Monday, June 30, 2014

A new type of running mate

As I've mentioned several times in the past I tend to let stories accumulate in my browser tabs until I get time to write about them. And even though some stories soon get a brief mention others just accumulate. If I'm going to migrate to a new computer I need to clean out all those tabs. With this bunch (and other pruning) I've gone from about 50 tabs to under 30.

John Burnett reported on Morning Edition of NPR that there seems to be a new running mate in GOP (and occasional Dem) advertisements this primary season, especially in the South. Lots of candidates are being shown with a rifle. Some are even shown using it. Political scientist Robert Sptizer says it is mostly symbolic:
Having a gun in an advertisement is a way to summarize your opposition to the Democrats, to Barack Obama, your suspicion of big government, your valuing of individualism, and it also expresses a kind of sense of power that is very appealing to base voters in the Republican Party.
It also has a high intimidation factor.

Deborah Vagins of the ACLU wrote a piece for Huffington Post listing many of the quotes through the years in which conservatives describe the right to vote as a top conservative value. This includes conservative guiding light President Reagan:
[T]he right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.
Vagins also lists strong long-term bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act.

So why, after a key part of the VRA was ruled unconstitutional more than a year ago, have conservatives not acted to replace that key part?

There was a mass wedding during World Pride in Toronto for 115 couples from around the globe. A big reason for the festivities was because many of these couples would not be allowed to get married in their home country – and perhaps a few would suffer imprisonment or death if they tried.

Last week the site Shakesville posted a map made my MSNBC showing 20 states that allow same-sex marriage, 22 where the ban is being challenged, and 8 where the ban has been ruled unconstitutional and appealed. Won, challenged, or appealed covers every state.

That map is already out of date. Things move fast on this issue. Indiana has shifted from permitting same-sex marriage to stayed pending appeal. The stay was issued by the 7th Circuit.

There has been lots of talk that Obama will finally issue an Executive Order preventing federal contractors from anti-gay discrimination. I haven't mentioned it yet, wanting to wait until he actually signed it. Obama is working towards that because the House refuses to take up the issue. It is worth a mention now because 140 religious leaders have asked for the super religious exemptions that are in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed by the Senate. This is the version that gay rights groups are now disavowing because those exemptions are so generous. One might think religious groups would not be affected by this EO, but faith-based groups are contracted by the gov't for overseas relief and development projects.

The Vatican has issued a new document on how member churches are to treat sexual minorities. The doctrine issues remain the same. However, the tone is much less judgmental.

The NPR program On Point did an episode on hospice care. The use of hospice care has grown significantly over the last few years, with more people choosing to spend their last days in that kind of care rather than in a hospital. With the growth in use there has also been a huge growth of for-profit hospice providers. And these companies are out to make a buck off their patients with no concern whether final days are comfortable or not. Agents for these companies routinely prowl hospital corridors waiting for patients to get the bad news. Then they pounce when a family is most vulnerable. Companies that provide home care frequently leave most of the care to the family – including injecting the lower cost pain medications.

So, Dad, now might be a really good time to check out and choose a hospice provider for Mom and yourself for the time you might need it. Please be sure it is a not-for-profit organization.

In honor of Pride Month (ending today), Betty Crocker has posted few rainbow colored desserts.

I don't care much for the music of the band OK GO, but their videos are always amazing. Here's one that explores optical illusions. The behind-the-scenes video is pretty cool too. It looks like there are a few of their videos I haven't seen yet.

My religion trumps yours

The Supremes finished off their seasons with an important ruling. We're going to feel the effects of this one for a long time. And the Supremes are going to be dealing with its implications for a long time.

Summary: The Court has ruled that a “closely-held” (family owned, close to 90% of all companies) may refuse to abide by the parts of the Affordable Care Act mandating some methods of contraceptive coverage if those methods contradict the company owner's religious beliefs. The vote was 5-4. Alito wrote the ruling. Ginsberg wrote the dissent.

The ruling is discussed on gay blogs and I'm using two posts for my sources. They are lawyer Ari Ezra Waldman's post on Towleroad and anti-gay debunker Jim Burroway's post on Box Turtle Bulletin. Here are some of the points they make. There are lots of other general news sources with coverage.

This is not a constitutional issue. The ruling is based on 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that allowed a person to object to and not follow a law that violated religious beliefs. That was later restricted (by the Supremes) to federal laws. This ruling applies the RFRA to family-owned corporations (Burroway asks: “Did Hobby Lobby’s corporate charter have to undergo baptism by immersion, or would sprinkling do?”). Alito wrote that means a business owner isn't faced with the choice of violating religious beliefs or going out of business.

But Ginsberg responded by writing:
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations... The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.
Translation: the religious beliefs of the owners trumps that of the workers. And the Court favors the religion of the owners over that of the workers, which is supposed to be banned by the Constitution. Wrote Waldman:
Never before has someone's particular interpretation of religious scripture been enshrined as law so as to affect so many innocent people.
The Court declared the ruling only covers the contraceptive mandate. There is discussion spelling out what kinds of things they are specifically excluding from the ruling – the ruling doesn't include objections to immunizations or hiring on the basis of race, Those things are covered by other statues and have good reasons for their existence.

Both Waldman and Burroway know better. If I remember right, last summer's ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act declared it could not be used to justify same-sex marriage and over the last year 20 cases have done exactly that.

Ginsberg is wise to that too and lists a variety of cases in the past where religion was used as justification – refusing to serve black customers, refusing to hire someone who lived with a partner without marriage, or refusing to hire a single woman without her father's consent.

That brings us to the reason why all the gay blogs are so interested in this case. What about the photographer or wedding cake baker (to name two recent cases) who refuse to serve gay couples? Is this ruling restricted to federal laws or will courts apply it to state and local laws (there are no federal gay rights laws)? If so a big bite has just been taken out of our rights. This ruling is an interpretation of a law. Are our rights safe because so far they have been found in the constitution?

This ruling makes the claim that some issues qualify for religious exemption and some issues don't. Who gets to decide? Should I be relieved that the decider isn't a Catholic Archbishop nor the president of the Southern Baptist Convention? Instead the Supremes claim that role. Where did they get the training to make such determinations? Since none of them are United Methodist (or even Protestant) how can I be sure they will decide according to my religion?

The courts will now fill with cases (just as we filled courts on same-sex marriage cases) testing the limits of this ruling. But that requires someone having the resources to file a case (a problem when the issue is voting rights). Waldman concludes:
The real effects may go unseen: they will be in the health care plans dropped, in the increased health care expenses seen by women, in the lack of access to birth control, and, most ominously, in the continued restriction of choices women have when it comes to protecting their bodies and health. The effects may also be seen in an erosion of LGBT equality.
A discussion on religious freedom from back in March – when the issue was the Catholic hierarchy demanding exemption from contraception in the ACA – is appropriate now (yeah, it sat in my browser tabs all this time). Robert Shrum of The Daily Beast says this push for religious freedom brings up a big question. Can we learn to live together? President Kennedy said it this way:
Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart…
Yes, Shrum is aware that back in the early 1960s racism meant our society wasn't all that harmonious. A better word for today would be “pluralistic.”

Sunday, June 29, 2014

180 gallons of celebration

Back in January I wrote that I had become dissatisfied with they church where I had attended for more than 30 years. I started attending another church just a bit farther away. It didn't take me long to be asked to join the new church's Compass team, which looks at big-picture, long-term ideas. I'll also be involved in another project, which will happen next week. I've very much enjoyed this church's emphasis on community, outreach, and inclusion. I appreciate the pastor's style of preaching and emphasis of message. I gave a lesson to the leader of the bell choir, though so far her schedule is too tight to try a bell duet or trio over the summer.

The church recently had a Miracle Sunday in which they asked for an extra offering. Their goal was $25K and they almost doubled it. Leading up to that they held a prayer vigil. As part of that a team prayed over every person who attends. As they did so they wrote names on strips of paper and created paper chains. The next Sunday those chains were displayed in the sanctuary. Great things are happening.

I continued serving as the bell leader at the previous church. I went back twice to perform with them, though the membership had dropped to just three of us. The second time was two weeks ago. The performance went well. Afterward a few people asked, “So when are you coming back?” The next evening we polished the bells (as we always do at the start of summer) and I turned in my various keys. The other two ringers were sad at that. Me, not so much.

Today I became a member of the new church. I think there were seven new members. Afterward, one lady said, “I thought you were always a member.”

The pastor's sermon was based on Jesus at the wedding at Cana. The setting was early in his ministry. The party was in danger of ending too soon because the wine was running out. Jesus' mother told the wine steward to do whatever Jesus suggests. So Jesus told the steward to fill six jars (about 30 gallons each) with water. By the time the steward took a sample to the host the water had become wine – and pretty good wine at that.

The pastor picked up on a little detail. Those jars normally held water for Jewish ritual purification. According to the law a person must be cleansed before approaching God. But there was always doubt that one was worthy. Jesus turned that idea upside down. He offered grace and forgiveness. Then he said, let's keep the party going. We can't let the party end too soon. Some of us might feel old, but the party isn't over and we are all a part of it. The pastor went to and held up one of six plastic 30-gallon trash cans placed across the front. Ah, yes, that's what 30 gallons looks like. He said we had received 180 gallons of grace. He then popped the lid and dumped out inflated balloons, which were soon being batted around the congregation. His assistants dumped balloons out of the other five cans. The pastor said with 180 gallons of grace it is time to celebrate! The sound man put on some music and soon we were dancing, singing, and batting balloons. Party indeed! The place was rocking! Memorable messages like that are why I became a member.

A friend had recommended a computer store many miles from my house. After other business in the area I stopped in. Though busy, when salesman got to me he answered lingering questions (more thoroughly than the local Best Buy). I bought, though the process took longer than I expected (I missed part of an evening supper meeting). The store had run out of my chosen monitor, so I'll have to go back for that.

Migration from the old to the new will now move into high gear. There will likely be a time soon when I won't post for a few days (something like a normal week for me).

For those who are interested in such things, this salesman suggested I would probably be a lot happier with Windows 7 than Windows 8. I don't think they sold computers with 8 already installed. They offered computers with 7 with a license for 8 (actual installation up to the purchaser), or for $100 less leave off the license for 8. That's what I did. It will still be a big step up from my XP.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Need to feel a sense of power

An article in Between the Lines is about filmmaker Cevin (pronounced as a “K”) Soling and his new documentary The War on Kids about the pervasive bullying in our schools. As he filmed he began to understand a major part of the problem is the education system itself. It has to do with the way we've designed schools and that cannot be reformed.

All those programs to relieve and prevent bullying? They don't work and are wrong about the reasons for bullying. The It Get's Better project (I'm reading the book now) started by Dan Savage? Great idea, but telling kids it gets better later lets us off the hook about fixing the problem they're experiencing now. The targets aren't just the sexual minority kids. Banning bullying for being gay and the kids will be bullied for something else.

This is the problem: Going to school is compulsory. That makes the school autocratic. That deprives students of nearly all rights and of their voice. Students need to feel some sense of power over their own lives and when deprived of that they bully. And the worst bullies are teachers and administrators.

Proud to be in such company

At the various Freedom Friday protests in Detroit there have always been lots of photographers. I'm sure most of them are our allies because they are welcomed (or at least tolerated) by the leaders. It would be easy for me to hide behind whatever sign I'm carrying but I figure I should be proud to be photographed in such company.

When the announcement came for this week's protest this photo was at the top of the email:

Yes, that's me in the middle of the frame. The photo was from two weeks ago (when the weather was still cool).

Today's protest was a bit more ambitious. We met at the Detroit Water Building, as we have been. We marched there for about a half hour. About 40 protesters gathered. From there we marched towards Campus Martius and then up Woodward Ave. to Grand Circus Park. This time for much of the distance we were in the street, not on the sidewalk (I'm sure to the annoyance of the regular traffic). Once at the park several people spoke while we displayed signs visible to Woodward traffic. I stayed for only 20 minutes of that before getting back to my car next to a parking meter.

One thing I learned: The pensioners are voting on whether to accept the reduction in their pensions as part of the bankruptcy Grand Bargain (or Grand Theft Bargain). Some are telling the story that those pensioners who vote no are sent a second ballot. These protesters are convinced the vote is rigged.

Cinema Detroit

A couple weeks ago one of the gay blogs I read had a good review of the movie Test. It sounded interesting. Perhaps a week later there was an ad for the movie in Between the Lines for a showing in Detroit. This was at Cinema Detroit, a theater I had heard about only at the recent Cinetopia film festival, though I didn't see a movie there. I found the theater's website and made a note of the times. A few showings were at 10:00 at night. Last night the showing was at 8:00 so I went.

This theater is on Cass, just south of Martin Luther King Blvd, which puts it just south of Detroit's Midtown, home of several cultural institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Art. I figured the place was a refurbished neighborhood theater, something like the Opera House or Orchestra Hall, with a big marquee out front, though much less grand. Um, no.

I saw the sandwich-board signs and pulled into the fenced parking lot. The building was good sized, though didn't look at all like a traditional movie theater. It was a bit disconcerting to see only one other car there and only 10 minutes to showtime. I followed the signs along a walk squeezed between the building and the fence to the opposite side of the building. More signs directed me up a few stairs to the box office and concessions. My theater was downstairs and I made a stop in the men's room before heading in.

By then I was able to piece together what this place was. The lockers lining the halls were the first clue, the “Boys” on the restroom door was the second (though once inside I wasn't sure what the pool table was doing in the spacious area between the stalls and row of urinals). This was an old elementary school, renovated barely enough to use for the theater.

I think the actual theater had been a small gymnasium. Hard to tell. It was lined with drapes, had a screen mounted on one wall, several rows of cushy seats (with cupholders in the arms), and a projection booth.

I think there might have been 50 seats. And I was the only one sitting in them.

At 8:00 the screen came to life with previews of what this little theater would be showing in the next couple weeks. Shortly after that the lights dimmed and the feature started.

I hope this little theater makes it. Detroit could use a place that shows nieche films. Alas, if they have too many showings with just one in the audience I suspect they won't last long.

On to the movie itself. Test is about a young man in a dance company in San Francisco in 1985. Yes, he – and probably most of his male colleagues – are gay. The significance of the date is that was when the test for AIDS first became available. A question they face: do they take the test?

There were several dance sequences, all of them great. The original review said the director had cast dancers and taught them to act, rather than casting actors in hopes they can dance. The dancers appreciated the free acting lessons. Even so, they weren't great actors. The movie seemed to have lots of long or unnecessary scenes, such as frequently watching the main character walk down the hill to the dance studio or auditorium or walk up the hill to his apartment. Then there were lots of scenes of him staring into the distance deep in thought. So the big issues of the movie were mentioned, but didn't seem to drive the characters all that much. The movie was very low-key.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Yup, another domino tips over. Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional. This was a law that was overturned, not a state constitution amendment. It was just this past February when Indiana legislators took a step towards that happening, though doing so in a way that prevents it from being before voters until 2016 – and now likely won't happen at all.

In the ruling the judge noted the phenomenon of so many cases brought before courts within one year for this one issue and the judges all ruling the same way. From the ruling:
These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.
And, yes, same-sex marriages have begun. State officials say an appeal will be filed.

The news of the day continues. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has confirmed that the Utah ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This is the first case to reach the appeals level since last summer's big ruling (which was a year ago tomorrow). A stay was issued with the ruling because this court knows the next stop will be the Supremes.

The 10th Circuit ruling included a dissent. It seems the poor guy swallowed every last talking point from the National Organization for Marriage (but not yours).

That 10th Circuit ruling is creating a delightful mess. The 10th Circuit is Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. A ruling applies to all of the states in the circuit. So the clerk in Boulder County, Colorado took this ruling (and the one in Indiana) as justification to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her area. Since the ruling came with a stay she probably won't be able to do this for very long. And state officials have already declared these marriages won't be recognized by the state.

And in Louisiana a judge was expected to rule on whether the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. He postponed a ruling, saying he wants to address the whole issue of same-sex marriage at one time rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad looks at what happens next. Almost certainly Utah's governor or attorney general will appeal to the Supremes. Since the court is about to adjourn for the summer and doesn't decide to take cases until they reconvene, nothing will happen until then.

The Supremes don't have to take the 10th Circuit case. They could simply let the decision cover the 10th Circuit. Though by the time the Supremes reconvene there is likely to also be a case out of the 4th Circuit (Virginia's case) and maybe the 6th Circuit (primarily Michigan) and the 5th Circuit (Texas) as well. Again the Supremes don't have to take any of them – unless one of those rulings is different from our current string of successes. Some justices may not want to give their opinion on our right to marry. They could simply ride out the process – eventually there will be a decision by every Circuit and these decisions will eventually cover the country. Yes, that is slower than a sweeping ruling from the Supremes.

A commenter lists a few things interesting about this case. First, the 10th Circuit demanded that reasons for banning same-sex marriage must be “compelling.” Tradition isn't a compelling reason. Utah doesn't have a compelling reason. Second, the demand for compelling reasons isn't because same-sex couples are a minority receiving discrimination and without political power, the usual reason. It's because marriage is a fundamental right. Third, if you want to see how the Supremes might rule against us, just read the dissent in the 10th Circuit case. Any one of Scalia, Alito, Thomas, or Roberts could have written it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Congressional lobotomy

An article in Washington Monthly describes the lobotomy the GOP has given Congress. This started back in 1995 when, to show how tough they were on saving money, the GOP, led by Newt Gingrich, cut funds for or outright killed the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and Office of Technology Assessment. They also cut support staff for members and committees. Then they put term limits on committee chairmanships while requiring a loyalty oath which meant expertise and clout didn't stick around. Want to sweep away all of the federal agencies? Start by sweeping away the people that were making sure they worked. Of course, no actual monetary savings happened.

But with these agencies crippled or gone and problems before Congress becoming more complex what's an overwhelmed staffer to do? Rely on studies, policy outlines, and actual bills prepared by industry lobbyists. So when the Heritage Foundation says a gov't shutdown won't be a big deal, there's nobody around to contradict them and members of Congress have become used to listening to the lobbyists.

Add to that a leadership that dictates how bills are to be written and committees have no incentive to actually learn about what they are legislating.

And with insufficient oversight (and GOP attention wasted on IRS and Benghazi “scandals”) there aren't enough eyes verifying agencies are doing what they should (see NSA overreach). All this erodes trust in the gov't – which, if you want to gut it, is a good thing.

What was dismantled, starting in 1995, was a great deal of infrastructure built up as a result of the Vietnam War and Nixon's shenanigans. From the 1960s through the 1980s this was a great era of congressional oversight. Lawmakers were able to become experts in various subjects, producing some pretty good legislation during that time. The article includes several examples, such as dusting off a law from 1899 to convince industry that the Clean Water Act of 1972 was in their interest. Another example was holding retreats with tax and economic experts (and without lobbyists) that resulted in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Now oversight hearings don't get to the bottom of an issue, they're for members to give political speeches which may not have anything to do with the issue.

Sweeping aside long-term committee chairs might be good to avoid one person listening too long to certain lobbyists. But that requires an institutional knowledge that is no longer there.

What isn't in Congress: deep discussions on policy. What is there: scandal and intrigue – who can we help or hurt politically through this bill?

Since Congress controls the money, Congress could spend the money to reverse the brain drain and improve oversight. What's a few hundred million when the total budget is 4.8 trillion? But when your agenda is to gut the gov't why add to the gov't intellectual capacity and build up trust in the gov't?

Well, because, a dumber gov't hasn't resulted in a smaller or cheaper one. Too many billions have been spent in unnecessary, duplicate, and wasteful ways. And some are noticing that all those lobbyists are leading Congress astray. But the GOP hasn't gotten serious about these problem yet.

Lobster pot

I didn't post anything last evening because I was at a concert of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. This concert featured the composer-in-residence Peter Schickele, famous for “uncovering” the works of PDQ Bach. The guy is 78 now and has difficulty walking, but his voice (he sings a few of the pieces) and sense of humor are still going strong.

Last night's program was mostly Schickele's own music, most of which I very much enjoyed. One piece contained a novel idea – Schickele writing variations on a tune by PDQ Bach. The composer wondered why he hadn't thought of that idea earlier, even with its incestuous implications. That PDQ Bach tune was the “Howdy There” aria from the oratorio Oedipus Tex which Schickele sang. Saturday's concert included a few PDQ Bach pieces, including “Long Live the King” in honor of the French nobility in the time of the Revolution (the king didn't get any severance pay). Another was was a few songs from “Twelve Quite Heavenly Songs” about the Zodiac. The song about Cancer debated the virtues of smoking crab-grass versus that of lobster-pot. The evening also included the “Goldbrick Variations” in which Schickele interrupted the pianist to announce the last variation was really the theme – PDQ Bach put it last because no one would stick around for the variations after hearing such an awful theme.

So much for the damsel

I have good news about the pastor who was defrocked last fall. See the post on my brother blog.

I just found out about a new children's book (because the Fundies are complaining about it). It is The Princes and the Treasure by Jeffrey Miles and J.L. Phillips, published by Handsome Prince Publishing (sounds like a Do-It-Yourself venture). Prince Gallant and Prince Earnest are called upon to rescue Princess Elena (that old damsel-in-distress adventure). Do they fight over the girl, once she's rescued? Um, no. (spoiler alert!) The two princes fall in love with each other. A picture of the wedding here and details of the book here.

Among the groups leading of the NYC Pride Parade will be a contingent of Boy Scouts. They are protesting the national organization's policies on gay leaders.

My friend and debate partner called me at 11:00 this morning saying the Diane Rehm Show on public radio was about to do a segment interviewing Ted Olson and David Boies, the lead lawyers in the Proposition 8 case that brought same-sex marriage back to California. A reason for the interview now is the two lawyers have co-authored a book Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality. I listened (delaying running errands for a while) and thought it was well done. I didn't learn much new because the two men are also featured in the HBO film The Case Against 8 which I had recently seen. You can listen to the segment (about 50 minutes) or read the transcript.

Attorney General Eric Holder reports that federal gov't agencies are in compliance with last year's ruling by the Supremes that says the gov't must treat same-sex couples equally – at least as much as the law permits. There are still issues with the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration where the law determines marriage based on the state of residence. Congress (or another lawsuit) must change the law (though there is some dispute about that).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Somebody needs to take the class over

Now that the Michigan Legislature has disappeared for the summer the Detroit Free Press has issued a report card for the past legislative year. It looks like this:

Roads: F
* Funding for fixing roads was the highest priority. Because of the harsh winter residents were clamoring for something to be done. Didn't happen.

Democratic Process: F
* Legislature rendered meaningless voter referenda on wolf hunting, minimum wage, and abortion coverage in health insurance.
* Lawsuits challenging governor actions were diverted to a GOP-picked court.
* Blocked initiative by a GOP Secretary of State to disclose third-party political expenditures.

Schools: C
* Boosted spending for pre-K programs, but not enough to cover what's needed.
* Tweaked funding formulas so that an increase of funding per student goes mostly to corporate schools.
* Changed their minds about Common Core curricula, leaving schools in limbo and jeopardizing federal funding.

Social Issues: D
* That abortion insurance (mentioned above).
* Require poor people to perform community service to get benefits, though no consideration for those with transportation or child care issues.
* Never got around to adding sexual minorities to the state civil rights law.

Cities: B-
* An increase to revenue sharing to cities, but not enough to compensate for what was lost over the last several years.
* I add: Still too much reliance on the anti-democracy emergency manager law.

Detroit: A
* The legislature came through with nearly $200 million, their part of the “grand bargain” to get Detroit out of bankruptcy. That's a big thing in this state.
* I disagree with this grade. I'd have given a C-. First, see the comment above about city revenue sharing. Second, pensioners still face cuts. Third, nobody is going after the fraud perpetrated by the banks. Fourth, there are still fishy deals related to the bankruptcy that the legislature is implicitly endorsing. The legislature could have done a lot more.

If I had students with grades like these I'd be planning on seeing them again next year. But with a legislature like this I'd rather not see them next year.

Fathers provide anything unique?

Mitch Albom appears in the Detroit Free Press both as a sports writer and columnist on social issues. I'm usually in agreement with what he says and I admire him for all the charity work he does around Detroit. But while I think he is well-intentioned in his column in today's paper I think he missed a few important points.

His major point is that dads are being dismissed by the chattering classes. Women do just fine, it is claimed. Men aren't needed anymore. Yeah, some of that reaction is based on men who impregnate and disappear. But not all of that. I agree that heterosexual dads are too readily dismissed.

But his column brings up studies that lesbian couples do just fine in raising kids. And somehow that is an excuse that fathers aren't needed. Well, no. Those studies show that two parents are needed and gender doesn't matter. So a father and a mother is better than a single parent. But so are a lesbian couple and a gay couple.

The other problem with his column is that he gets tangled in things only a mother can provide and only a father can provide. But of all the things he lists – nurturing, quiet strength, discipline, responsibility, and unconditional love – some men can do these quite well and some women can do equally well.

Here's the central complaint: The New York Times asked readers, and Albom responds:
“Do fathers bring anything unique to the table?”

But if they don’t, why does nearly every statistic on kids turn sour when fathers disappear?
Because when fathers disappear they leave behind a single parent. It's not that fathers provide something mothers can't. It's that two parents are much more successful than single parents.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Assessing blame

There seems to be two basic GOP talking points about what is going on with the ISIS takeover in parts of Iraq. One is that the original war (started way back in 2003) was a “mistake.” Dennis Kucinich (remember him?) in an article for Huffington Post says that saying the war was a mistake is the language of denial. No, going to war was intentional and happened because we were lied to. Kucinich now calls on Obama to state those lies, so we can see the current situation clearly. Kucinich also calls on media to stop giving free air time to those who won't tell the truth of the start of the war or those who profited from the war.

The second talking point is the current mess is all Obama's fault. While Obama's mistakes in Syria strengthened ISIS, it was Bush who started a war that didn't need to be fought, it was Bush who kicked all the Baath Party members out of their jobs (the people who now form the core of ISIS), and it was Bush who created the timetable for the Iraq pullout before Iraq was stable.

Is Obama blame free? No. But neither is the GOP.

Don't want discrimination

Wednesday, August 6 will be a big gay day at the 6th Circuit Court. This circuit is made up of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. All four states will have same-sex marriage cases heard on that day. The one in Michigan is about the right to marry. The other three have to do with having a marriage recognized by the state in some way, such as the Ohio case to have a death certificate declare a person married with a same-sex spouse.

That is the day before I start my vacation, so I don't know how quickly I'll report on the day (I will blog during my travels). Then again, this is when the cases will be heard, not when the court will rule.

There are many people and groups who have filed supportive briefs with the 6th Circuit Court. There are 25 prominent Republicans, including former House Speaker Rick Johnson. Over 50 companies document the impact when they are not allowed to treat their employees the same. Groups representing police officers and first responders don't want discrimination. Current and former members of the military. Regional and national religious organizations and clergy, including interfaith groups. Leading family law professors declare the harm to children. American Sociological Association and American Psychological Association list studies kids of gay couples are just as well-adjusted. A total of 31 briefs were filed.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has added his name to the list of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. He is the 19th in Michigan.

In just the last two weeks three Michigan cities have approved anti-discrimination ordinances for sexual minorities. The cities are Fenton, Canton, and Sterling Heights. The total is now 36 cities and townships. Canton officials were not sure they needed to act with so much talk of adding sexual minorities to the state civil rights law. But speakers at the Canton City Council meeting described the good things that would come from passing such an ordinance. Between the Lines has details of the meeting.


As part of my ongoing efforts to get ready for a new computer I downloaded the Libre Office suite and I'm writing today's posts on it. There are a few things I wish it did differently, but it opens all the files it should. As for the rest of the migration efforts, email is still the big issue.

On to the news of the week.

The US Senate has approved two nominees for federal courts at the district level. They are Darrin Gayles in Florida and Staci Yandle in Illinois. The significance (beyond the Senate actually filling court vacancies) is that both are black and openly gay. In addition, Gayles is the first openly gay black man to be confirmed.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has declared a ban on gay sex to be unconstitutional. Um, yeah, the Supremes did that more than a decade ago. But this is progress. Eleven states still have such unenforceable laws on their books (including Michigan) and two months ago Louisiana voted to keep their law even though it can't be enforced – it is still useful for intimidation.

A while back in the same-sex marriage case in Wisconsin I had wondered about the legal definition of “injunction.” Now I know. An injunction is the part of a judge's ruling that says what the losing side has to do to fix things. In the Wisconsin case the original ruling didn't come with an injunction. She declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, but she didn't say what the state should do about it. Instead, she asked the state and plaintiffs what they thought should be done. On hearing that the clerk's offices weren't sure what they were supposed to do. Most offered marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a few did not. It's official now. The injunction was issued along with a stay. And I know what that means.

Luxembourg has approved same-sex marriage! It's passage through Parliament took two years, though it passed 56-4. I think the hold-up was making sure the related adoption laws permitted both closed and open adoptions by same-sex couples, just like straight couples. Though in a country where the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are both openly gay one would think passage would have been more swift.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted at their national gathering to allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings. The vote was 76% in favor, quite the change from two years ago when the resolution failed by 1%. The resolution now goes to 172 regional assemblies for confirmation.

An increasing number of gay advocacy groups are declaring they are against the version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that was passed by the Senate (and won't be touched by the House). The reason is the religious exemptions are too generous. It can be summarized this way: if the exemptions are different from those for race, gender, or disability then the non-discrimination act is discriminatory.

I had written about the HBO documentary The Case Against 8 and how worthwhile I thought it is. Jacob Combs of Towleroad interviews the makers of the film, Ben Cotner and Ryan White.

Newsweek has an article on the GOP Establishment v. Tea Party. Though the Tea Party won big ousting Eric Cantor it has lost most of the other races where it fielded candidates. But the Tea Party isn't conceding defeat because most of the Establishment candidates are much more to the right than before the Tea Party got into the fray. Some are so far right they are doing a pretty good imitation of Tea Party candidates.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not fewer poor, more working poor

Robert Reich pokes at three lies about poverty the GOP is currently telling. This might be part of a series. Reich has already debunked four lies about income inequality.

* Claim: Economic growth reduces poverty. Reality: Since the late 1970s the economy has grown 147% per capita, yet the share of Americans in poverty has stayed at 15%. Why? In that same time the share of total income by the 1% has grown from 9% to 20%.

* Claim: Jobs reduce poverty. Let's encourage and reward work! Reality: Yes, having a job is better than being unemployed. But more jobs pay lousy wages, the value of a minimum wage job continues to drop, and gov't assistance usually requires a person to work. Not fewer poor people, but more working poor (a phrase that is supposed to be an oxymoron).

* Claim: If the poor were ambitious they wouldn't be poor. Reality: No evidence the poor aren't ambitious -- many work long hours (for minimum wage).

What reduces poverty? Opportunity, starting with schools. Of the developed nations American is at the bottom or close to it on some important measurements:

* The amount of money spent on a rich kid's education compared to that of a poor kid. In most developed countries the money is equal. In America the rich kid's school gets a lot more money.

* The ratio of teachers to students. In America rich students have smaller class sizes. In much of the rest of the developed world it is the poor students with smaller class sizes.

* In America the best teachers are put into the best performing schools. In much of the rest of the developed world, the best teachers are put in the poorly performing schools.

So why does the GOP tell these lies? Because it nicely misdirects our national focus away from their power grab. And lies are cheaper.

Cop kisses boyfriend

Three, maybe four, weeks ago I turned off my furnace. I haven't used it or the air conditioner since then. This is rare for Michigan where some years I've used the two in adjacent days. So, yeah, it has been a cool late spring. There were a few days above 80F, but the inside of my house stayed below that. And there were a few nights, such as Friday night, where if the furnace was on it would have run. I do have to do a bit of heat management in closing windows in the morning and opening up in the evening. The weather forecast for the coming week means I may have to finally turn on the AC.

The premier of Ontario is a lesbian! Back in January Kathleen Wynne got the position through a vote of her fellow party delegates. This past week she was elected by the people. For those of us in America this means she won her own district and her party won a majority in the Ontario legislature -- with voters knowing the head of the party is a lesbian. As part of her acceptance speech she thanked her wife, who joined Wynne on stage.

A nice way to annoy Westboro Baptist Church: At DC's Pride Parade, police officer D.J. Stalter kissed his boyfriend Mark Raimondo directly in front of the WBC protesters.

The ban on same-sex marriage in Wisconsin is officially struck down and that ruling is officially stayed until the 7th Circuit deals with the case. District Judge Barbara Crabb did not want to issue the stay. She had seen the joy in newly married same-sex couples. She issued it because she figured that either the 7th Circuit or the Supremes would do it if she didn't. No word on the legality of the hundreds of Wisconsin couples who got married in the last week.

Cows have microbes in their digestive tract to break down the cellulose in grass and other plants. This is a critical part of their digestion. Those microbes give off methane, in such quantities (given all the cows worldwide) that it is a significant contributor to global climate change. So various scientists are looking into either a food additive or a vaccine to get the microbes in cows to give off less methane. They are aware that if either one changes the taste of the milk or beef the public won't buy it. There's even a bit of discussion on safety to humans -- and a lot of discussion of "clean milk" as a marketing campaign. But the article never mentions whether either method of interference also disrupts the cow's digestion and what that does to the nutrients in the beef or milk.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Revitalize Detroit?

I took part in another Freedom Friday protest yesterday. We met at the Detroit water department. From there we went to Campus Martius and on to Bank of America. Since there was scaffolding in the sidewalk, someone suggested we go in. I wasn't so sure of that, especially after more security guards showed up. I edged away from the group, though no incidents. The downtown branch is in a beautiful building with a high arched main floor. I worked across the street when I moved to the area long ago and thought this room needed a pipe organ. Which means great acoustics for a protest.

Along the way I learned a couple things. The city pensioners are currently voting on whether to accept the "Grand Bargain" put together to get Detroit out of bankruptcy. Those at the protest were well aware that pensioners were mailing their ballots back, not to Detroit, but to California. Why there? So they could be counted in secret? Do we need Jimmy Carter and his international election observers?

Dan Gilbert made his first wad of money through his company Quicken Loans. A few years ago he moved his operations from the suburbs to a new building on Campus Martius in downtown Detroit. He invited lots of companies to follow him and he's bought up several buildings in the area and refurbished them. In many eyes he has been a major force in revitalizing the downtown area. And yet…

Quicken Loans was a big player in the mortgage boom leading up to the start of the Great Recession. Gilbert was a good enough leader that his company didn't go bankrupt as many of the small mortgage players did. QL was also a big player in the foreclosure storm that sucked Detroit dry.

Gilbert created a blight removal project, which I've mentioned before. The project started with surveying all 340,000 residential and commercial properties in the city to determine what is blighted and what is salvageable. They determined some 70,000 homes are blighted. A big report was issued a few weeks ago documenting how the project intends to eradicate all that blight over the next five years. But the report says nothing about what caused the blight or that Gilbert is a part of that cause.

Gilbert also seems to be closely involved in a land bank. Other cities, such as nearby Flint, have used this to great effect. The sale of one property supplies money to do what's necessary (renovate or demolish) to another property so it could also be sold. This Detroit land bank has about 17,000 properties in it.

That leaves many pondering this scenario: Gilbert was a big player in foreclosures, which caused a great deal of blight (kick the homeowner out and scrappers quickly turn the house into blight). Gilbert steps forward with a plan to remove the blight (taking a tiny bit of responsibility, perhaps?). Gilbert's land bank ends up controlling most of the now vacant property. Does that mean Gilbert is able to develop it, restocking Detroit with nice housing that the current impoverished residents wouldn't be able to afford?

One step forward, two steps … ?

I put on some soothing music and I'll be fine in a moment. Customer service didn't resolve my issue.

I am in the process of buying a new computer. It should have been purchased a month ago. I keep running into things that aren't going right. I'm making sure there is a good transition, that everything will transport properly from an 8-year-old computer taking in all the computer advances during that time. The current issue is email.

I've been using Outlook Express for email for at least 8 years, perhaps 14 years. I used it because that's what Comcast, my internet service provider, said they knew how to configure. All these years later there are better things than OE. Besides, Microsoft stopped supporting it just after I bought my current computer (though there is something out there called Outlook Express 2013).

My first choice for a replacement was Mozilla Thunderbird. I've been using Mozilla Firefox for many years and like it. I also like that it isn't Microsoft. Alas, Firefox doesn't play nicely with the college's email system, but that doesn't stop me from using it for everything else.

I downloaded Thunderbird. I found the transition from OE to be convoluted and I never got it to import my 7000 messages. Along the way I asked for clarification from the user forum and the responses tended to be unhelpful or a cross between whiny and surly. So I uninstalled it.

I then found a chart in Wikipedia with a comparison all known email clients (don't you just love nerds?) and worked through the list. Does it allow to keep mail on my computer rather than the cloud? Is it still being actively supported? Then on to each product's website. What is the cost? Is it for home or business? General use or specialized? And, most importantly, does it claim to import from OE? That last one really narrowed the field.

I tried one of them today, a product called eMClient. It installed just fine. Import was easy (once I told it where OE keeps messages). The address book didn't import, at least not on first try. I opened OE to read off the websites and ports to communicate with Comcast and tried to send a message. Didn't work.

So I called Comcast. It took a while for the tech guy to figure out the problem was on my end, not his. Then it took him a while to get the name of the program correct -- I think he was puzzled over "CN" not "EM." He then turned me over to someone else. That person had never heard of eMClient and had no idea what settings to use. So I'm back to what Comcast supports. It's a rather short list:

* Outlook Express 2013 now offered by a company I've never heard of, has games as its other products, and doesn't explain what OE2013 is. Probably not a lot of customer support.

* Windows Live, the current Microsoft offering, which seems to be cloud oriented.

* Thunderbird (see above).

* Eudora, no longer supported.

* Credit, which Wikipedia doesn't know about, Google doesn't find in the first two pages of search results, and is not listed in the comparison of email clients I mentioned earlier.

Ooh, great list of choices! Which leads to a big question: Is it time to leave Comcast? I've been using it since 2000. A big headache would be telling everyone a new email address. And at my current speed of decision-making, lining up a replacement could take a while.

Yet to come: document editor and music manager.

The 5th Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is beautiful. I feel much better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Political upset

A big news item this morning is that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost is primary bid to an unknown Tea Party candidate. I'm sure lots of pundits will tell you how momentous that is. I listened to some of them on On Point on my local NPR station. I had no love of Cantor, given his position as #2 GOP in the House. His victorious opponent will be worse. But won't this give the Dem candidate an opening? Nah, the district is gerrymandered to be highly conservative.

What caught my attention is the GOP leadership realizing what their prez. candidates in 2016 will have to say and do to get through the primaries. Which means whoever comes out ahead will be less appealing to the country as a whole. Good. The Tea Party agenda doesn't mix well with the agenda of women, blacks, Latinos, gays, and the poor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Leading the parade

News notes:

I had written about the series of news features on NPR about the trend of courts charging court costs to the defendant, and when they can't pay, tossing them in jail. That news series has prompted the formation of the Ability to Pay Workgroup, appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court. Perhaps reforms will come.

The Department of Defense has approved having a military color guard march in the Capital Pride parade in DC. The guard will present the American flag and flags from each branch of the armed forces. This is a first. Though no policy banned the use of a color guard in pride parades previous requests were met with sorry, the guard is busy that day.

New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif. is a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. It's pastor is Danny Cortez. Danny's son Drew came out as gay. The father is delighted he had already been rethinking his positions on sexual minorities. The son's coming out prompted the father to give the sermon "Why I Changed My Mind on Sexuality." The congregation voted to support the pastor (though a few left) and agreed to study the issues surrounding sexual minorities in the SBC. There's an open question: Will the SBC push the church out of the denomination?

Two years ago language opposing same-sex marriage was removed from the GOP Party Platform in Indiana. That was done to appeal to more moderate voters. But the language is back with overwhelming approval.

Shining a light

An article in Newsweek discusses the conflicts of interest between doctors and big pharmaceutical companies. Doctors are routinely invited to sit on corporate boards or serve as an officer, a member of an advisory board, a paid speaker, or a consultant. Schools and hospitals receive research equipment, unrestricted funding, training and continuing education support, and funding from intellectual property licensing. Yes, that means part of the doctor's and institution's income comes from the company. These payments are not small. Which means the doctor is more likely to prescribe the company's products.

The article documents some of the hazards we face (remember Vioxx?) because there is no transparency of this interdependency. But that will soon change. The Affordable Care Act includes a Sunshine Act. Starting at the end of September a gov't-run website will list all payments from Big Pharma to physicians and teaching hospitals. Perhaps that light will prompt the adoption of some ethical guidelines.

I switched to a diet program outside of corporate medicine because theirs wasn't working. A report such as this one confirms why it didn't work.

If I don't get my way

I think my ideas have a pretty good chance in a public debate with a conservative. I may not be able to convince the conservative (which is probably why I wouldn't bother) but I think I could put forth arguments that might sway a few moderates. One could say I have the courage of my convictions.

However, my ideas don't stand a chance and my courage would vanish if the conservative displayed a gun as part of his symbolic free speech.

And that is increasingly the problem with political discourse in this country.

There is a growing presence of "open carry" activists, those who insist on carrying their guns everywhere. Of course, the reason is intimidation. A big part of this trend is who is carrying the weapons in public. It's rarely Democrats. It's rarely Northerners. It isn't people of color or women. These people are using implied threats of violence to intimidate and to impose a political agenda that the ballot box no longer delivers. Patrick Blanchfield of the New York Times says the gun-toter is saying, "I feel so strongly about this issue, the gun says, that if I don’t get my way, I am willing to kill for it."

Lamp, lifeboat, and ladder

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal law.
I took that quote out of the June edition of The Washington Spectator. This is from the Speaker's Corner article by Elizabeth Gaynes. She is quoting the filing by the Corrections Corporation of America with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. This kind of document is what a corporation uses to notify shareholders how they intend to make money and what might influence their ability to turn a profit.


We make more profit when we keep our prisons full. So going easy on enforcing laws means less profit. If a judge is allowed to be lenient in the punishment of a crime we'll make less profit, so we are for laws that mandate minimum punishment and the higher the minimum the better. If a judge is allowed to use mediation or restorative justice techniques we make less profit, so we're against their use. If convicts are more likely given parole we'll make less profit, so we are against sentences that include parole and against laws that increase the possibility of parole. Some of our convicts are there because they used or sold marijuana, so legalizing pot means less profit.

That's the part of Gaynes' article that jumped out at me. It confirms what will happen when jail systems are privatized -- these corporations will lobby for harsher sentencing. This is a big reason why prison systems need to be run by the government.

The rest of the article is pretty good too. She highlights the work of Thomas Mott Osborne who worked for prison reform in the 19th Century. His basic question was:
Shall our prisons be scrap heaps or human repair shops?
Poet Rumi wrote this line 700 years ago:
Be a lamp, a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help people's souls to heal.
Languishing in prison affects more than the inmate. It affects the spouse and children.

There is a bit of movement in Congress and state legislatures for prison reform. The driver is cost. However, that runs up against lobbyists from prison corporations.

New York has no private prisons. Due to decreased crime the state is closing them. One of them is being turned over to the Osborne Association to be turned into a reentry center to help inmates rejoin society. That center intends to be the lamp, lifeboat, and ladder.
When people got to prison, they learn to be prisoners. When they leave prison, as most of them will, they need to relearn who to be members of our communities.

In a related article in the same issue of WS attorney and author Chase Madar reviews the book Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment by Robert A. Ferguson. In describing the book, Madar wrote:
Disease, rape, abusive and undertrained guards, overcrowding, profit motive, hair-trigger isolation confinement, mostly beyond the purview of legal redress: many of our prisons are everyday legal black holes. The goal of rehabilitation has been trampled to death and only raw punishment remains. As a young Home Minister, Winston Churchill correlated a nation's degree of civilization to the way it treats its criminals.

Ferguson searches for that answer rather than try to sell a ten-point prison reform plan. His book is a survey of the major philosophers of punishment, including Machiavelli, John Calvin, Kant, Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Melville, Dante, and Nietzsche ("Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.").

The Washington Spectator site is still being redesigned, so no links are available.

Monday, June 9, 2014


I heard two important items in the news last Friday afternoon on my way to another Freedom Friday protest. I was very much aware that I wouldn't be back at my computer until today.

The first is that a federal judge has declared Wisconsin's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the federal constitution. Another domino tips over. In a move slightly different from other states the judge did not demand marriages begin immediately. Instead, she offered to hold hearings on an injunction (another word for stay?) a week from now. Counties around Milwaukee and Madison figured the law now said giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples is neither banned nor required -- we're free to decide. So they did. Clerk's offices stayed open late on Friday and opened on Saturday and handing out more licenses today. An appeal is in the works.

This is now the 20th ruling in a row in our favor at the federal level. So when the case gets to the Supremes there will be a dilemma. Do the Supremes overturn amendments to constitutions in some 30 states or do they rule against 20 federal judges?

The judge wrote the case isn't about religion, morality, whether something should be encouraged or discouraged, whether the relationship will last, or about raising a family. It is about liberty and equality. It is essential to the pursuit of happiness and a mark of citizenship.

The other bit of news is that a challenge has been filed against the ban on same-sex marriage in North Dakota. That was the last state without a challenge. Which means it took less than a year from the big rulings by the Supremes last summer for all remaining states to challenge their bans.

Generous and charming

It was a busy weekend which included time visiting family. The busyness was enough to keep me from mentioning recent news stories. A good and enjoyable chunk of the weekend was the Cinetopia Film Festival taking place in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Out of the fifty films I saw four.

On Friday evening I saw Ummah Among Friends. This is a German language film. The central character is Daniel who works for some undercover agency, such as the German equivalent to the FBI. After an incident that causes injury to Daniel and death to someone else he wants out. His boss convinces him to take some time off and supplies him with an agency apartment in one of the not-so-nice areas of Berlin. The apartment is a dump, but soon made habitable, though not great looking. Daniel meets and becomes friends with many of the Arabs in the area. He's invited to a wedding and to a Koran study session. Along the way he finds the local police are targeting his friends, taking any excuse to stop them and hauling them to the station when proper ID isn't produced. Daniel eventually takes action. I've been trying to think of an alternate ending because what he does proves to be disastrous for him as well as ineffectual. I had to look up the first word of the title. It is the Arabic word for community.

The movie Saturday evening was To Be Takei, a documentary about the life of George Takei (rhymes with "gay" not "eye"). We hear about his time in WWII internment camps for those with Japanese ancestry. At one point his father was asked to sign a form that stated he pledged his loyalty to America and renounced loyalty to the Japanese emperor. Since he was never loyal to the emperor, he refused to sign. That meant the last couple years of the war the family was in a high-security center. His experiences eventually turned into the musical Allegiance. We also saw highlights of his acting career (the big break was, of course, Sulu on Star Trek) and the need to be closeted during most of it. Once he realized his advocacy for gay rights was desperately needed he and his partner (now husband) came out and joined the fight. Takei is so generous and charming the film was delightful.

The Sunday afternoon movie was The Better Angels. It is rare for a movie to put out so little effort to explain itself. The dialogue is scant and the narration vague. All I'm really sure (from the movie itself) is that it depicts life in Indiana in 1817. Most of the living is done outdoors, though some in the log cabin. The mother in the family dies, the father leaves (abandoning his son and daughter for the winter?) and returns with a second wife and some step-children. The boy of perhaps 8 years who seems to be the central character tends to tell the truth about boyhood pranks and is punished. The second mother convinces the father the boy should go to school (such as it is on the frontier). Though life that is depicted is hard, the cinematography is great (though in black & white) and the scenes are lyrical. A quote at the beginning of the film -- and all the promotional materials -- imply the boy is Abraham Lincoln. The angels of the title are his mother and step-mother.

The two movies on Sunday were both in the Midtown area of Detroit, near the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Wayne State University campus, an area I know reasonably well. One movie let out at 5:10 and the next started at 6:00 -- and all the restaurants within walking distance are closed on Sundays. Even the café in the DIA closed at 3:00. The festival arranged for a few food trucks to be there, but they packed up early. I finally found a drug store and bought a packet of cashews to supplement the almonds in my pocket.

My last movie of the festival was The Case Against 8, a documentary of Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California and the court case to repeal it. We see the 2008 ruling for marriage equality, the drive to overturn it, and all aspects of the case at the District, Circuit, and Supreme Courts. It concludes with the weddings of the plaintiffs. Though we know the outcome it remained fascinating because we got to know the people involved. We meet Kris, Sandy, Jeff, and Paul, learn their stories and what they have to go through to be the faces of the case. We see them practice their testimony for the court and preparing for cross-examination. We feel their anxiety suddenly facing the phalanx of cameras and the hateful messages left in their voice mail. We watch Ted Olson and David Boies and see what goes into preparation for such a case. We hear about the backlash in 2009 when gay rights groups thought the strategy was all wrong, since this was a "leftist" cause. We see how the strategy proved to be correct by the time the case was over in 2013. This movie was shown in New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit so that it would qualify for an Oscar. HBO will bring it to the small screen by the end of this month. I highly recommend it.

After the showing Dustin Lance Black was there to answer questions. He won an Oscar for the script for the movie Milk and was a member of the board of American Foundation for Equal Rights that funded the case. He appeared in the movie a couple times. He also wrote a play (which I've seen) based on the transcripts of the district level trial. One thing Black mentioned is how this film helps our cause in conservative circles. Hey, would you like to see a movie featuring your hero Ted Olson, who was the winning attorney in Bush v. Gore? Another is a prediction of 13 months -- the Virginia and Utah cases have been heard at the Circuit level, giving plenty of time for a ruling and an appeal to the Supremes by the time their year begins in October with a ruling next June.

David Mixner is delighted with the movie and urges everyone to see it, though he notes this case has almost become its own industry with plays, movies, documentaries, and books. Are coffee cups and coasters next? But what about Edie Windsor, the heroine of the other big case the Supremes handed down last summer? We should also see more of the lives of the heroes of the AIDS era and other parts of the history of sexual minorities.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Slovakia — sigh

The Parliament in Slovakia has approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. It passed by a wide margin 102-18. The ban is contrary to what is going on in the European Union but matching what happened in Poland and Croatia.

Texas two-step

The Republican Platform Committee in Texas has deleted a nasty anti-gay phrase from their platform! This was the one about homosexuality tearing at the fabric of community and family and contrary to God and the Founding Fathers. Deleting it is a start! However, they kept the phrase that homosexuality should not be presented as acceptable, that we are not "couples," we should not be given any special rights and, by golly, there had better not be any harm to those fine church people who oppose us. Then they added the phrase saying reparative therapy (the debunked attempt to make us straight) is a good idea and shouldn't be restricted (as a few states have done). One step forward, one step back. The whole thing is still vile.

This could be our biggest battle this year. Houston Mayor Annise Parker is a lesbian. She's in her second term and has been an effective administrator, eliminating Houston's deficit. After the landmark rulings by the Supremes last summer and her own marriage, Parker decided it was time Houston added sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's anti-discrimination ordinances. With the help of the city council's two openly gay members it passed 11-6.

Now opponents are gathering signatures to both overturn the ordinance and to recall Parker. They have only a short time to do so -- 30 days -- and I haven't heard the chances of success. If either (or both) get on the ballot this year a lot of money will be drawn to the fight -- the highest profile openly gay elected official versus entrenched anti-gay sentiment in the South.

One more wrinkle in the fight -- in Houston a mayor can only be recalled for malfeasance or dereliction of duty, not for unpopular votes.

The war without end

The show Radiolab dissects unusual topics, leading into all kinds of interesting directions. An example is the show that includes a segment on the death of the dinosaurs. Many of us have long heard the big meteor filled the sky with dust which caused a perpetual winter which killed the dinosaurs over years. This show suggested the debris from that meteor began falling that same day and the huge amount of it heated the atmosphere and baked the dinosaurs within hours. Proto mammals were not affected because they were underground. This episode is also on video (and is really cool).

Those of us who have studied American Government (I took the class in 12th grade) know Congress, not the president, has the authority to declare war. That was done rather promptly on Dec. 7th, 1941, marking the American entry into WWII.

This evening I listened to Radiolab's hour-long podcast titled 60 Words. That's how many words are in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed the week after the 9/11 attacks. Unlike the declaration that got us into WWII, this one is still in effect and lots of things have used it as their legal foundation. That includes Obama's use of drone strikes in Yemen. As it was read for this program I was appalled at how broad it is. Over the hour we listen to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who describes how she decided how to vote (to me -- with 12 years more experience -- the memorial service she attended the day of the vote comes off as quite manipulative). We hear about all the things the AUMF has been used to authorize (amazingly, not Iraq) and how the gov't goes about deciding who should be hit by drone strikes today. This war is one without end (could go on for another 10-20 years?) with the AUMF in effect the whole time. We hear that Obama is trying to get Congress to declare AUMF over and done -- but don't worry, he has other ways to legally act with force against our enemies. Which is also scary.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Our relations are morally acceptable

The Gallup Poll organization does an annual survey with the question "Do you believe that, in general, the following are morally acceptable?" They look at 19 issues from married people having affairs (7% believe they are morally acceptable) and cloning humans (acceptable by 13%) to birth control (acceptable by 90%). The big news of the poll is that gay and lesbian relations are now seen as acceptable by 58% of respondents. That's up 18 points since 2001 and is the issue with the biggest change. This change in moral acceptability translates to more support for legal equality.


Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. flings words into the void after every mass shooting, such as the one last week in Isla Vista. He's tired of it. He also is running out of words. Words such as "grotesque" have lost their power. Demands to hold leaders accountable accomplish nothing. All that word-flinging doesn't make any difference.
It is a measure of a uniquely American insanity that truths so obvious and inarguable are regarded as controversial and seditious by many people in this country. Indeed, Georgia, recently enacted a law allowing guns in churches, school zones, bars, government buildings, even parts of airports. You think those words and that argument will find any purchase there? Don't hold your breath.
Since that shooting the carnage continues in big incidents and small. If we allow deaths to become routine we lose our humanity. We can't afford that. So he has a final word to fling: Enough.

Fueling talk of a split

Two articles from the United Methodist News Service about recent talk of a denominational split are discussed on my brother blog.