Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is your responsibility?

The first stop today was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It wasn't busy there today (see below) so I was able to get in without a reservation (I also happened to arrive at the same time as a family with an extra ticket, but we all went in before our appointed time). Yes, the topic is grim, but important. As one comment in the brochure puts it, “It happened. Therefore it can happen again.” At the end of the exhibit they point out it has happened again. One of those places was Rwanda. That brochure also says, “What is your responsibility now that you've seen, now that you know?” Genocide doesn't just happen. There are always warning signs.

There was one big thing I learned. In the 1930s Germany would have been quite content to send all its Jews into exile. As one who has studied music I heard a lot about composers and musicians who fled Germany – Arnold Schoenberg and Wolfgang Korngold are two names of many that readily come to mind. They were able to come to America because of their prominence in the arts. Back to that bit about Germany willing to exile its Jews. One big problem – no other country (including America) would take millions of Jews. They were also too anti-Semitic for that to work. That included British controlled Palestine.

Another thing I learned was that when the camps were opened and Jews were freed, they couldn't return to their home cities. Part of it was that some small towns were completely destroyed. Part of it was because the residents were still quite anti-Semitic and blamed the Jews for their own wartime hardships. Those Jews who appeared were frequently killed.

I'm sure you are thankful I don't have pictures. Camera use was banned.

When I entered I was asked to take an Identification Card. It was a card of a real person who had been caught up in the Holocaust. Mine was for Welek Luksenhurg of Poland, who would have been 16 when the Nazis invaded. The card told me some of his background and I was told I should read certain pages after visiting each floor of the display. We were all warned that there were 500 different ID cards and only 30 of them were about survivors. When Welek was forced into a death-march I figured I knew how his life ended. Thankfully, he was rescued before he died.

The guidebook said to allow two hours. I took more than three. By the end I was quite hungry. The only nearby place to eat that I knew about was the cafe in the Smithsonian Castle. By the time I was done eating it was after 2:30. I thought of heading to other nearby Smithsonian museums, but I could hear a voice from down the Mall.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, so there were big events at the Lincoln Memorial, finishing with Obama speaking. I had thought of joining the crowds after touring the Holocaust Museum, but, as I said, that took longer than expected. Even so, I had planned for it. I saw an item in the newspaper (the Washington Post has been delivered to my room every morning) saying backpacks were not permitted in the western part of the Mall. That left me carrying book, water bottle, and umbrella in my hands.

So, at 2:30 and hearing a voice echo down the Mall, I decided I should join the crowd, even though feet were sore and it was raining. I went as far as the western side of the Washington Monument (no security check required there). By then Obama was speaking. I could hear his voice and see him on a jumbo-tron but there were many words I couldn't understand. So I don't know much of what he said, other than “Keep marching!” Many around me were listening to the speech through smartphones. I could hear there was about a 10 second delay between live and over the phone.

I can say I was a part of the anniversary March on Washington, even though I don't have the commemorative t-shirt, tote bag, laminated wall hanging, or other trinket that a slew of street vendors tried to sell me. I'll only offer a photo as proof. Yes, I remembered to have the telescopic lens with me. Even so I'm sure I was at lest 3/4 mile away.

Since it wasn't quite 4:00 I headed to the Smithsonian Natural history Museum, though that didn't hold my interest long. Then I went across the Mall to the Hirshorn Art Museum (also Smithsonian) for it's last half hour. Most of that art was a bit too far out there for me and a half hour was plenty.

I wandered a bit west of Chinatown for a restaurant for supper (ate in Chinatown two nights ago). Then back to the hotel.

Yesterday's Style section of the Washington Post has a feature article the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial now play in our public life. Since 1939 when Marian Anderson sang from the Lincoln Memorial it and the Mall has become the stage for protests. The National Park Service, which cares for the Mall, receives 3000 requests a year for permits to protest. Some of these require coordination with the Metro system, Capitol Police, Secret Service, and nearby RFK Stadium (for parking). Which “illustrates one of America's more endearing quirks: Federal employees will work their fingers to the bone ensuring that you have the right to tell them how disappointed you are in the system that employes them.”

Warning, if you view the related slideshow you are subjected to a 30 second commercial before you can see the pictures. The pictures, about 3 dozen, are pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Maintaining nonviolence

My first event of the day was to pay homage to John, Tony, Ruth, Sonia, Elena, Steve, and I suppose Antonin, Sam, and Clarence (I had to look up only one name!). If you don't recognize the names, perhaps this photo would help.

Yup, I visited the Supreme Court building. The court, of course, isn't in session. The newsroom still had the status of the decisions from the last day of the term – the day DOMA was overturned.

There are various displays around the ground floor with such things as the history of the building (opened in 1935), important justices through history, and an extensive display on Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman justice. There was also a lot on William Howard Taft who, after serving as President, became Chief Justice and it was under his leadership the current building came to be.

There was also a half-hour movie describing what the court does and how they go about doing it. We hear the justices describe the purpose of oral arguments. We see their conference room where the justices discuss cases (with no one else present). We see the court library, off limits to the public. We hear Thomas speak (which he doesn't do in court). We hear about some of their rituals. We also hear Scalia say that he really likes writing dissents because he can say exactly what he wants without worrying about what anyone else thinks, which is different from writing the court opinion because it has to be something another four people agree with.

After I left there I went to the Smithsonian Museum on American History. It gets lots of hype (We have Archie Bunker's chair!) but I wasn't all that impressed. Yes, there are some cool displays – such as the one which discussed five different families (among many others) who lived in one house over 200 years. But many others weren't that interesting to me or could have been so much more.

There was one artifact that caught my attention: a copy of the publication of the Mattachine Society, a gay group that formed in 1950. I was also pleased that in the display about the 1963 March on Washington they acknowledged Bayard Rustin's homosexuality.

What really impressed me was an event. One of the displays is a piece of the lunch counter with four stools from the first Woolworth's store hit by a sit-in protest in 1960. In the middle of the afternoon a worker started placing small seats around and facing the counter. A few moments later a young black woman came to recruit us into the protest and to teach us how to do it. She is an actress hired by the museum to reenact this little piece of history. She did a fine job. That included a good discussion of separate is not equal. One thing we don't hear much about is what the protesters did to prepare themselves so they could maintain their nonviolent roles. We also don't remember much about how these young people were attacked in subtle ways (white people crowding around them) to more obvious ways (milkshakes and worse poured over them). It took six months of daily sit-ins before Woolworth's integrated their lunch counters.

One of the displays had pieces of paper that one could write on and then hang on a panel. The question was what kinds of things should the museum try to acquire? I asked for more on gay history.

After leaving the museum I sat for a few moments on a bench on the Mall. In front of me was an amateur softball game. Not too far away was a game of kickball. And, of course, lots of walkers, runners, and bicyclists going by.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rooting out institutional privilege

Sunday, August 25
I spent the morning and most of the afternoon at the National Cathedral. The guidebook said the service was at 10:00, so I left the hotel about 9:10. I walked several blocks to the Metro station at Dupont Circle (which was on the far side of the Circle), took it one stop, then walked uphill to the cathedral. The whole trip took about an hour, so I was a bit late.

But the service wasn't at 10:00. At that time they had a discussion session about the MLK commemorations. The Dean of the Cathedral, a white guy talked with a black pastor from Oakland. They even had a few questions from the audience. A memorable idea from the black pastor: Part of erasing racism and white privilege is proximity. Different kinds of people need to get to know each other.

Before sitting down I spotted this statue of Washington and realized the time to take it was right then.

The actual service was a 11:15. This was very much high church, with all the ceremony. The Dean gave the sermon. His major point: How can we as a church comment on the moral actions of the Supreme Court and Congress when our own house isn't in order? We serve the richest quarter of the city, almost ignoring the other three-quarters. The Episcopal Church as a whole is 87% white. I waited for him to deliver on those comments, and he did. He will be leading a process to root out institutional privilege for white straight males in the Cathedral operations. He got applause for that sermon.

I had lunch at a nearby bistro, then came back for a tour of the Cathedral building. This photo is of the Space Window. The black dot inside the white ring inside the large upper circle is an actual piece of moon rock.

I finished with a trip up to the 7th floor observation area (alas, not into the taller bell tower) to look over the city . Then the walk back to the Metro station.

I decided what I needed most at that point was rest, not a walk to and from the hotel. So I went to the Old Post Office, now a shopping arcade. It was close to 5:00 by the time I got there. I sat and read for a while, then toured the food court for supper. Pickings were mighty slim because most of the eateries closed at 5:00 (the rest at 6:00) even though the building was open until 7:00.

The reason for choosing that place is because my next event started right outside its doors. I had reserved an evening Capitol/Monument bike tour, but since I was the only one who signed up, they switched me to the Monument tour that started a half-hour later. Same price, though I think more monuments. At 6:30 about 15 of us followed our guide to the Ellipse to see the White House. Then it was on to the Washington Monument and memorials: the WWII Memorial and Vietnam Memorial (with a reflection of the Washington Monument).

On to the Lincoln Memorial (pretty sunset while there though the photo is of Abe)

On to the Korean Memorial (didn't photograph well in the dark), MLK Memorial and FDR Memorial. This photo is of one of FDR's sayings carved into the wall. Still appropriate today, alas.

We finished at the Jefferson Memorial. It was after 9:45 when we returned to the rental place.

Monday, August 26
I found the deli on the other side of the circle across from the hotel works quite well for breakfast, at a third of the cost.

The first big event of the day was the Capitol.

When I arrived at the Visitor Center one of the guides directing traffic asked if I had a reservation. I did, for 40 minutes later. He asked if I would prefer to take a tour in 10 minutes. Fine with me. So, he said, hide your reservation and go up to the counter and ask for the next tour. Tours are free. After I made my reservation more than a month ago someone declared me lucky and wondered how I did it. Just went to the Capitol website and got one. I guess the time to visit is late August.

Compared to the last time I visited the Capitol – back in 1974 – this tour was quite skimpy. We saw the crypt (where Washington was supposed to be buried but wasn't), the Rotunda, and Statuary Hall. That was it.

Each state may send two statues to the Capitol. A few more statues are ones that Congress itself chooses (such as the one of MLK). I saw one from Michigan – President Ford – and learned the other is Lewis Cass. Some of the others were ones I didn't expect. Such as Alabama honoring Helen Keller

And Montana honoring the only woman in the Senate in 1941 who was the only no vote when the Senate approved going to war in WWII. I think the name is Jeanette Rankin.

My favorite is Jack Swigert, astronaut from Colorado, who was elected to Congress, but apparently died before taking his seat.

I had lunch in the Visitor Center restaurant, which was good, but pricy for cafeteria fare. Then I spent time in the Exhibition Hall with a history of the Capitol and some of the major events in it. The last thing I did was a tour of the Bermidi Corridors. These are corridors under the current Senate chamber, painted by the same guy who painted the dome in the Rotunda.

From the Capitol I took the tunnel to the Library of Congress, which allowed me to not have to go through security again. That got me thinking about something others have said. Why is it if Congressmen think that concealed weapons are a good idea in most public places they take great pains to make sure they aren't in public buildings in DC? Is it because the crazies might be shooting at them? Then why is it OK to allow the crazies to be shooting as us?

I was in the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress. It is one of three buildings near each other and another 2 out of town. It is the most beautiful and biggest library in the world with more than 100 million items (not just books) with 22,000 arriving every day from around the world (of which they keep 10,000, the rest are donated to other libraries). One learns cool things when one takes the tour.

The LoC is working mighty hard, she said, to digitize its collection. Alas, if they are receiving 10,000 items a day but digitizing less than 10,000 a day you can guess how soon they'll finish.

As for the beauty...

The main hall.

The Reading Room.

I asked the tour guide how do they get 22,000 items a day? Some of the things they search for and specifically buy, some are daily submissions (like newspapers), and some are sent because LoC runs the copyright system and publishers send stuff to prove copyright. Some of that is kept, some is recorded and donated.

Which got me wondering. I compose for handbells and have a few things published. Might my publishers submitted my work to the LoC and might it be in their stacks, or at least in their database? So I asked the tour guide how I might find out. Look for it on, she said.

So I did just now. Alas, no matches, though I also searched for handbell music in general. Lots of entries came up, even lots of composers came up (many names look familiar), but nothing for me. A good part of that is because with changes in copyright laws something is copyrighted as soon as it is created and one no longer has to file with the LoC to prove it. So I and my publishers don't bother with the expense.

I walked around outside the Capitol a bit, even though my feet were aching, then on to Union Station to get the Metro to Chinatown. Supper there was in a small place and quite good. Another Metro ride to the station closest to my hotel, which is also pretty close to the White House. So I took a moment to wander through Lafayette Park. Lots of people taking pictures, only a couple lone protesters.

Two days into the vacation and I've already finished a book. It is The Pun Also Rises. by John Pollack. It delves into the definition of a pun and examples of various types. He examines how the brain works and how the brain works on puns. Then it is on to a history of the English language and the role puns played. Around the time of Shakespeare puns were seen as a sign of intellect. Alas, a couple hundred years later they fell out of favor. Today, puns are a strong force in product marketing (I've seen the hair salon in Detroit with the name “Curl up and dye”). Then there is a perusal of puns across time and languages. And finally, a strong defense of the pun. The mental processes that make puns possible are the same processes used in creativity. So there. Of course, the author tosses in generous handfuls of puns as he explains things.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Need a spoon?

I'm in Washington DC now. The 4:00 flight to Baltimore was properly uneventful. Once luggage was collected I faced a choice. The inexpensive commuter rail doesn't run on weekends. Do I wait up to an hour and pay $22 for Amtrak to Union Station or do I go for something cheaper? Penny-pincher that I am, I went for cheap. Six bucks for a bus from the airport to the end of the Metro line. Five bucks for a reusable discount transit card and another five bucks on the card. Total transit time was 1:45 (including the bus stopping at the light-rail station and doubling back to the airport). Then it was a 3 block walk to the hotel. The closest door was to the restaurant and the waiters all wore tuxedos. I guess I won't be dining there. The guest services book in my room confirmed my guess on prices.

It was about 8:00 when I got into my room. I had only a bit of snacking since lunch. Time to hit the peanut butter. That's when I discovered my travel spoon had not actually gotten into the suitcase. So I ate a bit with fingers.

I'm at Thomas Circle and my upgraded room has a balcony. Across the circle is a 24 hour drugstore. I went over there to take a look. They indeed have spoons – in boxes of four dozen. I bought and the total bill was less than $3. We'll see how many I break by the end of the trip.

I did find a deli on the other side of the circle that I can use for breakfast. Alas, it isn't open on Sunday.

Friday, August 23, 2013

More than Olympic colors

And in the Russian story…

The building in Sochi that will house the media is so gay! As part of the architecture are bands of color that go all the way around the building that are colored according to the rainbow flag. And no, it isn't a representation of the Olympic colors because those don't include orange and violet. Is it about to get a fresh coat of paint?

This is getting really disturbing. Putin has decreed a ban on all "meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets" starting a month before the games and ending a month after. These games could be the most unsafe. And the threat comes from the host country.

I had mentioned that a new IOC president will be elected soon. Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have sent a letter to the IOC demanding that the six candidates explain how they plan to deal with Russia's anti-gay laws prior to and during the Sochi games. The six candidates are from Germany, Russia, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Switzerland, and Taiwan. At least a couple of them would be happy to let Russia do what it wants.

Two people who are spouses

Lots of stuff already packed and I don't leave until 2:15 tomorrow afternoon, so…

New Mexico is looking better. A second county will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This time it is Santa Fe County and it is by order of a district court. It's that equal rights thing.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary has expanded the definition of marriage. It now reads:
"The relationship between two people who are husband and wife, or a similar relationship between people of the same sex."
Is it timely because same-sex marriage will begin in England next year? Or is it behind the times because the Netherlands started marrying same-sex couples a dozen years ago? And why are we defined in terms of a straight relationship? Why not use the neutral "The relationship between two people who are spouses."?

At least they made the change.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nope, no discrimination here

The latest stories about Russia.

The Deputy Prime Minister has declared the anti-propaganda law is not discriminatory because straights who propagandize in favor of gay relationships will also be prosecuted. Somehow, the head of the IOC is pleased with that clarification. Don't waste brain cells on the logic.

At the start of the Pride festivities in Copenhagen perhaps 10,000 people marched against Russia's anti-propaganda law.

Over 100 Canadian organizations including, LGBT, women's rights, labor, and religious groups have issued a joint call for action against Russia's law. They have specific demands of the Canadian gov't, of the IOC, of the Canadian Olympic Committee, of corporate sponsors of the games, and of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Members of Kazakhstan's Parliament have looked at Russia's anti-gay law and have been saying, hey we should have one of those too!

Armenia said, Great law! Oh, wait, if it brings that much international condemnation, well, maybe not. Which means our boycotts and protests are working. Though the bill has been removed from the government's agenda the head of PINK Armenia isn't convinced it is dead.

Gay rights groups are asking the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate it's opening gala performance to the support of gay people. Why this performance? The opera is Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, who was Russian and gay. The conductor that evening will be Valery Gergiev, a top Russian conductor. The female lead will be Anna Netrebko, popular Russian diva. Both Gergiev and Netrebko were big Putin supporters in 2012.

Julia Ioffe has an article in the New Republic about examples of gay life in Russia.

Anton Krasovsky, TV host, announced on the air that he is gay. The transmission was instantly cut and he was fired. His presence was scrubbed from the show's website. He has gotten thousands of letters of support.

Mike, American, and Fedya, Russian have consciously not hiding their sexuality in public. Fedya's family is learning to accept him.

Maria Kozlovskaya is a lawyer who does gay advocacy. Violence against gays has spiked and they don't wear rainbow pins anymore. She and her clients were attacked. Police did not respond.

There are lots of YouTube videos of gay men who are lured into sexual encounters only to be attacked as the beatings are recorded.

A group of buddies drinking beer begin to realize one of them is gay. He is attacked and killed.

Andrey is gay and has AIDS. He is amazed at how supportive his friends are in getting him to appointments and paying for treatment. Russia is close to the top of the fastest growing HIV rates.

Magazine Afisha did an edition featuring gay professionals in Moscow. Alexander Smirnov worked in the Mayor's office. He agreed to be in that edition because Putin claimed there was no anti-gay discrimination. After that edition appeared Smirnov was asked to resign.

Sasha wanted a child and asked Boris, a well known gay man, to be the father. Elena was born the week before Putin signed the anti-propaganda law. Their circle of friends think Elena, Sasha, and Boris are wonderful.

I don't need evidence

I leave for vacation the day after tomorrow. I fly to Washington, DC for several days of being a tourist, then a long weekend at the Reconciling Ministries Network Convo. It ends on Monday at 1:00 and I head promptly to the Baltimore airport for the flight home. Classes begin the next day at 11:00. I'll post about the trip as I can, though I may not report much on gay news.

In the meantime, these might be the last posts before I go. And since a lot of stuff has accumulated, each might get only a few sentences.

Cedar Point, the amusement park in northern Ohio (which I visited many times in my youth because of relatives living nearby), offered a contest to have several couples get married within the park. The fine print said: "Due to marriage laws in Ohio, weddings are limited to male-female couples only." A gay couple started a campaign to change that. As both are rollercoaster enthusiasts, they thought a commitment ceremony at a place known for its coasters would be just fine. The park got word of the campaign and cancelled the contest.

Thankfully, due to redistricting a couple years ago, I'm not in the district of Rep. Kerry Bentivolio. He took over from nasty Thaddeus McCotter. He wants to be remembered as the Congressman who impeached Obama. He does admit to a tiny problem in realizing that dream -- no evidence. And it is just so crass to write a bill of impeachment without evidence.

Lynn Ellins, County Clerk for Doña Ana County in New Mexico, started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples today. Gary King, state Attorney General, will not challenge Ellins in court. He does, however, warn gay couples their marriages may later be invalidated -- the state Supremes will probably take the case soon. New Mexico law doesn't permit gay marriage, but doesn't ban it either.

Gov. Jerry Brown of Calif. recently signed a law that protects transgender students in schools. Opponents said, using a line they've used against us for years, "How do I explain it to my children?"

Beth Kohm, writing for Gay Voices in Huffington Post, explained transgender her six-year-old son Joshua. She tried to warn her son the issue is complex. His response:
"No, it isn't, Mom. It is just like my Lego Ninjagos when I put the male heads on the female bodies. No biggie. Can I have a cookie?"
People who wonder about explaining it to kids are "really wondering how to explain it to themselves."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Not wired for skeptical thinking

Michael Moynihan wrote a feature article for Newsweek about the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and the annual convention it puts on called The Amazing Meeting or TAM. James Randi, now 84, got his start as an illusionist, but in the 1970s switched to skepticism, "the debunking of psychics, mediums, pseudoscientists, faith-healers, homeopaths, and anyone else who makes claims that defy the known laws of science."

Alas, in this age one can't simply debunk and be done with it. The Internet makes it easy to disseminate bunkery. And our species has a long and persistent history of believing in the paranormal -- "73% of Americans subscribe to at least one paranormal belief." Yeah, most people simply don't question preposterous claims, they "aren’t wired for skeptical thinking. They’re wired for faith."

The story of JREF isn't a smooth one. There are people who use the word "skeptic" for other things, such as "global-warming skeptic." They're claiming the word to mean the opposite of what JREF does, to debunk science rather than pseudoscience.

Then there is the issue of whether skeptics should attack only creationism or attack religion in general. Must a skeptic be atheist? Debate rages within the organization. They've already seen that not all atheists are skeptics.

Alas, there is one aspect that stands in the way of expanding the movement. Skeptics tend to be arrogant. That's not something that endears them to other people.

With the list of bunkmakers including homeopathy, or home remedies (otherwise known as quack medicine), I had better bring up a topic before my friend and debate partner does (though he'll be exceedingly polite about it). Does that nutrition center in Ann Arbor that I've started going to fit into quack medicine?

From our last lunchtime discussion he believes that is quite possible (though I'm thankful for his lack of arrogance). When the center loaded me up with supplements (charging a hefty penny) without addressing my dietary concerns, that thought of quackery crossed my mind. Am I about to plunk down a few hundred bucks (prepay for a dozen visits and get a discount!) and the only thing I'll have to show for it at the end is a hole in my pocket?

If I had heard about this place perhaps six months ago I would have dismissed it But since then a couple things have happened.

First, the diet program at the most respected health system in the area failed for me. I didn't lose weight (though I got to maintaining weight) on their regular diet. I only began to lose when I started eating their dehydrated meals. The dieticians and physiologist were stumped over how to treat me. I met the physiologist yesterday and again she asked me what I thought the next step should be. They plus my primary care physician didn't have experience with my leading problem and have told me they had to read up on the latest research. They weren't able to refer me to someone more knowledgeable. Traditional medicine failed. Of course, I made quite sure of that failure before going on.

Second, my sister-in-law in Texas, working with a corresponding center in her area, told about remarkable changes in her own health after big adjustments in diet and supplements. She even lost considerable weight. She told me all about it when I visited last May. Without her story I would not have asked for a referral to this place in Ann Arbor. Alternative medicine succeeded.

Is it quackery? Maybe. I can't tell yet. However, I decided it is worth the money to find out. I'm out of alternatives. I'm sure weeks or months from now I'll either be lamenting the loss of money or exclaiming over better health. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Eat food

I spent part of this afternoon at a follow-up visit to Nutrition Healing Center in Ann Arbor. I was there a week ago and they tested me for several things -- in a manner that left my friend and debate partner shaking his head with disbelief.

To back up a step… I have been working with a dietician (actually two) and physiologist in the top-rated medical system in the Detroit area. My insurance company said I need to lose weight and this program is free. But, for a variety of reasons, the diet wasn't working. The physiologist (the one I see most frequently), in consultation with the dieticians, was stumped. She even asked me what I thought I should try next. Um… I'm not the expert here.

So I tried their prepackaged, dehydrated meals. They seemed to work. A bit. But the effectiveness didn't seem to sustain. Besides, reconstituted meals are not a great way to dine. Out of the many meals the supplier offered, most had too much sugar. Some of the others didn't satisfy hunger. And some of the rest (such as their cheesesteak pasta and their jazzed up oatmeal) just didn't sound or taste good. That left me with vegetarian versions of chili and sloppy joe made with soy. That brings to mind the first of Michael Pollan's instructions for eating: Eat food. That can be identified by few ingredients with names that can be pronounced. I seriously doubt this stuff qualifies. I see the physiologist tomorrow and will tell her so.

So, back to that nutrition place. Their analysis indicated I have a "blockage" for soy. That means it interferes with healing and I get less nutrients out of it than I get problems, even though I don't have symptoms one can say are from soy. I'll gladly leave behind the dehydrated chili. But I've also been eating veggie burgers and veggies sausage and quite enjoy them. Oh well.

I now have three supplements with various strange names to clear out various toxins and promote healing. One of those toxins is apparently a trace amount of arsenic that I might have picked up while in college in a town that had well water that was known for its high levels of iron.

But I went to this place to solve the dietary problems and they seemed to be more interested in making sure I had the right supplements. As for diet all they've said so far is "eat organic." From the nutrition center I went to a nearby health food store. I walked the aisles feeling quite lost. And wondering what I do with all the non-organic food in my fridge and cupboard.


This morning I joined a two-part protest in Detroit. The second part had been planned for a while, the first added just last week.

At 11:00 we gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse where the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings are being held. The protest was over putting fraudulent banks ahead of city worker pensions. The banks shouldn't get any money and should pay Detroit for the way they sucked value out of the city during the housing bubble and collapse.

Shortly after I got there (alas, a few minutes after the hour -- my preferred parking lot was full) I counted the number of people in the protest line and came up with 85. I heard later the count was up to 190. There were so many we were too bunched together and walked quite slow. The protest leaders wanted to extend the length of the line, but the security officers (some from Department of Homeland Security) said we had to keep the main doors clear and they always had one officer planted in the middle of the sidewalk to mark the extent of our space.

At noon, a few of us peeled off for the second event, leaving a decent crowd at the court. We walked to Hart Plaza to gather -- many others having already done so -- and walked a couple blocks to Bank of America. In that protest line I counted 125. I'm sure my count was low. After several minutes of chanting the leaders conducted a bit of street theater holding a people's trial of BofA.

This photo shows some of the signs featuring characters from the street theater. That included prosecutor, judge, witnesses, and the defendant Bankula, accused of sucking money out of Detroit.

This photo shows one of the more ingenious protest "signs." It is a vulture with dollar bills clutched in its talons, a house hung from its neck, and a BofA symbol dangling from its beak.

When that was over they marched to some other venue to do I'm not sure what. I took that opportunity to head home to get ready for an afternoon appointment (see next post).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Disease of conservative ideology

I started off a post yesterday by writing, "a think tank based in Ann Arbor (so, yeah, probably not conservative)." My friend and debate partner responds:
Well, probably. But let's keep in mind that the Ave Maria law firm and the Ave Maria Law School were both founded in Ann Arbor, exactly to fight against liberal values. And Governator Snyder lives near Ann Arbor in Superior Township. The disease of conservative ideology (categories: addictions, greed, egotism, narcissism, mental illness) is found everywhere. Modern medicine unfortunately has found no cure other than Enlightenment.

Newest Olympic sport

Yes, of course, there are more developments in the Russian Olympics saga.

Will the newest Olympic sport be "confrontation"? The IOC has said public demonstrations will not be tolerated. The US Olympic Committee has urged athletes to obey the anti-propaganda law. Yet athletes, such as Johnny Weir and Blake Skjellerup are clear they will conduct small gestures of protest no matter the personal cost. What happens when IOC and athletes clash?

The IOC has backed human rights issues. In 2012 they took on Muslim countries who wanted to leave female athletes at home. The London Olympics were the first Games with women on every national team. Alas, the cost of supporting gay athletes and human rights for gays is still higher than the cost of buckling under Russia's laws. So the strategy for now is to ride out the storm.

Pride House (an international coalition of gay athlete organizations) and United for Equality in Sports & Entertainment (UESE) are now campaigning heavily to change the Olympic Charter to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the anti-discrimination clause. Not only might that help stiffen a few spines in the current standoff, it means that a country's human rights record on gays will be considered when a country submits a bid to host the games. Persecute gays and no Olympics to burnish your image.

Though I wonder, with China's bad record on human rights (and not just for gays), how Beijing got the 2008 Games.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

So what if coach is gay

When I have a break in the action (no food to serve, no pots to wash) at Ruth Ellis Center I read. Sometimes I read from the center's library (and I've heard I'm the only one to do so -- it's a strange collection of books). One of the books was about a gay high school track coach in the 1990s. He didn't have too many issues with the kids, but the administration and coaches from other schools made problems. I thought about that as I was listening to this piece from The Story on NPR.

Anthony Nicodemo is the basketball coach at a high school in Yonkers, NY. This past June he told his players and their parents that he is gay. The reaction: not an issue. He talks about how he is an advocate for gay youth -- he told a meeting of fellow coaches that at least one of them has a gay kid on the team. He shares that he no longer has to worry about other people finding out what he does away from the job. And he relishes in busting stereotypes -- at a hefty 6-1 he doesn't look gay. The piece is 23 minutes.

It wasn't the tax cuts

Lou Glazer is the head of Michigan Future, a think tank based in Ann Arbor (so, yeah, probably not conservative). He was also a part of Michigan Gov. James Blanchard's administration back in the early 1980s. He wrote a commentary for last Sunday's Free Press. Glazer notes that current Gov. Rick Snyder likes to claim this economic mess is the worst in Michigan and that's why Snyder gave business those big tax cuts, signed the right-to-work law, and is cutting the size of gov't (while also taxing pensioners and cutting money to schools).

But the recession when Blanchard took office was worse. Blanchard didn't do any of the things Snyder did and actually raised income tax (which by Michigan Constitution must be a flat rate) and didn't cut the business tax. And the recovery happened faster than it has been doing under Snyder.

That, says Glazer, is pretty good proof that Snyder's efforts are not what is driving Michigan's economic recovery (Snyder's crowing to the contrary). Glazer is also quick to point out it probably wasn't Blanchard's tax raising efforts either. The real driver of the Michigan economy is the health of the national economy.

Don't want to move too quickly

New Jersey's civil unions are indeed before a state court. Back in 2006 the state Supremes mandated equal treatment of gays and the legislature solved that with civil unions, declaring them equal to marriage. But since federal marriage benefits are only available to couples actually married, civil unions are demonstrably not the same. Never mind (for now) that the public perception of words "marriage" and "civil union" are vastly different.

The issue before the court now is whether the evidence is so overwhelming that a ruling can be given without a trial. That's called a summary judgment. So the broad outlines of the arguments were laid out.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Jespersen took the civil union side. The big Supreme Court ruling said federal benefits are only available to married couples. Jesperson argues that since New Jersey laws declare civil unions to be identical to marriage (see the note above about perception of words) then the feds should look at state law and say, yup, New Jersey says they're the same so we should treat them as married.

Lawrence Lustberg, arguing for our side, said you're not going to be able to convince a federal court to go along with you. Conservatives are so hot for states rights, well, this issue can be handled by the state.

Alas, the judge, Mary Jacobson, is concerned about moving too quickly. The New Jersey Supremes (and the case will be appealed) will want the full facts and what federal agencies are doing is still in flux. But don't we need just one federal agency that will treat married gay couples differently than non-married to have a case?

A lackluster bunch

More on Russian Olympics:

Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch has an Op-Ed in the New York Times. There is a very important election coming up -- that of a new president of the International Olympic Committee. Worden goes on to say the current president, Jacques Rogge has demonstrated a huge contradiction between the IOCs "Fundamental Principles of Oylmpism" which includes a rejection of "any form of discrimination" and Rogge's oversight of two Games with huge human rights violations (Beijing and Sochi).

Alas, the 98 voting members of the IOC are a lackluster bunch. Only one so far has spoken against Russia's anti-gay laws. So is there any hope? Worden says yes. Convince the big corporate sponsors -- NBC, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Visa, etc. -- that they don't want to be associated with officially anti-gay Olympics.

A commenter found the list of IOC voting members is in Wikipedia. Some of them are former Olympians, such as Jean-Claude Killy who won skiing medals for France in the 1960s. Some of the others are from old royal families, from Denmark, Britain (Princess Anne who was at least an Olympic equestrian), Jordan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates.

That makes me think there might be a Power issue here. Royalty has a strong tendency to ignore the rights of the lowest. All the rest may value the importance of being on the IOC over advocating for the rights of the lowest. As for the corporations, it depends whether their pursuit of money blinds them to other concerns. So far, their record isn't promising.

Because of that record there was a protest today at the McDonalds headquarters to call on the company to take a stand against Russia's anti-gay law. I haven't heard how it went.

That same link has a comment from someone in British Columbia who reports that in (high) schools that have had a Gay-Straight Alliance for more than 3 years binge drinking is down. Hmm.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inciting lawless action

Scott Lively is one of our big opponents. Back in 2009 he went to Uganda to stir up anti-gay sentiment and succeeded quite well -- the country created an anti-gay bill that included the death penalty (to put the situation in Russia, bad as it is, in perspective). That bill hasn't been passed yet and seems to be ignored now.

However, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the Center for Constitutional Rights here in America have teamed up to sue Lively. This suit falls under a law dealing with violations to the law of nations or a treaty with the United States. The suit claims that Lively stirred up persecution on the basis of sexual orientation, aiding and abetting a crime against humanity. Lively said he was only exercising free speech and asked the case to be dismissed.

The judge has ruled the suit may go to trial. Aiding and abetting a crime against humanity is a well-established offense in international law and recognized in American courts. The judge addressed the free speech issues. It isn't free speech when it "is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." Advocating against gays is one thing. Preparing criminal activity is quite another.

Just ignore the polls

And in other news:

Gary Glenn, Michigan's top homophobe, ready to deny us any morsel of rights, is running for the Michigan House. His district includes Midland to Pinconning. Should I be glad this will keep him too busy to pay more attention to us, or should I be afraid he will be in the thick of lawmaking? Note I didn't say it would give him more access to lawmakers. He seems to be doing just fine as a lobbyist.

Laurel Ramseyer notes the American anti-gay crowd appears to now be using language of defeat. They sometimes use that actual word. Other times they blame various factors ("Young people overwhelmingly support the other side."). Sometimes they feel boxed in, such as commenting on marriage equality lawsuits in Oklahoma and Arkansas, states they considered "safe." And at times, they just let loose with idiocy. “We’re winning it in public opinion despite what the polls say.” Aren't polls designed to reflect public opinion?

I had noted Bayard Rustin is being honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. NPR's All Things Considered did a great profile of Rustin. He's a gay and black icon you should get to know.

The Social Security Administration says for now, its definition of marriage is based on where the couple lives, not where they were married. The SSA bases that on an existing law, which means the law must change. Sorry, sis. You and your sweetie won't be able to get married elsewhere, come back to Michigan, and expect the SSA consider you married.

How is this for roundabout? In Kentucky a wife cannot be made to testify against her husband. Bobbie Jo Clary is accused of murdering a man. Her partner Geneva Case does not want to testify against her. Prosecutors want to compel her. So the couple filed suit to overturn the state's marriage amendment on the grounds of equal treatment. Might this be how Kentucky gets marriage equality?

Many times when a gay person is murdered the assailant claims "gay panic." This guy came on to me and I panicked and killed him. Or in the case of a transgender person, when I found this girl was really a guy I freaked out. The American Bar Association now urges a ban on using gay panic or trans panic as a murder defense. David McConnell, who wrote the book, American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men, says such defense hasn't worked.

Gold medal won't outshine the stain

I do most of my blog writing in the evening. So when I have a series of evenings out -- Tuesday was a church meeting, Wednesday was my volunteer time at Ruth Ellis Center, Thursday was at the Purple Rose Theatre (Miles & Ellie was amusing and had fun characters, but I'm not rushing to recommend it) -- things to write about accumulate.

The big one is the ongoing developments with the anti-gay law in Russia.

Belgians staged a gay kiss-in in front of the Russian Consulate in Antwerp. There were 400 people there and the event coincided with the World Out Games in Antwerp.

John Amaechi is a former professional football player and came out as gay after his playing days were over (appropriate for the time he was playing). He has written an open letter to the world's Olympic athletes. In it he accuses the IOC of being cowardly. Then he says you athletes, especially if you win a medal, will have a podium. Use it as a soapbox. The Fundamental Principles of the Olympic games, according to IOC documents, is to "place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." He also said that, "no amount of gold hung around a neck can outshine the shame of such a stain" of being able to take a stand and choosing not to.

Russia will host the FIFA (soccer) World Cup in 2018. There is already discussion aimed at FIFA officials about treatment of gays at that event, similar to the discussion of gays at February's Olympics. The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar, another country with anti-gay laws. I think the difference is that Qatar's laws were on the books before it was chosen as host.

The IOC is stressing that Olympic games are not a venue for political or religious demonstration. Good to know the IOC isn't exactly aligning itself with Russia on this policy. But some note the IOC bans on discrimination don't include sexual orientation.

Senator Chuck Schumer, an ally of ours, suggests athletes wave rainbow flags in the Opening Ceremony and calls Putin a "schoolyard bully." Putin is a former KGB agent so knew the glories of the Soviet Union and resents that Russia is no longer that major power.

The Russian Interior Ministry, which has control over the police force, affirms that the law that bans gay propaganda will indeed be enforced during the games. Though they say don't confuse a ban on gay propaganda with a ban on being gay. Stay closeted and there's no problem.

The IOC had asked that the law be suspended during the games. Actual gays in Russia (and gays forced to leave) say such a suspension is immoral -- it would protect visitors while leaving residents to suffer after the games.

Gay figure skater Johnny Weir will participate in the games even if they were in "Saudi Arabia, in Palestine, in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Mars." And if he gets arrested, well if that's what it takes for people to pay attention, he's ready.

Nick Symmonds, an ally, had said that when he is in Russia for the Olympic Games he won't criticize his hosts. He's in Russia now for the World Track and Field Championships and took silver in the men's 800 meters. He used that opportunity to call for equal rights, declare his disagreement with the propaganda law, and dedicate his medal to his gay and lesbian friends back home. A pleasing change of opinion.

Corporate sponsors of the Olympics, including Coca Cola, McDonalds, Samsung, GE, P&G, and others, are being grilled about their support of Russian gays. Their responses tend towards non-committal. The text of their messages is similar enough to suggest coordination or wording supplied by the IOC.

Yelena Mizulina is the head of the Duma committee that created and pushed the anti-propaganda law. She is now using the full investigative power of the Russian gov't (the old KGB apparatus?) to target her opponents. That apparently includes celebrities who make jokes at Mizulina's expense.

I had mentioned the initiative of getting around the bans on flags, clothing, and pins by suggesting same-sex hand holding. Pride House is an international coalition of gay sports groups. They are promoting "Sochi sshhi" (which makes a cool logo), the same-sex hand holding initiative. It is "to hold hands with as many members of the same sex as possible as often as possible. That's it." Doing it this way has the approval of gay sportspeople in Russia. It is something everyone can do and is an iconic gesture. Some wonder though, if straights do it too (as suggested), will the impact be diluted?

Another form of protest: Rainbow colored fingernails.

The US Olympic Committee says the Russian law is inconsistent with principles of the Olympic movement. But it asks American athletes to abide by the law anyway.

Canada is offering asylum to any gay Russian who shows up to claim it. Alas, it costs money many don't have to pay for the transportation and exit visas.

I had written about why Russians are cracking down on gays. One of the reasons is Russia isn't sure who or what it is, only that it isn't Western. And homosexuality is seen as a Western import. Russian gay activists are countering that by showing the rich history of gays in their homeland. At the top of the list is Pyotr Tchaikovsky. They also have several more names, though I only recognized Sergei Diaghilev who was the head of the Ballet Russe in Paris and hired Igor Stravinsky to write three phenomenal ballet scores.

Stephen Colbert has gotten into the fray: "The IOC is just asking gay athletes to knock it off for a couple of weeks. Just like at the '36 Olympic games Hitler asked Jesse Owens to ease off on the black."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Might help to have Paul McCartney in Russia

Latest from the Russian Olympics beat:

The zebra crosswalk in front of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm was painted with rainbow colors.

Since it seems the IOC can (and probably will) ban rainbow pins, as well as rainbow shirts and other such stuff, Randy Potts, writing for Box Turtle Bulletin suggests same-sex athletes simply hold hands. This doesn't need to be actual gay couples. Straight allies could do it too. Perhaps they could even convince Paul McCartney to sing, "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

That got me thinking… I reported a few days ago about the proposal to raise rainbow flags during opening ceremonies. To consider this might work means American athletes have come a long way. It assumes a good number of athletes would be willing to do it. Only a few short years ago that was not a good assumption. Organizations such as Athlete Ally and You Can Play have been doing fine work.

Brightmoor revisited

It was a good afternoon for a bike ride, some clouds with temp around 75F. So I went back to Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood, where I was yesterday for the Blight Busters beautification. This time I took my camera. Here is some of what I saw.

First, a couple examples of blight. This one is in Brightmoor, but not in the 14-block area where we worked.

This is a row if vacant houses more than a mile from Brightmoor. Some people might be glad the weed trees obscure the dilapidated houses.

Enough of that or I might be accused of glorifying what is called around here "ruin porn." Alas, in this city there are 78,000 examples.

On to the area where we worked. This shows only one block, but demonstrates what the area is like. You can see how empty it is. Now imagine 14 blocks similarly empty. This is an improvement over the blight, but doesn't show a healthy city.

Another view of an empty area with one of the burned houses the Blight Busters did not remove. I had wondered why not. A friend explained that perhaps the owners could not be found or did not give permission.

Just to the west of Brightmoor is the Eliza Howell neighborhood. That looks to be in fine shape with every house occupied and homes and landscaping well maintained. The difference? I'm sure it's because Eliza Howell was higher up the prosperity scale when the Great Recession hit.

Through my travels I saw streets had several vacant homes next to occupied homes. In many cases it looked like the residents worked really hard to make sure their little plot was well maintained as a bastion against encroaching blight.

The Sunday Free Press has photos of yesterday's event. Sorry, none of me. The link reminds me I should get all the names right. The event was Blight Elimination -- 100 Houses Event, organized by Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Mitch Albom Charities, and the Blight Authority run by Bill Pulte IV. I'm pretty sure I saw a van with "Blight Busters" on it. But that's not the official name of the organization.

A pretty sunset this evening

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Don't criticize the bully

The Russian Olympic situation is, of course, still brewing. The latest:

Runner Nick Symmonds speaks out now about Russia's anti-gay law. But, he says, while competing in Sochi, he will be a guest and a guest does not criticize the host.

Commenters are not buying it. One of them notes part of the problem is that we consider sports to be more important than human rights.

Gay organizations are looking for a high profile international designer to create a symbol that would "powerfully reject the anti-gay propaganda law" for the athletes to wear. That leaves many to wonder what kind of article of clothing and when would athletes wear it? Would it be a part of the outfit for the Opening Ceremonies? Isn't that provided by the corporate sponsors? Would they allow athletes to cover it with something else?

Russia and the Olympics appear to have problems with more than gay athletes. There are stories of abuse of migrant workers, and environmental damage while building Olympic venues. In response, Russia is now bullying international reporters attempting to cover these stories. That may cause more problems with the IOC than the gay issue.

Some of the pronouncements from Russia can get quite Orwellian. Konstantin Dolgov of the Foreign Ministry says since the anti-propaganda law protects children from harmful information it fulfills all international obligations on human rights.

Activists are asking McDonald's to pull its support for the games. Could be tough because it looks to be a $100 million investment.

NBC is assuring its gay employees they will be safe in Sochi. In its features in the lead up to the games the network is saying almost nothing about the anti-gay law.

Michelangelo Signorlie reports that the Human Rights Watch says the anti-gay law could have been stopped. Putin feels the Olympics are very important to Russia. The IOC, NBC, and top corporate sponsors (such as McDonald's) all tracked the anti-gay legislation through the Duma. If any of them had objected the law would not have passed. But now that it has passed Putin would be seen to be caving into the West if it was rescinded.

If all that isn't enough there are a few minor morsels here.

David Mixner has a collection of five cartoons on the issue. Warning, the last one is obscure.

A couple gay heroes

Buzzfeed highlights a trend in hunky opera singers. I guess we've become used to the hefty Luciano Pavarotti, carefully concealed beneath his costume. But when your baritone is hunky the costume can be a lot more revealing, and in modern productions, frequently is. Buzzfeed's post has pictures of 33 of these men, some photos showing the (lack of) costume.

This year's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom have been announced. They include first female astronaut and lesbian Sally Ride and gay Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington (50 years ago this month) and taught Martin Luther King about non-violence protesting.

With rake and seed

I took part in a Blight Busters event in Detroit this morning. The Brightmoor neighborhood is close to the poorest in the city. Lots of houses have been abandoned. This is definitely a blighted area.

I'm not sure if it is the son or grandson in the Pulte family, the ones who founded the Pulte Homes, builders of fine residences. This young man did not follow into the family business, instead he founded Blight Busters. By the time we got there, the agency had already demolished a huge number of vacant homes in a 14-block area. As part of the effort they were able to hire (at least temporarily) some of the remaining residents of the area.

Our job was to go into a block and do a few simple things. Some of us shoveled trash and debris out of the gutters. Others raked the bulldozer tracks and other bare areas, then scattered grass seed. A few more planted wildflower seeds. I did the raking and seed scattering. I had a trash bag with me to hold the junk my rake revealed. I also spent some time raking and shoveling a pile of broken shingles. The weather was wonderful 70F with not too much sun.

With all the money and effort that went into demolition wouldn't it make sense to also hire people to do what we did? Perhaps. But this was a way to draw out the community and do something together. About 90% of the volunteers were not from the neighborhood. My guess is about 450-500 showed up.

While the work was worthwhile, I thought we didn't spend much time at it. Registration started at 9:00 (including handing out the ever-present t-shirt). Speechifying started at 9:35. Getting us into teams, getting our rakes, shovels, and grass seed, and walking to our block also took time. We didn't start work until about 10:15 and quit before noon. I didn't stick around for the pizza. So, yeah, it could have been organized a bit better. I could have stayed for part of the afternoon if there was an afternoon session. There would have been enough for me to do.

I was in the northeast block. I could look across to the park where we gathered four blocks away without any houses in between. This is a sizable chunk of land now vacant but for grass and trees.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Win by losing

Chris Christie, Gov. of New Jersey, is in a pickle. Lots of people in his state think marriage equality is a fine idea. He vetoed such a bill. How to get out of this mess?

He has been claiming that civil unions are just as good, are indeed equivalent. But the Supremes, in their big ruling earlier this summer, make that claim harder because NJ gay couples can't get federal benefits.

He could now support marriage equality. But that could put a big dent in his presidential aspirations.

He could quietly ask GOP state legislators to overturn his veto. But then he looks like a weak governor, unable to control his party.

The state Supremes demanded relationship equality a few years ago and the legislature came up with civil unions. Now that they are definitely not just as good the issue is back before the state high court.

That means Christie has another option: lose in court. He has created a legal argument that might just make him a champion of gay couples while being able to tell his base, well, at least he tried. His strategy: tell the federal gov't they are obligated to recognize civil unions as marriages.

One little detail: when the US Supremes ruled they said their ruling of federal recognition only applies to marriages. Obama can't change that. And Congress isn't going to touch the issue.

So the state court will likely rule against Christie. He loses. He can say he supports equal treatment through civil unions and defended traditional marriage. And, more importantly, the problem disappears.

Commenters remind us all this might not be simply political calculation. Christie might actually believe marriage should not apply to gay couples.

Marriage? Not here. Divorce? No problem.

Ari Ezra Waldman notes something curious in the marriage equality business. According to Defense of Marriage Act part 2, another state does not have to recognize your gay marriage. But it does have to recognize your gay divorce. The difference is that a divorce is a court order, and the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution says those must be respected by all states. That clause is there to prevent someone from committing a crime and receiving sentence in Kentucky and crossing into Ohio to escape that punishment. This may not allow a couple to get a divorce in a state that doesn't recognize their marriage, leaving the couple "wedlocked."

So what's another eighth inch?

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a part of the Dept. of Commerce, has issued its State of the Climate report for 2012. Overall, it is in the top 10 for warmest, either 8th or 9th, depending on which dataset is used. The temperature map shows much of North America hotter than average, some of it up to 5F warmer.

Other items of note:

* Extent of Artic summer sea ice reached a new low.

* Sea surface temperature (down to about a half mile) increased and ocean heat content remains at near record levels. Sea level reaches record high. Levels have been increasing about 3.2 mm (1/8 inch) per year for two decades.

* Greenhouse gas levels climbed. CO2 concentration has topped 400 ppm in some readings (scientists have said nasty things start happening when we get above 350 ppm).

To compete, but not to assent

As I wrote before, Russia passed a nasty "gay propaganda" law (we're not real sure what constitutes propaganda) and Russia and the International Olympic Committee disagree on whether gay athletes are safe. Current concerns in the situation now focus on the IOC and its rules that prohibit political gestures. Is wearing a rainbow pin a political gesture? And will the IOC send the athlete home before Russia has a chance to make an arrest? That implies the IOC would do Russia's dirty work. Does all this mean gay athletes are welcome in Sochi as long as they are closeted? Why would the IOC put itself through such a PR disaster?

The Russian Sports Minister said a week ago that the Olympic athletes would be subject to the new anti-gay law. He now says would you all please calm down! Everyone has a right to a private life. Just don't promote non-traditional relations (read: stay closeted) and everything will be just fine.

Commenter Sundayboy summed up reactions: "Don't mind our little pogrom. We're only bashing gays. To start with, anyway."

Frank Bruni, writing in a New York Times Op-Ed, has the best and most beautiful response to Russia's law I've seen so far. I hope they do it.
Imagine this: it’s the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. A huge television event, watched the world over. The American Olympians join the proud march of nations. They’re our emissaries, our exemplars. And as the television cameras zoom in on Team U.S.A., one of its members quietly pulls out a rainbow flag, no bigger than a handkerchief, and holds it up. Not ostentatiously high, but just high enough that it can’t be mistaken.

Another American follows suit. Then another, and another. Within minutes the flags are everywhere in the American delegation, subtly recurring bursts of color and of honor, a gay-rights motif with a message: we’re here in Russia to compete, but we’re not here in Russia to assent. We have gay sisters. Gay brothers. Gay neighbors and friends and fans and probably teammates, and we reject the laws of a land that deems it O.K. to arrest them for speaking their truth or us for speaking up for them.
Bruni suggests the delegations from Britain, France, Argentina, and South Africa could join in. I add perhaps many more could too -- Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Canada, Brazil, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Uruguay. All of these have marriage equality. Athletes from Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and perhaps even Nepal and several others might also join in.

And Russian officials could only seethe.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

To show I'm better than you

Terrence Heath explores why the GOP is so desperate to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. And they're anxious to do it soon -- they are threatening to shut down the gov't over it this fall. It comes down to just a few reasons:

* The more of it that goes into effect, the more the public likes it.

* It would give Obama a win.

* One way the 1% distinguishes itself from us is they have access to better health care. And they don't care if a few poor people die to enforce that difference.

Rescue but for a profit motive

I've been saying for some time that health care and education should not be subjected to the profit motive. My first post about it was back in 2008. Both are distorted by the bottom line, meaning decisions are made for other than robust health and comprehensive education.

Paul Buchheit of Common Dreams lists eight areas, including health care and education, where the profit motive, also known as privatization, are creating disasters in public life. I'll list them here with a bit of explanation. I'll let you read the original article for details and stats.

Health Care. Ours is the most expensive in the world. Yet the most cost effective care in American is Medicare. One wonders why the salaries of CEOs of health systems are over ten times the salary of the Medicare administrator. Add in stock options and income can be over 300 times as much.

Water. Privatized systems charge 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewage service. These companies make huge profits.

Internet. National systems, such as in South Korea have internet systems that are 200 times faster for half the cost.

Transportation. Privatized systems come with fare increases and elimination of unprofitable routes, leaving some riders without access. Bus drivers face longer hours at reduced wages.

Banking. Compare the deceit and depravity of Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America, with the solid performance of the publicly owned Bank of North Dakota. Yeah, a socialist bank in a red state.

Prisons. The goal should be to rehabilitate prisoners and gradually empty jails. But business is too good. Private prisons are worse in violence within, rehabilitation efforts, and prison conditions.

Education. Charter schools have not shown to be better, and have teachers with less experience and pay. The emphasis shifts to education as assembly line.

Consumer Protection. Privatized consumer protection means no consumer protection. A recent example is that Texas fertilizer plant explosion that hadn't been inspected for 25 years.
As summed up by US News, "Private industry is not going to step in and save people from drowning, or help them rebuild their homes without a solid profit." In order to stay afloat as a nation we need each other, not savvy businesspeople who presume to tell us all how to be rich. We can't all be rich. We just want to keep from drowning.
The first comment was that the author forgot the private funding of Elections.

Britain is considering a bill that would require Parliament to get public feedback (permission?) before privatizing a service. In spite of the ideology of "private sector efficiency," public services tend to be better quality, lower cost, and more accountable. I think the disconnect is those who want to privatize claim market efficiencies which don't materialize because the new business is a monopoly.

The state helped

Robert Kleine is a former Treasurer of Michigan (Wikipedia says he served 2006-2011). He wrote a guest commentary in last Sunday's Free Press. That big bankruptcy that Detroit is going through -- Kleine documents the ways in which the state made it happen. Yeah, there are other factors. But the state's actions meant the difference between solvency and bankruptcy.

Much of that is the adversarial (hostile?) relations between the big city and the state that has existed since about 1980. And this isn't just a GOP thing. Democratic governors and legislatures haven't been any more friendly to the city's needs. That troublesome relationship allowed the state to do particular things that undermined the tax base of the city.

The state prompted the city to reduce its income tax, saying the state would guarantee revenue sharing to more than make up the difference. But the state then cut its revenue sharing (which hit all Michigan cities, not just Detroit).

The state passed a law allowing city employees to not live in the city. That meant the employee's property taxes went to some other city. The state created Renaissance Zones, in which taxes would be reduced to prompt homeowners and businesses to move there. All they did was to erode the tax base, leaving Detroit poorer.

Kleine suggests a few things the state could do to help the city: Allow the city to raise its income tax with an offset in the state income tax. The city department for collection taxes is based on obsolete computers; the state could take over that task. The state could create regional police and fire departments. There are also regional tax bases, so suburbs could support the city (I have a good idea what Dearborn would say about that).

Kleine says:
Detroit's underlying problems are the result of the downsizing of the auto industry, racial tensions, meaningless jurisdictional boundaries, state neglect and inattention, and the Great Recession. Balancing the books in a technical sense will not address any of these fundamental issues.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Russia isn't

Miriam Elder of Buzzfeed examines why Russia passed their recent draconian anti-gay law. There are a few reasons.

The first is Russia's birth rate collapsed along with the Soviet empire. Putin is personally crusading to raise it. Alas, I'm still puzzled how he thinks persecuting gays will make that happen. Perhaps he believes that gays would enter straight marriages and produce kids. The low birth rate is part of the reason why Putin put a stop to adoption of Russian kids by outsiders even though he blames America allowing gay parents to adopt.

The second reasons has to do with the question, "How is Russia to remain Russia?" Nobody really has an answer to that question. It seems the answer, according to Putin, is Russia isn't the West. So he is fostering the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church (strongly anti-gay). That resulted in a new law that bans "insulting religious believers." Putin is also rejecting Western ideals such as acceptance of homosexuality. Putin doesn't know what Russia is, only what it isn't.

And the third reason, which has shown to be quite useful to our own GOP, is for Putin to tell the masses he will protect them from The Other. This time around The Other, fortunately, can't be Jews (a Jewish neighbor rescued a young Putin from being beaten by neighborhood kids) and can't be migrants. That leaves gays.

Since Putin is trying to distinguish Russia from the West it means protests by Western nations will only stiffen Putin's resolve.

Still can't eat

Terrence Heath outlines the GOP con game on Food Stamps. Party speakers seem to have latched onto the phrase (which I found in the Bible at 2nd Thessalonians 3:10), "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

Let's leave aside that this phrase is taken out of context and on its own contradicts the central message of the Bible (check out Matthew 25:31-46). Instead, let's look at the GOP premise, that Food Stamps are going to the lazy.

Only 8 percent of recipients fall into that category. More than half of Food Stamp recipients can't work because they are children or elderly. The rest are the working poor. They do work. But the job pays so little they need and qualify for food stamps. They work, and still can't eat.

So, if the church is supposed to feed the poor…
“Christianity is all about serving the poor,” Representative Ribble [R-Wis] told [Sister Simone]. “What is the Church doing wrong that it had to come to the government to get so much funding?”

Sister Simone said the need for government assistance is more about the “dimension of the issue.” She noted a Bread for the World study that calculated the funds religious institutions would have had to raise if the food stamp cuts proposed in last year’s House Republican budget had been implemented. She said “every church, synagogue, mosque, and house of worship in the United States” would have needed to raise $50,000 in additional monies—every year, for ten years.
Is Rep. Ribble donating enough to his own church so it can pay its $50,000 share?

Con game

Paul Krugman, a Nobel winning economist writing an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, explains not only why the GOP isn't participating in governing, but why they can't. His proof (not that we need any) of why the GOP isn't comes from their 40th attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act even though they know this attempt, like the previous 39, isn't going to be taken up by the Senate and Obama would veto it with amazing speed. In a parenthetical comment Krugman adds, "It’s curious how comforting they find the idea of denying health care to millions of Americans."

As for why the GOP can't participate in governing:
Think of it this way: For a long time the Republican establishment got its way by playing a con game with the party’s base. Voters would be mobilized as soldiers in an ideological crusade, fired up by warnings that liberals were going to turn the country over to gay married terrorists, not to mention taking your hard-earned dollars and giving them to Those People. Then, once the election was over, the establishment would get on with its real priorities — deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthy.

At this point, however, the establishment has lost control. Meanwhile, base voters actually believe the stories they were told — for example, that the government is spending vast sums on things that are a complete waste or at any rate don’t do anything for people like them. (Don’t let the government get its hands on Medicare!) And the party establishment can’t get the base to accept fiscal or political reality without, in effect, admitting to those base voters that they were lied to

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"We" is the most important word

For 13 weeks, North Carolina NAACP president Rev. William Barber led Moral Monday programs at the state capitol. Terrence Heath describes the program that is centered on fusion politics.
“‘We’,” says Rev. Barber, “is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary.” The old “fusion politics” joined political parties together. The new form of “fusion politics” joins people together. Where “identity politics” was used to divide people along the lines of race, gender, class, and orientation, the new “fusion politics” unites people by encompassing those categories, turning into shared concerns issues that have been treated as separate.
The attacks on gender rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, voting rights, environmental justice, education equality, Medicaid, livable wages, and programs that help the poor all come from one political source. The progressives must unite to fuse political issues usually seen as separate and competing against each other.

Each Monday focused on one or two issues, such as voting rights, but wrapped them all into the same context. Crowds have been "40 percent white and 30 percent young" and made up of a wide spectrum of people -- "black, white, Latino, young, old, gay, straight, labor, faith, people coming out everywhere."

Though the participants are diverse, nobody minds that the message is distinctly Christian. This message is reclaiming the words of the Bible from the Fundie rhetoric to power progressive causes. These values transcend different faiths. Barber starts with the first verses of Isaiah, chapter 10:
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
Where conservatism demonizes and justifies punishment of the poor, Moral Mondays have been emphasizing the need to protect and defend the poor. "You can't love God on one hand and hate your brother on another." Barber is seizing the moral high ground.

There are no legislative victories yet. The GOP controlled legislature is unmoved. But opinions of voters are changing and approval ratings are plummeting. And that without actually demonizing Republicans, a central part of Barber's message.

The NC legislature has gone home. The Moral Monday protesters have too. Heath asks what's next? His answer: "The Moral Mondays movement is what’s next." In North Carolina, it has shifted to the local town square. And though the name may not have caught on (yet), the ideas, which Heath calls Dandelion Moments, have already been spreading around the country and world.

One of those Dandelion Moments is happening in Florida.

The George Zimmerman verdict was delayed so that police could prepare for the riots conservative were sure would happen. Riots didn't happen (leaving conservatives to invent fake riot videos). Peaceful demonstrations did.

That included the Dream Defenders. They occupied Gov. Rick Scott's office for a few days until he agreed to meet with them. He essentially said what they want needs to come from the legislature.

Small problem: the legislature isn't in session (and it sounds like it might be a long time before it is in session -- Florida might be one of those states with a part-time legislature). The legislature would have to be called into a special session. So the Dream Defenders occupied the Capitol. They held a mock special session to show legislatures how it is done (great PR!). They began petitioning lawmakers. They even drafted the legislation, which they are calling Trayvon's Law. C'mon, guys. We've done the work. Just show up. At least 15 of them stay in the capitol overnight, sleeping on sheets because sleeping bags and mattresses aren't permitted. They've been there for over two weeks now.

Trayvon's Law has three parts: (1) Repeal of Stand Your Ground. (2) End racial profiling. (3) End the zero-tolerance school policing policy which contributes to the "school to prison pipeline" that easily incarcerates young people of color.