Monday, September 29, 2014

At the bishop's office

I was in Lansing for a couple hours today to lend support to the pastor who conducted a same-sex wedding and is now before the bishop. I spent more time in the car than at the bishop's office. I have the rest of the story in my brother blog.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Church Acceptance Project

I posted a bit of background and more news about the United Methodist pastor who recently performed a same-sex wedding in Michigan. Read it here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Anger is a privilege

Essayist Terrence Heath writes that anger is a privilege. Angry white men are allowed to sweep Newt Gingrich to office (20 years ago) and it was assumed they had a right to be angry and whatever they were angry about should be remedied. Tea Party members are allowed to be angry. So are the conservative talking heads – they're even allowed to rile up their audience. Even paramilitary groups wanting to secede from America are allowed to be angry.

But then there is the angry black person. A black person is allowed to show joy, suffering, sadness, fear, and stoicism. Most of these emotions on display reaffirm the power and privilege of others.
All of these things are allowed, but not anger. Anger implies entitlement, whether to material goods, power, privilege, or respect. Anger implies a right to expect something, and is a justifiable response to not receiving one’s due. And you aren’t due anything you’d have a right to be angry about having been denied.

To be labeled an “angry black woman” or an “angry black man,” however, is to be dismissed as a cartoonish stereotype. Worse, any show of anger means being seen as a threat. Either way, the “angry black man” or “angry black woman” is someone who must either be put in his or her place, or effectively put down to preserve the status quo.

Dad, may I have your kidney?

The United Nations Human Rights Comission has approved a resolution opposing anti-gay violence and discrimination. It passed by a vote of 25-14.

There was some doubt South Africa would support it, though they eventually voted yes. South Africa was the first country to put protections for sexual minorities in its constitution, but lately it seems to be turning away from full inclusion. The South African Ambassador noted he felt squeezed between protecting rights and a desire to preserve relationships with homophobic African countries.

A commenter breaks down the vote of the 39 countries in the commission. In the nay column are Africa (except South Africa), all Islamic majority countries, and Russia. In the yea column are North and South America, Europe, and Asia (except for Indonesia, which has an Islamic majority).

Another commenter said we should thank Christians because all the countries that voted for this resolution are Christian majority. That got a storm brewing. Several responded by saying these countries approved the resolution not because they are mostly Christian, but because they are mostly secular.

The organization Freedom to Marry has launched a nationwide ad campaign highlighting the states that still don't have marriage equality and saying "It's Time," America is ready. The ad shows an interesting map of the states without equality but no outlines of the states who already have it.

The International Olympic Committee has said it will add a non-discrimination clause to the contract it signs with host cities. The hosts must uphold Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states, "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." Some commenters are pleased. Others say it won't prevent a repeat of the mess around the Sochi games because Principle 6 doesn't explicitly mention sexual orientation and gender identity.

A few days ago NPR did a feature on Sister Theresa Forcades, a Catholic nun in Spain. She has become an outspoken darling of progressives in that country. What caught my attention was her comments on abortion. Her first issue: decision-making in the Catholic Church is linked to ordination and ordination is linked to gender.

When she spoke of supporting abortion rights she got a swift reprimand from the Vatican. In her response she posed a philosophical question:
So let's imagine you have a father and the father has a compatible kidney, and you have a child, an innocent child, who needs the kidney. Is the church ready to force the father to give the kidney, to save the child's life? That the right to life of the child takes precedence over the right to self-determination to his own body, of the father?
To that question the Vatican did not reply.

A little bit of fun: Cirque du Soleil created a film showing how quadcopters might be used in dance (and might be used in an upcoming live show).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Which case to take?

Since the Supremes will be deciding whether to take a marriage equality case on Monday there is a lot of speculation on what the court will do and more speculation on what factors will play into that decision. Here's another take on that by Lisa Keen. I'm linking to her article in the blog Towleroad though I also saw it printed in Between the Lines. My summary of some of what she wrote:

When the marriage equality cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee were before the 6th Circuit back at the beginning of August (Sheesh! What's taking you guys so long?) some people saw signals during oral arguments that those particular judges wanted to uphold the state bans on same-sex marriage. That would show a conflict between the 6th Circuit and the other Circuits who have ruled so far. And that is a big reason for the Supremes to take one of the seven current cases before them. Ruth Bader Ginsberg has said as much. So perhaps they'll wait until the 6th Circuit issues its ruling.

If the Supremes decline to hear one of those cases the stays that prevent their implementation must be removed. That would mean all of the states in the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Circuits – another dozen – would automatically get legal same-sex marriage. It seems unlikely the Supremes would do that.

There are seven cases before the Supremes. Which case – if any – does the court take? Each comes with baggage. The 9th Circuit case has a related question of level of scrutiny (the amount of needed justification for a law) that is appropriate. The 10th Circuit case out of Utah may mean looking at that state's history of polygamy. Out of the 4th Circuit there are parallels to the ban on interracial marriage. The 7th Circuit case also deals with timing because one of the plaintiffs is seriously ill. Perhaps the best one is the Utah case in which the state is the defendant to avoid the snags of the Calif. case in which the Supremes declared the defendants had no standing. Beyond that the cases are almost identical, so it doesn't matter much which one the Supremes take.

Related news:

A state judge has declared the Louisiana ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. That's in contrast to a federal judge who already declared it to be just fine with him.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg was interviewed by Jessican Weisberg of Elle magazine. Part of the interview is online (one must buy the paper magazine for the full text). The online part is still worthwhile – there are some juicy bits. One in particular: Ginsberg is asked why not retire and let Obama appoint her successor? Alas, under the current political reality Obama couldn't get confirmation for anyone Ginsberg would like to see on the court. She also discusses the term "activist judge" and her thoughts on women's rights. As for abortion, current GOP restrictions only apply to poor people – women who aren't poor can always get an abortion even if the clinic is several states away. So, "It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people."

United Methodists and marriage equality in Michigan

I wrote a post in my brother blog about a United Methodist pastor in Michigan who recently performed a same-sex wedding. Complaints were filed with the bishop and the just resolution process is underway. Many are gathering on Monday to hold a vigil during the second meeting of this process. Read about it here. Then pass the word to your United Methodist friends.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Legislature v. voters

Back on Sept. 5, in response to my post about voter-ID laws enacted by the GOP, my friend and debate partner wrote about politics in Michigan's GOP controlled legislature:
Whether or not Republicans retain their power, this year I expect a tragic post-election legislative session in regard to voting rights; women's rights; access to health insurance; everyone's rights to sue over anything controversial; public funding and tax fairness; county, municipal and township funding and services; public education; public employees' rights; privatization; environmental exploitation (including a corporate grab for Michigan's fresh water riches); prisoners' rights and opportunities. A disaster for all minorities (including LGBT's), the middle class and the less fortunate of all kinds. If Republican power is then lame-duck, as we may still hope, their legislative onslaught will be as deep as its masters can conceive -- it will be the GOP's last gasp. If Republicans retain power, they will press their agenda strongly. Public contempt and electoral remorse will make no difference. We should fear the last six weeks of 2014; [Gov.] Snyder will sign any bill he receives, whether or not he remains in power.
Today I heard news from Michigan Radio indicating my friend's prediction is likely correct.

After the last election, in which Obama took all 16 of Michigan's Electoral votes, the GOP in the state started pushing the idea that Electoral College votes should be decided by Congressional District, rather than winner-take-all at the state level. It sounds fair, but the GOP has so gerrymandered the state that in 2012 Romney would have gotten at least 3 more votes than a proportional split of all votes cast for president would have given him (and, of course, 9 more votes than Romney got under winner-take-all).

Michigan Radio reports that idea is again circulating around Lansing. Again, Dems are crying foul. Various news reports also list other issues that will be deferred to the lame-duck session. Alas, this bit is news and not a story, so it isn't posted to the Michigan Radio website.

My friend has solid history on which to base his prediction. In the last lame-duck session the GOP pushed through a slew of new laws, including the (misnamed) Right-to-Work law. Once the election is over with the GOP is beholden to nobody but their corporate masters. So many of them are term-limited that they won't be back for another term to face voters again. These are headed to lobbying positions supplied by those corporate masters. Many other legislators trust their voters like enough of their shenanigans they'll forget the worst stuff.

So, how do we go about getting rid of the lame-duck session? How do we prevent the legislature from meeting in November and December? Or how do we immediately put the newly elected politicians into office? We face a situation in which the legislature has become completely separated from voters.

An ordinary happy, long-term couple

I mentioned yesterday that one radio station said I-96 would open today even though the official website said there would be another 9 days. Well, the official website changed its message. Yes, the highway was open today. I was on it for a few miles.

My reason for being on it was to head out to see the movie Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George, a gay couple who have been together for 40 years. They finally get married, but the news of that means George loses his job teaching at a Catholic high school. Without George's salary they can't afford their New York apartment, but the only relative who has room for both of them lives in Poughkeepsie, too far from where George wants to search for a job. Much of the movie is about the disruption of not being together or the disruption of families having to deal with someone else in the house. George is present at a party put on by his hosts only because that party takes place around the couch where he sleeps. One important aspect of the movie is that Ben and George are treated the same as any other happy, long-term couple, a love story, not a gay love story. Overall, a sweet movie.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

We've already spoken

The 10th Circuit Court has already ruled on the same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. Before them now is the ban in Colorado. This time the 10th Circuit said, we've already spoken. Taking on this case now would be a waste of our time. We're going to wait for the Supremes to rule.

If the Supremes rule for us the 10th Circuit doesn't have to do anything. If the Supremes don't take one of the cases they revert back to the 10th Circuit and the Utah and Oklahoma rulings likely apply to Colorado, without taking the Colorado case.

It is Banned Book Week. To mark that All Things Considered on NPR did a story featuring one of the books frequently banned. The book is It's Perfectly Normal and explains puberty and sex to kids in a way easy for them to understand. It sounds quite comprehensive, including info on same-sex attraction, transgender, birth control, and sexual abuse. The book is frequently banned because the illustrations are a bit too detailed for the average parent and make them uncomfortable. They don't want kids to have access without supervision, so they can be there to answer questions (more likely, they don't want kids to have access).

The American Library Association has the list of the 10 most challenged books for 2013. Many of the books are the same as in the 2012 list. I see only one book is there this year because of homosexuality, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.

Detour ends

In my usual travels I take I-96 a lot. That includes when heading to downtown Detroit, to the college where I teach, to the Ruth Ellis Center, to Ann Arbor, and to my parent's home. The only direction I don't use it is when I head directly north or directly south.

But since April the 7-mile section in Redford and Livonia has been closed. It badly needed repairs and the state Dept. of Transportation determined it was time to completely rebuild it. They conducted citizen forums where the feedback said to completely close it for one construction season rather than have it partially closed for two. They tore out all the old concrete, improved whatever goes under it, and laid a new roadbed according to construction guidelines that have changed in the 40 years since it was built. In addition, all 35 bridges over the highway were rebuilt. Those were not done all at once, though I had to remember this bridge is closed this month and that bridge will be closed next month.

Since I live a few miles from the middle of the closed section I had to work out alternate routes. To the college or Ann Arbor I took surface streets to the ends of the closed section. To downtown Detroit I took a completely different route. Some of those surface streets were quite busy.

Also since I live close I've frequently ridden my bike along and over the highway to see the progress. In the early days I could cross a bridge in the middle, look both ways (this section is fairly straight), and count a dozen cranes in use. That has tapered off. There was once I watched a huge paving machine pass underneath me.

It is almost done. The DOT has said the highway will open two weeks early, in about nine days. I heard one report that it will open tomorrow, though I suspect it is incorrect – the official website still lists 9 days. The early opening means the construction company gets a bonus.

To celebrate the completed work and to thank residents for putting up with it for 7 months a two-mile section of the highway was opened this afternoon for a family fun day. A college along the highway offered parking and people were invited to come on down to the highway's surface to walk, ride bicycles, use skateboards, or do anything else that was muscle powered (I saw a few scooters for the disabled). There was an official ribbon-cutting at 2:00 (which I skipped) and then two hours to play in the highway.

I rode my bike from home rather than get caught in traffic. Alas, I stopped under a store overhang for a few minutes to avoid a light rain. Most of the festivities were at the west end of the opened area and I was able to enter at the east end. Shortly after I arrived the sun came out and the air warmed up a bit to about 65F.

There were a lot of people there! In this photo I got up on the embankment under a bridge to see the crowd up ahead. I didn't make it all the way to the west end because the crowds were so thick. Even away from there I had to go slowly to avoid running into people.

I rode back and forth a couple times, enjoying the party atmosphere and the diversity of the crowd as well as the diversity of ways they got around. I was on the highway for almost an hour. I took an exit ramp up to street level and that's when I saw and heard an area high school marching band go by. They look to be having fun, even if they aren't in the crisp, straight rows one expects.

About then the rain started up again. I decided it was time to head home. It didn't rain all the way home and it was never strong (that waited until later), so my clothes were damp, but not soggy. I'll have to clean the spattered dirt off the back of my shirt. In spite of the weather it was a great afternoon.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

6000 IDs a day

Two weeks ago I wrote about the voter-ID law in Georgia and the data that shows it is discriminatory. A few days later I had lunch with my friend and debate partner. He talked about advocacy groups that would not let such discrimination stand.

Suits by advocacy groups were indeed brought against the voter-ID law in Wisconsin. Alas, the 7th Circuit just ruled that the stay against the law must be lifted. The report on NPR doesn't go into the ruling. Instead, it discusses the chaos such a ruling has 50 days before an election. For instance, absentee ballots have been sent out, but they won't be counted unless the requester returns to the city clerk's office and shows an ID. How are those voters going to be told that is a necessary step?

I went searching for other sources, trying to get some explanation rather than having to wade through the text of the ruling. Some of what I found:

There are about 300,000 Wisconsin voters without a proper ID. How does the state issue 6,000 IDs a day between now and the election?

According to an editorial in the New York Times the voter-ID law was pushed through by (infamous) Gov. Scott Walker, who is now in a very close race for a second term. The law was revised in July to make it easier to get an ID if a person couldn't afford one or didn't have the required documents, such as a birth certificate. The 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit didn't rule on whether the law was constitutional. Instead, they ruled that those recent changes to the law were sufficient to remove the stay until the basic question is answered. They made that ruling only hours after hearing the case. The Times calls this ruling a "big mistake." The Supremes could reinstate the stay.

From the Times article:
Notably not on Friday’s panel was Richard Posner, the Seventh Circuit judge who upheld a similar voter-ID law in Indiana in 2007. The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed that decision, but both Judge Posner and Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion for the court, have since said they were wrong, and had misunderstood the true nature of voter-ID laws.
That Judge Posner is the one who did the delightful smackdown of the Wisconsin same-sex marriage ban. Too bad he wasn't part of the 3-judge panel that decided this mess.

A second NPR story is about advertisements that use double entendres to encourage young people to register and to vote. One, put out by the NRA, shows a father pulling a box from a closet. But there isn't a gun inside, instead there is a voter registration card.

They will take it

Emma Margolin of MSNBC lists five reasons why she believes the Supremes will take a same-sex marriage case. The Supremes will consider cases from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin when they meet on Sept. 29. At that conference they can decide to take one or more cases, refuse all cases, or postpone a decision. Margolin sees five reasons why they'll take at least one of the cases.

1. When a decision at the Circuit Court level is appealed, it is the losers who do the appealing. This time both sides appealed (the gay side is confident of a win). In addition, lots of groups are urging the justices to settle the issue. That included 32 states, some for and some against, and various corporations and religious groups.

2. Momentum – Eighty cases have been filed in the year since last year's pro-gay ruling by the Supremes. 41 of those cases have had a ruling at some judicial level and 39 of them have been in our favor. While there isn't a split between Circuits, this number of cases shows the matter is of public importance, one of the criteria for accepting a case.

3. Back in July Justice Ginsberg said, "If a case is properly before the court, they will take it."

4. Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit recently ruled in the Idaho and Nevada cases. He predicts the Supremes will take the case because when Justice Kennedy ruled a year ago he left intact a conflict between state's rights and the dignity of gays and lesbians.

5. The Supremes have issued stays for several state cases, starting with Utah. It doesn't make sense for them to issue a stay and then not take the case. Why block the marriages, then unblock them a few months later without a hearing?

This past Tuesday Ginsberg spoke at the University of Minnesota Law School. During that talk she said to look at the 6th Circuit – the Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee cases. If the 6th Circuit rules against us it would force the Supremes to take the case. If the 6th Circuit follows the 4th, 9th, and 10th Circuits then there is "no need for us to rush." Is this a prediction that the 6th Circuit will rule against us?

Ginsberg also talked about her friendship with Antonin Scalia (they frequently go to the opera together) and joked about plans to write a comic opera with the title "Scalia/Ginsberg."

The Macarthur Genius Grants for 2014 were recently announced. These are awards of $625,000 paid to individuals the Macarthur Foundation considers worthy based on past accomplishments. Two of this year's winners are from our community.

Mary Bonauto was the lead lawyer in the cases that resulted in civil unions in Vermont in 2000, in marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2004, and the Windsor case that was decided last year overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act and gave rise to the flurry of marriage equality cases that have arrived on the Supremes' doorstep. Her work put a solid foundation under all those cases.

Alison Bechdel wrote the comic-strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008) and has published memoirs in comic-book form that describe the complex relationship with her father.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Yesterday was the big fund-raising event for Ruth Ellis Center. Again, I volunteered to help out. This time I did guest check-in. I sat with a couple other volunteers. As guests arrived I helped check names off a spreadsheet, one out in the cloud so all three of us were updating the same file. I think there were about 240 names on the list, though not all came. Alas, check-in was on the main floor and the party was on the 11th.

After most guests had arrived the volunteer coordinator, my boss for the evening, allowed me to join the party. The buffet line had lots of fancy things, though I stuck to safe foods – roast turkey, cheese, cucumber, and hummus. Eventually the program began.

The program is titled "Voices" and gives the Center's youth a chance to express themselves. The Center staff started preparations last winter. They asked various people to help the youth. This included a couple composers, a choreographer, and a creative writer guide. There were also a couple professional producers, though I think one concentrated on clothing. The one person they could have added and didn't was a lighting designer, or at least someone on a follow spot.

First came a video that described the process of the writer and one of the composers working to draw out the youth and guiding them in expressing themselves. In the video we also heard from some of the youth who went through the process and how it helped them to mature.

The writer (also otherwise a volunteer at the Center) worked with several youth, four of whom recited spoken word pieces they had written. These were intercut, with each reading sections before allowing another to speak. The themes were mostly about self-empowerment. One talked about "gay marriage" and how it should be just "marriage." He doesn't gay walk his dog.

Sessions of spoken word alternated with dance. The first couple dances were solos in a ballet style for men. The dancers were accompanied by a string quartet, with music written by one of the composers. The quartet included a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and one from the Michigan Opera Orchestra. They have some high powered friends! The other composer provided electronic dance music for a troupe of eight youth, who danced in the vogue style I see most weeks from the kitchen at the Center.

The next part of the program was awards. First came plaques given to each of the talent guides. I'm sure all their time was donated. Then the staff presented two winners of a new award, a "Ruth's Angel" for exceptional service to the Center.

The first went to a woman who had joined the board only two years ago and in that time raised $40,000 for the center. She came onto the stage and was handed a mic. She told a bit about her passion for the work the Center is doing and how she had to get involved.

The second award was given to me.

This was a delightful surprise! I hadn't been told ahead of time. When the presenter started talking about a faithful volunteer who started back in 2008 I knew it was me. There aren't any other volunteers who have been around as long (I've been there longer than all of the current staff, so there was a scramble to find my start date without asking me). I made my way on stage and accepted the plaque and the mic. I spoke a bit about why I'm there most Wednesdays over six years, even if it is only to serve food, load the dishwasher, and scrub pots. I ended by saying how wonderful it was to see such a large crowd of supporters of the Center. Those who I talked to later assured me what I said was eloquent.

While watching the program, and especially when they started handing out plaques, I was thinking wouldn't it be nice for me to get a plaque? Then I'd tell myself that I'm not doing it for the recognition. I don't need an award. My mind would come back and say, yeah, but wouldn't it be nice, say after ten years? I'll say now that getting the plaque is wonderful!

Afterward I talked to Henry, the coordinator of the Center's drop-in program, of which I am a part. When the staff came up with the idea for the Angel Award late last fall he said he wanted the award to go to people who make a real difference, not some kind of token to a big donor. The others asked if he had someone in mind. He did – me. Others quickly agreed.

Then came the task of getting me there without telling me about the award. I started asking how I might volunteer for the event (saves on buying a pricy ticket). Henry didn't want to answer because he was afraid he would say too much. He turned me over to Nick, the volunteer coordinator for the event. Nick had the task of coming up with something for me to do so that I would be free during the actual program. Though email he offered a couple jobs and I chose one. Then there was the fear that I would do my part and head home, though I had said I very much wanted to see the program. Nick sent out one more email yesterday afternoon asking me to confirm whether I would be there. Thinking back I doubt he sent confirmation notes to the other volunteers. Through the many months, and especially in the last week, the entire staff kept the secret.

It is pretty neat being a Ruth's Angel. I'll be back there Wednesday. And the Wednesday after that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Need more scientists!

Richard Harris did a report on NPR about scientists who can't get funding – traditional sources, especially gov't, have dried up – and so are dropping out of doing science. That left me with a big question. Aren't lots of people supposedly in the know shouting for students to go into STEM subjects? The "S" in that acronym stands for science. So why so much shouting about studying science when scientists can't get their research funded?

Between the Lines, Michigan's gay newspaper, has already endorsed Dem Mark Schauer to replace GOP Rick Snyder for governor of Michigan. Of course, the choice – even if only in terms of policies towards sexual minorities – has been glaringly obvious for months.

Michigan state Dem lawmakers have introduced bills to put sexual minorities into the state's civil rights law beside race and other protected classes. This is not the first time such bills have been introduced. Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the GOP and their spokesman repeated the line that protections are needed for those with a religious objection to homosexuality.

A clear discinction between free speech and bribery

The Senate has approved opening debate on a constitutional amendment to do something about all that corporate money in our campaign-election system. Yay! A first step has been taken. Even GOP Congresscritters don't like the current system. It requires they spend way too much time asking for money. Even Republicans believe corporate influence is too strong. So an attempt to limit such large-scale corporate bribery should be celebrated.


A report from NPR isn't so cheery. They point a couple things behind this particular vote.

* It is a GOP stalling tactic. Congress is in town for only a short amount of time before heading home to campaign. Spend time debating this amendment and the Senate isn't spending time on such issues as equal pay for women and college affordability (not that either of those was any more likely to get past this particular House).

* Both parties will oppose anything that appears to give an advantage to the other party (so they love power more than they hate dialing for dollars and more than they honor the constitution).

* Approving debate in the Senate is far different from passing an amendment, which requires a 2/3 majority.

There are very clear polls saying American citizens support such an amendment by huge margins. But David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics (I'll guess this is a highly conservative group, though I won't look it up because their vision statement is likely quite vague) says the polls are wrong, badly phrased, or insufficient. His proof: Polls show a strong support for the First Amendment.

I'll respond by declaring Keating's reading of the polls misses a key point. Citizens see a clear distinction between free speech and bribery.

I heard elsewhere that the only way to get a serious push towards campaign finance reform would be a big scandal. Alas, since the source of so much campaign money is now secret a scandal is harder to generate.

Another NPR report considers the question: When the Senate, and Congress as a whole, is so gridlocked does it really matter which party is in the majority? That question is appropriate with lots of analysis predicting the GOP will take the Senate in November. Mara Liasson's report provides some answers.

* Obama says a GOP majority would stop his agenda of improving minimum wage, equal pay, and infrastructure funding. But would that agenda go anywhere with a solid GOP majority in the House?

* Scott Reed of the US Chamber of Congress (and a conservative) says the GOP takeover of the Senate would repudiate Obama's leadership style. Since Obama would be focused on legacy he'll do all he can to work with the GOP which will "get something done that are good for the country." The GOP agenda is good for the country? GOP actions over the last 6 years haven't been working to thwart Obama's leadership and legacy?

* Mitch McConnell will become Majority Leader and he has a long agenda: restrict the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act, financial service protections, the Environmental Protection Agency, and surely others. That means the next two years will be nothing but veto fights, with the GOP unable to override vetoes in the Senate.

* The GOP will demand more oversight of Obama. And former Secretary Clinton will face long strings of subpoenas. That translates to Bengazi as the only topic of conversation in the Senate.

* Perhaps the GOP will overreach, giving Dems a chance to "clarify" what the GOP agenda will do for America. Which supposedly means a retake of the Senate in 2016.

Don't bother reading the comments to this article – the GOP crazies took it over.

Mara Liasson left out one big consequence of the GOP ruling the Senate. Say goodbye to any approval of Obama's judicial nominees. And say goodbye to a reasonable Supreme Court if Ginsberg retires or dies (she is 81 years old and has had treatment for cancer). An ineffective or conservative judiciary is a big part of what conservatives are after.

Kinder, gentler smackdown

The 9th Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the Idaho and Nevada same-sex marriage cases. Hawaii was supposedly in there somewhere too, though didn't get much of a mention in the news. The 9th Circuit was a kinder, gentler version of the 7th Circuit oral arguments and ruling that came out a week ago. But it was just as devastating to out opponents. An example of the exchanges: Allowing gays to marry violates the "bonding" right of children to be raised by biological parents. Say what! That's ridiculous.

This hearing allowed Ari Ezra Waldman of Box Turtle Bulletin to do a comparison with the hearing before the 9th Circuit of the Calif. Prop 8 case from a couple years ago. One of the judges was a part of both cases.

The last time was all about narrowing the focus of the case so the Supremes might take it and not appear to be too far ahead of the mood of the country. So the 9th Circuit said that case was all about Calif. having marriage equality and voters taking it away. The Supremes ruled on standing instead of the central issue and Calif. got marriage equality anyway. This time...
The judges' questioning was direct and they expressed a similar, though less visible, frustration with the misdirection and misleading statements from the anti-equality attorneys as Judge Posner. The tone of the hearing suggested that marriage equality supporters are finally out of the closet, following a tidal wave of an emerging consensus of the legitimacy and morality of marriage freedom for all.
Judge Posner wrote the recent ruling from the 7th Circuit.

The old argument that same-sex sex marriage deprives a child of a father and a mother came around again (maybe not before the 9th Circuit but it has appeared many other places). And a child needs both for the complementary parenting styles. This time Judge Barzon declared that old line to be sexist, based on old ideas that women nurture and men discipline, and unconstitutional as a reason to discriminate.

There's the argument that we're just not really sure that kids raised by same-sex couples do as well as kids of straight couples. Another smackdown – one reason why kids of same-sex couples might not fare as well is because you are denying their parents the benefits and protections of marriage.

This consistent rebuttal of the same, now stale, arguments prompted commenter Pete in SFO to suggest other judges start of the case by asking, Dude, do you have anything new? No? Then let's all go home.

The various state arguments, including here in Michigan, have all been about the children. But it is good to see someone spell out what is really behind it all these crazy arguments – it is all about a religious view of morality. We can thank the Foundation for Moral Law for the clarity.

The Supremes have put the various same-sex marriage cases on their agenda for their conference on Sept. 29. Cases have been filed from Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana, and Wisconsin, all of which have been through the Circuit Courts. There are three possible outcomes from that meeting: they'll take one or more of the cases, they'll refuse to take the cases, or they'll put off a decision on what to do. They may put off a decision until January and still release a ruling in June. By January we should hear from Circuit Courts about the cases in Michigan and Idaho, and maybe even Arkansas and Texas.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Potter, not Lennon

I've added a new class to my schedule this year and a few of my students are freshmen of the traditional age. That prompted me to check out this year's Beloit College Mindset List. This is a list of cultural things that have been true since this year's freshmen were born, which was about 1996. A few of the items from this year's list:

* Two-term presidents are routine, but none of them ever won in a landslide.

* When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.

* Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.

* Hell has always been associated less with torment and more with nothingness.

* Whether to embrace fat or spurn it has been a front page debate all their lives.

* Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.

Long term love

This past Saturday Vivian Boyack and Alice Dubes were married in Iowa. So what makes this newsworthy? Boyack is 91 and Dubes is 90 and they've been together 72 years. One of the guests was Jerry Yeast. He did yardwork for them when he was a teen. He's now 73.

That strange and bigoted ruling in Louisiana that upheld the state's same-sex marriage ban will be appealed to the 5th Circuit Court. There will either be an eventual conflict between the District and 5th Circuit rulings or between the 5th Circuit and 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits (the 9th Circuit heard Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii cases today). Court watchers say either scenario should prompt the Supremes to take the case.

From an editorial in The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana:
Same-sex marriage bans have no reasonable place in today's society because they are based almost solely on traditional or religious prejudices. While the court's failure to acknowledge that in this case is certainly disappointing, it is not the end of the debate. Appeals already have been filed.

Thirty big corporations that operate across several states have asked the Supremes to take up the same-sex marriage case coming from Virginia and the 4th Circuit. The legal uncertainty of differing and shifting marriage laws are a burden to business. There are unnecessary costs, administrative complexity, problems with recruiting workers, and a workplace where workers have to be treated differently, which affects morale.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Carb v. fat

Michigan weather is up to its usual tricks. I ran the air conditioner yesterday for maybe the 4th or 5th day this year. The high was about 85F. The heat lasted until a strong thunderstorm whipped through at 7 pm. Today the high was 70F and the low tonight is expected to be 55F.

During yesterday's storm the power cut out long enough for my computer to decide to reboot, but no skip in sound from the CD player. I was lucky this time. This morning there were 400,000 without power.

Diets have been in the news lately.

NPR reported on a study that compared a low-carb diet to a low-fat diet. People on the low-carb diet lost a bit more weight and had a bit lower cholesterol. But the study had only 148 participants. That leads to a bigger point – we hear lots of advice about what is the best diet, but, in spite of that noise, diets are not well studied. There is "razor-thin" evidence of what is best for any individual. The studies tend to work with a small number of people for a short amount of time. They don't consider lots of related factors or do much follow-up.

There was a more complete study recently performed at Tulane University and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It compared two groups, one on a low-carb diet and one on a low-fat diet. Those in the low-carb group lost about 12 pounds in a year, the low-fat group lost about 4 pounds in the same time. The NPR article doesn't give details of the low-carb diet and the robustness of the study to see if it passes the complaints in the first article.

Another study showed the high-fat diet, with lots of olive oil, cut the risk of heart attack. Yet another study showed that when eating a diet low in refined carbs people burned off 150 more calories a day. That means high-carb, low-fat diets cause us to be hungrier and burn off fewer calories.

In response to those NPR reports Jason Sheehan talks about the role bread plays in our culture. He also talks about considered eating – being aware of and taking joy in food.

One more NPR story, this one is about the growing use of butter in America. We've recognized that margarine is bad for us and slowly returned to butter. Part of that is cholesterol is less of an issue in American kitchens and part is improved science on animal fats. There is also a move towards less processed food.

Some people are now predicting a butter shortage. That's not the case, though exports jumped from zero to 11% since 2000.

From the Detroit Free Press last Sunday is an article about a new drug that lowered the chance of death from heart failure. It was given a sizable article and described as a great advance over current medication and shows big promise. However, I note that it lowers the chance of death by only 20%. It was a large study, so perhaps the science is sound. I'd rather eat healthy and not face heart failure.

In the same edition is an article saying there is a problem in research in heart disease treatments. Those people used in clinical trials for a new treatment tend to be, other than having a particular heart problem, young and healthy. But those who will be taking the medication after approval tend to be older with other existing conditions and with a history of prior heart attacks, strokes, and heart surgery. Does an effective treatment for the young and healthy work for the older, sicker patients? Short answer: nobody knows.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pro-life and for same-sex marriage

The news reports for this one seem a bit convoluted. I think it comes down to this: Earlier this summer a state court in Arkansas struck down the same-sex marriage ban. The case now goes to the state Supremes. The attorneys for the gay couples are concerned. Maybe up to five of the seven members of the Arkansas Supremes are up for election. Conservative state lawmakers have declared if the Supremes side with marriage equality the justices will be targeted. Therefore the attorneys say those justices cannot be unbiased, and therefore they should step aside when this case is heard.

The Supremes have ruled on that request for their own to step aside: denied.

The marriage equality case in Wisconsin will be appealed to the Supremes.

Fifteen states that already have same-sex marriage and another seventeen who don't (most of those cases haven't been decided yet, though Oklahoma's case has already been through the Circuit Court) have asked the Supremes to take the Oklahoma case and settle the same-sex marriage issue. Let's be done with it. Yes, that's almost two-thirds of the states.

Commenter Ben~Andy explains the move this way: At one point we [voters or legislature] really liked these same-sex marriage bans. But they're indefensible now and we don't want to spend the money to defend them. Though we can see the writing on the wall, we're weak and spineless. So we want you, the Supremes, to get rid of those laws for us. That has the added benefit that we can rail against you, turn out our base, and win in November, take back the Senate and pack the judiciary to our liking.

While I agree that is likely how many conservatives are thinking it is almost impossible for the Supremes to rule before November.

A bit more about the ruling from the 7th Circuit Court. A good deal of the questioning during oral arguments had to do with refuting the claim that gay parents are harmful to children. A good chunk of the ruling takes the opposite view. Same-sex parents are just fine and we need to support that because they are more willing to adopt kids who have been in the foster care system. Taking it one more step:
Also, the more willing adopters there are, not only the fewer children there will be in foster care or being raised by single mothers but also the fewer abortions there will be. Carrying a baby to term and putting the baby up for adoption is an alternative to abortion for a pregnant woman who thinks that as a single mother she could not cope with the baby. The pro-life community recognizes this.
What a delicious piece of reasoning! If you are pro-life you should be for same-sex marriage. It will be the gay couples who care for the babies who aren't aborted.

Craig James of the Family Research Council (declared a hate group for their diatribes and work against us) is a little jealous of our recent success. Perhaps his gang could learn a few political organizational skills from us, cuz, obviously, we're so good at it. Commenters respond the FRC couldn't reproduce our success because it is built on such things as reason, science, rationality, humanity, compassion, understanding, truth, and love.

Randy Thomas used to be Executive Vice President of Exodus International, that group that used to champion gay conversion therapy. Exodus has closed its doors and Thomas is now apologizing for his role in promoting therapy that didn't work and ruined lives. Back in 2008 he was "jubilant" that California's Prop 8 passed. The next day he saw the faces of the gay community. Maybe the win was a terrible wrong. Here's a piece of his apology:
The part that breaks my heart, is that the night that Prop 8 (and other marriage bans) passed, we made it very clear to the gay community that policy was more important than they are. We made it clear that we thought that investing in rules was more important than sacrificially serving in honest relationship. We communicated that we valued the letter of the law more than the authentic expression of grace in the context of humbly living our lives and loving our neighbor. The message we sent was deeply damaging to our relationships with our gay neighbors and family members.

For my part in this, I deeply apologize.
He is now glad that marriage bans are being struck down.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Highest paid public employees

The website Twisted Sifter has 40 maps that explain some aspect of our world. Some of them I've seen before, such as 7 regions of the world, each with a population of 1 billion. Here are some of the others.

* Economic center of gravity – In 1913 it was in Sweden. It has wandered near the North Pole until 2000, since then it has moved sharply towards China.

* The 22 countries that Britain has not invaded.

* Highest paid public employees in each state. In all but 11 states it is a football or basketball coach.

* If the world's population lived in once city – if that city was the density of New York the world's population would fit in Texas.

* Earthquakes since 1898.

From a different page, a map showing the density of devices connected to the internet

And one that's really far out – a photo of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Just use your passport

The cover story in this month's Washington Spectator is on the GOP rush to make sure black people can't vote. They've been working hard at this issue for about a decade. The WS article explores what is going on in Georgia.

A big reason for the urgency is this: "Georgia's combined non-white population increased from 37 to 45 percent from 2000 to 2010." The supply of angry white guys isn't keeping up. After the Supremes gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act, districts in the South are scrambling to take advantage of not having their voting laws reviewed by the Department of Justice.

A big part of the tactic in Georgia is a voter-ID law. GOP politicians say it is to prevent voter fraud – in spite of presenting to a judge zero evidence of such fraud actually happening. That apparently comes down to definitions. It seems to the GOP mind a black person voting simply has to be fraud, cuz, you know, the only way a black person will vote is if you pay them to do it

The article delves into the case presented to a district judge. Some of their data:

* More than 874,000 Georgians didn't have drivers licenses in 2003

* More than 390,000 Georgians of voting age don't have a car, affecting their ability to afford a license.

* 28% of blacks and 21% of Hispanics live in poverty, compared to 10% of whites.

* The margin of victory in races for the governor have been about 260,000.

The judge declared the law to be unconstitutional. So the GOP provided a way of getting state IDs for free and said they would do a big media push to make sure everyone got one. Then the same judge heartily approved the bill, making some think the second opinion was "as if it had been written by another judge on another planet."

The GOP did that big media push. There was a huge emphasis on the need to have an ID when voting. It was only in the fine print that instructions were given on how to get a free one.

Will some not vote because they'll be challenged and disrespected when they do? Or will they resolve to not have their vote stripped?

One GOP senator said – ponder of the cluelessness of the statement – "If you don't have a driver's license, you can always use your passport."

So full of holes

Didn't we just have oral arguments in the 7th Circuit Court for the Wisconsin and Indiana same-sex marriage cases? Indeed we did. In amazingly quick time – 9 days – the 7th Circuit has issued its ruling. I wish the 6th Circuit would be so prompt with the Michigan case, which was heard 29 days ago. As expected, the 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit ruled unanimously that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. An excerpt from the summary:
The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction — that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended — is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.
An excerpt of the discussion about Indiana's claim that straight couples need marriage and gay couples don't:
Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.
And who is adopting those unwanted kids from straights who got "drunk and pregnant?" These days the new parents are often gay. The state wants to make their situation harder?

Indiana made the claim that allowing elderly first cousins to marry was a model for younger couples. That got a slap-down:
Elderly first cousins are permitted to marry because they can’t produce children; homosexuals are forbidden to marry because they can’t produce children. The state’s argument that a marriage of first cousins who are past child-bearing age provides a “model [of] family life for younger, potentially procreative men and women” is impossible to take seriously.
Alas, an appeal to the ruling from that bigoted judge in Louisiana will go to the 5th Circuit, not to this no-nonsense team on the 7th Circuit.

Louisiana – without the exclamation point

Federal district judge Martin Feldman broke our long winning streak of federal court victories over the last year. He said Louisiana's ban on same-sex marriage is just fine with him. He seems proud to be bucking the trend. A quote from the ruling:
The Court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational on the constitutional grid.
Apparently he doesn't remember all those descriptions of polygamy in the Bible.

And a bit from the Huffington Post article:
The court "hesitates with the notion that this state's choice could only be inspired by hate and intolerance"
Hesitate all you want.

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin has a look at the ruling. Tisinai is very good at dissecting the logic of the anti-day side. But in this case he doesn't see a lot of logic.

If social change is to come from the ballot or legislature and not the courts, Tisinai says it is "an invitation never to find any law unconstitutional, no matter how great an affront to the Constitution it may be." Feldman says this case is different but doesn't explain why it is an exception. Ah, yes, the kids. But Feldman's comments explain why the state should support straight marriages. That doesn't explain why same-sex marriages should be banned. Tisinai, who had reminded us he isn't a lawyer, concludes:
To my untrained eye, this decision looks easy to challenge on appeal.
Feldman uses the old chestnut of the slippery slope argument. If we don't ban gay marriage then people will begin to think polygamy is good too. Commenter Nathaniel settles that one. If you can't justify a ban on its own merits, then using the need to ban one thing to justify the need to ban another only shows the weaknesses in the arguments for both bans.
If maintaining your ban on polygamy is your justification for banning same-sex marriage, one must question if you even have good reasons to ban polygamy.