Sunday, July 31, 2011

The triumph of love

I was going to post another, ordinary, Weekend Diversion, and then I found this video. Plans changed. I cannot turn away from a story about the triumph of love.

When I think about the struggle for marriage equality, I think about people like the couple in this video. Ralph Goneau, 79, and Richard Wilhelm, 87, were together for 41 years before politicians allowed them to marry. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not be cheered by their story.

I would also gladly put up such relationships as superior to those of so many in the anti-gay industry, couples who have been together a fraction of that time, and who have endured nothing by comparison, yet who have the audacity to dare to presume to lecture us all on what makes for a “real” marriage. Maybe this is why most folks on the far right seldom talk about love and commitment—they know we’re better at it than they are.

The bigots of the anti-gay industry have never—ever—had to worry about being barred from their partner’s hospital bed because they’re not “real” family. They’ve never had to worry about relatives swooping in and taking away a lifetime’s worth of possessions because the surviving spouse isn’t “real” family. They’ve never had to worry that marrying the person they love could result in the deportation of their foreign-national spouse.

So don’t even try to suggest that heterosexuals have some sort of unique and special claim on what makes a real relationship, because from where I sit, they don’t. Moreover, the leaders of the anti-gay industry don’t know anything about what real commitment means, what real triumph over adversity looks like. Quite frankly, I think most of those bigots are far too weak and cowardly to survive what gay couples in most of the US face every single day.

So, I look at couples like Ralph and Richard and I think that just maybe one day this nightmare will be over and gay people will be truly equal. Love doesn’t need approval, it doesn’t need tolerance, it doesn’t need acceptance: It just needs people to get out of the way. Love will find it’s own way regardless—but why must we make it harder?

Ralph and Richard have survived and triumphed. Their story makes me very happy. But I hope that equality comes to all 50 US states well before I’m their age. Still, love will triumph, regardless. We should all be cheered by that.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Differing perspectives

Last week one of the blogs I follow posted an “upside down” world map, which, in turn, came from a well-known site. These maps pop up on the web from time to time, so they’re not particularly novel. However, the blogger added, “There's no up or down from outer space.”

True enough (and that’s what inspired me to post the two NASA photos of earth, above, flipped around). In an absolute sense, there is no “correct” way to view the earth from space—the way we normally see it, the way it is in the photos above, sideways, whatever.

However, if we take the ecliptic plane as a visual point of reference, then it’s just as logical to see “up” as being what we call south (again, as in the photos above). The rotation of the earth isn’t relevant for determining up and down because planets can rotate in either direction and, in fact, the earth rotates both ways: From directly above the geographic north pole, the planet rotates from right to left. Looked at it from directly above the geographic south pole, the planet rotates in the more familiar left to right. Similarly, from above the equator with north at top, the earth rotates from left to right; put the south at top, and the rotation seems revered.

So, if there’s no “correct” answer to even which end of the earth is up, or which way it appears to be rotating, how many other unchallenged assumptions may, in fact, contain multiple “correct” viewpoints? I think this applies to human behaviour, and politics, too, but this idea of relativity of belief drives the rightwing thoroughly round the bend. They demand a world with constants and absolutes—that’s a definition of what a conservative is. The farther right a person is, the greater their certainty in their own certainty.

We humans are good at inventing plenty of absolutes for ourselves, and also complete belief systems to foster and reinforce the idea that there’s only one “correct” way of viewing some issues. I like the expression that says people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. It gets at the centre of this: Just because a conservative declares that they alone have “truth” and only their views are “correct” doesn’t make it so.

People on the left can also have unchallenged assumptions, unjustified faith in their own “correctness” and, like conservatives, this becomes more pronounced the farther from the centre one is. There’s one important difference, however: Liberals’ certainty in the “correctness” of their beliefs leads to greater tolerance and acceptance of others, while conservatives’ certainty leads to less tolerance, less acceptance—and less freedom.

It would be nice if sometimes conservatives were capable of looking at the world from a different perspective, of considering the possibility that even if they’re convinced that they alone have absolute “truth”, they have no right to force that “truth” on to those who see the world differently.

The photos above show a view of “up” that is equally as correct as the conventional view. Being able to understand that—and the implications—is one of the most profound differences between liberals and conservatives. It’s okay to have differing perspectives; it’s not okay to act is if there’s only one “correct” perspective for everything.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Winning the prize

A New Zealand radio station is holding a competition in which marriage is the prize—but this time, it’s a good thing, offering a newly-legal same-sex wedding in New York City. I endorse it, especially since a couple of our niece’s friends are competing to be the fourth finalist couple (I voted for them—you can, too).

I’ve written about radio stations making marriage a prize twice before, both of them negatively: First was back in 2007 where one radio station’s stunt called for perfect strangers to get married as their prize, then again earlier this year when a different radio station ran a “Win A Wife” competition. My main gripe was that these contests trivialised marriage as something no different than winning a year’s supply of laundry detergent, or whatever.

This time it’s different—way different.

ZM, a pop station, is running “Same Sex in the City,” a competition in which a same-sex couple will win flights to New York (through Air New Zealand’s grabaseat), a week’s accommodation and a legal marriage. Listeners vote for the couples online (have I mentioned that I voted for our niece’s friends and you can, too?). Eight years ago, the station ran a similar competition, “My Bent Friend's Wedding”, in which they sent a same-sex couple to Hawaii and then aired their ceremony. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Hawaii (and still isn’t), and the state didn’t even have its Marriage Lite civil unions law yet, so the ceremony was legally meaningless. New Zealand wouldn’t pass its own civil unions law for another couple years.

What I like about this competition is that it celebrates marriage equality by whisking a same-sex Kiwi couple off to New York to get married—something they can’t do here in New Zealand where marriage is restricted to opposite-sex couples only. However, it’s not clear whether the marriage will have any legal status whatsoever here in New Zealand: When civil unions were created, a handful of similar civil unions were recognised as such here, with regulations about others to be issued later. As far as I can tell, that never happened, nor any regulations about same-sex foreign marriages being downgraded to a civil union in New Zealand.

What’s clear is that New Zealand doesn’t recognise foreign same-sex marriages as marriages, and won’t until the country finally enacts full marriage equality some day. So, the best the winning couple can hope for is that New Zealand will recognise the foreign marriage as a civil union without the couple having to hold a separate civil union ceremony here in New Zealand.

Mind you, this is still better than any Australian couple could have. The country doesn’t yet have even civil unions like New Zealand’s, and the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is strangely belligerent on the issue, determined for some odd reason to prevent any and all approval of marriage equality in Australia or for Australians overseas. In fact, her government is actively blocking same-sex marriages overseas.

Before marrying in the US, most foreign nationals need to get a “Certificate of Non-Impediment” (CNI) from their home country. A CNI establishes that the foreign national isn’t already married in their home country (in the US, marriage registrars can check the details of US citizens). This is usually a simple formality, but Gillard’s government is refusing to issue a CNI to any Australian planning a same-sex wedding—for no good or rational reason. They claim it’s because such marriages are illegal in Australia, but the purpose of a CNI is NOT to enforce one country’s laws in a foreign country, but merely to certify their citizen isn’t already married.

Gillard is also promising to block any moves from the Australian Labor Party members to get the party to commit to marriage equality, as polls indicate a majority of party members—and Australians generally—want. In fact, the only people who are intractably opposed to marriage equality would never, ever vote for Labor anyway, so what gives? Why is she pandering to the increasingly isolated far right on this issue? She’s an atheist who is not married to her partner, so clearly she has no religious objection to same-sex marriage, nor even a personal notion that it’s for men and ladies only. So, in the absence if any logical or rational reason, all I can say is that Gillard clearly has “issues”.

What all of this amounts to is that the radio station contest, nice as it is, actually serves to underscore the real problems that married same-sex couples experience. New Zealand should do its part to fix this problem by enacting full marriage equality. So should Australia, no matter how much Julia Gillard kicks and screams about it. Gay citizens should be treated equally by their countries, and without full marriage equality, they aren’t.

Still, I like the idea of the contest. Despite it all, I’m a romantic at heart, and I believe in the power of love to overcome all obstacles.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

To songify life

I posted a couple “Auto-Tune the News” videos from the Gregory Brothers, the last one just over two years ago. They’re now doing a bunch of different things, and the video above is an example of that.

Above is their latest video, “Best NASCAR Prayer Ever”. It was a real prayer that somehow got—ahem!—off track. Here, it’s gone completely around the bend.

They say of this comedy project, “The Gregory Brothers transform non-songs into the songs that the cosmos originally intended them to be.” The results are funny, often hilarious, but without being gratuitously cruel. Usually, they’re kind of silly. This appeals to me.

They also have an iPhone app called, oddly “Songify” which will take ordinary speech and “songify” it (as mentioned at the end of this video). I downloaded the app, and it’s a lot of fun. I used it to record people at a family gathering this weekend, and while the results weren’t as good as songs “songified” by the Gregory Brothers, they were still fun and funny.

An older video, “Can't Hug Every Cat”, is below. They took an actual eHarmony video and “songified” it. As I write this, it’s been viewed over 4.2 million times.

Anyway, I needed a little break, a sort of midweek diversion.

One among abundant examples

I frequently talk about how the far right engages in lies, smears or distortions as part of their war on gay people. Today I thought I’d share a specific example.

I saw a quote from convicted Watergate felon Chuck Colson, who now claims he’s a Christian. But a huge part of his “ministry” is lying about, smearing and distorting the truth about gay people. He was one of the authors of the infamous “Manhattan Declaration”, endorsed by all the leading and minor anti-gay hate groups, which calls on “Christians” to disobey any law that protects the civil rights of GLBT Americans.

The convicted felon said:
"Although the media elite don’t want you to know it, according to a recent Alliance Defense Fund poll, the majority of Americans want to reserve marriage to one man and one woman."
This is a deliberate deception in the nature of a lie, and on two counts.

First, the “poll” was funded by one anti-gay hate group and conducted by another anti-gay hate group specifically to get the results it got. It was, in other words, not a real poll, had absolutely no validity whatsoever and was done solely to use as a propaganda tool. The truth is that real polls, conducted by real and reputable polling organisations all find strong majority support for relationship recognition for same-sex couples, and such polls are also increasingly reporting growing majorities backing marriage equality. So, the real facts are the opposite of what the “poll” claimed to find. The rightwing “poll” was a deception, designed to fool people who don’t know the truth about it or its origins into thinking it was legitimate.

Colson’s being deceptive when he says, “the media elite don’t want you to know” about the “poll” because he’s trying to imply they’re refusing to report real news. In fact, the news media don’t knowingly report bullshit as if it’s true, no matter how much Colson prays they do. The “poll” got no mainstream news coverage because it was a deception, not news.

This is one of the more minor examples of the lies, smears and distortions coming from the anti-gay industry. But since it popped up just today, I thought I’d share it as one example of the tactics of the anti-gay industry. There will be more, no doubt.

Top o’ the hat to Joe.My.God.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Words of a feather

I haven’t said anything about Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik, mostly because there wasn’t really anything to say that everyone else wasn’t saying. And yet, there has been much said that I certainly would not say.

The reaction of the rightwing has been predictable: They vehemently deny that their violent rhetoric about fighting for the very existence of Western Civilisation leads inevitably to some unhinged person launching acts of violence. When this happens, rightwing spin is that these are “lone wolves”—people like: Jim David Adkisson, who shot up a Unitarian Church in Knoxville Tennessee because he hated liberals; or, Scott Roeder, a rabid anti-abortionist who assassinated Dr. George Tiller at his church; or, James von Brunn, the white supremacist who shot up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC; and of course there was Jared Lee Loughner, who tried to assassinate US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, against whom he had a grudge, because of his demented anti-government beliefs.

Those people are just ones whose crimes I’ve blogged about. Crooks and Liars keeps a running list of rightwing terrorist plots and actions in the US.

There’s no such thing as “lone wolves”, just rabid animals eating up the far right’s rhetoric and acting on it. As I’ve said repeatedly on this blog (such as here), words have consequences and it is beyond absurd for the rightwing to claim their rhetoric doesn’t influence violent extremists. This is why I say they had moral culpability for the shooting of Represenative Giffords, along with the other violent acts I listed above.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lifeboats and deals

Some New Zealanders think that any manoeuvring by political parties is inherently scummy. Part of that is because ordinary people don’t like politicians, so they certainly don’t like what politicians do.

But are they being fair or ornery? I think it’s the latter, and incredibly self-defeating.

The main issue right now is parties doing what TV3 News’ Political Reporter, Patrick Gower, has been referring to as “dirty deals”. For example, in the Epsom electorate the conservative National Party is running a phony candidate who is, he said, campaigning only for the Party Vote. That way, it will enable the far right Act Party a chance to elect a former National Party MP as the Act MP for Epsom, bringing in three or four Act Party MPs, based on current polling.

This happens because of the “threshold” for representation in Parliament: To be in Parliament, a party must win five percent of the party vote, or an electorate. If they win an electorate, then all their Party Votes count. If a party wins neither an electorate seat nor five percent of the Party Vote, then that party receives NO seats in Parliament.

In the 2008 election, Act got 5 MPs, even though they won only 3.65% of the Party Vote, because they won the Epsom electorate (again through a deal with National). However, in the same election, New Zealand First won NO seats in Parliament, even though they received 4.07% of the Party Vote, because they failed to win an electorate seat.

This anomaly encourages deals like that of National and Act in Epsom. It also encouraged National to avoid challenging one-man Party Peter Dunne in Ohariu Belmont, and also, allegedly, for the Greens to avoid campaigning for the electorate vote there in order to give Labour’s Charles Chauvel a better shot at defeating Dunne. Similarly, Gower reported that Act won’t stand a candidate in New Plymouth to give the National Party candidate a better shot at defeating Labour’s Andrew Little. And there are, no doubt, similar things going on in other electorates.

There’s nothing “dirty” about this deal-making—it’s a rational thing for parties to do in order to shape the new Parliament. Gower says these deals are “dirty” because they’re not being honest about what they’re doing. Well, maybe, but considering voters’ almost visceral negative reaction—helped by the news media, if we’re honest—can we really blame them?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby, it’s cold outside

Today New Zealand fell under the grip of the worst winter weather in 15 years, making it the worst winter weather I’ve ever experienced since moving here (this is my 15th winter in New Zealand). The South Island and parts of the North Island had snow down to sea level, and temperatures dropped throughout the country.

However, today was pretty mild in Auckland, as it ordinarily is: It was 6.6 degrees at our house this morning (43.9F). That’s cold, but not as cold as at other times, and positively balmy compared to other parts of the country (weather relativity is evident within New Zealand, too). During the day it hit a high of about 9 at our house (48.2F).

This has also been a day of rain—rather a lot of rain, actually. It could’ve been snow if it was a bit colder, but that would’ve been a pretty freakish event—fortunately. As it is, authorities are warning about “black ice” due to moisture on the roads combined with low temperatures.

We’re probably better equipped to handle this weather than a lot of Aucklanders—including us in earlier houses. We have a very well insulated house and, atypically for Auckland and most of New Zealand, we have central heating (a ducted, whole-house inverter heat pump system). So, you could say we weathered the storm system well (sorry).

We’re only about six weeks away from spring, so this will probably be the last big hit of this winter—probably, but not definitely. The one thing about weather you can be sure of is that you can’t be sure about anything.

Actually, I do know that I’m ready for spring. At the moment, it’s 4.2 degrees outside our house (39.6F) and falling; baby, for us, that’s cold outside…

Visualising equality

I’ve spent many years working on printed communication, sometimes trying to present an idea, sometimes selling a product or service, whatever. Sometimes combining words and pictures helps me to get a fuller understanding of something.

So I made a couple illustrations to depict the reality of marriage equality in the US now that New York is officially the sixth US state to enact it. The map above depicts Free States, which have marriage equality, those that forbid it (the majority) and those that are somewhere in between (the second biggest group). This sort of map shows up curiosities, like the northern state of Michigan banning marriage equality and the southern state of North Carolina not doing anything at all (yet). California won’t be counted as a free state until its infamous Proposition 8 is overturned one way or another.

The illustration at the bottom of this post looks at this somewhat more symbolically (I got the idea from a similar, less involved illustration I saw several years ago). Taking the stars on the US flag representing the states’ order of admission to the union (moving from upper left to lower right), each state’s star is coloured to indicate how free each state is. White stars, the colour they’re supposed to be, represent states with marriage equality.

This is also, of course, propaganda, especially in how I present these illustrations, describing states with marriage equality as “free states”. One could easily make similar illustrations focusing on any human rights issue as an indicator of relative freedom in those states. In fact, people do that all the time, focusing on issues important to them. It’s also fun and kind of satisfying to use opponents’ words—like freedom—in their proper sense.

In general, this sort of evaluation based on a single issue works best with issues that have two sides, like marriage equality: A state either has full equality, or it doesn’t. Civil Unions, or whatever a state calls them, can never be fully equal to marriage if same-sex couples are barred from marriage. Done well, when they’re “marriage in all but name”, they can be a transitional arrangement on the road to full equality, but they are not full equality.

More complex issues are difficult to illustrate in this way because there are so many variations. For example, look at voting rights: State laws vary widely on how long one must live in the state before being allowed to vote, what forms of ID are required and who can lose their right to vote under what circumstances. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, or that I won’t try in the future, just that it’s not easy.

Making these illustrations was really just something to do on a cold and rainy winter day. I figured I may as well share them. Maybe visualising equality will help make it arrive faster.

Marriage equality comes to New York

One of my favourite YouTubers, Sean Chapin, made the above short video celebrating the arrival of marriage equality in New York. At the first moment it was legal, Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in New York.

Congratulations, New York! Hopefully one day New Zealand will follow your lead and achieve full equality.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend Diversion: NZ ‘Animal Novelties’

This week’s Weekend Diversion is another video from Archives NZ, and again a compilation reel, this one called “Animal Novelties”. In the comments to last week’s Weekend Diversion,there was a comment from Roger Green, who said, “Maybe next week, you can do Animal Novelties.” And what do you know? There was a video by that title!

A few of the titles in the reel have misplaced apostrophes (not unusual, then as now), but what really caught me was the chimps’ tea party at Wellington Zoo. Auckland Zoo used to do that as well, and the last time I was there, they had a display about it, including one of the teacups they used. Apparently, it was quite popular.

In this real are:
  • Pig In The Swim, Napier Beach (1955)
  • Wellington Zoo Has Pets’ Corner, Chimps [sic] Tea Party (1956)
  • Four Flying Fossils – Tuataras take a trip (1952)
  • World's Record Litter (1950) Up to Scratch
  • Cats Judged In Auckland (1956)
  • Tame Trout & Eels (1950)
  • A Dogs’ [sic] Show (1945)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weather relativity

It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and here in Auckland we’re having a mild one. It’s much cooler than what my American friends and family have experienced lately, but still warmer tempertures than what many of them will have in January (the Northern Hemisphere’s equivalent to July).

Today the high temperature at our house reached 19, which is just over 66 in US Fahrenheit temperature. In US temperatures, the highs shown on the weather widget screenshot accompanying this post range from 52F to about 63F, the nighttime lows between 39F and 52F (those are official highs and lows; it’ll probably be somewhat warmer at our house).

All of this goes to show how weather, and how we experience it, is relative; it varies from place to place and the perception of it varies from person to person. But no matter how bad—or good—it is at any point, it’ll change.

We all know this, but it doesn’t stop us from complaining about weather we consider to be bad for whatever reason. We humans are an odd bunch.

Crazy like a Fox

The video above documents the orchestrated propaganda campaign Fox “News” has been waging against Media Matters. I’ve never heard so many distortions, smears and outright lies in only 6 minutes, 38 seconds—well, apart from nearly any 6:38 spent watching the channel, of course.

Fact: All non-profit groups, even public advocacy groups, can file for federal tax exemption. They fall into two broad categories: Ones for which contributions are tax-deductible for the donor, and ones where they aren’t. The first has more restrictions on what it can do, the second has fewer restrictions, but neither can engage in outright partisan electoral campaigns (such organisations are regulated by different laws). The ideology and political biases of groups are irrelevant in determining whether they receive federal tax exemption or not.

Does Fox REALLY want to go down this road? Because if Media Matters shouldn’t have a tax exemption, then neither should dozens upon dozens of far right political and religious groups. If Fox “News” wants Media Matters to have its tax-exempt status revoked, then obviously they’ll also call for revoking the tax-exempt status of fundamentalist churches that engage in overtly political activity and they’ll put a direct link to a pre-filled IRS complaint form on their website to complain about those churches, right? Oh, that’s right, Fox “News” brands that an “attack” on “religious liberty” or some other such nonsense.

Fox’s problem with Media Matters is that it is the one organisation that has consistently called Fox on its lies, smears and distortions. If Fox doesn’t like that, maybe they should just stop lying, smearing and distorting. If Fox doesn’t like being called the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, maybe they could try being fair and balanced for a change.

Instead, Fox attacks its critics. Fox organises its programmes and orchestrates what’s covered and how in order to further the interests and agenda of the Republican Party and far right conservatives generally. That’s not news. What IS news is how frightened Fox clearly is of Media Matters, which means that Media Matters is obviously being successful.

Fox “News” is hoping to silence its critics, and the stronger the critics, the more desperate Fox is to silence them. Fox knows that if they succeed, if they’re no longer held accountable for their lies, smears and distortions, they’ll be better able to advance the Republican/extremist agenda.

So while this video makes it look like everyone on Fox “News” is insane, they’re not. They’re merely following their orders to lie, smear and distort, as always. The bosses who orchestrate the propaganda aren’t insane, either. Attempting to hoodwink their viewers into doing their corporate dirty work for them is evil genius. If Rupert Murdoch’s henchmen at Fox are crazy, they’re crazy like a Fox.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Seeing the right thing

I originally saw this video through Yahoo! News, which billed it as “Little boy's heartwarming act at game.” It’s an accurate enough description, and it’s always good to see a kid do the right thing, but I couldn’t help thinking how sad it is that a kid doing the right thing is rare enough that it ends up being a big deal. Maybe it was because of the other incident they refer to a few times.

It’s true that baseball, and baseball commentary in particular, is often overly sentimental, even mawkish, so this could be dismissed as just another example. I guess we’d probably get sick of it if there were a lot of similar stories in the news, but maybe such behaviour would be more common if we saw it more often—sort of people rising to meet expectations. Maybe not.

At any rate, this is the first time I’ve ever posted an MLB video. Sports isn’t exactly one of my core subject areas, after all—but people are. It’s nice to talk about someone doing a good thing for a change.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Space era ends

Tonight I watched the space shuttle Atlantis touch down (screen shot at left, after it stopped). According to NASA, the nosegear touched down at 4:56:57am CDT, and the “wheelstop” was not quite two minutes later, marking the end of the US space programme.

I (vaguely) remember watching launches of Project Mercury, and I also watched Project Gemini (and I had a toy Project Gemini rocket). Then, I watched Project Apollo. The point is, the US space programme has always been part of my life, and I can’t imagine things being any different. Maybe it’s time.

There are some who think that space exploration should be left to private enterprise—as if they’d ever be interested. It’s far more likely that it will be left to multi-national cooperation. Maybe that’s as it should be—for the benefit of all humanity, and all that.

And yet, I’m still kind of sad at the end of US spaceflight. Someday, even the US will see its importance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Edge of Glory

This video is actually a short film made to go along with Lady Gaga’s single, “The Edge of Glory”, and made just like any other short film (the credits are on their YouTube description). The creators say of the video:
“This video is for everybody. Who has ever loved. And has been loved in return. To those that think it never does or will get better. It does. It does get better, it becomes beautiful.”
I saw this video this morning when someone posted it to Google+, and it started my day off well. It’s sweet, positive and, well, nice. I’m a fan of Lady Gaga, so I like the song—but I like it better with this video giving it some meaning (the official music video, as is so often the case, seems unconnected to the song).

That good mood was nearly ruined this evening when I read comments from the grumps at a leading gay blog—until I remembered that they pretty much hate everything popular. I was once going to write a blog post about these “grumpy old men” as I think of them (even though some can be quite young), but I didn’t want all that negativity oozing all over here.

For me, the bottom line is what I try and remind folks on my various social networks when they seem to be getting carried away with being hypercritical: Every single song, movie, book, TV show or whatever that you love, someone else will hate; every single song, movie, book, TV show or whatever that you hate, someone else will love. Just something to keep in mind.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Postwar NZ ‘Unusual Occupations’

It’s been awhile since I posted a video from Archives NZ as a Weekend Diversion, so here’s one they posted late last week. The video above is a National Film Unit compilation reel made up of films that were released between 1947 and 1951.

In this real are:
  • Bottle House (1950)
  • The Clock Collector (1950)
  • Sumner. Smokers Pipes (1949)
  • Christchurch. Leaf Collector (1947)
  • Dunedin. Making Stained Glass Windows (1948)
  • Letting Off Steam (1951)
These old films fascinate me because, being foreign-born, I didn’t grow up seeing such old films. Also, the plummy accents officially required for film narrations back then seem comical now. So, for me, it’s almost like peering into the past of a country I don’t recognise. Actually, younger Kiwis may feel the same way.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The difference is quite simple

In this video, Sean Chapin skewers the attitude of a Town Clerk in rural New York State who quit her job rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because her particular religious beliefs reject marriage equality. As he said in his description, Sean is humorously “pointing out that some words have more than one meaning, including bank, base, trunk and marriage.”

The clerk said she “had to choose between my job and my god.” If she really believes that, then she was right to resign. No elected officials—or government employees, either—have the right to refuse to carry out their lawful duties because of their private, personal religious beliefs. If a government job or an elected role involves an irreconcilable conflict with a person’s religious belief, then the person must resign (or shouldn’t take such a job in the first place).

It’s easy to say that about elected officials, but employees have more choices. For example, a co-worker who doesn’t share the religious objection might be willing to do the work. Or, the worker can calculate how much they earn for carrying out the duty they object to and donate an equivalent amount of money to groups that believe as they do, like a church, for example. These are two ways to accommodate someone’s rightwing religious beliefs in a totally secular context. However, no employee can flat out refuse to perform the lawful public duties they’re employed to carry out, especially if doing so forces people to go elsewhere to obtain the same services the employee refuses to perform for religious reasons.

The religious right likes to moan endlessly how this supposedly violates the religious freedom of rightwing religionists. That’s nonsense. They still have the right to hold and profess their religious beliefs just as anyone else does, but they have no right to use those beliefs to refuse to perform their duties under the law. I’ve shown two ways their particular problems with doing their work can be accommodated.

What it all comes down to, as this video shows, is the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. No religious entity can be forced to solemnise a same-sex civil marriage, but no public official has the right to stand in the way of civil marriage because of religious objections. It’s quite simple, really.

NZ’s rightwing in panic mode

There’s no better evidence that Labour is on to a winning issue with its proposed capital gains tax (CGT) than the full panic mode New Zealand’s rightwing is now engaged in. The right is completely beside itself.

The proposal has been met with strong praise from across the political spectrum. This has left the National Party flailing about looking for a coherent response other than, as John Armstrong put it in his NZ Herald column, avoiding it because National Party supporters would “skin Key and English alive if they introduced” a CGT.

So instead of a credible response, National has resorted to suggesting there’s a “hole” in Labour’s numbers, a tactic that reinforces how wonky National’s own numbers are. They also had Bill English give what must be his fourth excuse as to why National wants to sell-off state-owned assets to foreign investors. Definitely not National’s best moments or most coherent political discourse (they use their own bad policy positions to attack Labour—not very smart).

Most of the loudest criticism has come from the greedy, self-interested folks who, potentially, might have to actually pay their fair share of taxes for a change.

One such critic trotted out by the Herald was David Whitburn a rental property tycoon who, the conservative newspaper wants us to know, had $7000 and a handful of shares nine years ago, but now has more than $1 million equity in his properties. He called the tax “nasty” and vowed “I’m not selling, ever.” Well, then, the tax won’t affect him, so why the moaning? My guess is that he actually wants to sell at some stage, but doesn’t want to have to pay any taxes.

As Wellington’s Dominion-Post said in an editorial, “It is not fair that a worker earning $50,000 is taxed on every cent while someone who sells an investment property for a $50,000 profit pays nothing.” Does David disagree with that? Does he really think that the hard-working people of New Zealand should pay taxes so he doesn’t have to? Apparently so.

Digging a deeper hole for himself, he told the Herald:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reading through electrons

I’ve written various posts about e-reading—the devices, software and even the paradigm itself. Now that I’ve been doing it for awhile, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Back in August of last year, I downloaded the Kindle Reader software from Amazon for both my iPod Touch (this was before the iPad and iPhone) and my desktop Mac. Kindle edition books are significantly cheaper than the dead tree versions, and more importantly, they’re downloaded in minutes and there are no shipping charges, sales taxes/GST, etc. It’s a pretty good deal.

However, it’s not easy to get non-Kindle books into the software. It’s supposedly possible, but I haven’t actually done it. Still, any books I buy and download are available on my iPad, iPhone and desktop Mac, and they sync with each other so no matter what device I’m using, my book is always on the same page and my notes/annotations, if any, are shared. Those are all good things.

I also tried Stanza, and while I like it, getting books from my desktop Mac to my iPad or iPhone was so difficult that I never did figure it out. On the other hand, it’s simple software, works well and is fast.

Finally, once the Apple’s iBooks software was available in New Zealand, I decided to try that. I already buy nearly all my music and Mac software through Apple’s stores, so why not? Well, for one thing, when it was introduced, there were no books apart from some public domain old books. While good to have, here was nothing current to buy.

Turns out, there’s still nothing to buy: All 16,000+ books available in New Zealand are free, as near as I could tell. Many are classics, all free and in the public domain. On the other hand, iBooks is for me by far the easiest of the three to add ebooks from elsewhere: Simply drag and drop it (in epub or pdf format) into the Books window on iTunes and you’re done (when synching you may need to tell your device to synch the book). I subscribe to the digital edition of a magazine and can drag the PDFs into iBooks to read on my iPad.

I also downloaded the free app for The Nation magazine. It comes with one free issue and after that you can subscribe or buy individual issues. They’re cheaper than buying the printed versions in the store—which are imported, of course—and can be bought in Kiwi dollars, which is a plus. I also downloaded the app for The Hill, which covers political news in the US. Newspapers have similar apps, some better than others.

So after trying all this, I’ve reached some conclusions. First, I think these devices are good for most magazines, since we tend not to keep them, anyway; I think that magazines where photography is important might be better on paper, even though the iPad screen is good. I also think it’s good for some books that date quickly, like software books—especially because they tend to be expensive in printed form.

I’m more dubious about them for books I want to keep around, and that includes classic books. I think it could be good for classics we’ve never managed to get around to reading, and we can always buy a printed version later. It could be good for new books that we don’t know will stand the test of time, too.

However, for me there’s nothing better than the feel of a real book, the smell of ink and paper, the look of them when they’re all lined up on bookshelves. No e-reader can match that look, feel or feeling, even with their page-turn animations. So I think that e-readers like the iPad are really good and useful, especially for certain types of books, magazines and other publications, but I certainly won’t be abandoning real books any time soon, nor as fast as I did CDs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Labour: We must own our own future

In this video, the Labour Party’s David Cunliffe, who is the MP for New Lynn as well as the party’s Finance Spokesperson, explains the gist of the party’s new tax plans, unveiled today. It’s a good video—in fact, it’s probably the best they’re ever done.

In a statement, Labour Leader Phil Goff pointed out the difference between Labour’s policy and that of the National Party, which is currently leading government:
“Labour has a plan. National doesn’t. Its only idea is to sell our assets off to big corporates and foreign buyers. That is incredibly short-sighted and will see New Zealanders become tenants in their own land. For goodness sake, if you’re in a hole, why would you sell off the ladder?!”
That line about ladders is already a talking point—and a pretty good one. Goff also said:
“Labour’s plan charts a course for a stronger, more resilient economy and will allow us to keep our valuable assets for the benefit of future generations. We will make the hard decisions needed to secure a prosperous, long-term future for all New Zealanders.”
Overall, I think Labour is on to something here. Plenty of people do believe that National is drifting and has no plan—apart from helping their rich mates and getting the rest of us to pay for it. People also don’t want assets sold off. If Labour stays focused on this message, it could change the entire campaign, and National knows it; that’s why they’ve spent the last week trashing the very idea of a capital gains tax.

This election needs to be a debate on the future of New Zealand and whether we will, as Labour puts it, own our own future. Labour may have provided a base for the discussion to begin.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pick and choose laws

The state of Illinois is ending its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities, a part of the Roman Catholic Church, because the organisation has made it clear that it won’t obey the state’s recent civil union law. I believe the state is right and Catholic Charities is wrong.

In Illinois, any person who wants to be an adoptive or foster parent must first get a foster care license from one of the state’s authorised agencies, like Catholic Charities. The Catholic group says it will only grant such licences to single people not living with a partner or legally married couples. Only opposite-sex couples can marry in Illinois.

The state says that the civil union law requires such agencies to treat civil union couples like a married couple: “That law applies to foster care and adoption services,” the state said in a letter to the agencies (PDF of the letter).

Catholic Charities has filed for an injunction to prevent the termination, of course. Some dioceses have already stopped foster care services entirely, for various reasons.

This story will get wrapped in a blanket of emotion, which will make it hard for people to look at the larger issues. Catholic Charities talks about the roughly 2,000 children whose cases it manages, but the evidence from the dioceses that stopped foster care services shows other agencies take over the caseloads. So, children won’t be disadvantaged.

The larger issue here is whether an organisation receiving taxpayer money to provide services on behalf of the government has the right to pick and choose which laws it will obey. Put that way, most people would say no, they should obey the law like everyone else. However, some people get a bit muddled in their thinking when the organisation is affiliated with or part of a church and seeks to disobey the law on religious grounds. The religious beliefs of churches or their agencies are irrelevant if they’re receiving taxpayer money to provide state services.

Catholic Charities isn’t alone in actively discriminating based on religious beliefs. The Evangelical Child and Family Agency (ECFA) apparently issues foster care licenses only to married, evangelical Christian couples unless a prospective foster parent is a relative. They may be able to get away with that because they seem to be restricting their services to finding foster care for the children of evangelical couples, placing them with evangelical relatives. This is somewhat different from Catholic Charities, which operates in the public sphere and plans to discriminate generally.

Personally, I don’t think that religious organisations should be involved in this at all, and that all such agencies should be secular, like the state whose services they are providing under contract. I also think it’s a colossally bad idea to let organisations decide, based on their religious beliefs, who they will and won’t licence for foster care.

This story has a long way to go before it ends, but the state made the right call. Catholic Charities is wrong to argue that its religious beliefs trump state law. I hope the state’s decision will be upheld.

Update: As expected, a judge has issued a temporary order continuing the contracts with Catholic Charities. As I predicted, the Catholic group has used the “think-of-the-children” defence, breathlessly claiming there would be "irreparable injury" to children, despite the fact that his hasn’t happened in any other place in Illinois where the Catholic Church ended foster care services. A full hearing on the matter will be held in August.

Meanwhile, a Chicago Sun-Times editorial praised Illinois Governor “Quinn’s fine defense of loving couples”:
“No one is diminishing the risks here. These are real children in need of stable, loving families. That’s in part why three of the Catholic Charities agencies sued the state, winning a first victory in court Tuesday in their quest to continue services for non-homosexual couples only. But it’s also why Quinn backed the civil union law in the first place — an acknowledgement that gay couples deserve the same right to build loving families as any other couple.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Bachmann scam

Today the TVNZ midday news carried a report from ABC (US) News investigating the anti-gay scam being run by Marcus Bachmann, the husband of leading US Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. She’s the frontrunner to win the Iowa Caucuses. This video, from ABC’s Nightline programme, expands on the earlier report, and is built on the excellent work of Truth Wins Out.

There’s no such thing as an “ex gay” because “change” of one’s sexual orientation is impossible and the attempt to do so is harmful— sometimes driving people, especially gay youth, to suicide. Anyone, like Marcus Bachmann, who practices the scam of “reparative therapy” is a vile and despicable fraud.

This is nothing new, of course. The anti-gay bigotry of the Bachmanns has been known for years, and only now is the mainstream news media paying attention. Still, I’m glad they’re finally reporting on this—sunshine is the ultimate disinfectant, and all that. I would hope, though I’m not very optimistic, that this will be the start of a societal push to put “reparative therapy” with all the other discredited quack remedies. I would also hope that this, ultimately, leads to the final defeat of Michele herself. Democracy will be the better for it once she’s no longer an elected official of any sort.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What have American unions ever done for workers?

The video above is from a campaign to rebuild American labour unions. It’s meant to show a few of the things that all American workers enjoy because of unions. It’s a hard sell, given the relentless rightwing propaganda that’s convinced even those who would most benefit from being members of a union that instead they should be staunch opponents.

In a way, I sympathise with the anti-union victims of rightwing propaganda, because I once bought it, too. When I was in university, back when I was a Republican, I argued before my speech class that youth and young adults should be exempt from having to join a union. A good chunk of my argument came directly from the Republican Party talking points of the day because I truly believed them.

Apparently, I hadn’t learned from my own past.

My first job, a few years earlier, when I was still in high school, was highly exploitive. We were paid less than minimum wage, we worked long hours with short breaks and were often “asked” to work overtime or on our days off. We all knew it wasn’t possible to decline, or our hours would be cut back drastically. A union could’ve helped fight for a better deal, but low-wage service employees weren’t a priority for unions back then and, in any case, I was that anti-union Republican, so I just endured it all, promising myself that if I ever had authority over someone else, I’d never treat them as I’d been treated.

Even when I left the Republican Party and eventually became a Democrat, I still didn’t automatically become pro-union. I still bought the propaganda that all American unions were big, bloated operations of organised crime. I had no personal experience of that, of course, but that’s what I’d been told all my life.

Years later, here in New Zealand, I joined a union to help protect me as the big company I was working for was undergoing “restructuring”. The company was eventually sold to Australians, and I eventually left the company and the union. But knowing they were there, ready to fight on our side, was a comfort in what was a very stressful time. My respect for the idea of organised labour grew dramatically as a result.

I’m now an ardent supporter of US labour unions as the only credible force that can stand up to the plutocrats and corporate elites. Here in New Zealand, unions are less important than in the US, though I still support them. Unions in New Zealand still have a role to play to ensure a more level playing field in negotiations between businesses and workers. I think there’s more for them to do for all of us.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

One day, maybe

I grew up—quite literally—in the church. I saw the good and bad of Christians, the way they were treated and the way they treated others. When people at either end of the political spectrum or from any point along the religious continuum talk about such things, chances are good it reminds me of something I can relate to, even if the specifics are vastly different.

I was reminded of all that today when I read an article on Salon.com, “When a gay minister moved to a small Southern town,” by Brett Webb-Mitchell, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Webb-Mitchell took a temporary position at a church in Henderson, North Carolina, a small town he described as “an old-fashioned town, challenged by these modern times.” Not surprisingly, he was immediately subjected to a whispering campaign, mostly conducted anonymously over the Internet, as such things often are.
“As a gay minister, I'd heard nasty slights about me secondhand before, but I had never encountered it so directly. How could someone who didn't even know me criticize me? How could someone who called himself or herself a Christian spew such vile rhetoric?”
We might, in our prejudiced minds, think that this was to be expected in North Carolina, or that this is something Christians do, or whatever our favourite prejudice is. However, Webb-Mitchell also found love, support and a courage and strength of character among decent Christians.

I can relate to all this. I’ve seen close-up how petty and intolerant Church-going Christians can be, and I’ve also seen kindness and generosity of spirit. Still, I can’t understand what would lead someone to decide to go through all that. Did he not know, or at least suspect, what small-town North Carolina might be like for a gay minister?

There are places in a America where I would not want to live as an out gay man. Actually, there are places in Chicago I wouldn’t want to be identified as a gay man, either. It’s first and foremost about safety, about not being attacked or killed because of who I am. It’s also about not wanting to have to fight every day to be treated as a human being, first, and as a citizen and not as some caricature or monster. So I admire any gay person who can move past all that to do what they feel they must or are called to do.

Webb-Mitchell said of his experience, “I saw ugliness in Henderson, sure, but I also found love and support and new understanding.” I’m glad that he found good in all that, and that it wasn’t even worse for him. And I’m also glad that he had the courage to stick it out, despite everything. In doing so, he just may have helped dispel a few myths and lessened some prejudices. If enough people did that, then one day maybe experiences like what this article describes will be confined to the past. One day, maybe.

Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green, who sent me the link.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Fourth of July

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was always sunny and warm—even hot. We had a barbecue, burgers at first, steak in later years. Watermelon was available, and so, too, was my dad’s homemade rootbeer—if we were lucky. The parades were fun, and so were the fireworks. It was one of my favourite holidays.

So why am I not a conservative Republican?

A new study from Harvard University claims that the Fourth of July helps create more lifelong Republicans. Yes, seriously.

The study (PDF available here) says that “one Fourth of July without rain before age 18 raises the likelihood of identifying as a Republican by 2 percent and voting for the Republican candidate by 4 percent. It also increases voter turnout by 0.9 percent and boosts political campaign contributions by 3 percent.” Uh, huh.
“We show that the likelihood that an adult at age 40 identifies as a Republican increases by 0.76 percentage points for each rain-free Fourth of July during childhood, where childhood is defined as the ages of 3-18. There is no evidence of an increased likelihood of identifying as a Democrat, indicating that Fourth of July shifts preferences to the right rather than increasing political polarization.”
The researchers looked at sunny weather specifically because:
“…fireworks, parades, political speeches, and barbecues are typically held outdoors. Parents and children are less likely to participate if it is raining, and events are often cancelled due to bad weather. Some children growing up experience nice weather and are more likely to celebrate, while others are hit by bad weather making it less likely that they join the festivities.”
This would supposedly correct for bad memories (for example, I actually have no idea how many of my childhood Fourths were rained out, and I have no idea how many events I participated in on the sunny ones). I think the researchers too easily discounted the possibility that those who are most likely to participate in Fourth of July events are already Republican families, as mine was.

Their thesis is that “patriotism”, as shown on the Fourth, is more closely aligned with Republican identity and values, and children, who are at their most impressionable, are susceptible to absorbing this Republican identity. They say the changes are permanent.

I have two problems with these conclusions: First, if their assertion of permanence was true, it should be rare for people to change partisan identity, yet plenty do (I did). Most damning is that if their hypothesis was true, there ought to be ever increasing numbers of Republicans, but the opposite is true.

Also, if you look at their rainfall data map (included in the report), California ought to be Republican, while Florida, New Mexico and Montana ought to be Democratic. To me, this says that rainfall on July 4 isn’t a good indicator of political orientation.

Their problem is that correlation is not causality, and the fact that some of their data seems to match up does not establish cause and effect. They suggest studies of other countries to see if there is a similar relationship, and that’s fine, but I’ve seen nothing in this study that convincingly contradicts earlier studies showing the importance of family and immediate community as the greatest influences on what political identity a child grows up with.

Sometimes, the Fourth of July is just fun.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Sunny is three

Today is Sunny’s third birthday, but her first with us. She’s fully adjusted to her new home and family, so much so, that it seems as if she’s always been here. She and Jake play several times every day and often sleep right next to each other (especially because it’s winter).

Both dogs and Bella the cat love sleeping in laps, and there have been times when all three have been sleeping in my lap. That’s kind of inconvenient, but I don’t disturb them; they eventually move without encouragement (it’s probably only slightly less comfortable for them than for me).

I woke Sunny up from a nap to wish her a happy birthday, which is why she’s a bit camera-shy in the photo at the top right of this post. So, below is another photo of another interrupted nap, but that one—taken the day after they were clipped—shows a more alert Sunny (with Jake).

Happy Third Birthday, Sunny!

It could have been

The video above is from a series of awareness and fundraising ads for Britain’s Albert Kennedy Trust as part of their “AKT NOW” campaign. The trust provides support for GLBT youth who have been kicked out of their homes.

This video takes various British celebrities, including Sir Ian McKellen, Andrew Hayden-Smith, Paul O’Grady, Samantha Fox and Sue Perkins, and shows how their lives could have been very different if they’d suffered a similar fate to the youths the Trust serves. By using well-known people, the video makes it easier for ordinary Britons to understand the issues around GLBT youth homelessness. I think it’s a really interesting—and very useful—approach.

The video below is a kind of “making of” video, where they describe in greater detail the work of the Albert Kennedy Trust, what the video is about, and the celebrities also talk of their involvement.

I saw this on Britain’s Pink News, and the site has the individual ads, as well as links to interviews with some of the celebrities. Well worth checking out.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

William Shatner sings O Canada

I saw this video on Joe.My.God. this morning and thought it was kind of funny, and a different kind of way to mark Canada Day (it’s still July 1 in North America). Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, it was William Shatner’s response to receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from Canada's Governor General.

Happy Canada Day!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Reflections on a month

I set myself a goal in June: “Gay a Day”, one post about something related to GLBT issues, culture, politics, etc. This goal had nothing to do with anything—it was a whim. It turned out to be harder than I imagined.

I should say first that I met my goal: Every single day that I posted something, except for the one day on which I couldn’t post anything due to Internet connection problems, I met the challenge. So, by that simple measure, I succeeded.

In the first part of the month, I often posted two or more times a day; by the end of the month, well, less so. All up, June 2011 ended up being my second most-blogged month (December 2009 had more posts). My goal is to have an average of one post per day, so June definitely helped make up for a slow start to the year.

I learned that daily blogging is no easy task—it’s not easy no matter how one gets content. The folks who amalgamate content from others—which is basically what I was doing—spend an extraordinary amount of time and effort. The folks who do original reporting deserve even more respect. I learned that I couldn’t do neither.

By the end of the month, I found myself checking my YouTube subscriptions, looking for something relevant. Even though I always added my own spin or commentary, I nevertheless felt this was somehow “cheating”.

I’m not paid to do this blog, and it shows: I regurgitate more than I would if I had the luxury of (paid) time. So I guess you could say that the June challenge showed me that I’m actually doing what I should be doing—only, maybe not so frequently. If I do something like this next year, it’ll be for one week, and tightly focused.

Still, I enjoyed the challenge, and I probably talked about things I wouldn’t have otherwise. These two are justification enough.

Flight plan

Air New Zealand has become the first major company to quit the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) following the grossly offensive misogynistic comments made by its chief executive, Alasdair Thompson. This is an appropriate response. I wonder how many others will follow, given that the EMA board seems to be dithering on what to do.