Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Off to America

I'm off to America today, and that probably means I won't have many chances to update this blog until I get back. It's possible there won't be any posts at all until mid-January. We'll see. Hopefully the weather will co-operate and everything else will go well, too.

But in case I don't get to post until I get back to New Zealand, Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

AmeriNZ #62 – Holiday Time

Episode 62 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

This is my last podcast for the year, so I start today by describing what a New Zealand Christmas is like for us. Then, I'll tell you a bit about my trip next week, and then after comments, I have a few special remarks.

It's now summer in New Zealand, so Christmas is very different than what I grew up with in Illinois (no snow or cold). The Christmas we have isn't necessarily the same as other Kiwis, but it's not all that different from theirs, either.

I have all my arrangements sorted for my trip to Chicago next week.

After comments, I have some special remarks for this last podcast of the year.

I probably won't have another episode until Tuesday, January 15, 2008. I'm hoping to be able to record some audio while I'm away, and maybe I'll be able to post it before I get home to New Zealand, but don't count on that.

Results for the poll question, “What's your favourite Christmas/Holiday special?”: A Charlie Brown Christmas was chosen by 5 people, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by 2, Santa Claus is Coming to Town by 2 and None of these by 3.

Thanks for listening this year—I truly appreciate it! I'll be back with more in the New Year.

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Mentioned this episode:

My blog post form 2006 talking about Pohutukawa

Related reading: The Holiday Time (a blog post about what this holiday time is like)

ArcherRadio: AR592 Meet The Dems

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Executioners back down

The Japanese have announced that they won't hunt endangered humpback whales, after all—this year. They've left open the possibility that they may slaughter them next year or the year after.

The main reason the Japanese backed down, apparently, is the forceful opposition of Australia under its new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The Australians were sending a lightly armed fisheries patrol craft to gather evidence to take Japan to the International Court in a bid to halt the whale hunt.

Japanese broadcaster NHK first reported the move and quoted an unnamed official as saying, "Japan has decided to delist humpbacks from the whaling list for now due to concern about the negative impact on relations with Australia.” Australia was one of some 30 nations that lodged an official protest with the Japanese government.

New Zealand's Conservation Minister had earlier announced that New Zealand was participating in international diplomatic protests, and described killing whales for "so-called scientific research" as "abhorrent". This has long been New Zealand's position.

Japan was risking a lot by proceeding with hunting humpbacks. After Australia's strong support for the Iraq war, the US would have been honour-bound to back Australia in any diplomatic conflict with Japan. Japan also realised that it wasn't gong to get support from other Asian nations, leaving it little choice but to back down.

So, humpbacks have been spared slaughter for a year or two. This is good, but it's not enough. Japan must cease all whale hunting. It's illegal: Their so-called “scientific research” results in whale meat being sold in restaurants and supermarkets in Japan, which clearly indicates the purpose behind the annual whale hunt. And, Japan still plans on slaughtering around a thousand other whales.

Nations must continue and increase pressure on Japan. Maybe next year the Australian and New Zealand navies should schedule joint manoeuvres—just for research purposes, of course—in the area where Japan is hunting whales. Maybe then the Japanese government will begin to understand how much the rest of the world is opposed to their illegal whale hunting.

But in the meantime, well done Australia for having the courage to put pressure on Japan. This worked to end the most abhorrent part of the Japanenese whale hunt this year. To end the charade once and for all will require even more pressure. Are other nations up to the challenge?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Not Auckland—this time

Last night's earthquake wasn't felt in Auckland. There as no damage here, no injuries. Not this time.

I begin with and focus on that since I know that friends overseas are likely to hear about the earthquake, thanks, in part, to the availability of security cam footage showing stock flying off store shelves (and not in the good way). I've already been contacted by one friend, and I want to reassure all the others, too. What's the point of having a blog if you can't use it for that kind of thing?

The first I heard about the earthquake was just before I went to bed, when I decided to check the headlines on the Stuff and NZ Herald websites. “Massive earthquake hits New Zealand”, the headlines screamed. Came as a total shock to me because despite being felt in places along the eastern coast of the North Island and the South Island, too—apparently all the way to Christchurch—we felt nothing here. It was like reading about an earthquake in another country.

One day, there will a similar event in the Auckland region. It's not “if”, but “when”, although in Auckland's case it's possible, maybe even likely, to be caused by a volcano emerging. Wellington has similarly been waiting for “the big one”. Other regions face similar risks.

The point is that all of New Zealand is potentially at risk, and it's a general awareness we all have. But there's no predicting when a specific event will happen, and it's entirely possible that a catastrophic earthquake may not happen for many generations, so we all just get on with life.

The good news in this earthquake is that no one was killed and apparently injuries were minor. There was no risk of tsunami, either.

Even so, I doubt the residents and business owners of Gisborne will be feeling lucky this morning, at least not totally. All New Zealanders can relate, aware that it can easily be them next time. So I send my best wishes to Gisborne, and I hope they're able to re-open their Central Business District quickly so retailers and residents alike can quickly regain some sense of normality. Despite the risk, life goes on, as it must.

Update 22/12/07: Gisborne's CBD is open again, and early estimates are that there was $30 million in damage (today, about US$23,002,500). Meanwhile, scientists are saying the New Zealand is "overdue" for amd even bigger earthquake. How nice.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I told you so—again

Not for the first time, a law has been shown to not have the dire consequences its opponents claimed.

This time, it's the so-called “anti-smacking” bill. The bill, which came into force on June 22, removed the legal defence of “reasonable force” from parents who smacked (or, more accurately, beat) their children. The far right campaigned vigourously against the bill, declaring that ordinary, “loving” parents would be hauled into court in the hundreds or thousands.

Well, they were wrong. Of course.

The New Zealand Police have just released a three month review of the legislation. The review found that there were 15 cases investigated in those first three months, resulting in nine warnings being given, and no prosecutions. Police Commissioner Rob Pope said, "While this is only a three month snapshot I am confident that police are taking the same common sense approach to these events as we always have, with officers using their discretion to ensure the appropriate action is taken."

Predictably, the far-right christianist group that opposed the law in the first place have a different view, calling the review misleading. In the double-speak that's typical for them, they claim that there are far more than an average of roughly one case per week being investigated, implying that many more than that are being “targeted” and filled with “trauma and fear of police investigation”.

Then they switch gears and say that if it was only 15 cases in three months, why did the government enact the changes? So they claim the changes unleashed hordes of police preying on “good parents or grandparents,” but if it didn't, well, then it's useless because it's resluted in so few investigations. Clearly it both can't be true.

The group is promoting a petition “demanding Referendums [sic] on smacking and addressing the real causes of child abuse.” And we all know what that is, don't we? Those bloody homos demanding the right to marry!

Okay, so it's not just that, to them it's abortion and other things that the far right christianists hate, too. But they don't talk about their far right religious agenda when they talk about public issues, probably because they know that few New Zealanders agree with them. And part of the evidence for that is that I had to go out of my way to read their comedy writing press release about the police review: The mainstream print media didn't cover it in the initial stories I saw.

The passage of the amendment was a sign of progress in New Zealand. If the mainstream news media are starting to ignore the bleating of the far right extremists, then that confirms progress is happening. And all without a smack in sight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Searching for a title too

Whenever I see the top searches on Yahoo!, I have the same hope that they aren't in any way related. They aren't, right?

Update: When I posted this originally, I forgot to put a title on it (doh!). Actually, I had one, but "Peter Jackson and Ron Paul's implosion videos of Dancing with the Stars' Christmas movies and dinner recipes, with Leah Remini, Koenigsegg CCX and Ludacris and P.S. I love you" was way too long. But now that I've said all those things, they're bound to show up in future Yahoo! search results, too. Oops!

AmeriNZ #61 – Election Time Begins

Episode 61 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

This is the last chance I'll have for a political podcast before my big trip, and that also means it's the last chance to talk politics before the Iowa Caucuses or New Hampshire Primary. Jason joins me today as we talk about events in the campaigns, including Romney and Huckabee trying to out fundamentalist each other. Aren't they promoting a religious test for public office? Huckabee gets a a good look today, both for his call for quarantine of people with HIV/AIDS and is “fair tax”, which we think is anything but. A look at opinion polls and we wrap up for the day. I have a couple comments, a replay of my pretend commercial, and that's it. Friday will be a normal podcast, and will probably be my last until January.

Check out Jason's blog.

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Friday, December 14, 2007

AmeriNZ #60 – Back again again

Episode 60 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

My last episode was ten days ago. I start today to tell you why that is: I've been incredibly busy with work. I have a big trip coming up, and that will again mess up the podcast schedule. In the meantime, I'll have another political episode next week. Today I give some advice to would-be expats.

Then I go over comments, the results of a recent poll on my blog and finally, I talk a bit about Australia's new Prime Minister.

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Still no podcast

I'm still swamped with work, so I couldn't record today, either. However, this big project is nearly finished, so I'll be back soon. Same goes for blog posts, actually.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

No advance for Australian fairness

I'm not joining the chorus of people who seem to be giddy that new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said his government won't stand in the way of Australian states and territories recognising same sex relationships. It's actually little better than the situation under defeated right wing Prime Minister John Howard.

Rudd said, "On these matters, state and territories are answerable to their own jurisdictions. State and territory governments are elected to govern, they are accountable to their constituents.''

Fair enough. But Rudd, who during the campaign said he's opposed to federal marriage or civil unions for same sex couples, apparently wants these registries to be limited to residents of that one state. So, a couple in one state would have to register all over again if they move to another state or territory. Moreover, due to the likely variety of structures and benefits, state registrations, unlike a federal union, may not be recognised by foreign countries that recognise same-sex unions, like New Zealand.

Already, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has announced it will delay introducing its civil union registry after a meeting between the ACT and Commonwealth attorneys general. Now, it appears that ACT have a weak register than originally planned.

In Victoria, the state government is moving to establish a “Relationships Register” which they think will somehow make it easier for same-sex couples to claim benefits. Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls said "The Relationships Register will offer conclusive proof of a relationship with one certificate.” He says, for example, couples won't have to prove a relationship in the event of a medical emergency.

Make no mistake: This is progress. But if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, this is the equivalent of beginning to lift the foot. Of course Rudd's government should be applauded for ending the blatantly partisan meddling on the issue practiced by Howard's government. Without real and meaningful legal recognition, however, it will end up satisfying no one, least of all the couples who are waiting to be treated as ordinary citizens.

This isn't about the word “marriage”, but about the legal rights and privileges that all citizens and taxpayers are entitled to as a fundamental human right. Call it whatever you want, but make it fair and just. Come one, Rudd, advance Australia's fairness.

Friday, December 07, 2007

No podcast today

I've been absolutely buried in work and just haven't had the time to record a podcast today. So, sorry, but there's no episode today. I'll be back on Tuesday with a nice, fresh episode. In the meantime, if you're desperate to hear me, head on over to ArcherRadio, where I took part in his latest group show (episodes 583 and 584).

While I'm on the subject of absences, we have a busy weekend ahead, including a family birthday party tomorrow. That means there probably won't be any blog posts until next week either. Life happens.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Glass houses and stones

One lesson that politicians never seem to learn is that when they find themselves in a hole, they should stop digging. Somewhat unusually, John Key, leader of the opposition National Party, has found himself in that situation.

Key was a critic of the use of politicians' families to score hits during debates in Parliament. Personal attacks and smears have no place in political discourse, he declared.

That was then, this is now.

Key's found himself in the firing line over his use of MPs' families as well as a not-too-subtle attempt to remind people that Prime Minister Helen Clark has no children. On this morning's Breakfast programme on TVNZ, Key was given the opportunity to acknowledge that he had done the same sort of thing he criticised. Of course he didn't do that.

Interviewer Paul Henry pointed out at least twice that Key was avoiding a direct question, but he nevertheless failed to admit he was now no better than anyone else. Henry is no friend of Labour, having openly expressed his contempt for the Government, but he's an even stronger opponent of hypocrisy, in all its forms.

For their part, Key and National are downplaying the matter, saying you have to have a sense of perspective. No, you don't: If that sort of behaviour is wrong, it's always wrong, not okay because it's not as bad as the behaviour of others. This is a breathtaking display of moral relativism from the party supposedly based on conservative values.

Make no mistake: I absolutely agree that no politician should be engaging in personal attacks, and that MPs' families should never be used just to score political points. On the Labour side, I often find myself wishing that the Caucus would put duct tape over the mouth of Trevor Mallard (maybe with a tight-fitting ice hockey goalie's mask, too). He's been one of the worst offenders of “attack dog” politics.

But that doesn't excuse Key's behaviour. He was wrong. If he wants to claim any sort of “moral highground” on this, he'll have to stop doing it, first, and apologise for having descended to that level.

In the meantime, he should stop digging. And he can no longer throw stones, either.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

AmeriNZ #59 - Politics here and there

Episode 59 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

It's now one month until the first real votes will be cast in the US Presidential candidate selection process, so I'm joined again today by Jason for a talk about all that. What's up with Huckabee? Is his star rising at Romney's expense? And does Romney stand for anything? On the Democratic side, the media should be more responsible in talking about falsehoods, especially those directed at Obama. Will Obama be hurt by such an early Iowa Caucus? Does the media shape what the campaign is about? In future episodes we'll talk about candidates and the campaigns as events unfold. I recorded this early because I knew I'd be too busy to record this week.

Also, I'll soon be attending a candidate selection meeting here in New Zealand for our elections, which are also next year. I'll talk about that in an upcoming episode. Comments and the expat briefing will be on Friday.

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Monday, December 03, 2007


One of the new words I learned when I arrived in New Zealand was “gobsmacked”. It means being utterly astounded, completely surprised. I think it's of British origin, but wherever it comes from, it's not something I ever encountered in Middle America.

But that's the way it is when you move far away, and especially to a new country: You learn new words and phrases, encounter new traditions and ideas, new ways of doing things and new attitudes. Sometimes that can be pretty bewildering, but for me it's been all good.

So I was gobsmacked to watch the news tonight and learn of an American expat living in Christchurch who's set up a website to, well, trash New Zealand. Okay, that's not actually their stated goal, but it's the end result. Contributors call New Zealanders uncouth, racist, bigoted—the litany of complaints goes on and on.

What's the deal? How can my experience be completely the opposite of theirs? There are a number of explanations.

First, Christchurch. It has a lot of unflattering nicknames, the “whitest city in New Zealand”, the “most English city” (by which they mean stuffy, uptight and, well, racist). Like all stereotypes, there's an element of truth: Christchurch has long had a problem with racist skinheads, for example. But it's also a city in which the central electorate is represented by an MP who's a gay man and an English immigrant.

Next, there's cultural misunderstanding. The humour in this part of the world is far more direct than Americans are accustomed to—in fact, many Americans find it bitchy and become easily insulted. It's easy to assume that this humour reveals a darker attitude that it simply doesn't.

There's also the possibility of lack of preparation, such as research, and many of the contributors to that site admit this. But it's equally possible that some of them simply were never cut out to be immigrants in the first place—not here, possibly not anywhere. There's no shame in that, but a little more careful research might have helped prevent their obvious unhappiness.

I cannot stress strongly enough that my experience is nothing like these people have apparently had. But that doesn't mean that I don't see problems. There certainly is prejudice based on race or ethnicity, especially against Asians, Maori and Pacific Islanders. But in my experience even this isn't commonplace. I come from a land where racism is rife. I know it when I see it, and I've simply never seen true racism in New Zealand.

In the end, I think that it comes down to the “space” someone is in: When one is unhappy, possibly bitter or angry, too, it's not easy to see the world in anything but a negative way: Negativity tends to breed more of the same. Believe me, I know about that, too.

My advice to anyone contemplating becoming an expat is: Be real, do hard research, and look for reasons not to emigrate. If your desire survives all that, you may be on to something. And remember that if you find expat sites filled with people who are overly positive or overly negative, that site is unlikely to give you a realistic view of your chosen home. On that one thing, I do agree with that negative site: Let the buyer beware. If you are, you're more likely to make the right choice and you'll leave no one gobsmacked—including yourself.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

HRC Tells

The Human Rights Campaign is a group I've often criticised, but I believe that when they do something right, I should give them credit.

HRC staged a protest in Washington, DC, placing one small American flag on the Mall for every soldier discharged from the military during the 14 years of the infamous “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT) policy designed to exclude gay and lesbian soldiers: HRC placed 12,000 flags.

Strong winds meant they had to concentrate the display in a smaller area, with fewer flags, but the result was still impressive.

My friend Jason, who lives in DC, snapped some photos while he was out and about, and posted them on his blog. I particularly liked this one because you see that helicopter in the background by the Washington Monument? That's Marine One, which carries the President—you know, the moron sitting in the White House who thinks throwing away 12,000 soldiers is a great policy. You will also no doubt remember what a hard time the US military has had finding Arabic speakers because DADT meant they were forced to discharge most of the soldiers who were Arabic-speaking language specialists.

DADT came in during the presidency of Bill Clinton, but that was then, this is now. The neocons and theocons in the current regime love DADT, and it's highly unlikely the policy would be changed if the Republicans are in power after the 2008 election. The Democrats would be far more likely to change it.

If there's a chance to stop such a stupid policy—one which has no equivalent among US allies—then I know who'll I'll be backing. I know, you didn't ask, but I'm telling: I'll be voting for the Democratic candidate. DADT is just one of many reasons.

Well done, HRC, for an effective protest (and great pictures, Jason!).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day 2007

Last year, I wrote an angry post for World AIDS Day. In the year since, nothing has happened to reduce my anger. This year, indignation is added on top.

George Bush—my second least favourite American, after Dick Cheney—has announced he wants the US Congress to approve US$30 billion to fight AIDS. He said: “We dedicate ourselves to a great purpose: We will turn the tide against HIV/AIDS—once and for all. I look forward to seeing the results of America's generosity.”

Let me put this as generously as I can: Bush is a hypocrite. US money spent on AIDS prevention can't be spent on condoms; it must be spent to promote abstinence. How dare he make it sound like he will help fight HIV/AIDS when he and his far-right christianist buddies forbid any meaningful efforts that really would fight it?

Mind you, money spent to ease the suffering of people with the disease would be a good thing, but wouldn't it be better still to work to prevent the infection from happening in the first place? Or maybe that's too logical, too sensible.

After seven years of this regime's lies, deceptions, criminal activity, profiteering and wholesale slaughter of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, it's natural to assume their motives are dark. They apparently do nothing that doesn't enrich their buddies or advance the theocon/neocon agenda. They certainly don't care about combatting HIV/AIDS at home, and not really in Africa, either.

On the bright side, there's only one more World AIDS Day with that man occupying the White House.

Who ARE these people?

The news media reported tonight that some 5,000 people marched in Auckland against the Electoral Finance Reform Bill, currently before Parliament. The organiser is John Boscawen, usually called “a businessman” by the media. What kind of businessman—apart from, apparently, right wing?

Prominent participants included the leader of the neo-conservative ACT Party, the leader of a new far-right christianist party connected to a NZ TV preacher and the leader of the far-right christianist group that was the centre of organising against the anti-smacking bill (and now engaged in organising boycotts of advertisers on “Californication”, among other far-right christianist causes).

So, who are these people? Are they merely a gang of political extremists worried that they can't buy the next election? Some of the signs carried referred to “Helengrad”, a favourite schoolyard taunt used by the right and far right in New Zealand.

The original purpose of the bill was a response to a far, far-right christianist sect that spent more than a million dollars in the 2005 election on a smear campaign against the Labour and Green Parties in an effort to get the National Party elected. The group spent the money secretly, never openly identifying themselves until their true identities were revealed by an ex-member.

Another aspect of the bill will severely limit fat-cat campaign contributions and outlaw anonymous donations through trusts, a despicable practice that allows very, very rich people to donate huge sums to a party without their names being known publicly (very useful for rich business owners whose customers may not approve of their political donations). This has benefited primarily the conservative National Party and they will suffer the most from the changes.

Some proposed changes have been criticised by disinterested parties, and the government plans to deal with those objections through amendment. But the level of heat among opponents, the level of venom hissed at the Government and at the Prime Minister in particular seems out of proportion.

Which leads me to wonder if there isn't a larger agenda at work here, especially given who some of the high-profile opponents are. This looks to me to be another aspect, basically, of neo-conservative efforts to get a National Party-led government in order to promote their full agenda. If they really are ordinary people, and not far-right ideologues trying to appear ordinary, they could go a long way to reduce my suspicions by simply turning down their volume and using normal discourse, not the screeching rhetoric of the Grumpy Brigade.

Unless that happens, I'll keep wondering who these people really are.

Update: The Green Party has revealed that the leader of the protests is also a member of the neoconservative group, Business Rountable (previously, commentor Downunder Mark documented that he was a chief fundraiser for the neoconservative ACT Party--thanks for the info, Mark). Members of the Business Roundtable raised huge piles of secret cash for the National Party in the 2005 election. The donations were secret only to voters, since the money was given anonymously through trusts, but it's likely that National's top leaders knew who the big donors were.