Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Time to advance Australian fairness

It’s time for Australia to adopt marriage equality, and ensure fairness and equality for all its citizens. The recent approval of marriage equality in Ireland has put renewed pressure on Australia, which is that last developed English-speaking country without it.

Australia is similar to New Zealand in that it only needs to change its marriage laws, and doesn’t need to amend its constitution, as Ireland needed to do. Leader of the Opposition, Australian Labor Party Leader Bill Shorten, has announced plans to push marriage equality in the Australian Parliament (he shared the graphic above on Facebook). New Zealand’s marriage equality law began as a private member’s bill by Labour MP Louisa Wall, who was then, as now, an opposition MP.

Australia, like New Zealand, doesn’t normally put referenda to popular vote. In Australia, only constitutional matters go to referendum, and anything else is only advisory and non-binding, which makes it nothing more than a very expensive taxpayer-funded opinion poll that Parliament may ignore, anyway.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said, correctly, “I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the constitution needs to be changed in this respect.” Both he and Bill Shorten have dismissed the idea of a referendum.

However, Abbott went on to say that whether or not Coalition MPs would be allowed a conscience vote, as happened here in New Zealand, was “a matter for the Coalition partyroom”, and there’s the problem: Abbott is a staunch Roman Catholic, having once studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood, and so he is adamantly opposed to marriage equality, in line with the dictates of his church. That’s fine, and it’s his right to believe whatever he wants to, but by denying a conscience vote, he’s effectively imposing his beliefs on all Australians because their elected representatives aren’t allowed to vote the way their own consciences or constituents dictate.

Polls show huge support for marriage equality among the Australian people, and it’s thought that if there was a conscience vote it could pass the Australian Parliament. All of which suggests that Tony Abbott is using the political process in Australia to prevent a conscience vote in Parliament because he doesn’t like the probable result. As Bill Shorten said, “Most places in the world are dealing with marriage equality, why is Tony Abbott stopping Australia becoming a more modern nation?”

Tony Abbott needs to get out of the way. As the New York Times said in an editorial about the Irish victory, “The outcome in Ireland sends an unmistakable signal to politicians and religious leaders around the world who continue to harbor intolerant views against gays and lesbians.” Indeed it does. Politicians like Tony Abbott need to catch up with their own people. As the editorial also said, “The tide is shifting quickly. Even in unlikely places, love and justice will continue to prevail.”

It’s time Australia ensured all its citizens were treated equally, it’s time for marriage equality in Australia.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Just one more: ‘Yes to love’

Today I ran across two more videos about Ireland I wanted to share, and since tomorrow it’s on to other topics, why not just one more share? Good news always deserves a little extra attention, I think.

In the video above, Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny makes a statement after the referendum results are released. It’s a “raw” video from Reuters, which means there’s no reporter providing a narration.

In the video below, also a raw video, crowds in Dublin express their joy at the referendum results. Who can't help but smile at such utter happiness?

And that’s a great place to leave this topic.

Messages from the Yes campaign

The campaign to win marriage equality in Ireland actually began many years ago, and during that time many video messages were produced to advance the cause. Some of them are among the best I’ve ever seen, so I wanted to share them all together, even though I’ve already posted many of them.

The story begins, in a sense, with the Irish election on February 25, 2011. The new Irish government planned to change the country’s constitution to enact marriage equality. That’s when the campaign most of us know about began.

However, the campaign actually began years earlier. The first ad I saw was from the group Marriage Equality, which began advocating for civil marriage equality back in 2008. The following year, the group posted their first ad, “Sinead’s Hand”, which brilliantly points out the offensive absurdity of having to ask others for the right to marry. More subtly, the ad was also generating sympathy for gay people because having to ask for the right to marry was unfair.

Marriage Equality’s “Rory’s Story”, from 2011, plainly and simply explained why the country’s civil partnership laws weren’t good enough: In this case, because “civil partnership neglects the rights between a child and his or her non-biological parent, and the consequences are real.” The ad ends with a title card displaying the text “Civil partnership is not Marriage Equality”.

Some of the best ads were made by BeLonG To Youth Services. The first of their videos I saw in what was already the Yes vote campaign, was “It’s in your hands”, in late 2014. It was encouraging young people to register to vote so that they could help “make Ireland a more equal place for our LGBT friends.” Since young people are overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality in every Western nation, this was a very smart move. It was also an absolutely brilliant ad—one of the best I’d ever seen.

But the single best ad I’ve ever seen was also from BeLonG To, “Bring Your Family With You”. The ad brilliantly places the Yes vote in the context of family. It made no attempt to make the intellectual arguments (they had other online videos for that), but instead sought only to make people care about voting, to motivate them to put their love for their family and friends into action by voting Yes, together. It played right into Irish values

There were plenty of other messages, too. For example, Irish comedian Brendan O'Carroll, star of top-rating Mrs. Brown’s Boys, made a Vote Yes video as his character, Mrs. Agnes Brown. The message is simple, direct, and well done.

Also placing the Yes vote in the context of Irish culture were videos like Yes Equality’s “Marriage & Family Matter - Hurlers for Yes”. Hurling is a very big sport in Ireland.

Summing up all this messaging is “Every Vote Counts!”, also from Yes Equality. I think it’s a really good look at the campaign in Ireland, and the various ways the messaging was used and reinforced. It’s a feel-good, positive video—as all the messaging was.

Below, I’ve included links to the various YouTube channels most of these videos are from. It’s well worth checking them out to see some of the other video messaging done, particularly the personal stores that were shared, because they helped win the day. There were plenty of other videos posted by all sorts of people, far too numerous to mention. And, obviously, I’m not sharing any of the “no” videos on my blog because, well, no—just no.

Not all of the work done in Ireland will be applicable to other countries, but much of it will be. Since young people support equality so overwhelmingly, it’s vital to engage and energise them. This is why the social media aspects of the campaign were so important.

However, what mattered most was that it was a simple issue that people cared about a LOT. Along the way, Ireland really did have a “national conversation” because of this campaign, and I have no doubt that theirs is a better society for it. I hope all of this serves as a useful example for other places, Australia and Northern Ireland in particular.

So, my deepest and heartfelt congratulations and thanks to everyone who took part in the Yes campaign. You all were absolutely brilliant.


The YouTube Channels for all the organisations I’ve mentioned:
Marriage Equality
BeLonG To Youth Services
Yes Equality

Ireland shows us the way

Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a popular vote. In doing so, the Irish people placed themselves firmly on the side of love and equality, and gave a lesson to the world.

While I’m unalterably opposed to ever putting civil and human rights up for popular vote, this situation was a little different. The reason there was a referendum at all is because they were amending the Irish Constitution in order to enable marriage equality, and all such amendments must be approved by a simple majority in a referendum. So, the referendum was actually about the “Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015”.

In total, 1,935,907 voted in the marriage equality referendum, of which 1,201,607 people voted Yes and 734,300 voted No. That means that Yes had a majority of 467,307. So, according to official results (http://www.referendum.ie/), marriage equality won with 60.52% of the vote to 37.93% against—a landslide victory for equality. Turnout was 60.52%.

Only one of Ireland’s 43 constituencies voted against equality, and only barely: The No vote in Roscommon-South Leitrim was 51.42% and the Yes vote was 48.58%. Dublin constituencies, as expected, voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality—better than 70% Yes—but rural areas also voted yes, if less overwhelmingly. As Irish Times writer Una Mullaly put it, “The decency of the Irish people was not limited to the liberal leafy suburbs of Dublin, nor the solidarity from the flats, but that decency came from the cliffs of Donegal, the lakes of Cavan, the farmyards of Kildare, the lanes of Kerry.”

This was also a victory brought about by the young, who mobilised heavily for the Yes vote. Young voters, statistically speaking, often don’t bother to vote, much less get involved in campaigns. As one organiser among the young put it, this issue “affects people regardless of what stage of life they’re at. We all know someone who is openly gay.”

And that, too, is at the heart of this victory: People. On the one hand, the Yes campaign worked hard to ensure that ordinary Irish voters understood that this affects real people (my next post will be about some of that messaging). But ordinary Irish people responded, volunteering in huge numbers all over the country, and, of course, voting for equality. Una Mullaly said of it, “If you want examples of active citizenship, if you want to learn about the spirit of volunteerism, if you want to see democracy in action, then this is the campaign for you.”

The Yes campaign captured the hearts and minds of ordinary Irish voters as perhaps no other issue has in recent times. Expat Irish people returned home in large numbers specifically to vote Yes, something I don’t recall ever happening for any other country’s election.

There’s also an important symbolism in a landslide approval for equality. Our rightwing adversaries—who in their honest moments admit they oppose any legal recognition of same-gender couples’ relationships, not just marriage—often say that most of the USA’s marriage equality laws are “unjust” because “the people” didn’t approve them. Well, in Ireland, the people DID approve—loudly, clearly, deliberately, and unequivocally.

This referendum mattered a lot to me personally. I wrote about it on this blog and shared things about it on social media more than the struggle for marriage equality in any other single place—apart from New Zealand, obviously. Some of that’s because Ireland is similar in size to New Zealand, with some similar urban/rural divides. Also, Irish immigration has been important to both New Zealand and the USA. So, yes, all those sentimental reasons. But the main reason of all is the symbolism that this victory provides.

This huge victory will give hope to people in countries that don’t yet have marriage equality, of course, but it may even give some hope to the people in the 79 countries where homosexuality is criminalised. After all, Ireland only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, so anything’s possible.

The Irish people have shown us all that love does win in the end. And if that isn’t good news to celebrate, I don't know what is.

Congratulations, Ireland!!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Advertising the future

Earlier this week, I talked about how I wanted technology from Star Trek, and some things that now exist. We really are living in the future. The video above is a compilation of ads from AT&T from more than two decades ago, pretty accurately predicting the future we now live in.

I remember those ads, and I remember how exciting they made the future sound—and how fantastical, yet believable, the technology sounded. Nearly everything they predicted now exists in one form or another, and what doesn’t is mostly technologically feasible, if only there weren’t human barriers of one sort another.

There were only two things I noticed that don’t exist. First, real-time, live language translation of speech. Instead, we can only translate written text (sort of…). We also don't yet have virtual personal assistants, though we can at least accomplish many of the bits and pieces with the technology and software we do have.

This week alone, I used technology to do many of the things mentioned in the ads. For example, I read a book on my Kindle—a book I bought from Amazon, “from thousands of miles away”. I used Skype to record a podcast with Jason, and while that was audio-only, it could have been a video call. In fact, I’ve used Skype video calling many times, and I’ve used video hangouts on Google+.

I also have GPS on my phone in case I need to find some place “without stopping to ask for directions”. I frequently email PDFs (the modern-day equivalent of sending a fax). And there’s much more, too.

When the ads aired, the Internet as we now know it didn’t exist, so neither did any of the Internet services we take for granted. So, the fact that AT&T correctly predicted so much of what would exist in twenty years is pretty extraordinary, since it depended on technology that didn't actually exist at the time. However, what I think is even more extraordinary is that the promise was fulfilled mostly by people who were little kids—teenagers or young adults at most—when the ads first aired.

I can't wait to see what today’s little kids will deliver for us in the future.

Tip o’ the Hat to VOX, which shared and talked about the video today.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A reason to be cheerful

A new cross-party working group on LGBTI rights has been set up by MPs in the NZ Parliament to provide education, leadership and legislative progress on LGBTI rights. This is a very good thing, and should be praised. Some don’t see it that way, of course.

The working group was initiated by Green Party MP Jan Logie, and initially included 12 members from National, Labour, NZ First, Act, and the Greens. National Party MP Amy Adams invited all MPs to wear pink to show their support for Pink Shirt Day, and the photo above shows MPs from most of the parties in Parliament. It was posted by MP Lousia Wall, author of the marriage equalty law, on her Facebook Page.

The photo was met with opposition by those on the Left, of all things—you know, the people who have the most to gain from cross-party cooperation on LGBT issues—oh, wait, many of them are not, in fact, L, G, B or T. Never mind—ideological purity!

The Left’s argument seems to be, if a politician opposed marriage equality, they are forever branded as anti-LGBT. I think that’s stupid, shallow, and self-defeating.

First, politicians DO evolve: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and any number of NZ politicians prove that. And that means that we don’t really want to lock politicians into always being the narrow-minded folks they once were. Enlightenment is good, dammit.

But, let's assume that some politicians are anti-LGBT, and they’re happy for us to be, at best, second-class citizens. Yet those same politicians think bullying is really bad. Should we refuse to allow them to say that? Only stupid people would say so.

It takes some politicians longer than others to accept LGBT people as full and equal citizens. But if those same politicians recognise that bullying is evil, why shouldn’t we embrace that? It’s only a short hop to recognising our humanity overall.

In New Zealand, anti-discrimination is law. So is marriage equality. The question before us is, what else can we do to make sure that LGBT people are full and equal citizens? If a politician who formerly opposed our rights now opposes bullying, I see that as progress, not hypocrisy.

Obviously, politicians can do good things. And, sometimes, silly politicians can reform themselves and help our society to move forward. That ought to be celebrated as a good thing, not an opportunity for partisan point-scoring.

I’m among the most partisan people I know, but I applaud the creation of this multi-party group. Let me prove that. I think that Act Party Leader David Seymour was spot-on when he said, “We believe in the equality of all human beings and we still have legislative and policy work to do to realise those rights for LGBTI people.” Who doesn’t—apart from our true adversaries, all of whom are outside of Parliament?

Or, how about the right-of-centre NZ First Party. MP Denis O’Rourke said, “Last year a New Zealand group reported to the UN that there remain a number of barriers to the realisation of LGBTI rights in NZ. I think it’s important for MPs and parliament to consider those concerns.” He’s right, of course.

And, the National Party’s Paul Foster-Bell added: “A recent Westpac survey found discrimination is still rife in our workplaces as well, and an international survey has found disturbingly high levels of homophobia in sports in NZ. I’m proud to be working towards a solution to these shameful situations.”

The point is, fighting homophobia and anti-LGBT bias is NOT a partisan issue, and we should welcome allies from wherever they come. I’m truly sorry that some of our friends on the Left don’t understand that creating change is far more important than ideological purity, but I’m from the old school that understands this. I've always kept my eyes on the prize, and I’ve always been willing to work with anyone who can advance the rights of LGBT people—party doesn’t mater.

So, I applaud the cross-party working group, and I hope they do great things. I also applaud all the MPs, of whatever party, who embraced Pink Shirt Day. For me, the politicians’ success will be determined ONLY by what they achieve, not by who they are, what party they represent, or whatever positions they once held on public policy issues affecting LGBT people. Tell me what you’re going to do, not who you were.

This is a reason to be cheerful, not to be churlish. I understand the difference.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On the other hand

Yesterday, I wrote about dictating text to my computer so that I don’t have to use my hand for mousing. What I didn’t say is that I have other problems that I can’t solve so easily. Like the majority of people in the world, I’m very right-handed.

Some 90% of people are right-handed. Around 30% of all people in the world can use both hands reasonably well, at least for some tasks, but only about 1% of the world’s people are truly ambidextrous.

So, like most people, I can’t just switch hands whenever I want to, and this is certainly a time I’d want to.

There are some things that I can do with my left-hand. For example, I can drink out of a glass held in my left hand. I can also… um, uh, well, that’s really about it. Sure, my left hand can hold things for my right-hand, but it can’t do very much other than that. I can’t even pick up things with my left hand as well as I can with my right. In fact, when I use my left hand, it sometimes seems as if the hand belongs to someone else, or as if someone else was controlling my hand—there’s that much of a disconnect between what my brain instructs and how my left hand works

This is a problem because of my gout attack, of course. Gout usually just attacks one joint at a time, but it can affect nearby joints as well. Part of this is because the attack causes swelling in the area around the affected joint, so if there are any joints nearby, they can also be affected because the swelling can make it difficult to move the other joints. Combine that with wanting to avoid pain in the affected joint, and pain can actually “spread” to other joints from lack of use as much as referred pain.

So, a gout attack in one joint in a hand or foot, which has many nearby joints, can potentially affect other joints nearby. That’s why it can be hard to walk or to use a hand in the midst of a gout attack. This is what I’m facing right now.

I could try to teach my left hand to do some things, although I’d obviously rather not need to do that. In any case, the odds of doing that successfully are not very good at all.

Most of the time, I don’t have any problem being so heavily right-handed. It would be nice, however, if I was a little less dependent on that one hand. But, like so many other things about me, it’s just one more thing I cannot change.

I dictated this post, too. On the whole, it did reasonably well—apart from thinking a burp was the word third. Good thing the sound wasn’t out the other end—although it might assume I was reading some earlier blog post or other…

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dictating the future

When I was a kid, I used to dream about the future technology would bring. I watched Star Trek on television, and I used to want communicators like they had, computers you could talk to, and transporters. Nowadays, we have cellphones, we can talk to our computers—though we still don’t have those transporters. This weekend, I tried out talking to my computer.

Last Thursday, I wrote about cleaning the drains and mentioned lifting the grates on the slit drains. When I did that, I wrenched my index finger. For most people, this might not be a big deal, however, for someone with gout, any injury to a joint can cause an attack. That’s what happened to me.

I had an attack in that same joint several years ago. It was a minor attack, but still damaged the joint, and that joint has been bothering me lately. So, even if this slight injury wouldn’t ordinarily have caused an attack, this time it was primed for badness to happen.

The problem with this injury is that it’s my mousing finger: That means that it’s very difficult to use my mouse, so I found using my computer to be difficult—even painful. So, I thought that I’d try dictating to my computer and letting it do the typing.

The results were uneven. My first problem was that the audio levels from my microphone were too low for the computer to register. I’ve had a similar problem recording podcasts, actually. So, I plugged in my webcam, which has its own microphone, and that worked perfectly–well, that mic did, at least.

I found that there were issues with the word recognition. First, it often didn’t understand that it needed to put wordspaces after punctuation. Other times, it used entirely the wrong word. For example, if I said I’ve the computer heard Eyes (though, of course, not when I dictated that sentence for this post…), even if I emphasised the letter V. Of course, sometimes the results were funny, but that’s not what I was after (some of the oddities are at the end of this post).

Another problem was that I felt silly talking to the computer when Nigel was in the house. That’s the same reason that I don’t record a podcast when he’s home. But, if I’m honest, the larger issue was that I needed to speak slowly and to enunciate clearly, both of which may be good things in themselves—I often do talk too quickly and mumble too much—but the pace of speaking isn’t natural and it made me feel silly.

Still, it did work to an extent. It meant I didn’t have to type everything, although I still had to do heavy editing because of the errors in word choice and spacing. Even so, it gave my index finger a rest, which was the whole point.

I was surprised to realise through all this that when I type I often don’t use my index fingers. That’s because I was never taught to type—I taught myself. So, this really was more about avoiding the mousing problems, and not just about not typing, and it did somewhat help with that.

This morning, before I finished dictating this post, I dictated a short email and it went pretty well. Maybe length of text is the real problem..

In sum, I can say that this dictation thing can be a sort of a help, but it’s nowhere near what I wanted when I was a kid. Sure, it’s much better than it used to be, but it ain’t there yet. Good thing that cellphones are so much better than the Star Trek communicators were.

I think I’ll wait until they get dictation right before I ever trust any transporter, though.

Summary of my experience:

It often didn’t put in wordspaces, and it sometimes misheard words, such as: Often became Awesome, Wordspace became Workspace (that one I can understand happening), and Enunciate became E Nancy eight.

On the other hand, it got some words right that I thought it wouldn’t: Star Trek, Nigel, mousing, and ain’t, for example.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A dog’s life

Sure, the photo up above may look like an unmade bed, but it’s really just a messy bed. Which is to say, it’s a deliberately messed-up bed, courtesy of Jake. It’s the oddest thing he does, really.

We keep the guest bed made up all the time—or, more accurately, I keep making the bed. For some reason, Jake jumps up on it and paws all the covers down, sometimes knocking the pillows onto the floor, but not always, like in this photo. I have no idea why he does this.

Jake doesn’t mess up our bed, maybe because he also sleeps on it (don’t judge). But the guest bed is like a doggie playland or something, and I have to make the bed several times over the course of a week.

I know that the behaviours of cats and dogs have a logic from their perspective, even though we’re often oblivious as to what’s behind their behaviour. Maybe Jake thinks he’s making a little nest or something. Or, maybe he’s secretly aware of how exasperating it is to have to make up the bed several times a week.

The truth is, it isn’t really all that annoying—just odd. Apart from some barking, this is about as bad as their behaviour gets, and I know this would be heaven for some other dogs’ people. And, this oddity also reminds me that he’s here and has his own personality—he’s not part of the background.

So, I can put up with making the bed several times a week. Apparently it helps keep Jake amused, so it seems like a fair trade to me.

But I wonder if he wouldn’t mind cutting back to just once a week…

Proving Michelle right

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama (video above). In her speech, she shared some of her experiences as a Black woman in America, experiences that many people in the audience clearly related to. The rightwing freakout that followed was predictable.

The thing is, their fauxrage actually reinforced her points. Rich, white men often can’t see beyond their own privilege, but when they arch their backs, puff out their chests and declare that something they’ve never experienced isn’t true, that it isn’t even possible, it says a lot about the deniers. In the end, they merely proved Michelle right.

The rightwing freakout was as entertaining as it was predictable. But Michelle Obama was the only one worth listening to.