Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween dilemma

I admit it: I don’t know what to do about Halloween. And another admission: I loathe it.

Over the years, I’ve posted about how Halloween is waning in New Zealand. In fact, back in 2006, at the end of my second month of blogging, I said that I thought it had already peaked. Nothing’s changed my mind.

In 2009, The Warehouse, our local big box discount retailer put out a flyer with half a page out of 20 of their sale flyer devoted to Halloween. I speculated that the reason might be that it coincided with Labour Weekend, the start of the Christmas selling season in New Zealand. It was similar last year. This year, Halloween was the week after, and their flyer had most of two pages and a bit on the front page.

There were more candy displays in our local supermarket this year than last year or the year before, but most were displayed the same way as any other promotion. There was one small display rack with a sheet of office paper saying “HALLOWEEN” in Arial Black laser printed onto it and taped to the display. I also spotted a few orange and black balloons attached the wine displays, but that was about it.

I don’t actually have anything against Halloween itself (though I’m far too self-conscious to dress up in a costume), but I do loathe trick-or-treating: It’s an American tradition that has no history in New Zealand and attempts to get Kiwis to adopt it just haven’t worked. It’s time to give up on it, as it does seem to be pretty much over (parties seem to be far more important).

In 2008 and 2009, we had no trick-or-treaters. I don’t know if we did last year, because we weren’t home. I didn’t post anything about it in 2007, so I’m guessing we had few or none that year. We had four in 2006.

I frankly don’t expect any this year, either, so—like last year—I didn’t buy any candy that I’d end up having to eat. However, I did briefly consider buying a bag of Whittaker’s Peanut Slab minis, just in case; giving NZ candy for an American tradition seemed impishly fun, even though I knew it would be lost on the recipients. Besides, I wouldn’t have minded being stuck with the leftovers, though it would wreck my supposed health regimen.

So, here’s my dilemma: I have no candy, even though I’m unlikely to need any. But if kids DO come round and I don’t have any, I’ll feel bad. So, I’m thinking about putting a padlock on the gate to keep them away. I could say it’s so the dogs are less upset, but that wouldn’t be true: It’d be for me. The alternative is to simply not answer the door if any do come to the house, but that would mean I’d know they were there. And I’d feel bad. The padlock is a very attractive option.

Another year or two, with trick-or-treating undeniably over, I know I won’t feel this unease. But that doesn’t help this year.

Hm, I wonder if there are any other issues where a padlock could help …

Update: Of course I didn't use a padlock, but I did lock the dog door so the dogs wouldn't jump all over any trick-or-treaters. I also closed the curtains. That may have made it look like I was hiding, but the reality is that I often do that in the afternoon to keep the hot sun out. So, in other words, only locking the dog door was unusual.

We had no trick-or-treaters again this year. Well, technically, you'd have to count the neighbour's two kids; their Mum brought them around to neighbours before taking them to their auntie's house. They arrived just as I let the dogs back into the yard again, after I'd decided there wouldn't be any trick-or-treaters. But we are talking a technicality here. I still chalk this up as another year without trick-or-treaters.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Labour gets it right for Auckland

This ad from the New Zealand Labour Party underscores an important part of Labour's transport policy, released today: Labour will contribute $1.2 billion to Auckland’s rail link, which National opposes because they favour roads. To pay for it, Labour will cancel National’s “holiday highway”, the $1.69 billion motorway extension from Puhoi to Wellsford. I think this is the right thing to do.

Labour’s plans would make a much less expensive round of improvements to the road, which is prudent in this economy, anyway, but it also frees up allocated money to go to public transport, which Auckland desperately needs. All political parties have long acknowledged that Auckland’s traffic and transport problems cost the country dearly, but National’s solution has been limited almost exclusively to road construction. That’s just sanding some of the rough edges off the problem, but leaving the real problem unaddressed. Labour’s plan will help to finally deal with the problem.

At the risk of making the obvious pun, Labour’s clearly on the right track.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The rules are changing

It’s not every day one can say this: The British monarchy is about to undergo historic change. Well, it is.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth that support had been gained to allow a change in royal succession. Under current rules, a male child will ascend the throne, regardless of birth order. So, if a monarch had a daughter first, and then a son, the son would become king.

Currently, Price Charles is the heir to the throne and firstborn, but his younger sister, Anne, is ranked lower in royal succession than their younger brothers, Andrew and Edward. That’s just silly.

So, Britain looked at fixing that old-fashioned rule to allow the first-born child—male or female—to ascend the throne. That’s all well and good, but is it any of New Zealand’s business?

Well, yes, technically.

New Zealand is one of 16 nations for which Queen Elizabeth is head of state. These nations, known as the Commonwealth Realm, had to approve the change in law before it could be adopted. They’ve now all done so.

When this was first proposed, I think the attitude of most Kiwis was, “who cares?” In reality, it’’s none of of our business who ascends to the British throne, but she’s also Queen of New Zealand (and has a New Zealand Royal Standard used here; it’s pictured at the top of this post), and this is why it’s technically New Zealand’s business.

I’m not sure that New Zealand will remain a monarchy long enough for any of this to matter, but maybe it’ll still matter technically,

Another change will be to allow the heir to the throne to marry a Roman Catholic. Until now, they could marry someone of any faith except a Catholic. However, they still can’t BE a Catholic, so some level of prejudice remains.

I thought it was funny that Cameron said, "The idea that a… future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become." Given Cameron’s support for marriage equality, can we assume he’d support a future monarch marrying someone of the same gender?

Maybe that is a change too far—for now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Campaign launch broadcasts

Buried in election law (or something) is a requirement that TVNZ—the state-owned broadcaster—has to air the party political broadcasts of—well, I’m not quite sure who. Apparently it has something to do with polling, and only three parties are polling above the 5% MMP threshold, so those three had party broadcasts tonight.

First up was the conservative National Party—could it possibly be any worse? Actually, nothing was right with this trainwreck: The lighting was horrible, making John Key look like a cadaver (at best) or like some sort of undead fiend. The canned “question” section was mostly filmed from the back, so maybe the person shown didn’t actually ask the question? Amazingly, National’s crowd camera managed to find only non-Pakeha people in the audience. Amazing.

John Key was horrible. Boring, monotone and totally ignoring the fake questions asked. Seriously, what’s the point of asking a patsy question if you ignore them to talk about something totally irrelevant? Can John Key not stay on topic? Is his attention span really that short?

Worse, there was a long list of technical faults: Bad lighting, terrible camera angles, jerky camera and through it all an annoying audio buzz/hum. Honestly, you’d swear the thing was made by some kid with a camera planning to post it to YouTube—except some kid with a camera could do a FAR better job than these jokers did.

Labour was next (video above) and it was lightyears better: On point, on topic and—gasp!—interesting. A little history, a little preaching, all in an entirely accessible format. They talked issues in an accessible way, clearly stated their positions and why they hold them. The average person could understand that.

Labour’s video suffered none of the technical gaffes of National, which matters.

The final video tonight was from the Greens. They were okay: The best party on environmental issues, hands down, the only party to even mention MMP in their broadcast—it was a good effort. And yet, not quite good enough.

So, I rank Labour the clear and far ahead winner, followed by the Greens in fourth place (Labour took one, two and three…), and National in tenth place (and I’m being extremely generous letting them in the top ten…). Does National even have a media professional working with them? From the evidence, I’d guess not.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First campaign ads

New Zealand’s election season is officially underway, with party TV commercials hitting the airwaves today. The video above is the New Zealand Labour Party’s short ad on a Capital Gains Tax. It’s clear what it’s about and what the policy is.

The Labour ad below is more general, and longer, but it, too, hits the party’s main theme of “no asset sales”, combined with policies that will make that unnecessary. While such a brief ad can’t delve deeply into policy details, it nevertheless focuses on policy differences as compared to the current government.

This ad says the election is not a popularity contest, which is a risky, but interesting, tactic: National’s John Key has been polling far ahead of Labour’s Phil Goff, though National’s recent missteps and gaffes may affect that. When there’s a potential negative, there are two advertising tactics: Ignore it or take it head on. This ad takes the latter approach, and judging by Key’s comment today about Goff’s photo not being on Labour’s election hoardings, this tactic seems to have rattled Key and National. Maybe it’s because National’s recent mistakes have undermined Key’s popularity.

And finally, the ad below is the first from the conservative New Zealand National Party (also the only one available on YouTube as I prepared this post). While it hits National’s theme of “building a brighter future”, it’s very different from Labour’s ads in that it promotes no policies—or anything even remotely specific. Instead, it claims recovery is around the corner and declares there are differences between Labour and National without providing any evidence of either. The visual at first seems clever—stop and go signs—but while it reinforces the party narrative, there’s nothing specific to back it up (there are other problems with the visuals that I won’t bother going into).

My guess is that this ad is intended to reinforce support from voters who are already National supporters or who already lean toward them, because it offers no reason for anyone else to vote for the party other than “trust us, we’re right. It’ll get better eventually”. Maybe their next ad will be more detailed.

The first Labour ad is, in my opinion, the best of the three. If National’s ad was for soap or auto insurance, it might be okay, but as a political ad, it misses the mark for precisely the reason Labour’s ads are better: Specific policy. Labour’s ads talk about policy, National’s ad doesn’t. The longer ad with Phil Goff, while apparently setting the campaign tone like National’s ad, still uses specifics.

There will probably be different ads as the campaign season goes on, and I may comment on those, too. But Labour wins this first matchup.

Party for extremist losers?

In this video, radical right extremist and TV preacher Pat Robertson says the Republicans are being too extreme and are really playing “the game for losers”. When wingnuts like Robertson think you’re being too extreme, you absolutely are.

However, it seems to me that if Republican candidates have to hide their true beliefs in order to win the general election, it means their views really are too extreme for mainstream voters. Also, wouldn’t hiding those true beliefs—lying about them, in essence—be even worse than holding views mainstream voters reject? Doesn’t this all mean that Pat is really advocating that Republican candidates lie in order to get elected? If so, that’s one of the most despicable things he’s ever done, and that’s saying something, with so much history to choose from.

Still, it’s kind of entertaining watching the Republicans tear each other up, first trying to be more of a far-right conservative than the other guy, and now, being accused by one extremist of not hiding their extremism enough. Good times.

And yet, we also know that the US political system is being increasingly stacked in the Republicans’ favour. When corporations can spend unlimited money on behalf of Republican candidates, then surely they can convince voters to ignore the party’s extremism. Or, is there still some measure of democracy left in the US?

In a little over a year, we’ll know who the losers really are.

Practice to deceive

The bigoted lying liars at the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage have been caught lying—again. This time, it’s a visual lie in their propaganda.

The far rightwing religious-based anti-gay hate group has always used lies as part of their standard operating procedures in their political campaigns against marriage equality, so the fact that they’ve again been caught lying isn’t particularly new, but this time it is particularly hilarious. It also demonstrates their repudiation of truth and reality, and how reckless they are in their attempts to scam US voters.

Jeremy Hooper at Good As You demonstrated, first, how the bigots used a crowd shot from a massive 2008 Obama rally in St Louis, Missouri to imply they had a big crowd at a rally in New Hampshire when, in fact, they’re always extremely lucky to attract crowds in the tens—not thousands, just two digits. What makes their apparent theft of a Reuters photo to deceive people even funnier is that they didn’t even bother to crop out Obama.

Then Jeremy posted another example: A photo of a 2008 Obama rally in Columbus, Ohio, which was cropped to make it appear a huge crowd—not the tiny gathering it was in reality—was listening to the hate group’s leader, Brian Brownshirt. For this photo they at least covered up the dais.

Now this may seem insignificant, and it would be if not for one thing: It clearly demonstrates the hate group’s reckless disregard for the truth. If they’re willing to use the rallies of people who oppose the bigots’ agenda to try to fool American voters, then what else are they lying about? The short answer is, of course, pretty much everything.

The anti-gay industry relies so much on lies, smears and distortions because it’s all they have: The truth is not on their side, and neither is the American public, and they know both those facts. So they make up phoney polls to try and fool voters into thinking the bigots’ position is the majority when it isn’t, they make up things to use against GLBT people and they defame GLBT with strikingly un-Christian energy and delight. Is it any wonder they’d use photos to try and fool voters?

One could almost feel sorry for the bigots: They’re obviously so desperate that they result to unethical, unprincipled and un-Christian—actually, downright anti-Christian—behaviour. One could almost feel sorry for them if this hadn’t been their behaviour all along.

These radical right bigots and liars deserve all the vilification they’re receiving. They’ve certainly earned it through years of practice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Long holiday weekend

We had an extra-long Labour Holiday Weekend, with an extra day before and after. It was great. We all ate too much, some of us may possibly have drunk a little too much, and in general we all had a nice time. I’m sorry to see it end.

The good thing about holidays is that there’s always another one on the way, sooner or later, and for us the next one is Christmas/New Year, which will be extra-extra-long.

I’m also looking forward to getting some projects finished, now that the weather is improving, things I’d like to finish before Christmas.

Oh yeah, we also had the rugby thing…

So, all up, really, really good days!

Someone finally ‘went there’

Ever since the “Occupy” protestors took up camping on the edge of Auckland’s Aotea Square, rightwing folks have been waging a rhetorical war, aping the dismissive, condescending tone of the US rightwing and in so doing, ironically giving the protestors far more attention than anyone else is.

Today one of their own has apparently called for violent repression of the protest. That’s going too far.

George Wood, an ex-North Shore City Mayor and now Auckland Councillor, posted on his Facebook (you must be logged into Facebook to follow the link):
“Mayor Len Brown needs to give the Lord Mayor of Melbourne a call to get some ideas. Continuing to do nothing is not an option – it seems that our mayor and his advisers would just like to believe that this occupation in Auckland isn't happening.”
George also provided a link to an Australian news article about how Melbourne’s Lord Mayor said there will be a zero-tolerance policy to people camping in the city, as was seen in the extremely violent police removal of protestors last week. Is that really what George wants for Auckland?

Wood was part of the New Zealand Police until 1998, when he was elected Mayor of the former North Shore City. He was defeated for re-election as mayor in 2007, and in 2010 was elected a councillor on the new Auckland Council as part of the rightwing “Citizens & Ratepayers” party, associated with the conservative New Zealand National Party.

His Facebook postings about the protestors have become increasingly strident as the days have passed, and his commentors—to whom he seldom responds—have sometimes gone way too far, crossing the line from strident debate to nearly fomenting hatred. I couldn’t understand why some people did that or why George didn’t tell them to behave themselves.

Then there was today’s post, indicating that maybe George actually agrees with the more strident (or even unhinged) folks among his fellow Tories. While he’s been quite open about calling for the eviction of protestors, today is the first time he’s seemed to advocate police violence against them. He was wrong to do that, even if he didn’t mean to imply that (personally, I think he did).

George is also wrong about another thing: Doing nothing is always an option, no matter how much he and his fellow Tories hate it. The challenge of democracy isn’t deciding when to use violence to suppress dissent we don’t like, but rather to find ways to tolerate that dissent as we work toward a peaceful resolution of conflict.

This is Auckland, not Melbourne or Chicago or New York; we don’t need to resort to violent repression here—we can be better than that. If George Wood doesn’t believe that, if he thinks violence is the only option, then he should resign from the council and seek work in some repressive regime overseas.

I didn’t vote for George Wood. After his increasingly strident rhetoric, now clearly condoning violence against peaceful protestors, I’m really glad that I didn’t.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Worth quoting: David Huebner

US Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, released a message of congratulations to the New Zealand All Blacks:
I am delighted to congratulate the All Blacks on their 2011 Rugby World Cup triumph. Sunday’s victory was a great moment for New Zealand and a fitting end to an outstanding tournament. All of us here at the American Embassy and the Consulate General celebrate the victory with you.

The United States was honored to have participated in the tournament, which was a great opportunity for the rugby nations of the world to celebrate how sport can bring together people from different cultures and backgrounds.

I was particularly gratified to see the enthusiastic Kiwi support for the USA Eagles … and not just when we played Australia. Thanks to all the cities and towns who adopted the American team, and special thanks to Wanganui, New Plymouth, South Taranaki, Wellington, and Richmond for welcoming the Eagles with such great warmth and panache when they visited. You and the rest of Aotearoa have been tremendous hosts to the world over the past six weeks.

The words of the haka resonate particularly strongly tonight:

“Au, au, aue ha! I ahaha! Ka tu te ihiihi Ka tu te wanawana Ki runga ki te rangi e tu iho nei, tu iho nei, hi! Ponga ra! Kapa o Pango, aue hi! Ponga ra! Kapa o Pango, aue hi, ha! “

It is indeed your time and your moment. Congratulations again on the tremendous achievement.
“…and not just when we played Australia.” Who says diplomats don’t have a sense of humour? A nice message, I thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

NZ election bits

In the photo above, Labour’s candidate for the Northcote Electorate, Paula Gillon, poses by one of her defaced election hoardings. She good-humouredly Tweeted: “Still trying to figure out how they discovered my alter-ego...” Defacing election signs is never okay—no matter the candidate or party—but I think that Gillon’s response has the right tone. Always best to not rise to the bait.

Irony on display

GayNZ.com reported that the candidate for the United Future Party in the North Shore Electorate, Damian Light, is openly gay, having recently come out. Gotta admit, I didn’t see that one coming. According to the article, Light told a forum that his party was “fair, open and believes in choice and removing barriers to create a more open society for all.” Uh huh. Party Leader Peter Dunne told the site, "we don't think a person's sexuality is relevant". Uh huh.

Dunne’s party brought a gaggle of religious extremists into Parliament, including the truly vile, but not terribly bright (too harsh? Okay, then, let's say not terribly astute), radical right politician Gordon Copeland. Copeland put forth an anti-gay—and totally unnecessary—bill to define marriage as only heterosexual. It was, of course, defeated, but party leader Dunne voted for it. He also voted against the Civil Unions Act, though, bizarrely, voted in favour of the Relationships (Statutory References) Act, which gave legal force to the Civil Unions Act by including them in most places where marriage is mentioned in law.

United Future is almost certain to remain a one-man party caucus in Parliament, provided that Dunne can hold his seat. If Labour’s Charles Chauvel defeats him, Dunne and United Future will be gone from Parliament, which, based on their record, sounds like it would be a good result.

Another radical right party dies

And speaking of radical religious extremists, the Kiwi Party, which Gordon Copeland helped to found and lead to defeat in the 2008 election, has folded. They’ve decided to merge with the “Conservative Party”, led by a failed Auckland Mayoral candidate best known for funding the “March for Stupidity”, as I called it, a publicity stunt by religious extremists angry that they didn’t get their way in the 2009 pro-smacking referendum. Since the first MMP election in 1996, no religious extremist party has received enough votes to enter Parliament. That’s highly unlikely to change this year, either.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm voting for MMP

Of all the decisions I’ve had to make about voting in the election this year, one was never in doubt: I’ll be voting to keep MMP. Naturally, I hope all other New Zealanders will, too.

When we vote next month, we’ll face a two-part referendum. Part A asks, “Should New Zealand keep the MMP voting system?” I’ll be voting to keep MMP.

No matter how one votes in Part A, voters then will be asked in Part B: “If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?” The options are First Past the Post (FPP), Preferential Voting (PV), Single Transferable Vote (STV) and Supplementary Member (SM). I will choose STV.

If MMP wins a majority in Part A—if a majority of New Zealanders vote to keep MMP—it will trigger an independent review of MMP to make it better. In this way, we can iron out any problems with MMP. If it loses, it will face another referendum pitted against the alternative voting system with the highest number of votes.

So, if MMP wins, we can fix the things we don’t like while keeping the fairest, most democratic voting system I’ve ever experienced.

I come from a country that uses First Past the Post (FPP) almost exclusively, and many of its problems are directly traceable to that fact. FPP is a system in which the candidate with the most votes wins, even if they received only a minority of all votes cast. That’s not fair or democratic and results in FPP frequently electing candidates without majority support. So, there are usually large numbers of Americans who are completely unrepresented. It also ensures the continued duopoly of the two big parties, the only ones with any reasonable chance of election nationally (or even on the state level of most states).

MMP fixes all that. The main way it does that is through proportionality: The make-up of Parliament exactly matches the desires of voters because the proportion of Parliamentary seats held by each party is directly related to the share of the Party Vote they get (it also encourages multiple parties so that no one party becomes too powerful). Also, MMP has increased the representation of women, Maori, ethnic minorities and GLBT people, and that means Parliament looks much more like New Zealand than could ever happen under FPP.

Because MMP encourages multiple parties, it makes it likely that governments will be coalitions, which has several benefits. First, we don’t have dramatic jerks to the left or right, and the more extreme policies of any party are softened which, again, better reflects New Zealand than the constant chopping and changing and 180 degree turns under FPP. This also makes governments more consultative than they would be if they didn’t need the support of other parties.

All of this makes New Zealand’s government remarkably stable and predictable, while still allowing governments of different ideologies to make major changes when in power. Best-case scenario, in my opinion.

So, what we get with MMP is a diverse, highly representative government that is more consultative and democratic than anything FPP could deliver. It’s also a very simple system and, frankly, much easier to understand than STV.

STV would be my distant-second choice. Because it doesn’t have proportionality like MMP does, it’s less fair or democratic than MMP. It also encourages a two-party duopoly. Preferential voting and Supplementary Member are both less democratic again, with FPP, obviously, being the least democratic or fair.

Auckland University has a calculator to suggest how the same percentages of support would translate into seats in Parliament under the different systems. MMP is the only one to match the percentage of support.

For more information on keeping MMP, the Campaign for MMP is a great place to start. They also have more information about the system.

Keeping MMP is the obvious choice, I think.

Notice from afar

There are plenty of people who love to make fun of social media, to belittle it and the people who use it. Mind you, there are people who love to make fun of cupcakes, too. But the critics of social media, I think, too often ignore the positive things.

I’ve written many times before about how I’ve used social media to tell a lot of people that I’m okay after some event in this part of the world. This morning, it was a 7.3 earthquake near Raoul Island, the largest and northernmost of the Kermadec Islands, a very long way from Auckland. However, the first I heard of it was actually a Tweet from an American friend asking if we were okay.

So, after replying to my friend, I Tweeted: “For my friends outside of New Zealand, the earthquake was in the Kermedecs, about 1100km (684 miles) NE of the North Island.” To cover as many bases as possible, I expanded on my Tweet on both Google+ and Facebook:
“For my friends outside of New Zealand, this morning's earthquake was in the Northernmost part of the Kermedec Islands, more than 1100km (684 miles) NE of the North Island—way too far away to be felt in Auckland.

So, yes, we are fine, no we never felt it, and thanks for the concern of those who have asked me about it privately!”
I linked to the article that this blog post also links to. I suppose that draws this blog post even further into my “public awareness campaign”. Or whatever. The point is, all this new media/social media makes this sort of notification fast and easy.

On the other hand, as I also said on Twitter, without social media, “lots of folks wouldn’t know me & wouldn’t wonder if I was OK after an earthquake near NZ.” So, part of the reason I needed to use all those social media outlets to inform folks was because they knew me (and, so, wondered about my safety) precisely because of social media. Man, modern life can get weird and complicated!

And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The right tone

In the official White House photo above (by Pete Souza):
“President Barack Obama greets the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal recipients in the Blue Room of the White House prior to a medal ceremony in the East Room, Oct. 20, 2011. The Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor, recognizes Americans who perform ‘exemplary deeds of service.’”
This is notable because the woman standing fifth from the right (black pantsuit, with crutches) is Janice Langbehn whose story illustrates all that’s wrong with recognition—or rather, the lack of recogonition—of GLBT couples’ relationships.

President Obama was reportedly moved by Langbehn’s story and her struggle for justice, and it was one of the reasons he signed signed the memorandum mandating that most hospitals must treat same-sex partners of gay patients as family in their visitation policies. That memorandum was necessarily flawed, of course (mostly due to the infamous Defense [sic] of Marriage Act) but an important symbolic step, nevertheless.

I think it was a generous gesture for the president to honour the struggle of Langbehn because her fight is incrementally making things better for GLBT people, particularly couples. But this work is far from over, as the president well knows.

No medal can bring back Lisa Marie Pond, Langbehn’s partner of 17 years, nor will it ease the memory of the unnecessary and cruel treatment Langbehn received at the hands of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. However, it does demonstrate that her struggle for justice is worthwhile and valued.

But for progress on marriage equality, in to precent the horrible treatment that Langbehn and Pond received, the evil DOMA must be repealed, and the only way that will happen is if President Obama is re-elected and if liberal Democrats are elected to Congress. That’s not a partisan pitch, but cold, hard reality: NO progress can occur under any of the Republican presidential candidates or if the Republicans control Congress. In fact, if Republicans control the White House and Congress, things will get very much worse.

So it is right and proper and good to see President Obama honouring Janice Langbehn. It’s up to the rest of us to do the same by doing our part to make things better.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tent and sympathy

A tiny tent village has sprung up on the edge of Auckland’s Aotea Square. The tents house some of the roughly 150 protesters taking part in a local version of the “Occupy” worldwide protests against corporate greed. The photo accompanying this post is of the encampment and was taken this morning by Auckland Council member Michael Goudie (Source) from high up in the Auckland Civic Administration building, which holds some of the offices for Auckland Council, our city government. Click to embiggen photo.

I have a lot of sympathy for the protestors. That’s not a surprise, as even a brief perusal of my posts tagged “Corporate Greed” will show. However, there are other issues I’m equally aware of.

First, Aotea Square isn’t designed for camping (and it’s illegal to do so). There are no public toilets in the square itself, and the nearest ones are in Meyer’s Park, five minute’s (or more) walk from the camp (the loos can be seen in the background of this photo from my Auckland Flicr set, which has some other photos of Meyer’s Park). How many folks might just use the bushes, especially in the middle of the night?

This gets to the other thing: We ratepayers (taxpayers) in Auckland will pay to clean up the site once they leave, and to repair the inevitable damage to the lawns. All or part of Aotea Square was closed to the public for several years as it was completely refurbished. A smaller grassed area, where the occupiers are, was fully opened only a few months ago, and the grass is only now established. This is why some political moderates are angry at the protesters (one expects conservatives to be livid for ideological reasons).

But a far more serious issue than human waste in the bushes or damaged lawns is safety. It was reported yesterday that the square is being considered as a back-up fan zone for up to 15,000 people after the final of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday, to be used if the waterfront reaches capacity. If the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup, Auckland could very well need more space for the celebrations. Aotea Square would also be the only place not selling alcohol, so people might be tempted to bring their kids.

15,000 rugby fans, many of them drunk, right next to 150 protesters is a recipe for disaster. A rugby fan might throw a lit cigarette on a tent, or someone on either side might pick up something heavy and lob it at the other side. The police would be powerless to stop the ensuing violence or to prevent the inevitable injuries.

Of course, fans celebrating an All Black win could be so happy and joyous that they dance with the protesters; seriously, though, does that seem very likely? And, if the All Blacks—gasp!—don’t win, this could all be moot—or even more violent.

In a democracy, people have the right to protest. They also have the right to—peacefully and non-violently—make a bloody nuisance of themselves. The costs of repairs are, in my opinion, the price we pay for living in a democratic society with freedom of expression. But the other side of freedom is responsibility, and the protesters ought to have a fund to help pay for the clean-up because it’s the morally right thing to do, but mostly because it would be a great political tactic to blunt one of the main criticisms of their encampment.

The protesters also have a responsibility for taking themselves out of harm’s way by leaving the square well before the Rugby World Cup final ends on Sunday night. There is no way the police can protect them, so the protestors must get out of the way. Failing that, the police may need to evict them.

So, sympathetic as I am to their protests, I don’t give them a free pass. I believe they’re in the wrong location, making them look like they’re protesting the wrong target. That makes them look politically naïve, which is the last thing they or we need if they’re serious about fighting back against corporate greed and control over society.

All political activists need to keep their eyes on the prize, and stubbornness for its own sake is never a useful tactic for any cause. The protesters have got to realise that they’re not winning friends or allies by expecting ratepayers to pay for the clean-up and repairs from their protest, nor will they if they end up at the receiving end of a riot because they refused to take responsibility for their own safety.

We’ll see if the protesters have any common sense. I hope they do, that they set an example, because that could win allies and supporters.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Profiling The Propagandist

The video above is about The Propagandist, a report released last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). It’s an in-depth investigation of Bryan Fisher, one of the most powerful people in the US’ anti-gay industry—despite his rabidly anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Every major Republican presidential candidate appears on the radio show he hosts for the American “Family” Association, as does pretty much everyone who is anyone in rightwing politics in the US.

The profile of Fischer was written for the report by Idaho journalists Jody May-Chang and Jill Kuraitis, both of whom have closely followed Fischer's activities for many years. They present and in-depth look at his history from Idaho to his becoming a major rightwing political player in the US. (A PDF of the SPLC report can be downloaded from Jody May-Chang’s site, as can an audio file of the entire interview excerpted in the video above).

The report also looks at the American “Family” Association, categorised by the SPLC as an anti-gay hate group, and presents its hatred in its own words.

An added feature of the report is “10 Tall Tales Debunked”, in which the SPLC takes on the 10 myths the anti-gay industry uses to demonise gay people, and presents the truth and facts. Similarly, they point out the truth about anti-gay violence.

The SPLC has been especially active in recent months documenting the anti-gay industry’s methods, tactics and inter-connections, and this report fits right in with that. If truth and information really are power, then all of this may finally produce force sufficient to counter and balance the enormous power of the anti-gay industry.

However, that can’t happen until the mainstream newsmedia stops coddling the bigots and treating their lies and defamation as valid viewpoints. Those of us living in the reality-based world, where facts and truth matter, have quite awhile to wait for the level of discourse to be raised.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Talking to voters

This evening, one of the folks I follow on Twitter posted: “why is it that so many MPs spend half their time at schools, creches and infirm people at rest homes. What’s wrong with talking to voters?” For some reason, that question instantly reminded me of the Whittaker’s Peanut Slab commercial from the 1990s.

But it actually does get at something that’s puzzled me: Why DO New Zealand election candidates spend so much time at “public meetings” and so little going door-to-door? In nearly 16 years living in New Zealand, I don’t believe a candidate for anything has ever knocked on my door, nor, as far as I can remember, has any party or campaign worker done so.

Efforts to meet voters one-on-one are the most time-consuming way of campaigning, no doubt about it, but it’s also free, so doesn’t affect campaign budgets. I’m sure that the reason candidates go to public meetings is because it’s a way of talking face-to-face with a lot of people at once—face-to-face, yes, but not one-on-one, which is what I’m talking about.

Anyway, this is just something I’m curious about, not one I’m seriously expecting an answer to, nor am I suggesting there’s anything wrong with the way they do things. It just seems to me that with so little money available, going door-to-door would be kind of an obvious thing to do. Well, when there’s not a public meeting, anyway.

Now, I think I may have a Whittaker’s Peanut Slab around here somewhere…

President Obama at the MLK Memorial dedication

Today President Obama spoke at the dedication of the new Washington, DC memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. (video above). I think the memorial is overdue, and I look forward to visiting it eventually.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buying the past. Again.

Last month, I saw a Tweet from a fellow American expat in New Zealand. It read:
"Finally realised that I have been unconsciously trying to replace everything I sold/gave away before I moved to New Zealand. #expatregret"
This is something I haven’t talked about much: The desire to recapture what we’ve left behind. I’m sure this varies form person to person, and it’ll be influenced by how much “stuff” an expat is able to bring with them.

In my case, it wasn’t much: Seven suitcases and a box is all I brought with me initially. Some friends brought maybe four suitcases with them a few months later. A couple trips back to the US, and I brought some more stuff back with me, ending with my final trip, returning to New Zealand in 2008 with five suitcases.

The stuff I brought to New Zealand with me wouldn’t even cover the floor of a shipping container. Considering that much of what I brought was clothes that have been replaced, probably several times over, I have very little from my life in the US.

Initially, I dealt with that by buying replacements for things, sometime necessary (like electrical appliances, for example). Sometimes it was food products, either finding American brands newly on sale here, sometimes it was finding substitutes, other times it was finding stores that sold American food products. All these things gave a sense of connection to my homeland.

Every American in New Zealand that I’ve known has had one or more food items that they very much miss from the US. And yet, life isn’t a snack food or coffee maker, and neither are they the stuff around which we build most of our memories here or in the US; for me, things like books and records are.

I left nearly all of my records and books behind, hundreds of each. After I returned to New Zealand in 2008, and once it sunk in that it was final, that I had nothing left in the US, I started replacing things. It began with a book, some DVDs, and also replacements of some of those vinyl records I left behind (but digital equivalent through iTunes).

These items were all ones that had special resonance for me—especially the music—and replacing them was a conscious decision, unlike the situation for my expat friend. What I think is interesting about that is how liberating this has been: Having stuff in the US meant I had a sort of tether connecting me, but with that tether cut, I could choose to replace only those things that have special meaning for me.

So, I am buying the past again, but it’s stuff that actually matters to me, not what I’d still be carting around if I lived in the US. Less is more, apparently.

And, it’s a reality of being an expat. All things considered, it’s not much of a burden, actually.

News for yahoos

I don’t use Yahoo! New Zealand, so I don’t ever see their front page. However someone who does tipped me off to today’s version because it’s something I’d have a strong opinion about, and I do: In New Zealand, apparently, it’s News for yahoos.

This morning the fifth listed story under “Latest new headlines” was one entitled, “Electorate’s right to know ‘denied’”. It turns out it was a press release put out by Ken Orr of an anti-abortion group called “Right To Life New Zealand Inc.”, which Yahoo! NZ shortened to “Right to Life”. What the hell was this doing under news?

The press release talked about how the leaders of three parties supposedly “refused” to answer a election questionnaire from the radical rightwing NZ “Christian” group, “Family” First, although it provides absolutely no evidence to suggest a refusal, let alone any proof. In the absence of any proof, one must suspect that these counterfeit Christians were being economical with the truth.

And again, what the hell was this doing under news?

The yahoos in RTLNZ have every bit as much right to the their opinions as anybody else does—that isn’t the issue. The sole issue here is Yahoo! posting a propaganda press release as if it was news when it clearly is not even remotely genuine news. Had they posted under opinion, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

As for the questionnaire, I actually agree with the counterfeit Christians at “Family” First: their election guide is useful, but only so mainstream voters can look at the candidates who voted “not family [sic] friendly” because those are the ones who are, almost without exception, the ones who are the most sane and rational.

For example, Labour Leader Phil Goff was given 28% “family [sic] friendly”, as was Metiria Turei of the Greens. Among rightwingers, Winston Peters got 83%, Don Brash got 60% and Peter Dunne got 56%. Even John Key got 46%. I’d never vote for those rightwing guys nor their parties, so it would seem the FF score is pretty good for mainstream voters to use to vote the opposite.

Okay, I admit, I’m taking the piss out of the counterfeit Christians’ survey, but only because it’s so stupid. The stupidity begins with them using several different ways to indicate their preferred votes—not user friendly to find out who’s supposedly “family” friendly. They also count votes differently on their scorecard and on their website, apparently sometimes counting First Reading votes, sometimes final votes. I’m not being harsh about this: In my activist years, I created many legislator scorecards, so I know how easy it is to make one that’s clear and simple to follow.

The things they consider to be “family” issues include permanently banning marriage equality and adoption by gay couples, as would be expected, but it also talks about “G-rated billboards”, whatever that means, and “Binding citizens’ initiated referenda” which is a reference to their failed pro-smacking vanity referendum. Interestingly, the far-right “Christian” who bankrolled that silly protest march after their failed vanity referendum, has started a new rightwing party and got a 90% approval rating from the radicals at FF. The closest to him was Winnie Peters at 83%.

Obviously these rightwing nutjobs and religious extremists are entitled to their opinions, and of course they’re entitled to try to reach out to wingnut voters. That’s what living in a democracy means. But it also means they can expect to be ignored by the mainstream precisely because of their extremism. So, while they have the absolute right to express their opinions, they don’t have the right to be taken seriously.

They also don’t have a right to have their propaganda treated as if it’s real news. Yahoo! New Zealand failed badly on that score. From now on, they should leave real news to real journalists and press releases to scoop.co.nz.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Speaking of liars…

I ran across something on the web that was both funny and instructive. Talking Points Memo asked: “Which is harder to believe—that Fox News got something wrong or that they apologized for it?”

They go on to document how Fox’s Fox and Friends reported with their trademarked outrage that President Obama had considered apologising to Japan for Hiroshima when, in fact, that was completely false. Had Fox “journalists” done even a tiny little bit of fact-checking, they would never have run that story.

Instead, Fox and Friends apologised (well, sort of, insofar as they’re capable of apologising for broadcasting falsehoods…) on-air, but they did so only after Mediaite contacted them about their errors.

Now, obviously, I thought TPM’s rhetorical question was funny (and true), but the thing about this incident is that now that Fox has put this untruth out in the wild, rightwing folks will keep repeating it as if it was true. This happens all the time as Fox reports things that are either demonstrably false or grossly misleading.

Lies are sometimes more enduring than truth. Mark Twain, as a commenter on the TPM site pointed out, wrote, “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” (from Pudd'nhead Wilson).

If Fox “News” didn’t get things so very wrong so very often, whether through laziness, accident or design, the rightwing echo chamber would lose an important “credible” source for their disinformation campaigns. Sadly, Fox is not a cat.

Lying by the numbers

You just can’t make truth up, though Tony Perkins, the head bigot at the anti-gay hate group “Family” Research Council, surely tries. His group put out a desperate plea for Americans to oppose marriage equality, even though polls show a declining number are clinging to that losing proposition. To make his case, he calls equality advocates liars, using rightwing propaganda as his “evidence”.

Perkins’ attacked polls like those of Gallup, centring on the wording of questions about marriage equality. Actually, that’s often a point of contention for both the left and the right, which is why legitimate polling organisations mix up their questions, the order they’re asked, and actually put quite a lot of thought into wording so the answers are as close to accurate as may be possible. So, ideological attacks on legitimate polling organisations are usually more about politics than science, which is certainly the case with Perkins.

Perkins’ approvingly cited an alternative poll, and the problem with it is the wording because of the source: It was conducted by a Mormon political activist who was part of California’s successful banning of gay marriage through Proposition 8. Among other things, he conducted polling for the anti-gay side, polls whose legitimacy were also questioned.

So, this rightwing Mormon political activist conducts a poll that finds—surprise, surprise!—evidence to support his extremist religious-political views, namely, that 64% supposedly oppose marriage equality. This is nonsense, obtained by selective wording. It is, in other words, a real example of what Perkins was whining about Gallup doing.

The difference in these polling efforts is that Gallup is a reputable polling organisation that employs scientific methods to collect reliable data. We can’t say the same for the poll cited by Perkins because we know nothing other than it was a supposedly random poll of 1,000 people in all 50 US states. What was his methodology? What were the questions? What is his margin of error? What is the confidence level? We can’t tell because that information isn’t provided and the pollster doesn’t even have a website. By contrast, legitimate polling organisations like Gallup release all this data to make it possible for us to evaluate their poll.

Perkins’ poll is nothing more than a political propaganda ploy, and as such it’s similar to polling touted by another member of the anti-gay industry. Back when the New York legislature was considering enacting marriage equality, the National Organization for Man-Lady Only Marriage touted a poll that they claimed showed a large and clear majority of New Yorkers opposed the move. Trouble is, like Perkins’ poll, it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. The New York claim was dismissed as the propaganda it was; you’d think Perkins would’ve learned from that, but he apparently thinks Americans are too stupid to know any better.

In a way, it’s understandable that Perkins and the other bigots in the anti-gay industry would do this: Most people don’t understand statistics and don’t know how to evaluate polls. They’re not stupid, just not well enough informed or, frankly, don’t have much reason to sit and analyse polls thoroughly. So the bigots prey on that, presenting nonsense polls as if they’re real and legitimate. They hope to hoodwink ordinary people or, at least, to confuse them so they don’t know what the truth is.

The continual use of lies, smears and distortion and the increasingly bizarre and unhinged rhetoric that the anti-gay industry is using to defame GLBT people is a sign of their growing, frantic desperation as mainstream society moves on and begins to leave the anti-gay bigots in the dust of the past.

The folks in the anti-gay industry are entitled to their opinions, no matter how bigoted or even sick they may be. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. No matter how many phoney polls they parade around, the facts are clear: They’re on the wrong side of this issue, the wrong side of mainstream people and the wrong side of history. The facts are, you don’t need a phoney poll to tell you that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Three things about this story

For me, the AP video above has three different things going on.

First and foremost, I think it’s a terribly sad story. However, if I were in a situation similar to that of Helen Tamaki, whose partner, Sonia Marra, died in the crash, I don’t think I’d want to survive. Mostly, though, I think it’s a sad story.

Then there’s the AP itself. Whatever happened to journalists at least trying to pronounce names correctly? It's not hard to get it right, and there’s been plenty of broadcast coverage here in New Zealand (Helen Tamaki, the woman who just died, was a New Zealander), and the AP would have easy access to those reports.

I think English-speaking journalists have an ethical and moral responsibility to find out the correct pronunciation of all non-English words, and a flat out obligation to pronounce names correctly, except in the most extreme situations in which the journalist’s own accent makes that impossible.

So, because the AP didn’t do its duty, I will: Helen Tamaki's name is NOT pronounced "tuh-MAH-kee", but "TAH-muh-kee".

And finally, I was frankly appalled by the reaction of some people commenting on the blog post where I originally saw this video. They argued that the fact that Tamaki was lesbian, or that the couple was a lesbian couple, was irrelevant.

Putting aside the fact that, tragic though the accident was, this video would never have been posted to a gay blog if the couple wasn’t lesbian, I can’t understand how some apparently gay people can argue that it should have been, well, censored. What was to be gained by letting people think the two women were just “very good friends” or—far, far worse, in my opinion—ignoring they had any connection whatsoever, as CNN did, essentially wiping out the women’s 15-year-long relationship as if it never existed.

In my view, the mainstream newsmedia in the US dishonoured that relationship—and ALL gay relationships—by pretending it never existed (New Zealand media reported the story accurately). Gay people (especially bloggers, in this case) have an obligation to remember our own, and to honour their lives and the reality of their relationships.

But, mostly, I just think it’s a very sad story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Frank Kameny

Today Frank Kameny died at age 86. I won’t list his entire history here—his Wikipedia profile is actually pretty good. But he was, in many ways, the original gay activist. When he was fired from his government job in 1957 for being gay, as so many gay people were in those days, he fought back and became the first to take a case to the US Supreme Court.

He was involved in many other firsts, too, and seemed to have a pretty good sense of humour. I guess you had to in those days.

I didn’t come out until some 20 years after Frank lost his Supreme Court challenge, but when I did, one of the first things I did was read all the gay history (and literature) I could find, and Frank Kameny was one of the people I read about.

My entire activist career was made possible by folks like Frank, just as I helped pave the way for those who followed me, all of us linked in an ever-lengthening chain. But we all stood on the shoulders of folks like Frank, Harry Hay and the other pioneers of the modern GLBT rights movement.

Because of his history and legacy, it’s deeply ironic that Frank should die on October 11 (US time), because that’s National Coming Out Day.

I feel a deep personal sense of thanks and gratitude to Frank Kameny for helping to make things better for me and every other GLBT American. Rest well, Frank: You earned it.

Update: The blog of The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has published a post, "Remembering Frank Kameny, civil rights pioneer". Nice.

Political spill

Politics: There’s simply no way to talk about the grounding off Tauranga of the ship MV Rena without talking about politics. While the specific cause of the grounding is yet to be determined, the utter failure and incompetence of John Key’s National Party government is obvious.

The ship sat stuck for four days in calm seas before the government made any move in the disaster, and by then the weather and seas were turning worse. The government had an offer to help unload the fuel oil from the ship in those four days but declined because, they said, it would’ve taken 17 trips.

So, instead of taking away as much of the fuel oil as possible, they waited: Rough seas meant they could only get a tiny percentage of the oil removed. It started washing up on shore. The government told people to stay away and not to try cleaning the beach. A day later—several days after the grounding—professionals finally arrived to clean the beach.

Now containers are falling off the ship and an enormous crack has appeared, meaning that it’s probably inevitable that the ship will break open and more—most?—of its fuel oil will wash up on Tauranga beaches.

There is a species of shore bird that has only 40 individuals left. At least five of them live in the affected area, meaning that 12% of the remaining population of those birds may be lost in this disaster.

The total financial liability for the ship’s owner will max out at about $14 million, meaning the New Zealand taxpayer will have to pay all the rest of the costs—in a bad economy.

How can anyone not blame John Key’s National Party Government for this clown-car circus of utter incompetence? John Key’s government could have acted sooner, but refused to do so. Everyone in New Zealand will pay—literally and figuratively—for Key’s and National’s incompetence.

I’m sure that John and the boys in National will try to blame everyone else for their party’s failures. They will say that successive governments failed to set appropriate policy (in other words, they’ll blame it on Labour). If they really try to make those excuses, they’ll be totally dishonest in the extreme.

First, National is in government NOW, and it’s their responsibility for the way government runs. Second, this is the same party that’s pushing offshore deep-sea drilling saying, “trust us—nothing could possibly go wrong!” even though they knew damn well that there was no plan in place to deal with such disasters.

New Zealand has some 14,000 km of coastline, and is heavily dependent on sea trade, but it has no strategy for dealing with a disaster like this. John Key and National were utterly out of their depth when trying to improvise a response on the fly. And we’re supposed to trust them with deep sea drilling? Not bloody likely.

If Labour forms the next government, it will definitely change policies in this area. Since Labour would likely be in coalition with the Greens, we can be sure of a more serious and grown-up approach to environmental policy.

This is yet another reason why we need to change the government.

On second thought

Earlier today I wrote a post critical of Labour’s sport and recreation policy as it relates to schools. Even though I stand by my criticisms, I’ve deleted that post.

I realised, after extended Twitter discussions with two Labour candidates, that I wasn’t explaining myself or my position well enough or clearly enough. The post was more confusing than enlightening.

Moreover, this is hardly the most important issue in this election: I doubt anyone will vote for or against Labour because of it, certainly not me. There are far more important issues to concentrate on, ones on which the election may very well turn.

If Labour loses the election, my criticism will be irrelevant; if they win, the policy is, by their own admission, a couple years away. Clearly, it’s just not important right now.

So for all those reasons, but mostly because I was totally unhappy with the post, I’ve deleted it. I rarely do that, but I always reserve the right to do so for whatever reason, or none at all. This time, I had good reason, after second thoughts.

A brickbat for Labour

According to the New Zealand Herald, Labour is looking at imposing mandatory shorter days in the middle of the week for secondary school students to free up time for compulsory sports activity. This is a colossally stupid idea.

Labour’s Sports and recreation spokesperson, Trevor Mallard, is quoted by the Herald as saying, "I'm not saying everyone should play rugby, but encouragement—unless there are medical reasons—of some sort of club-type activity.” However, that mandatory organised club sports almost certainly means only rugby in most places.

I don’t doubt that Labour’s intentions are good: They want to fight obesity by encouraging physical activity. The problem is that this is the absolute worst possible way to achieve that goal, and not just because they’re naïve in thinking it won’t cost any money (note to all political parties: Nothing is “free”).

When I was in primary and secondary school, physical education, including organised sports at a lower, non-club sort of level, was mandatory “unless there are medical reasons”. All of the bullying that I personally experienced in school—all of it—and most of what I witnessed was directly connected to this “education”. Some of that bullying came from teachers who belittled and bullied students who had little athletic ability.

I developed a life-long hatred of participating in sports because of that physical “education” in school. I still resist physical exercise for the same reason.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

A few years ago, I saw a report about a high school in my home state of Illinois. They’d noticed that traditional physical education and mandatory sports participation was failing to instil lifeskills in kids and that it was, in fact, turning kids off of all physical exercise, just as it had done to me.

Their solution was to abandon traditional physical education and its emphasis on mandatory sports participation and move instead to setting fitness goals. They transformed their physical education department into a fitness centre, with machines like one would find at any gym that adults join. The result was predictable: Dramatically increased fitness and students who remained engaged in looking after their own health.

That is the correct approach, and I know it would’ve made a huge difference to my life. It would make a huge difference to all kids who struggle with and fail at organised sports by emphasising what’s important—physical fitness—and it eliminates the opportunity to bully kids who aren’t good at sports, or who simply hate sports.

Labour would never advocate that, though: First of all, it’s practical thinking, not a one-size-fits-all approach, but mostly because it would be very expensive to implement.

Yesterday I criticised the National Party for empty slogans. Today I crticise Labour for an empty-headed policy that’s the wrong solution for the problem they claim to be addressing. Like National’s signs, it’s simplistic and stupid and gives me no reason to vote for the party.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Signs of nothing

John Key, leader of the conservative New Zealand National Party today released seven election whorings hoardings intended to win them the election. It was very convenient for me, because it’s high time I said more about the parties as we enter the real election campaign.

The actual seven signs, critiqued:

1. Balance The Books Sooner – Well, that’s a worthy goal, isn’t it? I suppose a sign can’t provide any details on what programmes they’ll cut to make that happen, but since they’ve ruled out any tax increases, they’re obviously planning on cutting something.

2. More Exports, More Real Jobs – Another worthy goal, and again they offer no specifics. They didn’t accomplish this in the past three years, so…

3. Rebuilding Christchurch – Well, duh! No one’s opposed to that. But how are they going to pay for it? Their absolute refusal to even look at the Greens’ proposal for a special levy for Christchurch shows that they probably don’t have a clue how they’re going to pay for the rebuild, nor have they considered the economic impact of increasing fees and levies.

4. Tax And Welfare Incentives For Work – Their tried-and-true “can’t the poor eat cake?” response to everything. They’ve already zapped the poor and working poor with increased GST, given tax cuts to the rich and super-rich, while cutting services that poor and working people need and cannot afford without government funding. Because of their track record over the past three years, this sounds like they mean to raise taxes on mainstream New Zealanders even farther than they already have, while cutting services even more.

5. Building Roads, Rail And Fast Broadband – This government has an obsession with roads, rather the opposite of the Greens who are repulsed by road construction. The National Party won’t invest in public transport at all, and will do everything in its power to stop local councils from doing so, because they don’t think that’s a proper role for government. This is probably behind their half-hearted support for the broadband infrastructure.

6. Less Debt And Lower Interest Rates – Okay, this is getting really silly: There’s no way they can deliver on that promise. New Zealand’s credit rating double-downgrade, combined with the ongoing global financial/credit crisis means that inevitably the cost of borrowing will go up. The government elected in November may very well be forced into stimulus spending, and that probably means not reducing the debt as fast as the rightwing wants.

7. Staying Strong On Crime – This is another of their age-old slogans that panders to the fears of National Party supporters. And, like all the other slogans, it doesn’t really mean much. If anything, it probably is just part of their general agenda against the poor.

Let me be clear: There was no way the National Party would win either of my votes, even before they announced these silly signs. Still, they certainly don’t do anything to draw me in or make me want to even consider their party. The one positive thing I can say about them is that they’re not as disgusting, awful and divisive as their 2005 signs under Don Brash were. Well, that’s something, I guess.

The election is Saturday, November 26.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Auckland View: The Cloud

Today we took our young nieces to Queen's Wharf in Auckland, where "The Cloud" tent-like structure has been built to accommodate people visiting Auckland for the Rugby World Cup. Next door on the wharf is an historic shed, refurbished into "Fanzone", partly a giant pub, with big screens to watch matches.

Here are some photos:

Above is the entrance to The Cloud (from this end, it kind of reminds me of a sandworm from Dune). In the background is the cruise ship Pacific Princess, docked at the neighbouring Princes Wharf. A bigger cruise ship, the Pacific Dawn, was docked at Queen's Wharf, but I don't have any photos of that.

This is what the inside of a cloud looks like—well, Auckland's Cloud, at least. It's a kind of mini-exposition centre, highlighting New Zealand innovation. I noticed that whenever the host at an exhibit talked to someone about the dsiplay, they pulled out an iPad2. Every time.

Outside The Cloud again, looking between it and the historic shed that is now the Fanzone (or, as they prefer the typography, FaNZone). I stopped in an official shop on the way out and bought a USA Eagles t-shirt; oddly, they were a third less expensive than New Zealand shirts… (yes, I'm joking about the oddly part… the USA only won one game).

On our way out I noticed a woman seated on a chair counting people as they left. She was using an iPad2 to do it.

The weather turned after that, clouding over and eventually raining. But since these are the first photos of Auckland that I've posted in awhile, I think three is a good enough start.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Auckland View: Auckland Spring Evening

I’ve been extremely busy the past few days, and haven’t had time for proper blog posts (or podcasts…). This evening on our way home from taking our young nieces out for dinner, we stopped briefly at the water’s edge at Birkenhead Wharf (Birkenhead Point), so I decided to snap a quick photo using my phone. Tomorrow we’re going to the other side of the harbour, roughly where this shot is pointed. If the weather is good, I hope to take some photos from there. Somehow, I stopped posting photos from around Auckland, and I think it’s high time I resumed. Consider this one a teaser.

However, the weather forecast for tomorrow is rain, so, fingers crossed!

Unrelated: Today, in the way we write dates, is 09/10/11. I always like dates like that.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Mourning a visionary

I don’t think I’ve ever mourned a captain of industry before, but I’m truly sad about the death of Steve Jobs. I can’t think of any other businesses person who has had as profound an effect on my daily life as Jobs did; I doubt it will happen again.

The first personal computer I ever used was an Apple II. I say “used”, but it was really just kind of playing, because I’d never seen a computer before and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Fast forward a few years, and the Macintosh was released. At the time, I was using the personal computers of the day, none of which could do what the Mac did. I was part of a group that had a person who used a Mac to do the newsletter, being able to create pages ready to print in a fraction of the time I could using traditional methods.

I was working at a printing company by that time, using expensive proprietary computer equipment, an X-Acto knife, hot wax and a light table to create page layouts that could be done in a fraction of the time on a Mac. My boss recognised that, and when laser printers hit the 600dpi range, we converted to Macintosh and that was the end of the old phototypsetters.

Later, we added scanning and replaced the old film cameras for making photostats or halftones of photos for our layouts. All of this, in turn, led me to newspaper production and eventually to my first job in New Zealand—and all my work since.

In the weeks before I moved to New Zealand, Nigel and I even chatted using Apple’s “eWorld” online service. Yep, even that aspect of my life was helped by Apple.

When Steve Jobs returned to lead Apple, we saw the dawn of the iPod and the iTunes Store, which led to the birth of podcasts, my main hobby. My work in video, such as it has been and hopefully will become, is a direct result of my use of Macintosh. So, too, with my photography and other graphics work.

Not all of the things that affected my life came about when Steve Jobs was head of the company, but the biggest effects have been because of Jobs: Desktop publishing happened because of Macintosh, and even Windows machines eventually adopted the Macintosh idiom. My hobby exists because of the iPod. Every single day I use my iPad for basic connectivity anywhere in the house, and I use that or my iPhone away from the home, or my Macbook if I need a full computer. I’m writing this post using a Mac Pro.

There are equivalent products and software to do all these things, sometimes even with similar ease of use. Had they been there first, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But the inescapable fact is that whether it was for work or play, my use and adoption of computing technology was driven by Apple, and Apple was driven by Steve Jobs.

So, thank you, Steve Jobs—for everything. R.I.P.

The picture at the top of this post is a screen capture of Apple’s main web page. I made the capture on a Mac, of course.

Courage and convictions

This morning I did my daily news catch-up and spotted something that I think shows how far behind the times New Zealand’s conservative National Party is. It also provides an opportunity to compare and contrast political parties in the four Commonwealth countries I write about the most: The UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

What I read was that the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, was speaking to his Conservative Party’s conference, and said:
"I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative." [emphasis and italics added]
In stark contrast, the leader of New Zealand’s conservative National Party, Prime Minister John Key, doesn’t support marriage equality. He voted against civil unions, which he explained at the time was because he said he thought it’s what his constituents wanted. He refuses to say whether he’d support civil unions if the vote was now, and he actually told a gay audience that, "I promised not to roll back gay rights and I have kept my promise." He said that as if he thought it was something to boast about!

As superficial as Key is on this issue, it’s probably David Cameron who’s out of step with conservatives in the Commonwealth. Like John Key, the leaders of the Conservative Party in Canada and the rightwing Liberal/National coalition in Australia are hardly pro-gay, after all. And, gay issues aside, all of them have some pretty reprehensible policies. But on this one issue, David Cameron gets what being a conservative is supposed to be about, and he supports marriage equality.

Among labour parties in those four Commonwealth countries, only the UK Labour Party supports full marriage equality (until recently, they opposed it). The New Zealand Labour Party apparently doesn’t yet officially support marriage equality and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is openly hostile to it (one Aussie Labor politician even said ALP members who support marriage equality should quit the party and join the Greens).

Canada is a completely different situation because it already has marriage equality, but its Liberal Party is, in my opinion, most similar to the ALP. New Zealand’s Labour Party has more in common with Canada’s New Democratic Party, though overall it’s probably most similar to the UK Labour Party under its new leadership. The Greens in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK are more progressive than NZ or UK Labour, the ALP or Canada’s Liberals and in all four countries the Greens support marriage equality.

So, while John Key’s political opposition to marriage equality means he’s not unique, it also means he has neither the vision nor the ability to lead New Zealand to a fairer, more just future. If he also has a personal objection to marriage equality, it means he doesn’t really believe all New Zealanders are and ought to be equal. In either case, changing the government will fix the problem, and I’ll have more to say about that in the weeks ahead.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God., where I originally saw the Cameron quote.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Auckland’s future

Auckland is in the midst of drafting The Auckland Plan, which is meant to help chart a course for the future of this newly-merged city. The video above relates to that and, specifically, the goal of making Auckland “the world's most liveable city.”

Yes, that’s a big ask, but why not? If we shoot for the stars and fall short, we’ll still be higher than if we aim only for the clouds and fall short. And with some effort, vision, hard work, determination and a willingness to dream big, who’s to say the vision won’t be achieved?

This is the perfect time to be doing this. The Rugby World Cup is on, with all the good feelings and interest that’s created. Auckland is also still a newly-merged city, one that has yet to form a unified identity. This is also an election year for the country, which makes people think about the future.

All of which means that people are probably more inclined to think about the future of Auckland now than at any other time, and more likely to be able to see the ways we can make it better.

The video below, from earlier this year, talks about some of the challenges that The Auckland Plan is meant to help address, as well as some of the realities this city faces. Basically, it shows where the city is at, and the video above shows a vision of where the city could be.

What happens, ultimately, will come down to all of us. Our future really does depend on it.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Weekend Diversion: Boy George ‘Turn 2 Dust’

This week’s Weekend Diversion is the official video for Boy George’s “Turn 2 Dust”, released in advance of a second album of remixes of the song, due out in November. The first volume of remixes was released in NZ September 5, and another version was originally on the album Ordinary Alien (The Kinky Roland Files), released in Northern Hemisphere autumn 2010 (but apparently only available in NZ since last January.) Neither of the albums released so far has the version of the song in this video, so maybe that means it’s on the new remix album.

By the time I got through my first listening, I liked the song (who can’t like a lyric that says “all hatred must turn to dust”?). I also like how in the background of the video the word “FREAK” appears. Nice touch, and typical of him confronting those who condemn him.

I haven’t been keeping up with Boy George much in recent years as he went through his, um, difficulties. That wasn’t why I wasn’t paying attention, but it didn’t help. He’s been busy DJ-ing, writing books and recording some music, too. Culture Club is celebrating its 30th anniversary (thirty years?!) and apparently they’ll have a new album next year.

In any case, the March of the 80s musicians continues, which is, of course, just fine with me. And, I have to admit, I’m pleased to see that one of us old fellas (50+) can still be part of pop culture, and pop music in particular, creating new works. Personally, I prefer to see older artists doing that, contributing new works, and not just performing in nostalgia tours, though there’s certainly a place for both.