}

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Lincoln connection


This video from the AP talks about an unusual aspect of the movie “Lincoln”. Not that we’d know: Last time I checked, the movie isn’t due for release in New Zealand until January of next year—because Hollywood would really rather that people see the odds-on favourite for an Oscar nomination by illegally downloading the movie. And, many will—because Hollywood is clearly, by definition, stupid.

Honestly, how can Hollywood expect us to take them seriously when they whinge and moan about supposed “lost” sales when they can’t even be bothered to let us see movies when everyone else does? Will they lose money to piracy? Meh. Why should I care?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Immigration fairness

US Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez
The vast majority of Americans know the USA’s immigration system needs massive reform. As it is now, it serves no one well—not the country, its citizens, its taxpayers, its businesses or the immigrants themselves. Finally, we have a real possibility of change.

The recent US elections changed a lot of things, including this possibility for reform. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote in a landslide, mostly because of that party’s constant pandering to the most nativist, xenophobic and—let’s be honest here—racist base of their party. After their crushing defeat, Republicans in Congress (and even some in their media) started claiming to have seen the light on immigration reform.

Was it just a cynical political ploy, designed to try and convince Hispanic voters that Republicans aren’t really that bad? The post-election actions of Republicans at the state level suggest their party is as anti-immigrant as ever. However, let’s take the Congressional Republicans at their word.

US Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Illinois-4) is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus which today released its principles for immigration reform. In his remarks, he said:
When my colleagues and I demanded fairness for immigrants we used to be kind of like the unwanted party crasher—the one who makes all of the other guests uncomfortable. We stood alone, in the corner.

All of a sudden we’re the belle of the ball.

Well, it’s time to dance.
The goal of their “ONE NATION: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream” (downloadable from the link above) is aptly described in the document itself: “Our immigration laws ought to reflect both our interests and our values as Americans and we believe these principles are consistent with our nation’s commitment to fairness and equality.” I agree.

Principle 2 of the document especially caught my eye. They back comprehensive immigration reform that:
Protects the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together [emphasis added]
There’s little that’s new in these principles, and the Democratic Party has long championed them (and many Republicans used to). The inclusion of LGBT families is also not new, and it’s certainly not a surprise. It’s unlikely to be dropped to get Republican support because, quite frankly, that same election’s results that put this issue back on the table also demonstrated the importance of the LGBT vote. Besides, Rep. Gutierrez has long been a strong advocate of fairness for LGBT people, as have others in the Hispanic Caucus.

Nevertheless, this will be an uphill fight: There’s still Republican intransigence on this issue, after all. But if those Congressional Republicans were serious, and not just playing politics, Congress actually might make some progress—finally.

Rep. Gutierrez described the principles as being about “common sense, common decency”. I think they are. I hope the Republicans have discovered a bit of both.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The right to offend


If there’s one issue that people from all over the political spectrum should be able to agree on, it’s protecting freedom of speech, right? Trouble is, while everyone depends on that freedom, we don’t really want our opponents to have it.

The Right rails on about “political correctness” while practicing their own version of repression. The Left tries to cut off debate on whatever it disapproves of. Those of us somewhere between the extremes are left wondering, well, what can we talk about?

The video above, from RT, talks about the United Kingdom’s increasing crackdown on freedom of expression, particularly criticism of religion of any kind. Contrary to popular belief, this is something that affects the left and the right alike.

All Western democracies protect fundamental human and civil rights, to varying degrees, and that includes freedom of expression. In many countries, hate speech is criminalised, meaning people could theoretically go to jail for it. The problem is that one person’s hate is another’s sincerely held belief.

The rightwing is especially loud in complaining about what it perceives as restrictions on its free expression. They point to places, like Britain, where they can’t say blatant untruths about gay people, Muslims, etc., and get away with it. But what about this video:



Pat Robertson attacked atheists and flat out lied about them—he defamed them, spread untruths with an eye toward bringing them into general disrepute. Does he have that right? If all hate speech is banned, shouldn’t this be, too?

I’m old school. I think that the best antidote to hate speech isn’t repression, it’s more speech: Condemnation, ridicule, mocking, refutation, undermining—any speech is fine in response, but repression isn’t.

Still, not everything is okay. I make the same exception that the US Supreme Court does: Speech that presents a clear and present danger isn’t protected. Determining what isn’t protected is the job of our elected representatives who can be turfed out if they go too far, as they often do. However, I do have a rule my mother taught me: You have the right to swing your fist as hard and as wildly as you want, but your rights end when your fist meets my nose. So, you can say whatever you want, but if your speech threatens my life or safety directly, it’s not permitted.

Of course, it’s not easy when dogma must be upheld. Consider a recent story from India: A sceptic discovered that a statue of Jesus in a Catholic church that was supposedly “weeping” was actually just standing in front of a leaking drainpipe, and he publicly disclosed that fact. As a reward for his honesty, he’s had to flee because of death threats and is facing prosecution for “blasphemy”, one of India’s many laws left over from colonial days.

Last Friday, a judge threw out an Illinois law that made it a crime to film/video the police. Under that law, a person videoing, say, their own arrest could be charged with a Class 1 felony and face 15 years in prison—all for holding public employees accountable to their ultimate employers, the people.

What all of these things have in common is that someone—unusually someone in power, or just the majority—wants everyone else to shut up. But no one has the right to NOT be offended and, in fact, freedom of expression means at some point we’ll ALL be offended. So, no one—no church, no government, no police force, no one—should stand in the way of free people freely expressing their opinions on the issues of the day. I firmly believe that if we lose the freedom to express our opinions on those issues, we have no freedom left.

Not only does the right to freedom of expression NOT mean the right to be free from being offended, in fact, in fact it means having the right to offend—or it means nothing at all. If the Left or the Right doesn’t like what we say, well, too bloody bad. It’s our right.

Marriage equality legal precedents


In this new video from the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Matt Baume lays out the history of US Supreme Court rulings, 14 in all, stretching back 125 years. All of them—all of them—support AFER’s arguments that California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The basis of the numerous state laws and state constitutional amendments banning loving same-gender couples from marrying is similar: Unreasonable restrictions on what is a fundamental human right. No US state has any legitimate reason to prevent loving same-gender couples from marrying and, ultimately, all those laws and amendments must be repealed or struck down.

This isn’t the case that the US Supreme Court will use to take a broad stand for fundamental human rights and freedom nationally. Instead, they’ll stick to the narrow issues of that particular case. But whatever it does, I’m confident that marriage equality will soon return to California. As it should.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Phone dilemma

My phone contract expires this week. This is hardly an important or serious issue, but it matters to me. I love my phone, but newer ones are better. Of course.

Two years ago, I got an iPhone on contract. It was the iPhone 4, which Nigel took, and I took his 3GS (because I use mine far less). For two years, it’s worked well and proven I was wrong when I used to say, back when the iPhone first came out, that all I wanted was a phone that could make and receive phone calls and texts reliably and clearly. That was all I wanted until I got a smartphone.

It’s often the case that we don’t know how much we can’t imagine using a new technology until we use it, and soon we can’t imagine being without it. The microwave oven is one such essential thing for me, and so are smartphones.

A new study from Pew Research says that 85% of Americans now own cellphones, and they have become “a portal for an ever-growing list of activities”. The chart accompanying this post shows the most common activities. I do all of them, except for the last two, which I do on my desktop computer (some things are just easier to do with a full-sized keyboard).

Some of the things I use my phone for are just so handy that they really have made my life easier. For example, I use an App for my grocery store that allows me to scan products’ bar codes at home, add them to my shopping list, and then it tells me which aisle of the store I go to I can find that product. If I’m in the store and want to know where a particular kind of product is, I can use my phone and the App to search and it will tell me what aisle it’s in, which sure beats walking up and down aisles looking for things.

I also use the camera a lot, and those photos often end up being posted here, on Twitter or Facebook—two more Apps I use on my phone. I don’t often shoot video, however, because it’s too low in resolution for me.

So, clearly I like and use my phone. From this week, I can get a new one, change plans (or even companies) without penalty. After thinking about it (and weighing the enormous costs…), I’ve decided that I’m just going to sit tight for now. Yes, my phone is getting long in the tooth, and it doesn’t do all the things newer ones can do—and I’d very much like to have those added capabilities—but for the next few months, anyway, I’m not going to look at upgrading.

I may be an enthusiastic Digital Immigrant, but I’m not a completely silly one.

Related: This may all be moot because apparently “The End Of The Smartphone Era Is Coming”.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Generation communication

Younger people—say, early 30s and younger—communicate differently than older people. It’s not language alone, it’s technology, and that difference can lead to misunderstandings beyond any words actually used.

Recently, I was talking with a relative who was unaware of what younger relatives were up to because of Facebook: The younger relatives use it almost exclusively, the older relatives seldom or never. That got me to thinking that the way that people choose to communicate shapes not just the quality of their communication, but also their very connections to other people.

Back in 2001, Marc Prensky coined the term “Digital Natives” to describe young people who had “spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.” Those of us who are older, who adopted digital technology later, he called “Digital Immigrants”. Prensky wrote:
“The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn—like all immigrants, some better than others—to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their ‘accent,’ that is, their foot in the past. The ‘digital immigrant accent’ can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were ‘socialized’ differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.”
We see this same divide in communication choices. Most of the young people I know almost never speak on their phones—they text message each other. They never send birthday cards, they send a message to someone on Facebook. They post photos to Facebook or share it through Instagram or Twitter, and they post things they find interesting to all those, as well as Tumblr or Pinterest. Chances are some older readers of this blog post don’t even know what some of those are.

And therein lies the problem.

Older people can be confused and upset by what they see as younger people’s lack of communication with them—no phone calls, no greeting cards—without even knowing that younger folks are simply communicating in a different language. Younger people are oblivious to all this: If it’s not on Facebook or sent by text, it doesn’t exist. Older Digital Immigrants see the lack of phone calls and greeting cards as evidence that young people are self-centered, selfish, completely lacking in care or concern for them. Young people don’t see what the problem is: The oldies can always join Facebook!

I have many Digital Immigrant relatives and friends who aren’t on Facebook. Some see it as a waste of time or think it’s useless, but others flat out refuse to join because of, frankly, paranoia over privacy. As a result, they have no way to communicate with their Digital Native relatives. Then, these Digital Immigrants sometimes get angry at the younger relatives for not speaking to them in the oldies’ language.

The world I grew up in is fading away. Around the world, postal systems are dying from dramatically declining mail volumes. Print newspapers and magazines are struggling—and many are dying—because of declining circulation. It’s becoming difficult to find a place that sells music on CDs or movies on DVDs, and bookstores are rapidly disappearing. One day, not long from now, most of those will be gone.

Digital Natives will have no trouble with that: They already get their music, books and news electronically, or buy physical items from an online store. They rent movies and TV shows online. And they communicate with each other like crazy—through Facebook, Twitter, text messages, etc.

Obviously, this digital divide will start to disappear as older people die off and Digital Natives become the majority. But how much unnecessary pain, misunderstanding and social friction will we have to endure until then? Younger people need to make allowances for older people, yes, but older people need to meet them part way, starting with accepting that lack of greeting cards and phone calls is not a personal slight, and they shouldn’t assume young people are self-centered just because they don’t communicate in a way that oldies understand.

Most of the Digital Immigrants I know aren’t like that. To varying degrees, we embrace digital technology and the new opportunities they bring for communication and interaction with other people. We have a duty, I think, to try and help our more disconnected fellow Digital Immigrants understand this new language, and how they can better connect with the Digital Natives in their own families.

Communicating between generations is often fraught for a variety of reasons, but technology shouldn’t be one of them. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving thoughts

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, but it’s just a Friday in November in New Zealand. That makes sense, since Thanksgiving is an American holiday and has no relevance for Kiwis—apart from American expats in New Zealand, of course.

So, I was a bit surprised to see a New Zealand store hyping a “Black Friday” promotion. Their email announcing it had to explain what it is: "BLACK FRIDAY – the day following Thanksgiving Day in the USA – is the beginning of their Christmas Shopping season…" They didn’t bother explaining where the name comes from, which makes sense since it also has no relevance for New Zealand.

I actually feel sorry for New Zealand retailers: There’s no real “start” to the Christmas shopping season. We don’t have Halloween or Thanksgiving (and, of course, no Black Friday), so when is the start date for holiday shopping? On the other hand, we have no shopping frenzies, either—yay for New Zealand!

Still, Thanksgiving, eh? The idea of setting aside time for being thankful is not unique to the USA—many peoples in many countries do that. But does that also automatically mean thanking a god for whatever it is one is thankful for? We talked about that on the latest Arthur and Paul Talk. I said, no, one can be thankful for the good things that happen without the need to assign credit to one of earth’s many gods. Which is not to say that one of those gods isn’t real—how would I know? The point is, I think that we should be glad for all the good things that happen to us, and if it turns out some deity made it happen, well, so much the better for them. We should be thankful for good things, even if no gods exist. In my opinion.

The photo accompanying this post is my Thanksgiving turkey this year. Nothing dire—I happen to be on a diet, and a full American Thanksgiving dinner was out of the question (never mind that a harvest festival in late Spring seems more than a little absurd…). To be honest, it was a bit of a relief to not make a big dinner this year.

Nevertheless, despite my sarcasm, obvious and not, I’m very thankful this year as any other. I’m still alive (always a big plus), and I have a wonderful husband to share life with. I get bonus points for wonderful family, near and far, and for many friends, including those I know only through the magic of the Internet.

Yeah, lots to be thankful for, even without any huge dinneror shopping frenzies.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Spammers stumped me

As I’ve mentioned many times, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing war with spammers ever since I turned off word verification for leaving a comment. I’ve been in a quandary, caught between making it easy to leave a comment, and making things easier for me. The two, it seems, are mutually exclusive.

And now it’s looking like the spammers have worn me down. But they also have me stumped.

I turned off the email notifications so that I wouldn’t get dozens of emails a day telling me that I have to “moderate” comments in the spam queue. However, the only way to do that was to turn off ALL email notifications—even when I get a legitimate comment. Worse, spam comments are making it through and getting posted, and I sometimes don’t even notice for up to a day.

I also have dozens of spam comments to delete from the queue each day—sometimes hundreds. This is getting really old.

But in the middle of all that aggravation is something that has me truly stumped: Spammers often use the lower case omega (last letter of the Greek alphabet, in the picture above) in place of the letter “w”, and I have absolutely no idea why (yes, I Googled it). I’ve heard of websites (and, I presume, sometimes comments) hiding links in single characters, but there are no links here, just the characters.

In a twist, today I received a spam comment in which several characters were non-standard, including the omega. A picture of that comment is below, along with a close up of part of the first line to make it easier to see the weird bits, such as, the “v” in “Every”, the “w” in weekend, along with the “K” in that same word (compare with the "K" in "quick").

Maybe I only noticed this in the first place because paying attention to typography is part of my profession, but since I noticed it, it seems to me it’s quite common, with maybe ten percent of the spam comments I receive using one or more of these substituted characters. And I still have no idea why spammers do it.

I never received such spam comments when I had word verification turned on—nor any of the other problems with spam comments that I’ve complained about. So, this noble experiment in free commenting is drawing to a close. At some point in the next couple months I’ll almost certainly turn word verification back on, and all these problems will be gone—for me.

But I’ll still wonder what the heck those spammers are up to.

Update: One of my Twitter Pals, @BXGD, Tweeted me about this and said: "If you post many comments on a computerized system, switching characters on each one, the system can't recognize them as the same." I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. Changing one or more characters means that spammers can post the identical spam comment on many posts on the same blog (and that certainly happens on my sites), or on many sites, and spam filters would treat each one as a different comment. None of which gets around the bigger issue of why on earth they even bother when most of us have systems to filter out spam.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Support a free and open web


This video from Google urges people around the world to tell our governments that we support a free and open web. This really ought to be something the Left and the Right can unite on.

Says Google:
Starting December 3rd, the world's governments are meeting behind closed doors at the ITU to discuss the future of the Internet. Some governments want to use this meeting in Dubai to increase censorship and regulate the Internet.
As I said, this ought to something that the Left and the Right can unite on because the only people who will win from censoring the web are the forces of repression, and all points along the political spectrum depend on a free and open web to express opinion, debate the issues of the day, and organise for democratic action: Elections, protests, and citizen campaigns for reform, for example. Sadly, some denizens of the ends of the spectrum only value freedom in the first person (my freedom) and oppose it in the second and third persons (your freedom, their freedom), and they simply cannot see that that freedom denied to one is freedom denied to all.

Beyond politics, there’s also a lot of money behind efforts to regulate the Internet, starting with the media conglomerates who want to be able to control what entertainment and news people can access, and to charge them for all access. We’re not just talking about protecting copyright, but more about stifling creativity and freedom of artistic expression.

Google, pretty much the biggest name on the Internet, obviously has a huge stake in this. I first saw this Google YouTube video on their Google+ platform, and now I’m sharing it on Google's Blogger platform. Some argue that Google itself is a threat to a free and open web. I disagree. Google, like Facebook, Twitter, and everything else, depends on a free and open web to exist, so their self-interest is also humanity’s self-interest. The solution to pretty much any question is to stand on the side of freedom—no matter who is standing beside you.

Google signs off their video description:
Tell the world's governments you support a free and open web at http://www.google.com/takeaction. Then spread the word with #freeandopen .
That truly is something that the Left and the Right should unite on—and they must.

Related: "Do not ask for whom the panopticon watches, it watches for thee" – Edited text of the presentation given at Kiwicon 2012 ("New Zealand's Hacker Con") by Tech Liberty co-founder, Thomas Beagle. Well worth a read!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Not feeling it

I haven’t blogged on purpose, and not just because I’ve been busy. I just haven’t felt like blogging, or talking about the things that would be obvious for me to talk about. I just haven’t been feeling it.

I knew that the US elections wouldn’t really change anything, and that the bitter partisan divisions would continue as before. I knew that the spitting rancour that now passes for political debate in the US wouldn’t go away, and yet, I secretly hoped it would.

When the partisans in the US failed to surprise me, I found myself suddenly unwilling to express an opinion—though I have many—simply because I’m over it. The bitterness and negativity have gotten no one anywhere, and I simply don’t want to play that game anymore.

And while all that was going on, there was also political stupidity among the Left in New Zealand, with the self-appointed guardians of All That is Holy on the Left sniping at the NZ Labour Party and its leader. That most of those critics don’t even support the Labour Party—not with money, certainly not with time and effort, and often not even with their vote—was excruciatingly obvious to me, but not to the news media who preferred to report on mostly imaginary conflict as if it was real news. Still, as I so often say, if the Left spent half as much time organising to win elections as they do sniping at each other, we might actually win for a change.

So, I’m just not feeling politics lately—and considering how central politics are to me, that’s a pretty high level of disgust.

Instead, I’m going to talk about ideas more than comment on partisan bullshit, although, of course, my ideas carry a partisan tilt for which I make no apology. It’s just that I don’t think politicians are nearly as important as they seem to think they are, and definitely not as important as partisans want us to believe they are.

So, that’s where I’ve been: Away by choice. It’s time for a sort of thematic reboot, because this whole bitter partisanship? I’m just not feeling it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LGBT voters FTW

Analysis from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has found that LGBT voters were crucial to President Obama’s popular vote margin, and especially vital in Florida. This reinforces a recent Gallup Report that found that LGBT voters are an important part of the Democratic Party’s coalition.

The tables accompanying this post (click to embiggen) show the effect LGBT voters had nationally and in Florida, according to the Williams Institute analysis. It makes for interesting reading.

A few days later, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT political group in the US, issued analysis of polling data that reached the same conclusion about the national vote, calling our votes “Critical to 2012 Electoral Successes.” They looked only at the national popular vote, which doesn’t elect presidents, but nevertheless found that nationwide, and by the most conservative estimates, the LGB vote was nearly the same as the margin by which President Obama defeated Mitt Romney; however, the actual LGB vote received by the president is estimated to be far greater than his total margin of victory, according to the HRC.

Other, more general, analysis of this year’s election shows that the Democratic Coalition of 2008 held together in 2012 and, in fact, the only group to vote solidly for the Republicans were older white men who are staunch religious conservatives. So, LGBT voters clearly are important for Democrats, not so much for Republicans.

There’s a more important reality buried in all these numbers: The United States has turned a corner. While Karl Rove could once demonise LGBT people in order to win elections for Republicans, that tactic is now useless (and so is Karl Rove, actually: He spent hundreds of millions of dollars, but not one of his supported candidates won, and none of the candidates he opposed lost).

President Obama is the first US President to declare support for marriage equality, and he trounced the Republican candidate who signed a promise to amend the US Constitution to forever ban it in all 50 states—including those where it is now law. Similarly, the Democratic Party was the first of the two main political parties to endorse marriage equality, and they expanded their majority in the US Senate and would have taken control of the US House of Representatives, had Republicans not gerrymandered districts to make that impossible.

As if the success of Democrats—and the failure of Republicans—wasn’t evidence enough, three states—Maine, Maryland and Washington—affirmed marriage equality at the polls (the first time that’s happened), Minnesota beat back attempts to amend their state constitution to ban it (ditto) and Iowans voted to retain a judge who helped bring marriage equality to their state (ditto again). It doesn’t get any clearer than that: American voters utterly reject the Republicans’ anti-gay positions.

Marriage equality is now a factor in positive voting, according to the HRC: “Marriage equality supporters have more intensity than marriage equality opponents”. They say that “There is no evidence that this issue mobilized base Republican voters”, and add, “Obama voters were twice as likely to say that the marriage issue was important to their vote (42 percent) than Romney voters (23 percent)”.

The reason for that, of course, is demographics: American voters are becoming younger, less white, less religious and more tolerant than in the past, all of which spells doom for the Republican Party if it doesn’t move back toward the centre. They can’t say they haven’t been warned.

No one is suggesting that LGBT voters alone determined this election—victory was achieved by a broad-based, multi-cultural coalition that looks a lot like America—especially when compared to the other side. What these results and analysis DO show, however, is that parties or candidates that oppose marriage equality are facing uphill battles, while those that embrace diversity are most likely to win.

That is truly historic—and welcome.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A day in Auckland


This video portrays a day in the life of Auckland. I like videos that evoke the feeling of place, sometimes even more than videos that showcase sights and sounds. Matched with an original score by Aaron Christie of Woodcut Productions (according to a reply left on YouTube), the video is especially evocative and effective. I like it.

However, as much as I like the video, I absolutely loathe the name of the marketing campaign behind the video: “BIG Little City.” A project of Auckland business promotion group Heart of the City, the name is, in my opinion, incredibly stupid. What the hell does it even mean? The assault on typography that is the uppercase “BIG” seems to suggest they’re saying that Auckland is a little city with big city touches or ambitions. If someone from elsewhere in New Zealand, or in Australia, had called Auckland that, people would think it was insulting and condescending.

Still, the stupid name of the promotion campaign doesn’t cancel out the worth of the video. I’d like to see more videos like it. In fact, one announcing a new name for the promotion campaign could be a great next choice…

Campaigning for Southern Equality


This is a new video is from the Campaign for Southern Equality, which aims to bring marriage equality to the South of the US. Their WE DO campaign is designed specifically to make anti-LGBT discrimination visible and understandable as they work to end it.

In the meantime, the group also provides “free legal workshops and other services to help LGBT people protect themselves to the full extent possible under current laws,” which is a sensible thing to do right now. It’s always a good idea to help oppressed people, even as you demand change.

My personal view is that it will ultimately take Federal action—Supreme Court ruling, Federal law—to take things to the next level, just as it did in the Civil Rights era. The South isn’t “over” its racist past, and racism is certainly not dead, but things took a quantum leap forward once racially discriminatory laws were struck down. The same thing needs to happen now with LGBT equality under law.

Efforts like those of the Campaign for Southern Equality help. So, too, do ordinary people taking a stand for simple justice. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” It’s time to make the demand for justice throughout the USA, including the South.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Worth quoting: Louisa Wall

Louisa Wall
Louisa Wall, the sponsor of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, made a submission to the Government Administration Select Committee of Parliament, the select committee that is considering the Bill. In her submission, she countered much of the mythology and misinformation promoted by rightwing religious opponents of the Bill, and did so effectively. This is her summation:
This Bill does not give any group of people greater rights. All it seeks to do is to provide the same rights, responsibilities and privileges of marriage to two people who choose this form of expression of their relationship. This is a concept well understood by younger people—those who are the future of our country and who this Bill is particularly relevant to, given the choices they will make as they progress through their lives in forming and founding their own families. Student referenda conducted in 2012 at Otago and Victoria Universities resulted in 84% support for marriage equality. It is a generational issue and that evolution has been reflected in the number of countries that have achieved some form of recognition of non-heterosexual relationships and have then moved to marriage equality. The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden are all examples of that development.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that extending the same rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as those enjoyed by everyone else will result in the principles of equality and non-discrimination becoming a reality for millions of LGBT people around the world.

Marriage equality is a step along that path. One that will send a strong message that as a society we value all people, regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity and that we pay more than lip service to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. A number of vocal opponents have clearly articulated the message that if you are homosexual or transgender you are not entitled to the same rights that they have. Such an attitude is bigoted and discriminatory and just plain unfair. Imagine how a homosexual or transgender person feels—being told that they are not entitled to all that is available to other people, that they do not deserve to have the same rights. For many coping with their sexuality and the challenges that brings is difficult enough—without the overt prejudice that is clearly directed towards them often in the name of religion or culture. Whether you are young and starting out on your life's journey or have been dealing with this prejudice all your life, this rejection of such an integral part of yourself is unacceptable and intolerable and can be destructive.

Finally, one's sexual self-determination should not limit in any form one's rights of citizenship. The basic principle of citizenship is that it is a right of descent and birth and in a modern democracy it is about the relationship people have with the land they call home. To limit rights of citizenship based on non-heterosexuality status contradicts the fundamental rights of citizenship conferred by descent, dwelling and birth and in a modern democratic society all citizens must be entitled to all rights extended by the State. To perpetuate inequality and discrimination once it is exposed is unjustified and irrational. If we do not act, we condone it and in Aotearoa New Zealand it is time for appropriate legislative action to realise marriage equality for all of our citizens.
The complete text or her submission, which also includes a lot of background information, is available for download from the Select Committee (or you can click here to download the PDF directly). The committee will have more submissions available for download, too. The Select Committee will hear oral submissions before the end of this year, and their report is due to the House by February 28, 2013, after which the Bill will face its Second Reading.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So, where were we?

Where were we? Oh, that’s right—there was that election thing.

It’s fair to say that I’m ecstatic about the results—President Obama re-elected, Democrats increased their majority in the US Senate and their numbers in the US House of Representatives (and would have control of the House were it not for Republican gerrymandering), the looniest Republicans defeated (except for Michele Bachmann who barely held on to her seat in a Republican-leaning district), and, of course, marriage equality won in three states, avoided a constitutional ban in a fourth and an Iowa judge who brought marriage equality to that state kept his seat, despite the rightwing frenzy to defeat him.

The election results almost could not have been better.

And yet, in the weeks leading up to the election, and the last days in particular, I was worried that may not have been the case. Republicans had spent large on voter suppression efforts to keep Democrats from voting, and they had a LOT of money on their side. But what neither they nor I counted on was the determination of American voters to deal to the Republicans.

It was only at the moment that Barack Obama was declared the winner of the election that I realised how much stress and anxiety I’d been under, because at that moment I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The election was held last Wednesday New Zealand time, and I really don’t remember much of the first three days of last week.

Like a lot of people, over the past week I’ve had time to reflect on the election (you should see my clipping file, with dozens of articles from the left, right and centre, all picking apart the results). I’ll talk about what needs to happen in future posts, but for right now, I wanted to highlight just one thing that was especially significant to me: Kids.

Specifically, LGBT kids.

All across the USA, no matter where they live, LGBT kids saw states approve marriage equality at the ballot box for the first time. Never mind how offensive the idea of putting minority rights to a vote is, the important thing is simple and obvious: The good guys won! Record numbers of LGBT candidates were elected to state legislatures and to the US Congress. In fact, for the first time, young LGBT people can dare to dream that one day, they, too, might be elected a US Senator (or even something higher…), and it could actually come true. Like never before in my lifetime, these kids have been given a glimpse of a world in which they are respected and valued, and in which diversity itself is seen as a good thing.

Ensuring it stays that way will be our challenge, and how we can do that will be my focus in future posts. But for right now, I am just so damn happy about the election results that I can’t even express how much. So, I’d best just stop here—for now.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Funniest thing

I’d love to comment fully on the elections and where US politics should go from here, but I have too much work to do. But one thing is so funny to me that I just have to comment on it: Republican supporters who declare they’re going to move to New Zealand, Australia or Canada.

It’s not funny that they’re saying it—historically, backers of whoever loses an election say that, but they seldom mean it and even fewer actually follow through. Moving countries is a very big deal, after all.

It’s funny because it shows how little America’s rightwing understands about the world. So here are a few things they probably want to keep in mind before ringing up international moving companies:
  • New Zealand, Australia and Canada all have national healthcare that goes far beyond “Obamacare”. None of us are looking to change.
  • Canada has had full marriage equality since 2005. New Zealand is about to adopt marriage equality, but has comprehensive Civil Unions in the meantime. Australia is moving inevitably to follow the lead.
  • You have to leave your guns at home: All three countries have strong restrictions on guns.
  • Evolution is taught in schools, the reality of climate change is accepted as fact, especially by Australia and New Zealand (I simply don’t know where Canada is on that).
  • New Zealand, Australia and Canada are monarchies, not republics. We don’t elect our hereditary Head of State (the Queen), and we only indirectly elect our Head of Government (the Prime Minister). All three countries have vibrant left wing parties that make the US’ Democrats look like conservatives.
  • Speaking of prime ministers, Australia’s Prime Minister is a female atheist who is not married to the man she lives with. New Zealand’s Prime Minister has been described as a “church going atheist”; his wife is Catholic and his mother was Jewish (which makes him ethnically Jewish, if not religiously so).
  • New Zealand is staunchly secular, even if many describe themselves as Christian. We have less of a presence of US-style fundamentalists than either Australia or Canada, and such people have little political influence in this country. A large number of New Zealanders describe themselves as atheist—a much higher percentage than in the US,.
  • We have prominent politicians who are female, LGBT or from racial and ethnic minorities. New Zealand, for example, was the first country in the world to elect a transgendered Member or Parliament and also the world’s first openly gay person elected to a first term. Mind you, New Zealand was also the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, so that’s not surprising.
  • New Zealand is nuclear free.
There are plenty of other things that conservatives should learn about New Zealand, Australia and Canada before thinking about moving here, but those are probably enough to make them consider a country more in line with their politics, like Russia or Iran.

And that’s not funny.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Talking is done

Over the past several months, I’ve been writing about how bad the Republicans are, and about how much we need to re-elect President Obama. I’ve made clear why I think that is, how certain issues matter very much to me, and I’ve talked about issues that matter most to the future of the United States. I won’t re-hash any of that, because the time for talking is done.

Many of the people I know in the US have been complaining about this election, how negative it was, how much money was being spent, how many ads there were. No one, , no matter where they may be on the political spectrum, could reasonably disagree with that. To change that, the US needs real reform, including a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United, as well as a complete overhaul of the electoral system. But those are topics for another day. The time for talking is done.

I believe that there is no more sacred duty of a citizen in a democracy than to vote. Nearly all of us have members of our families, however extended or distant, who served, fought or died to preserve the freedoms we so often take for granted. I believe that it dishonours the sacrifices of those family members if we can’t even be bothered to drag ourselves to the polls. Now is the time to vote.

I also believe it’s every citizen’s personal responsibility to become informed—truly informed—about the issues facing us, and the candidates taking sides on them, so that we can cast an informed, valuable vote. The fact that politicians deliberately obfuscate things is irrelevant, and so is the fact that the mainstream newsmedia is pretty hopeless at reporting on issues. Election campaigns are not the same as horse races, and the consequences are far more important. So if politicians and the media don’t help, we need to take responsibility to educate ourselves, and it’s not too late to do so, even now. It’s time to vote—as an informed and engaged person.

Regardless of whether we win or lose tomorrow, I’ll carry on discussing the issues I care about, advocating for justice, equality, fairness and progress. But, I just may take tomorrow off from the blog: There’s already been a lot of talking, after all.

Talking is done. Vote!

Oh, and please vote for President Obama and the Democrats!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Restocking the naughty

Yesterday, we went to Martha’s Backyward, the Auckland store that sells imported American products. I didn’t realise at the time that I last shopped there in May, 2010, when they were still at their old location. I wanted to go there to pick up some authentic American snacks to have while we watch the election results from the US.

The new store is in a MUCH better location, it seemed larger than the old one, and it was certainly better stocked. Also, the prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially considering they’re imported in relatively small amounts. Many of the products are super-duper sized (like enormous boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, apparently with individual ones inside; I didn’t buy any), and enormous containers of ground coffee.

The store was quite busy when we were there, early Sunday afternoon, and I noticed something fascinating. Among some of the shoppers there was an almost frenzy-like behaviour, as if they had to stock up on their favourite products quickly, before they were sold out. Most people weren’t like that, of course, and I also noticed quite a few Kiwi accents among the shoppers, as well as some I couldn’t identify. I realised the store is also popular among people who have simply spent time in the USA or Canada, not just American expats. I don’t know why I hadn’t realised that before.

The products I bought were mostly normal-sized (the A-1 was the largest size they had), and even if the packaging had changed from what I remembered, the brands were familiar. I didn’t buy everything I thought of buying, and there were some repeats from my first trip as well as my second trip. Still, it wasn’t totally the same. Photo of the latest haul is above.

Of special note (for me) were the Little Debbie Nutty Bars, something I’ve told Americans that I really did miss about the USA (and some threatened to send me some…). Yes, we have Ginger Ale in New Zealand, but it is more ginger-y and almost burns compared to Canada Dry (the brand I bought in the US). Similarly, we do have pickles (usually called “gherkins”), but they’re noting like Kosher Dills, and usually smaller. Most of the rest was, as it often is, for nostalgia’s sake.

The ice tea mix was also a variation on something I can get at our local grocery store: I can buy ready-made, bottled Lipton ice tea in several flavours. However, they don’t sell ice tea mix, and when I want just a glass, it’s far more convenient than the jar-in-the-sun method (which I used when I first moved to New Zealand). However, I didn’t see any of “the largest container of ice tea mix I’ve seen in my life” like I did the first trip, and the size I bought was respectable. This is actually almost defiantly American: I don’t know of any Kiwis who drink ice tea, though someone besides me must!

We’re pretty much all set for watching the election results: Nigel’s sister and niece bought snacks there, too, to bring with them, as well as an American flag-themed party snack tray thingy. Between us, we should have a pretty good—and pretty authentic— spread of American snacks.

Martha’s Backyard (pictured at right) is a must-visit stop for any American expat in Auckland, and also those who spent time in North America. If nothing else, it’ll be kind of like visiting home without going there.

The store is located in the Harvey Norman Plaza, 44 Mt Wellington Highway, Mt Wellington, Auckland (next to Rebel Sport, blue building at the end). They’re open seven days from 10am to 5pm. (09) 570-7976. They also have a Facebook Page, and can be found on Twitter.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

This time, it’s personal

In 2008, most of the Americans—and all the non-Americans—I knew supported Barack Obama. In fact, if anyone I knew supported the Republicans, they didn’t tell me. That year, there was a palpable feeling of being part of something historic. This year it’s different, but in some ways it’s even more passionate. I finally understand why: This time, it’s personal.

In 2008, we had a Republican candidate who was a conservative but not rigidly doctrinaire, someone who had actually sometimes worked with Democrats. He was undone primarily when he lurched to the right and picked as his running mate a dim, unqualified extremist. The Republicans made the choice for voters very easy.

This year, we have a Republican ticket and party that is far more extremist than the one in 2008. Because of their extremism, that duo would set back the US by at least 50 years. Republicans would continue their wars on women, gay people and freedom, and advance the interests of far right religious extremists and the corporate elites—the only two things, it seems, they actually care about—as they screw over mainstream Americans.

As a member of one of the many minority groups that the Republican Party despises, I can see the clear and present danger that the Republicans pose to me, my freedom, and to the lives of all LGBT people in America. It’s simply not possible to support the Republicans without then being complicit in the damage they would do to us all.

So, let me be clear: People who vote Republican are voting against me. It’s really that simple. I’ve heard dozens of LGBT people say similar things—because it’s so true, and so important to say.

Voting for Republicans means voting to keep LGBT Americans as—at the very best—second-class citizens, although many Republicans think that’s too good for LGBT people and have pledged to make life very much worse for us. Many of the people helping the Republican candidate for president are exactly that sort of extremist, and they expect their agenda to be enacted.

Voting Republican means that LGBT Americans like me, in a bi-national relationship, will have to continue to choose between love and their country. It means that people like me will live without any legal recognition of their relationship, nor any protection of law.

The Republican candidates and their party platform are the most extreme I have ever seen, and I’ve been watching presidential campaigns intently since 1972. Republicans call for reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” so that GLBT patriots can’t serve openly in the US military. They want to enforce the “Defense [sic] of Marriage Act” until they can push a Constitutional Amendment to forever ban marriage equality in all 50 states. They want to ban all abortion, everywhere.

Some people say that Republicans can’t really do any of those things, but those people are dead wrong: Executive Orders and bills passed by Congress can achieve many of those things indirectly, and the fact that they would be able to appoint one or more far right radicals to the US Supreme Court guarantees that they would eventually achieve their goals, one way or another.

President Obama and the Democratic Party, on the other hand, support marriage equality, they’re NOT defending DOMA, they’re the ones who successfully repealed DADT. President Obama has used Executive Orders to make things better for LGBT Americans to the extent he’s been able. It’s not just a good start, it’s farther than the US has ever progressed—and now it’s all in danger.

This is without even getting into the Republicans’ war on women, something I’ve talked about in previous posts. But if the Republicans win, things will get dramatically worse for women, too.

I know the economy hasn’t recovered yet and that people are often afraid for their own future. The fact that the Republican ticket would actually make things far worse is beside the point: It’s not the most important issue for LGBT voters, their friends and family.

So, while I think that President Obama is the obvious choice no matter the issue, it’s what it means for me personally that matters the most to me. People who say they love me or another gay American but who then vote for the Republicans must understand this: You simply cannot claim to love someone, and then knowingly vote for candidates who have pledged to make life very much worse for people like me. You cannot claim to love someone, then knowingly vote for a party that considers people like me to be an actual enemy, to be contained, marginalised, persecuted.

Obviously, I don’t get how any rational American can vote Republican; that party’s only natural constituency is among the extremely rich and extreme religious bigots. But most years I would simply shake my head, be disappointed when someone I know votes Republican, and move on. Not this year, not this election.

In 2010, a radical brand of Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives. They pledged their agenda would be “jobs, jobs, jobs”, but they spent most of their time trying to outlaw abortion, make life worse for LGBT people and for women, and to screw mainstream Americans to help the rich. They demonstrated they won’t compromise at all on their radical agenda. With some of their own in the White House, they’d be poised to enact that radical extremist agenda. THAT is why this matters so much more this year.

Many LGBT people have said that if the Republicans win the White House, they don’t know that they can forgive anyone in their lives who helped make that possible. I know exactly what they mean, and I don’t think they should be expected to forgive—or forget.

So, if you cannot bring yourself to vote for President Obama and the Democrats—and clearly I think you should—then at least be aware that if you vote for the Republican team you’re also voting against LGBT Americans you know and love. You need to ask yourself if whatever issues you’re focusing on are really more important than having us in your life.

This year, it’s very personal.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

2345 and counting

This is my 2,345th published blog post. I have to make that distinction because there were two more blog posts that I published, then removed (about which, more toward the end of this post). I only count the posts that are still available.

2,345 is, of course, an unimportant number, except I like the numeric pattern the sequence makes (and as I’ve said many times, I like number patterns). So, this seemed to be as good a place as any to stop and catch up on some bits and pieces about this blog.

Spam wars

I’ve written previously about my war with spam comments after I turned off word verification. About three weeks ago, I wrote about turning off email notification. I’ve since found out that sometimes I still get those emails about spam comments (though a few a day, not the dozens I was getting). Maybe there’s another setting somewhere I missed.

Anyway, I mention all this as much as I do to make clear I’m trying to fight off the spam as best I can. A spam comment did get through all the defences last month, but I was able to delete it pretty quickly. The war rages on.

Related to that, I’ve shut down the “Most Popular Posts” list on this blog. The posts that showed up as “popular” were, more often than not, there because spambots were targeting them. So, those posts weren’t necessarily the ones that people were actually reading, and that made the whole thing kind of pointless. It’s a pity, really, because I liked the idea of it.

Now with 47% more Googleness

I made up that statistic, but this blog is now even more tightly integrated with Google and Google+. For starters, my old Blogger Profile has been replaced by my Google Profile. That means all my posts are now signed with my name, not my original nickname. Also, the little flag lapel pin icon I’ve used since the beginning is gone—or, is it?

I created a page for the blog on Google+ and I made a custom header for it that uses that lapel pin photo as the page profile photo—I mean, why not? So, the image lives on… and it could pop up here again in the future. To get to the page, by the way, just click on that big “g+” icon on the right side of the blog (and if you’re on Google+, feel free to encircle the blog).

I did all that in part because Google is promising new (secret) Blogger features that will only be available to people who link their blogs to Google+. Even if that doesn’t happen, or just not any time soon, there are still some advantages. For example, I can directly share posts on Google+ as I publish them, and then people who don’t normally read the blog can see posts they might be interested in (as an aside, Facebook makes it harder for pages to be seen, even by people who “Like” your page). It also makes it easier for me to share content between and among my various outposts in the Google empire. I had 30 days to revert to the old Blogger Profile, but I almost certainly won’t.

Dealing with the past

I said at the start of this post that I deleted two published posts. The first one was because the YouTube video in it was censored for political reasons, and the second because I was pwned. I wouldn’t delete those posts if the same things happened today. [Update: Both deleted posts have been restored—follow the links to get to them]

For example, I know that some of the campaign videos I’ve been posting this year will one day be deleted from YouTube. So, I started taking screen shots of the way the video player looks now so that I can use that as an image of the deleted video later on (if I want to). That’s what I could have done with the first post I deleted, or I could simply have added an explanation to the post.

I also shouldn’t have deleted the second post, either. Now, I would simply add a link to the follow-up post, and maybe add a disclaimer/explanation at the top of the post. The fact that I wrote that post because I was deceived by deep cover parody was a valid thing to blog about in itself, but it’s no reason to delete the original—with proper notes, of course.

So, I will probably end up doing something along those lines and restore those two old posts. If I do, this post would become number 2347, but as I write this, and at the point I publish it, it’s 2345.

Speaking of old posts, I once had a rule that I could make whatever changes I wanted to a post up until I published a new one after it. After that point, I’d allow myself to correct nothing other than typos. Now, I do sometimes also make minor edits to old posts for the sake of clarity. It occurred to me that any author would make corrections and edits to books they published, so why shouldn’t I do that with posts? They’re not sacred texts, after all.

Far more common, though, is that I’ve been fixing the formatting of really old posts as I run across them. In 2006 and 2007 (and possibly later), I wrote my posts in Word, did the formatting (bold, italic, adding links) and then pasted them into Blogger’s “Compose” window. What I didn’t know way back then is that all of Microsoft’s XML tags were copied into the post as well.

This became a problem when I upgraded Blogger at some point, and suddenly those tags wrecked my layouts: They added many extra spaces between paragraphs, sometimes between words. So, I’ve been slowly fixing all those formatting problems by manually stripping out the XML tags.

And that’s everything about the past and behind the curtain of this blog, and more than enough meta for now. Back to troublemaking.

Update November 4: This morning I had 20 unnecessary email messages to "moderate" spam comments, a record since I supposedly "turned off" email notifications. All up, there were 226 spam comments held in the queue when I went to check (I cleared the queue last night). I also found that there are, as I suspected, TWO different places to set the email address for comment notifications; I'd turned off one, but not the other. I've done that now, so that should fix it…

Friday, November 02, 2012

The day that really mattered

Seventeen years ago today, I arrived in New Zealand to stay. It was a day that changed everything, as I left my old life and country behind and began a new life in a new country. That makes today my Expataversary and also the day Nigel and I have always chosen as our anniversary (even though we have several to choose from…).

I re-read each of the six previous posts I’ve written about this anniversary (links to all of them are at the bottom of this post, and all the posts link to the years before them). It’s been a challenge to avoid repeating myself when talking about the same story each year: I took a risk, moved across the planet, things were rough at first, they got better, now they’re great, The End.

But what about before this story began? Because there was a “before”, after all.

I think it’s fair to say that most of the people I knew in 1995 thought I was crazy, not just for moving to New Zealand, but to do so to be with a man who, from their perspective, I “hardly knew”. In the early days, Nigel and I joked that if we broke up after ten years, people back in the US would still say, “See? I knew it wouldn’t last!” Of course, other people were highly supportive, whatever they thought privately.

Whether people were supportive or not, it was still a lot for me to deal with. On the day I left, October 31, 1995, as I sat waiting for my plane, I wrote in my journal:
The thing of it is that I feel a profound sense of loss… I’m giving up everything I have and everything I know. I didn’t realize how comfortable my life had become until I prepared to leave it behind.
That hints at some of the inner turmoil I was experiencing at that time, the excitement of the adventure mixed with the inevitable, “ohmygod, what am I doing?!” Not for the first time, I would “feel the fear and do it anyway”:
So, now it’s 4:45pm, I’m in the Red Carpet Club on “C” Concourse, awaiting my boarding time. I could at any minute change my mind, but I won’t.
In the end, this is what I want to do, this is what I need to do.
I’ve written, obliquely, about that sense of loss in previous years’ posts, and about how it passed (and it did). Getting over that feeling is helped, I think, when one is moving to something, rather than from something, as I’ve also said before. Plus, in my case, life turned out to be so much better than I could have imagined as I nervously waited for that flight.

I was lucky. I was moving to a great country, and I was moving to start what’s turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life with the man I was meant to be with. These are very good things, but best of all is, of course, Nigel. Every year I quote from a previous year, and last year I said of Nigel: “He is my rock, my centre, and—even sixteen years later—I’d move to the other side of the planet to be with him.” Make that seventeen years.

Becoming an expat isn’t simply a matter of, “hm, I think I’ll move to another country!” It’s a very serious thing, even when one isn’t moving to the other side of the world. But despite the fears, the worries and the hassles, it is sooooo worth it! For me, it all boils down to something I wrote three years ago: “Don’t assume that your dreams won’t come true, because you may be only one day away from the start of it all.”

Seventeen years ago today was, in so many ways, the day that really mattered. I would do it all again.

Posts from previous years:
Sweet sixteen
Fifteen
Fourteen
Lucky 13: Expataversary and more
Twelfth Anniversary
Eleven Years an Expat

Related:
Ex, but not ex-

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The day that didn’t exist

I’ve frequently talked about the long and expensive flight between New Zealand and the USA, which is the chief reason I seldom visit and why none of my family has visited me here (though several friends have). But one thing I haven’t really talked about is that my life is missing one day because of that very long trip.

On Tuesday, October 31, 1995, I boarded a westbound 747, a United Airlines flight from Chicago to New Zealand by way of Los Angeles. Along the way, I crossed the International Dateline and instead of experiencing a November 1, I jumped to November 2, the day I arrived. So, for me, November 1, 1995 never existed.

People who travel here from the Western Hemisphere lose a day when they cross the International Dateline, but they get it back when they go home. Since I stayed here at my new home, I never got that day back.

Technically, I may have gained and lost that one day several times, since I’ve been back to the US three times since 1995, and I gained and lost days each time. But because I now live in New Zealand, I’m still missing one day out of my life, and November 1, 1995 may as well be that day.

Days, dates and years are all relative, a function of how we perceive time. They’re based on natural cycles of day and night, the moon and of seasons, but when we can easily move around the entire planet in hours, do any of them mean what they used to?

Scientists say travelling at the speed of light would cause horrendous time displacement as the travellers stop ageing while the people left behind grow old. That’s literally a matter of relativity. It’s also something I’ve experienced on a much smaller scale: I've aged one day less than the folks where I was born.

I don’t actually mind missing one day out my life, but I wouldn’t mind getting it back at the very end. A day is a day, after all. Actually, I think this November 1, 2012 exists… can I be sure?

The image at the top of this post is a royalty-free photo by Dean Jenkins, and is available from morgueFile.