Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Peres, Sharon, Schwarzenegger, and Kennedy

Intriguing news this morning to hear that Shimon Peres has quit the Labor party in order to join Ariel Sharon (who just recently quit the Likud party) in forming a new Kadima party. I love to hear about a right-wing and left-wing leader breaking with their "wings" and forming a centrist party focused on pursuing the pragmatic peace that Israel and Palestine both need. I wish that American political parties could be as dynamic, but instead we seem stuck with the stale "choice" between Democrats and Republicans. This news from Israel is the equivalent of John McCain and Joseph Lieberman both breaking with their respective parties to form a new one. That would be awesome if only it could happen in America.

I'm always encouraged by signs of a radical center: the "Gang of 14", the "Blue Dogs" in Congress (a bloc of Democrats trying to be real about fiscal responsibility) or the "Main Street" (a bloc of Republicans trying to be real about stem cell research) are all good things in my book. And there are certainly some encouraging governors with crossover appeal, Governor Mark Warner of Virginia being the most recent example, but I also remember Governor William Weld of Massachusetts (and said to be making a run at New York in 2006).

And of course there is our own Governor Schwarzenegger here in California, who announced a surprising (and welcome) anti-partisan move today. He is appointing Susan Kennedy, a longtime Democrat, as his Chief of Staff. Kennedy has been executive director of the California Democratic Party and of the California Abortion Rights Action League, as well as being an out lesbian who married her same-sex partner in Hawaii in 1999. In response to a reporter's question, she said that she voted for all four of Schwarzenegger's propositions in the recent election. In seeking to downplay partisan labels, Kennedy said this: "I believe in this man [Gov. Schwarzenegger], and I believe in what he's trying to do for this state and where he's trying to take California," she said. "I think a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican — there is not a lot of light between us."

That's the way I like to see the pot stirred. Heck with this "red" and "blue" crap. Give me an innovative shade of purple.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

FILM: Pride and Prejudice

On Saturday night, we greatly enjoyed seeing the new adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen's stories are rich romances, featuring strong and spirited women who seem like they won't get the man they deserve, and men who are often not what they seem at first blush (both good and bad), but character always triumphs over class and money in her endings. In this story, protagonists Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy spar engagingly like Beatrice and Benedick until the inevitable reconciliation. Keira Knightley is perfectly cast as the spirited Lizzie, and Matthew MacFadyen is marvelous as the brooding and taciturn Darcy. The story has been very nicely adapted to the screen by big screen newbies director Joe Wright and writer Deborah Moggach (though rumor has it that Emma Thompson had some hand in the dialogue; she is credited on the film with "special thanks"), in a sensitive handling that focuses on the romance and the character judgments (and mistakes) that people can make. Beautiful shots of English countryside, together with some very subjective camerawork contribute to the story. (One memorable scene: when Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are dancing at a crowded ball, and for a moment we see the scene as Lizzie does, as if they are the only two in the room, providing a nice depth of feeling in contrast to her seemingly aloof repartee.) The cast are all excellent, but especially notable are Donald Sutherland as the loving father Mr. Bennett (who truly wants his daughter to marry for love), Tom Hollander as the mousy and obsequious Mr. Collins, and of course Judi Dench as the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourg. The costumes, settings, and even the blocking (all that courtly bowing) perfectly recreate the texture of the period. The superb 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was a hard act to follow, but Pride and Prejudice lived up to our great expectations.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Geocaching: Inspiration Point and Mount Lowe

On Saturday, "Team Compass" made its second expedition into the San Gabriel front range, a 7.8 mile hike to Inspiration Point, Mount Muir, and Mount Lowe. We started from Eaton Saddle (on the Mount Wilson Road) and followed the Mount Lowe Fire Road through the an old tunnel, along a canyon, and descended to the Mt Lowe Trail Camp (elev 4400'). This was the site of the old Alpine Tavern, a famous lodge and tourist destination in the early 1900s. It was built by Thaddeus Lowe (for whom Mt. Lowe was renamed), who built a railroad to bring people up to the Tavern. (He hoped to get his railroad to the top of Mt. Lowe, but he never made it that far.) Today, you can still see old foundations, parts of a large fireplace, and old pipes. There are some great historical markers that include photos of the place from its heyday. After finding a cache there, we headed for Inspiration Point, a 10-minute walk down the road. The Camp is nestled among pines and oak trees, but just down the road lies a ridge between Inspiration Point, Panorama Point, and Mount Muir. On the saddle of the ridge, a viewing pavilion has been restored to how it looked 100 years ago, including "viewing tubes", various pieces of pipe mounted in a fixed alignment so that looking through them you could find specific sites in the panoramic view before you. Each pipe is labeled "Rose Bowl", "Redondo Beach", "Catalina", etc. This particular warm autumn Saturday was so clear that not only could we see the whole Los Angeles basin before us, but on out into the ocean, to Catalina Island (~60 miles distant), and even beyond, to San Clemente Island (90 miles). We could also make out another, which we weren't sure whether it was Santa Barbara Island (75 miles, but smaller and shorter) or San Nicolas (105 miles away, but much larger). The curve of Redondo Beach was clearly visible, so Tom and Katy were trying to decide whether they could see their houses from here, while I looked for mine not far from the easily discernable towers of downtown. After enjoying the pavilion for a bit, we made the short 200' climb up to the actual Inspiration Point summit (4714'), where we signed the Sierra Club summit log and then found the geocache hidden there. We then descended, and walked along the wide flat bed of the old "One Man & Mule Railroad", a 2-foot gauge railway that consisted in an open trolley car pushed by a mule to take tourists from the pavilion (with views to the south and west) over to Panorama Point for views south and east. (It seems they did indeed put the cart before the mule, since if the mule pushed instead of pulled, he would get the tourists less dusty.) A short but scenic single-track trail took us to the summit of Mount Muir (4688') where we found another summit log and another cache. (Apparently John Muir visited these peaks in 1877.) We then backtracked a short ways down the fire road toward the Camp, where we picked up the Mt Lowe East Trail, which snakes its way in a long spiral up to the top of Mount Lowe itself. As it was a warm day, we appreciated the fact that much of this trail was in the shade of oaks and pines. Eventually, we summitted Mount Lowe (5603'), enjoying the spectacular panorama from an even higher vantage, and with the afternoon sun reflecting brightly on the ocean. With the sun hitting the water just right, we could make out Marina Del Rey and Ballona Creek (~30 miles away). After a nice lunch, we found one of the two caches there, and headed back down. Having started at 9am, we finished before 4pm, having hiked 7.8 terrain miles and climbed about 2500' in all, and found six caches (counting one at Red Box station that we found on the way out). Another great day! Check out our photos here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Naval Academy Admissions Forum: Parents' Response

The following is an actual letter written by parents of a young woman invited to a Naval Academy Admissions Forum, and shared for public distribution by my friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. It is very well written and speaks for itself.

Larry D. Faulkner, USN (Ret.)
Pamela W. Faulkner

Highland Park, Illinois 60035

November 11, 2005

Department of the Navy
Office of Admissions, United States Naval Academy
Attn: Capt. K.D. Frye
117 Decatur Road
Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5017

Re: United States Naval Academy Admissions Information Forum

Capt. Frye:

Our daughter, Molly Faulkner, received your kind letter inviting her to attend the above referenced Forum. Both of us have had the honor of serving in the Navy, one for twenty years, the other for eight. Molly's sister recently transitioned from active duty to reserve service with the US Air Force after serving deployments in both Qatar and Baghdad. We have attempted to instill in each of our children a shared belief in the debt of service we owe our Country and have been pleased to see each of them stand willing to take her turn as they reach the age to do so.

Although the source of our bias is reasonably clear, from even an objective standpoint Molly is an exceptional young woman. An avid athlete, she plays golf, basketball and softball for Highland Park High School, but has placed her emphasis on her golf game and works year-round with a private coach.

Also an excellent student, Molly consistently shoulders a heavy courseload including several honors level classes and receives marks earning no less than "high honors" in any given marking period. She is studying both French and Italian and has absorbed some modicum of understanding in Hebrew through several years of attendance at our synagogue Hebrew school. She is involved in several clubs and is active in our synagogue youth group participating in numerous events involving community service. She is respected among her peers as a steady friend and valued by her adult teachers and mentors for her quick mind, giving spirit and willing hands. In short, she is all that you would consider worthy in a candidate seeking admission to the Brigade of Midshipmen.

Unfortunately, we are certain that you will withdraw your current invitation and will not extend another due not to either her abilities or the content of her character, but for reasons beyond her control. However, we would like it to be perfectly clear that when you delete Molly's name from your database, it will be at your behest and not at ours and based upon policy now so outmoded as to appear ridiculous even to the casual observer.

As may be expected given her maturity and good sense, Molly has long recognized an intrinsic truth about herself. Molly is a lesbian. To her credit, and hopefully in small measure to that of her family and friends, she has been in a position to be honest and forthright regarding this fundamental truth and has found acceptance at every turn with no diminishment of either regard or affection. Neither she, nor we, see any cause for dissembling on this point, her father and I because it is against our inclination, and Molly because her sense of honor and self-worth forbid it. We would not even broach the subject were it not for the knowledge that the very sense of integrity and dignity which would make her an excellent midshipman and officer also render her incapable of adhering to a policy which would require her to commit the offense of lying by omission.

It is, again, with great pleasure that we acknowledge your kind invitation and, were it in her power, you would certainly see Molly in enthusiastic attendance at the Forum. We regret, on your behalf, the loss of the contribution she and so many others like her could and would willingly make towards securing our common goals and doing so in a manner that would bring credit to the traditions of the service.

Please don't hesitate to inform us if the policies, which we believe bar you from including Molly in the appointment process, have been rightfully amended to allow the open and unfettered acceptance of those members of our society who have so much to offer in service to their Country.

Very Respectfully,
Larry D. Faulkner
Pamela W. Faulkner

cc: President George W. Bush, Senator John Warner, Senator Carl Levin, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Senator Barack Obama, Representative Duncan Hunter, Representative Ike Skelton, Representative Mark Kirk

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Idle Hands: Marriage, France, and Gaza

In the marriage debates, one of the ideas often raised is a sociological benefit of marriage, that of the "cilivizing influence" of marriage on men. The notion is that if men were not married, then we'd have young unattached men roving around in packs and that could only spell trouble. While obviously a generalization, I think there's some truth to it. Along similar lines, I think we'd have to admit that gainful employment provides a similar civilizing influence. When unemployment soars, unemployed young men can be like gasoline-soaked kindling just waiting for a match. This is certainly a significant contributing factor in the French riots. As noted in this Economist article, "France’s overall jobless rate of nearly 10% is worrying enough; its latest youth unemployment rate of 23% is among Europe’s worst (see chart). In the 'sensitive urban zones', as officialdom coyly calls them, youth unemployment touches a staggering 40%." This is why I was especially heartened to hear this morning's news about Israel and Palestine coming to an agreement about opening a Gaza border. This tentative first step absolutely must be encouraged, as the ability to move people and goods across Palestinian borders and through Palestinian ports is essential to the development of any Palestinian economy, which in turn is essential to achieving peace. The UN estimates that 80% of the 125,000 Palestinians who used to work in Israel or in "joint industrial zones" have lost their jobs, and the CIA estimates unemployment in Gaza at about 50%. With unemployment like that, it's almost a wonder that more people aren't strapping on explosive vests. Congratulations to the leaders of both nations who have taken this important step, and to Secretary Rice for her efforts in brokering the deal. The sooner more Palestinians can become productively invested in their own economy, the better for Palestine, for Israel, and for the world.

Monday, November 14, 2005

FILM: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

We had a great time the other week seeing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a fun and clever take on Raymond Chandler-style film noir. Impressively, the film succeeds in being both a pastiche and a parody of film noir at the same time. While we laughed heartily and often, this was no Naked Gun-style send-up of the genre. Instead, the characters often traded witty barbs, and the script mined the rich vein of ironic potential in taking the 1940's genre and relocating it to the present day. While the noir texture was faithfully preserved, with all the traditional characters and the seedy parts of town, modern elements (such as a gay detective, the Hollywood club scene, the "industry", and people with dyed spiky hair) were seamlessly spliced in without compromising the Double Indemnity look and feel. This clever device allowed the movie to be alternately suspenseful and funny without breaking the mood. Robert Downey Jr. is terrific as the likeable petty thief (whom we first meet robbing a toy store trying to find just the right toy for his nephew's Christmas present), Val Kilmer's deadpan timing is dead on as the hard-shelled homosexual detective, and Michelle Monaghan is great as the lost hometown girl gone to Hollywood. Definitely check out this clever comedy.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

STAGE: Measure for Measure

We had the pleasure of seeing the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre production of Measure for Measure at UCLA's Freud Theatre. This remarkable company strives for authentic Shakespearean performances using original practices including all male actors, period musical prelude and interludes, and three-sided stage configuration. Their diction, acting, and direction truly make Shakespeare come alive (as we had discovered two years ago in their outstanding performance of Twelfth Night). Actor and Artistic Director Mark Rylance, who last year played an unforgettable Olivia, this year wore trousers (or at least a robe), playing the Duke (who spends most of the play disguised as a friar). He portrayed him with impeccable comic timing, on occasion blustering into a royal rage but then suddenly remembering his disguise and fumbling back into character. Edward Hogg wore the dress, playing a cerebral Isabella, variously expressing intimidation, indignation, and reluctant forgiveness with perfectly pitched nuance inside the tight scope of his austere character. Liam Brennan portrayed a complex Angelo, boxed in by devotion to the law and slowly undone by succumbing to the temptations of power, difficult but successful performance ringing true in the character's strange amalgam of rectitude and villainy. Several others were notable: Colin Hurley as Lucio (what Shakespeare called "a fantastic" and what we might call a good ol' boy and a player), delivering well-timed comic asides like small grenades; John Dougall as Pompey, speaking wry cynicism to power; and Roger McKern as Barnardine, the cantankerous prisoner too perpetually drunk to be executed. All in all, the whole cast were excellent.

When UCLA had been advertising the play, their season brochure and radio ads described Measure for Measure as a "light-hearted comedy", which struck me as very odd as I remembered it being rather heavy and not very comical. (In fact, I wondered whether the copywriter even knew the play.) I noticed that in the last week before it opened, the radio ads had changed to describing it as a "subversive comedy". Structurally, the play is arguably a comedy in that everyone is more or less happily married off in the end, but this is not your typical light romantic comedy. The play deals with profound themes of justice versus mercy, and the crucial moment in the play is the confrontation between Angelo and Isabella, where he forces on her the choice of her chastity or her brother's life. She speaks truth to power, but he counters that given his power, "say what you can, my false o'erweighs your true". Not exactly the stuff of comedy. This tension between comedic form and the dramatic moment of the subject makes the play difficult, and presents some hard choices for a director. Is Angelo a puritanical villain, or a virtuous man brought down by lust? Is the Duke a wise and strong ruler, or does he cop out in letting Angelo be the bad cop? And what might Shakespeare himself be saying about strict moral laws? Needless to say there is a lot of scope for a director to take this in interesting directions to overlay current relevance. But that's not the mission of the Globe Theatre, who strive for the authenticity of Shakespeare's time. They chose to emphasize the comedy, not only through the truly comic characters (such as Lucio and Barnardine), but through creative comic relief in interpreting the dramatic scenes (for instance, Angelo's momentary pause and arched eyebrow in II:iv when Isabella enters for the fateful confrontation, saying to Angelo "I am come to know your pleasure"). The Duke is portrayed as a bit doddering and befuddled, adding comic opportunity and lightening his character. (He even makes light of her non-response to his proposal in the end.) This provides balance (and even tips to the comic side) against an unflinchingly austere Isabella, and earnest dramatic portrayals of Claudio, Mariana, and Juliet. The result is a very enjoyable performance that makes you laugh but leave with a slightly unsettled feeling (not unlike the off-note of Malvolio's curse at the end of Twelfth Night), to wrestle with and come to your own resolutions about the themes. And perhaps that is exactly how the Bard intended it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Saluting True Patriots

Today, for Veterans Day, I would like to salute the millions of lesbian and gay American veterans, and the 65,000 lesbians and gay men currently serving in our armed forces. These courageous men and women take the ultimate sacrifice a step further, not only putting their lives on the line for their country, but doing so under a special burden of injustice, fighting to defend rights that they themselves are denied. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has compiled the personal testimonies of many of these patriots. If you have a few moments, go and read some of their stories. Here are some highlights:
The Army is the best thing that ever happened to me. My career gave me an opportunity to make what I believe was a significant positive impact on the lives and careers of the numerous outstanding soldiers with whom I served. . . . I would have loved to remain in the Army and I probably would have continued to do well, however the Army's policy on gays in the military made that impossible. Two decades of always having to look over my shoulder were enough."

William Winniwisser, Lt. Colonel, US Army (1982-2002)

I did not accept my homosexuality until my last tour. Those years were difficult. I couldn't seek counseling because I had to use military medical facilities and didn't know who I could trust. Before I retired, my best friend — an army officer who was also struggling to accept his homosexuality — committed suicide. I had to cope with the pain alone, in silence, lest I risk being discovered myself. After all I had given to the Navy, living in fear of losing my career or my pension seemed like an unjust reward.

Nick Marulli, Petty Officer First Class, US Navy (Retired)

My bosses identified me as "the best staff officer in the battalion" and "best company commander in the brigade." More importantly, I earned the trust and respect of most the soldiers I led. As a matter of conscience, I resigned my commission because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. . . . When I got out (literally and figuratively), I outed myself to as many people as I possibly could. About 80 percent of those I told said something like: "Yeah, we knew, we didn't care, we wish you had stayed." Another 15 percent expressed surprise, although I had never made any attempt to pass as heterosexual. This group was usually very supportive as well. Only about 5 percent decided that they couldn't be my friend if I was gay.

Rebecca Kanis, Captain, US Army (1991-2000)

At this early point in my career, a young Hispanic marine from another platoon "came out" as gay to a chaplain. I watched the chain of events that took place very carefully. It confirmed my views about Marine leadership. This young man was afraid that if his peers found out that he was gay they would beat him up — maybe even kill him. Nothing was further from the truth. The first sergeant took time to speak with the young man and find out what he was all about. His company mates looked out for him and took care of him until he was discharged. There was never any discussion about his shower or living arrangements. We Marines were all brothers and the first sergeant made sure everyone understood that. Leadership creates the mindset of an organization, and the leadership in my unit set the standard.

Phil Adams, Captain, US Marine Corps (1983-1992)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The True Face of al-Qaeda

My heart and prayers go out to the people of Jordan, especially the families affected (and especially including those whose wedding was indelibly marred). Recalling how we felt on 9/11, we can understand well how the Jordanians feel about their 11/9. In case there was any doubt, al-Qaeda have now proven that theirs is not a cause of Muslims against the West, but rather a cause of fundamentalist fanatics against anyone and everyone who doesn't share their perverted worldview. Now that they have directed their terror against a Muslim Arab nation, killing scores of Jordanians and Palestineans, more people in the Muslim world will see the monster for what it is. It is an amazing and powerful news image: thousands of Muslims shouting "Burn in Hell, al-Zarqawi, death to the traitor!" Let us hope that this is a tipping point.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bad Day For Good Government

It is disappointing, though not surprising, that the good government measures went down to defeat. As I wrote last night, I believe that the propositions suffered because many people were voting out of partisan suspicion rather than reason, and I lay some of that blame on reprehensible Republicans such as Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, whose baldly partisan machinations make Republicans worthy of suspicion. However, I also lay some blame on Governor Schwarzenegger, as I don't believe he did as good a job as he could have in making the case for the most important propositions (76 and 77, which I note were the most roundly defeated). I think his strategy fueled partisan flames, both by making the propositions about him, and by pushing 74 and 75 so hard, which reaffirmed the definition of the election as "Arnold vs the public employee unions". Perhaps I'm naïve, but I'd like to think that a good strong presentation of the facts and merits, instead of the personalization of the issues, would have served much better. When you actually look at the facts (starting with current district maps), I think Prop 77 practically sells itself. (I would note that every major newspaper in the state, ranging from the Orange County Register to the San Francisco Chronicle, all endorsed Prop 77.) Props 74 and 75 were a sideshow, and caused the Governor to not put enough wood behind his two best arrows. This point is proved by the surprising (to me at least) results that the two union-antagonistic propositions (74 and 75), which were the most vehemently and directly opposed, were defeated much more narrowly than the good government propositions (76 and 77).

It should also be noted that "good government" propositions (i.e., the sort that propose a general improvement in some aspect of government function) seldom succeed even when they are superbly sound and reasonable. This comes down to just plain politics and social psychology. By their nature, good government proposals are something that a broad number of people may approve of, but won't feel very strongly about. At the same time, any constituency whose ox is gored by the proposal will oppose it vehemently. And in elections, when it comes to putting "wood behind the arrow" (raising campaign funds), the vociferous few will decisively overcome the mild inclinations of the many. When it comes to something like independent redistricting, those who will be most vehemently against it (incumbent politicians and partisan hacks, often of both parties) are by definition those who are most politically powerful. It's a wonder when any such proposal passes. Note that as the alleged "Republican power grab" was going down in flames in California, a similar redistricting measure in Ohio, labeled a "Democratic power grab" by the GOP-dominated incumbents in that state, also went down. If only our Governor had put more muscle into pushing the merits of good proposals rather than picking fights with teachers and nurses. Alas, it was a bad day for good government.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Voting Suspicion Over Reason

Some perfectly reasonable ballot measures are likely going down to defeat tonight, and I think I know why. ln an exchange on an online neighborhood forum, discussing Prop 77 (which would create an independent commission to draw district lines), one of my neighbors wrote this: "Though I still disagree with you, I welcome such a reasoned response and hope to learn from it. . . I truly wish there were an impartial body to set boundaries and not the legislature. Problem is, I absolutely don't trust the motives of who's sponsoring this bill and the set-up that will ensue." [emphasis added]. And therein, I think, lies the crux of a lot of our political problems: many people look at the world through blue-and-red glasses, and can only view the other side with deep suspicion. Rather than examine a ballot proposition on its merits, their instinct is to look at who is behind it, and if it's "the other side", then to immediately suspect dark motives. Despite a measure like Prop 77 being eminently reasonable, if it's backed by Governor Schwarzenegger, then it must somehow be a clandestine attempt to smuggle insidious right-wing evils into our state Constitution.

According to Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, "the corporate takeover of California is what is being proposed". Her arguments against Prop 77 were disingenuous and designed to appeal to left-wing emotions rather than reason. She says "No state uses retired judges. In fact, almost all of them do it the way we in California currently do it." In actual fact, 20 states have some form of district drawing commission separate from the legislature, and the only reason 29 other states currently do it the way California does is that it is notoriously difficult to wrest the district drawing power away from the legislature, when keeping it is one of the few things that both red and blue partisan politicians will agree on. She goes on to say, "Think about retired judges. Currently almost all of them are going to be Anglo males, largely drawn from the men appointed by [Republican] Governors Wilson and Deukmejian. This does not sound 'non-partisan' to me." The statistical claim about retired judges is debatable, but more importantly, she obtusely ignores the provisions in Prop 77 that make it scrupulously non-partisan, similar to a jury selection process, with representatives from both major parties getting both selections and vetoes over candidates drawn from a random pool. And then voters get to approve it. It should sound very non-partisan to anyone who will bother to actually read and consider the proposition, but for Democrats like Assemblymember Goldberg, the actual details of the measure are irrelevant. It was put up by Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, so it must be evil. (Ironically, a very similar measure, in aims if not methods, on the ballot in Ohio is being strenuously opposed by the Republicans, as they are the ones who currently control Ohio's state legislature.)

According to activist Jamie Court, a whole slate of our ballot measures are part of a vast right-wing conspiracy emanating from Washington: "Some of the nation's leading conservative thinkers and strategists are seeking, through Schwarzenegger's initiatives, to alter the balance of power between the right and left wings of California politics. Their hope is to turn California red in '08 and pioneer a new gospel that can spread across the country." With hysteria like that, all of the oxygen is sucked out of the room for any reasoned debate on the merits. What could one possibly say in response?

Voting on such an irrational basis really galls me, but at the same time I'm not sure I can blame them. In a better society, such suspicion would be uncalled for. The problem is, people have been given reasonable cause for suspicion. After Tom DeLay's baldly partisan hijacking of the redistricting process in Texas, any reasonable person's hackles should be raised when redistricting is put on the table. And while President Clinton famously surrounded himself with policy wonks, President Bush infamously surrounds himself with political strategists and spin-doctors like Karl Rove. While the untrustworthiness of most politicians is as old as dirt, it sure seems as though today's politicians are breaking new ground for shamelessness. (Republicans are by no means alone in this, but they're doing the worst of it at the moment, only because they are in control at the moment.) If Prop 77 goes down, I lay some of the blame at the feet of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Palm Springs Gay Pride

We spent an enjoyable weekend in Palm Springs, attending the desert resort city's Gay Pride parade and festival. Seeing it shows me how much times have changed. The parade included the usual coterie of lesbigay community organizations, including "open and affirming" churches, AIDS service organizations, and lots of fun clubs like the gay rodeo, gay cheerleaders, gay classic car collectors, etc. And of course the local gay bars each had floats in the parade. But what struck me was that the dominant entries in the Palm Springs Pride parade were local city officials, candidates for City Council, and realtors. There are other factors at play, of course: the timing of Palm Springs pride just before an election, the increasing flow of gay population into this paticular city. (Two years ago, Palm Springs elected an openly gay mayor.) But still, it struck me how this gay pride parade is starting to look more and more like the plain old-fashioned community parades I remember growing up, with city officials, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, and so on. And likewise with the crowd attending the parade, there were quite a lot of straight people of all ages enjoying the show. (Along similar lines, I hear that the crowd at the West Hollywood Halloween street festival is probably more straight than gay anymore.) We're getting much closer to the point where going to the Gay Pride Festival is just a part of the larger community cultural melting pot, like going to the Greek Festival or the Columbus Day Parade or St. Patrick's Day Parade. And that, I think, is a good thing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Touch-Screen Voting

Yesterday, I checked out LA County's early voting system, which uses touch-screen stations. It was very efficient, easy to use, and I was in and out of there literally in moments. I brought in my official sample ballot, and they were able to read the codes off of that, program my identity into a microchip card, which I then took to a station and inserted it. Even though I was in a completely different part of the county from where I live (I voted near where I work), it brought up the appropriate ballot for my city of residence. All of the ballot measures were easy to see, and it was easy to check the yes/no boxes. At the end, it was easy to review all of my selections before committing my vote. I will definitely be doing this again in the future. Bye-bye silly punch cards and ink blots!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

NO on 78 and 79: The Initiative Process Is No Place for Drug Plan Policy

Propositions 78 and 79 offer two different prescription drug discount plans. For very similar reasons as I'm voting NO on Prop 80, I am also voting a "prima facie NO" on both of these. These are complex pieces of policy that would require a real policy wonk to make an informed decision about, and have no business on a general ballot. An initiative statute is just the wrong way to do this. Each of these propositions would add a couple dozen sections, over a hundred clauses of fine print, into State law. And once enacted by initiative, if it ever needs to be modified, it will require another initiative to fix it. There are situations where initiative statutes may be appropriate, but enacting drug discount policy is most certainly NOT one of them. Just vote NO.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

NO on 80: The Initiative Process is No Place for Energy Policy

While there are a number of complex propositions on this ballot, perhaps the most perplexing is Proposition 80, an initiative statute to re-regulate the electrical energy industry in California. I feel quite confident in giving this one a "prima facie NO". Only an energy policy uber-wonk would be qualified to evaluate such a technical proposition, while the other 99.999% of us Californians would be unable to formulate any rational opinion about the merits of this proposition. However, I can formulate an intelligent "meta-position" on this proposition, which is to say that it is utterly assinine to be codifying any energy policy as an initiative statute. Two good reasons for this meta-position. First, as already mentioned, the voting population at large is simply not qualified to make any intelligent decision on such technical matters (especially ones with such potentially far-reaching consequences). Second, codifying such broad policy as an initiative statute unduly constrains our ability to "fix it" when we realize that parts of it are "broken" or need updating. Keep in mind that under California's Constitution, initiative statutes are "super statutes" that cannot be touched by the Legislature, and require another ballot measure to make any changes to them. (While the measure has some limited provisions to allow for minor amendments by the Legislature, they are too constraining, as well as lawsuit-invitingly vague.)

In addition to this well-founded meta-position of voting NO on 80, I have a "meta-philosophy" on initiatives in general. When I doubt, one should always vote NO. Not only is it the safer position, but perhaps if more initiatives are defeated, people will become more discouraged from submitting more initiatives in the future. We have too many initiatives as it is, with too many of them hitting on topics that are no business for an initiative. Prop 80 is a fine example of the sort of initiative that needs to be discouraged.

NO on 73: A Misguided Setback for Good Health Policy

I found a wealth of background information on Prop 73, which would require parental notification for a minor to have an abortion, at the USC California Policy Institute, and wading through it all has me convinced that Prop 73 is not a good idea. Of course in an ideal world, we would like to see teens with an undesired pregnancy be comfortable in discussing the issue of abortion with their parents, and come to a decision that all are happy about. And it turns out that most teens in that situation do turn to at least one parent to come to their decision. For the smaller portion who don't, in some cases they have legitimate fear of abuse or other adverse repercussions. The evidence indicates that teens are generally capable of making abortion decisions that they do not regret later on, and that a higher proportion of those who made a decision independently were satisfied with their decision than those who were pushed by their parents into a decision other than what they would have liked. There is also some evidence that parental notification laws, rather than having the intended effect of increasing family communication, instead have the effect of pushing teens into other options such as seeking an abortion in another state, obtaining a "back room" abortion, or attempting it themselves. The bottom line is that most teens will discuss the matter with a parent, and for those who feel unable to, a law is not going to magically improve their family relationships.

As if that weren't enough, the text of the proposition contains wording describing abortion as "the death of the unborn child", which may have unintended consequences beyond this proposition if it becomes installed in the State Constitution. (Actually, some would argue that the consequences are fully intended by the proposition's proponents, intending to establish a pro-life beach-head in the Constitution.) A parental notification statute in Pennsylvania containing a nearly identical phrase has had the unintended(?) consequence of constraining stem cell research in that state. California, having just authorized a substantial state investment in stem cell research, certainly doesn't need this to become a spanner in the works.

The proponents' argument in the ballot pamphlet starts with the observation that a teenager can't get a flu shot or even an aspirin from the school nurse without parents being notified, but they can have an abortion in secret. Granted that's a jarring juxtaposition, but what's wrong with that picture is that the school nurse can't give a child an aspirin without fear of being sued. In the case of reproductive health services, the state has long recognized the importance of teens having confidential access to such services, and because of their importance, have created a special "safe haven" for teens who need such services and the medical practitioners who treat them. (Such laws go back to the 1950s, so I would say they have stood the test of time.)

Finally, one should keep in mind the larger picture, in that teen pregnancy rates, birth rates, and abortion rates have been dropping nationwide in the last 15 years, and even more so in California than the nation overall. Obviously the policies of the last 15 years are moving us in the right direction, and this misguided proposition seems unlikely to improve that and would possibly move us backwards.