Saturday, August 31, 2013

Winter’s end

As I’ve often said, I hate winter in any hemisphere. In Chicago, it was the cold and snow, while here in Auckland it’s the cool (sometimes cold) and rain. In both, it’s less daylight. And so, I don’t like winter. Fortunately, today is its last day.

In Australasia, we say that Spring begins on September 1, despite what astrologers and others may claim. However, our weather has actually already become increasingly spring-like over the past few weeks. Now, it’ll pick up speed.

Today, for example, was absolutely brilliant: Bright sun, clear blue skies, a little cool, but not cold. It was particularly welcome after all the (very) rainy days we’ve had lately.

Today I spent a good chunk of the day working on a household project that involved moving a lot of things around, especially boxes, and I needed the overhead door in the garage open. The dry, sunny weather was very welcome.

However, I hurt in places I didn’t even know that I have muscles. I’m sure I’ll sleep very well tonight. The best part is, of course, is that in the morning I’ll be getting up in Spring. Pleasant dreams, indeed.

I’m sure I could say more, and maybe even add other posts tonight, but I’m frankly too tired. So, that’s it for this last winter day.

Lots of activity on US marriage equality

There’s been so much happening with marriage equality in the USA lately that it’s been difficult to keep up. The video above, this week’s update from the American Foundation for Equal Rights, covers all the news.

It seems to me the pace of change has definitely picked up. Good.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Time moves on, and so does government. With the death of Section 3 of the “Defence [sic] of Marriage Act, the federal government has moved to implement equality. Today, two more bits of equality arrived.

First, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has decided that legally married LGBT couples will be treated the same as opposite gender married couples for tax purposes. This is very big news.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a memo clarifying that all beneficiaries in private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage for care in a nursing home where their spouse lives. This is the first guidance issued by HHS in response to the Supreme Court ruling.

This is all on top of the US Government treating legally marries same-gender couples the same as opposite-gender couples for immigration. That was in itself a big deal.

This is how change happens: Once the decision is made to move forward, everything else falls into place. The US Supreme Court stuck down Section 3 of DOMA, and now federal agencies are moving to implement the ruling, It’s bot logical and welcome—and who could argue with that?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The march isn’t over

I was too young to know about the 1963 March on Washington at the time. I learned about it years later, mostly on my own. Maybe that’s why it affected me so much.

The March is still one of the most important events of the civil rights era, and plenty of people are talking about it this week week (Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech is above). Many are declaring that everything’s all better now, but others, like Roger Green, are pointing out how much work remains. And we’re also hearing about how the March organisers excluded women, something I’d never heard before.

Women weren’t the only people excluded, of course. Bayard Rustin, who was the principle organiser of the March, was gay. But in 1963, he had to keep his identity largely secret. Homosexuality was illegal in 49 US states at the time, and the one where is was legal—Illinois—had repealed it’s anti-sodomy law only the year before, in 1962. So Rustin had to keep himself to himself not just because of the likely prejudice of some of the folks involved in the March, but also because he could face arrest simply for being gay.

Nevertheless, the 1963 March raised expectations for so many oppressed people, including those not directly part of the March in their own right, like women and LGBT people. This should have been obvious—people began to see possibilities where perhaps they never did before. This is a powerful legacy of that March, and tribute to the vision of the organisers.

Of course, not everyone saw it that way, then or now. Just yesterday, a group of Black and Latino religious clergy protested at a meeting of the San Antonio City Council who were considering adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s anti-discrimination code. One of the Black preachers said, “While we love the people involved, we cannot allow their agenda to stain the fabric, the tapestry, of the civil rights movement.” He’s not unique, and every week, it seems, we hear a Black clergy person angrily condemning LGBT people for “hijacking” or “co-opting”, or whatever, “their” civil rights movement. As if freedom and equality are limited goods, and if one person has it, someone else must do without.

What’s particularly troubling is that this small minority of Black preachers are actually advancing the work of the largely white far right anti-gay industry that is no friend of racial minorities or the poor. The USA’s anti-gay industry plotted to drive a wedge between Black people, Latino people and the LGBT community. By continually attacking LGBT people, our civil rights and even our very humanity, these preachers are advancing the agenda of their own political adversaries.

Of course, most Black leaders are nothing like that. In fact, most are inclusive and embrace expanding freedom for all. They embody the spirit of Dr. King, and remain true to the dream. People like Julian Bond. In an email he wrote on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, the USA's largest LGBT advocacy group, Bond wrote:
Thousands are in Washington, D.C. today to re-create something so powerful and so vivid that it still plays on loop in my mind. They're here for the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington.We are returning amidst a newly reinvigorated fight for civil rights that has grown rapidly to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

After all, LGBT rights are civil rights.

No parallel between movements is exact. But like race, our sexuality and gender identity aren't preferences. They are immutable, unchangeable – and the constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.

Today, we are fighting for jobs, for economic opportunity, for a level playing field free of inequality and of discrimination. It's the same fight our LGBT brothers and sisters are waging – and together we have formed a national constituency for civil rights.

And while we haven't fully secured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most remarkable dream, we are getting closer every single day. [Italics and boldface type were in the original]
Bond went on to say that Bayard Rustin’s role was “an early embodiment of the unity and commonality that bonded the movement for LGBT equality with the fight for equal treatment of African-Americans.” He’s absolutely right. When I was a grassroots LGBT activist, we frequently lent support to each other’s work, even when it was only endorsement. Sure, we had trouble with the more religious-aligned activists, many of whom opposed our rights back then, some 25 years after the March, but most of them moved with society and now embrace equality for all.

So, the March was significant for me in that it made so many people—me included—imagine what could be possible. It led to alliances between minorities struggling for equality, and those alliances still exist, despite the best efforts of our mutual adversaries to drive us apart. It helped all of us to see that we were stronger together than we could ever hope to be apart.

There’s much work to be done. That tiny minority of Black preachers who actively work against the civil and human rights of LGBT people must be reached somehow, as must the minority of LGBT people who are racist (yep, they certainly do exist). Because whatever our differences, and the difficulty we may have in overcoming them, we all still dream, like Dr. King did, of being able to join hands and say, “free at last”.

After all, none of us are free until all of us are free.

Video below: President Obama speaks in commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington.

Russian Reich?

Like many others, I’ve warned that Russia is sliding fast into neo-fascism. We’ve seen all this before, and the world ignores it now at its peril.

The Russian laws against gay people are strikingly similar to the early repressive laws in Nazi Germany, in the years before they started their “final solution”. They started out simply vilifying the people they didn’t like, setting up already despised segments of society for persecution which led, ultimately, to the death camps.

But things became increasingly worse long before the murdering began. We’re seeing similar things happening in Russia now.

Russian police raided an art gallery and seized several paintings, including one of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in a woman’s nightie coming the hair of the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, who is shown in women's underwear. Russia doesn’t permit artists to make fun of politicians, nor can anything suggesting homosexuality, implied or actual, be displayed in public.

Russian police also raided the home of a LGBT activist and lawyer Nikolai Alexeyev (video above). Police wrecked the home and confiscated electronic gear. Their destructive raid was made because they said they were “investigating” a complaint from a leading anti-gay bigot in the Russian Parliament.

There’s also been a report of the government attempting to re-write history: A Russian film maker plans to make a film in which famed gay composer Peter Tchaikovsky is portrayed as heterosexual. Why? Because otherwise, under Russia’s anti-gay laws, one of their greatest sons could never be spoken of in his own homeland.

This is all on top of the Russian Government’s plans to arrest, imprison, fine and deport any Olympic athlete, official, journalist or spectator who breaks their anti-gay laws. But Russia won’t have to worry about that law specifically: The Russian dictator has outlawed all protests around the time of the Olympics.

Most of these incidents are amply documented by credible news sources, but getting reliable information about what’s happening in Russia, particularly on small things, is difficult. As a country that has no freedom of the press and only very limited freedom of speech, getting reliable information is a challenge.

What we can clearly see is that everything Russia is doing now, particularly the persecution of LGBT people, has been done before by other fascist regimes. In the 1930s, the world failed to take the threat seriously and ended up in a world war. It must never make that mistake again.

Moving or cancelling the Sochi Olympics is a mostly symbolic action, but it’s one the world must take to show that it won’t let history repeat itself. If we don’t, the world will live to regret it.

Update: A few days after I published this post, John Aravosis of AMERICAblog detailed Nikolai Alexeyev's anti-Semitic meltdown on social Media. Aravosis wrotes: "While I earlier worried that perhaps Alexeyev had been co-opted by the Russian authorities, after seeing him on Russian TV this past Saturday night he seemed perfectly at ease and perfectly normal. Short of a miracle, I now believe that this is the real Nikolai Alexeyev. And it ain’t pretty. He had an illustrious career. And it’s now finished."

None of this changes the fact that Russia is sliding headfirst into full fascism. It is extremely important to note that the fact that Nikolai Alexeyev is anti-Semitic doesn't in any way excuse what Putin's regime is doing. Rising anti-gay violence in the country has been amply documented, and LGBT people haven't seen the worst of what is to come. Nikolai Alexeyev must be judged on his own actions and bigotry, and he can never be used to excuse the fascism of the Putin regime.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Give control to media consumers

Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey recently gave the keynote address at the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival. In it, he challenged broadcasters to give control to viewers, as his own example has done. He points out that if people are able to access content when and where they want, and at a reasonable price, they will pay for the content rather than stealing it. Numerous studies back him up on that, as does real-world experience with services like iTunes Store.

However, despite the success of iTunes and other services, the music industry is still fighting change. How much more likely is it that television and films will adapt to the new realities? I think they’ll be somewhat less likely to do so. But adapting to the new realities isn’t optional: If they don’t, they will whither and die.

Podcasts, YouTube, streaming video and ebooks all give control to consumers of content, and much of it is quite profitable, thank you very much. It’s also highly democratic: Modern technology lets anyone with an idea, a computer and a bit of know-how the ability to produce and sell their own publications, music, films, shows, broadcasts, etc. This is the new reality in the world.

Old media companies must adapt. Kevin Spacey’s remarks provide a spirited explanation of why that is.

Tip o' the Hat to my nephew, who posted this video to Facebook.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Who’s on first

Someone has to be first. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person in the world to reach the top of Mt. Everest. Now, New Zealand could be about to have its first leader of a major party who is gay or Maori—and that person could go on to become the first prime minister of that description. Or, maybe not.

The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Grant Robertson, who is also the MP for Wellington Central, was the first person to announce his candidacy for Leader of the NZ Labour Party. He is openly gay, a fact that has become a central focus of the newsmedia coverage of his announcement. They ask, “Is New Zealand ready for a gay prime minister?” or, they might offer an opinion, like the conservative New Zealand Herald’s columnist John Armstrong who said Robertson is “Gay, but not overtly so. Comes across instead as a Good Kiwi Bloke who likes a beer or two while chewing the political fat…” “Overtly?!”

Much of the media has also been uncritically reporting the musings of former Labour MP Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgendered MP, who worried about some sort of social reactionary “backlash” should Robertson get the leadership, declaring, as Stuff headlined its story, “Gay prime minister may be 'a step too far'”.

My own view is that by asking the question and framing things in this way, the newsmedia is actually manufacturing the news: People who wouldn’t have cared one way or the other will now wonder if they should care about the prospect of an openly-gay prime minister. Beyer’s worries are also unfounded: No “Christian” conservative party has ever made it into Parliament since MMP began in 1996, and there’s no reason to think that’s about to change. “Social conservatives”, as they’re often called, are sensible enough to know that voting for a religious fringe party is throwing their vote away, and they will vote instead for National—not entirely to their liking, but one they like better than Labour. Put another way, the voters that Beyer worries about would never vote for Labour, anyway.

Some pundits have suggested that Robertson as Leader would drive the socially conservative religious Pacific Island voters away from Labour. That would mean that they would put anti-gay prejudice above the very real harm being done to Pacifika communities by the National/Act Government, so that scenario sounds like Tories’ wishful thinking to me.

The second candidate to announce was Shane Jones, who is a List MP and Maori. Did the newsmedia comment on this by asking, “Is New Zealand ready for a Maori Prime Minister?” Well, no, actually, none of them have asked that, nor has anyone suggested that Jones isn’t “overtly” Maori, nor has anyone said a Maori Prime Minister would be “a step too far”. While that speaks volumes about how permissible it is to express anti-gay prejudice, I think the other side of that is fascinating: The fact that Jones is Maori is no longer seen by the newsmedia as important, and certainly not as a limitation. That much IS progress, because in previous years this hypothetical question (but only hypothetical because neither National nor Labour has ever had a Maori party leader) has produced rather lukewarm support for the concept of a hypothetical Maori prime minister.

The third and presumably final candidate to announce (the deadline to announce is 10pm tonight) is presumed front-runner, David Cunliffe, MP for New Lynn, and former Cabinet Minister in the previous Labour Gpvernment. He stood for Leader after Phil Goff stepped down following the party’s 2011 election defeat. He also was caught up on a coup plot about a year ago, was banished to the backbenches as punishment, and has now re-emerged. He is apparently favoured by the left wing of the party. He’s also a white heterosexual male, and having had so many of those, New Zealand is certainly okay with another one being prime minister, so we won’t ask, will we?

It turns out I WILL get to vote for who I want to lead the Labour Party (I wasn’t sure when I mentioned this before), but I haven’t made up my mind who I’ll vote for. All three have virtues and all three have drawbacks. Deciding who has the most positives overall will be the trick, and the most important positive is the ability to lead the party to victory in 2014.

There will be a series of meetings over the next three weeks, giving Party members the chance to hear all the candidates. I plan on attending and I’ll be sure to write about that experience. For a politics junkie like me, this is really exciting stuff!

Excited as I am, I’m also aware of the importance of this whole thing. By helping to choose the next Leader of the Labour Party, I may very well be helping to choose the next Prime Minister of New Zealand (similar to the way that voters in US Primary Elections, who help to select party candidates, also help to choose who can become US President, except on a much smaller scale, of course).

Next year, I’ll also get to participate in the process of selecting the Labour Party candidate for Parliament in this electorate. I did that once before, sort of, years before I began this blog. This time, I’ll be writing more extensively about the whole thing.

But that’s next year. Next month the new Leader of the Labour Party will be announced. The following month are the local elections, and I haven’t even talked about THEM yet!

Throughout all this, I’m going to write more personal accounts and reflections of the events, rather than just the sort of commentary I’ve done in past years. There will still be commentary, of course, but over the next year I’ll have the opportunity to write first-hand accounts of New Zealand politics, and I’m looking forward to it.

This will be an exciting year.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Weekend Diversion: Drake Jensen (again)

This is the second time I’ve picked openly gay country artist Drake Jensen as a Weekend Diversion—the first repeat artist, as far as I can remember. But I like promoting independent artists, gay artists and fun music and Drake’s latest video ticks all three.

The video is basically a modern gay man’s look at a fast-moving world and how he responds to it. To me—definitely a non-expert on country music—it’s a little bit honky tonk and a little bit country pop rock, and a whole lot of fun.

However, when he posted the video, Drake wrote on his Facebook page:
“Lets hear em bitch that this one aint gay enough!!..lol...one thing about me..I do it in my own time ...when Im ready...and btw Sean you are a true STAR in this one...I love you..thanks for standing by me always even when Im at my WORST!!...and btw this is the real deal...true country music and about the most truly "gay" themed video created thus far...one thing I have learned..I know who I am and what I stand for....this video is very true of Sean and I's relationship..its exactly how it all started...”
Typos and grammar aside, I thought it was an interesting that he’s been criticised as not being “gay enough”, whatever that means. Personally, I don’t care if a gay artist always sings songs with gender-correct pronouns (though I want them to do so at least sometimes) as long as they’re open and honest about who they are. In other words, if a gay artist sings “universal” songs, that’s fine with me as long as they’re open about who they are, as Drake is.

Last month, I posted the video of “All-American Boy" by Steve Grand. One thing I didn’t take on in the post itself was the fact that Steve was being hyped as the first gay male country star when there have been others like Drake. I did mention this in some of my social media postings, but I wish I’d been more explicit in the post itself. I gather that there’s been some skirmishing among the fans of the two men, which is really unfortunate.

I think that this was at the heart of the criticism that Drake was responding to: Steve’s song is clearly about gay love and, apparently, some people felt Drake wasn’t open enough. I never got that impression at all; maybe I’m just too used to "filling in the blanks" as I recently called it.

The video below is of Drake Jensen featuring Willam Belli, who is apparently best known for her participation in RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4, and Drag U. It’s a cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”, posted some 8 months before “All-American Boy”. And it’s pretty damn gay.

I suppose it’s a sign of progress that there can even be a discussion of whether a gay artist is “gay enough”. When I was younger, artists who were gay didn’t dare come out and certainly didn’t have to deal with being accused of not being “gay enough”.

In any case, it’s tough being an independent artist: Singers, writers or any artist who isn’t a huge star or being managed by a big media corporation will struggle to make a living. It’s not always hand-to-mouth, of course, but it’s always a lot more work than it is for artists who work for the big companies. And, even now, independent gay artists may have to work just a little bit harder.

And that’s why I like to share their work on this blog. Sometimes, more than once.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Unnecessary necessities

Sky TV Basic Channels
Every once in awhile we realise something that we take for granted isn’t important. For me, television became one of those things. It was unexpected, but, it turns out, a good thing.

The end of July, we had some flooring work done, and that meant we had to remove all the furniture from the lounge and dining room. That also meant our TV was out of commission. A job that we thought would take at most a week unexpectedly dragged on to more than two weeks. It took us a week more to put everything back, and we were without TV all that time.

At first, I really missed TV. I saw my NZ friends Tweeting about shows they were watching that I couldn’t, and I was surprised to find that I actually missed watching the news. But then a really funny thing happened: I didn’t miss TV any more.

By the time we got TV up and running again, my perspective had changed. Yes, I enjoy TV, and I don’t want to do without it, but it suddenly occurred to me we could dramatically cut back on our pay television, Sky TV.

Like a lot of people, we subscribe to channels we rarely watch—movies, sports, a couple premium channels. We also pay for a second decoder even though we don’t have another TV hooked up at the moment. Add all that up, and the extras accounted for nearly 2/3 of our entire bill.

Then I looked at the programmes we’ve recorded or booked to record, and I found out that 96% of them were either free-to-air channels or Sky Basic. The few exceptions included a programme from a premium channel that actually airs a few days later on free-to-air TV. But, more specifically, 58% of the programmes were free-to-air channels.

The obvious question is, with so much of what we watch being on free to air television, why not just go with the free-to-air Freeview? First, it’s not HD (the terrestrial system is, but we no longer have a UHF aerial, just satellite). The bigger reason is that many of the programmes we like and watch are on Sky Basic, so we clearly do watch many of those channels.

So, Sky Basic is the ticket for us for now. While we weren’t looking to save money (well, no more than anyone else is…) it’s kind of nice to know that we won’t be paying for channels that we seldom or never watch.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. Will we find we don’t need even that much TV? I’d say that I doubt it, but before this experience I’d never given our pay TV a second thought. Now I realise that “necessities” can turn out to be unnecessary.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Snap assumptions

“Why do most Americans drink their coffee black?” My Kiwi co-worker, who’d noticed that I always put milk and two sugars in my coffee, was curious. I probably stared for a moment or two, then said, “As far as I know, they don’t.” She continued, “Then why do they always show them pouring black cups of coffee on American TV shows?” And this was how I first became aware of how people overseas make assumptions about Americans and the USA based on what they see on TV.

I thought for a moment, thinking of a way to explain why American TV shows didn’t have people prepare coffee the way I drank it, and then I said that they do that on TV shows to save time and reduce visual clutter: Having a character grab a pot of coffee and pour a cup takes less time and is less visually distracting than if they went through a ritual of adding sugar and milk. The fact is, however, that I had no idea whether I was right or not—it just popped into my head as a logical explanation based on my assumptions about how Americans prepared their coffee. The reality is, I was making assumptions about all Americans based on my own observations just as my co-worker had been.

We all do this, and accepting our observations or assumptions as fact is probably a universal human thing: We evolved to be able to make quick assessments of others—friend or foe? Ally or enemy?—in order to be able to survive. We kept that primitive behaviour even as civilisation advanced, and it has led not only to wars at the extreme end, but also common prejudice and bigotry (and everything in between).

It’s not easy to avoid making what I’d call Snap Assumptions about society around us or about foreign societies. We assume that because we do a certain thing, all others must, too. For example, I always put the open end of pillowcases facing outward, toward the sides of a bed, because that’s what my mother taught me to do. I assumed all people did that. Then I learned other people do it differently. I gently and neatly scrape margarine onto my knife. Then I learned that others dig and gouge it out.

It obviously doesn’t matter which way pillows face or how margarine is removed from the tub, but what about when we make assumptions that DO matter? For example, we constantly hear people declaring that gay couples can’t have a real marriage because they’re not of opposite genders, so, therefore, they can’t possibly love each other, not really. That’s as silly and stupid as assuming beds must be made, or margarine removed, a certain way because it’s the way we do it. The fact and reality here is simple: We cannot assume that we know or understand other people, what they think, what they feel or what’s in their hearts, based solely on ourselves or what we see on TV.

So, when people make assumptions about gay couples’ relationships, or about transgender people, or about young people, or about people of a different race or religion, all such assumptions are almost always as worthless as ones about how a bed should be made, or that all Americans drink their coffee black. Instead, maybe we should find out from them what their reality is.

Understanding—real understanding—is hard work. We have to put aside our silly assumptions and look for the truth our assumptions are obscuring. I can’t help thinking this world would be a better and safer place if we stopped making snap assumptions.

Today, I challenged my own assumptions, and those of my former co-worker: According to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 National Coffee Drinking Trends survey, 83% of Americans drink coffee (up 5%), and 63% drink it daily. Other statistics show that only 35% of Americans drink their coffee black, and 65% drink it with cream (milk) and/or sugar.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Political surprises

I was running errands this afternoon, and when I got home I saw that my new Labour Party membership card had arrived in the mail. I took the photo above so I could Tweet it. When I went to my computer to post the Tweet, I saw the news that Labour Party Leader David Shearer had resigned. It turns out, these two bits of news are connected.

As a Labour Party member, I may have a say in who the next leader of the party will be. Under current rules, 40% of the vote comes from the Labour Caucus in Parliament, 40% from the membership and 20% from unions. I’m not certain how long someone has to be a paid-up member before they can participate in the selection process, so that’s part of the reason I’m not sure if I’ll have a say or not.

The bigger reason, however, is that it’s entirely possible that Caucus will settle on one candidate, meaning no selection process will be necessary. It’s far too early to tell.

Whether I have an official say or not, I’m certain I’ll have an opinion. However, at this point I don’t know who I’d prefer. This should be interesting… for me, anyway.

Hawaii next?

Hawaii may soon enact marriage equality, which would be great for SO many reasons. Aside from the most important resons for enacting marriage equality—justice and fairness—another reason is simpler: Closure.

Many people forget that it was actually a 1993 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court, Baehr v. Lewin, that led a few years later, in 1996, to the infamous "Defense [sic] of Marriage Act". The USA's rightwing was terrified that if Hawaii legalised marriage for same-gender couples, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution would force all states to recognise those marriages. Of course, DOMA went much farther, also denying federal benefits to legally-married gay couples—of which there were NONE in the USA in 1996!

I remember distinctly that some otherwise sensible people on the centre and left argued that DOMA, bad as it was, was the only way to stop the movement to amend the US Constitution to forever outlaw marriage equality in all 50 US States. It would buy time, they argued, until the people’s hearts changed. Maybe they were right.

However, by the time President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, the trigger—possible marriage equality in Hawaii—was over. In 1998, Hawaii (together with Alaska) became the first US state to amend its constitution to ban marriage for same-gender couples, though in Hawaii's case it merely allowed the state legislature to restrict marriage to opposite gender couples only. This was basically designed to overturn the Baehr decision. It wasn’t until 2004 that Massachusetts became the first US state with marriage equality—though DOMA blocked any national or federal recognition of those marriages.

In 2010, the puffed-up, self-important arrogant—and twice divorced—Republican then-Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, vetoed that state’s civil union law. As she would, being a Republican governor, and all, and who was, as such politicians so often do, perhaps overcompensating for something. Much has changed in the years since then, and Hawaii is rid of her (she lost a 2012 bid to become a US Senator from Hawaii).

If Hawaii does enact marriage equality, it would be a great way to start closing the national wounds that were opened up there 20 years ago this year, wounds that were rubbed open again and again, chiefly by opportunistic Republican politicians and their religionist allies. The world has moved on from the anti-equality frenzy of the mid-1990s, and more and more places are adopting marriage equality. I think it would be fantastic for Hawaii to do so, too, 20 years after becoming the place where the USA's fight began.

The time has come, Hawaii!

Photo: By the uploader (Own work; taken by the uploader) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Air New Zealand celebrates marriage equality

This video from Air New Zealand is about their “first same sex wedding in the skies,” which I mentioned yesterday. In the video, Jesse Tyler Ferguson mentions how the whole country was celebrating, and it really felt like that. New Zealand is different from most countries, you see: There was never really any strong opposition and, once it was all decided, New Zealanders moved on.

As for the airline itself, I have flown Air New Zealand to and from the USA and had by far the best service I’ve had from any airline. This video shows what the company ethic is like, which helps to explain why so many people have such positive feelings about the airline.

Like any country, New Zealand has its challenges and problems, but one of the core values of this country is that everyone should get a fair go. Now, LGBT couples can, too. No wonder the country seemed to be celebrating, and no wonder our national airline did, too.

Oh, and it features some of our country’s spectacular scenery—that’s always a plus!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What that day meant for me

Yesterday was important for so many reasons, like the obvious progress for New Zealand and its people and the happiness of the 31 LGBT couples that married on the first day they were legally able to do so. But for me one of the biggest things about the day was personal.

These days, I’m a big ol’ sook* at the best of times: Even TV commercials can make me teary-eyed. So, it’s not surprising that seeing all those happy couples yesterday often made me feel quite emotional. I was genuinely happy for them, but my emotion was different.

When I talked about the marriage equality bill passing Parliament, I described it as “Becoming real.” In that post, I talked about my expectations growing up and the convoluted schemes I came up with so I could try and “live happily ever after” in a world that didn’t want me to.

Yesterday, it suddenly hit me: For the first time in my life, I have exactly the same options as my heterosexual friends, siblings, in-laws and nieces and nephews. They grew up knowing that one day they could get married if they wanted to, where I grew up knowing that I’d never be allowed to. That is, I knew that until history lurched us all forward and now I, too, can choose to be married or not. It’s a lot to take in: Nearly 55 years of assuming the world is at least partly closed-off to me, only to find the door has been unbolted and thrown open, with a big, smiling crowd waving and welcoming me and all LGBT people to join them. It’s like finding myself falling from a great height—will there be anything to catch me?

Obviously I know that there’s plenty of hatred still in this world—hell, I write about some aspect of that hatred on this blog nearly every week. I know that in far too many places in this world, the new freedom we now know in New Zealand is a dream even farther away than it was for me as a young closeted teen. But if my life has shown me anything, it’s that one should never underestimate the power of love to triumph over all adversaries, no matter how strong or invincible they may seem.

When I was a Christian, the passage the spoke to me personally was this: “Faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13). I’ve always believed that. My faith is no longer of the religious variety, but I nevertheless still believe that those three things—and especially love—are enough to defeat evil itself, given enough time.

So, I back love every time. And I feel, maybe for the first time in my life, really, that I’ve been right to do so. Love won in New Zealand. Eventually, it WILL win everywhere: “The greatest of these is love.”

*New Zealand/Australian slang for a crybaby.

How the day went

The arrival of marriage equality in New Zealand yesterday was an historic mark of progress, but it was also a day of happiness. For the most part, the news media struck the right tone for the day, joining in the celebratory mood as they presented upbeat stories. The exceptions came across as tacky, not disturbing.

Companies got into the act, too, of course. Air New Zealand hosted a wedding at 30,000 feet (the airline tweeted the photo above. This makes sense for them: They stand to make money from LGBT couples flying to New Zealand for their wedding or honeymoon. Around 40,000 couples a year come here for that, and New Zealand is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region with marriage equality.

The potential for tourism dollars from foreign LGBT couples is also the reason that Tourism New Zealand sponsored a competition with Australia’s Star Observer newspaper to find an Aussie gay couple to marry in New Zealand yesterday. The winning couple was married in Wellington, and received coverage in the NZ news, including the fact that their marriage will cease to exist the moment they return to Australia because their home country stubbornly refuses to embrace marriage equality and doesn’t recognise legal overseas marriages if the couple is LGBT.

News media reporting on the day were generally positive. 3News was probably the best, in my opinion: Happy, positive and upbeat. The New Zealand Herald was also positive in its coverage on the day (here’s today’s story, for example).

TVNZ’s One News was weird. They basically live-blogged the day, but amid their upbeat and light-hearted coverage for some reason they felt they needed to report that one of the leading anti-gay politicians was moaning about how it wasn’t a day for celebration. That was totally unnecessary and came across as downright tacky—more for One News than the whingeing perennial rightwing candidate, whose anti-gay rhetoric is as predictable as it is boring.

In their evening report, One News included video of that same perennial rightwing candidate, which was even more pointless and wrong than in their live blogging: He is an anti-gay bigot whose prejudice against gay people is well known. There was absolutely no point in including him or his pontificating whingeing. One News presenters also said that LGBT New Zealanders said that marriage equality was “the first step”. Dead wrong: We all say it’s an IMPORTANT step (the “first step” was taken decades ago). Their phrasing plays into rightwing rhetoric that we have some sort of “secret agenda” to destroy the family, turn everyone gay and make quality fashion compulsory (okay, I made up that last one, but it’s in keeping with their delusional lunacy).

As bad as TV One was, right-leaning NewstalkZB was worse. On their website, they printed a story that quoted New Zealand’s leading anti-gay bigot whose lies, distortions, falsehoods and deception I’ve repeatedly debunked on this blog. Like much of the mainstream news media (apparently including One News), the radio station apparently felt they HAD to include an anti-gay bigot for some sort if imaginary “balance”. That’s understandable, of course: After all, they always ask racists to speak on Maori issues—oh, wait, they NEVER do that. My mistake; I thought since they believe in balance and fairness, and to them that means always seeking out bigots to talk about minority rights, they must then always do that. I forgot that their obsession with “balance” only applies to LGBT issues. At any rate, this indiscretion was on their website; I’d be willing to bet that most of their talkback hosts were not exactly positive, but I never listen to any of them, so I wouldn’t know.

Despite those lowlights, the day was mostly positive, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

In addition to businesses with a direct interest in promoting LGBT weddings, some others got in on the act, too. Online auction site Trade Me had their little blue Kiwi mascot, named Kevin, fly the rainbow flag in his beak (image below). Hovering the mouse over the icon revealed a pop up title, “Kevin supports marriage equality.” Nice.

Westpac New Zealand, one of our biggest banks, changed their main page for the day to feature stills from their “Start Asking” ad. The first slide, pictured below, was of a gay couple’s wedding. They also started running their commercial again, too.

It was a really good day yesterday, and thanks to most of the newsmedia (and quite a few businesses), all of us could share in the happiness of the couples who were finally allowed to marry yesterday. Congratulations to them all—and to New Zealand.

Related: Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who was on the Air NZ wedding flight, spoke to TV3’s Campbell Live about marriage equality.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Equality arrives

This morning, marriage equality arrived in New Zealand. I’m more equal as a citizen than I was yesterday, and more equal than in my native Illinois. Times have changed, and things have moved quickly, but justice always wins in the end.

There’s still more work to do to be sure that all our citizens are treated equally before the law and have the same opportunities to live happy and productive lives. The point of the celebrations like today’s is to be happy about how far we’ve come, and about what we’ve achieved. Then, it’s back to work.

Well done, New Zealand!!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Can we feel it?

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Today I drove Nigel’s mum home, after her weeklong visit with us. Once we got there, we ran into a woman she knows who said she felt yesterday’s big Central New Zealand quake while on a farm near Hikutaia, which is about halfway between Thames and Paeroa on State Highway 26 (map above). That’s kind of unusual, and yet it isn’t.

In Auckland, we seldom feel earthquakes from other parts of the country, even when they’re pretty big. That has to do with a combination of factors, such as geography, geology, topography—all sorts of earth science stuff all rolled together. Even so, there are exceptions, and sometimes people DO feel big quakes from other parts of the country.

When last month’s big Central New Zealand quake hit, residents of the highrise Metropolis apartment building in Auckland’s CBD said they felt it, and often people in highrises are the only Aucklanders who will. However, that quake was also felt in Hamilton, and they seldom feel Wellington quakes, either. I haven’t seen any reports of people in Auckland or Hamilton feeling the latest one, which makes sense: The focus at the moment is, appropriately, on the people who were directly affected.

Because of all this, when I heard the woman’s claim to have felt the quake at the bottom of the Coromandel Peninsula, I was a little incredulous. But, I wasn’t there, so how would I know? All I can say for certain that the only way I knew the quakes were happening were the constant alerts—one every few seconds or minutes—showing up on my iPad, sent by the NZ Quake App from GNS Science. I have never seen so many alerts in such a short period of time—but I never felt any of the quakes.

The only quakes I’ve felt in Auckland have been in Auckland, like the two in March of this year or the one in February, 2007.

So, it’s unusual, but not impossible, for Aucklanders to feel earthquakes happening in other parts of the country. Hopefully, there will never be a catastrophic one in my lifetime, because I wouldn’t be surprised if we felt that, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Literally don’t care

I’m a grammar enforcer on a number of things—use of apostrophes chief among them—but most modern word usages and fads leave me literally unconcerned. I use literally as it was meant to be used, of course.

“Literally” means actual. So, as they say in the CNN video above, if someone said, “I literally died laughing,” then they’d be dead. In which case, they’d be literally unable to speak about the state of their mirth.

In the new definitions the linked article refers to, literally now means figuratively, too. Informal speech is often lazy, and it seems to me this usage is, too. While someone is unlikely to say, “I figuratively died laughing”, they could simply say, “I died laughing,” and leave it alone without misusing another word, one they use for mere emphasis.

Still, I don’t really care that much. English is constantly evolving and changing, and it always has been. New words enter usage and old ones die out. If literally is now okay to use merely for emphasis, one day that usage may replace the real one. Someday, I’m convinced, even my beloved apostrophes will literally disappear from use.

The only alternative to an evolving language would be a static, never-changing one, policed by dour grammarians who criminalised improper usage of words. Okay, that’s not literally the only alternative. I was speaking figuratively. For emphasis.

I think that’s literally enough for this post.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pumpkin soup thoughts

Today, Nigel’s Mum made pumpkin soup for dinner. I helped a bit, but mostly I thought about how maybe this could be part of the way to lift poor people out of some the problems of poverty. It takes a village, so maybe we ought to act like a village.

The soup recipe isn’t important. It included pumpkin (what we Americans would call squash), some chicken stock, onions, garlic and some flash things: Thickened cream and feta cheese for the finish, served with special bread. But as I thought about it, I realised a poor family could ditch the cream, switch to ordinary tasty cheese (sharp cheddar in Americanese) and ordinary bread in order to cut costs. Still, our fancy version worked out to around $3 per person, so the cheaper version would probably be between $1.50 and $2 per person.

Poor people have trouble feeding their families—that’s beyond dispute—and the main reason is lack of income. However, I wonder what might happen if there were mentors to teach poor families how to stretch their food dollars, how to make a filling and nutritious meal for not much money. Right now, NZ’s emphasis is on making the poor justify why they should get any money, and leaving them to fend for themselves. Maybe—just maybe—we could take a more holistic approach?

I originally thought about this in the context of gardens: Poor people can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, so I thought about how great it would be to cooperatively teach people how to grow their own food. Problem is, poor people live in mainly rented accommodation, and the landlord may not be keen on tenants planting a vegie patch—and, even if they are, a rental tenancy is tenuous—would the tenants live there long enough to harvest the produce they planted?

New Zealand doesn’t really have community gardens or UK-style alotments, so where could poor people without land of their own garden and still be sure of reaping their harvest? And where are the people who can teach the lost art of growing one’s own food in a city?

Poor people are victimised in so many ways, including by do-gooders like me who have magic solutions. But I think that if a solution to a problem is available, shouldn’t we pursue it, even if it isn't THE solution, and even if it doesn’t fix all the problems? We want kids to be well-fed, so, shouldn’t we work on ways to make that happen?

Personally, I think that finding ways to help poor people be more self-sufficient in food growing can be part of the solution, and so, too, can be training poor people who are clueless—because not all poor people are, of course—on how to make cheap, nutritious meals for their families.

I know how paternalistic these suggestions are, how classist and how arrogant, even, coming from someone who doesn’t worry about where the next meal is coming from. But if I can make a flash meal for around $3 per person, then why can’t we pass on that knowledge to help those who need the meals to cost less than $2 per person?

Government must play its part, and the current NZ government is waging war on the poor and working classes. But that happens from time to time, so I think we should equip the poor to transcend the various cuts by conservative governments so that whoever is in power, the kids will be fed.

Or, is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The IOC is pathetic

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has always been cowardly, but how pathetic they are is now being laid bare. They’re not just moral cowards, not just stupid, they also plan to be complicit in oppressing LGBT people.

The official Russian news agency has confirmed that Russia’s anti-gay law WILL be enforced at the Sochi Olympics, despite the IOC desperately and weakly accepting some lame claims to the contrary. This means that athletes, officials and spectators face arrest, fines and deportation if they even simply acknowledge that gay people exist.

Some athletes, who have the moral courage the IOC obviously lacks, have bravely said they will defy the Russian law. New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup said he would wear a rainbow pin to defy the Russian law. US figure skater Johnny Weir, however, doesn’t plan on doing anything to challenge the law or to protest, but nevertheless has declared he’s ready to be arrested. Weir said he thinks if he’s arrested, it would be because he is who he is (his flashy costumes could even be the excuse the Russians use).

However, the IOC has confirmed that they WILL punish any athlete who dares to protest the Russian anti-gay law, because IOC rules prohibit “propaganda”—which is ironic, considering that’s the same word used by Russia to operationalise their oppression of LGBT people. So, those who say that LGBT athletes and those who support human rights should protest at the games are, in fact, endorsing exposing athletes to another layer of oppression: Any athlete who violates this IOC rule faces “disqualification or withdrawal of the accreditation of the person concerned”, and without any right of appeal.

So, suppose an athlete wins a gold medal. He or she stands on the platform at the medal ceremony holding a rainbow flag. They could be disqualified and stripped of their medal. They’d then be marched out of the Olympic Village to meet the waiting Russian police van to take them away for persecution—oops, I meant to type prosecution.

This must not stand. There’s still time to fix this by moving the Winter Olympics from Russia. Before long, the only other option will be cancellation. But, of course, the pathetic cowards at the IOC will do neither. Just as they were all too happy to give Nazi Germany their endorsement in 1936, now they’re all too happy to give the Russian neo-fascist government their endorsement, too.

Like I said, the IOC is pathetic—but so, too, is the world if it lets this go unanswered.

The graphic at the top of this post is from the Facebook Page of Memeographs, which intends its graphics to be shared.

Monday, August 12, 2013

One week from today

One week from today, marriage equality takes effect in New Zealand, and this country will take a giant leap forward in achieving equality for all its citizens. As happy as I am for my adopted home, I still want to see the land of my birth, Illinois, adopt marriage equality, too. I’ll be waiting longer than a week for that, but justice and equality are always worth the wait.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Weekend Diversion: Most unexpected song post ever

This week’s Weekend Diversion is something I never thought I’d be posting: A One Direction song. The video is for “Best Song Ever”, originally posted at the end of July. The reason I’m posting it is because of the abundance of “WTF?!” moments in the video, including the none too subtle gay references.

All the acting in the video is done by One Direction members, most of which, I think, are actually quite good. But there are weird moments, as BuzzFeed noted in “The 21 Most WTF Moments From One Direction’s Latest Music Video”. I agree with all of them.

It’s fair to say that I’m not exactly a One Direction fan, but neither do I hate them. In fact, pop music fan that I am, I’ve liked some of their songs—it’s the hype I could do without. Still, One Direction is a prime example of why I created Arthur’s Law in the first place.

So, take the video at face value, and look at the oddities if you want. Or, ignore it altogether. But I give them props for their acting performances, and for playing with the constant gay speculation about them (based on previous boy bands, odds are that at least one of them is gay…). As I have often said on this blog, pop music is meant to be fun. This video is fun—and it’s more than a little weird. No wonder I like it.

Related: One of my favourite YouTubers, Tyler Oakley, went all fanboyish when 1D’s Harry Styles re-Tweeted him about this video.

Russian reality check

Russia has become a pariah state with its steady decent into Nazi-style fascism. They don’t deserve to be treated as a normal country, and, as I already said, the Sochi Olympics must be moved, cancelled or boycotted. But, Russia is far from the worst country in the world in terms of the way it treats LGBT people.

The chart above was published on BuzzFeed and shows the 76 countries in which it’s illegal to be gay, including several in which the penalty is death (the article with the chart provides the full details).

These 76 countries are indisputably worse than Russia, as if they’re in a race to be the lowest in humanity’s sewer. The 76 serve as a warning of what Russia will become if the world doesn’t keep up pressure against their vicious anti-gay regime.

But there’s more: The same US evangelical “Christian” who is a driving force behind Uganda’s proposed “kill the gays” bill also cheered Russia’s law, and he claimed credit for promoting the idea. He thinks it should be adopted throughout the world, including the more civilised nations that condemn this sort of inhuman repression. In fact, the anti-gay industry in the USA is universal in singing the praises of Russia, which shows us how much they are the enemies not just of the human rights of LGBT people, but even of freedom and democracy.

So, as we keep pressure on Russia to re-join the family of nations, we must be mindful that it is very, very worse in some countries, and also that some people in the USA’s anti-gay industry want that same—or worse—repression in Western nations, too. This is clearly a much bigger struggle than most people realise. It’s also one we can’t afford to lose.

Update: As an example of non-Russian anti-gay reality, world news outlets like the AP (via Yahoo! News) have been reporting on the brutal July 22 murder of a transgender teen in Jamaica, merely the latest anti-LGBT murder in Jamaica, a country whose homophobic violence problem is so bad that some activists call the country the most dangerous place for LGBT people in the entire Western Hemisphere. In a 2006 report, Human Rights Watch described the situation for LGBT groups in Jamaica as "the worst any of us has ever seen."

Friday, August 09, 2013

A positive coming out story

The video above is a vlog from 18-year-old South African-born Australian actor Troye Sivan, who is perhaps best known for playing James Howett, the boy who became Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman) in the 2009 film X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I've seen). In addition to acting in films, he’s also a singer and songwriter.

In the video, titled “Coming Out”, Troye tells his fans that he’s gay, on the third anniversary of his having told his family. One thing that struck me about his video came near the end when he says that not only do things get better for LGBT kids, “it can be good from the start,” as it was for him. I think it’s important for young gay kids looking for information and support online—as Troye was at 14—to see stories where everything turns out just fine, in addition to the ones in which people persevere over bad reactions to coming out. These days, we in much of the Western world see a lot of happy endings to coming out stories.

He seems to have struck a positive chord with his fans and young gay people, too. I saw a couple “response” videos, like this one and this one.

It’s interesting to me how we sometimes turn to celebrities of one sort or another to say the things we can’t say or to reinforce the things we think and feel. Whether that’s a good idea or not is beside the point: People, especially young people, do it. I feel good about some young gay kid finding this video by Troye, and that’s not always been the case with other coming out videos I’ve seen.

I didn’t know about Troye by name until today, and only ran across this video as part of my daily morning look through things on the Internet. He seems like an impressive young man with his heart in the right place, and he will certainly have helped some kids with this video. At any rate, it makes a great antidote to what's happening to gay teens in a certain other country…

You check out Troye's YouTube Channel for more videos, including his music videos.

Tip o’ the Hat to Out.com.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Move or boycott the Olympics

When I first talked about the proposed boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I was uncertain about it. I thought that maybe there was some middle ground. There isn’t: The Winter Olympics must be moved or cancelled or they must be boycotted. There is no other acceptable alternative.

I didn’t come to this easily. As Roger Green recently noted, the rightwing in the US wants a boycott for completely different, purely political reasons (the Russian Government shielding Edward Snowden). I’m pretty much against anything and everything that Lindsey Graham wants, so I was ambivalent about a boycott largely because of Lindsey’s support.

That’s all changed.

Ever since this controversy began, one thing has been bothering me: The clear and stark similarity between what Russia is doing today and what Nazi Germany did at the very beginning of the Holocaust. The Nazis scapegoated Jews, a despised minority, and passed anti-Jewish laws. Thugs beat up, terrorised and even murdered Jews while the police ignored it—and despite it all, the world did nothing, leading inevitably to the murder of millions. Now, in Russia, the exact same thing is happening to LGBT people. Will history repeat itself?

In 1936, the world went to Nazi Germany for the Olympics in Berlin and, despite Jesse Owens, the games were largely a glorification of the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies. The world must never make that mistake again, but if the Sochi games go ahead, it will make that mistake again.

Even so, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is unlikely to move the games and certainly won’t cancel them, and not merely because of their typical moral cowardice: There’s too much money involved. Still, moral cowardice is a major factor. According to the New York Times, the IOC itself will discipline any athlete who dares to protest the Russian law. So, if Blake Skjellerup really does wear the rainbow pin he said he will, he faces expulsion from the games by the IOC AND arrest, fines and deportation by the Russian Government—assuming he isn’t attacked and killed by Russian thugs first.

The price is far, far too high, and there is no “bright side” or anything that can redeem the games in any way whatsoever.

Corporate sponsors of the games, such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, who are underwriting the games, can’t say anything, even though the companies support the human rights of LGBT people. So, there’ll be no pro-equality messages at the games or overseas. Similarly, NBC, which will be covering the games for the USA, can’t broadcast critiques of the law or show protests, like a rainbow pin or flag, and they won’t be able to allow live interviewees to say anything pro-gay, because if they do, they, too, face being arrested and deported. So, there’ll certainly be no live coverage of LGBT people and supporters being beaten up or arrested and deported. The only acknowledgement—if any—will come from things broadcast within the USA and what they’re free to report once they leave Russia.

So, we have an increasingly brutal and increasingly fascistic regime in Russia that is doing to LGBT people what the German Nazis did to Jews in 1936, and we see the world about to reward and celebrate that through the Olympic Games—again, just like 1936. I wonder: When Russia moves to open genocide—and it will—will the IOC apologise for its role in enabling that? Will McDonald’s? Will Coca-Cola? Will NBC? Or will they find a sort of gay Jesse Owens who wins a medal so then they can say, “See? We really showed those fascist bastards a thing or two!”

History must not be allowed to repeat itself. The world must stand up to Russian brutality and its violent oppression of a minority. It must make clear that this sort of thing sets a country apart from the family of nations and makes them unfit to host an international event like the Olympics. So, the Sochi Games MUST be moved, cancelled or boycotted. The real alternative is to dip our hands into the blood of Russia’s victims.

Update: NBC has sought to reassure its LGBT employees working on the network's coverage of the Sochi Olympics "that it will do everything possible to keep them safe following Russia's passage of [its] anti-gay law," declaring that Russia's vicious law is "deeply troubling and diametrically opposed to everything that the Olympics symbolize."

Meanwhile, the IOC has sought yet further clarification from the Russian government. After being assured athletes, spectators and officials would be safe from persecution by Russian authorities, a high government official declared that, no, they would not be exempt. The IOC sought a written assurance, but they're now seeking even more clarification. This is good, but nowhere near good enough.


Boycott Sochi
George Takei argues It’s Time to Move the Olympics
Stephen Fry’s open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC
A young teen tortured by Russian vigilantes for being gay, may be dead (video) – AmericaBlog

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Weekend Diversion: How to fold a shirt

It’s possible to learn how to do almost anything on the Internet, and, in fact, I’ve learned quite a few different things. Many of them have actually been really practical, too. Today I have another—along with some more serious opportunities.

Some three and a half years ago, I posted about learning how to fold a fitted sheet. It was a chore that frustrated me before I found the video. I learned the technique—basically—but I’m not exactly fanatical about getting it right (even if I do sometimes start over).

When we were in Paeroa last week, someone mentioned a challenge to learn one new thing on YouTube a week, and mentioned folding a t-shirt. I’d only recently learned the technique from the video above, so I shared what I’d learned. To be honest, it’s far easier to do than to fold a fitted sheet neatly every time. One tip: It’s usually better to make the middle point a little lower than halfway down the shirt so that the bottom of the shirt doesn’t show above the shoulders once it’s all folded.

There are far more serious learning opportunities on the Internet, too. My nephew recently posted on Facebook a link to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Courseware (OCW), which “makes the materials used in the teaching of MIT's subjects available on the Web.” Best of all, it’s FREE. There are several universities in the world that are part of the OCW Consortium, which together offer some 13,000 courses in 20 languages.

Other interesting efforts include the development of textbooks that will be released as ebooks under Creative Commons licenses. The idea is that they will be cheaper for schools, instantly updatable and avoid the, er, um, difficulties associated with the fact that Texas determines the content for most primary and secondary school textbooks in the USA. In other words, the information won’t have to be run through an ideological filter first.

When you add this formal learning to the huge amount of informal learning opportunities (like the YouTube videos that taught me to fold fitted sheets and short-sleeve shirts), well, it’s amazing we don’t know everything, right?

Seriously, thanks to the Internet, it’s possible for us to learn so much more, and to be so much better informed, than was even remotely possible in previous generations. We can choose that whenever we want—and I think we should.

Remember that the next time someone tells you the Internet is all about porn, gambling, and photos of cats and people’s meals. You can tell them confidently, “No, you can also learn how to fold a shirt in under 2 seconds.” And then tell them how much they can really learn.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

James Baldwin

Today (August 2 in the USA) would have been James Baldwin’s 89th birthday. Baldwin was a writer who straddled many of the divisions in society, ones that are still evident today: Race, sexual orientation, class. He was one of the first gay writers I ever heard about—but not until my 20s, after I was already out.

The fact that Baldwin was uncompromising in discussing race made much of white society feel uneasy about him, and his inclusion of gay themes in his work—more than a decade before the Stonewall Riots—created more distance. Growing up in the mostly white, Republican suburbs, I never heard of Baldwin until I went to university in the late 1970s, and even then, only because I had well-read gay friends who knew about him.

The video above is of Baldwin appearing on the Dick Cavett Show, apparently in 1968 (no date was given in the video, and this is the source of the date; There’s also an audio interview with him by Studs Terkel from 1961 that’s worth a listen). I think it’s a good example of Baldwin’s eloquent and passionate critique that so many white people found hard to hear. Nowadays, some white people would call him a “professional black”, that is, someone who, as Roger Green put it in a recent post, a black person for whom “their profession is BEING a black person.”

But, of course, all of this stuff I learned kind of late in the game, at a time in my life when I was discovering all the famous gay people I’d never known about. Maybe this fact made me more receptive to the rest of his message than I would otherwise have been, given my background. However, it was already a time in which I had enormous intellectual curiosity, anyway, so I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was diminished by not being taught about the breadth of American literature, particularly because, in Baldwin’s case, several of his novels have been included in various lists of the best American novels. But it’s also true that I was cheated by not knowing about gay people. I’d like to think that things are better now, at least in most places, but I know that in far too many, nothing’s really changed.

So I look at artists like James Baldwin, and think about how many others there must have been that I never had the chance to hear about. I think about the courage he had in tackling prejudice on many fronts, and the artistic integrity he displayed by writing about what he wanted to write about, even if it wasn’t socially acceptable at the time. And, of course, he was a fellow expatriate, and that’s another thing about him with which I can personally identify.

James Baldwin died in late 1987 of oesophageal cancer, aged 63. Below is a video of Baldwin speaking the National Press Club on December 10, 1986, less than a year before he died. His influence, however, continues.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Nothing to see

In this video, Democrats eviscerate Republican US Representative Darrell Issa, the crackpot from California, who has made a career out of staging phony politically-motivated “investigations” of President Obama. Issa has brought this ignominy on himself.

Before the 2010 elections, Issa pledged non-stop “investigations” of the Obama Administration. Since then, he’s become an utter joke: Nothing he’s done has ever amounted to anything, of course—crackposts like Issa never do anything of any real or lasting significance.

And that’s the tragedy in this: ALL governments must be held accountable, but by his clownish and obviously partisan actions, Issa degrades the very concept of oversight. Thanks to Issa, oversight is assumed to be politically motivated, petty, irrelevant and the butt of jokes. If crackpots like Issa were shunted to the irrelevancy they so richly deserve, Congress might do its duty to provide real oversight, not purely partisan political games. But we haven’t seen that in 20 years or more, so I guess there’s no reason to think that it’ll happen anytime soon.

Issa is a joke. Repubicans are a joke. House Speaker Johen Boehner is a national joke, but they control Congress. All of us—within the US our overseas—are diminished because of that. The only way to end the joke is to end Republican control. I’m not sure that CAN happen, though. And that’s NOT a joke.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The national joke

MSNBC’s MaddowBlog posted the above chart today to show how completely out of touch US House Speaker John Boehner is with reality—including about himself. Turns out, he’s the national joke.

In a press conference, Boehner mocked President Obama for giving a series of speeches about the economy, saying, “If I had poll numbers as low as his, I'd probably be out doing the same thing, if I were him."

Steve Benen summed it up well in the post accompanying the chart:
“The one topic John Boehner should go out of his way not to talk about is his poll numbers. If he had ‘poll numbers as low’ as Obama's? Seriously? If Boehner had poll numbers as high as the president's he wouldn't be such a hapless, accomplishment-free House Speaker.”
Exactly. As Benen also points out, the president’s approval rating, depending on the poll, is somewhere between 45% and 50%, while Congress’ favourable rating is between 11% and 15%. Boehner is clearly delusional.

The “Party of No” has no message, no plan, no clue what to do other than to reflexively oppose anything and everything that President Obama proposes—even when it’s their own idea! It’s little wonder Boehner and Congress’ approval ratings are in the toilet.

The next time Boehner wants to make a joke, he should look in the mirror: He IS the national joke.