Friday, January 30, 2015

Let's all watch you

Social conservatives are calling on GOP candidates, especially those for President to be very clear of their stance on same-sex marriage and abortion. And that clarity had better be they're against both. They're not the GOP to quietly declare the marriage issue over and tiptoe away from it. Oh, goody!

Senator Mark Rubio is a big fan of gov't surveillance and wants to make the provisions of the Patriot Act permanent, without need for periodic renewal by Congress. Rep. Jared Polis proposes the American intelligence community begin a constant watch of Rubio. Once Rubio finds out what gets swept up hopefully he'll change his mind.

Idaho may have same-sex marriage forced on them, but a bill to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's Human Rights Act died in a House State Affairs Committee. The 13-4 vote was along party lines. There was 21 hours of public testimony before the vote. So no gay rights for Idaho. Just like Michigan.

The judge in Alabama who declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional has responded to the Alabama Probate Judges Association by declaring her decision is for the entire state, not just the couple named in the suit. If no new stay is in place by Feb. 9 same-sex couples across the state may begin to get married.

The old ruse of playing victim

I wrote about the new support by the Mormon Church for a bill to ban discrimination of sexual minorities. I discussed what may and what won't be in the proposed bill. Yesterday, NPR interviewed Dallin Oaks, another of the Twelve Apostles. It began well:
It is a change in tone [not doctrine], but it's also an appeal to both sides of a very divisive debate. That they speak to one another with respect and avoid public intimidations and boycotts and some of the tactics that have been used so far.
Respect from the Mormons? A good step forward. But then Oaks thoroughly blew it in his next statement. He refers to the campaign to defeat same-sex marriage in Calif. Back in 2008, heavily financed by the Mormon Church and manned by its members.
We were really the victims of intimidation and retaliation and boycotts in California. Many of them lost jobs or publicly intimidated and boycotted against the businesses, and we're pleading that that not be repeated.
They were the victims? Pardon me while I gasp at his audacity. This ridiculous claim by religious conservatives is so old a grave should be dug so it can be pushed in.

The rest of the interview was a lot of answer avoidance to some lame questions.

Because he wanted to

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette wrote a guest editorial in last Sunday's Free Press on why he felt he had to take the same-sex marriage case all the way to the Supremes. It's all about the rule of law and supporting the constitution. He decried those who were calling on him to end the repeal because they're saying the debate is over. People would want him to follow the law if the issue was the death penalty.

I read that and thought, well, fine, bloviate all you want. You're still a bigot. Nothing new there.

Jan Stevenson is owner and editor of Between the Lines, Michigan's gay newspaper. Her editorial this week was a response to Schuette. She says he is acting like lots of villains in history with his claim of "just following orders" (Stevenson's words, not Schuette's). He's insulting us with that comparison to those who might deserve the death penalty. As for following the rule of law, why wasn't the district court ruling sufficient? It was sufficient for AGs in 10 other states. And US Attorney General Eric Holder issued orders saying state AGs do not have to uphold discriminatory state constitution amendments. Schuette took up the battle because he wanted to. Michigan needs bright young workers and Schuette is doing all he can to drive them away.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The dark side

Religions promote many fine ideas and virtues. The Wisdom Commons lists perhaps a hundred of them. Click on an item in the list and you get a description of the virtue and many quotes about it. Some virtues shared by many religions are: Acceptance, balance, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, forgiveness, generosity, honesty, humility, integrity, justice, love, loyalty, mercy, patience, peacemaking, repentance, responsibility, sacrifice, stewardship, trust, and wonder.

But there is a dark side to religion, one that I've experienced and documented in this blog. Valerie Tarico lists a dozen of the worst ideas from religion.

Chosen people: only a claim of superiority.

Heretics: a way to dehumanize as heretics are seen as "a threat that needs to be neutralized by conversion, conquest, isolation, domination, or—in worst cases—mass murder."

Holy War: Declare a holy war and you gain permission to do any vile thing you want.

Blasphemy: Declare an idea is off-limits to criticism or question and when that is violated … see holy war.

Glorified suffering: This is the idea that if one endures suffering (perhaps even inflicting it on oneself) long enough an evil can be undone. Instead, people willing to inflict pain on themselves also inflict it on their enemies and the helpless.

Genital mutilation: In men it is a sign of membership and test of commitment. In women it establishes submission.

Blood sacrifice: Fortunately abandoned by nearly all religions. Even so, Christianity still focuses on Jesus as being the ultimate blood sacrifice.

Hell: a way to satisfy a desire for justice has become a tool to coerce behavior and belief.

Karma: promotes passivity in the face of suffering and also promotes blaming the victim.

Eternal life: I'm reminded of the phrase, "He's so heavenly minded he is no earthly good." A focus on heaven means less effort given to cherishing and taking care of the world we have.

Male ownership of female fertility: women are reduced to their ability to bear children and in this time of overpopulation the quality of a man is still defined by the number of his children.

Book worship: understanding of the world becomes static, and believers of a perfect faith are developmentally arrested in the Iron Age, a time of violence, slavery, and early death.

We must acknowledge religion's worst ideas to be able to fully embrace the best.

A big step towards...

There is much trumpeting of an announcement by Mormon, or Latter-day Saint, leaders of support for a bill that bans discrimination against sexual minorities. Is this a good thing? We'll set aside the confirmation that Mormon doctrine has not changed – their god still doesn't like gays and lesbians. What does this call for non-discrimination mean, especially if this important news comes linked with an assertion of religious freedom? What kinds of discrimination will be banned? An obvious piece would be a ban on discrimination in a restaurant. That wasn't specifically mentioned, but seems mostly beyond debate. What about the obvious and frequent case of baking a cake for a gay wedding? What about performing artificial insemination of a lesbian couple? For this one we get a reply from Jeffrey Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the guys who run the religion):
A Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function.
So, yeah, there is still that demand the Mormons be allowed to deny a service to one class of people they would readily offer to another class. This noise might signal a new and big step forward for the Mormon church, but it isn't a ban on discrimination.

Utah Democrats are delighted with this deal of non-discrimination coupled with religious freedom. Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign says the deal is "deeply flawed." Commenters say it is a public relations stunt.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Inflict damage while possible

On the same day that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder called for continued discussions on including sexual minorities in the state civil rights act (not exactly warm support), the GOP controlled state Senate reintroduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known by many as a license to discriminate act. It had passed the House in the lame-duck session and stalled in the Senate. Well, the Senate is a bit more conservative with a different leadership team. No news on whether the Senate will also act on improving the civil rights act.

The Associated Press notes Michigan's Religious Freedom Act is one in a handful of states where the GOP is "doubling down on the culture wars" even though "polls show U.S. voters increasingly unopposed to gay rights." Apparently they are trying to inflict as much damage as possible before the Supremes issue a marriage ruling in June.

Also running scared are Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Ted Cruz. Both are advocating for a Marriage Protection Amendment for the US Constitution. It's the only way we can be stopped.

Alabama, round 2

Since it is Alabama we're talking about we didn't expect this to be easy. Apparently in Alabama marriage licenses are given out by probate judges, who are elected. Following the lead of county clerks in Florida the Alabama Probate Judges Association has declared the ruling that said the same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional affects only the couple named in the suit. So only one couple will be allowed to get married. That ploy didn't work in Florida.

In response the lawyers for the couple have asked the judge to clarify his ruling. As they did so the lawyers compared the Probate Judges Association to George Wallace standing in the school house door.

There were no marriages today. The judge put a 14 day stay on the ruling to give time for appeals.
And the Attorney General has filed his intent to appeal with the 11th Circuit, which denied Florida's request for a stay.

Pull themselves out of the muck

I was close to ready to post this yesterday, but my computer didn't cooperate. I came home from an evening church event ready to get to work. My computer had gone to sleep as it usually does when I'm not around. I turned on the monitors, pushed the start button to wake it up and … nothing. The monitors remained blank. I killed the power and rebooted. The monitor showed the computer maker's logo and the Windows logo, then … nothing. At least I knew the monitors were connected to the computer. I shut off power and read the newspaper.

This morning I tried again. Computer logo, Windows logo, then nothing. I got out my little netbook computer to get the computer store's website. I searched for the purchase receipts. I looked at the computer's warranty. I tried to use the netbook do a chat with the store's tech support (the "chat" button didn't do anything). After a while the main computer rebooted itself. This time it ran the check disk program as part of the boot. It says it found some problems and resolved them. The boot completed properly and I'm back in business.

I didn't bother to listen to Obama's State of the Union speech. Most of what I heard about it in various media were the broad themes and how the GOP didn't like it (always a good sign!). Yeah, not much of it is going to get far in the next two years. I see it as Obama finally declaring a progressive platform (where was all this six years ago?) and giving Hillary something substantive to run on. The debate for the 2016 election with be over Obama's ideas.

Since I didn't listen I am relying on voices such as Melissa McEwan of Shakesville for listing the high and low points. On the good side:

* Guaranteed paid sick leave.

* Equal pay for women, overtime pay, and higher minimum wage.

* That free community college idea.

* Robust infrastructure investment.

And on the bad side:

* Lots of talk of war.

* A missed opportunity to add his voice to the campaign Black Lives Matter.

* A tepid support for abortion rights and a failure, as McEwan puts it, to recognize that for women abortion is healthcare and until that is done women won't have adequate healthcare. Abortion is not something we can simply agree to disagree.

* Good to hear of plans to tax the rich to support the middle class, but that leaves the poor to pull themselves out of the muck on their own. This is the point that prompted me to write this whole post.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


The ban on same-sex marriage in Alabama has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge. This one did not come with a stay! Alabama Governor, House Speaker, and Attorney General are not pleased and are working up a request for a stay. Just remember, guys, that the 11th Circuit and the Supremes have already refused a stay in Florida. We could see some serious celebrations on Monday.

The same-sex marriage ban is before a federal judge in North Dakota. Judge Ralph Erickson has decided to put the trial on hold until after the Supremes rule on the Michigan case in June.

The American Family Association (theirs, not yours) has demanded justices Kagan and Ginsburg recuse themselves from the same-sex marriage cases. The AFA says both are biased as shown by private actions that endorse gay marriage. If I remember right, Ginsberg has officiated at a same-sex wedding.

However, if they continue with demands for recusal, what about these two?

Justice Scalia spoke at a Catholic men's conference. Though that by itself doesn't warrant recusal, the Catholic diocese that put on the conference has said Scalia's speech will not be published or distributed. Hmm. And the bishop of that diocese is pushing hard for the Supremes (with ready access to Scalia) to rule against same-sex marriage.

Justice Thomas recently had his photo taken with Robert George and Ryan Anderson. Anderson has put out a video explaining why it is logical to deny marriage to same-sex couples. As for George, back in 2011 he wrote a lengthy article explaining that marriage just can't possibly be extended to gay people. He is also the head of the National Organization for Marriage.

So if Kagan and Ginsberg must be recused, so should Scalia and Thomas.

Three minutes to midnight

I've been sharing the story of Starkville, Mississippi. The town board passed a resolution recognizing its LGBT citizens. Later it changed its mind and voted to repeal. The mayor vetoed the repeal. And now, alas, the board has voted to override the veto.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist's Science and Security Board created the Doomsday Clock back in 1947 to dramatize how close humanity was to destruction. At the time the threat was nuclear war and for much of the 1950s the clock was set to 3 minutes to midnight. The time has been set back and forth, being set as far back as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet empire. It has again been set to 3 minutes to midnight, not because of nuclear war, but because of climate change.

Treat fat first even if it kills you

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville linked to a column about a frightening proposed medical guideline, telling physcians to "treat the weight first." Never mind that many times the obesity is caused by an underlying condition that won't get treated and would likely become worse.

Ragan Chastain takes up the story. At her blog Dances with Fat she describes herself as a "Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be IRONMAN, Fat Person, Activist." She links to the article by Dr. Caroline Apovian (which I did not read). According to Apovian treating the weight first includes postponing treatment for such things as diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, medications that have a side effect of weight gain, including insulin, should be tapered off and alternatives found.

That leaves even me gasping. Tapering off the use of insulin? I'm pretty sure there isn't an alternative to that and life without it could end up rather short. That means Apovian is advocating a path that would lead to death.

And what is Apovian's alternative? Try something. If the patient hasn't lost 5% of their weight in 12 weeks try something else. Yep, let's experiment on the patient rather than trust evidence-based treatment plans.

The big question: why is a doctor advocating the dangerous path of tapering off the use of insulin? Chastain easily found the reason for what Apovian says. She sits on several advisory boards of and received research money from pharmacy corporations. And their products include weight loss drugs. She's a part of the Diet Industry and a frontline player in the war on obesity.

Though Apovian wants this to be official policy there are already many doctors who unofficially follow it. Fat hatred in the Medical Industry is already common.

Chastain has suggestions for dealing with doctors who are a part of this war on obesity. Ask questions: What treatment plan would you offer a thin person? I want to research what you're recommending, where can I find a study? Where can I find a study on the safety issues of the diet plan or diet surgery you recommend?

Also ask to see your chart. The doctor might have tagged you as "non-compliant" – meaning you might be denied future treatment, such as a transplant, because you don't follow his orders on fat reduction.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Holy Terror

I've now completed my series of posts discussing Mel White's book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality. This post gathers all the links together so you don't have to go browsing through the last three months of posts (though that isn't a bad idea – you might find something else of interest).

1. Fear
2. Cast of Characters
3. Battle plan
4. Idols
5. Fascism
6. Constitutional values
7. Love
8. Soulforce

I have two copies of this book to share. I didn't know it had been published under the title Religion Gone Bad, which I bought but hadn't yet read. I'm disappointed the Soulforce website didn't tell me of the title change. But that means I can give out two copies.

Holy Terror, part 8: Soulforce

I've been working on this series for quite a while now, the first part was posted in mid November. I even started this part a couple weeks ago. When I remembered the significance of this weekend and what this part is about I realized I had better finish it off. This is the last part.

The last chapter of Mel White's book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality describes his personal journey to founding the organization Soulforce to counteract the battle being waged against us by the Fundies. That journey began with the publication of his previous book Stranger at the Gate in 1993 in which he describes his thirty years trying everything possible to not be gay. Prior to that book he had been a biographer, and sometimes ghostwriter, for many of the fundamentalist leaders. With the publication of that book two things happened: His previous colleagues and employers turned their backs on him and he suddenly became a gay activist.

At the end of 1994 the New York Times reported that 60% of murders of sexual minorities were "overkill," using a great deal more violence than needed to cause death. It didn't take long to figure out that the brutality of these deaths were due to the toxic misinformation flowing from the Fundie leadership.

White spent much of 1993 and 1994 trying to contact his former clients in hopes of meeting them to make the connections between their words and all these deaths and ask them to at least tone it down. He was ignored. His Christmas letter in 1994 expressed his frustration, "I'm finished trying to talk to the fundamentalists. They're hopeless. I'm giving up on them."

Within days he got a reply from Lynn Cothren, Coretta Scott King's assistant at the King Center in Atlanta and a gay Christian.
I've been following your progress since I read about you in the Southern Voice and until your recent letter I liked what I saw. But your angry decision to break off communications with the radical right signals a turn towards violence. I hope you will seriously reconsider.
Violence? What is there about breaking communication that is violent?

Cothren guided White to re-read the writings of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. This is what White learned there:
[King] went on to defend nonviolence on principle as he had for almost a dozen years. And he made it clear that giving up on an opponent was an act of violence against him. He is our brother. We are children of the same Creator. We are in need of reconciliation, and reconciliation will never happen if we call them "hopeless" and walk away.

[The fundamentalist leaders] had ignored my pleas for dialogue. So, like a petulant child, I was about to take my toys and go home.. Even worse, I was feeling more and more like blowing up the playground. Although I couldn't see it, anger was crippling my spirit; and though I would have denied it then, the same anger was leading me slowly but surely toward violence.

White began to formulate his own guiding principles. From Jesus: "Love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you. And pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. … These things I command you that you love one another."

From Gandhi: The law of love has two sides, "to cooperate with all that is good" and "to non-cooperate with all that is evil." The love that Jesus means is "the largest love, love even for the evil-doer. It however does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer. On the contrary it means putting one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Evil, however, cannot be overcome by evil, by violence and retaliation. To use violence against the evil-doer is to deny spiritual unity with him."

From King: "Nonviolent resistance had emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal. In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and the motivation while Gandhi furnished the method."

From Gandhi: "Truth (Satya) implies love and firmness (agraha) serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love. … Satyagraha is soul force pure and simple and whenever and to whatever extent there is room for the use of arms or physical force or brute force, there and to that extent is there so much less possibility of soul force."

That passage gave White the name for his new organization. It is called Soulforce.

From King: "Never begin a protest if you're not going to take that protest all the way."

King's basic beliefs of soul force: "First, this is not a method of cowardice or passivity. It does resist; second, it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding; third, the attack is directed to the forces of evil, rather than persons caught in the forces; fourth, it not only avoids external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit; fifth, it is based upon the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice."

King's summary of soul force: "We will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We will adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to be witnesses to the truth as we see it."

King's method of soul force, as written by White: "First, gather your evidence. See where injustice prevails and make your strong case against it; second, meet with your opponent to negotiate an end to the injustice; third, if negotiations break down or are used to delay injustice, recruit, train, and equip people of good faith in the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance; fourth, with people committed to nonviolence of the heart, tongue, and fist, plan and carry out nonviolent direct actions that prove to your opponent that you will not be satisfied until justice is done."

White says if we are to satisfy that justice shouldn't we protest unjust wars, demand the end of boycotts that prevent medicine from reaching the needy in hostile countries, take a stand against billions spent on the military instead of on the needy, take care of the prisoner by making the court and corrections systems more just, demand relief for the Palestinian as well as the Israeli, and work to preserve our wounded earth? I'm sure the list should be much longer and include justice for the youth I serve supper to every week at the Ruth Ellis Center. White adds, "This kind of love will cost us."

Hermann Hagadorn's poem The Bomb That Fell on America includes a conversation between himself a the Voice. He is compared to Jesus and the Voice confirms a difference is that "You have never been crucified. Do you know why?" He answers, "I have never made people angry enough." The Voice replies, "The world is sick for dearth of crucifixions."

As for the place of sexual minorities in the church White says we must quit cooperating with those who oppress us. Our opponents assume we are infinitely patient or too comfortable in our closets to lead a revolution. Love demands we call a stop to studies and debates. Love demands we recruit, train, and organize around the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance. Love demands massive and relentless direct actions to confront injustice and end the lies against us. It is time for boycotts, picket lines, mass vigils, serious fasts, candlelight marches, and other acts of nonviolent spiritual disobedience against those who oppress us.

That's a lot to take in. Not enough crucifixions? Must I be so annoying to those in power that they kill me? Or are there other ways of sacrificing myself? Can the sacrifice be in time, treasure, and energy?

I think about my time at the Ruth Ellis Center. I've served supper there for six years. I've been there so long they've declared me to be an angel. I volunteer because the needs of gay youth cast out from their homes because of a Church is so important to me that sending money is not enough. I have to involve me. Have I helped the youth? They aren't as hungry and my work means the staff can spend more time taking care of all the other needs these kids have. But is it justice? Have I helped tackle the reason why these youth are tossed to the street? Alas, no.

What does my work towards justice look like? What does yours?

Rejecting the role of princess

I went down to the Detroit Film Theater for the animated movie The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. This is adapted from one of Japan's oldest tales. I see it has been nominated for a Best Animation Oscar, up against How to Train Your Dragon 2. It is a beautiful movie with exquisite imagery. I saw the version dubbed in English. A bamboo cutter comes across a fast growing plant that produces a tiny girl. He takes it home and it becomes a baby who grows up rapidly. Some pretty good animation shows her learning to crawl and walk within the same day. A couple more fast growing plants produce gold and sumptuous clothing. That convinces the man that the gods want him to take the girl to the city, build her a palace, and train her to be a princess. She had a wonderful time growing up in the rural community and hates the strange rituals of a princess. It gets worse when she is given an official name and suitors start flocking. She is forced into, and soon actively rejects, a role she finds unsuitable for herself. It is a story lots of sexual minorities know too well.

After the movie and a bit of wandering around the Detroit Institute of Arts (of which the DFT is a part) I went a few blocks to the Detroit Whole Foods store. I'm pretty sure I saw a few of the drag queen dancers from Kinky Boots. They weren't in costume, but they did have their stage makeup. Popping into Whole Foods between the matinee and evening performances probably resulted in a better supper on less time and for less hassle than many other places in Detroit.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Here's the skinny on fat

I wrote a big post a while back on obesity. Part of that was about how our society has equated standard weight (and sometimes a waif weight) with health. After thinking about it a few days I believe there is a much stronger connection, stronger than between weight and health, that being between weight and sexual attraction. I can report that the skinnier they are the longer my eye lingers – though I was surprised to discover there is such a thing as too skinny, something I rarely see. So is this a natural personal preference or have I been conditioned by society to prefer skinny?

My nutrition office does a blog covering a variety of common issues they see. The most recent post is 7 Weight Loss Myths Revealed. It could also be described as a general guide to healthy eating.

1. It's all about calories. Nope, a diet of junk food is bad, even if well under 2000 calories.

2. Fat makes me fat. Actually bad fat makes you fat. Good fats help lose weight. Good fats are coconut, olive, palm, butter, and fats from nuts, seeds, and free-range meat and eggs. The top bad fat is canola oil, which is in nearly all processed foods.

3. The brain needs sugar. No, the brain needs energy and that can come from fat.

4. Exercise balances out whatever I eat. No, a poor diet can do more damage than the exercise can counteract.

5. Meal replacement shakes are great. Sorry, they are usually loaded with preservatives and soy that can unbalance hormones and make you crave sugar.

6. Sugar-free treats are great. No, most sweeteners, especially those in processed food, are toxic to the body. The only safe one is stevia (which doesn't taste pleasant to me).

7. Fruit is better than junk food so I can eat lots. Fruit is better, but fruit still has lots of natural sugar and amounts should be limited (I eat the equivalent of a half and apple a day).

Is the argument overwhelming?

Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal takes a look at what would happen if the Supremes say that banning same-sex marriage is permissible under the constitution. In all the states that gained marriage equality through the courts in 2014 someone would challenge the district our circuit ruling. There may be a struggle over issues of standing, as happened in the Calif. case. But likely a good number of those bans would be reinstated.

Commenters take up the story. Likely by January of 2016 we would start the slog of individual state campaigns to revoke all those marriage protection amendments. Some will fall rather easily (though not without a big outlay in dollars and effort), some will persist for many more years. And if we lose any in the 2016 battles the Fundies will draw up their list of other issues they will try to inflict on us.

David Boies, a lead lawyer in the Calif. marriage case before the Supremes (though they decided on standing, not merit), says the Supremes will rule in the Michigan case in our favor. He says the argument is overwhelming for marriage equality. With his intimate knowledge of the case, he should know.

Then again, this is essentially more speculation. That usually doesn't get me very far, so I'll try to ignore this kind of stuff – at least until reports of the oral arguments in April and there are reports of seeing the justices in action.

No cake for you

Another incident of a baker refusing to bake a cake. But with a difference. A man walked into the Azucar Bakery in Denver and wanted a cake in the shape of a bible with words such as "God hates homosexuality" and related symbols such as "no" over two men holding hands. The owner said she would make a bible shaped a cake but would not add the hate speech text. She would sell him the equipment and materials so he could do that work himself. He threatened a lawsuit. Later that day she received a notice the Department of Regulatory Agencies of a complaint filed against her. Commenters say this man doesn't have a case.

I've mentioned a couple times that my medical insurance has a "qualification" period. If I don't meet certain goals for weight (the one that usually catches me), cholesterol, blood pressure, and a half-dozen more I have to agree to improvement programs or pay higher copays if I need to use the insurance. These "wellness" initiatives have become very popular with insurers and corporations. The number of companies using these plans is expected to reach 46%. This is why: Savings in actual health care costs per person is perhaps $40. Not much of a gain when the programs cost about $100-300 per person. But a company makes $500 per person in penalties from people who refuse to participate.

Daily Kos says the next GOP target is Social Security. The system will hit a shortfall next year and there is a new House rule that says any money shifted to keep it afloat must come with a "fix." The first step will pit the disabled against the elderly, and we know the AARP will make sure the elderly will not be the losers. You see, all those disabled people are "undeserving" and they're "stealing" from the elderly. These disabled are likely refugees from the loss of welfare programs. The GOP likely won't stop there. The goal is to make the Social Security system so weak it becomes politically easy to kill the whole thing.

E.J. Dionne, writing for Truthdig, notes the rich complain about wealth redistribution and the rich and poor being "makers versus takers"(though the talk quieted down a bit after Mitt Romney's famous 47% gaffe). Dionne says the "makers" and "takers" labels are backwards. The poor pay almost 11% of income in various state and local taxes, while those in the 1% pays only 5.4% of their income in state and local taxes. It is the rich who are the takers.

The Southern Education Foundation says as of the 2012-13 school year 51% of K-12 students in public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. That means their families are poor. The range is below 30% of students in New Hampshire to over 70% in Mississippi. There are a couple reasons for this new high in poverty in our schools. (1) The middle class has shrunk and the poor class has grown. (2) Those who can afford it are getting their kids out of public schools (apparently, in the South public schools were always for just the poor). How is it we can be the richest country and more than half of our public school students can't afford food?

Author Junot Diaz wonders why blacks are seen as having a race problem and whites aren't? Isn't the black race problem caused by whites?

Andrew Freedman of Mashable expands on the recent report that 2014 is the hottest year since records were started in 1880. In addition, the last 15 years included the 13 hottest. Freedman examines several other statistics and includes a few graphs. Just remember climate change is not local – 2014 was far from Michigan's hottest year.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Must be stilettos

I went off to see the show Kinky Boots last night. This is part of the season at the Fisher Theater of Broadway in Detroit. If you aren't a fan of Broadway musicals this one would do nothing to change your opinion, even if it did win a Tony Award for best musical back in 2013. It was loud. Most of the dance scenes were glitzy. Most of the story points and the ending were obvious (though not as bad as Starlight Express which I saw maybe 25 years ago). The volume for the star's big emotional crisis song was so bad I couldn't understand a word of the song (though the rest of the songs were understandable).

So why did I go? Because the story is about my people. And its central message is one of mine: respect for others and an appreciation of their differences. Charlie reluctantly inherits the family shoe factory when his father dies. That's when he discovers the place is losing money. He encounters drag queen Lola who has problems with her boots because they aren't designed to support a man's weight. Lola sings the boots must be stilettos because sex is in the heel. Charlie realizes serving this niche market can save his company. Bringing sassy Lola and her dancing angels to the factory definitely stirs things up. The show tackles homophobia – from Don, one of the factory workers, from Lola's father, and late in the show from Charlie. There were sweet moments, such as how Lola handles Don (how that was done was a surprise). Another was a song by Lauren, one of Charlie's employees who has eyes for the boss even though he has a girlfriend (this outcome was not a surprise). So, yeah, I enjoyed myself and I'm glad I went.

Marriage proposal of the day

Football player Michael Sam proposed marriage to his boyfriend Vito Cammisano. Sam is the gay football player who made news over the last year, especially his widely viewed kiss when Sam was drafted by the NFL (though eventually cut from various teams).

This proposal is of interest to me for a particular reason. The photo of Sam on bended knee shows the tender moment took place – in the cupola on top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. Sweet! Pope Francis, do you know what is going on over your head?

Finally before the court

The Supremes have announced they will take the marriage equality case from Michigan and combine it with the other 6th Circuit cases from Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The court has focused the cases down to two questions, the core of the cases:
1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
That "require" bit implies the opposite – might a state choose to permit same-sex marriages or might it choose to ban those marriages? The two questions mean the Supremes will focus on what matters to all of us and not be derailed by issues of standing, which is why they didn't rule in the California case 18 months ago.

The Supremes have scheduled a generous 90 minutes for oral arguments to Question 1 and an hour for Question 2. It makes sense – they are hearing four cases. Those oral arguments will be heard sometime during the week of April 24, with a ruling by the end of June.

Do we start planning for big parties in July? My sister and her partner would be delighted to do so. The tea-leaf reading to discern how the Supremes will rule has begun. Some, like Ari Ezra Waldman of the blog Towleroad lists his reasons why he believes the court will rule in our favor:

1. The Supremes let stand marriage equality rulings in 3 Circuit courts. Doubtful the court would allow thousands of same-sex couples to marry and, several months later, take it back.

2. The Supremes refused a stay in Florida, even though the 11th Circuit hasn't ruled yet.

3. Through a series of cases Justice Kennedy has championed our rights. He has already destroyed the arguments under the remaining state bans.

Others aren't so sure, including several of Towleroad's readers. Why two questions? Isn't the second covered by the first? Is the court not so sure of the answer to the first question? Or are they just hiding their intentions? Or are they making sure bigoted states, such as Texas, get the point?

Justice Kennedy may be a big champion of gay rights, but he is also a big champion of state's rights. And in this case the two are in opposition. Which will he choose?

In other marriage news...

There is a second Michigan marriage case. This one is to require that the state recognize the 300 couples who married last year in the one-day window between the district court ruling and the circuit court stay. Today a district court judge ruled the state must recognize those marriages, though he added a 21 day stay. There are now petitions circulating to demand AG Bill Schuette not appeal.

The ban of same-sex marriage in South Dakota was ruled unconstitutional. The decision looks familiar: (1) Marriage is a fundamental right which (2) the Supremes have said many times, and (3) that right had been denied to same-sex couples, (4) for no compelling reason.

Ari Ezra Waldman is disappointed that a stay was issued with the ruling, seemingly automatically. Yeah, that used to be routine. But the refusal by the Supremes to intervene in Florida has changed that reasoning. South Dakota is in the 8th Circuit, and like the 11th Circuit in the Florida case, hasn't heard a marriage equality case.

In most civil cases, such as these marriage equality cases, the losing side must pay the attorney's fees of those that won. So far various states have awarded a combined $800K with another $2.6 million in requests pending. So much for GOP legislatures and governors being fiscally prudent.

I wrote about Cecil Bell, the Texas state legislator who wants to declare that Texas has sovereign immunity when it comes to same-sex marriage and the US constitution. Since that idea isn't getting very far he has another. He wants to revoke salaries of state employees, such as clerks and judges, who issue or recognize same-sex marriage licenses. Strange that Bill Chumley of South Carolina has a matching bill for his state.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

No review for Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho had asked the entire 9th Circuit to review his state's ban on same-sex marriage. He really doesn't like it. He got the support of three judges, but that was not enough to get a reconsideration.

Last year Starkville, Mississippi, which is next to Mississippi State University, approved a statement of support for LGBT equality (but not a ban on discrimination?) and gave benefits to partners of employees. Two weeks after the benefits were approved a group of city aldermen voted to repeal the benefits. The mayor, Parker Wiseman, vetoed the repeal. One of the aldermen switched sides, so there weren't enough votes for an override.

But the switch was unswitched and now they do. So both the benefits and the show of support were repealed in a closed door meeting with no public record. The mayor again vetoed, this time naming names and decrying the secrecy. A great guy for our side. Alas, if the coalition holds an override is possible.

Challenging the condemnation

Last week I complained that NPR gave the microphone to Rev. Allen Edwards who has same-sex attractions but married a woman. I was annoyed that Edwards hit most the anti-gay talking points, such as to please God a man must marry a woman or be celibate. I was annoyed that there was no on-air rebuttal.

Today NPR did broadcast a rebuttal, given by … Allen's gay brother Dexter.

Dexter said:
I was kind of frustrated that NPR made this a news story because I feel how detrimental it can be to other people. I understand that it's an opinion and it's a lifestyle choice, and that everyone does and can choose what they want to do, but I would never want this to harm anyone.

I just want to be a voice of encouragement to people that have come through it or are going through it — or are in the closet and don't feel comfortable because of people like this,
NPR found out about Dexter because he had shared his rebuttal with the gay magazine The Advocate. He spoke out because he knows how damaging Allan's story has been to other gay youth.

That article shares a telling tidbit. When Dexter was 19 he came out ("a terrible experience") and was asked to leave his parent's house. He moved in with older brother Allan for a month. Later, Dexter realized it was during that time that Allan decided to fight his same-sex attractions.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A million punched cards

I went off today to see the movie The Imitation Game, the story of how Alan Turing cracked Germany's Enigma Machine during WWII. A lot of reviewers thought it was a great story but only a conventional biographical movie. Whatever. I enjoyed it and recommend it. One does not need to be a computer geek to follow what is going on. The movie delves into security issues and has some spy-counterspy elements. It also gets into how to make sure the Germans don't know their code has been cracked and the consequences that has.

Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job as Turing and shows him as a very logical man clueless in social graces. There are flashbacks to Turing as a 15 year old at boarding school. His friend gives him a book on cryptography and he wonders how is that any different from the way people normally talk – they say things that don't make any sense and one is expected to understand. The movie does discuss Turing's homosexuality when appropriate, such as when he proposes marriage to his female colleague to avoid her submitting to the pressure of her parents to return home to marry. And, of course, after the war when Turing is convicted of gross indecency for being gay.

Knowing this movie was coming I finally got around to reading Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson. It is a history of the development of the computer. Though Turing is discussed in the book the major character is John von Neumann. He is essentially the leader of the team that took Turing's idea of a computational machine and built one at Princeton University during WWII and a second one in the early 1950s. He developed the central architecture of the modern computer, which is why they're sometimes called von Neumann machines.

The book is dense with people and ideas – there is a six-page list of characters (each with a tiny bio) at the front of the book. Dyson is quite thorough with both. He explains the atomic bomb and the computer needed each other and neither would have been developed without the other. The computer was needed to calculate the bomb blast so the bomb could be configured to maximum effect. This early computer had about 5K of memory (about what it takes to display an icon on a modern computer). The algorithm performed a long series of calculations, but couldn't store intermediate values in the computer's memory, so after each computation cycle the numbers were dumped to punched cards and read in again. One massive calculation took a million cards. I remember those cards – I used them in college. A box of them held 2000 cards. This calculation would have needed 500 boxes. After the war the second computer was used to design the hydrogen bomb.

But the team couldn't say they were working on a bomb. They needed a cover story, another problem that couldn't be solved by a room full of women with mechanical calculators. And they had one – weather forecasting. All thy early problems spread across the time scale: nuclear explosions that happen in microseconds, blast waves that happen in microseconds to minutes, weather that deals with minutes to years, biological evolution that deals in years to millions of years, and stellar evolution that deals in millions to billions of years. The description of biological evolution was the hardest for me to follow. I would have liked a much more complete explanation of what exactly was being modeled and how – this was being done about the time the molecular structure of DNA was figured out.

Hannes Alfvén of Sweden received a Nobel prize in physics in 1970 for work he began in 1942. In 1966 he published a fable he had written for his grandson titled The Tale of the Big Computer. Dyson explores this book because he says it predicted such things as a global computer networks with features of Google and Facebook and cell phones with online purchasing. Alfvén also describes a world in which humans had to be excluded from the most important organizational tasks because computers could do them so much better.

As for that title, Dyson says he found Turing's Cathedral when he visited the headquarters of Google.
I was invited to Google's headquarters in California, and given a glimpse inside the organization that has been executing precisely the strategy that Turing had in mind: gathering all available answers, inviting all possible questions, and mapping the results. I felt I was entering a fourteenth-century cathedral while it was being built. Everyone was busy placing one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect making everything fit. Turing's 1950 comment about computers being "mansions for the souls that He creates" came to mind.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nah, we're not gay

I saw the movie Pride a couple months ago. The DVD was released in America a couple weeks ago and watchful customers noticed the image on the back cover had been changed from promotional materials used in the theatrical release. In particular, the big sign saying "Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners" has been removed. Does that imply "straightwashing" – trying to disguise the gay content? And why are the we having such a hard time finding out who did it and what their reasons are?

The director, Matthew Warchus, seems fine with it if that will get the movie into a wider audience, though he says it was clumsily done.

Intellectual and moral bankruptcy

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin said this about this week's terrorist attacks in France.
Terror is an open admission of intellectual and moral bankruptcy. Where persuasion and the moral force of argument is lost, terror seeks to impose those losing ideas through brute force.


Vietnam has repealed its ban on same-sex marriage. The decision might be a strategic move to improve the country's image and encourage gay tourism. It is also part of an effort to get the country to accept gays and lesbians in general and to show such marriages are not harmful to society. However, removing the ban does not mean the country has legalized it – same-sex couples do not have the same legal rights and responsibilities as straight couples. It's a step in the right direction.

Ari Ezra Waldman notes something significant about marriage equality coming to Florida. The 11th Circuit has not yet ruled on marriage equality. The Supremes refused to grant a stay, marking the first time the Supremes helped to bring about marriage equality without a ruling from a Circuit Court. Waldman sees that as a sign the Supremes won't stop marriage equality – though many others have noted an option the Supremes have is to declare that a state may do what it wants.

Cecil Bell of the Texas state legislature has introduced a bill that would continue to ban same-sex marriage in Texas and also (as the Texas Observer wrote) "grant Texas sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment o the U.S. Constitution when it comes to enforcing the law, 'regardless of a contrary federal court ruling.'" Translation: when it comes to marriage we're our own country and whatever the Supremes say about gay marriage will mean nothing here.

I took a look at the 11th Amendment. It says a citizen of one state can't sue the gov't of another. It doesn't say anything about protecting a state from the US Constitution. So good luck with that.

The reason for Bell's bill is the Texas ban was before the 5th Circuit today. Judge Higgenbotham is considered the swing vote on that 3 judge panel and he seems skeptical and amused by the arguments Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi are using to justify their bans.

There is no news about whether the Supremes accepted the same-sex marriage case out of Michigan. That case was on the agenda for today's session to decide which cases to accept. News might come Monday or might come the next time the Supremes have such a meeting.

No free pass

After posting the long article about obesity yesterday I felt the need of a bit of clarification. While I cited source that said being obese is not a detriment to health that does not give us a free pass to eat anything we want. It is easy to think that if obesity doesn't matter to health than I'll throw all diets out the window and eat to please my tastebuds.

Nope, sorry, it doesn't work like that. For example, while it appears obesity isn't connected to clogging of arteries, something in our food is. Alas, there is some dispute about what those somethings are.

The top undisputed items on the bad food list are trans-fats and sugar. In time for Halloween John Oliver did an 11 minute segment on the harms of sugar.

Only slightly disputed (except by the companies that use them) are the harms of preservatives in processed foods.

And then we get into disputed areas, such as whether the problem is fat or carbs. There seems to be growing research that carbs cause all sorts of medical issues.

One more thing, as mentioned by my nutritionist: what may be healthy and acceptable foods for you may not be the same for me. For example I am experimenting whether I should embrace or limit cheese. In addition, most beans are not a good choice for me.

If you are eating healthy (and getting exercise) then my post from yesterday says don't worry about weight. If you're not eating healthy you risk many of the health issues ascribed to obesity.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Act gay, be gay

Quite a while ago I heard about a movie called The Nance. It stars Nathan Lane. Everything I read about it said that Lane does a masterful performance. Then for a long time I didn't hear anything. Finally I saw something online that listed a website that gave a schedule – oh, great, it was in Detroit for only one night, and a night I couldn't possibly see it. What kind of movie that is reportedly so fabulous gets shown for only one night?

Then my sister sent me a note saying she had seen it on PBS and sent me instructions on how to find it online. I found it and saved the link until I had time to watch it. I decided it had better be this evening before classes resume next week.

On watching it one thing became clear. It wasn't done as a conventional movie, but a recording of a stage play. It was done as part of the PBS series Live at Lincoln Center, so a top of the line production.

Nathan Lane plays Chauncey who works in Burlesque as a nance or nancy, a gay character who excels in double entendre. This is 1930s New York, so theaters had to be very careful about what they said. A good part of the show is scenes from the act. Another good part is what goes on backstage – meeting the others in the act, threats of being raided, how offstage affects what is seen onstage, etc. The third part of the show is Chauncey's life away from the theater. It is one thing to act gay onstage, quite another to be gay offstage. And Chauncey meets Ned.

Yes, Lane does a masterful performance. Here's the link. The whole thing is 2 hours 15 minutes. Enjoy.

We have a right to live as we are

As I mentioned I have started to regularly read the blog Shakesville, written primarily by Melissa McEwen. She describes herself as a "progressive feminist" discussing many of the same things I discuss from my viewpoint as a gay man. She wants her blog to be a safe space, not a public square. So she welcomes disagreement, but not name-calling and other forms of oppression.

A post from a couple days ago is part of her series on "Fatsronauts 101" in which she discusses assumptions and stereotypes about fat people used to dehumanize and marginalize. That got my attention since I've been discussing diet issues for quite a while now and one of the primary purposes of this blog is to call attention to the assumptions and stereotypes about sexual minorites used to dehumanize and marginalize. I need to explore what she says. I'll refer to this as post #1.

The big statement to investigate: There is a false equivalence between "fat" and "unhealthy." I followed the link to a post McEwen wrote a couple years ago specifically discussing this false link. I'll call this post #2. She starts her rebuttal with:
There are fat people who do not have health problems, fat-related or otherwise. There are fat people who do have health problems that are unrelated to their fat. There are fat people who have health problems that are associated with, and in some cases the direct result of, their fat. And there are fat people who are fat as a result of disability, disease, injury, trauma, or some other divergence from "ideal health."

You don't need to take my word for it. There are studies you can find that say the same. And the ones that don't, well, I would caution you to look at the source of their funding, because it's usually someone with a vested interest in the notion that fat axiomatically correlates with a lack of health, e.g. the Diet Industry.
Oh, yes, I've been through the Diet Industry. It didn't go well. That's why I'm working through my current nutritionist. And this nutritionist has also talked about the Processed Food Industry and the Agribusiness Industry, the source of all the unhealthy food lacking in nutrition that Americans are eating.

But is McEwen's statement true? She links to two more blogs. The first is Health at Every Size where I found a reply to the top reason to shed the pounds – obesity causes diabetes. In a post by David Spero, RN, he talks about this connection:
Poverty and Blackness are both strongly linked with “obesity” and diabetes, my professional specialty. According to the Centers for Disease Control, non-Hispanic Blacks have a 90% higher diabetes rate than Whites.

Being poor, traumatized, and discriminated against are stressful. Worrying about money and your kids’ safety and their future, and/or fearing for your life on a regular basis will make you insulin resistant and worsen your asthma. Stress raises blood pressure to prepare bodies to fight or run away from danger, and the body perceives all of these oppressive life conditions to be dangerous.

Stress makes you gain weight through the effect of stress hormones, and chronic stress makes you sick. It’s not the gained weight that makes you sick, it’s the chronic stress and unhealthy environments that cause both changes.
Another misuse of correlation taken to mean causation.

The second blog McEwen links to is Junkfood Science, which says it is a critical look at studies and news on food, weight, health, and healthcare, especially where myths and fraud might be involved. The blog hasn't been updated since 2009, though it will still be useful. It has a sidebar listing series of posts about anti-quackery, healthcare and policy, food safety and nutrition, bariatric surgery, obesity paradox, and body weight issues. I'll be exploring this one for a while.

I clicked on the first article in the obesity paradox series, titled Say it Isn't So and written by the blog owner Sandy Szwarc, an RN. In 2005 the senior research scientists of the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC came out with an expose on the "grossly exaggerated and fabricated scare campaign" of the Diet Industry. This study showed the science behind the industry "had been derived from poor data and had flagrant methodological flaw. How bad was it? It didn't even account for aging, the single biggest risk factor for death, in its computer model!"

It took only hours for the Diet Industry to swing into action to discredit the report. This team included the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the CDC itself. Their spin relied on most media people not reading the original report and trusting the AHA and CDC. "With that inconvenience – the truth – dealt with, the war on obesity proceeded without skipping a beat." The post concludes with this:
The whole “obesity” thing has been an easy sell because our culture has come to believe so strongly that thin is better and fat is bad, and so loves to hate fat people, that the idea of questioning it is inconceivable.
I clicked on a couple of the obesity paradox posts (there are 17 paradoxes and several supporting posts). The first one cited studies that show there is no relationship between fatness and the artery build-up that causes heart attacks. And when heart attacks happen the obese are more likely to survive. I'll call this post #3.

The second obesity paradox article I read says there is there is an inverse correlation between body mass index (BMI) and incidence of stroke and stroke survivability. That means those who are underweight (the "waif" look prized in the fashion industry) have more strokes and worse stroke outcomes than those who are overweight. The post notes that both heart disease and stroke have been declining over the last 50 years as the rate of obesity has been rising.

When I first went to my current nutritionist it was because previous diets had failed. I was quite surprised that she seemed to be so uninterested in weight – she didn't even weigh me during the first few visits. My sessions with her focused on the health of my body and healthy eating (as I've described before her definition of healthy eating is quite different from what the Diet Industry says it should be). Is my body holding onto toxins or viruses? Are there organs not working as they should? Are there nutrition components I'm lacking? Weight seemed like an afterthought. At the time that was disconcerting because my traditional medical provider has a weight limit – be under a certain BMI or go on a diet program or pay higher copays. I have another weight check by the end of March (I'd skip traditional medicine entirely except my nutritionist doesn't set bones). Though today's reading I now understand more of why she isn't so concerned about weight.

While weight may not by itself be unhealthy it is likely for many of us what we eat is making us unhealthy and making us obese. These last 50 years of rising obesity match the rise of the Processed Food Industry.

The end of post #3 mentions a medical student struggling to understand the paradox. The student suggests the improved outcome must be because obese people received better care.

To answer that I go back to post #2. Yes, fat kills. More accurately, discrimination against fat people kills. And the worst discriminators are medical professionals. Emergency crews who laugh at obese people. Doctors who tell patients that weight reductions will fix problems because the doctor refuses to look beyond the fat. An underlying condition causing the fat is not treated. Medical equipment that can't accommodate the obese. Drug trials that don't include the obese so the obese are given the wrong dosage. Patients are so viciously fat-shamed by medical professionals that they don't ask for medical care soon enough. All these kill.

Back to post #1. In addition to discrimination killing the obese, discrimination discourages large people from living. Society is telling us to lose weight before we pursue our dreams.

A commenter wrote that she used to be a fan of the TV show Biggest Loser. Then she realized the tone of the show. No matter your station in life, no matter your accomplishments, the most important accomplishment is to lose weight. Only then will your real life start.

McEwen summarizes:
I can't. I can't put myself out there. I can't wear a sleeveless shirt. I can't wear tight jeans. I can't cut my hair short. I can't try to be beautiful. I can't go on a beach holiday. I can't wear a bathing suit in public. I can't show my legs. I can't go to the gym. I can't have my picture taken. I can't go to a club to dance. I can't join the Peace Corps. I can't fall in love. I can't let myself be loved. I can't be happy. I can't live.

Not until I'm not fat anymore. And then I'll deserve it. All of it. Then I'll have permission from the galactic granter of access to life to do all the things I want to do.

That is bullshit.

It is dehumanizing bullshit. It is internalized eliminationist bullshit. It is harmful, hateful, despicable bullshit that exhorts us to remove ourselves from life as much as we can, so as not to sully it up with our imperfect aesthetics.
We have a right to live as we are and to do that right now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Representative democracy

Here's a look at how well the new Congress that just got to work represents America.

50% of the population in America (actually a bit more)
20% of Congress (actually a bit less)

Whites (non Hispanic)
63% of America
80% of the House
94% of the Senate

People without religious affiliation
20% of America
0.2% of Congress

So, yeah, Congress is 80% white, 80% male, and 92% Christian. America isn't.

My body is not mine

According to the Guttmacher Institute a state is considered hostile to abortion if it has four or five restrictions. A state is considered extremely hostile if it has six or more restrictions. In 2000 there were 13 hostile states (alas, including Michigan) and none extremely hostile. In 2010 that had jumped to 17 hostile and 5 extremely hostile for a total of 22. By 2014, only 4 years later there were a total of 27, of which 18 are extremely hostile. The link has maps. Another count is the number of abortion restrictions passed by all states. That jumped by 231 restrictions in the last four years.

Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition says she would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, but her group's efforts now are to chip away at it so that it has no impact.

These laws (a Texas case was before the 5th Circuit today) only affect working class and poor women. Middle class and richer can afford to travel as far as necessary to get an abortion. I previously included a quote: "They only care that the 's!ut takes responsibility for opening her legs.'" Put those two ideas together it implies the anti-choice crowd thinks all pregnant women (and maybe all women) at the lower end of the economic scale are s!uts.

That news about growing restrictions has left Melissa McEwan of the blog Shakesville angry. She's angry the fetus is valued more highly than the woman, that she's not trusted to make decisions about her own body, that women are denied access and the only justification is religion, that she is supposed to accept this campaign of violence, that we have lost ground, and that few men are engaged in the fight.
I am angry that my body is not mine, that my mind is not mine. That legislators can claim to know what is best for my body and can claim to know my mind better than I do. That is dehumanizing, infantilizing, a theft of my dignity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Struggling to keep out the condemnation

On Sunday morning I listened to an NPR interview of Rev. Allen Edwards. He talked about how he is attracted to men, feels that doesn't define him, and has married a woman. They are expecting their first child. He says his wife knew about his attractions before the marriage. Along the way – struggling mightily to keep out the condemnation – he says Christian churches who approve of same-sex relationships are "in error."

The NPR host did not offer the microphone to anyone else for a rebuttal. [Grrr!]

This little interview hit almost all of the Fundie positions on gay people. The only one they missed is the one about being able to change your orientation. He's still gay (or maybe bisexual). But to please God he chose one of two options: marry a woman or stay celibate. By implication (because it is God he's talking about) so must we. So a black mark on NPR for promoting the anti-gay agenda.

I didn't leave a comment. By the time I looked at the story's page there were already more than 1400 comments. Much of them seemed to be arguments with other commenters. I was pleased to see a rebuttal posted on Huffington Post by Peterson Toscano. He's been there, done that, and has the scars to prove it. He has also heard versions of Edwards' story many times and is bored by it. Toscano did the reparative therapy and married a woman. It didn't last and was quite damaging. He is much happier married to a man. As part of his reply Toscano properly calls that celibacy thing "oppression."

I've met Toscano and saw him perform some of his stories at the Reconciling Ministries Convo a year ago. Toscano has researched the Bible for sexual minorities to show we are included and always have been.

The court is guilty

In article for the Washington Spectator Erwin Chemerinsky explains why he is disappointed in the Supreme Court. They're the only defense we have against the tyranny of the majority. And too many times through history they sided with the majority. The Supremes enforced slavery, supported Jim Crow, and in the last few years they've overturned efforts to desegregate schools and gutted the Voting Rights Act. The Supremes approved when criticism of WW1 draft resulted in imprisonment, and when Japanese were interred during WWII. The Supremes sides with corporations when the issue was and is worker safety and consumer protection.

Chemerinsky says, yes, we need the courts. Too often for those wronged it is the courts or nothing. But he offers a few recommendations: merit selection of justices, a more meaningful confirmation process, term limits, ethics rules, and broadcast of its proceedings. Alas, many of the powerful like the current bias.

If you are interested, Chemerinsky has written a whole book on his case against the Supremes.

What's your takeaway on that bae polar vortex?

Lake Superior State University has issued its annual list of words and phrases that are overused, misused, and useless and thus should be banned. This year's crop:

Bae – a new word of endearment supposedly meaning "before anyone else." A boyfriend would be bae. But it got overused. Thankfully, I hadn't heard it before – and I work with college students.

Polar vortex – overused when describing the weather. Then it morphed into such things as "political vortex."

Hack – now slang for "tip" as in home improvement hacks, car hacks, work hacks, etc.

Skill set – isn't it enough to say "skills"?

Swag – another all-purpose adjective, now overused.

Foodie – Someone who likes food. So someone who sleeps is a sleepie?

Curate – museums are curated. Gift boxes aren't.

Friend-raising – so you like this person only to be able to get into their wallet?

Cra-cra – short form of crazy – which isn't all that long.

Enhanced interrogation – nope, it's torture.

Takeaway – supposedly means what lesson or info was learned.

–Nation – As in Chicago Cubs Nation. No, they're not seeking independence.

What have you done for me?

Results over several elections confirm that Republicans win the white working-class vote. Ruy Teixeira, political demographer, turned that idea around – Democrats are losing the white vote. Why? The working-class whites don't associate the Democratic Party with their own economic mobility. It isn't that the Dems aren't trying, it's that making an economic difference is very hard to do.

That leads to an important question which that post didn't ponder. How is it that working-class class whites see the GOP helping their economic mobility? Or are they voting for the GOP for some other reason such as church affiliation or racism?

Color in Florida on the map

Marriages have begun across Florida. Photos here. One new couple includes Detective Currie of the Broward County Sheriff's Office, who wore his uniform. Miami got a head-start because a local judge had issued a ruling that declared the same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional and had done so in a way that applied to only that county. That stay expired 12 hours or so before the statewide stay expired. That same judge married the first couples, the ones who had brought the suit. The marriage map looks a bit more complete.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Florida! Luxembourg!

All the confusion about whether clerks in Florida can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been cleared up by the judge who declared Florida's ban unconstitutional last August. His ruling has three parts.

* This wasn't a class action suit the rules of the court do not require clerks to issue licenses to anyone not named in the original suit. However...

* The source of this ruling isn't the judge's words, but the US Constitution. So follow it.

* If a clerk doesn't follow the Constitution that clerk is open to lawsuits. And the court will act swiftly, leaving the clerk with court and lawyer costs.

Attorney General Pam Bondi responded by saying she won't stand in the way (though doesn't appear to eager to help the process along).

The Florida Family Policy Council is doing all it can to misinterpret the judge's words. They are claiming victory and are saying a clerk may be subject to a lawsuit if licenses are issued to same-sex couples.

In response to the ruling all the county clerks announced they will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning Tuesday. But clerks in 14 counties said, yes, we'll issue licenses, but we won't do any more for gay couples than we have to so we won't allow them to use the courthouse for weddings. However, we'll be fair. We won't let straight couples use the courthouse for weddings either.

The same-sex marriage law was approved in Luxembourg last June. It went into effect on January 1st. Marriages have begun. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel will soon take advantage of the new law and marry his partner Gauthier Destenay.

Idaho has officially filed its same-sex marriage case with the Supremes. The governor and attorney general are trumpeting that their case is the one the Supremes should take because they are the ones who will put up a vigorous defense of the right for a state can define marriage the way it wants. That's what Michigan did and has the trial record to prove it. I haven't heard whether the 9th Circuit has heard Idaho's challenge. Perhaps the Supremes won't take it for that reason.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Holy Terror, part 7: Love

In his book, Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality Mel White talks about progressive values. In the last post I talked about progressive political values, those based on the Constitution. In this post we move on to progressive moral values, those based on the Bible.

Yes, the previous section discussed that the Constitution is more important than the Bible in a democracy. But the Bible is still quite important. We must rescue it from abuse.

* We reclaim the Bible as a primary source of our progressive moral values and we will resist fundamentalist efforts to claim the bible as their own.

White describes the Bible as the Greatest Book Never Read. Lots of people profess to believe what is says. It seems very few have actually read it. White describes the lives who suffered for the Bible: John Wycliffe and William Tyndale – both had translated the Bible into English and the king felt threatened. There are those sustained by it – Captain Howard Rutledge in solitary confinement sustained by verses he memorized as a child. White gives the example of his own father, a pillar of the church, who defied advice of church leaders and rode with his son in a Pride Parade.

* We reclaim our faith to help empower & inform our progressive moral values and will resist any fundamentalist efforts to define God for us.

White heard stories for E. Stanley Jones, a famous evangelist, talk about what he had learned from Gandhi. Jones said Gandhi had loved and respected the teachings of Jesus, yet remained Hindu. Jones reportedly asked Gandhi, "What makes you different from the average Christian?" Gandhi replied, "I think Jesus meant it." Jones asked how he and his colleagues might be more effective in sharing their faith. Gandhi replied:
First, I would suggest that all of you Christians must begin to live more like Jesus. Second, practice your religion without toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force for love is central to Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.
White responds:
Gandhi and Jones taught me how to be entirely "out" as a Christian and at the same time be totally accepting of anyone who disagrees. Trusting that the Spirit of Truth with touch us both in the process.

Unfortunately, this means dialogue, and, as the well-known language theorist Stanley Fish has said, a fundamentalist "doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but further persuade him that you have missed the point."
White is concerned for the large number of people, mostly sexual minorities, who have been so damaged by religion they have stopped their spiritual journeys. That, says White, has serious consequences for our liberation movement and for progressives in general. Without this force for love our values are likely to break down at a critical moment.

* We reclaim the values of the Jewish prophets: justice and mercy; therefore we will resist injustice and seek to be more merciful to those who suffer injustice.

I've written before about the many Bible verses that discuss justice and mercy as part of discussing how the tax system purposefully underfunds schools to make sure the poor and racial minorities do not have the education to rise to the middle class.

Here are a couple more definitions. From Gandhi: "'Mercy' means helping those who suffer, and 'justice' means cutting off that suffering at its source."

And from Dietrich Bonhoffer: "Our role is NOT just to bandage the victims pulled out from under the wheel, bu to put a spike in the wheel itself."

White's hope: We see that sexual minorities are in desperate need of mercy and justice. Those who have been damaged by Fundie actions will see that Jesus was not a fundamentalist nor held fundamentalist beliefs.

* We reclaim the primary value of Jesus love. Therefore we will resist thoughts, words and actions that are unloving and put nonviolence into practice with out friends and enemies alike.

Those damaged by fundamentalism hear White speak and they come to him with a burning question, "How can you be sure that God loves you, too?"

The answer is to let Jesus speak for himself. The stories of Jesus assure us he loves outcasts best. From his first sermon Jesus condemned the Pharisees "who knew the law by heart but had forgotten that love is the heart of the law."

As for outcasts: Jesus was born of an unwed mother in a conquered nation and spent time as a war refugee in Egypt. Jesus did not graduate from college or even high school and made his living as a laborer. Jesus gathered quite a collection of outcasts as his disciples. Jesus healed the outcast leper, the outcast woman with a flow of blood, the outcast lunatic in the graveyard, the outcast man blind from birth. He accepted a drink from the outcast woman at the well. Jesus healed the centurion's "special servant" – an outcast both because he is part of the occupying army and because that "special servant" is almost certainly a gay lover.

White concludes this chapter by writing:
Becoming and activist is simply a matter of putting love into action. For activists, love is something you do, not something you just talk about, and that's when the fun begins.

Holy Terror, part 6: Constitutional values

On July 4, 1986 a gathering of 460 fundamentalist Christian leaders gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to sign their Manifesto for the Christian Church. Here are some key phrases from that document (though the text is quoted, these statements were not adjacent in the original, ellipses are by White):
The Bible is the only absolute, objective, final test... for all philosophies, books, values, actions, and plans...

Whatever statements or values are in opposition to the statements and values of the Bible err to the degree of that opposition.

The Bible States Reality for all Areas of Life and Thought... in the sphere of law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology and science.

All theories and practices of these spheres of life are only true, right, and realistic to the degree that they agree with the Bible.

Those people or nations that live in opposition to biblical laws and commandments will sooner or later, be cursed and destroyed.
I look at that list and see a whole lot of dangerous stupidity. Sheesh, there are many places in which the Bible contradicts itself. In addition, we – including Fundies – have concluded that some laws of the Bible do not apply to modern society. The big one is polygamy. Then there is that "sooner or later" phrase in their prediction of doom. If America prospers for another thousand years before being destroyed, does that fit their definition of "later"? But previous posts in this series have dealt with how fundamentalists misinterpret the central message of the Bible, so I won't repeat it here. Yeah, I see dangerous stupidity.

In his book, Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality Mel White sees something more:


Those who signed the Manifesto have declared their intention to replace the U.S. Constitution as the ultimate legal authority of the nation. It is this intention that is behind their work to "raise money, mobilize volunteers, win elections, get initiatives passed, and constitutions amended."

So what do we do about it?

White begins by laying out the progressive values that should guide us, both political and moral. First, the political, based on the Constitution.

* We value the Constitution as the bedrock of our democracy; therefore we will resist all efforts to put the Bible in its place.

When speaking White will hold up a copy of the Constitution and a Bible. He'll ask, "Which is more important?" Even progressives will frequently answer the Bible is more important. White responds (my ellipsis):
When it comes to guiding our democracy and running our government, the U.S. Constitution must always trump the Bible, because the Constitution protects our rights to disagree about what the Bible says. … The Constitution offers every citizen an umbrella of protection that will guarantee his or her right to read or not read the Bible,, to believe in God or to ignore God altogether, to attend or not attend church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.
And yes, attempts at the substitution have been tried. G.W. Bush was forced into proposing a Marriage Protection Amendment for the Constitution.

Make this value personal. Vow to deny support to any politician or preacher who quotes the Bible and not the Constitution as governing authority; who would withhold rights from anyone based in a verse from the Bible; who even hints at limiting the free exercise of faith or no faith at all; who wants to restrict freedom of speech, of assembly, or of petitioning the government. Keep a copy of the Constitution by your TV and judge all newsmakers by its standards.

* We value our religious freedom; therefore we will resist all efforts to make this a "Christian nation."

White highlights two reasons to oppose the claim that America is a Christian nation. The first is the replacement of the Constitution with the Bible as discussed above. The second is if this is a Christian nation that it become a duty to follow the Bible literally, which means declaring homosexuals as an abomination, worthy of death.

To make their claim Fundie leaders follow the most popular axiom of Joseph Goebbels: Repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it, though maintaining the lie requires repression of dissent. So our task is to repeat with equal frequency that America is founded on religious freedom.

Yes, Puritan leaders saw themselves as agents of Christ, but church members, Puritan and Anglican, were only 1 of 8 settlers. In addition, the Puritans established religious tyranny. We don't need that.

There is only one mention of "Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence. There is no mention of God or Jesus in the Constitution or Federalist Papers (described as "working documents of the founding fathers"), There is no cross in our flag or money. The phrase "In God We Trust" wasn't added to our money until 1955. Many founding fathers were Deists, not Christians. In 1797 President John Adams, in a treaty with Tripoli, assures them that America is "not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom was written by the state's favorite son Thomas Jefferson. He warned against:
...the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time...
No, America is not a Christian nation, it is "also not a nation where Christians – or Americans of any other or no spiritual tradition – are asked to put their spiritual values on hold while they campaign, vote, initiate legislation, or hold office."

* We value the separation of church and state; therefore we will resist all efforts to bring down "the wall of separation."

Lots of Fundies are calling the separation of Church and State a fallacy, a myth, nonsense, an incorrect reading of the First Amendment. Nah, we don't want a theocracy, we just want our country back. Jerry Falwell said, "The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country." Yeah, their country, the rest of us just live here.

The piece of the First Amendment under discussion is, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The fundamentalists version is, "Congress shall make no law that threatens or undermines our religious beliefs or prohibits the free exercise of our absolute political and moral values."

We must use the real version of the Establishment Clause when there is talk of "faith-based" initiatives which reward Fundie churches and charities, when there is talk of funding abstinence-only sex education and denial of funding for AIDS research, when Fundies talk of a "holy" war, when religion is used as a reason to cancel environmental programs or international treaties, and when there are demands to amend the Constitution to uphold religious goals, such as the Marriage Protection Amendment.

There is also this phrase from Article VI of the Constitution: "… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Millions of Fundie viewers didn't object when Jerry Falwell called for the election of righteous men.

White has evidence that G.W. Bush violated this phrase when Harriet Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court. That came to light when James Dobson bragged that Bush had consulted with him before the nomination was announced and that Dobson had given his blessing. That revelation undermined her nomination, which is good. Alas, we got John Roberts instead. Was Dobson consulted? If so, he learned to keep his mouth shut.

It has been obvious for a long time (since the 1992 GOP convention publicly declared their anti-gay stance) that there is a religious test if a candidate wants to get elected as a GOP fiscal conservative. He must also say all the right things about being against abortion and against gay rights.

White reminds us of an important reason for keeping that wall between Church and State. Once it is down there would be other groups, such as Islamists wanting to institute Sharia law, itching to replace the Christian Fundies. When they deny our liberties, they deny their own.