29 December 2008

The Rev. Rick Warren ("WTF...!")

Obama, in a colossal blunder, named the Rev. Rick Warren to preside over the inaugural. Some of you have asked me about my opinion on this, and in the intervening weeks I've been trying to get my thoughts in some sort of order.

Some things are clear: 1.) Really smart, astute people can make really bad decisions; 2.) pandering isn't just for the Clintons; and 3.) It's still perfectly acceptable to tell gross lies about gay people - about who we are, about what we do, about how we live our lives - under the guise of religion, even among "progressives." Perfectly acceptable.

Who is Rick Warren?

Allegedly the fuzzy (not Fozzie, sadly) bear of the Religious Right, Warren is pastor of the Saddlebcack mega-church in Orange County. He invited Obama to come speak at the church in November of '06, an invite which Obama accepted. Now, Obama has invited Warren, the popular author of A Purpose Driven Life, to preside over his, Obama's, inauguration. Pro quo for his quid.

So what's the problem?

Well, he is not a new warm and fuzzy kind of Christian pastor. He doesn't allow gay people to become members of his church, a fact he then he tried to cover up by removing that language from his church's website once it was picked up on nationally read blogs. (Nice belief in your convictions, Rick. Way to stand firm. Guess that invite means more to you than the so called "truth" you're about?) He has said, more than once, and re-confirmed this week, that he believes that being gay is curable (his church helpfully has a ministry to do so, in the face of all science) and that it's the moral equivalent of child molestation and incest. He also, helpfully, told me that I need to restrain my urges (at around 1:10 on the clip, where he talks about his sexual urges; what is it with these guys?) - just cuz I may be wired this way (i.e., gay) doesn't mean that I have to act on the urge (i.e., have sex with dudes. Or have a long term relationship with a dude.) Well, what was that about the splinter in your neighbor's eye and the plank in your own (Matthew 7:3)? Nice self restraint you've got there, buddy. When was the last time dude stepped away from a buffet? If food was sex, he'd be working Sunset after sundown, making Ted Haggard seem as chaste as St. Maria Goretti.

Sorry... ingratitude and hypocrisy make me a little crazy. Where was I?

Right, our new President elect, bad judgment, pandering, and queer folk being inconsequential. So why did Obama do it?

An early thought, and one I've come back to many times, was about Henri of Navarre, King of France. (It's really discursive, so it's at the bottom of the column if you want to read it in full.)

So, my thought was that Obama was throwing a sop to the Christian right and going to do things in office that would really have a positive effect on my life and the life of other GLBT folks who are not yet full participants in American democracy - the Rick Warren invitation was his "Mass for Paris", so to say, and once in us gays would get our own Edict of Nantes.

But here's where it breaks down - Obama didn't need to do it. He's already elected. And he got elected through the hard work and financial commitment of many, many queer folk, including me.

Can Obama actually agree with the guy? Warren doesn't allow gays to be members of his church. Read that again. Gays can come and worship at his church in the hope that maybe they'll be cured, but they can't be members. Not surprising, since Warren compares gays to child molestors. Obama doesn't agree with that, does he? That we can be cured? That we are the moral equivalent of chld molestors?

No way. I don't think that for a second. He's roughly my age, I'm sure Obama knows at least some gays personally. I suspect that he finds that repugnant.

It's a calculated, cynical political move - of course it is. He's pandering to the Religious Right, trying to prevent them from the mobilized loathing that they demonstrated against Kerry or Gore or Gavin Newsom here in my beloved California. And who is he offering up? The gays. Because we are politically expendable. And that's why I'm angry and disappointed. It's not that Warren is coming to the Inauguration; he's in an official capacity. And Obama, as Democrats do, is not taking care of the hand that fed him. Except this time it's because he feels he doesn't have to; I just don't quite matter enough.

Insult on top of the Prop 8 injury.

And, just for a second, think if Warren held these "strongly held religious beliefs" - which evidently gives you ideological cover to believe whatever the hell you want to believe in the absence of all evidence or rationality, in fact in the face of evidence and rationality, and the right to lie about people, other voters, other citizens, other taxpayers, in a way that actively works to eliminate their civil rights, because you're a so-called "man of the cloth" - about anyone else. Pick a group - any group. Like women - they are inherently inferior in the Bible, over and over and over; you can sell your daughter, you can buy a girl slave for less than a boy, a raped woman has to marry her attacker (but only after the rapist pays her dad five shekels; oh, it's in there! Deut 22:28-29). Would that be called "reaching out" to people who think differently? Or Jews - many right wing Evangelicals believe that Jews need Jesus to reach heaven. What if Obama named a pastor who actively believed that? He couldn't. Setting aside that most people consider those views to be barbaric, on a practical level he couldn't because women and Jews have too much power. Ah, but the homosexyuls can be thrown under the bus. And he did. IN this he has as much moral courage as Pastor Rick showed when he removed the "truth" of preventing active homosexyuls from joining his church. In a vain attempt to neutralize crazy Christian opposition to him he chose as the leader of the Inaugural prayer someone who has taken selective verses in the Bible and extrapolated them to mean that I am the moral equivalent of a child molestor.

Nice. Welcome to the Change We Can Believe In, gay folk!

So we'll see. We'll see if he rescinds the odious Executive Directive from the odious little man that preceded him at 1600 Penna, eliminating job protections for GLBT Federal employees. We'll see if he rescinds Don't Ask Don't Tell, put in place by that supreme Panderer-in-Chief Bill Clinton. We'll see if we get a commitment to a nationwide non-discrimination in hiring law, or a national hate crimes law, or requirements for companies bidding for Federal jobs to offer domestic partnership benefits, or any of the 100's of things he could do to have substantive positive impacts for me and my people.

We'll see if he's as smart as he thinks he is, neutralizing right wing opposition by naming "one of their own" and basically saying "Screw you" to a motivated, engaged and contributing part of his base.

Frank Rich in the NY Times doesn't think so.

Yeah, well, I don't either. Too bad I'm "nice enough".

More on Henri de Navarre:
For those of you who don't remember, Henri de Navarre was a crazy died-in-the-wool Huguenot, a French Protestant, who took an active role in the French wars of religion. Of royal blood, being descendant from the eldest son of Charlemagne, Henri, through no acts of his own but through lots of bloodshed on the part of others, came to be next in line to the throne. The problem? France, late 1500's, was Catholic. The solution? He is alleged to have said "Paris vaut bien une messe" ("Paris is well worth a Mass") in taking the French throne. Despite his long work for the Huguenot side in war, diplomacy and intrigue, Henri abjured his Protestantism at the door of the Cathedral of St. Denis in front of the Cardinal of Bourges, went to confession and then Mass, assumed the throne in 1594, and four years lated passed the Edict of Nantes allowing the free practice of Protestantism in France. (The story is a great read - there's regicide, Cardinals getting murdered and held prisoner, deranged monks killing Dukes, the Pope telling everyone in France that they didn't have to be loyal to the king since he wasn't Catholic, and lots of intrigue from foreign powers.)

24 December 2008

The NFC West should be banned from the playoffs


Why do teams who play in crappy divisions get a free ride into the playoffs?
In the NFC, in recent history the JV to the AFC's Varsity, the Cardinals just stink slightly - slightly - less than the rest of the moribund division. The Cardinals clinched in week 14, ending the longest drought in NFL history between division titles (33 years - which means they last clinched when Phoenix's population was just over a million people and they were in Saint Louis) against, for irony's sake, I guess, the latest NFL team to call Saint Louis home. The Cards have collected 5 of their 8 wins versus the Niners, the Seahawks and the Rams, which are a collective 12-34.

Outside of their division, the Cardinals are 3-7, with wins against Dallas and those mighty, mighty AFC East powerhouses of Miami and Buffalo. (Which makes me wonder how it is that sad New England apologists are saying the Cheater* has done his BEST! COACHING JOB! EVER! How is it that you think the AFC East is any better than last year? Cuz they ain't.) The whole NFC West, the entire division, all four teams, have a TOTAL of six wins against teams with winning records (St. Louis at 2-13 with wins over Washington <8-7> and Dallas <9-6>; San Francisco at 6-9 with wins over the Jets <9-6> and Buffalo <7-8...>; and Seattle at 4-11 with a win over the Jets [I'll take 'beating a dead horse' for $400 please, Alex?]). And that's IT, for the whole division!

Arizona has dropped four of their last five by pretty hefty margins, by 40 @ New England (in late December, in case anyone needed more proof that the schedulers at the NFL take care of some franchises); by 21 at home to the Vikings; by 28 @ Philly and by 8 at home to the NY Giants. IN reverse order - they are getting demonstrably worse.

And the owner of this sad collection of poor performances gets a guaranteed home game!? Eesh.


#1. Happy Christmas (War is Over)

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear.

23 December 2008

Bren's Top Favourite Holiday Songs, #'s 4, 3, 2...

(favourite with a "u" because they're all from the UK this round)

#4 - The Kinks, "Father Christmas" - This makes the list cuz, well, it's the Kinks and they are pretty much just cool, but it's another song that acknowledges that not everything is goodness and light on December 25th, however much we might want it to be. People struggle at Christmas like any other time of the year, and endemic poverty doesn't get the season off, and for some people the #1 list item is a job. From Janesville, WI, just this morning: "The closing of GM's SUV production eliminates 1,200 jobs."

#3 - U2, "Baby, Please Come Home" - Gotta love Bono crooning and U2 wailing on this song. And I'm in love and missin' my baby this year, so while in years past I'd just roll my eyes and think "whatever" when I'd hear songs about lovers separated for the holidays, I kinda get it this year. Maybe I'm a little mawkish, fine, but it's still a great song.

#2 - Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - You thought this was going to be #1, didn't you? Well, I did too. I just changed my mind. It's great to watch the original video (link); they all look impossibly young, and it seems impossible that this song was released in 1984. Well, to be accurate what seems impossible is that 1984 was 24 years ago. I remember playing the 45 (kids, ask your parents) over and over and over on our Montgomery Ward stereo, listening through my Barry White headphones with the spiral cord plugged into the jack, both A and B sides, trying pick out all the voices, listening especially hard for George Michael (0:49) and Boy George (0:30). Yeah, okay, that should have been a tell. And everytime I heard it, no matter how many times in a row, I'd get goosebumps to hear Bono ripping out "Well tonight thank god it's them instead of you!" at 1:29. Still do. On the B side, I'd have the same reaction to hear (at 0:19) "This is Jon Ross from Culture Club saying 'Feed the World'! There are eleven million people starving in one country. Doesn't that make you think? Merry Christmas, everyone."

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

22 December 2008

Interesting things I've read in the past week

Friend, watching me read the Sunday LA Times: "Do you really read all of that, every day?"
Me: "You know how when you ask me sometimes 'Why/ How do you know that?' This is how."

  1. We - humanity - are so, so close to winning a big one against the bad guys - disease. Yeah, Team!

    "Health workers are on the verge of eradicating Guinea worm disease in what would be just the second time in history that a disease has been wiped from the planet, the Carter Center said Friday.Cheap interventions such as hygiene education, using larvicides to kill the worm and distributing inexpensive cloths
    to help filter parasites from drinking water have cut the infection rate by 99%, the center said.Fewer than 5,000 cases of Guinea worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, remain in Mali, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, the Atlanta-based center said. There were about 3.5 million cases in 1986 when the
    global effort to get rid of the disease began."

    See what the application of human effort, discipline, and - GASP! - science can do for the betterment of life on this planet? (Even in the Middle Ages, when "god" seemed to be more engaged, at least according to contemporary common beliefs, there's no evidence that the plague's path was altered, no matter how much prayer and parading of the virgin and killing of the Jews was done.) Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit that reducing a disease, the effects of which are horrific , is amazing (and don't read it all unless you have a stout stomach, but know that:

    "During the time that the worm is emerging and being removed, the affected person suffers intense pain and often cannot work or resume daily activities for months. Farmers cannot tend their crops, parents cannot care for children, and children miss school. Even after the worms are gone, people are often left with
    scarring and permanent crippling. Infection does not produce immunity, and many people in affected villages suffer the disease year after year.")

    From 3.5 million cases to fewer than 5,000 cases is a tremendous triumph of human will, human good will, human intelligence, and yes, applied human rationality through science, with which we should all be just thrilled! Think of all of the people who have dramatically increased opportunities in life because of this; who have less pain, less hunger, fewer nightmares, fewer days lost to working to improve their material condition for themselves and families? The population of Connecticut or Oklahoma is around 3.5 million. Again - Yeah, team!

  2. An atheist's take on Christmas:

    "There were festivals and celebrations at the time of the winter solstice long before there was a Christian church, for a couple of centuries at least before Jesus may have lived. The early Roman Church simply commandeered all shrines and festivals to itself... What happened in the Greek and Latin worlds also happened in the Celtic, Germanic and Nordic lands. Old gods had their myths and festivals stolen and dressed up as Christian festivals. Celtic heroes became rewritten as Christian Saints. For the most part the people as a whole didn't seem to mind too much. There were still bonfires, feasts, gift-giving and excuses to get drunk..."
  3. Proof that Americans have evolved on racial and other issues in profoundly progressive ways over the past forty years, and proof that we have a long way to go (read the whole thing, it's fascinating):
  • In April, 1968, "53% of non-Blacks agreed that there should be laws against marriages between Negroes and whites."
  • "In August, 1968, 67% of whites believe the statement Negroes 'are asking for more than they are ready for'."
  • "In August, 1968, 63% of whites believe the statement Negroes "have less ambition than whites'."

God...? The myth of Divine Retribution

"I don't believe in God as I don't believe in Mother Goose."
-Clarence Darrow

It's been 41 years since the most recent incarnation of The Troubles began in Northern Ireland. It's been 30 years since Jonestown. It's been 16 years since ethnic cleansing was initiated in the former Yugoslavia, largely on religious lines. It's been nine years since Oral Roberts told his faithful that the Lord would kill him if he didn't raise eight million dollars. It's been three years since twelve Danish cartoonists (did you know there were twelve?) drew pictures of Mohammed, pictures which lay dormant for months until two imams (both of whom had been granted amnesty in Denmark, and you know how I feel about ingratitude) fabricated a dossier and took it to Cairo in an attempt - sadly, successful - to incite mayhem which led to deaths from Indonesia to Nigeria. Three years since the State of Kansas held "science hearings" on whether to teach evolution in the schools.

If you want to know why I'm an atheist, well, religious people are not acquitting themselves particularly well, but I'm not tackling all of this today. I'll have later entries on the fallacy of prayer, on the use of religion and "god" to justify the most onerous human behaviour, and on why the separation of church and state helps both, but today it's the myth of divine retribution.

I understand the impulse. We want there to be some methodology or reason for random events in a complex and unpredictable world. We want there to be a system. We want the pain we feel to be worth something - for the souls in purgatory, for a greater plan, for God's will.

Well, I want a pony.

There isn't a reason. Things just happen, good and bad. There's no such thing as "karma" or divine or ethical retribution, we don't get our just desserts. Two examples of millions:
1. Jacques Chirac, the former French president, approved nuclear tests in the Pacific and Algeria, destroying the lives and livelihoods of indigenous people - of his own generation and for decades and genereations and likely centuries to come - with cancer and a deadly, noxious and irradiated environment, and he is quite likely going to die at home, at peace, cancer free, in his own bed.
2. Andrew Jackson died at age 78 of heart failure, at home, not frozen, starving, or dispossessed, unlike the thousands of those on whom he practiced ethnic cleansing in evicting the Cherokee nation from their land, an eviction that lead to a mortality rate of over 25%.

"What comes around goes around," we blithely say, or "She'll get what's coming to her." Well, it doesn't and she won't. We might hope that the person in front of us with 22 items in the express lane will have a parking ticket on his car, and if he does than we think it's fair and somehow causal. Of course, it isn't. Do we really think that the energy or guiding force or God or gods is involved in that level of detail of the universe? And if so, do we think that e/gf/G/g's shares our biases, priorities, or pettiness? Does the e/gf/G/g's think that because I (the injured party) was annoyed in the grocery line that HE (the offender) should pay? How egotistical! How self centered! If there IS a e/gf/G/g's, nearly everyone agress, then she/he/it/they is/are larger than us, omniscient, eternal, universal. Then why do we insist, through this myth, of making she/he/it/they so small - as small as us at our smallest and pettiest?

Why, if (okay - can we take it from here that "god" = the various ways people use to talk about the non existant energy/ guiding force/ white dude in the sky/ pantheon that people believe in? That's a lot of punctuation.) "god" exists and is engaged at that level of detail in our lives does bad shit go down all the time? I was told as a child that bad things were part of "God's Divine Plan" and that the "mystery will be revealed to you when you die."

That seems to make "god" awfully capricious.

The South Asian tsunami of Boxing Day, 2004, was part of a larger plan that I just don't have the capacity to understand as a mere mortal, but yet "god" is involved in day-to-day life to ensure that bad people get what's coming to them? At the end of the day of December 26, 2004, over 150,000 people were dead or missing.

If it IS part of "god"'s plan then "god" is really inefficient - there were no good among the 150,000 dead? "God" couldn't have given those among that cohort who were morally deficient in some way the cancer, or something less broadly devastating? - or god has a really crappy plan to require so much human suffering and death. And stop cringing, blasphemy is a victimless crime.

It seems that the underpinning of this is cognitive dissonance - the willingness to believe two opposite and oppositing beliefs simulataneously. (E.g., "'God' is merciful, kind and loving; it's part of 'god's' plan for 150,000 people to die in a natural disaster.") The impulse to believe is strong, and it is broadly reinforced through every aspect of our lives (the solstice, the Pledge, the inauguration, football players pointing skyward after a score), but it does not serve us well. We want to believe so badly that we suspend our rationality to allow ourselves to believe in the face of fairly obvious and simple demonstrated evidence against the arguments supporting belief. The mental gymnastics required to make this work - this myth of divine retribution - are embarrassing, and if we were to have been created by a "god" who endowed us with such amazing things as consciousness and our capacity for thought and rationality, then that "god" is likely embarrassed we do such a poor job with it.

19 December 2008

Bren's Top 10 Favorite Holiday songs, #'s 7, 6, 5

7. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, The Royal Guardsmen - How great is this song? I had totally forgotten about this when it came on the radio the other day. It's a great childhood memory, love the drums, love the bells, love the flying Beagle. Yeah, so this would never have happened in war. Snoopy couldn't really fly a plane, either - and there were documented examples of de facto cease fires at Christmas time on the Western Front, so we'll go with a little unlikelihood at the holidays.

6. We Need a Little Christmas, from "Auntie Mame" - "For I've grown a little leaner/ Grown a little colder/ Grown a little sadder/ Grown a little older..." I love this song, and particularly this version with Lucille Ball in the role of Mame, becaused it's suffused with melancholy but is ultimately fun and joyous. "Shake it off!" it's saying, "How bad can it be?" In this recession year it's good to remember that other times were as bad or worse, that this too shall pass, and that we need joyful punctuation marks in the sentences of our lives. And this is possibly the gayest holday song ever, in the gay culture sense of the word, so it has earned a place!

5. Silent Night - I chose this version of the thousands out there because sistah really lets the beauty of the song and her voice come out. It's such a gentle, sleepy, moving song, written for strings, and the 'ukulele and her voice seem perfect for it. And it's in 'olelo Hawai'i, which fits cuz it's such a universal song. Orignially it was written for guitar, in German, so why not 'ukulele in 'olelo? Just beautiful.

15 December 2008

Bren's Top 10 Favorite Holiday songs, #'s 10, 9, 8

(Sorry for the long silence! Here's something a little less serious than the usual fare for Bren's Left Coast. Back to usual content soon...)

It's the holidays, and who doesn't like a top ten list? Not particularly original, fine, but until I finish other posts, here is the first installment of my favorite holiday songs top ten list.

10. "Oh, Holy Night" - Mahalia Jackson. I can't imagine how it came to be that we had an album of Mahalia Jackson growing up - Fowler, Indiana, wasn't exactly a hotbed of soul - but we did, and I loved her version of this song. This was one of my Mom's favorite carols which is likely why I love it still. This was the last song on the LP (kids, ask your parents), and I would listen to it over and over, carefully picking up the needle and setting it back down on the gap just before this song, listening to the scratches with anticipation, waiting to hear her start. It's just beautiful and stirring.

9. "Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer" - Jack Johnson. I suspect in future years this will move up, but I only heard it for the first time last night and I don't want to be that guy who says the best song ever is the last one he heard. But, I'm just hooked. It's Jack Johnson, so it's got fantastic vocals, but its power is in calling out "all of the other reindeer," and it makes me wonder how I went all these years without wondering about them and their meanness. It's a reminder that routine inures us to deficiencies of character, and lack of critical thinking establishes routine as correct. Thanks for shining a light, Jack - "We're truly gonna try to change."

8. "Christmas Rapping" - The Waitresses. I realize this is a minority opinion, but I love this song - probably because it was on the store holiday tape when I worked at Banana Republic, and I remember singing it while board-folding t-shirts. I think part of why I love this song is that it talks about checking out of the madness of the holiday and spending it by yourself, and in 1990 and '91, while board folding those t-shirts, that would have been a very seductive sentiment. Subtlety in subversion, I love it. And my friend Meaghan and I call or text each other when we hear it, so it's a gift that keeps on giving! (Check out this vid with the holiday lights. Some people have WAY too much time on their hands, but it's cool!)

18 November 2008

Prop 8 Reflections (from 11-05-08)

(apologies to those who rec'd this email after the election - wanted to post it here)

Today, for the second time in my life, I woke up with fewer rights than when I went to bed. Today, for the second time in my life, voters in the state in which I lived eliminated some of my existing rights while giving animals more.

In 1992 I lived in Colorado, which Clinton won and which passed a law protecting Black Bears from being hunted. In that same election, my fellow Coloradans passed a statewide constitutional amendment making city-level anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation in housing, employment or services illegal; the laws in Denver and Boulder were voided. A cartoon in the Denver Post the next morning showed two hunters, one aiming at a bear. His buddy says “Wait, Frank, black bears are protected in Colorado!” to which the shooter replies “Not if he’s gay!”

You could fire me, deny me housing, deny me health care, deny me equal protection under the law if you wanted, all on the basis of your “discomfort” with my “lifestyle.” It was repugnant and illegal. It was eventually overturned. Today in Colorado there are statewide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing. It was not “natural” or inevitable for this change to happen over the past 16 years – it took anger and effort and money and courage – but it’s there now. The fight over Amendment 2 inspired many gay people to come out, stand up and fight back. The religious right - and let's not kid ourselves, organized religions and their untaxed millions are behind these moves to rescind the rights of me and other GLBT folk - over-reached, and they haven't won a statewide issue in Colorado on GLBT issues since.

But if you’d have spoken to me that morning and asked me if I thought I’d have the option to marry in 16 years, even in California , I’d have laughed. Ruefully and angrily, but I’d’ve laughed.

Last night when I went to bed, Prop 8, nullifying friends and neighbor’s marriages, was passing (yes = no same sex marriage). Prop 2, giving chickens the right to bigger cages, was passing. I wanted to bask in the glow of our nation’s maturity and to cherish the beautiful words of President Elect Obama and to believe in the nation that I thought we can be, before I knew for sure that I was going to have fewer civil rights. When I woke up this morning, sure enough, chickens won and gays and lesbians lost.

A friend wrote this:

Our struggle as gay and lesbian Americans is a baby in comparison to other civil rights' efforts and we are certainly suffering from another setback today. But if last night's election proved anything it is that in the United States progress is inevitable, sometimes is just takes time. Almost a decade ago, anti-gay Californians passed similar discriminatory legislation with the Knight campaign that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. But their victory that night was much more decisive. Today we see that Proposition 8 will only pass by the narrowest of margins. And as Barack Obama took the stage last night, for the first time ever, I was mentioned in a presidential acceptance speech. As he talked of inclusion, he spoke of uniting not just Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, the rich and the poor, but of gays and lesbians too. Two times in one night, history was being made and I was part of the conversation. Change is on the way and history will recognize our struggles. The chickens may have been victorious last night, but this caged bird knows he'll get to sing very, very soon.

While I appreciate his sentiment, I would like to point out that it doesn’t take only time and it isn’t inevitable. Progress only happens with hard work, and sacrifice, and challenging others to do better, and leadership. My sorrow and my anger – and to be clear, I am hurt and I am angry – at waking up with fewer rights today than I had yesterday must be and will be turned to something positive. I need to work harder. To tell my church-going neighbors what it means. To remind my fellow residents of this beautiful, progressive state that separate is not equal. To knock on more doors and shake more hands and tell people that their bigotry towards me – not “the gays” but me – is as irrational as any other, and comes with a human cost. To debunk the lies told by the other side – funded by $18 million dollars of Mormon/LDS money, by $1.5 mil of Knights of Columbus money , by millions of dollars from fearful men and women from every state across the country – that my marriage would not weaken religious freedom, or require that gay sex be taught in schools, or destroy traditional marriage.

Progress is not inevitable. But the group of 7th graders at a friend’s house on Halloween who didn’t say “Trick or treat!” but instead asked “How are you voting on Prop 8?” and responded with a cheer when told we were a “NO!” house showed me great hope. That would have been incomprehensible ten years ago. We learned last night – we showed last night – that with leadership we can be better versions of ourselves. And I was reminded that I’m not done – I need to provide more leadership, and use my anger and apply effort, and it needs to start today. Those 7th graders need good things to vote for.

Slash and Perla rockin' against 8

How cool is this?

No, not the fact that I figured out how to embed a vid (and Fitz and Todd, you're off the hook, cuz you'd've rec'd emails, both of you), but that Slash and Perla are rockin' out against discrimination:


I've loved G'N'R since "Appetite for Destruction" came out in 1988; that was pretty much all we listened to that whole summer painting, and I could not hear "Sweet Child O' Mine" loudly enough. Or often enough. (That intro still makes my heart race a little. You can take the boy out of Indiana...) No idea what Axl is up to, but Slash is fighting the fight.

"Be loud. Be proud. Stand up for your rights."

Hill at State

Well the Guardian called it this morning: Senator Clinton is to be Obama's Sec'y of State.

This could be a great thing. While I'm sensitive to those who say that she might bring some of Clinton's drama to the White House, the reality is that if you are in Tokyo or Berlin or Moscow, "Secretary of State Clinton" does sound different than "Secretary of State Kerry" or "Secretary of State Richardson." I think Chuck Hagel (R-NE) would have been a great pick - he's a man of prodigious intellect and it would show that Obama is serious about crossing crossing party lines - but this is better.

Many people have written this week of LBJ's dictum on J. Edgar Hoover, "It's better to have him in the tent pissing out than outside pissing in" while referencing this pick. I think there's some of that, for it's very hard to see a scenario in which Obama is challenged by another Dem if it's not Hillary. I also think that, like in so many other ways, Obama may shift from recent precedent and cashier Biden at the end of his first term and make Clinton his VP opening to her a run for the Presidency in 2016 on her deep resume. By that time, surely, people will have forgiven Bill for all of those years of peace and prosperity.

There are political calculations, but I think she would be brilliant at State in no small part because she is, after all, brilliant. She works tirelessly. She is a fierce advocate for our nation and for women. My concern is that State is one (the one?) cabinet position where discordance between the President and the Secretary has real implications for our foreign policy, and let's face it, Obama and Clinton aren't Truman and Acheson; but maybe like those two there is enough raw talent and commitment to what's best for the nation that this will be the new standard for State/Presidential relationships.

Read the papers. It would be a great time for a new standard.

12 November 2008

Screw the South / Dig the South (pt 1 of 2)

"Ambivalence: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action."

I really am ambivalent towards the South.

On the one hand... I really resent them as much as many Southerners may resent me as a tax-and-spend supporting, science loving, civil liberties using, equal protection believing, northern (by birth) gay liberal. I mean, I really agree with everything this polemicist had to say after the 2004 election.

Some of you may have heard me refer to the entire region of the 11 former states of the Confederacy as "The Slave States" or "The Treason States" or in less charitable moments "The Crackah States" or "The Developing World States."

There was a winner and a loser in the Civil War, yes, but there was also, unequivocally, a good side and a bad side. The good side - the North - was anti-slave holding. The bad side - the South - was committed to "the peculiar institution" of chattel slavery. In the Civil War, the South's position is morally indefensible.

Those Southerners who claim "cultural heritage" as they fly the Stars and Bars would elide the reality that Southern Culture was built on the free labor of million of Africans. Many poorer Southerners who claim the antebellum South as their own have bought the simulacra pedalled by "Gone With the Wind," "Birth of a Nation" and other films, books, and narratives that placed white southerners, regardless of class, as the victims of Northern agression and incipient Black violence. It's simply not true that poor whites were represented by the political institutions in the South at the time of the Civil War, but the twisted pathology of disenfranchisement combined with racism makes some of their disenfranchised descendants - poor whites - look to the Slave Holding South as a golden age of their culture and a time and place in which perhaps they were not so powerless.

The antebellum South was home to a morally repugnant and corrosive political and economic system that had to fall, and it took the death of 360,222 young men from the North to bury it.

In many places in the South, they've not moved on. Along I-40 in Eastern Tennessee there is a HUGE Stars and Bars flying just north of the pavement that was built by Liberal Northern men, capital, ideas, political will, and engineering expertise.

Can you just imagine the South without the huge transfer of wealth that we as Northerners or Westerners - as NON-Southerners - have poured into that region? Eastern Tennessee without the TVA? Houston or Huntsville, Alabama, without NASA? Atlanta without the NIH? All that Northern money and expertise and - gasp! - science poured into the poorest, least well educated section of our nation to finish the work of Reconstruction and to form a more perfect Union.

I really hate ingratitude.

And they resent us, and have held national politics hostage for the past half century as they have resisted school integration, and funding on science research (18 of 37 "No" Senate votes on stem cell research came from the South or border states, the largest concentration by region), and on ridiculous and divisive issues like the attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to outlaw flag burning. I can't think of more political speech than burning a flag in protest, and they came within one vote of success. Disgusting.

And the racism... let me just mention the racism. I am not going to forgive Milwaukeeans their terrible history of racial predjudice, or Chicago of its deep and continuing polarization along racial lines, but let's be honest - the South has got racism down. The high school in Alabama where the principal threatened to cancel the prom instead of letting an interracial couple attend and the kids, good on 'em, had to sue to proceed, or the town in Mississippi which had its first interracial prom THIS SPRING, are uniquely Southern phenomena. The Georgia woman who disinterred her dead auntie from a cemetary where they started interring Black people is surely a Southern phenomenon. James Byrd and Brandon McClelland. Stone Mountain, Georgia. And all the Confederate hagiography around seemingly every courthouse or town square in the south is disgusting - lionizing people who took up arms against the government (a/k/a "traitors") to preserve slavery seems to me a visceral reminder to their black neighbors that violence to maintain racial status quo is acceptable and likely. I know how I feel when I drive by a church or pass a car on the freeway with a "Yes on 8" sticker; how can African Americans feel living with these symbols of armed treason in support of slavery on the front lawns of courthouses at which they must go for justice? It is repugnant.

(click on the pic and read about the "Tragic surrender at Appomatox" and the effort to "guarantee the security of persons and property," a/k/a slaves. From the courthouse lawn in Washington, Georgia; June 2008. I stood there reading it, stunned.)

All these years later the Civil War isn't over for some in this sector of our nation, despite all of our investments and despite their ability to dominate the national agenda. "The South Will Rise Again" we were told. Well, in some ways it did - from 1968 to 2008. But it's over. Southerners no longer dominate national politics, and while it's early for one election to constitute a trend, the NYTimes ran an article with a fascinating look at the waning national influence of the South, including maps that show voting trends from 2004 to 2008 - nearly all the red on that map is in the 11 states of the Confederacy, Oklahoma and Kentucky; much of the rest were in the home states of the GOP ticket, Arizona and Alaska.

Please, in the name of all that is holy, let that be the case. Please, let the South go back to being the colorful backwater of fattening food, slow paced life, and colorful politicians. Please let the white Southerners who believe in "states rights" (until it comes to Bush v. Gore or decriminalizing marijuana or gay marriage) retire in the face of a new generation who see the need for taxes and infrastructure and e pluribus unum and loving who you love despite color or gender.


(Next post... "Dig the South." It'll be shorter. )

11 November 2008

Welcome to Bren's Left Coast

My first blog entry.

Since it's 1992 on my iPod and my closet still thinks Kurt Cobain is alive, I guess I'm not that far behind for my personal timeline.

This blog is going to be a forum for my political views, rants and action items, with occasional sports babble and gloating about how freakin' awesome life in Urban SoCal really is.

I've been thinking about this for a while. Some of you have, inexplicably, shown an interest in my opinions or asked for more of them as I started ranting about the South, the role of organized religion in idiocy, how Indiana was winnable for Barack, the logic behind the numbering scheme of the Interstate Highway System, why we should make Mexico take Tejas back, how the Colts could still make the playoffs, etc.

Instead of trying to remember whom was asking for what, it's all here: your one-stop fulmination station. Thanks for reading, and check back often. Pics to be added soon!

Why I'm boycotting Yahoo!

So yeah, some of you may have rec'd a bounced email from my old Yahoo! account announcing my move over to Gmail.

I didn't want to leave them. I liked the way the inbox was set up and I had used them for years. My first ever email address was on Yahoo!, and I used their March Madness features, travel features, and IM features frequently and Yahoo! maps obsessively. I was a loyal Yahooligan. But I felt forced to do it.

Yahoo! accepted significant (still researching how much, exactly) money from the Yes on 8 liars in the weeks leading up to the election, and not just banner ads (which, fair enough, are annoying but I have trained my eyes to ignore them) but pop-up ads that were simply obtrusive, obnoxious and obstreperous.

"So?" you may ask? What's the big deal? Yahoo! is strapped for cash, looking desperately for a buyout, and are a business, afterall, so it's their right to take money from whomever they can cage it, right?

Well, no. Not to my mind.

First, Yahoo (and I'm going to dispense with the exclamation point, it's tedious) has statements on their website that list what they value - inlcuding "...a personal responsibility to maintain our customers' loyalty and trust." I wonder, did no one there think that taking money from a dishonest campaign on one side of the most divisive issue on the ballot was going to affect customers' loyalty? Or erode the brand?

Further and even more helpfully they list on their website what they don't value. Interesting - things like "discrimination" and "a stick in the eye" and "closed doors" and "rear view mirror." Were I to list the things that Prop 8 does and stands for, well, I couldn't do much better.
Finally, their mission statement:
"Yahoo's mission is to connect people to their passions, their communities, and the world's knowledge. To ensure this, Yahoo offers a broad and deep array of products and services to create unique and differentiated user experiences and consumer insights by leveraging connections, data, and user participation."
Unique and differentiated user experiences? Assaulting everyone on a California ISP with a pop up ad telling us that we had to "protect marriage" by voting Yes on 8 is a unique and differentiated experience? Really? Because it seems "one size fits all" - something ELSE they say they don't value.

How can you trust - and do business with - a company that doesn't even follow its own values?

Finally, there is the fact that Yahoo was birthed in the nursey of innovation, tolerance and diversity: California. Richard Florida, in his research on "The Rise of the Creative Class," showed how innovation needs diversity and tolerance to flourish, and California's Silicon Valley is the ne plue ultra example of this. Diversity and tolerance are the things most intrinsically under attack by Prop 8, whose supporters pander to fear and seek to isolate gay and lesbian folks from other Californians.

For the geniuses at Yahoo! to accept advertising from a group heavily subsidized by out-of-state money (some of which you can see here and all of which you can see here) to make California less California-like and more like the theocratic, un-diverse, un-innovative other parts of the country goes against their own long term business interests. And it's just rude, you don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Even if you don't think it's enough that Yes on 8 eliminates existing rights - and think about that; in 2008 it's possible to eliminate rights from a class of people by simple majority vote! - and causes real human anguish to over 20,000 married Californians and untold others who were thinking of it, or for their children or other loved ones, for the sole purpose of preserving linguistic hegemony for a non-threatened majority; or if you don't think it's enough that by accepting funding from Yes on 8 to run obnoxious and dishonest pop-up ads supporting this revocation of rights that Yahoo made themselves collusive to it; then surely Yahoo's violation of their own corporate standards and vision is enough to boycott them?

Of course, reasonable people can disagree. But that's why I'm on Gmail.