Saturday, January 31, 2009

Well, if we let gays...

Part 2 of arguments we tend to ignore and shouldn't.

If you let gays marry, then you will have to allow polygamous, incestuous, or inter-species marriage.

Clearly, with laws already saying that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, it is possible to craft marriage laws that still exclude more than two people, those who are blood related, and animals. So there is something else going on here.

One part of that something else is the "slippery slope" -- if you allow one thing you don't like you have to allow other things you don't like.

Gays aren't helping the issue by saying, "You should be able to marry the person you love." Then you have to argue why gay marriage is different from polygamy and the rest. We have restrictions on marriage and we need good reasons why those restrictions should have exceptions, since those restrictions are for the good of the society. If I understand it right, we don't let siblings marry because of the higher chance of genetically deformed offspring -- meaning the possibility for procreation and its effects on society are a part of the definition of marriage.

Gays could say that we marry for love within the several agreed upon and important criteria. That is unwieldy (and no sound bites) and it makes me wonder where on the web I might find a master list of the agreed-upon criteria of the definition of marriage (love, no coercion, of legal age, etc.).

So how to combat the original argument? Devil's advocate?

What's wrong with polygamy? If marriage is about procreation, then polygamy is efficient. It even handles the impression that men tend towards promiscuity. So the straight definition of marriage, not the gay, supports polygamy. Besides, isn't the reason why polygamy is outlawed is because Christian sexual morality disapproves of it (which makes me wonder what part of the Bible gets quoted here because the Old Testament is full of men with multiple wives). Come to think of it, Christian sexual morality disapproves of gays with as much evidence.

Incest? Gays don't have kids through natural means, so it isn't possible to pass on genetic deformities. Big difference between the two.

Inter-species? Ridiculous. Animals cannot consent to marriage.

So back to the idea that we need to keep marriage strong and allowing gays to marry will cause the deterioration of the institution. Actually, that claim is exactly backwards -- preventing gays from marrying leads to the deterioration of the institution. There is lots of study on this point but the clearest answer is Massachusetts. The state has close to the lowest divorce rate and since gay marriage was legalized the rate has dropped. There is also little evidence for a demand in polygamy, incest, or inter-species marriage. We'll let those who demand it to make their own case for it. Society can decide these things separately.

So it all comes down to Christian sexual morality approves only of marriage for one man and one woman and all else is banned. What this is about is challenging the Christian hold on sexual morality. It is also about whether the state has a compelling reason to deny gay marriage. And saying, "Well, if we let gays…" isn't compelling.

Don't expect certain groups to change

It may be true that the new GOP chairman is Michael Steele who is black and somewhat moderate. But it seems the true leader of the GOP at the moment is Rush Limbaugh. Don't expect the party to change any time soon.


A bit more of just why Jews are annoyed with Pope Benedict bringing those renegade bishops back into the fold: Back in the early 1960s Vatican II, which brought the Catholic Church into the modern era, rejected the longtime Catholic belief in "blood libel," that Jews were guilty of killing Jesus. These bishops hold tightly to that discredited belief.

If Benedict is healing old rifts, how about the rift with liberal Catholics in America, the ones that question church teachings on birth control and gays? Either Benedict is carefully moving his church to the right, or to be welcomed back you have to split, not merely dissent.


Twenty years ago, when Papa Bush was prez. and gays were, um, involved in such organizations as ACT-UP to fight for rights and AIDS medications. Just think, in those 20 years what we might have done if we weren't busy battling for our rights and the church wasn't busy denying our rights. Just in 2008 (not to mention the other 19 years) there would have been somewhere around $78 million to spend on poverty, homelessness, and healthcare, and to nurture ideas such as fairness and tolerance. Sigh. To be sure, we've gained a great deal of ground in 20 years, But Kalamazoo just hit a wall (AKA, the AFA) with a civil rights ordinance.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Some things haven't changed yet

Back in 2000 when Vermont was debating domestic partnerships, Sharon Underwood, a mother of a gay son, wrote a letter for the local paper responding to the Fundies. Her son had been bullied from the age of 6! and was drafting suicide notes at 17. Alas, her letter is still appropriate.

More complicated, less traditional

Back in 2005, the PBS kids show Postcards from Buster did an episode about going to Vermont to make maple syrup. That episode got yanked from the schedule when people complained that the hosting family in Vermont was headed by a lesbian couple. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings got involved, sternly reminding PBS where a good chunk of their funding came from.

Recognizing an intriguing idea when she hears it, playwright Cusi Cram has written a play about the incident. Dusty and the Big, Bad World premiered tonight in Denver. Dusty, a dustball, takes the role of Buster. He invites viewers to write and explain why he should come visit them. One intriguing letter is from Lizzie, an 11 year-old girl with two dads. The play has two components -- an actual episode of the Dusty show and the backlash from the Fundies, including a woman based on Margaret Spellings. It includes a scene in which Lizzie confronts the Education Secretary. She says (quite a mouthful for one her age), "Sometimes I do wish my family was more traditional. I got something more complicated, but that doesn't mean it's wrong." The playwright hopes she did a good enough job on the Dusty show that it can serve as a model for an actual children's show. The website has a few clips of the play.

Harassment has long term consequences

Back around 1997 an extensive survey of 2900 gay men was done. Data from that survey is still being analyzed. The latest finding is that harassment of gay youth (by other youth or by parents) has a direct implication of the health of gay men. Harassed youth are more likely to be subjected to domestic violence by partners as adults, suffer from depression, attempt suicide, be HIV-positive, and engage in risky sexual behavior. Focus on the Family portrays gays as depressed, suicidal, and unhealthy and their policies of preventing anti-bullying bills (among other things) perpetuates that image.

Learning from mistakes

An Equality Summit convened to figure out what went wrong with the battle over the Calif. marriage ban. A PDF of the summary is here. Some of the things they concluded:

* Clergy supporting gays were not used well and not used enough.

* Leaders of color were not used enough. There wasn't much effort to reach blacks, Hispanics, and Asians or include their leaders in the effort.

* The campaign was too impersonal and used very few gay stories.

* The campaign was too invisible to attract and use volunteers.

* Supporters in the Calif. Central Valley felt isolated and ignored by the campaign that wrote off their area. This was in spite every newspaper in the area supported the gay side.

* We can now share stories of how the ban has affected actual people and families.

* We can learn lessons from how Obama organized his campaign.

Hate contorted faces

The Allegheny County Council held hearings about a proposed Human Rights Commission, which is to enforce protections on many classes of people, including gays. Angelle Guyette, a freelance writer in Pittsburgh, attended and wrote an op-ed for the Pittsburgh paper. She was astonished at the way hate contorted the faces of Christians testifying against the commission. Why were they singling out this particular "sin" and doing so with such ferocity? It doesn't make sense. She wrote:

A person of faith, I quit wearing a cross around my neck in public some years ago to avoid being identified with a growing "Christian" culture of bigotry and intolerance. After that County Council meeting, though, I'm finding it difficult even to pray: How can God let such hateful evil use His name?

She concludes with:

Our laws should protect everyone. This is the only way to protect our own freedoms against those who might one day turn on you, or me, or us.

Much of the article is the usual arguments the Fundies put forth and her reaction to it. Commentary about the article is here.

Let the sun shine in

After passing the Calif. marriage ban it supporters were caught by the gay backlash. Gays knew who to target because donor lists had to be made public (in the same way gay donors were targeted by the Fundies). The ban supporters ran to the courts saying donor lists should remain secret for them alone (their final complete list is due Monday). Yesterday, a federal judge said the 1974 voter approved disclosure law is appropriate and that final report is to be released on time. Let the sun shine in.

Fun with the old one last time

Last Saturday Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion had a few things to say about the change of presidents. You can find audio here. In the first 10 minutes of segment 1 he praises Obama with a sonnet and a song. In segment 2 Guy Noir, his private eye character, is asked by Bush to be of help. Bush left Washington, but for Minnesota instead of Texas, so that he can help resolve the senate election there in which Al Franken, the Democrat, is ahead by only a couple hundred votes. Lots of fun.

I knew the economy was tough...

Sheesh, even Dilbert has lost his job. Coverage in the strip starts with the link.

An interview with Dilbert author Scott Adams.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Iceland!

Over the last few years Iceland has gotten into international banking. Which means last October their economy collapsed. A few days ago the government did too. I mention this because the new prime minister is a lesbian.

And if he doesn't show up the fun begins

I wrote yesterday about Rove refusing to acknowledge a congressional subpoena and even if the court ruled against him there was the matter of getting him to actually show up for a hearing. My friend and debate partner wrote:

Not a problem under the rule of law: Congress can have the Justice Dept (the new one that takes its name seriously) serve Rove with a contempt citation for failing to obey the subpoena. U.S. marshals would then "escort" Rove before the committee. America could then watch Rove plead the 5th all day -- a fine way to seed deep public distrust and disgust for the neocon Republicans. To make the spectacle more effective, the committee could call Justice Dept officials as witnesses with Rove in the room to hear their "turncoat" testimony about his crimes. All on TV. Valuable grist for the historians' mills.

Mission accomplished!

All that's required is Democratic Congressional cojones. Under separation of powers, Obama has nothing to say about proceedings in the Legislative Branch and would be foolish to intervene.

The good news is that Conyers has said he will proceed with the investigation and if it had to go through a court, that was fine with him.

Definitely nutritious

Today was one of the stranger days in my 6 months at the Ruth Ellis Center. There was a snowstorm which began last night and ended about noon. I shoveled about 2 inches from my driveway after lunch. The roads were passable by the time I left home after 4:00. Due to the storm, though, there weren't many kids at the center. When I got there it was obvious no one had started fixing supper. Soon April bustled in saying nobody had done the grocery shopping. She and Clenay (another staff person) poked through the cupboards and pulled out cans of soup. I spotted the peanut butter and got jelly out of the refrigerator. Monty opened up the large box of donuts (maybe three dozen), while declaring them to be at least 2, maybe 3 days old. He also got out the large bag of onion-garlic bagels (his favorite, but just as old), but we moved them aside when I complained of the smell (much to my dad's dismay I don't like onion). April's instructions were simple. If and when the kids are hungry, offer to make up some soup or assemble a sandwich. She went off to do paperwork. There were a few times it got busy with a couple kids asking for something at the same time, but mostly I sat in the kitchen reading a book. Some kids thought a donut was enough, though they requested it be heated in the microwave. We were out of plastic gloves (again) so I stuck my hand in a sandwich baggie before grabbing a donut. I used all of 1 ½ cans of soup. One of the kids wanted peanut butter and jelly, but not on a bagel (even a plain one). I found the bag containing loaves of bread, also about 3 days old, and hacked off a couple slices, being generous with the jelly. I served maybe 8 kids all evening, a huge contrast to the 60 kids the previous day when they were understaffed. At 7:00 I put the food away and left at 7:30. I'm usually there until they close at 9:00, but when I left there were 4 kids and a few staff still there.

Bluff called and exposed

Just after the passing of the Calif. marriage ban with heavy Mormon Church sponsorship the church released this statement saying they did not object to

“rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches”

Equality Utah promptly created five bills to grant those rights, calling the Church's bluff. No one is surprised that the first of the five died in legislative committee yesterday with the Mormon majority voting as a block against it. The other bills are under attack. Apparently the existence of any civil protections for gays infringes on the rights of the Mormon Church.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No, I won't tell you what A is for

Learn your alphabet the gay way! B is for Brokeback, L is for leather, Q is for queer, R is for Rainbow… The video is just over a minute long. Don't bother with the website mentioned at the end of the video -- it carries a warning it isn't for kids.

Not bad for one week

With what Obama has done in his first week, both in the people he has appointed and the orders he has issued, there is the opinion that he has restored the constitution, repudiated Bush's philosophy of government, and administered the antidote to Cheney's poisonous work. Yes, it will take time for the antidote to take effect. There is a great deal of what is wrong today that can be traced back to the flaunting of the rule of law. The nation has veered so far from that rule of law for so long that Obama's efforts are flying under the radar and some believe Hillary would not have recognized that this type of fix was needed. Will Gitmo close? It must. The legal framework has shifted enough that soon it can't exist.

Still thumbing his nose

Karl Rove was subpoenaed by congressman John Conyers to answer questions about the politicization of the Justice Department and other misdeeds. Conyers says that Rove can no longer claim executive privilege because Obama ordered that only the president can make that claim. Rove responded by essentially saying he still operates under the rules that were in effect when he was in office and if you don't like that take him to court. Even if the judge rules against Rove there is still the problem of getting him to show up for the hearing.

I'm right next to the fifth tree on the right

Were you at the inauguration? Want to prove it to someone else? David Bergman set up a system to take 220 individual photos and stitch them together into a single 2 gigabyte image of Obama's speech. You can navigate through it using controls similar to Google Maps, including zoom in and out (which means it doesn't download all at once). You can even see the music on the stands of the military band (alas, not pick out the notes), find Yo-Yo Ma with his cello at his feet while he takes a picture, and scan the huge crowd for faces. (And, no, I wasn't there.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Discrimination? Not here

Gabriel Arana of Box Turtle Bulletin has started a series looking at some of the anti-gay arguments we tend to ignore. BTB is good at dissecting the phony science of the anti-gay crowd. However, the arguments should be dealt with because some people truly believe them. Here's the first:

Any man, even a gay one, can marry a woman. Therefore it isn't discriminatory to deny that gay man from marrying another man.

The absurd continuation: Requiring everyone to practice Christianity means everyone is treated equally. Jews may not be able to practice Judaism, but Christians can't practice Judaism either.

Now to pick it apart. The original fundamental right is to be allowed to marry the person you love. Next, there is a difference between "equal treatment" (which implies "same treatment") and "equitable treatment." Requiring a man to only marry a woman is equal. Allowing him to marry the person he loves is equitable.

These comments appeared in the feedback.

Next time someone says a gay man can legally marry a woman, ask them if they want him to marry their daughter. Even if that marriage happened, there would be lots of people (such as insurance agents) willing to swoop in and claim the marriage wasn't a real one. And that's because a gay man marrying a woman is fraud. So much for the sanctity of marriage.

Equal treatment is like saying that under a dictator everyone has the right to vote. Never mind there is only one name on the ballot.

It's annoying that the same logic was used to say it was not discrimination to ban whites from marrying blacks because whites could still marry whites. Yet they claim gay rights aren't civil rights. Oh? You're using the same silly arguments.

Up next will be a discussion of how gay marriage leads to bestiality -- and the seeds are here: Isn't marriage about the one you love? Well, I love my dog. (Laney, that's a figure of speech. I don't have a dog.)

Never were ahead

There is a conference going on now in Los Angeles to figure out the next steps in the Calif. marriage battle -- and to figure out what wrong last fall to avoid repeating it. That last part included mulling over the analysis that Matt Foreman wrote last week. I think the public polling showed the marriage ban being defeated, which was why its passage was a surprise to many. However, the campaign now reports their own private polling never showed them ahead and at the beginning of October they were down by 17%. Ouch! That left a big question. Would releasing those poll numbers energize gays more than energizing the Fundies, especially since the Fundies were energized by the prospect of losing? Strangely, their political consultants said the ban being ahead by such a wide margin would bring out even more Fundie money. The reaction to the ads that gays saw as wimpy -- it didn't work to remind straights about gay sex -- was that more gay visible ads should have been used to energize the base. But from last week's analysis, 46% think gays are immoral and 6% are actually gay. What does energizing your base do in this case? It makes 50% of the voters wobbly in their support.

Remember this moment

The Sunday Free Press On Point section usually has a photo with captions supplied by readers (the photo having appeared a few days before with a request for reader participation). In yesterday's paper the photo is of Bush hugging Obama during the inauguration. We see Bush's face and the back of Obama's head. Here are the two best captions:

"Remember this moment four years from now … when you're hugging Jeb."

"Cheney won't leave the subbasement. Good luck with that."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I think he's got it backwards

This one has gays (and many other people, especially Jews) astonished and appalled. Pope Benedict has welcomed back bishops who were excommunicated because they thought the Catholic Church was not conservative enough. These same bishops have said some pretty bizarre things, mostly around denying the Holocaust, but also claiming that 9-11 was engineered by the US government. And gays are the ones branded as disordered and ushered into the closet or out of the church?

There's just no comparison

Gay civil rights can't compare to black civil rights? The comic strip Candorville has a humorous take on the absurdity of the argument. You can click on the strip for a larger image.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'll believe them about as far...

The basic news reports today from NPR feature Obama pushing for a stimulus package full of jobs programs "balanced" with GOP response saying the fastest stimulus is tax cuts. At least NPR soon followed that with a discussion with economist Mark Zandi who essentially said the GOP was wrong because those tax refunds will be put into savings. As I've said before the GOP is working with zero credibility.

He must know what he's doing

Everyone readily made jokes about Bush's intelligence, or apparent lack. They aren't doing that with Obama. Which means that when he picks decidedly centrist people and going about things in a decidedly centrist style most people think, well, he's smarter than I am, he must know what he's doing.

But we progressives want to stick it to the GOP in the same way they've been sticking it to us! And how long did Obama wait before starting to dismantle the Bush legacy and the "permanent Republican majority"? Less than a day? And if Obama takes the same "my way or the highway" attitude, how soon will his successor wait before dismantling his work? One guess.

But there is a difference between cooperation to get work done and compromise of basic principles. And failure to investigate and even prosecute those who authorized torture is one of those fatal compromises. How can we send a message to the world about the restoration of American values if those who perpetrate crimes against those values suffer no consequences? A genius should be able to figure that out.

Not a good win-win situation

Obama has been a win for both gun nuts and White Supremacist groups. One is puzzled by the gun nuts because Obama has said almost nothing about gun ownership. Perhaps it is because his nomination for Attorney General once wrote an op-ed about keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists. Whatever the reason, they are stocking up. Both kinds of groups now have a high mistrust of government. Because of Obama's hefty Secret Service protection he may avoid their violence. But -- like the case of Timothy McVeigh -- if there is violence there is a high likelihood of civilian deaths.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Changing opinion in 90 days

Matt Foreman, who used to head the Gay and Lesbian Task Force (I saw him when their Creating Change conference was in Detroit) and now heads a gay philanthropy, discusses why we lost the Calif. marriage ban. He says up front that because of his job he could not have been legally involved in the campaign. Even if the campaign did everything right we would have won by only a sliver. This is what stood in the way:
* It is nearly impossible for minorities to win when their rights are up for a vote and the campaign is 90 days long.

* The opposition made up almost 50% of the voters. 46% even think gay relationships are immoral. They're huge, solid, and energized. They can raise tons of money. Can their opinion be changed? Yes. But not in 90 days. And not during the heat of a campaign.

* The gay vote was tiny, maybe 6%, and not solid. Too often we present marriage as a package of rights, like a dental plan. We can't raise as much money in 90 days.

* The moveable middle is squishy and highly susceptible to the ick factor. That means when faced with the reality of gay couples they wobble. Which is why the anti-gay crowd can use negative emotion-based ads to torpedo us, yet our own positive emotion-based ads also torpedo us. Ads that we like don't move voters. There were other kinds of ads that did move voters but we couldn't afford to run them statewide. Foreman backs this up with evidence yet this was the major criticism of the gay campaign and of this article.

* What to do? Stop pointing fingers. Start the next campaign (there will be one) now. We have already moved the needle on gay marriage 9 points in 8 years.

Obama's America

Back in the first decade of the 20th Century immigration to the United States was booming. Alas, some people felt the wrong kinds of Europeans (not to mention Asians) were coming. Restrictions were passed in 1917, attaching quotas to entering Jews and immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Asia.

In 1952 a law was passed that said becoming a citizen was colorblind (once you got in -- the quotas were still in place). That set the stage for Lyndon Johnson's Immigration and Nationality Act, which reformed the quota system. Johnson meant it as a way of rewarding Italians and Poles -- previous immigrants from there were loyal Democrats. But it didn't turn out that way. Since then the biggest influx has been from Mexico, China, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam.

Thus the stage was set for Obama's America, much more diverse that what we've known before and getting more so. And that is the big story (close to the whole issue) of Newsweek this week. See sidebars for the various parts. This story is told in five chapters:

1. Politics: Gavin Newsom's political future now that he is so closely tied to gay marriage. Texas isn't about to flip blue anytime soon. How the GOP can rise again (more below).

2. Geography: Many of Obama's advisors have lived outside the USA. It is time to combine suburbs and city into one metropolitan region when tackling problems.

3. Life and Work: Work and Leisure, home and office are now blended. The widening gap isn't between the rich and poor, but between the rich and middle class and Obama needs to rebuild the upward mobility ladder. Our "tribes" -- the people we associate with -- aren't built so much around family and race, but around shared interests. How a gay Jew became an Episcopal priest.

4. Diversity: Difficulties in getting Hispanics to join the Boy Scouts -- "What's a scout?" Bringing Latinos into the middle class benefits the nation as a whole. The Somali refugees who brought new life to dying Lewiston, Maine.

5. Age: A young Evangelical defies his parents and votes for Obama. Balancing Boomer benefits with taxes on the young. Convincing 5th Graders that college is important.

How the GOP can rise again. A big problem for the GOP is that its policies don't benefit the younger generations.
1. Develop policies that benefit the middle class, especially health care and college tuition.

2. Modulate the social message. They say they want a constitutional ban on abortion but never act on it. So don't say it. Obsessing over Terri Schaivo was confusing to voters. Some candidates ran as overtly Christian and most youth are secular.

3. Adopt a realistic environmental ethic. Keeping us safe is now as much about the environment as about terrorists.

4. Be a party of competence. Even limited government must be able to handle Katrina.


This may be a start but wouldn't be enough for me to vote GOP. I'd want a serious revamping of the social message. Then there's Bush's reliance on secrecy and visions of monarchy, the emphasis of the corporate at the expense of the worker, a seriously bad case of racism, and I don't have all night …

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An unexamined record

In response to my comments about wanting to get the truth about the Bush years my friend and debate partner wrote:

"humiliation, exile and murder"? Fried misses the point and should be ignored.

I believe Fried said that only savage countries do that and we're not savage. But he also said we should simply leave Bush to the "judgment of history." And it was that sentiment which made me disagree with the original columnist who quoted Fried. I previously posted why Bush's secrecy will make that judgment of history difficult.

Bush and Cheney and their accomplices, in our names, murdered, imprisoned and tortured many victims, both American citizens and foreigners; most victims were and are innocent. There very likely is evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes. They simply ignored the law. No one in power opposed them, although Congress and the courts had clear legal and ethical responsibilities to do so. Leaving that as a precedent for American gov't means that future presidents can scapegoat and destroy anyone they please without consequences. Some are sure to use those tools of tyranny. No American should feel safe from gov't persecution while that record stands unexamined.

I don't favor anyone going to prison or into exile for these crimes -- nothing will be gained by that -- and I'm opposed to capital punishment in all cases. So, no exile or murder consequences for the criminals, although plenty of exiling and murder was done. I'm not out to humiliate anyone; if that's a byproduct of accountability, that's the shamed person's problem.

What I want is the truth, interpreted through the lens of the rule of law and documented for posterity. We as a society have important lessons to learn from our toleration and participation in our gov't's crimes. Restoring the constitution requires some public discussion of the violations and how they were permitted to happen. I will feel a lot safer if we work through this process of accountability. Immunity grants as a means to forced testimony are the right tool for that purpose.

As for the rest I agree, though I repeat granting immunity won't make it any more likely that Cheney will say a word.

Marriage protection with a difference in Hawaii

Back in 1993 Hawaii's Supremes ruled that not allowing gays to marry was discriminatory. However, they didn't require the legislature to enact gay marriage. In 1998 a marriage protection amendment was passed and the ruling by the Supremes was irrelevant. But this amendment is not quite the same as all that have come after. It says, "The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples." Which they did. However, it does not require such a law and does not prevent the legislature from changing its mind. And they appear ready to do exactly that.

That historical inauguration

GeoEye-1 and CNET had released photos of the inauguration from space to show the size of the crowds. The last one shows the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Capitol and can be enlarged.

I wasn't able to watch the whole inaugural parade, so I had to rely on this link to see the Lesbian and Gay Band Association pass in front of the presidential viewing stand.

John Stewart on the Inauguration and with an interview with Gene Robinson. Now that we have a black president, is a gay or lesbian president possible? Yes, says Robinson.

It is good to say and write President Obama. I never wrote it that way for Bush because he was never my president. I didn't want to dignify him with the term. In his first days in office President Obama has shown how different he is from his predecessor, all for the better. These include:
* Pay freeze for White House staff earning more than $100K.
* Ban on executive branch employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
* Instructions for his administration to operate under principles of openness, transparency, and engaging citizens in their government.
* Instructions that only a former president (and not anyone else) can assert executive privilege for keeping records private.
* Ordering the Attorney General and White House Legal Council to review all claims of executive privilege.
And all that was on day one.

Day two included:
* Ordering Gitmo to be closed in a year.
* Ordering the CIA to follow the US Army Field Manual on interrogation (no torture).
* Ordering the CIA to close overseas "black site" prisons.
Yeah, some claimed we got great intel out of torture. Others respond saying both are you sure? and great intel probably isn't worth the hit on our national reputation. Yes, it feels good to call him President Obama.


Bishop Gene Robinson gave an invocation before last Sunday's We Are One concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Alas, his prayer was not included in HBO's broadcast of the event with Robinson praying at 2:25 and the cameras rolling at 2:30. There was a lot of finger pointing afterward with the Obama Presidential Inauguration Committee finally accepting the blame. Of course, that made gays less pleased with the new president.

I think the prayer itself is quite good. It takes deep understanding to include such phrases as:

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

I also pray the last paragraph: Please, God, keep the new president safe.
The full text is on the New Hampshire Episcopal Church website.


In contrast, Warren's prayer got cool reviews.


I wanted to view the inauguration at the Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Center in Ferndale. It didn't quite work out that way. One reason was mine. Though various news sources said the ceremony is at noon they didn't clarify that the actual oath is supposed to be administered by then (it was a few minutes late) and quite a bit happens before then. Affirmations said their festivities started at 11:00 but I figured I could be there about 11:30 with no problem. The other reason was traffic. I encountered a backup at the I-96 to Southfield Fwy interchange and it took me a nearly 20 minutes to get through it. By then I decided to just go home (much closer than the center) and watch by myself. I had NPR on while sitting on the freeway, so heard the procession of dignitaries. I got my TV on just before the actual ceremony started at about 11:45.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

For the good of the country

Brian Dickerson, in a column for the Detroit Free Press, laments that "Somehow, the country that produced the Bill of Rights morphed into one that spied on its own citizens." And that isn't the only morphing that was done. Alas, then he quotes Charles Fried, a Harvard Law School professor:

It is the hallmark of a sane and moderate society that when it changes leaders and regimes, those left behind should be abandoned to the judgment of history. It is in savage societies that the defeat of a ruling faction entails its humiliation, exile and murder.

Dickerson then suggests that while it would be poor form for Bush to pardon himself, Cheney, and others, it is appropriate for Bush to grant them all immunity. That way they will be able to actually answer questions about what they did without claiming the Fifth Amendment. Besides we should reclaim the world's respect rather than press for a temporary political advantage.

Does he really think Cheney will talk, even with immunity?

Contrast that with a column from a guy who calls himself, Kagro X. He notes a comment from Attorney General nominee Eric Holder's hearing: "We don't want to criminalize policy differences." He seems to have latched onto a GOP phrase (one wonders how long they've been carefully nurturing this idea), a phrase that is linked to doing something "for the good of the country."

And "for the good of the country" got used a lot when Nixon resigned (and pardoned) and again during Reagan's Iran-Contra mess (quietly swept under the rug). We certainly survived those incidents. But was that actually done for the good of the country? And did we really survive? Some people are starting to notice we end up doing this at least once during every chunk of time the GOP has the White House -- Watergate during Nixon-Ford, Iran-Contra during Reagan-Bush I, and now everything by Bush II.

Yet we hear "don't criminalize politics." Why are Americans not told whether what GOP presidents are doing is constitutional or not? Why are our leaders refusing to help us make that distinction? Why must we decide with the ballot-box as our only tool? Why do we tell Americans that they have to become the highest court without the benefit of rules of evidence, an understanding of precedents, or a common framework for deliberation? Criminalizing politics? More like politicizing crime.

Uplifting the human spirit

I had just started my teenage years when Armstrong landed on the moon (you do the math). I've always been fascinated by space, including being a fan of Science Fiction -- a rather geeky gay. That's why it is good to see that as our country faces an economic mess there are still reasons for humans going into space.

1. Humans can do things machines can't. The capacity and ability of probes is limited.
2. Manned capability (especially the new Ares rockets) can launch much more than just humans.
3. The spinoffs from manned space projects have improved practically every facet of technology and has done so more rapidly and with wider scope than anything since WWII and did it with much less human cost.
4. We are a species that needs to roam.
5. Human exploration of space uplifts the human spirit.

The cost? Peanuts compared to bailing out AIG. And we'll have a lot more to show for it along the way.

Wave to the camera!

The Washington Post has set up a web camera on The Mall so that everyone can get a look at the size of the inauguration crowd. It is already active and the frame includes the Capitol and Washington Monument. Warning, it is a CPU (and probably internet) hog because it is real-time, not a frame per second or per minute.

Too quick to label

Columnist John Corvino, who calls himself The Gay Moralist and teaches ethics at Wayne State University, says that 2009 could be a difficult year for gays. He cites these reasons:

We're more polarized. We tend not to associate with those who disagree with us and thus our discussions sound like echo chambers.

The goal of gays has shifted. We no longer want to just be left alone to conduct our relationships in private (sodomy laws are thankfully gone). We want marriage and that is an institution that involves public support.

We've changed how we treat our opponents. We're too quick to label our opponents as hate-filled bigots. But as things stand now, bigots make up more than half the voters in California and more than half the people in the country. They may be bigots, but labeling half the country that way doesn't help. A century ago we would have labeled half the country segregationists. Just remember Abraham Lincoln abhorred slavery but supported segregation.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

So you don't have to

Bush is campaigning hard for his reputation, with a slew of interviews. Jon Stewart summarizes them all in 8 minutes so you don't have to watch them. Stewart nails it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Are his lips moving?

One of the latest ideas tossed into the public square like a grenade is that Obama had better not stop using torture because that is what has kept America free from attacks since 9-11. Never mind that it was the Bushies who refused to consider during the spring and summer of 2001 that such an attack might happen. And never mind that our use of torture has inflamed extremists, which has made terrorist attacks more likely, not less. It is long past the point when many people, especially me, assume that if a Republican is moving his lips he is distorting the truth.

Which is why this week's Newsweek cover story, written by Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, is a disappointment. Cheney has expanded presidential powers and the article explores whether Obama can afford to turn his back on those powers. Alas, they seem to take the GOP point of view. One example is the FISA law. The article says FISA needed updating and Obama was wise to vote for it in spite of previously saying he opposed it. Obama will need those powers. Though it is likely the FISA law needed updating to accommodate new technology the particular way Bush demanded it be updated should have been opposed. The article didn't make that distinction.

However, the article does say that even if Obama uses the new powers (or demands even more), he will do so in a way far different from Bush and Cheney who have been obsessed with secrecy and contemptuous of Congress.

Vindication on what evidence?

Bush proclaims, "History will vindicate me!" Jacob Weisberg of Newsweek responds, "How can historians tell?" One thing Bush is really good at is secrecy. But Bush's reputation -- based on why he invaded Iraq, why he expanded 9-11 into a global War on Terror, and his role in today's financial mess -- can't be rehabilitated (if at all) until historians can look at what role Bush had in these events. Was Bush planning for a noble outcome that went disastrously wrong? Did these things happen because of Bush's own incompetence? Was he truly a puppet of Cheney? Why was he a moderate Texas governor yet a polarizing president? Why did he order or permit torture? These questions needs answers for Bush's historical status to be properly assessed and his secrecy works against that. Don't count on a book by Bush or David Frost style interviews. His memory is too poor and he is too unreflective to have kept a diary.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rev. Al Sharpton lays it on the line

Sharrpton spoke at the Human Rights Ecumenical Service at Atlanta's Tabernacle Baptist Church, saying (in part):

We know you're not preaching the Bible, because if you were preaching the Bible we would have heard from you. We would have heard from you when people were starving in California--when they deregulated the economy and crashed Wall Street you had nothing to say. When [accused Ponzi scammer] Madoff made off with the money, you had nothing to say. When Bush took us to war chasing weapons of mass destruction that weren't there you had nothing to say.

But all of a sudden, when Proposition 8 came out, you had so much to say...

...

There is something immoral and sick about using all of that power to not end brutality and poverty, but to break into people's bedrooms and claim that God sent you. It amazes me when I looked at California and saw churches that had nothing to say about police brutality, nothing to say when a young black boy was shot while he was wearing police handcuffs, nothing to say when they overturned affirmative action, nothing to say when people were being [relegated] into poverty, yet they were organizing and mobilizing to stop consenting adults from choosing their life partners.

No need to fear the voter

Since 2005 there have been 17 state legislatures that have voted on gay issues. A recent study by Freedom to Marry reports that none of the 670 legislators that voted against discrimination lost their seat when next up for election. Part of that is a very high percentage of incumbents are re-elected each time. Even so, it includes those who left one seat (such at the house) and were elected to another (such as the senate). But the opposite is not true, there are those who voted for discrimination who have lost their seats -- in one case to a gay man. Lawmakers should not use fear of voter displeasure to vote against us.


Six months ago a gunman, upset that liberals were interrupting the war on terror so he became a terrorist himself, opened fire during a service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Rev. Chris Buice wrote a wonderful Newsweek My Turn essay to defend liberals and to demonstrate the proper response to terrorism.


Economic downturns always bring out the hate groups. The forces that feed these groups are magnified in this downturn with Obama as president and a population that is much more ethnically diverse, even in rural areas. These groups must be confronted because:

* Very few hate crimes (only 8%) are committed by actual hate group members. The problems is their toxic ideas influence the mainstream, giving them more power than their numbers suggest.

* Hate speech is protected free speech. But the group's members assume silence is agreement. We have a responsibility to hold their speech up for public ridicule.

* Where there is smoke, that is enough reason for law enforcement officers to search for the fires.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why put up with the hassle and expense

Peterson Toscano is an ex-gay survivor and now works to combat the ex-gay industry. He is frequently asked why he spent many years and $30,000 in an attempt to de-gay himself. Years after quitting the program he can now analyze all the reasons why he did it:

Because "everybody" said you can't be gay and Christian. Rising in the church hierarchy is impossible for gays.

To marry and have children.

To not be alone.

Assumption that all gays got HIV and other sexual diseases.

Desire to fit in to feel normal.

Straight life was the idealized norm shown in the media. Gays were shown as abnormal (if at all). Society punishes sexual deviants. Resulted in internalize homophobia.

Fear of being attacked for being gay.

Desire to please and fear of losing family and friends.

Fear that orientation was caused by sexual abuse.

Cowardice to stand against society.

He concludes that he has found integrity and honesty is so much better.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Flipping the finger

A few days ago Veep Cheney brazenly said there is no need for Bush to pardon him or other members of the administration because they did nothing wrong. Oh? There are lots of people who would disagree.

Cheney, who was Chief of Staff for Gerald Ford and annoyed at what the office of the president was giving up as a result of Watergate, has been working diligently to restore those powers to the presidency -- and adding as many more as he can get his hands on. Is this good for the country? The evidence so far is a resounding no.

But this could be what Cheney is really saying: Obama and Congress don't have the balls to investigate him.

Oh, sure, there may be attempts, such as a bill to set up a Commission on Presidential War Powers, which may go nowhere. That's because the Democratic leadership desperately wants to ignore the whole mess and simply prove they are better at governing than Bush and the GOP. Besides, lifting rocks and poking at the bugs crawling about is not a fun job and tends to not make friends. Being a reformer is quite risky.

We're a country of optimists, we focus on the future. However, that also means we are reluctant to spend time and energy over guilt, remorse, and responsibility of the past. Once our reputation is stained, we don't want to face the stain. And the stain spreads. We have yet to face the stain of slavery, Native American genocide, and recently torture, all of which affect modern life.

We can't get the future right until we figure out how the past went so wrong. When we don't understand what went wrong we propose reforms (if we bother at all) that don't fix the real problem. And when that problem pops up again we claim that we've already done all the reforms we should. It is seductive -- especially with the economy in collapse -- to just forget what Bush did. But doing so leaves our democracy in a much more perilous place.

Obama may not use all those new powers Cheney created for him. But you can be sure someone will. And Cheney wins.

Unemployment will soon count one more

In terms of job creation Bush is the worst prez. ever. GOP presidents are never all that good, tending to create 1 million jobs a year while Democrats tend to create 2 million a year. But we shouldn't blame presidents for that, should we? Why not? They take the credit.

The rest of this posting discusses how the unemployment rate is computed. Careful, now. There are several. The one most widely reported (and the least meaningful) is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls U3: "total unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force." There is also the more accurate U6, which is: total unemployed + "marginally attached workers" (those who had looked for work, but not in the last 4 weeks) + "those employed part-time for economic reasons" (those who would like a full-time job but can't get one) as a percent of the workforce. At the moment U6 = 13.5% (closing in on 1 in 7). And some economists think it is low.

Around the globe and into space

When I was growing up we were told that if you dig a hole deep enough you'll end up in China. When I bothered to think about that (which wasn't often) I decided it wasn't quite right because China is also in the Northern Hemisphere. Here's a website that will locate the opposite side of the world for a given USA zip code (or worldwide city or state). The other side of the world from Detroit is in the Indian Ocean perhaps a thousand miles southwest of Australia. And the opposite of Shanghai is in Uruguay.


Watch for Comet Lulin in February and March.

No, you can't take it with you

St. James Episcopal Church recently lost a ruling in the Calif. Supreme Court. The rules for becoming a congregation of the Episcopal Church (or any denomination) mean that though an individual congregation paid the construction costs and mortgage for a church building it is held in trust for the denomination, who are the actual owners. St. James is in a snit over Bishop Gene Robinson and wants out of the denomination. The Supremes said, fine, you as a congregation can leave. The building cannot.

Rick Warren has stuck his nose into this situation and said you stood up to the forces of evil and lost your building? Come use ours. Which gives the impression Warren is aiding the schism of a denomination of which he is not a member. Is this good? Will United Methodists and Presbyterians be his next targets? We have enough trouble with such groups as the Institute of Religion and Democracy. But, as I've concluded before, perhaps a schism is a good thing. Why should a congregation be forced to compromise on its bigotry?l

Friday, January 9, 2009

If I don't get my way I’m going to ...

The supporters of the Calif. gay marriage ban are in a snit and have filed a lawsuit seeking to have their donations to the campaign for the ban and any such future campaigns to be removed from public records. The reason for the lawsuit: Their donors got threatening emails and postcards and some of them have been subject to boycotts.

Equality California and others on the gay side describe the lawsuit quite succinctly: Hypocrites. These same people sent threatening letters to gay supporters during the campaign. By future campaigns the Fundies don't mean propositions in general, and they don't mean their opponents. They only mean campaigns they undertake. Then they claim that the marriage ban -- since it was passed by the voters -- can't possibly be overturned by the courts, yet the donor disclosure law -- even though it was passed by the voters -- must be. Where's an activist judge when you need one? They've spent months gloating how their deep pockets were able to get the ban passed yet when we look to see exactly whose pockets they are they cry foul. Also despicable is the huge underreporting of donations-in-kind by the Mormon Church to get the thing passed (currently being investigated). It's amazing how quickly bullies turn into whining victims.

A more thorough report says the evidence the ban supporters are using to justify their victimhood are laughably trivial. Even though the government might remove official lists, enough gay groups have downloaded copies so the data could reappear in the public domain quite quickly. Challenges to the donor disclosure law, passed in 1974, have consistently failed. One final tidbit. The ban supporters have one more report to file, due on Jan. 31, and say this report has info not previously reported. They want to be able to keep this report secret too. Since the group is going through a lot of time and money for an effort almost certain to fail, one suspects the report contains a bombshell.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I'd have to clean up before I hired a maid

I got to be looking around my chaotic living room and realized that a bunch of stuff in the two filing cabinets -- like furniture expenses from when I moved to Germany in 1989 -- could be thrown out to make room for stuff that should be filed away. I've done some of that weeding out and along the way found a bunch of photos from when my older nephews were in second grade (they're in their 30s now). It was time to pull out the box of hanging file folders that had been sitting between one filing cabinet and the sofa -- and before you get strange ideas of my d├ęcor, this is a wood cabinet, only two drawers tall, and it makes a good end-table. Once the box of folders was out of the way I saw something peeking out from under the sofa. I pulled it out to find a Far Side book and daily calendar, both by Gary Larson, in original shrink-wrap and the calendar is for -- 1999. I've opened up the calendar to use it. Of course, it isn't quite right -- January 8 is a Friday instead of a Thursday, but as long as I enjoy the jokes and don't rely on it…

Of course, it made me think about why it had gotten where it was. Christmas 1998 was the one time (so far) that I hosted the family gathering -- having only 6 of us that day made it possible. My house is small. In the commotion it is quite possible the calendar and book got bumped under the sofa. I remember wondering what happened to it but didn't search very hard. That season was also hectic because a handbell ensemble was performing one of my early arrangements and I went all the way to Fredericksburg, Virginia to hear them play (and ended up being guest conductor for my piece). So what if I enjoy a calendar 10 years late.

Virus swatter now updated

Due to the computer virus a month ago I asked my dad for the Consumers Reports rating of computer security suites. A couple days ago I turned off my internet connection, deleted all three of the installed security systems, and installed Trend Micro, the top rated one according to CR. It rated the Trend suite with a score of 85 and the only one of my existing programs that got a rating was at 55. I wasn't sure I wanted to pay for a security program. Then I was in Office Max with a bag that gave me a 15% discount for everything I could get in it (like a tax program) and the Trend Micro tag said it was 50% off if I also bought a tax program that was already in my bag. So I got the $50 suite for $21. Alas, the annual renewal will likely be full price. We won't know whether the new program is up to the task until it isn't.

Don't ask for swift repeal

Public support to eliminate Don't Ask, Don't Tell and allow gays to serve openly in the military is at 75%. However, support within the military, a much more conservative culture is only at 42% and close to a quarter of the troops won't re-enlist if the law is overturned. Obama's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be Admiral Mike Mullen. He is the guy caught between those numbers. Obama will ask him how much gay openness the military will tolerate and still be able to fight two wars (determining that will take time). And then it will be up to Mullen to implement the new law. Those for the repeal are aware that Clinton tried to impose gay soldiers on the military and the Joint Chiefs rebelled. The rebellion may not happen this time but the soldiers need time to adjust. This makes me think of when the military was commanded to integrate blacks into regular ranks rather than having separate groups. How many soldiers threatened to leave then?

How can I put it delicately?

Too big to fail is a reason to bail out a company? Any company? How about a company that deals in … porn? Consider -- if I can put it carefully -- that the government may have better luck getting its money back and might be able to get its money into the hands of the employees faster than with the auto companies. Also… (1) with the recession raging people are staying home, need entertainment, yet don't want to make babies they can't afford. (2) This industry makes something people can actually use, unlike much of the financial industry. (3) After a while people get tired of video games. So, isn't this an industry that would produce a bigger bang for the government buck? Alas, there is so much collateral exploitation.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What to do with an empty city

I knew the square mile area of San Francisco is small: under 47 square miles. I didn't realize Manhattan is less than half that at 23 square miles (with a population of 1.5 million!). I knew Detroit is big -- I occasionally have to get to concerts on the other side -- and that it has the highest percentage of single family homes of any big American city. But a new map image is making the rounds of Detroit planning offices created by the University of Detroit Mercy and the Detroit Free Press. It shows Detroit and within its boundaries are both San Francisco and Manhattan -- with Boston thrown in for good measure and space left over. Boston is under 49 square miles while Detroit is almost 139 square miles. The point of all this: Detroit used to have 2 million residents. It has now less than 1 million, with most of the richest residents included in the exodus. The problem is the city has to maintain infrastructure for 2 million on a tax base of the poorest million. About 30% of the land is now vacant and huge numbers of houses are abandoned. A population this size -- even keeping the high percentage of single family homes -- could be put in an area much less than half of what the city must maintain now. Any ideas how to fix this? Good at selling your ideas? The job of mayor could be yours. But act fast, the primary is in February.

Of the People, By the People, and for the majority

Calif. Attorney Jerry Brown has said he will not support the "official" side when the gay marriage ban comes before the state Supremes, even though his job says he should. Yesterday, the anti-gay crowd filed a legal brief that blasted Brown's position. They believe the state constitution is created by the people and they get to change it however they want. That essentially means we're going to institute tyranny of the majority and you shouldn’t be allowed to stop us. I'm sure the tune will change real fast if the Supremes uphold the ban and the next vote overturns it. What do you think of tyranny of the majority now?

More on that persecution complex

Another Christian bigwig is complaining about "Christian bashing" by releasing a top ten of defamations with the top of the list the backlash against the Calif. marriage ban. This is during a time when hate crimes against gays has increased. We'll take this guy seriously when he condemns all violence, especially violence that leads to rape and death against gays, not just defamation of Christians.

Party of Racial Backlash

In contrast to the ideas of being unlucky (Katrina), the victim of conspiracy (financial mess), or stuck with a boob for a prez., Paul Krugman of the New York Times says it all can be traced back to the Southern Strategy of 40 years ago. At that time the GOP became the party of racial backlash. And they're still dealing with that decision. Reagan said, "Government is the problem." Which meant, government is the problem because it raises your taxes and gives the money to Those People. As for the Bush incompetence, that is a result of putting ideology over competence and experience. The world has changed and the GOP will return only after they deal with this issue.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Overused and underused

Lake Superior State University's Unicorn Hunters has released its annual list of words that are overused or useless and are thus banned. The list includes "Green," "Staycation," "Maverick," "First Dude," "Bailout," and "Game Changer."

In response Wayne State University's Word Warriors released a list of perfectly good words not used enough. Their list includes "cahoots," "charlatan," "galoshes," "obsequious," and "sublime."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Easy pickings?

The Fundies are testing out a new way to describe the backlash after the Calif. marriage ban passed. The reasoning goes something like this:

Prior to this election 27 states passed marriage protection amendments. Why did gays take to the streets after this one? Several churches helped get the ban passed, many larger than the Mormon church. Why are gays protesting the Mormons? Because Mormons are easy pickings. They are the first salvo in the dismantling of the religious infrastructure of America. Gays have already burned the Book of Mormon. The First Amendment is next.

I'll leave it to the reader to identify the lies and distortions mentioned there. We should all be very good at it by now.

This particular campaign will likely replace the "save the children" mantra that Anita Bryant started spouting in the 1970s but has been waning in effectiveness with the steady growth of gay-straight alliances around the country. Alas, the new one looks to have a long life ahead of it. Persecution complexes die hard.

Sigh.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Who's got power

Newsweek's end of year issue had articles about the Global Elite. These are the people who have or are coming into power. The first article in the series defines power as either command (the capacity to make others do as you wish) or control (the capacity to reorder the environment around you. If you want a better definition than that I'll let you read the article for yourself. Along with that discussion of power were profiles of 50 powerful people in the world. In the case of American government, it is those coming into power, not those leaving it. Here is the list. The actual article has a sidebar with links to all 50 which will explain why each was chosen and their primary task in 2009.

The Global Elite

1. Barack Obama, US President-Elect
2. Hu Jintao, President of China
3. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France
4. Ben Bernanke, head of US. Federal Reserve
5. Jean-Claude Trichet, head of European Central Bank
6. Masaaki Shirakawa, head of Bank of Japan
7. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Britain
8. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
9. Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia
10. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia
11. Ayatollay Ali Khamenei, supreme leader, Iran
12. Kin Jong Il, dictator of North Korea
13. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State
14. Bill Clinton, potential diplomat
15. Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Treasury
16. David Petraeus, General of Central Command
17. Sonia Ghandi, President of Congress Party, India
18. Luis Inacui Lula da Silva, President of Brazil
19. Warren Buffet, Financier
20. Gen. Ashfaq Parvex Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan
21. Nuri al-Malaki, Prime Minister, Iraq
22. Bill Gates, Philanthropist
23. Melinda Gates, Philanthropist
24. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House
25. Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Presdient of United Arab Emirates
26. Mike Duke, CEO-Designate Wall-Mart Stores
27. Rahm Emanuel, Presidential Chief of Staff
28. Eric Schmidt, CEO Google
29. Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan Chase
30. David Axelrod, Presidential senior advisor
31. Valerie Jarrett, Presidential senior advisor
32. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Director International Monetary Fund
33. Res Tillerson, CEO Exxonmobil
34. Steve Jobs, CEO Apple
35. John Lasseter, head of Pixar
36. Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City
37. Benedict XVI, Pope
38. Katasuaki Watanabe, CEO of Toyota
39. Rupert Murdoch, CEO News Corp.
40. Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon.com
41. Shahrukh Khan, star of Bollywood
42. Osama bin Laden, Terrorist
43. Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah leader of Lebanon
44. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director World Health Organization
45. Carlos Slim Helu, Mexican tycoon, second richest man
46. The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Leader
47. Oprah Winfrey, Television Personality
48. Amr Khaled, Egyptian Televangelist
49. E.A. Adeboye, Nigerian Pentecostal preacher
50. Jim Rogers, CEO Duke Energy

Where the action might be

Action for marriage rights are possible in several states in 2009: California Supremes rule on the ban, Iowa Supremes rule (and Iowa can be progressive), New York might have a few GOP senators trying to shed an anti-gay image, New Hampshire and New Jersey where Civil Unions are proving to not be equal, Vermont where CUs are close to equal, Maine, and New Mexico. Then again, anti-gay activists might try for marriage protection in the other 20 states. The author of this post ventures a few predictions.

Hard to get a good helpdesk these days

An advantage of a blog is getting the last word in when encountering ineffective customer service. Because of a music order in December, Amazon gave me a gift card for MP3 downloads. I hadn't bought MP3s before, but if it's free I can deal with it using players on my computer. It’s a chance to buy a bit of something in which I might not want the whole album. But what does Amazon have available? Not all albums are offered as downloads and not all of them offer tracks separately.

I thought of browsing through what is available. And that's where the trouble started. I clicked to browse classical music - by historical period - music of the 20th & 21st centuries. It proceeded to show me the 1st 24 albums -- out of 10,750. And out of those 24, 9 are for Christmas (which I think should be a separate category), one is Duke Ellington (not classical), and 4 are not 20th century -- meaning it is a hugely bloated list. But even if the list was only a couple thousand, showing only 24 at a time and not providing a way to skip around or subdivide the list it would take a long time to get through it.

I used their help form to suggest improvements and ask if there is a better way to browse. What I got was an email with instructions on how to search. Um, no.

The email contained a link for the case the question wasn't answered. I filled in the form -- and got two emails in response saying I hadn't used the email address they had on file. I can understand this is a security issue -- but neither response answered the question. If this is an issue why not request I login to make sure the reply goes to the address on file?

I logged in before responding to that. I repeated my previous complaints and added the one about not requiring me to login. The response was the stock answer about how to change which email address is on file. Bzzt. Wrong answer! This time they suggested I try their phone service -- enter your phone number and they'll call. And when they say Right Now they mean right now. I clicked "connect" and the phone rang.

Alas, the woman in India on the other end, once it was obvious there was nothing she could fix, could only apologize, assure me I'm a valued customer, and assure me that someone will be listening to the recording of the call and will consider my suggestions. Of course, I got one more auto response -- did she answer my question? Hard to tell.

Seeing green -- and a rather pleasant shade

I went to the Detroit Opera House last evening to see the musical Wicked (watch for spoilers at this link). It is a show that has set box office records. I think the Opera House seats about 2000 and it was (or was close to) a sellout. Alas, that meant the lobby areas, which aren't all that big, were quite packed.

For those that don't know anything about the show it tells the story of the witches of Oz, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. The story briefly touches on why she is green, then picks up in college where the two are assigned as roommates. Glinda is the total ditz and Elphaba starts off as one who knows discrimination and that nobody should be discriminated against. We also see the toll on her as she takes on the Oz power structure and is falsely accused of various crimes. Along the way we see how the flying monkeys, the cowardly lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow come to be. We also get lots of in-jokes for those familiar with the movie -- or at least know the effect the movie has on popular culture.

I enjoyed it. As a musical show, it was pretty good, even though the songs aren't all that memorable. However, as probably the case with most musicals, it has the emotional obviousness of television (and I watch very little television). There is nothing subtle about it. It is also disconcerting that most of the major characters are more interested in appearances than anything of substance. Elphaba is the notable exception.

To my friend and debate partner who dislikes shows that rely on spectacle: Don't bother with this one. It is very much a spectacle, starting with the dragon that is suspended from the top of the stage out into the theater whose head wags and eyes light up. Is such a beast in the movie?

In the 1939 movie the Wicked Witch of the West is not given a name. Though the playbill and the show don't say so, I remember a news article that explains how Elphaba was named (though it didn't click until after I was home). The author of the original Oz books is L. Frank Baum and her name is derived from his initials.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Can you say clueless?

Disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales can't find a law firm to take him in and can't find a publisher for the book he's writing. He also sounds genuinely confused about why, claiming he is another victim of the war or terror. This guy apparently doesn't understand that trashing the Department of Justice is a bad thing and has consequences. One of them is nobody wants to be associated with him.

Americans for Truth!

A bit of silliness for today. We cringe and shake our head at Americans for Truth about Homosexuality because they are fixated on homosexuality and have never met truth. But we know a good parody when we see one, this from Americans for Truth about Sinistrality. Never heard the word? Neither had I. It means to be left-handed. We used to think that could be fixed too.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never"

In 1963 Martin Luther King was in jail again for civil disobedience. There had been a public statement by eight White Alabama clergy denouncing King for his public demonstrations, telling him he should use less disruptive means. Less disruptive than even King's non-violent approach? Perhaps they meant King should have been invisible. But King replied better than I can and he used that time to write his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which later became the centerpiece of his book Why We Can't Wait.

An anonymous writer (over two posts) compares King's letter to the various voices around the current Gay Rights movement. Since King had Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man, as one of his organizers and since Coretta Scott King championed gay rights (including gay marriage) in the last decade of her life, our writer is convinced that King's words should be used (with only a few word substitutions in the quotes below) to advance our causes as well. The words of our anonymous writer are usually summarized.

To the Mormon leaders who claim victimhood when gays protested the large Mormon support for the gay marriage ban, and to the gay leaders who don't respond to those lies, King wrote:

You deplore the demonstrations taking place [at your churches]. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place [at your churches] but it is even more unfortunate that [your straight] power structure left the [gay] community with no alternative.

King also has a beef with the part of the church that should be our ally.

…all too many others have been more cautious than courageous, and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows … in the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon [gays], I have watched [straight] churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

This sounds like it is directed to the progressive part of my own United Methodist Church where church unity trumps social justice.

Looking over impressive church buildings King asks:

Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? ... Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary [gay] men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?

Where are their voices when Dobson, Falwell, Warren, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., Bishop Eddie Long, Ken Hutcherson, even the Pope, condemn gays from their pulpits using nonsensical and frightening language? How many of their Sodom and Gomorrah sermons have motivated hate crimes?

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent, and often even vocal sanction of things as they are . . . but the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Forfeit the loyalty of millions? Irrelevant? King is right on target. Since 1963 the United Methodist Church in America alone has lost at least 2 million members. Many millions more have left all the other denominations of the Christian church. Of course, what's left of the church will claim that only by becoming more conservative (and anti-gay) will they "recapture the sacrificial spirit," denying the evidence of membership loss around them.

Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

Though King referred to church officials above, our anonymous author contrasts this statement to the spineless gay leaders who don't mind a president who tramples on their rights as long as he's a Democrat. Many of these leaders are telling other gays to leave Obama alone because addressing gay rights will only get in the way. King has a reply to that too:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in Civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily . . . we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed . . . there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

In the past gays have been told to wait. Don't jeopardize the chances of a Democratic Congress or President. You'll just be a target. Now we're being told don't jeopardize the economic recovery. Even gay leaders are saying this. But this is a moral crusade that should be independent of the parties and their timetables. King couldn't count on Kennedy to do the right thing. We may not be able to count on Obama.

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well-timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of [discrimination]. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every [gay] with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied.

How can we counsel patience when gays are taunted, bullied, and murdered? When gays are the subject of dehumanizing sermons and sent for treatment that does great harm and no good? When gays can't hold hands in public, are fearful of losing apartment and job -- especially jobs in the military or working with children? Why wait when positive representations of gays are challenged or banned? When kids are disowned by parents? When spouses are denied visitation at hospital and funeral? Why should we be told that what little we have is enough? And why does it matter that we haven't suffered as much as Blacks?

Gay rights are civil rights!

Happy New Year!