happy birthday molly

Today is the birthday of the late, great Molly Ivins. ‘Late’ on account of she’s been dead since 2007, which is far too long. ‘Great’ on account of she was the smartest and wittiest and sharpest political writer since the invention of political writering.

molly ivins1

Laughing Molly Ivins

I don’t recall the first time I came across Molly’s writing, but I’d been a fan for quite a long time before I ever saw her speak. I only saw her speak the one time. I was a grad student at the American University back in 1990 or 91, and I heard she was going to be interviewed at some local event. So I put on a sport coat and a tie and took myself to some grand Washingtonian venue and joined the other couple hundred folks who’d come to hear Molly speak.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the tall (in her cowboy boots she had to be over six feet tall), awkward-looking woman with the unfortunate haircut (it looked like she’d cut her own hair…with pinking sheers) who walked onto the stage. Then she sort of dropped herself into a wing-backed chair and grinned — and there was so much joy and delight and orneriness in that grin that I completely fell in love with her. She grinned like a pirate.

I couldn’t tell you what she talked about. I just don’t recall. What I do recall is that she was charming and clever and thoughtful and uproariously funny. I don’t know if she was exaggerating her drawl or if she was moderating it, but there was no doubt Molly Ivins was from Texas. And laugh…lawdy, that woman could bring a laugh. Nothing demure about it; she laughed all the way down to her boots.

Young Molly Ivins

Young Molly Ivins

It was the breast cancer that killed her. One more reason to hate cancer and donate money to kick its ass.

“Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

That was Molly Ivins. She’d bring you the Truth in all its ugliness. And she’d make you laugh about it. She didn’t make light of it, she didn’t want you to ignore the ugliness; she wanted you to feel the sting of the ugly. But she didn’t want you to forget to laugh. She didn’t want you to forget that having fun isn’t just how we tolerate the ugly. It’s how we defeat it.

A few of my favorite lines from our Molly:

[W]e’ve bounced back from this same mistake before—the mistake of thinking that we can make ourselves safer if we just make ourselves less free. We get so scared of something—scared of communism or crime or drugs or illegal aliens—that we think we can make ourselves safer by sacrificing freedom.  Never works.  It’s still true: the only thing to fear is fear itself.

I don’t have an agenda, I don’t have a program. I’m not a communist or a socialist. I guess I’m a left-libertarian and a populist, and I believe in the Bill of Rights the way some folks believe in the Bible.

A populist is someone who is for the people and against the powerful, and so a populist is generally the same as a liberal—except we tend to have more fun.

In Texas, we do not hold high expectations for the [Governor’s] office; it’s mostly been occupied by crooks, dorks and the comatose.

I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.

I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn’t actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle.

So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.

Aw lawdy, that was a woman. They say the good die young. I don’t know about that. What I do know is this: the great die too soon.

The late, great Molly Ivins

The late, great, beautiful Molly Ivins

Happy birthday, Molly Ivins. We miss you.

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okay, we have to do something about syria

syria civilians

       “We HAVE to do something about Syria!”
       “Okay. Why?”
       “Because the Syrian government used chemical weapons against their own people!”
       “Okay. But hasn’t the Syrian government been killing their own people for a couple of years now?”
       “Yes. But this time they used chemical weapons!”
       “Okay. Do chemical weapons kill their victims deader than conventional weapons?”
       “You don’t understand! Chemical weapons are indiscriminate!”
       “Okay. But when the Syrian government shelled neighborhoods where insurgents were suspected of hiding, wasn’t that also indiscriminate?”
       “The chemical weapons killed noncombatants! Women! Children! Old people!”
       “Okay. Didn’t the shelling also kill women and children and old…”
       “We have to do something to stop the killing of innocents!”
       “Okay. What do you suggest?”
       “Launch missles! Drop smart bombs!”
       “Okay. And you can guarantee that won’t kill innocents?”
       “There is always collateral damage! But we have to stop Syrian President Assad from using chemical weapons!”
       “Okay. So we should destroy his chemical weapons facilities?”
       “No! That would contaminate the area!”
       “Okay, so we should drop bombs and launch missiles at Assad? We should kill him?”
       “No! He’s the only one we can negotiate with! And he’s not a radical Islamist!”
       “Okay. So who do we fire these missiles at? Who do we drop the bombs on?”
       “Airfields! Command and control centers! Military installations!”
       “Okay. But that’ll just kill a bunch of mid-level officers and support staff, won’t it?”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. If we destroy a bunch of military installations and kill those people, will that prevent the Syrian government from deploying chemical weapons?”
       “No! Chemical weapons can be fired from any artillery piece!”
       “Okay. So we’d have to destroy all the Syrian government’s artillery. Can we do that?”
       “No! Many of them are deployed in areas inhabited by civilians!”
       “Okay. So what should we do? Send in ground troops?”
       “Are you fucking crazy? We can’t send in ground troops!”
       “Okay. So we can’t kill Assad, right?”
       “Correct!”
       “Okay, and we can’t target the places where the chemical weapons are created, right?”
       “Correct!”
       “Okay, and we can’t target the individual weapon systems that actually fire the weapons, right?”
       “Correct!”
       “Okay, and we can’t send in ground forces, right?”
       “Are you fucking crazy?!”
       “Okay. So basically, we can’t actually prevent Assad and his government from using chemical weapons against their own rebellious citizens.”
       “Correct! But we HAVE to do something, or America will be blamed and people will hate us!”
       “Okay. You’re saying if the U.S. does nothing, we’ll be blamed and people will hate us?”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. But if we do something and it doesn’t work, won’t we still be blamed and won’t people still hate us?”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. But even if we did something and somehow whatever we did magically worked, wouldn’t we be blamed for not acting sooner?”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. So the United States is going to be blamed regardless. Won’t people hate us anyway?”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. Okay, so to summarize, regardless of what we do or don’t do, the Assad government will be able to use chemical weapons against their own people and the United States will be blamed and hated regardless. And regardless of what we do or don’t do, civilians will continue to be killed at random.”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. So we’re fucked.”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. And the Assad government is fucked.”
       “Yes, that’s correct!”
       “Okay. And the Syrian people are fucked.”
       “Yes, that’s correct! Massively fucked! Fucked all around!”
       “Okay. And knowing all that, your position is…?”
       “We HAVE to do something about Syria!”

syria neighborhood

texas, i declare

Fucking Texas. You know, I really want to like Texas. I really do. I have friends who deliberately live there. I’ve been there my ownself on occasion and mostly enjoyed it. It’s one of the very few states in the U.S. that can be accurately described as iconic. You know — cowboys, longhorns, oil, the open range, all that stuff.

I really want to like Texas, but over the last couple of decades it’s become a sinkhole where politics and religion combine with deep imbecility to form an impenetrable block of stupid. The mass of the stupidity of Texas is so dense it could bend light.

You may remember back in April of this year when a fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded, killing 15 people (several of whom were firefighters responding to a fire at the plant), injuring more than 300 others, destroying or severely damaging around 150 buildings, and causing US$135 million in damages.

We don’t know what started the initial fire at the fertilizer plant. The reason we don’t know is that the explosion caused by the stored ammonium nitrate was so powerful it destroyed any evidence of the fire. It was so powerful, in fact, that it was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey as a 2.1-magnitude tremor.

The fertilizer plant was built in 1965. It was last inspected by OSHA in 1985. That’s right, it went uninspected by OSHA for nearly 30 years. Although it had a long record of burglaries and thefts (anhydrous ammonia is used in cooking meth), the plant had no security personnel. They had a permit to store 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. In fact, it was storing approximately 110,000 pounds, as well as 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate. Federal law requires any facility holding more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate and a combustible agent (like, say, anhydrous ammonia) to file a report with the Department of Homeland Security. The West, Texas fertilizer plant hadn’t bothered with that. Because, you know…freedom.

What's left of the West, Texas fertilizer plant

What’s left of the West, Texas fertilizer plant

So we’re talking about a facility that was essentially a giant bomb. Located next to an elementary school and an apartment complex for retired folks. And it was last inspected in 1985. Why? Because fucking Texas is pro-business. And pro-freedom.

That’s old news, of course. But yesterday, while all the major news agencies were focused on Miley Cyrus’ ass, the Texas Observer filed a news story: State Agencies Meet Resistance in Policing Fertilizer Industry. Here are a couple of sentences from the second paragraph:

The Fire Marshal’s Office has identified 153 facilities in the state that are believed to store ammonium nitrate. Since Texas doesn’t have a state fire code, the fire marshal lacks the authority to conduct inspections if the company resists.

Texas doesn’t have a state fire code. The entire fucking state…no fire code. Not only that, it’s actually illegal for 173 of Texas’ 254 counties to adopt a fire code. It seems only Texas counties with populations above 250,000 can legally adopt their own fire code. Those counties with more than a quarter of a million people aren’t required to have a fire code because, you know…freedom. But they can. If they want to. If they’re pussies.

Of the 153 facilities believed to be storing ammonium nitrate (they don’t even know for sure how many facilities are storing it), the Fire Marshal has been allowed to inspect only 62. Allowed. Because Texas is pro-business, and has no fire code, so the Fire Marshal has no authority to inspect any plant without an invitation. Five fertilizer plants completely refused an inspection. Because, you know…freedom again.

West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

But hey, the Texas legislature is having a hearing on the matter. So that’s something, right? That’s a start. It’s a beginning. It’s a move toward insuring public safety. So there’s that. Right?

Nope.

Much of the hearing was dominated by Republican lawmakers worried about burdening fertilizer businesses with new requirements. Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said while he respected the victims of the West tragedy, the industry has been doing a “pretty good job of policing themselves” and voluntarily submitting reports. “If we’re not careful we could get like the federal government and try to put diapers on cows,” he said.

Diapers on cows. If the Great State of Texas tried to limit the ability of fertilizer plants to store tons of massively explosive chemicals, it would be a burden on business. And Texas is pro-business. Seriously, if you allow the government to put restrictions on which plants can store explosive, you might just as well put diapers on cows — because that’s what would come next. (Dan Flynn, by the way, is the Texas legislator who tried to reduce the number of training hours required to get a concealed weapon permit from ten to four, because, you know…freedom.)

Texas Republican Dan 'Diapers on Cows' Flynn

Texas Republican Dan ‘Diapers on Cows’ Flynn

Unfortunately, the Texas legislature won’t be able to reach any real decision on how to deal with fertilizer plant safety during this legislative session. But they’ll address the issue again in the next regular session. Which is scheduled for January, 2015. (Governor Rick Perry may call for yet another special session, but only to deal with imposing even stricter legal restrictions on the few remaining women’s health centers that provide abortion services, because, you know…freedom Texas is pro-life.)

 

on-a-stick

Here’s one of the reasons I love history. The very first Iowa State Fair opened on 25 October, 1854. On that very same day, on the Crimean Peninsula some 5200 miles away, British light cavalry troops went barreling down a valley in a suicidal assault on entrenched Russian forces — the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.

The first Iowa State Fair lasted three days and had an attendance of about 7,000 visitors. Nobody died. The Charge of the Light Brigade lasted about half an hour and involved nearly 700 men; 156 of them were killed (along with 335 horses), and another 122 were wounded.

Tennyson, of course, wrote a stirring poem romanticizing the pointless slaughter of the Light Brigade. I think the world would have been a better place if he’d written a poem about the grand prize-winning sheep at the Iowa State Fair, or food-on-a-stick. It’s not as dramatic, to be sure, but I believe we could do with much less “Theirs not to make reply / Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die” and more food-on-a-stick.

Bacon-wrapped Barbecued Rib on a Stick

Bacon-wrapped Barbecued Rib on a Stick

This year there were more than sixty (60!) foods served on-a-stick, most of them either deep-fried, wrapped in bacon, or covered with chocolate (or at least two of the three). There was the Shrimp Corndog On-a-Stick, the Soft Salted Chocolate Dipped Almond Pretzel On-a-Stick, Peanut Butter and Jelly On-a-Stick, Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Dream Bar On-a-Stick, a Hard-boiled Egg On-a-Stick, Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake On-a-Stick, Lamb Sausage On-a-Stick, Turkey Sausage Wrapped in a Pancake On-a-Stick, a Smoothie On-a-Stick, Chocolate-Covered Turtle Mousse Bar On-a-Stick, a Deep Fried Double Bacon Corn Dog On-a-Stick, Pork Chop On-a-Stick, a Deep Fried Snickers On-a-Stick, Fresh Pineapple dipped in Funnel Cake Batter and Deep Fried On-a-Stick, Sesame Chicken On-a-Stick and I think I’ll stop there.

Sadly, this year there was no Chocolate-Covered Fried Bacon On-a-Stick — the State Fair Food Trifecta.

Exercising a horse

Exercising a horse

Food and animals (and animals raised to be turned into food) are a significant part of the fair. I’m pretty much a dunderhead when it comes to agriculture, but I enjoy wandering through the various animal barns and looking at the livestock. I can tell a horse from a cow, and a cow from a sheep, and a sheep from a pig — but one horse looks pretty much like another horse to me, and while I’m sure individual swine have distinct personalities, don’t ask me to tell one from the other.

But the kids who raised them can tell them apart. No doubt adults take a great interest in the livestock judging, but it’s almost always young teens who are in the ring with the animals. There’s something very sweet and innocent about watching these earnest young folks show the animals they’ve raised (of course, you have to ignore the fact that those pigs might turn up next year on the Iowa State Fair menu — and, in the case of the bacon-wrapped barbecued rib, some of them could turn up twice).

Pre-show warm-up

Pre-show warm-up

Showing the livestock isn’t just a matter of pride, of course. There are cash prizes for the winners. Not just the winners of the livestock competitions, but also the winners of the best zucchini, the best needlepoint, the best peach preserves, the best hog caller (I’ve no idea how one judges hog-calling), the best of just about anything related to farming or produce. How much money? About half a million dollars, spread out among the winners of some 60,000 exhibitors. It’s a big deal, winning at the Iowa State Fair.

The fair was given its permanent location in 1886. The fairgrounds covers 445 acres (160 of those acres is devoted to campgrounds for fair-goers and exhibitors). Most of the primary buildings were constructed in the early 1900s. They’re lovely old buildings, well-maintained and preserved. Although the Agriculture Building (home of the Butter Cow) was built in 1904, it’s a classic example of late-19th century exposition style architecture. It would have been easy for the State Fair Authority to tear down these old buildings and replace them with more modern structures, but to their credit they’ve resisted that temptation.

Pioneer Hall, built in 1886

Agriculture Building, built in 1904

I often visit the fairgrounds during the off-season just to walk through the massive old barns and structures. One of my favorites is the Horse Barn, built in 1907. We’re talking about two acres of brick and stone and metal girders — that’s more than 87,000 square feet. In other words, it’s a really big fucking barn. It has nearly 400 stalls; during the fair they’re almost all filled with really big fucking horses. And to be honest, even during the off-season the place smells faintly of old hay and horseshit. But I find it weirdly lovely, and I don’t mind the smell. Much.

Horse barn

Horse barn

One of the things I love about the Iowa State Fair is the celebration of useless skills. Let’s face it, nobody really needs a blacksmith anymore. But you have to love the fact that there are people still using a forge to work iron and steel, people still weaving basketry by hand, people throwing pottery and canning jam and quilting and brewing ale and growing Fairhope miniature roses.

The fair not only awards prizes to folks who do those things well, they provide space for people to give demonstrations of their skills. In one building you’ll see a guy working iron, in the next building you’ll see somebody painting miniatures on wood, or weaving a rug out of alpaca hair, or using a pocketknife to whittle a birdcage from a single block of wood. It may be silly and archaic, but it’s also pretty wonderful.

Working iron

Working iron

And then, of course, there’s the Midway. That’s the term used in the U.S. and Canada for an area deliberately separated from the exhibition sites and designated for various forms of entertainment. The term ‘midway’ was coined during the great Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, held in 1893 (Columbian because it was the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World — and yes, it was actually the 401st anniversary and yes, there’s absolutely no connection between Columbus and the city of Chicago, but don’t blame me; I’m just explaining the origin of the term).

The Midway is where you’ll find the games of chance (in which chance rarely plays a part), the very worst forms of fair food (which is saying something), amusement rides (designed, I’m convinced, to provoke the regurgitation of fair food), and other sources of pleasure and delight.

The Midway

The Midway

The Midway is the gaudiest, noisiest, smelliest, craziest, drunkest, annoyingest, and most aggressively fascinating part of the fair. This is what the Iowa State Fair has instead of the Charge of the Light Brigade. There’s an aura of self-destructiveness that infuses the air of the Midway. All the things you know you probably shouldn’t do are available here. The Midway is where you’re most likely to step in puke, most likely to see a fistfight, most likely to see tattoos in the most unlikely places, most likely to Death Metal t-shirts, and most likely to win a giant plushie banana.

More of the Midway

More of the Midway

The Midway reaches its peak madness hours after dark — which is why I tend to leave before twilight. I have grown older and wiser and less tolerant of noise and vomit and drunken bikers. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the Midway. No state fair experience is complete without a trip through the Midway.

On the periphery of the Midway you can find the more tame amusements — the ones designed for children. You can’t always see the children’s rides, but you can locate them by the wide fringe of camera-toting parents surrounding them.

Super Slide

Super Slide

I spent about six hours noodly about at the Iowa State Fair, and that was enough. I didn’t get to see everything I’d wanted to see, but still I managed to eat a Bacon-wrapped Barbecued Rib On-a-Stick, a Deep Fried Pork Tenderloin with Bacon on the Inside and Outside, and a Deep Fried Hostess Twinkie On-a-Stick (surprisingly without bacon).

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized I’d neglected to see the Butter Cow. That’s been an Iowa State Fair tradition since 1911 — a life-sized cow carved out of around 600 pounds of butter. Each year since 1996 (Iowa’s Sesquicentennial) there’s also been a companion butter sculpture. That first year it was a butter version of Grant Woods American Gothic (I swear, I’m not making this up). There have also been butter versions of Elvis, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, John Wayne (honest, I’m really not making this up), a Harley Davidson motorcycle, Tiger Woods (don’t look at me, I’m just reporting this), Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, and Harry Potter.

1911 Postcard of the original Butter Cow sculpture

1911 Postcard of the original Butter Cow sculpture

This year the companion sculpture was a butter Abraham Lincoln (in honor of the centennial of the completion of the Lincoln Highway, which runs through Iowa). That’s the Iowa State Fair — a bacon-wrapped barbecued rib on-a-stick, a pig that weighs over 1000 pounds (did I forget to mention the largest pig and cow competitions?), and the Great Emancipator carved from a solid chunk of churned cow’s milk.

Ain’t that America.

no dream is impossible

Oh, c’mon Texas, I’m beginning to think y’all are doing this on purpose.

Seriously, y’all have managed to pack an entire psychopathology into three little words: Republican from Texas. I swear, when the next version of the DSM is released there’ll be a diagnostic ladder for Republican from Texas. That three-word phrase has already become shorthand for bone-stupid, delusional, obsessive, and well-armed.

Texas, you started us off slowly (so to speak) with George W. He wasn’t so much stupid as he was intellectually disconnected and entirely unimaginative. But then you doubled down with Rick ‘Good Hair’ Perry, and before you know it we were up to our hips in Louie Gohmert, the Republican from Texas poster boy. Gohmert is so fucking stupid and delusional he won’t tie his shoes because he thinks shoelaces are gay. That’s why he wears cowboy boots, so his laces won’t get gay-married.

Louie Gohmert, Republican from Texas

Louie Gohmert, Republican from Texas Poster Boy

But Texas, you’re not satisfied with your Rick Perrys and your Louie Gohmerts. No sir, you have a bench of Republicans from Texas full of goobers, tuna-heads, whack-jobs, and 40 Watt dimwits. Folks who are so loopy that, in other states, they’d be locked in the attic and fed table scraps don’t even get noticed among Republicans from Texas.

Including poor Blake Farenthold. And just who is Blake Farenthold, you ask? This is Blake Farenthold.

Blake Farenthold, Republican from Texas (on the right)

Blake Farenthold, Republican from Texas (he’s the one on the right).

No, I’m not kidding. The guy in the blue pyjamas with the yellow duckies? Guys, that’s the United States Representative for Texas’s 27th congressional district. And I’m willing to bet a shiny new nickel that you probably hadn’t even heard of him before. If so, that’s not Congressman Farenthold’s fault; it’s because he’s just not quite as irresponsibly insane as other Republicans from Texas.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy is completely loopy. Just not that loopy, not on the Republican from Texas scale. But he’s trying. Give pyjama-boy credit, he’s trying. At a town hall meeting with his constituents just last weekend, Farenthold was given proof that President Obama committed a felony by being a secret Muslim atheist faggot from Communist Kenya. Proof, mind you — put right into his hand. So why hasn’t Obama been impeached? Farenthold said that was:

“…a question I get a lot. ‘If everyone’s so unhappy with the president’s done, why don’t you impeach him?’ I’ll give you a real frank answer about that. If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted.”

Farenthold apparently believes Making Texans Unhappy is an impeachable offense. The House of Representatives would impeach him for that, but those fucking Senators? No ma’am, not gonna do it. Farenthold believes it should have been done a long time ago, and now it’s just too late.

“I think unfortunately the horse is already out of the barn on this, on the whole birth certificate issue. The original Congress when his eligibility came up should have looked into it and they didn’t. I’m not sure how we fix it.”

Oh, if only the original Congress had been patriotic enough to keep that birth certificate equine in the barn! Mitt Romney would be president today, and we’d all be eating crème brûlée while riding on dancing horses.

Blake Farenthold, Republican from Texas

Blake Farenthold, Republican from Texas, legislating his little heart out.

Congressman Farenthold has some serious work to do if he wants to politic with the boys in the big hats. But he’s making the effort. He’s putting himself out there, meeting with his lunatic constituents, saying all sorts of crazy shit and doing it in public. He’s doing all he can to represent his Congressional district and uphold the standards of the Texas Republican Party.

Blake Farenthold, Republican from Texas

Blake Farenthold, Republican from Texas, representing his constituents.

If Blake Farenthold can find the energy to keep this up — and I’ve no doubt he’ll do his very best — he has the potential to some day be known as the Louie Gohmert of South Texas. No dream is impossible.

coffee, guns, & sensitivity

“Starbucks? You get coffee at Starbucks?” I get asked that question periodically. Sometimes by people who dislike the cost or taste of Starbucks coffee, sometimes by folks who dislike the way Starbucks treats its employees, sometimes by people who dislike the music at Starbucks, or the customers who frequent Starbucks, or the name Starbucks. And lately I’ve been asked that question by folks who are appalled by the refusal of Starbucks to ban firearms from their coffee shops.

starbucks and guns

That’s right, Starbucks allows its overly-caffeinated customers to be armed. Not every Starbucks; only those Starbucks in states that have ‘open carry’ laws**. According to Zack Hutson, a spokesman for Starbucks,

“We comply with local laws and statutes in the communities we serve, abiding by laws that permit open carry. Where these laws don’t exist, openly carrying weapons in our stores is prohibited.”

So if your state or city allows folks to openly tote a firearm, then Starbucks says you’re welcome to take that firearm into their coffee shops. They don’t advertise this, but there it is.

Gun safety advocates think this stance is massively stupid. Gun rights advocates are basically divided into three camps. There are those who think anybody who’d enter a Starbucks is a communist who’s only about five minutes away from gay-marrying a sheep. There are those who dislike Starbucks because they’re only ‘gun-neutral’ instead of ‘pro-gun.’ And there are those folks who think Starbucks deserves a round of applause for their bold hey-we-didn’t-write-the-law stance on firearms.

The latter group organized Starbucks Appreciation Day. Which was last Friday, in case you didn’t notice (and you probably didn’t). Starbucks Appreciation Day was sort of like Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, only that was for hating gay folks and this was for loving firearms. Given that there’s some serious overlap among the gun-loving and gay-hating subsets, it’s not surprising that Starbucks Appreciation Day received some blowback (hah, blowback…see what I did there?) from the triple-shot testosterone black coffee crowd.

The CEO OF fAGbucks told the rest of us that if we dont support ass munchers getting married, we should not buy fagbucks, so I now go to the Coffee Bean

I’m aware of [Starbucks] recent backing of homosexual “partnerships”. My point was that they have not changed their open-carry policy and that behavior deserves acknowledgement. As long as the homosexuals don’t “invade my space”, I’ll let them suffer the consequences of their lifestyle.

Yeah. Fagbucks. One argument for getting coffee at Starbucks is you’re not likely to meet the guy who refers to it as ‘Fagbucks.’

In any event, I was pleased by Starbucks Appreciation Day. Not because I support the notion of openly carrying firearms — I definitely do not. I like Starbucks Appreciation Day because 1) it brings attention to Starbucks’ policy (which, in my opinion, really needs to change), and 2) I’m a very firm believer in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” So it makes me perversely proud to see people with whom I actively disagree making a public stand and exercising their constitutional rights. I’m more willing to support people who openly stand up for causes I dislike than I am to support a corporation that quietly refuses to adopt a policy that’s in the best interest of its customers. 

starbucks and guns3

Here’s the thing about freedom of speech and freedom of assembly: if it’s to have any meaning at all, it can’t be limited for reasons of sensitivity. These rights cannot be restricted simply because they might upset somebody.

It would, for example, be incredibly insensitive and deliberately offensive for gun rights advocates to hold Starbucks Appreciation Day at a Starbucks in Newtown, where more than two dozen children and teachers were murdered eight months ago. Only a group of world class jackasses would schedule a pro-gun rally in Newtown.

And so, of course, that’s exactly what the Connecticut Citizens Defense League decided to do. Not surprisingly, gun safety advocates objected. Equally unsurprising, pro-gun folks mocked them.

Interesting comments by the “victim class” from Newtown.

They need to suck it up. We don’t all stop driving our cars when there is a big car crash. We don’t ban flights over a town where a plane crashed. to heck with all that. If we want to be sensitive of the kids fears then let them stay home from public school for a year. My rights are not negotiable on someone elses fears.

As if we should be ashamed at insisting on rights in such an insensitive way. Screw that! Sensitivity is why they band open carry and concealed carry in most states ages ago. It took us DECADES of tragedies before people started insisting on overturning those laws. We will NOT crawl back in our holes because someone whines and cries.

I guess civil rights stop after a killing.

Seriously, these guys were actually offended–offended–by the notion that they should be sensitive to the pain and suffering of parents whose six-year-old children were recently murdered. In fact, they seemed to see this as some sort of challenge. “You don’t want me to bring a gun to your Starbucks in Newtown? Fuck you in the neck, you whining babies. I’m going to drive an extra ninety minutes just so I can bring a gun to Newtown. In fact, fuck you so much I’m bringing TWO guns now. Sensitivity is for pussies. Suck my puny white dick.”

The whole Starbucks Appreciation Day idea put the corporation in an uncomfortable public relations situation (which, let’s face it, is exactly where they belong for having such a passive policy). They had to choose between 1) maintaining their policies and showing themselves to be heartless corporate fuckwads or 2) being decent members of the community. They tried to choose both.

Starbucks issued a statement on the decision of pro-gun advocates to hold Appreciation Day:

These events are not endorsed by Starbucks. That said, our stores are gathering places for the communities we serve and we respect the diverse views of our customers.  We recognize that there is significant and genuine passion surrounding open carry weapon laws. Our long-standing approach to this topic remains unchanged.

Oh Starbucks, you had me at ‘that said.’ Except, of course, this is NOT an issue of ‘diverse views’ as the Starbucks statement suggests. It’s an issue of health and safety. While it’s true that occasionally somebody carrying a concealed weapon will prevent a crime from taking place, it’s a lot more likely somebody carrying a weapon will fire it in anger (and I don’t know about you, but every time I’m behind somebody who orders a “Venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip” I want to kneecap them). It’s even more likely somebody will discharge their weapon accidentally (and if we’re lucky, they’ll only wound themselves).

starbucks and guns2

In the end, Starbucks is a corporation and the only thing corporations really care about is maximizing profit. Starbucks isn’t about coffee; it’s about selling coffee. At least whoever owns the Newtown Starbucks franchise had the decency to close the coffee shop five hours early, so there was no Starbucks Loves Guns event there.

Oh, and if Starbucks is so wicked, why do I buy their coffee on occasion? Simple. There’s a Starbucks about seventy paces from the entrance to the main branch of the public library. I can stop there, buy a big white chocolate mocha, take it into the library with me, and sip on it for an hour or two while I work.

I’m apparently willing to periodically sacrifice my principles in the interest of convenience.

** There are only seven states and the District of Columbia (in red) that prohibit the open carrying of handguns (California permits citizens to openly carry rifles and shotguns in rural areas). Fourteen states (in green) require some form of permit to openly carry a handgun in public. Seventeen states (in gold) allow open carry of handguns, though there are general restrictions (for example, it may be prohibited to openly carry a handgun into a church or an establishment that serves alcohol). The remaining twelve states allow full open carry (though individual businesses and establishments can forbid weapons on the premises).

open carry map

not from an angry place

The Gortz Haus is a lovely building, constructed in the 1930s. It was originally a Lutheran church. Now it’s a privately-owned business serving the public. According to its website, Gortz Haus is a ‘gracious space‘ with a ‘fabulous new bistro, art gallery, frame shoppe and floral shoppe.’ It’s advertised as a ‘perfect venue for your wedding ceremony, reception, rehearsal dinner, baby shower, anniversary or other special event.’ 

Gortz Haus: gracious, fabulous, perfect — unless you’re gay.

Gortz Haus

Gortz Haus

An Iowa couple toured the Gortz Haus looking for a venue for their wedding. Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars were happy with the facility until their host asked “Is this for a gay wedding?” When they responded that it was, the couple were told “I can’t take your money, and I don’t do things for free.”

This, of course, caused a problem — a problem which made the local news, thereby sparking a spirited but wildly uninformed debate.

Betty Gortz Odgaard

Betty Gortz Odgaard

In an interview shown on local television, Betty Gortz Odgaard said the decision not to host a same-sex wedding was “…not from an angry place.” The decision, she said, was

“…based on our religious beliefs. We want to honor that. We want people to know that is our stand that comes from our faith, our convictions. I think we should just stand by that no matter what.”

The Odgaards are Mennonites, and the official position of the Mennonite church is pretty clear. The 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective expressly states marriage is between one man and one woman. There are factions within the Mennonite faith that are welcoming to the LBGT community, but those factions aren’t recognized by the church authorities.

For a LOT of folks, this issue is framed entirely by religious belief. They see this as an issue of religious freedom. They interpret this as an act of religious expression.

— She has her religious convictions and we have religious freedom in this country! Since when does this couple’s rights TRUMP hers???

— Thank you, Dick & Betty, for standing strong on your convictions. Those of us who are like-minded will continue to support you. We appreciate that you refuse to be intimidated or bullied to the point of changing your policy. You are doing the right thing! Bless you!

— I am proud of you for standing up for your religious beliefs. Seems like everyone else has rights but the Christians in this sad society anymore. You have a right to stand firm on what you believe as well.

Betty Odgaard says their decision to refuse to allow a same-sex couple to marry in their establishment doesn’t come from an angry place, and I believe her. She says their decision is based on their Mennonite beliefs, and I’m sure she’s sincere in those beliefs. The problem, though, is this is a matter of civil law, not religious belief.

The official Mennonite position on same-sex marriage is clear, and so is Iowa law. Iowa Code section 216.7 (Unfair Practices – Accommodations or Services) states:

1. It shall be an unfair or discriminatory practice for any owner, lessee, sublessee, proprietor, manager, or superintendent of any public accommodation or any agent or employee thereof:
a. To refuse or deny to any person because of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services, or privileges thereof, or otherwise to discriminate against any person because of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability in the furnishing of such accommodations, advantages, facilities, services, or privileges.

And there it is. The Gortz Haus is a public accommodation, and therefor it’s not allowed to refuse service or accommodations to Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars because they’re gay and want to marry.

Lee Stafford and

Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars

Is the Stafford-Ellars marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of the Odgaards? Yes, it absolutely is. Is their marriage a violation of the Odgaards freedom of religion? No, it’s absolutely not. The Osgaards are free to practice their religion; they’re not free to discriminate against others because of it.

The same law that requires the Osgaards to provide services and/or accommodations to Stafford and Ellars also protects Betty Gortz Osgaard from being denied services and accommodations because she is white, or a woman, or heterosexual, or a Mennonite.

Betty Osgaard says she believes she and her husband should stand by their faith “no matter what.” I respect that, even if I don’t agree with their position. There’s something honorable about the willingness to make sacrifices for your beliefs. Sadly, there are lots of states that will allow the Osgaards to openly discriminate against same-sex couples. But Iowa isn’t one of them.

Stafford and Ellars, I’m told, are considering a lawsuit against Gortz Haus. I guess we’ll eventually find out whether the Osgaards are really willing to stand up for their religious beliefs “no matter what.”