Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The flag alternatives and my choice

The four candidates for the new flag of New Zealand were released today (video of the four flags “flying" above), and my early favourite made the cut. Three out of the four are good designs and good contenders. I already know how I'll rank the designs.

My top choice “Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue)” by Kyle Lockwood (above), and my second choice is his other design, the very similar “Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue)”. I think the one with red is stronger because it will be visible when it’s limp on the flagpole, and in certain lights the black would look blue. Also, black is associated with our national sports teams, particularly with a silver fern frond, and that just doesn’t seem appropriate for a national flag.

Lockwood’s original description (in the downloadable PDF) of the flag said:
“The silver fern: A New Zealand icon for over 160 years, worn proudly by many generations. The fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future. The red represents our heritage and sacrifices made. Blue represents our clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, crossed to get here. The Southern Cross represents our geographic location in the antipodes. It has been used as a navigational aid for centuries and it helped guide early settlers to our islands.”
That’s a really nice symbolic story, and fitting for a flag that is evolving from the old one. It’s also the brightest and most colourful of the designs, and those colours are part of that. The black area on Lockwood’s other design doesn’t add anything, I don’t think; in fact, I think it detracts.

My third choice (distantly) is “Koru” by Andrew Fyfe. It’s a striking design, but to me the koru looks upside down (the real thing has a little bulb at the end). Because it doesn’t have a silver fern frond, the black doesn’t bother me as much on this design.

My least favourite design is “Silver Fern (Black and White)” which just looks too much like a corporate logo to me. I don’t find it in any way inspiring.

The Flag Consideration Project has done a really good thing with the “four alternatives” section (also in the PDF I mentioned) of their website: Click on a design, and look at the design alone, flying “backwards”, limp on a flagpole, “flying“ in front of the United Nations, on a backpack, and at a sporting event, plus a video of that design “flying” (all photos and videos of the flags flying are, of course, simulated). I think that seeing the designs in real-world variations is a really good thing and will help people to choose a favourite.

The backpack thing is particularly on-point, because it would nice to have a flag that could be sewn on a backpack and not be confused with any other country’s flag, because there’s certainly nothing unique about a flag with the union jack on it.

I’m well aware there are people complaining about the whole process, or even just these four alternatives, but—to be brutally honest—I couldn’t possibly care less: I’ll be voting in both referenda. What other people do or don’t do is their business, and my choice is mine.

This is an exciting opportunity: I hope most New Zealanders embrace it.

And here’s the video of my choice flying:

Related: Absurd flag flapping – My post about a weird conspiracy theory about the move to replace the flag.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Talk: ‘Defining Marriage’

Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matt Baume

I watched Matt Baume's YouTube videos for years, sharing many of them on this blog, and because of them, I came to think of him as sort of the storyteller of the fight for the freedom to marry in the USA. So, I expected his book would be an expansion of that, especially telling some of the stories that went on in background. I wasn't disappointed—it was all that, and more.

What I didn't expect was how often I'd find tears in my eyes, especially from reading the stories of people who I'd never even heard of before, but who were important players in the battle. I was also surprised at how often Matt's stories brought up strong memories of my own, like when I learned that California's Proposition 8 had passed; many of those memories were painful.

I’d forgotten, until I read this book, how awful election night 2008 turned out to be, and my story mirrored some of those in the book. At first, it was all exciting (I live-blogged the election night coverage), but I went to bed pretty sure that, as I put it then, “hate might win” in California. I was madly refreshing my browser hoping, hoping, HOPING that there’d be a sudden turnaround for the good guys, but it never happened.

The next morning, I was still happy that Obama had won, but it was bittersweet, to use a wildly inadequate term. The profound sadness I felt about California made it hard to feel happy about the new president-elect. I never wrote about about that on this blog, though I later wrote about many other aspects.

Still, the book also included plenty of laughs and happy stories, as I read about the things that led, ultimately, to full marriage equality in the USA. It was great to get them in the context of the larger decades-long story of the struggle.

Toward the end of the book, Matt talks about the profound change in strategy in 2012, a change that led to victory in four out of four states in which marriage equality was on the ballot. Like most people, I wasn’t aware any of that was going on, though I did notice that the ads seemed much better in 2012.

However, sometime later I saw an article about how to talk about marriage equality. Instead of “rights”, it said, talk about commitment and responsibility. Instead of justice or equality, talk about freedom, and, most especially, talk about love. I took that advice to heart.

I’ve never mentioned this before, but when New Zealand had its own battle for marriage equality, I shifted my own rhetoric based on that advice. For example, a typical way I phrased it was, “the government should allow loving same-gender couples to make the same legal and public commitment to each other as opposite-gender couples”.

I still used the term “marriage equality”, since it was by then already well established in the public discourse, but I also started using “freedom to marry”. But I always talked about love, commitment, responsibility—all the things the radical right claimed we were incapable of, but that the people we needed to win over valued.

So, without even knowing it, I was employing the same strategy that worked in 2012 in the USA. Nothing had changed in my attitude—just the way I talked about it. And it was weird. I wasn’t the sort of person who went around talking about love—until I realised how important it was to talk about the reason that the freedom to marry mattered so much.

After reading Matt’s book, and looking back at that long fight, I now think that back then I saw civil unions as being about rights, and marriage as being about love. Civil unions (and similar) provided at least some of the legal rights of marriage, but marriage alone provided the public declaration of love of, and commitment to, one the person who mattered the most to us.

Well, it mattered second most. It was having the option that mattered most. As Matt put it:
“It’s not the act of getting married that matters: it’s the freedom to decide how to define your relationships and define what you have with the person you love.”
Exactly. At its very core, the whole battle was only ever about one thing: Love. And, as I always said it would, love triumphed. And if that;s not an awedome happy ending for a book, then I don’t know what would be.

What I read: Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matt Baume, Kindle Edition, 229 pages, Published July 8 2015 by Matt Baume.

This post is expanded from a review I posted to Goodreads.

2Political Podcast 110 is available

Episode 110 of the 2Political Podcast, recorded last week, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Foreign-born human

What’s the difference between the words “expat”, “immigrant” and “migrant”? Is it race? Culture? Class? Until this year, I’d never thought about it, but as an immigrant and a left-of-centre person, the answer matters to me.

This all came up because several months ago my friend Linda shared a link with me on Facebook, a link to a piece on the Guardian’s website that discusses this very topic. All of which is part of the story. I tried to write a response at the time, but I was of two minds and after weeks of trying, I just couldn’t finish the post.

Then, today, I read about how Al Jazeera has announced that they will no longer use the word “migrant” when talking about the people, nearly all of them refugees from war or worse, trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe. They argue that word “has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative.” I think they have a point.

The Guardian link from last March, the one that started this line of thinking for me, was to a blog post called “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” by Silicon Africa blogger, Mawuna Remarque Koutonin.

He begins his post by staking out his thesis in his first paragraph:
“In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word ‘expat’.”
He next mentions the standard definition of expat explained by Wikipedia, a definition I’ve used on my blog many times, in many posts (such as one this past February). All of this is to get to his main point:
“Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad.”
To be completely honest, my eyebrow was firmly raised by then. The word expat was implicitly racist?

I never really thought about the word until I came to live in New Zealand and encountered the word frequently. Up until that point, when I thought of expats, I thought of Americans of long ago hanging around in Paris with Gertrude Stein. But, Gertrude Stein was white. So was Hemmingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sinclair Lewis, and—in fact, all the people I'd thought of when I thought of Gertrude's expats were white. Uh, oh…

Three years ago, Ritwik Deo, an Indian writer living in London, wrote “The British abroad: expats, not immigrants”, also published by the Guardian. He talks about British people living overseas basically act like the British Empire still exists.

Both of these writers see the word expat as being something of an imperialist throwback, something applied mostly to white people. It’s hard to argue with their perception, particularly with the concrete examples they provide. But could they actually be talking about a problem for British people? Maybe this isn’t actually a white problem as such, but a remnant of colonialism?

Christopher DeWolf, a Canadian writer and photographer who has lived in Hong Kong since 2008, wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in December last year, talking about who is, and who is not, considered an expat in Hong Kong. The dividing lines in Hong Kong are primarily ethnic, even among Chinese. He also suggests that the term expat is more about privilege than race.

In New Zealand, the term expat is used for a variety of people, not all of them white, and the term immigrant is frequently used to describe people of all races, cultures and classes who have moved to New Zealand. I’ve seen no evidence that in this country, at least, the term is used to classify people by race. It also seems to me that the word immigrant is starting to be used instead of the word expat, with the word migrant also being used more.

From what I’ve seen of Americans liiving overseas, it seems to me that expat is used to refer mainly to business migrants, not worker migrants, so it does imply a class distinction, though not necessarily a racial one. The term immigrant is a highly politically charged term in the USA, often used as if it always means “illegal immigrant”, an even more politically loaded term. When the word immigrant is used so negatively—and even pejoratively—in the USA, it’s little wonder that Americans living overseas would prefer the term expat.

Personally, I don’t care what term others use to describe me. I’m an immigrant, obviously, so being called that doesn’t bother me at all. However, I’ve often used the word expat to describe myself because to me it better describes the modern nature of immigration. Where once migrants had to leave their homelands forever, and often had little or no contact with the folks they left behind, that’s not necessarily true for modern migrants.

A good example of this is what led me to this topic in the first place. Linda and I met and became friends when we worked at the same place, and that was nearly (gasp!) 30 years ago. Facebook allows us to easily keep in contact, despite me living in another country in a different hemisphere.

Similarly, I am in frequent contact with family and friends in the USA, through all sorts of technology, as well as friends around the world I know only through social media. All of that has developed since I’ve been in New Zealand.

For me, being an immigrant is completely different than it was, say, for my great grandfather, the last of my ancestors to migrate to the USA, around 1870. It feels less permanent because it IS less permanent, and national borders themselves matter less than they ever have. Now that Nigel and I are married, I could sponsor him for US immigration, something that only became possible quite recently.

So, I think the term expat implies a status that’s a bit more fluid, a bit more flexible, than traditionally has been true for immigrants. I don’t personally see it as racist, but I do think there are class overtones.

The point in all this is that people moving from one country to another, for whatever reason, are people, not labels. It’s why Al Jazeera dropped use of the word migrant, and it’s why I now think we should avoid casual use of words intending to label immigration.

For example, I could be called an “American-born New Zealander” instead of an “American expat”. After all, it’s what I call myself in the banner for this blog and other sites.

I’m a human being, and so are all immigrants, migrants, expats, and refugees. Maybe if we started thinking of them that way first—as human beings—we might not need labels as much, and maybe then we could calmly and rationally deal with migration policies.

Monday, August 24, 2015

When the ‘good guys’ are wrong

Recently, Roger Green has sent me links to several things he knew I’d be interested in, which isn’t unusual; sometimes I send him links, too. Yesterday’s post was inspired by something he sent me, and today’s is based on another. It turned out, however, that this post is about what can be wrong with the Left’s political discourse: Lack of accuracy. We MUST be better than our adversaries each and every time.

The piece Roger sent me was about Democratic Illinois US Representative Dan Lipinski, written by David Nir for Daily Kos: “This Democrat sits in a blue seat—and he wants to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage”. There was a lot wrong with it, and it was typical of what frustrates me so much about commentary on the Left.

The piece says:
“According to a 2014 candidate questionnaire put out by the conservative Illinois Family Institute and just unearthed by the Washington Blade, [Dan] Lipinski supports an amendment to the constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.”
That’s true, but hardly news: The Illinois “Family” Institute [sic] is a notorious far-right anti-gay activist group that routinely ranks politicians. The fact that the Washington Blade only just now found out what Illinois folks knew (or could have known) in 2014 doesn’t suddenly make it news. The Blade’s own report also points out that very often Lipinski votes “present” rather than actually voting against the LGBT people of his district, which hardly makes him an evil monster.

Nir continues:
“What's really insulting is that Lipinski represents a solidly blue district in the Chicago area that Obama won by 56-43 margin, so Democrats can and should do better. Pathetically, the establishment has long propped up Lipinski, even going so far as to remove the home a potential primary challenger from his district back in 2011. (Lipinski's father, Bill, was also a congressman; he handed his seat to his son years ago by retiring after the filing deadline.)”
Let’s unpack that. First, it’s absolutely true that the Chicago and Cook County Democratic establishment DOES prop up Lipinski, and plenty of folks in Illinois Democratic politics are plenty pissed off about that. But it’s entirely irrelevant.

What Nir and the Blade both ignore is that Lipinksi’s district is very conservative, and has been for decades (I lobbied his old man, Bill, and had him marked as not supporting LGBT issues). The district IS Democratic: It’s voted for a Democrat for US Representative for most the past 55 years, and it’s also voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in the last six elections. However, the district was also one of only two (out of nine) Chicago Congressional Districts to vote for Reagan in 1980. They did it again in 1984, and then for Bush the First in 1988.

Rather than having mainstream Democrats as neighbouring districts do, Lipinski’s district is made up of what Chicagoans used to call “white ethnics”, folks also once called “Reagan Democrats”: Nominally Democratic, mostly working class white people who are very socially conservative (and often conservative religionists).

What all this means is that even though the Democratic establishment propped up the Lipinskis, a true progressive Democrat is unlikely to do well in that conservative district. A more progressive Democrat could do okay there—but they’d be unlikely, statistically speaking, to topple an incumbent: In most districts, challengers are unlikely to defeat an incumbent of their own party, and that’s true of both parties. In an open primary with no incumbent, a less conservative Democrat would have a chance, but only just.

All of this is knowable stuff. If Nir or the Blade had done a little research—hell, they could have consulted Wikipedia for a very accurate look at the district—they would have known that Dan Lipinski mostly reflects his district, and that's why he’s outside mainstream Democratic Party values.

So, Nir and the Blade made a political argument not related to the facts, then compounded that with something that’s too common at the farther ends (Left and Right) of political discourse, namely, to declare that because a thing was true once, it must always be true. To me, that’s just plain silly.

Yes, for the 2014 elections Lipinksi backed a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and that’s a reprehensible thing. However, two things about that: We don’t know—and neither Daily Kos nor the Blade suggested—that it’s still Lipinski’s position following the US Supreme Court ruling mandating 50-state marriage equality; it seems unlikely that he’d still back that now. At most, he might back a “let states decide” amendment, something that wouldn't affect his own LGBT constituents, since the Illinois legislature already passed marriage equality—Illinois did decide.

The other important thing here is that it’s impossible for a Constitutional Amendment banning marriage equality to happen: That ship sank decades ago. So, backing such an amendment is merely pandering to his socially conservative voters. Sure, it’s vile and not what a real Democrat would do, but neither is it the greatest threat to the republic or even the Democratic Party that we’ve ever seen.

I have one serious concern about Lipinski, though: His sponsorship of the pro-discrimination “First Amendment Defense Act” which seeks to specifically permit anti-gay discrimination by anyone who claims they have supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs” mandating discrimination against LGBT people.

Let me be clear: I truly wish that a real Democrat would challenge Lipinski and knock him out; it disgusts me that a rightwing, anti-gay politician like him can claim to be a Democrat and get away with the fraud. Illinois, the 3rd District, the Democratic Party, and the US House all deserve a real Democrat, and not a fraud like Dan. However, the voters in that district clearly have other ideas, and it’s their right to elect whomever they want. Whether I think he’s a fuckwit is totally irrelevant. So is the opinion of Daily Kos, the Washington Blade, HRC, or anyone else.

So, my concern here isn’t really about the DINO Dan Lipinski, but rather about sites on the Left ignoring facts—knowable things—to try and score partisan political points without reference to facts, context, or any of the other reality-based tools that they should be using.

This matters because the rightwing media in the USA uses lies, smears, defamation, and distortion with giddy abandon in order to score partisan political points—especially on LGBT issues. Media on the Left must always go out of its way to be better than the Right—more accurate, more factual, and paying attention to context.

We MUST be better than our adversaries each and every time.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Absurd flag flapping

The debate over New Zealand’s flag, to the extent it happens at all, will probably be pretty quiet. I think—but don’t know—that most New Zealanders just aren’t interested in all this and are ignoring it. The fringe, however, are already spreading nonsense.

Today I saw the unsigned graphic at left on Facebook. To the casual reader, it makes no sense whatsoever: Why would the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) “need” anything, much less a new flag? The meme doesn't say. So, what’s this all about?

Chances are I wouldn’t have known, but, coincidentally, Roger Green emailed me a comment that had been left on a YouTube video of a segment on the New Zealand flag that was on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show a year or two ago (I saw it at the time and I thought it was stupid). But recently someone left a comment that was just, well, weird, and Roger sent the comment to me.

So, I went to the video and found a similar one that “credited” two people. One of them had posted the same thing as a comment on a TV3 post of a story they’d done about the flag, a week or two ago. That one, at least, was in full paragraphs. I eventually found the concept was taken from a guy who runs a far-right “news” site/radio show/etc. based in Dunedin. He peddles all sorts of mostly far-rightwing conspiracy theories.

What they were promoting is something they call “due authority” which, they’re convinced, only exists if the British Union Jack remains on the New Zealand flag. Why would that matter? Well, it doesn’t—not at all, not in even the remotest possible way. End of story—except to the conspiracy theorists, of course.

“Due authority” as they're using it is an entirely made up concept that has no relationship whatsoever to constitutional law. It does pop up in commercial law, however, especially with contracts, where a person (particularly someone who's part of an organisation) offering a thing to be sold (like a security) has to have the legal capacity—due authority—to execute and deliver on the agreement.

This seems to be related to a particularly wacky far-right, conspiracy-theory based movement called the “Freemen on the land”, active in several English-speaking countries. They believe that the only laws that are valid are those they agree to, and that such agreed to laws form a contract between the government and these so-called “free men”. If such a thing was really true (spoiler alert: it absolutely isn’t true), then, maybe, “due authority” might have some relevance. However, it’s completely irrelevant (this movement, by the way, is related to, but quite different from, the even more extremist “Sovereign Citizen” movement in the USA).

The site where this stuff seems to have originated quotes from a Cabinet Office paper from 2004, “New Zealand’s constitution – past, present and future” (PDF available). This document was a sort of briefing paper prepared for the then-Labour Party-led government. I don’t know the context of the briefing paper, but in 2003 the government had abolished the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (usually just called the Privy Council) in London as the final court of appeal, replacing it with a Supreme Court of New Zealand.

The reason that’s important is that it demonstrates how easy it is to make constitutional change in New Zealand because New Zealand’s constitution isn’t entrenched. That means that the monarchy or anything else in the constitution can be removed or changed by a vote in Parliament (though huge changes—like becoming republic—would go to referendum).

Nevertheless, the conspiracy theorists cite as their "evidence" the section of the Cabinet Paper that begins by saying, “Some links and institutions inherited from the United Kingdom remain. Some are ‘core’ to our current system of government”. The list includes the Queen as head of state of New Zealand, appointment of the Governor-General by the Queen, and “various statutory references to the Queen and the Crown”, among others; these three are central to New Zealand as a constitutional monarchy.

However, the conspiracy theorist then jumps in his copy of the list, moving immediately to include “the union jack on New Zealand’s flag” on his list (and putting it in all caps), without bothering to mention it’s actually included on a list of items in the next, entirely separate section, that calls the things “more symbolic”. That omission was clearly deliberate.

So: The links to the UK listed in the Cabinet Paper “could be reformed without changing New Zealand’s constitution in any fundamental way”, as the Paper puts it, and the Union Jack on our flag is symbolic. And, of course, anything in the constitution can be changed easily at any time.

In short: The flag is not the constitution, the constitution is not the flag, and the conspiracy theorists' “due authority” is an entirely imaginary thing that doesn’t actually exist in constitutional law, and has nothing whatsoever to do with either the constitution or the flag.

The TPPA, meanwhile—assuming it is ever finalised—will go before a Select Committee in Parliament which will vote on it, but, ultimately, the Cabinet alone will decide whether New Zealand signs on, and that’s entirely within our constitutional system for them to do this. Whatever happens, it won’t matter what flag is flying over Parliament!

The most important thing to know about all this is that whether the TPPA is approved or not has nothing whatsoever to do with any flag. In fact, the decision about the TPPA may be over before the second flag referendum, or the current flag may ultimately win and the TPPA could still be approved, anyway.

This is all knowable stuff, easily researched from official sources. But some people clearly prefer to make up their own story and spread utter nonsense.

Ah, politics…

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I break things

I break things—mostly just software, fortunately. Unfortunately, it usually takes a work to set things right. This week, I had yet another such breakage and subsequent repair job. At least there were no reported injuries.

I’ll admit something this one time only: Sometimes I don’t read instructions onscreen as carefully as I should. Mostly, this is because my attention span has shortened dramatically over the past decade or two, but the other thing is that sometimes what I think I read isn’t necessarily what an alert actually says. So, I click “Okay” at the wrong time, or I otherwise proceed when I shouldn’t.

In this case, it was web browser frustration that started it all.

I’ve used Firefox (mostly) for many years, and it’s had numerous upgrades over that time. The most recent one disabled all sorts of important extensions—ones I use every single day—because they “could not be verified”. This included my password manager among other important add-ons, which Firefox basically useless to me (I accessed my passwords through Firefox, which no longer allowed me to access it).

When I went to investigate how to turn them back on anyway, Mozilla offered this, oh, so helpful, advice:
“If any of your installed add-ons gets disabled because it haven't been verified, contact the add-on developer or vendor to see if they can offer an updated and signed version of that add-on. You can also ask them to get their add-on signed by following the developer guidelines.”
This annoyed me even more, so I clicked on the page not being useful and, when it asked me for feedback, I told them I should be able to enable the add-ons, that I didn’t need them to be my mother. Only, I was a wee bit more direct.

So, I switched to Waterfox, which is supposedly much faster on a Mac, and it preserved the important things I’d lost in the Firefox “upgrade”. So, I used it for a few days, and then I remembered why I hated it so much and dropped it before: Video playback was about the same as from dial-up. I subscribe to several YouTube Channels, including that of a friend, and I quickly got sick of the video freezing momentarily, then carrying on, only to freeze again for a moment, carrying on again, and so on. Meanwhile, the audio carried on, quickly getting out of sync with the visual.

And this is where it all went horribly wrong.

Waterfox had a message telling me it noticed it was slow to start up (to say the very least) and it offered a solution if only I’d click through. So, I did. The solution was to reset Firefox—how bad could that be?—and I went ahead and did that without fully grasping what it meant: All my bookmarks, gathered over many, many, many years, all my extensions and plug ins—in short, everything that I’d spent years adding to Firefox was gone, and it was all my fault.

So, I went to reinstall my extensions, but the very Mozilla site that lists all the myriad extensions was blocked by Firefox as “untrustworthy”. So, I had no extensions and couldn’t get any (this seems to have been a brief bug, because today I was able to access add-ons).

I’d installed an add-on (back when I could…) that synchronised bookmarks between Firefox, Safari and Chrome, so two out of three had a complete set of bookmarks. I decided to try the others.

I tried Chrome first, and it was VERY fast for some things. But it was also maddeningly frustrating to customise. It also turned out that some add-ons weren’t available for Chrome, which was frustrating on its own.

Next I tried Safari, which I’ve used in the past. It’s easier to configure than Chrome, but add-ons aren’t as varied as for either Chrome or Firefox, in my opinion. It also doesn't seem to have a bookmarks toolbar like Firefox and Chrome have, but I haven't made an exhaustive search for it, so I might be wrong.

So, I started re-building Firefox, only to hit the weirdest thing yet: It let me sign into my Google account, but wouldn’t let me edit my blog posts or create a new one. That’s kind of important, obviously, so I tried Chrome, but it was returning error messages. I was finally able to edit old posts and add new ones in Safari (and I found all this out while working on my previous post earlier today).

Now, I have a partly re-built Firefox that doesn’t do enough of what it used to, Chrome that’s fast on some things, maddening on others, and Safari, which just doesn’t seem complete somehow. I use all three for different tasks, and I’m not happy about that.

On the other hand, I downloaded the App for my password manager so I can access and maintain my passwords without using a browser; this was a very good idea, so it's one good thing that came from the whole mess.

I said that this whole mess happened because I screwed up and clicked something too quickly. That’s true, but the other problem was that I had Firefox set to automatic upgrades, and that turned out to be a huge mistake. In the past, some add-ons wouldn’t work whenever there was an upgrade (until the add-on’s maker released an update). I should have turned off automatic upgrades much earlier, and if I had, none of this would have happened.

Whatever, all I know is that this repair job took hours and hours and still isn’t done. At least there were no reported injuries—yet.

Memes and lessons

Yesterday, a friend posted this picture meme to Facebook. I happened to check Facebook shortly afterward, so I saw it, more or less by chance. And several lessons followed.

First things first, and, as I sometimes do, I had to check whether the meme was accurate and true. What I mean by sometimes is that I usually don’t have the time or inclination to check out the accuracy of a meme, however, when I plan on sharing it or talking about it on the blog, I always check it out. There have been too many times that I’ve seen things that simply aren’t true.

So, I did some digging (it was a little more complicated than I’d thought) and found, first, that Paul Thomas is a columnist for the Weekend Herald, the Saturday edition of The New Zealand Herald. To be honest, I’d never actually heard of him and I’m not sure whether I’ve read any of his columns.

Next, I searched for the column the quote came from. It turns out, it was from his July 17 column, “The greatest threat to America? Republicans” and, as the title suggests, it’s about far more than just Donald Trump. In fact, I think it’s a very strong column precisely because it’s about far more than just Trump (I also found a more recent column, “Trump speaks right language to right people” that is also very strong).

So, I found out that the meme was true and accurate, which is always good. I also heartily endorse the sentiment the picture meme expresses.

Then, things got a bit weird.

I shared links to the two columns in comments on my friend’s Facebook post because I thought my friend (and others) might be interested. Later, another comment was added by someone I don’t know: “I don't like him but I also don't care what the New Zealand Herald has to say about the American political process.”

I was taken aback by that—I’d forgotten how parochial some Americans can be. I realised that the person’s attitude wasn’t mean-spirited, just, er, um, unenlightened. So, I responded with a relatively gentle (for me) approach:
Gosh, that's a bit harsh! The PAPER hasn't said anything, of course, a single columnist did. It's no different than a columnist for a US newspaper commenting on other countries' political processes—and they do that every single day! Quite frankly, I can't see what possible difference it makes what newspaper in which country a commentary comes from if it's valid, as Paul Thomas' certainly is.

Personally, I read commentary from newspapers from all over the world to get a variety of perspectives on the issues of the day, and I certainly don't dismiss them out of hand because they come from Washington, New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo, Sydney, or even Auckland, New Zealand.
I added a wink emoticon to make clear I wasn’t angry, but some hours later the person replied, “I did not mean to upset or offend you with my comment. I may be crazy but I still believe that America is exceptional.”

I took that head on:
“I assure you, you did neither. But as an American citizen living overseas, I can also assure you that citizens of every country believe their country is equally exceptional, so in that sense, at least, the USA is completely UN-exceptional.

My point was that commentary on US politics from any source—including within the USA!—ought to be judged on its validity, not its country of origin. The alternative, of course, is that if foreign commentators can't comment on US politics, then, obviously, US journalists would have to be forbidden from ever expressing an opinion of any sort on any other country and its affairs. Fair is fair, after all.”
It had never occurred to me that someone would dismiss what Paul Thomas said, not because they disagree with him, but merely because of where his column was published. I knew that such attitudes exist—I’ve seen them expressed in comments on mainstream news sites, and far more crudely put on very rightwing sites. But until yesterday, I’d never personally experienced the attitude. I was lucky that in this case it came from a normal person, not some screaming irrational partisan, but I still wasn’t really prepared for it.

Maybe it’s just me: I truly don’t care where political commentary comes from—country or ideology—as long as it’s rational, well-argued and based on facts. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily agree with it, of course, just that I won’t arbitrarily dismiss it.

Today, another friend shared the picture meme on my Facebook and asked for my thoughts. I shared the two columns again, but this post, really, is about what I think about the meme: It’s a good quote and a valid point, but some Americans just don’t want to hear that message. I think they should.

We all have lessons to learn about people in other countries and their perspectives.

I’d be curious what others think: Do you have an opinion on whether foreigners should comment on the politics of countries they don’t live in, or should they refrain from doing so? Do you mind if foreigners criticise your country, again, assuming it’s rational, well-argued and based on facts?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Puppy love

There are times when furbabies seem so human that it’s hard to ignore. I had one of those times yesterday, and had my phone with me so I could preserve the moment.

I’d just finished my morning ritual of checking my email and the news that happened overnight, and stood up to leave, when I noticed Jake and Sunny sleeping in the doorway. There’s nothing unusual about that, but then I noticed that they looked like they were “holding paws”, and I took the photo (above).

I’m fully aware that their position is completely coincidental, and there was no meaning in their touching paws (apart from them being in close physical proximity). However, I do think it shows how well they get along. They often sleep near each other, sometimes touching each other, as numerous photos on this blog have shown.

Over the years, I’ve known plenty of people with two or more dogs that sometimes didn’t get along, with snarling, snapping, or more. We have the exact opposite of that. They seem to genuinely like each other, which isn’t surprising since they spend so much time together or, at least, in the same general area. Or, maybe it IS surprising because of that. In any case, we’re pretty lucky.

Mainly, I just thought it was really cute and deserved a photo. Besides, it was nice to have something positive to blog about when so little in the news is.

Once again, Jake and Sunny save the day.