Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shitty Umbrellas - Part 2

It’s been over a year since I blogged about shitty umbrellas (, and while the topic doesn’t necessarily warrant a second posting, this past weekend’s extremely rainy and windy weather has inspired me to go for round two.  Once again, Sydney turned into an umbrella graveyard, and I went in armed with my iPhone camera.  So, without further ado, I present to you this weekend with umbrellas of Sydney:

The Inside-the-Lobby Umbrella

The Umbrella in the Recycling

The Bus Stop Umbrella

The Rubbish Bin Umbrella

The Footpath Umbrella

The Abstract Art Umbrella

Saturday night.  12:30am.  I was heading home from a friend’s birthday drinks in Potts Point.  There was thunder and lightning.  Bad thunder and lightning.  I had no money left for a taxi.  Being only a 15 minute walk back to my house, I decided to brave the elements.  I was armed with my trusty Hammacher Schlemmer windbrella from New York.  It’s a fancy umbrella, and it never fails me.  But tonight, this dreadful night, the wind was just too strong a force to be reckoned with.  My super durable windbrella became disfigured somewhere along William Street.  Metal parts bent, I was unable to close the umbrella upon arrival at my apartment.  Needless to say, the rest of my night and the entire next day were completely ruined.

This is the biggest tragedy since the Hindenburg disaster.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gun Control in Australia

Australia has historically had relatively low homicide rates, and therefore the country’s relaxed gun legislation was never in the forefront of the public’s mind.  That all changed on April 28, 1996, when a deranged man carrying two semi-automatic rifles opened fire on tourists and workers at the Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania, killing 35 people and injuring 23 more.  The event marked the deadliest shooting by a single person in Australian history, and one of the deadliest in the world.  The aftermath of the shooting was mainly one of public outrage.  With a high percentage of Australians favouring new gun control legislation, the issue was thrust into the forefront of public policy debate.  The government at the time swiftly worked to enact tight gun control laws – now considered some of the tightest in the world.

In brief, Australian gun controls require all gun owners to have a firearm licence and have secure storage for their weapons.  All firearms must be registered with their serial number.  A 28 day waiting period applies for all first-time gun applications, and applicants must provide a genuine reason as to why they need a gun.  Self-defence doesn’t count – it needs to be something useful, such as pest control (rabbits!), hunting, target shooting, or collecting.  For some classes of weapons, a genuine need must be demonstrated on top of the genuine reason.  Some of the more dangerous classes of weapons – such as machine guns and assault rifles, among others – are completely restricted.  For existing guns, the government sponsored a “buy back” program, where nearly 700,000 weapons were purchased back from the public and destroyed.  This may not seem like a lot of weapons, but given the low population and number of guns per household, it is the equivalent of the US government purchasing back roughly 40 million firearms.

Of course, there was pushback from some sectors of the Australian public, but overall, most estimates put public support at somewhere near 85%.  Intense lobbying against the new legislation only backfired and the public became irate when it came to light that pro-gun activists were receiving help from the NRA (of US fame) and the Australian Christian Lobby.  I still don’t know how or why people who love Jesus also love guns and vice versa, but I guess maybe church makes people hateful and violent?  Or maybe someone is spiking the sacramental wine with some anger pills?

The most amazing thing about all of this is:  the government in power at the time was a right-wing government.  That’s right, the Liberal Party (Australia’s oddly named right-wing conservative party), under the leadership of John Howard, put all these measures into place.  Actually, it was each individual state that enacted these measures, but the federal government enacted a weapons import ban and then pretty much forced the states to enact their own laws by using some heavy tactics.  Basically, it would have gone to the public via a vote on a constitutional amendment and public opinion was so great that it was sure to pass, so the states pretty much had to give in.  Basically.

According to an article I recently read, written by none other than former Prime Minister John Howard himself, Australia experienced 13 gun massacres (being defined as a shooting with more than four victims) in the 18 years leading up to the Port Arthur Massacre.  In the 17 years since the tight gun controls were implemented in the wake of incident, Australia has had no massacres.  Not one.  Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t shootings – because some people can get guns, or steal guns, or find a way to import them illegally (though Australian border security is tight as hell, so if they are sneaking them in illegally in some underground tunnel from Papua New Guinea, maybe they can sneak in some Cheez-Its too?) – but it does mean that there are fewer shootings, and the types of weapons that are used generally can’t do too much damage too quickly.  I feel safe here.

But then there’s America.  Australians look over at America and they’re like “What the fuck is going on over there?”

The recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut was big news in Australia – splashed over TV and print news for weeks.  Australians were shocked and horrified that something like that would happen in a western country – that something like that could happen in a western country.  But it did.  It was just exponentially worse that children were involved, and the sheer number of children just dumbfounded Australians.

And as an American, I had literally dozens of Australians, expat Brits, and others asking me for my thoughts on the incident.  Of course, this happened all in December, so it made for a festive holiday season.  So, to get the first question out of the way:  No.  I do not have a gun.  I have never had a gun.  I have never even held a gun.   I am not a Republican and not from a red state and Jesus most certainly did not tell me to go buy firearms.

Many Aussies tend to have this idea that everyone in America has a gun and walks around with their guns in their purses or pockets or briefcases or in their jackets.  That’s not the case, but from news reports, I can sort of see how they get that impression.  One person told me they were going to San Francisco on holiday and they were worried about getting shot.  I kindly reassured them that they’d be fine in San Francisco, but that they should probably steer clear of Texas and Tennessee.

Then, of course, they ask why, after so many highly publicized shootings, have Americans not risen up, held guns to the heads of politicians, and demanded they enact laws to take those very guns away?  And then I sigh.  I have to explain the whole 2nd amendment issue to them and how it would be extremely difficult to repeal it.  And then I have to explain how probably only half of the American public wants gun control, and how the other half wants more guns.  “More guns?  Ha, you can’t be serious!” And then they look up to the news on TV and hear the anchor talking about how the NRA wants guns in every classroom and their jaws hang open and they ask me “Are they serious?” And I have to say yes and then explain that the NRA has some inexplicable power over large swaths of the uneducated American public (of which there are a lot!) and that they fund Republicans who then connect guns to loving Jesus and the whole thing just has some sort of snowball effect.

Eventually, the Australians just give up trying to understand how the fuck America works and decide to call Qantas to change their upcoming trip to the US to their upcoming trip to Canada.  But I on the other hand, while being able to explain how America works, still don’t know why the fuck it works this way.  We’ve had Sandy Hook.  We’ve had Columbine.  We’ve had Virginia Tech.  There was the DC sniper, the Luby’s parking lot in Texas, the movie theatre in Colorado, the mall in Oregon, the Binghamton shooting, the GMAC car loan office in Jacksonville, and I could keep going on and on and on.  Hell, fringe groups like the Branch Davidians in Waco had enough weaponry and ammunition to take over a small country.  How was that allowed to happen?  Seriously – HOW THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT ALLOWED TO HAPPEN?

And there are people in America who see these things on the news and think to themselves “Well, if one of the teachers had a gun, they could have stopped him from shooting all those children.”  No.  They couldn’t have.  Because he would have caught them off guard and killed them first.  His gun was semi-automatic.  Teacher would have been dead before she could have retrieved the gun from the classroom safety box.  And also, your perspective sucks.  And you’re dumb as shit.  And really, you should be shot with your own gun.  Seriously.  See how it feels.  Assholes.

What is wrong with these people???  Republicans get all up in arms about gun control, but surely they know what needs to be done, right?  Surely they can’t think the current system is working or that putting guns in classrooms is a good idea, right?  This isn’t rocket science.  It just had to be that they know that if they give in and do the right thing, the NRA will get all angry and stop giving them blowjobs under the table.  But you know what I think?  Fuck the NRA.  While I can appreciate a differing of opinion, when you start suggesting guns in kindergarten classrooms, I have to draw the line and just say that your opinion is so outrageous that it is no longer valid.

Australia had one major, horrific disaster involving guns and they quickly moved to correct the deficiency in their laws.  In fact, it was the right-wing party that took the lead.  How many more massacres need to happen in the United States before Congress grows a pair and takes some firm action on gun violence?  What will it take for Republicans to stand up and do the right thing, without care for what NRA lobbyists will do to them?  The time has come, America.  Follow Australia’s example.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Australian Marriage Update

I last posted about marriage equality in Australia in August 2011, and things were looking very promising here at that time.  It has been a year and a half since then, and a lot has happened around the world.  Denmark became the eleventh country to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.  In November 2012, voters in the US states of Washington, Maine, and Maryland changed the tide when they voted for marriage equality for the first time in US history, and voters in Minnesota at the same time rejected an amendment that would have enshrined marriage discrimination into their state constitution.  The Mexican state of Quintana Roo legalized nuptials for all, as did courts in four of Brazil’s 26 states and their national capital:  Alagoas, Bahia, Brasilia, Piaui, and Sao Paulo.  There were further court victories in the Mexican state of Oaxaca and activists there seem to have a state-by-state court-based solution to remedy their inequality.  More recently, marriage equality has passed crucial votes in Uruguay, England, France, and just over the water in New Zealand.  All four of those countries are expected to have full marriage equality in the coming months.  On top of that, there are serious movements in Ireland, Scotland, Luxembourg, and even Colombia to bring marriage equality to all.  Hell, even Thailand is about to vote on civil unions and the government of Vietnam is currently looking at that as well.  Holy crap!

Back in the US, the legislatures of Illinois and Rhode Island each had one chamber pass marriage equality, and both states appear poised to pass marriage legislatively in the very near future as Democrats control the other chamber in both states.  A measure is being introduced in Minnesota this week, Delaware shouldn’t be too far behind, civil rights campaigners are busy shoring up support to override the fat-ass governor’s veto in New Jersey, and Colorado should have civil unions by the end of this month.  Hell, same-sex marriage was even brought up in New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming!  Not that is has any chance in any of those states right now, but it’s at least being talked about there.  Who would have thunk?  Five other states are looking to overturn the marriage discrimination amendments in their constitutions in 2014, and both the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 cases are scheduled to be argued in front of the Supreme Court in March, with decisions handed down by June.  It could be horrifying, or the best thing ever.  Let’s hopes the justices do what’s right and strike down both discriminatory laws as all lower courts have done before them.

So, what about Australia?  The governing Labor Party voted to officially include marriage equality in their party platform in December 2011.  Despite that, Prime Minister Julia Gillard proposed allowing conscience vote on the issue – so members of the party can vote against party platform if they want to.  With that, it pretty much dashed any hope of bringing equality to hundreds of thousands of Australians who need it.  The leader of the Liberal Party (Australia’s right-wing party) refuses to allow a conscience vote on the issue despite quite a few high profile members of his party supporting it.  Nevertheless, a marriage equality bill was brought up in the House of Representatives where it was defeated swiftly – 42 to 98.  That’s a ridiculous defeat for a country where polling suggests 70% of the population is in favour of the change and for a country where Macklemore’s song “Same Love” about gay rights and marriage equality – which only scratched the charts in the US, topping out at # 89 – went all the way to # 1 here down under.  The public want this change, but politicians are playing dirty games and catering to a few critical swing voters.

Next up:  maybe a state based attempt?  Marriage has been regulated federally in Australia, but legal scholars don’t seem to agree on what would happen should a state pass a marriage equality law.  Tasmania tried to legislate for marriage equality a few months ago.  It passed one house of their Parliament, but missed out by two votes in the other.  It seems some of their Members of Parliament didn’t want to thrust little Tasmania into a battle over marriage with the federal government.  My state, New South Wales, is the largest state with the most resources to defend any marriage equality law from the federal government.  The state Parliament currently has an enquiry out to the public, and it looks like it may come up for a vote in a few months.  Victoria and South Australia have also had rumblings and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.  We know it is inevitable, but just how long will Australia wait and just how far behind other parts of the world will they fall before the government grows some balls and takes some action?

Now, we know that the laws here don’t provide marriage equality for all Australians, but that doesn’t mean that loving gay and lesbian couples can’t get married.  When civil laws of a country fail, sometimes there’s a religious law that will back you up.  It is surprising that so many people hide their bigotry behind their religion, but as I’ve experienced it, religion is one place where you can and should be accepted.  Enter two of my best mates:  Elcid and David.

Late last month, Elcid and David tied the knot in a religious ceremony and a lavish reception to rival all other weddings.  As many or most Jews are very liberal, the local synagogue had no issue performing a religious wedding for the boys (as long as both were Jewish, so Elcid spent the last who knows how long going through the conversion process.)  The synagogue called both grooms up to the Torah on the Shabbat before the wedding – a religious ceremony called the aufruf.  On the day of the wedding, the two grooms took their place underneath the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) and Rabbi Ninio united them together as a married couple in the eyes of God.

They signed the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) and then they both stomped on glass – a symbolic Jewish wedding custom) before moving into the reception hall.  Of course, we had to hoist the boys up on chairs and dance the Horah!

Then there were drinks, food, more drinks, more food, and a crazy photo booth where Team America shined! (Elcid is also originally from the old country)

Then I had to give the big speech that I had been panicking over for weeks – and fortunately it went extremely well (despite me incorporating the word “penis” into the speech… four times…)  And then there was cake.

Delicious cake.  Made by a friend of theirs.  And it had the world’s cutest wedding cake toppers WHICH MATCHED THE BOYS’ OUTFITS.

See?!?!?  Now, I don’t know if they had the cake topper made that way, or if they picked out their outfits based on the topper that they found, but it was amazeballs.  EVEN THE KIPPAHS MATCHED!  Let me repeat:  even the fucking kippahs matched!  HOLY AMAZEBALLS!

From start to finish, the wedding was absolutely perfect – every detail.  Except for the length.  I wouldn’t have been opposed to another hour of dancing!  At the end, the boys exited stage left and the rest of us went home full, tired, and slightly tipsy.  Or a bit more than slightly tipsy.  Perfect night!

So my question is – especially posed to Prime Minister Gillard – if our synagogue recognizes this marriage between two loving adults as equal to all other marriages performed in the eyes of God, why can’t Australia recognize that as well?  Why can’t Australia – and all of the other countries out there – respect our religion and let us decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong?  Marriage equality isn’t just a civil rights issue.  It’s also a religious freedom issue.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make my submission to the New South Wales marriage equality inquiry.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dirty Thirty Down Under

All of those years of making fun of people over thirty finally came back to bite me in the ass.  At the beginning of this month, my odometer hit 30 years old.  Eeeek!

One of the great things about being in Australia is that I now have a summer birthday – no more Seattle rain to gray out my big day.  Furthermore, I sort of have two birthdays.  I was born on February 1st, but if you go down to the minute, the 18-hour time change between Sydney and my birth state of New Mexico meant that my odometer didn’t actually tick over until early afternoon on February 2nd.  So I did what any reasonable person would do:  I celebrated both days.

Friday night – my American birthday – was spent with my close circle of friends.  One by one they braved the pouring rain (so much for a sunny summer birthday) and showed up at my apartment to indulge in two bottles of 10-year old Semillon that I had been saving for a special occasion.

They came bearing inappropriate birthday cards and fantastic gifts of fancy coffee mugs, a credit on my car share membership, a bottle of wine from my favourite winery, lots of American delicacies, and more!

Another bottle or two later, and our little group was off to Food Society, a delicious Modern Eastern European restaurant situated less than two blocks from my apartment.

We had a feast of cheeses, meats, amazingly delicious cauliflower (who knew?), substantial main dishes, and of course, desserts!

Being Eastern European, the restaurant also has an extensive selection of vodkas, and once we spotted the Peanut Butter & Jelly Vodka, we knew we had to do a shot.  Or two.

Dear lord it was amazing.  I seriously need to find this PB&J vodka in stores.

Then on Saturday – my Australian birthday – I rented out the big back room of a local trendy pizza joint not too far down the road.

Mad Pizza played host to me and 50 of my closest friends in Australia.  It’s amazing to me that I’ve been here just a smidge over three years and had 50 people at a party.  What’s even more amazing is that I had invited just over 60 people.  And even more amazing is that those 60 people were the short list – weeded down from a larger group of people that I’ve become friendly with in this country.

The group included the gays, the Jews, the gay Jews, some co-workers, a handful of Americans, and a cluster of others that I’ve met randomly along the way and have grown quite fond of since arriving down under.  Salads and pizzas and drinks and tiramisu and a super cute waiter to look at and a sneaky tequila shot later, the night was over and I went home to slumber in my old age.  I said no gifts, but a few cheeky friends refused to show up empty handed.  The majority of the gifts involved chocolate in some form or another, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that the stash didn’t last too long.

So, what’s on the agenda for 30?  Well, now that I’m getting old, I think bread with more fiber is in order, as is shampoo for thinning hair.  But on a more positive note, travel will be the big focus this trip around the sun.  I plan to cross at least 7 items off my list of 103 things.  As birthday gifts to myself, I booked flights up to Cairns – home of the Great Barrier Reef – for a week with my sister when she comes out to visit, and a bigger, longer, and more expensive flight to Helsinki toward the end of the year.  I’ve always had a fascination with Scandinavia, and I couldn’t be more stoked to be spending a few days in Finland.  After a stop in Estonia, I’ll be heading to Russia to meet up with my high school friend Lenora.  We’ll ride the Trans-Siberian Railway across from St Petersburg to Moscow and on to Irkutsk before turning south for a few days in Mongolia.  And, just for good measure, I think I’ll book in an extra-long layover in Seoul for the way back.  Long weekend trips to Canberra, Brisbane, and maybe even Singapore are in the works, and I’ve had my eye on New Zealand for some time now too.

Aside from my extensive travel, thirty will hopefully be filled with more friends, more fun, and probably more pizza.  A lottery win wouldn't hurt either (all this travel is breaking the bank!)  And maybe a little bit of dirty too.

But only because it rhymes.  I like rhymes.