Monday, December 28, 2015

Even use it away from home

My father began chemo last April and it damaged the nerves in his fingers to the point he couldn't handle a cell phone. My brother convinced me that as medical power of attorney for my father I should carry a cell phone. So I took Dad's. The hospital called me on it a few times.

It is a simple phone Dad bought around 2010. It doesn't even do text. Dad bought minutes for it as needed. When I started using it there were about 1800 minutes on it along with a renewal date of Dec. 29. Over the summer and early fall I used about 200 minutes. I've been keeping it in the car in case of emergencies, but have used it only a couple times.

Since it was time for a renewal I called the company. I said I need to renew but I have so many minutes I don't want to buy more. I found that's not possible. I can still use the 1600 minutes, but to extend the usage time I must buy more. I consented to 30 days and 30 minutes for $10. I could have gotten a year and 400 minutes for $99. I can't imagine using that much.

Yes, I'm quite aware that I could use it instead of my landline and – gosh! – even use it when I'm not at home. At least until I use up those 1630 minutes.

But the sound quality on this beast isn't all that good. And I simply don't like having to manage a phone in my pocket.

Another way to look at this is to ignore the accumulated minutes and only consider that it will cost me $99 a year to have a phone in my car. Is it worth it? Probably not.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Actually snake oil

Lynn Parramore, writing for Huffington Post Politics, interviewed Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, about the Cyclically Adjusted Budget used by many governments around the world. It is an imprecise statistical estimate that guides government officials when they decide what to spend money on and how much money to collect in taxes.

In the 1940s the CAB was a great thing. It helped convince business owners that policies to put Americans to work after the war were good for business. It allowed the economic experts and the budget wonks, not just politicians, to give blessings to these policies.

But because it is imprecise the CAB is easily manipulated. In these times of income inequality and power held by the 1% we know who is doing the manipulating and in whose favor. The use of the CAB allows politicians and businessmen to...

* Use language that is technical and obscure, giving a veneer of objectivity that is indisputable.

* Avoid taking responsibility of their decisions. The CAB and budget wonks made me do it.

* Make drastic cuts in social spending as well as personal pay and benefits in the name of economic science, the smooth running of capitalism, or to keep inflation low.

* Limit choices available to fix a budgetary situation. We can't raise taxes! We'll face economic doom!

Through the CAB governments are able suck money from the poor to give to the rich.

Costantini said:
I suppose this shows the limits of democracy when information, knowledge, and ultimately power are unequally distributed.
Even the name of this tool, the “cyclically adjusted budget,” carries an aura of respect. It diverts our attention. We don’t question it. It creates a barrier between the individual and the political realm: it undermines democratic participation itself. This obscure theory validates, with its authority, a big economic mistake that sounds like common sense but is actually snake oil — the notion that the federal government budget is like a household budget. Actually, it isn’t. Your household doesn’t collect taxes. It doesn’t print money. It works very differently, yet the nonsense that it should behave exactly like a household budget gets repeated by politicians and policymakers who really just want to squeeze ordinary people.

Bill Moyers, also writing for Huffington Post Politics, takes a look at the budget bill recently passed by Congress and quickly signed by Obama. He lists many of the goodies for the 1% tucked in its 2000 pages. Did we expect anything else? The official spin, which news anchors uncritically amplified, was that it was a bipartisan bill that proved Washington can work. It isn't a perfect bill, but does a lot of good things.

Moyers asks the important questions: Washington works for whom? It does a lot of good things for whom? At what price?

Moyers wrote:
Can we at least face the truth? The plutocrats and oligarchs are winning. The vast inequality they are creating is a death sentence for government by consent of the people at large. Did any voter in any district or state in the last Congressional election vote to give that billion dollar loophole to a handful of billionaires? To allow corporations to hide their political contributions? To add $1.4 trillion to the national debt? Of course not. It is now the game: Candidates ask citizens for their votes, then go to Washington to do the bidding of their donors. And since one expectation is that they will cut the taxes of those donors, we now have a permanent class that is afforded representation without taxation.

Not a mental illness

A moment to commemorate psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer. He died on Friday at the age of 83. He is worth noting for a few reasons:

Starting in 1974 he was instrumental in applying scientific standards to psychiatry. That eventually resulted in a much revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the 3rd version published in 1980. This lists known mental disorders, describes the symptoms, and recommends treatment in an orderly and consistent manner.

In 1973 he played a key part in declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Homosexuality did not appear in the update to the DSM printed in 1974.

In 2001 he conducted phone interviews with 200 ex-gays. His paper reported that "66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had arrived at what [Spitzer] called good heterosexual functioning." The gay community was outraged. The APA disavowed the study. The ex-gay community was delighted and used the study as proof that their programs worked. Spitzer saw how his study was being misused as was horrified. In 2012 he asked for a retraction. He said the study had a fatal flaw, that there was no way to tell whether the subjects in the study were telling the truth. And because of the general disapproval of homosexuality at the time many subjects in the study had a good reason to lie.

Still a skeptic

My friend and debate partner replied to my post from yesterday on global warming. He wrote:
"...the sun activity is at a maximum and is about to drop. The global temperature of the earth is about to plummet – at a time when the hysterical (their word) world is preparing for rapid temperature rise."

Uh... I'd expect the sun's relative cooling to happen slowly, so earth temperatures are unlikely to "plummet". Also, I have not heard of this sun-about-to-cool claim anywhere else; I am skeptical of it.
The word "plummet" may not be the best, though it still might be appropriate when considering climate timescales. The claim was that our world will be significantly cooler by 2030. They compared it to the winter of 1658 when Sweden's army marched across a frozen strait and captured Copenhagen. This was at the coldest of the Little Ice Age.

As for that "sun-about-to-cool" claim, I hadn't heard it before either. Is it true? Those making the claim say this is part of the sun's various cycles in energy fluctuation coming together. They also say climate on earth is much more sensitive (high correlation) to energy from the sun. And climate is insensitive (low correlation) to the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Skeptical of it? Good.

My friend continues:
Even if Kooistra had offered a case that temperature measurements were systematically wrong, I did not imply nor mean that all evidence for global warming is thereby invalidated.
This is one of the points Stan Schmidt, Editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact made in his rebuttal to Kooistra, though I didn't mention it yesterday. Some bad data, when there is a great deal of other good data, does not invalidate the premise.
As we know, the global science community is overwhelmingly united in support of global climate change and presents broad evidence for it.
Indeed, they are and do. Yes, there is lots of evidence that the climate has become warmer over perhaps the last century. There is also lots of evidence that there has been a great increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses since the start of the Industrial Revolution. For about a century the correlation of the two has been high. But the research I linked to yesterday prompts the important question: Did all those climate scientists confuse correlation with causation? These researchers found much better correlation over a longer period of time between climate and sun energy levels.

So will the correlation between global temperature and increasing greenhouse gasses continue as the sun's energy drops?

I'll rephrase my concluding point from yesterday. I can't tell which of these competing scenarios is correct. Perhaps I should be skeptical of both. But there are other reasons, mostly pollution, to reduce carbon emissions. I support the agreements that recently came out of Paris, even if the science behind it might be wrong.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Back at the end of June I wrote a post discussing skepticism of global warming. My reference was "Lessons From the Lab" by Jeffrey Kooistra. It was the Alternate View column in the November 2009 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Not everything from the magazine is online, though with a bit of searching I found this article, which I didn't include in my earlier post. Yes, I'm way behind in reading accumulated issues. I stopped buying new issues a year ago, though what I have should last me another 5 years.

I am writing this post a couple days after a string of cities from Florida to Quebec set record high temperatures.

Kooistra's main point is that the data on which the climate predictions are based aren't accurate enough to tell us much of anything. For example, can we trust data where the collection station was painted with whitewash and is now painted with latex paint? How about if the collection station is now near the exhaust of a new building's air conditioner? What about the case were a parking lot has been added near a collection station?

A couple days after that post my friend and debate partner replied. Part of what he wrote:
I'd be surprised if a relatively small number of stations having issues among two thousand reporting makes much difference in the trend that almost all of the warmest years on record have been very recent.
I replied:
The affected stations wasn’t “a relatively small number,” it was more like 90% of all stations.
My friend responded:
OK, looks like Kooistra has a case.

I'm finally up to the April 2010 issue of Analog. Both the "Editorial, The Rest of the Data" by Stanley Schmidt and the "Brass Tacks" letters column were rebuttals to Kooistra. Schmidt's main points.

* Once a systematic error is found (such as the change of paint) the data can be corrected for it.

* There are other sources that must be considered. These are used to collect climate data from before thermometers were invented and can confirm what thermometers say. These include measures of glacial and polar ice melt, sea level changes, earlier plant blooms, later fall colors, and bird species range (Carolina wrens now seen in New York).

Writers to the letters column made these points:

* We can see the level of CO2 in the atmosphere through history. It is now higher than any time in the last 300,000 years. It has to be doing something and we don't know all the ways Nature will react.

* Kooistra didn't visit enough of the collection stations to accurately say data from 90% of them was defective.

The last letter was from Kooistra, who said he would devote an upcoming Alternate View column to his reply. This is where having several years of issues already on my shelf came in handy. I could look through issues I haven't read yet to find Kooistra's response, which came in the September 2010 issue. He titled it "I Think, Therefore I Question." His main points:

* Kooistra worked with simple fluid systems and found it difficult to model them adequately. Climate models are much more complex. Our knowledge of how weather and climate work has too many gaps. The model's predictions must be treated with deep skepticism.

* One of the earliest demonstrations of global warming was the famous "hockey stick" graph that showed temperatures holding steady for may centuries then abruptly jumping upward. But, says Kooistra, this chart ignores the Medieval Warming Period, a time of prolonged higher temperatures that allowed the Vikings to settle Greenland.

* Kooistra mentions Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That who discusses in detail improper placement of temperature stations. As of early 2010 he had reported 88 dubious placements.

* While it is possible to correct for a change in the type of paint on a collection station, it is not possible to correct for a station near an AC exhaust.

* We have no way of knowing how much, if any, of the current warming trend is due to humans and how much is because of natural processes.

The reference to the hockey stick graph prompted me to search for it. I chose the link with the best image. That brought me to a page on the site Global Warming and the Climate. It indeed shows the hockey stick graph, gives a bit of background, and works through the criticism of that graph.

A big problem is: How to accurately estimate temperature in a time before thermometers were invented? One way to do that is through tree rings. The thickness of rings varies from year to year and using either really old trees or matching up inner rings from 20th century trees to outer rings in 18th century trees and working farther back one can get a pattern that spans 2000 years. The thickness of rings does show temperature … but it also shows drought and, important for the 20th century, level of CO2. So much for that idea.

After reading about what Global Warming and the Climate has to say about the hockey stick graph I went to the site's main page. Through various charts and discussion it lays out an alternate explanation. Temperatures don't correlate to CO2 and industrialization, but to sun activity. And for various reasons – which I'll let them explain – the sun activity is at a maximum and is about to drop. The global temperature of the earth is about to plummet – at a time when the hysterical (their word) world is preparing for rapid temperature rise.

Don't sigh in relief just yet. A colder era could be just as stormy and disastrous to crops as a hotter one, especially in India and Brazil.

Why haven't we heard about this pending drop into a mini ice age? This site blames it on mass media controlled by the Global Warming Industry, scientists and people like Al Gore who have staked their careers on global warming.

I'm well aware of media controlled by such things as the Diet Industry. Everyone, including doctors, insist that to be healthy one must be thin. That's in spite of the lack of evidence, an idea I've been exploring over the last year.

One one side of the diet debate is the strong and powerful Diet and Food industry. On the other side are some pretty weak voices. But that's not true of the climate debate. On one side is this supposed Global Warming Industry. On the other is the Oil Industry. Both appear to be heavyweights, though I would have thought the Oil Industry to be the champion, able to get the GOP to do its bidding, even though the Global Warming Industry supposedly controls the media.

Who to believe? Though I'm well versed in science both sides can make claims and counter claims backed up by charts, diagrams, and language that leave me confused. Or they both use shrill language I now view with suspicion. In short, I can't tell.

On to the next question. What should we as a world be doing? Does dropping temperatures mean I could buy a gas guzzler SUV (not that I want one) without guilt? We can ignore all those global warming pledges from the recent Paris conference? We should stop production of wind turbines and invest heavily in the Alberta tar sands? I should turn up the thermostat of my house to a balmy 74F?

Well, no. While much of the policy, at least in America, has been driven by the thought of global warming, the use of petroleum products also comes with a great deal of pollution – as Beijing is learning. Even if we don't overheat our world we can still poison it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oh, the weather outside is not frightful

This year's El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is indirectly prompting a high pressure cell over Bermuda to pump hot tropical air northward. Florida to Quebec will see a heat wave. Many cities, such as Buffalo and Boston, will break their record high for Dec. 24 at midnight, and the temp will then rise through the day – yeah, the day's low will be higher than the record high. The interior of Quebec could see temps over 40F above normal.

2015 will be the warmest on record globally by a wide margin.

Showing America it has a big problem

Terrence Heath reports on the accomplishments of the Black Lives Matter movement.

* The Mapping Police Violence project documented who was killed by the 60 largest American police departments. 41 of the 60 killed blacks at a rate higher than their black population. 14 of these departments killed only blacks. High levels of violent crime did not correlate to likelihood that police would kill.

* The movement is challenging Democratic candidates, telling them clearly do something about this situation or we'll stay home on election day. Don't assume we'll vote for you because the GOP is so unwelcoming to us. Bernie and Hillary are listening and now speaking. The movement knows they will get a chilly reception in the GOP, so isn't wasting time there.

* They are asking candidates to support a specific 10 point plan that includes such things as community oversight of the police, limit the use of police force, use of body cams, demilitarization of police, and end for-profit policing (where the police dept. or the court system fund their budgets through fines).

* They are changing public opinion. A Pew poll in 2010 found 17% of respondents said racism in America was a "big problem." This year that number is 50%. Up through last year an average of five police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter every year. This year it was 15.


This would be entertaining if it wasn't dangerous. Remember that federal budget I mentioned yesterday that included funding for Planned Parenthood? Evangelist Franklin Graham (heir of Billy Graham) is incensed enough over it – both that PP thing and the whole budget just way too big – that he is leaving the Republican Party. Apparently the GOP is too willing to compromise and too moderate.

But he'll still vote for Trump.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is quite the homophobe. Even so, he has issued what will likely be known as the Kim Davis order, named for the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bevin's executive order is that the name of the clerk is no longer required to be on marriage licenses. One problem, pointed out by the ACLU, is that Bevin doesn't have the authority for such a change – the legislature would have to do it.

Yesterday I reported that marriage (or even relationship) equality failed in Austria, Romania, and Slovenia. I'm happy to report that a bill allowing civil unions passed in Greece. The vote was 194-55. Greece is caught between the European Union demanding same-sex relationship equality and the Greek Orthodox Church's fierce opposition. So there will be civil unions, but not many rights (such as adoption or pensions) to go with them.

An anti-trans group Privacy for All didn't get enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot in California. The bill would have required trans people to use bathrooms for their biological sex unless they had undergone reassignment surgery. So the bathroom wars won't be coming to Calif.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Need quality education

Remember Malala Yousafzai? She is the young girl shot because she insisted girls needed to attend school and then became the youngest Nobel laureate when she won the Peace Prize. She has a few things to say to Donald Trump:
The more you speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create.

It's important that whatever politicians say, whatever the media say, they should be really, really careful about it. If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism. It will radicalize more terrorists.

If we want to end terrorism we need to bring quality education so we defeat the mindset of terrorism mentality and of hatred.
Said as GOP lawmakers across the country work to cut funding to schools.

Hypocrites or fools?

Terrence Heath wrote:
But it takes a special kind of leader to take that fear, distill it into hatred, and fill us up with it. Donald Trump proved himself just that kind of leader when he supported a registry of Muslim-Americans, special ID badges for Muslims, and finally promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US. If you think those ideas sound vaguely familiar, you’re right.
So can we call him and his supporters Fascists yet?

Five children of gay parents sued the Austrian government saying that they were being stigmatized because their parents could not marry. The Administrative Court in Vienna ruled against them, saying in part children of unwed parents no long face much social criticism. Appeals to national courts are now possible.

The Romanian Parliament soundly defeated a bill that would have granted civil unions. It was strongly opposed by the Orthodox Church. The bill was introduced by Green Party president Remus Cernea. He is also calling for strict separation of church and state.

The Parliament of Slovenia passed marriage equality last March. The Catholic Church and conservative groups demanded a referendum. It was voted down with 63% against. Thank Pope Francis.

Remember all that noise from various GOP Congresscritters demanding Planned Parenthood be defunded. Didn't happen. That huge budget bill recently passed includes full funding of Planned Parenthood. With such loud kvetching from the GOP, how did we manage that? Robert Kuttner, in Huffington Post, wrote that (1) Dems held firm. (2) The GOP read the polls that say 60% want PP fully funded. (3) Speaker Ryan told his party that they could not withstand the bad publicity of another gov't shutdown. (4) PP and its leader Cecile Richards are astute political players.

In a second part of his column Kuttner poses a question to ponder. The GOP is all for openly carrying guns into all types of venues. Will they allow guns in their nominating convention in Cleveland? Ohio is an open-carry state. If attendees must check guns at the door they are hypocrites. If they admit guns they are fools – one can imagine a shootout between Trump supporters and Cruz supporters. Maybe reporters need to pack heat.

Kuttner adds condemnation of the interest rate hike by the Fed. The Fed had said they were raising rates to keep inflation in check – but according to their goals inflation is too low. Besides, the job market is softer than it looks. The official unemployment rate of 5% doesn't include those who have stopped looking for work or in a job with too few hours. The Feds said the markets expected the raise. In response, the markets tanked.

Can't gerrymander statewide elections

There's something about the Michigan GOP and December. Power grabs used to be confined to years with a lame-duck legislature. Not anymore. These guys must be getting desperate. Well, there is a prez. election next year and the GOP hasn't figured out how to gerrymander statewide elections, which as a whole tends to vote Dem even if districts are rigged to keep the GOP in control of the legislature.

This year's power grab started a few months ago with a push to do away with straight-ticket balloting – mark one box or pull one lever and vote for all the candidates of one party. Of course, the GOP knows this feature tends to be used more by Dem voters than GOP voters. City and County clerks didn't like eliminating it because that would slow down voting, meaning longer lines. Translation: Dem leaning voters would look at the lines or the length and complexity of the ballot and decide not to vote.

Democrats responded by demanding no-reason absentee voting. For a while a bill to grant that was linked to the bill banning straight-ticket voting. Of course, the GOP started putting restrictions on getting an absentee ballot – requesting a ballot must be done in person and clerk's offices aren't allowed to be open on weekends. But key GOP senators didn't like that so the whole absentee thing, including restrictions, was unlinked and dropped.

On the last day of the session for the year the state Senate was about to adjourn when a message came from the House. Could you stick around for a while? We may have something you might like.

Brian Dickerson, an opinion columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote:
For 5½ hours, Republican state legislators personified the government they have spent the last several years warning us about: arrogant, contemptuous of its own rules, indifferent to public opinion and focused single-mindedly on the preservation of its own political power.
The final bill contained these GOP goodies:

* End of straight-ticket voting (without the no-reason absentee changes). This is something Michigan voters have twice said they want to keep.

* A reduction in the paperwork that Political Action Committees need to file (well, maybe, Dems thought this was a good idea too).

* A change to that PAC filing deadline so it comes after the election.

* Strengthening of several provisions of the Citizens United case the Supremes decided in 2010 that opened the floodgates to campaign cash. None of those provisions included having to disclose donors.

* A ban on public officials using public money to issue any kind of communication about a local ballot question in the 60 days before an election. Translation: Your local school board may put a millage renewal on the ballot then be banned from explaining why it is necessary. Yeah, that means the only groups that are able to tell you about local proposals are those corporate PACs.

One key part of this process passed by one vote and that was one Democratic vote. Virgil Smith of Detroit faces felony assault charges, but the GOP is allowing him to keep his seat at least until the trial. His votes reflect his hostage status.

The revised bill with all those goodies passed both the House and Senate. It is on Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. He is GOP but hasn't said what he will do with it beyond "study" it. Lots of groups, when they aren't busy with holiday plans, are urging Snyder to veto the mess.

As for the GOP legislators, their holiday shopping is done.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Greatest country

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is annoyed with GOP talking heads and their repeated refrain that America is the greatest country. Some even add the tag "in the history of the world." McEwen replies:
Maybe that's true, if one is an obscenely wealthy, straight, white, cis, able-bodied white man with a suit that renders him impervious to random gun violence. So, like, if you're Iron Man.

But most of us aren't Iron Man.
Many who are poor, female, of color, gay, trans, or disabled might object to that "greatest country" trumpeting. The usual pushback to that is your kind of people have it worse in other countries.

The pushback and the original claim ignore that while America might be the greatest, it can still be improved.

Another aspect of this "greatest country" nonsense is that many women (and poor, of color, gay, trans, etc.) don't know about rights they would have in many other countries. At the top of the list is abortion being treated as a woman's basic health care.

Be suspicious of a man telling you this is the greatest country. He's likely plotting ways to make our lives worse.

You are fine

The ex-gay organization JONAH (Jews offering New Alternatives to Healing) was sued in 2013 by former clients claiming fraud. JONAH offered services and made promises (make a patient straight) they could not fulfill. In June of this year a jury determined that fraud had indeed been committed. The judge has now entered his order. JONAH shall cease operations in thirty days, dissolve as a corporate entity, never practice counseling for sexual orientation, and pay plaintiff's attorney's fees of $3.5 million. One more ex-gay group is gone.

Matt Barrett accepted a job as a manager in the food services of Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic girl's high school in Massachusetts. He filled out the emergency contact form and under relationship he put "husband." The job offer was withdrawn. Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) sued the school. And won. The court ruled the school was not exempt from the state's non-discrimination laws when the job has nothing to do with religion. A sweet legal precedent.

Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat is well aware that fat people are constantly bombarded with messages that they are supposed to be thin. It can be a struggle to not succumb to the barrage from the Diet and Beauty Industries. She starts with a motto: "The World Is Messed Up. You Are Fine." She also suggests mantras, such as "These are not the body image messages you are looking for." Though for a delightful image of a busy cat you'll have to follow the link.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Data mining and gay rights

There is a big debate amongst the big gay rights organizations in Michigan. Should we push for a voter-led constitutional amendment to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity? Some point to recent polls saying gay rights have a 68% approval rating. The support runs across Dems, GOP, and independents, all age groups, and all church goers.

An article by Jan Stevenson in Between the Lines looks at another way to determine if Michigan is ready. The technique is modeling. It has been used by several campaigns and has shown to be more accurate than polling. It uses data mining methods used by marketers. It collects a huge amount of data on voters, such as what groups they belong to, what magazines they buy, and education levels. It also takes in data from the Michigan Democratic Party Voter Activation Network. It adds in likely turnout, and crunches the numbers.

For this issue in 2016 it predicts a yes vote of only 42%. That means we have to change the minds of 365,000 voters by next November to win. And that means about 100 full time field organizers starting now. It means talking to 3.6 million voters, much of it in face-to-face conversation. All together it means 22 million contacts through direct visit, mail, phone, etc. The cost (from another article) might be as much as $22 million. Do we have those resources? Probably not.

So should we go with the poll data, which suggests a comfortable margin of victory and implies we go for it, or do we go with the modeling data, which suggests 2016 isn't the time?

Another David and Goliath musical

Last night I went to see the show Newsies playing at the Opera House. Back in 1992 the movie Newsies was released by Disney. Don't worry if you didn't see it. Few did. But after it came out on DVD (or was this still the VCR era?) it developed a cult following. So Disney turned it into a stage musical a few years ago and it did quite well. It was nominated for several categories for the Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards, winning both for Best Choreography and Score.

I decided to see it partly because nearly all of the dancers are young men (what's not to like?) and partly because the plot revolves around how the newspaper boys build a community. They form a union and strike when the price of they must pay for papers is raised. Another David and Goliath story (they even use that phrase), a story about the rich oppressing the poor.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The dancing was great. The singing was too (though loud Рthey really didn't need to mic the actors). The set was quite interesting Рthree towers made of girders with stairs inside were moved forward and back with sections of screen that unrolled and various backdrops projected on them. But it was still Disney, especially in the plot Рit was somewhat clich̩d and predictable.

For example... Last April I saw the musical Urinetown. It was also about the rich oppressing the poor. The cliché: both shows have the daughter of the corporate owner becoming disgusted with the unscrupulous way her father does business and falling in love with the leader of the uprising.

Because there is such a following of the movie on DVD the Opera House was close to sold out. The audience was quite enthusiastic. And the guy sitting two seats away sang along with a couple of the songs.

In a promotional article for the show it said for the 1992 movie they had to scrounge to get enough young male dancers. Again, because DVD was so popular, when the stage show was announced young male dancers flocked to the audition.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Guernsey, a small British Crown dependency in the English Channel not far from the French coast, has approved same-sex marriage by a vote of 37-7. Bills to introduce civil unions instead were defeated by as wide a margin. Implementation won't be before 2017.

Whose fault is it that Donald Trump is the leading GOP candidate for prez. and scaring the bejeebers out of the establishment Republicans? Liberals would say the GOP has encouraged anger at Obama and the Dems for about 8 years now and there is that Southern Strategy thing covering almost 50 years. Trump is simply the embodiment of that anger and racism.

And what do those establishment Republicans say is the cause of the rise of Donald Trump? Why, it is the same thing that is the cause of everything that is wrong with the country: Barack Obama.

I had written about how successful the anti-gay campaign was against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This is the one based on accusing trans people of being bathroom predators. There is a new poll that shows how successful that nasty campaign was. Suppose the HERO bill was reintroduced and didn't include gender identity, would you vote for it? 49% said no, only 35% said yes. The results also implied that voters think gender identity protections are only about bathrooms. At the very least the Houston city council, when they try protections for us again, will need a new name for the ordinance.

Lesbian couple VL and EL (names not disclosed) had been together for quite a while. EL gave birth to three children. They moved from Alabama to establish temporary residency in Georgia so that VL could adopt the kids. Several years later the couple broke up. VL sued for visitation rights. EL refused. The case went to the Alabama Supremes, who ruled that since VL and EL were not married in Georgia that state mistakenly gave joint adoption to VL. She took the case to the US Supremes. They sided with VL, blocking the Alabama court's order to declare the adoption to be invalid.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville presented this scenario: A white man is spotted walking along the side of the road. He has a pistol in a holster. A couple questions:

Since he is white things are apparently cool with the citizens who pass him and perhaps with law officials too. Would the same be true if he were black?

How does this situation coexist with Obama's request, "If you see something, say something."?

You will enrich us

I didn't watch the GOP debates last night. That would have caused severe dental problems due to gnashing of teeth. Besides, I had much more pleasant things to do. So I'm relying on the summary by Melissa McEwen of Shakesville. She wrote:
It was just a nonstop onslaught of violent rhetoric, as each candidate tried to convince US voters that s/he would be the most ruthless slayer of terrorists and civilians, the most bloodthirsty avenger, the most reflexive unleasher of mass killing in our names.

They literally don't see any other way to deal with anything besides killing. Am I talking about the GOP candidates or ISIS? … I don't understand how anyone can fail to see the bitter, horrifying irony of the candidates drooling to slaughter the slaughterers.

In contrast...

Since I live near Detroit I sometimes listen to the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Their news reports include stories about how warmly Syrian refugees a re being welcomed, including how the Prime Minister personally welcomed refugees who got off the first plane. Tom Allen, the early afternoon host on CBC Radio 2 talked about how Canadians anticipate Syrian refugees and their music and culture will influence Canadian culture. Allan played a clip of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing a piece by Syrian composer Kinan Azmeh, who also played solo clarinet. They are saying you are welcome here. You will enrich us. Allan said that Syrian influence follows the pattern of incorporating Czech and Hungarian culture into the national mosaic when those people fled to Canada in the last century.

What is Canada doing differently? They elected a progressive government a few months ago. Alas, the previous conservative gov't was just as hostile to non-white immigrants and First Nation people as their American counterparts (though maybe not as loud).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Yet all are heard

Back in 1964 the Supremes issued a ruling that included, "legislators represent people, not trees or acres." That ruling established the guideline "one person, one vote" when drawing up Congressional and legislative districts. That has meant each district should have the same population.

The Supremes heard oral argumenets for the case Evenwel v. Abbot which asks the question: In "one person, one vote" what is a person? Everybody? Citizens? Or a voter, one legally allowed to vote (leaving out children and prison inmates)? Or maybe it should be a voter who actually votes – one who is registered and shows up regularly at the polling place? How regularly – every election (including school board and dog catcher) or is voting in presidential elections enough?

The plaintiffs are in Texas. They complain that if they are in a district with a lot of voters and compare that to a district with fewer voters even if both districts have the same population, then the power of their vote is diluted. They have less electoral clout. Their example: suppose the 31 districts for the Texas senate were drawn such that there was one voter in 30 of them and the last district had all the other voters. In 30 districts the single voter has total control of who is elected. In the last district a single voter is part of a much larger pool of voters and their one vote doesn't mean much.

In the real world plaintiff Sue Evenwel says her vote in the district she is in is only 40% as effective as it would be in an "ideal" district.

The three-judge panel at the District Court rejected the challenge, saying the Texas Legislature could follow whatever metric they wanted to satisfy "one man, one vote." The plaintiffs appealed to the Supremes.

Up to this point in reading about the case I had been puzzled about who was bringing (funding) the suit and what angle they were pushing. Put another way, I wondered how did conservatives or those angling for a corporate takeover figure out how this was going to benefit them.

But a discussion of the premises of the theories underlying the case, especially the second point made things a bit more obvious. Yes, they say, all constituents of a legislator have a right to contact their various representatives to express opinions and grievances. However, a right of access does not include a right of equal access. Those who vote should get preferred access. That's one scary idea.

Texas responded by saying things similar to the District Court – what metrics the legislature uses in creating districts is entirely up to the legislature. Yeah, this is Texas and the state has already gotten approval to do redistricting any time it wants (such as after the GOP gains majorities on both parts of the state legislature) rather than just after the 10-year census. So leaving the metrics of redistricting solely to the legislature also raises alarm bells.

But the state does have another good point. Population in a district is easy to count – the Census Bureau supplies those numbers. But frequency of voting and computations of vote strength would only tie the whole thing in court battles for years.

Now we get to the interesting stuff – which types of organizations filed supporting briefs for which side of the case. For the plaintiffs are conservative and libertarian groups. Their main arguments are that voting power has shifted to cities and cities tend to have large populations of people ineligible to vote. These are the same people pushing voter ID laws. Motivation is now clear.

On the side of Texas are liberal and progressive groups, including the Democratic National Committee. The express two major points. First is there isn't a metric to do what the plaintiffs want. Second, they quote from those who wrote the Constitution (though it doesn't appear this quote is in the Constitution). They...
decreed that the whole population is represented; that although all do not vote, yet all are heard. That is the idea of the Constitution.
A ruling will come sometime by the end of June.

Completely missing from the discussion was gerrymandering – intentionally making a district 55% GOP, which makes the votes of all Democratic voters essentially meaningless. That also "dilutes" the strength of my vote.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tour an emergency trauma center

Rep. Stacey Newman of the Missouri House has introduced legislation that takes the same ideas and language used in bills preventing access to abortion and uses it to prevent access to guns. Some of the provisions in Newman's bill:
* Meet with a licensed physician to discuss the risks of gun ownership at least 72 hours before attempting to buy a gun and obtain a written notice approval.

* Tour an emergency trauma center at the nearest qualified urban hospital on a weekend between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when gun violence victims are present, and get written verification from a doctor.

* Meet with at least two families who have been victims of gun violence and two local faith leaders who have officiated, within the last year, a funeral for a victim of gun violence who was under the age of 18.
You say you are pro-life? Enact this bill too.

I added a comment saying I used to think Congressional inaction in the face of all this gun violence was primarily to protect the profits of gun companies. I now think the reason is much deeper and scarier, such as people want guns to enforce patriarchy.

Commenter Widminter replied. Yes, gun ownership is used to enforce patriarchy, a neat side effect. But gun ownership is mostly about enforcing racism. And that goes back a long way.

Yet to meet a single man

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has been named Time Magazine Person of the Year. The magazine cited two reasons. First, the resolution of the euro crisis (even if it pace was plodding). The second was her throwing open Germany's doors to refugees, which will probably top a million by the end of the year.
It was an audacious act that, in a single motion, threatened both to redeem Europe and endanger it, testing the resilience of an alliance formed to avoid repeating the kind of violence tearing asunder the Middle East by working together.

The British Parliament has a petition website. I think anyone can created a petition on the site. Parliament has said they will consider any petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures. In about a day 200,000 people signed the petition asking Parliament to bar Donald Trump from entering Britain.

The Boston Globe created a map of all the mass shootings in America in 2015 up to Dec. 2 (so it is including the San Bernadino attack). The data is from the Mass Shooting Tracker website. A mass shooting is an incident in which four or more people are shot. "By that definition, the U.S. has experienced 353 mass shootings this year, resulting in 462 fatalities and 1,312 people injured." That is about one mass shooting a day!

This article compares America with Australia. Commenters claim the data for Australia isn't correct. Even so, the mass shooting rate for Australia is much lower than for America.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has a few hints for men, especially men who want to be allies. If a woman says she hates men, don't correct her (oh, you must mean you hate male privilege). Instead, listen to her reasons. As McEwen put it:
It is work for me to build relationships with men. Even the men I love, and who love and respect me, require me to educate them on how not to replicate the patriarchal horseshit with which they were indoctrinated. I have yet to meet a single man who didn't harm me in some way, even if unintentionally, with misogyny.
So if a woman says she hates men it could be because she has been so harmed by so many men that she has no energy left not to.

Bernie Sanders has been campaigning on the statistic that the top one-tenth of one percent of US earners own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. He's said it enough times that PolitiFact wanted to verify the numbers. Verdict: mostly true.

A new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, and reported by The American Prospect, says Bernie's statement is indeed true. Then it takes the numbers a bit further. The top 0.1% is about 300,000 people. Let's take a look at the top 20 people – Bill Gates, Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffet and such. These 20 people have as much wealth as the entire bottom half of U.S. earners (the phrasing makes me wonder if it excludes the poor who don't have jobs).

The study probably underestimates the wealth of those on top by about half because it doesn't take into account money held offshore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Yes, it was terrorism

I just realized I missed my blog's birthday, which was three weeks ago. I've now been writing this blog for eight years. This is post 3060.

Another mass shooting, this one in San Bernadino. And it was nasty. I'll let you read other sources for details. I'll only discuss the issues swirling around the shooting.

In response to the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs the conservative media sphere did all they could to blame everyone but the shooter (gosh, you wouldn't think they'd blame gay people, would you?) and the straight white male supremacy that guided his actions. In contrast, after the San Bernadino shooting all the GOP prez. Candidates can manage is offering up thoughts and prayers. That prompted a string of tweets pointing out how much each GOP candidate has received from the NRA. And a front page from the New York Daily News saying "God isn't fixing this."

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is annoyed that the San Bernadino shooting was talked about as an act of terrorism only after the shooters were tied to the Islamic State. Why wasn't the shooter at Planned Parenthood also described as a terrorist? Did one incident get the label because of ties to Islam? Did the other not get tagged by that word because it is in support of patriarchy?

Yup, another vote in Congress fails to do anything about controlling guns. A commenter suggests a headline like this might work: "Speaker Ryan Wants Terrorist to be Allowed to Buy Guns."

Also as usual, the GOP blamed the recent shootings on mental illness. Ryan even promised to move on legislation dealing with mental illness – as in reducing the funding to treat mental illness, restrict the rights of the mentally ill, and authorize coercive treatment programs. These provisions will not treat mental illness. They will only frighten the ill away from treatment. Besides, there is no research linking the mentally ill to gun violence. All this is a way to deflect attention from inaction on gun control.

A small ray of hope: The Supremes refused to hear a case about a ban on assault weapons. Back in 2013 Highland Park, Illinois banned residents from owning assault weapons. The Illinois State Rifle Association challenged the ban in the 7th Circuit and lost. They appealed to the Supremes. Since the Supremes aren't taking the case the ban is upheld. Only four justices are needed to accept the case. They may have gotten only two – Scalia and Thomas, who objected to not taking the case.

A month ago I wrote a post about evolution. As part of it I wrote that the peacock with the showiest tail gets the most mates. Frank McAndrew, professor of Psychology at Knox College and writing for Huffington Post expands on that idea. Young human males, about ages 17-30, are looking for status, a way to prove to mates they are worthy of mating. They compete with other males to show off their ability to acquire resources, show strength, and defeat challengers. Even reckless behavior was rewarded with status. To some extent modern sports is a safe way to demonstrate status.

For those without status and mates there is another way to come out on top – the gun. Elliot Rodger, who before he went on a rampage in 2014 said this about his first gun.
After I picked up the handgun I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?
That means there is a precarious manhood and a Young Male Syndrome – men in their 20s are six times more likely to be murdered than women of the same age. Would that be the same if they simply didn't have access to guns?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Racist candidate for racist voters

Rick Perlstein of the Washington Spectator took a look at why Donald Trump has been getting consitently high poll numbers. Part of it is because Trump had considerable name recognition from being Top Dog of the TV show The Apprentice (according to Perlstein it is mean and absurd and highlights that to Trump everything is about The Deal). Perlstein concludes that Trump supporter like Trump because he, like them, hates the weak.

Amanda Marcotte writing for Alternet goes way beyond Perlstein. Hates the weak? That's just the beginning. A large portion of Trump's supporters are racists and are attracted to his racism. He validates their racism – if a candidate for prez. can say such things than I have his permission to be racist. He is promising to stop and reverse the fall of the straight white male from the top of the food chain (good luck with that).

Marcotte also notes that Democrats formed their coalition through compromise and tedious discussion. The GOP coalition is held together through a demand for a singular, lockstep view of issues. There can be no difference in opinion. That means candidates must rush to prove they follow the party line more closely than any other candidate. And Trump does that best. This lockstep view is great for Fox News, but not so good for the GOP party – or the country.

60 years

It has been a busy week. The usual stuff Monday to Wednesday, the usual trip to handle Dad's affairs on Thursday, my performance group playing on Friday, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra doing a dynamite performance of Mahler's Symphony #2 last night.

Bits of news from the week:

Michigan state House representative Tom Hooker (R), is introducing a resolution calling on the state to reclaim its sovereignty by not recognizing the decision by the Supremes that allows same-sex marriage. Hooker said, "The Supreme Court is not a Legislature. Courts do not substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of of legislative bodies or elected and passed laws." Well, actually, the Constitution says the courts do impose their beliefs over legislatures and passed laws.

We've known GOP candidates intend to "stack" the Supremes with as many hardcore conservatives as possible (see: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas). Ted Cruz is now making that a part of his reasons to vote for him. He will make sure there are no "squishies" (not Cruz's term) such as Brennan, Warren, Stevens, Souter, and Blackmun who were nominated by GOP presidents and sided with liberals on important issues. Warren and Stevens even led the court's liberal wing. Cruz forgot to mention Kennedy as someone who doesn't follow the party line.

Just remember that if Cruz ever gets his way a future court will gut same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, end minimum wage, and dissolve federal oversight of the environment. For starters.

I had told you about Alabama closing most of its driver's license offices, targeting those in areas with a high black population. The NAACP has now brought a suit against the state.

It has now been 60 years since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. That has brought out stories about how much of a freedom fighter Parks was before that bus ride. It is a story we seldom hear. What we usually hear is that Parks was tired that day. That often told misconception prompted Melissa McEwen of Shakesville to write:
It's only tempting to exploit time to de-radicalize Rosa Parks' (and other black women's) lives and actions if one seeks to conceal the oppression that necessitates their radicalism.
Translation: Don't mind Rosa, such a sweet lady. She just had a bad day. Nothing to see here.