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Obama Wins a Second Term!

Yeah, everyone knows by now. I don’t really have anything of worth to add about that. But I will say that I’m giddy with relief. I think changing horses midstream at this point, especially to Mr. Can’t-hold-an-opinion-longer-than-two-weeks-and-forty-seven-percent-of-you-suck Romney, would have been disastrous.

Gains for women!

A record number of women will be representing American citizens in the US Senate. Currently there are 17 women serving, which was also a record. After the new senators are sworn in for the next session, there will be 19 women serving in the Senate. Possibly 20, if Heidi Heitkamp manages to pull out a win in her very close North Dakota race.

Even more exciting, Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay person to be elected to the US Senate.

It’s rather discouraging that after all this time women will make up only 20% of our Senate when we are over 50% of the population. But at least we’re heading in the right direction, even if agonizingly slowly.

Akin and Mourdock lost their races, giving women everywhere reason to breathe a sigh of relief. If the names don’t ring a bell: Akin was the astoundingly ignorant candidate who thinks women have mystical woo-woo reproductive systems that automatically shut down in the case of “legitimate rape”. Mourdock holds the repugnant view that a child conceived via rape is “a gift from God”.

We’re here, we’re queer, we’re gonna get married!

Well, okay, I’m not gonna get married. Not my thing. But lots of my brothers and sisters will be tying the knot.

Maine had an initiative put on the ballot by the people to legalize same-sex marriage. With 75% of the votes tallied, it is passing by 53%.

Maryland and my beloved state of Washington had referendums on the ballot. Our legislatures passed marriage equality laws earlier this year and people who didn’t like that gathered enough signatures to put the laws on the ballot for approval.

With 97% of the votes tallied in Maryland, their referendum is being approved by 52%. Washington is a bit trickier because our elections are done entirely by mail, and any ballot postmarked by the 6th counts. So only 51% of votes have been tallied so far. But the referendum is being approved by 52%, and I’m optimistic that will hold.

The state of Minnesota had a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment would have banned same-sex marriage. With 97% of votes tallied, it has been rejected by 51%. That doesn’t mean gay people will be able to get married in Minnesota yet, because there’s already an existing state law against it. But it does mean that the discrimination will not be enshrined in their state constitution.

This is all very big news. The fact that it’s a clean sweep is rather startling. Especially since polls leading up to the election in Minnesota were not very encouraging. Up until now, marriage measures, whether initiatives, laws, or amendments, have always failed when put up for popular vote. (There’s one exception, but it was turned back later in a followup vote.) Not only has that string of losses been broken, it was broken four times in one day.

But the other more subtle thing that I find interesting, and it’s a portent of real change, is the final vote percentages. Up until now there has been a significant tendency for people to misrepresent how they were going to vote on gay issues when being polled. (Many people would tell pollsters that they supported an issue, when they obviously ended up voting against it.) Also, most of those who stated they were undecided when being polled usually voted against the measure. What this meant was that you needed to add anywhere from 6-10% to the anti-equality poll numbers to get a closer reading on what was likely to actually happen at the ballot box.

A lot of that disappeared this time. It was still somewhat evident, but now falling more within the margin of error. The polls did a fairly good job of predicting the outcomes, or even in the case of Minnesota, underestimating support in the final days. This is a good sign for the future.

Reefer Madness!

Washington and Colorado have become the first two states to legalize marijuana. Not just decriminalize it, and not just allow medical marijuana, but legalize pot for personal recreational use for adults age 21 and over. It will be regulated by the state in a manner very similar to alcohol. (Colorado did it by amending their state constitution.)

The ballot measures passed by substantial percentages in both states, and not only in traditionally liberal areas either. It will be interesting to see how the federal government reacts. I have a feeling this issue will be heading for the Supreme Court eventually.

Passage in two of the three* states voting on the issue is a sign people understand that prohibition not only doesn’t work, but ends up costing us as a society. Both financially, and in the loss of people to the criminal system who don’t belong there.

* Oregon also had legalization on the ballot and I’m surprised at the results. They rejected the measure by the same percentage that it’s passing in Washington. Yet it usually seems like Oregon is on the forefront of these sorts of things. I haven’t looked into it at all, but it’s possible that there were problems with the specific law that people rejected, rather than the idea itself.

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The form on my Contact page was not working and I’m unsure for how long, though it’s probably been at least three or four months. I finally had to delete the original page and create a new one in order to get it working again.

If you have attempted to contact me via the form in the last few months and received no reply, please try again now. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Though please be aware, I do not respond to book review requests when the requester has clearly not read through my policies regarding what I will accept for review. Most of the requests I receive fall into this category.

To be a bit snarky about this, if you can’t demonstrate an acceptable level of reading comprehension, it’s highly doubtful you’ve written anything I would want to read. And no, I will never be so excited by your plot summary that I will make an exception. I already have plenty of unread books on my Kindle as it is.

To everyone else, I’m happy to hear from you any time.

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I love teh interwebz. If I’m curious about anything, all I have to do is sit down at my computer and fire up the trusty browser. The world is quite literally at my fingertips.

But I have a little problem. I’m a Wanton Web Wanderer. You see, it’s a rare occasion that I stop once I have my answer. There are all those glorious links to follow! No matter what I’m looking for, the web page I land on almost always has links to other pages. And it’s almost a given that at least one of those links will entice me to click on it*.

I may only follow one link from a page, but from other pages I might end up clicking on five or more. Long ago I got into the habit of always opening a link in a new window (tab now), so that the original page was still displayed and I could easily go back to it and follow other interesting links also.

A bit earlier (okay, three hours ago), I followed a link on the Prop8TrialTracker site to an article concerning Referendum 74 in Washington. After many hops, skips, and jumps around the web, I found myself watching videos about compost toilets on YouTube.

It doesn’t matter what topic I start with. Inevitably I end up learning all sorts of interesting facts about some other topic that is not only completely unrelated to the original topic, it’s frequently a bizarre topic in relation to the first one. I love teh interwebz.

Are you a Web Wanderer too?

* Ads never entice me to click. I learned long ago to just tune them out on the pages I visit and you’d have to pay me good money to click on any of them.

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say no to the word pot

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When I’m not chatting about books or movies, I am often focusing on serious issues here. So after reading some comments on an article about legalizing pot, I thought it would be fun to discuss something extremely silly.

For those who don’t know, Washington is one of the states that has an initiative on the ballot next month concerning legalizing pot. Not medical marijuana, we already have that. This would make pot a legal, a state-regulated substance like alcohol.

This post is not to argue for or against legalizing pot. It’s about the astonishing silliness of people arguing over what to call it. No matter what your personal opinion on legalization is, I think most of us can agree that people being insulted by use of the word “pot” instead of “cannabis” is ridiculous.

I didn’t even know this was a burning issue until I read the comments on the article here.

Out of several comments covering a range of topics, four people took time out of their busy day to chastise others for using the word pot. According to them, it’s an issue of respect.

Here are a couple of the choice comments:

“dignifying. that’s cannabis. pot is for undignified people that won’t even try to act educated.”

“Just don’t know why anyone would openly display their prejudice,or ignorance.”

I don’t know about you, but last I checked, plants and their byproducts typically don’t have any feelings to get hurt or dignity to protect. Do we really need to be at pains to insure marijuana plants don’t feel disrespected? Are we plant bigots if we use a common epithet, rather than the taxonomically correct appellation?

I was born in the 60s and came of age in the 70s. It’s pot. I guess this guy was talking about me:

“Take the bell bottoms off and let go of your 1975 slang.”

Sure, I’ve called pot by a few other names too, but cannabis has never been one of them. Its common usage in the vernacular is a relatively recent phenomena.

I like to think that I’m a sensitive soul, not wanting to injure others with my word choices. So, what’s next? A campaign for lycopersicum? After all, calling it a tomato is ignorant and disrespectful.

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I’ve been wanting to link to an article that author John Scalzi wrote on his blog back in July, but hadn’t gotten around to writing a good intro post. It turns out that Mitt Romney’s remarks made to a private group at a fund raising event earlier this year, and recently leaked on a secretly recorded video tape, provide the perfect springboard to Scalzi’s article.

If you read through the full transcript of Romney’s statements (you can find a copy here) there are dozens of comments to find fault with, and that prove just how out of touch Romney is with average Americans. But the one that I think bothers me the most, and that I keep coming back to in my head, is this, in reference to the 47%: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Seriously? Working families who don’t make enough annual income to pay income tax, and elderly people who have paid their way their entire lives and are now living on social security, don’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives?” We aren’t talking about a nation of freeloaders here. We’re talking about average people whose worst offense is that they weren’t born into wealthy families or didn’t get the education needed to work in high-paying professions.

And let’s not forget that we’re also talking about the men and women who serve our country in the military. Romney would have you believe, with his 47% of the population comments, that our serving soldiers and veterans are people who think of themselves as victims and have a sense of entitlement. I can’t think of anything more insulting. For the record, I think they’re entitled to anything they can get from us for the sacrifices they make and have made*.

What Romney can’t seem to grasp is that every American both receives from the government and gives back to the government. It is not a sign of laziness or lack of personal integrity if no income tax is owed in any given year. Some people receive more help than others, but even the wealthiest in our country are eager recipients of government largesse.

All Americans pay taxes of some sort. If they don’t pay income tax they’re still paying sales taxes, payroll taxes, use taxes, etc. every single day. As an example, my phone company charges $13.00 per month for my landline, which is pretty reasonable if you ask me. But the problem is, once all the taxes are added I have to pay $23.00 per month for phone service. The Mitt Romneys of the world won’t even notice that $10 difference. But if you’re struggling because you’re only making minimum wage at your job, that extra $10 in monthly taxes is most definitely noticed. It’s painful.

The American Dream is to work hard and succeed by virtue of that hard work. Attaining that dream is harder for some than others, because we don’t all start on a level playing field. But we’re brought up with the ideal that even those who have a lot stacked against them can make it. What is easily forgotten in all the stories used to sell people on the idea that the dream is possible, is that there really is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all receive help  along the way.

The help may come in the form of publicly funded schools, an inspiring teacher, getting an important first job through a well-connected parent, or food stamps, but every one of us has received help. We Americans love the myth of the self-made man, because it allows us to believe that anything is possible. But we all stand on the shoulders of those who have given us a helping hand, both public and private, even when we have worked hard and are responsible for much of our own success.

John Scalzi knows this, and wrote about it. Please read his article. It’s a great read on its own, but it’s even more fitting now in light of a man who wants to be president, but doesn’t get it. Who thinks he’s the personification of the American Dream of the self-made man, when in reality he’s had enormous help from both family and government to get to where he is.

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* As a tangent, yet related: Returning combat veterans have a jobless rate that is 35% higher than the rest of the American population. A bi-partisan jobs bill for veterans was written and expected to pass in congress. A good portion of the bill was written by Republicans in order to insure they got what they wanted and that the bill would pass without problems. But because we’re close to an election, it was more important to make sure the President doesn’t have any successes he can point to, and the bill was killed by the very Republicans who had helped to write it. Vets deserve our help, but way too often they don’t get it. Not because they don’t take personal responsibility, but because as a country we’re too cheap and too selfish.

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve been following several court cases dealing with same-sex marriage over the last couple years. Aside from the Proposition 8 case from California, there are several DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) challenges making their way through the courts.

At least one of them will likely be taken up by the Supreme Court in its next session. (The session starts in November and runs through June.) My prediction is that this time next year DOMA will be dead, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

There are several interesting aspects of these cases, primarily centering around equal treatment under the law and level of scrutiny due gay and lesbian American citizens. But there is another aspect that should be of interest to a broader range people. That topic is federalism.

For the entire history of the United States, domestic law has been the domain of the states, including regulating what constitutes a legal marriage and who can legally marry. The federal government has always accepted state definitions, allowing for differences from state to state. It didn’t matter that there was a lack of uniformity, if a marriage was legal in the state, it was legal for federal purposes.

In the case of DOMA, the federal government took the unprecedented action of overriding state authority.  Under DOMA, a same-sex couple can be legally married in the eyes of their state, but they become unmarried in the eyes of the federal government. The two spouses are considered legal strangers. Aside from the messy and precarious legal situations this engenders for individual couples, this constitutes a federal challenge to state sovereignty.

This is important to our nation as a whole, because if the US Congress is allowed to intrude in this area that is normally off limits, there is nothing stopping them from intruding elsewhere in the future. So putting aside equality considerations, it would be dangerous for the Supreme Court to allow DOMA to stand for this reason alone.

What is ironic and confounding is that maintaining state sovereignty is normally an issue of great importance to conservatives. Yet it’s mostly conservatives who are throwing away one of their key values in favor of their desire to impose their version of morality on the nation.

Three states (New York, Vermont, and Connecticut) have filed an amicus brief in the Windsor case that very nicely lays out the federalism concern. It’s excellent reading for anyone even the least interested in the topic, and quite educational. I highly recommend giving it a look.

If you’re interested in following the court cases and other equality issues,  I recommend bookmarking prop8trialtracker.com. They post frequent updates, and it’s convenient to get all the important information in one spot on the web.

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My Kindle 2 when she was new – all tucked in and ready to go for reading in bed.

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I’m still massively in love with my Kindle 2. (My first and only Kindle.) She’s 3.5 years old now and, despite a few signs of aging, she’s still going strong.

However, when she was around two years old her battery started going noticeably downhill. Using her every day I was having to recharge about every 4-5 days. (I generally recharge when the battery gets to the 50% mark.)

But I eeked things out for a long time. Until recently that is, when I’ve been having to charge every other day, sometimes every day. And the charge in that short time was getting down to around 25-30% remaining.

Part of the reason I waited so long to do anything about it, aside from being a champion procrastinator, is that the instructions on how to do the battery replacement are in the form of an online video, which I could not watch on dialup. Now that I’ve joined the 21st Century and have broadband, I figured it was time.

I ordered the replacement battery from NewPower99.com. Along with the battery you’re sent a shim tool for removing the cover, and a tiny magnetized screwdriver for handling the four teeny screws involved. Which is everything you need to do the replacement yourself.

There is a how-to video on the product page and watching it is fully instructive. The most difficult part for me was getting the small top plastic cover off. I worked at that quite a while before I could get it to pop off. The rest was a cinch.

Oh, well, almost a cinch. I almost forgot about the part where the volume control button/lever fell out. Heh. I was able to fit it back in place when reassembling my Kindle and I assume it still works. (I don’t use music, text-to-speech, or audiobooks on my Kindle, so even if I couldn’t have refit it, it wouldn’t have been a loss.)

After I replaced the battery and got my Kindle 2 put back together, it appeared that I’d killed her, and suffered several pangs of grief and regret. The screen was displaying my Home page, but none of the buttons worked, including the power slider.

Turns out she was just lying low until I could charge the new battery. A couple minutes after I plugged her in she did a reboot and the critical battery page came up on the screen. A bit later, after she got some juice, she started working normally again.

So the moral of the story is, don’t freak out, just plug it in and be patient until the charging light turns green.

I replaced the battery four or five days ago, and I’ve lost less than 25% of the charge in that time. If this battery is anything like when my Kindle 2 was new, it will perform even better after it’s been in use for 2-3 weeks.

So if you have a Kindle that is getting on in years and you’re tired of having to recharge frequently, I encourage you to go ahead and replace the battery yourself. It really is easy to do, and will breathe new life into it!

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[Note: Amazon offers to do battery replacement for a small fee, around the same price or only a little more than the purchase price and shipping for the battery from NewPower99. However, it means sending your Kindle to them and being sent a different one, with a fresh battery, in return. If you’re anything like me, you want YOUR Kindle, not just any ol’ Kindle. So replacing the battery yourself is the better solution.]

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Source AP Photo

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I was reading an article about a news conference that was scheduled to take place yesterday at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Stonewall was the site of the 1969 riots that propelled the gay rights movement forward. This news conference was held by LGBT groups, who are joining with the NAACP, to call for an end to the NYC “stop-and-frisk” tactic used by police officers.

As Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in an interview, “There was no rational reason to raid the Stonewall Inn in 1969, and there is no rational reason to stop black and Latino men in 2012 and frisk them simply for being who they are.”

To understand why there needs to be an end to stop-and-frisk, this report from the New York Civil Liberties Union is a must read. I’m going to pull out some key statistics from the report (which covers the year 2011) to make it clear why I am posting this. They should give anyone pause.

One of the main reasons given for stop-and-frisk is to recover weapons. However, the numbers show that the link between stops and weapons found is almost non-existent. In 2011 there were seven times as many stops made as in 2002, almost 700,000 in total. Yet the recovery rate of weapons increased by only three one-hundredths of one percent. Weapons are found in only 1.9 percent of frisks.

Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.

The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406).

In 2011 blacks made up 52.9 percent of stops, Latinos 33.7 percent, and whites only 9.3 percent.

High concentrations of black or Latino populations in some precincts cannot account for those statistics. As an example: “The population of the 17th Precinct, which covers the East Side of Manhattan, has the lowest percentage of black and Latino residents in the city at 7.8 percent, yet 71.4 percent of those stopped in the precinct were black or Latino.”

Quoting from the report: “Young black and Latino males were the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops in 2011. While black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 41.6 percent of those stopped. By contrast, white males between the ages 14 and 24 make up 2 percent of the city’s population but accounted for 3.8 percent of stops.”

Not all stops result in a frisk. When blacks or Latinos were stopped they were frisked 57.5 percent of the time, compared to only 44.2 percent of the time for whites. More importantly, a weapon was found only 1.8 percent of the time when blacks or Latinos were frisked, but 3.8 percent of the time when whites were frisked.

These statistics, and the rest of the report, illustrate that racial profiling and racial bias strongly influence NYC police officers’ decisions in determining who to stop, and who to frisk once they are stopped. Blacks and Latinos are stopped and frisked at a massively disproportionate amount compared to their city populations and compared to the percentages actually engaged in criminal activity.

I’m not just pointing a finger at NYC here. These were relatively easy statistics for the NYCLU to collect and analyze. You can be sure that this sort of racial bias is showing up in police activities in cities all across the country. I had no idea just how bad it is though, and it’s important to get people to see just what is really going on.

As a side note, check out this article about a man who complained about being racially profiled with stop-and-frisk being put in jail overnight for no reason.

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Okay, so maybe that title is a bit over the top. Online communication hasn’t exactly been ruined. But it has drastically changed.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a loner. I really enjoy socializing with people in the real world, but in regulated amounts. And it’s not just that, there are certain issues which hinder my social life. But a lot of that never mattered because being able to communicate in a virtual environment with other people around the world fulfilled much of my socializing needs and desires. Once I got my first computer with a modem people were right there, any time of day or night, literally at my fingertips.

I started out on a local BBS where a regular group of us gathered late at night to chat, often about completely silly stuff, but sometimes serious stuff too. The whole gang even got together a few times in RL. Then I moved to AOL and an online game, through which I gained a lot of very good friends, many of whom I also ended up meeting in real life at large gatherings in distant cities.

My online socializing (outside of gaming) has consisted of two main components, message boards and live chat/instant messaging. Both have their place, though each is different from the other. But on any given night I could expect to engage in many written discussions with virtual acquaintances and strangers, and live chat with acquaintances and friends. Sometimes the chats were very brief, but there was rarely a night that went by I didn’t at least exchange “hiyas” with someone.

That’s not true anymore. Sure some of it is due to the nature of relationships, whether RL or virtual. People drift apart over time, lose a commonality that bonded them, or their lives change, affecting how much online time they have, etc. But a lot of it is directly due to how online communication has shifted from chat rooms and instant messaging to social networking platforms.

In the past I’ve had hours long instant message conversations that were as involved as any face-to-face conversations I’ve had. Sometimes they were better, because the physical barrier that virtual communication provides can encourage honesty and self-revelation. Discussions ranged from the extremely silly, to politics, to life experiences and problems, to books, music, and movies. Conversations with depth are part of what distinguish real friends from acquaintances, both in real life and online.

The problem is, no one seems to use instant messaging anymore! I feel like a dinosaur when I say my buddy list still automatically loads every time I log online. My mom is the only one I have chatted with online in months. (And she rarely does that.)

All my old online acquaintances and friends have stopped (or mostly stopped) logging into AIM or other clients, and instead spend their time Facebooking and Tweeting. Every single one of them. This is even true of my real life best friend. We used to chat online several times a week. Now if I want to talk to her I have to call her on the phone. Which seems like a technological step backwards. She’s still online a lot, just not on AIM.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Facebook is great for keeping in touch with family and friends, and for tracking down people you knew years ago. Twitter is good for quickly sending out brief opinions or news. (From what I know of it anyway, I’ve never actually used it.) Blogs are great for limited discussions around a specific topic.

But social networking platforms completely fail when it comes to true conversation. By design, it is a one-way form of communication. The “speaker” broadcasts a statement and others wander by at various times and read it. A few may choose to respond and broadcast their own statement. While two or more people may be online at the same time and engage in some amount of back-and-forth, it’s a stunted imitation of dialogue.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to say that I miss the “good old days.” The shift, while dramatic, was not overnight. It was a slow transition, which means things changed before people even realize on a conscious level that they have indeed changed. People have adapted to the new way of doing things and I wonder if they even give any thought to what they have lost. Or do they even think they have lost anything? I don’t know.

I’ve lost something. It’s a pretty safe bet I won’t be driving downtown or hopping on a plane to visit someone from a blog or Facebook wall. I miss all those long, deeply absorbing conversations. There is a void in my loner-style social life. And I’m feeling kinda bummed about that.

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Lezzie Books Update

I’ve done some more updating to my Lezzie Books section (tab at the top of this page) for lesbian book reviews:

I added the publisher’s book descriptions to all existing reviews.

I created a Lezzie Books History page. The link to it is near the top of the Lezzie Books page. This will provide a running update history to make it easy to see if any new reviews have been added since a previous visit.

I added two book reviews that were accidentally left out when I was originally setting everything up. Click the link to the history page above to access them.

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