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November 13, 2007

City Strobe

School board may (finally) protect gays and lesbiansAmid the mundane obloquy of the American Family Association’s Dr. Frank Simon and his wild-eyed, pseudo-religious hate squad, a committee of the Jefferson County Board of Education voted Monday night to extend employment policies and protections from harassment to gay and lesbian employees of Jefferson County Public Schools. However, the committee stopped short of officially protecting all of its human employees from bias, keeping “transgender” — the current policy includes age, color, creed, disability, marital and parental status, race, sex, national origin, political affiliation and veteran status — from official status. “Leaving out gender identity is not a step forward, it is a knowing and willful refusal to guarantee full protection to all JCPS employees,” Mike Slaton, an organizer with the Fairness Campaign, wrote in an e-mail statement. “Excluding gender identity sends a clear message that it is okay to discriminate against or harass transgender employees or anyone who does not fully conform to society’s stereotypes for men and women.” The Fairness Campaign has been working for several months to convince school board members to adopt a broader anti-bias policy, one that more credibly matches the current “fairness ordinance” in Metro Louisville, which offers legal protection based on sexual orientation in employment and housing matters. The committee’s vote is a recommendation that the entire school board will likely vote on at its next meeting, Nov. 26. The Fairness Campaign said it hopes the board will consider including transgender before it votes. —Stephen GeorgeDeliver us from panhandlers, oh lordThe Metro Council’s public safety committee voted Monday to put off discussion another two weeks of an amendment to city law that would criminalize so-called aggressive panhandling. Councilman David Tandy, D-4, appeared at a press conference before the meeting with Councilman George Unseld, D-6, the amendment’s co-sponsor, to defend the proposal from recent criticism that it unfairly targets the homeless and destitute. Alongside the council members were several representatives of downtown interests; however, both Tandy and Unseld disagreed with the notion that their proposal is a response to complaints about panhandling problems downtown. The new law would impose a possible fine or jail time for anyone who persists in panhandling. It also limits the areas where a panhandler could ask for scratch. —SGKentucky forests feeling the squeezeThe Land Between the Lakes and Daniel Boone national forests made two top-10 lists of national forests and grasslands soon to feel the strain of development, if they don’t already. A recent study by the U.S. Forest Service shows that national forests and grasslands will soon be under heavy pressure, as housing development creeps toward them. The next 25 years will see increased housing density in the areas on the periphery of the forests, which USFS defines as land within 10 miles of the forests or grasslands. In these 21.7 million acres of private lands, people are keen on having suburban amenities and characteristics — like asphalt and monoculture lawns — but with a view of the wild areas this lifestyle threatens. According to the study, about a third of threatened or endangered species on national forest lands will potentially be affected by the growth, as will water quality. Scattered single homes springing up in rural areas actually have a greater negative environmental impact than dwellings on smaller urban plots.The majority of the green you see in this country, 57 percent, is privately owned. That rural land is looking increasingly valuable to its lords, especially as the population is expected to grow by 135 million within the next generation. —Jennifer OladipoThank you very much, Dr. RobotoSpeaking of new developments in rural areas, last week the University of Louisville announced it would use a robot to help serve patients in rural central and western Kentucky.With a push of a button and a jiggle of a joystick, a Louisville doctor located anywhere with a wireless connection — be it at University Hospital, the library or a bagel shop — can practice medicine, in effect, at a hospital in Owensboro.In the next best thing to instant teleportation, the Louisville doctor’s visage will appear on a flat screen that sits like a square head atop the body of the robot in Owensboro. The doctor uses a joystick to move the robot around the hospital, where it could duck into an office for a professional chat, or move to a hospital room for a bedside consultation with patient and family. The robot’s head can move around to scan the room, looking at people or readings from machines that monitor vital signs.The robot, called RP-7 (for Rural Physician, perhaps?), was designed and created by a California company. The telemedicine trend has been on the increase in recent years all over the world, with doctors communicating via television screens and two-way audio devices. But it just seems so much cooler with a robot, doesn’t it? —JOI link you, you link me, we’re a happy familyIn other technology news, the recent dust-up between WHAS-TV and bloggers at The Ville Voice and Page One Kentucky cooled off before it got too hot. The two sides met last week to discuss a copyright infringement claim by WHAS, after its content was posted on YouTube by the bloggers. The bloggers, in return, filed a counter-claim with YouTube, arguing that their posts were protected by a Fair Use law that allows the use of copyrighted content for criticism, among other things. That gave WHAS two weeks to sue, or the clips would be restored. General manager Mark Pimentel said the station will take no further legal action against the bloggers, who commenced victory posting Tuesday morning, when the content was restored. The discussion (the first one the two sides have had about the issue) left Page One blogger and co-owner Jacob Payne feeling positive about the future of WHAS management, and he said he will make an effort to provide links directly to the station’s site when using its content, even when the blogs manage to post content before the station. That’s a slightly more gracious stance than last week (see LEO, Nov. 7). Pimentel said the two sides had reached an agreement about the station’s expectations for how its content would be used, but declined to give specifics. He said WHAS would look at how user-friendly locating (and therefore linking to) video content is on its own site, once its Web content manager position is filled. In the meantime, he said the station doesn’t consider use of entire news segments as protected under Fair Use, nor is content that is posted unaccompanied by comment — links or no links. But yeah, there should be links.No one will discuss any quid pro quo, but evidence suggests that WHAS has agreed to play fair as long as The Ville Voice and Page One agree to play a little fairer. —JOContact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com