A New President, But the Same Old Homophobia: Proposition 8 Wins in California

November 6, 2008

The sun seemed to shine a whole lot brighter yesterday morning after America voted to get Barack Obama into the White House by an overwhelming margin. The NYTimes headlined: “Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call for Change”. Just as Germany tore down the Berlin Wall, we cast our votes to overcome this conveniently-exclusionary thing called Race. We are Making History.

So, what the hell were the states of California, Florida, and Arizona thinking when they simultaneously voted to BAN same-sex marriages? Let’s stop discrimination but only with regards to Race? Hey, go right ahead with those barriers against same-sex couples? Yes, we are Making History indeed. Who ordered the Rain on Our Parade.

According to the NYTimes yesterday afternoon: In California, 52% voted for a ban on same-sex marriages (already deemed legal by the California Supreme Court back in May). Homophobes in Florida and Arizona won by even bigger margins. Arkansas passed a measure that bars gay men and lesbians from adopting children.

THIRTY states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut consider same-sex marriages legal. Rhode Island and New York recognize marriages performed elsewhere.

Why do religious fundamentalists consider marriages between same-sex partners such a profound and urgent threat to the traditional family unit headed by a male/female partnership? Aren’t the cultural trends towards divorce and single-parenthood even bigger (more logical) threats? And speaking of race, why do so many black and Latino votes support the bans on same-sex marriages?

It seems to me: If you want to fix the family, fix the FAMILY. Don’t blame other people. Don’t exclude alternate lifestyles. Really, Stop The Hate Now.

These bans are crimes against humanity. As Obama’s win unleashes a “Flood of Hope” worldwide, we need to direct some of that energy against the bigots that hide behind the dark cloud of religious fundamentalism.

Yes We Can. Let the Sunshine In.

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Hooray for the Sheriff of Cook County

October 23, 2008

In Time Magazine’s October 27 issue, “Verbatim” (its regular page of quick quotations) includes this statement from Sheriff Thomas J. Dart of Cook County, Illinois:

We’re just not going to evict innocent tenants. It stops today.

According to Time, Dart said this upon “suspending foreclosure evictions in the Chicago area because renters were not being properly notified about their landlords’ financial problems.”

Without knowing much else about Dart, his stand struck me as so profoundly and simply human. Yes, let’s just stop kicking people out of their homes. It could be as simple as that. We’ve got to start somewhere.

My Google search led to a CNN article about the sheriff. Apparently, he made the statement on October 8 to protect innocent tenants who are “victimized by an uncaring, reckless system.” On October 16, he announced he would resume evictions but these would be based on specific conditions (see CNN report). Also, that he would hire a social worker to help evictees find alternative housing.

That’s heroic. Yes, one person saying “no more” CAN make a difference.

Of course, CNN also reports that the Illinois Bankers Association is critical of Dart’s actions, saying he was “elected to uphold the law and to fulfill the legal duties of his office, which include serving eviction notices.” Now THAT’s a crime.

blixity to the Illinois Bankers Association: Shut The Fuck Up.

Dart is one public official who seems to be looking out for his public. A blixity tip of the hat to a GOOD MAN in deed.

Photo of Sheriff Dart from http://www.easthazelcrest.com

Two Artworks Use People as Primary Material

July 7, 2008

Regular People: it’s the art material of the moment.

Last week, Turner Prize winner Antony Gormley won a turn at creating a temporary public artwork for London’s Trafalgar Square. The site is the square’s empty fourth plinth, which has become both a stage for contemporary art experiments and a critical platform from which to question what constitutes a “public”.

The piece is called “The One and The Other”. 2,400 volunteers will occupy the plinth one at a time, for an hour each, 24/7 for a hundred days. These human subjects individually and collectively become the art objects.

In the Independent, Gormley describes:

It’s an opportunity to perform an act of collective creativity, people contributing one hour of their lives that represents Britain now… the exercise will present a national portrait of this time.

…it will be a moment of theatre, someone lifted from common ground and made into an image when they are on top of the plinth … It will be a spectacle, but I’m also concerned about the subjects, what they learn about themselves, exposed in a public arena.

Over at the Tate, another Turner prize winner Martin Creed is exhibiting his new piece “Work No 850”. It consists of a runner sprinting the entire length of the Tate’s neoclassical sculpture galleries. The 86-metre sprints will be “performed” every 30 seconds, from 10am to 6pm, for four months.

In the Telegraph, Creed explains:

Running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So running fast is like the exact opposite of death – it’s an example of aliveness.

While both artists are saying that they are celebrating human-ness, these projects (and similar others) make me uncomfortable. I can’t help thinking that regular people are being turned into material objects intended for display and commodification.

There’s a deep, underlying violence to these creative acts. And neither artist seems to have a clue.

In 1904, a 22-year old pygmy named Ota Benga was taken from his home in the Congo, exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then put on display as a caged animal in the Bronx Zoo. 40,000 visitors came each day. (He was “rescued” but eventually killed himself.)

It’s 2008. I’m not sure how these artists differ from Ota Benga’s zookeepers a hundred years ago. As they say, the more things change…


eBay Fined 38.6 Million Euros for Allowing Fake Vuitton Sales

July 1, 2008

In The Guardian: A French court has ordered online auction site eBay to pay luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) a whopping €38.6 million euros in damages for negligence. eBay is charged with allowing independent retailers to use its site to sell fake products.

eBay is to pay €19.28 million to Louis Vuitton Malletier and €17.3 million to Christian Dior Couture for “damage to their brand images and causing moral harm.” Another €3.25 million goes to four LVMH perfume brands for “sales in violation of its authorized network.”

Can someone explain how sales of fake goods cause “moral harm”? Another bout of corporate ridiculousness.

eBay has appealed the ruling, arguing that LVMH is using the specific issue of counterfeits to attack the general trend towards e-commerce and to maintain (declining) control over the brands’ primary sales channels.

Other brands are hovering like vultures: Hermes, Tiffany & Co., and L’Oreal are all suing eBay for similar damages.

Luxury brands that cater to privileged elites (or the wanna-be-privileged elites) don’t mix very well with e-commerce or web platforms, which are largely driven by the mass populace. While the former relies on exclusivity, uniqueness, and tradition, the latter thrives on access, ubiquity, and change. The former would like to keep the latter out — unless of course the commoners are buying directly.

This seems to be what eBay is being punished for: providing an open marketplace for the populace to transact their own goods and services, on their own terms. I’d say it’s the best real-time representation yet of market supply/demand, property valuation, as well as socio-cultural trends.

Policing eBay in favor of corporate property is unfair. Fining eBay for what individuals own and are willing to buy and sell on the site is ludicrous (particularly since we are talking about handbags — not handguns or drugs or porno). How about policing corporate activities to protect individual rights for a change?

Keep our common markets free. Will we ever evolve from the Dark Ages of Extreme Luxury and Corporate Greed?


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


Supreme Court Lifts Ban on Guns, Upholds Right to Bear Arms

June 26, 2008

An historic and controversial ruling this afternoon in Washington D.C.: a 5-4 vote by Supreme Court justices has lifted a ban on individual ownership of handguns by D.C. residents. This is the first time the court has ruled on the issue since 1939.

Seeking to clarify the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment, the majority ruled that the Constitution protects an individual’s — not just the state militias’ — right to own guns for self-defense and declared the ban unconstitutional.

The Second Amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

The decision to lift the ban was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He was joined by the most consistently conservative justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Each was nominated by either Reagan, Bush Sr., or Bush Jr. Not surprisingly, the current administration and the NRA are thrilled.

The dissenting votes were cast by the most consistently liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Each was nominated to the bench, respectively, by the following presidents: Ford, Bush, Clinton, Clinton.

The ideological divide stresses, in no uncertain terms, the importance of the next U.S. president — who may be in the crucial position to nominate 2 or even 3 new justices.

McCain, presumptive Republican nominee, makes his position clear:

I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense.

Obama, presumptive Democratic nominee, takes a more nuanced position:

I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures.

The NYT reports that this case has clearly “generated emotional as well as intellectual sparks at the court”. Apparently, Justice Scalia looked at “various state constitutions and the use of language in the 18th and 19th centuries to support his view…”

I wonder if he might also have looked at 21st century videogames (for starters). Since the founding “fathers” penned these inalienable rights, the media and cultural landscape have changed significantly. The impact of one individual’s actions has grown exponentially as well due to technological advances. These need to be considered seriously, particularly with regards to objects created with the exclusive function of inflicting harm or death.


India’s Female Feticide: Sexism Before Birth

June 21, 2008

As India grows into one of the world’s largest economies, it continues to exterminate one of its most crucial assets: women. BBC cites a report by a UK charity today:

…increasing numbers of female foetuses were being aborted and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die.

Under “normal” circumstances, there should be about 950 girls for every 1,000 boys… but in three of the five [research] sites, that number was below 800.

Sadly, better technology may be a factor. Using ultrasound results, families are aborting female fetuses because females are considered economic burdens. This cultural preference for boys is so pervasive that adult women themselves consider the pre-selection “a rational choice”. Others are simply forced by family pressure.

Female feticide is banned in India. And the prejudice against women is certainly neither new nor unique to the country. But many hoped that better education, greater prosperity, and a stronger middle class would gradually shift this cultural bias. Not the case.

In a CBC article from 2004:

The opposite seems to be happening. The rate of girls to boys is lowest in the wealthiest states and neighbourhoods. In the Punjab, one of the richest states in India, there are only 793 young girls for every 1,000 boys.

The BBC article today has bleaker statistics: in one research site in Punjab, there are just 300 girls to every 1,000 boys among higher caste families.

inda childrenWhich goes to show: more money and more education aren’t always the solutions.

Equality — not wealth — is a basic human right that we need locally and globally. As Jacques Ranciere taught: equality is not a goal to be attained. It is our starting point, the very axiomatic point of departure.

Photo: New Delhi family by Trey Ratcliff or stuckincustoms on flickr