Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Just a Bunch of Links

Just a post full of links tonight.

First, I can't believe my original list left out John Scalzi's Whatever - I've been reading this blog for at least a year (maybe two) and it is one of my favorites.

I've also added some more Montana blogs to my list....
Also, this site is a more complete source of montana blogs:
More Montana blogs...

Then, over at Alas, a Blog, amp has posted an extensive reading list of posts entitled Sixteen mini-posts about gay marriage. I've managed to hit a few of them, but I think it will take quite a while to read through them all.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Relying on the Goodwill of Others...and Gratitude

All the talk about gay marriage since the 2004 election has made me think of this story and just how frustrating it is to have your family's protection and well-being be at the mercy of others.

My company, a cool progressive software company, offers domestic partner benefits. I originally proposed the idea back in early 2000. I armed myself with all sorts of arguments and information and research ahead of time (particularly ways to respond to counter-arguments) and recruited a few other sympathetic employees to the cause. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was totally unnecessary; the Powers That Be favored the idea based on my original suggestion. The only issue was the insurance company - it was not willing to provide the coverage until we had a certain number of employees.

We grew to that magic number and the coverage became available. I signed up Laura - at the time, she was a student and did not have very good coverage. A hospital stay and ongoing medical issues going back to 1999 made it all that much more important - for her to ever lose coverage would be a disaster. There were a couple minor glitches with the claims - mostly when doctors filed things incorrectly (i.e., filled in spouse rather than dp) - but for the most part everything worked out well.

Then, in 2002 my company changed providers. I worried for a few days that we might lose coverage and was relieved to find that partners would still be covered. I filled in the various forms and turned them in. The new plan was to start on the first of a month. The medical cards arrived. My envelope contained ONE card. Those with family coverage were supposed to have TWO.

I immediately talked to the Person in Charge of Benefits and she reassured me that she already knew there was a problem and had already e-mailed the insurance company. We waited. The next day, she told me that the insurance company required proof of domestic partnership, but hadn't specified what they would accept. OK. Apparently the notarized affidavit I had provided for the previous company would not suffice.

This back and forth went on for a week. The part that alarmed me the most is that technically, during this time, Laura was not covered. What if something happened during this time? What if she got sick or we had an accident?

During this time, the Person in Charge of Benefits could not have been more helpful or accommodating. She kept after the insurance company, asking them point blank why they didn't have their act together on this, seeing as they knew all about the DP plan from the beginning. The insurance company put Laura on the plan even as they waited for the official proof. She gave me the phone number for someone at the insurance company I could call for proof of coverage if necessary. She was amazing and helpful at time that was probably very busy.

We finally found out what the insurance company would accept for proof and received the new medical card. All ended well.

So, why was this story on my mind? A couple reasons:

1. I am very grateful that my company provides these benefits...BUT, at the same time, I would be willing to be that none of my married co-workers spent a single second worrying that their spouses might lose coverage during this switch.

2. I am very grateful that Person in Charge of Benefits did such a great job of fixing the problem...BUT, my family's security should not depend on the goodwill of my co-workers. It would have been remarkably easy to stonewall me, put me off, or simply not make fixing the problem a priority. Most people expect a certain amount of bureaucracy from insurance companies....she might have put me off a month if she had wanted.

What if she had been like this man? This guy objected to diversity posters at his workplace and responded by posting Bible verses in his cube, with the stated intention:
Peterson explained that he meant the passages to communicate a message condemning "gay behavior." The scriptural passages, he said, were "intended to be hurtful....Peterson hoped that his gay and lesbian co-workers would read the passages, repent, and be saved.
This man found working in an office with a few diversity posters scattered around to be too much for his conscience; I imagine being asked to harangue an insurance company to provide insurance to a lesbian partner would have thrown him over the edge, regardless of the company's actual policy.

The whole incident just drove home to me the vulnerable state my family is in - largely due to the lack of marriage. Commentators like to bring up the idea of civil unions and domestic partnership benefits as solutions that make gay marriage "unnecessary". Yes, such things can help...but we are a long, long way from anything approaching equality. And we are at the mercy of the individual humans in charge of administering these programs.

My family must rely on the goodwill of others. So far I have been fortunate. Not everyone can be so lucky.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Some thoughts on politics

In the last several weeks, there have been some interesting posts and discussions going on over at Left In The West and Western Democrat. They point out that perhaps the Democrat party could make progress by looking at candidates from out west next time.

This post makes a good point:
"Even in Montana, a state that Bush captured by 20 points, the Democrats have now captured the state Senate, the governorship and four of five statewide elected positions."
And then further on:
Let us look west. In the mountains and ranchlands of the West, there are Democrats who understand real America. Out here, far from the nation's capital, there are Democrats who understand skepticism of the federal government. Out here, Americans will find Democrats comfortable in jeans and boots. In the West, we can find Democrats able to speak plainly in the language of real America.
Looking at this from a great distance (and I've driven from Illinois to Montana several times, so I know just HOW great a distance that is!!), I find this interesting. The new Gov.-elect of Montana is Brian Schweitzer. He built a farming and ranching business back in the 80's. For another good post about him, see here. I imagine he would easily appeal to many voters in that vast swath of "red states." It probably didn't hurt that is running mate was a republican.

Then, Left In the West addresses the question of whether western democrats are "real" democrats or not (I particularly like the phrase "go fork yourself" - and when I described the post to the Montanan in my household she laughed and said, yeah, I could see why he'd say that....)
I think the real problem here is with blue state Democrats who are so confused by their own losses that they really can'’t understand that in Montana and Colorado, real Democrats won. We appreciate y’'all trying to denigrate our successes, but we didn'’t elect any Zell Millers.
Anyway, the crux seems to be that Schweitzer is personally pro-life but politically pro-choice - which actually is a reasonable position and one that is pretty close to my own....I do not particularly care for abortion, but I don't think it should be illegal.

With all that said, it probably looks like I am a die-hard Democrat. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said in a previous post, I don't identify with either party, and I very much see the flaws in both. I've met die-hard partisans and generally find them impossible to talk to. Way back last January, blogger Michael J. Totten (a pro-Iraq war liberal) wrote a terrific post called Hate Pundits about the political divide and the tendency to regard everyone on the other side of the aisle as wrong. It has stuck with me ever since, particularly this sentiment:
In a liberal democracy (there'’s that word again) with two major parties, each party, each overall governing philosophy, brings something to the table and gets some things right. They balance. Liberals are the gas, and conservatives are the brakes. (Or is it the other way around this year?) Yin, yang, Venus, Mars, and all that. And each party gets some things flat out wrong. It’s just not possible to split a reasonably healthy political culture into halves and end up with one side completely right and the other side utterly wrong.
After the 2004 election, I found myself hunting down that posting again for a good reminder.

Maybe someday I'll post my list of what each party gets wrong (and right).

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Another good argument on same-sex marriage from Alas

I consistently find really good, clear, detailed arguments about same-sex marriage over at Alas, A Blog. Today, this post works through an argument against SSM from over at Family Scholar's blog (I don't think I've visited over there before). Basically, the post discusses the argument that the government ought to do what it can to encourage people to stay married and raise children in bio-mother-father pairs.

Barry points out that even the most die-hard anti-gay marriage advocates recognize that there are "acceptable'" and "unacceptable" ways of doing this - for instance, no one is suggesting banning divorce. The question is, why do these advocates see banning gay marriage as falling on the acceptable side when it is clearly discriminatory?

I'm not doing a great job at summing this up....Basically, read the whole thing.

Friday, November 26, 2004

What I Plan to Write About - Part II

I didn't finish this the other night, so here are the other topics I've been thinking about lately...see part one here.

Don't even get me started. I am continually baffled at how Christians in the United States portray themselves as some sort of oppressed minority because the Constitution prevents them from encoding their beliefs into law. Really - the government is not shutting down churches. It isn't banning voluntary prayer. It isn't preventing anyone from worshiping. And yet, because we don't have school-sponsored prayers, somehow Christians think they are oppressed. Please. Can you imagine how quickly Christians would stop demanding public school prayer if Muslims were in the majority and they were demanding Muslim prayers in schools?

I actually had a short "fundamentalist Christian" phase in high school / early college - thank goodness I escaped that. Seriously, I do believe strongly in freedom of religion. I just completely oppose forcing one religion's precepts onto non-believers. I don't even understand the impulse to do this - doesn't a religion mean more if it is freely chosen? If non-believers are following your rules because they are forced to by law, doesn't that water down the sentiment? How can you tell the true believers from those acting out of fear? I will gladly come to the defense of Christians if the government starts passing laws prohibiting them from worshipping. Until then, I don't have a heckuv a lot of sympathy.

One of my favorite sites on religion - Religious tolerance.

Well, probably not a lot. The election is over and done with (thank god!). I've no plans to turn into a general political blog - beyond the obvious political component of various issues (religion, gay marriage, etc.). My politics currently don't seem to fit most of the standard categories - I don't consider myself a republican or a democrat. On the Political Compass chart, I am in the lower left quadrant - the "left - libertarian" side.

Bicycling is my favorite form of exercise. Three years ago I rode in the Montana AIDS Vaccine Ride (there's another montana connection!) - over 500 miles from Missoula to Billings. The ride raised money for AIDS vaccine research. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done...I have never been remotely athletic and have spent large portions of my life despising sports (maybe someday I'll blog about unfortunate gym class experiences). It was very rewarding to train for the ride over the course of many months.

Ever since, I have continued to bicycle, although not nearly as many miles as in 2001! Last year I convinced Laura to start bicycling as well (that is, nagged her to the point of exasperation) and she ended up loving it as well. We've done several organized rides since - such as the Harmon Hundred (we did 50 miles last year; 25 this year) and the Bike Psychos Century (although we only did around 30). This past summer was a bad summer for bicycling for some reason - I am hoping we'll get more rides in next year.

Technical Writing and General Technology
Tech writing is what I do for a living. I write documentation for software products for a small-to-medium sized software company here in Chicagoland. I don't expect to spend much time writing any specifics about my job, but tech writing-related topics do spring to mind occasionally, along with notes about technology in general. Technology is the reason I like tech writing - the best part of the job is playing around with new software, figuring out its secrets, and deciding how best to present the information.

A good resources on technical writing - Techwr-l.

How The Grinch Stole Marriage

Just saw this on Ex-Gay Watch. Aside from the well-done take off on Doctor Seuss, the overall point is a good one, as made in this verse:

"Maybe Marriage," he thought, "doesn't come from the court.
Maybe Marriage...perhaps... comes right from the heart.
Maybe Marriage comes from all the words the Gays say.
Words like Husband, like Wedding, and Spouse who is Gay."
And what happened then...? Well...in Gayville they say
that the Grinch's small brain grew three sizes that day!
Although I am not entirely comfortable referring to my partner as my wife, maybe I need to figure out why and change my habits.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving Morning

The last flower on the gerbera plant, hanging in there. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Guess I should have put away the grill before now. Posted by Hello

So, Chicagoland got hit with the first snow of the winter. Early in the day, Laura was happy - yes, she likes snow. I thought that was just a quirk of her until I started reading some Montana bloggers...but apparently this is common among people from Montana.

I admit that I sort of like snow, too. My house is technically a condo (even though it is a detached single family home) and so the association takes care of snow removal. I like the way the snow looks on the branches of the trees.

BUT...I do NOT like driving in snow. At all. Especially the very first snow of the season when everyone is out of practice.

Anyway, it started out as rain this morning, then started looking more like rain with a little snow mixed in, then by later in the afternoon, it started to actually stick. By 3:30, the view outside my office window was boding ill for the commute home. The bare trees were certainly prettier with snow on the branches, but the roads were nothing but ugly. I could see a nice pile of snow piled up on my car.

The drive home was a bit trying...I left the office at 4:30, got to Laura's office a bit after 5 (this usually takes 15 minutes), and we headed out at 5:15. It was nearly 7 by the time we got home. Ugh.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

What do I plan to write about - Part I

So, what I am going to write about? All sorts of topics. A few on my mind right now:

Same-sex marriage and other gay issues
As you might guess from the name I mentioned in my first post, I have a partner I'm not allowed to marry. This is a huge issue with me. We are currently working on our 9th year together.

I will make an effort to avoid ranting incoherently about this every day since that would not accomplish a heck of a lot (instead, I will try to rant coherently). Suffice it to say we live a life that bears a striking resemblance to the heterosexual marriages I see all around me - my parents' (forty years and counting), my sister and her husband (hmm, I think around 10 years now), etc.

The notion that the person with whom I share my life and entangle my finances is legally no more than a stranger to me fills me with...rage and frustration.

Some blogs I read on this issue:
No, I don't live there and never have. I was born in Texas, but have lived my entire life in the Greater Chicagoland Area. But Laura grew up out there and longs to return. Her family is there. Montana suits her in a way that Chicagoland does not.

Most of our vacations involve visiting her family out here. We drive around mountains and I feel like I am in an exotic vacationland (mountains! everywhere you look!) while she feels like the world is normal again.

She doesn't particularly like the Greater Chicagoland Area. She doesn't like our long commute (50+ miles round trip). She doesn't like the way one suburb bleeds into the next with no definable line between them - towns in Montana are separate entities, with vast open space in between. She finds the number of people swarming around this area overwhelming - understandable considering that the GCA contains more people than the entire state of Montana.

And don't even get her started on the climate - cold without snow to make it pretty, hot and humid in the summers, the list goes on. I disagree with her assessment of this area in some areas, but agree in others. I've never liked the climate, either. But, I grew up here, so the negatives are a little less glaring to me.

At any rate, Montana is frequently on our minds and we try to keep up with happenings out there. Lately I've been reading (and enjoying) a number of Montana-related blogs. I also spent some time looking at Montana's election results after the 2004. I find it amusing that I live in a *Blue state*, but within a *Red county* (Kane). Missoula - Laura's favorite MT town - is in a *Red state*, but a *Blue county* (Missoula county).

Some Montana blogs I've been reading:
Well, it looks like Laura fell asleep on the couch, and the dogs need to go out, so I'll have to continue this later.

First post that actually says something

OK, that one line down there might have been the first post, but this one will actually have substance. By the time I found a user name and URL that wasn't already taken and was ready to post, my partner Laura decided it was time to walk the dogs. Since the smaller dog has a tendency to cause trouble overnight if she doesn't get her walk, I didn't have much choice.

Anyway, I finally decided to start my own blog. Why? Good question. I've been reading blogs for what seems like a long time - ever since sometime in 2001, I think. The majority of my aimless web surfing time is currently spent with blogs. Yet, until recently, I never gave much thought to creating my own.

But lately I find myself composing (usually only in my head) responses to happenings in the news and in my life that bear a suspicious resemblance to blog entries. While I could prowl around the Internet and find semi-relevant comment threads on which to post these, that seems rather silly. Why not have one spot to collect all this stuff? Hence, the birth of Sara's Spot. I'm not crazy about that name and am hoping to come up with something better eventually.

Monday, November 22, 2004

First post....

So, it looks like I am going to start blogging...More to come...