Monday, June 29, 2009

Equal rights are not special rights

Essential reading from Frank Rich on Obama and Stonewall.

It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places.

It's useful to be reminded that gay men and women were considered something less than human 40 years ago, and that we've come a long way from the days when "homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois [and] it was a crime punishable by castration in seven states."

But Rich is also correct that full equality in the eyes of the law has to be the goal, and that we need to get there now.

“There’s a perception in Washington that you can throw little bits of partial equality to gay people and that gay people will be satisfied with that,” said Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for “Milk,” last year’s movie about Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay civil rights politician of the 1970s. Such “crumbs,” Black added, cannot substitute for “full and equal rights in all matters of civil law in all 50 states

I, like many people, have a tendency to say that as an ally the politics are not my own, and that there's only so much I can do without co-opting someone else's autonomy and identity. But to settle into this mindset is to no longer be an ally.

This is not a question of one community against another.

This is a question of basic human rights.

This is not a question of tolerance.

This is a question of equality.

This is not a question of belief.

This is a question of justice.

I know too many good, well-meaning people who allow themselves to ignore the human consequences of legalized bigotry.

Justice and equality has to be for everyone. Now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

There is nothing that I could add

A letter from Tehran in the New Yorker.

On who was marching on June 15:
A little farther on, I found myself once again near Reza and Hengameh. (I've changed their names.) Reza, who has a thick beard, and Hengameh, in a chador, have an old-fashioned "revolutionary" appearance. They do not look like the sort of people who would attend an unsanctioned rally against the regime. But there were plenty of marchers who looked like them—pious, middle-aged Iranians. This is the generation that took part in the 1979 revolution, and then, as in the case of Reza, fought in the long war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and, finally, grew tired of all the lies.

I have known Reza and Hengameh for a decade. I know that they are unfailingly loyal to the memory of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, but not to the current generation of leaders, who, with their love of power and their financial corruption, have, they believe, spoiled Iran. In addition, everything I have seen of Reza and Hengameh tells me that they are true democrats—for example, the relaxed way they have brought up their teen-age son, Mohsen. "We never obliged him to say his prayers or observe the Ramadan fast," Reza told me once, "and now he does both, of his own accord."

Iranians can draw on a rich culture of resistance to authority, going back to the country's first experiments with constitutional rule, a hundred years ago, and this, combined with their celebrated verbal dexterity, makes them naturals in the art of political verse. As we passed the Employment Ministry, the marchers improvised a chant: "Ministry of Employment, why so much unemployment?" We passed under a pedestrian bridge, from which dozens of people were watching the marchers. Then came another chant: "You won't win freedom of thought by standing on a bridge!" My favorite slogan was one that referred to Ahmadinejad’s notorious claim, caught on film and subsequently made public, that he had been crowned by a "celestial halo" while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, in 2005: "He saw the celestial halo, but he didn’t see our votes." Standing on a balcony overlooking Azadi Street, a man held a copy of the Koran above the heads of the marchers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The leaders

A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mousavi is beaten by government security men as fellow supporters come to his aid during riots in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 14, 2009. (AP Photo)

As Saheli and Tim at Snarkmarket, and others have pointed out, one of the amazing (courageous, legitimizing, necessary) aspects of the civil activity in Iran is that from the beginning women have been at the forefront.

Roger Cohen in the NYT, from Tehran:
I also know that Iran’s women stand in the vanguard. For days now, I’ve seen them urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!”

Another green-eyed woman, Mahin, aged 52, staggered into an alley clutching her face and in tears. Then, against the urging of those around her, she limped back into the crowd moving west toward Freedom Square. Cries of “Death to the dictator!” and “We want liberty!” accompanied her.

Andrew Sullivan:
I wrote a couple weeks back that something is happening in Iran. But it is not the only place where something is happening. The rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan; the ground-up election of Obama in America; and now the rising up of Iranians for freedom and civility with their neighbors: these are the green shoots of recovery from 9/11 and its wake. Empowered by new information technology, chastened by the apocalyptic conflicts of the last few years, determined to shift course away from civilizational warfare, the people of many countries are grasping for a new order and a new peace. It will not be easy; and it will not be short. But it is the only path worth taking.

And these Iranians are now leading the rest of us.

Right now, Iran is the center of the world. Right now, the women of Iran are the most important people in the world. May we be worthy of their example. May they not suffer unduly for their courage.

Tell everyone you know. Start now.

I am blogging though tears

The Iranian government has begun in earnest to use violence to suppress citizen gatherings and protests.

While I cannot call for U.S. intervention, and I cannot be in the streets of Tehran myself, I can call for everyone who sees this to voice their outrage.

Know what is happening. The NYT is updating in real time here. Andrew Sullivan has been one of the best voices on the web for days. Remember and remind everyone that the protests were peaceful.

Demand that the will of the people be heard. Tell everyone you know. Start now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Politics vs. the political

I'm really dissatisfied with having labeled my last few posts on the mass protests in Iran with the category "politics." I think that a label like "the political" would be much more in the spirit of what is going on.

At the same time, I'm not willing to create a new category. The contrast between the mass protests in Iran and even the historic election of 2008 is, I think useful. So, in the short term, when you see the label "politics," read "the political." May it remind us that politics is about so much more than gossipy coverage of the candidates.

Politics is about people, and the real impact that ideas and policies have on them. And, as Iran is showing us, the real impact that people have on ideas and policies.

I don't know how to say anything other than wow

From Robin at Snarkmarket:
If you haven’t read Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell, now’s the time. It’s about, among other things, the world-shaking changes that have been wrought by nonviolence in the 20th century.

I don’t read too many books more than once; I’ve read this one three times. Schell is not — I need to emphasize this — not a pacifist, and he’s not naive. But even so, he looks at the evidence and concludes: There exists in the world an unstoppable force. And it looks something like this:

Monday, June 15, 2009

More images from Iran's The Big Picture has a great photo essay on the past few days in Iran. (Thanks @robinsloan)

I'm not ready to build a narrative yet, but I'm going to pick out the one image I want to stay with:

A backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi helps evacuate an injured riot-police officer during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

This is beyond words. A demonstrator is protecting a man sent to attack him. There are photos of the wounded and dead, but there are more pictures like this as well.

When you no longer need to kill your enemy, then the revolution becomes possible

This is the most important thing going on in the world right now

Massive protests in Iran over election results.

Excellent coverage by Andrew Sullivan including Iranian Twitterers.

Live updates on NYT's The Lede.

BBC coverage of the protests runs the numbers

At 11:27 AM, CNN's "Live Developing Story" is "Will housing market rebound soon? Economists share views." I will never, never watch CNN again.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Collette should have been so much more awesome

The Mad Typist on OpenSalon bemoans the lack of female leads in Pixar films. Even better, she puts together a sharp, spot-on discussion of the major female characters in the 9 Pixar films released to date.

The only point I would disagree with is Collette from Ratatouille, and even then only slightly. Collette is a strong female character, and clearly was included as such. Early in the film, she's actually in the position of teaching the "genius" chef how to work in a professional kitchen.

The Mad Typist is correct that Collette ends up being relegated to a strange secondary role, but a big part of that is the film's narrative confusion over whether Remy or Alfredo is the primary character. It's hard to argue though, that in the end, Collette is sous chef to a rat, and seems happy in her subservient role.

So's it's a character with potential, but ultimately, the film isn't sure what to do with her. I'd give Ratatouille a B- to the Mad Typist's C.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Do your job, media! Do your job!

I know you all have cable, and have already seen this, but it's so essential that you won't mind watching it again.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Dick (Uncut)
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorEconomic Crisis

Twitter is for listeners

The NYT's Economix blog has an interesting post citing a Harvard Buisiness School study on the gender dynamics of user trends on Twitter.

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other.

These results are stunning given what previous research has found in the context of online social networks. On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women — men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.

The study Economix cites includes two other interesting facts:

Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one.
[T]he top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production.

Both of these two facts stand in marked contrast to the typical image of Twitter as the outlet for the self-obsessed, arguing that most Twitter users are more interested in what other users have to say than in broadcasting themselves.

Of course, there are other possibilities, not the least among which are that many Twitter users create accounts in order to give themselves the impression of proximity to Twitter's many celebrity users, and that high-volume business Twitter users skew the data in a way that they do not on Facebook.

Those wishing to do empirical verification of their own, and who wish to include an example of the self-obsessed Twitterer in their sample can follow me at

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why I love Detroit

(In the basic style of CNN's story of the same name.)


Lived in Detroit: Technically never. Lived in Ferndale for a year, Oak Park for two years, and then Ferndale for ten years.

Favorite spot: Watching the July 4 fireworks from across the river in Windsor, Ontario.

I have always been outside Detroit, an inner-ring suburban kid. Even when I go back now, I visit friends in Hamtramck. I wasn't around for the city's industrial past, or the riots, or the exodus. I'm not there now. I did, however, go to ball games at Tiger Stadium. I watched the demolition of the Hudson's building. I had Kirk Gibson on the front page of the Free Press hanging on my wall in 1984. I eat Paczki on the day before Ash Wednesday. I remember the "Michigan Music is World Class" movement in the 90s. It was a load of crap. The White Stripes released their first album in 1999. I was in East Lansing by then.

Why I love Detroit: I don't. I don't know how to love a city, and I don't know many people who live there anymore. But I'm still shaped by it—by not having been there then and by not being there now. I'm fascinated by its open spaces and by the possibility of building a new not-city in the middle of the suburbs. I can see the community working to get a foothold so that they can do more than support each other. I can imagine a statement, a movement that start to inform other post-urban areas. I cannot imagine moving back there with my children.