Electomachine

Without faith, what is there? Skepticism, disbelief, distrust of the system — precisely the qualities that an efficacious electoral system needs, Lehto says.

"Faith and trust have no part in American government," he says. "Checks and balances do. The best elections are when the parties [counting the votes] distrust each other and are watching each other like hawks." The only reliable system is the old one, with mutually suspicious parties counting paper ballots one by one.

Remember, just because the ballots are paper doesn't mean the ballot box can't be stuffed.


Tranny Shield

Not everybody was thrilled about a measure before the Oakland Park Commission last week protecting the rights of transgender people. Mike Benson said he almost fell out of his chair when he read the announcement in the newspaper.

Were they serious? Was Oakland Park — his city — really going to protect the rights of gender identity for city employees? He was trying to raise kids here, for Chrissake!

Benson, a short former firefighter in a red T-shirt, spoke before the vote.

"When I come to pay my water bill and there's a man dressed as a woman, how do I address this person?" he asked. "I think it will be very difficult for me and others if a guy I work with all of a sudden [comes] in wearing makeup. How am I supposed to work with this person?"

A woman in a swirly purple tank top stood up and demanded to know what this would mean for public bathrooms. Who would use which? What would this cost the city and the taxpayers? (Answers: whichever bathroom they wanted... and nothing.)

Commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue, who proposed the amendment, wasn't budging. Commissioner Allegra Ann Murphy broke it down for Benson and others, including members of Transgender Equality Rights Initiatives (TERI) who had lobbied for the measure.

"I'm a victim of discrimination," said Murphy, who is black. "There was a time when Caucasian people were afraid of people of my complexion moving into their communities... What you don't understand, you fear. We don't want to discriminate against anyone."

Then Oakland Park joined 100 or so other American cities in voting for transgender protections.

TERI cofounder Jacqui Charvet, in a red-and-white polka-dot dress and strappy heels, beamed.

The answer to all those questions raised by critics of the measure? The sight of Charvet and her festive group seemed to suggest it: Welcome to the 21st Century.


Marley & Him

Look up lucky bastard in the dictionary and you'll probably find a picture of former Sun-Sentinel scribe John Grogan. Homeboy wrote a memoir about his pet Labrador retriever, and it went on to shock the publishing world by becoming the bestselling hardcover nonfiction book of 2006. Marley & Me took the overall top spot on Amazon.com and spent 77 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, 23 weeks at number one. And all this without a peep of promotion from Oprah.

So you can bet this rusty cylinder, visions of a lush retirement dancing in his head, will be in the audience taking notes when Grogan swoops back into town to speak at the National Writers' Workshop at the Hyatt Pier 66 Hotel this weekend. (The 'Pipe has one mighty adorable bichon frisé!) Grogan was kind enough to give us a call before his visit.

Tailpipe: Let's be honest here. How much of your success is due to the fact that you're a great writer, and how much is due to the fact that the picture of Marley on the cover is really, really, really, really cute?

Grogan: That's the million-dollar question! But seriously, if a story's not good, people are not going to pass it on or recommend it. People read my book and come back and buy 12 copies as Christmas presents.

And you've also adapted the book for children?

I have two spinoffs — one for 3- to 7-year-olds, the other for 8- to 12-year-olds. I don't think Marley & Me is appropriate for kids — some of the marital scenes and content. I like to think of it as a story not about a dog but about a couple. The dog is part of the mix of the couple's journey through life.

And now, on top of all that, the book is also being made into a movie with Owen Wilson playing you and Jennifer Aniston playing your wife. Do you look like Owen Wilson?

Not at all is the short answer!

So are you a millionaire now?

I'll let you draw your own conclusions. My wife and I live in the same community, our kids go to the same schools — but we did buy a 1790 stone farmhouse on 20 acres of land outside of Philly.

Sweet. So what's next for you?

I'm writing a memoir about growing up in Detroit in the '60s and '70s.

Did you inhale?

Happily.

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