What I want for Christmas

Here we are. Black Friday. The day that the TV box insists is the biggest shopping day of the year, although I suspect that it's a lie -- nowadays, I bet most people are either smart enough to start before Black Friday, or lazy enough to wait until the 23rd or 24th. Or they just buy everything online. Anyway, it's time for you to start deciding who you like enough to buy Christmas presents for, and what in the world they might want. So if by any chance I was going to end up on your list, here's what you should get me:
  1. Nothing
Seriously. I have plenty of stuff. So if you really want to spend money this Christmas, spend it on someone who can really use it. Some ideas, in no particular order:
  1. Make a Kiva loan. The best part about this one is, you probably get the money back eventually.
  2. Vote For Equality. Remember that gay marriage thing? Yeah, it turns out we still don't have it, and this is a great, volunteer-based organization that is really doing the work to make sure we win if this comes to a vote again.
  3. Speaking of which, you could also donate to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, who is fighting prop 8 in court right now.
  4. You've probably heard about The Trevor Project -- a hotline to help LGBT kids who are thinking about committing suicide.
  5. I think you've probably heard of Teach For America, which encourages college graduates to teach for a couple years, before or instead of getting a more typical job. Even though they didn't accept me, they're still great.
What other organizations are worth donating to? Let me know in the comments!


Maggie Gallagher on gay teen suicides

Maggie Gallagher of NOM has written about the idea that anti-same-sex marriage groups like hers are responsible for all the gay suicides that have been happening lately. She seems to slightly misunderstand the charge: it's not that gay marriage prevents teen suicides, it's that homophobia is what causes them--and no matter how you try to state it, NOM is of the opinion that same-sex relationships are not as good as opposite-sex ones--NOM is part of that homophobia that gay and perceived-to-be-gay teens are surrounded by. There's a nice, reasonable response to her column from The Bilerico Project where they admit that people like NOM aren't directly responsible for gay suicides, but also explain that they are, in fact, part of the problem.

Toward the end of that post, they say:
If Maggie Gallagher is actually concerned with queer youth as she says she is, perhaps she could donate to the Ali Forney Center to help some teens find a place to stay so that they don't have to get caught up in the violence that she knows so much about. Of course she won't, because she's a clown who doesn't really care about much other than advancing her agenda.
So I posted this on NOM's blog:

Maggie, call this blogger's bluff!


Donate to the Ali Forney Center or the Trevor Project, or even just publically state your support for anti-bullying laws.

As you say, "These kids need help, real help." So do something that will actually give them that support.

Think she'll do it?


California Propositions 2010

Here's how I'm voting on the 2010 propositions on Nov 2. As of this writing, my decisions are based on the (extremely small) amount of research I've done. I will update this post as my opinions change, so feel free to comment and tell me how wrong I am.

YES on 19: Makes it legal to possess less than an ounce of marijuana. People are already using marijuana, so let's go ahead and make it legal -- and tax it! I know there are a lot of issues with this law, and it may not hurt the Mexican drug cartels as much as we want it to. But I still would rather it be legal.
YES on 20: Don't allow legislators to draw their own districts. Seems like a pretty simple choice to me.
YES on 21: Adds $18 to the cost of owning a car, to fund state parks and wildlife conservation. I'm kind of indifferent on this one but $18 isn't THAT much and our state parks can probably use the money.
NOT SURE on 22: Prevents money that belongs to local government from being taken by the state. If there is money that is supposed to go to local governments and local projects, then the state shouldn't be allowed to take it just because they can't find their own source of funding. But according to the "No" arguments, that funding is NEEDED for important things like police and firefighters. Sounds like the way our state works is super broken and I can't tell if a "Yes" or a "No" on this will make it any less broken.
NO on 23: This would suspend a law passed in 2006 that would get the state to reduce emissions by 2020. I feel like reducing emissions is a good thing, so no on this one.
NOT SURE on 24: Something about taxes and businesses. I can't tell if this affects small businesses that really need the tax break, or huge ones that frankly don't. I need to read more about this one.
YES on 25: Punishes the state legislators by taking away their paycheck if they don't pass the budget (which is admittedly pretty mean, but I think they'll survive, because they'll be pretty unlikely to be super late like they always are now) and more importantly makes it so that a majority of the legislature needs to pass the budget, not a 2/3 supermajority. Maybe if this passes, we won't pay all our state employees in IOUs.
NO on 26: Makes it harder to create/increase certain taxes by requiring a 2/3 vote of the legislature or voters, instead of a simple majority. Look, I know taxes suck, but I feel like if we require a 2/3 vote to increase pretty much ANY tax, then we'll never get anything passed.
NO on 27: This is pretty much the exact opposite of Prop 20 -- it gives all the power to draw district outlines back to the legislators.

So there you go. Tell me how super wrong I am on the above points, or help me with my "not sure" ones. Also, just sayin': Almost all of the official pro and con groups are called "Citizens For Lower Taxes" or "Taxpayers Against Evil Things" or "Just A Bunch Of Totally Reasonable Everyday People Who Are Totally Reasonable, We Promise, And Are In Favor Of Things That Everyone Loves Like Ice Cream And Puppies. I Mean, You Don't Hate Puppies, Do You?" It's a little sketchy, am I right?


Scribe 1.0 released

I have officially released version 1.0 of Scribe, my first Android app ever! (insert confetti and cheering here) It's an Android implementation of the paper-and-pencil game, Scribe. It's a two player game, so find a friend and give it a try!

If you are viewing this on an Android device, or if you have the ChromeToPhone or FoxToPhone extension, then you can just click right here to download it. If you have a barcode reader app, then you can point it at the QR code below. Otherwise, just open the Android Market and search for "Scribe." Let me know what you think!


The gay agenda: Legalizing prostitution?

I'm sending the following to both CNN's contact page, and GLAAD. We'll see if either of them acts on it.
This Tuesday night, Larry King had four guests on his show to debate gay marriage and Prop 8. For the most part, the debate was fairly civil and fair, but at one point, Bishop Harry Jackson claimed that "on the gay and lesbian agenda, right now, is a desire to legalize prostitution" (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WT6g5w1qNrw#t=50s ). While I don't expect everyone to fully understand or agree with the "gay and lesbian agenda" as he put it, I think it's quite obviously and provably false that any gay rights activists anywhere are working to legalize prostitution.

I think that was a moment in which Larry King should have injected a little bit of fact-based questioning into the discussion: "Hang on a second -- where did you hear that? Stephanie, you're gay. Is that on your agenda?" Since he didn't do that, it would be nice for him to make a statement on his show, explaining that he did some research and (as far as he can tell) there is no such item on the gay agenda, while offering to Bishop Jackson the opportunity to come back on the show and explain where he got his facts from, or what he meant.
By the way, if you're curious what the actual gay agenda is, I laid it out on this very blog a couple of years ago.


political quotes of the day

At a Ramadan ceremony at the White House yesterday, President Obama spoke out in favor of allowing Muslims to build a community center and mosque, close to the site of the World Trade Center towers. He defended their right to build a place of worship by referring to an obscure legal document called the "First Amendment to the Constitution":
But, he continued: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”
I wish the phrase "But, he continued, 'This is America'" appeared in every article about Obama, or for that matter, any article about politics. Kinda like this. My other favorite quote from this article is:
In New York, Rick A. Lazio, a Republican candidate for governor and a former member of the House of Representatives [said,] “With over 100 mosques in New York City, this is not an issue of religion, but one of safety and security,” he said.
Anyone know what that means? I'm trying really really hard to figure out why a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero would be a safety and security concern, whereas another mosque, a little further away, would not be. Even if we accept the idea that all Muslims are terrorists, which obviously is not true, I still don't get it. Is he afraid that someone is going to attack the same site again, and he thinks that the Muslims who worship elsewhere in Manhattan, (or elsewhere in the country, or the world), don't have access to, you know, transportation? The only reasonable explanation I can think of, is that this man truly doesn't hear himself when he speaks. He says words, but he doesn't hear himself saying them. Any other ideas?

I'm so excited to see how crazy this country will get during the election season this year. We're off to a great start.


The "just to be safe" argument. And then: The Ask.

I've been watching the marriagetrial.com reading of the Proposition 8 ruling, while also sort of reading along in the official pdf. If you're too lazy to read all 136 pages (although it's double spaced and a fair amount of it is just citations, so it's really more like 60) there are some great summaries at the Bilerico Project and Blogging LA (thanks to Heather for that second link).

Anyway, I was tweeting a couple of my favorite quotes from the decision, and someone responded on Twitter: "Fuck the other half of CA, and dumb bigots." Of course I understand the frustration behind this statement, but I want to be sure to make one thing very clear.

The seven million people who voted for Proposition 8 are not the enemy in this fight. I know this may be hard to believe, but it's true. Watch this ad, even if you've seen it before:

This is the kind of message that voters saw over and over and over again in the six weeks leading up to the 2008 election. It was two full weeks before the No on 8 campaign came up with any response to the message that allowing gay marriage meant the unthinkable would happen -- kids would be taught the shocking truth that gay people exist and sometimes they fall in love and want to get married. I know. Shocking. (Waiting this long was the single biggest mistake made by the No on 8 campaign, according to The Prop 8 Report, something I've been meaning to blog about since it was released last week, about a day before the trial decision came out. Worst timing ever.)

So for two weeks, many people were faced with the following set of facts, or perceived facts:
  1. If I vote no on Prop 8, my children might be taught something I don't want them to know, and at a very young age!
  2. This is backed up by a very official person with a law degree who is much smarter than I am, as well as by actual facts.
  3. I don't know of any negative consequences if I vote yes on Prop 8.
There is only one rational conclusion that can be drawn from these three facts, or even from just #1 and #3: Vote yes on Prop 8! Even if you think the threat to children is unlikely or insignificant, there's no downside to voting yes. It's a win-win. Many of the voters I talk to as a volunteer with Vote For Equality (more on this in a moment) tell me that they're not sure how they feel about gay marriage, or they have no strong feelings one way or the other. Yes, I'm sure many of them are against gay marriage, and just don't want to say so to my face. But I believe that a significant number of them are truly undecided or indifferent. And yet, of the 13.7 million Californians who voted that day, less than two and a half percent were unable to decide, and didn't cast a vote one way or the other on Prop 8. If you don't see the harm in voting yes, why would you ever vote no, just to be safe, just in case those scary ads about harming children are true?

I bring this up for two reasons, First of all, as I said, we need to remember that the 7 million "yes" voters are not the enemy in this fight. Call me naive, but I think the majority of them aren't actually that offended by the idea of a couple of guys making a promise to each other, eating some cake, drinking some wine, signing a piece of paper, and one of them getting to use the other's health insurance. They were just misled and tricked into changing the definition of marriage. It's not their fault. Really.

Secondly, we can convince people that "fact" #3 is not true, because, of course, it's not. Yes, we can rebut the other two facts as well, but if we can show people what marriage means to actual real-life gay and lesbian Californians and their families, then we can win next time. This is one of the central arguments made by the plaintiffs in the prop 8 trial: By denying marriage to a couple, you are sending them a clear message that their relationship is inferior to other people's relationships.

That is what I've been doing with Vote For Equality for the last few months: Having open, honest conversations with voters, both on the phone, and at their front door, explaining to them why I believe we ought to extend marriage benefits--not the separate but equal classification of "domestic partners", but marriage--to all committed long-term relationships. More importantly, Vote For Equality has devoted itself to something we almost never did during the No on 8 campaign: listening to the voters and finding out what their concerns are. Check it out!

We won't always change someone's mind, like Jay did in this video, but with every conversation we have, we'll find out more about that person -- their thoughts about this issue, any ideas they have that are factually incorrect, and any questions they have about same-sex marriage, that we might be able to answer for them. It's a lot of fun, and I believe that if we vote on this again, in California or elsewhere, and we win, it will be largely because of this kind of work. If you volunteered with the No on 8 campaign, and you were frustrated with how ineffective our tactics were, I promise you this is different. We've learned from our mistakes, and we're continuing to improve our approach.

(And if you were at any of the No on 8 actions, you know what's next -- The Ask)

One of the next major events coming up is a phonebank on August 24, where we have phone conversations much like the in-person conversation in that video you just watched. It also happens to be the day before my birthday, and seeing all of you, my huge following of blog readers (okay, so there are like four of you, but still), at the phonebank, would be a pretty awesome birthday present. I know it might seem scary to just call up a stranger and ask them how they feel about gay marriage, but once you get into it, you'd be surprised how much people are willing to talk about it.

If you have any friends or family who might someday want to marry a person of the same sex, please come to this phonebank, for them. I'm sure you know at least one, and if not, then come to this phonebank for me -- for my birthday. There might even be free food! And no using band as an excuse, TMB people. If you leave right after practice, you'll get there on time, even with traffic.

The details:
Vote For Equality voter persuasion phonebank
August 24th, 6:30pm-9:30pm
1125 N. McCadden Place,
Los Angeles, CA 90038

I want to conclude this blog post with a quote from an unlikely source. As they are a project of NOM, you can imagine I don't agree with much of what comes from the Ruth Institute, but they're 100% right about one thing, and it nicely sums up why the work Vote For Equality is doing is so important, and why we can't just sit around waiting for court decisions:
As with other issues, what will decide the “same-sex marriage” controversy in the long run are the attitudes that prevail in society at large, not this or that judicial decision, ballot measure, or piece of legislation.
P.S. I really think if you give it a chance, you'll enjoy this phonebank, or find other VFE actions that suit you better. But if you really don't want to do this, or can't make it on that day, or find that you have more spare money than spare time (hey, it's possible!), then you can also make a donation to Vote For Equality, and that would also make a huge difference. Thanks!


NOM is on the road to protect (some people's) marriage!

I don't know if you've been following the NOM Blog recently but the National Organization for (Hetero-Only) Marriage is going on a National Tour! (And by national, I mean just the eastern US -- I know, I was hoping they'd actually come to California, instead of spending lots of money on our politics). Their recent blog post basically covers three things:
  • People were very excited about "protecting marriage" and NOM had great turnout at their rallies.
  • Gay marriage bloggers are jealous, and they're a bunch of liars. But no, we won't bother linking to any of those blogs because you might be exposed to some intelligent ideas that we don't really want you to hear because you don't need to see those lies for yourself, you can trust NOM. (I mean, if you're going to accuse bloggers of lying, you ought to at least link to their blog so that your readers can see for themselves, and the accused have a chance to defend themselves. Right?)
  • There were some protesters at the NOM rallies but they were silly and ineffective. No mention of what the protesters' signs said (though you can see a few pictures on their flickr page) or the fact they were from an actual established group, rather than just a bunch of randoms.
It's almost as though one of NOM's main goals on this tour is to draw the attention of gay marriage supporters -- to bring out protesters who are still angry about their right to marry being taken away. All it takes is one or two people angry enough to shout over NOM's rallies, or with signs that imply NOM is bigoted or hateful, and all of a sudden, they'll be the victims. The poor, tiny, grassroots, average Americans, just trying to stand up for tradition and common sense against the big bad oppressive super-powerful atheist family-hating gay lobby.

Here on the internet, we call them trolls. The first evidence I saw of this, was this tweet from a couple of days ago: "Brian: On our way to Albany. Car just swerved to cut us off and gave hand gesture. Got tolerance? #nom". So I want to reiterate what I said on twitter: As a supporter of marriage equality, you should get out there and make your voice heard. Make signs, carry rainbow umbrellas, draw attention to the issue from all over the place, talk to your friends and family about why marriage is important for you or the same-sex couples in your life. But please, PLEASE don't do anything that will help NOM and other anti-gay-marriage groups to play the victim. They thrive on that, so let's not give them any more assistance than they already get. You know, "Don't feed the troll."

Of course, maybe I'm overreacting. As my friend Jonathan said, "@tbreisacher Maybe it wasnt even a marriage equality believer. Maybe the nom car driver is a shitty driver..."


Scribe for Android!

UPDATE 9/6/10: This release is no longer available. Please download the official one from the Android Market.

Good news, everyone! The first official release of Scribe for Android is now available. If you have an Android device, fire up your barcode reader and try it out! Keep in mind this is still a very very early version of the game so most of the menus don't work yet, and it's starts to feel very slow as you get close to the end of the game.

Please let me know if you have any comments, suggestions, bug reports, etc. by creating an issue on the github issue tracker, or just emailing me.



New Android game, Scribe: Coming soon!

Remember how I said I would update this blog, like, all the time? Me neither. Anyway, I'm working on a game for Android called Scribe (pdf):
Scribe is a pen and paper game for two players. Nine mini grids together form one super grid. The 19 glyphs of Scribe are listed in the left margin. Draws cannot occur in Scribe. Mark Steere invented Scribe on October 1, 2006.
I've played a sort of "play by email" version of it at superdupergames and I always thought it would be more fun in real time, so I decided to make it my first Android development project. I've already cranked out all the data structures and tricky logic (specifically, the difficult task of figuring out who won a particular mini-grid), so all that's left is the UI. As it's my first Android project, I don't know how long it will take, but my (admittedly rather arbitrary) goal is to have a beta version ready for download by the beginning of August.

If you want to follow along with the development, keep an eye on my github account. (The Scribe project that's up there now is a desktop version, hastily thrown together in Swing, but I couldn't get the github "downloads" feature to work, so you'll have to build it from source, or wait a little while.)

In the meantime, can you prove Mark Steere's claim that ties are impossible?


GLAAD Media Monitoring

I just finished the online training for to be a GLAAD Media Monitoring volunteer. For those who don't know, GLAAD is the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. They're the people that go after reporters, news organizations, TV shows, etc. who represent GLBT people unfairly or inaccurately, as well as hosting their own awards show (which I volunteered for a couple of years ago) for awarding postive portrayals of gay and lesbian people in the media. Although I've criticized GLAAD before for being over-sensitive, I think what they do is generally a good thing, so I'm excited to be volunteering for them. If you're not officially signed up as a volunteer, you can still help by filing an incident report whenever you see something in the media that you feel is defamatory to the GLBT community in some way.

The first part of the training was essentially just a summary of what GLAAD does and why. I would encourage you to click around their website a little bit to get an idea of it, but the general idea is that they want to ensure news stories are fair (reporters contact LGBT people or allies, not just anti-gay people), accurate (factually correct, and not defamatory), and inclusive (including LGBT people even in stories that aren't directly about them, when appropriate). Next, they went into more detail about specific words that should be used/avoided by reporters. If you don't think words matter, take a look at the numbers from this CBS news poll from a few months ago:

The other good/bad word pairs I managed to jot down were "adoption by gay people" (good) vs. "gay adoption" (bad) and "sexual orientation" (good) vs. "sexual preference" (bad). Lots of other word-choice recommendations can be found in GLAAD's official Media Reference Guide.

Because the media works on a 24-hour news cycle, information and stories are constantly being written and published, which is why it's important for organizations like GLAAD to react quickly. If a story appears on the AP wire this afternoon, GLAAD can act and possibly get parts of it reworded before it goes to print in newspapers the next morning. Even after something goes to print, it's important to act quickly. Newspaper editors aren't interested in complaints about stories posted several weeks ago.

The direct action that volunteers take, is filing incident reports. All this really means is sending an email to incident@glaad.org telling them about anything defamatory that you find in the media, including where you found it (whether it's a newspaper, magazine, internet, TV, etc.) and why you think it's defamatory. There was a little more information given in the training (for example, noting that you have to treat a news story different from the way you treat an opinion piece, although both can be defamatory) but really, that's basically it!

The trainers mentioned that GLAAD also has a guide about how to write effective letters to the editor (of course, most of the information would also apply to blog posts and comments, etc.) but they implied that it's not available online. I asked them to send me a copy, and maybe I'll summarize it on this blog as well. But I will also encourage them to post it online, as well as perhaps posting a video of today's training. Update: It turns out this information is online, on page 72 of their Media Essentials training manual. I still think they should post the powerpoint or video from today's training, though. Making your materials open and accessible is a good thing!

Anyway, if you find yourself fighting defamation against GLBT people or anyone else, let me know! And I will keep you updated on how this goes for me.


Ignoring People

I saw something this morning that I found very impressive. I'd never seen anything like it in my four years at USC. In fact, I don't think I'd ever seen anything like it in my life. A kid was sitting on a bench reading a book, without looking up at all. The bench in question was Associate's Park, between Bovard and the PE building. For those not familiar with the geography of USC, this is a location typically used for sitting quietly and reading/studying, unlike, say, Hahn Plaza, which is traditionally where enthusiastic people with clipboards and flyers try to stop you and get you to join their party this weekend/religious organization/service organization/volunteer opportunity.

Anyway, this kid is sitting there, reading a book, not looking up at all. Next to him are two people with some sort of small flyers, talking to this kid about how Jesus loves him and quoting something from Genesis. They're just continuing, on and on and on, seemingly completely unaware of the fact that they're absolutely being ignored. I've never seen anything like it before--I've never seen anyone so intent on getting a stranger to believe what they believe. It was really quite amazing.



If you know me at all, you know I love The Rachel Maddow Show. One of the things that Rachel often says, both on her show and her website, is that they really do read the emails that they get. So I decided to send her an email about an idea that's been floating around in my mind for a while. We'll see if they respond, or maybe even mention my idea on the air (unlikely, but possible, right?). Here's my message (linkified for my blog audience).

First of all, I love your show. I guess I'm more of a liberal on most issues, but more than wanting to take sides, I really just like hearing the facts about what's going on. So much of the "news" is about poll numbers or speculation. It's almost like the news anchors have become pundits, and you're the one that just gives us the actual facts. Plus it's hilarious when you get all excited about things like which cocktails were served at a White House cocktail party. =)

Anyway, I'm glad you're still following the "Discrimination based on sexual orientation? Yup, that's fine" story from Virginia. It's really shocking and horrible and most people (news people and regular Americans) only seem to have the attention span to follow it for a day or two. I was thinking: Though it doesn't happen often (maybe ever), if someone were fired for being straight, that would also constitute discrimination based on sexual orientation, wouldn't it? Which means it would be perfectly legal to do in Virginia, and in several other states that don't have an ENDA-like law.

What do you think about the following scenario: There is a government official in VA who is gay, but has straight employees who work under him. He picks one of them and fires him without explanation. When questioned, he says that the official was "one of those heterosexuals" and although he was a good employee, "it was just hurting the morale of our government office to have a breeder in our offices. After all, there were women who worked in the same office with this guy. Who knows what might have happened? I wish him the best of luck in life, with his "partner" and hold no personal grudge against him, but this is what is needed for the proper functioning of the Virginia government" etc.

Of course, you would probably want to get the permission of the person who was going to be fired, maybe make it someone who was planning on leaving anyway, or has enough money saved up to be out of work for a little while. But the idea is that then straight people across Virginia and across the country would be livid. "How dare you fire someone just because they're not the same sexual orientation as you are! What he does in the bedroom has no bearing on how he does his job or serves his state! We should judge people based on their work ethic and intelligence, not their sexual orientation!" And then anyone who agreed with the governor's position (maybe even the governor himself?) would pause for a second and go "Ohhhhhh, so that's how it feels when the law doesn't protect you."

What do you think? Is it feasible? Do you know any straight Virginia government employees that would be up for it? Would people dismiss it as a cheap, irresponsible publicity stunt? Maybe just presenting this as a hypothetical would make people think twice about it.

Tyler Breisacher


Jax and his webcomic

Everyone go to my friend Jackson's webcomic, Majestic 7. I fully admit that most of the reason I'm writing this is because I'm hoping it shows up on the first page when I do a Google search for Majestic 7. You know because I'm way too lazy to just remember the address or bookmark it or something.

But yeah, it's fun. It's made with legos! Check it out.

... Majestic 7


NCAA Nicknames on Sporcle

If you liked my last post, you might like this Sporcle game I just made: NCAA Nicknames. I looked at all the answers (because I had to in order to create the quiz) and I still only got about 44.


Mascot/Nickname Bracket

I thought it would be fun to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket where the winning team is the one with the better team nickname and/or mascot. What makes it better? Oh, you know. If there's something funny about the mascot, or I think it's clever, or just more original than the opponent, then I'll put it through to the next round. I may also select the one who I think would actually win in a fight. I'm not going to spend a ton of time researching each mascot (i.e. this is based on whatever I can find on Wikipedia in a couple seconds) but in some cases, I've actually seen the mascot in person at previous tournaments so I may draw on that experience.

Some notable matchups:
  • #5 Michigan State Spartans vs. #12 New Mexico State Aggies (Round 1). While I have to admit that Spartans is at least a little more original, I would bet New Mexico State is the only "Aggies" team whose mascot carries a gun. Maybe the only mascot of any kind that has a gun. Also, the Spartan is named Sparty and he looks like Jay Leno. Sparty? Come on. Winner: Aggies
  • #8 UNLV Rebels vs. #9 Northern Iowa Panthers (Round 1). Both pretty boring, honestly. But the Panthers mascot is TC Panther. An homage to T.C. Boyle, perhaps? Or a nod to the school's founder whose name was T.C. Something-Or-Other? Nope, it stands for "The Cat". Really. But he's won all kinds of awards at cheer competitions and stuff, so I'll give it to him. Winner: Panthers
  • #3 Georgetown Hoyas vs. #14 Ohio Bobcats (Round 1). It turns out, no one is quite sure what a Hoya is. It may have come from this weird Greek/Latin mishmash phrase that students used to say, but no one quite knows why they said it. I can't decide if it's kind of cool that they're willing to use a mascot that they don't even know what it is, or if it's really tooly, like having a tattoo of a Chinese character on your ankle without knowing what it means. Luckily, they're up against one of the most boring and generic mascots ever. Winner: Hoyas.
  • #2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #15 UCSB Gauchos (Round 1). I think you guys know where I'm going with this. It's a nut. Or a... big seed. Or something. Winner: Gauchos.
  • #7 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. #10 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Round 1). Normally I would go with the bees on this, because I think it would be the only chance for an insect to make it to the second round. But it turns out the mascot for the the Cowboys is Pistol Pete, a name I recognized from when I read about New Mexico State a few minutes before. It turns out the same guy is the mascot of two different schools. Technically, I can't let him be eliminated in the first round and make it to the second round at the same time. It might cause a rip in the spacetime continuum or something! Winner, by a spatial-temporal technicality: Cowboys.
  • #4 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Murray State Racers (Round 1). I think this is my favorite first round matchup. "Commodore" reminds me of the stuffy British sailors in Pirates of the Caribbean who are always running around with bayonets asking each other how the hell Jack Sparrow has escaped yet again. Racers, on the other hand, refers to racehorses, which sounds like a team you can bet on. Literally. I have to admit, there aren't too many teams named after people instead of animals, that actually sound cool. Winner: Commodores.
  • #2 Kansas State Wildcats vs. #15 North Texas Mean Green (Round 1). Normally, I would eliminate a mascot that's a color, instantly. But unlike the Syracuse Orange or the Stanford Cardinal, at least they thought to add some sort of adjective to it. And they're up against one of the most unoriginal things ever, yet another Wildcats. Winner: Mean Green.
  • #5 Temple Owls vs. #12 Cornell Big Red (Round 1). Remember Owl from Winnie the Pooh? He was awesome. Winner: Owls.
  • #4 Wisconsin Badgers vs. # 13 Wofford Terriers (Round 1). I was about ready to give this to the Terriers because they're so cute. Until I remembered that, when I was in high school, badgers were the funniest damn thing in the world. If there's a "Fighting Mushrooms" or "Garden Snakes" in the tournament next year, I promise to put them through to at least the Sweet Sixteen. Winner: Badgers.
  • #7 Clemson Tigers vs. #10 Missouri Tigers, and #5 Texas A&M Aggies vs. #12 Utah State Aggies (Round 1). What the hell, guys? How did this happen? All four of you lose the first round.
  • #11 Old Dominion Monarchs vs. #14 Sam Houston State Bearkats (Round 2). Yes, with a 'k'. What the hell is a bearkat? I can only assume it's a cross between a bear and a kat. I bet that kind of unholy hybrid would be pretty good at basketball. Unfortunately, this bracket is rigged. See below. Winner: Monarchs.
  • #11 Old Dominion Monarchs vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials (Sweet 16). AMERICA! Winner: Colonials.
  • #1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. #4 Maryland Terrapins (Sweet 16). I know, I know. How did a turtle make it this far?! But look at him. That looks like a pretty badass turtle. And plus, his name is Testudo. Like a combination of testosterone and Menudo. Obviously pretty badass. And, did you know the Jayhawk is a mythical cross between two birds -- the noisy blue jay and the quiet sparrow hawk? So these are some pretty sweet mascots. But ultimately, the power of flight wins out over the power of... plodding. Winner: Jayhawks.
  • #15 Robert Morris Colonials vs. #9 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Final 4). I hate to see America lose this one, but isn't a "demon deacon" like being a double-agent in the ultimate war? Winner: Demon Deacons.

The complete bracket:

Final thoughts:
  1. There are too many Golden Somethings. You can't take a boring mascot like a Bear and make it somehow interesting by calling it a Golden Bear. Come on. I think there were four of these.
  2. If your team name is literally a color, I have no respect for you at all. Figure it out, Syracuse.
  3. I wish there could have been a matchup between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Richmond Spiders.
So what do you think? Which mascot was unfairly eliminated? Who's your favorite mascot that didn't even make the tournament? What would your mascot/nickname bracket look like, and who would be the ultimate champion?


Apparently, yes, they are.

In my last post, I told you about a comment I left on the blog for the anti-same-sex-marriage group NOM. It seemed that NOM had deleted it, but I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. So I posted another comment, which I thought was fair and unoffensive and such. I took a screenshot in case NOM took it down again, and sure enough, when I checked tonight, it was gone.

If NOM doesn't want certain comments on their blog, they certainly have the right to delete or censor any comment they like. But it would be nice if they had a clear set of criteria for what is allowed. Even something as simple as "We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason" would be great, but as far as I can tell, they don't have a policy like that, or any other policy, posted anywhere.

I want to make sure I'm being clear here. It seems like every time something like this catches people's attention, someone mentions the First Amendment, claiming that their Constitutional right to free speech is being violated. This is not a First Amendment issue. I was posting on their blog, which they own, and they have the right to absolutely control the content on it. I just think it would be nice if they explained their rationale. Don't you think?


Is NOM censoring comments on their blog?

Several weeks ago, while the Prop 8 trial was underway, someone posted a comment on the blog of the National Organization for [opposite-sex only] Marriage and it almost immediately disappeared without warning or explanation. He posted another comment expressing disagreement with NOM's position, took a screenshot to prove it, and sure enough, it was gone within a few minutes. (If anyone has the link to that blog post, that would be great. I don't remember whose blog it was but maybe someone can find it.) There was a some outrage on Twitter and a few other blogs, but nothing huge, because everyone was more worried about the trial. At some later point, I posted a comment disagreeing with NOM so I believed they had stopped taking down pro-SSM comments.

Today, they posted an entry about a Catholic charity in Washington, D.C. which has decided not to offer benefits to any of their employee's spouses, after same-sex marriage became legal in that city today. As a charity, they receive a lot of money from the city each year, so the city told them if they're going to offer benefits to opposite-sex married couples, they should do the same for same-sex married couples. Since that goes against the teachings of the Catholic church, they decided not to offer benefits to anyone's spouse. It was a very difficult decision for them, and this is an issue that same-sex marriage supporters should consider. Even if you believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, no matter what, you should realize that it can have unintended consequences like this, and be careful that you're not advocating anything that would force charities into uncomfortable positions like this, if possible.

But NOM picked the following title: "Church Forced by DC Government's SSM Law to Drop Future Spousal Benefits" As another commenter before me pointed out, that's not just misleading, it's an outright lie. In fact, the very first sentence of the blog post itself (from the Washington Post article I linked to above) is: "The church faced two options with the approval of the new law." So, yes they were put into a very difficult position. Yes, they were forced to make a choice. Yes, perhaps the DC City Council should have considered the charity's complaints more carefully before passing this law. But no, sorry, the government didn't force the church to drop future spousal benefits. That is just not true.

I posted a comment saying something to the effect of "Look, there's a real debate to be had here. But if your post title says the church was forced by the government to do something, and the very first line of the text says they had two options, then how are we going to have that debate?" When I looked at the entry again, my comment was gone. I don't want to accuse NOM of censoring comments, especially because there are several other dissenting comments on that entry which have not been deleted. But it does seem suspicious. I went ahead and posted another comment saying more or less the same thing. So far it is still there but I'm excited to see if it gets taken down again. If my first comment was indeed removed, I'm curious how they decide which ones to leave up and which ones to remove.

P.S. I have to give NOM credit for using the term "SSM" instead of "gay marriage" or "homosexual marriage." As you might have seen in a recent poll about DADT, people feel a lot differently about "gays and lesbians" than they do about "homosexuals" so thanks NOM! I appreciate you using a term that is less likely to stir up emotions. That is a big step in the right direction and I very much appreciate it!


Things I like in a website

There are a couple of things that I really like in a website. Neither of them really matters that much but they make me feel like I'm dealing with a nice, simple, easy-to-use website. Like Facebook, c. 2004. Or like Facebook now, except the exact opposite.

  1. A favicon. For those unfamiliar, it's the little 16x16 or so image that shows up next to the address bar and on the tab next to the page title. I think everyone picks up on visual cues a lot more than they realize, so it's much easier to find the tab or page you want when there's a colorful, simple, icon by it. Plus, it means my bookmarks bar can look like this:

    Bonus question 1: How many of these favicons do you recognize? Bonus question 2: Many of these favicons are letters. How can I rearrange them to spell something funny? Other than "WTF" which I already have.
  2. Simple URLs. The example which inspired me to write this is my friends Casey and DJ's new site for scientists, CoLab. The address for someone's profile is, for example, http://www.thisiscolab.org/researchers/profile/caseystark/, rather than http://www.thisiscolab.org/photo.php?pid=958307&id=1017661724&fbid=1313519230881#profile.php/?pid=238924769803?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_content=Google+Reader&feature=related. I don't know why but why I see lots of extraneous characters that don't mean much to me, in a URL, it gives me the sense that the site is overly complicated, was built without a simple. clear focus, and is going to break at any moment. Also, what with Twitter being all the rage nowadays, it's nice to have a reasonable chance at fitting a URL into a tweet without using a shortener. Even if you do have to shorten a URL, we put an extra strain on the URL shortening services when we try to shorten multiple copies of the same URL which don't look identical but actually are. For example, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epUk3T2Kfno and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epUk3T2Kfno&feature=channel are exactly the same video, even though the URL is superficially different. Maybe I'm just being a little obsessive, but it's something I always notice.


Old games with a twist

I love casual games. I don't know if there's a strict definition for a "casual game" but I would say it's a small, simple game that you can learn very quickly. The kind of free flash games you find at places like Kongregate or Armor Games or Jay is Games. Lately I've seen a few fun games that are all twists on very familiar games, or combinations of them.

  • In Tuper Tario Tros, you're playing Mario and Tetris at the same time, in the same place. The tetris blocks that fall become the terrain that Mario is running and jumping on. If Mario can't make it across a gap, switch to Tetris mode and build him a bridge out of tetrominoes. If you can't find anywhere to put your current block, switch back to Mario mode and move through the landscape until you find a more favorable area.
  • First-Person Tetris is more or less what it sounds like. It's tetris but you are the tetris block! Warning: This game will make you dizzy and perhaps naseous if you play it enough.
  • gnop (yes, that's "pong" backwards) is a clone of Pong, except that you are the ball. Perhaps it was inspired by First-Person Tetris. While playing this one, I imagine that some kid in the 80s with a bad haircut is playing pong, and is wondering why the ball refuses to follow the laws of physics.
  • Lastly, I just discovered TetriSnake which is of course a tetris game where instead of blocks, you have little snakes. Which is cool because they can be any shape you want if you can succesfully maneuver them into that shape.
  • UPDATE: Found another one: Anti-Pacman, where you control the four ghosts. In fact, this is part of an Anti-Games series, but of all the ones listed, Anti-Pacman sounds like the coolest.
Do you know of any other casual games in this "classic(s) with a twist" category? What two games should be mashed up next?


The numbers don't lie. Except when they do.

On The Rachel Maddow Show today, they did a cute little segment where they played a fake game show called Pin the Debt on the Donkey whose purpose was to point out that Republican presidents in recent history have added much more to the national debt than Democratic presidents. To that end, they showed this graph.

I don't want to argue about this from a political standpoint, or imply that Rachel Maddow's staff got the numbers wrong* or anything like that. My issue with this graph is that the way the graph is designed deceives you into thinking Reagan spent way way more than anyone else. It's the kind of simple misunderstanding of math that Good Math, Bad Math is all about. First of all, some of these presidents were in office for 4 years, and others for 8. They put this in the "fine print" so to speak, but this is a graph! The point is to show information visually. They could have used the average increase per year, which is also readily available on PresidentialDebt.org. That graph would look like this:

(Sorry it doesn't look as fancy as Rachel's. Upper Harmonics' graphics department consists of, well, me and OpenOffice.org.) In this graph, things look a little more balanced, and you could argue that if Carter and Bush Sr. had gotten a second term, they would have increased the debt by about as much as they did during their first term, so it's a little more fair.

I don't think this is the biggest issue though. The real problem with this graph is that the numbers are percentages, not absolute numbers. This would be of no consequence if they were percentages of the same thing. But each number is a percentage of the national debt at the start of that president's term. So if you happened to be president after someone who (as Rachel points out) nearly tripled the national debt, you look much better in comparison. Not just because you're being compared to someone who spent a lot of money, but because your spending is being reported as a percentage of a higher number. If we look at each president's debt increase in actual dollars (actually, trillions of dollars), we get this:

Wow! You mean the first President Bush and President Clinton actually increased the national debt by the same amount? Yup. And both of them increased the debt by just a little less than Reagan did? Yes. But that's not really fair, you say. Clinton had two terms, and Bush only had one. Okay, let's look at each term, rather than each president, shall we?

This still illustrates the general point Rachel Maddow was trying to make: The worst four-year presidential terms of national debt increase in recent history were mostly during Republican administrations, and the best were mostly during Democratic ones. But I think the graph they chose to create didn't show the whole story as clearly as it could have.

You don't have to be an economics or math major to understand this. This is very simple math. A given amount of money may be a small percentage of one value, and an enormous percentage of another value. Comparing percentages the way they did on the show distorts the facts.

To be clear, I don't think Rachel Maddow or her staff were intentionally deceiving anyone or trying to distort the truth -- it sounds cliche but I'm really not trying to make this into a politcal thing. I suspect they just took the five easiest-to-spot numbers off of PresidentialDebt.org and quickly threw them onto a graph. So some of the blame should lie with that site, which made those numbers a bit more prominent than they should have been.

* Although, they rounded Bush Sr.'s number from 55.6% (direct from PresidentialDebt.org) to 55%. We could argue about the .5 rule all day, but I think we can all agree that 55.6 rounds to 56, right? Also, during the segment, she says George W. Bush grew the national debt by $4.9 trillion. The number is actually more like $5.04 trillion, which I assume is due to another rounding error. Either that or they got that number from another source that uses the actual inauguration days, instead of the end of the year, as the delineation between presidencies.


Prop 8 trial transcripts available!

I'm excited to tell you, my loyal readers, that full, official transcripts from the Prop 8 trial, which is currently underway, are available! If, like me, you were excited to watch the videos posted online each night, and disappointed when the Supreme Court of California disallowed the posting of those videos, this is a great way to read exactly what's happening in the courtroom. Several people who are present in the courtroom have been reporting on the proceedings, via blogs or Twitter, but now we can actually get the full transcripts and read them for ourselves. There will also be a video re-enactment posted any day now, based on these transcripts.

Here is the link to the transcripts. Thanks to Karen Ocamb for posting it on her blog, LGBT POV!

I'm only a little way through the first day so far, but I'll leave you with a quote from Ted Olson, attorney for the plaintiffs (which are the people opposed to Prop 8 which means they're in favor of same-sex marriage -- I know it can be confusing!) in his opening statements:
We wouldn't need a Constitution if we left everything to the political process, but if we left everything to the political process, the majority would always prevail, which is a great thing about democracy, but it's not so good if you are a minority or if you're a disfavored minority or you're new or you're different. And that's what happens here.


Prop 8 and violence against GLBT people

As with any major event, there's been a lot of traffic on Twitter this week because of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, better known as the Proposition 8 case. The supporters of Prop 8 (that's the people who are against same-sex marriage) asked the court not to broadcast the proceedings, or even make them available on YouTube, because they feared it would create a "media circus" (though I'm not sure the mainstream media spending more time on this issue is really a bad thing) and more importantly, that their witnesses might be intimidated or threatened by people who recognized them from the video of the court's proceedings. Most people seem to believe this is only an excuse, and that the real reason they don't want cameras is that they don't want the general public to hear the arguments for SSM expressed eloquently and carefully by the very intelligent team representing the plaintiffs and the pro-SSM witnesses they've called to the stand.

However--and this is what a lot of the people on the pro-gay side don't seem to want to admit--supporters of Prop 8 were intimidated and harassed right after Prop 8 passed. I remember seeing pictures of a Mormon church in Los Angeles being vandalized, and thinking that whoever did that, acting out of anger and desperation, was setting us way back. There were huge crowds of people in the streets that Wednesday night, and while I'm sure the huge majority of them were peaceful, there were lots of acts of violence and harassment not just against the people who put prop 8 on the ballot and ran its campaign, but against the individual citizens that voted for it. If that's what happens to individual voters, imagine what could happen to someone trying to defend Prop 8 in federal court.

My point is not to encourage groups like Protect Marriage to continue playing the victim (they do plenty of that without my help). And I hope it goes without saying that I don't mean to encourage anyone to commit acts of violence, vandalism, harassment, etc. against anyone. But it's conceivable that some witnesses really did have legitimate fears about cameras in the courtroom.

The reason I bring this up is that there's a very popular trend on Twitter tonight of posting videos like this describing hate crimes that have been committed against gay people. I guess the implication is that laws like Prop 8 encourage hate crimes, or at least encourage the kind of thinking that occasionally leads some people to commit hate crimes. I tweeted "Not liking all the RTing of this video http://bit.ly/6hI1oh Do people think homophobia / hate crime will disappear if we strike down #prop8?" To expand on that a little, if this case eventually goes in our favor, we'll never hear the end of it from the anti-gay-marriage crowd about "activist judges" who are "overriding the will of the people" and so on. Eventually, we would like broad societal recognition that gay relationships are equal to straight ones, not just government recognition. I worry that when we're posting these videos, people will say that we're equating everyone who is for Prop 8 with anyone who's ever killed a gay person. If we ever want people like Protect Marriage and NOM to accept gay marriage, we need to stop thinking of them as the enemy and start thinking of them as someone who is wrong but well-intentioned. That means not implying they're responsible for the occurrence of hate crimes.

Twitter user @california411 then said to me: "@tbreisacher No read the SCOTUS ruling- the US Supreme court is protecting the perpetrators of violence towards GLBT's" thus confirming my worry. You might say that attitudes like those of the Prop 8 supporters are related to the attitudes that lead to hate crimes. But that hardly means that SCOTUS was directly protecting the perpetrators of violence.

Someone named @nutrioso reacted to the videos more or less exactly the way I expected the anti-gay-marriage side would react: "Hmmm...looks like the lefties are displaying their penchant for civil discourse by swamping Twitter with irrelevant propaganda. #prop8" Basically, no one made it clear, at least not to this person, what the connection was between hate crimes and Prop 8.

I guess the point I'm really making here is that if you're going to post something about the GLBT community being victimized, in a Prop 8 discussion, it would be wise to show the connection between that victimization and Prop 8, as clearly and carefully as you can. And remember, the "other side" is not your enemy -- they are just someone who doesn't yet understand why marriage is so important to GLBT people. In the event that we have to fight this issue (or another GLBT issue -- yes folks, gay people do care about things other than getting married!) at the ballot box, we need every vote we can get. Out of the millions who voted to take marriage rights away from us, most of them did so with very good intentions and were simply misguided. Let's help those who are willing to listen to see our side of the story.


USC Basketball Sanctions

There's been a lot of talk lately about USC's self-imposed sanctions that have been applied to its basketball team in response to the violations of NCAA rules committed two years about by OJ Mayo and Tim Floyd. Some people say USC didn't go far enough, a lot of people say Mike Garrett is sacrificing the basketball team to save the football team.

To me, the whole system seems quite irrational. The NCAA makes it very clear what is and isn't allowed, but as far as I know, there are no official penalties for any of the violations. So when something happens, the school imposes a penalty on itself, hoping the NCAA will think it's harsh enough. If the NCAA accepts it, then maybe we could have gotten away with less, and we punished ourselves unnecessarily. If they impose even harsher sanctions than the ones we came up with, then we look like we're not taking the infractions seriously, simply because we couldn't read the NCAA's mind.

Imagine if the coaches determined their own penalties for fouls during football games. Instead of the officials referring to the rulebook (delay of game = 5 yards, holding = 10 yards, etc.) the coach simply imposes his own penalty and hopes the officials will accept it as "harsh enough." This would be a ridiculous way to run a football game. How hard would it be for the NCAA to create a mapping from violations to specific penalties? If you can find the exact rule that Mayo and Floyd violated, you should also find, on the same page of the NCAA rulebook, a specific description of the penalties that will be imposed on the coach, the school, and players who were involved. Maybe there's a reason the NCAA doesn't work like that. I would love for someone to tell me what that reason is.

But back to the sanctions themselves. My biggest complaint, really my only complaint, is the way the administration is taking our current team (none of whom were involved in the rules violations at all, and most of whom weren't even at USC at the time) out of all postseason play, including the annual Pac-10 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament (which I think we probably would have participated in for the fourth time in a row -- the first time that would have ever happened to USC).

This punishment has absolutely no effect on anyone who is actually responsible, and it keeps a great team, who so far as surpassed all expectations, from showing the country what they can do in "the big dance." So here's what I think we should do instead. Currently, during halftime of USC home games, there are a couple of little challenges, where students come down from the stands and try to make a shot or two in order to win money or plane tickets from Nike or American Airlines. Instead of that, I think we should have OJ Mayo and Tim Floyd come down and stand at midcourt. A student stands at either end of the court and fires a nerf gun at the NCAA rules violators. One student's nerf darts have cardinal paint, and the other's have gold paint, to make it easy to see which one got more hits. The winner receives a free Trojan Fever t-shirt. Mayo and Floyd do not. What do you think?