Friday, April 18, 2014

Stuff about New Zealand

I often mention stuff about New Zealand, past, present and future. That’s part of what this blog is about, after all. So, I was interested in a list shared on Facebook yesterday—and surprised.

I could quibble about a few of the items on the list, “69 Facts About New Zealand That’ll Blow Your Mind” not because they’re wrong, but because some are a bit misleading without context.

But what was interesting to me about the list actually was one particular thing I didn’t know:
4. In the scene of Star Trek: First Contact, where we see Earth from space, Australia and Papua New Guinea are clearly visible but New Zealand is missing. [link is in the original]
I’ve seen the movie several times, at the movies and at home, and I’d never noticed that. That’s odd, because I usually notice that sort of thing right away. Somewhere I have a photo of Nigel and me in front of the metal globe outside the Universal Studios theme park in California, pointing to the spot on the globe where New Zealand should be (a photo of the globe, without New Zealand, or us, is on Wikimedia Commons).

All the other stuff on the list is basically true, though not always exactly as its presentation implies, like, for example:
59. New Zealand is the only country with the right to put Hobbit-related images on its currency.
While it’s true that the commemorative coins were legal tender, they were never introduced into circulation—they were sold to collectors. This is a good example of something that’s literally true, but not in the way the statement implies. Still, NZ being the only country with the right to do this was the main point, and that's absolutely true.

Overall, this list is accurate, even if sometimes a little bit misleading. I’ve seen plenty of similar lists on the Internet, and the information is sometimes just flat-out wrong. In this case, it’s actually possible to learn a little about New Zealand from a list. And, of course, I’m happy to talk in more detail about things on the list if anyone’s really curious (in fact, I’ve already talked about some of them in earlier posts).

One more thing this list reminded me: It’s not always necessary to be serious when talking about New Zealand. A little light-heartedness and fun never hurt anyone.

Labour's Economic Upgrade for manufacturing

The NZ Labour Party has begun announcing policies it will initiate if it forms the next government. The video above is about Labour’s plans for boosting manufacturing. I think the policy’s quite good.

Manufacturing has been struggling for years, and the current National/Act government has done little to boost the sector. A 2013 Parliamentary enquiry into manufacturing (a copy is available for download at the link above) provides the base for Labour’s policies, which means that they’re solidly grounded in real-world, practical solutions.

Boosting manufacturing in New Zealand won’t necessarily be easy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done—that’s part of what we have governments for, to do the hard work on behalf of us all. The current government has been reluctant to take on this job, but Labour will.

Add this to the long list of reasons why New Zealanders need to vote for Labour and change the government.

Tooth and consequences

It all began with a quest for a prettier smile, but ended up being somewhat serious. It also touched on many of my fears and anxieties before it focused on avoiding death. Yeah, it was big. And it took all my focus for the past few weeks.

I’ve always hated my smile—always. While I can forget about it when I’m “in the moment”, whenever I think about it, I won’t smile with my teeth. This is why I’ve posted so few photos of me smiling broadly.

This is something that is usually taken care of in childhood, but my parents didn’t have the money to send me to an orthodontist—not that they ever said that, I just knew and I never asked. I didn’t want to be a burden. I wouldn’t let the dentist bring it up with them, either.

So, many decades later, I decided to do something about it. While it’s still as expensive as ever, I knew it’d be easier to pay for now than it would be after retirement.

So, Nigel made the appointment for me, because he knew that I’d put it off indefinitely: I’m quite a coward when it comes to seeing a dentist, cosmetic or ordinary. I'm frightened of the pain, but I also didn’t like them telling me off (as I perceived it…) for not doing a good enough job cleaning my teeth.

So, a few weeks ago I went for an initial consultation with a dentist who specialises in cosmetic dentistry (as well as doing general dentistry), and the he found I had decay on one tooth (not a surprise). He could also tell I had gum disease, so he recommended repairing the tooth rather than replacing it with a crown. That option also cost a fraction of what a crown costs, which was fine with me.

My next stop was the periodontist, and it turns out that things are bad, and my journey to a prettier smile is now on hold. Over the next seven months, I have four treatment appointments and two follow-ups, possibly more, all depending on how well I respond to the treatment. Worst-case scenario, I could lose four teeth, though at the moment the periodontist feels confident that he can stabilise the situation to prevent tooth loss for some years.

This treatment is very important because periodontitis can, if left untreated, lead not just to tooth loss, it can also increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. I’m already at higher risk for both, being over 50 and overweight (“fat and 50s”, as I put it—though less overweight than I have been…). So, I have to overcome my aversion to dental procedures to get this done, and the initial four treatments will be done within about ten days starting May 2. I’m not mucking around—I want this taken care of.

The periodontist also recommended that I see my doctor for a check-up, because of the increased health risks, and I did that yesterday. The doctor ordered routine blood tests (which I’m taking as my baseline to see how things improve). I’ll also do a bowel screening test. If that’s positive, they may recommend a colonoscopy, a test that isn’t routinely done in New Zealand like in the USA.

I got advice on physical activity, specifically, the best way to start using our elliptical (aka cross trainer). The doctor seemed pleased to hear we had one because it’s low impact, but also offers intense physical activity. Guess I better dust it off.

Finally, I got an influenza vaccination (we’re in late autumn, so the flu season isn’t far away) and a combined booster shot for tetanus and whooping cough. I hadn’t heard it before, but she said that adults need a periodic booster for whooping cough, even if they were immunised as a child, like I was. Bottom line, they’re aware of what’s going on and can monitor my general health (which is fine right now).

Some seven months from now or so, it’ll be clear how well the periodontal treatment has gone, and what the longer-term prognosis is. Then, in consultation with the periodontist and cosmetic dentist, I’ll be able to see the orthodontist and begin the next phase. That one could be more than a year long.

Then I can go to the cosmetic dentist for the final bits. Again, this, too, will depend on how well I respond to the periodontal treatments. Worst-case scenario (at the moment): This could theoretically involve getting crowns, bridges and/or implants.

So, this is going to be a multi-year story arc, which means I’ll get a few blog posts out of it. Yeah, I’m grasping for things to be positive about.

The reality is, at least some of this situation is my fault: I didn't see the dentist often enough, I didn’t floss enough, blah, blah, blah. But it’s also possible that genetics played a role: I could be genetically pre-disposed to periodontitis. While I don’t remember my parents ever mentioning having gum problems, that doesn’t mean they didn’t; I can’t ask them now, obviously.

Despite all that, how I got into this situation really doesn’t matter now: I can’t change the past. All I can do is take responsibility for fixing it, and that’s what I’m doing. Since my visit to the periodontist, I’ve brushed twice daily without fail and used my little interspatial brushes (which generally work better for me than flossing) every day. And, of course, I booked all four periodontal treatment appointments to make sure I keep the momentum going, and I saw my G.P. for a check-up.

The theme that runs through this, really, is that while I started this journey to feel better about my appearance, it’s become more about correcting health issues so I can be fitter, stronger and healthier in the years ahead. That’s much more important than buying a pretty smile—ain’t that’s the tooth—um, truth.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stories of LGBT Pasifika youth

The video above is a segment from the NZ TV programme Tagata Pasifika, and profiles a show put together by Pasifika youth to talk about gay and trans* issues for youth in Pacific Island communities. It’s challenging for some, and not just because of the title, but because of its honesty.

One of the important things about this is that it’s youth telling their own stories, rather than people talking about them. I also think it’s good for Palagi/Pakeha to hear these stories as a way of learning how things for Pasifika LGBT youth can be completely different than for youth of European ancestry.

With a little luck, there will be more shows like “Teen Faggot”, more opportunities for youth to tell their own stories. That’s a good thing whenever that happens.

Fascists and friends

Lately, the rightwing has been demonstrating that there’s another word they don’t understand at all: Fascism. They use it as a general epithet against LGBT people, even though they clearly have no idea what it means—or do they?

One definition of fascism that I can freely quote is this:
“A political regime, having totalitarian aspirations, ideologically based on a relationship between business and the centralized government, business-and-government control of the market place, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights. Originally only applied (usually capitalized) to Benito Mussolini's Italy.”
That’s a fairly typical definition, and it’s clearly not even remotely true of LGBT people: We are not the government or big business, let alone a union of the two, nor do we control either, nor do we have a leader to form a cult around (or, actually, even a group…), nor do we exalt the state above individual rights.

What the radical right anti-gay industry is doing—much as they do with their bible, actually—is picking and choosing the parts they like and ignoring the rest. The radical right is actually merely using the word as a way to highlight their paranoid persecution fantasies, in which they think they’re “victims” of “bullying” or “homofascism” because of their religious beliefs. It’s not just a paranoid delusion, of course: It’s also a deliberate lie.

The radical right anti-gay industry believes that if they can portray themselves as “victims” and LGBT people as violent, aggressive bullies, they can stop progress on LGBT human and civil rights generally, and the freedom to marry in particular. This is why they’re pushing the "fascist" slur so furiously: They know it’s nonsense, but there’s no more dramatic symbol of repression than Nazi Germany, so the anti-gay industry is trying to make ordinary Americans think of LGBT people as modern-day Nazis.

The radical right has been using this terminology for a while now, but with a recent noticeable increase in frequency. The resignation of Brendon Eich as CEO of Mozilla unleashed a flood of abuse from the radical right: They called us “fascists”, “homofasicsts”, the “Gaystapo”, among other related slurs (a few examples are on Joe.My.God.).

The prize so far for the most deranged and unhinged attack goes to BamBam, who wrote recently (http://bit.ly/1mTdSsR) that LGBT people are “homofascists” and the “Gaystapo” because we’re “hell-bent on criminalizing Christianity”, and that we’re “a radical, hateful, intolerant, obnoxious, fascist, evil and power-crazed group of sex-obsessed anarchists who demand that we all affirmatively celebrate their deviant and self-destructive sexual sins.” Glory! Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!

Seriously, even though it was clearly an unhinged rant, this guy (who has often made bigoted slurs against LGBT people) tells us exactly why he and the anti-gay industry are pushing this hatred so hard:
“Sadly, many people, even many Christians, think that I and others are using hyperbole when we refer to this sexual anarchist ‘LGBT’ movement as ‘homofascist’ or the ‘Gaystapo.’ I hope you’ll think again. It’s time to wake up and smell the impending anti-Christian persecution. It’s fully at hand.”
I rolled my eyes so hard at that pile of bovine excrement that I could see the back of head. But he wasn’t done with rhetorical excess or thickly laying on Nazi-references:
“Christians, buckle up. Your whole world is about to change. The Rainbowshirts are emboldened and they’ve broken out the long knives. They smell blood in the water. I’ve often said that these folks want those who speak Biblical truth [sic] about human sexuality and legitimate marriage [sic] either 1) dead, 2) imprisoned or, if they can have neither of these, 3) marginalized to the point where they can’t even support their families. Check No. 3 of f the list. I guess they’re working backwards.”
What BamBam was saying there is that Nazi Gays (the “Rainbowshirts”) are coming to kill “Christians” like him. Well, maybe just lock them up. Well, maybe just make sure they can’t make millions from trying to deny LGBT people their civil and human rights a living. Because on BamBam’s planet, one guy forced to quit is exactly the same as killing him! Pay attention, sheeple!

I quote at length from this lunatic because what he said is typical of what other bigots in the anti-gay industry are saying: They’re ALL using the same extreme rhetoric. Here’s another one:
"It is time for the rest of us to wake up. Tolerating the same-sex movement has been a very bad idea. You cannot tolerate what undermines democracy and ultimately destroys society. The same-sex lobby are the new Nazis. Their strategy consists simply in intimidating possible opponents. The vicious campaign against Brendan Eich is ultimately directed not only against him, but it sends a message to anybody who has not yet submitted to the dogma of same-sex bigotry: we will go after you, and we will destroy you.”
There’s also the Indiana preacher who declared that “Adolf Hitler's 'Race Of Super Gay Male Soldiers' Is Taking Over America”. Apparently, we want all Christians dead, their heads on the wall. Or… something.

If these people seem too crackpot to be taken seriously, consider this: They’re all bringing up fascist imagery all the time. A lie repeated often enough becomes truth: It doesn’t matter that some of these people are clearly a few sandwiches short of a picnic: If they keep repeating the “Gaystapo” slur enough, normal Americans will start to think there’s “an element of truth” in it—well, that’s what the radical right anti-gay industry’s plan and hope, anyway.

There is so much irony in the far right’s meltdown over Mozilla, but, obviously, that would all be lost on them. But let’s start with this: They boycott all the time! I recently defended their right to boycott when I said: “I fully support the right of people to boycott whoever they want for whatever reason they want—political, religious, cultural, aesthetic, their reason doesn’t matter, but their freedom to make that choice does.”

Ah, that pesky word freedom again! To the radical right, it’s something they alone get to define and in such a way that it applies only to themselves, exclusively. The graphic at the top of this post is from the Facebook Page of “Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian” (a long-running parody of far-right “Christian” fanatics in the USA). It humorously points out the harsh reality of the far-right’s position on boycotts, something I mentioned last week, and highlighted when I quoted Joe.My.God.

The hypocrisy of the radical right is breathtaking: They accuse LGBT people of “fascism” when so many of their tactics and goals clearly really are fascist-like: They dehumanise LGBT people by deliberately spreading lies and disinformation about us, they want to criminalise us (and not just in the usual way: over the years some of them have even talked about putting us in concentration camps, too). Even so, I don’t actually call our opponents “fascists” because doing so would contribute nothing to the debate.

Our side merely wants the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that our adversaries demand for themselves. The difference is, we’re not demanding that our adversaries surrender theirs, no matter what paranoid delusions they may preach in their propaganda. Our side is working to make society free and open for all citizens to live their lives equally—including LGBT people and radical right “Christians”. When we say all people are equal, we really mean it—unlike our adversaries.

So, if radical right “Christians” want to call me a “fascist” because I stand up for freedom, liberty and equality for all people, then so be it. But that’s MISTER fascist to them! I’m making fun of them, of course, but it gets at an essential truth: Our political discourse is debased when people loosely throw around incorrectly used words as a way to demean, dehumanise and disrespect opponents.

It’s extremely unlikely that the radical right anti-gay industry will ever become friends with LGBT people, but being adversaries doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. They should grow up and stop using “fascist” when they so clearly don’t understand what it means. See, I prefer to think that’s the case, and not that they’re misusing it on purpose, because that would make them evil and malevolent. I really don’t want to use strong words casually—unlike our friends on the radical right.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Buying politicians made easy

The video above is a parody ad, making fun of the recent US Supreme Court's ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, which further hands power to oligarchs and plutocrats. It makes a good point.

When the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are people, they also declared the corporation “people” are more equal than real people, because they could engage in unlimited spending in election campaigns. While super rich individuals could technically do this, too, they were prevented from donating to as many politicians as they wanted to. McCutcheon changed that by allowing individuals to donate to as many political candidates and parties as they want, up to the maximum for each one.

So, a mega rich person can now donate the maximum amount allowed by law to all Congressional candidates of a certain political party, for example. If they also have a corporation that spends unlimited amounts in campaigns, it means that the super-rich have unprecedented opportunities to influence the outcome of elections, and in ways that ordinary people could never hope to match.

Taken together, Citizens United and McCutcheon mark an unprecented shift in power in the US, away form ordinary citizens and toward the oligarchs and plutocrats. They also create the near certainty of corruption as the the oligarchs and plutocrats and plutocrats effectively “buy” members of Congress to enact legislation favourable to them.

Many people have contempt for the US Congress because of the influence that Big Money and Big Corporations already have; I’m saying it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

The solution, ultimately, is to amend the US Constitution to overturn both Citizens United and McCutcheon. But how likely is that to happen with the deck stacked so strongly in favour of the very folks that such a constitutional amendment would seek to rein in? Is it even be possible to amend the Constitution with so much money and power opposed to that happening? Anything’s possible, but I think it’ll be a long, difficult and entirely uphill struggle, if it happens at all.

So, in the meantime, we can mock the oligarchs and plutocrats and the inevitable corruption that’s coming. It’s not enough, of course; I just hope that it’s not the only reaction to the decline of American democracy that can happen.

The group behind this video, Represent.US, has another video (link goes to YouTube) that explains the McCutcheon ruling in detail.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Looking back out the Windows

This week, Microsoft ended support for its Windows XP operating system. As a kind of a parting gift, they released this video on the story behind their “Bliss” default desktop photo. I think it’s interesting.

Like a lot of people, I always assumed the photo was fake—or, at least, a real photo Photoshopped to make a fake reality. Turns out, I was wrong: It’s a real photo, and not Photoshopped. Instead, it’s by professional photographer, Charles O'Rear. This is yet another example of why we should always challenge our assumptions.

I think that this also shows that professional photographers can take amazing photographs, and those who learned their art in the pre-digital era (and the “Bliss” photo was taken in 1996) maybe have something special that digital-only photographers, well, do differently (I don’t want to seem to cast aspersions on digital, since everything I do is digital!). Old-school photographers could create their artworks without the need for digital effects. Us amateurs, of course, would usually be lost without digital tools and effects. Which is why you’ll never see any of MY photos become ubiquitous.

Actually, this photo is sort of the definition of ubiquitous. Charles O’Rear said in the video, “Anybody now, from age 15 on, for the rest of their life, will remember this photograph.” He said people will go through their lives, then one day, decades from now, they’ll see the photo and they won’t remember where they saw it, but they’ll remember it. I think he’s right.

I think it’s always good to know the story behind the ubiquitous things in our lives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Olive store-bought, thanks

It’s olive harvest time at our house! I’m not serious, but it looks like maybe I should be soon.

The photo above is of a few olives I picked up off our deck this afternoon. I’ve thoughtfully provided points of reference, a NZ ten cent piece and a measuring tape (both metric and Imperial!). They’re clearly not huge olives—but they’re getting bigger over time.

When I wrote about our “olive harvest” last year, it was mocking. Even then, though, I admitted that our two trees “may have produced more and I just never saw them”. Maybe that was foreshadowing.

This year, the trees have produced a lot of olives that I just swept away. The photo shows a portion of what I’ve found most mornings. It’s getting to the point where I’m thinking that maybe I should actually read up on all this, find out how to harvest olives and what to do once I have. Maybe.

On the other hand, I’m no gardener, let alone farmer, and even the idea of trying to manage olive production may be a bit beyond my capabilities. And yet, a challenges IS interesting…

For now, I’ll continue to buy my olives from the store. But in the years ahead, who knows? Seems like next year I’ll have to do something with all the olives—beyond merely blogging about them, that is.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Fancy new airplane

Air New Zealand has unveiled their Boeing 787-9, and it’s a beautiful plane. I suppose I would say that, of course, for a lot of reasons.

More than a decade ago, Boeing recruited airline passengers to be part of their "World Design Team" for their new plane, and I signed up. I don't know how much stock they put on what we said, but it at least meant that we were kept up to date with the development of the plane that became the Dreamliner (in 2005, we were asked to vote for our favourite name; I didn't pick "Dreamliner", though I can't remember what I DID pick—it was a long time ago!). I also advocated for more legroom.

Air New Zealand’s plane will be the first 787-9 to enter service (they’ll take delivery in July and it will begin service in October). The plane has greater range and capacity than the earlier 787 models to enter service.

The black paint was something of a novelty when it was first introduced, with critics saying that heat would be a problem. But Air New Zealand found that it turned out to be a non-issue, which is good: I think it makes the plane look stunning. I should note that the other nine 787-9s will be painted white with a black tail.

The only black plane I can ever remember seeing before Air New Zealand started painting their planes black was many, many years ago, when I lived in Chicago. A few times when I flew from O’Hare I saw a plane that I presume was Hugh Heffner’s—painted black with the Playboy bunny on the tail.

So, I’ve been “part” of the process that led to the Dreamliner, and Air New Zealand is my favourite airline, and that may make it may seem obvious that I’d like Air New Zealand’s new plane. But it’s the look of the plane that appeals to me, not its heritage or owners. Sometimes, looks do matter—even 13,000 metres in the sky.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Back to Standard Time

Last night New Zealand went back to Standard Time (NZST). I never paid much attention to these time changes until I moved to New Zealand. Time zones can matter a lot to expats.

The video above is and older one from one of may favourite YouTube explainers, ‪CGP Grey. The video explains Saving Saving Time and some of the many problems with it. It think it’s interesting.

I’ve never been too bothered by the clock changes, unlike so many other people I know. The autumn one doesn't bother me, maybe, because of the “extra hour” of sleep. Pushing the clock forward, like in Spring, is supposed to be relatively easy for people—well, some people, anyway.

The main problem I have with the clock changes is that it makes it harder to work out what time it is in another part of the world, like meeting up on Skype with a friend or family member in the USA, for example. I'd never be able to keep track of time in different parts of the world if I didn't have software to do it for me.

This year could have been harder than usual: I was up late working several nights the past week, but last night I went to bed at a relatively early 11pm and got my eight hours—more, actually, because of the time change. So, I felt remarkably rested this morning.

We also had some family visiting us this weekend, an impromptu thing. That was really nice. And I finished my work, which is even better. It was a very good weekend, indeed.

I wonder how I’ll feel tomorrow…