Friday, February 28, 2014

Selling out on rights

The new Uganda anti-gay law can get one into deep trouble quickly. Suppose you protest this law. You would be convicted of the "related offense" of attempting to promote homosexuality. The penalty might be acceptable and, in the spirit of conscientious objector, worth the price. Suppose you do that a couple more times. Then you are convicted of being a "serial offender," one who is guilty of aggravated homosexuality. Penalty: life in prison. Meaning, you can't even protest the law.

Scott Lively is a nasty homophobe and one of the Fundies who went to Uganda five years ago to stir things up, resulting in this law. His opinion of the law: It won't be so bad. The law may sound harsh, but courts are usually pretty lenient.

Tell that to the 200 people who were outed -- name, address, occupation -- by the notorious Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper.

Several nations have declared they will withhold aid to Uganda, starting with Norway, Denmark, and Netherlands. I don't have a list of them all. In addition, the World Bank is delaying a substantial loan. The cost is being felt in Uganda. The currency is starting to drop. Global companies, who want to maintain their gay-friendly image (and protect their gay employees) may slow down, stop, or even pull out their investments. Alas, waiting in the wings are such countries as Russia and China.

James Schneider, in an article for The Independent, thinks the West's response to Uganda is wrong and likely to do more harm than good, though Uganda isn't an angel. We sexual minorities, along with women, are quite aware that governments have had a long habit of sticking its noses into the sex lives of its citizens. But it is new to see sexuality a part of foreign policy.

The West says our response is because of our commitment to human rights. But why wasn't the West this worked up when Uganda's military committed crimes at home and in nearby Congo? There wasn't much reaction to President Museveni's power grabs, flawed elections, arrests of opposition leaders, attacks on protesters, corruption scandals, increased surveillance, and approving a law that arrests women for incorrect clothes. It seems Obama (and other Western leaders) are merely burnishing the progressive credentials to keep constituents happy.

Yes, Museveni is also doing it for political reasons. And the sexual minorities of Uganda will suffer greatly. Gay rights leaders are thankful for our support, but they fear they will be the scapegoats when leaders feel the economic or international pinch.

When Western leaders are inconsistent in their condemnation of abuses of rights they blunt their argument. Support gay rights but not voter rights and your reasons for those rights become meaningless. Outsiders see the willingness to sell out on rights for political or strategic interests.

Museveni is telling his people that the West is promoting homosexuality and are social imperialists. If we get around to speaking out against all those other abuses Museveni can again accuse us of promoting homosexuality and social imperialism. The West is playing into his hands.

In the comments Schneider clarifies his main point: The West should not keep quiet about the anti-gay law. It should, however, be consistent and make noise about the other rights abuses. And while you're at it, start making noise about other rights abusers, such as Saudi Arabia.

Teaching bad science

Spring Break has started at my college. Because of my schedule I have 12 days before I'm back in the classroom. So it is time to do a few necessary tasks. Taxes is one of them.

Another was to snake out a couple slow drains, one in the bathroom, the other in the kitchen. They were to the point where drain cleaners help, but only a bit. The actual process isn't all that difficult since my plumbing has fasteners that can be turned by hand. Even so, it is awkward (sitting on the floor in front of a cupboard isn't my best position) and messy. But doing it myself is a lot cheaper than having a plumber do it.

The kitchen drain is back together and doing well. After I finished I ran the dishwasher without getting a flood. Alas, I have a problem with the bathroom drain. The fastener won't go on straight. This one is just after the trap, so one pipe makes a bend just above the joint and the other just below. I'm not sure if that is what is causing the problem. I know that no matter what I've been able to do by the time I give the fastener a half-turn it is crooked. And if I tighten it anyway it leaks. I called the guy who installed the bathroom three years ago (he's also done lots of other work around the house), but no call back yet.

For a while I can use the second sink in the bathroom. It has been a long time since I used it. Why clean two sinks? But if I use it for very long I'll have to snake the drain.

Ryan Anderson, one of the drivers behind the current flurry of "religious freedom" (license to discriminate) laws, revealed something in his Twitter stream. At one time lots of people defended racism and slavery as being mandated by their religion. Today, Anderson says racism is wrong. But his statements show that he doesn't see anti-gay discrimination as wrong. Meaning he isn't for religious freedom. He is for his religious freedom.

Yesterday I listed several states dealing with license to discriminate laws. I may not have been correct with the status of each of those laws. Some of them, in addition to the new one in Missouri, might still be in play. But the spectacle in Arizona certainly took the wind out of several sails, enough of them that Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin thinks Arizona was a turning point.

His commenters aren't so convinced. They note the bill in Idaho was withdrawn until they "find the right language." And if this concept doesn't work the Fundies and conservative will find other ways to nibble at our heels or look for another target.

Speaking of nibbling…

Gabrielle Jonas of Newsweek reviews how most school textbooks in America come to be -- they are reviewed by the Texas Board of Education and if there are objections (including from church and industry people), the book is revised. And since Texas is the biggest (and loudest) market they control what is in textbooks for the entire country. The latest efforts in Texas:

* Nibble away at evolution by pushing doubts of the theory and of science in general.

* Nibble away at the science of global climate change by again pushing doubts.

Yes, there is a constitutional protection against teaching religion in public schools. But there isn't any protection against teaching bad science.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

One more polar vortex

My thermometer currently shows 7F. Weather reports speak of another polar vortex. We used to just call them a cold snap. This one should let up by the weekend.

Adam Mann of Wired Science says another cold snap this late in the season (though winter officially lasts another three weeks) is a Good Thing. It prevents the thick snowpack that's been sitting in my yard (and covering the street with bumpy ice) from melting too quickly and causing flooding.

Dude, I hate to disagree -- given that you're the science writer and I'm not -- but the possibility of flooding will be there whenever the temperatures warm up, whether it is now or a month from now. And temperatures of 25F are just as good at preventing melting as 5F. What will reduce the chance of flooding is slow warming -- days of 35F with nights of 25F. Alas, with our climate out of kilter, we're just as likely to get days of 55F or (as happened two years ago) 85F. That's when we'll get flooding.

This cool image is of the polar vortex in January created by NASA. Yes, northern Alaska was warmer than Missouri.

Don't turn their parents into outcasts

The gay marriage trial in Detroit so far has been about whether gay couples are fit parents -- whether allowing them to raise children will result in poorly adjusted children, whether gay parents are too risky. That prompted some musings from Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson.

Want to minimize risks to kids by limiting who can get married? Perhaps we should ban marriage to those who are poor, who make less than $30,000 a year. Maybe we should withhold marriage licenses from those who didn't finish high school. What about those with substance abuse? Perhaps those with a genetic predisposition to violence?

Um, that last one… would ban all men from marriage.

If we don't like keeping the poor, those not well educated, and alcoholics from the wedding chapel it is just as silly to deny marriage to same-sex couples. But these less than optimal parents are still going to continue having children and will still raise them to adulthood.

So if you are interested in the well-being of kids, don't turn their parents into outcasts.

Yesterday I said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the license to discriminate bill after hearing from lots of people and companies. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has the lengthy list.

Of course, there are some, such as Rush Limbaugh, who are convince that for Brewer to veto the bill she must have been bullied by gay people and their allies.

Now that Arizona (or at least the governor) has come to its senses, we're done with this nonsense, right? Um, no. A similar bill has just been introduced in Missouri. Sigh. Thankfully, matching bills in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Maine, and Idaho have already been tossed out. And it seems a bill in Mississippi has been so watered down that nobody is interested in it anymore.

In keeping track of all these cases about marriage equality I'm learning a lot about legal jargon. I now know what a "stay" is. I've seen the Circuit Court map a few times. I've learned about "summary judgment" (everyone agrees on the facts so no trial is necessary).

Yesterday's marriage equality ruling in Texas has a new term, "preliminary injunction." This is issued before a trial to stop the state from enforcing a bad law. To get an injunction the plaintiffs must (1) show they are likely to succeed at the following trial, (2) the damage being done by the law is irreparable, (3) such damage outweighs the damage to defendants, and (4) the injunction is good for everyone.

Which makes me wonder, if the damage is irreparable and outweighs the damage to defendants, why does it make sense to stay an injunction?

Most of Judge Orlando Garcia's ruling is now ordinary and routine (and only four years ago it was groundbreaking!). Even so, there are a couple things to mention as analyzed by Ari Ezra Waldman.

First is that Garcia thinks the case is strong enough and the consequences bad enough that denying same-sex couples to marry warrants an injunction.

Then there is an elaboration of the irreparable harm. Waldman wrote:
Every day without the opportunity to marry and every day with a law on the books that says gay love is illegal is demeaning, a threat to dignity, and an erosion of freedom and personhood.
The usual stuff is the Equal Protection violation… Waldman wrote:
Banning gays from marrying does not encourage heterosexuals to marry. And gays are amazing parents. All the traditional arguments fail to explain why anyone would want to prevent gays from marrying. The only thing left is hatred, and that doesn't fly.
… and Due Process:
Judge Garcia noted that all the plaintiffs want to do is exercise their right to choose whom to marry. They are not, as the State of Texas argued, trying to create a "new" right to "get gay married." Marriage is marriage.

From the reactions of several Texans, including Gov. Rick Perry, they still haven't come around to the idea that the federal constitution trumps state law and that there is such a thing as tyranny of the majority.

The discussion in Kentucky has been going something like this:
Federal judge: That ruling earlier this month that said the state must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages is now final and you must comply.

State AG: Wait! Please give us 60 days to file an appeal. You must issue a stay!

Federal judge: No. I said you must comply now! And you gay couples that want to get married in the state I grant your request to join this case.

So same-sex couples in Kentucky may go elsewhere to get married and have their home state recognize it -- at least until the AG can find someone to issue a stay.

According to US Attorney General Eric Holder it is appropriate for state AGs to refuse to defend same-sex marriage bans in their states. He's extending to them what he is doing himself.

The growing acceptance of gay people allows Free Press cartoonist Mike Thompson to turn a well-known gay scene on its head.

Demolition derby

Need a job? Willing to do demolition or deconstruction work? The city of Detroit could use you. The city's bankruptcy plan will likely contain an item to spend a half-billion dollars to demolish all of the 80,000 blighted homes and do so in the next five years. That means 400-450 a week (after the first year) or 90 houses a day. So, yes, workers will be needed. So will somebody to handle logistics. There's also a big need for landfills -- that many houses will produce lots of stuff needing disposal.

I mentioned demolition or deconstruction. The first is to knock the building down in the least costly way possible. The second is to do it in a way that saves all the materials for reuse. Needs more worker time but less landfill. Some used building materials might become rather cheap.

John Gallagher is a writer for the Detroit Free Press and has written a couple books on how Detroit (and other industrial cities) might be revived. I've read one and a summary of the second. This past Sunday the Freep published an interview he did with Thomas Sugrue, a leader in Urban Studies and author of the book The Origins of the Urban Crisis. Back in the 1980s the Reagan presidency popularized the term "trickle-down economics" in which tax breaks for the wealthy trickled-down to make everyone richer (most are still waiting for their trickle). Sugrue says there is an idea of "trickle-down urbanism" which works about as well as the economic version of the phrase.

Richard Florida made a lot of noise a few years back with his idea that attracting a diverse "creative class" improves a city. Happily for us gays were an important part of that creative class.

But Sugrue says the effect is limited. Yes, the downtown area (and, in Detroit's case, Midtown too) gets revitalized and draws people with significant education. That draws in coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries, and general vitality. But only to those neighborhoods. But that does little for those farther down the economic ladder and for the neighborhoods where they live. To help them a much larger and intentional investment must be made in the kinds of jobs for which they are trained.

One thing that might truly help with revitalization is attracting immigrants -- exactly what Gov. Snyder has been saying.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


In San Antonio Federal District Judge Orlando Garcia has ruled the state ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The language of the ruling is stuff we've heard before, including references to Supreme Court precedent. The ruling has been stayed pending appeal to the highly conservative 5th Circuit Court. Two opposite rulings from Circuit Courts may appear soon, forcing the issue to the Supremes. Since Texans are willing to let their bigotries be known (even showing some pride in them) perhaps this judge has made an investment in personal security.

That nasty permission to discriminate bill in Arizona was vetoed by Gov. Brewer. I hear the Gov. got an earful from business leaders saying the bill was a bad idea. That included the National Football League threatening to relocate the Super Bowl scheduled for Phoenix next year.

The start of the trial in Michigan

The Michigan marriage equality case got underway yesterday. It may last until the middle of next week. This trial is unusual in two ways. First, there is an actual trial. I don't think that's been done since the Calif. case in 2010. Most of the judges in recent cases have relied on written testimony, not living witnesses. Second, since this case had its beginnings as an adoption case the central question is whether gays and lesbians are fit to be parents and worthy of state recognition. It will be good to get all of that -- the bad science and the rebuttal -- into the public record. Once the trial has ended the ruling could come hours, days, or weeks later.

I think Between the Lines will have daily online articles. The one that reports on yesterday's proceedings says the state's witnesses, the ones who say gays are bad parents, will appear later in the trial. Yesterday, the critics of that junk science started making their case.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Legalize pot, polygamy, and animal sacrifice

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has an analysis of the text of the permission to discriminate bill passed in Arizona. The bill couldn't directly mention gay people or discrimination because those would be immediate red flags for any court. That's because in the mid 1990s Colorado approved a sweeping anti-gay amendment and the Supremes shot it down. To get around that problem Arizona made the bill more general, allowing any religious group to disobey any law that is contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Burroway explores the extremes of that argument. A Muslim landlord could refuse to rent to a single woman. A Muslim homeowner could refuse to pay interest on his mortgage. A divorced Muslim could refuse to pay alimony. That means this bill would legalize Sharia law in Arizona. Commenter Jim adds:
What Arizona has done is (1) legalized pot, for Rastafarians and anyone who wants to claim to be one; (2) legalized polygamy, for Muslims, fundamentalist Mormons and traditional African religions; (3) legalized animal sacrifice, for practitioners of Santaria, Voodoo, Satanism, etc.; (4) given everyone days off work for religious holidays (employers cannot force employees to work Sundays if they claim to be Christians).
Commenter Ben in Oakland wrote that he would like to see businesses display signs:
We are members of the (__________) faith. We reserve the right to refuse to provide goods or services to anyone because of their sexual orientation or religious beliefs, whether real or perceived.
Gay people and their allies would then know to avoid that business. Alas, it has been tried already -- in the Jim Crow laws.

Rob Tisinai, also of Box Turtle Bulletin, gives his take what this bill might imply. He summarizes it all to a few simple points:
• The bill expands the definition of “person” to include, well, anything.

• The bill expands the notion of religion to include things that are not compulsory, central, or possibly even part of your religion — in other words, just about anything.

• The exceedingly subjective interpretation of “substantial burden” can include things that do not seem reasonable, sound, or consistent in a court of law; the tautological definition of “substantial burden” can include just about anything, given the wording of this bill.

• The mandated standard of strict scrutiny can strike down, well, not anything, but a huge and not entirely predictable chunk of the state’s laws.
Emphasis in the original. All that means this bill would come close to trashing the rest of Arizona's system of laws. Arizona could become a lawless place (as in worse than now).

I've been referring this mess as a bill. That's because the governor hasn't signed it yet. There is, of course, an effort to convince her not to from the business community and from both Arizona senators. And then there is the case of three state senators with voter's remorse urging the gov. to veto a bill they voted for. If those three had voted against it would have been a 30-30 tie.

Mourn for Uganda

Ugandan president Museveni has signed the anti-gay bill. It doesn't contain the death penalty that was a part of the bill for the years it sat in Parliament. Instead, it does include lifetime imprisonment (and in some Ugandan prisons there isn't much difference). The text of the approved version of the bill is now available. It is quite encompassing. And nasty.

Five years ago today Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin was the first Western news source to report that American Fundies put on a three-day anti-gay conference in Uganda. It was this conference full of fiery rhetoric that prompted anti-gay rallies, vigilante campaigns, rising violence, and blackmail that culminated in this anti-gay bill.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Power without responsibility

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin explores the political calculation of Uganda President Museveni as he decides whether to assent to the draconian anti-gay bill that Parliament passed.

Some countries said they would cut off aid to Uganda if the bill becomes law. That aid is about 20% of the budget. But Ugandans are so homophobic they are willing to forfeit that support.

Obama talked of strained relations. But Uganda is next to Rwanda, Congo, and Southern Sudan, all areas of unrest (to put it mildly). Uganda provides peacekeeping troops. Will Obama be willing to risk American national security by not having that small stabilizing influence?

There is also the political maneuvering as Museveni tries to sideline rivals for the next presidential election.

In this bill Museveni can exercise the power and avoid the responsibility. He didn't want it, Parliament approved it anyway. He asked scientists for advice and he can use their recommendation for cover. And since lawyers are ready to challenge the bill in various courts it could be tied up for a couple years. Even if the courts uphold it he can say they approved it, not him.

But Museveni may actually be at least ambivalent about the law. At Obama's apparent urging, he has asked the US gov't to work with the local scientists to answer or clarify a few key points in the report the scientists produced. Is he looking for a way out?

Then there is the curious matter that the press release put out by the National Resistance Movement about the scientist's report differs in key ways from the report itself. I'm not sure what the NRM is, so I don't know how this has influenced the proceedings.

Easy on the sparkles

Now that I have time -- no evening program to attend and no more figure skating on TV -- it was time to go back and watch the hour of Olympic Opening Ceremonies I missed when my VCR machine stopped working. My friend and debate partner thankfully gave me one that he isn't using anymore. I used it to tape-delay a couple of the figure skating programs, such as the ladies free skate.

First I tried to liberate Opening Ceremonies tape from the old machine. I did remove a few covers to peer into the guts. But I couldn't get to the tape itself or figure out how to release it so it would eject. I didn't bother reassembling (and have surely forgotten which screw goes into what hole by now). Next summer when there is an electronic waste collection…

Then I tried to find the video online. The 3 hour video I saw almost two weeks ago isn't there anymore or is well hidden. YouTube lists lots of videos saying Opening Ceremonies "full" but the video length is 2 to 15 minutes, so it isn't much of the complete show. I did start one that was almost 2 hours, but it was a series of talking heads, not the actual ceremonies. I went to the NBC site, which has some videos, but each segment was only 2-3 minutes with 15 seconds of commercial at the start of each one. I watched two, which were cool, but there was no commentary to understand the story. So, I'm done with the Opening Ceremony. I guess I won't see it.

As for viewing the men's figure skating that happened when my cable box messed up, I'm not even going to try.

I suppose I should comment on a Newsweek article about gays in figure skating before the Olympics are over with. Yes, the article was published before the games started and I'm behind in both reading and commenting. The article can be summed up this way: If a guy says he does figure skating lots of people assume he is gay. And there is a good chance the assumption is correct. But a "gay sport" doesn't play so well to audiences, supporters, and sponsors. So it doesn't sit so well with judges. That means there is a lot of pressure for male skaters to "man up" (trousers, not tights, easy on the sparkles). And female skaters are ladies and not women (skirts, not trousers). And please don't even think of coming out until you're done competing.

When I visited Russia back in 1991 I was able to get sets of the wooden nesting dolls as gifts. I don't remember the themes of the sets I gave away. The one I kept for myself has the theme of the Gulf War (Kuwait Liberation War?). The dolls are the world leaders of the time: Bush I, Helmut Kohl, Francois Mitterrand, Gorbachev, with Saddam Hussein as the smallest of the set.

In protest of Russia's anti-gay propaganda law there is now a set in rainbow colors. Alas, they don't feature Russian gay icons, but (strange for a Toronto artist) American: Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, and Jason Collins among them. I understand the hazards of putting gay Russians on the dolls, so I suppose it is good they weren't used. Then again, they could have used dead gay icons, like Tchaikovsky and Nijinsky.

Just being decent seems radical

Last Wednesday I wrote about a study showing that sexual minorities in high-prejudice areas had a life expectancy 12 years less than their straight counterparts. Now the same group has released a second study. Those pushing the high-prejudice environment -- the anti-gay bigots -- also tend to have a lower life expectancy, though in this case it is only 2.5 years. The reasons are similar. All that anger results in higher blood pressure and heart disease. Chronic stress is not good for health.

In response to the permission to discriminate law just passed by the Arizona legislature, Rocco's Little Chicago Pizza in Tucson put up a sign, "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona Legislators." The owner also has a few related Tweets. "Being a legislator is a choice." And… "Funny how just being decent is starting to seem radical these days."

Niraj Chokoshi of The Washington Post GovBeat notes that since June 2012 attorneys general from six states have announced they won't defend their state's ban on same-sex marriage. The six states are Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada, and now Oregon.

If one is losing the argument based on facts a common tactic is to switch to attacking the character of the opponent. This is something the GOP (and others protecting power) is very good at. That tactic is, naturally, playing out in the climate change debate.

And scientists are fighting back. Michael Mann of the Earth System Science Center is suing the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for libel. In particular Mann was accused of manipulating climate data and his employer had covered up the fraud.

Because it ain't libel if it is true, this case is a chance for both climate change scientists and deniers to present their facts in court. So, yeah, climate change is on trial.

Speaking of climate change… over the last week we've had snow, a bit of warming, followed by snow that was rained on, followed by more cold. Which means the streets around my house are lumpy sheets of ice. Not much sliding, but lots of bouncing. The temp is now 35F, warm enough to melt the ice on sidewalks (likely to refreeze, which was why my neighbor was out with his shop-vac sucking up the puddles on his front walk). I'm hearing a forecast of another bout of polar-vortex for next week, the last week of February.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cannot withstand a constitutional challenge

Though Oregon is likely to be the next state to abolish its marriage protection amendment at the ballot box (likely next November), there is also a court case to overturn that amendment. Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon Attorney General, has said she will not defend the amendment in courts. She asked the court (I think it is a federal district court) to go straight to summary judgment (don't bother with a trial) because she says the law "cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge." Win at the ballot box? Great! Win in the courts? That's fine too!

The organization Reporters Without Borders has created a map showing how various countries deal with freedom of the press. Russia, for example, is a bright red for "Difficult Situation" and China is black for "Very Serious Situation." While Scandinavian countries are white for the top "Good Situation," the United States gets only a yellow "Satisfactory Situation." According to the report it is because of Obama's hostility to whistleblowers, such as Chelsea Manning, who released lots of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010.

Feel you don't fit within the gender binary? You're not comfortable as male and not quite female either? Facebook now allows you to list your gender as "male" or "female" or "custom." And under custom there are now about 50 options. Some of those are "bigender," "female to male," "genderqueer," "intersex," "neither," "other," and "two-spirit."

The no wedding cake for gays bills

The Kansas religious freedom act, essentially the permission to discriminate against gays act, is officially dead. It wasn't just the warm-hearted sentiments of the state's GOP senators. Opponents of the bill made sure legislators knew what they were thinking. That group was made up of:

* Small business leaders. If an employee refuses to provide services to gay people does the business owner need to have extra employees around who will provide the service? Are the employee's beliefs strongly held? Will discriminatory employees be discriminated against by employers as just not worth the nuisance to have around? Let's not get into those games.

* Progressive churches. Led by the Episcopalians, they focused on the commandment to love one another.

While the Kansas discrimination bill was still in play, Jim Brock of The Rolla Daily News in Missouri wrote an opinion piece to say he didn't think it was very Christian. He bases his belief in Matthew 25:40-45 in which Jesus chastises some of his listeners for not coming to the aid of those in need. Brock concludes by saying:
The holy words of the Bible can be so inconvenient, especially when they don't come from Exodus or Leviticus.

Maine voted down a similar law. Arizona approved another. Dan Savage notes that the one in Arizona is so broadly written that it would permit Satanists to discriminate against Christians. The only ones who would not have permission to discriminate are atheists.

Yes, it is a concerted effort to bring these kinds of bills before any state legislature that offers a glimmer of interest. The effort is pushed by CitizenLink of Focus On the Family and the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Jon Stewart needs only a couple minutes to skewer the no wedding cakes for gays bills.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The most vitriolic "I told you so"

The full Indiana Senate passed a marriage protection amendment. This is not all bad, because they approved the version passed by the House, the one without the second sentence that banned civil unions. Which means it will not go before voters this fall. The legislature has to vote on it again after 2014 for possible voter approval in 2016. And voter opinion might change enough to prevent its passage -- or the Supremes may make it unnecessary.

Perhaps many GOP legislatures want the issue to just go away.

There is a lawsuit filed against the 2011 Michigan law that banned employee benefits for same-sex couples in state and local governments. Gov. Rick Snyder has filed a motion asking the court (not sure at what level) to keep the ban. Snyder's reasoning: banning benefits to gays "'eliminates local government programs that are irrational and unfair' and promotes 'financially sound' local agencies." Translation: offering domestic partner benefits is irrational and unfair because the relationships themselves don't meet a government interest. In addition, allowing governments to discriminate against homos saves money.

Vladimir Luxuria is a former Italian Member of Parliament and is transgender. She has been in Sochi and doing some protesting. She was first escorted out of the Olympic Park and dumped in the countryside. After her second protest she was escorted to the airport. Alas, the International Olympic Committee is just fine with that.

Rachel Maddow had a discussion with Kenji Yoshino, NYU law professor, about the string of gay marriage court victories. What caught my attention was the first part of the 9 minute segment in which Maddow reviews all the cool progressive stuff Attorney General Eric Holder has done in just the last year.

Back last June when the Supremes ruled that the federal gov't must recognize same-sex marriages, Justice Antonin Scalia fumed in his dissent that the ruling will be used to overturn state same-sex marriage bans. And that, according to Scalia, was a Bad Thing.

Jesse Wegman of the New York Times Opinion Pages lists all the cases since then where that ruling -- including Scalia's dissent -- has been influential in the judge's thinking: Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Utah, and Oklahoma with more to come.

Which means when another marriage case gets to the Supremes we all are eager for Scalia "to deliver the most vitriolic 'I told you so' in recent Supreme Court memory."

Teresa Tritch, also of the New York Times Opinion Pages, says the call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is worthy of support, but still inadequate. But why this figure?
But the recommended amount is more a political calculation than an economic one. It is enough to embarrass Republicans for not going along, but not enough to risk alienating business constituents (with the notable exception of the notoriously low-paying restaurant industry.)

First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, VA has affirmed three tenets. From the first two -- Jesus is the way to salvation and the Bible is God's infallible Word -- one gets the impression that these are required beliefs for members of the congregation. So here's the third:
God’s people are called to holiness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship in which sexual activity is appropriate.
Yep, the third most important belief in this church is that the only permissible sex is straight, married sex.

Fine, lots of churches believe that, though it may be rare to put it in the top three beliefs. But there is a reason for highlighting this particular church. It is where Judge Arenda Wright Allen attends and she credits her current success to the pastor there. And Judge Wright Allen is the one who recently struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage. She has mastered the separation between church and state.

Worse than malaria-causing mosquitoes

While various federal district courts in state after state are declaring marriage protection amendments unconstitutional, Africa is moving in the opposite direction. Nigeria has instituted a draconian anti-gay law. Uganda has been stewing over one for several years and is on the verge of implementing it. And Kenya might be next. Perhaps followed by Gambia.

Obama scolded Uganda for their new law in hopes for convincing the president to withhold his consent. Obama said this would strain relations, implying reduced financial support. The Ethics and Integrity Minister in Uganda fired back scolding Obama for using blackmail.

Yeah, there are laws against homosexual sex in Kenya. Those are left over from colonial times. But Members of Parliament are miffed they can't jail someone for simply declaring they are gay. Kenya and other African nations are highly homophobic, so the current climate doesn't need to be stirred all that hard by American Fundies.

The Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, has declared gays to be "vermin" and should be fought more aggressively than malaria-causing mosquitoes.

A study from Columbia University's Mailman School for Public Health found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who live in high-prejudice areas live on average 12 years less than those who live in low-prejudice areas. A lot of the difference is health conditions brought on by stress.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gay love in the opera house

My netbook computer has internet access again. This was part of my internet problem that appeared Thursday evening. While on the phone with the tech guy he adjusted the frequency of the Wi-Fi on my modem so there would be less interference. Then he had me reboot. That's when the netbook told me it needed to install 14 updates and I didn't see a way to tell it that right now was not a good time. I thought about pulling the battery, but the tech guy said to let it proceed. He hung on the line for maybe 15 minutes, then called me back 30 minutes later -- still updating. He called again 30 minutes after that. By then the update completed, the reboot successful, and Firefox had access to the internet again.

But the TV issue isn't resolved, though I didn't try tonight. I'll take the decoder box to the company store for an exchange tomorrow. Which means I missed the first night of ice dancing. Sigh.

That gave me the time to watch the Brokeback Mountain opera. This is the one by Charles Wuorinen and Anne Proulx (the original story's author) recently premiered by Teatro Real in Madrid. The online streaming will be available until the beginning of May.

The music is not in the big romantic opera mode of, say La Boheme. The orchestral music is quite spiky and dissonant, the vocal lines a bit less so. Even so it gets the appropriate emotions across. I thought it was a fine production and piece of music with great singing and acting. It was well worth the two hours. Alas, there were a couple quibbles.

The first is technical. At two spots the video hung with the spinning wait symbol. But this wasn't a buffering problem. I could resume the show only when I clicked just after the halt, missing a bit of it. And the second halt was at a key scene and it wouldn't resume until I bypassed two minutes.

The second quibble was with the story, the same issue that I and many reviewers had with the movie. A big driver in the story is the homophobia that surrounds the gay lovers and that they internalize. Though that was appropriate for the time of the story (1960s-1980s) it is thankfully much less of an issue today. That means the story feels a bit dated.

In spite of that it is wonderful to see a gay love story sung in an opera house. More, please.

The opera is described as being in two acts, but this recording does not have an intermission or an obvious place for it. It will, however, let you pause.

Abnormal behavior which may be learned

The nasty Uganda anti-gay bill is back in the news. Last we heard last month, President Museveni had scolded Parliament for passing the bill without a quorum. But it looks like Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament, is aiming to run for the presidency when elections are held in 2016. Since the anti-gay bill is popular with voters the speaker's push for it would give her an edge over the president. And he very much wants a 7th five-year term. So assenting to the bill balances the political advantage.

To give him cover the president asked a team of Ugandan scientists to explore the basis for homosexuality. The summary:
1. There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality.
2. Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behavior which may be learned through experiences in life.
3. In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexuality tendencies.
4. Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors e.g. culture, religion and peer pressure among others.
5. The practice needs regulation like any other human behavior especially to protect the vulnerable.
6. There is need for further studies to address sexuality in the African context.
A bit of translation (full analysis here):
1. Other factors that Western scientists have found might be in play were dismissed.
2. Note the "abnormal" and "learned" phrases.
4. This is a list of ways that homosexuality might be "learned."
5. Because it can be "learned" but apparently not "unlearned" we've got to protect the children.
6. Should an "African context" affect science?

And that document, incomplete and shoddy by Western standards, is apparently enough to allow Museveni to grant his assent.

Though the president has said in the past he isn't exactly in favor of the bill, asking lawmakers to "go slow," he now seems to embrace it. That's in spite of the international condemnation he'll receive.

It seems the president's people will quietly challenge the anti-gay bill in court. Given that the constitution is "largely progressive" the court may overturn it. So the president gets the adulation of the populace for signing the bill while the court takes the hit. Ah, politics.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why the narrow focus?

Yesterday I mentioned the growing popularity of bills to permit religious people to discriminate. I said there is one in Tennessee. There is also one in Kansas that has already passed the House. Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin takes a look at it.

If a gay couple is assaulted and the thugs are shouting "Die, faggot, die!" should a police officer be allowed to claim his religious faith prevented him from intervening? After all, Leviticus allows for a man having sex with a man to be put to death. That is only an extreme example of what the bill in Kansas might allow.

Tisinai says there are two possibilities. The first is that those calling for the law are frauds. Why aren't they calling for allowing discrimination for divorced couples who want to remarry? How about those who marry outside their faith? Or are you only clamoring for religious liberty when it comes to how to treat gay people? Yep, a fraud.

The other possibility: Someone can find some reason to oppose a given marriage -- birth control is in use, the bride isn't a virgin (and should be stoned), her first husband died and she isn't marrying his brother like she is supposed to. These reasons don't have to be rational or traditional, only sincere. And sudden conversions happen all the time. Which means nobody has to acknowledge any marriage. There would be nothing left of marriage.

Fanciful? Perhaps. Tisinai does have some genuine questions:
If this is about the principle of religious freedom, why the narrow focus on same-sex marriage?

Do you believe all sincere religious beliefs about marriage should be likewise privileged (and if not, why not)?

Do you a have a limit, a line beyond which religious beliefs no longer supersede law (and if so, where is it and why)?

Thankfully, Susan Wagle, President of the state Senate, doubts the bill has much of a chance there. Yeah, her members say, we're all for protecting marriage and religious institutions. We're even for protecting individual moral values. But this is just discrimination.

Virginia is for all lovers

Yes, on this Valentine's Day we can say Virginia is for lovers. Well, almost. Federal District Judge Arenda Wright Allen declared that Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the federal constitution. Alas, she also issued a stay -- though if she didn't, the Supremes would.

Allen did something unusual. On the cover page of the ruling she put a quote from Mildred Loving, of Loving v. Virginia fame. Then in the conclusion she quotes Abraham Lincoln:
It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing–fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.

Mother Jones has a beautiful excerpt from the ruling and also the whole 41 pages.

Law professor Ari Ezra Waldman summarizes what it means. No, this isn't a new right. We only want to exercise an existing right -- like everyone else. Children don't need a mother and father, they need loving parents and studies have shown this. Tradition is not more important than rights. Yes, states may make their own laws, but cannot contradict the federal constitution.

The core of the judge's argument, as Waldman tells us, is this:
We see clearly where Judge Wright Allen's true sympathies lie: marriage is a fundamental right and bans on same-sex marriage interfere with that right. Period.
The case goes on to the 4th Circuit Court. Then the Supremes? There is now speculation the Supremes may ignore the issue as long as circuit courts keep coming down on the side of equality. However, marriage equality cases have been filed in Texas and Louisiana, which will eventually go before the "deeply conservative 5th Circuit." And with some Circuits approving marriage equality and one denying it, only then will the Supremes have to step in.

Sigh. And then there is Wyoming. Rep. Cathy Connolly of Laramie is lesbian and wants to marry her partner in her home state. So she introduced a marriage equality bill. Alas, the state House rejected it 41-17. Is there a marriage equality lawsuit in the works there?

There is also a lawsuit filed in a district under the 11th Circuit. Paul Hard married David Fancher in Massachusetts. They lived in Montgomery, Alabama. Alas, Fancher died in an auto accident. Hard is suing the trucking companies involved in the wreck. Though Fancher died with a will giving everything to Hard, Alabama state law says any money from a wrongful death suit are disbursed according to the rules that are normally used when there is no will. Because Alabama doesn't recognize their marriage, if the suit is successful, Hard would get nothing. That's the reason for the suit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Enjoy the snow while you can

I have a cousin who lives in Charlotte, NC. He sent a note saying he got 9-10 inches with a layer of ice somewhere in the middle. The kids have been home from school for three days and won't go back tomorrow.

A team at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center at the University of Illinois have developed a Winter Severity Index. Whether that translates into a misery index or a wonderfulness index depends on what you think of all that white stuff. The index is based on max and min temperatures, snowfall, snow depth, and how many days until the temps rise above freezing. The computed the index all the way back to 1950. And Detroit so far this season is the most severe since 1950. Yep, even beating out some nasty years in the late 1970s.

Someone who calls himself Gaius Publius, writing for Americablog, reports on a new study on El NiƱo. This is when the Pacific Ocean warms up and causes higher temperatures and more extreme weather. This kind of weather event had been forecast only a few months in advance. Now climate scientists say they can predict one a year ahead of time. And they predict one for a year from now. Which means 2015 will set a new record for highest global temperature. Enjoy the snow while you can.

I wish to withdraw my defense

I was going to start writing this post about an hour ago. Instead I spent it crawling under the desk trying to pull the internet modem around to read the serial numbers on the back that didn't seem to match the provider's records. Yeah, my service was disrupted. It appears all better now. On to news of the week.

The Indiana Senate has approved a marriage protection amendment. This is the version the House passed a couple weeks ago that bans only same-sex marriage, not civil unions. Which means it cannot go before voters this fall. The legislature must vote on it again after the fall elections and then it might go before voters.

At the moment Nevada has a marriage protection amendment but also civil unions. As has been happening around the country, several same-sex couples sued for the right to marry. They named defendants as the governor, attorney general, and a few county clerks. The case is now before the 9th Circuit Court.

A few weeks ago the 9th Circuit said they will be applying intermediate scrutiny to all cases involving gay people. That means there had better be a pretty compelling reason for discrimination and it had better be designed to cause the least damage as possible.

On hearing that the governor and AG said, well golly, the reasoning in our defense won't pass muster. We had better pull out. The county clerks did the same.

That left defense in the hands of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage. Tiny problem -- last summer the Supremes refused to rule on the Calif. marriage case where the sole defendants were a similar group. Which means the Supremes won't take this case on appeal.

The 9th Circuit (which handled the Calif. case) has granted permission for the various parties to withdraw from the Nevada case. So it won't take them long to rule.

A federal district judge in Kentucky has ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages celebrated elsewhere. He did not rule that Kentucky must provide same-sex marriages because he was not asked that question -- all of the couples in the suit are already married.

The judge, John Heyburn, was recommended by KY Senator Mitch McConnell and appointed by Bush I. As part of his ruling he noted many in his state see marriage as instituted by God. But a faith-based limitation does not make it constitutional. He noted that beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, cannot justify denying constitutional rights. He also tackled the issue that his opinion should not trump the voters. The voters also approved the 14th Amendment and its equal protection clause. This law and that amendment are in conflict. It is up to a judge to sort it out. This situation didn't happen suddenly. Judges have overturned several practices we now see as abhorrent. And this marriage battle started 47 years ago with Loving v. Virginia, the interracial marriage case.

My friend and debate partner gave me a VCR machine that he wasn't using. I used it yesterday to record the pair's skating while I was at the Ruth Ellis Center. After watching the last few teams live I was able to play back the few I had missed.

Bah! I have the Olympics on in the next room, waiting for the Men's figure skating to come on. I've checked a few times to see what sport is up. Half the time I got a message on the TV that the connection has been interrupted. So I called my internet provider again. They think the decryption box is bad. I can either wait until Tuesday (and miss the rest of the Men's skating and part of the dancing) or go to their local "store" for a swap.

It seems the latest thing in Fundie states is to propose laws that permit businesses to refuse services that are related to a civil union, domestic partnership, or same-sex marriage. They want a bakery, for example, to be able to turn down making a cake for a gay couple. Yes, this is legalizing discrimination. There is one such bill in Tennessee with more in other states.

A bigoted restaurant owner bragged about how he would refuse service to non-whites, disabled, the unemployed, and (of course) gays. The internet doesn't like a bigot and the swarm descended on his Facebook page and Yelp ratings page. Some gave him high ratings praising his place as a top gay bar. Others gave him low ratings. Might he sue for defamation? Who ya gonna sue?

Let's see if I can see figure skating through the NBC websites… Well, maybe not. I found a video of the Men's short program -- all 4 hours with no way to see just the top skaters. The image seemed to hesitate every few seconds. There was a timer saying I had to sign in after 30 minutes and they would verify some kind of eligibility. And the video had no controls -- no way to pause or fast forward. I didn't think I wanted to be up until 2 am. watching all 30 skaters. And, of course, since NBC has rights, all other news and TV outlets can't let me see what happened, they can only tell me about it -- the favored Russian withdrew due to injury, the favored American fell, a Japanese guy is on top.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Old tech

Grumble, grumble. Yeah, I'm still very much old-tech in some cases. I still have a VCR for recording any TV shows. I use it so seldom -- before the Olympics the previous thing I recorded was the Royal Wedding -- that it isn't worth buying newer tech.

Friday night I went to a concert. The college was able to get some free tickets to the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra through a special arrangement and I figured it would be good to show up with the students. Since I didn't want to go all the way back to campus afterward I drove my own car. The students came by college bus. Alas, the only address the driver had was for the orchestra's business offices, not the auditorium. A colleague, who was with me at the venue, had to call a student on the bus to get it sorted out. Good concert (though not as wonderful as the Detroit orchestra). But it meant I recorded the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.

I watched part of the ceremonies on Saturday, then watched the team figure skating that were broadcast that evening and yesterday. I was ready to watch the rest of the ceremony this evening.

I hit play. The tape popped out and the VCR shut itself off. I turned it on and popped the tape back in. None of the tape controls worked. It wouldn't even eject. Nothing. The VCR would show various operation displays on the TV, but completely ignore me if I pushed play or rewind.

Well, NBC has been saying events could be watched online. So I went to that site and found the page for the ceremonies. It showed me the first part of a playlist of 14 videos. That's when I ran into problems. I could scroll up and down the page, but not scroll through the playlist. *Every* video in the list started with a commercial (and probably the same commercial) with has no way to bypass it. When one video ends it doesn't automatically advance to the next video. So there might be 14 videos in the playlist but I can't get beyond the 6th one. So much for that nonsense.

I searched for videos -- taking out the "NBC" search term -- and found the whole thing has been posted on YouTube, courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I now don't have time to watch it this evening. But it is good to know I can (then I can go back to watch the beginning of the London Olympics ceremony that I missed).

Perhaps I'll watch the pairs skating online afterward since I have rehearsal tomorrow evening.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Running out of money to steal

According to Sarah Dougherty of GlobalPost in an article reposted in Towleroad there are six openly gay athletes at Sochi. Interesting that all of them are lesbians. The article includes another five athletes of international stature who recently came out, some of whom will appear at the next Summer Games.

There have also been several arrests of protesters. Rachel Maddow has a 3 minute report.

Arun Rath, weekend host of All Things Considered on NPR, spoke to Svetlana Zakharova of the LGBT Network in St. Petersburg and Julia Ioffe in Moscow for the New Republic. They say the gay crackdown in Russia is part of the aftermath of the protests against Putin in 2012. Part of the reason for the law is to distract the people from real problems and to blame gays for those problems. Part of it is a push towards a traditional conservative patriarchal image of Russia and the gov't.

In a way it has worked. There aren't big street protests now. Citizens began to see protests as not accomplishing anything. Instead, they are doing quieter civic activism. But the Russian gov't budget has become bloated and oil prices and the economy aren't growing to match. That means the economic elites are running out of money to steal. And that will end badly. Yes, Putin has crushed his opposition. But all he has to show for it is a country falling apart.

Commitment runs deep

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that as far as federal cases in court are concerned, same-sex couples will be treated the same as straight couples. That includes the right to decline to give testimony against a spouse, the ability to file jointly for bankruptcy, receive Public Safety Officer surviving spouse benefits, and the same rights as straight spouses when one of them is an inmate. All programs administered by the Justice Department will treat same-sex couples the same as straight couples.

Holder announced this position during the Human Rights Campaign gala. In his speech he said:
As all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then [in the 1960s], and remains today, know this: My commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep.

More snow

According to the Sunday Free Press weather charts show as of 5 pm yesterday Detroit Metro Airport has received 67.8 inches of snow so far this season. Since I shoveled another inch off my driveway this afternoon, perhaps we can call it 69 inches. The temperature has been so low since November that little of it has melted (as my sidewalk will attest). Which means I'm running out of places to put the stuff. As proof I took pictures this afternoon.

This first image shows the snowbank between my driveway and my neighbor's. I doubt I can put much more snow on it without it simply rolling off. I try to throw as much as possible around the corner of the garage into the side yard.

The second image shows the mound in the yard, which I think is getting close to four feet high. I now try to throw snow over it. Then there is the mound between the sidewalk and the street. I wasn't careful during the first snowfall of the season, so this one sticks out into the driveway by a couple feet. I have to carefully drive around it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Kangaroos in the Middle East

On Tuesday there was a debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis and founder of the Creation Museum, which hosted the event. This museum pushes the idea that the universe was created only 6000 years ago, meaning it is the most Fundie of the creationist positions. The debate was nearly three hours, so I haven't watched it (and won't).

The debate was very well attended, both in person and online. Both men are accomplished speakers and kept the tone polite. Neither side conceded defeat -- in Ham's case it could well be conceding that if creation as described in the bible (and his museum) is not true he would lose his job and his place in heaven. But most outsiders said Nye easily won.

Some of the debate centered on Noah and the Ark. Nye asks how did kangaroos get on board an ark built in the Middle East and how did they get back to Australia afterward without leaving any record in between? How did we get 16 million species today from 7000 species on the ark? How were Noah and three sons able to build a boat big enough to hold that many animals, defying the engineering known in his day? How can there be a tree in Sweden with 9550 annual rings if the world is only 6000 years old or if the flood was 4000 years ago?

An aspect of the debate centered on what we know and how we know it. Can we know something if we didn't witness it? If we witness something now must we infer that it happened the same way in the past? Arguments like that allow Ham to be an environmental biologist and still insist that the earth is only 6000 years old.

William Saletan of Slate says that in one way Nye lost. Nye wanted to show that creationism is "a threat to science, technology, and prosperity." In that he failed. It is possible to believe in creation and still be a working scientist today. Creation myths are easily compartmentalized away from modern things such as paying attention to a doctor who says your sinus infection is more severe because germs evolved resistance to many antibiotics.

Phil Plait, also of Slate, takes on the idea that Nye legitimized the creation theory simply by showing up. On the contrary, he says, with half of the country believing in some form of creationism science can't ignore it. We've been ceding the debate by not showing up. It elevates creationism to a debatable topic, which gets the public talking.

Pat Robertson of The 700 Club is known for making stupid and disgusting statements about gays. But for once he said something sensible. To Ken Ham he said, "To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible." And… "Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves."


News at the end of a busy week…

Scotland's Parliament has approved a marriage equality bill! The vote was 105-18. Such a huge margin! The bill contains the usual stuff about religious institutions who refuse to participate in same-sex marriages are protected from lawsuits. The Parliament in London must approve it, but since same-sex marriage will be available in England and Wales on March 29, this should be only a formality.

A rainbow appeared over the Parliament building as final debate began on the bill. Sign of God's blessing? It seems the Fundie line of reasoning is the rainbow is there to either (1) announce the rains for the next flood in retaliation for accommodating the queers (which has the story of Noah backwards) or (2) God throwing a rainbow up there to remind himself that even though he's super pissed off at the Scots he had already promised he wouldn't destroy all of humanity again. Sheesh.

Elizabeth Warren has a great way of simplifying a debate. Her latest summary in favor of raising the minimum wage:
Full time work should not be rewarded with full time poverty.
That $10.10 that Obama has been touting as a good new minimum wage? It would actually need to be (I think I calculated this right) $11.33 to get a family of four above the federal poverty level. Obama's number comes with an encouragement to work hard. Aren't we doing that already? Why aren't corporations being criticized for overloading their employees with work rather than hiring a few more of the unemployed hordes so their profits can be higher?

Several Minnesota lawmakers put their careers on the line last year when they voted for marriage equality for their state. This year those same lawmakers are hauling in the campaign cash. Many are receiving double and triple what they pulled in back in 2011 and GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo pulled in four times his 2011 total. This year being pro-equality pays.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Whole Foods and power structures

After an afternoon of teaching I went to Whole Foods in Midtown Detroit to replenish supplies. I finished there at about 5:30. From there to home is usually 30 minutes. Today it was 90. Now some of that was because the freeways were crawling and I saw a traffic notice that the express lanes were closed on my usual freeway home. So I tried some surface roads. Traffic was pretty thick on those too. Sheesh, the snowstorm was yesterday -- I got 4 inches, bringing the total for the season close to 60 inches.

That makes me wonder about alternatives to the key product I get there, the ham. At other stores in the area, even the upscale ones, offer ham with preservatives. So perhaps I should try a different kind of protein for my meals and snacks. Even if I stay with the Whole Foods ham I will not be trying to get there after teaching, so that I have to get home during rush hour.

Speaking of Whole Foods and Detroit…

Several months ago I attended part of the International People's Assembly in Detroit. As part of it a speaker talked about power structures and fair treatment of workers. Whole Foods got lumped together with Walmart as something bad for Detroit, though I didn't report it at the time. The bad way Walmart treats its workers made me wonder whether Whole Foods does the same.

The Washington Spectator for February devotes more than half the issue to the bankruptcy proceedings in Detroit. For me much of it was review, though this summary reinforces my belief that the whole thing was engineered to suck up the pensions of Detroit's retirees. The state legislature cut their support of Detroit. They passed an Emergency Manager law, which the people of Michigan rejected, so they passed another one. There isn't enough money for retirees, but there is enough for the city to pay for part of a new stadium for the hockey team. Lots of businesses aren't paying city taxes, but nothing is said about that missing money. The retirees are pitted against the big banks and we know how those battles tend to work out. Retiree Mark Phillips summarizes it quite succinctly.

Which leads some to speculate -- with good reason -- that there are two things going on. One is a simple power grab -- money for the rich sucked out of the pockets of the poor. A part of that is union busting. The other is race-related -- the white power in Lansing can't stand the big city in the state controlled by black politicians.

And Whole Foods? It may not be something against the store or in the way it treats its employees. The issue is more what it represents -- rich white people coming in and buying up the land, leaving nothing for black people. The black power structure being replaced with a white power structure.

The Olympics are on for the next two weeks. A lot of my evenings will be taken up watching the various figure skating competitions (that is, when I'm home). I may need to be creative in reserving time to tell you what is going on.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Views per post

Snow was falling strongly this morning and slowed down my travel to Ypsilanti to rehearse for tomorrow's concert. The trip home was a bit easier because it was raining. We're likely to get more snow tonight. So, snow, then rain, then snow and you can guess what the roads will be like overnight. I hope roads are cleared in time for the concert. We've already had one concert and two rehearsals canceled because of bad weather.

Last month I started a spreadsheet showing the number of views I get in a month (which Blogger will tell me) and the number of posts I write in each month. I filled in data going back to 2010 when Blogger started keeping stats for me. I also get the number of views for each post, but those don't include visits to the blog home page which shows three days of posts. My spreadsheet allows me to include all that to see the average views per post.

Back in September and October the average views per post was in the range of 92-93, the highest it has been. My data show a rather steady drop since then and it was 34 views per post in January. That was masked by my steady increase in the number of posts of 25 in October to 47 in January. My overall views per month stayed high, 2300 to 2470 in Oct. - Dec. But postings in January is a bit below December, at 40, and the views per month was only 1350 last month.

Since I get very little feedback I don't know why this has happened. My guess is my readership in Russia has dropped significantly. Alas, Blogger will only show Russian stats for the last month.

I welcome their hatred

Terrence Heath reports that in spite of GOP efforts in rebranding they are waging a pretty effective war on women. Heath shows a series of images of various Congressional committee meetings and bill-signing ceremonies that feature anti-abortion bills. All images are all or almost all men, almost all white, and certainly all GOP. And the flurry of abortion restricting measures being passed in states across the country:
Last year, 22 states passed new abortion restrictions. According to data analyzed by Mother Jones magazine, of the 330 state legislators to propose or sponsor such bills, 257 — more than 75 percent — were male. The overwhelming majority — 94 percent — were Republicans; only 20 were Democrats. In the states, the restriction of women’s reproductive freedom has been an almost exclusively a white, male, Republican affair.
There is still a big income gap in America. Two-thirds of people earning $10K or less are women. In the middle class range, women pretty much match men. But of those earning $100K-$250K only a third are women. And above $250K less than a quarter are women.

And that income disparity means women are hit harder by GOP policies.

* The Paycheck Fairness Act is stalled in Congress because of too little GOP support.

* Cutting anti-poverty programs hurts women. About one third of American women are in or close to poverty.

* Cutting public-sector jobs hurts women. They hold lots of public-sector jobs because anti-discrimination laws affect those jobs more than private-sector job.

* Refusing to raise the minimum wage hurts women. See the stats above.

So much for "rebranding."

Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column, notes that several in the 1% are quite over the top in their complaints against Obama. Concentrating so much wealth at the top "creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality -- and simultaneously gives these people great power." So they hold and proclaim "political and economic views that combine paranoia and megalomania in equal measure." They make it sound that our economic woes are because of their hurt feelings.

Yes, they are doing (slightly) worse under Obama. Their taxes are a bit higher. There has been some financial reform that limits their exploitation of weak regulations. Their money is a result of wheeling-and-dealing. Their loud response to Obama's efforts makes Krugman think the 1% has some serious doubts about deserving all that money. Which makes their lashing out all the more furious.

Perhaps Obama should claim a phrase from FDR. Roosevelt's actions against the 1% were much stronger than we've managed today. FDR said, "I welcome their hatred." It meant he was doing something right.

I like the outcome, but I'm skeptical of the reasoning. Thom Hartmann has a progressive radio show. I doubt I've heard of him before and the only talk radio I listen to is NPR. Hartmann looked at a bunch of state rankings put together by Politico and said that by a wide variety of measures Americans living in Red states did worse than those living in Blue states. That's the outcome I like.

Wanting to know more I went to the Politico story (though it took a bit to find it). On the first webpage it presents an overall ranking of the states along with the governor's name and the party. New Hampshire is at the top. Mississippi is at the bottom (at 51 -- DC is included). Michigan is 36th. The "R" and "D" designations are rather mixed with Gary Herbert (R) of Utah in 4th and Mike Beebe (D) of Arkansas at 49th.

Page 2 has all the individual stats and rakings for them. This is how Michigan fared:

Michigan's rank, value, range of values

Per Capita Income
34, $25,547, $20,670 to $45,004 (DC is way ahead)
49, 8.8%, 2.6% (North Dakota) to 9% (Rhode Island!)
Population below poverty level
36, 16.3%, 8.4% to 22.3%
Rate of home ownership
3, 72.8%, 73.7% to 42.4% (DC way behind all others)
This one I expected because Detroit was well known for its rate of home ownership, having the highest percentage of single family homes. One can get into a tall building and look across the city and see trees instead of high-rise apartments.
High school graduation rate
21, 88.7%, 92.1% to 80.8%
Life expectancy in years
35, 78.2, 81.3 (Hawaii) to 75.0
Infant mortality rate
38, 7.6, 4.9 to 12.0
Obesity rate
36, 28.5, 18.7 to 33.5
Gallup index score for wellbeing
36, 65.6, 71.1 to 61.3
Income inequality GINI coefficient
27, .4624, .4166 to .5343
Crime rate
39, 454.5, 122.7 to 1243.7 (DC has almost twice the rate of any state)
Percent of employees in Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math jobs
16, 5.6%, 9.7% to 2.7%
Back in 1931 H.L. Mencken, and Charles Angoff did a similar study, though with incomplete data. In that one Michigan ranked 12th. Mississippi was at the bottom.

I'm skeptical of Hartmann's claims because he doesn't show his methodology. Take the data for "R" and "D" states and average them all together? Pick the categories that best show his case? I don't know. And I don't know if I can trust him.

Hartmann concludes by saying that the GOP wants to enact policies such as slash the social safety net, cut corporate taxes, and privatize education and institutions held in common. But the GOP has already done this in the states they control and those policies have already been disastrous to residents.