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Christianity and Islam: the violent underbelly of religion

Posted: October 24th, 2012
The Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834)

The Inquisition

I take death threats seriously, not because there’s anything wrong with dying, but because I worry about the people around me. What is it about self-proclaimed “religious” people that gives them a license to threaten others?

Because of my gay books, both fundamentalist Christians and Muslims feel it’s their duty to tell me they want me to be dead. Because I wrote a book called Tarot for Christians, one lock-jawed loons wants to burn me at the stake in a fire fueled by copies of my Tarot book.

When the goons pop up on Facebook, they get deleted and blocked and reported. When they comment on one of my websites, they get deleted. If I see where they are, I usually get their local law enforcement in the loop. In other words, I take it as seriously as I can.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been assaulted or threatened by a Buddhist or Hindu or Jews. Those religions must be full of slackers or something.  😉

e-book-burning

Dude, “Kindle Fire” is just a trade name.

It’s the Christians and Muslims who want to stir things up. The Inquisition was ever-so real. It was run by a special organization in the Vatican, the Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis (Inquiry on Heretical Perversity). The trouble is that this organization is very much alive in the Vatican. It’s morphed a couple of times and has a new name. It’s now called Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), but it is the same kind of group populated by the same kind of people. Until a few years ago, the CDF was headed by a former member of the Hitler Youth. That man had to resign as chief inquisitor to become Pope Benedict XVI.

God bless Christian haters. God bless Muslim haters.

To my friends and faithful readers, a suggestion: please stick to getting e-books instead of paperbacks. E-books don’t burn as easily.

 
 

St. Thomas Aquinas would be Ashamed of this Roman Church

Posted: October 19th, 2012
Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

The pope’s gang of hyper-dressed thugs are being called out as being the biggest contributor to homophobic political groups. The all-male (and allegedly all-hetero) bishops of the Roman church don’t like the idea of gay marriage. In addition to the Roman Catholic church itself, big anti-gay expenditures are reported from the Knights of Columbus, the church’s beer-drinking bingo-playing men’s fraternity.

The pope doesn’t like queers. The Knights of Columbus doesn’t like queers. I get all that. I think it’s silly, but I get it. I think it would be tragic to grow up in a family of Roman… wait: I did grow up in that kind of family. It is hard on kids, but most survive with a few scars.

Where the Romans cross the line is when they say that everybody has to march in lock step with their code of conduct. How Counter-Reformation of them. Right?

What’s interesting is that they’ve conveniently forgotten the teachings of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). He would be dead-set against all this meddling in secular law. The Roman Catholics say he’s one of their greatest teachers, and he would tell today’s bishops to stay out of non-church legislation.

Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican priest from Naples, Italy. The Roman Catholics call this guy Doctor Angelicus (Angelic Doctor). They call him their Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis (Universal Doctor). This is the scholastic doctor, not a medical term. The Roman church reserves the term for their biggest of big-deal-thinkers. In other words, whatever Thomas Aquinas said is something you can basically take to the bank.

Back in seminary, I had to read his works until I was almost cross-eyed. One of the cool things he did was bring the logic of Aristotle forward. The Dark Ages were so dark that the only intellectual activity was in the east. Thomas Aquinas did his best to change that. (Mazel tov!)

Why is all this relevant to his church’s activity in gay rights? He wouldn’t approve. That’s why.

This Angelic Doctor said, for example, that governments should never make prostitution illegal. [gasp]

He wrote that the church is right to teach that prostitution is a sin. Maybe it is a serious sin, but the whole point to having a thoughtful church is to encourage individuals to overcome sinful things. He said that people who don’t tie themselves to the church’s teachings shouldn’t be forced to follow those teachings.

It would be like Jews trying to get Kosher laws written into criminal statutes.

Pope Pius V (1504-1572), also considered a saint, said St. Thomas Aquinas was “the most brilliant light of the Church.” And yet the modern Romans ignore his teaching.

Bishops of the Roman Rite studied the same Thomas Aquinas that I studied. They know this stuff, but they have a selective memory. Getting homophobic laws on the books fits their current map of reality. They want Roman adherents to be anti-gay. They want to expand that teaching to Jews and atheists and even Methodists. It tells me that they are so inept in their ability to control their own flock that they have to call for a lifeline. Rather than press the flock, they need to hire the government to do their enforcement.

I wish I could believe that they are singling out gay people, leaving the rest of humanity in peace. That isn’t the case if you consider their action on contraceptives. The Spanish Inquisition. The Crusades.

It’s a long history, and it is quite un-Christian.

 

 

 
 

Chris kicks it

Posted: October 10th, 2012
Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe

The pope’s main guy in Minnesota showed a disgusting lack of compassion and common sense when he told a Roman adherent that they had to reject their son. The youngster is gay, and Archbishop John Nienstadt said the parents would be condemned to eternal damnation unless they joined him and the pope in their hatred of gay people.

No kidding! What’s more, the self-styled “man of the cloth” put it all in writing.

Enter Chris Kluwe…

Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings punter, continues to stand up for LGBT equality. Here is an excerpt from a letter that he sent to the pope —

“Tell me… what purpose does the Church serve attempting to influence the affairs of a secular state? The federal benefits under law currently denied gay couples certainly fall under the realm of Caesar, don’t they? No one is forcing the Catholic Church to marry gay couples if that is not the Church’s wish. You can keep the sanctity of Catholic marriage solely between heterosexual couples if you feel that is what’s required (again though, I caution you on the dangers of presumed infallibility).

Chris and Isabel Kluwe and family

“All we are asking is for you to extend the open hand of tolerance instead of the closed fist of fear and hate. As American citizens, we respect the right for everyone to practice whichever religion they so choose, including the right to not practice one at all. Haven’t we learned enough from the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Talibans of the world? What does it benefit the Church to attempt to influence secular policy in this country, especially when that influence is to deny basic human rights to others? Will you now assume Caesar’s throne, grasping the transitory ephemera of worldly power and control, while forsaking the eternal kingdom of Heaven?”

 

 
 

AEGiS Health, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Award

Posted: October 8th, 2012

 
 

DNA is always the truth

Posted: September 18th, 2012

DNA never lies

 
 

You built some of it (at most)

Posted: September 1st, 2012

It’s no big deal that Republicans who want Barack Obama defeated have taken the president’s words out of context. I expect them to do that.

When they give an attaboy to entrepreneurs to “prove” that they really did build their company, what they’re really doing is telling the rest of us that they seriously don’t get it. They don’t understand what it means to be a complete member of a civilized society.

The current Republican party has taken the notion of individualism and ramped it up to an extreme. Attaboy or attagirl who went out and built a better mousetrap. Goodie for those who are making a fortune from their company.

CRH2 Bullet Train (China)

CRH2 Bullet Train (China)

They didn’t build their company by themselves. If it’s a better mousetrap, there’s the Interstate Highway system that gets the product to market. If it’s a sports team, there’s the taxpayer backed arena where the team plays. The arena was probably built with union labor.

If it’s a service industry, there are clients to schmooze. Along the east coast are our “bullet” trains that really don’t run much faster than trains of the last century. They could be running faster, but the USA decided to stop investing in infrastructure. Trains in Europe are much faster, and everyone uses them because they go absolutely everywhere. Europeans decided – collectively decided – to keep their infrastructure up-to-date. Trains in Japan and Chine are faster than ours. And, most of those trains are electric.

Belgium's "Solar Tunnel"

Belgium’s “Solar Tunnel”

In Belgium, they had to put a roof over some tracks to keep a forest from dropping huge trunks and branches on the tracks. In 2011, they put solar panels on the top of that makeshift tunnel. It generates enough electricity to power 4,000 trains a year.

Our trains are electric, too. Unfortunately each train in the USA has a diesel engine that powers the electric motors, spewing tons of greenhouse gasses that the rest of us get to breathe.

The US economy is sputtering and squeaking. One reason is that the “I built it” crowd has sent so many jobs overseas. Henry Ford – no friend of big labor – paid his autoworkers more than the going rate to put together Model Ts. He said he wanted his workers paid enough so they could afford to buy a Model T.

Today’s industry moguls have forgotten that. They know how to get products made cheaply, but they don’t know how to keep the marketplace running smoothly. They don’t know that it takes consumers to buy their awesome and shiny mousetraps. Cutting costs is only half the equation. If they want to claim “I built that” on cutting costs, it’s a dreadful legacy to leave to their grandchildren.

We need that American oomph that went over and kicked the crap out of Mussolini and Tojo. We need to hear from Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt who kept corporations in check and boosted our system of National Parks and Wilderness Areas. We need to see more Republicans like Ike Eisenhower who launched the Interstate Highway system. We desperately need more Republicans like Abe Lincoln who had the guts to defy the apartheid of our Founding Fathers to let our national Constitution evolve into something more inclusive.

What we need is a little more WE and a little less ME.

 
 

Open Letter to Charles Schwab

Posted: August 16th, 2012

NOTE: Charles Schwab donated a quarter million dollars to one of those rightwing Super PACs. This is the letter that I sent to him about that–


Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab

Dear Mr. Schwab:

I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. That part of the Bill of Rights was put there to insure we can have a say on political matters, if nothing else. People elsewhere don’t always have this right, and I think it’s absolute when it comes to political expression.

That said, I am a client of the company that bears your name, and I’m concerned about a hefty contribution you made to one of the rightwing Super PACs.

I’m concerned because part of the money you’ve earned off my account has helped fund a political position that feels that I’m a substandard human being.

Those PACs fight against basic human rights for lesbian and gay Americans. Each says that I ought not have some of the privileges you enjoy every day. They say I can’t marry the man I’ve lived with for almost twenty years. When I get sick, they say that he isn’t to be allowed to visit me in the hospital. When I die, the PACs you support say he shouldn’t get anything from my estate.

The PACs you support don’t want me to teach or adopt. In fact, most of them think it’s just fine to fire an American citizen just because he or she was born gay.

One of two things is going on here. Either you agree with all those homophobic (anti-gay) positions, or you have other reasons for supporting those rightwing political special interests and their gay stances are just a minor issue.

The right’s gay stances aren’t minor to me. They want me to sit at the back of the bus and pretend I’m not gay.

I can’t do that, Mr. Schwab. God made me gay, and that’s the life I live. And you are supporting groups that scream and yell that I am somehow less deserving of all those pesky inalienable rights other US citizens take for granted.

My account of $xxxxk isn’t the largest one in your stable, but it is a lot of money to me. Even if your contribution was personal, not corporate/business, I hope you will stop anti-gay political activity with your name because it is extremely offensive to some of the people who are providing your income.

Statistics say ten percent of the population worldwide is gay. You just insulted ten percent of your clients with that contribution to the Super PAC. If you (or the corporation that bears your name) really are anti-gay, let me know, and I will move my accounts. If not, please consider all the consequences of supporting a political position that has a stated intent to squash the rights of a sizeable minority of your fellow countrymen.

Sincerely,

s/Sven Wagner

 

 
 

GOProud vs The Gays

Posted: June 23rd, 2012

Being gay and conservative seems weird to me. Andrew Sullivan is gay and conservative, and he seems likable and reasonable. I don’t understand his political preferences, but I think his views are honest.

Then came GOProud, the rightwing gay group. They endorsed Mitt Romney.

Romney has done so much pandering to the extreme right (tea party) in the Republican Party that he’s emerged as one of the most anti-LGBT candidates ever. He’s no Rick Santorum in his hatred of The Gays, but Romney is definitely anti gay. He wants us to go away and sit at the back of the bus. If my husband is in the hospital, Romney doesn’t want me to have visitation rights. In fact, he wants to take our marriage license/certificate and send it through the federal shredder.

And GOProud endorsed this caustic candidate. It’s like all the hens in the chicken coop voted to make the fox their leader.

But it gets worse. There are seven people on the GOProud board of directors. Only seven people voted on this endorsement. Three of them aren’t even gay.

  • three non-LGBT board members voted for the endorsement
  • two LGBT board members voted for the endorsement

The other two LGBT board members voted No.

GOProud isn’t a gay group after all.

When news broke about the endorsement, I was confused. Romney is such an awful candidate with completely caustic views that I thought it was a dismal day for LGBT politics.

Nope: it’s worse than I thought. My gay brothers and sisters on the right have abdicated. They are letting non-LEGT people sway their group. They’re letting straight people make endorsements that no sane gay person would ever make.

 

 
 

AEGiS Health, Human Rights and Human Services Award

Posted: June 13th, 2012

Wynn Wagner has received the 2012 AEGiS Health, Human Rights and Humanitarian Award marking a lifetime of humanitarian work.

AEGiS Health, Human Rights and Human Services Award

AEGiS Health, Human Rights and Human Services Award

Wynn Wagner, a retired archbishop in the Old Catholic Church, a internationally known computer software developer, writer and philanthropist has been a supporter of AEGiS for over twenty years both in providing software development as well as technical computer and financial support. He also wrote “Day One” to assist those who have just found out they are HIV positive. “Day One” is part of the introductory page of AEGiS and is the most popular document on the website and one of the most read documents in the world on HIV/AIDS.

AEGiS, the AIDS Education Global Information System is a non-profit, user-supported, on-line information resource. It is the single most comprehensive source of HIV/AIDS information in the world. With millions of documents dealing with HIV/AIDS, it is one of the largest online websites of any kind.

Here is the text that accompanied the award:

Before computers there was your creation of OPUS- Computer Based Conversations System! And as soon as HIV/AIDS reared its ugly head you were there providing funding for its victims and research through your inventions taking no personal profit from your work!

Because of your pioneering efforts AEGiS is proud to present to you the AEGiS Health, Human Rights and Human Services Award. This is given to you as you have been a standard bearer for our work here at AEGiS over many years.

2012 AEGiS Health, Human Rights and Humanitarian AwardYou, from the very beginning mentored, our Founder in her efforts to develop what has become one of the largest data bases of information regarding HIV/AIDS. That data base has served millions over the decades of the pandemic. An integral part of that data base was your introductory pages to the website entitled “Day One”. These pages have served to guide and inspire the newly infected for many years.

You have authored much over the years. But the truly remarkable thing is that your informational advice has been coupled with spiritual encouragement and hope. Science and Spirit have worked so well in your gifts to us.

Your efforts have also been very practical. You’ve assisted AEGiS in its programming, assisted others in donating to AEGiS and have become the largest single non-corporate donor to our efforts.

 It is with great pleasure that we recognize the great guiding light you have been for us and the HIV/AIDS community in general.

 

 

 
 

About e-book price fixing

Posted: June 4th, 2012

From the Authors Guild

This summer, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote will review the Justice Department’s proposed settlement of its lawsuit alleging that five large publishers and Apple colluded in introducing agency pricing for e-books. Judge Cote’s task is to determine whether the proposal is in the public interest. We encourage you to submit your own comments on the settlement, which the Tunney Act requires the Justice Department to read, consider, address, and deliver to the court. We’ll get to the mechanics of submitting comments (it’s quite simple) in a moment.

First, here’s our view, in a nutshell: the proposed settlement is not in the public interest, because it needlessly imperils brick-and-mortar bookstores while it backs an online monopolist and discourages competition among e-book vendors and e-book device developers. The settlement needs to be rethought, and substantially modified.

Agency pricing, in which the e-book vendor acts as the publisher’s “agent,” with no authority to change the retail price of the book, was a reaction to a specific anticompetitive provocation – Amazon had been routinely selling frontlist e-books at below cost. Amazon’s predatory tactic wasn’t scattershot; it was (and remains – Amazon continues to deploy this weapon with the titles of non-agency publishers) highly targeted. When not constrained by agency pricing, Amazon chooses to absorb substantial losses on e-book editions of a specific subset of new hardcover books: those that are most likely to be stocked by traditional bookstores.

The Justice Department’s proposal, which would permit Amazon to resume using the frontlists of three major publishers for anticompetitive purposes, appears to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the market for trade books, particularly the interplay between the online market for print books and the e-book market. Amazon, which has long commanded 75% of the online market for print books, clearly understands that relationship well. The story of the introduction of the Kindle is largely a story of Amazon exploiting its dominance in the online market for print books to gain control of the e-book market.

Frontlist, Backlist, and the Rise of Online Bookselling

To understand the U.S. market for trade books, one needs to understand how online retailing has radically altered the competitive landscape of bookselling.

The literary marketplace has traditionally been divided into two broad submarkets: frontlist (the season’s new books) and backlist (everything else). Retailers faced the most competition in selling frontlist books – new hardcovers and new paperbacks were the most likely titles to appear on the shelves of stores (bookstores, airport newsstands, and big box retailers, among others) across the country. Backlist books were far less likely to be on store shelves, except for the relatively rare “core backlist” titles that had become steady sellers (To Kill a Mockingbird, Green Eggs and Ham, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, for example). “Deep backlist” books, a subcategory of backlist books that were sold almost exclusively through special orders or at used bookstores, were the least commercially available books.

With the rise of online bookselling, these categories still largely existed, but online booksellers, with endlessly long bookshelves made possible by inexpensive warehouse space and on-demand printing technology, came to dominate the market for backlist and especially deep backlist titles. For nearly all backlist books, representing roughly 90% of all in-print titles, the online market had become the market, and Amazon owned the online market. The deeper one traveled down the backlist, the more complete Amazon’s dominance. Amazon had even gained control of the furthest end of the long tail – out-of-print books – by buying up the major competing online used bookselling networks.

Online Print Book Dominance Dictates Amazon’s E-Book Tactics

From Amazon’s perspective, as it prepared to launch the Kindle, the print book market had two components: the part in which it faced significant competition (the market for new books and core backlist titles) and the part in which it didn’t (everything else). Amazon would leverage its online print book dominance to conquer the e-book market, protecting its profits on 90% of titles by focusing its predatory tactics on the other 10%, the books that were most likely to be on store shelves.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores were in the crosshairs, jeopardizing vital participants in the literary ecosystem. Bookstores remain critical showrooms for works by new or lesser-known authors and for entire categories of books, such as children’s picture books. Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more open to trying new genres and new authors when in a bookstore than when shopping online.

It seems to come down to browsing versus searching. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are optimized for browsing; the stores’ “search engines” – their information desks – aren’t what draw in customers. A reader browsing the shelves and tables of a bookstore is often hoping to discover something unexpected. Virtual bookstores, on the other hand, are optimized for search – browsing isn’t the attraction. Readers behave accordingly, tending to use virtual bookstores as search engines to find books they’ve discovered elsewhere.

Publishers were aware of much of this and that the health of brick-and-mortar bookstores relied heavily on frontlist hardcover book sales, but Amazon persuaded them to break with established practice and release books in digital form at the same time they released them as hardcovers. The protection for the hardcover market (and brick-and-mortar bookstores) was implicit: Amazon agreed to pay the same wholesale price for e-books that it did for hardcovers.

Things didn’t work out. As Amazon launched its Kindle in November 2007, publishers learned that it would be selling a long list of frontlist e-books at a loss. As Scott Turow said in his letter to members on March 9th:
It was as if Netflix announced that it would stream new movies the same weekend they opened in theaters. Publishers, though reportedly furious, largely acquiesced. Amazon, after all, already controlled some 75% of the online physical book market.

Amazon quickly captured the e-book market as well, bringing customers into its proprietary device-and-format walled garden (Sony, the prior e-book device leader, uses the open ePub format). Two years after it introduced the Kindle, Amazon continued to take losses on a deep list of e-book titles, undercutting hardcover sales of the most popular frontlist titles at its brick and mortar competitors. Those losses paid huge dividends. By the end of 2009, Amazon held an estimated 90% of the rapidly growing e-book market. Traditional bookstores were shutting down or scaling back. Borders was on its knees. Barnes & Noble had gamely just begun selling its Nook, but it lacked the capital to absorb e-book losses for long.

The publishers had made a huge mistake.

Taking Aim at One Percent

Even as it targeted the 10% of titles sold in bookstores, Amazon would be selective. Amazon could get the most bang for its buck by taking aim at the narrow band of books on which its brick-and-mortar competitors were most dependent – those new titles from larger publishers that bring readers into bookstores. Once in the stores, a reader might choose to purchase other books within the list of 10% of titles in which Amazon faced competition: it was best, from Amazon’s perspective, to keep readers out of bookstores and safely online, on Amazon’s turf.

So Amazon’s predation focused on a slice within a slice of the literary market. Amazon would sell at a substantial loss the electronic versions of select new hardcovers: the new bestsellers, near bestsellers, and might-become bestsellers from commercial publishers. Our best estimate was that Amazon’s predatory tactics focus on less than one percent of in-print titles.

Amazon’s highly selective predation not only conquered the e-book market, it paid immediate dividends in the print book market. Marketing studies confirm what Amazon no doubt guessed: readers who buy Kindles tend to dramatically shift their print book purchases to Amazon.

The strategy was brilliant, a predatory feedback loop in which online print book dominance allowed Amazon to absorb selective losses to gain control of the e-book market, which in turn gave Amazon an ever-larger share of the print book market. It was a tactic Amazon could continue indefinitely, as it offset its losses on the most recognizable new e-books by taking profits on e-books by lesser-known authors, on backlist e-books, and on its growing share of print book sales.

After Two Years of Predation, Agency Pricing Opens the E-Book Market

For more than two years Amazon’s predatory pricing went unchecked. Then, in January 2010, one month after B&N shipped its first Nook, Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s iPad, with its iBookstore and its proven iTunes-and-apps “agency model” for selling digital content. Five of the largest publishers jumped on with Apple’s agency pricing, even though it meant those publishers would make less money on each e-book they sold. Again, from Scott Turow’s March 9th letter:
Publishers had no real choice (except the largest, Random House, which could bide its time – it took the leap with the launch of the iPad 2): it was seize the agency model or watch Amazon’s discounting destroy their physical distribution chain. Bookstores were well along the path to becoming as rare as record stores. That’s why we publicly backed Macmillan when Amazon tried to use its online print book dominance to enforce its preferred e-book sales terms, even though Apple’s agency model also meant lower royalties for authors.

Agency pricing brought real competition, steadily loosening Amazon’s chokehold on the e-book market: its share fell from 90% to roughly 60% in two years.

Agency pricing allowed cash-strapped B&N to make substantial investments in e-readers with the reasonable hope of earning a return on those investments. Customers are benefiting from the surprisingly innovative e-readers those investments have delivered, including a tablet device that beat Amazon to the market by a full twelve months.

Authors in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program benefited as much as anyone, as Amazon more than doubled its royalty rates to match Apple’s agency model royalties.

Most importantly, agency pricing has prohibited Amazon from using the most popular new books from six large publishers to undermine the economics of bookselling. Agency pricing has given bookstores a fighting chance.

The Proposed Settlement Allows Amazon to Resume Its Predatory Practices

The Justice Department’s proposal undoes all of this. Its settlement with three large publishers would require the publishers to allow Amazon (and other e-book vendors) to sell e-books at below cost, so long as the vendors don’t lose money on the publisher’s entire list of e-books over a 12-month period. Amazon, a far richer and more powerful corporation than it was even two years ago, has every motivation to revert to its prior ways – it will take losses on the books that bring customers into bookstores, and make it back on less popular and backlist books. It will lose money on the one percent, and make it back on the rest.

The Justice Department is sanctioning the destructive, anticompetitive campaign of a corporate giant with billions in cash and boundless ambitions. The situation is bizarre, and without precedent, to our knowledge: the Justice Department is intervening to help entrench a monopolist.

We encourage all authors to speak up, and let the Justice Department know that bookstores play a vital role in our literary ecosystem, and the public has a strong interest in protecting them from predation.