Sunday, May 31, 2015

A visitor

Somebody left the back gate open (not me!) and I had a visitor in my back yard.

I stayed in the house until she left. I took several more photos as she kept a wary eye on me. The golf course behind my house closed four years ago. The greens have overgrown. A neighbor said it would take millions of dollars to restore it into a golf course and investors wouldn't be able to recoup their expenses. I'm happy to leave it as a nature preserve, though I would like a way to make that status official and permanent.

Another photo to share:

This is the miniature lilac bush at the edge of my deck taken six days ago. Three days later a storm came through and knocked all the blossoms off.

May has been a cool month. There have been a few days over 80 degrees, but it hasn't gotten hot enough for long enough for me to need my air conditioner. There have been several cool days (and many just right for riding my bike). Two days ago it was warm. Yesterday was cool with a couple storms through the area. The river through the golf course has flooded, though the course is overgrown enough I can no longer see flooding from my house. Tonight will be cool, low perhaps 45F. So here we are at the end of May and I have to turn the furnace on.

A couple important drains in my house have clogged. I asked my handyman for a recommendation for a plumber, a guy who has done work here before. I called on Wednesday, called again on Thursday. He hasn't called back. I called the handyman again and got another recommendation. I called that guy on Friday. He hasn't called back. I contacted a guy at church today who might do some of the work, but our schedules won't align until Wednesday morning (I'll be visiting Dad tomorrow). But it looks like I'll need someone else to do the rest of the work. Home ownership is such fun.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Marriage equality will come to Greenland on October 1st!

I mentioned a couple days ago that Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, won't let a vote on marriage equality happen on his watch, even though the country is very much (perhaps 70%) in favor of it. The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has responded by submitting a bill to establish marriage equality. Whether that bill passes (if a vote is allowed) depends a lot on whether the various party leaders demand a party-line vote of their members or let members vote their conscience.

Here is a map of where we have marriage equality. In some countries the light green means there are civil unions, in other countries it means some locations have equality and other locations don't. It is easy to see there is no equality in Asia, Middle East, and Africa – with the exception of South Africa.

Angela Merkel of Germany said same-sex marriages "are not a goal of this government." It's not on the agenda. It appears that in Germany when parties form a governing coalition they work out an agenda to which all parties can agree. But if something new comes up that isn't on the agenda it is difficult to make it happen. I'll be kind – Germany was one of the first to enact civil unions.

And it Texas, which is reaching the end of its legislative season, their bill to defy the Supremes on marriage equality has died. A few wise voices said, hey guys, there are other things of higher priority. Another 20 some bills that would have made life rough for sexual minorities have also died.

Frank Bruni, in a New York Times opinion, has noted two things in common with what appears to be a diverse list of countries. Those countries are: Belgium, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, France, Uruguay, Luxembourg and Ireland. Those common things are: (1) More people go to Roman Catholic Churches than any other religious denomination. (2) All of them have made same-sex marriage legal. Yes, over the Vatican's protests.

Even in America Catholics are defying their leadership. That means prez. candidates Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio, who have cited their Catholicism as a reason for opposing same-sex marriage, are in the minority of Catholics on this issue. But they take that stance for their Evangelical Protestant supporters.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Comfortable with my discrimination

Legislation to deal with the homosexual issues is now ready for the United Methodist General Conference next year. Details are in my brother blog.

No place to live

During all the celebration over same-sex marriage in Ireland, Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, was asked so what about a referendum there? Short answer: Nope. Longer answer: Marriage equality isn't a constitutional question (and others agree). The Parliament is the place to act on the issue. But Abbott will not allow a vote while he is Prime Minister. Never mind that a referendum would probably pass (though a constitutional amendment probably wouldn't).

Anti-gay politicians in Alabama have been working hard to thwart the ruling of Federal Judge Ginny Granade that struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban. Advocates went back to Judge Granade and she has now ruled. Yes, the ruling applies state-wide. Though, she wrote, at this point we might as well wait for the Supremes to speak.

A new Gallup poll shows support for marriage equality is now at 60%. It is significant for a reason – the amount above 50% is greater than the margin of error. The number of Americans who support marriage equality is definitely a majority.

Researchers at Trulia have compared median annual income for new college graduates to the median rent in the top 25 rental markets in America. Their finding: new grads can't afford to rent anywhere. In most markets their income would need to double or triple to find a place to rent. Put another way a new grad in Portland, OR could afford 0.1% of rental properties. A big reason for this is because of the Great Recession, which scared and prevented people from buying houses, the rental market has zoomed upward.

McDonald's recently had a shareholders meeting at its headquarters in Oak Brook, IL. Thousands of employees – cashiers and cooks, the people paid minimum wage – also showed up with a few labor leaders. The complaint: the company spent nearly $30 billion over the last decade to boost the stock price through dividends and share buybacks. That's a discredited strategy that gives a short-term payout to a handful of rich investors. The protesters say the money should have gone into living wages. McDonald's is so skimpy with its pay its workers cost taxpayers $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, meaning taxpayers are subsidizing the company's profits. Many protesters carried an enlarged version of their paycheck to show how little they're paid.

Balances religious freedom and discrimination

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, asked the state legislature for a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, similar to the one that caused such a ruckus in Indiana. A Louisiana House panel rejected it in a 10-2 vote. Jindal, who has formed an exploratory committee on becoming a GOP candidate for president, said, fine, he'll do it himself by executive order.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an executive order of his own.
The city of New Orleans appropriately balances religious beliefs of all kinds with civil liberties, including freedom from discrimination. … The purpose of this Executive Order is to confirm for the residents of the City of New Orleans, its businesses and visitors that religious beliefs are protected from unjustified governmental burden, but that there is no tolerance in the City of New Orleans for discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin or ancestry, color, religion, gender or sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital or domestic partner status, age, physical condition or disability.

State Senator Karen Carter Peterson took to the senate floor to blast Jindal. Strange that he doesn't like executive orders when they come from Washington. Strange that his first commercial about the executive order ran in – Iowa.

Got it wrong

In my summary of Dan Savage's book American Savage in yesterday's post I left out an important point. In the last chapter, in which Savage debates Brian Brown, the argument turns to the authority of the Bible. This is important when so many of our opponents believe the Bible is the Word of God and therefore without error. Savage stated if the Bible got slavery wrong – and it did – what else did it get wrong? If it is so wrong about an easy issue such as slavery what are the chances of it getting a complicated issue such as human sexuality 100% right?

Brown tries to claim that the brutal form slavery as was practiced in America is only an Old Testament thing, and the slavery practiced in New Testament times, or at least with Hebrew masters, wasn't all that bad. It was mostly voluntary (indentured servitude) and of a short duration. In addition, the New Testament doesn't really support slavery.

During the debate Savage let Brown's comments go. There were so many other illogical threads to chase after. Once the video of the debate was made public others refuted Brown's claims. Yes, even New Testament era slavery was brutal and yes the New Testament does endorse it and doesn't condemn it. So, back to Savage's question. If the Bible got slavery wrong what else did it get wrong?

That's another way of saying our morality is and should be independent of the Bible.

To be fair, the Bible also got a great deal of morality right. Do unto others... Love one another... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, neither male nor female...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A moralist for our time

I just finished Dan Savage's latest book American Savage. If you really don't know who he is, you need to get out more. If you insist, the basics are at his Wikipedia page. In this book he lays out his opinions on a variety of topics. I find his views to be well reasoned and to make a lot of sense. I'm glad to see he is being called a moralist for our time. Since Savage is a columnist for sex advice several of the topics in the book are about sex.

I'm going to save chapters 1 and 13 for the end. My summary of the other chapters:

2. It's never okay to cheat (except when it is): Humans are bad at monogamy (why else do we put that in marriage vows?). There are certain situations where it is better to have sex outside of a marriage than to dissolve the marriage. Outside those situations if a spouse strays once or twice over a long marriage that is a sign that the spouse is pretty good at monogamy. That's why Savage coined the term "monogamish."

3. Sex dread. Sex education is taught in schools two ways. There is the abstinence only curriculum, which is very good at raising teenage pregnancy rates. There is a "comprehensive" curriculum, which also teaches about safe sex and birth control and sometimes addresses the needs of sexual minorities. It is better, says Savage, but not nearly enough. Both ways demonize sex, which is not a healthy thing to do to sexual beings. What is missing is such things as how to give and receive pleasure, what one should expect from a partner and what their partner will expect in return, what it means to find a compatible mate, and how to identify an abusive relationship. Only rarely will a teacher delve into these topics.

4. The GGG spot. Savage describes this as good, giving, and game, as in strive to be good in bed, giving pleasure without immediate reciprocation, and game for anything – within reason. That last part refers being willing to explore a partners sexual kinks as long as no harm will result. Those that do satisfy kinks usually have a much better and longer lasting relationship.

5. The choicer challenge. Lots of conservatives claim being a homosexual is a choice. Savage tackles that with a challenge. If you believe that a gay guy can flip a switch and become straight, show it is possible by flipping the switch and becoming gay. Prove it by having sex with Savage. No takers so far.

6. My son comes out. When this book was written in 2013, Savage's son D.J. was 15. The adoption was told in the book The Kid. In this essay Savage talks about what that book did to promote adoption by same-sex couples. He refutes the conservative view that gay parenting is bad. He notes the rate of same-sex couples raising kids is highest in the most conservative Southern states – gays and lesbians felt forced into straight marriages, produced kids, then realized they couldn't continue the charade. As for the chapter's title, D.J. came out – as straight. His parents had suspected for a long time.

7. Crazy, mad, salacious. Savage explores stereotyped portrayals of gay men in movies and television and how some stereotypes crept up on him.

8. Folsom prism blues. The Folsom Street Fair is all about men dressed in (sometimes not much) leather. Savage looks at a few anti-gay leaders who try to "sneak" into such events trying to expose the depravity of gay people.

9. The straight pride parade. Some straights, and even some gays, are turned off by pride parades with scantily clad dancers. Savage is challenged with the comment, "You don't see straight people flaunting our sexuality like that." He replies: "You should." And many straight people do – at Halloween.

10. Four closet cases. Savage sometimes meet older gay men in bars (Savage is now 50) and wonders how much of their lives had to be spent closeted. Savage goes on to discuss four closeted gay men who didn't have to be closeted and who wreaked a lot of damage before being outed. Washington state legislator Jim Webb pushed a great deal of anti-gay legislation before a scandal brought him down. Evangelist Ted Haggard used to preach against homosexuality until a callboy became fed up with Haggard's hypocrisy. Senator Larry Craig did at the national level what West was doing at the state level. He got caught in a raid in an airport men's room. Psychologist George Rekers made a name for himself by publishing studies in conversion therapy in which he used strong (perhaps brutal) reinforcements so that young boys would avoid effeminate behavior. Rekers declared his star subject to be cured – though the subject later committed suicide. Rekers was spotted returning from Europe with a young man hired to "lift his luggage." These men didn't need to be closeted, but choosing the closet caused considerable damage.

11. Mistakes were made. Savage searches for the bisexual male. From his own youth he knew that most men who say they are bisexual are really gay and are trying to come out only halfway. A study or two seemed to back that up. Then came a study that weeded out the liars. That was able to show bisexual males indeed exist.

12. On being different. Savage, his husband Terry, a few gay couples, son D.J. and a couple of the boy's straight friends vacationed in Hawaii. This contradicts the claim that gay men are all pedophiles. All the men in the group were gay. And the fathers of those boys knew their sons would be safe. It was during that vacation that Savage read the book On Being Different by Merle Miller, which was expanded from the article "What it Means to Be a Homosexual" written in 1971. In those 40 years things have gotten better. In this chapter Savage also discusses the start of his It Gets Better Project.

14. Rick and Me. Savage recounts what led to Rick Santorum having a Google problem.

15. Still evil. Less evil. But still evil. Savage delves into why he believes Obamacare is much better than what we had, but is still an evil system. Insurance companies skim billions off the top in profits. We still have insurance companies dictating care. And people are still falling through the cracks. The solution that isn't evil is Medicare for all. Along the way he exposes a few hypocrites. Savage is amazed that many conservative Christians oppose universal health coverage.

16. It's happened again. Savage discusses the frequent mass shootings in America. We need to do something now. Savage ends by noting that many in Congress push to allow guns everywhere, including workplaces. But there is one place where one cannot carry a gun – the Capitol building. Congress claims people have a right to carry a gun into your workplace but not their workplace. Perhaps there is a way to reduce gun violence: sell bullets for $5000 each.

17. Bigot Christmas. Savage invites Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours) over for dinner for a debate, which was uploaded to YouTube. The chapter's title comes from the intense cleaning and planning done in August, normally only done at Christmas, so that Savage could host a bigot. The general consensus (except among the anti-gay crowd) is that Savage won the debate. Brown used too much circular reasoning.

Now back to the chapters I had skipped before. I am discussing them last because they hit too close to my current situation.

1. At a loss. Savage grew up Catholic. Though he now says he is atheist he recognizes he is still culturally Catholic. After his mother died he felt the need to sit in Catholic churches. That's where he felt closest to his mother and it gave him some comfort. But even while there he knew he could never be a member of a Catholic church again, couldn't even go through the motions, because their anti-gay stance is so strong.

13. Extended Stay. Savage declares his support for the Death with Dignity movement, which allows terminal patients to choose to die on their own terms. His mother had pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung condition. She thought she was doing well when she lived longer than the original five year prognosis. But then her condition dramatically worsened. At a moment when his stepfather was away from the hospital room the doctor told Savage he needed an answer now – put her on a ventilator where she might last a couple more days but in a coma, leave her with an oxygen mask where she would last maybe six hours (not enough time for his other two siblings to arrive), or remove the mask where she would likely suffocate in less than two hours. Explaining all that to your mother is an awful position for a son to be in. She chose to remove the mask, though before she did frantic calls were made to her other children. He will be haunted by a couple questions: Though she was given lots of pain medication, were her last hours filled with pain? Would it have been better to end her life immediately and not go through the suffocation?

Yes, way too close to my situation with my Dad.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Ireland voted on a constitutional referendum on whether the age of eligibility for presidential candidates should be lowered from 35 to 21. It was defeated with 73% voting no.

No, wait, that isn't the news you care about.

The other referendum on the ballot was whether the constitution should be amended with this text: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." That one passed by 62%! This is a big deal for several reasons.

The yes side was ahead in all districts but one. That means even most rural districts voted for marriage equality.

Ireland is only the 20th country to approve same-sex marriage.

Ireland did it through a popular vote, not legislative action or court order, the first country to do so. This was done as a change to the constitution, which had to be done through a vote, even though many think we shouldn't vote on rights. But it means it cannot be undone, except by another vote.

Turnout was about 60%, quite high for Ireland. There were lines on the last day to register to vote. There was a big effort by expatriates to return to Ireland for the vote, see Twitter tag #hometovote.

Ireland is much more Catholic and much more religious than the rest of Europe. Of course, the Catholic church was heavily involved in the No campaign. This defeat is a sign the Church's hold on the country is dwindling.

Those on the No side conceded defeat graciously, some within an hour of the start of vote counting. Not so gracious was Brian Brown, the American leader of the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours). He also got the size of the No vote wrong. Irish vote counting seems a bit more civilized than what is done in America. They don't start counting until 9:00 the next morning. No need to stay up all night waiting for returns and results.

Next comes the writing and approval of a Marriage Act, which should happen in July. The law would be go into effect in August or September. Irish laws apparently must have a 3-month notice period. That means the first same-sex weddings will happen near Christmas.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Younger at heart

I had an appointment with my nutritionist today. Over the last week my heart has been occasionally fluttering. This has happened before, but many years ago. At that time I had various tests done, including a 24 hour monitor (not the best sleeping companion). The doctor said the recording showed many instances where the heart indeed fluttered. But, he said, it wasn't worth treating.

The heart doctor wasn't interested because it isn't a problem with the heart, said my nutritionist, it is a problem of the thyroid. The thyroid is, of course, affected by the stress of having my father in the hospital. So she tested me for supplements to help with the thyroid. I also had a heart test – she clipped a sensor on my finger and it analyzed and reported lots of cool information. It also computed the biological age of my heart, which it said is 34 – a year younger than the last time I did this test 19 months ago. Bicycling and a low-carb diet have been good to me.

The nutritionist also tried some new tests on me, more of what my friend and debate partner would find bizarre and baffling. She determined the magnetic stripes on credit card and driver's license and the batteries in the car key fob and in my watch are affecting me, and not in a good way. She recommends that whenever possible I take the keys and wallet out of my pockets and take off the watch. I guess I'll live a timeless life.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Catholic thing

Let's see if I can clean out a few browser tabs...

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin notes that except for the Catholic Church most American Christian denominations – including Southern Baptists and Mormons – are no longer taking much of a public stand against sexual minorities. Yes, some still rant from pulpits and some denominations still have restrictions of various kinds. But their public stance and political involvement has become muted.

The exception, as I said, is the Catholic Church. Which leads Kincaid to speculate that opposition to sexual minorities is shifting from a "Christian thing" to a "Catholic thing." And that shift is giving Protestant denominations space to be more welcoming to gay people.

Now a few thoughts of my own. Yeah, the current GOP presidential candidates are each trying to show they are more rabidly anti-gay than the next one. Something is driving that. It can't be the Catholic members because, in sharp contrast to the church hierarchy, they are widely gay-supportive. It must be the Fundamentalist Protestant members still pushing their candidates. And that means it appears the Fundamentalist Protestant hierarchy is keeping quiet and their members are pushing the GOP position, while the Catholic hierarchy is speaking out against sexual minorities while their members are much more pro-gay.

Digby writes the blog Hullabaloo, and he excerpts an article in Mother Jones about gun violence. In the last 10 years 750,000 have been injured by guns and 320,000 have been killed. Mass shootings are on the rise. So what is the cost to society of all this carnage?

We can find out the cost to society of motor vehicle crashes, including property damage, traffic congestion, pain, loss of quality of life, etc. But we can't find out the societal cost of gun violence. That reason is simple. The NRA won't allow anyone to do the research.

Digby wonders why. For freedom? 320,000 Americans dead because of guns. 5,000 Americans dead in the Iraq war.

In another post Digby delves into the rise of ISIS, the Islamic State.
So the genesis of ISIS is really in the inane decision to "de-Bathify" and leave a bunch of highly trained soldiers (many of them trained by the US) humiliated and without any means of support --- then later imprison them all together for years so they could hatch plans to re-take the region and wreak revenge on their enemies. It could not be any dumber.
Digby also mentions what they were thinking about as they were hatching those plans: the techniques of the East German Stasi and how to use religion as a cover.

The post ends with a review of the book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, that documents the arrogance and ineptitude of the invasion of Iraq.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Equality is a family value

While my dad was in the rehab center and when my conservative brother came to visit I thought it prudent to borrow Dad's copy of the March/April/May issue of Washington Monthly to get it out of the house (hmm... named "Monthly" and printed quarterly). The reason: the cover article is Can Gay Wedlock Break Political Gridlock? The illustration showed a happy donkey and elephant in a red convertible with a "Just Married" sign on the back and heading into the sunset. Even my 16 year old niece had learned there are some issues we simply do not discuss with this brother.

Of course, with a title like that I just had to actually read it. And then I read a couple more articles.

This cover article is by David Blankenhorn, William Galston, Jonathan Rauch, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. I've read stuff by Rauch before and was quite impressed with his understanding. The article in the magazine is six good-sized pages, so my summary will be leaving lots of it out.

With same-sex marriage soon legal nationally the political landscape for marriage has changed. For about 50 years both parties have lamented the decline of marriage. A big part of that has been marriage becoming a class-based institution. Middle and upper class people get married, poor people don't. A big chunk of the article goes into this in detail. This marriage gap harms children because it deprives them of a parent's support. It harms adults by reducing their chance of economic success. It harms communities because the young aren't guided into stable relationships. It harms the country by fueling inequality.

Lots of research went into the importance of families during the 1970s and '80s along with much discussion of what to do about it. But the debate was sidetracked in the 1990s by women's equality and gay rights. The discussion of marriage became a pitched battle with equality on one side and family values on the other. Pro-equality meant anti-family (sound familiar?).

But the ideas have shifted. Progressives have realized that family structure and social justice are related. Conservatives are beginning to realize that a man's marriageability is dependent on his prospects in the job market. Gays and lesbians have realized that they have a stake in the health of marriages. That has prompted progressives to see that social equality of both gays and the poor is impossible without access to marriage. Conservatives are realizing that antagonism to same-sex marriage turns off the younger voters and it is better to support gay and lesbian couples.

The authors make some recommendations. Make a public argument for marriage opportunity; explain why it is important. Increase marriageability by helping the poor join the workforce and handle life in the middle class and by providing community support of marriage. Change public policy, such things as not reducing benefits upon marriage, offer counseling to those considering divorce, support public education of life and financial literacy, and reduce incarceration which removes men from families. Include sexual minorities in all that family support. Do research on gay families, including why marriage matters and cultural factors that support marriage.

Equality is becoming a family value.

Another article in Washington Monthly that caught my attention is A New Agenda for Political Reform by Lee Drutman and Steven Teles. Most of this nine page article describes how Congress made itself stupid by cutting a big chunk of its support staff. That included staff that knew institutional history, how things got done, and could offer independent analysis of what was in various bills, and guide legislators in writing bills. Only in America are the ranks of advisers to lawmakers filled with twentysomethings, even if they are bright and eager. That means Congress must rely on industry lobbyists to explain what is going on in the world, and to write the bills that Congress passes. Naturally, those lobbyists are highly biased. I knew the situation was bad, but I didn't know how bad and precisely why.

All through the article I was thinking this is the situation the Congressional corporate masters want. How would we convince Congress to defy their masters? What reasons could we give? Thankfully, the authors have some, though they know it will be an uphill fight.

The Tea Party may realize that a stronger Congressional staff is necessary to effectively oversee the rest of government and root out waste. The GOP may realize that while they wail about executive overreach they are cutting their power to do anything about it. Both parties complain about out-of-control and do-nothing bureaucrats and may soon realize they need staff to identify and fix abuses. The cost for an expert support staff? Less than the typical Pentagon project overrun, which legislative oversight, made possible by an expert support staff, could reduce.

A third article has only a morsel to share. The title is How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin, and is by Ed Kilgore. In 2008 Palin turned resentment of the "liberal elites" who supposedly run the country into victimization, self-pity, and vengeance. Democrats didn't just do bad things, they looked down their noses a "real" Americans. Since then many Republicans, especially Huckabee through his new book, have adopted Palin's line of attack.

The Christian Right, Tea Party members, and conservatives in general have added this general indictment of the liberal elites and their underclass clients:
an unpatriotic determination to undermine rights and overthrow governing norms set down eternally by the Founders of this exceptional nation under the direct inspiration of Almighty God. So liberals were not only mocking the religion and culture of good white middle-class folk, and stealing their hard-earned money (and richly earned government benefits) to buy votes from the lower orders – they were also spitting on the foundational principles of America and defying God.
Yeah, that's what we're facing.

Your dog can't consent to marriage

Matt Baume takes on presidential candidate Ben Carson on the question of whether allowing gay people to marry will bring out the polygamists and those who want to marry their dogs. Matt's answer: Marriage is a contract. For same-sex couples all that needs to be done is change the gender of one of the parties. The rest of the contract is the same. But for more than two spouses the entire contract would need to be rewritten. For example, during a breakup, who gets custody of whose kids? Who makes next-of-kin decisions at the hospital? If there is no will, who inherits? As for marriage to dogs, this is a contract and dogs can't give consent. The video is 4 minutes.

A report from the University of Mainz in Germany and PlanetRomeo found that four million gay men were victims of physical violence worldwide in 2014. It also determined that 13 million gay men have been banned from their family home, 41 million want to leave their home country, 66 million are not out to parents, 22 million were denied a job, and 7 million are in a straight marriage. This link also has a map of gay happiness index. Norway and Iceland are best, America is on the good side of things, worst is Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia. For a bit of perspective, by my calculation based on gays and lesbians being about 3% of the population, there are about 200 million of us in the world.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mother's Day for all moms

Last Sunday my pastor preached a sermon on the origins of Mother's Day. Back in 1870, only five years after the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe put out a call to mothers to unite. She is famous for writing the words for the Battle Hymn of the Republic ("Mine eyes have seen the glory..."). This proclamation is a call to to disarm and to end war. "Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience." She also called for an international congress of women for the purpose of promoting international alliances and settling international questions for the interests of peace.

This is not the Hallmark holiday we have come to know. But a day of activism to bring about justice is the perfect gift by and for Mom. There are still moms who need child care, job training and jobs, a higher minimum wage, and health care. Many moms need more than flowers.

Tammy Baldwin for president!

Back in February the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill banning local non-discrimination protections for sexual minorities. About the same time the city of Eureka Springs approved what the state law banned. An anti-gay group gathered enough signatures to put the city's ordinance up for a vote of the citizens. That vote was Tuesday and 71% of the voters want to keep protections for sexual minorities. So the city will enforce their ordinance – until July 20 when the state law goes into effect.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows that since 2007 the number of adults calling themselves Christian has dropped by about 5 million, or a drop of almost 8% of adults. All denominations are affected, though Evangelical Protestant dropped less than Catholic and Mainline Protestant. In contrast, the number of those unaffiliated with a church has risen. Among adults under 35 – the Millennials – the rise is indicating a religiously unaffiliated generation. Many are saying the reason is a political backlash against the GOP and their religious conservative backers.

In another new poll, this one by the Wall Street Journal and NBC:
found 61 percent of Americans would be enthusiastic about or comfortable with a gay or lesbian presidential candidate. In comparison, 52 percent said they'd be enthusiastic about or comfortable with an evangelical Christian running for president.
Yup, Tammy Baldwin over Mike Huckabee.

I've mentioned the extremely flawed and discredited study by Mark Regnerus that was declared unbelievable when it appeared in the Michigan same-sex marriage case a year ago. Two sociologists went through the study's data. They removed the suspect stuff (such as the person who claimed to be 7-foot-8 and 88 pounds), and corrected the methodological errors. They recomputed all the conclusions and – surprise! – all that data showed that "adult children who lived with same-sex parents show comparable outcome profiles to those from other family types, including intact biological families." Quite the opposite of the conclusion Regnerus computed. This corrected study will appear in Social Science Research, the same journal that published the original.

The situation

A couple times now I've mentioned a family situation that has kept me from writing posts for this blog. I can now explain a bit more. On Easter Sunday I took my father to the Emergency Room. He had not been well most of the winter and had worsened noticeably that weekend. The diagnosis is myeloma, which is cancer of the white blood cells or of the bone marrow. He was in the hospital for a week, then moved to a rehab center. While there he started chemo treatments. Today he went back to the hospital.

Naturally, this has meant frequent trips to visit, take him to appointments, manage his affairs, and give a break to my sister who lives with our parents and is caregiver for our mother. They live 75 miles away. I'll be going again tomorrow. Of course, all this will continue for quite some time. I'll continue my newsy posts whenever I can.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Restraining order

According to Between the Lines and other sources an electronic billboard is displaying an anti-gay message just a few miles from my house. Its basic message is "Homosexuality is a behavior. Not a civil right." It claims the authority of Genesis 2:24: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." and Matthew 19:5, which is Jesus quoting the first passage in a question about divorce. I won't go into the logical fallacies of the claim based on these verses.

College student Ferman Smith saw the ad and started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for gay positive messages to appear in rotation with the anti-gay displays on the same electronic billboards, both the one nearby and others planned for Flint, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. He is asking for suggestions on what the billboards should say.

The billboard is paid for by the organization, (no link from me) a coalition of all the big anti-gay groups (and a few small ones). From their website name it is easy to see the reason for the billboard being displayed now is in anticipation of a favorable (to us) ruling from the Supremes on marriage equality. This coalition is asking its members (for a "donation") to send a "Restraining Order" to the Supremes. It reads in part:
We the people of the United States affirm our right to self-governance and hereby issue a restraining order to the United States Supreme Court and all Federal Courts who attempt to usurp the following: 1. The sovereign vote of the American people 2. Our State Constitutions 3. The sacred institution of marriage between a man and a woman and 4. Our Constitutionally protected First Amendment Rights."
Of course, I noticed what is missing and wrong from this list of reasons. 1. A primary purpose of the judicial system in America is to prevent tyranny of the majority, which is exactly what that first point is. 2. It is a long established principle that when a state constitution conflicts with the federal constitution, the federal one wins. 3. By sacred they must mean mentioned in the Bible, which also mentions kings with lots of wives and concubines.

And for the fourth point I turn to a recent article in the Washington Spectator by Rev. William Barbour, who is president of the North Carolina NAACP and leads the Moral Monday Movement, with coauthor Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, director of the School for Conversion. They wrote:
Many have pointed out the problem of laws purporting to protect the First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate another’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
In previous cases pitting the 1st Amendment against 14th, the 14th has won.

The article goes on to show that there have been three times in history – Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Era, and now – when religious language was used to justify discrimination. In all three cases the threat to those in power was sexualized. Black men were portrayed as "ravishing beasts" eager to rape white women. Civil rights workers were accused of wanting interracial sex. Gay men are portrayed as sexual predators aiming to recruit children. Extreme leaders back then "sought to distract and divide the country by using moral and religious language to stir up old sexual fears." And they're doing it now.

One more note about Michigan: There are 38 towns, cities, and townships that have LGBT civil rights ordinances. The Michigan House has a bill before it to make it easier for business by having uniform laws across the state – not by adding LGBT people to the state civil rights act, but by overturning all the local acts. If the recent mess in Indiana is a guide, these Michigan lawmakers didn't ask business which option they would prefer. I can hear these business owners saying, please don't put words in our mouths.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Closely divided

Though it doesn't have any force of law, the Cleveland City Council approved a bill to declare support for same-sex marriage. The vote was 14-2. This is part of a chorus of voices around Ohio and across the nation saying we're ready for the freedom to marry.

Lots of the conservative dirty work is done without people noticing. Tresa Undem uses a visual representation of abortion laws in a state, what they do, and when they were passed. On seeing these visuals people are usually outraged. And at least 69% of respondents say they want the abortion experience to be: "comfortable," "supportive," "without pressure," "non-judgmental," "affordable," "informed by medically-accurate information," or "without added burdens." So much for the claim the opinion on abortion is "closely divided."

The recent storm in Indiana over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Permission to Persecute Act) has caused opposition to such laws to grow. Since January support for such laws has dropped from 57% to 41%.

The Department of Health and Human Services has cut the recommended amount of fluoride in water from 1.2 milligrams per liter to 0.7. Some would say it should be zero.

Diets don't work

Roberto Ferdman of the Washington Post interviewed Traci Mann of University of Minnesota's Health and Eating Lab. She wrote the book Secrets from the Eating Lab on why dieting doesn't work. When you diet you are more likely to notice food, your hormones change how you feel hungry, and your body learns how to get by on less food. To successfully combat that you must devote your life to it and actually starve yourself for the rest of your life, and that's no way to live.

As for the Diet Industry, their goal is to make money and they do that best if you fail and become a repeat customer. Yes, people lose weight on a diet, but the effects of the diet aren't only when you are following that meal plan, but up to a year later. The loss is attributed to the diet, the following gain is attributed to the dieter, but both are a part of the diet.

Resisting Facebook 20 times, but checking it on the 21st, while studying for an exam is considered great willpower. Resisting a donut someone has brought to the office meeting and doing that 20 times, then eating it on the 21st is considered a failure of willpower.

So eat healthy food and stop blaming yourself when the weight goes up. Be comfortable with yourself.

Toss the American Dream

Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio have a nice op-ed in the Washington Post decrying the current level of income inequality in America. They also cite research on why this is bad and give a list of things that should be done: livable wages, paid family leave, education without drowning in debt, investment in research and innovation, investment in infrastructure (including broadband), strengthen Social Security, strengthen the marketplace to prevent bullying corporations, promote responsible trade, and end tax breaks for billionaires. All good stuff and I'm glad Warren and de Blasio are talking about them.

The article ends with:
Rebuilding our middle class won’t be easy, but real change rarely is. It’s time to be bold.

The American Dream depends on it.
And though Melissa McEwen of Shakesville likes all those policy proposals she objects to that ending. First it (and the article) don't mention the poor, it is all about the middle class (though the policies mentioned will help many poor become middle class). By speaking in terms of the middle class, it upholds the conservative line that the poor are lazy moochers who just aren't working hard enough (see the item on livable wage). By focusing on what these policies do to the middle class it suggests that a permanent underclass is acceptable.

Second, McEwen calls the American Dream a "garbage fantasy." It denies the existence of privilege and it is rooted deeply in the myth of bootstraps. Let's toss that phrase in the Dumpster.

Getting started on my summer break

My last exam of the semester was a week ago. I computed grades over the weekend and posted them on Tuesday. With that I entered my summer break. And that means a few days wondering what am I supposed to be doing? So I open the to-do list and see what looks urgent or interesting.

At the top of the list... A few weeks ago I noticed my dishwasher must be leaking. I had stains on the top of the clothes washer below it. So when necessary I've been washing dishes by hand (and using the dishwasher as a drainboard). My handyman said the problem is one that can't be fixed. Time for a new one. Though a run of over 20 years on this one isn't bad. He also said the water damage to the floor is not enough to need to rip it out.

Now to put serious effort into choosing a new one. When I walk into the big appliance stores (Lowe's, Home Depot, Best Buy around here) I see displays of dishwashers ranging from the inexpensive ($300) on up to quite expensive ($1700). How do I decide what to get? Not much in the store will help with that, though I did get a list from one place of the models that have an almond facade, or now known as "bisque." I'm sure that color choice dates me, but the refrigerator is that color and the counter is pretty close.

So back home to the internet to search for "dishwasher reviews." That's when I find a problem. The review sites don't have reviews for the models in the stores. And usually the reviewed models are the most expensive ones (though one review said we don't think this model is any good, but it is really inexpensive so we designate it a buy of the year).

Those big appliance stores do have customer reviews for the models they carry, but I wonder how meaningful they are. The reviews on one store's site tend to be similar to "This dishwasher is great! I've used it once and it got my dishes really clean!" On another store's site the reviews were "I would/would not recommend this product to a friend."

So what to do?

Of course, now when I visit news sites the sidebar ads are for dishwashers. I'll let you decide whether that is better or worse than getting lots of ads for a diet regimen I actually did six months ago.

Another problem needing attention is my little netbook computer, the one I take when I travel and use to post my travelogues to this blog. When at home I use it only to pull up bank statements so I can balance the checkbook at the table instead of the desk. This netbook is now quite slow, becoming quite motionless about the time I get the bank statement displayed. I started it once and only opened the Task Manager, which displays percents of CPU and memory being used. That showed memory at 65%, which soon climbed to 95%. No wonder nothing would work. I reinstalled the virus software, but that hasn't found anything. I currently have that scanning the whole disk, but it is very slow and if I don't periodically touch the fingerpad the computer will go to sleep. I also installed a register cleaner. It found hundreds of dead entries in the registry, but it is still slow.

I talked to Geek Squad about repairs. They said for $200 we will do all these wonderful things for it. What if I don't need all those things? Well, just to bring it in will be $199. Since the computer cost only $300 I'm reluctant to spend $200 on it. Another place wouldn't quote a repair rate. They said they would do free diagnostics and then give me an estimate.

The weather is warming up. I did my bike ride this morning while it was cool, though the high today was only 80F.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wars have casualties

In other news:

A woman who is a member of the Satanic Temple in Missouri is challenging the state's 72-hour waiting period for abortions. She says the waiting period is an "unnecessary burden" on her religious belief that her body is subject to her will alone. Her statements echo what Hobby Lobby successfully used before the Supremes.

Ragen of the blog Dances with Fat has an issue with the "War on Obesity" that seems to be raging through the medical community. As with other types of wars, there are casualties. That includes such things as dying from an overdose of diet pills and suffering from complications from weight loss surgery. In that second case the woman was healthy and with a reasonable weight for her height. But the doctor scared her into having the surgery anyway. Ragen says:
We must end this war. These casualties are completely unnecessary and we could stop them today. We could understand that weight and health are two separate things that are both complicated, not an obligation or barometer of worthiness, not entirely within our control, and not guaranteed under any circumstances, and then we could be for creating access to food and movement options for everyone, instead of against fat bodies.

Rep. Cecil Bell of the Texas House has a plan that was passed by the House State Affairs Committee. His bill would ban the use of public funds to license or recognize same-sex marriages, even if a court demanded such recognition. But if the Supremes rule in our favor and if someone follows Bell's idea there will be sanctions and perhaps jail. Except not for Bell, who will gain points for causing a stink.

Hillary had a great comeback line:
I think it's worth noting that Republicans seem to be talking only about me. I don't know what they'd talk about if I weren't in the race.

No yacht this year

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has a fine explanation of campaign spending. It was prompted by a comment from Newt Gingrich:
"What seems like really big money is less than a yacht," Gingrich said in an interview. Wealthy donors could decide that "this year, instead of buying a new yacht, I'm going to spend $70 million on a candidate," he said.
McEwen sums it up this way: there's a difference between free speech and class warfare.

This is a good lead-in to another event at the Supreme Court this week, one that didn't make it into the news. This event wasn't a hearing, but a ruling. Five justices, including Roberts, ruled there is a limit to the equation of money = free speech in campaigns. That limit is that judges who are elected to the job may not personally ask for campaign contributions. That is appropriate because a judge depends on the respect of the public. In addition, while a politician is expected to respond to supporters, a judge is barred from doing so.

There is the little detail that while a judge may not ask for donations directly, his campaign committee can. Doesn't that affect respect? Well, yeah, but one reform step at a time.

As expected, Scalia wrote a strong dissent. He accuses these five justices of putting their desire to protect the integrity of courts above the requirements of the Constitution itself. Yes, the integrity of the courts is important, he wrote, but don't lower the Constitution's standards to do so.

Intellectually lazy

In this blog I try to avoid name-calling and (I think) I usually succeed. I don't think it helps to say someone is stupid (though explaining why their ideas are stupid is another matter). About the only thing I'll do is refer to a Fundamentalist as a Fundie (feel free to comb through all 2900 prior posts to prove me wrong).

Though I don't do it, I've read lots of gay-oriented blogs (and scads of gay commenters) who are quick to toss around such terms as "wingnut" and worse.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has a policy similar to mine for herself and requires it of her commenters as well. She gives her reasons:

* Name calling is intellectually lazy. If you disagree with what someone said then clearly state why. If it is dishonest, obnoxious, comes from a place of privilege, is hypocritical, destroys community, or has any other fault, spell it out.

* Our opponents are used to the name-calling. They simply brand us as arrogant and go back to doing whatever oppressive thing they were doing.

* Name-calling doesn't lead to solutions. Describing someone as "nutty" means the idea isn't worth intensive examination, which allows the offensive idea to keep working against us.

Yes, McEwen knows how hard that is. She frequently refers to teaspooning, in which it seems she is trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon and she is feeling crushed by the vastness of trying to explain privilege to the clueless.

I'll wait for the actual ruling

Yes, in April I set the record of the fewest posts in a month for this blog. I should have more time in May. My final exams are over. The grades for one class have been computed, but not posted. The exams for the other class have been graded, though course grades have yet to be determined. That's a project for tomorrow. Grades are due Tuesday. Then, at a much more relaxed pace I read through the new textbook I'll be using in the fall.

Alas, the family situation that kept me busy this past month will continue.

In this month of minimal posts spring has come to my corner of Michigan. The forsythia are in bloom (though my bushes aren't as lush as previous years), as is the star magnolia and the azalea. The lawn crew has even visited once.

Marriage equality advocates had their big day before the Supremes this past Tuesday. The attitudes expressed and questions asked by the various justices were as expected. There are four reliable votes for marriage equality. There are three reliable and four probable votes against equality (see comment below about Roberts). As expected, that leaves Justice Kennedy as the swing vote and during oral arguments what he said could be taken as support for both sides.

If you want prognostications there are any number of writers on both sides of the issue happy to oblige. On the pro-equality side there is a good summary by Lyle Denniston of Scotusblog. He says Kennedy is hesitant, but leaning in our favor. Then there is a four part series by Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. As for a summary from the Fundie point of view, well, I'm sure you know how to use Google. What might be better is to go straight for the photos. Andy Towle of Towleroad collected 50 of them.

Waldman separately discusses one idea brought up from the proceedings. Chief Justice Roberts commented that the case could be interpreted as sexual discrimination (Tom can't marry Joe because Tom is male). That is something the Supremes know how to handle. But Waldman says this is a bad idea and is confident the progressive justices won't buy it to gain Roberts' vote. We need a ruling by the Supremes that establish a precedent of sexual orientation discrimination that can be applied to such things as getting fired from a job for being gay.

Read all the opinions you want. We'll get the actual ruling in only eight weeks. I'll wait for that.