Sunday, December 25, 2016

On the road ... again

I leave in the morning for a road trip. First stop is Dad's brother and wife in northern Ohio. I've got stuff from Dad's house to give my uncle, such as old tools. I've also got stuff to share with my aunt and uncle such as annual class photos of their small school as they were growing up -- Dad graduated in a class of ten. I'm pretty sure I can pick out Dad in these photos, I'm not so sure about picking out his brother and sister.

In mid afternoon I head on to Pittsburgh to spend four nights with my brother and his wife. I'll spend a couple hours each day visiting Mom.

I'll take along my netbook computer so I can keep up with email. I don't know whether I'll have time or motivation to post something.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Three steps and a backup

For about 18 months the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours) has been rather quiet. But with the nasty guy headed to Washington NOM is rolling out their plan to undo marriage equality. And in spite of that wonderful ruling 18 months ago, an undo is possible. Dear sister, alas this won’t make you feel any better.

In a five minute video Matt Baume explains the three steps:

1. Weaken protections. Arkansas Supremes ruled that certain rights can be withheld from same-sex couples, such as permitting only one parent on a birth certificate. In Houston citizens are working to deny benefits to same-sex spouses of city empolyees. Though the state must issue a license, it doesn’t have to treat a couple as married. Definitely separate and unequal. Unconstitutional? Likely. But that means a trip to the Supremes.

2. They nasty guy’s likely nominees for the Supremes have surely been hand-picked by Mike Pence and thus are extreme homophobes. The nominees for other top jobs, such as for Dept. of Justice, are also in that category. As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions could bring a case on behalf of the federal gov’t.

3. In addition to the constitutional conflicts mentioned above our opponents have installed their allies in courts and Dept. of Justice. They are ready for that trip to the Supremes.

Backup plan.

First Amendment Defense Acts in various states will allow other citizens to not honor a same-sex marriage license. These acts would generate constitutional conflicts for years, ready for the right justices to be appointed to the Supremes.

A marriage license currently comes with a suite of rights and protections. But those rights and protections could disappear depending on where you are and who you are talking to. The GOP and the Fundies behind them had complained that we were redefining marriage. They now plan to do exactly that by gutting all those assumed rights and protections.

All of it a choice

T. R. Ramachandran wrote a four-part series of posts for Shareblue explaining how the political news from mainstream medial during this past election campaign caused Hillary Clinton to lose and the nasty guy to win. He explains why I ignore most mainstream media. The posts were written in response to an article by Susan Glasser, an editor at Politico.

Glasser wrote:
Journalism has never been better…
The truth is that coverage of American politics, and the capital that revolves around it, is in many ways much better now than ever before – faster, sharper, and far more sophisticated.

Ramachandran responds by wondering why isn’t accuracy in the list of ways to judge the quality of news? It should be at the top of the list.

He first expands on that by saying bias and accuracy are different. It is possible to be biased and accurate and claim to be unbiased and not accurate.

He then looks at a few examples. According to fact-checking sites Clinton was rated as one of the most honest candidates. The nasty guy was rated pathologically dishonest. But news media didn’t report this. They portrayed Clinton as the more dishonest and then used polls to repeat that the public thought she was more dishonest.

Clinton disclosed everything: income and sources, taxes, emails, meetings, Foundation donors, etc. Trump disclosed almost nothing. Electionado provided a table of transparency, shown on the Shareblue page. Yet, Clinton was portrayed as more secretive.

Clinton did nothing illegal with her private email server and with her Foundation. There is documentation that the nasty guy’s Foundation broke laws and was corrupt. Even so, the media led people to believe Clinton’s actions were illegal and the nasty guy’s actions were not.

According to Brian Beutler a key part of journalism is framing and contextualizing – not just providing new data points, but explain what they mean in the larger scheme of things. The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy add that in this election cycle the media reported all the ugly stuff they could find and left analysis to the voter. For example, they did not distinguish between the seriousness and importance of allegations aimed at both the Clinton and Trump Foundations. The public disqualified both candidates and chose not on fitness for office but on such things as unrealistic promises.

These inaccurate portrayals of Clinton – the media ignoring their duty to accuracy – was what prompted many Bernie Sanders supporters to vote for someone other than Clinton, enough to make the difference in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, giving the Electoral College to the nasty guy.

In part 2 Ramachandran expands on that idea of a lack of accuracy by examining the Clinton email “scandal.” With so much coverage of the story – in the news nearly every day for 600 days – one would expect the story to at least be accurate. The media certainly had time to run down every detail to make their reporting accurate – if they chose to.

But the vast majority of the stories were false. Ramachandran reviews nine accurate aspects of the story, such things as Clinton didn’t violate any secrecy or classification laws.

Ramachandran reviews three kinds of reporting that routinely deceive the public.

* Stenographic repetition of claims, such as “Hillary Clinton enters the summer damaged by perceptions that she violated the law...”

* Exclusion of important and pertinent facts from independent analyses and expert sources, such as the fact-checking sites mentioned before.

* Gratuitous stenographic inclusion of comments by partisan Republicans, such as “If that was anyone else in this world, they would have been gone.”

And an example: WikiLeaks hacked the Democratic National Committee and dribbled out the emails it found. Rarely (if at all) was it plainly stated these were not emails from Clinton’s server (which was never hacked).

If the media isn’t interested in accuracy, what drives them? In part 3 Ramachandran says what media organizations crave now is speed and access. In this internet age there is a tremendous rush to be the first to report an event, even if those first reports often change significantly. The scoop is everything.

The big example of this is the pile-on when in the last two weeks of the campaign FBI Director James Comey announced a renewed investigation into Clinton’s emails based on no evidence at all – something Comey himself admitted the following week.

Did the media delve into how inappropriate it was for Comey to say what he did? No, they charged into “fact-free innuendo and scandal-mongering” against Clinton while pushing away the nasty guy’s real scandal of defrauding thousands of people out of tens of millions of dollars through his fake Trump University.

Ramachandran wrote:
The media’s habit of prioritizing speed over accuracy is a serious impediment to an informed public, especially given that people are much more likely to remember the first, often sensational or striking reports, and not pay attention to follow up stories and corrections.

The media prizes access, being a part of the inner circle. But that access “does not usually produce accurate journalism, but rather the reprinting of self-serving or partisan spin.” In addition, a lack of access means the reporter must do painstaking research, which usually results in superior work. They must be more thoughtful about how they frame a story. An example: David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post uncovered the fraud of the Trump Foundation without having access to Trump.

In contrast, Clinton disclosed all relevant information about the Clinton Foundation – providing access – yet these were some of the most inaccurate stories of the campaign.

Ramachandran wrote:
The point here is that many people in the media seem to wrongly equate access with significance. The reality is commonly the opposite.

And what did Clinton get by providing all that access? The media combed through it for “clouds” and “shadows” – evidence of scandal. Clinton’s transparency was weaponized against her.

In part 4 Ramachandran takes on “aggressive reporting,” also known as “adversarial journalism,” not much more than propagating he-said, she-said claims. Rarely is there an attempt to sort innuendo from truth, to present relevant facts, or add critical context so the reader could understand the facts and their significance. The public has no way to judge the significance of such stories.

Ramachandran lays out the details of the WikiLeaks/Russian email hacks to explain why aggressive reporting is bad reporting. He explains how WikiLeaks worked:
* First, they published hacked emails that deceptively looked damaging to those who had no time to research the emails or the full context behind them.

* Second, specific words, phrases, or sentences were taken out of context and highlighted to falsely make the content seem nefarious or corrupt.

* Third, they enlisted a very willing, compliant press corps to distribute their propaganda in the form of misleading headlines, social media posts, and stories.

* Fourth, when challenged, they used the argument that the emails were “not fake”— a tactic that compliant media organizations reinforced by claiming that anything not fake was “newsworthy.”
All this to “annihilate truth.” This technique is only possible when media relies on aggressive reporting and doesn’t look for the relevant facts.

Ramachandran notes that only Clinton was a target of WikiLeaks and Russia and that the nasty guy knew what was going on.

We’ve heard a lot lately about the role that fake news had in this campaign. Facebook is now thinking about what to do about it. But fake news needs mainstream media to supply deceptive “legitimate” news for the fake stuff to stand on. And this deceptive news was far more damaging than the fake stuff.

So, modern media prizes speed and access over accuracy. They believe presenting he-said, she-said claims without facts or context to be great journalism.

There are now lots of calls for media accountability. That’s not likely to go very far. Media companies aren’t interested in self-examination. Reason: money.

* It seems the nasty guy made deals with media companies to transmit his propaganda unfiltered.

* Candidates often have to run ads to erase distortions – and that money is ad revenue to the same companies that spread the distortions.

The issue becomes how to fund journalism so that it prizes accuracy without losing money. That may be hard to do. Even so, the first step is knowing what the mainstream media is doing.

Ramachandran makes a point that I want to reinforce. Media companies chose speed over accuracy. Media companies chose to use adversarial journalism. Media companies chose to not provide context and significance. Media companies chose to be pawns of WikiLeaks and the Russians. Media companies chose to turn Clinton’s transparency against her. Media companies chose to enter deals with the nasty guy to not filter his rants. Media companies chose to portray Clinton as a liar worse than the nasty guy. Media companies chose to profit from the Clinton campaign having to give them ad money to combat the distortions they spread. Media companies chose they nasty guy over Clinton and did all they could to make sure she lost. Media companies chose to work against democracy and against the health of the nation and the world. Media companies chose profit over sound journalism. They did not have to make those choices.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Agreeing to a deal

I’ve written several times about the nasty “bathroom bill” in North Carolina, the one that removes protections for LGBT people, including requiring transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificate.

Before I get to the latest shenanigans around this bill, a bit of history. Before 2016 LGBT people in NC had few rights. Discrimination against them was legal. Several cities had passed local ordinances offering protections against discrimination within their borders. Charlotte did the same in February 2016.

In March the state legislature called a special session so the Senate and House, each taking a mere five hours, rammed through the “bathroom bill” to overturn the ordinances Charlotte and other cities had passed and added a few more nasty provisions, such the transgender bathroom provision.

Reaction was swift. Many corporations declared they would not move to or expand in NC. Many entertainers canceled concerts. Sports organizations moved championship games out of the state. In all, a big economic hit, likely over $600 million.

Over the months since then there were talk of a deal – Charlotte would repeal its ordinance and the legislature would repeal the nasty bill. Charlotte always refused, saying their LGBT citizens needed those protections. The deal meant the lives of LGBT people would be a bit better than now, but discrimination would still be legal.

In November this widely hated bill was likely the big reason why Pat McCrory, the governor who pushed for and signed the bill, was not reelected, losing by a slim margin.

After McCrory finally conceded the deal was discussed again. This time Charlotte agreed. Earlier this week they repealed their ordinance. McCrory complained this showed the Charlotte city council refused only so the issue could be used against McCrory to oust him from office.

And, in another special session, the legislature … punted.

I’m not sure of the details. There seem to be two repeal bills, one for a total repeal, another implementing a half-repeal, I think including a wait of six months to prevent cities from enacting local protections. This caused a bit of feuding within the GOP. Both bills failed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Position of total irreverence

Hunter Thompson wrote the book Hell’s Angels. Susan McWilliams thinks that while Thompson wrote the words decades ago he had a pretty good understanding of this year’s election.
Thompson would want us to see this: These are men and women who know that, by all intellectual and economic standards, they cannot win the game. So whether it be out of self-protection or an overcompensation for their own profound sense of shame, they lash out at politicians, judges, scientists, teachers, Wall Street, universities, the media, legislatures—even at elections. They are not interested in contemplating serious reforms to the system; they are either too pessimistic or too disappointed to believe that is possible. So the best they can do is adopt a position of total irreverence: to show they hate the players and the game.

Understood in those terms, the idea that Trumpism is “populist” seems misplaced. Populism is a belief in the right of ordinary people, rather than political insiders, to rule. Trumpism, by contrast, operates on the presumption that ordinary people aren’t going to get any chance to rule no matter what they do, so they might as well piss off the political insiders using the only tool left available to them: the vote.

Look for the award nominations to come

I saw the movie Manchester by the Sea today. Definitely well acted and beautifully filmed. But it isn’t a joyous romp for the season.

The story centers on Lee. We meet him at his job as fix-it man for several apartment buildings. He gets paid minimum wage and given a room. His customer relation skills are definitely lacking. He is called back to his hometown of Manchester when his brother Joe dies. Much to Lee’s surprise, he is given guardianship of Patrick, Joe’s 16 year old son. We see flashbacks to Patrick growing up and the good times the boy had with father and uncle. We also see the horrible event, the reason why Lee had left and why he doesn’t want to stay in town.

There were a few times, such as when Patrick has a meltdown, when I wanted to shout at Lee, sheesh, guy, give the kid a hug. Then again, Lee is emotionally damaged too. The situation is resolved by the end of the movie, but not really in the way I had hoped.

I’d recommend the movie as finely acted, but it isn’t a feel-good movie.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our precedent case

This afternoon I went to see the movie Loving, the story of Richard and Mildred Loving. They were a mixed-race couple who ended up challenging Virginia’s ban on such marriages all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supremes overturned Virginia’s ban as well as such laws still active in 15 other states. That ruling set the precedent for same-sex marriage 48 years later.

The whole reason for the lawsuit is the ranking and dominator society I mentioned in my report on the Chalice and Blade yesterday. The couple were dragged out of bed and forced to leave Virginia because the white leadership in the state ranked colored people so low that they weren’t allowed to marry and dilute the white race.

Richard, who works as a bricklayer, is as comfortable in black society as he is in white. He appears easily cowed by the white establishment. He is quiet and unsure, not wanting the spotlight. He doesn’t want to fight the system because that means jail time for both of them and she is pregnant. He obviously loves his wife and growing family and wants to be there to care for them.

Mildred, by contrast, may be reticent, but she is also articulate. She is the one who calls for help, by way of a letter to Bobby Kennedy, the new Attorney General. He can’t help them directly, but does pass their case on to the ACLU.

I enjoyed the film and pleased to see it out there. It is a good challenge to the dominator society.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Chalice and Blade, Part 2

This is the second part and conclusion of my summary of the book The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. You can find the whole series here.

Eisler surveys history through the lens of the balance between dominator and partnership ideas.
Matrist [Partnership] periods are those when women and “feminine” values are accorded higher status. These periods are characteristically intervals of greater creativity, less social and sexual repression, more individualism, and social reform. Conversely, in patrist [dominator] periods the derogation of women and femininity is more pronounced. These periods, when father-identified, or “masculine,” values are once again on the ascendant, are more socially and sexually repressive, with less emphasis on the creative arts and social reform.
One example is Medieval witch trials. History books that mention them usually don’t delve into the reasons for the trials. Many other books explain these women were thought to be witches because of mass hysteria. But these trials were too well ordered to be the response to hysteria. This was a time when male physicians were gaining acceptance. Wise women with knowledge of healing were competition and had to go. Other crimes laid against them were relying on sources of healing beyond Christianity and sometimes simply being sexual.

Another example is the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Elizabethan Age. There was a time of awakened responsibility for others, such as the poor law. There was a new love of learning and a funding of colleges. Upper-class women had greater access to education. There was a flood of creative energy, especially in poetry and drama, and also including painting, architecture, and music. Many of Shakespeare’s female characters were learned women.

But there is also Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, part of the dominator backlash, part of a revival of dogmas with new “facts” to justify it. Such facts include the supposed decline in standards of behavior or that the order of society is falling apart. This is usually followed be a call to reimpose the dominator values at all cost.

The Elizabethan age was not one in which women became equal to men to fully restore the partnership model of society. Male supremacy was not completely overthrown. However, it was a time of gains for women, a time when the rigidity of supremacy was lessened.

Perhaps the long reign of Queen Victoria also produced a cultural golden age? In this case the backlash was swifter and stronger. The Victorian Era is seen as repressive. There was lots of talk about the horror of a nation losing its manhood and of bloodshed being cleansing and sanctifying. This brutal contempt for women culminated in World War I.

Researchers have found several other periods in history where the rise of female freedom and corresponding “feminine” values coincides with periods of peace. Another example is America in the 1920s. When the “masculine” dominator values are on the rise, war almost always followed.

One more era to consider: In the 1960s and ‘70s there was a strong rejection of the Vietnam War. It was not seen as “heroic” nor “manly” nor “patriotic.” Many men adopted more effeminate styles of hair and dress. Women rejected confinement in the home. This was an era of significant gains in women’s rights, civil rights, and voting rights.

But the dominator backlash was there too in those fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment. The Moral Majority had its start in this time.

A few thoughts of my own: The Powell Memorandum, which laid the foundation for corporate takeover of American life and the huge increase in economic inequality is also from this era. It is very much a dominator document. And shortly after that came Ronald Reagan, the current deity of conservatives, and Bush I who, my friend and debate partner noted, seemed to need to send the military off somewhere every December, such as the invasion of Panama in 1989.

Eisler reviews the various social ideologies and their effect on dominator societies. As I’ve shown so far, religion may preach partnership, but in implementation religion has been firmly on the side of male supremacy and ranking in general (including “I’m going to heaven and you’re not!”). Democracy interrupted the ranking of king over landowner – freedom replacing obedience – but still hasn’t satisfactorily dealt with ranking male over female especially within the family. Capitalism is an improvement over feudalism, but with its driving force being competition and greed it will definitely not lead to a partnership society. Socialism and communism are both closer to a partnership society than capitalism, but they did not abandon violence as a way to power (see: Stalin) and those in power reinstituted ranking.

Are any ideologies left? Feminism. Alas, it is dismissed as “just a woman’s issue.”
Only feminism avoids the internal inconsistencies by applying principles such as equality and freedom to all of humanity – not just the male half. Only feminism offers the vision of a reordering of the most fundamental social institution: the family. And only feminism makes the explicit systems connection between the male violence of rape and wife beating and the male violence of war.

A lot of people dismiss the idea that male dominance is all of a piece with racism, warfare and general authoritarianism. But Eisler says those on the farthest right, those who actively push for such things as white supremacy, recognize and accept the connection. The problem with the rest of us is we seek the end of war and of racism, yet are willing to get to those women’s issues only when the more important ones are solved. Eisler says that cannot work. The rest of those ranking issues have their roots in the male-female ranking. As long as we socialize children to believe that boys are better than girls and that the father is the boss of the family that learned ranking will extend to the rest of society.

What about the future? Eisler’s analysis of the future of the dominator system is succinct and straightforward. A great number of issues facing humanity and the planet are because of (or at least made a great deal worse through) overpopulation. This includes global climate change, likely food shortages, continued skirmishes over who controls what land and water, grinding poverty for much of the world, huge migration problems, and general crowding. Yet, overpopulation is barely mentioned in public discourse, certainly not discussed as a root problem (something I’ve noticed in the last several years).

It’s not mentioned because most such things associated with male supremacy aren’t mentioned. We’re taught that’s just the way things are. Male supremacy means the things that might threaten male supremacy are suppressed.

As long as men think the purpose of a woman is to give birth to babies, then overpopulation and all these other issues cannot be solved. Under male supremacy changing the idea that a woman is for something other than having babies means giving the woman something else to do. Which means making her equal to men.
In male-dominated societies there are two fundamental obstacles to formulating and implementing the kinds of policies that could effectively deal with our mounting global problems. The first obstacle is that the models of reality required to maintain male dominance require that all matters relating to no less than half of humanity be ignored or trivialized. This monumental exclusion of data is an omission of such magnitude that, in any other context, scientists would immediately pounce upon it as a fatal methodological flaw. But even when this first obstacle is overcome and policy makers are provided with complete and unbiased data, a second and even more fundamental obstacle remains. This is that the first policy priority in a male-dominated system has to be the preservation of male dominance.
And the next step…
When their elected leaders fail to solve economic, social, and political problems, people look to others for answers. In the dominator mind, valuing above all rank-orderings and conditioned to equate right with might, these answers tend to be equated with violence and strongman rule.

In its methods of control and its basic structure, modern totalitarianism is the logical culmination for a cultural evolution based on the dominator model of social organization.
A dominator society has at its core
a creed that – starting with male and female – divides humanity into in-groups and out-groups that must forever be at war.
That a dominator system is still considered a viable solution shows how powerful and entrenched the dominator system has become. As long as we believe the blade – violence – can be an instrument of deliverance…
A dominator future is therefore, sooner or later, almost certainly also a future of global nuclear war – and the end of all humanity’s problems and aspirations.
It doesn’t have to end that way.

Hierarchies maintained by force require defensive habits of mind. It poisons all human relations. Many people in many societies are recognizing that male dominance and warfare are not inevitable. We can choose partnership.

A new science is developing, one of relationships rather than hierarchies. That implies less overcompartmentalized, mechanical, and logical thinking and more intuition, of drawing conclusions from all simultaneous impressions. Put another way, science needs more women.

We need new ways to view and understand conflict. We must move away from viewing conflict as violence, a clash between hierarchies. Rather it must be a chance to reexamine the goals of all parties in the conflict. Gandhi said the aim is to transform conflict rather than suppress it or explode it into violence.

We must also redefine power. We can’t think that I must control another or they would control me. I deserve power over myself, but that is different than power over others. Many boys are now taught their sense of worth is supposed to be defined by their power over others. When these boys, perhaps now men. realize the dominant role isn’t getting them what they are taught is their due, they may become violent. It is much better to teach them they are complete in themselves, their worth isn’t dependent on their position in a hierarchy.

There is also power of affiliation, of linking. How can we make a situation win-win, rather the dominator solution of win-lose? Our ethics need to change to become cooperative rather than confrontational. Harmony, rather than conquest, would become our basic ideal. When confronted by an enemy we must work against vanquishment and for reconciliation.

Eisler has shown that war is an integral part of dominator society. If we successfully move away from domination then we should be able to get rid of the armed forces and the defense budget. There are plenty of other things we can do with the money, such as quality schools for all. As relationships shift from domination to partnership we will be less interested in buying things as a substitute for satisfying relationships. Our economy will have much less waste. Most of all “women’s work” – the care, nurturing, helping, and loving others – will be integrated into the economic and political mainstream. Institutions will have the goal of leading all of us to our highest potential, to a quality of life.

As I mentioned, this book was published in 1987 at the end of the Reagan era. The effects of the dominator system looked pretty dire then.

Nearly thirty years later we’ve seen great improvements in some areas, one of the largest being rights of LGBT people – at least in Europe and America.

But I fear we are deep in a backlash against a partnership system. We have an ongoing battle in women’s reproductive choice, a core part of the dominator system. The rise in inequality over the last 30 years is all about ranking (we can’t let you challenge our place at the top of the heap), as is corporate control of our lawmakers. The GOP and its shakeup of control of Congress in the 1990s and their heavy gerrymandering after the 2010 census is also about control and ranking – with them on top. And to me the rise of Donald Trump is all about ranking and dominance – the earlier comments about strongmen sounded appropriate for today. Will we avoid strongman rule? Will the domination be resisted? I don’t know.

I’ve long written about the dominator system, though not by that name, and I’ve known how strong it is. I’ve understood that it is behind such things as bullying, the abortion issue, the treatment of LGBT people (if a man marries another man which one dominates?), the corporate takeover and the GOP takeover, and many other aspects of life.

Even with that understanding I’ve learned a couple things from this book.

I had wondered where our need to dominate comes from. Do we get it from religion? Our culture? Do we get it from simply being human, where a male has to do something to stand out and attract a female’s attention? Is it natural and innate? The answer from this book is that domination is not innate. It is learned. And a great deal of our culture, including religion, is set up to teach it.

The other thing I learned from the book is how lethal a system of domination is to our species. We have pressing problems that cannot be solved with domination in place. And if it goes unimpeded it leads to all-out war, which today can mean nuclear war. Lethal indeed!

So go learn how to be a feminist.

Chalice and Blade, Part 1

I usually have a book in the car to take into restaurants and other places to have something to read. I try to have a book that allows reading in short moments spread over a long time, so I usually don’t put novels in this role.

The most recent book I’ve had in the car is The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler, published in 1987. When my pastor was moved to a new church last spring, he put most of the books he had accumulated over seven years on a table for us to peruse and take. I ignored most of the religious and church-building books, but this one caught my attention. It is a scholarly book, complete with lots of notes. It is also quite readable with an audience beyond other scholars.

Eisler begins her thesis in archaeology and its description of the dawn of civilization 6000-9000 years ago. Sites and artifacts from this period had lots of female imagery, including worship of a Goddess. Archaeologists, mostly male, interpreted this as a time of matriarchy rather than patriarchy, a time when women were in control rather than men.

But Eisler, along with with many other female researchers, determined that the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, rather the opposite is partnership. Patriarchy is rule by men, it is male supremacy. Partnership is led by women, but leadership is not rulership.

Patriarchy is about ranking: men over women, priest over supplicant, king over duke over commoner. Once that is firmly established the ranking is extended to citizen over outsider, one nation over another, one race over another, straight over gay, and on and on. Attempts at stepping out of this hierarchy, or, even worse, trying to take a higher position in the hierarchy, is usually met with violence. The ranking and the dominating of one half of humanity over the other half is enforced and maintained through power, frequently a blade. A lot of technological development in such a society is for destruction and war.

Partnership is, instead, about linking. We’re in this together, no one is ranked above another. I use my skills because I am good at them, not because society assigns me a role. I work for the betterment of the community, just as you do. I help you to use your skills and talents, for you to become the best you can be as you do the same for me. If I am a leader it is because I have leadership skills. A symbol of this is the chalice, the common cup. Technological development is for construction and life.

This partnership society existed for a few thousand years and covered an area from perhaps what is now Slovenia to northern India. Evidence of worshiping the Goddess were found in hundreds of sites across this region. All the fundamentals of civilization were developed in this time. These include: growing food and domesticating animals; technology for containers and clothing; crafting objects from wood, fibers, leather, and eventually metals; law, government, and religion and related concepts of judgeship and priesthood; dance, ritual drama and oral literature; art, architecture, and town planning; trade; and administration and education.

This lasted until a series of invasions from northeastern Europe and northern Asia swept into southeast Europe, bringing its society of ranking and imposing it on newly conquered areas. This invasion didn’t reach Crete, where the partnership society flourished, until about 1500 BC, when it too was overrun and a society of ranking was imposed. But in that time there was a vibrant and thriving – and peaceful – culture.

As I read this account of historical conquest I kept thinking it implied that on a field of battle the army of a dominator society will win out over an army of a partnership society. For protection shouldn’t we maintain a dominator society? Eisler answers this question in a way I don’t expect when discussing the future.

Eisler examines this period of chaos. Old myths are still around, but new myths are created and imposed to justify male supremacy. Eisler looks at several instances where she identifies bits of both mythologies.

I was especially fascinated by Eisler’s interpretation of the story of the Garden of Eden. By the time this was written down the writers, who were priests in Israel, no longer felt they needed to mention the Goddess, a female deity. Even so, their intentions are quite clear.

One of the symbols associated with the Goddess is the serpent. Female deities, including Roman
Athene, Ua Zit in Egypt, and Astarte in Canaan, are frequently depicted with serpents. Because a serpent sheds it skin it represents rebirth. It is also connected to healing, which is why the caduceus, a modern symbol of medicine, features a pair of snakes.

Other symbols of the Goddess are the Tree of Life, also a Tree of Knowledge. Both are symbols of the generous nature of the Goddess and the way She imparts wisdom. And another symbol is the horned bull, a symbol of power and of nature.

But in the Garden of Eden story, the serpent becomes the messenger of evil, the one who tricks woman and is cursed to spend its days on its belly. This is saying the old way of partnership and the Goddess is evil. The myth takes it one step further by directly declaring that sin has entered humanity through the woman, making her evil and providing divine justification of male supremacy. The Eden story includes the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. By saying these trees are off limits the story is saying there are some things – like women not allowed to receive knowledge from gods – that are not to be questioned.

That demand to obey without question is the same demand given by totalitarians:
Don’t think, accept what is, accept what authority says is true. Above all, do not use your own intelligence, your own power of mind, to question us or to seek independent knowledge. For if you do, your punishment will be horrible indeed.

Separately, the bull has come to us as the horned and hoofed devil. All of this is clearly saying the Goddess is not to be worshiped and woman is to be ruled by man.

A great deal of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, is written to support a ranking and dominator society. It is a “network of myths and laws designed to impose, maintain, and perpetuate a dominator system of social and economic organization.”

Consider Deuteronomy 22:13-21. What to do if a man alleges that his bride is not a virgin? If her parents can prove she is a virgin the husband pays a fine to the family. If there isn’t proof the husband can take her back to her parents and they have her stoned. She is killed for bringing dishonor to her father and the nation. What is the nature of that dishonor?

A woman who is sexually and economically free is a threat to the entire fabric of a rigidly male-dominated society. Protecting a woman’s virginity protects the economic transaction between father and husband. If the accusation of lost virginity is false, the husband is fined because he slandered the father as honest merchant. If the accusation is true than the woman is now an economically worthless asset – the father can’t sell her to another suitor and she would become another mouth for him to feed for the rest of her life. Worthless assets are destroyed to prevent additional costs.

The Old Testament, of course, doesn’t portray this as an economic problem, nor even a moral dilemma, but the Word of God. The Old Testament defines right and wrong in terms of what protects and what might upset a dominator society. We have been conditioned to think this is correct and proper.

This is the first rule of ranking: Convince those of lower rank that they are supposed to be of lower rank and that their superiors have a right in enforcing their superiority. In the Eden story and across the Old Testament that rule is given the moral authority of being demanded and ordained by God.

The Old Testament isn’t entirely about male supremacy. Parts of it, particularly some of the prophets, speak of the partnership society.

In contrast to the Old, a great deal of the New Testament, particularly the life and teachings of Jesus, promote the partnership society. Jesus doesn’t talk about “masculine” virtues of toughness, aggression, and domination. Instead he promotes the “feminine” virtues of turning aside violence and loving our enemies. He rejected the teachings of high-ranking men, the Pharisees. He had women in his inner circle, including Mary Magdalene, an idea that was a marvel to his male disciples. He encouraged women to full participation in public life.

This challenge to male supremacy as supported by the Old Testament is a strong argument that Jesus was indeed a historical person.

Saint Paul supports this challenge to supremacy with his line that in the community of Jesus there is “neither male nor female.” But there are other times when Paul blows it, such as with the line that “women should be silent in church.”

This foundation for a partnership society didn’t last. Male supremacy needed only 200 years to assert itself again. Leaders declared themselves to be clergy with special powers. And the senior clergy, the bishops, declared which writings about Jesus were true and which were heretical. In the *Gospel of Mary* Mary Magdalene challenges the authority of Peter. Out it went. For various reasons the New Testament doesn’t have Gospels of Peter, Philip, or Thomas. One of those reasons is the idea that knowledge of God is available to all and doesn’t have to be filtered through a priesthood.

I’m aware we still have lots of challenge to the supremacy system in the familiar Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and more in some passages in the letters of Paul. As much of a challenge as these passages are the parts that were excluded are even more so.

The supremacy takeover of Christianity was complete when Constantine, Emperor of the Rome, converted to Christianity. “Christian bishops, previously victimized by the police, now commanded them.” Christianity then spread across Europe through “might makes right.” The alternative to conversion was usually death. Pagan temples and shrines were demolished. The chalice of the Goddess now holds the figurative blood of Christ, shed through violence. The nonviolence preached by Jesus is gone. For the next thousand years the only scholarship permitted was blessed by the church. This was very much a religion based on ranking and supremacy.

Judaism and Christianity aren’t the only religions that support male supremacy. A great number of religions from this region and era are designed to support ranking. Even so, the idea of the Goddess persists, even after millennia. One modern Christian view of her is as the Virgin Mary. But she is definitely subordinate to a male deity.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Stripping power

Back in November as part of a blurb about Pat McCrory, current governor of North Carolina and sponsor of the nasty “bathroom bill” who lost to Roy Cooper by about 10,000 votes, I mentioned that McCrory was trying to delegitimize the election process in hopes the state legislature would reject the results and declare McCrory the winner. It took a month before McCrory eventually conceded.

However, the legislature isn’t pleased with the outcome. They aren’t going to kick Cooper out and hand the job to McCrory. Their solution is worse. In a special session to discuss “disaster recovery” they’re rejecting the result by stripping Cooper’s job of a great deal of power.

North Carolina is highly gerrymandered to give the GOP a majority in both houses of the legislature large enough to override a veto by the governor. Even so, having a Democrat in the governor’s office is intolerable to them. The various bills would hit several areas.

* The state board of elections and its various local counterparts had an odd number of seats with the last seat going to the governor’s party. The new makeup will have an even number of seats and a requirement that actions need a supermajority. Under McCrory these election boards implemented a slew of voter suppression measures. Cooper will be unable to undo them.

* The state board of elections provides data for redistricting. A federal court says NC must redraw their maps. The proposed law would keep the state board out of the redistricting process, which probably means the GOP would tell the court they don’t have the data to comply with redistricting.

* The governor appoints heads of key departments. The legislature wants to require all those jobs to have state senate approval, meaning the GOP has veto power over all of them.

* When McCrory took the governor job in 2013 the legislature increased by a lot number of jobs he could appoint. Now that McCrory is leaving the list of appointable jobs is being slashed. Most importantly Cooper won’t be able to appoint people to key regulatory agencies nor to the Board of Education.

* Democrats won a 4-3 majority in the state Supreme Court, though it is nominally nonpartisan. The legislature is considering adding two more justices that McCrory can appoint on his way out the door. There are two reasons for that: 1), only a Dem led Court could stop these power plays and 2) the Court plays a big role in redistricting. They introduced a bill to require constitutional issues to first go through the state Court of Appeals where the GOP has a big majority. They also want to make races for justices to be explicitly partisan.

All those bills went before the legislature yesterday. The galleries were, of course, packed. A few of the observers protested, giving the GOP the excuse to clear the galleries, allowing them to proceed without citizen witnesses. Some of these protesters were arrested.

The GOP hasn’t done this much power-stripping since 1892 when they essentially pulled off a coup and instituted Jim Crow.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


I’m delighted huge crowds of Native Americans went to Standing Rock in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access pipeline and its route through their sacred lands and under a Missouri River reservoir. I was pleased to hear several military veterans showed up last weekend as a peaceful human shield. I’m delighted the Army Corps of Engineers has said they will search for a new route for the pipeline. I worry the nasty guy and his minions will overturn this decision.

Here’s another piece to the story that blew me away. Wesley Clark was the Army’s supreme commander at NATO, now retired. His son, Wes, Jr., was one of the veterans that went to Standing Rock. After the pipeline was halted Wes and several veterans took part in a Native ceremony. They apologized for the brutal history between the United States and Native people, then knelt and asked for forgiveness. You can watch the ceremony here.

I think this sweet video – so sweet it got 10 million views in two weeks – is actually a three minute commercial for English for Beginners for Polish TV. We see an elderly man working to learn English. At the end we see why he made so much effort.

Can’t make life fit

On Thursday evening I saw the musical Fun Home. The source material is the book of the same name by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The book is a memoir in comic form, telling of life when she was young. The title comes from the nickname she and her brothers gave to her father's side business, running a funeral home.

The show won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Score.

In the musical we see Alison as a 43 year old woman observing the life of Small Alison, age about 9 and Medium Alison, age 19 and a freshman at college. Alison is observing because she says her memory isn’t very good, not something one wants when writing a memoir. A few times during the show Small or Medium Alison writes in a diary and Alison, looking over a shoulder or pulling the diary away once it is set aside, reads it to us. Alison is doing all this because she is trying to understand her father.

The story cuts back and forth between Small Alison and Medium Alison. Medium Alison is coming to terms with being lesbian. She writes a letter to her parents, and doesn’t get the reaction she had hoped. Her mother insists it is a phase, yes, we all experiment, but you can’t be sure. But Medium Alison has her first lesbian moment and sings, “I’m changing my major to Joan.” At her next visit home, Joan in tow, Medium Alison learns her father is gay and how hard that has been for her mother. We’ve been seeing signs of that during the story of Small Alison, though she doesn’t know what it means. We see a bit of what Small Alison will grow up to be when she goes to a diner with her father and while his nose is buried in the newspaper she sees an obvious dyke come in. We also see the father become more unstable as he can’t make his life fit together, both married to a woman with kids, and a gay man.

I quite enjoyed the show. I’ve read part of the book while in the library. I may have to read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Suffering from…

It has been interesting to watch the GOP grapple with not having Obama to veto their foolishness. Those gazillion votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act were highly symbolic when they knew Obama would veto whatever they did. But a repeal effort now means real consequences for real people. And real people tend to protest. Even so, discussions of repeal continue. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently said (in a rare bout of honesty):
[C]learly there will be a transition and a bridge so that no one is left out in the cold, so that no one is worse off. The purpose here is to bring relief to people who are suffering from Obamacare so that they can get something better.
He later clarified that part of “no one is worse off” applies only during the transition. Worse off once the GOP replacement is in place? We can guess.

Melissa McEwen of Shareblue takes a look at another phrase: “bring relief to people who are suffering from Obamacare.” Who, exactly, is “suffering from” Obamacare?

The 20 million people who now have access to healthcare? Nope.

Those whose premiums have gone up? Even if they did, their premiums are still lower than before the ACA went into effect and will be lower than whatever the GOP cooks up.

The insurance companies, the ones that threaten to pull out of the exchange? These companies have made great profits and their stock prices have zoomed up four and five times the increase in the Dow since 2009. Perhaps under the ACA their profits aren’t as astronomical as they’d like.

Maybe it is the GOP “suffering from” Obamacare.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dial tone

Yes, I still have a landline phone. And it is my only phone. I think I’ve had this one for 25 years, the whole time I’ve been in this house.

There have been times, like last week, when I get irritated with people calling wanting to sell me stuff. What happened to that national do-not-call registry? Callers seem to ignore it, and when the voice is a recording it is hard to tell them or to identify them sufficiently to file a complaint. I just checked – I registered my number in 2003.

The guy who called last week asked if I was on Medicare. I decided that was none of his business. Instead of answering his question I said the usual, “Could you put me on your do-not-call list?” To my surprise and annoyance he said, “No.” So I slammed the phone down in hopes of discouraging him from calling back.

And I think I broke the phone.

Apparently one annoyed slam too many. When I next used it I heard a rattle. And today when it rang I picked it up and heard nothing, perhaps it didn’t actually connect. And twiddling the disconnect button disconnected. Since whoever called didn’t try again I assume it wasn’t important.

But it was enough for me to decide time for a new phone. Online checks indicated good prices in nearby stores and I picked one up for $9.00.

I unpacked it and found the first problem. The chord that plugs it into the phone outlet in the wall isn’t long enough to go around my desk. I have a cord that is long enough, but to use it I need to buy a connector, something that allows me to stick one cord in this end and another cord in that end. It took some doing and lots of strange results on Google to figure out what the thing is called. Once found Google said the price for the little part is about 75 cents – plus $4 in shipping. I could also buy it locally for between $4.50 and $8. The cheapest I could get the little gizmo was about half the price of the phone.

My desk is a rolltop model built to house a computer – a 1990s computer. Modern computer towers don’t fit in the area designed for the “pizza box” models. My nice big monitors don’t fit in the bay designed for CRT screens and, with them in place, I can’t open most of the drawers. Some of the drawers are sized for the old 3½ and 5¼ floppy diskettes. The pad designed for a mouse with a ball doesn’t work so well with a mouse with a laser.

A lot of stuff is sitting on the desktop, including a lot of paper in front of the monitors, and there isn’t room for a phone. So I put the phone on the floor.

And that leads to the second problem. The cord from the handpiece to the base is too short for the base to stay on the floor. I pick up the handpiece and the base is left dangling. I need to take it back and take a closer look at the $18 model.

At bell rehearsal tonight I mentioned all this to a fellow ringer. She was definitely not sympathetic. Why not a wireless? I said I wanted to avoid the electromagnetic radiation. She didn’t buy it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

While the boss attracts the spotlight

Melissa McEwen of Shareblue recommends keeping an eye on Mike Pence, the Veep-elect. Some have commented that the nasty guy could be impeached for his conflicts of interest. There have been moments in the campaign when the nasty guy hinted he wanted to be prez. but didn’t want to do the work. Either scenario leaves us with Pence and he is not an improvement.

It looks like Pence could be the most powerful Veep. With Dick Cheney in our past that’s saying a lot. McEwen offers evidence so far: Every cabinet nominee is hostile to LGBT rights, women’s choice, and voting rights. All are pro-privatization. Pence. Betsy DeVos for Education – Pence. That Carrier deal in which the company is sending only half its jobs to Mexico – Pence. It is Pence who is attending national security briefings. It is Pence who is schmoozing Congress.

Pence doesn’t care about the spotlight. He wants his agenda implemented. He is quite happy that his buffoonish and theatrical boss attracts that spotlight. And while we’re not paying attention to Pence he will be stealthily implementing his extremism.

The recount in Durham for the job of Governor o f North Carolina is almost complete. When partial results were reported yesterday the Democratic challenger had gained three points. So today GOP incumbent Pat McCrory, champion of the nasty “bathroom bill,” finally conceded the race. Bye!

All the best to victor Roy Cooper. He faces a heavily GOP gerrymandered state legislature.

The abortion rate under Obama has dropped to a 45 year low. Is it due to contraception being available under the Affordable Care Act or because GOP controlled states rushing to close abortion centers? The rate has fallen by about the same amount in both red and blue states. Only the ACA is common to all of them.

The abortion rate dropped significantly under the presidencies of both Bill Clinton and Obama. It dropped a tiny bit under Bush I and not at all under Bush II. So perhaps the abstinence only sex-education the GOP pushed doesn’t work?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


The GOP led Senate refused to consider a replacement for the empty seat on the Supreme Court and look at where that got them! Oh, right, control of Congress and the presidency.

Kos (Markos Moulitsas), founder of Daily Kos, says Senate Democrats (and the nation as a whole) should follow the GOP example: Obstruct every nominee for as long as possible. While they’re at it they should obstruct all judicial nominees and every bill proposed in the next Congress. The tactic didn’t seem to harm the GOP. Now it is our turn.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Golden strings

Want control of the nasty guy? It looks like his debt may soon be for sale. He owes Deutche Bank at least $364 million. Ladder Capitol bankrolled a lot of his property development and he owes them $282 million (including the mortgage on Trump Tower in Manhattan). For various reasons both Deutche Bank and Ladder Capitol may sell that debt. For a mere $646 million you could own the golden strings that would make the nasty guy dance to your tune. Alas, your strings might have to compete with the strings worth nearly a billion held by Bank of China.

A bit of buyer’s remorse? Teena Colebrook of Los Angeles voted for the nasty guy, expecting him to sweep aside the moneyed elites. Then the nasty guy picked Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary. Colebrook knows about Mnuchin – he foreclosed on her two rental units she used as a primary source of income. Nasty guy’s populism is clashing against his Cabinet of billionaires.

Speaking of that Cabinet...
Hunter of Daily Kos has noticed three things about the people the nasty guy is assembling for his Cabinet.

* They are profoundly inexperienced, likely the least experienced in presidential history.

* They are opponents of the very duties they’re being asked to lead. An example is Betsy DeVos, champion of privatizing schools, as Secretary of Education.

* They are rich. The nasty guy’s Cabinet and administration could have a combined worth of $35 billion.

A bright spot… Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, the guy who championed the nasty bathroom bill, is down by over 10,250 votes in his bid to be re-elected. That is significant because when the gap is over 10,000 the state won’t grant a recount request for the entire state. But McCrory hasn’t conceded yet. He still wants a recount of Durham County, which made his early election night lead disappear.

Narrow purpose of making money

While Congress passes laws, it is the various federal agencies that implement them. To do that these agencies create regulations. For example (and please take this as an example and not whether my description is accurate): Congress passes a Clean Air Act. It is the Environmental Protection Agency that determines that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and needs to be restricted. The EPA consults scientists, does research, crafts rules, holds a public comment period, faces down industry, and finally issues a new regulation about how much C02 may be emitted from a power plant. The EPA must base it all on sound science because it will have to defend the regulation in court.

According to Mark Sumner of Daily Kos, getting rid of a regulation is a whole lot easier, and doesn’t require any science at all.

Back in the early 1990s Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America came up with the Congressional Review Act. Congress can pass a bill to toss any regulation. Such a bill cannot be stalled or filibustered. No public hearings needed, no public comment, no scientific review, no environmental impact study, nothing but a vote and a prez. signature. And once signed federal agencies cannot replace it with a new regulation that is “substantially the same” until another vote from Congress permits it.

Say goodbye to regulations that prevent pollution, keep workers safe, keep products from poisoning us, protect a rare species, keep a shoreline free of oil, slow climate change, or keep banks from loading us with fees.

The CRA has been used – once. Bush II repealed one worker safety rule. But with the GOP controlling government the CRA could be pulled out daily.

Congress is looking into creating a companion to the CRA. The CRA allows them to toss regulations. The companion, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act), would prevent new regulations from being created. It would do that by requiring Congress to review all new regulations based on – not health, safety, environment, consumer protections, or anything else – only cost. And Congress gets to define how to interpret cost.
Take a deep breath. Now hold it. It may be a long time before you can take another without risk.

Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America’s Future says repealing regulations is anti-democracy:
Underlying Trump’s plan to “eliminate” government regulations is the premise that “government regulation” is itself a bad thing. And underlying that is the premise that government of by and for the people itself is illegitimate. It gets in the way of business. We the People making decisions interferes with efficient decision-making done for the narrow purpose of making money

Sins with a twist

Last night the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (for which I’ve had season tickets for about 35 years) performed The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. In the 1920s Weill and Brecht and their Threepenny Opera was widely performed across Germany. But in 1933 Weill had to flee Berlin. In Paris he was able to get a commission for a new work, something to feature the estranged wife of a rich man. He and Brecht were reunited in one last testy partnership. Though the original is in German, this performance used an English translation.

The piece features a singer, sung by Storm Large in this performance, who is Anna I. In the original conception a dancer performs Anna II. We’re to understand these are two parts of one person. A male quartet sings the role of Family. The two Annas are sent out into the world to work to earn money so the family can build a new house in Louisiana beside the Mississippi River.

Because this is Brecht, there is a twist on each of the seven sins.

Anna II is told she is to shake off sloth and earn the money the family needs.

She has too much pride when she won’t strip and perform for the men who have paid to see her.

She is to refrain from anger because that might offend the casting directors in Los Angeles.

In Philadelphia, her contract forbids her to gain weight, so she had better not be a glutton.

In Boston she must keep her sugar daddy happy and not lust after the man she really wants.

She must not be greedy when performing in Baltimore, because patrons avoid greedy people.

In San Francisco, life may be fine, but one must not envy those who can’t be bought or whose wrath is kindled by injustice. Envy gets in the way of business.

At home

I’ve been in my house for 25 years now, a quarter century. I moved in about this date in 1991.

In September of that year I moved back from a two year assignment in Cologne, Germany. My company paid for an apartment, but would do so for only so long. House hunting was a top priority. I found this place and put in an offer. There were a few things wrong with it, so I put in a bid lower than the asking price. My agent later said the owner ranted about how this was a fine house and I was not respecting its quality and he couldn’t possibly go any lower than his price (or something like that). I considered for a while, then met it.

Between signing the papers in November and actually moving in I hoped some kind of catastrophe would destroy the house. Some of it was buyer’s remorse. Much of it was because while the house was sound – an inspector verified that – the d├ęcor was a mess.

All the interior wood and trim had been painted brown. The “wood” paneling in the living room was made of cardboard. I knew that and a few things like it when I moved in. I later found such things as: In one bedroom a textured wallpaper had been taken down and someone painted over the textured glue. The reason why the electrical outlet in the dining area was recessed by ¾ inch was because a wall of fake brick had been covered by another layer of drywall. A previous owner had put up a ham radio antenna and the weight of that concrete base was cracking the foundation.

For many years, while the neighborhood kids were young (or at least at home) we had a block party every summer. I and my neighbors exchanged horror stories of what the previous owners of our houses had left for us to deal with.

In the first 8 years I lived here I embarked on several renovation projects, some I did myself, others professionally done. I had the exterior walls insulated. I replaced the last five of the original windows (and chose a different brand than my predecessor, so the spare bedroom has one of each style). I stripped doors of paint to the beautiful wood underneath. I removed carpets and refinished wood floors. I renovated the kitchen (getting rid of the fake bricks) and installed a tile floor in the kitchen-dining room. I put a layer of spackling over that wallpaper glue. And each room, except the den, was painted. The den actually has good quality paneling.

Most of the projects were done when I started work on my Master’s Degree in 1999. Since then the major projects – replacing the main bathroom, recovery from a basement flood – were done by someone else. But it has been long enough that some rooms, like the kitchen, are due for another coat of paint. And the end of the driveway, which was in bad shape 25 years ago and has only crumbled since, should have been replaced long ago.

The house was built in 1960, so 56 years old. I’m at least the third, likely the fourth or fifth owner. I’ve been in it longer than any other owner. I’ve live here longer than anywhere else. The next closest in longevity is the 11 years in the house where I grew up, the house my parents lived in for 51 years and I’m now readying for sale.

This is definitely my house. And I’m likely to stay here many more years.

A couple pictures to share. The first is the front of the house at the peak of fall color in 2012.

The second was taken from an airplane as I was returning from Texas last June. Yes, my house is in the image, near the top. I’m pretty sure it isn’t obscured behind a tree.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gerrymandering headed to the Supremes again

A three judge panel (implies it was from a federal Circuit Court) struck down the GOP-drawn map for the state Assembly as unconstitutional gerrymandering. The GOP will appeal this case to the Supremes. Previously, the Supremes said they don’t like gerrymandering but they didn’t have a way to definitively tell whether it exists. This case is important because it comes with a way to measure gerrymandering. I explain the measuring here.

Perhaps a month ago I saw a link to a project done by Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos on gerrymandering. He and his team created a map of the current Congressional district boundaries, the ones drawn after the 2010 Census which were heavily gerrymandered by the GOP. Wolf and his team then created a second map based on the 2010 census data and current procedures for creating an unbiased map. Comparing how the 2012 election would have played out under both maps the team concluded that gerrymandering by itself was the reason why the GOP took the House that year.

Wolf says the priority for his rules in drawing a map are:
* Ignoring partisanship.
* Compliance with the Voting Rights Act's demand for majority-minority districts.
* Utilizing communities of interest like shared culture, economic class, etc.
* Minimization of unnecessary county and municipality splits.
* Geographic compactness. Not mathematically minimizing district boundary length, but drawing districts so that they don't combine disparate parts of intrastate regions.

You can peruse the maps yourself. The official, fully gerrymandered map is here. The revised map, having no force of law, is here. Let your inner nerd have some time to play. A description of the Midwest states and how the revised map would affect them is here. In Michigan the 9-5 delegation favoring the GOP would, under the revised map, either be a 7-7 tie or be 6-8 in favor of the Dems.

Lately, this DK team has been highlighting individual highly gerrymandered districts. Some of them are quite bizarre. For example, the Louisiana 6th district is here.

Doesn’t look so great to me

There have naturally been many articles and posts about the recent election trying to explain what happened. A great many of them push a particular ideological point – Dems lost because of this particular point I’ve been telling you about for years. I don’t bother reading these.

However, I want to tell you about one such article, one that tries to explain and not push an ideological point. This one is written by Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin. He usually writes about LGBT issues. This time he writes from his experience in growing up in Portsmouth, Ohio, which is on the Ohio River directly south of Columbus. It might also be described as Appalachian Ohio.

Yes, racism played a role in this election. It was the most visible part of Trump’s campaign. But Burroway says it wasn’t the deciding factor. The racists weren’t going to vote for Clinton anyway. And many of the white working class voted for Obama and then for the nasty guy. “If you’re going to say their vote was all about racism, then you’re going to have to explain why they waited so long to act on it.” Even so, it is fair to ask why the nasty guy’s racism – and Islamophobia, misogyny, and homophobia – didn’t disqualify him.

Look around Portsmouth, and Coal Grove, Waverly, Mingo Junction, Lorain, Youngstown, and thousands of little towns across Ohio, the Midwest, and the nation. What do you see?
Closed storefronts. Abandoned houses and empty lots where whole neighborhoods once stood. Crumbling factory buildings, boarded up schools that were once the pride of the community.
A few years ago, when visiting my aunt and uncle in a little town about 15 miles from Lake Erie – and almost due north of Portsmouth – I happened to drive through the downtown. I remember a vibrant town from my frequent visits in my youth. Now most of the storefronts have “closed” and “for sale” signs – very much a ghost town.

All those decrepit buildings are part of a decline that began 40 years ago. And what did Dems offer? Retraining! But retraining was for jobs that don’t exist in rural Ohio. In addition, Dems had been the party of the labor union. Though GOP policies have decimated the union movement, the Dems have been focusing on their other constituencies. And the voters...
They saw their broken communities, abandoned by the very party that had once been their champion, and heard Trump say he was going to make America great again. Clinton countered that America was already great. They looked around again and said, no, it doesn’t look so great to me.

And then they voted.

Ian Reifowitz of Daily Kos looks at data from the election. Race and racism doesn’t seem to correlate well with how people voted. One factor that does seem to correlate is education and income. Move up the income ladder and Clinton did better than Obama. Move down the income ladder and Clinton did worse. What did Clinton talk about? Race, no doubt in response to the nasty guy. What didn’t Clinton talk about? The economy. Which seems odd because her husband was the one who stressed the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Solar panels on the stable

A few days ago the nasty guy invited several journalists from a variety of news companies to his tower. He stressed it was off-the-record and they were not to discuss what was said with anybody. Most of the time politicians hold off-the-record sessions to give journalists important background or to “leak” a story – get it in the news and into general discussion – without revealing the source.

Not this time. The meeting started off with a long, screaming harangue in which the nasty guy said he hated them all, they were all liars, and portraying him unfairly. They were just plain wrong about him.

And if anyone dared to say anything about the tirade spokesbot Kellyanne Conway said it wasn’t true and because it was off-the-record whoever called it a tirade got it wrong and should think twice.

So who did report on the meeting? Signs point to the nasty guy himself. Why do that? So he could brag about how he humiliated them. Ooh, such a great start to relations with the press. They’ll likely think twice about reporting on his shenanigans – to the detriment of the nation.

Pat McCrory is the North Carolina governor who got the infamous “bathroom bill” passed, the one that tells transgender people they must use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate. In response, lots of businesses have refused to expand and lots of events have refused to visit.

He was up for re-election. I don’t think a winner has been declared, though McCrory is behind Roy Cooper by almost 6000 votes.

Since election day McCrory has been challenging vote counts in over 50 counties with claims of fraud. County boards have repeatedly ruled against him. It looks like his real goal is to delegitimize the whole election process. After raising all these bogus “questions” he can ask the state legislature to intervene and simply name him the victor, to steal the election. It would be a move that state courts couldn’t touch.

Since the election Mark Zuckerburg has been on the hot seat over fake news and how Facebook appears to promote it, or at least doesn’t suppress it. Let’s take a peek.

There is a company, Disinfomedia, that has several fake news sites. It has perhaps 20-25 writers making stuff up. One story, about the death of the FBI agent who leaked Clinton emails, got 1.6 million views in 10 days.

Why write fake news? Money. The ads that accompany these stories provide a very nice income. Alas, many conservatives, certainly nasty guy supporters and the alt-right, eat this stuff up and it has real world consequences.

The company tried targeting progressives. But the first couple comments would be a thorough debunking and the story would fizzle.

So, yeah, these supporters were getting their news from another world.

You can now buy a hipster nativity set. Joseph is taking a selfie of himself, Mary, and the baby. The three wise men have arrived on Segways with boxes from Amazon under their arms. The shepherd is checking his phone. Be sure to notice the solar panels on the stable roof. At $130 I’ll skip it.

Margaret and Helen, curmudgeonly octogenarians, write a blog together. This year Helen gives instructions for her family when they visit for Thanksgiving: Electronics go in the basket by the door. The TV is off during dinner. You may have voted for Trump but you don’t need to act like him. Visiting does not mean taking a vacation from your children. And Cloe, you may bring your Jello salad, but make sure you have a container to take it home with you. Helen ends with:
Come for the food and stay for the company. Everything else can be made better with gravy.

A great little film

This afternoon I saw the movie Moonlight. It got a lot of favorable press and Metacritic gave it a 99 out of 100. I’m not sure it is that good, though it was certainly a great little film. The story is about Chiron (I heard it pronounced as Sharrone), a black guy. In the first chapter of the movie he is about 9 years old. He’s picked on a lot by other boys, he has a druggie mother, and he finds refuge, for a while, with Juan and Teresa. In chapter 2 Chiron is now 16, and the harassment from the other boys gets intense. He also begins to figure out he is gay and begins a relationship with his friend Kevin. In the third chapter Chiron is now mid-twenties. He’s beefed up and now working the streets. He reconnects with Kevin.

A reviews read implied that in the third chapter Chiron was dealing with trying to be gay in the macho black culture, with a lot of emotional baggage from all that bullying. I didn’t see this. His actions were a lot more tender than I would have thought, not violent at all. In addition, I didn’t see a lot of internal conflict.

I thought the acting by all actors was quite good. There is talk of nominations and awards for this movie. I do have one complaint. Throughout most of the movie the background was quite a bit out of focus. We could see the central characters just fine, but not anything else. I’m sure that was an intentional decision because in most other movies the background is in focus or pretty close to it. But that is a small complaint in an otherwise great little film.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Emphasis on United or on States?

Votes are still being counted in California and perhaps a few other states. While that tallying has been going on Hillary Clinton’s popular vote advantage over the nasty guy keeps going up. At the moment Clinton leads by over 2.1 million votes.

Because of that and because of this being the second time in five presidential elections that the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral College there has been lots of discussion of the EC.

For instance, its racist roots. When the EC was created the South wanted to protect slavery. In determining the population for seats in the House, plus EC votes, blacks were counted as 3/5 of a person. But, of course, they couldn’t vote. That meant Southern white votes had more effect than Northern votes.

The next issue: The more uneven our population is distributed, the more the EC favors lower population states. Every state gets two senators and at least one representative. Thus all states have at least 3 EC votes. Wyoming is one of those with 3 EC votes. At the other end of the spectrum, California has 55 EC votes. If Wyoming’s ratio of population to EC vote were to match the same ratio in California, then Cali should have perhaps 198 EC votes (by my calculation based on 2010 census data). The EC favors rural states.

And since rural states tend to be white – Wyoming is 84% white – the EC favors whites.

To make the urban/rural divide visual compare the maps at the top of these posts. The first shows the normal American map with each county colored red or blue depending which prez. candidate it voted for. We see mostly a sea of red with blue dots and splotches. The second map is stretched so that the size of the county is proportional to its population. Now the red looks like a lattice squeezed between the large blue blobs.

So why do we have, and keep, the Electoral College?

Perhaps to prevent tyranny of the majority. Instead, we get tyranny of the minority.

Alexander Hamilton said the EC keeps “the sense of the people” but the members of the College can assure the future president is actually fit for the job. Which would mean straight white male landowner in Hamilton’s time. Since then most states have laws requiring their EC delegation to follow the outcome of the popular vote in their state, the EC vote is only a formality.

Perhaps it is to balance the interests of high population and low population states. Well, more like balance North and South (see above) or coasts and interior. Should the emphasis be on United or on States? When states rights is coded language for “we get to choose for ourselves how much we want to discriminate” I’m in favor of the United.

Though it might be hard to get rid of the Electoral College (it is in the Constitution) it does not have to be set up as winner-take-all. Time to make that happen.

Quash the education monopoly

I said I probably wasn’t going to comment on every cabinet pick of the nasty guy’s new administration. But I want to comment on this one, not because it affects me personally, but because I see the damage already perpetuated locally. This horrible pick is Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

DeVos has been plenty active in Michigan pushing her charter school and school voucher programs. She hasn’t gotten far with vouchers (yet, but not for lack of effort). She has gotten quite a ways with charters. And in Michigan charters have a big problem – state law says nothing about their quality. A for-profit charter school can open and nothing will be done if the emphasis is on profit and not school. The proliferation of charters is a reason why the remnants of the Detroit Public Schools are in such a mess. DeVos made sure there are a lot of charter schools in Michigan. I don’t know how much she had to do with making sure there was no oversight. For-profit charter companies may have managed that on their own.

Charter schools exist because of the stupid GOP idea that education needs competition (and a way for someone to make a profit). Vouchers make the problem worse by making sure the money follows the student, which sucks money out of public schools and creates a death-spiral as students then leave those public schools. In addition, for-profit companies cut pay and seniority of teachers while preventing them from forming unions. Schools are one of those things that should not be privatized.

Melissa McEwen of ShareBlue adds a bit more. Charters and vouchers:
* Entrench the funding disparities between rich and poor school districts.
* Promote resegregation of schools, supporting white supremacy.
* Make refusing disabled students possible, as well as immigrants and the not-as-smart.

All a part of the nasty guy’s desire to “quash the ‘education monopoly.’”

In other horrible education news… Seven students in the Detroit Public Schools are suing the state because they believe they are getting a substandard education. They want the courts to rule that literacy is a fundamental constitutional right. A school system incapable of delivering access to literacy violates the civil rights of low-income students.

The latest reason for the DPS mess is the financial bailout that was intentionally underfunded. But DPS has been underfunded and a financial mess for at least two decades.

So, the lawsuit, in hopes of getting the state to adequately fund the schools. Gov. Rick Snyder is specifically named in the suit. His response: Students “have no fundamental right to literacy.”

I long ago figured out that while the GOP says education of everyone is a high priority their actions say otherwise. Unless the student is white and already not poor the GOP does not want them educated. When minorities are educated they just might challenge white supremacy.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Shock but not scandal

Mark Sumner of Daily Kos noted that the nasty guy settled lawsuits that all but admitted his university was a scam. That was all over the newspapers – for two days. That’s in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s emails being in the news for over 600 days. Sumner says this is…
Because the media still holds Donald Trump to account for nothing and no one. Trump can shock for an hour or a day, but it can’t be a scandal, because for a scandal you have to have some expectations of civil behavior. The press holds Trump to no expectations at all. He’s not just the guy who could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing his voters; he’s the guy who could pull that trigger knowing that the story would run, briefly, on page 11. Near the bottom. In small type.
That’s a big reason to ignore corporate media.

A couple days after the election Laura Clawson of Daily Kos wrote:
When one candidate is overwhelmingly truthful and the other candidate habitually lies, but people—not just confirmed partisans but media consumers in general—come away believing the liar is more truthful and the truthful candidate is more untrustworthy, there’s a serious problem in reporting.
And now that the media has helped the nasty guy get elected (see above) they are getting worried. They’re worried about:

* Weaker libel protections that the nasty guy has threatened when media doesn’t fawn over him.

* Less access to the White House.

* Safety, because supporters threatened them.

Now they’re worried? Their investigating and reporting is so bad they didn’t see this coming?

I stayed in your hotel

The progressive blogs (at least the ones I read) are discussing that a bare two weeks after the election and the nasty guy is already violating the Constitution. He refuses to put his assets in a blind trust, instead he is turning management over to his children. It is possible he can’t create a blind trust and should divest everything. The nasty guy and his spokesbots say there are no laws against it. A president can run a side business if he wants to.

Ah, but there is a provision against an important piece. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, reads:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
I had to look up the word “emolument.” The important phrase here is “compensation for service.” Synonyms include: honorarium.

A rough translation: the president cannot accept substantial gifts from foreign officials (token gifts are exchanged all the time), cannot perform a service for foreign officials for which he is paid, cannot be given employment by a foreign country, and cannot be granted a Title by a foreign government. Any of these is a conflict of interest, in which the president may choose to do things to benefit his pocket to the detriment of the country.

Would the nasty guy smile broadly and offer preferential treatment to the foreign dignitary starts a conversation by saying, “I stayed in your hotel last night and had a delightful time!” His newest hotel is already touting staying there might give them access. What about when the foreign dignitary says, “I’ve been able to clear away the last legal blocks for the hotel you want to build in our country. We’ve even cut the taxes in half! Will you please do this little thing for us?”

What if one of those foreign dignitaries is from India – how might its long-term rival Pakistan react? Well, Pakistan did react. It thinks India’s nuclear “no 1st use” policy is (now) “ambiguous.”

Likely by January 20 there will be enough evidence that Congress would be able to start an investigation of impeachable offenses. Will they? Or are they just as corrupt?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seventeen Solutions – public works

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

10. Reinvest in Public Works

Nader wrote in 2012, when this book was written and after Obama’s big stimulus package that brought the growth in employment back to positive after the Great Recession at the end of the Bush years:
We are overdue to launch a major public works initiative to repair one of society’s greatest storehouses of shared wealth: the basic infrastructure we all rely on for critical services, the physical plant that has historically enabled commerce to expand and thrive like no other.

If our nation is going to fulfill its truly unmet needs, we must close the public investment deficit. It’s not always helpful to compare the government with a corporation, but consider this: any corporation that collected healthy revenues every year but allowed its plant to deteriorate would be considered reckless, a bad prospect to investors. It’s troubling to think that the same could be said for our government, which is recklessly failing to invest in the country’s long-term prosperity and well-being, as determined both by traditional economic yardsticks and by more citizen-oriented standards.

The benefits of public works are widespread. They are not confined to the corporate elite, but neither do they concentrate among the poor. Unlike the narrowly tailored subsidies for corporate welfare, whose benefits are captured by special interests, public works enhances the well-being of the entire society.

Nader lists these specific areas of public works that need investment.

The schoolhouse. Nationwide 60% of schoolchildren (32 million) attend a school with at least one inadequate building feature, such as roof, framing, floor, plumbing, heating, power, lighting, and safety. Most of these schools are affected by multiple deficiencies.

The health, safety, and environmental issues affect how well students learn and how well teachers teach. This isn’t just an inner city problem, though it is worst there. Schools in suburban and rural districts also must deal with deficient buildings.

Urban schools can spare only 3.5% of their budgets for facilities and 85% of that money goes to emergency repairs. They can’t afford what they need.

Estimates (somewhat before 2012) of the need are $268 billion for infrastructure and $54 billion for technological upgrades.

In the recent election Wayne County (which includes Detroit) asked its residents to tax themselves to pay a little bit more for schools. The request was made because the state has been so stingy. It thankfully passed 54% - 46%. The collection and funding formula means suburban residents will give a boost to Detroit schools.

Clean drinking water. This book was written before the water fiasco in Flint. Even so, there have been several cities around the country, including New York, that asked residents to boil water.

Yes, we have a Safe Drinking Water Act, but it is frequently violated. In addition, too many possible contaminants are not regulated. All this is “a public health nightmare waiting to happen – and one in which the poor, the young, the elderly, and the ill are especially vulnerable.” In 2006, the CDC estimated 16.5 million people became ill each year from waterborne illnesses related to drinking water. A 2010 estimate put the cost of hospital stays for 3 common waterborne illnesses at a half billion dollars.

Estimate of the cost in 2007 was $335 billion over 20 years. That includes $52 billion needed immediately to meet Safe Drinking Water Act requirements. The estimate includes both improvements at the plants and of transmission systems.

Roads, bridges, and highways. The national highway system gets about $150 billion a year in maintenance. But a 2009 estimate put the need at $930 billion. Bad roads affects the cost of travel, including vehicle costs, delay, and crash costs. Doing the repairs is a benefit to the economy through more jobs to do the work and less money lost through delay, crashes, and vehicle repair.

Parks. The National Parks Service, which maintains 58 parks, has a backlog of $10.8 billion of deferred maintenance and construction. Their operating shortfall is at least a half billion.

Because of these shortfalls the parks are not able to monitor their wildlife. The parks in the west have lost 29 mammal populations. Physical plants, roads, and playgrounds are falling apart. Historical artifacts, such as at Gettysburg, aren’t properly stored and are being lost to mildew and rot. Cuts in park staff means they’re not able to manage large crowds, which endangers the long-term health of the parks.

That’s just the national parks. State and city parks are also deteriorating and viewed as unsafe.
In a society as rich as ours is it smart that we refuse to invest in the parks – federal, state, and local – that bring us together as communities?

Mass transit. Maintaining mass transit systems at current levels needs $15.8 billion a year. Bringing the systems up to 2026 targets requires $22 billion a year.

During my two trips to Seattle this year I could see some of the existing mass transit systems. I rode the light rail system from the airport to the train station. I took a bus from a suburb to downtown. I also saw from the rush hour traffic jams (and not just on highways) how inadequate the system is. Nader says the money mentioned above only covers what planners envision, and Nader believes we need a great deal more. That more means comprehensive bus, light rail, and heavy rail systems both within metro areas and between them.
The social cost of moving people between cities by car is simply too high in terms of air pollution, greenhouse warming, and auto accidents, not to mention possible national security evacuation emergencies. Investment in rail should be given clear priority over investments in widening interstates.

These three elements – bus service, subways//light rail, and heavy rail – should be viewed not just as items on a checklist but part of an integrated, seamless plan to make metropolitan and intercity travel safe, easy, efficient, affordable, and at least as desirable as most auto transport. It should be a central part of how we create liveable cities, with reduced sprawl, pollution, and congestion and enhanced equity, mobility, and neighborliness.

A public works agenda is an environmental agenda. It cuts down on pollution and deters sprawl. It is a pro-consumer agenda, providing clean water, less wear on cars, and better schools. It is a pro-worker, pro-development agenda, creating well-paying jobs that can’t be sent overseas.

Southeast Michigan (the Detroit metro area) has two transit systems, one for Detroit and one for the suburbs. I’m pretty sure it’s a race thing. One big effect is it keeps city residents from jobs in the suburbs. A comprehensive system, uniting the two, was designed and the various political structures created. This past election the entire region voted on a tax to fund the new comprehensive system. It lost – by 1% of the vote. Sigh.