Sunday, April 21, 2013

Charity Appeal for Spare Laptops in London

This isn't my typical type of post, but I couldn't think of a better audience for me to spread the word.

For the last few years I've been a supporter of a fantastic charity called Free The Bears. Started by a visionary named Mary Hutton, Free the Bears fights against abuse of bears throughout Asia. Starting with a successful fight against the horrors that were the Dancing Bears in India, Free the Bears has expanded its work throughout Asia.

Bears are subject to a number of different horrific treatments:

  • They're in restaurants where they're used for Bear Paw Soup;
  • They're kept in cages for the amusement of visitors to hotels and restaurants;
  • They're kept in illegal bear bile farms, where the bears are kept barely alive just long enough to tap their gall bladders for traditional medicine.

Pretty horrific, right?

How Free the Bears Helps

Free the Bears supports animal conservation in Asia in three primary ways:

  1. They work with government agencies to end the illegal wildlife trade;
  2. They have rescue centres in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam for animals confiscated by the authorities who need rehabilitation and medical care;
  3. They support education for the next generation to help break the cycle of violence.

I've been to the rescue facilities in Cambodia and Laos, which are providing fantastic support for bears that had been subject to the most horrific abuse. I've also joined the Luang Prabang-based team on a reconnaissance mission to an illegal bear bile farm in the countryside in Laos (truly one of the most horrific experiences in my life).

So I know first-hand just what fantastic work they do.

Why I'm Reaching Out

Quite simply, they need laptops. Old laptops that you wouldn't use anymore are fantastic for them. Apples are even better (these laptops are seldom if ever connected to the internet, and virus-laden USB keys are the primary file sharing system in rural Cambodia and Laos; they get infected faster than they can get updated virus definitions).

They need them for two reasons. First, they have field workers joining conservation teams that need some type of computing power with them. Second, they set up classroom education programs and equip the kids with laptops.

So if you have any older (particularly Apple) laptops lying around your company or house (including iPads) anywhere in SE England, please reach out. They have a team leaving the UK for Cambodia and Laos in May and the more hardware we can put in their suitcases the better. I'll coordinate everything at OpenGamma HQ and send as much as we can on the next trip.

I can't imagine that my readership lacks a few old laptops here in London that can be re-used for a fantastic charity!

They are also registered as a UK charity and can do Gift Aid top-ups on the donations as well!

Just leave a comment below, or email me (kirk at kirk wylie dot com) and hopefully we can get some more hardware going off to help the bears!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some Thoughts on DOMA

Parenthetical: This is an extended version of a Facebook exchange

Today the US Supreme Court heard arguments in US v. Windsor.

1996: The Passage of DOMA

In 1996, I was attending Berkeley, doing an EECS degree. I lived in perhaps the most liberal place in America: Berkeley is a notorious stereotype for ultra-liberal American town; the Bay Area is famously liberal (key city: San Francisco); California has always been at the frontiers of acceptance and tolerance.

Day to day, as an out gay University student, I didn't really see any impact on my life. Sure, there were places where I wouldn't have gone with a boyfriend. Obviously, I wouldn't have planned a holiday to Arkansas or Mississippi (although would I anyway? Doubtful). But day to day, none of the red state idiocy impacted me.

And then DOMA passed. And all of a sudden I realized that I wasn't living in the bubble I thought I was. I was living in a nation that hated me.

Imagine, if you will, a 20-year-old man, who discovers the following:

  • The most representative institution in his country's government, the House of Representatives, not only votes to ban federal recognition of any marriage he might have, but to express a moral disapproval of homosexuality (seriously; until today's DOMA argument transcripts I hadn't read the House Report; it shocks me in its blatant homophobia even 15 years later)
  • The body of legislature designed to be a check-and-balance on the more populist instincts of the House (the Senate), voted 84% to pass the same legislation.
  • President Clinton signed the bill as fast as he could.

What does this say to a young gay man (already struggling with growing up in a post-AIDS world)? "Your entire federal government hates you and wishes you weren't American."

Fast Forward: 2004

In 2009, I came out on the internet. I expressed then that I moved to the UK because I was in a relationship where I was able to move to the UK based on my relationship with a British citizen, but not vice versa.

When I made that decision, I made one very simple promise to myself: I would never move back to the nation of my birth; the nation where I am a natural born citizen; until there were, at the very least, same sex immigration rights.

I'm still waiting. Paid a lot of taxes to HMRC in the meantime. Employ a lot of people. No sign 'Murica wants me back.

Today's DOMA Transcript

We're in March of 2013. The decision as it's handed down in June may be radically different.

The transcript from today's oral arguments seem to revolve around three major areas:

  1. Does the group of House of Representatives people have standing to appear at all?
  2. Is there a problem with DOMA on federalism issues?
  3. Is there a problem with Section 3 of DOMA on Equal Protection issues?

As a gay man I only care about point #3. To be honest, I really don't care at all about the mental gymnastics required to determine who may be a party, as opposed to an amicus, in a Supreme Court case. I'm sure the court does, I don't.

The federalism angle is great, if it's the best way to get DOMA overturned, which I reckon it is. Any port in a storm, eh?

But this isn't, to me, a rational discussion or debate. It isn't even a pragmatic one ("As long as DOMA gets overturned and there's gay marriage immigration rights I'm happy"). It's an emotional one. The US government in 1996 told me I was a second class citizen and they hated me.

So as an American who's chosen to move elsewhere, move somewhere that the federal government has a non-partisan, free vote, and says "Why the hell wouldn't we just accept gay marriage?", and an American who believes in his nationality of choice so much that he's taken citizenship, I ask you: why should I accept some second-tier decision? Why should I accept a situation where I am constantly thinking "Well, the legislative and executive branches would send me to a desert island if they could"?

I accept the US judicial process. I accept it takes time.

What I will never accept is that the nation of my birth takes great pains to tell me, repeatedly, that I am not welcome to return.

I will never be happy until the Supreme Court takes on the Equal Protection arguments in both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases and actually issues a ruling.

And I really hope that it doesn't, to paraphrase Justice Sotomayor, take 60 years of the Supreme Court choosing inaction (as it did in inter-racial marriage) to allow the issue to "perk" sic. Because if the Supreme Court is calling out miscegenation laws as its finest hour of jurisprudence, there're some problems.


Justices Scalia and Thomas will, no matter what, write a scathingly homophobic opinion on both the Prop 8 and DOMA decisions. Because nobody has yet impeached them.