Monday, July 29, 2013

And in other news... Water is Wet, and Bears Sh*t in the Woods...

It seems that the Sochi Winter Games are a massive boondoggle of corruption and environmental damage. The Economist looks into the state of the Sochi Games.

WITH seven months to go before the 2014 winter Olympics, Sochi is a gigantic construction site. Lorries run up and down dusty roads, excavators turn earth inside out, and 70,000 workers from every corner of the old Soviet Union dig, lift, pull and churn day and night. Imagining the finished venue is hard. “This is where bird lakes are supposed to be,” says Svetlana, a local activist, pointing to a pile of dirt.
In many ways Sochi is an odd choice for the winter games. It has a subtropical climate and is one of the very few places in Russia where snow is scarce. The opening and closing ceremonies will be held close to the Black Sea on swampy ground, once infested by malarial mosquitoes. Temperatures there rarely fall below zero. The lower slopes of the Caucasus Mountains are not guaranteed snow, so the organisers have stored last winter’s.

Yet President Vladimir Putin sees Sochi 2014 as his own pet project: a sign of his power over people and nature, and of his international legitimacy. That Mr Putin spends a lot of time in Sochi adds a personal touch. Yet, as Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and opposition leader who has written several reports on Sochi, argues, far from being a model of fair play, Sochi has emerged as a model of crony capitalism, lawlessness, inefficiency and disregard for nature and people. “The Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper in which representatives of Putin’s government are mixed up along with the oligarchs close to the government,” Mr Nemtsov writes.

Show of hands please...  anyone who is at all surprised by this?

Didn't think so....

Sunday, July 28, 2013

When History Repeats...

There once was a country that was due to host  the next  Winter Olympic Games.  This nation had worked very hard  to secure the games.    This  nation's leader saw it a  matter of both national and personal pride.  His nation  was emerging from  period of  economic  and political upheaval  stemming from  the collapse of it's former imperial system and the resulting loss in prestige.

Less than a year  out  from those upcoming games,  this nation passed a host of new laws which specifically targeted  one minority group, painting a picture of this group as a threat to children, the nation, and society at large.   the new laws  stated:
  • Marriages for members of this minority were forbidden. 
  • Sexual relations for members of this minority group were either restricted or forbidden. 
  • Members of this minority group could be fired from jobs for no reason other than for who they were. 
  • Members of this minority group were officially branded a security risk to the state.
As a result of these new laws being passed, groups of young thugs were reportedly emboldened into seeking out members of this minority group and harassing, beating and in some cases, torturing and even killing them.

The response from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the time ..... Silence.   Not one word of protest was heard, and a year later in 1936, just a few months after the passage of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, targeting Germany's Jewish population; The Winter Olympics were held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen Germany, under the watchful gaze of Germany's aggressive, charismatic leader, Adolf Hitler.

Funny how history often repeats itself ... Fast forward 78 years to 2013. We are less than a year out from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. An Olympic Games viewed by many as Russia's re-emergence on to the world cultural stage since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and clearly a point of personal pride for Russia's "macho-man" President, Vladimir Putin.

With only months go to before the opening ceremony of these games, Russia has seen fit to pass new laws which ..... specifically targets one minority group for discrimination and even criminal prosecution,  for no reason other than for who they are.

(From the Guardian.)

Russia's parliament has unanimously passed a federal law banning gay "propaganda" amid a Kremlin push to enshrine deeply conservative values that critics say has already led to a sharp increase in anti-gay violence.

The law passed 436-0 on Tuesday, with just one deputy abstaining from voting on the bill, which bans the spreading of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors. The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners.

Minutes after passing the anti-gay legislation, the Duma also approved a new law allowing jail sentences of up to three years for "offending religious feelings", an initiative launched in the wake of the trial against the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot. The two laws were widely criticised by Russia's marginalised liberal and human rights communities and come amid a wider crackdown against independent civil activity in the country.

Right on cue,  we get this report   from  Eastern European Human Rights watch dog group  Spectrum Human Rights Alliance.: 
President Putin's crusade against LGBT community in Russia took a new turn.
Infamous Russian ultra nationalist and former skin head, Maxim Martsinkevich, known under the nickname "Cleaver" (or "Tesak" in Russian) spearheaded a country wide campaign against LGBT teens using a popular social network to lure unsuspected victims through personal ads.

  Oddly enough their idea of fighting pedophiles targets exclusively male teenagers who respond to the same-sex personal ads and show up for a date. Captured victims are bullied and often tortured while being recorded on video.  These self-proclaimed "crime fighters" perform their actions under the broad day light, often outside and clearly visible to general public that indifferently passes by or even commend them. 

Video recordings of bullying and tortures are freely distributed on the Internet in order to out LGBT teens to their respective schools, parents and friends. Many victims were driven to suicides, the rest are deeply traumatized.    So far Russian police took no action against these "movements" even though Russian criminal code was clearly violated and despite numerous complaints from parents, victims and LGBT activists.  
Imagine for one moment if Russia's new laws were targeting Blacks, or Asians, or Women, or even Christians. Imagine groups of thugs using social media to lure any of those aforementioned groups into traps where they were beaten and tortured The global outcry would be deafening. 

The list of nations  boycotting the games in Sochi, would be so long that the IOC would have moved so fast to pull the games out of Russia,  as to make President Putin's head spin.  Yet just like with the Jews in 1935, to target Gays and Lesbians in 2013 garners barely a shrug from the International Olympic " family". Instead we get this:

The International Olympic Committee said Friday that athletes and visitors attending the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia will not be affected by anti-gay legislation passed last month.
"The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games," according to the statement emailed to USA TODAY Sports.
The IOC also said: "The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle."
Did you catch that? The response from the IOC is not that the laws in question are horrific
and wrong, but rather; "Oh don't worry... Putin has promised that he probably won't enforce these laws against people coming to Russia for the Olympics." Not that the brutal targeting and torture of LGBT youth in Russia must stop, but rather all those Gay Olympians and fans from outside Russia needn't worry about their own safety.

Now I hear many of you saying; "C'mon Dave! You are not really equating Russia in 2013 to Nazi Germany in 1935 are you ?"  Yes I am.   Am I equating Vladimir Putin with Adolf Hitler? Yes I am.   Am I saying the skinhead thugs who are attacking LGBT teens in Russia are the same as the Nazi supporters in the 1930's who attacked Jewish homes, shops and synagogues? Yes I am.

When you use the power of the state to scapegoat one minority for no other reasons than bigotry, and political expedience; When you allow a minority group to be terrorized, brutalized and marginalized for no other reason than they cant fight back; When you brand a minority group as less than human, and therefore deserving of inhuman treatment;   When you do these things, you are no different than the Nazi Brownshirts of Krystalnacht and the regime of Adolf Hitler that urged them on.

The IOC owes it to history, it owes it to the memory of those who could have possibly been helped, in 1935 when the Olympic Family was in a position to say this is wrong. The IOC owes it the LGBT citizens of not only Russia, but everywhere, to this time, do what is right, to live up to the words of the Olympic motto and take a stand for human rights.

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games must be moved out of Russia, and these modern day Anti Gay "Nuremberg Laws", must be loudly and unequivocally condemned.

Anything less, is just history repeating.

Authors Note - Special thanks to the incredible Stephen Fry for his support in getting this message out...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

News Round Up- Weddings, and Questions in a Post-DOMA World.

Well,  it's been  nearly  3 weeks  since I've posted here, and as is usually the case  with blogging pauses, there has been  quite a bit of news in the interval.   It's hard to know where to begin....

Eric and I took a brief vacation  back to the US over the July 4th Holiday and through the following week.   We went back to  San Francisco  to visit my family.  My parents  flew out to CA from Wisconsin and we were all gathered together to celebrate my Dad's  75th Birthday.    But  as usually happens  with us,  events  took some exciting  and unexpected turns.

After the recent  United States Supreme Court rulings  striking down both Prop 8 in California and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),  we knew  that  we wanted at some point this year to  get married in the U.S. so we could start  the process for Eric to  get a Green Card.   Some initial investigation  of this  revealed that  getting married in the State of California is two-step process.   First, you need an appointment to go   to the County Clerk's office and apply for a Marriage Licence.  Once you have that,  you have 90 days to get married before the license  expires.  You can either do a church wedding , as many do,  or do a civil marriage at SF City Hall,  for which you need to also book an appointment ahead of time.

Getting an appointment on July 9th  to get a marriage license was no problem,  but there were no open time slots for civil marriage ceremonies  at SF City Hall until October.  (As you might imagine, the change in the law has resulted in something of an increase in weddings in San Francisco!)    So  we figured we would get our license, then  in 2nd week of October, when I would be coming back to CA  anyway for  work,  we would actually get married.  Giving both us, and our friends and family a bit more time to plan the whole thing.   Good plan, right?

Then things got complicated,   Turns out  our Best Man,  our incredible and amazing friend  Rudy Guerrero, was not  available in October due to family commitments back in Hawaii,  also there were no civil ceremony appointment slots open until the end of October  not the beginning.   Time when I was committed  to  business trips to Berlin and Dubai.    

So we  started thinking  of Plan B's  like  getting married  in Oakland at the Alameda County Court House which took walk-in weddings.  If  all else failed my Mother, a Lutheran Pastor could marry us in my Sister's living room if need be.    So  on the morning of July 9th we arrived at San Francisco City Hall, to get our marriage license.

As We filled out the paper work, the  County official behind the counter  casually mentioned that there had been a last minute  wedding  cancellation  for that day at  1:30 pm,  and did we want it that time slot,  and also that we needed to decide right then as there were  hundreds of  couples calling every day to ask if any civil ceremony  slots  were available ....   I looked at Eric, he looked at me,  we both looked at our Best Man,  Rudy who indicated that time worked great for him.    We turned to back and said "We'll take it!".   A frantic phone call back to my Sister's house  then alerted my mostly still sleeping family that they had exactly three hours to get ready for our wedding.

It turned out to be a wonderful celebration with family and  friends that ended up with Eric and I  legally married in the State of California.   In addition to the incredible honor of having Rudy as our Best Man,  our  amazing friends  Julian, Josh and Joan responded to a last minute posting on Facebook, dropped  everything they were doing and dashed over to City Hall to attend.   It was an incredible day.    Yet, we soon learned,  it was a day that would prompt a question we would be asked  repeatedly for the rest of our visit to the US, and  again  upon our return to London the past week...
"So.. When are you guys moving to the U.S?"

That is a difficult question,  for a lot of reasons.  Not the least of which is purely logistic.   The lengthy, and complicated process  of my move  from San Francisco to London two years ago was physically, emotionally and financially  exhausting.  So the prospect of packing up our lives all over again to move  half way  across the world is a bit daunting.   Yet the question  keeps being asked,  don't I want to come home?

Home....  That's a tricky concept.    Yes I am an American  (and always very proud to be one...).  Yet  my life is  here.   My  spouse,  our jobs, our home many of our friends, and some of Eric's family  are all here  in London.   Yet,  my family,  and the vast majority of my friends  are  back in the States.   It is  in many ways  like being  caught between  two  different  lives, trying to live with one foot in each.    So the question of whether or not to move back to America  is hardly  a yes or no proposition.  

Of course I miss the United States, but I also love our life  here, I love  our friends and family  that we have here .   So  in truth  the only answer  I  can give is,  we  have no  plans to move back the United States right now.  But we are  incredibly happy to now have the option to move  back.  Options we didn't have prior to the recent Supreme Court rulings.   Options that  we may well  decide to pursue down the road.  

In the meantime  we say  to all our friends  in both North and South America,  Continental Europe, Australia and Asia,  our guest room here in London awaits you !    You are thought of often and  always missed.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Okay, I admit it...

I am generally a very empathetic and  caring person,  so  I am  not given to bouts of  Schadenfreude.  (For those of you  whose German is a tad rusty...)

But you know what...?   FineI admit it,  I am  really really  enjoying the  epic meltdown that is  currently happening over on the Wing-nutty anti-gay political and religious Right  in the United States, in the wake of last week's historic  Supreme Court Rulings, striking down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and  California's Proposition 8.

It's been more than fun,  frankly it's been a joy to watch.   Last Sunday on Meet the Press, American Taliban  spokesnuts Jim DeMint   and Ralph Reed, were  foolish enough to to think they could come on television and spew their   "think of the Children!!" nonsense.   Unfortunately for little Jimmy and Ralphie  there were grown ups on the panel ...  Cue Rachel with the epic smackdown.

Two interesting sound bytes there.  the first  being  DeMint's  flogging of the talking point that  giving LGBT Americans  equal rights is  somehow "demeaning" to bigots like him, who are angry they are no longer  allowed to  discriminate against Gays and Lesbians.   Oooh... Poor Baby!  

The second  interesting tid-bit  came right at the end of that clip where  Ralph Reed said  he couldn't "just let that go".  Which is one of the few truly honest things Reed has ever said on television.    He, and others like him have made their  considerable personal fortunes stoking fear and hatred of LGBT Americans and then turning that  homophobia in to cash.   Reed, and  his assorted ilk, are now  facing a new reality where  they are staring both unemployment and irrelevance in the face, and boy....  they are NOT happy about it.

You know what...?    GOOD!

The social-political Right Wing in the United States has spend decades demeaning,  demonizing  and attacking  Gays and Lesbians, driving  LGBT youth to suicide and then reveling in those deaths.  They have used the religious pulpit and the political podium to wage a war against an entire group of  Americans,  Men, Women and Children,  all for financial and political gain,  perverting the very religions they claim to profess in the process.

So  yeah,  I  am happy,  actually very happy that these merchants of bigotry and death are now facing  the end of their gravy train of hate.  I am overjoyed that  they feel  that  America has left them behind,  because in fact, it has.   Their day is over.

To be honest,  I am thoroughly  enjoying their pain. In fact,  I  so happy about it ... that I feel a song coming on....