Marriage equality for all

Where does California’s Proposition 8 stand today?

This is the proposition which in late 2008 amended the state constitution to assert that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Today I was lucky enough to attend a talk by James Gilliam, the Deputy Executive Director for ACLU of Southern California. He gave a lucid, fascinating, and inspiring account of the history and current situation.

California is unique because it is the only state in which same-sex couples *did* have the right to marry (albeit briefly) before it was taken away. The question now is whether voters legally have the ability to take away that right, once established.

Last month, Judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a ruling that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment (equal protection) and therefore cannot stand. The ruling makes for some fascinating reading — it’s not as dry as you think it is. Effectively, the ruling says that the state of California has no interest (compelling need) to discriminate between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages, that Proposition 8 ultimately arises from a desire to impose one group’s moral view on another (which is not what laws are for), and that strict scrutiny (the highest level of skepticism) should be applied to any proposed law that would discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

From the ruling:

“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”

This is just one of the many justifications that Judge Walker provided for his decision. In contrast, Prop 8 proponents have argued that it doesn’t infringe on any rights because gays can still legally marry… they just have to marry someone of the opposite sex. Sophistry at its best!

Proponents of Prop 8 have filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court. It turns out that in an appeal, the superior court does not review the facts and testimony to reach an independent decision; instead, the court focuses solely on whether the preceding judge misapplied the law. Another interesting aspect of this appeal is that it may not actually happen, because there may not be anyone with proper legal standing to bring the appeal. “Standing” is given only to those who are named in the original suit, with some exceptions. The defendants of Prop 8 named in the suit include Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown, both of whom have publicly stated that they want Prop 8 to go away, and that they refuse to take on the appeal. (They are automatically named as defendants because in their positions they are charged with enforcement of the laws.) The Prop 8 folks who defended it before Judge Walker are permitted to bring the original suit, but likely not to appeal, because they are not named (they stepped in to represent that side because the government declined) and they have experienced no “impairment” caused by Judge Walker’s decision. We’ll find out in December whether the 9th Circuit Court thinks there’s anyone with standing who’s willing to argue for Prop 8. If not, Judge Walker’s decision will remain as is.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the issue will go away. California’s proposition system permits its voters to keep putting the same issue on the ballot, year after year. So even though Prop 8 has been declared unconstitutional, someone can write “Prop 8.1”, get enough signatures, and put it back on the ballot to revise the constitution all over again. If it passes, I guess that means it has to cycle through the courts again. I’m just appalled at this wasteful nonsense, and I hope that in reality this wouldn’t actually be permitted. Surely there’s some additional check against abuse of the proposition system? Please save California from itself!

Yes, you can fly with knitting needles

I get this question all the time on planes: “They let you bring your knitting needles onboard?”

Yes, despite the curious, tangled, and sometimes ridiculous state of TSA rules about what you can and cannot put in your carry-on luggage, it is perfectly acceptable to bring knitting needles. According to TSA rules:

Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage.

Items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside which cannot go through the checkpoint and must go in your checked baggage.

Apparently some knitters have taken to carrying this page as a printout with them to security lines, due to inconsistent knowledge of the rules on the part of TSA personnel. I’ve never had a problem with my knitting needles (bamboo or metal) nor the one-inch scissors I bring for snipping thread. (I forgot these scissors exactly once and spent 10 minutes on a plane gnawing through yarn to cut it. I had no idea how resilient yarn is to teeth!)

I think the curiosity about knitting needles arises from the general confusion about the logic behind TSA rules. What is it about 3 ounces of fluid that makes it suddenly safe? Why are matches permitted in carry-on luggage but banned from checked luggage? Why is a pair of 3-inch-long scissors permitted but a 2-inch Swiss Army knife banned?

Another outcome of these rules is that it gets people’s creative juices flowing. If my airplane seatmates are any sample, people who would never have thought to attack anyone with a knitting needle suddenly offer, “But you could stab someone’s eye out! You could get them in the throat!” And of course, since my current needles are bamboo, some immediately conceive of sticking them under fingernails for torture. A reality check reveals how ineffective such attacks would likely be due to the dull nature of knitting needle points, but ultimately it just reminds everyone how any household object could be used to inflict some kind of damage, if wielded by a sufficiently motivated human.

At what point do the TSA rules themselves become an instrument of terror?

Sprechen sie Geocache?

Every group of hobbyists develops its own jargon, which can be fascinating to examine. The invented words and coinages reveal something about the habits, attitudes, and passions of the group, whether or not you know or care about the hobby.

Take for example GeoLex, the geocaching lexicon. As a novice geocacher (really just a geoseeker), I’m peripherally aware of the geocaching culture, but I keep stumbling across unfamiliar abbreviations and cryptic terms in the cache logs at So I welcomed the chance to learn some more of the lingo—and some of them are pretty funny.

For example, there’s a type of cache called a “mystery cache”, in which the true coordinates of the cache are not posted but instead you must figure them out. (I call these “puzzle caches” because usually you have to solve some sort of puzzle first, which only adds to the fun!) In fact, I recently tackled my first puzzle cache, called “Stargazer’s Delight”. To get the coordinates, you must “decode” a series of images of stellar nebulae, clusters, and galaxies. Totally awesome puzzle! I actually solved it, but then ran out of time hunting for the cache itself! It was in a creekside forest and there were about a billion perfect places for a cache, which I would have loved to thoroughly investigate. Well, maybe next time I’m in Sydney I can try again.

At any rate, apparently some folks get frustrated with this sort of cache, yet still want to claim a find for it. Thus has come into being the term “battleshipping”, in which you try to indirectly pinpoint the puzzle cache without solving the puzzle. You do this by attempting to place caches of your own in the general vicinity (which is usually given by the fake coordinates of the puzzle cache). The gods of prevent two caches from being placed closer than 528 feet (161 m) together. So if you try to place a cache too close to the “true” cache location, your cache should be rejected. I don’t know if this actually works (GeoLex claims that cache reviewers will notice this kind of behavior and flag it), but the term makes me laugh.

I also laughed when I learned that the zig-zag path of the final approach to a cache is called the geocacher’s drunken bee dance. So apt!

Because this is the Internet, geocaching acronyms are numerous. There’s the well motivated CITO (cache-in-trash-out), GZ (ground zero, where the cache is), FTF (the person first-to-find a cache), TFTC (“thanks for the cache!”), DNF (“did not find :(“), and TNLNSL (“took nothing, left nothing, signed log”) — because one of the fun aspects of geocaching can be to find “loot” in the cache and swap it for some of your own. Me, I get enough fun out of just finding the thing. :)

And of course, there’s TOTT, which is what sent me hunting for a lexicon in the first place. It stands for “tool of the trade”, which apparently can be any sort of tool needed to access or open the cache. Not knowing ahead of time which tool is needed adds to the challenge.

But my favorite acronym (which I just now learned!) is YAPIDKA: Yet Another Park I Didn’t Know About. One of the greatest things about this hobby is that it leads you to little nooks you might never have discovered otherwise—sometimes in your own hometown!