Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Update on South Korean Hostages

The South Korean hostage story was also the top news story on tonight's 700 Club. Key point to the story according to the viewpoint of CBN: the hostages are evangelical missionaries.

Pat Robertson comments:

The fact that there is nothing from there White House--there should be a major announcement. Here's Brown, and uh, talks with the President. Why don't they make a joint statement, that this is outrageous, and demand the release of these hostages. Of course the Taliban can do whatever it feels like doing, but I think they should be wiped of the face of this earth...But ladies and gentleman the prayers of God's people will prevail.

Interesting statement on many levels. First, you could hear the frustration in Robertson's voice that the Chosen President of the Christian Right was not taking extraordinary measures to save fellow Christians (who cares how many Muslims die in the mean time). And why should the he? To break with a 20 year policy of not negotiating with terrorists seems to be against the President's policy of 'staying the course'.

It's also fitting to see that Robertson wants the Taliban wiped off the face of the earth, since that is exactly how the Taliban feels about Robertson. So much for loving thy neighbor.

I do agree with Robertson on one point: the Taliban can do whatever it wants in Afghanistan since the US is sitting on a failing policy in Afghanistan where the Taliban is resurgent, reconstruction is lagging, and opium growth is at an all time high.

My favorite part comes later in the show when the 700 Club airs a segment on how Islamic terrorists are using the media to create propaganda for their theocratic cause. Money quote from their 'expert' Richard Miniter: "they want all of us, even those of us who are not Muslim, to follow their laws."

Did Robertson forget to remind his guest the mission statement of Robertson's own Christian Coalition?

What's Going on in the Rest of the World: Afghanistan

I thought I'd start a regular series where I show the top news story from a local news agency from around the world. So, starting at the top of alphabet, tonight's news story comes from Afghanistan.

The top headline from Pajhwok Afghan News is: A Dozen Killed in Fresh Violence. However that story was only available to subscribers, (I guess Afghanistan is falling behind its democratization benchmarks for freedom of the press, but no one really cares about Afghanistan anyway, so I suppose it doesn't really matter), and I wouldn't really call that breaking news in Afghanistan anyway.

The top headline available to non-subscribers is: Second South Korean Hostage Shot Dead. Pajhwok Afghan News reports:

A second South Korean hostage was gunned down Monday evening after a final deadline expired some hours ago, a Taliban spokesman said.

A district chief in the rebel-infested province confirmed receiving reports about a dead body dumped in Andar. Abdul Rahim Desiwal told Pajhwok Afghan News they were looking for the body in Chardewal area.

Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, speaking on behalf of the abductors, said they shot dead one of the male captives in the wake of the governments refusal to explicitly respond to rebel demands.

In a phone call to this news agency from an undisclosed location, Ahmadi ruled out unconditional release of the 15 female foreigners in their captivity. He accused government-appointed negotiators of using delaying tactics and trying to dupe the kidnappers.

I guess stories like this aren't all that breaking either. Oh well, hopefully something more interesting from Albania tomorrow, in the next segment of What's Going on in the Rest of the World.

A Random Look at the Bible

But my people stubbornly refused to listen. They closed their minds and made their hearts as hard as rock. Because they would not listen to the teachings which I sent though the prophets who lived long ago, I became very angry. Because they did not listen when I spoke, I did not answer when they prayed. Like a storm I swept them away to live in foreign countries. This good land was left a desolate place, with no one living in it.
Zechariah 8:11-14

Gay people from New Mexico can marry in Massachusetts

The AP Reports:

Gay couples from New Mexico can marry in Massachusetts because their home state has not explicitly banned same-sex marriage, according to Massachusetts records officials.

New Mexico joins Rhode Island as the only states whose gay residents are allowed to marry in Massachusetts, the only state that allows same-sex marriage.

In a July 18 notice, city and town clerks were instructed by Stanley Nyberg, Massachusetts’ Registrar of Vital Records, to give marriage licenses to gay couples from New Mexico.


Massachusetts began marrying same-sex couples in 2004. Gov. Mitt Romney then prohibited out-of-state couples from marrying in the state, citing a 1913 law that bars Massachusetts from marrying couples who would be prevented from marrying in their home states.

This is good news for gays in New Mexico, but they still aren't totally in the clear:

New Mexico hasn’t outlawed same-sex marriage, but it hasn’t endorsed it either. Nor have lawmakers approved domestic partnership legislation, despite prodding from Gov. Bill Richardson.


But those who decide to marry in Massachusetts or elsewhere must be prepared to live with uncertainty, advocates of gay marriage cautioned Thursday.

Those marriages “will be respected to varying degrees,” warned Equality New Mexico. The group said the state, businesses and others may join the federal government in refusing to recognize the unions.

Will Governor Richardson stay true to his Youtube debate rhetoric and recognize the marriages of his gay constituents performed in Massachusetts? If he can't even take this small step (which I'd say Massachusetts has rightly foisted upon him), gays surely cannot trust him to 'achieve' his promises of civil unions, domestic partnerships, hate crimes legislation, and a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Home of Senator Stevens Raided by the FBI

The home of Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), former Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was raided by FBI and IRS agents yesterday as a part of a corruption probe.

This is the same Senator who placed a secret hold on a bill that was aimed at increasing government accountability by requiring the government to publish and online database of federal spending.

This is the same Senator who, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, was able to attach a $2 billion project for the 'Bridge to Nowhere'. And the same Senator who threated to resign if the funds for this monument to government waste were redirected to rebuild a major thoroughfare bridge destroy by Hurricane Katrina.

It is a relief to see that Senator Stevens seems to be unraveling from his own corruption and arrogance. It is somewhat disheartening that it had to be the FBI to do it. Where were the people of Alaska, who voted Stevens into office for six terms? Enjoying the pork projects he showered upon his state, I suppose (Alaska is number one recipient of federal pork funds, though it is the 48th most populous).

The beauty of democracy is that it is supposed to create institutionalized checks on power. Instead our democracy, through cronyism and special interests, allowed Senator Stevens to be untouchable for nearly 40 years.

Monday, July 30, 2007

UPS Desists its Discriminatory Policy in New Jersey

Due in large part to a letter written by Governor John Corzine about two weeks ago, UPS has decided to extend health insurance benefits to civil unionized couples in New Jersey.

Just another small step toward equality—though one would have thought an unnecessary one since New Jersey’s civil unions were supposed to be equal to marriage in all but name.

50 Most Beautiful People on the Hill

The Hill came out with its fourth anniversary issue of the 50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill last week. It's an amusing distraction. I think I'd have to say the Republicans take the prize for the most beautiful party. At least there's something for them to hold on to.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More on Christians United for Israel

Max Blumenthal attended the Christians United for Israel conference that was held last week. The first link contains video coverage of the event-- a must see.

Money quote from Blumenthal:

I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington.

Money quote from Congressman Tom Delay (R-TX):

Obviously, it is what I live for, and I hope it comes tomorrow. And obviously we have to be connected to Israel to enjoy the second coming of Christ.

Kind of scary

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Men Speak, Women Stay Silent?

Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote a blog post that appeared in Washingtonpost.com today about how in academic and professional settings when men and women are together, women tend to keep to themselves more, while men tend to speak up. Steiner notes:

What I found is that 1) in a free-speak forum, women speak publicly about 25 percent of the time, vs. 75 percent for men and 2) when the forum is caller-led, women are called upon about one-third as often as men are (even when the caller is a woman). I've found that when there is even one man present, we women defer to him and expect him to speak first. (As everyone knows, I'm no scientist and I have no reputable data to back up these percentages; these are just my observations.)

The one exception to this were my years at Seventeen Magazine in the late 1980s. Of the 50 people in the editorial department, 50 were female. Problem solved -- at least within those pink walls. Which is why so many women advocate for the value of single sex education. And why those against all girls schools argue, great -- but what about the bias you inevitably confront in the "real world?"

Men don't seem to consciously dominate public discussions; they don't blatantly cut women off or ridicule their views. And it's not that women don't have opinions. We certainly do. Talk to women before and after the male-dominated meetings, and it is easy to solicit opinions. We just don't share them in public. Why? The problem is stubborn and pernicious. Women hesitate to speak up. Men don't hesitate. So, by default more men speak, and more women stay silent.

I too have noticed this trend. I think the best anecdote I can offer comes from my experiences as a member of my high school's academic quiz team. I attended an all girls school and as such our quiz team was the only all girls team in the regional circuit. The typical team from others schools were dominated by boys and usually consisted of one girl.

It became something of a weekly anthropological observation for myself and my team, as we would watch how that one girl from the other teams was treated. The majority of the time she sat out for most of the match, only substituting in for about one of the four rounds. She did not buzz in to answer questions as frequently as the boys, but when she did she was nearly always correct. The boys, who dominated in buzzing in, had a much lower percentage in the accuracy of their answers.

During the round where the whole team was allowed to consult with one another before the captain (a boy) submitted the team answer, the girl frequently would mutter the correct answer, but would be drowned out by the frantic brainstorming by the boys on the team.

My experience on the all girls team was markedly different. There was no hesitation, no deferring to a more forceful boy.

These days the only exposure I have to trivia competition comes from the weekly trivia night hosted by one of the local bars in Charlottesville, VA where I attend college. Trivia night in college is vaguely reminiscent of my high school quiz team days—only now I find that I have become the more reserved girl that my all girls quiz team always observed with regret.

Lack of gay rights causes alimony abuse

Another blogger's take on the inadequacy of civil unions and domestic partnerships.

A random look at the Bible

Today's installation for those who practice bibliomancy, comes from Corinthians 1:21:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Virginia police appointed to position of tax collector

Virginia's steep driving violation fees go into effect today. The new penalties will reach as high as $1050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit. Other fines include $1050 for include using the wrong turn signal, driving too fast for conditions, and having below-standard tires, among many more.

The Washington Post reports:

The licenses of tens of thousands of motorists in New Jersey and Michigan have been suspended because they cannot afford the fees, and little evidence has emerged that such fines improve highway safety, according to state officials and studies.

Officials in Michigan and New Jersey say Virginians should brace for problems, including clogged courts and the prospect of thousands of residents having to choose between keeping their licenses and paying their bills.

Of course we should recognize these fees for what they really are--a $65 million per year tax increase.

What concerns me the most about these new fines is the greater potential they create for police abuse and corruption, now that officers have an even greater power advantage over the citizens by having the authority to slap them with exorbitant fines for relatively minor offenses.

Another tale of Christianist hypocrisy

Former NC state legislator Coy C. Privette, a Cabarrus County commissioner and retired Baptist minister, was charged with aiding and abetting prostitution last Thursday.

Coy Privette is currently the President of the Christian Action League, which represents conservative evangelicals from 15 Christian denominations in NC. From the Christian Action League's website:

We discourage the promotion and use of beverage alcohol and other drugs, pornography, sexual immorality and other sinful practices that not only undermine the spiritual lives of those who participate in them, but also undermine the strength of our State and National character.

One of our most important tasks is training, developing, and motivating Christians to be involved in the political process. We want to mobilize Christians to be as Jesus commanded them to be -- the salt and light of the earth. Christians are to arrests and expose such contemporary issues as abortion, gambling, suicide, sex education, homosexuality, and we provide the information and help needed to deal with these critical issues.

Why can't the Christianists work on achieving their view of morality themselves, before they start trying to impose it on the rest of us?

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the tip.

Judge dismisses child rapist

The Washington Post reports:

A 7-year-old girl said she had been raped and repeatedly molested over the course of a year. Police in Montgomery County, acting on information from a relative, soon arrested a Liberian immigrant living in Gaithersburg. They marshaled witnesses and DNA evidence to prepare for trial.

What was missing -- for much of the nearly three years that followed -- was an interpreter fluent in the suspect's native language. A judge recently dropped the charges, not because she found that Mahamu Kanneh had been wrongly accused but because repeated delays in the case had, in her view, violated his right to a speedy trial.


With help from the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, The Washington Post identified three Vai interpreters Thursday, including one in Gaithersburg. Lionbridge, a company that offers interpretation services, said it could provide Vai speakers on short notice.

A child rapist is back on the streets because of the incompetence of the prosecutor’s office. If only the people charged with bringing criminals to justice were as good at their jobs as the Washington Post reporters who broke the story and found available interpreters.

Domestic partnerships in Washington

Gay couples in Washington State began to register as domsestic partners today. According to the Associated Press, "couples that register as domestic partners receive enhanced rights, including hospital visitation, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and the sbility to inherit in the absence of a will."

'Enhanced rights' is good, but it's still not equal rights, which will only come with marriage.

The House acknowledges gay hate crimes victims

Yesturday, the House of Representatives passed H.RES. 535, Commending David Ray Ritcheson, a survivor of one of the most horrific hate crimes in the history of Texas.

The text of the resolution reads:

No human being deserves to be tortured and victimized like David Ray Ritcheson simply because he is of a different background, race, religion, ethnic group, or sexual orientation.

I think it is significant that the House mentions sexual orientation, because unlike any of the other groups, it is the only one that is not protected by federal hate crimes legislation. One of the religious right's biggest complaint about the recent legislation that died in the Senate, was that it would codify 'immoral lifestyles' into US law. This resolution, though non-binding, shows that gays are slowly being recognized by our lawmakers.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sullivan on the Democrats' gay responses

Andrew Sullivan provides a nice brief response to the Democratic candidates' responses to the gay questions at the Youtube debate:

It still frustrates. They still won't actually answer the simple question: Why do you oppose equal marriage rights? I'm sorry but I'm not interested in John Edwards' "personal journey". In fact, I'm extremely uninterested. I want to know what his argument is. He disavows the religious rationale but offers no other. If it's the "ick" factor, let us know. If you can't justify that, then live up to your own convictions. Obama was just as evasive. Richardson came closest in talking about what's "achievable." But what does that mean? The answer is: they're too afraid to say what they believe. They still smell of fear. As long as candidates are too afraid to stand up for what they believe, why should anyone support them? We're not electing a focus-group or a consultant. We're supposed to be electing a president.
I concur.

The Democrats on religion

More from the Democratic Youtube Debate: Senator Biden (D-DE) says one of the most sane things I've heard from a politician on religion in a long time:

Religion informs my values, reason dictates my outcomes...I don’t find anything inconsistent about my deep religious beliefs and my ability to use reason.
I did not like what Senator Obama (D-IL) had to say:

We've got to translate our moral, our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers.
Is he implying that the non-religious lack moral values, that they somehow need to be taught by the religious? Even though Obama represents a liberal twist on faith in politics (a welcome change from the religious right), I still feel uncomfortable with the divisions he makes along religious lines.

The Democrats on gays at the Youtube debate

At the Democratic Youtube Debate, which aired tonight on CNN’s Situation Room with Anderson Cooper, Americans were allowed to submit their questions to the Democratic candidates via Youtube.

Rev. Reggie Longcrier of Hickory, NC submitted the following video to Jon Edwards:

Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segeragation, and to deny women the right to vote.

So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?

Edward responded:

I think Rev. Longcrier asks a very important question, which is, fundamentally, whether it’s right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we’re President of the United States. I do not believe that’s right. I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue. I want to end discrimination, I want to do some of the things I just heard Bill Richardson talk about; standing up for equal rights, substantive rights, civil unions, what Chris Dodd just talked about, and I think that’s something everybody on this stage will commit themselves to as President of the United States.

But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. I think as a lot of people know, Elizabeth spoke at, my wife Elizabeth out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports, uh gay m-marriage [stutter], I do not, um this is a very difficult issue for me and I have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.

Anderson Cooper, being a good moderator, pressed Edwards to answer the question, asking bluntly, "why is it OK to quote religious beliefs when talking about why you don’t support something?"

Edwards responded:
It’s not. I’ve been asked a personal question, which, I think is what Rev. Longcrier is raising. The personal questions is, do I believe, do I personally support gay marriage. The answer to that is I don’t. Uh, but I think it is absolutely wrong as President of the United States for me to use that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights. And I will not do that when I am President of the United States.

Edwards still did not respond to Rev. Longcier' s question! From what I've taken from his response, Edwards believes that religion should not be used to discriminate and that he is against discrimination, but he still thinks it's right to discriminate against gays by keeping them from marrying.

Anderson Cooper then pressed Barack Obama on the issue (presumably because he is the only black candidate), saying, "the laws banning interracial marriage in the US were ruled unconstitutional in 1967—what is the difference between the ban on interracial marriage and a ban on gay marriage?"

Obama responded:

Well I [stutter] I think it is important to pick up on something that was said earlier by both Dennis and by Bill and that is that we’ve got to make sure that everybody is equal under the law, and the civil unions that I propose would be equivalent in terms of making sure that all the rights that are conferred by the state are equal, uh, for same sex couples as well as for heterosexual couples.

With respect to marriage it’s my belief, uh, that it’s up to individual denominations to make a decision as to whether or not they want to recognize a marriage or not. Uh, but, in terms of, you know, the rights of people to uh, transfer property, to have hospital visitation, all those civil rights that are, uh, conferred by our government, those should be equal.

Doesn't Obama, of all people, realize that separate is never equal? I wonder when gays will finally wake up and realize that none of the mainstream candidates support their full equality. Gays donate and vote for Democratic candidates overwhelmingly. When will gays stand up and hold the Democrats accountable?

Government gives $1.1 billion to dead farmers

From today's Washington Post:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government report.

In a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time.


Last year, a Washington Post investigation of farm subsidies found more than $15 billion in wasteful or redundant spending in other farm payments, including $1.3 billion to people who do not farm and $817 million to farms that use loopholes to exceed limits.

The $1.1 billion the US government paid dead farmers is more than the 2006 budget allotted for:

-The Nuclear Facilities Safety Board ($22 million)

-Refugee programs ($889 million)

-International disaster and famine assistance ($579 million)

-Iraq relief and reconstruction fund ($10 million)

-USAID operations ($794 million)

-Nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs ($396 million)

-Naval petroleum reserves operations ($22 million)

-Uranium enrichment decontamination ($110 million)

-Nuclear waste program ($148 million)

-Emergency energy preparedness ($164 million)

-Food safety and inspection ($830 million)

-Consumer product safety commission ($62 million)

-Medicare prescription drug administrative expenses ($770 million)

-Armed forces retirement homes ($300 million)

-Affordable housing program ($307 million)

-High-intensity drug trafficking areas program ($200 million)

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and a critic of farm subsidies to wealthy farms requested the GAO report. Ahead of the report's release, Grassley remarked, "Farm payments are meant for those who need some help getting through the tough times...clearly there are loopholes that should be closed and laws that need to be followed."

Too bad the Senator doesn't practice what he preaches.

According the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database, Grassley recieved over $225,041 in USDA subsidies between the years of 1995 and 2005. Grassley's son Robin has received $653,833 over the same period.

Oh the irony.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

More on the inadequacy of civil unions and domestic partnerships

In California, a court ordered that a man must continue to pay alimony, even after his ex-wife entered a domestic partnership with another woman.

The LA Times reports:

Ron Garber knew his former wife was living with another woman — and had taken her last name — when he agreed to pay her $1,250 a month in alimony.

What he didn't know was that the two women had registered with the state as domestic partners under a law that was supposed to mirror marriage law, Garber said.

State marriage laws say that alimony ends when the former spouse remarries, and Garber reasons he should be off the hook, given that domestic partnership is akin to marriage. But an Orange County judge has decided that registered partnership is cohabitation, not marriage, and that Garber must pay.

"This is not about gay or lesbian," Garber said. "This is about the law being fair."

The case, which Garber intends to appeal, highlights gaps between the legal status of domestic partners and of married couples, an issue the California Supreme Court is considering as it ponders whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
This is similar to a Virginia case where the Virginia Court of Appeals found that Jonathan Stroud did not have to continue supporting his ex-wife Debra Stroud after she entered a lesbian relationship. In their divorce settlement Mr. Stroud agreed to pay $4000 a month to Ms. Stroud until she remarried. Unlike California, the Virginia court found that the lesbian relationship did resemble the effects of marriage (in spite of the Virginia anti-gay marriage amendment), and canceled Mr. Stoud's support agreement.

From an Equality Virginia Press release:

In the case of Jonathan Stroud v. Debra Lyn Stroud, the Court chose to recognize a relationship between two women as a marriage-like relationship under the definition of cohabitation. However, they made this determination in the context of ending Mr. Stroud’s obligation to provide spousal support to his former wife.

“While we applaud the decision to legally recognize two women as a couple in a marriage-like relationship in the shadow of the so-called ‘marriage amendment’, it is quite ironic that the Court chose to recognize this relationship in order to remove a marriage benefit when the state has consistently denied recognizing the right to provide marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples,” said Dyana Mason, Equality Virginia’s Executive Director. “It’s going to be very interesting how the Virginia Supreme Court responds to this case if it is appealed.”
These cases reveal how the lack of clear legal definitions for gay couples exposes couples straight and gay alike to the whims of judges, dare I say "activist".

Friday, July 20, 2007

Civil unions: seperate and not equal

Gay couples in New Jersey are still not treated as equals to their straight counterparts, in spite of the civil unions law past last year. The authors of the legislation intended civil unions to be equal to marriage in all but name.

However, it is becoming clear that civil unionized couples in New Jersey do not recieve equal recognition or benefits as married couples. New Jersey governor John Corzine has written a letter to UPS requesting that they change their employee benefits policies to reflect New Jersey law. UPS maintains that they do not have to provide benefits to civil unionized couples because they are governed by federal law, where DOMA reigns supreme. Interestingly enough however, UPS does provide benefits to gay marriaged couples in Massachusetts, the only state where gays are allowed to wed. This undermines UPS's DOMA argument, since DOMA applies equally in Massachusetts as it does in New Jersey.

The Washington Post also takes note of the problem:

A recent study by Garden State Equality, New Jersey's leading gay advocacy group, indicated that as many as one in eight of the 1,092 same-sex couples who have registered for civil unions there have been denied all or part of the benefits they hoped to gain from the law. That is particularly significant because New Jersey, as the first state outside New England to approve civil unions, was seen as a bellwether in gauging how they would take root outside the bluest of the blue states.

As cases like these become more prevelant, hopefully lawmakers and the population at large will realize that civil unions are a seperate institution that are not, and can never be, equal to marriage.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ferrets fight back

In response to Giuliani's hatred, PBS has come out with the documentary Ferrets: Pursuit of Excellence.

For more of the Ferret Song, click here.

You can buy the full documentary here.

The persistence of hate

Although gays in South Africa enjoy full legal equality (including full marriage), they still suffer from virulent bigotry, which has been leading to a recent increase in hate crimes against them.

The Sunday Herald reported on the rape, torture and execution-style murder of gay rights activists Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa:

Sigasa, 34, a prominent lesbian rights activist, was shot six times in her head and collarbone. Her underpants had been used to tie her hands behind her back, and her ankles had been tied together with the laces from her own trainers. Masooa, 23, had been shot through the back of her head.

The pair had left a Soweto party to take a friend home on the night of the attack. Their bodies were later discovered near their car by a jogger. Alhough no arrests have been made, in a country where daily murders are commonplace, gay rights
organisations said the killings were driven by "lesbophobia".

The Joint Working Group, the umbrella organisation for South Africa's gay and lesbian associations, said the murders were part of a growing epidemic of hate crimes. In the past two months there have been two other murders of lesbian women in black townships. Simangele Nhlapo, a member of a support group for women living with Aids, was raped and murdered; her two-year-old daughter was raped and left with both her legs broken. In another incident, 16-year-old Madoe Mafubedu, living openly as a lesbian, was raped and repeatedly stabbed until she died.
Reports like these make me thankful that although gays do not have full legal equaltity in the United States, we at least are not subject to this form of brutality.

I guess that's if you don't take into account:

Kenneth Cummings Jr, murdered by a man who says he was carrying out God's "code of retribution"

Danny Overstreet, shot to death by a man "looking to waste some faggots"

JR Warren, beaten to death by three teens before being run over

PFC Barry Winchell, beaten to death while sleeping

Fred Martinez Jr, beaten to death with a boulder

Billy Jack Gaither, beaten to death before being set on fire

Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, shot to death in their home

Sakia Gunn, stabbed to death by two men

Steven Haataja, burned to death

Andrew Anthos, 72 years old, beaten to death with a metal pipe

The list goes on and on.

The FBI reports that there were 1,213 gay victims of hate crimes in 2005. This makes them the second largest group targeted by hate after blacks. Yet unlike blacks, gays are not covered by federal hate crimes legislation.

One can argue about the merrits of hate crimes legislation itself, but to exclude the second largest victim group is indefensible.

Shirtless Hunks Bagging Groceries

Less than 10 minutes after Stephen Colbert mentioned the non-existent domain ShritlessHunksBaggingGroceries.com, as a part of his segment on gays and housing values, someone bought it.

Shirtless Hunks Bagging Groceries then became the number four searched term on Google.

More to come on the influence of Colbert...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rudy Giuliani: Bigot

Slate has made a cartoon rendition of a 1999 radio talk show, where Rudy Giuliani reveals his prejudice against an oft discriminated against minority: ferrets and the people who love them.

Christian fiction takes off

Sales of Christian books aimed at Evangelical Christians have jumped about 30% over the past for years. Now even secular publishers like Random House and Penguin are getting on board.

Oh course, Christian publishing is not new. Influential evangelical, Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series, which deals with end-time prophesies set in modern day, was something of a phenomenon, selling over 60 million copies and landing on the top of several best-sellers lists, including the New York Times and USA Today.

Michelle Goldberg writes about the series:

The most popular novel in America right now is one in which the world is tyrannized by the former secretary general of the U.N., who operates from Iraq, and his global force of storm troopers, called "peacekeepers." Revered rabbis evangelize for Christ, repenting Israel's "specific national sin" of "[r]ejecting the messiahship of Jesus." Much of the world is deceived by a false prophet, part of the inner circle of the Antichrist, who seems a lot like the pope -- he's a Catholic cardinal, "all robed and hatted and vested in velvet and piping."

Here we see the market revealing to the vast size and influene of the Evangelical movement in America today.

I only wonder how the prevelance of apocolyptic fiction as described above will influene the movement. One hopes people won't start taking fiction for fact, like Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gays increase housing values

In case you missed this bit from Colbert last night, Richard Florida, professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author of The Rise of the Creative Class, argues that "gay-friendly" cities are more economically prosperous than those that are not.

See here for a link to Florida's related paper.

I have not read the book or the article yet so I cannot comment, but it certainly is an interesting thesis.

More pandering from McCain

As his presidential campaign tanks, McCain keeps trying to win over 'the base' by speaking about US foreign policy to a group of evangelicals called Christians United for Israel. According to the AP, he recieved "frequent applause and several standing ovations." This comes after he delivered the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in May

According to their website, Christians United for Israel is "a national Christian grassroots movement focused on one issue: supporting Israel." What they do not tell you is that their fervent support comes out of their literal reading of Bible, specifically the End Times prophesies from the Book of Revelation. Evangelicals like this believe that the Jews' re-population of the Holy Land is a key step on the road to Armageddon (where the Jews along with all of the other non-Christians will suffer the tribulations before spending eternity in hell).

Christians United for Israel was founded by Reverend John Hagee.

As CEO of the nonprofit Global Evangelism Television, Hagee makes roughly $1 million a year.

In response to the devastation of Hurricaine Katrina, Hagee remarked:
I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are--were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade on the Monday that the Katrina came, and the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing.
Unfortunately, pandering to the likes of Hagee et al. is what you need to do these days to win the Republican nomination for President

Bush to Mary Cheney

What Bush would say to Dick Cheney regarding his gay daughter Mary:

My only ask was that if his daughter doubted my tolerance to her orientation that I would hope that he would help make it clear to Mary that this is a--I was just worried about--the reason I'd federalized the issue is because I was worried about the courts' defining the issue and that we'd end up with de facto marriage that was not traditionally defined, I guess is the best way to put it.

Yes, that is an actual quotation from the President of the United States.

In case you need a translation: it's not that Bush is intolerant of gays, he's just intolerant of the recognition of gay relationships.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bush's Homeland Security Policy (1) -- The Bereaved (0)

Authorities evacuated the Miami International Airport (MIA) this morning after a suspected bomb was detected.

Who only knows what devastation could have been wreaked today had a bomb gone undetected. This will surely reaffirm the President's policies that protect our nation. Republicans that have been faithful to the President should be looking forward to hefty improvements in their polling numbers.

(Perhaps this comes as a divine warning for arresting good Christians who "stand for Jesus" as the Senate Sergent-at-Arms did last week during the Senate Morning Prayer Service, as delivered by the Hindu guess chaplain.)

The kicker: the potential 'bomb' turned out merely to be the cremated remains of a passenger's loved one.

That's a winner.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A random look at the Bible

Since it is the Lord's Day, another random sample from the Bible:

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Proverbs 26:5

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More on religion and American politics

A reader writes:

What's really interesting about those "17 rules" is that they reflect the "traditional" stance of fundamentalist Christians in the United States. Prior to the Roe v. Wade (or the Civil Rights Movement, depending on who you ask), fundamentalists were essentially disengaged from American politics. This is partly a function of Jesus' admonition to be separate from the world, and it's partly a function of the fundamentalist eschatological viewpoint, regardless, it's certainly nothing new and I think it is another example of a growing fissure in the Christian Right, which is nowhere near as monolithic as it is made out to be.
I agree on nearly every account, with a few qualifications. The Christian Right is certainly not any single entity. It is an umbrella term, which comprises many denominations, all with their own traditions and theological tenets. I generally like to avoid the term Christian Right (as we are seeing more religious rhetoric among the left and because it leaves out those who are not Christians, but nonetheless adhere to a similar world view) favoring instead, fundamentalism. Research done by the University of Chicago's Fundamentalism Project points out five ideological characteristics of Christian fundamentalists:

1. Fundamentalists are concerned "first" with the erosion of religion and its proper role in society;

2. Fundamentalism is selective of their tradition and what part of modernity they accept or choose to react against;

3. Fundamentalists embrace some form of Manicheanism;

4. Fundamentalists stress absolutism and inerrancy in their sources of revelation; and

5. Fundamentalists opt for some form of Millennialism or Messianism.

I also agree that similar forms of religiosity have been found throughout American history. The influence of religious fervor in American politics ebbs and flows, generally in connection to the historical and social context of any given era. We saw this in the past with both the First and Second Great Awakening.

President Bush, among many others, have called this current wave a "Third Awakening". The first two lasted only roughly thirty years, so one could hope that this relatively recent surge in fundamentalist involvement in politics will soon run its course.

What concerns me about this movement is that for the first time religious fundamentalists occupy high positions in all three branches of government, including the Presidency, and have wide reaching influence ranging from foreign policy to Supreme Court nominations.

Friday, July 13, 2007

'08 candidates fail religious test

None of the candidates for the '08 presidential race "fit into the religious right's comfort zone", according to Janice Shaw of Concerned Women for America, the political action group of conservative women which promotes "Biblical values and family traditions".

Does this mean the evangelicals will sit out this election like they used to, before Karl Rove made them the key to any successful Republican candidate?

One could only hope... unless, that is, your idea of good government is one based on the Bible as interpreted by power hungry politicians.

Sex talk on the Senate floor?

In the words of Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Senate floor today:

"all the intercourse I had as a military officer was the best".

No idea what he was actually talking about...I won't ask, I just wish he wouldn't tell.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Useless and Corrupt Politician Hired by Hillary '08

What were your elected officials doing yesterday, besides engaging in hypocritical scandals and cheap election '08 posturing?

Well yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H.RES.287, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first use of the name "America", and for other purposes.

H.RES.287 was introduced by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) on March 29, 2007. I'm proud to see that the House, under the brave leadership of Rep. Hastings, has taken this step in commemorating such a milestone in the history of our great nation.

So what else has the Honorable Alcee Hastings been up to lately? Besides introducing H.RES.183, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States Postal Service should issue a postage stamp commemorating the Fisk Jubilee Singers, to the House in February (which was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, in case you were wondering); and recovering from his 1989 Senate conviction and removal from office for bribery and perjury?

He has been appointed as co-chair of the national Clinton campaign!

Who needs intelligence?

Apparently not the State Department's lead man on South Asian Affairs.

Today the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing on US-Pakistan relations with regard to the war in Afghanistan.
Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs was the sole witness.

The front page of today's Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration's National Counterterrorism Center has written a threat assessment report stating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength and has established a safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, on the Afghan border.

A large portion of the over three hour hearing entitled "Pakistan at the Crossroads; Afghanistan in the Balance," was devoted to the Pakistan's ungoverned tribal region of Waziristan, where al-Qaeda has allegedly established a safe haven and where militants are freely crossing the Pakistan-Afghan border.

When Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked Secretary Boucher to comment on the intelligence report, Boucher replied that he was not familiar with the report. Congressman Van Hollen pressed him, incredulous that the Washington Post had more to say about a report with potentially huge policy implications than the “top analyst for South Asia in the State Department."

"I guess the Washington Post was briefed before me," Boucher quipped.

Like Congressman Van Hollen, I find this lack of adequate intelligence at the State Department disconcerting.

Then again, what good are intelligence reports if our nation's leaders don't even bother to read them, and vote to authorize war anyway.

A random look at the Bible

I learned about bibliomancy from watching the movie Running With Scissors. It pretty much is the practice of selecting a Bible verse at random and deriving divine guidance from it for whatever question you may have.

So I thought it could be fun to try a regular installment of a random verse from Word of God. Today's installment comes from Psalm 68:12

"Kings of armies did flee apace: and she that tarried at home divided the spoil"

So does this mean God is telling me to stay home and blow off work tomorrow? Sweet.

I can see how Biblical Literalists have a good time cherry picking verses in isolation and out of context in order confirm their preexisting prejudices and predilections now.

17 Rules for Christian Engagement in Politics

I came across this opinion piece from the Associated Baptist Press by David Gushee, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University. In it, he describes the principles of governance for Christian leaders in his “17 Rules for Christian Engagement in Politics” (official sounding, but lacking the pop appeal of the Vatican’s “Drivers’ Ten Commandments)

Gushee reminds his fellow Baptist readers that “we have an audience of one and that we are accountable to Christ alone.” One wonders where constituents fit in...He then goes on to outline his rules:

1. Christian leaders must not officially or unofficially endorse political candidates or a political party.

2. Christian leaders must not distribute essentially partisan or single-issue voter guides that purport to be apolitical or nonpartisan.

3. Christian leaders must not publicly handicap or comment upon the political horse race.

4. Christian leaders must not provide private or public advice to particular politicians, parties, or campaigns concerning how they can strategize in order to win evangelical or Christian votes.

5. Christian leaders must not calibrate their public teachings or writings in order to affect the outcome of political elections or to gain and hold the support of politicians.

6. Christian leaders must not attend political rallies or campaign events of one candidate or party unless they are prepared to attend rallies and events of all candidates and parties.

7. Christian leaders must not invite political candidates to speak in church pulpits or on church grounds unless they are prepared to invite all political candidates of all parties to do so.

8. Christian leaders must not identify the potential or actual victory of any politician as a victory for God or God’s kingdom.

9. Christian leaders must limit their direct contact with politicians or staff in order to avoid even the appearance of undue loyalty or involvement.

10. Christian leaders must not engage in voter registration campaigns or get out the vote efforts aimed at mobilizing the voters of one political party rather than another.

11. Christian leaders must not direct the funds of their organizations toward direct or indirect support for a particular political candidate or party.

12. Christian leaders may not sidestep these rules by drawing a distinction between their activities as a “private individual” over against their service in their public role.

13. Christian leaders must offer Christian proclamation related to the large number of public issues clearly addressed by biblical principles or direct biblical teaching.

14. Christian leaders must encourage Christian people toward active citizenship, including studying the issues and the candidates and testing policy stances and candidates according to biblical criteria.

15. Christian leaders must model and encourage respectful and civil discourse related to significant public issues as well as political candidates.

16. Christian leaders must model and encourage prayer for God-ordained government, its leaders and their policies.

17. Christian leaders must teach and model respect for the constitutional relationship between religion and the state as spelled out in the First Amendment.

It represents a mark distinction from the rhetoric of the big-wigs of the religious right like Dobson, Kennedy, Falwell, Robertson et. al, in its subtlety and in that it seems to take some of the actual teachings of Christ into account rather than falling into the rubric of yet another political -ism.

It is still disturbing, nonetheless, for those of us who believe in the model and the virtue of the separation of church and state (regardless of whether or not that was the original intent of the Founders, as many Christianists now dispute).

In other more volatile regions of the world which lack democratic institutions, religious fundamentalists take control of the governments through violence. In America, it is by working through the democratic system that Christian fundamentalists are steadily and stealthily gaining influence in our government. Either way, government overcome by fundamentalism, be it religious or ideological, poses a hazard to individual liberty as history tragically shows us time and time again.

For good reads on the subject see:

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America by Chris Hedges

Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right by Mel White

The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back by Andrew Sullivan

The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America by Kimberly Blaker (Editor), which I haven’t finished yet, but Dawkins gave it a good review, so what more do you need to know?

Certainly more to come from me on this topic.

Facebook bans Gays

or the surname at least

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Oh the caress of a 7 year old boy: Springer

So lately I have had a true sampling of the best American television has to offer: Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, Wife Swap, and yes, America’s Got Talent (I had long been adverse to this, since I am a nostalgic of the good old sitcom of the 1990s; think Seinfeld).

What particularly struck me from tonight’s showing of America’s Got Talent (the selecting of the top 20) in Las Vegas, was a deliciously pernicious soundclip, which could ruin a candidate, if he were say, considering a run for the Cincinnati City Council.

Host Jerry Spring said that millions of Americans watching wished they were as lucky as [Springer] to be holding such a sweet boy. All while hugging and consoling Sage, the 7 year old contestant who had just been eliminated.

P.S. In case you were too lazy or uninterested to click on the links listed above, see key excerpts from the Slate article:

Springer settled in Cincinnati, lost a race for Congress in 1970, and was elected to the city council a year later. He was only 27. He became a popular, outspoken, lefty leader--his first action was to propose a ban on the drafting of Cincinnati residents for the Vietnam War. He resigned in 1974 when he was fingered in a vice investigation--he had paid a prostitute with a check (duh).


This sounds vaguely familiar (in the broadest sense, forget the particulars of ideology for a moment) to Senator David Vitter (R-LA) who just admitted to paying the ‘D.C. Madame’ for sex.

At least Springer wasn’t one of the greatest crusaders for protecting the ‘sanctity of marriage.’

Ideological gag order

Yet another instance of the Bush Administration placing ideology above good governance. The New York Times reports:

Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of politicalconsiderations.

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues.

And it seems the trend will continue with the President’s nomination of James Holsinger to fill the position of ‘America’s Top Doctor.’

This is just another case of our public agencies falling under the influence of what my favorite blogger, Andrew Sullivan, calls Christianism. It's a fascinating and frightening result of the growing influence of Christian fundamentalism in American politics over the past two decades generally, and the Bush Jr. years specifically.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dropped call from Obama

I was quite enthusiastic to learn about a new series of ringtones offered by the Obama '08 campaign. Forget the iPhone, I was totally ready to awe all I met through catchy beats such as ‘2002 Speech Remix.’ And of course, nothing says true politico like having your cell phone ring off mawkish platitudes about "change" to the beat of hip hop during your 9am intro to american gov class.

But alas, it all seems to be a communications malfunction at best, or a dirty campaign trick at worse.

Upon signing up for an Obama ringtone (the ‘2004 DNC Speech Rock’ tone to be precise), I learned that there were no free ringtones involved, just a ploy to keep track of and pester unassuming youth like myself. I was told via text that I would be contacted 'periodically' by the Obama campaign, but there was never any information provided, even upon request (also via text) about where I could get my Obama jams.

If we can’t even trust Obama to deliver a ringtone, how can we honestly expect him to deliver universal healthcare?