Saturday, February 25, 2017

Vile and grotesque

The nasty guy rescinded Obama’s guidance on how schools should treat transgender students. Here are several reasons, many supplied by Melissa McEwan of Shakesville, why that executive order is vile.

* The argument that women need protection from trans women is wretched. There are no documented cases of a trans woman assaulting a woman.

* The original Obama guidance and this replacement do not have the force of law. However, its presence – and now absence – sends a signal to schools about what is acceptable in how to treat trans kids.

* Part of the press of this order was about states knowing best. Nope. The schools most inclined to torment trans kids are in the states where these kids are most vulnerable.

* What makes this order especially grotesque is the guy who signed it – a confessed sexual predator, one whose wife testified he sexually assaulted her, who sexualizes his daughters, and who threatened to sue the women who reported he sexually assaulted them.

Women need protection from trans kids?

Love in the modern age

I went to the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea yesterday to see the play Smart Love by Brian Letscher in its world premier production. Son Ben is devastated when he witnesses his father Ron die of a heart attack. Ben is a student at MIT and, overcome with grief, recreates his father in the lab, loading the new blend of man and machine (including internet connection) with material from his father’s journals. But mother Sandy isn’t pleased with Ron back in her life. Ben hadn’t known she had soured on the relationship and had very good reasons for that. The play is a modern exploration of the Frankenstein story and how it affects family relations. Is an artificial intelligence human? The play is fascinating with many funny spots, but mostly it is intense. Ben is described as having spent the seven months since his father’s death surviving on energy drinks while working 16 hour days. He’s more than a bit hyper and unstable.

The Purple Rose does more than put on plays. It also develops plays. The author can work with the director and the company of actors to try out scenes and incorporate suggestions. For this play the theater also hosted a gathering to discuss the latest in artificial intelligence (nearby Ann Arbor is an AI center). The gathering included researchers as well as theologians and ethicists. That discussion had an influence on the script. I learned this last bit during the talk-back session after the show.

This play runs for another week.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Too hot for you?

There has been lots of news about GOP Congresscritters not scheduling or scheduling and not showing at town hall meetings so they don’t have to face irate citizens. These are citizens who don’t want the Affordable Care Act overturned, don’t like the new immigrant restrictions, don’t want Medicare or Social Security touched, don’t like what the nasty guy is doing.

A citizens group in Kansas City saw four local GOP representatives were refusing to host town hall sessions, so scheduled their own and invited the lawmakers, who they know won’t show. So there will be four empty chairs with four portraits with the caption: Missing.

That has prompted Hillary Clinton to tweet:
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the … Congress.

Seventeen Solutions – invent new tools for reform

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

13. Invent New Tools for Reform

Back in 1989 the Illinois legislature required Commonwealth Edison to periodically include am insert in its bills that was an invitation for its customers to join a Citizens Utility Board. Within 18 months 180,000 customers joined. The $5 annual dues hired a staff of lawyers, economists, and organizers to defend customer interests before the utility commission. The notice did not cost CE any money because the postage for bills did not go up. It also didn’t cost tax dollars.

It paid off. In 1993 the CUB caught Commonwealth Edison in overcharging its customers. The CUB case was so strong CE didn’t fight it and refunded $1.3 billion to its customers.
A CUB is one way to build democratic participation in decisions on choices of energy, pollution, pricing, zoning, handling of consumer complaints, billing practices, quality of services, and the overall management of our utilities, which generally enjoy cushy relationships with their state and federal regulators.
Where CUBs operate there is always consumer representation at public hearings and meetings between the utilities and their gov’t overseers. When that consumer representation isn’t there utilities almost always get their way.

Such citizen boards don’t have to be restricted to utilities. They could be used to advocate in insurance, banking, credit card, and lots of other businesses. Perhaps also citizen boards to oversee government agencies in the areas of taxes, fuel efficiency, environment, Social Security, Medicare, the social safety net, education, and more.

Of course, utilities and other agencies who would be watched by a CUB (as well as GOP politicians), don’t like this idea. A California utility refused to carry such inserts and the case went to the Supremes – where a conservative majority said corporate personhood has freedom of conscience to refuse such mail inserts. Since then states haven’t wanted to touch the issue.

It is time for citizens to tell their legislators about the CUB idea and push to make it happen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My values

Someone else’s blog post or comment (likely somewhere on Shakesville) suggested an exercise by asking what are your values? If an oppressive gov’t or institution asked (perhaps demanded) you to do something, do you know where that crosses one of your values? A related question: How strong are your values and would you refuse to deny them?

A hypothetical example from the East German Stasi of the Cold War years. An official says to you, “We have this evidence showing you are a threat to the state. That normally means time in prison. We’re willing to overlook your offense if you provide us with regular reports about your neighbors, such as when they come and go, who visits them, what they tell you about their activities.” What choice do yo make?

The purpose of this exercise is to explore your own values so that if you are presented with this choice you are able to come up with an answer and know why it is a good one for you.

Yes, this may seem gloomy and dire. Even so, I think it is important. I suggest you try the exercise, though you don’t need to share your list with me. So here are my critical values.

* I am opposed to ranking, to the pervasive idea that because of a person’s skin color, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or wealth one is supposed to be ranked higher or lower than another. This ranking implies privilege. Those who are of higher rank work to maintain their position by oppressing others. This is especially true when they are told they should have higher rank, yet the privileges don’t automatically come. A great deal of modern politics and gov’t policy is built to support ranking. I oppose it.

* I work to strengthen mental health. I am not a mental health worker, so my work isn’t about such things as diagnosing and treating depression and other mental illnesses. Rather this value is about wholeness, seeing the whole person. So this is a guide to evaluate my actions and those of others. Does an action improve mental health, or does the action make mental health worse?

My most prominent example is the typical Christian church’s treatment of LGBT people. Declaring a gay person to be incapable of entering heaven damages mental health. Forcing a gay person into reparative therapy that attempts the impossible task of denying their identity damages mental health.

This example is personal. For about 25 years after I realized I am gay I rarely heard my local church mention sexual orientation. The few times it was mentioned the words had a bit of condemnation. I figured, that’s OK, I can deal with it not being discussed. I can stay under the radar.

Then I went to my first Reconciling Ministries Convocation. What had been hidden was now celebrated. I was finally seen in my entirety. The experience was overwhelming. My mental healing began. I hadn’t realized during those 25 years of silence my mental health was being damaged.

* I work to build community. We are in this world together. We are stronger together (thanks Hillary!). We are responsible for one another. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. This is the opposite of ranking, the opposite of declaring someone as one of those people. Again, this value is about evaluating actions and policies of myself and others. Some examples:

A public library is about community, as is a public transportation system and a public school system, as are National Parks. These are things we all share, that benefit us all even if we don’t use them directly.

A policy to ban refugees damages community. A policy to intentionally underfund schools or force them to close (as is being done in Michigan) damages community. Policies that benefit the rich while impoverishing the poor damage community. Policies that make sure poor people can’t move to a sufficient and stable income damage community.

A few years ago a director of an agency helping military veterans came to my church and gave a presentation. Help a veteran recover from the trauma of war? Great! Help them get food, clothing, and housing? Wonderful! Help them get a job? Fantastic! Change the laws to prefer hiring veterans over others?


The first three are about healing the mental damage caused by sending them off to war and about integrating the veteran back into the community (I’ll leave aside for now that war is about ranking between countries and is about breaking community). The last is about ranking, about saying a veteran is more important than other people. (This ranking was more annoying when women and LGBT people were barred from most (or all) jobs in the military. It was a sneaky way of saying preferences in employment should be given to men over women and LGBT people.)

I’m pretty sure all of my values come from these three. Naturally, these values spill into all areas of my life. A love of music and the arts in general is a way of boosting mental health, both mine and of the society as a whole. Performing in a bell choir is all about community – I must rely on my colleagues to make the music complete. Delving into family history (of which I’m doing a lot as I clean out my father’s house, set aside old letters and journals, scan his huge collection of slides and photographs, and share family stories) is boosting mental health. This is both in coming to terms with what has happened to my family over the last two years and building up an understanding of who I am and where I and my ancestors came from.

On to the last part of the exercise. How strong are these values? They’re pretty strong.

At times their strength may not be apparent because I may not loudly challenge your values that oppose mine. That is because I don’t want to vanquish my challenger, I want to be reconciled, to reestablish community. Arguing over values has a good chance of damaging community had harming your mental health and mine.

The strength of these values play out in one more important way. As I work against the actions and policies of the nasty guy and his GOP cronies – which are all about enforcing a system of ranking and splintering the community – my actions must always be non-violent, to respect my adversary as I try to avoid damaging their mental health and my own, and invite them into community.