Friday, September 29, 2006
The vote comes a couple weeks after an anonymous hate mail campaign in which stickers were sent to hundreds of parishes around the country. One sticker said, “Gays are a cancer in our church, let’s keep them out of leadership.” The second sticker said, apparently accurately, “Gays aren’t welcome in our church, help us let New Zealand know.”
Presbyterian fundamentalists had threatened to split off from the church if the motion wasn’t adopted. It’s a fairly typical tactic by religious fundamentalists who threaten to take their toys and go home if they don’t get their way.
Presbyterian Church Leader Rev. Fraser Paterson appeared on TVNZ’s Breakfast show this morning prior to the vote and acknowledged that a pro-gay vote would lead to a split in the church. But, he said, if the result was anti-gay, “there might be one or two people who find they’ve had enough and get out (of the church),” but there would continue to be people in the church who support gay and lesbian people. He said he planned to vote against the anti-gay resolution.
Apparently, religious centrists and liberals are supposed to take whatever right wingers dish up, no matter what. This is a traditional stance by centre-left religionists—turn the other cheek, and all that. In their defence, leaving the church would hand the fundamentalists exactly what they want—no homos in “their” church.
The 2001 NZ Census found that less than 11 percent of New Zealanders (about 430,000) acknowledged being Presbyterian. According to media reports, the church has around 430 parishes and weekly attendance of around 40,000.
Personally, I have no idea why anyone would want to be a minister in any church, much less one where there are clearly so many people who dislike or despise you. And if the Presbyterians want to promote intolerance and bigotry within their church and claim some sort of divine mandate to do it, they’re free to do so.
But it never ceases to amaze me how people who call themselves Christian can so gleefully ignore their founder’s teachings. It shouldn’t surprise me, I know, and to be fair, no religion has a monopoly on hypocrisy. It affects the non-religious, too. Maybe it’s just part of being human to teach one thing and then “do unto others” something completely different.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
However, that’s not to imply that Labour is without fault. It’s obvious to me that whoever is planning their strategy is clueless—and I’m a party member.
Labour got into trouble when National started hounding away at Labour’s alleged overspending of taxpayers’ election money. Labour tried to point out that the auditor-general is changing the rules—arbitrarily, they argued—and making “illegal” practices that were perfectly acceptable in previous elections. They also tried to call attention to the multi-millions of dollars in help that National got from the Exclusive Brethren as well as business trusts which, while legal (maybe barely), would certainly make one wonder what might be expected in return.
The public didn’t care about any of that. Instead, they listened to and believed what National was dishing up.
Labour should have done what the Greens did, promising to repay what, if anything, was ultimately found to be improperly spent. They could have continued to protest their innocence, point out the unfairness and inconsistencies of the new interpretations of the rules and in so doing taken the wind out of National’s sails. Instead, they fanned the flames.
National’s recent attitude toward the Exclusive Brethren provides contrast. Once it was clear that sect members had organised spying on the Prime Minister and others associated with Labour, they were quickly denounced by National MPs. Except, of course, for their leader, Don Brash, who continued to say he’d meet with them. But as it became clearer still that the sect was poison for National, even Brash had to act to cauterise the wound.
Had Brash not banned contact with the sect, though reluctantly, the issue would inevitably have become larger. The public is less likely to remember that it took a long time for Brash to act, and that he may have been forced into it, than they are to remember simply that the party “severed ties” with the sect.
Labour’s nightmare continues, apparently without distractions like National’s buddies the Exclusive Brethren or Brash’s adultery. Unless they can put this campaign spending issue to rest, the image of Helen Clark as a calm, competent leader may be shattered permanently.
To be sure, if Labour now says that they’ve reluctantly decided to pay back funds “ultimately” found to have been spent incorrectly, National will continue to hound them, saying, basically, “what took you so long?” But that has far less power than falsely accusing them of corruption. And Labour has the opportunity to regain the moral high ground if they point out that the whole thing happened because of incredibly loose rules which they will tighten through law so no party would have to go through anything like this again.
Maybe my solution isn’t the best possible one, but it may be the most practical. At the very least, it’s better than what they’ve come up with so far.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
This is not about his extramarital affair as such. Like most New Zealanders, I don’t really care about that. However, I was reminded the other day how he used to criticise Prime Minister Helen Clark for her “indifference to the institution of marriage,” this despite his own indifference to two of his own marriages. That’s called hypocrisy.
National’s posturing on the issue of election “overspending” is also more than a little disingenuous. They were found to have “overspent” $10,000, which they promptly paid back. But would they have been so keen if there had been a couple more zeros on that? There are very real concerns about what appears to be the auditor-general’s arbitrary reinterpretation of the rules and National’s grandstanding is making it hard to deal with that.
Brash’s strategy is to poison the air so much that it makes Labour seem so toxic that voters will turn to National by default. He seems to think that being in opposition means merely opposing, with no responsibility for providing an alternative.
When we look at the alternative Brash offers, it’s certainly not appealing.
Near the end of the last election campaign, election materials suddenly appeared attacking Labour and, in particular, the Greens, and also promoting Don Brash’s National Party. The materials turned out to be paid for by members of a secretive far right Christian fundamentalist sect called the Exclusive Brethren. Among other things, the sect forbids its members to vote, though they’ve spent millions promoting right wing politicians or fighting gay marriage in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.
Brash denied ever meeting them, then he was later forced to admit he had. At first he claimed he knew nothing about their electioneering plans in NZ—which cost by most estimates a million dollars or so—then he admitted they had mentioned it. Some National Party members of Parliament now think that this “support” may have cost National the election, and I would tend to agree. Don Brash does not.
In recent days, it’s been learned that members of the group hired private investigators to follow Labour Party ministers, including the Prime Minster and her husband, in an attempt to find “dirt” to use against them. In Australia, the Melbourne Age has been reporting on the group’s large spending on election campaigns against Labor (as it’s spelled in Australia) and the Greens, and in favour of anti-abortion, anti-gay parties and candidates.
So it came as a surprise over the weekend when Brash said he’d met with members of the sect after the election, and he would be willing to do so in the future. A logical question would then be how long, exactly, has Brash been meeting with these people, and what did they want?
As if to head off those questions, on Tuesday Brash ordered the National Party members of parliament to reject all contact with the Exclusive Brethren, though he still says their campaign interference didn't cost National the election. Then he got Caucus to suspend Brian Connell, whom Brash blames for leaking news of his affair to the media. Whether Connell was a scapegoat or justly punished is something only the members of the National Party caucus can answer.
However, Brash’s actions seem to suggest he’ll say or do anything to become Prime Minister. He’s gone after Maori, beneficiaries, and rails against “political correctness”, which is a far-right code word for anything perceived to be even slightly left of centre, including not only Maori and beneficiaries, but also gay people, women, immigrants—in short, anyone who’s not a conservative white person, and a white male in particular.
He’s been dishonest with New Zealand, most notably about the Exclusive Brethren. But he’s also had the cheek to lecture Labour about honesty and integrity when he himself couldn’t tell the whole truth about his dealings with the extremist sect or even his own marriage. And we’re supposed to “trust” someone who exhibits that sort of disconnection from reality and truth?
Maybe it’s not his fault. Maybe he got in over his head and couldn’t find a way out, so he—quite accidentally, mind you—kind of, sort of misled the public about certain things. If so, there’s a name for that, too: Incompetence.
If National really does want to be in power, then they need to get rid of Don Brash. The longer he stays, the more he has to “correct” the things he’s said, the more he woos far right religious extremists the more people will come to agree with Helen Clark that Brash’s leadership is cancerous and corrosive. The choice is National’s now, but it will be ordinary New Zealanders’ choice in two years. Does National really want to put it all at risk again?
Monday, September 25, 2006
Harbour has one more match left before the semi-finals, and that’s in
North Shore City, which is home to the North Harbour team, is often forgotten by people in the rest of New Zealand, including even those in greater Auckland. It’s good for the city and its roughly 200,000 people to have something to cheer about, and to make the rest of the country take some notice. Good on ya, Harbour!
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Television commercials in
In this era of globalisation, advertising is increasingly “international,” which ad people would tell you means it’s universal and can be used in any country. More often than not, however, it means American ads are used overseas.
Sometimes, American (and probably other) commercials are dubbed by Australians so there are Australian accents. It’s sometimes pretty obvious, with lips and words out of sync like an old Japanese Godzilla movie. Most of the time, however, they’re just slightly out of sync, so it’s noticeable only when paying close attention.
I first noticed this when I arrived in
Some Kiwis have told me that Australians are so provincial in their world view that they don’t like English-language commercials that don’t have Australian accents. I’ve never lived in Oz, as
Part of that is a kind of fervent Australianism, a mix of patriotism and nationalism that can, at times, be so over the top that it could make an American pentacostal Republican blush. Australians are damn proud of their country (if you don’t believe it, just ask one, they’ll tell you). To them, it’s “the Lucky Country.”
While many Americans can relate to Australians’ patriotism, most New Zealanders can’t. Here, people are much more laid back and less prone to waving the flag. We have no equivalent stadium chant like “U-S-A! U-S-A!” or “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!”. The closest thing at a Kiwi international sports event would be a kind of sing song “KEEEE weeeee”.
Still, New Zealanders are patriotic in their own way, and if we don’t all know the words to the national anthem, well, many Americans don’t know theirs, either. Kiwis are in general less “in your face” about their patriotism than either Americans or Australians. That’s not inherently better or worse, just different.
Friday, September 22, 2006
When you leave your country of birth to live in another one, “comparing and contrasting” is something you never stop doing. You notice what’s the same, what’s not, you compare and contrast and, inevitably, you draw conclusions.
This can be a really dicey thing to talk about, since you risk insulting one country or the other. As a result, many immigrants just keep their conclusions to themselves.
Still, some things have such a profound impact that it’s impossible to not throw caution to the wind and go ahead with comparisons. This has nothing to do with which country is “better”, since that’s very subjective and not necessarily very helpful or informative. Instead, it’s evaluating relative strengths and weaknesses. Conclusions, whatever they are, flow from that.
For me, there’s no greater difference between America and New Zealand than politics. I’m not talking merely about the different governmental structures, important as those are, but rather the entire political scene.
New Zealand’s governmental structure is closer to the people than Americans could ever imagine. Part of that is New Zealand’s parliamentary democracy, which encourages a connection to the people that America’s system actively discourages. Part of it, of course, is the smaller size of New Zealand.
But it’s in the operation of the government that the contrasts become more obvious. I’ve already talked a bit about current political shenanigans facing New Zealand. As seriously as New Zealand politicians apparently take everything that’s going on, it’s nothing like what American politicians do.
Here, “corruption” is supposed to be spending public election funding possibly improperly. In America, it’s using one’s position of power for enrichment, of oneself or one’s buddies. Here, the consequences of the current “corruption” would be, at worst, loss on Election Day. In America, corruption can ruin lives—or take them.
So, you could say it’s a matter of degree, opposite ends of the spectrum.
It seems to me that it’s in the operation of what I call “social politics” that the difference becomes dramatic. Social politics covers everything that affects how we live and cooperate within a society. It has to do with fairness, justice, human rights and democracy.
New Zealand’s national law forbids discrimination in many ways, including one that American national law doesn’t, and is unlikely to do: Sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in New Zealand. Similarly, New Zealand offers Civil Unions, giving same-sex couples the full rights of marriage, while American politicians attempt to ban all legal recognition of such relationships, whether it’s marriage, civil unions, or something else. Gay and lesbian people can serve openly and proudly in the New Zealand armed forces, while the American military has removed thousands and thousands of personnel since 1993, when the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy began. New Zealand has a tiny far right Christian fundamentalist minority, but here they’re on the margins of politics, not at the centre of the ruling party of government, as in America.
No country is perfect, and that includes New Zealand. There’s always room for improvement, but here’s the thing: In New Zealand people don’t worry about a sudden far right onslaught against fundamental human and civil rights. In America, there are always battles in Congress, with the White House, in state capitals and on election ballots. That kind of multi-front war on freedom and democratic traditions is pretty much unimaginable in New Zealand.
So, on balance, my own conclusion is that the main political difference between America and New Zealand is simple: In New Zealand, it’s safer politically. Does that make New Zealand politics “better” than America’s? Compare and contrast, then draw your own conclusions. After all, that’s what democracy is all about—isn’t it?
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The soap opera began with a fight over election spending and has continued with increasing heat and volume.
Each election, the leaders of the parties in Parliament are entitled to spend taxpayer money to publicise their parties’ policies, though they’re supposed to avoid “electioneering,” an ill-defined rule that’s generally been taken to mean that parties can’t solicit votes, money or members. This difficult to define distinction is at the crux of the matter.
After the election, the auditor-general issued a preliminary report claiming all but one party had spent in violation of the rules and must pay back non-allowed spending. Parties have since been in discussions with the auditor-general about his findings, and the amount supposedly owed has been reduced for most of them.
The National Party launched into a crusade against Labour for having spent some $800,000 improperly, according to the preliminary report, $446,000 of it on a small card outlining Labour’s policy pledges. Labour refused to pay back the money, arguing that their spending followed the same rules used for years, and the pledge card itself was similar to material issued by National in the 2002 election.
As the stand-off continued, the National Party leader, Don Brash, its politicians and media commentators, began accusing the Labour Party of “corruption”. It would be easy to dismiss the use of the word as mere partisan hyperbole, except as they continued their campaign they began to say that Labour “stole” the 2005 election.
Yeah, right. Were it not for Labour’s Pledge Card, then of course New Zealand voters would have flocked to National. According to National, the several hundred thousand dollars spent on National’s behalf by a secretive fundamentalist Christian sect had no effect and was irrelevant. How gullible does National think we are?
When the allegations of Don Brash’s extra-marital affair became public, Brash was quick to blame Labour. One Labour MP in particular heckled Brash in the House, alluding to the affair, and that’s what Brash was pinning the blame on.
However, the rumours about Brash had been around for years, unreported. The outbursts in Parliament, inappropriate as they were, didn’t change anything until rebel National MPs leaked news of caucus proceedings to the media and allegations of Brash’s latest adultery—still not denied—entered the public domain.
Then, this past Sunday, a national newspaper published a story denying that Prime Minister Helen Clark’s husband, Peter Davis, is gay, this in response to an implication in a rightwing magazine that was due to be published the next day. Labour blamed National for the “smear”, which National said was not its doing.
A few days after that, the Green Party announced that it would pay back funds “ultimately” found to have been spent in violation of the rules. They’re still in discussions with the auditor-general. Greens Co-Leader Jeannette Fitzsimons took issue with the auditor-general’s “inconsistent new interpretation of the rules, and there could be further legal challenge to his findings,” she said.
Clark then said that Brash is a “corrosive and cancerous person”. Brash said Clark should “get out of the gutter” and said she was a hypocrite.
And the soap opera continues. Pardon me while I reach for the remote to change the channel. This one’s boring.
Monday, September 18, 2006
I took this photo this morning in the bush behind our house, where there are many silver ferns to choose from. The easy accessibility of the bush (as well as the seashore) is one of the best things about
Saturday, September 16, 2006
So when news broke this week that Don Brash, the leader of the New Zealand National Party, was taking a short leave from his duties to deal with marital problems arising, it was said, from an affair he’d had, I wasn’t interested. But that changed a bit when the Machiavellian manoeuvres behind the scenes came to light.
First a bit of background. The New Zealand National Party that Don Brash leads is the second-largest party in the New Zealand Parliament, and the largest opposing the main party of government, the New Zealand Labour Party headed by Prime Minister Helen Clark. This makes Brash Leader of the Opposition.
In a parliamentary democracy like New Zealand’s, the leader of the largest party in Parliament forms a government and becomes Prime Minister. The leader of the largest party in opposition to that government becomes Leader of the Opposition and, in essence, the leader of a government-in-waiting. There’s a bit more to it than that, with coalitions with smaller parties being necessary to govern, but in all cases the leader is chosen by that party’s Members of Parliament who are free to change leaders at any time.
All the parties in Parliament have a caucus, basically a meeting of their members. Traditionally, these meetings are a bit like Las Vegas: What happens there, stays there.
On Tuesday, September 12, Brash alluded to the alleged affair to caucus members because he thought the news media would ask him about the rumours and he wanted them to be warned. One MP, Brian Connell, was reported to have told Brash that if the rumours were true, he had an obligation to say so. It was also reported that Connell was said to have told Brash that if they were true, he was morally unfit to be Leader.
Connell has been portrayed by the media has something of a self-appointed guardian of morality. This is mainly the result of his fierce opposition to the Civil Union Bill, which created civil recognition under law for non-marriage relationships, including both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, giving them the rights and privileges of marriage while leaving marriage itself restricted to opposite-sex couples.
At the time it was before Parliament, Connell described the Civil Union Bill as a "gay recruitment drive". His vehement opposition earned him a well-deserved telling off from his lesbian sister-in-law. So, was his sense of “morality” so offended that he leaked the caucus proceedings to the media?
“I’m not a whistleblower,” he told the Ashburton Chronicle, “but someone has leaked this almost word for word—and it wasn’t me.”
Why would the news media suggest that Connell had been the source of the leak? He told the paper, “I believe this person [who leaked the news] thought they could get rid of Don Brash and Connell can be the fall guy.” Maybe so, but he also told the paper, “On balance I think it should have come out into the public domain.”
Connell, often described as a “maverick MP” isn’t exactly flavour of the month in the National Party Caucus. Last year, he complained loudly about the portfolios he was given, and was dumped to the bottom of the rankings of National Party MPs after he publicly criticised Brash. It’s easy to see how he could be thought of as the source of the leak.
But the fact is, certain National Party MPs have been gunning for Brash for a long time. Brash led the party into the election last year, doubling the number of National MPs in Parliament and bringing them nearly to government. It’s the “almost” that apparently is the reason the knives are out for him.
All of which makes the use of his marital problems particularly slimy. With underhanded tactics like this, is it any wonder politicians have such a bad image? And if National Party MPs would really resort to this sort thing, do we want them running the country?
I don’t support the National Party. In fact, I find many of their policies downright dopey. Also, I have grave concerns about some of their supporters, like the secretive fundamentalist Christian sect that spent millions of dollars to try to get National into government, mostly by attacking other parties. But I also don’t think Brash’s marital problems are relevant to his job as leader of his party.
His opponents, including people in the Labour Party as well as the National Party, are suggesting that this calls into question Brash’s honesty and integrity. Call me a cynic if you want, but I don’t actually expect “honesty and integrity” from a politician. I just expect them to get on with the jobs we elected them to do.
It’s a different story if a politician uses the office for personal gain, or if they use power to get advantage over another person (including intimate advantage). However, none of that is the case here.
So, while I may not personally support Brash or his party, I think that he ought to be left alone to deal with his marital problems. In this case, questions about honesty and integrity are between him and his wife. Much as I would love to see National brought down a peg, this isn’t the way to do it.
On Sunday, September 17, the New Zealand Herald reported the results of a Herald on Sunday Digipoll taken after the news broke:
Almost three-quarters of Kiwis disapprove of the private lives of politicians being brought to public attention in Parliament, with women strongly believing affairs of the heart belong at home. Only 16.5 per cent of females polled said private lives were fair political targets, compared with 25.5 per cent of men.They reported that the poll of 400 voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 per cent, which is a pretty big margin.
Friday, September 15, 2006
I have to admit I’m getting pretty excited. Three weeks from today, my oldest friend (in terms of years of friendship, not age, I hasten to add) will be arriving for his first trip to
It’ll be a big adventure showing my friend around my home. I’ll be playing tourist a bit myself, actually, since we’ll be visiting a few of the places I haven’t seen, either. Some photos from that adventure will show up here, of course.
Many of the people I know in
Even so, it would be nice to have more visitors. After living so long in
It’ll be interesting, too, to see if my friend’s visit will give me an accent recharge. For some reason, Kiwis now seldom realise I’m American unless I tell them. I have no idea what they’re on about, since the accent I hear in my head is the same as it’s always been.
Some have suggested it’s because I’ve picked up Kiwi slang. Others have suggested that I sound Canadian rather than American (and these days, sometimes it might be best to let them think that…). Some have even suggested that I sound a bit like a Southlander, where their pronunciation of the letter “R” is more like my own. I doubt that, somehow.
There’s some Kiwi slang that I simply won’t use, like the word “mate”, for example. I just think it sounds really silly when a fully American-accented person uses the word “mate” like a Kiwi (keeping in mind that the accent in my head is as American as it ever was).
Still, I’ve adopted a lot of other words and phrases, many of which will no doubt pop up in this blog from time to time (if you don’t understand something, post a comment). I’m also aware that some of my pronunciations have shifted; that hard American “R”, for example, has softened somewhat, at least in some words (like my own name).
Still, I’ve been here long enough, and picked up enough Kiwi slang and inflection that at least some of the time, under the right circumstances, I just might pass as something of a local. In some ways, I am a local and, I have to admit, I enjoy showing people around my home.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
New Zealand is an island nation of 4.1 million people located in the South Pacific. The country is made up of two main islands, North Island and South Island, with a total land area roughly equal to Italy or the US state of Colorado. Australia is the nearest country to us, lying about 2100 km (around 1300 US miles) to the west. Sometimes, we jokingly refer to Australia as the West Island (they should be so lucky…).
Our largest city, Auckland, is roughly 10,500 kilometres (around 6,500 US miles) southwest of Los Angeles. It’s a very long plane ride.
I mention this first because I know that some of my fellow Americans are “geographically challenged”. You kinda need to know where I am in order to understand a lot of things I talk about.
Now to answer the question, I moved here for purely personal reasons. My partner is a Kiwi and for us to be together, I had to move here. There’s a political overtone to that, I suppose. Back in my activist days some people used to say “the personal is political”. Maybe they were right.
Anyway, I’ve been here since 1995, which is a pretty long time. The only place I’ve lived longer—just—is Chicago, where I lived for 12 years. In fact, until I moved to New Zealand, I’d lived most of my life within 60km (around 37 US miles) of the place I was born (not counting my university years). When I decided to move away, I wasn’t kidding.
Living in a new country can be a challenge, but it’s also an adventure. That’s what this blog is all about. Sometimes I’ll be talking about being an American living in New Zealand, but I’ll also be comparing and contrasting the two countries, talking about things that are good about one or the other and, probably, a few things that aren’t.
Sometimes, I’ll probably end up explaining one country to the other, as it were.
So pour yourself a cuppa, relax, and let’s see where this leads.
The image accompanying this post shows New Zealand on December 27, 2004, and is from NASA's Visible Earth team.