Thursday, April 30, 2009

A sign of progress

When the big stimulus package the mainstream media made a big deal about Obama's wish to be "bipartisan" yet getting only 3 GOP votes in the House and Senate combined. On to the budget, which passed yesterday with zero GOP votes. Since Obama didn't make any noise about bipartisanship, the mainstream media didn't report this "failure." It also means Obama made no attempt to bring the GOP into the discussion and probably got a better budget because of it.

Tipping point?

Gay marriage started in Massachusetts (wow!) 5 years ago. It was in California, briefly, last year, though the vote to ban it would likely be different today. Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont approved it within the last couple months. Soon New Hampshire and Maine.

And now an ABC/Washington Post poll says that 49% of Americans are in favor of gay marriage and only 46% opposed! Even the support among Republicans has tripled (10% to 30%) since 2004.

Now for the fine print: The margin of error is 3%. That means the two sides of the gay marriage debate are statistically tied. Even so, that's wonderful news.

Have we reached a tipping point in public opinion? For those of you who don't know physics or sociology, a tipping point is a point within a process where the rate of change increases dramatically. The example which first defined the term was white neighborhoods in the 1950s and '60s in which a small number of black families were tolerated, but when "one too many" black families moved in, all of the white families moved out in what is known as white flight. Real estate agents exploited this phenomenon in Detroit in the '50s to have a constant supply of houses to sell. At that time flipping meant converting a block from all white to all black (resulting in a sales commission for each house).

That ABC/Washington Post poll also asked other questions and shows a mix of progressive and conservative trends:
* Support for legalizing marijuana has increased.
* Support for amnesty of illegal immigrants has increased.
* Support for regulation of greenhouse gasses has increased.
* Support for increased gun control has decreased.

Piling on the 100 Days circus

Obama made a big speech yesterday (I didn't watch, I was at the Ruth Ellis Center) about his accomplishments of his first 100 days. While I appreciate (and a bit amazed) at all he's done, his gay cred is a bit shaky. On the plus side, he has appointed a lot of gay people to high places (except the cabinet) and made a lot of symbolic gestures. The Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act passed the House, but that was on Day 101 and the Senate still needs to act. Compared to Bush and what we would have gotten under McCain and Palin these are highly welcome. On the minus side, he has specifically postponed repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and has done very little on Defense of Marriage, Employment Non-Discrimination, and Uniting American Families (prevent deportation of half a binational gay couple).

To be fair, the president has done a lot in 100 days (and I'm pleased at what he has done), so it isn't surprising or all that irritating that he hasn't done much specifically for gays. In the meantime, many states are making up the difference.

And in those hundred days Obama has been described in many ways -- closet socialist, too moderate, too liberal, too generous to the banks, etc. -- but rarely is he described as black. He is the president, not the black president. Of course, racism isn't over and there is a very shrill corner of the population that focuses on the president's race and nothing else. But that group has gotten smaller over the years (and more shrill as it does so).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Living with the enemy

The TV show 30 Days will take someone from one side of an issue and have them live for 30 days with someone on the other side. In this particular case, Katy, one who strongly disapproves of gays for religious reasons, went to spend that time with Tom and Dennis and their 4 adopted sons (near Ann Arbor!). She also attends a gay family picnic, visits kids who grew up with gay parents, spends an afternoon volunteering for a group that campaigns for gay adoption, and even visits two people who grew up in the foster care system and would have been happy to go live with gays. A final scene is a picnic with the birth family of one of the boys who are pleased at how well Tom and Dennis are raising the child they had to give up. I heard about this about the time it was filmed. Now it is available through the internet. It's a bit under 45 minutes (and you can pause it). Well worth your viewing.

A couple scenes (of many) that caught my attention:

Katy is horrified that the 6-year-old boy has to decide whether to tell classmates he has two dads. The kid is too young for such a burden, she says. Of course, if there wasn't so much homophobia, which she is a part of, it wouldn't be a burden at all.

After a visit to the gay-accepting church where Tom and Dennis are members Katy laments a society that lets anyone do whatever they want, a society without moral structure. Several times during the show she talks about her inability and unwillingness to go against what she believes. She has a hard time wrapping her head around the idea that her views of gays shouldn't be the law of the land.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Let's make it a bit more personal, shall we?

A bill before the Michigan legislature would legalize adoption by unmarried partners. Gary Glenn of American Family Association in Michigan doesn't like that idea, because gays could adopt kids. He trots out the familiar argument that a kid needs both a mother and a father. But wouldn't it be better for a kid to have two fathers rather than be stuck in foster care? Glenn responds: "We simply refuse to engage in the rhetorical mechanism by which we're asked to choose between two less-than-ideal situations." I'll take that as a no.

I don't know Glenn's family (other than he is married), so I can only speak hypothetically. Mr. Glenn, suppose your daughter and son-in-law and their sweet child were in an auto accident that killed your daughter. From your comments that a child needs both a mother and a father it follows that your grandchild should be placed in foster care until your son-in-law should happen to remarry.

Alas, the Michigan Radio website doesn't seem to permit comments attached to individual stories.

No fear of reprisal

Miss California lost the crown of Miss USA over her belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Sigh. Same old stuff. But someone poked a bit and came up with an intriguing and important question. Carrie Prejean, Miss California, belongs to The Rock Church of San Diego. Prominently displayed on the church's website are reasons why the church opposes gays. I don't dare look myself, so I don't know what scriptural justifications they use, if any. But our intrepid reporter lists all the justifications supported by junk science -- that is "findings" from scientific inquiry that use methods with serious flaws or reports from researchers that have been thoroughly discredited. So the question: If a person were to infer bogus claims about the African-American community and backed it up with junk science, that person would have no credibility. They would justifiably be vilified. Why can churches say corresponding things about gays without fear of reprisal?

Fortunately, that question is not quite correct. Increasingly, churches are facing reprisal, starting with Miss California. Alas, it isn't the mainstream media that's doing it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let Gene Kelly show you how it's done

After all that news from Maine what could be better than a few videos for mental health. A blogger, tired of the relentless news, posted a few famous clips of dancing from the movies. Responders included their own favorites. Astaire and Rogers (with a floating dress), the Nicholas Brothers tap-dancing up a storm, Gene Kelly tap-dancing on roller skates. In addition to Gene Kelly's version of Singing in the Rain, there is a side-by-side video with R&B star Usher doing the same dance. Even Charlie Chaplin on roller skates beside a gaping hole. Alas, these videos show the limitations of the quality of YouTube images. You either see a tiny image or a big grainy one. I'd give a pass to the "Weapon of Choice." The music playing with Laurel and Hardy is definitely not original.

A horror show of hate

Last week the Maine State legislature held a day to hear public comments about a proposed gay marriage bill. Interest in the proceedings got to be so large a sports arena was reserved for the event. Each side was allotted alternating half-hour timeslots with each speaker allotted 3 minutes. Testimony went on all day and well into the evening, with no break for lunch, though one for dinner.

Here is a first-person account of the day. This writer says it was an emotional meat grinder. In one half hour gays spoke of the most wonderful relationships, tested by life and flourishing. These stories were uplifting. Gays also spoke of how the lack of marriage discriminated against them -- people denied access to partners in the hospital and others denied attendance at their partner's funeral. Then came a half hour in which the Fundies rained down abuse. A "horror show of hurt followed by a horror show of hate." Gays would molest kids. Gays were intent on bestiality. Gays want polygamy. Gays need treatment. Gays don't deserve rights. Each Fundie half hour got more shrill. They did not offer documentation to back up their claims. This wasn't deer camp (the author's description), they weren't drunk. They were in public for public record. They wore suits and seriously believed the nonsense they spouted over and over. Gays in attendance had to listen to it again and again.

Our side only spoke the truth. They did not use name-calling. They did not accuse their opponents of all manner of nasty things. They backed up their rebuttals with documentation. And when the goo got ankle deep, they turned their backs.

The response of some gays: Why was the day even needed? Why do we have to plead for our rights?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vision and compelling arguments

Jim Wallace has a response to the recent Newsweek cover article about the Decline and Fall of Christian America. Wallis is not saying Newsweek is wrong, he's saying there is another way to look at it. Some of his thoughts:
* It was a mistake for the Christian Right to politicize it's faith. They are paying for that mistake now.
* Christianity always does better in a minority position, when it is a counter-culture force instead of the dominant force. "Christian America" hasn't worked so well.
* That doesn't mean Christians shouldn't exert their influence on the social issues of the day. However, Martin Luther King made great strides, not because he could quote the bible, but because he brought a vision with compelling arguments to the public debate.
* MLK also did it without demanding everyone convert to his brand of religion. He even formed allies from other faiths and of those with no religion.
* Wallis quotes Obama's thoughts on why America can't and shouldn't be a Christian nation. Arguments that say, "Because God said so!" won't work. Religious people must argue in universal, not religious-specific, values. That's necessary for a pluralistic society. Yes, there is friction between the compromise necessary in politics and religions that don't allow for compromise.

Conciliatory gestures only go so far

Obama has been talking about abortion reduction and promoting conciliatory gestures and common ground. Does that mean abortion wars are over? Um… no. However, you might need a secret decoder ring to keep score. Yes, everyone is for abortion reduction. But the left talks about "reducing the need for abortion" and the right splits hairs talking about "reducing the number of abortions." Run that through your secret decoder ring and the translation is this: The left wants to change abortion demand and the right wants to change abortion supply. Both have the same implications on policy the older and louder debate had. And neither resonates much beyond Washington, where Americans approve legal abortion by 54%, the same percentage as a decade ago.

Love is stronger than the storm

Most of the responses to that "camp classic" Gathering Storm ad have been parodies of various kinds. I've even written about a few of them. Here's a response that took the original seriously, worth a serious reply. Yes, there is a gathering storm. But storms pass because love is stronger. Everything about this ad was either volunteer work or donated materials. I love the two men with their twin babies. A wonderful little video. It's worth the two minutes to watch it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A camp classic and a yawn

A couple more (hopefully last) comments on that Gathering Storm ad:
* It is a "camp classic" according to Frank Rich of the New York Times.
* It was the exception to the nationwide yawn that greeted gay marriage in Vermont and Iowa.

While a good deal of the nation didn't think the Iowa news warranted much comment, the anti-gay forces are most assuredly not gone. Even so, the protesters in Maine that made the news are from California.

Preventing a repeat and regaining trust

I haven't been sure what to write about the release of the torture memos (as have been in the news), especially since some are convinced Obama will prevent prosecution and others are leaving the door open for the story to develop. But here are some voices worth noting.

Digby looks at how methodical the Bushies were in preparing their case for torture. This was not an emotional flailing and a rush to do something after 9-11. The legal and moral case was carefully laid out (even though it can never justify the results). These may have been people "just doing their jobs" (which didn't wash at Nuremburg, see Principle IV), but they were doing it at a level of consciousness far above the average bureaucrat. That's what makes it chilling.

Kos adds that's what makes it necessary to understand exactly what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again. The forces that want the whole issue to remain hidden are still strong and active. Please tell your president what you think to counter those that want to keep the issue hidden.

Other voices add:
Though the actual soldiers and agents who did the torturous acts might be shielded from prosecution (just doing their jobs), somebody -- better yet, everybody involved in authorizing torture -- should be held responsible. That is the only way other countries will believe that we have discarded the use of torture.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler of Sojourners Blog wrote:
"The notion that standards of moral behavior can be cast aside when we’re in danger is not one that I find support for either in scripture — my standard for such questions — or in international commitments to human rights, the world’s legal standard."

Applying scissors to the sacred text

Jack Rogers wrote the book Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. It's on my list of books to buy, though at the moment I have a closet full of books I haven't read yet. This posting is an interview between Jack Rogers and Toby Rogers, the author's son and the book's editor.

While that is worthwhile, what caught my attention is one of the comments. That writer (an atheist) says that while it is good to make the Christian religion more gay-friendly (or at least less homophobic) there are still some problems. The big one is that the religion's source-text still has passages that are easily interpreted to condemn gays (we know this because of the extent they are used on us now). There will always be those who will interpret those words in the wrong way, the same way there will always be people who claim the bible says men are superior to women (though there aren't many non-Jews who demand we restore Kosher dietary laws). Once you edit the bible to remove those that condemn gays (and mention slavery, male superiority, etc.) and then add words that explicitly stress human rights, equality, and personal dignity, only then will this particular writer consider paying any attention to it.

Alas, I'd be very nervous about who claims authority for the rewrite -- unless it's perhaps me. ;-) But I would face condemnation from many who were equally convinced I had done it wrong. I don't need to be the author of another Jefferson Bible.

Getting a viceral reaction, not a truthful one

My friend and debate partner asks:

So, what actually happened on this day of multiple programs -- gay Silence, fundie condemnation and Golden Rule Day? Any actual incidents to report? Or were the students smart enough to ignore all this adult uproar?

Here is a first-person account of a gay kid who participated. The only people who had tried to get him (her?) to talk were other kids trying to make him break his vow of silence. It seems much of his day was spent getting rid of defaced Day of Silence posters.

A commentator notes the anti-gay participation seems to be down this year, even in the school that is in the "backyard" of a highly vocal Washington state homophobe. Another group put out a video of threats, intolerance, and violence they claim were perpetrated by Day of Silence supporters. Both it and accompanying emails are highly suspect. There is no way to prove any actual incidents or that Fundie kids were involved. The kids in the video seem to be well coached by adults (the Day of Silence, in contrast, is run by the kids). Some incidents mentioned were not associated with Day of Silence, but with last November's Calif. marriage ban. In all, the video follows the Fundie effort to get a visceral reaction, not an accurate or logical one.

As for actual news, the previous link includes links to a half-dozen newspaper articles, including one from Jackson, Mich. I don't find any attempts at national tallies.

Clarifying and apologizing

At the end of my post about Laurie Higgins and her ideas that Christian kids have a duty to bully gay kids, I ended with half-apology/half-disclaimer. My friend and debate partner rightly called me on the reason for that disclaimer, so let me back up and apologize the way I should. His complaint is about this sentence:

Her response sounds -- sorry, my friend -- rather Jewish, invoking the Law and the Prophets to describe what Christians should do.

My friend responds:

Why do you characterize Higgins response as "rather Jewish"? Are those your words?

I'm no expert in such things -- talk to a rabbi if you wish -- but I know of nothing in Jewish tradition that calls upon Jews or anyone else to verbally bludgeon anyone with "moral convictions". We don't see Jewish groups of any stripe behaving in that manner in the modern world. Jews never evangelize others to change their religion. They do not go door-to-door worrying people about their fate on Judgment Day. Jewish leaders are generally central figures in interfaith dialogues and voices for tolerance. What other sensible path can a world-wide minority of about 7 million among 6.5 billion humans follow? (Yes, there are small extremist (fundamentalist, in fact) Jewish groups that behave more truculently. They do not speak for even 5% of Jews. Every religion has its holdouts who refuse to come into the modern world.)

Historically, Jews were small minorities at the mercy of local political or religious powers (usually Christian or pagan, depending on place and century). Typically, they could barely hope for a chance at a verbal defense. They were victims of bullying and themselves bullied no one.

In Old Testament times, the Prophets spent most of their time scolding the ancient Hebrews for falling short of moral and religious expectations. The ancient Hebrews, as the people of ancient Israel or Judea, lived among multiple empires and were part of the complex warring politics of that time. The Hebrews' independence was regularly threatened and often taken away.

Modern Israeli behavior, for example building settlements on Palestinian land and waging wars that seem to have no legitimate or rational objectives, does often impress me as bullying. Understanding that they are responding to much Palestinian and other provocation, I have spoken against all that Israeli behavior for decades.

Old Testament language (variously translated into modern languages -- that is often part of the problem) is easily (mis-)interpreted to support just about anything. The Nazis, the Inquisition, Senator Joe McCarthy in American history -- all had no doubt that God was on their side.

In any case, the behavior you ascribe to Higgins and IFI is deplorable, should be condemned and verges on criminal. No one under any accepted interpretation of free speech has the right to bully anyone else, nor to rabble-rouse students to that behavior, nor to encourage school staff to defend, much less participate in such behavior. Provoking confrontations of this sort in the schools is probably criminally actionable.

The Southern Poverty Law Center can be relied upon to take a balanced view of groups like IFI. If SPLC calls IFI a hate group, I'm sure they have a strong basis for that.

So let me go back to my sentence and clarify and apologize.

Yes, the origin of the word "Jewish" was mine. I had intended it to refer only to that one sentence. I apologize for allowing it to seem that my Jewish description extended into the discussion on moral convictions and (ugh) into what Higgins claims is a duty. I probably shouldn't have used it at all. The Christian faith does refer to the Old (or Hebrew) Testament as "The Law and the Prophets." We rightly include it in our bible because we interpret so much of it to point to events in the Christian Testament. However, since so much of the Christian faith says the life and death of Jesus supersedes Jewish law it is annoying when Christians use the Law and the Prophets, not to provide background to the Christian faith, but to enforce their own moral code. And before I get into more trouble, that isn't a Jewish concept. It shouldn't be Christian one.

My friend says the Old Testament is easily misinterpreted to justify just about anything. Alas, the New Testament is too.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A twisted definition of duty

The Illinois Family Institute people are in a snit over their designation as a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that in addition to not wanting to give gays any rights, the IFI takes the extra step of vilifying gays. Then Laurie Higgins, Director of the IFI's Division on School Advocacy proves that the SPLC made the right call.

The trigger for Higgins' comments comes from today's Day of Silence, in which gay kids and their allies maintain a day of not talking to bring attention to how much bullying is directed at kids who are or are thought to be gay. The Fundies countered with a Day of Truth in which teens try to get across the point that gays can change. Warren Throckmorton countered that with a Golden Rule Day in which Christian kids try to step between the two groups by saying gay kids at least deserve the respect straight kids show for each other. Follow that? Sigh.

Gay kids deserve respect? Higgins wants none of that. Her response sounds -- sorry, my friend -- rather Jewish, invoking the Law and the Prophets to describe what Christians should do. Already, I've got a problem with her. A Christian, according to Higgins, is to affirm God's Word (in a godly way, of course) and action is to be based on moral conviction. If schools allow only some statements of moral conviction (meaning if they don't allow hers) then the classroom is a place of indoctrination. So, it is necessary for students to take on her task. It is their responsibility to condemn homosexual conduct and condemnation includes making gay kids unsafe. Translation: It is a Christian kid's duty to bully gay classmates and it is the job of the school staff to make sure (allow) that to happen. Vilify gay people? Ohhh yes.

That completely misses the point of Christianity and twists it into a frightening shape. My faith is not about following the Jewish Law, but in putting my trust in the love of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And my understanding of that love includes the phrase "Judge not." Nothing Higgins says has anything to do with love.

In the comment section one person points out that most teenage suicides are in response to bullying. Only 1 of every 5 teens who commits suicide is gay. That means Higgins finds it acceptable to bully 4 straight kids to the point of suicide for the chance to get rid of one gay kid. Another points out there is also the chance the bullied gay kid will lash out at his/her tormenters. We don't need more school shootings.

I wonder what Higgens hopes to accomplish with all that bullying. Force gay kids to become straight? How's that working out? Assert your personal moral conviction? I see no morality worth asserting. Claim you're more holy than me? That's not a claim for you to make. Punish gay kids for being gay? That it will. Disasterously.

To my friend and debate partner: Please forgive me if I have incorrectly portrayed Jewish people and undeservedly tarnished their reputation through unfair comparisons.

The winds will be blowing each other

Stephen Colbert comments on that Coming Storm ad. He gives you a chance to see the original, then does his own spoof. Enjoy the fun.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We're either equal or we're not

It's hard to keep the acronyms straight -- or even remember the acronyms, much less the official titles of all the gay rights bills. There's a bill to add gays and transgenders to the hate crimes laws, a bill to end employment discrimination, one for serving in the armed forces, another for when one partner isn't a US citizen, and don't forget the one on marriage rights (or at least a not-so-equal marriage equivalent).

The folks at eQualityGiving have declared there must be a better way. So they wrote an Equality & Religious Freedom Act, dumping all those concerns into one giant bill (while reassuring the Fundies they can remain bigoted). Jared Polis, a gay freshman representative from Colorado, has begun to talk about being its sponsor.

LGBT organizations have long been pushing the incremental approach, with not all that much success. Given what happened more than a year ago with the bill that bans workplace discrimination for gays when transgenders were stripped out in hopes of getting the bill to pass, one can understand if they get a little twitchy on the subject.

But why not introduce an omnibus LGBT rights bill? Put it another way, is there any ham in it? If it is defeated have we made things worse for the incremental approach? We do know it will be a mountain to climb. But we already have that with the incremental approach.

The cons of an Omnibus Bill
* A bigger bill has to work its way through more committees with a more difficult navigation problem.

* LGBT organizations have to educate the public on many issues at once.

* It is easier for our foes to find arguments to use against us.

* Historically, our progress has been incremental.

The pros of an Omnibus Bill
* The less we ask for the less we get.

* We're either equal or we're not. This is a way of telling America just how unequal things have been. It underscores that all of these things are about eliminating discrimination.

* Hair-splitting on individual issues looks weak when compared to the whole.

* Even if the omnibus bill doesn't pass it provides a benchmark for the incremental approach.

* Obama wants to change how things are done in Washington. This does it.

It is good to see most of the comments say "Go for it!"

We used to just call them layoffs

Back when I first started my corporate career recessions brought on the concern of layoffs. Then there was corporate downsizing followed by "right-sizing." Now, according to Newsweek's Periscope section (alas, no link), the term is "synergy-related head-count adjustments." Doesn't that make you feel ever so much better? Here are other rebranding efforts:

legacy assets used to be known as toxic assets
exceptional assistance = bailout
macroprudential oversight = financial regulation
advisor to the free flow of capital = Mergers and Acquisition Banker
global economic restructuring = global financial crisis
inverted buoyancy = bear market

At least we don't see an inverted buoyancy in language contortions.

Sugar in this tea would have no effect

Yes, the "tea parties" were held yesterday. It seems the attendees were the extreme racist base of the GOP looking for a way to vent over a guy who would dare be "presidenting while black." Things could get even uglier.

Since many called those who attending yesterday's events "teabaggers" I decided to follow the links for the definitions in the Urban Dictionary. Tread carefully because many definitions have to do with sex acts (which I will not describe). But some that have to do with politics are:
* a person who is unaware they have said or done something foolish.
* an American who … is upset with Democrats and Republicans alike for excessive spending, taxing, and overall life regulation.
* A conservative activist who is so ignorant that they protest against tax cuts (that benefit them) by throwing tea into a river.
As you can see the definition depends on your political affiliation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Allowing time for truth

It appears that Spain takes human rights and crimes against humanity seriously. The Spanish central criminal court has decided to press onward with investigations into Gitmo, the torture done there (which included a Spanish citizen), and the men who authorized it -- former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five of his associates. Spanish officials said they would gladly turn it over to American investigators if Obama promised to pursue the case. Obama seems content to let the Spanish do the dirty work.

But why?

Andrew Sullivan has some ideas. Unlike Bush, Obama really is president of all Americans. If Obama pursued the case hard core Bush supporters would take it personally, leading to a grave disruption of American unity and stability in times that are already difficult. Yes, a reckoning needs to happen. America needs to face it. But Obama doesn't need to be the prosecutor. He isn't defending it either. The truth will come out in time. And with time will come justice.

Creating a deeper public relations mess

The National Organization for Marriage -- the people who put out a stormy ad against gay marriage that has been endlessly debunked and parodied on YouTube -- has come up with another promotional mess. They started a campaign "Two Million for Marriage" using the shorthand 2M4M. Two problems: (1) That shorthand and the related MM4M has long been used to show interest in three-way gay sex (no elaboration from me…). (2) They didn't register the obvious website domain name of So there is now a site at that address using the title Two Men for Marriage. It will promote the opposite of what NOM intended. Here is an excerpt from their succinct Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Wrong:

1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

Click on over for the rest of the list.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tea, anyone?

Various conservative wind-bags are trumpeting a series of "tea parties" to be held on Wednesday, April 15, otherwise known as tax day. The idea is to claim imagery from the original Boston Tea Party as a way of protesting that taxes are too high. There's just one problem with their plan. For the first time since 1961 there are more Americans who don’t think their taxes are too high than there are who do. That comes from a new Gallup poll which found that 48% of us think taxes are about right, 3% think they are too low, and only 46% who think they are too high (in 1961 the too high and about right scores were about equal with the too low score putting the "not too high" opinion over the top). You can follow the link to a graph. Another indication of how far out of touch the GOP is.

That pesky 9th Commandment

I wrote recently about the religious Fundies chasing people away from the church. I said it was because the message of the church had been distorted and then corrupted by its their attempts to play politics. That included the lies told as part of the political game. Here's another view of it that is quite simple. Forget the politics. The church lied to me, says a former believer. They violated the 9th Commandment and did so brazenly. The church was once the steadying force in the community with a strong reputation developed through helping the less fortunate. Now the church is known for its lies, bigotry, and hatred. What outsider would want to join that club?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Earthly power is too corrupting

The cover story for this week's Newsweek is The End of Christian America by Jon Meacham. The magazine normally examines some aspect of Christian scholarship in their Easter issue. This topic is a bit of a departure. Yeah, we've seen (and written about) the decline of the percent of Christians in this country and the increase in those who claim no religion. That may be hard to take in the liberal Pacific Northwest, but when it starts to happen in the Northeast, home of the Puritans, by golly, conservative Christian leaders sit up and take notice.

Our nation was shaped by religious faith, Christian faith in particular, even with restrictions between Church and State. And Christianity flourished here because of that restriction. It is expected that faith will influence what a voter does at the ballot box and what issues a believer brings before their various representatives. The balance between the ethics of the believer and the nonbeliever has ebbed and flowed since European colonists first set foot on our shores. But the ban of mandatory school prayer and Roe v. Wade prompted some Christians to assert themselves.

That project has failed. Some now recognize that nations cannot be Christian, only people can (though you might have a hard time convincing a Dominionist of that). It doesn't work to push America to greater morality through politicians who can't impose morality on themselves. The Psalmist wrote, "Put not your faith in princes." And Jesus was put to death for refusing to lead a national government (or at least a national uprising against the Romans). Earthly power is too corrupting.

Now a few thoughts from myself. Not only has the Fundie attempt to take over the government failed, I believe the attempt itself has done great harm to the church. The church leaders, in their efforts to grow the church, have instead worked to shrink it. They'll holler that American has turned away from God, but they won't or can't see that they supplied a push.

I was originally going to comment that the Fundies have corrupted the true message of Christianity. Though that is correct, they certainly weren't the first or the worst. The message of Christ has been corrupted in one way or another (or several ways at once) for about as long as there have been Christians (St. Paul complained about some distortions).

So I'll say it a different way. In the last half century the true Christian message of love one another was distorted, then it got sidetracked into irrelevant cultural issues (prayer in school, gays), and then it failed to keep pace with changing society. Along the way, trying to play politics distorted the message some more -- the lies told on behalf of Christian political efforts have long been discussed here and elsewhere (the latest is a screed that blames recent mass murders on gay marriage). The result is the younger generations see a religion that either has no meaning for them or is so counter to their own ethics that it becomes abhorrent. An example is my own church where two-thirds of the members are over 70. We're shrinking from a self-inflicted wound.

Little victories state by state

Gay relationships have been in the political arena in 22 states plus DC lately. This ranges from approving gay marriage to bills on civil unions to defeating marriage amendments to bills that grant a few gay rights. The list is impressive.

No need to go out of your way

I wrote yesterday about the District of Columbia's preliminary vote to recognize gay marriages from other states. Follow the link to get a more complete understanding of the process. The key point is that Congress must go out of its way to affirm or block a vote by the DC City Council. The president must also sign it. With the current makeup of government it is unlikely they will overrule this one. Another possibility is that the DC City Council plays politics -- approving the new law just before the Congressional summer recess. The law stands if Congress doesn't act in 30 days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mapping those 15 years

This map aficionado just found a new place to waste time -- a blog about maps. The one to bring to your attention is a map colored according to the Nate Silver data on when states will vote in gay marriage. The south shows the expected pale pink of late approval. Not only is Utah bright red (as my friend pointed out yesterday), Idaho is much darker (approving early) than I would expect, given its Mormon population. Did the model only consider Evangelicals and not Mormons? If so, a big oversight, considering how much money Mormons pumped into the Calif. battle.

Looking at how red Iowa is, this brings to mind an important point about what it all means (and you thought my mathematical friend and debate partner said quite enough about that). This data is a projection of when various states will be able to have enough of a majority for the voters to approve gay marriage. It is not a prediction of when states will actually have legal gay marriage. The big example at the moment is Iowa, which has gay marriage now and has a good chance of keeping it (unlike Calif.) though an actual voter referendum wouldn't pass until about 2013.

Yup, I spent about an hour exploring maps on the map blog. One map shows unemployment by state using the size of a circle to show the number of jobs lost since the state started losing jobs. The size of Michigan's circle is huge! Alas, it had a head start on all other states. You can click over to the original site for a timeline which shows that quite clearly.

Testing the waters

While Vermont was getting a lot of attention for legalizing gay marriage the District of Columbia took an important step. The city council took a preliminary vote to permit recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The official vote will come next month. This is why it is important: Congress has 30 days after the official vote to override it. Overrides don't happen all that often, but there is precedent. Congress could do nothing, or they could use it as an opportunity to say they are (or aren't) willing to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. D.C. isn't about to approve gay marriages being performed there, only recognizing marriages performed elsewhere.

Free speech does not demand we listen

My friend and debate partner responds to yesterday's posting about the gathering storm over marriage and Fundies who want to protect their own "core civil rights."

This is the typical error by people who want their civil rights but don't care about those of others...

The "core civil rights" the fundies want are of course to make the world comfortable for themselves, a place where they don't have to face unwelcome changes. This defines a world where everyone else would be very uncomfortably straight-jacketed, but they don't care about that. The civil rights of LGBTs are of no concern to them. Indeed, they would be happiest if LGBTs would all return to the closet and become invisible. The fundies could again make believe there are no such people.

This is really about free speech. The fundies don't want to have to deal with unwelcome truths -- for example, the existence of LGBT lives -- but the message is always in their faces and has been since about 1980, thanks to free speech. Their only legitimate and legal choice is to refuse to listen. The Constitution guarantees free speech to everyone about everything (with minor reasonable exceptions) -- this is it's most important, central and empowering provision. And it says nothing about listening. No one has to listen to anyone else's speech. We'd each be far better off if we learned how to listen more skillfully, choosing whom to listen to and about what.

I too want my civil rights and liberties. But I recognize that the only way I can have them is to make sure everyone else also has theirs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fear that gathering storm!

National Organization for Marriage (hint: it's not gay marriage they're for) has a new advertisement out. Since the Iowa so completely trashed their religious objections this ad (featuring storm clouds and lightning)says very little about religion. Instead it talks about a doctor choosing between faith and job and a parent feeling helpless as schools teach about gays. In other words, gay civil rights undermines their own "core civil rights". One thing hasn't changed: the lies and deceptions. I'll only bother with one example here: they never define which core civil right they mean.

Another look at those 15 years

I've been thinking about the prediction I wrote about yesterday that gay marriage might be available nationwide by 2024, only 15 years from now. That analysis gave me more hope than hearing about the veto override in Vermont. Fifteen years seems concrete, with a definite end. It also seems possible -- we will get there and likely within my lifetime.

It also got me thinking about Michigan. The marriage ban passed in Michigan in 2004 by 59%. By the formula in given in, a 2% drop per year in the support of the ban means we could go for a repeal right about … next November. After all, we will be 5 years after the ban was enacted and support for it by then should be about 49%

Alas, I've heard no talk of mounting a repeal and even predicts Michigan won't repeal and enact gay marriage until 2013. I'm well aware that support for a gay marriage ban (which was at 59% in 2004) is quite different than support for the repeal of the ban and different again from enacting actual permission for gay marriage.

My friend and debate partner has a doctorate in Mathematics, used to be a college math professor, and still occasionally gets his hands dirty with the stuff. He offers additional insights. You shouldn't need a math degree to understand his basic ideas.

I agree that the battle has turned and will eventually be lost (or in our view, won). Living through that prolonged loss should discourage the fundies and help to weaken their movement. They have staked a lot of reputation on this issue.

This of course intrigued my mathy side. I read the article and stored it for future reference.

Two lines of comment:

1) The existence of the model and attention paid to it will in itself change the phenomenon, leading to errors -- perhaps large -- in the predicted outcomes vs. actual. For example, I mentioned the damage these defeats will do to evangelism, whose demise we have recently, separately, discussed.

Bigger: Silver's list of the years in which victory "should" be available state by state will tempt activists to mount campaigns to reap those victories (perhaps too early: people are optimistic). The resulting public attention will alter the trends in many states -- all that attention has a non-linear effect. Nothing in his model accounts for that emotional process. It's hard to say whether this will be more or less success for pro-marriage campaigns; the effect may vary state by state, depending on who gets the media sound bite du jour.

I base this comment on the famous insight from physics: measuring something changes it. The classic example is that we can't simultaneously measure (know) velocity and momentum.

I would not be surprised to learn that the errors that result are a couple of years or larger. This could lead some activist campaigns (on either side) into major errors in judging what is politically possible in a given state and year: a chaotic dimension.

2) Silver's choice of variables is reasonable and he tested his dimension reduction plan. But he appears to use linear regression, giving a linear model. My evidence: 2% per year, not an X% compounded reduction per year, which would give an effect that slows down exponentially, being X% of a shrinking number.

I would not expect a social science phenomena to follow a linear model for very long. Instead, I'd expect a power law and, even then, large errors. The result of that change in methods is to introduce multiplicative effects -- change accelerates by feeding on itself or slows down geometrically, yielding a long tail on the distribution. These could happen together, giving a faster-than-expected bulge of state victories in the middle, transitioning to a long tail.

I do expect a long tail: For deep south states, 2024 seems very optimistic. They're still fighting the Civil War.

And, as some responses to the article point out, Utah is a special case. Hard to imagine that turning by the predicted 2013.

The long tail means at some point the Supremes will act, ending the need for individual states to do anything.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Only 15 years

Nate Silver of has become the wunderkind of prognostications. He agrees the battle over gay marriage is lost and nationwide recognition is only a matter of time. He has developed a simple formula for computing the year when a state will enact gay marriage. This prognostication will be closely watched! His computations are based on 4 things, 3 of which are different for each state:

1. The year in which the amendment was voted upon;
2. The percentage of adults in 2008 Gallup tracking surveys who said that religion was an important part of their daily lives;
3. The percentage of white evangelicals in the state.

And the 4th, a constant, is that opposition to gay marriage drops by 2 percent a year.

He verifies his math by computing California for 2008 and gets it almost exactly right. And for 2010, Calif. will have gay marriage.

If Iowa put an amendment banning gay marriage before voters today it would pass. But by 2012 it would be a toss-up and by 2013 it would easily fail. Nice that an amendment can't get to voters until then.

His predictions include 11 states with gay marriage by the end of this year, including 3 which have already passed an amendment. Then come 4-6 states a year (including Michigan in 2013) through 2015. The South finally gets it done one or two states a year with Mississippi getting onboard in 2024. That's only 15 years from now. I should still be around.

The hits just keep on coming!

In spite of a governor veto, the state of Vermont has approved gay marriage! The vote in the Senate wasn't even close (23-5). However, the vote in the House kept everyone on the edge of their seats.

When the House first approved it last week it was with 95 voting for it (52 against). But 2/3 or 100 votes are needed to override the governor. The override vote came with exactly 100 votes in favor.

Not only is Vermont the 4th state to approve gay marriage it is the first to do it through the legislature rather than through the courts. This comes only 9 years after Vermont led the nation by legalizing civil unions.

The governor said he vetoed it because it wouldn't change the situation of gay couples. The state civil union law gave the same amount of protection and did nothing for gay couples at the federal level.

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas is annoyed with the situation in Iowa and Vermont, but his comments do have a positive slant. First he says that if we want to deal with a bigger threat to moral underpinning we should do something about the high rate of divorce. Then he admits, "The battle over same-sex marriage is on its way to being lost."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Two separate arguments

The change in the Texas Board of Education's directive on evolution that I reported on last week says that science teachers must teach "all sides" of the debate. The change isn't as harmless as I might have implied. Consider this scenario from a story by Bob Garfield and the NPR program On the Media. According to Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, if a teacher bashes evolution, a student will naturally ask, if evolution is wrong, what did happen? The teacher can respond, go read Genesis. Another scenario by Christine Castillo Comer, the former Texas Education Agency's director of science. If a teacher has to consider "all sides" a student can bring anything into the classroom and declare it must be considered. A confident teacher can at least say, "That's not science." But a teacher with a hostile administrator may succumb to pressure.

As part of the story Garfield talked to Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute (they "discover" ways to legally bash evolution in public schools and were behind the Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial). Luskin claims there really is scientific controversy surrounding evolution. Garfield accuses him of cherry-picking his supporters. Luskin responds by saying there would be a lot more supporters if scientists didn't feel they would lose their jobs if they voiced a dissent of evolution. That made me think of the well-used Fundie tactic -- we're being persecuted for our beliefs! Garfield followed that by talking to Christine Comer (mentioned above) who was persecuted, but not over dissent of evolution. She lost her job at TEA because she showed the tiniest wavering away from creationism.

Juli Berwald is a writes and edits science textbooks in Austin. She attended the TBE's hearings and offered her own testimony:

I wouldn't want students to read fiction in a history book and try to determine which part of their text is historical fact. Why would you want students to read non-scientific ideas in a science book?

Yes, there are holes -- open questions -- in evolution, though they don't collapse the whole subject into a heap of rubble. There is too much other evidence for that. These questions are about gaps in the fossil record and the "sudden" (in geologic time) explosion of species in the Cambrian era. However, Intelligent Designers pounce on those holes to "prove" evolution is flawed.

In her article for Wired Science Berwald muses that the two sides are having two completely different arguments.

What makes this debate so heated? In the hearing room, when creationists bring up weaknesses in evolution, scientists are baffled. When evolutionists say that nothing in biology makes sense without evolution, creationists are baffled.

Science is about explaining the how of the natural world: how the universe began, how life originated, how the diversity of species occurred. Scientists feel no need for their work to answer why the universe exists, why we are here. For scientists, those are questions better left to philosophy, religion and after-work hours.

Perhaps creationists find theories that only answer how to be completely unsatisfactory. Maybe for creationists, any theory that doesn't answer why contains weaknesses.

Scientists are fighting to preserve their ability to answer how unimpeded by why. Creationists are fighting to have answers to why, unthreatened by answers to how.

Why can't you think for yourself on this issue?

Lets take a step back from the heat of the debate and poke at the underlying issues again. Why are conservatives (not just Fundies) so overwrought on the gay marriage issue? Fear. Of what? Simply this: change. Why fear change? Because change tends to make things worse. Never mind that life at the start of the 21st century is a whole lot better in countless ways than life even in the middle of the 20th century. Back to: why that fear? The assumption that the primary thing holding civilization together is received custom. Without those customs humans will behave like beasts or worse. Alas, it is difficult to sweep away that assumption -- and paranoia -- with reasoning and examples because it is the result of temperament, in which the believer finds certain arguments more compelling than others.

Take another step back for analysis of why the driving force is fear. Andrew Sullivan, a gay writer for The Atlantic comments on a discussion with Damon Linker and Rob Dreher (affiliations unknown).

As his first reason for banning gay marriage Dreher claims bible inerrancy. Linker and Sullivan don't buy it because most church people are able to think for themselves to decide that slavery (among other things), though permissible in the bible, is wrong. Even if they feel divorce is wrong, they don't force their views on the rest of society. So what is there about homosexuality that makes it a unique threat? It can only be fear.

The second reason (also based on fear) that Dreher gives is that if homosexuality is legitimized (rather than tolerated), it will complete the 1960s Sexual Revolution and sweep away all that remains of sexual ethics. Desire will be the sole arbiter of defining sexual truth.

Wait a minute, Sullivan responds, gays are asking to get married. Wasn't the Sexual Revolution about not getting married? Gay life has changed a lot in the last few decades and Dreher seems to not notice. The shift has been from gay sex to gay life with dignity and responsibility. Gay love can be as organic, natural, and completing as straight love. Reducing all that to sexual acts is a form of bigotry. Sullivan's full description is beautifully written.

The fear is exaggerated, which is the definition of homophobia. Be not afraid.

Signs of change!

Frank Kameny became a gay activist when he was fired from the Army Map Service in 1957. He is still alive and will be 84 next month. In 1971, Kameny protested the firing of a gay federal employee. In response the US Office of Personnel Management (which sets hiring policies for the government) sent Kameny a letter listing many gay sex acts, declaring them to be acts of immoral conduct which justified firing gay employees.

The Office of Personnel Management is about to be headed by a gay man, John Berry. Berry has invited Kameny to the swearing in ceremony.

Box Turtles, cell phones, and dogs. Oh My!

One of the blogs I visit almost daily is Box Turtle Bulletin. They are very good at checking the facts and digging into the scientific accuracy of the various anti-gay claims. The authors chose that name after a Fundie crusader said,

Now you must raise your children up in a world where the union of a man and a box turtle is on the same legal footing as a man and wife…

Opponents of gay marriage have insisted that if we allow gays to marry there is nothing to prevent a man from marrying such things as a dog, goat, cell phone, or robot (and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head). In reaction to the Iowa ruling here comes another from (Matt Barber of Liberty University School of Law):

It is no more discriminatory to disallow two men from marrying each other, than it is to prohibit a man from marrying his house plant.

This is sufficiently stupid that an author at BTB suggests his blog might change its name to "".

BTB has another article on gay marriage, noting how many of the key Supreme Court justices ruling in our favor in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and Iowa were appointed by Republicans. Lets elect more GOP legislators to make sure we don't get any more activist judges.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

You want a do-over, huh?

Alaska senator Ted Stevens was accused of nasty things just before the election and lost. The Obama Justice Department has withdrawn their claims due to prosecutor misconduct. That overturns the conviction. Sarah Palin is mad and wants a do-over election. Get in line honey, there's a bunch of other elections in need of a do-over that are more important. Starting with:
Gore-Bush in 2000.
Kerry-Bush in 2004.

Tradition can never justify discrimination

First, a reply to my friend and debate partner. Yes, both houses of the Iowa legislature are heavily Democratic.

I downloaded the 6 page summary of the Iowa gay marriage case. Much of it reads the same way as the Calif. ruling almost a year ago. A summary of the summary:

Different from Calif., Iowa declares the case to require intermediate (rather than strict) scrutiny. In intermediate scrutiny cases, government must show a classification is required for an important government objective. This type of scrutiny is used when a group is classified by some trait that is both immutable and brings on discrimination, yet the trait allows the individual to contribute to society. Furthermore, the members of the group do not have enough political power to bring about change on their own. By immutable it means a trait that is so integral to a person's identity that it would be abhorrent for the government to penalize a person for refusing to change it. Good to see that sexual orientation is seen by the court as central and unchanging. Another immutable trait is religion.

The County -- the ones who refused a marriage license to a gay couple -- said their reasons for denying the license were (1) tradition, (2) promoting an optimal environment for children, (3) promoting procreation, (4) promoting stability in straight relationships, (5) preserving state resources, and (6) preserving the sanctity of marriage. You have heard all these before -- many times -- and usually in a more (ahem) *colorful* style. They are the Fundie's talking points on marriage.

The job of the court is to see if any of them have any validity as an important government objective.

1. Requiring the state to preserve tradition is circular reasoning -- restricting marriage to straights accomplishes the government's objective of restricting marriage to straights. In addition, tradition can never justify discrimination.

2. A straight couple may indeed be an optimal environment for raising children but the definition of optimal cannot rest only on sexual orientation. If you insist on optimal your law must exclude child abusers, those who neglect their kids, and violent felons. Refusing to marry gays does not ban gay couples from raising children. The restriction does not show how banning gay parents helps the kids of straight parents but does show harm to kids of gay parents. Thus the reason is not substantiated.

3. The exclusion of gay marriage will not result in more procreation (I'm of the opinion we have too much procreation as it is). Unless the lack of gay marriage is supposed to cause gays to become straight in order to procreate and no evidence supports that outcome.

4. Excluding gays from civil marriage will not make straight marriages more stable.

5. Yes, state government offers benefits to marriage and those benefits cost the state money. However, the cost of those benefits will be saved no matter which group (blondes?) is denied marriage. Thus, this is not a reason for denying it to gays.

6. Yes, some religions claim that straight marriage is sacred and gay marriage cannot be. However, other religions claim that both are equally sacred. Government cannot resolve this debate and must avoid it. Thus, the justices are only ruling on the law, which states "marriage is a civil contract."

Therefore, the state cannot justify denying equal protection.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Iowa decision looks to be safe

A few things about today's Iowa gay marriage decision.

The amendment process requires approval by two different state legislatures so the soonest it can come before the voters is 2011 if the legislature acts quickly (the 2009 session apparently ends in a few weeks). But instead of acting quickly, the heads of the state house and senate issued a joint release saying that gay marriage is a fine idea and it is about time for a state as progressive as Iowa. Which means for an amendment to get anywhere the GOP must get a huge increase in the 2010 election and then the soonest it gets to the voters is 2013. And the views of gays and marriage will change radically for the better in that time.

The decision is based on the equal-protection clause of the state constitution. The vote of the justices was unanimous.

The court site crashed this morning because it had 350,000 visitors.

There is lots of talk about the importance of gay marriage in Iowa because it is Midwest, not liberal Northeast (where Vermont and New Hampshire are poised to be next) or trendy California. Yup, Iowa has gay marriage before Calif.

Parties in Des Moines tonight!


The Iowa Supremes ruled for gay marriage! This morning they announced their ruling that struck down a 1998 law that defined marriage between a man and a woman. The announcement was made on the court's website -- which crashed from too many hits about 10 minutes before the ruling was posted. Details of their reasoning will have to come later.

The photo at this link is from several months ago. A lower court ruled that gay marriages must be allowed, then several hours later stayed the ruling (said it didn't have to be followed) until the Supremes could rule. In those few hours the couple pictured here managed to hold a wedding.

Of course, efforts to pass a constitution amendment to ban gay marriage will soon begin.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The forsythia hasn't bloomed quite yet

Beautiful spring day today in Southeast Michigan! The temperature poked above 60, the sun was out, the sky was mostly blue. I took the opportunity to get out on my bicycle. It felt good. However, I paid very close attention to what the cars around me were doing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Legitimizing an illegitimate process

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry calls on the Calif. Supremes to do the right thing. Are we to be subject to mob rule? He adds that he was puzzled by the court's implication that its hands were tied by the outcome of the Nov. vote when the major question before the court was whether mob rule -- rejection of rights -- ties the hands of the justices.

That brings out another interesting discussion. As I noted just a few days ago there are two petitions circulating to put forms of the question back on the ballot. But isn't it supposed to be illegitimate (and immoral) to put people's rights up for a vote? Why would we want to legitimize an illegitimate process by using it to get our rights back? Relying on the ballot box to win (or re-win) our rights perpetuates the idea that we live under mob rule and there is no such thing as unalienable rights.

That, of course, prompted some feedback:
* Too late. We should have debated that 30 states ago. The precedent is already established.

* That idea is correct. We face the prospect (at least in Calif.) of dueling or see-saw ballot initiatives until one side or the other gives up (or can't get enough signatures).

* But what's our alternative given the way most state constitutions can be amended? Perhaps we should have a ballot initiative to make the constitution harder to amend (after the ban is tossed out). The proposition system in Calif. has made the state ungovernable by putting impossible restrictions on the legislature.

* A mob rule response to mob rule will open the way for a more deliberative response.

* What we need is a revolt. The gay community's tolerance for governmental abuse and bullying is stupefying.

* The Calif. Supremes are looking at the bigger picture -- they endorse mob rule (and save their jobs by avoiding recall) and bump the whole thing up to a federal court. The 9th Circuit Court is pretty liberal.

A rich tapestry of creation stories

Texas has such a large high school population and such (ahem) unusual requirements for its textbooks that most publishers cater to the Texas Board of Education and sell those books to the other 49 states. So it is with a bit of relief that the Fundie stranglehold seems to be loosening its grip. A requirement that science teachers discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution (that's the best they can do?) was defeated in favor of permission to teach "all sides" of scientific theories (whatever that means).

That got atheist Christopher Hitchens speculating. The Fundies want to "teach the argument." What better way to do that than to stage the play "Inherit the Wind" about the Scopes Monkey Trial in which Clarence Darrow mops the floor with Fundie William Jennings Bryan. Or maybe students could stage the debate between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce that was held at Oxford University in 1860, just a few years after Darwin proposed his theory.

Insist on "strengths and weaknesses"? How about the strengths and weaknesses of the world views of Voltaire, David Hume (he built a philosophy around empiricism), Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson? Careful now, we may insist on teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Christianity.

Want to teach Creationism? Why not? There are many wonderful creation stories -- Hindu, Muslim, Australian Aboriginal, ancient Scandinavian, Native American, and surely a few Asian ones as well. Why cheat students out of such a rich tapestry by insisting that only one be taught?

Just don't do it during biology class.