Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Politics and Apocalypse

Several pastors backing McCain believe in a coming Apocalypse. Pastors of Palin's churches do too which makes a lot of people wonder what her beliefs are. So it is worth looking at Apocalypticism and how it has influenced political behavior.

In general terms Apocalypticism is a belief in an approaching confrontation that will change society and history and which hidden truths will be revealed. The Religious Right has a particular meaning implied by the biblical book of Revelations of Jesus returning in his heavenly glory to wage a final battle between good and evil.

The influence of the Apocalypse on theology and world view depends on whether you start with "imperial Christianity" or "liberation Christianity". It also depends on whether you treat Revelations as a beautiful allegory (in its description of heaven) or whether you take it literally. Strange that if you take it literally you still have to treat it as allegory to figure out who the main players are in real life and whether we are actually in the End Times. One indication seems to be that powerful political and religious leaders will sell out the faithful.

Revelations appears to speak of a thousand-year reign of peace (I have read it, but not lately, so I don't remember if Revelations actually says it or some "literalists" make the claim from some other part of the bible).

Even for people who agree on that bit there is a bigger bit to argue over. Who is in charge during that reign of peace? Some people, premillennialists, think that Jesus has physically come back to earth and is the guy in charge. Others believe that Jesus shows up at the end of that time and it is godly Christians who have seized power, enforced that peace, and made the world holy enough for Jesus to return. These are postmillennialists. And to seize power you must be politically active (unless you are able to take it through the use of your gun). Alas, there are enough of these people to muck things up, but not enough to actually take control.

For premillennialists, true Christians are to be called to heaven in the Rapture and thus spared the apocalyptic war through which Jesus establishes that peace. If this version is true, then a major theological activity is to determine if we are in the End Times and prepare accordingly (never mind that Jesus says no one can know). How to tell? Wars, rumors or wars, natural disasters, plagues, widespread immorality. Are these things more prevalent now than a hundred or thousand years ago? Any number of Fundie TV shows are convinced that the bloodshed in wars since WWI, Katrina and the tsunami, AIDS, and gays gives this era more points than any previous time. The big preparation to be made is to make sure all of the people you care about are true Christians so they are spared the big battle. Establishing the date of End Times can add a special urgency to appeals for conversion.

But if Jesus is about to arrive and take care of things, why bother voting? Through history, this branch of the literalists hasn't bothered to vote. Even so, the "liberation" branch was politically active, using language of the Apocalypse to abolish slavery, push for temperance, and abolish Jim Crow. This strange language led to good things.

Seeing the world through an Apocalypse, however, turns every issue into black and white. I'm with God and if you aren't you must be taking the side of the devil. No compromise possible.

So what brought out the vote? First, the battle over godless Communism. Second, Jimmy Carter declared he was "born again," an evangelical that others could vote for. Third, Falwell and the Moral Majority (in 1979), urged on by the ban on prayer in school and the legality of abortion, needed a theological reason to justify voting. R.J. Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer, and Tim LaHaye (in his non-fiction works) provided that theology by mixing up the two sides of the debate of who rules in that thousand years of peace. The way they did it is to say that while Christians will be spared the big apocalyptic battle, they won't be spared the skirmishes leading up to that battle. And in these skirmishes the forces of evil will be so great as to destroy Christianity so that there will be no Christians left to enjoy the Rapture. I doubt very much Christians would be hunted down and killed, but rather the rest of the culture will see Christianity as so irrelevant that the church gains no new members and eventually dies out. Secularism triumphs. Now they've got a problem.

And now, politics and voting are a big deal. Those that believe in the End Times now have to make sure there are Christians alive to see it and are quite willing to contribute to assist those who believe that reign of peace will only happen if they are in control and have guaranteed that America is a Christian nation (though if the faith dies out there are none to take control and make the world ready for Jesus and thus he never comes. But never mind). The satanic influences are the suspects we've heard them shout about for the last 20 years or so: women's rights, abortion rights, gay rights, ban on school prayer, and anything that has the least bit if acceptance of any other religion. Of course, the influence of these satanic ideas is increased through the work of community organizers.

Satanic ideas aren't just home-grown. There is the fear that the United Nations is being used as a cover for Islam to become the world religion. And if Jesus is to return, he needs somewhere to return to and the designated place is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, currently home to a couple mosques. Israel takes center stage in this prophecy (the big battle is call Armageddon because it will be on the site of the ancient city of Megiddo in Israel) and preventing a solution in the Middle East only aids the prophecy in coming true, so there can't be any criticism of Israel's nasty tactics against the Palestinians (that many critics of Israel are raging anti-Semites doesn't help either).

End Times theology does play out through our politics. As we gays have seen, this theology is behind all of the anti-gay laws and amendments that have appeared in the last couple decades. Anti-bullying laws aren't being passed because they might protect gay kids. Even on the world stage, though Bush doesn't (appear to) hold these beliefs, he has found it politically expedient to hire people who do. A lot of the talk about all Muslims being terrorists and that we must stand firm on this war on terror comes from this theology. From the nature of the churches Palin has attended it appears she believes in some form of End Times theology. It is important to our country to hear about them, instead of allowing them to be used as code phrases to stir up the Right or allowing them to influence domestic and foreign policy.

Of course, when human problems (domestic and foreign) are elevated to the cosmic plane of good versus evil no compromise is possible. The way out of the stalemate is to confront that theology.

The place to start is in our own apocalyptic language. If we call them religious extremists we are declaring ourselves better than them and perpetuating the black/white choice they want to impose on us. Next we need to recognize that there is not one large block of fundamentalists, but there are various strands of these literalist beliefs held with various levels of fervor. We need to be able to tell which beliefs are held only by those wishing for End Times and beliefs that are held by wider groups of Christians so that we can confront the particular problem beliefs without alienating those who are as uncomfortable as we are with the demonization coming from the Right. This wider group of Christians happen to be centrist enough to swing elections. The variety of our beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs should be the source of many articles in mainstream media, but alas, is not.

I should say what I make of Revelations and End Times theology. Back when I was in high school (and the cold war raging) there was a lot of talk about how the USSR, China, and Europe were to take various roles in the Revelations symbolism. There is a character that has 10 horns which are replaced by 1 horn and many were sure that referred to the 10 countries that were becoming the European Union. Then the EU expanded to 15 countries and the USSR fell apart. Oops. Ah well. Someone will revise the list of players. Since then I've heard Revelations was written as a comfort to Christians being persecuted by Rome. Perhaps some of its prophecies were fulfilled 1700 years ago. So what does it all mean? I'll stick to the words of Jesus who said we won't know when the End Times will come and therefore we should first worry about his prime directive: Love God and love your neighbor. Everything else gets in the way.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who said maverick?

McCain may declare himself to be a maverick, but he followed party principles quite closely in being a deregulator and crowing about it. Here is a summary of some of the deregulation he championed that got us into the current mess (and the GOP likes to point out that it was Democrats who refused tighter regulations on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac a couple years ago. Hmph).

Incompetence or intentional mischief

Another big hindrance to voting: This is the first big test of most state-wide voter registration databases. The first problem is there seems to be lots of glitches in setting up these databases, including the kinds of things that go wrong whenever a clerk reads from a hand-written form and enters data into a computer. The second problem is there are reportedly secret deals between states that allow them to purge voters that show up on more than one state's database. Officials are simply deleting voters rather than verifying whether the voter has actually moved. This article didn't mention the third problem -- centralized databases are easier to hack (an not necessarily by a kid wanting to prove he can do it). That raises the question of whether problems are incompetence or intentional.

Since this presidential election is likely to be as close as the previous two voter suppression could make the difference. Michigan news has reported how the GOP plans to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters. There are many other examples around the country. All tactics, such as telling college students they will lose their loans if they register with a campus address, depend on "asymmetrical information" so one way to combat that is to document each type of tactic, list the faulty information, and describe how to counter it. There is a new tool in the battle: A Voter Suppression Wiki. For those who aren't tech savvy, a wiki is a database developed by the general public with the best known example being Wikipedia. Users can contribute the information they have. In this case, a wiki can serve as a clearinghouse of voter suppression scams.

Another example of voter suppression: the Department of Veteran Affairs refusing to allow Veteran Administration facilities to be used for voter registration.

Final battle in the culture war

The latest poll in Calif. shows that 55% of the voters will reject the state's marriage protection amendment and only 38% are for it. Great! But don't rest easy yet. The poll shows that only 40% is solidly no while that 38% is all solidly yes. So the 20% that isn't solid could be swayed by the ads that have started to hit the airwaves. The Yes side has raised about $17M while the No side has $12M. At this point it is good to remember that the most heavily funded doesn't always win. The Mormon Church sees this as the final battle in the culture war and backing that belief. Most of the money has come from the Mormon Church and they have strongly requested their membership put up lawn signs (stuck on a slow boat from China -- oops) and man phone banks. And they also threaten to excommunicate those who declare their intentions to vote no.

However, the situation is much more dire in Arizona. It seems (my own speculation) that since they defeated such an amendment once voters will, of course, do it again. Alas, the Mormon Church is again spending millions (I don't have recent numbers for donations or polls), but those trying to defeat it have income only in the low thousands. I sent my check yesterday.

I don't know the status of the amendment in Florida (where it must pass by at least 60%).

Causing panic? Or napping?

In contrast to the rumor yesterday that Bush has been sitting on the bailout plan for at least a month so that he can ram it through Congress just before the campaign break, here is someone who thinks the Bushies were actually caught napping. Either way, not a good quality in a prez.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greed and risk

There was a viral activism campaign a few months ago about urging Obama to Get FISA Right. The latest one picking up steam is No Blank Check for Wall Street. True to Bush administration form, they are dumping a gigantic mess on Congress just before adjournment (rumors that Bushies have been sitting on it for a month, at least), demanding it be passed pronto without revisions, and being rather vague about what it will really do. Along the way they say there can't be any oversight.

While FISA's provision of telecom immunity had many people upset, this financial meltdown hits a lot closer to home and people are angry. They want oversight and they want to make sure the people who got us into this mess don't profit from it. Congress is definitely hearing from the people (and it wouldn't hurt if they heard from a few more).

A commentator likens the financial mess to the Berlin Wall coming down. Just as that signified that most Communist governments don't work (China being the notable exception as North Korea proves the rule), the last of the investment banks allowing government oversight as they become regular banks means that unregulated financial systems don't work. And the big missing piece of regulation is that the greedy don't face the risks they take on. With a bailout plan that insists on no regulation they won't face those risks. The American public will. Then the scary thought: What if this plan doesn't work? What if it isn't enough? Does Wall Street ask for more? Maybe a massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the rich was the idea all along.

There is a great opening image on this posting (about how Democrats are balking at the bailout plan).

I am old enough to remember that Ronald Reagan knocked the socks of Jimmy Carter by campaigning on the question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Perhaps Democrats should dust that one off and ask it of Republican voters. Just don't ask investment bankers poised to reap a golden parachute from the bailout.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yes, I still exist

And, yes, I'm aware that it has been a week since I last posted something.

I've been accumulating stuff to blog about, but just haven't taken the time to plow through the stuff.

Part of it is I've been away from my computer much of the time since last Thursday or was too tired to actually think about anything or actually had work to do.

Thursday and Friday I spent with my parents collecting stories of their lives, something I started during our cruise to Alaska last June when faced with many meals together with little to talk about. I didn't realize I would become their biographer. I am getting good stories, though there is a bit of, "Did we move in 1953 or was that '54?"

Saturday was an all day retreat for my performance group.

Sunday included a visit to the WSU campus to hear my piano professor give a concert.

And today I spent lots of time trying to get a good computer performance of a piece in preparation for visiting a colleague who might get some good computer drum sounds to go with it.

Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bush reincarnated (ugh!)

Gary Kamiya of Salon sees Palin as a reincarnation of Bush -- especially Bush's ability to play the culture wars to get what he wants (about the only thing he was good at). Along the way he wonders what we look for in a president. That choice seems to be driven by resentment -- my world is changing and I don't have a say in how -- which is the source of the elitist charge. It is also driven by identification of candidates "just like me" though it is only in politics we want someone like ourselves. How narcissistic is that (and how elitist of me to say so)? In other areas we want someone with competence. One idea not mentioned that I've heard recently (alas, I don't remember where) is that the more government is in the business of helping people the more the voter wants someone like themselves to make sure policy treats them properly. The way out of this mess? Don't fight the culture war. Remind voters of the issues.

Engaging and compelling

I'm not big on video or computer games, I just can't see myself sitting in front of one for hours when there are all kinds of other things I want to do with my time. So it might be a bit of a surprise for me to mention a computer game, especially one that I haven't and don't intend to play. But, like a lot of things I write about there are some interesting ideas lurking in the background.

The game is Spore, a brainchild of Will Wright, who also created SimCity and The Sims. The game (or at least the part important to this discussion) allows a user to construct a creature, allow the creature to interact with its environment (probably also constructed), and watch how the creature changes through the generations.

So the game teaches evolution. Yeah, but it also teaches Intelligent Design because an intelligence (yours) constructed the critter in the first place and is allowed to change it and the environment as the game proceeds. So why mention it?

One gamer, after a few hours, realized something else. Evolution is less emotionally engaging and compelling. All you can do is sit and watch it. And if a change has no effect in one environment the watcher may see nothing until the environment changes, which could be a long wait.

There is also another big difference between evolution and creationism. Scientists are quite willing to say, "We don't know," though they imply it will be fascinating to figure out some day. In the meantime and until there is something they can test they are comfortable living with uncertainty.

But many religious people aren't. They need that certainty. And if something might disrupt that certainty it had better not be investigated and should probably even condemned.

Accuracy of polls

A friend wrote to me:

Happened upon this article while perusing the NY Times election map and poll data today:

I read this article to mean that the polls listed at the NY Times web site are quite responsibly designed. I'd want to know the agendas of people who criticize the design of these polls. (We all know about Truman's "defeat" predicted right up to election day in 1948; I agree that polls can be wrong.)

Today's viewing of this electoral map and polls data was heartening:

The national polls with post-convention (post-Palin) data show a very close election and McCain gaining. But the big Gallup poll bounce that put McCain ahead is losing steam and the red lead is narrowing quickly.
A first glance at the electoral vote map also shows McCain with recent gains. But examination of some state-level data suggests that the map overstates those gains and understates Obama's situation:
Michigan (17 electoral votes) in a recent poll shows Obama gaining in a close race. The trend is acceleratingly blue, but the state is shown as a tossup.

Ohio (20) also shows a trend toward Obama and a decent September lead of 49-45 (error margin 3%). It's also shown as a tossup.

If we add these 37 electoral votes to the 238 already shown as at least leaning to Obama, he is elected. I really can't imagine Michigan voting red in November. The tougher the Republicans care to be about federal loans to the auto industry, the more that will be true. McCain then must win Ohio -- not easy for him this year, because of Republican scandals in Ohio.

I read the September polling data in Minn (10), Wisc (10) and Iowa (7) as all solidly blue. But all three are shown as just leaning to Obama. This suggests that his leaning-to states are pretty reliable. [Obama's lead in Pennsylvania (21 critical electoral votes) is thin, but I think economic issues will carry that very industrial/urban state.] New Hampshire (4) is shown as tossup but a Sept poll has Obama with a decent lead in a traditionally Republican state.

Missouri (11) polls show McCain ahead but not beyond statistical error. Other states in that condition are shown as tossup but MO is shown leaning red. That may actually be a mistake that overstates McCain's standing.
And the latest Wall St news from this weekend cannot help the Republicans. Is expected the financial carnage will linger for some time as losses are finally made public and firms held accountable. Independents should trend blue-ward as they grow aware of the wreckage wrought by Republican greed.


Back to my own ramblings:

I surfed over to the Gallup website, but didn't want to wade through a lot of stuff to find how their polls were constructed. But it does leave me with the question: Do the polls constructed by reputable organizations try to balance party representation as some of my sources claim? If not, why do those stories get told? Is it a way to comfort us before the election? Does it not blind us and allow us to avoid doing what we can?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lipstick on a ...

Just follow the link and enjoy. Someone is real good with photoshop.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Accuracy of polls and ways to tamper

A good bumper-sticker slogan:

Jesus was a community organizer.
Pontius Pilate was a governor.

I wrote recently about how we shouldn't trust the polls in this election. Here's more on that idea.

The first thing to look at is whether or not the poll tries to ask its questions of the same number of Democrats, GOPs, and Indies. This probably goes under the heading of party identification numbers, though doing a web search on those terms doesn't bring up anything useful. I'm not sure why they do it this way. I suppose one could read the fine print of a poll, something the media rarely mentions.

If I understand it right, many polls try to get opinions from 33% Dem, 34% Indie, 33% GOP (for instance). Yet, a Gallup poll from a couple days ago says 30% of respondents identified as GOP and 35% identified as Dem. The news story notes the GOP percentage has increased since the GOP convention.

Another source says the Dems may have as much as a 20% spread in the way voters identify themselves. Need more? Look at the data from the 28 states that require you to declare Dem or GOP when you register to vote. Dems have gained 2 million voters. GOP have lost 0.34 million. With perhaps a 20% spread, why to pollsters insist on asking the same number of Dem and GOP voters? A big question.

That same link above goes into detail for data of several states. I'll wade into it only for Ohio. Kerry lost the state in 2004 by 120K votes. There are 750K new voters 18-22 years old (they couldn't vote in 2004). Factor in how much the youth are energized -- 50% are likely to vote -- and that about 60% of those are for Obama and you now have 75K votes for Obama that Kerry didn't get. There are 860K black voters in Ohio, 380K (44%) voted in 2004. It is expected that black turnout will be much higher (perhaps 64%) with a higher percentage going for Obama than went for Kerry. That gives Obama another 193K votes. Also in the mix (though not with hard numbers) is that most deaths in America are people over 65, the demographic that is most solid for McCain.

Though maybe not so important in Ohio, the Latino vote is going decidedly for Obama. That affects Arizona and Colorado.

Others aren't as convinced with this assessment of the youth vote. Even if Obama gets 60% of the new young voters it may not make a difference. The youth vote also set records in 2004 but the white geezer vote also increased. There are reasons to think this year might be different. The closely contested Dem primary brought out a huge bump in youth voters. There was an increase in the youth vote in 2006 compared to 2002, making a difference in a few key races. There has been a big increase in registrations and even if not all actually vote an increase in registration correlates to an increase in voting. The internet based get-out-the-vote efforts are much more sophisticated than in previous cycles. However, whether Obama wins or loses, how can the result be contributed to the actions of one particular group?

What to hope for: an edge larger than efforts to tamper with the vote.

And speaking of tampering…

Macomb County in Michigan stretches from the Detroit border into the farm country at the root of Michigan's Thumb. The south end of the county includes the suburb of Warren, I believe now the 3rd largest city in Michigan (sorry, Flint), never all that wealthy, and hit hard by GM's troubles and the housing foreclosure mess (county foreclosure rate is in the top 3% in the nation). The Thumb is highly GOP, known to have been breeding grounds of white supremacist militias. During the last redistricting in 2002 state legislature and congressional districts were drawn to be about 45% Democrats and 55% GOP (as was my US House district in western Wayne County). This is now a highly contested county.

To nudge things in their favor the county GOP party has armed themselves with lists of foreclosed homes with the intent to challenge the right to vote if anyone claims to live in one of those houses. It is a phony reason for the challenge because some people still live in the homes while the bank sorts things out and maybe works up a refinance deal, and also because you can still vote based on an old residence if you don't have time to register a new address before the election. Of course, it is the poor people of Warren, most likely to vote for Obama, who will be the most challenged.

I've been challenged a couple times. The first wasn't for voting, but working outside a polling place against the Mich. marriage protection amendment in 2004. Michigan law says that I needed to stay 100 feet away from the entrance (from the building? the school cafeteria?). A man challenged me, saying shouldn't be there and if I didn't leave he would call the police. I replied, "If you feel you need to, go ahead." He didn't. I've heard that the GOP controlled Mich. Senate wants to change that distance to 500 feet, which will confine campaigners to the far side of the street, unable to interact with anyone between car and voting machine. I don't much like people handing stuff to me on the way in, but I can deal with that by keeping hands in pockets.

The second challenge was in 2007. I had voted absentee in the primary and the city had mistakenly sent me an absentee ballot for the general election. I went to my precinct because Mich. law says if I can show up at the polls I must and cannot vote absentee. They said that since I had been issued an absentee ballot I couldn't vote live. A call to the main office cleared things up -- they said my absentee ballot had not yet been used and if it was turned in it would be thrown out. I know that if it happens this year (the clerk insists it shouldn't) I take the absentee ballot with me when I go to vote.

The second case only required a bit of persistence, everyone kept a friendly demeanor. The guy in the first case tried intimidation, but it didn't work on me. However, someone less informed about their voting rights facing someone well schooled in how to look and act intimidating might easily turn tail, especially if poll workers have a GOP bent and don't come to the rescue.

With 50 days notice of this tactic it quite possible that some Dem community organizers will be able to alert voters about their rights and the possibility of being challenged.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A little soul

For about a month now I've been volunteering at the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park (a city surrounded by Detroit) on Wednesday evenings. This is a drop-in center for homosexual and gender-variant teens and young adults, a place for them to express themselves without fear of a culture that doesn't get it. Surrounded as it is by Detroit, the kids are all black or Hispanic (and not many of those). Monty, the intern, and I are the only white dudes on Wednesday evenings. The center provides two meals a day and snacks when available (big bags of bagels always seem available). There are laundry facilities and a clothes closet (useful for that first job interview). Carol leads a discussion group after dinner (a lesbian group on Wednesdays so I'm not invited). There are various games (the most popular being the card game Spades), a sound system to which the guys dance imitating (I think) some kind of fashion runway (it can get loud so last night I started taking ear plugs but didn't need to use them), a big TV, which gets tuned to Jeopardy and Project Runway, and kids just having a good time.

My duties for the evening are to help with dinner, help keep the kitchen in order, and interact with the kids. I haven't done much of the last bit yet as they can be rather intimidating and I'm still an outsider.

The staff includes Carol, Smoke (female), Rasool (male), Monty, and April (male and a volunteer). April sometimes works as a female impersonator. In the case of April I should ask about pronoun preference, which I haven't done.

There was a humorous incident from yesterday. I usually arrive in time to help serve dinner. I got there yesterday at 4:45 to find dinner hadn't been started because someone was still out purchasing supplies. Soon the ingredients for spaghetti were in hand and I got the meat on into the skillet as April got the onion out to chop. I was about to add basil to the meat when April stopped me saying something like this, "Oh, honey, that won't do. People here don't like it that way. That's an Italian spice and you must have learned it from your mother" My ancestry is German and English, not Italian. "Do you see any Italians here? We need to season this with a little soul." Soul season turned out to be garlic powder, salt, pepper, and onion. After a while he thought the tomato sauce was a bit too plain (only cans of plain tomato sauce and paste) so considered adding salsa to it. Since I obviously didn't know how to do it I left it to April and I made the garlic toast. April put the spaghetti on to cook and soon the pot was boiling over and he was a bit miffed when I turned down the heat. Apparently cleaning up the large puddle on the stove was just a part of doing business. When it was all ready and mixed together, April dumped it onto a platter, decided that platter wasn't big enough, and dumped that onto a bigger one. He served from the big platter. I saw how his cooking methods weren't all that sanitary, so I declined to have some (I had seen from previous weeks that the menu doesn't always fit my dietary needs so I ate at home). We served about 15 kids.

Yeah, I do want paper or plastic

A short article in Newsweek's Periscope (not online) reports that while some cities have banned the ever-present plastic grocery bags, Seattle (a city proud of its green cred) decided to tax them -- and got a huge uproar. Some object the tax isn't as good as a ban. Some object they already recycle the bags and use them for other things -- lunch bags, pet waste -- in the meantime. Some complain that the repeat-use bags made out of polypropylene aren't recyclable (though fewer of them get used) and the ones made out of canvas use enough resources in their making that they need to be used 500 times before they break even (Seattle disputes that number). And a few complain the tax hits the lower income people the most. Even so a "harm tax" might be the future of policy.

Just don't tell the poor

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek (alas, this story isn't online) says the most important issue with health care isn't that 1 in 7 is uninsured, it is that by 2025 health care will suck up $1 in every $4. We spend almost exactly the same amount of money for health care per person on poor than we do on the rich. While I agree this statistic is useful to say the poor aren't sucking up health care dollars, it is only one measure. Another is how disastrous to family finances is a hospital stay to a poor person with no insurance compared to anyone (rich or not) who does.

Samuelson has a few other points to make. Ted Kennedy at the Dem Convention says that health care is a right. If so, how far does that go? That leads me to these questions: How do we balance the expense of that right against the right of education and its expenses? Is there ever a time to say that further care is too expenses and the outcome too tenuous to bother proceeding? Is health care still a right if the patient persists in extremely unhealthy habits?

Medicare, since it covers the elderly, covers a large portion of America's health care. Perhaps 30% of that is wasted, partly through services that aren't needed. Medicare can drive cost reduction by changing reimbursement rules, encouraging electronic record keeping, and reducing dubious tests.

Unseating a bad Supreme Justice

The Detroit Free Press reports the results of the nominations at the state Democratic Convention. These are people to vote for.

Supreme Court: Diane Hathaway

UofM Board of Regents: Denise Illich, Laurence Deitch

WSU Board of Governors: Paul Massaron, Gary Pollard

MSU Board of Trustees: Dianne Byrum Diann Woodard

State Board of Ed. Kathleen Strauss, John Austin.

The Supreme Court position is important because Michigan's court has been rated the worst in the country for giving out sensible rulings. Alas, defeating an incumbent is very difficult (the last time it happened was 1984) because the sitting judge has plenty of time to raise a war chest while the challenger is identified a mere 60 days before the election.

The university board and state ed. positions are important because GOP would likely take the chance to introduce creationism nonsense.

(Update: Added the missing header)

Don't believe those polls -- I hope

It was just the last time I posted that I said I didn't want to talk about the election anymore. And I'm not … going to talk about the candidates (well, a tiny bit). I said I might talk about some of the ideas behind the election. Here are a few:

There are strong reasons not to believe national polls that say the candidates are even.
* Many polls feel they have to balance the percentage of Dem, Indie, and GOP voters. But the Dems have been registering millions of new voters and others are fleeing the GOP in record numbers. Besides, the GOP started off with a smaller membership.
* Their definition of a "likely" voter is probably outmoded.
* New and young voters, likely to vote Dem, either don't have a landline available for a pollster to call or are too busy to spend the time for a lengthy polling interview.
* Traditional media has The Greatest Political Team Assembled In The History Of The Universe and they need a close race for you to give up your football.
* No pundit has a clue about how energized young people and minorities are over Obama.

That said, it is impossible to underestimate the stupidity of the American voter (an example in the linked article). And then there are those infamous voting machines. All that is enough to make this election season scary. This does bring to mind the accuracy of Karl Rove's predictions of the 2006 election.

Hypocrisy is only bad when it is improperly used. -- George Bernard Shaw

The party that used to claim that a woman's place was at home taking care of her children has rallied around a woman, now claiming that to delve into her past is sexist. That proves they don't understand the word -- she should get the same scrutiny as McCain, Obama, and Biden. That and other layers of hypocrisy are explored in Anna Quindlen's column in Newsweek.

A fun video of McCain and Obama, less than 2 minutes long. Somebody is really clever with film editing. I've heard the creator has done this kind of thing with other pairs of rivals.

Questions for politicians about science:
1. Will you staff your scientific advisory positions with actual scientists?
2. Will you allow government scientists to publish without review from political personnel?
3. How will you improve science and math education?
4. Should the government fund basic science research (which industry labs are no longer doing)? Should the government do such research?
5. What will your policy for sex-education -- abstinence only, no funding at all, or medically accurate sex ed?

Will these questions get asked … or answered?

Alas, one serious mention about a candidate. It seems McCain interfered with a DEA investigation of his wife's drug abuse and theft. This interference warrants an investigation. I've had enough of Bush cover-ups. In this case the GOP candidate really is McSame. Imagine the storm if it was Michelle Obama instead of Cindy McCain.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Less oink?

Dr. Pachauri is part of the United Nations Panel on Climate Change which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore last year. He says that everyone could make a personal and effective difference in climate change by going meatless one day a week -- and then increasing the meatless days from there.

Still 8 weeks to go and I've had enough!

It is 8 weeks to the election. McCain and Obama are tied. I've had more than 8 years experience to know that when at GOP politician opens his/her mouth what comes out is very likely a lie. A lot of the Dems are the same, though in Obama's case he is more likely to say things politicians don't say. So I'm more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Both sides are going to open their mouths a *lot* over the next 8 weeks and I've already heard enough. I’m not even going to share the latest joke about "The difference between Palin and …? Lipstick."

My TV will remain unplugged (I've watched some Olympics and a few Dem convention speeches but very little else since last November). I'll be inclined to turn off the news when the focus is on politics. I may not read all of my Newsweek (big article on McCain last week and a big one on Palin and her beliefs this week). And I'll not write about any of it unless there is a really compelling idea floating out there. If you're a political junkie, there are a lot of other sources.

With all that said, two last things to talk about:
A few weeks ago Newsweek had a cover article about "What Bush Got Right," warning the next prez not to dismantle a policy simply because Bush signed it. The few letters to the editor about it (alas, I’m not searching for the link) are variations on: So when is Newsweek going to publish the phone book size issue listing what Bush did wrong?

I've mentioned before that whoever wins this election the American voter gets the prez and veep they deserve. However, I'm not sure that is true if we get a GOP prez due to vote fraud. Then again, if we're not willing to stand up for honest elections…

Project Vote is on the case and will investigate and report on voting issues over the next two months. This posting is about how difficult and confusing we've made the voting process and how much misinformation is being tossed around. Such things as:
* Telling Virginia Tech students that if the register to vote at the school they change their permanent address and that could affect their scholarship and their drivers license.
* The precinct containing VT is not prepared to handle the influx of new voters. Virginia precincts are to be split when the exceed 5000 voters (and it didn't take many students to reach that number) and there isn't time before the election to do so. Expect really long lines.
* The polling places for that precinct are 4 miles from the VT campus with no public transport between the two.
* Former inmates are told they've lost their right to vote, even in states where that isn't true for their crimes. These laws vary by state.

A solution is get rid of the patchwork of voting laws and communize them in the US Constitution. At least we could ask the United Nations to monitor our elections as we ask them to monitor elections in other countries.
At least the Ohio Secretary of State has ruled that returned mail is not a sufficient reason to remove a person from the voting rolls.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

No, we don't want people to think

This is change? Palen is understandably weak in foreign policy (in spite of how close her state is to Russia), so she has tutors to help prepare her for her big debate against Biden. Her tutors? A team of Bush aides, including Steve Biegun who served under Condi Rice in the National Security Council and staff director for Jesse Helms at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Perhaps Palin and McCain were trivializing Obama's history of community organizing not just to highlight Palin's (lack of) experience. Perhaps that attack was because they don't want any community to be organized against them. They don't want citizen leaders, people who will think and act contrary to the government's wishes.

The wall that shuts us out has a few cracks

Anthony Venn-Brown, an Australian gay evangelical, sees signs that the Fundie view of gays as an abomination is starting to crumble. He begins with a thanks to Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Christian Churches in 1968, who showed it was possible to be both gay and Christian. Other pioneers in various denominations have followed.

Now, even asking the question of when we might see the end of homophobia in the church means the debate is already won.

* A switch from "gays go to hell" to "gays go to hell if they practice their homosexuality." Yeah, that doesn't look like much but it is a baby step in the right direction.
* 100 Australian ministers signed an apology to the gay community and 35 risked their jobs even more by actually marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this year.
* There are gay pastors in many churches in several denominations. Fundie churches are watching.
* There are many individual churches that are declaring themselves to be welcoming to gays.
* Evidence is mounting that ex-gay ministries are a sham (a participant is told "you'll always walk with a limp" [always have to deal with same-sex attraction]) and former ministry leaders are apologizing.
* Documentaries, such as For the Bible Tells Me So, are showing that being gay and Christian are compatible.
* Gay bookstores and Christian bookstores are starting to carry books about how to be gay and Christian.
* A lot of straight people sitting in the pews disagree with prohibitive denominational positions.

So why don't church leaders take the initiative and welcome gays?
* The higher one goes in Christian hierarchy the less contact one has with the non-Christian world.
* Church leaders fear schism

But gays can be a blessing and a gift to the church, teaching it useful lessons.
* A lot of the creative arts in the church come from gay hands and voices.
* We teach the church about how to be non-judgmental. The connection between homosexuality and immorality is so strong many people believe they know what our lives are like. To accept us as we are they have to let go of judgment.
* In dealing with gays the church will be led from law, judgment, and scriptural authority to be a church of grace.
* The church will encounter what unconditional love means and will stop using "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Change is coming through pastors and other church people having the experience that Peter had in Acts 10:9-30. In the last few verses God told Peter not to declare as unclean things that God has declared to be clean. Then comes institutional change, as described in Acts 15:1-19 when Paul goes to Jerusalem to argue that gentile Christians do not first have to become Jews (and gay Christians do not first have to become straight). It takes a while to get from Acts 10 to Acts 15.

Challenges ahead.
* Is your church relevant to society? About 60% of the world's population is under 30. Is 60% of your church membership under 30?
* We teach our straight youth to have a grounded sense of morality. It is time to do the same for Christian gay kids too.
* What do we do for gays in foreign cultures that emphasize marriage and pressure gays to conform? How do we influence cultures that kill gays? This is certainly not the only human rights issue in these places.

Focusing on the positives will get us a lot farther. The enemy is ignorance.

But why should I try?

An update on yesterday's post about challenging leaders of ex-gay ministries. One such leader wrote extensive answers to the first 5 questions. The one of interest is "Can you guarantee I'll become completely heterosexual?" The answer is no -- but the program will increase your opposite sex attractions and decrease your same sex attractions to allow you to function in the straight world (he claims). The original author replied that it is possible to be both gay and moral (both gay and Christian) so there is no need to try to live in the straight world.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Walking that scary walk

Sarah Palin got big applause when she dismissed Obama's community organizing while saying at least as mayor she had executive experience. Here's a breakdown (much too long and thorough for me to repeat) of how a South Chicago community organizer compares against mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. This commentary ends by saying whoever wins America will get the prez. and veep we deserve.

The Center for Community Change and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now had a few things to say about Palin's comparison.

Bush may talk like a Fundie, but he'll only act like one (bleat about a marriage protection amendment) when politics says he has to. The same seems to be true of McCain. In contrast, and much to the delight of Fundies, there is growing evidence that Palin not only talks like a Fundie, she walks like one too. If she becomes prez (McCain is 72 and has had cancer), she'll put the force of conviction into demands for Fundie friendly legislation and judges.

She has described oil pipelines in Alaska as "God's will." She describes the war in Iraq as "a task that is from God." She tried censoring books in the Wasilla library. She gets high ratings for pro-life and creationism views. And, from the beliefs of her church and views she has stated, one wonders if she would use her power as commander in chief to do what she could to usher in the End Times as described in Revelations, claiming it a plan from God (similar to the Apocalypse Directive I recently wrote about) and that she's doing you a favor. Not surprisingly, the McCain campaign is trying to cover up her church ties and Palen has refused to identify where her church membership is now.

Twenty questions that aren't a game

Anthony Venn-Brown in Australia tried to switch from gay to straight over 22 years of struggle (including 16 years of marriage). He didn't succeed. He now poses 20 questions anyone contemplating an ex-gay ministry should ask the program's leaders. Here are just a few of them.
* Would you honestly say you are a "normal" heterosexual person at every level of your being?
* What accountability mechanisms do you have in place to ensure you don't "fall"? If you were truly healed, would these be necessary? Do you have the same accountability in place to stop you from having sex with a person of the opposite sex? Why not?
* Do you think that long term same-sex relationships are built on sex or love, support and respect? So what is the difference then between gay and straight couples?
To put it more simply, Anthony is saying the programs don't work -- they don't change a person from gay to straight -- and program leaders know it.
The little image above is taken from his website.

Profit and the arts

I wrote a few days ago about health care being incompatible with the profit motive. I thought of another issue with the same problem: the Arts. First, there is a difference between art and entertainment, and I'll use a simplistic way of highlighting that difference. Entertainment makes money, art needs subsidies (though not always from a government). Both art and entertainment can uplift the human spirit but art does it in a way that can be hugely expensive and that seems to appeal to a limited audience (though the National Opera doing a simulcast on the Jumbotron in RFK Stadium is trying to change that -- alas, no link).

I love classical music, especially written for orchestra. I've loved it since before I was a teenager. I remember putting on classical music and moving the speakers of the record player (yup, I still have lots of LPs) so they faced each other with enough for me to lie down and put my head between them for the full stereo effect. One of my lifetime goals is to have one of my own compositions performed by a competent orchestra.

Here's an example of the profit motive at work: When I moved to Detroit in the late 70s there were four stations that played exclusively classical music. Since then all four have disappeared. WDET switched to world music in the mid 80s (I don't know if this is switching from one niche market to another, so I'll let it pass). WQRS, a commercial station, decided in the mid 90s that while it was making a profit, it could make more profit by switching to alternative rock. Just a few years after that WUOM, an NPR station, decided it could get more donations from more listeners by switching to talk. And just this week, CBC Radio 2 (out of Windsor), dropped to 4 hours of classical music a day (after spending a few years at 13 hours a day) because they hope that by appealing to more listeners they will get a larger subsidy from the Canadian government. Detroit classical music lovers despaired for many years after WQRS changed format. It was only a few years ago that they welcomed WRCJ, a public radio station, but even they have 11 hours of jazz overnight.

Note that in 3 out of the 4 cases the switch wasn't because the station didn't have enough to work with, it was because the station could get more money by changing formats. Perhaps these stations are trying to emulate big business -- the bigger the better. Too bad if you want a niche product.

Yeah, it is possible to live-stream classical music from a wide variety of sources -- even from Australia. Alas, those streams aren't received by my clock radio nor my car.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sorthing through truth and fiction

Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has reviewed the book The Apocalypse Directive by Douglas MacKinnon. While it is a work of fiction, it is extrapolated from a backstory that (according to the MRFF) is quite true. There really is a Christian Embassy in the Pentagon and our military academies, especially the Air Force Academy in Colo. Springs, have become training grounds for Fundies, indoctrinating cadets into Team Jesus, teaching them that the military is God's ministers, angels of wrath authorized to punish those who do evil, and missionaries of the true faith to wherever our government sends them. The MRFF has documented all this but hasn't yet been able to root out all of the abuses. The book is the story of a future president, along with a general who was an Air Force Academy classmate, both now Fundie zealots, who have suffered through more terrorist attacks from everlasting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and believe that Jesus has told them to trigger the apocalypse hinted at in the book of Revelations. And to do that they have to destroy practically all of non-American civilization. Will they be stopped? Depends on whether the description of the current state of the military used as a background is a gloat or a warning.

A Fundie bumble

With the news about Sarah Palin's unwed pregnant daughter and a growing scandal about state troopers (details elsewhere) on top of her seeming inexperience one wonders if she was properly vetted for the job of VP. Now it appears she wasn't. The Fundies threw a hissy fit when it appeared McCain was about to select either Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, both pro-choice. A convention floor fight was promised. So McCain capitulated and scrambled to pick Palin. Which means he's not the maverick he claims and is beholden to the Fundies. It also means he bumbled his first major presidential decision.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ultimate energy savings

The best way to keep the world's carbon footprint from exploding? Have fewer kids. Fewer homes to heat, fewer miles to travel. Some countries, primarily in Europe (birthrate in Lithuania is 1.22 children per female), seem to have gotten that message and now face social problems due to declining birthrates. Africa hasn't. Mali has a birthrate 7.34 children per female. The birthrate in many other African countries, though still high, has come down. The best way to reduce the birthrate is to pursue what has worked before: education for men and women, information about birth control, and better health care so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood. Though America has a birthrate of 1.9, about a quarter of that in Mali, we can't be smug. One Texan has the carbon footprint of 31 sub-Saharan Africans.
Alas, Detroit Free Press articles are usually free for only two weeks.

Putting a muzzle on it

A fellow blogger proposes this idea: McCain's choice of Sarah Palin wasn't to draw the women voters to his campaign but to play the woman-as-victim card. Attack dog Joe Biden would have made hash of a similarly qualified male pick, yet his comments so far about Palin seem quite squishy. He is enough of a gentleman that he doesn't want to be seen attacking a woman. The Veep debate could be handed to Palin on a platter if Biden can't regain his bark and bite. Perhaps this is where Hillary helps out Obama. She can point out that Palin wants to not only overturn Roe v. Wade, but also Griswold -- the case in 1965 that threw out laws that prevented a married couple from using contraceptives. Along with Hillary could be Pelosi and a long string of female governors, senators, and representatives.

Doing something about the weather

I've seen the devastation of Katrina (as part of a work team) and wouldn't want to wish Katrina or Gustav on anyone. I try not to be vindictive and not to gloat. And while I don't see any justice in it (certainly no justice to the people of Louisiana) and don't see God as out to smite people who displease him, there is a certain poetic balance here. A few Fundies publicly called for prayers for rain during Obama's big speech in the open-air stadium in Denver, yet the sky remained clear for the show. It's the GOP convention that is interrupted by a storm.