Thursday, March 18, 2004

Inaccuracy Is No Friend

In case any of you missed it, what with stocking up for St. Patrick's Day and what-not, Albert Einstein would have turned 125 last Sunday. It brought back some memories for me. As often happens when I am experiencing memories they bump up against current thoughts, and I feel the need to talk.

What brings back memories is the fact that 25 years ago I happened to be loafing at the Swiss Polytechnic, Albie's old grad school, and I witnessed the Polytechnic's celebration of his centennial. Boy the fireworks and the huge dance party were terrific.

I just lied for the fun of it. There were no fireworks and huge dance party for Einstein's 100th birthday. Einstein was the Poly's most famous graduate by far, but they didn't seem to care very much. One of the Poly's Jewish professors told me it was because Einstein had been Jewish. He insisted that it was not a sign of rabid Anti-Semitism; it was merely a lack of enthusiasm for Jewish-ness that was involved. "Besides," he said, "Einstein was German, not Swiss." Ah, labels.

One of the things we "editors" of Real Change do to prove our editorship is to read over these things the week after they come out and discuss them. We call it "issue review." We feel as though the papers are our babies, but when we see our newborns we are often shocked at the sight of her chin or the number of her toes.

Sometimes the shock is ongoing. Like when I see each new StreetWatch for the first time. It always makes me wince.

It isn't Emma Quinn's fault. Emma draws the material from police reports and can't and shouldn't edit them much. I wouldn't want her to; it's valuable to see how the police write these things up. It gives us all an important view into that world. But I never get used to it.

It's the roll call of the cast that mostly bothers me. Last issue we had: a transient Native American male, a homeless White female, a transient White male, a transient Black male, a White female, a transient Black male, and a transient Asian male, in that order. Run for your lives! We're surrounded by transients!

No wait, it's not that bad. My dictionary says that transients are people who are only staying for a short time, like an itinerant laborer or a temporary guest. It comes from the Latin for "one passing through." So presumably 5 of the 7 of our StreetWatch subjects are passing through Seattle. Maybe they're from Cleveland.

Run for your lives! We're surrounded by Clevelandites!

Or not. Turns out that by "transient" the police just mean "homeless." So the three times I was homeless in Seattle I would have been called transient, even though I'm from here.

But is the mislabeling right, even if it is consistent? And when it happens to be accurate, is it called for?

In the mid-eighties one of the dailies surveyed their readers and found that more than 50 percent came to this area within the previous 15 years. If that's the case with the general population, why stigmatize the homeless for their geographic mobility?

And what do they mean, transient Asian male? Am I to believe he was born there -- like Einstein was born in Germany, to be forever German, regardless of citizenship –- or am I to think he has Asian ancestry but is as American as I am, like most of the so-called "Asians" in this city?

My best friend in high school was Japanese-American. His father fought for his country, this one, in WWII, with the famous 442nd Combat Regiment. If my friend or his children were now homeless they would be "Asians" in our police reports. Such inaccuracy can't do any good in the long run.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Wes and Kirkpatrick Kissing In a Tree...

A couple of days ago fellow "editor" Michele "I'm Back and I'm Bossy!" Marchand suggested that I write about that film City Without a Home that Adam Holdorf reviewed last issue. I saw City Without a Home myself (I like to call it Film Without a Clue) and Michele and I are in absolute agreement that it would be a good thing if I derided the film in a civil and thoughtful manner.

Unfortunately, in order to do that up right I would have to recap for you all what the film is about. I would have to tell how the filmmakers lived at Tent City 3 for eight days and interviewed a bunch of residents there. Then I would have to get all detailed and picky about why I thought the treatment was biased beyond belief. This would entail my remembering that fact to myself and raising my blood pressure.

I've done that too much lately. My whole last column was written in a pissy fit. I need to talk about something that amuses me. So, let's talk about recent constitutional amendment proposals!

One constitutional amendment proposal was recently in the news as California Governor Schwarzenegger backed the movement to allow foreign-born people to be president. Now, I'm all in favor of such an amendment, in spite of the fact that if it had passed in 1963 it would have allowed Barry Goldwater (who was born in the Gadsen Purchase) to have become president and I might not have enjoyed that. But if Schwarzenegger really wants the amendment to be passed, shouldn't he lie low about it? Does it really advance his cause to scare everyone with the prospect of a President Schwarzenegger?

I say let's annex Austria BEFORE we let that happen, OK?

But the amusing amendment for all time has got to be the one you knew I was going to bring up. That would be the amendment, currently being discussed in the House, intended to ban same-sex marriages. That would be the amendment of which arch-conservative James J. Kilpatrick has said, "This mean-spirited and bigoted resolution spits in the face of freedom." Me and James are in bed together on this one, ready to pick out a ring. OK, Anitra, just kidding. But seriously, I am a conservative today. Is that amusing, or what?

The amendment, in the form it is being considered in Congress, is called the Musgrave Amendment after its sponsor, Republican Congressperson Marilyn Musgrave. Its authors include lawyer Matt Daniels, who grew up with one mother and no father and doesn't want that to happen to anybody else and thinks this gets him somewhere with that, and Robert Bork, who might have been a Supreme Court Justice if the Senate hadn't freaked when they found out what a fruitcake he was. We now get to see just how right they were. That was some bullet we dodged.

You know your constitutional amendment sucks when legal scholars already can't figure out what it really means, not a hundred years after enacted, but even when it's proposed. Here it is: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the Constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

The authors say the intent in the second sentence is not to ban civil unions but only to keep courts from mandating them, while allowing state legislatures to decide the issue. But in fact what they have written allows local officials everywhere to defy state laws altogether!

Let's say this amendment passed and say I ran for mayor of Seattle and won. Know what my first act in office would be? Quoting the Musgrave Amendment I would ban all marriages in Seattle. If gays and lesbians can't marry, I would say, then in the interest of equality nobody can. And the Musgrave Amendment would grant me the right to do that, because it says no state law can require marital status to be conferred on anyone who isn't already married!

Q. What reason does Marilyn Musgrave give for opposing same-sex marriages? A. None! She says she's a representative, not a minister, so she shouldn't discuss that! Is that a hoot, or what?