Thursday, August 30, 2012

A declaration of war

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin takes an extensive look at the gay issues in the GOP platform now "emphatically approved" by the full convention.

* End the Death Tax. Estates of straight couples automatically pass to the spouse. Estates of gay couples get taxed. Ending the estate tax for everyone would end the disparity. This is the only pro-gay thing in the platform. Kincaid doesn't mention whether repealing the estate tax is a good thing for the society and economy as a while. In my opinion it isn't.

* There is a fine statement that says discrimination is unacceptable and immoral. But sexual orientation and gender identity are noted for their absence. Yup, discrimination against gay people is moral.

* In a long sentence about restoring the relationship between the Executive and the Congress (where they list Obama's sins) is the phrase "refusing to defend the nation's laws in federal courts" which can only refer to Obama's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

* Defense of Marriage against an activist judiciary. Can't have them ordering marriage equality.

* Defense of Marriage. The Act is a good thing and a constitutional amendment is even better.

* First Amendment rights. Faith based institutions should not have to denounce their faith to fully participate in public programs. We support the Boy Scouts, condemn blacklisting religious groups that refuse adoptions to same-sex couples, and condemn hate campaigns against against advocates of traditional marriage. Kincaid says this does not condemn hate campaigns that are waged by advocates of traditional marriage. This is a declaration of war against gay people.

* The plank encouraging adoption thankfully doesn't mention gay people, which implies they don't mind us adopting. And their support of adoption is quite a good statement.

* If we're going to have enough money to do significant research on cancer and diabetes, we must stop funding research on AIDS.

* That stuff about Defense of Marriage -- we intend to enforce it in the military too.

* We should not couple foreign aid with a country's laws on homosexuality and abortion, but should allow faith-based groups access to grants for projects in foreign countries. Yes, the "rule of law" excludes gay rights.

Kincaid concludes:
It’s an angry rant by an increasingly isolated people who seem to mistrust and resent the rest of the world around them; and no one more so than those of us who are gay.

The Occupy Wall Street organizations are actively protesting the GOP convention. They say to use the Occupy blog as a news source because the mainstream media won't be covering the protests. I can't independently verify that claim because the only news source I listen to on a daily basis is NPR and I've been avoiding their convention coverage lately. Even so, it is good to see the OWS descriptions and photos.

At the bottom of their post is the message from OWS to law enforcement (which were out in "insane" numbers): We will be peaceful. We're not the enemy. You're getting screwed just like we are.

Same hopes about relationships

Carlos Maza, gay activist, spent a long weekend undercover at a National Organization for Marriage conference, the goal of which was to train the next generation of anti-gay-marriage activists. While NOM proclaims to the public they focus on "marriage, not gayness" in amongst themselves they are very much anti-gay. It was a nasty experience because all their nasty claims suddenly became very personal.

After the last speaker on the last evening Maza had a very good talk with one of the other attendees. Leaving out "gay" and "straight" he found the other person had the same hopes and dreams about relationships -- the same views on dating, divorce, child-rearing, marriage based on love, commitment, mutual sacrifice, stability for children, and a supportive, protective, and nurturing home. That was quite the eye-opener.

But there was still the three days before that discussion. He concludes:
In the public eye, NOM depicts itself as fair-minded and moderate pro-marriage group. In reality, it's the kind of organization that seeks to train college students to justify anti-gay bigotry by relying on stereotypes, pseudoscience, and a sizable dose of right-wing religious extremism.

Petitioning for the wrong thing

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin tells the story of a lesbian couple who brought a case before a district court in Michigan asking to adopt each other's children. I believe (contrary to the article) state law is silent on the matter but state adoption courts do not permit both members of a same sex couple to adopt. At any rate, they can't do it.

The judge told them to refile their petition to add a challenge to the state same sex marriage ban because "that's the bottom line."

In a comment Kincaid adds that this case has a unique twist. Our opponents like to trumpet that gay marriage and gay adoption are not good for kids. But is that true for these kids? There are three kids in this family. One was born to a 19-year-old woman, another to a drug-addicted prostitute who abandoned the child. What would happen to these kids of the lesbian couple didn't adopt them? How does the lack of joint adoption and lack of marriage affect them now?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

As if it does not exist

The latest message from Rebuilding the American Dream is "America is being robbed." They ask all of us to commit to promoting these ideas:
* I won't accept the lie that "America is broke."
* I reject the myth that the only path left is cuts that cost jobs and lives
* I believe the truth is that the worst of the 1% are robbing America
* I commit to helping spread this message far and wide
The GOP is pushing "America is broke" hard and frequently as an excuse not to do anything to help the poor and middle class.

Over 33,000 have already signed the petition. Yes, once you agree to sign they ask you for money.

Timothy Kincaid and some commenters list the countries that are on the verge of enacting marriage equality. They are:

Scotland, hoping to enact equality before Britain as a whole.
New Zealand, seeming to come out of nowhere.

And perhaps:

Follow this link to a wonderful song about inclusion, titled "For All the Children." The tune might be a bit repetitive, but the words are outstanding. Here's the clincher: in this video it is being sung by a gathering of Catholic congregations in opposition to the marriage amendment on the ballot in Minnesota in November. And during the third verse when the camera pulled back to reveal the size of the crowd I had to grab a tissue. You can find the music here.

I've told about my time at the United Methodist General Conference in May and the failure to remove the "incompatibility" clause in the Book of Discipline. In July the various jurisdictions of the American UMC held conferences, where the top order of business is to elect new bishops and to assign bishops to the regions they will administer over the next four years.

I found a news article posted on the website of More Light Presbyterians (their counterpart to the Methodist's Reconciling Ministries Network) that says the Western Jurisdiction (roughly Colorado and west) of the UMC also passed, by an overwhelming majority, a Statement of Biblical Obedience (distinct from obedience to the Book of Discipline) that said all regions and all local churches should operate as if the "incompatibility" clause "does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome."

Yes, this is very much in defiance of General Conference.

One of the bishops gave support from the College of Bishops. That phrase got me wondering if it was the bishops of the Western Jurisdiction or bishops from across America.

There are five jurisdictions of the UMC in America. This link includes a map.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back in chains

In a speech before a predominantly black audience, Joe Biden said the GOP policies would "unchain Wall Street" and "put you all back in chains." Yup, the GOP squawked about slavery. But there is an important point that Biden may not have intended, and the GOP missed.

Yes, the GOP policies are working to make sure blacks can't vote. Those policies have the greatest economic hit on black communities. Drug laws are causing more havoc on black communities.

And more blacks than whites are in prison. The privatization of prisons has meant those companies are looking for more sources of revenue -- such as selling prison labor. Yup. Blacks back in chains.

Terrence Heath reports on an analysis of Paul Ryan's plans for Medicaid. He notes these things:
* Medicaid is not the problem. Overall health care costs are the problem.
* Medicaid is not just for the poor. It is important to many middle- and working-class Americans.
* The cuts to Medicaid do not lower health care costs. They shift costs to those least able to afford them.
* Cuts to Medicaid are as unpopular as those for Medicare. Democrats compromising with the GOP do so at their peril.
The rest of Heath's post documents the pain the Ryan cuts would generate.

Government has declared the economic crash was nobody's fault and aren't pursuing prosecution. But there is evidence of crimes. The perps may not face jail, but we could make them face continued public humiliation.
* Repeatedly parade their crimes in public.
* Repeatedly count up their billions in ill-gotten gains and compare to the human misery they caused.
* Publicize details of dirty deals and disdain for clients.
* Make them pay millions to defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

Here are five things the rich get out of the government they claim they want to shrink.
* Security: A lot of what the police do is focus on crimes against wealth. Business keep the police focus on homeless, unemployed, and drug users to make sure these groups don't take their anger out on the wealthy.
* Taxes and regulations: The gov't is doing all it can to make tax avoidance, customer fleecing, and reckless polluting legal.
* Research and infrastructure: Long term research takes too much time for corporations focused on quarterly profits, so the gov't does it. Corporations take advantage of roads, ports, power grids, communication networks (including satellites) built and maintained by the gov't. Education, paid for by the gov't, trains the chemists, chip designers, and programmers, engineers, and analysts that corporations need.
* Corporate welfare.
* Disaster recovery: Most of the expense of oil spills are paid by the gov't. There is also financial bailout for those too big to fail.

Tony Danza (yes, the TV star) spent a year teaching 10th graders in Philadelphia, apparently for a reality TV series. He lived to write a book about it, due out next month. He wrote an article in USA Weekend, which comes with the Sunday Free Press. One thought from the article: Every time the school's budget is cut the students get the message that education is not important.

Every August Beloit College releases a Mindset List which looks at culture through the eyes of those entering college. It began as a way to tell faculty about outdated references. It is now used as a way of keeping track of the changing worldview of the young. Now that I teach college students I probably should pay attention. Examples:
They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”

For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.

Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.

My readership in Russia has apparently collapsed. A couple weeks ago I was getting more than 200 hits a week from Russia. Then suddenly it dropped to 20-35 a week. No idea why. My readership this week includes USA, Britain, Russia, Germany, India, Canada, Ukraine, China, Australia, Venezuela, Netherlands, and Thailand.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Standing up to banks

I had told my friend and debate partner I might go to a movie this afternoon. Didn't make it. Instead, I followed suggestions in the Moratorium Now email I had gotten. They held a protest at the Federal Building in Detroit this afternoon at 3:00, followed by one at the City-County Building at 4:00. Busy people.

We held a protest at the Federal Building because Senator Carl Levin has an office inside. He could help with specific cases of mortgage foreclosure, but doesn't appear to have done much. There were a lot of police watching our protest and, at their insistence, we were at the street corner rather than in front of the building entrance. I (and others) think they were city police (and affected by budget cuts) even though there was a line of Homeland Security SUVs parked along the street.

When the group began to head to the other site, I went back to my car to feed more quarters into the meter. At our demonstration site one guy was loading his car with many of the signs and flyers. A policeman came up to him and said that if he didn't take everything -- whether or not he brought it -- he would be given a ticket. So I helped him gather up flyers.

Another protester had ducked into a local business to charge his phone (which I thought took hours) and missed seeing the protesters head to the other site. I assured him they were gone. That gave me someone to talk to on the walk.

We were at the City-County Building to protest Detroit's Financial Consent Decree. The terms of that decree state that the city pays banks first for loans and bonds. That doesn't leave enough for essential city services and schools. One man explained it this way: The big banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc.) came into Detroit with their subprime loans that blew up. So the banks began evicting people. That destroyed Detroit's already weak tax base and those same banks now are squeezing the city government. The banks stole money from city residents. Why should the city give them even more money? The banks should compensate the city for the theft. Detroit pays the banks over $600 million a year. That could fund all the city services Detroit needs.

I passed the Federal Building on my way to my car. Hmm. No police standing around.

There was a break in the schedule. I used it to go to Fairlane Mall in Dearborn (the closest one) for a bathroom break and a chance to sit somewhere cool for an hour. The temperature in Detroit topped 80 degrees, but since we were chased from the entrance of our targeted building we could do our protesting in the shade. It was actually rather pleasant.

In the evening I attended part of the program at the Occupy Detroit headquarters on Michigan Ave. (which is why Dearborn was close). They served a vegetarian supper (one bowl was marked "sweet potato and ginger stuff") then held a panel on foreclosure. This was part of the Occupy Midwest meeting, though I didn't stay for reports from around the region.

The first speaker at the panel was a foreclosure prevention lawyer. She said that even with all the paperwork in hand and even with the bank clearly in the wrong, nine times out of ten the judge is going to side with the bank. She told the story of a bank foreclosing on behalf of a trust. After some research she discovered the trust didn't exist. The bank admitted as much. The judge still sided with the bank.

There needs to be street action in addition to the legal action. In just Detroit ten thousand people have lost their homes to foreclosure. Why aren't these people out in the street protesting? Ten thousand people on the street and this mess would be over. One reason is a failure to pay a mortgage is seen as a private disgrace, not something shared with neighbors.

The second speaker was Jennifer Britt. The team has been doing amazing work to keep Jennifer in her home, including vigils to keep the dumpster from parking in front of her house (it hasn't actually showed up). I had considered taking part in this effort, but much of it happened when I was on vacation.

Jennifer's problems started back in 2006 when her husband died. The bank did not properly record the death and transfer the mortgage to her. And since her name wasn't on the mortgage they refused to discuss it with her or her lawyers. The situation went south from there. There is still $124K owed on the mortgage. The house is now worth $20K. Part of the reason why the vigil has worked so well is Jennifer's steely determination that the house is hers and she is going to stay in it.

During the last few months the foreclosure prevention team has canvassed Jennifer's neighborhood and found a few more who are facing foreclosure or eviction. With knowledge they aren't alone the neighborhood is functioning as a community.

Then Jerome Jackson spoke. My friend and debate partner has met him. Jerome is disabled and got a house through a government agency agreeing to pay part of the mortgage. But the agency stopped paying. Again, it is the case that Jerome could manage payments related to what the house is now worth, but can't pay the original mortgage. Through it all Jerome has shown the same steely determination to stay put.

Various others spoke, most allied in some way with Moratorium Now, an agency demanding at least a moratorium on foreclosures. Their second demand is to readjust all mortgages to the current value of the home. I think it was the head of the group that talked about the state of the mortgage business.

Most banks or mortgage companies, when they give out a mortgage, turn around and sell it to someone else. That means the bank may give a mortgage to someone who can't pay it off (what the whole subprime mess was all about) yet carries none of the risk if the mortgage goes bad. It is this other company, the underwriter, that takes the risk. Due to the subprime mess it sounds like all financial institutions have gotten out of the underwriting business -- except for the semi-government institutions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (one of the flyers in front of me has a logo for "Frauddie Mac. We make stealing homes possible."). That means every house with a mortgage is public housing, backed by our tax dollars (I'm not sure if this is every mortgage or every mortgage written after a particular date, one of the flyers says the gov't controls 75% of all mortgages -- then again, my credit union does mortgages and I don't think they use an underwriter). And that means the gov't, if it had a backbone, could do something about it. The speaker said Obama could act by declaring a moratorium without having to get the consent of Congress. (Which makes me think that if Obama did he would easily win in November, in spite of the GOP crying foul. But is Obama too beholden to the banks?)

I may not be able to get to Occupy Detroit weekly meetings. I did give out my email address, so I should find out about action events in a timely manner.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making schools fail

An idea that's been tossed around frequently is that American schools are failing. That prompted Bush's No Child Left Behind and Obama's Race to the Top.

But is it true?

An article in Mother Jones looks at that question (I haven't read the Mother Jones article, only David Dayen's comments on Firedoglake). At Mission High School (town not named) the 925 students hold passports from 47 countries. The majority of students are Latino, African American, and Asian American. Nearly 3/4 are poor. In spite of all that 88% were accepted in college and the school improved Latinos' test scores more than any other school in the district. Suspensions have skyrocketed nationwide, but dropped significantly at Mission High. This is a failing school? According to test scores, yes.

So what is going on?

Corporations see schools as a profit center. And to wrest them away from government -- or to prove that government can't do anything right -- they have to "prove" that schools are "failing." One happy byproduct of that claim is that teachers can't do anything right and their union should be busted.

I see one more piece to the puzzle, which comes from my reading about systems of power. One aspect of the way a system of power stays in power is to convince those in its control is that it is supposed to be that way. Controlling the education of youth -- or simply making sure they get a lousy education -- is a way of making sure that message gets across.

Many commenters said the best way to improve education? Reduce class size.

Next week is the GOP convention. The Dem convention is the week after. And the silly season has already begun. Already I'm tired of the mess. So I will probably comment very little on the whole thing until it is over. You know my views of the GOP. Their shenanigans won't change, they'll only get louder. I haven't said as much about the Dems and I'll sum up my views of them this way: They say the right things in their party platform (especially about gays). Whether they do the right thing or are too beholden to corporate masters is another question entirely. I'm very much against the GOP. That doesn't mean I'm for the Dems. But I'll vote for them to keep the GOP out of power.

A tiny bit of respect and dignity

The GOP has issued a draft of its party platform. The sections on marriage are what we expect from them. Especially since Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (the guy who is mighty upset that the SPLC has labeled the FRC a hate group) proclaims "… which I wrote."

Yup, the institution of marriage is so central to the foundation of the country we can't let gays take part. Therefore we'll go after the activist judges that demand states allow marriage and we're really upset with Obama for not defending the Defense of Marriage Act. But we'll say all this in a nice way: "We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity."

The platform will be approved at next week's convention.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay group that is trying to make the GOP more gay friendly, said that it had a hand in shaping it. That brought a round of guffaws. You were in the room so they tossed you that little bone about "respect and dignity." Yeah, they'll treat you with dignity as they drag you from your husband's hospital room, show respect as they haul you away from marriage license office, and won't call you bad names when they deport your immigrant husband.

The LCR responded by saying voters won't see the significant debates that happened and the closeness of the votes.
We were pleased to see vigorous debate on amendments in support of civil unions and to delete language regarding DOMA. While these measures failed, the future direction of our party clearly trends toward inclusion. This may well be the last time a platform will cater to the likes of the Family Research Council on marriage, and the fact is, platforms rarely influence policy.

Only by being in the room and speaking conservative to conservative will we succeed in building a stronger and more inclusive Republican party.
And though all this stuff about marriage is "abysmal" the platform is an improvement over the 2008 version. This one says nothing about trying to reinstate the military's gay ban.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin adds a bit about that phrase "respect and dignity." The GOP platform has long had a generic version of that phrase in its preamble. This is the first time it is included in the discussion of marriage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Welfare for the wealthy

A few other things from Terrence Heath's blog from the last month.

The easiest way to give the economy a boost? Raise the minimum wage. It would even help the federal budget deficit. Heath notes that two-thirds of those making minimum wage work for big corporations -- the ones sitting on their huge profits -- not the small businesses the GOP claims to be protecting.

The Supremes said states may refuse new Medicaid money without jeopardizing the Medicaid money they already get. So six GOP state governors have declared their refusal. That's even when the feds pay all of the new increase for three years and 93% of the increase beyond that. Those governors claim they don't have the money. Heath points out how little taxes would have to be raised to cover that 7%. Then he documents how cruel those governors are. They would rather let poor people die than accept money from Obama's laws. And it was the GOP that railed against Death Panels.

Mitt Romney went overseas and made a fool of himself. While there he gave a speech in which he said the difference between Israelis and Palestinians was their culture. That translates to Romney declaring Israelis are naturally superior to Palestinians.

Juan Cole rebuts that: Palestinians are poor because their land, water, and other resources were taken away from them, leaving them stateless.

Romney was stating a common conservative belief. Some cultures are superior. And America is at the top of the heap. Which makes Romney a cultural supremacist.

Romney did a similar comparison between American and Mexican economies. Another rebuttal: NAFTA made food so cheap that Mexican farmers could no longer make a living on food crops. So they turned to something they could make money on: drug crops.

Which brought Heath back to a familiar refrain. By (their) definition, the richer you are the more moral you are. Romney is more moral than us because he happened to be born to a mega-rich man and figured out how to cheat the system through Bain and hide is gains overseas.

Through that definition we get the Bully Economy -- you deserve whatever economic success you have. And if you don't have any success, you deserve that too.

The GOP has begun to trumpet that Obama wants to "gut" welfare reform. To understand their charge one must understand what the GOP meant by successful welfare reform that was enacted under Clinton. A progressive would think to get people off welfare we must give them the tools (education, job training, public transportation, perhaps even child care) to be a productive member of society and no longer need welfare.

That's not the GOP definition. Theirs is to simply get people off the welfare rolls. No longer have any means of support? Too bad.

Heath reminds us that their current trumpeting is a lie. We can easily disprove it. Which is exactly what the GOP wants us to do. Because then we'll be so busy focusing on this lie we will miss talking about their real agenda -- improving welfare for the wealthy.

And one little tidbit not from Heath's blog…

I haven't wanted to bother with the claim from Todd Akin, candidate for US Senate from Missouri, in which he said that if it is a true rape, a woman's body can shut it down and avoid pregnancy. It's one of those things the GOP (especially Paul Ryan) strongly believes, but doesn't want to actually say in public.

The only reason why I mention it is because it creates a great campaign slogan: "There's one thing women's bodies can shut down. And it's called the Republican Party."

Reading all this about the GOP gets annoying. And tiring.

Looking down the barrel of a gun

The shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado happened while I was out of the country. Amazingly, Newsweek didn't have anything about it. I was home before the shooting at the Sikh Temple faded from the news, so I heard all about that one. I'm now catching up on Terrence Heath's blog and he has five posts about the Aurora shooting.

Our politics are such that we're not allowed to talk about such shootings. That would "politicize" it. So now is not the time. But that translates into never. We can't solve what we don't talk about.

On second thought -- might as well shut up because nothing is going to change. Politicians were very careful not to talk about it.

Holmes, the shooter, amassed an amazing stockpile of ammunition. All of it legally. Why did he do it? And why didn't it attract attention from national security?

Responses from politicians have been in just a few categories.

A very small number have talked about the need to prevent buying enough ammunition for an army.

A few, like Obama, have talked about beefing up enforcement of existing law. But Holmes bought his stockpile legally.

A few, like Romney, have declared Holmes' stockpile was acquired illegally. Is he clueless or is he perhaps saying it should be illegal?

A few blame the "enabling attitudes of the political left."

Most do nothing more than hold a moment of silence. Somehow Dems in marginal districts are terrified of not getting an A from the NRA but aren't worried about such equally partisan groups as the Chamber of Commerce. Yeah, I know, not many voters know much about the Chamber of Commerce, much less write to candidates about the CoC goals.

Heath concludes the series by recounting the time 25 years ago when he looked down the barrel of a gun. Only one person, the intended victim, died. Heath wonders if others in the strip mall where the incident occurred had concealed weapons whether more would have died in the crossfire as citizen vigilantes tried to take down the shooter.

He notes:
It's easier to get a gun today than it is to do many other things, like voting, buying Sudafed, buying a cell phone, getting a credit card, or even a hunting license.


Rasaan Turner was part of the 2012 High School Apprentice Class at the Detroit Free Press. This past Sunday he wrote an essay about the education he got from the Detroit Public Schools and his doubts about how well it prepared him for college.

Algebra consisted of worksheets and crossword puzzles. So he is taking an online math class. His Spanish teacher went on maternity leave and the substitute showed American movies in Spanish and passed out worksheets suitable for the 6th grade. He felt let down by his English class -- only three novels in all of high school? He wrote:
I never felt pushed to do my absolute best. Any homework I received was done before I left school, I never studied and I never took notes. There was no need.
I teach in a college in Detroit. I haven't checked how many of my students went through the DPS system. But it has left me wondering. Is Rasaan's experience why some of my students don't do homework?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Believing the source of news

The United Church of Canada has elected a gay man, Gary Paterson, as its moderator, the guy to lead the denomination. I don't know how many people were running for the position, but three other candidates were also gay.

The Pew Research Center released a survey of the "believability ratings" of news sources. High scores mean "all or most" of the info is accepted. Low scores correspond to believing "almost nothing." Scores are dropping for national news sources. A decade ago the average positive rating was 71%, two years ago it was 62%, and is now 56%. Local daily papers and TV news are still believable.

The results are, of course, partisan. Republicans believe Fox News more than others. Dems believe almost all sources except Fox News.

A false equivalency

I wrote a post about Tony Perkins, head of Family Research Council, accusing the SPLC of encouraging and enabling the shooter at the FRC because the SPLC had labeled the FRC as a hate group. But I didn't go looking for a response from the SPLC. It's here, and it’s a good one. A couple excerpts:
Perkins’ accusation is outrageous. The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage. The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.
Perkins and his allies, seeing an opportunity to score points, are using the attack on their offices to pose a false equivalency between the SPLC’s criticisms of the FRC and the FRC’s criticisms of LGBT people. The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false. It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.

Always vote

As part of my job as Stewardship Guide to the local church I created a Voter Guide. This is the version for 2012.

Stewardship of your vote

We have been given the gift of democracy through the hard efforts of our national founding fathers and the generations of Americans since then. We sometimes get complacent with this gift because it has always been there for us. However, if we are to be stewards of the gifts given to us we must take the responsibilities of democracy seriously. Always vote.

All of us are profoundly affected by who takes office. We are affected by who is president, by who sits in the Senate, House of Representatives, legislature in Lansing, local and state courts, city government, and school board. Always vote.

Some think that all politicians are crooks and it doesn't matter which party gets the vote. There are days I might agree with you. But the candidates for any office are never identical. Vote for the better candidate if you can. Vote for the less worse if that is all there is. Always vote.

I've seen Christian voter guides that rate candidates based on some criteria. This isn't one. I won't tell you who to vote for. I won't tell you who I'm voting for. Instead, I'll describe what principles — Christian principles — that guide my decisions. They aren't what one normally sees in Christian voter guides. These are some of the things I look for:

* Does the candidate stress cooperation, a sense that we're all in this together, that we are responsible for each other? I will choose that person over one who shouts fear of the other.

* Does the candidate have compassion for the poor and look for ways to help the less fortunate improve their circumstances?

* We have inherited a vast array of jointly owned property and institutions, from national parks, roads and highways, water and sewer works to libraries, hospitals, schools and universities, museums and concert halls, and public services willing to help anyone who needs it. Is the candidate willing to maintain and improve our shared resources or let it crumble into dust?

* Does the candidate talk about how taxes maintain our jointly owned property; fully fund the education of everyone — including the poor; pay police, firefighters and teachers a respectable salary; and provide a public safety net? Does he or she mention responsibility along with freedom? Or does the candidate insist that any tax is offensive?

* Does the candidate look for ways to protect the average person from the greed and recklessness of the powerful?

* Does the candidate consider the health of all, including the poor? I will choose that person over one who only considers what profits can be made through the health care industry.

* Does the candidate look for ways to protect and improve the health of the environment?

* Does the candidate value science or dismiss it?

* If the candidate talks of the unborn, does he or she also talk about quality of life after birth?

Vote wisely. Vote with compassion. Vote for community. Vote for health. Always vote.

Permission to copy is given as long as you include this statement and don't do it for profit.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Infrastructure in private hands

I've reported a couple times before on the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, or more importantly, America to Canada. The bridge is owned by a private company headed by Matty Maroun. Lester Graham of Michigan Radio just completed a five-part series on the situation.

Before we get to the series, let's step back a month to July 12 (while I was gone). A bomb threat closed the Detroit Windsor Tunnel for several hours. A pain for those who were diverted to the bridge, but not a calamity. That's because trucks are too big for the tunnel and don't use it.

But if a bomb threat (or a bomb) closed the Ambassador Bridge, it would be a calamity. Auto plants on both sides of the border ship parts back and forth. They also practice "just in time" delivery to avoid stockpiling parts. Disruption at the bridge means plants start to close when parts run out.

There's a comment with this story which says there was a bomb threat on the bridge four days later. I don't know how accurate that is.

On to the series. If you listen each episode is about 7 minutes. These links are to the text version.

Part 1: Is a new bridge needed? Canada is America's largest trading partner, with about 16% of all our trade. A quarter of that trade crosses the Ambassador Bridge. That bridge is 83 years old. Canada wants a new bridge so badly they are willing to bankroll the whole thing. But it isn't just age.

There is no highway that connects to the Canadian side of the current bridge. This is a bottleneck. Canada doesn't like all those trucks on the connecting city streets. The current bridge is the only way across for trucks (as mentioned above). There is no place to inspect suspicious trucks, a big security concern.

Of course, the Maroun family says a second bridge isn't needed. But they also volunteer to build a second bridge -- next to the existing bridge. To that Canada flatly says no. Many are suspicious that a Maroun financed bridge would have zero cost to the taxpayer.

Remember, the Maroun family currently has a monopoly. It has made them very rich. They are fighting with everything they have to maintain that monopoly.

Part 2: Who pays for the bridge? Gov. Rick Snyder says Canada will pay for the whole thing, including freeway connections on the Detroit side. TV ads (paid for by the Marouns) say Michigan's upfront cost is $1 billion with $100 million a year once built. Their reasoning is that various companies -- including themselves -- would have less income because of the competition and would pay less in taxes. But the new bridge should stimulate overall growth, increasing the overall taxes.

But that's hard to explain -- no good soundbites -- to the low info voter.

Part 3: The influence of money. Over the last two years the Maroun family have spent $10 million on TV ads campaigning against the new bridge. That's an indication of how important the issue is to them and how much money they make from their monopoly. The Michigan Truth Squad studies each ad and notes the Marouns are "flagrant in their intentional errors that they are putting out there time and again in ad after ad."

The family has spent huge amounts of money persuading politicians to refuse to pass enabling legislation for the bridge. There was $100,000 donated to the Michigan GOP just 3 weeks before the bills were killed, perhaps $775,000 overall. The Marouns have also "hijacked" the Michigan Tea Party and that has scared off other politicians.

Those promoting the bridge have spent a bit more than a quarter-million on TV ads. This constituency isn't very well organized.

Part 4: Who decides? The legislature killed the enabling legislation. Snyder went around them and negotiated directly with Canada and Ontario.

So Maroun is working to bypass Snyder. It didn't take him long to put a question on the November ballot that would amend the state constitution (amazingly easy to amend -- we've done it lots of times) to say voters get to approve whether the state builds or finances any international bridges. It's not about the bridge, you see, it's about stopping rogue government officials.

Yeah, a vote this November won't permit or stop the bridge. It can only demand another vote be taken. The Marouns have a huge amount of cash ready to influence that vote. As they are spending heavily to influence this one. If the votes succeed they will tie the whole thing up in the courts.

We have a billionaire putting his interests before those of the rest of society. That reinforces my belief that infrastructure should not be in private hands.

Part 5: Living with the bridge. The Detroit side of the bridge will land in the Delray neighborhood. It is poor and surrounded by industry. Much of the neighborhood will be bought out to make room for the bridge. The rest? Snyder has promised that the bridge will come with neighborhood redevelopment and jobs supporting the bridge. He doesn't want those crossing the bridge to see slums on either side. But there is nothing definite until the bridge actually goes out for bid. In the meantime the residents are left in limbo. It doesn't help that the Tea Party is campaigning for "no bridge welfare."

Does the candidate matter anymore?

There's a great cartoon in this week's Between the Lines. I'd link to it, but it appears the link is to whatever cartoon is current, not to a particular cartoon. The panel shows GOP Veep nominee Paul Ryan on television saying, "I don't know why we're spending all this time talking about gay marriage, or employment discrimination, or hate crimes. We've got a debt crisis coming!" A character labeled "Gay GOP" is watching the TV and calls over his shoulder, "Did you hear that? Ryan's promising no more Republican homophobia until after we pay off the national debt!!!"

My first reaction was I like the thinking. Then I thought about who the second character is and realized the thinking is delusional -- he's looking for any excuse to support Ryan in spite of the candidate's rating of zero on support of gay issues.

Andrew Romano has a feature article in Newsweek about Sherrod Brown, the incumbent Dem candidate from Ohio for the US Senate. Brown had a sizable lead, 15 points, until Super PAC money started flowing. His lead is down to 7 points. Instead of coasting to an easy victory Brown is hustling for every vote and working for every endorsement.

It appears Ohio is the Super PAC test ground. $15 million may not make much difference in the prez. election, but it makes a big difference in a Senate seat. If Super PAC messaging and money works here the idea can be tried in other states that might swing to either party. Spend enough money to capture enough Senate seats and the guy in the Oval Office won't matter so much to the corporate wallets.

Brown's opponent, Josh Mandel, is not running a very good campaign. Which means if Mandel wins, he would be even more beholden to his corporate masters. Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Brown campaign, puts it this way:
We beat them on every metric. But for these outside groups, Ohio has really become a test to see if this kind of money can decide a race. It's a test to see if the candidate and the campaign even matter anymore.
Scary thought.

In another Newsweek feature article Michael Tomasky takes on Mitt Romney's wimp factor. This article appeared at the end of July while I was on vacation. I'm now caught up on my Newsweek reading. I'm not sure "wimp" is the right word, "insecure" and "thin-skinned" also work.

The guy is tone-deaf in his treatment of others. He usually whines rather than apologizes for gaffes. When attacked about some aspect of his campaign he declares that topic to be one that shouldn't be discussed. His position is whatever his audience wants to hear. He is amazingly risk-adverse (this came out just before he chose Ryan for Veep). He has worked hard to avoid any tests of his character. And if he becomes prez. he may decide he has to prove something -- at a dreadful cost of lives.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's all because I'm labeled has hateful

I went north on a two-day jaunt to hear the Bay View Week of Handbells perform one of my arrangements, this one of a piece by Maurice Ravel. The 100 ringers did a fine job. It was cool to meet a few of the ringers before the concert (still a few familiar faces from when I used to take part in the Week several years ago). And way cool to listen to ringers come up to me and tell me how much they liked the piece.

On to today's topic.

A couple days ago a gay man went to the headquarters of the Family Research Council, pulled out a gun, and started shooting. Fortunately, the only one injured was a security guard, and I hear his wound was in the arm.

41 gay advocacy groups have condemned the shooting. "We reject and condemn such violence."

The FRC has been labeled by the SPLC as a hate group for demonizing gay people and using material known to be false (such as distorting research over the objections of the researcher) to do so.

Tony Perkins, head of FRC, is claiming that the shooter attacked his organization because of the SPLC label. Gay groups aren't buying it. Here's a long list of things that Tony Perkins has said and any of those are much more inflammatory than anything the SPLC could say. An example:
The truth is that we cannot redefine marriage without opening the door to all manner of moral and social evil.

They are intolerant. They are hateful. They are vile. They are spiteful...pawns of the enemy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What mean "we," Kemosabe?

I'm back to reading Terrence Heath's blog. He doesn't post often, but many times what he says is insightful. From a month ago is a post about who we are. First of all, is there a "we"? The way GOP members act, there isn't. How we define "we" determines what kind of country we want. Yeah, this election is about the size of government. But it is also about whether we are in this together or not.

One way to define "we" is to ask how much I am willing to do for someone else. Am I willing to seek justice for someone not related to me? Put another way, am I willing to care for someone else's child? School teachers do it all the time. Firefighters too (Andrew Leonard knows what that's all about). And school teachers and firefighters are getting cut. Do we limit "we" to a household? A neighborhood, town, state, or nation? I'd even dare say it -- does "we" encompass the world? There are some problems that only get solved when "we" work on them together -- local schools are at one end of the definition of "we" and global warming at the other.

Heath goes on to quote Ezra Klein about how health care and education are similar to each other and different from everything else.

* Both are heavily subsidized by the gov't. Klein makes clear gov't subsidy doesn't send their costs out of control. The gov't subsidizes because the costs are already out of control. Because…

* A consumer can't say no to health care and education expenses. You can wait to buy a house or even not buy one. Same with a car. Health expenses don't wait. Neither does a child's 18th birthday.

* Market discipline doesn't work because the customer can't simply walk out of the store.

If we relied completely on the market then we would have to tell more people than we as a society are comfortable with they can't have the health care or education they need.

We can do it together. We should do it together.

If you're not old enough to know that strange word I used in the title, Wikipedia can help.

Change the subject

Ari Ezra Waldman, who discusses legal issues for the blog Towleroad, comments on the GOP Veep nominee. Yeah, Ryan wants to shrink the gov't so that corporations have free rein. He wants to gut programs for the poor. He is anti-abortion, anti-women, and anti-gay. As is the prez. nominee and the party they represent. But Waldman sees a good sign, one that reflects the difference between today and Bush's second campaign. That difference is that Ryan doesn't like to talk about his anti-gay record. He's even changed the subject when a voter asked him about it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

That Veep pick

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin wrote a commentary about the choice of Paul Ryan as the GOP Veep nominee. He thinks Romney blew it because Romney has been working hard to be as opaque about his plans as he can get away with. Ryan and his budget are very specific. In addition, Romney needs to attract moderates and Ryan was selected to keep the Tea Party in line.

What caught my attention is a comment by TampaZeke. Romney is Mormon and according to Wikipedia Ryan is Catholic. Which makes this the first presidential ticket that isn't Protestant Christian. What will Fundies do with this choice?

Covering the news, not being the news

Well, of course, your news source said that. There's a liberal bias in the media.

We've been hearing phrases like that for a couple years now. Fox News claims they exist to counteract that bias, keep things "fair and balanced."

Ron Dzwonkowski, in an opinion piece in yesterday's Sunday Free Press, discusses analysis done by the research group 4th Estate. They created a software program that categorizes news reports and searches for bias. They fed that program everything from 35 publications (including the Freep), 13 TV shows on 5 networks, and NPR. They did this from May 1 to July 15.

Findings include:

GOP voices are quoted 44% more than Dem voices.

While both Romney and Obama are show with about the same amount of positive coverage, 29% of the time the coverage on Romney was negative and 37% of the time the coverage on Obama was negative.

In the most discussed issue, the economy, Romney's coverage was 12% positive and 25% negative. Obama's coverage was 17% positive and 45% negative.

Liberal bias? You decide.

4th Estate is hoping to be recognized as neutral and data driven, so that everyone can accurately assess how well the media is doing its job of reporting the news and not be the news. They know it will take time.

Alas, we know what the GOP thinks of data.

A chat with my pastor

I mentioned before that I got a letter from someone in my congregation complaining about my insistence gays should have full rights in the church. Now that I'm over my cold I had a long chat with my pastor about it (chats with her are good but never short). She mentioned a couple things worth relating to you.

She pointed out language from the letter (which I had missed -- I was too focused on the actual complaint) that the letter writer knows I am gay. The pastor says that the outfit I wore (colorful stole, rainbow bandanna) when I told of my General Conference experiences and what I said pretty much removed doubt about my orientation (though I never said anything explicitly about my own orientation). I guess I'm now out. I've been a part of that congregation and its leadership long enough, my pastor says, that people know me and accept me as a person and not as an orientation. As the letter pointed out, that is far different from acceptance of the ideas I pushed in my talk and in the newsletter article.

Nobody has talked to me about my orientation. Those who mentioned my talk say they agree with my goals.

Does a profound disagreement with my orientation affect the reception of my message when I talk about anything else? That's a troubling thought.

The other thing the pastor said (and this is what took most of the time) is that the church is so dysfunctional as a church (or even as a community) that she needs to spend a lot of time over the next year having serious discussions with church committees about what a church should be. Yeah, the committees meet, the morning service happens, the choir is prepared, apple pies get made, a few mission events happen, bills mostly get paid. But the pastor sees an underlying level of anger and she hasn't found the source of it. And such groups as the United Methodist Women are so clannish potential church members decide to go elsewhere. People come to be with their friends or to check off a duty, not to be the distinctive organization known as a church. Because of this pursuing a gay welcoming statement will have to wait until more fundamental changes take place.

I mentioned that I would still like to lead discussions in what it feels like to be included or excluded from a church. She responded by asking when the congregation sees I'm leading these discussions what are they going to think? No matter what kinds of questions I use to get the discussion going the subtext will be, "How does this relate to the gay issue?" She's probably right. Those who should be leading the discussion, she says, are the Welcoming Committee. Which means they are the ones who will be first having the discussion about inclusion.

My most important issue and I feel sidelined.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

International friends

In the past week my blog has had 216 pageviews in Russia and 64 pageviews in America. That is nearly three to one. In the last week there have been times where it was almost five to one. For several months now my readership in Russia has been significantly higher than here at home.

To all my readers in Russia: I'd love to get to know you a bit more. I'm very interested in what you find so interesting in my blog. Please leave a comment to say hi.

A vacation with books

While I was traveling in Europe I read several books. When packing I debated how many to take and settled for a couple less than I originally planned. Instead, I took the names of multi-lingual bookstores in Florence and Venice and figured I could find a bookstore in Liverpool.

Well, I needed the bookstore in Venice and indeed found another in Liverpool where I bought three and read one on the flight home. The books were:

Columbus in the Americas by William Least Heat-Moon. This is an account of all four voyages that dear Christopher made to the New World. A lot of the nasty stuff (such as killing and enslaving natives) we associate with the European invasion were first practiced by Columbus himself, though a few of his crew were better at it than he was.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I wondered how much of this novel was autobiographical. Much of this is an idyllic tale of a boy growing up in Afghanistan, just before the Soviets arrive. His best friend is the son of the family servant and he doesn't think it odd that his friend is his servant. There are a few scenes of violence, the consequences of which drive the story. Only as an adult does the boy have a chance to try to set things right. This is one I recommend.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon. It is humorous as most of his books are, with offbeat descriptions on nearly every page: "Patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket, its color a practical shade of gravy stain." It is a murder mystery set in an alternate history in which Israel was not created in 1948 and Jewish refugees were sent to Sitka, Alaska, where they built a thriving society. But their temporary haven there is about to end.

Bob the Book by David Pratt. Yup, the story is from the point of view of a book, in particular, a scholarly look at gay erotica. Books pass through various owners, share their stories with each other, and even fall in love.

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage. This told the story of how six different drinks affected our world.

The oldest, from prehistory, is beer. It was important because beer was safer to drink than water. Once farming began the currency was essentially bread and beer. Earliest writing began to keep tally of who got how much allotment of beer.

Wine was the drink of Greek and Roman Symposia, where men gathered to discuss the ideas of the day. They always mixed their wine with water to show they were civilized by not getting drunk.

Spirits, particularly rum, were instrumental in the colonization of the New World. Rum was a vital part of the slave trade.

Coffee was the drink of choice of the Enlightenment and many great ideas were discussed in coffeehouses.

Tea became the drink of choice of England. Within a century of its introduction it became cheap enough to import from China that even the lowest factory worker was given a tea break. But China didn't want European goods, so payment was usually in smuggled opium. The demand for tea and the great number of Chinese addicted to opium eventually brought down the Chinese government, making way for the Communists to take over 50 years later. Tea growing in India wasn't kind to their society either. The British East India Company had more power than the British government.

Coca Cola followed Americans around the world in World War II. The company said that any soldier could buy a bottle for five cents, no matter what it cost the company. That meant that bottling plants had to be set up overseas to supply the soldiers. And, of course, locals bought the stuff and liked it too.

The book I bought in Venice is An Italian Education by Tim Parks. He's an Englishman who moved it Italy to practice underachievement. He met a local woman, got married, and had kids. He is now a writer. The main idea of the book is to explore how it is that his son is growing up Italian. He contrasts English and Italian ways at looking at things, with the funniest being an English v. Italian summer holiday. I started reading this on the plane as I left Italy on my way to England and found it quite enjoyable.

On the trains and flights home I read About a Boy by Nick Hornby, which I bought in Liverpool. Marcus is 12, living with his mother and having a rough time at a new school. Will is 36, living off an inheritance and working really hard at doing nothing. Most of the tale is breezy. Towards the end Marcus has developed a philosophy of life: In the same way acrobats form a human pyramid, all of us need people under us holding us up. It doesn't always matter who these people are -- Marcus finds that it doesn't have to be his parents. Another way to say it is for his own mental health Marcus builds his own support group, though he doesn't go on to say how he becomes part of the support group for others.

Support for us is the default position

The Democratic Party platform committee has endorsed gay marriage, called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which bans firing for being gay. Yay! The platform still must be approved by the convention in Charlotte before being "official."

All this means support for us is the default position for all Democrats running for office. That is a tremendous gain. Individual candidates don't have to follow the platform, but they need to explain why they don't. And we are now at a point in this society that such an explanation could be awkward at least.

The leadership of the Boy Scouts of America recently reaffirmed their stance that gay youth and adults are not welcome. That has prompted many Eagle Scouts, presumably all straight, to protest that position by sending their Eagle badges to headquarters with a letter of protest. Many of them say that it was the ethics and morals taught to them by the Scouts that prompt them to renounce their association with scouting. As of yesterday, 105 Eagle scouts have shared their pictures and letters.

David Barton has made a career of writing revisionist history books to "prove" the Founding Fathers intended the USA to be a Christian nation without a separation between Church and State. His latest book is The Jefferson Lies. Regular historians raised such a stink that the publisher investigated the issue and declared they would no longer print or distribute the book. Reason: it is full of lies.

Rob Tisinai has noted that many straight people aren't convinced gay couples want to get married for love. They think we're in it for the benefits or to destroy marriage for everyone. But the real reason we want marriage is simple: From the time we were little you -- the families we grew up in and the society around us -- taught us the most important thing in life is to find someone you love and marry them.

Rob Tisinai also comments on Free Speech. He notes that a lot of what gays say in their writings and in their protests would be seen by Fundies as speech that should be banned (if banning speech were permitted). Tisinai's blog entry includes several such protest signs. My favorite is, "Jesus said: Feed the Poor. They said: Sorry, Jesus. We Spent $40 million on hate & fear."

Friday, August 10, 2012

No need to guess the GOP agenda

What will the GOP do if it captures the Senate and the presidency? Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator (alas, links only for subscribers) says take a look at the over 6,000 bills the GOP had introduced in the House over the last two years (and Dubose reminds us these are public documents, not something secret). Even ignore those with just a handful cosponsors and those intended for political theater (the 33 attempts to repeal Obama's health care law). And then just consider 2,500 of those remaining. What is left?

The largest number of bills are those that try to weaken or eliminate environmental protection laws or go as far as dismantling the EPA. Ya see, keeping the environment livable is just so expensive for corporations.

Right behind that is the number of bills that propose various tax cuts for the rich and shift the burden to the middle class and poor. They don't have enough money yet.

Then come the bills that weaken or eliminate the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or otherwise get rid of banking regulations. Can't have anything keeping them away from financial shenanigans.

In fourth place are the bills to prevent abortion, including defunding Planned Parenthood and declaring personhood begins at conception.

At the bottom of the heap are bills to expand gun rights, gut union power, cut funding for the United Nations (somebody is in a snit over some policy concerning Israel), and cut funding for the agencies studying climate change.

Dubose asks:
At what point does a political party become not just an existential threat to the democratic process, but an existential threat to the health and well being of the citizens it is elected to represent?
He concludes by saying:
[Rep. Blaine] Leutkemeyer's simple bill [to defund spending on climate change studies] embodies what the Republican Party has come to represent: hostility to government, aversion to scientific fact, and an unabashed prostitution that services corporate oligarchs whose value system is defined by profit and loss statements.

The price per vote

Paul Begala is a contributor to Newsweek and is an advisor to a Super PAC promoting Obama. He looks at how the presidential race is playing out. There are a lot of states, 44 by Begala's count, where their Electoral College votes are obvious. Texas will go to Romney. California to Obama. Alaska for Romney, Massachusetts for Obama. That leaves the battleground: Ohio and Florida (troublesome states in previous elections), Iowa, Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Even in these states 48% of voters are reliably for Obama and 48% for Romney. That means the two are battling over 4% of voters, the ones still undecided. Across those half-dozen states that comes to less than a million voters. That's fewer people than in the city of San Jose. The candidates and the Super PACs will be spending over $2 billion to convince those less-than-a-million voters. Yeah, they'll spend over $2,000 a vote. No doubt, many of the voters would rather have the $2K be put in their pocket.

These important swing voters are mostly female, mostly younger, mostly Hispanic, and mostly with a high school diploma but not one from college -- because she can't afford it. And she probably won't decide until November.

All this does not suggest you should stay home on election day.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Obedience from love

Over the last few days I've discussed several articles by Timothy Kincaid and Jim Burroway, both of Box Turtle Bulletin. There's a reason for that -- this is the only gay news blog that I went back through to read all they wrote while I was on vacation. I did it because I wanted to read about Burroway's visit to the Exodus conference. I'm almost caught up now. Perhaps tomorrow I'll start reading the others.

In that same entry I also wrote about the Restored Hope Network that is forming from the ministries that have left the Exodus umbrella. Kincaid has a bit more on the new organization and its theology.

RHN has put Robert Gagnon forward as its theological spokesman. It would have been hard to find anyone nastier, more virulently anti-gay, or sloppier. Kincaid is convinced Gagnon makes stuff up when necessary and offers an example.

Kincaid looks at the Statement of Basic Belief by RHN (I left out most of the Scripture references):
Salvation is a gift that cannot be merited by human deeds but naturally and progressively produces obedience as a fruit of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). When believers succumb to sin, the kindness of God calls them to confession of sin and repentance.
That looks like standard Christian doctrine (or at least Fundie Christian doctrine) until one looks a bit closer. There are specific passages that list the fruits of the spirit, such as Galations 5:22-23, mentioned before and obedience is not listed.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Kincaid then summarizes St. Paul's explanation wonderfully. There is no need for law. There is only love. If one follows Jesus, then love, joy, peace, and all the rest will appear. There is no need for law "because 'love each other' handles every situation, even the ones not in the rulebook." There is no need for obedience to the law because the law is no longer necessary. Other can tell if you follow Jesus because they see the love, kindness, gentleness, etc.

So why does Gagnon add "obedience"? Because the only way he can tell if you're a Christian is whether you follow the law. And his opinion about your soul is the only one that matters.

It is rare to get such a concise difference between Fundie and progressive Christianity.

Watch out for the church ladies

When church ladies get fired up, things happen. And your first guess in what they did isn't correct. Minnesota has a marriage protection amendment on the ballot this fall. When the ladies of St. Luke Presbyterian church heard it they began working on ideas on how to oppose it. They went out and bought rainbow flags in bulk and distributed them to anyone in the community who would take one, engaging residents in conversation as they did so.

I wrote a while back about a highly flawed research paper by Mark Regnerus that claimed to prove gay families are not as good as straight families. So much criticism was heaped on the editor of the journal where it appeared that he asked for an audit on how the paper was handled. Summary: The paper should not have been published. "It's bull****." In addition to problems in the study itself the audit found conflicts of interest among the reviewers, those who recommend whether a paper be published. There goes the credibility of the journal and the editor. Will he retract the paper? Alas, that will make little difference in the way the anti-gay crowd will use the study to hurt us.

There were objections to the repeal of the ban on gays in the military because, so the claim goes, chaplains would have to compromise their religious beliefs. And thus we get to the curious case of Timothy Wagoner, Southern Baptist chaplain in the Air Force. He is the presiding chaplain at an Air Force chapel in New Jersey where a gay couple got married. Though he stepped aside and let another chaplain officiate, he was willingly in attendance at what was described as a joyous event.

That did not sit well with Wagoner's bosses in the SBC. Though he stated he agreed with the SBC on gay marriage, the authorities decided that wasn't good enough. They wanted him to fight against the gay menace. Wagoner switched denominations. So, yeah, a chaplain experienced restrictions to his religious freedom.

The Calif. gay marriage case is officially on its way to the Supremes. We'll know in October whether they will take the case.

The restaurant chain Chick-fil-a has a chairman who has donated heavily to anti-gay causes. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin notes that social issue boycotts rarely work because most of it is about personal opinion or belief and most people don't have a problem with that (as long as you aren't the "God Hates Fags" type). So BTB has avoided the chicken wars.

In step Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. They declared August 1 as "Chick-fil-a Customer Appreciation Day." Though the press releases and public comments were very careful to avoid saying the appreciation had anything to do with gay people, because Mike Huckabee made a big deal about it people pay attention. And it doesn't take much effort to understand the whole thing really is about gay people. Which means the chain becomes "the brand of choice for anti-gay people."

Kincaid doesn't need to call a boycott. Huckabee, in a roundabout way, did it for him.

New offerings in the course catalog

The college where I teach is offering two fascinating courses this fall. I wish them maximum enrollment for each. Here are excerpts from the blog that announced the classes.
Does your faith inform your civic participation?
Do your values compel you to act, but you don’t know how?
Do you wonder what the role of the faithful is in reforming our society?

In this era of domination, illegitimate authority, social violence, and spiritual disempowerment, faith traditions can provide a resource for resistance and reweaving human community.

Locally, Detroiters are ruled by various forms of “Emergency Management.“ What are people of faith called to do in this moment?

Accessing a variety of faith traditions, this course will help students develop their own theology of resistance. Pedagogically, this development will be focused by reading texts in diverse sites of struggle in the city, supplemented with common readings, contextual Detroit history, non-violence training, student initiated direct action, and common reflection on all.

SJ 525 Special Topics: The Theology of Resistance
That class is a part of the Master of Social Justice degree.

When you read the second description, keep in mind this is a Catholic college, sponsored by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (for the record, my music theory classes have nothing to do with any religion). I’m really pleased to see this! I wonder, though, about the effect of the Pope's recent crackdown on nuns who think caring for the poor is more important than being rabidly anti-gay. The course description comes complete with logo.
A new topic has been added to the Fall, 2012 Social Work Course Program Schedule. Marygrove’s Social Work department will be presenting its first section of “Working with LGBT Individuals and Communities,” (SW 200-01 – Special Topics) and it promises to be an interesting and popular course.


This 2-credit course is designed to enhance your professional competence in working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and communities. Course content explores social work practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels and across social, political, and economic realms.
Take this course and raise your awareness of personal, interpersonal, and institutional values and beliefs and learn how biases may manifest as prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.

The National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Code of Ethics will guide discussions around viewing sexual orientation through a professional lens.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A heroine

A bit of news that I missed while traveling is the death of Sally Ride, first woman in space. It was only in her obituary that we learned she was a lesbian with a long term partner. The revelation was wonderfully simple. The obituary listed a partner in the place where it would have listed a husband.

That prompted Andrew Sullivan to lament that she could have been a role model for young lesbians and that she was an "absent heroine."

Jim Burroway disagrees. Wasn't it enough for her to be the first woman in space? A lot of young girls think so. Wasn't it enough she advocated for more women in science and engineering? When she took her first flight in 1983 Burroway was studying engineering. There were more gays in his class than women. And why should Ms. Ride submit to the level of public scrutiny that Mr. Sullivan thinks is appropriate for her?

Timothy Kincaid has a few comments as well. He grew up as a preacher's kid and understands quite well a situation in which others feel they have the right to know everything about your private life. So when is it hypocrisy to be private? When is it appropriate for total strangers, whom you don't trust, to demand details of your life? Is it appropriate to demand details of another's life while being protective of your own secrets?

Better, but still that celibacy thing

Exodus International has been for more than 35 years the leading organization in trying to help people overcome homosexuality. Jim Burroway has noticed over the last few months that the message Alan Chambers, head of Exodus, has been putting out has changed. So Burroway went to the latest Exodus conference to compare the current message with what was said at the conference back in 2007. Here are some of the differences.

Exodus no longer pushes Reparative Therapy. This is the theory that boys become gay because the relationship with their fathers isn't what it should be. A man can become straight by healing the harm of that damaged relationship. This theory is strongly pushed by the National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the relationship between NARTH and Exodus is now strained.

Exodus, which is an Evangelical Christian organization, has shifted focus to supporting a gay person in their daily walk and away from trying to make a gay person straight. Chambers said, “I think we’ve made a golden idol out of change.” This shift is seen as a relief to those in the program -- they no longer have to show ongoing improvement towards becoming straight. But that also means they are stuck being gay, something their church doesn't wan them to be.

The focus has shifted from getting gay men into straight marriage to helping gay men be celibate. The Evangelical ideal is marriage, so celibacy is a hard sell. For us on the outside looking in and delighting in gay relationships and marriages, celibacy is a hard sell for us too.

Exodus has withdrawn from the culture wars. Most of the talks avoided political issues.

Exodus is now talking about engaging the gay community directly. This included how to tone down the anti-gay rhetoric the Evangelical church is known for and which is driving the younger generations away.

That last change leaves Burroway scratching his head. What does Exodus think they can supply that gays don't already have? There are already gay-affirming churches. Exodus and Evangelicals were not (and still aren't) on board for the anti-bullying campaign or offering comprehensive help for AIDS sufferers. Because of that the gay community has already created its own secular ministries. Besides, there is still that celibacy thing.

There is a shift from an expert/student relationship to one of honesty and transparency. Chambers can now admit he still has same-sex attractions.

But while Exodus is becoming less anti-gay, it is not becoming pro-gay.

Exodus is apparently an umbrella organization with actual services supplied by local organizations and churches. With these changes in Exodus many of these churches are withdrawing. And many of those have come together to form a competitor to Exodus called Restored Hope Network. The players appear to be the same ones who were involved in the start of Exodus more than 35 years ago. Which prompted a commenter to ask, "Isn’t there anyone who became ex-gay after the early 1990s?" There are no new faces among the leadership.

Burrroway reminds us this is not about money. Exodus and NARTH are not swimming in cash. They are True Believers. They won't disappear as the money dries up. And they can still make trouble for us.

Listing the harms

I seem to have brought a cold home with me. A scratchy throat yesterday developed into the works today. I took a four hour nap and am feeling better, though not completely over it. I'm thankful the cold waited until I was home and didn't interrupt the vacation.

Bill Wylie-Kellerman is a pastor in the United Methodist Church. His daughter Lydia is lesbian and recently married her partner Erinn. Bill, in spite of denominational bans, took part in the ceremony. He wrote a letter to the delegates from the Detroit region to the General Conference held last May. I just now got a copy of that letter. It is beautiful.

As part of it Bill ponders a question. The Book of Discipline says there are harms when a pastor flaunts the rules of the church. What are those harms? He lists them. He also lists the harms that result when the Book of Discipline is followed.

First of all, the Book of Discipline is contradictory. The Book says war is incompatible with Christian Teaching, yet a pastor is not brought up on charges if he becomes a soldier (or blesses one). There is also contradiction between "welcoming and affirming all persons" as having sacred worth yet declaring homosexual practice as incompatible with Christian teaching. How can we affirm a gay person while also saying they are incompatible?

When one disobeys a law, there is harm to the order of law itself. But what if the particular law is unjust? Then, according To Martin Luther King, defying an unjust law holds the just laws in deep respect.

What about the harm done to a congregation that is not ready to face the issue of homosexuality? Time and again the issue tears congregations apart. Jimmy Creech documented that well in his book Adam's Gift. But, according to MLT, the harm is already there. Discussing it only brings it into the open. And that is the only way to heal that harm.

There is the harm that gay members and gay potential pastors are driven from the denomination, depriving it of their talents, service, and gifts.

The present church policy harms marriage. Gay relationships are driven into the closet, depriving the couple of the full care of the pastor and the rest of the congregation. They suffer isolation and stigma. Marriage is exclusionary and more couples wonder if it is worth the bother.

There is a claim that gay marriage harms straight marriage. Bill had trouble with this one. Can someone explain it?

The feeling of exclusion from important church institutions harms gay couples.

The pastor is harmed by the contradiction between the dictates of the Book of Discipline, members of the congregation crying out for full pastoral care, and the fear of being removed from their position.

The gay pastors are harmed by the Book of Discipline that lists sexual orientation along with immorality, infidelity, crime, child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and racial or gender discrimination as chargeable offenses.

Bill's conclusion is there is a lot more harm in following the Book of Discipline than in defying it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Travelogue — home

Tuesday, August 7

Yesterday was the trip home. I woke up at 5:45 am. local time (12:45 Detroit time) and left the hotel by 8:15. I walked, towing my suitcase, to the nearby Liverpool underground station, took that to the train station and boarded the train to Manchester. There was a direct train to the Manchester airport, but that didn't leave for another half hour and taking the local looked to get me there sooner.

I had to change trains in Manchester. I suppose I could have gotten off one train and directly boarded another and gotten to the airport a bit sooner. But I stopped to read the list of departures and the other train departed. I wasn't sure of the route of that other train. The next train to the airport arrived 15 minutes later, a couple minutes late. I boarded. A few moments later the underlying rumble stopped. Another train pulled into the next platform and we got an announcement that the train I was on wasn't going anywhere and the new train was the one to take. It was now later than when I wanted to get to the airport, but this new train had no more delays.

The line to check in to my flight was rather short, though it was 75 minutes before the flight (perhaps 90 minutes -- the departure time had changed). I was surprised as I got to the front of the line a few workers began to take apart the barriers that kept the line in order. Everyone checked in already?

The 7.5 hour flight from Manchester to Washington departed a bit late, but we arrived only a few minutes behind schedule. I had 90 minutes between flights. But there is customs to get through, baggage to claim (where one takes it perhaps 40 feet though a last customs check and plops it on another belt to send it on it's way), and a fresh round of screening. I got through all that with about 20 minutes to walk long concourses to my flight and buy a sandwich along the way.

I got to the gate with about 10 minutes to flight time -- but it didn't look like anyone had boarded. A few moments later we got the announcement the flight was delayed because repairs needed to be done (later heard it was to the overhead storage bins). First reports were a 2.5 hour delay, though it was eventually only an hour and 20 minutes. The gate advertised a flight time of an hour and 45 minutes but the pilot did it in an hour and 15.

After missing out on great shots of the New York skyline when landing in Newark I decided the camera should be in the carry-on. Here is a photo of Sandusky Bay as we crossed Lake Erie. Cedar Point is in the lower left corner.

And one of downtown Detroit during our descent (sorry the camera isn't level, I was more concerned about not getting the wing in the shot). And, yes, that is Canada on the other side of the river.

By the time I got something to eat, unpacked the suitcase (it has fallen apart enough that it just had its last trip), and sorted a bit of the mail, it was past time for bed. Though still early by my usual schedule I had been up for 22 hours.

And, of course, didn't sleep well and was wide awake at 5:30.

Back to the real world. The last four weeks have been great not listening to GOP operatives sniping at Obama or the Dems tepid response. But I'm home now (sigh). A Newsweek article from four weeks ago comments that the GOP SuperPACs are raising so much money that in key battlegrounds they could buy all the TV advertising time and simply prevent the Prez. from airing anything no matter how much money he raises.

I cleared 27 messages off my answering machine this morning. One was from my lawn guy who wondered if I was back yet. One was from Detroit Eviction Defense requesting that I take part at a vigil at a home about to be foreclosed. One was a credit card scam. The other 24 were robocalls on behalf of various candidates running in today's primary. I'm now in US Rep. John Conyers' district and he has three challengers. One of those is Glenn Anderson, who had been given a personal integrity award by a major Michigan gay rights organization. As wonderful as Conyers has been for Detroit, he is now in his mid 80s and ready to be retired.

Back to work now.

I wrote a summary of my General Conference experiences for the church newsletter. I stated my beliefs that gays and lesbians should be included and that I did not want my local congregation to be known as anti-gay, which meant we had to do something about it.

In that huge packet of mail I received yesterday was an anonymous letter dated a couple days after I left. The whole thing was typed, including the envelope, with no return address and signed, "a member of your Christian family." The author said my "opinions" should not be in the church newsletter. Gay actions are a sin, the Bible says so. There is an attempt to soften the tone by saying we should still love gay people.

Game on, dude.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Travelogue – The reason for the whole trip

Thursday, August 2

The laundry I had sent out was back in my room before noon today. The next laundry I do will be in my own machine at home.

I attended three workshops today. One was to read through music from Hong Kong. It was lovely stuff, but not something I could use.

One workshop was by a couple who had done a lot of international traveling to unusual places taking handchimes and other musical instruments with them and teaching the locals to play. In this case unusual means Pakistan, Morocco, and Zimbabwe. They had pictures of their adventures and then offered advice on how others might do the same.

The third workshop was by the executive director of the American handbell guild. She used to work for a company that put on a steamboat related festival in Cincinnati So she talked about the influence of the Great Paddlewheel Steamboat in American Culture. A good deal of what she said was about the steamboat's contribution to American history. The culture part came after the Civil War when railroads took over carrying cargo and steamboats shifted to becoming traveling entertainment. The musical Showboat is about this tradition.

Other than that, the day was filled with rehearsals.

At dinner the empty seat next to me was taken by the chairman of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain, which means he is the head of the group putting on this event. He shared stories of the effort in putting on the Symposium. First issue: where is there a hall big enough without internal pillars? There aren't many in Britain. Though those in the south were rooting for London, most of those in northern England (and Scotland) said no way. When they began the search in earnest this convention here in Liverpool was still under construction.

The official tally of registrants is 465. They keep talking about 450 in the massed ringing, so perhaps the other 15 are spouses or friends who are doing the “non-ringer” events. Back in February just over 200 had registered and contract deadlines were looming. If more people didn't register real soon the whole event would have been canceled.

Tonight's concert was the American All Star Choir. I auditioned for this group last summer, but didn't make it. While watching this group in action I saw that I would have had a hard time to keep up and with such limited rehearsal time I would have been more of a liability than an asset. Yeah, I'm a great ringer, but these sixteen ringers are all better than I am. Michele is the one on the right with the pink hair.

One of these All Star ringers wore a t-shirt: “I can't. I have rehearsal.”

Friday, August 3

Again, a good chunk of the day is rehearsals.

I sat out rehearsing one piece to listen. It is a marvelous sound. That gave me an opportunity to take a picture of the ringing floor.

There were also two showcase concerts, in which various groups perform a piece or two for the rest of us. The largest group was a regional team from East Anglia – Cambridge and the area to the east. These are ringers who want more of a challenge than they can get in their church choir. There are enough of them they play on multiple sets of bells.

The evening showcase concert was the Ecclesfield Handbell Ringers. A few years ago they explored their archives and discovered they should have celebrated their 100th anniversary four years before. I think I heard they've now been in continuous operation for 116 years. They play five octaves of bells with ten people. A big reason they can do it is they have lots of duplicate bells. A standard five octave set is 61 bells. They have 178. Four of some pitches, three of many more, two of a few, and only one each of the biggest and smallest. Another big reason is that they play off-table. I ring with a forward motion from my shoulder. They ring upward from the table. It is much easier for them to grab a different bell. This is the way all teams did it, and not so many do now, so they were given a showcase concert partly for their historical methods. Their runs of fast notes were exceptionally smooth. However, Michele noted their ringing motion is such that it is difficult to exactly match the ring and precision suffers.

Saturday, August 4

The morning was a concert run-through, with each director having only 10 minutes to fix any problems. After lunch we did a logistical run-through, starting and stopping each piece and doing all bell changes in between. Then a rest break (long enough for some to go back to the room and change).

The concert was at 4:00 and we had a decent size audience. Our ringing floor didn't fill the arena floor and there was a black drape behind us. We met behind the drape and, once announced, all 450 came onto the floor together.

The concert went quite well, including the Korean piece. The intro to the Korean piece fit together, though it was difficult for me to fit my notes in, so I didn't play at all. I joined the piece once the main theme began. A couple pieces added brass and those were thrilling to play.

After the concert we had to pack bells fairly quickly so the arena could be prepared for the next group. Then another break, giving some time to put on more formal clothes for the closing banquet. It was a good meal and by this time the servers understood what I meant by a sugar-free dessert. I had a lovely plate of fresh fruit. The actual ceremonies were blessedly done in a half-hour. There were thank-yous and a handoff to Korea, who will put on the next Symposium.

Sunday, August 5

A large group of us took buses to the Anglican Cathedral for the morning service. Three bell choirs provided music before, during, and after the service. The preacher mentioned bells in some of her points. The service was very formal. The choir, singing various parts of the service, was lovely. Here is the altar and the altarpiece behind it.

After the service a catering company served lunch to about 80 of us. I don't know if they were related to the cathedral, they seemed a bit too formal for that. The meal was a big plate of roast beef, turkey, potatoes, carrots, beans, and Yorkshire pudding. Dessert was a big piece of apple pie and custard (I had a good bowl of fruit).

A couple busload of us spent the afternoon at Speke Hall. The house was built in the 1500s and expanded over that century because there were 19 kids in the family. The last person to live in the house died in 1921. There are spy-holes and secret passages and rooms because the family that built the house was Catholic at the time when Henry VIII revolted against the Pope. They needed to be able to tell who was outside the door and what they wanted. There was a listening room under the eaves, which gave us the word “eavesdrop.” They also needed to hide visiting priests when the king's soldiers came calling. Here is a view of the back of the house with a bit of the gardens.

I'm getting ready to take the train to the plane in the morning. Home tomorrow night.