Sunday, December 29, 2013

Graveyard for homosexuality

Though the nasty anti-gay bill in Uganda has not yet gotten the president's assent it has made gays there quite fearful. There is sure to be a witch-hunt.

In response gay organizations in Venezuela are urging their Foreign Ministry to grant asylum to gays fleeing Uganda.

Another place with draconian anti-gay laws is Ethiopia. The recent crackdown there is inspired by -- who else? -- American evangelicals. Which leads to the contradiction of Ethiopians saying they don't want the Western influence of promoting homosexuality while they cheer the Western influence of passing a death penalty for homosexuality. The rallying cry is "Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!" This article in Newsweek also describes what life is like for one circle of gay friends.

Here is a map that shows where homosexuality is illegal with the penalty for those convicted. Half of these countries are in Africa with another broad swath in the Middle East and South Asia.

The best and brightest talent

I leave tomorrow to travel with my parents to Dad's ancestral town. His brother still lives in the area. We'll be joined by my brother and his family, including his first grandchild, all of 4 months. All of us will be staying at a B&B and probably spending lots of time at my uncle's house. Because of the baby not much is planned. I'll be taking my netbook but I don't know if I'll want to burrow in my room to blog when there are a dozen relatives to talk to. We head home on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, in the news…

Utah is getting a new Attorney General. The previous one resigned during investigations for corruption and responding to the same-sex marriage case has fallen to the interim AG. It looks like the first act of the new AG will be to go before the state legislature to request $2 million (of taxpayer money) to pay for outside legal counsel to properly file a stay with the Supremes, then take the case to the 10th Circuit. Though the request isn't official yet, lawmakers are telling the new AG to go for it. This is an important case to defend states' rights. Find the best and brightest talent you can.

Pope Francis may be giving the Vatican a new image and a new emphasis, but the old demons are still there. The Bishop of Malta had a discussion with Francis and a part of that was to explain to the Pope that Malta is considering a new Civil Union bill that would include adoption by gay couples. Francis was "shocked" to learn that part. He urged the Bishop to speak out against it.

So, yeah, this pope is a welcome change in style. But no substantive change yet.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The gay flag annoys you? Just wait.

Dr. Mary Pharm of Irvine, Calif. put what looks to be the gay flag on her house. Some explain it is actually the peace flag -- it has the word "PACE" (Latin, pronounced PAH-Chay), the red is at the bottom and a couple colors appear out of order. Whatever it is her neighbors got upset for flying the gay flag. So she added some really gay holiday lights.

Don't annoy the judge

The Attorney General for Utah has not yet filed a request for stay with any of the Supremes. It might be a few more days before that happens. Apparently, the AG had to seek outside help to properly prepare the request.

I had noted before the things the 10th Circuit must look at when granting a stay. According to a commenter, there is one more that the Supremes consider before a stay is given. The state must show the 10th Circuit abused its discretion when it didn't order a stay. That makes for an interesting scenario: Utah goes to the Supremes and says the 10th Circuit abused its discretion. Then Utah goes to the 10th Circuit to have their case against marriage equality heard. The 10th Circuit is likely to be a bit annoyed, something a lawyer doesn't want.

In the meantime there has been an explosion of marriage licenses being issued in Utah. There were 1,225 issued Dec. 20-26. Who knew there were that many gay people in Utah?


USA Today has an article about the recent pastor trial and dismissal in the United Methodist Church. The article notes the mounting pressure on one side to enforce the rules and pressure on the other side that consider the rules unjust.

Foundry United Methodist Church of DC was one of the early congregations to declare itself to be reconciling and one that presidents often visit. Pastor Dean Snyder is now calling on the bishops to hold a special General Conference to address the policies that are splitting the church.

My own pastor has been listening to the chatter on various blogs and Facebook pages and believes a schism will happen soon. This call for an early General Conference is likely a part of it, especially if a special GC doesn't happen.

Supercalifrag … oh, you know the rest

I've had an idea running through my head for many years now and I saw it in action yesterday evening and this afternoon. Though the idea has been rattling around in my brain all this time it was only today that I figured out suitable terminology in which to explain it.

In my study of music composition the word idiomatic was discussed. There are some musical ideas that are much easier on some instruments and quite difficult on another. Some instruments do some things well and others poorly. An obvious example is the glissando on the harp. Even a kid can go up to a harp and run a finger across the strings making the pitch swoop up or down. But it is extremely difficult to do the same kind of thing on handbells. A chromatic glissando (the equivalent of all the white and black keys on the piano) is impossible on the harp but easy on the clarinet -- listen to the opening of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Composition students need to know a bit about what is idiomatic for an instrument to avoid the performer complaining that it is unplayable.

The idea that has been in my brain all these years is this: In live theater it is idiomatic to make you think you see something that is not shown. In cinema it is idiomatic to show you something on screen that cannot be shown in real life.

This idea entered my head many years ago while watching the play Children of a Lesser God many years ago. At one point the character reached down to turn on the radio. The music came on, but there was no physical knob or radio. The actor's fingers twitch on empty air. The big counterpart in cinema is the original Star Wars movie -- battles in space, species from other planets, a Death Star, cheeky robots -- none of which exist outside the film.

Last night I saw the play War Horse. The basic story is about a farm lad in England who raises a horse. When the Great War erupts his father sells the horse to the Cavalry. Though the lad is too young, he joins the Army to find and be reunited with his horse.

What makes this play idiomatic is the horses are massive puppets. Each horse has three controllers -- two hold it up and operate the front and back legs (and bear the weight when the character rides the horse). We see both the horse's legs and the human legs. The third controller stands to the side operates the head. Though we always see all three controllers their movements are so thoroughly choreographed that they fade into the background and the puppet really does act like a horse, complete with the slight movement of breathing.

The way we see the horses is carried into other aspects of the show. There is a man who pushes a wheeled cart that looks and acts like a goose. Actors hold up long poles and create an instant corral. Various scenes in different locales take place simultaneously on different parts of the stage, each with minimal or no scenery. To me this is theater doing what theater is best at.

There is another aspect of this idiomatic work. Much of the story shows battles of WWI. The play, because the fighting isn't exactly shown, provides a bit of distance from the horrors of war. I have not seen the movie War Horse telling the same story because it is idiomatic cinema, showing the war in all its gruesomeness.

This afternoon I saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks. It is recently released, so I was at the Cineplex which, a few days after Christmas had a very full parking lot. I'm pretty sure they gave me a senior discount (my feeling at the moment is if you're rude enough to offer it without asking I'm going to take it). The story is about P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins stories (I didn't know there was more than one). She is played by Emma Thompson. She is summoned to Hollywood to meet with Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) to turn her story into a movie. She is most disagreeable, hating that it will be a musical, hating the songs the scriptwriter, composer, and lyricist perform for her, hating that Dick Van Dyke is being considered, and in general opposing just about everything, and doing so with a delightfully tart tongue. Intercut with this story is the story of when she was a child living in the Australian Outback. Yes, the two relate quite well. Since the movie Mary Poppins was obviously made one wonders what will change her mind.

This movie is idiomatic cinema primarily in the recreation of 1961 Hollywood and 1906 Outback. Even more idiomatic is the subject movie Mary Poppins -- a woman flying while holding her umbrella, the bottomless carpetbag, the dancing penguins, the tea party at the ceiling -- though we don't see much of that in this movie.

A very enjoyable two days.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jesus hates unions and wants the poor to starve

Amanda Marcotte of Alternet, in an article reprinted by Salon lists five ways in which the Fundies twist the message of Jesus to push conservatism. Fundies don't just convince believers to vote against their own economic interests (the gays are gonna git you!) but also create theological arguments to justify their actions.

1. In spite of that "loaves and fishes" thing that fed 5000 people, Jesus is portrayed as an aggressive capitalist with no regard to dignity and human rights. The biblical support for the claim? Well it's in there somewhere.

2. The story about the vineyard owner hiring more employees throughout the day is used to claim that workers should never try to better their working situation. Which means Jesus hates unions.

3. The verse about those who don't work shall not eat, though taken out of context, is used to justify the end of food stamps. Jesus wants poor people to starve. Never mind all those verses that command the rich to sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor.

4. Preservation of religious freedom, and accompanying victim complex, allows corporations to get into an employee's private business. This is the Hobby Lobby case before the Supremes about banning contraceptives from the corporate medical plans.

5. Protecting the environment to avoid climate change means not trusting God. If the climate warms up it means God wants it to. We wouldn't want anything to get in the way of corporate profits.

Religion is dangerous to politics because religion can be whatever the believer wants it to be. And that's an area that has nothing to do with logic.

The private sector is more efficient

The recent problems with the Affordable Care Act website has brought the issue of privatization of government functions back to the spotlight. Dale Hanson of the Detroit News in an article reprinted in Huffington Post admits the government got this one wrong -- big time -- but that doesn't mean the private sector does it better. Hanson doesn't explore the private companies that built and botched the ACA website. But he does explore other privatized ventures that have gone bad and provides links to a few more.

One of Hanson's links is to an article in the blog Justice Before Charity with a copyright notice of 2010. The writer is anonymous though the page contains links to "Resources for LGBTQ Catholics." JBC starts us off with the essence of the privatization claim.
It is common knowledge that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector because private businesses have to worry about going out of business, while government agencies do not. The private sector will work harder and smarter, since the need to compete creates incentives for innovation and hard work. Having private companies perform the jobs of government will make everything more efficient.

This common sense is actually entirely wrong.
JBC documents many cases where the gov't paid more to a private company to get worse service than the gov't agency did on its own. I'll skip the individual cases and accompanying statistics and mention broad categories.

Prisons: The gov't may indeed save money. But it is because prison employees are paid less, are trained less, and cut corners on safety. Private prisons have a disastrous safety record and are quite violent places. Prison guard turnover is also quite high. Inmates are not trained for life outside the prison because the prison corporation does not want them to do well in the outside world. Let them commit another crime. They'll be back and we can make more money off them.

Private prisons in Calif. are less expensive to run than publicly funded prisons, but it is because (1) they only take inmates classified as needing minimum security, (2) they do not take inmates with serious mental or physical illness, (3) they don't take juveniles or females, (4) they shift some costs back to the state. If a prison only takes the least costly inmates it will cost less to house them.

Schools: Let parents and students choose the best schools and the bad schools will go out of business. That's the mantra. It doesn't work. In Milwaukee public school education was the same as private schools. Can't claim private is better. Private schools (1) pay teachers less and train them less, (2) refuse most students with learning disabilities, and (3) expel students with behavior problems, sending them back to public schools. Yeah, some of these are similar to the list for prisons. The process of getting students into a private school does get the parent invested in the kid's education. But even with this advantage the private schools are not better.

Healthcare: The nef blog in Britain and its Mythbusters shows a chart of OECD countries (mostly North America, Europe, Japan, Australia) and the relation between healthcare expenditures per capita and longevity. USA is definitely an outlier, spending well over $7000 a person per year. The next closest (not named) spends under $5000 for better results. Britain's National Health Service does a bit better than the USA for half the cost. The difference is that the USA system is mostly private.

General gov't functions: JBC reports most companies that take over for gov't agencies pay their workers sub-poverty wages. That's pay so low the employee still qualifies for Medicaid and food stamps. So the gov't is paying the higher wages anyway.

Many gov't agencies, such as the ones that monitor oil drilling, are given a budget that is too small. The agency is understaffed. Congress declares it to be incompetent and cuts its budget even more. Disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happen. What is cheaper, dealing with the blowout or properly funding the agency? Other underfunded agencies include the Securities and Exchange Commission (the Great Recession), weapons acquisition (staggering cost overruns), and the Coast Guard's acquisition (new ships that leak).

Veterans Health Administration: The VHA did not get outsourced. By 11 measures of quality it is the best health system in the world with a lower cost per patient. And it was public leadership that got it from worst to best in 25 years. Now if they could only be funded enough to treat all returning veterans.

There are instances where private business works just fine. In Guatemala the bus system is not run by the gov't. An enterprising person can buy a bus, design and market a route he thinks is underserved, and start driving. But when the free market doesn't work, the gov't must act.

Back to the claim that private companies have to work better and smarter or go out of business. But once they get the fat gov't contract they are no longer in danger of going out of business. The money keeps coming even if they are incompetent. But a poor family still needs to enroll in food stamps and has no alternatives. A public program doesn't work like a business.

Bryan Glick of Computer Weekly in Britain documents a few more privatizing projects that went bad, most of them (of course) related to computer programming. He makes a couple good points. When a public agency fails it isn't because there is a lack of competition or a lack of a market. It is a simple lack of leadership. And:
A private sector outsourcer will look for every opportunity to get new sources of revenue from a contract. A public sector employee - one with good leadership at least - is more likely to be focused on the services they provide.

That is a huge and fundamental difference.
Newsweek reports that there is a huge difference in how the national gov't treats corporate contractors and how it treats non-profit contractors. The corporate contracts are really cushy and if the contractor is incompetent or does something wrong, no big deal. The non-profit contracts are really skimpy (usually not enough to quite pay for the service they provide) and if the contractor does something wrong, they are barred from another contract for at least 10 years. Easy to guess who can afford the lobbyists to get Congress to slant the rules.

To summarize, when a government task is privatized, these are the things that happen:

* Worker pay is cut to the point they are underpaid or are in poverty. Workers are insufficiently trained to properly handle the job.

* Corners are cut so that quality of product or service is compromised or safety to worker, client, society, environment, or economy suffers.

* The contractor accepts only the least cost clients.

* The contractor concentrates on extracting money out of the contract to maximize profits, not to provide better service.

* The contractor no longer worries about competition, competence, or going out of business and acts accordingly.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Negative consequences

Phil, the lead of the TV show Duck Dynasty said some nasty things about us and there is quite the media storm. I haven't seen the show and it doesn't sound appealing. I was intentionally not saying anything about it (marriage equality in Utah is much more interesting) so if you want salacious details go elsewhere. You are right to wonder why I'm bringing it up now. Because there are some interesting ideas related to the incident.

Essayist Terrence Heath was prompted to write a primer on the free speech aspects of the First Amendment. Heath notes that lots of people in the public eye get scolded or fired from a job for saying something offensive. Then these people grouse that their free speech rights were taken away. Heath says that if you are able to complain about your loss of free speech you haven't lost your free speech. You have only lost the ability to use someone else's platform. With the internet it is easy to create your own platform (such as this blog). Heath also reminds us that free speech does not mean we are protected from challenge, scrutiny, or criticism as so many on the Right are quick to claim. Heath concludes:
So, to review: You have freedom of speech, but so do others. That means your freedom of speech may have negative consequences if others use their freedom of speech to express their outrage. Those consequences might include the loss of your radio show, your television show, or a public appearance.

It might be inconvenient, and even upsetting. But it’s not a violation of your first amendment rights. That you’re still free to complain about it is proof of that. If you think about it.

In a second essay Heath looks at the way various conservatives, especially members of the GOP, are responding to the mess. They blather on about free speech and how it is being denied. And they're careful to avoid saying whether they actually agree with Phil of Duck Dynasty. That allows them to look to other conservatives like they agree with Phil while appearing neutral to everyone else -- gosh, I'm protecting free speech, I don't actually like what he said. These speakers are trying to walk a very narrow path because the majority in the country now disagree with Phil.

Responsible procreation, optimal child-rearing

I read through the actual ruling that district court Judge Shelby wrote to strike down Utah's Amendment 3 which banned same-sex marriage. Various commenters in various blogs had said how thoroughly this ruling undercuts our opponent's arguments and supports marriage equality. Here is my summary (much shorter than 53 pages) of his reasoning.

The ban violates due process rights, an individual has fundamental rights free from unreasonable interference from the state. While the state may regulate marriage (the "incidents, benefits, and obligations of marriage") it can only do so in a way that does not conflict with the US Constitution.

The 14th Amendment says the Bill of Rights applies to states.

Fundamental rights "may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections." (So why are we being subjected to votes on marriage equality?)

There are several cases in which the Supremes declare that marriage is a fundamental right, including Loving v. Virginia that struck down laws that banned mixed-race marriages.

Utah claimed that a gay person is still at liberty to marry a person of the opposite sex. The court replied, "But this purported liberty is an illusion. … If marriages were planned and arranged by the State, for example, these marriages would violate a person’s right to marry because such arrangements would infringe an individual’s rights to privacy, dignity, and intimate association." In addition, "The State accepts without contest the Plaintiffs’ testimony that they cannot develop the type of intimate bond necessary to sustain a marriage with a person of the opposite sex." And, "The Plaintiffs’ testimony supports their assertions that their sexual orientation is an inherent characteristic of their identities." Finally, "Given these undisputed facts, it is clear that if the Plaintiffs are not allowed to marry a partner of the same sex, the Plaintiffs will be forced to remain unmarried. The effect of Amendment 3 is therefore that it denies gay and lesbian citizens of Utah the ability to exercise one of their constitutionally protected rights."

Utah claimed that same-sex couples are not qualified to marry because they cannot procreate. The reply: "The court does not find the State’s argument compelling because, however persuasive the ability to procreate might be in the context of a particular religious perspective, it is not a defining characteristic of conjugal relationships from a legal and constitutional point of view." In addition that claim demeans gay couples, post-menopausal women, an infertile men. And gay couples are just as good at taking care of children as are grandparents. Besides that, marriage is more than procreation, it was "an expression of emotional support and public commitment, it was spiritually significant, and it provided access to important legal and government benefits." All that applies to straight and gay couples alike.

Utah claimed that same-sex couples are seeking a new right. The reply: If it is a new right, there are new protections and benefits available to all. But straight people are as likely to enter into a same-sex marriage as gay people are in entering into an opposite-sex marriage. So both are manifestations of the same right.

Utah claimed that tradition and history are sufficient reasons to deny a fundamental right. The reply: Our understanding changes with time and our laws must change too. The example given is Lawrence v. Texas which struck down criminalization of gay sex. "Here, it is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian. The court cannot ignore the fact that the Plaintiffs are able to develop a committed, intimate relationship with a person of the same sex but not with a person of the opposite sex."

Utah argued that there are proper government interests in responsible procreation and optimal child-rearing and that these goals would not be furthered if same-sex couples could marry. The reply: The first part of that statement is true -- the gov't does have an interest in responsible procreation and optimal child-rearing. But it "defies reason to conclude that allowing same-sex couples to marry will diminish the example that married opposite-sex couples set for their unmarried counterparts. … Because Amendment 3 does not currently permit same-sex couples to engage in sexual activity within a marriage, the State reinforces a norm that sexual activity may take place outside the marriage relationship." As for optimal child rearing, "Similarly, the State has presented no evidence that opposite-sex couples will base their decisions about having children on the ability of same-sex couples to marry." The ban humiliates thousands of children already being raised by same-sex couples, makes it difficult for these kids to understand their family, denies their family state and federal benefits, and injures gay youth who see the state does not believe they can create a family.

Utah says we should proceed with caution in such a sensitive case. The reply: The state could make that claim with any case, which would make the court toothless. In addition, the fourteen other states with same-sex marriage show the state's fears are groundless.

Utah says there is an interest in preserving the traditional definition of marriage. The reply: "But tradition alone cannot form a rational basis for a law." In addition, the traditional definition of marriage has already changed. A dissenting Justice Scalia noted, "‘preserving the traditional institution of marriage’ is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples."

Churches still have the religious freedom to define their own traditions of marriage -- including now permitting it.

Though the state can't rationally explain how it is harmed by having same-sex couples marry, there is indeed harm done to same-sex couples when they cannot marry. The Supreme decision that struck down parts of DOMA was very clear about that.

More than a mere possibility of harm

My parents, sister, and niece came for a pleasant afternoon. I cooked the food (though that was delayed while the oven burned up the cherry pie drippings left from Thanksgiving (I don't use the oven much)) and was complemented on how good it was. There were a few gifts to open (long ago we limited the number of gifts). Sis and niece watched a DVD while Dad and I opened up a new jigsaw puzzle.

That gives me an evening to catch up on my reading and writing.

The 10th Circuit Court issued its ruling on a request for a stay of same-sex marriages in Utah and did so late yesterday afternoon. The answer was, "we conclude a stay is not warranted." But the case, said the Court, is now on an expedited appeal.

The Court considered two factors in particular. The first is whether there is likelihood of success on appeal. The court said it must be more than a mere possibility. The second is whether there is irreparable harm to the state if there is no stay. And it must be more than a mere possibility of harm.

It seems the big reason the state asked for a stay was that if gay people are allowed to marry now they will be harmed if it took their marriages away later. If the 10th Circuit doesn't consider that a big harm (not enough for a stay) perhaps that is a clue they will rule in our favor.

So Utah will go on to the Supremes. Since Sonia Sotomayor is in charge of the 10th Circuit their first stop is with her. She grant or deny the stay or she can refer the matter to the Court as a whole to decide. If Sotomayor acts on her own and Utah doesn't like it they can submit a request to another Justice, such as Scalia or Thomas, then keep going through the court for a favorable answer or until one refers the matter to the whole Court.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A delayed royal pardon

Alan Turing was the father of computing -- check out the Turing Machine and the Turing Test sometime. He was also instrumental during WWII of breaking some of Germany's encryptions and shortening the war. Alas, he was also gay and in 1950s Britain that was a crime. In 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. Two years later he killed himself.

Finally, sixty years later, the Queen has granted a royal pardon. It took a while for laws and public perceptions to catch up.

No way he's going to rule against us

A correction to what I wrote yesterday. I said it was a change in attitudes over time as the reason Judge Shelby didn't issue a stay when he ruled in favor of gay marriage while in the Calif. case in 2009 a stay came with the ruling. The difference was actually in the attitude or confidence of the defendants, which is the state.

Back in 2009 the Calif. defendants didn't know how the case would be decided in the district court. They did know it would go to the 9th Circuit and on to the Supremes, no matter what the district judge decided. So the defendants requested a stay before the ruling was issued in case it wasn't in their favor. The judge could rule on the stay as part of ruling on the case.

This year in Utah the defendants (the state) did not request a stay ahead of time. So Judge Shelby could not rule on the stay as part of ruling on the case. Was the state lazy or incompetent? Or did they believe that in Mormon Utah with a conservative judge there was no way he would not rule in their favor?

Ruling on the stay along with the case meant Judge Shelby would have preserved the status quo until the appeal. He might have been open to that. But with his ruling without the stay the status quo changed. Shelby might believe that yanking same-sex marriage after they've begun is more harmful that not allowing them at all. And they have begun. There is an estimate of 800 same-sex marriages since Friday.

This is really cool: With long lines at the county clerk's office both the waiting couples and the working clerks may not have time to eat. So boy scouts brought pizzas and offered slices to the workers and the waiting couples. Those rainbow neckerchiefs look pretty sweet. Do they offer a merit badge in equality yet? One of the commenters went digging. It appears these boys (and a balding leader) are part of Troop 351 hosted by a Jewish group and led by Peter Brownstein. He was reprimanded for marching in a gay pride parade.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Exporting extreme homophobia

Nigeria's Senate passed a nasty anti-homosexuality bill. It isn't quite as bad as the one in Uganda -- Nigeria limits prison to 5 (or maybe it's 14) years instead of life -- but it comes close. The House already passed a version, so reconciliation should happen quickly and it will soon be on the president's desk.

Eric Ethington, in an article reprinted in The New Civil Rights Movement, notes the anti-gay laws in Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia (and probably a few other places) were highly influenced by a handful of American anti-gay evangelicals. Ethington names three: Scott Lively (charged with crimes against humanity), Rick Warren, and Don Schmierer. We're exporting extreme homophobia. Ethington wonders what we in America can do to make them stop.

Who is harmed?

When the judge in Calif. ruled on the same-sex marriage case back in 2009, he immediately added a stay. He knew it would be appealed and didn't want the problem of same-sex couples having their marriages dissolved.

Law professor David Cruz lays out the four factors that are considered before a stay is granted:
* Is the party requesting the stay likely to succeed in appeal?
* Will the party requesting the stay suffer irreparable harm if the stay isn't granted?
* Will there be lack of harm to the opposing party if the stay is granted?
* Will there be any risk of harm to the public?

In the Calif. case the answer to the first question was a big unknown. Nobody knew how the Supremes were going to rule. As for the third question, would there be more harm in allowing same-sex couples to marry and then dissolving the marriages or in not allowing them to marry at all? So in 2009 a stay was appropriate.

But times are different and the Supremes have ruled. So when the Utah Governor and Attorney General asked the 10th Circuit Court for a stay in same-sex marriages the result was quite different. The Court said the party requesting the stay hadn't proven they or the public would suffer harm. So please go ask the district court judge and if you come back please provide more information.

Update: correction here.

The state asked the 10th Circuit, um, perhaps you can issue a stay until the district court judge is asked about a stay? The reply: We told you to ask him first.

One of the judges refusing the stay was Judge Jerome Holmes. He's black and so conservative he's described as the "next Clarence Thomas."

So the state went to Judge Shelby of the district court to get a stay. They claimed there is a "cloud of uncertainty" because all those same-sex couple marriages might be overturned on appeal. Peggy Tomsic, the lawyer on behalf of the gay couples behind the case, wasn't impressed
Tomsic argued that the state’s reasons for asking for a stay were no different than the reasons that initially used in previous arguments. She said that if those arguments were not compelling enough to win initially, they were not compelling enough to win a stay.
Judge Shelby wasn't impressed either. The hearing was 70 minutes and his denial of a stay was issued less than an hour later.

A commenter wonders if Shelby would have been more willing to declare a stay if the state and the Mormon church hierarchy hadn't said nasty things about the "activist judge" over the weekend. Judges do not like to be dissed.

All that means in the meantime marriages in Utah will proceed. There were long lines in county clerk offices early this morning. In Salt Lake City the line wrapped around the building's atrium -- and around the atrium's balcony. Alas, there are a handful of counties that are refusing to issue marriage licenses.

I've started to read Judge Shelby's ruling on the marriage question. Both sides requested summary judgment, meaning the facts are so obvious you can rule in my favor without bothering with a trial. From what I've read I get the impression that Shelby ordered the trial to proceed on January 7th, but through his preparatory work discovered he didn't need a trial after all. That's why the ruling caught everyone off-guard.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pecking away at public institutions

Raul Gardea wrote an editorial for Next New Deal which was reprinted in Truth-Out. He talks about "Corporate Education Reform" in which big corporations and foundations are pushing various ideas, methods, resources, and technologies in education because they and their cronies will make big profits from them. Gardea is disappointed that a Democratic administration has bought into these ideas, especially high-stakes testing, in which the fate of teachers and schools is dependent on student scores on standardized tests. A big result of the emphasis on tests is a widening achievement gap. Suburban moms can make sure their children get the best. Poor urban moms are too busy working two and three jobs to be engaged in her children's education.
It really is all about money. Merit pay, standardization, union-busting, school closures, austerity budgets, unregulated charters, all coupled with persuasive messaging and the endorsement of both major political parties means corporate reform will make a few people very rich at the expense of equity and inclusiveness. Education is just another avenue where the profit motive has been pecking away at the remains of public institutions that we spent decades building.
The solution is to ignite progressive populism and switch from ideology to pragmatism. Alas, Gardea doesn't go into how to accomplish that.

Equality and growth

Prez. Obama appears to be making wealth inequality the central issue of the rest of his presidency. Perhaps he should take lessons from Elizabeth Warren. He tends to hedge his remarks. She lets it rip.

But there is a bit problem Obama must face, says Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast. Americans talk about fairness, but don't care that much about it. Those who live comfortably are afraid that if more is given to the poor it is going to come out of their hides. What most people (except the 1%) want is for the economy to grow. And we know what policies will help make that happen, even though the GOP does its darndest to prevent those policies from being enacted. Thos policies include: get rid of all hints of trickle-down economics and the idea that gov't budget cuts promote growth. Then keep or rebuild regulations that protect the consumer. So Obama's task is getting the Democrats, left and center, talking in terms of growth.

I recently heard Elizabeth Warren was asked if she might run for president. She responded that she will focus on completing her term in the Senate. Which is about the same answer Hillary gave this far ahead of the 2008 elections. But that got me thinking I would much rather have Elizabeth than Hillary.

Wind and solar or nuclear?

Now all the little things that have come up during the last week.

Frank Schaeffer, the Pennsylvania pastor recently defrocked, has been offered a job by the bishop of the California-Hawaii region. The bishop can't guarantee a church appointment and the pay will be less, but the job is supposed to have all the rights and responsibilities of a regular minister.

I'm not sure how that will work, because there are some tasks, such as officiating at communion or a wedding, that must be done by a pastor with credentials. I feel a bit ambivalent about this job offer. It is great that he is being offered a job so quickly and that it will be in the Western Jurisdiction where he would not be prosecuted if his credentials were restored. But Pennsylvania needs more advocates than California does.

Richard Harris reported on NPR's Morning Edition that California's carbon emissions went up, not down, last year and did so by a huge 10%. The reason is the state had to shut down a nuclear power plant.

Which highlights the big energy debate. Wind and solar energy is cheaper and faster to install than nuclear. But one needs tens of thousands of wind turbines to match one reactor. Can we build that many wind and solar arrays fast enough? Can we motivate governments to make it happen? The answers differ.

A big item in the news this week was a study that showed multivitamins are worthless and perhaps harmful. One reason they aren't effective is that particular vitamins are only needed by a small percentage of the population.

But my dietary work over the last few months has another explanation. Though the article doesn't say so, the studies were probably done with synthetic vitamins. The article didn't mention it because most of us consider synthetic to be identical to natural vitamins. But what I've learned is that natural vitamins come with all sorts of related compounds that help the body use the vitamin. Synthetics don't have those related compounds, so the body can't make use of them. Thus they are ineffective.

An article in Mother Jones (I finished the March 2013 issue my dad gave me) notes that the world seems to be running out of phosphorus. It's a problem because it is a vital component of fertilizer and nearly all of the supply is controlled by the royal family of Morocco. But this wouldn't be a problem if we switched from fertilizer back to manure.

When I was young I played Johnny Appleseed in a small skit. From the time he did his work in the early 1800s until the early 1900s America had thousands of varieties of apples. Many of them have disappeared and corporate farming and marketing has made room for maybe 20 varieties. Because apples are my favorite fruit I was fascinated by the Mother Jones article about John Bunker of Maine who is doing all he can to track down and revive as many of the old varieties as possible. The apple at the top of the corporate list is Red Delicious, which I believe was named to hide its lack of flavor. Corporations occasionally do come up with new varieties. But they aren't heritage varieties that attract Bunker's attention. They are new varieties -- for which the corporation holds the patent.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's Freaking Utah!

Another big Christmas gift. Though a ruling wasn't expected until next month, federal district court judge Robert Shelby has declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. He agreed that marriage is defined and regulated by the states, as Utah asserted (which was their way of telling the feds to butt out). But such laws still have to comply with the national constitution.

Dozens of gay couples in Utah dashed to county clerk's offices and Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker was available to conduct ceremonies. State Senator Jim Dabakis was one of those who quickly married his partner. The clerk's office closed at 7:00 so the line was cut off at 5:00 -- with 75 couples in it.

Shelby did not stay the ruling pending appeal. The state Governor and Attorney General have now filed the appeal with the 10th Circuit Court, but apparently did not file a stay at the same time. A commenter named Cowboy, a resident of Utah, noticed something important. The ruling was issued on a Friday afternoon before a holiday. It could be January 4th before a stay could be issued. And only someone truly hateful (alas, they exist) would want to undo all the marriages that could happen in the meantime.

One reason why filing a stay might take a while is that "Utah’s elected Attorney General John Swallow resigned last month in the wake of multiple corruption investigations." The acting AG, Brian Tarbet, wants to make sure he gets all the details right.

This little bit is so delicious! Shelby pulled Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in last summer's Windsor case that struck down DOMA and used it against him. Scalia wrote:
In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion. As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion . . . is that DOMA is motivated by “bare. . . desire to harm” couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.
Scalia was warning that if the Supremes strike down DOMA it will provide rationale to strike down state same-sex marriage bans, so we shouldn't strike down DOMA. Shelby said, yep, striking down DOMA provides rationale to strike down same-sex marriage bans. Thanks, Tony.

Shelby, already called an activist judge overriding the will of the people, was nominated by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the conservative Republicans.

Rachel Maddow contrasts the Uganda story with the Utah story. She also wonders if this decision is different from all the previous ones because "it's freaking Utah!" Or is it because this is the first federal ruling after last summer's Supreme ruling which shows a successful way to attack those 30 marriage protection amendments. The video is 14 minutes. She notes that the bill in Uganda and the law in Russia were driven by Fundie American anti-gay lobbyists.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin had to update his map of what states have marriage equality. He had added New Mexico just the day before. A commenter adds that not being able to keep this kind of map up-to-date is a delightful problem to have.

In this map two states stand out. One is Pennsylvania. Someone noted it is possible to take Amtrak from Washington, DC to Boston (or Portland, ME) and Philadelphia is the only stop where same-sex marriage is illegal. They're working on it. The other state is Arizona, surrounded by Calif, New Mexico, Utah with equality and Nevada and Colorado who have all the rights without the word "marriage." But don't expect a change in Arizona soon.

In related news, the GOP in New Mexico are considering a marriage protection amendment. Gov. Susana Martinez, also GOP, said efforts are better spent elsewhere, such as with education and the economy. She could have added that though New Mexico didn't have a marriage protection amendment the ruling was written as if there was one -- meaning the state Supremes have already ruled it unconstitutional.

Improved to just life in prison

There has been an anti-homosexuality bill floating around the Uganda Parliament since 2009. It has been put on the agenda several times for political reasons, such as a possible distraction when an unpopular oil bill went through. Much to the surprise of many, since it was not on the agenda, it was brought up for a vote yesterday and passed. There are some reports that a quorum was not present for the vote. This is a draconian nasty bill with restrictions so tight that almost anyone could be accused of something in the bill, leading to all sorts of mischief. The only nice thing is one of degree: the death penalty was exchanged for life imprisonment for "repeat" offenders. There is a tiny glimmer of hope: the president of Uganda hasn't given his assent.

Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) strongly condemns the bill and urges the president to return the bill to Parliament without assent.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Mexico!

The state's Supreme Court, by unanimous decision, has said same-sex couples may marry. Starting now. A few months ago individual counties in New Mexico began declaring (some by court order) that they would offer marriage equality. The various county clerks got together to ask their highest court to clarify the issue. And now it is clear. NM will be the 17th state (though it takes effect in NM before it does in Illinois).

Ari Ezra Waldman, who writes the law column for the blog Towleroad, was succinct:
Regular readers of Towleroad's law column already know the basics: The constitution--in this case, a state constitution--guarantees equal protection of the law. Denying marriage licenses to certain individuals simply because of their sex or sexual orientation is unequal treatment that the state has to justify. Because the LGBT community has long been a victim of institutionalized and insidious discrimination, the state has a high burden to meet, a burden we call "intermediate scrutiny." The supposed justification that restricting marriage to opposite sex couples prevents accidental children out of wedlock is no justification for discrimination because marriage has never had anything to do with raising children. Because the state cannot meets its burden, the discrimination is unconstitutional. Gays can marry.

It is remarkable that this legal narrative has become so simple, so obvious, so matter-of-fact that we can summarize it in a paragraph and move on.
Waldman expands on all that. He notes that the ruling by the national Supremes and the cases that led up to it make a case like this pretty much a formula.

In this case the only reason that was given why New Mexico should prohibit marriage equality is "responsible procreation." Waldman wrote:
The only real argument for treating same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently when it came to marriage was that keeping marriage an exclusive right of heterosexuals advanced the state goal of encouraging "responsible procreation." That is, that because opposite-sex couples are the only ones that could accidentally have children, they need marriage to keep children inside the marital union.

That, of course, is preposterous on many levels. And the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed. Marriage, the justices said, had never been associated or dependent upon child rearing or procreation. And banning an entire group of marrying would, in any event, do nothing to encourage an entirely different group to marry.

Timothy Kincaid has a map that shows our progress at the end of the year. In this year the count of states with marriage equality has jumped from 9 to 17. And don't forget DC.

On to appeal

United Methodist Rev. Frank Schaeffer went before his region's Board of Ordained Ministry at the end of his 30 day suspension after the trial for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding. The Board demanded he surrender his credentials. He refused. They responded that they consider his credentials surrendered. He promised he would appeal to the Northeast Jurisdiction.

A while back the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration said the denomination's various boards and agencies can extend same-sex benefits to partners of employees. Now they warn that if you are a pastor who works for these agencies and you apply for same-sex benefits you might lose your credentials. That's because filling out the application means you admit to being a "practicing homosexual" and are banned from being a pastor.


News of the week…

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation will have a float in this year's Rose Parade, their third. This year the float will feature a real live ceremony of a same-sex wedding. Yup, right there during the Parade! Their slogan is "Love is the Best Protection" from AIDS. Though I'll be visiting family that day we'll have to watch the parade.

Prez. Obama has announced that he and Michelle will not attend the Sochi Olympic Games. Neither will VP Joe Biden. Instead, America will send a delegation who are not current athletes in his place. This delegation will include two openly gay people -- tennis star Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow who is Olympic silver and bronze medalist in women's hockey. Can you say snub?

Figure skater Brian Boitano will also be in the group. That has many commenters wondering: He's gay, isn't he? Why doesn't he just come out already? Then he did.

Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder was asked about civil rights protections for gays in the state. His answer: yeah, nice idea, but don't expect me to lead the effort. This needs to be a dialog and I need someone to have a dialog with. Certainly not the GOP controlled legislature.

I wrote a few days ago that New Jersey Democrats wanted to pass a marriage equality law and that we could end up the losers. That bill has been withdrawn.

A lesbian couple filed a challenge to the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage. But it isn't a recent case -- it was filed nine years ago. And nothing has happened, not even a date for a hearing.

Brandon Ambrosino, writing in The Atlantic, explores the idea that it is possible to be against marriage equality and not be a homophobe. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin agrees, going on to explain a bit more. A homophobe torments us out of animus. That may not be true of everyone who is against marriage equality. It could be they (1) believe the lies of the homophobes, (2) are still caught up in the religious associations with the word marriage, (3) haven't gotten used to the idea yet, or (4) they are still back in 1994. That last indicates that with each passing year it is harder to be an opponent of marriage equality and not be a homophobe.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Refuse to surrender

A month ago Rev. Frank Schaeffer was put on trial and convicted for performing a same-sex wedding for his gay son. His punishment was a 30 day suspension, to give him time to consider the consequences of his actions, repent, declare he won't do it again, and pledge to uphold the Book of Discipline "in its entirety.

Those 30 days are almost over. Schaeffer says he will continue to advocate for us and, if asked, will perform another same-sex wedding. He says he cannot support all of the Book of Discipline because parts are discriminatory. He has also refused to voluntary surrender his clergy credentials. It is up to the denomination to take the action to defrock him.

Schaeffer received hundreds of messages asking him to stand firm, to refuse to surrender his credentials. Three of those messages were from bishops.

Joanne Brown, now age 60, met and fell in love with Christie Newbill, age 65. The two have declared each cannot live without the other. They were married in Seattle on Dec. 7th this year with Rev. Patricia Simpson officiating. It's a wonderful story of love.

But there's a problem. Actually, a string of problems. Joanne Brown is Rev. Brown of the United Methodist Church. Christie Newbill is now Rev. Christie Brown, also a United Methodist pastor. Rev. Simpson is, again, United Methodist. And the ceremony was held in Tibbetts United Methodist Church. Which means: (1) both brides violated the ban on pastors being a "practicing homosexual," (2) The site of the ceremony violated the ban on using denomination facilities to host same-sex ceremonies, and (3) Rev. Simpson violated the ban on officiating at same-sex ceremonies. So, yeah, there might be big consequences. All of the parties are prepared to pay the price of love.

There is one thing in their favor. Seattle is in the Western Jurisdiction, which has instructed its bishops and pastors to act as if those bans do not exist. The local bishop might ignore any complaints that are filed.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Proceed to checkout

Similar to many other people I've found it is sometimes cheaper to buy individual MP3 files of music rather than buying a CD. That's especially true if I want only one track of the album. Most of the MP3 files I've bought over the last couple years have been from Amazon. The process was fairly easy. I downloaded their "MP3 downloader." When I bought a track or album the downloader would put it on the C drive (though I wanted it on the F where there is more room) and tell Windows Media Player to put it in its library.

I had discovered a few things I wanted to get so yesterday evening I did my browsing and was soon ready to order. I clicked four items into the MP3 cart. I clicked on the button that said something like "Proceed to checkout." This time a little explanation text appeared and asked me to click again. My purchases would go into the Cloud Player and I could download it from there.

I didn't want it on the Cloud. I don't have a variety of devices I want to play the music on. I want the actual file, not the rights to use the file.

So before I completed the purchase I found their customer service and called. That person was very kind and patient as she walked me through the process. But I was on the phone with her for at least a half hour.

Yes, the purchase went directly to the Cloud Player, though I was assured it could be downloaded from there. So I bought.

First there were problems getting a proper view of the Cloud Player that showed my purchases and didn't have a popup in front of it, a popup with no close button. That one confused my guide.

Then the Cloud Player went through my purchase history, every CD I had ever bought through Amazon that had an MP3 equivalent, and loaded all those tracks into the Player. When my guide said I could find my latest purchases by clicking on the "Recent Additions" button I got all 403 tracks. We had to come up with search words to find what I wanted to download.

But the Cloud Player didn't seem to recognize the downloader program. I started it up manually and up popped a box to say that this was an old version and didn't I really want to upgrade? Perhaps, but not now! I had already been on the phone a long time and did not want to sit there to wait for an upgrade to install, especially one that might want me to close all programs and reboot my computer.

Finally, I could find the new tracks, select them, and the downloader worked. Of course, MP3 files are not small and it took a while. The service rep was, bless her, patient and saw me through to the end. She assured me it would all go much more smoothly the next time. I'm not sure I want a next time.

The wrong side of a political game

A couple months ago the New Jersey Supremes ruled that same-sex couples must have marriage on the same terms as straight couples. Gov. Chris Christie decided not to pursue an appeal.

The NJ Democrats are annoyed. Though Christie vetoed the marriage equality bill, because he didn't appeal the Supremes' decision he came out smelling like a rose. He can tell Fundies he vetoed the original bill and is on their side and he can let gays assume he's changed his mind.

So, the state Dems want to pass a law affirming marriage equality, because you see the Supremes could change their minds. I'm puzzled why, if they changed their minds, they can't simply strike down the new law. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin sees the whole thing as a political game -- with us as the losers.

First problem: The Dems want to force Christie to sign the bill and annoy the Fundies, or veto the bill and annoy gays. But there is a third possibility -- Christie could ignore it for 45 days, at which point it becomes law without his signature. His rosy smell remains intact.

Second problem: The ruling by the Supremes does not have a religious exemption clause. The bill does. It may have a hard time passing if it didn't. And even though there are fewer exemptions granted than in the bill Christie vetoed, that there are any exemptions implies religion trumps gay rights and gay marriages are still a teensy bit less than straight marriages. This is why Garden State Equality opposes the bill.

So Dems are looking for ammo to use against Christie, should he run for president. But it is an iffy scenario and will be at our expense.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gay around the world

Now that classes are over and exams graded I have a bit of time to check out what has been sitting in my browser tabs. Back at the end of October British actor Stephen Fry released a two-part documentary (each an hour long) titled Stephen Fry: Out There. I watched the second episode this evening (the link to the first wasn't working).

His aim is to explore how gays live around the world and to explore homophobia. In this episode he went to Brazil, Russia, and India. He thinks India is the most open (though this is before the recent Supreme Court reversal) to gays, though not to transgenders.

He also speaks to a couple of lawmakers who are trying to make our lives difficult. The one in Russia created the local St. Petersburg version of the anti-propaganda law that went national last summer. His goal is to figure out why these people are so homophobic. I don't think he gets an answer to that question. They definitely rage just as loudly and spout the same nonsense we hear in America. So the answer is likely the same. We threaten their patriarchal power by refusing to take part in it.

Good guys can stop the bad guys

Every so often my dad hands me a few things he has read that I might find interesting. Whenever my computer takes a while to do something (this one is 8 years old, yeah, it is time for a new one) I grab something to read. I finally took the top item off the latest stack Dad had given me several months ago. This one is the Mother Jones magazine, the March/April 2013 edition. Dad indicated I should read the OutFront article Hits and Myths. It is ten claims made by pro-gun groups that don't stand up to facts. Follow the link for stats.

#1 They're coming for your guns. A fantasy that citizens will have to (get to?) face down the gov't. Fact: law enforcement and military has 4 million guns. Civilians have 310 million (which is enough for every person in the country to have one). The odds are 79 to 1 in favor of the civilians.

#2 Guns don't kill people--people kill people. Fact: There is a strong correlation between percentage of households with guns and gun deaths per state. Meaning: people with guns kill people.

#3 An armed society is a polite society. Facts: Drivers with guns are more aggressive. Concealed guns owners threaten others with their guns. Stand Your Ground laws are linked to a 7-10% increase in homicides.

#4 Good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys: Fact: That hasn't happened in the last 30 years. 20% of emergency room shootings involve guns taken from guards.

#5 Keeping a gun makes the home safer. Fact: Guns at home are involved a lot more in assault, suicide, and accidents than in defense.

#6 Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer. Fact: More likely the gun will be used to escalate an argument and increase the likelihood of injury and death.

#7 Guns make women safer. Fact: 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than by male strangers.

#8 Violent games deserve more blame. So what's up with Japan? It spends more on video games yet the US had a thousand times more homicides in 2008.

#9 The number of Americans owning guns is increasing. Fact: Fewer Americans own guns, though it appears each owner owns more of them.

#10 We don't need more laws, we need to enforce the laws we have. Fact: 40% of legal sales are ones that don't require background checks. Because of the NRA there hasn't been a head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for six years.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

And one step back

In 1860 the British rulers of India wrote a law, known as Section 377, banning sodomy. Back in 2009 the Delhi High Court overturned the law, giving sexual minorities freedom from arrest and imprisonment for up to ten years.

In a decision handed down yesterday India's Supreme Court shocked the local gay community and many people around the world when it reinstated Section 377 and then said only Parliament can overturn it. Many say this ruling contradicts India's constitution. The Times of India lists the reasons why this ruling was a shock. One reason is that the Supreme Court has put the private lives of citizens into the hands of Members of Parliament.

Gay citizens may not be imprisoned all that frequently with the law back in place. But they will face extortion by police -- pay me a bribe or I turn you over to the courts.

Gay City News in New York delves into the case in lots of detail, exploring the court's reasoning. One part of the ruling is annoying and contradictory. The Supreme Court criticized the High Court because it relied on judicial rulings outside the country. And yet,
In answering the Delhi High Court’s concern about legislating morality, the Supreme Court justices pointed to the dissents made by US Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in the 2003 Texas sodomy case in which they argued government has a right to enforce its moral views.
Nothing like digging up the worst. That 2003 case was the one that legalized gay sex in the United States.

Some feel Parliament won't try to repeal the ban before elections this coming spring. The conservative party is gaining ground. Yet, a few current Members are looking to repeal the ban soonest.

Back starting in 2005 a World Values Survey asked citizens of many countries how they felt about homosexuality, among other things. The national feeling was on a 10 point scale where 10 meant everyone felt homosexuality was just fine. United States has a score of about 4.5. India now has the highest score, at 3, of countries that criminalize gay sex. So India is not a great place to be gay.

Erik Voeten of the Washington Post ponders why some countries with scores lower than India's do not criminalize gay sex. Some are countries that never criminalized it. These were not colonies of France or Britain. Others are parts of international groups (such as those under the European Court of Human Rights) that demanded their sodomy bans be repealed. Alas, removing a sodomy ban does not make a country less homophobic.

Protest ghettos

The International Olympic Committee is sending a letter to each national delegation reminding athletes that "No kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." That means athletes better not protest Russia's anti- gay propaganda law.

Russia is throwing a bone in our direction. There will be "protest zones" where people may say anything they want without any fear of reprisals. No doubt these "protest ghettos" will be far away from Russian TV cameras -- perhaps in Siberia?

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post talked to two people from Russia who told him how bad it is for sexual minorities in their home country. The anti-propaganda law has given lots of people permission to discriminate and beat up gays, even though the law says nothing about that. And it looks to get worse -- there is talk of a bill to be introduced that would remove kids from gay parents. And that introduction will be the day after the Olympic Games close.

The organization Immigration Equality provides information about immigration and asylum in America. They have seen a big spike in inquiries from Russia. For a couple months inquiries from Russia have topped those from Jamaica (notoriously homophobic).

I had written that the pro-Russia side of the protests in Ukraine had a homophobic slant. Randy Potts of Box Turtle Bulletin says that message isn't getting very far. No matter how much Ukrainians hate gay people, they hate Russia more.

And in the voting booth

I gave my second and last exam today. Grading should be rather swift tomorrow. I’m pretty sure my student passed both classes. My first day back is January 14, which means the break is a week longer than what I usually get.

I had an appointment with the physiologist of the weight-loss program of my traditional medical center. I'm down three pounds since I saw her five weeks ago. Since I'm having a lot more success with the diet from my Ann Arbor nutritionist we agreed my work with the physiologist is concluded. That may change a couple months from now if my insurance company mandated weigh-in still shows me as borderline obese rather than merely overweight.

While with the nutritionist I asked her about the success rate of those on her program (the one that didn't work for me). She said they don't have hard numbers, though that is changing. Those who are successful (there are some) are the ones who put in the effort. To me that sounded like saying if you don't lose weight in our program it's your own fault, not the fault of our diet. She went on to say not all diets work for all people and she's pleased I found one that works for me.

Time has designated Pope Francis as their Person of the Year. In just a few months he has started to change the conversation from doctrine to love.

I'm pleased to see that Edie Windsor ended up #3 on the list. She's the one behind the case that prompted the Supremes to overturn part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Last week I had written that the Australia Capital Territory had claimed that their "same sex marriage" was not "marriage" as the federal gov't defined it, so was legal. The High Court didn't buy that argument and ruled only the Federal Parliament can expand marriage law to include same-sex couples. As part of their ruling the High Court said that in the constitution "marriage" means "any two natural people." So when the Parliament does get around to marriage equality (sigh), it can't be challenged as being unconstitutional.

There were five days between the time the ACT same-sex marriage law went into effect and the High Court struck it down. Yup, about 30 couples took advantage of the time. And this ruling dissolved those marriages.

Marriage equality will be on the ballot in Oregon next November! They collected over 116,000 signatures in 4 months. The enacted their constitutional ban in 2004 (the same time Michigan did, and they were the only state with a lower percentage of yes votes than Michigan). They're likely to be the first state to repeal a ban by citizen vote.

The prospect of a vote is not greeted by everyone on our side, as I see from the comments. The largest objection is that rights should not be put up for a vote. Another is that the stream of nasty campaign ads will damage the psyches of gay youth. There are also those who say it is a waste of time and money. We should wait for one of the many lawsuits heading to the Supremes that will bring marriage equality nationwide.

Others respond by saying the only way to get equality in Oregon, other than waiting for the Supremes, is by this vote. And if Oregon votes it in, our chances with the Supremes are that much better. We can show the Supremes "we've had wins in the state legislatures, in the state courts, in the Federal courts, by Federal proclamation, AND in the voting booths."

Monday, December 9, 2013

If racism has ended

A week ago the Republican National Committee sent out a tweet praising Rosa Parks for "her role in ending racism." How sweet. They, of course, received a ton of scorn. Wait! they said. We meant to praise her for "her role in fighting to end racism." Hardly better.

The problem, as Terrence Heath delves into, is that racism has not ended. I've heard of Driving While Black, the situation in which a black person is stopped by police for something that would be ignored if a white person did it. Heath, who is black, also lists, Flying While Black, Seeking Help While Black, Biking While Black, Working While Black, and Walking While Black.

Heath explores the latest: Standing While Black. Three black youth were told by their coach to stand at a particular corner and he would come by on the team bus and pick them up. A cop appeared and told them to disperse. They had a dilemma -- stay and annoy the cop or leave and annoy the coach. They stayed. The cop started slapping on handcuffs. The bus pulled up and the coach, who is black, tried to intervene. The cop told him to leave or be arrested as well.

Ancient history, right? Nope, it happened the week before the RNC tweet.

Heath goes on to list the everyday racism that many blacks encounter, such as not getting hired because the applicant's name is too black.

No, racism has not ended. It may be a lot more subtle, but it is still psychologically damaging. So why is the RNC so eager to declare that it has?

Because they want to get off the hook.

If racism has ended, then it isn't racist to be a member of a whites-only organization.

If racism has ended, it isn't racist to pass a voting law that "hurts a bunch of lazy blacks."

If racism has ended, then using racial slurs is just fine.

If racism has ended, the Confederate flag can make a comeback.

Heath lists a lot more examples.

If racism had ended then we don't need to talk about it anymore. That means racist policies and ideology will go unchallenged. But those policies won't have ended.

For another perspective Australian comedian Aamer Rahman does a three-minute video on reverse racism.

The anti-gay guy is in charge of the news

Vladimir Putin has consolidated various branches (the ones who showed some independence) of the state news organizations into a leaner conglomerate. He then appointed a strong homophobe to head the whole thing.

NBC will be covering the Olympics in Russia in February. They have hired Dave Remnick to look at the "meaty" issues surrounding the Games. That apparently includes the anti- gay propaganda law. I don't know Remnick, but commenters to this post were not impressed with the choice.

There have been huge protests in Ukraine because the gov't is backing away from a trade deal with the European Union and aiming towards one with Russia. A counter protest, one that wants closer ties with Russia, is also been going on. One major component of their message: Russia opposes homosexuality just like we do.

Minimum wage used to feed a family of two

I wrote a long post about the current lack of nutrition in today's food. As part of that I said that crops were not being nourished because of the prevalent use of chemical fertilizers instead of manure.

The NPR program Radiolab did a 20 minutes segment on water treatment in New York City. One part of it considered what to do with the poop -- uh, biosolids -- that is left over after treatment. At one time it was shipped to Colorado, by what were called poop trains. It was spread on fields to great effect. Alas, other disposal methods were slightly cheaper. Wouldn't it be worth the extra expense (and it wasn't much per person) to revitalize our food?

For most of the 1960s and 70s the minimum wage was enough to keep a two-person family above the poverty line and in 1968 was enough for a three-person family to stay out of poverty. Since the early 80s a worker can earn minimum wage and still be poor. It is good to hear Obama calling attention to the working poor and to know Sen. Tom Harkin is proposing a raise in the minimum wage -- this time indexed to inflation.

A really cool work of art has been created to honor Nelson Mandela.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Capitalism without owners

German President Joachim Gauck is the first world leader to announce a personal boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics. It is understood to be a response to the Russian government's violations of human rights. Gauck has been in office since March 2012 and has declined all offers to visit Russia.

Back in 1953 famous composer/musician Leonard Bernstein tried to renew his passport and found the FBI had a few questions. These questions were similar to the ones many of his colleagues in music, theater, and film faced when before Joseph McCarthy's House U-American Activities Committee. Newsweek documents the harassment Bernstein faced over the next 20 years. That included a memo sent by Nixon (or his staff) claiming that the music Bernstein wrote for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971 would be anti-war and would embarrass the government.

But why is it news now? One reason is Bernstein's humiliating apology for past associations has been published as part of The Leonard Bernstein Letters. Another is to remind us that the NSA, with all its data, can abuse its power and harass citizens under the guise of protecting us from dangers.

At the moment, food labelers can use the word "natural" to describe a food with any level of processing, which makes it meaningless. There is now a movement to give the word an official definition, similar to what was done for "organic" several years ago. Yes, there is a battle brewing on what "natural" means.

When a person owns stock he or she has a (likely small) voice in how the corporation is run. I have lots of investments, all in mutual funds. Which means I have ceded my voice in the corporation to the mutual fund manager. While I might be interested in employee rights and environmental sustainability, the fund manager is only interested in making money. And that means the corporation (such as Twitter, newly into issuing stock) listens to the fund manager (likely a member of the 1%), and not to me.

This "capitalism without owners" is one reason why CEO pay is so high. Stock markets full of big fish means the big fish can finagle the market with their strategies to the detriment of the small investor. So unless the individual has a lot of time and knowledge the market becomes riskier and should be left to the big fish. Which gives them more weight to throw around.

Transparency International has released their Corruption Perceptions Index. It features a score and ranking on how corrupt a country's government is perceived to be. Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand are at the top with a score of 90 out of 100. United States is 19th with a score of 73. 70% of the 176 countries have a score below 50. Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia are at the bottom with a score of 8.

I note this measures how corrupt a country is perceived to be, not how corrupt it is. Yes, I'm aware that second value might be hard to compute. I bring this up because I think the United States is scored too high. Now, gov't officials might not be taking a lot of bribes as defined by the methodology of these rankings. But to my eyes, all that secret (and not so secret) campaign money amounts to the same thing.

The religion of a corporate person

Two cases have been accepted by the Supremes that are of indirect interest to us. Both have to do with religious exemptions and the Affordable Care Act. The retail chain Hobby Lobby wants an exemption from the requirement in the ACA that mandates availability of and coverage for contraception. Spokespersons for the company say they want the exemption on religious grounds. Lawyer Ari Exra Waldman explains why it matters.

Yes, it makes sense for a Southern Baptist Church to refuse to marry gay people. It also makes sense for the Catholic Church to refuse contraceptives to its employees. These exemptions are an essential part of the institution's message.

Hobby Lobby bases it's claim to an exemption by saying the corporation is a person under the law and, as affirmed in the Citizens United case, that corporate person has free speech rights granted by the First Amendment.

Also in the First Amendment is the free exercise of religion and a corporate person should have that right too. Therefore if contraception violates religious beliefs of the corporation, that corporation should be exempted from providing contraceptives.

Rubbish, says Waldman. He wrote:
Certain clauses only apply in certain situations, to certain actors, given certain contexts. To transport one doctrine to an entirely separate area of social and legal life is too simple and just wrong.

In addition, it makes sense to exempt churches where banning contraception is central to the organization's message. But Hobby Lobby's message is the sale of merchandise and contraception is irrelevant to business.

The reason why we should be concerned is simple. The same people in a snit over contraception also want legal permission to discriminate against us.

Commenters offer a few more thoughts.

Why do the religious beliefs of the employer get to trump the religious beliefs of the employee? That's especially important since the employer doesn't cover 100% of the employee's medical costs.

One reason for creating a corporation is to legally separate the business from the owner. Why then should the owner's religious beliefs have anything to do with the business?

If an employer can deny contraceptives can it also deny HIV treatment?

Why do Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs not extend to its business with China? The chain buys lots of its merchandise there and they have this one-child policy.

Hmm… six of nine justices are Roman Catholic.

Hearings haven't been held yet. A ruling probably won't be announced until June.

Inconsistent with the current consensus of medical opinion

My nutritionist asked me to read the book Back to the Basics of Human Health by Mary Frost. I paid a deposit for it, which I'll get back if I return it in good shape (or I could just keep it). I also got a quiz; the answers are obvious when I read the book. Here are some of the things it explores in detail.

* A great many of modern diseases are flourishing because our diet no longer provides sufficient nutrition. In 1950 an orange contained 50 mg of vitamin C. Today it contains 5 mg. A big reason is we replaced nutrients in the soil, previously supplied by manure and other natural sources, with fertilizer. That replenishes only the basic materials for plant growth. And industry makes a profit from fertilizer.

* Healthy plants can combat fungus and insects. But modern farm plants aren't healthy. That requires the use of lots of harmful pesticides and fungicides.

* Congress enacted a food protection agency (what eventually became the Food and Drug Administration) in 1906. It was captured by the food additive industry in 1912 and since then serves their interests, not ours. Remember how for years studies "proved" cigarette smoking was harmless? That has been going on in the food additive industry since the 1930s. Sound nutrition science has been drowned out by this industry.

* Oils from seeds, including canola and cottonseed, are made using components of gasoline.

* The goals of processed food are (1) taste great and otherwise be appealing, (2) be inexpensive to create, and (3) have a long shelf life. Nutrition has nothing to do with these three goals, though if a nutrition angle can be exploited for advertising, so much the better. If we could last as long as the food on our shelves.

* Should city water be fluoridated? Perhaps with calcium fluoride. But it is sodium fluoride that is added. That is created as a waste product of aluminum smelting. It is considered a hazardous material and companies would have to pay to have it neutralized. There is so much industry-sponsored science that Congress won't let the FDA test whether sodium fluoride is actually safe. A diet that includes proper nutrition protects teeth better than fluoridation can.

* Vitamins in natural whole form are more than one kind of molecule. They appear with various "enzymes, co-enzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, activators, and other unknown factors" (I take "unknown" to mean "not studied"). But the vitamin industry (a big business!) only supplies the basic molecule. When the body sees that it draws on its reserves of the factors, etc. to use the vitamin. When those are depleted the vitamin cannot be used by the body. Which means one can suffer from a vitamin deficiency while taking the synthetic vitamin. It is, of course, the synthetic version that is added to processed food.

* Complete vitamin complexes are natural cannot be patented; isolated synthetic molecules can be. And patents lead to profits.

* Very few doctors study nutrition in medical school. Because they're the doctor and you're not, they tend to discount ideas and research not included in their training. In addition, all nutrition research in medical schools has been funded by the vitamin industry.

* Because vitamins and associated compounds are so complex, science doesn't know how to study them. Research deals with one compound at a time. So only synthetic vitamins are studied.

* Daily recommendations of vitamins are based on what they do for rats, not humans.

* Processing food takes natural vitamins out and replaces them with synthetic. The FDA only knows how to label synthetic vitamins because that's all that is standardized.

* Anti-oxidants are hyped by the vitamin industry to sell more synthetic substances that are only as useful as synthetic vitamins.

* Effects of malnutrition (such as not consuming whole vitamins) can be passed on to later generations.

* Dr. Royal Lee founded the company Standard Process to create products that contain whole vitamins. He was harassed by the FDA because they reviewed his promotional materials and concluded it was "inconsistent with what they contended was the current consensus of medical opinion" and thus "false and misleading." The battle resulted in a Consent Decree requiring Lee to burn all his "misleading" research. Fire barrels burned for a month. Yes, in the USA in the 1960s. America is under the control of food companies.

* As I've already seen in my own dietary experience, the highly prescribed low-fat diet is the wrong thing to do. To have energy the diet compensates with high carbohydrates. And that leads to weight gain, diabetes, and a whole host of other problems. Yes, the standard weight-loss diet leads to weight-gain and disease.

* The low fat diet became standardized as healthy through "a jungle of mishaps: scientific 'leaps of faith,' political agendas, media frenzies, and food industry concoctions." A leap of faith: First, the general rule (later proved false): "carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories, so cutting fat will be faster in cutting pounds." It sounds so reasonable. Second is the leap "from cholesterol-lowering drugs and health to cholesterol-lowering diet and health." Not that the drugs improved the chances of avoiding a heart attack all that much.

* Another leap: After World War II heart disease began to sweep the country. Dr. Ancel Keys proposed that the culprit was fat. What he used for evidence isn't reported. But Keys ignored another possibility. The food industry created C-Rations for the troops and were now putting all they learned into the nation's food. The rise of heart disease corresponds to the rise of processing and the use of additives.

* Fat in the bloodstream comes from three sources: Fat we eat. Fat converted from the carbs and protein we eat. The fat previously stored in the body. That means for a diet to be "low fat" it must be low carb. A high carb diet triggers a lot of insulin that a high fat diet doesn't. And lots of insulin causes lots of medical problems -- high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease -- in addition to obesity.

* The normal treatment for high blood pressure is a low fat -- and thus high carb -- diet. When that doesn't work (and it doesn't) you become a lifelong consumer of cholesterol and blood pressure meds -- to the delight of the drug industry. Which means the drug industry is pushing the low fat diet so they get more customers.

* Excess carbs lead to excess insulin, which leads to insulin resistance and pancreas burnout, which leads to diabetes.

* Cholesterol is a basic component of cell structure and brain function. LDL (the "lousy" kind) carries cholesterol from the liver, where it is created, to cells. HDL (the "happy" kind) carries excess and waste cholesterol back to the liver for disposal. It is this transport that a blood test looks at. Insulin -- not cholesterol in the diet -- raises LDL. Insulin also increases the buildup of plaque -- LDL based deposits in blood vessels -- which causes heart attacks.

* Heartburn isn't caused by excess stomach acid. It is caused by insufficient stomach acid that leaves food undigested, which sits in the stomach and ferments. The results of that fermentation is what causes heartburn. Standard antacids reduce what is already in short supply. Good nutritious food allows the body to create the proper stomach acids.

* Heartburn is only one of many digestive problems caused by improper diet. There is a long list of diseases that result from nutrition-free food and food additives: carpal-tunnel syndrome, low birth weight, asthma, ADHD, easy bruising, painful joints, slow healing, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, rage and anxiety, and craving of sweets. Most of these problems develop so slowly we attribute them to getting older -- even by people in their 30s.

* Milk is a good source of calcium as well as the enzymes to use the calcium. But pasteurization kills the enzymes, leaving the body unable to use the calcium. So go for raw milk. Alas, I haven't found a raw cheese that I like.

* The dietary solution: no sugar (and most sweeteners aren't better), low carbs, high protein, high fat -- though the right kinds of fats, lots of veggies, not many fruits (and none as juice), enough water, lots of exercise, and whole food supplements (as in vitamins that are not synthetic).

There is a big question remaining: Why believe this book (and my nutritionist) when it is so inconsistent with the current consensus of medical opinion? Some thoughts:

* Current medical opinion doesn't know how to properly manage the hypoglycemia I was diagnosed with almost 3 decades ago (though today they say I'm not really). They could not explain why I was hungry an hour after eating and strongly urged me to see a psychiatrist. My nutritionist proposed a diet that manages my sugar level quite well.

* I would use my weight lost as a reason to believe this book, but I haven't lost enough and kept it off to offer it as proof.

* I've had an ongoing skin problem for more than 20 years. Various doctors only treated it. My nutritionist thinks my current regimen of supplements will cure it within a few more months. Again, not proof yet.

* From what I've seen in various other aspects of commerce and government (especially the entire GOP) I can readily believe that the food industry controls the FDA and that the profit motive, not nutrition or safety, controls what is in our food.

* Some aspects of this book -- organic is better, whole grains are better than refined, whole fruit is better than juice, processed foods aren't healthy, sugar isn't good for you -- are things I've heard from other sources.

While much of this can't be taken as "proof" the book makes sense to me. I'll believe it a lot more than I would believe the claims thrown at me by the processed food industry.