Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mars by 2044?

Can you guess why this was done? Alabama is having budget difficulties and one solution is to close 45 of 49 driver's license bureaus. Yup, by March of next year there will only be four places in the state to get a driver's license – Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile, and Birmingham. The other half of the story: Alabama has a voter ID law that requires a driver's license or state ID (and we know where one must go for those). The poor get a double hit. They usually can't afford to take a day off work and don't have the money to travel halfway across the state for an ID. They can't vote and they can't drive a car to a job, confining them to jobs accessible by public transportation.

Commenters suggest a few gov't officials will lose the next election over this mess. The poor may not be able to vote, but even the middle class folks won't want to be so inconvenienced.

Back in 1986 Ron Jones put some serious thought into how humans could become a spacefaring race. He created the Integrated Space Plan, showing the various interlocking milestones required to create a base on the moon and a full scale colony on Mars before 2100. The plan has been updated and is much easier to understand. It also takes into account billionaires who have their own space programs. Hmm, humans on Mars around 2044. I just might live to see that.

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that a state law that bans same-sex couples from adopting is unconstitutional.

Over the last six years the GOP has been declaring Obama's policies will end in disaster. But recently the GOP hasn't been saying that very loudly. The reason, as Paul Krugman puts it, Obama is failing to fail. Those disasters just aren't appearing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Terrorism terrifies

This post is number 3000 for this blog! And I wrote that many in less than 8 years (I started the blog in mid November of 2007). Since 2010, when Blogger started keeping statistics for me, there have been over 78,000 page views. I've written about gay marriage/marriage equality in 642 posts, the GOP in 420 posts, personal adventures in 296 posts, and fundamentalism in 271 posts. The top two countries of readership are America and Russia with United Kingdom a distant third.

Alas, this milestone post doesn't come with a celebratory topic. It's … more of the same. Sigh.

Audra Williams in a post for The Soapbox on website The Frisky notes that fat hatred has become so strong that "the most morally pure thing a person can do is lose weight." She shows how that has been true starting with Jared Fogle, the guy in the Subway ads who was arrested on charges of raping children. His foundation to fight childhood obesity put him in a position to have access to lots of kids. But since he had lost so much weight he was seen as a fantastic guy and indiscretions (and crimes) were overlooked. Williams also discusses politicians and celebrities who rose from scandal by losing weight. She reminds us "There is no link between body size and morality, full stop."

The anti-choice movement can't be called pro-life, because the only life they are interested in is that of the fetus. Pro-life? How about working to end war? Perhaps make sure women have great health care so if they don't want kids they won't get pregnant? Maybe even pay attention to the quality of life, including safe neighborhoods and great schools, for all kids beyond the moment of birth? No, they aren't pro-life. Their only purpose is to keep women subservient to men, barefoot and pregnant.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville takes it one more step. The anti-choice movement is domestic terrorism. It has a decades-long campaign of intimidation, threats, multiple assassinations and attempts, kidnappings, and long lists of harassment, assault and battery, vandalism, arson, and bombings. Their latest strategy is to dig up confidential medical records to be able to file complaints against abortion providers. Never mind the women whose information is used without their consent or knowledge.

Why does this still happen? Because the people being targeted are not straight white males. Because the GOP is a state sponsor of this terrorism. Because the supposedly pro-choice party can barely say the word "abortion" and still uses language that stigmatizes. Because too few people are willing to put themselves in the crosshairs. Because terrorism terrifies.

On to the Donald Trump phenomenon. Here is a guy loudly proclaiming his hatred for women and minorities and voters are falling at his feet because he "speaks the truth!" McEwen again has a few things to say. Her army of commenters add a few more.

The first half of the issue is the hateful language from Trump is giving a lot of fellow haters lots of permission for their hate. We don't need more of that.

The second half is many progressive men think Trump's antics are good for a laugh, followed by a dismissive wave. McEwen reminds us these men are not the ones who will be harmed if Trump or anyone else acts on his vile language. Women and people of color don't think Trump as funny at all.

Is The Donald telling the truth? Yes, he is proclaiming his bigotry quite loudly. Why are we cheering that truth? And why are some progressives cheering that poisonous stream even if it might expose GOP faultlines?

A company is coming out with a Caitlin Jenner costume for Halloween. McEwen says such costumes are only about mockery and that one person's identity is not another person's costume. She asked her readers to describe costumes that don't appropriate someone else's identity. The list is long and varied: candy corn, pencil, mime, academic regalia (hmm, a use for my master's robe?), fictional characters, historical figures (Suffragette), tooth fairy, office fairy (crown of paper clips), a princess with a guy dressed in green as the pea, IRS agent ("audit or treat!"), vampires, zombies, ghosts, and my favorite: all white clothes printed with "404 – Costume not found."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Trevor Harper, a member of First United Methodist Church of Austin, Texas was asked to share his faith story with the congregation. Since he and his partner felt so welcome at the church Harper took the opportunity to propose marriage. The congregation stood and cheered.

Lots of commenters to the story noted that though the proposal occurred in the church sanctuary, according to denomination rules, the wedding cannot. Alas, nobody commented that this church is likely to be one of many that disobeys the rules.

Back in 2009 the Maine legislature approved same-sex marriage. Enough signatures were gathered to put the issue on the ballot. The National Organization for Marriage spent heavily and the law was overturned. Another effort in 2012 was successful. NOM was accused of money laundering and not filing the proper campaign forms. The penalty was a $50K fine and release of donor names. It took until 2014 for the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to rule, and they did so unanimously against NOM. The state Supremes weighed in earlier this month and, not surprisingly, NOM lost.

So the names were finally revealed. It is a short list, only six names and only one a Maine resident. So much for the claim that NOM is a grass-roots organization (more like astro-turf). Commenters note that six people deciding the same-sex marriage case in Maine isn't all that different than five people of the Supremes deciding it for the country.

More on the top donor, Sean Fieler, here. He's spending his millions pushing religious conservative causes around the country. He also was behind the funding of the nasty and false anti-gay research by Mark Regnerus that went down in flames during the Michigan same-sex marriage trial.

I drove home from visiting my parents last evening while listening to NPR, arriving at 9:00. But it was the next program that sounded interesting, so I went inside and turned it on. It was the show On Point with Tom Ashbrook and his topic was new science on same-sex attraction.

Ten years ago Neil Swidey did a report on the state of the science on why some people are attracted to members of their own sex. Recently Swidey updated the report. Not a lot has changed, though many earlier ideas are more firm. Sexual orientation is determined by the time of birth. There is no "gay gene." The number of gay people is about 3.5%. The more older brothers a man has the more likely he will be gay, though that tops out at about a 6% chance (I have three older brothers). One guest said this research will help in the acceptance of gay people. Another responded that the acceptance of gay people determines whether the research is believed. The whole show is 48 minutes.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Situation update

Yes, I haven't written since Monday. Part of the reason is I haven't encountered any news that prompts me to write. Part of it is I haven't felt like writing.

And part of it is the family situation is getting critical. We're contemplating hospice for my Dad. He had a round of chemo in early May and a second in late May-early June. Both rounds sent him back to the hospital, the second one to the acute care floor. He's endured pneumonia, chicken pox (really), and a few other infections because the cancer has destroyed his immune system. The cancer damaged his kidneys, so he is on dialysis. The chemo has damaged the nerves of his fingers, his taste buds, and swallow reflex, so he has a feeding tube. Lately he has been so lethargic he can't carry on a conversation.

In all this I and my brothers are considering what to do with Mom. She has Alzheimer's and is needing more care than my sister can provide. After the memorial service should one brother or the other take her in?

So, yeah, I haven't felt like writing.

The relationship is the same

Musician Tom Goss created a cool video for his song "Breath & Sound." We see a straight couple in a modern dance in which they get to know each other. As the relationship develops the image intercuts to a gay couple and a lesbian couple performing the same dance. Pretty cool! This particular link is to the video on Lori Duron's blog. This blog is about her adventures with her "gender creative" son.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fuel for a toxic mix

The feminists of Shakesville, including lead writer Melissa McEwen, are becoming quite annoyed with Bernie Sanders. Bernie is doing quite well with a message for those who are having a hard time clinging to the middle class. But it seems he thinks that by pushing an agenda that helps the struggling white males of this group he will also be helping the women and people of color. Something about a rising tide lifts all boats (hmm, where have I heard that before?). Their annoyance is because Bernie appears to be pointedly ignoring how the current system of privilege works against women and people of color.

Chauncey DeVega, in an article posted on Alternet, writes about toxic white masculinity. White men are afraid that their natural rights will be exposed as unfair advantages. They are losing social and political control and are resorting to violence. It is white men who commit almost a third of mass shootings. The killing and abuse of women has become so common it is rarely newsworthy.

This toxic white masculinity is encouraged by many of our news outlets, especially Fox News.
The white identity politics, grievance mongering, conspiracies, paranoid thinking, eliminationist rhetoric about liberals and progressives, hostility to women, rage against immigrants, anxiety about those who are not “Christian”, and mainstreaming of white supremacy and white racial resentment, are the fuel for toxic white masculinity. The right-wing media gins up and encourages such sentiments because it is dependent on them for viewers and ad revenue.
In addition, the Republican Party also fuels this toxic mix. And this toxic mess is hurting white males.
White America, your media and political leadership have created a broken politics and economy that have left you less secure, less safe, and less upwardly mobile than generations past. But hostility and anxiety towards people who may have a different skin color than you is fool’s gold. White America’s leaders, and the plutocrats to whom they owe their allegiance, have been using that fake money to hustle and manipulate you for centuries.

The earth gliding below

I read two space themed books during my travels to Texas. I enjoyed both of them.

The first was the novel The Martian by Andy Weir. A crew of six lands on Mars. Just a few days later a strong sandstorm prompts an end to their mission. But a freaky set of events strands one of them behind with the others thinking he is dead and the communication system damaged beyond repair. This lone human has a habitat and resources, but not enough to last until he could be rescued in two years. He handles each issue one at a time and soon things are looking pretty good.

It doesn't take much to figure out the guy will eventually be rescued. The author isn't going to kill him off, certainly not after resolving the first few issues, and especially not in the final chapters. That means much of the story is how many catastrophes can the author throw at our hero that the author has figured out how to get out of (I heard in an author interview there were other problems he wanted to torture his hero with, but couldn't get the survival numbers to work). And, of course, problems appear right up to the end.

Even though the ending was obvious it was fascinating to see how our hero worked through resolving each issue. He was quite ingenious! He was also quite the smart-aleck, so it was a lot funnier than I had expected.

The author self-published a Kindle version, which brought high praise from real astronauts (and a few detailed corrections). A book deal and movie deal appeared within the same week. I look forward to that movie.

The other book is the memoir Riding Rockets by astronaut Mike Mullane. He joined the ranks of astronauts as a Mission Specialist in 1978 just before the Shuttle flew. He went up in it three times before retiring in 1990. He talks a lot about how astronauts think – I don't want to do anything that might screw up another chance at a flight. He explains how that combined with NASA management contributed to the Challenger disaster in 1986. He describes what his flights were like for his faithful wife, who had to go through several scrubs for each launch and what an emotional toll that took.

A recurring theme is what he calls Planet Arrested Development. He grew up in a Catholic school which taught male privilege. He went into the Air Force (served in Vietnam), which reinforced male privilege. His arrival at NASA was the first time he had female colleagues. He and many of his male colleagues treated them as one might expect (one of his flights was nicknamed the Swine Flight). But in working with these women he discovered they were just as competent as he was. His opinion of women changed to the point he could lament his earlier actions.

My favorite parts of the book were his descriptions of the actual flights. And the best parts of those were when he floats to the windows and watches the earth glide by below him.

I get the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine as a good source of news about space (I rarely read the articles about airplanes). It was a review in Air & Space that prompted me to buy this book. Over the last few years there have been articles about space tourism companies that are creating special planes that would take passengers above the atmosphere for a couple hours (to be ready Real Soon). I decided those aren't for me (that's beside the huge expense). I want more than bragging rights of being in space. If I ever get into space I want to be able to do what Mullane did – watch the earth glide by, and do it with high quality camera in hand. Two hours or one measly orbit isn't going to cut it. Alas, reading about the training Mullane had to go through and the continued hazards of such travel my likelihood of ever getting there is quite small (even if I could afford it). I'll have to rely on Mullane's glorious description.

Customer service

I might be dealing with antique technology, but I'm sticking with it. Yes, I still have a landline phone. I was told by Sprint, my long-distance carrier that they are getting out of the landline long-distance business. I must select a new carrier.

I've long been annoyed with Sprint because in their monthly email reminder that the bill is ready they never tell you the amount or due date. One must log in to find that info. And I'm the kind of person who wants to do that once, as close to the due date as I can. Besides, I shouldn't need to log in to see I made no calls in the month. This summer I've missed the due date three times. Fortunately, the largest late fee has been $.43. I called them today. So I called. The agent kept repeating no, we don't put the date in that email. I said, but other companies do. I got her refrain. I tried a couple other tactics, getting quite annoyed. I got her refrain. I finally said, BUT YOU SHOULD! She finally said she would pass along my suggestion. Argh! I'm glad they won't be my long-distance company in a couple months.

Then a call to my local service, AT&T. I couldn't find long-distance plans on their website. It took some doing to get to a person who could explain their plans. Naturally, their suggestions on what they could offer in long-distance plans was based on the last three months when I have abnormally high calling as I deal with my dad's affairs (besides she was combining long-distance with regional calling, which AT&T has always handled).

I asked what other companies handle long-distance. That was something AT&T was able to tell me when I moved into this house 23 years ago. Not anymore. She asked, do you have internet? You'll have to search for phone companies. There's about sixty of them.

Back to the plans she told me about. I asked how might I see the offers online? She passed me off to the webpage help desk. No, there don't appear to be direct links to long-distance plans. I'd have to plug "long distance" into the search field. I did so. I got a page that listed my current provider and a link that said, "Change plan." That took me to a page my security system did not like. The agent and I went round and round on that for a while. She even suggested I log out and back in. But every time I tried that the main page said I was already logged in. I even tried another browser and got the same error.

After about 20 minutes she had reached the end of her knowledge and passed me off – to the phone repair staff. I apologized to the guy, there's nothing wrong with my phone service, it's your crazy webpage. And I have no idea why I was sent to you. He gave me another number to call, a direct line to "internet help." I haven't called yet.

Dealing with customer service is so much fun! I'm sure they say the same about me.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Blackmail and the Lansing mafia

Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, both Republicans, joined the Michigan House back in January. They have teamed up to offer a succession of anti-gay bills, even outdoing Gary Glenn, who used to head the American Family Association in Michigan and was the author of Michigan's marriage protection amendment. So, yeah, Gamrat and Courser, Tea Party darlings, are quite a pair.

It seems they are a pair in another sense. They've been having an affair with each other. Recently the story got bizarre. And confusing. Courser sensed their affair was about to be exposed. So he concocted an email to be sent anonymously that accused Courser of being a porn-addicted sex deviant who paid for gay sex. He asked an aide to send the email out to all the Republicans in Lansing. The aide refused. Courser did it himself.

Eventually someone figured out the anonymous sender was Courser. He then tried to claim he sent it out in an attempt to ward off blackmail by the "Lansing mafia." That didn't work. He finally said he did it to "inoculate" himself. Something about if he was accused of paying for gay sex and that was proven false then a little affair wouldn't sound so bad.

The Michigan GOP is asking for both of them to resign. The case against Courser is he attempted to use state money (his aide) as part of his cover-up. The case against Gamrat appears to only be her association with Courser. She might survive the scandal. His future is less certain.

As I said, this scandal is confusing. What I laid out here is what I quickly pieced together from a pair of reports in Between the Lines. But it is nice to see those who portray themselves as extra holy are shown to be just as sinful.

San Antonio in August is hot

Yes, it has been a while.

Back on August 4th I flew to Austin, Texas. My brother's family were in the midst of putting on a summer musical through an organization that provides performance experience for home-schooled kids. The show was Seussical. My brother's son and three of his grandkids were in the cast. His wife was head of the costume crew, his daughter was choreographer, and another son was in the pit band.

On Thursday, August 6 I took Greyhound to San Antonio to attend the Reconciling Ministries Network Convocation. My report of Convo is on my brother blog. Though Convo ended a week ago it took that long to write my report (in the midst of trips to visit my dad).

Convo was held in Travis Park United Methodist Church. The current sanctuary held its first service in 1886. It was enlarged in 1902. Among other additions was a youth wing completed in 1950. As part of that a cool stained glass window was installed. The whole thing is 50 feet high and was the tallest in America at the time. Here it is. I'm standing outside the east side of the building with the late afternoon sun shining through the glass.

Yes, San Antonio in August is hot. Late afternoon temperatures hit 100F every day. Even so, two of the three evenings I had supper along the River Walk and spent time before eating stretching my legs by walking around the central loop or along the San Antonio River up- or downstream of the loop. Here's a picture of a bit of the River Walk.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Make today a good day

Some of you who get this blog through email will see this twice. It is about a book that discusses end-of-life care, important since my dad's latest stay in the hospital has stretched to seven weeks. So I sent it out to my family email list. It is also worth posting to my blog for those who aren't family.

My aunt and cousin suggested the book Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I agreed it sounded interesting and timely, so my cousin had a copy shipped to me. Thank you. I finished reading it this morning so that I could summarize it before I go to Texas tomorrow.

Gawande is a surgeon and also a writer. This is one of four books he has written. He is also a staff writer for the New Yorker and this book is an expansion of ideas from articles he wrote for that magazine. The book explores two related topics.

The first topic is what do we do with our elderly when they are no longer able to care for themselves? We've come a long way from old people being stashed in poor houses in horrifying conditions (alas, still the norm in some parts of the world). Social Security and Medicare closed the poor houses and care was taken over by hospitals. Between cost and space those became too much, so nursing homes were created.

Alas, the driving forces of a nursing home are patient safety and ease of staff responsibilities. Residents were denied permission to walk unassisted if they were at all unsteady. They were all woken at the same hour, dressed and herded to breakfast together, sent to the day's activities together whether individual residents wanted to or not, and put to bed all at the same time. Residents hated the places because they were made to feel helpless, all choices of life taken out of their control.

In 1983 Keren Brown Wilson built the first assisted living facility. The difference from a nursing home was basic: the residents were in charge. Staff were there to assist as needed, but the residents called the tune. If a resident wanted to be irresponsible, such as not taking meds, that was up to the resident as would be the case for the rest of us who are well enough to manage our own lives. A person should not lose autonomy because they need help in living.

The concept of assisted living has blossomed. Alas, it has also become corporatized. Some places that call themselves assisted living centers are more like regimented nursing homes than a match for Wilson's vision.

Bill Thomas of Chase Memorial Nursing Home of New Berlin, NY experimented with another direction. He convinced the directors to bring in resident dogs and cats and added 100 parakeets (which arrived before the cages). The transformation of the human residents was amazing. A good deal of the improvement because they now had a purpose in caring for the dogs, cats, and birds. Thomas also got the place involved with the school next door. Residents tutored students. Kids adopted new grandparents. Existence had meaning. The place became Eden Alternative.

The book also has the story of Jacquie Carson of Peter Sanborn Place. It was built as apartments for independent low-income seniors. But seniors tend to become dependent. Carson responded by offering services as her residents needed them and resisted mightily efforts to send her residents to the horrors of nursing homes. She succeeded quite well. She showed the concept of assisted living was also available to low-income people.

The book also discusses places such as NewBridge and Green House. There appears to be several of these around the country.

The second topic of the book is what to do about care for those that have conditions that medicine can no longer fix. Doctors tend to be optimistic about the usefulness of treatment. Patients and family members tend to mentally inflate that optimism even more – if a doctor says 1-2 years the family tends to think 10-20 years. All this aggressive treatment tends to be expensive, its first problem. So the question is: When should we try to fix and when should we not?

Gawande is introduced, and introduces us, to hospice care. We're used to this being for the dying, but Gawande says many of the ideas should be introduced into the discussion long before the final days. It is definitely a discussion that initially can take to two hours. It focuses on these questions:

What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?

What are your fears and what are your hopes? The fears might be around pain, dependence, loss of enjoyable activities. The hopes might include spending time with extended family for as long as possible.

What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? One man said as long as he could watch football on TV and eat chocolate ice cream, he was good. This discussion also explores the trade-off between pain now and more time later.

What is the course of action that best serves this understanding?

Once the course of action is set in motion a main question is: How do we make today a good day?

In 2010 Massachusetts General Hospital did a study of 151 patients with stage IV lung cancer. Some of them explored those questions and others with palliative care specialists. The result: those who worked with palliative care "stopped chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier, experienced less suffering at the end of their lives – and they lived 25 percent longer." (emphasis in the original.) Yes, many of those aggressive treatments do much more harm than good, its second problem. We live longer when we stop trying to live longer.

The book can be hard to read as Gawande delves into several terminal cases, including his father's case. Even so, he writes with great humanity. And he makes a lot of sense. I'll be exploring these ideas with Dad and his care team. I'll also keep them in mind as I also become old and frail. Highly recommended.

Yes, I head to Texas tomorrow for the Reconciling Ministries Network Convocation. I'll be gone six days, so may not post much in that time. I'll have a big post about the Convo when I get back.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Inherently violent

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville wrote a post yesterday about the current Planned Parenthood fake scandal. This mess prompted Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to order an investigation of Planned Parenthood facilities in the state. The investigation, of course, found nothing illegal. McEwen says the goal of the investigation was always intimidation.

McEwen went on to say the anti-choice movement has an inherently violent ideology. With a statement like that I have to follow the link. In this second post from 18 months ago McEwen quotes an anti-choice crusader:
But abortion doesn't unrape a woman. An abortion just adds more violence on top of the first she endured.
McEwen and her commenters have at it. Yes, an abortion does not "unrape" a woman. But it does "un-pregnant" her. And that frees her from the violence aimed at her consent, the difficulties and disruption of a nine month pregnancy, and the pain and danger of childbirth. Both the rapist and the legislator grab control of her body without her consent. A forced pregnancy is violence, much more so than the abortion.

Happy Birthday – sing freely now

If you're in a chain restaurant, such as Red Robin, and a customer has a birthday the staff will come out and perform for the honored guest. But they won't use the song all of us sing at home. The reason is the restaurant doesn't want to pay copyright royalties.

The company that owns the copyright, Warner/Chappell, has been collecting up to $2 million a year for commercial uses of the song (such as appearing in a movie or publishing a piece made of variations on the tune). They have owned the copyright since 1935. Jennifer Nelson created a documentary about the tune and Warner/Chappell required a payment of $1500 because the song appeared in the documentary. The movie no doubt included a few details about the origin of the movie and Nelson suspected the copyright expired. So she sued.

Warner/Chappell was supposed to supply details of their claim a year ago as part of the case's discovery process. But they just released a few more documents, saying they "mistakenly" forgot to release them last year. The new documents are from 1927 and before and they show the famous tune as not being under copyright, but in the public domain. What Warner/Chappell had copyrighted was a particular setting of the tune, not the tune or lyrics. So sing away without worrying about breaking the law (not that most of us did).

A lot of people are watching this case. Warner/Chappell may have to refund a lot of improperly collected royalties.