Friday, February 28, 2014

I love Kiwis

This week, we’ve had a story of an ordinary young Kiwi family hard done by, but it’s moving toward a happy ending—thanks to other ordinary Kiwis. It’s an example of why I love Kiwis so much.

The gist of the story is that Tobi and Sarah Lawton sunk all their money into a home. Not long after they moved in, they discovered extensive termite damage. In fact, it’s being described as the worst termite infestation anyone’s seen in New Zealand. They had no idea, and thought they'd done all the right things.

The house is unsalvageable and must be demolished—but the Lawton’s are mortgaged to the hilt. Bankruptcy seemed to be their only option.

Then, TV 3’s Campbell Live programme got onto it. Last night they first reported on the story, and part of that was that they set up a fund for people to donate whatever they could to help the family.

Tonight, the programme broadcast a follow-up, and things are definitely looking up for the family. In a little over 24 hours, about $135,000 had been donated to help the family, with a weekend yet to go.

We’ve had this sort of story before, of people with nowhere to turn for help, then a TV programme hears of it, tells their story, and ordinary Kiwis respond by donating whatever they can—money, sure, but also time and talents. It restores one’s faith in humanity.

There are those who say we can do this because, as a small country, it’s easier for people to be able to pitch in and make a difference. Maybe, but I think it says something about the Kiwi ethos, that everyone deserves a fair go and we help each other when we can. That money raised so far was donated by fewer than 3400 people, out of 4.5 million of us. Clearly a few people can be motivated to do a lot. That, too, is a Kiwi thing.

No country is perfect, and, like all countries, New Zealand has its problems. But I’ve also seen a generosity of spirit that’s all too rare these days, a willingness to help strangers in need—not once, but many times. I think that’s pretty remarkable.

I wish more people were like that more often, but I’m glad to know that Kiwis so often are.

This country is pretty awesome, but its people are even more so. This is just another example of why that is so.

The fundraising page for Tobi and Sarah stands at over $143,000 as I get ready to publish this post.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Good and bad

Today, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer did the right thing and vetoed that state’s hate bill, SB1062. She did the right thing and—whatever her reasons—she should be congratulated for doing it.

I’ve strongly disagreed with Brewer in the past, and no doubt will again. However, I believe that whenever a politician—any politician, but maybe especially an adversary—does the right thing, it should be acknowledged. She did good.

Brewer’s account Tweeted the photo at the top of this post moments after she made her statement. It shows her vetoing the bill. I’m sure it pissed off the rightwing even more.

I watched the announcement live on CNN (tuning in too late to see if a better news channel was broadcasting it), so as soon as it was over, the bad commenced: They chose to interview Ted Haggard (!), though I have no idea why, and also Peter Sprigg of the SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, the “Family” Research [sic] Council. One can imagine the teaser: “Coming up next up on CNN, the Grand Dragon of the KKK discusses why Black people don’t face discrimination in the USA!”

I mean, seriously, what the hell is wrong with CNN?! Why do they always turn to an anti-gay bigot to discuss LGBT issues? Sprigg has called for gay people to be put in prison (I mentioned that on this blog at the time), and he’s called for gays to be “exported”.

CNN could have talked to proponents of the bill, though many of them are anti-gay bigots, too. The thing is, they know that Sprigg is a bigot and they know that the “F”RC is on the SPLC’s list of anti-gay hate groups, and it’s not easy to get on that list—it’s based on spreading lies and defamation, something Sprigg and his group excel at.

It was disappointing to see CNN turn once again to a bigot. I guess it shows how little value CNN has nowadays.

Meanwhile, over in the alternate reality that is Fox “News”, we saw—well, nothing surprising whatsoever: Their first interview after Brewer’s veto was with Tony Perkins—head bigot of the “F”RC. The Republican propaganda channel had been relentlessly promoting these anti-gay laws, then seemed to realise what they’d created, but now they’re back to their good ol’ anti-gay selves. Whew! For a moment there it looked like hey might have discovered a tiny bit of humanity and conscience—that was a close call!

Seriously, though, the bigots are all having a massive attack of the sadz because of Brewer’s veto. Makes me laugh because of how pathetic they are. Sprigg and Perkins were nothing special.

So something good happened today, it was tainted by TV trotting out the bad, but despite that, good nevertheless did triumph over evil today. That’s a very good thing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The law is an ass

I wanted to say something about Arizona’s pending anti-gay law, but I just couldn’t find the right words, despite several attempts. Then I realised that what I’d already posted made the main points I would’ve.

The frenzy to pass such anti-gay laws, however, is a topic in it itself.

It’s clear and obvious these laws are motivated by anti-gay animus, and nothing else. Mother Jones recently reported that these laws are part of a coordinated rightwing effort. I think it’s fair to call it a rightwing conspiracy, designed to change the debate from one about achieving the full human and civil rights of LGBT people, to one in which we are the oppressor. Suddenly what we used to call “the business world” has been re-defined as a place of religion. Suddenly, the group that has been marginalised and prevented from having the same rights as all other citizens has been redefined as intolerant enemies of religious freedom.

The radical right has succeeded in redefining the debate on that one issue, convincing otherwise sensible people that laws must be passed to “protect” business activities from gay people, only those ordinary business activities have been re-defined as “religious freedom” by the radical right. One almost has to admire the evil genius behind this thinking, because declaring that up is down is one thing, but getting people to go along with that is something altogether different, and much more difficult.

Here are some reality checks. First, the radical right has deliberately misled people by suggesting religious people might go to jail for refusing to do business with LGBT people. The fact is, breaking anti-discrimination laws is NOT a criminal offence anywhere in the USA. If a business broke anti-discrimination laws, was found guilty, fined and the “good Christians” refused to pay the fine, they could be shut down by their locality, but that’s about as far as it goes. No prison time—that’s a rightwing lie.

Even though the rightwing is lying about the “threat” to “good Christians”, the single most important reality of all is this: All but one of the states where these anti-gay bills have been proposed have NO statewide laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination (Oregon, which will endure a referendum this year on one of these anti-gay laws, does have statewide protections). While some of these states may have local ordinances, the states themselves don’t, and that means that most businesses in most of the states where these laws are being pushed are free to discriminate against LGBT people with impunity and they’ll face NO penalties for doing so. Let me restate that: Businesses in most of the states are free to discriminate against LGBT people right now, without any law explicitly making it legal to do so.

This means that there is NO “threat” and the radical right is lying when they say there is one.

The rightwing is using the arrival of marriage equality as their justification, and they hide their true motivation—hatred of LGBT people—behind a camouflage curtain, pretending it’s about “religious freedom” when it is not.

The “religious freedom” justification being used by the radical right is particularly disgusting, not because there aren't really “Christian” fundamentalists who hate gay people—we all know there are. What makes it disgusting is that it’s merely a cynical ploy to hide their bigotry, to manipulate otherwise rational people who would never endorse anti-gay bigotry into supporting—or, at least, not opposing—the right’s hatred-motivated laws.

If the “Christians” had said, “we hate gay people and we want to be able to discriminate against them”, no one but their fellow bigots would go along with that. But when they say, “as a person of faith, my religious freedom is being assaulted because of same-sex marriage, which my religion rejects, so I need protection,” well, there are plenty of people who might think that was reasonable.

The radical right would never—ever—get away with saying, “as a person of faith, my religious freedom is being assaulted because I’m forced to treat Black people equally, which my religion rejects, so I need protection.” However, the radicals have successfully manipulated the public debate to make mainstream people believe that anti-gay “Christians” are facing some sort of “persecution” because of marriage equality. So, the hatred implicit in their political moves is hidden from view.

This is merely another of their lies: Christians in the USA are not now, nor have they ever been, nor are they ever likely to become, “victims” of some sort of oppression. Can’t happen, won’t happen. Their core argument is that a couple businesses deliberately broke local anti-discrimination laws and were rightly penalised and that somehow therefore means that ALL rightwing Christians are being “oppressed”. That nonsense would be hilariously funny if it wasn't so serious.

So, the justifications for these laws are built on lies and distortion, they seek to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, and they’re completely unnecessary because anti-gay discrimination in those states is already legal. Why are they doing this?

There are two largely separate reasons: Politics and religion. Politicians are, in many cases, pandering to the base of the Republican Party. They may not be bigots themselves, but they want to stay elected, so they do what the most vocal members of their party demand. Others see it as a ploy to increase votes for Republicans from radical right voters (a Karl Rove tactic), voters who support such extreme measures and will turn out to support politicians who do, too. So, for many politicians, it's all about cynical politics.

The other strain, though, are the religious true believers who are sure that LGBT people are inherently doomed sinners who will go straight, so to speak, to hell if they don’t repent and give up their “choice” to be gay. They really believe that human sexuality is a mere choice, and as easy to make or change as it is to choose what colour shirt one will wear. Well, not so easy: They think their devil somehow “lures” people into being gay and makes life is so sweet for gay people that kids will be tempted into “choosing” to be gay.

Rational people know that there’s not a shred of evidence to back those myths about LGBT people “choosing” not to be heterosexual, or that they could easily “choose” to be heterosexual. Rational people also know that it’s impossible to “lure” anyone into being gay if they are not actually gay. But fundamentalist Christians—who by definition don’t deal in the rational world—don’t care what science tells us (about a great many things, of course), and they don’t accept what even common sense tells them.

This is an important thing to know about these people, because in their irrational minds, their bigoted laws are actually for LGBT people’s own good. They really believe that if they make life hard enough for LGBT people, if they make us suffer enough, we’ll “come to our senses” and “choose” to be heterosexual “again”. It’s why they back criminal penalties for being gay in the USA, and why they promote the death penalty for LGBT people overseas (and sometimes in the US): If they can be harsh enough against us, they think, if they can make us fear for our very lives, we’ll be forced to see the “error” of our ways and “return” to being heterosexual.

So, we have an unholy alliance between crassly cynical and opportunistic politicians together with the most irrational end of Christianity, working together to enshrine fundamentalists’ religious views in law. It seems pretty obvious to me that if there really was a devil, THIS is the alliance it’d be backing.

These laws also have at their heart selfish arrogance. The radical right wants to raise their irrational religious beliefs above everyone else and to force the world to accept their right to do so. But LGBT people pay taxes, too. Those roads that fundamentalists drive on to get to their businesses? Gay people helped pay for them. The water and sewerage that serves those businesses? Yep, gay people helped pay for them. Likewise fire and police protection.

So, the fundamentalists are demanding the right to refuse to do business with gay people, the same people whose taxes help make it possible for them to run their businesses in the first place. Would fundamentalists support a tax rebate to compensate LGBT taxpayers for having to subsidise businesses where they’re not welcome?

Finally, there’s one bit of wonderful irony about this whole frenzy to enshrine anti-gay hatred in law: As Roger Green pointed out, they’re also opening the door to allowing sharia law in those states—you know, the thing that doesn’t exist anywhere in the USA, though that fact doesn’t stop conservatives from screaming hysterically about the imaginary threat sharia law poses. Well, it may very well exist as an unintended consequence from basing public, secular law on placing religious belief above other laws.

The bottom line is, these laws are based entirely on bigotry, marketed using lies and distortions, and built on a base of sheer stupidity. Typical rightwing nonsense, sure, but this time they threaten to do real harm to real people.

And that’s the worst part of all.

The image at the top of this post is a sign on a restaurant, taken in Lancaster, Ohio, August 1938. It is by Ben Shahn (1898–1969) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The image at the bottom of the post was shared on the Facebook Page of Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, a Tucson, Arizona restaurant.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Messages for Arizona

Last night, I started a post on Arizona’s just-passed anti-gay law. It was quite angry, so I decided to put it aside—for now. Today I’m going to a family party and don’t have time to work on it, so, in the meantime, here are three awesome images from the Memeograph Faceook page.

I'll return to this topic, however.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Did Christianity give us marriage equality?

I read a piece today on TheWeek.com that suggested the answer is yes. As with so many things in politics, it’s complicated.

The author, Damon Linker, said that Christian values created the foundation for the new USA’s egalitarian streak. He cites Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, long one of those “must read” works for students of American politics and government. Linker says that book, written some six decades after the Declaration of Independence, details how the Christian belief in equality was a driver in the early years of the republic.

I think he’s basically correct about in his interpretation of Tocqueville's words. The larger question, however, is, was Tocqueville right? Is Linker’s conclusion?

Partly. In the early republic, Christianity certainly played a role, but not all of it was on the side of equality. Christians backed slavery, after all, and some of the New England Puritans were not exactly broad-minded people.

By the late Nineteenth Century, however, Christian values were gone as America (and other Western countries) rapidly industrialised. This was the age of sweatshops, child labour, robber barons and greed and corruption on a grand scale. Not very Christian at all.

On the other hand, when avarice led to the Great Depression, the response—the New Deal—had at its core fundamental Christian values (like taking care of the old, the sick, the desperate as well as children). Those underlying ideas would remain unchallenged until relatively recently.

As the modern rightwing attempts to destroy the social contract that’s been at the heart of US social policy since the New Deal, it’s also abandoning truly Christian ideals, too, and replacing them with something more like those of the robber barons of the 19th Century.

So, those ideals have ebbed and flowed throughout US history, but there’s a more important thing here: None of those ideals are solely Christian. Indeed, most of the Founding Fathers weren’t Christian as we use the term today, and many were Deists. Their ideas were informed by Christian theology, but they were also influenced by other thinkers of The Enlightenment.

What all of this means is that Christianity can’t claim sole credit for whatever commitment to equality and social justice the new USA had, nor was it an entirely positive force for good (again, slavery, for example).

Interesting as the debate about the past may be, there’s no doubt that today’s Christianity cannot lay claim to advancing equality, right? After all, plenty of Christians opposed the Black Civil Rights Movement and now oppose marriage equality. Also, US fundamentalists have been instrumental in promoting viciously anti-gay laws throughout the world, Africa in particular.

Well, yes, but: Christians were also at the forefront of battles to win civil rights for Black people and many today are fighting for full equality for LGBT people. I’d say that the fact that we associate Christians more with opposing equality than advancing it says more about the rightwing’s vastly superior propaganda skills than it does about Christian commitment to equality.

Nevertheless, today’s Christians are generally seen as opponents of equality and social justice, rather than its champions. I’ve argued many times that progressive Christians need to “lift their game” and make clear that the rightwing doesn't speak for them.

For many reasons, marriage equality will be the law in all 50 US states sooner than any of us realise. I agree with Linker that “equality always wins.” Despite recent hysterical and desperate moves by the USA’s rightwing to enshrine anti-LGBT bigotry in law, in the end, they WILL lose.

But when Linker says, “equality became the lodestar of Western culture thanks to Christianity,” he’s only partly correct. The historical record of Christians in the new USA was not wholly positive, the Founders of the country were not all Christian, and over the past 150 years or so, much has been done to subvert whatever Christian tenets might have been at the core of US political beliefs at the beginning of the country.

Instead, I’d say that true Christians have done much to advance equality in the USA, but they’ve done so largely unseen by the public because the Christian enemies of freedom and equality get all the publicity. The devil always gets better press, they say.

So, if equality became the lodestar of Western culture thanks to Christianity, it was a subset of Christianity and Christians, and to them we are indebted. The rest, however, are best left in the past, where they are clearly more comfortable.

One last thing: Tonight I downloaded an e-book version of Democracy in America from iBooks (it’s in the public domain, so free copies are available all over the place). I think it’s about time I re-read it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

And another thing…

I saw this graphic on my Facebook timeline today, shared by several people (and I have no idea who shared it first, so thanks to all of them). It follows on from some points I made in yesterday’s post, so I thought I’d share it here.

It’s from the LGBTQ group at the University of Birmingham in the UK, apparently from sometime last year. That’s about all I know about it because I wasn’t able to find a current website for them. They’ve also done at least two others in a similar format. At any rate, I think the idea for this is a good one.

Maybe I really should do that blog about Internet political messaging—I seem to come across quite a lot of it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We need to talk

Hi, straight people! This post is a kind of an open letter to you, because I think it’s the best way to help you understand something many of you clearly do not: Coming out matters.

Late last week, we had the well-publicised coming out speech by actress Ellen Page. Earlier in the week, we had the coming out of US university football player Michael Sam, who may become the first openly-gay NFL player, and we had that famous reaction to his coming out.

All of which led some of you to wonder out loud, “why does a celebrity feel they need to do this?” Some of you—our friends and allies, even—have said, “people’s sexuality shouldn’t be anyone’s business but their own”.

If only that was actually true!

A heterosexual never—ever—has to consider the consequences of being attracted to or falling in love with someone of the opposite gender. But depending on where a gay person lives, if he or she falls in love with someone of the same gender he or she could face ostracism, violence, prison or even death.

No person was ever executed in Iran simply for being heterosexual, but gay people have been executed for being gay. Neo-Nazi thugs in Russia don’t beat (and possibly murder) people for being straight, they do it for people being gay. Just this week, a mob of 40 people in Nigeria didn’t drag “suspected heterosexuals” out into the streets, beat them and paint their house walls with “heterosexuals, pack and leave”; they did that to gay people. Uganda’s president didn’t just sign a law to put people in prison for life for being straight, nor did he declare “war” on straight people.

The point of all this should be obvious: A person’s HETEROsexuality doesn’t matter, but a person’s homosexuality is still a very, VERY big deal.

I know that many straight people in Western countries will say, “yes, but in our part of the world, it’s not like that.” Not so fast, straight person!

In most US states, it’s legal to fire people because they’re gay, and they can be denied housing, too. Heck, contrary to the lies of rightwing propaganda, in most of the US it’s perfectly legal for businesses to refuse to provide goods or services to gay people—and they don’t even need to claim it was because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

Laws criminalising gay sex, though struck down by the US Supreme Court, remain on the books in many states, and in Virginia they even tried (unsuccessfully) to reinstate theirs. While the US Supreme Court put those politicians back in their place, US “Christian” conservatives still openly and repeatedly call for criminal sanctions against homosexuality. They’ve also conspired to enact anti-gay laws in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, among many other countries. They want to bring those same laws to the US.

Other Western countries from Australia to Europe have a patchwork of protections for LGBT people, and some even have anti-gay laws to this day. Even countries that are arguably more advanced on LGBT rights, like Canada and New Zealand, still have anti-gay violent attacks—in fact, all large cities throughout the West have such attacks going on.

So, even now, even in the West, the world can be a very hostile place for gay people—but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to support from many of you, it’s getting better all the time. But it turns out that we gay people have our own awesome, powerful weapon for making the world better: Coming out.

Study after study after study after public opinion poll has shown one loud, inarguable and absolute truth: People who actually know real gay people are far less likely to be anti-gay. The reason that anti-gay prejudice and even bigotry is declining in most Western countries isn’t because of magic or propaganda or intimidation (as the rightwing always says), but, rather, because more and more straight people are realising that people they know, people they like—even people they love!—are gay or lesbian.

That’s why coming out matters so much. It’s easy to hate people in the third person—those people—but it’s incredibly hard to hate your best friend, your brother, your aunt, your boss, your minister, that nice person at the local shop—or that actress or athlete you like. The world has so much hatred because it’s full of the “thems”; to end hatred and oppression, we need a world that’s filled the “us-es”, and coming out helps make that happen.

Every time a celebrity comes out publicly, they’re sending a message to some scared, lonely LGBT teen that there’s hope for a better life, that they, too, can be happy and find love. It also sends a message to that teen’s parents and friends and neighbours that gay people are GOOD people, damn it, and you must never—ever—hate people for being who they are—gay, straight, bi, pansexual, trans*, whatever. When someone does, they’re not hating “them”, they’re hating ALL OF US—every type of human.

There’s one more message you need to think about, though, and it’s the one YOU are sending. Every time you say “what’s the big deal?” Or maybe, “Sexuality is no one else’s business” what you’re really saying is “shut up and stay in the closet.” Don’t think so? Then look around you when you speak. There could very well be a deeply closeted person nearby listening to what you’re saying, someone who hasn’t yet found the courage or freedom or safety to live openly and honestly. When you dismiss a celebrity’s coming out, you’re demeaning and trivialising the very humanity of that closeted person and you’re sending them a message that they should never, ever come out. Words hit hard as fist, but they don’t need to be said in anger or with hatred to do damage.

So, straight people, if you really think that coming out doesn't matter, quite frankly you have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t get to decide when, if or how we come out. You don’t get to decide whether it’s necessary. You don’t get to decide whether it’s a “big deal” or important or whatever. Every time a celebrity or well-known person comes out—on their terms, when they choose to do so—they’re helping to turn this world into a place filled with more us, and less them.

Gay people coming out—celebrity or not—are doing us all a favour. The least you should do is acknowledge that, whether you truly understand it or not.

But, please, do at least try to understand why it’s so important.

Thanks for the talk!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pain avoidance

I have a rule on all social media: I never strongly dismiss anything in pop culture—movie, song, book, performer. There’s a reason for that: I respect other people too much to be a dick.

I've noticed that on social media people seem to need to pontificate and pronounce: A movie is the worst ever made, a song is absolute garbage, an actor is overrated, a singer has no talent, etc., etc. But what if whatever they’re passing judgement on is the same thing I happen to love dearly? Or, if not me, maybe hundreds of others? What does that say to them?

This is the reason I came up with Arthur’s Law in the first place, of course: I’d noticed how much some people hurt other people by pronouncing their often brutal assessment of something in pop culture. I thought that sort of hurt was uncalled for, and Arthur’s Law was born.

Today Roger Green mentioned unfriending someone on Facebook for the first time, and it was for essentially the same sort of behaviour: Utter dismissal of what someone else was saying. I think it’s clear the break wasn’t because Roger cared deeply about WHAT he said, but rather the person’s reaction to it. From what he said, the other person seems to have made a strong judgement based on her own views without ever considering the thoughts or feelings of anyone else.

I said in a comment on Roger’s post, “It annoys me how often people have to express negative opinions about things—pop culture stuff in particular. If they do it with some humour or irony I don’t mind, but to declare that something is awful—which is what they usually do—devalues other people and their opinions, it seems to me, and that’s just not okay with me.”

And that’s the heart of the issue: I actually care about what other people feel, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to hurt anyone; because of that, I won’t trash something in pop culture that someone else may very well love to bits because, well, what’s to be gained? I’ll still feel the same, but someone else could feel a sting.

Someone I don’t know said on Twitter, and I’m paraphrasing, that on social media we're basically having a conversation with ourselves, hoping someone else will join in. That’s a bit harsh, but there’s an element of truth in it. When it comes to pop culture criticism, at least, it seems to me that people are often only speaking to themselves; maybe that’s why they put things far too harshly.

None of this matters compared to the very real problems of the world or the people in it. Obviously. But there’s so much emotional pain in the world, why add to it over things that really don’t matter? Is it really necessary to score points at another’s expense?

We’ve all heard, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” People REALLY need to keep that in mind before they make a comment on social media. Someone will always see what we say—do we really need to be dicks about saying what we think?

For me, the bottom line is that I think we should be better than that.

And that’s why I never strongly dismiss anything in pop culture.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Internet Wading: Miscellany

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these Internet Wading posts—and yet there have been so many small stories that I wanted to comment on, though not enough to do a whole post about them. So, here’s a new batch, even more random than usual.

First up, I have to say how pleased I am that this time I wasn’t pwned. A story cropped up last week about a homophobic response to an invitation to a little girl’s 7th birthday party. While it sounded plausible, as such stories always do, I was nevertheless sceptical (many times bitten, finally shy, perhaps…). Turns out that, of course, it was all a hoax. Score one for caution and scepticism! And, yes, I think the radio hosts should be fired.

Roger Green wrote about the Everly Brothers. It was an interesting post, but somewhat diabolical: I found myself in a YouTube spiral of their videos, and then I had to find out who’d done a cover of their 1961 hit “Walk Right Back”. I could almost hear the cover version in my head (turned out it was from Anne Murray’s 1978 album Let’s Keep It That Way). At any rate, I don’t think I’d appreciated how important the brothers had been to pop music, in part because their original career was already waning by the time I got to school.

Speaking of pop culture, you know that “debate” held recently between Bill Nye and the head of the Creation Museum? I didn’t watch it, but the reactions have been… interesting. Buzzfeed asked self-described creationists at the debate “to write a message/question/note to the other side,” which it published as “22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution”. Not terribly enlightening or even useful, to be honest—until, that is, Science of Sarcasm Podcast posted the photos (with a few sarcastic alterations) to their imgur as “Creationist Questions Translated”. Many of these altered images were funny, a few were snotty, but several made excellent points.

Pride Propaganda has “repurposed Soviet propaganda in response to Russia's ban on LGBT propaganda.” Well, that’s a creative response, I suppose.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key may actually be a shape-shifting alien. At the very least, he can’t prove he isn’t one. It could explain a lot.

Scientists are looking to sequence the entire genome of Richard III (portrait above), who died on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485, the last English king to die in battle. This would be "the world's first complete genome sequence for a named historical figure". Such techniques have been used to find out more about ancient peoples, for example, but this could shed new light onto written history. It was only last year that the body found under a Leicester carpark was confirmed to be that of the king, whose body had been lost for centuries.

Also in science, it could be that Pacific winds "pause" global warming. If we don’t sort things out, though, “Giant Rats To Inherit The Earth”, maybe after they bring us a new strain of the Black Death.

The work-related dreams/nightmares of men and women are becoming quite similar. Also, people study this.

That’s enough for now. Pleasant dreams!

The portrait above is of Richard III at the top was painted about 1520 from an earlier, lost version. It is by an unknown artist; uploaded to wikipedia by Silverwhistle (Richard III Society website via English Wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Homophobia’s last stand

There will come a time when it will no longer be acceptable to enshrine anti-gay prejudice into law or public policy. We’re clearly a long way from that point, but its inevitability means we must ask, why are some people so determined to enshrine anti-gay bigotry into law?

There are many indicators that show anti-gay prejudice is declining. For example, public opinion polling shows increasing support for LGBT people and our rights, with more and more people expressing impatience that our rights—including the freedom to marry—aren't already law.

Then, there are all the victories. In the time since the Windsor case struck down Section 3 of DOMA, there have been 18 rulings on matters of equality, and our side has won all 18. Twelve of those rulings dealt specifically with marriage-related issues, but six were on other aspects of LGBT equality.

On Valentine’s Day, Slate published a provocatively (though accurately) titled piece by David S. Cohen and Dahlia Lithwick: “It’s Over: Gay Marriage Can’t Lose in the Courts”. They point out how the part of the Windsor ruling that deals with equality has come up again and again, and they note:
“The tally is even starker when you look at the number of judges who have considered the issue. Since Windsor, in these 18 decisions, 32 different judges have considered whether Windsor is merely about the relationship between the state and federal governments or whether it is about equality. And all 32 of them have found for equality. In other words, 32 accomplished, intelligent lawyers, appointed by Democrats and Republicans, whose job it is to read precedent, have ruled for equality. Not a single one has disagreed.”
This is significant because the Supreme Court ruled that laws cannot be based on animus. It's obvious that the laws attempting to prevent marriage equality or the recognition of same-gender marriages have, without exception, been motivated by hostility or ill feelings toward LGBT people generally or same-gender couples specifically. This anti-gay animus is also the motivation for the anti-gay legislation Republicans are pushing in Congress and in state legislatures.

The federal bill, the “State Marriage Defense [sic] Act”, would create precisely the same sort of unconstitutional discrimination against legally married same-gender couples that Windsor struck down. It would create a patchwork of rights and protections and would even take away rights from existing legally married couples. In my view, the backers (or, perhaps, only most of them) know this, and that it can’t pass Congress in an election year, but they're pushing it as a grandstanding stunt, something they can use to rile up the Republican base to help them win elections—and, especially, to raise big piles of money. It is, in other words, cynical nonsense—bigoted cynical nonsense, to be sure, but nonsense all the same.

Of far more concern are the numerous state bills that, if enacted (and some will be), would specifically authorise anti-gay discrimination as long as it was based on someone’s supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”. The Supreme Court has already ruled that people do NOT get an exemption from obeying laws simply because of their religious beliefs. Even the far right Justice Antonin Scalia was firm about this. Moreover, states can’t single out a class of people for discrimination—that pesky animus again—so such laws are unconstitutional for that reason, too.

Kansas is going farther than any other state in enshrining the right to discriminate. The version of their anti-gay bill passed by their state House allows discrimination against virtually anybody, again, as long as it’s based on supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”. The House version of the bill would even allow discrimination on the basis of gender (like, for example, if a woman sought a job but the owner felt that because of his religious beliefs, it was immoral for a woman to hold such a job).

Despite the anti-gay extremism of the Kansas House, leaders of the state’s Senate have said that the bill won’t progress without major changes. The Kansas Senate President, Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), said, “I believe that when you hire police officers or a fireman that they have no choice in who they serve. They serve anyone who’s vulnerable, any age, any race, any sexual orientation.” Well, duh!! Even if she succeeds in making some changes, Kansas is a heavily Republican state, so what eventually passes will still be bad.

These Republican legislative moves are all motivated by anti-gay animus, sure, but where does that come from? Some of it, as in the Congressional bill, is obviously merely cynical opportunistic pandering to the extremist base of the Republican Party. But there are also “true believers” fighting to enshrine anti-gay bigotry into law, and their motivations go beyond mere prejudice and bigotry: Their real motivation is a sense of entitlement that comes from their privilege.

I wrote about this back in December, when I said:
“We talk of privilege and entitlement most commonly in discussions of race and gender, but increasingly rightwing religionists are acting on their particular sense of entitlement. In the USA, far right ‘Christians’ are demanding special exemptions to human rights laws so they can discriminate against LGBT people (although, based on their logic, there’s no reason they shouldn’t also be able to discriminate based on race, gender, religion and so on). The rigthwing religionists insist that if they’re not free to discriminate against LGBT people, it somehow takes away their ‘religious freedom’.”
The true heart of this Republican extremism, then, is that they’re seeing their privilege challenged and their sense of entitlement leads them to demand extreme measures to restore their privileged position in society. Whether it's because of actual animus or mere cynical opportunism, the cry of “religious freedom”is, as Mark Joseph Stern wrote on Slate earlier this month, a brilliant tactic by the radical right:
“Gay marriage on its own is a winning issue because it has no victims, only cheerful, loving advocates. But toss religious liberty into the mix, and suddenly you’ve found your victims: those earnest, upstanding small-business owners who just want to do the Lord’s work by denying a gay couple a wedding cake.”
In order to justify extremist measures to enshrine their privilege, the rightwing needs to present itself has “victims” of “oppression”, no matter how imaginary it obviously is. I’ve written extensively about this in the context of the rightwing opposition to the freedom to marry as well as their attempts to codify anti-gay animus in law. However, this is only one area where the rightwing does this.

Roger Green wrote about how increasingly white people are claiming to be victims of racism (seriously!). It seems obvious to me that all of this is part of the same sense of privilege that the rightwing has long had: They believe that they alone should be allowed to call the shots in laws and public policy, both of which should benefit and support conservative Christian, heterosexual, white men.

This means that any challenge to their preferred social order—whether racial integration, women having equal rights, including reproductive rights, and LGBT people having the same rights as all other citizens—all these challenges would take away their privileged position in society. It’s little wonder, then, that they fight so hard and introduce blatantly unconstitutional extremist anti-gay legislation, or the less obvious ones, like the various state restrictions on voting designed specifically to keep Blacks and Hispanics from voting.

This fight is a big one, and gets to the very core of what a democratic society should be. Do we allow one small segment to impose its restrictive views on morality and acceptable behaviour on all of society, or do we ensure that all people are treated equally before the law and by government? Because the two are mutually exclusive.

There is no moral or logical reason to allow discrimination against LGBT people because of someone’s supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”, but not also allow them to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, political beliefs, religion, eye colour—whatever—as long is the person claims their discrimination is based on their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”. Some on the right, including prominent Republican politicians, have actually argued against anti-discrimination and civil rights laws, so this is a real issue.

This isn't about merely fighting the last gasp of homophobic bigots, nor is it even about LGBT rights, important as they obviously are. Rather, this about securing the blessings of liberty for all citizens. We have a long way to go before we truly reach homophobia’s last stand—after all, racism is still stubbornly persistent 150 years after the US Civil War.

But I think we miss the important reality when we dwell on what’s not yet right. The Black Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement and the LGBT Rights Movement have all moved American society forward toward a more just society. We’re not at our final destination, but the evidence shows that our arrival is inevitable.

Despite the shrill bleating of the rightwing, I remain convinced of one simple truth: There will come a time when it will no longer be acceptable to enshrine any prejudice into law or public policy, and there’s no animus or opportunism that’s strong enough to stop that day from arriving.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ellen Page’s coming out speech

Actress Ellen Page came out today. This has made the news and her speech has already gone viral. The speech, in the video above, is worth hearing.

Page starred in the film Juno, and was also in Inception, as well as 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand. She’s one of the stars in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. All of which means that her coming out is significant.

She made her speech at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “Time to Thrive” conference for people working with LGBT youth. Page talks about her personal connection to this work, which makes her words powerful.

The value of such public coming out by high-profile people is the message of hope it sends to LGBT youth, which makes her choice of venue especially appropriate. The times are changing and things are definitely getting better and better for LGBT people, but our youth still suffer harm from the remaining anti-gay attitudes, prejudice and bigotry. Kudos to Ellen Page for doing something to help LGBT youth.

The complete text of Ellen Page's speech has been posted to HRC's tumblr.

Clearing the confusion a bit

The map above shows the marriage equality situation in the USA. Look at it quickly, though, because this map won’t be accurate very long.

I started this post two days ago, but decided it needed some more work before posting, something I planned on doing yesterday. But then Virginia’s ban on marriage equality was struck down, and the version of the map I was going to post was already out of date. The one above is up to date—for now.

The map (click to embiggen) is by Jeff Jones and posted to his blog, Middling America. I think it's by far the clearest and best visualisation of the current confusing marriage equality situation in the USA—no easy task, that.

This particular version adds Virginia to the overturned-but-stayed-while-on-appeal list, and adds Alabama to the list of states with active lawsuits seeking full marriage equality. This particular map can be found on his February 14, 2014 post—though with all the rapid changes, he forgot to update the date on the map. Completely understandable!

The map shows the states with marriage equality (17 plus the District of Columbia), states with active lawsuits to win full marriage equality (24, including Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, where the laws have already been struck down, but the rulings are being appealed), the four states with lawsuits seeking some legal recognition, but not full marriage equality (this includes Wisconsin, which has both kinds of lawsuits), and the six states without court challenges to their marriage bans—YET. Note: This adds up to 51 states because of Wisconsin’s different lawsuits.

What makes this even more complicated is that some states recognise out-of-state same-gender marriages (outlined in red on the map), at least for some state purposes, even though they’re illegal within the state. Of the three states with civil unions that ban the freedom to marry, Oregon and Nevada are in the process of repealing their ban, and Nevada is not defending their law in court.

On the anti-quality front, bigots in Indiana have been trying to get an amendment to the state constitution to ban marriage equality on the state ballot this year. However, they’ve had a set-back when the version passed by the Indiana House is different from the one passed by the last session of the legislature. The original language—which would forbid civil unions or registered partnerships of any kind whatsoever, as well as marriage equality—wasn't restored by the state senate, so the amendment would have to be approved again by the next legislature, and that means it wouldn’t be on the ballot until 2016 at the earliest—and by then the battle could be all over nationwide.

In addition, bigots in Wisconsin are suing over that state’s highly limited partnership registry. The registry gives same-gender couples only 44 of the more than two hundred state benefits that married couples get, but the bigots claim it violates the state’s ban on same-gender marriages. In other words, they want Wisconsin to be even more anti-gay.

Meanwhile, even as Republicans in state legislatures rush to enact laws to permit discrimination against gay people as long as it’s based on “sincerely held religious beliefs”, rightwing radicals are also promoting a law in Congress that would forbid the US Federal Government from recognising same-gender marriages of people living in states where they are illegal. This matters because currently the federal government uses the “place of celebration” standard for things like immigration and Social Security survivor benefits: If the couple was legally married in a state that permits it, the federal government considers them married even if the state they live in doesn’t.

This far right legislative activity is part of the radical anti-gay industry’s last desperate attempts to slow down the march to full nationwide marriage equality, something they know is inevitable (though they’d never admit that publicly). Some of them appear to think that if they can delay the inevitable, they can somehow stop the progress and even to take marriage away form couples who are already legally married. Quite how that could work in the reality-based world is impossible to guess.

The federal anti-gay legislation is doomed. Even if it gets through the US House—in an election year—the Senate won’t pass it. If the Democrats were all absent one day and Republicans got it through, President Obama would veto it. So, this isn’t serious—it’s mere political grandstanding, a propaganda and fundraising stunt by the radical right. Again.

State laws permitting anti-gay discrimination, are another matter. Several states will probably enact such laws before this year is out—even though they’re obviously unconstitutional. The radicals know such laws are unconstitutional, of course; the fact that they want to tie up the courts in unnecessary litigation for years to come is pretty revealing of the level of their anti-gay bigotry—though some are probably motivated more by the fundraising and partisan political opportunities backing such an unconstitutional law will give them.

Let’s go back to the map. As of today, 17 US states—one third—have full marriage equality. Two more will be joining and three more have had their anti-gay marriage laws struck down in court. At least some of the 24 states with active lawsuits will end up with marriage equality. I would say that it’s entirely likely that when 2014 ends, more than half of the US states will have full marriage equality. This means that by the time a state’s challenge gets to the US Supreme Court, and even more states have had their laws thrown out, a Loving v. Virginia sort of ruling on marriage equality is likely.

The one thing that’s certain, though, is that this map will not stay this way for long as LGBT people in more and more states gain the freedom to marry. That’s a very good thing, indeed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Speaking the truth

The video above is of Dale Hansen, a sportscaster with WFAA, the Dallas-Fort Worth ABC (USA) Affiliate. He takes on those who whine about how the USA’s NFL isn’t ready for an openly gay player, and scores some big hits.

Hansen is a mid-60s, white sportscaster, working in Texas—he's the sort of person who, prejudice tells us, ought to be speaking against the recent coming out of American college football player Michael Sam. But in a little over two minutes, Hansen speaks the truth as few others in sports broadcasting have.

Watch this video and see why it’s becoming ever clearer that the forces of anti-gay prejudice and bigotry have already lost the debate, even if the war is unfinished. The tide has turned, society has evolved, and this commentary is yet another example of that.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Big Gay Out succeeds again

The New Zealand Herald video above shows some of the spirit at the Big Gay Out, held in Auckland yesterday. I think it’s a really well done video.

In the video, they talk to a wide assortment of people attending, including two that I took particular notice of: An Australian lesbian woman (at about :52) and a gay man from Burundi (at about 2:21), both of whom talk about how LGBT people in New Zealand have more rights—and are more free—than is the case in many other countries (and, to be honest, most US states…).

The Big Gay Out is the biggest LGBT pride event in New Zealand and, as one of the people said in the video, it’s becoming a sort of “pre-event” for Sydney’s famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. But it also has a distinctly New Zealand and South Pacific vibe, which I quite like.

Politicians attended, of course, including both Prime Minister John Key and Leader of the Opposition David Cunliffe, as well as Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman and also a gaggle of MPs from various parties. Auckland Mayor Len Brown was also there.

I wasn’t there this year, however; I had to work and couldn’t go. We went last year, though.

The Big Gay Out is part of the Auckland Pride Festival, this year February 6-23. Among the many sponsors of the event is the Embassy of the United States of America. I love that. In particular, the Embassy is listed as the sponsor of “NXT:14 Youth Leaders Conference”, which was held February 7-9. This event, the website says, “was enabled by funding supported by outgoing US Ambassador David Huebner, a strong advocate for both youth and the Rainbow Community.” I suspect that he’s the main reason for the funding, and the listing.

However, US Embassies around the world have sponsored LGBT Pride events in the countries they’re based in, so this isn’t unusual, however it came to be. A particularly sweet side benefit is that this sponsorship makes wingnuts’ heads explode every time; that just adds to the entertainment value.

So, it was a good and very successful day. Again.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Google FTW

Among the companies thumbing their corporate noses at fascist Russia and its dictator is Google, the world’s largest search engine. Above is a screen grab of the google.co.nz version.

The latest Google Doodle features images from the winter Olympics displayed in the colours of the gay rainbow flag, and to make sure the message isn’t lost, it displays the text of Principle 6, the anti-discrimination aspect of the Olympic Charter that that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is FAR too cowardly to enforce, and at which Russia thumbs its nose.

The corporate sponsors of the Putin Olympics are more concerned about the money they’ll make than standing up for what is right. That is their choice. Many of us will make ours in response.

But for now, another corporation—and a highly visible one—is doing the right thing and standing up to clear evil. That’s something to note and to celebrate.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Return of Cosmos

The video above is the official promo for the new series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which premiers on both Fox in the USA and on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday March 9. I have no idea if/when it will be shown in New Zealand (our pay-TV guide doesn't go that far in advance).

The new programme is essentially a remake of the classic 13-part 1980 Public Television series Cosmos: A Personal Journey, written by the late astronomer, Carl Sagan, his wife Ann Druyan and astrophysicist Steven Soter. The episodes were presented by Sagan. I watched the series back then and still have the companion book.

The new series is again written by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, along with Soter. Joining them will be Seth MacFarlane. The new series will be presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I was a bit dubious when I first heard this was being done. I didn’t know any more about it until I watched the promo above, and when I saw that Druyan and Soter were returning to write the new series, and that it was being presented by Tyson, my doubts drifted into space. So to speak.

I think science needs more popularising to help combat creeping ignorance, and I think that Neil deGrasse Tyson is the perfect person to do it on this project. So, I’m excited about this science show like I haven’t been in years. For me, that’s a very good thing, indeed.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Remembering the big disaster

83 years ago today, New Zealand had its first major earthquake in a populated area since European settlement. The Hawkes Bay Earthquake is still the deadliest New Zealand disaster.

The 7.9 earthquake stuck at 10:47am and killed 256 people. It levelled most of the buildings in central Napier and Hastings, and the fires that broke out immediately destroyed many of the Napier buildings that survived the earthquake. Some 40 square kilometres of seabed was lifted up to become dry land.

The disaster revealed the need for building codes to deal with earthquakes, and much was learned by studying the buildings that survived, as well as those that didn’t. When the area was rebuilt, it was done in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time, making it one of the world’s best and most complete showcases for that style.

The video above is a 1965 documentary on the earthquakes, using silent film that was almost certainly shot the day after the earthquakes. They also added some footage from the 1960s to show how the area recovered.

At the time the documentary was made, the disaster had only been three decades earlier, and so, many people remembered it vividly. Now, more than eight decades after the events, there are few witnesses still living, all of them elderly. This makes it especially important, I think, for the rest of us to remember events like the Hawkes Bay Earthquake. The Internet makes that easy.

Advocating change

The video above is advocacy advertising, a highly specialised form of political advertising. Posted the end of January, it tries to get viewers to see the issue it addresses from a different perspective. I think it’s a good example of such advertising.

The issue the ad is addressing is the use of racist names for Native Americans in the names of US sports teams, specifically, the Washington Redskins NFL team. Many Native Americans consider the name racist and offensive and want it changed, but the owners of what is apparently the third most profitable team in the NFL have refused.

In May of last year, the Associated Press reported on a poll that found that 79% of Americans didn’t think the Redskins should change their name, and only 11% did. This is the real barrier that advocates of change face: They’ll never convince the owners to change the name unless there’s public clamour to do so, and there clearly isn’t.

So the ad above attempts to get viewers to look at Native Americans as varied people who call themselves by many names—but not the offensive one the team uses. It’s effective at doing that.

However, this ad doesn’t give those 79% any further understanding of why the team’s name is offensive, and so, why it should be changed. A good campaign could include the basic awareness ad above, then, in further ads they could explain why the name is offensive and should be changed. The point is, they have a massive majority of people who don’t agree with them, and they need to bring more people onto their side if they are to succeed.

This is the way movement politics works: When masses of people oppose something that a minority wants, it’s necessary to make the majority, first, see the minority as real people, then, as people they care about and identify with in some way. That’s when change happens.

Opponents of change will attempt to belittle the desired change, to demonise its advocates and even dehumanise those who are offended. The opponents of change will puff out their chests with all the sense of entitlement that comes from their privileged position in society and speak their opposition all the louder, assuming everyone thinks as they do.

We know all this because it’s the way movement politics have been working for decades, and there’s no reason to expect the playbook, so to speak, will change on this or any other change issue.

Which is why effective advocacy advertising is so important. That importance to the political process makes it interesting to me, of course, and I even did preliminary work on a new blog just looking at and analysing all the political issue messaging that pops up on the Internet and in social media. One day I may take another look at that.

For now, though, I saw this video today and thought it was an effective advocacy ad, as long as there are more to follow. I’m sure there will be, too, because this issue isn’t going away.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Te Kuiti and back

This weekend we travelled to Te Kuiti in the King Country for a family reunion celebrating 100 years in New Zealand for one of the families Nigel’s descended from. It was a fun time, and good to catch up with all sorts of family members we don’t normally see.

Te Kuiti is a small farming town—you could even say a one-horse town. In fact, on our way to the reunion last night, we saw two guys riding a horse down Te Kuiti’s main street. That was unexpected.

Te Kuiti is located in a region known as the King Country, a name that has rather dark origins.

In the 1850s, several Māori tribes decided to have a king as a way of uniting and preventing Māori people from losing their own land. This was called the Māori King Movement or Kīngitanga. It didn’t work.

In the 1863, the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, ordered British troops to invade the Waikato in order to crush the Kīngitanga Movement, which he considered a threat to the sovereign authority of the British Crown. Also, by driving Māori from their land, Europeans could take them over, which is ultimately what happened.

The Kīngitanga forces were overpowered some nine months after the invasion began and fled south to the region now called the King Country because of them. Today, the Kīngitanga is headquartered in the Waikato, at Tūrangawaewae marae in the town of Ngaruawahia, north of Hamilton.

The King Country, meanwhile, is now mainly a farming region—especially sheep farming. Te Kuiti bills itself as the sheep-shearing capital of the world. It’s quite a pleasant place, really.

The photo at the top of this post was taken this morning from the original farm of Nigel’s ancestor family. It’s a pretty good indication of what the countryside is like. The camera was pretty much level, which may give some indication of how hilly it is.

I took the photo below yesterday afternoon. It’s of the view from the balcony outside the door to our motel room, looking back toward Te Kuiti. I didn’t get a photo of the two guys on the horse, unfortunately.

And now, we’re back home in Auckland. It was a nice weekend, but it’s always good to be home.