Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This bargain seemed to be such a sure thing

It seems a Faustian bargain was made to thoroughly discredit American conservatism and allow liberalism to take over. It was to take only 5 steps: A bank collapse to discredit unregulated markets, the election of the smartest Democrat for president, a stimulus package to show effective government, a universal health care law to cover basic security, and an oil spill to show the need for both regulation and global warming laws.

But it backfired.

America is drifting right, not left. How did that Faustian bargain fail? Do conservatives simply have a bigger megaphone?

Some people will never vote for liberals, no matter what happens, even in Ohio. Many people will punish you for breaking the link between effort and reward. After gorging on debt many people see all debt, including government debt, as their primary threat. The liberal champion of the little guy morphed into the guardian of special interests through the mantra that labor costs too much.

The slim silver lining is that the GOP has its own issues, the biggest being they feel they have a mandate to govern without bothering to actually win an election. And, as others have pointed out, they are doing a good job this year of nominating the crazies.

Real men ride with the gay community

I saw a version of this news story and, since I'm not a sports fan, thought that's nice and let it go. My friend and debate partner, who watches several sports, reminded me of the significance. So I'll let him tell it. For those not up on acronyms, LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a way for web content (such as this blog) to be sent out automatically.

From SportsFilter, an RSS feed I get that features sports stories and reader responses, today...

"The Blackhawks and Cubs to be a part of Chicago's Gay Pride Parade: The Chicago Blackhawks are bringing the Cup back into town for the Pride Parade. The team will be represented by Brent Sopel who has said that he is honored to be a part of the parade. The Chicago Cubs will have a float as well and none other than Ernie Banks himself will be on it."

I can think of no greater proof that LGBTs are now mainstream in America. The message to the remaining haters is clear -- real men (who win the Stanley cup and play pro baseball) ride with the gay community.

This was beyond imagination half my life ago. In another generation, the closet will be a curious artifact of history.

That leaves one major hurdle -- acceptance of LGBTs in conservative churches.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Making sense only in a parallel theoretical world

Quite a while ago I commented on the strange logic put forth by a Ms. Tushnet that gays should remain celibate and certainly not be allowed to get married. Also quite a while ago my friend and debate partner responded to her arguments and the fallacies I pointed out. Yes, another case of me letting his insights sit in my inbox.

You stop so soon... more fallacies:

Marriage is in fact defined in highly varied ways by our highly varied religions; qualification and preparation for it vary greatly. A glaring example: Muslims take multiple wives. There is ample Biblical heritage for this! Ms. Tushnet gets an F for perspective and narrow-mindedness. Her views make sense only in a parallel theoretical world that no humans inhabit. Bad assumptions lead to useless (and here silly) conclusions.

Even granting her Catholic definition of marriage, her vision of straight marriage is so unrelated to reality that I, twice married and divorced, could only laugh. Straights have made such a mess of real-world marriage that religions and societies have for centuries twisted and turned their dogma and laws to provide loopholes through which actual marriages could pass. Catholic annulments after years of marriage with children are obvious examples. Two more: 1) The Anglican Church was invented so that King Henry could divorce and remarry. 2) Under the Catholic-inspired laws of New York State when I was young (just a half-century ago), when any couple, religious or not, wanted a divorce, one of the pair (almost always the husband) had to confess in court to adultery. Many thousands perjured themselves to escape miserable marriages.

My laughter grew longer and stronger as I realized Ms. Tushnet has no experience to draw upon; her discussion is really not about people. Too bad, given her commitment to celibacy, that her religion doesn't welcome her into its clergy. She's sooooo qualified.

The defenders of "traditional marriage" (whatever that is) need to tend to their integrity and credibility! Why should we listen to them?

A bit of Pride here and there

I leave early Wednesday morning to fly to Oakland, CA. I'll be staying several days with my niece in Berkeley and exploring the area. We plan to see the San Francisco Pride parade on Sunday. I then will rent a car to spend two nights in Yosemite (in a canvas sided cabin) and two more in a lodge at Kings Canyon. I'll be back late on the evening of July 3rd. Within a few days after that I should be able to tell you about it.

The Colbert Report takes a look at the consequences of the study that showed kids of lesbians do better in some areas than kids of straight parents.

Not only does Charlie Baker, the GOP candidate for Gov. in Mass., have a gay running mate, he marched in the Boston Pride Parade. Deval Patrick, the Dem candidate did too, but we are to the point where we expect that. Well, yeah, it is Massachusetts. What's interesting is how uninteresting it is. No comment from state and national GOP leaders, not even from Alabama and Oklahoma. Rush and Newt aren't frothing. The only group raising a stink -- not that anyone is paying attention -- is the organization that has been fighting to repeal the gay marriage law.

The Con Edison tower in Manhattan has a cupola with lights inside. For NYC Pride they set it up so the lights show the rainbow colors of the pride flag and the colors circle the cupola. Here's a sped up look at it, all of a half-minute.

The Gulf oil spill is quite visible from space satellites. We've known for some time now that BP has been lowballing the amount of oil spewing forth. The reason is simple -- they pay fines according to the amount of oil that escapes into the environment. Now the New York Times reports that an internal BP document estimates the spill rate to be 20 times larger than BP had been saying -- 100K barrels or 4.2 million gallons a day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

You don't pay for everything at the gas pump

Ezra Klein in Newsweek asks the question, "How much does a gallon of gas cost?" The answer isn't simple, because there are a lot of costs that are not paid by the person sticking the nozzle into the vehicle. The costs that can be tallied:
* Air pollution
* Climate change (what is your great-grandchild's climate worth?)
* Traffic congestion and accidents
* Basing transportation on a resource that has wild price swings

Those things would boost the price by at least $1.88 a gallon. But there's more.
* What's the price of a military policy built around securing oil resources?
* What's the price of treating oil-producing despots with kid gloves?
* What's the global price when a poor country chooses oil investment over environmental quality? How about the cost of drilling in a country with lax environmental laws? Importing oil means exporting the damages of oil drilling.
* What's the economic value of keeping oil off a pelican?
* What's the price of pushing oil wells way offshore so we don't have to see the problems?

And what difference does knowing these costs make? Would paying those costs at the pump change our consumption?

Probably not. We need energy. The cost of one source is only in relation to another source. At the moment only oil can satisfy our demand. So the important question is what are the costs of whatever might replace oil and how might we get those costs to be less than oil?

The purpose of marriage is … wait, let me think about this

The anti-gays complain that providing gay marriage leads to a slippery slope of other nasty things, such as polygamy and bestiality. In the Calif. marriage case they threw in a last minute request to nullify the existing 18000 gay marriages. But if we grant them that we face another slippery slope because once that wish is granted they will work hard to repeal other gay rights until we're all safely back in the closet.

Closing arguments were heard this past Wednesday in that gay marriage case in Calif. Yeah, this is five months after the part of the trial where evidence was presented. The judge took time to review the evidence and came up with another 39 questions for both sides to answer (which I won't get into here). The pro-gay side spent the morning thoroughly summarizing the evidence they had presented during the trial and answering the judge's questions.

There was even representation from the City of San Francisco who talked about the costs of the gay marriage ban, including costs to mental health, policing associated with hate crimes, addressing bullying, lost tourism, and the cost to the city to treat all citizens equally.

The governor of Calif. and the state attorney general, being the ones named in the case as government representatives, sent representatives to say each waived his right to add to the closing arguments. The proper way to defend the indefensible.

The defense (anti-gay side) ran into a buzz saw. It’s nice to see him make such a fool of himself. He launched into the standard "marriage is for procreation" spiel. The judge asked for evidence and the lawyer tried to quote various experts. The judge interrupted, saying if you wanted to quote those witnesses, you should have presented them in the actual trial. The defense could only sputter we don't need no stinking evidence! One only needs to look at the definition of marriage in a dictionary. Well, yeah, upholding the sacred dictionary is so important that we must stop thousands of gay people in Calif. from getting married. Don't need evidence? That wouldn't have anything to do with there not being any, would it? The judge was not impressed.

The defense kept circling back to -- and changing -- it's central argument. The purpose of marriage is procreation, so gay couples can't be included. He ended up with a slew of variations.

* The purpose of marriage is to channel sexual relationships into stable unions to increase the likelihood that the offspring will be raised by a man and a woman.
* … is to provide society's approval to that sexual relationship.
* … is to license cohabitation and produce legitimate children.
* … is designed to minimize the threat of irresponsible procreation to prevent society from dealing with adverse ramifications.
* … is related to procreation and the existence and survival of the human race.
* Allowing opposite sex yet infertile couples to marry isn't inconsistent with the purpose of marriage, it even advances those purposes by demonstrating the ideal for fertile couples to follow.
* Allowing gays to marry doesn't represent a concern about irresponsible procreation.
* If gays marry then the institution will be deinstitutionalized -- lower marriage rates, higher rates of divorce and nonmarital cohabitation, with more children separated from at least one of their parents.

Got that? Me neither. I edited and shortened the above comments to highlight the shifting meaning. The original transcripts show the speaker had to work hard a times to get a coherent sentence out. A commenter noted that all of those points are about an outside authority imposing the definition of the couple. There's nothing about the desires, concerns, opinions, or emotions of the actual couple. There's no mention of family.

The head of the National Organization for Marriage complained that the pro-gay side and the judge don't understand that Americans have a right to vote for marriage. And she doesn't understand the concept of tyranny of the majority. She has admitted that her side will lose this round, but that the Supremes will see it her way.

A good summary of the arguments.

If you're really interested the entire closing argument transcript is here.

Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison wrote an opinion piece in Newsweek stating their case against marriage. They aren't saying gays shouldn't marry. They're saying straights shouldn't bother. Gays will destroy marriage? Didn't straights already do that? Some of the reasons they give:

* Now that women can be financially independent there isn't an incentive, not even a tax break, for getting married.
* Current average ages for 1st marriage are 28 for men and 26 for women. If you wait that long, why bother?
* Children out of wedlock has lost its stigma.
* Thanks to same-sex marriage battles unmarried straight couples have more rights than ever before.
* Anthropologist Helen Fisher believes humans aren't meant for long-term relationships (don't tell my parents who just celebrated their 59th anniversary) so it is better not to marry than have several divorces, which is possible with such long lifespans.
* We've all become cynical about the institution of marriage (don't tell the gays).
* Marriage forces women to conform and we can't seem to shed the roles of "husband" and "wife" with the wife getting stuck with the housework.
* The current ideal of marriage is finding a soulmate and we tend to tire of those.
* Once you establish a life together, with or without the marriage vows, it is difficult to walk away.

The authors caution that we should ask them 5 years from now if they still feel the same way.

Some dissenting opinions here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The politics of "Eww. That's disgusting!"

When the movie Brokeback Mountain came out on 2005 (wow! 5 years ago) there was discussion about the character Ennis (the one played by Heath Ledger) not being comfortable in his own skin because he detested the way he was attracted to another man. The emotion behind all that is disgust.

Disgust is used a lot in politics these days. Thankfully, there is also research into disgust as well as how liberal and conservative brains process things differently, including how various emotions correspond to different political groups. Why is it important? We want a participatory democracy.

Like all emotions there is a biological explanation for disgust. Disgust has its uses in keeping us healthy, especially in avoiding rotten and poisonous food. Disgust is most closely linked to digestive bodily functions. The short definition is that disgust comes from the recognition that the body feels unpleasant because it has been contaminated. We learn what causes the contamination so we can avoid it.

Disgust is the physiological foundation for the moral ideas of purity and sacrilege. Morality and its study used to be confined to debates of philosophy, political science, and religion. No more. Now the research into morality centers on physical, biological, and evolutionary explanations.

That means we literally feel what is right and wrong. Poor Ennis felt his attractions to be wrong which made him feel alienated from his body. Those feelings guide us in the morality of such things as incest, rape, and cannibalism. The strength of those feelings guide how vocal we are when the society discusses how to handle disgusting topics.

The brain responds to topics of moral purity the same way it responds to tainted food. If something is held as sacred and pure and something else taints that purity the same feeling of disgust is created.

Disgust, once felt, is very persistent. Bite into a moldy apple and the disgust will keep you from ever biting into another one. Once a political idea (like "liberal") is tainted with disgust, the feeling is very difficult to shake off. Which is why political operatives work very hard to smear someone or some idea as disgusting. Once tagged it will stay tagged.

Think about the ramifications for gay marriage. If children are taught that homosexuality is disgusting, they will want to stay far away from it. As their moral sentiments develop, they will begin to see homosexuality as a contaminant in society. When thinking about the sacred institution of marriage, they will feel the threat of this impurity to something they want to keep clean. It's pretty easy to mobilize them against this threat because the feeling is long-lasting and easy to activate with a political sound bite.

Which is why Fundies work hard at making sure children never learn that gays and gay marriage is just another variation of humanity.

There are two lessons to learn from this. First, if you want someone to support your idea (like the notion that addressing global warming might be a sensible thing to do), don't let it get associated with disgust (such as how people feel about the elitism of scientists -- be it real or imagined). Second, if you want someone to oppose an idea, just riddle it with associations to the profane and impure. Do so with references to basic bodily functions and you'll be particularly effective.

The emotion of disgust will trump reason every time. Don't believe people who say people are rational.

So consider this posting as my participation in democracy. If only a handful of people know about the power of disgust they can manipulate the rest of us any way they want. The more people who know the more who will recognize the politics of disgust and call out the perpetrators as unethical. In addition to everything else they teach, high school civics classes should teach about the brain and politics.

And in a related discussion…

Are a person's values created by the culture or are some values consistent across cultures? Here are a few that are proving to be universal -- fairness, avoidance of harm, loyalty, authority, and purity. Of course, the relative strengths of these (and other) values varies between cultures and between individuals.

For example, liberals put a priority on avoidance of harm and fairness. Conservatives stress loyalty, authority, and purity. Which means in our fractured American politics we're not debating how to apply core values to a particular problem, we're debating the core values themselves. And wondering why the opponent is being so obtuse. Is there a way out of this dilemma?

Step back a bit. According to ethicists, an individual matters, but doesn't matter more than any other individual. Ethical rules must be of a kind that can be applied to everyone.

I'm sure you can hear the Fundies shouting, "But of course! My ethics are correct (because they're derived from my religion) and you had better follow them." Of course not. As I understand it, if an ethical rule isn't appropriate for everyone according to their values, it isn't ethical.

Fairness and harm avoidance can be applied to everyone. Loyalty, purity, and authority cannot. The first statement should be obvious (though we still have people in America who maintain slaves). The second might need a bit of explanation.

Authority means that certain people are special, they should be respected and obeyed more than others and they have the right to tell other people what to do. Loyalty means the inside group (family, country) is more important than those not in the in-group. Purity, when applied to relationships, means that the pure people should be treated better than the impure people. These values cannot be applied to everyone the same way.

That does not mean loyalty and authority are bad values. Of course, we treat our family members, whom we love, better than we treat strangers. Of course, we need authority figures or we would spend our lives in meetings trying to reach consensus on everything. We need laws and authority figures to enforce them. As for purity, well…

However, when we debate issues we can now look for the underlying clash of values and can now say that fairness and harm avoidance are more important than loyalty, authority, and purity unless there is a compelling reason. And to take it a step further, our advances in moral progress have been made when we figure out how to apply fairness and harm avoidance to more people. Long live the liberal.

That military survey is biased

There is now an online survey to gather comments from military personnel about the gay ban. One needs a military ID to access it. Fundies in the military can comment all they want about the gay ban. Gays in the military cannot without exposing themselves to dismissal. And nobody is asking gay spouses for input the way they're talking to soldier's wives and husbands.

Finland! Their gay marriage bill passed unanimously.

I've seen the statue known as the "Touchdown Jesus" along I-75 south of Dayton. Hard to miss, actually. But not anymore. The statue, made of Styrofoam, wood, resin, and steel, was struck by lightning last night and burned. Was this an Act of God? Many who were fond of the statue think so. If so, what message way God trying to convey? Um… Insufficiently anti-gay? An odd way of saying so. Condemnation of their ex-gay ministry? God striking down an idol? Or is the message simply that one shouldn't create statues out of flammable materials without installing a lightning rod?

The giant sign on the other side of the highway for the Hustler Hollywood adult bookstore is still intact.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My kid is better than your kid

A new long-term study of children of lesbian parents has been announced. Fundies loudly make the claim that gay and lesbian parents are the most evil thing that could happen to a child, so there have been lots (maybe 200?) studies to find the truth. Of course, this study -- like every last one of the others (that doesn't have suspicious research techniques) -- found there is no detriment to having gay or lesbian parents. However, this one added a new wrinkle to the debate. There are some areas in which children raised by lesbians were better than kids of straight parents. These areas were better self-esteem, confidence, academics, and less rule-breaking and aggression. The big factor seems to be that because the lesbian couples have to spend a lot of effort and money to have kids, these kids are definitely wanted.

A bodybuilder is annoyed that every time he takes his shirt off it becomes a political statement. No, not a Dem/GOP thing. The tone of comments from others imply how dare he make them feel inferior! They have body issues and take it out on him, accusing him of sculpting those muscles to mask his own psychological insecurities.

The Onion thinks we should be more concerned about the massive toxic spew coming out of the mouths of BP executives. They might be up to 70,000 words a day.

Making straights jealous

Eve Tushnet is a lesbian who is also a conservative Catholic. She's just fine with being celibate. However, she thinks all gay people should also be celibate. And of you can't be celibate, don't even think of marriage. That's for straight people. Let's see if we can unravel her logic. If gays can marry just like straights she claims there are three possible outcomes.

* There's a two tiered marriage culture. Straights are asked to do the hard things like sex only within marriage and marriage is for life. Gays define marriage for themselves.

* Everyone gets to define marriage for themselves. But if we do that we ignore the "creative and destructive potentials of 'straight' sex." Whatever that means.

* Both straights and gays restrict sex to marriage and marry for life. She hopes gay couples are willing to accept norms that are designed to meet heterosexual needs.

Alas, these three outcomes are not explained in any more detail. I shall attempt my own translation with no way to know if the result matches the intent of the author. Let's see now…

* Straight marriages, because of the potential for children, must follow the dictates of the church. Gay marriages don't need to. That will make straights jealous of the sexual freedom gays enjoy.

* Neither straight nor gay marriages have to conform to church teaching. Instead, all marriages can be whatever the couple wants them to be. That's bad because there might be children involved in the straight marriages.

* Both straight and gay marriages must follow the dictates of the church. Sorry, gays, that we have to impose on you like that even though you can't produce children the normal way.

Therefore, gays should not marry.

I'm sure there's a fallacy or two in there somewhere. Hmm. Ah, here we are.

* The church's dictates on marriage are outdated. Marriage (and sex) isn't only about the kids.

* Many gay marriages also produce children, just not in the same way straights do it.

* The religious teachings on marriage only apply to members of that religious group and should not prevent others from creating any kind of marriage they would like.

How dare you not be ashamed!

Since some Fundies are getting tired of being branded as bigots they are trying to craft a more careful message. That message, like the previous version, will -- eventually -- fail.

Fundies are being branded as bigots because they are seen to discriminate on an immutable characteristic. Society now frowns on (alas, no more than that) discrimination based on skin color. Much of modern society now says gays, because they can't change being gay, should not be discriminated against.

This is one reason why Fundies have long made a distinction between being gay and behaving gay. They aren't discriminating against people, they are discouraging behavior.

Fundies, in this instance Peter Heck, know they are losing the argument that gays are bad within the wider society. Heck says the solution is to stress the distinction mentioned above. Timothy Kincaid says the refined argument won't work any better and gives three reasons.

* Everyone already recognizes that gays, as a distinct group of people, exist. Even Fundies have long ranted against gays, so they can't now claim gays don't exist. Even so, they try, using terms such as "men having sex with men" that focus on the behavior.

* Basing the argument on behavior will actually be good for gays. A gay man is a man who likes sex with other men. That's the basic definition. So how does one ban gay sex without banning gay people? But gays haven't been discriminated against based on what they do -- they aren't banned from adopting kids because they access gay porn. Fundies don't care if you do it in the privacy of your own bedroom -- you can do gay acts there as long as you aren't gay when you leave your front door. Many Fundies don't even like gays who are celibate. What Fundies really object to is people who might do that sort of behavior and not be ashamed of it.

* However Fundies refine the twisted message efforts to deny sexual orientation only make them look extreme, hateful, and ridiculous. As more people get to know gays the claim "they're not really gay, they're just choosing aberrant behavior" doesn't match experience and falls on deaf ears.

Anti-gays are losing influence on the culture around them. Alas, they are also tarnishing the Christian message as they go.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Singing a wonderful tune

In my musical writing I haven't attempted much with text. The things that I have done essentially came with a text -- a hymn arrangement with the words out of the hymnal or a setting of a psalm or song from the bible. The couple times I've used words from the bible I've freely paraphrased them to create my own text.

What I haven't done is to pore over books of poetry and set those words to music. Reading lots of poetry for the few poems that would suit me just didn't strike me as fun way to pass an afternoon.

Apparently, there is one place I haven't considered that could be a gold mine (at least of ideas). Back in April of 2009 there were public hearings on whether Maine should adopt gay marriage. WWII veteran Philip Spooner gave a 4 minute testimony in favor of gay marriage. His memorable phrase was "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?" He said he fought for freedom and equality of all people. He has a gay son and he made sure that son was as loved as the other three. The video of his speech became a YouTube hit.

Composer Melissa Dunphy created a work for choir using Spooner's testimony. The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers held a composition contest and named Dumphy's work the winner, declaring it to be the strongest and most individual. This page has the videos of both Spooner's speech and Dunphy's music. Beautiful music. And they're singing it in Kansas!