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”.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's the media's fault, really it is.

You may remember that I reported on the herd of Theopublicans who were so outraged that the "chaplain of the day" for the Oklahoma state legislature was a gay man that they voted to exclude his opening prayer from the record. I'm inclined to say they shouldn't have a chaplain of the day and it shouldn't be in the record. But if they do have such a thing then I don't see the rationality of banning prayers based on the sexual orientation of the minister. But rationality and Republicans just don't mix.

Various clergy in Oklahoma were horrified to find that these Republicans wanted to ban the prayer from the record and have voiced their disgust. The man who started the ruckus is the Republican caucus leader in the Oklahoma house, John Wright. When told that various ministers thought it was best for Wright to apologize he made it clear that he won't. After all he is speaking directly for God who voted for him in the last election.

One would expect that a brouhaha would erupt over Wrights demand that the prayer be stricken from the record. But Wright doesn't see it that way. He said that the incident is only getting attention because of the media reporting on and if they just didn't report on what he did then no one would be upset. A unique view of the role of the press held today by such luminaries as Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and Vladamir Putin. One must say the Republicans in Oklahoma are finally traveling in circles where they belong.

Photo: John Wright, advocate of free speech -- not!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Guilty of praying while gay.

I have to admit that now and then the Religious Right absolutely astounds me, rarely in a good way however. The depth of their irrationality is mind-boggling. Take this absurd question: Does the Religious Right love praying more than they hate homosexuals? On the face of it you would think that was an absurd question that can’t be answered. But in Oklahoma a bunch of Republican theocrats in the state legislature managed to answer the question.

When the state legislature convenes they bring in some minister who is asked to pray. After the prayer a member of the legislature rises and asks that the prayer be put into the official record of the session. This is routinely done.

Recently Rev. Scott Jones of the Cathedral of Hope from Oklahoma City was asked to give the prayer. Jones was new at this sort of mixing of church and state and asked about the protocol. He was told that before his prayer he could recognize the individuals who came to the legislature with him. This came from the Speaker of the House, Rep. Chris Benge. Rev. Jones mentioned his “loving partner and fiancé, Michael” along with others as being with him. And then he prayed. That was all he did.

At the end of his prayer it was moved that the prayer be put into the record of the day, as is usually done. But this time Theopublicans in the House started protesting. They wanted the prayer stricken from the record, not because the prayer itself was particularly offensive but because the man who prayed happens to be gay. Twenty members of the legislature voted to ban the prayer and another 17 were just too cowardly to vote. The vote to remove the prayer failed but still about a third of the legislators voted to ban it or refused to vote at all.

Jason Murphey, a Republican who represent Guthrie and God, in the House said: “For him to show up and not just pray; that would be one thing. But to introduce his fiancé and then have his fiancé be a guy – and then pray – that was an attack on the beliefs of a lot of Oklahomans and it was entirely inappropriate.”

Try to get a handle on what this man is saying. As far as I can see the fact that gay man prayed is now considered “an attack on the beliefs of a lot of Oklahomans”. I presume that having a black man pray is an attack on the beliefs of a lot of Oklahomans as well, especially those in the Klan. Rep. Murphey seems to be upset in part because he the word fiancé “got everybody thinking it’s his future wife”. Murphey was asked if the mere fact that Jones was gay was offensive to him and he replied that he’d have to give it some thought and refused to answer.

The move to strike the prayer from the record was led by Rep. John Wright from Broken Arrow (and heaven). Wright is also the leader of the Republicans in the House. Wright has been pretty quiet on the move but did say: “My actions were motivated by the faith.”

When the objection was made Jones says that members of legislature seemed confused and some rushed over to read his prayer trying to figure out what was so objectionable in it to cause this unprecedented move by the Republicans. Scott reports that when legislators were reminded that if they were in the room they had to vote yes or no on including the prayer “some of them fled” in order to abstain. He also printed his precise words before his prayer:
Mr. Speaker and esteemed representatives, I thank you for the opportunity to be present with you today as chaplain for the day. I want to thank my representative and good friend, the Honorable Al McAffrey for the invitation. I would also like to acknowledge guests who are present in the gallery – members of my congregation, the Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ. Joining them are dear friends, my wonderful parents, and my loving partner, Michael Cich
Well, I certainly can see what got the members from God’s Own Party (GOP) upset. It’s practically blasphemy. Here are the list of Oklahoma politicians who clearly hate homosexuals more than they love praying.

Rep. Gus Blackwell • Republican
Rep. Lewis Moore • Republican
Rep. Mike Christian • Republican
Rep. Jason Murphey • Republican
Rep. Ann Coody • Republican
Rep. Leslie Osborn • Republican
Rep. Rex Duncan • Republican
Rep. Pat Ownbey • Republican
Rep. John Enns • Republican
Rep. Mike Reynolds • Republican
Rep. George Faught • Republican
Rep. Mike Ritze • Republican
Rep. Dennis Johnson • Republican
Rep. Mike Sanders • Republican
Rep. Sally Kerns • Republican
Rep. Randy Terrill • Republican
Rep. Charles Key • Republican
Rep. Todd Thomsen • Republican
Rep. Guy Liebmann • Republican
Rep. John Wright • Republican

If Jonah Goldberg can’t get it through his thick head why decent libertarians can’t ally themselves with the modern conservative movement this demonstrates it well. All twenty of the morons in this case were Republicans. That is one third of all the elected Republicans. Remember another 17 fled the chambers in order to avoid a vote. Unfortunately I don’t have the names of those individuals but I suspect they were mostly Republicans as well. UPDATE: I was able to find the vote and compared the names of those absent to their party affiliation. Only five of the 17 absent votes were Democrats, the other 12 were all Republicans. Suspicion confirmed.

This incident just indicates how deeply the modern Repubican Party, as an arm of the Religious Right, is motivated by visceral hatred. If Republicans can’t understand why Obama won so easily all they need do is consider the image they present when they allow religious fanaticism to dominate their party.

Photo: Rev. Jones: guilty of the crime of praying while gay.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sex, freedom and censorship.

An hour long discussion of the shifting sands of censorship in America over the last 50 years from our friends at Reason TV.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

If it doesn't sell in Kansas it won't sell anywhere.

The old and demented god-monger, Fred Phelps, and his ragtag band of family members, decided to picket the Shawnee Mission East High School in Prarie Village, Kansas. Fred is like the last Nazi standing, still spitting venom about the evil Jews taking over the world. Of course the “Jews” in Fred Phelps' imagination are gay people.

What got Funky Fred into a dither was that the senior class of the high school voted for Matthew Pope as their homecoming king. And they did so knowing full well that Pope is a gay student. They didn’t care and felt he deserved the honor. That was last year but Funky Fred is pretty slow -- in every way imagineable. Pope, now a university student, returned to the high school today to stand with his former classmates.

Fred managed to rally about a dozen of his fanatical followers, several of them children dragged along by their insane parents. But word of Fred’s picket line spread and 450 people, largely made of students from the high school, held a counter-demonstration.

You know the bigots are losing a battle when they are having to fight for their demented world view in places like Prarie Village, Kansas, a suburb south of Kansas City. This is what the pundits call “Middle America”. This is as mainstream as you can get. And simply put: people are getting tired of the religious-inspired bigotry.

Several of the students took up donations for AIDS research and one student just reported: "It was a huge success and we raised thousands of dollars for AIDS research, there were many graduates, parents, students and kids from other schools there to support us." Aanother student reported: "Someone told me today, 'I'll never feel scared to come to school anymore because I'm gay. Now I know that I've got the whole school behind my back."

Here is a short clip of part of the counter-demostration as recorded by one of the students at the school.

Since we are the topic here is a video that was put together regarding the Prop 8 case in the California Supreme Court. If you remember the heavily Mormon-financed campaign has filed suit in the Supreme Court to force 18,000 couples to divorce against their will -- literally. In the name of "family values" they want to separate 18,000 families. It is madness that can only come when you think you speak for some deity.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A response that says a lot.

One of the most astounding features of the Proposition 8 battle in California was the way that the religious moralists running the campaign routinely lied and twisted facts. I don't simply mean that they interpreted things different. I mean that they consciously and openly lied. You might remember how they lied about students from a charter school going to greet a teacher who had married her same-sex partner. The students were taken by their parents but you wouldn't know that from the press statements from the Yes on 8 campaign. They spread the story, which the Right-wing picked up, that the kids were forced to go by the evil school. That was just a blatant, bald-faced lie. And since the Yes on 8 campaign used an original news story as their source, and since that story included the facts, that the Yes on 8 campaign then changed the facts shows that they intentionally decided to lie to the public. Even when the kids parents said it was lie and asked Yes on 8 to stop using their children in television commercials the Prop 8 campaign maliciously ignored those requests and continued the campaign of lies.

Now we discover, as reported yesterday, that the Mormon Church has filed new "amended" reports on the money spent to help pass Proposition 8. In the past they whined that they had done very little for Prop 8 and were being targeted for protests merely out of bigotry. It turns out that they under reported their donations by at least 99% -- that is they only reported a tiny sliver of what they actually contributed and had hidden the rest.

I thought it would be interesting to see how the Yes on 8 campaign responded to the Mormon admission that their previous returns were false. Now the liars behind the Prop 8 campaign have issued a statement. Jeff Flint, who help forge the deceptive Prop 8 campaign, dismisses the news about Mormon deception: "I don't think anybody beyond rabid opponents of Proposition 8 will consider it newsworthy to find out that leaders of the Mormon church spent time on the campaign."

Actually the question was never whether Mormons spent time on the campaign. That was known and never denied. Mr. Flint is being deceptive again. The question was about how much money the Mormon cult directly poured into the campaign. They claimed it was a paltry $2,078 and others said that was a lie. Now the Mormons admit that what they reported was only 1% of the truth and that they had hidden at least 99% of their spending. So the issue was Mormon money going from the church to the Prop 8 campaign not Mormon time spent.

If a Mormon bishop, or someone else who holds an office in the church far in excess of anything Jesus ever accomplished in his lifetime, spends 10 hours pushing a bigoted agenda that is his business. If the Mormon Church pays him a salary to spend those 10 hours then it is a campaign contribution that is supposed to be reported. When I donated to the No on 8 campaign I was specifically told that any donation over a certain amount had to be reported and I was required to list my name and address.

Nor was the question actually about whether the Mormons gave money to Yes on 8 campaign work. That the church was doing that was widely known which is why there were protests outside the Temples where the Mormons conduct their "secret" rituals meant to turn their members in gods themselves. What was at question was whether or not the Mormon leadership had been lying to the public when they pretended to have spent only $2,078 on the Yes on 8 campaign.

Now there is no dispute. The Mormons admit they lied through the "amended" report which apparently discovered 99 times more spending then they previously reported. In fact, I believe that is still only a fraction of what they really spent and that a large amount of spending is still being hidden. For instance this Mormon run website told Mormons to print campaign literature for use in their area. And urged church members to fund the printing if the amount was too substantial for the person doing the printing. What they didn't tell Mormons was that any in-kind donation, such a printing literature, over $50 had to be reported. It is possible that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of unreported spending was being encourage by the Mormon wing of the Prop 8 campaign.

Mr. Flint had to know that the Mormon sect was directly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to push his campaign. And then they spent millions more indirectly through their membership obeying the "prophets" to donate to the hate campaign.

What was always the issue was whether the Mormons lied about their involvement, not the amount of time they spent on it as Mr. Flint pretends. At this point there is no question that the Mormons lied. But that is par for the course and I don't expect Flint to condemn lying --- after all it worked for him and his campaign.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mormon lies exposed.

It’s official, the Mormon Church lied. When I say it is official I am going straight to the source itself. The Mormon Church has now basically admitted that they publicly lied about their role in pushing Proposition 8 to remove marriage rights from gay couples in California.

The role of the Mormon sect in this anti equality crusade was heavily reported on at the time. The Mormon leadership feigned shock and said they were being victimized and discriminated against because it was just a bunch of lies. They claimed that they spent only $2,078 in support of Proposition 8. And obedient Mormons posted that claim on web sites and in letters to newspapers all across the country. The litany from Mormon apologists was that Prop 8 campaigns (pro and con) spent millions while the Mormon Church spent a paltry $2,078. Based on that to single them out as a major factor just shows prejudice and bigotry. Mormons love to play the victim card.

The problem was that there was plenty of evidence that the $2,078 figure was a lie. It was clear that the Mormon Church had spent much, much more than that and was illegally hiding those donations. It was proven that the church had operated telephone banks to get Prop 8 volunteers recruited from Mormon ranks. It was also known that a satellite link up was used to broadcast a top level Mormon speaking to hundreds of Mormons churches urging their members to volunteer for Prop 8 and to contribute money. All these “in kind” donations were left off the reports of what the Mormon Church had spent in the campaign.

Some Prop 8 opponents filed complaints with the state that the Mormon Church had been deceptive about the funding they gave to the measure. And with enough evidence to back them up the state was investigating the matter. Facing this investigation, which was going to show the church had lied, the Mormon leadership decided to file a new, updated report which admitted they had filed misleading financial reports before. They are now saying that that previously neglected to report 99% of their actual spending. When you neglect to report 99% of what you spent in a campaign you are not being forgetful. To neglect 99% of your contributions requires premeditated, intentional action on your part. While one might accidentally forget to mention an expense here or there it stretches credibility for anyone to think that 99% of spending was left off the reports due to an error.

The new report filed by the Mormons admits to spending around $190,000. Even when the complaint against their deceptive reporting was originally filed the Church insisted that they had reported everything that was required. But the new, amended report now admits that their previous denial was false. They say that the church spent $96,849 alone on church staff members who, while paid by the Mormon Church, were working for Prop 8. Dozens of air tickets were purchased for top officials from the Mormon sect to fly to California to rally the local Mormons behind the measure

I strongly suspect that this is still a fraction of the total that was actually spent by the Mormon Church. As a Church they have long history of secrecy and playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to their public statements. And there are areas of spending which I have reported on this site which I doubt are included in the amended figures which the Church reluctantly filed.

I also suspect that the reason they filed this report was that any investigation into their activities would easily prove these expenditures by the church. I have little doubt that Church officials are hoping that this admission will end any investigation and leave uncovered a even greater level of spending by the sect.

Even if this were all the contributions from the official church it is still misleading. What is critical to remember is what they did with the $190,000 that they now admit spending. What the Mormon leadership did was used this money to raise significantly more money from the Mormon faithful. Church leaders spent these funds sending messages to other Mormons to fund Proposition 8. Estimates have Mormons contributing $20 million in total to this campaign.

So the money spent was used to finance a fund-raising effort that ultimately provided the lion’s share of the revenue used in the anti equality campaign. The New York Times accurately reported that Mormon support “tipped the scales” for Prop 8. Considering how close the vote was in the state it is safe to say that without the $20 million in Mormon funding that Prop 8 would have failed.

So even if the $190,000 is the full amount the Church spent it directly lead to the raising of millions of dollars. The $190,000 spent by Mormon leaders surreptitiously was pivotal because it lead to millions more in campaign funds which were enough to turn a losing percentage into a narrow victory.

It is no surprise that the media is now reporting that Mormon officials were “unavailable” to comment on this admission by the Church. The fact is that the Mormon leadership lied about their role in Proposition 8. They lied about the money they spent and they knew they were lying. Only the impending investigation of their lies forced them come clean and admit they had reported only around 1% of the true figure. And I still alleged that there is a lot more hidden spending that can be uncovered. If the California state government goes ahead with their investigation I expect some new “amended” reports to suddenly be filed by the Church. And even then I wouldn’t bet that those would cover it all.

So what sort of credibility does this church have? They lied about the money they spent on the campaign. When they were called out on the lies they made accusations against those who caught them, and continued to lie Only when faced with an investigation that they couldn’t control did they suddenly discover that they a hell of a lot more then they previously admitted.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gay penguins marry, Mormons mobilize.

I’m not making this up. A Chinese zoo has had some issues with a same-sex penguin couple. While same-sex coupling is relatively common among penguins the zoo was unhappy since the two males had a tendency to steal eggs for their own nest. The zoo decided to try something different and they started giving the male penguins eggs that had been rejected by their mothers.

It turned out that the male couple were ‘the zoo’s best penguin parents” The zoo was so happy with the results of allow the same-sex couple to adopt that they decided to reward them by having a marriage between the two. They even dressed the couple up in some traditional Chinese outfits, played the Wedding March for them and served a wedding meal of fish, of course. Apparently the wedding photographer snapped this photo of the happy couple.

Two days later the Mormon Church raised $40 million to spearhead a campaign to pass legislation in China banning same-sex weddings for penguins. Rev. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said that allowing the couple to raise rejected eggs would cause “gender confusion” issues for the chicks and urged an immediate ban on the practice. Rev. Dobson assured his listeners that if the penguins would just “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour” they could be “cured of their affliction.” Ted Haggard has issued a press statement denying that he ever met the penguins.

Note: Okay, I made up that last paragraph but it sounds so right. The rest of the story appears to be the truth.

The End of the World

Monday, January 26, 2009

The scandal that just won't die.

The Ted Haggard scandal simply won’t die -- nor can it. As much as the fundamentalists want to believe the scandal is his fault, it isn’t. The true cause of this scandal is the absurd views that fundamentalists hold and their steadfast refusal to let reality have any role in their appraisal of life.

You may remember that Haggard ran a fundamentalist “megachurch” in Colorado Springs but it was revealed that he was a drug user who hired male prostitutes. Haggard lied about the whole thing and then admitted it was true. He was using crystal meth but then one purpose of that drug is to lower sexual inhibitions. So a guilt ridden fundamentalist, convinced he is doomed to hell for being gay, but who is nonetheless gay, might find this drug an easy means to being true to his own nature.

Haggard, of course, was not just a self-hating homosexual but one who expressed “Biblical” contempt toward other gays in public. That was the reason his prostitute friend decided to “out” Haggard to the media. And Ted’s house of cards came tumbling down.

One safe assumption to make about this was that the scandal wasn’t over. I say that because it was highly likely that Haggard had other same-sex partners in his history as well. While it was possible that the prostitute was the totality of his “experimenting” it was unlikely, not for someone his age.

Now, a 25-year-old church member has come forward and confessed that he had sex with Haggard as well. (See video above.) This young man is clearly another victim of fundamentalist theology. He is gay and also can’t accept himself. He had been a student at Moody Bible Institute, an ultra-fundamentalist school in Chicago (oddly located next to the main area for male prostitution in the city). This young man made the mistake of the telling the school that he thought he might be gay.

He says he had been class president for two years running. He had excellent grades and was just one semester away from graduating. But the guilt over his sexual orientation was eating him away and he went to the school for help. He asked them to help him deal with this and the school said they couldn’t help him and basically told him to leave. What lovely people, they wouldn't even let him finish his degree because he came to them for help. (I should note that any help they would have given would probably have been destructive anyways.)

Moody told the young man to go to Colorado Springs were various fundamentalist groups pretend to be able to “cure” homosexuals. And when he got to Colorado Springs he started attending church: Ted Haggard’s church to be precise. As the president of the National Association of Evangelicals Haggard was one of the most prominent fundamentalists in the country.

Haggard meet the young man and asked him what brought him to Colorado. The young man first lied to Haggard as to why Moody Bible Institute had kicked him out but then told the truth. The young man stupidly thought that the “Holy Spirit” was compelling Haggard to help him.

This young man and Haggard both suffered needlessly because of their religious beliefs. And it is clear that Haggard, while coming on to the young man one day, was horrified about it the next. Back and forth they spun from one emotional extreme to another, tortured because they sincerely believe their church was right.

Eventually Haggard was revealed and stepped down from the church. The church then sent Haggard off to “be healed” by some ministry that promised cure. Church officials proclaimed the healing was a success, something Haggard says is not factual -- although he still suffers from religiously-induced self-hatred.

This young man went to the church and told them what happened, how Haggard, instead of counseling him, masturbated in his presence. Of course, because this young man is infected with the same self-loathing, Haggard’s actions only made them both more miserable and disturbed.

The church then offered the young man a large sum of money for “counselling” provided he promised to not reveal the truth about what happened. All in all they were to pay him $179,000 for his silence. The young man said: “I really felt the church staff did what they could to get me to move to a different city, to get me to stop going to the church, to make these promises to do whatever they could to help, but their main focus was to cover it up.”

What is astounding is that the church played up how Ted Haggard had lied to them in order to appear the victim. But then they were quite happy to engage in public dishonesty themselves by attempting to cover up another incident which they knew about. And from what I understand there are yet more such incidents that may yet come to light.

The church still can’t tell the truth and insists that they gave the young man the money “to help him” so he can “get on with his life.” They call it “compassionate assistance... certainly not hush money.” Yet they insisted that the young man agree to silence in order to get the money. He wasn’t required to “get on with his life” or to use it for “assistance”, he was only required to stay silent. That sounds like hush money to me. It is also clear that the church leadership knew of this incident at the time that the male prostitute made his story public. So they consciously choice to hide the facts from the members and the public.

The young man, only named as Grant, says he tried to kill himself four times. Clearly this was, and is, a young man traumatized by the beliefs of his own faith conflicting with the facts of his own sexual orientation. What fundamentalists refuse to see is that they are creating mental cripples, they are destroying people. Hundreds of thousands of young people, raised in this toxic faith, are having their minds warped to such a degree that many of them will attempt to kill themselves. Many will succeed. This same hatred inspired millions of other fundamentalists to mount campaigns to strip people of their rights. Grant tried four times to kill himself -- precisely where did he learn that it is better to be dead than to be gay?

Look what happened when he turned to his faith for help. They could do nothing -- of course not, but they can’t admit the reason they can do nothing: their faith is in conflict with truth. Fundamentalists try to force reality to conform with their beliefs instead of their beliefs conforming with reality. And when you do that you commit psychological treason and there are consequences.

Christian fundamentalism is toxic. It is a mental poison. Ted Haggard took this poison, so did Grant. They imbibed it, they believed it and it turned them into sad, pathetic individuals who may never learn to accept reality. Even now many, many more such scandals are being carefully incubated by these beliefs.

Fundamentalist Islam creates individuals who terrorize others. Fundamentalist Christianity creates individuals who terrorize themselves. While it clearly less deadly to innocent people, it is destructive and utterly evil to those who embrace it, and to those nations where it flourishes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This is just a reminder to my readers to try and watch the Lifetime movie Prayers for Bobby, based on the true story of Mary Griffith and her son, Bobby Griffith. The Boston Globe says this film "takes on Christian fundamentalist intolerance of homosexuality with point-blank directness."

Mary Griffith, now 74, says that parents "have to know that it's OK to challenge their religious beliefs and church doctrine, especially when the health and welfare of their child is one the line."

Mary says that her campaign to "cure" her son of being gay "wasn't something I did out of malice" but because "I was truly ignorant."

A somewhat shocking review of the film is that from Joanne Ostrow of The Denver Post. She says: "It may be helpful to remember that this true tale of religious intolerance occurred in the 1970s. Keep that in mind, view this as ancient history, and you can perhaps forgive Mary's ignorance." Ignorance, I fear is an ever present reality. The sort of religious intolerance portrayed in this film is not "ancient history" by any means. It is alive and well in the pews of the hundreds of thousands of fundamentalist churches that blight the American landscape. It is an intolerance that infests the hearts of tens of millions of believers. It is the kind of prejudice that inspired Mormons to empty their wallets and go door-to-door in California to strip one group of people of the right to marry. Anyone who thinks ignorance is ancient history is themself proof that it is alive and well.

Prayers for Bobby airs on the Lifetime network, Jan. 24 at 9 PM ET/PT. It will repeat on Jan. 25 at 8 pm and Jan 27 at 9 PM ET/PT.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mormons say no to gay equality again

Because of the prominent role played by the Mormon Church is stripping California’s same-sex couples of their marriages the issue of same-sex relationships has heated up in Utah, home for the cult. The Salt Lake Tribune has polled the public on the matter of recognizing the equal rights of gay people and what it found shows a profound difference between Utahans in general and Mormons.

Without exceptions the Mormons are far less tolerant and far more likely to demand that gays be treated as second class citizens.

A plurality of non-Mormons in Utah support a measure to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. In the general public this breaks down to 48% in favor and 43% opposed. But when it comes to Mormons only 12% will even allow gay couples a civil union, let alone marriage equality.

A majority of non-Mormons say that gay couples should be allowed to adopt or be foster parents, only 30% oppose equality in this matter. Among Mormons 67% want gays at the back of the adoption bus -- actually they think they should be kicked off the bus.

So what about issues like allowing visitation rights in the hospital for gay couples? Half of the Mormons surveyed said that the same-sex partner of someone in hospital should not be allowed to visit. This is astounding. But when asked about issues like the right to inherit from their partner, or visit them in hospital, half the Mormons would deny even those rights to gay couples. Only about a quarter of the non-Mormons felt the same way.

One Mormon told the pollsters expressed the views of many Mormons: “I don’t believe they should have any rights at all,” said Maureen Johnson of South Jordan, Utah. Indeed, stripping people of their rights, in order to conform with the wacky theology of Mormonism does seem to be high on the Mormon agenda. Of course, even the Mormons have progressed. At one time in history they slit the throats of sinners now they just treat them like dirt. More amazingly the Mormons then whine when people protest this treatment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In defense of Sam Adams or Fuck the Media

Here we have another example of America's Puritanical hysteria regarding sex. The bigot brigade is braying for the head of Portland's new mayor, Sam Adams. Adams, who is gay, is in the crossfires because a few years ago he had a relationship with a young man. The young man was 18 years old at the time, above the age of consent. The relationship was consenting. There was no coercion used. Nor did Adams have any professional relationship with the young man to muddy the waters.

That isn't stopping the hysterics from demanding that Adams step down from office. For what? Being sexual?

Here are the facts. Adams, was not the mayor in 2005 when this relationship began. Nor was he in a relationship, as he is now. He was single. Adams was a city commissioner. The young man, Beau Breedlove was an intern working in the state legislature for a Republican (now that's kinky). Breedlove already knew he was gay and approached Adams, who he knew was gay and struck up a conversation.

The newspapers, in order to fan the hysteria, now refers to Adams as a "mentor" to Breedlove, which generally implies a professional relationship. However, that is a distortion of the facts. They both worked in two different areas and had no professional relationship at all.

Breedlove was just under 18-years-old when he met Adams but no relationship started then. However, conservatives spread the lie that this was the case during the last election when Adams won office. Adams had attended Breedlove's 18th birthday party with a date, which also indicates no relationship started. But the papers, if you can trust them, report that aides had joked to Adams that Breedlove had romantic intentions.

Breedlove has issued a statement to blood-thirsty press saying that:
Sam Adams has always been a positive influence and friend to me. He has many outstanding qualities to bring to his position as Mayor of the City of Portland and I wish nothing but the best for him. I hope this subject can ultimately be put to rest and I sincerely believe in Sam Adams and what he can do for the city of Portland as Mayor.
The media began asking Adams if he had a relationship with Breedlove when he was campaigning. The one thing that Adams did, which might be wrong, was deny it. My view is that since they were asking Adams who he was dating, and since there was no question that his date was below the age of consent, then the media had no business asking. It is the sort of prurient interest that busybodies have in the sex lives of other people. Adams faced a dilemma. An honest answer would have made a total irrelevancy into a major issue just because some scummy reporters can't get over other people having sex lives. To tell the truth faced immediate disaster. To lie postponed the disaster. Adams chose the later and Breedlove himself lied to the press about it.

Adams apparently believed that certain political forces would use any admission to press the claim that the relationship began before Breedlove was legally an adult. This sounds plausible to me. Adams thought that it would be assumed he had seduced an underage youth and it would needlessly destroy his political career. Whether there are other reasons why Adams shouldn't be in office I can't say, but this surely isn't one.

The two men dated for a couple of months and Breedlove moved out of state. Since then he has returned to Portland and is clearly unhappy that his private life is being used to crucify someone he clearly believes to be a friend.

Had Adams used a position of authority over Breedlove to instigate a sexual relationship there would be problems. But, in spite of the media calling him Breedlove's mentor, the two were friends. Adams had no professional relationship with the young man. Since there is zero evidence the relationship violated age of consent laws that also eliminates a reason for the media being all over this "story". In other words this is non-story except for purely prurient purposes.

All reporters have is that Adams didn't tell them the truth when they started prying into his sex life. There are just some things that the media has no right prying into. By that I mean no right in terms of morality and decency. The media certainly has the legal right to publish trite, unimportant, salacious material. That is a right that they engage in with great relish. But when the media bastards start prying into relationships between consenting adults then they aren't reporting the news, they're writing pornography. Under those circumstances it is the right of all decent individuals to lie to the buggers. Considering how the media regularly twists facts there is a certain justice inherent in all lies told them.

Apparently two legal adults can't have a private sex life without the media hounds thinking they have a right to pry into things. Does an elected official always have the obligation to answer any question the media puts to him? I can't see how anyone can argue he does. Personally I would have turned the question on the reporter. Adams should have demanded that reporters asking him such questions provide him with a detailed listing of their masturbatory fantasies. Of course the reporters would scream that is an invasion of their privacy. And it would be. But it would be no less an invasion than what they were doing to Adams and Breedlove. And we must remember that while Adams was a minor public official at the time, Breedlove was not. He was just someone that wanted to date someone he found attractive. The media couldn't pry into Adams' bedroom activities without prying into Breedlove's private life as well. And there is simply no justification to do that to him.

Why is the media doing this? There is one main reason. It sells newspapers or boosts the ratings. There is a constituency of antigay types who will eat this up just because this supposedly proves one of their bigoted theories right -- though how it is hard to see. Add in the antisex types to this mix and it means the story will attract a lot of attention.

One thing I've discovered over the years is that the antisex types are actually rather obsessed with the subject. The reason they tend to get so hysterical about sexual issues in public is usually because, in private, they have a lot of fantasies or activities, that they are deeply ashamed of. For many of them that shame is with good cause. The typical Puritan is most often guilty of the very sins he preaches against the loudest. And when others "sin" (and they consider all sex outside marriage to be sin) the story gives them an excuse to feed their own fantasies. They can't wait to read about the sex lives of others as a form of pornography. They get off on it.

The media knows these people are out there. And, under the excuse of the "public's right to know" these reporters become amateur pornographers detailing the private lives of others. I don't know which group disgusts me the most? Is it those who want the details about the sex life of Mr. Adams, because of their own sexual pathologies, or the greedy reporters who think nothing of dragging someone through the mud in order to sell a few newspapers?

Actually I find all this far worse than any real porn. Porn is produced with willing performers or models who produce materia to give other people pleasure. The media "porn" like this is done with unwilling individuals. And the main intention is to hurt some people so that others can get their jollies. In cases like this I have far more respect for the Larry Flynts of the world than I do the bott0m-feeding media types who are eating this story up.