Thursday, April 30, 2015

And another view

In the video above, NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell talks about her impressions after the oral arguments on marriage equality before the US Supreme Court. What she says is similar to, though different from, some of the other reactions I’ve read. Her observations about our opponents were particularly well put, I thought.

NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights) has long been one of the strongest and best forces for our side, so I was interested in hearing Kate Kendell’s thoughts.

I’m sure this won’t be anywhere near the last thing I post about this before the decision is handed down.

What will the Court decide?

There's been speculation for months already about how the US Supreme Court will rule on marriage equality, and after the oral arguments this week, pundits analysed what was said like a fortune-teller examining tea leaves. But no one knows what will happen.

We know that there are 3 Justices—Scalia, Thomas and Alito—who are hardcore opponents of marriage equality. Similarly, Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer are pro-marriage equality. No one disagrees about any of that.

Chief Justice Roberts is conservative, and widely expected to side with the anti-gay justices. However, he has his legacy as Chief Justice to consider, and with a non-doctrinaire brand of conservatism, it’s entirely possible he may stand for marriage equality. Personally, I think that’s unlikely, though I could see him writing a dissent that supports marriage equality on one question (whether states must recognise marriages performed in other states) and against forcing states to allow same-gender marriages within their states.

The swing vote, Justice Kennedy, has written all the Court’s pro-gay rulings since 2003 and has always been forceful, if often measured, in his arguments. So I think it seems highly improbable that he’ll suddenly do a 180 and oppose 50-state marriage equality.

I expect to see the Court rule in favour of 50-state marriage equality. I have several reasons for saying that, starting with history: The majority on the Court recognise that the nation has shifted dramatically on marriage equality with solid majorities supporting it. 37 states—74% of all US states—currently have marriage equality. That’s far more support than when the Court struck down all remaining laws against interracial marriage.

If the Court were to rule against marriage equality, it would throw the entire nation into chaos, as well as political turmoil far greater than anything the country has seen in at least a decade, when the radical right was at their peak of power on this issue. If the Supreme Court rejects marriage equality, the radical right has vowed to attempt to again make marriage equality illegal in all 37 states that currently have it.

Obviously, many of those crusades would be absolute non-starters. But it would give the radical right a focus for raising hundreds of millions of dollars which, when added to the billions the rich and corporations will spend to elect Republican state legislatures, could make it possible to re-outlaw marriage equality in some states.

In other states, a zealous elected official—governor or attorney general, for example—may re-ban marriage equality by fiat. All of that would lead to years and years of court battles.

The Justices know all that, and the last thing they’d want to do is create such chaos, or to put in limbo the legal marriages of thousands of couples who could be forcibly divorced if the radical right succeeds. That’s the very antithesis of equality under law the Court upholds.

So, in sum, the majority of the Justices are aware of the historic shift in attitude in the USA, and how negative their legacy would be if they ignored that shift and ruled against marriage equality. They also know the chaos and loss of legal rights that such a rejection would mean. Add it all up, and I feel reasonably confident that the Court will rule in favour 50-state marriage equality.

But no one knows what will happen, including me. In a couple months we’ll see if I’m right.

Meanwhile, the video up top is the latest from Matt Baume, who takes a calm, reasoned look at the oral arguments. His is less tea leaf reading than simple analysis, and among the best I’ve run across so far.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to see my FB Page

In my previous post, I said that I set-up a Facebook Page for my blog and podcast, and that I’d post about how to follow that—or any page—on Facebook so that it shows up in your newsfeed. It’s not necessarily obvious, and it’s easy to miss out on seeing things we want to see.

The problem is that clicking “Like” on a Facebook Page doesn’t necessarily automatically make items posted to that page show up in our newsfeeds. The solution is, first, to click “Like”, then click on the “Liked” tab and you’ll get a drop down menu with three options, each of which has a specific function.

The top one is “Get Notifications”. Select this if you want to get notifications, however, be aware that if you have your Facebook set-up to send notifications by email or push-message to your cellphone, then every time the page publishes something, you’ll get an alert. You can adjust that in your Facebook settings.

The next item is “Following”. This was added sometime in the last year, and is the way to make sure you get updates from a page. It’s similar in function to selecting “Follow” for a person, but there are some differences.

You can Follow a person you’re not friends with, if they permit it, though you’ll only see what they post publicly. Many of us share only with Friends, which is my default. Posts on all non-personal Pages are, by definition, public.

The main difference is that you have to “Like” a Page before you can “Follow” it—it’s not automatic—but when you become a Friend on Facebook, you automatically Follow that person. However, you can turn that off, which is a good option for Friends who post too much, too frequently, or whose stuff you don’t want to see, but you don’t want to “Unfriend” them. Just go to the Friend’s page and click on the “Following” tab to turn that off, and you won’t see their posts in your news feed, but you can still interact with them in every other way, and they’ll still see what you post (assuming they haven’t unfollowed you…).

The next item, “Add to interests list…” is a way to filter Page content. There’s a similar function on Twitter, and the basic idea is to make it easier to see similar content in a single feed. Facebook’s is a bit complicated, though, and has some privacy implications if you allow everybody to Follow you.

The final item in that menu is “Unlike”, the way to stop seeing updates from a page, similar to “unfriending” a person. It’s something I’ve seldom used myself, and then usually because I accidentally “Liked” a page. Obviously no one would “Unlike” my page.

Now, this advice is accurate at the moment, but could change at any time. I last talked about seeing stuff from Pages in one’s Facebook newsfeed a year ago—almost to the day—and things have changed since then.

Even so, if you set-up the Pages you want to see in your newsfeed, they may continue to do so even if (well, when…) Facebook next changes the way it handles newsfeeds and the like.

Good luck!

Breaking blog things again

Even those of us who are technologically savvy, as I like to pretend I am, can screw up technological things. Today was one of those days for me. It’s nothing serious, but it forced me to move ahead on a project for this blog.

For a (very) long time now, I’ve been planning to set-up a Facebook page for this blog, and when I suddenly realised that my podcast is basically the audio version of this blog, I knew I’d include that, too.

My hesitation was mainly the category. Silly as it may sound, I couldn’t decide what area best fit what I wanted to do. I looked to see what category my fellow podcasters were under, only to find they chose all sorts of different one, which wasn’t helpful for my dilemma.

In the end, I just chose “Blogger” because that’s really what this is all about. So, last night I took the plunge and set up the page. I uploaded the cover photo I’d made and the photo of the flag lapel pin that was my original profile photo when I started this blog. Then, I went to bed.

This morning, apart from seeing that Roger Green was the first person other than me to “Like” the new page, I set about getting ready to make the page the place on Facebook where my blog posts will go.

And that’s when it all went horribly wrong.

Okay, it wasn’t really horrible, but it was the mistake that changed my plans.

My blog posts have been automatically posted to my personal Facebook page for ages. I wanted to post them to the new page, so I went to Networked Blogs, turned off the target of my personal Facebook page—and only then realised that the free option was gone. There was no going back.

Networked Blogs has moved their syndication to a paid service called “Symphony”, and the lowest price for the most basic version was $14-$99 per month. That service was admittedly better than the old free service I had, but I’m not willing to pay for syndication that I used to get for free. Maybe someday if I ever make any money from blogging, or see the potential to do so, I might reconsider. But that’s frankly unlikely.

So, I looked for other options, but the first few hits referred to other paid services, all of which were clearly designed for more enterprise-level blogging. I’m not that sort of blogger and highly doubt I ever will be—certainly not with this blog, anyway.

A link to tips for using Facebook’s built-in features was promising—until I realised that those features were removed in one of Facebook’s “upgrades”. So, in the end, I used the built-in Blogger feature to share a blog post on Facebook (anyone can do that, by the way). In my case, I share it on the AmeriNZ page, rather than on my personal page.

I’ve had two motivations for doing all this—personal and impersonal, you might say. First, so many people are on Facebook that having a presence there is important for folks like me who try to interact on social media. It may or may not grow the blog or podcast, but it might. In any event, it will make it easier for Facebook users to share my posts, since anything posted to my personal page carries privacy restrictions.

I also have more personal reasons for the move. My personal Facebook page is, well, personal: I sometimes share things there that I wouldn’t necessarily share on my blog precisely because it’s not as public. There’s plenty I won’t share there, either, but there’s a difference, nevertheless.

And then there are my Facebook friends. I’m keenly aware that not all of my friends and family are interested in politics, and some don’t share my particular viewpoints. So, a couple years ago I decided to dramatically cut back on posting anything about US politics. Eventually, almost the only way things about US politics (apart from things about marriage equality) got onto my personal Facebook page was when a blog post was automatically shared.

Because of my mistake this morning, that won’t happen anymore: Unless I decide to share a blog post on my personal page, none will show up there. There’ll be a short-term problem in convincing the Facebook friends who actually read my blog to “Like” the page and follow it so post announcements will continue to show up in their timeline. My next post will go over how to do that.

This isn’t the first time that something I did related to Facebook caused problems for me and this blog. Back in 2013, I inadvertently caused havoc for myself. Even further back, in 2010, Google led me to break this blog, ironically, as part of the upgrade to get the buttons that make it possible to share posts on social media. I fixed all those problems.

This time, there’s nothing to fix, just a bit of mission explaining the changes. This post is part of that effort.

Meanwhile, the new AmeriNZ Facebook Page is now available. Feel free to “Like” and follow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Supporting the Freedom To Marry

Tomorrow, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments that could lead to 50-state marriage equality. There have been a lot of good and positive messages of support as that date approached (and some awful ones), so I thought I’d share some of the best videos I’ve seen lately.

First up, Freedom To Marry is running the ad at the top of this post. It simply argues, "It’s time. America is ready for the freedom to marry." They’re absolutely right: The USA definitely IS ready, even some loud-mouthed extremists aren’t.

Next up is an ad from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which has been doing some great video messaging in recent months, many of which are on their YouTube Channel). This ad features various people known from various, chiefly entertainment, fields. It has a good message that’s presented well. I know some people hate ads like this that use “celebrities”, but the approach does help get the attention of some people, which may make them actually hear the message, so I don’t have a problem with it.

Finally, I wanted to share a video from PFLAG Canada, “Nobody’s Memories”, which, they say, “is our tribute to all those in the past who were never allowed to marry by law – and to everyone who is still denied the right today.” It’s a beautiful ad. But for some bizarre reason, it's private. The link should be viewable on YouTube. Normally, I'd have skipped over them when the video wasn't available, but it really is beautiful and deserves to be seen,

The messaging on the pro-equality side is light-years ahead of where it was in 2008, when LGBT people were conspicuously absent from ads against California’s Proposition 8. Our adversaries, meanwhile, tend to rely on their religion as their only argument against us, sometimes, sadly, resorting to lies, smears and defamation to try to hide the fact that they have NO secular argument against marriage equality.

To me, ads like these are a bit of an antidote to the bile spread by the opponents of equality and freedom. I think we’ll need a lot more antidotes in the months ahead, so I’ll probably share more positive messages like these. I bet there’ll be plenty more of those, too.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A new holiday

Today was a new holiday in New Zealand. Well, not really a new holiday as such, but a new public holiday. And, we have the Labour Party to thank for it.

Back in 2013, Labour MPs David Clark and Grant Robertson got a bill through Parliament that established that when Waitangi Day or Anzac Day fall on a Saturday or Sunday, the public holiday will be observed on the following Monday. When they fall on a weekday, they’ll be observed on that day.

The law change ensures that all workers get 11 paid holidays every year. It was a really good idea, but National and Act both voted against it. However, they were the only parties to oppose the bill, and with all the other parties backing it, it became law without government support.

Today was the first time the law came into use, and we can go long times without needing it. The next time the law will come into play is Waitangi Day next year, but the next time after that won’t be until Anzac Day in 2020. However, the next year, 2021, both Waitangi Day and Anzac Day fall on a weekend.

The Labour Party shared the graphic above on Facebook. They deserve to celebrate something good they helped bring about, and I think they managed to do so in a restrained way. It’s an example of the good web graphics the party has been producing lately.

In any case, it was nice have a long holiday weekend.

2015 WH Correspondents’ Dinner

The video above is of President Obama at the 2015 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. I thought that he did a particularly good job this year.

I have no idea how President Obama managed to keep a straight face, particularly during the bit with his "anger translator". I thought that the Dick Cheney quip was comedy gold. I also thought that remembering journalists murdered or imprisoned was a good thing to do.

I also watched the C-SPAN video of the opening comedian, Cecily Strong, on YouTube, but I didn’t really care for her performance. A chuckle here and there, a couple well-placed barbs, but mostly just flat, I thought. It’s not the first time I didn’t like the comedian.

These events are always fun and relaxed, and a welcome break from the usual bitter divisions in Washington. It’s too bad the city can’t be like that more often.

Attorney General Eric Holder

The US Department of Justice posted the video above Friday (US time), and described it as “Attorney General Eric Holder Legacy Video”. It’s a nine-minute look at the first African American to serve as US Attorney General, and his career highlights.

Chad Griffin, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, is shown saying that Holder was “the LGBT rights movement’s Robert Kennedy”, chiefly because as Attorney General, Holder refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense [sic] of Marriage Act.

In his farewell remarks at the Justice Department (excerpts in the AP video below), Holder said:
“Civil rights: The LGBT community is something that I have tried to focus on. I think that is the civil rights issue of our time. This whole question of same-sex marriage, which will be resolved by the [Supreme] Court over the next couple months or so, hopefully that decision will go in a way that I think is consistent with who we say we are as a people.”
Holder also fought strongly for voting rights and to reform the criminal justice system. He also successfully prosecuted terrorists in civilian courts, something his Republican opponents, arguing for prosecution in military courts, said was impossible to do.

Holder ended up with an intensely confrontational relationship with Republicans in Congress. Many of them hated him as much as they hated President Obama, and also for similar reasons (racism chief among them). However, in an era in which Republicans used parliamentary procedures to persecute the Obama Administration, they use the controversy over “the fast and the furious” for partisan political gain. In the end, no evidence was ever found to implicate Holder himself. Indeed, nothing that the Republicans trotted out on any issue ever amounted to anything more that purely partisan grandstanding to benefit themselves and their party, all while wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on their partisan crusades.

None of which is to suggest that Holder was perfect, because he absolutely wasn’t. His department’s aggressive investigation of leaks of national security information to journalists was nothing less than a fundamental threat to freedom of the press, something one would have expected during the Bush/Cheney regime. To this day, it’s unclear how much of that was under his direction, but what clearly was, was troubling on its own.

Still, when the history of Holder’s tenure is written, I’m certain that it won’t be focusing on “the fast and the furious”, and it won’t be about investigating leaks to journalists. Instead, in terms of legacy alone, it really will be LGBT rights and the fight for marriage equality. Holder’s actions—or, in the case of DOMA, inaction—helped create the monumental shift that makes 50-state marriage equality an eventual certainty, hopefully as soon as the middle of this year.

For an oppressed minority that's had so few champions, especially in the Justice Department, that's an admirable legacy.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Today was a food day

I didn’t plan it starting out, but it became pretty obvious early on: Today was a food day. I don’t do “food porn”, as a rule, which is all the more reason to do so with this post. Because, well, it was food day.

This morning we went out for breakfast to a local café. We were up and showered early this morning, a benefit from going to bed at a decent hour, and we were hungry. The choice was, have breakfast at home and go out for lunch, or go out for breakfast. That won.

We went to a café near our house, which has the best corn fritters, I think (photo above). Their version has feta and outstanding bacon (oh yeah, and salad…) served with what seemed to be a homemade tomato sauce and sour cream. Lovely.

From there, it was off to the grocery store to pick up something for dinner. Nigel had an idea for something he wanted to make, and we needed a few bits and pieces (like bread and milk), so off we went.

The grocery store had a promotion for Coca-Cola Life, their version of coke which substitutes stevia for some of the sugar. It's just been introduced into New Zealand and Australia. I decided to get the (not on special) little tiny cans (250ml), because all that sort of stuff is meant to be a rare treat, not a guzzle. Okay, I’ll admit it: I think the cans are cute.

Some folks seem enraged on the Intertet (yawn.) about the product, saying it has nothing to do with fighting obesity and everything about profits for Coca-Cola. Really?! Because no company has ever been concerned first and foremost with profit, right? Sheesh.

Seriously, all those sorts of things really should be rare treats, and if someone can’t stand the “diet” versions (or just wants to avoid aspartame), then Coca-Cola Life is a better choice than the—ahem!—real thing. Personally, I found it more similar to real Coke than either Diet Coke or Coke Zero, but it WAS different from real Coke, too. I didn’t hate it, or necessarily like it, but if I’m vacillating between real Coke and one of the diet versions, I’d probably choose Coca-Cola Life. Well, that or a diet version, much as I try to avoid aspartame…

Back home, and a quiet day. It turns out that I even blogged about food. This was about the time I realised that today had a theme.

Lunch was what we bought at the grocery store (nothing unusual or even interesting). Dinner, on the other hand, was wonderful.

Nigel made poached salmon, served with a special crème fraîche sauce, along with roasted new potatoes with garlic and fresh rosemary, and buttered peas. It was wonderful (and I’m not normally a salmon person). A photo is below.

Today started out as an ordinary Sunday, but quickly, and unexpectedly, became food day. It was a good result, and a good day.

Food science

A column in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald purported to warn about mass-produced supermarket cakes sold in New Zealand. Part of a series, it was the first one I’ve read, and for me it raised far more concerns about having non-scientists writing about science than about the cake itself.

In her weekly column, Wendyl Nissen “takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents”, according to the description on the site. This week it was a low-cost supermarket chocolate cake.

I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of such mass-produced supermarket cakes. I think they’re usually flavourless, overly sweet, or both. As Wendyl Nissen says, many of the ingredients in the cake are not ones I’d put in a cake I made at home, nor would reputable local bakers. Which is why I think she seems sincere in what she says.

My concern is that much of what she says is alarmism seemingly based on pseudo-science. She notes the many misspellings and similar mistakes in the labelling, so we can't be certain the cake really did contain propylene glycol. It may actually be propylene glycol alginate, which is used in beer, for example, and not even remotely similar to the anti-freeze ingredient.

However, propyl paraben, which is her main concern, MAY be a potential problem, though there's not enough evidence to prove it's a threat to human health. Even so, it's being removed from NZ supermarket cakes, as the Herald also reported.

It’s important to remember that not all chemicals are "bad", and even ones that might possibly harm a human would have to be consumed in such large quantities that the person would die of over-consumption before the chemicals could do any harm. In addition, "natural" is not always better. For example, organic produce is often extremely high in potentially toxic chemicals because it takes much higher amounts of organic-approved pesticides to do the work of artificial chemical weed or insect killers. A "natural" colour or flavour could still cause problems, particularly for those with food allergies.

I looked at several of Nissen’s columns, and saw a pervasive suspicion of “chemicals”, many of which she dismisses as “don’t know why that’s in there”. She could have asked the manufacturer, couldn’t she? If not, how about asking a genuine food scientist?

The problem with such superficial looks at food product ingredients is that there’s SO much scientific illiteracy today that it leads people into all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories and paranoia, leading them to avoid perfectly safe and ordinary substances.

Here’s an example.

Every day, you consume dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO), a colourless, odourless and tasteless chemical. Also known as hydroxyl acid, it’s the major component of acid rain and contributes to the “greenhouse effect”. It can cause severe burns, and accelerates corrosion and rusting of metal. High quantities have been found in tumours of patients who have died from cancer.

DHMO is used as an industrial solvent and a coolant, in nuclear power plants, and as a fire retardant. It’s also used in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing produce, it’s still contaminated by this chemical. Even so, DMHO remains an additive in food products, especially some low-cost junk foods, where it can be in very high concentrations.

What is this terrible, awful, dangerous chemical? WATER!

My point is that columns like Wendyl Nissen’s don’t help make people better consumers—they just make them more frightened and paranoid. People who are concerned about additives in prepared foods should make their own products or buy from reputable local bakeries and the like, people who can tell you what, exactly, is in their products and why. Just remember that even then many ordinary ingredients—flour, cocoa, even water—have been processed or produced using chemicals.

If you want one of those awful supermarket cakes, go for it. Fresh and freshly-made food is best, of course, for a whole lot of reasons. But prepared food is often a necessary thing in our fast-paced world, and some people really do like them. Moderation in all things is sound advice—including moderation itself, of course.

Too much of a good thing can kill you, too—so can water.

Related: For a more sceptical look at claims made by pop culture food, nutrition and health commentators, I highly recommend the site Science-Based Medicine.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Anzac Day 2015

Today is Anzac Day, and the 100th anniversary of that ill-fated landing at Gallipoli. 2779 New Zealanders died in that campaign. There were record crowds at both dawn services and community services around the country today, and the official commemoration at Gallipoli itself was huge.

The photo above is of the official Anzac Day WW100 Commemorative pin. I bought one for me and one for Nigel. Since this is a special year, the special pin seemed appropriate.

This year is also the first in which the public holiday for Anzac Day will be observed on a Monday (on the 27th this year). A law change means that if Anzac Day or Waitangi Day fall on a weekend, the public holiday will be observed on the following Monday. This ensures that Monday-Friday workers don’t miss out on a public holiday when those two holidays fall on a weekend. The observations themselves still happen on the actual day, of course.

Finally something a little different for this year. The video below is from Andrew Little, the Leader of the Opposition. I think it lends some interesting human perspectives.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Openly Secular Day

April 23 (today in the USA) is Openly Secular Day, a day to celebrate being secular. People who are secular—including atheists, agnostics, humanists, and nonreligious people—are asked to tell one other person. The mission is “to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance” of secular people. Above is the official promotional video.

I think everyone I know (which includes regular readers of this blog) is aware that I’m ardently secular and completely non-religious (if not, surprise!). I believe that for freedom and democracy to thrive, there must an impregnable wall of separation between church and state, while at the same time I also believe that people must be free to believe whatever they want—as long as they don’t try and force those beliefs on everyone else. None of this is news for regular readers or the people who know me in real life.

Even so, I don’t usually label myself specifically. In the past, I’ve used the terms “non-theist” and “agnostic” for what seemed the best description of my own religious orientation, but, like all such terms, they’re imprecise. I’ve come to realise that my difficulty in self-labelling on religious belief (and sometimes labels are necessary) is based on internalised prejudice.

The fact is, atheists in particular have a really bad image, and Americans have an especially negative opinion of them. For example, here’s something I wrote about in 2010:
In 2007, Gallup conducted a poll that asked if people would be willing to vote for their party’s presidential nominee if the party nominated a “generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an atheist” (among other categories). Only 45% would vote for an atheist, and 52% would not. Interestingly, Americans hate Atheists even more than gay people, with 55% saying they’d vote for “a homosexual” as opposed to 45% who would not. [link in the original]
Those statistics kind of sum things up for me. I’m part of a minority that’s been oppressed in the past, often severely, though things for LGBT people now are light years ahead of where they were when I was a kid. For atheists, things are now not much better than they were for LGBT people when I was a kid—maybe they’ve made it to the 1980s. Maybe.

Which is why the Openly Secular Day is such a great idea. Progress on the civil and human rights of LGBT people took off once everyday Americans got to see and even know real LGBT people, not the caricatures. So, if Americans can get to see and know real atheists, the USA might become more tolerant of them, too. Maybe.

As we’ve also seen with LGBT people, growing openness in society can also help heal internalised prejudice against one’s self. I think that’s a good thing in itself.

Of course, being secular isn't just about being atheist. In fact, plenty of religious people are also secularists. But if people like me are reluctant to embrace the label implied by non-belief, how much harder must it be for religious secularists, people who are often condemned as being atheist or, at least, not a “real” adherent of their religion?

The larger point is, there are many different ways to be secular. At the bottom of this post is a video for Open Secular Day that I ran across a couple days ago. It’s part of a series of videos in which people talk about being openly secular. This one features John Davidson, and, I’ll admit, part of me was fascinated from a “where are they now?” perspective, seeing someone I remember so well from my youth. Beyond that, it was also because he, too, is a preacher’s kid, something that obviously interests me personally.

If living an authentic life, being honest with one’s self and others, is a good thing in itself—and clearly I think it is—then Openly Secular Day is a positive force for change. Secularists like me have a long way to go in melting away prejudice, but we have to start somewhere, even if it's with ourselves.

Happy Openly Secular Day.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Taking Down an Anti-Gay Infomercial

In the video above, Matt Baume takes on the virulently anti-gay “Family” Research [sic] Council’s new video. The group puts out anti-gay propaganda videos all the time, and all of them say absurd things. “F”RC needs to be held accountable for what it says.

The “F”RC video, according to the YouTube description for Matt’s video, is “about how the gays are going to ruin everything with all their pesky marrying and doing business and existing. The video's full of crazy claims, half-truths, and homophobia, and worst of all builds to a sneaky sales pitch at the end.”

So, Matt takes the video apart point by point, and it’s embarrassing for the “F”RC. As always, this has nothing to do with the anti-gay group’s opinions, it’s about facts alone: Everyone, even homophobes, are entitled to hold whatever opinions they want—but they’re not entitled to their own facts.

This is the sort of takedown I wish I had the patience and calmness to do, because there’s so much chicanery in the far right anti-gay industry that needs to be exposed as the bovine excrement it is.

But, I don’t have the patience and calmness to do that. Well, not usually. So, I’m glad that Matt did and I hope he continues to do it. This video is an example of how to do it.

However, there was one thing that made me chuckle: Matt criticised Tony Perkins for turning his propaganda video into a commercial at the end, and then Matt did that at the end of his video. However, Matt’s podcast is free, unlike Tony’s DVDs, so it’s different—and kinda funny.

But after such dark topics in that video, it was also kind of nice to have something to smile about at the end.

All in all, a good video, and I think Matt did a great job.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pop Culture's Journey Toward Marriage Equality

The video above from the ACLU shows the history of the move to marriage equality in the USA against a backdrop of pop culture. This is an interesting approach, and also appropriate, since many people experience social change through pop culture.

However, the change hasn’t happened as quickly as many people think.

On May 18, 1970, two students at the University of Minnesota, Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell, applied for a marriage licence in Minneapolis. The Hennepin County District Court clerk, Gerald Nelson, refused solely because the applicants were both male.

Baker and McConnell sued, contending that Minnesota's marriage statutes had no explicit requirement that applicants be of different genders, and that restricting marriage to opposite-gender couples would violate the First, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. It became the first lawsuit arguing for marriage equality in the United States. The trial court dismissed their claim.

The pair then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and on October 15, 1971, the court ruled against the plaintiffs, upholding the state’s exclusion of same-gender couples from marriage.

Baker and McConnell then appealed the Minnesota court's decision to the US Supreme Court. On October 10, 1972, the Supreme Court issued a one-sentence ruling: "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question."

Some two decades later, the Hawaii case of Baehr v. Miike set off the rightwing crusade against marriage equality, including 1996’s infamous "Defense [sic] of Marriage Act". However, it would be nearly another decade before any state actually had marriage equality, when it finally arrived in Massachusetts in 2004.

Beginning in 2004, voters started approving referenda to ban same-sex couples from marrying, and by 2010, they’d done so 28 out of 30 times (one of those two, Arizona’s, was later passed on a second attempt). The last real referendum to pass was in 2009 when Maine voters voted to repeal marriage equality, something they then reversed in 2012, approving it. I don’t count the 2012 special vote in North Carolina because it was so obviously rigged.

All of which is why the pace of change seems so rapid: In 11 years, the USA has moved from zero recognition of marriage equality, through a frenzy to ban it, and on to the verge of 50-state equality. A recent USA Today poll found that by a margin of 51% to 35%, Americans think that it's no longer practical for the Supreme Court to ban same-sex marriages because so many states how have marriage equality. The same poll also found, like all reputable polls do, that a majority of Americans support marriage equality (it also found that Americans are suspicious of the so-called “religious freedom” laws the rightwing has been promoting as a sort of last stand against LGBT equality).

As this history has played out, pop culture has reflected what’s been going on. While pop culture always lags behind the pace of change, at least somewhat, its reflection of change has nevertheless been important both for reinforcing that change, and also to reassure Americans that everything will be okay—because it will be. That’s why the ACLU video is so apt.

In another decade or so, all this may seem like ancient history. Or, we may still be fighting peripheral skirmishes with our far-right anti-LGBT adversaries. But however it plays out, we know two things: Pop culture will reflect it, and, more importantly, the ACLU will still be in the fight, just like always.

A footnote: As of December 2012, some forty years after the US Supreme Court rejected their appeal, Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell were still together, a retired couple living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

2Political Podcast 104 is available

Episode 104 of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

UK Labour Party ads

The United Kingdom’s next elections will be held on May 7. Most of us outside the UK don’t see their campaign messaging, so I thought I’d share a few of the UK Labour Party’s ad messages. The ad above was their party political broadcast at the end of March. The YouTube description says:
“Martin Freeman explains how this election is a choice between two completely different sets of values. Labour believes in community, compassion and fairness. That’s why we will build an economy that works for everyone. The Tories have cut taxes for millionaires and only work for people at the top. A Labour government led by Ed Miliband will protect the NHS, create opportunities for young people, raise the minimum wage and ban exploitative zero-hours contracts.”
The next video, from a few days later, is called “Could you live on a zero-hours contract?” I chose it because here in New Zealand, we’re fighting our version of the Tories, the National Party, on this very issue. Zero Hour Contracts are employment contracts in which the worker has no guaranteed hours (“zero hours”), but is expected to be available for work at any time. In NZ, and I think in the UK as well, a worker who is not available on demand could be fired. The YouTube description says:
David Cameron says he couldn't live on one, so why should other people? The next Labour government will ban exploitative zero-hours contracts for employees who are working regular hours. This new legal right to a regular contract will apply to workers after just 12 weeks.

Two things about this issue: NZ’s Tories have said the same rubbish, about workers “choosing” such contracts, but, due to mounting public pressure and resurgent unionising, they’re talking about banning them. I’ll believe it when I see it! Also, all NZ workers get a contract before they start work, though for some they may start out on a lower wage—that’s an entirely different issue, and one for another time.

The next video, “Five times an IOU is unacceptable” is about one of UK Labour’s main issues: Saving the National Health Service (NHS). This is a hot political issue in the UK, with the NHS having been under constant cuts and assault by the Tories.

Speaking of saving the NHS, the next video, “A decent society looks after its people” features comedian Jo Brand talking about saving the NHS. This video also talks about “Labour’s better plan for working families.”

And finally, “Look at what David Cameron has done in five years...”, a pointed message directed at Cameron. There’s a reference at the end to Cameron refusing to show up for a televised debate, something that’s been roundly criticised. It was posted today, and specifically asks people to share it.

Obviously, I find campaign messaging very interesting, and I’m fascinated to see what campaigns in other countries do. There are a lot more videos on the UK Labour Party’s YouTube Channel; I just picked a few that I thought reflected some of the variety, as well as the issues in the UK election. I have no idea which, if any, of the videos (apart from the first one, up top) were broadcast on television, but I’d guess that most weren’t, since that’s what most modern political parties in Western democracies do now: Produce many messages, some of which are specifically for social media sharing.

The UK Labour Party’s videos are quite different from what the NZ Labour Party (or the NZ National Party, for that matter) tends to do. Some of that is no doubt cultural (we’re a very different country from the UK, despite sharing a head of state), and some of it is different flavours of social democratic parties.

I make no pretence of being impartial here: If I were a UK citizen, I would be voting Labour. That’s hardly a surprise, of course, but I really do think that UK Labour has “A better plan” for “a better future” for the UK. Their manifesto is available on their website, or watch Labour Leader Ed Miliband launch it in a 23:43 video.

Election campaigns fascinate me. Obviously.

The crazy in brief

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve read dozens and dozens of legal briefs filed in various court cases dealing with marriage equality, including briefs from both sides. The cases being considered together by the US Supreme Court have brought out the most bat-shit crazy briefs yet.

In the video above, Matt Baume highlights some of the silliest and most bizarre argument made against marriage equality. It must have been very difficult to choose, with so very many options. Of the choices he made, he notes; “Some are full of mistakes, others have baffling arguments. And at least one is incredibly sexist, and signed by a member of Congress.”

Early this month, I wrote about how Kentucky’s lawyers revived a discredited and reject racist argument to say that same-gender couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry. It was shocking mainly because a state thought it was a good idea to echo the worst of racists’ attitudes in a new context.

However, that same argument has been made in many of the briefs before the Court, in part because opponents of marriage equality can’t find a non-religious justification for excluding same-gender couples from marriage. While we expect that nonsense from professional anti-gay groups, we didn’t expect it from a state.

Other states have tried other bizarre rationales for denying marriage equality, and Matt Baume highlighted a few of those in the video I also posted. It’s clear that for sheer idiocy, the various anti-LGBT amicus briefs have no equal.

In addition to the nutty anti-gay arguments that Matt highlights, here are some more from anti-gay briefs I’ve read: One brief spent virtually all its pages attacking Kinsey and his work, because apparently they think that our demand for equality rests entirely on him (or something…). Another guy claimed that marriage equality was bad because gay people were being mean to him on the Internet (yes, seriously!), another just listed the bible as their “legal” source (in making their arguments, amicus briefs generally cite other court rulings, laws in force, as well as people they consider relevant experts on the matter before the court, or, at least, on an aspect of it the amicus bases an argument on). Still other briefs have tried to argue that gay people are disgusting, sick, doomed to hell, and so on and so on and so on.

We’ve heard all these anti-gay smears and defamation plenty of times over the years. Even though the radical right may have raised the volume of their shouting, no one outside their small segment of society is actually listening, a fact that probably makes them potentially dangerous as they get more angry and frustrated at their mounting losses and inability to convince the mainstream to agree with them (a topic in itself).

Still, I’ve often said that when the dust settles, and the USA has 50-state marriage equality, we’ll have the radical right to thank for it happening so quickly. By being so mean-spirited and even vicious in their opposition, they did more to quickly win over the hearts and minds of mainstream people than our side could have done without the radicals’ inadvertent assistance.

The work for equality is far from over, and marriage equality alone—important as it is—isn’t the end-point in the struggle for full equality, but it will be an important milestone. One thing we can be certain of, though: The radicals won’t stop being crazy or doing and saying crazy things once they’ve lost. Their history so far, as demonstrated by their amicus briefs—with their silly, out-dated and rejected “arguments”—prove that.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The birth of a meme

A few days ago, best-selling author Stephen King sent out a Tweet (pictured at left): “Cruz, Paul and Rubio, all running for President. Hey, I thought I was supposed to write the horror stories,” he wrote. I thought it was very funny, partly because I agree with him, but also because it was so quotable.

I knew what was coming next, and sure enough, someone took his words and turned it into a picture meme (below, right), ripe for social media sharing. People started posting it right away.

There’s nothing new about any of this, of course, and anyone who’s spent any time on Twitter, Facebook, etc., has probably seen this sort of thing shared, probably many times. But when I see them, I often wonder, first, if the quote is genuine, and second, how old it is. This was the first time I could watch one of these develop in real time.

I follow Stephen King on Twitter, so could have seen his Tweet as soon as he posted it (though I didn’t), but I did see the meme start popping up. So, I knew it was accurate, recent, and roughly when the meme began. I guess there really is a first time for everything.

This was not, however, a first for Stephen King. As Salon pointed out, King has sent several equally pointed political Tweets over the past couple months. Since I follow King, I know that he’s been doing it for a long time. Because of that, I can say I really agree with Salon when they wrote, “King might be famous for door-stopping scary novels, but we think he’s pretty great with 140 characters too.” He clearly gets the medium, and better than many others do.

In the case of this meme, we know it has a limited shelf life. As soon as Cruz, Paul, and/or Rubio drops out, the meme will be out of date. That doesn’t happen very often, either.

All of which is why I thought this was so interesting.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Static Era: ‘Sleeping Dogs’

The music video above is the newest from Static Era, whose lead singer, Emma G., became an online friend when we had conversation on Twitter when I was working on my NZ Music Month posts last year. She’s a pretty awesome person, actually.

The “Sleeping Dogs” music video was written, directed and edited by Mike Kumagai at Ruth and Jimby Media. The full credits, along with the song lyrics, are in the video’s YouTube description.

The song is part of Static Era's debut album Fit To Fight, which available through their online store, as well as iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify.

Now, it’s safe to say that hard rock is not actually my “thing”, but I’ve liked quite a lot of their songs, including this one. I also really like this video. As Emma said on Facebook, “it's a bit of a different style video to ANYTHING we've ever done (thank you Mike Kumagai for the nudge) but I'm stoked with how everything turned out.” She also pointed out, “Oh, and for the record, it's not ACTUALLY based on true events… the worst I do is write songs, not… this.”

Emma is soon off to the USA to take up a new job, which sounds very exciting for her. Well done, and good luck!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Rainy Saturday

It rained today—a LOT. Any other Saturday, it wouldn’t matter, but today we had a road trip to Hamilton for the day. It rained all the way there, while we were there, and all the way home, until we reached the southern reaches of Auckland.

The trip down was particularly boring, with constant rain, sometimes very hard, but never letting up. When we got to Hamilton, we were waiting for some people, and Nigel opened the shade in the sunroof (heh, SUNroof!), and we saw the rain on the glass roof (photo above). The weird thing is, we never saw the raindrops themselves, just the little pools of water that grew bigger until they rolled off the glass.

Hamilton was much colder than Auckland: It was 12 (just under 54 F) at midday. Combined with the rain and wind, it was pretty awful. Still, we weren’t there for the weather, but to visit.

We headed home after lunch, and the constant rain continued most of the way. But when we reached the southern reaches of Auckland, we could see blue skies up ahead. The clouds were actually beautiful, as they often are at the edges of a storm system. The weather continued to improve as we travelled north. The weather was quite nice at home.

The rest of the afternoon was quiet for us—and so was the weather. Interestingly (to us), at 7pm, well after sunset, the temperature at our house was 15 (59 F); so, Auckland is warmer at night than Hamilton was in the middle of the day.

But, as I said, the weather wasn’t the point, the visiting was. The constant rain was tiring, but it didn’t—ahem—dampen our spirits.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The tooth of the matter

Today I had the last of my periodontic treatments for this series, this time a deep cleaning for two particular areas, all on my left side, both upper and lower. I am so over this. My next appointment is in five months. Yay.

First things first: The healing from my last procedure is going well, which is good in itself. The periodontist removed the last of the “packing” that kept my gum against my tooth. It worked, though its removal smelled like teeth than had spit too long accumulated (nothing worse).

Much grinding and such then ensued, and I endured, until at most an hour had passed. I was very numb of lip of cheek, which meant I couldn't eat anything. This was a problem, considering how VERY hungry I was.

I arrived home with barely any time before, I thought, I needed to leave for the airport to pick up my sister-in-law. As it happens, good traffic allowed me to arrive extra early, by which time the anaesthetic was wearing off. So, a quick cheeseburger took care of my hunger and a bottle of water allowed me to take pain relief, just in case.

As it happens, there doesn’t seem to be any long-lasting pain. I probably shouldn’t have thought there might be, but, well, I’ve been through what I’ve been through.

The periodontist said I should consult an orthodontist about my front teeth, but not for several months. I decided to see a dentist in three months so that such inspections—and cleanings—are roughly three months apart. I’m hoping that all this cleaning can help me keep things under control.

It’s undeniably true that if I’d looked after myself better much of this would never have happened: Brush twice a day, and floss and more as your dental healthcare professional recommends. Had I done that—and seen a dentist every six months—I may not be going through this now. But, is it really worth the risk to do nothing, as I did? That's the bigger question.

Bottom line, things are healing (which is good), but I'm no closer to a prettier smile than I was nearly a year ago. I've come to realise that isn't everything—staying alive is.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It’s time for a female US president

One thing that supporters and opponents of Hillary Clinton should be able to agree on is that gender matters. Being a woman doesn’t make Hillary necessarily more qualified to be president, but it certainly doesn’t make her less qualified. However, there’s also a pro-male bias in the presidency.

Lately a lot of critics have noted that in the 57 presidential elections from George Washington through to Barack Obama’s re-election, there’s never been a woman nominee of a major political party. That’s true, but it only tells part of the story: Until recent times, there have been significant barriers to women being elected president.

Women didn't get the vote nationwide until 1920—basically a generation after New Zealand—though some states gave women the vote before then. The first woman elected to the US House of Representatives was Jeannette Rankin in 1917, because Montana, unlike many other states, permitted women to vote. She was probably the only woman in world history who was able to vote to give women the vote. The first African American woman, Shirley Chisholm, was elected in 1969.

In 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the US Senate, and only the second to enter the Senate by appointment. The first woman to serve in the US Senate, Rebecca Latimer Felton, was appointed to succeed her husband in 1922. The first female African American Senator was Carol Moseley Braun, elected in 1992 (Full disclosure: I voted for her).

The first woman to become a state governor by election was Nellie Tayloe Ross in Wyoming in 1924. However, she was the widow of the state’s governor. It wasn’t until 1974 that a woman, Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut, was elected without being the wife or widow of a governor.

I mention all that because most presidential candidates come from the US House, US Senate or governors’ mansions. So, women didn’t get the vote until 1920, and didn’t start being elected to these offices until then (or later). That meant it was effectively impossible for women to be considered “serious” candidates for president.

In 1964, US Senator Margaret Chase Smith ran for the Republican presidential nomination, making her the first woman to seek the nomination of a major party. In 1972, US Representative Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for president. She was also the first African American to run for the nomination of a major party.

In 1984, the Democratic Party nominated Geraldine Ferraro for Vice President, making her the first nominee for president or vice president from either major party (she and the candidate for president, Walter Mondale, lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide; I voted for them, of course). 24 years later, the Republican Party finally nominated a woman, Sarah Palin, for vice president, thereby proving that gender alone is not the most important attribute in a nominee for president or vice president.

Hillary Clinton is still the most successful female candidate for presidential nomination of a major party, winning more primary votes than any other woman in US history. The fact that she's the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, and that at least one Republican woman is being talked about seriously, suggests that we may—finally—have reached the point where a woman can be considered based on her merit, not her gender.

But someone has to be first. While all of the 44 US Presidents so far have been men, only President Obama is African American. The question now is no longer CAN an African American man be elected president, but is he the right person—as it should be. I think that Hillary’s success in 2008 has pretty much moved the USA to the point where it’s now asking whether a particular PERSON is the right PERSON to be president.

Which is absolutely NOT to suggest that sexism isn’t still there and powerful, because it is. Look at all the media pundits talking about Hillary’s appearance, temperament, or any number of other things they’d never even dream of discussing if she were a man. Clearly, US society—or, at least, the punditocracy—still has a very long way to go.

But when a woman—whether Hillary or someone else—is the nominee of one of the two major parties and is then elected president, it will change everything. Young girls growing up in the USA will be able to see themselves in the White House, and imagine one day being president. African American boys, seeing an unbroken string of 43 white men as president, grew up knowing that the promise that “anyone can grow up to be president” didn’t really apply to them. When Barack Obama became the 44th US President, that all changed. So, too, it will change for girls when the USA FINALLY elects a female president. Actually, ALL children will know that they might grow up to be president, too, regardless of race or gender.

It’s time, America! 2016 with mark the 228th anniversary of the election of the first in a line of exclusively male presidents. The USA must now live up to the promise of its founding and elect the best person to be president. I believe that person should be a woman, and there are at least two Democratic women I’d gladly vote for. I hope I finally get that chance.

Ireland: Bring your family with you

I love this video. It's the latest from the BeLonGTo Yes coalition in the Republic of Ireland, which is campaigning for a YES vote on marriage equality next month. The focus of this ad is bringing along one’s family to vote yes, but it also is about the importance of family.

I posted another ad from BeLonG To last November, that one urging young people to register to vote so that they could “make Ireland a more equal place for our LGBT friends”. BeLonG To is a youth services organisation, so that message made sense because of that alone, but also, as I noted last year, because throughout the West, young people are FAR more LGBT-supportive than their elders. They also support marriage equality by overwhelming majorities.

Which is why it’s so important to mobilise young voters. Polls in Ireland show that marriage equality is consistently ahead, but some pundits say it’s “soft” support, that many of the people who say they support marriage equality won’t actually show up to vote.

The ad above reinforces how important it is that LGBT people and their friends organise their families to go and vote yes. Our adversaries are organising their supporters to vote and, if the USA’s experience is anything to go by, they can be depended on to turn out to vote against freedom and liberty. The good people have to turn out in massive numbers to make sure marriage equality arrives in Ireland.

But the video above also helps make supporters feel connected to something large and positive, something bigger than themselves, a groundswell for moving Ireland forward. That’s another reason it’s so good. I hope they produce more ads at this level, because it’ll be vital to keep the momentum building.

However, I must repeat what I said last November: “As I’ve made abundantly clear plenty of times, I am utterly, completely and totally opposed to EVER allowing the majority to vote on whether minorities will be allowed the same rights under the law that the majority takes for granted.” That hasn’t changed. But hopefully, voters in Ireland will soon change their country and move it forward.

And I really do hope that supporters of marriage equality bring their families with them.

Footnote: BeLonG To Youth Services has produced a lot of absolutely brilliant videos, so their producing effective ads for the Yes vote isn’t at all surprising. I posted one of their anti-bullying ads back in 2011, and I still get teary every time I watch it. Check out their YouTube Channel for all their videos.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cory Booker: 'Love is on the line'

In the video above, US Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) makes an impassioned speech on the Senate floor in favour of marriage equality. It’s a very good speech. As someone said in the YouTube comments, “This is 23½ minutes of a speech that will leave you a better person.”

Booker spoke with fire and passion about the story of Jim Obergefell and his late husband, John Arthur, and the fight to have their marriage recognised by Ohio. “Love is on the line, citizenship is on the line,” Senator Booker said. “We cannot deny the worth of one American without denying the worth and dignity and strength of our nation as a whole.”

Summing up the story and its importance, he added:
It’s a story not just of unconditional love and unconditional hope. It’s not just about the two of them, but it’s about our country. This is the story of all of us, of America. It’s a story of what our truth will be.
By making the speech in the Senate, it becomes a part of the Congressional Record. So, future historians, desperately trying understand how and why so many in the USA fought so hard to deny full and equal rights to LGBT Americans, will find this speech, and they’ll be able to actually see the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.

But all of that is really beside the point. This is a great speech that lays out the case for freedom and justice so plainly that it practically demands universal agreement. The ever-declining numbers of Americans who have anti-gay animus in their hearts will continue to fight their lost war for years to come, and there are skirmishes aplenty ahead—some of which they’ll win, for a time. But future generations of Americans will look on them with disdain, even disgust. They won’t be remembered. But speeches like Booker’s, will be.

Love always eventually wins—always.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Third clown and counting

Joining what is sure to be a crowded clown car, today Marco Antonio Rubio, yet another first-term Republican US Senator, announced that he, too, thinks he should be president. Unlike the other two announced candidates, Rubio faces stiff rightwing opposition.

The teabagger faction of the party has abandoned Rubio because of his supposed support for “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, something he doesn’t actually support. This relates mainly to the time he was one of the so-called “Gang of 8” that tried and failed to come up with a bipartisan compromise on immigration form. To the racist rump of the Republican Party, ANY immigration reform is unacceptable, so they abandoned Rubio.

Without a hint of irony, the teabaggers have gone “birther” on Rubio, claiming that Rubio isn’t a “natural born citizen” as required by the US Constitution, and therefore isn’t eligible to be president. In fact, Rubio was born in Miami, which makes him a US citizen, even though his parents weren’t citizens at the time.

Oddly enough, the teabaggers ignore the fact that “Ted” Cruz really was born in a foreign country—Canada—and acquired Canadian citizenship at birth. However, because his parents were US citizens, he’s also a “natural born citizen”, just like Rubio—and President Obama. Those teabaggers really ought to stop talking about things they so clearly don’t understand.

Which is not to say that Rubio’s origins are without problems. He frequently lied about his parents being “refugees” when Castro came to power in Cuba when, in fact, they came to the USA some years before then. This will naturally lead voters to wonder what else Rubio has embellished.

Perhaps wounded by the vicious reaction to his attempt to work on immigration reform, Rubio has done very little as a US Senator, sponsoring few bills since he became a Senator (talking about issues isn’t the same as doing something about them, after all).

So, we must assess Rubio mainly by his positions on issues. Rubio is an anti-science Republican, one of the party’s many climate change deniers in Congress. Like all Republican candidates, he also opposes a woman’s right to choice in abortion and also marriage equality. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was opposed by rightwingers in Congress because it extended coverage to women in same-sex relationships and allowed battered women who were undocumented immigrants to gain a temporary visa. It was eventually reauthorised, anyway. Rubio also voted against expanding background checks for people purchasing guns.

I highlight all those issues because Rubio’s fans and pundits have been claiming that Rubio could appeal to moderate, mainstream Americans. HOW, exactly?! Most Americans support abortion at least in some limited circumstances, most Americans back marriage equality, most Americans support background checks for gun purchases, and women voters in particular wouldn’t be pleased with Rubio’s opposition to the VAWA on mere ideological grounds.

Add it all up, and Rubio’s record and opinions—like those of Cruz and Paul—are extreme, not what mainstream voters want. The problem for Republican candidates is that no Republican can win the White House without appealing to mainstream voters, but they can’t win the Republican nomination without appealing to the most far-right voters in their party. But the rightwing of the Republican Party is now so VERY far to the right that Republican candidates can’t credibly pivot and move back to the centre without looking like crass, opportunistic hypocrites who will say anything to get elected. Which, to be fair, is pretty much the case with all the clowns in the Republican car so far.

There’s still 1 year, 6 months, and 26 days until the 2016 US presidential election.

A new 2Political Podcast is available

The latest episode of the 2Political Podcast is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. Incidentally, the five most recent episodes are listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

More soon.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Root of my problem

Today I had the second—and hopefully last—periodontal surgery. It seemed to go well, but how I felt about it was a bit different today, as was how I felt afterward. Maybe I’m just getting tired of it all.

Today’s “soft tissue flap surgery” was to see what was going on with one of my lower molars, why it keeps getting pockets. As with my front tooth week before last, he found out that it had abnormalities, but this time it was that the roots of my molar had an unusual inward fold (it normally goes straight across—you can actually see that in the anatomy image with this post). So he cleaned it all out. He later said this was the source of my problems with that tooth.

For some reason, I was really nervous going in today, and I have no idea why. After all, I should be used to all this today. I was a bit concerned it might hurt, I suppose, but no more than my first procedure.

It turned out that it wasn’t at all painful, but it was a bit uncomfortable at times: A couple times I could feel pressure into my jawbone. And, it was weird when he was stitching up my gum because I could feel the surgical thread moving over my lip (I felt that last time, too). It was a very strange sensation.

I’d taken a couple Maxigesic before I got out of my car so it would be in effect before the anaesthetic wore off. This was a smart move, since my tongue was numb afterward.

When everything wore off some hours later, I wasn’t in pain, exactly, but a bit sore in the gum. I took a couple more Maxigesic tablets and lay down for a while—and fell asleep. I think that stress wore me out today far more than I remember any other day doing.

I go back on Friday for a post-op check and a deep cleaning. Today the office lady said I was a glutton for punishment. She was joking, of course, but normally I wouldn’t want to do two appointments in one week. However, I also want all this to be over. Plus, when I put my mind to accomplishing something, like dealing to all these periodontal problems, I like to get on with it.

My previous procedure is healing well, which is good. But my surgery today means that I’ll be careful with food for awhile longer—soft foods for the first 24 hours, and avoiding anything with seeds or husks—probably for a week or so, since I’m getting the deep cleaning on Friday. I don’t really mind, especially because by now I’m used to being careful.

And that, hopefully, is the worst of it. We’ll see. On Friday I hope to get a clearer indication of where I’m headed, and what’s possible cosmetically. Also, I realised the other day that if I need to see him every six months, I could schedule the regular dentist visits so that I’m getting a cleaning every three months. I’m sure that would help to get this all under control.

I’ll never know how much of this is my fault (not being good enough at removing plaque, not seeing the dentist enough) and how much is genetic predisposition. In a sense, it doesn’t matter: It is what it is and I need to play the hand I’ve been dealt. But I’m certainly a convert to looking after one’s teeth. Trust me, that’s far better than going through what I’ve been going through!

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Hillary Clinton enters the race

Today Hillary Clinton made it official: She’s running for president. Obviously, we all knew she would, and she outpolls all other possible Democratic OR Republican candidates, so her official announcement is important.

In her announcement video, above, Hillary says:
Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favour of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion—and I want to be that champion. So you can do more than just get buy, you can get ahead—and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong.
This is very good messaging. It acknowledges that only the very rich are doing well, and everyone else is struggling, yet at the same time it offers hope to the majority of Americans that things can get better for them.

Yesterday, Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labour under President Bill Clinton, published a piece in which he takes on one of the Left’s main criticisms of Hillary:
Some worry she's been too compromised by big money—that the circle of wealthy donors she and her husband have cultivated over the years has dulled her sensitivity to the struggling middle class and poor.

But it's wrong to assume great wealth, or even a social circle of the wealthy, is incompatible with a deep commitment to reform—as Teddy Roosevelt and his fifth-cousin Franklin clearly demonstrated.
Reich, who has been a critic—and explainer—of the USA’s current economic mess, knows what he’s talking about. He also knows the Clintons, so his opinion carries a bit more weight with me than those of pundits. On the other hand, most of the agenda he spells out, great though it is, can only happen if Democrats control Congress so that they can get things done. That’s a different matter altogether.

But I bet that if Hillary starts energising everyday Americans, it can only help the chances that Democrats will taken control of Congress, too, and that would be the best possible result for the country.

I like Hillary, and always have. Like everyone else, I expect her to be the Democratic nominee, which means I’ll vote for her—because there’s no way in hell I’d vote for any of the Republican clowns, and only a Democrat or Republican can win the presidency. So, it’s an easy and obvious choice for me.

But there’s also this: Hillary’s campaign launch video includes same-gender couples—one of which talks about getting married—as part of the tapestry of America. I don’t know if this was a subtle dig at the Republican candidates—ALL of whom oppose marriage equality—but it is indicative of the sort of president Hillary would be for LGBT Americans, and it's one in cold, stark contrast to the mean-spiritedness (or far worse…) of the Republican candidates. The majority of Americans support marriage equality. Hillary does, too. So, it makes sense to have a brief mention in the video to show full inclusiveness.

The rightwing hates Hillary with a passion—and almost as much as they hate President Obama. They’ve been campaigning against her for years now, and the Republican Party has put out several anti-Hillary propaganda attack videos. Actually, the Republicans aren’t merely running a propaganda campaign: They’re running a crusade.

But if Republicans win the White House, America will lose. I have absolutely no doubt about that—particularly considering how truly awful all of their announced and probable candidates are.

Hillary’s not perfect—no one is—but we vote for a president, not a saint. I think she could be a really good president, even though I’m further to the left than she is. She’s right: Everyday Americans DO need an champion, and I believe she can be that champion.

There’s 1 year, 6 months, and 27 days until the 2016 US Presidential election.

Update 14 April: ABC (USA) News reports that an independent Russian TV station put an “18+” restriction on the announcement video above because of the country’s ban of “gay propaganda”, which bans the promotion of “non-traditional” relationships to minors. The law is so loosely written that ANY depiction of homosexuality—including the video’s brief scene of two men holding hands—cannot be shown to anyone under 18. The TV channel denies it was ordered to use the restriction by the authorities from the Russian dictatorship.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

White House: Ban ‘conversion therapy’

The video above, “Supporting a Ban on Conversion Therapy”, was posted yesterday to the official White House YouTube Channel. It follows the news that the Obama Administration is calling for an end to “conversion therapy” for LGBT people.

They say in the YouTube description:
The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.

As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, the Obama administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.
All of which is objectively true, no matter how much the far right denies it. However, the far right anti-LGBT crowd calls the shots in the Republican Party right now, so there’s no hope of passing a nationwide ban in Congress. Pushing bans at the state level, however, is possible, and is succeeding, though slowly.

The state-by-state approach is a good opportunity to create both demand and momentum for an eventual nationwide ban, even as we wait for a more rational majority in the US Congress. It also ensures that at least some young people will be protected, and that’s a start.

It’s good to see such high-level support for such an important cause. I just hope that this continues after the 2016 US elections: Elections have consequences.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Grace and Frankie

If I can, I am sooooo watching this! Whether I’ll be able to or not is another thing, but if the Netflix Gods allow, I’ll be there.

Grace and Frankie is an original comedy starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda “as two women who form an unlikely bond after their husbands reveal they are gay and leave them for each other.” Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play their husbands.

The show, from the co-creator of Friends, looks to be well-written and, unsurprisingly, well acted. Well, assuming the teaser is accurate, and it probably is. The only criticism I’ve seen so far isn’t about this show, per se, but more general, that too many gay-themed stories are about coming out and its affect on straight people. That’s true, but kind of beside the point.

The larger point here is that the lead characters are all in their mid-to-late 70s (Fonda is the oldest), and how often do we see TV shows in which that’s the case? We also never see any stories dealing with gay senior citizens at all. So, by those measures, the show promises to be kind of revolutionary. That’s on top of looking like fun.

Netflix launched in New Zealand and Australia last month, but due to licensing/rights restrictions, we currently get only about 12% or so of what the USA does, and about a quarter of what Canada gets (which gets about half what the USA does). Netflix says it eventually wants to be a global channel offering the same programming worldwide (which, they say, would be a good deal for content creators, too, since they wouldn’t have to deal with selling regional rights over and over and over again).

So, since we don’t get everything that Netflix carries in other countries, it’s possible we won’t get this, either. However, since it’s a Netflix programme, I’m guessing we probably will. Well, I hope we do.

Grace and Frankie premiers May 8.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Another clown in the car

Surprising absolutely no one, Randal Howard "Rand" Paul, a first-term US Senator from Kentucky, has announced he’s running for president. He joins another first-term US Senator, Canadian-born Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz of Texas, as the first two entrants in the Republican Clown Car for 2016.

Paul is trying to forge a brand for himself as “a different kind of Republican,” leaving sensible people to wonder, different HOW, exactly? Dan Savage sums it up well:
Rand Paul is a different kind of Republican! Rand Paul has all sorts of new ideas! New ideas like, um, opposing same-sex marriage, backing the "Life Begins at Conception Act" (which would make abortion illegal), and keeping marijuana illegal. Rand Paul also has a big new idea about climate change: it's not happening and Paul opposes efforts to regulate carbon emissions! Rand Paul wants to increase defense spending by $190 billion! He opposes Obama's nukes deal with Iran, and he fully backs the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that allows unregulated and unlimited contributions to flow into campaigns! Rand Paul also supports the Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act! Paul opposes all gun control measures, has pledged to repeal Obamacare, and wants to use drones to police our border with Mexico and increase the number of deportations.

Rand Paul isn't like all of those other Republicans who want to do all of the exact same things Rand Paul wants to do.
Despite what he later claimed, Paul also said that he didn't like the fact that the1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination because businesses should be free to discriminate. This mindset is part of the reason that ThinkProgress said "Rand Paul Would Be The Worst President On Civil Rights Since The 1800s."

Yeah, Paul sure is different from other Republican politicians! Just like a glass of water is different from a glass of water.

Even more clowns will pile into the Republican Clown Car in the weeks and months ahead. All of them will be different kinds of Republicans, too.

There’s still 1 year, 7 months, 1 day until the 2016 presidential election.

Related: Raw Story lists “10 reasons why Rand Paul will never set foot in the White House – except on a tour”