Friday, January 28, 2011

Has it really been 25 years?

Twenty-five years. I suppose it must be, but January 28th 1986 is one of very few days I know exactly what television I watched. Well, not exactly; I don't remember whether Newsround was still John Craven's Newsround or not, but I do remember the lead story.

NASA had lost a Space Shuttle. The first Shuttle loss, and perhaps the one which cut the deepest. I can still clearly see the graceful, curving exhaust plume, the ragged ball of smoke, and the two trails of smoke climbing from it, and I remember knowing that this was Bad. It was a significant event; it could be credited with having made me a geek. It certainly made me interested in spaceflight.

Seven men and women died aboard Challenger. We should not forget Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Choice does not trump everything.

First, for background, a link. The one-sentence summary: a marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan has stated that, despite the legality of same-sex marriage in Canada, he will, because of his religious beliefs, refuse to marry gay couples, and "they'll have to fire [him]" despite a court ruling that his views don't excuse him from doing his job.

This has ignited some discussion online, of course, and so I'm sticking my oar in here, where I can control the discussion and also where it's under the radar of those dedicated to intolerance. That, of course, makes my position clear; I believe the man is full of shit. There are several things the article and discussion have given me to talk about. One is the person I shan't name, who claimed that non-religious marriages aren't marriages. That person can go and die in a fire, because if I think I'm married, my wife thinks I'm married, and the US Government agrees that we're married, his religious nutball views mean nothing, and all he's doing is insulting me. I refuse to take that.

Another is the somewhat reasonable question of whether the commissioner's religious rights are being quashed, and if so, whether it's acceptable. Well, here we run into a problem; he's not acting as himself, he's acting as the state. That means that whatever religious objections he may have mean nothing; he is required to act as the state sees fit, and the state sees fit to marry couple regardless of gender.

This leads into a question of whether private prejudice is allowed. It most certainly is, but it can't be expressed when acting as the agent of an entity which is required to not be prejudiced. To say that he should be allowed to refuse to perform marriages based on his whim is tantamount to saying that a supermarket cashier can refuse to serve customers based on race, and THAT, I'm pretty sure everyone agrees, is very definitely not acceptable.

Which essentially means that although his religious rights ARE being quashed, they would be just as quashed even if he weren't being asked to do anything he found distasteful.

And then we have another fun one; people have been asking why gay people's freedom to marry apparently trumps their "freedom of religion". Well, we've got a couple of points here; number one is the difference between holding an opinion and acting on it. You can disapprove of what happens all you like, but you may not necessarily be allowed to take steps to stop it. Second, we have a more fundamental difference between sexual orientation and religion: religion is something you choose, while sexual orientation is something that just is that way. I never chose to be attracted to women. Not one of the gay people I know chose to be gay; those with whom I've discussed it knew they were gay before they really understood sexuality. That being so, it's exactly as unconscionable to discriminate based on sexual orientation as it is to discriminate based on race or gender. People choose to be bigoted; the targets of bigots generally did not choose the characteristics which make them targets.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Now that's a rather nice feeling.

I'd have preferred to be listening to Test Match Special, but for various reasons, I couldn't; England have just wrapped up the Ashes series. It's not happened in a manner I expect such things to happen; after drawing the first Test, they've won three and lost one. All of their victories were by an innings,which is to say rather crushing. For the statisticians, this marks quite a few records; most innings victories by England in Australia (a record they broke twice this series), first series win down under for 24 years (which means the first in my memory), and the fifth Test saw England's highest ever score in Australia, at 644 all out, eclipsing the previous record set in 1928. History, it's safe to say, has been made.

I feel almost sorry for Australian cricket fans. It's no fun to watch one's national team get comprehensively trounced; as an England follower, I know that all too well. I very much hope there's more of a fight over the Ashes in 2013; nice as it is to retain them by winning, rather than drawing, a series, I find a succession of easy victories somewhat less than exciting.

I imagine my dad will be rather pleased when he wakes up to the result. He actually remembers England being a good team, before the struggle and drought of the 80s and 90s. I grew up with England being a disappointment; I well remember the hope in the first Test of 1997, and the heartbreak following, and when England actually won the Ashes in 2005, I was overjoyed.