Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Forgive the solipsism, but I just noticed that, as an intermittent blogger, I seldom create more blog posts than there are days in a month.

An exception is this month, in which I have published 34 entries (this will be number 35) in a month of 30 days.

One has to look back to June 2008 for the last time I did that (32 entries) and before that to October 2006 (also 32 entries). The last time before that was June 2005 (36 entries).

I came close in June 2007 (29 entries). What is it about June?

The winner for most posts in a month, however, is May 2005, with 43. That must have been a busy 31 days!

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'It Was a Dark and Stormy ...'

Snoopy is not the only imitator of Paul Clifford, the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton with the much-mocked opening sentence that begins, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

For 27 years, San Jose State University in California has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which aims to inspire bad writing (in the form of opening sentences) from contestants who enter from around the globe.

This year's winner is David McKenzie of Washington state. UPI notes his winning sentence:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the Ellie May, a sturdy whaler captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."
The San Jose Mercury News explains:
"The judges liked his sentence because of the way it pulls the rug from under the reader. You compose yourself to hear about another wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, then find that it's just about some drunks having a screaming contest," said Scott Rice, who began the contest 26 years ago.
For the record, the sentence that began it all reads like this:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Those who like this sort of thing (and I am one of them) can entertain themselves with several volumes of bad writing compiled by Scott Rice, including the original It Was a Dark and Stormy Night and its sequels, including Bride of Dark and Stormy: Yet More of the Best (?) From the Bulwer-Lytton Contest and Dark and Stormy Rides Again.

UPDATE: NPR interviews winner David McKenzie about his 87-word sentence on "All Things Considered."

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Monday, June 29, 2009

You Say Potato, I Say Tomato

Hot off the press: Men and women have different opinions of what they find attractive in a potential (opposite-sex) mate.

Dustin Wood of Wake Forest University and Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh of Queens College wrote a paper for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology based on interviews with 4,000 subjects who used a 10-point scale to rate the attractiveness of men and women in photographs they were shown.

United Press International distills their findings:

Most men agree on which women are hot, but some women can find a man attractive while others don't, U.S. researchers found....

Men's judgments of women's attractiveness were based primarily on physical features and they rated highly those who looked thin and seductive. Most of the men in the study also rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that as a group, the women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were. Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to the men, while other women said they were not attractive at all.
If UPI isn't clear enough, here's the abstract from volume 96, issue 6 of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (June 2009):
In this article the authors illustrate how revealed preferences (i.e., preferences inferred through an individual’s differential attraction to multiple targets) can be used to investigate the nature of mate preferences. The authors describe how revealed preferences can be estimated and how the reliability of these estimates can be established. Revealed preference estimates were used to explore the level of consensus in judgments of who is and is not attractive and whether revealed preferences are systematically related to self-reported mate preferences and personality traits. Revealed preference estimates were created for over 4,000 participants by examining their attraction to 98 photographs. Participants of both genders showed substantial consensus in judgments of whom they found attractive and unattractive, although men showed higher consensus than women. Revealed preference estimates also showed relationships with corresponding self-rated preferences and with other dispositional characteristics such as personality traits and age. Although the findings demonstrate the existence of meaningful individual differences in preferences, they also indicate an important role for consensual preferences in mate selection processes.
That clarifying summation should make it easier to talk about it at the bar tonight, as you're comparing comely lads and lasses with your friends.

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Not Exactly Thomas Edison, But ...

A lot of odd details about the life of the late Michael Jackson have been cropping up in the days since he died and went to Neverland, sparking one of the largest increases in Internet traffic since Al Gore first told Mr. Watson to "come here, I want you."

For instance, who knew that the King of Pop was an inventor with a patent under his name?

I didn't, but now I do.

According to UnBeige, Jackson invented a kind of gravity-defying footwear:

That's right, intellectual property fans, Jackson is listed as the first of three inventors on United States Patent 5,255,452, granted in 1993 for a "method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion." Translation: special loafers fitted with heels that can slot into the stage floor to allow the wearer to lean forward, Smooth Criminal style, at gravity-defying angles.

According to the patent's abstract, the Jackson-devised system relies on "a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer's foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member." Jackson co-developed the technique as an improvement upon a previous method in which he and his dancers were rigged up with harnesses and cables.
What's more, UnBeige continues, Jackson's invention is also mentioned as an "antecedent" in a patent application for another highly useful gadget:
...another footwear innovation, patent 7,380,349. Granted last year, it covers flip-flops that have a bottle-opene[r] in the footbed. Perfect when you Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' but are ill prepared.
I guess you could call this a "footnote" to Michael Jackson's life.

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History Repeating

Queen Square Gay Street Bath England
In what seems to have been somebody's idea of a sick practical joke, Fort Worth police and alcoholic beverage regulators staged a violent raid early Sunday morning on a recently-opened gay bar, arresting at least seven people and sending one unfortunate victim to the hospital with a severe head injury.

Partying like it's 1969, the raid took place on the 40th anniversary of a similar raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a raid that led to days of rioting and demonstrations that are popularly believed to have launched the modern gay-rights movement.

Perez Hilton has a superficial report on Sunday's action, with a photograph from on the scene. Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin has two posts that gather information from across the MSM and the blogosphere, plus an update on the seriously hurt patron, Chad Gibson. The Institute for Southern Studies reblogs Pam Spaulding's report. Fort Worth's acting mayor has called for an investigation. (I wouldn't be surprised if the inquiry turns up evidence that police or regulators demanded baksheesh that the bar owners refused to pay.)

Oddly, the police claimed that the raid was launched based on complaints from "disgrunted ex-bartenders," a curious thing, given that the Rainbow Lounge (the target of the police, who came equipped with handcuffs and a paddy wagon) had only been open for about a week.

David Link has a glass-half-full commentary at the Independent Gay Forum. There is already a Facebook group dedicated to the incident. I hope Radley Balko catches wind of this story, for his next book and his lecture notes.

UPDATE: Jim Burroway raises a significant question: Why were the police who staged the raid on the Rainbow Lounge wearing uniforms from a non-existent law enforcement agency?

Mary Lou Forbes, RIP

Sad news from the Washington Times: Longtime Commentary editor Mary Lou Forbes died over the weekend, just a few days past her 83rd birthday and not even two weeks after her retirement.

Mrs. Forbes had a journalism career that spanned six decades and two centuries. She became the Times' Commentary editor in 1984 and served in that role for 25 years. Earlier, as a reporter for the Washington Star, she had won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of Virginia's shameful battle against the desegregation of its government schools.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Forbes, she was an early encourager of my work as an opinon writer. During the 1980s, when I was just getting started as an independent (for lack of a better word) pundit, she published dozens of articles that I submitted to the Commentary pages of the Washington Times. Together with the Times' late book editor, Colin Walters -- who often challenged me to review books that I otherwise never would have read, much less written about -- she gave me the boost I needed to know that my writing was worth reading, at a critical point in my nascent career.

Seeing the remembrances of Mary Lou Forbes by other writers in today's Times, I now realize I was not the only neophyte opinion columnist whom she nurtured. Cal Thomas, for instance, who is perhaps the most widely syndicated commentator today, writes:

Next to my mother, Mary Lou Forbes was my biggest cheerleader. She would call or e-mail about something I had written and praise it as if it were really that good. She persuaded me to submit some of my columns for Pulitzer Prize consideration. I told her there was no way I would ever win that prize, even if I was good enough because of the liberal tilt of the selection committee. She persisted, and just because it was her, I submitted an entry. I told her I was so confident I wouldn't even make the finals that if I did, I would make her house payments for one year. She laughed. I never had to pay up.

Mary Lou had talent and class. She was a lady in a day when that meant something. Every female becomes a woman because of time and biology. Not every woman becomes a lady. That comes about because a woman develops the inner qualities of character, virtue and modesty. Mary Lou had those in abundance.

It is a cliche to say a person who has died will be missed. It's true of Mary Lou Forbes. I shall miss her. Our profession will miss her because they don't make many real journalists like her anymore. All who knew her can say "amen."
The Times' current senior opinion editor, Franklin Perley, lists some of the other writers who benefited from Mrs. Forbes' nurturing:
As Commentary and Opinion editor, she said it important to provide a counterweight to the prevailing liberal perspective of the dominant media culture. In the early 1980s, when The Times was struggling to establish itself, that was no easy task. "Back then, we had to beg writers to submit their material to us," she said recently. "Now we're inundated."

By providing them exposure in the nation's capital, she played a vital role in the career success of more than a few media luminaries, including syndicated columnists Cal Thomas and Austin Bay, and syndicated artist Bruce Tinsley, creator of the "Mallard Fillmore" comic strip. One of the early resources she developed was the late, great economics columnist Warren Brookes.

Still, her conservative inclinations were not doctrinaire. She said that it was important to give the other side a chance to make their case. Among liberal columnists she published regularly were Clarence Page and Donna Brazile, and she often carried columns from the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon.
The contributions of Mary Lou Forbes to the world of journalism were remarkable. Given the torrent of comments in today's Washington Times, it is clear she left her mark on her colleagues and friends.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Community Organizer Takes on Perriello

A few weeks ago, I asked, with tongue only partially in cheek, "Is it 2010 already?"

The question was prompted by the appearance on local TV stations of commercials that were thinly-veiled endorsements of freshman Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA5) by health- and pharmaceutical-industry lobbying groups.

Now, however, it seems the 2010 election campaign has begun in earnest, with the announcement that Republican candidate Bradley Rees is throwing his hat into the ring, with the slogan, "Today's troubles call for some heavy lifting.
It's time to bring in the forklift."

Media General reports:

Factory worker Bradley Rees, 31, formally announced his candidacy Thursday night to seek the Republican nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 5th District. A small group gathered at Camilla Williams Park along the Dan River for the announcement.

With the former Dan River Inc. building as a backdrop, Rees, dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt with the word “underdog” on it, spoke for about a half hour in support of the Fair Tax bill, which would eliminate income taxes and establish a national sales tax.

“I describe myself as a reluctant Republican,” Rees said before his speech. “The GOP has strayed from its conservative roots. (The current tax system) is basically unfair — direct, compulsory income taxation. The government gets the first chunk of your money, and to me, that’s theft.”

Rees is a self-declared grassroots candidate who flaunts his non-lawyer, common-man status. A forklift operator and assembly line technician with tattooed knuckles, Rees spent four years working as a Lynchburg community coordinator for Americans for Fair Taxation before founding his own organization, Operation: Bullhorn, last spring.

“I can’t stand politics,” Rees told the group, “or most politicians … Americans are tired of the same old choices. And you shouldn’t have to hold your nose when you pull that lever in the voting booth.”
A quick glance at the Rees for Congress web site suggests that the candidate is a man of libertarian instincts. Since the issues pages of the web site are incomplete, however, I will reserve judgment for the moment.

That said, in an earlier newspaper article, Rees described himself as a libertarian. According to Brian McNeill in the Charlottesville Daily Progress earlier this month:
Rees, who writes a blog called sonsofliberty2k10, is a vocal advocate of the so-called “FairTax” that would replace federal income taxes with a national retail sales tax. Rees said he has been “kind of forced into running” because of what he sees as the government infringing on his liberties.

“There’s so much encroachment,” he said. “The federal government confiscates my money before I can put food on the table for my family.”

Rees also said that government regulations and corporate taxes have led to declines in the manufacturing sector.

He considers himself a “reluctant Republican,” as he views himself as somewhat closer to a Libertarian. Nevertheless, he said, he plans to run to win the GOP nomination to challenge Perriello.
Rees is an unconventional candidate, to say the least: He's a forklift driver aiming to replace a lawyer who replaced a lawyer. (He has some spot-on comments on his web site about how the influence of lawyers in Congress has corrupted the institution. I wouldn't want to live in a world without lawyers, but a legislature without lawyers seems like a wonderful idea.)

If Brad Rees is willing to take a term-limits pledge as well as advocate for the Fair Tax, he may prove to be a formidable, Cincinnatus-like candidate. As his t-shirt indicates, he's an underdog facing an uphill battle, but having a working-class candidate is a welcome change-up in an increasingly predictable political game. He brings a "common man" element into what has become, regrettably, an elitist enterprise.

Virginia's Fifth Congressional District leans heavily Republican. Tom Perriello won by narrowest of margins after a recount against long-term incumbent Virgil Goode last year. With no Barack Obama at the top of the ticket in 2010, this will undoubtedly be a targeted race for the NRCC and the Republican primary (or nominating convention) will attract a lot of interest. Rees is just the first of several potential candidates to announce, but his will be a campaign worth watching.

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Four Decades After Stonewall

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, considered a critical moment in the gay rights movement.

The riots did not, contrary to popular mythology, start the gay rights movement. They did not even mark the first time that gay bar patrons had fought back against a raid by corrupt police in a major city. (There was a similar event at the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles two years earlier.)

Moreover, groups of gay men and lesbians had been organizing around the country for some forty years. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis each had active chapters in various cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (This history has been chronicled in many places, notably in the documentary film, Before Stonewall.) As Dale Carpenter put it in a post on the Independent Gay Forum this week,

The liberationists who gave us Stonewall hastened us down a path (already begun long before them) that has brought us to the edge of unprecedented respect and acceptance.
To demonstrate the differences between today and 1969, one need only take a look at how the mainstream media covered the incidents at the Stonewall Inn and compare it to how they might do it today.

As an example of how far mainstream acceptance has come, Conan O'Brien made an inoffensive joke in his monologue on The Tonight Show on Friday about a news item he had seen about a gay senior citizens group. Their slogan, he said, was "We're here; we're queer; we can't hear you." Well, maybe elderly people might take offense at that -- but not gay people.

In 1996, Edward Alwood wrote a comprehensive history of how the news media has covered gay issues and events in a fascinating book published by the Columbia University Press (with copious illustrations and photographs and accessibly readable despite its academic origin), Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media. Here is some of what he wrote about the coverage in June and July 1969 of the Stonewall Riots (excerpted from pages 84-88 of Straight News, footnotes omitted). He begins with coverage after the first night of the riots:
The six-paragraph, single-column story ran on page thirty-three of the [New York] Times on Sunday, June 29. It carried no byline, indicating that the author was a junior writer. The small article was classic New York Times. In sterile language it described the clash in terms of the problems faced by the police. It mentioned nothing about the recent rash of arrests at gay bars or the history of police harassment. Readers were left to figure out for themselves the reasons for the uprising. The story began,

Hundreds of young men went on a rampage in Greenwich Village shortly after 3 A.M. yesterday after a force of plainclothes men raided a bar that police said was well known for its homosexual clientele.Thirteen persons were arrested and four policemen were injured. The young men threw bricks, bottles, garbage, pennies and a parking meter at the policemen, who had a search warrant authorizing them to investigate reports that liquor was sold illegally at the bar, the Stonewall Inn, 53 Christopher Street, just off Sheridan Square.
The tone of the article and its placement deep inside the newspaper came as no surprise to homosexuals. “I didn’t expect it to be on the front page because the Times didn’t cover gay stuff,” recalled Martha Shelley, then president of the New York chapter of Daughters of Bilitis. “I knew that if there had been that many black people rioting in Manhattan, the story would have been front page news.”

Reporter Dennis Eskow took a similar approach in his story in the New York Daily News, 3 COPS HURT AS BAR RAID RILES CROWD. It was accompanied by a three-column photograph showing police talking to a group of smiling young men outside the bar, hike the Times story, Eskow’s was buried on page thirty. It began, “A predawn police raid on a reputed Greenwich Village homosexual hangout, the second raid within a week, touched off a two-hour melee yesterday as customers and villagers swarmed over the plainclothes cops. Before order was restored, the cops were the targets of thrown coins, cobblestones and uprooted parking meters, windows were smashed, a police van was nearly overturned and the front of the raided bar, the Stonewall Inn, was fire-bombed.”
The spontaneous demonstrations did not end immediately. They were renewed the next day, after the Stonewall Inn reopened. The newspapers again reported on the events. Their placement and tone suggest (in retrospect) an utter lack of understanding of what was happening and what would follow (including the first gay pride parade in New York exactly one year later, on June 28, 1970). Some of the reports displayed outright bigotry with regard to the gay men who had reacted to decades of police oppression, blackmail, and extortion. Alwood continues:
The Times reported the Saturday night outbreak in a second article. Again, the single column, ten-paragraph article was buried on page twenty-two. It began,
Heavy police reinforcements cleared the Sheridan Square area of Greenwich Village again yesterday morning when large crowds of young men, angered by a police raid on an inn frequented by homosexuals, swept through the area. . . . A number of people who did not retreat fast enough were pushed and shoved along, and at least two men were clubbed to the ground.
Only reporter Jay Levin of the New York Post was able to put the uprising in a context that would enable the average reader to understand the events, despite the condescending tone of the article. His story ran on July 8, more than a week after the riots erupted. Headlined THE GAY ANGER BEHIND THE RIOTS, the story began,
“People are beginning to realize,” said the doorman at the Stonewall Inn, “that no matter how ‘Nelly’ or how ‘fem’ a homosexual is, you can only push them so far.” With a battle cry of “gay power,” the Nellies, fems, gay boys, queens—all those who flaunt their homosexuality -- have been demonstrating that they have indeed been pushed too far."
Although most of the city’s newspapers underplayed the riots, two others sensationalized them beyond extremes. The worst offender was the Daily News, the irreverent paper of the city’s working class. Headlined HOMO NEST RAIDED, QUEEN BEES ARE STINGING MAD, the article by Jerry Lisker appeared on July 6, nearly a week after the riots, on the first page of the local news section:
She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a humming bird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn’t bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street. Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra_strap to-bra-strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 17 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village.
In mocking, denigrating descriptions that ran throughout the article, Lisker described gays as “Queen Bees,” “princesses and ladies-in-waiting,” “Florence Nightingales,” and “honeys turned Madwomen of Chaillot.” “Queen power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt ,“ the article said. He referred to the Stonewall Inn as “a gay mecca” and a “homosexual beachhead .“ In one section he wrote,
The whole proceedings took on the aura of a homosexual Academy Awards Night. The Queens pranced out to the street blowing kisses and waving to the crowd. A beauty of a specimen named Stella wailed uncontrollably while being led to the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall by a cop. She later confessed that she didn’t protest the manhandling by the officer, it was just that her hair was in curlers and she was afraid her new beau might be in the crowd and spot her. She didn’t want him to see her this way, she wept.
Written in an entertaining and dramatic fashion, the story evoked the days of yellow journalism, when newspapers put a premium on telling a story rather than finding the facts or providing the truth.

The July 3 edition of the Village Voice struck a similar tone in two front page articles that provided the most extensive coverage of all. By coincidence the Voice’s editorial offices were located on Christopher Street, only a few doors from the Stonewall Inn. When the riot began on the first night, reporter Lucian Truscott IV was in the Lion’s Head, a favorite drinking spot for journalists, and darted outside to see what had happened. As a result he wrote GAY POWER COMES TO SHERIDAN SQUARE, the lead article on the front page of the next edition:
Sheridan Square this weekend looked like something from a William Burroughs novel as the sudden specter of “gay power” erected its brazen head and spat out a fairy tale the likes of which the area has never seen. The forces of faggotry, spurred by a Friday night raid on one of the city’s largest, most popular, and longest lived gay bars, the Stonewall Inn, rallied Saturday night in an unprecedented protest against the raid and continued Sunday night to assert presence, possibility, and pride until the early hours of Monday morning.
Like the article in the Daily News, Truscott’s contained a liberal dose of prejudiced characterizations ranging from “fags” to “blatant queens.” “The stars were in their element,” he wrote, capturing the drama of the moment but ignoring and trivializing legitimate complaints about oppressive police tactics. He referred to the “limp wrists and primed hair” of the gays but described the police as “the city’s finest.”
Fast-forward forty years. So much has happened in that time it boggles the mind. (Who, in 1969, would have imagined that gay and lesbian citizens would be lobbying for equal marriage rights and that they would have achieved them in several foreign countries and six states? That an openly gay man would be heading the U.S. civil service, which once excluded homosexuals from government employment? Or that a majority of Americans approve the idea of gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military?) Gays are no longer disdained: they are courted by politicians (President Barack Obama panders to gay voters almost weekly) and targeted by merchants.

As an example of the latter, consider this article in the June 2009 issue of O'Dwyer's PR Report, a (subscription-only) newsletter for public relations professionals, by Matt Tumminello, president of Target 10 in New York.

Tumminello notes:
In 1969, gay visibility was practically non-existent and only a handful of individuals were willing to stand up and he counted. Today, gay visibility has exploded and the community has become a thriving market segment that holds a wealth of opportunity for major companies and consumer brands.
Gently chiding his PR colleagues and competitors for underserving the gay market, Tumminello lists a few salient facts:
About six to seven percent of the population is gay or lesbian. In urban areas, that percentage can exceed 10 or 12 percent.

The per capita buying power of gay consumers is estimated at $45,300, with a total market estimated at $712 billion.

Gay consumers are concentrated and easy to reach through targeted media, resulting in an efficient use of marketing dollars.

In research we’ve conducted. 73% of gay men and lesbians strongly agree that gay-targeted marketing positively impacts purchasing decisions. This market is extremely brand loyal.

Gay consumers influence trends, styles and tastes beyond their own community. Call it “The Queer Eye effect.”

Gay consumers are early adopters and there are many categories where gays over-index, such as travel, grooming, personal care products, technology and entertainment.

Gay research capabilities have become first-rate in the last five years. The results of a marketing program can be tracked and measured with great precision.
Tumminello concludes by reminding his readers that the gay market is not just a 21st century phenomenon, but it started slowly and is now maturing:
The gay market is not something new or just starting to emerge. It’s been growing up and all around us. A look at the last ten years of pop culture shows how far we’ve come. It’s been more than a decade since we first met Will & Grace. The Queer Eye guys finished giving America a makeover in 2007 after a successful four-year run. And last year, Ellen DeGeneres married her wife the same month she signed on to be the face of Cover Girl cosmetics. Today we even have LOGO, the gay TV network owned by MTV that reaches into more than 30 million homes.

Most recently, marriage equality has found a groundswell of support. Gay couples are now marrying in five states - probably six, by the time this magazine hits your desk. It may have seemed impossible a generation ago, but many of us now believe we won’t have to wait a lifetime to see it happen in all 50 states.
Ten years from now, as historians and activists mark half a century since the Stonewall Riots brought the struggle for gay and lesbian civil rights to public attention, what will they be marveling about? For my money, the most remarkable thing about this progress is the short span it took to get from there to here. While the boys and men who fought back at Stonewall might have stimulated, initially, a left-wing movement, the surprise is that it is the free market, encompassing both commerce and popular culture -- something valued more by the right than the left -- has been the strongest motivator, protector, and stimulant for gay liberation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

And It's Tasty, Too!

Shopping at Kroger this afternoon, I found it impossible to pass up this product, imported from Jamaica: "Cock Flavoured Soup Mix - Spicy."

I'm not making this up:

Produced by Grace Kitchens of Kingston, this packet of cock soup mix cost me only 89 cents (plus 2.5% Virginia sales tax on food). A bargain.

I should stock up. After seeing this, my friends will expect to be served cock soup at my next dinner party. And who could blame them? Cock soup must be much better than the usual rock soup.

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OPM's Overdue Apology

Fifty-two years ago, the U.S. government fired a Harvard-educated astronomer because the man was gay.

That injustice transformed Dr. Franklin Kameny, a World War II veteran, from a 9 to 5 government worker into a fiery crusader for justice and equal rights. Along with a few other pioneers, Kameny organized the first pickets outside the White House in which demonstrators demanded civil rights for homosexuals.

Now, more than a half century after he lost his job for no reason other than that his sexual orientation was disdained by the powers-that-be, the U.S. government has apologized to Frank Kameny.

The director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, wrote a letter of apology and read it aloud in a lunch-hour ceremony attended by members of the OPM's gay employees group. The ceremony included excerpts from the documentary film, Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community, and the room was decorated with photographs of Dr. Kameny taken over the course of his career.

Kevin Naff has the full text of Berry's letter in his Washington Blade blog:

Dear Dr. Kameny: In what we know today was a shameful action, the United States Civil Service Commission in 1957 upheld your dismissal from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. In one letter to you, an agency official wrote that the Government “does not hire homosexuals and will not permit their employment...” He went on to say that “the homosexual is automatically a security risk” and that he “frequently becomes a disruptive personnel factor within any organization.”

With the fervent passion of a true patriot, you did not resign yourself to your fate or quietly endure this wrong. With courage and strength, you fought back. And so today, I am writing to advise you that this policy, which was at odds with the bedrock principles underlying the merit-based civil service, has been repudiated by the United States Government, due in large part to your determination and life’s work, and to the thousands of Americans whose advocacy your words have inspired.

Thus, the civil service laws, rules and regulations now provide that it is illegal to discriminate against federal employees or applicants based on matters not related to their ability to perform their jobs, including their sexual orientation. Furthermore, I am happy to inform you that the Memorandum signed by President Obama on June 17, 2009 directs the Office of Personnel Management—the successor to the CSC--to issue guidance to all executive departments and agencies regarding their obligations to comply with these laws, rules, and regulations.

And by virtue of the authority vested in me as Director of the Office Of Personnel Management, it is my duty and great pleasure to inform you that I am adding my support, along with that of many other past Directors, for the repudiation of the reasoning of the 1957 finding by the United States Civil Service Commission to dismiss you from your job solely on the basis of your sexual orientation. Please accept our apology for the consequences of the previous policy of the United States government, and please accept the gratitude and appreciation of the United States Office of Personnel Management for the work you have done to fight discrimination and protect the merit-based civil service system.
This has been a busy month of well-deserved honors for Frank Kameny. Last week, President Barack Obama presented him with the pen used to sign the executive memorandum that grants some (very thin) benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian employees. (That ceremony was featured in a front-page photo in the Washington Times.) A small step toward equal treatment under the law is better than no step at all.

H/T: Towleroad.

Update: Also, Dale Carpenter offers some more details at The Volokh Conspiracy.

SCOTUS Stands Up for Human Dignity

With a vote of 8 to 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a school district was wrong to strip-search a 13-year-old girl in an effort to enforce its zero-tolerance policy regarding all drugs, including Advil and Aleve.

The lopsided result in Safford Unified School District #1 v. April Redding (No. 08–479) -- only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented -- came as a surprise, since the line of questioning in oral arguments suggested that most of the justices were not sympathetic to the plight of a teenage girl stripped to her bra and panties in the principal's office. (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed aghast at her colleagues' questions.)

The case involved Savana Redding, a student at Safford Middle School, who was suspected (based on the unsubstantiated claim of another student who was caught with prescription-strength ibuprofen and an over-the-counter naproxen pill) of drug possession. No drugs were found in her backpack or outer clothing, so the assistant principal ordered her to take all of her clothes off and allow school personnel to look inside her underwear.

In what may be a swan song, outgoing Justice David Souter wrote the majority opinion, saying:

...when the categorically extreme intrusiveness of a search down to the body of an adolescent requires some justification in suspected facts, general background possibilities fall short; a reasonable search that extensive calls for suspicion that it will pay off. But nondangerous school contraband does not raise the specter of stashes in intimate places, and there is no evidence in the record of any general practice among Safford Middle School students of hiding that sort of thing in underwear; neither Jordan nor Marissa suggested to Wilson that Savana was doing that, and the preceding search of Marissa that Wilson ordered yielded nothing. Wilson never even determined when Marissa had received the pills from Savana; if it had been a few days before, that would weigh heavily against any reasonable conclusion that Savana presently had the pills on her person, much less in her underwear.

In sum, what was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear. We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable.
In a separate opinion for himself and Justice Ginsburg, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:
Nothing the Court decides today alters this basic framework. It simply applies [New Jersey v. T. L. O.] to declare unconstitutional a strip search of a 13-year-old honors student that was based on a groundless suspicion that she might be hiding medicine in her underwear. This is, in essence, a case in which clearly established law meets clearly outrageous conduct. I have long believed that “‘[i]t does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude.’”... The strip search of Savana Redding in this case was both more intrusive and less justified than the search of the student’s purse in T. L. O.
In a partial dissent, taking issue with the Court's grant of partial immunity to the school officials who ordered and participated in the strip search of Savana Redding, Justice Ginsburg wrote:
Any reasonable search for the pills would have ended when inspection of Redding’s backpack and jacket pockets yielded nothing. Wilson had no cause to suspect, based on prior experience at the school or clues in this case, that Redding had hidden pills—containing the equivalent of two Advils or one Aleve—in her underwear or body. To make matters worse, Wilson did not release Redding, to return to class or to go home, after the search. Instead, he made her sit on a chair outside his office for over two hours. At no point did he attempt to call her parent. Abuse of authority of that order should not be shielded by official immunity.
Although he dissented with the Court's ruling that the search of Savana Redding was unreasonable under the terms of the Fourth Amendment, Justice Thomas touched on the larger cultural issue -- whether schools should have one-size-fits-all, zero-tolerance policies -- in his opinion. If one reads between the lines, one can see that Thomas is suggesting that state and local legislative bodies should begin thinking about changing these policies, which often result in expulsions and other harsh punishments for hard-working, high-achieving, well-behaved students.

Thomas notes:
Restoring the common-law doctrine of in loco parentis would not, however, leave public schools entirely free to impose any rule they choose. “If parents do not like the rules imposed by those schools, they can seek redress in school boards or legislatures; they can send their children to private schools or home school them; or they can simply move.” See Morse, 551 U. S., at 419 (THOMAS, J., concurring). Indeed, parents and local government officials have proved themselves quite capable of challenging overly harsh school rules or the enforcement of sensible rules in insensible ways.

For example, one community questioned a school policy that resulted in “an 11-year-old [being] arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail for bringing a plastic butter knifeto school.” Downey, Zero Tolerance Doesn’t Always Add Up, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Apr. 6, 2009, p. A11. In another, “[a]t least one school board member was outraged” when 14 elementary-school students were suspended for “imitating drug activity” after they combined Kool-Aid and sugar in plastic bags. Grant, Pupils Trading Sweet Mix Get Sour Shot of Discipline, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 18, 2006, p. B1. Individuals within yet another school district protested a “‘zero-tolerance’ policy toward weapons” that had become “so rigid that it force[d]schools to expel any student who belongs to a military organization, a drum-and-bugle corps or any other legitimate extracurricular group and is simply transportingwhat amounts to harmless props.” Richardson, School Gun Case Sparks Cries For “Common Sense,” Washington Times, Feb. 13, 2009, p. A1.

These local efforts to change controversial school policies through democratic processes have proven successful in many cases. See, e.g., Postal, Schools’ Zero Tolerance Could Lose Some Punch, Orlando Sentinel, Apr. 24, 2009, p. B3 (“State lawmakers want schools to dial back strict zero-tolerance policies so students do not end up in juvenile detention for some ‘goofy thing’ ”); Richardson, Tolerance Waning for Zero-tolerance Rules, Washington Times, Apr. 21, 2009, p. A3 (“[A] few states have moved to relax their laws. Utah now allows students to bring asthma inhalers to school without violating the zero-tolerance policy on drugs”); see also Nussbaum, Becoming Fed Up With Zero Tolerance, New York Times, Sept. 3, 2000, Section 14, p. 1 (discussing a report that found that “widespread use of zero-tolerance discipline policies was creating as many problems as it was solving and that there were many cases around the country in which students were harshly disciplined for infractions where there was no harm intended or done”).

In the end, the task of implementing and amending public school policies is beyond this Court’s function. Parents, teachers, school administrators, local politicians, and state officials are all better suited than judges to determine the appropriate limits on searches conducted by school officials. Preservation of order, discipline, and safety in public schools is simply not the domain of the Constitution. And, common sense is not a judicial monopoly or a Constitutional imperative.
I may be reading this wrongly, but it seems to me that Thomas is waving his finger at legislators and telling them that it is their responsibility to fix these ill-suited (if well-meaning) policies.

His opinion reminds me of what he said in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas:
I write separately to note that the law before the Court today “is … uncommonly silly.”... If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.
In both of these cases -- Redding and Lawrence -- I believe that Justice Thomas was wrong in dissenting from the Court's majority. His reasoning, however, is respectable even as it reaches the wrong conclusions.

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Remembering Ratification

Today is the 221st anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution by the elected delegates of the people of Virginia, meeting in convention in Richmond. Delegates included James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Marshall, George Mason, and James Monroe.

Virginia's ratification came four days after the Constitution had received the approval of the required nine states and preceded New York's ratification by one day. The Constitution took effect on March 4, 1789, about eight months later.

Virginia did not ratify the new Constitution without reservation. In addition to a declaration of ratification, it sent along a list of demands.

One of the demands was that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution. Madison, who was one of the "Federalist" leaders of the convention (Henry and Mason being leaders of the "Anti-Federalists," believing that the new central government was too powerful and there was too little protection of individual rights and liberties), took this demand seriously and introduced 12 amendments to the Constitution shortly after he took office as a Member of Congress. Ten of those amendments were ratified almost immediately and became the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791; an eleventh, dealing with the remuneration of Members of Congress, became the 27th Amendment in May 1992.

In its message of ratification, the convention stated (italics added):

WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any capacity, by the President or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes: and that among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States.
Those are powerful words, too little honored, and too much forgotten, today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Odd Definition of 'Democratic'

In an article that purports to analyze the political situation in New Hampshire in the wake of the state legislature's approval of a bill that creates marriage equality for all the citizens of that state (and the governor's signature on that bill), National Review Online's Mark Hemingway makes this curious statement:

Of the recent states that have legalized same-sex marriage — Iowa, Maine, and New Hampshire — none has done so through democratic means...
Granted, Iowans now have marriage equality due to a decision by the least democratic branch, the state supreme court. Even so, Iowa supreme court justices are held accountable through retention elections held one year after their appointments, and they serve limited terms of eight years, rather than lifetime terms. So that judicial decision-making body is not entirely undemocratic.

In the cases of Maine and New Hampshire, however, the decision to open up marriage to consenting adults regardless of sexual orientation was made by what one might call the most democratic branches: the legislature and the governor.

Hemingway fails to mention the other states that have marriage equality. A same-sex marriage law was passed by the legislature in Vermont years after that state first created "civil unions" through the legislative process. In Massachusetts the state legislature deliberated over and ultimately rejected an effort to overturn the state supreme court's ruling that a prohibition on same-sex marriage violated the commonwealth's constitution. In Connecticut, the state legislature approved civil unions but the state supreme court ruled that this was discriminatory and that marriage must be available to all citizens regardless of gender.

I might add that both chambers of the California legislature approved a bill to provide marriage equality, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. California's domestic partnership law gives all the responsibilities and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples, except for the name "marriage."

Hemingway has an odd definition about what is "democratic." If lawmaking by elected legislative bodies is not democratic, then what is?

It may be that Hemingway thinks that this sort of legislative action is made through "republican" means and that "democratic" lawmaking is limited to voter-approved (if not voter-initiated) referenda.

If so, Hemingway's view of legislative legitimacy is sorely at odds with the views of the Founders. It may be time for him to read The Federalist Papers. His understanding of "democratic" lawmaking is also at odds with common parlance.

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Call for Philip Morris!

I hope that, when I write about tobacco issues, people understand that I am a lifelong non-smoker. Perhaps, because I grew up in a smoking household (both of my parents were smokers), I have an unusual tolerance for those who use tobacco products in my presence. My libertarian instincts, however, play a major role in my belief that the government should not increase its regulations over tobacco sale and use and leave it to individuals to decide whether to partake and leave it to private businesses whether to allow tobacco smoking on their property.

It seems that my instincts are also held by a majority of Americans, who believe the government has overreached in turning over regulation of tobacco to the Food & Drug Administration and virtually prohibiting the advertising of tobacco products. (Is it any surprise that this new regime was supported by the largest tobacco producer, Philip Morris, since control of its market share will now be secure against encroachments by smaller players in the industry?)

According to UPI
, a Gallup Poll shows that a majority of Americans say they disapprove of the new laws -- signed today by President Barack Obama in a Rose Garden ceremony -- that expand regulations over tobacco:

By 52 percent to 46 percent, more respondents said they don't like the idea of government having greater authority over tobacco products, a Gallup Poll released Monday indicated. Congress last week passed such a measure last week. [sic]

The poll indicated 69 percent of smokers said they disapproved, while 28 percent said they favored the broader government oversight. Views among non-smokers were closer, with 50 percent indicating approval and 48 percent indicating disapproval, the poll said.
CQ Politics summarized the results of the poll, which was conducted last week, like this:
The strongest opposition - 60 percent to 36 percent - comes from those with a high school education or less. College graduates favor the legislation by 56 percent to 43 percent.

Republicans oppose the move by 62 percent to 37 percent and independents by 51 percent to 46 percent, while Democrats favor it 54 percent to 45 percent.

Only 17 percent of those surveyed would support a smoking ban.
One has to wonder whether those 17 percent also favor the death and destruction that inevitably would follow tobacco Prohibition. Organized crime is already involved in tobacco smuggling for the purpose of avoiding taxes. A ban would provide new opportunities for drug cartels and enrich mobsters and corrupt police officers around the world.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Interview with Drummer Marques Walls

This article was prepared for publication in The Metro Herald this Friday, June 19:

Interview with Marques Walls, Drummer for ‘Spring Awakening’
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

As part of the Kennedy Center’s season-long initiative called “Broadway: The Third Generation,” which celebrates the current generation of Broadway musical composers, Spring Awakening opens on July 7 in the Eisenhower Theatre. Winner of seven Tony® Awards, including Best Musical, Spring Awakening is based on the 1891 Frank Wedekind play of the same name and features a score by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics Steven Sater, direction by Michael Mayer, and choreography by Bill T. Jones.

One of the features of Spring Awakening is an on-stage band that plays the show’s folk-rock score. Marques Walls is the drummer on tour with that band; he came to Spring Awakening from the national tour of Rent.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Walls grew up in musical family. “There are seven other drummers in family, including my dad,” he told The Metro Herald; in addition, “my mom is singer, my sister is a singer, a couple of aunts are singers.”

Walls started playing at his church – his father, Monty Walls, is a well-known gospel drummer who has played with Richard Smallwood – and then he joined a youth jazz group in Mount Airy, a neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia. “That got me to Kutztown University,” he said, “then to national tour of Rent, then Spring Awakening.”

“I’ve been a professional drummer since the age of 16,” Walls told us, “but I have only been working in musical theatre for about four years.”

Speaking candidly, Walls said “I’m not really a fan of traditional musical theatre,” but he is enthusiastic about this show. The music in Spring Awakening is similar to that of Rent, he said, in that both are rock musicals “about kids rebelling.”

“The music is incredible,” he said. “I consider myself lucky to be a part of this.”

Spring Awakening “is definitely a one-of-a-kind type show. It takes place in the 1890s in Germany. It’s about kids and self-discovery, about puberty. It touches on all the childhood issues like sexuality, oppression, and ‘stick it to the man.’”

That said, he warns, Spring Awakening is “not for everyone, because there is brief nudity” and touches on themes like suicide.

Praising the actors who perform on stage in front of him and his bandmates – who are raised about 10 feet above the action – Walls notes that the “age range of the kids is 18 to about 23. They are amazing. It’s definitely worth coming out to see” them perform.

Asked if the band interacts with the other performers during the show, Walls chuckled and said: “We’re not supposed to interact with the actors, but it’s inevitable that we do. We’ve been screamed at for that numerous times.”

During the tour, which began in San Diego and moved up the West Coast to Los Angeles, San Francisco (where it ran for an atypical six weeks), Portland, and Seattle, Walls is teaching himself guitar.

“Typical days on the road are boring,” he said. The band is not allowed on stage until about 7:30 p.m., leaving about three-quarters of the day empty. “We can’t jam out,” on stage during the day, and “that’s why I’m learning guitar.”

“I tried the whole lesson thing,” he said, “but it kept falling through. So I am using instructional DVDs.”

Before getting involved in musical theatre, Walls played in a jazz band that performed on the East Coast, in Philadelphia and sometimes in Washington. “I’ve done a few jazz gigs in D.C. before, just some bars here and there, open-mic nights. We used to come down to D.C. with a cover band, a funk group, every few weeks or so.”

Walls’ role models as a drummer include Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl, and “local guys from Philadelphia like Spanky, Eric Green, John Roberts (who played for Janet Jackson), and my dad, one of my greatest influences.”

Before arriving at the Kennedy Center, Spring Awakening will be performed in Baltimore and Philadelphia. After Washington, the tour continues to Chicago, and then, Walls said, “we have another year to go after that.”

Performances for Spring Awakening will run Tuesday through Sunday evenings in the Eisenhower Theater at 7:30 PM. Matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoons will run at 1:30 PM. Tickets from $25 to $90 are on sale now and are available for purchase at the Kennedy Center box office, on the Kennedy Center website, or by calling Instant Charge at (202) 467-4600. Patrons living outside the Washington metropolitan area may dial toll-free at (800) 444-1324 or visit kennedy-center.org. Please note that parental discretion is advised due to mature content including brief partial nudity, sexual situations, and strong language.

(Production photos by Paul Kolnik courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.)