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Robust McManlyPants on Average Display » politics

politics


Heavens. I can’t believe I let this sit for 10 months. A quick run-down of the things that have happened since my last update:

  • I won the 2012 Laine Cunningham Novel Award from The Blotter with my novel Perishables. It’s three connected stories about various experiences of a zombie apocalypse. In one of them, a vampire is at a meeting of his homeowners’ association when the dead rise. It’s a little silly and a little funny and a little serious and it has terrible recipes in it.
  • I published Perishables via Smashwords and Kindle and then decided to edit and publish the sequel, called Tooth & Nail. It’s built on a heavily edited NaNoWriMo I did some years ago about the same vampire.
  • I worked the partisan primary runoff election and my staff never mentioned the O’Keefe video. I’m sure they had seen it, but no one brought it up. I was intensely grateful.
  • I worked the general election in November. Jesus H. Christ on a platinum surfboard, what a day. I’ve never been so busy. It was busier than the partisan primary but the county gave me lots of staff and we all survived. There were partisan observers from both major parties in my precinct but they were very kind to me and to one another. Again, I’m sure lots of those people had seen the video but no one said anything. I was at least ten times as grateful because I had plenty more to think about that day. I also passed the election without any major run-ins with campaigners though I did have a couple of really amusing conversations with them.
  • I spent much of last autumn thinking about Tooth & Nail while I did a few promotional activities for Perishables: interviews on blogs and podcasts, for instance, and a few Google Hangouts with a group devoted to zombie fiction fandom. It was nice, after all the stupid bullshit of a year ago, to have a fictional world in which I could curl up and forget reality.
  • I ran my first 5K fun-run last October and my friend who is 6’7″ and ex-Army Airborne had trouble keeping up with me.
  • I spent November, December and January editing Tooth & Nail and dealing with my next-to-last class in the graduate certificate program I’ve been pursuing. I was kind of a stress ball.
  • I’ve spent the spring semester dealing with my last class and I still am kind of a stress ball.
  • I tried to play in two games of Call of Cthulhu at Dragon*Con last year, both of which were disastrous busts. I ended up running a one-shot for the Scourge of Nibelheim (aka “the Vampire group”) a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it but it ran too long and I didn’t get to include like half the stuff I came up with for it because I am just terrible at managing a game and remembering, you know, the poignant bits.
  • I had Shadowrun pretty much ruined for me, and for all my friends, by one really terrible game of it at Dragon*Con. Way to stay classy, totally-separate-and-self-isolating-and-aggressively-dickishly-insular Shadowrun Dragon*Con gaming track.
  • I ran my first timed 5K a few weeks ago and on a cloudy, rainy morning of running uphill at ~40F I clocked in at 25:13.6, 7th out of 46. I am extremely happy with that!
  • I’ve learned to love Twitter. Seriously, I used to say it was the diametric opposite of what I wanted the Internet to grow up to be but it is pretty great.
  • I gave a five-minute lightning talk at the opensource.com #cc10 get-together celebrating 10 years of Creative Commons:

  • I’m approximately two years behind on reading comics. I plan to catch up as soon as I finish this graduate certificate program next month.
  • I’ve been asked to contribute a short story to an anthology built around the theme of “invasion” and am currently mulling some ideas. I am super-excited!
  • I attended my twenty year high school reunion and survived it and even reconnected majorly with some really wonderful people I knew back in the day. Facebook and life in general have gotten a lot more entertaining as a result.
  • I’ve joined a queer softball league.
  • I’m going to be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte the weekend of 5/31 through 6/2!
  • I want the word “marriage” and I want to win the Supreme Court cases, absolutely, but I am also a little bit afraid that the queer communities will be divided into “normals” and “freaks” if we win and that the Right will use our victory as an opportunity to draw a line between those of us who are already primed for idle conformity: relatively moneyed, adhering more closely to rigid gender roles and identities, white, middle-class, “safe”. It will be vital, if we win this, to remember that it still must be okay to be different. Difference is what has given us the culture we create and celebrate together and difference has given us the advantages we are afforded by outsider status in the larger culture around us. We must continue to value people who have different families, different identities, different relationships (or none at all), different goals, different priorities and different beliefs. We do not all have to settle down into quiet, monogamous, dom/sub, top/bottom dichotomies defined by doggy day care and dinner parties. We have to stay freaks somehow.
  • My house is ruled by my cats and sometimes I find that really frustrating but mostly I am thrilled beyond measure at their benevolent dictatorship.
  • I’ve been watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 while at the gym and it is really fucking good.
  • Last year I skipped NaNoWriMo – what would have been my tenth – to focus on editing Tooth & Nail. This summer I’m doing My Own Private NaNo to work on the first draft of a science fiction novel, the setting for which was developed in a two-session game of Microscope played by Scourge of Nibelheim.
  • We tried Fiasco this year and it is so. Freaking. Fun.
  • I bought a new camera – an Olympus – and I loooooove it.

Is that everything? I think that’s everything. A year of blogging in a single post. Heavens, indeed.

The short version is simply that I changed my mind.

I spent the days between my last post and the subsequent meeting of the Board of Elections discussing this with friends and with election colleagues. Everyone’s reaction was the same: don’t quit. Don’t let O’Keefe and his band of idiots beat you, don’t let them control the fate of your precinct, don’t let them have veto power over us, don’t give in, don’t be so damned easy to beat. The last one was one of the main things that swayed me. Quitting immediately on finding out about the heavily manipulated video seemed like the responsible thing to do but it also felt like giving up without a fight and I hate that. I hate that feeling more than any other.

All these conversations also gave me some time to cool off and get some perspective. These jerks did this to me only incidentally. I am collateral damage to them. Their real goal is obviously to build a case in favor of voter ID laws which rig the system against populations comprising persons whose lives don’t allow a lot of time for doing paperwork. They wind up targeting minorities and the poor and especially those individuals who are both, meaning they target Democrats. Voter ID laws are bald attempts at voter disfranchisement. It occurred to me somewhere along the way that one of the better arguments against voter ID is the absence of voter fraud and that means making sure there are attentive, alert people working the polls on election day. I am by no means perfect in the execution of my duties as an election official but I am very attentive and alert when it comes to the goings-on in my precinct.

Those aren’t the only reasons I changed my mind but they were some of them and I had enough, altogether, to decide that I did not want to show up simply to resign. Instead, I went to the meeting, asked to explain my side of the story – as detailed in the previous post – and at the end I said, quite simply, that I understood my job as an election official is to assure the public that their votes are fairly counted and that is also the job of the Board of Elections. As such, if it would increase the public’s trust to have me resign I would be glad to do so but if the Board did not ask me to resign then I would continue in my post. I wanted to give them the option to overrule me or bring to bear some greater experience or expertise.

The Board asked me only one question: could I take the oath of office for my position and mean it? I said that I could, yes, and here’s why: because I don’t have to marry anyone on election day and, more importantly, I don’t have to tell anyone that they can’t get married. The Board was satisfied with that answer and said that they appreciated my offer and my willingness to cooperate but that they saw no reason for me to quit.

So, I’m still an election judge.

It was quite an interesting experience, all told, and I sort of mean “interesting” just as a simple adjective but also sort of in the sense of the old proverb. One member of the Board hadn’t watched the video yet, so we all got to sit there and watch it together. Less than fully fun. However, it provided an opportunity for members of the Board to note that which all my journalist, videographer and editor friends, as well as general tech-heads, noticed: that there are times when the video is not video and the audio doesn’t sync and all the other obvious symptoms of heavily manipulated footage.

The Durham County GOP’s new(?) chair was there to address the Board regarding the 20 or 30 seconds of video that contained me. After hearing me speak and confirm that I could take the oath he said he had no discussion to add or objection to make. It was nice having a Republican in an actively partisan role be pleasant to me for once.

At one point a member of the Board noted that I should take from this the lesson that we – people involved in elections administration – simply don’t get to speak the way others do sometimes. I agreed that it was woefully unwise of me to speak to someone claiming to be a reporter when I was so emotionally raw but I noted that the footage they cut and/or edited was me trying to talk them down from lines of questioning with which they tried to lead me to advocate violence or other forms of extremism. They came at me hoping to get me to say that now was the time to light the bonfires and instead I assured them that time was on our side and the path to progress was one of civility. The things I said to them were not extremist but they were made to appear that way by a couple of lying sacks of shit.

I perhaps unwisely hurried to remind the Board member in question that at 1:00 AM on Wednesday 9 May, when that video was taken, I was on my time. I sat there and did my job from 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM on election day and I never said a word no matter what I heard said about me by voters – and I did hear epithets, at least one of which might have been directed at me by a voter with functioning gaydar though I’ll never know and don’t really want to know – but when I clocked out that night I stepped back inside the protections of the First Amendment and regained the right to make any mistake I felt like making.

That’s how I know I do most definitely still want to be more of an activist.

The question I have been trying to answer since then is that one: what kind of activist do I want to be? The answer I’ve arrived at is this: the kind who gets things done. Standing outside and shouting about an issue can get things done and I love that kind of activism because it’s so kinetic. It involves lots of doing and saying and getting out in the world and it’s a great way to network and meet people and make friends and allies. It’s also a great way to make enemies and nothing makes one feel more alive than having a lively enemy.

The way real change happens in our society, though, is through the legal system. The history of social justice in America is one of people marching in the streets to stay visible while their attorneys work in quiet tones to dismantle the barriers to justice and progress. With that in mind, I’m now seriously considering going to law school. I’m 37, my undergraduate degree was in Performance Studies, my career is in information security and my graduate program is to get a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Information Assurance, Security and Privacy. Not exactly a pre-law degree and a lifespan capable of taking on the student loans, I know. I may have other options for paying for some of it as a job benefit and I may be able to go part-time and I may have other options available that are as yet totally unknown to me. It’s the idea I keep coming back to, though: becoming a lawyer, working in security-related law and doing voting rights advocacy work otherwise. The idea of the LSAT terrifies me and the idea of four to six more years of school after this one terrifies me. The idea of having zero downtime in my life and new debt and not having any clue what my career would look like at the other end all terrify me.

I keep coming back to that anyway, though, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.

The night of the election, May 8th, I went out to a local pub called the bar and met some friends and did some convivial mourning of the outcome of the vote on Amendment One. When we were done I stayed behind to pay the tab while The Boyf went outside to wait for me. I found him having a conversation with two young guys, one of whom had a video camera. They stated that they were with Duke’s student news publication The Chronicle and that they were interviewing gay and gay-friendly voters about Amendment One and our reactions to it. We spent several minutes having a conversation that was very positive and upbeat and during which I first articulated and processed many of the emotional reactions that are reflected in my post from a few days later. They taped me during this interview and asked me to state my name. Then they said they had turned off the camera and transitioned to a jokey, conversational style of chatter with us during which we and they were opining freely and sharing our feelings. The filmmaker (who appears in the video wearing a UNC cap and reflective silver sunglasses, with blond hair and a dark beard) represented himself as a bisexual student activist. They made me think I was getting the opportunity to lift their spirits in a moment of defeat and I believe too much in my community to do otherwise than seek to raise it up when it is brought low. I was completely sober but I had been awake for 21 hours and working on my feet for 19 of them. I was exhausted and I did not ask for ID or other credentials because I prefer to live in a world where it’s possible to have a conversation on the street and express an opinion without fear of abuse.

What they actually did was leave the camera running and, later, pull out select quotes with no context. They dropped all the talk of Amendment One and activism and my feelings as a voter – my observations about how much good has happened in the last twenty years and how much work this gives an activist to be excited about – and used my honesty about hesitating to take the oath of office again to suggest that I was stating I would only enforce portions of the state constitution in my role as an election judge. If one listens to what I say in the video then it’s clear that isn’t what I mean but they do their best to distract from that by failing to caption the words that make it clear and by running out-of-context audio over other footage later. A professional journalist who has reviewed the video said there are obvious signs of manipulative editing that any trained observer would recognize as signs that the video should not be taken at face value and that these will ultimately hurt the video more than help its apparent message.

The kids making the video were, it turns out, part of James O’Keefe’s organization. They used twenty or thirty seconds of me in a ten-minutes-and-change video they say demonstrates how easy it would be to commit voter fraud in North Carolina.

I posted the following comment on the video:

As one of the persons in this video I think it’s important to note that the filmmaker misrepresented himself and the topic to me, performed selective editing and dropped an extended conversation in favor of the juiciest quote with no context. This is an important issue tragically reduced to fumbled anonymous “gotcha” journalism. I decided the next day to resign as an election official because I believe we must mean the words we say, especially oaths. I wish the filmmaker had been that honest.

Overnight it received enough “down” votes to become invisible.

Most of the people with whom they speak are not election officials and are in no way experts on election law. They have nothing to do with enforcing those laws. They are not persons who would be allowed into a voting enclosure on election day for any reason other than to cast their own ballot and leave. They are not people who run elections but they are as welcome as anyone else to have opinions about them. I can only assume that those persons also find themselves misrepresented and their words mischaracterized and taken out of context to put them in the most negative possible light. They also misrepresent the activities at the bar that night to be some sort of official results party but it was just another night at the bar. There was no organization and no party. He line-danced with a bunch of lesbians who were there to line-dance. I am sure there are places where line-dancing is a political act but that night, in that place, it was not a preordained one.

Needless to say, I am saddened and infuriated and disappointed.

One of the things I find most frustrating about this is the ignorance the filmmaker shows regarding the very laws he’s claiming to investigate. When he fraudulently presents himself as another person and then volunteers that he has no ID he is told that they cannot ask for ID. That’s the law; the workers in a polling place are not allowed to ask for ID. If someone wants to show it to us then I suppose they can but we are not allowed to ask and he is taking advantage of that by approaching elections workers rather than legislators as though we should be expected to be more stringent than the law. Precinct officials enforce the laws as they exist; legislators craft them. When he states that he is not comfortable not showing ID and the election official gives him a slightly dismissive, “OK,” that’s something I recognize as the response of a person who has heard a hundred crazier things before lunch every election day for years. One person who thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t have to show ID is way down the list of things to worry about.

Other examples in which he absurdly overstates or misrepresents the circumstances and their risks:

  • He violates the law by filming inside a precinct. This is explicitly forbidden and there is clear signage to this effect in any polling place that has been deployed in accordance with the law. No responsible journalist would violate this. By filming inside the polling place he risked the secrecy of the ballots of anyone else who was in there at the same time. I’ve worked with media on election days in the past and know that a real journalist will show up aware of the law and eager to abide by it. He is none of these things.
  • He breaks the law by misrepresenting himself to election officials who then attempt to enforce the law by asking him to sign his name.
  • He makes a big deal of being told that an “X” will suffice, as though election officials are also tasked with administering literacy examinations. An illiterate person is still a citizen. They may not be able to sign their own name but they may indicate their understanding and an X is a legal mark in that regard. They also most certainly may bring in a family member or a friend and ask that person to assist them in marking their ballot because it is their right to vote regardless of whether they can read. There are machines that have the ability to read a ballot to a person through a set of headphones if they are illiterate and wish to vote; we are required by law to have them available in every precinct. Literacy or illiteracy is no bar to legal voting.
  • The filmmaker interrogates administrators at a university as though they are administrators of elections and characterizes their failure to begin administering elections, on the spot, as a failure of some sort.
  • The filmmaker’s central “gotcha” is his claim that a person who once declined jury duty on the grounds of not being a citizen is now on the voter rolls, a claim which every local news outlet and a number of online sites has pointed out is true and legal because the person in question became a naturalized citizen and is now eligible to vote like any other citizen no matter what he put on a jury duty form in the past.

The central mission of election administration – and therefore of anyone who oversees elections in any official capacity – is one of establishing and maintaining trust in the results that are publicized. Every step of the way, every moment of the training classes we attend before every election, every form and seal and signature, every moment in which a judge or other official is forced to make a judgment call, should have as its foremost aim to maintain or increase the level of trust the public can have in the integrity of their election outcomes. The filmmaker exploited my honesty and my interest in the sincerity of my oath of office in an attempt to damage that trust. I cannot think of anything worse he could have done to me that night. I’ve been mugged, I’ve been assaulted, I’ve had cars and homes vandalized, I’ve been called names and had in fact been called names that very day in the course of doing my sworn duty as an elections official. None of that made me feel more intensely hurt than I do at this moment. I have spent years working to increase the faith other persons have in the mechanisms of local government and their community’s ability to come together and practice democracy. This kid thought that seemed like a fun can to kick and nothing more.

As noted here and elsewhere I have been struggling with the question of whether to continue as an election judge in light of the approval of Amendment One. I was 95% certain that I was going to resign. This has made up my mind for the remaining 5%. If I’m featured in a video that has any chance of calling into question the veracity of elections results in my precinct then I must absolutely step out of the way in favor of maintaining the public trust in elections overall. It stinks to high heaven for me, personally, to have the decision made for me like that by this one random and incredibly dishonest kid with a camera but such is life. My priority really is making sure that elections are fairly administered and the best thing I can do in support of that is to guarantee that elections in my precinct or my county are not somehow tainted by my involvement in them. My service is to the public and to the public trust, not to myself or some personal sense of false ownership over my precinct or any other aspect of the elections process. I would gladly step down if it would prevent one voter from doubting elections for one second.

There are two things I find incredibly ironic about this whole situation. One is that I spoke with him about the importance of being honest when I speak the words of my oath of office and yet he had been dishonest with me in order to get me to discuss those honest concerns. I believe that we must mean the words we say, always, or they lose value; that oaths we take to one another, to an ideal or to a society must be made to the highest standard of honesty possible. I wish this guy could share the same degree of integrity.

The other great irony is that he has pushed me out of the neutral role of election judge and thus freed me to be more of an activist. If his goal was to embarrass me, he has certainly succeeded and I suppose is to be congratulated for having gone to such tremendous lengths to get one moment of tired stupidity. If his goal on the other hand was to diminish my enthusiasm for the outcomes of elections or to make it impossible for me to participate in them in any way possible then he is a miserable failure. Before our conversation I was an election official whose activities were restricted to the voting enclosure and a fifty foot arc emanating from its front door. Now my turf is the rest of the world and I plan to work no less hard on it.

Two stills, pulled from his video, show a better look at the young man who conducted the interview. His cameraman was an overweight guy in his early 20’s with unkempt red hair and a fluffy red beard. He wore overalls and a t-shirt as I recall. I thought they were just absurdly dressed hipsters.


The guy conducting the interview.

The guy conducting the interview.

Another view of the guy conducting the interview.

Another view of the guy conducting the interview.


Having given myself a couple of days to digest Tuesday’s results and my own feelings regarding them, I have a few thoughts on the passage of Amendment One.

First, it was not at all a surprise. I gave money and had conversations with friends and with strangers and went running on the American Tobacco Trail wearing my bright blue “I’m Voting Against / Ask Me Why” t-shirt (and was, once or twice, actually approached by people but always to receive a message of support) and I bought yard signs for myself and for others including some people I didn’t even know. I talked loud and proud about it when walking in my neighborhood with brother and neighbor Pants Wilder in hopes maybe someone would overhear us and be given a reason to reconsider if they were in support of its passage. I knew it would pass, though. I wanted to make sure it would pass by the smallest possible margin and in all honesty I think we got that. Twenty points probably is the smallest possible margin for something like this. I know that sounds implausibly upbeat but I’ve realized this week that I got all my mourning out of the way before the election even happened and I am free of that now.

Second, this is not a loss. Oh, it will harm people and there has been plenty of jowly gloating already and the “Vote FOR” people had the tackiest possible victory party in the universe complete with a seven-tiered wedding cake and a plastic – glossy plastic! – bride and groom figurine on top, but what else do they have now? They beat us on this before the game ever started, way back in ’96 with the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Tuesday was a victory lap and that stings – bitterly – and it damages real people and I am not immune to anger at that but it isn’t the end. It passed with 60% of the vote but that is significantly less than similar amendments have passed in other Southern states in recent years. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page for marriage amendments and you will see some horrifying percentages: 81% in Tennessee and Alabama, for instance. North Carolina was the last state in the South without an amendment and we passed it by the lowest margin in the South. Just stop and ask yourself what would have happened if this had been up for a vote ten years ago, or fifteen, or twenty; no, twenty years ago it wouldn’t have even been considered an issue because the possibility of gay marriage wasn’t even on the radar for people. Losing 60/40 beats the hell out of losing 80/20 or 90/10 and those are the percentages we easily could have seen in years not so distant from 2012. 60/40 means that four in ten voters on Tuesday knew what they were voting on and why and understood the ways an amendment such as this harms everyone and voted against it. Perhaps it speaks to my high degree of misanthropy to say this but 60% is surprisingly lower than the percentage of people I assumed would vote for it out of simple ignorance or knee jerk hate in the very best scenarios.

I know such talk tastes of ash but those numbers are part of a trend that has taken years to show itself and, projected years into the future, points to a time when days like Tuesday are spoken of as an embarrassing but instructive history.

Third, I have never been this energized for activism in twenty years of being varying degrees of activist. The haters won on Tuesday, sure, but all they’ve got left is to sit back, sip their tea and feel smug. I, on the other hand, have hands to work and energy to invest and a goal to attain. They have yet another notch on the headboard trophy on the mantle notch on the headboard but we have new allies and a broad coalition of groups and interests who a year ago didn’t even know each other existed. They have nothing but time on their hands, time they can only spend watching Tuesday’s victory gather dust. I have friends and family and an army of lovers and we’ve all just been handed a great big kick in the ass to remind us that equality does not come to the complacent and the comfortable.

Progress is not a task that has an endpoint. Changing the world is not a task that will ever be done. If Amendment One had been defeated it would have temptingly easy to hang up my marching shoes, retire to a rocking chair and pretend that life has always been grand. Instead I have been given the sincere gift of remembering what it felt like to be a radical; of feeling a stir of joy on realizing there are still people whom my mere existence pisses off; of waking up on Wednesday to the realization that I have never in my whole life been so happy as I am when I have a bully to fight.

Fourth, I am an election judge. Monday night I had to take and administer my oath of office as chief judge for my precinct, an oath which includes swearing “that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina, and to the constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said State not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States.” Tuesday I had to sit there and help people in my precinct vote in favor of an amendment that turned the state constitution against me. Do I believe the amendment is ultimately unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution? Yes, but I also think it will be a very long time before the courts rule that way, if ever, and in the meantime continued work as an election judge will require me to take that oath and swear to support the state constitution time and again, every election day, when in my heart I will know that I only mostly support that constitution and thus my oath will be a lie.

Is now a good time to point out that I consider myself Lawful Neutral? I’m not sure I can still take that oath. I’m not sure that if I can’t really mean it that I should take that oath. I’m considering resigning as the chief judge of my precinct because that seems in some ways the right thing to do and because a part of me thinks Tuesday after the first Monday in November might be better spent trying to get specific people elected rather than trying to oversee who gets elected overall. My precinct has other good staff who can sit inside and make sure the ballots are cast fairly. I have been reminded that I cannot sit on election day and get what I really want.

I have been given the gift of an agenda and a part of me is unspeakably grateful for that.

I spent a holiday party, last December, yelling myself hoarse when someone said they weren’t going to vote because there was “effectively no difference between Obama and Romney”. That kind of thick-headed refusal to recognize the realities of government is a failure of intellect and a loss for the good guys in the struggle between those who seek results and those who require ideological purity. Everybody wants a pony made of ice cream, folks, but nobody gets one and it’s better to ask what we can get instead than to spend all day trying to trip over our lower lips about it, y’know?

Anyway, I recently had a MOO-based conversation with an old friend about Obama and realized that it wouldn’t make a bad blog post, either, so here it is, de-identified with their permission:

======================================================

Snorklewhacker [to Michael]: I have to say, I wonder whether a certain 
number of Obama's positions will undergo a quiet 180-degree shift if he 
wins re-election. Once he no longer has to care about the DINO/RINO vote 
in the middle, he can stop supporting/opposing things he's never seemed 
particularly jazzed about his position on.

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: Well, I've been saying for a long time that 
obviously no one believes that Obama is "uncertain" about gay marriage. 
I mean, c'mon. That said, the politically active African-American bloc 
is also highly evangelistic and churches drove a lot of the civil rights 
actions of the 20th century and still do - and a lot of those people are 
extremely conservative on specific points including gay marriage. So, 
when people complain that he hasn't been sufficiently pro-gay (which is 
not what I think you're saying; I'm thinking of conversations I've had 
with other people who were somehow convinced that Obama was a secret 
homophobe) I point them towards DADT and a few other things and explain 
that I think he's essentially performing a pantomime. He wants African-
American support for queer rights and he can't afford the political cost 
of offending that segment of his base by just weighing in and saying, 
'Guys, fuck it already, don't be haters,' so he has to act out this 
performance of someone "evolving" on the issue so that he makes it OK 
for black leaders and voters to do the same thing and, in some ways, 
kind of /forces/ them to.

Michael says, "All of which is very clever and also perfectly in line 
with the tactics of the average community organizer: meet people where 
they are, if you will, and then lead them where you want them to go."

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: Ultimately I don't believe that his 
positions will change wildly in his second term because he also has to 
work not to undermine the chances of the Dem nominee in 2016. I do 
think that he hopes that there will be as much change in the next five 
years as there has been in the last five. Five years ago there were, 
what, zero states with gay marriage? DADT was still in effect, there 
was nothing even remotely like a hope of significant healthcare reform, 
etc., etc. Lots of leftists like to say he's a failure because we hate 
everything, all the time, but we hate nothing so much as the terrifying 
prospect of success, but the fact is that there has been significantly 
more movement to the left in policy and the cultural conversation under 
three years of Obama than there were in the previous eight or, arguably, 
the eight before /that/.

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: It can be hard to realize that - for me, 
anyway, reason #872 why I never watch the news anymore - because of how 
effectively the Tea Party and the War On Women people dominate the news 
cycle, but part of why they get so much attention is because they are 
so outlandishly outdated in their stated positions. Attempts to restrict 
access to birth control draw coverage and protests because they're so 
crazy. I don't deny that they harm people when they pass, obviously, but 
they pass through the fanaticism of the last hardliners of a fading 
remnant. They're the sort of things fanatics would never do if they 
didn't feel threatened. They're the bomb jackets of the marginalized 
right wing.

Snorklewhacker [to Michael]: This is true! Someone noted that all the 
Dems saying they're going to vote Republican in 2012 just to spite 
Obama because they're so 'disappointed' with him is like saying, "Well, 
my glass is half-empty, so I'm going to trade it for this other glass 
FULL OF BROKEN GLASS AND CYANIDE."

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: Exactly. Those people are blowing smoke. 
They didn't get a pony made of ice cream carrying a unicorn on its back. 
They are people who lack the cynicism^H^H^Hwisdom of experience. We're 
a society geared towards slow but reliable movement to the left and 
we've been doing that for a couple of centuries now. They need to chill.

======================================================

Of course, five years ago there was one state that had gay marriage, so I was wrong on that. There was also a war on in Iraq and a President who openly wanted to privatize Social Security. Things have changed for the better and continue to do so – and will continue to do so. Change takes time in our society. No one gets what they want in a day. Our task as liberals and progressives is to build the society we want, brick by brick, not to show up and find it waiting for us. The sooner those who are “disappointed” realize that, the sooner we can get this shit done. Anyone who wants results without being willing to contribute ongoing effort for the rest of their lives is being unrealistic and childish. Period.

An old friend of mine from college who is now a rabid Tea Partier was “discussing” Amendment One with me a couple of months ago and I said, truth told, I am opposed to Amendment One not because I think its defeat will make it easier for me to get married in the state of North Carolina but because I think its defeat will make life better for the next generation of queer citizens. People have to take the long view if they want to work for leftist causes without burning themselves out. They have to favor slow and steady over immediate gratification. If it helps, perhaps they should consider that the people in our politics who want things done right now and want it out of anger more than anything else are usually the right wing. Do they really want to rush down the road to be more like them?

I’m an election judge who is gay. Next May I get to watch my neighbors vote on whether it should be merely illegal for me to get married (which it already is) or that said prohibition should be explicitly woven into the document that defines the state. I will make sure that their votes are cast in safety and privacy and that the outcome of the election is secure and fair because I’ve taken an oath of office to do so and because I, unlike the people who authored the amendment or who will vote for it in May, genuinely believe that the law exists to protect all of us equally no matter what we think, how we live or why we vote.

I will not let my respect for my fellow citizens or the democratic process be drowned in the irony that some eventual percentage of voters in my precinct will trust me to certify poll results but not to sign a marriage license or that, in that moment, those persons’ ballots have more legal protections than half my personal life.

It is possible that I will have to repeat that to myself many times between now and May of next year.

Speaking personally, any person who knows me and who lives in NC and votes for the amendment will be stating pretty clearly that they do not think of me as fully a person. They will be choosing, right then, explicitly, to inflict a measure of harm on my life. Doing so will be an act of aggression and injury. It’s that simple. There’s no way to dress it up otherwise. The amendment itself cannot be compared to institutionalized gay-bashing because it IS institutionalized gay-bashing.

Ask ten {pagans, neopagans, Wiccans, Earth religionists, Druids, wizards, ceremonialists, etc.} for an opinion and you’re going to get at least eleven or twelve answers. That said, I feel fairly safe in saying, in reaction to Ms. O’Donnell’s statement that she “dabbled in witchcraft,” and on behalf of all of us, the following: thanks, but we don’t want her.

On the topic of neopaganism, I consider myself a technopagan and I believe technology and ritual serve very similar and sometimes interchangeable purposes: they are each an extension of human will, an opportunity to take refuge in comfortable and familiar sets of actions and ways of staying connected to the world around us. Given that in my view magic is a set of technologies we have yet to externally, objectively understand – that the mysteries are all just science waiting to happen – mixing them together is to me a no-brainer. Not every neopagan feels that way and I understand and respect that but I do not draw an arbitrary distinction between the traditional and the useful; nor am I particularly enamored of pseudo-archaism as a fashion statement. To me, magic is nothing if it isn’t useful and whatever gets the job done is as sacred as anything else – if one even wants to apply the term “sacred” to something like the tools of magic in the first place. I absolutely believe in the sacred, in forces and experiences and moments that are larger than ourselves and in the presence of which the greatest respect and dignity come from a quiet appreciation, but I don’t think I expand my own understanding of those moments by putting the vehicles that get me there on some metaphorical pedestal. If one can’t draw a circle with a laser pointer then there’s no way one can do it with a stick; if one can step into sacred space with a stick, one can do it with anything else at hand. Pretending that everything has to be handmade from fairy wings and unicorn toes would be, for my purposes, a failure to take off the training wheels. That isn’t to say I condemn someone whose ritual practices do celebrate the imagery and roleplay of historical fantasy or crafted arts or anything else! I’m saying that my preferred frame of reference is modern and technological; that the most effective tool is just that; and, maybe in my heart of hearts, that a given technology might be worth considering a little sacred for being the most effective or useful.

At any rate, my point: I’m nothing like alone in these views and I live in one of the white-hot centers of technology and cultural experimentation so why is it impossible to find other technopagans around? There are at least three neopagan groups in possession of or on the verge of purchasing permanent physical spaces in the Triangle but no amount of Googling has turned up anything like a technopagan group. Sheesh.

The Boyf thinks this means I need to start one, but good grief, I have enough to do.

This is why elections matter:

President Obama mandated Thursday that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients’ choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans.

[…]

Hospitals often bar visitors who are not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage, and gay rights activists say many do not respect same-sex couples’ efforts to designate a partner to make medical decisions for them if they are seriously ill or injured.

“Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever,” Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement praising the president’s decision.

This negates about one third of the paperwork requirements AT&T used to try to pry The Boyf off of my benefits when I worked there. I am extremely happy about this. Neither of us has any reason to think we’re ever going to end up in a hospital any time soon but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it, that we never know when we’re going to need this sort of support and contact?

One might ask where the President got the idea – other than from basic human decency, I mean – and one might be surprised:

Yesterday, President Obama ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that same-sex partners and others are able to visit their loved ones in hospitals across the country. The memo quotes the hospital visitation provision of the North Carolina Hospital Patients’ Bill of Rights which Equality NC proposed and got adopted by the state in 2008.

“We are thrilled to see that Equality NC’s work at the state level has provided a model which the President is now taking nationwide to ensure that hospital patients get the care and companionship they deserve,” said Ian Palmquist, Executive Director.

The Presidential Memorandum signed yesterday states:

Many States have taken steps to try to put an end to these problems. North Carolina recently amended its Patients’ Bill of Rights to give each patient “the right to designate visitors who shall receive the same visitation privileges as the patient’s immediate family members, regardless of whether the visitors are legally related to the patient” — a right that applies in every hospital in the State.

So, thank you, EqualityNC. I’m not involved with them beyond having made a few small donations here and there, but this is completely freaking awesome.

From MSNBC.com:

A senior cardinal defended Pope Benedict XVI from “petty gossip” on Sunday as the pontiff maintained his silence on mounting sex abuse cover-up accusations during his Easter message.

The ringing tribute by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, at the start of Mass attended by tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, marked an unusual departure from the Vatican’s Easter rituals.

“Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes assail the community of believers,” Sodano said.

So, legal marriages between hets are icky by association but untold thousands of molested and otherwise abused children are “gossip”? It must be so nice to be able to be forgiven for anything, no matter how heinous, by simply asking. Here in consensual reality, actions are supposed to have consequences. Happy fucking Easter.

Last night I had the good fortune to attend a US Senate campaign forum hosted by Durham for Obama. Four candidates – Calvin Cunningham, Ken Lewis, Elaine Marshall and Marcus Williams – were there, and they each took turns making statements, answering pre-screened questions and shaking hands after the fact.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I knew Cal Cunningham before he ran for any public office and I am currently planning to vote for him in the primary due to his positions on my most important issues, not due to personal association. We hadn’t seen each other in a dozen years before I got to speak with him last night after the forum.

Some thoughts on each candidate:

Marcus Williams: just plain not up to the task. He came off as unprepared and possibly a closet conservative. He fumbled answers to questions about more complex issues and returned again and again to deficit reduction as his main issue, even when it didn’t make sense – that is, when he wasn’t stumping for his own website. I haven’t looked at it yet, but his whole performance reeked of Gregarious Troubled Uncle, a cross between class clown and used car salesman.

Elaine Marshall: genuinely surprisingly scrappy. She came off as a much tougher campaigner and more skilled on the stump than I had expected. I’ve been saying for months now that she seems like the most outspokenly liberal candidate and she only wavered briefly from that last night (the stab at Hugo Chavez seemed kind of random to me). Marshall made a very impressive showing. When Calvin’s campaign didn’t seem certain of happening in the first place, Marshall was my candidate of choice. What I hadn’t expected was that she would get interrupted by spontaneous applause and encouraging hoots.

Ken Lewis: Heavily associated with DFO and widely expected to walk off with the DFO straw poll endorsement (which did not happen – he got over 50%, but not the required 70%), he likewise impressed me with his practicality and general air of calm competence… right up until his closing statement. Here’s a tip, counselor: don’t go negative and go over your time in a closing statement to which no one will be allowed a response, even if you are on your home turf. It was exceptionally rude and unprofessional and wrecked what had been growing respect for him over the night. Up to that point, the substance of his answers and his closing statement had really impressed me and like I say he strikes me as someone who would be extremely competent in the Senate even if he came off as also being just as dull as dishwater. He clearly knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t make me believe he’s excited about it. Lewis comes off sounding like he’s auditioning for the part of Al Gore Stunt Double. If he wins the seat I’ll be very happy and I’ll have his sign up in my yard but I do not hope that he wins the primary and very little could move me to vote for him over anyone but a Republican.

Cal Cunningham: I love the guy, but he looks like he’s been replaced by SeriousExpressionBot 9000. He was initially slow to take specific positions in my personal opinion but he’s ramped that up, gotten a lot more specific in recent weeks and has said the things I need to hear – pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-public-option – to keep me enthusiastic about him. Last night he came off as surprisingly rehearsed which reflects a very solid knowledge of his position statements but contrasts – sometimes weirdly – with other candidates who had something of an “um” problem when answering questions but sounded more off-the-cuff and relaxed. I would say it was a mixed performance, in part because the hand gestures and “Serious Candidate Is Serious” sharpness of his diction and tone to his voice both made him seem slightly robotic and caused one to wonder with whom he hoped to pick a fight. He sounded like he was itching to argue with Richard Burr, not other Democrats. That’s fantastic, except that campaign doesn’t happen until May. I confess that he also surprised me by receiving multiple interruptions in the form of applause and supportive hoots from the crowd. Cal also displayed a pleasing practicality when he said that he expects healthcare reform to have passed and be old news by the time the winner takes office but that it will have happened in a fashion that will require a “second phase” to incorporate necessities like a public option.

So, overall? I think Marcus Williams should call it a day. I think the other three candidates would each be extremely stiff competition for Burr in the fall. I have to assume he had some people there last night, somewhere, and if he has a lick of sense – always a controversial question – he’s worried. They all knew their stuff, they all had very different approaches to delivering it and while all three looked like they could clean Burr’s intellectual clock it was Cunningham and Marshall who looked most amped up – by far – to get in Burr’s Kool-Aid. That closing statement of Ken Lewis’ really did jettison my support for him as a candidate, but I think there’s a case to be made for either Cunningham or Marshall in May that a lot of people could find compelling.

Note: I’m not sure I’d view either of these images while trying to eat.

This hilarious waste of perfectly good paint got linked from a comment thread on Unfogged sometime in the last few days. It’s well worth spending some time zooming around with one’s mouse and reading the explanatory text. Money quote: “Some stars shine brighter than others,” said of the stars on the American flag. My other favorite thing is probably the note that the little white boy represents both boys and girls and children of all races. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

At any rate, tengu was chatting with me the other night and asked if I had seen the response piece, “One Nation Under Cthulhu” and sent me the link when I said I had not. I’m impressed! It’s got buckets of blood, Great Old Ones, Deep Ones, some critters that could arguably be Mi-Go and/or Star-Spawn of Cthulhu and Satan wearing an expression somewhere between perplexed and pleasantly surprised. No Shoggoths, but I guess they would tend to crowd others out. The arm-stump Elder Sign being drawn on the Constitution is the crowning touch of class.

Best comment from the Wonkette thread on the response piece had to be, “If he passes out loaves and fishes, tell him you already ate.”

Finally, because the Internet is nothing if not a space that encourages creativity, this animated GIF. If you don’t get it, watch They Live sometime. It’s a classic.

Bruce McCulloch, Kids in the Hall, 1990.

Stay classy, John C. Wright.

Seen this morning at Republic of Dogs, Fort Worth police raided a gay bar on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots, roughed up the patrons, put one in intensive care and started arresting people for “public intoxication.”

I can’t even process that this would happen now, in 2009. I want to say it’s a sign of our success, that it’s a backlash against the way we’ve managed to modify society to be somewhat more accommodating of us, but that’s not true. It’s just business as usual for the class of persons who think they have a right – usually god-given in their minds – to patrol the borders of acceptable behavior and fuck up anyone they feel like.

I hope a lot of people lose their jobs over this but somehow I suspect the result will be promotions.

A colleague sent me a link to a fascinating discussion of Iranian internet traffic patterns surrounding the election and what they say about what methods of access to and distribution of media the Iranian regime cut off to control information.

They’re using something called, amongst other things, “traffic shaping.” Basically it allows different types of traffic – web browsing vs. SSH vs. file-sharing vs. WoW vs. whatever – to be throttled or shut down without affecting other applications. As they note, WoW traffic went undisturbed but access to Flash video was all but eradicated. (I choose to forgive their mangling of WoW cosmology – Azeroth is a continent and the planet on which it is found, not an island – in light of their clever off-hand suggestion that WoW be a meeting place to organize protests in the real world.)

Looking at the final graph, here’s what they most blocked in descending order:

  • SSH, normally used for encrypted command-line access but also very useful as a sneaky way to proxy web traffic. If you have a co-worker who can always get to anything online no matter what your IT staff does, and SSH is allowed, that co-worker is using an SSH proxy. (For purposes of full disclosure, guess who’s shite at getting that to work? Moi. I’ve just never cared that much.) Other possible transgressive uses of SSH: terminal session to an external host that has a command-line IRC client installed; encrypted file transfer; etc. If the chart listing percentage dropped is also a rough guide to their list of concerns then they are quite right to consider SSH the most subtle threat to their attempted smothering of information access.
  • Flash, used by basically every video site, including YouTube and many news sites, to embed video.
  • Bittorrent, which of course would make an excellent way to distribute, say, video of the militia murdering someone in the street without it being localized or necessarily traceable to the original person who held the camera.
  • POP, because you don’t want just anyone receiving email from their international friends and relatives, do you?
  • Alternative web ports and HTTP proxies are always a popular target for IT staff who want to control access to porn or, you know, news. I’m going to guess they’re just taking a stab at random ports that are likely candidates for alternate web traffic (say, TCP 8080 or 8181) but maybe they’re packing the serious web filtering heat on that scale. If so then I have to wonder if there are some embargoes being broken.
  • Web cam = citizen journalist/potential YouTube star/access to international friends and family who’ve pointed a web cam at their HDTV tuned to CNN. Verboten!
  • SMB: surprise, Microsoft is super-chatty in Farsi, too. Also file-sharing, though gods help the poor bastard who’s down to trying to share drives across international lines. Any modern ISP that is at all conscious of what it’s doing will be blocking this at its own borders anyway.
  • Then, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down the list: normal old web traffic, email (I’m assuming they mean SMTP and IMAP only, since they list POP separately) and FTP.

So, related to my web filtering comment above, I don’t know a damned thing about what embargoes are in place. Ever since I got yelled at by a corporate VP in 1994 for calling up the Commerce Dept. on my own initiative to ask them about regulations related to international shipping of books that discuss encryption I’ve kind of let the lawyers worry about that stuff. That said, the ability to do this kind of traffic shaping on this scale suggests access to equipment that I would expect is embargoed. I don’t know, though. Maybe they can just buy all their Networking Company X equipment directly from X’s contracted manufacturer in China, y’know? I sure don’t. (Know, that is.) Maybe they’ve got enough people sitting around that they can just write up manual access-lists and try to filter everything by port on whatever devices they’ve got that can take ACLs and that’s why they’re only blocking some of this. I don’t know. In some ways the article raises more questions than it answers, for me, since it makes me want to know the specific techniques and technologies being applied.

All that aside, doesn’t it just kind of stab the ghost of my freshman self through the heart with an icicle to see the internet used to limit information and mask access to the truth? Yes it does. Why it still surprises me I’ll never know.

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