Thursday, January 31, 2013


There's been so much bigotry against LGBT people in the news lately, and more to come. So, I found this video to be a kind of antidote.

Jacob Rudolph, who recently came out in front of his entire high school [video in this post], was on Anderson Cooper’s show and said that he admired "Star Trek" star George Takei. The look on Jacob’s face when Takei himself surprises him is priceless!

And that’s a good place to end my posts for this month.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Immigration reform obstacle

There’s one word that neatly sums up why LGBT-inclusive immigration reform is unlikely to happen this Congress: Republicans. They think they see an opportunity to get a lot of political mileage, and most are determined to get it.

People who vote Republican are increasingly moderating their views, with increasing numbers of them supporting marriage equality as well as comprehensive immigration reform. As with every other grouping in society, young people who vote Republican are for more likely to be supportive of the rights of LGBT people than are their Republican parents or grandparents.

Republicans in the US Congress, however, are far out of step not only with Americans generally, but even with their own voters. Dominated, as they are, by far right religious extremists and teabaggers, Congressional Republicans are the main problem with Congress, and why it can’t get anything done.

Immigration reform is no different: Americans want reform and those who know the issues at stake support including LGBT people. Republican politicians, however, are playing games.

President Obama wants to include LGBT families in his immigration reform plan. Late last year, the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released its principles for immigration reform, which includes LGBT families.

As has been the case for four years, Senate Republicans are the problem. ThinkProgress reported:
During a conference call with LGBT groups on Sunday afternoon, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) claimed that the inclusive LGBT language was not included due to Republican opposition, but added that Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) ‘will offer an amendment in his committee to protect gay couples.’
Tuesday morning US time, Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and ex-presidential candidate, said that including LGBT people in immigration reform is “not of paramount importance,” which is a nice weasel-words way of putting it: It leaves him free to claim he never said they weren’t important, just not “more important than anything else; supreme”, as my dictionary defines his word.

However, McCain also said that including LGBT families is a “red flag”, so it’s pretty clear that he really meant that including them is not important at all. How on earth did John McCain, who once upon a time was worthy of respect and even occasionally admiration, become such a cold-hearted bastard?

It’s estimated that there are 28,500 LGBT bi-national couples (in which one partner is not a US citizen) living in the USA, plus another 11,500 couples where neither partner is a US citizen. It’s pretty clear that including LGBT families in immigration reform IS of “paramount importance” to those 40,000 couples!

There are no reliable estimates of the number of US Citizens who left the USA because our native country refuses to acknowledge our same-gender partners in the same way it recognises the opposite-gender partners of their friends and family members. We’re sometimes called “love exiles”, and our numbers are probably pretty high. So, John, this “red flag” is pretty important to us, too—and yes, we vote.

All of this creates a sterling opportunity for Senate Republicans: They can push for immigration reform that deliberately excludes LGBT families in the hope that it will drive a wedge between Hispanic and LGBT activists. Desperate as the Republican Party is to attract Hispanic voters, they’re equally determined to keep LGBT people outside of full participation as citizens. For Republicans in Congress, being anti-gay while working on immigration reform achieves both goals.

The problem for the more Machiavellian politicians in the party is that many of their fellow Republicans in Congress aren’t too keen on Hispanics, either, and have no interest in genuine immigration reform—quite the opposite, in fact.

I think there are two things that could happen. First, it could be like healthcare reform: Republicans will keep demanding ever-changing concessions, forcing Congressional Democrats and the White House to capitulate on one thing after another (like including LGBT families), and then Republicans will still vote against the resulting weak bill.

Or, Democrats and the White House could call the Republicans’ bluff: They could stand firm on certain core principles to force Republicans to show their true colours. That would give Democrats something they can take to voters in 2014 when, with some luck, Democrats will regain full control of Congress. Then, they could proceed with genuine immigration reform.

LGBT advocates, meanwhile, won’t fight against a bill that excludes us, no matter how much Republicans hope they do. After all, any immigration reform is bound to help at least some LGBT people, even if it perpetuates our second (or third) class citizenship overall.

The Republican Party is in serious trouble. It is out of step with American voters and, increasingly, with their own voters. Some of their leaders have realised that have spoken out, declaring the party must change to survive. Will it be soon enough to enact genuine immigration reform? Tens of thousands of LGBT couples are waiting to find out.

Update: A few hours after I published this post, Salon published "GOP prepares to blame Obama for immigration deal collapse" by Alex Pareene. It presents a similar view to mine, plus makes more valid points underscoring the fact that Republicans aren't actually interested in genuine immigration reform. Well worth a read (H/T to Roger Green, who provided the link in the comments). For information about what President Obama REALLY wants, check out the White House link, below.


FACT SHEET: Fixing our Broken Immigration System so Everyone Plays by the Rules – From The White House

Nadler Lauds President Obama’s LGBT-Inclusive Blueprint for Comprehensive Immigration Reform – reaction from US Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY 10), sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)

Useful resource

Blogger Alvin McEwen has published a booklet called How They See Us: Unmasking the Religious Right War on Gay America (embedded below). which deftly exposes the most common anti-gay propaganda, its links, where it originates—and what they get wrong. Some of the material I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

I check out Alvin’s blog, called Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, from time to time because he frequently does this sort of debunking there. I think it’s very useful.

He says on his blog that he was most surprised by people who wanted him to go after religion, rather than just religious bigotry. Alvin says, “The goal of this booklet was not to bash religion. I would never want to bash anyone’s religious beliefs.” I think that’s sensible, since we need rational religious allies to help take down the radical right.

He also noted there are those who think if we ignore the bigots they’ll just go away. “We deliberately underestimate the reach and power of religious right groups and then get angry when these groups demonstrate that reach and power,” Alvin says. Right again.

Give it a read or, better yet, download it for yourself. Bigots throughout the English-speaking world use the same propaganda, and that includes New Zealand and Australia, too. This booklet, with its copious references and documentation, can be a very useful resource in the fight for full legal equality.

via DanNation

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Postage due

A story on Stuff this morning was headlined, “Mail delivery faces axe”. It began, "New Zealand Post is proposing to reduce mail delivery to as little as three days a week to cope with falling volumes."

I can't say this is a surprise, though I bet the three days thing is to get what they really want, which is probably five days for now: Scare us peasants with three days so that we think four or five days isn't so bad (National has used this same tactic many times in the past).

Be that as it may, I think that in only a few years mail delivery will end altogether. I honestly can't remember the last time I posted anything within New Zealand—it would probably be years—and I don’t receive much real mail, either. I get most of my former mail—bills, statements, newsletters, etc.—by email. Hardly anyone I know sends greeting cards anymore, and no one sends personal letters. I don’t, either. I also don't subscribe to any paper magazines (though I have subscriptions to a couple electronic versions). We pay all our bills online one way or another.

Add it all up, and we can go for days on end without getting any real mail at all. We certainly can go for months without ever sending any real mail.

This is partly a generational thing. Many older people still write cheques to pay bills and then post them. They may send greeting cards and subscribe to magazines. They might even write the occasional letter. Young people, as I discussed before, use social networks and texting to communicate, not greeting cards or letters.

Like those digital natives and many of my fellow digital immigrants, I expect to be able to pay a bill online, no matter how small the company or the bill. The last time I wrote a cheque to pay any sort of bill was several years ago, but once recently the only way to avoid doing that was to go to a Postshop (post office) and pay in person. Yes, I was grumpy—hard to imagine me being grumpy about anything, I know.

But seriously, the amount of mail we receive is so small that if they did go to 3-day delivery I doubt we’d even notice. Since I don’t send anything by mail, either, it wouldn’t be any inconvenience for me in that direction, either.

Still, I realise that for some digital immigrants and those who are—what’s the term? “digital exiles”?—a 3-day delivery schedule would be a real hardship. Even so, it's inevitable and we need to find ways to ease such people into that reality (another reason why I think 5 days per week, or possibly 4, is more likely). To its credit, NZ Post has been working to make paying bills at their Postshops easier, so I’m sure they’ll be part of the solution.

But drastic change is inevitable. We’d best prepare now.

The photo at top is a modified version of a photo available from Morguefile.

Monday, January 28, 2013

David Shearer - New Era: New Solutions

David Shearer, Leader of the Opposition, delivered one of his best speeches yet yesterday, laying out plainly what Labour will do in government, what he promises will be “a smart hands-on government that backs hard-working Kiwis doing their bit.” That’s a winner.

I have always voted Labour, going back to the first election I was eligible to vote in, 1999. I see no reason to change. The contrast between Labour and the Tories is clearer than most pundits admit, and I’m sure I’ll be talking about that more and more over the next year and some months.

Labour still needs help embracing social media, and even with understanding things like having good lighting for videos. Still, I think they can overcome those shortcomings to reach the voters wherever they may be, in part because they have to. And, of course, National is no better and social media.

David Shearer is getting better all the time. The main thing is that he and the Labour caucus have to keep hitting the many failures of the Act/National Government. This speech is a good start.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekend Diversion: Restoring your faith in humanity

BuzzFeed posted the above video about six months ago, and what it depicts does indeed help restore one’s faith in humanity. A couple weeks before, they’d published “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity”, which tells the stories behind the photos in the video as well as presenting more photos.

I think we all need reminders like this from time to time, because while the world really is a pretty good place MOST of the time, there’s still evil, exploitation, suffering and pain. Still, the fact they exist doesn’t change the reality that there’s much about humanity that’s pretty great. This video, its earlier related post, and even my own post about a couple of amazing young people from earlier this week are all positive reminders. They’re always in order.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Real electoral reform

The USA needs real election reform, not Republicans’ proposed Electoral College changes. Democracy itself hangs in the balance.

The map at the top of this post shows the results of the 2012 US Presidential Election, and the states/Electoral College votes won by the two main candidates. President Obama won the election with 332 Electoral College votes, compared to 206 for Mitt Romney. He also won 5 million more popular votes than Romney received.

The map below shows a very different story: It is the same presidential election, but with the results shown by county. While the map above appears reasonably balanced, blue v. red, the map below appears much more red. That’s precisely why Republicans now want to change the way presidents are elected in some US states—those Democrats typically win.

The Republican plan—though plot may be a more accurate word—is to change the system only in certain Democratic-leaning swings states, those where Republicans currently control the governorship and both houses of the legislature: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. These states all voted for President Obama in 2012 and gave their Electoral Votes to him.

Republicans plan to change these states from winner-takes-all, the way 48 US states allocate their electoral votes at the moment, to awarding them by Congressional District. If the Republican plan had been in place in all six swing states in 2012, instead of the president winning all 106 Electoral Votes, Romney would have won 61 electoral votes and President Obama would have won only 45. That would have reduced President Obama’s national Electoral Vote from 332 to only 271—a mere one more Electoral Vote than he needed to be elected.

Let’s look at Virginia more closely as an example of how this would work. President Obama won the state and its 13 Electoral Votes. But if the Republican plan had been in place in 2012, Romney would have won NINE electoral votes to the president’s four—Romney would have won two-thirds of the state’s Electoral Votes, despite losing the popular vote! The move would, as a bonus for Republicans, effectively disenfranchise non-white and other minority voters (including LGBT voters), by giving white Republican voters far too much weight, well out of proportion to their actual share of the electorate.

This is the reality because Republicans already rigged elections: They worked hard, and spent large amounts of money, to win control of state legislatures in 2010 precisely so that they could write the congressional district maps to ensure Republican victories—they now even admit that was their plan all along. This gerrymandering by Republicans is the reason that they control the US House of Representatives even though they received fewer votes than Democrats did. Now, they want to do the same thing to presidential elections.

Were it not for gerrymandering, the Republican plan would be closer to a proportional system for electing a president than the current winner-takes-all approach allows for. However, because of gerrymandering, it instead cynically twists that goal to ensure Republicans win the presidency even if they lose the popular vote—something that could very well happen every election under the Republican plan. So, what we’d end up with is something far less democratic than what we have now.

If the US was to pass a Constitutional Amendment requiring all states to use truly non-partisan commissions to draw the boundaries of Congressional Districts based solely on population—and forbidding them from taking party voting history of areas into account—then it might be possible to make the Republican plan credible. However, most state legislatures would never give up their power to draw the maps, and Republicans aren’t about to walk away from the one thing that could ensure their minority party retains power for at least the next decade. And, can we really trust politicians to run a truly non-partisan redistricting system? I certainly don’t trust them.

The best possible solution would be direct popular election of the president—abolish the Electoral College altogether. Some people argue that this would give an unfair advantage to states with large populations, since that's where the people are, but one could argue that the current system does that, too; in fact, small states are over-represented. If the US president is to represent the entire country, then it makes sense that all the people elect them nationally.

An alternative could be to allocate a state’s Electoral Votes not by Congressional District, as the Republicans want, but by proportion of the popular vote. This means that even solidly Republican states would end up allocating Electoral Votes to Democrats, too, not just Democratic states giving votes to Republicans. It could also allow third-party and independent candidates to win some Electoral Votes—impossible under the current system and the Republican proposal alike.

Politicians tell us that direct election of the president is impossible, and they’re certainly not about to move to any proportional system, either. So, on balance, the only way to preserve democracy is to retain the current system as it is.

It surprises me that I’ve come to this conclusion because I once favoured something similar to the Republican plan. But that was before that party seized control of state legislatures and used them to pass laws to suppress votes (especially of Democrats) and to gerrymander districts to give their party control of the US House, despite winning fewer votes. Put bluntly, Republicans are interested only in guaranteeing power for Republicans and the elite special interests they represent—the people be damned.

Of course, all of this will change by mid-century as the US becomes majority non-white and even Republicans’ cynical manipulation of the system to create unfair advantages for themselves will no longer be enough to help them. As the Republican Party begins to die off, a new political consensus will emerge, far more centrist, far more interested in doing the people’s business than the Republican Party is. It will then be possible to enact real electoral reform.

For now, the important thing is that to preserve, protect and defend democracy itself, the Republicans’ cynical plans to manipulate the presidential election process must be defeated.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Unexpected and expected

One of the leading commenting systems for blogs and other sites says that “commenters using pseudonyms are ‘the most important contributors to online communities’”. I didn’t see that coming. Well, maybe I did.

There are a LOT of people who condemn anonymous comments on websites (like this blog), in part because they declare that such comments are meaningless, superficial, empty. But the alternative is to require an exposure of personal information that some people find intolerable. Apparently, they don’t need to expose themselves.

The Disqus commenting system allows people to comment using an account, a social media identity or anonymously. They say that “those with pseudonyms post the best comments, while anonymous comments are lower quality.” This is based on user ranking of comments.

The thing is, while some anonymous or pseudonymous commenters choose that so that they can post outrageous statements, most simply try to avoid linking their commentary to their work or personal lives. I don’t have a problem with that at all—though choosing a regular pseudonym doesn’t seem to me to be too much of a burden.

Obviously the company supplying commenting systems has a reason to promote the validity of what they provide. Nevertheless, I think their findings are relevant because not everyone wants their online activity associated with their real life. In that sense, I think, their findings are totally predictable.

So, while some might be surprised at the fact there’s any validity in anonymous/pseudonymous comments, I’m not at all surprised. People do what they can do at the time. And, in my view, that’s enough.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fourth Anniversary

Four years ago today, Nigel and I were joined in civil union under New Zealand law. I still remember how bloody hot that day was.

As I’ve said in previous years, this is the second of the anniversaries we celebrate, the bigger one being November 2, the anniversary of when our life together began. That was 17 years ago this past November.

Still, even though this is in some ways the “lesser” of our anniversaries, it’s still important as that day we took a major legal step. It seems "lesser" just because here have been fewer of them.

Tonight we went out to dinner to celebrate, as we did last year, which was nice. Next year our fifth anniversary will be on a Friday, and our 18th anniversary together will be on a Saturday this November. Both facts suggest that parties might be appropriate.

Clearly, whichever anniversary we’re talking about, I think it’s something to celebrate. That's a very good thing for which I'm always grateful.

Posts from previous years

2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today

Amazing young people

I posted this on Facebook earlier today, but I wanted to share it on the blog, too. Here’s what I said on Facebook:
“Today's young people amaze me: They do things that were unthinkable, even impossible, when I was their age. Yes, we have a LONG way to go before we live in a world filled with love, respect, liberty and freedom for all, but when I get discouraged, when I think the forces of darkness are just too strong to defeat, I see something like this. And my hope returns.”
The day before, I’d posted a link to another story: “How 19-year-old activist Zack Kopplin is making life hell for Louisiana’s creationists”. I said about that story:
“I read about Zack Kopplin last week and was cheered by his courage. I don't know that I'd be willing to take on Southern US ‘Christian’ theocrats NOW, let alone when I was a teenager!”
The thing those two stories have in common is that at their age, there’s simply no way I could have done what those two guys did. And their stories are repeated again and again—these two just happened to pop up a week from each other.

If we’re really lucky, each generation produces people who will do things big and small to make the world a better place. In my day, those people generally weren’t obvious until they were older (if then), largely because they were ignored. In this interconnected era of Social Networks, we can find out about brave and effective individuals who otherwise would have remained obscure. And in such ways, the world becomes a better place just a little bit faster.

Of course not all young people are as good, as brave or creating positive change. But the fact that some are really does renew my faith in humanity as well as my sense of hope.

Update: A couple days after I posted this, Jacob Rudolph talked about his coming out speech with MSNBC's Thomas Roberts.

Cat fight

No, New Zealand is not about to ban cats. No, it’s not a “thing”. Yes, there really are serious issues, but, no, they won’t get discussed.

Yesterday, economist Gareth Morgan really sent the fur flying when it was revealed he’d set up a website saying that New Zealand should eliminate cats over time. "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural-born killer," the site declares. “Every year cats in New Zealand destroy our native wildlife. The fact is that cats have to go if we really care about our environment.” He then asks people to pledge to make their current cat the last one they own.

This was transformed into, as the NZ Herald titled their story, “Morgan calls for cats to be wiped out”, and people said he wanted to kill cats. Is that fair? Well, yes, actually.

On his site’s FAQ, the very first question is, “So are you suggesting that I just go out and have my cat euthanised?” The answer begins, “Not necessarily but that is an option.” In fact, if he got his way, it would be required in some form.

Morgan wants people to spay and neuter their cats (everyone does—or should—agree with that). He wants cats registered and microchipped, as dogs are. He wants people to keep their cats inside 24 hours a day, which is unheard of in New Zealand (when I arrived in New Zealand and mentioned cats were kept inside in Chicago, I was made fun of).

But the most lethal part is that Morgan wants people to pledge to never own another cat. If they did, and demand for cats dropped, obviously the unwanted cats would have to be killed. So, somewhere along the line, yes, cats would be killed.

Kiwis aren’t going to listen to him—not even his neighbours. In fact, most people merely made fun of him—as loudly as possible, it seemed to me, judging by social media. There were plenty of critics, and some were more forceful; the types who ring talkback radio, well, they were less humorous, we’ll say.

On Twitter, I referred to this as a “tempest in a litterbox” once the story went international and my American friends started asking me about it. That’s because the idea is dead on arrival. Which is a shame, because there’s actually some validity in what Morgan says.

Cats have, indeed, had huge negative effects on native wildlife—not just birds, but reptiles and insects, too. On the other hand, they’ve also helped to control rodents, and rodents eat the eggs of native birds. So, it’s not as simple as cat = natural born killer, as Morgan puts it.

There are sensible things amid his more hated suggestions. Cats should be spayed and neutered, and they should wear a bell when they go outside (because it alerts birds to give them time to get away). And, people should think twice about whether they really need a cat. We wouldn’t have one now, but Bella adopted us (and, for the record, she’s never killed anything and very rarely leaves the house or yard, though she’s free to do so whenever she wants to).

Gareth Morgan is frequently similarly curmudgeonly, and often coughs up rhetorical furballs that rile people up for no apparent reason. Just today, he attacked fans of the Phoenix professional soccer team he co-owns in Wellington. In the past, he’s attacked people for owning a home. So, this is basically standard for him.

As Kiwis dismiss his suggestion, they’ll also dismiss the things they could and should do to protect the environment—shoot the messenger AND the message. In this case, I don’t think that either is called for. But it was kind of a dumb campaign to launch.

The photo of Bella, above, is from September last year. Right now, she's too busy sleeping and dreaming of being a natural born, sadistic serial killer to pose for photos.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grumpy Kiwi

I know I complain mostly about US politics, but sometimes things in New Zealand politics annoy me, too. Not surprisingly, it’s conservatives that make me grumpy. Here are three things I saw today.

WHO paid for that water, hm?

In a press release praising the National-led government for spending 80 million taxpayer dollars to be a “bridging investor” on irrigation infrastructure, the IrrigationNZ chairperson said: “For many years farmers have personally carried the cost of water infrastructure, which can run into the millions of dollars, yet benefits regional economies enormously…”

Hang on a minute, WHO paid for that?! The government paid for the dams that made large-scale irrigation possible in many areas, and ratepayers—including plenty who are not farmers—paid for local and regional projects. The National-led government even deposed the duly elected regional council in Canterbury because it wouldn’t give farmers all the water they wanted. To ensure there are no restrictions on farmers, National has refused to restore democracy to Canterbury. Clearly the people of the Canterbury region have paid a very high price, indeed!

Priorities, priorities

Speaking of the National-led government’s failures, they have done nothing to deal with high unemployment, the housing crisis is getting worse all the time, and the Novopay debacle continues on and on and on. They’re unable or unwilling to do anything about these very real problems facing ordinary New Zealanders.

So, what’s a do-nothing government to do but ban magnets? Yes, seriously.

The newly elevated Consumer Affairs Minister, Simon Bridges, announced today that the National-led government will ban the sale of sets of small high powered magnets. Their reason is that they’ve “caused serious injuries in New Zealand and at least one reported death in Australia”. That’s their stated reason—the real reason is that it’s far easier than dealing with the hard problems ordinary New Zealanders have to face every day. Glad they have their priorities right.

‘Culture’ doesn’t turn wrong into right

When the Select Committee hearings on the Marriage Equality Bill arrived in Auckland, we saw the usual suspects testifying against it: Colin “god bless” Craig said homosexuality was a choice, so it’s okay to discriminate against gay people and block them from marriage because there are separate toilets for men and women. Old Colin’s been quiet for a long time now; clearly that was a good idea.

Also performing was my pal Bob “Slippery Slope!” McCoskrie, who again said that allowing loving same gender couples to marry must—it just HAS to—mean allowing incestuous and polygamous marriages, too. Why? Well, because it just does! Oh, and we’ll be forbidden to use the words husband, wife, mother and father, too, because someone somewhere said something, or some foreign government made some bureaucratic change that has nothing to do with New Zealand, but it will nevertheless force change here, too! Slippery slope, people!!

But the winner in my book was the Tongan Methodist Church who argued that allowing loving same-gender couples to marry would “destroy [Tongans’] traditional social structure”. Wow!! Centuries of European missionaries and armies failed to destroy Tongan culture, but allow two New Zealand men or two New Zealand women to marry, and POOF! (so to speak…), Tongan culture is gone!

A Samoan “mother of three” declared, “We have fa'afine. We have a gay community that is openly homosexual. But our gay community said, 'We are not going to be out there saying [gay marriage should be legalised], we are going to say we have our boundaries, we know that marriage belongs to the religious part of our culture'."

Apparently, she personally knows and has spoken with every gay Samoan or Pasifika person, so I wonder how she missed the quite active Pasifika activists backing marriage equality. Not all of them are gay or lesbian, of course, but their existence shows she’s wrong.

The problem is that neither culture nor religion can be used as an excuse to justify something that’s wrong, and discrimination against GLBT New Zealanders in marriage, despite what Colin thinks, IS wrong. If Tongans, Samoans or other Paskifika peoples want to preach against homosexuality, that’s their right. However, they have no right whatsoever to impose their culture or religion on all of New Zealand, the vast majority of whom don’t share their culture or religion. There are plenty of ways for that mum to make sure her kids “grow up in traditional culture” without imposing that traditional culture on everyone else.

Religious freedom means freedom for all—including pro-LGBT churches, as well as people who have no religion—or it means nothing at all.

• • • • •

So: That’s the NZ political stuff that made me grumpy today. Clearly it’s all much milder than the antics of conservatives in the USA, More often than not, they exasperate me more than make me merely grumpy. Actually, that’s something I really like about New Zealand politics.

To do, or not to do

When I was younger, I used “To Do” lists all the time. It helped me stay organised and focused. This was mainly when I was in my 20s and 30s, a time when I was an activist and had several projects on the go at once.

For no reason in particular, I just stopped. When I used To Do lists, I seldom forgot things; now I seldom remember. Okay, that’s not actually true, but in general I don’t remember some things as well as I did 20 or 30 years ago.

From time to time, I’ve used the To Do list functions on my computer calendar. The advantage was I could type it (my handwriting is now often hard for me to read) and my computer would send me alerts to keep me on track. Nowadays it’s even better because the lists can be shared with my iPhone and iPad, which makes it easier than ever to keep track of things. I still don’t use it.

So, I’m going “old school”: I’m using pen and paper.

When I used To Do lists, they were on paper (I designed my own list sheets that I had printed). I found that there was something about writing by hand that in itself seemed to help me remember things. In fact, there were plenty of times when I’d write something down and I’d remember to do it without even looking at the list.

Now, with my memory not as reliable as it once was, I’ll make sure to check the list, but I’ve already found that, as before, the act of writing by hand seems to help me focus. Seems to, I emphasise.

I haven’t been doing this long enough to see if it will help, or if I’ll be able to keep it up, but it’s worth a try. If nothing else, writing down the tasks I have to keep track of is bound to remove some of the stress from trying to remember everything I have to do. And, just maybe, it’ll leave some remembering space left over for other things.

Funny how sometimes the “old ways” seem to be the best way. I’ll see if in this case it really is.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Richard Blanco reads the Inaugural Poem

Richard Blanco today became the first Hispanic and first openly gay man to read the inaugural poem. I’m often indifferent to these poems, truth be known, but I like the significance of this. And, as such things go, I thought it was good.

President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address

President Obama's Second Inauguration ceremony began while I was still in bed, and I didn’t see his speech live. Thank goodness for the White House YouTube Channel!

I liked the speech—a lot (the White House has posted a transcript). The part I liked best, not surprisingly, was when the first African American president, who is also the first president to endorse marriage equality, name-checked Stonewall and mentioned the struggle for LGBT rights and marriage equality. In fact, I liked that whole section of the speech:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task—to make these words, these rights, these values—of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time—but it does require us to act in our time.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, we must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
I like that section because it expresses my own attitude toward politics and social justice. And, of course, because he’s absolutely right.

The White House posted quotes from the speech, including the GLBT passage, to Barack Obama’s Twitter feed and also graphics to the White House Twitter feed as well as to their Facebook Page. The picture at right was posted to Twitter and to Facebook. We can be sure that if the other guy had won the election, such words would never have even been said, much less shared.

I remain as optimistic as ever about the possibility for progress in the US, but as wary as ever of the dark forces working hard to prevent that from happening (there are far too many examples to list). But that’s a topic for another post.

Right now, I just liked President Obama’s speech very much.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The annual increasing number: 54

Birthdays happen every year, if we’re lucky, and that makes it something to blog about every year. So, I am.

The graphic above was today’s special oddity. I went to Google something and saw the Google Doodle. At first I thought it was for the Inauguration, but then I realised the graphics related to a birthday party. Curious, I put my mouse over the Doodle and “Happy Birthday Arthur!” appeared. It freaked me out a little, but I thought it had to be a coincidence. So, I clicked on the Doodle and took me to my Google+ profile—so, yeah, it really WAS for me. I have no idea when they started doing personalised Google Doodles, but I thought it was kind of nice, actually.

For those who are more paranoid than I am, Google knows it’s my birthday because it’s registered on my Google account, the public profile for which is on Google+ (you can see it by clicking on “View my complete profile” on the right side of this blog). Google also places cookies on people’s computers to make it possible for them to deliver specific content (like ads) relevant for them. Put it all together, and it’s easy for Google to serve up a personalised Google Doodle without anything being publicly compromised; not even my friends on Google+ saw it.

As I do with annual posts, I’ve included links to previous years’ posts, and I noticed that for three years in a row I used the exact same title for the posts. So, this year I’ve added what that annual increasing number is.

I also actually read those previous posts—not exactly a burden, since only four of them are real posts, with text and everything. I check all my previous annual posts so I can try and avoid repeating myself too much. Easier with this post than with others, and Google added a unique twist.

As I frequently say, I like birthdays, which I always think of as my personal New Year’s Day. Even so, I’m not one of those people who needs piles of presents, stacks of cards and so on. I’ve received some Tweets, some emails, some Facebook and Google+ messages, a phone call or two, and that’s really enough. I just like the acknowledgement, and I don’t care whether someone remembers or is prompted.

Still, this is one of those funny birthdays, between the zero year (like 50) and the 5 year (like next year for me). No one really notices the specific years apart from those and the 9 year (I know 59 will be a big one for me). At least, that’s the way it’s gone for me ever since I turned 30.

This year has been low-key mostly because it’s on a Monday, and because over the weekend we went to our niece’s birthday/celebrate-a-new-job party near Paeroa. We stayed overnight at Nigel’s Mum’s house, with his sister and brother and one of his young daughters (who was staying with us part of last week), so we had our own mini-party that evening.

My sister-in-law took me out for lunch today, and tonight we’re going out to dinner. When one of our birthdays falls on a weekday, we often celebrate it by going out to dinner. Lunch was a bonus this year, since I’m off at the moment and Nigel’s sister had the time.

And that’s it so far. A quiet, low-key birthday that nevertheless had some new elements thrown into the mix. That makes it a good one—and it has several hours to go!

My Previous Birthday posts:
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

President Obama. Again.

Above is the White House video of the official swearing in ceremony for President Obama’s second term. The ceremonial swearing-in ceremony is tomorrow, which confuses some people.

Section 1 of the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution sets the time and date at which Presidential and Congressional terms begin:
The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
So, to comply with the Constitution, President Obama was sworn in at noon on Sunday, January 20th Eastern US time (6am today, January 21, New Zealand time). Vice President Biden was sworn in at a separate ceremony at the Naval Observatory. Because January 20 falls on a Sunday this year, the outdoor ceremony at the West Front of the US Capital Building will be held on Monday, January 21 US time (January 22 in New Zealand). Personally, I don’t see have any problem with the big ceremony being held on Sunday, but some Americans—well, they see things differently.

Four other presidents took private oaths when the date their office began fell on a Sunday: Rutherford B Hayes (1877), Woodrow Wilson (1917), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1957) and Ronald Reagan (1985).

There’s disagreement about whether the actual oath needs to be taken at noon on January 20th, or whether the term automatically begins even if the taking of the oath is delayed—just as long as the oath is taken (the oath itself is required by Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution. Personally, I always thought that this was kind of silly and irrelevant. In any case, there’s nothing in the US Constitution requiring a re-elected president and vice president to take their oaths of office again.

What I find interesting is that the oath does not include the phrase “so help me god”. I grew up assuming it did, and I was taught that George Washington was the first president to say it. It turns out, there’s absolutely no evidence that he did, and it’s uncertain who was the first president who did say the phrase in its current form—partly because it’s unknown exactly when presidents started actually reciting the oath, rather than replying “I do” or “I swear” after the oath was read to them (the way oaths were administered, perhaps up to the 20th century, similar to the way witness are sworn in for a trial—at least, on TV…).

Similarly, no one knows how many presidents used a bible when they took their oath, something that also isn’t required by law or the US Constitution (some federal oaths do require an oath to be taken on a bible). However, we know that Theodore Roosevelt didn’t use a bible and John Quincy Adams used a law book (symbolically swearing on the Constitution). Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S Truman and Richard Nixon all used two bibles. George Washington kissed the bible after his oath as other presidents also did up until Eisenhower broke the tradition.

Neither the use of the bible nor saying “so help me god” is, strictly speaking, constitutional, since the First Amendment prohibits the US government from establishing religion. However, they’re both traditional, and as long as the Chief Justice or whoever is administering the oath (the Constitution doesn’t specify that, either) doesn’t say the phrase for the president to repeat, it’s constitutionally permissible because the president can add whatever words he or she wants to after the official oath is taken. Similarly, use of a bible (or not) is a personal choice, not a requirement.

As a firm secularist, I would prefer that “so help me god” be dropped, and I think maybe John Quincy Adams was on to something: Maybe presidents should take their oath on the document they’re swearing to “preserve, protect and defend”—it might help the to remember not to violate it. However, I actually think the best approach is to use nothing at all.

No president is actually required to swear anything: The Constitution requires presidents take the specified “Oath or Affirmation”. Franklin Pierce is the only president known to have affirmed rather than sworn, and Hebert Hoover and Richard Nixon—both Quakers—swore an oath.

There have been six oath mishaps so far, and because of that, and the fact that January 20 is a Sunday, President Obama will actually take the oath four times—which makes him tied with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected and sworn in as president four times. That’s probably my favourite bit of trivia in all this, actually.

In any case, this is what I wanted to happen this year, so I’m happy about it. And, truth be known, I’m smiling more than a little at the thought of the president’s irrational opponents on the right seeing the swearing-in two times. Twice as nice.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tightening the net

While the blogging cat was away, the spamming mice were at play. The cat has returned.

I was busy for most of the past week entertaining our young nieces, who spent some of their summer holidays with us. That, and a few other things that needed doing meant little time for blogging.

Nevertheless, I kept managing the spam queue until the end of last week when I didn’t even have time for that. The image with this post shows the spam comments that were posted to my previous post. The reason these were posted is that Blogger’s spam filters didn’t see the comments as spam, and because it was a new post, they weren’t held in the moderation queue, either.

All up, when I checked today there were 12 comments held for moderation—all of them spam. All up, there were 283 spam comments, which is actually pretty light for what was probably three days accumulation.

So, I’ve now drastically shortened the amount of time comments are unmoderated, a change that would have prevented all the spam comments being posted. If too many spam comments still get through, I’ll turn on moderation for all comments.

I said in my previous post that Blogger’s spam filters aren’t nearly as good as Akismet, which is a bit of an understatement. But the whole way comments are handled on Wordpress (self-hosted Wordpress blogs, anyway) is so much better than the way Blogger does it. For example, when someone has a comment approved on my Wordpress sites, future comments are no longer held in moderation. On Blogger, all comments are held for moderation, no matter how often someone comments. That’s just dumb. Also, it’s possible to edit comments on Wordpress, such as, removing links. Blogger’s moderation and spam queues don’t even show links.

I know that this is all very meta, but I think that bloggers should share some of the more technical things they do, too, because you never know when information about something we’ve tackled will prove useful information to someone else.

Normally, I wouldn’t do two posts in a row on this subject. But since I wanted to publicly announce that full comment moderation is on the way, I decided I may as well talk about the behind-the-screen activity that made this inevitable.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Without irony

There are moments of humour in my neverending war with spam comments. Well, humour is probably too strong a word, but they make me at least smirk in what is otherwise a pretty dull business.

The other day, I checked my comment queue, as I do every morning, looking for any legitimate comments held for moderation and to delete all the accumulated spam comments. It was a banner day for the enemy.

I found 66 comments in the moderation queue—all of them spam, of course, because I’ve never had a real comment caught in the comment waiting room. Awhile back, I turned on moderation for comments placed on older posts as part of the war on spam, and it’s helped—somewhat.

Blogger’s built-in spam detection is fairly decent—not nearly as good as Akismet, which I use on my podcast sites, but not bad. However, if I hadn’t turned on comment moderation, those 66 spam messages would have been posted to the blog. In fact, nearly every day I have to delete one or more spam comments that get posted (usually to the most recent post).

What made me smile, however, is that without a shred of irony, all but eight—58 spam comments in all—were intended for this particular post. The spam queue at that same time held 68 spam comments, 14 of which were intended for that post.

I know they’re placed by bots, not real people, and those bots often seek out particular words, so it’s this, not irony, that’s made that single post the one with the most page views of any post I’ve ever published. In fact, when I looked this morning, that single post accounted for nearly four percent of all the pageviews of my entire blog going back more than six years. Those are clearly pretty determined spambots.

I’m not bothered by the stuff in the spam queue—I usually just scan them quickly for anything real caught there and delete. Takes a few minutes. But the stuff held in the moderation queue annoys me because I can’t see any appreciable difference from identified spam (they’re all placed by “Anonymous” and they all include links—sometimes nothing but links). Worst of all is that some of them get through and are posted. This is why I check a few times every day.

There are two possible solutions. First, I could re-enable word verification, which would pretty much end spam attacks because they can can’t get through. Or, I could enable comment moderation for all posts, which would prevent any spam comments from being posted.

The first option is really unpopular with readers (in part because it’s buggy). It also would mean a big drop-off pageviews, not that I care (spambots are not readers, after all). The problem with the second is that it takes away the immediacy of commenting, especially for folks in the time zones most different from my own: It takes me awhile to see them.

So, I’ll shorten the period during which comments are unmoderated, perhaps gradually, to see if that at least slows the number of spam comments that get through all the defences.

Like I said, it’s a neverending war. But at least it keeps me busy—wait, is that a good thing?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Connection collection

Recently I posted a moderately mocking status update to Facebook (click to embiggen):

A lot of my “humour” on social media is similar: Often it’s a little too subtle, sometimes a little too mocking, maybe even a little harsh sometimes. But it’s always based on something.

In this case, I’d seen a Facebook status update of a friend of a friend that seemed to be pleading a little too much for "Likes". We’ve all seen such updates, or similar things, from people who seem to be, well, needy.

A few days earlier, I saw something on Twitter—also a hotbed of neediness—that really annoyed me. Someone I don’t know followed me, which isn’t unusual, but he’d also just placed me on a list called “Last chance to follow back”, which was caught my attention. Excuse me? “Last chance”?! I immediately blocked him, something I’ve never done to a follower before, just because I resent the chutzpah of putting people on a list giving them a “last chance” to do something that's entirely optional.

Social networks are overflowing with such needy people. On Twitter people collect “Followers”, on Facebook they collect “Friends”, all is if numbers alone mean something, as if they equal some sort of validation. They don’t.

I use social networks for connection, not collection.

I "Follow" people on Twitter who I have some sort of personal connection to, usually through podcasting or politics, or who interest me because of what they post, people who are generally news media, political or entertainment folks (yes, a few “celebrities”, too). I usually follow back people who I have some connection to (such as, they interact with people I interact with), but I don’t rush to do so—it’s when I get around to it.

On Facebook, I have a much higher percentage of people I know in real life—old friends, family members, some people I know here in New Zealand, etc.—plus people I have some connection to, again, mostly through podcasting or politics. For me, it’s a really interesting mix.

In both cases (and the other networks I use, like Google+, Flicr, etc), I put the most energy into people who interact with others and I generally ignore those who don’t. Without that personal connection, that interaction, social networks are pretty pointless, I think.

I’m a connector, not a collector, after all. And there is no “last chance” for that.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Not today

I’m not going to do it. Despite all the ample opportunities—provocation if you like—I’m not commenting further on the full frothing meltdown the USA’s radical right is currently performing because a rightwing preacher decided, wisely, not to deliver a prayer at the upcoming presidential inauguration ceremony. I already wrote about that.

See, I know it’s all an act, a fauxrage, one they’re using for their PR—and financial—benefit. They do this all the time, and they count on mainstream people talking about them and drawing even more attention to them. Well, not this time.

I have no time or patience for these charlatans, these mongers of fear, these merchants of hate. They are, at the very best, the adversaries of anyone who cares about freedom and justice; at worst, they are actual enemies who must be opposed at all times, and in all places.

But not today. I’m tired of having to descend into their world of negativity just to debunk them. Their hatred is just too ugly.

It’s time for a change—for me, anyway—and I’m going to do what makes the most sense for me: Speaking truth and facts. Sometimes, unfortunately, I’ll need to talk about our adversaries in order to present the truth, but I’d much rather just present the truth and let you connect the dots yourself.

This is actually what I’ve been doing most of the time, especially when talking about marriage equality, but sometimes the dark ooze of our adversaries sucks me in until, as I’m pulled down toward a drowning doom, I realise what’s happening and I struggle back to the surface, to the light and the fresh air.

I’m not criticising what others do; I think it’s hard to know when we’re being played by our adversaries, activists who are trying to provoke an over-reaction. The problem is that sometimes they really are presenting a clear and present danger that must be challenged. I don’t always get it right when deciding which it is, so I won’t criticise others for how they choose to respond.

I wrote a different blog post earlier today, complete with links and everything, and then I changed my mind about publishing it. That change of mind inspired this post instead. I know that in the future I’ll make the wrong choice, and descend once again into that dark ooze of negativity. All bets are off for the future, but that wrong choice won’t be made this time. Not today.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Inaugurating controversy

There are always things that surprise me, very often amid things that don’t—or, both at the same time. President Obama’s Second Inauguration ceremony is one such occasion.

Like many Americans, I think, I was surprised when the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that the Invocation (a prayer said at the beginning of an event) will be delivered by Mylie Evers-Williams, widow of murdered civil rights icon Medger Evers. She will be the first woman and the first non-preacher to deliver the invocation. At the time, it was also reported that a “conservative evangelical" preacher named Louie Giglio was selected to deliver the Benediction (the prayer given at the end of an event).

The next day, I read that openly-gay poet Richard Blanco had been selected to read a specially-written poem at the ceremony. Past poets given that honour have included Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, so this is a very big deal.

Later that same day, Josh Israel reported on Talking Points Memo that Giglio had made anti-gay remarks in the past. This became the focus of liberals and the left, including the LGBT left, with the other positive developments ignored.

At first, I was annoyed by the left’s obsession, but then I realised they were right: We’ve come too far to give bigots such a platform. It was like Rick Warren all over again.

The radio host of an anti-gay hate group Tweeted (via Joe.My.God.), “To see a living, fire-breathing example of hate-filled bigotry & intolerance, watch what Big Gay does to Louis Giglio.” The natural reaction to a bigot from an anti-gay hate group lecturing anyone on tolerance and hate, was, “Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot.”

The leader of that anti-gay hate group said that Giglio should decline the invitation because it could hurt his “credibility within the Christian community because it seems to be an implicit endorsement of President Obama by participating." So, the radical right anti-gay industry wanted Giglio gone, too.

Today, Giglio backed out, “Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” True enough, but that would be coming from both sides of the culture wars. He went on to claim, somewhat disingenuously, “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years.”

Giglio has never recanted or apologised for his remarks, so he clearly still holds them. That is his right. But when he urged “Christians” to fight against LGBT equality in society, he was making political speech that was in direct conflict with the positions and statements of President Obama and his administration. Stepping aside was the right thing for him to do.

Naturally, that same bigoted radio host flew back into attack mode, Tweeting (via Joe.My.God.): “The Bully bigots at Big Gay win huge victory for fascistic intolerance…” Are you following this? The bigoted radio host blames “Big Gay” for forcing Giglio out, yet the hate group whose radio show he hosts wanted exactly that—why isn’t it a good thing that he did as the hate group wanted? Because haters gonna hate, and anti-gay bigots always have to exploit every opportunity to spread hatred against LGBT people. Even when it means the hate group is talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Which is why we’re not done hearing aural (that means “relating to hearing”; just making sure our dim far right extremist adversaries don’t confuse it with oral) venom from the frothing religious right. Already a Fox Noise “reporter” launched into a tirade blaming Giglio’s departure on what he called "heterophobic bigots". That’s so cute.

Sadly, this is just the beginning: TPM already has a list of the rightwing crazy.

While I don’t necessarily believe that the Presidential Inaugural Committee was unaware of Giglio’s past (Josh Israel obviously found it—why didn’t they?), I nevertheless have some sympathy for them: It can’t be easy to find neutral ground in the culture wars. Still, a presidential inaugural ceremony is no place to promote bigotry of any kind, and choosing Giglio was a big mistake.

As a non-theist, I think that it’s highly inappropriate that there are any prayers at a civic, secular function. It seems that I’m apparently in the minority on that point. Still, I expect better of people planning such events, and if there must be prayers, then they should not be delivered by people with a past of promoting bigotry.

TPM seems to agree with me. They said:
“These critics seem not to understand that respecting different opinions does not require giving a platform and a microphone to those whose promote discrimination and division. Though Pastor Giglio is completely free to believe as he chooses and to preach the harmful message of ‘pray away the gay’ therapy, a public ceremony like the presidential inauguration is not the place for him to do so.”
Of course I agree. Some things are—or ought to be—really obvious. Avoiding the promotion of bigotry must be one of them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bob’s big lie

On Monday, I wrote about how the only public opponent of marriage equality in New Zealand was issuing PR spin again. Turns out, it was the launch of his latest big lie.

Bob McCoskrie issues press releases and conducts his anti-gay activism under the brands Family [sic] First NZ and Protect [sic] Marriage NZ. In my blog post, I said, “…today he again dredged up his dumbest argument, that marriage equality ‘must’ lead to a slippery slope (cue screams of terror)”. I said “again” because he’s been making the same silly claim for months.

Today, he ramped it up a notch, putting out a press release with what he claimed is “Evidence That Polygamy And Polyamory Will Be Next”. So, I had a look at the supposed “evidence”, and it turned out he’s been touting much of it since the beginning. Nevertheless, fair-minded fellow that I am, I decided to have an in-depth look, going back to his original sources.

Ah, sources—the first problem. Many of them were extremely dubious, with linked sources including Bob’s own earlier posts, rightwing publications of various sorts (all of whom oppose marriage equality), and things that are not available on the web, so cannot be fact-checked. Nevertheless, from what I was able to access, his “evidence” consisted entirely of things that were completely irrelevant (like saying that legal polygamous marriages from overseas needed to be recognised for some purposes, chiefly dealing with family courts and the like), or they were the free speech of people—including in at least one case, a heterosexual fundamentalist Christian—expressing their own opinions (a bit like Bob does all the time, actually).

Put another way, NONE of Bob’s “evidence” supports his claim that polygamy is “next”—let me say that again NONE of Bob’s “evidence” supported his claim.

There is, however, evidence that is real, verifiable, true and relevant: Louisa Wall, sponsor of the marriage equality bill in Parliament, pointed out that in the 50 countries in the world where polygamy is legal, NOT ONE has ANY relationship recognition for same-gender couples. In fact, 37 of those 50 countries criminalise homosexuality, including some with life in prison or even death sentences!

On the other hand, of the eleven countries and 9 US States (plus the District of Columbia) where same-gender couples can legally marry, NOT ONE allows polygamy: Polygamy is illegal in ALL places where same-gender couples can legally marry.

So, the real evidence is clear: Marriage equality allows same-gender couples to make the same commitment and accept the same responsibilities in marriage as opposite-gender couples can, and that’s all! Polygamy is NOT “next” (and in, fact, is a crime in New Zealand as it is in most Western countries).

Bob has no rational, secular argument to make against marriage equality, so he constantly uses lies, distortions and fear, instead. His “slippery slope” argument is fear-mongering at its most vile and prejudiced. New Zealanders deserve better than to have a self-styled advocate for families use such deception and appeals to prejudice in his political campaigns.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Snap Judgment

We humans tell stories, and apparently have as long as we’ve been people. It’s what we do, and it’s who we are.

Storytelling takes many forms, of course, but the spoken word has always appealed to me. This is the reason I was drawn to personal journal podcasts in the first place, but before that it was rap (the best of which is spoken poetry) and performance art.

The video above is of 15-year-old Noah St. John, winner of the 2012 "NPR Snap Judgment Performance of the Year." He definitely deserved it. Snap Judgement is an NPR radio show which they sometimes describe as “storytelling with a beat.” It’s part performance art, part dramatic monologue, part spoken poetry—it’s another form of storytelling, harkening back to our most distant past as humans.

In, this particular performance, Noah talks of his two moms in a story of belonging and the ordinariness of life and love. While I was perhaps predisposed to give the story a chance, I thought his performance was amazing. As one of the YouTube commenters said, “And come on… man up… tell me that didn't move you to tears and I will call you a liar.” Apparently, last year’s winner was Noah’s teacher.

The radio show is available as a podcast. There’s also a storytelling podcast I listen to and can recommend: What Some Would Call Lies by Mike Lawson.

Human expression—telling stories by words and images—is central to who we are as a species. Spoken word is, for me, one of the highest and best forms of human expression, and I think that this video is a good example of that.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Hagel nomination

The drama around the nomination of ex-US Senator Chuck Hagel to be US Secretary of Defense fascinates me. As I’ve watched it, I’m reminded of the old proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

It’s obvious that I don’t automatically support the nomination of a conservative Republican to any position, not just because their positions on most issues are the opposite of my own, but because they often actively work against LGBT Americans. I start out, at best, highly suspicious of such appointments, even when a Democratic US President makes it; I need to be convinced to, if not support it, at least not oppose it. I’m talking about my own position on this, obviously, because it’s not like a president would care what I personally think.

So, when I first read that President Obama was considering appointing Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, I raised an eyebrow. I remember him as a grumpy conservative, adversarial most of the time, not someone who I felt could be negotiated with on any of the issues I cared about.

And then there was the Hormel incident: In October, 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel to be US Ambassador to Luxembourg, the first time an openly-gay person was nominated to be an ambassador. Hagel was not one of the leaders of the Republican opposition to the nomination, but he did say that Hormel was "openly, aggressively gay." At the time, the most far-right of the Republicans were leading a vicious, bigoted attack on Hormel, and Hagel’s remarks were seen in the context of that Republican anti-gay smear campaign.

In the end, President Clinton appointed Hormel while Congress was in recess (called a recess appointment), bypassing Senate approval. Hormel served as ambassador until 2001.

Hagel finally apologised for his remarks against Ambassador Hormel in December, 2012. Because of the obvious political expediency in the move, Ambassador Hormel said at the time that the apology was “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.” However, he later put out a statement (in the update to the above-linked story) calling it “a clear apology” and saying it was “significant” and adding, “I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything.”

And then, the truly weird happened.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a more or less gay group, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times opposing Hagel’s nomination, partly because of the anti-gay remark, but also because Hagel was allegedly “wrong” about Iran and Israel. This was remarkable reversal, when the group’s then-executive director praised Hagel in an interview a couple weeks earlier. Given the abrupt change in position in the ad, and the out-of-nowhere mentioning of Iran and Israel, Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian asked openly, “Who paid for the Log Cabin Republicans’ anti-Hagel NYT ad?” The Log Cabins refused to say. The implication clearly is that it was neoconservatives and pro-Israel zealots: “Gay advocates are the exploited tools in this effort. We should at least have some transparency about that fact,” Greenwald wrote.

Enter the radical religious extremists in the anti-gay industry, piling on Hagel because of his apology. The radio host of the anti-gay hate group, the American “Family” Association, Tweeted: “I flatly oppose Hagel nomination because he used to support natural marriage but now supports radical homosexual agenda.” For the record, Hagel has not endorsed marriage equality as far as I’ve seen. Still, Joe.My.God. points out the delicious irony in all this: “Log Cabin Republicans say they oppose Hagel because he's anti-gay. The American Family Association says they oppose Hagel because he's pro-gay.”

Both groups are rank hypocrites. The A”F”A are hypocrites practically by definition, certainly by nature, but the Log Cabins freely chose the status. They endorsed Romney, despite his hard right extremist anti-gay agenda, but, as the Huffington Post mockingly—and accurately—put it on their front page, “Now they care about gay rights!” (screen grab in this JMG post).

So, what we have are far right extremists who oppose Hagel because the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby tell them to, or because they can’t tolerate anything even remotely supportive of the human rights of LGBT people. These people are our enemies in the proverb. The Log Cabins are simply unprincipled and, for me, irrelevant: I don’t really care what they think about anything when they willingly put the interests of the Republican Party—or neoconservatives/Israel—ahead of LGBT Americans. What they think about any issue is, at best, amusing, but ordinarily it’s just boring.

So, the enemies of LGBT Americans have decided that Chuck Hagel is their enemy, which makes him, by definition, our friend. Is he?

I suppose a more relevant question for me would be, is his supposed “anti-gay” record reason enough to oppose him? No, I don’t think it is.

Hagel’s voting record was not unique among Senate Republicans—or even some Democrats, if we’re truly honest. His stated opposition to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in 1999, more than a decade before that was even possible (plenty of Democrats opposed repeal at the same time, after all). None of that excuses his record, but it does put it into its proper context.

And then there’s this: If we want Republicans to evolve and to vote correctly on LGBT issues, does it make any sense to reject an apology for his most egregious past anti-gay comment? Ambassador Hormel now accepts the apology, so do the LGBT activists and groups working for LGBT equality—why shouldn’t the rest of us?

On the plus side, by 2005 he was openly criticising the Bush/Cheney regime and in 2007 he said they were, "’the lowest in capacity, in capability, in policy, in consensus—almost every area’" of any presidency in the last forty years.” Republicans just didn’t say that kind of thing then—and they still don’t. He would also be the first former enlisted member of the armed forces to serve as secretary, and the first Viet Nam veteran. These are no small things.

So, what are we left with? A fairly standard conservative record in the US Senate, not necessarily any worse than a conservative Democrat of the same era, a Republican who criticised the Bush/Cheney regime, while supporting some of its excesses (like the un-American “PATRIOT” Act). He is, like most politicians, flawed. Put another way, he’s like most politicians.

After a lot of thought, I support Hagel’s nomination. He was a pretty common conservative for his era, and he wasn’t especially anti-gay (and what he was most wrong about, he’s apologised for). And, there’s the fact that our enemies on the radical right oppose him. This is, in fact, mostly what pushed me from the “not oppose” column to “support”.

My support is hardly staunch, nor is this a ringing endorsement. And maybe my willingness to stick it to our adversaries is just as self-serving as their opposition is. The real reason for my position is that we’re not likely to get a “more acceptable” nominee, certainly not one that could win Senate confirmation. President Obama likes Hagel and says he can work with him. I take him at his word, however weak my personal enthusiasm may be, and support confirmation.

Caption for the photo above: President Barack Obama announces former Senator Chuck Hagel, second from left, as his nominee for Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, second from right, as his nominee for Director of the CIA, during an announcement in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 7, 2013. Joining them are departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, and acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, right. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Spinning again

The same far right religious political guy I wrote about last week is back at it, desperately trying to spin poll results to try and make it look like they’re not losing. I said last week, “I’m beginning to feel embarrassed for them and their obvious desperation.” Were their goal and agenda not so awful, they’d be a hilarious joke now.

But I’m not laughing anymore.

The Sunday Herald newspaper released yet another poll showing that a majority of New Zealanders supports marriage equality: 53.9 per cent of Kiwis supported marriage equality and 38.1 per cent did not. Our good friends at “Protect [sic] Marriage NZ” ignored the actual poll, and instead headlined their spin, “Support for Gay Marriage Continues Downward Slide” (my long-standing policy is that I don’t link to far right sites, so to read it yourself, you’ll have to copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/WhFW6L). My stomach already hurt from laughing at them over the headline, but it positively ached when I read that his anti-gay campaign:
“…is welcoming a Herald on Sunday poll today showing that support for redefining marriage has fallen from a previous high of 63% in a ONE News Colmar Brunton poll last May to just 53% now.”
The religious extremist group is comparing a poll for the NZ Herald to one conducted by a completely different polling company at a completely different time for a completely different media company, and pretending that one can directly compare one to the other. How can we do that, exactly? We don’t know the polling method, the margin of error, the confidence level, the precise questions asked or anything else that would help us determine what, if anything, can be compared between the two polls, yet our opponents are sure—SURE!—that the new poll shows support has “fallen”. Why?

The reason for their deception about this poll is that they’re trying to reinforce their silly claim that a Research New Zealand poll in September showed a decrease in support for marriage equality, when the truth is that support actually grew and opposition fell (I pointed out their fallacy at the time).

The screen grab above shows their Tweet announcing a link to their absurd spin, and my snarky response. My link is to a course from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand called “Statistical Analysis”, which, the institution says, “introduces you to statistical methods for analysing business or technical data, displaying and describing data, and using formal methods to draw conclusions from data.” Clearly, they need to be taught how to read statistical data, because they have no idea how to interpret poll results.

Or, do they? While they’re making themselves into a laughing stock by continuing to present absurd, easily debunked spin as if it was true, there’s something actually pretty sinister about their PR spin, as if they believe that lying often enough and loud enough will somehow turn things around for them.

Oh wait, did I just go there—did I call them liars? Yes, I did, because it’s now clear—after their lies about several polls and other issues—that the most accurate word to describe them is, in fact liars, and here’s why: Saying something that’s demonstrably false once means one is mistaken, doing so over and over and over again makes one a liar. Doing so to promote a far-right, anti-gay religious extremist political agenda also makes one a bigot.

Holiday days

I’ve been taking some time off from things, including this blog. But now it’s time for business—there are things to discuss.

The weather is still glorious and warm, which makes it easy to stay in holiday mode. Parts of the South Island had temperatures over the weekend that were nearly the hottest on record. It was hot in Auckland, but not quite that bad, and it cooled off in the evening.

This summer is predicted to be sunnier, warmer and drier than last year, which is fine with me. The fact that Auckland and parts north may have high humidity at times, is not as welcome: As we said in Chicago, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

All of which makes it hard to break out of holiday mode, but it’s time. There are things to discuss.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Not so travellin’ man

The thing I always liked best about the blogosphere is the interaction—discussion, debate, or merely expanding discussion across blogs (I like when this happens in podcasts, too, but it seems more common among blogs). I think it’s interesting when bloggers comment on each other’s posts, in a kind of a grander discussion, far bigger than mere commenting can allow.

So, in that spirit, this post is about my own status, compared to something Roger Green mentioned in one of his recent posts. I mention him and his blog a lot, and not just because I like and respect him, but, in the context of this blog, because he’s the kind of blogger I like the most: Eclectic. He writes about many different topics, and, since I do, I have a sort of a natural connection. And, I steal frequently from his blog, of course. Actually, we frequently link back and forth, which is kind of my point.

Anyway, Roger recently posted one of his “Ask Roger Anything” posts (which I've copied). A few days ago, he posted the answer to my question, and it got me to thinking about my own travels.

The map above shows the states I’ve spent significant time in (in blue). My criteria for “spending significant time in” was that I had to spend the night there or, at least, make a significant visit, usually for tourism. I landed in both Massachusetts and West Virginia, but flew out again shortly afterward, so I don’t count them. I’ve also driven through at least parts of Wyoming, Nebraska (possibly Kansas), Arkansas and Maryland, and taken a train through Delaware and New Jersey. But the only states that matter for my count are the ones I spent significant time in, and there were 19 of those, plus the District of Columbia.

When I was in university, I calculated that I’d been in about half of Illinois’ 102 counties, but my criteria was much looser: Some of them I’d only driven through, but not actually stopped in. If I had to guess, I’d say that I spent time in about the same percentage of Illinois counties as US states. Interestingly (for me), the reason the tally was as high as it was is because of politics. That will be a topic of its own sometime this year.

My average is worse internationally. Aside from the USA, I’ve been to Canada (two provinces), Australia (two states), New Zealand (duh!), United Kingdom (specifically, England, Wales and Scotland), Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. I’ve also landed and “de-planed” in Iceland, but I don’t count that. So, out of 196 countries in the world, I’ve only been to ten (counting both countries of which I’m a citizen).

Roughly 36% of Americans have passports, which is dramatically better than it used to be. However, 75% of New Zealanders have passports—more than twice as many. “World’s Greatest Travellers” and all that.

This year, if things go well, I may add one or two more US states to my tally, but there are no plans that would allow me to add more countries to my list this year. But neither list is finished—yet.

I coloured the map above. The original blank map is by Lokal_Profil [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.