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.

02 May 2010

Karl Rove and I Agree

Here's something I'd never anticipated when I started writing BLC: Karl Rove and I are on the same side of an issue. We both agree that bashing illegal immigrants is bad for Republicans.

In a great piece by Frank Rich in the New York Times, Rich writes:

The one group of Republicans that has been forthright in criticizing the Arizona law is the Bush circle: Jeb Bush, the former speechwriter Michael Gerson, the Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, the adviser Mark McKinnon and, with somewhat more equivocal language, Karl Rove. McKinnon and Rove know well that Latino-bashing will ultimately prove political suicide in a century when Hispanic Americans are well on their way to becoming the largest minority in the country and are already the swing voters in many critical states.

As I wrote in a piece two days ago, Arizona's law could well lead to that state joining the more liberal Pacific states as bedrock democratic electoral votes - as "givens" in presidential elections.

For sure, Arizona will be in play, and the Hispanic bashing xenophobes of the Tea Party and the GOP could deliver other states as well.

Colorado went for Bill Clinton but not for Gore or Kerry - Hispanics helped deliver it to President Obama in 2008. In 1980 it was 12% Hispanic; in 1990, 13%; in 2000, 17%; in 2009 it was projected at 21% - more than enough in a state with strong environmental ethics and white, educated liberals for a strong coalition of Democratic voters to coalesce.

Nevada went to Clinton twice and then for President Bush; the Hispanic population there went from 7% in 1980 to 20% in 2000, and the Census has projected it to be 26% in 2009.

Florida, that bastion of electoral regularity, has moved from 9% Hispanic in 1980 to a projected 21% in 2008. From an analysis on President Obama's inroads with Hispanics, which noted that Mr. Obama won the Hispanic vote in Florida for a Democrat for the first time ever:

In Florida, Obama won 57 percent of the Hispanics on Tuesday, compared to 42 percent for McCain... By comparison, President Bush won 55 percent of the state's Hispanic vote to John Kerry's 44 percent in 2004. Polls indicate the state's Hispanic vote may now be divided. On one side are conservative older Cuban Americans, who vote reliably Republican. On the other are younger Cuban Americans coupled with an expanding number of non-Cuban Hispanics, who tend to lean Democratic.
"Younger Cuban Americans" are joining their younger Mexican American and Irish American and American American generational members in voting Democratic.

And eventually, states like North Carolina and Georgia, with 5%, and even Kansas, with 7%, may come to have Hispanic populations large enough that canny Democratic candidates could forge winning coalitions. It's not a given, of course, and President Obama and Democratic leaders need to show some courage and get some meaningful work done on immigration reform. But if the Tea Partiers continue to fight a hopeless rearguard action against the changing face of American demographics by vilifying immigrants, then maybe a Democratic President Rodriguez or Garcia or Martinez will be here sooner than we think.

Si, se puede!