Sunday, October 30, 2011

Restoration from the flood -- soon

The work to restore the damage in my basement as a result of last August's drainage backup didn't start last Monday as it was supposed to. When Charlie, my contractor, ordered the floor tile he was told it would arrive in two weeks. On that two week date he went to pick it up and was told by the sales associate, "I would have never said 'two weeks.' I always tell customers 'two to four weeks.'" The manager backed up the associate. Charlie said, "But my receipt says two weeks, not two to four." The reply, "Well, the stuff's not here yet."

So Charlie went on to another job. He called yesterday. The floor tiles had arrived. He can start when the current job is finished later this week. A little while later he called again. Could he come over right now and put the tile in my basement? It was too heavy to leave in the trailer and he doesn't want to unload an reload at home. He and his son hauled 31 boxes of tiles and four tubs of adhesive into the basement. Hard work because each box was about 75 pounds. They needed a couple rest breaks. Yup, that means the total weight of tile was over one ton. No wonder it was too heavy to keep in the trailer any longer than necessary.

The more you are able to engineer changes

Curt Guyette in Metro Times has an article highlighting an example of the corruption that the Occupy Wall Street crowd is protesting. This example is right here in Detroit.

The Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit to Windsor, is not publicly owned. The private owner is a company headed by Matty Maroun. The bridge generates a lot of money for Maroun, who is a billionaire. Many public officials in Detroit, Michigan, Windsor, and Ontario see that the Ambassador Bridge will soon be inadequate for the traffic, especially the trucks that are so vital to trade between America and Canada. There is also the fear that a terrorist could take out the bridge, perhaps using 9/11 as an example, causing trade to halt. In addition, the existing span is about 80 years old. A new span needs to be built.

Maroun volunteered to build one next to the existing span. Ontario and Windsor flatly refused. Their end of the bridge doesn't connect directly to their highway system and they don't want any more trucks on the connecting road. Besides, if a terrorist took out one span it would likely fall on the other. They proposed another span two miles downstream. Canada even volunteered to pay Michigan's portion of the costs.

Such a bridge would, of course, be direct competition with Maroun's bridge and cause a drop in his income. If he can't build a second bridge, nobody is going to build a second bridge. So Maroun, using his vast wealth, has been running a disinformation campaign about the second bridge and has been busy buying state legislators. Even though Mich. Gov. Snyder is a strong advocate for the bridge the bills to authorize it have died in the legislature. Guyette notes:
The more money you have, the more power you get. And the more power you get, the more you are able to engineer changes that allow even more money to come your way.

If there is a more telling example of how concentrated wealth can be used to skew public policy, we'd like to see it. Just last week, a Michigan Senate committee effectively blocked a bill that sought construction of a publicly owned span downriver from Matty's Ambassador Bridge.
This is what Occupy Wall Street is protesting. It is also why infrastructure should not be in private hands.

Newsweek has a feature article by Andrew Sullivan about OWS. Sullivan was a bit put off by the "goddamn hippies," but has come to understand and appreciate -- and love -- what they're doing. He connects OWS to similar protests around the country and world, and even likens them to the Tea Party.
The theme that connects them all is disenfranchisement, the sense that the world is shifting deeply and inexorably beyond our ability to control it through our democratic institutions. You can call this many things, but a “democratic deficit” gets to the nub of it. Democracy means rule by the people—however rough-edged, however blunted by representative government, however imperfect. But everywhere, the people feel as if someone else is now ruling them—and see no way to regain control.
Later he wrote:
Add to this what can only be called an “accountability deficit.” The financial sector and its deregulated leverage binge in the Clinton and Bush years greatly benefited the top 1 percent. Much of this, we now know, was based on obscure mathematical formulas no one fully understood at best and were direct scams against their own customers at worst. What was Wall Street’s response? A furious attempt to resist any new regulation, a refusal to take full responsibility for the mess, and eager participation in a bailout paid for in part by their victims. Do we really need to understand why some have reached a snapping point—now that Wall Street is lobbying to repeal the one reform that reined it in, Dodd-Frank?

Along with Sullivan's article is an Occupy Wall Street photo gallery.

All that reminds me I heard a story recently (wish I had a link) in which someone found one important topic of agreement between OWS and the Tea Party. They both strongly support campaign finance reform.

Elsewhere in the same issue of Newsweek is a commentary by Niall Ferguson. He wrote we shouldn't protest the rich. See, here they are playing poker to raise money for a charter school in Harlem. It's a great charter school, with 94% passing the 5th grade math exams. Much better than the 60% in the public schools run by teachers who are members of a union that blocks reform. Aren't the rich wonderful!

According to the comments on the Newsweek webpage, CNN did a takedown this morning. I didn't find that story, so I'll do my own takedown.

* There has been a lot of news, at least in Michigan, that charter schools are not always better than public schools in the same neighborhood.

* Charter school students are self-selected and charters may have stiff entrance requirements.

* In this poker tournament the rich are using their charity to pay for one school. There are thousands of schools across the country (charter and public) who could use the money.

* The rich are doing a lot to make sure schools for the poor are failures and all public school teachers are poorly paid.

Anybody want to add a few shots? I'm sure there are more instances of idiocy.

Rob Tisinai, writing in his own blog, created a chart of income inequality and immobility for various countries. He used standard measures for income inequality and found a measure of immobility from The Brookings Institution. It is a measure of how easy it is for someone to change their financial circumstances. The ideal immobility is zero -- everyone gets a job based on merit and those jobs pay according to the worth of the job (and not skewed by inability to get an education or a corporation who shuts out competition). Denmark's rating is 0.15. The US has a rating of .047, which Tisinai explains:
Simply put (very simply put), on average, if my dad made $100,000 a year more than your dad, then I can expect to make $47,000 a year more than you. You and I enter the income race and — bang! – my origins gives me a $47,000 advantage.
Of the 9 developed countries in the diagram USA ranks highest in inequality by quite a bit. It is second highest in immobility, though UK is only a bit worse.

Another reason for the OWS protests.

Some things are just so ripe for parody

I'm not sure how I missed such a delightful "internet phenomenon" as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Especially one that has been around for six years.

Back in 2005 the Kansas State Board of Education decided to permit the teaching of Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution. Bobby Henderson wrote to the Board of Ed demanding his religion, Pastafarianism, to be allotted equal time beside ID and evolution in state science classes. Since the Intelligence Design people are careful not to describe the deity, why couldn't that intelligence be a god that looks like a pile of spaghetti and meatballs?

Soon there was a book, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. To take the mocking a bit further Henderson takes on correlation/causation by noting the rise in global temperatures matches the decrease in the number of pirates.

There is now a version of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam in which the bearded old man is replaced by spaghetti and meatballs that have sprouted a couple eyes. The little chrome fish, sometimes used as a symbol of Christianity also got a makeover. Christmas and Kwanzaa are replaced with a generic Holiday, so Pastafarians are delighted with the switch of greeting to "Happy Holidays" and duly thanked Wal-Mart. They also strongly support the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day. Along with your pirate costume, be sure to wear a colander on your head.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In the scientist's lair

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show had a double header on science a couple days ago. First, Stewart had a segment about the second anniversary of Climategate which included discussing the recent climate data from a study paid by the Koch brothers.

Then one of the show's reporters heads out for an exposé on what scientists are really up to. He finds the only people qualified to review a scientist's work is another scientist. How can we simple Americans tell what is really going on in a scientist's lair?

Don't bother watching if you have a low tolerance for satire.

Also on the show was Lisa Randall, an actual physicist.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Acknowledging gays throughout history

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin takes a look at comments about the anti-bullying law in Calif. and expands it in an unusual direction. The prompt for this commentary is Thomas Sowell, a conservative commentator, who notes that media has a short attention span, even with a problem as urgent as bullying. That allows school officials to claim to "fix" the problem, when the new policy changes don't really do anything other than deflect criticism. Part of the issue is that there isn't a good definition of bullying in the law. What is needed is a broader look at cultural issues that contribute to bullying. The rest of Sowell's comments can be ignored.

Kincaid (with a bit of Sowell's help) notes one of the cultural issues appears to be addressed by California's new law that requires teaching about gay Californians. A repeal of this law was attempted, but the anti-gay crowd didn't collect enough signatures to get the repeal on the ballot. Kincaid has a problem with that law. Most prominent gay Californians aren't all that important to history -- and that includes Harvey Milk, as important as he was. It would be better to acknowledge prominent people in history who happen to have been in a sexual minority, whether or not they were from Calif. Such people as: Alan Turing, Michelangelo, DaVinci, Oscar Wilde, Alexander the Great, Bayard Rustin (he's worth getting to know), and Truman Capote.

Kincaid's list of famous non-hetero people included a few names that puzzled me, including William Shakespeare, Richard the Lion-Hearted, and Daniel of the lion's den. As for that last one, how does he know?

This essay drew lots of comments. One that drew my attention is from someone who calls himself mikenloa. Part of the reason for the Calif. law is to balance the huge buying power of the Texas school system. Because the system is so big textbook suppliers cater to what Texas wants. And that is a heavy dose of conservatism and fundamentalism, even in subjects such as math (If Jesus started with five loaves and two fish…). The Calif. law means that those schools can't textbooks designed for Texas.

Widespread support for the bullied

One of those things that sat around for the last week was a report on Spirit Day. This was something started just last year and promoted this year by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Participants were asked to wear purple that day, which was last Thursday, chosen because it is the "spirit" color in the gay rainbow flag (each color has a quality associated with it, sorry I can't name them). The color was worn to support gay youth who are still being bullied. I wore my purple sweater as I taught class.

There were a lot of people and institutions supporting Spirit Day. Some are gay-friendly celebrities and brand names. Most are middle and high school students. There are even a few churches. All the anchors on Good Morning America wore purple. They weren't the only TV hosts. Companies such as Viacom, Facebook, Delta, Pepsi, and AT&T encouraged their employees to wear purple. Even the LAX airport lights were purple. All good to see.

One of the things conservatives trumpet is that nothing shall come between a parent and his/her children. A parent knows best. Except if the parent is dealing with sexual minority children. Then the parent doesn't know a thing and can't be trusted to do what's right.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend says Herman Cain, currently ahead in polls of GOP prez. candidates, is acting like a minstrelsy tap dancer. He's spouting off the worst of the black stereotypes to make the racist whites controlling the party's money think he's one of them. Pam (who is black) says it is downright offensive.

Pat Robertson said the GOP is become too extreme. Jon Stewart notes it isn't that Robertson (who has said some pretty extreme things, which Stewart documents) thinks the GOP extremists are wrong. The problem Robertson has is that if the GOP candidates say too much of it they'll lose the general election.

Forgiveness and community

John Smid used to be the director of Love in Action, a program to turn gay people straight. He ran it for a couple decades and, according to some of his patients, it was severely psychologically damaging to the patients.

Smid recently said he is gay and since being gay cannot be changed, he has nothing to repent. Yes, quite the turnaround. In addition he said he has never seen an actual ex-gay. That's an admission his treatment program was a sham. Smid is now asking for forgiveness.

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin applauds Smid's admissions. But, he says, he isn't the one to offer absolution. Smid needs to talk to his former patients. They are the only ones who can provide that forgiveness.

Burroway has a suggestion on how Smid might proceed. Each of Smid's patients was required to keep a Moral Inventory of all the gay sex things they had ever done, then tell that list to someone close (like a family member). The catch is that close friend was coached to respond to each revelation with disgust. Yes, that was traumatizing.

Smid should prepare his own Moral Inventory, not of sex acts, but of the harm he did to patients. He needs to publicly say, with some detail, what he did and why it was harmful.

This sounds a lot like a couple steps members of Alcoholics Anonymous must go through (my church hosts meetings, so the 12 steps are posted in our social hall) and like the Truth and Reconciliation commissions used in South Africa and elsewhere. All a way to restore Smid to the community.

How dare you create jobs!

Alas, some of this writing is nearly a week old. I am supposedly semi-retired, but I can still cram my weekends with too many things.

The Tea Party is mighty pissed off that Obama is President. How annoyed are they? Terrence Heath has the story.

They've demanded Democrats stop talking about jobs.

They wrote a letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke asking him to let the economy fail until after the 2012 elections.

They demanded that Obama stop pointing out the GOP has no jobs plan.

Now the group Tea Party Nation has written a resolution for businesses to sign. It accuses Obama of wrecking the economy and ends with:
I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.

I hereby declare that my job creation potential is now ceased.
The commenters on the Tea Party Nation site propose a few more actions:
Boycott paying taxes.

Force lawmakers to read Ayn Rand novels.

Boycott the federal government and all its agencies (such as the Post Office? How about government maintained roads? Airports inspected by FAA?).
Yup, the Tea Party and the GOP want to get rid of Obama so badly they are willing to send the country down the tubes.

Here is one of the things OWS is protesting. It is a chart of the national debt and the amount each president contributed to it. All presidents before Reagan: 7%, Reagan: 13.2%, Bush I: 10.5%, Clinton: 9.8%, Bush II: 42.7%, Obama: 16.8%.

Terrence Heath has put together several dozen of the cartoons inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Protests.

Heath also has an essay on contradictions in the GOP responses to OWS. The GOP claims the protesters are jobless hippies (they make it sound like being a hippie is a bad thing). The conservative trumpeting has been get off your lazy butt and "get a job!"

First contradiction: most of the protesters have jobs. Which leaves the GOP scratching their collective heads. Why would anyone who has a job feel the need to protest? That riddle is simple for us progressives to figure out. If you're part of the 99%, you know people, probably lots of people, who don't have jobs. And we have empathy.

Second contradiction: the GOP (goaded by the Tea Party) is doing its darndest to make sure there are no jobs to be had.

The Occupy Oakland protest battled with police a couple days ago. As far as I can tell it was a result of police trying to clear the park where the protesters were camped. The protesters resisted. Apparently health or city officials decided the campers had not properly disposed of garbage and human waste, attracting vermin. Other concerns appears to be many city leaders like "orderly" even from demonstrations and this protest usually isn't or that city officials can't identify one person as the leader. Some protesters say the resistance to police seen in Oakland and other cities is from anarchists who want to give the protests a bad reputation. The Oakland confrontation involved lots of tear gas.

Jon Stewart has a lot to say on the battle in Oakland.

Oakland isn't the only city that is losing patience with the occupy protesters. The problem seems to be the issue of health and cleanliness in several cities. A lot of people siding with the protesters think it is much more than that, especially after the violence at the Oakland protest. They even think the news report (such as the one I linked to in the New York Times) are biased against the protesters. If cities push too hard there could be a fierce backlash.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Covenant of Conscience

I have a "brother" blog I created to share news and events for the Dedicated Reconciling United Methodists (DRUM) group here in Michigan. We are affiliated with the national Reconciling Ministries Network (the group that put on that awesome convocation back in August) and do local worship services and training sessions. Most of the blog is announcements and reminders of our events, with occasional news items too. I have a great news item to share and I'm posting it there and linking from here rather than posting it twice.

Not red and blue, just confused and angry

Sara Robinson (back to blogging after nearly a year's silence) discusses what communications experts Drew Westen and Celinda Lake presented at the recent Take Back the American Dream conference. They highlighted points and language progressives should use. The American public is hungry for this kind of talk and political candidates who use these ideas will go far, even in conservative America -- "there's no red or blue America -- just a confused and angry one," said Westen. Some of their points:

* Talk about morals. Not "every man for himself" but we're all in this together and we need to build community.

* Tell stories about people and tie them back to progressive principles.

* Tell stories that properly brand us as progressives (the GOP branding of liberals has been quite successful) and also brand the GOP.

* Make stories visceral and personal. Not revenues v. entitlements, but "raising taxes v. kicking Granny out of the nursing home." (Which brings to mind the Granny and the death panels debate so effective a year ago.)

* Stop using "entitlements" because it sounds like something that isn't deserved. Medicaid and Social Security are both insurance programs that we've paid with taxes. Better not deny a claim.

* Talk of clean air and water, not a vague term such as environment.

* The American Dream is a powerful frame for stories. We can easily attach progressive goals to it. The American Dream is tied to the job. When the job goes, the Dream shrivels.

* A big concern these days is economic security. Economic security includes a living wage, health care, secure retirement, and opportunities for the next generation to do better. We aren't expecting to be rich, we expect to work for what we get, but we don't want to be dumped out of the middle class. So stories can be geared towards that theme: We oppose tax breaks for the rich because they come at the expense of our kid's public education. We oppose corporate tax breaks because that encourages them to ship jobs overseas.

* Second big theme: America needs a strong middle class.

* Third big theme: Equal opportunity, there should be no barriers to success.

Robinson also summarizes what happened in Wisconsin and Ohio last winter. She sees Occupy Wall Street as a successor to what happened there.

At the height of the Wisconsin protests, 180,000 people were protesting. Gov. Scott Walker faces a recall vote soon. Walker tried to put a wedge between unions, exempting firefighters from his cuts. They saw through the ruse and joined the protests. On their way they stopped at their bank (not said what ties it had to Walker) and withdrew their savings, causing a run and the bank's failure. That's power.

Gov. Kasich in Ohio tried a similar union busting move. Eight weeks later 1.3 million signatures forced the issue to next month's ballot (one wonders how much all that paper weighs).

Walker doesn't appear to be all that smart. So where are all these union busting proposals coming from? The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think-tank that writes up model legislation and sends it out to GOP led states. They're also hitting New Hampshire (the Dem Gov. has a ready veto pen) and, I suspect, Michigan and lots of other states.

I mention Michigan as a likely ALEC client because Equality Michigan reports (in an email) the state legislature has been busy with:

* Refusing to address bullying. Bills for that sit in committee.

* Denying health coverage to domestic partners of public employees. Bills have already passed the House. Contact your senator.

* Pushing legislation that would void local ordinances that prohibit discrimination against gays. That would overturn ordinances in 15 cities.

* Pushing legislation that would allow counselors of students to refuse to help students they don't like (meaning: they have a religious objection to gay kids). This violates professional ethics rules and interferes with university non-discrimination policies.

Government has failed us

I talked to a friend yesterday who told me about visiting the Occupy Detroit protest. I think she took some food down to them. She did offer her support and said she wished she could stay but actually has a job. She is sympathetic to the cause because she is a public school teacher and feels the Michigan Legislature and Governor have been beating up on her lately.

I appreciate one detail she shared with me. The protesters have tents at their site (Grand Circus Park) and have offered to share tents and food with the area homeless.

Someone who calls him/herself Thumbnails went to Zuccotti Park in NYC (where the Occupy Wall Street crowd is based) and set up a portable photographic studio to take formal portraits of the protesters. He wrote in part, "What I learned is that these people are not whackos, anarchists, or indigents. They are overwhelmingly working and middle class people of all backgrounds who feel that their government has failed them and does not represent their interests." His photos are online.

Ari Ezra Waldman, who blogs about gay legal issues for the site Towleroad, has an essay about Occupy Wall Street. He feels the group is protesting the wrong target. They should not be protesting the fat cats of Wall Street, but be protesting the Supreme Court. Presidents have in a sense run against the Supremes with great success. His examples:

In Lochner v. New York (1905) the Supremes said states do not have the right to regulate contracts of companies that operates solely in the state's borders (Congress does have the right to regulate contracts for businesses that cross state boundaries). If a baker and his workers agree to 10 hour days 6 days a week, the state should not interfere. Woodrow Wilson successfully campaigned against that decision in 1912. This started a shift of legislatures and Congress towards social reform.

More famous cases were decided by the Supremes during the Great Depression in which they found various parts of Roosevelt's New Deal to be unconstitutional. He threatened to pack the Court and the publicity helped him a great deal. He appointed so many Supremes due to retirement he essentially packed the court anyway.

Back in the 1960s the Court came out with many criminal procedure rights, such as Miranda. Nixon effectively ran against that in the 1968 race as he pushed law and order.

The reason why this works is the court is anti-majority. That is a good thing because a big reason for the court is to prevent tyranny of the majority. But the authoritarianism it represents is a convenient enemy (as we've seen from all the talk of "activist judges"). We progressives can't demonize millionaires because they are millionaires. The American story like those written by Horatio Alger makes that ineffective. Instead we should focus on institutional radicals who let the millionaires run wild.

Waldman has an interesting point, but I'm not buying. We should not blame the criminals because the cops weren't on the beat? Didn't this whole business of sucking money out of the poor and middle class begin 30 years ago, time enough to put its architects in power and select justices who believe the same thing? Besides, my understanding much of the reason for the protests isn't because others are rich, it's because the rich have tilted the playing field in their favor.

Commenters weren't buying either. One pointed out the OWS protesters are indeed (amongst other things) protesting the Citizens United case that allow corporations to buy Congress. Another said the politicians and judges react to the masses rising up, but first the masses must rise up. Another said we're smart enough to know we must deal with both the corporations and the politicians.

Waldman's reference to Horatio Alger prompted me to look up his Wikipedia entry. That's where I found he was probably gay. The entry's section on sexuality points to themes in Alger's books that suggest a gay orientation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gay stories

I saw the movie Weekend this afternoon. Basic plot: one gay man picks up another at a nightspot and they spend much of the weekend together. In addition to the stuff such pickups are for, they spend time getting to know each other and challenging each other to be out. The review site Metacritic gave it a score of 81 out of 100. Film festivals give it awards. I was personally underwhelmed and have been wondering why I feel that way. I guess it is because not much happens. The characters really don't change much during the story.

I've finished the novel The Sower by Kemble Scott. The basic premise is that the main character, a gay man, finds he has been "infected" with the antidote to AIDS, which also cures all other diseases. The only way to pass it on is through sex -- not even blood transfusion works. I was hoping to read about the crumbling of various power structures as they realized promiscuous sex, in this case, can be good for humans. Alas, there was only a hint of that at the end of the book. Most of it was an action thriller as various forces tried to prevent the cure from being passed beyond the first person. Even so, the author pulled off a few twists I didn't expect. There is a "2.0" version of the story available only for digital reader devices.

Round the world

The Occupy Wall Street protests are a month old now. As the news has been reporting, there are now protests across the country and around the world. To get a sense of how much these protests have spread there are two maps to check out. The first is from Daily Kos and shows over 200 protest sites in America and Canada. That includes a dozen in Michigan. Every state has at least one protest site.

The second map is a world map, put out by TV station WJLA. I'm sure it is incomplete because they don't have all the American sites listed by Daily Kos. It is the best one I've found. Lots in Europe and North America, a few in South America, one in Africa, and only a handful in all of Asia.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

From the 99%

Here's a video (under 5 minutes) showing scenes of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Seattle with a modern protest song. The words. I'm told, are perhaps a bit off-color, though they weren't clear enough for me to tell.

We would be happy to include you

The Occupy Wall Street protesters have been using the phrase "We are the 99%" -- we are the ones in America being hurt by the greedy practices of the richest 1%. There is, naturally, a backlash. A group calls itself "We are the 53%." These are the people who make their own way, are responsible for their own destiny, feel Wall Street isn't to blame, pay taxes, and are annoyed that 47% of the country doesn't pay taxes. They resent the moochers who get to be lazy at taxpayer's expense.

Essayist Terrence Heath looks at the rich contradictions in those statements.

First are the tax issues. The GOP lowered taxes on the middle class too (though now they want to raise taxes on the middle class to protect the tax rates of the rich). There are lots of other taxes other than income tax (sales, payroll, Social Security), which everyone pays. For the poor these taxes are a much higher percentage of income than for everyone else. There are now a lot of government services, such as education at state universities, where fees (tuition -- taxes on users) have gone up so much that many can no longer afford those services.

In addition, the 53 Percenters (and the GOP) are pushing the idea that being able to pay income tax confers a mantle of responsibility. Which is contradictory coming from an anti-tax crowd.

Next Heath considers what the GOP economic policies have done to those who vote GOP. He includes a photo of a man holding up a page of text. If I can read it accurately, it says:
I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don't have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven't had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don't blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God Bless the USA!
It sounds like he is in economic pain and blames himself. He won't fight those stomping on him and will ask for more pain -- quite the sell job by the GOP. The fallacy: My actions only affect me. Wall Street's actions only affect the titans of Wall Street.

Empathy and compassion have been replaced by duty and a person can resent his duty. That is compounded when economic success is linked to moral worth, which the GOP loves to do. Too many of today's poor know they played by the rules (were "moral") and lost everything anyway.

A great deal of the money in that top 1% is not from work, or even wise investing, but using government to tilt the playing field in their direction. The 99% aren't furious at the rich for being rich, but for rigging the rules. They're furious at government for allowing it to happen.

Heath notes:
The "53 Percenters," in a sense, embody the Republican party's success in getting people to just "live with the consequences of whatever happens to them." It's a world where "the worst economic crisis since Great Depression" somehow "just happens," and "hard times" are a result of your own individual "sins," and nothing else.
Put another way, the GOP is creating a bunch of passive sheep who won't see anything wrong as the rich squeeze them for more.

The GOP is successful in creating "class warfare" between the middle class and the poor. And many of those who claim to be in the 53% category are really in the 47% category, or part of the 99%. You're welcome to join us.

Insufficient pain

Brad Drake, GOP lawmaker in Florida, thinks executions don't cause enough pain. He has introduced a state bill to bring back the firing squad and the electric chair. One sick puppy.

Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, is catching on that GOP Congress members don't intend to play nice. The liberals in the country wonder what took him so long and what are they going to do about it.

To be fair, a lot of Dems have been until recently avoiding using the term "sabotage" describing the GOP and the economy. But a lot more than Dems are now saying it.

Herman Cain is enjoying front-runner status in the prez. race (at the moment). Terrence Heath says it is because Cain talks to the white bigots in control of the party using words they like to hear.

Can has said that Blacks don't vote Republican because they are too dumb to know what's good for them. This is a viewpoint of many exclusive groups (even some churches I know -- and don’t forget the Dems) who say, "Our message is fine. They're too dumb to understand it and know that they need it." rather than, "How do we need to change our message -- and our efforts -- to attract these outside groups?" Of course, the GOP is not going to change its goals in order to accommodate the needs of poor blacks.

Cain got in a heap of trouble by calling out Rick Perry's racism. Which means Can must now pretend that racism is not a problem in the GOP.

Heath is sure Cain won't get the nomination for prez. But, if he plays by the GOP rules, they might award him the VP spot.

Fumbled in translation

The King James Bible was translated about 400 years ago. Dr. Joel Hoffman, a Biblical scholar writing for the Huffington Post, notes six problems in translation techniques used in the creation of that Bible and English Bibles since then. Many of those errors persist in newer translations in spite of better scholarship.

How do we know if a translation is correct? We talk to someone who speaks the language and figure out whether the meaning they get from it is the same meaning we get. That doesn't work with ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew. Even so, ancient languages work in many ways similar to modern languages so if we see a problem in modern language translation we can assume the same problem exists with ancient languages.

Here are the problem areas.
1. Etymology. Meanings of words are determined from their root words and the word's ancestry. But "grammar" and "glamour" mean two different things. Same with "ballot" and "bullet."

2. Internal structure. Look at typical suffixes, and word combinations. What does "strip mall" and "drive through window" literally mean? Does "office" relate to "officer"? Compare "post" and "postage" with "host" and "hostage."

3. Cognates. Meanings of a word or phrase in one language can differ from the same thing in another language. I ran across this one first-hand when I lived in Germany. The English "must" is the same as the German "muss." But "must not" means forbidden and "muss nicht" means optional.

4. Time. Even dealing with just English, words have changed meaning in the last 400 years. The case I know best begins, "Suffer the little children…" which does not mean Jesus wanted the kids to feel pain. Another example is we think of "you" as informal and "thee" as formal. But 400 years ago the opposite was true.

5. Metaphors. Shakespeare wrote, "Juliet is the sun." A modern take on the phrase is that one should be wary of melanoma when around Juliet.

6. Translators are quite reluctant to throw out old meanings. Lots of people my age and older want the King James version of Psalm 23 read at their funeral. But are those words still accurate?

What does work? Context. The word "sincerely" at the end of a letter only means "the name is next."

This posting includes a 21 minute TED talk by Dr. Hoffman that goes into these points in more detail and offers a few more examples.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Awash in cash

The Washington Spectator has a big article (alas, no link) to another exasperating aspect of the huge amounts of money in Congress. Following a practice Newt Gingrich started in the 1990s the Dems have now essentially posted prices for the jobs of seats on top committees, chairpersons, and leadership positions, with Pelosi expected to pay (in 2008) $800K and raise $25M to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Even members without jobs must donate $250K if they expect to have access to the polling, media access, and strategy behind the DCCC. "You want it -- you buy it."

The effect of all this money:

* Money, not ability, controls who serves where.

* Power is concentrated in who controls the money.

* Corporations and conservative think-tanks can control who sits on which committees by the way they spread their dollars (and for many corporations $25M is peanuts).

* Actions by Congress are mostly grandstanding to show the people behind the purse that pet projects are being worked on (or thwarted).

* Campaigns "rest heavily on slogan-filled, fabulously expensive lowest-common-denominator appeals to collections of affluent special interests." Which created the worse Congress money can buy.

* All members of Congress and anyone thinking of running must toe the line on what their leadership and financial backers want. Positions harden and become more extreme.

* We as a nation lose legitimacy as a democracy.

Lou Dubose, editor of Washington Spectator, notes the huge pots of money the members of the Budget Supercommittee started raking in the moment their appointment to the committee was announced.

All this means the Dems are as beholden to their financial backers as the GOP is to theirs. And it ain't us.

During the previous presidential election cycle the group Unity '08 worked to create an alternative to the two big parties. They said they would nominate their own candidates and the Prez. and Veep. would be from different parties. That effort went quite a ways, but eventually ran out of steam and money. It's detractors naturally said the Unity '08 candidate could not win, only draw votes from one party, causing the other to win.

The people behind Unity '08 are back, this time as Americans Elect '12. They are working for a place on the ballot in all 50 states and have made it onto 6, including Michigan. They say this is a chance for Americans to participate directly in the nomination process (their website has a link to sign up as a delegate) without the overshadowing corporate influence.

It sounds good. However, I have some concerns. The problem of Unity '08 remains. Are they a viable alternative, or will they only suck votes from one major candidate, giving the win to the other? If my major choices are (1) a party clearly in the clutches of corporate and Fundie interests and quite willing to sacrifice me and the country, and (2) a party also in corporate clutches but willing to present a veneer of not being against me, do I risk my vote for this alternative with little chance which might throw the election to the party willing to sacrifice me?

In addition, they are only talking about a candidate for president. And we've already seen how a determined faction in Congress (see above for level of corruption) can neuter a president from the other major party. What would they do to a president who has no natural power base in Congress? A bit of poking on the AE website shows that there are lots of people with this concern and think the House is a better place to start. And there are many qualified candidates in the ranks of the unemployed.

Another issue is can they get their message out without corporate money? And if they show enough promise can they fend off corporate money?

That's so gay

There is a new book out, The Last Testament; a Memoir by God with "ghostwriter" David Javerbaum, formerly of The Daily Show. According to this book it really was Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden. There is an excerpt on Gawker. Enjoy the fun.

Last year I heard a student use the phrase, "That's so gay" to refer to something that was so far out there she had no hope of learning it. I had heard the phrase before, usually to mean something dumb or stupid. And, yes, it came from high school kids who were derogatory to gays and transferred the slur to other things. When I heard it in class I was caught off guard. But in the next class session I introduced the students to a few gay composers (Copland, Tchaikovsky, Barber, Menotti) and said I admired their music so much that I would take the phrase, "That's so gay," as a compliment. I didn't hear it again.

In the Oct. 7-9 issue of USA Weekend, which comes with my Sunday paper, there is a large ad, "Using gay to mean dumb or stupid -- not cool. Not in my house. House Rules. A message from the NBA and its players." Good to see it!

Making the conservative look centrist

Nina Totenberg of NPR had a retrospective on Clarence Thomas on his 20th anniversary of being seated on the Supreme Court. Totenberg says Thomas is the most conservative Supreme and cited many cases where Thomas staked out a position that even Scalia, Alito, and Roberts couldn't agree to. The viewpoint that Thomas takes is quite consistent and quite conservative.

Having Thomas take such a position does two things. First, it gets the extreme view out there -- if a Supreme Justice says it, there must be something we should take a look at. Second, Thomas is so far out there he makes Scalia look centrist in comparison.

Totenberg notes that Thomas has surrounded himself exclusively with friends and clerks who think as conservatively as he does. He's even friends with Rush Limbaugh.

Newsweek has an article about Anita Hill, the one who came forward with accusations of sexual harassment during Thomas' confirmation hearings. Though she didn't derail his nomination (it was close) she did spark a national discussion on sexual harassment.

Browsing in a bookstore is good, but…

Yeah, it has been a while. I did have time to write last weekend, but simply didn't feel like facing the issues of the day.

With the demise of Borders Books as a place to browse for reading material I've been searching for a replacement. One big reason for visiting an actual bookstore, rather than buying everything at Amazon, was to buy two magazines, Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Asimov's Science Fiction. Yeah, I'm five years behind in reading them -- I'm currently enjoying the September 2006 issue of Asimov's. I could subscribe, but the last time I did I had to write 8 letters about missing issues for an 18 issue subscription. One other thing Borders had was an actual section of gay fiction. Though small, I would occasionally find new titles. Some even appealed to me.

The big candidate for replacement is, of course, Barnes and Noble. And, good to see, they have Analog and Asimov's. But during my previous visits I did not find the gay fiction section. This time I asked. The store is moving everything around, so it took a while to find the gay non-fiction. As for fiction, the sales associate finally said that the gay fiction is interspersed within the general fiction.

I've heard one person say that since gays are just like other people he would sometimes take a book from the gay fiction section and reshelve it in general fiction (I can hear my librarian sister groan). There were visions of what a straight person would do when encountering a book with gay characters with hopes of getting to know us better.

Alas, as a person who specifically wants gay characters in my fiction, having to browse the entire general fiction collection to find the few that might interest me does not sound like an improvement. Even so, I did browse for a while -- and didn't find any gay books. I haven't yet made B&N my bookstore of choice. There aren't many options.

Something I've noticed over the last several years is that the shelves of Science Fiction section have an increasing share of space devoted to fantasy. I'm not a big fan of fantasy because so many times the fantastical part of the story is based on what feels like arbitrary gimmicks. I've also noticed that most of the fantasy stories, and even a good number of the science fiction stories, have a basic plot of Good having to vanquish Evil. The more I see these stories the more I think of the way the GOP talks -- we are good, they (immigrants, gays, blacks) are evil and must be vanquished. Are these fantasy stories merely a reflection of our time or are they a way of promoting the idea that all conflicts should be resolved through one side eliminating the other? There's a doctoral dissertation in there somewhere, though I'm not writing it. There's probably another dissertation or two about teen paranormal romance novels (no doubt spawned by Twilight) and the trend to rewrite old classics to include werewolves, vampires, or zombies. The one I saw recently was Grave Expectations in which Pip learns to become a gentleman werewolf.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A reflex suddenly gone

Focus on the Family spends a lot of effort describing gays as "evil." Then their spokesman Jim Daly assures us they don't hate gay people. Uh huh.

Jim Burroway has a bit more on the booing of a gay soldier during a GOP debate. Burroway observes that since the Vietnam era the GOP has worked hard to make sure that every time a politician meets a soldier the first thing said is effusive thanks and praise. They even shamed Dem politicians to do the same. This has been going on for decades. But, faced with a gay soldier, that reflex suddenly disappeared.

I don't watch the TV show Dancing With the Stars, though I am well aware of the uproar caused by Chaz Bono being a contestant. The uproar is because he is transgender. Lots of Fundies declared they would not watch as long as he is on. One feature of the show is audience participation in deciding who is kicked off each week and who stays around. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin notes that Chaz can't dance. Which means he has survived for a few weeks only because the audience likes him and is comfortable with him being transgender.

Go read a banned book

Banned Book Week passed without me having the time to comment on it. Of the books most frequently challenged in 2010

Because of homosexualty:
1. And Tango Makes Three, by Parnell and Richardson.
9. Revolutionary Voices, by Sonnie.

Because of too much (or explicit) sex (some also because of offensive language, drugs, and violence):
2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Alexie.
3. Brave New World, by Huxley
4. Crank, by Hopkins
5. The Hunger Games, by Collins
6. Lush, by Friend
7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sones

That leaves
8. Nickel and Dimed, by Ehrenreich for inaccuracies and political viewpoint. This is the story of a female journalist who spent a year trying to make it on the minimum wages of waitress in a diner. So why is the political viewpoint offensive? To whom?

10. Twilight, by Meyer, that steamy teen vampire/werewolf romance, challenged because of religious viewpoint?

Definitely grassroots and popular

Essayist Terrence Heath ponders the current state of the Tea Party. First he notes the Tea Party is portrayed in the media as a "grassroots" movement when it has corporate origins, corporate backing, and a corporate agenda. Then he notes it is portrayed as "popular" movement but it and its agenda are more unpopular than atheists. That takes some work. (Perhaps those using that term mean "populist," but then we're back to the first problem).

Heath notes the drop in favorability ratings coincides with the Tea Party's control of the GOP in the House. It is hard to sell what people won't buy. The GOP focus on everything but jobs and pursuing a cut-and-gut agenda isn't selling to most citizens. Finally, Obama is talking about jobs. And if Obama keeps talking about jobs and the GOP keeps talking about everything but, the Tea Party may be over.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, now that they are spreading across the country, have finally gotten the attention of mainstream media this week. Many of the talking heads are unfavorably comparing these protesters with the Tea Party. Really, now. The most concise view of the issue is from, of course, Jon Stewart. Now that they have the nations attention the conservative talking heads are, naturally, raining down abuse. Which Stewart highlights most effectively.

A participant in Occupy Wall Street is interviewed by Fox. It is quickly obvious why Fox never showed it. This video was not by a Fox cameraman (which is why the frame wanders). The comments suggest this guy is a well known part of the progressive website Daily Kos with the byline Ministry of Truth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In heaven together

A great afternoon and evening. The GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) of University of Michigan, Dearborn sponsored Bishop Gene Robinson to come and talk. He was then the guest at a reception in honor of Ruth Ellis Center (thanks to the GSA for doing that!). I went as a REC volunteer and the staff made sure there were other volunteers at the Center to cover for me as today is my usual day to be there.

During the talk I was a bit surprised by a policeman who hung around. Later, when he left with Robinson, I realized the policeman was probably part of Robinson's bodyguard.

I didn't take notes of what Robinson said, so you're stuck with what I can remember. Some highlights:

During the Q&A session a Fundie challenged Robinson for perverting the Gospel. I'm sure he has had lots of practice being kind to his opponents and did so again. He thanked her and politely explained why he disagreed. The very next question was from someone with "proof" that St. Paul was gay. To this Robinson said we must be careful about reading into the Bible what isn't actually there. Jonathan and David may make a great gay couple but the Bible doesn't say they actually had sex. A couple questions later was about how he handles his opponents. He said he keeps in mind "We're going to be in Heaven together." The opponent may be surprised Robinson is there, too. Even so, he is responsible for his actions now. Robinson understands now why Jesus was silent before his accusers at his trial. When people are hurling insults at you it is very easy to respond in kind. It is much better to be silent with the understanding the hate stops with me.

The reception had some very good food (and some of the Ruth Ellis kids took advantage of it). Towards the end of the eating time one of the UM-D servers came to Laura, the Executive Director of the Center. The server said that many times at the end of functions there is lots of food left over. The university can't use it again and the servers can't take it home. They've come up with a system that the servers take turns getting the leftovers to a favorite charity. This server wondered if Laura and REC would be her charity. Laura, of course, jumped at the chance and worked out how the server would contact the program director (sitting across the table) when food became available. I may be serving UM-D leftovers when I'm in the kitchen.

I talked to Robinson afterward and asked him what drives the Fundies. He said that over the last year or so he has concluded that there are two widely different views of humanity.

One is from the liberal church and focuses on the creation story in which God declares everything to be good. Christianity is liberating, calling us to bring out the best in ourselves and each other.

The other view, from the conservative church, focuses on the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden. Humans are so thoroughly corrupted that the church must clamp a tight lid on all deviant behavior. Allow even a tiny bit loose and the whole cesspool comes bursting out. Humans would be nothing better than wild animals, destroying all of civilization, without the firm control of the church. Robinson added that those people do not look happy. I agree it does explain a lot about the Fundie mindset.

Because the reception was in honor of the Ruth Ellis Center there were many of our brochures on the tables. Even though they aren't new, I hadn't seen one before. I was surprised a picture of me is on the front! It was the same one that appeared in Between the Lines 15 months ago of me and Laura and the Center's president of the board accepting a check from Metro Health Foundation.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ending rehearsed murder

Newsweek has three articles about the death penalty as reaction to the execution of Troy Davis. They were written by a man who had the job of executioner, who is haunted by the idea he has probably murdered an innocent man; a Georgia state Department of Corrections commissioner, who calls the practice "rehearsed murder;" and lawyer/novelist Scott Turow who believes we are taking steps towards repeal of the death penalty. Parts of those stories can get intense.

Commitment to both accountability and caring

A riot following a police shooting in Cincinnati in 2001 prompted several years of a high homicide rate in the city. In 2006 leaders there called David Kennedy, who ran a program called Ceasefire and who had lowered the homicide rate in Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis, among other places. Kennedy wrote an article for Newsweek on how the program works and what he achieved in Cincinnati.

I won't work through the whole article (it is worth the read). I will quote the summary paragraph from near the end.
The old duality is simple, and it may be comforting, but it’s wrong. We need to find a new, more complicated logic, and we have. It’s a logic that says no amount of law enforcement will ever work, that law enforcement as we’ve been practicing it is part of the problem. It’s a logic that says no amount of traditional social investment will ever work. It’s a logic that says, someone can be doing terrible things and still be a victim; someone can have done wrong and still deserve help; someone can have been the victim of history and neglect and it’s still right to demand that they stop hurting people. Not even remotely radical ideas: a good parent says, all the time, You’ve broken the rules, and I’m going to do something about it, and I love you and of course I will continue to care for you and hold you close. But radical when it comes to talking about crime, where commitment to accountability seems to crowd out room for caring, and commitment to caring seems to crowd out room for accountability.
All simply described as: building community.