28 October 2010

Headline: "Halliburton knew..."

Do you really need to hear the rest? I bet you don't. Can you guess? I bet you can.

It's not surprising that an entity designed to do one thing, make money, does everything it can do to achieve that one aim. I'm not surprised when fish swim, when pitchers pitch, or when bloviating blow hards get on the radio and bloviate, hard.

What is surprising is how many Americans seem to think that these entities designed with only one goal in mind, to make money, should not be looked after, that there should be no limit to what they can do or to whom they can do it, that oversight is evil ("socialist", same thing) and that the public good isn't worth protecting.

It's not surprising, it's just staggering. Unfathomable. Irrational. Why do some Americans, who are troubled, economically insecure and making less for more productivity than at any time since the 1970's (yes, that's right - the 1970's were far better for most Americans than the 80s and 90s were) think that putting government back in the hands of those who think business does just fine on its own, thanks, is the way to go? How can that be the answer? What kind of logic - or at least thinking, since it doesn't seem to be logical - leads a person to that conclusion?

So Halliburton, about as solid an example of a poor market actor as I could find, "...knew of cement flaws before spill..." and didn't act on the knowledge. Why is the cement important? From the NY Times article:

The failure of the cement set off a complex and ultimately deadly cascade of events as oil and gas exploded upward from the 18,000-foot-deep well. The blowout preventer, which sits on the ocean floor atop the well and is supposed to contain a well bore blowout, also failed.

In an internal investigation, BP identified the faulty cement job as one of the main factors contributing to the accident and blamed Halliburton...

It reminds of that old Saturday Night Live fake commercial: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company." Except in the 1970s it was a matter of inconvenience, not the death of workers or whole ecosystems.

Apparently, my countrywomen and men read this and think "Hey, we need less governance, less oversight, and less control over who is doing what in the public sphere. They'll do the right thing."

How did we get so short sighted, as a country? How did we get so fearful of government? How did we get so manipulated as to believe what is so demonstrably false and not in our best interests?

We got here because that's what capitalism does - it is designed to make money, and whatever it needs to do it will do to that end. This includes flaunting safety standards, yes, of course, but this also includes getting five old white Catholics (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) to believe in the Citizens United case that companies are people, too, and can do whatever they want in elections, just like people. Well, except vote. Well, so far.

So now we have a government of the people (which now includes corporations which have no interest except to line their own pockets), by the people (and the corporations who can spend as much hidden money as they'd like in elections) and for the people (including corporations who get to benefit from lax laws or no laws since they will be gutted by Congressmen and Women they've bought and paid for).

And now we have a midterm awash in more cash than ever, as reported in the Superior, Wisconsin, Leader-Telegram, among others - no McCain Feingold, no disclosure, no limit - and that cash is directed to one purpose: electing people who will look out for business interests.

It's the lies that money is telling that seems to be tipping the scales. I don't understand how the GOP can even be in a position to take back the House since they are the ones who got us into this economic mess, but they seem to be.

Wednesday could be a bad day for American democracy, but a good day for corporations. That's also something that Halliburton knew.

13 September 2010

Burning questions

Okay, let's think about this.

A crazy Christian pastor in Florida wants to burn a Koran. This rises to the level of national security because doing so will "...inflame the sensibilities of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims" according to some. And such inflamed sensibilities will then put American servicemembers lives at risk. So President Obama and General Petraeus and various clergy members inveigh upon the nutbar - who is milking every second of his fifteen minutes of fame - to cease and desist. He does. Day saved.

Wait a minute.

First of all, why do we have to be so delicate about religious sensibilities? Burning books is odious - burning ANY book is odious - but really, if that isn't protected speech I can't think what is. If Rev. Shameless thinks that Islam (and Judaism and Hinduism and, and, and) is "of the devil," well, why not? It's all made up anyway, right? I mean the whole "My fake omnipotent creature in the sky who looks like me could beat up your fake omnipotent creature in the sky who looks like you" argument - well, it isn't. It doesn't even rise to the level of argument.

As a secularist and atheist who thinks the Constitution is about as close to "hallowed" as we get in this country, I think Rev. Lookatme absolutely had the right to burn the Koran, or the Bible or whatever. Over a billion people around the world would have been annoyed? Well... so? The only reason we care that those billion plus people would have been annoyed is because we don't have an energy policy in this country and therefore we have enriched a tiny fraction of those billion who have 12th century ideologies and 21st century weapons.

It's called "pluralism" - sometimes we're gonna disagree about stuff that makes us crazy. Grow up!

Don't like what one deranged nutbar in Florida thinks about your religion, so you're going to take to the streets in angry mobs and burn crap and shoot Americans? Really?

Okay, first, a.) if your god is so delicate that he (invariably he) is going to be umbraged by the burning of a book, I can't help you. Isn't he supposed to be omnipotent, etc.? You really think that he cares what one man - a man who isn't on board with his project ANYWAY - thinks about him and his book? Wow. That's a fragile god. Then b.) if you are so unhinged as to believe a.) to the point that you need to violate what the book itself says about how to behave to make a point on behalf of the book's alleged writer, how can we even have a conversation with you? Why the hell should we even care what you think, at that point?

Oh, we don't want to offend "deeply held religious beliefs." Why the hell not? Some people's "deeply held religious beliefs" teach them to think that humans and dinosaurs are contemporaries. As Lewis Black says, how can you even have a conversation with people who think that the Flintstones is a documentary!? You CAN'T! Deeply held religious beliefs can be just wrong. Just plain wrong. Women ought not to be covered head to toe. Or be kept from owning property. Or be kept as property. All of that is wrong, and just because someone's religion tells him it's right doesn't change that.

Personally, I think it's obnoxious to burn the Koran. I would think it similarly obnoxious for a practicing Muslim (or anyone) to put on a dress and fake a Mass. I think it's similarly obnoxious for tourists to get drunk, put on coconut bras and do fake hula. Mocking, appropriating, or denigrating someone's religious beliefs is juvenile and counterproductive, and it certainly doesn't rise to the level of discourse.

But just because we're fighting - for no good reason, by the way - a war in that part of the world doesn't mean that we need to sacrifice the gains of the Enlightenment and secularism so as not to offend "Deeply Held Religious Beliefs."

Where was this outrage when Muslims dynamited the beautiful Buddhas of Bamiyan? We can make more Korans - but statues that had stood for 1500 years and which were sacred to another religion, and which were a testament to human ingenuity, devotion, commitment and achievement, those can be dynamited because of deeply held religious beliefs? Wha...? Where is the balance? Unbelievable.

The liberal, secular West has lost its nerve. We are in danger of abandoning the values and progress of the Enlightenment. We are caving to thugs who have no sense of proportionality or regard for pluralism. We need to stand up to the bullies and psychopaths who scream at us not to burn the Koran or they'll take to the streets and kill us and not be afraid to say that they are craven, hypocritical and deranged. We need to say this exactly to the extent we need to stand up to nutbars who say you can't build an Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. Yes, you can.

It's all irrational, all this fear of sacrilege and talk of hallowedness, and we forget the wondrous intellectual legacy of the west - and its fiery commitment to reason, excellence, rationality, and discipline at its best - at our deep, deep peril.

And if your god is so delicate that he's offended by a burning book... how the hell does he get out of bed in the morning if he looks at Haiti?

What is hallowed is a school where girls can learn along with boys without getting acid thrown in their faces; what is sacrilege is women being stoned for adultery.

Now THAT would be a riot about sacrilege that I could get behind.

20 August 2010

Good news in the news -

For once, some good things going down.

1. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was captured in Thailand in 2008 in a sting operation led by the US, has finally been extradited by the Thai government to stand trial in the United States. As reported by the Bangkok Post and others, Bout has dealt arms to the FARC in Colombia, to Angolan rebels, and to murderous villains around the globe. This is a win for US diplomacy and law enforcement, and for people around the globe caught in the crossfire of armed conflict.

2. Talks! I know, I know, we've been down this road many (many!) times before, but direct talks have been restarted between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. From the reports today on the News Hour, we'll know they're serious if the principals involved are Netanyu and Abbas, not delegations, but this is a hopeful first step. There were no pre-conditions set for talks, and everyting is on the table. We'll see where it goes.

3. And in a story covered by the NY Times, there has been a shift in who is holding our nation's debt - away from other governments and toward us. For the first time since 2000 foreign governments were net sellers of US bonds and most of the rest of the new debt is held by Americans. This has significant implications for foreign policy, long term solvency, and the ability of the Treasury to issue more bonds.
"In calendar year 2007, the Treasury borrowed a net $237 billion. Of that, 81 percent came from foreign governments, mostly from central banks. Private foreign investors took up the rest, as American companies, banks and individuals reduced their combined Treasury holdings by $13 billion.

It's a step in the right direction - there are many, many more to take, but it's a step.

05 August 2010

Good result, but...

Prop 8, the gay marriage ban in California, has been ruled unconstitutional.

No, I'm not elated. I'm not relieved. I'm perhaps a tiny bit pleased, but that's all I'm allowing myself.

Of COURSE it's unconstitutional.

And of course it isn't over.

There was no other way the judge could rule, really. A majority of my neighbors, no matter how much they hate me, can't vote to take away my civil rights. Sorry. Even if they are motivated by centuries-old superstition or belong to an out of state cult that believes the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, and even if they lie and lie and lie and lie to get 50% + 1 of my neighbors to share the belief with them, it doesn't matter. The Constitution gives me protection. Or it should. I'm sure my fellow citizens of African descent can tell me what cold comfort that is - to be guaranteed things in writing that people will kill you to prevent you from having - even as they voted in favor of taking away my civil rights.

This decision means nothing. We have the most conservative Supreme Court in decades sitting now in DC, and Ms. Kagan is unlikely to have any effect on that. Justice Thomas, that intellectual light weight who is the ultimate of all affirmative action hires, is the most activist judge in the history of the court; Alito and Scalia are mean spirited, mendacious bigots, and Roberts give it all a pretty face. No, it comes down to Justice Kennedy to decide if equal protection before the law means what it has been read to have meant since 1954 - or not.

So the decision by U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker - a President Bush (père) appointee - is welcome, of course. It was a good result, and was reasoned in a way to make overturning it very difficult. We're not done, though.

The fight isn't over, I'm not elated, and I see no cause for celebration.

Well funded superstitious people - the same folks who would have made a constitutional amendment to allow witch burning because of their "faith" - will keep pouring in millions to keep the queers from having their same legal protections.

Until I get to vote on their marriages, why would I be happy? Until the Supreme Court rules, why would I be happy? Until a majority of my neighbors decides that the 14th Amendment DOES apply in California, why would I be happy?

I'm not.

I remember November mornings in Colorado in 1992; in California in 2000; in California in 2008...

Until I wake up with MORE civil rights than I had when I went to bed, well, I'll believe it when I see it. When it has some sense of the final.

Until then, it's a good result, but...

22 July 2010

One Death in Newark

A man was killed in Newark last Friday night. A black man, unarmed, was killed by a cop, shot in the chest at point blank range.

The shooting happened in Branch Brook Park, and the man who was killed was back in town for a high school reunion, returning from his current home in Atlanta.

The policeman who fired the fatal shot has said that the suspect was resisting arrest, that he had tried to flee, and that when cornered the suspect assaulted the officer.

Why was he a suspect? The Newark police were conducting a sting operation in Branch Brook Park - "scouring the park" according to the NY Times account of the story - and caught Mr. Dean Gaymon, 48, in the sting. There are no other witnesses, so we have only the perspective of the Essex County police officer in the matter.

Mr. Gaymon was President and CEO of a Credit Union in Atlanta, and he was married and leaves behind four children.

Newark, New Jersey, had its first murder free month in 40 years in April, 2010. Crime is dropping, and maybe police have the resources to focus on quality of life crimes instead of reacting to murders, assaults, and shootings - of which there were three on the night in question.
Maybe Mr. Gaymon, despite his wealth and position or perhaps because of it, was afraid to come out for fear of the opprobium of his community. Maybe he didn't see himself as gay at all, but as a happily married man who had interests in same sex sex.

Maybe being back in Newark, especially for a high school reunion, inspired regret and longing, and led Mr. Gaymon to use poor judgment. And when he was caught he panicked, seeing in that moment the ruin of his life's work, of his reputation, of his relationships, and so he tried to run.

Maybe Mr. Gaymon assaulted the arresting officer in that panic - an assault so fierce that the 29 year old officer felt compelled to shoot him, point blank, in the chest.

What we do know is that four kids don't have their dad, and a woman is left with a lot of grief and a lot of questions.

They don't at all rise to that level, but I have to say that I have a lot of questions, too. Was Mr. Gaymon able to integrate his life fully and (apparently) chose not to, or was he unable to live an integrated life? If not, why not? Was Mr. Gaymon raised in a religious home? If yes, to what extent did all of the lies he was told in that context affect him as he was going through his adolescence? Did Mr. Gaymon identify as gay at all? Did he prefer rough trade and public sex, or did he feel that was the only outlet open to him? On a different tack, is Essex County really so adequately policed that catching guys in the bushes is a good law enforcement spend? Its murder rate was 8th in the country in 2008, and nearly eleven cars are stolen there every day; there are twenty seven property crimes committed there every day; there are over three robberies every day... you get the point, and the Essex County police work the County park to make "easy" collars and ruin lives. Chances are that we wouldn't have heard about Mr. Gaymon's story if he weren't shot, point blank, in the chest, by an Essex County officer, but had he only been arrested and not killed, his life - his career, his marriage - would have been irreparably damaged.

It's an intensely human story, and it's heartbreaking. I can't help but think of the wastefulness, the wanton wastefulness of the taking of a gifted human life, and of the chain of events that led to it. It's one death in Newark, a city that saw 80 murders in 2009, and each one of those lost lives is a damn shame.

04 June 2010

"Ice cube tray melting on the counter..."

Okay, so I dated some guys that weren't so smart. I dated some who might have been underemployed, and some might have been under ambitious. But mostly, in the early nineties, they weren't real bright.

At one point in undergrad, in the depths of my "Big and Dumb" phase, one of my friends developed a scale correlating my boyfriends' intelligence to appliances. As in "Brennan, he is so dumb he'd barely make a four slice toaster. No wonder you like him."

The levels, as I remember them, started with Osterizers at the top, then self cleaning ovens, then toaster ovens, then four slice toasters, then two slice toasters, then, finally, ice cube tray melting on the counter.

That last, I realize, is not an appliance, but wow, Rich wasn't real smart. Real cute, but not so smart. So my friends had to go to something with no moving parts and no real agenda.

I met Rich at La Cage, like every good queer boy met every other queer boy in Milwaukee at the time. He was cute, so cute, with a cute pug nose, white blonde hair, about 5'6, and had a certain... well, what at first I took for studied insouciance. Turns out that there just wasn't really anybody home.

It was the winter of 1990-91, and it was really cold. The windows in LaCage would steam up and the fog machine would start and they'd play "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" three times a night and the dance floor would fill each time.

And I would look over at Rich, across the dance floor as I flailed around to C+C Music Factory or Black Box or Dee-Light, and when he looked at me I'd look away. And then I'd wait for a flail or two and I'd look back and he'd look away. In more contemporary parlance, you could say that I had NO GAME. None.

In my defense, I was new to dating - I didn't really date in high school, not boys, certainly, so all the awkward mistakes and discoveries that adolescents usually get to make before they move on and leave high school wince-inducing moments behind I was making in my early 20's. And I was making them with a vengeance. I started slowly, and moved slower still, and without the intervention of my friends I'd not have gotten very far at all. But I still made more than share of wince inducers.

I found out from a friend of a friend of a friend - it was Milwaukee and the dance floor wasn't that big - that his name was Rich and that he worked at the TGI Fridays at Northridge Mall. I didn't have a car then but I was working at Northridge Mall for a Mortgage Company (of all things) and I thought there would be a great chance for me to go over there and see him at work. What I would do once I got there, well, I had no plan, but at least I could go see him. And pretend not to, presumably.

Weeks went by, and Rich and I kept avoiding talking to each other at La Cage, and I kept avoiding TGI Fridays, and finally my friends got tired of hearing me talk about how cute this Rich guy was so it was time to either put up or shut up already! We piled in to my friend Tom's Jimmy 4x4 one cold Wednesday night and made the trek out to suburbia.

I was really, really nervous - I mean this guy was CUTE, and what was I gonna say, like, "Hi, I think you're really cute, you wanna go out" (see above re: missed adolescence)?

We get there and I'm too nervous to be asked to be seated in Rich's section, so we just get seated. I didn't even ask if Rich was working that night. My friend Cheryl had heard and seen just about enough, so she walked back to the host stand, asked if he was working, asked to meet him (she hadn't seen him yet), brought him BACK to our table, and asked him if he would please just give me his number.

Blushingly, he did. Blushingly, I took it, and actually called him that night when I knew I would get his machine (yes, wayyy before cell phones). Something like "Hey, Rich, you met my friend Cheryl and me tonight, and I was wondering..." Wince-inducing. Oddly enough, he called me back and we agreed to go out on Friday. Again, I had no car - he had a VW Rabbit, which I thought was adorable and at least he knew how to drive a clutch, so that was something - so he agreed to come to my place and pick me up and we'd go to a movie.

I was still so smitten with him that I was shedding IQ points around him and didn't have too much to say, but after a few dates we went to dinner at the East Side Big Boy and my roommate was gone so we came back to my place and were sitting on the couch and...

To this point, we hadn't properly kissed. We'd exchanged chaste good night pecks on the cheek, but that was all, and it was clearly time for some advances in this department. He hadn't been pushy but it was a few dates in and we were in our 20's, for god's sake; it was time for a more proper make out session.

And I had very little practice in this department. And I was really nervous, because I just found him so dreamy.

Our apartment was a one bedroom that I shared with a roommate, and it was all hard floors, bare walls and dorm furniture. From the sofa to any other part of the apartment was not very far, and it was an open floor plan so sound traveled and there was no place to hide.

Our couch was six foot long and orange Naugahyde, and if one got nervous and started to perspire one would stick to it. I was nervous, and perspiring, and I was sticking to it, so I went to the bathroom, three feet away, and promptly got sick. Multiple times.

He HAD to have heard me - the door was exactly what you'd expect from a college apartment and the entire apartment was tile flooring. I was in there for ages, brushing my teeth in the vain hope that maybe we could pick up where we left off, but after fifteen minutes or so I come back out, sheepishly, and sit back down next to him. He asks "Did you get sick?!" and I say no, yeah, I was just feeling a little funny after dinner. He says he should prolly go, I understand, he stands on his toes to kiss me on the cheek, we say we'll talk tomorrow and he leaves.

To his credit, he did call, and we went out again, and he was a good kisser and I had to have improved with his tutelage. The more we hung around, the more I realized, though, that this guy who I found so attractive - literally, debilitatingly attractive - didn't have too much in common with me. He didn't read, he wasn't into sports, he wasn't into music, he didn't care about politics at all, he didn't play cards, he couldn't really carry on a conversation with me or anyone in my social circle, and he wasn't interested in anything. After the third time having dinner with my group of friends, they were unsparing: "Puker, this is the guy you threw up over?" And "Well, he sure is blonde." And the final, lasting assessment from my friend Erin: "I'd have to say 'Ice cube tray melting on the counter.' He's really, really dumb."

All told, from first TGI Fridays foray to final date, it was six weeks, tops. It's about the cumulative experience with dating, right? And from Rich I learned that I could be a little more assertive; I learned that making out was fun but wasn't enough to sustain a relationship; I learned that beauty is skin deep, sometimes, and I learned that my friends could be counted on for an honest opinion (not that I'd had much doubt on that score to start with).

And never again did I slide so far down the appliance scale. Live and learn.

03 June 2010

Thanks for the memories, Ken -

This morning, ESPN reported that Ken Griffey, Jr., is retiring from Major League Baseball and the Seattle Mariners, effective immediately. He's 40.

Griffey was always one of my favorite players. When he came into the league in 1989 he played 127 games, bat .264, slugged .420, had 61 RBI and hit 16 homers. As a 19 year old rookie, that ain't a bad stat line. He was an All Star thirteen times; he was a Gold Glove winner ten times; he was a Silver Slugger Award winner eleven times.

I'm not a huge baseball guy, but when writers and other players would talk about Junior having "the prettiest swing in baseball," even I got what they meant by it. It was like the ball slowed down for him - like he always knew where it would be - and he so fluidly put his bat right on it. Graceful and easy and smooth. Pretty.

And he never cheated or doped to do any of it, in an era when nearly everyone around him did.

As SF Chronicle Sportswriter John Shea wrote,

Griffey is fifth all time in home runs with 630. Of the players in the top 10, five ended their careers before 1977: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew. Four got there with paper trails to performance-enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire.
Junior didn't.

I liked him when he came up because he was a breath of fresh air to baseball. He was young and handsome - I dug the fade haircut - and sublimely talented, and he wore his hat backwards, and he was a breath of fresh air. It seemed like even though he was from baseball royalty (his dad was a star with the Reds and the Yankees) he never acted like it.

He flat out played - every ball, every out, every pitch. He loved the game, he loved his job, he had fun doing it, and he gave the game his whole effort, every time. His catches - beyond the fence, over the shoulder, fully stretched out - are you kidding me? He was grace and athleticism in motion. He had a megawatt smile and just exuded his enthusiasm.

Watch this video, starting at the 2:00 minute mark, and then watch him smile as he runs back to the dugout. How can you not love this guy? How can you not love the game he plays?

He gave Seattle some of its best sports memories. In the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees, Seattle lost the first two games and was on the verge of elimination. Junior solo homered in the bottom of the 8th to bring the M's within one, and then in the bottom of the 11th, down 5-4, he was on first when Edgar Martinez hit a double. It's the bottom of the 11th, remember, in the final game to determine who gets to play Cleveland for the American League Pennant. Junior sprinted - flew - around the bases to home from 1st on a double, sliding safe and scoring the winning run.

Pandemonium, as they say, ensued. And there was that smile.

(You can watch it here. )

How much did Seattle love him? After he left the M's for the Reds, he returned for Interleague play in a new uni and his hometown fans still gave him a ten minute standing ovation.

That's love.

Without the injuries he suffered in Cincinnati, he "no doubt" would have won the all time home run title instead of Barry Bonds, according to Joe Buck, Mike Scioscia and others. The fact that in spite of his injuries he never turned to performance enhancing drugs to speed a recovery speaks to his character and his respect for the game.

I don't watch as much baseball now as I did in the 1990's. I'm sure there's some kid out there who truly loves the game, who sprints out to his position in the outfield at every half inning, who sees every game - every pitch - as a personal challenge and an opportunity to do his best. I don't know who he is, though, and he's not my age and prolly doesn't share my birthday, and he's prolly not as charismatic or handsome as Griffey was, and he prolly doesn't have that megawatt smile, and for sure - for absolute, positive, 100% sure - he's no Junior.

I guess I'll just have to look forward to all of the highlights again when Junior gets into Cooperstown. I won't have to wait that long. It'll be on the first ballot.

02 June 2010

Dateline, Tokyo - THAT didn't last long

Japan's new coalition government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan ("DPJ"), is struggling, and before this summer's elections to the upper house of the Diet, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama has fallen on his sword, figuratively, and tendered his resignation. (Interestingly, he has also tendered the resignation of the DPJ's #2, Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, who was embroiled in a fundraising scandal.)

I felt that the DPJ's win was healthy for Japan as it provided a break from the decades-long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party ("LDP"). It was a chance for Japan to break out of the doldrums of its "lost decade" of recession, stagnation, deflation - c'mon, you remember it, stagflation - and also to move beyond the cronyism of LDP party leadership and the countryside's hold on domestic politics.

I still think those things, but the future for the DPJ led coalition looks grim? Why? Because the Prime Minister of Japan had made a campaign promise to move the U.S. Marine base out of Okinawa, and he found, once in office, that he couldn't do it. President Obama said that we were going to keep the base there, and the conversation ended. Public opinion, teetering anyway due to the scandals of Mr. Ozawa, turned, a coalition partner bolted, and Mr. Hatoyama had to do the honorable thing and resign.

American military requirements and priorities helped to cashier an elected Prime Minister of a close and long-standing ally.

There's more to it than that - the finance scandals didn't help, and many Japanese didn't want the base moved, and with its departure, a more equal relationship between Japan and the United States - but there is no question that his inability to get the deal done was the crux.

Probably, North Korea sinking a South Korean ship reawakened Japanese fears of living in an unstable neighborhood; and it certainly didn't help Mr. Hatoyama's efforts to wean the Japanese off American military support. Leftists were outraged by the backtrack, the Social Democrats walked out of his coalition, and those on the right never wanted the base to be moved in the first place. His coaltion's approval ratings went from 70% down to the high teens, and Mr. Hatoyama was left isolated and without support. He had no choice.

This is a win for South Korea, who hosts a large US contingent on its soil but will be reassured by the close proximity of the Futenma base to the Korean peninsula (other proposals included Guam, which would be an additional three hours away), and therefore this is a loss for North Korea. China also likely sees this as a loss, since Mr. Hatoyama had pledged to strengthen Japan's ties with its Asian neighbors (a/k/a "China").

Domestically, it remains to be seen if the DPJ can right itself and recover enough political goodwill to lead the nation through some difficult choices, including tax increases, decreases in spending, and currency negotiations with the Chinese.

The world's second largest economy, the United States' close ally, and Asia's most stable and developed democracy is going to have it's fourth Prime Minister in four years. And President Obama doesn't have to worry about domestic political fallout from losing a base lease in a sensitive region; we get to keep our base on Okinawa.

We are still an Imperial power even though the man wielding that power on our behalf isn't as mendacious as callow as the last one.


Letter to the Editor, SF Chronicle, 2-June

In its entirety.

The day I really knew Harvey Milk's legacy
Harvey Milk Day was officially celebrated, to my mind, profoundly on May 19 on the 8:40 p.m. Caltrain heading south, overhearing the conversation of two young men as they entered the bike car at the Redwood City station.

They were engaged in conversation as they entered, appearing well groomed, intelligent and most of all straight, from all appearances, until I overheard one say that he has a cousin who lives in San Francisco, on Valencia Street, near a restaurant. This young man's next words, expressed in the most nonchalant manner, were that he had eaten dinner at this restaurant with his boyfriend.

Milk's vision inspired equality, living on in this young man's free expression of himself that everyone could overhear. Harvey Milk Day, officially celebrated on May 22, had come early, on the Caltrain, in that bike car, within that young man's conversation.

Happy birthday, Harvey Milk, for this young man and all those expressing their freedom with a natural pride instead of having to hide.

Donald Howard, Palo Alto

01 June 2010

So, this is nice...

I've been thinking a lot about the closet over the past few days - how it warps people, how it diminishes them, how "the closet is a cold, lonely place that makes you lie again and again to those closest to you and always risks ending in tears," as Graham McKerrow put it.

People can grow comfortable with it, and "people" includes those who put themselves in as well as those who expect others to stay there. People like John McCain ostensibly speaking for the US Military; the Catholic Church which has been running its own "Don't Ask Don't Tell" shell game for a few centuries now; and countless parents, to name a few.

My dad has other queer children - out of the ten of us, that's not too surprising - and one other sibling has self disclosed to me, so it's not conjecture that they (sic) are queer. But because they haven't told Dad, they are welcome in his home with whomever they want to bring. I, and this likely is not a surprise, am not.

I could have stayed in the closet and thus have been able to bring anyone I wanted to family reunions - even the person with whom I have chosen to spend my life. We could whisper behind Dad's back, me and "the cool siblings," the ones I would tell, and it would all be wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and my personal integrity would be shot to hell for the sake of not aggrieving a bigoted man's prejudices.

I would be ceding permission to determine my integrity. I would be acceding to someone else passing judgment on the quality - not even the quality, but the very validity - of my relationship, of my love.

Why would I do that? How could I do that? I couldn't. Too much Thoreau, maybe, or too much Shakespeare or Whitman or Joyce or even Catholic teaching:
Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey... Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by it they will be judged.
So I followed "this law that I discovered" and I came out, and incurred the opprobrium of some family and friends and faculty, because I didn't want "to lie again and again." Ultimately, coming out means telling the truth about your own life. It's being authentically yourself.

The person who stays in the closet must carefully, obsessively, maniacally construct and maintain a façade. He or she may lose themselves in the construction and in the artifice, until there is no longer any there there.

Which brings me to the news item that made me reflect on this again. You'll be glad to know that California State Senator Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, was referenced under this headline: "Outed lawmaker easing stance against gay rights."

(Well, was he outed, really? I don't think so. You may remember the State Senator from a previous post here, where he got busted for DUI after leaving a gay club with a male companion - so I kinda think the Senator outed himself.)

In any event, the article states that the Senator is re-thinking his stand on gay issues, and has declaimed as much from the floor of the Senate.

Well, better late than never, and there is one fewer miserable bastards in the world. According to State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was quoted as saying his long-time friend and colleague "Seemed happier now."

Of course he does. He has now begun - sloppily, publicly, and criminally, but we all start somewhere - to live an authentic life. I wish him well, and hope fervently that he spends the rest of his time in the Senate working to undo some of the spiteful and small things he did in the past.

Finally, the Chronicle article cited a Bakersfield Californian article (that I couldn't find) quoting Sen. Ashburn as saying that he had begun "taking care of a lot of old baggage." Too bad that Rev. George Reker's "rentboy" can't help him with that kind of baggage.

Welcome, Senator. It gets easier from here.

31 May 2010

Stories in the news

I tried - diligently - to find some good news stories this week, but there's more crappy news than in a whole Billy Joel song. These stories prolly won't help if you're in a news-funk, but here are some things less covered this past week:

1. On the topic of the Closet, a forcefully written piece saying some of the things I was trying to get across in my post yesterday. Worth a read.

David Laws: Yet again, hiding in the closet proves a politician's undoing
It is hardly credible that in 2010, after all the progress that has been made, the gay liberation message still needs to be heard
(Graham McKerrow guardian.co.uk, Saturday 29 May 2010 16.30 BST; full article here.)

2. And I can't believe that asshole McCain has threatened to filibuster the Senate to prevent a vote on Don't Ask, Don't Tell - in essence, demanding that our brave women and men who serve stay in the closet. It's disgusting, ands it's directly counter to his previous views. But he's lost all integrity in trying to win his GOP primary. By tacking so far to the right, will he be vulnerable to an energized push by the Democratic party in Arizona to vote him out? It'll be one race to watch in September and October.

3. The Green Party Australia has seen a surge in support, basically because voters on the left are fed up with Labor, according to the Australian. It's still only on 16%, but it's up 4% over the past month. Full story here.

4. According to a poll published in L’Actualité (mérci encore, Celeste!), Americans are among the most sceptical in the world when it comes to believing the science that human inputs are responsible for climate change. In the US, 59% don't believe it; Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the North Americans who come closest at 52%. I'm afraid the inference is clear: we're a nation of Prairie Provinces. Full results here (in French; scroll down for the full table).

5. In political news from Hawai'i, Ed Case has dropped out of the race for the HI-1 Congressional seat. Why is this noteworthy? A Republican, Charles Djou, won the seat held for the previous ten terms by Neil Abercrombie, a staunch old lefty who surrendered the seat to run for governor. It's Barack Obama's home district - well, of course, his home district outside of Kenya. The Dem vote was split in the special election by two strong candidates, and Djou won. It's fundamentally a liberal Democratic seat and Case dropping out gives Colleen Hanabusa, the remaining Democrat candidate, a great chance to win it back. It'll be another one to watch in November.

6. I can't say anything about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. What can be said? It's disgusting, disheartening and demoralizing. Longer post later. Let me just close with this:

BP's Safety record isn't great, have you heard? According to a story by ABC news and others,

According to the Center for Public Integrity, in the last three years, BP refineries in Ohio and Texas have accounted for 97 percent of the "egregious, willful" violations handed out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)... OSHA statistics show BP ran up 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips each had eight, Citgo had two and Exxon had one comparable citation.
But that's okay - corporations are people, too, and have a constitutional right to spend as much as they want to support their candidates in elections. Just ask the 5/4ths of the Supreme Court.

And that's all I got. Here's to a better June.

30 May 2010

Just come out, already (UK version)

The Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury secretary, David Laws, has resigned in the first scandal to buffet the UK's new coalition government.

Laws was meant to be the "hatchet man" of the coalition, cutting huge swaths of government spending. The Conservatives trusted him to do it, and the Lib Dems trusted him to do it as humanely and reasonably as possible. Some on both sides are saying that he's irreplaceable, and that this strikes a deep blow to the coalition.

What did he do that was so wrong?

From the Guardian story:
Laws, a former banker, felt obliged to quit on Saturday after it was revealed he claimed £40,000 in rent expenses from the Commons authorities to cohabit in a property owned by his secret partner, James Lundie. He is understood to have considered quitting as an MP as well.

That's a lot, forty thousand quid, and it sounds bad. BUT - had he come out and said that Mr. Lundie was his partner and/ or taken the mortgage out jointly, he'd've been entitled to MORE. It was £40,000 (~US$60,000) over eight years, or about £750 (US$1100)/ month.

Not nothing, of course, and rules are rules, and as the hatchet man who was likely going to have the single biggest role in new government in cutting money from the budget - to education, to health care, to the disabled, to seniors, to jobs programs - he had to be above reproach and couldn't have been seen to have been feeding at the public trough.

But he didn't need the money, and he wasn't lining his pockets - again, the amount over which he has resigned is less than if he and his partner had put their names jointly on the lease.

So why not come out, declare the relationship, and claim the money legitimately? The Liberal Democrats are the most progressive of the three parties in the UK, so he would have felt no pressure from that quarter. Again from Michael White's piece, "It's not a big deal at Westminster any more, nor in most constituencies, I'd wager, unless it's a big deal to the individual for a host of reasons – most of which are none of our business."

Do people have the right to remain in the closet? Yes.

Should they? Well, clearly they do, and without being in Mr. Laws' shoes I cannot speak for him or speculate as to the "host of reasons" he may have had.

But he was independently wealthy, he was a rising star in a rising party, he had access to nearly every lever of power that can protect a man from anti-gay animus, and he still chose not to come out. I hope he reads the case of the two gay men sentenced to hard labor for 14 years in Malawi for being gay and can draw some courage from them.

Come on, people - don't be afraid. In the west, in the UK, for people of power, wealth and position, it's far better to be out than in.

The government has been damaged - and there is unanimity on that point, from the Times to the Independent to the Sun - and it is damage that could have been avoided had one minister come out.


17 May 2010

Portugal gets gay marriage

If I had asked you twenty years ago to name the first six European coutries to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians, would you have put Portugal in the mix?

Me neither.

Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and the Netherlands would have been my picks, and Catholic Portugal woulda been way down the list somewhere around Spain and Malta, but the whole Iberian Peninsula* now has gay marriage. Portugal is the sixth European nation to decide that "Separate but Equal" isn't and that all citizens should be extended all rights. (And in case you have travel plans, the other five are: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway and Sweden. I was close.)

The coolest thing? It became law over the signature of the center right president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, just three days after the Prada-wearing Papa Nazi, Pope Benedict XVI, paraded through in all his fancy robes and told them not to do it. President Silva, unlike Fr. Wild at Marquette, didn't cave to ecclesiastical pressure in a non-ecclesiastical issue and signed the bill that had been passed by the legislature in January.

Portugal is 90% (nominal) Catholic, and this current Pontiff has made maintaining Catholic Europe's orthodoxy and fidelity to Church teaching a key component of his papacy. And by orthodoxy, of course, the Church fathers mean on groinal issues. No women priests, no legalized abortion, restrictive laws on divorce, and certainly, beyond a doubt, no acceding to legal recognition of queer relationships.

Good luck with putting that cat back in the bag.

Of the nations at the bottom of the table for birth rates, for example, are 90%+ Catholic Italy (219 out of 221), Austria (215), Monaco (207) and Spain (197); the bottom quarter of countries and territories on the table is heavily Catholic. I don't think it's that hetero folks in these places are having less sex - I think it's that hetero folks in these countries are deciding that they can exercise some control over their own bodies; that women are deciding that they are not units of baby-making production; that it isn't AD 1636; that the Church is simply wrong on this issue, and intractable for no good reason.

And the more the Church harps on groinal issues which go against what is rational and empirical in their daily lives, the more Western Europeans - and Cubans and Puerto Ricans and Québecois and millions of others - realize the Church is wrong about other things as well. Like, well, gay rights. And intractable about being wrong for no good reason.

So Portugal, Catholic Portugal, has marriage equality now. Along with Catholic Spain. And Catholic Belgium. This would have been unthinkable twenty years ago, but by refusing to learn the lessons of Europe's greatest gift to the world, the Enlightenment, and refusing to accept or accommodate them, the Church is in danger of making itself irrelvant in its historical heartland.

So maybe it's time for the Church to pack up and move back to the Mideast, from whence it came - less need for rationality there, and more zest for following superstition and persecuting others (women, queers, Jews, those who believe in different made up superstitions than you). It could feel right at home!

Just leave the billions worth of art and music made for you. And thanks for Chartres, anyway!

*Except, of course, for Britons on Gibraltar.

15 May 2010

(Arch-) Bishop in checkmate? Marquette hiring drama continues

A ha!

I've been puzzled for the last week how Father Wild, Marquette University president, could have blundered so badly in the Jodi O'Brien case. Dr. O'Brien was offered a job, signed a contract, turned it in, and then had the offer rescinded - but NOT because she is Lesbian, according to the President's office, but because she'd conducted some research that was "anti-family".

I've been puzzled in part because Fr. Wild has been a strong leader for inclusivity and the educative value of diversity at Marquette. According to the Journal Sentinel, when asked about diversity of thought on a Jesuit campus in 2006, he wrote:

The presence of these men and women enriches us as a university, helps us to consider questions that we might otherwise not consider, gives the university community a wider perspective. In turn, we try to assist these individuals to engage more deeply with their own particular faith tradition.

The leader of the faculty search committee, Dr. Franzoi, said that he told Fr. Wild not to pick Dr. O'Brien if the University wasn't prepared to defend their position given that she was an out lesbian who conducted research about same gender relationships. If that's the case, and it sounds more than plausible, then Fr. Wild and the Board had ample "warning" to review the hire and make sure Dr. O'Brien would be a good fit as dean of Arts and Sciences. Why make the hire unless you were sure?

The offer was extended, contract provided, signed and returned. And then last Friday, May 7, the offer was rescinded.

What happened? No one but Bob Wild knows, and he's not telling. When asked by a student in a listening session on the matter if the Archbishop of Milwaukee applied pressure, Fr. Wild responded with an "I can't comment on that." Translation: yes.

Another salvo in the wars between Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy and university leadership, and it bodes ill. In the past, Catholic Universities could do pretty much whatever they wanted on campus. Local bishops could scold or fret, but that was the extent of it - most universities had lay boards and made hiring and policy decisions based on what was best for the university while maintaining a public posture in support of Catholic doctrine.

In the (surprisingly thorough) "Scholarship, mission collide" in the Journal Sentinel on May 14 there is a good summary of the recent history of these relationships in the US.

What's changed is the new pope. The last one was bad enough on matters of doctrine, but really the terrier behind the stool was the current Pope, Ratzinger. He is an arch conservative enforcer who wants a smaller, more "Catholic" church - no more smorgasbording, you have to believe it all. He has continued naming bishops who share his beliefs, so that the church has lurched rightward over the last two decades.

And he is very, very obsessed with groinal issues. Condoms cause AIDS, homosexuality is a sin, women are tainted, you can only fully participate in the hierarchy if you're a man, baby.

Listecki, the new archbishop of Milwaukee, has been in office 6 months. Fr. Wild has six months to go.

The O'Brien case makes sense if it is seen as a pissing match between an incoming archbishop looking to enforce a certain orthodoxy on the largest institution in his see - with the full backing of sex-obsessed Vatican higher-ups - and a lame duck University President. It's a shame that this good man, Fr. Wild, will leave on such a sour note. He was good for MU. But he co-signed the rescission, for whatever reason, so he made his bed.

But more of a shame than that is the personal toll this has taken on Dr. O'Brien; the toll this has taken on Marquette as an institution of serious scholarship; the likely long-term chilling effects this will have on academic freedom at MU and other Catholic universities in the US; the recalibration of the relationship between university and bishop in the US decidedly in the bishop's favor (and Listecki, like Clarence Thomas, is unlikely to have divine recall anytime soon - he is only 61).

What of the Church? Hopeless. All those who have stayed in it for decades saying things like "If we all leave, who will be left to change it?" or "eventually women will be ordained" or "eventually, priests will be able to marry, like in the early church" can throw in the towel. With our current Prada-wearing Papa Nazi there's no change a-comin'. No roles for women, except to have babies - and its corollary, of course, no hope for those who think maybe birth control is a good idea.

Ossified, bitter, fearful but orthodox. Good luck with that. And good luck to Catholic universities being taken seriously, if this trend continues with other presidents and bishops. A pillar of the American middle class and of Catholic immigrant integration into the mainstream is being marginalized for the sake of doctrinal purity.

And for those who need a made up belief system to get them through life, there's always the Episcopalians - they just ordained another lesbian bishop. If you don't need the songs, doctrine, history or garments, though, I recommend FSM.

12 May 2010

New UK Home Sec'y Theresa May

Final note on the UK election - in my last post I'd indicated that Chris Grayling was going to be Home Secretary in the new Cameron-lead Tory-Liberal Democrat government; he was bounced in favor of Theresa May, a MP from Maidenhead in Berkshire since 1997. Ms. May has a poor voting record on GLBTQ issues, including voting against age of consent equality, same sex parent adoptions, and Lesbian IVF rights.

She was picked over Chris Darling who, though he was recorded saying that business owners ought to be able to discriminate against same sex couples, actually had a more moderate voting record on GLBTQ issues.

Welcome to "Elections have consequences, UK edition." Most gay folks in Britain voted Lib Dem (or more accurately, expressed intent to vote Lib Dem), and there's no question that Mr. Clegg's party is miles ahead of the Conservatives on these issues. We'll see how much pull he has as minority party leader in the coalition after all.

11 May 2010

UK election results - last thoughts

It’s been fascinating, but the drama in the UK has finally wound down and the Tory leader, David Cameron, is the new Prime Minister and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is deputy Prime Minister. Mr. Cameron's party, the Conservatives, won the most seats and the largest share of the vote, and the Tories and Liberal Democrats have formed a coalition government.

So. What does this mean?

Well, for queer folk the place they’ve held in civil life in Britain over the last thirteen years of Labour governments is suddenly less assured. Despite Mr. Cameron’s best efforts to modernize the party, there are still those in the British Conservative Party like Philippa Stroud, who, not unlike George Rekers, feels that it’s possible to “pray away the gay,” and Chris Grayling, the Home Secretary, who thinks that business owners ought to be able to discriminate against gay customers.

For British society, it is likely going to be a tough few years. There are parts of Britain that have been hollowed out by the collapse of the industrial economy, and that have been significantly supported over the past thirteen years of Labour ascendancy by disbursements from Whitehall. This will end.

The old industrial core of peripheral cities – not those that most enjoyed the long economic expansion under New Labour, but those outside the southeast of England, like Manchester and Birmingham and Liverpool, and Newcastle, with unemployment rates 40% or more higher than the national median – will face deep funding cuts from the Central Government. Health care and education will almost assuredly get more expensive, and there will be large swathes of the British hinterland inhabited by those who won’t be able to afford it. Unemployment disbursements will likely be trimmed. Almost assuredly, the gaps between rich and poor will grow, and class stratification will be further reinforced. Some people will make a ton of money, and many more will slide further into poverty.

The Liberal Democrats are likely going to try to blunt the worst of the cuts – they are, after all, a fundamentally leftist party with a strong commitment to social services – and because the Tories can’t govern without them they may be able to do it. But cuts are coming, there’s no question. A friend in the UK reckons that it’s good for Labour to not have formed a Lib-Lab government for exactly that reason – cuts are coming and Labour can go into opposition, say that they would have done things differently and less painfully, and wait for the Lib Dems to get frustrated by the more strident of their Tory partners and walk out of the coalition resulting in new elections.

The clear loser in all of this is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He lived in Blair’s shadow for a decade, and seemed to have a very different temperament than his former PM and Labour leader. Mr. Brown was not an inculcator of celebrity, was not an opportunist, was not demonstrably shackled by the popular. He was the son of a vicar, a committed advocate of the working class, and a man with a core set of values that animated his behaviour in the public life. In his outgoing speech, he was quoted in the Guardian as saying, about being Prime Minister:
I loved the job for its potential to make this country I love fairer, more tolerant, more green, more democratic, more prosperous and more just – truly a greater Britain.

He led Labour to a loss of 89 seats in the House of Commons and simply couldn’t remain as their head. He may yet be back, but he did the honourable thing by falling on his sword and saying that he would step down as leader of Labour, first, and then as Prime Minister. He was an honorable public servant, and as Britons get a better sense of the callow Mr. Cameron, 43, they may miss the “dour Scotsman” yet. Certainly those Britons who live in the northeast or West Midlands, those who are working class, those who are queer, those who need Whitehall's support in their local communities - those Britons will likely miss Mr. Brown most of all, and soonest.

Perhaps Ms. Stroud can pray away their poverty and loss, while she's at it.


10 May 2010

Et tu, Marquette?

(Or as a friend put it to me: "MU blah, blah.")

In grad school at the U of Hawai`i I found far more dogmatism than I found in my undergrad at conservative, Catholic, Jesuit Marquette. At UH there were simply ideas that were off the table, or that were considered too inflammatory to discuss.

At Marquette? We talked about reporductive rights in one of my very first classes on campus, Phil 050. I was shocked. I knew the Church's position, and here we were talking about other ideas and viewpoints. Here were people who thought a woman had a right to choose whether or not to end her pregnancy! I was shocked - I'm not kidding, I'd never met anyone who had espoused that viewpoint before. And while it was a minority opinion in that classroom, it was discussed and considered and people who thought differently from you were treated with respect, even as you disagreed with them.

I learned about academic freedom, and that one of the things that the Jesuits held dear was that there must be a free exchange of ideas for there to be education - not training, but real education - to happen.

MU didn't always live up to its lofty ideals. One chilly morning in 1989 I was stunned when I realized what the maintenance workers were doing with a high pressure hose outside LaLumiere Hall - they were pressure washing the sidewalks. Someone had gone around campus the night before and had chalked "Gay is okay" at various points around campus.


At that time, chalking sidewalks was done by nearly every organization on campus - advertisements for happy hours on Wells Street; study abroad meeting notices; campus ministry volunteer opportunities - they were all broadcast by chalk. (There was no email or texting or cellphones then, remember, so groups had to chalk boards or sidewalks to get news out.) In Milwaukee in the spring, they'd last a few days and then it would inevitably precipitate in some form and there was a tabula rasa for new notices ready and waiting. And there had never been any movement by anyone at the school to wash anything off before. It had been okay to tout 50 cent tappers at the 'Lanche, Ladies night at O'D's, frat parties and poster sales at the Union.

So why was the University power washing sidewalks to remove "Gay is okay"? I was stunned. And went home and thought about it, decided it was illogical, wrote a letter to the Marquette Tribune, and started coming out by showing my letter to one of my roommates and asking his thoughts.

All this was in my mind on Friday when our alma mater got mentioned in the NY Times. Not for great undergraduate education, however, or professorial research, or even for men's basketball, but for discrimination.

As reported in the NY Times and in more depth in the Journal Sentinel, Dr. Jodi O'Brien, a soiciologist and professor at Seattle University, was offered a position at Marquette University to be Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, accepted the offer, and then had the offer rescinded after intercession by the President's Office.

Dr. O'Brien is an out lesbian who did nothing to hide her orientation during the interview process. I don't know how she could have, given her scholarly writings. The search committee made it an explicit point that she was lesbian. From the Journal Sentinel:

Psychology professor Stephen Franzoi, who served on a search committee for the post, said faculty members forwarded two candidates to Marquette President Father Robert A. Wild and Provost John Pauly. In their recommendation, committee members warned Wild and Pauly not to pick O'Brien if the university was not willing to support her if her sexual orientation or if her scholarship were criticized, Franzoi said.

So now Fr. Wild, who has done a ton of good work for Marquette in moving the institution beyond some of its more shameful past and positioning it as a place that's affirming of GLBT students, says, effectively, "We didn't read her work closely enough and she's anti-family"!?

First, this discriminatiion has a personal side, as discrimination always does. The woman at the heart of the story, Dr. O'Brien, was offered a significantly bigger job, across the country. Have you ever had that experience? I have - it's exciting! You look at neighborhoods, you tell loved ones, you look at cost of living calculators, you start planning all of the thousands of details that go into a move like this. You give your landlord notice or you put your house up for sale; you make an announcement at work; when is your last day and when will be your first, and if you can afford a vacation in between; you wonder if it's the right thing to do. You wonder who's a good dentist, where the bus routes go, who has a decent cup of coffee... it's exciting and stressful and becomes all-consuming.

This woman, it now looks like, will be staying in Seattle at least another year, with colleagues who know she was looking and had an offer. Awkward at best. She has a secure position so unlike the thousands and thousands of queer Americans who are discriminated against every day in this country, she won't be out in the cold - but she had in her hands an offer for what was likely a significant salary jump, and she had it pulled from her. How must that feel? I'd be enraged, insulted, and on the phone with a lawyer.

What about MU? What had they hoped, with this decision? Everyone on campus is now talking about discrimination, everyone is thinking about the role of queer folk in the life of religious institutions, the campus is being engaged in discourse about the visibility of queer folk, how to live up to the official University position of Cura Personalis.

A university is an open place, a place for ideas and discourse and for all ideas being on the table. A Jesuit university, at its best, is a place where everyone can engage in the conversation and at which every idea can be examined, held up to scrutiny, weighed and debated and evaluated and tested.

MU at its best truly educated me. I can only hope this ham-fisted, clumsy attempt to disregard its intellectual heritage and to turn its back on a hire that could further help lead it to intellectual excellence will not stick, any more than pressure washing sidewalks did a generation ago.

Marquette knows better, and the resulting conversation may yet prove that to be true. In the meantime, for all those questioning GLBTQ in the Marquette family, now's a great time to have the conversation with your loved ones. And for those of us who are already out, it's a great time to challenge our school to be the best it can be.

And Dr. O'Brien, I hope to see you in Marquette Hall at some point!

06 May 2010

UK Election Results - first thoughts

It was a bad election for Labour, no question.

For those of you who have a life and haven't been following UK politics, Labour were of course going to have a rough night and a bad election. They have been in power since Tony Blair led the New Labour tide almost exactly thirteen years ago and they were tired and saddled with a poor economy, two deeply unpopular wars and the baggage of over a decade of consecutive governance and three consecutive Labour victories. Tony Blair might be Britain's President Clinton - smart, loved and reviled, a huge personality who overshadowed his successor. But instead of Al Gore running during a time of peace and prosperity, imagine him running after the economy crashed and the nation was enquagmired in two wars.

What's shocking is not that Labour is having a bad night, it's that David Cameron, the Tory leader (Tory = Conservative), hasn't managed to close the deal with the British people. Tonight should be an absolute shellacking, and it's not. The Tories might yet win an absolute majority (in the UK parliament, the party with 326 seats) - but the fact that it's in doubt has to be disappointing to the Tories.

After a debt crisis in Greece has people are talking - irresponsibly and hyperbolically, in my opinion - about the unravelling of the Euro, and the Tories, long the party of Euro- scepticism, aren't way in front?

After Labour holding power for 13 years and governing over the worst economic crisis since the War, and the Tories aren't walking all over them?

After souring public opinion about the wars and how Blair lied their nation into them, and the Tories aren't tonight taking a bow and forming a government?

After even their friends tired of Labour, as shown by the reliably red Guardian endorsing the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives didn't have this sewn up weeks ago?

What's shocking tonight is not that Labour are losing seats, possibly up to the triple digits. What's shocking is that, even with every possible advantage in an election cycle, the Conservative party wasn't able to capitalize. Might that be because Cameron, the Conservative leader, wasn't able to convince Britons that he was to be trusted with governance?

It's at least a part.

More on the results in the morning, but don't believe the hype of what you'll see in the headlines of the American newspapers. By all projections it will STILL be the case that the two left of center parties in UK life, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, will win over 50% of the vote. Cameron, whatever else Tories may make of him, is not the answer to their long drouth of leadership.

And Britain remains a center left nation.

Gay bashing Baptist Preacher in Hookergate - Update

Some weeks, the stories write themselves.

1. Dr. Rekers has claimed that he needed help with his luggage and that's why he went to Rentboy.com to find a companion for an otherwise solo ten day trip around Europe. He made Colbert's Alpha Dog of the Week.

2. The State of Arkansas, under GOP Presidential Hopeful Mike Hukabee, called Rekers to testify about how awful gay parents are for kids. His testimony was thrown out by judges, both at the county and State Supreme Court, as being biased, pseudo science, and one man's unsubstantiated opinion. He then sued the state for payment of $200,000 and eventually settled for $67,000 - for testimony that was declared useless. Nice use of taxpayer money, Rev. Huckabee.

From the Arkansas Leader:
The Arkansas Supreme Court concluded later that Rekers’ testimony was pointless and it declared Huckabee’s anti-gay rule unconstitutional. Rekers testifies as a scientific expert for states that adopt anti-gay laws. The states lose, but Rekers always takes in big fees. Rekers is supposed to be an expert in “conversion therapy,” the process of “curing” homosexuality.

Rekers upset his sponsors in Arkansas after the trial by demanding $200,000 for his expert services, which was more than Gov. Huckabee wanted to pay him. Rekers subsequently sued the state for $160,000 and eventually settled with the Department of Human Services. The taxpayers — that’s us — shelled out $60,000 to him for the privilege of being humiliated.
3. And NARTH has purportedly started to respond, sic's and all.

4. And for those keeping track at home, the Miami New Times has helpfully compiled a list of the top 10 outed homophobes.

Ah, George. Good luck with this one.

(Pic from NYDaily News, showing the good Reverand/ Doctor with his rentboy's profile pic.)

05 May 2010

"But Jesus hung out with prostitutes, too!"

Have you heard of the latest fallen (or as of this writing, “falling”) “Christian” activist, Dr. George Rekers? I had never heard of this man, but he is one of the two or three most influential Republican Christian homophobes out there. This man has spent the better part of three decades writing books about how evil gay people are, how you can pray away the gay, how you can direct your children sexually so that they grow up straight… and guess what we've just learned about Dr. Rekers?

Oh, come on, it’s too easy.

I’m not going to say he’s gay because that’s a social construct and one to which I suspect he doesn't ascribe, but he is certainly homosexually inclined. As reported in the Miami New Times (and caught by FB friend Michael Mowle – thanks Michael!), Dr. Rekers has just returned from a ten day European vacation with a rent boy. Literally – he found his young male companion on www.rentboy.com. And I'll let the Miami New Times handle what all one has to actively agree "by checking here" to get to escorts profiles on rentboy.com. And his Escort was on page TWO, so Dr. Rekers had to troll through (and I'm not being mean spirited, I mean this as in definition 2a, here) a LOT of ads to find the young "Lucien".

It's hysterical, or would be, if it weren't for the very real damage this awful man has inflicted on others.

He has written books, including “Growing up Straight: What Families Should Know About Sexuality;” think any poor gay kid wondering about sexual identity had a parent read that and use it to make his or her life a living hell? My money is on “yes.” And what about his public advocacy, and his involvement in the civil sphere? Dr. Rekers – and he has a PhD from UCLA – has worked to insinuate his peculiar brand of Bible-influenced, perverted “science” and “social science,” into public life. And more than that – as if ruining gay kids’ lives and eroding civil rights for gay folks wasn’t enough – he testified as an “expert” in both Florida, where he was paid $87,000 in taxpayer money as a witness for the state to keep a gay man from adopting two kids he had fostered for six years, and Arkansas, a state which he tried to bill $80,000 in taxpayer money and settled for $60,000 of taxpayer money, against the civil rights of gay people to adopt children, in an attempt to deny some children, likely straight children, a loving home in which to grow up.

And he did ALL of this while pursuing sex with guys.

What kind of mental knots did he have to tie himself into to believe in what he was doing? He hired a rentboy, literally, for a ten day vacation in Europe, while an officer of of NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality. He cofounded, with James Dobson, the Family Research Council and works to cloak his vicious and insatiable homophobia through “science”, and yet he is at least bisexual.

How miserable must this poor bastard have been/ still be? I wonder if he believes his claim that he needed "help with his luggage due to a medical condition" and so he went to rentboy.com to find a luggage handler (c'mon... the jokes write themselves). I hope no charges are brought against his luggage handler (who has confirmed they met through the site) and through his actions Dr. Reker's doesn't ruin another young man's life.

As for Dr. Rekers - yup, an ordained Baptist minister - I hope his professional career is irreparably wounded, and he can stop directing his self loathing outward. Believe what you want to believe - even believe that the best way to find someone to help you with your luggage on a ten day solo European vacation is to go to page two of personals on rentboy.com, even if said luggage handler - WASN'T HANDLING THE LUGGAGE - but don't take whatever the hell you choose to believe, about yourselves or others, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and inject it venomously into the public sphere.

From starcasm.com (another website which picked up the story) a writer muses, when reading Dr. Reker’s defense of why he hired someone from rentboy.com to handle his luggage on a ten day (otherwise) solo trip to Europe:
About halfway through that and I would have thought “I bet this guy is gay,” if I wouldn’t have already heard about the whole Rentboy thing. I can’t believe guys like this believe what they believe.
Right? It all comes back to that, doesn’t it? What do we believe and why do we believe it?

In the latest New Yorker (the one with the black and white cover showing spring cleaning’s results at the curb, including a husband), James Surowiecki ascribes at least part of the financial meltdown to what Dr. Leon Festinger called “cognitive dissonance.” Festinger, a social psychologist, applied this label to the phenomenon of holding onto beliefs even when there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. We find cause and effect where there is none, we ignore cause and effect when it’s not convenient, we rewrite history, disavow earlier statements and explain things away. President Obama wasn’t born in the US, despite a newspaper birth announcement and a birth certificate showing that he was born in Hawai`i, for one example.

This happens in every arena of human life, and Festinger gave a social science framework to something I've long thought: people believe whatever the hell they want to believe.

I understand the impulse. For millenia, our ancestors lived in environments that tried to kill them. Wild animals and the spirits that animated them needed to be placated lest they kill any more members of the tribe, or change their migratory patterns so they couldn’t be hunted; the atmosphere needed to be reified and then worshipped so clouds would drop rain at the right times and in the right amounts; the volcano must be named and cared for so that she didn’t get angry and cover everything in lava. We wanted there to be some reason - or motivation, or nameable cause - for the things in our environment that just happened, and by creating spurious connections and then codifying them, we hoped to get control over our environment.

I’m a sports fan, so of course I get it. I have a (mostly) rational, atheist friend who acts as though his behavior can affect the outcomes of games. If his team is winning and he’s hot and opens a window, they better not start playing poorly – if they do, the window gets closed - he's affected the game. Never mind that he lives in Hawai`i and the game is being played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, his actions somehow displeased the sports gods, or threw off sports karma, or, and this is a quote, “negatively affected the sports juju.” Until two years ago I was right there with him, and some weeks it takes a lot of self talk to wash my lucky Manning jersey during Colts season. On a rational level I understand that I don't affect the game. Of course I don't. How could I? But I want to believe that I do so I believe that I do.

In sports fans, it’s a nutty but ultimately kind of an endearing trait. In people in public policy roles, in leadership, in banking and finance, in the military, it’s insidious.

More on this story to come, inevitably. In the mean time, I'm going, in the spirit of taking out the plank in my own eye before I talk about foreign bodies in others' (ahem), to wash my "lucky jersey" every week, no matter Peyton's passing rating.

Keep it rational...

03 May 2010

Washed up

I'd bought it to be a beach blanket, and it was already in the trunk. I saw it when I threw my bag in the trunk, my new orange blanket from Ikea with the unpronounceable Swedish name, as I left for school visits in San Luis Obisbo and Santa Barbara. On my way back to LA that day in 1999, I pulled off the 101 in the brilliant afternoon sunshine to hit the beach.

I took it down to the sand, threw it out, anchored it with my slippahs, and stretched out in the balmy sunshine. At the end of my reading material an hour later, I started to pack up, mindful of when I'd hit LA traffic, and that's when I saw it: big black gobs of goo on my feet! I was shocked - so shocked that it took me a while to realize what the big gobs of black, gooey stuff could be. I scrounged around for a stick and scraped off as much as I could, and then went into the surf to try and get the rest off. But it wouldn't come off! I kept stepping in more, and now as I looked it was everywhere. I'd rub my feet on rocks and with the stick to get the globs off, but my feet were stained, and no matter how much I scrubbed with sand and sea water, and no matter much kept coming off, there was still more. After about 20 minutes I declared my feet clean, but then I noticed my slippahs were covered - so I repeated the process and got as much off of them (new stick) as I could and put them back on, recontaminating the soles of my feet with what I couldn't really get off from the decks of my slippahs. I then shook out my blanket and saw the globs there! I shook out the sand, balled it up and trudged back up to my car, feeling violated.

Later at the Goleta Coffee Company for a post-beach fuel-up, I struck up a conversation with some locals, told them about the tar, and displayed my raw and rubbed-red feet, still stained. They confirmed my suspicions - it wasn't tar, it was crude oil. From a spill off the coast. In 1969, 30 years earlier.

Before I got home I stopped at a hardware store for turpentine, used my t-shirt as a rag to clean up my slippahs and my feet, and tried to get the worst of it out of my beach blanket. Finally I realized the only thing to do was to cut it out of the material so it wouldn't keep spreading onto other surfaces, so I did (right). My trip to the beach had cost me a t-shirt, a can of turpentine, a few hours of cleaning time, and a hole in my new Ikea blanket. Despite my best efforts, I suspect someone at Avis had a helluva time getting the brake and gas pedals clean.
All this from an oil spill that happened thirty years earlier.

What's going to happen in the Gulf of Mexico? What's going to be the effect in thirty years on the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and yes, Florida and Texas? What's going to happen to the fisheries and shrimp grounds and to all of the people who depend upon them for their livelihoods? I heard President Obama say today that BP is going to be on the hook for the cost, but what cost? In 30years is BP going to pay for a beach-goer's turpentine, t-shirt and beach blanket?

There is simply no way to pay for the costs of an oil spill like the one happening right now 5000 feet below sea level on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The costs are incalculable. And until all the costs - ALL the costs - of a petroleum based economy are captured at the consumer level, then we will make irrational decisions about our energy consumption, and keep buying artificially cheap gas and the cars that burn it.

When I pay $3.12 for a gallon of gas up the street at the Shell station, that does not cover the costs of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or the defense budget it takes to ensure enough supply, or the long term effects that my using that gas will have on a warming environment, or the asthma of a child in Long Beach who is growing up downwind of the harbor and who breathes in bunker fuel exhaust from an ocean tanker bringing in raw crude oil to the refineries in Wilmington.

What is the real cost of a gallon of gas? It's nearly mpossible to calculate.

When President Obama earlier this year signalled that he was going to open parts of Alaska, the Atlantic seabed, and additional areas in the Gulf to oil production, I was deeply disappointed and I thought strongly that it was the wrong policy - but I understood the motivation. What are we supposed to do? We burn the stuff, and we burn more than we have. What are we supposed to do? What's the solution? Use less and switch the hell off of it before we destroy the planet, bankrupt ourselves in favor of some of the worst people in the world, and run out, sure. But even if we all decided tomorrow that was the right course to pursue - and we won't, but even if we did - it will take decades to get there.

When I had that experience back in '99, I was annoyed (and for several days after I kept that tshirt and turpentine handy, as there was a lot of "how did oil get THERE?!") but smug. I didn't own a car, so I was not part of the problem. Never mind that I sure used jet fuel, that I rented a car for work purposes for over half the weeks of the year that didn't run on fairy dust, that I bought consumer goods and foods made all over the world that were flown or shipped in to my local store - I was not part of the problem.

I was wrong then, and my smugness embarrasses me in hindsight. The worse thing is that I'm an even greater part of the problem now. I drive everywhere. My bike got stolen and I almost never take the train anymore, even though it goes to just a few blocks from work. I still fly an awful lot - I'm dating someone in Georgia, for the gods' sake!

I remember feeling a little sick after I realized what I'd stepped in on that beach in 1999, and that it had washed up from thirty years before. I wondered how many decades it would take for that washed up oil to really be "cleaned up." After I'm gone, it's safe to say, is one answer.

By the time hurricane season comes, in just twenty eight days, with possible onshore storm surges pushing Gulf seawater - and crude oil - miles into the delicate estuaries along the coast, and winds of more than 70 miles an hour lifting Gulf seawater spray and foam - and crude oil - and blowing it miles and miles inland, maybe the spill will have been "cleaned up." Maybe by then the leak will have been stanched, and the 200,000 gallons of crude oil currently shooting into the Gulf everyday from an oil deposit another 18,000 feet below the sea floor will have been greatly diminished, or stanched all together. Maybe it will be a hurricane season like 1980, when no storms hit the current spill area.

But I'm not particularly hopeful.

There's no question that it's the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast residents who will pay a disproportionate share of the damage, whatever damages turn out to be, and that my $3.12 a gallon isn't going to begin to cover the cost. And all that crude oil, floating on the water - getting stirred up by winds, suffocating even more of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems - means that a lot more than crude oil is going to be all washed up.