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Thursday, 10 October 2013

African inventor makes 3-D printer from scrap

I have been following African tech development for years. Many in the West will be unaware that in many areas they are way in advance.

In Nairobi hundreds of buses have Wi-Fi - unlike in New York or London. Africans have been able to use mobile phones to make payments and transfer money for years.

The  open source project Ushahidi, which allows users to crowdsource crisis information and began during the disastrous 2007 Kenyan elections, is now used worldwide.

So it does not surprise me that an African has done this:
Kodjo Afate Gnikou has imagination, talent and ambition. 
Using rails and belts from old scanners, the case of a discarded desktop computer and even bits of a diskette drive, he has created what is believed to be the first 3D printer made from e-waste. 
It has taken him several months to put together his experimental device. Lifting designs off a computer, the 3D printer produces physical objects. He shows us by “printing” a small round container. 
And it doesn’t stop there – the 33-year old says he believes this model is only the prototype for something much larger. His aim is to one day transport e-waste to Mars to create homes for mankind. 
“My dream is to give young people hope and to show that Africa, too, has its place on the global market when it comes to technology. We are able to create things. Why is Africa always lagging behind when it comes to technology?”, he asks. 
Some elements had to be bought new but, in all, his printer cost him 100 US dollars to build. 
Gnikou says his printer can also be useful on a daily basis as it can print various utensils needed in any household, that are not always easy to get hold of.
More: African Inventor Makes 3D Printer From Scrap. Video of Kodjo after the jump.

NB: If you're interested in following African tech development I recommend Eric Hersman.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Tomorrow's world + the NSA: James Burke reflects

A science broadcasting legend predicts the future, after getting it mostly right 40 years ago, and has some choice words on the NSA 'scandal'.

James Burke is a British broadcasting legend, one who any Brit over 45 years old would recognise as the face of technological progress.

Most familiar as the chief presenter of the long-running BBC science series 'Tomorrow's World', he also anchored the Moon landing coverage and has written many influential books. The Washington Post has called him "one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world."

He may be familiar to Americans for his hit PBS series charting how technological progress happens, 'Connections', and his writing for Scientific American and Time.

Writing in 1973 for BBC magazine Radio Times he predicted life today and marking that 40th anniversary the BBC has looked back to see how his predictions stack up: they mostly do. He predicted the mass take-up of computers, in-vitro fertilisation and cheap air travel.He got right that the British people would resist identity cards. He got wrong that there would be 300,000 computer terminals by 2000 - there were 134 million.

Burke also predicted "metadata banks" of personal information - Facebook, Google - and that "young people" would be completely relaxed about releasing their personal information.

Speaking to the BBC's Eddie Mair (audio after the jump), Burke was asked about this attitude to privacy in the light of the current panic about government and privacy.

Burke says that issues like transparency and accountability are new, they have come forward because of the Internet, the 'information age'. That the general public now has access to more information, and is demanding it - this is "healthy". But matters of privacy are contextual:
When street numbers came out in the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 1820s there were riots, because nobody wanted others to know what your street number was. Times change. When you tick a box when you buy something online that allows them to put you in their big data pile and find out what you'd really like next time.

Walmart does 300 million transactions an hour and they use that information, for example, when there is a big hurricane predicted they'll put torches on the shelves exactly where you want to buy them. And pop-tarts because, believe it or not, that's what people buy when there's going to be a hurricane.

So it's a quid pro quo.
Asked if he's content with this situation (which he had predicted) Burke reflects that when he visited the Soviet Union he was told to be careful of what he said, 'because everyone is listening'. Says Burke:
Of course they're not listening. If they had to listen to everything we said in hotel rooms in the USSR in those days they'd be up all day and night.

So called snooping is them looking for metadata, not what you say. Not what you said to Charlie but the fact you talked to Charlie. If Charlie's unimportant and you're unimportant the thing they're happiest to do is dump it because the pile is unmanageably big now.
So called Big Data, the electronic exhaust we leave behind, is unbelievably large and growing at extrapolated rates. Nobody is going to ask me what I said to somebody on the phone yesterday afternoon, they're not interested. The algorithm will say 'I see he's talking to so-and-so and it's not relevant to us', and that's as far as it will go. There's no other way you can run the system anywhere.
So you're unperturbed by the NSA and the Edward Snowden revelations and all that?
We've been doing that since we left the caves. Anybody who thinks that governments have not been taking what they can about public behaviour, they haven't understood the political process.
Of course everyone does it, of course they've always done it. Seems to me the press has jumped on the idea that people are snooping without recognising that the amounts of data are so gigantically enormous that there is no way that the NSA cares a rat's ass about me or you.

We're in a transition period. I don't think it'll be that long before we'll be able to throw out our own search algorithms to, say, find out if anybody is looking at me!

There's always a quid-pro-quo with technology. There's always two sides to every knife.
Speaking about the future, Burke cites one development which will fundamentally change the world: nano-factories. (Video about this after the jump.)
Let’s say that 2040 sees the start of worldwide wi-fi distribution of software kits to make a nano-fabricator. Sits in the back garden, spare room, somewhere. Uses dirt, air and water and a bit of cheap, carbon-rich acetylene gas. Manipulates atoms and molecules to produce anything you want, virtually free. Each fabber can make copies of itself, so: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 etc: one each for nine billion of us, say, by 2042.

Sixty years later, we’ll have adapted to the new abundance and are living in small, no-pollution, autonomous communities, anywhere. Energy from spray-on photovoltaics makes any object (like a house) its own power source. So, here you are in your fabber-fabricated dwelling, filled with Mona Lisas if that’s your wish, with holographic reality transforming any room into anywhere (like: beach, sun, wind ruffling hair). So nobody travels any more. Want to see a pal, have dinner with your mother, join a discussion group? No problem: they’ll be there with you as 3D holograms, and you won’t know Stork from butter, unless you try to make physical contact (I’m avoiding sex and reproduction because that might have to be wild speculation).

The entire global environment will also be covered with quintillions of dust-sized nano-computers called motes. So your life will be constantly curated by an intelligent network of ubiquitous cyber-servants. The “motes” will know you need more food, or that it’s a bit chilly today, or that you’re supposed to call Charlie. And they’ll take the relevant action. Your shirt (motes in the fabric) will call Charlie. Either his avatar will appear, or you’ll hear his voice. Not sound waves, but brainwaves. Brain-to-brain communication (it happened for the first time in summer 2013).

No travel means no need for infrastructure, such as high-speed trains (unnecessary by mid-century, along with superhighways and airports). No need for anything that Government does, because, in our millennial culture of scarcity, Government was primarily there to tax, spend, and re-distribute the wealth. In 2103, with no scarcity, what need for Government? And with abundance, everybody has everything, so what need for criminals?
Listen to the interview with Burke and watch his predictions for the future after the jump:

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Music · Funkanomics · Stevie Wonder · Superstition remix

Many remixes are disrespectful and frankly don't add anything to the original. This one does.

Funkanomics are a trio from Germany and their bone shaking basslines underlay this version which keeps the original structure, lyrics and hooks.

Superstition remix and two more great mixes from them as added extras (Hendrix meets Sylvester plus - vaguely - Heatwave) after the jump:

Friday, 4 October 2013

More 'gay' animals - and why they exist

Homosexual behavior has been documented in so many species that many scientists believe it is universal within the animal kingdom.

Last year a post of mine '11 'Gay' Animals' for was my most viewed ever, being the most read for six weeks and attracting nearly 500 comments. When the site did a rejig last year I got dropped with many other writers so this follow up was never published. A friend picking up on the original inspired me to drag it out. So here's another 11 for you, starting with the most familiar: Homo Sapiens.

Homosexuality in humans has been documented for thousands of years, but we still have no final explanation as to why it occurs and how it develops.

We know that there are a number of features which distinguish homosexual human beings from heterosexuals. Studies have discovered some very odd distinctions -- like finger-length and hair swirl and even penis thickness. The existence of young children who are apparently gay or lesbian has come much more to the fore in recent years, as have transgendered children, suggesting that a "born this way" theory is on the right track.

Research has pointed at a number of possible biological causes with immunology currently a favorite because such traits are known to be influenced in utero. In any family, the second-born son is 33 percent more likely than the first to be gay, and the third is 33 percent more likely than the second, and so on, as though there is some sort of “maternal memory.”

Hypothetical mechanisms include an alteration in the flow of male hormones in the formation of boys and female hormones in the gestation of girls. Why? It could be germs, genes, maternal stress, and even allergy.

In this interview with the renowned evolutionist Richard Dawkins, Dawkins explains how evolutionists have a few theories for why human homosexual behavior would be favored in natural selection, they includes the 'gay uncle theory'. Here, gay members of a group help look after children, increasing the group's survival chances. This is also the case with many other species where non breeding members of a group help raise, for example, pups or other bees. Anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy argues that for much of human history children were raised by groups, not just their parents alone.

Lesbians kissing
Another is that a 'gay gene' we find now may have operated differently in another environment. An analogy would be how in hunter-gatherer times a gene that stores energy as fat quickly and efficiently during the rare times of abundant food may have been advantageous; genes that helped people fatten quickly would have been favored by selection. But now those same genes aren't so useful, because food is always abundant -- at least in the wealthy parts of the world -- and so people with these 'thrifty' genes are especially prone to diabetes and obesity.

Another theory is that a 'gay gene' could have a double function, just as the gene variant for sickle-cell anemia is maintained because it reduces the severity of malaria. It could be that the gene that causes men to become homosexual also makes women better at reproducing. Women with that gene would have more children than other women, and even though some of their sons become homosexuals who do not reproduce, they would still have enough heterosexual daughters to carry the genes on.

Studies of twins strongly suggest that such a gene does exist, but we are still to definitively idetify it.

Many societies, such as Polynesia's, have clear and approved roles for 'gay' sons and 'lesbian' daughters and throughout history priests and shamans have often been 'gay'. Richard Lippa, a psychologist from California State University, has found cross-cultural confirmation that gay men and lesbians tend to take up certain sorts of job and have common other stereotypes. This suggests that homosexuality evolved and persists in humans because it benefits groups or relatives, rather than individuals, like how in bonobo chimpanzee society, homosexual behavior has benefits at a group level by promoting social cohesion.

Biologists looking at the rest of the animal kingdom are trying to explain the apparent evolutionary advantages of homosexual behaviour. Researchers Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk provide a variety of possible answers in their short paper Same-Sex Sexual Behavior and Evolution (pdf). They give numerous examples of how same-sex sexuality appears to benefit various species.

After the jump read more about dolphins, elephants, flamingos, koalas and orang-utans.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Did Syria "rebel chemicals" story come from Russian source?

A story on an obscure American news website, Mint Press, has been central to Russian claims that rebels exploded chemical weapons in Damascus rather than the Assad regime.

The credibility of that story has since been undermined, and today Buzzfeed takes a long look at Mint Press' shadowy backers and their Iranian links.

Middle East specialist Brian Whitaker has been digging deeper and asks detailed questions about its author and whether the story was actually planted by Russia:
I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks looking into the story that Saudi Arabia provided rebel fighters in Syria with chemical weapons. More specifically, I have been looking at the story of how it became a story - along with the questions this raises about the boundaries between journalism and propaganda, and about attempts to manufacture credibility for a report that was lacking in evidence...
...The eagerness with which Syria "truthers" latched on to this tale was bizarre since it relied on anonymous sources and uncritical quoting of them – practices that the truthers object to vigorously when they are found in mainstream media. But on this occasion it told them what they wanted to hear...
...Essentially, what Mint Press did with its chemical weapons story was to take a short cut by piggy-backing on the credibility of an international news agency, the Associated Press. Dale Gavlak's association with AP added enormously to the story's credibility and helped to compensate for its flimsiness in terms of hard facts. That's why Mint Press insisted on including her name on the story, even though her actual role in it is disputed.
More: Manufacturing Credibility. How the Syria 'Rebel Chemicals' Story Was Over-Sold

Whitaker has tracked down a comment written by the author of the Mint Press story, Yan Barakat aka Yahya Ababneh, written on the Daily Mail website, before the Mint Press article was published:
Barakat then adds some information that wasn't included in the Mint Press story which has done so much to excite Russian officials: "Some old men arrived in Damascus from Russia and one of them became friends with me. He told me that they have evidence that it was the rebels who used the weapons."
More Yahya Ababneh exposed: Syria "rebel chemicals" story may have come from Russian source.
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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Daily Mail/fascism linkage is lazy history

Lord Rothermere I (Harold Harmsworth) with Hitler
As most people seem to be rightfully outraged by the Daily Mail's smearing of Ed Miliband's father I see many repeating the meme that the Mail supported Hitler and the blackshirts.

Mail owner Lord Rothermere did support Hitler (see above picture) and the Mail did publish "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" - pictures of which are being furiously retweeted this morning. But as Media Prof Roy Greenslade pointed out in 2011 (based on work by my mate Matt Wardman) the Daily Mirror published "Give the Blackshirts a helping hand."
The Mirror's sister paper, then known as the Sunday Pictorial, even ran pictures of uniformed blackshirts playing table tennis and enjoying a sing-song around a piano. Both titles also planned a beauty contest aimed at finding Britain's prettiest woman fascist.

Not many people know that. Certainly, nothing like as many as know that the Mail ran Rothermere's "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" (which is Wardman's point)...

... It is also important to view Harold's misguided views through the prism of widespread support for appeasement, not least from The Times under the editorship of Geoffrey Dawson and, of course, many leading politicians.

Lastly, it is also the case that the Mail of the 1930s was not nearly as influential as the Daily Express and its owner, Lord Beaverbrook.

And it was the Express, in March 1933, that ran a splash headlined "Judea declares war on Germany: Jews of all the world unite in action".

It was an overblown report about an (alleged) boycott against German goods that was declared in response to anti-Semitic activities by the Nazis. The "boycott" was quickly repudiated by the Jewish board of deputies in Britain.
Greenslade said:
Damn the Mail if you will for what it publishes now. But Rothermere the Second, Rothermere the Third (Vere) and now Rothermere the Fourth (Jonathan) cannot be held responsible for the views of the first of their line.
Point being that those making Daily Mail/fascism links today are using the exact same tactic they are rightly criticising the Mail for using on Ed Miliband.

Update, October 5: Roy Greenslade writes:
I have previously written that we should not damn the Mail, and the current Lord Rothermere, for his great-grandfather's support for fascism.

But I concede that, in these circumstances, the regurgitation of the Harmsworth family's dark past is valid. It is hardly surprising that it is now back on the agenda.

Similarly, Dacre's own family history has also become the subject of some fascination. Why, people are asking, didn't his own father fight for Britain in the second world war, as Ralph Miliband did?

Then there is Dacre's own background as a leftish student. He is now likely to be held up to ridicule for what he wrote while at Leeds university.

In truth, the whole affair has blown up in Dacre's face because of his intransigence. The Mail editor has become the centre of a story that has legs.

In the process, he has achieved the reverse of his intentions. A dignified Ed Miliband has emerged with an enhanced image. As for press regulation, he has made it infinitely more difficult for the matter to be resolved in favour of the system he favours.
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Music · Black Ivory · Mainline

Something to brighten your Tuesday, this is a stonking disco non-hit.

The obscure Harlem group with the dodgy name made this in 1979 on the Buddah label, home for many other classics. Like Love Sensation and countless others it drives on relentlessly, has a brilliant breakdown and an earworm of a hook (they collaborated with legend Patrick Adams). And put aside that it compares lurve to injecting hard drugs ...

Totally agree with this take on Mainline by Doc’trin:
After hearing some covers and a handful of house tracks which sample Mainline, it’s safe to say that nobody even comes close to the magic that happens on the original. In fact, just as I was writing this I saw that Tensnake is releasing a very uninspiring version himself, so I’m glad I get to share “the real deal” with you before this song title gets overloaded with a bunch of undeserved hype.

Organic instrumentation wins this round. You can’t deny the power this track has when it ditches it’s narrative verses before the halfway mark in favor of a loopy disco hook, percussive-break down and cheerful lyrics that will stay in your head forever. Please play this by my bedside if I ever end up in a coma. Seriously.
Boogie after the break:

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Muslim hero of Westgate Mall horror

This is one of the most moving and viral images which came out of the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Last night we learned the identity of the man who the little girl is running towards and all of Kenya is hailing him as a hero.

His name is Abdul Haji and he is the son of Mohamed Yusuf Haji, a Somali politician based in Kenya who has served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Internal Security and Provincial Affairs.

In a riveting thirty minute interview on Kenyan prime time news Haji relates how he rescued dozens of people (video after the jump).

He received a text from his brother in the Mall reporting gunfire and went there to find him. As he arrived he saw many dead people including children and the elderly. He then linked up with a multi-racial, multi-faith group and spent around four hours trying to rescue as many as they could before he eventually tracked down his brother.

He relates the story of the photo. They noticed a woman and a number of children hiding underneath a promotional table in a spot right in the crossfire between themselves and a terrorist. He asked her to ask the eldest child to run towards them.
She ran towards men with guns. She did not cry. She remained calm throughout.
Haji says that even after the picture went viral he was reluctant to speak.
If such a girl can be so brave there is no reason we cannot.
Asked later why he did what he did and whether he is a hero he says:
I'm not sure what motivated me, I was in the moment, I was angered. I was, for want of a better word, pissed off with what had happened.

I am not a hero. I did what any other Kenyan would have done, to save anyone regardless of nationality, religion or creed. We're definitely not heroes. 
He wanted to protect his privacy, but many told him he was a hero and encouraged him to come forward because Somali-Kenyans were being criticised, as were Muslims. He says he initially feared that his brother was not safe because someone was after him as the son of a prominent Somali-Kenyan. He describes the terrorists as abnormal and that they cannot be seen as representing Muslims.
It has almost become a cliche to say that Islam is the religion of peace, but it is true. It says that if you save one life it is like you have saved the whole of humanity.

They call themselves Jihadis but one of the paramount rules of engagement in jihad is that you cannot kill a woman, a child, the elderly. So where are the getting their doctrine? Why are the trying to drive a wedge? It's physiological warfare, they're trying to divide Kenyans but I witnessed that they killed Muslims there. 
They can't say [this is revenge as] we're killing Muslims in Somalia, we're [Kenya's military] there to protect Somalia, they're the ones who have been killing Muslims in Somalia.
Early reports that the terrorists were saying they would protect Muslims and were asking people to name Mohammed's mother have become a theme of reporting the attack. This despite photos on Sunday of a Muslim burial.

In a blog post titled 'The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us' Charles "Mase" Onyango-Obbo from The Nation points out that: "reality challenged the media stereotype of the Westgate attack":
There was an awkward wrinkle – Muslims too were among the dead. That was not supposed to happen, you know, how come “Islamist terrorists” were killing other Muslims? One of the survivors said he watched in horror when two terrorists asked some women to cite verses of the Quran to prove they were Muslim. They did…then the men shot them at point blank range. Some terrified people who were lying on the ground screamed; “why did you shoot them?”

One of the gunmen replied, “because they were not wearing the hijab”. So, it seems, misogyny and patriarchy trumped religion.
Divisions between Africans and Westeners, the poor and the middle class, between this and that tribe, all dissolved in the reality of what actually happened. Says Onyango-Obbo:
Debased “otherness” enables us to ignore the pain of others and sleep soundly at night; to discriminate against people who are different without having to trouble our consciences; to persecute those who are not our relatives, fellow citizens, not of our religion, or social station without being afflicted by a sense of injustice. This type of “otherness” is anaesthesia against having to be humane...

So perhaps it is time to pause and reflect. The outcome of the Westgate terror attack seemed to tell that not all contests between those who have and those who don’t are a Lenist class war. Not every contest between cultures, religions, or races is a battle for conquest and domination. That they are well-meaning negotiations for space, for respect, for a little share of the pie, for some of the air, for a bit of the limelight, not a tango of death.
NTV's interview with Abdul Haji after the jump:

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The horrific truth of Kenya terrorist attack?

Social media symbol of sympathy for Kenya afte...
Social media symbol of sympathy for Kenya after terrorist attack Sep 2013 (Photo credit: ILRI)
A Kenyan journalist has posted to Twitter disturbing details of the fate of hostages in the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall.

Winnie Kiziah (@WKiziah), a journalist with the State Broadcaster, posted a series of tweets around midday GMT on Wednesday from a security source which told a sickening story. A number of Kenyans responded strongly against her posts. Around 3pm GMT her account was closed. According to Twitter sources she did this herself. The tweets were saved and can be viewed here or here - please note they are truly disgusting and I will not reproduce their content.

At the time of writing one other source, @MisterAlbie, described as 'Communications, Agribusiness | Budding Entrepreneur | FX Trader | Farmer', confirmed her account tweeting:
I am seconding what she is saying @WKiziah. I was told that stuff yesterday evening by some barracks guys...
Twitter is also noting that Kiziah's account mirrors that tweeted by al-Shabab:
said this~~~>>RT : details: all hostages noses were picked up by (cont)
There has been a strong questioning by Kenyans on social media of the government's account of what happened in the Mall, some of which has made it into MSM reports as 'confusion'. Journalist Mike Pflanz today described the situation as an "info blackout".

A crowdsourcing project by Kenyans has come up with 85 questions. Pflanz notes the appearance of a new hashtag, #WeAreOne_dering.

What I would note is that in numerous accounts about the experience of foreign jihadis that join up for al-Shabab they often refer to these people fleeing Somalia when they experience how al-Shabab actually treat people. The behaviour described in Kiziah's account should be seen in that light.

Edited to add: Robert Alai tweeted Thursday:
I have heard: Hostages were being raped and beheaded. KDF decided to blow the location of the attackers saving victims further humiliations
Friday's Daily Mail repeated Winnie's claims quoting soldiers and doctors anonymously.
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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

America + guns: should the world intervene?

This photo is from a post I wrote in March of some of the families of the Newtown shooting victims at the White House. This is their reaction on learning that the US Senate had rejected expanding background checks for gun purchases.

I wrote then that “it should shame America”.

Henry Porter wrote for The Guardian:
In a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.
That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks - last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s navy yard - and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis - a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families - the maiming and killing of children - just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.
The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.
To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it’s worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.
That 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all wars involving the US is a staggering fact, particularly when you place it in the context of the safety-conscious, “secondary smoke” obsessions that characterise so much of American life.
Everywhere you look in America, people are trying to make life safer. On roads, for example, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years to enforce speed limits, crack down on drink/drug driving and build safety features into highways, as well as vehicles. The result is a steadily improving record; by 2015, forecasters predict that for first time road deaths will be fewer than those caused by firearms (32,036 to 32,929).
Plainly, there’s no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe.
More >> American Gun Use Is Out of Control. Shouldn’t the World Intervene?
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Monday, 23 September 2013

Why report gay terrorism victims

All through last weekend I have been glued to news from Nairobi. The terrorist outrage at the Westgate Mall particularly got me because I've had personal contact with many Kenyans. First through reporting on the digital revolution there, which is astonishing, then the LGBT(IQ) community. Some are now friends.

For the past few days I have been following reporters like Mike Pflanz and the #Westgate hashtag but also gay friends, especially Denis Nzioka, who is the go to source for queer news from Africa.

After Denis reported that two members of Nairobi's queer community had been murdered in the attack, and that one other was trapped, I tweeted this at several news outlets. On the Monday it was picked up and reported by Gay Star News.

This drew an immediate hostile reaction on social media with people asking whether reporting the sexuality of these victims was relevant or necessary, that it was "bizarre to highlight someone's sexuality in this situation". Another sarcastically noted that "what we all really want to know is were any gay men killed in Nairobi massacre."

Denis' reports had described the two who died as members of Nairobi's "queer community". If this attack had happened in Brighton, England would it be wrong to report that "Brighton's gay community is in mourning", say, if "members" had been similarly murdered?

Now some may scoff at the idea of a 'Brighton gay community', or any 'gay community', let alone a 'LGBTIQ community', and hence wonder why you'd report "members" lost. That's because we're privileged enough to have reached a point where we can be sarcastic about it. Kenyans don't have that luxury.

Gay Kenyans at a health demonstration
I've done reporting that has covered the development of this community in Kenya. In a society where gay sex is illegal and gay people need to protect themselves and each other from various threats, the growth of community resources and networks - which Nzioka documents in his reporting - is fantastic.

One of my bugbears in reporting about Africa and gays is that this positive aspect is lost in a sea of horror stories, much as general reporting on Africa is. I saw this up close when I covered an anti-gay riot near Mombasa in 2010 and its aftermath. The riot drew (inaccurate) international headlines, how it was shut down and how both gays and allies worked together to help and then go further to educate drew no international headlines.

The same is true of Uganda, where the growing community and its increased visibility is hardly reported on. All most people would know about is the 'Kill the gays' bill.

When I reported a couple of weeks ago that a number of Russian sources, including a main LGBT organisation, were saying that the latest aspect of the anti-gay tide - a bill to remove children from gay parents - would be stopped and that there was some reason to think the tide could be reversed this was mocked and derided. My reporting was even compared to Holocaust denial.

Anyone with anything positive to say about Russians, even about gay Russians, gets this treatment. Particularly those who question the boycott tactic, opposed by several Russian gay groups. In the case of the gay figure skater Johnny Weir this has led to queer-baiting and fag-bashing with one prominent gay American blogger, John Aravosis, labeling the flamboyant Weir a "freak" and a "quisling". On his blog Aravosis allows commentators to abuse Weir in ways which wouldn't shame a High School jock tormenting a fey teenager.

It is not 'journalism' if places like Kenya, Uganda and Russia are solely presented as hell holes. In fact it does a serious disservice to gay people there.

Our disaster too

Regarding the Westgate Mall disaster and its gay victims - and it is a 'disaster' - gay people have particular needs in disasters which usually are ignored.

The need to take into account gay disaster victims needs is something which relief bodies and governments have become, and need to become, increasingly aware of. This is not just an issue in somewhere like Pakistan, where transgender (hijara) flood victims in 2010-11 were blocked from relief, but also South Florida.

Nzioka reported that he would not name the two queer terrorist victims because they were not out. Even in death Kenyan society requires them to be closeted. The support for the people they've left behind will come from the community which supported them in life.

That community exists and in a disaster like this reporting its existence is one step to demanding that it be respected and equally aided. Yes, we must report that gays exist in disasters because, first, they need to be visible.

Edited to add: Tris Reid-Smith, editor of Gay Star News, sent in this comment:
Just to help explain our news values here... We do not report on 'gay issues' we report on LGBTQI people. Just as a French newspaper would highlight French victims, we have highlighted LGBTQI victims of this tragedy. We are not 'singling out' people – we care equally about everyone – but reporting on our community. The points raised are very good but our approach is pretty much standard for all media in the world, whatever audience they serve. Let's hope the remaining people caught up in this get out safely. Meanwhile our thoughts will be with all the victims, their friends and families.
And there's also this angle, pointed out by Owen Barder, Senior Fellow & Europe Director at the Center for Global Development. Development:
@pauloCanning people think it normal to report on victims' nationality and occupation; why not on this aspect of who they are?
And Marcus O'Donnell, former Editor of the Sydney Star Observer, noted that:
@pauloCanning I got the same reaction when I did report at sso after 9/11 on reactions from NYC gay community
On the Tuesday Denis Nzioka ‏tweeted:
@pauloCanning I cannot allow the memories of #KenyaLGBTI to be swept under, even in such a situation as #Westgate. It would be an injustice!
On Facebook Nzioka added this point:
It's critical to show that even in such incidents, LGBTIQ persons are also victims and remembering them is one way we can show solidarity with them.
Update, October 1: JJ survived. 'In trauma but alive'.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Music · Funk Fusion Band · Can You Feel It

As far I can tell this is the sole record this crew produced.

On the nexus of jazz-funk and disco this is the dog's bollocks, the epitome, the example. Utterly wonderful.

When I had my deejaying peak at RAT, Sydney, 80sblah, 5-8am shift, this was the last record I played.

Bliss follows the jump:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Refugee Convention assaulted by Australia and Israel

'illegal asylum seeker' is an oxymoron - Refug...
Refugee Action protest 27 July 2013 Melbourne (Photo credit: Takver)

Although the issue of refugees and asylum seekers has been the subject of furious - and often intemperate and ignorant - debate the world over only now is the actual Refugee Convention under serious threat.

In the run up to Australia's election something happened which caused a collective gawp for the sizable Australian minority who haven't lost their minds about refugee boat arrivals.

The then Labor government proposed a new policy of shipping boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and refusing them asylum in Australia, thus abrogating a basic principle of the Refugee Convention, which almost all nations are signed up to, either the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol.

Australian policy towards asylum seekers is described by politicians as "harsh". 'Vindictive' and 'cruel' would be more apt. The place in PNG where boat arrivals are being sent (and only them, not those claiming asylum at an airport, logic has nothing to do with this politics) is a dump, on a tropical island, where rape and torture has been uncovered as ocurring - the government tried to cover that up. They are sending children there. The 'PNG option' came from strong arming and aid threats. Locals to the camp, on Manus Island, say they are being shut out of jobs and get no benefit from it. They say they would welcome the asylum seekers living in their community.

This was sold to Australians as "humanitarian" because it would 'stop the boats' coming from Indonesia as some of them sink and over 1000 are thought to have drowned since 2001. But another investigation found more cover up of a failure to stop boats at risk of sinking and aid them - another two-finger salute to international law, in that case the international law of the sea which demands mutual aid on the high seas.
In the dead of night on 17 December 2011, an asylum seeker boat called the Barokah left the coast of Java with around 250 men, women and children on board. One of them was ethnic Hazara man, Esmat Adine. The boat was so crowded, Adine couldn't even find a place to sit. The Barokah was just 40 nautical miles from Indonesia when it fell apart.
'At first I couldn't believe that our boat has sank,' Adine recalls. 'But I saw a toy is coming from the inside of the boat; it is coming by water. When it comes close to me, I realised that no, that was not a toy. That was a kid. That was a kid named Daniel. Daniel was with his mother; they were sitting in front of me, next to me, while we came by bus. When I saw Daniel's body, I realised that our boat has sank, and there is no further hope for us to be alive. '
Eight hours later, at 3 o'clock that afternoon, a passing fishing boat found around a hundred people in high seas, desperately clinging to debris. It was only able to rescue 34 people. Adine shouted to the people in the water, 'Be patient—we will bring you more boats, and they will rescue you.'
In Canberra that evening, Australian agencies became aware the Barokah had sunk. They told Indonesian authorities, because the boat was in their search and rescue zone.
Months later, customs officials would tell a Senate Estimates hearing that Indonesia had initially declined Australia's offer to help with the search and rescue.
But the official incident timeline, which Fairfax obtained under freedom information laws, revealed that BASARNAS, Indonesia's search and rescue agency, had asked AMSA to coordinate the rescue response—AMSA refused.
For two days, while men, women and children struggled to survive in waves up to six metres high, Indonesia and Australia did nothing.
Finally, on December 19, BASARNAS asked again for help. This time, AMSA agreed, and dispatched naval and Customs assets to the scene.
But it was too late. Two hundred and one people were dead.
(I should note there have been similar criticisms of the Italian and Greek's border protection services and the EU.)

Australia actually wanted the Refugee Convention to be changed to suit them. Fortunately they were rebuffed but who knows if either the new Australian government or some other governments peaked by the Australian effort will try again.

The Convention was drawn up in the wake of World War Two, during that period when most of the world worked together to draw up the basic laws which make up a decent, peaceful world. It was a reaction to the shameful way Jews attempting to flee Nazi Germany had been treated in the 1930s, as well as the immediate needs of those fleeing communism.

The latter is why Israel's abrogation of the Convention is causing such consternation as it acts much as Australia is doing. In Israel's case, I kid you not, trading refugees for weapons with Uganda.

Writes Natasha Roth for +972 Magazine:
That this is a war on asylum seekers and human rights is self-evident. But it is also a war on dignity and an assault on human memory and conscience. Whether or not the deal goes through, the fact remains that the Israeli government has seriously considered forcibly dispatching thousands of Africans, to a country not of their choosing, as part of a trade agreement. This brings up a historical recollection of such offensiveness that it is difficult to address it directly. Furthermore, the overlooked “commodity” in this proposed deal is space – for that is what the Israeli government will receive for its part in the potential bargain. This reported agreement is nothing more than a chapter in Israel’s playbook for ‘making room’ and homogenizing; it is persecution as ‘preservation.’ Doubtless one of Netanyahu’s spokespersons will find an appropriate moniker to try and lend some legitimacy to the proceedings (when the Serbs did the same thing in the 1990s, they dubbed it “ethnic cleansing”).
The Israelis characterise the refugees as "infiltrators". The Australians insist they're all "economic migrants".

The ones in Israel are all black, mostly Sudanese and Eritrean. The ones arriving in Australia by boat are mostly Muslim, Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis.

Makarere University Security Studies Professor Paul Omach told that Israel's actions are 'just another example of a richer nation paying a poorer one to solve its problems'.
Israel looks at these immigrants, mostly Africans really, as unwanted in its country. So if somebody can take it and you can just sign the checks, and you get somebody who is itching for money, that is definitely what they will do.
The co-founder of the International Refugee Rights Initiative in Kampala, Dismas Nkunda, told that the deal would completely undermine the Refugee Convention:
What happens to them, certainly that is going to be a very big legal problem, because on what basis are they being admitted in Uganda? They have not sought refugee status in Uganda, they have not sought asylum in Uganda. They sought first asylum in the first country they thought of, which was Israel. Actually, you might say that they might end up becoming stateless.
If Australia gets away with it and Israel gets away with it who will be next? If they want to do this just unsign and stop pretending to be 'humanitarian'. Why are there no consequences for those who sign up and then ignore the rules?

As Laissez Passer points out, Kenya's courts are doing a better job of defending international law than Israel's - you could say much the same of Australia's courts. And Kenya hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees. Israel 55000 and Australia far, far less.

Jerome Connolly and Joan Roddy write that:
An unwritten assumption underlying the Convention is that States Parties would not be faced with unmanageable flows of asylum seekers. But experience has belied that assumption on a number of occasions and shown how, in practice, this and other assumptions on which the smooth running of the Convention depends can be invalidated. Asylum determination procedures may be overwhelmed or made irrelevant by mass movements engendered by political violence, especially when conflict spills over frontiers. There may be an associated breakdown of political authority or alternatively borders may be closed as an emergency measure to protect the authority and resources of the host country. This may deny asylum to many refugees or lead to greatly diminished protection for them.
But neither Israel nor Australia are "overwhelmed" except by rhetoric saying they are "overwhelmed". Their actions go far beyond criticism you could make of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by Greece or the UK or Turkey, they undercut the basic concepts agreed on for years.

And this is happening when many are worried that growing conflicts and problems like climate change and water shortages will also test the Convention, that protections need strengthening not weakening.
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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Desmond Tutu schools NAACP over Africa and gays

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Anyone spending anytime reporting on the situation of gays in the different regions and countries of Africa will soon learn that the issue is complex. It varies widely, for example in West Africa between Sierra Leone - see this horrific story of outing and beatings and exile - and Ivory Coast, which is relatively safe.

Look at something like the historic UN vote to include sexual orientation in a resolution against extrajudicial killings, supported by or abstained on by numerous African countries. Or Malawi, which has gone from being internationally condemned for locking up gays to seriously debating decriminalisation.

How you achieve change also varies widely. In some places it's about the very basics of survival in underground communities living in viciously hostile societies, in others it's about openly working with allies and becoming increasingly visible and treated decently in the media. So the tactics used by supporters vary widely and can't be copied from one place to the next even within Africa, let alone copied from the West.

I would have thought all I've just written is obvious but apparently not to the NAACP, America's premier civil rights group. Writes Colin Stewart:
American human rights advocates have undercut the work of their African counterparts by insisting on Western-style advocacy of gay rights from African supporters of human rights for all, says a group of prominent religious leaders and human-rights activists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The issue arose this summer when Dartmouth College in New Hampshire chose, then rejected, an African bishop as the new leader of its Tucker Foundation, which “educates Dartmouth students for lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality, and social justice.”

After he was announced as the new dean of the Tucker Foundation on July 14, the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga resigned from his position as bishop of Southern Malawi.

In a message to the Dartmouth community on July 18, Tengatenga said, “I support marriage equality and equal rights for everyone.”
The Dartmouth College chapter of the NAACP led the opposition to his appointment citing his 2003 opposition to the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and a 2011 statement that Malawi’s Anglican provinces remained "totally against homosexuality."

The NAACP said they were "deeply troubled" by Tengatenga's appointment, despite his "newfound views on marriage equality and gay rights." He was subjected to an idiotic and ignorant campaign in the College's media, local media and this offensive stupidity in Huffington Post.

Dartmouth then cancelled Tengatenga's appointment.

A group of supporters, led by the legendary Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have condemned Dartmouth and the NAACP. They say:
It reflects badly on western human rights advocates who consciously or unconsciously engage in forms of cultural imperialism that undermine their own success and credibility by demanding proofs identical to their own kind and, in this instance, by also ignoring the voices of Africans and church leaders who have known and worked with Tengatenga in some cases for decades.
Tengatenga had said:
I have risked my life by advocating good and just government. As I told the search committee when I visited Dartmouth this spring, I have expected to die for the past decade because I have dared to speak out against official corruption and in defense of those Jesus called “the least of these.” I joke to my friends that I don’t leave the house after seven o’clock at night because I want to see who kills me.
His supporters say:
The phrase used on the ground in Malawi is “human rights for all Malawians,” because to speak about “LGBTQ rights” as such would be to add fuel to the flames of opponents for whom gay rights are “special rights,” and therefore indefensible.

The fact that James Tengatenga did not leave behind a record of press releases or public pronouncements — Western forms of activism — does not mean that he was only recently converted to the cause nor that he has not been a loyal and helpful ally to gay activists.  Rather, it means that he has been using the methods of the place in which he was trying to make a difference.
This letter from Malawian human rights defenders supporting Tengatenga expands on how they work on the ground and what Tengatenga's role was.

The well respected global gay supporter the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, writes in SDGLN that:
The Dartmouth saga is the most recent example of American Christian liberalism paying more attention to the symbols of LGBT equality and inclusion rather than actually in the business of forming new moral paradigms for the 21st century.

Most liberal institutions in the USA including academia and the faith community have not taken the time or spent the resources needed to understand global homophobia. We are not paying attention to our own collusion in building up a new faith-based [and anti-gay] industry supported even by funding from the American taxpayer. Dartmouth’s response is only another example that we are really not listening and are prepared to throw good and resourceful people like James Tengatenga under the bus to protect some public persona that we are somehow more inclusive than we really are. Image trumps substance. The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who was deeply shocked by this sad melodrama, expressed the delineation of battle zones simply as: “America is right. Africa is wrong.”
Tengatenga was more bluntly critical of Dartmouth and its NAACP chapter. He said that the college had "chosen to trust bigotry over truth and justice." Of the NAACP, he said:
Of all the groups to take the lead against a black person on flimsy grounds. … So much for the advancement of colored people … It is sad that such an institution can stoop so low.
Indeed. This reaction from Dartmouth to the Tutu-led statement suggests a whole lot of arrogant, deaf people -- and that reflects a much wider and willful ignorance, as Ogle points out. The fact that the Tutu statement was sent as a letter to The New York Times and they thought it not newsworthy, and that the statement has had virtually no gay (bar SDGLN) or black media attention, just underlines what appears to be willful, dangerous ignorance.
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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Behind the scenes of Assange's WikiLeaks Party disaster

English: Picture of Julian Assange during a ta...
Assange during a talk at 26C3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Assange's Wikileaks Party got less than 1% in Australia's election at the weekend.

This followed damning revelations about party operations and preferences given to the far-right in the Senate. Formerly loyal insider Gary Lord here unloads on Assange and his Australian praetorian guard.
I first met John Shipton [Assange's father] when he was contacting National Council members prior to the formal registration of the WikiLeaks Party. As a long-time vocal supporter of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, I was honoured to have been invited to join the Council. But given that the party would soon be under huge public scrutiny, there was something I needed to explain: I had gone bankrupt a few years earlier (after the failure of Kevin Rudd's Green Loans scheme, ironically) and I was still not formally discharged, so I was not sure if I was legally allowed to be on the Council.

John made a quick phone call to lawyer Kellie Tranter, later the party's NSW candidate, and then told me I would not be able to join the Council. After years of dedicated support for WikiLeaks, I felt gutted. But I accepted the decision in the best interests of the party.

"Never mind," smiled John with a sly wink, "we all have a few skeletons in our closets, don't we?"

John did not seem too unhappy at all about my situation, and I couldn't help wondering if that had something to do with my friendship with Julian's mum Christine. It was never going to be easy for the two of them to work together. [removed at request of Christine Assange - Gary]. My original understanding was that John would help set up the WikiLeaks Party and then step away from the day to day running of it. It's a pity this did not happen.

Months later, as the divisions within the party became more obvious, I contacted the Australian Electoral Commission myself, and learned that bankruptcy did NOT in fact prohibit me from being on the National Council (it only made me ineligible to run as a Candidate in the election, an option which was also discussed).

In retrospect, sharing my financial situation with John Shipton may have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I do not regret it because I did what I thought was right for the party and the values WikiLeaks represents. But given the WikiLeaks Party's own subsequent lack of honesty and transparency, my voluntary personal disclosure seems bitterly ironic.
In New South Wales, the White Nationalists from Australia First and the militant Shooters and Fishers party were preferenced above the Greens. In Western Australia, Julian Assange's staunchest parliamentary supporter, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, was preferenced below his strongest rival, the National Party. Even in Victoria, the Greens were well down the list behind minor parties. By contrast, the Greens had preferenced the WikiLeaks Party (WLP) extremely highly in every state. 
I had just spent a week on Twitter trying to suppress rumours that the Greens would be preferenced well down the WLP list, and now it turned out the rumours were true. Worse yet, the source of those rumours was a WLP National Council member, Cassie Findlay, who helped submit the NSW preferences. And after helping me and others look like fools, Cassie conveniently disappeared off Twitter and ignored my DMs (thanks for that, Cassie). 
The WikiLeaks Party issued a statement blaming an "admin error" for the preferencing debacle and promising a review AFTER the election. That was never going to be good enough. Social media was going off. The mainstream media was all over it. Our biggest detractors were rubbing our noses in it and there was nothing we could say in reply.  
We clearly needed a proper public response from the party ASAP. But all the WikiLeaks Party insiders were suddenly - and very strangely - silent. This was not OK.  
I spoke with the only National Council members I knew personally, Sam Castro and Kaz Cochrane. They were both in tears on the phone. I urged them to be patient and give things time to work out, but they explained that others were already walking out the door. When Leslie Cannold's resignation prompted a wave of departures the next day, I started publicly demanding answers from @WikiLeaksParty on Twitter.
The WikiLeaks Party had promised a full inquiry AFTER the election. But Julian's August 30th appearance on ABC The Drum suggested that no inquiry would be necessary. Mistakes were made but nobody would be held accountable, the people who resigned over these errors were somehow out of order, even if Julian accepted responsibility, and in any case he agreed pretty much with everything that was done anyway.  
Was her serious? Or just trying to bluff his way through? 
I am deeply concerned that the WikiLeaks Party was unnecessarily politicised, not by Greens supporters, but by people with a hidden right-wing agenda, including John Shipton, Greg Barns (campaign manager, former Liberal Party candidate and advisor to former PM John Howard) and Julian Assange himself.  
Gary joins a long, long line of former supporters burned by arrogant prat Julian Assange.

More >> Jaraparilla: Where's That WikiLeaks Party Inquiry?
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Monday, 9 September 2013

Some contrarian thoughts on Russia and The Gays

Zhuravlyov and his colleague Nikolai Valuev, who is also no fan of sexual minorities
Is Russia's 'remove kids from gay parents' bill the straw that will break Russian anti-gay forces? When will Western media finally report that the Russian version of America's Christianist anti-gays have Russian opposition?

Last week the news came out that a long hinted at new anti-gay bill had been introduced in Russia's parliament, the Duma. Deputy Alexei Zhuravlyov's bill would make sexual orientation a factor in cases when the government is deciding whether to take a child into state custody.

Zhuravlyov (also written as 'Zhuravlev') said in an explanatory note to the bill that, according to experts, 5 to 7 percent of Russians have a "nontraditional" sexual orientation and a third of them currently have children. In accompanying supporting documents, Zhuravlyov refers to the fraudulent and debunked paper on gay parents published in 2012 by University of Austin professor Mark Regnerus. And in interviews Zhuravlyov has sounded more or less like a mirror image of the American anti-gay right-wing.

Harvey Fierstein cited the possibility of such a bill in his fiery New York Times editorial, which kick started the movement to boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia. American media has widely covered the move of lesbian journalist Masha Gessen from Moscow to New York with her family, citing the fear that her kids could be taken from her.

What is being ignored is that a wide number of sources think that such a bill is too absurd to pass Russia's Duma and be signed into law by President Putin.

The Moscow Times described the reaction of Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Kremlin's human rights council, as "indignation". It quoted him saying to the BBC's Russian service:
Will we deprive left-handed people of their driver's licenses now too? They're left-handed, you know, and all our vehicles have the steering wheel on the left side, so it's harder for a left-handed person to drive.
Fedotov told Interfax that if the bill rises 'to the top of public consciousness' that would be a 'disaster, and then we do not know what to do with it'.

The Kremlin's western-facing news service, Russia Today, reported that several top Deputies were "very skeptical about the initiative."

The St. Petersburg LGBT organization Coming Out, who were included in the civil society group which met President Obama on Friday, said:
We may derive consolation from the thought that this initiative won’t be approved due to its obvious absurdity, and legal complications in proving the fact of the parent's homosexuality. After all, deputy Elena Mizulina’s (“Fair Russia”) idea of removing children from homosexual families (initially all children, later adopted only) did not catch on.
(Mizulina is the one who has led the anti-gay activity in the Duma through her committee chairpersonship, and in the media. She has used the state to harass her critics and those who've made fun of her.)

The controversial activist Nikolai Alexeyev also thought it was unlikely that Zhuravlyov's bill would be signed into law. He described it to Interfax as "absolute nonsense".
I can't imagine how this initiative would be accepted in the Duma. I think it's just the latest populist move to attract attention to a certain individual. Deputies are competing to see who can come up with the most absurd initiative.

I don't believe that things like this can end up in law and be signed by the president. The president says the rights of homosexuals are not infringed upon, but initiatives like this will create excessive tension between Russia and the West. It's a provocation against the Russian government.
Russia has uplifting stories you're not reading

The idea of Zhuravlyov's bill as being 'anti-government' seems a bit odd, given that Zhuravlyov is a prominent member of Putin's United Russia party.

But the idea that the bill will not become law does make sense if you perceive Russia as not being a universally anti-gay hellhole. Alexseev's comment that the bill is a populist, careerist move makes sense if you compare Zhuravlyov's bill with the antics of Tea Party members in the US Congress, such as them voting to repeal Obamacare - what is it? - 60 times? But you would not judge America solely on the antics of those absurdist US Congresspeople.

Apart from those prominent Russians describing Zhuravlyov's bill as absurd, a quick skim of the Russian gay news portal Gay Russia reveals numerous examples of prominent Russians opposing anti-gay laws and defending gay people.

Many of these stories would obviously translate to interesting and insightful background for Westerners. Such as that of Ksenia Sobchak, a rich, glamorous 'it' girl turned media star and dissident who has 750k followers on Twitter. Sobchak has been one of the main targets of Deputy Mizulina in her at times farcical pursuit of her critics.

Sergey Lazarev сергей лазарев Take It Off 2012...Another one would be the hunky pop star slash actor Sergey Lazarev (450k on Twitter), who says he doesn't care about rumours that he's gay and that "I'm always loyal to the people with a different sexual orientation."

Gay Russia has an story about a prominent economist saying that it is inevitable that the anti-gay laws will be repealed because Russia's destiny is as part of Europe. Vladislav Inozemtsev said:
Everyday life in Russia today is too European. The same individualistic society, as there. And even more. No big[ger] individualists than Russians.
Inozemtsev suggested a repeal may happen quicker than most would think, 'within one or two years', and compared how quickly another civil society set back perceived as irreversible was actually reversed, from Putin appointment to the direct election of regional governors.

One incident highlighted for me how reporting on Russia and The Gays has become seriously skewed and, I would argue, is thus hurting LGBT Russians because it's hurting Western decision making on how and where to try to help them.

The venerable Russian American journalist Julia Ioffe (who was recently yelled at on air by a MSNBC host because she gave a 'counterfactual' answer on Snowden and Putin) wrote for the influential liberal magazine The New Republic 'Eight Horrific and Uplifting Stories About Being Gay in the New Russia'. These come from her own life and from Russian media and alongside the skinheads beating up gay and trans teens are friends aiding gay friends. It colourfully demonstrates the mixed, nuanced picture elsewhere absent.

The New Republic's URL for the story is 'gay-life-russia-eight-horrific-stories'. The lying page title, what you see in a Google search, is 'Gay Life in Russia: Eight Horrific Stories | New Republic'.

Seeing an upside to an absurd bill

Moves against gay parents are not just confined to Russia and Russia's anti-gay laws and rhetoric is being supported and echoed by right-wing forces in several Western countries. Coming Out's comments could also be said of some parts of America: that the real damage of such a bill is "the fact that such an initiative could be developed and put forth", that its mere existence amounts to "cruel harassment of LGBT families".

Thus even though she may well be wrong that the bill will become law and that a real threat does exist to her family (I would like to see someone put that to her), Gessen is understandably playing it safe as a parent because, as Coming Out puts it:
Politicians, endowed with power to guarantee safety and well-being of citizens, chose the most vulnerable social group – minorities with children – as their target.
(Edited to add: G. Rayner points out that "Masha Gessen has some special and unique concerns. Not only is she concerned about the proposed law about taking children away from gay people in Russia, there is the June law passed by the Russian Duma which prohibits gay foreigners from adopting children. Gessen is an American citizen with an adopted child, so, indeed, at least theoretically, she can be affected by this other law." I would say that as far as I'm aware she has cited what is now Zhuravlyov's bill rather than the existant adoption law.)

Yet if this bill is a step too far for those anti-gay politicians then a point I made in 'Some Comment on Russia and the Gays' is relevant.
It is also worth noting, as Alexander Kondakov explains at openDemocracy, that the received opinion that Russians are extremely homophobic may not be all it seems. He suggests that actual opinion, based on his reading of polling, shows a population actually much closer to Western opinion - 'not bothered', 'leave them alone' - than assumed, though due to ignorance and an absence of any information.
(Which reminds me of received opinion about British Muslims when polling shows tolerance: that they may religiously reject homosexuality but support anti-discrimination, that almost all UK Muslim MPs voted for gay marriage.)
So if the laws can become seen as somehow burdensome then maybe those evangelically believing in and prosecuting them can be isolated, as a minority. This is a familiar trajectory in many countries.
If the bill does advance (and especially if he is being asked to sign it) then given Putin's genuflections on 'non-discrimination' is it absurd to think he might publicly denounce it? That, as has happened so many times elsewhere (think of the Briggs initiative against gay teachers in California in the 70s, which Reagan opposed), that Zhuravlyov's bill might make the choices so stark that a path toward change opens up?

This is happening, recall, whilst the Russian LGBT and allies organised movement is visibly growing. 14+ Russian cities took part in global #Russia4Love protests last week, see more pictures like the one right in this album.

What will Russia do, what will Putin do, if the bill advances and, as Fedotov puts it, 'we [meaning the Kremlin] do not know what to do with it'. What if, as Inozemtsev suggests, rejecting the evangelical anti-gays does become seen as part of Russia's economic development, as about becoming more European? What if Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko succeeds in collecting evidence in order to 'out' gay but anti-gay Deputies, those hypocrites always found at the centre of anti-gay activity the world over, and actually publishes?

And is it so absurd to think that Coming Out's wish may come true?
We are convinced that the best evidence of tolerance towards LGBT people today can be a public apology from “United Russia” for debasing LGBT citizens and same-sex families with children with discriminatory statements and legislative initiatives, followed by repeal of such legislation, and further treatment of LGBT as equal in rights and dignity to all citizens of Russia. As is, this is yet one more in the list of legislative proposals that further promote discriminatory and homophobic attitudes in society, paint LGBT as an abnormality and a danger to children, and lead to grave violations of rights of LGBT people in Russia.

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