Speaking Out

Unless you speak up and tell the world that gays, lesbians and other sexual and gender minorities are due the same protection of their human rights under the law that the rest of us have, this is what you’re supporting.

United Nations — African and Arab nations succeeded by a whisker in deleting three words from a resolution that would have included gays in a denunciation of arbitrary killings. Europeans protested in vain.

The reference in the three-page draft came in the sixth of 22 paragraphs and urged investigations of all killings “committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation.” The provision was among many that had been proposed and analyzed by a “special rapporteur” (investigator) on the subject.

Benin, the chair of the African group of nations, proposed the amendment and Morocco, on behalf of the Islamic Conference, argued that there was no foundation for gays in international human rights instruments as there was in cases of race, gender and religious discrimination.

Whether by your voice, your vote, or your silence, you lend support to the idea that it’s okay to kill gays. Sometimes it really is just that simple.

“Oh, but wait,” I hear, “I don’t support killing anyone. I just don’t want them to get married.”

That doesn’t matter. These people, they understand that you’re weak, that you don’t like getting your hands dirty, that you settle for marginalizing “them” and their relationships. They think less of you for it, sure, but they’re still happy to do your work for you. After all, you and them? You’re on the same page.

That’s what you’ve told them.

The Telephone Game


If you get the opportunity to see The Telephone Game, do it. This will be more difficult if you’re not in the Twin Cities, but more worthwhile if you’ve ever done theater, particularly experimental theater, or like your movies slightly odd.

I just got back from the premier. I went without great expectations, knowing this was a local, low-budget production. Not that you can’t do great things on a budget, but that usually means attracting the cast you know rather than the cast you can afford. Ben and I were there so he could take a few pictures. It turns out he’s also taken pictures of approximately half the cast, but that’s a bit beside the point.

The Telephone Game tells the story of the production of a play, from auditions to opening night. It also follows the relationship of the playwright, Marco, who insists on directing and starring in his own production, and the leading actress, Zelphia, who understands the core of the play better than Marco does. Both storylines are greatly complicated by the fact that Marco is the least coherent individual on the face of the planet. Far less coherent even than a politician with the last name of Bush.

Despite that, he seems to have written a delightfully evocative play, and we’re given enough of a glimpse at it up front to be concerned when Marco’s doubts cause him to start messing his production. What actually happens to the play over the course of the movie is something I won’t spoil by describing it.

The cast of the movie was much better than I had expected going in. Haley Chamberlain was stunning as the female lead, both as the actress and in her role in the play. The movie would be worth watching for her alone. However, nobody fell to the level of “strictly local talent” that I expected in a movie this low budget.

That might have something to do with the fact that the script was improvised. There was, at most, one character in the movie underserved by her writer. The rest all stood out as individuals. And you really have to admire a movie that can work in a line like “Then I puked a projection of Peter Piper’s pickled peppers onto the poor percussionists in the pit. That’s why I don’t act,” and not have it completely derail the scene.

Beyond that, I find myself unwilling to describe the movie. I went into it without any good idea of what I was going to see, and that served me well. However, if you’re not ready to take my word that the movie is worthwhile, you can always watch the trailer below. But really, just see the movie.

More on Maddow and Stewart

Since interviews of Jon Stewart are rare, they tend to get passed along quickly. I assume most of the people who want to have seen Rachel Maddow’s interview with Stewart on what he was attempting to do with the Rally to Restore Sanity. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the unedited version–long but worthwhile.

The interview is in many ways a discussion between geeks more than anything else. As such, it requires a certain amount of background to understand. Since the interview is about media, who better to give you that background than Pressthink‘s Jay Rosen. Enjoy.

Serving Those Who Serve Us

I don’t usually reprint the emails I get from political figures. Today, for Veterans Day, I’m making an exception. I can’t really say it better than this.

Veterans Day provides us with the chance to mark the debt of honor we owe to all those who have worn the uniform of the United States. We remember those who gave their lives beneath our flag, in service of our freedom.

And with so many still fighting, we owe special thanks to the courageous families of those who serve.

Because when our servicemen and women deploy overseas, their loved ones are left to undertake heroic battles of their own at home. The unique challenges they face in support of men and women in uniform allow us all to enjoy the freedoms of our democracy.

Every time I have a chance to meet with these families, I’m struck by their strength and their quiet dignity — they are truly some of the most selfless, courageous people I’ve met.

And today is also a day to acknowledge the sacrifices these brave men and women make every day, and pray for the safe return of those they love.

I’ve felt their calling personally, and I want to encourage Americans across the country to step up and do more for our military families. Take the time to stay informed about the concerns and activities of the families of service members in your community. Let them know you recognize their struggles and appreciate all they do.

You can help by finding out the needs of the military families in your community and volunteering, from working with your local school’s PTA to hiring a military spouse.

Today and every day, I am moved by the personal sacrifices made by service families. And I’m humbled by the patriotism of those they support — our soldiers and airmen, our sailors and Marines.

Today, if you can, please take a moment to offer your gratitude for the families of the veterans and active service members that you know. Or go online to serve.gov to find out how you can serve military families in your area.

Sincerely,

Michelle

I will add to what the First Lady had to say, though. Volunteer opportunities are good. Opportunities to donate are good. I’ll plug one of my favorites a little later. Neither of these, however, is enough. These things only go on as long as we’re paying attention, and as a society, we do a really crappy job of paying attention, particularly when the subject is something as bleak as war or as guilt-inducing as the sacrifices of others that we don’t share.

That is why we need to collectively shoulder the responsibility of taking care of our veterans. That is why it pisses me off that Senator Kent Conrad invoked the sacrifices of veterans in endorsing a set of deficit-reduction measures that would raise the fees these same veterans pay for service from the Veterans Administration.

But you know today is Veterans’ Day. You think of what they sacrificed for this country. If some of us have to sacrifice a political career to get this country back on track then so be it. It has to be done.

It’s nice that Senator Conrad is only a little concerned with his career. Really nifty. However, he’s missing the point. His political career isn’t the issue. The issue is that, for the past eight years, our service members have carried the burden of two wars that the majority of us agreed were a good thing. What have they done that we haven’t?

  • They have endured separation from their loved ones, and their families have stepped in to make day-to-day life go on without them, despite the stress of knowing what it might mean every time the doorbell rings.
  • They have lived with the risks, day in and day out, that we’ve done such a good job not thinking about.
  • They have been killed, and they have killed. In our names, so that we haven’t had to.
  • Despite our military technological marvels, they have sustained a rate of major limb injuries similar to veterans of the Vietnam War.
  • They have sustained a much higher incidence of brain injuries than the veterans of previous wars, without the care those injuries require.
  • They have suffered from PTSD and high rates of suicide, also without receiving the care they are due (ZenMonkey offers some specifics on how you can help with this problem).

How about you? What have you done? Have you at least contacted your senators and representative in the House to tell them what to do with the VA proposal from the Deficit Commission? If not (and you live in the U.S.), please do that now. Not having to make additional sacrifices for their health is the least we owe our veterans. The very least.

While you’re sending an email (it’s so very easy these days), remind them that you consider the well-being of those who serve us to be a much higher priority than giving more to those who already have plenty. Talk to them about how you feel about the ongoing wars, as well. Tell them that our military members and family are important to you–both today and when you go to vote.

Also, please consider one more thing. Many of you celebrate Christmas or have family who do. This is traditionally a major indulgence holiday, a celebration of consumerism. It doesn’t have to be. If you’re one of those people who is hard to shop for, ask for a donation to be made to an organization that helps veterans, service members, and their families instead.

You can also do what we do, and give donations to others. For the past several years, much of our extended family has received donations to Fisher House, along with some homemade baked goodies, as their presents. It not only takes some of the money that would otherwise be spent on, say, another sweater and sends it where it can do real good, but it also puts military charities in front of those who might be looking to make last minute donations before the tax year ends. And it reminds everyone of the fighting going on in our names.

But whatever you do, however much or little you can, please take the opportunity today to figure out how you can help those who have sacrificed for you.

A Difference of Opinion

My friend Kelly doesn’t often go off on a rant, or at least he doesn’t usually write them down. But when he does? Stand back.

One of the things that we as a genre community seem to be most vulnerable to is the idea that our personal favorite type of writing is the only type of writing that other people should love and pay attention to, and that anyone who disagrees that our pet subgenre is the one true form of worthwhile writing is a poo-poo head. This tends to be expressed in one of two ways:

1) I want more of my stuff, and why isn’t everyone writing and publishing that? “Waaaaah!” *POUT* It is often accompanied by the stomping of rhetorical feet and tearing of hair. It mostly looks like highly articulate toddlers throwing a tantrum because the world isn’t treating them and their pet interests as the center of the universe.

2) How can anyone believe that XXXXX is worthy of their attention and dollars? XXXXX is immoral and anti-intellectual or just plain bad. The people who read/write it are dupes/exploiters or simply uncultured. If people really understood the underlying dynamic of XXXXX they’d realize that and come over and read YYYYY which is the one true way. It mostly looks like even more articulate toddlers throwing a tantrum because the world isn’t treating them and their pet interests as the center of the universe.

There’s a whole bunch more, and the whole thing is thoughtful, well-reasoned, and delivered with a very entertaining 2-by-4. Go read.

Little Conversations

Ugh. No time for a proper blog post, probably not for a couple of days (although I’ve been wrong about these things before). Apropos of that, enjoy.

Little Conversations

You know I never could say anything in twenty words or less.

HPV and the Bigots of AVN

Jane J Kim, PhD, an assistant professor of health decision science in the department of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, constructed models to assess the cost-effectiveness of the HPV shot across a range of potential scenarios involving men who have sex with men. The scenarios were based on age, previous exposure to the types of warts that are targeted by the vaccine, and HIV status. Men who test positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are at higher risk for HPV and anal cancer.

Researchers used measurements called “QALY.” QALY — which stands for “quality adjusted life year” — is a measurement of both quality and length of life. In the study, a cost-effectiveness ratio of less than $50,000 per QALY gained is considered a “good value for money.”

Vaccinating men who have sex with other men against HPV between the ages of 12 to 26 is a cost-effective strategy, Kim concludes. If further study shows that this vaccine is also effective against HPV-related cancers it may be an even more cost-effective intervention.

This is pretty awesome news. There are still issues to be worked out, of course, particularly in terms of how we get the vaccine to the people most likely to benefit from it. The issue of how people identify sexually versus how they behave sexually, particularly at the ages at which the vaccine will be most effective, will require some decisions to be made about how broadly to cast the vaccination net.

Still, we have an opportunity to help a population that already suffers a disproportionate burden of disease. We can even offer them passive protection up front, when it is most likely to be effective.

Of course, that’s not how the Anti-Vaccination Nitwits (yes, I know it’s Australian Vaccination Network) sees the issue. From their Facebook page:


Yes, they really did say that young male homosexuals (they left out bisexuals entirely)–and by young, I mean teenagers and very young adults–have a bunch of disposable income. Not only did they indulge in rank stereotyping of gay men, but they completely ignored the truly ugly situation faced by young homosexuals. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Australia is completely civilized in how gay and lesbian teens are treated.

Right.

Is it any wonder that the first response to their post was the comment below (removed after six hours on a thoroughly moderated page, according to Reasonable Hank, but captured by StopAVN and brought to my attention by Bob Apthorpe)?

I’m not sure why they bothered to take it down, actually, since it says the same thing the AVN itself said.

Sadly, this stance is entirely in line with what the AVN has previously had to say in an article on HPV vaccines.

This vaccine aims to protect people from a virus that is basically only transmitted when a person engages in what amounts to optional behaviour. HPV is not a public health threat in the same way, say, polio or measles are.

Did I get HPV through having sex? Yes. But it seems a bit odd to refer to something that half of all Australian teenagers have done before leaving high school as “optional behaviour.” It’s the most pointless of technicalities. Still, that usually how the AVN gets their victim blaming in, if this article is any indication.

Most women who develop invasive cervical cancers have not had regular Pap smears. So to say that because 1,000 women in the U.K. die of cervical cancer every year, and there is thus an urgent public-health need to vaccinate every adolescent girl–without mentioning that many if not most of these women did not have regular screenings–is somewhat disingenuous.

Because heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, emphysema, and everything else that has a partial cause in human choices is not actually any kind of public health issue. Again, right.

I guess the only thing to do now is to wait for actual vaccination recommendations to be made. In the meantime, we can all “amuse” ourselves laying bets on how the AVN will react to the news. Will it be clueless stereotyping, ignorance of human behavior, or a combination of the three?

Droit de Seigneur

As others have pointed out, child sexual abuse is not a problem exclusive to religion. Plenty of organizations in which adults have authority over children contain predators. What is unique to churches, however, is the degree of authority priests and pastors have over the adults who would normally protect these children. It’s a power they used to share with nobility, but today, with the exception of certain legal establishments that we recognize as corrupt, it’s theirs alone.

A new case out today in our local paper illustrates the problem:

The 13-year-old’s mother told police that she noticed several phone calls on her daughter’s cell phone from the pastor months ago. The woman took away the phone for a while, but didn’t speak to her daughter about the situation.

It is possible that the woman would be as hesitant to follow up if the adult in the situation were a school teacher or a sports coach, but is it likely? How about the others who discovered the situation?

Church staff members confronted Ramirez-Toxtle and he admitted the child’s allegations, but said he never had sex with her, the complaint said. “He was given a letter reprimanding his behavior, and police obtained a copy of this letter,” the complaint said.

The church staff knew about the problem. What did they do? They complained to the authority they recognized: the perpetrator of the abuse. They impotently shook their collective fingers at him instead of submitting him to the appropriate authority in this situation.

I applaud the person who recognized that this wasn’t enough, who took this matter to the police. As for the rest of them, if the fondling of a 13-year-old girl isn’t enough to make them question the proper amount of authority to grant those who claim to speak for God, what will it take? What secular horrors will they submit to on that authority? More than that, what horrors will they allow to be inflicted on others before they act?

That is the evil that the authority of religion introduces into our society.

Auto-Argumentation

Oh. This. This is beautiful.

The result is the Twitter chatbot @AI_AGW. Its operation is fairly simple: Every five minutes, it searches twitter for several hundred set phrases that tend to correspond to any of the usual tired arguments about how global warming isn’t happening or humans aren’t responsible for it.

It then spits back at the twitterer who made that argument a canned response culled from a database of hundreds. The responses are matched to the argument in question — tweets about how Neptune is warming just like the earth, for example, are met with the appropriate links to scientific sources explaining why that hardly constitutes evidence that the source of global warming on earth is a warming sun.

I need about six of these. I need the “race realist” bot, the “men are just smarter” bot, the gun nut bot, the anti-vax bot, the libertarian bot, and the evangelical/creationist bot. Then, once I don’t have to keep repeating myself on those topics, I’ll probably need about six more, since I’ll have time again to spend on evaluating and formulating new sets of arguments.

Would it do any good? Looking for some kind of external metric, it’s hard to say. I don’t know that these kinds of arguments ever convince anyone. I do know, however, that they rarely change and their proponents are generally dogged. This means that chatbots like this can waste plenty of time that these people would otherwise spend trying to spread misinformation and information-free jingoism. That, in itself, would be worthwhile, as would freeing up more of the time of the people who currently go out of their way to combat this kind of nonsense.

So, who’s in?

Taking Back My Country

There’s a certain irony in the conservatives saying that they’re “taking back their country,” because that’s exactly what I intend to do tomorrow. Oh, I don’t mean it the way they mean it. I’ve never been rich or male, so this country was, at best, only partially mine to do with as I saw fit. No, when I say I’m voting tomorrow to take my country back, I mean something a bit different.

I’m voting to take it back from politicians who can’t be bothered to learn the history of the country they’re pledging to protect and serve or the documents on which it was founded. From grandstanders who don’t understand what freedoms were granted to us under the Constitution, much less the reasons why those particular freedoms needed to be explicitly laid out. From those who are so greedy for power over the rest of us that they can’t comprehend how they too are protected by the status quo.

I’m voting to take it back from the corporations that have bought their way into our political process. From those who are required, under threat from shareholders, to try to steer that process toward short-term gains for them rather than toward long-term security and prosperity for us all. From those who violate the trust and values of their employees and customers. From those who think their ability to coddle their corporate buddies is more important than living up to the public trust they’ve been granted as utilities. From those who aren’t competent to manage changes in our economy without government handouts and anti-competitive legislation.

I’m voting to take it back from the rich who are constantly whining that they won’t make us more jobs unless we give them all that they ask for, despite the fact that they simply have very little control over the process. From those clueless enough that they can’t handle additional investment capital without creating a market bubble. From those who are sniveling that they can’t make ends meet if they have to pay for the benefits they’ve been given. From those who think that being willing to game the system to reward their own selfishness is a virtue that entitles them to a louder voice in our collective political process.

I’m voting to take it back from the ethical weaklings, whose own moral decision-making process is so out of their control that they want someone to control mine, too. From those who think laws will keep them from having the sex they already need to hide to stay in power. From those who manage their own relationships so poorly that they feel threatened by whom I and mine love and desire. From those who can’t be bothered to figure out how to actually achieve the ends they claim to want. From those who value a scrap of tissue with rather poor chances over a human being in need.

I’m voting to take it back from a media that’s inane and controlled by corporate interests. From those who think there is no inherent fairness to truth if truth favors one side of an argument. From those more interested in repeating a story than discovering what the story actually is. From those more interested in circuses than bread, much less meat. From those who treat a tiny minority as a major constituency. From those who rolled over and showed their bellies and still consider themselves guard dogs.

I’m voting to take it back from the “patriots” who advocate tearing our country apart because they lost an election. From those who want to secede. From those who think guns are okay at political events but signs on sticks aren’t. From those who encourage the disgruntled to be “armed and dangerous.” From those so scared of one amendment that they want to use another against it. From those who would decide who is a “real” citizen based on their own criteria.

I’m voting to take it back from the people who despise the job they’re applying to do. From those who want to do nothing more than keep anything from being done. From those who are proud of their lack of accomplishments. From those who, no matter what kind of crises we face, are determined to make “Government is the problem, not the solution” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m voting to take it back from the bought-and-paid-for. From those who are more concerned about those who pay for their advertising than for those who voted for them. From those who help the powerful victimize the individual. From those who shamelessly defend the indefensible.

I’m voting to take it back from the liars. From those who repeat the same lies over and over, not knowing or not caring what they’re saying as long as it suits their ends. From those who deflect responsibility for their allies’ scandals and their own behavior. From those who think truth is a matter of opinion. From those who deny expertise when it doesn’t tell them what they want to hear.

I’m voting to take it back from the sheer crazies. From the 2%-ers. From the conspiracy theorists. From those calling for the start of the apocalypse. From those who would normally be given the side-eye but are somehow being treated as though they had some kind of valuable input. From those who waste our time when we could be accomplishing something.

Tomorrow, I’m voting to take my country back from a movement that’s been in place for most of my lifetime. This movement has tried, and largely succeeded, in reversing the liberal policies that brought our country some of our most prosperous decades. It has fought tooth and nail against the progress we’ve made in treating all our citizens as human beings. I don’t intend to let it get any further. I intend to stop it now.

Won’t you join me in taking this country back for all of us?