Monday, June 27, 2016

The church must apologize

This got a lot of coverage in gay blogs.
“I think the church must not only apologize … to a gay person it offended, but we must apologize to the poor, to women who have been exploited, to children forced into labor, apologize for having blessed so many weapons” and for having failed to accompany families who faced divorces or experienced other problems.
The Catholic Church apologizing to gay people. Great idea! Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin says we've been here before. Francis has said lots of nice things. But that doesn't mean the hierarchy from Cardinals to local priests will change the way they do things. Catholic parishioners ignore the Church's teaching on contraception because the priest isn't in the bedroom.
But it won’t get far with LGBT people because those in charge can — and do — deny marriage rites, baptisms, school enrollment, health insurance, adoption services, and even a spot in the church choir. Far worse still, many of them openly endorse ex-gay programs for LGBT youth.
Burroway says that while these pronouncements by Francis are great to hear, but the novelty has worn off.

Only to add an undue burden

The Supreme Court ended its term today by issuing rulings in the last of its cases. The big ruling was on abortion rights. It was good to see an 8-member court didn't need that 9th member. The vote was 5 to 3. The ruling tackled restrictions place on abortions to protect the health of the woman who experience complications, as the law in Texas put it. Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer, and Kennedy concluded that reasoning was bunk and only served to add undue burden to getting an abortion.

Two provisions in the Texas law were struck down – an abortion clinic must meet hospital standards and the doctor must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. There are 23 other states with one or both of those provisions (Michigan has one of them). All these state are affected by this ruling.

Now on to tackle the waiting requirement that women must be given pre-abortion "counseling" much of which is inaccurate or outright lies. Those kinds of laws are in 27 states. But that will take another case.

When the Texas law went into effect about 20 abortion clinics closed. That was about half of the clinics in Texas. If the Court ruled in favor of the law Texas would have been left with only 8-9 clinics. Those that closed will not necessarily reopen, at least won't do so quickly. For example, the staff may have gotten other jobs.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog explains the ruling. Thomas had dissented, arguing that the Court had a tendency of treating abortion rights more favorably than other rights. I'm not sure what that means and Denniston doesn't provide details.

The dissent by Alito and joined by Roberts and Thomas was mostly that the Court shouldn't have taken the case. This case went before the Fifth Circuit and failed. Some of the same doctors filed a new challenge. This dissent argued because some of the same doctors were involved it should not have been allowed to proceed. This follows the old judicial doctrine that when one loses one can't sue again. The majority rejected that idea for this case.

Melissa McEwen, writing for Blue Nation Review, has a full-throated defense of the right to abortion. We value lives differently – we value citizens over non-citizens, free citizens over inmates, wealthy over poor, those with health insurance over those who don't. And we value the life of the fetus over that of the mother, "a living, breathing, thinking adult woman whose life is considered to be worth less than a potential life."

I've read enough of McEwen's writings to know that while she recognizes society values the life of a wealthy person over the life of a poor person she certainly does not agree that such difference in value is a good thing or healthy for that society.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Teaching boys about rape

The Good Men Project has an article about the way we accidentally teach boys about rape culture. We wouldn't teach our sons that rape is okay. Not directly. But here are six ways we teach them indirectly.

1. Saying "boys will be boys" teaches them they are above the rules. Boys are capable of respecting other people's bodies.

2. Forcing kids to hug and kiss others teaches consent can be overridden.

3. Asking, "What did you do to make him it hit you?" teaches both victim and aggressor that a person can force another to make a bad choice. This is like blaming the victim.

4. Saying boys hit girls because they like them teaches that love equals suffering. Hurting others is never okay.

5. Slut-shaming or implying a victim "deserved it" teaches a boy he is entitled to do it. Nobody deserves rape, including when drunk or high.

6. Saying girls should be pure before marriage teaches that girls who aren't pure don't deserve to be protected from rape. It also allows youth to confuse love with lust.

You say you've experienced discrimination?

An interesting bit on NPR this morning. There are a few Evangelical pastors in Orlando who are reconsidering their position on LGBT people after the massacre there two weeks ago. Well, yeah, they are still declaring homosexuality is a sin. But the demonization appears to be gone, replaced with support for the shooting victims and perhaps even a call for state-wide or even national civil rights protections for LGBT people. This is a big improvement! We don't know yet how much of a long-term commitment is behind these words. We hope the change of heart lasts longer than the raw emotions still felt in Orlando.

Beautiful! An Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Washington DC wanted to show support for those killed in Orlando. They did that by spending an evening at a nearby gay bar. They happened to choose one with a predominantly black clientele. Yes, this was foreign territory for most of those who made the trip. They talked. They lit candles. They shared a few Jewish blessings. They bought a round of beer. They shared in the pain. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who led the visit, wrote:
I learned that when a rabbi and members of an Orthodox synagogue walk into a gay African American bar, it is not the opening line of a joke but an opportunity to connect; it is an opportunity to break down barriers and come together as one; it is an opportunity to learn that if we are going to survive, we all need each other.

The FBI heard the claims that the Orlando shooter might have been gay, that he used gay hook-up apps, that he had a "friend with benefits." The FBI reports they did not find such an app on the shooter's phone and after searching his computer did not find photos, text messages, or gay porn. They say they have found no evidence the shooter had a secret gay life.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine produced a compromise bill for gun control. This actually has a chance of passing – if it ever came up for a vote. So how to handle that without allowing Dems to gloat over the GOP and run with a campaign issue? To table a bill means to postpone or suspend it. So the Senate voted to not table it. Yes, that means a vote is supposed to be scheduled. So, the GOP will do that … um … never? Which means they won't go on record voting against it.

This is why Trump has gotten as far as he has. A new poll shows 72% of Republicans believe discrimination against whites has become as bad as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. Among Trump supporters that number is 81%.

Um, guys, you don't have a clue about what discrimination actually means and how it is experienced daily by minorities.

Hunter of Daily Kos wrote:
This isn't about flippin’ economic insecurity or disillusionment with government functions. This is a great wide fart of racism and xenophobic paranoia, writ in nice big block letters for everyone else to see.

Trump is doing such a bad job of raising money, including money the Republican National Committee can use to fund down-ballot races, the party is getting nervous. Various candidates also don't want to be seen with Trump and are afraid his loose mouth will tarnish the whole party.

That is why Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is sure the GOP will find a way to dump Trump.
But seriously: This is why I continue to be gravely concerned that the Republicans are going to try to find a way to push Trump out of the race. It's not just the White House that the GOP stands to lose, but their Senate majority, House seats, governorships, all kinds of offices up and down the ticket. Naturally, that prospect couldn't make me happier, which is exactly why I'm pretty sure it's never going to happen!

Ludovico Einaudi performed a piece titled "Elegy for the Arctic." This performance is a bit different. The piano is on a raft in a Norwegian Fjord. The raft is covered to look like an ice floe. All around the raft are chunks of ice calving off the nearby glacier – and at one point falling ice adds to the soundtrack. The video was made on behalf of Greenpeace.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Unwarranted luck and short bursts of vigor

I've finished the book Danubia by Simon Winder. It is a history of the Habsburg Dynasty that lead the Austrian Empire and served as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1452 to 1918. The title comes from the Danube River the main river flowing through the empire.

I found the book during my trip to DC at the end of April (didn't start reading it until the end of May). It caught my attention because I studied German history in high school and lived in Germany for two years. In that class I learned about the two great powers in German history, the Hohenzollerns with their capital in Berlin and the Habsburgs in Vienna ruling an area from modern Austria to what is now western Ukraine and southern Poland to northern Serbia.

Winder is not a typical historian. He definitely doesn't just recount events. He talks to the reader and shares stories of his own travels to the various towns and cities in Central Europe. He includes descriptions of artwork that relates to the topic at hand (I didn't sit at the computer as I read and search for images of what he was describing – he could have added either more photos or an index of the art so I could do that now). He does a lot more explaining than recounting. He also has a skeptical view of his subjects, the Emperors. His take on them is most were incompetent or worse. From the introduction (I like his style):
The Habsburg's influence across Europe was overwhelming, but often the 'great events' of the continent's history were generated as much by their uselessness or apparent prostration as by any actual family initiative. Indeed it is quite striking how baffled or inadequate many of the Emperors were, and yet an almost uncountable heap of would-be carnivorous rivals ended up in the dustbin while the Habsburgs just kept plodding along. Through unwarranted luck, short bursts of vigor, and events way outside their control they held on until their defeat by Napoleon. Moving fast, they then cunningly switched the title of Emperor so it referred to what could now be called 'the Habsburg Empire', meaning just the family's personal holdings, itself still the second largest European state after Russia. They kept going for a further, rather battered century, until final catastrophe as one of the defeated Central Powers in the First World War.

Winder cautions us not to look at the grand sweep of history and interpret it to mean what came before as driving toward what we have today. History isn't that purposeful. Since this family stayed in power more than 450 years it could be said, especially in the middle of this time, that this empire was what history was driving towards, the high point, the culmination.

A great deal of this story is about the ethnic strife in Europe. The southeast area of this empire was the battle ground between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans (also Russians to the northeast, Germans to the northwest, and Italians to the south). When one side or the other swept through and captured an area whole towns would be razed with entire populations massacred or sold into slavery. The winning side would have to repopulate the towns – hey, free land and extra privileges, though you'll need to watch for marauding armies. That meant there were German-speaking settlements throughout the area, interspersed with local Silesians, Bohemians, Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, Ruthians, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbians, Croats, and Slovenes, to name a few. Various groups would start an uprising, to be (mostly) put down by the emperor and his army.

The empire existed for so long because it could (mostly) balance these ethnic tensions. It could tell restive groups they were better off under Habsburgs rather than under the Ottomans or Russians. But with the collapse of the empire in 1918 those tensions exploded. Many times in the 20th Century whole towns were dislodged and relocated because they were not of the right ethnicity – if they weren't killed. These tensions only began to die down around 1990 (though with Britain leaving the EU there are signs they aren't gone).

A political Court

I'm a fan of the radio program Radiolab heard on NPR, though I listen to it through the internet. Today I heard an episode of a series titled More Perfect, stories of the Supreme Court. This episode featured the case Baker v. Carr of 1961-62. The audio is about 50 minutes.

The state of Tennessee (and others in the South) hadn't redrawn its congressional district maps for 60 years. But population had shifted from the countryside to the cities. Things had gotten so out of whack that city districts had 23 times more people than rural districts. The reason for this system was simple: racism and Jim Crow. Cities tended to be more liberal and tended to have a more mixed race population. Legislative leaders knew the current districts supported their power and redistricting would change that power which, in their eyes, was not for the better.

City voters sued, saying the rural focus of the legislature hurt the infrastructure of cities.

The main characters on the court were:

Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Justice William Douglas on the left, and quite the bully.

Justice Felix Frankfurter on the right, and even more of a bully.

In between was Justice Charles Whittaker, the swing vote.

The main idea from Frankfurter was that how states draw their political maps is a political issue and the Court should not get involved. Yes, the situation in Tennessee is vile. But taking this case means the Court will have to decide all sorts of political spats. We shouldn't go there.

Douglas responded by saying if the Court doesn't tackle this political injustice it cannot be fixed. Tennessee has rigged it so those in power benefit from this injustice and have no intention of undermining their own power.

When the justices went into conference (in which the room is closed to all but the justices) both Douglas and Frankfurter harangued Whittaker in hopes of getting his vote. Whittaker was distraught over the decision. Before the case was decided Whittaker had a nervous breakdown and soon resigned.

Other justices ended up supporting Douglas and the case was decided 6-2 in favor of intervening in Tennessee. Shortly after that Frankfurter had a bad stroke and also resigned. President Kennedy filled the two vacancies with a moderate and a liberal – forming the famous Warren Court that was so interventionist in the '60s.

The defeat of the idea that the Court should stay out of politics led to many wonderful decisions, including "one person, one vote." It also led to … Bush v. Gore.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Up on care and fairness

Brian Dickerson, editorial columnist for the Detroit Free Press, is well aware of the size of the political chasm in America. He encounters it every time he writes an opinion piece and lots of readers call and write to tell him how wrong he is. Though he is good at defending his position he is pretty sure he hasn't changed any minds.

Since dealing with this chasm is important (see: state of roads, schools, and gov't institutions) Dickerson is now exploring why we're so antagonistic. He says he'll explore that idea over the summer perhaps with "moral psychologists" as guides.

This first article takes a look at The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Through his studies Haidt has found five foundations to moral systems that are pretty consistent in cultures around the world. These are:

The Care/Harm Foundation. For us to survive as a species we must protect the youngest and most helpless. That became the idea we have a duty to protect each other from death and injury. We admire those who are generous and condemn those who are cruel.

The Fairness/Cheating Foundation. Groups that collaborate have an advantage over those who don't. Problems arise when some either do extra work or reap extra rewards. That became the idea we encourage cooperation and discourage exploitation.

The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation. Those same collaborative groups can be enhanced through loyalty and damaged through betrayal. This becomes loyalty to family, country, political party, and religion. Betrayal can be treated harshly.

The Authority/Subversion Foundation. Collaborative groups have leaders and develop a social hierarchy. The group works better when that hierarchy has clear lines of authority that are respected.

The Sanctity/Degredation Foundation. Defining one food as sanctified and another is degraded is an easy way to keep our early ancestors from eating toxic food. Defining a behavior as degraded can help avoid incest. The catalog of which food/behavior is good and which is not can lead to the sanctification of that catalog – such as the Bible or Bill of Rights.

Haidt explains out political divide by noting the different weights progressives and conservatives place on each of these five foundations. Progressives emphasize care and fairness. Conservatives emphasize loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

What happens when a person doesn't quite fit? That's a situation many LGBT people encounter. Here's a milder example: What to do with a child who colors the sky green? Praise the child for creativity? Punish the child for defying authority? Experiences like that teach a child which of the five foundations will guide his morals.

Dickerson suggests heading to the Your Morals site to see where you fit in. Warning: once you register there are two dozen different surveys you can take. The one that matches Haidt's book is the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. It rated me high (higher than progressives) in Care/Harm and Fairness. It rated me low (lower than progressives) in Loyalty, Authority, and Purity (Sanctity). My rating in Purity is quite low – all of that driven by what church people say about LGBT people. Yeah, in my opinion their purity codes – Would you avoid doing something "unnatural"? – are a lot of bunk.

Democrats with spine

Yesterday I mentioned that Democrats were occupying the US House floor to demand a vote on gun reforms. I had just a snippet of the news yesterday. I have a much fuller report now.

The leader of the effort is Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. In the 1960s he was one of those beaten at the start of the march to Montgomery. He's been a stalwart defender of civil rights his whole life.

The sit-in started about 11:30 am. yesterday. The Speaker controls the CSPAN cameras, so those were turned off. The House was supposed to be called into session long enough to go on its July 4 break. The Dems sitting in the well of the floor chanted, "no bill, no break."

Senator Chris Murphy, the one who led the filibuster in the Senate and who got the Senate to take a vote (which failed), joined the crowd in the House floor. As did many other senators, even Harry Reid.

In addition to turning off the TV cameras the Seargeant at Arms has refused to allow the public into the galleries and has ordered House members to stop sharing photos and video from the House floor. That demand was ignored. Dems held a press conference outside the House chamber. This isn't controlled by the Speaker so C-SPAN covered it.

C-SPAN didn't like Speaker Ryan's refusal to allow them to film the sit-in. Rep. Scott Peters (CA) streamed video onto Periscope. C-SPAN tapped into that Periscope feed to show action in the House chamber.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) tweeted:
Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth's. That sit-in was for rights. Dems are "sitting-in" to strip them away.
Joe Meldelson responded:
John Lewis would probably be happy to educate you on sit-ins. Perhaps you could ask him?
Here's a bit of background on Lewis:
Rep. Walker appears to be unaware that former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairman John Lewis, Freedom Rider, man who spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. on the day King gave his I Have a Dream speech, man whose skull was fractured by police beatings on Bloody Sunday, may know a little something about what the civil rights sit-ins were about.
A meeting between Lewis and Walker might provide a bit of quality television.

Speaker Ryan tried to break the sit-in by bringing up another bill for a vote. That meant the cameras were on showing a chaotic chamber. Ryan can't be heard over the chanting by Dems and those in the Gallery. Even so, the vote proceeded.

Whoever chose this bill as the one to attempt to break the sit-in must be completely tone-deaf. This vote was to repeal a fiduciary rule, one that says investment advisers must give advice in the best interest of their clients, not on whatever product gives the adviser the best kick-back. Meaning it's a bill to allow Wall Street to swindle seniors. The nature of the bill meant a 2/3 approval was necessary. Didn't happen.

A huge crowd gathered outside the House chamber chanting, "Do your job!"

The Dem sit-in continued overnight. As for Republicans... they decided it would be a real good idea to start their July 4 break on June 23 and fled.

On to the analysis. Why go through all this effort knowing Ryan won't allow a vote and if he did the vote would fail? Isn't this contributing to Congressional dysfunction or violating the sanctity of parliamentary process?

Why the effort? Because political theater, especially with the public on your side, is very powerful. It shows the obstruction, as of now, is solely on the GOP side. If the Dems retake the Senate (possible) and House (a much longer shot) then they can get stuff done – such as these gun bills. For this bit of theater the Dems are keeping the message quite focused. The GOP refused to allow a vote on this.

Accusing Dems of adding to the Dysfunction? After years of what the GOP has been doing?

More analysis: Ryan is screwed. Can you imagine the storm if he ordered Lewis to be physically removed? The GOP has no good out. And the story overshadowed Trump's latest attempt at a speech – in which fact-checkers found 30 gigantic lies in a 40 minute speech.

And more: Ryan said the sit-in is nothing but a "publicity stunt" about "trying to get attention." Well, yes it is, which isn't a bad thing. And the attention they're trying to get is yours. They want you to see the vast majority (90%) of voters want meaningful action on guns.

The sit-in has ended. For now. It will likely resume after the July4 recess.

I have a blog tag, used to categorize posts, that says "Democrat Wimps." I'm not using it today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Direct line to Trump's ear

I mentioned yesterday that Trump was meeting with 900 top conservative Evangelicals. After that meeting Trump announced the formation of an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. Over 20 of the top homophobes will have a direct line to Trump's ear. Strange that those on this board don't actually have to endorse Trump

Not all of the attendees think the Donald is wonderful. Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association (theirs, not yours) said:
He did say he is for religious freedom, but I don’t think he really understands that issue. Either he doesn’t understand it or he doesn’t agree with us and he doesn’t want to tell us that. I think that’s his weakness.

… I think his strength is on judges, which is very, very important. He said his judges will be screened by the Federalist Society, [which is] a bona fide constitutional, conservative group. So if they put their seal of approval on a candidate, then you can go with it.
So, yeah, Wildmon is saying Trump will nominate judges that have the approval of the Federalist Society, an extremely conservative group. That seems like all they want from Trump anyway.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. posed for a photo with Trump in what must be Trump's office. One tiny problem. The May 1990 issue of Playboy is clearly visible on the wall behind them. It is there because that issue contains an article featuring Trump.

House filibuster

About 40 Democrats of the US House, led by Civil Rights veteran John Lewis, have occupied the House floor, about as close as they can get to the equivalent of a Senate filibuster. They are there to force a vote on gun bills.

Their timing is a bit off... the House is on break (thus the sit-in isn't being televised, and Speaker Ryan could let them sit there until the end of the break).

It is also true those bills have also been voted down in the Senate. But the goal here is also to prove to voters who is obstructing gun control and get their votes on record.

Yesterday I wrote that the GOP is pleasing their corporate masters by voting against sensible reforms. Another way to say that is the NRA is holding the GOP hostage. Cartoonist Keith Knight takes that idea literally.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A self-financed campaign

A few days ago I responded to Trump's claim that he's the best candidate for gay people. Another response right here: Trump is meeting with 900 conservative Evangelical leaders. The roster includes the top of the anti-gay political activists, including Jerry Falwell, Jr., Ralph Reed, Ronnie Floyd, Robert Jeffries (mentioned before), Jay Strack, and Jack Graham.

It seems the Trump campaign is in full meltdown. He fired his manager and an adviser resigned. Hillary is outpacing his fundraising at about 40-1. That was something about paying for the primary campaign out of his own pocket, but not the general. It seems there is a combination of few people wanting to donate and not wanting to lower himself to beg for money. But I doubt his ego would let him bow out.

A couple reasons why people are reluctant to donate: First, while Trump donated money to his primary campaign, he also loaned money. The campaign is to pay him back. Which means money donated to the campaign may go straight into Trump's pocket, though he says he won't do that. Second, Trump routinely flies on his corporate airline, holds events at his corporate properties and resorts, and serves his corporate food (Trump wine, for example) at these events. Of course, the corporations bill the campaign to the tune of millions. And again the money goes (indirectly) into Trump's pocket.

The Senate voted on four pieces of gun reform. Yup, all four failed. Pleasing their corporate masters, in other words keeping their jobs, is more important than the lives of anyone else.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Melissa MCEwen of Shakesville is annoyed with news sources that seem to obsess over whether Prince died of a drug overdose. She says Prince died of a disease that was painful and difficult to treat. The difference is important and removes the stigma.

The Conservative Party in Canada has officially removed opposition to same-sex marriage from the party policies. The term used is "obsolete." Keep in mind that same-sex marriage was made legal in Canada 11 years ago. And that the Conservative Party lost power to the Liberals last year. They're starting the work they'll need to do if they want to get back in power.

I'm quite late for telling you about the winners of the 2015 Bulwer-Lytton contest, the one that awards prizes (a pittance) to people who craft the worst sentence supposedly from a novel. The 2016 winners should be announced in about three weeks. A winner in the Vile Puns category (and my favorite for the year) is by Matthew Pfeifer of Beaman, Iowa:
Old Man Dracula forgot to put his teeth in one night, and so had to come home hungry, with a sort of “nothing dentured, nothing veined” look on his face.

It's their fault

Terrence Heath had gathered together the worst of what conservatives have said about the Orlando Attack. He did it so you don't have to. He even grouped the responses into five broad categories.

* Many can't seem to say "gay," that gays were the target.

* Those who can say the word "gay" declare that gays had it coming.

* It's Obama's fault.

* Guns don't kill people, people kill people (though someone with an automatic weapon can kill a lot of people and do it a lot faster than someone with a knife).

* It's the fault of the Muslims.

But there are some sweeties out there. Utah's Republican Lt. Governor Spencer Cox attended a vigil and said:
Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you.

Make a man out of him

It's been a hectic few weeks with lots of turmoil, so it is only now I can tell you about a book I read in May. The book is The Prince of Los Cocuyos (of the fireflies) by Richard Blanco. He is the youngest, first immigrant, first Latino, and first gay poet to present a poem at a presidential inauguration, which he did for Obama in 2013. This book, however, is a memoir, not a collection of poems.

Blanco's parents and grandparents escaped Cuba in 1968. He was born in Spain while his family worked out the paperwork to come to Miami, where they became a part of the Cuban community.

The first few chapters describe when he was a child trying to be American as his parents and grandparents were trying to remain Cuban. He learns about Thanksgiving in school and wants his family to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but none of them have any idea what these foods are. His grandmother takes him to a Cuban grocery store and he wants to experience the American foods in the big American supermarket. It doesn't go well.

There is the trip to Orlando to see Mickey, very much an American experience. During the trip Blanco and his brother use a bit of power over their parents. The boys speak English, the parents are pretty bad at it. The boys order extra food beyond the budget at a fast food place (boys are always hungry) and the parents don't want to make a scene speaking Spanish.

In his mid-teens Blanco began working at a Cuban grocery store owned by an uncle. It is there and during a family picnic he begins to deal with being gay. That is difficult because his grandmother has long been working to make a man out of him. Through his childhood she had thrown away some of his things because they weren't manly enough.

Blanco is a good storyteller. The stories are humorous, sometimes almost absurd from our point of view. Blanco eventually shows us the American/Cuban conflicts are within his own thinking. I very much enjoyed it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Look, son

Recently Donald Trump made a play for the gay vote, "So you tell me: Who is better for the gay community and who is better for women than Donald Trump?"

To help you answer that question (in case the answer isn't blindly obvious) note later that same evening Trump was photographed with Robert Jeffries, pastor of First Baptist Church, who is notoriously anti-gay and has lamented that people aren't noticing how gays are persecuting Christians (that whole thing about demanding cakes for their weddings). And it was Trump who thinks states should decide whether they allow marriage equality.

I saw a long post in which various LGBT people responded to the Donald. Alas, I didn't keep it nor can I find it. Most of the replies were short videos rather than written text.

Here's a beautiful 3 minute film titled Golden. It made the rounds of LGBT film festivals. The maker decided to post it online after last Sunday's attack.

A lot of the press about Hillary seems to be "a cultural inventory of villainy rather than a plausible depiction of an actual person," as Henry Louis Gates wrote. Michael Arnovitz provides an example:
To conservatives she is a radical left-wing insurgent who has on multiple occasions been compared to Mikhail Suslov, the Soviet Kremlin's long-time Chief of Ideology. To many progressives (you know who you are), she is a Republican fox in Democratic sheep's clothing, a shill for Wall Street who doesn't give a damn about the working class. The fact that these views could not possibly apply to the same person does not seem to give either side pause. Hillary haters on the right and the left seem perfectly happy to maintain their mutually incompatible delusions about why she is awful.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has a two-tweet summary of the way lots of people think about this election. Those two tweets include her response.

Saleem Haddad neatly sums up why last Sunday's attack is not part of a war with Islam.

It appears that in California primaries all the R and D candidates are lumped into one big pool. The two top vote-getters, no matter which party they are from, go on to the general election. This fall the two candidates for the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Barbara Boxer are both Democrats and both women of color. They're current Attorney General Kamala Harris (who performed the ceremony for the first same-sex wedding in Calif. last summer) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who might be the first Latina in the Senate.

Yes, this system can backfire. Consider a case where a seat has two GOP candidates and four Dem candidates. There may be more Dem voters but if their candidates split the vote they could all fall short of the GOPs.

The cast of Kinky Boots (which won Best Musical in 2013) created a response to the North Carolina Bathroom Law – a fun little song and dance. The lyrics include, "I'm me! I don't need ID to tell who am I and where I oughta pee!"

The Black Youth Project has a report on the nine most segregated metropolitan areas. The divide used to be mostly about race. Now it is about income, though there is still a strong racial component to income segregation. The ratings are based on the percentage of population living in segregated areas. The data includes black and white poverty rates and unemployment rates.

Second from the top is Detroit-Warren-Dearborn with 51.9% living in segregated areas. Yes, Detroit is predominantly black and Dearborn is predominantly white (though with a large Arab community). I wonder if the data includes only those cities or includes all of Detroit's suburbs.

At the top of the list is Cleveland-Elyria with 55.1% living in segregated areas.

On the day before the Calif. primary, Hillary Clinton said:
And I do think it will make a big difference for a father or a mother to be able to look at their daughter, just like they can look at their son, and say, 'You can be anything you want to be in this country, including President of the United States.'
That prompted a comment from phoquess, responding to Clinton saying men bring their daughters to meet her. phoquess wrote:
I want to hear about men bringing their daughters, yes, but I also want to hear about men bringing their sons and saying, "Look, son, the future President of the United States. Look, son, we are about to make history. Look, son—the highest authority in the country will be a woman and she'll do a hell of a job at it, and that's going to make things better for EVERYONE."

Friday, June 17, 2016

Shareholder value

In the last few decades there has been a shift in the purpose of a corporation. Now the mantra is a corporation must maximize shareholder value. Everything else is secondary. The radio program Marketplace has now concluded a week long series discussing how we got to this point and what are the consequences. The audio for the series is about 35 minutes. If my summary sometimes seems repetitive it is because ideas were mentioned as part of segments aired on different days.

Back in February I had written about why increasing shareholder value is a bad idea.

When candidates for president talk about bringing back jobs, keep out immigrants, drop out of trade agreements, reduce the power of Wall Street, reform campaign finance laws, retrain American workers, and cut taxes on job creators, they're talking about a time before shareholder value was king.

IBM used to take very good care of its employees. The company even owned golf courses. Good care of employees, according to Thomas Watson Senior and Junior, meant good productivity. An insecure employee didn't perform so well. So make them to feel secure. Yes, profits were good, but so was support of employees.

There were three sources of power: corporation leaders, government, and labor unions. The society was better when all three worked together. But in the 1970s corporations stagnated because of inflation and the cost of the Vietnam war. Corporations rethought their strategy – and decided that the bottom line was all.

In the 1980s IBM didn't see the popularity of the PC and defended the mainframe market. That didn't go well. An outsider was brought in to lead the company. And he repudiated all of Watson's employee protections.

In the 1970s Milton Friedman stated a corporation has only one responsibility, to increase its profits. He said this because the old corporate model was crumbling from inflation and weak growth. Corporations were taking on too many social responsibilities, such as full employment, pollution (!), and ending discrimination. Corporations became bloated. And a claim was made that the shareholder suffered because of the excessive executive perks. The idea of business for shareholder profits caught on and stuck.

Yes, shareholders were happy – stock prices shot up 12-fold in the '80s and '90s. For each dollar in profits, 80 cents went to shareholders.

Executives found the fastest way to boost profits was to cut employees. The corporate social contract was shredded. Along with it went generous employee benefits.

About this same time activist investors would buy shares to force corporations to shift to the shareholder first structure. This was easily done by threatening the senior leadership. If you won't do it we'll get someone who will.

However, there is no law that says the shareholder comes first. Even Justice Alito affirmed that idea just a few years ago. Though it wasn't actual law, it was acted upon as if it was law.

The emphasis on shareholder value has led to disasters, such as Enron and the BP oil spill.

Back to those 1970s pronouncements. The actual text was to "act in the best interest of the shareholders," which doesn't always mean maximize profit. It might, for instance, mean investing in the future of the company, so that its profits can continue for a longer time. In addition, those who made the pronouncements are having second thoughts.

The pharma industry is an example of what happened. In the first half of the 1900s George Merck, head of Merck & Co. said that profits would follow from how well their product benefited people. And the corporation did well.

But now the big pharma companies don't create the drugs, they buy them from elsewhere. That saves on development costs. Then they try to find new uses for the drugs. A second component of profit is taxes. A move to Ireland will help that along. And third is prices. It's no longer what is appropriate for the patient. It's how high to price the drug to boost income. The drive isn't to help patients, it's to help investors.

Those "activist investors" mentioned before are now usually hedge fund managers. Many times these guys will force a corporation to make some changes (see those threats mentioned above). Then once the stock prices has risen, they cash out. But the changes they forced on the corporation usually lead to big long-term problems.

Alas, one of the big sources of hedge fund money is us – in particular, public pension plans in our names. That's because the plans were set up with the expectation of high returns. Failure to meet those returns mean the plans are underfunded (and that usually implies the gov't entity that created the plan underfunded it at the start). These funds must pursue high returns to meet oblications. The other big source of money now in stocks is our 401(K) accounts and the mutual funds we invest in. But we're usually silent investors – do you know all the corporations in your accounts? And that allows the activist investors to speak with a louder voice.

Recently, many corporations have done stock buy-back programs. Yes, they are spending money to buy themselves. The reason is simple. It increases the value of the company in the eyes of the shareholder. But that value is only gained when the stock is sold.

A side effect of a buy-back is that it attracts shareholders who are in it for the short term. Those activist investors look for corporations with lots of cash on hand. They buy stock, raise hell, the management does a stock buy-back, and the investors cash out. That's essentially a wealth transfer from the corporation to the investor. Alas, that means the corporation no longer has that money for useful things like investing in their future – including stabilizing their workforce with higher wages and better benefits and also withstanding economic slumps. It also means the decisions are driven by the people who matter least – shareholders in it for a short time.

I know you would have never guessed this one... When the focus is on shareholder value, who loses? Yes, of course. Workers. The big way to make shareholder value go up is to reduce assets. And workers are assets. But the work still needs to get done. The result is the temp worker.

I remember when I worked for the auto industry (gosh, I left 9 years ago!) many of my colleagues were temp workers – even though many of them stayed for years and held important institutional knowledge. The reason is simple – it was a lot easier to reduce the number of workers by canceling temp contracts.

But it also means lower wages and skimpier benefits. And no permanence. Just try to buy a house when you list a temp company as your employer.

We've been hearing the GOP bellow for years that tax breaks should be given to the "job creators." But modern corporations see no value in creating jobs. Adding jobs reduces shareholder value.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Keep the heartbeat alive

On Sunday we saw how beastly some people can be. Here's a story about how beautiful people can be. I won't try to summarize it. Just read it. Have tissues handy.

Thirteen years ago Barbara Poma opened the Pulse club in Orlando (the site of Sunday's attack) in memory of her brother who had died of AIDS. The name was chosen because "we just wanted to keep the heartbeat alive." She will reopen. She's got another 49 heartbeats to keep alive.

Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburgh, FL wrote a surprising op-ed for the Washington Post.
…sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop, too.

Richard Kim explains the popularity of places like Pulse:
Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.

Westboro Baptist Church were prompt in declaring their intent to protest at the funerals of those killed in Sunday's attack. As these funerals take place hundreds of residents are showing up to form human screens so that the mourners can't see the WBC people – who haven't actually shown up yet. But the screens will continue, just in case they do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No-gun culture

I've been hearing a lot about this over the last couple days. There is now strong evidence that the Orlando attacker was a regular at the Pulse club, the place he later attacked. There is also some evidence he used a gay hook-up app.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville walks us through the implications. It may mean the attacker had been so immersed in homophobia that he couldn't tolerate himself and couldn't tolerate gay people who were happy and well adjusted, able to have fun. Evidence of that immersion is a father who said, "God will punish those involved in homosexuality." It may mean the attacker wanted to be known as an ISIS terrorist or a "lone wolf" rather than be known as queer. This may explain. It does not excuse. It also indicts all those still spewing homophobic garbage at us.

McEwen again: We well know of the gun culture in America. These are people who grew up around guns, know how to use them, and think owning guns is natural. But some of us live in a no-gun culture. We don't own guns. We don't know how to use gums. We want nothing to do with guns. Many of us are frightened by guns. We don't see guns as solving the problem of self defense. We would rather the robber steal from us than to be responsible for his death. We don't want to walk in public and see guns. We don't want to face down a barrel during a case of road rage.

Where is the balance between the gun culture and the no-gun culture? Why is my right to life less important than your right to a gun?

So lets start with a ban on assault weapons, such as the one this attacker used.
If we can't even agree on that, especially after the horrific shooting in Orlando, then this isn't a conversation about guns anymore. Not really. It's a conversation about power and control.

I suspect that it always has been, but I would be thrilled if gun-owners would prove me wrong.

Scroll down in McEwen's post to where a commenter posted what Samantha Bee has to say about gun control and the effectiveness in prayer after a mass shooting. Her wonderful rant is 8 minutes.

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut (home of the Sandy Hook shooting) and fellow Democrats are staging a filibuster demanding action on bills to address gun violence. Even if a vote is held, passage isn't a sure thing. And then there's the House...

51% vote, 28% seats

The NPR program Fresh Air had an interview with David Daley, who wrote the book Ratf**ked, The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. I'm sure the book as seen in stores won't have those two asterisks. Dave Davies hosted the program and the transcript is online. The program covered the major points of the book. I'm sure the book goes into great detail.

In 2009 GOP strategist Chris Jankowski realized that the national census was to be done the next year and congressional district maps would be drawn the following year. He created Operation RedMap to use national GOP money to target enough state legislature seats in 2010 to flip control of several states to the GOP. The targeted districts were flooded with mailers precisely calculated to turn voters against the Dem incumbent. Several state houses were successfully flipped, though a general GOP tide that year gave them a big margin of safety.

Once in power and the census data available GOP operatives went behind closed doors and demanded secrecy. They used the program Maptitude, which has all that census data loaded and allowed them to finely craft districts for their advantage. In Pennsylvania in 2012 Obama won the state by 310K votes. There were 100K more votes for Dem House candidates than for GOP. Yet the congressional seats were awarded 13-5 for the GOP. Yes, 51% of the vote becomes 28% of the seats.

Of course, there has been gerrymandering in the past. But the Maptitude program didn't exist until the 2011 redistricting season and it allows the maps to be more finely gerrymandered than could be done before.

This will be difficult to undo. State legislatures were also highly gerrymandered. That means they are rigged to elect GOP legislators in 2020 when the maps are drawn again, even if there is a big DEM wave to re-elect a Dem president. Undoing this will take a state-by-state effort to take redistricting out of the hands of the legislature. When that has come up for a vote it wins. But that takes time (significant education effort will be needed before it is tried in Michigan).

Here is where we grumble at the Dems. In individual races the GOP sprung the trap so late in the campaign the Dem candidate didn't have time to respond. But in March of 2010 Karl Rove wrote an op-ed piece in the *Wall Street Journal* announcing the GOP's intentions. And the Dems … did nothing. Daley describes it as "political malpractice." And we will live with it for decades.

The interview mentions Michigan district 14. This is what that district looks like. There is a strong horizontal line in the image. Below it is Detroit. Above it is suburbs. The node at the top is Pontiac.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The importance of community

This evening I attended the We Are Orlando Vigil at the Affirmations community center in Ferndale. I'm delighted to say I rode with my pastor and his family. He called me yesterday and said he was going and invited me to join him. Yes, Pastor Jeff is cool!

Along the way he commented that 800 people had responded with an RSVP on the Affirmations Facebook page. And then there were people like me who didn't respond. With that number I figured the street would be closed and we would be outside. But Pastor Jeff said the announcement was for indoors. As we entered the center 45 minutes early I saw the sign that said maximum occupancy is 325. One woman at the door handed out programs and another clicked her counter. Not all 800 people were going to get inside.

That was true. I could see the back door was open and people singing and applauding at different times than us inside. I heard later there were perhaps 200 out there and the held their own program.

I didn't take notes while various people spoke, so I'll mostly just list them. It was a wonderfully diverse roster.

Susan Erspamer, Executive Director of Affirmations
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit (which is located in Ferndale)

Deacon Angela Marie Lippard, Christ the Good Shepherd (alternative Catholic), Ferndale

Musical Selection
Detroit Together Men's Chorus

Reflections from Religious Leaders
Dr. Yahya Basha, Beaumont Health System
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. He had quite the barn-burner speech. Go ahead and pray, but prayer alone is not going to fix this.
Nour E. Sulaiman from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Michigan. She strongly condemned violence done in the name of Islam. She added we proudly stand with you. We also understand discrimination, especially those who are both LGBT and Arab.

Reflections from Community Leaders
Stephanie White, Executive Director of Equality Michigan. Yes, we are equal citizens. The rhetoric claiming we are not contributed to this attack. It is shameful that Michigan law does not yet treat us as equal citizens.
Jay Kaplan, LGBT Legal Project Attorney for ACLU Michigan
Lilianna Angel Reyes, Youth Program Manager, Affirmations. She is transgender. She spoke about the importance of community and how we are forming community at Affirmations and other places.
Rev. Juan Garcia, Saints Teresa and John Episcopal Church (translated from Spanish)

Rev. Stringfellow had some closing words, which included reading the names of those who had died. Then the chorus sang again.

I was directly in front of the podium (and as time passed more people squeezed between me and it), but I could not see the length of the room. I took only 3 pictures and this is the best of them. The woman facing me served as ASL translator. The banner behind her said "We are Orlando."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Empty, mocking gesture

I wrote yesterday that the Orlando attack was the deadliest in US history. I've seen that statement several times today, though I've wondered if it all comes from one source, perhaps this LA Times article that details the attack.

A friend responded to yesterday's post saying that statement ignores such things as the Baker-Fancher massacre of 1857 and Wounded Knee of 1890 (at least 150 dead). There were likely many others. Perhaps some qualifiers are needed (though not mentioned in news sources) such as deadliest by a single attacker.

The conservative response to the attack has, as expected, been disgusting. Even some of the mild stuff can be annoying, such as carefully not saying the site was an LGBT club even when they say such platitudes as the attack was against "all of us." That way they can distance themselves from their own policies that promote bigotry. They can also justify their favorite narrative that the whole thing is attributable to extreme Islam (even though various people say the attacker wasn't particularly religious and had said nasty things about us).

The Editorial Board of the Detroit Free Press pushed back on that nastiness:
In the days to come, we'll learn much, much more about the tragedy in Orlando. But at its core, this attack is the product of two things: easy civilian access to weapons that kill dozens in minutes, and the persistence of political rhetoric that marginalizes LGBT people.

After mass shootings it is now customary for Congress to hold a moment of silence. It seems that's all they can manage to do. But Rep. Jim Hines (D-CT) has had enough of that empty, mocking gesture. He will refuse to attend.

Hillary has our back. Bernie? Unknown. Donald? Forget it. He's too busy blaming Muslims.

The FDA has long had a ban on accepting donations of blood from men who have sex with men, a stupid rule left over from the AIDS epidemic (even though there are ways to screen for AIDS). However, for the duration of this emergency blood will be accepted from everyone.

The Go Fund Me page set up by Equality Florida to help victims and families has passed $2.6 million. They hope to get to $5 million. The page set up by The Center, an LGBT center in Orlando, has passed $274 thousand with a goal of $500 thousand.

My pastor called me this morning, asking how I was doing in response to the Orlando news. He then said he is going to a vigil at the Affirmations LGBT center in Ferndale tomorrow evening. He asked if I would like to ride with him. Wow! This guy is wonderful! I'll miss him (his last Sunday with us before going to another assignment is this coming weekend). Other vigils are listed at the We Are Orlando site.

There have been national and international vigils and signs of support, such as a crowd on Bourbon Street, New Orleans. Bridges lit with rainbow lights in Little Rock, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and more. City Hall in Tel Aviv. London bars pausing in their serving and suggesting patrons go outside and hold hands.

While attention has been focused on Orlando, this has gotten little attention: A man planned to attack the Los Angeles Pride Parade with guns and bombs. Thankfully, his plans were thwarted.

I watched the Tony Awards last night, which had a few important mentions of the Orlando attack, especially at the beginning. The show, of course, had performances by the cast of Hamilton, which won several awards. I would not have known that there was something missing from those performances. They dropped the use of muskets.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is angry and sad that LGBT people were attacked in what was supposed to be a safe space for them. That prompted an essay in praise of the many LGBT people in her life. She was one of those people who didn't fit in and because she is married and doesn't want children there are many times she still doesn't fit in. Over and over it was people in the LGBT community that befriended her. The recognized a fellow misfit.

That reminds me of my niece. I've heard her say, "My favorite relatives are the gay ones."

If tears come easily, you might want to stop reading now.

I wrote yesterday about the mother searching for her gay son. Alas, the son is among the dead. The family is now planning a joint funeral with the family of the son's boyfriend.

As names of the victims have been released Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin is posting photos.

Joe Jervis tweeted: "CNN: Investigators forced to 'tune out' sound of ringing phones coming from bodies strewn about scene of massacre."

Designed to fail

About 18 months ago Detroit emerged from bankruptcy. The effort was led by judge Steven Rhodes, backed by Gov. Rick Snyder. The general feeling is that Detroit got the best deal it could and with all that financial mess cleared away can begin a comeback. Cool!

Attention now turns to the Detroit Public School system. Several years ago – 8 or 9? – DPS was having financial difficulties because of the Great Recession, falling enrollment, and stingy state lawmakers. The governor at the time appointed an emergency financial manager. The problems got worse. The debt load mounted. Students fled the system. A series of emergency managers were appointed, each one compounding the problems. The last one appointed was Steven Rhodes, who had recently retired as a judge. The buildings had become unsafe. Teachers started staging sick-outs to emphasize the plight of their students. And Rhodes started issuing warnings to the legislature: DPS is about to go bankrupt.

The legislature supplied enough funding to get through the end of the school year. Then dithered. Finally, last week a rescue bill was passed. Gov. Snyder said it wasn't perfect, but it did have a few good things in it – such as $617 million – so he would sign it.

It also has a few nasty things in it, such as punishment of teachers and unions that stage sick-outs. Thanks, GOP.

I frequently have lunch with friends from my previous church. One couple are retired teachers (though not from DPS). She went on to serve on the school board of her district. She said this rescue bill is designed to fail.

Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press agrees. The legislature intends to put DPS out of business. In their view, Detroiters have forfeited the right to control their own schools (because why? – State appointed emergency managers have run up massive debts? The legislature is stingy? Because Detroit residents are mostly Black and poor and don't vote GOP?). In addition, he says the bad way DPS is being handled imperils Detroit's recovery. Then he supplies details.

Yes, the legislature authorized $617 million to be spent on DPS. But that is the minimum to avoid bankruptcy until (1) most of the current crop of lawmakers are term-limited from having to deal with the problem and (2) charter school operators are better able to fill the void.

The rescue bill did not contain any language to regulate charters. That means charter schools remain essentially accountable to nobody – not to a locally elected school board, not to parents, not to any state agency.

GOP lawmakers are crowing about how this gives parents choice. Don't like DPS? Take your children to any charter you want, the same as shopping at any store you want.

Dickerson says Detroit parents see through that lie. Yeah, the parents can choose the schools. But – taking the shopping analogy further – the company chooses the store location (and it isn't in poor neighborhoods) and the company chooses whether the product meets state requirements.

Dickerson didn't mention one other problem – DPS, as a public school, can't refuse students. Charters can. Let's keep kicking the poor. Put another way: this legislature doesn't want Detroit kids to be educated.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Spirit of affirmation

The Cinetopia Film Festival finished today. I think I heard this is the 5th year (I attended several films last year) and when I began to hear about it I read through the list of films on the website and came up with seven I'd like to see.

Alas, the recent emergency trip to Austin prevented me from seeing one of the seven. Another was missed because Cinema Detroit changed location without telling me. No need to look up the address, I know where it is, it's … not here. A third was missed because I needed to spend a day at Dad's house after missing last week (including needing to pay for work done on the house).

So over Friday and Saturday I had a list of four films to see at the Michigan and State Theaters in Ann Arbor.

First up was Captain Fantastic. This has nothing to do with superheroes. Ben and his wife moved to the wilderness in Washington State to raise their six kids. But the wife is bipolar and is currently off in an institution. We see the older son kill a deer for food and we get an idea of what life is like. Dad is pretty rigorous with their education, though nearly all of it is daily living or from books. Then Mom commits suicide. It is time for a road trip to visit the cousins and the in-laws and to attend the funeral. But because she is now Buddhist Ben wants to stop the Christian burial.

One might think this is a chance for us to laugh at the country bumpkins as they fail to in their encounters with civilization. There is some of that – older son is clueless around women. But most of the time these kids hold their own.

The family moved to the wilderness over disgust of rampant capitalism. The kids are well steeped in Marxist writings. The youngest, an 8-year-old girl gets a hunting knife as a gift. The family celebrates Noam Chomsky Day – at least he was alive and did something for humanity, not like that fictitious Santa Claus. When we finally get to the in-laws the kids are appalled at the wasteful size of the house that does not at all cherish the desert environment where it sits.

I have a small complaint about the story, though I didn't realize it until later. The kill done by the older son is celebrated as a passage into manhood. He is also shown with letters of acceptance from a half-dozen top universities, putting him at 17, maybe 16. That seems rather old for a first kill for a guy who grew up in the wilderness.

Overall, it was a quirky and enjoyable movie and a lot deeper than I expected.

Because of my emotional involvement of that story (too soon for a movie portrayal of a funeral) I decided to skip the next one on my schedule. That it started only 30 minutes later and at 9:30 at night confirmed my decision. It would have been *Contemporary Color*, a documentary about the latest things flag waving color guards are doing.

My favorite was Suited. This is a documentary about a Brooklyn tailor shop. Rachel, also known as Ray, is on the transgender spectrum, somewhere between male and female. She couldn't get a suit that fit her well, so went to this tailor. At the time he was close to a one-person operation and wasn't sure what to do with her. But the suit fit so well and made her so happy she went back to him saying I want to be your apprentice. She was soon made a partner. And one of their specialties is suits for transgender people. We meet several of those people and hear their stories of being transgender. One was told by a prospective employer "You're exactly what we're looking for, but we can't deal with you being transgender." In a well-fitting suit he looked much more masculine and got the next job. The spirit of affirmation throughout this movie was wonderful! I found this one will begin a run on HBO on June 20.

Saturday I had a convenient supper break. Several years ago my friend and debate partner enjoyed eating at a Jamaican restaurant in Canton. Alas, it closed, though the sign said there was another in Ann Arbor. I found that one for my meal. It is across the street from the west side of Hill Auditorium. I apologize, dear friend, for not telling you about my visits to Ann Arbor in time for us to perhaps share a meal together.

The last movie was Hunky Dory. Sidney is an unsuccessful rock star going for that David Bowie androgynous look. He makes is money begging from friends and performing as a drag queen at a dive bar. He has an 11 year-old son George and gets to play the fun dad every other weekend. But George shows up on Wednesday and Mom isn't answering the phone. George is used to Dad in makeup and in glam clothes and they get along pretty well. We can see they have a decent relationship. But having a son around sure gets in the way of making a living.

I liked this one, though not as well as the other two.

After the movie we met the director and the writer who also played Sidney. They answered questions from the audience, including how the script was developed, where the idea came from, what it was like to shift from writer to actor, and how fortunate they felt to find the boy who played George.

Hate and terrorism

A terrorist attacked a gay night club in Orlando last night. You can read all the details you want through other news sources. The latest tally is 50 killed and 53 wounded. This makes it the deadliest mass shooting In US history. Definitely terrorism. Definitely a hate crime. And definitely with us as the target. Pardon me while I wipe tears from my keyboard.

I've been reading Joe.My.God, a gay blog written by Joe Jervis. The comments in the posts related to this act are heartbreaking. An example is this woman who can't get in touch with her gay son. She doesn't know yet whether he is safe, in the hospital, or dead.

My sister's wife asked if I could suggest places appropriate for a donation. I found a few:

The Center, an LGBT community center in Orlando. You can donate to them directly (they have a crisis hotline and grief counselors) or donate to their Go Fund Me page, which will help the victims and their families. Here's a bit of news about what The Center is doing.

Equality Florida, an organization working for full equality of LGBT people in Florida. They also have a Go Fund Me page for the victims and families.

Soulforce, an organization engaged in nonviolent resistance to the anti-LGBT language and attitudes of conservative Christianity (though I'm aware this isn't a factor in this act).

A thank you to President Obama who signed an order that American flags are to be flown at half-staff until Thursday evening.

There will be a vigil in Orlando tomorrow evening. The police suggested it not be held today because they are still working the crime scene and protecting the vigil would mean they would be stretched too thin.

Joe Jervis posted his annual rant about Pride month. Too many LGBT people want to hide the more flamboyant members of our community. They want us to look respectable when we march in the Pride parade. His reply concludes:
To them I say: The very road that YOU now have the privilege of swaggering upon was paved by those queens and leather freaks that you complain about as you practice your “masculine” and give us butch face. If you want to live in the house that THEY BUILT, you better act like you fucking know it. United we stand, you snide bitches. America’s kulturkampf ain’t gonna be solved by making flamboyant people go away.

They wish we were invisible.

We’re not.

Let’s dance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A hard trip to Austin

After that post yesterday about the email weirdness I should give a proper accounting of my emergency trip to Austin, Texas last week for brother Tim's funeral. I reported hearing of his death here.

My brother Tom and his wife arrived at the airport 45 minutes after I did. We shared a car and got adjacent rooms at a hotel. One nephew and wife joined us for supper, though it was quite late.

There was a family viewing at the funeral home on Thursday morning. Yes, lots of tears. Then the nephew the priest led prayers.

The public viewing was Thursday evening. That included participation by boy scouts (Tim was a founding leader of the troop at his church) and Knights of Columbus. There was also a "brief" bereavement service (50 minutes). I sat outside.

The attendance at the church the next morning was quite large, though not packed. The procession featured K of C honor guard, six of seven sons serving as pallbearers, family (and it's a large one), altar boys, the bishop who led Mass, an additional 25-30 priests (in support of their colleague my nephew). Late in the service another nephew related a story. He was directing his kids in evening chores with checklist in hand when Tim showed up. Tim watched a few minutes and asked, "What's all this?" His son answered, "This is me turning into you."

I rode with Tom and his wife to the cemetery, though not in the procession. The GPS was determined to take us on the toll road, which would have added an extra $20 fee to the rental (we found out later the automatic system doesn't charge tolls on funeral processions). We got there only a couple minutes after everyone else and the service proceeded once we were seated.

Kathy invited everyone to her house. We ate leftover funeral lunch food. The large crowd settled in for a party – little kids in front of the TV, older kids playing games, teenage girls playing dress-up (in costumes most had from the musical they were in last summer), many adults in the music room singing and playing together, and people standing around talking. I asked a nephew how many were there. He laughed.

On Saturday my efforts, along with Tom and his wife, turned to packing up Mom. After Dad died last September Tim and Kathy invited Mom, well into Alzheimer's, to live with them. Kathy felt burned out by January and it took Tim until April to take her seriously and put Mom in a care facility. Even with Mom not in the house Kathy still had a lot of extra work. Faced with all the things she had been doing as well as all the things Tim had been doing she felt overwhelmed. Tom and his wife had offered to take Mom last fall, so did so again, though it was a scramble to find a facility to put her in and arrange plane tickets to get her to Pittsburgh.

On Sunday Tom, his wife, and I went to Trinity Church in Austin. It is associated with both the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ, with touches of Unitarian Universalist as part of the service. I knew were in a good place when I saw the rainbow altar cloth (I had also been there before). Their summer sermon series sounds intriguing: in praise of heretics. We heard only the introductory sermon.

On Monday we checked Mom out of her care facility, loaded her up, and went to the airport. My flight to Detroit was at 12:50, theirs to Pittsburgh at 1:45. I got a call saying they arrived safely, though they've been busy since getting Mom settled into a new facility.

What was that all about?

I booted my computer this morning (I power down every night) and started up Windows Live Mail. That stubborn message left the outbox, new email was downloaded, and all is well. Don't know why I had to spend all of yesterday evening on this problem. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Somebody might be listening...

I replied to some music colleagues this morning using Windows Live Mail from my desktop computer. It didn't get sent. Several hours later I saw there was something (that message) in my outbox. I clicked on Send/Receive and a little process box opened to say the send was executing. Nothing happened. The little box sat there. It didn't even show an error message or time out.

This evening I called Comcast, my internet and email provider. The first helpdesk person didn't really seem to know what was going on. She would say click on this and I wouldn't see it. So after several minutes I asked for a supervisor. After a long hold (with the Comcast recorded message chattering on my phone about what great deals await) the frontline person introduced me to the supervisor – and the line was disconnected. The supervisor did not call me back.

After waiting a while I called again. When I got a live person on the phone I said I had been connected to a supervisor, got disconnected, and I want a supervisor and I'm already annoyed. Another long wait.

I confirmed I could use my email account from their website. That ended Comcast's ability to help. Here's the Microsoft number...

I told the Comcast person I had been working with them for an hour and the issue was not resolved.

I called that Microsoft number. The person said I had been using my email account from other computers (I had while traveling) and it had been compromised. Through my email system hackers were now able to get onto my desktop computer and had somehow messed up Windows Live Mail and they needed to get onto my computer to clean all the bad stuff out. I downloaded a standard program to allow him access to my computer.

This wasn't making sense. The frontline guy wasn't able to answer my questions, so got a manager. I'm not sure I could explain what he told me. He said there was someone in Columbus, Ohio who was using my compromised email right now. All of whatever he said seemed to answer my questions so I was returned to the frontline guy. He worked the problem a bit and said this may get complicated and we may have to charge you. I asked should I get out my credit card? He emphasized the "may" part. I said if this is a breach of my computer's security program perhaps I should contact that security company.

He hung up.

Yup, all kinds of red flags on that one.

I called the security company. We did a simple test. The Windows Live Mail problem is not caused by the security program. While she was on the line I asked does this scenario make sense? No, it is not possible for someone to compromise my email and use that to get onto my computer past their product. As for the original problem, here is the Microsoft phone number and we are sure it is actually Microsoft.

I Googled the first phone number. I got hits for the helpdesk for Gmail/Hotmail. This is looking really weird.

I haven't called Microsoft yet because it is getting late. Something to do tomorrow.