Sunday, 30 May 2010

Now that I can sink no lower...

...I can finally admit it: I'm gay.

So has been the case for two prominent politicians in the last few weeks. Most notably David Campbell, over whose resignation we are all still arguing the influence of media-driven homophobia. There has also been a fellow in the UK named David Laws who, as one of the higher ups in the Lib Democrats, has caused turmoil after it was found he was using taxpayer pounds to pay rent to a lover. For a house, that is, not for the love itself. I don't think.

I need to stress that I do not blame these men individually for what is, unfortunately, a very poor message and example to set for any up-and-coming gay youth, especially those about to enter politics. Only after these men had their lives and credibility utterly obliterated - loss of job, loss of family, loss of public trust and loss of privacy - did they feel that they 'might as well' be honest with everyone and admit that they've been gay this whole time.

For both of them, it was treated as though it was a horrible secret. Again, I don't blame them for this - it's the culture they were operating in that made it such an undesirable thing. But the implication from both of them is this: if only I weren't gay, none of this would have happened and my life would be far better.

They didn't say this, but then again they didn't have to. For both of them, being gay was a big problem. In fact, if Jason Ackermanis had written his stupid column with the words 'AFL Clubs' replaced with 'Political Parties', he may well have revealed himself to be a modern day prophet.

Democracy in Action.

Stephen Conroy, you could not be further off the mark.

Why do all of the world's communications and technology ministers insist on being utterly inept when it comes to communication and technology?

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A Great, Intimidating Voice

I am, and have been for some time, and admirer of Christopher Hitchens.

I was directed to this article by a friend through the week and it reminded me of the fact that his autobiography, Hitch 22, was being released this week. I picked up a copy and am almost done devouring it. If ever there was a man who can put your intellect in its place with a limit of 200 words, it is Hitch. The pages of his memoir are so cram-packed with significant historical figures and events, all of which he was either present for or shared a drink with, that one can't help but be immediately intimidated by him. I catch myself feeling remarkably inadequate when I consider his intricate understanding of marxism and the delicate, yet dichotomously volatile, power shifts and balances of the sixties. I find myself jealous of the sheer number of causes that were begging to be fought for in the time of young Hitchens.

A bit of perspective brings me right back to present-day Earth, of course (there are ample causes waiting to be crusaded for right here and now - more on that in the next couple of posts). A little while ago I was overcome with an almost crushing sense of ignorance of the world around me. There was a month where I'd restricted my sleeping to a couple of hours each night - the rest of my time dedicated to learning as much as I could about anything that would interest me. I resented all the time I had wasted at learning institutions over the years. I hated the fact that I'd allowed myself to become complacent in my own headspace, committing the dreadful sin of believing my learning to be done and all that was left was application. The results of this feverish catchup on lost time were predictable enough - I burned out, forgot most of the detailed information I'd gleaned (if not it's general content) and made a compromise to continue learning as much as I could, from as many different sources, as long as I was waking up to a new day. For the most part this has worked out for me.

But every so often, one gets a whiff of inspiration to go that little bit harder.

'If you have never experienced the feeling that you are chained to the steam engine of history, let me assure you that it is a very intoxicating one.'

So goes one of the more memorable quotes from Hitch 22.

Someday, I'd love to know if he's right.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Some good news

I've fallen somewhat into a new bloggers trap of always reporting the bad and never the good, so I thought I'd turn that around with a brief good news post. It's not strictly related to atheism, but one of it's sister movements.

I was listening in live to the NSW legislative council debate on a NSW relationships register. The bill would allow same sex and heterosexual de facto couples to register their relationship with Births, Deaths and Marriages to save having to justify themselves to each and every government department from which they might seek benefits. The mood going into the debate was, from what I could gather, certainly not overwhelmingly postive. Then the honourable Penny Sharpe, who (along with quite a few fellow MLCs) gave a rousing speech in favour of the bill, tweeted this:

NSW Relationship Register passes 32 to 5
12 May 2010 10:39:22 PM
from mobile web

More Of A Dilemma Than We Might Want To Admit

Christopher Hitchens has done what he likes to do best - speak his mind.

This time, he's talking about Nicolas Sarkozy's pipe dream of banning the Burqa.

This is an issue that divides just about anyone - it divides feminists, it divides atheists, it divides muslims, it divides christians. It seems you can pick any group, usually cohesive, and find the very well-defined split running through it. People tend to know instantly which side of the debate they are on, too. I imagine anyone reading this has already made up their mind as to whether the idea of a burqa ban is a good or a bad thing.

It seems to me we need to ask a pivotal question: is banning a tool of oppression itself an act of oppression?

It is not as cut and dry as saying that banning the burqa infringes personal choice. Some women, it is true, don the veil as a matter of free will.  These are the privelleged few, however, and have never faced an altenative of disfigurement and violence should they refuse. Wearing the burqa is never a feminist decision - it is always, in all cases, a patriarchal one. To deny that is to do all those women who have no choice a very, very grave injustice.

Now, consider the other, very practical arguments against the burqa ban.

'It will create a great deal of animosity between the west and Islam'
'Women who cannot wear the veil in public will be kept indoors by their Islamic husbands'
'You risk violence against those women who choose to cast off their veil against their family wishes'

And note that every single one of these boils down to one central theme:

'If you ban the burqa, someone's gonna get hurt.'

It's my opinion that the French government, and the rest of us, ought to be railing against that kind of bullying than bowing down to it.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Catherine Deveny and the Tweet Feed of Doom

It’s big news, folks – Catherine Deveny, Australia’s most militant atheist (I don’t think I’m exaggerating on that score) has been sacked from her gig as a regular contributing columnist for The Age in Melbourne because of some comments she made about Bindi Irwin on Twitter. Everyone has an opinion on this. So do I. We’ll get to it in a moment.

I could have talked about a lot of things given that it has been a long time since my last entry. I’ve got a backlog of topics.
My closest friend and I are having a wonderful debate about just how much respect needs to be accorded to the religious and I want to summarise for a general audience.
The Catholic Church is seeing enemies everywhere in modern fiction.

But the hot topic for today is Catherine, and while I must admit in the interests of fairness that I have, myself, stopped following her on twitter because our senses of humour don't seem to align (after ANZAC day - nothing to do with the damn logies), I've got a question that I'd like to see dealt with by someone. Anyone, really.

I'm playing the Moir card.

DOES Nobody remember Jan Moir? Remember Jan, the British columnist who wrote the single most ignorant and horrible article I've read on the subject of same-sex civil unions in the history of the world? (What you are seeing is a heavily tidied up and edited version from the original one I read. I was unable to find a link to someone who chronicled the differences, and for this I feel deeply unprofessional).

She recieved a record number of complaints after her article was circulated around Twitter. 21,000 complaints in total. That is, get this, 4 1/2 times the amount of followers that Deveny has on Twitter at all. That's 16500 more complaints to the British Press Complaints Commission than even heard Deveny's tweets the first time around.

So, with such a heavy public response that so far outweighed Deveny's total followership, of course Jan Moir suffered a far worse fate than Catherine did, right? I mean, Jan Moir published her hateful bilge in a national newspaper. Catherine posted it on her personal twitter page. The punishments ought to be at the very least similar, right?

Oh wait. Jan Moir has written 17 published articles for the Daily Mail since the beginning of April this year. Catherine will not write for The Age for the foreseeable future.

 This may be the only photo of Catherine Deveny in existence.

TWITTER was the reason that the Jan Moir complaints were dismissed. It was suggested that, because a link to the PCC's complaints page was passed around by certain influential tweeps, that the sheer weight of public outrage was disproportionate. It seemed that many, many more people than otherwise would have complained were made aware of the incident and whipped into a frenzy by the Twitterverse, and this counted in favour of the author.

A frenzy whipped up by the Herald Sun in Melbourne had the exact opposite effect on Deveny. Many, many more people than otherwise would have objected were made aware of her tweets and whipped into a mob by tabloid journalism. This counted very much against the author of the article. She no longer has a job.

I DO not especially enjoy Catherine's humour and certainly don't agree with her views on a number of topics. But if you cannot see a disparity in the way these two incidents played out then I fear for your deductive powers. They occurred in different countries with different national publishing standards is the absolute best argument to be invoked, and that is a straw man. Moir wouldn't have been sacked in Australia, either, of this I'm pretty damn sure.

Catherine's comments were distasteful and The Age reserved the right to terminate her. No law has been broken here. But forgive the twittersphere if it is a little aggravated by this turn of events given what happened with Gately.

Twitter can't win here. An overwhleming number of tweeps objected to a print newspaper and were dismissed. A small number of tweeps objected to Deveny, which was then picked up by a print newspaper, and she loses her job. Any notions I may have had about Twitter being the great democratic medium (they were tiny, tiny notions) have been effectively snuffed out.

I need to stress that I was originally glad that the twittersphere's reaction to Moir did not get her sacked. I have been an opponent of religious zeal long enough to recognise a porgrom when I see one and I felt that the PCC did the best they could when faced with an incredibly difficult situation. Their commitment to freedom of speech won out over bowing to pack pressure. I respected them greatly for this.

But now, what of Catherine? I see the reverse. 700-odd comments on The Age website and she is gone. (She was sacked after only 200, if I'm remembering correctly). No backbone, no commitment to anything except circulation numbers. It's kind of slightly heartbreaking.

I DO not agree with what Catherine says, but I ought to defend to the death her right to say it. In the end, she has only lost the privellege of being published in a broadsheet as opposed to her right to freedom of speech. But there's something incredibly off about how the power of Twitter only counts when the 'real' media says it does. Either people's outrage is a perfectly viable reason to sack a journalist or it isn't. We do not appear to have a consensus here.

In the meantime I won't be re-following her on Twitter, as is my right. I do not think she will lose much sleep over it.

EDIT: In the few hours I spent between drafting this and posting it, Catherine gained about 600 followers. Good for her. Adjust earlier figures accordingly.