Monday, April 25, 2011

Texas sized Fail.

I've written before about gender identity issues and it's something I'm learning more about and, as I do so, realizing how little is known about it. While people are at least fairly comfortable acknowledging that there are gay and lesbians (insofar as "they exist"), there tends to be an awkward and embarrassing silence about gender issues.

When people hear the word "transgender" they immediately think "cross dresser" or "drag queen" or "gay"...none of which is the same. I'm going to avoid defining all those terms for the moment because it's much easier to just move onto the "work around".

I wrote previously about the first time I'd dealt with transgenderism on a personal level, having a friend tell me she was a transgendered woman. Simply put, the "work around" is just to accept people at their word--if s/he says that s/he's a man or woman, accept it and move on. That person knows their gender far more than you could by looking at them.

That's why articles like this one upset me so. Not only do the legislators know very little about transgenderism, but they also recognize that the law they are writing is damaging to its own citizens. When presented with the fact that people are born with multiple sex organs and are often simply mis-labeled as one or the other, only to determine later in life that they are NOT the gender assigned at birth, the evidence is dismissed and ignored. "Sure," they seem to be saying, "this law will hurt people and goes against evidence--but we think that your reality is damaging to how I want to see the world."

It basically boils down to that. The Texas legislature is determining, against scientific fact and evidence, that gender is determined at birth based upon the word of the doctor who births you, and that is that. I am hoping to move to Austin when I get out of the Army, but the more I read about things like this, the more it makes me think I should simply move somewhere where I won't be constantly pissed off that the political leadership is so intent on demonizing its own citizenry.

paper vs. e-forms

The other day, I had to take my drivers licence, insurance and registration into work so that I could drive this weekend. You see, in the Army, at thirty years old, it's important that I have someone inspect my vehicle for seat belts and fill out a small book to ensure that I'm not driving a broken piece of crap or illegally driving without insurance.

I did so, and then came home and changed into civilian clothes. The next morning, driving my friends to a BBQ, I got pulled over for making an "improper left turn". I had turned on the green arrow into the far lane, not the near lane. The Officer told me they don't normally issue citations for this, but then asked for my insurance and drivers licence. I explained that, being in the Army, my insurance was in my uniform pocket because I'd had to show it at work, but that I could pull it up on my phone. I quickly showed him my phone with my registration PDF showing (it even has more information on the online display, such as my drivers licence number). He said it didn't count unless printed and issued me a citation which would be dropped if I brought the printed version to the Court.

I don't have a printer and didn't feel like driving all the way to work to print something off, so I came to the library. I don't have a library card, so applied to get one. I needed an ID and "proof of residence" such as--you guessed it--vehicle insurance. I explained, again, that I didn't have insurance and that this was precisely why I needed to use the library and showed her my address on the phone. She said I could get a visitor pass.

I used my visitor pass to print off the same thing I showed her--with less information actually--and am now headed to the Court to show them the paper as well.

The upside to all this ridiculous bureaucracy and technophobia on the part of government is that I've now seen the Manhattan Library, which is quite awesome. There's a really great sculpture in the foyer and a magazine reading room I will begin to use. I might try to volunteer here sometime--maybe help lost souls get library cards even.

surprisingly common

Sometimes, I forget how common I am and how typical I am due to the fact that I'm just removed from those who would be, on paper, my "peer group" (if, of course, you define "peers" as those with whom you have a lot in common).

I stumbled upon this link today showing the results of a survey of PC vs. Mac users. I am a Mac user. I looked at the list and thought, "Holy hell...this defines me without me even participating." Obviously not the entire list hit its mark, but things that I'd never thought as being definitional (is that a word) seemed to be pegging/labeling me.

For example, I found a book recently at the airport that seemed interesting titled Zeitun. The title struck me as the word is arabic and means "oil". The story was relatively well written even if overly dramatic and maudlin, but I enjoyed the quick read nonetheless. I didn't think it a particularly memorable piece of literature...but low and behold, "Mac people" like Zeitun.

What else? Apartment Therapy--a daily read for me--made the list. The Road, Dwell Magazine...even Hot Toddies, a drink my mom turned me onto to overcome a cold, made the list.

I freaked a little, that I'd be THAT predictable, but I guess none of us are really "original" in any sense of the word. And, I think computers make us feel even less so. Three decades ago, I could have developed a similar set of tastes and personal style and felt quite unique and individual without knowing that somewhere there was a subset of people living and liking the same things as I--only now they're easy to find on the internet because when I google my own tastes, I find their blogs and pages and networks and think, "oh man, I'm NOT original, some dude in Detroit already thought of it!"

As a corollary to what I wrote above, my friend Alex made a good point long ago to me when she was in college. She said that what one likes and those extraneous things don't really matter all that much and can, in fact, influence you negatively into forming a favorable impression of someone new. So, you meet someone new and think, "Oh, he likes X, Y and Z and doesn't like A, B and C, just like me! He must be good people..." Only to find out soon thereafter that said person is kind of a dick, always late and a backstabber.

Being in the military has helped me to overcome that by virtue of the fact that when you meet people, generally they're stripped of all those extraneous things and you judge them on their character. Then you throw a party and realize that people who like A, B and C and having drinks with people who like X, Y and Z and didn't even know J existed because they call it "pop" or "supper" where they're from...kind of a cool little dynamic if you ask me!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

irony watch

Most of you probably don't read towleroad or other LGBT blogs, but if you do, you'd have picked up on this little piece of ironic awesomeness--

With the House set to defend DOMA in the courts and assert the constitutionality of States and the Federal Government not recognizing marriages validated by the states, Speaker Boehner has hired an ex Bush appointee to do the legal work. His name is Paul Clement, and this is a page on his firm's website explaining how they respect LGBT diversity.

So, the guy who is set to defend the most anti-LGBT piece of legislation on the books is working for a firm that touts its LGBT diversity as reason to hire them or work for them? Interesting. He's probably got a copy of Atlas Shrugged sitting with his Bible on the nightstand.

I want to lose 45 lbs.

The other day, I was on a Kristen Wiig kick and saw a relatively un-funny skit titled "two A-holes work out with a trainer". It made me chuckle, but that was about all. I tried to post it here, but the link is here too if it doesn't work.

The funniest part, I thought, was when the trainer asks her what she wants, and she replies without thought or hesitation, "I want to lose 45 lbs." It is funny because it's clear that she wants to appear to work out, and wants to appear to care, but obviously knows nothing about fitness or health.

This morning on the way to work, I was listening to KPR. They were interviewing people at the Tea Party Rally where Nicky Haley was speaking and asking people what they were hoping for in South Carolina where 5 out of 6 House Reps voted against the budget just passed.

One gentleman said, without thought or hesitation, "I want a trillion dollar cut from the budget."

I immediately thought of Kristen Wiig losing 45 lbs--absent reality, absent knowledge, absent an actual plan or efforts, cutting a trillion dollars in spending is an AWESOME goal. But, a lot of people who vote, a lot of people who are fired up, a lot of people who are angry about things that most, frankly, don't understand, those people will continue to wave flags and push politicians to do things that are 1. impossible and 2. ill advised.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan is one of my favorite bloggers. He has been since I've been reading blogs. Here is one of his latest, and one of the reasons I like reading him so:
The Bishops are often cited by men such as Newt Gingrich as unquestionable authorities when it comes to questions of abortion, marriage and euthanasia. So it is perfectly fair to confront Newt with the stark distinction between his views on the budget and the Vatican's and the American Bishops'.
What is it that the Bishops have said about the budget crisis in the States?
The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated. Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources. A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
Obviously there are differences in the moral implications between budgeting and, say, prison or euthanasia. However, if the likes of Gingrich et al. are all too willing to ignore variations of grey when citing moral authority of the Church regarding issues of personal choice, freedom, sexuality and morality (issues that are FAR more complex emotionally and physically than budgeting), then Sullivan is right to ignore the same complexities in citing the Church as a moral authority as well. What he's done here is taken the logic of the right and applied it evenly across the spectrum of ideas--which leaves him with results the right would most definitely not like. As for me, I look for no moral authority outside myself. And as for citing the Catholic Church as a moral authority, well--there's really no point in my even addressing that as an option.

paint your toes pink!

A little over a year ago, I met my first transgendered friend. Well, I should say, I'd known my friend a while, but only came to know that she was a male to female transgender about a year ago. I didn't know what exactly to make of that information at first, as it was something new to me, and made quite an ass of myself. The conversation went something like this,

her: You know that acronym, LGBT?

Me: yeah, of course.

Her: I'm a T

Me: (laughing) mean G. T means transgendered, not gay.

I turned and looked at my friend, and her eyes were full of tears she was holding back as we were in public, at a bachelor party actually, and she didn't want to cry. I asked her if there was a name other than her male name that she'd prefer to go by. She said that there was, but that "I couldn't just choose to see her as a woman now..." but it was said with a slight glimmer of hope. I laughed again, and this time in a non-offensive way, as it was laughter at myself. "Of course I can!" I replied, "You know far better than I if you're a female, who am I to tell you otherwise?" Since then, we've become even better friends, knowing that this wall of deception is no longer separating us, and while we don't talk as often as I'd like, our relationship is stronger than it ever was when we were less honest. That was my first interaction with the idea of transgenderism--that one could simply be genetically male or female, but emotionally and psychologically and in all other ways--not. I can only imagine how difficult it must be, to wake up in a body that you feel is not your own and foreign, and how difficult it must be to challenge those perceptions people have of you. That is why this article published on FOX News pissed me off so terribly. The author, sadly a doctor, makes ridiculously outrageous claims and comparisons that are so false they're almost obscene. For example,

encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts

Anyone who associates painting ones toe-nails with "choosing gender identity" must have stopped paying attention sometime in 1950. The idea that little girls wear pink and love makeup is as antiquated as the idea that men are the bread earners--moreover it ignores the fact that social norms change, and change quite often. Early in the twentieth century, girls wore light blue and boys pink. Ask someone in 1940 if singing in a choir is a masculine hobby and ask someone today and you'll get vastly different answers. The author, however, makes an unstated assumption that behaviors and social norms are somehow inherent to sexual identity, which is untrue--they are learned traits and social constructs we develop and hoist upon our own children. After that, he makes the comparison between transgender and changing ones race writing,

What would be so wrong with people deciding to tattoo themselves dark brown and claim African-American heritage? Why not bleach the skin of others so they can playact as Caucasians?

Again, he misses the point and confuses the issue--gender is not a learned trait, it is something one is born with. It is not necessarily reflected genetically in ones body, but it is something you are born with nonetheless. Race, however, is not the case, especially when you equate heritage and race. I have a friend who is white, but was raised by an African-American family. He loves Medea movies. He watches BET. He is Caucasian, but he is culturally African-American. Race is something one is born with, culture is not. He goes on to berate the mother for "parading her son in costume"--because if he really does love pink, then it is clearly a costume whereas the cultural trappings of masculinity (one assumes camouflage and blue) he has eschewed are "natural" despite the child's' own wishes and then somehow ties it all into the military (yes, the military). He fears a time when gender identity is so thoroughly homogenized that:
neither gender is motivated to protect the nation by marching into combat against other men and risking their lives.
Of course, this assumes that gay men, transgendered people and women aren't capable, willing or able to fight in wars, but that's beside the point obviously. I wonder what he would have us do, if our children ARE transgendered (assuming this child is, which I think is a wildly ridiculous assumption). Am I to tell my son, "No, you WILL wear a tux, and you'll like it!" Rid my house of all this is pink, flowly and possible to make a dress out of? The idea that this man thinks he knows better what a child wants and needs than his own mother--than the child himself--is disgusting.


I am, if nothing else, glad to see that substantive matters are finally being discussed. This should be, if this were a sane world, the time for the Palins and Bachmanns of the political stage to exit and allow those who know what they're talking about to hash out the details and come up with a budget. This won't happen. Instead, the fringe will demand ever lower taxes, talk about death panels, socialism and the like--just in time for election 2012. The sane conservatives (of whom Paul Ryan is one, even if I disagree with him) will be ignored and lambasted as "RINO's" and we'll probably default as a country on our debt. Paul Ryan's budget does the following things which, I think, are non-debatable:

  1. proposed subsidies are tied to inflation--not the rate of the rise in health care costs

  2. tax breaks for the top income earners (a reduction from 35% to 25% of income over $1 million annually)and corporations are included

  3. Defunds Obama Care

Obama's plan does the following:

  1. let's tax rates return to what they were previously on the top income earners

  2. cuts military spending

  3. funds Obama Care

That being said, there is now time and direction for a real debate about the budget--if it's not derailed by ridiculous partisan bickering and non-essential issues. Will we talk about the future of medicare, or will we get stuck debating the merits of letting Washingtonians pay for their own abortions? Will we talk about the overt waste in our military budget, or will we be sidetracked with discussions of gay marriage?

As a side note, I keep hearing people on the radio claim Obama is waging "class warfare". Do these people not see that if Obama is waging class warfare, so is Paul Ryan? Both budgets attempt to do the same thing--pay down the deficit, fix spending and stop waste. The difference is in how, and it is simply fact that Democrats and Republians are on opposite sides of how to do that--do we direct money at the poor in order to stabilize the economy, or the rich (trickle down)? If taxing the rich is "class warfare" then cutting spending on programs for the poor is also class warfare, just with a different target.

The 2012 elections will be vitally important--here's to hoping we don't muck it up with insincere and childish politics.

What I'm about to write, I hope, comes of as substantive and not political. I was listening to an interview on NPR (yes, that bastion of the liberal media) with Paul Ryan. In it, the interviewer asked a question which, when answered, I thought was rather poignant. The Q/A is below:

ROBERT: Congressman Ryan, critics of your idea say that the cost of insurance for members of Congress has actually gone up faster with the element of choice than the cost of Medicare has. Why would you, if turned out that indeed the government run program was more cost efficient would you favor it? Or is it in face an ideological preference for the market, even if the market is less efficient? REP. RYAN: The point I'm trying to make, and there is a difference of I think, philosophy here of what works best. We don't believe surrendering more of the health-care system over to government is an effective solution to lowering health-care costs. It simply results in rationing and price controlling. So we do believe that the current health-care system is broken and needs to be fixed. ROBERT: You're saying that even if the Medicare system were to be comparably more efficient ... that you're saying if it's not competitive... REP. RYAN: Competition ROBERT: You'd prefer what might be conceivably a more expensive system if it involves free-market competition? REP. RYAN: Actually, no we don't believe that at all. We believe it will be a less expensive system. But believe you me, we need to do more in the health-care system to get the consumer more power in the health care system so that the patient and their doctor have the real power in the health care system, so that all providers — health-insurance companies, doctors, hospitals — have to compete against each other for the health insurance beneficiaries' business.

So, the interviewer gets at the prime concern of those of us who disagree w/ the Ryan budget proposal--it pits the reality of rising costs against the belief that free markets will take care of things. When presented with the fact that the system Ryan wants to impose, while already in place for Congress creates higher costs, he simply says, "we don't believe that". One can choose to ignore evidence, but it isn't wise to do so.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

army email

I HAD to share this email, accidentally sent to me today, to share what it's like to be in the Army. You'll notice the lack of grammar, but overly liberal use of acronyms (which I've changed so that I don't give up secrets or anything accidentally). But, for those of you NOT in the Army...enjoy!
I finished what I needed to do, so I will take care of it. Some people weren't making since in what they had asked me and now it is fixed. I will leave here around 16:15 and run down and check and see if they have one. The question is what is the limit and are we using FCDT or LOP. The reason I ask is because we have been LOP happy lately.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I am behind the times (and simultaneously getting ahead of myself and my three note teaser just posted), but am reading Justice Kagen's dissent right now. Only two paragraphs in and I'm on pins and needles! Here's the paragraph that made my little dorky heart do a leap:

This novel distinction in standing law between appropriations and tax expenditures has as little basis in principle as it has in our precedent. Cash grants and targeted tax breaks are means of accomplishing the same government objective—to provide financial support to select individuals or organizations. Taxpayers who oppose state aid of religion have equal reason to protest whether that aid flows from the one form of subsidy or the other. Either way, the government has financed the religious activity. And so either way, taxpayers should be able to challenge the subsidy.

It does, of course, go on from there, but I like it. It's concise, it's logical, and it doesn't ignore reality. Too often, it seems to the non-law school graduate like myself, that lawyers and judges tend to ignore reality. In this case, they start out with reality--that the distinction drawn between a tax credit and a direct subsidy is practically null since they both serve the same purpose--to divert funds to support a group or effort. Anyway, I'll finish reading it and have a full reaction later. But, my point? I haven't read a SCOTUS opinion as exciting in its language and intellectually stimulation in some time!

three posts...a preview

I have been thinking quite a lot lately. Three things have been on my mind, and I will eventually write about them in full. Here, however, is a preview:

  1. An email from a friend--a fellow West Point graduate--challenging me to be a better Officer. He is, like me, a fellow liberal, non-militant, non-combat arms, five-and-fly Officer, and as such, his challenge struck me quite directly where it hurts.

  2. I've been reminiscing about challenges and successess and have determined to write about those moments where I suddenly felt as though I'd overcome something and accomplished something in life--they are not moments you would expect.

  3. The budget.

And, with that, I leave you a quote from a politician.

Who the hell is for abortion? I don’t know anybody running around with a sign that says, “Have an abortion! They’re wonderful!” They’re hideous, but they’re a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don’t think men legislators should even vote on the issue.

Then you’ve got homosexuality, you’ve got Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We have homophobes in our party. That’s disgusting to me. We’re all human beings.

And the politician who said this isn't from the party you'd think.

Friday, April 08, 2011

makes me want to vomit

Right now, there are Soldiers on the phone with home saying things like, "I don't know. Call mom, maybe she can pay our mortgage this month." or, "Well, we'll cancel our vacation, we can see Florida next time." Why? Because the government can't pass a simple bill that says, even when the politicians can't settle a budget dispute, the people who put their lives on the line daily, the people who have already spent YEARS living in the desert being shot at, the people who come in weekends and at night and on holidays to keep everyone else safe--those people will still not be paid. Why? Here's a brief rundown:

  1. Economy goes to crap (lots of reasons, lots of blame)

  2. Barack Obama gets elected along with a "veto-proof majority" of Democrats in both Houses of Congress

  3. They pass Health Care Reform, which they ran on a platform of passing

  4. The Tea Party, a group of "libertarians" worried about the debt and spending forms to fight it. This group is supposedly non-partisan

  5. 2010 elections loom and a budget is vetoed by a Republican Majority of 41 out of 100 Senators

  6. 2010 elections, Republicans retake the House along with a large wave of incoming Tea-Party affiliated Freshman pledging to cut $100 billion dollars from the budget and fight Obama Care (Health Care Reform from point 3)

  7. The first two Bills passed out of the House do the following: Defunds Obama Care and re-defines Rape

  8. Speaker of the House Boehner says he will not pass a bill with less than $33 Billion in cuts.

  9. The President and Senate Majority Leader agree to a bill cutting $38 Billion from the budget

  10. The House says it will not pass the bill unless ALL Republican House Representatives vote for it.

  11. The bill does not pass.

  12. The Senate passes a bill that would continue to pay Soldiers.

  13. The House passes a bill that would continue to pay Soldiers AND defund Planned Parenthood AND change abortion laws in the District of Columbia AND defund the Environmental Protection Agency.

  14. Both bills die and Soldiers will now not be paid.

So, why are these additions to a bill to fund Soldiers so important? How about I let a Republican Freshman speak for himself:

As Republicans, we promised in the pledge to America to cut $100 billion off of Obama's plan. If we're going to come back with less than that, we've got to come back with some policy riders to say look, I took less than $100 billion, but I've defunded Planned Parenthood or abortions in the District of Columbia. Or I've ended Obamacare, I've gotta go back home, look people in the eye and say, look, I told you $100 billion, but I went for less, and I've got to have a because... Because I don't want to be perceived as a liar back home."

And there you have it. The supposedly libertarian, supposedly budget minded, supposedly pro-America pro-Soldier Tea Party folds to the pressures of the religious right and the culture wars of the past. It's more important that we wage an ideological war against imagined enemies of the "culture" than it is for us to ensure the first line of defense for this country can pay their bills.

I've not been this disgusted by pure political madness than I am right now. There was some ridiculousness last year, pre elections, but never did it reach a point, especially about anything so ridiculous as this, that Soldiers were effected.

And yes, there is a lot of blame to go around, but if anyone has been following this, then no, it is not "equal" nor is it very hidden what's happening. Bottom line is, the President and the Senate agreed to cuts that were difficult for them in order to pass a budget. Speaker Boehner, to appease his base, changed the goal line at the last minute and now, Soldiers won't get paid.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I read an interesting idea today...the cost of a war should be a direct tax on gasoline. While this is a regressive tax in nature (poor people have to drive more as they generally have to live further from work, and spend a higher proportion of their income on their bills), it does seem ideal that SOMEHOW the direct costs of war are transferred to the population at large. Also, this could then be applied to Soldiers (a military ID could get one gas w/out the tax). The idea was floated as a way to make the population feel the impacts of war that are currently reserved almost entirely to service members and their families. Obviously it's not entirely workable, but I do kind of like it...any suggestions on something similar but more workable?

Monday, April 04, 2011

wicker basket of bills

I often write about my reminiscences of growing up, or, more accurately, about how those memories change as I grow to understand what was really happening. You see, as a child, you take things in like one who maybe can't speak spanish, but can see the emotions and images in a telenovela--you kind of know what's going on, but you fill in the blanks with what you imagine. And, as a child, what you imagine tends to be perfect.

So, I think as a child, I remember there was once a month when my mom and dad would get out this wicker basket that sat by the door, and sort through envelopes. Dad would have a calculator out, and he and mom would both put on their glasses. They would both look flustered and frustrated and often, they would rub their temples and shuffle the papers around. They were paying bills.

It seemed, as a child, that this task was an annoyance, but nothing too terrible. Now, as I sit to pay my own bills, and have only myself to pay for, I can only imagine how terrible a task that was. My father made less money than I did, and had built a house and was feeding three kids and a wife. My mom, at the same time, was trying to keep us clothed, entertained, fed and schooled...and then would sit down to the wicker basket of bills.

We weren't, by any means, poor--but we surely weren't rich either. I remember the luxury of going to a movie and what a treat it was. When An American Tale came out, we were going to see it as a family. My dad gave my mom a twenty dollar bill and she was going to take us...but we were playing grocery store before going to the movie. Playing involved using the coffee table as a grocery checkout and one of us would bring items and the other would "scan" them making a beeping noise. At one point, someone took the twenty and put it in the "cash register", which we didn't tell my mom, and the twenty was lost.

My mom was devestated. Without the twenty, not only could we not afford to go to the movies that day, but her chance to treat us to something out of the ordinary was also gone because we could afford such a treat only very rarely. Thinking that a lost twenty dollar bill (I know...inflation means it was worth more than twenty today...but still) would keep me from seeing a movie or otherwise doing what I want seems ridiculous to me now. I guess my point is just isn't easy to come by for me today, and it was even harder for my parents.

It's so strange for me to pay my bills with the annoyance once a month of going online and pushing buttons. But for me, there are no checkbooks to balance and checks to ensure clear before writing another one. There are no annoying kids yelling for attention and ripping their nice pants. There are not fears of losing the house, or of having to save for college. And yet, I can empathize with what they did...for me. It's hard to think my parents were like me, or more appropriately, that I am like them, but that is the case. As for me, I'm more than OK with that, I'm happy with it. So few people do it right, but they did it right, and hopefully I can do the same...bills and all.


So, TARP has actually MADE the government money? That's interesting. I wonder why this isn't bigger news. I can see a political ad where the Tea Partiers who were so staunch in using TARP as a political issue bad governance--all their compiled quotes about socialism and how government can't do anything effectively--followed by a voiceover with pictures of GM workers whose jobs were saved saying, "TARP will contribute $20 billion to the budget and has saved the jobs of X thousand General Motors workers...why are they against it?" Simple, but effective I'd imagine.