Saturday, July 31, 2010

Following Christ without being Christian

Ann Rice, famous for writing several vampire novels (I think Tom Cruise starred in one when it was made into a movie), had a life-threatening illness back in 2004. That prompted her to embrace her Catholic roots. After that, her books were about Jesus, such as one imagining his early life. While she still considers herself a follower of Jesus, she now refuses to call herself a Christian. She wrote:

Gandhi famously said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” When does a word (Christian) become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?

And later:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.


I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

A commenter suggests she is far too Christian to be one.

Though I still attend a Christian church, I know how she feels.

I'm taking my general dislike out on you

For years now the Fundies have been ranting that gay people should not be allowed to adopt because children need their natural parents (that's in addition to their claim that the little tykes need both a mommy and a daddy). Zack Ford, a young man who is straight and adopted, has an interesting theory. He bases it on the reaction he gets when he says he is adopted.

It seems those people who rant about gay adoption don't like any adoption, by anybody. He hasn't explained the reasoning behind that dislike -- I don't think he has gone up to such people and talked about it (he is young, after all). But in the same manner that many who blame the Catholic priest pedophile problem on the few priests who are gay, those who dislike all adoptions are taking their dislike out on gays.

That makes me think our society would not take kindly to anyone who thinks it is better to let a kid be trapped in foster care than to be adopted. But gays are the last minority that society still permits bashing.

A commenter notes that when gays and lesbians adopt the nasty comments are phrased in such a way to imply that the mean gay people took the baby away from the natural parents or some other deserving couple. But the choice isn't between gay parents and birth parents, but between gay parents and foster care or an orphanage.

Get your voter guide right here

Between the Lines has published their voter guide for next week's Michigan primary. I'll let you look up your own district, I'll note that Natalie Mosher, who is taking on Thaddeus McCotter for US House in my district, is endorsed by MI Dem LGBTA Caucus. For the governor's race the Lansing Association for Human Rights PAC has rated Virg Bernero as Extremely Positive.

Here is BTL's endorsement of Virg Bernero. They feel that not only will he fight for gay rights, he is better than Andy Dillon as the one who can lead Michigan back from the financial mess it is in.

And a pair of interviews with Bernero and Dillon. Bernero's brother Victor was gay (died, not ex-gay, he's referred to in the past tense), so supporting our causes comes naturally to him.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I finally have proof of intimidation

The National Organization for Marriage bus tour is continuing. Some have noticed that NOM has advertised its rallies for several months and is getting low turnout while equality supporters only need to put a notice on Facebook a few days ahead of time to get a crowd many times larger.

That has gotten Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign thinking. Perhaps this highly lopsided turnout is intentional on NOM's part. NOM is still battling lawsuits in both Washington state and Maine trying to get them to reveal their donors and petition signers. Videos of angry gays vastly outnumbering those poor old ladies who only want to protect the tradition of marriage might be just the thing to show to a judge that gays really are intimidating and really will do nasty things once the names of NOM's supporters are revealed. Assaulting a few lesbians (off screen) to get a hostile response could only add to the drama of the video.

How can I treat you right if I can't give you a job?

Remember that ruling by the Supremes that corporations can spend freely on political campaigns? Some companies may be hesitant to get into the pond and play with the sharks, but others have jumped in. The Minnesota Forward PAC is handing out money to GOP candidates for governor. One of the big donors to MF is the retail chain Target. And here is where it gets interesting. Target has earned a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign for the great way it treats its gay employees. Yet the big recipient of MF (and thus Target) money is candidate Tom Emmer, a raging homophobe. Gay commentators are crying foul. They're badgering HRC to change its rating system to include corporate political donations.

MF and Target say a top priority is creating jobs. I get annoyed that such a focus on jobs comes at the expense of human rights, help for the poor, and environmental health. Besides, too many times the call for more jobs is really GOP speak for let us make money without government interference. Some notable gays are starting to call for a boycott of Target and other MF contributors, such as Best Buy. Others wonder if we should go after Target because of so many gay (and progressive) things it supports

Apathy can be our friend

Gay organizations made a big stink when the Department of Defense sent biased surveys to 400K soldiers (active and reserve) to get their views on having out gay colleagues. Three weeks later only 40K -- 10% -- of the soldiers have bothered to fill it out. The survey response time is to end in two more weeks. Most gay observers are interpreting this that 90% of military personnel simply don't care whether their gay colleagues are out. They also suspect of the 10% who did respond most are strongly anti-gay.

The question is how will the Pentagon interpret this result? Proper statistic protocol says that a return rate less than 30% means the results can't be a valid representation of the whole. But we're dealing with the military here. Will that 10% be taken as the whole, "proving" the military is too homophobic to allow gays to serve openly? Or will it be properly interpreted that 90% don't have issues with the ban's repeal?

To the anti-gay crowd, the younger generation is saying, "It's over. You lost. We don't care." Anti-gay policies will fall through apathy.

The greater threat to freedom

Essayist Terrence Heath encountered the atrocious state of Washington DC infrastructure yet again -- having power outages and water main breaks in a heat wave is not fun. Many other cities have similarly aging infrastructure at a time when a lot of people could use some employment. He noted a proposal to create an Infrastructure Bank could fund such water, sewer, and electrical improvements by directing the Federal Reserve to buy bonds in these projects. Repayment would go to the Feds and not increase long-term federal debt, eliminating the current GOP rallying cry. Yet, the project died in Congress this week. This isn't the only opportunity to improve the economy (or improve our environment) that we've turned away from.

Heath wonders if we have become afraid to create jobs. We're being told that government action is a greater threat to freedom than the destitution of several million people. We're becoming a nation of helpless people and we're starting to embrace that helplessness. We're being told that government shouldn't fix the problem. Therefore a problem can't be fixed unless somebody can make a profit from it. In the meantime the rest of us sit around in the dark waiting for the water to rise.

Heath has written enough essays like this to make me think about the next questions, even though he avoids it in this essay. Is the GOP intentionally fostering this helplessness? To what end? For a party that pushes the entrepreneurial spirit what is the benefit of helpless masses? Are sheep easier to rule over if they are complacent?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In search of a leader

The Detroit Free Press came out with their endorsements for governor of Michigan for both parties. The primary is next week. Here's their reasoning:

For GOP: Pete Hoekstra. He has served in the US Congress, where he's not term limited, and thus has had time to learn how to compromise and negotiate to move legislation. This is in contrast to the state legislators who only learn how to toe the party line because their next job will likely come through lobbyists. Hoekstra is also different because the rest (4 other candidates) think they can force their ideas through on charm or that their ideas are so obviously right everyone will naturally see it.

For Dem: Andy Dillon. He is the current Michigan House Speaker, so has some experience herding cats. He is also willing to buck "common wisdom" and traditional Dem supporters to explore new solutions to Michigan's problems. This editorial works to dispel the myth that Dillon is a wolf in sheep's clothing, that he really is a true progressive who compromises to get some gain rather than stick to beliefs and get no gain. Dillon's only opponent is Virg Bernero, who seems to be grabbing hold of hot issues that aren't the state government's to solve (like Wall Street regulation and federal trade policy).

Michigan has been suffering from a lack of leadership. The current governor is a wimp. Both House and Senate are term-limited, so leaders don't have time to develop beyond their ability to make sure lobbyists are satisfied.

As for my important issues… Hoekstra may know how to compromise, but he is still pushing the GOP party line and is endorsed by the Tea Party. He also supports marriage as one man, one woman (as do the rest of the GOP lineup). Dillon opposes gay marriage, but would not deny benefits. He supports civil unions.

And Bernero supports gay marriage. I hear he had a gay uncle or brother who died in the AIDS crisis a couple decades ago.

My vote will be for Bernero, though I won't have much of a problem supporting Dillon in November if he happens to be the candidate.

Publius allows one (at least in Michigan) to see what exactly will be on the ballot. In addition it has links to Free Press and League of Women Voters evaluations. Alas, I won't have much to vote on because the Dem US House, state House, and state Senate candidates are all unopposed. I had wondered why the Free Press didn't bother printing endorsements in these races. Alas, Natalie Mosher, the Dem being thrown against Thaddeus McCotter for the US House is a nobody. Sigh.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Amazing how long it lasted

I wrote last week about Credit Default Swaps and how they caused great damage to the economy yet regulation for them was excluded from the recent financial reform law.

My friend and debate partner responded that he appreciated the explanation, but…
I am under the impression that the financial reform bill, which Obama will sign into law this week, does regulate credit default swaps. Have you looked at that?

In the same Washington Spectator issue there is a lengthy discussion about how Blanche Lincoln, Democrat from Arkansas, made sure such reforms got into the bill. It boosted her "for the people" cred enough that she won her primary. But with the Wall Street firepower against her the amazing part of the story is how long that part of the bill lasted. Only after Lincoln's primary was in the bag did the New Democrat Coalition (who held a NYC fundraiser during a trip to allow NDC members to meet with the big bank execs) demand the CDS provisions be taken out. And yes, it was Dems that did it in. The GOP only obstructed.

We adapt too easily

The ten warmest years on record have been after 1997. The first half or 2010 has topped all previous records. A couple maps and charts on this site provide the details.

So why hasn't there been more action on curbing the coming climate catastrophe? Never mind the deniers, what about the common people? Changes are happening -- strawberries are ripening earlier and lakes are cloudier because the ice melts earlier allowing leaves more time to decompose. But changes are happening slowly enough and are abstract enough (cloudy water = too much carbon?) and happen far away enough that they become normalized. We get used to the changes instead of bothered by them. This is a difficult calamity for us to respond to.

Not afraid of dissent

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is the group that was behind the successful anti-marriage campaign in Maine last year. The group is currently on a 23 city tour with a big bus holding rallies. And the crowds! There have been -- wow! -- just tens of people at these events! Yeah, as in less than 100. Some even less than 50. Apparently the host cities are enjoying freedom of listening.

There has been a lot of commentary in gay blogs about the low attendance and even more about NOM's claims to great turnout. One blogger even did an analysis of NOM photos to explain how they used unusual views to make one think the crowd was bigger (no link because the blog is not safe for little kiddies, as rated by the author). But that's not my point today.

A NOM official (the one serving as the bus driver and photographer) has been most upset with the coverage they're getting from the gay blogs. Who'd a thunk? Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin noticed something in those rantings. It appears that NOM official is obsessed and fascinated by gay blogs and the readers who comment on them. We appear to be a community that is not afraid of dissent. We can have multiple perspectives and disagreements and still remain one community.

That aspect of community seems to be quite foreign to NOM and other Fundie organizations. They've been trained to thing there is one true, holy, and universal way to think handed down by Pope and Prophets. It seems they envy our freedom, to challenge and be challenged, to question and grow. We have even escaped the problem of having to be right lest one spend eternity in Hell.

Enjoy your freedom.

All right -- who said that?

Is the Tea Party racist? It's a question I've written about before. Let's try a related question. Is our perception of the Tea Party in media based on white privilege? According to rapper Jasiri X the answer is a resounding yes. The Tea Party says some rather militant things that would not be tolerated coming out of the mouths of Blacks. Which leaves me with a question -- why are we not upset when those words come out of the mouths of Whites?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shouting matches for entertainment take the place of news

I've heard that an intentional strategy of the GOP is to keep its party loyalists as uneducated as possible. That's because only the uneducated don't see through their shenanigans. In 2008 that ridicule of intelligence was on display with praise of folksy appeal and derision of arugula-eating liberals.

I guess I've known for a long time that mainstream media has been aiding that effort towards dumbness. Which is why I don't watch TV news (of any stripe) and only get radio news from NPR (and even sputter at them at times). So it is good to see someone catalog the sinking of journalism. Some of the signs:

* "News sources" no longer spend much effort pursuing facts, understanding the truth, and coming to an independent conclusion and explaining it all to the public.

* What we get instead is a moderator letting two screaming heads have at it as they repeat spin and talking points in an effort to be impartial to both sides. Example: discussing the gay military ban by putting a gay ex-soldier on with a Fundie who can't get past "gay is gross".

* Those in the news business simply pull information from celebrity Facebook and Twitter feeds, which allows the speaker to say something without a follow-up question or challenge from the other side. Palin gets to be a conservative leader without proving she knows what she is talking about.

* They simply create an idea -- one with enough conflict -- and run with it. The current crop of such ideas include: The Tea Party will wipe out incumbents. There is a huge controversy over gays in the military. Is either true? Who can find the facts?

The result is a push towards conflict, fear, and ignorance for the sake of entertainment. This is war on intellectualism and they are winning.

We've been sold out. Again.

Obama is crowing that he's gotten some Christian Evangelicals (referred in this blog as Fundies) to support his new immigration policy. The catch (and you knew there is one) is that if gays are in the final bill then Fundies withdraw their support.

The reason why gays should be mentioned in the bill is that, unlike straight couples, a gay American cannot sponsor his or her foreign spouse for residency. Fall in love with a foreigner and you face a daunting choice. Either work out a work/student/tourist visa which has to be renewed frequently (and may not be) or don't live in the United States. It doesn't matter that one of ten countries around the world or one of five states here has issued a marriage license. For purposes of immigration the two of you are strangers.

Some gay leaders already envision various Dem leaders coming and saying, "Gosh, durnit, we tried to get you included. But we just can't. Please donate generously so we can try again sometime in the distant future." It's a song and dance we've heard too many times since Obama took office.

What does Obama get out of this? Well, the chances of immigration reform have been looking pretty dim and courting Fundies puts the squeeze on the GOP. Even so, this deal is insufficient to change the equation enough for a bill to pass.

And the Fundies? About 15% of Hispanics are evangelical, thus socially conservative and willing to support pro-life and anti-gay policies. Since the percentage of Hispanics is growing it makes sense to woo them into the conservative fold (as long as the racist elements of the party will tolerate it).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The view from on high

Somebody had fun. Here's a series of 67 photos of Manhattan taken from the air. Most are from earlier this month, though a few are from as long ago as 2008. Some get up close and personal to well-known skyscrapers. Alas, in this format most photos are too big to be seen on my computer screen in their entirety. I'm not quite sure why these great images are on the Denver Post website.

A handful of the photos in a size I can handle.

Artist James Dive used images from Google Earth and some photo manipulations to create overhead images of Biblical events. This page contains a handful: Garden of Eden (with Belgium as a stand-in), Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat, Parting of the Red Sea, and the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Taking advantage of catastrophes

After a while it can get tiresome to read essays by blogger Terrence Heath because he keeps talking about ways the middle class, working class, and the poor are getting screwed over again. This time he explores the term Catastrophic Success. We're more familiar with catastrophic failure, which means a breakdown so complete that recovery is not possible. A success, then, is one in which a catastrophe (like our economy over the last two years) is used to achieve a particular end. In this case it seems the goal is to take wealth out of the hands of middle class and poor and concentrating it in the hands of the rich and increasing economic disparities. In the process it destroys trust in the system.

I don't dispute Heath's analysis, but wonder why the rich find the concentration of wealth and its accompanying loss of hopes and dreams in the poor to be beneficial. If the rest of us are too undereducated and too discouraged won't that lead to a societal breakdown that will destroy the wealth of the rich (as it destroys everyone's wealth)? Or is their aim the corresponding concentration of power? Again, those wielding power over restless masses sound like they have a thrill in causing pain. They've already revealed themselves to be heartless.

In a related essay Heath looks at the devastation the economy and failure to extend unemployment benefits is having to people across the country. The GOP is refusing to renew benefits because they expect that the Dems will get blamed for not doing enough for the working person. The Dems get blamed because they are in charge and should (as the common man thinks) get things done. There's a chance: Dems paint the GOP as the Party of Unemployment. But do Dems have enough moxie to do it?

And another one. The crazies are out there and they're getting stronger. They have the GOP dancing in uniform kick-step to their tune. They are rising up in strong protest to a government that tries to make it a world that works for everyone. And they most assuredly will vote. These crazies could sweep into power if progressives, annoyed at Obama's slow pace, decide to sit out this election. The least we can do: Always Vote. If there is nobody to vote for, then find someone to vote against. Look for the candidate who will do the most good, who wants a country that works for everyone. Settle for the least harm if you must. Always Vote

Better through Congress but through the courts if we must

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell military gay ban is in limbo somewhere between Congress and the Dept. of Defense messed up survey. While that slowly plays out a trial has begun, challenging the constitutionality of the law. The trial is in a Southern California federal courtroom and the challengers are the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group. It seems the Dept. of Justice, in charge of defending the law, put up a fight to keep the trial from happening, but since the trial began has been putting up a minimal defense, other than trying to show that Admiral Mullen, Joint Chief of Staff, didn't really say all those pro-gay things we all heard him say.

The trial is focusing on a few issues:

* Gay soldiers are unfairly discharged, a constitutional issue.

* When outed, gay soldiers are blackmailed into abuse -- let us do what we want with you or we'll tell your commanding officer you're gay.

* The rules against inappropriate sexual behavior that exist to handle problems between male and female soldiers can very easily be applied to problems with gay and straight soldiers.

* Gays who are out have no effect on unit cohesion, morale, and discipline.

* The policy fails to further any military objectives.

Strange that the trial is getting very little discussion in mainstream media.

When the DADT policy is repealed (either through Congress or the courts) some Fundies are now making noise that if gays may serve openly then Fundie soldiers want to claim Conscientious Objector status to get out of the military. That status was a big thing during the Viet Nam era when the draft was active, but true objectors are now able to simply not enlist. So we're talking about guys who are serving without objection suddenly saying they can't, in good conscience, stay. Will that fly?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Turning from risk to a gamble

Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator (alas, no link) supplies a bit of background on the financial regulation package that just passed the Senate. A big part of the financial mess of the last two years is because of credit default swaps (CDS). I'll try to summarize his explanation. Suppose you bought GM bonds. It begins to look like GM may not be able to make the payments on those bonds, so you take out insurance in case GM defaults. If GM does just fine you lose the price of the insurance (but get the bond payments). If GM goes into bankruptcy the insurer loses the price of the bond payments and you don't lose out. In this case the insurance is called a credit default swap because one person is swapping the risk of default on some type of credit (the bonds) with someone else. The company that issued the insurance is supposed to make sure it has a way to pay the claim if GM can't pay it's bonds, which is called reserves.

So far, so good. But a CDS could also be a gamble. You could buy a CDS on GM bonds even if you don't own GM bonds. Then it isn't transferring risk, it is simply a bet on the future of GM. And a lot of people made a lot of those kinds of bets.

And here's where it went wrong. In 2008 before the crash, the entire world economy was about $60 trillion. But there was $600 trillion in outstanding CDS claims. There was no way all those claims could be paid.

So the new regulatory laws fixed that problem. Right?

There are five institutions that do 80% of all CDS trades. These five have combined assets of over $8 trillion. Would that much financial power let a silly little law get in the way of their feed trough?

There is some actual good in that new law. There is a new consumer protection agency now a part of the Federal Reserve. Real progress. If they don't get too cozy with the companies they regulate.

What we get when the government shouldn't or can't protect us

Earlier in the week I wrote about an essay by Terrence Heath that said the GOP doesn't want a government that would come to the aid of the common citizen and hold large corporations accountable for the messes they make. So what would we have if the GOP had its wish? In a related essay Heath shows us.

Exhibit A: The Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, in which ExxonMobil fought for 20 years, spending a half billion dollars in legal fees so that they only had to pay out a half billion dollars in compensation. If I have this right the company saved about a billion and a half in denied claims. And even $1.5B was peanuts compared to their profits in the year they settled. It was also peanuts compared to what the area needs to recover. What we get when the government shouldn't protect the citizens.

Exhibit B: The Niger Delta in Africa, where oil companies do nothing about environmental protection and don't worry or care when oil spills. Total over the last 40 years is about 5 times larger than what's been dumped in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 3 months. The area is the world's oil pollution capital. This is what we get when the government can't protect its citizens.

If the oil companies were forced to clean up after themselves oil would easily cost $200 a barrel instead of the current $75 (I wonder what the cost would be if Big Oil was simply forced to run their operations in an environmentally responsible manner, my guess would be more than $75 but much less than $200). Put it another way, somebody is paying that $125 per barrel. It ain't oil companies and it ain't Americans. Think of where alternative energy sources would be if we paid the true cost of oil out of our pockets.

My mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts

Last Wednesday NPR reported that many Tea Party rallies invoke the Constitution a lot. They even pass out pocket size pamphlets containing the text so one can always have it for reference. Speakers rail about how Obama is trashing that fine document (him? Not Bush?) Their reasoning? Red flags went up when one Tea Party member said:

"I do not study the Constitution, no, but I'm well aware of my history. I'm well aware of how this country was founded, and I'm well aware of what has happened to it in current years."

The reporter then said:

"Tea Party members are often vague about exactly how their constitutional rights are being denied."

Bingo! This person sounded just like a lot of Fundies who know exactly what the Bible says about gays -- until asked about particulars. In both cases it appears they hear someone justify their own prejudices using an authority that doesn't say what is claimed.

Indeed, the rest of the NPR story talks about using sacred texts in a political argument to give a glow of authority and play the trump card.

There has been talk of requiring GOP candidates to take a Reaganite purity pledge -- taxes must only go down, foreign relations must be done with saber-rattling, social issue solutions must please the Fundies, immigration reform starts with getting tough on the border and the illegals. Why praise Reagan? He was the most successful GOP president since Teddy Roosevelt.

One small problem with that purity pledge -- Reagan himself would have flunked it. On every issue.


Yes, this is the first country in South America to approve gay marriage. It's sweet to see a country with such a high percentage of Catholics vote for equality. The debate was long and both sides held vigil in the cold outside the Congress building. I hear the victory party didn't get started until 4:00 am.

That means 250 million people live in places that permit gay marriage. Here's a chart of that growth. The spike is California which had it, then didn't.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If the question isn't meaningful neither is the answer

Nate Silver of the website FiveThirtyEight turns his attention to that biased survey of military personnel about the gay ban. Silver doesn't pile on to how homophobic the answers are (though he might discuss that later). Instead, he talks about how useless the questions are. Here are some of his complaints:

The survey doesn't ask if a soldier knows if his colleagues are gay, it asks whether he believes he might be gay. A soldier might answer yes because of a couple factors, neither of which have anything to do with whether the colleague actually is gay. Those factors are:

* A soldier in a unit with low morale may decide it must be that way because somebody is gay -- we've heard so much about how gay soldiers supposedly affect cohesion and morale. But it would be low morale triggering suspicion, not fact leading to low morale.

* A soldier might conclude a colleague is gay based on stereotypes. Many are teens who haven't been far from home and aren't aware of the broad range of the way people act. If you don’t act like I do you must be gay.

Again, there is a difference between knowing if a colleague is gay and believing so. This is inappropriate for the survey because those who take up that speculation are likely more homophobic than the average soldier. It is also improper because it is based on the reaction to a closeted gay colleague, and not based on one who is serving openly.

The survey reports speculations, not opinions. It doesn't even ask what soldiers think of the ban itself.

In a related article, Andrew Gelman also of FiveThirtyEight, points to research that shows how false-positives (soldiers believing colleagues are gay but actually aren't) can swamp meaningful survey statistics.

I'll let The Onion have the last say on the issue, at least for today. If you can take it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What do these things have in common?

I think there about 200 countries in the world. With the noise that's made in the United States one would think it should be easy to tally the countries where gays may serve openly in the military. Yeah, I understand there are countries that don't have a military, but that should only make the tally easier. Actually, it is a lot easier to count the countries that ban gays from the military. There's only 22 of them. That puts the United States in company with such places as Cuba, China, Greece, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Yemen. To put it another way, these countries are the least like us in politics, culture, language, history, religion, and geography. Is there any way we are like these other countries? Yeah, the embrace of authoritarian policies.

Kicking and screaming

Mark Ruffalo, the male lead in The Kids Are All Right -- the one about a family headed by a lesbian couple, had this to say about the noise against gay marriage: "It's the last dying, kicking, screaming, caged animal response to a world that is changing, a world that's leaving a lot of those old, bigoted, un-accepting views behind. It's over."

Justice? You can afford justice?

There are times when reading essays from blogger Terrence Heath that can get depressing. His discussion of the party of GO(B)P is one of them. Before I went on vacation Rep. Joe Barton made a big deal about apologizing to BP for the "shakedown" the oil giant got from Obama. Some GOP officials demanded Barton apologize for those remarks, which he did. But a lot more GOP lawmakers embraced Barton's position. As we've essentially known for a long time, the GOP is merely puppets for Big Oil and this crisis is only making it well known.

That puppetry leads to some outlandish (in the ears of this progressive) statements that BP should in no way be held accountable for the spill (it will lead to tyranny, don'tcha know) and if affected citizens can't absorb the losses, well, it's their own fault. Government isn't supposed to help them and the GOP will do all it can to make sure BP doesn't either. Lawsuits? BP has pockets deep enough it can outlast just about anyone and can probably pick a sympathetic judge. One only deserves as much justice as one can afford.

All this noise from conservatives has one basic purpose: cloud the issue, make debate impossible, and hide the way conservatism's failures and complicity have contributed to the disaster.

The GOP is handing the Dems an issue that should reap a bonanza in November. But only if the Dems have the guts to use it to its full potential. I have my doubts.

Open your mouth… open wider…

My dentist retired back in January. This is the first time I've been a long term patient and the doctor retired. He chose a replacement and sent all his records there. Last week was my first time visiting the new office. I was back today to "consult."

I think my previous dentist was trained in the 1960s. I don't think his office changed much in the intervening years. The new guy graduated in 1974 (I saw his diploma), which makes me think he might retire in about 5 years. However, there was a big difference in the two offices with the new one much more high-tech. They started off with a gazillion x-rays, which were then loaded into the computer. Then came a slew of photos of my mouth. Those were loaded too. The dentist measured my "bite" and that data went into the computer. The hygienist who cleaned my teeth took measurements of gum health and called those out to an assistant who entered them into the computer. There was a monitor in the room so before she was done the hygienist could display my x-rays (to fill the screen!) and say my teeth were in pretty good shape.

For the consultation today the dentist could display the x-rays and photos as needed to discuss various aspects of my teeth. He could even enlarge a photo so that the tooth being discussed filled the screen -- and this was a pretty good size screen. But not a beautiful picture.

The summary is I have a half-dozen fillings that are getting old and need to be replaced sometime over the next year or so. There are a couple other situations that should be monitored, though not necessarily treated. There is another aspect to all this tech. My copay seems to be much larger.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Last man standing

Between the Lines has an article by Eric Rader that reviews the candidates for Michigan Governor. The five candidates on the GOP side can be dispensed with quite quickly, even if one looks only at their record on behalf of gays. Most endorsed Prop. 2, the constitutional gay marriage ban. Mike Cox as Attorney General went so far to say that Prop. 2 also bans domestic partnerships and benefits to same sex couples. Even the "best" of them oppose the anti-bullying bills that can't get through the GOP controlled senate. A pox on the lot of them.

There are only two vying for the Democratic nomination. Andy Dillon's record appears to be a strong effort to water down legislation that would help us. That leaves Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. He has the most positive gay record out there. He has spoken at Lansing's Michigan Pride rally even before he was a candidate for governor and has consistently supported our efforts.

The primary is August 3. I've heard the idea that since the GOP candidate is almost assured a win on November (a reaction to wimp Granholm), it is a good idea to vote in the GOP primary to get the best GOP candidate. Alas, as far as I can tell, there isn't one.

The best offense is a strong defense?

Now that a federal court has ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, what are the options available to us and to Obama?

* Do nothing more. In that case the ruling only applies to Massachusetts and not to the other states and district where gay marriage is legal.

* Get judges in the remaining states where gay marriage is legal to make the same decisions. With each additional state the precedence becomes firmer and the cases easier. The risk is judges who rule against us.

* Get Congress to overturn this part of DOMA. This Congress? How about the one elected in 2010? Right. Estimated time of accomplishment: a generation.

* Let the Department of Justice take it before the Circuit Court of Appeals and then on to the Supremes. As much as we don't like the idea of Obama defending this nasty law it may be the quickest way to make it go away.

I still wonder if it has to be the DoJ that has to defend the law. I don't know the answer.

Is the Tea Party for us or against us? It may depend on how the issue is worded. Some Tea Party leaders say they like the idea that DOMA is declared unconstitutional. That means the federal government is not meddling in state affairs, which is a good thing. It's still good even if the state offers federal benefits to married gay couples. However, some have noted that "states rights" usually means a state that wants to maintain its bigotry and doesn't want the feds to interfere. That's confirmed by some of the Tea Party comments -- states had better, by golly, ban gay marriage.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

If you wanted it without bias you should have told me sooner

I've written before about the mess the Department of Defense is digging for itself as it tries to end the Don't Ask Don't Tell ban on gays in the military. As part of their useless year long study costing millions, the DoD said they needed to survey active soldiers. That survey is now in the email inbox of soldiers around the world -- and has been leaked to the civilian world. I haven't looked over the whole thing (or the parts available).

What I have seen -- and what others have commented on -- show it to be an outstandingly bad example of an unbiased survey. Put another way, it is a great example of push-polling, the practice of phrasing questions to reinforce the answer the poller wants to prove. Example:
If Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed and you are assigned to bathroom facilities with an open bay shower that someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian Service member also used, which are you most likely to do? Mark 1.
-Take no action
-Use the shower at a different time than the Service member I thought to be gay or lesbian
-Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves
-Talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation
-Talk to a leader to see if I had other options
-Something else
-Don't know

Gay groups, especially those dealing with service members, are furious. They point out the use of inflammatory language and of bias-inducing questions. They list the insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations. They point out that rephrasing the questions to replace "gay" with any of "black," "Jew," or "woman" would get the perpetrators fired pronto and the survey shut down. Of course, the homophobia of the troops will be recorded in the results because the survey made that nastiness permissible. And then the results will be used as a weapon to say repeal of the policy isn't possible.

A consolation is that the troops in the field are laughing at the survey. They see it as proof that the military leadership is clueless. That's not good either.

Obama v. DOMA

What's a beleaguered president to do? With the Defense of Marriage Act declared unconstitutional in a lower court, the job of pushing for an appeal falls to Obama and his Department of Justice. If he does push for appeal, perhaps all the way to the Supremes, he has the gay community and a sizable chunk of progressives after his hide. Don't expect campaign donations from gays. If he doesn't he gives the Fundies a free issue to run against. One guess who he would rather annoy?

To any readers in Washington state, here are a couple races for state Supreme Court you should know about. Note that one of them will essentially be decided in the August primary.

Click over for a cartoon that is painfully true.

Baby steps to a new and scary normal

One of the things that I glanced at during the last week while catching up on my reading was a posting about a new documentary about the TSA, those people who are in charge of airport security. Alas, I didn't save the link. The posting talked about some of the ways in which the TSA is incompetent. I'm sure the documentary delves into that in great detail. The TSA is apparently making air travel more of a hassle while making it also less secure.

Something else I read in the past week suggests another question: So if they are incompetent at security what is the real purpose of the TSA? In the September 2005 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact (yeah, I'm five years behind in my reading) editor Stanley Schmidt proposes an answer: to soften us up. In 2005 the scene at any airport would horrify someone who had jumped straight out of 1985 without living through 2001. It would seem we live in a police state. Yet, in 2005, this was considered normal, even desired and necessary.

A few more things Schmidt mentions: Through blogging (…ahem…) and Facebook many people, especially youth, have grown up with giving away all aspects of their lives. To them it is normal. Many parents have been scared enough (and who is scaring them?) that they want ways (such as nannycams) to constantly monitor their children. Such kids now see surveillance as normal.

It wouldn't take much effort to convince us the necessity of more surveillance (and the GOP seems to be actively pushing it) and by baby steps all the trappings of a police state would soon seem normal.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The wonder of the digital public square

In his editorial in Newsweek at the end of June (the issue I took with me on vacation) Jon Meacham comments on the reaction to Obama's Oval Office speech about the oil spill. He contrasts the usual carping with a well thought criticism done by Rachel Maddow. His closing paragraph will warm the heart of my friend and debate partner.

Criticism is a crucial thing (the lifeblood of democracy, the fuel of freedom -- choose your noble phrase), but the problem is that there are many more carpers than critics. That fact that anybody can say anything does not mean that anything anybody says is worth hearing. Is this an elitist view? Probably, but I am not arguing for even the remotest limitation on what people can say. The beauty of democracy and the wonder of the digital public square is that more people can express themselves more freely to more eyes and ears than at any other time in history. Such liberation is to be celebrated and honored and defended. With power, though, comes responsibility, for all of us. We can learn, I think, from Maddow -- sigh when you think you should sigh, but then have the courage to be constructive.

In that same issue Howard Fineman notes that a few of the new GOP candidates -- Rand Paul, Meg Whitman, Sharron Angle -- are weird, prickly, and novices and are doing all they can to avoid answering questions from the press. Not long ago no candidate would dare do that because the press would make a big deal of it. But today we have a decline in newspapers and a still underdeveloped digital press, so candidates can pick and choose whose questions they answer. Will they get away with it? Probably not. Video phones are everywhere and disagreeable stories leak. But it may not matter if the economy is weak enough and Obama unpopular enough.

I'm famous! Who me?

When I returned to the Ruth Ellis Center last Wednesday after being away for two weeks I was greeted by another volunteer with, "Hey, did you see your picture in Between the Lines?" I've been gone, why would my picture be in the Detroit gay newspaper? Turns out the photo is from an event held two months ago when the Center got a grant from Metro Health Foundation. So here is the online version of the article. I'm the one on the left. I thought this might be a way to tell you who I am, but the photo doesn't have a caption. The Metro Health rep is beside me, then comes Laura, the Center's Director, then Bryan, the volunteer who asked me if I had seen the paper. The actual printed version does have a caption with my name, but identifies me as a volunteer of Metro Health.

Insisting on heterosexual privilege

Here's a bit more on the veto of the Domestic Partner bill in Hawaii. Timothy Kincaid noted that Linda Lingle, the governor wielding the veto pen, gave two examples of stories that touched her as she was deciding what to do.
* The struggle of a young man telling his parents he is gay.
* The anguish of a mother at the thought that schools will tell her children a gay relationship is as good as the parents' marriage.

The coming out story was the only one that moved her? Not the stories of gay couples facing discrimination that the bill would help alleviate?

Ah, but she is ultimately swayed by the story of a mother who insists on heterosexual privilege.

Back in 1996 Congress signed the Defense of Marriage Act, commonly referred to as DOMA. It has two parts. One part says that no state must recognize a gay marriage from another state, in contrast to straight marriages that if one state says a couple is married then all other states must honor that marriage. The other part says that the federal government cannot acknowledge any marriage except those with one man and one woman. This law went into effect even before Vermont began Civil Unions (which was 10 years ago and the sky hasn't fallen!).

Yesterday, a federal judge said the second part was unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. There were actually two cases involved. One was brought by gay couples in Massachusetts who said the federal government treats married gays differently than married straights. The other case was brought by the state, saying the federal government requires it to discriminate against its citizens to qualify for federal funding. Part of the ruling hinges on saying it is the states who define marriage, so the feds shouldn’t. But with that statement the judge didn't rule on the first part of DOMA -- if you can't get married in Michigan, the feds still won't honor your relationship.

It is theoretically up to Obama's Department of Justice to appeal. He would make up for a lot of previous anger from gays if he simply decided he didn't want to (as Arnold did in Calif.). I'm sure an anti-gay group would be glad to push the case on to Circuit Court and the Supremes.
Analysis here.

The country, which is 95% Catholic, has instituted Civil Unions. This link has a nice map showing the current state of Europe.

You aren't giving me any grandchildren

Now that science has generally agreed that sexual orientation is determined by the time of birth lots of scientists have been exploring what mix of hormones in the womb might be the trigger. It isn't all that big of a step to begin to wonder how a mother might guarantee her baby will grow up to be straight and give her grandchildren.

There is a condition, abbreviated CAH, that might lead to an intersex condition (genitals of both male and female). A steroid known as dex might reduce the impact of CAH (I won't make any claims to the accuracy of my summary, if you really want details, please follow the links). Thus the conjecture is that dex might heighten the feminine traits of a fetus and the girls thus born won't become lesbians. This particular line of research has all kinds of ethical issues, even if the lesbian component is ignored. I'll leave that for others to explore. I'll also set aside the irony of denying that homosexuality has a biological component while researching ways to biologically prevent it.

But this is a good opportunity to look whether preventing homosexuality is a good idea. Some of the reasons why a parent might want to make sure their child is straight.
* Spare a child the unhappiness of being persecuted for being gay.
* Guarantee the highest probability of having grandchildren.
* Have a child more like themselves for a more complete connection with that child.
* Avoid sin.
And behind all that is the desire that the little girl should grow up to be properly subjugated to a man so he can keep her barefoot and pregnant.

Alice Dreger of Psychology Today provides the rebuttal:
* The drug dex is highly risky even for the things it has been approved to treat.
* Homosexuality should not be seen as a problem to be cured. The solution to persecution is to change society to make gays more accepted.
* Forcing people to conform to the most conservative social norms is anti-democracy.
* Children are inherently unpredictable. Someone who only wants a child who is a straight boy with blue eyes and a high IQ is not ready to be a parent. Being a parent isn't about living your life through your child's success.
* Puppies make wonderful grandchildren. There's also less trauma in leaving them in a kennel.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Grading the government

The Bay Area Reporter is the gay newspaper of San Francisco area (which I picked up while on vacation there). It has an article in the June 24 edition that grades the various federal departments on their LGBT efforts.

* Department of State got a B for providing matching benefits to gay partners of foreign service employees, for changing rules on passports for gay couples and transgender people, and for taking a stand on the anti-gay mess in Uganda and Malawi. However, they don't provide health care and retirement benefits.

* Housing and Urban Development gets a B for applying housing and mortgage non-discrimination policies to gays.

* Department of Commerce gets a B for new policies that keep same sex marriage data in the census.

* Health and Human Services gets a C. On the good side they will provide a resource for aging gays and have ended the ban on HIV/AIDS travel. Alas, they continue to fund anti-gay religious based family counseling centers and have kept the ban on blood donation by gay men who have active sex lives.

* Office of Personnel Management gets a C. The head is John Berry, a gay man, who has added LGBTs to the Equal Employment Opportunity policy. Alas, he has also ordered an insurance company to not add the partner of a lesbian to the department insurance plan, even after the 9th Circuit Court said he must.

* Department of Defense gets a D for the mess over the gay military ban.

* Department of Justice gets a D for filing various anti-gay briefs before federal courts with the weak rationalization that it's the law so we have to defend it.

* Department of Education gets a D for doing little to prevent bullying even though Kevin Jennings, a gay man, is the head of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

Contemplating equal protection

That sweet Attorney General of Virginia -- the one who demanded state universities remove protections for gays from their anti-discrimination policies because such protections weren't in the state law -- elaborated on his reasoning. Ken Cuccinelli was asked if his policy conflicts with the 14th Amendment, the one about equal protection for all. He responded: "Frankly, the category of sexual orientation would never have been contemplated by the people who wrote and voted for and passed the 14th Amendment." True -- sexual orientation wasn't even defined until about a decade after the amendment was passed. However, the people who wrote and voted for it never contemplated it being used to benefit women (or the 2nd Amendment applies to automatic weapons). And the Supremes have already said the 14th Amendment applies to gays (in the 1996 case that overturned a Colorado amendment banning gay protections).

Alas, Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii, vetoed the bill that would have allowed domestic partnerships in that state. She said something like the issue is too important for her and the legislature to decide. It must be decided by all citizens. Let's hear it for the tyranny of the majority!

A new movie being released looks interesting. The Kids are All Right is about a lesbian couple and their teenage kids. The youngsters search for and find their sperm donor and things get a bit strange. Commentators of the movie say how much they enjoy seeing the two women in a loving relationship that simply portrayed as a given. I'd love to say it's coming to a theater near you, but that's not a sure thing. It hasn't yet shown up on the art-house schedule in Detroit.

Paying for your free speech

Lots of catching up on what happened while I was gone…

A couple noteworthy Supreme rulings at the end their season.
There was a referendum on the all-but name domestic partner law this past November in Washington state. That got onto the ballot through petitions. The anti-gay crowd has been battling to keep the names of the petition signers a secret. In an 8-1 ruling the Supremes said that public disclosure guarantees that the signatures were valid and it promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process better than any other way. The sole dissent was Thomas who saw name disclosure as a "severe burden" on speech -- the anti-gay crowd claimed those horrible gays would retaliate -- and "People are intelligent enough to evaluate the merits of a referendum without knowing who supported it." With the way business interests and GOP cronies lie? Sure they are. A commenter notes there is a difference between freedom of speech and the freedom from being caught lying.

The signatures won't be released soon, however. The Supremes were asked the question, "Is the Washington state law that requires signature disclosure constitutional?" There is a second question, not asked of the Supremes, "Are the details of this particular Washington referendum sufficient (has enough of a threat of retaliatory violence) that an exception should be made?" Success in making that point is slim because there is no evidence, no actual threats of violence. It appears other anti-gay allies are bailing out of the case.

The Hastings College of Law in Calif. has a non-discrimination policy and requires all student groups who want official college representation to also follow that policy. The Christian Legal Society requires is members to take an oath saying they think being gay is really nasty, so sued the college for that official blessing (plus the money that comes with it). The Supremes said the college is right. Translation: You may say what you want and have whatever rules you want for your club, but that doesn't mean I have to fund it or give it my blessing.

Alas, the ruling was 5-4. Too many justices continue to buy into the line that non-discrimination policies are equivalent to blatant anti-religious bias. Yes, the religion of a justice does influence their decisions.

A dissenting thought: Instead of stepping off campus, the Christian Legal Society could drop its membership requirements and "accept all comers" (as the ruling phrases it). That means a determined group of gays (or even Jews) could request membership, then vote themselves into leadership positions and jettison the "Christian" of the group's name. No group would be able to maintain a particular identity. Say goodbye to the Feminists Association, the Jewish Law Students Association, and the Environmental Law Society.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

June is busting out all over with pride flags

Here are some neat photos from June 25 showing a rainbow pride flag displayed on the top of the Seattle Space Needle! One expects the flag to be displayed all around San Francisco during Pride week (and they were). It is now a tradition that the Empire State Building be bathed in lavender lights for NYC Pride. The Space Needle is something else. As is the Rhode Island State House, bathed in rainbow colors.

Peace and rest

Before I left for that wonderful trip and with my friend and debate partner's prompting I wrote about Chicago sports figures riding in that city's gay pride parade and how that is a symbol of changing attitudes towards gays. I finished off that post with: "That leaves one major hurdle -- acceptance of LGBTs in conservative churches."

My friend and debate partner responded. I'll intersperse his comments with my reply.

I'd say it leaves a long list of major hurdles: legal, emotional, psychological, financial, medical, religious, family-based, community-based... more, I'm sure. Humans have a lot of vested interests.

Our society will never come to peace about homosexuality if the standard for achieving that is perfection. I'm delighted to see so much improvement in social functionality.

As your friend, I see your mainstream church POV really getting in your way. From Jewish roots, I never spent a minute worrying about whether non-Jews agree with me. We are a small minority, still significantly hated, dependent on society's assertion of our rights. That's my small-minority POV. Every small minority carries some anxiety about its safety and survival. It yearns for sincere, non-patronizing societal acceptance. LGBTs are a small minority not yet accorded clear rights -- that's the biggest issue in my mind, the big risk.

While the Jewish Anti-Defamation League is not going to close up shop due to a lack of things to do, discrimination against Jews is similar to discrimination against Blacks -- as noted below it at least brings on public disgrace. However, discrimination of LGBTs is not yet at that point. We still face, as mentioned above, hurdles in legal, financial, emotional and more issues. And all of our opposition is driven by the conservative churches.

While I don't deal with these people directly on a daily basis, I and my relatives (sister and partner, niece and partner) deal with the consequences of their condemnation in many areas of our lives. Our acceptance by society would be much faster without those conservative shouters.

I do wish you peace over these issues. What would put your heart and mind at rest? When sexual preference is added to the federal list of characteristics for which discrimination is illegal, will that bring you rest? It's not conservative churches alone that delay that overdue step. It's the whole slow, complex process of social change from deeply established habits of thinking and behavior. Faulty church doctrine reflects the backwardness of church members, self-reinforced.

I'm puzzled by your wish for peace on these issues. I'm sure I've already discussed my personal peace and acceptance over my life. However, our opponents are still out there and still doing considerable mischief through laws and public opinion. I must remain active in my small role of changing the rest of society. Yes, it is a slow process of convincing the muddled middle that what conservatives shout is not true. But the engine of our society's animosity towards LGBTs remains the conservative church.

We've all agreed to ban discrimination over race (that is, public expression of racial bigotry wins disgrace), yet racial discrimination undeniably continues and will for a long time. And the race revolution was 50 years ago, not 25. I'm guilty of that myself -- I don't seek out black women as partners because I see creating an intimate relationship with one as a cultural chasm too wide to bridge. Of course, black women vary so extensively that my reasoning is ridiculous, but its how I behave. Younger generations are doing better at that, but we have a long ways to go.

And I plan to go the distance.

I left my dollars (and more) in San Francisco

I had a great time over my 10 days in San Francisco, Berkeley, Yosemite, and Kings Canyon. My niece and her partner (who I'll refer to as S. and E.) were gracious hosts and I enjoyed long conversations with S. while we ate at some unusual restaurants around the area. Here are some of the highlights.

First the annoying parts -- the flights. On the way out I had only a half hour to change planes in Phoenix. I was pleased we landed 20 minutes early -- but then we sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes waiting for our gate to open. Then the arriving gate was at the end of concourse A and the departing gate was at the end of concourse D. I handed my boarding pass to one agent as another announced to the terminal saying (essentially), "If you don't get on board now I'm going to cancel your reservation."

The return flight from Oakland to Salt Lake City offered a great view of San Francisco and the north end of the Bay. The problem was getting out of Salt Lake -- the flight was repeatedly delayed. It was to take off at 5:15 and finally left at 9:00. A small compensation was the beautiful sunset while we took off. We landed in Detroit at 2:15 am and I got home at about 3:30 am. I didn't bother with the morning service the next day.

I arrived at the Oakland Airport close to noon on the first Wednesday of the trip. I took BART to Berkeley where S. met me at the station and we walked the half mile to her apartment. We spent that first day in Berkeley, first walking to the pier and looking across the Bay, then taking a bus to the university campus. S. keeps stacks of one dollar bills for bus fare. We thought of climbing the bell tower, but it was closed for the day. We went to a Mexican restaurant for burritos and enjoyed the pleasant idea of a salsa bar -- the strawberry salsa didn't suit my tastes, but several of the others were quite nice. Our last stop was the Berkeley Bowl supermarket. S. and E. are both vegan, so I needed to stock up on foods that I would need (which included my favorite brand of veggie burgers).

S. had to work most mornings (washing dishes at a coffee shop, which is what her masters degree gets her right now), so we agreed on a place and time to meet to spend afternoons together. On Thursday I spent the morning wandering around Castro Street (the gay business district isn't all that big and I had to wait until 11:00 for the bookstore to open). After lunch I walked a ways up the Twin Peaks area, but didn't see much due to fog. The walk back to the Castro was down a 17% grade. I joined her at the GLBT Historical Society to see their current displays. While there are a number of interesting things they didn't provide much context. Two of my niece's professors were mentioned in the displays. A cable car and a bus got us to the Mission district.

S. knows a good number of restaurants with vegan dishes on the menu. The one we visited that evening is called Weird Fish. I had the fish, she didn't. I found out earlier that day that the gay film festival was on that week, but the movie of interest that evening was sold out.

On Friday I took BART and two busses to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. E. says there aren't really towers on that bridge -- nobody can tell the difference through the fog, so why bother building them? From what I saw that morning I could almost agree with her. I walked on the bridge as far as the first tower and still couldn't see the top. Both S. and E. met me in Washington Square and from there we climbed Coit Tower for amazing views of the city. Most of the fog had cleared but we still couldn't see the bridge. Once back down we decided there wasn't enough time to get to the Castro for a movie in the film festival, so we walked over to Pier 39 to see the seals and the stuff that's being sold to the tourists.

That evening we went to the start of the Trans March in Dolores Park, a chance for transgender people and their allies to make some noise. I appreciated that the police treated it like any other parade or march. It was too cold to stick around for very long.

After a late start on Saturday I spent the middle part of the day in the California Academy of Science Museum in Golden Gate Park. Alas, it seems their view of science doesn't go much beyond biology (though I didn't have time for the planetarium). Their display on global warming confirmed I'm at least conscientious about living with low environmental impact. I met S. in mid afternoon. We walked through the AIDS Memorial Garden (created by friends of AIDS victims as a place to hold memorial services), and the Botanical Gardens.

That evening was the Dyke March, also starting from Dolores Park. This time S. wanted to be included in the event, so she gave me keys to the apartment and I made my own way there. I was long asleep before S. and E. returned.

Sunday was Pride Day. All three of us found a spot on Market Street with a decent view of the parade. We stuck it out for 3 hours and from what I heard there was another hour to go. We saw about 150 of the 190 groups in the parade. There were a large number of gay organizations. Most of those were what one might expect (the Gay Men's Chorus singing along with their recording while doing a kick-line), but others were new to me -- gay clog dancing, gay drumline, and many more. Some were contingents from other area pride festivals (such as Oakland) who wisely schedule their events well away from June. Then there were the local and state politicians wanting the gay vote (I saw Mayor Gavin Newsom go by). And don't forget the various companies who were essentially advertising and trying to gain gay cred, Google and Genentech among them. S. was annoyed with only one of them -- a group promoting the vegan diet that made no attempt to relate it to the gay theme of the day.

After lunch I went to the Pride Festival, various stages and booths set up around Civic Center Plaza. Lots of food (none healthy), lots of booze, lots of bands, lots of jewelry and other gay trinkets, lots of groups promoting various causes. The last included a group promoting nudity with members modeling the fashion of choice.

We went back to Berkeley for a quiet supper at a Thai restaurant. The BART trains were quite crowded.

On Monday I picked up a rental car and headed out to Yosemite. The week before I had checked the long-range weather forecast, which said highs in Yosemite would be in the low 70s. So I packed jeans (which were nice in chilly San Francisco). Alas, the day I arrived in Yosemite the high was 98. I settled into my canvas-sided cabin, leaving all food and everything with a scent (like toothpaste) in the bear box outside. Fortunately, no bears were sighted.

I had last been in Yosemite about 11 years ago in October. In the fall such things as Mirror Lake and Yosemite Falls dry up. My evening hike was to Mirror Lake, which indeed had water in it, but I still didn't find a good spot to catch the reflection of Half Dome.

Water was flowing nicely over Yosemite Falls, but in the morning it is in shadow. So I took the hike up to Vernal Falls, which is more strenuous than I remember. Still good views.

After lunch I got close to the Lower Yosemite Falls and took a few of the classic pictures. Then came the big venture of the day of trying to take the steep trail to see the cascade between upper and lower falls. I got to a point where I saw a spectacular view of the valley, then faced a decision. Do I go on to the falls where the trail is still quite steep, having run out of water, or do I turn back? Regretfully, I turned back. Once at the bottom and into nearby Yosemite Lodge, I took a good drink of water and then sat in a chair -- and stayed there for nearly 2 hours. I even dozed a bit. I thought of taking the park shuttle to see nearby El Capitan, but that seemed like too much work. I no longer regretted turning back. I had supper at the Lodge and got back to my cabin village in time to see the setting sun light up Half Dome.

On Wednesday I packed the car, then took the short hike to Bridalveil Falls. That seemed to be a bust because there is no clear view of the falls until one is almost under it and then the spray (backlit by the sun) makes taking pictures useless. In that mood I went back to the car and headed down the road. Close by is Tunnel View and I wondered why anyone would want a view of the tunnel? But a glance over my shoulder was enough for me to pull in. It's named because it is by a tunnel, but the view is the postcard-perfect one of El Capitan on one side, Bridalveil Falls on the other and Half Dome down the length of the valley in between.

Road construction slowed my drive and I was only to Wawona Hotel at lunchtime. Then on to Mariposa Grove of redwood trees. The sign there said I could hike for 2-3 hours up and down the hill to see the grove or I could spend $25 for the tram and a 75 minute tour. I had done the big hike the day before and didn't really have the time, so I paid. It was worth it. Those are big trees!

I headed south out of Yosemite and down the mountains, across the plain to Fresno, then up the mountains to Kings Canyon. The drive was about 3 hours. I arrived at Stony Creek Lodge at 7:25. The desk clerk said, "Have you had supper?" I hadn't. "Then you better go into the pizza parlor and order before they close in 5 minutes. Then come back here and register." So I did. Yes, the pizza parlor was the only hot food. I could have bought something in cans in the grocery section of the market, but pizza (or at least the hot sandwiches, which were pizza with different bread) sounded better than that.

The primary goal on Thursday was to drive through the actual Kings Canyon. It's about 30 miles from the park entrance along a winding road that drops a couple thousand feet. The road runs along the floor of the canyon for a few miles with great views, a couple waterfalls, and a pleasant meadow to hike in. I had lunch at the lodge in the valley. The road does not go all the way through the canyon -- there is definitely a Roads End.

I was getting concerned about the level of gas in my car while in the valley. It was a Toyota Yaris, getting about 38 mpg. and the gauge had 8 bars that disappeared one-by-one as I drove. When one bar remained it would blink. I figured with an eighth of a tank I had 50 miles. Alas, there was no way to tell if it was at "getting sorta close to empty" or "you're running on fumes, buddy." So I bought gas at the first opportunity rather than waiting for an ideal price. That was at Kings Canyon Lodge. The pumps there were built in 1928 and ran on gravity, which meant they weren't very accurate, relying on a gauge within the glass tank. The sign said there was a 6 gallon minimum and gave a price for the six gallons. I wasn't quick with my arithmetic and a bit worried about running out, so I took the six gallons. The price for gas in Berkeley was $3.05 to $3.19 a gallon. The price at my hotel was $3.50. The price at these antique pumps was $4.58 (and it was just as far from the park entrance as my hotel).

Well out of the canyon is the Grant Grove of redwood trees. The star of the grove is named General Grant, billed as the second biggest tree measured in volume of wood (meaning it isn't big by height or width, but a combination of the two). After hiking around them I took a road up to Panorama Point for a great view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I turned the other direction from my hotel on Friday morning, going into Sequoia National Park. The star of this area is the tree that beats out General Grant, named General Sherman. The Sherman tree is about 280 feet tall, 30 feet wide, and contains about 52000 cubic feet of wood. These redwoods grow to a height of just under 300 feet, then grow outward from there. Though the wood and bark burn, they don't burn easily, so a ground-cover fire will scar them, but not kill them. The wood is high in tannin, so the fungus and insects that cause trees to decompose won't touch them. That means a fallen redwood, with a giant tangle of roots, could have been there a hundred years.

My last stop in these parks was Moro Rock. It is similar in formation as Half Dome, meaning it sticks up above the surrounding terrain. In the case of Moro Rock it provides a panorama view 400 feet above the area. Once I climbed all those steps I took lots of pictures. On a clear day one can see the Coastal Range mountains on the other side of the San Joaquin Valley. But with a few million people in the valley (and a half-million in Fresno) why would anyone expect it to be clear? I had hoped the little sign that mentioned air quality and been a bit more explicit about what we all could do about it.

I left the parks after lunch and drove back to Berkeley in less than 5 hours. S. and E. took me to an Ethiopian restaurant for supper. I regretfully asked for a fork and spoon to eat my chicken stew rather than trying to scoop it all up with the thin bread.

Under the guidance of S. she and I drove into the Berkeley hills on Saturday morning so that I could get a clear view of the whole bay. Fortunately the fog cooperated and I even saw the towers of the bridge (E. says what I saw was a hologram). On the way back down S. complemented me on my ability of handing the curves in the road. No problem -- I had just had a week of practice.

I took her back to her apartment, gathered up my luggage, returned the rental car, got a ride to the BART station, and headed off to the Oakland airport.

I had the photos processed today (yup, I still use actual film). They look pretty good.


I've already mentioned one of my sisters is lesbian and has a partner. I've long known that a cousin is lesbian. She had a long relationship with another woman, but they broke up several years ago. S. is bisexual and has fallen in love with E. a female life-partner. S. shared a bit of news about other members of the family. Another niece has come out as bisexual. I called her father, my brother (who reads this), and though he didn't know (he doesn't use Facebook) he isn't all that surprised. I'm sorry, niece, if I spilled the beans inappropriately. My brother reports his daughter is getting serious about a young man, a fellow student. More news is that a cousin's son has come out as gay. That's six sexual minorities in our extended family.