"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

Monday, September 01, 2014

Just In Case You Were Wondering

Who it is American "conservatives" really admire, Digby has some clues for you:
Grover Norquist, is reported to have said back in the 1980's,"We must establish a Brezhnev Doctrine for conservative gains. The Brezhnev Doctrine states that once a country becomes communist it can never change. Conservatives must establish their own doctrine and declare their victories permanent…A revolution is not successful unless it succeeds in preserving itself…(W)e want to remove liberal personnel from the political process. Then we want to capture those positions of power and influence for conservatives. Stalin taught the importance of this principle."

Now you know.

Marriage News Watch, September 1, 2014

The official description:

Anti-gay attorneys took a beating before the Seventh Circuit last week, trying and failing to defend marriage bans before a panel of hostile judges. Now all eyes are on the Supreme Court to see which cases they'll take up in their fall session. There's another major marriage argument coming up in a few days. And the National Organization for Marriage still isn't giving up in Oregon, despite having lost months ago.

Poor Brian Brown just doesn't know when to quit.

Film Reviews

are now up to date.

It's Labor Day

On which we honor the labor movement and the workers who are the real creators of wealth in this country.

I may spend the day laboring.

Or not.

"I don't hate gays, but. . . ."

We're starting to hear that more and more. Jean Ann Esselink at The New Civil Rights Movement knows what it means, and lays it out plainly:

There seems to be a new strategy afoot by the anti-gay forces, who for years have been successful at depriving gay Americans of equal treatment by vilifying them. For the last half century, since the time when Harvey Milk urged gays to "come out, come out wherever you are," every passing year makes that character attack less productive. It was one thing when gays could be cast as deviants and criminals and mentally ill, but people don't like their sons and brothers and friends called names and disrespected. As a result, the traditional "God hates fags" rhetoric has been softening. Gay rights opponents are transitioning to a new, more devious posture. The words may sound kinder, but the message is not.

The same politicians, pundits and priests who once stood proudly and proclaimed their opposition to gays with words like "abomination", now preface their anti-gay remarks with a phrase like: "I don't hate gay people, but..." or "I have nothing against gay people but..." I named this tactic the "gay but" a few years ago after Rick Santorum was ballsy enough to speak those very words on camera.

What you need to remember about the "gay but" phenomenon is that what comes after "I don't hate gays but..." is usually an example of the hatred the speaker has just denied.

"Hate" is a stronger word than I would use, but considering the source is bigotry, maybe that's the right word after all. And the last comment there is key: consider "but" a flag announcing that you should ignore everything that came before -- the "I don't hate gays" part, which is a thinly disguised lie -- because what comes after the "but" is the real substance, which usually translates to something like "I just don't think they should be considered human beings."

One of the commenters brought up the equivalence with "Hate the sin, love the sinner," another one of those assaults on language and reason. That one is even better at demonstrating how these "Christians" (because they are almost always "Christians") can weave falsity into anything: the "sin" of course, is homosexual behavior, a viewpoint based not on any real understanding of morality but on cherry-picking 3,000 year-old (at least) tribal taboos from their holy book, the holy book of a tribe of nomads who considered women and children property and whose prime directive was "spawn 'til you die." (What is morality? Good question. Let's start with the idea that it has to do with the way you treat others, not what you do with your genitals.) What they don't admit is that that behavior is a result of an essential component of the "sinner's" identity: contrary to what the ex-gay movement preaches (a movement, let us note, that at present is in tatters because it is based on that lie), same-sex orientation is an integral part of one's personality and identity, which is the thing that makes the "love the sinner" part complete bullshit.

Go read Esselink's article. It's worth it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Science: "It Takes a Village. . ."

to raise a child."

It seems that there is an evolutionary advantage in altruistic behavior, which seems like a no-brainer, but scientists have to be able to point to specifics. And now it looks as though a group of researchers has found something significant:
Until now, many researchers assumed that spontaneous altruistic behavior in primates could be attributed to factors they would share with humans: advanced cognitive skills, large brains, high social tolerance, collective foraging or the presence of pair bonds or other strong social bonds. As Burkart’s new data now reveal, however, none of these factors reliably predicts whether a primate species will be spontaneously altruistic or not. Instead, another factor that sets us humans apart from the great apes appears to be responsible. Says Burkart: “Spontaneous, altruistic behavior is exclusively found among species where the young are not only cared for by the mother, but also other group members such as siblings, fathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles.” This behavior is referred to technically as the “cooperative breeding” or “allomaternal care.”

I've held the opinion for a while that the "nuclear family" ideal held out by the anti-gay right -- a father, a mother, 2.4 children, and a dog -- is quite recent and goes against the pattern of the real "traditional" family: parents, children, grandparents, maybe a stray aunt or uncle, and the neighbors. Looks like I was right.

And it looks like that pattern has other benefits:
The significance of this study goes beyond identifying the roots of our altruism. Cooperative behavior also favored the evolution of our exceptional cognitive abilities. During development, human children gradually construct their cognitive skills based on extensive selfless social inputs from caring parents and other helpers, and the researchers believe that it is this new mode of caring that also put our ancestors on the road to our cognitive excellence. This study may, therefore, have just identified the foundation for the process that made us human. As Burkart suggests: “When our hominin ancestors began to raise their offspring cooperatively, they laid the foundation for both our altruism and our exceptional cognition.”

That's part of the new drive to "talk to your baby" that I've been seeing around. From the New York Times:
Another idea, however, is creeping into the policy debate: that the key to early learning is talking — specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3, the more the better. It turns out, evidence is showing, that the much-ridiculed stream of parent-to-child baby talk — Feel Teddy’s nose! It’s so soft! Cars make noise — look, there’s a yellow one! Baby feels hungry? Now Mommy is opening the refrigerator! — is very, very important.

Another no-brainer: the more you interact with your kid, the better the kid's cognitive development. (And let's face it: language skills are a key component of cognitive development -- that's how we interact with the world.)

So now we're starting to understand how it happened.

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.