"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Friday, August 29, 2014

Housekeeping Note

OK, the "Reviews: Books: BL Manga" page has been reformatted to bring the style into line with the other pages, and the anime listings on that page have been moved to the Film reviews page.

Which will probably be the next page to update.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Homelessness Edition

In our first story, it's the neighbors:

Two non-profits in Vancouver that serve the homeless had been letting about a half dozen people who struggled to get housing stay in the parking lot they shared. But now the organizations are telling them they can’t stay any longer. The homeless people will be evicted on September 2.

“Where are we going to park? We have nowhere to go,” Amanda Snapp, one of the people who has been living in the lot, told The Columbian. “This place is safe. Where can we go?”

Last week, police responded to a complaint from a neighbor and “reminded” the groups that Vancouver has a no-camping ordinance that applies to parks, streets, and other public property. While the lot is private property, letting people live in it could be a nuisance code violation if property is being stored on it or there are other problems.

Yes, it's Vancouver, but it's also just the tip of the iceberg. I was going to post another quote from the article, but read it -- it's a litany of horrors, including petty little ordinances directed at the homeless.

And gods forbid someone should try to call attention to the problem:
[Miley] Cyrus brought Jesse Helt, a homeless 22-year-old, as her date to the MTV Video Music Awards. She’d met Helt at My Friend’s Place, an L.A. center that aids homeless youth in the city. When Cyrus won Video of the Year, she sent Helt up in her stead. He gave a speech about the plight of homeless youth and directed viewers to Cyrus’s Facebook page, where they could learn more about how to help those in need.

Helt had moved to L.A. from Oregon and was trying to pursue a modeling career without a place to live.

Last night, the Associated Press reported that there’s a warrant out for Helt’s arrest in Oregon: he’d been arrested on charges of criminal mischief, criminal trespass and burglary when he was 18 years old. From the AP story, which ran under the headline “Miley Cyrus’ Date Wanted By Oregon Police“[.]

So of course, guess what the press is concentrating on. Hint: It's not the plight of the homeless.

What burns me is that homelessness is a problem that is solvable. It costs less to provide homes than it does to prosecute and jail the homeless. Chicago, I'm pleased to note, does have programs to help the homeless, including what's known as Plan 2.0:

Chicago’s Plan 2.0 is a broad-ranging, seven-year action plan that reaffirms, builds on the core tenets outlined in Chicago’s original Plan to End Homelessness – homeless prevention, housing first, and wraparound services - and identifies new strategies to improve access and opportunity for those most in need. Announced by Mayor Emanuel and key stakeholders in August 2012, Plan 2.0 includes seven strategic priorities that represent the most cutting-edge thinking on preventing and ending homelessness from around the country. Over 500 local stakeholders participated in the planning process, including 150 people who have experienced homelessness themselves.
(Emphasis added.)

I can't address how well the effort is working -- it's a fairly new program, and there's not a lot of data yet -- but here an article from the Chicago Tribune that has a fairly good take on the strategies and how they're paying off.

It's not just the City that's working on it. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a non-profit, offers a wide range of resources, including shelters, for homeless youth.

They're not the only ones. I just googled "chicago resources for homeless" and got over 9 million listings. The first three pages are actual resources, then the news stories start getting listed, but the point is, it's not only possible to do something to help the homeless, it's not hard.

We just have to want to.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Now You Know

why the term "pundit" has come to mean "clueless idiot."

Conservative pundit Ben Stein appeared on Newsmax on Tuesday to discuss the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and challenged the use of the term "unarmed" to describe Brown.

Stein was discussing the shooting with host Steve Malzberg and said the use of the term "unarmed" to describe Brown, who was "apparently on marijuana," was akin to "calling Sonny Liston unarmed or Cassius Clay unarmed."

"He wasn't unarmed," Stein said. "He was armed with his incredibly strong, scary self."

That's beyond pathetic. That's grasping for straws that aren't even there.

Point one: Have you ever seen anyone high on marijuana get violent? I haven't, and I've had lots of friends and acquaintances who were stoners. The effect has always been just the opposite. (Full disclosure: I tried it twice. I didn't like it.)

Point two: I've dealt with lots of large, strong people and you know what? If you treat them like regular people, they act like regular people -- unless, of course, they're trying to be assholes to start with, but somehow, a man standing there with his hands up doesn't strike me as very threatening.

Have you noticed a tendency on the right to demonize the victims in these cases? Wonder why.

Today's Belly Laugh

A federal judge in Utah has decided in favor of Kody Brown, a fundamentalist Mormon, and his four "wives" (in quotes because he is not legally married to all of them) against the state of Utah, declaring its statute criminalizing cohabitation unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled the phrase in the law “‘or cohabits with another person’ is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

This case seems to have a somewhat checkered history:

Last December the same judge first ruled in favor of the cast of the TLC reality show Sister Wives, who sued the state over the portion of the law that criminalizes polygamy-style "religious cohabitation." He later rescinded that ruling only to reinstate it today.

Today's decision reaffirms his original ruling and grants damages to the plaintiffs.

What I find funny about it is -- well, read the statement from Brown's family (emphasis mine):

The entire Brown family is gratified and thankful for this final ruling from Judge Waddoups. The decision brings closure for our family and further reaffirms the right of all families to be free from government abuse. While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our religious beliefs. Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs. We hope that Attorney General Reyes will see this as a victory of us all in defending the freedom of religion and other rights in our precious Constitution.

As you might expect the "Christians" of the religious right had fits when the original decision was handed down. They're taking the decision as legalizing polygamy, which of course it does not, and you'll note that the judge was very careful to leave Utah's marriage statute basically intact. These are, of course, the same people who insist that bakers, florists, etc., have a right to "religious freedom" when refusing their services to same-sex couples.

I read this story and laughed out loud, which is not something I usually do. (Actually, my initial reaction was "OMG! Next they'll be legalizing same-sex marriage!")

Here's the ruling:

Polygamy ruling in Utah by Ben Winslow

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Culture Break: Philip Glass/Uakti: Tiquiê River / Japurá River

This is from Aguas da Amazonia, which has turned out to be one of my favorite collections of works by Philip Glass, maybe because it is, in a way, not typical Glass. Uakti is the group he worked with on this, and they perform it on the CD.

The Jig Is Up

The World Congress of (Some) Families is due to meet in Australia this weekend, but seem to be having a bit of difficulty in figuring out just where. It seems no one is willing to host their little get-together:

The controversial World Congress of Families conservative Christian conference is in chaos only days before its scheduled start, after four Melbourne venues backed out of hosting the event. . . .

The line-up of anti-euthanasia, anti-divorce and anti-gay speakers from around the world has drawn condemnation from civil rights groups.

“It’s a mess,” Margaret Butts, one of the organisers told Guardian Australia. “We have no venue at the moment – the police are telling us it’s a safety risk because of planned protests and demonstrations.

“We are frantic at the moment trying to organise something else, we’ve had four venue cancellations. I can’t talk to you because we are just too busy right now.”

Among other things, it seems as though they neglected to worry about security, crowd control, and liability insurance.

Previously, they issued a letter condemning -- well, just about everyone:

The letter on the WCF website has been written to respond to what it claims has been “unremitting and grossly misleading attacks” in the lead-up to Saturday’s conference at St Cecilia’s school hall.

“Sexual radicals have launched a smear campaign to discredit the Melbourne conference, which misrepresents the international pro-family movement and the positions of the World Congress of Families,” it reads.

Both stories via Joe.My.God.

As for "misrepresenting" the WCF, I suspect the only ones doing that are the WCF themselves. Here's HRC's report on their activities:

HRC report on World Congress of Families by G-A-Y

I'm not usually prone to rejoicing in the misfortunes of others, but in this case, I'm willing to make an exception.

Yesterday In Chicago

I generally avoid listening to recordings of court proceedings (it's just me -- listening to recordings of people talking annoys me; I don't even listen to the radio any more because the announcers talk too much), but the proceedings in the Seventh Circuit yesterday are priceless. The recordings are all over the Internet; here they are at Good As You.

Most commentators have highlighted the grilling the states' attorneys are getting, but the attorneys for the couples aren't getting off so easily -- it's just that their arguments are stronger -- as in rational.

So listen while you're cleaning house or something.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Today's Police Blotter

The more you hear about the police in various towns and cities in this country, the more you want to move someplace else.

First, a businessman is arrested in Beverly Hills while walking back to feed his meter so he wouldn't get a ticket, and held for six hours. He was a suspect in a bank robbery because he "fit the description." (Hint: he's black.)

Second, in Foney, Texas, a woman and her four kids are pulled over and held at gunpoint because they "fit the description" of four men driving around waving guns. The department refuses to apologize (although one officer on the scene did apologize and try to calm the woman). How could they fit the description? They're black. Apparently, in Texas you can only drive around waving guns if you're white.

In a Greenville, South Carolina, WalMart, police beat a man after tasing him, while he was lying on the ground, because he was behaving erratically, while shoppers begged them to stop. Surprise -- the victim was white.

Last week, in Beavercreek, Ohio, a man was fatally shot by police at a WalMart while walking around with a toy gun he planned to buy. He was shot for "failing to comply with police orders." Ohio's an open carry state, but he was black.

In Ottawa, Kansas, police shot a suicidal teenager 16 times. The kid was apparently unarmed, and his aunt was standing there begging the police to stop.

And finally, not an incident, but a poll: Americans don't seem to have much confidence in their police.

The USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll found that 65 percent of respondents said police did “only a fair” or a poor job in holding police officers accountable when misconduct occurs, compared with 30 percent who say they do an excellent or good job.

There were similar findings when it came to the question of treating racial groups equally and using the right amount of force. . . .

The numbers, however, were vastly different when divided between black and white people.

More than nine out of 10 African Americans say the police do an “only fair” or poor job when it comes to equal treatment and appropriate force.

Wonder why.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Today's Must Read

A really scary post by Digby:
Ponder this: our government is systematically collecting vast amounts of data and information on US citizens and foreigners around the world and analyzing it for threats. But it is not systematically collecting or analyzing information of US citizens killed by government authorities and actively blocks citizens who try.

Read the post. And then maybe move to Canada?

Marriage News Watch, August 25, 2014

The official summary:

The anti-gay Governor of Indiana just got caught making some wild claims in court, and now a judge has called him out in a sternly-worded ruling. Marriage equality has picked up another victory, with the first federal judge to rule in Florida. There's a new case in Arizona, with an elderly couple about to lose their home; couples are fighting back against stalling tactics in Arkansas; and two major oral arguments are coming up in the next few days.

And a footnote:

Luxembourg's prime minister, Xavier Betell, (on the right) announced yesterday that he and his partner, Gauthier Destenay, (on the left) are engaged. The Prime Minister let it slip that it was Gauthier who did the proposing, but his response was a happy "yes". The two have been in a domestic partnership for four years, and Gauthier regularly attends official functions at the prime minister's side.

Same-sex marriage recognition becomes effective in Luxemburg on January 1, 2015.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Science: About That Asteroid

A fairly entertaining video on all (or at least most) of the things that actually caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Hint: the asteroid was the last straw.

And you may have noticed, that was not the only mass extinction -- there has been a whole series of them, including those known as the Big Five, when over half of all species were wiped out. There's actually an earlier one than the first described in that list, the Great Oxygenation Event, marked by the introduction of free oxygen into the atmosphere, which proved toxic to the anaerobic organisms that were the first life on earth. That one was several billion years ago.

And if you were paying attention to the articles at the links, you will have noted that all of these events involved climate change.

A lot of people are saying that we're heading into the sixth mass extinction. But it's not climate change that's driving it -- it looks like that will be, as it has been in the past, the last straw.

In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet's sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

The article cites a number of possible reasons, but it all boils down to one thing: the rise of agriculture and the concomitant increase in human population.

Freedom of the Press

To self-censor?

From Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice:
If there was a golden age for American media, it was long ago and it was short.

Over at The Atlantic, Torie Rose DeGhett has an excellent, utterly unsurprising article about a photograph taken in the last hours in the first Gulf War.

The work of the the then 28 year old photographer Kenneth Jarecke, the image captures a fact of war hopelessly obscured by the shots that angered Jarecke enough to postpone a planned hiatus from combat photography. “’It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank.” — or, once combat actually began, gaudy displays of gee whiz toys, the disembodied beauty of missile exhausts, or bloodless shots of tires and twisted metal. War as video game, or a spectacle for the folks back home.

The bulk of Levenson's post is an embroidery on DeGhett's article (at the link, where you can also find the photo, which is under copyright and so does not appear here) detailing the history of this photograph and the fact that no major "news" outlet would touch it.

DeGhett goes farther, though:

Let me say up front that I don’t like the press,” one Air Force officer declared, starting a January 1991 press briefing on a blunt note. The military’s bitterness toward the media was in no small part a legacy of the Vietnam coverage decades before. By the time the Gulf War started, the Pentagon had developed access policies that drew on press restrictions used in the U.S. wars in Grenada and Panama in the 1980s. Under this so-called “pool” system, the military grouped print, TV, and radio reporters together with cameramen and photojournalists and sent these small teams on orchestrated press junkets, supervised by Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) who kept a close watch on their charges.

The "free press" has learned its lesson. Granted, it's impossible to present all the news that's happening every day. Editorial choices have to be made, priorities implemented, but if you view more than one news source, you know some stories are being buried. Levenson, though, points out something from DeGhett's article we all need to keep in mind:
The key here, as DeGhett writes, is that there was no military pressure not to publish Jarecke’s photograph. The war was over by the time his film got back to the facility in Saudi Arabia where the press pools operated. The decision to withhold the shot from the American public was made by the American press, by editors at the major magazines, at The New York Times, at the wire service. The chokehold on information at the top of the mainstream media was tight enough back then that most newspaper editors, DeGhett reports, never saw the image, never got to make their choice to publish or hide.

You can guess the excuses. “Think of the children!” For the more sophisticated, a jaded response:

Aidan Sullivan, the pictures editor for the British Sunday Times, told the British Journal of Photography on March 14 that he had opted instead for a wide shot of the carnage: a desert highway littered with rubble. He challenged the Observer: “We would have thought our readers could work out that a lot of people had died in those vehicles. Do you have to show it to them?”

Why yes, Mr. Sullivan, you do.
Emphasis added.

There are days I just want to give up. Read both articles.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Giggle du Jour

First, from the inimitable Brian Brown, via Joe.My.God.:
After winning many lawsuits in lower federal courts presided over by hand-picked, liberal, activist judges, the momentum behind the marriage redefinition agenda is waning. Remember, in addition to the Supreme Court's intervention in Utah and Virginia, federal judges in states like Wisconsin are taking notice and issuing stays on their own decisions to allow the legal process to play out. Much, much more importantly, we recently won a case at the lower level in Tennessee! You might not know about it because the media is doing everything it can to ignore the facts. The rush to judgment declaring marriage to be unconstitutional is not only premature — it's flat out wrong! Won't you please give a generous donation today to help NOM continue fighting to defend marriage and the faith communities that sustain it?

We'll not dwell on the many howlers in this short quote (the best being "The rush to judgment declaring marriage to be unconstitutional. . . ." WTF?), because you can spot them easily enough.

And now, the punchline:

Via the ACLU of Florida:

Today, a federal district court judge in Tallahassee held that Florida’s discriminatory marriage ban cannot be enforced in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. The ruling applies both to the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Florida and the recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples performed outside of the state.

Here's the full ruling.

The judge issued a stay pending appeal. Any bets on Brian Brown being back tomorrow calling that routine stay a "victory"?

Today in Christian Love

There are decent people in this country. And then there are those who aren't decent. They're known as "conservatives."
Spend some time following internet conversations about your liberal cause of the day (global warming, racial injustice, etc) and eventually someone will get to the nut of why the issue pisses many people off: they think activists want them to feel guilty and they don’t want to feel guilty. That’s pretty much it. A huge part of our failure to do anything about the climate disaster or racist asshole cops comes from people protecting their delicate ego.

Take for example the reaction when Mark Lane, an apparantly wonderful guy and excellent dad who runs Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company in San Diego, took in a Guatemalan family of four who had been processed by ICE while they looked for family with whom to live until their court appearance.

Sounds like a good guy, right -- just the sort of person we all like to think we are. Well, maybe not all of us:

But the decision to take in the family has also made him the target of threatening emails, falsified Yelp reviews, phone calls, and death threats by anti-immigrant activists.

“I needed to show my three boys that we don’t use hate,” Lane recently told ThinkProgress. “That’s why I started the ‘Boycott Murrieta’ Facebook page. We were advocating for the children.”

You know what? These assholes should feel guilty. (And of course, the question that always occurs to me: how many of them do you think identify themselves as Christians? Don't misunderstand: I've known enough real Christians that I'm very much aware that this particular subset -- the ones I describe as "Christians," with sarcasm quotes, are not representative. Not even close.)

To compound matters, this is what these families and these children are fleeing (via Digby):

By the time Isaias Sosa turned 14, he'd already seen 15 bullet-riddled bodies laid out in his neighborhood of Cabañas, one of the most violent in this tropical metropolis. He rarely ventured outside his grandmother's home, fortified with a wrought iron gate and concertina wire.

But what pushed him to act was the death of his pregnant cousin, who was gunned down in 2012 by street gang members at the neighborhood gym. Sosa loaded a backpack, pocketed $500 from his mother's purse, memorized his aunt's phone number in Washington state and headed for southern Mexico, where he joined others riding north on top of one of the freight trains known as La Bestia, or the Beast. . . .

"There are many youngsters who only three days after they've been deported are killed, shot by a firearm," said Hector Hernandez, who runs the morgue in San Pedro Sula. "They return just to die."

At least five, perhaps as many as 10, of the 42 children slain here since February had been recently deported from the U.S., Hernandez said.

Sorry, I just can't wrap my head around the idea that there are people in this country who would consign anyone, much less children, to conditions like that.

And just to justify the title of this post, let me jump over to this story at Joe.My.God.:

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has issued a call for Catholics to refrain from participating in the viral ice bucket challenge because it funds an ALS study that uses embryonic stem cells.

"The beneficiary of the ice-bucket challenge funds a study using embryonic stem cells, which can only be obtained by destroying embryonic life. For that reason, we have determined that our schools should not raise money for the ALS Association, and should instead – if they wish – donate to another organization doing ALS research," the Archdiocese wrote in a prepared statement.

I'm not going to start on the Catholic Church, which I consider one of the most morally bankrupt institutions in the history of Western civilization. The idea of forbidding the faithful from participating in fundraising for the organization that probably has the best chance of finding a cure of ALS because it "violates Church teaching" speaks for itself: life begins at conception and ends at birth.

I confess I don't understand how a religion that started off offering a positive message became so completely perverted.