Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Naked Truth About Air Safety

Air New Zealand has made the best safety video ever. It's not just the breezy approach to an ordinarily stuffy subject...it's those uniforms. (That came in a can.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Can He Be Trusted?

Earlier this evening, 250 or so leaders of the LGBT movement had the opportunity to speak with President Obama about his administration's lack of movement of several issues of important to LGBT people. this is one of the reports coming out of the meeting, which was held in the East Room, in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

Obama apparently mollified the attending leaders, who cheered his encouraging words: "I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It's not for me to tell you to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago."

But he went ahead and asked for patience anyway. Even though for people like Lt. Daniel Choi and Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, it's almost already too late.

Soon, he tells us. Soon we will get what the Constitution guarantees us. Wait just a little while longer. He wants, he says, to make sure that change (as he put it when speaking of overturning DADT) "is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term."

I'll give him some more room. After all, Ronald Reagan wouldn't even say the word "gay," and today Obama asked some of us to stop by for cocktails.

I just want to know, how long is soon?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A little something...

...from my former neighbor, Robert Hass, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. 18 or so years ago I lived in Inverness, California, a hamlet on Tomales Bay of rather remarkable natural beauty. (That's not the house in the photo above, but it gives you some idea of the loveliness of the region.) We rented the house, but the small cabin on the property (that had once been the garage) was rented separately to Robert Hass and his wife Brenda Hillman, both poets. Bob would go on to become the United States' poet laureate. They lived and taught in Berkeley (still do), but they came to Inverness on the weekends to write and relax and hike. I remember Bob's reaction upon meeting my daughter, then an infant: "she looks like a little Buddha."

Anyway, click the link. Bob's a very interesting guy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bring 'em On!

According to a new Pew poll, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are the most popular figures in the Republican Party. A dual-bill in 2012? We can only hope.

We Need MORE Like Him

Lt. Victor Fehrenbach, being ousted from the Air Force because of his sexuality. But click the play button and hear what he has to say -- and what some of his current and former squadron mates have to say.

How can Obama let DADT continue?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This is the first time The Rational Feast has not included a headline for a post. I just can't find the words to sum up k. d. lang in this clip.

There are voices I've heard both live and recorded and not felt that one outshone the other. Bono. Cher. Even Springsteen. Though his live shows were amazing, it wasn't because of his voice. It was his energy and storytelling and musicianship and the amazing E Street Band. The voice was fine, but it didn't jump out in comparison to the recorded version.

But some voices, when you're in the same room with them, even if the singer is amplified, have something about them that hits an ineffable "wow" space for me. k. d. lang is one. Van Morrison is another, especially in a small venue. But it's k. d. that just annihilates me. I mean, listen to her on this. The control and precision -- linked with a real sense of abandon and freedom...well, I'm out of words.

Good for him!

Apparently a San Francsico-based photographer who was a volunteer on the playground build that Michelle Obama visited as part of her west coast trip had the chance to have a few words with her about the need to repeal DOMA. You can read the whole thing here, but the upshot is that he told her how important it is to get rid of DOMA and the First Lady said she agreed and said it's going to get done.

Let's not forget...

...that at the core of the problem in Iran is the fact that the "Supreme Leader" derives his power not from a mandate of the masses, but from his supposed connection to, or understanding of, the wishes of an invisible superbeing. This is simply no way to run a government. Over at Slate, Michael Lind agrees. Read what he has to say.

Money quote: "Replacing a Muslim monarch like the shah of Iran with an "Islamic republic" is merely replacing a more autocratic with a more populist form of theocratic tyranny. Liberal democracy is sometimes defined as "majority rule with minority rights," but that is misleading. If a religious majority rules, not on the basis of secular reason, using arguments that can convince nonbelievers as well as believers, but on the basis of supernatural dogma, then you simply have a form of religious tyranny with a multitude of small religious tyrants."

Friday, June 19, 2009

From Inside Iran

Click here for an interesting interview with an anonymous photojournalist working inside Iran.

Money quote: "Landline to landline is still ok, but when people are out in the street then is useless. I can say the most effective way of communication at the moment is "word of mouth", people keep talking in the streets, they pass the messages and the info to each other and then one person tell 10 friends and then it goes on and on. The amazing part is even if there are changes happening last minute people still manage to pass the info!!"

What Exactly is Going On in the Toll House?

Is eating raw cookie dough a gay thing? I know I'd rather have chocolate chip cookie dough than any chocolate chip cookie I ever had. And my ex-mother-in-law's icebox cookie dough? I think I could live on it.

But is it somehow gay? I ask this, because two of the biggest gay blogs, Joe.My.God and Dan Savage's SLOG both have items about a recall of Nestle's Toll House Cookie Dough due to E.coli.

What up?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Lovely Tribute

No golf fan should miss this link to a segment Charlie Rose did with Jim Nantz and Jaime Diaz, talking mostly about the U.S. Open. Rose dedicates the segment to Nantz's father, who passed last year, and Nantz relates a touching story about watching last year's Open, in the hospital, holding his father's hand. When Tiger made the putt on the 72nd hole to force the playoff, Nantz thought it a blessing that he would be able to spend one more day with his father, doing something they both loved.

Watch it. I'll embed a link if it becomes available.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

So Much for Advocacy, 2

In the Tony Award-winning play "The God of Carnage" (spoiler alert!), the character played by James Gandolfini releases his daughter's pet hamster into the street because the noise from the rodent's wheel was disturbing his son's sleep. Of course he tells the daughter a lie -- the cage must have been left open, he claims, and the animal must now be better off, playing in a woodland paradise. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the character lied to the hamster itself: "You're going to be so happy with your other animal friends. It must be lonely for you in this cage."

I bring this up because I feel a bit like that hamster. Or the daughter. Or both. Either way, I was lied to. Obama made lots of promises to gay Americans (some of the best don't come until 2:55 in)...

...but so far, he's failed to live up to any of them. Then he went beyond just failing to take action, allowing his Department of Justice to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the most ridiculous, reactionary way possible. The brief the DOJ filed in response to a suit by a California couple used arguments that sounded like something a graduate of Jerry Falwell's madrassa (as Dan Savage put it) would come up with: "There's no inequality of marriage rights, any man can marry a woman. And vice versa." "It's too expensive to extend rights to gay folks." "Homosexuality is like incest." (I've worded those a bit more bluntly than in the actual brief, but trust me, those are the core sentiments.)

So you can imagine how I feel like that poor, lied-to hamster. Told that good things are coming -- then kicked to the curb and abandoned to harsh elements and predators. The DOJ's brief in this case contains some of the most despicable anti-gay rhetoric imaginable.

Amid all the gloom across the gay blogosphere (I'm not the only one who feels betrayed), there are a few lights who are looking hard for a silver lining.

Laurence Tribe, the noted legal scholar, believe the specific case challenging DOMA's constitutionality (the case in which the DOJ filed this ridiculous brief) is the wrong case and hopes it goes away quickly: "As someone who wants to see DOMA dismantled and invalidated, I would love it if this ninth circuit case would evaporate into the ether. Even though I personally believe that DOMA is unconstitutional, I think that this particular lawsuit is very vulnerable; it’s not anywhere near as strong as the one that was brought in the federal district court in Massachusetts...the [Smelt] lawsuit in the central district of California...is basically a bet-the-farm lawsuit that almost dares a conservative Supreme Court to slap it down."

Dale Carpenter, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy states that "For lots of reasons, gay-marriage advocacy groups would like to see this case go away, but go away without damage to the substantive constitutional case against DOMA. A dismissal on jurisdictional grounds would nicely suit that purpose, and that seems to me the most likely outcome."

However, he also goes on to say that "the DOJ brief goes further than it needs to go at this point in the case by addressing the merits of the constitutional issues in the case," and calls out a few specific tidbits in the brief, such as the fact that it is "identical in form to the defense of Texas's Homosexual Conduct law in Lawrence v. Texas: a law banning only gay sex doesn't discriminate against gays because it equally forbids homosexuals and heterosexuals to have homosexual sex and because it equally allows homosexuals and heterosexuals to have heterosexual sex. This sort of formalism has incited howls of laughter over the years when made by religious conservatives. Now it's the official constitutional position of the Obama administration."

Some are claiming that some of the arguments are so ridiculous that it's just another example of Obama being cagey, presenting a case that's likely to be dismissed because of faulty logic.

Over at centerblue.org, they are telling folks to "calm down": "by insisting that such measures come out of Congress he covers his ass, and also ensures that he doesn’t end up weak and ineffectual like Clinton became when he was forced to sign the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell “compromise.” That’s politics, folks. Can he push Congress to repeal DODT or DoMA? Absolutely, and he should, and we should pressure him to do so. But this lawsuit was not that time."

Some of this may be true. It may also be true that the administration is obliged to defend its laws. My thought is the administration's first duty ought to be to the Consitution.

This one isn't dead by a long shot. But Obama has dealt the gay community a deeply wounding blow, and it will not be soon forgotten - though it could be healed if the man gets his act together and makes good on all those promises.

Friday, June 12, 2009

So Much for Advocacy

I can understand President Obama not actively working for full equality for GLBT Americans (OK, I can't really, but I'll give him some leeway given what's currently on his plate. But does he have to actively fight against our rights? And with such stupid "logic"?: "If [a State] were to permit homosexuals to marry, these marital benefits would, absent some legislative response, presumably have to be made available to homosexual couples and surviving spouses of homosexual marriages on the same terms as they are now available to opposite-sex married couples and spouses. To deny federal recognition to same-sex marriages will thus preserve scarce government resources, surely a legitimate government purpose."

So we can grant equality only when it doesn't cost anything?

This is beyond despicable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Timing is Everything

Last night I went to a meeting sponsored by Spectrum, Marin County's GLBT center. Spectrum does some terrific work and Paula Pilecki, the executive director, seems to be doing a great job leading the organization.

The meeting last night was to give an update on what's happening in the marriage equality battle and to discuss what the next steps might be on the road to achieving full civil equality. As you may or may not know, lots of GLBT activists are looking to leverage the momentum created by the extension of marriage equality by courts and legislatures in Iowa, Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, and get a repeal of Prop 8 on the ballot in November 2010.

While I understand the impatience (if anyone understands impatience, it's me), 2010 is just too soon. Marriage equality is a complex political issue, but at it's core, it's a generational issue. Old folks, raised in a world where closet doors were mostly hammered shut and the few gay folks who dared to sneak out were subject to criminal prosecution, don't like it. Don't see the need for it. And nothing is going to convince them otherwise. (Read here about former family friends who voted "yes" on 8.) On the other hand, people under the age of 30 or so are overwhelmingly in favor of full civil marriage equality. They don't even know why there's a question.

Unfortunately, by 2010, not enough of the intransigent old folks will have died, and not enough teenagers will enter the voting ranks.

So if we're smart, we'll wait. Until 2014, or 2016, when we can almost assuredly repeal Proposition 8.

Attorney Dale Carpenter put it better than I. Money quote:

"The problem is that losing has consequences beyond the immediate loss. Initiatives -- from gathering the needed signatures to running an effective campaign to winning -- require a huge investment of money, people, and time. Such resources are finite. The $60 million or more that will be spent in 2010 could go to other things, like state and congressional elections or fighting a possible SSM repeal (Maine? Iowa?) or amendment ban in another state. Those volunteers and organizers could be doing other productive things with their time. And losing in 2010, especially if the margin is greater than in 2008, will be deflating. It will harm morale. It will scare off legislators elsewhere. And it will be taken (incorrectly) as a sign that the tide is beginning to turn against SSM, with numerous political consequences in the short term."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Risk-Reward Scenarios

I'm not a good enough golfer to always appreciate many of the subtleties of course design, but I've played a few that have taught me that one key element is the balance between risk and reward. At the 18th at Indian Valley, if you can pull off a long fade, you can be 180-190 yards from the green, a difficult but doable distance. Eagle is a possibility. If you can hit a high drive 250 yards, all carry, you can have a wedge in your hand and greatly increase that possibility. However, failing at the first brings out of bounds into play (a stroke-and-distance penalty), failing at the second guarantees it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work that way in the corporate world, where risk and reward often seem to be only loosely related.

This thought is brought to me by the peril faced by the town of Cissna Park, Illinois because GM will not renew its contract with the local Chevy dealer due to bankruptcy. (If you'd said that sentence to my father 20 years ago and told him it would be due to the bankruptcy of General Motors, not the dealer...well, let's just say I now truly understand when people say they are glad someone didn't live to see something because it would have killed him. The headline "GM Bankrupt" would probably not have literally killed my father, but it would have shaken him deeply. Deeply enough that I'm grateful seeing such news was something Dad never had to experience.)

The blame for the failure of the American car industry is wide.

I suppose one could say people who even bought a Malibu (or a Neon) just because it was American-made, though they knew deep inside it was of inferior quality to a Camry or a Civic, must shoulder a little of the blame. After all, their purchases sent the wrong message to upper management. It's not that Detroit made (or that Cissna Park sold) such bad cars, it's that Japanese and European companies sold cars that were so much better. Buying less-good cars just encouraged GM and Chrysler to keep making less-good cars.

You could blame workers, I suppose. I'm sure they made mistakes. But when one remembers that American workers build Hondas and Toyotas, too, it's hard to say this is a problem with American workers.

I suppose you could blame the dealer for his fate. We've known for a long time that oil is running out. Why didn't he chuck the business his grandfather had started and sign on with Honda when they came on the scene? I remember those early Accords and Civics -- they were better than anything Detroit was producing. So why didn't the folks at Rust (irony alert) Chevrolet see the writing on the wall? Don't they share some small bit of responsibility for their fate?

Perhaps. But perhaps some people are paying too high a price for failure, given their level of responsibility for said failure.

And I think it's fair to say less responsibility for the demise of Rust Chevrolet lies with the Rust family (which has been affiliated with Chevrolet for 94 years!) than with the top management of GM.

They're the ones, after all, who guided the company to its current state, a task for which they were well rewarded. The GM CEO, Rick Waggoner pulled down $15.7 million in compensation in 2007.

But what risk does he face to justify such a rich reward -- especially when compared to that received by workers? (Even well-paid union workers.)

The board entrusted Waggoner (and all his predecessors) with making the right decisions to ensure the continued health and profitability of General Motors. They failed. But Waggoner and other GM execs -- even if they lose their jobs -- will not face the sort of deprivation that could face the families of those who work not just for Rust Chevrolet, but for the workers who won't be hired to do street repair because the town can't afford it because Rust Chevrolet represented 20% of their tax revenue might.

I'm not saying top-level execs don't deserve higher compensation -- they do. But they do because what they do is of such importance. If they set the wrong course...well, we see what happens. Unfortunately, it is the company and its employees who carry the burden of this risk. Doesn't it make sense that if CEOs feel they deserve compensation that is so out of balance with that of line workers, that they also ought to assume more risk? He's been paid a salary that is ample enough to provide the sort of cushion that can keep him cozy for the rest of his life. A far cozier cushion than the vast majority of GM employees will be able to rest upon.

I'm not sure what the additional risk CEOs ought to face when they lead their companies to financial ruin (having to live on nothing but an assembly-line workers pension?), but it seems to me the ratio between it and the reward CEOs get for their efforts is enormously out of balance. Either they have to face more daunting consequences of failure, or their salaries get pulled back to more human dimensions.