Monday, June 30, 2008

Dobson doesn't speak for me

Yet even more about that Dobson - Obama spat. Here is an opinion, by Amy Sullivan in Time, that Dobson's rant is backfiring. One issue which brought out Dobson's ire is Obama's statement that it is possible to be moral without being religious. Here are some developments related to Dobson's rant:

Democrats as a whole, and Obama in particular, are no longer cowering in silence when Dobson speaks.

Within a day, the website was up. It's a site that's been in the works for quite a while, waiting for Dobson to open his mouth. Behind it is group of Christian leaders, headed by Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was gave the benediction at Bush's first inauguration. Similarly, a political action committee called the Matthew 25 Network (named for a chapter in the bible that has 3 stories -- the wise and foolish virgins in which Jesus tells us to stay alert, the story of investment in which a slave is berated because he didn't invest some money for fear he will lose it, and the story of sheep and goats in which Jesus describes what will send you to hell or get you into heaven [hint: being gay isn't listed]) has started airing ads in Dobson's home market.

McCain has refused to trek to Dobson for a blessing (not surprising since Dobson came out forcefully against McCain in the primary).

Obama has been talking about his faith, making it harder for Evangelicals to call him a secular bogeyman, even as Obama criticizes their "certainty theology," the idea that "real" Christians have no doubts about how right they are.

Obama's case has been helped by a shift in attitude documented in a recent poll which shows 70% of Americans agree with the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life."

Dobson's younger colleagues are refusing to enter the political fray at the same time they add environment, poverty, and health care to the top issues alongside abortion, gay rights, and stem-cell research.

And even mainstream conservative media are no longer piling on when Dobson and colleagues rant. Now they are calling such rants "intolerant."

All of this is good news.

Because it is divisive and discrimnatory

As some people were wondering if Obama would oppose the Calif. marriage amendment -- and they were wondering because he recently said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman -- he did exactly that. His reasoning it that it is divisive and discriminatory and for too long gay issues have been used to divide us. Yay!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

They are definitely not Christian

Bush is credited with one diplomatic and foreign policy success -- his AIDS program. By this I think it is referring to his efforts to reduce AIDS in Africa. You would think a spending increase for this program would fly through Congress. Alas, no. Seven GOP senators disagree with the balance between two parts of the program. They want more for AIDS treatment and less for AIDS prevention. Reason? They don't want to talk about -- don't want field workers to talk about -- how gay sex affects the spread of the disease.

Now we're talking about a deadly disease here. It is very expensive to treat in America and difficult, if not impossible, to treat in the developing nations. The best way to treat AIDS is to not get it. And here we have a bunch of squeamish senators who would rather spend money on treatment than on prevention. Thousands will die from this moral rectitude. America's image gets tarnished some more. One of the seven is David "DC Madam" Vitter.

Arizona: We gotta do it again

The Arizona Senate on Wednesday defeated a bill to put a marriage protection amendment on the November ballot. They got 14 votes and needed 16. But there was one more vote on Wednesday -- to take another vote on Friday (last day of the session) when a couple Senators would be back in town.

So they did, breaking all kinds of Senate rules, shutting off the microphones of two gay senators speaking about some other bill, and causing 20 minutes of chaos. But they got their 16 votes, including that of the President of the Senate, who tried to not allow the vote to happen, then voted for it. Remember that Arizona voted down such an amendment in 2006. Many of these senators voted against how their district voted in 2006. A tally will be kept of how many don't get re-elected.

Is the Obama Factor good?

The marriage protection amendment in Calif. may depend on turnout. And that turnout may be affected by the Obama factor. He will draw out the black vote to get him elected (a good thing), but blacks -- even black Democrats -- are fiercely homophobic and drawing them out will increase the chances the amendment will pass. Yet we may need all those black voters because the amendment will also draw out the GOP vote. What a bind! Which means Obama has to be very careful how he talks if he is against the amendment (he hasn't said yet).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's the Supreme Court for a reason

It is good to see someone talking about the importance of the Supreme Court in this presidential election. Three justices who are moderate to progressive are rumored to not last 4 years. Will we replace them with more moderates or get a total of 6-7 conservatives?

McCain uses the court as a punching bag and wishes to appoint legal eunuchs. Obama wants someone who understands the teenage mom. Both sides talk in code about abortion, but the issue, as seen by Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek, is much broader. The job of the Supremes is judicial review: no matter how popular a law is or how correctly the legislature did its job, if the law clashes with the Constitution it must go. But there are currently four justices who don't see themselves as protectors of the Constitution and an equal branch of government. They see themselves as "unelected, politically unaccountable judges" who should not interfere in the people's will (unless, of course, the issue is some core conservative ideal like owning guns) and that they should not second-guess Congress or the president on such issues as national security, discrimination, separation of church and state, free speech, election law, and the environment. Do you want a president who will nominate a justices who will sideline themselves? Or will you vote for a president who believes we call it a Supreme Court for a reason?

We get to count them, but they're not real

There is a new book out by Christine Wicker titled The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. Our first reviewer, from a "Mainstream Baptist" on a progressive blog (we know the biases are progressive), says the book tells two stories well.

First is that explains how Evangelicals, only 7% of the population, have "duped" the rest of the country into believing that they are larger (claims of America being "87% Christian"), much more important (declaring themselves to be arbiters of right and wrong), and growing.

The second story is a desire of millions of Americans for a faith that does not require surrendering the intellect. She claims that most Evangelicals leave that faith within a few years of high school when college or Real Life requires critical thinking about the conflicts they now have of the faith of their youth.

The second review is from Publishers Weekly/Reed Business Information which calls the book "shrill," containing chapters "which seem like filler," and "should be bolstered by more rigorous research and source citation." One wonders about the biases of the reviewer.

Then we get to reviews from Amazon users, which could be just about anyone. One calls the book worth a read, but says Wicker missed an important book -- education is not required to be on staff at an Evangelical Church and, at times, not having an education is an advantage. Another Amazon reviewer notes that many of these same ideas are being said by others within the Evangelical movement, including telling the religious right political operators to take a hike.

A comment about that Dobson - Obama spat that tie in with this books review:

Everyone who calls themself "Christian" counts towards the majority, but people who don't agree with [Tom] Minnery [Focus on the Family spokesman] aren't real Christians so their views can be discounted. So the theocratically-inclined can claim a large majority of "Christians" while safely ignoring that only a smaller number of people actually support their positions -- and that a lot of Christians disagree with them on political and religious grounds.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Don't study science in Louisiana

Sigh. It was only last Monday that I wrote about bills pushing "academic freedom" as a way to allow teachers to teach the weaknesses of evolution, meaning a way to teach creationism. I said then that several states had introduced the bills and "none had gotten into law -- yet." Alas, the bill in Louisiana had passed the state legislature by the time I wrote that and today the governor signed it. The governor is Bobby Jindal who has recently promoted Creationism. Alas, again, no public official, elected or appointed, anywhere in the state, has said anything against the bill. Ouch. This report tells how the Louisiana Family Forum, state organization for Focus on the Family, has the Louisiana legislature in its pocket when it comes to issues the LFF cares about.

Why don't we make it easy for them?

This one has Democrats smelling blood. Larry "tap-tap" Craig and David "DC Madam" Vitter are two of the cosponsors of the Marriage Protection Amendment introduced to the Senate. Just in time to get votes recorded before the fall campaign. I seriously doubt the Democratic leadership will allow a constitution amendment to get very far. They're just happy to get Craig's and Vitter's names on the document.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Divinely inspired text needs some correction

I came across Dr. Robert Gagnon and his anti-gay diatribes several years ago in a book with a title something like "Two Views on Homosexuality." Not a book I can recommend. The pro-gay guy did little to support the cause and Gagnon seemed to think that the Bible definitely condemns gays because so many other ancient texts do so as well. Gagnon, of course, is still at it, the guy to turn to for the biblical "scholarship" needed to bash gays. The latest flap is the Presbyterian Church, the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 it uses to teach doctrine, and the 1962 translation from German into English. The issues is that this translation uses the phrase "homosexual perversion" in the same manner as 1 Corinthians 6:9 in the New English Bible, which came out in 1970. But this verse, while it talks about several nasty things we shouldn't do, has a couple words that don't translate from the original Greek. All we know for sure is they talk of sexual perversion involving men, perhaps male prostitutes. Through the ages translators have decided what kind of sexual perversion those words were supposed to mean. So, back to the Heidelberg Catechism. The original German said nothing about homosexual perversion. Presbyterian scholars want to correct the translation. Gagnon, of course, declares they are agents of the Homosexual Agenda and the translations of both the Catechism and New English Bible are true to the spirit of the original text, even if not true to the text itself.

I've heard this next little tidbit before, but didn't quite understand this new way of looking at it. The story is in Matthew 8:5-13 (also in Luke). A Roman captain comes to Jesus in a panic about a sick servant. Jesus offers to come to the house to heal him, but the captain doesn't want Jesus to go through so much trouble. He, like Jesus, is a man of authority and he knows Jesus only needs to say the word and the servant will be healed. Jesus praises his faith. Scholars have puzzled over the language in that passage (rarely are masters that distraught over a servant and a Roman conqueror would not come to a Jewish rabbi to help a mere servant) and have concluded that the word servant would be better translated as "boy-toy," meaning they were gay lovers. And Jesus blesses both the servant (with restored health) and the Roman captain. This link may not work right, but you should be able to click through appropriate buttons.

Gagnon, of course, says that Matthew got the details all wrong (the captain really wasn't Roman, as a start). So much for a book that is supposedly divinely inspired.

First loser

I went out to a movie theater again today to see the documentary "Bigger Stronger Faster: The Side Effect of Being American." Chris Bell, when a kid, idolized Hulk Hogan and Arnold, and was dismayed to find so many sports heroes were on steroids. So, starting with his brothers, "Mad Dog" and "Smelly," he's off to explore the steroid subculture. He explores the extent of their use, the debate of whether they're harmful, why congress has made them illegal, why other performance enhancements aren't illegal, and what is it about our society that makes people feel they need to take them. A telling moment is when he is shown GI Joe dolls from the 60s, 80s, and 90s. All kinds of commercials drum into us that body image is extremely critical today. And in America, second place is known as "first loser."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sorry, Dad, no more Father's Day

Here's a twist: The Family Research Council is shrieking that now that gays can marry in Calif. straight dads won't be able to celebrate Father's Day anymore. The reason is that marriage licenses will no longer have the term "husband" (it never did, the term was "groom") and they claim Calif. will soon remove the term "father" from birth certificates.

Sorry, no. Men will still be fathers and can still celebrate Father's Day and allowing gay men (who already do) to do the same has no effect on the day. Which leads to the question: Why do these organizations reach for the most hysterical, lurid -- and foolish -- explanations they can find? Do they actually raise money through using such nonsense? The rest of the country is quite aware of how empty their arguments are.

Focus on the Fruitcake

More on the Dobson - Obama spat that I blogged about recently. Apparently, the Obama side of it is from a speech he gave in 2006 and only now, because he is the presumptive nominee, is Dobson bothering to comment. Dobson is head of Focus on the Family.

Dobson's main claim is that Obama has a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution" because Obama said that laws must have a secular rationale. Religious organizations can (and should) say whether they are for or against a particular law (or such things as abortion) but they need to back it up with more than a biblical or papal decree. Dobson also implies that the views of non-Christians can be discarded because they are in the minority.

There is new data out from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that show Dobson's rigid approach to theology is less appealing to Americans. One tidbits of the survey: 63% believe that various sacred texts are the Word of God, but only 33% insist they must be taken literally.

So the louder Dobson and friends yell, the more Americans are driven from Christianity.

A related blog entry notes that Dobson has consistently distorted the Constitution -- such as denying the concept of separation of church and state (the words as such don't exist in the Constitution but the concept is in the First Amendment and Jefferson used the words in a letter to pastors) -- and Obama taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago for 12 years. Who would you trust with your Constitution?

Dispel the myth

It is official: The GOP (at least in Texas) wants a Theocracy. The Fundies wrote the party platform, so it is in writing (though a responder says it has been for a while now). Here, according to the Texas Freedom Network, are some of what they want:

* Dispel the myth of separation of Church and State.

* Bar courts from hearing cases in which the officials involved acknowledge "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government."

* End Supreme Court jurisdiction over cases having to do with abortion and the Bill of Rights.

* Lessen oversight of faith-based providers of social services.

* Promotion of teaching Creationism.

* Teach abstinence until straight marriage sex education.

* Criminalize research into embryonic stem cells.

* Promote discrimination against anyone not straight (while deploring all discrimination) by restoring sodomy laws, banning gays from adopting or having custody or visitation rights of children, and banning gays from armed forces.

* Demands a strict test that candidates must support the end of abortion.

A commenter thinks that declarations like this will work against the Texas GOP. State officials recently did some redistricting, which gave the GOP more districts, each with smaller margins. Disgust with the GOP could swing a lot of districts to Democrats and put them in the majority in the statehouse.

Trojan Horse

When plans were first proposed of putting the GW Bush library at Southern Methodist University I wrote about my distaste for the choice (probably before I started blogging). One of my sisters disagreed with me, saying that having the Bush papers there will allow good Methodist students to research his presidency and shed light on his secrets, besides lending prestige to SMU.

Turns out I was right in my distaste -- the deal, designed by Karl Rove, is highly rigged. In addition to getting the library itself, SMU must accept an educational institute that is highly partisan and completely autonomous. This institute borrows on SMU prestige, yet will have the goals of rewriting the Bush legacy, making sure secrets stay secret, and pushing the domination of the GOP right wing on American politics. This institute would corrode the neutrality and objectivity of American higher education. SMU doesn't even get compensating dollars for the deal. The lease is for 99 years with a 249 year extension, all for a single dollar. Rove gets to subvert a mainline denomination and recruit, train, support, organize, and deploy the next generation of right-wing political operatives. The United Methodist Church, which wholly owns SMU, will vote on the deal July 15-16. I think the cost is way too high and should be soundly rejected.

About that Mongol horde...

During my recent trip to Alaska I needed reading material for the various flights and dull moments. I had already read James Michener's "Alaska" (and see that a few Alaska themed books a friend had given me are still sitting where I put them about 8 months ago). Since one reason for the trip is to visit the Russian Orthodox Church in Sitka I decided to read Russka by Edward Rutherfurd. This is a historical novel in the manner of Michener but covering the 2000 years of Russian history (actually the first 1000 are covered quickly) in 945 pages. It was the only book I read during the trip and finished it just last night, a week after the trip was over. Alas, I'm still unclear how the Bolshevik's took over Russia, though I know the Tsar was deposed because of inept handling of WWI. As historical novels go it is pretty good, though not great.

I mention it because of some fortuitous timing. One important aspect of Russian history is the Mongol invasion in the 1200s, which wasn't about domination, but about enforcing peace and profiting from trade routs. Today I saw the movie Mongol, out in limited release, which tells the story of how Genghis Khan got his start. He pulled together bickering clans and established a rudimentary rule of law, a big leap forward for the Mongols. Again, I'd say it is pretty good, but not great. There are a few things that left me wondering. It is definitely rated R due to some violent and blood spattering battle scenes. The movie is interesting on another level -- it was funded by German, Kazak, Russian, Chinese, and Mongolian companies and filmed in Kazakhstan, and China. It was Mongolia's entry for the Oscars. A review on display in the theater says this is the first part of a trilogy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Biting the outstretched hand

It appears that Obama was asked what biblical passages should be used to guide public policy. Obama replied that there are many instances in which biblical "laws" are way out of step from modern America (ban shellfish?) and that the Sermon on the Mount is "a passage so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."

"Folks haven't been reading their Bibles," Obama said.

Predictably, James Dobson fired away, saying "He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."

Which gives a guy named Pastor Dan a delicious opening. Dobson could have said that he agreed with some things Obama said and here are reasons why he disagreed with others. But Dobson didn't.

Pastor Dan says:

You have been had. Punked. Owned. Fooled into showing yourself for the hateful ignoramus you are …

For all this, I am deeply grateful. Every time you open your mouth, you demonstrate your lack of understanding of the religion you claim to uphold, and in doing so, you erode a little more of your authority. Thank you for that.

But thank you most of all for spurning the Obama campaign's overture to you, and most violently at that. Because you have absolved them of their supposed duty to reach out to people just like you. Every time you open your stupid gob to complain about the campaign between now and November, Obama's people will say, "Well, we tried."

That means they no longer have to waste money on voters they never would have gotten anyway, and they get to position themselves as the voice of reasonable moderation.

Read the whole thing here.

The players never lose

In December of 2000, when the rest of the country was caught up in the Bush v. Gore mess, Senator Phil Gramm put an amendment in a must-pass budget bill. No lawmakers had time to read it. Nobody understood Gramm's explanations of what it would do. This bill deregulated a particular chunk of the financial market. It gave banks and other financial institutions a gigantic playground hidden from government eyes. The consequence of that bill is the current subprime mortgage disaster. Hard to tell which is worse: Gramm had no idea what the amendment would do or Gramm knew what it would do and did it anyway. So where is the father of millions of foreclosures? Serving as Vice President of a Swiss Bank and as financial advisor of McCain's campaign. If McCain wins, Gramm becomes Secretary of the Treasury. Not a bad payday for screwing the American poor. As McCain's advisor, Gramm has proposed a free-market health care system. Give each person $5000 an tell them to buy their own health insurance on the open market. The magic of capitalism thus fixes our health care mess (see my recent post about the purpose of health insurance is to make money, not keep you well).

The role of Conservatism in all this? We're back to moral hazard, the idea that the victims of the subprime mess have only themselves to blame and shouldn't be bailed out. However, the truly moral hazard is a system in which risk and reward are asymmetrical -- one person gets the reward, the other gets the risk. And if the one who is supposed to get the reward doesn't, well, then bailouts for him are necessary to keep the whole system afloat. Conservatism creates a secret casino. It is always open and the players never lose. As for the rest of us, we get stuck with the bailouts and the damage to our communities.

Some people don't learn

In spite of the Southern Baptist Convention's ability to kick out congregations that don't toe the line on gays and in spite of newspapers full of the Catholic priest pedophile scandal and more than a few bad apples in their own churches, somehow the SBC can't set up a national database on abuses by their own pastors. Their claim is that each church is autonomous and each is responsible for doing its own employee screening, it would not be possible to create a comprehensive list, and there is already a better national database. Perhaps they don't want to see that there is a problem. Or they feel that in their belief system pastors can do no wrong.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sticking your foot in it

Sigh. Last week an interviewer asked Barack Obama what he thought of the gay marriages taking place in Californian. Alas, our dude stuck his foot in it, saying he has no problem with what California is doing and that gays should have civil unions equal to straights, but the word marriage is for one man and one woman. While gays are well aware that Obama is way better than McCain (McSame is an often repeated nickname) and even a bit better than Hillary, they are voicing their displeasure with Obama across the blogsphere. Here is one of the better written, with about 40 comments.

At an impasse

The Anglican Church meets at their once a decade Lambeth Conference next month. Timothy Kincaid has been writing about religion and gay issues and is now of the opinion (which he says his colleagues may not share) that the Lambeth Conference will signal the split of the Anglican Church. The first sign will be that the conservative parts of the denomination will refuse to show up and take part.

This split is from sharply divergent views of Scripture and Christianity. The West sees it as a guide to know God and how to live, and to find kinship in social justice and humanitarian efforts. The Global South (developing nations) sees Christianity as God's divine commandments for a sinful world. And homosexuality magnifies that difference. The progressive West sees gays as valued children of God to be treated with love and equality. They are not about to apologize for their social justice and compassion. The Global South finds gays to be such sinners that not only must gays be denounced, but also those who accept gays. They refuse to allow Jesus to be just another "wise teacher." The denomination is at an impasse.

The split is being led by Peter Akinola, who is steadfast on Christian teachings about gays, but completely misses the point regarding Nigeria's treatment of the poor.

Kincaid thinks the split is best in the long run. The Episcopal and Anglican churches of America, Canada, and Britain will be free to follow their conscience and champion social justice causes, including full equality of gays. Alas, considering history, the bishops of the Global South will likely indulge in rampant corruption and use the power of the church to support some nasty dictatorial regimes throughout Africa. In addition, the full force of the church will fall on those that are gay, democratically inclined, or theologically liberal.

But in that long term there is hope that a freer West can lead the way to a recovery of brotherhood but without a return to legalism and dogmatism.

An ideal health system

Another report from The Washington Spectator (full article for subscribers only). In 1995 Taiwan created a new health care system. Citizens get choice of doctor, no waiting lists, complete prescription-drug coverage, complete dental. Copays are tiny. Bureaucracy is almost non-existent. And they do it for an annual cost of about $600 per person, per year, compared to $5500 in America. The model for this wonderful health system? America's Medicare. The Taiwanese system also gives its citizens medical cards, which provides access to medical records so tests don't have to be duplicated and time isn't wasted during an emergency. Patients can even see a specialist when they want, though copays are nominally higher if they don't get a referral. So why does America pay so much more for worse care which leaves so many without care? We put our care in the hands of the health insurance industry. Their job isn't to keep you healthy. Their job is to make money. They do that by refusing customers, by denying claims, by wrangling reduced doctor fees, and by paying out the absolute minimum to keep you out of a medical facility. Through Medicare 98% of the health system money pays for health. Through the commercially available health insurance it is only 60-70%. The rest of the money goes to bureaucracy and profit. The solution in America is obvious: expand Medicare for all. Yet, both Obama and McCain won't touch that idea. They want to keep the solution in the hands of the people who created the current mess. Too much of their campaign money comes from health insurers, who are desperate to keep their pot of gold.

Pure nod and wink

Intelligent Design is dead. Long live Creationism. The June 1 issue of The Washington Spectator has an article by Lauri Lebo. She is the Dover, PA journalist who covered the ID trial there and has been keeping track of the Creationist crowd. Much of the push for Creationism is from the Discovery Institute, dedicated to defeating "scientific materialism" (huh?) and promoting "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

In the same book that criticized the Dover ruling that banned Intelligent Design the Discovery Institute documents their next tactic. That is a push for "academic freedom" using a two pronged approach. The first was the theatrical movie Expelled, through which DI "tried to sway public opinion" (the article doesn't say how well they succeeded -- one could research box office take, I suppose -- but apparently not much). The second prong is to lobby state legislatures to pass bills on academic freedom that would "protect public-school educators who offer 'critical analysis' of evolution or teach alternative 'scientific views of biological or chemical evolution'" Chemical? Bills have been introduced in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan (!), and soon in Texas.

This attempt fits the pattern. With every constitutional defeat the creationism language gets watered down, the assertions become more vague and misleading. Creationism is now reduced to "pure nod and wink." Nowhere do the sample bills supplied by DI use the word "creationism," though that doesn't stop individual state lawmakers from blowing the cover.

The stated goal of the movement is to teach all of evolution, its strengths and weaknesses under the banner of fairness and democratic principles. The implied goals are sinister: promoting the public's right to remain ignorant of science, using fear to attack curiosity and wonderment. A radio interview on a Christian network, the Expelled star Ben Stein made the bizarre link between the Holocaust and science, claiming "Science leads you to killing people." Yet, back in 1987 the US Supreme Court didn't buy the academic freedom argument.

The question for the rest of us is whether to challenge these new laws immediately (none have gotten into law -- yet) and risk a court validating them, or waiting until a teacher takes advantage of their vagueness to promote creationism, allowing a stronger case to be built. You could try to head them off with visits to your state senators and representatives.

Alas, only paid subscribers can read the full article online.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

No electric car?

An electric car in your future? A writer makes the claim that the big car companies don't want electric cars because they make so much money from the myriad parts that wear out and require replacement in the typical internal combustion vehicle. It reminds me of the way General Motors bought out the electric streetcars in Detroit to put them out of business so they could sell more cars. Please note that while I used to work for the car business (special early retirement is wonderful) I am not able to tell if this claim holds water. However, I see with this posting that there is vigorous debate over the suitability of the electric car but little over the claim of profit motive being the reason why we can't buy one.

Whether or not an electric car is viable, a robust public transportation system beats it hands down, no matter how nasty the emissions from the bus.


Cool! Pittsburgh now has a Domestic Partner Registry! 'Tain't marriage, but it is a wonderful step in Ricky Santorum's home state.

Finding a spiritual home

A sweet My Turn essay in Newsweek about a Catholic gay man who finds a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church. He wishes that he wasn't so hungry for God or perhaps be satisfied with being "spiritual, but not religious." Since "Christian" has such a bad reputation among gays, he would have preferred a Druid spiritual awakening. But he has found a church home and feels blessed that on the day he became a member Bishop Gene Robinson was in attendance.

Negotiate v. Appease

With the GOP eagerly tossing around the idea that negotiating with terrorist or dictators is the same as appeasement, here is a thoughtful Newsweek article by Evan Thomas about the history of this rhetorical grenade. In 1938 Neville Chamberlain went to Munich struck a deal with Hitler that Germany would be allowed to take over Czechoslovakia with no objection and would then leave Britain alone. Hitler took over Czechoslovakia and a couple years later went after Britain. Chamberlain's blunder has echoed through American politics since then with mixed results. The good results were the Cuban Missile Crisis (in which Kennedy successfully followed "Munich" in public and negotiated in secret), and Reagan's success in negotiating arms reductions with the USSR. The bad results were wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Bay of Pigs. After we were bogged down in Vietnam it served as a balance to Munich. The lesson is that global situations rarely neatly fit the mold of Munich or Vietnam and that negotiation is not always appeasement.

In a companion piece, Christopher Hitchens takes a look at the recent book "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War" by Pat Buchanan (yes, the occasional candidate for prez. on the GOP side). Buchanan did get a few things right -- the abysmal bungling of French and British attempts at diplomacy is one bright spot in the book. But the rest includes a lot of ignoring or misinterpreting of facts to allow Buchanan to fit his view of the war into the thesis he is trying to prove. While Hitchens does a good job of ripping the book to shreds, he doesn't answer my burning question. To what end is Buchanan reinterpreting history? Who gains? What political or cultural idea is he trying to promote? The book doesn't seem to serve the idea that America is a Christian nation, the goal of lots of other historical revisionism. Nor does he seem to be promoting Bush's reasons for going to war, because his idea is that even WWII wasn't worth it. So what is it?

The Bigot Toolbox

Over and over bigots resort to the same set of tools to advance their goals. This Bigot Toolbox contains these tried and true (only because they keep getting used) methods of discrimination:

* Religion -- my Bible tells me to hate your people.

* Tradition -- but Blacks have always sat at the back of the bus.

* Public Opinion -- I'm really with you, but there just isn't enough support. We have an embarrassing history of approving tyranny of the majority.

* Patriotism -- you're destroying America!

* Science -- I can prove that Blacks have smaller craniums and therefore aren't as smart.

* Law -- But we've got to uphold the law! (especially church law)

* Lies -- Gays want special rights.

And when we get to lies -- which are now in abundance around gays and marriage -- your cause of defeating discrimination is getting close to winning.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Global Warming may not be so global

This is June, isn't it? At the solstice, no less? According to my super-duper indoor/outdoor thermometer, which tracks highs and lows, after a cool spring the temperature in the Detroit area got up to 98 while I was in Alaska. But the night before last the temp got down to 55 and my furnace came on.

My morning routine is hard enough

Eggs or oatmeal? Jeans or khakis? Gay or straight? What, isn't choosing your sexual orientation part of your morning routine? Mayor Larry Langford of Birmingham, Alabama denied a permit for his city's Pride Parade because he says being gay is a choice. That brought a response from Kyle Whitmire, who closes with this offer: Well, mayor, if orientation is a choice, why don't you prove it by choosing to be gay for a day and giving me a kiss?

How to apologize

A lot of public figures caught saying or doing nasty things offer the "non-apology" -- I'm sorry if I offended anyone." Here are some rules for apologies: It must contain admission of error and regret for the action. Use of a modifier (as in the example above) is not an apology. Use of an excuse to redirect or limit the scope is not an apology. Pointing out offenses of others invalidates an apology. Claims of benign intent are irrelevant. Apologize for the action, not the consequence. Apologize directly to the offended parties in private. Only later apologize in public -- and if the two don't match it isn't an apology. These rules are explained in more detail here.

Congress 2.0

"Franking" is the term used originally to describe the free (snail) mail privileges that a member of Congress gets so that he can tell his constituents what he is doing. But the Franking Rules, last updated in 1998, also have strict guidelines on what can be done and what can't so that members avoid appearing to use such privileges for campaign purposes. That's necessary because your average American doesn't want to see his taxes used to help incumbents over the challenger who doesn't have such privileges.

But those rules were set near the dawn of the internet age and they prevent members of Congress from fully participating in the interactive medium that today's young (under 30) expect. A member can't post a bill on a website and invite comment and dialog. He's stuck with a form on a webpage that invites constituent feedback in which response is a paper letter posted a month later. No page on social network sites. Some members truly don't understand the power of the internet, but most have young staffers who do. It is time to change the Franking Rules to get Congress into the 21st Century and take advantage of transparent and participatory government.

You don't think they would rather work in secret, do you?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More short notes

I'm way behind on my reading, so here are a few things that came across my radar today. Perhaps I'll comment on the news of the last 3 weeks as I catch up.

Obama decided to forego the $80M of public financing for the fall campaign. He says it isn't because he doesn't believe in clean financing (he does) or because he can raise more than that on his own (likely he can), but because the public financing system is broken, rigged to help lobbyists and special interest groups give unlimited funds to McCain.

The debate of the cause of homosexuality is shifting away from saying it is caused by genetics to exploring how the hormones of the womb interact with the fetus. And that implies that it may be possible to "correct" those hormones so that no baby is born gay. Offended? Sorry, you won't be in the room when the decision is made. Parents already screen for and abort the "wrong" gender. You think parents won't screen for the "wrong" orientation?

Why is it some Fundies are so rigid about the definition of marriage and God's supposed view of gays, yet they find all kinds of wiggle room when discussion torture? That puts them somewhere between hypocrite and heathen.

A laugh: Jon Stewart and the start of gay marriages in California. It is all in about the first 10 minutes.

Advertising with a twist: Mayonnaise so good it is like having a deli in your kitchen. And this is a New York deli.

Watch your irony meter on this one: Why I'm voting Republican.

A question for today

During our stop in Ketchikan during the Alaskan Cruise I went on a bike tour. It was pleasant, but not as scenic as I expected, which is why it isn't in my list of highlights. All 11 of us on the tour decided for the more strenuous 11.6 mile route that included a scenic overlook. I am pleased that I was sufficiently in shape that I was more in the middle of the pack instead up bringing up the rear. I suppose it didn't hurt that most of the participants were my age or older.

The trip included a couple from England. I rode beside the man for a while and we got to talking about the differences in our political systems. He commented on a recent story in which congressional district boundaries were blatantly set to favor one party just enough to essentially disenfranchise the rest. Alas, by "recent" he could have meant years and I don't remember the state. However, I can relate because I live in such a district, carefully constructed to be 55% GOP, though it doesn't blatantly meander across the countryside and wasn't the reason for a lawsuit. This kind of behavior is unknown in Great Britain because such things are decided by a scrupulously non-partisan election commission.

And that leads to my question: Is it possible to make our election process non (or even less) political in an era when one party has anti-democracy goals? If so, how do we get there?

I'm Back!

My trip to Alaska with my parents was a success. While life on a big cruise ship was enjoyable (one does not go hungry) and comfortable, such a life doesn't suit me well -- too much emphasis on glitz and grubbing for money.

Highlights of the trip:

Visiting Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau (though the Visitor Center is in serious need of a snack bar or restaurant).

The bus ride from Skagway to Carcross, Yukon and the White Pass and Yukon train from Frasier back to Skagway. We even saw bears and caribou along the way.

The glaciers of Glacier Bay and College Fjord.

The train ride from Whittier to Denali Park. Denali showed itself when we were in prime viewing location. Alas, the trip is 10 hours.

The Husky Homestead visit to the kennels of Jeff King. He has run the Iditerod 18 times and won it 4 times.

The Wilderness Tour in Denali Park. They only allow bus tours in the park. Though Denali remained hidden, we did see caribou, mountain sheep, moose, bears, several ptarmigan, and a lynx.

A day in Sitka with a chance to see the Russian Orthodox Church there.

The Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. The gift shop was way too small and I would have appreciated a larger museum. It is in a Frank Gehry building.

A chance to visit with my brother and his family (including a niece in Shanghai through Google-Talk) and another niece and her family, both in the Seattle area.

Yes, I took lots of pictures -- about 250. I won't be posting them because they are on film and I don't have a scanner. I'll be picking them up from the developer tomorrow.