Monday, March 30, 2015

Steve Grand: Time

Steve Grand, whose “All American Boy” struck a chord with many—including me—nearly two years ago, has finally released his debut album, titled, appropriately: All American Boy. The video above is the latest single from the album, "Time".

Last month, Steve told Huffington Post that “My lyric style is definitely very story-driven. I try to tell stories from my life, whether it’s one single moment in time or something that’s been recurring in my life.” He says he’s surprised that he was ever labelled as “country”, but his style helps to explain why he was—that and the fact that he lived for a year in Nashville.

Steve also said that his debut album is “an arc, and every song is a plot point on that arc.” The song “Time” is itself an arc, telling the story of a relationship from start to break-up.

I haven’t yet bought All American Boy, though it’s on my iTunes “wishlist” (where I keep music I want to buy eventually). The album is available on Amazon, which also sells a CD, and, of course, as a digital-only version from iTunes.

I wish him good sales.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How about an Indiana BUY-cott?

The news has been filled with stories of the backlash to Indiana’s newly-signed anti-LGBT license to discriminate law. Companies and organisations are curtailing their business with the state, something that may gain momentum. That’s not good enough.

As I’ve said many times already, I fully support the right of people to withhold their money from businesses—or entire states—because of ideological reasons. This isn’t a Left v. Right thing, either: Both are equally entitled to boycott.

However, boycotts will do little to help the LGBT people of Indiana beyond helping to draw attention to the license to discriminate law. That might help discourage similar laws in other states, but it won’t do much to gain a repeal of the law and it will cause a (quite possibly ineffective) backlash.

Moreover, there are proudly LGBT-owned businesses in Indiana and proudly-LGBT supportive straight-owned business in the state that could suffer from a broad-brush boycott. While I’m all for punishing the bad guys, these folks clearly are not them.

I think we need to more a more targeted approach.

Sure conventions should stay away (they make a big point by doing so), and tourists should, too. But people who must travel to the state for whatever reason should seek out LGBT-owned businesses and those allied with the LGBT people of Indiana. For many people, it may seem too hard to ask business whether they support Senate Bill 101, and with luck there will eventually be some sort of listing of non-bigoted business to give one’s business to [Update: Open For Service is working on such a directory]. That list will grow as more business owners gain the courage to stand up to bigotry.

In the meantime, there’s an easy way to help the LGBT people of Indiana: Give money to the groups that can help. There are national groups, of course—many of them—and they may sometimes do thing specifically for Indiana. But to be sure it gets to the people who can use the support, I say, give local.

Below, listed in alphabetical order, are a few organisations based in Indiana that do good things for the LGBT people of Indiana, along with descriptions of what they do taken from their websites. It’s not an exhaustive list, so feel free to share others in the comments. Check them out. Ask them questions. Then, give them money. The LGBT people of Indiana need support right now more than they need promises to never visit the state. Be the change we seek: DONATE!

ACLU of Indiana: “…The ACLU of Indiana… is a statewide affiliate of the ACLU headquartered in New York… We bring cases against government entities to protect the rights of individuals and groups. The ACLU of Indiana is nonpartisan and does not endorse political candidates. A nonprofit membership organization, we do not receive public funds, tax dollars or government support. Our strength comes from more than 4,000 supporters whose tax-deductible donations fund our free legal services and educational outreach, and whose annual membership dues support advocacy, organizing and lobbying activities to promote civil liberties.” Like all ACLU affiliates, they do advocacy work on behalf of LGBT people, as highlighted on their website.

Indiana Equality Action: “Indiana Equality Action (IE Action), a 501(c)(4) organization, is a coalition of statewide and regional organizations. IE Action focuses on amending Indiana’s Civil Rights law to protect against discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity, securing bias crimes protections, and keeping Indiana’s Marriage Discrimination Amendment at bay. IE Action is a lobbying and advocacy organization.”

Indiana Youth Group: “Indiana Youth Group (IYG) provides safe places and confidential environments where self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are empowered through programs, support services, social and leadership opportunities and community service. IYG advocates on their behalf in schools, in the community and through family support services.”

PFLAG Indianapolis: “…While support for families and LGBT persons remains our primary goal, advocacy is becoming more important in today's world. PFLAG works with the Indiana Youth Group to staff booths at conferences for teachers, school counselors, and social workers. We hand out packets of information to help make schools safer for LGBT youth.”

Special Tip o’ The Hat to Tom, the Ramble Redhead, for advice on groups in his state of Indiana.

The breeze from Northland

Yesterday, the by-election in Northland gave John Key/Steven Joyce their first election defeat since winning government back in 2008. They lost a totally safe National electorate seat, which takes some doing. Is there more to come?

The results of the by-election are an absolutely clear middle finger to Key and National made by voters who are—rightly—sick and tired of being taken for granted by the government down in Wellington. Many of their problems are common to all of rural New Zealand, which are also mainly totally safe National electorates (Northland, for example, had been held by National for 50 years). So, some are suggesting that this poses a problem for Key and National.

Yes, but not in quite the way the pundits think.

In Northland, the contest started out as one for National to lose. The Labour Party candidate, Willow-Jean Prime, was outstanding—but she was standing in a strong-National Party seat she’d lost just a few months ago. It was highly improbable that she’d win, even with the Greens opting to not stand a candidate.

Enter Winston Peters, possibly the most loved and the most hated politician in New Zealand, all at the same time. He gambled that he could take on the National Party and beat them, and it became clear early on that he would succeed. Labour Party Leader Andrew Little gave implicit support to the idea of Labour voters voting for Peters, and they did, as did Green supporters.

But it’s important to remember that National Party voters also voted for Winston, sending a message to their own party and to John Key. They could do that because nothing was at risk: They knew that a vote for Peters wouldn’t change the government, it would just—safely—send a strong message.

Nevertheless, this does change things. National drops from 60 seats to 59 (plus the one-person Act Party, who will always vote the way John Key tells him to since he’d never even be in Parliament without Key’s direct help). Key can also count on his poodle Peter Dunne, and the normally subservient Maori Party, so with the certain loyalty of all those folks it’s highly unlikely that the government will fall.

On the other hand, Key may need to negotiate with other parties to get things through Parliament. For example, he may not be able to get the changes to the Resource Management Act that he wants, so it may tilt a little less toward rich developers and corporations than it would have before the by-election. Similarly, he’s unlikely to get anything supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement through Parliament without the support of Labour—and that would come at a cost that Key may find too high, hoping instead to win again in 2017 so he can push through whatever they wants without challenge or compromise.

But 2017’s where the real effect of the by-election will be felt. National will probably win back the Northland seat in 2017—National voters will “come home” when it matters. But the myth of invincibility has now been shattered, and Key (or whoever is leader of he National Party at the time) will need to fight harder than they have in decades. Also, with Key’s agenda being confronted and challenged constantly over the next 2½ years, he (or his successor) won’t look quite so able in 2017.

National has no one to blame but themselves for the loss. Auckland-based campaign manager Steven Joyce sent ministers up to Northland in Crown cars, dressed in suit and tie—this to an electorate that’s mostly rural. It smacked of big city hubris, and was widely mocked. So, too, were the obvious campaign bribes, like turning a dozen one-lane bridges into two-lane bridges, something that Northlanders also openly mocked (they stated calling it a “buy election”) and didn’t want: The want jobs and opportunities in what is one of the poorest electorates in New Zealand.

Ultimately, however, it may prove to be the emerging factionalism within the National Party that may prove to be their real undoing—more than the tone-deaf campaign management of Joyce, or the arrogance and hubris of the government. It’s pretty obvious that the Judith Collins/Maurice Williamson/etc. factions of National are delighted by this loss because of the consequent weakening of Key and Joyce.

It’s going to be an interesting 2½ years.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

AmeriNZ Podcast is Eight

Today is the eighth anniversary of my AmeriNZ Podcast. On March 28, 2007, I posted the first episode, roughly six months after I started this blog. Despite the odds, both are still going. And, it turns out, the connection between the two has come full circle.

When I first started the podcast, I talked about how I saw it as an extension of this blog. But as time passed, I started to deliberately separate them more and more. Eventually, that process also led to spinning off discussions of US politics into a stand-alone podcast with my friend Jason, 2Political Podcast—a name that was inspired by a negative review someone left on iTunes for my AmeriNZ Podcast.

The separation led, first, to the establishment of a separate site for the podcast, which meant that I stopped using this blog for my shownotes. For a time, I still posted regular updates when I posted new episodes, but I stopped doing that at all many years ago, and the two—blog and podcast—have been sort of separate islands ever since.

Recently, I contemplated starting doing vlogging, too, and I gathered advice from people who were doing that, particularly my friend Paul (with whom I used to do yet another podcast, “Arthur and Paul Talk”) who started vlogging on his YouTube Channel. I planned on doing something kinda similar, but then decided to postpone it for reasons I talked about on the podcast.

The planning process for those videos led me to consider starting a new YouTube Channel rather than using my existing AmeriNZ YouTube Channel. And that turned out to be the turning point.

I suddenly realised that my podcast is, basically, an audio blog. It’s less formal, and certainly more familiar, than this blog usually is, and I talk about things close to me personally: Things I’m doing, life in New Zealand, NZ politics, and so on. Sure, I write about all those things for the blog, but the tone is usually quite different and sometimes I say things I wouldn’t write just because it doesn’t “work” in writing. Besides, as I’ve said many times, there’s something special about stories told with the human voice. I think it creates a kind of intimacy between listeners and speakers that the written word just can’t do in the same way.

So, to put it another way, I realised that my podcast really is an extension of my blog, as I said it was at the very beginning. My YouTube Channel, then, is—or could be—the visual extension.

All up, I’ve spent 8½ years building up the AmeriNZ “brand”, though I now identify myself by name as the creator of all this content (the YouTube Channel makes it a little more difficult to do…). It’s time to start bringing them together more.

The podcast will continue as a separate site, at least for now, mainly because it’s easier for me to host and share the audio files that way. But I’ll again post notices of new episodes here on the blog—not full-on shownotes, just an announcement. I’ll also put together a Facebook page for all things AmeriNZ to make it easier to share the stuff I post (more about that when it happens).

So far, I’ve published over 3200 blog posts, 308 episodes of the AmeriNZ Podcast, and even a few videos (only one of which, from the 2008 election, has me in it, and it was never posted to YouTube). That’s the AmeriNZ ouvre, you could say (though I don’t think I would, actually…). Some of that content isn’t very good, and maybe most if it is “just okay”. But in all that creative output there are some things I’m very proud of, indeed.

And, even after all these years, it’s still fun. That’s really the point, isn’t it?

Footnote: This post—which I’m posting to both my blog and podcast site—was delayed for an unusual reason: New Zealand law. I talked about the Northland By-election in the latest episode, and there’s a media blackout (including blogs and such) from midnight until the polls close at 7pm on Election Day. I posted the podcast episode well before midnight, so that was legal, but I had to be sure that I didn’t call attention to the post in any way, and acknowledging my podcast anniversary might have done so. To be extra sure, I didn't mention the topic in the shownotes (though I’ll edit them to include it now that the polls have closed). And that’s got to be the oddest reason I’ve ever had for delaying posting something.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Steven Adams, part 2

Above is the second commercial for an Oklahoma bank fronted by New Zealand-born professional basketball player, Steven Adams. Like the first commercial, this one, too, features Adams using Kiwi slang with American English subtitles. I think this one’s cute, too.

As I said about the first commercial, “Some of the text isn’t exactly what a Kiwi would say in real life, at least, not in that context, but they’re real expressions nonetheless.” On the other hand, this commercial seemed more “natural” to me than the first one did. Not that it matters—professional athletes aren’t actors, after all. And, Adams is only 21.

The bank hasn’t said whether there are any more commercials with Adams; maybe it depends on how the public responds to the first two. But it’s all a bit of fun—well, advertising with some fun—so whether there are any more or not doesn’t really matter.

At least some Oklahomans are getting a little tastes of what New Zealanders are like. That’s a good thing.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned this before, but, yes, I understand every word of both commercials. Maybe that’s why I see the sometimes subtle humour in the subtitles.

I can’t handle the tooth

Just when you thought my Tooth Drama stories were over, BAM! The Sequel! Well, not a sequel exactly, more like the next chapter. Or act. Or season. I’m making fun of it to cheer myself up, but it’s not really working.

Yesterday I had my six-month check-up with the periodontist, and the short version of the story is that things have deteriorated and I need more, and more invasive, procedures. Kaching!—they're not cheap, either.

An area toward the back had some of the deepest pockets last year, and they’re starting to form again. So, the periodontist says the best option is to open up my gum to examine the actual roots to find out what’s going on. Apparently, the roots can have cracks or grooves where the bacteria that causes periodontal disease can “hide”, so when they do their remedial work, all they’re doing is scraping away what’s there, but the bacteria has a place to live to fight another day.

I also have an abscess on one of my front teeth. I was surprised by that, because there was no pain, and I thought they were painful. However, the periodontist said that in this case it wouldn’t be. That particular tooth is a problem: It’s dropped probably three millimetres due to loss of support when the periodontal disease was in full flight, and it’s possible I may yet lose it (though the periodontist did say “I don’t think the pulp is dead…”).

But the most demoralising part of all this for me is that I probably inadvertently contributed to the problems. I’ve said many times before that I struggle with flossing, but I’ve also found the little interdental brushes difficult, too, because they sometimes get stuck (one broke off and was stuck between my teeth, which freaked me out even more than when floss gets stuck).

So, a few months ago we got an “Ultra Water Flosser”. You can read for yourself the claims made for the product at the link, but the periodontist said all they do is remove debris and don’t remove plaque because the bacteria is “sticky” and difficult to remove except with manual tools, not high-pressure water. Given the fact that my condition has deteriorated even though I’ve used the waterflosser nearly every day, it would appear he’s right, at least for me, anyway.

I was using it because I’d struggled so much with flossing and even those little brushes. Apparently, I would’ve been better off struggling. The little brushes are best—better than flossing, though the periodontist said I should floss between the tighter teeth (I have this flossing thingee, where the floss is in a little stirrup-shaped thing that clicks onto a handle; it’s the first thing I’ve ever used that let me successfully floss). The periodontist also said ideally the tiny brushes should be dipped in an antiseptic mouthwash to kill the bacteria as I go. I’d always used toothpaste, but he pointed out that it’s designed to clean, and isn’t effective at killing the bacteria.

So, over the next few weeks I have three appointments (the final one a post-op check and deep cleaning like I had six months ago). Then—well, we’ll see. I have no idea where all this is headed, but it looks to be very different than where I thought, or was hoping, it would go nearly a year ago.

This morning I used my little brushes and flossing thingee. It went okay. I’m sure I’ll get better at it in the months ahead, so maybe the next re-check will be better.

This story has a few more chapters to go, it seems.

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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Making them understand

The video above is the latest video from Truth Wins Out, and is part of a series attempting to show people what the so-called “religious freedom” bills to legalise discrimination against LGBT people could actually do. It’s an, um, interesting approach.

The ad portrays discrimination against Christians as something that could be possible under these pro-discrimination bills, a sort of "be careful what you wish for" kind of thing. Sometimes radical right religionists claim they’d be fine with that as long as they get to discriminate against LGBT people. NO one believes they’re telling the truth when they say that, not when they already take an insignificant incident and try to pretend it’s evidence of some sort of massive “oppression” of Christians.

The so-called “upside down” approach of this ad, reversing the positions of minority/majority and oppressor/oppressed, can sometimes be effective because they can help people see things they might not otherwise notice. However, in this case, I think it’s extremely problematic: It plays right into rightwing “Christian” victim fantasies, and will no doubt be spun by them as “proof” of what gay people “really” want. I think this ad could do more harm than good.

In stark contrast is their first ad, below. “Religious Freedom Cafe“ presents a realistic scenario in which a religious cafĂ© owner refuses service to a customer because of his religious beliefs. The fact that he refuses service to a Black man could be too obvious, except that it’s also more likely to help heterosexuals see the discrimination more clearly than if it was against a gay person. Moreover, these “religious freedom” bills permit discrimination against everyone, as long as it’s because of their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

The problem is, most people won’t believe that’s true: Federal law forbids discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and a number of other factors, and most states have similar laws—even the states considering the pro-discrimination “religious freedom” bills. The casual viewer would be thinking that such existing laws would overrule pro-discrimination “religious freedom” laws. Maybe they would. Experts disagree on the immediate effect, though long term anyone using such laws to justify racial discrimination would no doubt end up in litigation designed to test the constitutionality of such laws and the discrimination they legalise.

And that’s the bigger, long-term threat: The outcome of that test case would ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court, and if a Republican wins the White House in 2016 and the party holds on to Congress, there could be a radically more extreme rightwing Court by the time a test case got to the Supreme Court, and that could ultimately result in the destruction of all anti-discrimination laws in the USA, though that prospect would gladden the hearts of the radical rightwing, for many reasons.

All of which means that it’s vital to help mainstream Americans understand how anti-American and even evil these so-called “religious freedom” license to discriminate bills really are. I personally don’t think the first ad will help very much to do that, ones more like the second one might.

Still, if any ad helps even just some mainstream Americans understand the huge threat to American civil society these bills pose, well, that’s probably helpful after all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Start your engines, GOP candidates

The 2016 Republican Klown Kar Kavalcade started trying to start the engine today, with Canadian-born first-term US Senator from Texas, Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz being the first to try and turn the key. Only 1 year, 7 months, 16 days to go!

Cruz, the son of a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preacher, chose to make his announcement in a way he could make abundantly clear that he was running as the fundamentalist “Christian” candidate: He went to Dead Jerry Falwell’s rightwing religious school, Liberty University. “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home,” he told the folks there, including students ordered to attend. “Imagine instead,” he said using his rhetorical catchword for the speech, “millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

Evangelical Christians alone cannot win the presidency for any candidate, though they could certainly help in the Republican Primaries, where they dominate. The problem is demographics: There aren’t enough Evangelicals to win the presidency without additional support from other segments of society, particularly when—contrary to the Canadian-born Senator’s assumption—they’re not all anti-science, anti-gay, anti-women extremists like he is. “Our” values, huh? Not exactly.

Ah, women—the Republican Party’s Achilles' Heel. In 2012, the party lost women’s votes by a 12-point margin. Despite some improvement in 2014, the Party continues to take anti-women positions, a recent example being when they tried to ram anti-abortion legislation through Congress. It was so extreme that the few Republican women in Congress had to publicly rebel in order to stop it.

In 2016, the Democratic nominee may well be a woman, which might galvanise female voters. Assuming that happens, and when you’re part of party widely viewed as anti-women, it doesn’t seem like a particularly bright idea to build a campaign around what ThinkProgress called, “The Most Anti-Woman Agenda Yet.”

On the other hand, we really shouldn’t be surprised that the Canadian-born Senator is so dim. He famously tried a political stunt at the end of the last Congress that ended up helping the Democrats and torpedoing the partisan political efforts of the actual Republican leadership in Congress (and Republicans were so happy with him for doing that!). More recently, he called for the repeal of a federal law that doesn’t even exist. Clearly, he’s not the brightest bulb.

My mockery and ridicule of Cruz is born of my utter contempt for him. For me, he personifies everything that’s wrong with the modern Republican Party, with rightwing politics generally—actually, he represents the worst elements in US politics. I also think he’s dangerous.

Obviously, much of Cruz’s agenda is pure pandering and utterly unachievable. For example, in this Congress, he won’t be able to get legislation passed to take away federal recognition and benefits for married couples who are same-gender, but even if that happened in the new Congress and was signed by a—perish the thought—Republican president, it would be unconstitutional. An amendment to the US Constitution to do that or, as Cruz actually does want, one to forbid courts from overturning state laws banning marriage equality, are impossible (the one Cruz wants is especially impossible: That ship has already sailed).

But the fact that Cruz’s cynical quixotic crusades are meant only to pander to the radical right, since they're unachievable, doesn’t make that agenda (or him) any less dangerous. By proposing a radical agenda of repression, he makes it okay to talk about HOW to oppress the people that the radical right religionists hate, such as women, LGBT people, Black people, and immigrants in particular. Cruz may propose extreme, unachievable measures, but it makes less extreme proposals of oppression far more possible.

And, in the meantime, his demonising of LGBT people, of women, of scientists, of liberals, of immigrants, etc., all makes the victimisation of such people much more acceptable, and actual violence possible. He could—and should—tone down his rhetoric, but it wouldn’t change the dangerous intent of his message.

I can’t think of a single thing that Cruz has ever said that I agree with. With almost anyone else, I’d assume that there must be something we agree on, but with Cruz, I actually doubt there is.

I hope for a very early exit for the Canadian-born Senator from Texas.

Footnote: I sincerely apologise to Canadians for referring to Cruz as “Canadian-born”. I mean no disrespect to Canada or Canadians. He's not your fault. Instead, I’m trying to underscore the rank and vile hypocrisy of the US rightwing for creaming in their jeans over Cruz—who was born in Canada—while STILL declaring that Barack Obama—who was born in Hawaii, USA—wasn’t eligible to be president. If Republicans had grown-up and put away their childish things—like their stupid “birtherism”—I’d have no need to mock them over the fact that Cruz really is foreign-born (but just as entitled to run for president as Obama was because both their mothers were US citizens when they were born). So, sorry for defaming you, Canada, but at least you can rest easy knowing that since Cruz apparently renounced his Canadian citizenship, you’re rid of him. Maybe one day the USA will be as lucky as you.

The image up top is a screen grab of a Tweet from the Democratic Party. I fully endorse that message.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Organising from my past

This may surprise people who have only known me since I moved to New Zealand, but there was a time when I was very organised. I was a busy political activist at the time and needed to keep everything organised so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed.

Among other things, I designed my own “To Do” list sheets, schedule, calendar, and more. I used them heavily 1992-93, when I was at the height of my activism, travelling around several States in the Midwest for meetings and events to try and advance LGBT rights.

It was an exciting time, and also much simpler: There was no Internet back then, so no email or Facebook or Twitter or any way other than phone calls, faxes, and mailed letters to get information out to supporters and colleagues. I used them all, and tracked them.

The sheets record notes of phone conversations with people whose names I no longer recognise, but mainly people I lost contact with years ago. In recent years, I’ve re-connected with some of them on Facebook, which has been great. It’s not surprising, I suppose, but reading through notes form that time in my life was a little poignant for me.

I remember those days, and how busy I was, but, as my notes indicate, I also got a lot done. And that’s why I was looking at those old records.

I’m at a point in my life that I need to become better organised, not because I’m as busy as I was more than two decades ago (I’m not), nor because I think being organised is some sort of virtue in itself (I’m undecided about that…). Instead, it’s because my memory has become bad enough that if I don’t write things down, I don’t have any hope of staying on target for various projects, even relatively small ones.

So I was looking at the forms I designed for myself all those years ago to see if they might be useful to me now, even if only as inspiration. My reasoning was that if I made the perfect system for myself back then, I can do it again.

However, much of what I did on paper back then I now handle electronically. My calendar includes both dates to remember as well as specific times and locations of meetings. That calendar is on my desktop Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad, meaning wherever I am, I have access to my schedule, and to my contacts (or address book, if you prefer), which is similarly shared among my devices.

I know that there are good “to do” list apps I could use, some free, some not, but they all have the same problem for me: I have to remember to check them, and so far, that hasn’t worked out very well.

So, I thought I’d return to making handwritten “to do” lists on paper, and it was this part of my old system I was interested in. I know from years of experience that there’s something about the physical act of writing something down by hand that seems to help me remember (when I was a teenager, all I had to do was write a note to myself and I’d remember—I didn’t even have to look at it; those days are long gone).

What I may do instead, though, is try writing the list by hand using my iPad and a stylus so that I can easily share the list with all my devices. But until I get that all set up, I’ll stick with the paper version.

Taking a stroll down my own memory lane was a little unexpected, but it was helpful—and also interesting to me. All of that’s true because there was a time I was very organised. My goal is to get near to that again.