Monday, September 30, 2013

Violating oath of office

Leo Gerard is the International President of United Steelworkers. He wrote a blog post for Huffington Post Politics. He says that the House GOP members have violated their oath of office because they refuse to "faithfully discharge the duties of the office." Which means, "They're not just failing to perform their jobs, they're doing the opposite of what they swore to do." He concludes by saying:
Like with the government shutdown, Republicans say they'll do their job only in exchange for ransom. They're demanding a long list of changes that they've failed to achieve because the public did not elect them to the White House or as majority in the Senate. These include: delaying the Affordable Care Act, approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, eliminating regulations on coal ash, allowing more offshore oil and gas production, blocking new regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminating some financing for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

Self-righteous Republicans would be the first to condemn a worker who is fired for refusing to perform his job. The GOP would deny that guy unemployment benefits. They'd jail an accountant who deliberately paid company bills late, damaging the firm's credit rating. But that's exactly what Republicans are doing to their employer. They're betraying America by violating their sworn duty of office.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Difficult to teach

Hurricane Katrina gave New Orleans a chance to replace its not very good public school system with charter schools. Andrea Gabor in Newsweek has a report on how well that is working. A big problem is that the state method of evaluating what is an effective school and what isn't is based on the percentage of kids that head to college. Should all kids aim for college? What about the ones who would be so burdened by debt and stuck in low-paying jobs that college wouldn't be an economic gain? What about the ones who aren't college material or are aiming for careers, such as carpenter, where college isn't a help? The state emphasis on college admissions means high schools geared towards these other students are deemed to be failing, even if the students learn a respectable trade.

Another big problem is that charters can expel the "difficult to teach." And no one keeps track of whether another school, charter or not, takes them in.

A third problem is most of these charter schools are regimented. Teachers are burnt out in just a couple years. Students have no fun. They have no opportunity to explore what their future might be like. They are treated to one-size-fits-all. Is that what we really want?

Christopher Dickey, also in Newsweek has found another education issue. Don Moore, associate professor of University of California, Berkeley, says that elite colleges and universities are much more lenient in their grading. Back in 2001, 90% of Harvard students graduated with honors. What this means is rich kids get higher GPAs than poor kids. That gives the rich a boost when applying for elite jobs, and widens inequality.

A beautiful morning

It is now the time of year that when I use the alarm to wake up (usually only on Sunday morning, but today was three in a row) the sun is about to rise. And on occasion, such as today, I'm just in time for a beautiful sunrise. Though taking pictures of it might throw off the morning schedule. Alas, rain for much of the rest of today.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A concentration of population

The Vlogbrothers produced a video of 42 fascinating maps. And since I love maps…

Alas, much of the 4 minute video is of the narrator and his every breath is edited out, making him seem rather frantic. But the YouTube page has links to all the maps online.

A few of my favorites:

A map that shows how 7 billion humans are distributed across the world:
1. North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.
2. Africa.
3. Europe and the Middle East.
4. Most of Asia (excluding below)
5. Southern India, Bangladesh, and Burma.
6. Central China.
7. Southern China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Click in the little image towards the top-left of this page.

A map with a circle (projected onto a globe then flattened) that includes China, India, Japan, and Indonesia. More of the world's population is inside the circle than outside. The center of the circle is Guiyang, Guizhou Province in Southwest China. The radius is only 4100 km.

A series of maps where the size of the country is pumped up or shrunk depending on some measure, such as GDP. This collection has been around for a while and I wrote about it a long time ago.

Pope v. GOP

According to Jon Stewart God makes his commandments known through the pope and through the GOP. Stewart highlights the contradictions that have appeared between the new pope and the GOP.

Remember all the nice things the pope said recently? Here are a couple things that have happened since then.

Acrhbishop Timothy Broglio is in charge of Catholic military chaplains. He has issues a few new rules to make sure his chaplains make it very clear they don't like gay relationships.

John Corvino, the Gay Moralist, was disinvited from a debate about gay marriage that was to have been held at Providence College, a Catholic school in Rhode Island. There's something about allowing opposing points of view to be heard somehow endorses them, and we can't have that. Corvino says that the cancellation has done wonders for his media exposure. Several newspapers, radio producers, and a TV program or two are now quite interested in what he has to say.

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin also lists the case of a priest in Australia being excommunicated. But that might be for purely Catholic reasons, having nothing to do with gay people.

New Jersey in a tizzy

Things around marriage equality in New Jersey are moving fast enough that people might be tripping over each other. Quite a while ago Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have made same-sex marriage legal. Legislators are now working to round up enough votes to override the veto (alas, no link -- didn't realize I'd need one). Only a handful more are needed. That vote will probably happen in November. If not overtaken by another event.

That other event is a ruling by Mary Jacobson, head judge in Mercer County. She ruled that because NJ civil unions are not equal to marriage -- CUs do not get federal benefits -- same-sex marriages must be made legal. Several years ago the state Supreme Court had mandated that gay couples must be treated equally and the legislature at the time decided civil unions were equal. But now the inequality is so obvious Jacobson issued a summary judgment, meaning she didn't bother with a trial to hear evidence.

Christie promptly vowed to repeal. He said the NJ Supremes must rule. Unless the legislature overturns his veto. Christie is up for reelection this fall. Because he is best buds with Obama (see Sandy coverage) he is way ahead of his challenger Barbara Buono. But she is narrowing the gap (like from 30 points behind to merely 18 points) by highlighting she is for marriage equality and Christie isn't.

The courts and legislature in Illinois, another place with civil unions, are going to be paying close attention to NJ.

The help Detroit needs

I got an email last night at about 10:30 calling people to a protest today at 10:00. Yeah, less than 12 hours notice. The protest was called because Obama administration officials would be coming to Detroit to meet with city officials about various grants the Obama admin was ready to hand out. The protesters, associated with Detroit Eviction Defense and Moratorium Now, consider Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Mayor Dave Bing, and Gov. Snyder in cahoots with the banks that are swindling Detroit. The protesters want Obama officials to meet with them, not the crooks.

Since I had nothing scheduled today and the weather was lovely I went. I counted about 25 protesters, not bad for such short notice. We marched outside the Wayne State University Law School where anyone coming from the parking structure would have to walk through or around us. There were a couple TV vans and several photographers. I'm sure my picture was taken many times from close enough that I would be easily identified.

Small problem though. The meeting wasn't in the Law School building, but in the Conference Center on the other side. And all the bigwigs drove up between the buildings, parking their big SUVs in the pedestrian zone. So it is quite likely they didn't see us. And security was such that I'm sure we would not have been allowed between the buildings.

The sheet passed out at the protest listed several things that Obama could do (without Congress) which probably wouldn't happen if he worked through Snyder and Orr.

* The head of the state Department of Human Services (alas, acronyms aren't explained so this is a guess) illegally withheld block grants from the city. The City Council didn't fight it and the city officials who administer the grants lost their jobs. Obama could restore the grants under city management.

* The city illegally turned over administration of the Head Start program to a Denver company. That had Obama administration approval. That approval could be withdrawn, restoring the program under city control with city jobs.

* Gov. Snyder has blocked a half-billion dollars from the federal Helping Hardest Hit Homeowners. This fund pays delinquent property tax bills and would allow more people to stay in their homes. The blockage means more foreclosures, lower property values, and lower tax revenues. Obama could remove Snyder's blocks.

* Obama could order an investigation of the shady bank practices that preyed on poor residents, and when the huge string of foreclosures impoverished the city gov't those shady banks turned their attention to "help" the struggling city.

* Obama could declare a state of emergency and put a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in Detroit.

* Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own perhaps 70% of all mortgages in the country. It is these two that push for most foreclosures. In addition to stopping foreclosures, Obama could push the two to reduce the principle on underwater mortgages.

A good bet that none of this happened at today's meeting.

I'll have to rely on Michigan Radio for a news report of what did happen.

Attendees from the White House were: Gene Sperling, director of the White House Economic Council, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan, and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. That's some pretty impressive firepower. Detroit attendees were not listed, but probably included Orr and Bing and maybe even Snyder.

The White House bunch announced a $300 million grant (not a "bailout"!). $140 million of that is for public transportation, $30 million for crime reduction, $25 million for demolishing abandoned commercial buildings. The purpose of the rest of it was not listed.

The protest broke up around 11:30. I got lunch at a Mediterranean place at the other end of campus, then went home. I certainly got my walking in today and was tired enough that I didn't spend the beautiful afternoon on my bicycle.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Groundbreaking then, now obsolete

The International Olympic Committee has determined that the Russian law that bans "propaganda" about being gay does not violate the Olympic charter's anti-discrimination guarantee (because gay people can compete -- if they stay closeted). Therefore the IOC does not have the authority to criticize Russian laws.

Yeah, it stinks. But the Olympics were already hosted by Beijing, known for human rights violations more severe than the latest from Russia.

The pope recently said the church shouldn't make such a big deal of homosexuality. Pastor E. W. Jackson of Virginia (who also happens to be the GOP candidate for Lieutenant Governor) says he knows better what God wants than the Pope does. I'll let you read the resulting nastiness for yourself.

Steven Petrow has a column in the New York Times dealing with manners associated with the lesbian and gay community. In a recent column he deals with question that in the last year he has had to change his answer. The question: How to introduce a gay couple? The word "partner" seems no longer appropriate. And "spouse" seems like a demotion. The solution: "I'd like you to meet Mr. James Smith and his husband Mr. John Andrews."

Back in 1984 the city of Berkeley, Calif. and its school district were the first gov't entities to offer domestic partner benefits. On Oct. 11, 1991 the city offered a domestic partner registry so couples could have their relationships recognized by a gov't entity. Councilman Darryl Moore, who is gay, will submit a resolution to close the registry, effective Oct. 11, 2013. His reason is that because of marriage equality in Calif. the registry is obsolete.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York did have its opening gala earlier this week. The Russian opera Eugene Onegen by Tchaikovsky with the Russian director and Russian soprano went on as scheduled. The gala was also seen on big screens outdoors in Lincoln Center Plaza and Times Square. Also there were protesters of the director and soprano because both support Putin. About three dozen protested outside, a few shouted slogans from a balcony for a couple minutes before the opera started. They were escorted out by security. The protesters had asked the Met to dedicate the performance to gay people. The Met's director declined, saying the Met cannot be "a vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world."

Anthony Tommasini, the reviewer in the New York Times, thought it was inappropriate for the protesters to "interrupt a performance." But didn't he just say the protesting was done before the opera started?

Here is a photo of the outdoor protest with comments from lots of people who don't buy the Met's position.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Young at heart

As part of my visit to the nutritionist today they put me through a Meridian test. It has that name because that's the corporate logo on the machine. It has a sensor that clips onto the finger. Once the technician pushes the start button it thinks for a minute and then prints a page. That little sensor with the compute power behind it can check the pulse rate (the easy stuff) as well as check for fluttering, the speed of heart valve openings, and a pressure waveform. The technician compares the heartbeat and pressure chart against various samples and can tell hardness of arteries in general and plaque buildup in each of large arteries, small arteries, and capillaries.

Put all that together and the tech produces a letter grade for the heart and from my actual age and grade she gets a biological age of the heart.

Bicycling has been very good to me. My grade is B and heart age is a couple decades younger than my actual age.

It was a busy day. I dashed from the nutritionist to lunch with my friend and debate partner. From there it was off to see a traditional medical person about the soreness in my neck. I had an hour free so went to the nearby Henry Ford Fair Lane estate and took an hour to walk through the Great Meadow and around the pond. Then on to the Ruth Ellis Center for my usual work in the kitchen.

Back to that neck specialist. I've had soreness in the neck for many years. Sometimes that includes pain in the shoulder. The shoulder pain was treated somewhat successfully this summer, but it was hard to convince my primary care doctor that both neck and shoulder should be treated together. It was only after I saw a shoulder specialist that I got a referral to a neck specialist.

The diagnosis of today's visit is my neck muscles are weak, though today's x-rays might show more. I should be able to lie flat on my back and with neck muscles alone hold my head up off the floor for a minute. I could do maybe five seconds. So he gave me a bunch of exercises and prescribed another round of physical therapy, this time for the neck instead of the shoulder.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Finland is getting close

In Finland if the citizens collect at least 50,000 signatures Parliament must consider the issue (though they may not approve it). So the "I Do" campaign collected signatures to force Parliament to take up marriage equality. They got 50,000 in one day last March. They have currently over 162,000 with the deadline this Thursday. They have already collected more signatures than any other citizen-backed initiative. Considering the whole country has only 5.4 million people this is an impressive campaign. So I think Parliament will be busy.

Way out in front is Captain Underpants!

It's Banned Books Week again, a time to celebrate the freedom to read. The week draws attention to the many books that are challenged in libraries as inappropriate for patrons. There is something to celebrate: In a majority of cases librarians, teachers, students, and community members stand up and speak out so that the challenged book remains on the shelves. So here's a big thank you to the librarians around me, especially the ones in my family.

The top ten books challenged in 2012 are:
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (actually a series)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
And Tango Makes Three by Parnell and Richardson (for homosexuality)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (for homosexuality)
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz (a series)
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Beloved by Toni Morrison

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The fear and rage will turn against them

Terrence Heath has a thoughtful essay on what is going on with whites. It is a companion piece to what he wrote recently about the decline of the GOP. I summarized it here.

Heath notes the persistent racism in America and the way it has been showing up lately. One example is the recently crowned Miss America who is Indian American. She was accused of being Arab, Muslim, terrorist, and not American.

Why is racism so persistent? What is wrong with the GOP strategy?

Being white is no longer the norm. Economic downturns usually hit black and brown people. This one hit whites too, giving them a level of economic insecurity not seen before. They have to share unemployment lines with "those people." In addition, the face of America is no longer a reflection of their own. Cultural icons, such as the president, are no longer always white. And they can't stop the change.

Denialism allowed many whites to believe progress for blacks came at their expense (the Great Recession helped), creating a feeling that whites are now more oppressed than blacks. The GOP was happy to stoke that fear and rage because they could win elections based on the white vote. That's no longer true.

Redistricting, done over the last couple census cycles to secure GOP seats, is now working against them. They haven't had to talk to minorities, so don't know how. And when they figure it out it will demand a change in policy. The fear and rage they've stoked in their base will turn against them.

Opposition to oppressive ideologies

James Rubin has an interesting article in Newsweek about foreign policy and how it has changed in the last decade. After WWII our leaders developed the policy of "liberal internationalism":
The idea was that American foreign policy could not simply be a matter of looking out for ourselves, but ought to be tied to larger ambitions—among them, the creation and preservation of a world order in which democratic values and economic freedom could thrive; the championing of a rules-based international system; the mitigation of regional conflicts and instability; and opposition to oppressive ideologies.
This policy was in place from Roosevelt forward, though details may have varied from one president to the next. A few of them didn't venture into areas (Clinton in Rwanda) that this policy would have suggested as appropriate.

But with our reluctance to get involved in Syria (and Libya, Egypt, and lots of other places) and that reluctance supported by the American people, we are obviously not operating based on that policy now.

Why the difference?

Rubin says it is because Bush II used that policy to justify invading Iraq -- and failed spectacularly.

Which means Americans are now quite reluctant to come to anyone's aid. That leaves Syrians wondering who will come to stop the slaughter.

An envy-ridden moral code

Melissa McEwen on Shakesville alerted me to an article in Forbes. It was bad enough to read McEwen's few choice paragraphs from the Forbes article. I read the first paragraph there and couldn't bring myself to read the rest. The Forbes article is by Harry Binswanger and his one line summary is "I defend laissez-faire capitalism, using Ayn Rand's Objectivism."

From what I glean from the first paragraph and McEwan's excerpts is that because Henry Ford (for example) created the Ford Motor Company and came up with the idea of the assembly line, he gets all the credit -- and profit -- and the workers should be grateful he gave them a job. The 1% should be thanked and honored by the 99%, not ridiculed.

On to a couple choice paragraphs:
There is indeed a vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity: the Internal Revenue Service. And, at a deeper level, it is the monstrous perversion of justice that makes the IRS possible: an envy-ridden moral code that damns success, profit, and earning money in voluntary exchange.

An end must be put to the inhuman practice of draining the productive to subsidize the unproductive. An end must be put to the primordial notion that one's life belongs to the tribe, to "the community," and that the superlative wealth-creators must do penance for the sin of creating value.
Sheesh, absolutely no concept of community, no concept of justice, and no concept that such great wealth is made possible by the workers and by what we do together (such as government provided infrastructure). Binswanger's moral code? It's based on greed and power.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Didn't intend for anyone to get hurt

Bill Schuette, Attorney General of Michigan, is aware of the gay marriage case looming in Detroit next month. So he issued his opinion on the matter. That opinion pulls out the old line that marriage is to regulate sex. Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan notes his opinion contradicts what the Supremes said this summer. Suggesting marriage is only about sex "is more insulting and damaging to the institution of marriage than anything Schuette fears."

Commenter Michael notes: "Odd how the definition of marriage was love and commitment until gay people wanted in on it."

The lower house of the Italian Parliament voted for an anti-homophobia bill 354-79 on Thursday. During floor debate dozens of members of the Five Star Movement Party staged a kiss-in. The bill probably won't make it through the upper house.

The nasty "study" by Mark Regnerus is haunting us again. This time it is being used in Russia as "proof" that gays are pedophiles, so they can pile on the discriminatory laws. There are rumors up next are laws to remove children from gay and lesbian couples. After American anti-gay groups have been using the study for all kinds of mischief with his blessing Regnerus is feeling queasy that the Russians are doing so. Perhaps its because the Russians are taking it a lot further than American groups could dare to do. Perhaps it is because the Russians are misrepresenting his conclusions. But that shouldn't be a problem because his conclusions are a misrepresentation of the data.

Timothy Kincaid summarizes Regnerus' predicament this way:
When I lit the torches, gathered the pitchforks, unleashed the baying dogs, and rallied the villagers, I didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt.
Other commenters note one step Regnerus could do and hasn't: repudiate the study.

Endorse with love or reject and condemn?

An interview with Pope Francis appeared in the Jesuit magazine America and is getting a lot of notice in gay news sources. The post by Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin appears to be the most comprehensive, so it is his main points I'll highlight. I haven't read the full interview.

Francis explains some of his background, saying that he was thrust into leadership (within the Jesuits) before he was ready and without enough support. He found that an authoritarian style of leadership didn't work.

Burroway notes that lots of Catholic pew-sitters don't agree with the hierarchy. That leads to comments of Francis who says, "And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief." Francis doesn't say or refute that he as pope is infallible, can't ever be wrong. But he is saying that the faithful, even when they appear to be straying from doctrine, are also not wrong. Perhaps God is leading the church in a new direction.

That important point leads to the next. Francis said,
The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
A couple paragraphs later came the part that got the attention of gays:
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
And then:
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
What a wonderful breath of fresh air!

Burroway cautions us: No doctrine has changed. It still calls us "objectively disordered." American bishops and cardinals will likely still say nasty things about us. It make take quite a while for these ideas of Francis to filter down into the rest of the hierarchy. And it may not do that in the few years Francis is around. Even so, this could be the start of a momentous shift.

Alas, there are also groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, which has taken a great deal of Catholic money. Maggie Gallagher, a leader in that group, is quick to jump on what the Pope said -- in her usual logically twisted way. Perhaps gay leaders will be a bit more tolerant, a bit more considerate of the human, and not be so quick to judge us as hateful bigots. Sure, Maggie.

Weddings and gay people

Another evening of theater yesterday, this time much more local. I saw Regrets Only by Paul Rudnick put on by the Birmingham Village Players. They're a community, rather than professional, theater and proudly proclaim they are the oldest in the area. Hank Hadley is a fashion designer. His life partner Mike has recently died. He visits his favorite friends Tibby and Jack McCullough in their Manhattan penthouse apartment. Their daughter Spencer announced she is about to get married and asks Hank to design the gown. Flitting through the scene is Myra, the family's maid. Tibby's mother Marietta shows up in the second act. The time is late summer of 2006.

Things get interesting when Jack receives a phone call from the president (though never stated, this would be Bush II). He asks Jack and Spencer (lawyer with emphasis in the Constitution) to come to Washington to help him draft a marriage protection amendment. They're delighted. Hank isn't. That prompts a discussion of love and marriage, especially of Hank's relationship with Mike.

Alas, through much of the first act all three McCulloughs, super rich superficial twits who are clueless of the underclasses, got to be annoying. I should clarify that they were supposed to be annoying. I was rather amused with that portrayal in Birmingham, one of the richest Detroit suburbs.

The pace and laughs picked up in the second act. If you plan to see the show (still one show tomorrow afternoon) you can skip the rest to avoid the spoiler. It is the day before the wedding and Spencer is frantic over the gown and cake. Grandma shows up wearing garbage bags because the staff at her dress shop disappeared with her clothes during her fitting, then she couldn't get a ticket to Broadway (on or off). Tibby can't rouse the florist. Several of Jack's colleagues disappear. Hank explains he made a few discreet phone calls and all the gays and lesbians in Manhattan took the day off. Even Myra reveals she is lesbian and refuses to work. We know weddings can't happen without the efforts of gay people. Only after Jack calls the prez. and to say he will no longer consult for the amendment process does Hank ask his friends to return to work.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cannot see it is morally worse

An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual.

Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: one must not judge it by its outward appearance but by its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.
These excerpts are from the book Towards a Quaker View of Sex published by the Quakers in Britain in 1963.

Back in 1957 the Quakers gathered 11 authors, psychiatrist, psychologists, and teachers to examine the issues of homosexuality. At least one member of the group was bisexual and knew the stigma associated with being gay. To understand gay relationships they studied what makes up good and bad relationships. Once they had that they saw that gay relationships were no different from straight ones. Their conclusion was astonishing for the time. Alas, a lot of Christian denominations still don't see it 50 years later.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin takes a look at the Russian Olympics situation. He has noticed a lot of our allies are Talking Sternly and Raising Concerns. But in seeing Russian intransigence they mutter that conflict is bad and we gay people should just shut up and be invisible. We have a grand international party coming up (which will generate lots of money for our sponsors) and we don't want you to mess it up. We've got athletes to glorify. But we raised the issue! Maybe we should get a medal for being On Your Side. Kincaid is not impressed.

I wrote a while back that Russian gays were pointing out gay Russians have contributed to society throughout history. That prompted the government to take care of that little problem. The culture minister Vladimir Medinksy declared there is no evidence that Piotr Tchaikovsky was gay. None. He wasn't "anything other than a lonely man who failed to find a suitable woman to marry."

As one commenter says, does this mean I can be gay my whole life and after I'm dead a friend can declare me not gay and I get into heaven anyway?

There is a new bill in Congress with the title of Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. One provision would prohibit the gov't from discrimination against individuals and institutions that insist that marriage is one man-one woman. Timothy Kincaid says that's fine. But another provision says the gov't can't:
Deny or exclude a person from receiving any federal grant, contract, loan, license, certification, accreditation, employment, or other similar position or status
if they don't like gays getting married.

Which means: A clerk at Social Security could refuse paperwork for a gay couple. An IRS auditor could take a gay couple's joint return and declare it fraudulent. A customs official could decide your spouse isn't really your spouse and deny entry. The list is long.

Kincaid responds that a companion bill is needed. If you want Southern Baptists florists to be able to refuse service to gay couples you need to allow gay florists to refuse service to Southern Baptists.

None of them sloth

Terrence Heath, in his own blog, sees signs that the GOP will simply fade to white. A few things he notes:

* In 2008 black voter turnout (the percentage of black voters who actually voted) was higher than white voter turnout.

* In 2012 Romney lost 83% of the non-white vote.

* There are more non-whites under the age of 5 than whites of that age. There are now more white deaths per year than white births.

* The GOP is assuming the coalition that Obama put together will fracture. Groups such as North Carolina's Fusion Politics are working to make sure that it doesn't happen.

* At the recent 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington the GOP had a great opportunity to make the conservative case to a black audience. Or at least counteract the huge Dem presence. But they declined all invitations.

Shrinking white base. No interest in reaching out to minorities. I like what that leads to.

The Farm Bill / Food Stamp Bill was in the news today, including NPR. The House GOP is cutting another 5% from food stamps. The representatives are saying all kinds of things about able-bodied poor need to go out and get a job. Of course, the response was a job in this economy? Besides many of the people on food stamps have a job. It doesn't pay a living wage.

Terrence Heath has a discussion of this bill. He notes how much various members of Congress (including a Rockefeller) receive (or will receive) in payments from the Farm Bill. These are gentlemen farmers that may own the land but don't do any of the work (if any farming is actually done) and live quite handsomely without any farm income. Which means they are voting to take food out of the mouths of the poor but voted to keep putting money in their own pockets. Heath concludes this way:
Republicans believe that closing billions of dollars in tax loopholes is wrong, and killing jobs by slashing government spending is right. Republicans believe that raising taxes on the wealthy is immoral, but slashing food assistance is moral.
Food stamps should not be the Hunger Games.

Chris Arnade has a related article that is posted on AlterNet. He had been working on Wall Street, but left that job to document the lives of addicts in one of the poorest sections of the Bronx. While on Wall Street he knew a man he calls Mr. One-glove, for his stinginess. This guy made bets that bankrupted his company (bailed out by the feds), an action that set the whole economy into a tailspin. At the end of 2008 he wonders how big his bonus will be.

Arnade contrasts Wall Street with Takeesha. She was molested by a family member at 11, pimped by another at 13, ran away at 15 and has spent 25 years as a prostitute and addict. It would be great if she shook off the rape and prostitution, took advantage of social services, graduated from high school and college and is free of her past. Didn't happen. Her question: Will I get out of jail by the end of the year?

Arnade's point: Mr. One-glove can afford lawyers. They can find the wiggle room in the law. He makes mistakes and goes home at the end of the day. Takeesha can't afford lawyers. For her the law is rigid. She makes mistakes and goes to jail.

One-glove felt that raising his own taxes to help the poor like Takeesha was "encouraging a lifetime of sloth" (as the GOP likes to echo). Arnade's answer:
Poverty and addiction have a thousand mothers, none of them sloth. Surviving the streets and hustling for the next fix is some of the hardest work around.

The play is the thing

I had an enjoyable weekend in Stratford, Ontario at the Stratford Festival. I took the northern route through Port Huron and lots of rural roads in Ontario. There aren't a lot of traveler services on this route.

The motel was definitely one-star quality. Though clean, it was small -- the shower stall was so small that it was difficult to wash feet. I didn't need to spend much time there.

I got into town Saturday afternoon, in time for dinner before the evening play. This one was Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. It isn't so much about waiting for someone who never appears, but more about the strange things they do to keep occupied while waiting. There is also the strangeness of characters who wander through on what seems like consecutive days but seem to have change a lot or don't remember the previous encounter. It was, of course, well done.

I had a leisurely Sunday morning with a late breakfast. I then followed lots of people on the walk around the lake, which took about an hour. I had time for a bit of browsing in stores before getting lunch at 1:00, in time for the 2:00 show.

The second one was Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward. Madame Acarti mistakenly conjures up Elvira, the deceased first wife of Charles. Elvira's presence causes all kinds of problems for Ruth, the second wife. It was a lot of fun, though featured a lot of yelling.

I had more than 3 hours between that show and the next. Since it was late Sunday afternoon, many shops and restaurants had closed. I stopped by my car for my umbrella and went walking in the drizzle. I found the Shakespeare gardens, which has signs explaining what plants were there. Some of those signs included quotes from Shakespeare that mention that particular plant. I scouted around for a restaurant both affordable and open. Still lots of time, so I sat in my car and read. Supper was at a buffet restaurant featuring Indian food.

The third play was at the small and fairly new Studio Theater, seating less than 300. The seats were highly sloped, so even those 9 rows back were just below the high ceiling. The play was Taking Shakespeare by John Murrell. There are only two characters, Murph and Prof. Murph is 24 years old and took a few years off before starting at the university. His mother, a dean in the university, feels he isn't "meeting expectations." So Mom calls Prof. to get him extra tutoring. Prof. is a crotchety lady close to retirement but who no longer has many students in her classes. Prof. is appalled that the Freshman English professor is trying to teach Othello, which requires much more maturity to understand. So we witness the tutoring sessions. Along the way I understood iambic pentameter. This was my favorite play. I was amused to see that the actor who played Murph also played D'Artagnan in Three Musketeers.

Since the motel was on the edge of town and I wanted a quick escape the next morning I asked the Stratford tourist office about breakfast restaurants in St. Marys, the first town on my way home. Alas, I didn't see it as I drove through town. So I ate some peanut butter and had brunch in Port Huron. Reminder: there are no restaurants around the first exit off the bridge. They're all clustered around the second exit. Guess which one I took.

Though I wasn't rushed, once back in the Detroit area I headed for my 1:30 appointment to have an ultrasound on my painful shoulder and neck. My health system now posts test results to my online chart. I think all those medical words mean I have a touch of arthritis in the area. I see a doctor about it all next week.

Then it was on to the nutritionist in Ann Arbor and a stop at the Whole Foods market. I got home at 6:00 in time to grab a quick supper before bell rehearsal at 7:00.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Snorkeling in Denmark

A bit of what happened over the last few days while I was busy teaching, attending rehearsals and church meetings, and enjoying rainbows:

The latest about the Russian Olympics shows that the country has no idea what free speech and open debate are all about. The local Olympic head told the IOC to shut up about all that anti-gay stuff. In turn the IOC will tell athletes to behave themselves. Meaning: stay closeted and don't protest.

The National Organization for Marriage received $1 million to use for matching gifts. But they're having a hard time finding gifts for the match. It seems previous donors now see NOM as a waste of money.

The Grio (a part of MSNBC) has an article about Cory Booker refusing to confirm or deny he is gay as he campaigns for the US Senate seat for New Jersey (which I mentioned last week). He has turned the question into a discussion of why the gender of a politician's partner should matter. Soon, it will be impossible to slander someone by saying he is gay.

National Geographic has created a series of maps that would show what our world would look like if all of the ice on land melted. The seas would rise 216 feet. Florida and the Atlantic Coast would be gone, as would Denmark, northern Germany and lots of other places. But they figure it would take 5,000 years for all of the ice to melt while the average temperature rose from the current 58F to about 80F. Even with that long timeline, I think I'll stay here in Michigan (elevation 600). The link isn't to the National Geographic site because it seems you have to be a subscriber to see it all.

Apparently I missed a big event that took place in Washington while I was there at the end of August. 542 handbell ringers played the national anthem at a baseball game between the Nationals and Marlins. Then again, this event was less than two minutes and I would have had no interest in the game itself.

Rainbows and smiles

Ah, Michigan.

It must be the turn of the seasons here. Two days ago I turned on the air conditioner. I heard the temperature got up to 92F. I don't know if that is a record. Today barely cleared 60F and tonight should get below 40F and there are warnings of patchy frost. I'm debating whether to turn on the furnace or just let the house be cold in the morning.

One reason why I just might let it be cold (depending how cold) is because I leave tomorrow after lunch to head for Stratford, Ontario for a weekend of theater. This is the trip that was postponed from mid August. That passport hasn't been found (and would be no good if it was), but the enhanced driver's license is in my wallet. I return Monday morning -- getting back in time to head to an appointment for a cat-scan for my shoulder (or maybe it's an ultrasound) followed by a regular appointment at the Nutrition Healing Center in Ann Arbor.

Yesterday evening was the annual fund raising event for the Ruth Ellis Center. Again, I volunteered. I get to eat the same food and see the same show as the paying customers and only have to help out at the Silent Auction (which cleared over $4000). For the amount of work I do at the center I don't consider I got in on the cheap.

The event was held at the College for Creative Studies, a famous commercial art college in Detroit. Lots of people are familiar with the campus near the Detroit Institute of Arts. I discovered CCS has a second building in the New Center area about a block away from the Amtrak station. The Ruth Ellis event took over the convention space on the 11th floor of a grand old building. There are classrooms and student lofts on other floors and a cafeteria on the ground floor.

The Silent Auction was set in front of the windows so I had a fabulous view of the downtown skyscrapers and various landmarks to the southeast. Around 6:30 a rainstorm started. At 6:45 the sun came out, creating a bright rainbow. For a time there was a faint double. We thought that was pretty cool to happen during a gay event. This rainbow stayed around for a good 20 minutes.

We went to the big hall for the program. Amongst all the speechifying was the announcement that the Lear Corporation has become a major sponsor of the Center! We'll be able to offer even more services to help gay youth get on their feet and the Ruth Ellis House, which serves as a transition living space for homeless youth, might become a cluster of houses. And, yes, it is needed -- there are perhaps 800 homeless sexual minority youth in the Metro Detroit area on any given night. We have housing for maybe 20 of them.

Then on to the big event. Over the summer perhaps 9 or 10 youth participated in workshops at the Center on being true to yourself and expressing it. That can be a challenge for a gay youth and a bigger challenge for a transgender kid. As part of that each youth made a sketch of an outfit that would express him or herself. With the aid and work of CCS students in the fiber arts department these sketches were turned into actual clothing. The youth modeled their creations in a fashion show complete with runway, spotlights, photographers, and a highly enthusiastic audience. The youth sported smiles that glowed! This was a level of expression and acceptance they hadn't experienced before.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Karma bites back

Back in February of 2012 Craig James left his job as commentator for ESPN Sports to run for the US Senate from Texas. He figured to get the job he had to come out swinging against all things gay. Which he did. He lost to Ted Cruz, no friend of gays, so as a campaign strategy it may have been a good idea.

Except now he needs a job. And all those nasty anti-gay statements are enough for ESPN to refuse to take him back. FOX Sports (separate from FOX News) doesn't want him either. Perhaps he can join the professional martyr speaker circuit.

A call for inclusion

The Sunday Free Press has a big editorial on what the Michigan Legislature (controlled by the GOP) should have as its four top priorities over the next few months. It is worth mentioning for the last item. They are:

* Consolidate school districts so the same education can be done with less money. Michigan has 500 districts and many of the rural ones are small. Perhaps some of the services (transportation) can be done at the county level.

* Adopt the Common Core curriculum. I'm not sure this is good or bad, though will note the state Board of Education approved it in 2010 and many school districts are caught between whether to implement it or not.

* "Nothing reveals the Republican-controlled Legislature’s fear of governing more glaringly than its refusal to confront Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges." State roads are among the nation's worst.

* Include sexual orientation in Michigan's Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act so that gays can no longer be fired for being gay. Recent reports document the harm done to gay people and shows the state's unfriendliness affects its ability to attract & keep new talent.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Not much further to march

Joshua DuBois, former director of the White House faith-based initiative, has a feature article in Newsweek to go with the recent anniversary March on Washington. He frequently hears (and sometimes said), "We've come so far, but we have so much further to go" in terms of race relations.

But he now believes that phrase is getting in the way of progress. He gives his reasons:

* When Martin Luther King Jr. talked about "one day" when the races will be at peace, he didn't mean hundreds of years from now. He meant within a generation or two -- which has passed.

* The original march had focused goals, many of which have been reached.

* The goal isn't endless marching, but to seize the opportunities within reach.

* The percentage of black men who have dropped out of high school has been cut in half over the last 40 years. A couple percent more and it will match the white dropout rate. Within our grasp.

* Life expectancy of black people is up. Some hard work and it will match the life expectancy of white people.

* Yeah, we've lost ground in the percent of young black men behind bars. But Attorney General Eric Holder is proposing practical solutions. We can do this.

Get black youth into college with intact Pell Grants? Face down legislatures who want to disenfranchise black voters? Get rid of "stand your ground"? Reconnect black men with their families? All of this is achievable, not in some distant future, but here and now. Get to work.

Not all like that

I haven't gotten back to reading all of the gay blogs I normally peruse. Even so, there are a few things to mention.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg officiated at a gay wedding. Not everyone can get a justice as officiant. One of the couple, Michael Kaiser is president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a longtime friend if Ginsberg. The justice loves opera and frequently attends performances at the center.

There are now eight of 23 counties in New Mexico that will issue same-sex marriage licenses. I think most of them resulted from various court orders, though I'm puzzled why the courts must limit the ruling to single counties.

The GOP legislators are finally getting around to doing something to try to stop all that. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin has noted something about their rhetoric. No appeals to God and morality. No appeals to tradition. The only thing left is separation of powers -- whoever is doing this isn't supposed to.

In the meantime county clerks from across the state have appealed one of the court decisions simply to get a state-wide ruling.

Related to that Jim Burroway, also of Box Turtle Bulletin, noticed something in an article titled The Nature of Authority by Amit Majmudar in Kenyon Review. It seems we are now turning to science as the true authority. Some religious leaders are now desperate for scientists to confirm their findings. Even if the religious leaders have to twist the science to fit. We know quite well that last part as religious leaders skew scientific findings to justify their bullying. But that only shows they value the authority of science.

Dan Savage is expanding on his It Gets Better Project with a new series of videos. This one is titled Not All Like That (not exactly catchy). It features Christian leaders saying they aren't like the Fundies who loudly proclaim their bigotry. There are some Christians who are cool with gay people, they really support us. Savage started this project because so many church people would say to him, we're not all like that. Those bigots don't speak for us. Dan would respond, don't tell me, tell the gay people and tell the bigots. Many church organizations that work for gay inclusion, including Reconciling Ministries Network (hosts of the conference I just attended), are lending their support for the cause. Finally!

The IRS has ruled that legally married gay couples, no matter where they now reside, will be treated the same as straight couples for tax purposes.

Cory Booker is mayor of Newark, New Jersey and currently running to be NJ's next senator in Congress and is the favorite. He is very much one of our friends. There is a curious wrinkle in the campaign. Booker, who is single, has been very coy about his sexual orientation. Gay? Straight? He says it doesn't matter and he's likely right. There is already a gay senator and NJ is close to having marriage equality. But the piece that might be a problem, especially if he has aspirations for something bigger (like the presidency), is that he is single. Gay? No problem. Single? Um…

Christopher Dickey in Newsweek highlights another measure of inequality. It was created and studied by Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev of the Santa Fe Institute. They created the term "guard labor" and define it as those in the workforce who enforce the productivity of others without producing anything themselves, who control threats to the system. This includes police, guards, and prison staff. They add to that those who are unproductive because they incarcerated or unemployed. In 1890 guard labor was 6% of the American workforce. In 2002 it was 26%.

The Frito-Lay diet

I attended an evening lecture at the Nutrition Healing Center in Ann Arbor a couple days ago. The lecture was about ways to stay on their diet while dining out. It included mention of a website listing area restaurants that feature local and perhaps organic food. So, friend and debate partner, we might have some tasty exploring to do. Alas, the lecture wasn't all that insightful (I've heard similar things before) and it wasn't all that long (my drive to Ann Arbor was longer).

The evening wasn't wasted because after the lecture I was able to talk to my patient advocate Connie. I'm not sure what this person does and why I have both a "patient advocate" and "practitioner" and why both of those people do both jobs (though for different patients). In addition to some helpful advice she said a couple things that caught my attention.

The first bit: In a story related by Connie, my practitioner, Kerry, attended at least the nutrition classes in medical school (not sure of the details here). During one lecture Kerry pointed out that recent research linked heart disease with sugar. The instructor insisted the culprit was particular kinds of fat. Kerry persisted. The instructor said, I’m sorry, but for legal reasons I must insist the problem is fat. That's when Kerry decided to pursue alternative medicine.

I don't know if those "legal" reasons were federal law, state law, or a contract between the medical school and some outside party.

The second bit: Connie said that many dietician and nutrition conferences are sponsored by Pepsi, Frito-Lay and other corporate food providers. You can be sure what goes on in the meeting rooms does not contradict the goals of the corporate sponsors.

The lecture and discussion was short enough that I was able to travel across Ann Arbor (which isn't all that big) to the Whole Foods Market. It's a much bigger store than the last natural food market I visited and this time I had a better idea of what I was looking for. It is amazing how many varieties of "healthy" bread have soy in them -- soy being something I'm supposed to avoid. I've since given several partial loaves of bread (I like variety) to the guy who cuts my grass.

Sometime while I was on vacation a friend sent me an article about weight loss. It is on the Forbes website and says the reason why people have trouble losing weight and maintaining weight loss is because all that bad food is damaging the parts of the brain that control hunger. But in reading it I noticed something. At one point the article refers to a study about "a diet high in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates." But when listing harms the article heaps all the blame on fats, never mentioning carbs again. Though I am still working out what I'm supposed to be eating I have caught on the Nutrition Healing Center says that lots of carbs are bad and that fats, including saturated fats, are good. My traditional diet said that saturated fats are bad and polyunsaturated fats are good. NHC is saying the opposite (though both say trans fats are really bad). Back to the study -- though it claims the problem is fats, NHC says the problem is carbs.

Why the discrepancy?

From the clues above I'm going to guess. Corporations have taken over the food and diet industries and they are strong enough to prevent anything that will interrupt their profits. That implies these corporations are the reason why there is an obesity epidemic in America. As long as they get their profits they don't care how fat we get and how unhealthy that makes us. In the same way that cigarette companies sponsored studies that "proved" smoking is harmless and oil companies pay for research that "proves" humans aren't responsible for climate change, food companies are out to show that it is someone else's product that causes obesity.

These companies have a couple things going in their favor. It is easy to believe that eating lots of fat causes our bodies to store fat. Eating fat high in cholesterol causes high cholesterol and we are now well trained to believe this is what causes heart attacks. Is it true? I'll only say NHC is actively disputing it. Another idea food corporations have in their favor is that if a person fails in a diet that person is obviously at fault. The diet is fine, the person didn't follow it closely enough. Corporate diet programs like this idea because people who can't lose weight remain their customers longer.

Obviously, all these diet programs, whether through a corporation or through a health system, aren't all bad. Some of the things I've learned along the way -- eat your veggies, whole fruit is better than juice, watch portion size, eat until satisfied instead of stuffed, watch for trans-fats, eat plenty of fiber, and a few similar items -- appear in each of the diet programs I've used. And some people do lose weight and keep it off. But a large number, including me, don't.

It is quite possible that corporations have overtaken the food and diet industries in the same way they have taken over other aspects of our lives, no matter the cost to our waistlines and health.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The reason for the trip

Friday, August 30
The Reconciling Ministries Convo started and continued through Labor Day. This was the reason for the trip to Washington. But you'll have to read my report at my brother blog, the one I write for the Detroit Reconciling United Methodists.

Living in harmony with the earth

Thursday, August 29
I started the day by packing up, storing the luggage, and checking out of the hotel. Then it was off to the National Museum of the American Indian. I'm not sure it is named properly because they don't particularly like the term “Indian” and the museum is about native people from North, Central, and South America. It is quite a place, mostly because it is native people telling their own story. Alas, a big part of it is the clash and decimation from contact with Europe. I appreciated hearing about their beliefs in living in harmony with the earth. This photo shows a panel that describes a part of it.

Compared to the other museums on the Mall, this one has a great cafe. All of the food is native to the Americas served in traditional combinations.

From there I walked to a particular hotel to meet my cousin who lives in the area. It is at least 20, perhaps 25, years since I've seen her. It was one of those conversations where by the end I was wondering why we had waited so long. She has a gay son and her views of the church are quite similar to mine. She was excited to hear what kind of conference is the reason for this trip. Alas, we had only an hour to talk before she had to dash off to another business meeting.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the National Gallery (until it closed) then to the Old Post Office and its bell tower. That gives decent views of the city, such as this one down Pennsylvania Ave.

I then stuck around outside until the Washington Ringing Society got their evening practice session well underway in the tower. Yeah when your thing is to do change ringing on tower bells you have to practice on those tower bells. Here's the exterior of the tower.

Alas, I didn't find a nice restaurant (not too expensive) on my way back to the hotel. So it was fast food hamburger. Then to the hotel to collect luggage, and head to the Convo convention center. Before boarding the Metro I made sure my farecard had enough money on it for that and the bus. Then one stop, change trains, then to the edge of DC. I took a moment to study the local map of where to find my bus. Once on the street, the bus was right there across the street! Until I was 20 feet from it. I checked the posted schedule. It had actually left a minute early. And the next one wouldn't go for a half hour. Since the center was only 1 1/2 miles away I figured I could walk it (dragging a suitcase) and get there faster. Which I did. It was after I had walked a while that I realized I could have gotten a taxi. Oh well. At least my feet were up to it. So my farecard still has two dollars on it which won't get used.

Monday, September 2, 2013

I'm still here

I'm very aware I haven't posted since last Wednesday. At that time I was telling you all about my travels in Washington, DC. The Reconciling Ministries Convo was wonderful, but busy. Events started before 9:00 am and went until after 9:00 pm. I had time to write, but not also time to choose appropriate photos.

I'm home again. The flight took off 15 minutes late. It was amusing how many people tried to cram oversize carryons into the overhead bins. One open space had four different bags crammed into it, each rejected and checked by the attendants. Once in the air it was turbulent enough the attendants put the drink cart away and when the bouncing ended they offered only water (it was only an hour long flight).

I actually took my little netbook computer onto the flight rather than packing it into the big suitcase. During the time we were allowed to use devices with batteries I wrote my Convo report. I didn't quite finish.

The first day of class is tomorrow. The evening is free, so I should get the rest of my trip report posted then. And -- maybe -- catch up on a bit of gay news.