Wonderful

This Australian ad has been making the rounds among the gay blogs, and with good reason.

Along with some excellent anti-discrimination ads from Argentina, this Australian spot shows what other countries are doing to promote acceptance and equality.

One wonders why US LGBT groups cannot or will not use their resources for something similar.

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Competitive Shopping: Why I Hate The Holiday Season

This week my boyfriend and I were talking about Black Friday.  He wanted to do some shopping, and I told him that I would not leave the house.  Black Friday is too crazy, and it is best to stay indoors.  I am not sure when this day after-Thanksgiving shopping mania started (the tradition of Black Friday predates me–at least locally if not nationally), but it seems like in the past few years Black Friday has taken on a life of its own.  Black Friday has completely subsumed Thanksgiving–the actual holiday is now mere prelude to the Christmas shopping that commences the next day.

My boyfriend and I were talking about how awful it was that Target forced employees to end their Thanksgiving early so that the retail giant could open at midnight.  I said to my boyfriend that I had an idea for a television advertisement: a bunch of people are sitting at a dinner table screaming at one another save for one poor person huddled in her chair.  Then we hear a narrator who says, “Need to get away from your family?  Wal-Mart is now open on Thanksgiving.”

Wal-Mart did open on Thanksgiving.  And so did other major retailers.  The truth though is that Black Friday has not just subsumed Thanksgiving, it has taken over the week before and the month after.  But there is something about Black Friday that makes people grow crazy, and every year there are problems that make the headlines.  This year it was some crazy woman in a California who pepper-sprayed other shoppers at a Wal-Mart.  It has been called “competitive shopping,” which is apparently a new euphemism for assault and battery.  That was only the most infamous incident though; there were others.

Look, I understand that this is not the Black Friday norm.  The vast majority of people don’t pepper spray their fellow shoppers no matter how good the deals might be.  But regardless of whether there is a violent incident or not, the collective cultural materialism from which this springs is out of control.

Don’t get me wrong; I like buying stuff too, and I understand the need to save money on good deals.  But there is nothing that I want enough and no deal sweet enough for me to pitch a tent outside a store just so that I could enter a store at 5 am.  And certainly not to attack another shopper with pepper spray.  These actions speak to an almost Ayn Randian level of selfishness that is apparently acceptable in our culture now (although one particular woman will probably be using the money she saved for legal fees) even though it is not outright approved.

The America that I grew up is has always been selfish to some extent.  I grew up in the 80’s, the “Me Decade,” and the self-involvement has only gotten worse since then.  In the last decade or so though materialism has reached an astounding level.  Not just in terms of shopping but also in terms of our politics.  It’s why a significant faction of one of the two major parties is calling for the end of our social welfare programs.  We don’t care about each other anymore, only ourselves.  Who cares if the elderly suffer because they have no money or the poor (working or otherwise) die because they have no healthcare so long as I can buy a high-definition television?  This is the United States 2011, and it’s a scary place.  The holiday season is a visible symptom of that selfishness because that is when the retailers work hardest to convince us that greed is good.*

Recently there has been a push back against this self-centered mindset, but it’s unfocused and headed by deeply controversial (and frankly confused) people.  Occupy Wall Street people occupied, well I’m not exactly sure what or what their goals were, but they started Occupy Black Friday.  Supposedly it has something to do with hurting the 1%, although I am not sure that holding signs outside of Wal-Mart and shopping at Mom and Pop stores one day out of the year is meaningful action (even from a symbolic point of view.)

I would make a suggestion.  Rather than buy stuff, why not go out to do some actual good for the community.  Or perhaps donate to a charity in a loved one’s name.  (I recommend the Ali Forney Center.  They do important work, and they need support.)

Although there has been some reaction against the Black Friday mentality in the media, for the most part it has been muted.  I saw one essay in Salon that echoes my concerns.  But mostly, the negativity this year seems to me to be in articles about how turkey is actually not all that good, is too dry, cannot be cooked right, and makes for bad leftovers.  Perhaps this isn’t surprising given how the media is largely owned by corporations.  They are no less consumer-driven than retailers.

This is only going to get worse.  Maybe there will not be competitive shopping next year, but over-abundant greed and selfishness do not just go away once the new year arrives.  The holiday season is turning a mirror on American society, and I for one fear and dislike what I see.

Footnotes: 

* And my God, do they have to only play Christmas music both in the stores and on the radio stations for a full month?  Does anyone actually like that?  I find it completely unbearable.

Another Reason To Cheer For American Samoa

I really have been asleep at the wheel.  I recently wrote about how happy I was about American Samoa’s first ever international win.  However, I missed this aspect of the story, which makes their win all the better.

There was bizarre double celebration in American Samoa this week as the tiny nation, who are ranked as the joint-worst international team in the world in FIFA’s standings, not only won their first match for 17-years but did so by fielding the first ever transgender player in an official match.

Defender Johnny “Jayieh” Saelua helped the Samoans, ranked 204th, beat the mighty Tonga, ranked 202nd, 2-1 in an Oceania 2014 World Cup qualifier to end a run of 30 consecutive defeats. And, during the jubilant scenes that greeted the final whistle, head coach Thomas Rongen declared: “I’ve really got a female starting at centre back. Can you imagine that in England or Spain?”

Although that’s not strictly true as Saelua is part of the fa’afafine – biological males who have a strong feminine gender orientation and identify as a third sex that is widely accepted in Polynesian culture. However, the defender was raised as a woman and said after the match: “The team accept me and we have that mutual respect. Which is great. It’s all part of the culture.”

Brilliantly, Saelua was also named ‘Man of the Match’ after providing an assist and making a goal-line clearance in the dying seconds of the game.

The First Amendment

I’ve mentioned this before, but once again an idiotic ignoramus does not know what the First Amendment actually says.  According to Towleroad, the rapper T.I. has a lot to say about gay people and the First Amendment.  Specifically:

While T.I. makes clear that he supports anyone’s sexual preference, he then connects, in his opinion, a current oversensitivity among gay people with a consequential and ironic offense of the First Amendment. “They’re like,‘If you have an opinion against us, we’re gonna shut you down.’ … That’s not American. If you’re gay you should have the right to be gay in peace, and if you’re against it you should have the right to be against it in peace.’

In other words, gay people should just accept homophobic rhetoric because it’s protected speech.  One wonders what he thinks about the noxious racist speech emitted by such groups as the Neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.  I am also tempted to ask why gay people should not criticize offensive speech?  Isn’t that also protected under his conception of the First Amendment?
Debating the stupidity of T.I.’s homophobia is shooting ducks in a barrel, and I will let others deal with it.  (A homophobic rapper.  What a shock!)  However, his political ignorance should not be allowed to pass unnoticed.  Deliberately misinterpreting the First Amendment is a very serious flaw, especially when you use it as a defense.
Here is the text of the First Amendment:
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.
The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms: (1) freedom of speech; (2) freedom of and from religion; (3) freedom of the press: (4) freedom to peaceably assemble; and (5) freedom to complain to the government when you have a problem.
Yet the First Amendment is also very clear that the all these freedoms are limitations on the power of the government.  Congress shall make no law.  Although this was expanded by the Supreme Court to include all government at the federal, state, and local level, the First Amendment does not apply to private citizens.  This is quite deliberate.  Ergo, as private citizens, we say or do whatever we want (so long as it is legal) in response to the malicious comments of others.  Ergo, boycotts, rallies, newspaper editorials, public shamings, and loud, vociferous, criticism–none of this is prevented by the First Amendment.  Conversely, the First Amendment was written so that all of these methods would be used because ideally, the antidote to hate speech is more speech.  (One can debate whether that is true or not.)
The First Amendment is the last refuge of the hypocrite.  The real problem is that the haters, the homophobes, and the bullies know they are losing the larger cultural war.  Like many bullies, they are actually very weak and they cower when their victims fight back.  (NOM and Maggie Gallagher are the biggest offenders.)  What are they are actually saying when they garb themselves in this “we are the real oppressed” deception is that in the market of ideas they going out of business.
So, T.I.  stop infringing on my right to criticize.  It is every bit as protected as Tracy Morgan’s right (or yours) to say hateful, idiotic things.  The First Amendment protects me too when I say that you are a homophobic ignoramus with no conception of what America actually is.
[Update:  Tracy Morgan is very unhappy about TI’s comments, and who can blame him?  Morgan has done much public penance because of his routine, and now he is being dragged back into the spotlight when he clearly wants to just let the controversy die away.]

Hooray For American Samoa!

I don’t know how I missed this (damn work!) but the American Samoa national football team finally won its first match.  I mean its first match ever–at least in terms of matches sanctioned by FIFA.  This is after almost two decades and over 30 attempts.  In fact, I don’t think they ever even drew a match before.

I love rooting for the football minnows, and they don’t get smaller than American Samoa, whom the BBC so delicately referred as the world’s worst team.  (Rankings-wise this is accurate, but it’s still mean.)  Finally the team beat Tonga 2-1.  Match reports say that the team celebrated as though they had won the World Cup, which is understandable given the team’s history of futility.  Yesterday they drew the Cook Islands 1-1, so thus far in this World Cup qualification campaign they are undefeated.

The last time American Samoa was in the news was in 2001 for the infamous 31-0 loss to Australia’s second string team.  It is to date the worst drubbing in international football history (breaking the previous record of 22-0 which Australia had set against Tonga two days prior).  American Samoa instantly because the butt of all jokes, which is actually rather unfair because it ignores the full story of the match.  The American Samoa team was ridiculously understrength because of passport issues and high school exams, and for a territory which (a) is tiny and (b) cares far less for football that for American football, basketball, and baseball, that was a fatal death knell.  A few of the fielded players were as young as 15, and some had never played a 90 minute match before.  Truth be told, 31-0 probably flattered the American Samoan team almost as much as it did the Australians.

The other part of the story is that Australia deliberately ran up the score, and not because the Socceroos were jealous of how many points the Wallabies score in a typical rugby union match.  At the time Australia were in the OFC, which is by far the weakest conference in FIFA.  Not surprisingly, Australia had only appeared once at the World Cup–in 1974.  Despite the 31-0, Australia still missed out on the World Cup (Uruguay beat them over two legs in a playoff).  Australia knew that staying in the OFC would only hinder its development, and like with American Samoa, football was competing for attention and resources with far more popular sports.  Changes were made for the next cycle, but finally Australia left the OFC for the AFC, a conference far more suited to a developing football nation with legitimate World Cup qualification hopes. This was only fair.

Unfairly, American Samoa became a worldwide laughingstock, forever associated with the 31-0.  There is a very moving essay by the writer Ben Rice in the book The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup in which that match play.  Following the loss, the-then American Samoa coach Tony Langkilde said of the match and his team:

It is a learning curve.  We are a member of FIFA and we have a right to play.  We are very happy to be here and to build from here.  I do not think we are downhearted.  The only way is forward.

(p. 63)

As soon as I read that quote, I developed a deep affection for American Samoa.  I hoped that one day the world would see them move forward.  Finally it has.

The New Sheriff In Town

Although I prefer La Liga to the English Premier League, only a churl would ignore the EPL, especially since this portends to be the season that Manchester City arrives for real.  It’s been coming for some time, and given the amount of petrodollars that has been pumped into the club, one could argue that it’s actually two seasons overdue.  Nevertheless, this season is starting to shape up into a one-horse race.  Yes there is only 5 points between City and the team in second place (archenemy Manchester United), but City’s dominance thus far has been near total.

To wit, the teams in second, third, and fourth place are (respectively) United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Newcastle United.  As of this week, City has beaten them (respectively) 6-1, 5-1, and 3-1.  No doubt the defeat of Manchester United was the most satisfying of the victories (at Old Trafford of all places) as well as the most comprehensive in score.  Yet the fact that City have so thoroughly dominated their closest competitiors does not tell the whole story.  As of now, 12 rounds of matches have been played in the EPL, and City have won 11 of them (the other was an away draw to Fulham).  This is a ridiculously good start to the season by any standard, and better than both Barcelona and Real Madrid over in La Liga.

Even more impressive is that all of this comes despite the fact that last season’s talisman/resident-locker-room-poison has completely fallen out with the club in a saga that has made everyone involved look bad.  Yet, the squad talent is so sparkling that one suspects that pretty soon wannabe champions are going to start beginning to come to the blue half of Manchester instead of the red half.  City are thoroughly dominating the EPL and (once they get their act together and learn how to play in Europe) may well be the only team that can possibly challenge Barcelona/Real Madrid duopoly of the Champions League.  Carlos Who?

Now this being City, all of this can go awry tomorrow.  Certainly City fans are familiar with heartache and despair even if they have not reconciled themselves to it.  And I continue to think that the Oil-garchs are destroying the game with their uncontrolled spending.  Nevertheless, a City triumph is a good thing.  For the past two decades, England has had fewest clubs win the national championship than any other major football nation in Western Europe.  There have only been four.  Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Chelsea, and of course United who have dominated the competition. Perhaps the fifth team is finally ready to break through.

And perhaps Ian Ayre will rue his open desire to structure the EPL’s television deals like La Liga’s.  Because once City becomes a recognized worldwide brand, which it will, then it too would demand a share of those rights.  Which means that with City, United, Chelsea, and Arsenal all competing at the top-level, Liverpool may very well be the ones left out in the cold.  Liverpool is the past; City is the future.

~*~*~*~*~*~

I have not listened to World Football Daily since Robert Burns left.  It is nothing against the show or its new hosts, but rather I went on vacation just before he left, and when I am on vacation, my podcasts tend to build up.  Now I am in the process of winnowing down my backlog.

I cannot offer any opinion as to whether Sophie and Martin are any good.  On Big Soccer the general consensus is no, although I have not had a problem with either in the past (perhaps two British hosts–again–is a bit much.)  There seems however, to be a lot of ugliness going on.  Kenny Hassan, who swore up and down that he was leaving the show on good terms, reinstated his Twitter account and has since criticized the show (fairly nastily) and dropped hints that he is starting a new one.

I have my qualms with WFD.  When I signed up, I knew what I was buying into–a show owned and produced by two guys who had previously hosted the same show (for free) on Sirius.  There were times I was exasperated by the show, but they had quality guests so all was good.  Shortly after Steven Cohen left last April, things changed.  There was a new mysterious owner, and I don’t know who it is (and that really bothers me because I like knowing where my money goes.)  Then Kenny left.  Then the video podcasts stopped.  Extra shows came and disappeared to be replaced by new ones (and none of them interest me).  The show feels completely different now, and I am not loving it.

However, I don’t blame the hosts.  This is a management problem through and through.  I feel like I bought into something and then the rug was pulled out from under me.  Which means that ultimately it is Steven and Kenny who are to blame for failing to follow through on the vision that they sold.  I have no idea whether I will continue my subscription when it ends.  There are a zillion football podcasts out there, and a few of them are even worth listening to.  They are all free if not daily.  I’ll give the new show a chance, but I wonder if perhaps it is my turn to also follow Steven and Kenny and leave.

And by the way, if Kenny (or Steven) starts a new podcast, I’m not following.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.