Happy Pride!

PrideThis year’s Pride marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots (Pride month is generally June).

In the United States in the 1960s, gay bars were raided by police regularly, and anyone found within was alternately beaten or arrested, or both.

But on June 28, 1969, the people fought back. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted the police and as many as 2,000 people took part in the ensuing riot, which lasted several days.

The Stonewall riots are often credited with sparking the modern equality movement of the GLBT community.

It is worth remembering and thinking about this as we celebrate Pride this year. Gay Pride events around the world celebrate the movement’s progress towards equality for queer people, and it’s hard to imagine “the movement” without Stonewall.

We have come a long way in 40 years, but full equality is still elusive. The Gay Pride movement is as important as ever. But some argue that events like Pride parades mar “mainstream” society’s perception of the queer community, doing more harm than good.

Non-queer or non-queer-friendly people may look at the display with disdain, imagining that the nudity, Dykes on Bikes, leather daddies, bears, drag queens, and drag kings are a representative depiction of the queer community as a whole. And these people would be hypocrites who haven’t taken a moment to really think about it.

Do Americans have to struggle to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Mardi Gras? Does the rest of the world imagine that all Americans are always drunken, vomiting fucktards in elaborate costumes who get naked for some cheap plastic beads? Do Brasilians have to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Carnival? What about teenagers and twenty-somethings after Spring Break? Do they all have to go back to their respective high schools, colleges, and home towns and prove that they aren’t always drunken freaks who will fuck and suck anyone or anything in front of a camera?

Do people who participate in Mardi Gras, Carnival, or Spring Break relinquish their politics?

Pride, like Mardi Gras, Carnival, Spring Break, and probably most weddings you’ve been to, is a celebration. It’s a liberation. Once a year, queers and queer-friendly straight people come together to celebrate and party. And on Monday they all don their normal clothes and go to their normal jobs, come home to their normal spouses and make a normal dinner for their normal kids (or what-have-you).

You needn’t look hard to see that the political/social struggle for equality and resistance against discrimination and oppression are still alive and well within Pride events: signs, booths, petitions, flyers, buttons, flags, and statements from stage are ubiquitous. Members of the queer community who bemoan Pride events as lacking politics are perhaps missing the point. Gay Pride is a celebration first and foremost, but it is also a political statement by the very fact of its existence.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a group of friends while watching one of the early season one episodes of the lesbian show The L Word. The conversation was about whether or not The L Word was a political show. Someone asked me my opinion and I said that I thought the existence of the show itself is a political statement.

Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” In this case, the Pride parade itself—that thumping beat, that rainbow flag, that naked body, that cheering crowd—is the message. That is the politics.

Millions of people from all over the world travel to some of the biggest Prides, in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Sydney, etc. It’s a celebration, but the message is that it’s okay to be queer and proud of it, that it’s okay to celebrate sexuality. These are still political messages.

The sexual liberation of Pride owes a lot to the feminist and “free love” movements, advocating that it’s okay to be sexual, to enjoy sex, to talk about sex (as long as it is between, or among, consenting adults). The queer community embraces and celebrates queerness, sexuality, and the body. That’s political.

Not that Pride is all about sex. Far from it. It’s about community, family, politics, music, kids and dogs, water guns and stickers, drinking and dancing, open-mindedness, acceptance, celebration, and…pride.

Pride is a confluence of politics, community, and celebration. Maybe the overt politics do come second to the celebration. But it is a celebration after all. Some 363 days of the year most queers live their politics, constantly fighting for equal rights. Two days out of the year they celebrate because they are not ashamed of who they are; they are proud to shout it from the back of a flatbed truck.

If Pride were a three-day conference with political speakers and action groups, do you think anyone in the mainstream public would care? Would municipal governments, business owners, and the media clamour to be a part of it? Would we be all over the television, internet, and newspapers? Not a chance.

The gay rights movement, like any equality movement, is about the socio-political struggle for equal rights. Pride is about celebration.

The two can, and do, converge.

The torture debate is torture!

Again in the news today the Republican Party is bleating the same old nonsensical party line.

The Republican Party has incurred the wrath of many by speaking to the press about a closed Intelligence Committee hearing on interrogation that took place on Thursday.

And what did they say? “Torture worked,” of course. It’s the same line many, especially Dick Cheney, have been touting for months and months now. Except that they don’t use that word “torture;” they say “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

First they denied that the United States tortured. “We do not torture,” said Bush and Cheney and others.

Then all of this stuff called factual evidence came out proving that the United States did indeed torture, so now they’re denying that it was bad because it “worked.”

And now everywhere—on every news program, in every newspaper, on every blog, on every political commentary show—people are just arguing over whether or not torture “works.”

Back and forth, back and forth. Over and over and over again. It’s nauseating.

Because amid all of this headache-inducing arguing, no one is saying the one thing that actually matters, that is truly important, that will render the debate irrelevant: IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!

While it’s nice that most evidence indicates that torture does not work (worse, that it is detrimental and impedes the interrogative progress), it simply does not matter. It is illegal. Period.

The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture quite clearly:

From Article 1:

  • “For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

From Article 2:

  • “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
  • “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The United States signed this Convention in 1988, about three years after 24 other nations signed it.

The United States and all of the other countries in the world also signed The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which states in part:

  • “The present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.”
  • “The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.”
  • “Prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them. Irrespective of the individual responsibilities that may exist, the Detaining Power is responsible for the treatment given them.”
  • “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.”
  • “Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”
  • “Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.”

Okay, so here we have the two legally binding, international agreements signed by the United States.

And over here we have the pile of evidence (including Dick Cheney’s own use of the word “torture”) showing that the United States did in fact violate the UN Convention against torture and the Geneva Convention. This International Committee of the Red Cross report (among many, many other papers that have been released or leaked) proves that these violations occurred.

And nowhere will you see in the UN Convention or the Geneva Convention a line that reads: “But if you think that torture works, then please disregard all of the above.”

It simply doesn’t matter whether or not it worked. It is heartening to know that most evidence suggests it does not, as that lends credence to the folks fighting for justice and human rights—but it’s irrelevant.

The only relevant point is that torture is illegal; it’s not to be done.

But nobody is saying this! Talking heads and…writing hands are all busy making noise about whether or not it worked. If somehow Dick Cheney manages to get his two imaginary “all-proving” memos declassified and released, will that absolve the U.S. because the torture worked and therefore was not illegal?!?!

I work in the arts and therefore don’t have a lot of money. I’ve got student loan debt and credit card debt. I’d love to travel and buy a new bike. But I don’t have money. Perhaps I should rob a bank! I wouldn’t be breaking the law, right, because if I robbed a bank I’d have money, which would prove that robbing the bank worked.

There are some people in this world I don’t like. I don’t use the word “hate” (and mean it) very often, but there are a couple of people I wouldn’t mind being dead. Maybe I should kill them! I wouldn’t be breaking the law, right, because if I killed them then they would be dead, thus proving that killing them worked in accomplishing making them dead.

Every day I read a lot of blogs and newspaper articles from all over the world, I listen to podcasts and radio shows, I watch the news and political commentary shows (yes, even some right-wing shows, though admittedly not very often because I like my head and don’t want it to explode). And I think only twice have I heard someone say that this whole debate is childish and backwards, that it’s irrelevant whether or not torture is effective because no one’s supposed to do it.

One of those people was Rachel Maddow, whose show I happily admit to listening to every day. Here’s what she said on the matter, and I think she sums up the argument brilliantly and viscerally:

“Ultimately I think the debate will have fully matured when we stop debating that point all together. I mean, what if you can get great answers out of people from waterboarding? What if you can get great answers out of people from dangling them out of helicopters over the open sea? What if you can get great answers out of people from raping them or killing their children in front of them? I mean, honestly—where do you stop?! The point about torture is that it doesn’t matter if it’s  effective; we don’t do it!

“The whole debate about effectiveness denies the idea that torture is beyond the pale. The reason that there are statutes against torture is not because people never thought it was effective before and were doing it otherwise. Everybody who has ever tortured did it because they thought it was effective—whether to discover whether or not somebody was a witch, or whether to discover the end of the plot on 24, or whether to discover whatever it was Dick Cheney wanted to discover in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

“But the point of effectiveness ultimately will be left behind when the debate returns to its rational foundations.”

Aaaah, fully matured debates and rational foundations. If only.

(For more on this topic, as explored by me, click here.)

Oprah gets called out for her quackery

Here is a really good article from NEWSWEEK calling out Oprah Winfrey and her parade of pseudoscientific guests for promoting quackery. The article doesn’t go too deeply into the science of things, so I just want to make a few comments.

The first one is brief. Regarding the woman who adopted the strategy of “The Secret” (I can hardly type that without gagging) and rid herself of breast cancer: There is such a thing as spontaneous remission. It is rare (estimates range from 1 in 60,000 to 1 in 100,000), but it is medically documented and happens often enough considering cancer rates. For more on spontaneous remission, read this.

Now, a more lengthy comment on vaccinations and the anti-vaccination movement. There are no discernible links between autism and vaccinations. Nearly 20 scientific, reproducible studies have been conducted throughout the world to date, and the indisputable conclusion is that there is no association between autism and vaccines. Study after study after study, including the U.S. Autism Omnibus proceedings, prove that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

The major battle cry of anti-vaccinationists was that thimerosal (the preservative used to prolong the shelf life of vaccines) was the cause of autism. In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated thimerosal in vaccines and found no evidence that it causes any harm. However, they ordered the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines as a precautionary measure (in essence to placate the hysterical). Ten years after thimerosal was removed from vaccines, autism rates have continued to rise.

One “study” and the “doctor” who conducted it, Dr. Wakefield, connected the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine with autism. Despite not one scientist being able to replicate the results of this study for years, the anti-vaccinationists have clung to it as all the proof they needed.

Except that Dr. Wakefield’s findings have now been shown to be completely bogus:

“…there has emerged potential explanations of how Wakefield was able to obtain the results he did. This evidence, combined with unprecedented access to medical records, a mass of confidential documents and cooperation from parents during an investigation by this newspaper, has shown the selective reporting and changes to findings that allowed a link between MMR and autism to be asserted.”

One study—a fabricated study—has caused people to hysterically decry vaccinations, many refusing to have their children vaccinated. The result? No more herd immunity, for one. Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population is vaccinated that protection is afforded to the unprotected (and in some cases especially susceptible, perhaps because of illness or poor immune systems). The mechanism is simple—infection can’t easily pass from person to person when the majority of the population is protected. The chain is broken. Now in the UK vaccination rates have sunk so low that herd immunity is not maintained. And in North America, we’re getting close to that.

The result is that children will die needlessly of measles, mumps, and rubella. We think of these diseases as antiquated, but that’s only because in the past immunizations and herd immunity has protected children from them. Now that some parents are listening to the anti-vaccinationist wackos and refusing to vaccinate their children, these diseases are on the rise. And they can be deadly.

It is true that autism rates have been rising, but the cause of this rise is a controversial subject. Either true autism rates are rising, or increased surveillance and a wider definition of “autism” has made it appear as though the rates are rising. The second hypothesis is more strongly supported by available evidence. Simply, it is that more cases are being diagnosed, not that more cases are occurring.

So Jenny McCarthy, the head cheerleader of the anti-vaccination movement (who has recently recruited her boyfriend Jim Carrey to the battle), and all of the other credulous folks who believe the propaganda and pseudoscience, are actually endangering your children by not having theirs vaccinated.

One wonders why they aren’t concerned with the real causes of autism, focusing their energy, time, and money on scientific research that may one day provide an answer.

Taking responsibility

If only everyone could be this brave and honest about their role in inciting violence.

Frank Schaeffer is a former far-right religious fundamentalist who wrote a book called Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.

In the clip below, Schaeffer explains how words have consequences and apologizes for contributing to the extremism that has led to, among other things, the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller. Courageously, Schaeffer speaks very honestly about the radicalism of the movement he was a part of and its culpability in encouraging and celebrating violence.

Please check out the video. Here are some highlights:

  • “There is a direct line connecting the rhetoric that I was part of as a young man and this murder. People like me are responsible for what we said and what we did and the way we raised the temperature on this debate out of all bounds…. This is what helps unhinge a society.”
  • “We were egging people on…. We were opening a gate.”
  • “What scares me is that I see that the rhetoric of the Republican party right now, including the former vice president, about our newly elected African-American president has the same sort of coded stuff in it: he’s not a real American, he’s making America less safe, he’s a secret Muslim…he’s the antichrist. They also know full well that we have people out there who would take it to the next step and say, ‘Well gee…maybe the best thing we can do is pull another trigger some other day.'”