Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A point of view that's no longer reasonable

Jon Stewart takes a look at the latest claim by the rich. The claim is that the taxes shouldn't be raised on the rich because 50% of Americans don't pay taxes at all. The rhetoric that Stewart mocks is amazingly heartless. The video is about 6 minutes long.

It seems the Fundies are no longer accusing gays of being pedophiles. But the new twist isn't much better. It is still the slippery slope argument. It goes like this: The same people who are trying to make it socially acceptable to be gay are also trying to make it socially acceptable to be a pedophile.

Back in 2004 Bush ran on a strong anti-gay platform -- all those marriage protection amendments (including in Michigan) and a call for a federal amendment. So the current batch of GOP candidates can't quite top Bush, though they're trying hard. Paul Thornton, in an opinion piece for the LA Times, notes a difference that provides hope. Back in 2004, Bush's opinion was seen as a reasonable point of view worthy of debate. This time around those opinions are ridiculed.

A lesbian named Tracy from New England shares a couple funny stories of coming out while in Texas. The bottom of the first story has a link to the second.

A piece of the Calif. gay marriage case is before the state's Supremes. The question is whether the people who were on the anti-gay side of the vote were harmed by gays marrying and are thus able to represent the anti-gay side before the 9th Circuit Court as an injured party.

Ari Ezra Waldman looks at balancing freedom to marry with religious objections. He notes three things.

* Religious rights do not trump individual rights. Our public accommodation laws have shown the public believes cooperation and equality is more important than an individual's religious views.

* The religious argument is that gays should be excluded from marriage. When this type of exclusion argument comes up it requires special justification. Any laws that exclude must be crafted to make the exclusion as narrow as possible.

* Therefore a rational reaction to gay marriage would have been strong religious exemptions, not overturning gay marriage for everyone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Out of the wilderness

Thursday, August 25

Sing a New Song officially opened with an evening worship service. As with all RMN services, it sometimes had me in tears. It was joyous. It was hopeful. It was gay. The words spoke of coming out of wilderness into the inclusion of God's family. It spoke of newness, of forgetting of what came before to focus on the new. It spoke of justice and service. It spoke directly to my experience. It was hard to sing such wonderful, hopeful, joyous songs while crying.

The bishop of the part of Ohio that includes our site couldn't be there. A pastor read his letter of welcome. When done the friend beside me said, "Wow. I wish he was our bishop."

The message was by Jennifer Battiest Neal, who is Native American. She spoke of the personal conflict of a church that told her that Native culture was bad, yet she felt a God of love. She worked with youth of a church to create something new, a church and a God that affirmed Native culture.

The whole service was about inclusion. One of our songs was in a mix of Spanish and English. The basket of communion bread passed down the rows held all sorts of bread used by various traditions – loaves, wafers, crackers, pita bread, tortillas, and bread used in wraps.

At each RMN event I am reminded that in my normal weekly worship I leave a bit of myself outside. My gay self isn't mentioned. Here, my gay self is celebrated and I worship in completeness.

I should now back up a bit. RMN is Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization working to make the United Methodist Church to be gay-friendly. They hold a convocation every other year, with alternate gatherings to fire up the troops in preparation for the United Methodist General Conference the following year. GC is the only event that can change the denominations rules about gay acceptance. The next one begins next April.

This is my third such event. This year the event is called Sing a New Song and co-hosted by MFSA, Methodist Federation for Social Action, one of RMN's partners in GC work next year. The crowd was just under 700, with about 40 from across Michigan. We are at Sawmill Creek Resort in Huron, Ohio and overflowed it with some people staying at two neighboring motels.

I arrived yesterday. I spent most of today at a workshop on Building a Reconciling Community. Compared to previous workshops on the same topic, this one was more concrete and practical about what to do. The leaders talked about such things as seek out a core working group, identify people in power (especially unofficial power) and meet with them early in the process (before they muck it up for you), answer some questions about the congregation to determine whether you can do a quick process or a cautious process, provide hooks into the focus (welcome, inclusion, mission) the church already uses, meet one-to-one to talk about concerns, provide educational opportunities, make sure actual LGBT people take part and the committee is as diverse as the congregation. I may even step back a bit and talk of inclusion in general before talking of gay inclusion.

Comments about the events by RMN writers are on the event blog. There are also videos of various parts of the event, such as the bishop's welcome, plenary speakers, and worship sermons. Not everything has been posted yet and the RMN staff won't reappear at their home office until Thursday. Check them out soon.

The schedule for each day included recreation time, though if you gung-ho, there were groups that met to discuss a variety of topics during that time. When I checked in there was a sign at the front desk saying it was possible to rent kayaks and bicycles. Being a keen bicyclist, I asked. The length of the property was about a mile, but there were other bike trails elsewhere. So this afternoon I rented one. It was an old one-speed with a seat that couldn't be adjusted. Then the contract said it could not be taken off-property. I did the round trip between the lodge and the beach at the far end of the property three times before deciding I had enough. No need to rent it again.

Friday, August 26

The day started with a worship service. The scripture was about Jesus telling off the Pharisees (Luke 11:42-54). "You're hopeless, you religion scholars! You took the key of knowledge, but instead of unlocking doors, you locked them. You won't go in yourselves and you won't let anyone else in either." After the scripture Amy DeLong preached, using her recent church trial as her starting place. It was a powerful message.

The service was followed directly by the Bible study, led by Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller, originally from Jamaica. She said if we argue with conservatives or use the Bible to reinforce existing points of view, we are essentially playing their game. We need to come up with our own narratives. So, does the Bible have a progressive trajectory? She thinks it does. Consider the case of two creation stories, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3. One has a distant God merely speaking to make creation happen. The other shows God actively building creation and having dirt under His fingernails. When the Bible was assembled, one tradition could have prevented the story from a second tradition from being included. But, they agreed to disagree and included both stories as evidence of the argument. And that is a progressive thing to do.

The workshop I attended after that was Beyond Apologetics; Queering the Bible, Theology, and Pastoral Care. This built on ideas from the Bible Study. Again, instead of arguing over the Bible, the question should be to imagine what kind of world we want, informed by the Bible, and aim towards that without worrying about the opposition. Pastoral care is good when it helps those who hurt. It is worst when it claims there is no hurt or causes the hurt, as is true for many gay people. It is best when it eliminates the source of an ongoing hurt.

The afternoon plenary session was by Bishop Yvette Flunder of the United Church of Christ. She talked of many things, including the difference between unity and unanimity. We need the first, not the second. We are not a puree, but a stew, with each part harmonizing with the other parts. We don't understand each other because we don't know each other. Unity allows us to keep together while we get to know each other.

As part of learning about each other we need a non-punitive discussion of sex. Flunder told this story. In Africa, polygamy works, and does so differently than in America. Wives gain social status through the husband and with that status they are able to run everything. An American Evangelical came in to do a big revival meeting with a huge attendance. As part of it he asked the crowd to repent of their sexual sins. Many wives did so, laying down on the dirt floor. The preacher went back to his fancy hotel and boarded a jet for America. He left those women in the dirt. They lost status and with that the means to provide for themselves. The preacher left them destitute, caring nothing for them except that they had conformed to his view of sin. We don't know each other. And now we try to tell them that being gay is good. They've been burned already, so they ask, “At what cost?”

The evening plenary was by Bishop Joseph Sprague. He trumpeted the progressive agenda for a while, then settled in to describe four verses of the new song we are to sing.

Verse 1: Jobs. Too many in America are being left behind, and he's not talking about Rapture, but rupture of the American Dream. We need a public works project and only government can do enough. The church should shout about the need.

Verse 2: Columbus, Ohio has the Hilltop Shalom Zone in a poor neighborhood. It is a coalition of government services, non-profit agencies, and churches from many denominations. It is doing amazing things. We know this method works. Don't go off about the latest management buzzwords. Get your vestments dirty helping the poor. There are over 120 Communities of Shalom around the country. Join one or build another.

Verse 3: War is incompatible with Christian teaching. The other use of that phrase gets all the press. This one should get the notice instead. No more support for war. Support our troops by bringing them home.

Verse 4: The North Illinois Conference said that if a pastor is charged, tried, and convicted for performing a same-sex wedding the penalty will be suspension for 24 hours. But not just equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders, but for all God's people (and not just the Christian ones).

In answer to a question Sprague said that progressive Christianity will evolve into an interdenominational movement, then go on to an interfaith movement.

Saturday, August 27

The morning worship service was wonderful. Alas, I don't have anything special to say about it.

Today's Bible study was a look at some of the people in the Bible who did not fit the gender roles of the time. One of these is Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:2-43. Her husband refused to serve King David and his men. Abigail went to her husband's servants and ordered them to prepare a feast for the king, taking over her husband's role. Another is Judith (a book in the Apocrypha). The army was afraid of General Holofernes. She stepped outside her feminine role to get the general drunk and to kill him. One more story is not from the Bible but is ancient. In Ovid's Metamorphosis is the story of a girl born to a man who demanded a son. The girl is dressed as a boy. The father arranges a marriage to another girl. On her wedding she is changed into a man. This story was told to show such stories were old, something the Israelites would have heard.

My workshop for the day was a description of General Conference and the role MFSA and RMN will play and what we as individuals might do. It was led by Rev. Steve Clunn and Rev. Bruce Robbins.

The basics: General Conference is held every four years and is the only body in the United Methodist Church that can change the Book of Discipline, the denominations governing document. The denomination considers itself to be worldwide, so there are delegations from Europe, the Philippines, and Africa. Other branches of the church, such as Latin America, are considered associated autonomous groups and do not send delegates to General Conference. The number of delegates from each area is determined by a combination of membership and the number of districts, with each district getting a minimum number (which helps the Philippines). The total number of delegates is capped at 1000. Here is the count for 2012:

USA: 606 delegates
Africa: 282
Europe: 42
Philippines: 48
Business will be conducted in English with translation to Portuguese, Spanish, and Swahili.

There are some peculiarities about this system. Each of the areas outside the USA meets separately to conduct business that is important to that area. Each area modifies the Book of Discipline to be appropriate for that area. The USA church does not meet separately, so all America only business (which is a large part of the 2000 petitions to change the BoD) goes before the entire Conference (a waste of time for some) and the other areas have a say in USA's business. On the flip side, many foreign issues don't want much meddling by the USA because it is seen as the remains of colonialism.

Rev. Robbins took part of a group that worked through what parts of the BoD should be allowed to be modified for each region and what must be considered essential to be United Methodist. While it gave him a chance to see the world, the experience was quite frustrating. Should the USA be allowed to ordain gay people in spite of the objections of the African church? Yes, that means that being homophobic might be considered essential to being United Methodist. Within its own region can Africa deny the ordination of women? That change won't help any time soon -- the earliest it could take effect is 2020.

There is a Call to Action report issued by a conservative group that, according to the presenters, says all the right things. However, their remedies do not do what they claim to do and actually increase conservative hold on the denomination (sounds like they take plays from the GOP playbook), and does such things as pit American poor against world poor. As in previous years women's issues are under attack.

RMN, MFSA, and Affirmation (another gay organization within the denomination) have formally combined efforts under the Common Witness Coalition. They have started organization efforts much earlier and with much closer cooperation than for previous GCs. There are three main tasks they will be doing during GC -- (1) track legislation through the committees and plenary floor so that effective responses can be created, (2) witness, put faces on the issues ("they're not 'issues', they're people") and communicate responses to delegates, and (3) support services, such as media and, if the vote goes against us again, grief counselors.

During previous GCs the stance of RMN was that they would strive to remain conciliatory, agree to disagree, knowing we would have to live in the same denomination even when they win. No longer. Our demand is full gay acceptance. Period.

The afternoon plenary session was all about starting the process of talking with GC delegates (who were elected in May and June and thus already known) to share our stories. And I certainly mean starting right then. We were given contact sheets, phone dialog scripts, shown an example of a dialog in process, and told to get out our cell phones and start calling. Though I don't have a cell phone I wasn't exempted, the friend sitting next to me had two. I left two messages, though I don't know how much of what I said actually got recorded. We were also given paper and sample letters to write (by hand!) our own letters to two delegates.

Your help is also needed, both in early contact work and at GC. Watch my DRUM blog for training sessions in the Detroit area and check out RMN's GC site.

I attended a session to talk to volunteers for GC work. My annoyance during the 2008 GC was that information about various votes was incomplete and late. So I asked to be on the media team. I don't know yet what that will mean. I may not be able to go. I now have my performance schedule for the coming year and a big concert is on the Sunday in the middle of GC.

That evening was the banquet, including various awards from both MFSA and RMN to people and groups that best embody their goals. One young woman was wearing a rainbow pattern men's tie, which was admired by many people. She volunteered to auction it off to raise money for our GC efforts. Someone bought it for $650.

The parent organizations have now raised 90% of the half-million dollars they will need for their GC efforts. This includes, for the first time, reaching out to delegates outside the USA. They call it their Love Your Neighbor campaign. 10% of that was raised at the banquet. Donations are gladly accepted. Send to either RMN or MFSA with a note saying it is for the Love Your Neighbor campaign.

The speaker was Michael Adee, Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians, their group that corresponds to RMN. They were successful in approving gay clergy last May. He had a great story and he is convinced United Methodists are next.

Sunday, August 28

The day started not with worship, but with meetings by district. Our agenda item was to choose dates and location for training sessions on how to contact GC delegates.

Next came the third part of our Bible study. This time Dr. Spencer-Miller took her title from the verse in Matthew, "You shall know them by their fruits." Yes, she said, the pun is intentional. She combined this with the passage from Galatians, which lists the fruits of the Spirit -- patience, love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Look at the gay people around you (especially those in the room). We certainly exhibit many of the fruits of the Spirit. Patience? My goodness, we've been at this equality work for decades. As for our opponents, any possibility they might lose they threaten to immediately split the church. That's not patience. Our opponents don't exhibit kindness and gentleness either. But, she said, St. Paul's list isn't complete. She put up images of gay families and asked us to call out the virutes seen there. It was a long list, ending with heroism. This was a marvelous message to leave us with.

Garlinda Burton preached during the morning worships service. She took the passage from Matthew 9:18-26, about bringing the daughter of Jarius (named in Luke's version of the story) back to life. She didn't focus on the restoration to life, but on a detail usually overlooked. Before Jesus gets there the house is full of a crowd already singing and playing laments. Jesus sends them out of the house before turning to the daughter. Our speaker was convinced these were Church People, into laments for what has gone on before (if we could only return to the wonderful 1950s!) and not looking about what the church is or should be doing now. She had a strong condemnation about churches that launch new initiatives rather than getting into the real work of the church of loving your neighbor.

It was a wonderful, uplifting four days. It is now back to the slog of actually working to make it happen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nope, the government doesn't help me

Warren Buffet has written an opinion piece in the New York Times about how he is paying too little in taxes. His bill this year was under $7 million, but only 17% of income while the rest of his office averaged 36% in taxes. For the sake of the deficit he is asking that his taxes be raised. A group calling themselves Patriotic Millionaires agree.

Michelle Bachmann shot back, Warren, the Department of Treasury accepts donations.

Susan Tompor in the Sunday Free Press talked to Clint Stretch of Deloitte Tax about that idea. Do you want to treat the federal government as a charity? Do you want to finance the war in Afghanistan through voluntary donations?

Child of the 60s and pacifist that I am the last comment brings to mind a poster I saw in my youth. It went something like this: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if our schools got all the money they needed and the armed services had to hold bake sales."

My dad handed me a copy of the latest issue of Washington Monthly and suggested I should read the cover article. It is 20,000 Leagues Under the State by Suzanne Mettler. There are two kinds of expenditures in the national budget. One is on direct programs where we actually see money going out. The other is indirect -- submerged -- programs where we don't see money coming in. Examples of the first are Welfare, Medicaid, and grants for education. Examples of the second are tax credits, deductions, and exemptions for a home mortgage, for charitable donation, for the cost of a health insurance policy. Mettler discusses the differences.

Indirect programs:

* are not seen as government programs and are hidden from the public. They don't register when people yell about getting gov't off their backs.

* are seen as allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money rather than paying a fair share of tax.

* represented 7.4% of GDP in 2008, compared to 4.3% of GDP for Social Security. It's big money.

* offer modest assistance to most Americans but are a huge assistance to the rich. The GOP can say we shouldn't kill a benefit to the middle class but imply the rich are just like the middle class in need.

* cost the gov't $1 trillion in absent revenue.

* are not subject to the annual appropriations of the budget process, thus they grow unchecked.

* do not require an application process to determine eligibility.

* are used by both parties to achieve their objectives. I took advantage of Obama's credit for an energy efficient door.

* are keenly noted by vested interests, who avidly protect them.

* are almost unknown by the general public, who are passive about them.

* are sheltered from public scrutiny, mostly because the public doesn't know enough about them to care.

* work against democracy because so much is hidden.

Thankfully, Obama is beginning to talk about the fairness of such programs. He can even explain them to the public accurately and in understandable terms, when he bothers. When these programs are explained, opposition grows sharply. When direct programs are explained, support grows. Looming budget battles offer a chance to scale back the submerged tax code.

Fact v. opinion

Herman Cain, GOP prez. candidate (with little chance of winning), has declared that Obama's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court is an impeachable offense.

William Broyles wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlain. He was the one who, while Prime Minister of Britain, was desperate to avoid war with Germany. So he acceded to every one of Hitler's demands and got war anyway. Chamberlain eventually realized he was the wrong man to lead Britain and resigned to make room for Churchill.

Broyles says that Obama wants to avoid conflict with the GOP, so accedes to every demand, and is surprised when the GOP ups the ante. According to Broyles Obama should declare he will not run for reelection and give his support to Hillary Clinton, "the leader we should have chosen in the first place."

This is a rare case in which I mentioned an article to my friend and debate partner before writing about it here. Alas, I didn't have the conclusion correct when we talked. Even so, my friend thinks Obama isn't surprised, but knows exactly what is going on when the GOP ups the ante for the next issue.

Both of us think it is significant and important for Newsweek to publish an article like this.

This article ended up at the top of the Newsweek most popular articles when I checked to get the link.

The editorial in Between the Lines from more than a week ago says, "Extremism can't be 'balanced'." Though there are lots of examples out there the one that got BTL's attention was an NPR segment that discussed the "controversy" of gay conversion therapy. This is not a controversy. All respected mental health authorities say conversion therapy does not work and is harmful. So why did NPR call up the crackpots to get a quote in order to "balance" the article? Why did it reclassify a fact as an opinion?

According to BTL, the problem is that NPR felt it didn't have the authority to label extreme views as extreme. NPR is not the only one with this problem. One news source has a hard time being an authority because information is so readily available. The exception is Fox News who claims authority because their ratings are so high. Their ratings are high because they focus on the emotional and don't care about logic or truth. Fox has used its position of high ratings to attack other journalists for being biased, and those attacked cower from the onslaught and give up their authority.

Submissive leader of the free world

In a two-part Essay Terrence Heath looks at the theology behind some of Michelle Bachmann's pronouncements. Somebody's got to do it.

In the first part Bachmann talks about the distinction between being submissive and subservient to her husband, as Fundie theology demands. Actually, Heath says as he quotes a dictionary, there isn't a noticeable difference between the two words.

Bachmann is trying to straddle the fence. First, she is reassuring her Fundie base that she is one of them. Second, she is trying to tell the rest of us that her Fundie faith is harmless to the rest of us. But it has left a contradiction. How can she be both submissive to her husband and leader of the free world?

Much of the rest of the first essay discusses the Fundie idea that there is a place for everyone and you had better not get any notion of deviating from it. The woman's place is in the home. The black person's place is to serve his white master.

Part 2 expands on that idea. One big reason why Fundies are so opposed to gay marriage is that it proves that the woman doesn't have to be submissive and the man doesn't have to be the master. The gender roles disappear. A marriage can be based on love, respect, and support instead of submission. It is a lot more complex, but gay couples show it can be done.

But when your theology is built on the man being master of the woman and when theology is built on divine pronouncements you better not question on pain of being cast into Hell, you work all you can to uphold your theology.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Frivolous things

Michelle Bachmann has been doing all she can to dodge questions about her views of gay people when interviewed for wide public consumption. Her reply is usually along the lines of, "Well I am running for the Presidency of the United States." I won't get into a discussion of frivolous things. Of course, when she is speaking to other Fundies, the anti-gay bile spews freely.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the pledge that the National Organization for Marriage is asking GOP prez. candidates to sign. One item in that pledge has caught the attention of Alvin McEwen.
Appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters.
He sees that as a license to hold a witch hunt, a fishing expedition, the same way the Whitewater investigation on the Clintons found all kinds of other stuff, or the same way the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s operated.

The source of morality

Fundies have long argued it is not possible to be a moral person without God (and, yes, they mean their God). Atheists have just as long countered that it is possible to construct a system of morality without God.

Rob Tisinai turns the idea inside out and asks the question does a belief in God result in an objective, non-arbitrary, moral system? He says the question results in a dilemma. His posting says it in three different ways. This is my take on it. If it doesn't make sense, go see what Rob says.

* If God determines right and wrong by divine declaration morality is turned into God's plaything. God cannot distinguish between right and wrong because those concepts are only what God says they are. His declarations of right and wrong are arbitrary (consider the various actions attributed to God in the Old Testament).

* If God is declared to be good it is therefore possible to determine goodness outside God's declarations. Thus it is possible to construct a system of morality apart from God.

Fundies declare that a system of morality apart from God is simply arbitrary. But when they say morality can only come from God they are the ones who cling to an arbitrary system of morality.

To compound the irony (and my irritation) Fundies have already decided that certain parts of the Bible don't apply to the modern world (not many of them keep Kosher). Walter Wink wrote a pamphlet on just the sexual practices that have changed (we now frown on polygamy). How did they decide what to keep and what no longer applies? That means Fundies themselves have come up with a system of morality independent of God.

Which brings me back to the method I use to sort through the keepers and the junk we should leave behind. Does it improve mental health? Does it build community? If so, keep it.

Escape to the north

I'm home again. I left early last Thursday for northern Michigan. The primary purpose was to attend the concert that finished off the Bay View Week of Handbells. I had been a part of that every summer for more than a decade, back when it was run under its founder Don Allured. In so many ways he is considered the father of modern American handbell ringing. I stopped being a regular after Don had to give it up. He died last February, at the age of 86, so this concert was a memorial to him. The second half of the concert was music that Don composed. It was all very well done and a fine tribute. I stayed around Bay View (which is a Chautauqua community next to Petoskey) for a brief ceremony the next day to place Don's ashes in the Bay View Memorial Garden.

I then went on to Mackinac Island. I rented a bicycle and did the circuit around the island and then up and down a couple hills (which are steep enough I walked the bike partway). I had quite a workout by the time I returned the bike two hours later. I had supper on the island, watched the sunset, then spent the night in a motel on the mainland. I drove home on Saturday, stopping for cheese in Pinconning (the highway was down to one lane for construction, so it was better to go through town), enduring a downpour near Bay City (I'll stop under the next overpass -- oops this is now another construction zone and there are no shoulders to stop on), and buying apples near Highland.

The rain mostly held off this afternoon to allow the Gay Spiritual Support Group to have a picnic. This is a group nominally hosted by First United Methodist Church of Northville.

The work crew was here all last Monday, most of Tuesday, and about an hour on Wednesday to gut and bleach the basement. It is one big room down there now. Hopefully, reconstruction work can begin next week.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So much more than a contract

My niece in Berkeley told me about a blog one of her professors is writing. He is Rev. Dr. Jay and his blog is Queerly Christian. He talks about more than religious issues of sexual minorities. His general idea is that what Jesus taught is quite a bit different from what many Christian leaders teach and also quite different from modern American society, which sometimes claims a Christian foundation. Thus what Jay discusses might seem queer (using an old definition) to both Christians and the larger society.

After that buildup, I'm going to look at a gay-related issue, a series of postings he wrote about marriage, prompted by gay marriage made legal in New York. Here are some of the points he made.

Because, for so many of us, health care comes through employment and thus through marriage, many couples are pressured into marriage for the health care. That isn't a good reason to marry.

Civil marriage is a legal contract between two people. It is from a time when the woman was property and the man had to secure inheritance rights. The church should emphasize that marriage is so much more, a covenant between the couple. To point out the difference the church should end its collusion with the state.

How can the church end that collusion? Jay gives a three-part answer.

* Keep changing marriage. Yes, this is opposite of what the Fundies say. We've ended practices that supported white male privilege (women are no longer property, racially mixed marriages permitted). Keep going to eliminate the economic and social benefits to marriage so that marriage is a covenant, not a contract.

* When a pastor signs the state-issued marriage certificate he/she is endorsing the state's definition of marriage. That makes it harder for the church to talk of the marriage covenant.

* Jay's third point is about the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, which declared that a pastor in a gay relationship must get married. Wait! Hasn't the Episcopal Church already blessed the union? Why then do we need the state to make a marriage official for the church?

Is marriage more than what one gets from a Las Vegas Wedding Chapel? The church can say more.

* The family is much more than the married couple. Jay is disagreeing with Fundies who claimed "Marriage makes the family." A mother and son also make a family and it is because of love, care, compassion, and commitment, not a contract.

* As mentioned before, health care is frequently attached to marriage so that marriage becomes a necessity. Why should some types of social relations have privileges attached to them. Everyone should have access to what they need to thrive.

* Why is fidelity seen only in sexual terms? Why not also judge fidelity in how the family prepares its members for work in compassion, generosity, and hospitality in the wider community?

Civil marriage equality is good and necessary for social justice. But it is not nearly enough to create a family that thrives.

From God's press room

Now that it's been pointed it out to me it is obvious that someone would say it. An anti-gay group has threatened that if Muppets Bert and Ernie get married then Congressional funding for NPR is toast.

Let's see… Michelle Bachmann is running for prez. because she feels God wants her to. Rick Perry is running for prez. because he feels God wants him to. God can't make up His mind who he supports? Scott Wooledge (I think that's his name) has written a snarky piece as if a reporter had a discussion with the Heavenly spokesangel about the role God intends to play in American presidential politics. At the moment He is keeping His options open. But what happens if a Democrat wins? Oooh, the theological implications!

That basement creek

Fans have been running in the basement since Thursday morning. Some stuff had dried out, other things are busy growing mold. Demolition begins in the morning. I've gone through all the boxes, digging down until I get to what is wet, and even then if it can be cleaned I sometimes haul it out. One example of that is Christmas ornaments. The metal and some glass ones will be cleaned, the ones made of wood and the electric lights will be tossed. I had large garbage bags around several boxes of books. Alas, each one of those bags had a leak. The place smells of wet cardboard.

I've talked to the insurance company. They are sending a check for the maximum on my policy, which will cover only 60% of the removal and nothing of the reconstruction. I'm annoyed that when the company changed how they cover water damage I did not get a call from my agent to discuss what dollar limit was appropriate.

Removal of the water-damaged materials should only take 2-3 days. That will include bleaching all that remains, including the lower part of walls (10 gallons of bleach are included in the bill). I'll have one large room as an unfinished basement. Any reconstruction work won't begin until the last week of August. That will give me time to decide what I want.

Since I'll have the contractor's dump trailer here I've been looking around for other things I should toss into it, like cracked cement garden border blocks.

There were, of course, various boxes from purchases made over the years. Many were from the kind of merchandise where a notice on the box or in the instructions says to keep the box. Some of those got wet and are now useless. Others were dry but were for stuff that is out of warranty or for stuff I no longer own -- such as the box for the sound system for the car I bought twenty years ago. My recycle bin is going to be full.

Garrison Keillor once told a story, as part of his News from Lake Wobegon, about a couple. The wife started talking about wanting to move to another residence (I don't remember what kind). The husband like their current place just fine. So he started accumulating all sorts of stuff. Naturally, this annoyed the wife who saw no use for his junk. But there was a use, he replied. It was ballast. The more ballast he had the harder it would be to move.

I moved into my current house almost twenty years ago. It was a move paid for by the company, so the amount of ballast wasn't an issue. Besides, leading up to the move I wasn't all that good at sorting through stuff. Much better to let them pack all that ballast and take it with me.

I just lost a lot of ballast. Some of it is stuff I haven't used in twenty years (or longer) -- it was still in the boxes from that last move. Much of it I won't miss. Other stuff I have used in the years since. Some of that was from my previous career, so again won't be missed. But there are some things -- old books, mementos from my life -- that I'll miss. But it's gone, useless, damaged, to be carted out over the next couple days.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

They're only puppets

For a long time, Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie have appeared to be a bickering gay couple. So once New York allowed gay marriage calls to have Bert and Ernie get married got louder. The show responded with a statement that has gotten lots of news.
Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
Julian Sanchez (in his personal blog and otherwise not identified) isn't buying. Lots of other Muppets have an orientation. Oscar has a girlfriend. The Count has had a series of Countesses. Muppet squirrel girls sing about boyfriends. There are various songs about relationships.

So Sesame Street has a double standard. Some Muppets do have an orientation -- if they're straight. That is a choice by the creators and is not neutral. It implies being gay should not be mentioned in front of kids.

Some respond by saying preschoolers should not be learning about sex. Oh, but they are, they're very much learning about straight sex every time a Muppet sings about family or sings about inheriting traits from a parent.

Consider the show's take on race. It simply has a human cast that is multi-racial and the characters don't have to talk about race. That says a whole lot right there. It would say a whole lot if the human cast was 100% white in a country that will soon not have a white majority. An absence of race relations says something about race relations. The same is true for gay characters, human or Muppet.

A commenter tells of his preschool daughter who wonders why nobody looks like Aunt Erin and Aunt Sara.

Bert and Ernie gay? After 25 years it might be confusing to have them come out. But there is always room for new characters.

Even if the economy is collateral damage

Newsweek has a diagram of 8 Ways to Fix Our Politics:

* Independent redistricting. 13 states already have independent redistricting commissions. This will result in fewer unyielding partisans.

* Clean elections. Several states already have public funding of campaigns for candidates who forgo private donations. I mentioned this to my state senator, a Democrat, a few years ago. Alas, he simply said we in Michigan can't afford it.

* Open primaries. Three states allow all candidates for all parties appear on one ballot voted on by all citizens. The top two go on to the general election even if both are GOP or both are Dem. Less rigidity is the result.

* Adopt a National Popular Vote for presidential elections. Switch from winner-take-all to a proportional allocation of state Electoral College votes. This requires candidates to consider all states, not just the big swing states. So far, eight states have signed on. It will only take effect when enough states, totaling 270 Electoral College votes (the same number to elect a prez.), agree.

* Fill congressional committee assignments by lottery. Committees are supposed to be the first deliberation of legislation, not tools of partisan power. Currently, assignments are made by party leaders, so low seniority members are beholden to those who appoint them.

* Limit secret holds. Prevent a single unnamed senator from torpedoing a bill or appointment.

* Require a filibuster to be conducted from the Senate floor. Only a threat of filibuster is needed now, meaning all legislation requires 60 votes.

* Eliminate the debt ceiling. Denmark is the only other country that has one. The only purpose of a debt ceiling now is to allow for a hostage situation.

Just five pages later is an opinion column by Jane Harmon. She was elected to the House in 1992. Though she was reelected last year, she was offered and took the job of CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars which works for bipartisan solutions. She is now frequently asked when did Congress become so dysfunctional?

It started in the 1980s, she says, when politicians shifted focus to winning election and building single-party majorities rather than responsible governance. Now they would rather blame the other guy for not solving the problem instead of working for a solution in which the other side might be able to claim a scrap of victory. As we saw recently the GOP's only goal is to take down Obama, even if our economy and standing in the world are collateral damage. The Dems aren't blameless in this game.

Harmon offers three solutions.

* Obama needs to build relations with the frustrated bipartisan core in Congress.

* Redistricting reform (see above).

* The middle needs to become militant so that the shrilly partisan pay a price.

Most of the reforms discussed require legislative action. Neither article discusses how to get such action through any legislative body (including state legislature in Michigan) where the goal is party victory and not government solutions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trying to sing a different aria

With the success of operas by John Adams about Richard Nixon, Robert Oppenheimer, and Leon Klinghoffer I've wondered what other modern events or people would make for great opera. One that comes to mind is Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings (complete with a chorus of Republican House members). I would not want to wallow in that mess for the years it would take me to write it. More serious operas could be written on the lives of Nelson Mandela, John Glenn, and Winston Churchill. I've proposed the idea to opera quiz shows, but my question was probably too convoluted for them to use. I welcome suggestions of other operatic personalities.

Alexandra Petri, writing a Washington Post Opinion column, notes that it appears Rick Santorum is not running against Obama, but against Dan Savage. Several years ago Santorum compared gays to "man on dog." Savage retaliated by offering a contest to redefine Santorum's last name. You can find the winning entry by Googling "santorum" -- it is at the top of the results -- and it is not rated G.

And now Santorum is trying to run for prez. while having a "Google problem." He is desperately trying to attract attention, but is managing to do it in such a way as to highlight his Google problem, not make it go away. Even then the press ignores him.

In a delicious irony, I've heard elsewhere (alas, no link) that Fred Karger, the gay GOP candidate, has higher poll numbers than Santorum. Yup, Santorum's been topped by the gay guy.

Petri ends her article by saying, "This really should be an opera. … But this isn't a tragedy so much as it is a farce."

I'm not going to write this opera, either.

If the creek don't rise

Got a surprise this morning. The water refused to warm up for my morning shower. That made for a cold session. No, it could not be delayed. Once dressed I went to the basement to see what was wrong with the water heater. That's when I found the surprise -- over two inches of water throughout the basement. And it didn't look clean.

No time to deal with it then. Mom and Dad soon showed up for a ride to the airport (my driveway serves as an auxiliary airport parking lot) and that was followed immediately by a church-sponsored tour of the recycling center my city used. I couldn't skip that because I was the organizer. I did decide I had better skip my usual session at Ruth Ellis Center today.

I called Charlie, my home improvement guy (the one who did my bathroom rebuild last January). He took a look and said to start with my insurance company. I called them and opened a claim. They suggested I call a water-damage restoration company. Another call. The guy was reluctant to take the job because he had doubts the insurance company would pay the claim. Perhaps, he said, I should call a plumber. I asked Charlie to talk to him. Charlie soon called back, saying he and his plumber friend Larry would soon be over. Larry snaked the sewer drain and reported the problem was tree roots that had grown through the drain. Then we got three inches of rain the night before last (which means it was a whole day before I found it). Charlie says it is rain water, not sewage.

Once the basement dries out Charlie and I will discuss what must be ripped out, what can be salvaged, and how much restoration should to be done. Parts of the basement are "finished" (if that's what you call cardboard paneling), but I don't go down there except to run the washer/dryer and to store stuff so it may not be worth a fancy redo.

I'm sure the saga is only beginning and it will only lighten my wallet. It looks like the insurance company has a limit on what they'll pay for. Charlie says that will barely cover ripping out the damaged stuff.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No serpent, no apple

Today the Morning Edition program on NPR had a lengthy (almost 8 minute) segment on Adam and Eve (see Genesis, chapter 2). In particular they discussed how some conservative scholars (I'm sure this means Biblical scholars within or from the conservative Christian tradition) no longer believe that Adam and Eve are historically true.

One person saying this is Dennis Venema of the BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group working to reconcile faith and science. This group, and many others, is part of a group working to bring Christianity into the modern era.

The big reason against a historical A&E is the tremendous genetic diversity among humans. The initial population of humans was at least 10,000 or the genetic diversification -- mutation rate -- of early humans was astronomically high. Such a mutation rate would have quickly mutated us out of existence.

If Adam and Eve aren't historical it also means there was no serpent, no apple, no Fall of Man, no loss of Paradise.

And no reason for salvation through Jesus. Yes, conservative Christian leaders are calling such ideas heresy. That's why they've been fighting evolution for the last 150 years.

The Christian leaders expanded on the implications. The A&E story makes the claim that humans are created by God in the image of God and are thus special. We're not descendant from other common animals. The story also tells how evil came into the world -- A&E disobeyed God. That sin infected all humans and is the reason why we need a savior. The whole point of Jesus is to undo the sin of Adam.

Venema responds by saying all that is true only if you treat the Bible as literal, instead of poetry and allegory. If literalism is out of the way we can aim for a more accurate understanding of the world and of how God brought us into existence.

Back to that heresy charge. It has consequences. Stray too far from doctrine and your job may disappear. But this could be a Galileo moment. He was put under house arrest for claiming the earth revolved around the sun. Many think the stakes are higher in this tussle between science and religion than the tussle between Galileo and the Church. This time around the argument is over the nature of God, whether man is inherently sinful, and whether redemption is necessary -- quite core beliefs. Put another way, does Christianity change to keep the respect of those who understand the human genome? Or does a change in orthodoxy cause a loss of respect and a loss of faith?

My niece may be amused to know that current and former Calvin College professors are on both sides of this debate (well, current on one side, former on the other).

I have been thinking about the need for Christianity to modernize for some time now. It came about through my disgust with the way Fundies claim that since I won't renounce being gay I can't possibly get into heaven. That "we're better than you" attitude is so un-Christian. The first step out of that dilemma is from a book I used when I led an adult Sunday School class. The book is Short Meditations on the Bible and Peanuts (yup, Charlie Brown and Snoopy) by Robert Short (he wrote the earlier The Gospel According to Peanuts). The last couple chapters discuss God's ability to get us into Heaven even when we don't acknowledge him while alive. What is more powerful -- our unbelief or God's love? Yes, that means we are all going to Heaven.

So if Jesus didn't come to get us into Heaven, why did he come?

A couple more books that influenced me. 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton. He discusses theories of atonement. One that makes sense to me is that Jesus offers a clear alternative to change through violence -- he kept to it even when that violence was done to him.

Another is Saving Paradise by Brock and Parker about first millennium Christians who emphasized bringing paradise to earth rather than waiting to enter paradise on death. I've written about this book before.

All these and more have shifted my understanding of Jesus. I believe he came to show us we're not alone and to teach us that to create paradise on earth we must seek improved mental health and seek community.

Back to the Adam and Eve controversy. Requiring someone to believe in the literalness of a story so contradicted by science is not good for mental health. Condemning someone because they refuse an unsupportable belief breaks community.

If my brief description in the purpose of Jesus wasn't enough I'd be glad to discuss it in more detail.

According to the counter in this blog, this post is number 1500. That's a lot of writing in the last three years and nine months.

The Great Mediator

John Aravosis notes that Obama is a great mediator, a role he has claimed for himself. A problem -- mediators are supposed to bring two opposing sides together. It isn't possible for a mediator to also competently represent one of those sides.

Joe Sudbay expands on that. If Obama is the mediator, we have no idea what Obama, and by extension the Democrats, actually stands for. Yeah, Obama has, from time to time, made some pretty strong declarations of belief in guiding principles. However, he tends to then bargain that strong principle away. So the next time he expounds on a strong principle, will we believe him?

Alvin McEwen of Pam's House Blend notes that in June an anti-gay spokesman misused a scientific paper to demonize us (this is the case where Senator Al Franken pounced on the error). The anti-gay crowd did the same during the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal hearings. They have been doing it for at least a dozen years. Their phony arguments haven't changed at all in that time. And we still can't counter them and these people still get asked to provide testimony for Congressional hearings. McEwen offers a petition to ask Congress to give all these anti-gay spokesbots heightened scrutiny because their testimony is likely fraudulent. Perjury before Congress is criminal.

This little Dilbert strip appeared the Sunday the debt ceiling mess was resolved. With the way the GOP is pushing things it may be appropriate sooner than we'd like.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We've tried elections

I should know better than to read an essay such as this just before going to bed. The uneasiness (and not sleeping) at 3:00 am. is not good.

I've written about Sara Robinson's understanding of what the GOP and its backers are really up to. Her essays about that first appeared two years ago. Alas, Robinson hasn't written anything in many months. So it is good to hear other voices taking up the cause, though essayist Terrence Heath shares a home with Robinson with Campaign for America's Future.

To explain his point Heath goes back in history -- to Poland in 1568. This was the start of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was a mighty power of the time, feared by Stockholm and Moscow. It extended east far beyond the borders of modern Poland and included much of modern Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, and Estonia. As the Polish nobles set up their form of Parliament (yup, only nobles represented) they agreed that all legislation must be unanimous. For not quite a hundred years no nobleman wanted to be the one to keep a bill from becoming law. A few bills were vetoed (and it took only one no vote), but the system ran smoothly.

But starting in 1652 a nobleman vetoed not only one bill, but the entire legislative session. Starting in 1669 (if I read it right) the veto was applied to 48 of the next 55 sessions and in 1688 the session was dissolved before it even started. Russia, Austria, and Prussia used their influence on individual nobles to get them to veto a session. Polish government became paralyzed. And in 1772 Russia and Austria began to invade and partition a weakened Poland. With Prussia joining the fray Poland disappeared from the map in 1795, not to reappear until 1918.

Poland rotted from within because its government was paralyzed. The surrounding countries picked off the pieces.

Sound familiar?

No, America is not facing invasion from Canada or Mexico and those two countries are not quaking in their boots in the face of our might. However, the Tea Party Caucus has shown they are truly willing to drive the country to collapse if they don't get their way.

Mitch McConnell has said the debt ceiling bill will never be "clean" again, containing only what is necessary to raise the ceiling. The GOP will hold it hostage every time it needs to be raised. No doubt they will also hold hostage the budget and anything else they can.

Why? Because conservatives can no longer get what they want through standard political processes. McConnell again, speaking this time before the debt mess was resolved when a balanced budget amendment was part of the package, said "The Constitution must be amended to keep the government in check. We’ve tried persuasion. We’ve tried negotiations. We’re tried elections. Nothing has worked."

Read that one again. Elections don't work.

Here are a few examples that today's conservatives offer as proof that elections don't work: We elected Barack Obama. Between the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid the government has gotten involved in health care. We banned whites-only lunch counters. We banned child labor. The government has gotten involved in education. I'm sure there are more.

But we live in a democracy! we shout. Rick Horowitz, in the Huffington Post, tries to explain that to the GOP House freshmen: "Why is it that we're supposed to treat your commitments, to your constituents, as sacred, and unalterable, and everyone else's commitments, to their constituents, as fish wrap?"

There were a few, including Bachmann, who refused to vote for the compromise bill. Though Bachmann's rantings in Washington are quite secular, on the campaign trail her speeches use the language of Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism. Both these strands preach that God's laws (no matter how convoluted your reasoning to make what you want to somehow be approved by God) trump man's laws.

As I've written before, mostly when summarizing Sara Robinson's work, conservatives believe they are destined to rule America, democracy gets in the way of that goal, so the GOP is out to prove that democracy doesn't work. McConnell has admitted as much.

I hope someone has started (or will soon start) writing a book on what the GOP did over the course of at least 30 years to prove democracy doesn't work (for them) and step-by-step how they went about dismantling it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A new way to live and farm

During my trip to Minneapolis I wanted to read a book about the Midwest. I ordered several books on my shopping list, one of them PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon. It's about Kansas, not Minnesota, but close enough.

I had read and enjoyed the author's first book Blue Highways about his trip around America (38 states?) done on only the back roads, the ones marked in blue on the map. I hadn't realized he had written more until recently, so PrairyErth is 20 years old.

The subject is stories about Chase County in Kansas. It was chosen because the Flint Hills run through it and it is the first true tall-grass prairie when traveling east to west. All this allows him to tell several stories about the place:

A modern cattle ranch owned by a woman and staffed only by women. She does it to prove her father wrong.

A murder of a hired hand at a ranch in 1898. The owner's son was accused, but acquitted. It remains unsolved.

Sam Wood, abolitionist, who moved to Kansas to help prevent it from becoming a slave state.

The crash of a Fokker trimotor plane in 1931 that was carrying Knute Rockne, killing all aboard (which is why Reagan had to win one for the Gipper).

A conversation with students at the county high school about what they want to do when they graduate and the prospect of them doing that in the county.

The importance of both the Osage Orange and Cottonwood trees, of the harrier hawk and wood rat.

The Diamond Spring, the first place to get water beyond Council Grove on the California Trail.

The Flint Hills are above the oldest mountain range in North America, now eroded to a core a few thousand feet below the current land.

The treatment of the native Kaw or Kansa Indians by the whites. During his research he found 140 ways the name of the tribe was spelled. The state could have been named Cauzes or Quonzai. He and a friend follow the trail the Indians took on their walk to the Indian Territory.

An attempt to build a railroad from Kansas City to Baja California to boost trade with China.

An attempt to turn part of the county into a national park to preserve part of the prairie. Oklahoma got the park instead.

And enough stories to fill 600 pages. I enjoyed it all.

One story is about the modern research into sustainable farming. The author had a long discussion with Wes Jackson, who has a farm where he does research into sustainability. Here are some of the topics in that rambling discussion. Alas, my disjointed summary won't do justice to the original.

What is the fuel of the future? Fossil fuels won't remain as cheap as they are. Nuclear? How many Chernobyls are we willing to put up with? Turn grain into fuel? That would take up too much of the crop needed for food. Sun and wind? Alas, our current infrastructure is built on a portable liquid fuel.

Much of modern agriculture is theft -- a removal of nutrients from the soil. How is that theft minimized? Thus we get into agro-ecology.

Capitalism is a pump to extract energy and nutrients from something, eventually depleting it, like living off the principle. Nature relies on barter and recycling to keep going, living off the interest.

We humans evolved in a different time. We don't manage agriculture well, we certainly don't manage all this fossil energy well. Let's go back to our inclinations, the tribe and family, the community. An example is the Amish, who test all technology against a moral standard.

Perhaps Chase County can serve as a prototype of a new way to live and to farm. This new life would be much more labor intensive than is done now, managing crops differently, and maybe even using draft animals. It will be a blend of old and new technologies. Use natural ways to restore the soil. Don't use any chemical our own bodies have no evolutionary experience with. All this implies a resettling of America.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Being vocal in support

Peterson Toscano spent 17 years trying not to be gay. It didn't work. He had performed a one-person play about his experience. He has since turned to such interesting topics as gender variant characters in the Bible. That one I'd like to see. Toscano understands where the Fundies are coming from and the need to battle their hold on America's political process. But he is angry at the progressive churches and their pastors, who say "I'm with you, but I can't say so publicly."

Toscano outlines three reasons why progressive churches need to be more vocal in their support of gay people.

* The historical and current oppression of gay people has come from Christian Churches. Thus, it is Christian Churches who must supply the clear voice that such oppression must stop.

* When gay issues are discussed in churches there are usually gays in the room. We are The Other who are a part of you.

* Since gay church people still must address the gay issue they are not free to pour their energies into other social justice issues.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, a good day for all progressive church leaders to come out in support of their gay members. Yes, there may be consequences -- book deals dropped, pastors asked to leave, speakers uninvited. But justice work has a cost, which may lead to fellowship with the suffering.

Pledging political suicide

Not content to have a small group in Minnesota create a pledge for GOP prez. candidates to sign, the National Organization for Marriage has one too. It is shorter and not as controversial as the previous one -- they only stick it to gays rather than trotting out every last GOP bogeyman. It has only five points:

* Support a federal marriage protection amendment.

* Nominate federal judges and attorney general committed to the original meaning of the Constitution (for the clueless they spell it out: who won't find a right to gay marriage in that fine document).

* Vigorously defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

* Establish a commission to investigate and document Americans who have been harassed for supporting traditional marriage.

* Demand that citizens of District of Columbia get a right to vote on marriage equality.

No surprise that Bachmann and Santorum signed it. Alas, Romney did too.

Rob Tisinai notes a contradiction: The last point is a demand that DC residents vote on marriage. The first point means with a federal amendment, all voters can't vote on marriage. Do we get to vote or not?

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin notes a few pesky details:

* No way is two-thirds of the House or Senate going to vote for a marriage amendment, especially two to six years from now when opinions are more in our favor.

* By 2013 DOMA will be beyond federal courts and into the hands of the Supremes. And once an Attorney General declines to defend a law the next AG can't reverse that (I'll have to take his word for it).

* Establishing a commission to investigate how gays are harassing homophobes would be political suicide, especially once the report is released, showing how small the harassment has been. And then it would be compared to the harassment gays have received.

* DC added gay marriage because of its Human Rights act. Trying to get Congress to amend that act to specifically exclude gays would also be political suicide. Yes, we've come a long way.

Kincaid says don't worry about Santorum and Bachmann. But Romney could be hurt. He has just announced a litmus test for judges he might appoint. Ted Olson is leading the Calif. gay marriage case and defended Bush in Bush v. Gore, so we already know the question Romney will be asked: "Considering Ted Olson’s legal stature and established conservative credentials, would his support for same-sex marriage disqualify him from an appointment to the federal bench?"

A hostage worth ransoming

The policy-making body of the American Psychological Association (APA) unanimously (157-0) approved a resolution to support same-sex marriage. The resolution says in part, "many gay men and lesbians, like their heterosexual counterparts, desire to form stable, long-lasting and committed intimate relationships and are successful in doing so." In addition, "emerging evidence suggests that statewide campaigns to deny same-sex couples legal access to civil marriage are a significant source of stress to the lesbian, gay and bisexual residents of those states and may have negative effects on their psychological well-being." Short version: Gays can handle marriage just as well as straights. Banning same-sex marriage is harmful to gays.

Scott Lively rants that "God has chosen rampant homosexuality to be a key warning sign for judgment of the world as a whole, and not just of individual nations." Normally, I wouldn't bother with such idiotic blather. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin comments that what is going on is the Christian church used wield control of the social conscience and standards of decency in this country. That is now gone and is because they arrogantly misused their power and failed to advocate for the less fortunate. Lively is blaming that loss on gays so that he doesn't have to think of himself as part of the problem.

The New York Post has an article dated the day after the debt ceiling bill was signed. It reviews the various bills that were proposed, shot down, and finally adopted. Whether true or not, the story has the narrative that the rookies first tried for a deal and failed. Rookies include (at least in this story) the GOP House freshmen, Obama, and Boehner. Only after they failed did "old Washington" have a go. That was essentially Mitch McConnell for the GOP and Joe Biden for the Dems. The two have a combined 64 years in federal office.

While interesting (at least to some of us), what caught a lot of attention is the quote from Mitch McConnell at the end of the article. He says what many have been thinking.
I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting,” he said. “Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.

I had a fine time at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea yesterday seeing the new comedy Consider the Oyster. People in Michigan will get a hint of the kind of play it is because it starts with several people watching the Detroit Lions within striking distance of winning the Super Bowl. One of those enthusiastic fans is Gene, who in a strange stunt breaks his leg. To speed healing the doctors use ground oyster shell. But there is a side-effect. All oysters are born male and become female as they mature. Late in the play Gene has a touching monologue. I wish I could remember more. Parts of it are, "When we fall in love with someone, what do we fall in love with? … Their gender? … And what if that something changes?" That's enough hints. Find a review here (alas, not possible to link to one review so you'll have to scroll down).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Collecting their bile in gallon jugs

I got a reply from my friend and debate partner referring to my post yesterday about the views of Andrew Sullivan and Keith Olbermann on the debt ceiling "compromise." My friend lamented it was not one of my better posts. Many statements were unclear (even to me when I read them again) and several more didn't make sense. Some of that was my faulty condensation of the original, some was in the original.

Alas, it was a long post and I don't want to tackle going over it all again to clarify and comment on his rebuttals. I'll comment on a some things and share a few things he said.

I wrote that the debt ceiling battle is over until after the next election and deprived the GOP of its biggest weapon. My friend responded:
True, but the debt ceiling was never the issue. Spending cuts (defunding govt) vs. higher taxes was the issue. … The 2012 budget is dead ahead -- our Titanic's iceberg for sure. I assume the "members" are collecting their bile in gallon jugs for use in the next battle. Short-term continuing resolutions are likely to fund the govt for the entire year, each one the occasion for yet another vast tantrum. I am already exhausted -- and ready to fill out my 2012 ballot RIGHT NOW!
I wrote that if the 2012 campaign is about low and high taxes, the GOP wins. If it is about poor and wealthy, the Dems win. My friend didn't understand that. What (I think) it means is if the GOP is able to harangue endlessly that taxes are too high and must never be raised, then the GOP wins. However, if the Dems are able to change the debate to talk about how the poor are struggling and how those tax savings aren't prompting the rich to spend to help the economy recover, then the Dems have a chance at winning.

I wrote this debt deal, without taxes on the rich, "confirms again that the rich have free license to buy Congress…" My friend replied, "Here we are in complete agreement."

In spite of his criticism of my writing (which in this case was deserved), my friend and debate partner most definitely remains my friend with a license to continue to debate me as necessary. We had a lovely lunch together today, talking of many things. That included this post. He wondered if any members of the Tea Party caucus were caught throwing a tantrum, complete with pounding fists and drumming heels in the floor like a three-year-old.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The four hypocrisies

Andrew Sullivan starts us off at a look at what he calls a pyrrhic defeat. I am familiar with the term pyrrhic victory, but looked it up to make sure of the meaning. It is a victory that is so costly that another such victory would cause defeat. That left me wondering what exactly Sullivan means. Perhaps a defeat so costly another one is a victory? Perhaps Sullivan got the definition wrong and meant a defeat that is really a victory? The rest of what he says implies the second meaning.

Sullivan dissects it this way: The GOP used blackmail and overplayed their hand. All the recent polls say that with a debt ceiling of $14 trillion should be done. The combination of those two ideas makes Obama look like the responsible adult by surrendering. However, he surrendered to his advantage. The debt ceiling debate is off the table until after the next election, removing the GOP's biggest weapon. The debate revealed a split in the GOP between those who only want cuts and those who want to maintain Cold War defense spending. He can now campaign for a balanced solution of tax hikes (or reform) in addition to cuts. If the 2012 battle is between low and high taxes, the GOP wins. If it is between the poor and wealthy, Obama wins. All that leaves me wondering why Obama didn't start that campaign when the debt ceiling battle was heating up instead of waiting to use it as a campaign tool.

Sullivan admits one possibility in this scenario is whether Obama's "surrender" has depressed his base, prompting them to sit out 2012 like they did in 2010. One of Sullivan's commenters says this is exactly the case with his sister. Obama was seen as "caving" and thus can't stand up to bullies. Obama keeps talking about how "broken" Washington is, implying Obama himself is broken. Obama isn't fighting for the little guy the same way the GOP isn't. Obama was trounced by the Tea Party and America doesn't like wimpy leaders.

Others take issue with that response. The debate isn't over. Progressives are becoming more energized over making their case. Obama didn't cave. He got the best deal possible under insane circumstances. After listing several of Obama's accomplishments a commenter says he'll take Obama's weakness over the GOP false strength.

Sullivan comments on Michael Lind, noting the Tea Party is nearly two-thirds from the South. This last crisis is "the latest case in which the radical right in the South has held America hostage until its demands are met." And Lincoln wasn't the first. They will look for another opportunity, especially if they feel Obama caved.

Keith Olbermann offers today's conclusion with a 9 minute rant about the deal. His language is, of course, richer than I will reproduce here. We have replaced good governance with protecting the incumbent (hasn't it always been like that?), the Four Freedoms (check your Norman Rockwell) with the Four Hypocrisies.

1. The committee to fill in the details of the cuts. Congress has created a 4th branch of government to do their dirty work, designating a few to be the fall guys so the rest can tell voters they had nothing to do with the cuts.

2. The GOP creates an extra-constitutional committee while demanding a constitutional amendment that would straightjacket future congresses. Such balanced budget amendment would render the government helpless whenever a disaster struck or a war must be fought (for some conservatives not helping the poor in a catastrophe is exactly what they want).

3. That super-congressional committee is a shell-game. It mandates equal cuts from domestic and defense budgets -- except of the committee can't agree or the Congress of the whole doesn't accept their decisions.

4. Since this agreement came with no new taxes, it confirms again that the rich have free license to buy Congress, legislatures, and courts to create laws squeezing the middle class and poor for the benefit of the rich. What else would they do with that much money? There are taxes in the agreement -- stealth taxes on the poor and middle class because the cost of public services is going down and thus the cost of living is going up. The middle class can no longer invest in the future because so much is going to the expenses of today.

This deal is the tipping point from a government that protects its citizens to one that guts the safety net.

Where is the outrage? Not in the media, who prize access over calling out the hypocrites. Not from other politicians, who only calculate a position based on how it will translate into votes. Not from most citizens who, are obsessed with entertainment, celebrity, and trivia and who are inundated with diversion and illusion from the media.

So it will come from us. We must protest in the streets as was done in the 1960s.

Why are we so cute?

One small consequence of gay marriage in 50 states (whenever that comes) will be that we won't need all those fabulous gay protest signs. Click for a sample.

Team Detroit put together a 7 minute video of the gay life in Detroit. The central message is that Detroit is a great place for a gay person and we could really use your fabulousness. I watched it and wasn't all that impressed. I will note it shows the outside of the Ruth Ellis Center and brags how it helps dislocated gay youth (which rather contradicts the message of Detroit being gay friendly). Other reviewers aren't so kind.