Sunday, April 26, 2015

Musical as social commentary

This was the last weekend for the theater programs at Wayne State University, with both the Hilberry (graduate level) and Bonstelle (undergraduate) Theatres putting on worthwhile productions.

On Thursday evening I saw the Hilberry production of The 39 Steps, a comic farce based on the Hitchcock thriller of the same name. One actor played the main character Richard Hannay. An actress played three major female roles. Two men were listed in the program as "Clown" and took on a wide collection of roles, sometimes switching with the change of a hat, other times with complete costume changes in an amazing short amount of time. Three more actors were listed as "Stage Hand." The stage held only four large steamer trunks, which these stage hands moved about as needed, they then supplied, or became, the various props. They served as doors, overstuffed chairs, fireplace and mantle, automobile, and lots of other things. Along the way the actors worked the titles of many Hitchcock films into the dialogue and included many British literary references. All in great fun.

I saw the Bonstelle production of Urinetown, the Musical on Saturday. The basic premise is that a prolonged drought meant water must be severely rationed. Water rates have climbed so high that the poor can no longer afford their own facilities yet must pay high rates to pee in public facilities. In the next scene we see the head of the corporation that owns all those public facilities bribing his senator to get the Senate to raise rates once again. So, yeah, we're dealing with issues of privatization of public utilities, corporate greed, widening income inequality, and political corruption. All wrapped up in song and dance. That is complicated by the daughter of the corporate head, freshly graduated from the most expensive university in the world, falling in love with the guy who encourages the poor to revolt over the raised rates. Along the way Officer Lockstock (sidekick: Officer Barrel), who is itching for an excuse to crack a few heads, occasionally explains things to Little Sally, such things as: We don't want to drag down the opening scene of a musical with too much exposition. Save some of it for the next scene. The ending is more realistic than happy (which Lockstock warns us about) in which the solution to corporate terror is not well thought out and causes more problems. Even though the subject may be grim, the jokes, the exuberant dancing, and the sly references to other musicals make the evening a lot of fun.

I do have one small complaint with the plot. The rebel leader works mighty hard to prevent the rebels from committing a particular act of violence. However, he does not quite say that the only way to defeat corporate greed is non-violent resistance and urging corporate leaders into community. The rebels resolve the conflict with an act of violence of their own.

I just checked stats for this blog. During one hour yesterday the blog got 398 page views. I normally see rates of 3-5 views an hour. I'm not sure whether to believe this because the page views by county adds up to only 255.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A new top ten

Authors Le Bayer and John Figdor have used crowd input to create a Ten Commandments for the 21st Century. Their goal is to show that religion does not have a monopoly on ethics. Their results are "non-commandments" to avoid creating polarizing dogma. Their list:
1. Be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
3. The Scientific Method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
4. Every person has the right to control over their own body.
5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated.
8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
9. There is no one right way to live.
10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.
The website has a fuller explanation of each of them.

Stop using me

I might set a record this month for the fewest posts. The family situation continues.

Earlier this week Brian Klawiter of Grandville, Michigan (suburb of Grand Rapids) declared he would not serve gay people at his auto repair shop (though if you have a gun he'll give you a discount). That refusal would be perfectly legal here in Michigan. I've been ignoring stories like this, though this little bit caught my attention: Jeffrey Mapes, a bankruptcy attorney in Grand Rapids, has offered his services to Klawiter. An excerpt of his letter:
I noticed your post on Facebook where you decided to alienate most of the general public by stating that you will refuse service to openly homosexual people. This is certainly an unorthodox business strategy, and perhaps it will work for you, but I get the feeling you will need a bankruptcy attorney pretty soon and I wanted to offer my services. Like you, I am white, male, Christian, a business owner, and a gun owner. Unlike you, I provide services to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation because it doesn’t matter to me — I hope this won’t be a deal breaker for you.

Yup, the GOP in the House voted to repeal the estate tax. This is a $269 billion handout to the 4700 wealthiest American families. This is while America becomes the leader in child poverty and the working poor are protesting wages so low they get gov't poverty assistance costing taxpayers $153 billion. The purpose of the vote: Make sure those at the top stay there.

And those low-wage earners I mentioned... Thousands of the working poor protested on Tax Day for an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This was the largest protest of its kind. This movement started with fast food workers and now includes home health care workers, adjunct professors (the ones paid by the course, such as me), security workers, airport baggage handlers and others. Terrence Heath sums it up this way:
It’s no coincidence that today’s protests coincide with “Tax Day” either. A recent report from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that low wages cost American taxpayers over $150 billion annually, because workers are forced to rely on public assistance. That’s how much we’re subsidizing companies that refuse to pay workers a living wage. It’s just one more way the “Fight For $15” is everybody’s fight.

Should we weep? Wall Street bonuses rose by only 2% in 2014. Those bonuses came to $28.4 billion. They also get salaries. Now compare that bonus total to the combined wages of all the Americans working full-time at minimum wage, which is $14 billion. So one Wall Street trader is worth the same as a million minimum wage workers.

Salvatore Cordileone was instrumental in getting California's Prop 8 same-sex marriage ban passed and rose to Catholic Bishop of Oakland in 2009 and Archbishop of San Francisco in 2012. That last move was seen as a deliberate smackdown of gay Catholics. Now that Pope Benedict has been replaced by the kinder (at least in words) Pope Francis, the Catholics of Sand Francisco are speaking their displeasure with Cordileone. The most recent example is a full page ad in The Cronicle asking Francis to replace Cordileone with someone who understands the San Francisco culture. Yes, these ads are expensive.

Now that the Indiana Legislature "fixed" the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the noise has died down, Gov. Mike Pence is saying, "I think the difficult time that Indiana just passed through two weeks ago is behind us." The pro-gay forces responded by saying, heh, we're just getting warmed up. Just remember that while the RFRA no longer permits discrimination, no other act prevents it.

Are you in a same-sex relationship and want to get married but state law prevents it? Jesse Tyler Ferguson, part of the gay couple on the TV show Modern Family, is creating a way for you to design personal wedding invitations that he'll send to every member of the Supremes. It is a way to show the justices that their decision will affect real people.

There is a same-sex marriage case from Kentucky being considered by the Supremes alongside the one from Michigan as well as cases from Ohio and Tennessee. In a separate case two same-sex couples were denied a license and sued. The case was heard in the Franklin Circuit Court, part of the state court system. Judge Thomas Wingate issues his ruling, saying the same-sex marriage ban is unfairly discriminatory and violates the US Constitution. He immediately put his ruling on hold because, you know, that Supremes thing. Oral arguments for that case are less than 10 days away.

Robby Mook, the guy hired to be Hillary's campaign manager, is openly gay.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville despises politicians who use phrases such as "The American People want me to do …" or "Taxpayers want …" or "Voters demand I do …" She despises it because the politician makes it sound either like Americans are in unanimous agreement or if you don't agree then you aren't a real American. So she says, "Stop Using Me!" She lists several examples. "Stop Using Me to Justify Homophobia" or Transphobia, Anti-Immigration, a Racist Justice System, Voter ID Laws, Gutting the Social Safety Net, Abortion Restrictions, and a long list of other things. It is a rebuttal worth reading.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cupcakes as well

Some of the things that have accumulated in my browser tabs...

A student prompted the Albion College Student Senate to begin discussions about becoming Reconciling. Read the whole story at my brother blog.

As part of the uproar in Indiana a pizzeria announced they would refuse to cater to a same-sex wedding reception. Please skip right over the idea that wedding receptions in Indiana are sometimes catered by pizzerias. You might reveal your class biases. Instead, let's focus on the response to that announcement. Conservatives held a fundraiser and gave the pizzeria more than $800,000. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes:

* There are people willing to make sure bigotry pays. Which means if there is a boycott of the whole state, the bigots won't suffer.

* Of those progressives calling for a boycott, did any of them work to raise $800,000 to compensate affected businesses or donate to a pro-gay organization? Nope. In a boycott, the progressives will suffer.

Though $800K wasn't raised, at least $148K was. That's how much has been raised by the #Pizza4Equality campaign, which will be used towards ending LGBT youth homelessness.

Isn't nice that the argument about LGBT rights is on the level of pizzas and cakes? I'm well aware the battle is not over. And about those cakes... A year ago a customer asked Marjorie Silva of Azucar Bakery in Denver to create a cake with a discriminatory message. She refused. The Civil Rights Division of Colorado's Dept. of Regulatory Agencies has now ruled in Silva's favor.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin pulls a bit of Scripture into these cake battles:
Matthew 5:38-42:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Kincaid's translation:
If anyone wants to sue you and force you to bake a wedding cake, bake them cupcakes as well.

Another item from McEwen of Shakesville: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a law that restricts how those receiving government assistance may spend the money. It's all about teaching them to spend responsibly, says the new law's advocates. It's about prosperity and having a great life. But when restricted items include taking your child to an arcade or having a party in a bar, the intent is to dehumanize the poor. This is class warfare.

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin makes an interesting comparison. Take a look at the Southern Manifesto that protested the 1956 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supremes that forced school integration. Replace all references to "education" with "marriage" and – surprise! (not really) – you have a document quite similar to the brief that conservatives filed in the same-sex marriage case to be argued before the Supremes at the end of the month. Power mad (activist) judges, states rights, tradition, Constitution is silent on the issue, heck, even the 14th Amendment is silent – are all mentioned. There's also a mention of (uppity/militant) outside forces threatening revolutionary changes. Sheesh, those arguments are stale.

Dunno about this one. Erik Ransom took a look at gay hookup apps Manhunt and Grindr (not that I've had personal experience with either) and read some of the user profiles. He felt they were "bleak and desperate" – in other words, operatic. So Ransom teamed up with Rachel Klein and Charles Czarnecki to create a rock-opera based on the apps. Let me know when I can listen to the gay love duets.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm still here

I haven't posted in a while and my browser tabs are full of stuff to write about. Alas, a family situation has come up. I have been spending a lot of time at my parent's house on days I'm not teaching. That will likely continue for a while. I'll be back. Hopefully soon. Perhaps I'll squeeze in an occasional evening of writing.

I will mention one small item. Ireland will be voting on marriage equality soon. Of course, homophobic pamphlets have been printed. Daintree, a paper company on our side, is now selling "A Shred of Decency." They have been shredding those nasty pamphlets into confetti, "made from 100% recycled lies."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

That takes the cake

Joshua Feuerstein, a former televangelist in Arizona, made a video of himself calling the Cut the Cake bakery in Longwood, Florida. He asked for a cake that said, "We do not support gay marriage." Owner Sharon Haller refused. Feuerstein posted the video (since removed) and claimed a double standard. Haller has received death threats and online reviews of her business have filled up with bad reviews, leading to a drop in business. A GoFundMe has been set up to help Haller through the business slump.

I'm left wondering if Feuerstein is in Arizona why he called that particular bakery in Florida.

In a five minute video Matt Baume of AFER explains why there isn't a double standard in the cake wars. Here are some of the things he talks about:

* In private, you may discriminate all you want. You may create a gay-only cake club because the constitution guarantees freedom of association. So be a jerk if you want to.

* Public accomodation laws were put in place to prevent the nasty effects of discrimination. Refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation, and (in places with such laws) is not allowed.

* A cake with the words "God hates gays" can be refused by these laws because the discrimination is on the basis of offensiveness, not religion.

* But cake wars are a symptom of a much bigger problem – too many states still do not include sexual minorities in their civil rights laws.

Happy gay employees are good for business

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin ponders the rapid fix to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana. Kincaid is sure it wasn't the protests in front of the Capitol or a Twitter storm that changed lawmakers' minds, though the noise helped. It was Corporate America. Through donations they had ties to legislators and they used those ties for some personal face-time to demand change. Yes, this is an instance where corporate takeover of American politics worked in out favor. So why did they do it?

Yes, there are some, like Tim Cook of Apple, who have a personal stake in these kinds of laws. For other business leaders preventing discrimination has an effect on the bottom line. These laws affect their gay employees and that affects morale, which affects productivity. Happy employees are better employees. And those making travel arrangements don't want to worry whether a particular B&B will force tomorrow's keynote speaker to sleep in the car.

Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad says the fix to the RFRA in Indiana wasn't much of a fix. As I surmised, the new law can't be used for discrimination, but sexual minorities aren't included in the state's civil rights law and that can be used to discriminate. This situation is slightly better because 11 communities in Indiana have local non-discrimination laws.

Waldman notes lawmakers didn't repeal the RFRA, they amended it. Which still suggests that religious freedom trumps all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A disease that demands treatment

Harriet Brown wrote the article How Obesity Became a Disease for The Atlantic. She reviews the long history of the claim that fat people must lose weight for health reasons. I've written about this claim here. Much of the treatments are more harmful than helpful and very few of them work for the long term – which means a built-in supply of repeat customers.

At the end of this recitation Brown reports a troubling step. The American Medical Association, against the advice of their own Committee on Science and Public Health, overwhelmingly voted to classify obesity as a disease. This isn't saying obesity is a factor in many other diseases, but is itself a disease that demands treatment.

Why take this step? Especially with their science committee giving lots of reasons to not do it? Simple answer: money. The declaration prompts Medicare to consider doing the same, which means doctors would be reimbursed for treatment. Reimbursement could go up if doctors just mention that weight should be treated. Alas, nearly all those treating and researching weigh have been compromised by the Weight Loss Industry.

Part of Brown's travel through history includes a gruesome catalog of treatments. Melissa McEwen of Shakesville notes that out of concern for our health fat people are being tortured – by medical professionals.

Research is showing weight discrimination is linked to lower quality of life (any discrimination leads to a lower quality of life!). The primary symptom is depression. I've commented before about doubts that high weight means poor health. This study shows that while weight may not be damaging to health, weight discrimination is. Which means weight-shaming in an effort to get someone to lose weight is causing more harm than good. And, yes, there are parallels to shaming gay people to get them to try to become straight.

No cake for you!

During this past week the number of page views of this blog has passed 70,000! That is since May of 2010 when the Blogger system I use started keeping track. Over the last few months the number of views per post has settled in at 40. Recent visitors to this blog are mostly from America, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France, and Britain.

All the other stuff that has been in my browser tabs...

Roger Denson, writing for Huffington Post takes a look at same-sex relationships during the 4th through 12th Centuries. During this time both the Catholic and Orthodox churches used the same liturgies to bless same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Denson reviews evidence, especially from artwork of this time, then ponders why this tradition stopped and was forgotten.

Part of that forgetting was because of the confusion between erotic and pornographic (the first is both attraction and underlying feelings). Another part is the blurring of sexual desire and same-sex friendship. All fascinating reading.

Denson has a reason for his review. Same-sex couples in Indiana should be able to claim that a strong component of their religion is that they get married. Therefore the state – and other religious institutions – must honor that marriage.

Benjamin Corey takes a jab a bakers who refuse to make cakes for same-sex couples. If they were truly following their religion in declaring, "no cake for you!" there another 10 types of customers who should be getting the same treatment. A proper Christian wouldn't endorse these people either. These include career minded brides (a woman's place is in the home); weddings where there would be gluttonous eating, drunkenness, unwholesome music and provocative dancing, or an expensive gown; and any couple where at least one of them wasn't Christian. A friend responded, don't forget receptions that feature shrimp in the buffet line.

One might think that since polls show black Americans are less supportive of marriage equality they would also be more supportive of Religious Freedom laws. But that is not true. Black people have too much experience with structural discrimination.

Disappointing: The Supremes declined to hear the case about whether the Wisconsin voter ID law is constitutional. However, there are more such cases in progress, and the Texas case might be better because it is much easier to document that it was created in order to discriminate.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

All that noise in Indiana

The news about various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (aka Persecution Protection Acts) has been flowing thick and fast.

In Indiana
As I understand it the Indiana House passed an amendment to the state's RFRA so that it could not be used to discriminate against sexual minorities. A step in the right direction, but since the state does not include us in its civil rights law it is still legal to discriminate against us, unless one is in a city with a local non-discrimination ordinance. Gov. Mike Pence signed it. Of course, there is no attempt to add sexual minorities to the civil rights bill, so gay organizations are still putting on the pressure.

In Arkansas
Apparently, all the noise in Indiana caught the attention of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Or maybe it was the Gov. finding his son Seth's name on a petition asking him to not sign his state's RFRA. Either way, Hutchinson didn't sign and sent it back for revision. The new version only addresses action by the gov't, not individuals or businesses, and closely follows the 1993 federal law. That new version has been passed and signed. As in Indiana, Arkansas doesn't include sexual minorities in their civil rights laws, so discrimination is still legal. Hutchinson is considering an executive order barring discrimination for state employment.

In Georgia
The lead sponsor says the RFRA in that state is dead – for this legislative session. This is the state where an amendment was attached to specifically say it cannot be used for discrimination and lawmakers lost interest.

In Michigan
All that Indiana noise also got the attention of Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder. He announced today that if a Religious Freedom bill came to him without being accompanied by a revision to the state's civil rights act to include sexual minorities then he would veto the Religious Freedom bill. This is great news! Especially since Snyder has never issued a veto threat before the bill's first hearing and rarely issues veto threats.

Sen. Mike Shirkey, the RFRA sponsor, remains undeterred by the veto threat. House Speaker Kevin Cotter has no interest in taking up an expansion of the civil rights act.

So, it will remain legal discriminate against sexual minorities in Michigan. A person just can't use religion as the reason (not that a reason is necessary).

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory issued a veto threat. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock noted the Indiana backlash and said Montana didn't need a similar measure. The Montana RFRA was narrowly defeated.

Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad reviewed the first version of the Indiana RFRA, explaining how it is different from the 1993 federal law. Then he mentions something that is a bit disturbing – court interpretations, from the 2nd, 8th, 9th and DC Circuits, result in the federal law drifting toward the first Indiana law. What had been written to protect private citizens from the government has been expanded to protect corporations. The Hobby Lobby decision is the most well known.

Reconciling Ministries Network has issued a letter discussing the Indiana RFRA. It has a variation of the sign that has begun to appear on businesses in Indiana: "This Christ serves everyone and so do we." The letter describes the "indiscriminate servant love of Jesus Christ." It goes on to show how that appears in the Bible, in the songs we sing, and in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Freedom under God

The NPR program Fresh Air interviewed Kevin Kruse about his new book One Nation Under God, How Corporate America Invented Christian America. A title like that definitely caught my attention. Kruse started writing about how the phrase "In God We Trust" was added to American money in the 1950s. The more he researched the more he realized important threads to the story went back a couple more decades. The quotes below are from the "highlights" on the interview's webpage.

The story begins in the 1930s with the New Deal. This empowered unions and regulated businesses in ways that hadn't been done before. That annoyed business leaders so they launched a PR campaign to sell the values of (unrestricted) capitalism. It flopped. Jim Farley, head of the Democratic Party at the time, described the companies behind the campaign this way:
They ought to call it The American Cellophane League, because No. 1: It's a DuPont product, and No. 2: You can see right through it.
DuPont was a leader in the campaign.

How else to get their point across? Outsource it to ministers, the most trusted men in America. The corporate bosses helped preachers equate Christianity and capitalism and to equate the New Deal with evil. The first equation:
Essentially they argue that Christianity and capitalism are both systems in which individuals rise and fall according to their own merits. So in Christianity, if you're good you go to heaven, if you're bad you go to hell. In capitalism if you're good you make a profit and you succeed, if you're bad you fail.

The New Deal, they argue, violates this natural order.
Ah yes, the fallacy that the more money one has the more moral one is. Conservatives are still spouting this one.

The second equation comes from the Ten Commandments:
[The New Deal] makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God's will, but rather, a form of pagan stateism and is inherently sinful.
I don't know how the New Deal encourages the worship of the federal gov't, but I've heard that line many times since used against any law that has a whiff of liberalism. As for telling lies about the wealthy, I suspect what was actually said was a truth the wealthy didn't want to be known.

A key player in this religious campaign is Rev. James Fifield of First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. His congregation had a high number of millionaires, so he told them what they wanted to hear.
He says that reading the Bible should be like eating fish: We take out the bones to enjoy the meat; all parts are not of equal value. Accordingly, he disregarded Christ's many injunctions about the dangers of wealth, and instead preached a philosophy that wedded capitalism to Christianity.
Quite the contrast to the churches that demand one must obey the full Bible (to make sure the parts that justify discrimination of gay people are included). This sounds like the modern "prosperity Gospel" that says a believer will become rich, though the only one to manage the trick is the pastor. See here about what the Bible says about the dangers of wealth – one of the key messages of the Bible because the love of wealth is so destructive to community.

Fifield, with a generous corporate backing, recruited lots of pastors – 17,000 – to the campaign. There are, of course, slogans: "Freedom Under God" (not slavery to the state) and "the American way of life." There are soon radio programs and magazines and big public celebrations (one organized by Cecil B. DeMille).

This equation of Christianity with capitalism was successful, though not in dismantling the New Deal. It also lasted a lot longer than the corporate backers needed it to, becoming a big part of American Christianity that still persists. It was this branch of Christian thought that created the National Prayer Breakfast, which Eisenhower attended and no president since then has dared not attend. It also prompted the phrase "under God" be added to the Pledge and "In God We Trust" to be put on our money. The movement got a boost from the Cold War that was portrayed as Christian America against the godless Commies. That was part of the fusion of piety and patriotism.

The movement also launched the career of Rev. Billy Graham. Some of what he said was a delight to corporations: A good Christian would not join a union to avoid taking advantage of the boss (no matter the reason for unions was to prevent the boss from taking advantage of the workers).

There was one more effort by this movement – to approve an amendment to the Constitution legalizing Christian prayer in public schools. The effort was widely popular. But many pastors condemned it, saying it promoted a watered-down, lowest common denominator style of religion. This one failed.

Alas, this movement that badly misinterprets the Bible is still going strong, and still the source of a great deal of mischief in America and its politics.