Archive for the ‘Culture Shift’ Category

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Why We Shouldn’t Stop Rev. Jones’ Quran Burning Party

09.08.10

Rising from the still-smoldering debate over the legitimacy of the Park51 community center is the Rev. Terry Jones’ proposed “Burn A Quran Day,” scheduled for this Saturday, September 11th.  Just like the name implies, from six to nine in the evening, people will gather to set copies of the Islamic holy text ablaze to show their opposition to the faith held by the radicals who attacked New York City nine years ago.

Jones’ plans have been met with considerable opposition of their own by just about everyone in the State Department and even from the military — General Petraeus warned that this very act could harm our efforts to control Afghanistan, even endangering our troops.

This hasn’t deterred Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center church.

Jones, who has about 50 followers, gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his small church declaring “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Quran-burning scheme attracted wider attention… The Quran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.

Religious freedom sure is an odd thing, isn’t it?  People want it when it suits them, but want ways around it when it doesn’t.  It’s part of the freedom’s brilliance and why it’s so vital to our Constitution.  Just like the Muslims have the right to build their mosque near Ground Zero, Jones and his own crew radicals have the right to burn some books.  Freedom of expression, of speech, of religion, however you want to slice it: they have the right to do this.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it an effective, worthwhile use of time.  Combating extremism with more extremism isn’t going to work.  Not to get all squishy, but you can’t beat hate with more hate.  You can’t beat ignorance with more ignorance.  You beat brutality with civility.  You overcome oppression with freedom.  You trump prejudice with acceptance.

What people don’t want to realize is that conflating all Muslims into radical terrorists is the same fallacy as Muslims condemning all Americans as infidels.  So, by blaming the entire religion of Islam for the terror attacks, Rev. Jones and his followers are responding to the mentality with which they disagree by adopting that exact mentality themselves. There’s very little in the way of logic going on here — it’s simply an “I’m right, they’re wrong” line of thinking.  No rationality required.

Another paradox is that these 50-odd people and their inflammatory plans for Saturday really could’ve just come and gone without much notice from anyone, except the media exploded this thing to the point where all levels of government voiced their opinions, it’s all over the news, all over the blogosphere.  It’s everywhere.  We could’ve all ignored Jones and his followers’ sad, unfortunate response to tragedy and they would’ve faded away without much of a whimper — no television stories for people abroad to see and misinterpret.

Although, that’s never going to happen — nor should it necessarily.  It is a news story, after all.  But does it require the amount of national exposure that it’s receiving?

People wonder why others hate Americans and then when snippets of news of Americans burning Qurans flood the airwaves, it’s not hard to see why they might be too fond of us.  Because just like how we only catch glimpses and read certain stories about what kind of people they are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and Palestine, you have to figure that people in those countries only catch glimpses and read certain stories about us, too.  And who knows what is being passed off to them as representative of Americans as a whole. Odds are that if there’s video footage of a bunch of Floridians burning Qurans gleefully, claiming that the entire faith is of the devil (remind you much of Ahmadinejad calling America the “Great Satan” at all?), that will make it over to those Islamic nations with which we’re firmly entrenched overseas.

While we can’t stop the Dove World Outreach Center from their Quran-burning plans, we can do our part to embrace our diversity and focus on remaining rational in the face of these highly emotional times.  Let them burn their books.  Because when has that ever changed people’s minds?  The beliefs aren’t in the books; they’re in people’s minds and hearts. They won’t accomplish anything good with their pointless, crude event, so why give them a soapbox any bigger than they already have?  Our efforts are best served doing something else, something productive, something positive.

If we continue to do more and more things that promote tolerance, acceptance, rationality, and – ultimately – positivity, we can outshine any blaze by the loud, radical outliers.

Image courtesy of Sydney Lea Steele — All Rights Reserved.  And no, it has nothing to do with this post other than it makes me happy.  And we need more of that in the world, right now especially.

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5 Ways to Deal with Facebook’s Privacy Policy

05.13.10

Many people are up in arms about the new Facebook privacy policy that defaults to making your information public.  This puts the onus on you to go through the dozens of options and select for yourself the level of transparency you want for your different personal info.

I do not understand this public outcry.  Look: social media is about transparency.  It’s about putting it all out there, letting it hang loose, and saying, “Hey, this is me.  Deal with it.”  It stems from a push against traditional media and advertising that forced people to fit into some sort of predetermined box of expectations.  This move toward transparency is liberating, not stifling. And if you don’t want to participate, no one is forcing you to post potentially embarrassing photos from last night’s party on your Facebook Wall when you know full well that you’re friends with your boss and other colleagues from work.

It comes down again – like so many current hot-button topics in American life right now – to personal responsibility.  We’ve become a society that is unhappy with virtually everything yet rarely accepting the fact that we are to blame for, if not the issue itself, then with not doing something about it ourselves to fix it.  Don’t like the idea of the world reading your status updates or knowing your birth date?  You have a few options:

  1. Spend fifteen laborious minutes that you’d otherwise be spending playing FarmVille and go through your privacy controls and make them fit your comfort level;
  2. Don’t put up anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want the world to see;
  3. Bitch and moan;
  4. Design your own non-evil Facebook clone called Diaspora*.

Or just pull the plug altogether and go off the grid, John Connor-T3-style — which I don’t recommend unless you want to be one of those people who complain about “those damned kids and their Internets” and get laughed at by those damned kids for being completely out of touch.

I’d say choose either #1 or #2.  If you’re programmingly inclined, give those guys at Diaspora* a call and get on that bandwagon.  Please, though, stop with #3.  Seriously.  You give far more sensitive information to companies around the world every single day and there’s no outrage.  You give your phone number to the local grocery store to get those in-store discounts.  You punch in your secret code every time you grab money out of your ATM.  You hand over your Social Security Number to apply for a credit card so you can afford to buy things from Amazon.com which stores all of your billing and shipping information and keeps track of all of your recent purchases so that it can suggest to you what you might end up liking to buy on your next visit.  And let’s not even start with Google’s GMail…

The truth is, you want people to comment with an “LOL!!!OMG!!” next to that photo of yourself doing a kegstand on Spring Break.  You want people to flood your Wall with “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!” on your special day and send you little digital gifts.  You want people to chime in on your latest genius observation of the world that you posted as your status update.  That’s the whole point of Facebook and social media in general.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t even have an account; you’d just have a big tackboard at home on your wall where you’d keep all of these gems to yourself for your own amusement.

And it looks like that’s option number five.

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Same-Sex Marriages Recognized in Maryland

02.24.10

Gansler: Effective immediately Md. recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere

UPDATE 2:50 P.M.: Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) says effective immediately the state recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and state agencies should begin giving gay couples the rights they were awarded elsewhere.

UPDATE 10:25 a.m.: Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who requested the opinion from Gansler, said in a brief interview that he was unsure whether there would be any immediate ramifications.

“It’s reaffirmation of what we thought, that Maryland can recognize gay marriage,” Madaleno said.

He said that changes in state policy could result from a court ruling, legislation or administrative action.

Original Post: A long-awaited opinion by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) out Wednesday morning concludes that the state’s highest court is likely to rule at some point that same-sex marriages performed in other states are valid in Maryland.

The policy implications of the opinion are not immediately clear, and Gansler says in a one-page summary that his conclusion “is not free from doubt.”

Gansler’s opinion concludes “that the Court of Appeals, when it ultimately rules on this question in a particular case, will likely apply the principle that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration is valid in Maryland. The opinion reaches this conclusion in light of the evolving state policy, reflected in anti-discrimination laws, domestic partner laws and other legislation, that respects and supports committed intimate same-sex relationships.”

Maryland law currently limits marriages performed in the state to opposite-sex couples.

By John Wagner  |  February 24, 2010; 9:06 AM ET
Categories:  John Wagner

This is great news. Now any couple legally married in any of the other five states that have legalized gay marriage will be recognized as a married couple in Maryland. This is an interested step forward – could more states go this route than actually pushing forward with legalizing themselves?

Posted via web from Agree to Disagree

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Another Misleading Poll: 12% Don’t Believe Obama Cut Taxes

02.17.10

I heard about this statistic on my drive into work this morning listening to NPR’s Morning Edition, according to a CBS News poll:

12% of Americans don’t believe that the Obama Administration cut taxes last year.

Once I got to work, I did some more research on this because I found it to be extremely troubling.  The data was in fact from a CBS News/New York Times poll, the news article of which is entitled: “Poll Reveals Most Americans Don’t Know They Got a Tax Cut.” Although, if you notice, in the first paragraph of the article, there is a link to the actual poll article (I thought I was already on the page of the poll?), so I click through and I’m greeted with this headline: “Poll: Who Are the Tea Partiers?”

Well, now this changes everything.  A poll of those in the Tea Party will provide much different results than that of all Americans.  And that’s exactly what it is: “44 percent of Tea Party supporters believe Mr. Obama has already raised taxes this past year, while most Americans think the president has kept them the same.” This poll was designed to figure out which people comprise the Tea Party and what they believe, which means that the figure of only 12 percent represents of the Tea Partiers who were polled, not the general population.  This makes much more sense and is also rather relieving.  To think that nearly 90% of all Americans were so completely factually incorrect and in the dark was too much for me to accept.

Although it shows, once again, just how polls can be extremely misleading.  It’s even worse in this case because CBS News made a huge error in stating that this poll of Tea Partiers is indicative of the feelings of all Americans. Perhaps if the Tea Party were a huge section of the population this could be a more reasonable supposition, but according to their own poll, only 18 percent of Americans self-identify with the Tea Party.

As our culture keeps shifting toward placing importance and validity on opinions over facts – going so far as to even discredit facts simply because one doesn’t want to believe the truth (see: climate change, evolution, the definition of torture) – and news organizations more interested in juicy headlines than reporting the new properly, more and more polls will be given way too much weight to their findings.  Remember to always take poll and survey results with very fine grains of salt or investigate them enough to really put the numbers and data in the proper perspective.  At the end of the day, they only gauge public opinion, which doesn’t always reflect reality.

We are all entitled to our own opinions, but like Sen. Al Franken said, “we’re not entitled to our own facts.”

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A Simple Case for Humanity

01.30.10

Too often the case against gay marriage toes the religious or revisionist-history lines, people arguing that marriage has always been between one man and one woman since the beginning of time and that homosexuality is a sin.  People reduce gay marriage to terms of grotesque creatures, not loving human beings and breaking nature’s law.  People argue against it with broad strokes, sweeping generalizations, they point to old texts and hide behind their prejudices, their fears, their ignorance.  It’s much easier this way.  All too often the reality of the effects of the gay marriage ban get ignored.

This is the reality, in real terms, happening to real people, dealing with the greatest of human trials: grave illness.

Bryan Dickenson has been with his partner, Bill Sugg, for 30 years.  But their union is not recognized in any shape or form by any government entity because they live in Texas, where even civil unions and domestic partnerships are illegal.  This means that when Sugg had a stroke and has been in the hospital undergoing extensive rehabilitation since, Dickenson was not allowed sick leave to care for his partner by his employer AT&T, who would extend those benefits to a married, heterosexual couple.  Instead, Dickenson has to use his vacation time in order to go care for his companion, his lover, his spouse in the hospital and is worried that once he runs out, if he continues to ask for time off work to be with Sugg, he would be fired.

This is wrong.  Plain and simple.  Not that AT&T is necessarily to blame – the law is the law, and Dickenson and Sugg have no union to speak of as far as the state of Texas or the United States of America are concerned.  Legally, they’re merely roommates, friends at best.

But they aren’t just roommates or friends.  They are family.  If Texas legalized gay marriage, this wouldn’t be an issue.  As it stands, AT&T has no legal reason to allow Dickenson to use his sick leave.  This type of cruelty must stop.

I know that I haven’t written much about the trial against Prop 8 here in California – not having any legal education, I would merely be reposting what others already are saying in a much more informed way – so I am eagerly awaiting the potential ramifications if Prop 8 is indeed found to be unconstitutional and discriminatory.  I hope that it is, and that the case is eventually brought to the Supreme Court, whose ruling would apply to all gay marriage bans across the country, including this one in Texas.

Of course, by that time, it may be too late for Dickenson and Sugg, and the countless more gay couples with stories like theirs.  Banning gay marriage does nothing to help heterosexual marriage; it only seeks to harm homosexuals.  It’s cruel, it’s inhumane, and it’s heartless.

Here’s hoping Bill Suggs has a speedy recovery and that Bryan Dickenson can be there every step of the way.

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Challenging Prop 8 in Federal Court, Take One

01.11.10

gay marriage

Today marked the beginning of the federal trial contesting the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed marriage for homosexual couples.  Below is the opening statement from attorney Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of the couple challenging the proposition.  I just don’t see how any rebuttal holds any water whatsoever.  It’s a case for equal rights.  It’s as American an issue as it gets.  And while this will only be the first in many federal trials and appeals that most likely will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s a step forward.  Unless you’re blinded by religious fervor, the case for legalizing gay marriage is cut and dried.

Ted Olson:

This case is about marriage and equality.  Plaintiffs are being denied both the right to marry, and the right to equality under the law.

The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly described the right to marriage as “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men;” a “basic civil right;” a component of the constitutional rights to liberty, privacy, association, and intimate choice; an expression of emotional support and public commitment; the exercise of spiritual unity; and a fulfillment of one’s self.

In short, in the words of the highest court in the land, marriage is “the most important relation in life,” and “of fundamental importance for all individuals.”

As the witnesses in this case will elaborate, marriage is central to life in America.  It promotes mental, physical and emotional health and the economic strength and stability of those who enter into a marital union.  It is the building block of family, neighborhood and community.  The California Supreme Court has declared that the right to marry is of “central importance to an individual’s opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society.”

Proposition 8 ended the dream of marriage, the most important relation in life, for the plaintiffs and hundreds of thousands of Californians.

___________________________________

In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court concluded that under this State’s Constitution, the right to marry a person of one’s choice extended to all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, and was available equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

In November of 2008, the voters of California responded to that decision with Proposition 8, amending the State’s Constitution and, on the basis of sexual orientation and sex, slammed the door to marriage to gay and lesbian citizens.

The plaintiffs are two loving couples, American citizens, entitled to equality and due process under our Constitution.  They are in deeply committed, intimate, and longstanding relationships.  They want to marry the person they love; to enter into that “most important relation in life”; to share their dreams with their partners; and to confer the many benefits of marriage on their families.

But Proposition 8 singled out gay men and lesbians as a class, swept away their right to marry, pronounced them unequal, and declared their relationships inferior and less-deserving of respect and dignity.

In the words of the California Supreme Court, eliminating the right of individuals to marry a same-sex partner relegated those individuals to “second class” citizenship, and told them, their families and their neighbors that their love and desire for a sanctioned marital partnership was not worthy of recognition.

During this trial, Plaintiffs and leading experts in the fields of history, psychology, economics and political science will prove three fundamental points:

First – Marriage is vitally important in American society.

Second – By denying gay men and lesbians the right to marry, Proposition 8 works a grievous harm on the plaintiffs and other gay men and lesbians throughout California, and adds yet another chapter to the long history of discrimination they have suffered.

Third – Proposition 8 perpetrates this irreparable, immeasurable, discriminatory harm for no good reason.

I

MARRIAGE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATION IN LIFE

Plaintiffs will present evidence from leading experts, representing some of the finest academic institutions in this country and the world, who will reinforce what the highest courts of California and the United States have already repeatedly said about the importance of marriage in society and the significant benefits that marriage confers on couples, their families, and the community.  Proponents cannot dispute these basic facts.

While marriage has been a revered and important institution throughout the history of this country and this State, it has also evolved to shed irrational, unwarranted, and discriminatory restrictions and limitations that reflected the biases, prejudices or stereotypes of the past.  Marriage laws that disadvantaged women or people of disfavored race or ethnicity have been eliminated.  These changes have come from legislatures and the courts.  Far from harming the institution of marriage, the elimination of discriminatory restrictions on marriage has strengthened the institution, its vitality, and its importance in American society today.

II

PROPOSITION 8 HARMS GAY AND LESBIAN INDIVIDUALS, THEIR CHILDREN AND THEIR COMMUNITIES

Proposition 8 had a simple, straightforward, and devastating purpose:  to withdraw from gay and lesbian people like the Plaintiffs their previously recognized constitutional right to marry.  The official title of the ballot measure said it all: “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.”

Proponents of Proposition 8 have insisted that the persons they would foreclose from the institution of marriage have suffered no harm because they have been given the opportunity to form something called a “domestic partnership.”  That is a cruel fiction.

Plaintiffs will describe the harm that they suffer every day because they are prevented from marrying.  And they will describe how demeaning and insulting it can be to be told that they remain free to marry—as long, that is, that they marry someone of the opposite sex instead of the person they love, the companion of their choice.

And the evidence will demonstrate that relegating gay men and lesbians to “domestic partnerships” is to inflict upon them badges of inferiority that forever stigmatize their loving relationships as different, separate, unequal, and less worthy—something akin to a commercial venture, not a loving union.  Indeed, the proponents of Proposition 8 acknowledge that domestic partnerships are not the same as traditional marriage.  Proponents proudly proclaim that, under Proposition 8, the “unique and highly favorable imprimatur” of marriage is reserved to “opposite-sex unions.”

This government-sponsored societal stigmatization causes grave psychological and physical harms to gay men and lesbians and their families.  It increases the likelihood that they will experience discrimination and harassment; it causes immeasurable harm.

Sadly, Proposition 8 is only the most recent chapter in our nation’s long and painful history of discrimination and prejudice against gay and lesbian individuals.  They have been classified as degenerates, targeted by police, harassed in the workplace, censored, demonized, fired from government jobs, excluded from our armed forces, arrested for their private sexual conduct, and repeatedly stripped of their fundamental rights by popular vote.  Although progress has occurred, the roots of discrimination run deep and its impacts spread wide.

III

PROPOSITION 8 HARMS GAY AND LESBIAN INDIVIDUALS FOR NO GOOD REASON

Proposition 8 singles out gay and lesbian individuals alone for exclusion from the institution of marriage.  In California, even convicted murderers and child abusers enjoy the freedom to marry.  As the evidence clearly establishes, this discrimination has been placed in California’s Constitution even though its victims are, and always have been, fully contributing members of our society.   And it excludes gay men and lesbians from the institution of marriage even though the characteristic for which they are targeted—their sexual orientation—like race, sex, and ethnicity, is a fundamental aspect of their identity that they did not choose for themselves and, as the California Supreme Court has found, is highly resistant to change.

The State of California has offered no justification for its decision to eliminate the fundamental right to marry for a segment of its citizens.  And its chief legal officer, the Attorney General, admits that none exists.  And the evidence will show that each of the rationalizations for Proposition 8 invented by its Proponents is wholly without merit.

“Procreation” cannot be a justification inasmuch as Proposition 8 permits marriage by persons who are unable or have no intention of producing children.   Indeed, the institution of civil marriage in this country has never been tied to the procreative capacity of those seeking to marry.

Proposition 8 has no rational relation to the parenting of children because same-sex couples and opposite sex couples are equally permitted to have and raise children in California.  The evidence in this case will demonstrate that gay and lesbian individuals are every bit as capable of being loving, caring and effective parents as heterosexuals.  The quality of a parent is not measured by gender but the content of the heart.

And, as for protecting “traditional marriage,” our opponents “don’t know” how permitting gay and lesbian couples to marry would harm the marriages of opposite-sex couples.  Needless to say, guesswork and speculation is not an adequate justification for discrimination.  In fact, the evidence will demonstrate affirmatively that permitting loving, deeply committed, couples like the plaintiffs to marry has no impact whatsoever upon the marital relationships of others.

When voters in California were urged to enact Proposition 8, they were encouraged to believe that unless Proposition 8 were enacted, anti-gay religious institutions would be closed, gay activists would overwhelm the will of the heterosexual majority, and that children would be taught that it was “acceptable” for gay men and lesbians to marry.  Parents were urged to “protect our children” from that presumably pernicious viewpoint.

At the end of the day, whatever the motives of its Proponents, Proposition 8 enacted an utterly irrational regime to govern entitlement to the fundamental right to marry, consisting now of at least four separate and distinct classes of citizens:  (1) heterosexuals, including convicted criminals, substance abusers and sex offenders, who are permitted to marry; (2) 18,000 same-sex couples married between June and November of 2008,  who are allowed to remain married but may not remarry if they divorce or are widowed; (3) thousands of same-sex couples who were married in certain other states prior to November of 2008, whose marriages are now valid and recognized in California; and, finally (4) all other same-sex couples in California who, like the Plaintiffs, are prohibited from marrying by Proposition 8.

There is no rational justification for this unique pattern of discrimination.  Proposition 8, and the irrational pattern of California’s regulation of marriage which it promulgates, advances no legitimate state interest.  All it does is label gay and lesbian persons as different, inferior, unequal, and disfavored.  And it brands their relationships as not the same, and less-approved than those enjoyed by opposite sex couples.  It stigmatizes gays and lesbians, classifies them as outcasts, and causes needless pain, isolation and humiliation.

It is unconstitutional.

Photo courtesy stevebott.

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D.C. Catholic Church Backs Down

12.18.09

The Washington, D.C. Archdiocese has its bluff called.

When will opponents to same sex marriage finally realize that it affects no one other than those couples who wish to bind their love just like some heterosexuals choose to do?  It doesn’t impede upon religion or cause some slippery slope into depraved pedophilia or other nonsense that some will have you believe.

It’s about love and equality.  That’s all.  Plain and simple.