Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is a help?

Berkeley, Calif High School has decided to help out minority students -- by eliminating the science department and thus free up resources to help the struggling minorities. The reason given is the science labs have only white students. Berkeley's has a dismal record of minority achievement. The school board vote was nearly unanimous. It is being soundly condemned by everyone else. I won't bother going into reasons here, though one of them is, making it harder for white kids to get into college is going to help the black kids? Parents will only send kids to private schools, increasing segregation.

Significant changes this year

Yes, I'm home on New Year's Eve and rather enjoying the quiet and the lack of pressure of trying to find a party. I'll probably turn on the TV at 11:55, watch the ball drop, then go to bed. In the meantime, here's some end-of-year summaries.

Jonathan Rauch says in 2009 we've reached the beginning of the middle of the debate on gay marriage. These are the significant changes over the last year:
* Pre-emptive strikes have failed -- the national marriage protection amendment went nowhere and courts aren't jumping into the fray to enforce gay marriage. Neither side will knock the other out of the ring. It will be a tough slog.

* Legislators are taking over from judges -- the claim that gay marriage was being shoved at us by anti-democratic activist judges no longer works (now it is anti-democratic -- only the people can vote on something this important -- activist legislatures).

* The idea of same-sex marriage has been mainstreamed -- no longer the fringe idea and it is opponents who are playing defense (alas, that's still a winning hand).

* There's a backlash against the backlash -- many straights put on the brakes in fear of a backlash, but with the backlash against the Calif. vote, straights now see our rights as the next big civil rights issue.

The top ten stories of gay rights in 2009:
10. Obama extended some benefits to partners of federal employees.
9. Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders added to federal Hate Crimes Act.
8. Colorado and Nevada pass limited domestic partner laws.
7. New York Senate rejects gay marriage.
6. DC legalizes gay marriage.
5. Calif. Supremes uphold the marriage ban.
4. Washington state passes everything-but-marriage, which is upheld by citizen vote.
3. Wisconsin passes DPs despite constitutional ban on gay marriage.
2. Maine passes same-sex marriage law, which voters overturn.
1. Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont legalize gay marriage (and through legislation).

Mexico City has legalized gay marriage! It takes effect in March. Tourism companies are now putting together packages that include flights, hotels, guides, ceremony, and banquet.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Screwed up priorities

Newsweek did it's end-of-year issue differently this year. The staff interviewed 17 people who will make a difference, including Hillary Clinton (interesting discussion with Henry Kissinger), David Petraeus, Timothy Geithner, Tim Pawlenty (Minn. governor who is possible GOP candidate for prez. in 2012), Jeff Bezos (head of Amazon), and directors James Cameron and Peter Jackson interviewing each other. All of the interviews are listed here.

A couple ideas to highlight. Talk-show hosts Bill Maher (liberal) and Joe Scarborough (conservative) interview each other. Along the way, Maher said:
That's the problem with faith, Joe. What it does is kind of screw up your priorities. Your priorities shouldn't be about saving your own ass, which is the focus of Christianity. The focus should be, I'm a good person, and I do that just for the sake of being good.

There is also an insightful interview with Bill Clinton. How are we to evaluate issues? The world is so interdependent now it is not possible to divorce. Clinton's framework is this:
I may make a mistake, but I think I have the right filter. I'll ask myself on any profound issue: will this increase positive interdependence or reduce negative interdependence? If it will, I'm for it. If it won't I'm against it.

Uprising on the left

I’m not the only one annoyed with Obama. There are many groups on the left just as annoyed. I'll stick to one example, though many are listed in this article. Is Obama so weak he can't rein in Joe Lieberman? And, yes, the prez. has leverage over an independent -- he can work to oust Lieberman from committee chairmanships. And with a weak prez. progressive congresscritters just might assert themselves in the reconciling process, whether Obama wants them to or not. It's my understanding that bills that are reconciled between the Senate and House are not subject of filibuster.

Fantasy v. science fiction

Many religions are fantasy. This is not to say they are not true or that I'm out to deny the existence of God (you should know me better than that). Rather many religions focus on events in the past. They explain how, as in Babylon, the world was created, how the gods came to be, how things went wrong to bring us to the current state. We are asked to remember the religion's significant events and emulate them or at least the teachings of those events.

But at the same time Babylonians were looking into the past, the Israelites were looking into the future. Sure they had creation stories (two of them). But the Hebrew bible doesn't focus on God, it focuses on people and their encounters with God. Perhaps it can be called science fiction, looking at how things could or should be.

I wish the author of the posting I'm referencing has chosen a better word other than fantasy. I understand, however, the word was chosen because in bookstores fantasy shares shelf space with science fiction.

It appears today's conservatives are similarly locked into the past, focusing on American creation myths and a simpler, more golden time. Their efforts are all about recreating that sacred time when behavior was defined by Leave it to Beaver and Stagecoach, a time when women and non-whites knew their place.

And progressives are like science fiction, looking for a time that has fewer flaws than our past -- an end to war, end to poverty and hunger, your parent's circumstances don't determine your own life. Perhaps that is why I like to read science fiction.

Which might explain why the life of a progressive is harder than that of a conservative. The conservative merely has to defend the status quo, which is easy through relying on inertia and the fear of change. That doesn't mean they never change. They can be very creative in rewriting the creation myths to suit their purposes (the subset of Christianity that insists America is a Christian nation didn't exist when America was founded).

In contrast the progressive must persuade others to venture into new territory and be the ones to say, "You're doing it wrong." Progressives can also end up with a low batting average (looking bad) and hang onto a vision of the future long after it is no longer realistic.

But progressives must persevere, keeping the goal in mind while knowing the path is difficult. The better world is in the future, not the past.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eroding moral values gets noticed

It is only recently that I've heard a lot of talk that we are just days away from the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.(using the same calendar that says that the year 2000 started the 21st Century instead of ending the 20th). So it is time for stories looking back at the decade. I may even mention some of them.

A Wall Street Journal poll asked what was the greatest negative impact on America this past decade. Apparently, responders could check all that they agree with (making me wonder about "greatest"). Here's the top of the list:
74% said we lost ground in economic prosperity.
66% said we lost ground on moral values (wasn't the party of values in power?)
55% said we lost ground on treating others with respect
54% said … nation's sense of unity
50% said … peace and national security
46% said … health and well being
37% said … environment
38% cited the 9/11 attacks
12% said the decade was good or great.
Remember now who was president during most of the decade. It won't be hard to guess who is being blamed for all of the decade's bad events.

Harmonizing the Word and the World

Highlands Church in Denver is a bit of an outlaw. It's an evangelical church that specifically welcomes gays, breaking with Fundie theology and straddling the conservative/liberal divide. Naturally, other Fundies say that is why they have to be clear about their teachings on gays. Highlands Church is a champion of social justice and sees treatment of gays as another justice issue. The pastor saw how the lives of gays in the modern world didn't fit in the standard Fundie interpretation of homosexuality. He soon adopted the pro-gay view of the bible. He notes other past evils (slavery) can be justified by the bible and says that God's word and God's world are both created by God and we must study both and bring the two into harmony.

The soup will be just fine

I wrote recently about three churches that dropped out of the community project to feed the poor in Kalamazoo. The Martha's Table project will actually grow -- four other churches volunteered to join the effort. The ones that left are all Fundie churches. The ones that remained and the new ones are all a part of mainline denominations, including one Unitarian/Universalist church.

You keep saying it will be done soon

Having spent a great deal of time writing software and dealt with salespeople I understand the term vaporware (hardware is the computer, software is the programs, so vaporware is empty promises -- software that is promised but the release date never gets any closer). Sounds like what Obama and Dems have been promising gays.

Health insurance for a gay spouse is taxed like ordinary income. That doesn't happen to a straight spouse. That tax was removed from the House version of the health care overhaul bill. Harry Reid just added it back in to the Senate version to secure the last few votes. With health insurance premiums running into the thousands, this is a hefty tax.

This news prompted the first commenter to wonder if it is time for our revolution. A responder discusses non-violent resistance, which worked so well for women's right to vote and black civil rights. These efforts worked because the oppressors didn't want to be seen as oppressors. Can it work for gays? Maybe not, because our oppressors still insist they have the moral high ground. I must disagree with that claim because the bible was also used to claim it was morally proper to enslave blacks and to keep women in their place. Some people insist the morality of those claims.

Even if some gays decided violent resistance was proper, the rest of the gay community would quickly disavow and disown the perpetrators.

Thankfully, no Christmas drama

I spent a quiet Christmas Day with my parents, sister, and niece. Opening presents took maybe 15 minutes. My niece wanted to read the books I got her for Christmas. So I asked Sis to get out the 500 piece jigsaw puzzle I had brought at Thanksgiving (which my niece had barely started) and Dad and I put it together. Definitely quiet.

At least I can do that. Here are stories from many gays and transgenders who became estranged from their birth families when they come out, mostly over religious reasons. I should note these are the survivors (many others commit suicide). They create for themselves a hanai family. This is a Hawaiian term that refers to people who live together as family, whether or not they are related. These families are sometimes better than birth families because hanai families want to be together.

"Gays are the only oppressed minority born into families of the oppressor." -- John Rechy.

A blogger asks who should Santa be extra nice to this year? Many people volunteered their heroes, those who have been activists for gay causes or politicians who insist gays are worthy of rights. I recognize most the names, though if you aren't a consistent reader of gay blogs some of these people won't be familiar. It's good to see all the nominations.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Winter Solstice, and Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

You voted for change, didn't you? Are you sure?

Asking that question is important because we seem to be getting a whole lot less change than what we thought we voted for. At least I'm not, as should be clear from my frequent criticism of Obama. From the way the health care bill is being handled it appears a lot of other progressive people are getting a lot less change than they voted for.

This latest rant is brought about by an interview that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel had with the Wall Street Journal. Summary: The Left doesn't matter. Along the way he endorsed an article that characterizes the Left as a bunch of elitist whiny racists. Racists? Really? We're the ones who voted for the black guy.

Emmanuel's disdain for Progressives is known. After the 2006 midterms Emmanuel said that this is a center-right country and he would push the Democrats to that position. He apparently had Harry Reid's buy-in shortly thereafter.

Which means the Democratic Platform for 2008, that wonderful document which (among other things) endorsed all manner of gay issues -- federal civil unions, ending the military gay ban, equal rights in the workplace, etc. -- was a sham. It was published to get the votes but there was no intention to follow it, even by the Big Guy who peddled it all the way to the White House. Very little was done for gays in 2009. Very little will be done in 2010 (this is people in the Dem. party talking).

So while the Republicans have become teabaggers, the Democrats have become the new Republicans. Which makes Obama an intelligent version of Bush.

Over the last year or so I've been wondering if the GOP had gone so far right if there might be a new political party of moderate conservatives. Now there is talk that a new party might actually be progressive. And a progressive just might challenge Obama in 2012 or run as an independent.

Silly season is about to start in earnest. Pay close attention to the primaries. Encourage progressives (even gay ones) to run for office. And yes, I've thought about running -- long enough to decide I would make a terrible campaigner and would hate the job if I ever got it.

Emmanuel apparently hasn't paid much attention to election calculus. I've written about this before (probably too many times to hunt down links). No voter who identifies as GOP is going to vote for a Dem., no matter how conservative the candidate is. They are consistent voters, but always for the "R." Those who identify as Dem. are a mighty throng, but if you don't do what they want, they simply don't vote. That leaves independents. Are there enough of them, suitably wooed to make the effort to vote, to ensure victory? Doubtful.

So why screw over the progressives? Why not put that Obama intellect to work to make the case for the progressive cause?

Nineteen years ago Poppy Bush waged the Gulf War and amassed an approval rating topping 90%. He then proceeded to do nothing with it, apparently satisfied with being president rather than using the presidency to better the country. There was a clear moment when I decided Poppy had lost my approval. (His son never had it, even after 9/11.) I wasn't the only one to think that way. Poppy's approval dropped and he lost re-election.

In spite of Obama dissing gays, over the last several months if anyone had asked I would give Obama my approval. Most of that was because he appears to say a lot of great things in foreign affairs and he isn't Bush. I’m now to the point where I withdraw my approval. We voted for change and we're not getting it.

When there is nothing left to fall back to

Another view on the question of whether the gay marriage war has been won. This time I'm going to stick to reporting.

One reason why many in New Jersey are pushing for marriage equality is because they find the state's civil unions to be inadequate. Some GOP state senators are now calling for improvements to the civil union law. Of course they are saying this so they don't have to approve gay marriage.

But think of the progress this implies. Just 10 years ago civil unions in Vermont were seen as amazingly radical and outrageous. Now they're the fallback position. As more people realize that civil unions are discriminatory and even Super Duper Civil Unions (as now exist in Washington state and are now proposed for NJ) leave gays as second-class citizens the fallback position will be seen as inadequate. Then we'll have gay marriage.

Pure sweet madness, absolute shrieking madness

Africa can be violently homophobic. I've written that Uganda is considering a drastic anti-gay bill, with harsh penalties for even gay supporters. It's passage in parliament could be almost unanimous. Perhaps Uganda's president will veto it.

Sometimes love is mad. A traditional part of the wedding ceremony in Uganda is when the bride presents the groom to her parents. It isn't a case of, "Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet Joe." It is an elaborate party.

Now consider this situation: Friends are invited into a secure compound for the introduction and when the bride is to appear a man comes out instead, ready to introduce his future husband to his parents. If the proposed law passes, the happy couple could earn life in prison. Each guest, if they didn't report the wedding to the police within 24 hours, could face 3 years in prison. If the crowd outside didn't lynch them first.

Incredibly stupid. Incredibly foolish. Poignantly human. We should all be so foolish.

You can read the whole story told by a blogger who calls himself Gay Uganda. It's worth the time. He is trying to tell the story of the gay situation in his country.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Go west young gay man!

The Gene Autry Cowboy Museum in Los Angeles is creating an exhibit titled Out West about the life of gays, lesbians, and transgenders in the American West.

The District is giving Maryland fits

Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the DC Marriage Equality Bill! He held the signing ceremony in a Unitarian Church and remarked that when his own parents were married -- one black, one white -- many states would not have recognized it. Cool photo on this site. Yes, Congress can overrule it the next 30 days and GOP congresscritters are on record as wanting to do just that, but it is likely Reid and Pelosi won't let the subject come up.

You're spoiling the soup!

There had been 8 churches in Kalamazoo taking part in Martha's Table, a program to feed the homeless. Alas, three of them are in a snit because some of the other churches supported the city gay rights ordinance that passed in November. That's even with the charter for Martha's Table saying nothing about homosexuality. So the miffed churches took their ladles and went home. Seems they thought feeding the homeless was actually about recruiting members and couldn't stand homeless people getting impure doctrine with their soup. They also don't understand what Christianity is about (see Matthew 25:41-46), something especially glaring the week before Christmas. Quite a contrast from the UU church who served supper at the Ruth Ellis Center yesterday.

True, but dangerous

It's annoying when I disagree with my friend and debate partner and other opinions back him up. Sigh. But this one speaks from real-life experience. After the New York Senate voted down gay marriage a gay guy told his partner to go ahead to the protest rally while he stayed at work. Then he heard about how poorly the protest was attended. He and his partner had a long discussion that evening. Why not bother going? Everyone says that gay marriage is inevitable. Why stand in the cold if it will happen anyway? He decided that the claim of being inevitable may be true but it is dangerous. We lose our outrage to make it happen at all.

Sorry, my crystal ball has a crack in it

I guess I would feel something was missing if my friend and debate partner didn't debate with me. I wrote a couple days ago about Fareed Zakaria's opinion in Newsweek that our world is actually quite resilient, which is why we are already on the rebound from a recession that could have been a depression. My friend responded:

I wish I could agree. Fareed Zakaria is apparently a blooming-blind optimist.
• inflation remains a grave threat, especially to retired people. It impoverished 98% of Russians just last decade, lest we forget.
• Bush's program to locate missile defenses next door to Russia (which the Russians understood very well) shows that war mongering among the greater powers is far from over. Just give us another right-wing leader... and show no surprise when other nations behave the same way. There are many tinderbox areas of the world capable of exploding into conflicts that can draw in larger powers, thanks to their economic and political entanglements. Nation states are not sustainable without trade and trade is subject to blackmail.
• this supposed new world economy has winners and losers. Most developing nations are deeply in debt to the West.
• capitalism unregulated needs no competition -- it is self-destructive.
• While I agree that the economic crisis of 2008 seems reasonably well controlled, the damage is vast for those who lost jobs and/or homes. It's only the upper-middle and richer classes with substantial investments (you and me) that have really recovered. There are lots of other peoples' shoes to walk in that pinch very painfully.
• the other big unsustainable problems that face us, such as global warming, overpopulation, water issues, health care justice and costs, etc. are not so easily addressed as the 2008 economy was, once a crisis hits. Waiting to act until the problem is panic-urgent won't do. I suspect we (the whole human species) lack the leadership to address these problems adequately before they reach crisis.

I don't see a pretty century before us.

I don't think Zakaria was gazing into a crystal ball. Reading over my condensation of what Zakaria said I can see where my word choices might have implied that he was. I shall attempt to clarify. Zakaria (and I) listed several reasons why the current recession didn't last as long and wasn't as deep as first feared. These conditions are true today and influenced this recession. Past performance is not an indication of what the future holds. So repeating Zakaria's reasons:

* The Great Powers are at peace now and things haven't been this peaceful in 175 years.
* Inflation is tamed at the moment.
* A technological infrastructure leads to a diffusion of knowledge. This should only improve.
* Many countries have made great strides in lifting people out of poverty and are reluctant to sacrifice those gains in a war.
* Capitalism has no competing ideologies and people are clamoring for better regulation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I can spot a church potluck at 50 paces

I volunteered for an extra session at the Ruth Ellis Center this evening. They've had a bit of turmoil in staff and asked some of the volunteers to come in extra days to help out through the transition. Since I started there a year ago in August four staff people (the ones who work with the kids) have left. Now only April has more seniority than me. Jay is taking over for the one who left a couple weeks ago.

When I got there tonight there was enough of a crowd of workers that I wondered why I was needed. The crowd, 10 of them (I think), were from the Farmington Unitarian Universalist Church. They brought dinner and were ready to serve it to the kids. They almost outnumbered the kids, at least when serving started. The dinner was good ole church potluck -- a ham, salad, assorted casseroles, fruit, and brownies.

The reason why I was there was soon apparent -- I knew what was where in the kitchen and could get things as needed. Several kids, seeing all this bounty, asked for plates to take home. I was asked if there was a stapler to fasten two paper plates (one upside down) together. I actually found one. Though I didn't have pots to wash there were lots of the regular serving dishes to spray and get into the dishwasher. I also helped them pack the leftovers into the refrigerator. There's enough food to last about half of next week.

Those that brought food are part a team at the UU church that does various service projects. This was one of them. Since homosexuality is a non-issue in the UU church there were no negative vibes coming from this group. Alas, there was a sour note to the event -- one of their cars was vandalized.

I thought a lot this evening about my friend from Chicago who teasingly accused me of being a closeted Unitarian because I've talked to her about how much church doctrine gets in the way. I would normally send her this posting, but alas she died this past Wednesday of ALS. Her husband emailed me today (in response to a note I sent yesterday). I had met this good friend at Bay View, Michigan during the annual Week of Handbells. For many years we were positioned next to each other. Goodbye my friend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This is your brain on conservatism

Is a Red mind different from a Blue one? What's behind the differing views of climate change? I won't go into the personality traits. Here's a look at how the conservative mind looks at this big issue.

Conservatives (at least today) don't trust "elites" (it's now a Palin crowd). Given a choice between Limbaugh and a scientist, the scientist isn't going to be heard.

The definition of a conservative is one who wants to maintain the existing order -- and the emphasis is on order. To maintain it one must justify it. Corporations, government, and institutions are legitimate and must be beneficial, or at least benign. Policies serve the greater good. Society is set up so that people get what they deserve. There can't be global warming, or at least it can't be caused by humans, because otherwise that implies there are shortcomings in the current system.

Our world isn't so fragile

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek has some insights on the resiliency of our global system. We're recovering from last year's financial mess a lot faster than pundits speculated at the time. Some of the reasons:

* We learned from the Great Depression and worked hard to not repeat its problems.

* The Great Powers haven't been this peaceful for at least 175 years. We're not competing with each other in military terms. This peace has allowed the creation of a world economy.

* The decades-long struggle over inflation has been won. There is only one country, Zimbabwe, battling high inflation.

* We now have a technological infrastructure to allow people around the world to talk in real-time and to spread information across borders. This diffusion of knowledge leads to stability and growth.

* Countries have worked hard to lift people out of poverty and are unwilling to sacrifice those gains to a worker's utopia or war.

* There are no competing ideologies, capitalism has no competitors. Countries, such as China, India, and Brazil have learned to be prudent with their economic systems (as in taming bubbles) and established countries could learn from the upstarts. These emerging countries are mature enough that they can withstand the messes created by the West.

The celebrity industry is useful?

I've been to some training and will attend more on how to tell personal stories on behalf of gay rights. Voters and decision makers aren't swayed by the elegance of an argument, they want to know how a proposed law affects actual people. Thus, we learn about narrative with a purpose -- the incident, how it made me feel, what I learned from it, how all that affects the issue at hand.

You then might wonder why I then say I pay very little attention to celebrities and their latest shenanigans. I bring it up because Newsweek, in response to the Tiger Woods mess (which I'm studiously ignoring), has a cover article on the modern uses of celebrity. And ideas behind a phenomenon are interesting to me. So, here are a few ideas that Neal Gabler wrote about.

Celebrity stories has become the new art form, competing and superseding the traditional stuff (movies, novels, plays). Celebrity narratives distract us, sensitize us to the human condition, provide us with life's lessons, and create a shared experience. We are so fractured as a nation right now that a shared experience is important and comforting.

Celebrities are that only as long as they maintain an interesting narrative. Tiger's mistresses will vanish. Brad Pitt keeps his personal story going (to the point that he can't disappear into a movie -- the actor overshadows the character).

Novels and movies strive to be real. Celebrities don't have to strive. Stories have endings. Celebrities leave you in suspense for much longer.

I'm still going to ignore the lot of them. So much for shared experience.

I could go for this trade

The pavilion at Ocean Grove, NJ is a beautiful spot for a wedding. It's also a favorite example of Fundies trying to prove gays are out to overturn Christianity (and they always misrepresent the example). The town of Ocean Grove is essentially owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association with strong religious ties. The Assoc. had a tax exemption on the pavilion because it was open to the public. Except that gay couples weren't allowed to use it, so the exemption was withdrawn.

Now we get to chapter two. If the gay marriage bill before the NJ legislature passes (and it had better be soon) there is a provision that says that religious institutions cannot be required to accept gays who want to marry. That means the tax exemption for the pavilion would be restored while still allowing the Assoc. to exclude gays. Some see this -- allow gays to marry, but not in the pavilion -- as a fair trade. Some strongly disagree.

Toss it out and start again

The health care reform act was supposed to (1) cover more people and (2) reduce costs. In the eyes of many people the Senate version will do neither. Instead, it will line the pockets of Big Health. Are we surprised?

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek says the "savings" actually mean health care costs will grow more slowly but the difference will be miniscule.

Joe Lieberman (due to ego? spite? money?) has made sure the health care reform bill won't have any meaningful (government) competition for insurance companies. Yeah, 30 million people will be required to get health insurance (can you say "insurance company bonanza"?). But will they be able to afford it? Probably not.

Howard Dean feels the total bill is now so useless that the Senate should toss it and start over. Yet Obama has staked his presidency on health reform and a bad bill now is better than a good bill later.

To get civil rights and Medicare bills passed in the 1960s, LBJ did some serious arm twisting -- don't vote with me and I'll make sure the national party doesn't fund your next campaign. If this bill is so important to Obama, why isn't he (or Reid or Pelosi) doing equivalent arm twisting? Then again, Lieberman is technically independent.

Annoyingly, the GOP did in 2003 the very things they are against now. Then it was the prescription medication addition to Medicare. Never mind the shenanigans that got it passed. It is now a huge contributor to the deficit, something the GOP says the current health bill can't be. It's all politics of course. Medicare affects seniors who tend to vote GOP. This new bill is for the poor, who don't.

Many people, notably gays, are now telling Dem organizations exactly why they aren't donating. The old story -- if you don't support us the GOP will be in power and they'll work against you -- doesn't wash anymore. We elected you to be Dems, not wimps. The GOP voters will vote for their candidate no matter what. Dem voters will only bother to vote for candidates that happen to actually enact Democratic Party principles. The Dem party is bigger than the GOP but has so many voters that must be convinced they can still lose.

No story or song without violating the Top Ten

A high school putting on the musical Falsettos? It has so many gay characters. Who would want the parts? But the director put out the casting call -- and had 50 applicants. Fundie heads, of course, exploded. But what "traditional" musical doesn't violate the ten commandments in a half dozen different ways? Guys and Dolls, for example, has gambling, binge drinking, and premarital sex.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Whose arguments are filled with lies?

Pundits are claiming that gay marriage is inevitable in spite of the losses in Maine and New York because of the demographics of who is on each side of the issue.

Maggie Gallagher is head of the National Organization for Marriage an organization that invested heavily in defeating gay marriage in Maine (and elsewhere). She disagrees (of course), listing her reasons. Some of them are here (the rest seem to be duplicates) along with rebuttals from myself and others. No, I'm not linking to her directly.

* The future is never inevitable. The poll data aren't an argument for gay marriage, only a statistical observation.

* Young people are not as unanimous as claimed. As young people mature they tend to learn about fairness. If a large number already agree that gays must be treated fairly then the number who agree to gay marriage will only grow.

* The argument from despair is bait and switch -- they're losing the argument that gay marriage is a good idea. So, who in the Maine campaign was documented as lying whenever they opened their mouths? If gay marriage is a bad idea why is every supporting argument filled with lies?

* Progressives are often wrong about the future -- we were told abortion would be a dead issue by today. But progressive ideas, such as abolition, civil rights, women's voting rights, food safety, contraceptive rights, and Medicare, are now accepted as a given in spite of conservative opposition when they were enacted.

* Demography could be destiny -- traditionalists have more children. But not all of them embrace their parent's religion -- especially the gay ones. And the ones who do take after their parents have gay friends.

It has to be done one step at a time

Yeah, time is short in dealing with climate change, but we've built our economy around carbon for so long (2500 years?) that change will not come quickly. One conference (Copenhagen) or even one disaster doesn't change ideas that are so deep. Humans change only so fast and in predictable ways. The whole way we deal with energy could take a couple centuries. Here is a list of the steps through which change tends to happen.

* A small group realizes there is a problem and studies exactly what the problem is. Scientists began noticing the global warming problem over a century ago.

* The battle for hearts and minds -- getting the rest of society to see the problem, admit it's severity, and agree something needs to be done. This is the hardest step and is nearly over.

* See of tweaks can fix the system. In climate change this is where we are now. It is a necessary step and is not irrational because in the vast majority of situations requiring change a tweak will fix it. Also, risk adverse people that we are must see if the job can be done with tweaks. Those that know tweaks aren't enough must be patient because this step can't be rushed. Jump to far ahead and you lose credibility because people resent you. There is usually a generational dynamic at work with older people invested in the status-quo and youngsters convinced the old system is unworkable.

* A tipping point arrives proving that tweaks can't be enough and a thorough overhaul must be done. If the earlier stages were done right enough (at least 70%) of the population is with you, ready to drop resistance and move to something revolutionary.

* The change happens, usually not in the way anticipated. Some outcomes are worse, others much better.

* The wrap-up. The new system needs it's own tweaks and most people believe things are better now than they would have been without the change.

It seems like "incrementalism" but change for humans only happens this way. A true leader understands this system and can guide the population through each step.

So Copenhagen isn't all-or-nothing. Events like this will probably become more frequent as the tweaks proposed this time are proven to be insufficient.

Roach hotel? More like a roach country

A horrid anti-gay bill (advocating death for "repeat offenders") is likely to pass in Uganda. A lot of the developed world is horrified and some countries talk about cutting aid to Uganda. They would rather give up the aid than give in, especially since oil was found in the country. Some of the other provisions in the bill include criminalization of speech advocating for gays and requiring other people to turn in gays to the police within 24 hours of learning they are gay (and that includes your kids too).

That anti-gay bill is the result of an anti-gay conference in Uganda led by American Evangelicals and ex-gays that was held last March. Many American Evangelicals are mighty quiet on the issue. Some watchers are now connecting dots. There is a Seven Mountains theology -- to hasten End Times, Christians (and we mean Fundies) are called to take dominion over seven areas: family, business, arts, media, education, religion, and government. Control these and you control the society. It seems (if I understand it right) Ugandan Fundies, with strong support of the American variety, have been scaling those mountains and have likely succeeded in government, turning Uganda into a theocracy. Meaning many of the things that happen there are what Fundies want to happen in America if they only could. Exterminate gays like cockroaches? Part of the game plan. No wonder they're silent on Uganda's actions.

The international outcry is building. It is loud enough that the death penalty clause is being taken out. It is being replaced with a phrase that offenders will be offered a choice between prison and reparative therapy. No mention of what happens when the therapy fails.

Refusing to hold justice as a hostage

Candidates for Bishop in the Episcopal Church diocese of Los Angeles area included two gays. And one of them, Mary Glasspool, was elected. After Gene Robinson was made bishop the Episcopal Church got enough condemnation from the worldwide Anglican Church that the Americans put a hold on more gay bishops. Then it became obvious the worldwide church was holding justice hostage, so the Episcopalians lifted their hold. This is the first gay bishop since the hold was lifted.

Disagreement is harmful

The gay marriage drama continues in New Jersey. Here is some of the testimony given during the NJ Judiciary Committee meeting that eventually approved a gay marriage bill. Those against the bill spew the usual hate-filled nonsense (if civil unions are an acceptable alternative to marriage why did you oppose civil unions when they were created?). Here's a quote that caught my eye: Many religious people say they are being persecuted by gays. They are apparently saying it is harmful for the religious to live in a society that disagrees with them.

The whole Senate was to vote today, but the outcome is too much in doubt so efforts have shifted to the NJ Assembly.

Jumping off before the cliff

Charles Johnson, conservative blogger, is parting ways with the Right. However, that won't make him a progressive. His reasons for the split are because the Right supports…
* fascism
* bigotry, hatred, white supremacism
* throwing women back to the Dark Ages
* anti-science (creationism)
* homophobia
* anti-government lunacy
* conspiracy theories
* a right-wing blogosphere dominated by hate speech
* anti-Islamic bigotry that spills into violence and genocide
* hatred for Obama beyond criticism of his policies
… and more.

Andrew Sullivan, who is a gay and conservative blogger, has done the same and has his own points on the matter. He says, "I cannot support a movement that…
* claims to believe in limited government but backed a president who wanted unlimited power.
* exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.
* holds torture as a core value.
* so abandoned its regulatory responsibilities that the result is Katrina and the financial meltdown.
* believes religious doctrine trumps politics and uses faith for the pursuit of power.
* is deeply homophobic and racist.
* has no respect for the institutions of government and fights political warfare rather than hold a conversation.
* would back a VP candidate so unqualified because of identity politics.
* does not accept evolution.
* sees climate change as a hoax.
* refuses ever to raise taxes while proposing no reductions in spending.
* refuses to distance itself from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
* sees America as the sole global power, the world's policeman, and uses violence as a core tool of international relations."

Pam Spaulding, "reality based" blogger responds by wondering how weak the GOP must get before the Dems grow spines.

Do you know what it means to follow MLK?

I had a few busy days so my reading resulted in notes of things I wanted to comment on. Here's the beginning of today's flood as I catch up.

Those who signed the Manhattan Manifesto (which I've written about before) claimed they are following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and his principles of civil disobedience. They claim they will not follow any law that disagrees with their stated goals. But they don't understand the concept. Civil disobedience doesn't make threats, certainly not threats to abandon the poor. It doesn't hold the poor hostage. Instead, the one who is disobedient pulls the suffering onto himself -- I will suffer to end this injustice even though I don't deserve it and can avoid it. Its goal is to change hearts as well as minds, relying on the faith and humanity of the opponent.

There is now an Affirmation Declaration in response to the Manhattan Manifesto. I've read parts of it and found nothing new (at least to me). Even so, I'm glad it's out there and tackling the Fundies head-on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Battles? Wars? Be careful what you say

My friend and debate partner remains unconvinced with my insistence that the war has been won, though battles continue. He wrote:

Your friend and debate partner agrees that there is vast progress against homophobia. Your examples are valid, although I regard examples from California and Massachusetts as from the choir. Time and education are certainly on the side of justice.

But calling the "war won" impresses me as underestimating the opposition and the work ahead. The Catholic Church has evident influence. Fundamentalists are a force in opposition. Republicans are generally united against the cause. Hate crimes against gays continue. There are a lot of under-educated Americans who respond from their fears, especially in bad economic times.

Discrimination is a virulent disease that won't die away easily. Celebrating too soon costs momentum and motivation. I wouldn't set up my thinking in that manner at this point in the war.

Hoo boy, is that ever a sin!

Chris Pesto, student at Syracuse University, saw a woman wearing a corduroy skirt and holding a sign that said, "Homosexuality is sin, Christ can set you free!" So he created a sign that said, "Corduroy skirts are a sin," and stood beside her. He drew a lot of attention and soon a crowd joined him holding signs with pro-gay slogans. There is debate on whether or not corduroy is made up of two materials and would be as much of an abomination as gays. Even if not, his sign makes as much sense as hers -- unless one counts corduroy as a fashion disaster. Her sign left me wondering. If Christ can set one free from homosexuality why does he do it so rarely?

The fear behind the claim

Here is proof that allowing gays to get married does not require churches to perform them. Only now, over 5 years after gay marriage was legalized in Mass., will Episcopal pastors there be able to sign marriage certificates. Perhaps what the Fundies fear is not that government will force them to marry gays but that their own gay people will want a religious ceremony. Will they have to leave a Fundie church to get it or will the demand force the Fundie church to change?

Nasty bargains

Some interesting articles from Newsweek.

I really want to say why wasn't the GOP concerned about the national deficit and debt when Bush was running it up? Sometime in 2008 (and the date does matter here) the national debt was $5.8 trillion or 41% of GDP. Ten years from now in 2019 the debt is projected to be $14.3 trillion or 68% of GDP, tripling on Obama's watch. At least I can say it was the GOP push for unregulated markets that made Obama's spending necessary.

Niall Ferguson explains why such a huge deficit is a huge deal. The short answer: As debt rises two things happen. First, those who buy our debt (and there aren't enough buyers in the USA for all that debt so it must be foreigners) begin to charge higher interest rates because they see the debt as being riskier. When crushing debt happens the easiest way out of it is to print more money, triggering inflation and making the debt worth less. Investors demand the interest rate go up with inflation. Second, payments towards that debt takes up an increasing percentage of the federal budget, leaving room for only Social Security, Medicare, and debt repayment. What gets left out is such things as defense. The inability to rearm due to high debt payments left Britain vulnerable at the start of WWII. High debt is also the reason why we don't have Hapsburg Spain, Royal France, or the Ottoman Empire around these days. Is America spending its way to its own downfall?

Ruth Marcus tangles with the provision in the House health bill that bans federally funded health insurance from offering abortions. She asks which is worse for poor women …

* No health insurance at all.

* Health insurance that pays for a great deal, including contraceptives, but doesn't cover abortion.

Not having insurance doesn't cover abortion either.

If those are the choices, says Marcus, it is foolish for Dem senators to say they'll kill the entire health care plan if abortions aren't covered. Yes, it is a nasty bargain.

The size of the pro-life and pro-choice camps hasn't changed much over the last 35 years. However, the size of the camp that says while abortion should be legal government shouldn't pay for it is increasing.

That dynamic leaves the abortion battle in an interesting position. It can be lobbed like a hand grenade into any legislative battle that someone wants to blow up.

The Cleveland Clinic is being run like a business and it's current CEO is using standard business practices to squeeze out costs and improve results. It is such a great model for how health care should be done that Obama visited last July. A great deal of the article describes how costs are kept so low and it is wonderful to read. Two big questions arise: What areas does the Cleveland Clinic have problems with cost control? Why aren't other medical centers and private practices doing the same things?

That answer that is at the top of both questions: our patchwork of health insurance. Which reminds me of my belief that health is incompatible with the profit motive. Some thoughts from the article by Jerry Adler and Jeneen Interlandi:

The Cleveland Clinic has 2000 doctors on staff. It also has 1400 billing agents, who spend as much time on hold as we do when contacting health insurance companies. Each insurer has its own way of demanding how billing is to be handled (and if you don't do it their way they simply reject it).

The overhead for private insurers is 29%. The overhead for Medicare is 3%. Just think of the medicine that could be done with that 26%.

Duke University Medical Center made a big effort to improve costs and care of patients with congestive heart failure. They cut costs by 40% and reduced readmissions. But Duke didn't benefit from all that effort, they lost money over it. Less money from patients. Those that gained: health insurance companies.

Editor Jon Meacham tosses a grenade to make liberals choke. There are competing visions on how to govern America, one embodied by Bush the other by Obama. Running Obama against McCain didn't produce a decisive choice between the two visions. In 2012 running Obama against Cheney will. Yup, enough to choke a liberal. At least Cheney is smarter than Bush. Instead of on the campaign trail I'd like to see Cheney in jail for crimes against humanity. He's way too much of a thug.

Speaking of the end of empires… Here's an interesting little video (not from Newsweek) that shows the size of the four great naval empires and what happens to them from 1800 to 2000 (the counter is in the lower left). Each of Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain is shown as a bubble, the size of which represents the land area of the corresponding empires. The bubbles jostle and swell and every so often spew out a chunk representing when a country gains its independence. I hadn't realized that it was in the early 1960s that France lost its Africa holdings. The one thing that isn't shown is the countries that are swallowed up to increase the size of the bubbles, especially the British one.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No, really, the war is won

I wrote last week that the idea of homophobia is no longer welcome and while battles still need to be fought, the war has been won. My friend and debate partner disagreed. So I'll offer some evidence that while battles -- marriage in New York the latest one -- rage on, the war is won.

* The next Speaker of the Calif. Assembly will likely be John Perez, a gay man.

* Campbell, Calif. city council choose the mayor and this time chose Evan Low. He's 26 years old, gay, and is Asian-American in a suburb that is 70% white.

* Back when Massachusetts was crafting a gay marriage law because their Supremes said they had to, Vincent Ciampa, a Dem., voted against it. What did he care? His seat was so safe that the GOP didn't bother opposing him. That vote really annoyed Carl Sciortino, a gay man who was 26 at the time. So, in 2005 Sciortino challenged Ciampa in the primary even though the political machine was with Ciampa and Sciortino had no experience. But the kid did have a moral cause of equality. And won. If you oppose equality the chances are increasing that you'll pay for your vote.

* Georgia has a new black lesbian state legislator in Simone Bell. Alex Wan, a gay Asian-American, has been elected to Atlanta City Council.

A contagious lack of backbone

New Jersey Dems are wimping out over a vote for gay marriage. But they are acting like scared herd animals. The vote in NJ was supposed to be routine. Legislators said wait until after the election and we'll vote for marriage no matter the outcome. It's a promise. It seems the failure of the marriage vote in Maine scared them off. But perhaps if NJ had approved gay marriage first the vote in Maine may have gone the other way.

Some prominent Dems in NJ are trying to rally the troops. In November a GOP governor was elected and he has vowed to veto any marriage bill. If it is to become law it must be in this lame-duck session. There is still hope.

For the last several days the New York Senate has been on the verge of voting on gay marriage during their "emergency session." The Assembly even passed it a second time (bills must pass both houses during the emergency session) to avoid delays. Finally, they cleared other business and debated. A lot of senators said some encouraging things in the debate.

They voted. And came eight votes short. From what I can piece together, there were supposed to be 3 GOP votes in favor, giving enough votes to overcome two reluctant Dems. But one senator, who had been seen as a gay advocate, voted no early in the process, a serious defection. That gave the 3 GOP senators and several more Dems the cover they needed to vote no as well.

Ton Duane, the Dem senator pushing hardest for the marriage bill, was shaken by the rebuff and betrayal. He commented, "Unfortunately, I think there was a contagious lack of backbone that occurred here today." Ya think? Duane had previously predicted that the vote would be based on politics, not on righting a wrong. But some good came out of it. Such a debate and vote would have been impossible 5 years ago. This time many senators said some very nice things from the floor of the Senate.

There will be gay backlash. It started with a Times Square rally. A second rally was held in Union Square and featured many of the senators who had voted yes. Then there were prominent postings of the eight Dems who voted no, complete with email addresses. Along with that was analysis that several of these guys were unopposed in their primary and readily voted in at the general election. They will definitely have challengers during the next election cycle.

In the meantime the District of Columbia City Council voted for gay marriage by a margin of 11-2. This is the 1st of 2 votes. The next vote is in a couple weeks and the mayor has said he'll sign.

National Organization of Marriage responded by saying the citizens of DC have a God-given right to vote on marriage. Oh? Chapter and verse, please. Or Article of the Constitution. Voters did exercise that right -- by voting for a city council that favors gay marriage.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

When a stupid argument is handed to me

I'm happy to pick apart stupid arguments. In the December issue of Michigan Christian Advocate a Fundie wrote an opinion piece saying that churches should not call themselves Reconciling Congregations because, well the real reason is such churches welcome gays into their midst. But to say it he has to justify it.

The first try was to say the word "reconcile" is used in the bible only four ways so we can't use it with gay people. Television isn't mentioned in the bible at all so you had better turn yours off.

The second try was to claim that we must follow the Genesis model of marriage. This comes from Genesis, Chapter 2 (the second version of the Creation story) verse 24: "A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one." It is used to imply this definition of marriage is so old we just have to follow it.

A little biblical story popped into my head and it didn't take me long to track it down. Abraham, the Hebrew Patriarch had a son Isaac, who had a son Jacob. Genesis, chapters 29 and 30 tell the story. This young man visited his uncle Laban and was smitten with his daughter Rachel, Jacob's first cousin. Jacob agreed to work for Laban for seven years so he could marry Rachel. Yup, that means she's property that he must earn. When the wedding night came seven years later the bride came to Jacob's tent all wrapped up. After he had his way with her and could see her in the light of day he found he had married older sister Leah. Laban said I marry them off in order of age. Want the other? Jacob did and agreed to stick around for another seven years. So the following weekend Jacob married Rachel, much to Leah's annoyance.

Now God noticed that Jacob preferred Rachel, so closed her womb and opened Leah's, who promptly started popping out sons. Rachel was annoyed that she was barren and offered her handmaiden Bilhah to Jacob. She began popping out sons. Leah didn't produce sons for a while and thought something wrong, so offered her handmaiden Zilpah, who popped out a few more sons. Leah had another couple sons before God remembered Rachel and allowed her to produce a daughter and son.

That last son was Joseph, who had that Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and whose many brothers connived to sell him into slavery.

Let's review:
* Jacob had two wives, both of them were his first cousins.
* Jacob bought them through his labor.
* Jacob also bedded both handmaidens.
* Laban was not honorable in his agreement.
* Leah felt Jacob was playing favorites.
* Rachel's worth was in her ability to produce children, sons in particular.
* God didn't smite any of them.

This is a marriage described in Genesis, meaning it's quite old. What do you mean this isn't the Genesis model?

Letters to the MCA are restricted to length and there were several other annoying points to combat, so my recounting of Jacob and his wives was quite brief.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Playing a rigged game

Mulling over the win in Washington state and the defeat in Maine continues. Is it time to give up on trying to get our rights through referendums? Is putting gay marriage up for a vote even constitutional? Rights shouldn't be up for a vote -- it's called tyranny of the majority. Why are we accepting mob rule?

While the constitutionality of these votes is the question of the day, one observer notes that if the Supremes ruled against us it would be unfortunate (I prefer the word disastrous) but it would not be tyrannical nor unconstitutional because the decision was reached in the manner prescribed by our constitution.

One wonders if we should push for Domestic Partnerships, which succeeded in Washington, to give gay couples needed protections until society catches up.

The first commenter disagrees. Why subject ourselves to mob rule? Because we have no other choice. While court cases are doing their thing a state-by-state campaign is all we have. Let the Fundies rule the airwaves without a rebuttal? Nope.

If you look at just the 31-0 track record for gay marriage votes you might get discouraged. But that tally doesn't count the number of states where a marriage amendment was defeated before it got to the voters. And there are 5 states that do have gay marriage. Even though there are two states where marriage was snatched away all the work on getting the legislatures on our side is not wasted effort.

The game may be rigged but for now it's the game we have to play.

A war on Groundhog Day next?

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us it is time to get ready for Christmas! As you do your Christmas shopping don't forget to remind all the salesclerks you see that you'll be rating them and their store how "Christmas Friendly" or "Christmas Negligent" or "Christmas Offensive" they are. You can check out the ratings of previous patrons by going to the Stand for Christmas website (no link-love from me, dearie). Somehow Bass Pro Shop tops the list as being most Christmas Friendly. Who'd a guessed? Department store Dillard's (not a Detroit store) got a mixed review -- perhaps reviewers can't agree on what Christmas Friendly means? One review dinged them for being "too commercial" -- they're "most interested in making money rather than the real meaning of Christmas." Hellloooo! Dillard's is a store. They're in it to make money. That's what stores do. If you're so concerned about the real meaning of Christmas why are you in any store? Sheesh.

Ah, but the culture war is expanding. There is now a War on Thanksgiving. We can't let the president remove God "from American's one true Christian holiday." Apparently, Obama suggested we should thank each other and didn't mention thanking God. I think the reasoning behind the claim of a Christian holiday is that it was the Pilgrims, religious refugees that the were, who were the ones fed by the Natives. And look at what thanks they got.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Effects much older than the Industrial Revolution

The November issue of Harper's Magazine has an article by Steven Stoll of Fordham University titled The Cold We Caused. The article is online for those who are subscribers. The general question Stoll asks is, "Does human activity affect the climate?" He responds with a resounding yes though our effect is much older than the Industrial Revolution.

Stoll's case study is one that surprises. The Little Ice Age began around 1350 and ended around 1850, being most severe around 1650. This amount of time is too short to be caused by the same geologic process that caused the Ice Age, which was several thousand years long.

So what caused the Little Ice Age? Stoll notes the age began shortly after the Black Death began sweeping the world, killing a very high percentage of the population dead (half of the population in several European countries). The lack of workers meant a large part of the farmland reverted to forest, sequestering carbon. Other great plagues swept the world in this time, especially through the New World, thanks to the conquering Spanish. This Little Ice Age couldn't have been caused by variations in solar or volcanic activity because those affect climate over years, not centuries. According to this theory Humans affected the climate simply by dying off in great numbers. They affected the end of this age by clearing and burning the overgrown forests, releasing all that sequestered carbon.

So, yes, humans affect climate and have been doing so ever since forests were cleared for farmland. It is time to switch the debate from what is the natural climate to what is a just climate. What kind of climate is best for everyone rather than best for corporate growth? What is best for all nations rather than just the rich ones? Some people might be in for a surprise when the poor file suit against the rich for reckless carbon output.

It is looking less likely that the Copenhagen Climate Conference scheduled in the next few weeks will produce a treaty for participating countries to sign that would establish policies to reduce harmful pollutants. Sharon Begley of Newsweek assures us that such a failure won't stop action on the climate crisis. There might even be a silver lining. Her reasons:

* While nations are having problems cutting deals, subnations are forging ahead. For example, Arnold in Calif. has signed a law reducing greenhouse gasses, and is working on an agreement so that Calif. utilities help prevent deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia. His goal is to retool the economy, attract high-paying green jobs that can't be exported, and bypass national inaction.

* Various corporations, especially many big ones, are already gearing up for new rules (though they wish they knew what the details will be).

* Though a new treaty may not happen this time, it will happen. We can work to get it right instead of getting it fast. This extra time can be used to demonstrate America is serious and that China and India must be included (they got a free pass when the Kyoto agreement was created).

* We can perfect new strategies that are under development, such as paying landowners to sequester carbon, adding biochar to the soil, and also properly assessing the role of pollutants (such as soot) in climate change.

Just don't wait too long.

No longer welcome

A shocker! A young man who is the son of a professional hockey team manager and the brother who is a scout for another team came out. That wasn't the shock. This is: Dad and gay son went to a gay pride event together. In other words, no controversy at all. Homophobia continues, but the idea of homophobia is no longer welcome. There are still battles to fight, but the war has been won.

Faith v. Constitution

Patrick Kennedy, representative from Rhode Island and son of Ted, was refused communion because of his stated position on abortion rights. Refusing communion for approving gay rights or gay marriage next? Can any Catholic be allowed to run for public office if faith must trump constitution? What happened to all that theology about helping the poor and downtrodden that Ted Kennedy worked to embody? Why aren't they refusing communion to pedophile priests? JFK, our only Catholic president, said,

"I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me."

Go on, tell us what you really mean

Leading up to the winter meeting (in Honolulu, no less) of the GOP National Committee various GOP leaders are circulating a 10 point memo that has been dubbed a Purity Pledge. These are things that GOP candidates are supposed to support. There are even provisions that if a candidate breaks with three or more points, they could be penalized through the withdrawal of party funds. My paraphrase:

1. Support smaller government budgets, taxes, and deficits by opposing bills like Obama's "Stimulus" plan.

2. Support open market health care.

3. Support market based energy reforms, not cap and trade.

4. Support workers rights by opposing the union card check.

5. Support legal immigration by opposing amnesty for illegals.

6. Support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting troop surges.

7. Support containment of Iran and North Korea.

8. Support keeping Defense of Marriage.

9. Support lives of the vulnerable by opposing health care rationing and denial and by opposing government funding of abortion.

10. Support gun ownership.


* Should be fun to watch. If passed we see witch hunts. If not passed the Fundies see it as proof the GOP isn't conservative enough. Lose-Lose all around.

* Interesting… gays have slipped to 8th place. We used to top the list. Not that we mind being bumped from the spotlight. The list mentions only marriage?

* Things not mentioned: 1. outright anti-abortion legislation, 2. repeal of hate-crimes legislation (and no mention of religion), 3. vouchers for parochial schools, 4. War on Drugs. These used to be GOP top issues.

* Another issued not mentioned: dealing with companies that are too big to fail -- financial services reform. Never been a top GOP issue.

* Items in the list seem self-contradictory. How do you get out of a recession without government spending so that you can have low taxes and still pay for everything? Isn't cap-and-trade market based?

* Translation:

1.We support smaller if any social spending by the government, and tax breaks for the richest few and for corporations by opposing everything Obama does, including eating balanced meals.

2. We support letting our political donors, the health insurance companies, loot the pockets of Americans and deliver no goods.

3. We support keeping our oil company patrons in the energy 'driver's seat"

4. We oppose labor unions as socialists out to pick the pockets of the hard-playing idle rich owners.

5. We support keeping brown skinned people out of America. This is a white country.

6. We support continued defense spending in two wars to keep companies like Lockheed afloat. Body counts don't count.

7. We support partial nuclear disarmament one warhead at a time by dropping them on Iran and North Korea.

8. We support homophobia; the gays are the last minority that we can kick.

9. We support womb control and the right of every poor American to die in the streets.

10. We support an armed militia of birthers and tea baggers to unleash when Glen Beck gives the word.

* The phrases that got left off:

1. … unless it involves unnecessary wars or domestic spying.

2. … because market-based systems pay us more than the government does.

3. … because our big oil financiers don’t like cap and trade.

4. … because we don’t support workers rights.

5. … unless we need them for low-wage maids or stable boys.

6. … especially since we got us into these wars by lying.

7. … since we allowed them to get nuclear weapons in the first place by doing nothing before.

8. … because way down deep we’re intolerant religious bigots (okay, on the surface too).

9. … while not supporting health care for people who need it and advocating the death penalty without trial for abortion doctors.

10. … because we like our Vice Presidents to assault people with shotguns and get away with it.

Perhaps the Dems could respond with their own 10 point plan -- like the 10 points in the Bill of Rights.

Monday, November 23, 2009

In front of a judge some arguments disappear

I found this article because the author, Gabriel Arana, also writes for Box Turtle Bulletin. This is an explanation of the gay marriage case on its way (eventually) to the Supremes and how risky and important it is. The article appears in The American Prospect, which is a magazine dedicated to championing progressive ideas.

The suit started last May when the Calif. Supremes said the gay marriage ban enacted a year ago is a legal addition to the state constitution. The trial at the district level begins in January. If it passes that court (likely if the judge's response to pre-trial maneuvering is an indication), it's on to the 9th Circuit Court (known for being liberal) and the Supremes.

If one is going to get gay marriage approved through the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution it is going to affect a lot more than gay marriage. All discriminatory laws will then be challenged. In a sense homosexuality itself is on trial. That's fantastic if we win, but would be disastrous if we lose, setting our cause back by decades.

No wonder the major gay organizations are nervous and afraid that the two straight lawyers in charge don't have any skin in the game. These organizations have been trying to establish precedence at the state level before going federal. They haven't had any luck (or much chance) getting a favorable gay marriage ruling in any state court.

When is it reasonable to discriminate? In cases of public safety, such as prohibiting a 5-year-old from getting a driver's license, discrimination makes sense. Does gay marriage (and a whole host of other gay rights issues) pose a risk of public safety. Well, if you ask a Fundie you get such responses as, yes because the denial "promotes stability and responsible behavior in naturally procreative relationships" (translation: allowing gay marriage will lead to more out-of-wedlock children and higher divorce rates among straights).

The easiest (though not easy) way to strike down discrimination laws is to get the court to see gays are a "suspect class" -- gays are different, they're being picked on because of that difference, so we need to strike down laws that prevent them from being treated the same as everyone else. Yup, we have to define them as different so that they can be treated the same.

Even if a suspect class designation doesn't work, the case can be decided by saying when the laws were passed the sole motivation was ill will.

The case revolves around several arguments:

Gays are not politically powerless and can achieve appropriate gains through the political process. And how many gay marriage battles have we won? How many gay senators are there?

Sexual orientation can be changed. That's a lavender herring -- so can a person's religion and that's a protected characteristic.

Barring gays from marriage serves a reasonable purpose. Which means a great deal of the case is about what marriage is for. Changing the purpose of marriage is a risky social experiment, so we shouldn't.

Strange that when the arguments are made in front of justices instead of voters certain nasty things get left out. Nothing about what kids will be taught, nothing about forcing pastors to officiate at gay marriages. They even agree gays are not mentally ill and being gay doesn't interfere with holding a job, even agree that it isn't good to try to change orientation. Not a peep about whether being gay is morally wrong or about the homosexual agenda. And how does gay marriage harm straight marriage? "You honor, my answer is: I don't know."

So what's left?

Maintenance of tyranny of the majority. You see, Mr. Justice, gay marriage just wouldn't be legal unless the people vote to approve it. It's not enough for you, Mr. Justice, to stick your nose into this business, nor is it appropriate for a legislature to approve it and a governor to sign it.

Actually, there's a tiny bit of truth to that. It's about a shared reality, which is definitely not a legal concept. We currently don't all share the reality that a gay relationship shares nearly all of the same attributes that a straight marriage does (the exception is the way children enter the family). Roe v. Wade was decided on privacy grounds, not on abortion rights grounds. It means a woman is no longer defined by childbirth, yet women are still paid less than men. In the same way, the right to marry will not immediately end discrimination in the lives of gays. What is the role of gays in society? No different than the role of any other individual. That reality will only come when the people "vote" on it, even though no ballot might be involved.

So what outcome should we hope for? How about hoping Calif. votes for gay marriage in 2010 or 2012, making this specific case unnecessary. Even if it gets to the Supremes and they turn it down, will it really set our cause back by decades? Or will the loss ignite a grass-roots movement that storms every state legislature as well as Congress?

Still some pockets of moderation in the GOP

A GOP candidate for governor in Mass. has chosen a gay state senator as his running mate! The pair have to get through a primary before taking on the incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shouting from the top of a mountain

Sigh. I got exactly two responses to my request to hear from my readers. One is from my niece, the other was from my friend and debate partner, who answered through email. I still don't know how many readers I have. My niece went on to say:

Have you publicized this blog in any way? Asking for a link back from the places you blog roll, commenting on other places with your blog linked, registering at blog catalog and the like? Because I think people would be interested -- if they know about you.

I have done a little bit of publicity. Much of what I write summarizes articles on three or four blogs that are my main sources. It doesn't seem to do much good to "advertise" there (though I have) because those readers would be seeing most of the same stuff.

I haven't tried blogcatalog because this is the first I've heard of it.

Praying for enemies

Here's a look at the message of the bible through a highly unusual medium. The Brick Testament depicts scenes and stories of the bible made out of Lego. This ain't no piddlin little project -- over 400 stories made up of over 4400 scenes with more to come. I think someone had a lot of fun painting expressions on the Lego people. My first reaction was that it includes the real and difficult messages that Jesus taught. For example, the scene for the commandment to pray for your enemies features a man praying for Al Qaeda. But viewing more of the teachings of Jesus, I find it to be too literal. Many of the teachings are hyperbole, used to get people to think yet to be put in context. Showing scenes, such as the one where Jesus calls on followers to put their faith ahead of family relationships, as literal with made up dialog comes across as harsh and dogmatic. The creator also loses lots of points when he illustrates the central phrase of the passage "But whoever practices these commandments and teaches them will be called 'great' in the kingdom of Heaven" by having one character say, "… that's why it's our duty to put homosexuals to death." Oh, please. I guess I don't have to bother with the other 4300 illustrations.

How should we pray for our enemies? Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin offers two examples, which I summarize.

The leader of a reparative therapy program:

Deliver these gay people from the bonds of darkness of homosexuality that Satan has wrapped him in and show him they're wrong and we're right.

That last part may not get spoken aloud, but it is definitely implied.

This is the ending of a prayer for enemies, from the gay point of view:

God, bring the program leaders close to you. Startle them with how much you love them, so that all he can do is share that love with others. Let him know that being right or wrong doesn't matter because it all comes down to love.

There's the surface message and there's the hidden message

I wrote recently about a manifesto created by 145 Fundie leaders to declare how they will never permit gay marriage and want to roll back abortion rights. I figured it to be the same old stuff. But Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin read this Manhattan Manifesto so we don't have to, then poked and prodded it. He shared his insights, which I summarize.

The signatories are all the usual suspects of Fundie culture warriors -- those who want to impose their views into laws -- as well as those, sacred and secular, who have built a career fighting gays. There is also Bishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, known for giving shelter to Episcopal congregations who don't like the idea of a gay bishop. From the viewpoint of gays it is expected the mix includes Catholic Archbishops, but from the view of most Fundies this is a surprise -- Fundies are overlooking long-term historic animosities to band together to deny rights to gays.

It is useful to see who is missing -- mainline Protestant denominations and the Mormons. And with the biggest backers of the Calif. marriage ban excluded we begin to see what this is all about.

The document says nothing about doctrine and speaks only in grand terms of Christian tradition and religious freedom (which they intend to deny to everyone else). The only commitments are about abortion and gay rights. This is a political alliance.

Stick with me now. Out of the 44 men who have become president, how many have come from the groups represented by this manifesto? Three -- John Kennedy (Catholic), Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter (both Southern Baptist). No Pentecostals and no members of mega-churches.

The signatories are saying it is their turn at political power and they won't be satisfied until they replace the mainline denominations. Now the presence of Akinola on the list makes sense: He is active in undermining the Episcopal Church. It isn't so much a war on gays as a war on the rest of the Christian church in America. This is confirmed by the exclusion of the Mormons, who Fundies don't consider Christian. The manifesto says, "We're the real Christians and we are the ones who accurately proclaim the Word of God."

The abortion issue gets minimal mention, translated roughly as: It's a lost cause at the moment, but if things ever swing our way we'll push for a full ban with no thought for rape or the health of the mother.

But the only other issue is gays. Here are translations of some of the talking points.

* Take steps to combat AIDS around the globe. Though in Africa AIDS is spread through straight sex, in Nigeria (don't forget Akinola) and Uganda there are efforts to use AIDS to criminalize gays and the Uganda bill calls for execution of gays. And for the authors of this manifesto, that's just fine. But don't think such efforts will stay in Africa.

* Whenever the manifesto mentions gay marriage it also mentions multiple-party relationships. A sign they will use that equivalence in upcoming political campaigns? It could backfire.

* There are calls to make whatever sacrifice for Christ as necessary -- as in sacrificing our rights so they can get into heaven. Gee, thanks guys.

* There is a declaration that includes "nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships". They never have. Or will. All new gay rights and marriage laws go out of their way to assure churches this will not be the case (as long as they are not spending taxpayer money). This essentially says expect more political stunts and lies about gay rights and marriage laws and about how the church is persecuted if it can't persecute gays.

I, like Kincaid, am highly annoyed that the Christian message (my personal faith) is being thoroughly and loudly twisted into something ugly, ignoring the principles of love Jesus taught. This manifesto does not speak for me or my faith. This declaration will keep a lot of people, especially a lot of young people, out of the church. And not just the denominations that support this declaration.

This Manhattan Manifesto may prompt something good. I'll let Kincaid have the last word. He says it well.
It is possible that out of this declaration of war, the moderate and liberal branches of the faith may find common cause, if nothing else in defense of their own good name. Perhaps they will decide that they have a purpose and meaning in modern America and will let go of residual guilt and angst and take up the mantle of protector of the oppressed and champion of justice and mercy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We've heard it all before

Meghan McCain, daughter of the failed prez. candidate, is puzzled. Why are various sexual shenanigans by various GOP party members and Fundie supporters ignored yet her support of gay marriage means that she can't be a member in good standing?

145 Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox Christian leaders presented a manifesto saying how they will never be swayed from their positions against abortion and against gay marriage (though one suspects they are against a lot more than just marriage when it comes to gays). They did this to remind Obama of their power and remind the younger generation that gays are yucky. Sigh. The only reason for mentioning this tired and broken record (does that metaphor still work?) is that the gay commenters are getting more creative.

* It's not that I'm anti-Christian, I am just pro-lion. And their numbers are dropping … why?

* Do they agree on anything else? Let's see. Health care? No. Wall St. bailout? No. Wars in the Middle East? No. Divorce? No. The Pope? No. Hmmmmm....

* Drop Your Bibles and step away from the religion.

Cities are good for you and for the planet

I just finished the book The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (which means, dear friend and debate partner, I can return it when we next do lunch). It's the story of the deadly cholera outbreak in London in 1854 and how physician John Snow and cleric Henry Whitehead figured out what caused it. At the time London was not very good at human waste management and the top scientists of the day were convinced that stink -- the actual smell -- caused illness, which is the miasma theory. The author does a good job of explaining why that theory persisted for so long. Snow and Whitehead produced a map indicating where people died and were able to trace the illness to a contaminated water pump, and even to how the pump was made foul. This was remarkable medical sleuthing for the day. Along the way we learn about the fledgling municipal health department whose first major project caused large numbers of deaths because it wasn't based on sound science.

As fascinating as all that was my favorite chapter was the last one in which author discusses the results of that map on cities of today and on into the future. It took perhaps a decade for London to build proper sewers, but once done cholera never reappeared there. The two researchers changed London, which was seen to be close to collapse and at the mercy of epidemics, and made it sustainable, even as the population increased 6 times (2.5 million to 14 million). And now cities, at least in developed countries, are quite safe and have many advantages over suburbs and rural areas.

In 1854 less than 10% of the world's population lived in cities. We're now at about 50% of all people living in cities and we may soon go as high as 80%. City life has transformed our lives more than anything else. Some advantages of cities:
* They are engines of wealth, innovation, and creativity.
* They are also engines of health -- proper care is much more available in cities than in rural areas. The best hospitals are in cities.
* People packed in cities have a much smaller environmental impact than the same number spread across the countryside. And, yes, it is possible to have healthy neighborhoods without many trees. The smaller impact includes efficiencies in transportation in a place where most walk or take public transport (alas, then there is Detroit).
* People in cities tend to have smaller families. As we gather in cities the population should peak at 8 billion in 2050 and then start to drop.
* Culture in cities is more diverse -- no matter your interest it is much easier to find someone to share it with and have a sufficient support base to fund it.

Are there threats to urbanization? Yes, but not the usual culprits.
* In spite of the advantages of telecommuting, the best place for face-to-face action is still the city.
* Global warming and sea level rise? Yes, lots of cities will be affected, but that won't move us back to the country, we'll just rebuild the cities on higher ground.
* Fuel shortage? See the note above about environmental impact.

These threats remain to the city-planet.
* Asymmetrical warfare and the suitcase nuke and biological or chemical weapons. One might not deter us from gathering into cities, but several will.
* A truly serious pandemic, one that kills in the tens or hundreds of thousands. However, our ability to roll out a vaccine is improving rapidly.

No, that doesn't mean I'm about to give up my little corner of suburbia and move into the city. New York -- maybe. Detroit -- I'm close enough. Though I like being able to ride my bicycle around the area there is still the disadvantage that I have to drive to a lot of places, even those just a couple miles away.

Appropriate for a discussion of cholera: Giant microbe plush toys. These are stuffed critters, about 4 inches in size, made in the shape of harmful microbes. Common cold and malaria are among the several that are included, alas cholera isn't. Teddy bears are so passé.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aren't you being just a teeny bit rude?

What's the difference between incivility and demonization? It is merely the level of rudeness or viciousness coming from the speaker? David Niewert, who watches for signs of fascism in our country thinks there is a great deal of difference. So much difference, he says, that demonizers are more properly termed eliminationists (about which he wrote a book). Here are some of the ways the two are different.

* Eliminationist speech depicts opponents as the embodiment of evil, unfit for participation in society. They are like vermin or disease. The opposition is to be eliminated.

* Such speech gives permission to act out against those seen as undesirable, to deny the humanity of the contaminant. This kind of talk inspires hate crimes.

* It usually surfaces when the speaker is striving for a "godly" view of the world. To a achieve it, the speaker must identify those who will bring it about and those who will prevent it. That second group becomes the scapegoats for why the world isn't "perfect" or why the world will soon end. There are calls for purification.

* When fascism arises, elimination speech is a part of it, though not all episodes of high eliminationist speech turn into fascism.

America has a long history of eliminationists. In the past the targets have been Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese and Japanese immigrants. The current targets are gays and Hispanic immigrants.

All that was an introduction to an interview of Niewert by Frederick Clarkson. Some thoughts from that interview.

* There are some ordinary conservatives who are beginning to wake up to how the GOP has been hijacked by eliminationists (the ones who hang on Limbaugh's every word), though they deny the depths of the takeover.

* Some Fundies are now praying that God will smite Obama (and gays). This is definitely eliminationist speech, the permission to act is amped up as religious permission. Such permission is supercharged when someone in the military offers a prayer like that.

That was money well spent

Sexual orientation is not a predictor of sexual molestation according to a report commissioned by the Catholic Church. They spent $2 million to determine something that has been obvious to lots of other folks for a long time now, that homosexual does not equal pedophile and just because the perpetrator and victim are both male does not mean the perpetrator has a homosexual orientation. No word from the Pope.

Happy Birthday dear blog

Yup, I've been writing this blog for 2 years now. I hope my thinking has evolved and my writing improved in that time.

Hellooo, is anybody out there?

After two years at it I wonder how many people read my news reports and opinions. I don't know how to put a visitor counter on this thing (and the only option I found from Blogger lists the origins of people who leave a comment, which continues to be rare).

I would appreciate all of you who don't automatically get postings through email (family and a few friends) to leave a comment to this message listing where you live. I don't expect you to leave a name (though you certainly may) since I don't offer mine. You could also leave a topic you would like to see me cover, though I make no guarantees. Or you could list a few topics that are most important to you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dark? Stormy? Not tonight

It's time for a laugh. I've known about the Bulwer-Lytton Contest for about 25 years now (the 1984 winner caught my attention). Alas, though I heard about this year's results back in the June I didn't take time to check on the whole list of this year's winners (and dishonorable mentions) until something prodded me recently (though I don't remember what).

In case you've never heard of this nonsense… Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was an English writer who once started a novel with the phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night." Yup, that's the one Snoopy plagiarized for years. In honor of that phrase and its creator the English Department at San Jose State University asked people to offer other suggestions for the worst opening line for a novel.

This dishonorable mention in the Fantasy category from the 2009 winners is by Shannon Gray of Wichita, KS.

Detective Pierson mentally reviewed the group of suspects milling around the recent crime scene -- two young siblings eating gingerbread, a young girl in a red hoodie, a beautiful girl with narcolepsy, and seven little people with the profession of miners -- then gave his statement of "It's a grim tale" to the press.