The power of free speech

I love Super Bowl Sunday. And not for the game itself. Or the parties. Or the commercials. But it’s a wonderful to actually be able to get a table with an outlet at whichever coffee shop your heart desires on State Street.

So, I’m taking advantage of this rare opportunity by stepping back for a moment and acknowledging the privilege that I am taking advantage of by publishing this blog. Over 200 years ago, our forefathers codified into this nation to a series of unalienable rights, including the freedom for all to speak without risk of government intervention, welcoming (at least in theory) differing opinions and views: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Our nation experiences such a degree of freedom that Tori Amos can go on a diva-rant about what a twat-hater the writer of Britney Spears’ Toxic is, in this November 2007 interview. (As a sidebar: I would have to agree with her reasoning here. I mean, toxic shock syndrome is nothing to toy around with.)

As Americans, we eat this stuff up. It’s suddenly front-page news with Diane Keaton says “fuck” on Good Morning America, Amy Winehouse snorts up, or Brit-Brit continues her near-tragic plight — all of which I have, for the most part avoided covering in this blog. Granted, I am not innocent from feeling a certain degree of curiosity with these events, but in many ways, I am distubed to see what democracy has created in this country.

This is far from the case in other nations.

In China, blogger-activist Hu Jia was arrested in December for “subverting state power,” joining the ranks of at least 50 other online dissidents. His wife and two-month-old daughter have now been placed under house arrest and barred from accessing the Internet. Similarly, in Havana, Cuba, Yoani Sanchez continues to blog about life under stifling communist rule, using Internet cafes, alias and disguises in order to skirt the surveillance efforts of their government. And why does she continue to do it, constantly risking arrest, or perhaps even her life?

The latest reflections of Fidel Castro have ended my patience,” Sanchez wrote on her blog, ‘Generacion Y’. “To try to evade or distance oneself from our problems and theorize about things that occurred thousands of kilometers away, or many years ago, is to multiply by zero the demands of a population that is tired, disenchanted and in need today of measures that alleviate its precariousness.”

The written word still has incredible power. Let’s not take that power for granted. It has the power to inform, to persuade and maybe even the power to change. Complacency? Apathy? Defeated. Let’s give the generations to follow something to talk about.


We cannot walk alone…

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the birthday of one of the leading proponents of nonviolence and spokespeople of the civil rights movement. In addition to providing a day off from school, work, etc., the holiday gives us all an opportunity to look around us and ask whether the world we currently live in lives up to Dr. King’s dream of freedom, equality and justice.

Are we there yet? That depends who you ask. George W. Bush would probably say we’re doing pretty well, judging by a statement made earlier today. In Bush’s words, “by simply living a life of kindness and compassion, you can make America a better place and fulfil the dream of [King].”

But what about the nearly 36 million Americans living under the poverty line? Or the family and loved ones of the many transgender people murdered annually around the world because of their gender identity? Or the legions of gay, lesbian and other queer citizens who cannot legally get married, serve openly in the military or adopt children (in some states)? What would they say? Do the powers-that-be even care?

Happy birthday, MLK.

Don’t ask, don’t fuck with me

The weekend is here, as is December, and snow is falling here in Madison. Bravo is televising a seasons 1, 2 and 3 epic marathon of Project Runway, and I am holed up finishing (starting?) a paper on transgender in(ex)clusion in LGBT community organizing. So, I am cracking open the Diet Coke and proclaiming “bring it” to the end-of-semester stress.

As you probably already know, Wednesday evening was the CNN/YouTube Republican Presidential Debate, and it was just as captivating as one could have ever expected a gathering of middle- to older-aged white men discussing gay-hatin’, Jesus-praisin’ and gun-lovin’ to be. Outside of the expected content, the below question really got to me.

I am so tired of the bullshit response of “unit cohesion” concerns among conservative politicians, and the far-reaching generalizations made over those serving in the military is insulting not only to gay and lesbian troops, but to heterosexual troops assumed to be too close-minded to deal with those who are different with them. The U.S. military is in no position whatsoever to be turning down help from wherever it can get it, and serving our country is something that means a lot to many Americans who choose to enlist. Not allowing them to openly be who they are while putting their life on the line is downright degrading, and I’m still waiting for a better response to questions like Brigadier General Keith Kerr’s from this debate than what we have been hearing for the past decade. The rousing applause of the debate’s audience after the candidates continued to babble on about “family values” and “homosexual lifestyles” was nauseating.

Allegations were later made by a number of conservative bloggers that Kerr’s question was planted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, given that Kerr serves on a Clinton LGBT-related steering committee. CNN producers have since pandered to their accusations by apologizing for including the question in the debate, despite Kerr’s repeated statements that he was acting as an individual and that he “has not done any work for Mrs. Clinton.”

The whole controversy misses the point, in my mind, given that the whole idea of YouTube debates is to open the forum up to questions from any individual with something on their mind, which may or may not represent the interests of the entire constituency. Democracy is about everyone coming to the table and having their voice heard, as well as the “watchdog” duty that bloggers have taken up in the past several years. Although it is important, and noteworthy, to know that Kerr is associated with the Clinton committee, that shouldn’t mean that the question needs to be completely disregarded. As the above article from the Washington Times points out, many of the questions asked in the debate were contributed by individuals with organizational ties from both ends of the political spectrum. This is simply the nature of the beast. When democratic ideals are used to encourage censorship, something has gone wrong.

In case you didn’t catch this entry’s thesis: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is fucked up.

How to win an election

On the way back toward the Union between classes this afternoon, I stopped in at Ingraham Hall to use the bathroom. Shortly after approaching the urinal and unzipping, I heard a voice behind me proclaim, “Why hello there young sir, my name is Professor Smith and I’m here to teach today’s lesson on human anatomy.”

I looked to my right at my new pee neighbor and my eyes were set upon a slightly disheveled fellow twentysomething. Even though the look was only passing, I caught the slightly crazed glint in his eye.

“That’s funny.”

“Oh, I’m only kidding. But you know what I’m not kidding about? The farce of global warning. Al Gore has the motive to make it all up. Look at him, all over the Oscars, and the Emmys… He just is looking to make a run toward the 2012 election.”

“You don’t say?”

“Yep, he’s just in it for the fame. You just wait and see. Have a nice day now.”

You know, I haven’t stayed up on the research and data on the issue as well as I should have, but regardless, this guy was clearly a little nuts. As much as I despise the highly gendered machoism behind the code of silence in the men’s restroom… Sometimes, it really would have been better off that way. Oh wellz.

Besides, if Al Gore truly wanted to build his resume for a true run at stardom in this day in age, he’s going about it completely wrong. He should follow the example of Connie Talbot, the 3-foot-9-inch-tall, 6-year-old Bri’ish pixie who dominated the scene overseas on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and releases her debut album, ‘Over the Rainbow’ this week. This cherub’s too busy collecting her millions to make her Christmas list, much less worry about some piddly-diddly global warming “crisis.” Check out her heartstring-tugging performance of a homo classic from last summer’s show below.

Obvie, the way to truly win the heart of a nation is through girlish charm, not through hardly-groundbreaking research or lowly Nobel Peace Prizes. Everyone knows that. I mean Al Baby…

Not to be a hater, I think you really could use a little more activity to get the swing back in your step, based on this photo from Georgie’s Tupperware party at the Oval Office earlier today. Perhaps a stint on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ would do the trick? Maybe some of the 2008 candidates could do the same? Hilary dueling it out on ‘Tila Tequila’? Barack representing on ‘Real World’? The possibilities of reality television stardom are endless, Washington. Endless.