Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Forcing the issue

Rev. Mike Tupper is a pastor in the United Methodist Church in western Michigan. He officiated at his daughter's same-sex wedding a year ago and at another same-sex wedding this summer. He has issued a statement refusing a negotiated settlement to the complaint of his disobedience to denomination rules. This might force a trial. Details at my brother blog.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

This police car brought to you by...

A couple years ago I wrote about nine areas of public life that should not be privatized. These are things that are ruined, or at least made less efficient, more costly, or somehow distorted when the profit motive is involved. The areas are health care, water, internet, transportation, banking, prisons, education, consumer protection, and elections. An example of distortion is a health insurer that would prefer that the patient stay sick to be able to get more money.

So when I saw the book What Money Can't Buy, the Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel I knew it was one I needed to read. I was sure it would confirm and my ideas of privatization. Well, not exactly. It didn't mention any of the nine areas listed above and didn't pursue the argument that there are things a government should do that should not be outsourced.

But it did tackle a related area and did so thoroughly and understandably (though repetitively). Since about 1980 there has been a strong sell for "market solutions." Let the market decide! Structure some process or event like a market with financial incentives and the market will come up with the best solution. The book examines all the areas of life in which this claim does not work or damages the process or event being marketed.

Here are a few of the areas that have come under market influence: Paying extra to jump the line, such as paying to use highway lanes reserved for cars carrying two or more people. Incentives, such as paying kids to read books. Naming rights, such as ads on police cars. And markets crowding out altruism, such as paying blood donors.

This push to marketize everything got a bit boost from the book The Economic Approach to Human Behavior by Gary Becker, and economist at the University of Chicago, published in 1976. By "everything" I do mean everything. Here is Becker's look at marriage and divorce:
According to the economic approach, a person decides to marry when the utility expected from marriage exceeds that expected from remaining singe or from additional search for a more suitable mate. Similarly, a married person terminates his (or her) marriage when the utility anticipated from becoming single or marrying someone else exceeds the loss in utility from separation, including losses due to physical separation from one's children, division of joint assets, legal fees, and so forth. Since many persons are looking for mates, a market in marriages can be said to exist.
One might reasonably say that looking at marriage as maximizing "utility" rather than love is a mighty cold method of calculation. But the marketization of many other things is just as cold. So we might debate whether such cold calculation is the proper way to look at things. And that debate is what this book is about.

When I read the above quote one idea jumped out at me. The utility of such things as marriage is not measured in dollars. The person entering into marriage may be aiming to maximize such things a love, security, friendship, and support as well as trying to minimize such things as fear and loneliness. These things can't be measured in dollars.

Sandal touches on my insight only briefly. He has other issues to present.

For most of the cases Sandel presents his objection to market influence comes down to just a few reasons.

There is the issue of fairness. In the case of scalped tickets, the product goes to who can pay the most, not who might value it most. The rich get the limited product because they are rich. The poor do not. In the case of using a forehead as a billboard the issue is injustice because inequality produces coercion. A poor person may agree to it as one of the few ways to get cash. The deal cannot be fair.

There is the issue of corruption. A Nobel Prize cannot be bought. And if the prize (not just the medal) is bought in the eyes of the rest of the world it becomes worthless. A bought politician has lost respect because he works for his purchaser, not for those who elected him. A person with an ad on his forehead is seen as an ad, not a human. Ads of a sponsor of a nature trail, even if discreet, intrudes on the serenity of the experience and spoils it.

Money crowds out morals. This was most clearly demonstrated through the practice of paying people to donate blood. Yes, blood for sale. The fairness argument certainly applies. When blood donations are paid, the people who donate are the ones who need the money most. The poor, due to their circumstances, are coerced into giving. However, there is a more important aspect. When blood is a commodity, people are less likely to feel a moral responsibility to give, to take care of their fellow humans. And that leads to an overall decline in moral and social life, a reduction in altruism.

Some economists think markets are good based on the idea that altruism is limited. Let's save this scant resources for the areas of life where it is most needed. And in all other areas let's use the markets so people are guided by plentiful self-interest instead of scarce altruism. But the fallacy is that altruism works the same way as love – the more it is exercised, the more there is.

Sandel's last major point is what he calls "skyboxification." One important feature of attending sport events 50 years ago was that everyone sat together. The price range was limited and the poor, middle class, and rich sat next to each other as one large community of fans. But skyboxes are a part of of nearly every stadium and ballpark (now named for a corporation). The average person sits down here and the rich sit up there. There is no longer a common life. And that isn't good for democracy.

Sandel finds market influence in a wide number of areas. All of them fall into the categories of fairness, corruption, or morals being crowded out.

In the category of jumping the queue – by paying extra I can go to the front of the line: Airports, amusement parks, and car pool lanes; hired line standers (used by lobbyists when Congressional hearing seats are limited); ticket scalpers for concerts, papal masses, and Yosemite campsites; and concierge doctors (ones who only care for patients who have paid a hefty subscription fee).

In the category of incentives (on which Obama – of all people – has based a great deal of public policy): Cash to sterilize women with drug problems, paying kids for grades, bribes for weight loss, selling immigration rights, trading pollution permits, carbon offsets, and paying to hunt endangered species (which provides more money to combat poaching).

In the category of insurance: Janitor insurance (in which a corporation takes out life insurance on even the janitor and makes good money, though the janitor's family gets nothing), terrorism futures market, and death bonds.

In the category of naming rights: Selling autographs; corporate-sponsored home runs; skyboxes; bathroom advertising; body billboards; branding of the public square, nature trails, and police cars; commercials in the classroom; and ads in jails.

Sandel concludes:
Once we see that markets and commerce change the character of the goods they touch, we have to ask where markets belong – and where they don't. And we can't answer that question without deliberating about the meaning and purpose of goods, and the values that should govern them.

Such deliberations touch, unavoidably, on competing conceptions of the good life. … For fear of disagreement, we hesitate to bring our moral and spiritual convictions into the public square. But shrinking from these questions does not leave them undecided. It simply means that markets will decide them for us. … The era of market triumphalism has coincided with a time when public discourse has been largely empty of moral and spiritual substance. Our only hope of keeping markets in their place is to deliberate openly and publicly about the meaning of the goods and social practices we prize.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

And so, in the end, the question of markets is really a question about how we ant to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Extreme to mainstream

There is a new documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and it gives Carimah Townes a chance to show that their extremism of the 1960s has become mainstream.

The militant methods of the Black Panthers made the white power structure of the time quite nervous, as shown by the FBI campaign to destroy the Panthers. Of course, the Panthers were seen as extreme. Townes lists three ways the Panther message doesn't look so extreme today.

The Black Panthers made a big deal of watching cops. Their communities were being brutalized by cops, so they studied law and due process, then patrolled the streets, watching the cops to prevent, or at least document police brutality. And now, due to Ferguson and Baltimre, lots of people are quick to whip out their cell phones to record police misdeeds. There are even phone apps to prevent videos from being tampered.

The Black Panthers called for the end of mass incarceration, saying trials were not fair and the justice system was stacked against black people. That was before the prison population ballooned 790%. That call was seen as laughable. Now it is a top topic in American discussion. There are several bills before Congress and state legislatures to aim for smarter sentencing and for restorative justice and rehabilitation rather than simple incarceration. These bills are supported by Democrats and Republicans.

The Black Panthers knew police brutality was only part of the problem. Their holistic vision included full employment, decent housing, education, and free health care. Yes, full social services, such as feeding breakfast to school children. That vision is now called intersectionality and is a hot buzzword. Racial justice is now a progressive idea, no longer considered fanatical and dangerous.

Terrence Heath reminds us there is still much to do. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said:
Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans. This disappointing data, five years into an economic recovery, underscores the need for a new effort to modernize our country’s safety net programs.
Oh, yes, when Ryan says "modernize" he means "eliminate." With that in mind, let's go back to the first part of that statement and turn it around. The current approach to fighting poverty is actually keeping a great number of people out of poverty. Social Security keeps 26 million out of poverty. And then there is food stamps, housing subsidies, Earned Income credit, and unemployment insurance which also keep lots of people out of poverty.

However, Ryan is right. The current system is failing too many people. I'll jump in here and finish the sentence: … because the GOP makes sure these programs are underfunded.

Heath looks at it a different way. He notes:

* Yeah, there are lots more jobs in the economy, three million added last year. But it is possible to have one of these new jobs and still be in poverty. It is time for a raise in the minimum wage.

* Equal pay would mean the poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half.

* Women's risk of poverty jumps dramatically in her childbearing years. We need guaranteed maternity (and paternity) leave and ensured paid sick leave.

* Mass incarceration hits the families of prisoners hard. The main wage-earner is gone and the family can't afford the costs, such as phone calls and visits to the prisoner. We need to end for-profit prisons and actually pass those smarter sentencing bills.

It isn't just the underfunding of the social safety net. Heath says we also need justice to stop demonizing the neediest. We need to introduce justice into our policies.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Gay friends? Names please

Many times an anti-gay person will try to justify their beliefs and actions by saying I have gay friends and they respect my position. The response from the gay community is usually along the lines of, yeah, sure, how about you introduce us to these supposed gay friends? Well Kim Davis (remember her?) tried that line this week.

And Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin does a bit of deconstruction. He says Davis (and others like her) rely on two premises, both of which are no longer true.

The first assumption is that listeners don't have any gay friends of their own. But nearly 90% of Americans say they know a gay person and it is easy to ask them about the prevailing opinion, which is Davis' actions are not OK and not worthy of respect.

The second assumption is that gay people are still mostly closeted. Davis can't toss out that claim and assume the public will respect privacy and not ask for names. And now both the Kentucky Equality Federation and the Daily Beast are searching for those supposed gay friends.

Dallas Black heard about the search and stepped forward. He said Davis was a kind and sweet person when she helped him with paperwork after his mother died. But he doesn't recognize the woman he sees now.


Nope, not the place east of NYC. This is the original Jersey, the one New … is named after. This Jersey is an island in the English Channel, a possession of the English Crown, but self governing. This little place is in the news because its Assembly voted 37-4 to include same-sex couples in its marriage and divorce laws.

And Nepal is getting close. That country's Assembly approved a new constitution that specifically says citizens have the right to choose their preferred gender identity and gender and sexual minorities will not be discriminated against. Marriage is not mentioned and will be worked out in civil laws.

This constitution has been stalled for more than a decade. But the big earthquake in Nepal a few months ago showed how much the new constitution was needed. Recovery was almost impossible without it. Though the four big parties agreed, several smaller parties still oppose it and are mobilizing protests. Their opposition is mostly because they feel they will be underrepresented.

Filmmakers Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh say that traditional models of the solar system are not to scale. The sizes of the planets are way too big for the depicted distances from the sun. So they and some friends went out to the desert to do it right. With the earth the size of a marble and the sun about 1.5 meters they measured out distances and constructed orbits. Which explains the desert – when the earth is the size of a marble the orbit of Uranus is seven miles in diameter. The two videos explaining their fun are a total of 10 minutes.

The case that Jim Obergefell brought against the state of Ohio resulted in the Supremes declaring marriage equality this past June. Obergefell is now requesting the state to pay over $1.1 million in legal fees and expenses.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A caricature

Yeah, Kim Davis again. There has been lots of talk (mainly from her) that the marriage licenses issued by her deputies are invalid. One reason why she is making that claim is she hid all copies of the original form and created a new version with some notable changes. Her deputy now initials the form rather than signs it. The new form now requires a notary. Her name is not on it. The judge instructed her to not interfere. Is this revision interference? One advantage of these shenanigans is that support for religious liberty laws is eroding. Ari Ezra Waldman explains why: She's a caricature, one that has lost the sheep's clothing to reveal the wolf. Misused religion turns people off. She cannot win. She is the only one resisting the law.

The number of counties in the nation in which the minimum wage matches the local cost of living: zero. The minimum wage was originally designed to match the cost of living.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville takes issue with my friend and debate partner's frequently expressed idea that the solution to free speech that is ugly is more free speech. She is tired of defending herself against her oppressors, those who do her harm because she is female, a woman of size, and believes she should have the final say in what goes on in her womb. Those messages are prevalent through the culture. She's heard them a million times. So she refuses to engage, which is a legitimate response. By extension it is legitimate to ask an institution to refuse to host a speaker she knows will be offensive.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The situation again

For family members and a few friends, some of this post is a repeat of emails sent out yesterday. This post is an update on the family situation.

Back in August my Dad was in the hospital and not doing well. Two doctors recommended hospice. They could do no more. In the last week of August Dad was transferred back to the nursing home with trips to a dialysis facility three days a week. I visited Dad with a hospice worker on a day he was lucid. The worker explained hospice. Because of Dad's underlying myeloma choosing hospice meant stopping dialysis. Death would be fairly pain free and would happen in two weeks. Dad said no, it was "too quick."

Dad stabilized. Though he was too weak to get out of bed he remained lucid for the next three weeks, which set a record for the summer. Though there were days he was sleepy (usually just before or just after dialysis), there wasn't a time when he was just out of it. That stability allowed Dad's brother and my brother to come for another visit with their families. It also allowed me to resolve some issues with Dad's estate.

This past Monday I visited Dad, taking Mom. While there I went down to the nurse's station to talk to his nurse. She agreed Dad was stable. She said he wasn't ever going to walk out. He wasn't getting better and not getting worse. This could go on for quite a while. She said she could see he had a reason to live that was keeping him going, though she didn't know what that reason was.

On Wednesday I went with a few family members, including Mom, to the wedding of my sister and her partner. They have been together for 15 years, finally able to make it official after the Supremes ruled on marriage equality this summer. Setting a date was tricky because they didn't want to celebrate while the family might be grieving. When I told them Dad was stable they did their planning quickly.

The party was held in the banquet room of a restaurant. Along with the happy couple and officiant were 10 guests. They conducted the ceremony as several of us took photos. After the kiss and a round of congratulations we had dinner.

We got back to Dad's house in plenty of time for me to take Mom to see Dad. I took the camera and showed him the two dozen photos I took. He was pleased he saw the photos and pleased the wedding had finally happened. After that Mom expressed her love until Dad got sleepy. On the way to the car I had to remind her we had visited her husband, not her father. I stayed overnight in Dad's house.

On Thursday I was in the garage when my other sister opened the door and handed me the phone. It was the nursing home. Dad had died.

As my sister scrambled to have a pastor come to tell Mom and then call all our siblings, I went to the nursing home. I spent a few moments in the room with Dad. At the nurse's station we talked about what comes next. I heard the nurse's story. She had done a routine check on him around 10:00 that morning and apparently saw nothing amiss. She checked again at 10:45 and he was gone.

From there I went to the funeral home and arranged for cremation as he had requested. The memorial service will be held at a time when my brother, who is living overseas, is able to come.

Because Dad had been so stable on Monday his death on Thursday was a surprise.

I've spent today working out details with Dad's siblings and mine, then getting the obituary ready (I had written it a month ago), and also calling companies holding Dad's investments to find out what procedures to follow.

Now for a rant.

I'm well aware that Thursday's outcome was coming, ever since Dad was diagnosed back in April, and there wasn't much that would have changed it. However, there are four components that could have made the intervening months more comfortable. I am naming names in case the various organizations or people like to search for themselves. I will not go for lawsuit because I doubt I could make a sufficient case and because I don't want the emotional hassle of it all. Even so, I am annoyed.

I am annoyed with Dad's primary care physician, Dr. Schriner. Starting at the beginning of the year Dad became quite sleepy, spending many days in his chair. Dad went to see Dr. Schriner perhaps three times over the winter. But Dr. Schriner missed the cancer. The sleepiness was thought to be a result of sleep apnea. Dad was given the sleep mask, but Dad wasn't given a thorough sleep test to see if apnea was really the issue. Dad's bone pain was misinterpreted as arthritis. But arthritis of the ribs?

Once a proper diagnosis was made in the hospital Dad no longer trusted Dr. Schriner. Yet Dad was frequently asked who his primary physician was, and he listed the doctor he no longer trusted. I saw from the recent packet of Medicare statements (107 pages!) that Dr. Schriner continued to authorize other doctors to examine my father. That puzzles me.

I am annoyed with oncologists Dr. Singh and Dr. Grewal. Once I had Dad's diagnosis I did a little online research which said at Dad's age it could be a tossup whether the cancer or the chemo killed first. These doctors (or at least one of them) suggested that without chemo Dad would likely have six months of miserable quality of life and with chemo he would likely have two years of pretty good quality of life. I wasn't at the meeting, though heard about it from those who were. I also saw the effects of the chemo.

Dad was to have 4-6 rounds of chemo, each round having four doses. Two days after the first round Dad was back in the hospital. He was released in a week and went for the second round. Two days after that one Dad was back in the hospital, this time with pneumonia. This stay lasted 8 weeks.

From what I understand, a side effect of the chemo is nerve damage, in particular in Dad's hands and fingers and his swallow reflex. Dad could no longer hold a book and turn pages, nor could he operate the buttons on a phone, isolating him from relatives. It was food getting into his lungs that caused the pneumonia. That required Dad to be given a feeding tube. He wasn't too upset because nerve damage to his tongue meant nothing tasted right.

My complaint with Drs Sing and Grewal is that they gave a too rosy view of chemo and did not discuss possible side effects, preventing Dad from accurately weighing the cost of chemo along with the benefits. This chemo was much more harmful than helpful.

I am annoyed with a particular policy with McLaren Hospital of Flint. There appear to be two competing health systems in town, the McLaren system being one of them. In addition to the hospital there are lots of clinics for primary care and specialty physicians. Mom's primary care doctor is a part of this system and I assume Dad's was too. That explains why, when I took Dad to the emergency room last April he directed me to McLaren Hospital.

McLaren Hospital has a policy for its nurses that I believe was detrimental to my father's care. Every two or three days the nurses rotate to different patients. That meant each time I visited I talked to a different nurse. None of the nurses had a long-term view of Dad's condition. Late in August during a time when Dad was mentally out of it I met a nurse, who said, "Hi, My name is ___. Is your father usually like this?" My thought was, why don't you know? This policy gave the impression that nobody was in charge of Dad's care. Which brings me to...

I am annoyed with Dr. Trager, who was listed as the primary care physician for Dad while in the hospital. I was told Dr. Trager did his rounds at the crack of dawn. I said I wanted to talk with him. I was told he insisted he do that talking while he had Dad's chart in front of him, meaning I should be ready for a phone call at 6:00 am. So I got up the next morning and was ready. The call came at 6:40 and we talked. I asked about prognosis and was told something such as "limited yet optimistic." I went back to bed. When I awoke I decided the phrase was so vague it wasn't worth repeating the experience. My annoyance has two parts – first that he demanded I comply with his schedule and second that he was so vague.

These annoyances were enough that I suggested to my sister, the one who is primary caregiver for Mom, that she take Mom to the competing hospital if it ever becomes necessary. But that may not work. Mom's doctor (whom I've met and I think is pretty good) is part of the McLaren system. Mom's doctor has ready access to the report of any specialist Mom has seen, which is quite nice.

Enough of the rant.

Seven years ago Dad, Mom, and I took a cruise to Alaska. I knew we would be together for 10 days – 30 meals and needed something to talk about. So I took a notebook and asked them about their lives. I wrote up the stories as a family history and shared it with others in the family. That essentially made me the family historian.

Dad was born in 1928 in a small town in northern Ohio, 15 miles south of Sandusky. He grew up on the family's small dairy farm, which I think has been in the family since 1845. Dad was the second of four children. The oldest died at the age of 10 from a ruptured appendix.

The Depression raged through much of my Dad's childhood. Because of the farm they always had food, though many times there was no money. Several times his mother put the last of their cash in the offering plate on Sunday morning with the expectation that someone would come to buy milk on Monday. The farm didn't get electricity until 1937 and it was probably the 1950s before they got indoor plumbing.

Dad graduated from a small country high school in 1946. There were 10 in his graduating class. Until a few years ago they still held reunions and the nine living members would meet. Dad spent a few months at Deep Springs College in California, but that didn't work out. He returned to the farm and started at Heidelberg College in 1947, chosen because it is about 25 miles from the farm. It is there he met Mom, who was a fellow freshman. After two years Dad transferred to Ohio State University and their agriculture program. He and Mom continued seeing each other on weekends.

In the first weekend in June of 1951 Mom graduated from Heidelberg. In the second weekend Dad graduated from OSU. In the third weekend they were married in St. Louis, Missouri with Mom's father officiating.

Dad went on to the University of Illinois to earn a Master's in Dairy Science. While there my twin brothers were born. On graduation in 1954 Dad got a job at a bull farm in Missouri, where my third brother was born. Dad's boss at the farm was one who assumed he knew it all and was therefore right. After 18 months, Dad had enough and quit. Mom, with 3 small boys and a fourth on the way, was not pleased.

Dad brought his family back to the farm, where I was born. Mom took over the housework, quite a change for a city girl. It didn't take long to realize the farm couldn't really support so many people and there weren't alternatives in such a small town. So when IBM advertised they were looking for college gradates, no matter the major, Dad applied. He worked for the major computer company at the dawn of the computer age. We lived for a while in Cleveland, then Dad was transferred to Flint to work on the GM accounts. They've lived in the same house for 51 years. One sister was born while we still lived on the farm, the other born when we lived in Cleveland.

Dad worked for IBM just a couple weeks shy of 30 years. He had a few short-term jobs, then worked for Central Michigan University for 10 years. One more short job after that and he retired.

Though he never retired from the church. He taught an adult Sunday school class for more than 30 years, much of that a systematic look at the entire bible. He served on practically every church committee (I think one at a time), then added committees at the district level. He went to the church's state conference at least 25 years in a row, serving in a variety of jobs, such as head usher. He even attended four of the denomination's quadrennial international conferences, usually as an usher.

It was only last winter that Dad finally gave up his job of church treasurer and treasurer of a non-profit in Flint. When I took him to the hospital last Easter, one question was, "Who will teach my class next week?"

Dad was 87 when he died.

I could go on, but the hour is late. My writing for this blog in the near future will depend on my mood and family responsibilities.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Turn that spotlight off!

We might be close to hearing the last about Kim Davis. She was back at the office today. She went into her private office, closed the blinds, and posted a sheriff deputy outside. Along the way she said, "I don't want to be in the spotlight." Hmm. Just last week it appears you were enjoying the spotlight very much.

Same-sex couples have been receiving marriage licenses through the deputy clerk. Davis had said without her signature the licenses are unauthorized and they'll say they are, "issued pursuant to a federal court order."

The only person who is bothered by that distinction is Davis. Even the governor has said licenses issued by the deputy clerks will be considered valid by the state.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

It's the cover-up that does it

A month ago, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, two GOP members of the Michigan House, were caught trying to cover up an affair using a bizarre email and an aide who refused to lie for them. The scandal has roiled Lansing since then. After investigations the issue went before the full House on Wednesday. The session went through the night. Though Courser had vowed to never give up, around 3:00 am, he saw how the proceedings were going and gave his resignation. Gamrat insisted she deserved censure, not expulsion, and asked for a vote. She was expelled. Since the pair pushed an extreme conservative agenda, I'm not sorry to see them go.

Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Radio adds a few details. The reason why the session went so long into the night was because the 2/3 majority required for expulsion needed a few Democrat votes and they held out for a while wanting to expand the investigation in hopes of catching some of the GOP leadership as well. Of course, the GOP leadership wasn't going to let that happen.

Lessenberry reminds us the expulsion wasn't because the affair (though some commenters are skeptical). It was because of the abuse of state resources to cover it up. Lessenberry also says expulsion was also because Courser and Gamrat didn't have a clue how to be legislators and refused to learn. A big part of that, says Lessenberry, is Michigan's term limits, which prevents lawmakers from gaining the expertise to do their jobs.

True Americans

According to the website Tikkun there was a meeting of the Native American National Council a week ago. The leadership considered a handful of proposals about what to do about the large illegal European population. After a long debate the Council offered a road to Native Citizenship to those without criminal records or contagious diseases. Applicants must write a heartfelt apology for their ancestors' crimes and pay a $5000 application fee. A group called True Americans claimed amnesty would only serve to reward lawbreakers.
“They all need to be deported back to Europe,” John Dakota from True Americans said. “They came here illegally and took a giant crap on our land. They brought disease and alcoholism, stole everything we have because they were too lazy to improve and develop their own countries.”

Problematic stereotypes?

The term "gaydar" has been around for a while now. It is when one person (usually gay) looks at another person and gets the sense that other person is gay. This happens without the second person saying "I'm gay." I've had that experience over the years, though I can't say how accurately my gaydar is calibrated because I don't go up to others and ask, "Are you gay?"

William Cox led a study on gaydar at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He says gaydar is only a reliance on problematic stereotypes. And stereotyping is not appropriate, even if you rename it gaydar in hopes of making the idea more acceptable.

Charles Pulliam-Moore thinks Cox misses the point. Gaydar may not work much better than randomly guessing. But there is a deeper usefulness. Believing gaydar exists allows them to see their space as queer-affirming. It allows a closeted queer to feel less alone. It helps us to construct our own queer identity.

Three goats and a cow

The news cycle isn't done with Kim Davis because Kim Davis isn't done. Her latest ploy is to ask the 6th Circuit Court to throw out the District Court's mandate to issue marriage licenses to all couples. First, they claim, it was issued improperly. Second, it was supposed to apply only to those couples who brought the suit against her. Now that those couples have their licenses she should be able to refuse licenses to all other same-sex couples. Yup, stubborn.

Davis returns to work on Monday. I'm sure her deputies will be wary (that's an understatement).

The Oath Keepers, who had vowed to prevent Davis from being arrested again, have told their followers they aren't needed because Davis has refused their protection. So save your gas money and stay home – but it is a free country and members on their own may "peaceably assemble to express your support for her due process rights and your opposition to arbitrary arrest if you want to..." That doesn't exactly sound reassuring.

Planting Peace and the Equality House, that rainbow colored house across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, have put up a billboard in Davis' home town. "If Davis is going to use Biblical rhetoric to justify her opposition to same-sex marriage, she might want to take a closer look at how else marriage has been redefined in relation to the book’s sacred teachings."

In Morehead, KY, the scene of all this action used to be quiet. Though quiet meant those who didn't agree with the prominent conservative Christian beliefs kept their mouths shut. But this whole wrangling over the issue of same-sex marriage has gotten loud. Outside protesters on both sides of the debate coming into town as well as locals have dragged the issue out into the public square. But what happens when the TV cameras leave? Well, the tension remains. And just maybe when the noise level finally drops the atmosphere will be a bit more welcoming and fewer people will feel the need for the closet.

I had written about the magistrates in McDowell County, North Carolina who refused to perform wedding ceremonies, prompting the county to bring in magistrates from a nearby county. A lot of people have been comparing the two cases. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin disagrees. He sums it up this way. Magistrates: I won't take part in your wedding. Davis: I won't let you have a wedding.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Staggering goodness and innocence

Tomorrow is the 14th anniversary of the attack that brought down the World Trade Center and put a hole in the Pentagon. Tom Englehardt, in an article posted on Alternet tells us what we managed to do for Osama bin Laden that he wasn't able to do himself. Englehardt's list is long. I can only share the highlights. In 14 years we've built a monumental national security state and a global surveillance system besting Germany of 1940, created a culture of fear, changed democracy into a billionaire's playground, demobilized the citizenry, made gov't more secretive, created warrior corporations, militarized domestic police, and starved national infrastructure.

We named that site in New York "ground zero" as if it had been hit by a nuclear bomb. That's how over the top the coverage was. Osama spooked the country into unleashing the dogs of war, which has brought chaos into the Muslim world.

One wonders what was going on before the attacks to see how swift and how pervasive was our launch into the Global War on Terror, the efforts to create a Pax Americana, and have a blind faith in our military as a force for human liberation. So we launched wars we can't get out of and we've created a big business in robotic assassination.

So far no one in Washington has taken any responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across the planet, releasing the forces for creating a state built on terror, and prompting the current flood of refugees. Somehow we are still devoted to the idea that America is an "'exceptional' and 'indispensable' country of staggering goodness and innocence."

Commenters noted Englehardt forgot to mention the trillions of dollars wasted in these efforts and what that has done to the middle class.

Bernie is stunned

Bernie Sanders is leading Hillary in both New Hampshire and Iowa. Sanders says he is "stunned" by that development. A commenter to this post added this little infographic, which explains a lot of his appeal:

Rosa Parks or George Wallace?

The American news cycle has not yet gotten tired of Kim Davis. Sigh.

Davis has been compared to Rosa Parks. This cartoon quickly explains what nonsense that is.

George Takei blasts Davis for imposing her beliefs on others. When challenged that he doesn't know his First Amendment he responded by saying the challenger doesn't know the second half of the amendment. "Ms. Davis is in effect establishing religion by using her governmental powers to impose her religious views."

Terrence Heath looks into the results of her efforts to be a martyr. That martyr thing isn't working out so well. Americans just aren't that into her. What was expected to be a solid wall of conservative support has a lot of cracks in it. Fox News called her attorney "ridiculously stupid." Conservative columnist George Will has compared her to George Wallace. Only four GOP prez. candidates are firmly on her side. Another six have been vague. And three more say she must uphold the law or resign. Though conservatives had said hundreds would be dragged off to jail, Davis is the single case. And only 26% of Americans approve of what she is doing.

Maybe Heath should hold off on that single case thing. Back in May, in preparation for the marriage ruling by the Supremes, the state legislature in North Carolina held by the GOP passed a law allowing county magistrates to opt out of performing marriages as long as someone is available for those duties. That's not working so well for McDowell County. All four magistrates have invoked their rights to not perform marriages. So two magistrates from Rutherford County drive to McDowell County three days a week.

There appears to be a new "sheriff" in town. They are the Oath Keepers and describe themselves as a "Christian patriot" militia (wow, quite the contradiction in terms!). They recently showed up in Ferguson, Missouri to "help" the police keep down civil unrest. That was scary enough – badass white dudes loaded with military gear in a town already in turmoil over how the police treat black people. But this crosses the line into what looks like sedition: Members of the Oath Keepers are beginning to show up in the town where Davis lives saying they will intercede if the judge sends Davis back to jail.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Gosh, the voters were wrong?

A year ago the city council of Fayetteville, Arkansas approved a comprehensive LGBT right bill. The Duggar family (I'll let you Google Josh Duggar on your own) spearheaded a vicious campaign and voters overturned the ordinance. This year the city council tried again. This time voters ratified the ordinance 52.8% to 47.2%, even though our side was outspent 2 to 1. It will go into effect on Nov. 7, giving opponents enough time for a legal challenge. Strange that this bunch used to say the voters should decide. Now the challenge what voters decided. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and in public accommodation because of sexual orientation and gender identity. Alas, there is still the detail of a state law that bans such city ordinances.

A commenter added this image:

Brian Mason, a deputy clerk under Kim Davis, has said he would continue to issue marriage licenses even if Davis tells him not to. Commenters wonder if Mason would be fired for insubordination, though he could respond with a wrongful termination suit. We haven't heard directly from Davis because she took the rest of the week off after being released from jail.

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom has now passed her great grandmother Queen Victoria to become the longest serving British monarch at 63 years, 216 days. Since she is only 89 and her mother died at age 101 she may still have many years ahead of her. Britain is rejoicing, except perhaps for Prince Charles, who has been heir apparent for 63 years, 216 days.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ridiculously stupid

Kim Davis, that stubborn county clerk in Kentucky, has been released from jail. Her release was accompanied with an order from the judge that she not interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses. There are bets that she'll violate the order within two days. Of course, there are still claims that licenses without her signature are invalid.

As for her attorney, Matt Staver of the Liberty Counsel, he has been declared "ridiculously stupid" … by Fox News.

Yesterday, the Liberty Counsel had demanded Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear release Davis. His reply was the he would not even respond to the motion.

A Rasmussen poll issued today reports that only 26% of Americans believe that Kim Davis should be free to defy the Supreme Court.

Matt Baume reports Congress is considering a First Amendment Defense Act. Baume says a better name would be the Kim Davis Cloning Act. The bill says that anyone can refuse to do their job or follow the law if it means recognizing same-sex couples. He discusses the wide variety of ways that could impact gay couples. But wait! This bill isn't doesn't restricted to same-sex couples. It could impact the unwed mother or anyone buying condoms.

Yes, of course, the First Amendment already covers freedom of religion. But this bill would gut another part of the First Amendment, the part that prohibits the state from establishing a religion. The bill says in the area of marriage (which had better be one man, one woman) our religious view of this matters, yours doesn't.

Man of leisure

Today is the first day of the fall semester and I found out this morning I won't be teaching. The reason: no students.

I was assigned three classes this semester, the usual Music Theory and Ear Training, and for the first time a handbell class. When I met with the department chair in mid August she said she was pretty sure no students would sign up for the handbell class. Students would meet their performance requirements another way. She said I would likely have one student taking both Theory and Ear Training and another taking only Ear Training because he hadn't gotten a good grade in the previous semester of Theory. Yes, this is a small college with a tiny music department. In my five years there I've had good years with 8, 6, and 4 students. I've also had lean years with 1 and 2 students. Last I counted there were about 15 students in the department.

I checked my class rosters on Friday and saw all three showed zero enrollment. I knew students procrastinated, so I wasn't too worried. I checked again last night. Still zero. So I called the department chair to warn her she may want to prod a couple students.

She called back this morning quite apologetic. The student who was to take both classes doesn't have enough money to enroll this semester. The other student said he is postponing taking the Ear Training class until he took the corresponding Theory class. So, no students this semester.

I will have one student in one class starting in January. She didn't get a good enough grade when she took it this past winter, so must take it again. She is also a senior and it is a required class.

I thought about the prospect of no students during last night and didn't sleep as well as I would have liked. I considered the prospect of being assigned a class for which I had done no preparation and what a scramble that would be through the semester, but I wasn't offered one. I'm sure all classes are already covered. Though I enjoy teaching, this might be a good semester for a sabbatical (of sorts). It will give me more time to take care of my ailing father and his affairs. Beyond that, I'll have plenty of time for composition projects, something I rarely have time for during the rush of classwork.

The department chair will send me the calendar for student recitals and performances. I'll attend as many of those as I can. I'll also venture in for occasional ongoing discussions about revising the theory curriculum.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On top of Ohio

Yeah, the stubborn county clerk, Kim Davis, is still in jail. Allen Clifton asks her the important question. With this question he sidesteps Davis' statement that her three divorces don't matter to this debate because they happened before she became Christian.
I wonder how Kim Davis would have felt when she filed for her first of multiple divorces the judge refused to grant her that divorce, citing that doing so went against biblical law.

Over many decades Alaskans have been trying to officially change the tallest mountain in North America from Mt. McKinley to Denali, the name the natives had long used. Denali is also the name of the national park around the mountain. But each time the issue comes before Congress a senator from Ohio blocked the move because President McKinley was from Ohio. Now Obama has used an obscure rule and issued an executive order to make the name change. Ohioans are predictably outraged.

There is now a petition on the White House website that hopes to switch the issue around. If Ohio insists on the name of a mountain in Alaska, then perhaps Alaska gets to name a mountain in Ohio. Well, yeah, the highest point in Ohio, currently named Campbell Hill, is only 1550 feet. But that's about the right height to become Mount Sarah Palin.

John Oliver of Last Week Tonight spent 14 minutes tackling a huge misconception – because of the legalization of same-sex marriage nearly 70% of Americans believe it is illegal to discriminate against gay people. But there are no non-discrimination laws in 31 states and a federal bill to ban discrimination has no GOP supporters.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Only my religious freedom matters

Kim Davis, the stubborn county clerk in Kentucky, is staying in jail for a while. With her not in the office, marriage certificates are being issued to same-sex couples. Photos here. Through her lawyer Davis is declaring that without her signature all those marriage licenses are worthless.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin was hoping Davis would get sanctions, but not jail. This allows the Fundies to crow about her being a martyr and all this an attack on Christians. That helps politicians, such as Huckabee, who rely on division for their power. I had written that Davis was refusing to let her deputies issue marriage licenses so her fingers wouldn't be tainted. Kincaid says that means her religious freedom matters. The religious freedom of her deputies does not.

Excuse me a moment while I turn off the hypocrisy alarm...

A flight attendant newly converted to Islam has asked, then sued, her airline to accommodate her unwillingness to serve alcohol (though she is not demanding the airline completely stop serving alcohol). Naturally, the Fundie blogsphere exploded in outrage. How dare this Muslim woman not do her job! That prompted Joe Jervis to respond:
Brand new religious fervor? Check. Won’t do the job she was hired for? Check. Demand for special exemption? Check. Public denied totally legal service? Check. But hey – this time it’s not a godly white Christian woman, therefore very suddenly (and only-this-one-time-plus-for-all-other-Muslims) separation of church and state is an actual THING.

A game he cannot win

Chris Christie has appeared a few times on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Each time Christie does so Fallon pulls out a few fat jokes. Melissa McEwen of Shakesville says Christie can be a "good sport" – laugh as he's being ridiculed – or he's accused of being "too sensitive" or "humorless." Christie is pushed into a game he cannot win. Which is the nature of oppression.

But why fat jokes? Why isn't Fallon making jokes about the odious statements coming out of Christie's campaign, such as wanting to tag immigrants like FedEx packages. That is something that deserves mockery.

Fallon relies on fat jokes because (1) they're a lot easier than jokes based on Christie's agenda and (2) fat jokes also ridicule all the fat people in the country. A twofer!

McEwen has noticed that every time she defends Christie against fat jokes she gets comments from progressives that Christie shouldn't be defended for any reason. She's hurting the progressive cause. But McEwen resists that. She holds herself to a higher standard. She will call out every one of Christie's odious policies. But she will continue to see Christie and all of his conservative colleagues as human beings worthy of respect. That's even though she knows she would never get the same consideration from them. She refuses to race Christie to the bottom.

An electable agenda

Is Bernie Sanders "electable?" He's gathering big crowds and the only candidate talked about more than Bernie is Donald (hmm, don't know the source of that statement and makes me wonder if Bernie is indeed talked about more than Hillary – and what kind of era are we in where I can refer to prez. candidates by their first names?). I have issues with Bernie, but a choice between him and any of the GOP candidates would be a quick and easy choice.

I'll leave the question of Bernie's electability to the progress of history. Instead, with the help of Terrence Heath, I'll look at the electability of the agenda that Bernie is promoting. Here are the results of polls on some of Bernie's issues (with more on Heath's post).

71% of likely 2016 voters support debt-free college at all public universities.

78% believe gov't should limit greenhouse gasses.

65% believe income inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

81% think money has too much influence in elections today.

71% support giving all Americans a choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurers.

68% are in favor of increasing taxes on those making more than $1 million a year.

75% support fair trade that protects workers, the environment, and jobs.

84% support making sure working women earn equal pay.

66% support breaking up banks that are "too big to fail."

With Bernie's issues pulling this favorably, he's attracting interest, and possible votes, not just from progressives, but from many independents and conservatives as well.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Jail for Jesus

Kim Davis is the county clerk in Kentucky who has been refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone because issuing them to same-sex couples is against her religion. Today was her day in court to answer charges of contempt.

The scene outside the courthouse was quite lively and loud, with supporters on both sides of the issue. This post has lots of pictures of the crowds – and their posters. One commenter wrote to Davis:
You put your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution, not the other way around.
The Founding Fathers

The result of the hearing is Davis was taken into custody. The gay couple who were the lead plaintiffs had asked for fines instead of jail time because they knew putting Davis in jail would only make her a martyr in the Fundie cause. But the judge asked Davis had received donations for her defense. She said yes. That means she would not lose money if she was fined and thus it would not be a penalty.

Next before the judge were the six deputy clerks. Five of them said they would issue licenses to same-sex couples while Davis was in jail. The holdout is Nathan Davis, Kim's son. The judge was willing to let that slide.

The judge offered Davis a deal. Let her willing deputies issue licenses under her authority and he would consider releasing her from jail. She refused and will stay in jail. The deputies say through the months of this drama they have been intimidated by Davis and will gladly issue marriage licenses while she is out of the office.

Dan Savage finally wrote about Kim Davis. A few things he noted:

Public servants choosing to redefine their jobs according to their religion is an invitation to chaos. What if a Muslim clerk in Dearborn, Michigan (a huge Middle East community there) refused to issue marriage licenses to Christians?
… but that's not going to happen. Religious minorities in this country intuitively understand that to empower religious bigots like Davis is to paint bullseyes on their own backs. So the Jesus-freak goons at the Liberty Counsel work to frame discrimination as a "religious freedom" because they're confident that American Christians will be the ones doing the discriminating, not suffering from it.
Savage hadn't written about Davis before because he knew how it would play out: The case would go to the Supremes (who refused it), she would be held in contempt, and lose her job. Then she would "write" a book (ghostwriter already busy) about her trauma and she would cash in on the rightwing speaking circuit as the persecuted Christian martyr. And it would be to cash in – there's a big pile of sweet bigot money waiting for her.

Savage also goes into Davis' complicated marital history. Doesn't the bible also have strong words about divorce? Um, yeah. But Davis says that doesn't matter because it happened before she became a Christian and all her sins were forgiven. But now that hers are forgiven she isn't going to let those icky gay couples do any (what she considers) sinning.