Saturday, June 30, 2012

Limiting Congressional power

I had wondered about Chief Justice John Roberts' use of taxes instead of the Commerce Clause to justify his approval of the Affordable Care Act. I read somewhere (though I can find or verify it now) that violating a law supported by the Commerce Clause is usually a crime. Violating a tax law means having to pay a penalty (though refusing to pay the penalty is a crime). So not buying health insurance can result in a penalty, but is not a crime.

Ari Ezra Waldman says there is more. Through much of the 1930s the Supremes tossed out much of FDR's New Deal because it said Congress had no authority to make such laws. In 1939, after threats from FDR and a change in court membership, the Supremes began to say, yes the Commerce Clause does allow the gov't to regulate such things as maximum workweek, minimum wage, Social Security, and a host of other things.

But conservatives are fighting back. I'm sure you can figure out why they hate minimum wage laws and other such related things. There was a case a few years ago which asked the Supremes to strike down a federal law that banned guns in schools (though states could do the banning). A more liberal court would have said, yep, the parts of the gun, if not the whole thing crossed state lines so we can regulate it. This conservative court said that gun in that school has nothing to do with interstate commerce. They are trying to reimpose the earlier meaning on the Commerce Clause, and thereby limit the power of Congress. Progressives may have won this battle, but conservatives are winning the war.

Waldman also notes that conservatives are saying if you want the courts to respect the will of the people when it comes to health care (but aren't a majority against the ACA?) you have to respect the will of the people when it comes to the Defense of Marriage Act. Waldman says they're not equivalent: health care is an economic law. DOMA is discrimination.

Pandering? I'll have some more

In response to Mary Cheney and Heather Poe officially getting married, John Fugelsang of The Current had something to say:
[W]hile Dick Cheney’s party spent decades calling people like Mary deviant or unnatural, the liberals were fighting for her. When Karl Rove made same-sex marriage a wedge issue to divide Americans in the 2004 election, liberals were writing the checks to defeat that homophobic agenda. And when Fox News spent hundreds of hours lying about people like Mary Cheney and calling them a threat to traditional marriage, the very people Mary’s dad so deeply despises were the ones standing up for her liberty.

So you’re welcome, Cheneys, we were happy to do it.

More on gay Oreos: Is a more gay-inclusive marketplace just pandering? In just the last few months we've had JC Penney with Ellen DeGeneres and a gay couple, the Gap with two men in one snug t-shirt, and Ben and Jerry's "Apply Ever After" depicting a gay couple. One response: Pander away!

Stephen Colbert does a 3 1/2 minute rant against gay Oreos and looks to be having a hard time keeping a straight face.

I mentioned recently that the GOP is working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they don't intend to have anything to replace it. Here is some confirmation: Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska was asked about the GOP plan. Yep, well, um, we're working on it. We're gonna hold hearings and talk to experts and try to incorporate all the great ideas they have. And we're gonna deal with all the issues.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend wonders: How long has the health care system been a mess? How long ago was the ACA signed into law? How long have they had to create an actual choice for voters? And only now they're thinking that hearings just possibly might be a good idea? Not buying it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vague gestures toward unspecified reforms

A few days ago (meaning before today's Supreme ruling on the Affordable Care Act), Jonathan Chait in the New York Times Magazine wonders about the difference between a right and a privilege. If you are poor, are you entitled to a big house? A large flat-screen TV? If didn't work as hard as Romney, had the misfortune of having poor parents, went to bad schools, aren't very smart, or trained for an industry that collapsed are you entitled to nice clothes or air conditioning?

Or health care?

We as a society essentially agree that no, a poor person is stuck with the little house (or apartment or mobile home) that doesn't have air, the puny TV, clothes from Goodwill, and perhaps food from the local food bank. Some forms of material deprivation are morally acceptable.

I can't (and Chait doesn't) say whether we as a society think health care is a right or a privilege. What Chait says is that the GOP definitely believes it is not a right. So in all their talk about repealing Obamacare you won't hear any of them talk about what they would replace it with. Because they don't intend to replace it. The GOP budgets call for throwing more people off Medicare.
Their reason for failing to defend their actual principles is obvious enough: That tens of millions of Americans deservedly lack a right to basic medical treatment is a politically difficult proposition. Thus, they oppose Obamacare without defending the indefensible conditions they actually favor. Their tactic of adding vague gestures toward unspecified future reforms has been so successful that news reports almost uniformly describe the Republican health-care stance as yet-to-be-determined, rather than an outright defense of maintaining health care as an earned privilege rather than a right.

Now that the Supremes have ruled on the Affordable Care Act (and I'll let you peruse your favorite news source for details) there is a strange question to ponder. Why did Chief Justice John Roberts spend so much effort in saying the Affordable Care Act is permitted because it is a tax and not because it is interstate commerce? Why split hairs like that?

I heard a variety of NPR hosts interviewing GOP members of Congress (oh, I wish they would follow those interviews with rebuttals by Democrats!). Some of them jumped all over that tax designation -- The largest tax increase in history! And on the poor! Jonathan Chait (again) proposes another idea. Roberts is slowly and carefully chipping away at the idea that the federal government has anything to do with interstate commerce. Just imagine the mischief that could cause.

On ice

Almost a week ago I wrote about a science article that said the development of civilization was enough to prevent an ice age, thus supporting the idea that human actions can affect climate.

My friend and debate partner emphasized the debate side of our friendship and promptly replied (the break in time since then has been me looking for a moment to carefully consider what he said). He wrote:
11,000 years ago corresponds to the "last ice age" (cave men, wooly mammoths, etc. -- so I've been told all my life, give or take a millennium). Is that the "peak in the cycle" you mention, i.e. does "peak" mean "coldest"? If we have a 22,000 year cycle (says this model) and an ice age 11,000 years ago, we should now be halfway around this cycle, near the opposite of the ice age, no? That fits with rising temperatures during that entire half-cycle. The model suggests that the earth will begin to cool toward the "next ice age" (per this model) "pretty soon" and continue to cool for about 11,000 years. Thus, the article appears to argue against global warming caused by human activity -- the opposite conclusion from the one I hear you reaching.
So I went checking. First (and only) stop was Wikipedia (yeah, it may be suspect, but it is right there). I'll start with some clarification of terminology. We are supposedly still in an ice age because ice still covers Antarctica and Greenland. However, we are not in a glacial period, in which glaciers cover a big portion of the northern continents. Specifically, we're in an interglacial period in the Quaternary Ice Age, and that started about 2.6 million years ago. The Analog article I referenced in the earlier post didn't distinguish between ice age and glacial period.

It took a while to confirm my friend's understanding of the most recent glacial period because most of the articles on ice age and glaciation have charts with timelines in the hundreds of millions of years. 11,000 years is a tiny blip. In the article on the Quaternary Period I found this:
The current interglacial began between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, which caused the ice sheets from the last glacial period to begin to disappear. Remnants of these last glaciers, now occupying about 10% of the world's land surface, still exist in Greenland and Antarctica.
The last glacial period article is here and says the same thing.

So, yes, the last glacial period ended about 11,000 years ago.

Back to the Analog article. And, yes, this was the fact article from that issue. I'm quite aware of the scientific veracity of fiction, even science fiction. I wrote:
We hit a peak in that cycle about 11,000 years ago, which means we should be in an ice age right about … now. But it didn't happen. The drop was steady and according to schedule until about 5,000 years ago when temperatures began to rise again.
Though I had written about temperature changes, the original article wrote about changes in atmospheric methane. That change shouldn't matter to my conclusion.

I'll go back to the article itself. It is The Ice Age That Wasn't by Richard A. Lovett, in the April 2007 edition of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
Greenhouse gases are ones that trap atmospheric heat. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most plentiful, but molecule for molecule, methane (CH4) is a good deal more powerful.
Earlier, the article said the source of the changes in sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere are due to wobbles of the earth on its axis and the eccentricities of the earth's orbit that happen in cycles of 41,000 and 22,000 years.
These [ice] cores reveal that during eras when the Northern Hemisphere receives weaker summer sunlight (i.e., ice ages), methane is lower, In eras when solar energy is higher in the arctic, methane increases.
As the solar energy fluctuates, so does the level of methane, and so does its action as a greenhouse gas, and so does the world's temperature.
This pattern means that the atmosphere's methane level should have reached a peak 11,000 years ago and been dropping ever since. And that's exactly what happened until 5,000 years ago. Then something went awry, and it began to rise.
To me (one who wasn't all that aware of glaciation history), a peak in methane levels implies a peak in temperatures, and forms a convincing case that 11,000 years ago was not a glacial period.

And that appears to contradict my friend's understanding and the several articles in Wikipedia.

The Analog article doesn't offer a way out of that contradiction, so I'll leave it at that. I checked the letters column in issues of Analog over the next year (they're already in my book closet) but there was no mention of this article.

Going on to another part of my friend's response. I had written:
There are three dips in the steady rise in temperature. All three correspond to devastating plagues -- bubonic plague at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Black Death of the 14th Century, and the European diseases that swept through the Americas in the 16th Century. Reduce the number of humans and our effect on climate is reduced.
My friend responded:
Per your next-to-last paragraph, less human activity means less warming. But less human activity would presumably be balanced at least in part by more animal activity, as animal populations should rise greatly with reduced human predation. And the very small human population (compared to the current level) that prevailed until a few hundred years ago (pre-modern-medicine) should have had much less impact on the earth than we are having now. So I'm questioning the interpretation of these three "dips".
I had written about this quite a while ago. The dips in global temperature after times of plague when large parts of the population died were because fewer people meant less farming. That meant fields were allowed to return to forest, and that sucked carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Less carbon dioxide, less greenhouse effect, and lower temperatures. The "Little Ice Age" ended when there were enough people to clear forests for farms, releasing all that sequestered carbon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lots of people celebrate Pride month

We even get gay Oreos! Alas, this would definitely be a sugar overload for me.

Evolving music

Back when I worked as a computer programmer I spent some time seeing whether a genetic algorithm would help with one of our ongoing tasks. A genetic algorithm works in the same manner as biological evolution. It contains these steps:

1. Create a large number of solutions in which the pieces of the solution are generated randomly. It is likely (almost guaranteed) that no solution is very good. That's OK.

2. Test the solutions and rate them on how well they solve the actual problem. This corresponds to survival of the fittest.

3. Toss out the lowest scoring solutions.

4. Mate pairs of high scoring solutions. This means randomly select pieces of two solutions to create an offspring solution. Yep, this corresponds to sexual reproduction.

5. Randomly tweak the offspring solutions. Add in some genetic mutations.

6. Go back to step 2 with the offspring solutions for perhaps a few hundred (or thousand) generations. The best solution is the one with the highest score at that point.

I first heard about genetic algorithms in an article that had an example something like this (feel free to skip this paragraph): A company had several warehouses in which some products were easy to get to and some were harder. Which were easy and which were hard varied between warehouses and were dependent on what arrive from the factory and when in a particular week. There are several trucks taking products to several stores, the amounts of each depending on what the store ordered. Given the way product sits in the warehouse there is a cost to getting it on the truck. There is a cost, depending on the truck's route of getting the product to the store. How much of which product should be taken out of which warehouse and delivered to which store to achieve the lowest cost? Genetic algorithms provided answers with lower cost than previous methods.

I won't go into the type of problem I tried to solve with genetic algorithms (eyes will glaze if they haven't already). I was able to get a an answer for a simple case, but not when I made it a bit more complex. One way to say it is that I needed a solution with a cost lower than a particular amount and my program couldn't get it to come out that low.

I've shifted to the world of music now. And so have genetic algorithms.

Researchers of the Imperial College of London created sound samples from random sequences of computer generated pitches (step1 above). They then asked participants to listen to the sound samples and rate them from "I can't stand it" to "I love it!" (step 2). They followed steps 3 to 6 to create a new series of sound samples. It didn't take long before the samples developed chords, a bass beat, and fragments of melody. However, the results didn't improve after about 900 generations. Given the algorithm and what it allowed to vary, this may have been the best it could do.

That led to some interesting questions. Even when music is carefully composed and performed, what is the role of consumer in our Western music? How has that role changed with widespread ability to download, manipulate, and share music?

I know of software programs that analyze the music of a particular composer then create original works in the style of that composer. Many people freak out at the mention of a computer "composing," but the computer wouldn't get very far without the original human composer's work. This may be another way for a computer to generate music, though I see it still required humans to determine what is good. Even so there are hints that humans could be less involved. The researchers used methods of measuring chords and rhythm as a way to verify what the participants did. Perhaps these measuring tools could be used instead of the humans deciding what they liked and didn't like. But -- so far -- humans are still needed to write the genetic algorithm programs.

The authors created the site Darwin Tunes to allow participants to rate the sound samples. The site now has audio clips to explain what was done and a selection of about 4000 generations of sound samples. They also wrote a six-page scientific paper (I understood the basics, but not all of the concepts).

Another step into the digital age

I bought a new camera! This one is digital. My old camera still works, but it uses film and my favorite kind of film is no longer available. I'm about to leave on a long and photogenic vacation (more later) and I didn't want to risk running out of film or want the hassle of trying to find more.

So. Digital it is. I bought a package and got an extra lens, an extra capacity memory card, and a camera bag.

I started learning how it works yesterday and took a few sample shots of the flowers around the house. I spent this morning figuring out how to get the photos from the camera to my computer. Getting photos to my netbook is easy because it has a little slot for the memory card. Not so with my desktop.

The camera came with a cable to go from it to a USB slot and software to load. I didn't think I needed all the image editors (don't have time for all that) so loaded just the viewer. Alas, it uses one of the other products to actually pull the images off the camera, so back to the software installer. Then the image transfer program wouldn't work, prompting a call to the manufacturer. Much to my surprise one of his questions was what kind of printer I had. Uh, dude, my printer has nothing to do with the kind of operation I need to perform.

With a digital camera I can now post my own pictures to this blog. This is one of the day lilies beside by deck.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

If cause-and-effect, there should be some effect

I wrote a couple days ago about David Blankenhorn's lukewarm agreement that, yeah, marriage for gays is probably a good idea. Here's a bit more about it. As part of his New York Times editorial Blankenhorn wrote:
I had also hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened.

[I]f fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage overall, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now.

Father of computing

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing.

It's ironic if you don't recognize his name because you are reading my words in a way he made possible.

I'll let you read more about his life here and here, though I'll share highlights:

* He was instrumental in breaking Germany's Enigma code during World War II and automating the decryption process.

* He formalized the basics of the computer algorithm, the foundation of all computers.

* He proposed the Turing Test as a way of determining if a computer is intelligent: If a human couldn't tell if he was conversing with a computer or another human, then the computer could think for itself.

* He was gay, and when he admitted such to authorities he was charged with gross indecency. His life was ruined. But, according to Jack Copeland of Oxford University, Turing's death from cyanide poisoning was accidental, not suicide. He was only 42.

Google commemorated Turing's centennial yesterday. It's opening page doodle was a Turing machine which supposedly featured six puzzles. I didn't try them.

On behalf of democracy

Over the last couple weeks Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a deal with various officials from Ontario and Canada to build a second bridge across the Detroit River. Snyder did it in a way that circumvented the state legislature, which has refused to agree to the bridge.

The existing bridge is privately owned by Matty Maroun. A new bridge would cut into his profits. The legislature wouldn't agree with Snyder because Maroun had bought them off. Maroun offered to pay for the new bridge himself (he's part of the 1%) but Canada flatly refused Maroun's requirements.

Maroun is now furious with Snyder and promptly started collecting signatures (he is able to pay for a large army of gatherers) to force the issue onto the November ballot. It took him less than a week to do so. The committee that collected the signatures is named "The People Should Decide."

Hold that thought.

I wrote about Michigan's Emergency Manager Law and how it is used by the 1%. A proposal to repeal it is now on its way to the November ballot. A group with the title "Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility" are fighting hard to keep the proposal off the ballot.

The GOP has been trumpeting lately -- such as every vote on marriage equality -- that the people should decide. And here we have a case of two issues backed by the GOP, the 1%, the Tea Party, or general fiscal conservatives (take your pick) where they feel one should go before the voters and one should not.

Let's be clear: Neither conservative effort is on behalf on democracy.

Maroun wants his bridge proposal to go before voters because he paid for the work to make it qualify and he is convinced he has the financial muscle to lie to voters in such a way to get them to vote for what he wants.

But the EM repeal proposal was brought by the 99%. It would have strong backing. The 1% doubt they would be able to convince the rest of us to vote it down. So better to keep it off the ballot.

Jack Lessenberry, political analyst for Michigan Radio and Metro Times, says there are at least four, likely eight, and perhaps eleven big proposals on the November ballot. Add in the candidates for president, Senate, House, state legislature, judges and justices, university regents, and dog catcher and the whole thing will be "as long as the proverbial bedsheet." Which makes it too long to fill out in the voting booth (especially after standing in line). "In other words, today’s ballot is like a complicated take-home test -- except that for most of us, it is illegal to take it home." Lessenberry's advice: plan to be away from home all day so you can legally apply for an absentee ballot.

The Doonesbury comic strip today explained the difference between Obama and Romney. Real easy to do.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Civilization and climate

Does human activity affect the climate? The article The Ice Age That Wasn't by Richard A. Lovett appeared in the April 2007 edition of Analog Science Fiction and Fact (yes, I'm that far behind in reading that magazine). It first lays out reasons why the earth's temperature naturally and regularly fluctuates due to variations in the earth's orbit. The cycle is about 22,000 years. The fluctuation is enough to produce ice ages. We hit a peak in that cycle about 11,000 years ago, which means we should be in an ice age right about … now. But it didn't happen. The drop was steady and according to schedule until about 5,000 years ago when temperatures began to rise again.

The significance of that date? The beginning of rice cultivation in Asia and with that the release of more swamp methane into the air (rice grows in flooded paddies that in some ways act as swamps). That was followed by the deforestation of Europe (complete about 2,000 years ago) and the release of all that carbon.

There are three dips in the steady rise in temperature. All three correspond to devastating plagues -- bubonic plague at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Black Death of the 14th Century, and the European diseases that swept through the Americas in the 16th Century. Reduce the number of humans and our effect on climate is reduced.

The tantalizing question is: Did the Industrial Revolution accelerate the process that lead to warming? Sorry, that's outside the scope of this article.

Acceptance and compromise

Shortly after Obama announced his support for marriage equality I wrote about polls that showed a sharp increase in voter support for our relationships. Now an AP-gfk poll shows support for marriage equality is unchanged. Perhaps the is margin of error? Perhaps the way the question was asked?

I've previously written about the play 8 by Dustin Lance Black, which is about the trial to repeal the Calif. gay marriage ban. In that trial and the play David Blankenhorn was the only witness on the anti-gay side and he wasn't a convincing witness. Now he has written a New York Times editorial saying that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. He doesn't say that marriage equality is great. It's more of well, we do have to live together and mutual acceptance involves some compromises. Not exactly a pat on the back, but we'll take it.

Earlier this week I wrote about the performance of The Vagina Monologues held on the Capitol steps last Monday. Leave it to Between the Lines, Michigan's gay newspaper, to have complete coverage (including a slide show) of the event.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where we live

This is a post just because I love maps.

This first link is to a pair of maps/graphs that show the distribution of the world's population by latitude and longitude. Only 10% of the population is south of the equator. Most of the population is between 20 degrees North and 40 degrees North. As for longitude, there are 4 distinct chunks to the data -- the Americas, which have under a billion people; Europe-Africa, with 2 billion; then a distinct valley before we get to the twin peaks of India and China that make up the Asia mountain with 4 billion people.

The second link is to latitude and longitude histograms showing the percent of land and water. Run your mouse over the charts to see the underlying world map. It is easy to see the big reason why most people live in north of the equator is that is where most of the land is.

That prompted the question of how does population density vary by latitude and longitude? Alas, I don't have the answer.

A lot more of us

Rob Tisinai has one more observation about that recent scientific study that tries to claim that gays and lesbians make bad parents.

Back in the 1940s and '50s the Kinsey Report said that about 10% of the population was Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual. More recent surveys put the number at about 4-5% (which means about 15 million LGB people in America based on a total population of 310 million). Our opponents claim we're only 1.4% of the population (that's still over 4 million), as they try to say why are we bothering with the rights of so few people (compared to the rights of hundreds of millions of Christians). But the Constitution doesn't have a threshold.

One of the questions (I don't have the exact text -- though I followed the link to all the questions and answers I didn't want to wade through 135 pages) was something like this: Do you consider yourself completely straight, mostly straight, bisexual, mostly gay, or completely gay?

The small surprise: 6.6% of the responders said they were bisexual, mostly gay, or completely gay. That's over 20 million in America. Keep in mind that people still might be hesitant to tell a researcher they are not straight, so this number is likely low.

The big surprise: The number who said they were completely straight was 80.1%. That means over 61 million of us aren't completely straight.

So if they want to use the study to claim to say we're bad parents, they must also admit there are a lot more of us than originally thought and America is more sexually diverse than they want to believe.

Losing Wisdom

I had my last wisdom tooth extracted today. When I had the other three removed (third one about 30 years ago) I was told this one could be left alone because it lay sideways, remained buried, and posed no problems. A year ago my dentist noted a corner of that tooth was now exposed and, because it couldn't be reached to be brushed, would eventually get a cavity. He referred me to an oral surgeon who said I could let it go for a year, but I could get into trouble in the second year. So I scheduled a date (well) after the end of the school year.

If you are at all squeamish you have my permission to stop reading now. Just ignore the rest of this post.

Though my appointment was for 1:45 I didn't get out of there until 4:00. Part of it was delay in starting the process, part of it was waiting for the local anesthetic to kick in. He even had to stop and give me more and let that take effect. It wasn't a case of grabbing the tooth and yanking it out. Most of the work was in drilling it out, or at least cutting it into pieces. That took a while.

I now have pain pills, antibiotics, and a mouth rinse I start using tomorrow. Food needs to be soft, and while I like that the assistant suggested ice cream, that might play havoc with my weight. Sigh.

When I was young cartoons and comic strips would indicate a toothache by showing a person with a piece of cloth circling the head chin to crown. I have one of those now. It's a sleeve to hold an ice pack.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Theft of the commons

Michigan has an Emergency Manager law. If a city or school system completely screws up its finances an Emergency Manager is appointed to set things right. The EM replaces the elected officials until the financial crisis is past. In the last couple years Gov. Snyder got a law passed to strengthen the powers of the EM, including revising union contracts.

That last adition prompted a team to collect signatures to put a referendum of the EM law (or maybe the union contract part of the law?) on the November ballot. They say the EM law is a violation of democracy. It also has lots of racial overtones because the cities and school districts that have or had EMs were all black (though there are reports the white suburb of Allen Park might need an EM soon). The effort to overturn the law is currently tied up in court (over -- of all things -- font size).

I hear about the struggles in Detroit and see how an Emergency Manager could be a good thing. For decades the plans of the mayor and city council depended on luring more people back into the city even though they are giving current residents little reason to stay. Many past mayors got and held office because they stirred up racial resentments and accused the white suburbs trying to steal the black city's cultural assets. The city is about to go bankrupt and all we hear is the squabbling between the city and the state. An EM would probably be less politically motivated by that stale vision, more inclined to see the city as it is now, not stuck searching for a past glory. Under an EM the city busses would run and the streetlights would work.

Though I don't know if it is true of Detroit I can also see a city getting its finances into trouble through such things as a patronage system that overloads the payroll with the mayor's cronies, corrupt officials who see the job as a way to line their own pockets, union contracts that are unreasonable (such as a job that pays tens of thousands, yet has a pension that pays in the millions), or have promised voters such low taxes and such expensive and generous services that a balanced budget cannot possibly be achieved.

My friend and debate partner gave me the book Ypsilanti Vampire May Day by Peter Linebaugh and published by Occupy Ypsilanti. For all my international readers, Ypsilanti is a real town just east of Ann Arbor and home to Eastern Michigan University. Yeah, this is the second book review for today.

The major idea of the book's 70 pages is that the 1% is out to steal the community's common areas and suck the blood out of everything and everyone else. Linebaugh traced that idea through a couple centuries of history, including the history of Ypsilanti, where the first grab was of Native American land by Europeans. Part of this history is of Alexander and Demetrios Ypsilantis, who helped fight for the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Along the way, a lot of the common areas were turned into service of the 1% and everyone else became laborers of their goals.

The solution to this theft? Workers unite! (The latest issue of Newsweek has an article on a novel on the effects of the Great Recession. One character wears a t-shirt with the image of Karl Marx and the words, "I told you so!")

As part of his story Linebaugh talks about the Emergency Manager appointed for Benton Harbor (a black community). This EM sold a public park, in spite of loud public protest, to a developer who turned it into a golf course -- which most of the residents can't afford to use. The EM is a tool of the 1% especially since the only one he answers to is the governor.

This little book prompted me to think about the Emergency Manager law again. There are signs, such as how hard the GOP is fighting to keep the referendum off the ballot. I earlier mentioned Allen Park -- the reason why it might need an EM is because its property tax revenues have dropped due to the housing slump and the state gov't has slashed payments to cities that were instituted when the tax structure was reworked a couple decades ago. Both halves of that equation are because of GOP policies that favor the 1%. The clincher was to think through the implications of the union contract part that was added to the law. Financially starve a city (as is happening in Allen Park), appoint an EM, then gut all union contracts.

Yes, the EM law is the tool of the 1% and is anti-democracy.

One grand scheme of benevolence

Book reports didn't end for me when high school (or even graduate school) ended. Here's another. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church by Jack Rogers is one of many books that set out to show that the Bible does not condemn loving same-sex relationships. Of course, the book examines the 6-7 "clobber" passages (the ones used to beat us over the head), providing context and explanations about what those passages really mean (or meant at the time they were written).

What is different about this one is the way it works through a couple hundred years of the history of theology to show how the church's treatment of gays is no different that its previous treatment of blacks and women. The Bible was misused to justify oppression of women and blacks and that pattern of misuse repeated to justify oppression of gays.

A pervasive theological viewpoint during the late 1700s was based on the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. It said that we can look around us and see the reality of the world. The facts of any situation are obvious to everyone. The facts of nature are as plain as the facts of divine action recorded in the Bible. In addition, all peoples (at least people of the better classes) think the same way. It is this philosophy that is expressed in the famous American phrase, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."

The result of this philosophy was that Southern theologians looked around and saw that since slavery was practiced by everyone and since the Bible did not explicitly condemn it, God must support it. They don't see their own biases (after all, "everyone" thinks the way they do) and that God's will neatly matches those biases.

Abolitionists looked at the Bible differently. They started with the overall message of love and then applied that to every situation. John Rankin, a leading abolitionist, put it this way:
The whole Bible is opposed to slavery. The sacred volume is one grand scheme of benevolence. Beams of love and mercy emanate from every page, while the voice of justice denounces the oppressor, and speaks of his awful doom.
Faulty theology allowed church people to portray blacks and women as less than human and to use those prejudices to oppress them. The church is using the exact same techniques to justify its oppression of gays today.

Updating my blog

Yesterday, I found out something about the blog system I use. Whenever I post to the blog it gets emailed to ten family members and friends. I found out that when I update a post the updated version does not get sent out.

Even though this is a duplicate for those who read online, I'll repeat the update.

In yesterday's post I mentioned there was a performance of The Vagina Monologues at the Michigan state capitol. I thought I should mention how the event turned out and checked gay blogs for updates. I didn't check an obvious choice until after I posted. The Detroit Free Press has a nice article, including descriptions of various protest signs. About 2,500 people showed up.

And this morning the event was mentioned on Michigan Radio, the Ann Arbor NPR affiliate.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Doomed democracy

In Michigan last Wednesday, a couple female state representatives didn't like the restrictions to abortion the GOP men were voting on. They said so, one of them actually using the word "vagina." The GOP men pretended to be scandalized and banned the two women from speaking during the next day's session. Sounds like little boys whining and kicking their heels.

The two women contacted Eve Ensler and arranged to have a performance of Ensler's theater piece The Vagina Monologues on the Capitol steps this evening.

Update: I checked gay blogs about the event, but didn't check an obvious choice until after I posted. The Detroit Free Press has a nice article, including descriptions of various protest signs. About 2,500 people showed up.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows the Millennial generation (born 1982-2000) is dropping their belief in God. Only 68% believe in God this year, down from 76% in 2009 and 83% in 2007. In contrast, belief in God has held somewhat steady for Gen X (1965-1981), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), and the Silent Generation (1925-1946), though each one has fewer believers than the one before.

Naturally, the comment section of this post on Talking Points Memo was buzzing. The first commenter wrote:
I doubt people like Dawkins and Hitchens have much, if anything, to do with the rise in atheism in my generation. The failures of institutional religion, specifically the Catholic pedophilia scandals and the Christian Right's scorched earth campaign against gay rights and abortion, are the real cause. When the most prominent believers are exposed as evil and intolerant, why would we want to be on their side?

A few years ago (perhaps part of the Citizens United case) Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that requiring people to stand up in public for political acts creates civic courage. Without that democracy is doomed. This was a way of saying that campaign donations should not be anonymous.

Apparently, democracy is doomed. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell no longer agrees. He now wants to repeal campaign disclosure laws enacted after Nixon's resignation. Some of the things he said recently:
That's the whole point of my speech today. We don't need the government micromanaging in this country who gets to speak and who doesn't.

We don't need the government targeting people. We don't need the administration - this is not the first administration - some of us are old enough to remember the Nixon administration making up enemies lists, using the power of the government to go after people, to shut them up, to sit them down.

We don't need the government targeting people. We don't need the administration - this is not the first administration - some of us are old enough to remember the Nixon administration making up enemies lists, using the power of the government to go after people, to shut them up, to sit them down.

I don't think that regular citizens should have to experience any political courage at all.
They're getting pretty brazen about it.

Terrence Heath, a gay dad, talks about the fantastic work his son Parker's 3rd grade teacher did over the last year. He tries to fit that with Romney's claim to need to cut more teachers. Cut teachers and the class size must go up. Parker was in a class of 25. A few more than that and Parker would not have gotten the help he needed. Maybe Romney thinks public schools, like rich private schools, have only 12 kids in a class.

Mark Vorpahl wrote an article for the Portland Occupier and posted on the Occupy Wall Street blog discussing the failure of the Wisconsin governor recall vote. The significant issue was that the vote was to recall Scott Walker and replace him with a particular Democrat, Tom Barrett. The problem was that Barrett appears to be as much of a friend of the 1% as Walker. Why change the devil you know for the devil you don't? Taken one step more, the Dems of Wisconsin appear to be as well greased with corporate money as the GOP. They aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A fine way to mark the day

I joined about 75 people in protest today (including my friend and debate partner). I thought it an appropriate way to spend an hour of my birthday. We were in front of Flagstar Bank in Dearborn Heights to protest the foreclosure of the home of Jennifer Britt. I'll let the notice on the Occupy Detroit blog explain the circumstances to you. There were lots of tooting of horns of people driving by. Alas, the bank manger didn't come out to talk to us. The truck from TV station Fox 2 Detroit was there, so I might be on TV later tonight. We stayed on (or near) the sidewalk and didn't disrupt traffic or business at the bank, so the police merely watched.

One of the leaders talked to me for a few minutes. He said in foreclosure prevention work it is possible to see the effect of the work. They've prevented 8 foreclosures so far. In general government protests it is hard to tell if anything is happening.

I got on the mailing list, so I hope I'll be doing more of this.

This is an afternoon post because I'm off to a concert that is a part of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Speaking the language of morality

Ari Ezra Waldman, who blogs about gay legal issues, has turned his attention to those who have come before us and who have sacrificed to get us where we are now. I'm writing about this particular post because it is about the religious leaders on our side.

Troy Perry started the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968 so gays and lesbians would have a safe place to express their faith. He began performing same-sex weddings in 1970, even though the gov't wouldn't recognize them.

Brent Hawkes is Perry's counterpart in Canada. Hawkes performed a same-sex wedding in Toronto in 2001 and the city clerk refused to register it. That brought on a lawsuit, which led to the changes in Canada's marriage laws.

Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco was led by John Moore in 1960. He gave a series of sermons about people of faith should reach out to gay people. Cecil Williams took over in 1963 and made that reaching out official and real. He started pushing for gay equality.

There is also Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, gay Orthodox rabbi David Greenberg, Randy Roberts Potts, and Father Bob Pierson. The last one argues that voting for marriage equality is the Catholic thing to do.

There are the actions of these people and many others not named who put their faith into action. Examples are the religious briefs filed as part of the suits trying to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. These briefs say that "DOMA violates the Constitution's ban on the establishment of religion, or the favoring of one religious doctrine over another."

That means we must discuss our issues in terms of morality, not just rights and freedom, and we must seek out religious allies who already speak that language. We can't just ask government to leave us alone, we deserve full inclusion in society. In a country with strong Judeo-Christian roots, we must prove the moral worth of gay people. The church can help with that.

Politically useful research

Here is even more about that study that misused data to show gay and lesbian couples make bad parents. Jim Burroway (the one who first scrutinized the study) noted that data collection for the study ended in February 2012 (with, admittedly, insufficient data), yet the paper was written and submitted to the research paper by February 1, 2012. That's mighty fast data analysis and typing (an perhaps even written before all the data was available). The paper appeared to get a rush job through the review process (though there is debate on that). Then it seems the paper was hidden until it could be introduced with a big splash (by the conservative Mormon Deseret News).

Burroway wonders: Why?

There are two kinds of events coming up this year where such a paper would be useful.

First, a marriage protection amendment will be on the ballot in Minnesota. The question to approve marriage equality will be on the ballot in Washington, Maine, and probably Maryland. A study that "proves" gays and lesbians are bad parents would be great (for our opponents) to wave in front of voters.

Second, the Supremes will be getting at least one gay marriage case. Four federal courts have struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and those cases are on their way to the Supremes. The Calif. marriage equality case is likely also on its way. Our opponents will gladly include this study in their filings before the Court.

Three-quarter million dollars were spent to create this study. Burroway says:
Which goes to show that money doesn’t buy good research, but it does buy politically useful research just when you need it.
Straight Grandmother gave a big thank you to Burroway on the promptness and thoroughness of his analysis of the paper last weekend. Because of that the mainstream press is siding with us. They recognize that the research is really about the damage a mixed orientation marriage does to kids.

Shortly after this flawed study appeared the American Psychological Association released a statement affirming gay and lesbian parents do as well as straight parents. They based this on "a remarkably consistent body of research."

Speaking of votes on marriage equality, Mike Baker of the Associated Press gives five reasons why our opponent's winning streak is about to end. Yeah, they've gone 32 for 32, but shouldn't count on getting all four states with votes this November. His reasons:

1. Washington voted on an "everything but marriage" law three years ago and it won.

2. Six GOP lawmakers in Washington approved the new law and the GOP candidate for attorney general declared support. Lawmakers say attitudes in even the conservative parts of the state have changed for the better.

3. Polls in Washington show 54% of likely voters want marriage equality. Yeah, the polls in Calif. showed nearly the same thing and we know how that turned out. But polls nationwide also show opinions are turning in our favor.

4. Though Maine voters rejected marriage equality three years ago the prospects look different now, especially since most of the rest of New England already has marriage equality. The GOP in Hew Hampshire decided against undoing their law.

5. Obama has declared he supports marriage equality (and his approval rating is still above 50% in Washington).

There is one wrinkle in the campaign in Washington. Up to this vote if you are in favor of marriage equality the proper vote was no. This time the proper vote is yes. Some people assume that since the anti-gay side put the question on the ballot another no vote is appropriate.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ancient atoms

I enjoyed reading the book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. It is a history of ideas, in particular what prompted the start of the Renaissance.

At the center of the story is Poggio, who was born in 1380 near Florence. For a while he worked as the pope's personal secretary, though as a layman. His handwriting was beautiful and his style became the basis for the Roman typefont. But Poggio was also a humanist, which meant he and others like him were trying to recover ancient Greek and Roman culture from more than a thousand years before. They considered this their heritage and wanted it to be known.

That heritage had been written in books. So a good deal of this book is about how and where books were preserved, how a monk copied a book when it began to disintegrate, and what Poggio went through to track down ancient books. Even though any particular book could last a few hundred years the survival rate over a span of a thousand years was quite small, even with a monk copying a book to make it new again.

Another large part of the book is about the hold the Church had on the times. Poggio was looking for pagan books, which was another strike against survival. The ideas in these ancient books was contrary to Church teachings so we also get a description of what the Church prompted believers to do. There is a reason why these were the Dark Ages.

I saw a lot of this part of the book as the Church as oppressor, working to maintain its superiority and oppression. The papacy of the time was notoriously corrupt. In addition to being a spiritual leader (with lots of supplicants trying to wheedle various dispensations) the pope was also the head of government over a chunk of central Italy with scheming princes all around him. Poggio called the papal court the Lie Factory. I got the impression that many Church officials knew deep down some beliefs were not true but worked hard to make sure those beliefs weren't challenged.

We also get a description of the Greek and Roman thinking that was buried by the Church. One strand of this thought was by Epicurus. His ideas were disseminated through a long and beautiful poem On the Nature of Things written by Lucretius around 50 BC. It was that book Poggio found.

Here are some of the radical ideas that Lucretius wrote about:

* Everything is made up of huge numbers of invisible particles. Yes, Epicurus proposed the existence of atoms. These particles are eternal, infinite in number but limited in shape and size (elements!), and are constantly recombining.

* Everything is made through this recombination. Thus there is no creator or designer. You can see why the Church didn't like Lucretius.

* Nature ceaselessly experiments (proposing evolution?). Humans didn't start in a garden of tranquility, but in a battle for survival.

* The universe was not created for humans or with humans at the center. Humans are the same as all other animals.

* The soul dies with the body and there is no afterlife. Death is not reward or punishment.

* All organized religions are superstitious delusions and are invariably cruel. At their core is a myth of sacrifice.

* There are no angels, demons, or ghosts.

* The highest goal of life is the enhancement of pleasure and reduction of pain. This was in sharp contrast to a Christian belief in the time of Poggio that if one puts the body through pain one can more identify with the pain of Christ and have a better chance of getting into heaven. The pleasure Epicurus talked about is not rich food and sexual abandon. It is more like building community.

* The greatest obstacle to pleasure isn't pain, but delusion -- unfulfillable desire and fear.

* Understanding things generates wonder.

Yup, each idea is a challenge to the Church.

The last couple chapters of the book show where ideas from Lucretius pop up over the next couple of centuries (including "the pursuit of happiness"). There are books that argue between Christianity and Epicurus (usually siding with Christianity) or try to pull out some Epicurian ideas and claim they're compatible with Church doctrine (usually by denying a central point of Epicurus). But I found the ending too abrupt. Yeah, the book triggered the Renaissance, but what ideas triggered what results?

For example, the book does talk about the idea that since God was all powerful and ran everything, there is no need to figure out how anything in nature worked. Bad things were attributed to the influence of demons and good things to angels. The book doesn't talk about how the denial of demons and angels changed thinking. I had heard elsewhere that when humans decided there were no demons to punish humans who stray and no angels who made things happen, it became possible to conduct scientific experiments. The results of an experiment would be consistent from one test to the next, not subject to the whims of demons. Such connections would have been fascinating reading. Alas, this book didn't include them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Workers but no jobs v. jobs but no workers

A week ago, Morning Edition on NPR did a 5 minute segment on companies not being able to find enough skilled workers. This was just after the unemployment report showed the economy added a lot fewer jobs than expected and certainly a lot fewer than what would help the economy recover. Renee Montagne talked to David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal. Wessel gives these reasons why companies might not be able to find the workers they need:

* With so many applicants to choose from, companies may try to hold out for the perfect employee.

* Companies aren't willing to pay enough (so workers turn the company down? Hmm.)

* Companies are no longer interested in training an almost perfect worker because once trained the new employee will look for a better job. (But gov't training programs and education in general are being cut.)

* The software used to screen applications (and when there are hundreds (sometimes thousands), such software keeps the HR department from being swamped) is too picky, rejecting all applicants.

All this makes me think of another reason. In my last decade working for the auto industry I followed the debate on H-1B visas, in which the visa was owned by the company, not the foreign employee. The company could pay slave wages because they knew the employee was captive.

So the current story might be just to get the idea "can't find the right workers" out into the national conversation so the companies can soon go to Congress and say, "We can't find employees. Please give us more of those special visas."

No data? No problem

Yeah, comments about that flawed study of children of gay parents are still filling gay blogs. John Corvino, known as the Gay Moralist, summarizes the flaw this way:
Question: What do the following all have in common?

A heterosexually married female prostitute who on rare occasion services women

A long-term gay couple who adopt special-needs children

A never-married straight male prison inmate who sometimes seeks sexual release with other male inmates

A woman who comes out of the closet, divorces her husband, and has a same-sex relationship at age 55, after her children are grown

Ted Haggard, the disgraced evangelical pastor who was caught having drug fueled-trysts with a male prostitute over a period of several years

A lesbian who conceives via donor insemination and raises several children with her long-term female partner

Give up? The answer—assuming that they all have biological or adopted adult children between the ages of 18 and 39—is that they would all be counted as “Lesbian Mothers” or “Gay Fathers” in Mark Regnerus’s new study, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” (NFSS).

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin (the guy who wrote the analysis I discussed earlier) reports an email discussion between the paper's author and Straight Grandmother (also discussed earlier). The author tries to explain why he had to combine all those categories into one. Too few values in a category and the statistics don't play nice. Not enough money to make the category bigger. Straight Grandmother isn't buying. At least the author should have properly identified the category he had, not what he wanted it to be but no longer was.

Rob Tisinai (who contributes to BTB but I found this post on his personal site) looks at that issue of too few values in a category. So, how many are there? First of all, Tisinai admits it's a guess. Regnerus doesn't break it out. Let's work with that guess. Out of 15,058 people randomly selected for the study, the number raised by an intact lesbian couple for the duration of the child at home is perhaps 30-45. The number of kids raised by an intact gay couple is maybe 1. Yup, sample sizes too small for any type of analysis. Remember, these study subjects were born 2 to 3 decades ago.

Which leaves Tisinai with an ugly riddle: Regnerus makes a claim in his introduction about what he intends to prove. He then admits he doesn't have the numbers to back up that claim. Why then is he granting interviews with conservative news outlets claiming he has proven something while at the same time admitting he doesn't have the numbers to back up that claim?

Timothy Kincaid, also of BTB, thinks he knows what Regnerus is really up to. The control group in the study was Intact Biological Families, in which the parents are still married to each other when the child leaves home and the child is biologically related to both parents. Kincaid says this is not only the control group but the author's ideal family. His goal is to show IBFs are superior, so it doesn't matter that all other categories are sloppily lumped together. Put another way, showing gay families are inferior is only one step along the way to claim IBFs are superior.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fatal analytical flaw? Use it anyway

I read the blog Box Turtle Bulletin nearly every day and frequently discuss postings by lead authors Jim Burroway and Timothy Kincaid. They started the site many years ago to pick apart scientific research that supports the anti-gay industry. So Jim Burroway spent a day examining a new study by Mark Regnerus that will appear in the Social Science Research journal that compares the grown children of straight parents with those of gay parents.

The good news is the study is based on a "national probability sampled population." This is the best way to get subjects for a study. It doesn't happen much is social sciences because it costs so much money. Grants of more than three-quarter million paid for the work.

And the bad news. Regnerus is horrible at proper data analysis. There is a proper control group of kids of straight parents in which the couple maintain their relationship for the entire time the kids live at home (up to age 18). But the same-sex families are not represented by couples who came together before the child was added to the family and stayed together for the duration. Regnerus felt that pool of respondents was too small.

So he added in the children of any parent who ever had any kind of same-sex relationship. As commenter Straight Grandmother noted, that means it is likely the child started life in a "mixed orientation marriage" where one parent is straight and the other gay. Those marriages rarely last. Which means the child probably experienced his/her parent's divorce. Burroway says that's like comparing apples and elephants. The analysis, and the conclusion, is fatally flawed.

As one might expect from the flaws, this analysis shows the offspring of gay couples is not as good as long-term straight couples and is roughly the same as stepfamilies and single-parent households.

The proper way to fix that flaw should have been to bring more subjects into the study. Yeah, that probably would have required another sizable grant, but as it is now, it appears the original three-quarter million grant was wasted.

Commenters wondered whether the paper was peer-reviewed before publication. I don't know the answer. But commenters went digging and found that the same journal contains reactions by other researchers. Here is one of them, agreeing the analysis is flawed.
Importantly, one cannot clearly link having a lesbian mother (or gay father) with any of these outcomes. As stated earlier, the group is comprised of young adults who experienced multiple family structures, not only a same-sex parent household (indeed, some of the respondents never lived with the mother’s same-sex partner). It is quite possible, for example, that many or most of the negative outcomes result from the divorce of the young adult’s biological parents that preceded the mother’s same-sex relationship.
As you might have guessed, the study was funded by anti-gay groups. Burroway reminds us that the source of funding doesn't always mean the study is biased (though we've seen it frequently is the case). One must look at the actual study and critique it directly -- which he did.

Straight Grandmother wrote directly to Regnerus to point out the flaws in his analysis. It may be a few days before she gets an answer. In his reply the author said the entire raw dataset will be available in the fall and other researchers can do their own analysis.

Even with its flaws, will the anti-gay industry use this study to proclaim that it proves gays don't deserve to get married? Silly question. Already happening.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'll wave a rainbow flag with you

Paul Singer is a billionaire and a top GOP fundraiser. But he has started something rare in GOP circles -- he has started a Super PAC to push for marriage equality. This is partly in honor of his gay son who is married. The sole purpose of the PAC is to encourage GOP candidates to support marriage equality, partly by compensating them for Fundie blowback. This allows candidates who are close to actually proclaim their support.

Alas, he is also a big Romney fan.

A marriage protection amendment on the ballot in Minnesota has prompted progressive Christians to finally speak to blunt the Fundie voices. Pastors are speaking and getting their congregations to agree. This even included the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church overwhelmingly approving a resolution against the amendment.

Mormons are showing up at Gay Pride events and not just in Salt Lake City (as I mentioned earlier). Yesterday it was in DC. They're not trying to condemn or push ex-gay ministries and they aren't worried about supporting sin. They are simply saying, "I'll wave a rainbow flag with you." Yeah, some people don't trust this kind of outreach. But this is a much better message than the last time Mormons organized around a gay issue.

I've noted that Obama's change of stance on marriage equality has prompted a shift in the poll numbers, especially in Black communities. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin thinks there might be another reason at work. A couple years ago DC legalized gay marriage. Now Black residents of the city can see photos of Black gay and lesbian couples getting married and those people look happy. It is about family.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Resistance is the secret to joy

I've written about the "pots and pans" protest in Montreal. It started over tuition hikes and has expanded from there. The Quebec government is now listening. Even though it isn't over yet, essayist Terrence Heath says there are many lessons from the Maple Spring (great phrase!) the rest of the progressive movement can use.

* The protests renew the spirit of democracy and bring a fresh language to the issues. The Occupy Movement switched the discussion from "shared sacrifice" to "economic injustice."

* It doesn't happen overnight. Those tuition hikes have been in the works for a while and students worked to build the movement in that time. Progressives need to work on movement-building.

* Sustained resistance works. Though Occupy encampments may have been evicted, the movement is still alive and growing.

* Realize social conditions are not inevitable. Though the 1% is working towards hopelessness, we can change things. As Funkadelic said, "Free your mind… and your ass will follow." (This is actually the name of an album from 1970, though I agree with Heath that the phrase is appropriate).

* Remember the consequences of political paralysis. Chris Hedges of Truthdig wrote: "The longer we endure political paralysis, the longer the formal mechanisms of power fail to respond, the more the extremists on the left and the right—those who venerate violence and are intolerant of ideological deviations—will be empowered."

* Resistance is the secret to joy. This reminds me of my posts on Jesus as insurrectionist. The quotes Heath uses say, "it is not a movement of anger, of rage or of hate. It is a movement of love, of community and of hope." As Ethan Cox wrote:
We do not see ourselves reflected in our government. But we see ourselves, our concerns, our hope, our love and our aspirations, reflected in every smiling face we see on the street. For the first time in a long time we are having a real conversation about what kind of society we want. We’re having it with each other, every night when we meet in the streets. And slowly, but surely, we are realizing that we have the power to make our dreams a reality.
And that terrifies the 1%.

Dissolving trust

Joseph Stiglitz is an economist of some note. He won the Nobel prize for Economics in 2001. He served as the Chair for the Council of Economic Advisors (under Clinton) and the World Bank Chief Economist. He recently wrote the book The Price of Inequality and summarized it for Vanity Fair. Here is the basic premise:
There are good reasons why plutocrats should care about inequality anyway—even if they’re thinking only about themselves. The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. The evidence from history and from around the modern world is unequivocal: there comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and when it does, even the rich pay a steep price.
Here are the reasons he gives:

Give a rich person twenty million (close to Romney's annual income) and only a small part of the money would be spent. Give that same amount spread over five hundred working class people and nearly all of it will be spent. As inequality goes up, consumption goes down. Total demand goes down. Unemployment goes up. Consumption takes another hit.

When a resident of a house pays the owner for the privilege of living there that payment is called rent. This is quite different from wages that result from a making a good or providing a service. The term rent has expanded to include all kinds of return on ownership claims, such as income from mineral rights, from preferential taxes, from efforts to make the marketplace less competitive, from economic speculation (how Wall Street makes money these days).

When an economy is built on seeking rent, it drives money towards the top. It is concerned with getting more of the pie rather than growing the pie. It crowds out other, more meaningful, economic activity.

The more unfair an economy is seen, the less workers are motivated for the company and the less productive they become, the more talent is wasted, and the looser community bonds become.

Widening inequality dissolves trust. The winners are wary and the losers (the 99%) see every encounter with boss, business, or bureaucrat as someone trying to take advantage of them. Trust is critical in politics and governing and when gone there is less agreement in what government should do.

Mistaken beliefs about inequality, reinforced by ideology, have catastrophic effects on economic policy. So…
There is no good reason why the 1 percent, with their good educations, their ranks of advisers, and their much-vaunted business acumen, should be so misinformed. The 1 percent in generations past often knew better. They knew that there would be no top of the pyramid if there wasn’t a solid base—that their own position was precarious if society itself was unsound.
In summary: In terms of issues important to the rich, more inequality means less worker productivity and a society with less trust. As the society as a whole becomes dysfunctional, even the rich will pay dearly.

Stiglitz concludes by saying:
So, the advice I’d give to the 1 percent today is: Harden your hearts. When invited to consider proposals to reduce inequality—by raising taxes and investing in education, public works, health care, and science—put any latent notions of altruism aside and reduce the idea to one of unadulterated self-interest. Don’t embrace it because it helps other people. Just do it for yourself.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The source of homophobia

We're to the point where lots of corporations are shrugging off the anti-gay protests and running pro-gay ads. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin collected a few and added some delightful commentary.

Now contrast that with…

Earlier this week I posted the text of my report on General Conference I gave to the congregation last Sunday. On Monday, several people grumbled about the length of the service -- the lay leader said his goodbye as he is moving, we celebrated graduates, the Annual Conference delegate gave her report, and this was the monthly communion service. The pastor does not shorten her sermons on such days or sing fewer verses of the hymns. The whole thing was about 1:45. On Tuesday, I spoke to the pastor. She said she had heard no negative reactions to my message (nothing positive either), but I should have included several other important issues related to GC. You mean it should have been longer?

I concluded that message by saying those outside the church doors see us as anti-gay. That's true even if we remain silent. Will we specifically proclaim that we welcome gays?

A few days before I gave that report, Timothy Kincaid explored that same idea (sorry I haven't been able to write about it until now). Kincaid pulls on the same examples I did (can you guess where I got the idea?), especially the pastor in Kansas who said gays should be executed. Unless we loudly proclaim our disagreement with that pastor this scenario will happen:
And when some very lovely Presbyterian invites the lesbian couple next door to join them for Christmas Eve service, they really have no one else to blame if the response is, “Bya-ha-ha-ha! You’ve got to be kidding! No way do I want anything to do with a religion that wants to execute me!”

At the end of my GC report I said that we -- The United Methodist Church in America -- can't wait for the next GC in 2016 to fix the anti-gay problem.

In the month after General Conference concluded, most Annual (regional) conferences met. And some of them are not waiting (thanks to my Dad for sending this article).

* 500 delegates in Iowa (where gay marriage is legal and pastors are surely asked to perform gay weddings) signed a "Do No Harm" covenant. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, created General Rules. The first is, "Do no harm." The signers say they will follow Jesus and not the Book of Discipline when there is a conflict between the two. There is also a "Covenant of Conscience" in which pastors commit to perform gay weddings and laity commit to supporting them.

* Bishop John Shol of Baltimore-Washington declared his support for gay people and called on his conference to discuss it with him.

* Delegates in Minnesota approved a resolution to oppose the marriage protection amendment coming for a vote in November.

* Delegates in New Jersey set a date for a "Day of Prayer and Healing" for those hurt by "divisive conversations."

* I heard an anti-gay proposal came before the Detroit conference (though I don't remember what it was). I do remember it lost by at least 3 to 1.

Chris Hedges of Truthdig says the uptick in support of gay marriage hides the big problem that in many ways gays and lesbians are worse off than just a few years ago. Hedges lets Mel White, founder of Soulforce, to do most of the talking.

White moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, to be able to regularly confront Jerry Falwell. At the time Lynchburg was a progressive city. It isn't anymore. And while the city's woes are blamed on gays, the attack is also aimed at Muslims, undocumented workers, and anyone who isn't middle class, Christian, and white. Conservative candidates are channeling all the frustration and rage at the scapegoats of marginal groups, creating a culture of hate. White had to move out.

There is a culture of tolerance, but its membership is getting smaller. That tolerance is "confined now mostly to white, urban, college-educated members of the middle class." And because this group doesn't engage in the current class warfare, it unwittingly empowers the culture of hate. Gays should get out of San Francisco and New York to see what life is like for gays in the hinterlands.

California is a gay haven (Equality California is struggling for reasons to exist). But Calif. is also a financial mess. That mess creates fear which drives the scapegoating. What would happen if the Fundies were successful in channeling that fear in Calif.?
“Too many of my sisters and brothers in the gay community don’t seem to understand the power of religion,” White lamented. “They have been rejected by religion. They hate the idea of religion. Therefore, they’re not going to deal with religion, which is fatal, because religion is the heart of homophobia. Without religion there would be no homophobia. What other source of homophobia is there but six verses in the Bible? When Bible literalists preach that LGBT people are going to hell they become Christian terrorists. They use fear as their weapon, like all terrorists. They are seeking to deny our religious and civil rights. They threaten to turn our democracy into a fundamentalist theocracy. And if we don’t reverse the trend, there is the very real possibility that in the end we will all be governed according to their perverted version of biblical law.”

Hate speech is harmful speech

On Sunday, Rachel Martin of NPR interviewed Jeremy Waldron about his book The Harm in Hate Speech. Yes, Waldron thinks some speech is so harmful it should be banned.

The example of harmful speech was from the late 1970s in Skokie, Illinois. This suburb of Chicago was the home of many Holocaust survivors and the Nazi Party of America wanted to hold a march through the town. The case went all the way to the Supremes, who approved the march. The people of Skokie felt a "sense of terror reawakened by the nightmares," making the march abusive to the residents, and that harm should have prevented the march.

Waldron says there are four components to the hate speech he thinks should be regulated.
* It is intended to stir up hate and hostility towards a particular group.
* It is likely to stir up those feelings.
* It is offered in a threatening, abusive, and insulting way.
* The speech is done away from a safe haven (it isn't hate speech when in your own home).

Such a law should have enough limits that it can be applied to only the most foul cases.

We want smaller government

Paul Begala of Newsweek wrote of some of the ways the 1% are leaving the gov't (and the taxpayers) with the bill. Yeah, these are the same people who hate gov't spending.

* Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, hinted that he might move the club's training camp from Arizona. The city gave him $99 million to prevent the move. Ricketts now want $150 million in Chicago's money to renovate Wrigley Field. He also wants a share of the amusement-tax revenue.

* Curt Schilling got Rhode Island to support his business 38 Studios with $75 million. It went bust. Schilling campaigned for candidates, praising those who were for smaller government.

* Romney and Bain owned Bank of New England. When it went bankrupt, Romney negotiated a deal to allow Bain to walk away from a $10 million debt. Romney drove GST Steel into bankruptcy, earning $12 million in profit and $4.5 million in fees, while leaving taxpayers with a tab for $44 million for underfunded pensions.

Even in Michigan

Public Policy Polling asked Michiganders a few things about our state. Marriage equality is still frowned upon, but now only 45 to 41%, a big improvement over last summer. Add civil unions into the discussion and 70% of voters now favor some sort of legal recognition for gay couples. The state constitution amendment passed in 2004 bans both.

The same poll shows Dems have a good chance of taking back the state House with a 50%-35% lead with generic candidates. Yes, such a declaration should be taken with a really big grain of salt.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A mild dissent

The Calif. marriage equality case, known as Prop. 8, is back in the news. The case was heard in a district court, which became the basis for the play 8. The judge in that case said the ban in Calif. is unconstitutional.

The case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court. A three-judge panel reviewed the case and agreed the Calif. ban is unconstitutional. This panel was very careful to say the ruling applied only to Calif. because it had gay marriage and then took it away. The Constitution frowns on taking rights away from only a few people.

The case was appealed to a 9th Circuit en banc hearing, meaning an 11-judge panel reviews what the original 3-judge panel decided. Yesterday, the 9th Circuit denied the en banc hearing.

That means the anti-gay side has 90 days to appeal to the Supremes. There is a lot of speculation the Supremes won't bother with the case because it will apply only to Calif., so there is no "federal" question to answer. The justices could grab the chance to avoid a gay marriage debate. We'll know soon. The appeal must be filed by early September. The Supremes will probably decide to hear the case in October when the new court season begins.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin examines an interesting question. Since the 9th Circuit is so progressive the denial of an en banc hearing was almost guaranteed. So why go through the motions? One reason, pointed out earlier, was to simply delay the time when Calif. would have marriage equality. If the larger 9th Circuit panel heard the case it could easily be another year before it got to the Supremes.

Kincaid suggests another reason. The 9th Circuit judges who disagreed with the denial could have written a scathing dissent, which would have been useful when the case got to the Supremes. They didn't get it.

There was a dissent, all right. It just wasn't scathing. Not at all. The dissent was along the lines of, "Hey guys, since this case is so important, we think we really should talk about it some more." It was not, "We believe the original 3-judge panel totally screwed it up and we came to that conclusion for these reasons." The dissent did mention the one judge who dissented in the decision of the 3-judge panel, but that dissent was essentially, "I'm just not convinced, yet." Not scathing at all.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Slowly evolving towards evolution

A Gallup poll released last Friday shows only 15% of Americans believe evolution is true. There is good news. That is up from 9% in 1982.

Over 300 straight Mormons marched in Salt Lake City Pride parade -- and not in protest. The group called themselves Mormons Building Bridges. Naturally, commenters doubt the sincerity, but those there appreciated the gesture.

If I understand it properly, projecting is a psychological term for the situation that person A accuses person B of something because that is what person A would do (or would like to do but feels he/she can't) in that situation (if I have it wrong, please let me know!). That is what I thought of when reading this post.

Brian Clowes, a noted Catholic commentator and top exec with Human Life International, has described the gay agenda this way:
* Exploit the “victim” status;
* Use the sympathetic media;
* Confuse and neutralize the churches;
* Slander and stereotype Christians;
* Bait and switch (hide their true nature); and
* Intimidation.

Replace the word "Christians" in the 4th point with "sexual minorities" and you have a very good description of what organizations like his own are doing to us.

The question is before you

I gave my General Conference report at my church yesterday. I talked about my work in the Common Witness Coalition and the failure of the attempt to remove the incompatibility clause. Instead of posting it to either of my blogs I put it on my personal website as one of my Stewardship Moments. You can find my GC report here and from there you can explore my other Stewardship messages and even my music.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tackling a tax myth

The GOP is pushing the idea that Reagan lowered taxes and that prompted the economic recovery in 1983. Rob Tisinai pulls that idea apart.

The GOP says lowering taxes (Reagan's "trickle down economics") will boost corporate investment, which will boost the economy. But the economy started to improve before investment did.

Perhaps the current Dem idea of boosting personal consumption by extending unemployment taxes would work. Yes, at the end of 1982 a boost in consumption was followed by an improvement in the economy at the start of 1983 (Tisinai was careful not to claim causation).

What about a federal stimulus? Yes, increases in spending were followed by an improved economy.

Conclusion: Did gov't spending boost the economy during the Reagan years? Possible, but inconclusive.

Did corporate investment boost the economy in those years? Definitely not, because the increased spending came after the economy started to improve. If there is a cause-and-effect, the cause must come first.

Narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, and manipulative

A Calif. Church put up a billboard in NC to apologize for the passage of the marriage protection amendment there:
Missiongathering Christian Church is sorry for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of those who denied rights and equality to so many in the Name of God

A gay black Republican was elected as mayor in New Jersey and soon nominated to the state Supreme Court. His nomination came before a legislative committee and was rejected -- by Dems. He was simply unqualified. There is speculation that he was nominated because Gov. Chris Christie vetoed gay marriage just a couple days later.

A straight person being called gay is no longer slander, says a court in New York.

A gay couple with kids is featured in the JCPenney catalog.