Monday, December 31, 2012

All those bad guys with guns

The day after Christmas I had an unexpected extra day at home. I and family were going to head to Kentucky to visit more family, but winter storms postponed that by a day. Though I started to comment on the various articles that have been accumulating in my browser tabs, I didn't get far enough to post. So, now that I'm back, here we go. This is a long one. Hopefully, it ties several ideas together.

The gay community has long had to deal with lists of reasons why homosexuality is wrong. We've gotten good at debunking those reasons. So it is good to see Paul Waldman of The American Prospect do similar duty to the top ten arguments gun advocates make.

* Now is not the time to talk about gun control. Something about we would politicize it. That means the days following Hurricane Sandy is not the time to talk about disaster preparedness and climate change.

* Guns don't kill people, people kill people. We don't see mass shootings in Japan or Britain because they don't have easy access to guns. My summary: People who don't have guns don't kill people.

* Arm everyone and civilians could take out shooters. Even trained officers kill bystanders in the chaos of the situation. A teacher with a couple hours training does not become a marksman. I heard recently about a safety officer on the scene during a school shooting in Tennessee (a few years ago). The officer said from the time the shooting began until he grabbed the weapon was 12 seconds. And still three students were dead.

* We need to enforce the law we have. Funding for police keeps getting cut, so who will do the enforcing? Existing laws are so full of loopholes as to be meaningless.

* Criminals will find a way to get guns so why bother? There's no other problem for which we'd say if we can't solve it completely and forever we shouldn't even try.

* The Constitution says I have a right to guns. True. But all other rights have limits. Free speech does not include slander. We gladly give up other rights for safety. We don't grumble too loudly when taking off shoes for the airport security check.

* Widespread gun ownership prevents tyranny. Mature democracies are not constantly overthrown by despots. We shouldn't base laws on conspiracy theories.

* Guns are a part of American culture. So was slavery and we got rid of that.

* Americans don't want more gun control. Read any polls lately? Even gun owners want restrictions.

* "Having movie theaters and schools full of kids periodically shot up is just a price we should be willing to pay if it means I get to play with guns and pretend I'm Wyatt Earp." You never hear them say that but it is the one true statement in the bunch.

Robert Shrum of The Daily Beast says we are being held hostage by the NRA -- the National Rampage Association. Now is the time to talk about gun control.

My dad sent me a link to the following article. He says he got it from the Facebook page of one of my nephews-in-law. I don't know whether the link comes with a shout of affirmation or a cry of anguish (I don't do Facebook, and no, Dad, you don't need to check for me).

The post is a long one and is by Larry Correia. He's a best selling author now, but before then he was active in the gun culture. He has become an expert on gun-control laws, has trained legions of gun owners, and has worked with law enforcement to train them in Use of Force scenarios and in how mass shooters think. His accomplishments are long and he spells it all out to make sure we know he isn't simply someone with an uninformed opinion. He knows his stuff. Even so, he clearly says it is his opinion about what our response to the Newtown shooting should be. Highlights:

Teachers should be armed.
The single best way to respond to a mass shooter is with an immediate, violent response. The vast majority of the time, as soon as a mass shooter meets serious resistance, it bursts their fantasy world bubble. Then they kill themselves or surrender. This has happened over and over again.

The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by law enforcement: 14. The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by civilians: 2.5. The reason is simple. The armed civilians are there when it started.
Correia clarifies that the squeamish (like me) need not apply. He has taught teachers and only want volunteers. But a handful of volunteers in a school could make a difference.

I am a teacher and would most definitely not be a volunteer. Yet, my classroom is at the end of a hallway filled with practice rooms and most of the time they are empty. We're by ourselves. I can't imagine any of the other faculty in the department agreeing to pack heat. It would take Campus Safety a while to arrive (the same problem Correia has with police). Now the campus is sponsored by Catholic nuns known for pacifism, but we are in Detroit. Within the last two years (on a day I wasn't there) the campus leadership warned the staff about gunfire in a nearby neighborhood.

So in Correia's world, where does that leave me and my students? And why is a loss of 2-3 victims acceptable?

At a recent lunch of friends from church the subject of guns, especially the idea of arming teachers, came up. One man, who had been a high school assistant principle, just laughed.

Correia also talks about how gun-free zones mean only shooters have guns. He then discusses the media's role from the point of view of the perpetrator. The shooter wants to be the star of the drama, famous throughout the world -- famous enough even the president notices. And the media obliges. Perhaps the media should not report on the identity of the shooter and our obsession over him. I've heard this idea before and it makes sense.

Correia is wise enough not to comment on the mental health of the perpetrators. He's not a psychologist, though he has studied them enough to understand how they operate. He just wishes the rest of us as uninformed about guns would be similarly constrained.

Correia reviews gun control laws.

Ban automatic weapons. These are the ones that keep shooting as long as the finger has pulled the trigger. Done. Back in 1934 they had to be registered. That registry closed in 1986 with no new legal machine guns since then. But that doesn't stop criminals from getting or making them.

Ban semi-automatic guns. With each pull of the trigger a bullet is fired and another loaded in place. That means pretty much all guns. Including those for self-defense.

Ban handguns. These are the tools of self defense, used only because they can be concealed.

Ban assault rifles. Define that term. Either a feature in previous definitions is cosmetic or is so common it would mean banning all guns.

Ban magazines with more than x bullets. (1) It also bans them for the good guys who may face multiple assailants. (2) The good guys shoot to make the assailant stop, not to kill him, and it may take a lot of bullets to do that. (3) The bad guy will either have multiple guns or have practiced his scenario so he can reload quickly and out of range. (4) Magazines holding lots of bullets are easy to make. (5) Reserving big magazines for police use is meaningless because bad guys will get them. (6) When bullet count in a magazine is limited the bad guys make sure each bullet is more potent, the caliber of the gun bigger.

Conclusion: Bans don't work. Bad guys (and gun nuts) will get guns anyway. Every threat of a ban boosts sales. Obama is considered the top gun salesman. But bans do prevent the good guys from having guns.

Correia continues: You don't need assault weapons for hunting. Maybe. But the 2nd Amendment isn't about hunting.

Ban all guns.

But they are used more to stop crime than cause crime. Producing a gun is frequently enough. It doesn't need to be fired. Criminals want easy prey and when the victim produces a gun that becomes too much work. Correia quotes one estimate of 2.5M defensive uses of a gun in a year. Sound high? The Brady Center (a group that wants to ban guns) estimates 108K defensive uses. That is compared to 10K gun related deaths in an year.

Correia does not go into the situation when a good, but inexperienced, guy produces a gun and the bad guy uses it against the good guy. This is one big reason why I don't want a gun. I would be too reluctant to use it, increasing the chance I would be the one harmed by any shooting.

Gun bans in other countries (Australia, England, Norway) may have decreased mass shootings, but they have only increased violent crime. Bad guys who don't have guns turn to explosives.

Attempting to confiscate guns after a ban would be "national suicide," according to Correia. Though he doesn't define that term I would guess it means the gun nuts would start a war on the rest of us.

The 2nd Amendment is archaic and should be repealed.

About half the country disagrees. The only way a repeal makes any difference is if it is followed by confiscation of existing guns. Yes, some would turn them in. Many would lie about owning them. But perhaps 800K would defend their guns with flying bullets. Now compare that with 700K cops nationwide. And guess which side the cops would take.

So how many people are you willing to have killed to confiscate all those guns and who will do the killing?

Let's do something about the culture of guns.

That would be tough because as more people carry concealed weapons the stigma has vanished. However, the culture of guns is personified by law enforcement. Though liberal leadership may want to do away with guns all it means is the regular police officers -- the ones having to face down the bad guys -- don't have enough training or weapons to deal with the bad guys. Repeat: Bad guys will have guns anyway. The solution is to make sure enough good guys have guns. So, yeah, the rant by the NRA Director -- the only response to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun -- is correct.

Correia has been stunned by the response to his post. He says it has been read by over 300K people, the post itself has over 2000 comments, and he has gotten hundreds more responses by email. It has made a big impact in the national discussion.

Yeah, all that is quite disappointing and discouraging. I don't want America to be a country where everyone feels they need to carry a gun. I don't want a country where there are 10K deaths a year from guns.

Perhaps all those guns are a symptom of a much deeper national (or worldwide) problem. Is that something we can work to fix?

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic quotes from CNN:
A decreasing number of American gun owners own two-thirds of the nation's guns and as many as one-third of the guns on the planet -- even though they account for less than 1% of the world's population, according to a CNN analysis of gun ownership data.
Hmm. Less than 1% of the world's population is less than 70 million. It may be small compared to the total population, but it is still a heckuva lot of people. But that doesn't invalidate Coates' conclusion:
To state the obvious, there is something more than self-defense at work here.
Maybe everyone with more than one gun should be considered mentally ill and sent to therapy.

David Callahan of Policy Shop says we are all trumpeting individual rights. Conservatives are obsessed with individual freedom in economics and guns. But they ignore how unregulated capitalism leads to economic crashes. Progressives are obsessed with social and civil rights such as sexuality and due process. In turn they ignore such things as promiscuous men who walk away from their kids. But too much emphasis on rights and freedom comes at the expense of responsibility and community. The national conversation needs to shift to repeatedly stating that personal desires don't trump the common good.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend starts poking around what the problems behind gun control might be.

Up first:
…our society is full of people who have no impulse control when it comes to anger and acting out — and those people have easy access to firearms and unfortunately feel the need to use them in circumstances that formerly resulted in a shouting match or fisticuffs. What is wrong with people and what in our culture is fomenting these hair-trigger, deadly reactions, many times steeped in substance abuse?
Next she examines sociopaths. Are they born that way? There is some evidence. Also evidence that many are sociopaths at a young age. But they don't get the help they need (is there any?) because we as a society have decided it is inappropriate to assign such a label to a 9-year-old, no matter how accurate it may be. Such a label will ruin the child and the parents.

On to bullying. It is reaching epidemic levels. When it isn't counteracted in schools young bullies grow up to be workplace bullies. And workplace bullies are usually rewarded. Many become bosses and are prized for getting things done. But workers can't tolerate the stress and workplace violence is up. That has led to 21 states to introduce a Healthy Workplace Bill. Alas, it hasn't passed anywhere yet.

One of Pam's commenters, by the name of donbacon, looks at militarism. I would think this means the glorification of the military and the assumption that the use of the military is the answer to all problems. But it is actually more basic. From the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD):
Militarism is a value system that stresses the superiority of some people over others. . .Militarism derides cooperation, equality and nonviolence, and instead enforces strict hierarchical relationships.
That means bullying is one aspect of militarism. And militarism sounds like it is a part of systems of power working to maintain that power.

Several months ago Jennifer Tyrrell became famous for being expelled as a Cub Scout den leader because she is a lesbian (with partner and raising kids). Tyrrell has joined Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and her first post talks about her background. Because of poverty and constant moving, when she was young she and her brother were the perfect targets for bullies. But in 5th Grade, something snapped and she became the bully. It was a softball coach who reached out to her and helped her through her anger. Now she is an anti-bullying advocate (in addition to getting the Boy Scouts to change their anti-gay ways).

So, the answer to gun violence may not be gun control. Sigh. We may need guns in the hands of the good guys because the bad guys have so many.

But it appears there are a couple things we can work on. (1) Stress the balance between rights and responsibility and between the individual and community. (2) Work to replace militarism with cooperation, equality, and nonviolent resolutions to conflicts and do this in schools and the workplace.

Let's get started. We've got a new year to work in.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Oh the weather outside is frightful

Well, not yet… But there are predictions for a nasty storm heading up the Ohio Valley tomorrow and we (parents, sis, niece, and I) have to pass through there to get to Kentucky where more family is gathering. The worst report was for Cincinnati, which would have sleet, rain, snow, and icy roads about the time we would drive through. So, in the last half hour before any penalties my dad called the hotel and cancelled tomorrow night. We'll consider again tomorrow evening. While Cincinnati may get only an inch, precipitation forecast maps suggest the area between Toledo and Cincinnati might get more than six inches. Even here in Detroit (predicted to get a "glancing blow") may get 3-7 inches.

I saw a few references to this idea when my dad and I were checking weather alerts along our route. But checking just now I didn't see it and it took a bit of searching. This idea is the naming of big winter storms to correspond to hurricane names. A big difference is the naming will be done by the Weather Channel, not by the winter counterpart to the National Hurricane Center (because there isn't one). The rationale is given here. I suppose it is a good idea. But Euclid? And if that rolls trippingly off the tongue, slated for later this winter is Orko and Ukko. All rightie now.

My dad has already picked up the minivan we'll use on our travels to Kentucky. But since my sister is the designated driver, the whole thing had to be put on her credit card, even though it is actually the same account. On my way home after visiting them today I followed my sister back to the airport so I could be added as a driver. For once my dad decided to leave the driving to us.

While at the rental counter sis said to the clerk, "Do you have a book or something to tell me how all the controls in the car work? It took me until I got home to find the lever to get the steering wheel out of my lap." A few years ago I rented a car and had a flat tire. I couldn't find the spare (it hung from below) and there was no user manual in the glove box. I later heard the books are removed because otherwise they'd be stolen. Either way, no manual.

The clerk said, "Just use your smart phone and scan this QR code in the key fob and it will tell you everything you need to know."

Sis responded, "I don't have a smart phone."

Though the clerk said it in a much nicer way, her answer was essentially, "Well, you're screwed." There seems to be this assumption that everyone is up on the latest gadgets. She did take a few moments to answer specific questions Sis had.

A bit of humor to end this evening. One of the criticisms (excuses) why gay people should be discouraged from being gay is we, on our own, can't reproduce. Doonesbury from this past Sunday neatly turns that on its head.

Monday, December 24, 2012

On another jaunt

Tomorrow is Christmas, so a heartfelt "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukah" (though that ended more than a week ago) or "Joyful Solstice" (a few days ago) is in order.

The day after that I'll be joining my parents, sister, and niece on a car trip to southwest Kentucky, where my niece lives with her husband. We'll be joined by her father (my brother), mother, and sister. That will be two days of driving there and back and three days of visiting.

I'll take along my netbook, but probably won't have much opportunity to surf the web or write posts. I'll be back to my usual posting perhaps by New Year's Eve, certainly at the start of the year. My browser tabs are already accumulating stuff I won't have time to read and comment on today.

Here are a couple items for the season.

Here's an explanation of why Rudolph's nose is red. It has lots of extra capillaries because it serves as a heat exchanger, keeping him cool under the exertion of flying. Alas, the article doesn't explain the part about "you could even say it glows," producing enough light for navigation. It also doesn't explain why Rudolph's nose might be any different than Prancer's. And, as for flying…

Procrasti-Nation has now been mapped. It's various districts are Solitaireitory, Napland, Snack Sector, Surfside (as in internet), Doodle District, Game Zone, and Range of Excuses. Just offshore is Isle Get It Done. Sure, you will.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A choice, thankfully now obvious

I took a break from my remaining Christmas tasks (don't expect my Christmas card to arrive on Monday) to see the movie Any Day Now. Rudy performs as a drag queen and doesn't make much money. About the time he attracts the attention of closeted Paul he discovers the young teen Down Syndrome Marco, who lives in the next apartment, has been left behind as his mother is hauled away on drug charges. Marco is placed in foster care, but leaves, looking for home. Rudy and Paul take Marco in, and that begins the battle for custody. Today that would be pretty easy, but the story is set in 1979.

Even though things are now much better for gay parents, I thought the story is still targeted for today's audience. Part of it is to show the gay viewers how far we've come. And part of it is to remind straight viewers that gay parents can be pretty good. Yeah, the choice between a gay couple and a druggie mother lays the choice pretty starkly from our vantage three decades later. But at that time the choice wasn't so obvious.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tin ear

The Executive Director of the NRA gave his opinion on the Newtown shootings. Not surprisingly, everything and everyone else is the problem and the solution is more guns. I could rant on about this, citing lots of other rants from around the web. I'll bother with two (without searching for either). First: this guy has an amazingly tin political ear. Second: why is it we can't afford teachers for our schools, but we can afford cops? Then I'll let you look at yesterday's post and conclude by saying we can't shoot our way to a solution.

… On second thought, I'll give the last words to Terrence Heath. I'll start with his list of culprits who make sure the country is awash in guns: the GOP, ALEC, and the NRA. Perhaps it is time for a Million Child March. And I'll end with Heath's three collections of political cartoons. You may need to click to enlarge. Then grab a tissue. In one, Santa is crying because all the kids want for Christmas are bulletproof vests.

Mayan Calendar

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin is pretty good explaining things and debunking anti-gay claims. He puts that first talent to good use by explaining what's up with today and the Mayan calendar and the apocalypse that isn't happening.

Not so Grinchy

I told my bell choir about my experiences with the messy Christmas tree. They responded by giving me their Christmas present early, several ornaments to go on a replacement tree. A few days later one member gave me a separate present of lights and ornament hooks. So I just had to get a tree -- and do it before Christmas, not after. They demanded photos as proof.

I had lunch with my friend and debate partner this past week and he fulfilled the first half of my name for him. He went with me to the Home Depot near the restaurant. He figured they would have some Christmas trees. There was one on display at 7.5 feet and one at 4 feet. Neither seemed quite right. I spotted one box containing one 5' 2" tall, but there wasn't one on display. My friend kindly placed his hands at the appropriate height, stuck his elbows out for the proper width, and put his feet together, suggesting he now represented the tree upside down. I declined to stand on my head, and so did he. He then looked at the nearby package of ornaments. One pack of 35 contained a bell, but the container was damaged, as were a couple of the ornaments (but not the bell). My friend found a sales assistant and bargained the price in half. He also tried to bargain down the price of the tree, but that didn't work. He then surprised me by paying for the ornaments and a good portion of the tree.

I wrote a thank you note to my friend and bell choir for their gifts of ornaments and tree and included photos. I might as well share the photos with you.

The tree came with white lights and I added the gift of colored lights. It looks like I now have enough ornaments. Here are the promised pictures.

One of the whole tree. As you can see I now have enough ornaments and lights.

Here is a close-up showing the London Bus from the bell choir and an angel holding bells. I think I bought the angels when I was visiting a Spanish mission near Los Angeles maybe a dozen years ago. I didn't lose them in last year's basement flood because I had stashed them in the spare bedroom and only discovered them a few months ago.

This photo shows two more angels, and three more items from the bell choir -- a model of Parliament Tower, a London phone booth to the upper left and a passport in the bottom center.

One thing I bought in the after-Christmas sales last year was the Peanuts gang as a nativity scene. I thought the only place I would see them a lot would be across the top of my computer monitor. So here they are. Alas, they're a bit wobbly and when Sally was on the end she kept falling off.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An armed society is not free

Ari Ezra Waldman, a law commentator for Towleroad, pokes and prods at the Second Amendment to see what kinds of gun control laws it permits. Along the way he disagrees with the most recent of such decisions handed down by the Supremes. What caught my attention is that he takes on an argument that always appears after a shooting.
There is also nothing in the Second Amendment that makes sense out of the "more guns are the answer" argument. Just because there is a right to something doesn't mean that the right is necessarily enjoyed responsibly or should be invoked commonly in civil society. All rights have attendant responsibilities and limits. And, just because the Framers of the Constitution thought that generally available guns would make society more free or more stable, does not mean that is necessarily true.

In fact, the exact opposite is true. An armed society is not a free society. It is one that is supposed to discourage bad behavior not by creating good citizens, but by putting the fear of death into everyone around. An armed society takes away the government's monopoly on punishment and elevates fear to a governing principle of stability and order. Perhaps Machiavelli would be proud, but it would shroud modern American democracy under a dark cloud of suspicion, conformity, and hostility.

Federal budget as justice

The website Colorlines summarizes the Fiscal Bluff issue. The authors of the site say that discussions on tax policy are a proxy for the debate on racial equality (that really isn't happening). The debate shouldn't be about who pays and who benefits. It should be about justice. Those in the thick of the debate don't want us peasants to understand what is being discussed. To counteract that Colorlines provides a visual summary of the debate. Alas, if I posted it here you wouldn't be able to read it.

If I read this right, the annual deficit is $1 trillion, meaning over 10 years the debt (already at $16 trillion) goes up by another $10 trillion. The goal of the current negotiations is to cut $4 trillion, meaning in 10 years the debt goes up by only $6 trillion.

Yes, that $6 trillion (and the original $16 trillion) should be addressed. But not on the backs of the poor and middle class, and not so that it prolongs economic recovery.

This summary reminds us that $4.5 trillion of that debt is caused by the Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars. Think of that money as theft by the rich taken from the middle class and poor.

Use a condom, save the earth

Richard Cizik used to be a Fundie darling. But then he started disagreeing with their social statements and was ousted from being a vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. But that didn't shut him up.

He's now doing such things as challenging the Fundie mantra that contraception condones sex outside marriage, undermines marriage, and promotes abortion. He has found that a woman dies in childbirth each minute, one in four births is unplanned, and contraception prevents 112 million abortions worldwide. In addition, it is good for the planet because it curbs overpopulation. Use a condom, save the earth.

Catholic Archbishop Sartain of Seattle has put out a "Policy Refresher" that Catholic priests cannot take part in Washington's newly approved gay marriage and their buildings can't be used for the ceremonies (and don't even think about a reception in the social hall). Yeah, it feels harsh, but we didn't expect anything different.

Here's why it is worth mentioning: Along with each piece of the policy he includes the appropriate section of the state law that affirms churches cannot be forced to perform marriages for which it has religious objections. That flatly contradicts campaign messages that said marriage equality would "endanger religious liberty" and that priests could be jailed for refusing to conduct gay weddings.

Andrew Belonsky of the blog Towleroad has assembled a list of the 50 most powerful coming out stories of 2012. A cool part of the list is how many times the announcement was no big deal and has had no consequences to the person's career. Each one of these stories has made lives for us a little bit better.

David Mixner has a post with his choice of the dozen best journalism photos of the year.

Reopen routes to the middle class

Colorado and Washington approved marijuana use in the recent election. David Frum, conservative columnist for Newsweek, talks about its dangers. He notes that pot smokers miss more work, don't do as well in school, and tend to be more poor. At least he doesn't confuse correlation and causation and allows two interpretations: Pot use tends to make you poor. Poor people are more likely to use pot.

I won't get into that (comments to the article do a decent job of it), though it would be entertaining to sit Dan Savage and David Frum in the same room to hash it out. Savage has a chapter on pot use in his book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah. The book is one reason why Savage is referred to as an ethicist for our time.

What I do want to get into is another section of Frum's column. He wrote:
The young people most likely to become habitual users are those who already face declining opportunities. Over the past generation, American society has closed route after route into the middle class. Wages are stagnant, upward mobility has slowed, job security has deterior¬ated, higher education has become more expensive, and two-parent families have dwindled. Meanwhile, we have opened more and more roads to self-harm. Must we now open another?
If declining opportunities leads some to become habitual users, there is another way out. Let's reopen all those closed routes to the middle class. Let's make wages less stagnant, improve job security, and reduce the cost of higher education. Our young people (as well as the established worker and the person forced into retirement before they're ready) might be less inclined towards self-harm.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Exploiting the difference

An important question this week, though I don't remember who said it: Why do we think we can shoot our way to a solution?

Art Kamm has a guest posting on the blog Pam's House Blend that is of interest given last weekend's news. Kamm's credentials are only that he blogs about his take on issues such as debt, health care, climate, intolerance, and extremism. His choice of topics (given his view on this topic) means he is a kindred spirit. Alas, that doesn't mean he is any more qualified to talk realistically on a topic than I am. Even so, this time his point is something I (and my friend and debate partner) long to hear. Here's my summary of a long post.

Yes, the NRA is currently very powerful in American politics. Politicians are afraid of crossing them. Conservative courts tend to rule in their favor.

Yes, there is a gun violence problem in America. Kamm supplies lots of statistics to back that up. That includes noting our firearm homicide rate is about 5 times greater than Great Britain. Even death of children by accidental shooting is high and death by shooting matches death by auto accident.

Surveys show that NRA members and gun owners in general disagree with the policies promoted by the central NRA office. In addition, 88% of all voters (not just gun owners) in Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado feel everyone should be subjected to a background check before buying a gun.

As in the GOP, the ideas of the NRA are being associated with extreme positions. Those who believe in guns for everybody tend also to believe that abortion should not be available in the case of rape. These ideas are offensive to an increasingly diverse America.

It is possible to reframe the debate. Allowing concealed guns in restaurants is a liability issue for the owners. Gun control isn't about gun rights, but a disproportionate loss of innocent life to gunfire, an amazing amount of lead pollution from thousands of tons of spent bullets, and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

We are now to the point where it should be possible to exploit the difference between the desires of the voters (especially gun owners) and the policies of the NRA. Lawmakers wanting to keep their jobs will pay attention no matter how much money the NRA spends on their behalf. That difference is also why the NRA will eventually implode.

Something to keep in mind that I heard from a different source (alas, no link): The purpose of the NRA is to represent the interests of gun manufacturers, not the citizens. And their interest is to sell more guns. The NRA just happens to be very good at harnessing the passions of gun owners to do their bidding.

Some commenters to Kamm's post also note this purpose of the NRA and believe it won't go away any time soon.

Magic is the better explanation

Chana Joffe-Walt of NPR's All Things Considered did a bit of seasonal research for us to answer the big question: How does Santa manage to deliver all that stuff in one night? Since Santa didn't consent to an interview (or a process audit) Joffe-Walt turned to experts -- FedEx and UPS.

Let's start with 76 million Christian kids around the world and 24 hours to deliver one gift per kid. Let's slide by needing to deliver 9000 gifts a second (not to mention the weight the sleigh would have to be able to carry) and look at the support staff necessary to pull it off. He needs 46 distribution centers around the world to restock the sleigh, needing 400,000 workers, another 60,000 to optimize flight paths and clear it with the FAA, then there are workers monitoring the weather, a team to clear customs, a huge team to stock the distribution centers from the workshops at the North Pole, Human (Elf) Resources, accounting, administration, etc. etc. etc. for a grand total of 12 million employees in Santa, Inc.

Or you explain it all with magic and 9 reindeer.

The audio is worth the 6 1/2 minutes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Busily erecting new obstacles

One gets the impression that the GOP thinks the only thing important in life is a job. One can imagine Michigan GOP lawmakers saying, "Okay, fine, we're doing something about jobs. So sit down and shut up." I won't go into whether those policies will actually create jobs (enough posts about that elsewhere). This post looks beyond the jobs.

In the huge flurry of activity from the Michigan legislature's lame-duck session, Gov. Rick Snyder is trumpeting how wonderful the state is for business from the tax point of view. Come to Michigan, we need workers! He has been saying how the business climate and job opportunities will attract young, college educated workers.

In an editorial in the Sunday Free Press Brian Dickerson considers those youth. Michigan appears to be:
…a state whose elected officials are busily erecting new obstacles to contraception, same-sex marriage and voting, and new opportunities for people who open for-profit prisons, hunt wolves or pack heat in church.

Really, lawmakers, is there something your not doing to make young college graduates feel unwelcome?
Business Leaders of Michigan predict by 2024 the state will have a *million* more jobs for college graduates than youth to fill them (uh, BLM, that's ten percent of the current state population, you sure of those numbers? But back to the editorial…).

The young of the state are already leaving in droves. Simply posting job openings will not bring them back. Jobs for college grads already exist and are going unfilled. And the reason the youth are leaving is they expect to have more out of life than a job.

They expect to attend the weddings of their gay friends. They expect to have contraception readily available. They expect all votes to count. They expect to not dodge bullets in church (at least Snyder vetoed *that* one). They expect to live in a thriving society.

Yeah, we have a legislature that is using it's chance to implement the extreme right agenda. But Snyder does not have to play along. It appears to Dickerson that Snyder is signing much of this stuff simply to placate the extreme side of his party. But in doing so Snyder is scaring away the very people he says the state needs to grow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

There's a reason why your money is drying up

Back in September, after the primary, I reported on four GOP state senators in New York who voted for gay marriage. The vote tally for the last one in the general election has only now been resolved, giving us this tally:

* Senator Alisi decided not to run for another term. His seat is now held by a pro-gay Democrat.

* Senator Grisanti was reelected.

* Senator Saland won his primary but lost the general election to a pro-gay Dem. His loss is attributed to his primary opponent who ran in the general as a third-party candidate.

* Senator McDonald lost the primary to an anti-gay opponent. The race was very close with very low turnout. I think the GOP kept the seat.

Only one of four GOP supporters is still in office. Since two of the three were replaced with pro-gay Dems it leads to questions: Were these four senators "punished" for their pro-gay stances? Does the GOP and the National Organization for Marriage prefer ideological purity so much they would rather have a Dem in the seat? Will other GOP lawmakers in other states now support gay marriage? That argument will now rage within the GOP.

After the election I wrote about the change in tactics for gay marriage messaging that brought about the four victories in November. The Atlantic has come out with a long (and I do mean long) article detailing exactly how it happened. The change in message went from a discussion of rights to talk of commitment. Here are a few things that caught my attention:

Hennepen Avenue United Methodist Church on Minneapolis, one that is gay inclusive, invited all kinds of church leaders from across Minnesota to discuss how to defeat the looming gay marriage ban. They hoped 200 people would attend. They were amazed when more than 700 did. The work of all these church people prevented the debate from being gays v. religion.

In Maine, a chunk of the effort was canvassing. This wasn't a case of knocking on doors and spouting talking points. This was about 30 to 60 minute discussions with the intent of actually changing minds. The goal (over a couple years, since marriage equality was defeated in 2009) was to have 180,000 such conversations (in a population of 700,000).

Across the four states our side spent $42 million. Their side spent $11 million. The marriage equality forces could create and air targeted ads (for Republicans, ethnic groups, religious people) that the opponents didn't have money to counter. Alas, the lopsided money allows the anti-gay crowd to claim they lost because of a well financed opponent -- not because the underlying opinion of gay marriage has changed. The pro-equality side responds by saying there's a reason why your money is drying up.

The anti-gay side is waiting to capitalize on the "consequences" of gay marriage. Nope, not end of Western Civilization, but the "conflicts" with the photographers, etc. who decline to work for a gay couple.

We won in four states. But don't get cocky. Don't jump on a ballot campaign without a great deal of preparation. That doesn't guarantee success. Instead, let the Supremes do their work and consider legislative battles (as is happening in Delaware, New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and -- yes -- Minnesota).

Strained peas

When I get busy interesting articles accumulate in browser tabs. Here is an effort to clean out the backlog.

Bishop Gene Robinson visited Jon Stewart to discuss his new book God Believes in Love. Robinson says lots of people -- including Fundie youth -- recognize our love and are looking for a way forward. He wrote the book as a Biblical support of gay marriage.

And Stewart takes a look at the Supremes accepting the two gay marriage cases. Along the way he touches on the vile stuff that Scalia said recently.

Speaking of Scalia and his nasty statement…

A New York Times editorial said:
[Princeton student Duncan] Hosie [who had asked Scalia the question] wondered why Scalia couldn't make his points without offensive implications about gays and the lives they live. But what if those slurs were the point? That's a depressing possibility to contemplate as Scalia and his colleagues prepare to rule on cases involving same-sex marriage.

But progressive court watchers aren't perturbed by Scalia's antics. His vote isn't in play anyway. The ones to watch are Kennedy and Roberts. Lawyers on both sides of the case will be tailoring their arguments towards these two men.

If you have time, here is a series of 35 cartoons on gay marriage. My favorite is #7. The ones at the end of the list appear to be from when New York approved gay marriage more than a year ago.

Scientists have a new hypothesis on why some people are gay. It has something to do with "epi-marks" that influence how genes do their work. These thingies are not supposed to be inherited, but in the case of gay people they are. I'll let you go read the original if you want to know more. Though Timothy Kincaid is going to stick to his hypothesis of Gerber Strained Peas. Go ahead, prove him wrong.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Distract and destabilize

The Parliament in Uganda did pass their Oil Bill, which allows the energy minister to negotiate contracts with oil companies without supervision (can you say, "theft"?). It is a relief that Parliament decided they didn't need the "Kill the Gays" bill as a distraction. It didn't get passed before the Christmas break and Parliament won't be back until February. The anti-gay bill has dropped from the top of the agenda to the 7th position.

Meanwhile, the Speaker is in Italy. She is receiving praise from the Pope for considering the bill and to attend -- are you ready? -- a human rights conference.

The Pope mentioned gays in his World Peace Day message -- because, gays, don'tcha know, destabilize marriage and cause serious harm to peace. My, aren't we special.

End of Pasta?

Climate change and global warming a little too abstract to nudge your conscience? Mark Hertsgaard wrote an article for Newsweek discussing what global warming is likely to do to important foods in our food supply. In particular, he examines the variety of wheat most prized for making pasta. Think macaroni and cheese consumed by American kids, lasagna and its cousins eaten by Italians, and the mounds of noodles slurped by the Chinese.
Three grains -- wheat, corn, and rice -- account for most of the food humans consume. All three are already suffering from climate change, but wheat stands to fare the worst in the years ahead, for it is the grain most vulnerable to high temperatures.
Wheat, especially durum wheat for pasta, thrives in a particular climate. Not too wet, not too dry, and not too hot. As any of those increase, yield drops. And 2012 was "the hottest July in U.S. history and the worse drought in 50 years." Yields plummeted and prices soared. Wheat production might decline 25% as the world warms up.

Hertsgaard went off to North Dakota, a great place to grow durum. It also does quite well across the border in the Canadian prairie. Some farmers are worried, others don't believe climate change is real.

So what if North Dakota gets too hot? Just move production farther north. Already, the durum zone is shifting -- to coincide with a top-notch shale oil deposit. Guess which wins.

Moving production north doesn't help the farmer in India, another wheat-growing region. He eats what grows on the land he owns. No harvest, no eating.

Another aspect of farming is soil quality. Soil in a cooler climate is likely to be of a poorer quality. In addition, ask any French wine maker about the importance of soil in the final product.

What about creating heat-resistant varieties of wheat? They're working on it, but they may not appear in time.

Some farmers are addressing the issue. Current big-farm agriculture contributes to climate change through hefty use of fertilizer (made from oil) and fuels to run the equipment. It also tends to plant one crop, which means the chances of harvesting it go down as climate driven storms, pests, and diseases increase.

Some farmers are considering other methods, such as no-till techniques and using a cover crop to shade the soil and tender shoots. There are a variety of sustainable methods that can be used.

Pasta won't suddenly disappear. But in years of bad harvest, the cost of pasta will jump. Or we could get serious about doing something to reduce the effects of climate change.

The article has a sidebar of other foods at risk from climate chain. At the top of the list: chocolate. That's something to contemplate. Also on the list are strawberries, coffee (another attention-getter), beer and wine, trout and salmon, and maple syrup.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Supreme angst

Not long after two big gay cases were accepted by the Supremes, Justice Antonin Scalia makes a whopper of an anti-gay remark. He was at Princeton pushing a new book when gay student Duncan Hosie (new media darling) asked about Scalia's dissent when anti-sodomy laws were struck down in 2003. Scalia affirmed his equation of gay sex to bestiality and murder. He concluded by saying, "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?"

Yup, that's one vote against us in these big gay cases.

This is just one of many reasons for the gay blogsphere being all abuzz over the angst that won't be resolved until next June when decisions are announced. Getting a case to the Supremes is no guarantee they will rule in our favor.

So, at least for now, there is endless dissection and tea-leaf reading to determine if gay weddings can abound in July or if our cause is held back for another decade.

The Democrat organization Third Wave created a chart of all the possible outcomes of the two cases. I'll let you peruse the charts yourself.

Ari Ezra Waldman, a lawyer who blogs for Towleroad, doesn't believe the angst is justified.

In taking the Calif. gay marriage case the Supremes said they will look at two questions:
1. Whether California can define marriage as a union between one-man and one-woman and be consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

2. Whether the Prop 8 proponents have Article III standing to bring the case.
The angst is because the first question appears much broader than the decision handed down by the 9th Circuit Court. That court said Calif. can't award rights and then take them away.

But a broad question doesn't demand a broad answer. The Supremes have some options.

The first option is to use that second question, the one about standing. I'll look at that through a detour.

Several years ago I heard the story from sometime around 1850 in which white lawmen put a black man in jail (alas, my memory didn't keep details of what the charges, likely fraudulent, were). The black suspect appealed to the Supremes but the lawmen said the Supremes had no jurisdiction in the case. The Supremes thundered back that since they were the top court in the country they had jurisdiction in any case they say they have jurisdiction in. In response the lawmen executed their suspect. No more case.

The question of standing is because an entity can only bring a case to the Supremes if that entity is personally injured by it. That seems to contradict the claim that the Supremes can stick their noses into any case they want. However, part of this case has to do with whether it should have gotten to the 9th Circuit. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin explores that issue.

When the case went before the district court (the first level, which was very thorough) the state of Calif. defended it (though the state attorney didn't do much more than say, "Yup, judge, we're here," before turning it all over to the group that ran the ballot campaign we lost in 2008. The judge in that case ruled in our favor.

On to the 9th Circuit. This time the state (both Gov. and Attorney General) said the lower ruling was just fine with them. The 9th Circuit asked the Calif. Supremes whether the ballot organization. was permitted to bring the case. The state Supremes said yes -- elected officials should not be allowed to thwart ballot initiatives by refusing to defend them.

But Kincaid sees four things the US Supremes might object to.

* The Calif. Supremes based their ruling on logic, not on existing laws.

* A law created through ballot initiative must have a defense but may not deserve an appeal. Once a lower court says it is unconstitutional state officials should be able to use their brains to decide to appeal.

* Once it is declared unconstitutional voters might be willing to live with that result.

* Even if the gov't won't defend the initiative the people who got it on the ballot and worked to pass it might not be the best ones to defend it in court.

So the issue is whether the case should have gotten to the 9th Circuit. Current precedent is cloudy, so the Supremes could use this case to clarify the rules. If they say the Calif. Supremes are wrong, the district court decision stands and gays may marry in Calif.

Back to Waldman's discussion and his second option. The Supremes could affirm that the 9th Circuit's decision was proper, that Calif. can't take away rights it once bestowed. That option is not sound law because Calif. still gives gay couples all the rights but the use of the word "marriage."

The third option could be a ruling that applies to all the other states that have everything but the word marriage. There are seven other such states.

The big options (which Waldman didn't discuss) are: declaring gay marriage bans are just fine or declaring gay marriage bans are unconstitutional and permitting gay marriage everywhere. These are the two options where we win big or lose big.

Waldman's conclusion: the Supremes haven't restricted themselves to the two big options, so keep calm and carry on.

Gay radio host Michelangelo Signorile reviews the same options Waldman did and concludes that perceptions of gay people have changed radically in our favor. The Supremes may slow down the momentum with an unfavorable ruling, but they can't stop it. Taking our cases to the Supremes now may be a bit risky, but the work towards equality deserves a few risks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The joys of worker cooperatives

Back in September I compared various political and economic systems. I said that a worker cooperative -- a corporation owned by the employees instead of stockholders -- sounded like a fine idea. Here is a report by Moira Herbst of The Guardian about such companies. The idea is bigger than I thought it might be, with about 10% of American workers in such companies. This article discusses some of the advantages of a cooperative, and they sound pretty good.

On to the Supremes

A whole slew of gay cases have arrived at the Supreme Court and the court has taken a great deal of time (apparently more than usual) deciding which cases it will hear, which it will refuse to hear, and which it will save for another day. We've been waiting since the beginning of the term in October.

The Supremes finally issued orders today.

Several of the cases are about the Defense of Marriage Act. The one chosen was from Edie Windsor, who had to pay a huge (north of $360K) inheritance tax when her wife died. No word yet on what will happen with the other cases.

A part of this case is whether the GOP House is allowed to bring it to the Supremes when the Prez. decided not to.

The second case chosen is the Calif. gay marriage issue. When this came up from the 9th Circuit Court, it was narrowed to refer only to Calif. which had gay marriage before voters took it away. Because of that many Supreme watchers thought the court would not bother, allowing the 9th Circuit to lift its stay and letting marriage in Calif. resume. And allowing the Supremes to avoid the issue.

But the Supremes said they will look at whether Calif. can define marriage to be one man and one woman, not whether Calif. can grant a right then take it away. Interestingly, the Court also said they will look at whether the case should have made it this far. The state of Calif. isn't defending the law, an anti-gay org. is. The Supremes could say the org. isn't being harmed by gay marriage and shouldn't have brought the suit. That means the could sidestep the actual marriage case. Here is a history of the case.

One case not taken (and not yet denied) is from Arizona, which had domestic partner benefits for state employees, then took them away.

Both of these cases have an "opt-out" clause. The Supremes could say the people bringing the case have no standing to do so. Thus the lower court ruling stands. This is likely about strategy. If one side begins to see they may not get five votes they have a way to drop the case and wait for another day.

Arguments for both cases will happen sometime at the end of March with a ruling by the end of June.

There was another complication that appeared in just the last few days. A judge in a district court in Nevada decided that yes, indeedie, Nevada was quite proper in having a gay marriage ban. The judge is Mormon and the ruling came straight out of Fundie beliefs, including a line that if gays married then straights would stop marrying (Rob Tisinai tries to figure out who those people would be). In addition, the judge said he didn't need no stinkin' evidence. Put another way, this one is ripe for overturning.

Someone involved in the Nevada case (I'm not sure on which side) decided to skip the liberal 9th Circuit Court and go straight to the Supremes. There was fear (and perhaps strategy) that yet another case would slow down the process the Supremes use to choose cases, delaying the date of marriage equality. Also, this would give the Supremes a case in which a gay marriage ban is upheld.

Thankfully, the Supremes didn't let that one influence their choice of cases.

In a related post celebrating gay marriage in Maryland, Terrence Heath has some useful pie charts showing what happens when gays are allowed to marry.

The photo at the top of this link now represents gay marriage in Washington state. They've just started issuing licenses and weddings will begin on Sunday. Cute couple.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Black Thursday

My goodness! This is getting so old and so annoying!

The Michigan legislature certainly has been busy during their lame-duck session, though I wonder what their hurry is because in January the state House and Senate will still be GOP controlled and the GOP governor isn't going anywhere. But it was dispiriting to listen to the Michigan news from the NPR station in Ann Arbor on my way home from teaching.

The House passed a Right-to-Work bill this afternoon and the Senate followed this evening. All during the fall campaign while a state amendment requiring union bargaining was on the ballot Gov. Snyder played coy and said he wouldn't give his position on a Right-to-Work bill though he would rather the legislators would not touch something so divisive. But now that the election is over and the lawmakers are in the process of passing it the Gov. is all, "Bring it on! I'll sign it!"

For those who are wondering, the name of the bill is a euphemism. What they mean is "the right to work without being forced to pay union dues." And that translates to gutting unions. What GOP lawmaker isn't for that? This is a bill that benefits only the 1%.

In the comments Howie says it quite well (in part):
"Right to work" = right to low wages.
"Right to work" = right to no benefits.
"Right to work" = right to unsafe workplace environment.
"Right to work" = right to no job security.
I add: Right to work = be lucky you have a freakin job.

It is good to see union people put up a good fight at the Capitol today, though they were working alongside Tea Party people working for what the unions were working against. Huffington Post has pictures of the protestors who have been in the Capitol ever since the GOP leadership announced the bill was on a fast track. The protests were unruly enough that the police closed the building. But the Dems got a judge to reverse that order and the protesters streamed back in.

Oh, the GOP was just getting started.

Also likely to pass (and already through the Senate) is a bill to allow health providers, facilities (hotels?), and insurers to refuse to serve based on religious objections. Any guess on a big target? Yup, gay people. And those who want an abortion.

To make that second part perfectly clear the Senate passed a separate series of bills to prohibit the upcoming health care exchanges of the Affordable Care Act from including coverage of abortion in basic policies, meaning such coverage must be purchased separately. And this is after the same state GOP refused to set up a state-run exchange, telling the feds to run it for us. Yup, they're saying we don't want to run the exchange, but any exchange in Michigan must play by our rules.

And they still aren't done.

Next up is a series of bills on education. Over the last year the state set up a "statewide" school district and took over the 15 worst schools in Detroit. I can see -- sort of -- why this might be necessary. But suddenly the GOP wants to expand that concept, even though it has been functioning only since September and results are unproven. A big problem with the system is that there is no local school board for parents to complain to. There are other bills in the package and I don't understand them all. I'll only say that if the GOP is backing them the intended goal is to gut the quality of education in the state (except for their kids). Gut education? Peasants don't need no stinkin education!

Union busting. Denial of service for religious reasons. Education busting. Busy session indeed.

I wonder if the GOP in Michigan saw the results of the last election (though the state Senate wasn't up for election and the GOP in the House lost seats, but not their majority) and began to panic. Perhaps they are thinking: How much of our agenda can we impose on the state before they boot us from office? And you can be sure what's left of the unions will work hard to make that happen.

On the national scene: Boehner is being blasted for giving away too much in his opening offer to avoid the fiscal bluff.

I just want them to grow up or go away. At least consider someone (anyone!) beyond the 1%. Yeah, I know, not likely, not soon.

And to finish off the day…

A bullied gay teen committed suicide in Fenton, a town I drive past when I visit my parents. School officials say there were no reports of bullying. Commenters say there had to be at least someone on the faculty or administration who knew about it. And did nothing.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When do we start?

I heard a bit about this from a friend yesterday evening. According to a survey conducted by Michigan State University and released in mid November support for marriage equality in Michigan is now at 56% with 39% opposed. That is a big difference from only two years ago when support was at 48% and opposition was at 51%.

The GOP had billboards across the state saying: Obama supported gay marriage. Do you? Vote Republican. That obviously didn't work. Not enough people oppose marriage equality.

The friend who told me this also said it's too bad the Michigan Supremes have a GOP majority in addition to their majorities in both state House and Senate as well as governor. But that didn't sound relevant and got me thinking. Michigan's gay marriage ban got into the constitution in 2004 through a citizen petition drive (though well financed by the Bush campaign). I'm sure a citizen petition drive to put both a repeal and gay marriage into the constitution should be possible.

So when do we start?

That ridiculous pledge

The Sunday Free Press had a full page editorial about Grover Norquist and the anti-tax pledge he has convinced most GOP lawmakers to sign. Norquist didn't get them to sign simply because they thought it is a good idea. He is the front man for Americans for Tax Reform and his pockets are quite flush from secret corporate donors. Sign his pledge, you get campaign money. Violate the pledge and you get cut off.

This sums up the editorial:
Republicans would howl with derision if Democrats took a public oath never to reduce spending on any federal program utilized by their constituents; vowing never to raise taxes under any circumstances is equally ridiculous.


I lost a lot of my Christmas decorations in the basement flood of August of last year. That included the artificial tree. I was pleased that a friend, who has lots of trees, let me have one of them. That gift was after Christmas so I didn't put it up last year.

I started that process this afternoon. I didn't get very far -- trunk and two layers of branches -- before deciding it was much more hassle than it was worth. Three reasons:

* It is too big. It is about six feet tall and five feet wide. That doesn't leave enough space in my living room to get around it without brushing against it.

* It is astonishingly messy. This tree came with "flocking" to simulate freshly fallen snow. Never mind that the stuff appears to be caked on -- way too much. The problem is it appears to be old and is definitely crumbly. I'm glad I decided the box was too heavy to cart up the stairs. I unpacked it in the basement and set the various size branches in piles. Before taking the first two sets of branches up the stairs I knocked off some of the flocking, creating quite a mess. I had a trail of flocking up the stairs and a lot on the floor in the living room. Brushing against it would send more flocking to the floor.

* I don't have much to put on the tree. I hadn't bought as much at last year's after Christmas sales as I thought I had. I have some rescued ornaments from last year and a box or two new ones, but no lights. Alas, I'll probably miss this year's sales because of after-Christmas traveling.

I put it all back in the box and contemplating setting it out on the curb on trash day. Then I got out the vacuum. I had to run that over my clothes. There was too much flocking on the floor in the basement for the vacuum and had to get out the broom. I used the broom on the steps too.

Last year I did find a manger scene staffed by the characters from Peanuts -- Charlie Brown and Lucy as Joseph and Mary, Snoopy as a sheep, etc. That may suffice for this year, though I'm not sure where to put it.

I mentioned all this at bell rehearsal tonight. How to get me a tree turned into quite a discussion topic.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Readers out there somewhere

Wow! This humble blog got just over 1900 page views in November, up from about 1600 in September and October. A few days ago there were 175 page views in a single day with 33 messages in one hour. Readership is mostly from America, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine. It is good to know you are out there and heartening to know you think my words are worth reading.

One thing this blog doesn't have is commenters. Very few people leave a note telling me what they think of a post or introducing themselves. I'd be delighted to get to know you better. Please let me know who you are (if you can) and what brings you to my writings. Consider this post an open thread.

The one who comments most is my friend and debate partner. You won't see his writing here because the posts are sent through email to him automatically and he responds through email rather than the comment system.

Done backwards

I went to The Ringwald, a small theater in Ferndale, to see the play The Homosexuals. The story is about an almost-20 gay young man from Iowa arriving in Chicago (I figured it was New York, and the program doesn't say) in the year 2000 and being invited to a party of gay friends. Over the next ten years we see the effect this young man has on the group. It was both touching and funny (though not necessarily at the same times).

There is a fascinating aspect to this play. A five minute scene appears at the very beginning and end of the play. This turns out to be the end of that party. However, the scenes that make up the rest of the play run backwards. After the intro we have a scene between Evan (the young man) and Peter set in 2010. Then comes a scene with British Mark (yup, the character's name -- to distinguish him from Mark) set in 2008 and one with Michael in 2006, etc. The last of the six scenes is the whole party, ending with the vignette that opened the play.

I've been pondering: Why do it this way? Would the play work with the scenes in chronological order? I do understand that during the party scene as Evan meets each character we already know what entanglements Evan will have with that character. Whether that is better storytelling I haven't yet worked out.

Evan is in every scene, quite a daunting task for the actor, who handled it well. Most of the other characters are in only two scenes and one is seen only at the party. The cast includes one woman, a character who likes to hang out with her gay pals.

The theater has perhaps 100 seats. As expected, nearly all the audience was male, and they got all the gay jokes. The stage is small and close and there is no curtain. During scene changes a not very bright work light came on and most of the characters reset the stage for the next scene. One character was responsible for helping Evan change costume which was done in full view, even if Evan began the next scene offstage. The one time Evan had to strip completely, his changer held up a sheet to block our view -- which brought a laugh from the crowd.

The show runs one more weekend, Friday through Monday. You can find a review about halfway down this page of a review site.

Delicate Position

NPR's Weekend Edition this morning had a report on one aspect of why the fiscal bluff might be hard to resolve. David Welna says the House GOP created three rules that will get in the way.

* The Majority of the Majority. No bill will come up for a vote in the House unless a majority of GOP members are in favor of it. This prevents passage of any bill in which Dems might peel off 40 of the over 200 GOP House members.

* Any increase in the Debt Ceiling (which will be hit a couple months after this fiscal bluff mess is sorted out) must be matched by an equal cut in spending.

* The No New Taxes pledge.

That leaves Boehner in a delicate position. He may not be able to cut a deal with Obama without breaking at least one rule. If he breaks a rule his position as Speaker may be in jeopardy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Persecution as distraction

A "Kill the Gays" bill has been floating around the Ugandan Parliament since early 2009. But it appears they mean business this time. The Speaker has promised it to Christian leaders as a "Christmas Gift." It has been through committee (though no one will produce evidence whether the death penalty has been removed) and is listed next on the agenda.

Box Turtle Bulletin has been reporting on the bill since it first appeared. It has done an extensive analysis of the bill's many nasty clauses -- including one that says a person can be imprisoned for suggesting the bill should be repealed.

Jim Burroway of BTB has noticed something -- every time the Ugandan Parliament needs to deal with the nation's oil wealth, the anti-gay bill suddenly gets a lot of attention. Including this time. Uganda has the reputation for the most corrupt country in eastern Africa (and there is stiff competition for the title) and the Oil Bills are all about how the ruling elite can skim the profits from oil exports, leaving the people just as poor. To hide that theft what is needed is a distraction. And in a highly homophobic country they found a beaut. Burroway concludes with:
Which means that Uganda’s oil policy can be summed up this way: yes, we’re going to steal your oil wealth — but look over there! Homosexuals!!!
Burroway wonders why the only American Christian leaders who have said anything about the Ugandan bill are the ones who are delighted it is about to pass. The rest of them are missing in action.

I know commitment

A week ago I noted a posting by Rob Tisinai that gays should have the rights of marriage because we already shoulder the responsibilities. At the end of the post Tisinai asked readers to share their stories. Over this past week they did. The stories tell of one pulling the other through financial difficulties or grave illness (for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health) many times battling bureaucracy that doesn't recognize their relationship. All of them spoke of doing it gladly. Commenter Steve concludes with, "So don’t talk to ME about commitment. I know what it is."

A crack in the tax pledge

Essayist Terrence Heath notes a few GOP senators and reps are allowing that some revenue enhancements might be tolerated. With that some Dems are crowing that Grover Norquist and his no new taxes pledge are on the way out. But Norquiest himself appears quite unconcerned with all the commotion. Why?

It's all a bargaining ruse. With all that talk (and the GOP isn't offering much) they can portray themselves as conciliatory, ready to do some serious horse-trading. That way when they ask for huge cuts on Medicare and Medicaid it will be the Dems who look obstructionist. The GOP is betting the Dems blink first. Once they take a whack out of those two programs the money will never be restored.

Do Medicare and Medicaid need to be reformed? Word I've heard is yes -- they should be shifted from a fee-for-service model (which promotes excess tests and treatment) to one that rewards wellness. But it seems the GOP wants cuts, not changes in the funding model (which benefits their backers).

An example of the GOP tactic appeared tonight on NPR's All Things Considered. Host Robert Siegal talked to Dave Camp, the GOP chairman of the House Ways and Means committee (the one that makes sure all the relevant programs actually get funded). True to the script Heath outlined, Camp trumpeted the willingness to be flexible on revenue while demanding to see what programs the Dems were willing to cut. All the while he did an amazing dodge-and-weave of not answering Siegal's actual questions.

Jim Greer, former chairman of the Republican Party in Florida, has come right out and said it. All that stuff about laws to prevent voter fraud? A ruse. The real reason for it is voter suppression. Which has at least one commenter wondering where is the prosecution for treason?

Cut now, pay later

I recently wrote about the Free State Project centered in New Hampshire in which members declared that the gov't should not run assistance programs. Instead, those programs should be run by citizens and private organizations. The members backed up their claim by being active participants in such groups and seeing the benefits of community.

But I asked a series of questions about whether that idea could spread nationally, covering all the needs the gov't currently meets.

I had lunch yesterday with my friend and debate partner who said my questions are right on target. From research he has seen (no details provided and I didn't ask):

* Private organizations simply cannot raise enough money to meet all of the need.

* Many important needs, currently met by gov't, would not be met by private orgs. because citizens would tend to gravitate towards certain orgs. and ignore others.

My friend said people in the Free State Project believe: We're talking about my money and I'll make sure it is spent properly. In contrast he (and I) believe in community and it is important for the broad spectrum of needs to be met. All of us have an interest in all of the needs being met. The decision-making bodies that are designed to make sure all those needs are met is our various levels of elected government.

As I made my way to class today I saw some big posters in the hall. The college is the home site for a social justice organization (they offer a strong social justice degree). Alas, I don't remember which organization and the posters were gone when I headed home. Alas again, I don't remember the exact slogan (though I think this version is pretty good), but it was something like this…

One poster showed a pregnant teen in which the head was replaced with a photo of a toddler's head. The words beside the head were "Cut now…" and beside the swollen teen's belly, "Pay later." In another poster the heavily tattooed torso of a gang-banger had a similarly replaced head with the same words by the head and torso.

That makes for a fine introduction to a posting by Dave of the blog 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes. I wrote about his opinions of the GOP, which brought huzzahs from my friend and debate partner. In a previous post (which I haven't read) Dave had a short section saying he is a fiscal conservative, with not much explanation beyond that. Since that seemed at odds with his previous posts (including the one I mentioned) Dave wrote a full post to explain exactly what he meant. What follows is my summary of his thoughts.

If you aren't willing to create a way of paying for a program, it isn't worth doing. Note that the wars of the last decade were fought without a way to pay for them. The flip side: if it is worth doing, pay for it. The budget does not have to be balanced in any given year. Sometimes a deficit is needed to improve the overall economy. But an allocation of money does need a payment plan.

We live in a democracy. We may not approve of all the things our leaders put in the budget. Deal with it -- shut up or work to get the laws changed.

We must spend money to make money. Stretch that a bit: We must spend money to improve our circumstances and not all of our improvement will be in a fatter wallet. The definition of whether it is worth doing is that the improvement is worth more than the money.

When I pay taxes for good roads and I get good roads to drive on and perhaps avoid a front-end alignment on my car.

When I pay taxes to my city I get a stronger community. I pay federal taxes that are given to cities across the country because my country is stronger when all of its cities are strong, not just the one I live in.

I pay taxes for job training programs so others are well off, are in a more stable situation, and stay out of mischief. I pay taxes for education so that others can share the burden of upholding the community so that it can come to my aid when my resource fail. I pay taxes for after-school sports because they are less expensive than crimes and prison and make my community less dangerous, even if I'm not the one shooting hoops. I pay taxes for education because the kid I see getting off the school bus may someday treat me for cancer. I pay taxes for education because knowledge is better protection than armies.

What about waste and fraud? That must be rooted out and eliminated -- as is done in a corporation. And programs must be periodically evaluated for effectiveness and modified accordingly.

Says Dave, "People are an investment. You invest money and resources into them, and you get a functioning society out of them."

All that is in my own self-interest. Which is sharply different from greed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Community based charity

The "cover story" for NPR's All Things Considered this evening was about giving, and in particular giving to help others after a disaster, such as Sandy. Dan Shea, managing editor of New Orleans Times-Picayune during and after Katrina, notes that we as a nation are pretty good about responding to a disaster and its immediate needs. We're not so good at maintaining that giving through the months and years needed to completely rebuild.

One of the important organizations helping in New York is Occupy Sandy, a part of Occupy Wall Street. They had spent a few months camping in a park, feeding thousands from camp stoves, and building bicycle-powered generators when police confiscated the gas-powered kind. All that was training for disaster relief work. However, they are clear they are not a charity, but a community building organization.

If the government doesn't handle care for the poor and disaster recovery work, who does? There are so many poor people and disaster relief requires so much in resources our current system of charities would be swamped, simply unable to handle the load. Would we expect private citizens to donate enough (and to a diverse list of organizations) to cover all the need? At the current rate of giving, no, there wouldn't be enough.

A few years ago Mike Ruff moved to New Hampshire, famous for its "Live Free or Die" motto. He joined the Free State Project, working for a smaller government and one that leaves charity work to the private sector. He wants to make happen what I think can't work.

I looked up the Free State Project. Its declaration is that "government exists at most to protect people's rights, and should neither provide for people nor punish them for activities that interfere with no one else." They are asking 20,000 like-minded people to move to New Hampshire, "enough to make a real difference!" -- meaning enough to make a difference in elections, voting in legislators who favor minimal gov't.

For Mike Ruff and others in the movement, it also means active civic engagement, including charity work. They feel interpersonal gov't organizations can't meet the needs of the needy, those big groups are too big, too impersonal, and can't really figure out the needs of the community. Local groups of 150 people or so can do what the gov't can't. All that is something to consider. The participants also discover a genuine community where both workers and clients feel well cared for and everyone is able to use their creativity.

I could see great benefit if this kind of charity work spread around the nation. We are all desperate for a greater sense of community. We would all benefit from such close civic engagement.

But I’m left with some big questions:

* What happens if this community based system doesn't raise enough money to meet all the needs for which the gov't used to provide?

* Suppose our gov't cuts services to the needy by lowering taxes and citizens see that money in their paychecks. Will be able to encourage citizens to invest that money into community organizations? Since our society is so self-centered at the moment that is an important concern.

* How do we convince citizens that their time, talents, and efforts are also needed?

* Does anyone coordinate the giving (of both money and labor) so that all the various needs are met? Or does the needs of immediate disaster relief have to compete for dollars with long-term disaster relief and both of those compete with the everyday needs of the poor? Doesn't that increase overhead?

* Will charities in Montana adequately respond to disasters (like Sandy) that happen in New Jersey?

The Free State people don't trust gov't to protect them and take care of the needy. They may have a point, especially if the gov't is an oppressive power (though I acknowledge by their definition it already is). But while community based charity sounds wonderful, I don't yet believe it can take care of the needy in the same way a government can.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Complicit in oppression

A book I read last spring talked about systems of power, how they oppress, and how they get others to be complicit in their oppression. All that was on display yesterday.

Walmart is an oppressive power (which is why I only shop there when I absolutely have to and I think it has been 8 years since I had to). It inflicts economic violence on its workforce (many earn so little they qualify for Medicaid -- and Walmart saves on the expense of providing health care) so that the owners can reap huge profits. It lowers its prices enough so that customers willingly shop there, which makes the shopper complicit in its oppression.

Lots of Walmart employees chose Black Friday (actually, late Thursday) as an appropriate time to picket the store. Doing that in front of the crowds would call attention to the plight of the workers and hopefully put a dent in Walmart's revenue.

Many customers saw the protests and could sympathize. They're poor too. But did that keep them from entering Walmart? No. Because they're poor they have to go where the sales are. Thus Walmart makes them complicit in its oppression. And sets records for its Black Friday sales -- nearly 10 million register transactions between 8 pm. and midnight (or 5000 transactions a second).

There were rallies at 100 Walmart stores across the country. The largest rally was 1000 people at the store in Paramount, Calif. Nine were arrested for civil disobedience, including an retired United Methodist pastor.

The society people want

Conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly has complained that Obama's reelection means the end of Traditional America (and traditional families as seen in Leave it to Beaver). Mark O'Connell, a psychotherapist who is also gay and writing in the Huffington Post, says yup, O'Reilly is right. And let's rejoice that the diversity of the modern family is on display. While we do that let's also support the family configurations we have, rather support the only configuration -- Dad married to Mom with two healthy kids -- that "should be." O'Connell spends must of this article showing how much the modern family has changed from the Leave it to Beaver ideal.

Preserve Marriage Washington, the anti-gay side of the marriage equality campaign in that state, repeatedly said they needed $4 million to make sure their side won. They received only $1.3 million from Washington residents. National organizations pumped in $1.1 million with perhaps $0.1 million from other out-of-state donors. Which means they raised under $2.6 million, or fell 36% short of their goal.

Anti-gay pastor Joe Fuiton put it this way.
I respect elections. That’s what’s so painful here — it shows this is the society people want.
Yup, we do.

The GOP wants women and minority voters to like them. But why should they? The GOP doesn't like them. Even if the GOP tones down the rough edges, they still won't walk the walk. And voters notice. Terrence Heath explains it all in detail.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Marriage as politics

I wrote a couple days ago about the research that went into what message was best to win marriage equality at the ballot box. I've now read the full report and saw an underlying message. The anti-gay side has been quick to portray gay marriage as a political statement in which gays were out to trash (or, at best, "redefine") marriage, or a statement to tell religious organizations that their beliefs (especially beliefs about gays) were stupid. When our messages reassured voters that two gay people marrying was because they loved each other and not because they wanted to trash religion, then those anti-gay portrayals lost their bite.

Rob Tisinai adds to the discussion by saying we want the rights of marriage -- the public commitment and all that -- because we already accept the responsibilities of marriage. Rob explains how he has accepted the responsibility to take care of his partner Will and Will has done the same. They have already committed to each other.

Let all corporations speak

I had a pretty good Thanksgiving Day yesterday. I visited Mom and Dad and Sis and Niece and other Sis and her partner were also there. When I go to visit on holidays my dad and I have been enjoying putting jigsaw puzzles together. So while in Italy this summer I bought a puzzle showing the Birth of Venus by Bottecelli. We opened it yesterday and started assembly. It didn't take long to find something disconcerting.

American puzzles are designed so if one went strictly by shape one could assemble it accurately. There are stories of expert puzzlers turning all the pieces upside down (only the gray backing showing) before assembly and when done they turn it over to see the picture. In addition each piece is roughly rectangular and whether the tab on any side went in or out was independent of the other sides.

But in Italian puzzles (at least this puzzle) the tabs on a piece are all the same, they either all go in or all go out. There are only two basic shapes. It is also possible sometimes for one piece to fit in another piece's place. I was frequently bending close to make sure that, yes, the woman's floral pattern gown accurately aligned between pieces. We had a big problem trying to get the pieces for that gown together. I picked up one piece which was half gown and half background and saw it must go between her legs. But there wasn't room for it. Then I realized the legs were too close together, which meant the pieces along the puzzle's edge were not in the right order.

Which means my purchase of a puzzle mat and tube to wrap it around was a good investment. Dad will be able to take the puzzle off the dining room table and I'll be able to work with him on it at Christmas … and Easter.

And with Thanksgiving over with I have time to get to an article from last Sunday's Free Press. Supreme Justice Alito recently spoke at a dinner of the Federalist Society (described as "overwhelmingly conservative"). One item in his speech was the Citizens United ruling that allowed SuperPACs and extended free speech rights to corporations. Alito said:
The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations. Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.
Put another way, if any corporation is allowed free speech, then all corporations must be allowed free speech.

Apparently Alito can't tell the difference between a corporation we pay to analyze a candidate's position and voice an opinion on how well that position fits with the needs of the city, state, and nation and a corporation we pay to refine, transport, and sell oil which would only express a political opinion that would benefit itself.