Luck of the Irish

April 29, 2001

It must have been all those drugs I did in the sixties and seventies. It's not like they didn't warn me, after all. 
My kids would be grotesquely deformed, if I were even able to have kids, they said.
If I were even able to get it up, they said.
I would have flashbacks and hallucinations the rest of my life, short though it would be, they said.
They said it would grow hair on my psyche and all the hair on the outside of my head would fall out.
Worst of all, they cautioned, I had cast my fate forever with all those hippies I saw every day on my way through People's Park, on my way to classes at UC Berzerkeley.
Well, they were right.
My kids are bright, attentive, respectful and do well at school, scoring in the top of their class in most everything.  They say "Sir" and "M'am" and "thank you" and "please," even though that gets them a ration from their chums. They hold doors.  They wash dishes, feed the horses and cows and other animals and always have a 4H project going (hogs this year). They strive to do well, because we let them fail regularly at childish things.  Their self image is perfectly fine, but they don't preen except when deserved.  That's deformed, all right, by the standards of today.  Score one for "Them."
I came down with prostate cancer -- who knows why.  Surprised my urologist in the midst of chemo by complaining about a diminishing of my sex drive (was supposed to be totally gone, he said....he also said that it just goes to show you that lawyers don't need testosterone).  After they irradiated my prostate gland into something resembling a walnut that spent the winter on the beach in Reykjavik, lo and behold, things returned to normal.  My urologist just muttered something under his breath about trial lawyers. It's in remission, by the way, and likely gone for good, just as happened with my father (he's 84 and still doing yard work).  Call this one a draw with "Them."
I do have flashbacks, because I wistfully remember exactly how life was back in the fifties and sixties.  My hallucinations consist of imagining that life could once again resemble those halcyon days.  Score another one for "Them," though it remains to be seen if I'll actually live to be old.
Ha!  I do have about as much hair today as I did when I was twenty and it is pretty close to the same color (better red than bald). However, I seem to be terminally unhappy about the state of America and the political shift that has occurred (I was actually pretty liberal once, but now that form of liberalism gets me called a right-wing radical), so maybe my psyche is a little furry these days.  Call this one a draw.
And those hippies?  Well, now they're stock brokers, lawyers and soccer moms.  Score another one for "Them."
Final score:  Them - 3, Me - 0.  Oh, well. I'm getting used to being wrong these days, particularly when it comes to things political.
Now it turns out that being Irish is bad and being called Irish is as politically incorrect as being called a, maybe.  From Vermont, one of the stranger states in this country of ours, comes the court decision recounted below, wherein a genuine colleen is denied a vanity license plate because the word she wanted on it was too offensive.  The word?  Yep: "IRISH." 
Now, Steele is from the highlands between Scotland and England, but my mother's maiden name was O'Haver and our family on her side as authentically Irish as any around. I simply didn't realize we had once again become such outcasts.  Must have something to do with whites becoming minorities now, I guess.  And it was just a couple of months ago that government officials in Boston told the projects throughout Back Bay to get the shamrocks out of their windows because that was just plain offensive. You'd have thought they were swastikas.
Now that I'm a recognized minority, replete with offensive names and symbols, I called my state representative's office to see if I get affirmative action preferential treatment.  Nope, they said, that's just for (now, what the hell is it that we're supposed to call them these days?).
It's enough to get my Irish up.


"I didn't say it would be easy.  I just said it would be the truth."
            - Morpheus

Copyright © Edgar J. Steele, 2002

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The Times Argus Online


Judge rules against driver who wanted 'Irish' on plates

April 25, 2001

(from the Top Story section) (sxTop Story) (archived)


Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER — Carol Ann Martin is putting a whole new meaning to the phrase fighting Irish.

The Wallingford woman said Tuesday she would appeal a Superior Court decision that upheld the state’s refusal to give her vanity license plates with the word IRISH.

“I’m pretty upset about it,” she said. “I’m not upset about it being denied. I thought there might be a chance they’d deny it. But this offends me. It almost brought me to tears. I’ve ended up the racist and I don’t get it.”

Martin said she was dismayed to see Washington Superior Judge Matthew Katz clump Irish in with other ethnic slurs that were clearly offensive.

“This opinion offended me,” she said. “How did I get painted a racist? There’s something wrong here.”

Katz ruled recently that the state Department of Motor Vehicles acted correctly when it denied Martin’s request because the word she wanted to use — IRISH — could be considered offensive or confusing to the public.

Katz found the department’s rules regarding vanity plates were reasonable and objective. While IRISH may not necessarily be offensive on its face, he wrote, the department could open the door to other more offensive variations if it allowed this.

“Even in the context of IRISH — evocative as it may be of leprechauns, shamrocks and Galway Bay — the need to avoid viewpoint discrimination can be quickly apparent,” he wrote. “If IRISH is permitted, because most Vermonters would not find it offensive, is NOIRISH? Although cinema buffs might consider this latter example intriguing, more folks would probably find it evocative of ‘No Irish Need Apply,’ an employment notice actually and reasonably offensive to many.”

But Martin said she thought the logic was flawed.

“This decision, I don’t see the common sense in it,” she said. “I didn’t apply for NOIRISH. If someone applied for I-T, would they deny it because someone else might apply for S-H-I-T?”

The law says the commissioner can reject a word or phrase if it is considered to be offensive or confusing to the general public. The regulations attached to the law say, among other things, that a combination of letters or numbers that refer, in any language to race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status or political affiliation are not to be issued.

The rules, Katz found, laid out clear objective guidelines for DMV officials to follow in reviewing vanity plate applications.

“(Department of) Motor Vehicle employees should not be expected to engage in continual ‘sensitivity roundtables,’ lacking clear and objective guidelines to decide which are offensive to the average Vermonter and which are not,” he wrote.

“It’s disappointing,” said Sen. John Bloomer, a Rutland lawyer who heard about Martin’s case and decided to represent her for free in court.

Bloomer argued that the regulations contradicted the legislative intent in crafting the original statute because the law calls for the DMV commissioner to use discretion in issuing license plates.

William Griffin, the chief assistant attorney general who argued the case for the state, agreed with the judge.

“You have to have a standard. You can’t have DMV officials playing it by ear every time,” he said.

Katz ruled that Martin’s intent, which was to display her ethnic heritage on her license plate, was an irrelevant point, and he noted that the license plate was not the best venue for such a communiqué.

“We also have very much in mind that this case is not about what message petitioner may send from her vehicle,” wrote Katz, whose own license plate is MIK, his initials. “She may affix any bumper sticker she wishes. Instead, it is about what message she may send from her state-issued license plate.”

Martin applied for the license plate last April. In previous years, she had put IRISH or some similar variation on her plates with no objection from state officials.

But recent regulations adopted by the department changed the way officials there process these applications.

“I’m happy the judge found the way he did,” said DMV Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge. “Everybody has a different opinion on what should be issued and what should not be issued. This takes a little of that subjective reasoning out of it.”

Martin’s case has evoked spirited discussion among lawmakers and others, some of whom are baffled by the rejection. Despite the strident opinions, Rutledge said the existing rules make it much easier for her office.

“We had many more problems under the old rules,” she said. There are 36,000 special plates attached to cars in Vermont. At a cost of $20 a year, the plates bring in about $600,000 in annual revenues.

Rutledge said the department spent a lot of time on content reviews, including testing the reflected images of different combinations in case some applicants try to sneak by a prohibited phrase by changing the spelling so it can only be read when looking at it in a mirror.

One combination of letters slipped through the cracks a few years ago when a driver applied and received a plate with the phrase SHTHPNS. The department tried to revoke the plate, but the driver resisted and took the case to court. A federal appeals court in New York heard arguments in that case earlier this month.

Martin said Tuesday she would try to appeal the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.


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