Friday, January 27, 2006

Optical Illusions

Yesterday I posted my “weekly” Internet sites (okay, so I don’t always get them up every week. Sue me.). I find most legal sites sort of boring, frankly, so a long time ago I started choosing three sites at a time: one legal, one practical, and one fun.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on domestic abuse, so I went in that direction. I chose a site that has Georgia domestic-abuse statutes, and I chose a site that gives warning signs of domestic violence. Then I got to the “fun” part. Well, there’s nothing even slightly fun about domestic violence, so it took a while to find a site that was fun without taking away from the seriousness of the subject at hand.

What I found was a really cool site with hundreds of optical illusions. It wasn’t until much later that day that I realized just how closely the subject of optical illusions ties in with domestic violence.

An optical illusion is an illusion of perception. As one who has been a victim of domestic violence, I know about that illusion thing, and it’s a bad business. No doubt there’s some evolutionary advantage to seeing things with rose-colored glasses, but like many evolutionary modifications, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. You can’t see what everyone else can see: that the person you’re with is hurting you. You see good intentions, sincere efforts, and the person as s/he once was –or was that an illusion, too?

Domestic violence does differ from optical illusions, though, in a profound way. With optical illusions, once you can see the object as it really is, that more realistic perception tends to be permanent. Not true for victims of abuse, though – at least, not for me. One day I’d see two faces, and the next I’d see a vase. Only during rare moments of clarity – or after a therapy session – was I able to see that both the faces and the vase were present.

Even today, I am unable to remember what was really happening. It’s just a fact I know, the way I know John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln, and the way I know that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not connected to my heart. When I have to speak to my abuser, and I frequently do, I often find myself remembering only the good intentions, the sincere efforts, and the person as he once was (and seems to be again). And it wasn’t an illusion…I don’t think.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cruel, but not so unusual, I'm afraid...

I don't often write on the topic of abortion, because I have very, very mixed feelings about it. But I have no mixed feelings about a bit of proposed legislation currently making its way through the Georgia legislature.

Senate Bill 429, introduced by State Senator Nancy Schaefer, would require clinics to administer an ultrasound or sonogram before performing an abortion, and to offer the woman a chance to view the ultrasound. Note that the performance of an ultrasound itself is mandatory, whether or not the woman "chooses" to see it.

Proponents of the bill, of course, say that such a requirement wouldn't put a burden on women who choose to have an abortion. The sponsor of the bill, though, wrote this in a recent editorial:

According to Connie Ambrecht, president of the group Sonogram Now, "65 percent to 75 percent of women seeing an ultrasound of their unborn baby choose life." Most women cannot believe their child is so developed.

The ultrasound and the sonogram provide a window to the womb. With all the adequate information made available, women are empowered to make the right decision concerning abortion.

Now, isn't that nice. What would we do without people like Nancy to help us make the "right" decision?

Of the women I know who have had to make this terribly difficult decision, not one needed Nancy's help to take the decision seriously. Not one made the decision without a great deal of soul-searching.

Some chose abortion because they knew they would receive no support from society once the baby was born. If Senator Schaefer is really interested in preventing abortion, maybe she should concentrate on making sure mothers have the support they need after the baby is born. Or better yet, make it easier to get contraception.

But that, of course, would be inconsistent with a political stance that is much more about religion than it is about life.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Mental Librarian

She roams the stacks at night in the old college library. Every night, the same sounds are noted by the janitor: heavy shoes shuffling on worn floors, followed by a book sliding onto a metal shelf. Shuffle. Book. Shuffle. Book.

Sometimes, students see her in a window as they pass through the commons. She seems to be pushing something – a book cart? Rarely, a student sees her just after the library opens. It’s always someone studious, as if the woman’s appearance is a gift to a fellow booklover.

She’s known on campus as the Mental Librarian, and she’s appeared so many times that few doubt her existence. Out loud, at least.

When the sightings began, the library director called the police, who took statements from the six people who had seen her. The descriptions differed wildly except for two features on which everyone agreed: the Mental Librarian had glasses and wore her hair in a bun.

Since that description fit nearly all the librarians working there, the police dropped their investigation and they haven’t paid much attention since. Now and then a freshman sees the Mental Librarian and calls the campus police. The officer sends a squad car, but by then the Mental Librarian, like Elvis, has left the building.

The most complete account of the Mental Librarian comes from two students who, twenty years ago, spent the night on separate floors of the library as part of a fraternity hazing. At various times during the night, both heard the sounds so familiar to the janitor. One of the men saw a shadowy figure with spectacles and a bun approach a door with a sign reading “DO NOT OPEN – ALARM WILL SOUND.” She opened and shut the door three times in succession. Then she laughed and walked away. The other student heard the three alarms. Neither man ever entered the library again.

Over time, speculation over the Mental Librarian’s identity has become a favorite topic at freshman mixers. Many believe she is the ghost of Mrs. Beatrice Laticia Crumbottom, the former head librarian. Mrs. Crumbottom was brutally murdered in the second-floor stairwell by a student whom she “shushed” one too many times. But the murder occurred many years before the Mental Librarian first appeared.

Then there are those who think she’s quite human, and quite alive. These students (mostly majors in Medieval Studies) believe the librarians themselves are behind the specter. When it’s pointed out that the Mental Librarian has been around for forty years, and the oldest librarian has been there for only twenty-two, they posit that reference librarians are part of an ancient society whose members pass treasured information from one generation to the next. But for what purpose?

And the librarians, what do they have to say? If they know the truth about the Mental Librarian, they’re not saying. The Order requires them, after all, to guard their patrons’ secrets.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Move Over, Wingnuts...

…The Subversive Librarian is forced to sit with you for a moment. Sigh. Big sigh.

The case: a teenage girl who was expelled from a private Christian school in Loganville, Georgia, for kissing her girlfriend off-campus during a slumber party. Her father is suing the school for one million dollars for breach of contract.

Now let me say, first of all, that I have not seen the complaint. I am just going on news accounts. So I'm the first to admit that I don’t have all the facts.

Second, you have no idea how much it pains me to have to side with the bad guys in this case. But I’ve seen the consequences of bad litigation. You see, I was lucky enough to clerk for a federal appeals judge after law school. Among the cases I worked on were two sexual harassment cases, only one of which had merit.

Unfortunately, my judge had been so jaded by meritless cases that I couldn’t get him to take a closer look at the one that was wrongly decided. This woman had lost at trial. Her defeat was affirmed, and she never got the remedy she deserved.

And therein lies the problem. Meritless lawsuits have consequences. For one thing, they make it harder for legitimate plaintiffs to get a fair hearing. For another, they increase the possibility of setting bad precedent.

But isn’t the whole point of the court to help us enforce our rights? Yes, indeed. But if lawsuits are not brought prudently, and we end up with a bad outcome, we run the risk of moving backward instead of forward.

Take Brown v. Board of Education, for example. Brown is the landmark case in which the Supreme Court declared segregation – and the whole concept of “separate but equal” – unlawful. But that decision came only after many years of carefully chosen lawsuits designed to advance case law in very small increments until the Supreme Court had no choice to take it the rest of the way. . (For a fascinating account of the strategy that culminated in Brown, read Simple Justice by Richard Kluger. It’s long, but well worth the effort.)

That’s just what LGBT civil-rights attorneys are trying to do now, which is why Lambda Legal has asked us to think very carefully before suing someone over gay-rights issues:

…a few same-sex couples have raised the possibility of filing lawsuits to make sure their marriages are respected. Litigating over your marriage is a huge decision that may affect the whole LGBT community. Occasionally, it’s the right thing to do. It can also have serious negative consequences for your family and other LGBT couples. “We Got Married in Canada, What’s Next? A Marriage Guide for Newlyweds,” available at

So what does all that have to do with a teenager getting expelled over a kiss? Unfortunately, everything. Recall the facts: The student, a 13-year-old girl, was expelled for violating a policy in the school’s handbook that prohibits “sexual immorality” even off school property. The girl’s lawyer says that the provision is too vague to be enforced, especially since the handbook doesn’t expressly mention same-sex kissing. Therefore, he reasons, the school violated its contract with the student by expelling her for something she couldn’t know was prohibited.

Is the school’s policy toward same-sex relationships intolerant and mean-spirited? Sure it is. Was the school wrong to expel the student? Of course. But being morally right isn’t enough to justify a lawsuit.

For one thing, the girl’s argument is a stretch, factually. She’s in a Christian school and it didn’t occur to her that a lesbian kiss might be considered ‘sexually immoral’? Not likely. Just the fact that the handbook mentioned sexual immorality should have been enough to put her on notice.

But the case has more disturbing implications. It requires a court to decide (or tell a jury to decide) the meaning of sexual immorality. Even if the student wins, that’s bad for the LGBT community, because it makes sexual immorality a state issue. And that’s what got us into trouble in the first place.

Even if you eliminate the risk of setting bad precedent (after all, most cases settle out of court and most court opinions aren’t published), I have to hope the girl’s father loses. Why? Because this is a private school. A religious school. I may abhor the policy that got the girl expelled, but if the government can tell the school today who it can’t expel, it’s a very small step to interfering in our own religious rights tomorrow. No, best to leave bad policy to the wingnuts. If we want freedom of religion, then we must be prepared for the consequences when others do, too.

The school was wrong to expel the student, and I wish her only the best. But any way you slice this cheese, it’s seriously stinky.

Click here for the news story.

Monday, January 16, 2006

She's Fun, She's Fabulous, She's...

...The Hot Librarian, and she's been nominated for Best of Blog in the humor category. And she deserves it. Take a look, and if you agree, vote for her right on her very own site. Ok, I'm not saying she wants your vote, but she has sure has made it convenient for you, hasn't she?

Anyway, vote for The Hot Librarian. And not just because she's a librarian. Although I have no doubt whatsoever that she's hot. Just sayin'.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Dark Memeries

A few days ago I was memed by Brian -- this time to show my darker side. Ummm.... Not sure I want to let you peek all the way in there, but here are the five bad habits he requested.

1. I am an accomplished procrastinator, especially when it comes to making phone calls or writing something I think will be hard. I could try to sugarcoat it and tell you it's because I work better under pressure, but the fact is, it's usually a fear thing. And the fear has to do with coming face to face either with me or with someone else. There's nothing scarier than a blank page that I'm supposed to fill up something intelligent.

2. I'm a terrible slob. This comes as no surprise to people who know me. It's not the best characteristic for a librarian to have, I've found.

3. My wife says I have a bad attitude. Awww, what the hell does she know?

4. I'm terrible with money. At least, when I don't have much. I'm a lot better when I have plenty. Which, because I'm so terrible with money, isn't very often. Hmmm. Something circular going on there....

5. I have terrible eating habits. Although a group of dear friends (you know who you are!) may have just stepped up to assist me with that, thank goodness.

Now.... If you're reading this, and you want to play at home, consider yourself tagged. What are your bad habits? If you're not a blogger, feel free to post your answers here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A War by Any Other Name...

It's always nice when someone else finishes a job that I started. Consider, for example, my previous examination of the "war on Christmas." As you may recall, I did a little preliminary research to see whether Christians are really being discriminated against. I did so because people I respect seemed to be jumping on the war-on-Christmas bandwagon. Upon my initial investigation it seemed to me, although I didn't say so at the time, that Christianity was sitting pretty even in places like Target where the wingnuts were drawing the battle lines.

Now Bark/Bite has written an excellent piece on the war on Christianity. After reading his thoughtful, albeit ascerbic, post, I am taking the "war on Christianity" off my investigative to-do list.

When anyone is truly being discriminated against on the basis of their religion, I hope I'll be right there fighting by their side. The fact is, though, the "War on Christianity" is a cleverly disguised war being waged by fundamentalist anti-others against every style of religion except their own. These anti-others -- who, by the way, are waging war on a lot of Christians themselves -- are simply choosing a term for their war that they hope will disarm their enemies (i.e. anyone who respects diversity), and draw people to their side who would otherwise see through their lies. It's the stuff that marketing dreams are made of.

Well, all righty, then. If it's really a war you want, folks, there are plenty of us who can accommodate you. But I'll be fighting with the other side.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Goodbye, Gnome

We used to have a gnome in front of our house. Zeze got him from a friend. He looked ceramic but he was actually some kind of new-wave plastic. Indeed, he was a new-wave sort of gnome because he had his foot perched on a soccer ball. Zeze and I never quite figured this out.

We liked our gnome. He had character. On the way home, the tip of his cap broke off, so he had a hole in his head. We thought about getting him a little umbrella so he wouldn’t get rained in, but we just put him under the carport instead.

A few days after we moved into the lake house somebody broke some light bulbs and various odds and ends around our property, and broke the gnome’s soccer ball off. Which, I have to say, was an improvement. We just stood him up and let him go back to his gnomish ways.

Eventually, we came to love our gnome. Every night when we came home from work, there he was waiting for us. And Zeze and I would both cheerfully greet him with, “Hello, Gnome!” Well… I guess you had to be there. There are some things you just can’t explain.

So you can imagine our horror the other night when we got home and the gnome was gone! Nothing else was missing; just our broken, pseudoceramic, hole-in-the-head gnome.

Who on earth steals a broken gnome? Alas, there are some mysteries only G-d can explain.

Goodbye, Gnome.