Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Holidays from the U.S.

Well we  made it  to  the U.S. Just fine.  I am sitting in my parents kitchen  in Waunakee, Wisconsin  as I type this  blog entry.

Big  thanks to our good friend  Jeff Koren who  gave us  great advice on how to handle the pitfalls of  US  Customs and Immigration . He said I should  go through the  "visitor " line at passport control with Eric  and  that way  we  went through passport  control together.  Sure enough,  we breezed right through!

Got in  last Friday and  had a wonderful  Christmas  with  my Parents  and  my Sister and her family , who  also flew out from  California.   There even was a light dusting of snow still on the ground here , so we ended up having  a  White Christmas  after all.

We then had a fantastic  celebration for my Parents  50th  Wedding  Anniversary on December 27th.  There was a special church service  where they reaffirmed their  wedding vows, which was followed by a dinner and party  with  over  60 friends and  family .

We are here  through  New Year's  and will fly back to London  on Monday.   It is always surprising  how  fast  the time goes by.  There is never enough time to see  all the people you want to see, and who want to see you.  So  to  folks  who  we were unable to  connect with  this trip,  our apologies, but there  was just too much going on  and too little time.    

It is always great to get back to Madison.   I grew up   here  so  it is always  "coming home": for me.   Showing  Eric  around  the UW Madison campus  you find  yourself  awash in  memories.   

Yet as is always the case, you tend to notice the changes   more  than the things  that have  stayed the  same .    Which  is  interesting,   because it tends to be  little things that  change.  

One of my favorite stores on State Street; (The Puzzlebox) is no longer there, yet  State Street Brats remains  as a constant.  A firewall against  a tide of  changes  that might wipe away  all  Madison  traditions. 
Lots of  people have asked us,  if  living in London is   "all that  different"  compared to  here.  And  the answer is obviously,  yes.  It is  very different.  Yet  at the same time it is not so different.   It is the paradox of  how do you define  "home".     Where you  grew up will always be  home, in the sense it is  where you  come from.   Yet  home is far more a matter of where  your life is.   This  will always be where  I am  "from", but  it is  no longer  where  my life is.   

There  have been   some  wonderful moments  this trip.   One of the  most amazing  has been  introducing  Eric  to  one of my oldest  friends.

Some long time readers of this blog may recall one of my first entries was about my dilemma over  reconnecting with  my friend  after  being  out of touch for many years.    As has been so often the case in my life,  I am very lucky to have  friends  who are far  braver and much wiser than I am.

No politics in this posting, sorry. But have no fear, I will have much to say about the nuttiness of the Iowa GOP Caucus next week. The near collapse of the Euro, the Mayans predicting 2012 as the end of the world, and of course random thoughts on Doctor Who....

Happy New Year Everyone. Thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finally!! ... And it looks BRILLIANT!

Who's ready to go back to Middle Earth?  :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Death of Kim Jong Il

There has been  various  reactions to the  news  that  North Korean  dictator Kim Jong-il  has  shuffled off his mortal coil.   The North Korean Central News Agency  announced the news with one of  their customary over the top performances.

The issues that  arise from  the transition of power in North Korea  are clearly very serious, given  the spectre of political instability in an insular, paranoid  nation that  possesses an atomic  weapon.   The issue of instability in the North is always  a troubling one for  South Korea.   The idea  that  the Korean  Peninsula will someday reunify, is one South Koreans  hope for,  yet in practice  the idea of the  border between North and South coming down,  is a problematic one for South Korea.

 North Korea is for all intents and purposes  a sealed bubble.  The image of the Korean Peninsula taken from the International Space Station  tells the story.  You see the  vast web of lights  that  outline  South Korea, and  the pitch dark outline of the North with one pinprick of light being  the  Capital  Pyongyang.  North Korea exists with  the vast majority of  its  population knowing only what  they have been told  by the Government.

Now imagine for a moment,  waking up one day and finding out  that  everything you have ever been told, taught or  believed about the world was in fact,  completely wrong.    Now times that  by  twelve million people, and you see  the dilemma reunification  poses for the South.   Unlike with Germany,  Korean reunification would create a refugee crisis on a biblical scale,  almost over night.

I remember my first visit to the border area between the two Koreas  (the "DMZ") .  It was in 1997.  It was , as you might imagine, a unique experience.  It remains essentially  the last remaining  front of the Cold War. It will be fascinating  to watch  the transition  of Power there.   Kim's appointed successor is his third son Kim Jon Eun, who is in his twenties, but  was recently made a four star General in the North Korean military.

It is in everyone's interest that  the  two Koreas  reconcile  peacefully.   The late Kim Jong il  was nothing if not unique.  His  flamboyant personal style and odd personality traits made him an easy target for comedy.  The  greatest example of course, being "South Park"  creators  Trey Parker and Matt Stone,  who used  Kim as  central villian  for their  movie  "Team America - World Police".  Giving the  "dear leader" his own moment in cinematic  history, and a song to go with it.

So we bid farewell to the  "dear leader"  with a look back at his moment of movie musical glory.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Christmas Mystery....

We have a little bit of Christmas mystery on our hands. 

Today we received a package addressed to both Eric and I that contained this wonderful ceramic Doctor Who collectors TARDIS Cookie Jar.

There was no card, and no name on the package, just a return address near Manchester. 

We are thrilled with the amazing gift, we just would really like to know who it is from so we can say thanks!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Right Wing Theo-fascist Nut Jobs are REALLY REALLY Mad...

It has not been a good week  if you are a  bigoted  Gay-hating  evangalooney-toon member of the American Taliban.   First,  U.S.  Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton gave a remarkable speech at a United Nations conference commemorating  the  anniversary of the  UN Universal  Declaration of Human Rights.

That same day, the Obama Administration took steps similar to those already taken by the British Government in making how nations treat their LGBT citizens, a factor in considering future foreign aid.   (via the huffington post.)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is announcing a wide-ranging effort to use U.S. foreign aid to promote rights for gays and lesbians abroad, including combating attempts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality.   In a memorandum issued Tuesday, President Barack Obama directed U.S. agencies working abroad, including the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to use foreign aid to assist gays and lesbians who are facing human rights violations.

The President also  ordered U.S. agencies to protect vulnerable gay and lesbian refugees and asylum seekers. "The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States' commitment to promoting human rights," Obama said in a statement.

Add to that, the fact the most rabidly gay sex obsessed homophobe running for the GOP nomination just can't seem to get any love from GOP voters. Rick Santorum, may as well be Ron Paul for all the attention he is getting these days.

So channelling that frustration, Santorum beats his "gays are destroying our nation" drum louder, harder and faster in hopes that the Tea-baggers of Iowa will finally notice him. (hat tip to  Rick Santorum told a crowd in Spencer, Iowa this afternoon that equal rights for gays and lesbians would “destabilize the family” and “accomodate a different values structure.“It’s about what America’s basic moral values should be that would be reflected in the law,”

If that wasn't enough, just last week  Marine Gen. James F. Amos, the man who was for a time, the face of opposition in the military to lifting the ban on gays serving openly, acknowledged his concerns were unfounded. In fact, he says, Marines have embraced the change.  He said that at the annual ball in Washington this month celebrating the birth of the Marine Corps, a female Marine approached Amos' wife, Bonnie, and introduced herself and her lesbian partner.    "Bonnie just looked at them and said, `Happy birthday ball. This is great. Nice to meet you,'" Amos said. "That is happening throughout the Marine Corps."  In an Associated Press interview, Amos called the repeal in September "a non-event."

Having all this in the space of less than a week was just too much for the American Taliban, and their collective heads pretty much exploded.   Matt Barber, the oh-so butch,  spokes-bigot for the Right Wing hate group the "Liberty Council"  attacked Clinton and President Obama for having an “obsession with the radical homosexual activist agenda.” 

Over at the Family Research Council, (another group certified by  the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Hate Group, just like the Klu Klux Klan)  they didn't even wait for  Hillary Clinton to finish her speech before they started sputtering with incoherent  rage.  FRC "Senior Fellow" Peter Sprigg (aka "Porno Pete" due to the extensive  'research' he likes to do in sex clubs and at fetish events, about the dangers of  Gay Porn,) spewed:  "It is startling that President Obama is prepared to throw the full weight and reputation of the United States behind the promotion overseas of the radical ideology of the sexual revolution."

Sprigg's boss and  everybody's  favourite white supremacist and faux Christian , Tony Perkins couldn't contain  himself, and had to had his oddly effeminate  voice to the  chorus of rage on the wing nut right, saying that Obama is hostile and disdainful toward Christianity, and that Christians who voted for Obama should repent, saying; “Any Christian that voted for Obama in 2008 should be repenting [and voting differently] in the next election," Perkins told the Christian Post. "This administration has been the most hostile toward religious freedom.”    Apparently, according to Perkins, if you say torturing and killing gay people is a bad thing, you are infringing on his religious freedom.

 Not one to be left out of a good hate fest, Texas Governor and political rodeo clown, Rick Perry chimed in saying, "Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn't get any more out of touch with America's values. ... This administration's war on traditional American values must stop."

 SO just to be clear, Rick Perry feels  upholding the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a  war on American Values.  You know, it worked out so well  the last time The Republicans nominated a  Texas Governor with a 4th grade vocabulary and a penchant for confusing the voices in his head, with God, I can see why the  GOP might be considering giving it another go.

Wow!  I  am so glad  Rick Perry cleared THAT up for all of us!  It's not unemployment, climate change, a broken financial sector that bilked the country out of  trillions. No!  The real problem facing America is  that Gay Soldiers hate Christmas!!   Why didn't  I see it before!

And of course...  last  but  certainly never least.   We have  everybody's  favorite  hate mongering dementia patient  soiling his  adult diaper  over  all things  Gay.  Predicting that  his personal  angry God will SMITE  Barack Obama and  the rest of us  godless liberals  for  daring to , actually  follow the  example of Christ,  and do that whole  work for justice  stuff.  According to Pat,  God really  hates that!

What the past couple days have made clear is what the American right wing nutters  plan to do in 2012.  The GOP  can't run on their economic plan, because that is what  drove the economy off the cliff in the first place.   They can't run as the Party that "fights the war on terror"  since they completely failed  in more than seven years, to get Osama Bin Laden, but  the Obama Administration got him in three. They cant run against Obamacare, because there is no such thing,  and  they cant run against Nancy Pelosi because she isn't Speaker of the House any more.  So  what's  left to motivate their small minded, fearful, angry base to get out and vote?

Oh yeah...   The Gays!!

All kidding aside,  these people are insane.  But  the  great  irony here is  still the  baffling  twister-esque  contortions on  the issue of  Marriage Equality  by President Obama.  He has his Secretary of State stand up before the world  and say loudly and clearly  that "Gay rights are Human Rights".  He issues executive orders saying  loudly and clearly that nations that  persecute their LGBT citizens  will lose out on  American aid.

He says DOMA is unconstitutional , won't defend it in court,  even  refrains for enforcing it in a select few cases. YET when asked to support the right of all Americans to marry he  cowers behind  nonsensical babble of supporting equal rights, but marriage is only between a man and woman.  Then says  his position is still "evolving".    Does the President actually think that by refusing to support marriage equality, there are people who will vote for him who otherwise wouldn't?  

When the best  the  other side can come up with is  Newt Gingrich  or Mitt Romney,  it's not like the guy has that much to lose by standing  up for a core Democratic  constituency.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

No Place Like Home for the Holidays?

The old song goes; “There’s no place like home for the holidays...” For many Americans living overseas, that means getting on planes and trekking across the globe to spend the holidays back in the good ‘old U.S. of A. Nothing could be finer, right?

Well in theory, yes. This year, Eric and I will travel to Madison, Wisconsin to spend Christmas, New Years, and my Parents 50th wedding anniversary with my family. THAT part of the trip, actually “being home” for the holidays is fine. We both are really looking forward to time with family and friends back in the United States. That’s not the problem.
It’s the “going “ there that is the issue.  Not the travel itself.  British Airways will get us from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare non-stop with their usual decent service, moderately edible food, and passable in-flight movie options. 
Then after a 2 hour layover, American Eagle airlines will  take us the final 40 minute or so hop from Chicago to Madison with little effort. No, the problem is what happens during the lay over between these two flights.
As a married couple, one would think the process of entering the United States would be simple. Right? After all, for the vast majority of bi-national married couples, (couples where one spouse is an American citizen and the other is not...) entering the United States is a pretty straight forward exercise. As long as you have all the right spousal visas etc. The non-citizen spouse should have little or no delay joining you on the other side of the little booths over at baggage claim.    Guess again.

For bi-national married couples who happen to be of the same gender, Immigration and Passport control at any major American airport, is for lack of a better metaphor, something of a crap shoot, all depending on the mood of the homeland security passport control agent you encounter.
For both Eric and I this is the most stressful part of the entire trip. To such a extent, that were it not also my parent’s golden wedding anniversary, we probably would have opted not to come at all.
Because of the ridiculously mis-named “Defence of Marriage Act” (or DOMA) , the Federal Government is barred from recognizing Eric as my Spouse, despite the fact that we are legally married in the United Kingdom. So the Department of Homeland Security must  treat Eric not as part of my family, but instead as just some non-American guy who is travelling with me. 
 So after an 8 hour transatlantic flight, we will stagger into the international arrivals hall and then (thanks to DOMA) have to split up into different lines to get through passport control. Eric who has a valid multiple entry tourist visa, will go the non-US Citizen line, while I go through the line for Americans and US Permanent Residents .

Eric will get to the little booth and hand his landing card and passport to the Agent. Now, let me explain why both of us tend to get very stressed  at this point.    Eric is  a Malaysian Citizen permanently living in the UK. He isn’t British, but is travelling from Britain,  his passport is Malaysian (an Islamic country) but he isn't Malay or Muslim.  He is Chinese, and  Buddhist. His landing card says he is visiting the United States to see his in-laws in Wisconsin.  But he isn’t in the US Citizen / Permanent Resident line with his “spouse”.   All of this, often  will  mystify and confuse the  US border agent.

Eric will then be subjected to a barrage of  more than slightly  aggressive  questions.  Such as  "So who is it  you are  travelling with, what is your relationship with this person,  and where are they now?"  All in spite of having a VALID multiple entry  tourist visa.  He will patiently answer  all the questions  (usually  three or more times).  At this point, the  TSA Border agent's brain completely fails to  grasp the concept of two men travelling together as married couple.  As a result , Eric is  “pulled aside” for additional screening that has at times, lasted more than four hours, where he is asked  the exact  same questions all over again.  

All because the U.S. Federal Government (which happily taxes me to support the Dept. of Homeland Security,) can’t treat us the way the British Government, treats us, as a married couple. Thanks to DOMA

In the past it has gotten so ridiculous that once I stood outside the international arrivals gate at the San Francisco Airport, loudly threatening to call all my members of congress and every single media outlet in Northern California if they didn’t let Eric through NOW!  (Thankfully at that point, they did...)  Mind you that was in San Francisco, a city where the concept of a same-sex couple travelling together was hardly unusual. This trip it will be Chicago O’Hare that will once more, put our faith in the Department of Homeland Security to the test.

How would you feel if; 1) In order to even be with, let alone marry the person you love, you had to move overseas. Then; 2) every time you wanted to visit your family,  it was entirely possible that  based on nothing more than a border agent’s mood, (not for any logical reason, evidence or probable cause), your husband or wife could be detained for hours, or even barred from entering the country.

All for no other reason, than the basic legal protections other married couples enjoy, we are denied, because the Republican Party needs to keep Gay and Lesbian Americans as the one group they can still legally hate, and discriminate against.

Welcome to our world, Happy Holidays. To our friends and family back in the States, we are looking forward to (hopefully) seeing you soon.

Dave & Eric

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Why Barack Obama will be Re-elected. Continued....

Writing this week in The Washington Post,  conservative heavyweight George Will, examines  the  now two-horse race for the GOP  Presidential  nomination  between former  Massachusetts  Governor, Willard, "Mitt" Romney, and former  House Speaker, and Georgia Congressman  Newt Gingrich.

In the piece,  Will characterizes  the reversal in  political fortunes of the two as a move from  "bad to worse".   In fairness,   George Will  is not what you could call  an unbiased  observer.  His own wife is an advisor to  rival  GOP Presidential candidate,  Texas Governor Rick Perry.  

When  the topic of  Newt Gingrich comes up  with  his fellow talking heads, on ABC's,  "This Week",  George Will  tends to  make it clear, he doesn't  take  Gingrich even remotely seriously.

As far as Mitt Romney goes, in his piece in the Washington Post, Will compares an Obama-Romney match up to Harry Truman going up against Thomas Dewey. Hardly a metaphor for Republican success. So who does George Will think the GOP should pick to go up against President Obama next November? Former U.S. Ambassador to China, and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman's positions of being in favor of civil unions for same sex couples, believing in climate change and evolution, mean he is the one candidate in the current GOP field who is not either, woefully opportunistic in their policy track record, or completely insane.

Thankfully for  Democrats  it also means  he is  the one man who  the Republican Party will never, ever, not in a million years,  pick as their nominee.  For the simple reason, the  nutjob  theocrats who now control the GOP would never allow it.

Why not?  Simple.  It's the same reason they are now  willing to  overlook Newt Gingrich's three marriages and track record of serial  adultery.   Huntsman, like Romney is a Mormon and that just gives  the Evangelical nutjobs  of the GOP the willies.

The fact that the opinion of George Will,  one of the  American Conservative Movement's most  prominent minds is being completely  ignored,  is a fascinating  glimpse into  the  Republican Party of  2011.  Their lockstep allegiance to  an American Taliban-esqe conservative social agenda at all costs,  will all but hand  a second term to  Barack Obama on silver platter.

It will be interesting to see  what  will happen  when the  Republican Party, which went completely insane when they lost to Barack Obama the first time,  faces the reality that  his  re-election  was far more their own doing,  than a result of anything the Democrats did.