Sunday, October 19, 2014

American v Australian junk food

As a bi-national, I often straddle the border, metaphorically speaking, between the USA and New Zealand. Add into the mix Australia and the UK, both important to New Zealand, and I often find myself explaining three countries to my American friends.

Like food for example, junk food in particular.

The BuzzFeed video above, “Americans Taste Test Australian Food,” was originally posted in late January, and I planned to share it here shortly afterward. Things happened. But maybe it’s just as well, because now I can compare and contrast it with the Australian counterpart, “Australians Taste Test American Sweets”, at the bottom of this post.

The first thing I noticed was that the Americans were much harsher than the Aussies. Granted, the Aussies were taking the piss sometimes, but the Americans seems very unadventurous to me, something I’ve often found to be true of Americans when it comes to trying new and unfamiliar foods.

However, someone should have served Vegemite to the Americans properly, not with a spoon!! That was just plain unfair, and their reaction is totally understandable.

Several Australians commented on the connection of various products to American pop culture (TV shows/movies). It reminded me of the time a co-worker asked me “why do most Americans drink their coffee black?"

I think that gets at the larger point here: Up to a point, we experience food products—junk food in particular—through the context of our own culture, or through our impressions of another culture, usually received through pop culture.

Sometimes another culture’s food will enter our own, but often it’s adapted for the new culture. Much of the readily available “Mexican food” in the USA, for example, might more accurately be called “Mexican-inspired food”, though that might be overly pedantic. The point is, it’s adapted for American tastes (in the same way that McDonald’s uses much leaner beef in New Zealand than in the USA; Kiwis don’t like overly fatty beef in their burgers).

I think these videos demonstrate yet again how people see the world, and experience it, from within their own cultural realities. The Americans tried unfamiliar food products that don’t have equivalents in their culture and didn’t like them. The Aussies tried American snack foods, were vaguely familiar with many of them because of American pop culture, and mainly liked the foods they were trying (or, at least, they didn't seem to hate them as fervently as some of the Americans did).

Compare and contrast yet again.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The speed of change

I stopped posting about the arrival of marriage equality in various US states because things were changing so often that it would have meant posting too often. Lately, the changes have become much faster. So, I’d better post before all 50 states have marriage equality.

The map above is from Wikipedia and shows the current status of marriage equality in the states. Dark blue means marriage for same gender couples is legal, while the deep red/maroon colour indicates the exact opposite: Same gender marriages are banned. At the moment—and moment is a good word!—31 US states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. A further six US States have had their marriage bans struck down, but those rulings are currently stayed while the appeals process winds down. The likely end of those stays varies, but Wyoming’s ends Thursday US time at the very latest. Together, these 37 states account for about 80% of the US population. Challenges to the remaining states' bans are at various stages.

What all of this means is that marriage equality will be in all 50 US States soon, probably by early next year at the latest. It’s now looking likely that this will happen without the US Supreme Court ever ruling on the Constitutional issues that are at the heart of all the bans being struck down by courts around the country. Not that long ago, no one would have predicted that.

It was a little over ten years ago—May 17, 2004—that marriage equality arrived in Massachusetts, the first state to gain it. It was another four years until the second state, California, gained marriage equality, only to temporarily lose it when voters approved Proposition 8. 2008 turned out to be the turning point, though we didn’t realise it at the time. The loss on Prop 8 galvanised a movement and led to where we are today.

As the chart below shows, from 2008 through 2012, there were usually two states a year that gained marriage equality. But in 2013, eight states gained marriage equality (though Utah temporarily lost it). The pace has continued picking up speed in 2014: So far, fourteen US states have gained marriage equality, and it’ll be fifteen states in a few days when Wyoming joins the list of free states. And that’s with more than two months left to go this year.

Things have happened quickly over the past couple years, but it actually took decades to get to this point. It’s important to remember that. It’s also important to remember that there are far too many places in the world where LGBT people's struggle to live with freedom and dignity is the battle, and marriage equality isn’t even something they can yet dream about.

But as the USA nears the finish line in this struggle, it seems to me that most people are glad to see it end. Obviously the hardcore opponents are unlikely to change very soon, but the softer opposition is clearly moving on. Mainstream Americans seem to be ready for this story to be over, and it soon will be.

This is very good news, indeed.

The map at top of this post is by Lokal_Profil [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

The chart lower in the post is by Arthur Schenck [CC-BY-NC-SA NZ 3.0 license].

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Equal cat time

This week, I’ve posted photos of Jake and Sunny on two different days: First when they were shorn, then a couple days later when they had a tanning party when we were all outside. Today, it’s some equal time for Bella.

The photo above is of Bella this morning, right after I opened up the curtains. She doesn’t seem pleased about that. I didn’t make the bed until she got up. Of course.

The photo below is of her trying to nap on the lounge floor. I think she was a bit annoyed that I used the flash to brighten the shadows a bit.

There are times when Bella’s not asleep (or just waking up), and I’ve even posted photos of her when she’s been fully awake. But the truth is, taking photos of furbabies—dog or cat—is generally easier when they’re at least drowsy.

And, for anyone who thinks I’ve posted too many photos of the kids this week, well, if history is any indicator, it’ll be a long time between drinks. Normal blog topics will dominate in the meantime. Probably.

But, honestly, how could I NOT post photos of such cuteness?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Midweek Diversion: Static Era

Blogging and social media have introduced me to a lot of people I never would’ve come into contact with otherwise. My series of posts for NZ Music Month provided a perfect example of that, one that has a new development.

One of the bands I featured last May was Static Era because I chatted on Twitter with lead singer, Emma G. After that, we became Facebook friends, and I found out she shares some of the most interesting things I see on Facebook: Things that are actually funny (not fake funny), interesting, or even inspiring. So, she’s become a part of my extended social media circle.

A couple days ago, she shared a link to their latest music video (above), for their song, “Addicted to a Dream”, the third single from Dare To Fail. Emma’s vocals are strong as ever, and the sound is epic, but the song explores some really dark themes—once again their song’s story telling is compelling, and I think the video works very well with the song.

Band member Chris Yong said on Google+:
I'm really proud of this video because it's different, and it's different for a reason.

Firstly, I don't feature in it at all and that's because this video is about the story within it.

Secondly, some serious thought went into this video to give it meaning. It's not a pop video, it's a bit dark in places and that's intentional. This country has some dark issues that people don't openly talk about and you never know who is experiencing what behind closed doors.

Last but not least, remember to look after one another. You may never know that just being a decent person, listening and being there for someone helped a person through a difficult time, but to them it made all the difference.
The group has also put out a “Behind the Scenes” video that talks a bit more about how the song and video came to be. That’s a nice addition.

I’ve said many times that I especially like music and music videos that carry a message or that explore deeper themes (and, of course, I like empty entertainment, too—depends on my mood, maybe). So, even though Static Era is harder rock than I generally listen to, I quite like this song and video.

And I know about it—and them—because of social media—no wonder I find value in it.

Today in cuteness

A few minutes ago, I went out to hang some washing on the line and the dogs came out to join me, as they often do. Sunny lay down first, and started dozing, then Jake joined her, lying down so he could use her hip as a pillow.

It was very cute, so I pulled out my phone to snap a photo (above). Unfortunately, this alerted Sunny (maybe she thought I was getting a snack?) and she raised her head just as I was about to take the photo. Oh, well.

It’s now been a couple days since their clipping, and they’re adjusting to the shear reality of it (see what I did there?). The first night they were cold, and yesterday they were clearly zonked. Today, they still stare at me a lot, which would kind of freak me out if it was different dogs doing the staring.

Anyway, sometimes a photo of furbabies being cute is just what’s needed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Labour Leadership election

I haven’t commented much at all about the Labour Leadership election, and I won’t be doing so today, either. So much of the discussion by both the right and the left has been unhelpful—even toxic—but the fact is, I just don’t see anything to be gained by a public navel-gazing about my trying to decide who to back. So, I won’t.

To be sure, I have definite opinions about the candidates, but I haven’t made up my mind how I’ll rank them. They all have the chance to convince me to rank them first—I say they do because I’m not listening to the social media ponderings of pundits or activists, whether they’re party members or, most likely, non-members.

My discussions are being done in private with other Labour voters as well as other party members. This decision is too important to treat it like an episode of “New Zealand’s Got Talent” or whatever.

Nevertheless, some people who know that I’m a NZ Labour Party member active in the last campaign may wonder about what’s going on. Earlier today, Tim Barnett posted detailed information about the contest, which I’m reprinting in its entirety because I think it answers nearly all the questions folks may have:
The resignation of David Cunliffe on 30 September 2014 as the 14th Leader of the Labour Party triggered a Party-wide Leadership Election. Nominations close on October 14th 2014, with the result announced on November 18th 2014.

Here are 10 Key Facts about the Labour Leadership Election:

Another smackdown

Yesterday, I wrote about how one of the most prominent spokesmen in the anti-gay industry was finally challenged on his nonsense. Today I found out he’d had another smackdown when one of his usual deceptions was revealed as a lie.

In the heated discussion on “Fox News Sunday,” professional anti-gay religious/political activist Tony Perkins, who is a leader of the anti-gay hate group the “Family” Research [sic] Council [whatever…] made a lot of claims that were either utter nonsense or that were deliberately deceptive (in blunt terms, he brazenly lied).

Tony never says anything new, and quite frankly it’s tiring to have to constantly debunk the same bovine excrement over and over and over. So, in my post I didn’t even bother to take down one of his biggest lies and smears. Fortunately, Politifact was on the case.

While trying to provide “evidence” for his religious belief that marriage is only for male/female couples who make babies, Tony declared: "We know from the social science that children do best with a mom and a dad."

I knew that this was a bald-faced lie, one designed to attack the right of same-gender couples to marry, sure, but also to smear and defame all same-gender couples that are raising children, or that may do so in the future. The intent behind this tired lie is to portray all LGBT people, but especially those with children, as dramatically inferior to heterosexuals and, therefore, portray us as people who don’t deserve equal treatment under the law.

So, Politifact decided to look at Tony’s claim. They went to the “F”RC website, which lists 10 supposed “reasons” to support their claims. It didn’t go well for Tony:
Perkins said that based on social science, we know "that children do best with a mom and a dad." The research cited on the website of Perkins’ group, the Family Research Council, does not provide any support. It relies on books rather than peer-reviewed research, it quotes selectively or mischaracterizes from the work it cites, or at best, challenges the quality of the methodology behind findings that go against its position.

In contrast, we found recent peer-reviewed social science research that finds that at the very least, children of lesbian parents do as well as other children.

We rate Perkins’ claim False. [emphasis added]
It’s worth reading the Politifact site to see why the stuff on Tony’s site doesn’t support his claims, let alone contain relevant facts. It turns out, this isn’t the first time that Politifact has ruled the parenting assertion as false: They did so back in April in response to idiotic comments made to ABC (USA) News by another prominent far-right professional anti-gay religious/political activist.

Politifact goes on to note something that I have, as well:
The American Psychological Association produced a comprehensive review of studies going back three decades. The most relevant section focuses on research that compares the children of lesbian or gay parents. The studies looked at children in terms of their school performance, their relations with their peers, intelligence, self-esteem and a number of other variables.

According to this review, "the belief that children of lesbian and gay parents suffer deficits in personal development has no empirical foundation." [link in the original]
Despite all the real, verifiable and reputable evidence, activists in the radical right anti-gay industry persist in spreading the same lie and smear. It keeps popping up everywhere (even here in New Zealand). While it’s good to see rightwingers being smacked down for repeating the lie, it does get tiring to have to do it so often. Maybe that’s just another tactic the radical right is using, trying to wear us all down.

Fortunately, truth and facts don’t take time off, and radical right anti-gay activists are now seeing themselves regularly (and easily) debunked. Sadly, neither the constant repetition of anti-LGBT lies and smears, nor the debunking of them, seem likely to end any time soon. But as long as they keep lying and defaming, we'll keep exposing them for what they are.

And that’s a fact.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A great and positive video

The video above is a video for National Coming Out Day 2014 from the USA’s largest LGBT rights organisation, the Human Rights Campaign. I think it’s a brilliant video.

Throughout the world, too many gay kids grow up in fear—of other kids, of their churches, their communities, their governments—sometimes even their own parents. Too many gay kids never make it to become gay adults.

The folks this video highlights are helping to change all that, slowly, yes, but change it nevertheless. Coming out matters as much as it ever has—maybe even more so, given the hostility and danger that LGBT people face in some parts of the world.

That’s why all of us who can come out have a duty to do so, and to be out, loudly and proudly, because each of us, no matter how insignificant we may think we are, has the potential to make some scared, lonely gay kid—or adult—feel a little less alone, and maybe—just maybe—a little more loved.

If it helps just one person, it’s all worth it.

Shear ordinariness

Today I took the dogs for their spring clipping, getting them ready for summer. Above is a photo of them in the car, as we got ready to head back home. It was a perfectly ordinary event, really, part of an ordinary day—something I don’t document on this blog nearly enough.

The thing is, the spring clipping is very noticeable, as Sunny, in particular, goes in looking like a sheep and comes out as a cute little dog. Jake’s transformation is less dramatic, but no less cute.

I noticed that they kept staring at me after their grooming, and there are two possible reasons for that, I think. The first is that they can see so much better after their clipping that they can’t help themselves. The second possibility is equally plausible: They always stare, but we can only notice it when they’re newly shorn.

In any case, when we got home, they followed me everywhere as I moved around the house. I think they were afraid I might leave them again.

Bella, meanwhile, was somewhat confused when I stopped in the house and didn’t have the dogs with me. When I came back later with them, she came up to the gate to greet us as we walked in the yard. She seemed to have missed them.

In any case, the photo below is of the kids right after we got back in the car. It’s the photo I shared on social media, so it was natural to share it here, too.

Since I wasn't far away, I decided to have an early lunch at Carl’s Jr., which I rarely go to because the nearest one to us is in Albany, a bit of a drive and well out of my way to go to. Below is the photo of my visit I shared on social media; note the lack of actual food in the photo. I’ll return to that point another day.

Aside from lunch, there was a quick trip to the grocery store, that stop at home to drop off the stuff, before heading out again to pick up the dogs. Like I said, an ordinary day.

But I realised part way through it all, that I never document one of my days on this blog, and I think I’d like to from time to time. More about that, too, another time.

Right now, it’s time for bed. Like I said: It’s an ordinary day.

A bigot gets schooled

The news media has long used anti-gay bigots to provide “balance” when discussing LGBT issues. This lazy practice is made all the worse by the news media never holding those bigots to account. Until now.

The clip above is from Chris Wallace’s “Fox News Sunday” programme. It features conservative Republican attorney Ted Olson, who was the co-attorney in the case that led to the end of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 as well as the case challenging Virginia’s ban of same-sex marriages.

The anti-gay bigot is hate group leader Tony Perkins of the “Family” Research [sic] Council [whatever…], who spun the same distortions, red herrings and outright lies that are his usual tactics. This time, the host stood up to him, and this time someone who is way smarter than Perkins and who actually knows what he’s talking about—Olson—was able to expose Perkins spin as utter nonsense without ever once getting personal or condescending.

The smug Perkins’ crusade against marriage equality boils down to three propositions: 1. Gay people are icky, 2. Marriage is only about making babies and raising them, 3. If gay couples can marry, then heterosexuals won’t.

Let’s rehash life in the real world yet again (again): No one gives a flying flip that Perkins hates gay people or that his organisation thinks homosexuality should be a crime. In a free society, people are entitled to hate whoever they want, no matter how stupid that hatred is, and they’re entitled to think other people are icky, even though thinking that makes them look really, really stupid. Obviously, everyone has the right to think stupid things—that is not now, nor has it ever been, an issue in this debate (engaging in or inciting violence based on that hatred is another matter entirely).

However, bigots like Tony and his gang DON’T get to impose their bigotry on others or to enshrine their hatred in law. If the people he hates so much aren’t free to live their lives in peace and with legal equality, then no one is free. Tony’s brand of theocratic authoritarianism is the very opposite of freedom.

Marriage is not about babies—how many times do we have to repeat this before they understand it? If marriage were only about making babies, then heterosexual couples who cannot or choose not to have children would be forbidden to marry. Tony and his cronies retort is that they could make babies, and their god could miraculously allow couples who can’t have children to be able to (which underscores that their argument is entirely based on religious views).

There are two things wrong with Tony’s pathetic marriage = babies line. First, as Ted Olson said, “There are thousands and tens of thousands of children in same-sex house holds. They deserve the same respect and decency that other people have that are living right next door.” Exactly so.

But if the divine miracles thing for “barren” couples was really a reason in favour of marriage, then it would be equally true for same-gender couples. If Tony's god can’t miraculously make a same-gender couple have a baby, then it isn’t a very powerful god, and I don’t think Tony and his gang would argue that. So, instead, they've conjured up a god who, quite coincidentally, of course, thinks just like they do, with all the same prejudices.

Tony and his lot always—always—say that allowing same-gender couples to assume the commitments and responsibilities of marriage will somehow destroy opposite-gender marriages—clearly the most stupid argument rightwingers have ever come up with, and they have quite a lot of pathetically stupid arguments. Ted Olson exposes that idiotic talking point as the nonsense it is by pointing out the obvious: “There’s no heterosexual couple that is going to decide to get divorced, or not to get married, or not to raise children, just because another couple next to them is treated equally and with respect and decency.” Exactly.

For me, some of Olson’s best points were refuting Tony’s claim that the recent decisions are a “back-alley type Roe v Wade decision” (the irony of the phrase apparently escaping Tony). Tony, as per usual, whined on and on about judges deciding things, and Olson schooled him: “We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights precisely because we want protections from majority rule. When the majority in a legislature or a popular vote take away rights of individuals that are protected by the Bill of Rights, then we have an independent judiciary to rectify that situation. It's happened again and again and again throughout this country's history."

Tony has never presented a single rational secular reason for opposing marriage equality, and all of his supposed arguments are, in fact, based on prejudice, religious bias or both. Still, the entire anti-gay industry is just like Tony, though some are even worse.

It was great to see someone—especially someone on Fox—standing up to Tony for a change. Until now, Tony’s transparent anti-gay bigotry has always been given a free pass, and challenges to his dopey talking points, shallow thinking or the utter nonsense of his “arguments” have been very rare and mild.

When even Fox starts to lose patience with a rightwing extremist, then the game is over. Tony just refuses to accept reality—I don’t think he is capable of doing so.

All of which means that while this was a rare rebuke for Tony, it won’t be the last time—at least, not until all 50 US states have marriage equality, and that’s not far away now.

Related: A shorter version of the video can be found on Talking Points Memo: “Fox Host, Ted Olson Gang Up On Tony Perkins In Gay Marriage Debate”.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Miracles of the modern world

One of my sisters-in-law and a cousin-in-law (yes, I know that’s not a real title…) have been on holiday in the USA. Weird enough, since we were meant to go with them*, but also because of how different this world is now.

When I first arrived in New Zealand in 1995, hardly anyone I knew had an email address. So, the only way to keep in touch with folks in the USA was through expensive International Long Distance phone calls, or posted letters. It took up to a week for a letter to get from the USA to me, and up to two weeks for a letter to get from me to an address in the USA. All of which means that communication was either slow or expensive.

Now, things are very different.

I’ve played “Words with Friends” with our travellers while they’ve been away, and I’ve kept up with their adventures on Facebook. It’s almost as if they were in another part of New Zealand, Australia at the farthest.

This week, we spoke with my sister-in-law via Facetime (and she showed us her hotel room in Las Vegas, where she was at the time). Several family members were at our house that night, and we all said hello. I couldn’t have imagined such things 18+ years ago.

When our travellers went to their last stop in San Francisco, the first thing I thought of was how many people I know who live there, or in the greater Bay area or, at least, not all that far away from there. But all those people I know? I’ve never met any of them in real life. Welcome to the modern world.

So, members of my New Zealand family went to my native land, but we connected as if they were in NZ, and they went to places where I know people, only I’ve never actually met those people in real life. That pretty much sums up the world many of us now live in.

I love the world we live in.

*We'd planned on going with them, but our airfare is in my mouth, so to speak. Longtime readers will know what I'm referring to, others may want to look through the blog archives