Thursday, July 30, 2009

If I can't find any science that says what I need it to say

I've mentioned many times how various sound scientific studies are distorted by the Fundies -- and, yes, there are time when the "science" itself is flawed -- so I won't repeat the many distortions here. I will mention a particularly nasty case recently put together. The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has put together a 121 page article to present to the American Psychological Association to "prove" that gays can become straight. NARTH brags that they covered 100 years of research and their bibliography has 700 entries. That's nectar to the guys at Box Turtle Bulletin, who went to the library and proceeded to look up those references (or at least start). Of the references examined so far the NARTH paper has either distorted the results or warmly embraces a conclusion created through a type of therapy we would find horrifying today (aversion therapy using strong electrical shock).

Enough of all that. On to why it matters.

The people who distort sound science do it because they need the cachet of science to support their unsound arguments. Yes, that means there is no sound science that supports their conclusions. But when someone stands before the local school board and misuses science, what is the audience going to remember? Calling the speaker a bigot probably won't dislodge the nugget of distortion. One might even call them on their bad conclusion and they could respond with, "but that doesn't disprove that homosexuality isn't a dangerous lifestyle."

We just live in his world

The Sonia Soromayor hearings have gotten Dahlia Lithwick of Newsweek wondering about what it means. The GOP senators ranted and raved and in response Sotomayor disavowed all her previous liberal sounding statements -- judges are only mechanical umpires of the law, a judge should not have empathy, the Constitution is not a living document. Does that mean it's John Roberts' world and we just live in it? Is Sotomayor now bound by the legal rules conservatives have been claiming for years? Will Obama's future nominees be bound by the "Sotomayor test" or is he now free to nominate a genuine liberal? Will Obama have the political capital for such a move in the future? Why didn't he spend it while he knew he had it? Alas, a recent poll shows that 83% of those surveyed said judges "should apply the law equally to all Americans rather than using the law to help those who have less power and influence." We like the John Roberts court even if we don't like its outcomes. Is that a failure of liberal constitutional thinking or only in salesmanship?

My friend and debate partner has commented several times that free speech should be coupled with discerning listening. You may talk all you want but I don't have to listen. My friend goes on to say we as a country are listening too closely to what the GOP is saying -- to our detriment. We -- including many news sources -- should not be listening to them at all. While thinking about that and hearing the GOP talking points reiterated in the news (and this is NPR!) I understood part of the problem. When news outlets don't repeat the GOP party line a member of the party is very quick to shout, "YOU'RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!" by claiming the news is not balanced.

A white hare on brown dirt

When talking to a climate scientist one does not want to hear, "that really shocked us," or "reality is well ahead of the climate models." Alas, scientists who study the Arctic are saying that a lot. Cue the theme from Jaws.

Sharon Begley of Newsweek explained the findings behind that shock and dismay. We've all heard how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a greenhouse effect, trapping heat. Here's the latest:

* Climate change models were designed to be out ahead of what's actually happening in hopes of dire predictions would spur government action. Except reality is *worse* than the models.

* G8 nations have vowed to prevent warming of more than 2 degrees, because models predict dire things above that. We've already passed 0.8 degrees and have enough carbon already in the atmosphere to complete those two degrees. That warming hasn't happened yet because worldwide pollution is balancing the carbon (blocking sunlight from reaching earth where it turns into heat). For health reasons we're tackling the pollution problem.

* Greenland's icepack is melting faster than anticipated.

* Scientists have already predicted that if the Arctic permafrost begins to melt, the ground there will release more carbon into the atmosphere. More carbon means more heating and faster permafrost melting -- a nasty cycle once it starts. One of the shocks was the estimate of the amount of carbon that could be released from the permafrost -- 3 times the previous guess. And the amount that could be released in a year is 3-7 times what all the cars and light trucks in the USA emit.

Fortunately, the skeptic's scorn has shifted from the climate scientists to the lame response of various national governments. Those eyes are now on the Copenhagen conference to be held in December with 192 countries attending.

A companion piece looks at the biodiversity of the Crown of the Continent, the area surrounding Glacier National Park in Montana. At the moment, the area has the same wonderful diversity as was there when Lewis and Clark passed by. Perhaps this will end soon. Animals, such as bears which will eat anything, will stick around. But the lynx, which eats only snowshoe hares, may not stay. Those hares are the ones that turn white in winter and brown the rest of the year. The problem is that warming has shortened winter and the triggers for the color change (hours of daylight) are still the same. That leaves a white hare sitting on brown dirt. The hare population is dropping.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What really happens on the other side of the border

When I lived in Germany for two years (back when the Berlin Wall came down) I wasn't as politically aware or involved as I am now. I had no idea there were such groups as Democrats Abroad (or even the GOP equivalent). In addition to making sure members vote in national elections (the expat vote can be significant in some states), members of DA provide another useful service -- let party officials know what things are really like in other countries.

The relevant subject of the moment is health care. In my time in Germany I didn't deal with the national system, the couple times I needed a doctor I saw one employed by my company to take care of the many foreign service employees there.

A common tactic in the current debate is to demonize health systems in other countries, especially the Canadian system, but DA members can say, nope, this is what it's really like to live under the care of another country. Here are some key points from a report from Canada.
* It's less expensive. They don't have to pay insurance companies.
* There is no government official between you and your doctor.
* It's user friendly -- no forms, no copay math, no threat of bankruptcy, no threat of loss of coverage when losing a job. That lack of stress is a health benefit.
* Employers don't carry the burden of paying for insurance, important when small businesses are needed to drive an economic recover.

Most Canadians see their health system is a key benefit of living there.

Citizens of other countries are also touting the care they get at home, knowing they would have died or faced bankruptcy in America. They are stepping forward to counteract the bad name the GOP (and others) are giving their countries. They are annoyed with the fictional stories being used to create that bad name. It seems the GOP and health insurers are willing to sacrifice 22,000 lives a year for profits. If that happened somewhere else we'd start talking about genocide. It is good to hear both the GOP and insurers have very little credibility with voters.

Not helping the poor, suffering, exploited, or oppressed

The law permitting gay marriage in Maine will be challenged at the voting booth this November. Anti-gay organizations (with nearly no contributions from Maine citizens) were able to gather enough signatures to force the ballot.

The donor of the second largest amount was the Catholic diocese of Portland. The 4th largest amount came from Knights of Columbus. The Catholic Church in Maine must have lots of extra cash, right? Nope, they're closing schools and selling churches. Perhaps they're getting lots of donations from their members. No, again. Local newspapers have lots of letters from members who are furious over bishops using money to promote state-sponsored discrimination. The donations even cut into the church's stated mission of caring for the poor, the suffering, the exploited, and the oppressed.

Culture wars are a weight on the nation's soul

Sojourner's Magazine looks at issues from the viewpoint of progressive Christians. One of their postings says:

Want to know how to win a culture war? Don't fight one.

A culture war is weight on a nation's soul, especially one that has become perpetual. It also doesn't accomplish much except for those leading the charge. The leaders benefit because they raise money and wield (limited) power. But to do so, they must rouse the populace against an enemy (and if there isn't an enemy they make one).

Though a culture war tends not to make much progress, there are casualties. And the next casualty might be health care reform. The reason is that some are trying to tie reform to the abortion cause.

The way out of a culture war is to search for common ground rather than for emphasizing the differences. Naturally, those at the forefront of the war don't like such efforts because it undermines their fundraising ability. In the case of abortion, reframing the debate around abortion reduction appears to be making headway.

Banging on a larger pot

Apparently, Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention 9 years ago. At the time he made his decision known only within the denomination. He was in the news recently about this action because he decided to bang on his pot more loudly. He wrote an editorial that appeared in Australia and Britain linking the position of the SBC with the subjugation of women in many other major religions.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The cause of his life

Two articles in the latest Newsweek about health care. The shorter one is by Jacob Weisberg and discusses how America's health system projects (or doesn't) its values. Yes, a country's values influence its health system -- a writer takes an old injury to doctors around the world and gets a variety of responses, from nothing (Britain) to one that works (India).

The current system doesn't match our morals, economics, and sociology. Morally, we accept inequality too easily, yet the unfairness of death caused by inadequate insurance is something that offends us. The bills in the House and Senate appear to deal with this issue well.

Economically, we have the most expensive system and the current bills don't have the incentives to deal with this issue.

Sociologically, we've missed the target completely -- we insist on sticking to a employer funded system. When people held lifetime jobs, this may have made sense, but we're now it a time when people change jobs every couple years. Yet, the proposal to change the source of funding is being ignored.

I'm personally puzzled why there are no loud voices talking about how health care funded by employers is an unseen tax on everything we buy. Tax people directly and the price of goods can drop -- and we get to see the true price of health care. Maybe that's what scares lawmakers.

The big article is by Sen. Ted Kennedy (and his speech writer). He talks about the times he needed health care -- his 1964 plane crash, his son Teddy's bout with cancer that took his leg -- and was glad his insurance covered all he needed. He became quite aware that other patients didn't have it so well. He also talks about the frequent battles over universal coverage starting with Teddy Roosevelt (!) and Harry Truman and on through the various efforts he had a hand in. He calls health care, "The cause of my life."

He also lists what he feels must be in a new bill. He is quite aware that he may not get it all in this round and new efforts can come every few years. Alas, I think that means some congressmen will say, "We've already solved that issue." Kennedy's requirements:

* Universal coverage.

* To accomplish this we must cut costs, and that requires a public option.

* Replace the system that rewards doctors for the number of tests with a system that rewards for the quality of outcome.

* Social justice and economics mean long term care that allows seniors to stay in their own homes.

* Don't disturb the coverage we already have (contradicting Weisberg above).

* Emphasize prevention over cure.

Kennedy ends by saying what we have now is not sustainable.

A few thoughts of my own. A lot of the stories about the GOP are about how racist the remaining party supporters are. The biggest roadblock currently is cost. That makes me think about one of the reasons GOP congressmen don't want to raise taxes and don't want programs that in any way help the poor -- we don't want any of our money going to help Those People.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The unpredictable is important

David Mixner, who worked in the Clinton Administration and has since become an activist, has a few things to say to those who believe the repeal of the Calif. marriage ban should wait until 2012.

The cabal of powerful decision makers wants everything to be safe, clean and perfect before moving. Don't upset anyone, don't jump ahead of ourselves and most of all don't deviate from a well-laid plan that hopefully will eventually lead to victory. Every one of our allies has to be comfortable, the polls have to show us way ahead, and proof of victory has to be assured before trying anything new. The unpredictable grassroots could be destructive and create instability.

Sounds pretty good doesn't it? Except that it doesn't fit any model of success that I have seen in my near 50 years of organizing.

He goes on to say they're fearful of defeat. They seek approval. In contrast, the unpredictable is sometimes what a movement needs to gain victory (such as the demonstrations after the Calif. ban was approved).

Much to admire in this former president

President Jimmy Carter has been a lifelong member of the Southern Baptist Convention. But he has now withdrawn his membership and severed ties, citing the SBC's subjugation of women. Carter wasn't a very good president, but I have great admiration of everything he's done since then. He has actually lived the Christianity of the Bible.

Showing Christ the right way

Showing Christ has lately meant showing arrogance, condemnation, and condescension to those who aren't a Christian or the right kind of Christian. These people haven't met Christ and give him a black name. I would much rather show Christ in the manner of Hadwen Park Congregational Church of Worcester County, Mass. Their ministry is to gays seeking asylum in USA due to persecution in their home country. Three of them are from Uganda, Jamaica, and Lebanon -- places where a crowd is likely to beat you if they find you're gay. The church's mission is very much hands-on. They've been feeding the men from their food pantry, paying rent and phone bills, taking them on clothes shopping trips, and even hosting them in their homes. That's showing Christ.

Who says gay relationships don't last?

Yesterday, I finished the book Homo Domesticus by David Valdes Greenwood. Back in 1995 David Valdes married Jason Greenwood. It wasn't a legal ceremony then even though it took place in Boston. The book recounts their meeting, his mother's disapproval, the wedding ceremony (he had to go home for his pants just before the service), the hassles of two people living together, house hunting, the string of misunderstandings that led to their separation (Jason's stepmom straightens David out), and their legal marriage in 2004 so they could adopt a baby girl. It is all done with excellent writing and a great deal of humor. In the end David and Jason have a marriage that has lasted longer than either of their parents and all of their siblings. Perhaps this can be seen as a companion book to The Kid and The Commitment by Dan Savage, who goes into the topics in much greater depth. Amazon, alas, only describes the hardcover edition. I read the paperback (and will be happy to loan it out).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tranquility Base

Ever since the moon landing forty years ago today the phrase "Houston, this is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed." gives me goose bumps. Still does. I was newly a teenager that summer. I think our Heathkit color TV was working by then. I had a card table in the living room (where the TV was) and on it I was working on assembling parts of the electronic organ Dad had bought. I was disappointed that the moon program was over before I started college. It's been too long and Mars still beckons.

There were high quality videos taken of the moon mission. Alas, when the shuttle came along and various satellites sent back huge amounts of data, NASA reused all the magnetic tape they had. NASA did have a Hollywood production company restore the TV videos. Let this bring back memories or introduce you to one of the highlights of our species history. Alas, on the NASA site it is in a particular format and my browser says I need another plugin that it can't get, so I got audio only.

All is not lost. Here is a gay site with many of the videos from YouTube, though these versions seem more interested in comparing the original with the restored video.

The norm, inherently neutral, and objective

Why were so many GOP senators so concerned about Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment? Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post suggests that it's because straight white males perceive themselves as not having any ethnicity, they are the norm and inherently neutral. Anything else -- female, gay, brown, black, etc. -- must be compared against this "objective" standard. Farfetched? Alito was asked about his background and it was considered no consequence. Sotomayor's background, however, is fretted over because it might exert too much influence on her rulings.

Sowing poison pills

Let me see if I got this straight… The GOP had been blubbering about how they don't want the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill because it would be used to prosecute clergy who speak out against gays. Now they want to amend the bill so that those same clergy could be subject to the death penalty? In politics this is known as the poison pill. Add an amendment to something you don't like so that all the other congresscritters say, "Yuck!" and vote against it. I trust the Dems won't let this one and its cousins survive.

Watch out for those who ignore honesty and integrity

My friend and debate partner expanded on the three categories of politicians I proposed yesterday. I've lately used the word "enabler" as one who allows someone else to do their worst (such as making excuses for a drunk). I'm sure in this case an "enabler" is one who brings out the best in another.
Perhaps the three categories we seek are
Enablers = Humanists
Exploiters (I was tempted to write "thieves"; the wonderful Yiddish word is "gonif" = "thief".)
Controllers = Authoritarians

Actually, I think exploiters are really controllers of a problematic kind: Authority is always about the preservation of vested selfish interests. Many authoritarians, to their credit, seek to preserve useful structures for good reasons, honestly and with integrity. For example, they preserve the rule of law and social stability (generally forgetting that these must evolve). The exploiters are controllers who ignore honesty and integrity.

Another way to view this is that people are defined by what they know. Enablers know that much is still to be discovered and understood, so they focus on questions, tolerate diverse answers and want people to freely realize their potential. Controllers know the answers and don't want anyone asking questions, which are likely to embarrass them. (I guess exploiters limit their questions to finding the ore in every mine; life is just a matter of getting it out and refined and any answers are fine so long as they address the preferred questions.)

Now, I am not disdainful of self-interest -- it makes the world go 'round. Altruism is generally based in self-interest in some way. A renowned rabbi from the Middle Ages said "If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" This has always been my guide on the subject of selfishness and self-interest.

That comment about honesty and integrity made me think that some who we consider authoritarians -- the Fundies who want to impose their religion on the rest of us -- are really exploiters because they do so with so little of those good qualities. I've ranted often about those who want to display the Ten Commandments and are so willing to defy the 9th to do so.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't be afraid to lose on the way to victory

I recently wrote about the reasons why some gay organizations in Calif. say it is better to wait until 2012 before attempting to repeal the gay marriage ban. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has come down on the side of waiting, giving much better reasons than listed in my previous post:

* Build a strong majority before the vote. It is easier to win while defending a majority than trying to build a majority in the heat of the campaign.

* Before attempting a vote, demonstrate a proven ability to change people's minds.

* Develop persuasive messages that can withstand the opposition's vigorous campaign.

* Before the attempt, prove that a campaign infrastructure is in place and volunteers are recruited.

Commenters, of course, have a few things to say:

* Split the campaign infrastructure from all other candidates and issues so our cause isn't held hostage to a candidate's position or a party's lack of spine. Note to my friend and debate partner -- yes it is good to have allies in other progressive causes (such as women's rights), but our cause suffers when we try to jump on the coattails of a promising candidate (such as Obama).

* The best persuasive message is living an out life.

* It's annoying to hear gay groups become impatient with Obama's speed in taking on our issues, yet to tell us to be patient and wait until 2012.

In a separate post, a responder to NGLTF explains why he doesn't agree:

* We must keep fighting if simply to keep own hearts healthy. Waiting will erode us from the inside.

* We must keep fighting to keep our inequalities before the public.

* The court opinion that allowed the marriage ban to stand essentially said that Equal Protection is not a core concept, that it can be easily thrown out. We must show that we noticed that and do not agree.

* Don't campaign until we're sure to win? That's working from fear. Don't be afraid to lose 2010 on the way to 2012. Our loss in 2008 prompted gains in New England. A loss will keep the issue alive.

* Discrimination causes death. While we wait, people die.

There are also many replies to this position:

* Don't confuse the benefits of winning with a strategy for winning.

* Living an out life isn't that much of a help -- half of those who voted against us knew a gay person. The moveable middle is only about 5% of voters. Anti-gay voters are consistently more motivated than our friends. They won't run out of money any time soon. Even our friends will vote against us if they become convinced our marriage hurts theirs.

* A campaign in 2010 will motivate volunteers now. A campaign in 2012 will leave potential volunteers doing nothing until 2011.

At least Detroit is starting the size discussion

The Detroit Free Press had a full-page article on right-sizing the city, something I've written about before. The reason for the story now is the new mayor (elected in May to serve out a term that is up for a vote in November) has started to publicly talk about the idea. There is also a primary for city council in two weeks which has an astonishing 167 people on the ballot for 9 seats. The Freep has given its endorsements to 15 people, encouraging replacement of 7 of the current dysfunctional 9 (well, 8, one just went to prison). What Mayor Bing is saying is that it is time to admit that though 60 years ago Detroit had about twice the population it does now, those people are not coming back. It is time for city planning to take that into account.

Experts are saying right-sizing is possible, though it may take 25-50 years to execute a plan. The biggest reason for the slow pace is money. Detroit has very little of it. But if it doesn't start the city will go bankrupt, with a tax base that can't pay expenses.

In amongst the details of how a plan might work (or at least how to get one started), are the reasons why the effort hasn't been made before now. (1) Detroit has been seriously crumbling for 20 years. Most of the time the city gov't is swamped with the problem of the day. (2) Any such plan will have backlash from residents who are told their neighborhood can't be sustained. Elected officials don't have the spine for backlash. (3) No matter the plan, executing it requires money. (4) The last development plan for the city (1992) counted on the city regaining much of its lost population.

I don't live in the city. However, I venture into it frequently to visit cultural institutions. Detroit has some top-notch gems in art, music, theater, and cinema. I want the area to succeed.

Here's a map of the city showing areas of health and urban prairie. It was created a couple years ago when a Freep journalist drove down every street in the city. The areas in red and green are top candidates for being developed into urban farming.

The big health care question

As the health care debate rages in Congress and the current tussle is over cost, let's for a minute go back to the basic question: Do congressmen believe every person in the country is entitled to the same health care choices as the congressmen themselves? This question is not about cost, so don't say it is too expensive. Do congressmen instead believe that our current 3 (at least) tiered system -- where some deserve A+ care, some get somewhat less, and the poor/uninsured get the crumbs?

This brings to mind a discussion I had over lunch with my friend and debate partner (and this seems to be a good time to bring it up). He no longer categorizes politicians by their Democrat/GOP labels. While he is very much anti-GOP, the Dems aren't exactly thrilling him lately. Instead the categories that work best are Humanist/Authoritarian. That puts him as anti-Authoritarian. My example of a humanist is Ted Kennedy (who, alas, we won't have around much longer). All of the GOP comes under the Authoritarian category and, alas, many Dems do too. We need more Humanists in Congress. I'm sure they don't make up the majority there.

I agree with my friend's view of Congress, though I would add one more category. These members are definitely not Humanists, but aren't really Authoritarian either because they don't care to impose their rules on society. Their goal is to use their office as a way to fatten their wallets and those of their friends. Alas, I doubt this category fits on only one side of the Dem/GOP divide.

We're just folks

I wrote about a gay mayor asked to officiate at a wedding where his own marriage is not legal. Here is the story of how it went. Though it was in a conservative Midwest area, most of the people, over the course of the weekend, began to see the gay couple as just folks. There was one Evangelical who either made snide remarks or avoided them. The ceremony, which was wonderful, included vows modified from the gay couple's own wedding. A surprise afterward: the Evangelical came up to the gay mayor after the ceremony and asked to use those same words to renew his own marriage vows. He wanted the mayor to conduct the renewal right then. One less bigot in the world.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Disagree without being disagreeable

I hope to convince my church to adopt a Vision Statement that explicitly says we welcome all people (including gays). So far the response has been mostly yawns. However, I will soon start talking about specifics -- actually talking about gay people -- and I may have to disagree and I don't want to be disagreeable. Here's ideas on how to do that.

* People may think they are trying to help. Acknowledge the help then gently explain why it isn't helping.

* People may be oblivious to the damage they are causing. Gently point out why their actions aren't as benign as they think. Watch out for when people are acting from a position of privilege because they get defensive. Note the privilege only means benefiting from outside sources.

* Others goals may be opposition to mine. Acknowledge which goals remain in common.

* Only then consider the response as antagonistic. It usually isn't.

Be aware in ways the conversation can be misunderstood.

* What is said may not be what is meant.

* What is heard may not be what is said. This includes physical problems in speaking and hearing along with mismatch between words, tone of voice, and body language. It also includes the recipients mental state and how well attention is being paid.

* The conclusion reached may not be what is heard. The message may be incomplete and the listener fills in the gaps based on personal experience, including past experience with the same speaker.

* There is an emotional response to the conclusion, including whether the listener allows that emotion to be felt.

* All that, plus personal rules, guide possible responses.

Most of the time this process works just fine and happens almost instantly. But discussions get heated usually because a step in this chain breaks. Time to take a step back.

What is the speaker (including myself) trying to accomplish? Pass on information? Prove I'm right? Convince? Simply vent? If venting, let it get out of the way and do it in a manner appropriate.

If to convince, one needs to sell arguments in a way the other person can understand.

I've encountered the person who thinks that if I don't agree with them it means that if they keep at it they might convince me. Sometimes it means I don't agree with them. That point should be acknowledged if each side can accurately summarize the other's arguments. Further discussion is only annoying.

If you are convinced, acknowledge it.

A possible way out of a disagreement is to reframe the issue, to state it from another perspective.

Know your audience. It may be more than the person sitting in front of you.

Answer calmly and with facts. Never respond to an insult with another one. Respect your opponent. They may be a good person trying to do what's right. And if they aren't, responding with utmost politeness (but not condescension) can be a lot of fun.

Don't confuse civility with weakness.

Don't project your experiences on the other person. Let them talk about their own experiences.

I don't want to be like that

The Southern Baptist Convention has been the driving force of much of the attempted Fundie takeover of American government over the last couple decades. Yet, this second largest Christian denomination (16 million, behind Catholics) is worried about decline. They could lose half their membership by 2050. Along with that they would lose (are losing) their strong influence on Southern politics and culture. This probably also means a decline in the GOP. The SBC is known for well run youth programs, yet the big reason for the decline is that the kids are not staying.

The reason seems obvious to me. Say nasty, illogical, and downright wrong things about people (especially gays) and the people you want to attract will say, "I don't want to be like that."

There are reasons why I'm not a politician

The Senate has passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill! I think it has already passed the House. On to Obama for an expected signature and a return of our "fierce advocate!" Um …

It isn't that Obama doesn't want to sign it. He does.

It's that the vote to approve it was a vote to attach it to a defense spending bill. And that defense bill has a big pile of money for more F-22 military planes. So what, you might say. Well, the Pentagon doesn't want those planes and neither does the Prez. They were designed for dogfights with Soviet planes and are quite inappropriate for the wars we now face as well as expensive. Yet, the maker of the plane has cannily worked it out so its supplier base is in 44 states -- cancel the plane and 88 senators are upset about job losses in their state, not to mention leaving our nation undefended at a critical time (see above about inappropriate). To force the issue, Obama has said if the bill contains F-22 funding he will veto it. And the hate crimes bill too.

It ain't over yet. A lot can happen with the bill before Congress approves the final package. The F-22 funding could be taken out. The hate crimes amendment could be taken out. Or both. Or neither. Confused yet?

However, it has left a lot of gay groups wondering why Senate Dems insisted the only way to get hate crimes protection passed was to attach it to the defense bill. There was that vote to attach it as an amendment which passed by 62 votes. Isn't that an indication that it would pass on its own? But what do I know about politics? Or timidity?

The Fundie furor over the Matthew Shepard law is still going strong and is still as absurd as before. Top of the list of false claims is that the law trumps the 1st Amendment and will silence pastors preaching against gays. As one loudmouth put it:

Those who publically [sic] express medical, moral or religious opposition to the homosexual lifestyle are tagged by the government as “homophobic bigots” to be treated no differently by law enforcement, the courts or larger society than the KKK or neo-Nazis.

I'm pleased to see the larger society has pretty much ignored the KKK and neo-Nazis lately (though that may change if these groups turn violent). However, has either group been silenced by law enforcement or the courts? Um … no. White Supremacist groups have conducted over 100 rallies and demonstrations across the country so far this year. So you were saying?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Until they get tired of their own bigotry

Organizations for gays of color in Calif. say don't rush to put the marriage issue back on the ballot in 2010. The margin of victory will be too small. Here are some of the issues they raise:
* The entire gay-and-ally community needs to be onboard, and many color allies (and non-English speakers) aren't there yet. Work must be done to make gays of color feel it is their fight too.
* Public support hasn't changed much since the days after the election. Don't proceed with another vote until you're sure of a win. Note that polls can overstate support.
* It will be tougher to raise the money in a recession (and it will be expensive).
* Changing the minds of voters will take a while and that action needs to begin now.
* We don't yet have the robust infrastructure for a get-out-the-vote campaign. We were caught off guard last time.
* More time is necessary to forge relationships with labor and religious allies.

Commenters add a few more reasons.
* If it fails it will be harder to raise money for a third attempt.
* There's already an immigration bill set for 2010, which will draw out the Fundies.
* 2012 means two more years of old people dying off and young people becoming eligible to vote.

Put it in numerical terms this way: One estimate says that it takes 350 volunteer-hours to change 50 votes (basis for the claim is not given). That means to insure victory 2.1 million volunteer-hours are needed. What is the plan to make that happen in the mere 475 days until the 2010 election? What is the plan to raise the needed money?

However, not everyone agrees with the need for a two year delay. The Courage Campaign, which has been working since the last election didn't go our way, asked its members when the repeat campaign should be held. Over 80% chose 2010 over 2012. It has already been hard at work training volunteers and building campaign infrastructure.

Besides, 2012 is a presidential year and that will suck a lot of volunteers away from the marriage efforts. If we don't aim for 2010 are people going to contribute the necessary money for all that groundwork? It won't be front-page news and donors may not give if "nothing" is happening. Better to harness the existing anger and frustration. Our current debate over date is being hailed by the Fundies as a fatal split which will allow them to avoid financing another vote.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin says the major groups that issued the plea to wait have ulterior motives. Some of them are:
* One is an organization that combats HIV (more prevalent in gays of color) and they fear donations to a campaign mean smaller donations to them.
* One is the group that ran the last campaign (badly) and they don't want to be blamed for a second loss.

Meaning, they are working from fear. We should instead fear that our enemies will define the battleground.

So far when we've lost the marriage battle in a state, we've given up that state. We should have been gathering signatures to put the question back on the ballot every year even if we don't spend much time and money for passage in our favor. Voters need to face the question repeatedly until they get tired of their own bigotry. Don't worry about spending $40 million each time the question comes up in Calif. Run a grass-roots campaign (without the wimpy scripts) until it passes, no matter how many times it takes. Put it on the Calif. ballot in 2010? Yes. And get it on the ballot in Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, and the rest of the 30 states with a ban in their constitution. And do it again in 2012, 2014, and 2016 or until all of the bans are gone.

As for Calif. it will be on the ballot in 2010. Enough people are committed to gather signatures to make it happen. Once it is on the ballot, are you going to help or not?

Inclusion in the face of exclusion

I commented a couple days ago that the Episcopal Church, in their national convention, chose to allow gays to be bishops. That means they chose inclusion of gays at the risk of their exclusion from the Anglican Communion. The House of Bishops have taken the next step in asking for the collection and development of liturgies for blessing same-sex couples.

I'm not the only one who has concluded various denominations are losing members primarily because of their stance on gay issues (and many who are gay friendly get tarred by the same brush wielded against our loudest opponents). Opposing gays is not a survival trait. That means it's just as well the Episcopalians allow the ties to be severed while the Anglicans die away. Who wants a church leader who believes in the right thing yet won't do it for political expediency?

How do I distort thee? Let me count the ways

The Fundie's distortion of gays has been going on so long it is possible to list such things as Top 6 Distortion Techniques and Top 17 Lies. The distortion techniques are:

* Use old studies (from when being gay was classified as an illness), studies that weren't meant to generalize, or drawing homosexual conclusions from studies that didn't include gays (children need Mom and Dad, so gays can't adopt). There are long lists of researchers saying their work is misused.

* Repetition. In spite of complaints of distortion, the citations are not removed.

* Conspiracy Theory. That dratted Homosexual Agenda.

* Dire Consequences (always without proof). We'll be the downfall of Western Civilization.

* Phony Experts. Making claims in an area in which they have no expertise.

* Dehumanizing Semantics. All that indoctrinating of innocent kids.

Many of the lies have been spouted so often we know most of them by heart, so I won't list them all. A selection:

* The homosexual lifestyle is more harmful than cigarette smoking.

* Gays want to silence Christians.

* All gays are pedophiles.

* A judge who rules in our favor is an "activist."

* Homosexuals can change their orientation.

Such distortions are, of course, institutionalized. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly supports gays, Fundie groups have created the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) to trumpet their distorted research. This posting explores the first distortion technique in more detail. One of the commenters adds a supporting detail: get the "research" published in a journal and claim it has been properly peer-reviewed (but only by people who are also anti-gay, not necessarily with proper expertise).

Here is a list of articles and books in which the authors complain that their work has been distorted by Fundies. A responder notes they distort the bible, why do we expect something different with science?

Use sunscreen anyway

I post this article because my mother has had to deal with skin cancer (that was 20-30 years ago and she's still alive). Because of her experience I am much more likely to use sunscreen. In an article in the Nature Genetics journal says that sunshine does not contribute to the deadliest form of skin cancer, known as melanoma, unless a person also has a large number of moles. With these people it is possible for the moles to become cancerous. But other people don't have such risk.

However, that does not mean one should stop using sunscreen, because the sun can cause several other problems, including sunburn, other kinds of skin cancers (which aren't as deadly), and wrinkles. Sunlight is bad, it just isn't likely to kill you. Balance that with a person's need for vitamin D, which a body makes from sunshine. Just keep in mind that one doesn't need a whole lot of sun to get enough vitamin D (which also comes in tablet form).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The trial balloon succeeded

The Episcopal Church has ended its moratorium on more gay bishops by passing a resolution allowing each diocese (district) to decide for itself whether to consider gay candidates. The head of the worldwide Anglican Church is (naturally) disappointed.

A gay mayor is asked to officiate at a straight friend's wedding. The mayor's husband (they were married in Calif. a year ago) ponders the situation in which the mayor can officiate at weddings, even out of state, but his own marriage is not recognized in the state where he now lives.

Gay marriages performed elsewhere are now recognized in DC. The time in which Congress could overrule the district has passed. Apparently, this was a trial balloon for allowing gay marriages to be performed in DC. Since so few in Congress made a stink (and no effort to repeal) next up on the city council's agenda is the real thing.

Pursuing happiness in the wrong places

What makes for happiness? The New Economic Foundation says it isn't economic growth. "Once our basic material needs are met, more consumption tends to make little difference in our well-being." The downside of growth is that more consumption is hard on the planet.

That, of course, can be turned into graphical and map terms. On one side is a combination of life expectancy and life satisfaction. On the other is the ecological footprint, a measure of resources needed to support a lifestyle. Maps in this posting show these two separate values in addition to the combination. If I interpret the color key correctly, if the whole world consumed like we do it would take more than 4 earths to provide enough resources. For the consumption rate of most countries it would take 2-3 earths.

That results in countries, mostly in Africa, with low scores in both life expectancy/satisfaction and in ecological footprint. They're not happy because of their need. Most of the Western countries have high scores in both categories. We're spending a great deal of the world's resources in pursuit of happiness and looking in the wrong places.

And then there are many countries, most in Latin America, in which they manage to have a high life expectancy/satisfaction and a low ecological footprint. They've found the balance (though still using more than 1 planetfull of resources).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My boss always wanted a trip report

Yes, I'm back from vacation. I got back yesterday afternoon, but between making a fruit salad for today's church picnic, unpacking, and catching up on some of my regular blogs I didn't feel like writing much.

The trip went well -- the weather cooperated wonderfully -- though not every aspect was a delight.

Pt. Pelee was nice, but not as wonderful as the opinion of my friend and debate partner. A major problem could have been that I waited until getting into the park before searching for lunch and the café there was inadequate. Even so, I got all the way to the tip of the point, the southern point of mainland Canada (two nearby islands are farther south). When I left, instead of going directly to the highway, I took the Lake Erie coastal road about halfway to London. Along the way I saw perhaps a hundred wind turbines (the terrain there is quite flat).

Since Hamilton, Ontario is surrounded by the Niagara Escarpment it has perhaps 30 waterfalls. I managed to hunt down 11 of them over parts of 3 days. I agree with my friend and debate partner that Hamilton does a very poor job of highlighting this natural asset. There is rarely a road sign, sometime not even one in the parking lot, and many view vantage points are obscured by trees. And when you do get a clear view it may be a case of the creek coming out of a culvert under a road before going over the cliff and the concrete around the culvert is full of graffiti.

Three more waterfalls bring the total to 14. Two of those are the big ones at Niagara. That whole area has become a dollar extraction system -- just to park was $20. The last waterfall was in the gorge in Elora.

I enjoyed a morning in Hamilton's Dundurn Castle (actually a house, though about 12 times larger than my own). At one point the owner of this big house was also landlord for 200 of Hamilton's 300 houses. Of interest to me were the servant's quarters and work areas in the basement of the house.

Of the three performances I attended my favorite was Sunday in the Park with George by Sondheim and Lapine at the Shaw Festival. The music was quite innovative and different from the typical musical, though the performers said in the Q&A session afterwards it is very tricky to learn. The best part was that I could relate to the main character, portraying painter Georges Seurat.

I have found that if I don't spend a minimal amount of time with music composition projects I feel that my schedule is just too crowded. So when George the painter tells his girlfriend, "I can't go to the Follies with you this evening. I have to finish painting the hat," (he later sings a whole song about it) I can relate. His problem is that he becomes so focused on the art he loses the girlfriend. There are lots of other wonderful things about the show, such as the comments from the couple who fancy themselves as art critics, and how each person in the painting becomes a full character. Act I ends with the characters forming the scene in the painting. Act II begins by the characters complaining about being stuck in this painting for a hundred years, a way of introducing us to the modern art scene and a song about all the other things an artist must do (like schmooze patrons) in addition to actually creating art.

My bed and breakfast hostess in Niagara on the Lake recommended a restaurant for dinner because she sensed I wanted to eat, not dine. According to her, the difference is 2 hours and I didn't have 3 hours before curtain time. Many years ago I had heard the difference is at least $10. Alas, that turned out to be a restaurant I would not recommend to anyone. The meal was edible and that's all I can say for it.

The second program I saw was Ever Yours, Oscar at the Stratford Festival. This was a one man show in which the actor reads many of Oscar Wilde's letters. While quite interesting, it was much too short, only 1:15. There was a notable change in the tone of the letters between those that were close to frivolous before his imprisonment for gross indecency (from charges brought by the father of his gay lover) and those afterwards in which he becomes an activist for conditions in prison, especially where children are concerned. Alas, the hard labor of prison broke his health and he died 3 years later. More on Wilde's life and works in Wikipedia plus a poem he wrote about a prisoner facing the death penalty in Wikisource. Quite a change in the man.

The third program was the opening concert of the 30th year of the Elora Festival in the tiny town of Elora. The performance was -- seriously now -- in the highway maintenance barn that houses road salt September through May. After intermission one of the Festival board members told about how concerts have been affected by storms and extreme heat (no AC here). The performance of the Berlioz Requiem was quite good, though not quite the overwhelming roster of performers that Berlioz requested -- the barn wasn't big enough for all that noise. The four extra brass ensembles had only a third of what Berlioz specified.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A vacation when one is retired?

By my definition a vacation means leaving home. And that's what I'm going to do for the rest of the week. I've taken many trips to far-flung locales. This trip isn't one of those. I'm only going across the Detroit River to southwest Ontario.

I intend to visit:
* Pt. Pelee National Park, which sticks into Lake Erie and is the southernmost point in Canada. My friend and debate partner highly recommends it.

* Waterfalls around Hamilton. This city is surrounded by the Niagara Escarpment, so has perhaps 30 waterfalls around it. I have a route that includes the top 9. There is also Dundurn Castle across the street from my hotel.

* A show -- Sunday in the Park with George -- at the Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake. It is about the artistic life of Georges-Pierre Seurat. His most famous painting (and the inspiration for the show) is about halfway down his Wikipedia page. You can see why in the show the painter's wife is named Dot.

* A play -- Ever Your's, Oscar -- at the Stratford Festival. It's about letters from Oscar Wilde.

* The opening night concert at the Elora Festival. This is a performance of Berlioz' Requiem. In addition to the gigantic orchestra, the score calls for 4 brass ensembles spread around the hall. In all there are supposed to be 50 players in these extra ensembles. We'll see if they use all 50. Since so many extra players must be hired this piece doesn't get performed all that much, so when a performance is so close to Detroit I just have to go.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Goodbye? We can hope

Sarah Palin announced today she is stepping down from her job as governor of Alaska, effective late July. She says she wants out of politics. Hard to tell exactly because reports of the press conference say she meandered more than usual. There is, naturally, a great deal of speculation of her real motive. Impending scandal? Wanting a head start on the 2012 presidential election? Those who aren't speculating are (like me) just glad to see her go.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

With the world (at least Chicago) at your feet

I've written before about a challenge to the Calif. gay marriage ban heading to the US Supremes. The first step was today when the case appeared before the North California US District Court. Judge Vaughn Walker has said he will expedite the case.

Here is a description of how the case got started and where it is going.

Democrats, especially Rahm Emmanuel, are acting like political homophobes. In public they say they support our issues and rights. Behind closed doors they say there is no political benefit (and maybe political cost) in actually giving us those rights. Sorry, guys, this isn't 1993. We have (had) high hopes for Obama because he gave the impression he would do things because they were right, not because they were politically expedient.

Three steps to demonize your opponent: Remove complicating realities. Force atheist definition on opponents. Assign Lucifer to opponents views, your own view to God's. Close with ringing words of unearned authority. The actual textbook example is a typical rant.

It seems so many species of animals exhibit homosexual behavior that a species that doesn't is a rare exception. Perhaps we need more people reading Leviticus to the birds and the bees.

Nasa has created a more accurate elevation map of earth. It is interesting to read about the work that went into it. If sea levels rise, the purple areas are the places to avoid: Florida, Denmark, Bangladesh, northern Russia. It is also interesting to see some of the images that can be created from the data.

The Sears Tower in Chicago now has 5 glass bays on the 103rd floor Observation Deck that extend out from the building. You can see a clear view of traffic below your feet. But if you're afraid of heights…

A corrupt equivalence

Not content to preach about how America is a Christian nation, Fundies have put it in a new bible to "prove" it. You can now get an American Patriot's Bible. I'm not too keen on looking at the bible's website, so I only have an article in USA Today to go by. As far as I can tell, the actual text of the bible is unchanged (though they don't say which translation they use). What makes it a Patriot's Bible is the 300 articles sprinkled throughout on a wide variety of Fundie talking points -- the right to bear arms, religious broadcasting, the impact of Ronald Reagan.

Here's just a few things that are wrong with this bible:
* It equates patriotism with Christianity, corrupting both.
* It elevates Fundie talking points as having come from God (and most of them don't).
* It implies these articles are commentary on biblical passages.
* It promotes and "proves" the lie that America was founded as a Christian nation.
* It promotes the culture wars and partisan divide and implies the battle is blessed by God.
* It implies that to be a patriot one must be a Christian, and to be a Christian one must be a patriot.
* It drives those who aren't Christian Patriots farther away from the bible and the church.

Some commentators have used these words to describe it: heresy, corrupt, idolatrous. I strongly agree and would add one more descriptor: abomination.