Wednesday, June 29, 2016

President Obama designates Stonewall National Monument

The video above is President Obama’s most recent Weekly Addresses, released this past weekend. I was busy with visitors all last week, and missed this video, though I knew about the designation.

I think the president does a great job of explaining why Stonewall is important by placing it within the context of other places important in the struggle for justice and freedom. It as important to the struggle for LGBT freedom as any of the other places the president mentioned, and it’s important that generations to come can learn about it and its place in American history.

This is a very good thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Proud To Be

YouTube is a welcoming place for diverse people to express themselves, and provide voices that people may otherwise never hear. This is a good thing in itself, but YouTube has also long been an advocate for LGBTQ people, our human rights, and the importance of us sharing our voice.

Here’s what they said in the YouTube description of the video up top:
From commemorating Pride parades to opening up about transitions and explaining the ABCs of LGBT (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFqLr...), YouTube is a place where anyone can belong no matter who they are or who they love. That is why today we want to help people honor and celebrate who they’re #ProudToBe.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we help accept, love, and celebrate one another. In the wake of the tragic events in Orlando, we stand together in support of the LGBTQ community. We stand together with everyone who has the courage to own and share their identity. We stand together to show the power of solidarity, the power of love, the power of pride. To those beautiful and brave voices who continue to make YouTube the vibrant, diverse and empathetic community it is, we are #ProudToBe with you. [Links in the original]
YouTube encourages people to make and share videos with the #ProudToBe tag in the title so others can find them. I imagine some opponents of diversity and love will make videos specifically to be dicks, just because they can. Rather than exercising their free speech right of dissent, many of them will just be trying to cause trouble. YouTube, like all of the Internet, is plagued with trolls.

But YouTube has also been an inclusive place where many diverse voices can be heard, and the bigots can’t drown that out. So, I think this is a good thing, and I hope there’s a huge variety of videos shared.

I’m looking forward to seeing what people are #ProudToBe.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A few Orlando responses

There have been a lot of responses to the Orlando shootings, some awesome, some, well, they’re the sort I wouldn’t comment on. But these are a few of the many that caught my eye over the past few days.

Up first, the video up top, which is President Obama’s latest Weekly Address. I think he struck the right tone, but I especially thought his remarks on how important parents are in fostering equality and tolerance, and giving unconditional love. I thought it was good.

Next up, “Dear World, We're Not Afraid”, a video put together by YouTuber Arielle Scarcella, in which she and other YouTubers deliver a simple response together (I subscribe to several of their Channels). These sorts of things can be too serious sometimes—dreary, even—but this one avoids all that, in part by keeping it short. I think it works and is nicely done.

Next, one of the explaining videos from Vox, “The Orlando mass shooting is a reminder of why Pride is so important”. These videos try and explains sometimes complicated current events and issues, and to put them into context. I think this video does all that, and reminds us of how much work is left to do.

Finally, something very different: “The Orlando massacre terrorist will fail. Here's why” by British journalist Owen Jones. He made headlines when he walked off a SkyNews panel discussion [VIDEO] when the pompous host refused to accept that the attacks were against LGBT people, and not some generic, unspecified, amorphous group called “people”. Were I Owen, I’d probably have done the exact same thing.

In the video I’m sharing, he says: “The terrorists who carried out America's worst ever shooting in Orlando will fail just as a neo-Nazi terrorist did 17 years ago in London when he detonated a nail bomb outside the Admiral Duncan pub. The LGBT community will mourn, will cry and will rage but ultimately we will win and the love of LGBT people all over this planet will burn even brighter because of what he did.” Ultimately, he’s right, even if it may not seem like it at the moment. Sadly, the comments on YouTube are filled with endless, vile, spittle-flecked anti-Muslim rage. Sadly, that’s not a surprise.

• • •

These are a representative sample of what I’ve looked at this week. There were a few more, but I didn’t keep the links, as in those early days after the shooting, I was… distracted.

It’s now been one week since the Orlando shootings.

Verran’s Island

"Verran's Island" (Source: Facebook)
The people of Auckland have a favourite indoor sport: Complaining about their local government. Aucklanders aren’t unique in this, of course—residents of many cities are the same. But they have become pretty good at it. Sometimes, though, that negativity can be kind of fun.

Among the many things I’ve seen people complain about in a Facebook group for people who live in this area of the city, one of the most enduring has been a roundabout. People hated it being done at all, declaring that there was nothing wrong with the old non-standard (and, so, very unsafe) sort of, kind of roundabout-like thing that had been there.

However, there were actually legitimate complaints: Construction took months longer than had been promised, and it was messy, the road uneven, and often pretty unsafe at times, during that lengthy construction. However, once it was completed, it was so much better than the old one was—and yet, people still complain about it.

The roundabout is located where three roads converge: Verran Road, Birkdale Road, and Rangatira Road (Google Maps; select Street View to see how it normally looks). The latter is one of two roads into and out of Beach Haven, a suburb that has fairly expensive coastal property maybe a couple streets over from poor people living in state houses and sub-standard private rental accommodation. It’s a study in contrasts.

Birkdale Road connects those two roads into/out of Beach Haven, and serves as a pseudo border between Beach Haven and Birkdale, which is somewhat better off than most of Beach Haven—middle class, even if sometimes lower middle class, but even then, with far fewer poor-standard rental houses.

I mention all that because this area is a vibrant community, a melting pot of different economic classes, races, and ethnicities, all living fairly peacefully alongside each other, and all sharing an unfocused antipathy to Auckland Council, our local government. The roundabout is just an example of that.

In the months since the roundabout has been completed, nothing else has happened. Ordinarily, such roundabouts are planted with low perennial plants to make it look nicer, but nothing has happened in this particular roundabout, and no one—complainers and elected representatives alike—seem to know why.

A couple weeks ago, maybe, people started taking matters into their own hands. A couple plastic pink flamingos suddenly appeared. Then, more, along with other garden ornaments—the tackier the better—and then a small recliner with a stuffed pink panther doll with an umbrella. Locals dubbed it “Verran’s Island” and someone set up a Facebook Page for it, which is where the photo above comes from.

It’s all kind of funny, and it also calls attention to the fact that nothing has been done to finish the roundabout in the months since the construction ended. If mainstream media pick up the story, something might finally happen. After all, winter is good time to do the planting so the plants can get established before the hot, dry summer. If was to bet, however, it would be that the guerrilla gardening on “Verran’s Island” will be called a traffic hazard and workers will be sent to remove everything, and it’ll remain a barren weed patch. And people will complain.

The roundabout is part of the unfocused antipathy to Auckland Council because they almost always blame the wrong target: Auckland Council. Roads and projects like this are done by Auckland Transport (AT), which is what’s called a “Council Controlled Organisation,” mostly independent of Council, basically like a private business that Council entirely owns. AT has demonstrated contempt for popular opinion, and has yet to discover a customer service ethic, so it’s probably the single most complained about agency in all of Auckland—even if people get confused and blame Council instead.

While some of the antipathy toward Auckland Council takes on a humorous air, like the “Verran’s Island” installation did, much of it is far angrier and even quite bitter. Next week is the deadline for areas of the city to petition to secede from Auckland Council, and apparently at least two areas plan to do so. They will almost certainly fail, probably deservedly so, but it'll mostly be because the government in Wellington that set up the “super city” still controls government, and they’re unlikely to allow any attempt to undo what they created.

One of the reasons that a larger Auckland matters is that it spreads the cost of infrastructure over a far larger number of properties, whereas smaller councils, with fewer ratable (taxable) properties have to charge much more for the same thing. If areas with small populations start peeling off Auckland, those people will face far higher rates (property tax) bills, and if enough do that, it’ll drive up rates in Auckland, too. No one wins.

But whether the disgruntled succeed or not, the complaints won’t stop, not even when a new mayor and new council are elected in October. Complaining about their local government is Aucklanders’ favourite indoor sport, after all. Pink flamingos, though, are optional.

Footnote: The area the roundabout is located in is called "Verran's Corner" colloquially, however, that name is not an official place name, so there’s no official spelling. There are many people in New Zealand who drop apostrophes, and in this case, spell it "Verrans". Because there’s no such official name, I opt for the grammatically correct apostrophe, and always have.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Earth has a companion

From the “What the…?!” files, it turns out that Earth has a newly discovered companion. No, we’re not cheating on the Moon, and it’s been hanging around for a century. But we’re just finding out about it.

On April 27, 2016, observers at the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, part of the project to catalogue all near-earth objects in our solar system, discovered Asteroid 2016 HO3. It’s small—somewhere between 40 and 100 metres (120-300 feet; the exact size isn’t determined yet), and has an orbit around the sun that brings it between 38 times and 100 times the distance of the Moon—not very close, in other words.

The distance of Asteroid 2016 HO3 from Earth is why it’s not a true satellite (moon), but a near-earth companion. It’s been orbiting around the sun for about a century, and Earth’s gravity is likely to keep it doing so for centuries to come. It isn’t a threat to earth.

“In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth,” according to Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And they’ve been “dancing” like this for nearly a century, but we’ve just found it.

The reason it was found at all is because of the grossly underfunded cataloguing project of the “Planetary Defense Coordination Office” (yes, that’s a real thing). So, we know about it in large part because we realised it would be a good idea to know about asteroids in our own neighbourhood that might crash into earth one day. Serendipity, maybe.

This isn’t the first time an asteroid like this has been found, though. Another asteroid, 2003 YN107, had a similar orbit for awhile about ten years ago, then pissed off. Maybe it didn't like the dance music in our solar system. But that means there could be more that scientists just haven't found yet.

Science is fascinating, of course, and so are new discoveries. But it’s a little freaky to learn that Earth has had a companion since around World War One, and we never knew about it until around six weeks ago.

Mostly, though, it’s just fascinating.

Friday, June 17, 2016

How we choose to respond

There’s been a lot of online discussion in the days since the Orlando massacre, and, as we’d expect, that discussion has included both enlightenment and point-scoring, and sometimes exploitation. Which category we think a comment falls into is a function of our own attitudes, perceptions, values, etc. So, too, is how we choose to respond.

There are plenty of outspoken people in the USA who have made very well-paid careers out of being professional adversaries of LGBT people. They spread disinformation, exaggeration, defamation, and outright fabrication to try and score points and victories. Very often, they’re successful. These are the people we see popping up in mainstream newsmedia reports on LGBT issues as the “balance” to the rational viewpoint expressed by someone supporting the civil and human rights of LGBT people. These are the people who pretend to condemn violence against LGBT, while blaming LGBT people themselves for their own deaths and injuries.

And then there are the others: From the merely loopy to the seriously unhinged to folks willing to pretend to be one or both in order to gain attention, notoriety, and, of course, money. These are the folks who can be counted on to, as they have done, praise the Orlando shooting in some way, probably declaring that it should be repeated.

What is the proper response to these people? In the case of the first group, they have a mainstream media platform already, and it’d be best for them to be dealt to there—but they never are. At best, some newspaper columnist may condemn the rhetoric of these professional opponents of LGBT people, but since fewer people read newspapers these days, most will never see the response. This is why so many bloggers take the professional anti-gay activists to task—because they don’t see anyone else doing it—but even fewer people see that. Still, it's out there…

The bigger question, though, is what should we do about the disgusting wannabes in the nether regions of the Internet or on rightwing radio? The folks who do all the same things the professional adversaries to, but add on levels of vile and disgusting bigotry along with outright incitement of violence against LGBT people. What’s the best way to respond?

There is ALWAYS a decision to be made (and many arguments about it) over whether to call out evil or ignore it in the hope it will die, starved of oxygen. Those who say sunshine is the best disinfectant argue that challenging hate is the only way to stop it, while the other side says that doing so only adds oxygen to the fire.

In my view, both are absolutely right, and both are dangerously wrong.

The main points to consider, I think, are these: Does the response to the hate speech or action help it to spread more widely? And, if so, is it better, on balance, to challenge the hate speech or hope it dies unnoticed?

In the case of the professional adversaries, it’s easier: Their words and actions are widely reported, so responding is unlikely to bring them any more attention than they’d otherwise have. Even so, I have a sort of rule that I don’t respond unless they say something in mass media, like a CNN interview, or a newspaper op ed, that sort of the thing. I don’t usually respond to things they say in their own media or on their own sites where they’re usually at their most provocative—probably in the hope of inciting an over-reaction among normal people (so they can use the over-reactions to help them raise more money).

It’s the more fringey people who should give us pause. Many of them are pretty obscure, and most would never be known widely at all without the attention given to them by outraged normal people. And yet, unchallenged evil can eventually become evil triumphant, so perhaps it must be challenged so it can’t win. But, what if doing so helps it win?

Yep, this is why there’s no easy answer, nor one single correct approach.

I seldom talk about fringe types at all, and if I do it’s without ever mentioning them by name (what I often do with professional adversaries, too), nor where, specifically, the hatred was spread. If there’s a website involved, I never link to it, at best linking only to a mainstream site that links to the offending site (again, something I do with professional adversaries, too). This allows me to talk about the bad ideas without giving the person explicit search engine points, or their site any added traffic. This is my compromise.

The issue for me is NEVER any specific bigot or hatemonger, unless they run for public office; instead, it’s their bad ideas I want to take on, and to challenge their bigotry. That’s what’s dangerous, not the person himself (because, after all, it’s almost always a male…). In this way, I can focus on the substance of what they did or said without giving the person any attention. As an added bonus, this is the ultimate in disrespect of the person doing or saying the awful things—it’s treating them as if they don’t exist.

Most of the time, though, my response doesn’t even directly mention whatever incident/person I’m commenting on. Instead of talking about the latest absurd pronouncement of a hate radio host or a professional opponent of LGBT people, I’ll talk about their bad idea, why it’s bad, and what the better idea is. It’s true that some people won’t know what, specifically, led to my commentary, but putting better ideas “out there” is always the main point for me, not talking about why someone else is wrong or dangerous. There are always exceptions, of course.

Up until this point, most of what I’ve been talking about has been blogging or things I share online. These are the things that I control. But what about stuff others share?

Commenting on what other people post also invites the same debate: To help publicise or not? The vast majority of people who see a post on social media are “lurkers”, that is, people who see it and say nothing. Since something about the bigot has already been shared, the choice is whether these lurkers should see others’ silence, or people standing up to hatred, bigotry, and the promotion of evil.

I don’t decide the same way every time, but when I respond it’s usually to make a larger point, to draw connections to larger issues, or to provide missing facts—unless I’m in a bad mood or otherwise pissed-off, in which case all bets are off. Being human is messy.

Whether we choose to respond to expressions of prejudice and bigotry is a personal decision that can only be made by ourselves. We can express our feelings about others’ decisions, but we mustn’t condemn those who choose differently than we would—assuming, of course, that their response remains somewhere in the realm of legitimate discourse, that it isn’t as bad as what they’re condemning (no threats or incitement of violence, for example, either explicit or implied—and it’s sad that these days I have to say what should be bloody obvious!).

I absolutely support the right of people to make their own decisions—to ignore outrageous bigotry completely or take it on by name. That’s their choice to make, not mine to make for them. At any particular moment, we can only do what we think is right, even if we’re wrong.

Personally, I think it's awesome that people want to respond to outrageous acts or expressions of bigotry. I also think that it’s great that people struggle with how to choose to respond. This is why good people will always triumph over bad people.

This post was inspired by a Facebook discussion I had with my friend Andy. We bloggers take inspiration wherever we find it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

NZ Parliament reacts to Orlando

Today, the New Zealand Parliament passed a motion in sympathy with the victims of the Orlando shootings on behalf of all New Zealanders. They do this whenever a major tragedy happens in the world. I thought I’d share all the videos for anyone who wants to see the responses of the various political parties in the NZ Parliament, and I added my own comments after each video. All up, the videos are just under 19 minutes.

The first video in the series, up top, is of the Prime Minister moving that the House consider a “Motion Without Notice”, which basically is any government motion that wasn’t previously announced, and typically this is done in times of tragedy, and the motion to consider is approved by simple voice vote, as this was. Then, someone from each of the parties in Parliament makes a statement on the motion itself, before the final motion is voted on. The Prime Minister did okay. However, today, outside of Parliament, he also seemed to deny the attack was anti-LGBT in nature, which puts his remarks in Parliament in a somewhat different light.

The first reply video (the second in this post) is from the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. This is my favourite of the speeches because he clearly gets what it’s all about. He said the right things in the right tone, and, most importantly, he kept the focus on the victims, which is important.

The second reply is from Kevin Hague of the Green Party, the third-largest party in Parliament. Kevin Hague is one of the openly gay Members of Parliament. He offers a different perspective from Labour’s, and makes some good points. I thought putting it into a New Zealand context was a good contribution to the discussion.

Next up is Winston Peters, the leader of the fourth-largest party, New Zealand First, a right-centre-right party. Winston is combative, argumentative, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic, and his party has usually opposed anything to do with LGBT rights. I really don’t care what he has to say, but his remarks were typical of him, and contributed nothing.

Next is Te Ururoa Flavell, Co-Leader of the Māori Party, one of the National Party’s support parties in government. He spoke in Te Reo Māori, one of New Zealand’s three official languages. At the conclusion of his remarks, he was joined for a waiata, a traditional Māori response. I can’t comment on his remarks because I don’t speak Te Reo.

The fifth response is from Peter Dunne, a one-person party in Parliament. He has been in coalition with Labour in the past, but joined National in government after the 2008 elections. He made a basically decent sort of speech, and I think he meant well, even if some of his phrasing was clumsy (using the phrase “moral judgement” was extremely ill-advised).

The final response is from David Seymour, the one-person MP from the Act Party, a rightwing party supporting the government, and is only in Parliament at all because the National Party did a deal with them so Seymour could win the seat. I often strongly disagree with Seymour, and I’d never vote for his “party”, but I think he did a good job on this speech, not the first time I’ve thought that—but always about things other than government policy. This final video also has the voice vote that approved the motion of sympathy.

• • •

These sorts of resolutions are meant sincerely, even if some party leaders/speakers try to make it all about them. The MPs know full well that the people in the affected country will probably never even know about such resolutions, but the point is that the NZ Parliament, on behalf of all New Zealanders, stands in solidarity with the people affected, in this case, the victims and survivors of tragedy. I think that’s worth something, even if it changes nothing or accomplishes little. It’s the right thing to do.

Monday, June 13, 2016

President Obama’s Statement on Orlando

Full text of the President’s Statement:
Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder -- a horrific massacre -- of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement. I’ve directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what -- if any -- inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.

This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people. This could have been any one of our communities. So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need -- they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.

We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm’s way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse. It’s the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends -- our fellow Americans -- who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub -- it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American -- regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation -- is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families -- that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more -- as a country -- by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts -- friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.
President Obama has ordered US flags to be flown at half-staff to honour the victims of the attack in Orlando.