28 March 2009


Salaries of LGBT Organization Leaders

The Washington Blade has published a compilation, here, of the 25 largest salaries for CEOs or Executive Directors of LGBT organizations. There are a few that seem out of line, but the bulk are consistent with median compensation for similar community-focused non-profit organizations.

But.... If those are the top 25 and a good chunk of those are consistent with the averages for the larger set, that means that those in the bottom N–25 are getting paid below average relative to comparative organizations. Not terribly surprising.

If I had a spreadsheet of the data, I'd divide the compensation by number of employees. By eye, it looks like the Log Cabin Republican lead takes home the largest bucks per staffer. Even less surprising.

Hat tip: Ron Buckmire.

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24 March 2009


Ada Lovelace Day

"I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same."—The Ada Lovelace Day manifesto.

Tamela Trauth is an alumna of the ERAUDaytona Beach Computer Engineering program. She graduated in fall 2004, and then went to work for Soneticom down in Brevard County.

She's just something else: Loud, exciting, full of life, full of curiosity for how the world is, for how things work, for how things are to be made to do what we want them to. I have had few students who have given me as much joy as she has in her no-holds-barred approach to life, love, and learning. If I could take some small fraction of the devotion she gave toward succeeding in our program and gives towards accomplishment in her job and towards happiness in her life and instill those in any random group of students, I would have a cohort that could change the world almost overnight.

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22 March 2009


Jury Duty

As some of my Facebook friends know, I had jury duty this past Friday. My first time. I had been called to jury duty twice previously, once while living in Boston and once while living in Daytona Beach, but had never ended up on a jury.

The trial involved failure of a sex offender to register where he lived. Florida law requires registered sex offenders to report a change of a permanent or temporary address within 48 hours of moving. It defines permanent address as somewhere on "abides, lodges, or resides" for five consecutive days, and temporary address as the same for five aggregate days in a calendar year.

The prosecution's case was originated with a state's attorney who had alerted authorities to the defendant's not having registered. In that witness's story, the defendant and his brother had done work for the witness in exchange for each of them having a place to stay at first one then another property that the witness owned. The prosecution called two Daytona Beach police officers and one deputy sheriff to support that claim.

The defense stated that the defendant had done the work so that his girlfriend (or, "old lady," as the defendant referred to her while testifying) could live at the state's attorney's property. The defense called the defendant's brother-in-law who owned a house the defendant had registered as his address, a roommate there (of unclear relationship to the brother-in-law), the girlfriend, and the defendant.

Bottom line: The girlfriend ended up testifying that the defendant was at the alternative address that had never been registered pretty much all the time; i.e., he was abiding there, so we found him guilty.

But.... It was messy. The prosecution's case, by itself, would not have been enough for conviction. The state's attorney who reported the guy had served as the defendant's attorney on a prior unrelated charge, so there was more to that witness's and the defendant's relationship than was introduced in direct testimony. (That came out from the documentary evidence of prior convictions which both sides had stipulated be introduced.)

And.... The deliberations were messier. We had one person who wanted to convict the defendant based almost solely on the fact that he was a convicted sex offender, without much regard for the facts of this case. We had one individual who'd just repeat, "this is hard," and "I don't know," over and over again. We had one individual who'd say to the "this is hard" person, "let's just agree he's guilty and get out of here." We had one individual who couldn't seem to come to any kind of focus regarding the evidence, flitting from one piece to another, from one reason witness X was lying to another reason that same witness had to be telling the truth. Our foreperson was a quiet individual who pretty much let these folks and myself have our runs, but shared pretty much my perspective that the facts, as established largely through the direct testimony of the girlfriend, as well as some of what she said during cross-examination, did support the prosecution's case beyond a reasonable doubt.

It left me in a bad position: I'm not a huge fan of the way the sex-offender registration is applied well beyond the class of people who are overwhelmingly likely to engage in repeat child rape or child molestation to include a broad swatch of unpopular sexual behaviors like prostitution clients and Larry-Craig bathroom cruisers. (The defendant had been convicted of a sexual offense involving a child, but there was no information as to whether that was a six year old or a seventeen year old, so who knows in this case. (Haven't looked it up.)) The prosecution was lousy: You'd've thought that the two prosecutors had watched the O.J. trial and thought that Marsha Clark had done a great job and ought to be emulated. Several times I noted to myself their inability to ask what would be a followup question that would actually clarify things. The defense wasn't much better, because it was the the girlfriend's response to the defense attorney's direct question that established that the defendant was pretty much at the address as stated in the charging information. Three of my five fellow jurors just seemed to have a less than serious understanding of their responsibilities as citizens, with one even saying, "Why can't they decide it? They've been to school for this."

Eventually (after several hours), flitting person decided that the girlfriend's testimony did establish the prosecution's charge beyond a reasonable doubt—and flitting person had wasted much time creating fantastic scenarios, largely based around motivations that one would never be able to determine whether true or not, that clearly did not meet the definition of reasonable doubt as provided in the judge's instructions—and the two other agreed, for whatever reasons, so we came to the unanimous guilty verdict.

The defendant: A poor shmoo. A guy who's been in prison previously, who may spend much of the rest of his life in prison, off and on. The kind of person who'll likely never be far from the reach of the justice system. And yet, someone who, although presumed innocent at the get go, had beyond any reasonable doubt, done what was alleged in the charging information. Ugh.

In the selection process, they asked us about whether juries could disobey the judge's instructions, could form their own opinion about what the law should be. I noted that some believed that juries could do just that, recalling after the fact that the far right fringe calls this "jury nullification." That gave me much to think about from the time we were selected on Monday until the trial on Friday.

I came to the personal conclusion that the system we have, where legislators make the law, where trial judges instruct juries as to what that law is, and where appellate courts determine whether the law is correct within its constitutional framework and whether it was applied correctly by the trial judge and jurors, is probably as good as it's going to get. I disagree with my many of my fellow citizens on their idea that judges have no role in determining whether laws as adopted by the legislature are constitutional or not; i.e., I believe that judicial review is entirely appropriate, and I reject the broad claim that judges determining that the civil rights of an individual or class of individuals have been infringed are "legislating from the bench." Bunk. They're respecting rights enumerated in the US Constitution, the constitutions of the states, and in statute and in case law.

After participating as a juror in this case I am even more firmly convinced that a jury, in and of itself, cannot decide what is and isn't law. It's tough enough to decide whether the facts of the case are as established by the prosecution or refuted by the defense. I'd hate to be having a failure of imagination, but I find the prospect of six or twelve or twenty-three randomly selected citizens having the wherewithal to decide what is and isn't appropriate law highly unlikely, especially after years of our educational system being intentionally neglected in the areas of civics and history. For crying out loud, our somewhat vetted through elections legislators don't have a particularly strong record of clearly adopting good laws, sometimes adopting awful ones.

So, in a nation that is ostensibly a nation of laws, I accept that the role of the jury in a criminal trial is to follow the judge's instructions and decide the evidence as to the facts of the case and as to whether those facts establish the case beyond a reasonable doubt, even when the law in question is less than perfect, or where the system is, in some sense, rigged in a way that a certain class of individuals once they fall into that system's orbit, will likely never escape.

So.... It wasn't a jump-up-and-down day. It was overall sobering, leaving me more knowledgeable about my own elitist attitudes (toward several of my less than serious and less than thoughtful fellow jurors) and my own alignment to a larger degree than I'd imagined with the existing regime of civil authority.

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17 March 2009


Happy Saint Patrick's Day

From all sides of my family tree:

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Medium Review: Cinema: Watchmen

I'm no literary scholar. I don't claim to understand postmodernism and what "deconstruction" really means. I have a few ideas about such, but they're likely half-baked. I do know that some refer the graphic novel Watchmen as a postmodern work that "deconstructs the comic book idiom." Not anyone's exact quotation that I know of, but not far off from several descriptions I've, you've, likely read.

I read it many moons ago, in the late 1980s. I used to put my name and the place and date of purchase in books, and my copy says "Tim Wilson // Cambridge, Massachusetts // 28 NOV 87," so likely I gave it to myself as a birthday present that year. And I liked it immediately, for its surface-level plot with its pirate-comic story within a story; for its oh-so-complete story world—which just so happens to be our world, excepting one where Nixon is still President; where there have been costumed heros, currently outlawed; and where there is one super being resulting from a freak scientific accident— for its oh-so-complete sense of how that world looks; and for the added pseudoartifacts from that world that complete each chapter (individual funny book).

I thought the trailers for the flick looked awesome from the get go, and I awaited the movie's appearance. I'm 52: I hardly run and see movies the first day of release any more, but I do like to catch 'em in the theater. And through the miracle of spring break, I finally got to see Watchmen today, in a theater with four other people.

I thought it was wonderful, and I'm having a hard time understanding what all the grousing was about.

First, it looked fantastic. If Warren Beatty captured the look of the Sunday funnies down to the ink colors in Dick Tracy—and yes he did—then so did Zach Snyder in Watchmen. There's just little I could find to complain about visually. Yes, one could argue that it was a little too literal in using the comic as a storyboard for the movie, but there were so many arresting but integral images in the comic, one would shortchange the flick not to include them.

Second, it followed the surface-level plot pretty closely until the much discussed absence of the squid at the end (and I'm pretty sure that anyone who knows what "the squid" means already knows of its absence from the flick). The change of plot is quite crafty, even if it has been used in numerous Superman vs. Lex Luthor stories previously, albiet this time with a vastly different result. Yes, it lacks the Tales of the Dark Freighter comic within a comic, although the two Bernies do make an appearance, and sure that ensures it can't have some of the literary depth that the graphic novel does (although I am made to understand there is to be a DVD of Tales which will also include Behind the Mask by the original Night Owl; that is, both the sub-story and some artifacts. I also expect there will be an even longer "Director's Cut," which I can already imagine including the two Bernies, the shrink's wife, etc. If none of this matters to you, I'm telling you, it won't matter to your enjoyment of the movie, since it's just piling on details above and beyond the what's already there).

Third, it does for the super-hero movie much of what the original story in comic book / graphic novel form did for the comic book / graphic novel form. Snyder has been criticized for the gratuitous violence—and there was one instance I was happy to close my eyes and not see, but I don't much care for explicit depictions of violence or its results in movies or on TV (so someone please explain why I liked "CSI" so much)—and it is there, upfront, and accompanied by Foleys suggesting the breaking of bones and passage through skin of such. But, since none of the heroes in question excepting Dr. Manhattan, the super being created by the freak accident, really have super powers, then for them to engage in the action and adventure they do, they would have to be sufficiently strong to break bones, etc., in the course of conducting their masked-adventurer business. This, to me, is where Snyder gets it precisely right. To highlight the masked adventurers' superhuman strength and speed by changing the frame rate and by cranking up the sound effects is necessary, otherwise there's no distinction with what you see on Extreme Fighting.

The acting was just fine; complaints about Malin Akerman are overblown. Billy Crudup and Patrick Wilson are fine, and Jackie Earle Haley really is damned good.

We live in a cultural world where some were wanting The Dark Night to be nominated for best movie. Where its comic book story featuring a man who dresses up like a bat, another who has the face of a clown, and a third whose face is distorted by acid into a perfect split image, was taken as a Serious Metaphor worthy of Serious Thought about Serious Times by some Serious People. No doubt, it was a fun flick, very exciting, with some good performances (one particularly thought provoking for its ethereal portrayal of real nihilism), but it was not a particularly deep reflection on government abuses, wiretapping, torture, or whether the Batman should break his code and kill the Joker. It was fairly true to its source, averaged over the years, and a good entertainment.

Watchmen is sufficiently over-the-top—in its violence, in its sole sex scene (and the Leonard Cohen is appropriately ridiculous, not to be taken seriously, which I think many have missed), in its truth to a story where mass-murder is intrinsic—to take the super-hero movie apart, show its pieces (not unlike those of a disassembled watch), and put them back together again. Like its source, it provokes the thought about what a near omnipotent being who had once been human might do in this world, about how madness and purposeful direction coexist within one being, about how megalomania might delay the end of the world, about how nearly ordinary folks muddle through the days making tough moral decisions, and about how in the end, nothing ever ends. It is a good piece of cinema, and it is a good entertainment.

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16 March 2009


Featured Photo

The online version of Smithsonian's Air and Space Magazine is featuring my photo below. Right now. Go look, here, to see the thumbnail on the front page, and here to see their photo with the blurb. It's STS-126, Shuttle Endeavour, as seen from the parking lot of the Lehman Building at ERAU where my office is.

Shuttle Endeavour (II)

After corresponding with one of their editors, I'm not sure it was post-SRB (was tired and on a plane when writing my reply). The main engines glow blue, if I recall correctly; the SRBs, orange. If I did misidentify the time into flight, I apologize for any misinformation.

Yes, some of you reading this have seen this already by e-mail or on Facebook. What, you think I should keep quiet about this? I'm tickled.



Woo. Scary.

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14 March 2009


Yesterday's Whigs, Yesterday's Democrats; Today's Democrats, Today's Republicans

From, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, by Michael Burlingame, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, pp. 71–72, discussing Lincoln's first run for elective office as candidate for the Illinois legislature in 1832.
He rejected the Jacksonian creed, which The Democratic Review summarized in 1938: "As little government as possible; that little emanating from, and controlled by, the people; and uniform in its application to all." Democrats in general believed that the only assertive action that the federal government should undertake was aggressive foreign expansionism. Whigs, on the other hand, favored positive government. A leading Whig spokesman, Horace Greely of the New York Tribune, explained in 1845, " 'THE COMMONWEALTH' is the term best expressing the Whig idea of a State or Nation, and our philosophy regards a Government with hope and confidence, as an agency of the community through which vast and beneficent ends may be accomplished," unlike the Democrats, who regard government "with distrust and aversion, as an agency mainly of corruption, oppression, and robbery." The "great fundamental principle" of Whiggery, Greely declared, was that "government is not merely a machine for making war and punishing felons, but is bound to do all that is fairly within its power to promote the welfare of the people—that its legitimate scope is not merely negative, repressive, defensive, but is also affirmative, creative, constructive, beneficent."

Lincoln shared the Whig vision. He argued that the "legitimate object of government, is 'to do for the people whatever needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.' There are many such things—some of them exist independently of the injustice in the world. Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property are all instances."
The Democracy of 1832 described here sounds not too much unlike today's Republicans. "[U]niform in its application to all" persists with GOP/libertarian nonsense like flat tax ideas. "[E]manating and controlled by the people," is the kind of slogan that the GOP—and one great distinction with the Jacksonian Democracy is the now long-standing GOP intimacy with great wealth—and its reactionary conservative allies use to block progressive policies truer both to the Constitution and to the Declaration of Independence. And the most recent history of the GOP is nothing but one of a cohort that seeks to control government ostensibly because government is not to be trusted, when, in fact, they just want to get their greedy little hands on the levers of power.

The Obama presidency so far, and much of the New Democratic movement, has goals consistent with Greely's and Lincoln's statements of 1832 Whiggery. The concepts of The Commonwealth and communitarianism, that we are all in this together (even the wealthy GOP and their reactionary supporters/victims), and of government to promote material and social well being are rightfully enjoying leadership from the top and through much of the Democratic party, as well as support from large numbers of people throughout the USA, even in these tough economic times.

FWIW, Lincoln lost that first election, but went on to be elected to the Illinois legislature as a Whig in a heavily Democratic county largely on the strength of his personal integrity and trust in his individual judgment, not unlike the confidence some subset of Republicans rightly, in my opinion, place in President Obama, even as they disagree with him on some fundamental issues.

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