Sunday, November 29, 2009

When a stupid argument is handed to me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Playing a rigged game

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

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

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

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

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

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

A war on Groundhog Day next?

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Effects much older than the Industrial Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just don't wait too long.

No longer welcome

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

Faith v. Constitution

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

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

Go on, tell us what you really mean

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

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

2. Support open market health care.

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

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

5. Support legal immigration by opposing amnesty for illegals.

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

7. Support containment of Iran and North Korea.

8. Support keeping Defense of Marriage.

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

10. Support gun ownership.


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

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

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

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

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

* Translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* The phrases that got left off:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

In front of a judge some arguments disappear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case revolves around several arguments:

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

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

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

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

So what's left?

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

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

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

Still some pockets of moderation in the GOP

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shouting from the top of a mountain

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

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

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

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

Praying for enemies

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

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

The leader of a reparative therapy program:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

We've heard it all before

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

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

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

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

* Drop Your Bibles and step away from the religion.

Cities are good for you and for the planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aren't you being just a teeny bit rude?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was money well spent

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

Happy Birthday dear blog

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

Hellooo, is anybody out there?

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dark? Stormy? Not tonight

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

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

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

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

Moderate right rebranded as progressive left

Some people -- like me -- have long noted the high volume of blather coming from the Fundies and wondered where are the religious progressives? These are the people who should be most effective is calling out the Fundies as peddling a twisted form of Christianity. So why the silence from the left?

As with right/left politics the religious right deals with certainty of position and the religious left seeks conciliation and common ground. Many on the left want to make alliances with the moderate right and jettison some issues for consensus on other issues.

Alas, the two biggest issues that get thrown out are abortion rights and gay rights. There are real people who are harmed here.

Yeah, there are times when polarization is a problem and consensus and a search for common ground is a solution. However, there are times when we should live polarization because important issues are at stake. The consensus on health care means that abortion is removed from the public option -- and thus removed from all health insurance policies even if a particular policy doesn't involve government money. In issue after issue, the left is caving for some supposedly greater good. This search for consensus has not softened the view of any Fundie.

It has gotten to the point that people on the left who point out what is going on are accused of stirring up trouble. The progressive goalpost has moved rightward and what had been a moderate-right viewpoint is now rebranded as a progressive view. Sigh.

Don't forget why you were elected

Some thoughts from the post-election number-crunchers.

Lots of pundits say the GOP is on its way to revival, such as Yuval Levin in Newsweek. A coming GOP split? Doesn't seem so -- the GOP in Congress are able to speak with one voice. The Dems are the ones searching for some kind of unity. Apparently we shouldn't worry about the scuffle in New York State where the GOP candidate was too moderate and the Democrat won.

Lots of other pundits don't agree:
GOP voter turnout in Virginia was constant between 2008 and 2009. Dem vote there collapsed, electing a GOP governor. The DailyKos blog put it this way:
* If you abandon core Democratic principles in an attempt to get phantom bipartisanship, you'll lose votes.

* If you water down reforms to appease the Blue Dogs and their corporate sponsors, you'll lose votes.

* If you forget why you were elected -- meaningful health care, financial services reform, energy policy, immigration reform -- you'll lose votes.

There are plenty of reasons to vote against GOP candidates. However, you actually have to give a worthwhile reason to vote for the Dem candidate. Otherwise, voters stay home.

It's about the children. Really?

Dan Savage on the changes in marriage: If marriage is about babies, I've got a baby. The state made me a parent and my partner a parent, yet the state says I can't marry my child's other parent. They said no because it's about the children. The video is under 3 minutes.

Why do we strive for majority power?

Over the last few months I've been critical of our new president about his inaction in improving the lives of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. His lack of push to repeal the military ban on gays -- the public doesn't want it, the military no longer wants it so what's the holdup? -- is only one of the big issues that have gays annoyed.

Yeah, the military ban eventually has to be handled by Congress, but a lot of other things don't. Such things can be described in popular slang as "low hanging fruit" -- something that is easily completed with minimal effort. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, along with 17 (if I counted right) other gay organizations, listed over 80 items that the White House and the various cabinet departments could do without guidance from Congress. So far, one item has been checked off.

A sampling of the requested changes:
* White House: Issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination in federal employment (what Bush did, Obama can undo).

* Department of Health and Human Services: Require agencies receiving child welfare funds (such as those working with foster kids, runaways, and homeless kids) to have training in how to properly deal with LGBT youth. I mention it because it was recommended by the Ruth Ellis Center where I volunteer.

* Department of Health and Human Services: Defund abstinence only sex-education programs.

* Department of Homeland Security: Properly care for HIV detainees according to national guidelines.

* Department of Justice: Gather information of harassment, bullying, and other school violence concerning the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity in cases where it is an issue.

* Office of Management and Budget: On all government forms, change "Mother" and "Father" to "Parent 1" and "Parent 2".

* Department of State: Allow gender change on passports.

The item that is completed:
* Department of Commerce: Add a new definition of "family" to include unmarried partners and add in addition to "married" the categories of "civil union" and "domestic partnership."

Another item not on the list is the appointment of a gay person to the president's cabinet. That didn't happen, but Obama is on pace to far exceed the number of gay appointees that Clinton had.

This glacially slow progress from our supposedly fierce advocate has many gays seriously annoyed. Many are now calling for a pause in donations to all Democratic Party organizations (including DNC, DSCC, DCCC). These gays assure Dems that once significant action is taken the donations will resume. This posting doesn't list actual policy goals to help gays, but all the incidents since before the election that indicate no action is being taken. Here are just some of the items from a long list.

* Asking for a study on whether the military ban would affect national security (been there, done that) rather than the promised study of how best to repeal the ban.

* Deleting the list of promises to gays from the White House website. It was there on inauguration day.

* Refusing to suspend laws that hurt gays (like the military ban) while suspending laws that hurt other kinds of people.

* Refusing to comment on the marriage ban that was passed in Maine and having an Attorney General who flubs questions related to that vote.

* The Democratic Party urged Maine residents to help out in elections in New Jersey without acknowledging the marriage vote in Maine, then lying they had done so.

* Refusing interviews with the gay press.

This posting continues with an FAQ, answering such questions as:
Isn't it political suicide for Dems to touch gay issues? First, Dems are reneging on promises they made that got them elected. Second, most of these issues are no longer controversial with hefty margins of public support.

The guy has been in office less than a year, why the rush? Not only hasn't Obama kept promises, in some areas he's made the situation worse. He has already done significant damage to his relationship with gays.

I haven't signed up to join the pause. Then again I haven't yet contributed to a candidate or a party. I have contributed to various gay-related issue campaigns.

Yes, some gays disagree. The timing is bad because Congress is about to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and this pause can be seen as a slap in the face. Also, the call for the pause lists the Defense of Marriage repeal and everyone knows that will be several years in the future and by including it the pause can be indefinite.

The response to that is the moving goalposts complaint.
In 2005: You have to wait until we regain congressional majority in 2006.
In 2007: You have to wait until we win the White House in 2008.
In 2009: You have to wait until we're filibuster proof in the Senate.
In 2010: You have to wait until after the midterms so we can preserve our majority.
In 2011: You have to wait until Obama is safely reelected.
In 2013: You have to wait until after the 2014 midterms.

In other words, majority power exists only to perpetuate majority power.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How the winners treat the losers

Raina Kelley of Newsweek reports on the new book American Homicide by Randolph Roth. We're not surprised to hear that America is the most murderous nation in the Western world, but we've held that title for about 200 years now. So what drives it? Persistent poverty, lax gun laws, gangs, drugs, greed, jealousy are the usual culprits. But those things don't match the way the homicide rate fluctuates. What does match? Politics. More precisely, the way political winners treat the losers. Do all citizens feel represented, respected, included, and empowered? Is he secure in his social standing and has hope in moving upward? It's easy to get over disappointments. If not, if he feels alienated from the American Dream, small offenses can trigger murderous rage. When our persistent differences -- race, religion -- are politicized homicide rates go up. They went up in the South after the Civil War. Rates fell during the Depression because FDR "increased Americans' faith in the country, their leadership, and one another." Words matter, as Obama is learning. In spite of the increase in guns and the cries of the militants on the Right, Obama has been emphasizing inclusion and crime rates have dropped.

In another book commentary that is related at least in the way I see things, Julia Baird, also in Newsweek, discusses photographer Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon. Lange is famous for her New Deal work of farmers displaced by the Depression. Her photographs are noteworthy for the way she treated poor people with respect and was able to capture their courage and beauty. The economy, not the people, needed moral reforms.

Contrast that to today's economic problems. The poor only appear in mainstream media as obese, sick, sad -- powerless and to be pitied. They got that way because they deserve to be. Throughout this crisis we have focused on the rich -- are they getting what they deserve? Is Wall Street going to be reformed? But we've been ignoring the poor. We certainly haven't been respecting them.

You can see Lange's most famous photo Migrant Mother here.

Wary of government involvement in health care

There are many gay friendly aspects to the health care reform bill the House recently passed. It eliminates the tax on partner health insurance. It improves treatment for HIV patients, has non-discrimination language, and has new rules for sex education.

But it also has a public option. In spite of Medicare and the liberal view that the public option in health care is a good thing (to which I agree) here is a voice that says gays should be wary of it.

* The public option will squeeze out private insurance. I happen to think that's a good thing, having commented on how health care is incompatible with the profit motive. However, this demonstrates the magnitude of the situation for gays.

* Federal privilege. The federal government is not subjected to laws of the states, especially non-discrimination laws. For example, Calif. requires gay employees get the same benefits of straight employees. But most big companies fall under federal ERISA rules, not state rules, and offer such benefits only if they want to. Because of Defense of Marriage, the public option can't recognize gay couples.

* Even in the current bill the gay friendly parts not involved in the public option have a good chance of being removed by the Senate.

* The public option won't be able to pay for abortions. Yes, that's a gay issue because it means rules for the public option are subject to the whims of whomever is in power.

* The private sector is far speedier in issues of equality. Note that Halliburton, even in its military contracts, protects gays against discrimination, yet the military itself requires discrimination.

* The GOP is actively against us. The Dems are not actively for us. Even if the GOP doesn't make significant gains in 2010 there are likely to be more conservative Dems. And if the GOP takes control of one chamber they will revisit health care and anti-gay provisions will be included.

* Those provisions could easily include preventing federal money to be spent on gay specific health care issues.

* HIV/AIDS or any future "gay plague" could easily be met with punishment before care.

The choice may come down to rooting for the public option because it offers a way out of tens of millions of people being denied or not able to afford insurance or decrying the public option because it is unfair to millions of gays.

Engage people of faith for more than politics

A criticism of the anti-gay campaign in Maine came from the right -- you're being inconsistent. You can't say we tolerate gays and that they can have civil unions (which they continue to have in Maine), yet deny them marriage. Therefore, you must also deny all gay rights and be intolerant. Yeah, they are inconsistent. The critic just reached the wrong conclusion.

All of the gay marriage votes have lost because of religious reasons and actions of religious people. What must be done to stop that from happening? Justin Lee of The Gay Christian Network says we need to reach people of faith. Why have we been so ineffective in doing that? We've been attacked by religion so thoroughly many of us want nothing to do with it. There is no way we're going to take on organized religion and win. Too many people profess faith in God and consider it a core part of their lives.

* Engage people of faith. Many are for us. And even those who aren't don't treat them as a lost cause. Too many gays think the enemy is conscious oppression and we win through power. But our enemy is ignorance and we win through understanding.

* Think outside politics. This isn't a battle of voting blocks. Laws won't stop the gay kid from being pressured into a straight marriage to "cure" him. We have to change the culture -- culture affects politics.

* Listen to the faith leaders who support us. They're a valuable resource and not a photo prop. They can explain how to reach the faith leaders who support us. Too often these leaders feel ignored by gay leaders.

* Tailor the message. Don't try for a joint statement of interfaith leaders. Different denominations (and different faiths) look at gays differently. A Mormon needs to hear from a Mormon leader, not a Catholic priest.

Alas, many of the replies to this post insist the proper response is to show up Christianity for the fable and fantasy they claim it is. Ain't gonna happen. But such talk reinforces how deeply hurt gays have been by religion.

The science and the politics

Last week's Newsweek cover article featured Al Gore (I said I had gotten behind) and his new book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. The former Veep had 3 years of extensive discussions with the people who know about solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, nuclear, carbon sequestration (in trees and soil), energy efficiency, and the regulatory tangle around the whole thing. It's important at least because Gore knows how to get laws changed and explains how that should happen. He also explains how many changes are actually profitable and many more are inexpensive.

Some of the points made in the article:
* Too many corporate CEOs won't embrace changes that will save them considerable money in the long run because the next quarter's bottom line will take too big of a hit.

* I hadn't heard about sequestering carbon dioxide in soil. This is a technique that could make a big difference. However, if we stress sequestration people will say so we don't need to reduce emissions. Getting CO2 into the soil would mean paying farmers for their efforts towards that goal and not price support for crops.

* CO2 is the biggest culprit in global warming but focusing on that means easy methods to control other polluters will be ignored. We need to look at all culprits.

* The beliefs that the world is warming and that such warming is caused by human activity have declined in the last year.

Doodles on the ceiling

Not long ago I commented that I didn't seem to have a lot to write about. And suddenly I'm deluged with lots of articles crying out for, well, whatever it is I do here. The two big church presentations are done (the second given last night) so I have time now to look over what I haven't gotten to in the last week to see if any of it is still worth bringing to your attention.

On to the little items that don't need a post of their own.

Catholic Bishop Kaleta, who is serves at the Vatican, said that homosexuals should not visit the Vatican because it would be considered a provocation and an abuse of the place. Gays pointed out that a great many of the current residents should be escorted to the door (pope too?) and that someone will have to paint over the doodles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Then there's all that artwork that will have to go…

Maine wrote its new gay marriage law (the one that was overturned) to make sure that churches could not be compelled to perform marriage services for gays. How far should such exclusions extend? When gays apply to adopt a child? How about when they apply to adopt a child from a Catholic adoption agency? Perhaps when that Catholic agency is under contract and receives money from the District of Columbia? As part of the upcoming gay marriage bill in DC, the new ordinance bans discrimination against gays in all city contracts. The Catholic Archdiocese of DC said you do that we'll abandon all our contracts to provide social services for adoption, health care, and the homeless. We get to discriminate or we won't feed the homeless. What's a bit of blackmail between friends? The DC councilman who wrote the marriage ordinance responded fine, take your marbles and go home. We'll award our millions in contracts to people who won't discriminate.

The anti-gay forces behind opposition to the Washington state DP law frequently assured themselves that God is in control and will produce a victory. If so, God's victory was for gays -- the win has been declared. So God approves DPs? Warning, gay marriage in Maine lost. One had better be careful when speaking for God.

A Mormon leader endorse equal rights ordinance! Salt Lake City council promptly passes it. The leadership says that the same equal rights would be good for the whole state of Utah. State government doesn't move quite that fast. There probably needs to be an election replacing stodgy Mormon legislators with enlightened Mormon legislators. Considering what happened in Calif. last year gays smell something funny -- why are we being thrown a bone? Is the hopefully soon-to-be-passed federal equal rights law prompting the Mormons to take advantage of a PR opportunity?

A chart at this site shows why we'll eventually win. More than half of those under 30 approve of gay marriage in ¾ of all states and that reaches above 70% in some states. More than half of the 30-44 crowd in ¼ of the states approve of gay marriage. The 45-64 bracket top 50% approval of gay marriage only in Mass. but are close in 3 other New England states. The 65 and older group only get approval as high as 35% in Mass. and as low as 10% in Alabama.

Fundies compare stable straight marriages with gays who play around. The problem is that there aren't all that many gay marriages and none for more than 6 years to permit for a proper comparison. Yes, the ceremony and license make a difference. We consider straight engagements to be temporary.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Problems pop up like weeds

Here is an article from mid-October that I found last week. I read enough to know I wanted to write about it but didn't get a chance then. Perhaps that was a good thing.

The Gideons are the people who put bibles in hotel rooms around the world. I remember a motel in southern Tennessee where the bible wasn't tucked in a drawer, but out and open. Gideons also pass out bibles in colleges (I got one at the time and have no idea what happened to it) and apparently also in public schools, down to fifth grade. I know there are rules against such things as teachers and staff appearing to promote religion during normal class time, but there are also rules that permit bible clubs and such things as prayer around the flagpole (not led by staff). So where does bible distribution fit in? That might depend on how it's done. And problems pop up like weeds.

First of all, the Gideon Bible doesn't just have the text of the bible, but includes guides to find the verses that Fundies have decided are most important. So, this isn't a generic Christian bible. What would school leaders have said if someone wanted to hand out copies of the Quran?

Jewish kids were harassed for not taking bibles, both teased by other kids and admonished by adults.

Pressing a bible into a fifth grader's hands usurps parental rights.

All that means it is usually done so blatantly that courts have repeatedly struck down the practice. Of course, in places such as Texas it persists, so the ACLU has issued a report of what's going on and why it is bad. I'm sure the report is just a warning.

This morning during the church service there was a Gideon representative who made a couple minute presentation asking for donations for their bible distribution. I can't say I disagreed with the words he used, though the way he said it put me on edge. One telling moment was when he said, "The Gideons are made up of business men … (pause) … and their wives." Let me know if you don't follow the implications of that statement.

After the choir sang the morning anthem it was my turn to give a Stewardship Moment. I am trying to get the church to approve a Vision Statement that welcomes gay people (and lots of others that tend not to fit into the traditional church). I'm well aware this is a multi-year project. So my talk today was about the question, "How are we to treat someone who is different from us?" I began by talking about all the things that happen when we get the answer wrong -- wars, slavery, ghettos, and heresy trials top the lengthy list. We need a Vision Statement because there are loud voices in the church preaching division and people have been intensely hurt by that. We can be a refuge where that doesn't happen.

When I spoke the Gideon was the closest to me, so I glanced in his direction on occasion. Through much of my talk he had this intense and pained grimace/glare thing going. At one point he even shook his head. At the time I thought he didn't like my message of inclusion, but later I suspected he didn't like my criticism of his theology. I wondered if he would approach me after the service. He didn't. It didn't take me long to decide that I would discuss things if he did, but I wasn't going to approach him.

A few weeks ago two women from Jehovah's Witness came to my door. Even by Fundie standards the Jehovah's Witness is a bit out there. I interrupted the older woman's spiel and our exchange went something like this:

"What do you think of gay people?"

"The bible says…"

"I asked what you think, not what the bible says."

"I support what the bible says."

"Would gays be welcome in your church."

"Yes, if they took part in reparative therapy."

"Then gays aren't welcome in your church. I'm not interested. Thank you."

I achieved my goal of explaining exactly why I wasn't interested. I might have debated them a bit longer (doubtful it would have changed anything, considering some of their other unusual ideas of theology and how particular they are about them), but I felt angry during the whole exchange. It was hard to close the door gently and not slam it in their faces.

And that is why I didn't approach the Gideon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Make a lie seem like the truth

I don't talk or write much about the Devil. This character doesn't fit into my theology. However, the best description I've encountered of the Devil isn't that he is obviously evil, but that he is counterfeit. He makes a lie seem like the truth. Such a description of the Devil easily explains what happened this year in Maine and last year in Calif. (both anti-gay campaigns were so similar that ads filmed for one were used for the other).

How else might one explain that the Christian religion, based on love and truth, ran campaigns based on hatred and lies? How else to explain how hate has become a virtue and love something scorned? Surely the work of the Devil.

The lies worked because they were wrapped in religion. And Christians wouldn't lie. The Devil is having a good laugh at that one. The lies also worked because it allowed bigotry to be a Christian value.

Those campaigns are just the latest incident if the normalization of lying in many Christian institutions, undermining their legitimacy in the eyes of outsiders. Other incidents are clergy sex scandals and cover-up and a Catholic Church that closes schools and churches yet spends money on anti-gay campaigns.

The best devilish knee-slapper? In the more extreme Fundie churches it is gays who are seen as so evil they must be eliminated so that the country (or maybe the world) can be purified for their version of the End Times scenario. That lets the Devil himself off the hook and free to cause more mischief.

Quite the joke -- told at the expense of gays and all those who believe in a God of love. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who called for a revolution about once a generation. Perhaps this time the revolution needs to be within Christianity -- we need to take back our faith. From a book I was reading today: "You're going against centuries of Christian teaching." "So did Martin Luther."

Expectations of personal liberty

If the Maine Fundies, who just outlawed gay marriage, want to avoid being branded as hypocrites (bad enough they're bigots) they had better act pronto to ban the lobster industry in their state no matter the economic consequences. ;-) Check out Leviticus 11:12.

Fresh from success in Maine, Fundies are casting an eye towards overturning gay marriage in New Hampshire. Fortunately, the two routes available make it tough. One way is a repeal law approved by a simple majority in both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor. It was only last June that the governor signed to approve gay marriage. The other way is a constitution amendment both houses pass the bill by two-thirds and sent to the people for a two-thirds approval.

That makes me wonder… The Michigan constitution is up for a rewrite in 2012 (the chance is offered every 16 years, though we haven't bothered since the 1960s). Should we try to toughen how the constitution is amended before or after we repeal the gay marriage ban?

The domestic partnership win in Washington state hasn't been certified yet, but it looks almost impossible to fail. That win is important for a couple reasons. It is the first time a DP law (better yet, one equivalent to marriage) has been approved by the general population. It was also done in an off-year usually dominated by older voters.

The second reason of importance will take a bit to explain. Back in 1997 voters were asked to approve a gay-friendly civil rights bill. Not one county had approval over 50%. And that for a bill quite narrow in scope. This time 9 counties (of 38) approved a much broader bill, some did it by wide margins -- one county over 70%. The important aspect is that all counties but one had a higher percentage voting in favor of gays than in 1997.

Prohibition failed (and was sensibly repealed) partly because it became impossible to enforce noted Jacob Weisberg of Newsweek. It became a symbol of the futility of legislating morality. People try anyway. But now the equation is reversed -- the effort these days is to undo laws that haven't kept up with society. At the top of the list: gay rights (and gay marriage), use of marijuana, and permission to travel to Cuba. The biggest reason is popular demand accelerated by the Internet. That raises expectations of personal liberty.

Naturally, politicians continue to lag, not lead. As the GOP remains the party of prohibition it will alienate more people. But Dems may be too eager to embrace change. Cultural change is treacherous. Why get in front of change when you can follow and get to the same place?

Unsuited to age group

I missed Banned Books Week! It was Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 this year. As it does every year it celebrates the First Amendment by listing the books that are most frequently challenged in our nation's libraries. Mark Twain and his Huck Finn didn't make the list this year. At the top was And Tango Makes Three about gay penguins. Of the books in the top 10, six were deemed sexually explicit, three promote homosexuality, and seven are "unsuited to age group" (yes, all books had multiple reasons). A commenter says that Fundies are now doing things differently. Instead of (or perhaps in addition to) challenging a book, they simply steal it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


More thoughts about the election and its consequences

The Fundies are crowing (heard on NPR yesterday) that a majority of Americans have spoken against gay marriage. The voices imply haven't you gays had enough humiliation yet? Give up now and stop causing trouble. It's never going to change in your favor. So why don't you crawl back into your closet.

David Mixner responds with a full-throated cry. "Enough!" We are creating Gay Apartheid. One set of rules for straights, another for gays. You want Gay Apartheid or you hate it. There is no halfway. If you hate it, fight with us. Don't wimp out. We're not waiting any longer. If you want our support you have to earn it. We have spent $100 million in just the last two years (I think this is just on the pro-gay side) because America has the silly and disgusting notion that our rights and freedoms are up for a vote. That's terrorism by ballot. Think of the good that could have been done with that money.

Now that we've lost in Maine is Obama and Congress going to spend any political capital on us heading into the 2010 election cycle? Nope, you can kiss lifting the military ban, federal defense of marriage, and several of our other issues goodbye at least until 2011.

So what to do? Doing the same old thing won't cut it.

Demand more from our national organizations. Who was prodding Obama to act on behalf of Maine? A reasonable question. We feel our kindness is being abused. No more money until the question is answered and we can expect straight and tough talk of elected officials.

The Gay ATM is closed. No more fair weather friends who come to us for campaign money and don't deliver and tell us we have to wait. They must stick their necks out by becoming co-sponsors of bills important to us.

It is perhaps time for some well-placed civil disobedience.

The press has the attitude of, "Oh yeah, another gay loss, how sad. We support you." You do? We are the civil rights issue of this age and you should treat us the way you handled civil rights coverage in the 1960s.

We're adjusting too easily to Gay Apartheid. We can't let that happen.

Mixner's full remarks say it much better than my summary.

Here's more discussion of the window of opportunity to enact several of our issues being closed. Too much talk of "We'll come back for you." We can't let those issues get in the way of the 2010 election.

Apparently members of Congress agree that window has been missed. The agenda for 2010 is being prepared and our issues may not be on it.

Another frustrated voice says:

Forgive me for being on a downer, for being angry and frustrated. They [Fundies] pay no cost for their lies and bigotry; we pay with the lives of our brothers and sisters, their blood in the street, every time that the Christian Right amps up their rhetoric.

I want them held accountable. I want them to pay a price. I want so much disruption at their events, their fundraisers, their gathering that the price of oppressing us becomes too high for them to sustain.

Actually, I believe they are paying with declining membership. They don't recognize the source of their decline. However, I sympathize with the sentiment.

In a email from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force it appears that the win in Kalamazoo is adding a bit of momentum (or maybe it is cover) to the Employee Non-Discrimination Act which may come for a vote by the end of the year.

Fundraising has now begun for the $1 million to get a million signatures to put the marriage question back on the Calif. ballot next November.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A good source of protein

Last Sunday I heard an interview on NPR with Jonathan Safran Foer about his latest book into the meat industry titled Eating Animals. It was enough to make him a vegetarian. It was enough to make me search the web to see how well hypoglycemia and vegetarianism mix. The answer is, apparently, not well, but not impossible. The helpful bit I found was a chart showing the protein/carbohydrate ratio of many foods. The higher the ratio, the more suitable it is for a low-carb diet with a ratio above 3 preferable. Some of the things I learned:

* Most legumes have a ratio less than 1. While a good source of protein they must first be seen as a carb.

* The highest ratios of natural foods are with tofu (ugh!) with values around 6.

* Peanut butter has a ratio of under 3.

* Eggs have a ratio of 10, pretty good, though I'm aware of the issues vegetarians sometimes have with eggs.

* Only Quorn meatless products were listed, most with good ratios. My one experience with Quorn products was not good.

I've been eating a couple different Morningstar products for lunch, so checked the nutrition guides. They have a ratio of 5 for one product, 8 for the other. I think I'll stick to these to reduce the amount of meat in my diet, though I won't (yet) eliminate it.

The webpage for the Foer interview includes an excerpt from his new book. He argues (in perhaps a Devil's Advocate sort of way) that with so many dogs being euthanized every year we're wasting a very good source of protein.

Confirming something good

Reaction and commentary on the Maine loss:

Here's more from Radical Russ, the guy who noted that Mainers approved medical marijuana but not gay marriage as I reported earlier today. The medical marijuana ads featured real fragile people getting relief from weed with threats of the cops busting down the door. Can (did) the gay marriage promoters present "emotional gut punches of a real live person about to suffer a horrible consequence from which only you, the voter, can rescue them?"

He takes up the idea I posted about before: why should the voter care?
Why does the average married religious conservative het voter need to vote for marriage equality? Because it's fair? Life ain't fair. Because it's a right? Never has been before. What's in it for them? Or, what bad thing is in it for them if they don't support it?

Perhaps the hangup is only on the word marriage. Maybe not, considering how close the Washington state DP law vote was. Gays know their marriages are the same as the straight variety. But do straights know that in the gut?

Currently, as a married het man, being married means I am like other married het men. We share sterotypical stories of wives who nag, mother-in-law jokes, and hidden stashes of porn.
But if gay marriage comes to pass, who I am as a married man is now like the old familiar straight married guys I identify with plus a new set of gay married guys whose roles and identities are different than mine. Absent any compelling need to change, I'm going to vote to keep things familiar.

A reply to Radical Russ notes the anti-gays won on lies and those lies are potent. But through every campaign and the passage of every year those lies will lose their power, and for a simple reason. There's no evidence behind the lies and the public eventually sees what gays, especially married gays, are really like. The lies become more outrageous (the ones they tell now aren't?) and soon the public won't swallow them. Then we win.

Another voice says don't take what happened in Maine as a loss. There are some good things that came out of it:

* We had the opportunity to educate the public about our rights (or their lack).

* 47% of the population voted for us.

* The Fundies seem to concede that gays deserve humane and, perhaps, equal treatment (the margin in Kalamazoo was big). We're now arguing over details.

* The votes this year weren't to fend off something bad, but to confirm something good.

* The flame of our spirit may have flickered a bit but our backs aren't broken. The fight isn't over.

* We can learn from it -- ultimate victory will be a tough slog and take a lot of work. Much of that work now needs to take place in rural areas.

Your Gay News Service with election results

The good news:

Kalamazoo easily passed its gay-inclusive human rights ordinance. About 65% voted in favor!

Chapel Hill, North Carolina has a new gay mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt. He won by 101 votes, 49.5% to 46.5%. Amazingly, there are already two other gay mayors in NC. In Durham, NC the city council voted for a marriage equality resolution (NC is the only Southern state without a marriage protection amendment). The news is that those up for reelection won by wide margins (72% and higher) in spite of Fundie calls for their hides.

The lesbian candidate for Houston mayor is leading, but will have to face a runoff.

The improved domestic partnership law in Washington State appears to have passed by 51%. The results won't be certified for several days (or until a Fundie concedes…) because Wash. state has vote-by-mail and your ballot only needs to be postmarked by election day. Gays are hopeful the victory will be maintained because the counties with the most ballots to count are the ones that are most favorable to gays. Though the referendum was a headache for gays and allies, it brought a much better understanding of what gays have to go through on a daily basis and may make the repeal of the state's gay marriage ban easier. Keep track of the results at the Wash. Sec. of State website.

Charles Pugh, a gay man who used to be a TV news host, won the most votes for the 9 seat Detroit City Council. That makes him Council President. Pugh had to leave his TV job before running for council, meaning he was unemployed for about a year -- long enough that foreclosure proceedings were started on his condo. That prompted the Detroit Free Press to withdraw their endorsement. He won anyway.

The bad news:
The vote in Maine was 53% against gay marriage. This vote was to overturn the gay marriage law, not for a marriage protection amendment. Supporters will try again soon. That has left one person wondering "how 12% of the voters would be compassionate enough to help a granny with glaucoma get some OG Kush, but also think gay people shouldn't be married." For the clueless, Kush is a type of marijuana. Maine approved medical marijuana by 60%. Both issues deal with compassion for real people.

Here's an essay on why civil rights should not be up for a vote. The writer, a person of color, is glad racial issues are not subjected to mob rule.

This little image by Box Turtle Bulletin reader Elliot Ryan explains why we lost in Maine.

Obama didn't help in Maine (and his AG passed on answering), since we lost we can blame Obama for inaction which could have made the difference. Passing on an answer gave Obama supporters (54% of last year's vote) the cover they needed to vote against fairness.

The Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo placed a full-color ad in last Sunday's local paper. This is another example of how churches are speaking out in favor of gays.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This wasn't exactly how I intended to spend my time

I got an email from the Triangle Foundation, a gay advocacy organization in Detroit. They said that today they were hosting a phone bank in support of the gay rights ordinance up for a vote in Kalamazoo. Since I didn't get to Kalamazoo to campaign in person I signed up. When I got there at 2:00 I found they had already gone through the thousand names in Kalamazoo they had been given and were now calling Triangle supporters in Detroit, simply reminding them of tomorrow's election. From the nature of the Foundation they can advocate on issues, but cannot endorse a candidate, even with an openly gay candidate running for Detroit City Council. If I had known I might have spent the afternoon at home calling people in Maine.

Along the way I heard that the Triangle liaison was surprised to only get 1000 names from Kalamazoo. She complained the effort there isn't all that well organized. I can believe it. I didn't spend a day going door to door in Kalamazoo because when they first contacted me it was only the day before they asked me to come (it's 2 hours one way from my house to Kalamazoo). I said no to that date and asked for another with a bit more warning. I never heard back. Of course, this disorganization gives me a bad feeling about the outcome.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Snowe job

Why has Olympia Snowe become the celebrity of the Senate and is that a good idea? The first part is easy -- she is GOP and her vote for health care reform is genuinely up for grabs. But using Snowe as the poster-lady of bipartisanship has its problems:

* The rest of the GOP senators are essentially engaging in a sit-down strike, wanting to see Obama fail.

* Snowe isn't seen as a "real" GOP senator and is not an inspiration to anyone with a vote. Those GOP voices praising her bill by the hour.

* Pursuit of Snowe is dividing Democrats, preventing them from getting as progressive a bill as many of them want.

* Obama's desire for inclusiveness means the real point of this exercise -- a reform bill that does something real for health care cost and security -- gets lost.

Does religion help or hurt the world

Lisa Miller of Newsweek says the debate is getting stale. Atheists trumpet their "gotcha" arguments and accuse religion of being a pox on humanity. Christians respond on how much good their religion has done for the world. Both sides congratulate their own members on how well they defeat the other side without actually doing so. Been there. Done that. Have the t-shirt. Let's move on. To…

People like atheist Jennifer Hecht and her book Doubt; A History in which she says when exploring questions of faith one should look with the eyes of a poet, not a scientist.

And people like Greg Epstein and his book Good Without God arguing that people can have religion -- community, morality, transcendence -- without the supernatural. The larger debate can include ethics, progress, tolerance, science and other big issues and whether religion is currently fostering or hampering these goals.

To be fair, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the rest of the loudest atheists have had one positive effect. The 12% of Americans who are atheist now have a voice in the public debate and aren't viewed with as much suspicion.

At this point I can imagine a friend (not my debate partner) accusing me of being a closeted Unitarian/Universalist. I'll respond to that charge by sharing an image I found recently.

Harnessing fear for a good cause

How many people in Maine (or around the nation) care about us gays, our rights, and our ability to get married? I don't mean the kind of caring where a person says, "Yeah, that would be nice." I mean a gut level caring -- this affects me -- strong enough to cause a person to brave a cold November day to get to the ballot box in an off-year election. How many? Maybe 15% when gays themselves, family members, good friends, allies, and strong progressives are all counted? Surely not much more than that. How many are against us? Another 15% who are fundamentalist enough -- feel their religion is threatened enough -- to stop us? Yeah, the percentage is much higher in Alabama, but the vote on gay marriage this year is in Maine, which doesn't have a high Fundie population.

So what about the other 70% of the voters? How do you get them to the ballot box?

The Maine pro-gay forces have been running a rock-solid campaign, with very little of the missed opportunities, failed efforts, and dissatisfaction with campaign leaders that spoiled the effort in California last year (Maine also has a much smaller population). They have responded promptly to each claim made by the opposition (not too hard since the same anti-gay arguments were used only last year in Calif.). Yet, the lead the pro-gay side had is slipping, the race is too close to call, and will depend on get-out-the-vote efforts. Alas, those in favor of gay marriage are less likely to vote.

Back to the question: How do you get that 70% to the ballot box (and voting on your side)?

As I wrote (way back in December 2007 when I highlighted an article on campaign psychology in Newsweek) the answer is to use fear.

About 6 weeks ago I wrote about the research that went into finding a suitable anti-gay message in Calif. Saying bad things about gay couples didn't produce enough fear in the campaign focus groups. Saying how harmful it is to teach kids about gay couples (or implying that gays are out to recruit your kid through the schools) did. Never mind that the message is a pack of lies (Maine schools teach very little about any kind of marriage, kids heads won't explode when learning about two daddies, the gay kid won't feel so isolated). As my friend and debate partner reminded me, when has campaigning (especially lately) been about honesty? It worked in Calif. It's working and may triumph again in Maine.

Might our future efforts demand we harness fear on the pro-gay side? If so, what kinds of fearful messages might we use? Some highly annoyed commenters offer some suggestions for fearsome campaign ads:

* Fundie churches can't dictate their dogma to the pew-sitter because not enough of them still sit in pews. So they're going to try to write their dogma into law you must follow. You think the gay marriage issue has nothing to do with you? If Fundie churches are successful in banning gay marriage, they'll next ban divorce and contraception. They're gathering signatures in California.

* Fundie churches don't want to just stop at gay marriage. They also don't want gay domestic partnerships. They don't want gays to be protected at the workplace. They don't want hate crimes to protect gays. They don't want gays in the military. They think it is proper to bully kids who merely look like they might be gay.

* An obvious religious person forcefully enters the home of a lesbian couple, searches for their marriage license (or DP certificate) and tears it up while the couple watches. Such an ad featuring a Mormon was made for the Calif. vote on gay marriage. It's uncertain whether it was aired.

* A sweet little girl pleads: "I love my mommies. They got married last year. Some people want to destroy their marriage. They want to destroy my family. Please vote to protect my family. Don't let them destroy your family too."

Stoop to their level? At least these ads are honest. Or is it better in the long run to stress reason, logic, and fairness? Are the anti-gay ads such a turn-off that they lose support from their own members? Is it enough to call out the fear-mongering?

Those first three suggestions make me lament the way they would probably cause more empty pews even in churches who are pro-gay. Alas, the Fundie distortions are already doing a good job of that. I'd want them to have a taste of their own medicine, but my faith tells me not to be vindictive.

I broke off writing this essay to attend the Detroit area's monthly service for gays at a United Methodist Church about a half hour's drive from my house. It is so wonderful to step into a Christian gathering in which everyone is or has a connection with someone gay. The evening message was from a man who is serving as a preacher, though his credentials are only as a Lay Speaker (someone who is not a full pastor, but has had some training in giving sermons). His son is gay and it was after the son came out that the father learned about how the denomination proclaims "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" as our Book of Discipline says it. He found it surprising that he learned about it 25 years after it became denomination doctrine. Much of his message was about the suicide rate of gay teens and young adults is 8 times that of straight youth. And we start mobilizing forces when we find out suicide for military men for Afghanistan and Iraq is twice the corresponding civilian rate. Something is wrong here.

Being with and worshipping with gay Christians is a nice way to redirect my thinking towards a much happier look at the gay marriage issue. Washington DC City Council has before it an ordinance to legalize gay marriage. They will probably vote on it soon. The Fundies are, of course, speaking loudly against it. But there is also Clergy United for Marriage Equality in DC and they are also speaking out. Here you'll find the text of their proclamation and all 200 signatories. It was a joy to see the list. I scanned it and saw several from 4 or 5 United Methodist churches, some of those I know from lists of Reconciling Congregations. The list includes even a few Rabbis and an Imam. Being gay incompatible with Christianity? Not here.