Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gettin' the Party Started


My folks came up for the weekend after Thanksgiving. We celebrated Christmas with them since John and I won't be going to AR this year. I did my best to get the decorations up. The buffet is still in process. Right now it looks like Willy Wonka exploded all over it .

John's mom and Jim and John's brother and sister-in-law and their girls came over for dinner Sunday. Later we walked around Monument Circle downtown. This is John's mom (left) and my mom (right) outside the Indiana Power and Light building. I'm trying to figure out how to get this many lights on our tree. I think I might have to forego the tree part.

In the middle of the Circle is a dignified war memorial that permits itself to be decorated with lights every year. I'd never noticed these iron bears on the light posts that surround the monument, but I love them. I think they are supposed to be like Egyptian caryatids, which are usually women. I don't know if the bears are supposed to be funny, but they made me smile.

I think this picture of our niece Amelia and Linda (aka Yaya) is so cute. Check out Amelia's snow leopard coat (not real leopard in case PETA is reading this). You can tell Amelia is crazy about her Yaya.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


It is the day before Thanksgiving and a pretty snow is falling here in Indianapolis. The stark overlap of fall and winter reminds me of a conversation my friend Lori, one of the marvelous McClains, and I had recently about holiday decorations. Lori believes, as do I that Christmas is important enough to warrant an atypical and exuberant creative expression.

Our latest talks have been not about the content of such an environment, but when to drag it out and put it up. I find it unfortunate that one must “drag” the Christmas out as if Norman Bates' mother is coming up from the basement for a visit. Nonetheless, the comparison is apt. All of the holiday beauties usually live in awkwardly sized boxes and tubs just an inch shy of being too big for one person to carry. So drag we must, at least some of them.

But back to when to pull them out. Anyone born before the 1980s probably remembers that awkward two weeks between Thanksgiving and the week or two prior to Christmas when the house was in holiday limbo. I remember having a discussion with my parents each year beginning the day after Thanksgiving. It went like this;

Me: “Can we put the tree up?”

Them: “No.”

(Repeat daily)

If any rationale accompanied such an exchange it usually was offered by my parents who would pull out the old saw, “when we were kids the tree went up the day before Christmas.” And indeed they had history on their side. Who can forget all of those melancholy-tinged carols and stories about holiday-starved kids trimming the tree on Christmas Eve? Typically, it was their parents who got to decorate the tree while the kids were locked in some other room until time for the big reveal. Very fun.

I now believe we have two things to blame for the late arrival of Christmas trees in the past-no electricity and no decent looking artificial trees. Without electricity, trees had to be lit with candles and minimizing risk must have been a priority. So you lit the tree once, prayed those candles stayed put, and took the tree down soon after. Even the early electric lights were only so safe. House fires were common.

When I was in Lowe's last week I noticed that I did not see a single one of those bushy bottlebrush tree. Artificial trees have come a long way. When I was growing up in the 70s we had a plastic tree. It was green and full, but it was plastic. I didn't care. I liked it. You know why? Because it didn't matter when we put it up! My parents had removed the lynchpin of logic they used to delay decorating, and I knew it. Thomas Edison had done the rest of the work for me decades earlier.

Artificial trees have come a long way. Ours today looks too “perfect” to really fool anyone, and I'm okay with that. In fact, I feel the most honest artificial trees are the aluminum ones. They flaunt rather than hide their fakeness. Or do they just become something besides a tree all together? I can't decide, but I do like them. Unfortunately, like many modern pieces, I'm not sure they work visually in our home.

I keep telling myself that one day we'll have a real tree. But then I start looking at our holiday calendar. We host John's mom's cookie bake the first week in December. We don't really have time to be still and enjoy the peaceful part of the season until after Christmas. No real tree would last that long without us having to replant it at some point.

What I'm watching with interest now are the days before Thanksgiving and after New Years. This year a neighbor was in full-blown exterior décor a week before Thanksgiving. That seemed strange to me. Lori and I decided that inside decoration before T-giving is fine. That is more like getting the stage set before the curtain goes up.

Then there is always the whispered-about house that leaves their Christmas lights up until March (or year round!). Recently, however, I have come to feel that winter is so long, having a few extra lights around is not such a bad idea. I now use the excuse that we are celebrating Chinese New Year. For some reason I think white lights make more sense when extending the season. But this year I'm using colored lights outside to make up for what feels to me like a certain lack of color in the world right now. We'll see if my convictions about taking them down “on time” hold true.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

When Open Means Closed

Earlier this year something wonderful happened. A man was invited to join the choir of South Hill United Methodist Church in Virginia. He took the invitation seriously, and enjoyed his time so much there that he soon began participating in other church activities. Before long he made the decision to move his membership from a church in another denomination to what he felt was his new home at South Hill.

Sccreeeeech!!!! If you could hear a moment of exclusion it would sound like that--kind of like fingernails running across a blackboard or the drawn out whine of tires skidding across the pavement right before you hear the muffled thwump of two cars slamming into one another.

One day during a meeting about joining South Hill, the senior pastor informed the would-be Methodist that he would not be allowed membership in the church. The reason? Because he was in a committed relationship with another man. The pastor believed, as many do, that any kind of homosexual relationship is a sin, and that unless the man was repentant he was not fit for membership.

I'm sure you know I don't believe that being in a same-sex relationship is a sin. But even if I did, the “every unrepentant sin” standard can be tricky. To all potential members of any church--anyone who does any of the following need not apply: wears polyester double knit, eats shrimp, grows peppers next to tomatoes in their garden, is a woman who prays with her head uncovered. (See Leviticus 11: 9-12, Deuteronomy 22: 9-11, I Corinthians 11: 3-16).

So what happened in our story? Well, an associate pastor at South Hill was appalled when our guy was refused membership and took the matter to the Bishops of Virginia. The Bishops, after quite a bit of conversation, put the senior pastor on leave of absence. The Judicial Council, the Methodist's Supreme Court, allowed the pastor to deny the man membership and reinstated the pastor based on a Clintonian use of the word “may” and a procedural technicality:

"all people may attend (church) worship services," and, "a member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church may be received as ... a professing member."

See how that works? “May” might be interpreted to mean, “hey, these are the people we can let join!” Instead, “may” was used to mean, “hey, these are the people I can keep out!”

The point is, the J.C. (not to be confused with Jesus Christ) chose to prefer a specious application of the letter of the law over human value.

Here is how my friend Duane put it in a letter to our local Bishop. Watch for the Pharisee references, which I think are particularly apt in this case:

…It was with great dismay that I learned of a decision announced by the United Methodist Judicial Council on October 31 regarding the reinstatement of a pastor after his refusal to allow into membership a gay man. I am aware that the Council of Bishops has made a statement that attempts to reaffirm the inclusive values of the United Methodist Church. I also know that many individuals, pastors and congregations have spoken out regarding the wrongness of this decision. I urge you, as the highest representative of the Indiana area to actively speak out clearly and decisively against this action.

It is my belief that the ruling on the Johnson matter was politically motivated in an attempt to assuage a segment of the UMC body that clings to old prejudices. If the Judicial Council had upheld the lower ruling, it would have sent a bold and courageous message to the church and the world. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. The Judicial Council chose to overrule the decision of the Virginia Annual Conference and supported its decision with reasons of legal technicalities and bureaucratic misapplication. The message sent is that politics and policy is more important than the human beings involved in the case. It puts procedure over people. And that, in addition to the injustice to the individual denied membership, is deplorable!

Though it may sound like an uncharitable comparison, I cannot help but think of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' condemnation of the religious legal system of His day ...you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23 [emphasis mine]

It is my hope that out of this injustice, some good will come. We, who are members of the United Methodist Church are being given an opportunity to examine our commitment to the values that we espouse. I hope our words, deeds and actions will affirm that we are all one body, called by God and united by Christ...

And what about the man who just wanted to join the church? I don't know what happened to him. I have my doubts that he is still singing in the South Hill UMC choir. As for the Methodist catch phrase, “Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors”, well, sometimes a slogan is just a slogan.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Spain is Nice This Time of Year

A friend who reads my blog was joking with her husband about the possible need to leave Texas as a result of the passage of the recent anti-gay marriage amendment. She lives in Travis County, which was the ONLY county where the proposition failed. She was discussing the tax thing with him. He pointed out that there was no place in the U.S., whether they have passed a law banning gay marriage or not, where we would be granted the same tax benefits as heterosexual married couples.

This is true. Even in Massachusetts, the only state where gay people can be legally married, inheritence tax issues are governed by federal, not state law.

End of life decisions, hospital visitation and other rights are protected (or denied as is the case now in Texas) based on state laws. But if the religious right has their way, states will remove even those protections. How? Through the Federal Marriage Amendment , which was reintroduced into Senate business one day after the Texas vote. The religious right couldn't be more happy.

The Federal Marriage Amendment would make it impossible for gay people to protect their families not only in Texas but in every state. And the Supreme Court would not be able to rule that such treatment is unconstitutional because if the amendment passes, discrimination in fact would be constitutional!

If you care at all about any gay friends you have--even if they don't talk with you about this issue (some people are afraid to)--call or write your congress persons and tell them that you believe discrimination should not be written into the U.S. constitution and that you prefer they not vote for the FMA.

So, you may ask, what is Troy and John's plan if the FMA passes? Well, we've been talking about that and about what we would do if Indiana passed a state constitutional ban, which looks likely in 2008. Both of us have decided that we've waited long enough for the good people to "get it", and we know the scary right never will. If Indiana passes its ban, we likely would work to relocate in one of the countries where same-sex marriage is now legal. It used to be that just a few places where neither of us care to live were options-- like the Netherlands and Belgium. But as of this year Spain and England support gay marriage.

You may think moving to another country sounds ridiculous. I believe living in the 19th century is. If the FMA passes, we probably would stay in whatever welcoming country we find. If just the Indiana amendment passes, we likely would live abroad for three years and then move back to one of the three states where we can be married or have a civil union. Our greatest hope is that we can remain U.S. citizens. We love our country and our friends and family here, but when even the possibility of freedom and justice is written out of our story, America ceases to exist for us.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Lone Star Hate

Let's say Britney Spears and that guy she married in Vegas on a whim now own a home together in Texas. For the sake of modesty, let's say it is worth 300K. And let's say that instead of divorcing after a day of marriage, Britney is hit by a bus. She holds on for awhile, and her husband of one day is by her side every minute he isn't smoking and drinking a Redbull out in the lobby. Eventually, she passes on. Because they are married, the house may immediately pass to him with no tax effects. He is automatically responsible for many of the decisions that surround the end of her life--where she is buried, any choices regarding life-sustaining issues, etc.

Now, let's say that a couple like John and I live in Texas and own a home of similar value. They've been together for 40 years and one of them is now in ICU and is about to die. Uh-oh, only next of kin are allowed in ICU. But fortunately, the nurses there understand the situation and are willing to let the spouse be by his dying partner's side. Unfortunately, the FAMILY of the soon to be deceased have never accepted his relationship and exercise their legal right to refuse the partner's visits. The sick man dies in ICU without ever seeing the one with whom he's spent the last four decades of his life.

The house they owned will not automatically pass to the survivor. It may be willed to that spouse, who then will have to pay taxes on their dearly departed's half. So while the surviving spouse is grieving he has the added joy of coming up with about 15,000.00 to pay on top of whatever financial burdens they are dealing with. This goes for any property they owned together. Any property they didn't own together, even if they shared it for 40 years may be claimed by the family in the absence of a specific will.

But wait, there's more. Let's say the surviving spouse works for the Hate of Texas. Since the Hate will never recognize anything that even looks like marriage, any right-wing conservative Hate employee who happens to be a manager is not obligated to offer any bereavement benefits. So, the survivor can say goodbye to that vacation time he was going to use to recover later. That will be used up for funeral and whatever preparations he is allowed by the family to be a part of.

Oh, and by the way, while the dearly departed was alive, his company offered domestic partner benefits like health insurance to their family. But they aren't like those that married couples get. Taxes must be paid on any non-married domestic partner benefits. And of course the Hate isn't even allowed to offer them. If the Hate of Texas is like the Hate of Michigan (and remember, Texas is a big hate) the right-wingers will actually attempt to repeal those that already exist, even those at state universities.

You may think I overreact to votes like this, but all of the above (with the exception of the Britney scenario) happens constantly. Does it surprise you? It shouldn't. With 70 to 80% voting not to allow the legal incidents of marriage, what else would you expect? And it is actually a LOT worse for poor families who can't afford the legal fees or the time off to work things out to the point that they are described above. They have almost no way to protect the ones they love. When one of them dies, legally it as if they were never together.

Oh, well. I never really wanted to live in Texas again anyway.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Voters Beware

Okay, remember when I wrote this:

I know of no one who reads this blog, on whatever side of the issues they find themselves, who would tolerate election tampering. Righteous honesty is a quality all of my friends share. Allow this to be the first invitation you receive to be a part of the 2006 and 2008 elections. I encourage you to be present. The watchful eyes of all kinds of good faith voters create accountability. Work at the polls, volunteer to drive folks to vote, take election day off and hang out with friends at the polls with a pitcher of hot cider. Show up in places where voter supression is likely to happen. Don't be obstructive, but be vigilant.

Well, I've decided that starting the watch next week might be a better idea. Raw Story ran across this dirty business from Seattle, picked up from Seattle's The Stranger, a WA newszine.

State Republican Party Wrongly Tries to Prevent at Least 140 King County Residents from Voting


Steven Lacey is a regular voter whose plan for Election Day next Tuesday was to walk a few blocks from his Belltown apartment building and cast his vote, as usual, at his local precinct. At least, that was his plan until he received a letter last night informing him that his right to vote had been challenged by a woman from the east side named Lori D. Sotelo.

The letter reported that Sotelo had declared to King County election officials, “under penalty of perjury,” that Lacey’s voter registration was not valid because he couldn’t possibly be living at the address he was claiming. “Which is insane,” Lacey said. The 35-year-old insurance company account manager lives at the Watermark, a 60-unit downtown apartment building built in 1908. However, Sotelo appeared to believe the Watermark was a storage unit, a P.O. box, or some other location that Lacey could not legally be using as an address of record.

Furious, Lacey did a quick web search and realized that Sotelo was a leader in the King County Republican Party. He couldn’t understand how she came to think he was illegally registered, since the Watermark, Lacey said, “couldn’t more clearly be a physical residence.” He left Sotelo a phone message telling her as much, but he never heard back.

Then he asked around, and found that many people in his building had received the same letter, informing them that their votes would not be counted until they proved, at a hearing or through a signed affidavit, that they were legally registered.

“A lot of the people that live in the building are over 50 and have voted in dozens of elections and are incredibly pissed,” he said. “Everybody’s pretty pissed.”

It turns out that Lacey and his neighbors were just a few among at least 140 King County voters who were wrongly challenged by Sotelo, who chairs the King County Republican Party’s “Voter Registration Integrity Project.” Sotelo could not be reached for comment on Friday morning, when The Stranger first reported the mistakes on our blog, but Chris Vance, chairman of the state Republican Party later confirmed for The Stranger that a serious mistake had been made.

“We are withdrawing those challenges today and apologizing to those folks,” he said. He added that it is “just coincidence” that a significant number of the wrongly challenged voters live in a strongly Democratic neighborhood.

The Republicans’ “Integrity Project,” announced on October 26, was part of a running effort by Republicans to highlight what they claim is an ineffectual effort by Ron Sims’s King County Elections Office to purge illegal voters from King County voter rolls. Republicans announced in October that their project had discovered 1,943 King County residents who were not living at the address to which they were registered—which would be illegal, if it were true.

“If they were doing their jobs,” Vance said of King County election officials, “we wouldn’t have to do this.” But if that’s why Republicans undertook the project, how did they then come to do such an ineffectual job themselves?

“We’re off by less than 10 percent,” Vance said, establishing what appeared to be a lower standard of accuracy for his party than for the King County elections officials his party claims to be watch-dogging. “For having this done by volunteers and interns, this is very good work.”

Although Sotelo’s name appeared on the challenge affidavits, Vance said, the list of voters to challenge was actually created by volunteers and interns cross-referencing storage unit addresses with voter registration rolls. Sotelo just signed on the dotted line, he said.

But Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for Sims, said the fiasco, whose scope is still not clear because Republicans have not yet released a list of all their challenged voters, showed an embarrassing degree of amateurishness on the part of the Republicans.

“This is an unfortunate example of what happens when what is a serious issue, people’s right to vote, is hijacked for partisan advantage,” Kaushik said. “This is a concern that we’ve had in King County for some time, ever since this issue came down the pike—that there’s a real possibility that innocent, ordinary people would get caught up in what appears to be a partisan campaign to challenge voters.”

As for Vance’s claim that Republicans had to act because King County hasn’t been doing a good enough job at purging illegal voters, Kaushik said: “King County is doing its job. We’ve done an immense amount of work over the last six months in terms of cleaning up our voter rolls. We’ve removed thousands of registrations that were incorrect registrations. To try to claim that we’re not making any effort to clean our voter rolls or are attempting to allow people to vote multiple times and vote illegally is just flat-out false.”

He said county election workers had been flooded with calls in the last two days from angry King County residents who had received Republican-generated challenge letters, including one call from an elderly African-American woman who felt her letter was part of an effort to suppress her vote.

Vance stressed that the letters were not part of a vote-suppression effort, and therefore Sotelo’s letters, with their false declarations made “under penalty of perjury,” were not illegal. “If she had been wrong on purpose, that would be perjury,” Vance said. “But we made an error.”

Lacey, the Watermark resident, said he was glad Republicans were apologizing.

“That’s the proper thing to do,” he said.

But he added that he still wonders what really went on.

“How did the mistake happen?” he asked, incredulous.

Friday, November 04, 2005

If My Grandparents Could See Arkansas Now

I'm sure you realize that I'm a Democrat. I wasn't always, but as time passed and I looked at the negative traits of both parties (and there are many in both camps) and as I looked at what kinds of things tended to motivate them, I realized the Democrats are closer to my own values. I didn't find out until later that my grandparents are/were Democrats as well. I'm not sure about my dad's dad. He died before I was born, and my dad and I don't talk politics very often.

I had very little in common with my dad's mom. She had a hard life and she became a hard person. However, in her last days when I would visit her in the nursing home she and I would talk politics. Before long, I learned that she was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat--more hard core than I ever thought about being.

I was happy to finally meet someone to the left of where I was. Those turned out to be the most meaningful conversations we ever had. She would always end our conversations with, "Well, that's just the way I see it." I've tried to keep that, "this is just my point of view" philosophy in my own discourse, but I'm not always successful.

My mom's mom, who is still with us, and dad, who passed on a few years back, were not hard people at all. They were fun, gentle, and had a wide circle of friends. My Mamaw still does. She seems to know everyone within three counties' distance. I figured out that they were Democrats during Clenis's first term. I'd been stewing as a semi-silent minority Clenis supporter (I know, hard to imagine me being even semi-silent). I was spending the night with Mamaw and Grandad and we were watching the news, and some Whitewater piece was running. My Grandad said, "I don't know why they don't leave that man alone and let him do his job." My grandmother agreed. All of the sudden I didn't feel so alone anymore.

When Clenis actually compromised himself publicly they, like me, were hurt and dissappointed. Still, the Dem's focus on the common good rather than the "I've got mine, so everything is fine" approach was still intact, so it never occurred to me or them I suspect, to change our stripes.

But Arkansas has changed in the last few years. It used to be a heavily Democratic state. Now many conservatives there talk about how the liberal media and liberal politicians have so much power, but it isn't true. (It never ceases to amaze me how the Republican party can control the Whitehouse, the Congress, and the Judiciary and still manage to squeal like they are tied helpless and alone to a set of railroad tracks.)

Gay people are assumed to be lurking around every corner waiting to pounce and rip apart the institution of marriage. People who bother to question why and how we ended up spending the lives of our young (and not so young) and billions of dollars on a war in Iraq rather than chasing Al Queda are dubbed terrorist sympathizers. If you are a Christian who doesn't walk in lockstep with social conservatives on every issue as they define it, you don't even qualify as a follower of Christ in their books. Fear, fear, and more fear is used to control the public.

But I believe there are good people in Arkansas. A lot of them. And someday, maybe not too long from now, people will begin to realize their fears have been manipulated for purposes that serve primarily the wealthiest among them while disenfranchising the poor and the socially vulnerable, many of whom live in that state. Will people in Arkansas return to the Democratic party? Some will. I don't think everyone should (balance of power is a good thing). But if the Dems can get over their identity crisis and develop viable alternatives to the grave-digging strategies we are faced with now, maybe some families will wash the red off and rediscover their historically blue roots.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Democrats Finally Growing Some New Teeth

I'm watching C-SPAN. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) just announced (I think about 4:00 p.m. EST) to reporters that Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has motioned for a closed session of congress for the purpose of getting answers about why the Senate Intelligence Committee refuses to conduct its long-promised investigation regarding the role of faulty intelligence and the potential misleading of the American people in the decision to go to war.

"Closed Session" means not open to the public in anyway--the gallery is cleared, all electronic recording devices are turned off, and all other Senate discussion must stop. Beyond allowing for a more uncensored and gloves-off kind of discussion, it also allows classified information to be discussed if necessary, which is appropriate given that we are talking about the Iraq war. A Closed Session is a RARE occurance.

Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), who is now under investigation for potential insider trading, just came to the mic to speak to reporters. He is LIVID because Harry Reid did not tell him a Closed Session would be called (once a motion to do so is seconded, it has to happen). Uh-oh, here come the GOP "talking points" to listen for: "Democratic stunt", "scare tactics", "Democratic hijack", "never been done this way", "keeps the American people out."

Evidently, the frozen part of the investigation (Phase 2) would touch on what role the administration played in the inaccurate communication of intelligence. The committee has stalled the study for well over a year.

Don't get me wrong, I still believe Democrats need to put better policy options on the table rather than merely whining like sore losers. Then again, keeping in check an administration and a congress that puts its own agenda ahead of national security is a full-time job. And by the way, the Republicans, who control every branch of government at the moment, get the "pseudo-victim" award for repeatedly boo-hooing at everything Democrats do. Cry me a corporate tax-cut. It is HIGH time Democrats began playing hardball with the iron curtain of secrecy and unchecked power of our entirely Republican-controlled administration. Hopefully, this is only the beginning.