}

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gratuitous cruelty continues

The United States Government is continuing its policy of gratuitous cruelty against gay and lesbian bi-national couples. Clarifying their announcement from two days ago, the US Immigration and Citizenship Services said that they are, in fact, still pursuing deportation of gay US citizens’ legally married foreign spouses who do not have permanent residence (a “green card”) on their own.

Under US immigration law, it’s completely routine for US citizens in heterosexual marriages to obtain green cards for their foreign spouses. However, the infamous Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bans the federal government from recognising legal same-sex marriages for any and all purposes, including, of course, immigration.

This cruelty is raised to an even higher level by the fact that getting married may actually put same-sex couples at greater risk of being ripped apart because it’s “evidence” that the foreign partner intends on staying in the US indefinitely.

So, let’s sum this up: Under US law, gay and lesbian citizens are, as Andrew Sullivan so correctly puts it, “sub-human in their needs and wants and rights”. A gay couple that’s been together 50 years are nothing but strangers to each other, legally speaking, but two heterosexuals can meet, marry five minutes later and instantly get the right to settle in the US.

Don’t try and defend that by saying, “yes, but the US Government would have to be convinced that the heterosexual couple was in a legitimate marriage.” So what? There is NOTHING a gay or lesbian couple can EVER do to prove their relationship is as real as Britney Spears' 55-hour marriage, so that defence of US policy is just stupid—and so is anyone who uses it.

New Zealand—like many countries in the world—treats same-sex couples exactly the same as opposite-sex couples for immigration purposes, and it also permits permanent residents to sponsor their foreign partner (something else the US doesn’t allow). This is an issue where New Zealand is far, far better than the United States. Americans can demand that the US government catches up with New Zealand, or they can choose to be parties to gratuitous cruelty. Seems like an obvious—and easy—choice to me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fit to fly


This is another cheeky flight safety video from Air New Zealand. They do these partly because it’s the Kiwi way—don’t take anything too seriously. But whenever they do a video like this, people share it across the world, getting more publicity for the airline (letting social media users do their marketing for them). I last wrote about one of these videos some seven months ago, and at that time I suggested that some Americans are a bit arrogant in assuming that people throughout the world should see things their way and share their sense of humour.

This video is somewhat similar in that the comments on American sites where I saw this posted showed entirely different reactions from the New Zealand places where is saw this posted. For Kiwis, the cameo appearance by Paul Henry is probably one of the funniest bits, and it went completely over the heads of Americans; if they knew the backstory, they probably would have expressed outrage that he was there. Whatever.

Sometimes a video is just a video.

Marriage equality and immigration


The video above is Matt Baume’s weekly update on marriage equality, “This Week in Prop 8”. In this video, he talks with Lavi Soloway about a recent court case blocking the deportation of a lesbian’s wife because the couple were legally married (starting around 1:40). The US Government doesn’t recognise same-sex marriage for any purpose whatsoever, including immigration, because of the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). Up until now, legal marriage would not prevent the deportation of a same-sex spouse.

The main basis of the ruling was that DOMA will inevitably be repealed or overturned. No one seriously doubts that, but it’s significant for a court to assert it and use it as a rationale for stopping deportation of a legally-married spouse of a gay or lesbian American citizen.

As I was writing this post, news broke that the US Immigration and Citizenship Services announced that, again because of questions about the validity of DOMA, they’re putting enforcement partly “in abeyance”, and that may mean that foreigners who are married to a US citizen of the same-sex, and who would otherwise be eligible for residency, might not face deportation. Previously, if a US citizen married to a same-sex spouse filed an I-130 to gain residence for their spouse, it would’ve been rejected because of DOMA, leaving their spouse subject to deportation. Now, the petitions will be held “in abeyance” and, since they won’t be acted on, deportation efforts will probably slow, too.

The problem is that the US, unlike many other countries in the world (including New Zealand), offers no way for US citizens to sponsor their partner unless they’re legally married to them, and DOMA prevents the recognition of legal marriages when the couple is same-sex. So, there’s no way for gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their spouse for immigration purposes because, under DOMA, they have no relationship whatsoever. Up until now, the US Government could—and did—rip bi-national couples apart. This is why US Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chief sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, referred to current law as “gratuitous cruelty.”

Bringing about the end of DOMA is important for a variety of reasons, including immigration. But even that won’t help all bi-national couples, such as those in informal committed relationships or civil unions. This is why broader immigration reform is still needed. Achieving marriage equality and immigration reform are not mutually exclusive, and each one addresses things the other doesn’t.

One other thing struck me about this video: Matt referred to “the anti-gay industry”, though he may have done that in an earlier video and I missed it. In any case, I think it’s the perfect name for our opponents. This neatly gets away from using religion-related names that also taint non-evil religious people. And, it seems to me, it also points out that for many in this “anti-gay industry”, money and power are very often bigger motivation than religion. And that, too, is a good thing to remember.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Old trains


This is another of the old films digitised by Archives New Zealand. This particular one, from 1939, was digitised from 16mm film.

Old films like this fascinate me because they depict a way of life long gone. It’s one thing to read about life seven decades ago, and another to see it. And, it’s always kind of funny to hear the narration presented in that plumy, pseudo-BBC accent that all announcers were required to use in those days (including up to the early days of television).

I picked this particular film because of its travelogue-like quality, and because of the films posted to YouTube around the same time, it had among the most views (which, frankly, isn’t saying much; maybe no one is interested in historic films).

At any rate, the “Railways Department” mentioned in the film is long gone. So, for that matter, is “Government Film Studios”, and don’t get me started on how much Auckland has changed.

Still, something with no politics or controversy. Perfect for a Weekend Diversion.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Calling out NOM’s lies


The National Organisation for Man-Lady Only Marriage lies every chance they get. In fact, I’ve actually never heard them utter more than a half truth, and even that was so distorted it may as well have been a lie.

In this video, Matt Baume of Stop8.org absolutely demolishes NOM’s latest ad, and he is far kinder than I could ever be. You really should subscribe, as I have, to their YouTube Channel. It’s one of the few places in this fight to get facts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A hero called Elizabeth

I was saddened to hear of the death of Elizabeth Taylor—not surprised, since she’d been so unwell in recent years, but still saddened. I enjoyed her film performances, but it was her fierce advocacy on HIV/AIDS for which I’m most grateful. In fact, I’d call her a hero.

She raised millions of dollars to fight the disease, but even more importantly, she also spoke out on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS—and she did so at a time when it could easily have ended her career.

It’s hard now, in these more enlightened times, to remember how terrible those early days of the epidemic were. The man acting in the role of US President, Ronald Reagan, refused to talk about the disease until 1985. In that first mention, Reagan talked only about mythological casual infection—even though the CDC had already stated that casual contact infection was not possible.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Taylor was raising millions to fight HIV/AIDS and battling prejudice.

As late as 1987, Reagan didn’t want to spend money on education and instead wanted to spend money on pre-marital testing and mandatory testing of “high risk groups”. At the time, we activists pointed out there was no such thing as a “high risk group,” only high risk behaviours. Reagan said while campaigning in 1980 that gay people were “asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I,” so we weren’t surprised by his boneheaded and homophobic stance, just that it wasn’t even worse (although, he didn’t need to be with Jesse Helms and other Republicans in Congress, together with TV preachers, attacking GLBT people at every opportunity—actually, some things don't change…).

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Taylor was raising millions to fight HIV/AIDS and battling prejudice.

The cold, hard fact is that Elizabeth Taylor was a friend and ally of the GLBT communities, particularly in the fight against HIV/AIDS, at a time when we had very few prominent allies. In those days, Hollywood, and the entertainment industry generally, shunned us out of fear of damaging their careers (or, perhaps, being found out). It was a McCarthy-like time for GLBT America, and Elizabeth Taylor was there when so few were.

Plenty of people are remembering her acting career, or her marriages, but it’s her activism that still touches my heart the most. She was a rare person, the last of the great movie stars, and also a real, caring human being. She will be sorely missed.

Religion may be dying

The BBC reported on a new study using mathematical models to analyse census data from nine countries, including New Zealand. The researchers say that data shows that in those nine countries, religion is set for extinction.

The devil, as it were, is in the details.

The researchers took up to a century of census data from Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. The data clearly shows that, over time, non-affiliation has risen in all nine countries. The mathematical model the researchers created is based on the human tendency to want to be part of the major grouping, and as religion declined, non-affiliation has grown.

I don’t pretend to understand the model itself—mathematics was always my weakest subject—but I do know a thing or two about analysing demographic data, including census data, and I think the researchers made a fundamental error: They assumed that non-affiliation is the same as being irreligious.

Belief or non-belief isn’t something that can be inferred from whether someone chooses “non-religious” as a self-descriptor: Many people who are not affiliated are nevertheless religionists of some sort. Similarly, a declared religious affiliation does not necessarily translate into actual belief: Many people declare themselves to be the religion of their childhood for what are basically reasons of nostalgia. Such people may not have set foot in a church in decades, apart from weddings and funerals. The problem is that census data alone cannot tell us where on the belief continuum people are, regardless of how they label themselves.

In the 2006 NZ Census, slightly more than half of all New Zealanders were “Christian”, that is, they chose one of several Christian denominations, or merely the word “Christian”, to describe themselves. A further 36% of New Zealanders declared they have no religion. Combined with the growth in non-Christian religions, it was projected that this year’s census would show that for the first time since New Zealand became a country, it had a minority who called themselves “Christian”. Sadly, the cancellation of this year’s census means that 2006 data is all we have and will likely be for quite some time.

New Zealand data absolutely does show that over time there’s been a steady increase in the percentage who describe themselves as non-religious. The data has also shown that the decline in Christian religious affiliation has been particularly noticeable among older, mainstream Christian churches, while fundamentalist varieties have grown. Add the growth in non-Christian religion and the data suggests that religious identification isn’t fading, it’s changing.

There’s simply not enough data available to tell us what’s likely to happen with non-Christians whose religion is often a much bigger part of their cultural identity than it is for New Zealanders of European descent. Add to that the fact that Christianity is also part of the cultural identities of many Maori and Pacific Islanders, and we see a further complicating factor.

Mathematical models can be a good way of examining data, particularly as a way to spot trends. I believe that, ultimately, the researchers are correct that Christianity in New Zealand is fading away, but whether religion does is a question that can’t be answered by models alone. Actually, I’m kind of relieved by that fact.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One week later

A week ago this morning, our old Internet/phone provider was switched off and the new one was switched on. Well, the phone was, at least: We’re still waiting for the Internet to be connected.

We were told that, as we thought, there’s a problem at the exchange. What we were not told is why it took them a week to work that out and attempt a repair (which, supposedly, they’ll do tomorrow).

Many companies have similar issues (we faced them when we switched to the company we’ve now left). But it seems to me that if the government—of either party—is truly committed to a broadband-enabled future for New Zealand, as both National and Labour claim to be, then they have got to get this nonsense sorted out. What good will it do to have an “ultrafast broadband network” if customers can’t connect to it?

Given the National Party’s almost visceral resistance to the use of regulation to achieve stated goals and priorities, I have little to no confidence that they can—or, more accurately, that they will—do anything to fix this major obstacle to the nation moving forward.

Personally, I think the problem is that it’s easy for the government of the day to hold fancy press conferences where they announce some new initiative related to building that fabled “ultrafast broadband network” they keep promising us (without actually building it), but no one (least of all, politicians) wants to attend a fancy function about dealing with the basics: Solving the problems on individual streets and at individual exchanges.

Whether government ultimately solves the problems at the local level will ultimately determine whether the “ultrafast broadband network”, if it’s ever built, actually delivers benefits for New Zealanders and the country as a whole. Is either party up to the challenge? Frankly, I’ve seen no evidence that they are.

So this situation, as annoying as it is for us, is even worse because of what it implies about New Zealand’s ability to participate in the global economy of the future. New Zealand’s politicians simply must do better—and so must the country’s Internet providers. At this rate, it might happen sometime next century.

I wonder if we’ll have Internet by then…

Update 24/03/11: Our Internet connection was finally restored this evening.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I blame the Internet

Yesterday, I responded to a comment from Roger Green with the flip remark that “if I had to write by hand nowadays, I don't think even I could read it!” That’s actually no joke, and I blame the Internet for it.

Well, not the Internet, exactly, more like computers generally.

In high school, we were required to type our research papers to prepare us for university. Turned out to be a good idea, because it really was required there. This was before computers, so they were typed on a typewriter.

By the time I started my working life in the mid-1980s, we used a (shared) word processor to prepare documents for work, though I still had a typewriter at my desk. In those days, “word processor” referred both the dedicated, single-purpose computer used to produce documents and the people who used them all day (a bit like a “typing pool” in not-so-very-earlier days). The company I worked at had only the machines, not the job title.

As I moved into printing and graphics, I used, first, dedicated typesetting computers, then Apple Macintosh computers. I’ve never worked at a job where handwriting was used in anything more than an incidental way.

Over the years, my handwriting became increasingly illegible. I think it’s from lack of use and from impatience: I’m used to the speed of typing on a computer keyboard, and how easy it is to both correct mistakes and to revise a document.

However, I’ve had one thing that’s declined, I think, specifically because of the Internet: Reading. This, too, is something that evolved, helped by the fact that I’ve never been a fast reader. What’s changed is my patience has shortened, and that’s what I blame on the Internet.

On the Net, I can quickly find and read short articles on any number of subjects that interest me and, if I get bored, I can quickly move on to the next one. This ready access to a huge amount of information in short form is one of the strengths of the Internet (not that I’d know that at the moment…).

On the other hand, combined with television, it’s definitely shortened my attention span, and that, in turn, has reduced my patience with long-form writing. Not even technology—like reading on the iPad—has helped that.

But there’s one other, more unexpected result: I now seldom read anything but non-fiction. I think that the last novel I read (to completion…) was several years ago. The closest I get to a novel now is when I read someone’s account of an event they experienced, but that’s hardly the same thing. Interestingly, I do still read some poetry (though not in book form).

Instead, my reading time is taken up with news articles, studies, reports, blogs (of course) and, sometimes, printed magazines. I seldom read a newspaper, not even the free ones delivered to the house (because I read newspapers’ content online).

There are other barriers to reading—lack of time, for example—but even if they were removed, the other problem would remain. I think that I can fix that, and my bad handwriting, simply through practice and repetition and making the time to do so. When I do, I’ll congratulate myself on it, but I’ll continue to blame the Internet for causing the problem in the first place.

After all, doesn’t everyone blame the Internet for, well, everything?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Autumn again

No matter how you calculate it, we’re now in autumn. I, of course, think of March 1 as the start, while others wait for the March Equinox. See what I did there? I didn’t refer to the season. That’s because “Vernal Equinox” and “Autumnal Equinox” don’t actually mean anything without a reference to date or, at least, hemisphere.

When we in the Southern Hemisphere enter autumn, the Northern Hemisphere enters spring. So, without context, I can’t tell when someone is talking about if they say “Vernal Equinox” or “Autumnal Equinox”.

Because there’s such a Northern Hemisphere bias in, well, just about everything, it’s been standard practice to use those seasonal equinox names and mean their dates North of the Equator, leaving us in the South to translate. However, it’s now the accepted practice to refer to the “March Equinox” and “September Equinox”, along with “December Solstice” and “June Solstice”, rather than include any seasonal reference.

I bet there are some Northern Hemisphere types who moan about this as “PC run amok,” or something equally dismissive, but in an increasingly interconnected planet, it just makes sense to use terms that are clear, no matter where one actually lives.

But no matter what you call it, or when it arrives, this ranks third on my list of seasons because it precedes winter, my least favourite (summer is my favourite, with spring my second favourite because it leads into summer). It didn’t help that today was a dreary, rainy—though not cool—day.

On the bright side, it’s now less than six months until spring!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Disconnected

Wednesday morning last week, our Internet was disconnected from one ISP and reconnected to a new one. That’s the way it was supposed to go but, of course, it didn’t. Four days later, we’re still waiting for the connection to be usable.

The problem, we think, lies in our local exchange, and that means a technician will have to go there to sort it out; that won’t happen until sometime next week. When we switched to the ISP we’ve now left, it similarly took about a week and required a technician to intervene. It really shouldn’t be this hard.

We have back-up plans, but they’re not as good as real broadband. I tethered my Mac and my iPad to my iPhone. We also have a stick modem on a laptop (which we bought specifically as a back-up: If something happened to our landline Internet connection, which had happened, we could use that to access work). Today we got a wifi device for another cellphone company. These options are slow and expensive (compared to normal broadband). I could make a trip to a cafĂ© with free wifi, but that’s hardly convenient.

I have Nigel’s old iPhone 3GS, which, thanks to the latest OS update, can tether to my desktop Mac by USB or Bluetooth and to the iPad by Bluetooth. The iPhone 4 can be turned into a wifi hotspot, and you can connect a laptop (well, several, actually) through wifi.

I’ve been on the Internet since the early 1990s, so not having easy access to it is really, really weird. I can’t do any number of routine, daily things I usually do, like check the weather, look something up or do emails or blog posts whenever I feel like it. I also cancelled one podcast recording (done over Skype) and trashed another recorded one (because I had no way to upload it). I feel disconnected from distant friends and family, something I haven’t felt since I arrived in New Zealand in 1995—as the beginning of the Internet Age.

On the plus side, I get all my news from TV which means I’m far less likely to get riled up and then dash off an angry rant for my blog. Unfortunately, that also means I’m badly informed about what’s going on in the world. And, of course, I can’t read the blogs of friends and acquaintances or download the latest episodes of my favourite podcasts.

Right now, I use my tethered set-up for critical uses, like online bill payment and receiving email, and forget about everything else. Interestingly, I’ve learned through this that the Internet has not been my only time-waster: I still manage to lose time quite easily, even without any Internet.

I wrote this post offline, as I do with nearly all of them, and then uploaded it. I actually have another post written and ready to go, but it has a photo. I think I might wait to post that one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Go back to go forward

Technology isn’t perfect or indestructible. Despite all our progress, all our moves to make the world and the way it functions better, our technological infrastructure is vulnerable, and society can collapse with it. A disaster or simple accident can rupture the techno bubble so many of us are used to living in, or we may make choices to do so temporarily or permanently.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen how disasters like flooding, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis can change everything, bursting our techno bubble and bringing us back to an almost pre-industrial level. Fortunately, most of us will never experience that sort of upheaval, and we probably can’t even really fully comprehend what it would feel like to go through it—we are very, very lucky.

Fortunately, simple accidents that cut off our power, water, and so on, are the worst technological failings most of us will experience. We once had a possum knock out our power (seriously) when it got into a transformer and, as its last act of life, shorted it out, cutting off power to hundreds of houses. A car crashing into a power pole or transformer can do the same thing. A few years ago, Auckland’s CBD was without power for days when the main power cable into the city centre failed.

Less dramatic accidents, like someone digging in the wrong place, can sever phone lines or water mains. Even routine work can temporarily cut us off from basic services like water, as we experienced earlier this week when we lost water in the morning while crews worked on upgrades on the street.

Then there are the disruptions we choose, like going on holiday—or moving permanently—to a remote location with no phones or electricity. Or, as we’re doing right now, when we change services like Internet Service Providers, leading to inevitable disruption (in our case, we’ve been cut-off from the Internet for about 30 hours as I write this).

But disruptions caused by accidents, routine work or choice are usually temporary and don’t last long. After having our settled lives knocked a little askew, we can settle back into our comfortable routines fairly quickly.

It’s not so quick after a disaster, and, of course, and the bigger the disaster, the bigger and more long-lived the disruptions. For many, basic services—power, water, sewerage, phone—are restored within days or weeks, but full recovery can take months or years. I wonder if that period becomes a new sort of settled reality, or if the people still feel sort of disoriented in their lives until recovery is complete. I hope I never find out from personal experience.

Obviously I’m not suggesting there’s even the tiniest bit of equivalence between temporary interruptions, like to water or Internet service, and disasters. But those petty annoyances are as bad as it gets in normal life. Maybe they can help us remember that, and be grateful for what we have—and that we’re not victims of disaster. Maybe those minor inconveniences can even motivate folks to do what they can to help disaster victims. Because one day it could be us, wishing all we were facing was disruption caused by a nosy possum.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Be pwned

I was pwned and that led me, for the first time I can remember, to remove a post (I removed another post for different reasons this past weekend). After a lot of thought, I decided it was the best thing to do (more about that later).

Yesterday, I posted about a young woman who made a YouTube video thanking god for the Japan earthquake as part of a war on atheists. While I mentioned Poe’s Law in that post, I was convinced the video was real (after watching several of her videos). I should’ve trusted my initial instincts, as she’s now admitted she was making troll videos all along.

Poe’s Law is at the very heart of this. It states that there’s no parody or satire of religious fundamentalism that’s so outrageous, “out there” or even offensive that it can be easily distinguished from real fundamentalist expression. Its corollary states that it’s impossible for an expression of fundamentalism to be made without someone mistaking it for parody.

This can be, and is, also applied to far right political thought, but right now I’m focusing on the religious version. I detest this sort of behaviour. There’s a parody site called “Christwire”, a fake fundamentalist “Christian” news site, that constantly fools people—including fundamentalist “Christians”—into believing it’s real. The videos were in a similar vein.

However, I see nothing to be gained or achieved, by doing such “deep cover parody”. Sites like “Christwire” and the girl’s videos preach to a choir of believers and rile up people who disagree, all for no legitimate end whatsoever (the amusement of the pranksters is not a valid excuse). In my opinion, putting out inflammatory rhetoric that fuels bigotry and prejudice, even as a prank, is no different from putting it out there for real because it pollutes society.

Also, if deliberately riling up those who are offended is part of the pranksters’ goals, maybe as a way to laugh at both sides, how on earth does that contribute anything useful to public debate? All it does is throw salt into the open wounds of the deep political divide in the US and does nothing to heal them.

Which brings me back to the girl and her videos. She deleted her YouTube channel because of death threats and milder harassment (like dozens of pizzas delivered to her). Not even posting a video admitting she was making troll videos calmed the riled masses. I have no sympathy for her: In a society as deeply polarised as that of the US, what the hell did she expect? Flowers?

As for me, I originally thought the video was deep cover parody because it had to be. But Poe’s Law is right, and one should never assume such an outrageous video is parody: I’ve seen plenty of truly vile videos from religious fundamentalists that are unquestionably authentic. My initial suspicions were allayed, quite frankly, by the girl’s acting ability: She was utterly convincing (I also watched her other videos and, apart from one, they all seemed legitimate). I think this is similar to people being taken in by the “LonelyGirl15” videos in 2007.

Nevertheless, my point wasn’t about that video, but the larger point about the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of religious fundamentalists seeking to exploit the earthquake in Japan. That’s still true, even if the video I quoted from wasn’t. In fact, just today Right Wing Watch exposed some fundamentalists who are exploiting the disaster for real, in the same way as the fake video was doing (proving, once again, the truth of Poe’s Law). In fact, I could’ve built the post around that story and the larger points in my post would’ve been exactly the same.

I thought about updating yesterday’s post, maybe replacing the original text with what became this post. The comments to yesterday’s post promised to lead to an interesting discussion, but if I altered the post, those comments would’ve been divorced from the original context and would’ve made no sense. So, after weighing all that, I decided to remove that post.

I’ve updated posts to reflect new information, even when it contradicted something I said, so this isn’t about embarrassment (I’m exasperated, not embarrassed). Instead, I feel bad that my being taken in led others to react to what I offered, believing it was true (because I did), and I am truly sorry about that.

I’ll be fooled by a prankster again, sooner or later. There’s nothing much I can do about that, though I’m likely to be gun shy for a time, doubting too much, too often. Even so. I won’t pull my punches because I try to remain true to myself and my convictions, even if falsehood sometimes gets in the way. All I can do is be honest and hope that most others are, too, or, failing that, that I’ll more quickly and easily find the truth.

Update: I restored the deleted post about the faked video. Many of the points are still valid, as I mentioned above, and with the troll’s YouTube Channel deleted, my post was one of the few records of what was in that video.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Quote of the Week: Tapu Misa

Okay, so it’s only Tuesday, but it’s unlikely I’ll find something that better encapsulates what I’ve been getting at this week. Tapu Misa’s New Zealand Herald Column called “Religious nuts the hardest enemies to love” was a treasure trove:
“I knew I'd struggle with the injunction to love my enemies when I first became a Christian. I just didn't expect so many of them would turn out to be other Christians.”
This reminded me of what was one of my favourite t-shirt slogans: “Jesus, protect me from your followers.” Amen to that.

Her column is a full-throated screaming protest from a Christian who sees how her faith is debased by American fundamentalists. She says:
“When it comes to religious nutters, we have nothing on America. The most religious of Western nations excels at breeding the seriously theologically ignorant and misguided. If only they weren't so supremely confident of God's approval as well.”
And that, gentle reader, is really what I’ve been saying. Only she said it better. Which is why I can tell already she’s my Quote of the Week.

Be damned

Important note: The video this post talks about was a fake—I should have trusted my gut instinct. It was created as part of a series of “troll” videos just to elicit a reaction from people, as I talked about in a post the next day. Although I originally deleted this post, I’ve restored it because many of the points are still valid, and especially because with the troll’s YouTube Channel deleted, this is one of the few records of what was actually in that faked video.

Fundamentalists in America are so often “out there”, so truly bizarre in their thinking, that it’s almost always impossible to tell the difference between real fundamentalist speech and parody. This is called Poe’s Law.

So when I ran across a YouTube video from a user called “tamtampamela”, I absolutely could not tell if it was real or just really bad parody, like the Christwire site. After all, she has a video called “Another Question for Atheists” in which she asks: “If god doesn’t exist, who wrote the bible?”

There’s a corollary to Poe’s Law stating that real fundamentalist thinking can be mistaken for parody. Sadly, the video appears to be the religious rantings of a 22-year-old ignorant girl who has been so thoroughly brainwashed that she takes gleeful delight in the tragedy in Japan.

I won’t link to her video, because I don’t link to wingnut sites—ever—and I don’t want to enable her delusions. Instead, here’s a transcript so you can judge for yourself (cuts are indicated):
“God is such an amazing god! He is so good, and so loving, and it’s so amazing to see how fast god answers prayers sometimes. On Wednesday, at the start of Lent, believers all over the world came together and we have been praying for god to open the eyes of atheists…

[snip]

Not even a few days later, god shook the country of Japan, he literally grabbed the country by the shoulders and said ‘hey, look! I’m here!’ Oh, it’s just so amazing to see how god can just answer prayers like this, and I’m just so overjoyed and so encouraged. For the rest of this lentil [sic] season I’m going to be praying even harder than I have ever before.

[snip]

“I mean, with just one day of prayer, with two days of prayer, just see god literally waking people up and saying, ‘you are going to hell.’ Just imagine what will happen at the end of the 40 days!”

[snip]

“Just pause the video, get on your knees, and pray to god. Ask him to turn these atheists away from their evil ways, and I believe that at the end of this Lent season, oh my god, I can’t even begin to think how vengeful he’s going to be on America, because we have a lot of atheists here in America, I mean Japan is a fantastic place to start, but once he hits Europe, once he hits America, it’s just going to be crazy, it’s going to be insane and people, you better be ready because by the time Easter comes, every person will know that god is real.”

[snip]

“Be encouraged… God does answer prayers! Look at Japan! That is a direct answer to our prayers! [sighs]I am so overjoyed, and I can’t even contain my joy! Let’s get back to praying!”
This is sick and twisted stuff from someone who has zero understanding of what Christianity is and means. Instead, she worships a strange god who is “so loving” and yet who takes great delight in killing tens of thousands of men, women and children, and affecting millions more. One of her inspirations is Pat Robertson, who said similarly moronic things about Haiti (she repeated his loony ravings in her videos).

She’s “overjoyed” at the deaths of thousands and the suffering of millions because she thinks it’ll miraculously “convert” atheists. Let me share something that will surely overjoy her even more: People like her do more to drive people from belief and toward atheism than any other force.

I see this sort of thing all the time, and not because I’m looking for it (I was actually trying to substantiate leftist claims that the right was calling the earthquake payback for Pearl Habor). This is evidence for Christians who don’t believe there really are people like this girl (at the time I’m writing this post, the video has had 421,329 views). For others, Christian and not, it demonstrates again how truly vile some supposedly “Christian” people can be.

Meanwhile, “Christian” missionary parasites are swopping on Japan to try and proselytise while the people are at their most vulnerable. They say that “about 70 percent of Japanese profess no religious affiliation” which they apparently interpret as meaning they’re atheist (hence, the crazy girl’s rant). Memo to rightwing nutjobs: Not being Christian is not automatically the same as being atheist (and that’s so fucking obvious I shouldn’t even have to say that—except to these insane people, not being Christian is the same as being atheist).

One “Christian” missionary told a “Christian” news site, "Japan is so poor spiritually, there's suicides everyday, there's so many problems in this rich country that has no clue about the gospel—and we just pray that God will have mercy on Japan in [the wake of] this terrible earthquake."

The earthquake is a natural phenomenon and has nothing to do with any of earth’s many gods. But earlier today I posed a question on Twitter that no one tried to answer: “So, my question to Christians: Do you see that girl as a real Christian like you? Or, is she theologically unsound (my vote).”

Here’s another question: If she must be considered a Christian, why should I or anyone else take the religion seriously? This is a real question because I cannot understand why anyone would want to spend eternity with a waste of space like that girl. As I veer ever farther from my religious roots, people like this girl make me wonder why I don’t abandon religion altogether.

Christians, you’re welcome to try and convince me otherwise, but with sickos like this girl in your midst, the cards are stacked against you.

Update: The video this post talks about was a fake, as I mentioned above. I’m saying it again in case you skipped that note. I talked about all this in a post the next day.

About Japan


My friend Roger Green has reminded me that I haven’t said anything about the earthquake in Japan. Between work and a visit from my mother-in-law, I’ve been too busy to blog—and I really didn’t know what to say.

We watched live coverage on TV, often staring with complete disbelief, of course. We saw things about tsunamis we’d never seen before. Terrifying but, to be honest, completely fascinating, too.

But all that was in the moment, before it became clear the extent of the loss of life and destruction. Then it became so much more.

Eventually, we of course wondered about ourselves and, to be honest, civil defence information was useless: There was conflicting advice on whether New Zealand was at risk. Over an hour or so it was reported we were under a watch, then a warning, then nothing, a warning, a watch—all over the place. I have no idea whether this was media sloppiness—which there was plenty of, both in NZ and overseas—or if NZ Civil Defence advice was confused. I’m betting the problem was at least mostly with the media. This isn’t the first time that tsunami information for New Zealand was useless, but it’s shocking that it’s still happening, whoever’s at fault.

The media was similarly useless in discussing the stricken Japanese nuclear power plants. I’m guessing that none of them understood what was going on or what could happen, but what made it worse is that they seemed unable to find and evaluate credible experts to explain it to us. I heard that one US network (probably Fox) had an “expert” on explaining that this proves that the world should be using oil-fuelled power plants.

Yesterday I saw a video on the New Zealand Herald website (video above) explaining that even if there was a massive release of radiation from the reactors, it wouldn’t go to New Zealand because the prevailing winds would push it out to the North Pacific, toward an area with no people. The Herald has definitely had more useful information on all this than has TV News.

Last night, TVNZ’s “Close-up” programme featured a professor—NOT an expert in nuclear physics, but apparently someone chosen because he’d been to the plant. He said any radiation leak (which he said was completely unlikely) would remain in the Northern Hemisphere. I have to admit, my first thought was, “hasn’t he heard of On The Beach?” My second was more along the lines of “who is this guy, is he aligned with any industry, and why should I take his statements as credible?” The programme didn’t tell me.

Far more productive was that, once again, I was able to use the Internet to find out if folks I know in Japan—and, later, Hawaii—were okay (they were). This provided some welcome good news.

The overwhelming enormity of the tragedy in Japan has moved many people to act. New Zealand immediately sent an urban search and rescue team from Christchurch to Japan, helping a country that was quick to help us. People have donated to appeals for cash, even as Christchurch has continued to struggle. It’s been heartening to see.

Sometimes, good people do good things in the face of tragedy and despair. I hope that fact can help cheer the victims in Japan as it did those in Christchurch. Our shared humanity means we have to try to help.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today on Twitter

I like Twitter a lot: If I had to choose between Facebook and Twitter, I’d keep Twitter. I’ve written before about some of the value I get from Twitter, but one of the things I haven’t mentioned is the how fascinating I find its role as a sort of instant vox populi, sharing what people are thinking and wanting others to think, too. Today I thought I’d share a couple such Tweets that caught my eye.
“There's no cavalry to save us when corporate behemoths born of deregulation go too far. The time is now. The cavalry is us.”
One of the folks I follow on Twitter, @StopBeck, Tweeted this today, speaking about the political situation in the US (the rally in Madison, Wisconsin was going on at the time). I couldn’t possibly agree more.

A particularly annoying Tweet came from the other side of the political divide:
“Atheists waste their lives helplessly trying to ridicule God. The Christian runs to God as the ONLY refuge in these catastrophic last days.”
This Tweet was from someone I don’t follow (I got there through someone I do follow). The tweeter is a “Christian” extreme fundamentalist and rabidly anti-gay political activist and promoter of the “ex-gay” scam. As with all wingnuts, I won’t link to him or his Tweet.

What struck me about this Tweet was how downright stupid and ignorant it is. I’ve known many atheists over the years, and I haven’t heard them “trying to ridicule God”, helplessly or otherwise. Some have ridiculed Christians, or fundamentalists, anyway (and sometimes possibly too much or too stridently), but why would they “ridicule” something they don’t believe exists?

Also, since by definition an atheist doesn’t believe in any god, it means that they also don’t believe in any one god’s “catastrophic last days”, so no “refuge” is needed from something they don’t believe in.

I’m frequently appalled by what conservatives—religious or political—say about their opponents. It’s often so ignorant that I have to wonder if they’re stupid or just being wilful. I honestly can’t tell. Maybe it’s just meanspirited.

At any rate, these two Tweets kind of sum up the good and the bad of people’s Twitter spoutings. The juxtaposition of the two is part of what makes it so fascinating to me. But it’s all the other, more everyday stuff that keeps me coming back, even if they aren’t usually what I’d bother sharing with other Twitter users, let alone in a blog post.

Mainly, I just think it’s kind of interesting thoughts can be so entertaining when expressed in 140 characters or less.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Redacted

Today, for the first time ever, I deleted a post because of political interference.

Moments after I posted about radical Republicans and their bigotry, I found that that the YouTube video I linked to had been deleted due to a “copyright claim”. None of us can now actually watch the video to decide for ourselves, so you’ll have to take my word for this: I can’t be sure, but I bet the person behind the phony takedown demand is one of the Republican/teabagger bigots shown in the video.

It works like this: The person who is otherwise a total nobody is shown spouting blatantly racist bullshit, realises that may affect his political ambitions, and so he files a completely bogus copyright complaint. He thinks his “image” is copyright, even though he was at a PUBLIC event (because it was a public event, his appearance is absolutely not copyrightable).

Perhaps the fellow who filed the takedown order regrets having spouted racist nonsense that normal people are no longer permitted to see. Maybe be realises that he was not only a total jackass, but a moron as well. But that’s no excuse to try and censor a truth about oneself that one finds uncomfortable.

So, I’m betting that this person is a typically racist teabagger who was caught out and panicked. He decided that censoring the truth was the best way to go, as teabaggers do, and the result is you can’t see what I’m talking about—at least, not yet.

This story is not over.

Update: I've restored the post, since the larger points were still valid, and it wasn't necessary to see the video to understand those points.

Republicans’ bigot eruption


Note: The video at the top of this post was removed after I published it due to a dubious copyright challenge, something I talked about in a follow-up post. I've restored this post because the larger points are valid, and it's not necessary to see the video to understand those points.

The video above has been making the rounds on the Internet. It shows teabaggers and Republicans screaming at Muslim men, women and children who were attending a fundraiser for relief charity in the US. One Republican even threatens gun violence in her speech.

This week, US Representative Peter King, one of the craziest Republicans in the US House (and that’s saying something—there are a lot of crazy Republicans) decided it would be a good idea to hold Congressional hearings on the supposed radicalisation of Islam in the US. He flat out refused to consider also looking at christianist radicals, far right militias or white supremacist groups. Apparently, being a christianist terrorist, violent racist or armed radical right extremist is just fine with Peter King, but being Muslim is not.

In the video above, the teabaggers and Republicans apparently believed the money raised was going to be sent to “radical” Muslims or “terrorists”. Their evidence? Well, they don’t actually have any, of course. Ask these whackadoodles why they think this way and they point to some incident that was supposed to have happened somewhere sometime, though they can seldom recall any details. That makes a convenient shield for their bigotry.

The Republican Party has a huge problem with loud bigots like this—and that includes Rep. Peter King, actually. The video above shows some of the worst excesses of these bigots, reminiscent of the overt racism displayed in the corporation-funded and organised teabagger rallies during the fight over healthcare reform.

The video below is another display of bald bigotry, showing what happened when a Muslim man prayed in front of the White House. One “Christian” shouted at him: “What kind of god would tell you to kill somebody because you don’t believe in their god?” He obviously meant to say, “What kind of god would tell you to kill somebody because they don’t believe in your god,” but never mind; it wasn’t his sentence structure alone that betrayed his ignorance.

Indeed, what kind of god would do that? Is it the same god that told a Christian to assassinate Dr. George Tiller? Or maybe it’s the god that told a Christian to blow up gay bars. Or maybe it’s the god that told a Jew to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Or maybe he meant the god that told a Sikh to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The point is, there’s no god that tells people to kill anyone, but there are followers of gods who believe their deity tells them to kill. That doesn’t make them right, and it doesn’t make their religion or their deity of choice inherently violent or radical. To suggest otherwise is bigoted.

However, individuals can and do become radicalised and investigating that is reasonable and rational. But it is irrational to limit that investigation to only the people you hate while ignoring violent radicals who happen to more or less share your religion. That’s what Rep. Peter King did. Yes, that makes him an irrational bigot.

There is a direct line connecting those who would kill for their god to those who want to use the power of government to impose their religion on everyone else. Not every theocrat becomes a terrorist, but every terrorist is a theocrat. That’s what Rep. Peter King should’ve been looking into, not pandering to and fuelling Republican/teabagger paranoia and bigotry.

Does the Republican Party even know how to confront the bigotry within its ranks? Does it even want to? So far, the answer would seem to be no to both.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Don’t You Want Me


In this video, Atomic Tom performs "Don't You Want Me", which was originally a hit for The Human League. The song was released in the UK on November 27, 1981—nearly 30 years ago!—and became the Christmas number one single (a very big deal in the UK). It also topped the charts in the US in July, 1982.

The song is included in the soundtrack for the movie Take Me Home Tonight (trailer here), which is set in 1988. This is why there are visual references to so many ‘80s movies in the video.

I kind of like the video better than the cover of the song, to be honest, but that happens sometimes. And Topher Grace is certainly much hotter now than when he was on That ‘70s Show. So, all things considered, a pretty good video.

In any case, this is another instance of 1980s pop culture worming its way back into current pop culture. I’m okay with that.


Footnote: The correct title of the song is "Don’t You Want Me", not “Don’t You Want Me Baby”, as so many people think. Another fun fact to know and tell.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Living Without Religion


The Center for Public Inquiry has launched an awareness campaign, and this video promotes awareness that not every American is religious, and that such people can have moral lives filled with meaning. True enough, and almost self-evident with the growing number of Americans who declare themselves as atheist/agnostic or as having “no religion”.

And yet radical-right christianists nevertheless have enormous power in the US. One of the reasons, I think, that New Zealand has no powerful religious right (in the US sense) is that so many New Zealanders are firmly secular (even those who are religious). When people are less religious, particularly in the public sphere, the political power of rightwing religion wanes. So, too, does the power wane the better educated people are.

Which is why it’s no surprise that far-right religionists seem to absolutely despise atheists. It’s as if they think that if fundamentalists were exposed to the non-religious, nearly all of them would, en masse, leave religion. I honestly don’t know what their problem is.

What surprises me, however, is the number of ordinary, mainstream religionists who also have antipathy toward atheists and their message. I don’t get that at all, either. Last year I wrote about how a 2007 Gallup Poll found that Americans would be more likely to vote for a gay presidential candidate than one who was an atheist—something true of people all over the political and religious spectra. Very weird, that.

Common wisdom has it that atheists often do themselves no favours, meeting fundamentalist aggression with aggression of their own, but much of that’s exaggerated by the religious right for propaganda purposes (it isn’t half as bad as they like to pretend). And, anyway, sometimes a little stroppiness can cut through the noise and nonsense coming from the right so other viewpoints can get attention.

I do have one criticism of what is a truly innocuous ad: It uses the ending conclusion, “You don't need God— to hope, to care, to love, to live.” Doesn’t the wording imply belief in the existence of THAT god, a deity that can simply be ignored? If they’re saying that religious belief, or belief in a deity, isn’t necessary for the things they list, then it seems to me it should say “a god” or even more simply, “religion”. I also think that would be less confrontational, and more to the point.

In any case, the anger that some people feel toward videos like this baffles me. Finding a solution seems elusive, too. And that’s the part that’s really sad.

Get Through, 3

A week ago, I wrote about using social media in the event of an emergency. I specifically mentioned using one’s cellphone to send an update to Facebook or Twitter by text message. Today, I’ll tell you how to do that.

Facebook
  1. Log into Facebook.
  2. Click on “Account” and go to “Account Settings”
  3. Click on the tab that says “Mobile”.
  4. Select your network from the menu.
  5. Text the code the give you to the number provided. Don't close Facebook on your computer!!
  6. Facebook texts back a confirmation code.
  7. Enter that confirmation code and you’re done and good to go.
Sending a text to Facebook’s number will update your status, but you can also send a message to someone in particular, search for someone, etc., by typing a specific letter at the start (that's all in Mobile Help). But I figure, if I wanted to do that, I'd go on the web or use a mobile app, not do it by text.

All texts sent to you are turned off by default, which is a good thing. Keep in mind that if you have updates turned on, you could get a text at any time of the day or night, which isn’t pleasant.

Also, in New Zealand only Vodafone NZ and Telecom NZ are supported by Facebook (it’s Facebook’s decision what carriers to add, apparently, and isn’t up the cellphone companies). 2Degrees is not included by Facebook, however, 2Degrees has something they call Facebook Zero, which is free to use.

Twitter

These instructions are modified from the official instructions from Twitter:
  1. Log in and click the settings link in the drop-down in the top right-hand corner of your screen, where you see your username.
  2. Click the Mobile tab on your profile's Settings page.
  3. Choose your country from the first drop-down box.
  4. Enter your number without a country code or leading zero (for example, a Vodafone NZ number would be 21, not 021, and Telecom NZ would be 27, not 027).
  5. Users outside the US need to choose their carrier from the drop-down box. If your carrier isn’t listed (and in New Zealand, only Vodafone NZ and Telecom NZ are listed), it’s still possible to send texts by way of the UK, Germany or Finland.
  6. Click “Start” to begin verifying your phone.
  7. You will be directed to send a text message, containing the word "GO", to your Twitter number.
  8. Send GO from your phone.
  9. After Twitter receives the confirmation code from you, your phone will be added and you'll be ready to use Twitter on your phone.
My advice is go to make sure that all updates sent to you are turned off. Just as with Facebook, above, this is especially important if you follow/are followed by people around the world. If you don’t do this, you’ll get texts any time of day or night. However, if there are certain people whose updates you DO want sent to your phone, you can easily add them on the web. I don’t have any Tweets sent to my phone by text.

That’s it. Once your phone is set-up, you’ll be able to send updates to Twitter and Facebook, even if you have no power and ordinary phone lines are down. In an emergency situation, cellphone calls may be hard to make, but texts will probably get through more easily.

Please keep one very important thing in mind: If you want to text Facebook and Twitter to let folks know you are okay, please wait to do so. People who are in real danger or who have immediate need for help should get first priority; keep off the network as long as possible after a disaster.

I offer these instructions, and the advice to use cellphone texting in an emergency, as a quick and easy way to let a lot of people know all at once that you’re okay. But common sense should make obvious that no one should ever text unimportant messages during an emergency.

Used responsibly, this can be a great way to let friends and family overseas know that you’re okay, and that will probably help you feel better, too.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Republican War On Working Families


This TV ad from Progressive Change Campaign Committee (aka “Bold Progressives”) and Democracy for America highlights in simple terms what the Republicans in Wisconsin are up to: A war against working families.

This isn’t unique to Wisconsin, of course: Republicans and Teapublicans are waging the same war in Ohio, though they’ve pulled back, probably only temporarily, in Indiana, New Jersey and Florida. It’s part of a larger Republican strategy to destroy unions so they can drive wages down and eliminate benefits: To increase profits for the corporate elites on the backs of ordinary working families, in other words.

The story of what’s really going on has got to get out. Posting the video helps. So, to, do contributions to help broadcast this ad in Wisconsin (via their ActBlue page). I have no idea how this story will end, but it’s a fight worth fighting.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Telling the story


The mainstream—corporate—newsmedia in the US has been doing an awful job covering the attempts by Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio to bust unions. They’ve ignored union leaders for their Sunday talk shows while giving airtime to rightwingers. When they do deign to cover the issue, it’s usually as a circus without any in-depth look at the issues. I have no idea whether the mainstream media doesn’t want to cover this issue because it’s too complex, or whatever, or maybe they’re not allowed to. In any case, they don’t.

There are only two large news organisations continuing to cover this issue. The first is MSNBC, which covers it mostly from a liberal perspective. The other is Fox which, of course, lies about everything (as they always do when discussing the centre/left).

Enter the alternative media. From them—on websites/blogs and YouTube Channels like NewLeftMedia, who made this video—we can get a fuller picture of what’s going on. At least there are some places where the truth can be found, if we’re willing to look for it.

Poison tea

Elections matter. In the run-up to the 2010 US elections, many of us warned about the dangers of the corporate-owned-and-led tea party “movement”, that its agenda was far more radical than they were letting on, except in the occasional unguarded comments by some of their looniest candidates.

How do know whether elected politicians are actually tea party drones or just run-of-the-mill extremist Republicans who exploited the tea party to win votes? In general, the label refers to politicians who were either backed by a tea party group or identified themselves as a member of the tea party “movement”.

In Wisconsin, the Republican governor has been leading a tea party class war against worker and union rights, apparently at the behest of the bankrollers of the “movement”, the billionaire far-right Koch brothers who want to destroy unions for the benefit of the corporate elites. That’s called fascism, and the teabagger Governor and the Republicans who control the state legislature—whether part of the astroturf tea party “movement” or not—are all part of that corporatist agenda.

The same thing is happening in Ohio, where Republicans are working to advance the agenda of the corporate elites, including union busting. Apparently the Koch brothers spent well.

Here are some of the other highlights so far this year from the elected officials belonging to that veritable intellectual and moral superpower called the tea party:

January 2011

North Carolina: Tea party Republican school board members voted to reinstate segregation in Raleigh, North Carolina by ending all desegregation efforts. The school superintendent resigned in protest and the Teapublicans put forward a fellow teabagger, a former general who is a fan of Glenn Beck.

New Mexico: Tea party Republican NM Representative Nora Espinoza introduced an amendment to the state constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Republicans also put forward another amendment that in addition to defining marriage would also ban New Mexico from recognising same-sex marriages and civil unions. Yet another bill would enact just the ban. Democrats managed to table all three bills in committee—so far.

February 2011

South Dakota: Teaparty Republican SD Representative Phil Jensen was chief sponsor of a bill to change the state's legal definition of justifiable homicide to add language saying, “homicide is permissible if committed by a person ‘while resisting an attempt to harm’ that person's unborn child or the unborn child of that person's spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman's father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.” Critics called it an invitation to murder abortion providers. In the face of criticism, Jensen talked of amending the bill. "There's no way in the world that I or any other representatives wish to see abortion doctors murdered," he claimed. Later, he talked of dropping the bill altogether.

Montana: Tea party Republican Montana Representative Joe Read introduced a bill declaring that climate change is “a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it,” and also declares it is “beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.” He admitted this is a radical act, and that he hadn’t bothered to consult climate scientists, including the state’s own experts.

Montana: Representative Kristen Hansen, another tea party Republican, introduced a bill to overturn all local laws protecting gay people in the state and make it impossible to enact any local laws in the future. Republicans in committee later refused to hear testimony from any opponents of the bill, allowing only supporters to testify. One anti-gay speaker called for the death penalty for homosexuality. Republicans claimed there “wasn’t enough time” to hear from opponents, but still managed to hear testimony on bills to make a hand thrown spear a legal form of hunting, allow every city to create their own militia, to urge the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, a “birther bill” and another bill to allow people to carry concealed weapons in bars, banks and churches (yes, really…).

Said Montana Capital Report: “These are bills, which are either unconstitutional, based on conspiracy theories or seriously threaten our public safety… they think are worthy of their time, however they believe bills that strip rights from Montanans aren’t worthy of full hearings. It says a lot about the priorities of the Republican Majority in the Montana Legislature.” Indeed, it does.

On February 22, the bill passed out of committee and moved to the House floor. The Republican-controlled Montana House passed the measure 60-39. All Democrats and only seven Republicans voted against it. Currently, Missoula is the only Montana city with GLBT protections, through an ordinance passed in 2010. Interestingly, legislators also voted to overturn a 2006 Missoula citizen referendum to make marijuana the lowest priority for law enforcement. Apparently for the tea party/Teapublicans, personal freedom, liberty and the right to democratic self-determination are sacred ONLY if tea party agrees with the results.

Iowa: A coalition of 29 tea party Republicans introduced a bill giving immunity to persons using deadly force to prevent an abortion. If the killer is arrested and later found to have acted in accord with the law, they will have the right to sue the police. A companion bill defines human life as beginning "the moment the female ovum joins with the male sperm to create a fertilized egg."

Republicans/Teapublicans in the Iowa legislature are also trying to find a way to repeal marriage equality in the state, to gut the state supreme court, or both.

Nebraska: Tea party Republicans support extremist Republican Nebraska Senator Mark Christensen’s bill to make murder of an abortion provider “justifiable homicide”. Unlike the South Dakota bill, which limited the right to murder to “family” of the foetus, Christensen’s bill would allow anyone to murder an abortion doctor. He denies that was his intent. He said, "I do not believe in killing people for undue reason” (emphasis added). Christiansen has also backed bills to allow teachers and school officials to carry concealed weapons, a “birther bill” and also to ban “Sharia Law”.

March 2011

Georgia: Teaparty Republican Georgia Representative Mark Hatfield introduced a “birther bill”, carrying the teaparty/Teapublican obsession into another month.

Kentucky: Tea party Republican Kentucky Representative Mike Harmon has proposed an amendment to a bill that would outlaw anti-gay bullying. Harmon’s amendment would specifically exempt religious bullies. Put another way, he wants fundamentalist “Christians” to be able to bully GLBT students without consequence for them, and to provide a “religious belief” loophole for other bullies to exploit. The fact that the bullying can only be verbal, not physical or against property, changes nothing.

Taken together, these actions at the state and local level show how extreme the tea party/Teapublicans are. Far from being committed to small government/limited government and personal freedom and liberty, the tea party have so far shown themselves to be typical hard right extremist Republicans dedicated to using the power of government to limit freedom and liberty—especially of people they don’t like.

In fact, so far the tea party in action has not been about freedom or liberty at all, but imposing a theocratic authoritarianism, and too often veering into corporatist fascism, as in Wisconsin and Ohio, among other places.

THIS is why elections matter.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Low Power

Today Minister of Justice Simon Power announced he’s retiring from Parliament at the next election. I can’t say I’m sorry to see him go.

He’s often been promoted, usually by anonymous commentators, as a future prime minister. I never knew why, and never personally saw him as leadership material. But, I’m biased.

Power voted against both the Civil Union Act and the Relationships (Statutory References) Act, which gave legal force to the Civil Unions Act. He’s spent his time as minister in this government attempting to gut the right to a fair trial.

So, I’m not sorry to see him go. But if he really was being promoted by fellow members of the National Party Caucus as a future prime minister, one wonders what that means for the future of the party. There are increasingly strong rumours that Key will step down after the election—win or lose. If National wins another term and Key does step down, who would National install as the unelected prime minister? We have one less possibility now.

Based on his record, government in New Zealand will be better off without Simon Power. But it’s equally true that New Zealand will be better off without National in government.

Disrepute

Clarence Thomas, the embattled US Supreme Court justice facing allegations of impropriety, conflict of interest and ethics violations, has hit back at his critics. He alleged that his opponents were trying to undermine the court.

ThinkProgress broke the story of Thomas’ transgressions (some of which I commented on) and today reported Thomas’ reaction. They went on to list his specific alleged ethics and other violations, then concluded, echoing Thomas:
“So the truth is that ThinkProgress and other Thomas doubters hardly deserve the credit he gives us for undermining the Court’s credibility. Justice Thomas is inflicting far greater wounds on the Court’s legitimacy than any of his critics could ever cause.”
The first rule is, when one is in a hole, stop digging. Apparently Clarence Thomas hasn’t learned that yet.