Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Some time in the arts

On Monday evening I watched PBS for Great Performances doing the Metropolitan Opera production of Doctor Atomic by John Adams. His previous two operas were on historical figures or incidents -- Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer -- and this one is too. It's about the final preparations for the first atom bomb test by Robert Oppenheimer. Even though in an interview Adams says this is the first time declassified government documents have been set to music the opera is more about the doubts Oppenheimer and the rest have about the morality of what they were doing. That makes for good opera. Alas, the thoughts of his wife is a lot more obscure and made for a slow spot. Then there was the Native American shaman (I think that's what she was supposed to be) who didn't seem to fit at all. I don't know if or when it will be on TV again. I caught it almost by accident when I plugged in my TV for an episode of In The Life and caught an ad for the broadcast. However, the opera will be broadcast on the radio from The Met on Saturday, Jan. 17. I was able to tape a program (also Sunday night) about how the opera was put together. Something for me to watch this evening waiting for the ball to drop. Here's an interview (about 8 minutes long) with John Adams about the opera when it was premiered in San Francisco in 2005. And here is The Met's own page about the opera.

This afternoon I went to see the movie Frost/Nixon, about the interviews David Frost did with Richard Nixon in 1977. There wasn't all that much of the actual interviews (which, I think, spanned about 6 hours), but all the work that went on in getting the interviews to happen and the cat-and-mouse games in trying to get Nixon to confess Watergate crimes. That's especially interesting because in the early interviews it appears that Frost is badly overmatched. Nixon sees these interviews as a chance to rehabilitate his image in preparation for a comeback. Very well done and highly recommended.

Chased away

Yes, I did get to the Ruth Ellis Center yesterday. It hadn't started to snow by the time I left there after 9:00, though we did get about a half inch by this morning. There wasn't much of a crowd for the supper hour, so we served tuna melt and grilled cheese sandwiches. I didn't think we needed three adults to make only a dozen sandwiches, but April was in charge. She didn't know how to make them, relying on me to remind her to put the butter on the outside. She dabbled the butter on with a fork, rather than spreading it with a knife. My job was to "cut the cheese," which produced some laughter even when I substituted the word "slice." Monty cut the sandwiches in half and scooped out the tuna salad for the few people who wanted it in their sandwich on separately on the plate.

I took part in the men's discussion group that evening to talk about my view of what the bible says about gays -- and found them to be quite uninterested. That was supposed to be my big reason for volunteering there. It seems the church had quite thoroughly chased them away.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Identifying the cause of negative outcomes

Hopefully, I'll get to the Ruth Ellis Center tonight. The forecast is for another snowstorm to start early evening. This is the third week in a row with a Tuesday snowstorm. The previous two made a mess of the evening rush hour. It hasn't started snowing yet and, at the moment, the sun is shining.

Some research that is important. San Francisco State University's Family Acceptance Project released the results of a study, saying the reactions of the parents are a big influence in whether a gay teen commits suicide. Next the FAP will shift focus from "negative outcomes" to how families can prevent suicide. A big part of that is being able to tell parents you love your child, don't you? You want the best for them. For example, sending them to an ex-gay camp isn't best -- it's a waste of money and will only traumatize your kid.

A backlash to the backlash

The Wall Street Journal has an Op-Ed saying campaign donor disclosure laws should be repealed. Their evidence is the several people and businesses who suffered real harm when their donations to the Calif. marriage ban came to light -- like a theater director who resigned when gay playwrights were appalled at his donation. They say that we have secret ballots for a reason, so that the losers can't intimidate those who voted against them. In addition, the law is to make sure that legislators aren't beholden to large donors and there are no legislators in the case of a proposal.

In reply gay commentators are saying this isn't about free speech -- you will still be allowed to buy as much speech as you can afford -- but about owning your speech. You can say anything you want but you should take the consequences of those who are offended. Besides, it works both ways -- before the election businesses who opposed the ban received letters trying to blackmail them into donating to the ban as well.

There are many people (even today) who would vote for policies to take rights away from blacks. Such proposals don't get on the ballot because supporters know what would happen if their support were public knowledge. The effort to repeal the disclosure laws is part of laying the groundwork when the marriage ban comes up for a vote again. Ban supporters won't raise as much money if donors are made public with such a public backlash.

Of course, readers of the WSJ have a higher level of income than readers of most other papers and would much prefer to control things in secret.

If I remember right, Bayard Rustin, gay colleague to Martin Luther King said that we won't be able to eliminate racism (or homophobia), but we can change the world enough so that such attitudes are not mentioned in polite society.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fool me once...

A few weeks ago I wrote about my difficulties with a bogus magazine subscription service. I got a call from another one today. It was a real woman and, when I asked, gave a different company name than the last one. Not only did I know the original magazine doesn't deal with these companies she said that I was entitled to discounts -- because I had subscribed for over 10 years -- to two more magazines I had never subscribed to! When I mentioned that she said, "I'll make a note," and hung up. Besides, I have already renewed my subscription to the first one -- by mail.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First rate piece of literature

Rick Elliott, a Presbyterian pastor, examines a different way to look at the bible, one he encountered in seminary as a student. A professor said to him:

"It's obvious that the Bible is a library. Everybody knows it is made out of a bunch of books. Most Libraries I've ever been to have a variety of different kinds of books and the Bible is no different.

"It is a literature that contains just about every kind of literature known to man. It has poetry, history, philosophical discourses, comedy, tragedy, intrigue, puns, fiction that makes a point, romance and all sorts of literary efforts. Some began as stories told around a campfire to folk who couldn't read or write. There were letters written to folks in a particular place. There were commentators who tried to tell folks that the path they were on would lead to all sorts of trouble. And that just scratches the surface."

Some additional points that professor made:

It's a first rate piece of literature from a third rate people, one reason why some people think God had a hand in writing it.

The start of Genesis is high quality Hebrew poetry. It's not a newspaper. We don't insist modern poets be taken literally.

It is ancient. Oldest parts are 4000 years old, newest about 1850 years old. What was the context when it was written?

It is pre-scientific, so don't ask it to answer science questions.

It was written in a concrete language that didn't express abstract ideas well.

It is Eastern, it doesn't work with Western logical thought.

It doesn't prove God, but assumes God. It's priority is theological, not historical.

It probably isn't the direct word of God. It is the story of a people who had encountered God and felt they had to write about it.

Alas, since this was posted on a gay blog it attracted a lot of comments about the hurt people have received at the hands of "Christians" and wouldn't the world be a better place if we got rid of it.

Persistent differences

Frank Rich, in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times did a great job wading through the Rick Warren mess. It is worth a read. The part that stuck with me was this:

Obama may not only overestimate his ability to bridge some of our fundamental differences but also underestimate how persistent some of those differences are.

The only (and tiny) blunder was that Rich repeated the disproved notion that 70% of blacks voted for the Calif. marriage ban.

Never know what you're going to get

Did we manage to sidestep a mess? The Ohio legislature talked about calling for a national Constitution Convention and then dropped the idea. I know Michigan has a clause in its constitution that every 20 years the citizens must be asked whether to consider rewriting all or part of it. That has been done in the past (I think in the 1960s) but the wise vote since then has been to say no, simply because, like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get (thanks, Forest Gump).

I didn't realize there is also a provision for a con-con in Article V of the US Constitution. The convention gets called when 2/3 of the states, or 34 of them, ask for one. This allows the states to create an amendment if Congress refuses to do it (such as protect marriage). But you might need the Wisdom of Solomon (or at least the US Supremes) to figure out what Ohio's possible efforts mean. Between 1978 and 1983, 32 states called for a convention to create an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. Are those calls still open? What about the 10 states that have since rescinded the call? Would Ohio become 33 because it is also, at least on the surface, about creating a balanced budget amendment?

The problem of such a convention -- which is why we routinely reject them in Michigan -- is that the participants are not restricted to the subject that was the reason to call it. If the con-con creates only amendments they must be ratified by 3/4 of the states (individually or as a package). But the con-con can create a whole new Constitution (as was done in 1787) and with it create the rules by which the new one is to replace the old.

Fortunately, the Right is as suspicious of the Liberals sneaking vile things into the new document as the Left is of Conservatives.

The top of the Wikipedia entry for Constitutional Conventions says the article may not be neutral. It is interesting to read the talk page to see what the complaints are.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Yes, they've been dealing with expensive gas too

My friend and debate partner wrote before Christmas about my discussion of the auto industry bailout as reported by Newsweek:
"Detroit has only this year had to deal with gasoline at $4 a gallon. Toyota and others have been dealing with gas more expensive than that for several years now."

Well, Newsweek may put that forward, but it isn't true. GM and Ford (and Chrysler until captured by Daimler) marketed vehicles globally for many decades. They got along pretty well in European markets with sky-high gas prices created by high govt fuel taxes. The Detroit 3 just never seriously believed they would face those gas prices here and weren't ready when it happened, even when forewarned by $3 a gallon gasoline in the U.S. in 2007.

Did Newsweek point out that those Southern senators were campaigning with McCain two months earlier behind his "Country First" signs? Those anti-Detroit-3 votes weren't Country First and won't be forgotten for a long time. The Macomb County "Reagan Democrats" surely understand now -- at long last -- what they really voted for when they voted Republican beginning in 1980.

I will only explain that Macomb County is immediately northeast of Detroit and contains the city of Warren, home of the General Motors Tech Center and several plants. You can read more about Reagan Democrats here.

Mirroring the soceity as a whole

Before Christmas my friend and debate partner wrote in response to my look at the options the United Methodist Church has in dealing with the gay issue:

I think the answer to "can we come to terms with the gay issue?" is no. I deduce that by examining this quote:

"The UMC, partly because it is the second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptist Convention), mirrors the society as a whole."...

This is simply not true as stated. For example, a lot of Americans are detached or even alienated from organized religion -- surely UMC thinking does not encompass the thinking of such people, for it is religious in nature and spirit.

But this quote was undoubtedly written for an audience involved in and committed to organized religion. Is it then true?

If we assume that in context the writer really meant "The UMC... mirrors the religiously involved (church / synagogue / mosque / temple -attending, e.g.) portion of society as a whole", well, that is also untrue, for only Christian concepts and models are in play in the UMC.

Might the writer have really meant "The UMC... mirrors Christian (or Protestant) society as a whole"? I'm not Christian and cannot offer an expert opinion, but I perceive the full breadth of Christian thinking (e.g. on gay issues) as far broader than is found in the UMC and, at the same time, more divided into strictly defined narrow-minded channels -- channels that do not interact. I'm thinking here of Catholic, evangelical and other self-righteous self-involved views. If these channels are all present in the UMC, they are at least interacting (conflicting?) and up for broad cross-examination. That doesn't mirror the society.

By now I doubt there is any truth at all in the original quote. Perhaps its just the view of a writer who thinks his own views mirror the society as a whole -- that is, of a writer who is "right".

But no one is "right" in this debate, except relative to their own specific assumptions, stated or not. The factions have contradictory base assumptions that inevitably lead to conflicting conclusions. They are really not communicating with each other at all, nor apparently wish to do so.

First of all, the writer of that sentence was me, trying to (perhaps clumsily) condense a more complex thought that was incompletely stated in the original. Let me clarify what I intended (even if the original author didn't).

The UMC … mirrors society as a whole on the issue of what to do with gays. Within the denomination are leaders (including most bishops, but they don't create denomination policy) who believe that gays should be a part of all aspects of the church. They should be allowed to be pastors (and bishops). Their loves and commitments to life partners should be honored and affirmed by our pastors in our buildings just like any straight couple. Their view is as progressive as any outside the church.

Also within the denomination are members and leaders (probably including some of those on the judicial council, the denomination's high court) whose view of gay's sinfulness is as extreme as the Fundies in other denominations. The denomination is already going too far in the scraps of acceptance that have been tossed to gays to keep them in their place.

And all the viewpoints in between are represented among the members. So, yes, the UMC, when discussing gays, does mirror the society as a whole. Both ends of the issue are represented in the society, whether religious or not. And, no, the diversity of opinions about gays is not far broader outside the denomination than in. Also, no, this is not strictly a Christian issue. Jews struggle over it too with various groups taking the same ends of the issue.

The issue will not break apart the Southern Baptist Convention because the official policy is that gays are not welcome and dissenters are shown the door. Instead the SBC may shrink until it is irrelevant. The issue also won't break apart the United Church of Christ because as a liberal denomination they have already said that gays are welcome at all levels. It is only in churches like the UMC which don't dictate much doctrine and thus allow both liberal and conservatives to be included, that may split over the issue or may suffer a decline because they allow conservatives to rule on the gay issue.

My friend is right in one aspect. The factions are not communicating with each other about gays and the only wish to do so is to tell the other side they are wrong.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The war within the war on Christmas

Every year we get crusaders trying to force people to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." You've heard it before. But having store employees say that it seems they are reinforcing the idea that Christmas is a secular, capitalist holiday, not a religious one. So why do it? Perhaps because by tying a religious tagline onto an American holiday they are pushing a tiny facet of the idea that America is a Christian nation and should be following Christian laws.

Admitting God is wrong

I wasn't going to bother with Rick Warren anymore, but a couple sentences caught my eye. In a posting describing how Warren is trying to repackage himself (and failing because he is blaming others for the mess), a commentator notes:

But Warren is like many preachers I have known. He is convinced that God has called him and that this entitles him to stand above criticism. He’s become accustomed to being a leader of his flock (at 22,000 an awfully large flock) and having his word equated with Gospel.

To Rick Warren, admitting that he has done others wrong is akin to admitting that God is wrong. And why should he back down? God is on his side.

A reply then muses if Warren is acting more like a politician -- a "moderate" Evangelical -- than a pastor.

They're in power -- and still wimps

There is a report that Congressional Democrats -- including the gay ones -- have decided to postpone acting on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military ban on honest gays until after the 2010 elections! The reason appears to be that Clinton tried to open the military to gays and his fumble tied the first two years of his administration into knots, resulted in the current ban, and enabled the GOP to gain control of congress in 1994.

But the country has changed since then (70% of the voters want the ban repealed) and the party out of power tends to make gains in midterm elections. Are Dems so afraid of their power or the shouting ability of the GOP that they don't want to risk it? The peak (in terms of body count) of their power is now. And the big question is: If not now, when?

What the UAW made

I wrote recently that as part of the auto industry bailout various GOP senators wanted to gut the UAW. I had forgotten a more basic reason: Union members reliably vote for Democrats. And GOP senators would rather commit economic treason than let a Democratic voting bloc pass unchallenged.

On to an article of what the UAW has brought to America. Before I mentioned that it had created the middle class. Here is the story in more detail (even so, this is only a summary).

After Pearl Harbor Detroit's Big Three drew up plans to convert their manufacturing power to the war effort. The UAW also drew up detailed plans -- that would accomplish the conversion even faster.

The UAW contract for 1950 is known as the Treaty of Detroit in which the union agreed to work with the auto companies (in contrast to the battles in the late 1930s) in exchange for lifting workers into the middle class. The workers got retirement and health security, and cost of living increases.

Marxism demands the workers rise up and take the means of production from the owners. The UAW specifically rejected that idea. Even so, and even killing off Marxism in America, 20 years later they were accused of creeping socialism and Communism by the GOP. But that "socialism" brought unprecedented prosperity for everyone and security for the workers. This social contract lasted 30 years.

The UAW provided the incubator for the Progressive Movement by supporting, among other things, the 1963 March on Washington, Cesar Chavez and the farm workers union, the National Organization for Women, the first Earth Day, and even proposed national health care. That last was particularly important because health insurance was seen as a perk of being a union member, not something available to just anybody.

That support of national health care is part of a sorry trend -- the UAW sounds a warning, they are ignored, they are proven right, then get blamed for the company's shortsightedness. Isn't that a measure of effectiveness and success?

Even though foreign auto companies built plants in states where it is hard to unionize, the UAW affects their pay and benefits. These companies have to pay better than other manufacturers both to keep the union out and to keep their workers from heading to unionized plants. Which means if the auto bailout forces a pay cut (to bring them in line with non-union plants) those plants will be able to cut pay too. Perhaps the GOP likes that idea.

The children of UAW members were able to afford college and get white-collar jobs and many even had enough money to see the world.

Personally, the UAW has benefited me. I was not a union member, but I worked for one of the Big 3 for 27 years. Whatever new benefits the union wrested for its members were also given to me. In the last decade or so of my work, the union idea of cafeteria benefits -- the company supplies a broad range of benefits and "flex-dollars" to pay for some of them and we select the ones that are useful to us -- meant that I could "buy" an extra week of vacation each year.

I was puzzled about the attitudes of my boss. He had worked in a factory one summer (long enough to convince him to get good grades in his last two years of college), yet was convinced the union was a leach on the workers. He didn't see what it did for him as a white-collar worker and a manager.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Can we come to terms with the gay issue?

Alas, I didn't make it to the Ruth Ellis Center, the drop-in center for gay young adults, this evening due to bad driving conditions from snow. Then there was the problem that I couldn't tell them I went home because I only have the phone number of the office, which closes at 5:00. I don't have the number in the kitchen in the center -- the one that would get answered by the evening staff. Definitely a white Christmas this year.

Sometime back before I started this blog I may have mentioned a site devoted to Religious Tolerance. I had a reason to visit the site again (list it as a resource for the Center) so it is time to mention it again. They compare the big religions (and a few small ones too) and take a look at what these religions say about hot topics -- like gays. In our case it also talks about what gays and the culture in general also say. It is well researched and bends over backwards to be even-handed (though in a few places that means it is a bit bland -- but doesn't stop Fundies from blasting them). I've only read/scanned the sections on homosexuality. Some things it discusses:

In a section that contrasts conservatives wanting to ban gay rights and liberals supporting such rights, here is a quote from John S. Spong from a Beliefnet weekly mailing.

"I think that we have in recent years entered a 'New Dark Age' in the Western world. It is marked by the rise of religious systems that seek to build security by encouraging prejudice against a designated victim. Both evangelical fundamentalism and the kind of ultra-conservative Roman Catholicism that is at present installed in the Vatican are publicly defined by their visceral and uninformed hostility toward homosexual persons. What the heretic was in the Middle Ages, the black in the days of slavery and segregation, and the Jew in Nazi Germany, the homosexual has become in the religious hysteria of our day. This kind of behavior is always a response to fear and to a rapidly changing world. Security-providing religion, which always requires a victim, is like a drug that carries us over the rough places of life. It is certainly not the wave of the Christian future....Beyond that I think we ought to recognize that truth and unity cannot ever be built on identifying a victim that creates the illusion of unity because there is a common enemy. When these institutions say that God hates the same things that the worshiper hates, everyone should be very suspicious."

In a page about whether religion should trump gay rights, the site's author, B.A. Robinson wrote:

"Unfortunately, in debates, sermons, articles, books etc., people rarely describe their fundamental beliefs. Instead, they usually deal with conclusions that they have derived from those beliefs. Thus, dialogue between those with opposing beliefs is almost impossible. Debate deals with too high a level of abstraction; fundamentals are generally neglected. Discussion often degenerates into mutual hatred."

In other words, debates don't change minds.

As part of a discussion of whether various denominations will split over the gay issue there is an entire page about the United Methodist Church. Some things it says:

The UMC, partly because it is the second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptist Convention), mirrors the society as a whole. More liberal denominations have decided in favor of gays, more conservative against gays. Only those encompassing a wide spectrum are caught in the debate. If the UMC can come to terms with the gay issue, it becomes a gift to other congregations. If not, it has missed an opportunity of grace.

There are several core problems in the gay debate within the UMC.
* John Wesley, denomination founder, stressed our faith is based on a quadrilateral of the bible, tradition, experience, and reason. Alas, conservatives stress the first two and liberals stress the last two.
* Conservatives believe the bible to be inerrant -- free of error. Liberals believe the bible expresses the faith of real believers based on what those believers knew. And they knew nothing about homosexuality. So liberals look to broader themes, such as justice and caring.
* Both sides are convinced God agrees with them and prayer is ineffective in determining God's view on this (and likely many) matters.

We have been at the point for a long time now where one side insists zero tolerance for homosexual acts is the only moral solution and the other side insists full inclusion of all people is likewise the only moral solution. Given there is no middle ground what are scenarios of the future? None of them are good.

* Maintain the status quo. Yeah, the church stays together, but the issue will come up every 4 years for a good long time (no matter which side wins), sapping energy better spent elsewhere. If trends of acceptance of homosexuality among youth continue liberals will eventually get their way with a might backlash from conservatives -- unless youth are disgusted over the church's position on the issue and leave. When the vote goes in favor of gays then conservatives will leave. Either way the American church is going to be smaller (the worldwide denomination is growing).

* Reach a compromise. Almost impossible to reach or implement because both sides feel a compromise is a violation of the will of God. It's a sin or it isn't. We can't have partial justice.

* Allow each congregation to decide the issue for itself: This is a combination of compromise and split. If a congregation can successfully choose it becomes an administrative mess for the bishop. But many congregations will split instead. Again, either full morality or full justice is denied.

* Split. This resolves the issue, but in the process tears apart congregations, friendships, and families. Some members will feel alienated by the church of their youth. In spite of the high personal cost this might be the least damaging option. The two parts might reunite in the future (as it did after a split over slavery, though it took a century) or they might drift apart, making reunification impossible.

* Ignore the 1000 pound gorilla: Catholics have put a cap on the issue -- but not to their benefit.

What we hold in common

Sigh. The Rich Warren issue still simmers and the man himself (Rick, not Barack) isn't helping matters. Richard Cohen in an editorial in the Washington Post wrote:

"[Obama said,]'We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.' Sounds nice. But what we do not 'hold in common' is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence. Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue -- the rights of gays to be treated equally -- as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that's nothing to celebrate. The party's off."

Alas, Warren said that gays are afraid of Christians and have Christ-o-phobia. Gee, Rick, I wonder why that is? Could it be that you discredit our faith every chance you get?

Then Warren showed up for a photo-op at a West Hollywood gay thrift shop. Convincing no one. A commenter notes that it is Warren and not Obama who is trying to appear presentable.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The benefits of economic growth go to everyone

About a month ago, when the auto industry was refused a bailout from Congress (I think for the first time), I wrote about possible politics behind the refusal. Senators in the South were hoping for the Big 3 to go out of business (at least get a lot smaller) so that their own factories of foreign owned automakers would grow to take up the slack. A Newsweek article is essentially saying the same thing. Here are some ideas from that article:

The Southern GOP senators don't like unions (Detroit has them, their auto plants don't) and are angry about the mess Bush has made of the financial bailout. They don't understand how Detroit works (legacy costs, union rules, less flexible factories), but they do understand how Southern plants work and wonder why Detroit can't do the same. They are quite happy that various states have given billions to foreign automakers (tax deals, subsidized power through Tennessee Valley Authority) to get the plants in their states but can't stand the idea of the feds doing the same for Detroit.

Detroit has only this year had to deal with gasoline at $4 a gallon. Toyota and others have been dealing with gas more expensive than that for several years now.

Here's another perspective from blogger Terence Heath. I used the phrase "downwardly mobile" just a few days ago in a posting about sundown suburbs who refuse to deal with those who can't maintain the lifestyle. But Terence suspects that downwardly mobile is one of the goals of conservatism. Get rid of unions and regulations and boost outsourcing until your American workers can compete in the global economy -- by being no more expensive than overseas labor. Get used to a lower standard of living.

The UAW, in a process well underway by the 1950s, created the American middle class. That spawned all the ideas that are at the center of American liberalism. Which is why the GOP hates the UAW. But why should a healthy middle class be considered unsustainable? Since the 1970s that myth has driven corporate-labor relations. Need increased profits? Take it out of labor's pay. The worker has been participating in the silent bailout since then. There are now so many unprotected workers they resent their unionized brethren.

And depressed wages meant those trying to maintain their middle class lifestyle had to do it on credit. High consumer debt is a big reason we're in the current mess. Alas, many are saying the way out of this mess is for the middle class to spend more. Without earning more. The only way out of this mess is for the benefits of economic growth go to everyone, not just the rich. Assuming conservatives want economic growth.

Gay marriage is a religious issue

Two gay writers debate the Rick Warren issue. One is Chris Crain who used to publish the Washington Blade (a gay newspaper). The other is Leah McElrath Renna, a psychotherapist who also write for the Huffington Post. Each gets to comment on the other's ideas:

Crain: Obama is looking for unity in areas where we agree, not areas of conflict. Besides, it is brilliant for the most pro-gay president to get the support of an anti-gay pastor.

Renna: The inauguration is a symbolic event, not a policy discussion. The invocation is supposed to represent all Americans. Obama wouldn't consider a pastor who was anti-Muslim. This choice is an act of spiritual violence that could have been avoided.

Crain: Calling it spiritual violence is overkill. Warren was asked to say a prayer, nothing more. No matter who Obama picks someone could view it as spiritual violence. And be careful how you describe Warren because he does leave the door open for legal recognition of gay couples.

Renna: Sorry, Warren's prayer does carry symbolic weight and he becomes a spiritual representative. The issue isn't whether he might allow civil unions (a far cry from supporting them), but that he denies our sexual orientation is god-given. In Warren's defense, the only area of fundamentalism he follows is in the treatment of gays.

Crain: Skip the bickering about Warren's actual views. Our rights won't advance unless we reach out to those who disagree with us.

Renna: This isn't about rights. Warren doesn't believe gays exist and it is his religion that backs up that belief. We'll never win our rights if we say it is a social issue and not a religious one. And because Warren is there because of his religion we find his invitation offensive.

Forced divorce

So much for protecting marriage. Fundie organizations have filed suit to invalidate all of the gay marriages that took place in Calif. between June and October. Various gay commentators say that since this is a contradiction to what they said during the campaign for the ban and because there are not corresponding efforts to reduce divorce, this move is nothing but bigotry. Alas, if the likelihood that existing marriages would be dissolved were pushed during the campaign it may have changed the outcome.

Iraq is just a distraction from the real goal?

This one, alas, sounds very likely, especially when describing Cheney. It is from a guy who calls himself Radical Russ who has a progressive radio show in Portland, OR. The link includes a link to the audio of the show, where it is discussed in detail (I didn't listen).

I … offer my theory that Cheney et al knew torture wouldn't work, and used it anyway to further their goal of purposefully inflaming the Muslim world, for without that massive recruiting tool, plus too few American soldiers plus unguarded ammo dumps, there wouldn't have been enough chaos and bloodshed to get away with stealing billions from the Treasury.

An evening of gay theater

I was able to get to Ann Arbor last evening (before a forecast snowstorm) to see the new play Geoffrey and Jeffrey by Kin Carney at Performance Network Theatre. The two men of the title are a gay couple just celebrating their 25th anniversary of being together. They run a coffee shop in Ann Arbor. They are visited by two women who claim to be the daughter and granddaughter of one of the men. The play was up to the theater's usual high standards, though the mother was played by a substitute who hadn't quite memorized her lines and carried a script with her (with such a small theater they may not have understudies). Even so, she did a great job acting.

I wasn't so sure I liked the play during the first act because the two men were bickering like an old couple and each threatening to walk out on the other. I didn't see a whole lot of love between them, I only saw a long history. However, during the second act, once the reasons for the turmoil are revealed and examined they showed they really were a loving gay couple.

Performance Network is pretty good at producing new plays that have legs, so this one may have life outside Ann Arbor. For once I didn't see the last show. It runs one more weekend.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Defending civil liberties

Hate crimes against Latinos have increased by 40% between 2003 and 2007, mostly because of the nastiness of the immigration debate. Because of that the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino human rights organization is joining the call for the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act that has languished in Congress due to a threatened Bush veto and spineless Democrats. Hate crimes are also perpetrated against other racial groups, religious groups, and sexual minorities and their purpose is to deny rights to the targeted groups beyond the actual victims. They usually succeed. Under a new president and Congress action is now possible. David Neiwert, a journalist in Seattle, makes an interesting point as part of his news about La Raza and a description about the effects of hate crimes. He wrote:

Hate crimes are an integral part of that history [of intimidation], and laws intended to punish their perpetrators with stiffer sentences are an important blow for the cause of very real and substantial freedoms for millions of Americans. Trying to argue that, in some esoteric sense, they constitute "thought crimes" that somehow deprive us of our freedoms (to what? commit crimes?) turns this reality on its head.

Yet progressives haven't yet figured out that framing hate-crime laws as a defense of people's civil liberties is precisely the argument that will instantly deflate the long-running "thought crime" argument. In all the debate over the legislation, I haven't seen the point raised once.

This is an example of civility?

The Rick Warren story is still boiling, and he isn't helping his cause. I said yesterday that Warren said some nasty things about gays. Here's a few details: He thinks gay relationships are morally equivalent to child rape, incest, and polygamy. He lied as part of his efforts to get the Calif. gay marriage ban passed. He insists that all gays are promiscuous and therefore should be celibate (the part he added most recently). And then adds insult to injury by wondering why we aren't as civil as he is.

Rachel Maddow, a lesbian commentator on MSNBC, spent a good chunk of Thursday's show describing why Warren isn't worthy of the invitation. I haven't watched it, though it is good to know it is there.

Though Warren will remain a stain on the inauguration we need to take a look at the guy who will give the benediction. He is Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery who helped Martin Luther King found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Though officially retired, he is still quite active. Here is a posting of Lowery giving the eulogy at Coretta Scott King's funeral along with a comparison of the stature of Lowery to the pettiness of Warren. The comment section of this post wonders if Obama's vision is much more long term than the average person's and that he knows exactly how it will all play out. An example of this is the way he treated Palin. Obama's supporters wanted him to give a knock-out punch. Instead he pretty much ignored her and let her destroy her approval rating on her own. Nice thought, but there are skeptics.

Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, was invited to attend the Inauguration. But with Warren on the program, he has decided he won't attend. He isn't the only one in the boycott, though perhaps one with the highest position in the gay community.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

NOT a good way to start a presidency

Gays, in particular, are feeling punched in the gut with the announcement that Obama has chosen Evangelical pastor Rock Warren for the invocation at his Inauguration. News has since come out that the pick was made by Obama himself and among the "talking points" from Obama are these (some of which are truncated):

* In keeping with the spirit of unity and common purpose this Inauguration will reflect, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have chosen some of the world's most gifted artists and people with broad appeal to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.

* Pastor Rick Warren has a long history of activism on behalf of the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. He's devoted his life to performing good works for the poor and leads the evangelical movement in addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis.

* The President-elect disagrees with Pastor Warren on issues that affect the LGBT community.

* As he's said again and again, the President-elect is committed to bringing together all sides of the faith discussion in search of common ground

* The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues.

* And for the very first time, there will be a group representing the interests of LGBT Americans participating in the Inaugural Parade.

The last point is that a gay marching band, members of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, has made it into the parade. They get a homophobic pastor and we get a band? Shouldn't we at least supply Michelle's hairdresser too?

The core of the complaint is that while Warren works for the end of AIDS, he also campaigned for the Calif. gay marriage ban (saying some nasty and dismissive things about gays along the way) and, like most Evangelicals, is against abortion.

Obama says he wants to keep the discussion going. Fine. But the inauguration isn't a discussion. And campaigning for women's rights and gay rights and then selecting a pastor that is very much against both makes a lot of people feel sold out. This isn't a case of finding a centrist palatable to everyone. Warren and his Fundie colleagues have said there is no way they can compromise on gay issues (as the marriage ban showed). There isn't a lot of "discussion" that can happen between these people and gays (where the discussion will happen is with the common people -- religious or not -- who simply don't yet know what being gay is all about. So why does "come together" mean the Fundies set the baseline and we have to come to them?

An example of the reaction: Inviting Warren is (to gays) like inviting a white supremacist. Alas, Warren himself claims not to be a homophobe. Riiiight.

This issue has created a lot of noise in the gay blogsphere (and a lot of feedback). See postings here, here (nice graphic), here (includes to statements from gay organizations), here, and here. It is also generating a lot of "too bad, sucker" gloating in the Fundie blogsphere. Not a good way to start off a presidency.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reflecting reality or denying it?

Another dollop of thanks to Newsweek. In response to the response to their article on the religious case for gay marriage they have posted online the case made by two theologians. For gays is Bill Wylie-Kellerman a United Methodist pastor serving in St. Peters' Episcopal Church in Detroit (not sure why a Methodist pastor is serving in an Episcopal church). Against is Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, which addresses how Christianity should be applied to life. I don't think the debate addressed the issue of how much religious doctrine should influence public policy. The whole thing is rather long, so I'll have to read it later. If it is more than the usual I'll post about it later.

Instead, for the moment, here is a summary by Timothy Kincaid, who is part of a blog that examines (and debunks most of) the scientific studies featuring gays. Kincaid starts by saying he is biased. He is gay and comes from the third generation of a fundamentalist preacher family. As for his own take on the bible he says:

I have come to see Scripture in a different light. I now find it less of a rule-book and more of a composite of wisdom about man’s efforts to know the Divine. I now find Christianity less about how I can bring my life into compliance with the arbitrary dictates of a Divine Despot and more about how to commune with God and incorporate Him into my life and a guide on how to interact with His Creation.

Which pretty much matches my views. So Kincaid summarizes the debate this way:

It seemed to me that Wylie-Kellerman holds a view of God, faith, and Scripture that reflects the reality of the world around him, while Duke unquestioningly seeks to deny that which does not conform to his preconceptions and to shape his world to conform to his doctrines.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kids need a dad and a mom?

Who would have guessed (or believed) that the best parents at a Chinese zoo are a pair of gay penguins? The guys wanted to be fathers so bad they were trying to steal eggs. When given eggs from an inexperienced mother they showed they were great at taking care of the chicks.

Every area has its share of the downwardly mobile

After he leaves the White House Bush will be moving to Preston Hollow, Texas, a whites-only suburb of Dallas. Similar to other communities in the area there is a rule that non-whites, unless they are live-in servants, must leave by sundown. This gives these exclusive areas the name sundown suburbs, which aren't just around Dallas. They don't object to just blacks, but to anyone not like them. If these people can't take care of themselves (inner cities are evidence) why should we let them near us? However, there is one problem. Even some in their own community are "downwardly mobile" -- the addicted, the elderly who have exhausted finances and medical care, those who have lost jobs, the mentally ill, those leaving abusive family members, former prisoners. All social classes have these people. But sundown suburbs very intentionally do not provide services for them. No halfway houses, shelters, public housing, drug treatment facilities. Residents have clout and money to make sure it stays that way. Which means the downwardly mobile become homeless and then surrounding cities, ones not so white, have to deal with the problem. Suburbs have more people than cities and rural areas combined, yet provide less than 1/5 of the services these rejected people require. These sundown suburbs have no trouble with taxes -- as long as they are spent on themselves and not on the neighboring core cities. Such conservative isolation perpetuates racial issues.

Eveybody would have been stoned by now

There is usually an issue between the one in which an article appears in Newsweek and the one that contains the letters written in response to it. Not this time. When you get 40,000 letters in response to the article on the Bible and gay marriage there is no need to wait another week. Many of those letters were in response to a campaign waged by the American Family Association. Newsweek printed 7 of the letters.

* The Bible doesn't define marriage, natural order does. The Bible only confirms it.

* You can't pick and choose from the Bible, you must accept it all or none. I believe in God's Plan and I don't judge my gay friends. Actually, Fundies do pick and choose. This writer doesn't say how he would have voted on a gay marriage ban.

* Christians are taught love the sinner, hate the sin. This article adds: condone the sin and write laws to validate it. Christians, Muslims, & Jews agree that homosexuality is a sin. Stop trying to rewrite the Bible. I dispute the original slogan because it is impossible to do.

* Two men do not make a mom. Kids need a mother and father. This is based on research that did not include gay couples and thus is a false conclusion.

* The author got facts wrong on what the Bible says and is just vilifying Christians.

* "In my own family, if one were to apply biblical proscriptions, every single person would have been stoned by now."

* Thanks for a much needed rebuke of the fundamentalists.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Finally, they're not wimps!

After the election the New York state senate ended up in a precarious situation. The Democrats had a majority, yet 3 new Dem senators threatened to join the GOP caucus, giving them majority status, unless the rest of the Dems agreed not to bring up gay marriage during the new session. That deal was forged -- and has fallen apart. Senator Malcolm Smith, who should become Democratic Majority Leader said:

"We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change. We believe that ultimately, we must do what is right for the people of the State of New York. Furthermore, real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers. Those issues must be part of the legislative process. The members of this Conference have come a long way to consider the demands placed on the table. But frankly, we would rather wait two more years to take charge of the Senate than to simply serve the interests of the few. New York State cannot afford the type of self-serving politics being proposed and I will not be the leader to sacrifice what is right for New York for a quick political solution."

It is so good to see a Democrat with a spine, willing to stand up for principles, even in the face of personal and political cost. I've missed guys like this.

Making a case for rights

A couple days ago I wrote about one comment from John Stewart's interview of Mike Huckabee. Terrence Heath (fellow blogger) caught Stewart's closing:

"I think it’s that it’s a travesty that people have forced someone who is gay to have to make their case that they deserve the same basic rights as someone else."

He elaborates that being required to do so is an indignity. The other person is saying: Convince us that you are as human as we are.

And while I gave the Huckster a pass for his comment, "Just because I want to preserve the sanctity of marriage doesn't make me a bigot." Terrence isn't so generous.

”From a religious perspective, is it really possible to love someone that you don’t see as an equal? Is it possible to see someone as less than equal without hatred, or without at least contempt? If so, how?

"From my perspective, either you see me as equal or you don’t. If you don’t, as far as I’m concerned it amounts to hate - and the actions taken to maintain inequality stem from hatred. I don’t care if it’s for religious reasons. If you can’t see me as equal - and treat me as equal - then you have to see me as (even slightly) less than human. You can’t really see me as equal and still deny me equal treatment."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Protest too much?

I probably won't do well in a debate because it sometimes takes me a while to figure out exactly what I see wrong in someone elses statement. One such moment of clarity came today in response to yesterday's viewing of John Stewart interviewing Mike Huckabee. The Huckster at one point said something like, "Just because I want to preserve the sanctity of marriage doesn't make me a bigot."

Fine, Huck, we'll let that one slide. But…

* Lying as part of your efforts to preserve the sanctity of marriage;
* Refusing to consider our side of the issue;
* Comparing us to terrorists when we protest the outcome;


Some things change, some don't

The Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Center in Ferndale had a reception today for Center Partners. I don't know how much one must donate to achieve that status and I'm sure there were many in the room who contribute a lot more than I do. The buffet included hummus, chicken satay, and Thai noodles along with wine, sparkling juice, and usual soft drinks. The program was just a few people who said thanks and this is what your money does.

Since I now try to combine trips when possible I went early enough to take in a movie at the art house in Royal Oak (a couple miles from Ferndale). The movie was Milk, about the political career of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to win elected office in America when he won a seat on the city board of supervisors of San Francisco in 1977. Sean Penn did a marvelous job as Milk. It was interesting to see how far we've come -- and how much some things have stayed the same. The Right was using the same arguments against us 30 years ago that they are using now. One of the big battles Milk led was against a ballot initiative to ban gays from teaching in public schools. The arguments were about protecting kids from perverts and pedophiles. Sigh. The scene that affected me the most was the sight of 30,000 candles in the march to City Hall the night Milk was assassinated. This movie is worth it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why bother with Bush?

A couple days ago I wrote wondering what Obama should do about Bush and his perhaps criminal administration. Investigations? Truth Commission? Immunity to underlings to testify against the big players?

My sister replied:

Why should he do anything??? Just start fresh and keep going. Bush will be history in 5 weeks, can't the whole mess be ignored after he and his kind are gone???

I can think of a few reasons.
* The Bush administration has been the most secretive since Nixon. There is intense curiosity of what went on behind the public fa├žade.
* A simple and complete historical accounting of what Bush did and its consequences. And with Bush consequences were world-wide, both through his War on Terror and economic deregulation.
* While a historical accounting, in itself, is a good thing we might learn things to prevent future presidents from doing the same. We may also want to attempt to undo the consequences and will need to understand what happened.
* An accurate assessment of what Bush did wrong may help mend relations with other countries who were hurt or offended by Bush's actions.
* Some people were hurt through his actions -- dead soldiers and their families, Gitmo detainees improperly detained -- and may want to claim restitution.
* We Americans tend to think criminals should be punished and many crimes do not have a statute of limitations, meaning no matter how long ago the crime occurred the perpetrator should face justice. Did Bush commit crimes?

Not all of these reasons would prompt investigations that would result in criminal charges against Bush. And pursuing those criminal charges are a separate question of uncovering what Bush did as president.

Clearing up questions -- and a regret

My sister responded to one of yesterday's posts. The bits in question were:

* Our definition of marriage has changed radically over the years and our current definition is less than 100 years old.
* What about "be fruitful and multiply?" Doesn't that prove that since gays can't procreate they can't marry? Infertile straights get married all the time and gays have access to international adoptions and reproductive technology (besides, with 6.5 billion people we must have kids?).

My sister wrote:

Down at the bottom of this lady's summary you state that the definition of modern marriage is only about a hundred years old. What is that definition? And does it say that ALL able bodied people must be married???
Just wondering.

The current definition of marriage is based on love between the two people rather than the husband owning the wife. The article said that into the 1970s there were still states that had "head and master" laws which gave the husband the right to decide where a family will live and whether the wife could have a job.

The article doesn't say that all able bodied people must be married, though I understand some Fundies believe that. However, one of the big arguments against gay marriage is that they can't procreate. The response to that is that marriage is much more than procreation. And my comment, not in the original article, is that with 6.5 billion people in the world we should be worried about too much procreation, not too little.

At the end of that original post I included a pie chart that showed most of the country is Christian and that large portion complaining, "We're being oppressed!" On reflection I think the graphic is not accurate for two reasons. The portion allocated to Christians probably includes many people who say they are Christian but otherwise do not act on their faith. Secondly, not all Christians are claiming oppression from the culture. I should have left it off.

The comedian gets it

Mike Huckabee has said some nasty things about gays. A mild one is that gays haven't suffered enough to deserve civil rights. John Stewart takes him on -- and John Stewart gets it. It is curious and disappointing that such a challenge doesn't come from mainstream media but from what is billed as a comedic take on the news. The film clip is just over 7 minutes. Every time Huckster opened his mouth I cringed at how he was distorting the way things really are.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Onto the home turf

Newsweek's cover story this week is Our Mutual Joy: The Religious Case for Gay Marriage by Lisa Miller. Talk about gutsy! It's wonderful to see in a magazine of this stature (though Newsweek, in the 30 years I've been reading it, has always been gay friendly). Some of her points:
* Fundies actually claim the modern one-man-one-woman marriage represents the biblical tradition? Have you taken a look at Biblical marriages lately? Throughout the Old Testament it was one man and as many wives as he could afford. In the New Testament, the two that talk most about marriage -- Jesus and Paul -- are both single.
* In spite of Fundie claims, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and the bible says very little. Neither the bible nor Jesus defines marriage.
* There really is a difference between civil and religious marriage.
* What about "be fruitful and multiply?" Doesn't that prove that since gays can't procreate they can' marry? Infertile straights get married all the time and gays have access to international adoptions and reproductive technology (besides, with 6.5 billion people we must have kids?).
* Leviticus bans gay acts! Leviticus has more space devoted to how to sacrifice a lamb and how to be ritually clean -- and how to set the proper price for a slave.
* Paul may have been written about homosexuality, but progressive scholars are sure now that he wasn't talking about love between equal partners.
* Our definition of marriage has changed radically over the years and our current definition is less than 100 years old.
* The bible *does* say a lot about acceptance and inclusion, especially inclusion in defiance of social convention. Denying a sacrament such as religious marriage because of sexuality is the same as denying it because of skin color.

Naturally, the article has raised howls of protest, denunciations, and charges of a scandalous hit piece on Christianity. The arguments for and against gay marriage (or gays in general) have usually been fought on the scientific side -- can gays change or are they born that way? -- with the Fundies putting forth some mighty strange "science" to support their cause. That's while they cite religious reasons when they talk amongst themselves. But the tables have been turned. Miller has poked holes in their religious arguments and they now have to defend their home turf. It seems the only ones allowed to use and interpret the bible are the Fundies. Progressive Christians or -- gosh! atheists -- are supposed to keep their hands off. They're allowed to do bad science, but if we touch their bible they are persecuted. This chart says it well.


As cantankerous as Ohio politics is this is a delightful surprise: The Cleveland city council voted to create a domestic partner registry and the mayor has said he will approve it. To make it comply with state constitution amendments it is not restricted to gays.

Yesterday, I saw an article in Between The Lines (alas, the online version won't be available until tomorrow) that some GOP members of the Senate, who killed the auto industry bailout today, are saying one provision of the package that might get them to change their vote is to order all three companies to suspend their domestic partner insurance programs. Just think of the millions of dollars they'll save! Never mind their analysis of the number of gays who use this benefit is off by a factor of 5. It's always the fault of the gays. Though that article isn't online yet here is a summary with some rather snarky replies.

You gays are just as bad as...

A few days ago I wrote about the continuing way in which various Fundie groups are accusing gays of being the aggressors -- perpetrating mob violence -- when what looks to us like peaceful protests. I was busy with a music project so I'm only returning to the issue now. I have a few updates, then another reply from my friend.

Singer Pat Boone, taking his cue from the ad accusing gays of violence has likened the gay protests to the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Seamus Hasson, whose name is first on the ad, has compared our protests to Al Qaeda. And Rabbi Nachum Shifren (I don't know how he fits into this mess) has compared us to -- wait for it -- Nazis. I think all this means they know they are losing.

An organization with the title Truth Wins Out took out a full page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune (probably can't afford the New York Times where the original ad appeared) essentially saying the authors of the original ad are lying and thus are violating one of the Top Ten. It also highlights what the various signatories have said about each other -- meaning the only thing they agree on is screwing the gays.

My friend wrote:

Wow, my previous response quoted and dissected in full. Thank you. I'm glad to be worthy.

In case you did miss something (I have a reputation for being cryptic), let me add this:

You shouldn't make the comparison you did because it diverts your emotions and those of your readers from the real work at hand. Revenge for bombings and hate-driven murder is not a helpful motive for gays and their allies in this fight against the Mormon Church. Revenge clouds everyone's vision.

As I said, the Mormon Church and its conservative peers are a large, real danger to gays. I described that threat; essentially, the Church threatens to imprison us all in its version of the past. But the Mormon Church is conducting a war of ideas. Countering and overcoming that requires better ideas and better presentation of those ideas: calm, steady, mature and peaceful demonstrations and public argument that places gays in the moral right and the Mormon Church on the defensive. Gays are finally doing that, and doing it well.

Rage against the Mormons for "numerous bombings of abortion providers and deaths of gays to hate crimes. And they accuse us of violence?" cannot win this contest for the hearts and minds of Americans. Americans won't and shouldn't see the Mormon Church as party to hate crimes, even if individual Mormons are among the perpetrators. The Mormon Church preaches against gay morality and practices; it does not incite anyone to carry out hate crimes. (We know what things would look like if the Mormons were guilty of inciting to hate crimes: The Republicans led by Palin waded into inciting-to-violence waters late in the campaign this year. They were called out for it and had to back down.)

Hate crimes cry out for justice, of course, case-by-case justice found only in criminal courts. I certainly didn't mean to lay aside hate crimes as unworthy of attention. Leave that to the criminal justice system (which itself needs to be the object of demonstrations and argument so that it does its job properly).

The productive path is to size up the Mormon Church as the longer-term, muscular ideological opponent that it is and campaign against it accordingly. Its weakness is its self-righteousness and certainty. As those are exposed as errors, the Church will pay a big price for its ways and gays will win the political battle at last.

Are Mormons inciting people to hate crimes? With such crimes (racial and homosexual) up since the election it is hard to tell if all of it was incited by Palin or if the Mormons had a hand in it. The people who are paying for those words from McCain, Palin, and perhaps the Mormons won't be McCain, Palin, or Mormon leaders. There have been anti-gay hate crimes reported in the gay blogs just this week.

As for the rest of your comments…

Dear friend, I appreciate the debate and you are always a worthy debate partner. And I agree with a great deal of what you say here. However, in this case you might be attributing more to my lowly blog than it deserves. If I had vast numbers of readers I might be more careful in what I say. Then again, those vast swarms of readers would certainly spill their anger into the comments sections of each posting as happens to the blogs with vast readerships.

I started sending out summaries of gay news and my musings on them about 5 years ago to a few friends (you included) and family members. A year ago at the suggestion of my niece I funneled that energy into this blog. These postings now get automatically mailed to 10 people (the max the software allows) and maybe 10 other people read it -- unless I happen to attract a readership that is *very* stingy with comments. So I don't think any Mormons are reading this blog -- I haven't even told my Catholic brother about it.

I write this blog for two reasons. One is to share ideas that affect gays with friends and family because I'm pretty sure most of them won't go searching for such news on their own. Many have told me they appreciate my efforts.

The other reason is to work through these ideas in my own mind and a good way of doing that is to attempt to explain it to others -- and to listen to their thoughtful feedback. Thank you for supplying some of that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Adding insult to injury?

A lot of people (including me) are convinced that Bush committed crimes while in office. Many are disappointed he was not impeached and tried in the Senate. That leads to the question of what Obama should do about Bush? Open investigations and risk a partisan fight when there are so many issues that demand attention? Attempt a truth commission similar to what South Africa did after Apartheid? Offer immunity to the underlings to get at the major players?

Faced with that what might Bush do on his way out the door? There are rumors that he might issue preemptive pardons for Cheney and large numbers of staffers, appointees, and military officials -- anyone who might have been involved in torture or other of Bush's notorious programs. That may be done even if it comes with the political cost of admitting there is a crime to cover up and be guilty of.

Blanket pardons have been used before, such as Carter pardoning draft dodgers. However, all pardons so far have named either the crime or the perpetrator. The rumor is Bush will mention neither.

There are organizations (such as Democracy in Action and American Freedom Campaign) urging contact of lawmakers to support a Pardon Disclosure Act:

"Any pardon issued by the President under Article II, section 2, clause 1, of the Constitution of the United States, if granted to the President, the Vice-President or any political appointees in the President's own administration, shall specifically identify each individual to whom a pardon is being granted along with the crimes committed or acts taken in the course of his or her official duties for which that person is being pardoned."

I note this preserves such things as blanket pardons of draft dodgers, something significant to my generation. It does address the case of a president directing his staff to commit all sorts of crimes and pardoning them on his way out the door.

You should be able to access webpages of representatives and senators to leave a message saying you are in favor of the Pardon Disclosure Act.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Incoming from all directions!

While I was dealing with the computer virus last week I was also trying to deal with another type of fraud. That was finally resolved today, so I now have the whole story.

I've been a subscriber to a particular magazine for perhaps 30 years now. A couple years ago they went to a new system in which they would not bombard us for 6 months with renewal notices, they would only send a renewal bill which I could pay or not.

Back in October I got a call from the magazine asking if I would like to renew for 3 years instead of 1. Sounded good to me. I gave my credit card number. When the bill came in November it contained an unfamiliar charge. Since the description included a phone number I called. They said they were a subscription renewal service and named the magazine (which meant the original call was from them, not the magazine). So I paid it.

Last week I got a postcard from the magazine saying to watch for my renewal notice. Huh? I called the magazine. Do they work with renewal companies? Yes. Sometimes it takes a couple months for them to receive renewals from these companies. The renewal price for 1 year is $17.

But the subscription service charged $110 for three! I called them. Yes, since I found a better deal elsewhere I would get a refund for the difference from $51 ($17 times 3). Actually, I'd like to cancel. Sorry, sir, the original order was more than 30 days ago.

Knowing magazines usually give a discount for multiple years I called the mag again. Yes, 3 years is $37. Do you work with that company? They're not on the approved list. How can I verify? Call back Monday.

So I called the mag today and got a different explanation of how the list worked. I called the subscription company with the 3 year price. Yes, I would get a refund of $110 - $37. That left me wondering why the previous refund was not recorded.

I called the mag again and got yet another story about how they use subscription services. I asked to talk to a supervisor and complained about getting so many different stories. We talked about how their subscription department worked, what they do and what they don't do. And how easy it should be to cancel. The subscription company seemed to violate several of their procedures. I finally asked should I call my credit card company and complain of fraud? Yes.

I did. At the mention of fraud credit card companies act fast. What transaction did I suspect? A refund was credited. Do you have your card in your possession? I did. We are canceling that number. Destroy the card. The new one will come in the mail in five days. A fraud report for me to fill out will come in about 10 days.

The abruptness of being without that credit card for 5 days almost made me think perhaps I was being too hasty. Besides, didn't they want details before taking such drastic action? But then I realized that if they only cancelled the charge the subscription company might resubmit. This way they can't. I do have a backup card if I need to shop during the next week. I rarely use it. And the details of the fraud aren't nearly as important as protecting the card number.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Enjoying the protections of the majority

Maybe it is time for a 28th amendment to the US Constitution. No, not that one. This one:

Amendment 28 - Protecting the Minority from the Majority
No law, policy, executive order, ruling, constitutional revision or amendment shall be passed at any level of government which prevents the minority from enjoying full access to civil law or the constitutional protections enjoyed by the majority.

Isn't the 14th Amendment, the one about equal protections, enough? Apparently not. Even legal scholars -- and Obama -- see wiggle room. It probably doesn't have much chance in passing (thank the Mormons for help in killing the amendment protecting women) but the discussion about tyranny of the majority will be good for the country.

Included in the debate will be such issues as: Exactly what is a minority? We can go to great lengths conjuring up small groups. How does it affect convicted criminals? How does religion fit into it? How about protecting the majority (women) from the minority (men)? The poor are in the majority too. Does it include citizens under the age of 21? Non-citizens? Does equal rights imply equal taxes? What unintended side effects might we trip over? A friend studying complex systems was reminded in a lecture there are no such thing as "unintended side effects" there are only "effects" and if they are unintended and on the side you didn't do your research. And we haven't gotten to the real issue of tyranny of the majority.

Perhaps it is time to revive and expand the Equal Rights Amendment (hey, what a great name!) by adding sexual minorities and giving it some teeth.

Speaking of tyranny of the majority. Are we civically illiterate? Does the average citizen know how the government works (or how it is supposed to work)? Is that contributing to instances of tyranny of the majority?

As Fanny's Room puts it:

It's frightening. The anti-gay crowd lambastes "elite" judges for countering the will of the people even though these judges play a vital role in our democratic system of protecting minority rights even if the majority of people do not deem these rights worth protecting. Personally, I take comfort in knowing that "elite" judges, no matter what they end up deciding, usually present more sophisticated legal and political arguments than "a whole buncha people think only a man and a woman deserve marriage, therefore only a man and a woman can get married."

To rate our civic literacy the Intercollegiate Studies Institute created a quiz to quantify what we know and was disappointed that the average score was only 49%, a failing grade. I took the quiz and got 91% (30 out of 33) -- and saw why lots of people flunked. As one critic named Brian on Fanny's Room put it:

But the civics test you link to is awful. Not only are most of the questions based on history and not civics (the Puritans stressed the sinfulness of all humanity?), but on ancient, non-relevant history (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle?) The questions also indicate a fairly pronounced bias ("free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government’s centralized planning because:"). …

I can guarantee that if we were taught as children not that "this country is great because of Democracy!" but that "this country is great because we have a system of government that prevents absolute power vested either a single individual, or in an entrenched majority" this conversation would be very different.

No, really, I'm above such silly things as hate

Back before the virus hit my computer I wrote about efforts of religious groups to get ads into major newspapers claiming the gay response to the Calif. marriage bans is a Campaign of Violence by gays against churches. One of those ads has now appeared in the New York Times. I'll let you read the blather for yourself.

However, I will note a couple things. The ad directs people to a website (no link from me) where they can sign a petition in support of a campaign to "expose and publicly shame anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry — against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason." The head of the organization that paid for the ads wrote, "This is a lesson America had to learn the hard way, overcoming bigotry against Jews, Catholics, and other religious minorities, and we are committed to not letting the country forget it."

That left me wondering why they are concerned only with anti-religious bigotry? Might that be because they are on the receiving end? Shouldn't they be concerned with all bigotry?

The National Organization for Marriage (and certainly not for gay marriage) has also trumpeted the idea that gays are the real haters. They have started a campaign titled "Above the Hate" to make sure everyone knows the nasty things gays have been doing against religious minorities.

Along the way they make the same error of all bigots: the actions of a few are implied to describe the actions of the entire group. Yeah, some gay activists did some things that weren't nice (though most incidents attributed to gays have not been proven) but most gay protesters have been quite civil and respectful. In the nature of all bigoted screeds, the nasty things attributed to all gays are, of course, described in the most dramatic manner possible. Even if they have to lie (pardon me, "make stuff up" -- they certainly don't document their claims) to get their point across. But gays are the ones that get the label of anti-religious bigots.

There is a thorough dissection of the NOM claims at Fannie's Room (who is a blogger like me). I'll mention one of their claims. NOM wrote that gays created "Outrageous television ad campaigns crudely and deliberately designed to incite fear and hatred of a minority religious community." (emphasis added) Those last few words imply it is a fine thing to have created "outrageous television ad campaigns crudely and deliberately designed to incite fear and hatred of gays" as the Mormons did in getting the marriage ban passed.

With reactions like this one might conclude (as several have) that our protests are effective.

I got a direct response to my previous posting on this topic from a very good friend. By discussing his note in this posting about religious intolerance I run the risk that you will conclude he is also religiously intolerant, which I want to emphatically state is not correct. He's as annoyed by religious intolerance as I am. I include his words (and my reactions to them) because they relate to the topic at hand. He wrote:

Your words betray a disrespect for real and powerful enemies. They come from an (understandable) anger but present a danger to yourself and your audience. It's despicable, self-destructive and unwise to bring

"numerous bombings of abortion providers and deaths of gays to hate crimes. And they accuse us of violence?"

into this discussion. I blame your commenter for that. I'm surprised you would broadcast this line without critiquing it.

Its despicable because (I'm pretty sure) the Mormon Church isn't a party to such things, directly or indirectly. Hate crimes are criminal incidents, often showing the perpetrator's mental illness. Attaching them to established churches discredits the gay community. Gays must attend to differences among a spectrum of enemies, for their own sanity and to divide and conquer.

Splitting a few hairs here: I don't know if the Mormon church had a hand in abortion bombings and I don't know how loudly they condemn the practice of abortion. My friend is right that I should not lump Mormons with abortion bombers without more evidence.

However, their disgust with gays is now documented (in spite of their claims that celibate gays are welcome in their churches) through the way they lied their way to victory in Calif. And it is also well documented (though I don't have a link) that religious condemnation of gays fuels hate crimes against gays, even if the mentally ill actually pull the trigger or light the fuse. The religious leaders, of course, hotly claim their speech had no influence at all and the actual events are isolated incidents from lone perpetrators.

Or to put it another way, the organization Soul Force says that one of their missions is to combat spiritual violence against gays.

So I may have been a bit broad in my linkage, but my comparison is not despicable.

Its self-destructive because it sets up an "eye for an eye" mentality. That creates the spiral of violence and misery we have seen for decades between Israel and the Palestinians --- it's lose lose for all.

Here I very much agree. And though I didn't carefully provide linkage to above statement, there is a section in that same posting that discusses the non-violent principles of Gandhi and King.

Its unwise because the violent, criminal, deadly few who prey on gays are really a small (but tragic and emotional) problem for the gay community and its allies. They can't make a real difference in the larger, historic fight. The cure for that problem is law enforcement (admittedly, also a problem).

In contrast, the Mormon Church is huge, global, persistent, wealthy and dangerous. Its a big problem, as are the evangelical sects, the traditional Catholic Church and some others. We need to see our enemies realistically. In this ugly view, we see entrenched, tradition-conserving morally-self-justified mega-religions that know how to get their messages out. They won't give up their power and go into a better future easily. Yes, in the longer run, these churches are destroying themselves by failing to adapt to modern times. But they won't disappear soon. And political climates run in cycles: backward, conservative powers are likely to wax and wane.

I think I lost something here. I shouldn't make the comparison I did because while perpetrators of hate crimes are deadly, the Mormon church is merely dangerous? Especially since the rhetoric from the Mormon church and its colleagues in this campaign (who only claim to be colleagues when up against gays) has been shown (see above) to inspire those perpetrators of hate crimes. If I did misunderstand you I'm sure you'll correct me.

Painted into a corner

According to Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator (alas, web articles for subscribers only) the Republican Party doesn't have much of a future. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch. Dubose lays it out in terms of demographics:
* Obama made inroads into Evangelicals, turning several red states to blue.
* Ethnic minorities have increased their share of the electorate, now 25%, and Bush and Katrina chased them away from the GOP.
* Youth went decisively for Obama. This year there were 48 million voters born after 1972; by 2016 that will be 80 million. They are offended by the Right's claim to moral authority.
* Working class voters who loved Palin have fallen by 15% over the last 30 years.
* By 2024, secular Americans (those who don't attend church) will be 45% of adults.
* The fervent Evangelicals are only 25% of the electorate.

So the GOP has a choice: Reach out to youth and suburbanites and risk alienating Evangelicals, or more closely align themselves with Evangelicals and alienate the demographics of the future. Rove's "permanent political realignment" has happened. The GOP is locked with Southern Evangelicals, which had been the core of Nixon's Southern Strategy 40 years ago. Their best hope now is a disastrous Obama presidency.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Swatting pesky bugs with incomplete swatters

There's a reason why you haven’t heard from me in a few days. My computer got hit by a virus. Fortunately, it does not appear to be one that propagates by email. At least a friend who gets frequent emails from me hasn't complained about being hit.

Late afternoon on Thursday I got a popup window on my computer warning that a Trojan had been found and that the way to get rid of it was to go to a particular website and download the removal software. Since the price was $50, I balked. It is difficult for me to let go of dollars if I feel I can find the same thing for free. And the web is usually good at providing all kinds of free advice.

Several solutions to find and destroy the Trojan failed, including scanning my system for the file name and running the security system I already had. So I went back to the suggested website and saw the product could be downloaded before paying, licensing for important stuff to come later. It, of course, found the Trojan.

Before shelling out bucks I talked to a friend for advice (alas, out of his realm of expertise) and searched on the name of the fix program for recommendations. That's when I learned the true nature of things.

There was no Trojan. The popup warning me of the Trojan was the virus. The downloaded scanner program with the name Perfect Defender declared false positives to get me to license it so that it could steal credit card data.

Fortunately, the only effect of the virus was that every 15 minutes I got that popup warning of the virus and the first page my browser displayed (regardless of my homepage) was that I had better now browse unsecured and should go buy their product.

Then I started an odyssey. Through Thursday evening and much of Friday I tried THREE more security programs, each recommended by various sites describing how to eradicate Perfect Defender. The first of the three got rid of the pieces of Perfect Defender, but none of the three eradicated the popup. I even sent a note to the tech support of one of the products. They had me download and run their diagnostic tool. Since it finished after 5:00 on Friday and they need 48 hours to analyze the data I expect to hear from them on Tuesday.

Today, after one more scan of my original security program (which found pieces of what it said were Trojans apparently left over from the first security program I tried and deleted) I went web searching again and found a site that explained how to find and delete the offending program by hand. That worked. The way it works is to hide in local Google data and look like the Microsoft's own security program, which is called Explorer Defender.

I am not sending this out as a virus alert because emails shrieking about viruses can be as annoying as the virus itself.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The victim is the agressor

This gets tiresome. An organization called the Becket Fund appears to be planning a round of newspaper ads claiming the gay response to the Calif. marriage ban constitutes a "Campaign of Violence." This is part of an effort to make the victim look like the aggressor. Their claim to violence is a mysterious white powder sent to a few Mormon churches and a couple bullet holes in church windows. These incidents are under investigation and there is no evidence yet that they were perpetrated by gay protesters. Dan Savage said that gays are not targeted private religious beliefs, but public political actions. Yes, it is amazing that Mormons spent $20 million to harm families yet are playing the victim. A commenter to this post (alas, no longer appearing) listed numerous bombings of abortion providers and deaths of gays to hate crimes. And they accuse us of violence?

Another commentary first shows how the incidents mentioned above (and a couple others) will be highlighted for the "despicable" roles the gays played, but not what the Right did, or didn't do, as a part of the same events. Perhaps these organizations understand their blessings from Bush are coming to an end and they want to control the message to influence Obama.

A commenter calls us to the non-violent principles of Gandhi and King, perhaps even to the point of letting them do violence against us to demonstrate exactly who is violent. It was the British beating the Indians and the whites beating the blacks which decisively turned public perception. Even if we don't get to that point (I'm rather adverse to pain) I feel the church is simply doing more damage to itself. A lot of younger people know what gays are like and the more the message of the church conflicts with that the more likely they won't bother with the church.

The Mormons are bleating again, though they think it is only amongst themselves with nobody else listening (from an article in the Mormon Times). The bleat? We're sore losers. We won't shut up and take it. Let's see… Confident in their power, arrogant, and contemptuous. Yep, real family and Christian values. Sounds more like bluff talk from a bully who won by a much smaller margin than he's used to and afraid that in a rematch he'll lose.

This a much better way to put it, and fun besides. Prop 8, the Musical. The whole thing in just over 3 minutes, complete with guest appearance by Jesus to tell the anti-gay folks what's wrong with their argument. Lots of big Hollywood stars helped put this together, alas, not before the vote.

We're making headway

A new poll released today and conducted after the election shows:
* 75% say that gays should have relationship protection, including 47% in favor of marriage.
* 64% support allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
* 63% support adding gays and transgenders to hate crime laws.
* 51% support adding gays and transgenders to non-discrimination laws.
* 69% oppose laws that would ban adoption by gays.

Green v. Economy, round 2

In contrast to my posting last Sunday about a growing chorus who say we should use spending on environmental efforts to help us out of the economic mess, but also in contrast to those who say that any spending on the environment hurts the economy, Robert Samuelson, who writes about economic issues in Newsweek has a different reason. He says the economy needs fast and nimble action and trying to bundle that help with green issues will only slow things down. That's because most green issues will cause a great deal of debate about tradeoffs and that debate is the speed killer. His opinion about health care is the same. Better to get the economy humming, then have a proper debate on these other important and vital issues.

I'm not quite convinced. There are many green issues that won't trigger a long debate (and Samuelson says installing wind turbines as one, but only one, of them). It could take a long time to get the economy humming and the environment can't wait that long. The debate can get started even while tending to the economy. I do agree that some issues that need a long debate and we shouldn't rush the debate simply to get policies passed.

Price of loyalty?

Some have noted Hillary's appointment to Sec. of State and wonder if she'll be loyal to Obama. Jacob Weisberg of Newsweek elaborates on this idea. Bush is famous for putting loyalty above everything else -- to the detriment of his government. No surprise that the worst administrations in the last half century have been the most paranoid. Perhaps Obama doesn't care about personal loyalty. Perhaps he also understands that loyalty can't be commanded, but must be earned.