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Tuesday, March 30, 2004  

Blogospherics: Blogger puts money where mouth is

I sometimes refer to the blogosphere as an echo chamber. It is where way too many copycats assemble an echo every word of Atrios and Glenn Reynolds, sometimes including the uhs and ahs. But, one rarely sees a blogger live up to the values he mouths day in and day out, especially in the liberal blogosphere.

So, I am pleased to bring your attention to a liberal blogger who is living what he writes. Blogger David Anderson has a project he would like the blogosphere to take notice of. He resides in Costa Rica, a poor but promising country. He is the president of Grupo Utopia, a software development and consulting company. David is the parent of two young Costa Ricans, who are also American citizens. Unfortunately, most of their peers will not have access to the English language at home. They need to learn it in school. That requires books. So, David developed Project Appollonia. He explains.

Project Background

English has always been an important part of the school curriculum in Costa Rica and is an important part of the learning process. Recent cuts in government spending has effected the governments ability to purchase and maintain English language libraries, and in an attempt to help fill the gap, Grupo Utopia is joining with children’s book author Nancy Gilliam, The Chamber of Costa Rican Software Producers, and various chapters and individuals of Mr. Anderson’s College Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, and Sister Sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, as well as Masonic Organizations and The Order of the Eastern Star, and a number of U.S. based philanthropic groups. We are pleased at the Support we have received so far from the Brothers and Sisters of the Zeta-Phi Beta Sigma Family, and from the affiliate organizations like Sigma Doves and Sweethearts.

Our initial Goal is to Donate 1,000 Children’s Books to Costa Rican Schools by June of this year (2004), and 10,000 by the end of the year. Momentum has been building for this effort primarily through the incredible generosity and spirit of Ms Gilliam, but also through the enthusiasm generated by members of the Blue Phi family who have offered to take on Appolonia as a Project.

We are also honored by the support of Federico Cartin Arteaga of Caprosoft (The Chamber of Costa Rican Software Developers). We have also approached the American Embassy here in Costa Rica in an effort to get them involved, as well as several multinationals who have offices in Costa Rica.

In the United States, Sharon Green a Manager with Los Angeles Law Enforecement is working to get commitments of support from the Law Enforcement an Firefighting Communities in Los Angeles.

The Plan

We have begun phase two of the plan. In this phase we will organize Project Apollonia as a non-profit corporation in Costa Rica, and work to organize a Board of Directors composed of the leadership of the Costa Rican and expatriate business and political community. We are awaiting news from the U.S. Embassy as to whether we will be able to use some of their resources to import the books.

What we need right now is for people to begin the process of collecting the books. We will be able to provide a U.S. address of freight forwarder in the case that we don’t have an Embassy P.O. box available. We ask that all interested parties begin their individual efforts immediately and begin the process of collecting books. We would like to formally present the first batch of books to the Ministry of Education by the first week of June. We also plan on a special visit to Limon Province, one of the poorest provinces in Costa Rica, in July for a special presentation. With God’s help and the continuing support of generous people, we can make this a very special year for Costa Rican School Children.

The project is named after David's infant daughter, the adorable Apollonia Anderson Calderon.

Costa Rica is home to about four million people. About thirty percent of the Costa Rican population is under the age of 14. Ninety-six percent of Costa Ricans are literate in Spanish. Learn the basics about peaceful, sultry Costa Rica. Interested in visiting? Learn more.

You can contact David at http://www.grupo-utopia.com. Visit his weblog, In Search ot Utopia, to keep up-to-date on Project Appollonia. And, collect those books. A good source of cheap books is thrift stores, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, if, like me, you don't have discarded children's books around the house. Also, watch for used book sales at bookstores. I'll be all over the next one at Powells, which is headquartered in Portland.

4:56 PM

Monday, March 29, 2004  

Entertainment: The Practice leaves us wanting more

Will The Practice have three lives? Though the television program will end this summer, its legacy of excellent acting in a drama about a law firm will carry on. The two latest members of the cast, fired renegade lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) and British legal assistant Tara Wilson (Rhona Mitra) will join a new practice. Denny Crane, veteran actor William Shatner, who appeared in "The Case Against Alan Shore" and episodes leading up to it, is a rainmaker in that new firm.

LOS ANGELES, California (Hollywood Reporter) -- David E. Kelley's Emmy-winning legal drama The Practicewill bow out May 16 after eight seasons.

The final episodes of the ABC show will set up a spin-off series, which has been given a 22-episode order by the network for the fall.

Sources said Kelley, ABC and producer 20th Century Fox TV evaluated creatively the options of picking up The Practice for a ninth season or spinning off the series into a new drama before mutually agreeing on the latter.

The Practice's first life focused on Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott), a working-class striver who achieved his ideal -- partnership in a professional, profitable law firm. McDemott's smoldering good looks and chronic angst kept viewers tuned in for seven years. His supporting cast, particularly (Camryn Manheim) Ellenor Frutt and (Steve Harris) Eugene Young, could be depended on to provide fireworks. The Practice became a favorite of the Emmy Awards. However, after a move to Monday nights from its long lease on Sunday's at 10 p.m., the program lost momentum and audience. Kelley surprised the industry and viewers by firing most of the original cast last year.

A reversal of fortune occurred when versatile actor James Spader (pictured above) took on the role of Alan Shore, an ethically challenged litigator. Spader has performed the role as a fascinating mix of avenging angel and annoying heckler. His performance last night, in which he managed to be righteous and offensive simultaneously, was the best yet. "The Case Against Alan Shore" highlighted the difficulties inherent in employing professionals. Young, fed up with constantly being challenged by Shore, fired him. But, Shore brought in more money than the rest of the lawyers combined during his eight-month stint. To walk away with only pocket change would have been an admission of defeat. It is not possible to demand specific performance, i.e., maintaining an agreed upon relationship, in regard to employment. Shore sued and won. Predictably, he was ambivalent about the result. I still don't know what Alan Shore wants. I don't think Alan Shore knows what he wants either. Perhaps the not knowing is what keeps us coming back for more.

In the spin-off, the characters Shore, Wilson and Crane will mix their quirky chemistries.

. . .according to the Hollywood Reporter, Shatner's role will carry over to the new law drama that David E. Kelley is dreaming up to showcase the talent of Spader, who has been such a hit as the witty, amoral Shore.

Spader's character will reportedly join the law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, which is expected to include English-born Fay Masterson as a fiercely competitive rival to Shore and Lake Bell (recently Victoria on Miss Match ) as a naïve law grad. They will be introduced to audiences in the final episodes of The Practice.

One of the aspects of last night's show that endeared it to me is that The Practice finally took a clear-eyed look at what it means and doesn't mean to be a lawyer. In his closing argument in the case against him, Shore told the jury he was an ethically challenged player in an ethically challenged game. He stripped away the romanticization of practicing law, which Young had embraced, to expose the nuts and bolts beneath. Lawyers provide a service for pay. That service is dispute resolution. Sometimes, the way a dispute is resolved is equivalent to justice. Sometimes the way a dispute is resolved is not.

The Practice focused on criminal law most of the time. The firm in the new program will be larger and have a more varied practice, including labor. I believe the spin-off will provide new opportunities for looking at the practice of law, both as we wish it was, and, as it is.

Reasonably related

The Practice does history.

•The end is near.

3:42 PM

Saturday, March 27, 2004  

Law: Bush administration assails abortion

Congress deems fetus separate victim

Fetuses of any age are now a step closer to being considered people.

WASHINGTON, March 25 — The Senate approved legislation on Thursday making it a separate offense to harm the fetus in a federal crime committed against a pregnant woman, sending the measure to President Bush for his signature.

Opponents denounced the bill, adopted on a vote of 61 to 38, as an effort to undermine the constitutional right to abortion by recognizing the fetus as a person.

The House passed the measure on Feb. 26, 254 to 163.

The putative point of the legislation is be able to prosecute perpetrators of violent crimes against women twice if the women are pregnant when they are violated. The real point of the legislation is to give a fetus separate standing from the woman carrying it. That is, of course, the fundamental requirement for deeming abortion murder. If the fetus is a person, the individuals responsible for terminating a pregnancy, both the pregnant woman and the doctor, are as guilty of murder as the perpetrator of a homicide with a gun or knife.

The anti-abortion forces have a long way to go before they can impose that perspective on the populace. This legislation, called Unborn Victims of Violence Act, is a step down that road. Coupled with the ban on late term abortions, it shows us where we can expect to go in regard to the right to abortion if George W. Bush is reelected.

Opponents of the proposal, while saying they sympathized with the desire to severely punish anyone who would attack pregnant women, said they were troubled by the definition of the "child in utero" covered under the bill as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and others said they believed that once that definition was written into federal law it would ultimately be used as an argument to overturn existing laws protecting abortion rights.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, likely Democrat nominee for the presidential race, voted against the bill.

Partial birth abortion case begins Monday

Samantha Blackmon, at Dr. B's Blog, has been following the Bush administration's determined efforts to pry information about women who have had late term abortions from hospitals. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is deeply opposed to abortion, has not left a stone unturned in his quest. Samantha muses about the issue at Blog Sisters.

A month ago, Ashcroft ordered the release of abortion records (edited of course) during the course of an investigation of partial birth abourtion. Well, a 'federal judge ordered the University of Michigan Health System on Friday to turn over edited abortion records for possible inclusion in a case about a law that bans a particular abortion procedure." The Justice dept. is claiming that these records are central to the claim by some doctors that the procedure may be, a times, medically necessary. Excuse the conspiracy theorist in me, but I have a hard time believing that under the current administration any such records would be used to further an argument against the wishes of the White House.

Whether the records should be released, with the names of the women blacked out according to the Justice Department, has been a football in the courts. The latest appellate ruling was yesterday. Well-known jurist Richard Posner [pictured] rejected the government's contention that it needs the medical records of women who have had partial birth abortions.

Chicago's best-known federal judge late Friday shot down the U.S. government's attempt to get records of 45 women who had late-term abortions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

That means the government will have none of the medical records it sought as a case begins in New York on Monday that could determine the future of Congress' Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The National Abortion Federation and seven doctors sued to block enforcement of the ban on the procedure known medically as "intact dilation and extraction" -- removing a fetus from the uterus while it is still alive.

. . .A New York federal judge ordered three hospitals to comply with subpoenas. They have not and plan to appeal. On Friday he ordered New York Presbyterian Hospital to surrender records by noon Monday. A Michigan court ordered a hospital there to comply, but the hospital said the doctor had not performed any abortions that met the subpoena's criteria. A Philadelphia hospital has challenged the subpoena, but there has been no ruling yet.

It seems to me the courts could rule on this issue based on expert testimony. We will see if that happens when the case is called Monday.

4:05 PM

Friday, March 26, 2004  

News: Gay marriage kettle boils in Oregon

I have been trying to do play by play coverage of the ongoing controversy over gay marriage in Oregon. But, the players and plays change day by day, sometimes hour by hour. This is one flavorful kettle of fish. I'll summarize what has occurred since my last entry on the topic at Mac-a-ro-nies.

I blogged Benton County's decision to become the second in Oregon to grant gays marriage licenses. The county has now delayed issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals. Instead, Benton County will wait until there is a ruling on whether refusal to marry gays violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution. Meanwhile, no couples will be granted marriage licenses. Yes, I said no couples. Heterosexuals will also have to wait, surely not the intention of conservatives who flooded the Benton County commissioners with emails and phone calls opposing the plan to grant licenses to gays.

Multnomah County continues to issue licenses and gay couples continue to marry. Data show that many of those tying the knot are from out of state. Some traveled significant distances to reach the only jurisdiction in the country allowing homosexuals to marry. The Associated Press found that sixteen percent of the couples came from a state other than Oregon during the first week alone. With Oregon the only place to go, the proportion has likely increased.

Opinion polls reveal a continuing increase in Oregonians opposed to gay marriage, even as the vows are spoken. The figure is approaching 60 percent. Both in the state and nationally, age and gender are often indicia of whether a citizen favors or opposes gay unions. Women and younger people tend to favor gay marriage. Men and older folks are more likely to oppose it.

So far, the organized opposition has mainly come from the pre-existing network of fundamentalist Christians that supported the anti-gay Oregon Citizens Alliance.

Commission Chairperson Diane Linn, a Catholic from a conservative background, says she will not back down. That is in spite of a recall effort against her and the other three commissioners who agreed to allow gay marriage -- and the Oregonian's editorial urging they be driven from office. The Portland Tribune profiled Linn (pictured above) in a recent article.

She concentrates on job and family these days, showing no apparent sign of strain. In the course of her day, she gets occasional words of encouragement but nothing disparaging. She's lauded by the lines of license applicants just as loudly as she's berated by the critics. And clearly she thinks she and the other three commissioners will be remembered in the end more for the social change they wrought than the process used to get there.

The cost, though, may be high. At one point last year, Linn considered running for mayor, but now her political prospects seem changed.

"I'm not worried about my career at all," she said. "This is my career. What you strive for makes you stronger."

Opponents of gay marriage have switched from seeking new statutes defining marriage as between a man and a woman to pursuing a constitutional amendment banning gay unions.

A statewide initiative campaign to block same-sex marriages will focus on amending the Oregon Constitution because of recent legal opinions from Attorney General Hardy Myers and others, organizers said Wednesday.

They will withdraw another proposal that would have changed state statutes to specify marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Their reason: Myers and other government lawyers have made clear the critical question is whether blocking same-sex marriages violates the constitution.

"Everyone is now pointing to the constitution," said Tim Nashif, a spokesman for the Defense of Marriage Coalition.

The lawsuit filed by Bruce Broussard, a darkhorse Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, has been dismissed. Broussard lacked standing to complain about Multnomah County granting marriage licenses to gays, since he is not effected by the practice.

However, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other parties will likely go forward -- fast.

The civil-rights group filed the suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on behalf of gay couples whose marriages were not recognized by the state’s Office of Vital Statistics.

Multnomah County commissioners decided to grant the licenses three weeks ago. The county, which encompasses much of metropolitan Portland, is the only part of the country currently issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Kevin Neely, spokesman for Attorney General Hardy Myers, said the state will file its response by April 5, and a decision by Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden is expected by the end of that month under an expedited process agreed to by gay-marriage opponents and supporters.

That would set the stage for an immediate appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, but it is unclear when the high court would hear or rule on the case.

Some Republican state legislators did not want the kettle boiling without their names prominently displayed. They sought to intervene in the lawsuit and were told to bug off.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Multnomah Circuit Court judge has turned down a request by 14 state lawmakers who wanted to join a lawsuit over the legality of gay marriages in Oregon.

Judge Frank Bearden on Friday rejected the Republican legislators' "motion to intervene" in the suit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, because he said it would slow down proceedings.

Bearden said the controversy over Multnomah County's decisions to begin issuing marriage license to same-sex couples demanded a prompt decision.

"This court is merely a speed bump on the road to the (state) Supreme Court," he said.

So much for the free publicity that would help them in their next runs for office.

We wait. While we wait we will see what additional twists and turns occur as Oregon becomes the first state to decide what the rights of an emerging minority are.

Reasonably related

•The beginning of the backlash.

•Oregon becomes the only place gays can marry.

•The antis lose a round.

3:35 PM

Wednesday, March 24, 2004  

Health: FDA decision harms consumers

I believe the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made a mistake by bowing to pressure from consumers. "Huh?" you say and with good reason. Just about every entry I have written about a health issue has been from a pro-consumer perspective. Have I decided it is time for me to befriend the megacorps that manufacture prescription drugs? No, not at all. This situation is rare because I believe the federal agency has made a decision to please a vocal minority of drug users that is actually anti-consumer.

WASHINGTON -- Doctors who prescribe some popular antidepressants should monitor their patients closely for warning signs of suicide, especially when they first start the pills or change a dose, the government warned Monday.

The Food and Drug Administration asked makers of 10 drugs to add or strengthen suicide-related warnings on their labels.

The drugs of concern are newer generation antidepressants: Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, which are called SSRIs or SSRI-like drugs, and Remeron, Serzone and Wellbutrin, which operate differently.

The pressure was brought by families of people who have committed suicide while using antidepressants. There was special pleading by parents of dead children that proved to be particularly effective. Though no studies have established a link between antidepressants and suicide, the British claim there may be a causal connection between being a minor on antidepressants and committing suicide.

British health authorities sounded the alarm last year, saying long-suppressed research suggests serotonin-affecting antidepressants might sometimes increase the risk of suicidal behavior in children and teenagers. Excepting one drug, Prozac, that has been proved to alleviate pediatric depression, Britain declared the other six SSRIs or SSRI-like drugs unsuitable for depressed youth. Britain didn't mention the other three drugs in the U.S. notice.

The FDA issued a caution on pediatric use last year but says it doesn't have proof the drugs are to blame. Among 25 studies of the suspect medications involving 4,000 children and teens, there were no completed suicides. A total of 109 patients experienced one or more possibly suicide-related behaviors or attempts -- but the studies varied dramatically in what was considered suicidal behavior. For example, among 19 patients classified as cutting themselves, almost all were superficial, with little bleeding.

Though there is no conclusive evidence that any of the ten drugs cited has caused even one suicide, the FDA's recommendation will likely lead manufacturers to comply. They will not want the negative publicity that may ensue if they don't. Furthermore, by seeking a general warning, the FDA is applying the poorly researched claim to all users of antidepressants, minor and adult. For me, this is an easy call. The answer should have been 'No.' During the years I spent working on personal injury, product liability and wrongful death cases, I developed an appreciation for having a reason for holding defendants responsible for harms they legitimately cause. Allowing warnings on drug labels without a basis in research is the first step toward assigning liability without a reason in wrongful death cases involving suicidal users of antidepressants. I believe the irrationality of that will be a blow to plaintiffs with real reasons to sue and further fuel the drive for 'tort reform.'

How can I be unmoved by facts like those that influenced the FDA's decision?

. . .critics flooded an FDA meeting last month demanding stronger action -- and days later, the issue again made headlines when a 19-year-old woman taking part in a study of Eli Lilly & Co.'s experimental antidepressant duloxetine hanged herself in a company-run facility.

The evidence suggests that persons who commit suicide while taking antidepressants were risks for killing themselves before they began the medications. The drugs don't cause the deaths, their preexisting conditions do. Indeed, publicity that encourages the public to believe antidepressants cause suicide may actually lead to more deaths by frightening people who should use the drugs away from them.

"We do a disservice to a population of people who could benefit from these medications" by overreacting, said Dr. Bela Sood, chairwoman of pediatric psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Not every national government pressured has succumbed.

New Zealand has decided not to ban a group of anti-depressants that prompted a ban in the UK and warnings in the USA, after a study found potential links to teenage suicide.

The Ministry of Health said today that after reviewing international data, it did not plan to change the way the anti-depressants, known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) were prescribed to teenagers here.

The parents of the suicide victims may feel they have won by pressuring the FDA to intervene. However, their 'victory' is a pyrrhic one. Though it may comfort them to shift blame to the drugs for the loss of their offspring, they are ignoring what appear to be the real reasons for suicide, and, undermining remedies that might prevent future deaths.

3:30 PM

Tuesday, March 23, 2004  

News: Gay marriage amendment on shaky ground

Our national nannies are redirecting their fire in regard to the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The Washington Post has the story.

WASHINGTON, March 22 — The Congressional authors of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage introduced a slightly reworded version on Monday, saying the changes were intended to make it clear that they do not seek to bar same-sex civil unions allowed by state law.

As they prepared for a Senate hearing on Tuesday to examine the wording of potential amendments, advocates said the mainly technical revisions were meant to broaden support for the initiative and blunt the appeal of alternatives that could leave the definition of marriage up to individual states.

"This has got the ingredients that we need to have in it," said Senator Wayne Allard, the main sponsor along with a fellow Republican from Colorado, Representative Marilyn Musgrave. Mr. Allard said the changes would "reinforce the authority of state legislatures to determine benefits issues related to civil unions or domestic partnerships."

The original plan cobbled together by the Christian Coalition and other Right Wing organizations was meant to keep even the proverbial camel's breath out of the tent. It was to be made explicit that none of the rights of marriage were available to homosexuals. As I previously wrote, that proposal was rejected because the more moderate backers believed it would never attract the needed support, even from fellow conservatives.

But almost as soon as the Arlington meeting began, the discussion turned to a debate over the language of an amendment. For years, the Alliance for Marriage, an ecumenical group, had pushed for a constitutional amendment to prevent courts from forcing states or the country to recognize same-sex marriages. Echoing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the proposed amendment would allow state legislatures to recognize gay civil unions, a provision that had alienated many conservatives. Though the proposed amendment had been introduced in Congress last spring, the Christian Coalition was one of the few organizations in the Arlington group to support it. [The New York Times.]

Though some of the most hardline left the fold, the proposal that emerged fit the model the Alliance for Marriage wanted. It offers a compromise, recognition of quasi-marital rights in lieu of allowing gays to wed.

Right Wingers who believe the sanctity of marriage is being assailed don't want to compromise.

But the revisions quickly drew criticism as a gay rights group said it left the status of civil unions uncertain and a conservative group said it went too far in recognizing such unions.

"They are using that as a selling point; we find it as a detriment," said Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, which is affiliated with Concerned Women for America, a conservative group. "Why is that a good thing, when civil unions are gay marriage by another name and will lead to the destruction of marriage?"

Advocates for gay marriage are concerned about what they perceive as increasing ambiguity in the language of the proposed amendment. They fear such language would be used to deprive homosexuals of benefits even in states that allow civil unions.

In the revised amendment, the first sentence remains intact: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." The second and final sentence, which had come under fire for being hard to interpret, now says: "Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and woman."

The main change was a dropped reference to state or federal law, a revision that backers say should erase concern that it would ban same-sex civil unions in states where the legislature had voted to allow them. However, they say, the amendment would not allow courts to recognize civil unions strictly on the basis of an interpretation of the federal or a state constitution.

I am doubtful the constituional amendment as currently phrased would win the votes of two-thirds of the House and Senate, the requirement for it to pass. It seems that I am not alone in my skepticism. But, is there a solution? Any language that does not make a Plessy v. Ferguson-like accommodation between gays and straights will dissatisfy the Christian fundamentalists who are most opposed to gay marriage. A refusal to allow homosexuals more marital-type rights than they have now will alienate gays and their straight supporters. In my opinion, that is all the more reason to let the states decide this matter. After a few years of experimenation, I believe most of them would allow gay marriage. Eventually, a reconstituted Supreme Court of the United States might rule on the issue, probably favorably.

7:47 PM

Monday, March 22, 2004  

Around the blogosphere

Let me apologize for not outlinking as much as I have in the past. That has happened mainly because I've been very busy. It is easier to write an entry than to read weblogs until I find something that strikes a note with me, and, is both timely and blogworthy. There is a list of about 150 fine blogs under Links. I hope you took it upon yourself to visit some of them. I have been out reading and do have some suggestions today.

A not so new, new blog

Funk Digital is a year old, like Mac-a-ro-nies, but I discovered it recently. The proprietor, MetalFace, focuses mainly on music and technology, but doesn't neglect politics and current affairs. His music of choice is hip hop, a genre not covered nearly as much as mainstream pop in the blogosphere.

Among MetalFace's links currently are pieces about Iraq and the problem of out of control sexuality among low-income adolescents. I believe it is becoming more and more difficult for bloggers not to consider politics and current events as the country gets into deeper and deeper trouble both domestically and internationally. Heck, even network television is exploring the implications of Bush-era policies, as you know if you caught The Practice last night.

Not MYOB in Iraq

My old blog friend composer Richard Einhorn is back from a break and blogging strongly at Tristero. He is skeptical about evangelical Christians' efforts to convert Muslims -- in Iraq, of all places.

Invade Their Country, Kill Their Leaders, And Convert Them To Christianity

Ann Coulter had it exactly right. And that's how many Iraqis look at the Bush occupation of their country. And in the LA Times today is a disgraceful article that makes the idiotic buffoons who are over there trying to "save souls" look like some kind of heroes. Buried towards the end, finally a voice of reason:

"[The evangelical prosletyzing in Iraq] adds to a growing perception that all Americans want to convert Muslims," said Leanne Clausen with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an American aid group that does not proselytize. Nonevangelical Iraqi churches have been vandalized in recent weeks. Newspaper editorials and Islamic clerics charge that Americans are in Iraq on a religious crusade. Clausen warned: "The missionaries coming here don't realize the danger they are placing us in."

Some of those dangers extend to missionaries visiting Iraq who are unprepared for violence. Independent missionaries working in Iraq have little or no formal training for war zones. Some are just American pastors who fly to Iraq and begin working on behalf of a new church.

Once again, there is a huge difference between Christianity and Christianism. It's time to stop confusing them.

I believe the combination of Christian evangelism and occupation of Iraq simultaneously is potentially combustible. Allowing the missionaries there undermines the claim that the United States and its allies are not engaged in a war against Islam. I also fail to understand why untrained missionaries have free access to a dangerous country while Americans are dissuaded from traveling to other predominantly Muslim nations by our government.

What can I, a former reporter, say about journalists who don't actually see the major issues in what they write about? Well, contrary to the image of 'the liberal media,' most reporters I've known are mainstream people. They don't necessarily question the status quo. Furthermore, there are some who are just plain inept. I don't mean the Jayson Blairs of the field either. There are thousands more reporters who fail in their mission -- understanding what news is and writing articles to reflect that -- every day. Their failures are usually in unflamboyant ways such as not questioning whether it is a good idea for Christians to be be in Iraq seeking converts.

Ph.D from a black hole

I avoid pseudoscience about relationships like I do perfume sections in department stores (I'm really allergic), so I have not read any of the books in which John Gray claims to explain the genders to each other. Sociologist Kieran Healey clued me in on a not so secret secret about Gray.

Men from Mars, Women from Venus, Ph.Ds from Uranus

Via Kevin ‘the Animal’ Drum we learn that John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is pretty touchy. He’s threatening to sue a blogger who pointed out last November that Gray’s Ph.D was of dubious provenance. I thought this was pretty well known — I mean, I knew it, and it’s not like I keep up with the news. He got it from Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited diploma mill somewhere in California. There was a TV story about it a while ago. But though CPU may be defunct (by the by, what computer scientist would not want a degree from CPU?) there are plenty of others. Enroll at Strassford University, for example (discussed further in this CBS news report), or Glencullen University, notionally located in the heart of Dublin1, or just cut to the chase and design your own degree — literally — at Ineedadiploma.com. This last site helpfully reminds you that, although “All our diplomas are printed on high quality parchment paper [and] all transcripts are printed on tamper proof, security paper,” and that  ”You also have the option of adding a security hologram to any transcript”, nevertheless “none of our items are intended to be used for unlawful misrepresentation or fraudulent purposes.” 

1 Glencullen also operates as the University of Wexford, which I suppose isn’t that far from Dublin, but also as the University of San Moritz, which makes you hope the students don’t have to walk across campus to get from one lecture to the next.

Say it ain't so. Surely, a fellow who knows the names of two of the planets doesn't have a fish wrapper Ph.D.

What do I think about Gray's threatened legal action? He might as well save his money. It appears the claim his doctorate came from a diploma mill is true, and truth is a complete defense to claims of defamation. Relax, Gavin.

8:00 PM

Friday, March 19, 2004  

Technology: Lifeblog isn't what is seems to be

What do you think when you read the word "Lifeblog"? Blogging software, for sure. A new API client? A competitor for Blogger and Movable Type? A blog search engine that really works? That was my reaction, too. But, we're wrong. Lifeblog is new software from Nokia for mobile phones. The first to use it will be Nokia 7610. But so far, Lifeblog doesn't have anything to do with blogging.

Wired asked Nokia why.

Where Apple has expanded on the success of the integration of iTunes and iPod by releasing a suite of music, video and photography tools under the iLife banner, Nokia is attempting to bring that same level of integration to the growing mishmash of data captured by the current round of cell phones: sound, text, photography and even video.

After connecting your phone to a Windows-based PC with the Lifeblog software, photos and messages will not only be downloaded and saved to the computer, but they will be organized and available for searching and editing, according to the Nokia website. Users will even be able to mark certain items as "favorites" to be held in the phone's memory, forming sort of a "greatest hits" scrapbook, a digital version of a wallet stuffed with beloved photos and important notes, only sleeker.

In other words, Lifeblog will serve as both a way to create content and a conduit from the wireless device to the computer, much as a PDA or an iPod does. Nokia acknowledges the name is misleading.

"Maybe log would have made more sense," said Keith Nowak, spokesman for Nokia. But he does see Lifeblog as a useful tool for bloggers, helping them to organize their words and pictures. "You can look, day by day, here's what I did, here's what I saw."

Nowak sees actual weblogging as a possible future direction for Lifeblog. "It's a possibility," he says. "The interest is there."

Christian Lindholm, a blogger who is also Nokia's director of multimedia applications, has tried to end the confusion by explaining Lifeblog on his weblog.

More on the misunderstandings:

1.) Q: Why a logging tool or as Nokia prefer to call it a multimedia diary?

[A:] Nokia feels that blogging is a subset of your electronic life, not the whole life, hence our focus on the PC initially. The first version will not have any features enabling blogging (you can send e-mail from PC version, but I do not call that blogging).

2. Q: Why does Nokia call it Lifeblog? A: We added the 'b' in front of the 'log' as we wanted the name signal a longer term intent. Nokia['s] mission is connect people and that is what blogs do.

3.) Nokia Lifeblog will not be available for the Nokia 6620, but some other terminal.

At least one citizen of the blogosphere, San Francisco blogger Russell Beattie, has urged Nokia to get blogworthy.

Here's what I told Christian: Just make sure there's an open API of some sort. I've been weblogging for several years now and in my time lots of fads have come and gone. But the idea is that the memes that stick and are accepted by "the community" are the ones that allow participation and expansion. APIs are especially popular (XML-RPC, Google API, Amazon API, Trackback, Technorati, Atom), but also concepts (FOAF), graphics (those little xml icons) and anything you can stick on your webpage (BlogChalking, BlogRolls, etc.). In terms of desktop clients mostly the focus has been on news aggregators, but there's a few attempts to create better ways of posting using the APIs out there. Bloggers want to play, so you've got to let them.

Eventually Lifeblog *needs* to integrate with a weblogging service. But for now? Just an API to get access to the Lifeblog data would be fine and let the independant developers take it from there. Seriously - the application does so much - synching and organizing multimedia and text data from your phone, now all it needs is some hooks for the hackers out there to do cool stuff with it. An application that has blog in the name, but doesn't have anything to do with the web is a bit amusing since blog is short for the contraction between web and log, but at the core of it, blogs are simply easy-to-update digital diaries, which is what Nokia is trying to with this app. Let those motivated independant developers out there do the rest. . . .

So far, blogging by a miniature device, such as a phone or PDA, is more hype than reality. I've described my less than stellar results blogging with my 802.11b capable Palm Tungsten C. I've yet to find any software that is reliable. Most of the programs, such as Kablog and Vagablog, don't function with Palm OS 5 at all. Other would-be bloggers on the spot report similar results. The most we're able to do is take notes and turn them into blog entries on the computer later. Perhaps the currently misnamed Lifeblog will develop into a program that will ease the frustration of bloggers on the go. But, that relief has not arrived yet.

2:48 PM

Thursday, March 18, 2004  

Law: Second Oregon county will marry gays

Then there were two. A second county in Oregon has decided to grant marriage licenses to homosexual couples. If you have been following the developments, you know Multnomah County decided, following the vice of counsel, that gays could marry at the beginning of March. The licenses were issued beginning March 3. Hundreds of marriages have taken place since, but under dark clouds, both real and symbolic. Opponents of gay marriage were refused pretrial relief. Last Friday, the state issued a legal opinion saying the applicable statutes allow only female-to-male marriage. However, the attorney general also said those statutes may violate the equal protection clause of the state's constitution. Multnomah County Chairperson Diane Linn released a statement saying the county would continue to issue marriage licenses.

Now, Benton County has joined the fray.

Benton County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning next week, a decision that caught all sides of a fractious debate off guard.

Benton joins Multnomah as the only counties in Oregon to approve same-sex marriages, broadening the fight over an issue that everyone expects to eventually be settled by the Oregon Supreme Court.

An interesting aspect of life in Multnomah County and Portland I have not mentioned before is what the disapproving refer to as "government by girls." Most elected officials, including Linn, most of the county council, half the city council and the mayor, are women. The scuttlebutt around town blames the approval of gay marriage on "GBG." Poll data suggests there may be something to that. Women are about ten percent more likely to favor allowing gays to marry than men. In Benton County, government by girls has struck again.

Linda Modrell, chairwoman of the Benton County Board of Commissioners, said Tuesday's vote came after a 21/2-hour meeting in which both sides of the debate were well represented, and it came against the advice of the board's attorney. She said commissioners read legal opinions from Vance Croney, Benton County counsel; Multnomah County; the legislative counsel's office; and Attorney General Hardy Myers, all of whom said the state law probably is unconstitutional.

Modrell said that although she went into the meeting thinking the county should wait until a definitive decision from the Oregon Supreme Court, compelling testimony changed her mind.

"If it's unconstitutional a month from now, it's unconstitutional today," she said. "That coupled with the example of Japanese Americans returning from World War II who were not allowed to own property. We don't need to wait to decide that kind of thing was wrong."

The two women on the commission voted to allow gays to marry. The man was opposed.

Croney said he advised the Benton County board that state law prohibits same-sex marriage. Although the law has not been ruled unconstitutional, Croney said he told the board that it probably would be overturned if challenged.

"This is one of those issues where half the people are going to be displeased and that somebody would file some kind of a lawsuit regardless of where they stood on the issue," Croney said. "I think the board made a well-informed decision, and as their attorney, I will back them."

But Jay Dixon, the commissioner who voted against the decision, told The Associated Press that he thought the county was moving too quickly even though he expects the Supreme Court to eventually allow same-sex marriages.

. . .County officials said they would begin issuing the licenses at 9 a.m. March 24.

Currently, Oregon is the only state in which gay marriages are occurring. Massachusett's will go down in history as the first state where a legal opinion held gays have the right to marry under a state constitution. However, the plan was for those marriages to begin May 17. Now that the legislature has passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, when or whether gay marriage will occur there is quite murky. The earliest Massachusetts' voters can vote on the issue is 2006. California's courts will likely rule on the issue before Massachusett's election. In the meantime, its Supreme Court ordered San Francisco to stop issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals last week. The status of those already married will remain unclear until the high court rules on the merits of gay marriage. Oregon, whose courts have often led the nation in matters of human rights since the California courts ceded that role to them in the 1970s, may again wear the mantle of leadership as a result of the issue ripening much more quickly than anyone expected.

5:45 AM

Tuesday, March 16, 2004  

Business: What's red and yellow all over?

I may eventually have to return to the corporate employment. Working for oneself definitely has its limitations, most notably in regard to income. However, when I read articles about what the corporate world puts employees through, particularly those without much power, I remember why nonconformist me left it. My attire on a given day varies from jeans and tee shirt to a suit if I am doing something that makes one appropriate. But, at least, I get to decide. Workers at DHL Worldwide Express don't. And, they are paying the price, embarrassment, for a choice they never made. One of DHL's websites tells the suits' side of the story -- without describing employee reaction.

Sweden, Stockholm, February 13th, 2004 - For some six weeks, couriers and drivers within DHL Express Sweden will participate in a global trial of trousers, sweatshirts, jackets, caps etc., starting in the first week of February. The trial will also be carried out in Germany, Spain, Singapore, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico and the United States. The purpose is to evaluate the functionality, quality and design of the test collection. In total, more than 3600 DHL Express employees will be participating in this research.

Every year close to ten million customer visits are made by the couriers and drivers of DHL Express in Sweden. It is an advantage for the customer to be able to identify a courier picking up/delivering an express shipment at a glance, or a driver picking up/delivering packages and heavier goods. Apart from being practical and easy to recognize, the uniforms should also convey a message compatible with the brand.

By doing thorough research on our test collection involving couriers, drivers and even customers we stand a good chance of being able to produce corporate wear that is both uniform and attractive. The work wear needs to meet the heavy demands on functionality in different countries, but they should also give the wearer a feeling of solidarity and pride, says Lars Sundman, Managing Director, DHL Express (Sweden) AB.

The viewpoint from down on the ground is different. There is no question the new uniforms are uniform, but they are hardly attractive. "Solidarity and pride?" Please. As someone who lives in one of the eleven international test cities, I've seen the attire in person and can't help but cringe for those forced to wear it. Fashion columnist Jill Spitznass agrees.

As Michael Jackson can tell you, sometimes even the most well-intentioned makeover can go horribly wrong.

Witness the DHL Worldwide Express courier team, now sporting the alarming results of a recent corporate rebranding.

Once resplendent in navy blue and classic red, the DHL crew now greets the dawn wearing a combo of tomato red and mustard yellow. Passable hues on their own, when these colors come together some kind of chromatic alchemy occurs. It can't be helped: The first thing that comes to mind is a popular fast food chain.

"Hey, I didn't know McDonald's delivered," a fellow said to a DHL delivery guy downtown the other day, a razz that was met with stony-faced silence from the vividly dressed employee.

It is difficult not to associate a burger and side of fries with the red and yellow uniforms. An Airborne Express delivery to my door yesterday resulted in an effort not to hurt the DHL employee's feelings that I barely controlled. As soon as the door was shut, I laughed so loud I nearly dropped my package. I hope the fellow didn't hear me.

Employees have been told they can opt out of the test. A Portland delivery man says he has and others are doing so as well.

Feedback, schmeedback. Many workers aren't waiting around to hear the guilty verdict on the new design. Portland DHL employee Lew Yocom already has gone back to the gray Airborne Express duds he used to wear, saying the red and yellow get-up was getting him down.

"It got to where I couldn't do my job," says Yocom, a nine-year veteran of the company. "I didn't want to go into my stops because of what people would say. The girls at Ann Taylor were calling me Pooh Bear, and of course you get the McDonald's and the clown jokes. It's funny for a day or two, and then it's not."

However, big business rarely likes it when employees take matters into their own hands. I can't help but wonder if there is a price to pay if DHL workers rebel. Is there a black mark next to Yocom's name now? Have those fellows in Sweden been noted as troublemakers? Have DHL's employment lawyers noticed dissatisfaction and wondered if the more vocal complainers might be potential union leaders? Those are the kinds of questions disagreement between management and labor bring to my mind.

Corporate DHL says everything is copacetic. The trial is occurring now, and, if the uniforms are not successful, they will be rejected.

When the research period is over, employees will have the opportunity to give their views on materials, colour, cut, etc. The Swedish result will then be combined with the evaluation from the other seven countries, and after a complete review of all suggestions for improvement a final collection will be produced. The launch of a quality uniform that is durable, functional and brand building is scheduled for the end of 2004.

But, what is success in this context? I suspect the leadership of DHL, not lowly workers, will decide. Employee Yocom hopes the new uniforms will go away. But, they may not. Then, he will be forced to look like a kindergartener's idea of color coordination for years to come.

7:55 PM


Law: 'Stupid white men' begets bedfellow

What becomes a legend most? Being imitated, arguably. But, when that imitation comes in the form of the publication of a book, the situation can become more complicated than one might think. The legend is cinematic provocateur Michael Moore. The imitators are a group of liberals who have written a collection of essays urging the defeat of the current occupant of the White House. The conflict arose because of the titles of the two books. As you know, among Moore's ouevre is the bestselling political perambulation "Stupid White Men. . .and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!" The new book by the consortium, also political in nature, is called "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office." The New York Times covered the controversy.

Next week, a tiny Brooklyn-based publisher will bring out "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office." The book, a low-budget paperback written by a group of political activists, is not to be confused with "Stupid White Men," a HarperCollins best seller by the filmmaker and author Michael Moore, which remains in hardcover.

But HarperCollins has been concerned about just that sort of confusion. In November, HarperCollins wrote to the Brooklyn publisher, Soft Skull Press, demanding that the title be changed and stating that the similarities would cause "irreparable damage" to Mr. Moore and his book.

. . .In the HarperCollins' letter to Soft Skull Press, the publisher said, "Michael Moore has become closely identified with the phrase 'Stupid White Men' in the minds of the general public."

"Accordingly, we demand that you eliminate the phrase 'Stupid White Men' from the title of Mr. [William Upski] Wimsatt's book prior to its publication," said the letter, from Beth Neelman Silfin, vice president and associate general counsel of HarperCollins. "Please confirm to me, in writing that you will take this important and necessary step to avoid confusion between the two books."

Under normal circumstances, I believe Moore would be joining the publishers in urging a change of the name of the book by upstarts. He does have an interest in protecting his equity in the phrase "stupid white men." But, the circumstances are not normal. It is a case of my (sort of) enemy's enemy is my friend. Moore quit HarperCollins after it drug its feet about publishing "Stupid White Men."

HarperCollins has always had a hard time making up its mind about "Stupid White Men," a jeremiad against the Bush administration that was originally scheduled to be released on Sept. 11, 2001. HarperCollins delayed the release because of the sensitivities created by the terrorist attacks, and, according to Mr. Moore, asked for significant changes in tone and content.

The book was finally released in 2002 after a group of librarians organized a protest and threatened to boycott the publisher, according to Mr. Moore. The book became a big nonfiction success, selling more than a million copies, but Mr. Moore said he was embittered by the experience and moved to Warner Books. Mr. Moore says he has not spoken to anyone at HarperCollins for two years.

"It is kind of strange that a publisher that first tried to squash my book is now trying to defend their economic interest now that it is a best seller," he said. "And they are apparently doing it by trying to squash another book.

I think it only reasonable that HC is trying to protect its continued stake in "Stupid White Men." He may consider HarperCollins an enemy, but, as long as it keeps that book in print, particularly as hardcover, HC is also his friend. Furthermore, I believe Moore may regret his hasty decision to side with his enemy's enemy. The names and the natures of the books are similar enough to engender confusion. That confusion may result in money ending up in others' pockets that was intended for his. Though he may be flush now, there is no guarantee Moore will continue to be the flavor of the month, year or decade. The septugenarian or octogenarian Moore may regret the decision the middle-aged Moore has made. Abbie Hoffman was not serious when he encouraged readers to "Steal This Book" because he had an economic interest in selling that book. Moore, down the road, may realize he had a similar interest to protect.

12:45 AM

Friday, March 12, 2004  

Technology: Audio expert profiles iPod users

As an owner of her third iPod, one from each generation, I am either a person of great taste, a control freak or both, according to an expert on users of audio in the contemporary urban environment. I choose the cooler designation, person of good taste, of course. Some technologies are off-putting, but I haven't found the iPod to be one of them.

Lecturer Dr. Michael Bull is "the world's leading -- perhaps only -- expert on the social impact of personal stereo devices," according to The New York Times.

Bull, a lecturer in media and culture at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, is the author of Sounding out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life, a book Bull calls the "definitive treatment" of the impact of the Sony Walkman and its descendants.

Now Bull has turned his attention to Apple's iPod.

Bull is currently interviewing iPod owners about how, when, where and why they use the iPod, and how it integrates into their everyday lives.

The interviews will be the basis of Bull's forthcoming book, Mobilizing the Social: Sound Technology in Urban Experience. The book, to be published next spring, will examine the impact of cell phones and car sound systems, as well as the iPod.

Bull believes a cigar is more than a cigar. According to him, our avid approval of a device that allows us to decide when and where we listen to music is a way to control our environments.

WN: But does it make people antisocial? Is music less of a social experience than it used to be? The New York Times ran an article last week about New Yorkers using their iPods to block out the city. But isn't that the point of personal stereos? What's different about the iPod that wasn't true of the Walkman?

Bull: People like to control their environment, and the iPod is the perfect way to manage your experience. Music is the most powerful medium for thought, mood and movement control....

The Times asked what becomes of the public space when the public space becomes privatized. What about the others -- the person in the supermarket checkout you don't recognize is there? It asks whether the public space becomes colder as the personal space becomes warmer through music.

There's a lot of studies in the literature that demonstrate with the urban space, the more it's inhabited, the safer you feel. You feel safe if you can feel people there, but you don't want to interact with them.

Music allows people to find pleasure in the place they're existing. (Personal stereos) make the user's life much better. It helps them manage urban life.... Urban life is one of the reasons they're using these devices. How often do you talk to people in public anyway?

As some of you know, I have written about public and private space topics often because they intrigue me. I agree with Bull that this is another form of the issue. I believe some limitations on public space, such as Starbuck's rule against patrons taking pictures in their establishments, do make public spaces colder. However, I don't see that occurring with the iPod. I usually listen most when I am in transit, especially when walking or taking public transit, which consists of buses, trolleys and trains where I live. If I were not listening to music on the iPod, I would be reading a print magazine or book, or, tellingly, reading the news, a periodical or a book on my PDA. So, the iPod is replacing a noncommunicative behavior. Furthermore, there are other forms of current technology that use space in the same way, such as the previously mentioned PDA and cell phones. One of the attributes of the iPod is that it is private. Unlike talking on the phone, I am not forcing other people sharing the public space to share my experience when I'm listening to music. An interesting side effect of being into the iPod for two years is that I find leakage from portable CD players and lesser MP3 devices more annoying than I did before. I have come to believe that, unless asked to share, one should keep one's music to oneself.

But, what of Bull's belief the iPod can be used as an avoidance mechanism? That is true some of the time. When I am listening to my iPod, with the white earbuds in my ears being so noticeable, I am able to thwart some unwanted social contact. As recently as yesterday, I deflected a hopped up panhandler. I watched him annoy a man from several feet a way. The vagrant, who was filthy and smelled like sewage, walked alongside the man and kept tugging at his elbow while demanding money. I was next. My response was to look straight ahead as if I had not even noticed him. The earphones made the pose credible. The panhandler left me alone and sought out another person a few feet ahead of us. He went through his routine of pestering the mark again. Such experiences aren't unusual. If one is listening to the iPod and affects the 'in another world' look required, people one does not want contact with get the message.

A new twist is that the latest generation of iPods have a truly functional remote. One can have the earphones on, but have turned the iPod off by remote. So, you do hear what is going on around you. But, unless he is hip to the remote, the observer does not know you can hear everything going on. The user gets to grant permission to other people to talk to him or her. Or not.

I may be atypical. I do talk to other people in public. Not every stranger I see, but enough to share public space and meet new people. I look forward to seeing how Bull supports his belief that most people want to avoid interaction with others in his book.

If you are an iPod owner, you can participate in the study by contacting Bull.

5:15 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2004  

News and analysis: Gay rights group grabs spotlight

The most important player in the movement to bring gay marriage to Oregon is a gay rights organization. Basic Rights Oregon was originally formed during the late 1980s to fight a series of ballot measures targeting any change in the status of homosexuals. A Christian fundamentalist leader, Lon Mabon, has devoted a decade and a half to fighting what he perceives as the imposition of the perverted goals of gays on the citizenry of the state. His main weapon has been use of Oregon's very liberal referendum procedure. However, that long confrontation is not what has brought the national spotlight to BRO. Instead, the development of a situation that not even the most avid opponent to gay rights is likely to have foreseen occurring with such alacrity did.

Oregonians turned on their televisions March 3 to watch live broadcasts of something they had never seen in their state: men marrying men and women marrying women.

Multnomah County officials had suddenly upended state law -- and centuries of tradition -- by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

And behind it all was a gay-rights group, Basic Rights Oregon.

The group first persuaded four county commissioners -- at great political risk to them -- to seek a legal opinion that opened the door for same-sex marriage. Basic Rights Oregon was kept in the loop about the county's secret plans, allowing it to orchestrate for the biggest media impact possible.

The county attorney, Agnes Sowle, decided barring gays from marriage violated the equal protection clause of the Oregon Constitution. She and the four county commissioners intended to withhold the opinion until March 10, but, by March 2, the news had leaked out. On March 3, homosexuals were issued marriage licenses.

Basic Rights Oregon is the result of a setback for gays in the state. In 1988, Lon Mabon's organization, the Oregon Citizens Alliance, was sucessful in winning a ballot measure that reversed a governor's decision that discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was illegal in state employment. Mabon would go on to author and place on the ballot several more anti-gay measures, including one that sought to have the Oregon Constitution define homosexuality as "perverse." However, by the early 2000s, the OCA was reeling. It had lost a lawsuit for harassment of opponents, including an assault. Mabon tried several maneuvers to protect his assets from being seized, most memorably declaring himself a church. Meanwhile, the gay rights movement marched on, both in Oregon and elsewhere. One of the achievements of BRO was preventing the passage of a Defense of Marriage Act by the Oregon legislature. That accomplishment became very important a week ago.

At the turn of the century, a new director took the reins at Basic Rights Oregon.

Behind this bold move is Rochella "Roey" Thorpe, the group's director. In 2001, Thorpe took over a battle-weary organization that nonetheless wanted to go on the offensive.

As recently as a few months ago, Thorpe didn't expect that same-sex marriage would be the defining issue for her organization. But as the national debate about same-sex marriage widened, she grabbed it.

Thorpe, 41, said she pushed the same-sex marriage issue believing a ballot measure to ban it was coming anyway.

"We could see the backlash coming no matter what we did," Thorpe said.

When the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that refusing gays marriage violated the state constitution's equal protection clause, Thorpe was ready. She lead an organization with more than 7.500 members, two political action committees and money in the bank. But, of most importance, she had the ear of local government.

Basic Rights Oregon's political clout comes not from traditional means of lobbying and campaign contributions. Instead, the group has persuaded many politicians that they can be part of the civil rights battle of this generation, an argument that has had wide appeal among Portland area leaders.

. . .She chose Multnomah County, where voters roundly voted against OCA measures and where she knew four of five commissioners were sympathetic.

"The people who are attracted to public office in Multnomah County are attracted to these kinds of issues," said Serena Cruz, one of the county commissioners who met with Basic Rights Oregon before the county announced its decision on same-sex marriage.

Thorpe describes the victory as the logical result of years of work by Basic Rights Oregon.

"I felt," Thorpe said, "like we were the right organization to take this on, and it was the right time."

Since there is no state Defense of Marriage Act to prevent gay unions, and the constitution does not explicitly say spouses must be of different genders, Oregon's legal circumstances were optimum once a decision was made to go forward.

It is still possible gay marriage in Oregon will be stymied, if not stopped. The California Supreme Court ruled that San Francisco, which preceded Multnomah County in allowing gay unions, must cease granting licenses to gays until legal issues are resolved today. If the Oregon attorney general issues a formal decision saying the applicable statutes implicity apply only to female-to-male unions, a temporary halt to gay marriages may occur in Oregon. Ultimately, the issue would be resolved by the Oregon Supreme Court.

11:30 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 2004  

Blogospherics: In favor of outcasts

I am not much of a 'personal blogger.' To the extent I do any at all, it is usually giving my personal opinion on a public issue. But, I do read some personal blog entries. Occasionally, one of them will strike a chord with me. That occurred today with an entry I read at Muddy Blog. The commonality that initially drew me in to Anne's entry is introversion. Like her, I am more inner than outer directed.

There are also other aspects to her entry that interest me. Among them is Anne's individualism, though she does not use that word.


I commented on a post of Vanessa's with a vehemence that surprised me and then I realized why. It bothers me to be who I am. Oh, I wouldn't ask to be other than I am, really, but being bi-sexual to me has never been about politics or about "oh wow, yer bi too? We should hang out!" or etc. I am an introvert, I am a loner, and so the nature of who I chose to love (or who choses to love me) has very little to do with how I spend my time outside the bedroom. That's not something I'm proud of, not something I'd not dearly love to change someday, not something that doesn't quietly eat me up. It's just the truth.

God knows I am thankful for all those people who have made an impact on my life, who've been there for me when I needed them, who've loved me or who've given me love. However, I don't see those people as any part of any group besides "people who've loved me". I've never belonged to any cliques or been part of any communities. This didn't change once I discovered that I could be part of the "lesbian/bi-sexual community". In fact, it may have reinforced my introverted tendencies.

Now, far be to from me to judge an entire community, but most of those who actually have considered themselves part of the lesbian community have treated me with disdain bordering on outright hatred. Maybe I tried to too hard to be part of them when I first came out, but it was only because I was relatively young and wanted to be part of anything. I mistakenly thought coming out to certain people would instantly bond us. I was wrong. I was young and stupid, but those experiences scarred me. I was already pretty scarred, granted. However, I began to actually be envious of people who were black or white. How much easier it would be to "fit" if I could shove myself into one category.

In the end, I drove myself crazy trying to be anything but who I was. I was told, over and over that there was a "lesbian and bi community" and I tried my best to find one that would accept me. Finally, as I sat on someones couch one night listening to 16 year olds talking about how cool it was to "snog a girl" I realized I didn't belong there. It was basically a support group for lesbians. If I wanted a therapy session or a quick fuck I'd pay for one. I wanted friends. These people weren't my friends and never would be.

Maybe that's my loner nature talking, maybe if I tried an extra bit harder it would have worked out. I felt their eyes on me, though, telling me that I wasn't pure enough, not butch enough, not radical enough to be among them. So I left. I never tried fitting in again. It's just not something I excel in. I still think it must be nice to be so accepted, so certain of who and what you are, but that's not me. I'm not a "group" person. Don't we outcasts deserve love too?

I am not homosexual or bisexual, but I am 'marginal' in enough ways to know it. Like Anne, I have never done well in cliques. Usually, there will be some stance or requirement I find ridiculous and I will say so. The number one rule in groups is to conform to groupthink. So, saying something as unremarkable as 'I think Jesse Jackson is much too egotistical' or 'We don't know why people are gay, yet' is enough to kindle controversy. The 'in' people, insecure sorts who derive their identity from belonging to the group, will turn the most innocuous disagreement into a conflagration. In fact they are often waiting for someone to say or do something they can find fault with so they can act as enforcers. That is how they maintain their sense of status. I'll pass on them and their nonsense, thank you. The only groups I've been a longterm member of are writers' organizations and a legal fraternity. I've quit so many it is hard to remember them all. For example, the hypocrisy of members of the National Lawyers Guild turned me off while I was still a student. Too many of the members of the chapter I knew were small-minded, bigoted people who pretended to be 'progressives.' One of the privileges they felt they had been born with was bossing people of color around. They mistook wearing Birkenstocks for doing something to improve society. I often see that same phoniness in activities of such people today.

But, that is not the full story. Like one of my idols, writer Alice Walker, I have a bit of the actress in my personality. Sometimes, I play popular girl. I was considered part of the charmed circle in both high school and college when I sought that distinction out. (Walker was homecoming queen, believe it or not.) Being showered with accolades was fun . . . for a while. What I learned from that experience was how the minds of the group directed work. However, I was not impressed. Like, another writer idol, Joyce Carol Oates, I could hardly wait to get away from those people. (She sued to be released from her college sorority.) The shallowness. The self-importance of the people involved. The meanspiritedness toward anyone not in the group. There is not much to recommend cliques in my opinion. So, I believe Anne has made the right decision in not pursuing acceptance by groups. If she had, I think the disappointments would have continued. Not just because they would not have liked her. Mainly because she would not have liked them.

A question begs to be asked: Can people who are already marginalized as members of minority groups afford to be individualistic? There is certainly a price to be paid. The minority group member who chooses to be individualistic removes herself from any chance of embrace by that community. Anne experienced the scorn of the oppressed when she did not meet the expectations of the lesbian and bi-sexual cohort. I've heard of even worse situations, in which gay women revile or even attack bi-sexual women for not fully committing to homosexualtiy. An Indian or a black person who is not religious or 'spiritual' may find himself at odds with those 'requirements' for membership in the group. I have Asian friends who have been marginalized because they refused to conform to group contempt toward other minority groups, such as the rancor between some Koreans and the Japanese or the 'supposed to dislike them' attitude of Korean-Americans toward African-Americans. So, the minority person who chooses to be an individualist is taking a rocky path.

I do not have a 'solution' to the dilemma described here, for either the white, straight person who is self-directed or the doubly outcast minority group member who chooses to go his own way. However, I can say this introvert does not regret choosing the individualist's path. My pleasures in life have mainly resulted from being my inner directed self. The episodes I regret have occurred when I tried to fit in.

6:45 PM

Tuesday, March 09, 2004  

Cultural appropriation: An opposing view

Not everyone agrees with my moderate stance in regard to cultural appropriation, which I blogged about recently. I said that though I have some reservations, I believe it is acceptable for a singer or writer to focus on material from a culture he or she was not born into.

Blogger Chris Kent believes artists are more likely to perform well when they are using material garnered from their own cultures instead of borrowed from those of other people. He believes cultural appropriation is "artistically wrong."

Appropriation is defined as "to make use of material without authority or right." In this case, I'm discussing an author writing about cultures or even races outside of their own personal experience. It takes a very brave, if not eccentric, author to attempt to produce a work of fiction away from the realm of his/her life's experience. One of the first lessons learned in creative writing is to "write what you know." Creative writing, by nature, is an extension of our own observations about the culture and life we live in. We call upon past events witnessed or experienced, forming a theme through dramatic conflict and hopefully reveal an emotional truth (emphasis on hopefully).

One of the examples I used in my second entry about about the topic was Charles de Lint, who is of mainly Dutch descent. I found his probing of Romany culture in his speculative fiction novel Mulengro convincing and well-executed. Kent believes de Lint might have performed better had he written about his own life experiences.

. . .In the unique case of Canadian writer Charles de Lint whose work Mulengro deals with a series of murders taking place within the Gypsy culture, he learned about the subject matter through research. De Lint is of Rom descent and did not grow up within the Gypsy culture. Granted, when writing an historical nonfiction novel, authors must rigorously research their material. But to take this route as an author of creative fiction would seem to be the clearest way to stack the odds against the novel's success. There's virture to such curiosity and research, but it could also leave an exhausted writer holding an emotionally bankrupt manuscript in calloused hands.

Another writer I might have offered as an example is Richard Powers, whose novel The Time of Our Singing, I reviewed not long ago. Powers, a MacArthur Foundation recognized genius, is a polymath adept in music, physics, writing and no telling what else. I described his latest novel, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The Time of Our Singing, Richard Powers ' most recent addition to his oeuvre, is the kind of novel that comes so close to perfection that a reader asks 'How?' How does he know all the things he does? How was he able to incorporate them into the novelistic form? How does he manage to live in a society that hates very bright people like the Joker hates Batman and survive, not to mention achieve all he has?

The book is about the Strom family. The parents, Delia and David, meet at Marian Anderson 's historical performance in front of the Lincoln memorial in 1939. Anderson had been barred from performing in Constitution Hall because the Daughters of the American Revolution, its owners, did not want it soiled by a Negro's presence. Despite the fact Delia cannot even drop into a coffee shop with David in segregated Washington, D.C., the classically trained singer and the physicist from Germany fall in love.

Powers, a white American who has led a varied life, is, of course, protected by the priviliges accorded white people and men in our society. He has never been isolated because of the color of his skin, stopped by the police because he fit a racially baised profile or denied housing because his presence in a building or neighborhood is not wanted. His characters have. However, I don't believe being white disqualifies him from writing about a family in which most members are people of color.

Reviewer Margie Thomson explained how Powers looks his work.

. . .He wrote his first novel in the early 1980s and several more since then and is considered one of the most important writers of his generation. It is that "aerial view", that sense of the connectedness of all things, that is his dominant concern in his life and writing. The Time of Our Singing embodies this very thing.

Powers' aerial view allows him to look at society without the biases men and white people use to protect their sense of morality while profiting from an unfair society. Like John dos Passos, Powers is able to combine knowledge from several different disciplines to make his aerial view believable. The material in the book about physics and classical music is just as verisimilitudinous as that about race. What role doest experience play? I suspect Powers has spent some time around African-Americans, but I don't believe that alone is the key to his successful depiction of such characters. He may have researched the Philadelphia Negro phenomenon, but he went beyond that, looking at how such a person would fit, or fail to fit, into the greater white society. It is his ability to do so that helped him get it right. A third ingredient is his knowledge of human nature. If he had set that aside to depict 'the Negro' as 'other' as occurs in stereotypical works, The Time of Our Singing would be an embarrassment, not a soaring achievement.

I concluded:

With this novel, Powers has penned a major monument to that journey that transcends the boundary of race as few novels ever do. He knows racism intimately, without having had to experience it himself. And, he is able to express that knowledge clearly and convincingly.

Kent counters with examples of writers who he believes benefitted from writing about their own cultures.

Authors of fantasy/science fiction are obviously not writing about their childhood and life experience, so the argument, initially, does not hold true with this genre. Take for example (I'll go out on a limb here) Anne Rice, the prolific writer of Gothic supernatural horror that usually plays centuries before her own lifetime. I argue Interview With the Vampire and The Witching Hour were her two most profound novels because she tapped her own life experience. It's her works floating through other countries and centuries that feel forced and fabricated.

Interview With the Vampire is highlighted by the unforgettable character Claudia. A prepubescent child turned vampire, Claudia struggles with her immortality year by year, forever trapped within the body of a child. Rice's own daughter died at a very young age, and the grieving author tapped this pain to create an unforgettable character and one of her most compelling, intimate novels. With The Witching Hour she calls back on her childhood in New Orleans and her young romance with husband Stan in San Francisco. She eventually places the drama squarely within the historic Garden District home she lives in to this day. Rice wrote about what she knew, and passages in The Witching Hour ring with an emotional, human truth rarely seen within her other works.

Appropriation of other cultures may also rob the writer of a chance of creating the great artistic work. Ray Bradbury is a unique example of an author writing about what he knows. We marvel at his classic science fiction novels including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles . But his most intimate artistic expression, and what I consider to be his finest novel, is Dandelion Wine . This beautiful tribute to a past way of life was is in many ways his own childhood in early 20th century America. It is a haunting masterpiece, and as emotionally truthful a novel one is most likely to read. Bradbury wrote about what he knew (a young boy growing up in 1928), touching what was within, the final result unforgettable art. Appropriation makes it practically impossible to achieve these heights.

I don't doubt that Rice and Bradbury benefitted from the maxim: Write what you know. However, I believe people can come to know more than their own experience of the world. Ann Rice may have a Southern novel that rivals Eudora Welty's works in her, but not have realized that yet. Bradbury, in a famous short story, ""Way in the Middle of the Air," explored being alien as being black in America instead of as being an extraterrestial or a robot. He might have produced a novel that continued that exploration. So, though both writers have not taken the route of borrowing from other cultures to the extent de Lint and Powers did, each could have.

It is mainly because of my belief that the best of artists can transcend the trappings of their own lives that I cannot condemn cultural appropriation.

11:00 PM

Monday, March 08, 2004  

Entertainment: "The Practice" does history

I complain about television as much as anyone. My prophylactic is to watch it sparingly. Most television, particularly network programs, has gone from vast wasteland to empty universe. But, when television is good, like the little girl in the ditty, it is very good. This week's episode of "The Practice" was very good. It was the remainder of a two-part series interrupted at least twice by other programming. So, one had to reacquaint oneself with what had happened previously to understand the plot. Alan Shore, "The Practice"'s current misanthropic trial lawyer, was defending a childhood friend in the murder of the man's mistress. That meant returning to his hometown in Massachusetts, Dedham. That small town has gone down in history as the place where Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted. Shore, like many a smart kid, is as much reviled as admired there. His friend, Paul Stewart (Patrick Dempsey) on the other hand, has overcome bias against those who do well to become a respected physician.

So far, so good. However, Shore is in even more trouble than usual. The defendant left blood, hair, and semen on the corpse. He was seen fleeing the woman's home near the time the murder occurred. He was running to his priest to confess . . . something. His wealthy mother has bribed the key witness not to testify -- a promise she breaks. Shore, who faces mediocre classmates from the past as his adversaries, has to come up with something to offset the circumstantial evidence that will surely convict his client. He decides his trump card is the case that made Dedham infamous.

At 3:00 P.M. on April 15,1920, a paymaster and his guard were carrying a factory payroll of $15,776 through the main street of South Braintree, Massachusetts, a small industrial town south of Boston. Two men standing by a fence suddenly pulled out guns and fired on them. The gunmen snatched up the cash boxes dropped by the mortally wounded pair and jumped into a waiting automobile. The bandit gang, numbering four or five in all, sped away, eluding their pursuers. At first this brutal murder and robbery, not uncommon in post-World War I America, aroused only local interest.

Three weeks later, on the evening of May 5, 1920, two Italians, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, fell into a police trap that had been set for a suspect in the Braintree crime. Although originally not under suspicion, both men were carrying guns at the time of their arrest and when questioned by the authorities they lied. As a result they were held and eventually indicted for the South Braintree crimes.

Vanzetti was also charged with an earlier holdup attempt that had taken place on December 24, 1919, in the nearby town of Bridgewater. These events were to mark the beginning of twentieth-century America's most notorious political trial.

My brows rose when I realized where the plot was going. Instead of keeping to the usual tenets of television shows about the law, the writers had decided to present a history lesson. That is a risky move. History, including relatively recent history, bores many Americans, who respond by not having a clue about most of it. For example, I am currently reading a blogger who apparently has never heard of the Southern Strategy -- the political machinations that moved most Southern white voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP. People do not like to reminded of their ignorance. By bringing up a historical case, be it the Snopes trial, Brown v. Board or Sacco and Vanzetti, the producers of "The Practice" were practically inviting viewers to switch channels to less taxing fare. The show soldiered on.

On April 9, 1927, after all recourse in the Massachusetts courts had failed, Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death. By then the dignity and the words of the two men had turned them into powerful symbols of social justice for many throughout the world. Public agitation on their behalf by radicals, workers, immigrants, and Italians had become international in scope, and many demonstrations in the world's great cities--Paris, London, Mexico City, Buenos Aires--protested the unfairness of their trial. This great public pressure, combined with influential behind-the-scenes interventions, finally persuaded the governor of Massachusetts, Alvan T. Fuller, to consider the question of executive clemency for the two men. He appointed an advisory committee, the "Lowell Committee," so-called because its most prominent member was A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University. The committee, in a decision that was notorious for its loose thinking, concluded that the trial and judicial process had been just "on the whole" and that clemency was not warranted. It only fueled controversy over the fate of the two men, and Harvard, because of Lowell's role, became stigmatized, in the words of one of its alumni, as "Hangman's House." "Not every wop has the switch to the electric chair thrown by the president of Harvard."

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23, 1927, a date that became a watershed in twentieth-century American history. It became the last of a long train of events that had driven any sense of utopian vision out of American life. The workings of American democracy now seemed to many Americans as flawed and unjust as many of the older societies of the world, no longer embodying any bright ideal, but once again serving the interests of the rich and the powerful. American intellectuals were powerfully moved by the case.

Alan Shore argued that the citizens of his hometown had brought infamy on it by convicting innocent men of crimes for which they could die decades ago. Now, they had a chance not to make the same mistake. They could refuse to convict his client on the basis of inconclusive evidence. I fear real life jurors would respond to such an argument by dismissing it as bookish, the stuff of pointy-headed intellectuals. The guy had been doing the gal. He was seen leaving the scene of the crime. His clothes were soiled with her blood. Convict him.

The jurors on "The Practice" brought back a not guilty verdict. They could have been convinced by flaws in the prosecution's case, including a prematurely destroyed body and lack of a murder weapon. Or, they might have decided not to risk another wrongful conviction.

I believe it was daring of "The Practice"'s writers to produce a script that required viewers to do some thinking, including reconsidering one of the most intriguing cases in American jurisprudence.

By the way: The defendant did kill his mistress.

Note: I've learned that three small towns were involved in the Sacco and Vanzetti cases. They are Braintree, Bridgewater and Dedham. The convictions in the second, famous crime, occurred in Dedham.

Reasonably related

•Since the addition of the Alan Shore character to "The Practice," it is in danger of becoming the "James Spader Show." Learn more about the very capable actor here.

•Famous jurist Felix Frankfurter wrote about Sacco and Vanzetti for The Atlantic.

4:12 PM