Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is a help?

Berkeley, Calif High School has decided to help out minority students -- by eliminating the science department and thus free up resources to help the struggling minorities. The reason given is the science labs have only white students. Berkeley's has a dismal record of minority achievement. The school board vote was nearly unanimous. It is being soundly condemned by everyone else. I won't bother going into reasons here, though one of them is, making it harder for white kids to get into college is going to help the black kids? Parents will only send kids to private schools, increasing segregation.

Significant changes this year

Yes, I'm home on New Year's Eve and rather enjoying the quiet and the lack of pressure of trying to find a party. I'll probably turn on the TV at 11:55, watch the ball drop, then go to bed. In the meantime, here's some end-of-year summaries.

Jonathan Rauch says in 2009 we've reached the beginning of the middle of the debate on gay marriage. These are the significant changes over the last year:
* Pre-emptive strikes have failed -- the national marriage protection amendment went nowhere and courts aren't jumping into the fray to enforce gay marriage. Neither side will knock the other out of the ring. It will be a tough slog.

* Legislators are taking over from judges -- the claim that gay marriage was being shoved at us by anti-democratic activist judges no longer works (now it is anti-democratic -- only the people can vote on something this important -- activist legislatures).

* The idea of same-sex marriage has been mainstreamed -- no longer the fringe idea and it is opponents who are playing defense (alas, that's still a winning hand).

* There's a backlash against the backlash -- many straights put on the brakes in fear of a backlash, but with the backlash against the Calif. vote, straights now see our rights as the next big civil rights issue.

The top ten stories of gay rights in 2009:
10. Obama extended some benefits to partners of federal employees.
9. Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders added to federal Hate Crimes Act.
8. Colorado and Nevada pass limited domestic partner laws.
7. New York Senate rejects gay marriage.
6. DC legalizes gay marriage.
5. Calif. Supremes uphold the marriage ban.
4. Washington state passes everything-but-marriage, which is upheld by citizen vote.
3. Wisconsin passes DPs despite constitutional ban on gay marriage.
2. Maine passes same-sex marriage law, which voters overturn.
1. Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont legalize gay marriage (and through legislation).

Mexico City has legalized gay marriage! It takes effect in March. Tourism companies are now putting together packages that include flights, hotels, guides, ceremony, and banquet.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Screwed up priorities

Newsweek did it's end-of-year issue differently this year. The staff interviewed 17 people who will make a difference, including Hillary Clinton (interesting discussion with Henry Kissinger), David Petraeus, Timothy Geithner, Tim Pawlenty (Minn. governor who is possible GOP candidate for prez. in 2012), Jeff Bezos (head of Amazon), and directors James Cameron and Peter Jackson interviewing each other. All of the interviews are listed here.

A couple ideas to highlight. Talk-show hosts Bill Maher (liberal) and Joe Scarborough (conservative) interview each other. Along the way, Maher said:
That's the problem with faith, Joe. What it does is kind of screw up your priorities. Your priorities shouldn't be about saving your own ass, which is the focus of Christianity. The focus should be, I'm a good person, and I do that just for the sake of being good.

There is also an insightful interview with Bill Clinton. How are we to evaluate issues? The world is so interdependent now it is not possible to divorce. Clinton's framework is this:
I may make a mistake, but I think I have the right filter. I'll ask myself on any profound issue: will this increase positive interdependence or reduce negative interdependence? If it will, I'm for it. If it won't I'm against it.

Uprising on the left

I’m not the only one annoyed with Obama. There are many groups on the left just as annoyed. I'll stick to one example, though many are listed in this article. Is Obama so weak he can't rein in Joe Lieberman? And, yes, the prez. has leverage over an independent -- he can work to oust Lieberman from committee chairmanships. And with a weak prez. progressive congresscritters just might assert themselves in the reconciling process, whether Obama wants them to or not. It's my understanding that bills that are reconciled between the Senate and House are not subject of filibuster.

Fantasy v. science fiction

Many religions are fantasy. This is not to say they are not true or that I'm out to deny the existence of God (you should know me better than that). Rather many religions focus on events in the past. They explain how, as in Babylon, the world was created, how the gods came to be, how things went wrong to bring us to the current state. We are asked to remember the religion's significant events and emulate them or at least the teachings of those events.

But at the same time Babylonians were looking into the past, the Israelites were looking into the future. Sure they had creation stories (two of them). But the Hebrew bible doesn't focus on God, it focuses on people and their encounters with God. Perhaps it can be called science fiction, looking at how things could or should be.

I wish the author of the posting I'm referencing has chosen a better word other than fantasy. I understand, however, the word was chosen because in bookstores fantasy shares shelf space with science fiction.

It appears today's conservatives are similarly locked into the past, focusing on American creation myths and a simpler, more golden time. Their efforts are all about recreating that sacred time when behavior was defined by Leave it to Beaver and Stagecoach, a time when women and non-whites knew their place.

And progressives are like science fiction, looking for a time that has fewer flaws than our past -- an end to war, end to poverty and hunger, your parent's circumstances don't determine your own life. Perhaps that is why I like to read science fiction.

Which might explain why the life of a progressive is harder than that of a conservative. The conservative merely has to defend the status quo, which is easy through relying on inertia and the fear of change. That doesn't mean they never change. They can be very creative in rewriting the creation myths to suit their purposes (the subset of Christianity that insists America is a Christian nation didn't exist when America was founded).

In contrast the progressive must persuade others to venture into new territory and be the ones to say, "You're doing it wrong." Progressives can also end up with a low batting average (looking bad) and hang onto a vision of the future long after it is no longer realistic.

But progressives must persevere, keeping the goal in mind while knowing the path is difficult. The better world is in the future, not the past.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eroding moral values gets noticed

It is only recently that I've heard a lot of talk that we are just days away from the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.(using the same calendar that says that the year 2000 started the 21st Century instead of ending the 20th). So it is time for stories looking back at the decade. I may even mention some of them.

A Wall Street Journal poll asked what was the greatest negative impact on America this past decade. Apparently, responders could check all that they agree with (making me wonder about "greatest"). Here's the top of the list:
74% said we lost ground in economic prosperity.
66% said we lost ground on moral values (wasn't the party of values in power?)
55% said we lost ground on treating others with respect
54% said … nation's sense of unity
50% said … peace and national security
46% said … health and well being
37% said … environment
38% cited the 9/11 attacks
12% said the decade was good or great.
Remember now who was president during most of the decade. It won't be hard to guess who is being blamed for all of the decade's bad events.

Harmonizing the Word and the World

Highlands Church in Denver is a bit of an outlaw. It's an evangelical church that specifically welcomes gays, breaking with Fundie theology and straddling the conservative/liberal divide. Naturally, other Fundies say that is why they have to be clear about their teachings on gays. Highlands Church is a champion of social justice and sees treatment of gays as another justice issue. The pastor saw how the lives of gays in the modern world didn't fit in the standard Fundie interpretation of homosexuality. He soon adopted the pro-gay view of the bible. He notes other past evils (slavery) can be justified by the bible and says that God's word and God's world are both created by God and we must study both and bring the two into harmony.

The soup will be just fine

I wrote recently about three churches that dropped out of the community project to feed the poor in Kalamazoo. The Martha's Table project will actually grow -- four other churches volunteered to join the effort. The ones that left are all Fundie churches. The ones that remained and the new ones are all a part of mainline denominations, including one Unitarian/Universalist church.

You keep saying it will be done soon

Having spent a great deal of time writing software and dealt with salespeople I understand the term vaporware (hardware is the computer, software is the programs, so vaporware is empty promises -- software that is promised but the release date never gets any closer). Sounds like what Obama and Dems have been promising gays.

Health insurance for a gay spouse is taxed like ordinary income. That doesn't happen to a straight spouse. That tax was removed from the House version of the health care overhaul bill. Harry Reid just added it back in to the Senate version to secure the last few votes. With health insurance premiums running into the thousands, this is a hefty tax.

This news prompted the first commenter to wonder if it is time for our revolution. A responder discusses non-violent resistance, which worked so well for women's right to vote and black civil rights. These efforts worked because the oppressors didn't want to be seen as oppressors. Can it work for gays? Maybe not, because our oppressors still insist they have the moral high ground. I must disagree with that claim because the bible was also used to claim it was morally proper to enslave blacks and to keep women in their place. Some people insist the morality of those claims.

Even if some gays decided violent resistance was proper, the rest of the gay community would quickly disavow and disown the perpetrators.

Thankfully, no Christmas drama

I spent a quiet Christmas Day with my parents, sister, and niece. Opening presents took maybe 15 minutes. My niece wanted to read the books I got her for Christmas. So I asked Sis to get out the 500 piece jigsaw puzzle I had brought at Thanksgiving (which my niece had barely started) and Dad and I put it together. Definitely quiet.

At least I can do that. Here are stories from many gays and transgenders who became estranged from their birth families when they come out, mostly over religious reasons. I should note these are the survivors (many others commit suicide). They create for themselves a hanai family. This is a Hawaiian term that refers to people who live together as family, whether or not they are related. These families are sometimes better than birth families because hanai families want to be together.

"Gays are the only oppressed minority born into families of the oppressor." -- John Rechy.

A blogger asks who should Santa be extra nice to this year? Many people volunteered their heroes, those who have been activists for gay causes or politicians who insist gays are worthy of rights. I recognize most the names, though if you aren't a consistent reader of gay blogs some of these people won't be familiar. It's good to see all the nominations.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Winter Solstice, and Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

You voted for change, didn't you? Are you sure?

Asking that question is important because we seem to be getting a whole lot less change than what we thought we voted for. At least I'm not, as should be clear from my frequent criticism of Obama. From the way the health care bill is being handled it appears a lot of other progressive people are getting a lot less change than they voted for.

This latest rant is brought about by an interview that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel had with the Wall Street Journal. Summary: The Left doesn't matter. Along the way he endorsed an article that characterizes the Left as a bunch of elitist whiny racists. Racists? Really? We're the ones who voted for the black guy.

Emmanuel's disdain for Progressives is known. After the 2006 midterms Emmanuel said that this is a center-right country and he would push the Democrats to that position. He apparently had Harry Reid's buy-in shortly thereafter.

Which means the Democratic Platform for 2008, that wonderful document which (among other things) endorsed all manner of gay issues -- federal civil unions, ending the military gay ban, equal rights in the workplace, etc. -- was a sham. It was published to get the votes but there was no intention to follow it, even by the Big Guy who peddled it all the way to the White House. Very little was done for gays in 2009. Very little will be done in 2010 (this is people in the Dem. party talking).

So while the Republicans have become teabaggers, the Democrats have become the new Republicans. Which makes Obama an intelligent version of Bush.

Over the last year or so I've been wondering if the GOP had gone so far right if there might be a new political party of moderate conservatives. Now there is talk that a new party might actually be progressive. And a progressive just might challenge Obama in 2012 or run as an independent.

Silly season is about to start in earnest. Pay close attention to the primaries. Encourage progressives (even gay ones) to run for office. And yes, I've thought about running -- long enough to decide I would make a terrible campaigner and would hate the job if I ever got it.

Emmanuel apparently hasn't paid much attention to election calculus. I've written about this before (probably too many times to hunt down links). No voter who identifies as GOP is going to vote for a Dem., no matter how conservative the candidate is. They are consistent voters, but always for the "R." Those who identify as Dem. are a mighty throng, but if you don't do what they want, they simply don't vote. That leaves independents. Are there enough of them, suitably wooed to make the effort to vote, to ensure victory? Doubtful.

So why screw over the progressives? Why not put that Obama intellect to work to make the case for the progressive cause?

Nineteen years ago Poppy Bush waged the Gulf War and amassed an approval rating topping 90%. He then proceeded to do nothing with it, apparently satisfied with being president rather than using the presidency to better the country. There was a clear moment when I decided Poppy had lost my approval. (His son never had it, even after 9/11.) I wasn't the only one to think that way. Poppy's approval dropped and he lost re-election.

In spite of Obama dissing gays, over the last several months if anyone had asked I would give Obama my approval. Most of that was because he appears to say a lot of great things in foreign affairs and he isn't Bush. I’m now to the point where I withdraw my approval. We voted for change and we're not getting it.

When there is nothing left to fall back to

Another view on the question of whether the gay marriage war has been won. This time I'm going to stick to reporting.

One reason why many in New Jersey are pushing for marriage equality is because they find the state's civil unions to be inadequate. Some GOP state senators are now calling for improvements to the civil union law. Of course they are saying this so they don't have to approve gay marriage.

But think of the progress this implies. Just 10 years ago civil unions in Vermont were seen as amazingly radical and outrageous. Now they're the fallback position. As more people realize that civil unions are discriminatory and even Super Duper Civil Unions (as now exist in Washington state and are now proposed for NJ) leave gays as second-class citizens the fallback position will be seen as inadequate. Then we'll have gay marriage.

Pure sweet madness, absolute shrieking madness

Africa can be violently homophobic. I've written that Uganda is considering a drastic anti-gay bill, with harsh penalties for even gay supporters. It's passage in parliament could be almost unanimous. Perhaps Uganda's president will veto it.

Sometimes love is mad. A traditional part of the wedding ceremony in Uganda is when the bride presents the groom to her parents. It isn't a case of, "Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet Joe." It is an elaborate party.

Now consider this situation: Friends are invited into a secure compound for the introduction and when the bride is to appear a man comes out instead, ready to introduce his future husband to his parents. If the proposed law passes, the happy couple could earn life in prison. Each guest, if they didn't report the wedding to the police within 24 hours, could face 3 years in prison. If the crowd outside didn't lynch them first.

Incredibly stupid. Incredibly foolish. Poignantly human. We should all be so foolish.

You can read the whole story told by a blogger who calls himself Gay Uganda. It's worth the time. He is trying to tell the story of the gay situation in his country.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Go west young gay man!

The Gene Autry Cowboy Museum in Los Angeles is creating an exhibit titled Out West about the life of gays, lesbians, and transgenders in the American West.

The District is giving Maryland fits

Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the DC Marriage Equality Bill! He held the signing ceremony in a Unitarian Church and remarked that when his own parents were married -- one black, one white -- many states would not have recognized it. Cool photo on this site. Yes, Congress can overrule it the next 30 days and GOP congresscritters are on record as wanting to do just that, but it is likely Reid and Pelosi won't let the subject come up.

You're spoiling the soup!

There had been 8 churches in Kalamazoo taking part in Martha's Table, a program to feed the homeless. Alas, three of them are in a snit because some of the other churches supported the city gay rights ordinance that passed in November. That's even with the charter for Martha's Table saying nothing about homosexuality. So the miffed churches took their ladles and went home. Seems they thought feeding the homeless was actually about recruiting members and couldn't stand homeless people getting impure doctrine with their soup. They also don't understand what Christianity is about (see Matthew 25:41-46), something especially glaring the week before Christmas. Quite a contrast from the UU church who served supper at the Ruth Ellis Center yesterday.

True, but dangerous

It's annoying when I disagree with my friend and debate partner and other opinions back him up. Sigh. But this one speaks from real-life experience. After the New York Senate voted down gay marriage a gay guy told his partner to go ahead to the protest rally while he stayed at work. Then he heard about how poorly the protest was attended. He and his partner had a long discussion that evening. Why not bother going? Everyone says that gay marriage is inevitable. Why stand in the cold if it will happen anyway? He decided that the claim of being inevitable may be true but it is dangerous. We lose our outrage to make it happen at all.

Sorry, my crystal ball has a crack in it

I guess I would feel something was missing if my friend and debate partner didn't debate with me. I wrote a couple days ago about Fareed Zakaria's opinion in Newsweek that our world is actually quite resilient, which is why we are already on the rebound from a recession that could have been a depression. My friend responded:

I wish I could agree. Fareed Zakaria is apparently a blooming-blind optimist.
• inflation remains a grave threat, especially to retired people. It impoverished 98% of Russians just last decade, lest we forget.
• Bush's program to locate missile defenses next door to Russia (which the Russians understood very well) shows that war mongering among the greater powers is far from over. Just give us another right-wing leader... and show no surprise when other nations behave the same way. There are many tinderbox areas of the world capable of exploding into conflicts that can draw in larger powers, thanks to their economic and political entanglements. Nation states are not sustainable without trade and trade is subject to blackmail.
• this supposed new world economy has winners and losers. Most developing nations are deeply in debt to the West.
• capitalism unregulated needs no competition -- it is self-destructive.
• While I agree that the economic crisis of 2008 seems reasonably well controlled, the damage is vast for those who lost jobs and/or homes. It's only the upper-middle and richer classes with substantial investments (you and me) that have really recovered. There are lots of other peoples' shoes to walk in that pinch very painfully.
• the other big unsustainable problems that face us, such as global warming, overpopulation, water issues, health care justice and costs, etc. are not so easily addressed as the 2008 economy was, once a crisis hits. Waiting to act until the problem is panic-urgent won't do. I suspect we (the whole human species) lack the leadership to address these problems adequately before they reach crisis.

I don't see a pretty century before us.

I don't think Zakaria was gazing into a crystal ball. Reading over my condensation of what Zakaria said I can see where my word choices might have implied that he was. I shall attempt to clarify. Zakaria (and I) listed several reasons why the current recession didn't last as long and wasn't as deep as first feared. These conditions are true today and influenced this recession. Past performance is not an indication of what the future holds. So repeating Zakaria's reasons:

* The Great Powers are at peace now and things haven't been this peaceful in 175 years.
* Inflation is tamed at the moment.
* A technological infrastructure leads to a diffusion of knowledge. This should only improve.
* Many countries have made great strides in lifting people out of poverty and are reluctant to sacrifice those gains in a war.
* Capitalism has no competing ideologies and people are clamoring for better regulation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I can spot a church potluck at 50 paces

I volunteered for an extra session at the Ruth Ellis Center this evening. They've had a bit of turmoil in staff and asked some of the volunteers to come in extra days to help out through the transition. Since I started there a year ago in August four staff people (the ones who work with the kids) have left. Now only April has more seniority than me. Jay is taking over for the one who left a couple weeks ago.

When I got there tonight there was enough of a crowd of workers that I wondered why I was needed. The crowd, 10 of them (I think), were from the Farmington Unitarian Universalist Church. They brought dinner and were ready to serve it to the kids. They almost outnumbered the kids, at least when serving started. The dinner was good ole church potluck -- a ham, salad, assorted casseroles, fruit, and brownies.

The reason why I was there was soon apparent -- I knew what was where in the kitchen and could get things as needed. Several kids, seeing all this bounty, asked for plates to take home. I was asked if there was a stapler to fasten two paper plates (one upside down) together. I actually found one. Though I didn't have pots to wash there were lots of the regular serving dishes to spray and get into the dishwasher. I also helped them pack the leftovers into the refrigerator. There's enough food to last about half of next week.

Those that brought food are part a team at the UU church that does various service projects. This was one of them. Since homosexuality is a non-issue in the UU church there were no negative vibes coming from this group. Alas, there was a sour note to the event -- one of their cars was vandalized.

I thought a lot this evening about my friend from Chicago who teasingly accused me of being a closeted Unitarian because I've talked to her about how much church doctrine gets in the way. I would normally send her this posting, but alas she died this past Wednesday of ALS. Her husband emailed me today (in response to a note I sent yesterday). I had met this good friend at Bay View, Michigan during the annual Week of Handbells. For many years we were positioned next to each other. Goodbye my friend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This is your brain on conservatism

Is a Red mind different from a Blue one? What's behind the differing views of climate change? I won't go into the personality traits. Here's a look at how the conservative mind looks at this big issue.

Conservatives (at least today) don't trust "elites" (it's now a Palin crowd). Given a choice between Limbaugh and a scientist, the scientist isn't going to be heard.

The definition of a conservative is one who wants to maintain the existing order -- and the emphasis is on order. To maintain it one must justify it. Corporations, government, and institutions are legitimate and must be beneficial, or at least benign. Policies serve the greater good. Society is set up so that people get what they deserve. There can't be global warming, or at least it can't be caused by humans, because otherwise that implies there are shortcomings in the current system.

Our world isn't so fragile

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek has some insights on the resiliency of our global system. We're recovering from last year's financial mess a lot faster than pundits speculated at the time. Some of the reasons:

* We learned from the Great Depression and worked hard to not repeat its problems.

* The Great Powers haven't been this peaceful for at least 175 years. We're not competing with each other in military terms. This peace has allowed the creation of a world economy.

* The decades-long struggle over inflation has been won. There is only one country, Zimbabwe, battling high inflation.

* We now have a technological infrastructure to allow people around the world to talk in real-time and to spread information across borders. This diffusion of knowledge leads to stability and growth.

* Countries have worked hard to lift people out of poverty and are unwilling to sacrifice those gains to a worker's utopia or war.

* There are no competing ideologies, capitalism has no competitors. Countries, such as China, India, and Brazil have learned to be prudent with their economic systems (as in taming bubbles) and established countries could learn from the upstarts. These emerging countries are mature enough that they can withstand the messes created by the West.

The celebrity industry is useful?

I've been to some training and will attend more on how to tell personal stories on behalf of gay rights. Voters and decision makers aren't swayed by the elegance of an argument, they want to know how a proposed law affects actual people. Thus, we learn about narrative with a purpose -- the incident, how it made me feel, what I learned from it, how all that affects the issue at hand.

You then might wonder why I then say I pay very little attention to celebrities and their latest shenanigans. I bring it up because Newsweek, in response to the Tiger Woods mess (which I'm studiously ignoring), has a cover article on the modern uses of celebrity. And ideas behind a phenomenon are interesting to me. So, here are a few ideas that Neal Gabler wrote about.

Celebrity stories has become the new art form, competing and superseding the traditional stuff (movies, novels, plays). Celebrity narratives distract us, sensitize us to the human condition, provide us with life's lessons, and create a shared experience. We are so fractured as a nation right now that a shared experience is important and comforting.

Celebrities are that only as long as they maintain an interesting narrative. Tiger's mistresses will vanish. Brad Pitt keeps his personal story going (to the point that he can't disappear into a movie -- the actor overshadows the character).

Novels and movies strive to be real. Celebrities don't have to strive. Stories have endings. Celebrities leave you in suspense for much longer.

I'm still going to ignore the lot of them. So much for shared experience.

I could go for this trade

The pavilion at Ocean Grove, NJ is a beautiful spot for a wedding. It's also a favorite example of Fundies trying to prove gays are out to overturn Christianity (and they always misrepresent the example). The town of Ocean Grove is essentially owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association with strong religious ties. The Assoc. had a tax exemption on the pavilion because it was open to the public. Except that gay couples weren't allowed to use it, so the exemption was withdrawn.

Now we get to chapter two. If the gay marriage bill before the NJ legislature passes (and it had better be soon) there is a provision that says that religious institutions cannot be required to accept gays who want to marry. That means the tax exemption for the pavilion would be restored while still allowing the Assoc. to exclude gays. Some see this -- allow gays to marry, but not in the pavilion -- as a fair trade. Some strongly disagree.

Toss it out and start again

The health care reform act was supposed to (1) cover more people and (2) reduce costs. In the eyes of many people the Senate version will do neither. Instead, it will line the pockets of Big Health. Are we surprised?

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek says the "savings" actually mean health care costs will grow more slowly but the difference will be miniscule.

Joe Lieberman (due to ego? spite? money?) has made sure the health care reform bill won't have any meaningful (government) competition for insurance companies. Yeah, 30 million people will be required to get health insurance (can you say "insurance company bonanza"?). But will they be able to afford it? Probably not.

Howard Dean feels the total bill is now so useless that the Senate should toss it and start over. Yet Obama has staked his presidency on health reform and a bad bill now is better than a good bill later.

To get civil rights and Medicare bills passed in the 1960s, LBJ did some serious arm twisting -- don't vote with me and I'll make sure the national party doesn't fund your next campaign. If this bill is so important to Obama, why isn't he (or Reid or Pelosi) doing equivalent arm twisting? Then again, Lieberman is technically independent.

Annoyingly, the GOP did in 2003 the very things they are against now. Then it was the prescription medication addition to Medicare. Never mind the shenanigans that got it passed. It is now a huge contributor to the deficit, something the GOP says the current health bill can't be. It's all politics of course. Medicare affects seniors who tend to vote GOP. This new bill is for the poor, who don't.

Many people, notably gays, are now telling Dem organizations exactly why they aren't donating. The old story -- if you don't support us the GOP will be in power and they'll work against you -- doesn't wash anymore. We elected you to be Dems, not wimps. The GOP voters will vote for their candidate no matter what. Dem voters will only bother to vote for candidates that happen to actually enact Democratic Party principles. The Dem party is bigger than the GOP but has so many voters that must be convinced they can still lose.

No story or song without violating the Top Ten

A high school putting on the musical Falsettos? It has so many gay characters. Who would want the parts? But the director put out the casting call -- and had 50 applicants. Fundie heads, of course, exploded. But what "traditional" musical doesn't violate the ten commandments in a half dozen different ways? Guys and Dolls, for example, has gambling, binge drinking, and premarital sex.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Whose arguments are filled with lies?

Pundits are claiming that gay marriage is inevitable in spite of the losses in Maine and New York because of the demographics of who is on each side of the issue.

Maggie Gallagher is head of the National Organization for Marriage an organization that invested heavily in defeating gay marriage in Maine (and elsewhere). She disagrees (of course), listing her reasons. Some of them are here (the rest seem to be duplicates) along with rebuttals from myself and others. No, I'm not linking to her directly.

* The future is never inevitable. The poll data aren't an argument for gay marriage, only a statistical observation.

* Young people are not as unanimous as claimed. As young people mature they tend to learn about fairness. If a large number already agree that gays must be treated fairly then the number who agree to gay marriage will only grow.

* The argument from despair is bait and switch -- they're losing the argument that gay marriage is a good idea. So, who in the Maine campaign was documented as lying whenever they opened their mouths? If gay marriage is a bad idea why is every supporting argument filled with lies?

* Progressives are often wrong about the future -- we were told abortion would be a dead issue by today. But progressive ideas, such as abolition, civil rights, women's voting rights, food safety, contraceptive rights, and Medicare, are now accepted as a given in spite of conservative opposition when they were enacted.

* Demography could be destiny -- traditionalists have more children. But not all of them embrace their parent's religion -- especially the gay ones. And the ones who do take after their parents have gay friends.

It has to be done one step at a time

Yeah, time is short in dealing with climate change, but we've built our economy around carbon for so long (2500 years?) that change will not come quickly. One conference (Copenhagen) or even one disaster doesn't change ideas that are so deep. Humans change only so fast and in predictable ways. The whole way we deal with energy could take a couple centuries. Here is a list of the steps through which change tends to happen.

* A small group realizes there is a problem and studies exactly what the problem is. Scientists began noticing the global warming problem over a century ago.

* The battle for hearts and minds -- getting the rest of society to see the problem, admit it's severity, and agree something needs to be done. This is the hardest step and is nearly over.

* See of tweaks can fix the system. In climate change this is where we are now. It is a necessary step and is not irrational because in the vast majority of situations requiring change a tweak will fix it. Also, risk adverse people that we are must see if the job can be done with tweaks. Those that know tweaks aren't enough must be patient because this step can't be rushed. Jump to far ahead and you lose credibility because people resent you. There is usually a generational dynamic at work with older people invested in the status-quo and youngsters convinced the old system is unworkable.

* A tipping point arrives proving that tweaks can't be enough and a thorough overhaul must be done. If the earlier stages were done right enough (at least 70%) of the population is with you, ready to drop resistance and move to something revolutionary.

* The change happens, usually not in the way anticipated. Some outcomes are worse, others much better.

* The wrap-up. The new system needs it's own tweaks and most people believe things are better now than they would have been without the change.

It seems like "incrementalism" but change for humans only happens this way. A true leader understands this system and can guide the population through each step.

So Copenhagen isn't all-or-nothing. Events like this will probably become more frequent as the tweaks proposed this time are proven to be insufficient.

Roach hotel? More like a roach country

A horrid anti-gay bill (advocating death for "repeat offenders") is likely to pass in Uganda. A lot of the developed world is horrified and some countries talk about cutting aid to Uganda. They would rather give up the aid than give in, especially since oil was found in the country. Some of the other provisions in the bill include criminalization of speech advocating for gays and requiring other people to turn in gays to the police within 24 hours of learning they are gay (and that includes your kids too).

That anti-gay bill is the result of an anti-gay conference in Uganda led by American Evangelicals and ex-gays that was held last March. Many American Evangelicals are mighty quiet on the issue. Some watchers are now connecting dots. There is a Seven Mountains theology -- to hasten End Times, Christians (and we mean Fundies) are called to take dominion over seven areas: family, business, arts, media, education, religion, and government. Control these and you control the society. It seems (if I understand it right) Ugandan Fundies, with strong support of the American variety, have been scaling those mountains and have likely succeeded in government, turning Uganda into a theocracy. Meaning many of the things that happen there are what Fundies want to happen in America if they only could. Exterminate gays like cockroaches? Part of the game plan. No wonder they're silent on Uganda's actions.

The international outcry is building. It is loud enough that the death penalty clause is being taken out. It is being replaced with a phrase that offenders will be offered a choice between prison and reparative therapy. No mention of what happens when the therapy fails.

Refusing to hold justice as a hostage

Candidates for Bishop in the Episcopal Church diocese of Los Angeles area included two gays. And one of them, Mary Glasspool, was elected. After Gene Robinson was made bishop the Episcopal Church got enough condemnation from the worldwide Anglican Church that the Americans put a hold on more gay bishops. Then it became obvious the worldwide church was holding justice hostage, so the Episcopalians lifted their hold. This is the first gay bishop since the hold was lifted.

Disagreement is harmful

The gay marriage drama continues in New Jersey. Here is some of the testimony given during the NJ Judiciary Committee meeting that eventually approved a gay marriage bill. Those against the bill spew the usual hate-filled nonsense (if civil unions are an acceptable alternative to marriage why did you oppose civil unions when they were created?). Here's a quote that caught my eye: Many religious people say they are being persecuted by gays. They are apparently saying it is harmful for the religious to live in a society that disagrees with them.

The whole Senate was to vote today, but the outcome is too much in doubt so efforts have shifted to the NJ Assembly.

Jumping off before the cliff

Charles Johnson, conservative blogger, is parting ways with the Right. However, that won't make him a progressive. His reasons for the split are because the Right supports…
* fascism
* bigotry, hatred, white supremacism
* throwing women back to the Dark Ages
* anti-science (creationism)
* homophobia
* anti-government lunacy
* conspiracy theories
* a right-wing blogosphere dominated by hate speech
* anti-Islamic bigotry that spills into violence and genocide
* hatred for Obama beyond criticism of his policies
… and more.

Andrew Sullivan, who is a gay and conservative blogger, has done the same and has his own points on the matter. He says, "I cannot support a movement that…
* claims to believe in limited government but backed a president who wanted unlimited power.
* exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.
* holds torture as a core value.
* so abandoned its regulatory responsibilities that the result is Katrina and the financial meltdown.
* believes religious doctrine trumps politics and uses faith for the pursuit of power.
* is deeply homophobic and racist.
* has no respect for the institutions of government and fights political warfare rather than hold a conversation.
* would back a VP candidate so unqualified because of identity politics.
* does not accept evolution.
* sees climate change as a hoax.
* refuses ever to raise taxes while proposing no reductions in spending.
* refuses to distance itself from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
* sees America as the sole global power, the world's policeman, and uses violence as a core tool of international relations."

Pam Spaulding, "reality based" blogger responds by wondering how weak the GOP must get before the Dems grow spines.

Do you know what it means to follow MLK?

I had a few busy days so my reading resulted in notes of things I wanted to comment on. Here's the beginning of today's flood as I catch up.

Those who signed the Manhattan Manifesto (which I've written about before) claimed they are following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and his principles of civil disobedience. They claim they will not follow any law that disagrees with their stated goals. But they don't understand the concept. Civil disobedience doesn't make threats, certainly not threats to abandon the poor. It doesn't hold the poor hostage. Instead, the one who is disobedient pulls the suffering onto himself -- I will suffer to end this injustice even though I don't deserve it and can avoid it. Its goal is to change hearts as well as minds, relying on the faith and humanity of the opponent.

There is now an Affirmation Declaration in response to the Manhattan Manifesto. I've read parts of it and found nothing new (at least to me). Even so, I'm glad it's out there and tackling the Fundies head-on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Battles? Wars? Be careful what you say

My friend and debate partner remains unconvinced with my insistence that the war has been won, though battles continue. He wrote:

Your friend and debate partner agrees that there is vast progress against homophobia. Your examples are valid, although I regard examples from California and Massachusetts as from the choir. Time and education are certainly on the side of justice.

But calling the "war won" impresses me as underestimating the opposition and the work ahead. The Catholic Church has evident influence. Fundamentalists are a force in opposition. Republicans are generally united against the cause. Hate crimes against gays continue. There are a lot of under-educated Americans who respond from their fears, especially in bad economic times.

Discrimination is a virulent disease that won't die away easily. Celebrating too soon costs momentum and motivation. I wouldn't set up my thinking in that manner at this point in the war.

Hoo boy, is that ever a sin!

Chris Pesto, student at Syracuse University, saw a woman wearing a corduroy skirt and holding a sign that said, "Homosexuality is sin, Christ can set you free!" So he created a sign that said, "Corduroy skirts are a sin," and stood beside her. He drew a lot of attention and soon a crowd joined him holding signs with pro-gay slogans. There is debate on whether or not corduroy is made up of two materials and would be as much of an abomination as gays. Even if not, his sign makes as much sense as hers -- unless one counts corduroy as a fashion disaster. Her sign left me wondering. If Christ can set one free from homosexuality why does he do it so rarely?

The fear behind the claim

Here is proof that allowing gays to get married does not require churches to perform them. Only now, over 5 years after gay marriage was legalized in Mass., will Episcopal pastors there be able to sign marriage certificates. Perhaps what the Fundies fear is not that government will force them to marry gays but that their own gay people will want a religious ceremony. Will they have to leave a Fundie church to get it or will the demand force the Fundie church to change?

Nasty bargains

Some interesting articles from Newsweek.

I really want to say why wasn't the GOP concerned about the national deficit and debt when Bush was running it up? Sometime in 2008 (and the date does matter here) the national debt was $5.8 trillion or 41% of GDP. Ten years from now in 2019 the debt is projected to be $14.3 trillion or 68% of GDP, tripling on Obama's watch. At least I can say it was the GOP push for unregulated markets that made Obama's spending necessary.

Niall Ferguson explains why such a huge deficit is a huge deal. The short answer: As debt rises two things happen. First, those who buy our debt (and there aren't enough buyers in the USA for all that debt so it must be foreigners) begin to charge higher interest rates because they see the debt as being riskier. When crushing debt happens the easiest way out of it is to print more money, triggering inflation and making the debt worth less. Investors demand the interest rate go up with inflation. Second, payments towards that debt takes up an increasing percentage of the federal budget, leaving room for only Social Security, Medicare, and debt repayment. What gets left out is such things as defense. The inability to rearm due to high debt payments left Britain vulnerable at the start of WWII. High debt is also the reason why we don't have Hapsburg Spain, Royal France, or the Ottoman Empire around these days. Is America spending its way to its own downfall?

Ruth Marcus tangles with the provision in the House health bill that bans federally funded health insurance from offering abortions. She asks which is worse for poor women …

* No health insurance at all.

* Health insurance that pays for a great deal, including contraceptives, but doesn't cover abortion.

Not having insurance doesn't cover abortion either.

If those are the choices, says Marcus, it is foolish for Dem senators to say they'll kill the entire health care plan if abortions aren't covered. Yes, it is a nasty bargain.

The size of the pro-life and pro-choice camps hasn't changed much over the last 35 years. However, the size of the camp that says while abortion should be legal government shouldn't pay for it is increasing.

That dynamic leaves the abortion battle in an interesting position. It can be lobbed like a hand grenade into any legislative battle that someone wants to blow up.

The Cleveland Clinic is being run like a business and it's current CEO is using standard business practices to squeeze out costs and improve results. It is such a great model for how health care should be done that Obama visited last July. A great deal of the article describes how costs are kept so low and it is wonderful to read. Two big questions arise: What areas does the Cleveland Clinic have problems with cost control? Why aren't other medical centers and private practices doing the same things?

That answer that is at the top of both questions: our patchwork of health insurance. Which reminds me of my belief that health is incompatible with the profit motive. Some thoughts from the article by Jerry Adler and Jeneen Interlandi:

The Cleveland Clinic has 2000 doctors on staff. It also has 1400 billing agents, who spend as much time on hold as we do when contacting health insurance companies. Each insurer has its own way of demanding how billing is to be handled (and if you don't do it their way they simply reject it).

The overhead for private insurers is 29%. The overhead for Medicare is 3%. Just think of the medicine that could be done with that 26%.

Duke University Medical Center made a big effort to improve costs and care of patients with congestive heart failure. They cut costs by 40% and reduced readmissions. But Duke didn't benefit from all that effort, they lost money over it. Less money from patients. Those that gained: health insurance companies.

Editor Jon Meacham tosses a grenade to make liberals choke. There are competing visions on how to govern America, one embodied by Bush the other by Obama. Running Obama against McCain didn't produce a decisive choice between the two visions. In 2012 running Obama against Cheney will. Yup, enough to choke a liberal. At least Cheney is smarter than Bush. Instead of on the campaign trail I'd like to see Cheney in jail for crimes against humanity. He's way too much of a thug.

Speaking of the end of empires… Here's an interesting little video (not from Newsweek) that shows the size of the four great naval empires and what happens to them from 1800 to 2000 (the counter is in the lower left). Each of Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain is shown as a bubble, the size of which represents the land area of the corresponding empires. The bubbles jostle and swell and every so often spew out a chunk representing when a country gains its independence. I hadn't realized that it was in the early 1960s that France lost its Africa holdings. The one thing that isn't shown is the countries that are swallowed up to increase the size of the bubbles, especially the British one.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No, really, the war is won

I wrote last week that the idea of homophobia is no longer welcome and while battles still need to be fought, the war has been won. My friend and debate partner disagreed. So I'll offer some evidence that while battles -- marriage in New York the latest one -- rage on, the war is won.

* The next Speaker of the Calif. Assembly will likely be John Perez, a gay man.

* Campbell, Calif. city council choose the mayor and this time chose Evan Low. He's 26 years old, gay, and is Asian-American in a suburb that is 70% white.

* Back when Massachusetts was crafting a gay marriage law because their Supremes said they had to, Vincent Ciampa, a Dem., voted against it. What did he care? His seat was so safe that the GOP didn't bother opposing him. That vote really annoyed Carl Sciortino, a gay man who was 26 at the time. So, in 2005 Sciortino challenged Ciampa in the primary even though the political machine was with Ciampa and Sciortino had no experience. But the kid did have a moral cause of equality. And won. If you oppose equality the chances are increasing that you'll pay for your vote.

* Georgia has a new black lesbian state legislator in Simone Bell. Alex Wan, a gay Asian-American, has been elected to Atlanta City Council.

A contagious lack of backbone

New Jersey Dems are wimping out over a vote for gay marriage. But they are acting like scared herd animals. The vote in NJ was supposed to be routine. Legislators said wait until after the election and we'll vote for marriage no matter the outcome. It's a promise. It seems the failure of the marriage vote in Maine scared them off. But perhaps if NJ had approved gay marriage first the vote in Maine may have gone the other way.

Some prominent Dems in NJ are trying to rally the troops. In November a GOP governor was elected and he has vowed to veto any marriage bill. If it is to become law it must be in this lame-duck session. There is still hope.

For the last several days the New York Senate has been on the verge of voting on gay marriage during their "emergency session." The Assembly even passed it a second time (bills must pass both houses during the emergency session) to avoid delays. Finally, they cleared other business and debated. A lot of senators said some encouraging things in the debate.

They voted. And came eight votes short. From what I can piece together, there were supposed to be 3 GOP votes in favor, giving enough votes to overcome two reluctant Dems. But one senator, who had been seen as a gay advocate, voted no early in the process, a serious defection. That gave the 3 GOP senators and several more Dems the cover they needed to vote no as well.

Ton Duane, the Dem senator pushing hardest for the marriage bill, was shaken by the rebuff and betrayal. He commented, "Unfortunately, I think there was a contagious lack of backbone that occurred here today." Ya think? Duane had previously predicted that the vote would be based on politics, not on righting a wrong. But some good came out of it. Such a debate and vote would have been impossible 5 years ago. This time many senators said some very nice things from the floor of the Senate.

There will be gay backlash. It started with a Times Square rally. A second rally was held in Union Square and featured many of the senators who had voted yes. Then there were prominent postings of the eight Dems who voted no, complete with email addresses. Along with that was analysis that several of these guys were unopposed in their primary and readily voted in at the general election. They will definitely have challengers during the next election cycle.

In the meantime the District of Columbia City Council voted for gay marriage by a margin of 11-2. This is the 1st of 2 votes. The next vote is in a couple weeks and the mayor has said he'll sign.

National Organization of Marriage responded by saying the citizens of DC have a God-given right to vote on marriage. Oh? Chapter and verse, please. Or Article of the Constitution. Voters did exercise that right -- by voting for a city council that favors gay marriage.