Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon screws over gay publishers -- how to get even.

Amazon has created a firestorm with its treatment of books with a gay theme to them. Publishers of gay-themed novels and romances noticed that their books had vanished from Amazon’s ranking system.

Publisher Mark Probst contacted vendor services (a nightmare in itself) and asked them about this. The reply was shocking. He was told: “In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude ‘adult’ material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adults materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

Please note that this is the typical, evasive answer that one gets from Amazon. The truth was that much of the material that was vanishing from listings wasn’t “adult” material except in the sense that it contained big words. But if by “adult” they mean “erotic” or “sexual,” then the material was neither. Probst also noticed “there is a multitude of ‘adult’ literature out there that is still being ranked—Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive.”

When this all got some negative publicity for Amazon they changed their story. I’m told that some vendors who deal with Amazon will get contradictory stories from Amazon about specific policies on the same day. Others complain that dealing with Amazon is like dealing with the Kremlin, except they aren’t as friendly or transparent in what they do. Publisher’s Weekly, the big boy in the publishing news world, says “titles like James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain are among the titles who have lost their ranking.”

By the time you finish reading this you will know how to get the cheapest books possible using Amazon but without actually buying from Amazon. Amazon doesn’t want you to know this. Amazon makes it as hard as possible for you to do this. But here is how you can purchase the same book at below Amazon prices (which aren’t as good as people think they are).

I’m going to tell you how to get the most out of Amazon without ever buying from them. Amazon is not just a book vendor but also an outlet for “shops," which are book vendors. I suspect the only reason they allow other vendors on their site is to avoid any anti-trust problems. But, to steer customers to their usually higher priced books, they make the links to these other vendors rather small and more difficult to see.

When you search for a title on Amazon you will see huge type with their “discount” price and links to order directly from them. If you do that then you will pay more for the book than you need to do. For example, here is one book I just looked up. I get large type promoting the link to buy from Amazon. (See below.)

You will notice they sell the book for $14.40. In smaller type, and a bit farther down the page you will see this link:
This second link is easy to miss. It’s designed that way intentionally. If you want a new copy of the book then click on the word new. This will open up a page of vendors selling the book. The list is usually ranked according to price with the cheapest vendors at the top. But again Amazon is deceitful here as they usually list themselves first, even if they are the more expensive vendor. Just look down the page a bit further and you will see numerous vendors with cheaper prices than Amazon; rarely will this not be the case. Amazon is almost never the cheapest source of books on Amazon, but most people don’t know this. In the case of this book, going that extra step, about two seconds of your time, just save you an extra $3.

You will now have an array of vendors selling you the same book. You want a good price but you want decent service as well. Don’t fall for the trick of automatically buying a book because it is one cent cheaper, or even $1 cheaper. Check out the vendor rating. That is easy to do. You will see the name of the bookstore along with their rating. Here is an example.
My advice is to avoid any vendor with a rating lower than 98%. For instance, this vendor, whom I know nothing about, has a rating of 88%. That means 88% of their customers were happy and 12% had some problem. Twelve percent doesn’t sound like much, but that means one out of about every eight customers had a complaint with their order. They could all be bitchy customers, but not likely. I figure that a small percentage of people just like to bitch and I figure the 2% margin takes that into account. Still don’t buy the book yet. When you order from this vendor he is likely to lose the bulk of his profit to Amazon.

Vendors take all the risks. They buy the books and are required to ship within two days. Amazon has no such policy for itself, only for the vendors. A typical bookstore discount is 40% off list price. Amazon will take about a 20% commission on the book from the vendor. But the vendor has to replace books lost by the post office and take responsibility for any problems, even problems within Amazon’s own system.

Let us say that you accidentally click twice to order a book. You think you ordered once but Amazon sees it as two orders. The vendor is obliged to ship within two days. His only recourse is to send you a message. But Amazon forbids you and the vendor from directly dealing with each other. He must go through Amazon to reach you. The vendor sends a message but has no idea if you received it. Often these messages get lost of other generic messages from Amazon. The vendor is required to ship the second book or be in violation of policy and might lose his shop listing if he doesn't. You get two books and you are pissed off. The vendor has to accept the returned book and credit your account. All the postage, etc., are his losses. Amazon lost nothing. I would guess that it is typical for Amazon to make more money on the sale from a vendor than the typical vendor makes from the same sale.

The way to order is to contact the vendor. But, as I said, Amazon blocks their contact details. There is a way around this and it only takes a couple of clicks. Look at that rating again, you will see that it is actually a link. Click on the rating itself and that will take you to a vendor’s page. On the bottom right of the page you will see Vendor Help:
Now click on “Contact this seller.” You will now sign into your account and you get a screen that will allow you to send a comment to the vendor. You will be stopped from putting in a phone number or your direct contact details so don’t try. Ask any question or tell the vendor you wanted to ask some questions and could he contact you. At this point your email goes into the Amazon system. But when the vendor receives this query it will have your email address on it. He can now contact you directly and probably will.

Often, with the name of the vendor and their city, you can Google them and find their contact details on line. That is even faster and far more reliable than trusting Amazon to get your email to them. So I’d first try an on-line search for the vendor. Only if that doesn’t work should you email via Amazon. The more you leave Amazon out of the process, the more likely it is that things will go smoothly.

If the vendor contacts you directly, and you reached them through Amazon, ask if he will take a direct order from you by email or will call you for a credit card order. Ask about shipping costs and options. You may find the shipping is cheaper as Amazon overcharges grossly in some areas (this is true if you order more than one item from a vendor through Amazon and even worse if you live in Canada or overseas). Tell the vendor you want to order directly from them only and not through Amazon. Most vendors can take your order and process it. You will get faster service and you can pick the kind of shipping you want—options you don’t get through Amazon.

I may browse Amazon for titles and information but I have stopped ordering from them and ordering through them. Not long ago I needed some software. I found a vendor on Amazon offering the same item cheaper than Amazon. I Googled them and found their contact details. I then placed the order directly with the vendor. This was faster actually. Vendors tell me that Amazon sometimes has glitches where orders can be sat on for hours, if not a day or two. Suddenly the problem resolves and they get a bunch of orders. I also got the option of downloading the software directly, so no shipping was required. And I liked knowing that the vendor got the full profit.

If you order directly you know that the order was received and that it is being filled. You can also ask vendors if they can offer a better price. Remember that since they aren’t paying a 20% commission to Amazon they may be more inclined to grant your request. You will get cheaper books this way. You will get better service this way. You are in direct contact with the people supplying the book and can find options that Amazon won’t offer you. I also think it is important to help these individual book sellers, they are what keeps the market competitive and competitive markets are better for consumers. Do yourself a favor and start buying from the vendors directly. It’s a win-win situation for you and for them. Sure, Amazon won’t like it. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Notice: This post is hereby released from all copyright claims. Reprint it if you want, anywhere you want. You are not required to even link to the site on which it originally appeared. Spread it around freely.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Labour Party Gets Gay Shock

A recent poll in Great Britain shows a monumental shift politically, if not for the nation as a whole, at least for the Conservative Party. In the poll 1,800 gay men and lesbians were asked whether they would support Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. For the first time the plurality of gay men and lesbians have said they intend to vote for the Conservatives.

The poll showed that 30% were behind the Conservatives while Liberal Democrats and Labour tied at 18%. Those saying they would not vote at all were 17% and 9% said they are unsure. Labour has always considered the gay vote a safe bet. The marks a big shift for gay voters in England. In 2005 they went for Labour with 33% while the Conservatives attracted 21%.

I think there are two reasons for the shift. One is that the Labour governments of Blair and Brown have been openly authoritarian. As bad as the tendency toward a police state has been in the United States it is far worse in the UK. Secondly, the Conservative Party has not been gay adverse, like Republicans in the United States. England does not have a significant number of fundamentalist nutters such as infest the GOP here.

Tory leader David Cameron told gay voters: “I want the Conservative Party to be an open and inclusive Party which speaks for everyone in Britain regardless of their race, background or sexuality…” It is not likely that any major Republican is yet willing to say even that. Tory party chairman, Francis Maude, says that the party regrets their previous positions.
The Conservatives have also said they want more gay candidates to stand for office. Nick Boles, director of the Policy Exchange, and a former Tory Parliamentary candidate said: “There doesn’t need to be much intervention to ensure there is a good selection of openly gay people in winnable seats. I have always been openly gay. I hope to get on the list and to get a seat.”

If you want to see the difference between the British Conservatives and American Republicans below is a video of the Conservative Party Humanist Association being held at the Conservative Party national conference. The speaker, as you will see, is Richard Dawkins.

When Liberty Kisses Justice: Equality

The Iowa Supreme Court set the cat amongst the pigeons with their ruling on whether or not the state can ban gay marriage, based on the state’s constitution. Their decision, I believe, is the correct one. Iowa’s state constitution has an equal protection clause. One of the principles of American justice, a principle that religion-besotted conservatives have intentionally swept under the rug, is that legislation is not the supreme law of the land. Above legislation are the constitutions of the various states. It ought to be that way at the federal level as well, but too often isn’t, hence runaway big government.

The god-botherers out there scream when a court rules as this one did. They exhibit their own ignorance by bleating that the justices are legislating from the bench. But what these justices are required to do is judge whether or not legislative law is consistent with, or in violation of, constitutional law. That is their job! They are not usurping powers but judiciously engaging in their primary job.

Members of God’s Own Party (GOP) in Iowa pushed through legislation that explicitly banned gays from having the same marriage rights as straights. The Iowa constitution promises equality of rights before the law. There are exceptions to the concept of equality of rights (more than I think acceptable). With the legislation saying one thing, and the constitution promising another, the Supreme Court is then brought in to resolve the conflict. This means they have to decide, based on the evidence presented to them, whether denying gay couples equal protection qualifies as a legitimate exception or not.

What the Iowa court did, in this case, was issue a very conservative ruling. They upheld constitutional law, and some of the best constitutional law, that Americans have. The radicals in the courtroom were the plethora of religiously-inspired special interest groups demanding that constitutional principles be ignored because they imagine that some supernatural being has demanded that one class of people be treated badly. The Justices were respecting the law, not making law. They said:
The Iowa Constitution is the cornerstone of governing in Iowa. Like the United States Constitution, the Iowa Constitution creates a remarkable blueprint for government. It establishes three separate, but equal, branches of government and delineates the limited roles and powers of each branch. See Iowa Const. art. III, § 1 (“The powers of the government of Iowa shall be divided into three separate departments—the legislative, the executive, and the judicial: and no person charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any function appertaining to either of the others, except in cases hereinafter expressly directed or permitted.”). Among other basic principles essential to our form of government, the constitution defines certain individual rights upon which the government may not infringe. See Iowa Const. art. I (“Bill of Rights”). Equal protection of the law is one of the guaranteed rights. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 6. All these rights and principles are declared and undeniably accepted as the supreme law of this state, against which no contrary law can stand. See Iowa Const. art. XII, § 1 (“This constitution shall be the supreme law of the state, and any law inconsistent therewith, shall be void.”).
The ruling noted that: “This court, consistent with its role to interpret the law and resolve disputes, now has the responsibility to determine if the law enacted by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch violates Iowa's Constitution.” Conservatives, who are wailing in distress over the court’s action, ought to remember that the prime cause of over-reaching government today is the result of Courts not checking legislators and executives when their actions violate Constitutional guarantees.

The justices also noted that public opinion matters not one bit. “A statute inconsistent with the Iowa Constitution must be declared void, even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion.” Jefferson addressed this when he said: “What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals.” Popular prejudice, even if widespread, in itself, is not sufficient cause for making a minority less than equal. The Iowa justices wrote that “the very purpose of limiting the power of the elected branches of government by constitutional provisions like the Equal Protection Clause is [according to Justice Robert Jackson] ‘to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.’”

The idea that law should reflect popular viewpoints, which is implicit in the conservative view, and explicit in many cases, is not even a conservative viewpoint. What today’s conservatives are promoting is a Left-populist view held by some of the more Left-wing justices of the past. During the Progressive Era, the political Left was stymied when they wished to push through legislation that inhibited property rights, freedom of trade, freedom of contract, and such similar “economic” issues. Such laws, while popular with the public, violated various constitutional provisions as they had been historically interpreted. This became most apparent in the early days of the New Deal, where Roosevelt’s anger with the Court overturning popular legislation reached a crescendo with FDR threatening to push through a change on the number of justices on the bench so he could pack the court with fellow “progressives.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the Left-leaning justices pushed a new theory of Constitutional interpretation. He said that Constitutional provisions should be interpreted in light of “the felt necessities of the times, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed and unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow men.” He said, “What proximate test of excellence can be found except correspondence with the actual equilibrium of force in the community—that is, conformity to the wishes of the dominant power? Of course, such conformity may lead to destruction, and it is desirable that the dominant power should be wise. But wise or not, the proximate test of a good government is that the dominant power has its way.”

Holmes explicitly stated that constitutional principles of the Founders should be ignored. He claimed: “Everyone instinctively recognizes that in these days the justification of a law for us cannot be found in the fact that our fathers always have followed it. It must be found in some help which the law brings toward reaching a social end which the governing power of the community has made up its mind that it wants.” Conservatives have adopted this left-wing view rather explicitly, at least when it comes to the equality of rights of homosexuals. Mention the gay issue and conservatives, who cling to constitutional principles on property and economics, suddenly become raving Progressives demanding that the rights of the one be subjected to the approval of the majority.

But what of the claim that the Founders did not explicitly mention the legal equality of homosexuals when they designed our Constitutional principles? Clearly that is true. After all it was a bit over two centuries ago. What the Founders intended to do was set out some basic principles; principles which they knew were not being applied consistently, across the board. For instance, while some Founders were quite opposed to the issue of slavery, they did not write a Constitution explicitly forbidding it. Such a Constitution could not be ratified, given the prejudices of the Southern states on the matter.

The Founders were aware that the expansion of liberty, and equality before the law, was a long-term project, perhaps an unending one. Future generations would each fight their own battles for the extension of these libertarian principles. At no point did the Founders attempt to enumerate all the rights held by the individual. As James Wilson said, at the time, “Who would be bold enough to undertake to enumerate all the rights of the people?” The Ninth Amendment quite explicitly acknowledges that such an enumeration is not possible and that the failure to list specific rights in the Bill of Rights does not mean the right does not exist. What the Founders gave us was a list of precise, enumerated powers of government and broad, unspecified concepts of individual rights.

Each generation faces new questions about rights not faced by previous generations. The Founders did not believe that their list of rights was exhaustive. So they did not try to enumerate such rights. They said they were offering future generations the broad principles with which they should work when facing new controversies about individual liberty. Jefferson’s said that the “most sacred” duty of government is “to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.” That principle was enshrined in the Iowa Constitution, as it was in most state constitutions. Jefferson said our principles of government “secure to all… citizens a perfect equality of rights.”

But today, conservatives are leading a stampede to undermine the concept of equality of rights before the law. They are arguing that their religious sentiments and imaginations require the law to explicitly embrace an inequality of rights. This is precisely what Prop 8 did in California and what many other such “constitutional amendments” have been intended to do. They have radically rewritten a basic constitutional principle, that of equality of rights, and substituted for it one that demands inequality of rights. Such a revolutionary change to a founding principle is hardly conservative in any sense of the word. It is a shockingly revolutionary attempt to overturn the founding principles of the Republic.

The classical liberal views of the Founders were not static. Liberalism itself is not static, but dynamic. It is not that the foundational principles change, but that they are applied to new situations in new times. Even the Founders were captives of their own time and culture, as far-seeing as many of them were. The application of constitutional liberal principles to African-Americans was simply not something that the political culture of their day could accept. But those principles were eventually accepted, albeit it after much hardship, debate and public outrage, somewhat similar to the sort of reaction we see today as these principles are slowly being applied to gay people as well.

Hayek said that true liberalism “wants to go elsewhere, not to stand still.” By this, he meant that liberals accept change when that change is consistent with foundational principles. He warned, “one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is fear of change, a timid distrust of the new, as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence of the preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.” Hayek said that conservatives are not afraid of state power at all and thus is unconcerned “with the problems of how the powers of government should be limited” but are worried about “who wields them.” He warned that the conservative “like the socialist” “regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.”

Lord Samuel Brittan once argued that: “Many of the classical ideas of nineteenth-century liberalism [i.e. classical liberalism] did not come on the statute books until the 1960s. The battle is still far from won, as can be seen from the sentences still passed on ‘obscene publications’ or the hysterical and vindictive attitude adopted by so many authority figures towards the problem of drugs.”

The classical liberalism of the Founders is always going to move us into new territory. And when it does, there will always be conservative forces, fearful of change, finding excuses to cling to previously held, but erroneous, conclusions. The Iowa court said that their responsibility “is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.” They wrote:
The framers of the Iowa Constitution knew, as did the drafters of the United States Constitution, that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” and as our constitution “endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom” and equality
One of the great things about liberalism, properly understood, is that it doesn’t ask us to cling to the conclusions of the past, just the principles. Those principles embrace a free society, based on individual rights and one that respects the equality of rights before the law. The justices in Iowa did not overturn those principles at all. They unanimously embraced them. And for that they should be applauded.

[Note: this post only covers basic principles as I see them in regards to this case. I urge people to read the entire decision for themselves. Much of the decision discusses why the justices rejected claims that homosexuals, as a class, ought to be denied marriage rights.]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Success is sweet revenge.

Last year we reported on the injustice inflicted on college wrestlers Paul Donahoe and Kenny Jordan. Both men were thrown off the wrestling team at the University of Nebraska by a moralistic coach, Mark Manning. Their "crime" was that each had posed for nude photos for a website that specialized in male erotica.

Remember that both men were of legal age. Neither had hurt anyone. Coeds across the nation routinely pose for similar nude photos without any punishment being inflicted on them. But apparently because the coach saw this as "gay porn" a double-standard existed.

Sadly Jordan decided he was finished with wrestling. But Paul Donahoe wasn't going to let some antiquated throwback decide his future.

With the help of his former high school coach Donahoe transferred to a new school, Edinboro Universtiy and rejoined the wrestling team there. This year Donahoe is unbeaten (32-0) and is number one in the nation in his weight class.

Donahue is rightfully unapologetic. He says: "I didn't do anything illegal. I didn't hurt anyone. I don't think I did anything wrong. Who should I apologize to?"

Because Donahoe's photos were marketed to a gay audience it was perceived that he was gay. And he says one result was that he was the butt of many antigay jokes. His reply: "I'm not too concerned, They can talk about me all Hethey want, it doesn't matter. If a guy wants to be with a guy, who cares?" For the record, Donahoe is not gay.

More of Donahoe's story has come out as well. His parents divorced and finances became a major problem for him. He told the press: "I've basically been on my own since I was a freshman in high school." The wife of his high school coach, Jennifer Hall, said: "He's a great kid, but complicated. He'll do whatever it takes to survive." Donahue did the photo shoot and video because he needed the money. He was flown to LA and paid several thousand dollars for the shoot. He said, "What the heck? People do worse for money."

Donahoe criticized the double-standard at the University of Nebraska. He said:
I believe it was unfair for Nebraska to dismiss me from the team. For one, there's plenty of athletes throughout the University of Nebraska who have had DUIs and who have been in fights and are still playing. But I guess that's OK. Posing nude, I guess, is worse than someone drinking and driving and risking someone's life, in their eyes.
Fellow teammate Gregor Gillespie told the Boston Herald that when Donahoe first transferred a lot of people were speaking badly about him. "Right now, he's proving people wrong. He's had to switch coaches, schools, friends, that had to be a pain. He's heard people yelling stuff like 'homo,' but none of that bothers him, he just brushes that all off."

Donahoe says that lots of people left him encouraging words on his Myspace page. A year later he's number one in the nation. Yes, success is the sweetest revenge.

Westboro hate group met by silence.

The fanatics from the Westboro Baptist Church took their hate message to Lexington, MA. They showed up at the Lexington High School and started shouting their hate at the school as it was letting out. Some 200 students and 200 members of the community gathered across the street in silence. The held hands in silence and then turned their backs on the Phelps family. The local paper reports:
As members of the church shouted and sang familiar songs like “Jingle Bells” with alternate lyrics laced with anti-gay sentiments and expletives, about 200 high school students joined in the counter-protest, lining up on a large snowbank. They, too, held hands and turned their backs to the protestors.
One student’s T-shirt read, “Love Unites. Hate Divides.”
Except for a few intermittent shouts, the counter-protest was quiet. There were no altercations and no conflict between the two sides.
When the Baptists packed up their van and left, only as they turned the corner, was the silence broken as 400 people applauded their depature. Here is a video of the incident.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Guantanamo and Utah; the common link

Recently I was reading the testimony of Brandon Neely, a former guard at the US concentration camp at Guantanamo. I thought of it again tonight when reading an article in the New York Times regarding opposition to the play Rent being shown in a toned-down version at America high schools. I thought I saw a link. To explain that link let me explain each story first.

Much of what Neely said is highly disturbing. It is clear that the United States has lost any moral high ground it once held. Our government is acting in ways that our nation has always opposed. President Bush changed that. Funny how a moralistic bumpkin managed to destroy morality at that level.

Neely spoke of being at Guantanamo the first day the prisoners arrived. He says: “I went back to my tent and laid down to go to sleep. I was thinking ‘those were the worst people the world had to offer? Now what I expected.” I guess I was expecting people who looked like monsters or what-not.”

Neely spoke of the abuse that was heaped on some of these prisoners, including abuse he helped with. But he also spoke of how these individuals often seemed to him merely scared and frightened. Individuals told to drink something feared they were being poisoned and refused – for that they were physically assaulted. One man was forced to his knees. This man had seen members of his family executed this way and started quivering and feel to the ground in terror. Neely responded. Here is what he said:
He was instructed to go to his knees, which he did. My partner then went down and took off his leg shackles. I still had control of his upper body, and I could still feel him tensing up. Once the shackles were off my partner started to take off the handcuffs. The detainee got really tense and started to pull away. We yelled at him a couple times "Stop moving!" Over and over. Then he stopped moving, and when my partner went to put the key in that first handcuff, the detainee jerked hard to the left towards me. Before I knew it, I threw the detainee to the ground and was on top of him holding his face to the cement floor. At this time my partner had left the cage. The block NCOIC (or Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) was on the radio yelling code red which meant emergency on the block. Before I knew, I was being grabbed from behind and pulled out of the cage by the IRF team. They grabbed this man and hog-tied him. He laid there like that for hours that day before he was released from that position. A couple days later I found out from a detainee who was on that block that the older detainee was just scared and that when we placed him on his knees he thought he was going to be executed. He then went on to tell me that this man had seen some of his friends and family members executed on their knees. I can remember guys coming up to me after it was over that night and said "Man, that was a good job; you got you some". I did not feel good about what I did. It felt wrong. This man was old enough to be my father, and I had just beaten up on him. I still to this day don't know who was more scared before and during this incident me or the detainee.
Neely’s perception of these men, many of who are clearly innocent of any wrong doing, changed in the time he interacted with them. The more he knew the more troubled he was by what he was doing to them; the more troubled he was by what our government was doing to them.

The New York Times story on Rent seems a world away from Guantanamo. The musical Rent “centers on a group of artists, straight and gay, living in the East Village. Some are H.I.V. positive; some are drug addicts, some are in recovery.”

Some of the music was risqué but it was removed for the high school version of the play that was released. In all the play was toned down for the audience.

When Ron Martin wanted to do the play with his pupils at Corona del Mar High School the principle, Fal Asrani, protested. She said that she was unhappy with the “prostitutes” and the “homosexuals” in the story. There are no prostitutes in the story so that leaves, well it just leaves the homosexuals. Asrani tried to blame Martin for cancelling the show, which he says, is absurd. In fact, he’s still trying to get her to allow it to be produced (with all this publicity it would be standing-room only).

In Bridgeport, West Virginia, drama coach Charles Dillon proposed putting on Rent and told principle Susan Collins about it. The Times reports, “when he told Ms. Collins there were two gay couples in the musical, ‘she got flustered and worked up and expressed concerns.’”

The play was proposed for a high school in Rowlett, Texas and the same thing happened. “Even though the play has been edited (by committee, no less) to exclude such things as same-sex kissing, parents and an unnamed local minister still consider the project objectionable and don't want the play to be staged in their local school auditorium.”

One of the parents bitched that the play might teach tolerance. Michael Gallop said: “I don’t think its the school’s place to each my child diversity or tolerance of a lifestyle that I don’t accept.”

Now let me bring these two stories together by the common thread. Familiarity breeds respect. Neely was shocked that when he met the actual inmates at Guantanamo that he didn’t find them to be the monsters he expected. He became friendly with some and was convinced that many were clearly victims of the war and not terrorists at all.

What horrifies the people like Michael Gallop is that even a portrayal of gay people on stage undermines the bigotry they are trying to instill in their kids. It is easy to hate an imaginary monster that you create entirely in your head. When that monster becomes a human being things change. Bigotry rests on the ability of the bigot to convince himself that the object of his hatred is “the other”. Bigotry requires a belief that the hated are somehow so different that perhaps they don’t even qualify as human. The more the bigot can convince himself that “the other” is alien and strange, the easier it is to engage in cruelty and violence toward them.

Every social movement that promoted bigotry and hatred did so by first building an image of the group that was being targeted that made them “different” from everyone else. If you believe, as the Marxists and Nazis taught, that Jews were money-grubbing parasites exploiting the working masses, it become easier to shut down their businesses, force them to wear yellow stars, round them up and imprison them, and send them to their deaths.

Convince the world that some group of people is really “different” than everyone else and you convince them to engage in unspeakable acts.

When Mormons in the Utah legislature were voting against the right of gay people to visit their partners in the hospital a Right-wing group named America Forever was running a full-page ad in the Mormon owned Deseret News which say that gays are guilty of “anti-species behavior” and that they “should be forced not to display” their sexual orientation (this means do anything that might tell someone they are gay).

The ad argues that people have the right to use force to evict gay people “in common living areas”. Note they speak of common living areas not private property but “in our streets, shopping centers and in our lives.” Hysterically this incredible bigoted ad says another reason to use force against gay is because “they are intolerant and do not emulate any Christian ethics.”

This sort of demonization is what bigotry thrives upon. Lie to people about any group or class of people, get them to believe your lies, and you can convince people to act in the most inhumane way. What messes that agenda up is when people start to see others as being pretty similar to themselves.

The reason the Religious-Right doesn’t want gay characters in movies or television is not that such things convince young people to turn gay. That “vampire theory” is so absurd that I doubt even the fundamentalist loonies believe it themselves. What worries them is that visibility shows gay people to be like other people. They love like other people. They hurt like people. They have the same aspirations and wishes for themselves that is common to all of us. In the end gay men and women are pretty much like straight men and women.

But that is precisely what threatens the bigoted agenda. Brandon Neely got to see the people in Guantanamo as human beings, not monsters. When people get to know gay people, either in person or depicted on the stage, they start to see them as human beings, not monsters. That undermines campaigns that are rooted in fear. Familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds tolerance. And that is why the fear mongers need to present people as alien to us, as “the other”.