Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taking a break

I am heading out on vacation tomorrow. I'll return in mid June. I don't intend to check email or favorite websites while gone.

The heart of this vacation is a trip to Alaska with my parents. While both of them are doing fine (Mom is getting forgetful) they are at an age that if we don't go this year we won't go at all.

The cruise departs from Vancouver and will make stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. We'll cruise Glacier Bay and College Fjord before stopping in Whittier. From there we take the train to Denali Lodge for two nights, come back to McKinley lodge for a third night, before a final night in Anchorage.

Mom wants to see Sitka, but the ship didn't go there. So, on our own, we'll fly to Sitka for 24 hours.

We'll also have a couple days before and several days after with my brother and his family in the Seattle area.

Yes, I plan to take lots of pictures.

You can use this entry as an open thread.

Californians: Don't mess with my Constitution

Contrary to a poll taken last week, 54% of Californian voters say they would not approve a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Only 40% would vote for it. There is the usual differences in age and religion of voters. This poll was taken after the Calif. Supreme's ruling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Marriage in California, crumbs in Maryland

Maryland state Senator Rich Madaleno helped get a few tiny rights for gay couples passed. These include making medical decisions for each other if they can prove they are a couple. Can you imagine dashing home from the Emergency Room to get your checkbook to prove you have a joint account? Sigh, better than zilch. Madaleno's daughter was invited to attend the ceremony when Governor Martin O'Malley signed the bill. When he was done she asked if she could sign it too. Who could refuse? Here's the cute picture.

Commentary here.

Vote fraud? Vote confidence? Vote tampering?

Dahlia Lithwick's column in Newsweek discusses the fear by the GOP that the Democrats are waging massive voter fraud by casting ballots for dead people. In spite of a lack of evidence, that scare has taken hold to the point that a quarter of the population believes it is a big concern -- and the US Supremes have decided a landmark case on voter ID based on it. You might be able to guess when the scare began to pop up: in 2000 as Bush was running for the first time. He, through a completely corrupt Voting Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and the GOP has turned the fear of fraud into the fact of voter suppression, able to do more damage to the electoral process than the fraud could. Yes, there have been cases of fraud over the last 8 years, but they were all small-potatoes operations, nothing as massive and coordinated as the GOP alleges. Slay the fraud bogeyman and we can restore both the confidence in the vote and the right to vote. Alas, the article says nothing about electronic vote tampering, another big source of the lack of vote confidence and almost all perpetrated by the GOP.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I served! You didn't!

Who'd a thought the conservative Christian theology of Premillennialism would play an active role in this year's presidential race? This has come to light with the recent flap over Rev. John Hagee's association with McCain. This bit of theology says that Christ will return for the End Times when certain things, according to prophecy, have taken place. Now, one could argue that the prophecy, which is in a coded language (had to sidetrack the Romans 1900 years ago), doesn't really say what the Right claims it says. But that doesn't stop them from claiming it all hinges on Israel. Which means they are Christians for Israel, not because they really care for Jews, but because of the way Israel fits into their scenario. Get all the Jews into Israel and Jesus will come along in his rapture spaceship and good little conservatives won't have to die as the rest of humanity gets flattened in the End Times. McCain says he knows nothing of this (wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn?) but his policies towards veterans in the new GI Bill shows his reliance on the Right. Even worse, McCain uses his trump card -- I was a prisoner of war and you didn't even put on a uniform -- to hide that Obama actually cares more for Jews and veterans as people instead of mystical pawns in a religious scenario.

Because I'm the father and I said so

Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida, a giant of the Right, took a poll of its members (with all kinds of leading questions), asking about the threats to the spiritual health of the nation. This should be in no way thought of as an unbiased, scientific survey. Naturally, the ACLU was chosen by 96% of the participants as being a threat to the nation's spiritual health. Other questions asked how alarmed the members should be (very). None of it had anything to do with what anyone else would consider Christian values. As biased as it is, it allows a glimpse into the Right's culture: They fear the modern world of free thinkers who are out to get them. They are hostile to most of the instruments of democracy, especially Congress and Courts because of the emphasis on multiplicity of opinion and on crating compromise to protect all Americans. The exception is the presidency because that office doesn't have to compromise, he (never a she in this world) is one voice and can act as the Stern Father, ready to seize control and bring the rest of government and America into line.

Death or change -- a false choice

A couple commentaries for ex-gay ministries (strange that the only positive messages come from those with a vested interest in the ministries) say they went into the programs because they were faced with a limited choice: death or change. In this case, death is from suicide. Here is another commentary that points out those are not the only two choices. There are lots of gays who have come to terms with both their orientation and religion. But these ex-gay spokespeople have a stake in restricting the options to only death or change. Part of it is the effort it takes to stay ex-gay (these two don't say there was a change in orientation, only behavior), part of it is the mental anguish of realizing they've been living a lie, part of it is the way they make money off others in their programs. At least some of the effort behind the battle over gay rights -- the ultimate goal is the recriminalization of homosexuality -- is to enforce the choice between death and change. Tragically, when many gays in these programs find out that change doesn't work, they seek the only other option they see as available. A better death would be to the false choice of "death or change."

Sunday, May 25, 2008


A wonderful cartoon of the California Marriage ruling by Steve Benson at the Arizona Republic.
More of his political cartoons here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Top Ten reasons against gay marriage -- debunked

It is good to have the AFA actually list the Right's talking points on why gay marriage should be banned so they can be debunked.

1. Same-sex marriage will destroy marriage. That "Scandinavian Study" is bunk. The bible is being misused. No credible study shows kids are harmed by having gay parents.

2. Polygamy will follow. So pass a constitutional amendment on polygamy, already.

3. Same-sex marriage makes straight divorce too easy. Huh?

4. Same-sex marriage would require schools to teach tolerance. Isn't tolerance a good idea on its own? But Governor Arnold signed a tolerance law long before the state Supremes legalized gay marriage.

5. Same-sex couples would be able to adopt. They already can in most states.

6. Sensitivity training for foster parents will be required. Again, huh?

7. Social Security can't afford benefits for gay couples. Isn't the goal of ex-gay therapy to make gays able to enter straight marriage? How are gay couples different? Besides, it's only 2%.

8. Allow gay marriage in the USA and other countries will want it too. Well, yeah. Probably better to blame Canada on this one.

9. Gay marriage will make evangelism more difficult. Gay couples will destroy the church where Roman Emperors could not?

10. Gay marriage will bring divine retribution. 3000 kids die of malaria a day and it is love that will cause God to smite us?

Complete arguments are here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What it means to be a progressive

Blogger Terrance Heath has some nice things to say about Ted Kennedy as the senator contemplates battling a brain tumor. Kennedy led, or at least had his fingers in nearly all of the progressive policies that came out of (and some that died in) Washington. The list is quite long and includes Medicare, Medicaid, and stopping Robert Bork. Terrance is a gay man and was working on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which has been introduced in Congress every session for a long time) and shook hands with Kennedy at a hearing for ENDA. This is what impresses him about Kennedy:

I thought to myself that this wealthy, heterosexual, white male certainly didn’t have to care about those of us standing in line that day, for a hearing on a bill about our equality. He wouldn’t have suffered for not caring. But he did.

If there is anyone whose career distills what being a progressive means to me — caring about and standing up for people and issues you don’t have to care about, and that your circumstances don’t require you to care about — Ted Kennedy is one such person. His career in the Senate, and his political commitments are proof that one can be elite — born to privilege, wealth, and power — without being elitist. One simply has to care, as Ted Kennedy has and does. He could have spend most or all of his life coasting on the wealth, power, and influence of the Kennedy name. He chose not to do so.

So, get well soon, Senator. You have fought and still fight the good fight, but there several rounds left to go. Perhaps it’s selfish to say, but we still need you, and many more like you too.

Separate but unequal

Here's another review of the Calif. gay marriage ruling. It is long and covers much of the same ground I covered (though it quotes from the ruling). I mention it because of an idea I missed: Marriage is beyond the reach of law. It's a given. Domestic Partnerships are created by law and, as gay citizens in several states (including Michigan) have found, what the law gives, the law may also take away. DPs mean gays are second-class citizens because "separate but equal" is made unequal by that vulnerability.

A bunch of short notes

Blogger Terrance Heath has a few things to say to the GOP: Blaming the Democrats and trying for re-branding won't work because you've just had 7.5 years in power (in spite of Dems supposedly in control in Congress) and what have you done with it? There is a basic issue: The "problems" the GOP wants to solve are not the issues that most Americans are facing. And the big issues before Americans are ones conservatism doesn't see as problems.

Portland, Oregon just elected Sam Adams as mayor by a hefty margin. It is newsworthy because Adams is gay. Alas, Portland is a beacon in decidedly conservative state.

Ellen DeGeneres has become quite the spokesperson for the gay community. She recently announced her engagement for a Calif. gay wedding. Today she brought John McCain onto her show, sat him down, and asked him why the federal government won't allow her to be married. He politely brushed her off by saying "We just have a disagreement… I wish you every happiness." Her comeback: "You'll walk me down the aisle?"

Video and commentary here.

Video and transcript here.

Pastor John Hagee is big stuff in conservative circles and McCain actively sought and basked in Hagee's endorsement. But Hagee has been pushing strange foreign policy ideas, such as the role Israel is to play in the End Times described in Revelation and how the USA can speed up the timetable. But Hagee went one step too far. He claimed that Jews were disobeying God for not relocating to Israel during the Zionist movement in the early part of the 20th century. Therefore God used Hitler to force Jews to Israel with the Holocaust as the price they paid for their disobedience. Hagee and McCain have now renounced each other.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Those pilgrims were such wonderful people

The Dover, PA School Board controversy over Intelligent Design and Creationism reasserted that both those ideologies are religion, not science, and not to be taught in science classrooms. Yet, according to a Pennsylvania State University survey of schools, about one in eight high school biology teachers teach those two topics. Almost all also taught evolution, but spent a lot less time on that than the religious view of things. It is up to the teachers to carry out the curriculum. They're the ones, not the judges, who are actually in the classroom.

But it seems Creationism pales before another scary onslaught -- fake history. Our national mythology, from the pilgrims (religious bullies of their day) on down, is such that Christian revisionist history isn't challenged nearly as much as Creationism. The method of dissemination of fake history is much wider than biology textbooks are for Creationism and includes insertion by the Department of Defense into Junior ROTC programs. And it may matter more.

The reason for all this fakery is simple: He who controls the past controls the future. History, and the mythologies we build around it, permeates every aspect of our culture. If the Right can convince enough schoolkids their historical identity has been stolen and must be restored, their battle is nearly won. It doesn't matter that such history doesn't stand up under scrutiny. It only needs to be believed to affect culture. It is being believed to the point that fake history is being used in Congressional debates.

One would expect such government sponsored lies from a totalitarian regime, such as Germany in the 1930s or the Soviet Union. But this is free America! Isn't it?

Here are a few of the consequences of fake history:

Destroy the separation of Church and State through the idea that while the state is supposed to stay out of the church, the reverse is not true. We as a society allowed its steady erosion over the last two decades because so many are convinced the idea is a fraud, a pernicious myth.

Undermine the rights and increase the persecution of minorities. Undermine religious liberty. Put pluralistic society and American democracy at risk. Divide our country into two camps, one embracing false history, leading to the collapse of the center and polarization of all debate.

By 2002 only 45% of Americans believed the USA is a secular nation.

If today's Congressmen, educated before revisionist history was developed, spout fake history and create government policy based on it, then what will our nation be like when those who are taught it begin to get elected to government?

It seems a common refrain is to brand the Left as "secular fundamentalist" who are so anti-religious that they want to keep all hint of religion out of the public square. That statement has at least two faulty debate points. (1) Accusing your opponent of acting on your own misguided traits (I want to ban all hints of secularism from the public square, so you must be aiming to ban all religion from the public square). (2) Offering a false choice of only two extreme options. Here are a number of quotes about religion in the public square and some of the speakers show how pervasive the "Christian nation" ideas have become.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Republican Plan for 2012

The GOP is running scared this year, at least according to Peggy Noonan (speech writer for Reagan) in a column in the Wall Street Journal. They're like deer during hunting season, listening for twigs snapping. So, of course, they are working on a game plan for 2012 and you won't be surprised at all with what's in it -- blame all the national problems on the Democrats. It will be easier than you might think because the Bush mess is so big nobody will be able to fix it fast enough to please the general public. And if that president is Obama they can toss in some cheap racism -- See! I told you it would be a disaster to have a black as president!

Let them eat (wedding) cake!

Here are photos and descriptions of the party held in West Hollywood (the gay part of town) in response to the Calif. ruling on gay marriage. If you follow the link, at least read through the first of the comments.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

California! (after parsing the whole decision)

Yes, I know the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage a couple days ago, but it took a while to read the whole ruling and summarize all 161 pages of it so that you don't have to (there are also 9 pages of lists of who argued before the court and who provided briefs). The ruling is a lot more readable (legal terms are defined) that I expected.

The California Supreme Court said there is no compelling interest to refuse marriage to gays and that Domestic Partner laws are not and cannot be the same as marriage. Thus the state constitution's Equal Protection Clause requires that California law be changed so that same-sex couples may marry. The vote was 4-3

There is also a marriage protection amendment that has gotten enough signatures and will be on the November ballot in CA. The amendment was apparently written with the assumption the Supremes would rule against gay marriage because it seems to not have provisions for canceling marriages that take place between June and the election.

Commentary, including a link to the text of the ruling.

More commentary.

Some thoughts from reading the decision:

The majority opinion:

The opinion starts off by noting one big difference: California already has Domestic Partnerships, which gives a gay couple nearly all the rights of marriage that a state can provide. The issue is not whether gays can have a legal relationship, as it is in other states, but whether a DP is satisfactory for gays while reserving marriage for straights. The discussion starts from a much higher plane. The question before the court is does the difference in name or label violate the California Constitution.

Calif. long ago established a fundamental right to marry. That was firmly established in a case involving a mixed race couple. The state also had already established that sexual orientation is not a legitimate basis to deny rights. But is the state denying rights by using different words for different kinds of unions?

The Calif. legislature could have avoided the mess by creating a legal term for all relationships, gay or straight, and leave the term "marriage" for religious uses. But they didn't.

Reasons why differing terms are not equal:

Gay couples lose dignity and respect: you don't have a real relationship, you're second-class citizens. That is like designating interracial marriages as "transracial unions." The word marriage already has a long history and there is widespread understanding and approval of what it represents. It has symbolic importance. But DPs require explanation and the separation maintains gays in their vulnerable position. In addition, when faced with the choice of "married or single" a gay person would be required to out themselves by declaring they are in a DP and that may be dangerous in a setting where such a distinction is irrelevant. This is a violation of the right to privacy.

Permitting gay couples the use of the word marriage does not deny rights to straight couples and does not change the requirements of marriage. They are not attempting to define new benefits and obligations of marriage, nor are they attempting to destroy the institution of marriage.

The Domestic Partner Act (DPA) can only address the material and tangible aspects of a relationship.

Even though the ruling is essentially about the name of the relationship, California law says a lot about the rights and responsibilities of marriage and this ruling looks at whether gays are able to properly respond to those rights and to fulfill the responsibilities.

The right to marry has come to be defined as the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice. This has significance to society as well as the individual.

Society's interest is in the raising of children and caring for family members who cannot care for themselves due to age, sickness, disability, or need.

An individual's interest is emotional and economic support, and allows a person to invest in and rely on a loving relationship with another adult which may be crucial for a person's development. It also joins families, providing a wider network of economic and emotional security as well as joins the couple to the broader family social structures of community life. Marriage provides an opportunity to publicly and officially express love and long-term commitment and the ability to raise children with a loved one.

In addition to society, government bestows rights and protections to legally recognized unions, including protections from adverse claims from outsiders. Marriage is important enough that government can enforce the mutual obligations of marriage on the couple. On the flip side, the couple has a right to be free from undue governmental intrusion.

Thus the right to marry is so fundamental the Legislature cannot choose to withdraw it. In the same way the constitution must be seen to apply this right to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.

Tradition is not enough to withhold this right.

Calif. law has already recognized that homosexuality is not an illness, but a variation on humanity, and that gay people are capable of entering into loving and committed relationships and of raising children. This recognition is not dependent on DPA, though it does constitute explicit official recognition. Thus, the state cannot deny an officially recognized and supported family.

Marriage cannot be restricted by the ability to procreate, even though marriage may have been given state recognition to promote stable relationships for the raising of children. The state has never denied marriage to those physically unable to conceive and it is an intrusion for the state to determine if conception is possible. While marriage may promote "responsible procreation" it cannot be construed to be limited to that goal. A gay couple cannot be denied marriage because they cannot accidentally produce children. Besides, a marriage is much more than raising children.

The claim that a child should be raised by biological mother and father is immaterial to the state (which allows adoptions), but the state does have an interest in stable, long-term, two-parent families.

Under one type of constitutional tests the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff, on the other type it falls on the state. The second, called "strict scrutiny" is applied if the situation involves "suspect classifications" and "fundamental interests." Denying marriage to gays revolves around whether homosexuality is a "suspect classification." While it is obvious there are differences due to sexual orientation that difference must be on an immutable trait (otherwise a person can simply change the trait) and there must be stigma associated with the trait. The court sidestepped whether gays can change their orientation by noting that religion is also classified as immutable and as fundamental to a person's identity. That there is a stigma is obvious by gay suffering "pernicious and sustained hostility." The Attorney General tried to claim that one more test of "political powerlessness" was also required, but that got booted quickly. Strict scrutiny is required.

Because of strict scrutiny the state must show that the different name for the relationship is more than simply rational, it must be compelling and necessary for state interests.

Attempts at defining a compelling reason:

The Calif. Constitutions written in the 1800s mention husband and wife in some places. But that does not preclude the Legislature from changing marriage law, which it has.

Separation of powers means changing the marriage law should be up to the Legislature. The court agrees, as long there is no underlying constraints imposed by the Constitution, at which point the court is obligated to express its opinion. A citizen led initiative (which bans gay marriage) does not exempt a law from judicial review. The fact of a constitution means the people have accepted limits on "the people's will." Certain things are placed beyond the reach of majorities and voters are no more able to violate the Constitution than government officials.

Tradition is not a compelling state interest. We've already defied tradition in interracial marriages.

Excluding gays from marriage is not a compelling reason because straights lose no rights and the legal nature of the institution is not changed.

No religious organization or official is required to change its policies about gay couples.

Calif. already allows gays to adopt, so gay marriage can't hurt children except by its absence -- the protections and dignity children enjoy because their parents are married would be denied.

A separate word for marriage would validate the acceptability of different treatment of gays, which usually means less favorable treatment.

In deciding a remedy the Court has the choice of adding a benefit to those who don't have it or taking a benefit away from those who do. It was easy to determine the Legislature would not have wanted to remove the name "marriage" from straight unions, so adding the same word to gay unions was the preferable outcome.

In a second concurring opinion one justice laments the 4000 gay marriages that were voided when the Supremes ruled that the San Francisco mayor did not have the authority to declare banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. This justice notes the ruling says nothing about the state of those 4000 marriages.

Dissenting opinions:

The first dissenting opinion was signed by two justices (of 7) who believe the court overreached its authority. The definition of marriage should have been changed through democratic means as social and legal understanding of marriage change. An aspect of this overreaching is the appearance of taking legislative action -- the DPA, which gave gays everything but the name "marriage" -- and turning it into a constitutional right. In addition, Calif. had already bestowed all substantive benefits it has the power to bestow.

The court addressed the issue of the name of the union. It did not address the underlying issue of whether gays are allowed to marry. Instead, it started with the DPA as the assumption that gays should be allowed to marry. Proposition 22, which became law 308.5, was a voter initiative to ban gay marriage. The DPA was an end-run by the Legislature. This dissent says the court has no authority to turn that end-run law into a constitutional right. The act of turning a progressive law into a right can make the Legislature less willing to pass progressive laws and stifles debate on important issues.

The Constitution assumes straight marriage and several laws have confirmed that assumption (including Prop 22) and justices did not justify "such a cataclysmic transformation of this venerable institution." Fundamental rights are those which are deeply rooted in history and tradition, implicit in the concept of liberty, and such that "neither liberty nor justice could exist if they were sacrificed." The name given to gay unions is not a fundamental right.

Up to this point I could agree with this dissent (though I'm glad it didn't prevail). Then this justice begins to show his true colors, not just someone interested in judicial restraint.

The majority decision takes pains to confirm that bans against incestuous and polygamous marriages remain. Yet their reasoning for requiring gay marriage is so flimsy that other court cases could use the same reasoning to lift those bans. Nothing like threatening the slippery slope. Another tired claim is that gays aren't barred from marriage -- as long as the couple is made up of a man and a woman there is no prohibition to either of them being gay. At least he acknowledges these probably aren't the partners gays would actually choose. Besides, the Prop 22 law wasn't out to discriminate against gays, it was only to confirm straight marriage, so you can't claim discrimination, especially since we gave you DPA. He also buys into the "powerless" requirement for testing discrimination, saying that gays can't be seen as discriminated against if their difficulties would soon be remedied by legislative means, especially considering the shift in public opinion over the last decade.

Changing the definition of marriage is something so profound that the people and the legislature should be able to control the pace of change. One of those controls for now is separate labels.

Keeping separate labels for same-sex and opposite-sex unions is not a burden as long as the federal programs administered by the state require separate treatment.

A second dissenting opinion (by one justice):

The DPA law was written so that DPs were to be the same as marriage in all but name. If the law doesn't quite do what is says it is supposed to do it should be fixed through the legislative process, or there is something wrong with the enforcement of the law. The law should not simply be overturned. It has done a lot in the few years it has been around. The balance between substantive rights and label should not be broken by the courts while society is still testing that balance and the legislative process is the best way to work out that balance. When ideas are imposed opposition hardens and progress threatened.

The majority discusses at length that the definition of marriage has always been one man/one woman, yet they claim that by including gays they are not changing the definition. You can't have it both ways.


A couple months ago after oral arguments in this case a court watcher predicted how the court would rule. He got the outcome and number of votes right, but missed on a couple minor points, both found in the dissents. (1) Denying the word marriage for gays would not overturn the gains in rights already accomplished. (2) There really is a reason for not awarding gay marriage if the court so wished. That reason is judicial overreaching -- the DPA law works well for now. When the people are ready to deal with gay marriage, the legislative process will handle it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ignore the man behind the curtain

Back when I was working, my boss liked to joke about the Trilateral Commission and the conspiracy theories that it and the United Nations (with black helicopters) were going to usurp national sovereignty and install themselves as world rulers. Those theories die hard in a time when a person's patriotism can be questioned, even though the stated purpose of the Trilateral Commission (according to Wikipedia) is to "foster closer cooperation between America, Europe and Japan."

But it seems there really is a shadowy organization working to bend the government to its will. They may not be trying to create a world government; controlling the USA government is enough. This group is known as The Family, led by Doug Coe. It is an elite network of fundamentalists who wield great power behind the scenes. I hadn't heard of them either.

Author Jeff Sharlet was invited to join The Family and then invited to write a book about them. Here is a two-part interview with Sharlet about his experience and the resulting book, which is "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power."

Part 1

Part 2

Some thoughts from the interview:

The Family has existed since 1935, created to oppose many of Roosevelt's New Deal programs. They have been matchmakers between foreign dictators (usually the worst) seeking access to American power.

They have endured because they work from the inside. They are not flashy bible thumpers like Falwell. Their members are politicians (like Sam Brownback), not preachers. They'll work with anyone willing to advance their agenda.

The most dangerous aspect of The Family is their contempt for democracy. They may be similar to the GOP in this view, but this is not a partisan issue.

They "hide in plain sight" because the media tends to see fundamentalists as "poor, uneducated, and easy to command" while members of The Family are rich, sophisticated, and in power. They don't have to be public to wield that power.

American Fundamentalism has two parts. One is the public side with the televangelists, mass crusades, and voter drives. The other is the elites like The Family. Much of what the public preachers say originates with the elites.

And what they say are such things as "biblical capitalism" which tells the common people to rely on corporate leaders because they were chosen by God and really do know what's best for you. Another big idea is "purity," which encompasses all the ideas of sex the Right trumpets, but also includes purity of economics (in which gov't keeps its hands off). These are the people who do the thinking behind revisionist history to "prove" their way is the intended American way -- "He who controls the past controls the future," as George Orwell said.

The media likes to declare fundamentalism dead every few years and then is puzzled why it reappears. But The Family looks to the long term, not greatly concerned with setbacks. The battle for democracy must also be long term. They see America through Revelation -- all knowledge comes from above. America is actually about Exodus, people finding their freedom together.

Democrat elected in Mississippi!

A Democrat, Travis Childers of Mississippi, has won a seat in the US House held by Republicans since 1994. Even better, Bush won that district with 62% in 2004 and this Dem won it with 54%. Alas, as I read the article I see some bad along with the good, definitely a mixed blessing. Allow me to sort through my reasoning and feel free to comment here whether I've missed important ideas or where you don't agree.

The good stuff:

A strong indication the tide is turning against Bush and the GOP, giving a good chance for Dems in the White House and in comfortable control of both houses of Congress.

This Democratic takeover should lead to the end of the Iraq War, domestic spying, and the many ways in which the government has been subverted for partisan purposes. It might even mean the end of election abuses. I'm sure the list is long.

The bad stuff:

Childers is a "down-the-line conservative on social issues," and his views on "abortion and gun rights: staunchly against the first, and for the second." Which means he also won't be for such issues as repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell and Defense of Marriage Act as well as for passing the Employment Non Discrimination Act.

I'm keeping in mind he is from Mississippi where such conservative views are widely held -- a Democrat from Mississippi is better than a Republican from Mississippi.

Robot Conducts Orchestra

A robot, named Asimo and developed by Honda, was guest conductor for one piece at a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert (not one I attended). It conducted "The Impossible Dream" from the musical Man of La Mancha. It was done by Honda technicians filming DSO education director Charles Burke as he conducted the piece and programming Asimo to repeat those motions. The robot's appearance was a way to thank Honda for its million dollar gift to DSO's education outreach programs. Incoming Music Director Leonard Slatkin feels his job is safe.

News article with photos.

Report on NPR.

Video -- this isn't like a movie. Several parts are repeated from different camera angles:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

When he said "gay bar" ...

A laugh for today: What if it wasn't the bar patrons, but the bar itself, that came out as gay? Of course, it is from The Onion.

Politics from the pulpit

Over the last seven years or so I've heard lots of stories of churches being investigated for possible violations of their non-profit status by the IRS because they endorse candidates from the pulpit. Alas, the stories I usually hear are the ones about conservative churches that violate the rule and are not investigated (sheesh, the IRS doesn't even have enough manpower to keep up with audits), and liberal churches that criticize Bush and are harassed with an investigation.

Now for another step along that line. The Alliance Defense Fund (a very conservative organization) is asking as many churches as possible to blatantly make candidate endorsements from the pulpits on Sunday, September 28, a bit more than a month before the election. They intend either of two possible outcomes.

(1) Get so many churches to do it (they are hoping for at least 40) that the law becomes unenforceable. I've seen similar kinds of things, such as 67 pastors of the United Methodist Church in California officiating at a lesbian commitment ceremony, an action which is grounds for dismissal. The reasoning was that the district couldn't afford to fire that many pastors.

(2) Create a "showdown" test case bound for the Supreme Court in an attempt to declare that particular tax law unconstitutional.

The purpose of this particular tax law is to make sure your tax dollars are not used to fund someone else's free speech.

This is part of an ongoing effort to define the role of religion in public life (to put it politely). It is being done through ignorance of the law by disrupting confidence in government and creating an atmosphere of persecution.

A beautiful Golden Rule Day story

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Golden Rule Day joining with the Day of Silence and how some were skeptical about the true intend of the Golden Rule Day, especially since Warren Throckmorton's name was attached to it. While it is probably a good idea to be wary of his intentions, the interaction between actual students involved with both Golden Rule and Day of Silence turned out to be something quite wonderful. A student named Jordyne told her story -- on Throckmorton's blog, no less.

Generation split among Evangelicals too

It appears there is a young/old divide within the Evangelical church on how to treat gays as there is in the wider society. American Public Media's "Speaking of Faith" had a panel discussion (which I did not listen to) featuring 3 generations of Evangelicals (the oldest one being Chuck Colson). Though none of them approve of homosexuality there is a striking difference in their view of the issue. Colson is doctrinaire (dogmatic?). The younger men see it differently. Both warn against hard-edge judgmentalism. One wonders why Evangelicals shout so much about gays and downplay their own sins (like divorce) and notes their reputation for homophobia is well earned. Even Jesus ministered to prostitutes rather than passing laws against them. The other asks what kind of place has the church become if it can't minister to gays (perhaps admitting that they aren't even following their own not very loving "love the sinner, hate the sin" mantra?). The Evangelical political style has become too mean. Even if the teachings don't change the generational shift in tone is wonderful. They don't need change in theology to stop blowing homosexuality out of proportion.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Evangelical Manifesto and a civil public square

An Evangelical Manifesto was issued yesterday. Now before you roll your eyes or hide under the bed, the document has a few good things to say. These ideas are from the Executive Summary:

An Evangelical is not always the same as a fundamentalist. At the core of fundamentalism is to deny the outside world. In contrast, an Evangelical works to change the world. They claim that many of society's big gains -- abolition of slavery and women's right to vote -- were brought about by Evangelicals. I don't have verification of those claims.

Thus Evangelicals do have a place in public discourse.

However, they want to clarify their position. Faith is not just private. A person of faith brings a strong moral sense to public life and should have a voice in how society is formed.

But faith is also not political. It loses its independent voice, its believers become the "useful idiots" of politicians, and it is exploited by political factions. Yes, engage in politics, but don't allow religion to be equated with any party or ideology.

The public square is not sacred, in which religion has a preferred place in public life, nor is the public square naked, in which religion is banned. Ideas should not be coerced, but should be persuaded. The public square should be civil, in which all ideas are engaged and the developed policies are fair and just for all faiths. See, I told you there were good things here.

Culture warring is not good. The reaction of religious extremism is a backlash against religion in public life and a turn to a secular society. Intolerance by Atheists is a warning sign.

The public square has become global and we need to learn to live with our deepest differences if we are to avoid two errors: coercive secularism and religious extremism. The second leads to needless conflict. The first leads to complacency -- there are evils in the world that must be resisted.

The public square should be a place where the sacred and the secular meet. Actions of either affect all.

Some believe that "error has no rights" -- if you are wrong or do something wrong you forfeit your rights. I haven't heard this phrase before, but I see that it is behind a lot of fundamentalist thinking. In contrast, everyone has the right to be wrong. That doesn't mean all ideas have equal weight in the public square, but ideas should be debated with respect and civility.

The Executive Summary is here (6 page pdf).

The top website is here.

The document or the website doesn't describe what organization came up with the Manifesto, but it does list the names and titles of those who have signed it.

It is good to hear a group on the Right insist that public discourse should be civil and ideas should be debated honestly and respectfully (with something more convincing than "if you don't do what I say God is going to smite you").

However, others are not convinced.

Why issue the manifesto now? Why wait until Evangelicals have tied themselves to the GOP, pushed through a disastrous presidency and disastrous public policies, and lost all credibility? Where were you 15-20 years ago? Did you approve of what Evangelicals were doing until it was obvious both they and the GOP were sinking fast?

How about an apology, or at least a smidgen of regret of the role Evangelicals have played in branding all Moslems as extremists without mentioning the violence Christians have perpetrated against abortion clinics? Perhaps confessions about their role in national militarism, human rights violations, abuse of prisoners, and inciting violence against gays? How about regret for giving all Christianity a bad name?

And how hard are you working to get your message of tolerance to the wider Evangelical world?

Yes, the manifesto is a tiny step in the right direction. But there is a lot to be done to restore credibility.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No DP bennies in Michigan

Yup, it's official. I live in a state full of cavemen. The Michigan Supremes ruled today that Domestic Partner Benefits are too much like marriage and, according to the 2004 constitution amendment, are not to be offered by state and local government institutions. This includes the state universities, who had offered DP benefits to encourage professors to move here. The vote was 5-2. This will not help the state's struggling economy, but who cares about that if Western Civilization is at stake? Several universities and cities have already moved to alternate policies to offer DP bennies under a different rule structure. But some will not.

Separate Church & State benefits church too

Blogger Frederick Clarkston comments on an article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker about four books of Founding Fathers and their approach to religion. Some thoughts from Clarkston and Lepore:

A lot of people wonder what the Founding Fathers would think about various issues, such as whether "In God We Trust" belongs on our money. According to Thomas Jefferson, it is a ridiculous question.

"This they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. . . . Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind."

We are different from our founders and have a different needs from our Constitution. To defer to ancestors without examination is to be a slave to the tyranny of the past.

Our country was founded neither as a Christian nation nor as a secular one.

Many of the founding fathers, including Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Adams, were not Christian. They doubted the divinity of Christ. An example is the Jefferson Bible.

The reason why we have such a vigorous religious society is because we don't have a government established religion. The separation of Church and State is for the benefit of the church as well as for the state. Religion and politics are two different things and each should not be under control of the other. As a result, Americans are more active in their religion. I lived in Germany for a couple years and saw that few of my colleagues paid attention to the state religion.

Clarkston's article is here.

Looking at Lepore's article directly reveals these ideas.

In 1797 Royall Tyler wrote the novel The Algerine Captive about a New England Calvinist enslaved by the Barbary pirates in Algiers. His master agrees to a debate about religions and challenges what good is a religion that you receive unquestioningly from your ancestors? Isn't that essentially worshipping your ancestors and not God? Isn't it better to thoroughly examine, question, and debate your faith and thus deliberately claim it as your own?

Religious freedom in American is traced to four foundation texts:

Jefferson’s 1786 statute (“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry”); Madison’s 1785 “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (“The Religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man”); Article VI of the Constitution (“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”); and the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”).

Voltaire said:

"History is after all only a pack of tricks we play on the dead.”

The Founding Fathers played a different sort of trick -- they turned their backs on history. They did not blindly inherit the faith of their fathers.

Though the Constitution has always been controversial, Article VI and the First Amendment have been especially so in the last 60 years since the "wall of separation" between Church and State was named, reaffirmed, and applied to the states by the Supreme Court. That decision rests strongly on the four documents listed above. The whole business of revisionist history is to knock out the supports of that wall of separation by supplying an explanation of why those four documents don't accurately reflect the intent of the Founding Fathers. Thus the claim that Jefferson and the rest were really godly Christians.

Battles in the culture wars -- as in the church -- are fought on both sides by selectively picking historical quotes or biblical verses that promote their agenda or refute their opponents.

James Madison wrote that if you make a religion the official one of the state then those who are not believers become suspicious that followers are too aware of the faith's fallacies to trust it to survive on its own.

Royall Tyler (mentioned above) wrote in 1817 about Connecticut's established religion,

"A State Religion always has, and ever will be intolerant.”

Lepore's article is here.

The most powerful in America goes to the Supremes

The Supreme Court has vast influence on lives of all Americans in a wide range of ways. We only have influence on who is on the court by who we select a president. By the time the next president is sworn in, 6 of the 9 justices will be 70 or older. That prez. will likely appoint several (I suspect the oldest ones are hanging on in hopes of seeing a Democrat as president before they die). Yet few people could name more than a couple justices and most spend no time asking presidential candidates about what they think about how to evaluate a Supreme Court nominee. The scary exception is the Right quizzing McCain. The rulings that cause the most anger at the time they are handed down are usually the ones later viewed as obviously just and go on to become bedrock principles. Bad guys on TV now routinely demand that cops have search warrants. Perhaps we don't pay attention to the court because we look at the short term and the court looks at the long term.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

We'll twist everything to our cause

Whatever lies they say they are certainly thorough about it.

A legislative document, whether law or proclamation, usually begins with a string of "Whereas" to justify its existence. For example, when a citizen is being honored, the whereas clauses will give the reasons for the honor. This results in a single very long sentence.

US House Bill 888 may not hold the record for the number of "whereas" clauses -- there are 75 -- but it certainly comes out on top for both thoroughness and deceit. It designates the first week in May as "American Religious History Week" in which schoolkids are to learn of America's history of religious faith. Those 75 "whereas" clauses justify how it is that America is a Christian nation. They go through all sorts of documents from America's Founding Era (and later), misinterpreting and twisting as they go, to "prove" that America is supposed to be a theocracy and we had better teach our kids that before they are old enough avoid being brainwashed. The bill was submitted late last year and the Democratic committee chair has had the good sense to sit on it.

I can't document all 75 ways in which American history has been twisted -- Chris Rodda needed nine blog postings for the task and I don't particularly want to wade through the muck -- but I will describe one case to show how it is done. The claim:

"Whereas the constitutions of each of the 50 states, either in the preamble or body, explicitly recognize or express gratitude to God;"

The claim comes from William Federer, which appeared on WorldNetDaily in October of 2003.

Never mind that 25 of these state constitutions were written after 1845 when the Founding Generation would have been long buried and thus can't be used to determine the Founder's intent.

Don't mind that he didn't use the original constitutions of another 13 states, but took revisions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, another time when religion was making government inroads. Nor mind those early states that took out references to God in later versions.

Of the others, several do acknowledge God -- in the clause that guarantees religious freedom. An example of that wording is from Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom of 1786:

"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free … That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever…"

Other attempts to prove our Christian roots include:

The most frequently cited source in the Founding Era was the Bible. That's because there were a huge number of sermons printed as tracts.

Congress appropriated money for mission work among Indians. Nope, government schools were always secular.

Congress saw a national shortage of bibles and arranged for more to be imported. Much of the claim was never actually said by Congress, and while a bill to import bibles made it out of committee, it was not passed by the full Congress.

In 1795 public worship was administered at the Capitol every Sunday at 11:00. Well, yeah, in the tobacco shed at the foot of Capitol Hill, not in the Capitol Building.

These examples are from Chris Rodda's first blog entry of January 4, 2008.

An entry from April 26 lists all the other blog articles that document the nonsense. This one also explains why the silly thing won't die. The Right claims the bill is ignored because of its religious content, not because it is filled with lies. They are thorough in their lies and persistent in promoting them.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More thoughts on General Conference

Some thoughts from ShannonB, a transgender activist at General Conference. I don't know if she was working for Reconciling Ministries Network. She attended committee sessions where many gay concerns were first discussed.

In committee, the vote on the "incompatibility" clause was 13-6 in favor of getting rid of it (and replacing the entire 161G paragraph). This committee vote included helpful comments by a delegate from Congo (speaking through a translator). He was called back to the microphone twice to confirm he was voting for the change.

The vote to approve the committee report was 517-416 against. The full GC wasn't buying. Debate lasted 2.5 hours. One delegate said they should follow Wesley's simple rules, including "Do No Harm." A primary author of the adopted text (which kept the "incompatibility" clause) said GC should, "Do no harm to our global connection." A clear case that unity is more important than gays (or claims of "unity" is a way to enforce his desires). The protest then wasn't just about keeping the "incompatibility" clause, but also about overturning the committee's recommendation and about the ugliness of the debate (not to mention the anti-gay forces spouting off claims that have no grounding in reality).

There are a couple more petitions that should be mentioned. One is to call the denomination to repent for acts of hate and violence and includes calling on the various boards and agencies to educate the membership on the sins of hate and bigotry. It passed 839-34. You may refuse membership to gays, but don't hate while you're doing it.

The other is a proposed amendment to the UMC Constitution, saying "We are in ministry to all." Instead of amending the list of classes in the statement, "no conference … shall exclude any member … because of race, color …" the entire "because" clause has been removed rather than add sexual orientation or gender identity. The amendment passed out of committee. The plenary vote is not recorded at the official conference website. It still must be passed by 2/3 of all the district conferences worldwide (a stiff uphill battle). Alas, wording the petition this new way -- simply saying we're open to all -- reminds me of the battle over school bullying laws in Michigan. Because it explicitly states it is not acceptable to bully gays (amongst others) it is held up in the state Senate. But many have found that when you say only "bullying is unacceptable" it is amazing how people can justify their actions against gay kids isn't bullying or that gay kids fall outside the scope of "all".

Friday, May 2, 2008

The World Notices -- General Conference reactions

Some commentary is now appearing about the General Conference vote to retain the words "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and tighten the phrases around it. By my count (and no guarantees of accuracy) there are 160 delegates from Africa, including 44 from Nigeria. I mention it because Africa, especially Nigeria, is very homophobic. The extremely virulent Anglican Bishop Akinola is from Nigeria. This link is to the list of districts (Michigan has two -- Detroit and West Michigan) with the number of delegates in each district).

That means, as Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin points out, if the African contingent wasn't there, the United Methodist Church would have softened its policies on gays. While conservative Americans may appreciate the help from their homophobic African brothers to impose their will on the rest of the denomination, what do those same conservative Americans think of the murderous violence perpetrated against gays in Africa? Do they approve? Are they disgusted, yet look the other way so they may keep their alliances and impose their will, maintain their power? Do they not care about the fate of gays?

A prediction by Mr. Kincaid: American Methodists -- and many other churches who are part of international denominations -- will be disgusted with the way Africa treats its gays, and will become more so as the American fossils retire and die off, leaving younger people in positions of authority. They will resent their progressive ways are being thwarted by foreign delegates from cultures of bigotry. But since the church is growing fastest in Africa and Asia, the church will split. Progressives will align with Europe, conservatives with Africa. In addition, many of the split away progressive factions will unite into new denominations.

Alas, a commenter points out that even if the key phrase had been removed, it would have been replaced with the mild, "We disagree on how homosexuality fits with Christian teaching," (wording approximate) it wouldn't change anything. Conservative congregations would still demonize gays and progressive congregations would ignore the Book of Discipline.

Yes, there were protests in Fort Worth. 200 silent demonstrators, dressed mostly in black, entered the legislative floor, formed a cross around the central altar and draped it in black. Then they sang, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord." A few speakers then spoke of the brokenness of the denomination and how it violated John Wesley's rules of "Do good. Do no harm. Stay in love with God." The second rule was clearly violated. The church is scapegoating gays on the altar of unity. Many delegates stood in unity with the protesters, including a lone from Nigeria.

Naturally, those opposed to gays felt the altar was desecrated, the demonstrators presumptuous and wondered if a corresponding demonstration would have been permitted if the main vote had been in favor of gays. Since the legislative session was not adjourned prior to the start of the demonstration, many felt like captives to the event. It was extortion and disrespectful of people of differing views.

An article from the denomination news service.

You might eventually find a video of the protest here.

Before the protest, dozens of people lay down on the sidewalk in front of the convention center doors. They outlined their bodies in chalk in the same manner of victims at a crime scene. Here is the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's report of the protest.

Another type of demonstration: One of the leaders of Reconciling Ministries (I met her at last summer's convocation) and her partner of 25 years were the center of a marriage ceremony in a park near the Fort Worth Convention Center. A layman officiated. Of course, it had no legal or church standing.

Another article with more pictures.

A poem about the vote. Part of it says:

The unchurched notice. They notice the church
cruelly scapegoating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
on the altar of so-called unity
The young notice. They notice the church
denying, refusing, threatening, removing, closeting
the lgbt people who faithfully serve the church.
The world notices.
We notice.
God notices.

Yesterday, I wrote:

Continuing readiness for membership -- a pastor and lay leaders of a church are to counsel all in the meaning of membership and readiness to seek membership and also receive all who are willing to affirm membership vows.

Failed 436-448

I think this means GC punted on whether a pastor can reject a member because he is gay.

I misread it. What it means is that the current policy -- a pastor can reject a gay member -- remains in effect. We lost by 12 votes. This policy was enacted by the Judicial Council, not by a previous General Conference.

GC apparently defeated all petitions involving transgender issues. That means Rev. Drew Phoenix, a transgender pastor, may keep his appointment. Alas, sorting through the petitions can be difficult, so it took a comment from an outside observer. This observer also wrote about crucifixions and resurrections and how we need both. Alas, some of the GC actions towards gays are only crucifixions. The action towards transgenders was a moment of resurrection.

Late news:

A petition to change the Caregivers of Children paragraph of the Social Principles to acknowledge foster, divorced, and gay couples as supported types of families raising children passed by a whopping 842-24!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Step Two -- A couple good things and the big bad one

Yesterday the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted on many of the petitions defining the place of gays in the denomination. There are three entries (1, 2, 3) in the Reconciling Ministries Network blog which have links to the various petitions and the action taken on them (and, alas, nothing more) in case you want to read the details. These petitions are for changes to the Book of Discipline, the denomination's book of laws and guiding principles.

The petitions are listed in the same order they appeared in the blog.

A petition to amend the statement on a Passion for Education: "the historic United Methodist concern for education is witnessed through commitment to educational opportunity for all persons regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, or economic or social background; and..."

Passed 651-218

A petition to ask the church to advocate against all forms of sexism, including (now) those based on sexual orientation, and to ask the General Board of Church and Society to develop resources to educate local churches about issues and effects of homophobia and heterosexism.

Passed 544-365

A petition to maintain the ban on homosexual unions. This is in the list of pastoral "unauthorized conduct" -- "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." Rationale: This is the sentiment of most members, most US citizens and of many other countries. The church should not give its approval, which would be inconsistent with 161G (see below). The policy is necessary to maintain church unity (from the submitters rationale).

Passed 568-312

In spite of 161G, the church should support the rights of homosexual people, including shared resource and mutual power of attorney. A petition to add support of the right to civil unions.

Failed 405-483

A petition to expand the sanctity of marriage to include committed unions and change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two adult persons.

Failed 298-574

A petition to completely replace the discussion of human sexuality (known as paragraph 161G) had an extended and complicated amendment process. This includes a substitution of the original petition with a minority report petition, which was also heavily amended with some of these amendments approved by counted votes and some by a show of hands. The final version kept the words, "Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," the phrase on which all the other anti-gay regulations are built. It also deleted the sentences, "We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay family members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons."

Passed 501-417, meaning the key phrase was retained by 54.6%, down only slightly from the last GC 4 years ago. I note it was approved by only 50.5% of all delegates. Apparently there were 74 abstentions. This is apparently tightening the restrictions a bit through remaining silent on tossing gay kids out of the family and through no longer pretending to welcome gay people.

A petition about the readiness of membership. A minority report stating the pastor has the responsibility of discerning one's readiness to take vows of membership.

Failed 384-515

Continuing readiness for membership -- a pastor and lay leaders of a church are to counsel all in the meaning of membership and readiness to seek membership and also receive all who are willing to affirm membership vows.

Failed 436-448

I think this means GC punted on whether a pastor can reject a member because he is gay. It appears they rejected petitions on both sides of the issue.

There are a few other petitions dealing with gay issues yet to come up for a vote.

Here is today's news release describing the main vote on 161G taken yesterday. Somehow "clarity" beat out love. Other blog entries speak of the frustration of losing yet again.

I didn't report on all this yesterday because I was in charge of hosting a guest handbell soloist at my church. The concert went well (in spite of a creak in the stage) and both attendance and income were much better than expected. I do not intend to take up a career as concert impresario.