}

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Still more gratuitous cruelty



In this video, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts talks to a married bi-national same-sex couple. The foreign-born spouse is facing a deportation hearing on May 6th.

To reiterate once again, this is happening because the infamous “Defense” of Marriage Act (DOMA) forbids the federal government from recognising a legal same-sex marriage for any federal purposes, including immigration. The Obama Administration has correctly concluded that the law is unconstitutional and indefensible and the Republicans in the US House have, predictably, aligned themselves on the side of hatred and bigotry by choosing to spend taxpayer money defending the law.

One day, DOMA will be repealed (by Democrats) or, probably sooner, will be struck down by the Supreme Court. But until one or the other happens, the government is continuing to not only refuse to recognise legally married same-sex bi-national couples, but it’s actually persecuting such couples by aggressively enforcing the immoral and unconstitutional DOMA.

While this is being sorted out, the government must immediately stop all deportation proceedings against legally married same-sex bi-national couples. To do otherwise, to continue to persecute such couples, is to practice gratuitous cruelty, and no country should do that—especially not one that likes to call itself the “land of the free”; the US has to prove it values freedom, and actions speak louder than words.

Update 7 May, 2011: The deportation proceedings against Henry Velandia, the legally married spouse of US citizen Josh Vandiver (the couple in the video above), were halted Friday (US time), the AP reported. The decision came one day after US Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a similar case put on hold. HOWEVER, this is only a delay until December—they have seven more months of living in limbo, not knowing if they can live their lives together as any other married couple can, or whether the US Government will forcefully rip them apart.

All such cases must be put on hold while the fate of DOMA is determined, however long that may take.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes, I watched

Yes, I watched the royal wedding. Deal with it.

I also watched Charles and Diana 30 years ago, which doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but it’s a fact. However, I don’t remember thinking much of anything about that wedding, to be honest, apart from admiring all the pomp and circumstance.

This time, however, I felt positive about the wedding—as if they really wanted to marry, which is a good start. The long courtship, or whatever, probably prepared Kate better than Diana was. I’m sure that wasn’t an accident.

I’m not getting into the pluses/minuses of the whole thing; folks with far stronger opinions than me will have a go at that, but not me, because I don’t have any strong feelings about it. To me, it was a wedding, not something on which the fate of the world turns.

But, it was also entertaining.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What a circus!

We’ve just seen Machiavellian political machinations like New Zealand never sees. Don Brash, full of chutzpah, hubris and arrogance of the highest order, decreed that he alone could rescue the faltering Act Party and therefore must be crowned as its leader—even though he wasn’t actually a member of the party.

Brash told them the Act Party “brand” under leader Rodney Hide was “toxic”, which is actually correct (polling indicated he was likely to lose his Epsom electorate seat, meaning Act would be out of Parliament). Brash also claimed he had big piles of money lined up behind him, but only if he was made leader.

Hide resisted, of course, and suggested that Brash might want to become a member of the party before mounting a coup. Brash said that was a mere procedural matter. Days of intrigue followed until midday today, when Hide was gone by lunchtime, resigning as leader and throwing his support to Brash, who had shortly before actually become a member of the party.

This circus led to people on Twitter mocking Brash. TV3 News reported: “It would appear, at least in the Twitterverse, not many people are pleased to see Dr Brash have another go at politics. At the time of writing, a Twitter search for "Don Brash" doesn't bring up a single positive tweet, but plenty of jokes.”

Since Brash’s annointing, the mocking has intensified, but so has the reaction of politicos, including the parties. The graphic at the top left of this post—which would be my Tweet of the Day—is from Peter Dunne, leader of the one-man United Future Party “caucus” in Parliament. It may be the only time I’ve completely agreed with him.

Trump’s birth certificate

The man claiming sole and exclusive credit, as he would, for President Obama releasing a copy of his “long form” birth certificate, Donald tRump, has now answered critics by finally releasing his own, pictured at left (Source).

Even now, a sceptical world commented, "It is rather amazing that it all of a sudden materializes. A lot of people have to look at it, experts will look at it."

There’s exasperation among normal people that this whole ‘birther” bullshit is still going on. It’s nothing more than coded racism, a way for white Republicans, in particular, to question Obama’s legitimacy as president without actually admitting it’s because he’s, you know, black.

As for Donny, he’s only riding that racist horse for the attention it gets him—which is not to say he isn’t racist, because all indications are that he probably is. But if he got more attention saying that apple pie was part of a secret plot to turn America Presbyterian, you can bet he’d be riding that pie (so to speak).

The same is true for most of the Republican Party’s elected officials and would-be presidential candidates who are similarly using "birtherism" as a way to get attention with the Republican base. Most of them probably know it’s all nonsense, but as Karl Rove so ably demonstrated, the quickest way to win Republican votes is to pander.

This “birther” thing will not go away. Without a shadow of a doubt, they all will, as Donny did, question the document’s authenticity. There never was, and never will be, a way to end this because no matter what, when or how these documents were released, they can’t change one thing: President Obama is still black.

And one final comment on this—and I truly hope that’s really the case: What the “birther’s” veiled racism really does is call into question ALL official state documents from ALL states; following the “birther” argument to its logical [sic] conclusion, there’s no way we can be sure any state documents are legitimate. These people are stupid as well as racist.

If no state document can be trusted, what does that say about Republican politicians? What about the foreign-born (for real) John McCain (born in the then-US Territory of the Panama Canal Zone, but not in the US itself or any US state)? Should he have been barred from running for president?

Yep, “birthers” are stupid as well as racist.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good keen Kiwis


The Topp Twins are New Zealand’s internationally known comic duo. The real-life twins, Jools and Linda Topp, perform a variety of characters, sing, yodel and make people laugh. The video above is the trailer for the documentary about them, Untouchable Girls, which opens in the US on May 13 in New York City (their site has a full list of dates and locations).

The film has won the People’s Choice Award – Documentary at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, Best Documentary Feature ay the 29th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival (2010), Special Programming Award for Freedom at the Outfest Film Festival (2010) in Los Angeles, among countless other awards.

Below is an ad for Gregg’s coffee, part of a campaign featuring many of the characters they portray (in this ad, they portray Ken and Ken). This is just the latest from the Topp Twins, who also had two popular TV series in the late 1990s

I’ve seen them live, and really enjoyed the show, just as I enjoted their TV series. The film is well worth seeing if you have the chance.

Sometimes, it’s just a cigarette

Conservatives don’t need any reason to dislike their opponents, but they’re quick to use any excuse they can find—especially when handed to them on a silver platter when our side acts silly. We just had a good example of that in New Zealand.

On TVNZ’s Breakfast programme, veteran newsreader Peter Williams was asked about equestrian Mark Todd's win at Badminton, and how it was remarkable 31 years after his first win. He said that, "Some of Mark Todd's personal habits frankly don't always lend to being… he's had the odd fag over the years, hasn't he?" Corin Dann asked, “What did you just say?!” Williams immediately responded, “Cigarette, I meant.”

Todd was known for smoking (and “fag” is very common slang for cigarette), but a few years ago an English tabloid alleged that Todd did cocaine with a rentboy (as far as I know, Todd has never expressly denied being gay). So, some jumped to the conclusion that Williams was making an anti-gay slur.

A TVNZ spokesperson, Megan Richards, defended the comment to the New Zealand Herald: "It seems to have been one of those conversations that went slightly off the rails, where the participants realised they were talking in double meanings. Everybody's had the experience of a conversation which has headed off in a direction that they weren't intending."

This explanation seems plausible, especially because immediately after the quip, Williams kept trying to stay on topic, but Dann kept giggling until he regained his composure. This wasn’t helped by the handoff at the end of the segment.

Jay Bennie of GayNZ.com, a site I rely on for gay news in New Zealand, wasn’t buying the explanations—even though he admitted he hadn’t seen the segment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Goodbye Kiwi?


This viral video is part of a campaign to save TVNZ 7, a public broadcasting channel run by TVNZ with government funding. The National-led government has announced that they’ll cut-off that funding next year, and further, has declared that TVNZ is not a public broadcaster.

What that means is that New Zealand, unlike most western democracies, will have no public broadcasting service (especially now that Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman has named a National Party hack to head Radio New Zealand). Coleman and National want the government-owned broadcasters to be run with an eye toward making a profit—serving the needs of advertisers, not the public.

As an aside, the live action part of this video was filmed outside Coleman’s office in Birkenhead. I’m frequently in that area since many of the local shops I patronise are all nearby (and the new library is directly across the street). The first part of the video is part of the "Goodnight Kiwi" video that TVNZ used to play at that nightly closedown of TV2, back before it went 24 hours.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It may be time

Today, for the first time, I began to believe that it may be time to end the trading bans on 3½ days of the year. New Zealand is now a modern country in a different age from when the ban originated, and I’m beginning to think that the trading bans belong in the past, too.

When I first came to New Zealand and found out that most trading was banned on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day until 1pm, I thought it was quaint, an old-fashioned remnant of earlier times. I kind of liked the way New Zealand clung to a bit of its past in the midst of rapidly changing times.

I also agreed with those who argued that it protected workers from exploitation because many of them—especially in retail—would be compelled to work on those holidays. Saying that hours are negotiable is nonsense if you’re talking about a young minimum wage retail or fast food worker, for example.

I still worry about worker exploitation, but telling employers they must shut seems to me to be a gross over-reaction in the other direction, precluding all possibility of negotiation. Ultimately, I think the market should decide: If a community doesn’t want shops open on those banned days, they won’t shop, the business owner will take a financial beating and won’t do it again. But if they DO want to shop, why should the government forbid a business from meeting market—community—demands?

Back to workers. If those days were treated as ordinary public holidays and workers had the right to a day of in lieu, for example, that seems reasonable to me. I often hear unions say that workers require the force of law to protect them because they’d be exploited otherwise—a tacit admission about how weak and powerless unions are. Couldn’t this give them an opening to organise workers?

I also hear that all workers should have time with their families and loved ones, and I completely agree. But the government doesn’t mandate people do so. Also, what if a worker actually wants to work, for whatever reason? Do any of us have the right to forbid that because some other worker might possibly be exploited?

There is one other aspect that bothers me: Two of those days are Christian religious days with no secular significance. The government has no business fencing off one religion’s holy days, preventing the normal conduct of business for those who believe differently. Christmas is, arguably, now a secular holiday, and that argument may not apply to it.

Anzac Day is another matter. As it is now, people give up some of their public holiday to attend dawn parades and services later in the day. That wouldn’t stop if the day became a normal public holiday. Similarly, banning business in the morning doesn’t force people to attend observances or compel them to care about the day.

Today we went to the local mall for a few things and, like most people, had to fill time until the legally-permitted 1pm opening. We got there early and waited in the car. I noticed people crowded around every entrance—something I’ve never seen before. We got in the mall early (and the escalators leading in, pointedly, were off), but it was about 12:50 when we reached the place we were going, so we had to wait for the Appointed Hour. There was a Warehouse near where I was standing and at 1pm precisely the gates when up and a crowd—a hundred or so—moved to the entrance. Smaller numbers moved to other stores.

And this got me to thinking. If there was this much demand, the government should get out of the way. Yes, we must protect workers—I absolutely agree—but this is the 21st century now and times have changed. I think New Zealand must, too, and end the archaic trading bans.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter finest

I have one enduring memory of Easter time aside from my dad’s the stage management of the services: New clothes. Every year, my parents bought me a new suit for Easter day. This was at a time when people wore their best clothes to church on a normal Sunday, so Easter clothes had to be even better. While I frequently needed new clothes because I was growing, I also always thought that I had to have a new Easter outfit because I was the preacher’s kid; I don’t know if that’s true, because I never asked.

At any rate, after Easter, this would become my best outfit, though I don’t remember actually wearing them anywhere aside from church. I liked dressing up for Sunday school and church, and over the years I amassed quite a collection of little ties and bow ties (all clip on). I think they’re all gone, but I still have the tie bars, tie tacks and cufflinks from those years.

I don’t remember ever mentioning this new suit thing to my schoolmates; I thought that it wasn’t a good idea, a bit like gloating. And, anyway, I just assumed they probably all got new clothes, too—it’s not like I’d know, since I never saw them on Sundays.

I also don’t even remember when this all stopped, but it was sometime in my teens. Nowadays, I can go years without buying a new suit—but, then, I almost never have reason to wear one, either.

The photo accompanying this post is another slide I scanned—and a bit of a mystery. It’s date-stamped “Jan 1964,” but I don’t know what year’s Easter it actually shows. Easter in 1964 was on March 29, which would mean my parents bought my suit two months early, and I just can’t remember them being that organised. On the other hand, if it was taken in 1963, and they just didn’t get it developed until the following January, it would mean I was 4 years old (and nearly three months, since Easter that year was on April 14). I’m leaning to this second option, though maybe my sister remembers.

Speaking of which, my sister was standing next to me in the photo, but I cropped her out because, of course, I don’t include photos or details of others without their permission. Besides: I was rather dapper that year, so why should I share the spotlight?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday flashback

Two years ago, I wrote about my father’s dramatic staging of Good Friday services. At the time, I couldn’t show what I was talking about because all I had was a slide and a bad flatbed scanner. Late last year, I bought a film scanner, and now I’ve scanned that slide, which is above.

The photo was taken in 1966, and even though I retouched it a bit to remove dust, it’s in relatively good condition for being 45 years old. At the time this photo was taken, the church was in the midst of a renovation, which raised the altar, rearranged the pipe organ space and other things. So, there’s green temporary floor covering and exposed wood on the steps, all of which helped to make this version of the staging less dramatic than most years.

Here’s my 2009 description of my father’s stagecraft:
Every Christmas, my dad’s church had a couple Christmas trees and once the trees came down the branches were cut off and the trunks set aside. For Good Friday, the tree trunks were lashed together to form a cross and placed in a Christmas tree stand in the chancel. The altar cloths were stripped away, the brass cross usually on it was put away and a plain wooden one brought out. It had a sign saying “INRI” attached to it (my mother made the sign using cardboard my dad’s shirts were wrapped around by the laundry; to this day I call this white-on-one-side, gray-on-the-other-side cardboard “shirt cardboard”).

In those days, ministers usually wore a black cassock with a white surplice over it and a coloured ecclesiastic stole around the neck. On Good Friday my dad and any other service leaders wore the black cassock without the surplice (though my dad eventually had a black stole just for the night’s services), and he wore a crucifix, rather than the usual Protestant empty cross.

The sanctuary was dark, apart from a spotlight on that Christmas tree cross. Eventually my dad read The Passion and when he got to the phrase “He gave up the ghost”, the lights were shut off. Very dramatic. At the end of the service, parishioners filed out in silence.
The photo above, I hope, helps to illustrate what I was talking about, even if this wasn’t necessarily the most representative year.

I bought the film scanner specifically so I can digitise old photos from my childhood and youth, because those old slides are the only photos from my childhood that I have. But I’m also planning on scanning the film negatives from my own photos from over the years so they’re digital, too (and also, I worked out it was cheaper to buy the scanner and do the work myself than to send them out to be scanned). All of which means some old photos may pop up here from time to time to illustrate what I’m talking about. Or, not (partly because I’m not sure what I have, so there may not be much that’s useful for the blog).

But in this case, at least, it proved useful.

Another Thursday

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday (also called “Holy Thursday”). I’ve been aware of that for as long as I’ve known about Good Friday—pretty much my whole life. My dad used to hold evening services on Maundy Thursday, but I don’t remember going most years, even the years when we lived next door to the church.

Still, despite the connection to my personal history, those days lost any other personal connection to me long ago. Earlier this week, I got an email from my sister wishing us a happy Palm Sunday; I’d completely forgotten about that. It was, in fact, a perfectly ordinary Sunday, though it started in Whitianga and included our trip home.

The same thing was true of yesterday: It was a perfectly ordinary Thursday, even if I did remember its religious significance. Well, it wasn’t entirely ordinary: Being the last workday before a four-day holiday weekend, it was more like a Friday. Nigel and I went out to dinner, which we wouldn’t normally do on a Thursday.

That would make today, Good Friday, more like a Saturday—and it does feel like one. But there’s a trading ban in effect today (and on Sunday), so nearly all shops are closed—and there are no commercials on TV—which makes it completely unlike a Saturday. Tomorrow will be a real Saturday in every sense.

Earlier this week, I saw an item on Yahoo! News about how Colin Humphreys, a professor at the University of Cambridge, suggested a calendar error had led to centuries of misunderstanding about this week. In the usual Christian understanding, the Last Supper was on Maundy Thursday, followed by the trip to Gethsemane, the betrayal, arrest, trial(s), crucifixion and burial—all before sundown on Friday. It’s a full day, to say the least.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Booing and froing


Republican US Representative Paul “I love Ayn Rand so much I could plotz” Ryan held town meetings in his Congressional District in southern Wisconsin. In the video above from Think Progress, we see he was actually booed when he tried to defend the rich and their tax cuts—booed by his own constituents!

The US budget deficit exists in large part because of tax cuts aimed at the wealthy (a similar situation is here in New Zealand). Ryan wants to cut taxes for the rich even more, and use that as an excuse for ending Medicare—among other programmes that benefit ordinary Americans.

The problem for Ryan and the Republicans is that between 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, and 2005, the top 1% received more than 80% of the increase in income. So, Ryan and the Republicans want to take the already extremely well-off and make them even MORE well-off by taking even more from the people who got little or nothing during those 25 years, making them worse off still.

It’s not just Ryan’s own constituents who see through the bullshit in Ryan’s agenda: The link above says a “Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 72 percent of Americans wanted Congress to raise taxes on wealthy Americans making more than $250,000 per year.” [emphasis added]

The Republicans are completely wrong in their agenda and their class warfare against mainstream Americans. The question is, will American voters be disgusted enough to vote out the Republicans/Teapublicans in 2012?

Make grandpa pay


I love political ads, especially when they’re done well. Serious or poking fun, hard-hitting or light-hearted, I love any ads that are effective in getting their message across (and, yes, I always like ads I agree with more than those I don’t).

The video above is from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and points to the fact that if Republicans in Congress are successful, seniors will have to find $12,500 to pay for their healthcare because Republicans plan to end Medicare. Standing against the Republican war on mainstream Americans is the Democratic Party, which is why this ad comes from them.

The Republican agenda is clearly to give the rich and corporate elites whatever they want, and make the poor and elderly pay for it. Actually, that’s not fair: Republicans want everyone to suffer so the rich and corporate elites can get more. The whole reason for ending Medicare is so Republicans can cut taxes for the rich even more.

If Republicans succeed, then this ad will seem quaint because seniors will be doing all the things pictured—and more—to try and pay for the healthcare Republicans took away. Personally, I don’t want to see grandpa working as a stripper.

But it is a cute ad.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not self-aware

There are times when I realise how little connected I am to pop culture, especially American pop culture. I seldom go to movies, don’t watch all that many US TV shows, and don’t listen to the radio so I hear pop music mostly through the few TV shows I do watch. I am, it’s fair to say, pretty disconnected from much of pop culture.

So today I saw all these folks on Twitter making jokes about Skynet becoming self-aware today (April 19 in the US). I knew that Skynet was ultimately the villain in the Terminator movies, but I just didn’t get the significance of the date because I knew that in the original Terminator movie, the date was referenced as being in the 1990s.

So, of course I tried to find out what they were all on about, and first up, I saw that I was right: In the original Terminator movie, Skynet became self-aware on August 29, 1997, some 15 years after the 1984 release of the movie.

This timeline was altered by the first movie, and again by T2: Judgement Day—in fact, every movie messed with the timeline in some way or other. So, where did this other date come from?

It turns out it was from the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I never watched. That series follows on from the end of T2, making it, in essence, an alternative timeline to the movies.

So, in the end, I did find out what people were Tweeting about, and it was actually more interesting than many of the other pop culture/zeitgeist things I have to go research (probably because I saw all the movies).

It may surprise some to hear that I don’t really mind being out of the loop on American pop culture. The reason is simple: I don’t live there anymore, and I don’t really need to know about it (except to play QRANK, of course).

However, there is one thing from my research that I found disturbing. That Skynet that became self-aware on April 19? It launched a war to destroy humanity two days later.

Been nice knowing you!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hot-crossed marketing

Hell Pizza has never shied away from “controversial” advertising and marketing. Their delivery of condoms to promote their “Lust” pizza several years ago got them into both controversy and trouble, but for the most part their unique marketing strategy has sparked little outrage.

That couldn’t last, of course.

The company erected billboards (pictured above) to promote their hot-crossed buns, available for a limited time: “A bit like Jesus.” You can imagine what came next.

Lloyd Ashton, media officer Anglican Church told the New Zealand Herald that “the campaign was disrespectful to many religions and the people who followed them.” (Anglicans do know that while there are many flavours of Christianity, it’s considered one religion, right? If so, how is it disrespecting, oh, say, Buddhists?). He said:
“They [the billboards] join a long line of advertising that's in questionable taste that slings off [at] things that lots of people hold precious. It's disrespectful to what a lot of people hold very dear."
And that’s actually true. But Ashton did himself no favours later by turning snotty:
"The ad is another example of already over-remunerated ad people getting paid more to churn out 'risque' ads. They've dared here to take a clumsy poke at something that numbers of people hold sacred."
He can’t possibly know whether the remuneration received by the ad people is too high, too low or just right. That comment was just plain bitchy (and, I could add, not very Christian).

Hell Pizza director Warren Powell predictably suggested the billboard would spark “debate”. But then he added, with refreshing candor:
"We expected it would spark some debate and some talking between people in the offices. Which is good. It means our marketing budget works a little bit harder.”
This may have stopped there, another tempest in a teacup, were it not for St. Matthew-in-the-City, a progressive Anglican church that disagreed with Lloyd Ashton and put up its own billboard (pictured below). The church has had its own controversy about billboards, so this wasn’t unusual for them.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another place new to me


This weekend we went to a family wedding that was held in Whitianga, on the Eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula. I’ve never been there before, in part because it’s a bit of a mission to get there from Auckland.

The fastest route includes an hour or so (it feels like hours) of a twisting, turning, rising and falling road that climbs up and over the Coromandel Ranges. Apparently, this becomes a slow, torturous crawl of cars during the high season (around Christmas/New Year’s). Still, road aside, it’s one of the most beautiful regions of the country and almost enough to drive away memories of how awful the road is. Put another way, I can see why people would put up with it.

That road gave me the chance to joke about how, in America, hills would’ve been knocked over or tunnelled through to make a straight road, but I was only joking—more or less. Still, the road could be improved.

The town itself is a pleasant beachside community, with a lot of businesses catering to holidaymakers. There are ample motels, rental houses, cafes and other businesses tourists need, plus the usual amenities for the year-round residents. Much of focus for tourists is the area near the marina, which is a nice, upscale area. However, I think the very long beach is a better feature—and I’m not even a fan of going to the beach for a day.

I won’t say much about the wedding itself because I don’t talk about other family members without their permission or knowledge, however, I’ll say that it was meant to be on a beach about 20 minutes from Whitianga, but Saturday was a stormy day with strong winds and driving rain, so at the last minute it was moved to a covered venue nearby. It was still nice, despite the weather.

Today was the day that yesterday should have been: Sunny, pleasant and with light breezes. I waited until today to snap photos, and it was the right choice. The photo above was taken at the beach at Mercury Bay, Whitianga, looking toward the Pacific. The photo below is looking along that beach. I uploaded a couple more photos in a photoset on my Flicr account. You can also click on these photos for bigger versions.

Apart from the drive, and especially the horrible weather on Saturday, it was a nice weekend in a part of the country I haven’t been to before. I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll make it back there, but I’m glad I was able to see it. This country is packed full of beautiful places, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the many I haven’t yet been to.

While we were away

This weekend we went to a family wedding and today we arrived back home. We were sitting having lunch and I looked out the window and immediately noticed a spindly tree was gone.

I blogged about this tree two and a half years ago, after it had just lost part of itself following a couple windy days. The photo I took back then is at left. It stayed looking like that, more or less, ever since then. Now it’s completely gone.

When we first moved into this house, back before my blog began, I used to look out at that tree as a way to rest my eyes when working on the computer. After that 2007 damage, it looked different, but it also became a regular perch for quite a few birds, including an amorous pair that used to snuggle (and more…) on one of the branches, like in the photo below, for example. I mentioned the birds’ amorous adventures as they happened on a live podcast I did back in July 2009, a few days before the photo below was taken.

Other birds used to stop on that tree, too. They probably visited other trees nearby, but this was the only one with a tree branch I could see clearly from the window over my desk. The lush bush view outside my window is nice, but I liked the bird visits, so my view has suddenly become a bit less interesting.

That spindly tree was what I call a “junk tree”, weak, easily damaged in storms and not very interesting to look at. But even something like that, seemingly with so little going for it, was still really interesting. There’s an allegory to the way we look at people in that, but I really am just talking about a tree, and about noticing things that happened while we were away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No comment

Anyone who does a blog, podcast, YouTube video, etc., has had to contend with spam comments. Blogger is pretty good about catching them—in fact, I can’t remember the last time I had to delete one. Actually, I hope that means it’s real spam, not misidentified legitimate comments; so far no one’s complained.

My podcast site, however, is different: It’s a self-hosted WordPress blog and I need my own strategy. I use the Akismet plug-in, and since installing it, it’s caught 1,838 spam comments without letting a single one through. Those spam comments are put into a queue for me to check, and I do. So far, it hasn’t false-identified a single legitimate comment (unless in my haste I missed one, though I doubt it). Still, Akismet modestly claims only a 99.76% accuracy rate.

The comments in that spam queue are often, um, interesting. They never have even a remote connection to my site or anything on it, but lately some pretend to have identified some problem with the site, RSS feed, etc., which is at least different. Most, however, offer some banal or sycophantic praise, like:
“This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing websites that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free. It?s [sic] the old what goes around comes around routine.”
And then there are the truly off-the-wall ones, like this:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Walking out on reason

About a week ago, I posted about the anti-gay industry’s response to a campaign to fight anti-GLBT bullying in US schools. That response, ironically called a “Day of Dialogue”, is led by long-time anti-gay christianist group, Focus on the “Family”. The even more extreme members of the anti-gay industry, including pretty much every SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, go one step farther, urging disruptions on the day.

Saying “it’s time to resist,” the hate groups are calling for a “walk out”, though apparently unaware that it would require the children to initiate the action. Instead, the hate groups—correctly, I must say—want parents to take the action:
“Parents and Guardians: Call your children’s middle and high schools and ask if students and/or teachers will be permitted to refuse to speak during class on Friday, April 15. If your administration allows students and/or teachers to refuse to speak during class, call your child out of school. Every student absence costs school districts money. When administrators refuse to listen to reason and when they allow the classroom to be exploited for political purposes, parents must take action. If they don’t, the politicization of the classroom and curricula will increase.”
These people just don’t get irony, do they? They complain about schools being “exploited for political purposes”, then proceed to do exactly that. Then they go on to threaten more politicisation if administrators “refuse to listen to reason”, which means, do exactly as the hate groups dictate.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Ultimate ‘Rick Roll’


Early last year, Jefferson Smith, a Democratic member of the Oregon House, came up with what he and his co-conspirator wife thought would be the best political prank ever: Get the House into the ultimate “Rick Roll”.

To pull it off, the legislators—Democrats and Republicans alike—had to deliver a lyric of the song in a speech, and they had to be spread out so as not to tip off the House Clerk, or anyone else watching, as to what they were up to. From there, it was simply a matter of taking the videotaped speeches—and they all are as a matter of public record in Oregon—and cut them to just the lyrics, then splice them together.

Simple? It took 14 months. First, they had to file requests to get the footage, then they had to go through hours of video to find the lyrics. The final result was posted to You Tube—appropriately enough—on April 1 of this year.

The video is completely real, Smith insisted: "It was real, and it was really awesome. Democracy is a glorious thing."

And so it is. And Jefferson Smith of Oregon is—for now—the holder of the title for the ultimate “Rick Roll”.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Lies, damnable lies and percentages

Much of the political blogosphere lit up today due to a report from a think tank called the Williams Institute that claimed 3.5% of the US population is gay, lesbian or bisexual. This refers to those who identify themselves as such, not to the total percentage of the US population that has same-sex feelings or experience, and it doesn’t correct for homosexuals calling themselves heterosexuals to interviewers.

Nevertheless, the anti-gay industry picked up on this immediately to again hit their favourite theme: GLBT people are a tiny, but powerful minority. For example, the SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, the American “Family” Association, ran an online poll asking “What's the major factor that allows homosexuals—a tiny fraction of the whole population—to dictate major changes in cultural morality?” The possible answers were: “Money, Half truths, Intimidation, Satan is on their side.” (I'm not making that up!)

Not surprisingly, the A”F”A also selectively reported the results, pulling out only the percentage who specifically identified as gay or lesbian (1.7%) in order to use the lowest possible number. Typically, the anti-gay industry’s propaganda says that gay people make up at most 1 to 2% of the population.

However, my message to these hate groups and the anti-gay industry is simple: The percentage of GLBT people is totally, completely and absolutely irrelevant when talking about human rights.

We are entitled to be treated as full and equal citizens BECAUSE WE ARE, not because of how many of us there are. We are entitled to human rights because we are human beings, not because of what we do or don’t do sexually with whom. This is about equal rights and equal protection under law, not about duelling statisticians.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bye, bye Glenny…


Today Fox “News” announced the end of Glenn Beck’s program on its channel. They said in a press release that he'll be working with them “to develop and produce a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News [sic] Channel as well as content for other platforms,” whatever that means; the fact those “projects” are un-specified may speak volumes. So, in light of all this, Media Matters decided to take a look back at some of the, er, highlights of Beck’s time (video above).

Fox “News” boss Roger Ailes had to admit that having some 400 advertisers refusing to advertise on Beck’s show had ultimately done it in: “Advertisers who get weak-kneed because some idiot on a blog site writes to them and says we need to stifle speech, I get a little frustrated by that.”

The “idiot” he was referring to is Angelo Carusone who, while still in law school, started “Stop Beck” on Twitter and the web to “hold Glenn Beck accountable for preying on racial anxieties, employing vitriolic rhetoric, propagating sexism and disseminating wilful distortions. Our purpose is to urge sponsors to stop supporting Glenn Beck’s brand of hate with advertising dollars.” In the end, almost no one apart from hawkers of overpriced gold would advertise on Beck’s show (the Fox “News” Channel has never had any advertising here in New Zealand).

This effort was not a boycott. Instead, it was an educational campaign, giving advertisers information and letting them make their own decisions. Angelo would simply give advertisers actual examples from Beck’s show and ask them if they wanted to be associated with it. Mainstream brands didn’t. But the ones who remained were not subject to any sort of boycott whatsoever.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

And so it begins…


Today President Obama filed papers to officially launch his re-election campaign. He’s the first official candidate from either party in the2012 US presidential election.

Around a dozen Republicans are said to be planning to run for their party’s nomination, while there are no known serious challengers among Democrats. At this same point, 20 months out from the election, George Bush had plenty of official Democratic challengers lining up to take him on.

Supposedly, the delay in Republicans declaring is because they can raise unlimited and unregulated money until they declare, at which time rules kick in. Some pundits also say that many of the supposed Republican candidates are actually trying to make more money or raise their profile, but they have no intention of actually running.

In my opinion, this video is actually pretty masterful. First, it touches on many of the electoral bases that helped propel Obama into the White House in 2008, especially women, minorities and young people.

But the video also seems to break a cardinal rule: Don’t say anything negative about yourself. Despite that, it shows “Ed” from North Carolina saying “I don’t agree with Obama on everything…” That’s precisely one of the barriers Obama’s got to take on: Conservative independents who’ve been suckered in by rightwing propaganda AND liberals who have been bleating merrily away can both identify with someone who doesn’t always agree with the president. But, the video goes on, there are things we want addressed (as “Gladys” from Nevada says immediately afterward). It’s designed to turn a negative into a positive.

This video is just a start, of course. I think this campaign will be fascinating to watch. Naturally, I’ll be doing more than just watching, but, for the most part, I’m going to put all that off for a while yet. It’s a little too early even for me.

Teaching Republicans


The US House of Representatives arguably has no fiercer advocate for liberal ideals that Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York. He frequently deals to Republicans and conservatives with intelligent passion. US House Republicans have no equivalent on their side.

In the video above, Rep, Weiner schools Republicans on the way in which bills become law, because they don’t seem to understand the process. Neither, it seems, are they capable of sticking to the rules they themselves set out to pretend they were “better” than the Democrats (yeah, right…). Rep. Weiner discusses those rules, too.

And, because Republicans have shown how utterly clueless they are in understanding the way bills become law, and how the US Constitution works, I thought I’d help them out. So, inspired by Rep. Weiner, I offer Republicans the classic Schoolhouse Rock video on this very subject. Watch, Republicans in Congress, and learn:

Monday, April 04, 2011

Jake is four


Today is our puppy Jake’s fourth birthday—already!

Jake came to live with us in what was a sad time, and brought so much happiness to our lives. Since then, a lot has changed, but Jake is still as happy as ever.

Bella the cat adopted us all nearly a year ago. At the time, her dominant features were her teeth and claws, having lived wild for quite some time before she chose us. Jake learned to be leery of her and her sharp weapons. In the months since, they’ve become friends, but seldom play with each other. Instead, they nap together or, sometimes, just share sniffs.

Because Bella was wild, we have no idea when her birthday is. So, we decided to make it October 4—exactly six months from Jake’s. Since cat and dog birthdays are for us humans to celebrate, it seemed like it was as good a date as any.

Sunny, another cavoodle, arrived to live with us just before Christmas last year. It took her about two days to slot into our family, and she seemed happy from the start. The family of Jake’s brother, Doyle (whose birthday it also is today—Happy Birthday, Doyle!) provided good advice on making that transition easier because he, too, has an adopted cavoodle sister (her name’s Mollie). Before Sunny came to live with us, her best friend had been a cat named Toy, so she became a play-friend of Bella’s pretty quickly.

Jake and Sunny have become best friends. Every morning, as we finish getting ready to face the day, they have a wrestling match on the bed. Later, they’ll have another match on the lounge floor—some days a couple matches, one around midday and one around dinnertime.

Jake used to often get into what we called “crazy dog mode”, where he’d run through the house at breakneck speed, tail wagging, tongue hanging out, seemingly in a big grin, and making little noises, “grr, grr, grr,” in a cross between a growl and a grunt. Now, Jake and Sunny chase each other through the house, Sunny barking madly (as she does in their wrestling matches, too).

They often sleep near each other, with Sunny sometimes plopping right down next to Jake, as showin in the photo at the top of this post (taken March 29). Jake doesn’t seem to mind, though he doesn’t usually do that; I wonder if that will change when winter sets in.

Interestingly, Sunny's birthday is July 3—right in the middle, between Jake's and the one we chose for Bella (we didn’t know that until Sunny came to live with us). She really does fit right in!

So, the happy little puppy who arrived here in June of 2007, seems as happy as ever, but now with a larger family and playmates at the ready. A dog’s life, indeed!

Happy Fourth Birthday, Jake!!

Related posts:
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival

The photo below is of Jake and Sunny quietly looking outside on March 8. Jake's holding the remains of one of his stuffed bunnies that he now happily shares with Sunny.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Free speech, here and there

My buddy Roger Green asks an interesting question over on his blog: “Where should government draw the line regarding free expression?” The specific motivator was the recent US Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of that family cult “church” that has as its mission demonising gay people by picketing the funerals of US soldiers killed in action (crazy never makes logical sense). The Court ruled that these, er, um, people do have the right to protest at funerals.

I’m not going to rehash that particular case since the larger point—and the point of Roger’s question—is, where are the limits? Are they ever appropriate?

Yes, limits are acceptable, and every country on earth thinks so.

Many people in the US think there can never be limits on free speech because of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Those people are wrong. First, it only applies to government itself and some specific other situations, but, in general, is not applicable to a completely private situation on completely private property.

The other, bigger, restriction is that some speech is not permitted in the US at all. We all know the aphorism that one cannot shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre, and that gets to the fact that speech that presents a clear and present danger can be outlawed. It’s one thing to say that elected official A is a worthless person who should not be in office (permitted) versus elected official A is a worthless person who should not be allowed to live, so let’s go kill him (not permitted). Also, “obscene” words cannot be uttered on the airwaves, nor can a pastie-covered female nipple be shown on television. So, some expression is restricted in the US.

Other countries do things differently. New Zealand has free expression guaranteed in the Bill of Rights Act and throughout legislation passed over the decades. It is a cherished, closely held right that’s vigorously defended by the people and the courts.

Even so, judges can suppress all information about someone accused of a crime, forbidding the publication of any information about the defendant while the trial is in process. Judges can continue that suppression after conviction in some cases, such as when revealing the criminal’s identity might reveal the name of the victim of a sex crime. Even though some judges do this too much, we nevertheless respect the law and few of us attempt to get around it.

Also, offensive language can be criminal in some cases (like in the US). Unlike the US, however, extreme language denigrating people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., can be prosecuted. The key word there is “extreme” because New Zealand is far more lenient toward hate speech than Canada is (I’m not saying that’s good or bad, it just is).

The most important point, however, is the one Americans like the least: Countries have the right to work out for themselves what works best for them. If Americans doesn’t approve, well, we simply don’t care. We wouldn’t tell Americans how to run their country, what gives them the right to tell us?

Seriously: Why do Americans assume their approach is automatically superior to all others?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Irish anti-bullying campaign


This affecting video is part of an Irish anti homophobic bullying campaign. Be warned: You may need a tissue.

From the YouTube description:
Irish anti homophobic bullying advertisement, created as part of BeLonG To Youth Services annual Stand Up! LGBT Awareness Weeks. The campaign promotes friendship amongst young people as a way to combat homophobic bullying.
More information about the campaign is available on their site.

As a commenter at the site where I first saw this said, “That's the way the world should work.” I agree. In America, as we saw in my previous post, it seldom does. But it can—if we stand up.

(Via Joe.My.God.)

Bullying in Jesus’ name

This year’s National Day of Silence, a project of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, will be held on April 15. As they put it on the project site:
On the National Day of Silence hundreds of thousands of students nationwide take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.
Simple idea with simple goals. And who could argue that GLBT youth shouldn’t be safe in their schools and lives?

Naturally, far right “Christians” despise this day and its message. They’ve tried to get schools to ban it and punish any students who take part. Their politico-religious groups stage a counter event they call the “Day of Dialogue [sic],” which sounds so wholesome and innocent.

This campaign promoting bigotry went too far even for the vile Exodus ministry, probably the best-known purveyors of the “ex gay” scam. Concerned about this project’s role in encouraging the rash of teen suicides, Exodus dropped out and passed it on to the equally vile Focus On The “Family”.

Focus-on-your-own-damn-family says of their day:
"The whole idea is to help embolden and encourage students to want to express their biblical viewpoint in a loving and grace-filled way, especially when controversial sexual topics are brought up in their school and they feel like maybe their viewpoint is being stifled.”
I call bullshit. “Loving and grace-filled”? Since when? They go on:
“So this just gives them some tools for being able to be confident and loving [sic] in expressing their biblical viewpoint. The whole idea of silence seems more like a media opportunity—but the idea of dialogue is that this is an actual learning opportunity for students and a free exchange of ideas among them."
These bigots aren’t interested in “dialogue” or “a free exchange of ideas”, and the only “learning” they want is for GLBT youth to “learn” that they deserve to be bullied because of who they are. A “media opportunity”? They have NO right to attack anyone for that, master grandstanders that they are. The whole point of the Day of Silence is to call attention to anti-GLBT bullying and harassment so that it can be ended. This means, most importantly, at individual schools; if the newsmedia picks up the story and helps spread the word that this bullying is wrong, that’s a good thing, a benefit to society.

The religious bigots can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the Day of Silence is an attempt to combat bullying and harassment of GLBT youth. These religious bigots, on the other hand, promote bullying and harassment as a good thing—so long as they bully, shame and ostracise GLBT kids in “a loving and grace-filled way”, of course.

These religious bigots are entitled to their bigoted beliefs, no matter how immoral or un-Christian it may be, and they’re free to spout that hatred and bigotry in their churches—not in public schools—and, like all bigots, they’re entitled to their opinions. They’re not entitled to their own facts, however.

One fact is so simple even the bigots should be capable of understanding it: GLBT youth are entitled to be safe in school and they’re entitled to grow up and have a life. The bigots are not entitled to try and prevent that.

I never link to bigots’ sites, so if you want to get to it you’ll need to go to the post on Joe.My.God., where I found this.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Tricksy

I am not a trickster by nature. Part of it is that I’m simply not a good enough actor to pull it off (or, so I claim…). But a larger part is that I just don’t want to be mean to anybody by playing them for fools.

And yet today, feeling impish, I Tweeted the above from my podcast account. The link, deliberately shortened to obscure its destination, pointed to the Wikipedia page for April Fool’s Day. I thought that would be a giveaway.

Still, I caught out a couple people, for which I’m at least sort of sorry. April Fool’s pranks only work if they’re credible, and since Monday was the fourth anniversary of my podcast, it was plausible that I might decide to stop.

I’m not a trickster by nature. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy having a few people on for a short time. Just don’t expect me to do it again. It’s not in my nature, I tell you.