (and be told how long she can expect those sources of aid will continue).

She will be asked to provide information about her sources of family support, if any. She will be required to affirm that she knows she may be an outcast of her family if her pregnancy goes forward.

Let's also make sure that the woman is informed of the potentially horrible effects on the fetus if she has been taking mood-altering drugs or medications while pregnant, and describe to her in detail the medical and behavioral problems that could afflict a newborn whose mother is a drug addict or alcoholic.

By leaving out these other important factors a woman needs to consider in deciding to have an abortion, South Dakota's legislators have tipped their hand, revealing that this law is based on a particular religious viewpoint.

That should do for now.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Worse Before Better

The merry-go-round from hell keeps spinning faster and faster, leaving us in the position of having to choose between trying to hold the painted ponies together while our limbs are ripped off by the centrifugal force or jumping off while we still have a chance of landing as something more like an intact human and less like a meat-colored skidmark while hoping the painted ponies that will fly off as a result don't hit us in the head.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, depicted the situation there as "exceedingly complex and very tough" Thursday and said the U.S. effort might become more difficult before it gets easier...

He said that the increasing use of car bombs and suicide attacks, plus the greater concentration of U.S. troops among the population, has "led to greater U.S. losses" as well as increased Iraqi military casualties...

Petraeus also said that while the fledgling Iraqi government is often billed as a unity government among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, it actually is not. "It is not a government of national unity. Rather, it is one comprised of political leaders from different parties that often default to narrow agendas and a zero-sum approach to legislation," the general said.

As for waiting for the Iraqis to stand up... how's that going, again? Nobody's sure.
In its latest quarterly report to Congress on Iraq, delivered in March, the Pentagon said the US-led coalition was achieving the goals it set for the number of freshly trained forces, including the army, police, facilities protection officers, and the border patrol...

However, the report relies on broad generalizations to describe the relative readiness of particular units. Some units are described in the report as "conducting operations," others as "conducting operations at varying levels." ...

But the reports do not assess the loyalty, range of skills, or capabilities of those units. Even the whereabouts of all of the security forces that have completed training is unclear, according to Olga Oliker, a senior policy analyst at the government-funded Rand Corporation.

"No one knows how many Iraqi security personnel there are today," she told the oversight panel on Thursday. For example, she added in an interview, "it is unknown how many have died or how many have deserted."

Meanwhile, back in the states,
Virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated as unready to deploy, Army officials say, and to meet the immediate needs in Iraq and Afghanistan they are finding it necessary to transfer personnel and gear to those units now first in line to deploy.

"I am not satisfied with the readiness of our non-deployed forces," Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee, noting that the increased demands in Iraq and Afghanistan "aggravate that" and increase his concern. "We are in a dangerous period," said Schoomaker, adding that he recently met with his Chinese counterpart, who made it clear that China is scrutinizing U.S. capabilities.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway, said in the same hearing that his chief concern is that Marines are not training for other types of conflicts beyond the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan -- such as conventional ground wars.

I seriously want to live in Dick Cheney's world for a while, where bad is good and death is life and everything is going according to plan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


New planet alert! A nice big, temperate planet capable of sustaining water in liquid form (and we all know what possibilities that opens up) has been found lurking a mere 20 light years away.

artist's impression of the planetary system around Gliese 581
What the new planet might look like.

Unfortunately, it's too small for imaging to work. So we make do with pixels.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Notes from the Emergency Room

As ER visits go, the experience on Saturday really wasn't bad; five hours is practically an in-n-out at University Medical Center these days. I should check that and say it really wasn't bad for us. Can't say the same for a lot of the other people there.

On the way in I managed to snag a wheelchair from someone being discharged so I could push my hobbling, teary son through the door in style. On the way back out to move my truck to the parking lot, I overheard a woman telling a man he has six stab wounds in his stomach and one in his back, or maybe it was six in the back and one in the stomach, either way far more than you want anywhere on your body.

Inside, an old woman with her leg in a cast sat in a wheelchair at the reception desk, trying to work out her Medicaid-funded ride home and apparently not making a lot of headway. I've been here for hours and I'm thirsty and hungry, she said, and I don't have any change for the machines. After watching her sit miserably for a few more minutes, I went over and asked if I could get her something. She refused at first, since she had no money, but eventually agreed to let me buy her a bottle of water. By the time I got back to her with the water she had dug a dollar bill out of her bag and insisted that I take it. She was still waiting to go home when we were taken back to the urgent care rooms.

A couple of hours, when I went back out to grab my jacket from the truck, the waiting room was packed and wall-to-wall misery. In order to get back in through the locked doors, I had to reach around a sobbing woman to scrawl my son's name and room number on a piece of paper for the intake nurse. The woman was on her phone, apparently leaving a message for someone that she had been walking with her mother, had stepped aside to let her mom go past, and the mother had fallen and hit her head. Now the woman was unable to find out where her mother was or get an update on her condition. She closed her phone, leaned her head against the reception desk glass, and cried. She was all alone. I wanted to pat her on the back, to tell her how my own 83-year-old grandmother had fallen two years ago and hit her head and been touch and go for a while but is fine now, anything to make her feel less alone. But then the nurse appeared with my pass and told me to meet her at the locked doors, so I went.

So much suffering in that room. And it was only 7:00. No idea what it was like later, after the serious Saturday night fireworks started, in the only trauma center left in Tucson.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Okay, I Really Mean It This Time: Last Last Word

I forgot to shred the Flight 93 references that keep popping up. You know, the nutters who unfavorably compare the dead Hokies to the Flight 93 heroes. Have they forgotten the key variable that made 93 different from the first three planes that crashed that day? Information. The hapless souls on the first three planes were operating in a vacuum, with no idea they'd walked into a coordinated attack, likely remembering the now-quaint advice to not fight a hijacker, sit tight, and hope for the best. The people on 93 found out via cellphone calls what had already happened. Armed with this information and a lack of systematic throat-slitting on the parts of the hijackers, they had the resources and time to hatch and carry out a plan of counterattack.

Now fast forward to Virginia Tech. Did everyone in all those classrooms sit quietly and wait to be executed? No. The people in the first room, taken utterly by surprise, never had the time to have a chance. The people in the other rooms had a few seconds to process and identify the sounds they were hearing and take action; people in at least two rooms managed to barricade the door with heavy tables, arms and legs, just before the shooter tried to force his way in. It didn't work in each case, but it demonstrates that given just a little time, average people will indeed do what they can to fight back. If someone bursts into a room down the hall from John Derbyshire and opens up with a gun, he'll probably have sprung into action by the time the shooter reaches his door a minute later. If the gunman bursts into Derbyshire's office first, he'll be cowering on the floor and soiling himself like the rest of us.
Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything?
Yeah. They taught us that time and information are crucial self-defense weapons. And that lacking both doesn't make you a coward. It just makes you supremely unlucky.

Right Wing Rambo Apologists: The Final Word

Another head-slapping letter to the editor in the Daily Star:
After the Virginia Tech incident, I recalled the men on the plane on 9/11 who attacked the hijackers, preventing them from harming many more people. Also, people over the years who have thrown themselves on grenades to save many more of their buddies. If six or more of the students had rushed the killer at Virginia Tech, he would have killed some but not all of them and they could have overpowered him. It's too bad it didn't happen that way.

Second, I'm always surprised and disappointed to observe that the SWAT teams, who are supposedly trained and paid to rush the "machine-gun nest," seem to invariably hang back behind trees and cars waiting for the shooter to run out of ammunition before rushing him. Not many people in this world are truly altruistic.

These people seriously need to shut the fuck up. I have been wishing for a pithier response, but have been unable to move beyond shut the fuck up, until now. This comment, left by someone called Jrod on Sadly, No!, says it perfectly.
I never used to think that violence in video games has any negative effect, but now I’m not so sure. No, they don’t “cause” violence, they just cause idiots to wonder why one of the students didn’t kick out one of the crates in the room to get the glock hidden inside, shoot out the vent in the room, crawl through it, picking up the body armor hidden inside, jump out of the vent in the hallway 100 yards in front of the killer, and take the killer out while running forward while precisely strafing to avoid the return fire. Sure our hero would take some damage, but that’s what medkits are for.
Thank you, Jrod, whoever you are. Oh, and Mr. Rush-the-machine-gun-nest? I strongly suspect that SWAT cops are not encouraged to confront their targets in Revolutionary War-style ranks marching twelve abreast because all the time and money invested in their training makes them really expensive assets to lose. But I'm sure they'd be happy to take volunteers for the Human Shield Corps, and I'm sure someone as altruistic as you will be first in line to sign up, possibly knocking other enthusiastic volunteers to the ground on your way to the front.

Video Space-filler

Sunday was spent tending my injured athlete son, doomed like... well, the literary reference escapes me at the moment, but doomed like the literary character who unwillingly plays out his destined role in carrying the family curse. You know, that one guy? Yeah, him. In this case the curse is soccer-shredded knees, and also in this case, I am tired.

Anyway. Yesterday's rehab activities, between bouts of ice, ace bandage wrapping, and fetching pizza rolls and ice cream, mainly involved sitting and watching Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel. The bird of paradise courtship displays are very impressive.

Even cooler was footage of a bunch of otters messing with a crocodile, but I can't seem to track down that video. And somewhere in Africa there are tiny wild pigs the size of rabbits. And great white sharks can jump completely out of the water while eating seals. And caribou have winter hair that is hollow, providing excellent insulation.

Much was learned.

Friday, April 20, 2007

On Arming Students

A letter in this morning's Arizona Daily Star:
People in schools are often afraid that if they let guns on campus, something like the Virginia Tech incident will happen. The sad truth is it happens anyway. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine that a person who does not care about breaking the law by shooting and killing innocent people would be deterred by lesser laws prohibiting guns in schools.

By prohibiting guns, the government and schools take away the ability for law-abiding students and faculty to defend against the threat of a lawless murderer. If only the students could have had guns at that school, it is conceivable there would have been only one death instead of 33. The gunman could have been shot and killed before he had his chance to destroy the lives of 32 other people. That would make for a much happier ending to the story.

The writer identifies himself as a student, so maybe he's too young to remember the day back in 1999 when a mentally ill guy named Jean Pierre Lafitte pulled a gun after a traffic accident near the University of Arizona. Dr. Richard Carmona (future Surgeon General; at the time a SWAT doc and sherrif's deputy) happened on the scene, grabbed his .45, and tried to convince the guy to put his own gun down.
Lafitte appeared to begin to put his gun down, but instead raised it and fired, grazing Carmona's balding head. Carmona returned seven shots. Three hit Lafitte. Two struck Lafitte's truck and another round hit the windshield of a car driven by Wendy Hernandez, a former special magistrate at City Court.

This is one of those maddening bits of anecdotal evidence that you can take as you will. The letter writer, Wayne LaPierre, and the rest of the NRA crowd can look at this and say, see, a citizen with a sidearm stopped a deranged man before he could kill anyone. Other people might look and say, here's a guy with extensive firearms and SWAT training who had time to retrieve his gun from his car and get ready to fire before advancing on the threatening man--about the best amount of control you can hope for in that situation--and in the process of firing still managed to land only 3 of 7 shots, while getting lucky that the errant slug he sent through someone else's windshield didn't hit her.

What's the key in that for me? Extensively trained. Regular time at the range. Fully mature man with SWAT experience that teaches snap decision making and discourages panic. Short of an active cop or Marine, this is the guy you want pulling the trigger in that situation because he knows exactly what to do. And he still sent four rounds into things other than his intended target.

Now have the deranged shooter burst into a room full of 19-22 year old kids who may have pistols in their packs or on their belts but do not have a fraction of Dr. Carmona's training. Are you still convinced of a happy ending in that confined space? I'd very much like to be, but I'm not. Popping a .45 or .357 isn't the same as playing Duke Nukem down at the mall. It takes a good amount of practice to be accurate even within 20 feet with the bigger calibers. Identify, acquire, fire. Not blaze away indiscriminantly. The thought of classrooms and dorms full of barely out of their teens 007 wannabes is not comforting to me. Maybe it's the answer. Maybe not.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

John McCain Is a Douchebag

There's this:
``I'm very happy about the decision given my position on abortion. Partial birth is one of the most odious aspects of abortion,'' Arizona Sen. John McCain said while campaigning in South Carolina.

``I think we should take this moment to celebrate the fact that the United States Supreme Court ruled that no longer will this outrageous procedure be allowed in America,'' McCain said. ``The fact is, we need to continue to work to change the culture in America so that they will understand the importance of the rights of the unborn.''

And then there's this. Oh, Mr. McCain, you're so funny when you're joking about causing the deaths of thousands of people and starting World War III to boot!

Dahlia on Gonzales v. Carhart

The wonderful Dahlia Lithwick on the Gonzales (intact dilation and extraction; I refuse to propogate the "partial-birth" meme) decision (h/t to Top!Secret G-woman):
What hasn't changed is that Anthony Kennedy finds partial-birth abortion really disgusting. We saw that in his dissent in Stenberg. That's what animates and drives his decision. His opinion blossoms from the premise that if all women were as sensitive as he is about the fundamental awfulness of this procedure, they'd all refuse to undergo it. Since they aren't, he'll decide for them.
... His opinion pretty much unfurls a roadmap for states seeking to enact broader bans on abortion. As Ginsburg points out in her dissent, the court's rationale for upholding the ban on intact D&Xs would support a ban on the (far more common) nonintact D&E as well.

The floodgates are open, sprung by a procedure that accounts for a minimal percentage of all abortions (0.17%; for context, abortions occurring after the 21st week of gestation account for 1.4% of the total; based on CDC data from 2000, this represents roughly 1,458 intact D&X procedures). Intact D&X is usually the endpoint of an agonizing series of decisions. It is not a procedure elected lightly, sandwiched between the manicure and the colorist. Fewer than two thousand women each year find themselves facing circumstances that make carrying a pregnancy to term a nonviable option (yes, that word was chosen deliberately).

Now the anguish of that decision is being compounded by the court arbitrarily eliminating the procedure that has been demonstrated to be the safest option for terminating a late-term pregnancy, because the religious right has succeeded in focusing on our emotional reaction to an imaginary Gerber baby's gruesome death rather than the reality of parents faced with an enacephalic or hydrocephalic fetus that is guaranteed a short, miserable life should it survive the rest of its gestation and birthing process at all, parents whose ability to make the most loving choice they can imagine has now been stripped away.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas, Esq., M.D.

Oh, goody. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ban on intact dilation and extraction. As CNN so coyly worded it in their breaking news e-mail,
U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling upholds a law banning what some call "partial birth" abortions.
"Some" meaning, of course, "religious fundamentalists hell-bent on demonizing all abortion by wrapping it in language guaranteed to tug on the heartstrings."

I'm so glad the justices are now also medical experts who are qualified to evaluate abortion procedures and determine that
the procedure is gruesome, inhumane and never medically necessary to preserve a woman's health. That statement was designed to overcome the health exception to restrictions that the court has demanded in abortion cases.
I am speechless, but probably not for long. Ann at Feministing is not.

American Tragedy

The McDonald's I drive past on my way to work every day has its flag at half-staff this morning in a salute to the 32 dead at Virginia Tech. 32 people gunned down by a faceless assailant. It is terrible, unthinkable that such a thing should happen, and I can't begin to imagine what it was like to be a student in one of those classrooms, or a parent unable to reach my child on his cellphone in the hours after the shootings.

The pro-gun and anti-gun people, the politicians and the preachers and the pundits all jumped up, elbowing each other out of the way to unleash the salvos of blame before the bodies have even been buried, all sides with their simple solutions shouting past each other, interested not in discourse so much as noisemaking for its own sake.

And then I think about the fact that 31 US soldiers and marines have died in Iraq in the past nine days, that over 700 Iraqi civilians and security forces have died this month, that it's such a regular, ordinary occurrence that it's been pushed well off the front page of the newspaper. What happened on Monday in Blacksburg was horrible and ripped hundreds of lives apart. I am trying to imagine taking that feeling of horror, that shock and anger and grief, and replaying it on a daily basis, trying to conceive of how a society and its individuals can find the strength to go on living another day in the face of it.

The nation collectively mourns, as we should.

But the flag is lowered and the president shows up to the memorial service only when the unpredictable, random killing happens down the road a piece from the White House. Our flags should be at half-staff every day.

Monday, April 16, 2007

On the Other Hand

A commenter over on Ed Brayton's blog, responding to yet another yahoo insisting that gays decide "(yes, DECIDE)" to be that way, drew an analogy to being left-handed, pointing out that most people nowadays accept handedness as an innate trait that stubbornly resists efforts to change it. It doesn't take much poking around to find that while geneticists have the handedness gene sort of surrounded, more or less, with a vague idea of its chromosomal location, they do not, in fact, have the little bugger tied down yet.


Like many traits, handedness is probably determined by a complex interaction between genes and the environment, experts figure.

Left-handers are more likely to have a left-handed relative. But researchers have yet to find the gene or set of genes that pick one hand over the other.

Most scientists agree that handedness exists on a continuum. The idea helps explain why some people bowl with their left but hold a spoon in their right. Truly ambidextrous people, who have indifferent preference for either hand, are extremely rare.

Hmmm. So we have scientific acknowledgment of a handedness continuum, but no "left-handed gene" identified... yet no rational person would argue that the roughly ten percent of the population that is left-handed consciously chose that trait. No rational person would support elementary schoolteachers returning to the days when lefties had their hands slapped or tied behind their backs in an effort to force them to use their right hands--you know, to be normal--because we recognize that handedness is innate and cemented at such a young age as to be unchangeable, and, equally important, that attempting to change handedness is traumatic and largely pointless.

Then I thought about other preferences. Favorite flavors, favorite colors, temperatures at which people are most comfortable. I can't stand olives or anise, despite numerous attempts to enjoy them in different preparations. Gotta try new foods eight times to be able to like them? They just never took with me, despite dozens of attempts and the fact that most of my relatives adore olives. On the other side of things, I love high-cocoa-content dark chocolate, and cilantro by the bushel--two intense flavors many people don't like. And what's the usual extent of the conversation about such things?

Do you like this?
No, I do not.
Have you tried it?
Yes, and I do not like it.
I do not like it either, but my sister does.

Is a proven genetic component required before the average person will consider handedness valid? Of course not. What about flavor and color preferences? Of course not. De gustibus non disputatum est is one of the most under-recognized guiding principles of our society... unless you're talking about sexual preference, of course, which requires a unanimously concurred upon genetic pedigree before many people will treat it like a hundred other innate traits they never give a second thought to.

You can choose to try anise or cilantro if your parents or dinner host ask you to. You can choose to try men or women if your parents and society expect you to, but when you are not innately oriented toward the opposite gender, all the experimentation and intentions in the world won't make a difference in the result. Some tastes can't be acquired.


So I'm not the only person who maintains some odd cross-state-of-matter relationship with Orion, even if we take different things away from our conversations in the dark. Chris Clarke, missing Zeke, resents Orion for still having Canis Major at his side. I glance up on my way back in from the recycling bin, notice he's still chasing that damn bull from horizon to horizon, and wish him better luck tonight.

Years ago, when things were more or less falling apart, the early-morning walks with the dog managed to carve out precious little tunnels in time and space where I could find stillness and solitude despite being outside in a semi-suburban neighborhood. In the late fall and winter, Tucson is pitch dark at five in the morning, quiet and mostly asleep, giving me sole claim to the streets I trundled down with the dog. No streetlights in the old neighborhood, and the porch lights were mostly shaded, creating the illusion of walking in a low-visibility bubble surrounded by blackness. It made for brilliant stargazing. Our cadence was softly measured by the clicking of the dog's nails on the asphalt and the puffs of her breath fogging in the cold air, both only occasionally drowned out by the tires and headlights of a passing car.

I walked under the constellations, pondering both a disintegrating marriage and the unanswered questions about myself that served as a solvent, and looked up at Orion caught between Taurus and Lepus and felt some solidarity with him on his futile nightly quest. Wondered what kept him from deciding the rabbit right at his feet wasn't enough, what kept him in pursuit of the handful of stars perpetually flying just beyond his grasp.

It's no more nutty, I guess, to have a group of stars as your confessor than to pray to an invisible god. At least I could see Orion, and as I never expected him to do anything about my stuff, I was never left disappointed. He was a handy sounding board in the cold and the dark. Tiny lights in the black sky impassively watching and going on their way as I hunched my shoulders and, turning the dog, trudged back towards home.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ruination Day

Hey, I'm from Illinois and am compelled--by statute, I think, but I'll have to check with the boys in Springfield--to be wistful and avoid stage productions today.

Now he belongs to the ages.

Friday, April 13, 2007

When Semantics Are More Than Just Semantics

Not too long ago, the question of the day on Bilerico wondered if gay readers would marry if marriage equality was enshrined in law, and if we are hell-bent on having marriages, or if we'd settle for civil unions. I responded yes, the girlfriend and I would get married in a heartbeat, and that as long as the legal protections were equivalent, I wouldn't care what label they slapped on it. If they're legally functionally equivalent, I said, "marriage" or "civil union" is just semantics.

Except when it's not.

Civilly unionized gay couples in New Jersey are finding, to their dismay, that many private entities are seizing on the absence of the term "marriage" on their legal documents to deny healthcare coverage and other benefits.
Nickie Brazier called U.P.S., where she is a driver, to add Heather Aurand to her health insurance the day after their Feb. 22 civil union in New Jersey, knowing it would save them $340 a month. But U.P.S. said no. “They said it was because we’re not married,” Ms. Brazier recalled.

Dr. Kevin Slavin was able to sign his partner up for the health plan at the hospital where he specializes in pediatric infectious diseases but soon learned that both men’s benefits would be treated as taxable income — not the case for his married coworkers — and that his partner could not collect his pension if Dr. Slavin died.

The New Jersey civil union law was designed to fulfill that state's Supreme Court ruling that "every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage must be made available to committed same-sex couples." The state legislature balked at legalizing same-sex marriage, but contended that civil unions would meet the requirements laid out by the court. Barely two months later, it is clear they fall woefully short.

[R]esidents who work for companies headquartered in other states, and those whose insurers are based outside New Jersey, have found it difficult if not impossible to sign their partners up for health insurance. Unions and employers whose self-insured plans are federally regulated have also denied coverage in some cases. Staff members in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms have questioned partners’ role in decision-making. Confusion abounds over the interplay of state and federal laws governing taxes, inheritance and property.

And some of the contortions insurance companies have gone through to avoid full compliance with the law are comically insulting.

Then there are cases like that of the lesbian who was told that she was likely to be denied coverage for a mammogram after she added her partner to her insurance. The insurance company changed the employee’s designation to male since there was no spot on its forms for “civil union spouse.”

Simplicity is rarely the hallmark of legislative action. And empathy is ever more rarely the hallmark of The People's reaction to it. Granted, insurance companies are cutthroat, always on the prowl for new and creative ways to deny coverage. If company policy requires extending benefits only to married partners, and the words civil and union never appear consecutively in the contract, then the claims department is going to go completely by the book and deny coverage to anyone who can't produce a state-issued marriage license.

Despite the inevitability of the cases detailed in the Times article and their source in the faceless rules-driven bureaucracy of state and corporate HR departments and insurance companies, it is difficult not to view this as one more damn knee to the groin. Marriage amendments are defeated in Arizona and Indiana (hooray!) not because voters recognize them as unconscionably discriminatory against a group of their fellow citizens, but because they fear the amendments would adversely impact unmarried heterosexual couples (oh). Marriage amendments are passed in Michigan and Ohio partly because their proponents insist that gay couples' existing benefits and legal contracts will not be affected (well, okay...) and then, as soon as the governor's signature is dry on the paper, lawsuits are filed forcing the state and its institutions to curtail those benefits (oh). And now, the New Jersey legislature offered up all the benefits, rights, and responsibilities of marriage to gay couples, insisting that calling that arrangement a union instead of marriage is only semantics, preserving the holy word for straight couples (whatever, but hooray!)... and we find that the answer to "What's in a word?" is quite a lot, actually.

Friday Carnival of Nothing

Nothing! I got nothing here.

Thank god I have friends who have something. Alert reader Top!Secret!G points out Dahlia Lithwick's excellent essay in Slate exploring the Duke lacrosse rape case as an object lesson in why quality prosecutors matter (and why putting ideologues from Regent University in charge of personnel at Justice is problematic).

Some people in Tucson are doing handsprings over the city council approving a taxpayer-funded $130 million arena downtown, the latest sure-fire idea to revitalize an area that was largely bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for government buildings and a cement monstrosity of a convention center. An additional $60 million is being committed to revitalizing said convention center. I must confess that I don't get it, unless plans are in the works to regularly hold marquee University of Arizona basketball matchups in the arena, or to lure a semi-pro hockey team or something else, anything else, that would regularly draw maybe 2,000 people downtown on a given weeknight.

The city and county dropped the ball ten years ago when they decided to build a very nice minor league baseball park/major league spring training facility in an industrial area across the street from the juvenile court/lockup instead of downtown where the existing, if sparse, gastronomic infrastructure of bars and restaurants had a shot at growing in response to pregame and postgame noshers. The sheer number of games on a baseball home schedule delivers potential customers on a regular basis--and when they're being delivered to Ajo Way, they typically sprint into the stadium, watch the game, and then sprint back to their cars and leave in a hurry. Will people be drawn downtown just to gawk at a shiny new arena without regularly scheduled and attractive events? Will wildly popular and successful restaurants and pubs spring up around the periphery and do a rollicking business even on nights when the Icecats aren't playing? Perhaps. I hear the arena will look like a desert tortoise. I guess that's something.

Maybe the Be Good Tanyas will play there. Not likely, though, so you should probably go to their website and listen to them there, and then wait for them to come play at Solar Culture or something.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Archaeology Photoblog

Not Boltgirl's usual day at the office

On those days when I'm not busy punching out Nazis or mackin' on Karen Allen--it's exhausting, but I do what I can--my work as an archaeologist looks a lot like this:

Pile of 1,000-year-old stone flakes

The prehistoric stone technology I study is pretty well summed up by the lame-o joke about how to sculpt a statue of an elephant (take a block of marble and chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant). When long-ago people made a tool out of stone, say something cool like a spearhead, they started with a fairly hefty piece of rock and knocked small chips, or "flakes," in the parlance, off of its edges in order to shape it into the final product. Needless to say, the waste flakes generally outnumber cool final products by a score of several hundred to one, so most of my time is spent looking at and thinking about these piles of little broken rock fragments.

The process looks like this (the demonstration artifact is a gunflint from the Tucson Presidio, the fort built by the Spaniards in the mid 1700s for protection against Native Americans):

Identify the artifact: hmmm, it's a gunflint.

Measure the artifact: 30.89 mm long.

Weigh the artifact: 8.98 g.

Enter measurements and other info in the database. Note the lightning quick fingers.

Repeat a few hundred times per day and voila, it's the glamorous life of the lab archaeologist. Honestly, I have to chase Nazis and rob Egyptian tombs just to relax.

Look back at the gunflint for a moment; it actually is more interesting than it might seem. The honey-colored chalcedony this flint is made from indicates it came from France. The fact that it was tossed into a trash pit in the Tucson Presidio dating to the later 1700s shows that Tucson was on the tail end of the Spanish supply line; by this time on the Continent, the Dutch had wrested control of the gunflint market from the French and had been supplying all the armies of Europe with flints that looked very different from this one for a couple of decades already.

It's sort of like the French discovering Jerry Lewis movies in the 1980s and thinking they were cutting edge. Or maybe like American soldiers in Iraq getting crappy Interceptor body armor instead of the newer, much more effective Dragon Skin.

Yes, that's why archaeology is interesting and, perhaps, comforting. No matter how old the artifact in your hands is, it usually ends up showing you that human society hasn't changed appreciably between then and now. Only the details are different; the underlying motivations and behaviors are pretty much the same.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Best Top 40 Deconstruction EVER.

I am hot because I am fly. You, sadly, are not fly, and thus by definition cannot be hot. QED.

Courtesy of the Village Voice, via my Top!Secret G-woman source.

Urban Nature Report

I am nursing the wounds of being an unwilling bachelor this week. The girlfriend is off on an excursion back east, which would explain why I am up at this ungodly hour, fully dressed and almost coherent despite the sun barely peeking over the Rincon Mountains.

The back yard has become the early morning roost of choice for a noisy coffee klatsch of house finches. It took several mornings of lying in bed half-awake to sort through the offset cascade of calls before I was able to extract a single identifiable phrase. They seem to start their songs a half-second apart, resulting in a rippling sound that is more like a maniacal giggle echoing through a canyon than the benign twittering of a couple dozen five-inch birds. It was kinda disturbing until I figured it out.

Once the sun comes up, the gaggle disperses somewhat and the individual songs come through more clearly, now joined by the three descending notes of the verdins and the occasional squawk of a Gila woodpecker. The thrashers keep to a more civilized schedule than these smaller birds, waiting until later in the morning to start knocking their beaks through the dust in search of breakfast. They neatly lopped off the first sweet peas to sprout in my garden a few weeks back, but have so far ignored the second batch of vines, as well as the three tiny tomatoes warily peeking out from inside their cages.

Wildflowers are scarce in the yard this time around. A few globe mallows have straggled in on the edges, but only one has flowered. Every year about this time I remember that I forgot to scatter seeds in the fall, and make a mental note to do better next fall. Then the note promptly falls off the bulletin board in my brain and joins the collection of other reminders like fix the screen door and call your grandmother that are gathering dust under the fridge or whatever other large appliances I may be keeping in there.

Despite the lack of flowers, I am heartened by the apparent health of the two little volunteer mesquite trees in the front yard. The wretched, hateful acacia trees are at least showing signs of growth, meaning they will now be shading roughly nine square feet of dirt apiece, an improvement over their previous useless, hateful existences. Seriously. You can't get close to these trees. In fact, don't even look at them or think about them too hard when you're out there or you'll find yourself stuck in the little bastards.

The thrashers have started their whee-wheet calling, which is my signal that it's time to go to work.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Easter in the Boltgirl household this year meant a picnic at the park with the kids, dogs, and part-time housemate. The weather chipped in with sun and just enough breeze to keep things cool in the shade of the big eucalyptus we chose. Himmel Park was teeming with life, with a mongo ultimate frisbee tournament on the fields on the east side, kids at the playground, picnickers filling every available table and shade tree, and every grill doing a Krakatoa of charcoal smoke. Burnt offerings for the pleasure of the sky god, perhaps not so much. Grilled offerings for the pleasure of nostrils all around, definitely. We stuck around long enough to watch successive shifts of picnickers at the adjacent tables, including one group who very energetically hid eggs for the toddler faction of their party. At least five eggs ended up about six feet up in a tree; maybe they were planning on tossing the kid up there to see what would stick to her on the way down.

Candy preferences vary widely enough with my group to make trades easy. I would be happy with a basket of nothing but robin eggs--those heavenly speckled malt balls I can eat by the handful--preferably the mini ones. The boy and the part-time housemate favor jelly beans, which I really don't like, and everyone but me likes milk chocolate, meaning all the Hershey's Special Dark fun size bars end up in my pile. Hey, the gym will still be there tomorrow.

The downside to the rapid negotiations and trade agreements is the speed at which the hi-graded piles are stashed in big ziplocs and squirreled away. How the hell am I supposed to steal robin eggs out of the boy's basket when I don't even know where he hides it?

Friday, April 06, 2007

In Which We Contemplate WordPress

Might be moving over to WordPress soon, although my desire to import the entire archive (oh, vanity) means it will be held up until I can get all the goddamn pictures optimized.

Random notes for a Friday morning:

Ahmedinejad played the British sailor saga like a Stradivarius. I haven't heard any explosions from the other side of the globe yet, so maybe the hotly rumored Good Friday Tactical Nukefest was only a rumor after all. That would be the best news of all.

We're not out of the first week of April yet and the Cubs are comfortably sub-.500, hitting their midseason stride three games out of the gate, losing their opener on the strength of ten guys stranded and no extra-base hits, losing the third by virtue of a seventh-inning collapse ignited by a walk, a wild pitch, and a passed ball.

Disney's all for equality now, opening up their Fairy Tale Wedding extravaganza to gay couples. Now we too can lay out 8K to ride in a pumpkin carriage to the castle where Mickey and Minnie will witness our commitment ceremonies in formal wear. Actual adults apparently lap this shit up. I'm not sure I understand, but that's okay. Now, if SeaWorld threw weddings in the manatee exhibit or, better yet, in one of the squid dissection labs, I'd be all over it.

Archaeology drama in Tucson! Read all about it here. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Photo Escapism

W's performance leave a bad taste in your mouth? Get away from it all for a moment with some lovely images of Tucson in the springtime.

An American Shoveler (duck) admiring his fine reflection
at Sweetwater Wetlands

Morning Primrose at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Desert Marigold at the Desert Museum

Ocotillo juuuuuust thinking about blooming

The equinox was last week, or the week before (to be honest, I lost track), and daylight savings happened about the same time (I don't have to pay attention since I live in Arizona, where we never change our clocks except on the Navajo Nation), so I'm not sure when spring officially began for the rest of the country. It officially began for me yesterday, when the formerly bare branches of the mesquite trees along the fence where I park at work suddenly sported feathery, lime green leaves. This morning they had already transformed into the deep green leaves of summer.

Plot, Plan, Attack [bzzt] Plot, Plan, Attack [bzzt] Plot...

Another Bush press conference. He couldn't cram more old cliches in this thing if he tried. He threatened to veto any spending bill that includes a withdrawal date, claiming it would hamstring his vaunted "commanders on the ground," failing to mention his need to repeatedly replace those generals when reality finally broke through and they could no longer agree with the need for a continuing flow of warm bodies into the meat grinder.

When David Gregory asked him if the Congress isn't, in fact, simpy doing what the American voters elected them to do, Bush insisted that the voters actually want a Congress that will support the troops. Unfortunately, Bush's vision of supporting the troops involves keeping them in the middle of a religious civil war where both sides are shooting at them, in a country whose civilian government is teetering on the brink of disintegration, on rotations so tight they're being sent back into battle unrested, untrained, and unrecovered, their numbers increasingly supplemented by grievously injured men, mentally ill men, and felons. My vision of supporting the troops involves getting them the hell out of there while there are still one or two left standing, unscathed. Apparently my vision is one of failure and weakness:
The way to fail would be to leave before the job is done... Failure in Iraq would embolden the extremists... We have to defeat them there so we don't have to face them here... A failed state would be a safe haven from which to plot, plan, and attack. That's one of the major lessons of September 11th.

Another reporter--didn't catch the name--followed that up with, "Are they really going to follow us home?"
Yes, just like on September 11th. They plotted, planned, and attacked.

Oh. Okay. One more time, say in the span of less than twenty seconds?
Because that's the lesson of September the 11th. If there's a safe haven, the enemies will plot, plan, and attack.

I didn't catch the beginning, so I don't have an accurate September the 11th count, or safe haven count, or extremist count, or any of the other words that show up on the word dice he must roll on the lectern before he starts each press conference. But there was nothing new here. Nothing less than blind acceptance of a war without end will be accepted.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

On the Importance of Coming Out Stories

The week-long whirlwind of family-related activity ended yesterday morning with the departure of the last of the uncles and parents. Then I promptly hopped in the truck and drove up to Phoenix to meet up with an old school friend I haven't seen in over twenty years. Got home last night tired but exhilarated. Now this morning I have absolutely nothing to do for the first time in nine days and am feeling a bit lost.

The friend lives across the country but was in Phoenix for a vacation with her parents and siblings, so sure, I said, I can go up and meet you for lunch and a drink. I had wondered what the hell we were going to talk about after 22 years of no contact at all, but as soon as I walked into the lobby of her hotel, bam, we were both instantly 16 again, jabbering away like it had been a week or maybe a month.

The conversation took care of itself. After maybe half an hour of catching up on the chronologies of our major life events, she carefully asked, so... you're out, but you had that whole marriage thing, and, uh, how exactly did that happen? I gave the short answer, which boils down to it having taken a while to find my way past the expectations and cultural norms I grew up in enough to be able to recognize some fundamental truths about myself. And she replied that she was going through a similar process of figuring things out herself.

She's out to only about three other people. None of them are family members. She wasn't asking for advice, I think, so much as to hear my story so as to find some commonality of experience. Her siblings will be okay with it, she's sure. Her mother, she's sure, won't be, despite knowing and fully accepting other gay people. She fears it will be different for her mother when it's her only daughter who's coming out. She is weary of not being fully open with the people she loves the best, of having to hide her relationships to protect the identity status of a closeted ex-girlfriend, of showing up to these family gatherings alone.

We share the experience that most of the people we've come out to have not acted surprised. The friends she's told have said they already knew she was gay. She finds it as annoying as I do--for chrissakes, when you screw up your courage over the span of a few months or a few years to tell someone something you thought was that momentous, it's pretty damn deflating when their response is, uh, yeah, I know that, so what's your news? While the responses have been uniformly positive, at least on the surface, at least one guy--who I assume thought he was being supportive--told her there are two kinds of gay people, those who are born that way and those who choose to be that way, and he figures she's just choosing and isn't really gay.

That doesn't help. Really, it doesn't.

She talked about going over her high school and college years in her head, trying to find the signals everyone else saw so clearly while she stayed oblivious. For the record, at the time I was as oblivious to her orientation as I was to my own. Midwestern girls at a Catholic school in a socially conservative town. We never had a chance.

We chuckled over the names we came up with of girls we had thought at the time we just liked for other reasons but who, looking back now, we probably had crushes on. Shook our heads at being aware of the stereotypes of gay men but never quite conceptualizing the existence of lesbians, much less the possibility that we fell into that camp ourselves. Talked about one of the obviously gay guys in our class who was murdered in LA after we were out of college, how the hometown newspaper said he'd taken a wrong turn in a bad neighborhood instead of reporting the truth that he was the victim of a bigot with a knife. Wondered how anyone can think we chose this. How anyone can think that telling us we chose this is a good idea.

This won't be the week she comes out to her parents or her siblings. She doesn't want to gamble a too-rare vacation together on the chance that their response won't be we know but rather we can't accept this. At the end, my only advice was to be prepared for the possibility that even the people she feels safest with, and whose support she is most confident of, might react negatively--but to carry the hope that with time and effort, they might come around. She knows it's a chance. She also knows that she can't continue living this way, hiding an essential part of her life from the most important people in her life. I hope I helped her find the courage to find her voice.