Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Marriage Equality Plebiscite

$160 million will achieve nothing. And for many will be a negative.

$160 million. That's the estimated cost of the marriage equality plebiscite the Australian government is planning for February 11th next year. The thing to keep in mind here is that the plebiscite is *non-binding*. To state it clearly, unlike a referendum, parliament can legally ignore the result of a plebiscite.

We can't have a referendum for this issue, because the marriage act is an act of parliament. Referenda change the constitution, not acts of parliament. And it's very rare to have a plebiscite to get opinion on changing an act of parliament. Because normally changing acts of parliament are done in parliament. By parliamentarians. This is, in fact, their job.

Australia has had 3 previous plebiscites.
·         1916: military service conscription (defeated)
·         1917: reinforcement of the Australian Imperial Force overseas (defeated)
·         1977: choice of Australia’s national anthem ('Advance Australia Fair' preferred.)

Two were defeated. It’s important to note that despite the choice of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ being our national anthem in 1977, it wasn’t made our national anthem until 1984. If marriage equality is voted ‘for’ in the plebiscite next year, it may not be until 2024 that it is adopted as policy. Adding further weight to the pointlessness of a marriage-equality plebiscite.

Further, when the marriage act was last changed, there was no plebiscite, no public consultation. The John Howard government introduced the Marriage Act Amendment, 2004. It included into the Marriage Act 1961 a definition of marriage. In summary, the Marriage Act Amendment, 2004 was to: define marriage as a union of a man and a woman; and clarify that same-sex marriages entered into under the law of another country will not be recognised in Australia.

It is an amendment of pure bigotry and discrimination. It exists to tell same sex couples that their partnership isn’t worthy of being recognised officially, like a heterosexual partnership is. It is a horrible and bizarre thing for a government to say to a country’s citizens.

To reverse this bigotry and discrimination, all that is needed is a further act of parliament. IE: Politicians doing their job. However, the right wing conservatives (Lead be former Prime Minister Tony Abbott) have decided that they are not for equality, and are for discrimination so there will be no government lead parliamentary vote under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball. Instead, the expensive and unnecessary plebiscite is planned.

The government has committed $15 Million to ‘both sides’ of the debate, to be shared evenly. Yes, the government is giving the pro-discrimination group $7.5 Million. It’s simply outrageous.

If this goes ahead (Bill Shorten has introduced a private member’s bill, but this is unlikely to succeed) then we will have 5 months of hate, discrimination, and bigotry aimed at a section of our community which has already spent enough time being poorly treated.

We will have one side of the ‘debate’ saying “these people don’t deserve to have the rights I have” and people being told continually that they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t worth of being treated equally. And the government is going to fund this.

Are we, as a country that values the ‘fair go’ and a country that has a long tradition of supporting the underdog, and looking after our mates, really okay with funding a group of people that are *pro*-discrimination and *pro*-bigotry?

There are two sides of this debate. One is fuelled by fairness and equality. It’s the side that wants to see people being treated the same as everyone else, regardless of their sexual orientation. No employer in Australia is allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, some of us think the marriage act shouldn’t be allowed to either.

The other side is fuelled by ignorance and bigotry. It’s the side that wants to tell a part of our community they are not good enough, that they are flawed, and that they don’t deserve to have equal rights because of who they love. How anyone could be on this side of the debate is beyond me.

This side of the debate will use terms like ‘my religious beliefs’ and ‘the tradition of one man and one woman’. They’ll claim that somehow what they think their god wants should somehow influence whether or not two *other people* should get married. They’ll say that marriage has ‘always been between one man and one woman’. Something which simply isn’t true – but that’s irrelevant. In the past interracial-marriage wasn’t allowed. ‘Keeping the tradition’ was used as an argument against it. Are these really the kinds of people we want to be associated with?

It’s a simple and obvious fact that some people are born to grow up to love and desire as their partner in life, a person of the same gender. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be treated equally. Some might say ‘but marriage is religious’. No, it’s not. The concept predates religion and people who are not religious in any way are allowed to be married. Religion doesn’t own marriage, therefore religious leaders (and followers) don’t get to decide who can and can’t be married.

Others might say that a same-sex couple can’t have children, and marriage is about ‘family’ and ‘children’. Neither of these points are true. Same-sex couples can indeed have children. Sure, it’s not possible in the traditional way, but it’s definitely possible. But again, this point is irrelevant because heterosexual couples who don’t want to have children or are incapable of having children are allowed to marry. The lack of children is not an argument against why two people can’t get married for hetero couples, it shouldn’t be one for same sex couples either.

Many jurisdictions around the world, including the highly religious Ireland and the USA have marriage equality and none are worse off for it. Canada has had it for over 10 years and is doing just fine, thank you.

What it comes down to is respecting and valuing the love between two people.  Two people who want to commit to each other and want this commitment to take place in front of their family and friends and to have it officially recognised by the government of the country in which they live.

You’d have to be a very cold-hearted, hateful person to say a same-sex couple doesn’t deserve this right. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Australian Census 2016 and the 'No religion' option

So, apparently this piece of idiocy is doing the rounds on social media.

It's a shame that people are falling for it. Let me analyse it... 

If this came from a Lawyer, it was from one who got their degree on the back of a cornflakes box.

Yes, the Census is Tuesday the 9th of August.

"For the first time this year there will be a 'no religion' option" <- Wrong. The no religion option has been there since 1991. It's just that this time, it's at the top.

Yes, the Muslim population will mark 'Muslim' on the form. All 2.2% of them. About 475,000 people. Fewer, it might be added, than Buddhists at 2.5% or 529,000 people. Christians, conversely, made up about 61% of the population in the 2011 census or 13,150,600 people - significantly higher than the 2.2% of Muslims.

The largest group among the Christians are the Catholics at 25.3% or 5,439,200 people. The 'no religion' total is about 22.3% or 4,796,800 people. About 800,000 people behind the Catholics (not Christians in general - just the Catholics).

"Eventhough you may now have no religion, please consider enter the religion you were christened or born into" <- This is asking you to lie on your census form, which I think you'll find is illegal (I'm struggling to find out for certain). Hardly advice you'd expect from a lawyer.

"Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared a Muslim country" <- There are 5,000,000 more *Catholics* in Australia than Muslims. Not Christians in general, just Catholics. For Muslims to be the highest sub-group approximately 2,500,000 people who put Catholic on the last census would have to put MUSLIM on this one. That's simply not going to happen.

And even then, the 3,000,000 *Muslims* would still be behind the 7,711,000 remaining Christians and would still be behind the nearly 5 million 'no religion' people.

But...No one is asking Catholics to put "Muslim" on their form. People are asking that if you are 'no religion' you put 'no religion'.

Approximately 22.3% or 4,769,000 people marked No Religion on the 2011 census. When a similar change was made to the New Zealand census, the 'no religion' response grew about 7%. If that were to happen in Australia - and ONLY from the Christians, it would see No Religion rise to about 6,330,000 people and Christians drop to about 10,550,000 people. STILL significantly higher than any other group, and MORE than 10 MILLION people higher than 'Muslims'.

Please don't fall for the nonsense. Please don't be 'scared' into lying on your census form because of morons. Say no to bullshit

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Society vs God

There seems to be a school of thought among certain believers that without their version of 'God' life is meaningless and there's no motivation to be good. There's no motivation to improve oneself or the society in which one resides. 

As an atheist who is not an anarchist, who is not trying to do my best to destroy society as I know it, to me the above train of thought is somewhat odd. 

The idea among some (most? all?) believers is that we do 'good' (what is good?) on earth so 1: We please god. 2: We can get into heaven. Essentially being rewarded for doing what god wants. 

Side note - of course it gets complex when we talk about things such as salvation and redemption. We can, seemingly, get away with (almost) anything if we repent. John 14:6 seems to suggest that no matter what one does in the way of good deeds, if you don't believe in, and accept, Jesus as your saviour, there's no heaven for you. 


For the sake of simplicity, let's go with Do good. Believe in god. Get into heaven. 

Seems like pretty good motivation to be a good person, I guess. Then there's the opposite side of the scale - hell. The Jews don't really have hell. Christians have told me it's eternal torture in a lake of fire. Christians have also told me hell is simply separation from God (whatever that means). I have had a group of very angry appearing Muslims literally yelling at me (et. al.) that Christopher Hitchens was in hell simply because he didn't believe in God. 

Again, for the sake of simplicity, let's go with: Do bad. Don't believe in God. End up in Hell. 

Seems like pretty good motivation to not do bad, I guess. 

But for me, the atheist, I have no heavenly motivation or threat of hell to make me do good, or stop me from doing bad. I can choose to do as much bad as I want and not fear the post-life repercussions. 

So....why aren't I out raping, stealing, and killing as much as I want? Well, I am. As much as I want, happens to be zero. 

What stops me? There is no short answer, but I can tell you one thing...it's not 'I don't want to go to jail'. 

The quote from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind: 
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”
Put this alongside the Golden Rule and you've a pretty good basis for a secular morality. Pretty good...but not perfect. 

For example, you'd not want a masochist to live by the Golden Rule and one person's idea of 'doing good' may vary vastly from someone else's idea. But it's a start. 

From here, you build a society based on empathy, and compassion. Let reason and logic guide decisions. Discuss all the alternatives and work together to conclude what's best. 

It's not easy. What's 'best' for one won't always be what's best for another. What the 'majority' wants is not always going to be fair, kind, or just. The majority can be wrong. 

It's a work in progress. Hard work. People can sometimes take to the streets in order to have what is 'right' be accepted by society as a whole. I've been part of doing this myself. 

When this kind of change comes about, it's not the religions leading the march. They're on the sidelines, protesting that it's happening. 

The Australian Christian Lobby, for example, recently complained about  a children's television program, Play School, showing a 'family' as having two dads. Yes, really. 

In many countries around the world now, same-sex marriage, or marriage equality, is the norm. In Canada it's been the norm for over 10 years. Last time I spoke to my Canadian friends, Canada was still going. It hasn't crumbled. 

In Australia, what many of us see as an unjust situation (Including my state premier) is seen by a lot of believers as 'wrong'. They are not leading this fight for equality and fairness, they are protesting it. 

This is just one example. 

But...I can hear the believers in my head now...this is just about the 'how' not about the 'why'! Why bother making a fair and just society if I'm not wanting it for 'God'? 

Well, my believing friends, as hard as it may be for you to accept, I want it for 'society' itself. 

I live here, you know? As do my friends, as do my family. As do strangers. I want the society I live in to be the best it can be because it benefits us all. A society where I have access to food and shelter and education and healthcare gives me, and those I know and love a better quality of life. Also *other people* having access to food and shelter and education and healthcare give me, and those I know and love a better quality of life. 

The healthier the society in which I live, the happier I will be. 

Of course this raises two further questions. 1: Is this motivated by selfishness? 2: Why do I want to be happy. 

1: Kind of, yes. I want people to be happy for their own sake. If I see people who are miserable, it makes me sad. If I see people who are happy, it makes me happy. I've seen videos of complete strangers having something wonderful happen to them (finding a lost dog, hearing for the first time (thank you science) a loved one returning home after being away for a long time) and that makes me happy. So I guess, on some level, you could say that I want others to be happy, because it makes me happy. But there are also times when I'm not happy, for reasons completely unrelated to other people. And it doesn't matter how joyful they are that their beloved pet has been returned, or their son/daughter/dad/mum/husband/wife has returned from the war, something is going on with me that just can't allow me to be happy at that moment (my parents dying being the biggest and obvious thing). 

But even in *those* moments, I still want other people to be happy. I wouldn't want me being sad to bring other people down. What motivates this desire? The desire that other be happy even if I am not? Evolution. 

There is evidence that altruism is biological. That it is an evolved trait. There is also evidence that altruism and empathy is found in non-human animals too, for example elephants.

Our evolutionary path has seen us develop traits that we action for the benefit of our species and not necessarily ourselves as individuals. There is an innate desire to protect the species. Almost all species protect their young. Many species also cooperate on a group level. A group of elephants will form a circle around a cow about to give birth to protect her from danger whilst she's unable to protect herself. 

A happier species is a healthier species. Countries that rate highest on human development index (rating such things as life expectancy at birth, education, standard of living) correlate very closely with countries whose citizens are the happiest. Simply put, looking out for ourselves (as a group) makes us happier and makes us healthier. 

Doing what we think God wants us to do? Doesn't work quite as well. Countries at the top of the HDI are overwhelmingly secular and have comparatively low religiosity. Countries towards the middle and bottom, are overwhelmingly theocratic and have high (to almost total) religiosity. 

Of course there are many more factors here than belief. The bottom quarter of the HDI is predominately African and the environment plays a huge part in this. But it is undeniable that there is a correlation between secularism and well-being. 

What is clear though that society as a motivator *works*. Wanting to do good for the society in which we live *works*. It demonstrably leads to a healthier life. It demonstrably leads to a happier life. And the desire for a healthier and happier life is innate. 

Why would I need a belief in a god and an afterlife to motivate me to want to live in a happy and healthy society when a happy and healthy society is its own reward? 

Rather than asking an atheist why we care about life, if this is all there is, the question should be to theists - why isn't this life - your friends, your family and your society enough? 

Friday, 8 July 2016

The USA, Alton Sterling, the 2nd Amendment, and stuff

"A country's scientists, funded by their tax payers, put a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter.
A day later, two of the same country's police officers wrestle a man to the ground, kneel on him, and whilst he's restrained, one of the police offices pulls out his gun, shoots the restrained man multiple times, killing him. 
It is so strange that a country can be so advanced, and leading the world in some areas, whilst simultaneously being so barbaric and horrific."

These were my thoughts upon hearing about, and then seeing the footage of the killing of Alton Sterling. The footage is disturbing. The footage that came out first was filmed from inside a car about 10 metres from where Alton is killed. A second recording of the killing is filmed by someone standing about 2 or 3 metres from where Alton is killed.
There are reports that there is security footage of the incident, but that police have (illegally) seized that footage.
As is always the case in the era of social media, stories about what happened came out almost instantly. He was selling CDs. He was selling CDs and waving a gun. He's a paedophile. He's been charged with sexual assault crimes.  
Of course in this age of instant information, it is entirely possible for people to find out details about people and that information is shared instantly all over the world. Two issues come to mind when this happens. 
First, unless you want to spend time researching it yourself, there's no real way to determine the truth from lies. Of course something like previous charges can be found out with a deal of confidence, but what was happening on the scene prior to the incident, cannot.
Second, why does any of this matter? In this specific case, the man's gun was in his pocket when he was killed. He was selling CDs. I don't know if legally or illegally (people did claim he had permission from the store owner) but even if illegally, it's not an executable offence, let alone one where the punishment is execution without trial. Whatever the situation before he was killed, Alton Sterling was entitled to due process. An entitlement he didn't receive.
There is some contention as to whether or not the killing of Alton Sterling was justified...yes, really. I had a lengthy debate on twitter about it. It is a fact of the world in which we live that two people can look at the same footage and come away with two different opinions. Opinions they feel strongly about. 
I've seen the footage, as disturbing as it is. It upset me. I felt horrified. I won't post it here, but it's easy to find if you need to see it.
What I see is a man tackled to the ground, after he's yelled at to get on the ground. We don't know why he's told to get on the ground. We don't know why he didn't. He's clearly scared. 
He's pinned to the ground, on his side, right next to the front bumper of a car
One police officer appears to be kneeling on Alton's knees, the other is kneeling next to Alton's head. Alton struggles. He can't move but for a few jolts. I can't speak to his mindset but to me he appears terrified. Someone shouts 'he's got a gun'. The police officer near Alton's head pulls his gun, pointing it at Alton, perhaps 10cm away. Words are shouted. Alton doesn't move. The two police officers have been identified as Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake.
I'm not sure who it is who shoots first, or if both officers shoot, but at least one of them does. The camera being used in the nearby car drops away after the first two shots. People in the car can be heard becoming distressed and shocked at what they've witnessed. One of them asks 'why?' A fair question.
In the second video, it appears that Alton sits up or is jolted up by the first two or three shots. As with the first piece of footage, the camera drops away but unlike the first, it returns to the scene, after more shots are fired. It's graphic. Alton is seen with a large blood patch on his t-shirt. One of the police officers is still pointing his gun at Alton. Alton is not yet dead, as his arms can still be seen moving. He dies shortly after, but this isn't shown. 
Important things: 
1: According to an eyewitness account in this story Alton didn't have his hand near his pocket when he was shot. 
2: After pulling his gun, the police officer opens fire within seconds. In these seconds. Alton doesn't move.
I don't know why the police were there. I don't know why they ordered Alton to the ground. I don't know why he didn't get on the ground.
I do know that when someone shouted that Alton had a gun he was pinned to the ground, unable to move. I do know that seconds after a police officer pulled his gun, shots were fired. I do know that in the seconds between the gun being drawn, and the shots being fired, Alton didn't move.
I think Alton Sterling was unlawfully killed, but I have little doubt the police will be exonerated. It's seen time and time again that police in the US can kill citizens (typically, it seems, black men) and get away with it. No case to answer.
From here, it's formula. People will demand change, the president will issue a statement, people will hit the streets, the NRA will remain quite on the specific case, but still support guns, guns, and more guns. Australians, Canadians, Brits, and others will express bewilderment and the American love of guns, and for being so bold as to desire that our American friends stop shooting each other, we'll be told to mind our own business or, as has happened to me in the past, be called cowards for not having guns.
There may be riots, and if there are, there will be calls for calm, or the demonstrations may be peaceful. People will suggest it's a race issue, others will criticise them for that. People will say *they* aren't the problem, that *they* are a responsible gun owner. That the problem is illegal guns..,despite all guns starting off as legal guns.
And it won't even be the next day (another black man, Philando Castile being killed by a police officer within 24 hours of the death of Alton Sterling) let alone a week, or a month later According to this report 506 people have been shot and killed by police in the US this year. So, within about 8.5 hours, police will kill another citizen, most likely a black man, and although neither Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile were unarmed, according to the same report, it's seven times more likely be an unarmed black man who is killed next over a white person.
America, it seems, is a country on edge. A country that, like my own, has problems with racism. But unlike my own, it's a country with a, to this observer, bizarre obsession with, and love of guns. A country that has a national gun-supporting lobby spending millions and millions of dollars to buy politicians to make sure that the second amendment remains in tact.
The second amendment, in case you don't know, is this: 
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
It was adopted on December 15, 1791. At the time of writing, that's some 225 years ago. I recently saw this video. A man enters an office holding an old style gun. He fires the gun, missing the person he was shooting at. He then reloads the gun, which takes a long time, having to pack in the shot, and the gun powder. Meanwhile, everyone flees, screaming. Text appears on the screen reading 'Guns have changed, shouldn't our gun laws?'
A fair question, I would have thought. However, in In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), [from Wikipedia] 
the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding"
"Even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding". Hmm. As worldly and intelligent as the writers of the second amendment may have been, I'm not sure how accurately the could have envisioned the future of 'arms'.
For example, provided you (and the gun) meet the criteria, you can own a fully automatic machine gun in the US. Fully automatic means squeeze the trigger once, lots of bullets come out.
Assault weapons (defined in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban as: semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine) are legal throughout the US, except for 7 states. Semiautomatic means, with the magazine, you can fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. No reload, no cocking.
The task of wondering what was going on in the minds of people 225 years ago is impossible. We can never know the actual intention of the 2nd amendment. We can interpret, speculate and assume, but we can't know.
The Supreme court says 'even those not in existence at the time of the founding' and I agree with them. It's a reasonable assumption to think those who implemented the second amendment knew 'arms' would change. But did they think 'ordinary citizens' would be able to buy something like the Sig Sauer MCX, seen in the picture below? 

You know? I kind of doubt it. This gun, along with a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol were used by Omar Marteen to murder 50 people in an Orlando night club in June of 2016. It is a ferocious weapon. One must ask why an ordinary citizen would need such a weapon.
A common cry from gun owners is that a gun is required for self defence. It leads me to think that Americans need guns to protect themselves from Americans with guns. A vicious circle with murderous consequences.
It seems though that rather than self-defence, guns lead to self-harm, and harm of friends, and foes alike. Information cited in this study on guns in the home and risk of violent death shows a link between having guns in the home and an increased risk of dying because of it.
Some notable statistics out of the studies referenced: 
  •  Approximately 60 percent of all homicides and suicides in the United States are  committed with a firearm
  • Ecologic analyses have suggested a link between the prevalence of gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide
  • After they controlled for a number of potentially confounding factors, 
    • the presence of a gun in the home was associated with a nearly fivefold risk of suicide
    • an almost threefold risk of homicide
  • a history of family handgun purchase was associated with an elevated risk of both homicide and suicide
From the study itself (note - it's from 2004) 
  • Nearly three quarters of suicide victims lived in a home where one or more firearms were present
  • A firearm was used in 68 percent of both homicides and suicides
  • Over three quarters (76.3 percent) of the homicide victims knew their assailant.
  • Nearly one third (31.7 percent) of the homicides occurred during a family argument
  • an increased risk of homicide for those with firearms in the home
  • Males with firearms in the home were at a significantly greater risk of suicide than males without guns in the home
This says, to me, that having a gun in the home is a dangerous idea.
It's often overlooked that the first part of the second amendment reads: 'A well regulated militia....' The armed citizens of the United States could well be called a militia, but well regulated? Certainly not
The next part of the second amendment says: "...being necessary to the security of a free state" Not self-defence from burglars. Not for shooting cans off the back fence. 'Security of a free state'. I would suggest this means to thwart invasion and, possibly, being taken over by a tyrannical government. Of course in 1791, all guns were the same. The guns the military had were the guns the citizens had. Not so now.
For example, the US military has amongst its armoury the M249 light machine-gun which can fire up to 1000 rounds per minute. A semi-automatic version was made available to the public in 2015. On this gun alone it's 1000 rounds per minute (military) v 'as fast as someone can repeatedly pull the trigger'. You'd have to pull the trigger *16 times per second* to match the fully automatic version. It's not a contest.
This, of course is ignoring the fact that the US military is the most heavily armed force in the history of the world. Highly trained soldiers v ordinary citizens. Fully automatic weapons at 1000 rounds per minute v maybe 120? 180? And that's before the person using the semi-automatic tires. But it doesn't stop there. Hand-grenades, bazookas, rocket launchers, missiles, air craft. The citizenry cannot match the might of the military. There are three scenarios.One: The government wants to become a dictatorship, and the military is on its side...the citizenry can't stop them (no matter how many times they've seen Red Dawn). Two: The government wants to take over and the military is *not* on their side...the military will take care of that themselves. Three: The government wants to take over and the military is split...the military will fight the military on equal footing. It's absurd to think a not at all regulated militia will have any impact against the US military.
In this video a white man open-carrying an AR-15 is approached by a police officer and casually questioned as to whether he has a purpose (beside it simply being his right). It then shows a black man exercising the same right. This time the police office exits his vehicle, his gun drawn, and orders the man to the ground. Several other police vehicles arrive shortly after. The man on the ground is handcuffed and his gun taken by a police officer.
There are obvious flaws here - different police office, different street. Maybe had the first officer seen the second man he'd have approached him the same way he approached the first man. But...I don't think so.
After I started this post, a protest march over the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings took place in Dallas, Texas. During the march snipers in 'elevated positions' opened fire at police. Five police officers were killed. Three suspects are in custody, a fourth is dead after a standoff.
As I said above, America is a country on edge. It's an armed country where police are in fear of their lives when a person reaches towards their pocket, and citizens (particularly black men) are in fear of their lives when engaged by police. It's a metaphoric powder keg and it's waiting to go off. I just hope the fuse hasn't already been lit. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Common Heathens - An atheist podcast

I've been friends with Godless Mom, AKA Courtney, AKA GM for quite a while now, thanks to a mutual follow on twitter. 

Early on there was a chat about blogs and Courtney invited me to write a guest post for her outstanding GodlessMom.com. I told her I would love to write but I was short on ideas. She said she'd give me some topics to discuss. She didn't! 

After we became closer friends, I asked her about this and she showed me a screen shot of an email she'd started to me, with a dot point standing solo. She'd not been able to think of anything either. :)  

Eventually I did write a guest piece for her. It's called don't pray for me, and you can find it here

Skip forward and our friendship developed and we talked about ideas for collaborating on something. Eventually doing a podcast together came up. It stayed an idea for a while, before we finally got around to recording an episode. (well, two actually. We decided to split the recording into two). 

We've called it 'Common Heathens' because with Courtney being Canadian and me being Australian we are both members of the British Commonwealth (right???). And we are both, obviously, heathens. 

We made a request to our twitter followers - send us your questions. Anything. We recorded ourselves answering the first three we received and thus episode one of Common Heathens was born! 

Episode two, which is 'in the can' in movie speak, is the next three questions answered. 

As we grow and become more comfortable with the whole 'podcasting' thing we'll add more segments. It won't always just be us answering questions from twitter. But I do hope we retain a Q&A section. Perhaps incorporating some kind of 'listener feedback' discussion. 

The response to episode one has been truly amazing. Both Courtney and I have been so honoured to have received so much positive feed back. We really do appreciate it and it has encouraged us to want to do more. 

For now, we're going to be publishing monthly, but if things continue as they do, fortnightly or even weekly will be a consideration. One thing is we want to be topical and talk about current events, and a monthly show doesn't really lend itself to that. But this is new and there's a lot to get used to so initially, monthly it is. 

You can find out about us at our sparkling new website: CommonHeathens.com

Thanks to the wonderful web skills of Courtney, you can listen to us in various ways: 

YouTube: Common Heathens 

If would like to become a financial supporter of the show you can! Your financial support will help us with our equipment (I desperately need a new microphone!) will help with hosting our website, and will enable us to increase the frequency of episodes. You'll also receive cool bonuses such as shoutouts from Godless Mom and myself on twitter, access to additional content (when available) as well a mention on the podcast (all depending on the level of your patronage). 

If this sounds like something you'd like to be involved in, head on over to our Patreon Page

Thanks for reading, and happy listening!  

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Is Peter Wallace for real? (and does it matter?)

Over the past few days I've had a couple of encounters on twitter, as have others, with a Peter Wallace, from New South Wales. 

He tweets as @PeterWallaceAU. According to his twitter bio: 
Leader, Australian Conservative Party. Candidate for federal senate (NSW), advocating major democratic reform, ex NSW Police
He came to my attention by tweeting an anti-LGBT anti-Marriage-equality stance and for being against the Safe Schools program - which has the goal of eliminating the bullying of LGBT kids in Australian schools. Peter claims to be only an aspiring politician, however this program was attacked by actual members of the current government. Conservative, Christian, homophobic members of the current government, obviously. The program was investigated and is now going to be wound back, before being defunded*. 

But back to Peter. It's hard to find anything of Peter Wallace or his political party online. 

Searching his name brings up few results. He (or someone with his name) was written about in The Red and The Blue blog, back in September 2015. Then nothing until his recent series of tweets. There is a Facebook page for the Australian Conservative Party, but there is no activity on it. 

He claims to be running for the Senate in the upcoming federal election, but he is not yet listed as a candidate.

I know, however, there's still a long way to go before the election. 

He claims to be the leader of the Australian Conservative Party. But a check of the Australian Electoral Commission website shows that there is no party registered with that name. Again, it's a long time before the election but if you were about to campaign in a federal election, you'd think you'd register your political party. They seem to have an official banner/logo...

So why not actually register the party? 

I have had a look online with a twitter friend, Chris in D.C. (@653toMidnight) and there's nothing to be found of this aspiring politician's career. 

Where are the meetings, where are photos of him being out and about, on the hustings, as they say? The only photo we can find of this Peter Wallace looks suspiciously stock (as does the photo of someone who seems to be a major supporter on twitter). Having said that, a politician having a professional headshot as their profile picture is nothing unusual. A would-be politician having that as their *only* available photo...raises suspicions. 

I argued with Peter a few days ago over his anti-LGBT stance. Today he's come to more prominence after tweeting this: 

He made it to a News.com.au article. And, at the time of writing, is trending on twitter in my part of the world. 

Whether legitimate or "Poe" this is surely mission accomplished. Well perhaps not accomplished, but it would certainly be a checkpoint along the way to achieving whatever mission it is Peter (or whatever his name is) is hoping to achieve. 

If it turns out the Peter is a Poe/Troll then I'm sure we've all got a revelation waiting for us, when the person behind Peter Wallace comes out to reveal that we all fell for it. 

And sure, he or she will be right, I initially fell for it. But here's the problem - there are people (including some currently in parliament) who legitimately believe this anti-LGBT stuff that Peter is espousing. This will be a perfect example of Poe's Law. 

But that's not the real problem with what Peter's doing, whether legitimately or not. 

The real problem with what Peter is doing is the high rates of suicide among LGBT kids (and adults). The real problem with what Peter is doing is the oppression, hated and bigotry experienced by LGBT kids and his adding of fuel to this most disgusting of fires. 

Peter is trying to legitimise this false idea that LGBT kids are flawed, that same-sex couples aren't good enough to marry, and aren't good enough to be parents. 

Peter Wallace, real or fake, is adding to the stigma that leads LGBT people to kill themselves. 

I'm not sure if Peter believes this ignorant, disgusting, backwards attitude he's promoting. I'm not sure if, because of our previous conversations, I'll one day be listed amongst the people he 'fooled' into believing him. 

What I am sure of, though, is that Peter is harmful. I am sure that the ideas he's promoting are dangerous, and regressive. 

I am sure that this is an abhorrent thing he's doing, whether he's doing it for real, or as a joke. 

I'm not sure which is worse. 


Special thanks to Chris in D.C. (@653toMidnight) for inspiring this blog by asking if Peter Wallace was for real and helped look up info on Peter. 

*at the time of writing the Victorian and ACT governments have said they will continue to fund the Safe Schools program with state money. 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

For religious reasons

I saw a tweet from Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is a member of the USA fencing world team, according to her twitter bio. Not being much into fencing, I can't say I'd heard of her before. (She's Rio bound in 2016, is seems. Good luck to her!)

Ibtihaj had an issue with being asked to remove her hijab to receive her ID badge at an event (from what I can find out, a music festival). 

From what I've read since, it seems that the organisers of the event had no requirement for her to remove her headscarf and that security was overstepping the mark in requesting her to do so.  

What I found interesting was Ibtihaj's subsequent tweet which said 

'Even after I explained it was for religious reasons...' Why does that make a difference? Why should someone be allowed an exception just because of what they believe to be true? Even if it's a sincerely held belief. 

Of course I think people should be entitled to believe whatever they like, my question is, at what point do I stop being obliged to accommodate it? 

At what point can an event organiser say 'we don't allow any head-ware on our ID badges' and expect everyone to comply? 

What if we say we accommodate anything that doesn't cause harm or negatively impact others? @megcl0ud on twitter put it as accommodating: cases of non-violent, non-threatening personal convictions. 

Off the bat, this sounds fair enough. 

Question one, for me is, how to you measure a personal conviction? There is the well known case of Niko Alm, an Austrian atheist who, back in 2011, won the right to wear a pasta strainer in his driving license photograph, due to claiming to be a member of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I don't think anyone for a moment believes Niko genuinely believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but he forced the court's hand and argued successfully. 

The organisers of Wimbledon have a rule that anyone competing in the tournament must be wearing predominately white. 

Thought experiment: What if a tennis player belongs to a religion that demands they only ever wear pink? If we're allowing things 'for religious reasons' do we give this person an exemption? If we follow the 'non-violent, non-threatening personal conviction' suggestion, then yes, we should accommodate someone wearing pink. 

Seems it would be the kind thing to do. 

What if someone else has a religion that demands the only wear blue. And someone else is red. Green. Suddenly we've got no one wearing white, and no two people wearing the same colours. 

What then happens to the rules at Wimbledon? Are they not entitled to run an event where everyone wears white? Wearing white is non-threatening, non-violent action. Wimbledon organisers might have a personal conviction that their tennis tournament be held in white. Why should they be forced to give up their conviction for the conviction of someone else? 

Well, I don't think they should. It's a private event. They should be allowed to say 'you play wearing white, or you don't play'. They're not banning people for who they are. They're not saying a woman can't play because of her sexual orientation. They're not saying a black man can't compete because of the colour of his skin. They're saying if you want to play in this tournament, you have to wear white. And they should be allowed to. 

Just as a bank should be allowed to say that you can't enter if your face is covered. Regardless of what you're covering it with, or why you're covering it. 

Just as a restaurant should be allowed to say we serve only meat dishes and if you choose to be a vegan, you can find somewhere else to eat. 

This is not discrimination based on who someone is, this is having the right to not have to accommodate every choice someone makes. It might be that a restaurant suffers from not having vegan options on the menu. So be it. That's a commercial decision. I don't eat seafood, but I'm not about to force a seafood restaurant to serve a meal I would like. I'll just go eat elsewhere. 

If your choice of religion prevents you from doing something because you don't want rules that apply to everyone else, to apply to you, then it's *you* that should be finding the alternative. 

It's not that I'm against being kind or accommodating people. It's about where to draw the line. I had a long discussion on twitter with @megcl0ud  and @idiocyalert. They agreed 'for religious reasons' was not enough. It has to be, at least 'for religious reasons*' I just thing you can remove the 'for religious reason' and make the * secular. 

You allow head-ware (hats, sunnies, a Red Sox cap) or you don't. Simple. 

I'm sure there are many hijab-wearing Muslim women have thought or even asked to not be treated differently because of their religion. 

This would probably be so much easier if people stopped asking to be treated differently just because of their religion.