Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Letter to Texas Senator Bryan Hughes re: SB6, the bathroom bill

Dear Senator Hughes,

I see that you are a co-author of SB6. However, I am writing to express my strong opposition to this type of legislation.

On the practical side: It is a waste of time and money. It is unnecessary. It will not solve any "safety" problems that it is purported to be the solution to. It is unenforceable. Its backlash, as demonstrated in other states, will cause significant harm to the Texas economy.

Those are just the practical elements. But they pale beside the principles involved.

This type of legislation is a gross invasion of individual privacy. It is none of the government's business which bathroom anyone uses. Period.

Republicans continually campaign on platforms of "less-intrusive government," yet you and others continue to support this type of highly intrusive legislation.

I could go on, but I will not. I simply urge you to withdraw your support for this proposed legislation, and instead to oppose it strongly, both on practicality and on principle.

Ed Perrone

Great Texas Pee-In - March 7, 8:00am, Capitol Extension, E1.036, Austin (updated location!)

The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs has scheduled a hearing on the Texas "Bathroom Bill" (SB 6).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Room E1.036
(Senate Finance Room)
Capitol Extension
Austin, Texas 

I have visions of great crowds of people lining up to pee in the "wrong" bathrooms!!

Of course, if you can't do that, you CAN contact your senator and the committee members and tell them what a great waste of time (not to mention invasion of privacy) this is. This post has contact info.

Pee on!!

Note: Post edited on 3/3/17, as the Committee changed the location of the hearing. Perhaps they are expecting a big crowd....

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Texas "Bathroom Bill" referred to committee

Texas SB6, the Texas "bathroom bill," has been referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee. No date for a hearing has yet been set.

The Committee contact information, if you care to badger them, is:

Senate Committee on State Affairs (C570)
Clerk: Addison Reagan
Phone: (512) 463-0380
Room: SHB 380

Committee members are:

Vice Chair: Sen. Bryan Hughes
Links go to the senators' respective individual pages, which contains their individual contact info and an email form. Of course, if you contact them, it's probably helpful if you actually live in Texas....
Hopefully someone will pick up on The Great Texas Pee-In, to be held on the date of the committee hearing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Texas "Bathroom Bill" - Go Pee in the "Wrong" Bathroom!

Reddit: Shdiggy
So... They are planning to introduce one of those "bathroom bills" in the Texas Legislature. The bill number is SB 6. You can read it here.

Here is what I think should happen:

On the day the committee is holding a hearing on the bill, everyone should show up at the state capitol, and line up to pee in the "wrong" bathroom. Thousands and thousands of people. All going into the "wrong" bathroom to take a leak.

If I were in Austin, I would organize it. But I'm not, so I need help to spread it around and get it going. Tell all your friends. Especially tell all your friends in Austin. Let's make this happen.

I will post the committee hearing date(s) when I have them.

Comment/follow/share this blog post to keep updated and to spread the word.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ho Votato "No"

My ballot for the Italian Constitutional Referendum,
before I marked it and sent it in.
A week after I voted in the U.S. presidential election, I sent in my ballot for the Italian Constitutional Referendum, which is taking place on December 4th.

I voted "no." 

The referendum is a rather complex beast which I suspect a lot of Italians who live in Italy don't altogether understand, let alone those of us Italians by blood who live elsewhere. It is billed by its proponents as a series of reforms intended to make the Italian government more stable and efficient. That's an admirable goal, especially in a country like Italy, where the bureaucracy often moves at slower than a snail's pace, and where good-ol'-boys networks often dominate. But the problem in this case is that the medicine may turn out to be worse than the disease. That, at least, is the opinion I hear and read from a lot of people, both in Italy and outside.

The referendum's chief proponent is Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has stated that he would resign if the referendum fails. The "yes" proponents, as well as some news outlets and commentators, are predicting chaos if "no" wins -- from political chaos in Italy itself, to the absolute disintegration of the European Union.

I think those fears may be a bit overblown.

You can read a summary of the referendum's issues at Wikipedia. I just want to touch on one issue and how that issue made up my mind to vote "no."

The main point in the referendum is a reform of the Italian Parliament, which is made up of two chambers: the lower "Chamber of Deputies" and the upper "Senate of the Republic." One problem with the stability and efficiency of the government is that a law cannot be enacted unless both chambers pass the legislation in exactly the same form. This means that a bill just keeps going back and forth from one chamber to the other until, finally, at long last, maybe, the exact same language may pass both houses. At that point, the bill can become law. But the process is inordinately slow and unwieldy.

The referendum's solution to this is to drastically reduce both the membership and the power of the Senate. The Senate currently has 315 members who are elected by the voters. Under the reforms, the Senate would have 100 members who are appointed by regional authorities. The Senate would also be mostly taken out of the legislative process -- being reduced in most cases to an advisory role.

Thus, all but the most important legislation would simply need to be passed by the Chamber of Deputies, essentially making the Italian Parliament a unicameral legislature for most purposes.

But it occurred to me while thinking about these issues that the U.S. Congress solves this same problem in a much simpler way: When a piece of legislation passes the House in one form and the Senate in another, the two houses create a conference committee, work out a compromise bill that all can agree on, and then that bill is sent back to both houses for a vote.

Voila! No endless back-and-forth changing a word here or a paragraph there every time. No years-long deadlock because two chambers can't agree on exact wording. Instead, a simple solution. And the compromise bill is voted either up or down.
This thought demonstrated to me that the Italian referendum is indeed medicine that's worse than the disease it's trying to cure. Altering the Senate is only one of a myriad of changes to be enacted by this legislation. It is complex, unwieldy, draconian in some ways, and somewhat anti-democratic in others. It removes a great deal of representation from the people.

There's been a good deal of discussion of the referendum in a dual citizenship group that I belong to on Facebook. (And we can actually discuss politics without calling each other names!) Most of us appear to be coming down on the side of "no" because of these considerations. From what I understand, the views in Italy are much the same.

Reforms are indeed necessary. But I don't think these particular reforms are the way to go about it. They seem worse than the original problem.

So I voted "no."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Double-neck Guitar Project, Part 1 - Will It Work?

Double-neck guitar kit.
Here is a little toy/project I picked up on eBay last week. I've been wanting to try one of these for a long time, and I finally found one at a bargain-basement price.

Actually, I've sold this guy to pay for most of it. So it's going to turn out to be an even better bargain. I'm trading a guitar that sort of duplicates what I already have for something unique and different.

I've never built anything like this before, so it's going to be an adventure. 

This is, in fact, not the kit I originally ordered. To make things easier on my novice self, I ordered a kit with bolt-on necks. But then the company emailed me saying they had made an inventory error and they were out of the bolt-ons. Could they send me this other kit instead? "This other kit" happens to have set-in necks.

After a bit of back-and-forth (I asked them, among other things, if they thought a total novice could handle assembling set necks), I told them to go ahead and send it, I would give it a try. They said if I found out I couldn't handle it, they'd let me return it to them, even if I'd begun finishing, etc., so that was nice of them.

Hopefully this guitar can add a number of new tones to my arsenal. It is a mahogany body with 24.75" scale, neither of which I have on any of my current guitars. Plus, obviously, the electric 12-string sound. Maybe I can become John McLaughlin...

Now all I have to do is put it together without screwing it up. Stay tuned for updates as we go along.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I Can Now Vote in Italian Elections

Ballot for an Italian referendum
held in April, 2016
An additional privilege of the recognition of my Italian citizenship is that I now have the right to vote in Italian national elections. I can vote for representatives to the Italian Parliament, and I can also vote in national referenda. This is sort of like absentee voting in the U.S., but with a major twist.

A U.S. citizen living out of the country can vote for federal-level officials -- president, vice-president, U.S. senator, and U.S. congressperson. But that person votes in their U.S. voting district (that is, the last place the person lived in the U.S.), their votes are commingled with all the other voters of that "home" district, and the senator and congressperson are elected to represent that district. 

In other words, the U.S. citizen living overseas effectively votes as if he were still living in the U.S., and the representatives he elects to Congress represent the U.S. district where he used to live, not the foreign locality where he lives now.

Italy, by contrast, has 18 seats in its national Parliament specifically set aside for Italians who live outside of Italy -- 12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 6 seats in the Senate. So Italian citizens who reside permanently outside of Italy actually have their own representatives in the Italian Parliament. Rather than representing regions and constituencies in Italy, these 18 representatives represent the interests of the Italiani all'estero -- Italians living abroad.

So Italian citizens living in, say, the United States do not vote for a parliamentary representative from their home town in Italy. Instead, they vote for their own dedicated representatives in Parliament. Representatives who will speak up for their unique interests as expatriates.

Cool, huh?

These 18 members of Parliament are allocated among four electoral regions around the world in proportion to the number of Italian citizens living in each region. The region consisting of North and Central America has two representatives in the Chamber of Deputies and one representative in the Senate.

I have been doing a little research into Italian politics, because if I'm going to vote, I'd like it to be an informed vote. If I don't know what I'm voting on, if all I'm going to do is close my eyes and pick one choice or the other, I'd rather not vote at all. I think if you're going to vote, it's your responsibility to be at least a little bit educated on the issues and the candidates. So I'm trying to get at least a little bit educated.

What I'm finding is that Italian politics is a very fluid beast. You have a couple of major political parties -- say, a left-leaning party and a right-leaning party -- plus two or three lesser-but-still-important parties at various points along the political spectrum. Within each of these parties are a number of subgroups -- some more extreme, some more centrist, etc. The subgroups regularly split off from the major parties, form their own minor parties, then enter into coalitions with other split-off-subgroup-minor-parties, eventually perhaps forming into a new major party or occasionally simply self-destructing. All of the parties continually change their names to reflect their evolving compositions, coalition alliances, and leadership whims. They have factions leave, join, and rise and fall in influence all the time.

In other words, you basically can't tell the players even with a scorecard most of the time.

To be honest, I sort of wish the U.S. system was more like this. Here in the U.S. we have an entrenched duopoly of political power that absolutely refuses to recognize any group, no matter how large, other than their own. The televised presidential debates are a prime example: In 2016, the Libertarian Party is on the ballot in all 50 states, but its candidate is not allowed to participate in the debates. (This is probably because the Commission on Presidential Debates -- a high-falutin' sounding "not-for-profit" organization -- is actually organized and controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. Betcha didn't know that....)

Anyway, U.S. politics aside, Italian politics is apparently not for the faint of heart. I am sort of intrigued by the Movimento Cinque Stelle -- the Five Star Movement, a grass-roots, anti-establishment organization which formed several years ago based on an Italian comedian's blog posts. The party has since evolved into a serious political juggernaut which recently captured the mayorships of both Rome and Turin, numerous other posts around the country, and a fair number of seats in the Parliament. But they are now having internal issues as well, and they have a couple of (fairly important) positions which I don't particularly agree with.

Ah, well, we shall see....

There is an important constitutional referendum coming up in just a couple of months (the exact date has not yet been set), which may be my first opportunity to cast a vote in an Italian election. The proposal completely reorganizes the electoral system in Italy. Whether I am able to vote or not depends on if my citizenship paperwork is filed in all the right places by the proper deadlines. If it is, the consulate will send me a ballot, which I will fill out and return.

I am leaning "against" this particular proposal because, from what I've read so far, it's basically designed to consolidate the power of the existing prime minister and his party, and to insure parliamentary majorities to parties who may only garner a plurality of votes in an election. It also removes the Senate completely from the popular vote and has senators appointed by the regional governments and the president.

All of this is supposed to help the "stability" of the Italian government -- but it also would provide established parties with absolute control of the legislative process, rather than forcing them to negotiate with, and enter into coalitions with, other parties in order to form a parliamentary majority to govern.

I am definitely a bigger fan of negotiation and inclusiveness (yes, even if you have to compromise your principles a little bit, and, yes, even if it is more "unstable" and inefficient) than I am of ramming things through simply because you have the votes -- votes which you've gotten because you've designed the system to give them to you when you haven't actually earned them. This latter method is how we do it in the U.S., and look where that has gotten us....

So unless I learn something new in the meantime, if they send me a ballot, I'll probably be voting "no" on this particular proposal.

Photo credit: Matteo Grisorio - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0