}

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Feijoa time

It’s feijoa time in New Zealand. We Americans can be forgiven for not knowing what that means—but we really should.

Feijoas, Acca sellowiana, a member of the myrtle family, are a fruit native to Brazil but hugely popular here in New Zealand. I know the trees are gown ornamentally in Australia and other places, but I have no idea whether they’re as mad for the fruit as Kiwis are: We have the fruit, frozen concoctions, and even feijoa-infused vodka. Among other things.

This time of year, workplaces see people bringing in bags of the fruit to give away to co-workers before the fruit goes off—as it does, rather quickly. But while it’s around, it’s a feast.

One eats feijoas, typically, by scooping out the sweet centres with a spoon. The closer to the outside, the more tart—even astringent—the taste, And gritty, too. With so little return from each fruit, it’s no wonder people concentrate on the sweet (full disclosure: I quite like the more tart bit nearer the outside, but not TOO far out…).

It always used to be that people needed to plant a male and female tree to get fruit, but there are now self-pollinating varieties (there’s a Bob McCoskrie joke in there, but I couldn’t possibly comment). When ripe, the fruit just drops to the ground—rather a lot, apparently, and nearly all at once. Which is why people bring in bags full to their workplaces: How else are they going to get rid of such bounty before it rots?

I’d never heard of feijoas before I moved to New Zealand. Now, I can’t imagine life without them. Apparently, it’s a seductive fruit, too.

Photo accompanying this post is by Arthur Schenck. This blog's Creative Commons licence applies.

Solutions and problems

Today the NZ Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee reported on the 2011 General Election. It was, um, interesting.

I found out the report was released from a Tweet (I forget who it was from). I immediately went and downloaded it and read it right then (yes, I really am that much of a politics nerd). My overriding impression is that while some points were valid, overall the report seemed to be made up of solutions looking for problems.

Most of the report is taken up with the minutiae of running elections in New Zealand, some of it interesting, if only slightly, to people it does not affect; most of it is completely uninteresting. Download and read the report for yourself to determine which you think is which.

For me, one of the eyebrow-raising moments was in Section 5 “Statutory and regulatory frameworks”, specifically, the parts about “Election Advertising.” The committee report said:

We recommend to the Government that it consider prohibiting electioneering activity on election day, including the wearing of rosettes, lapel badges, ribbons, streamers, and party apparel, other than the wearing of a party rosette by a scrutineer inside a polling station.

Quite frankly, I think this is utterly daft. Under current law, anyone can wear an official party rosette (for American readers: A bit like a ribbon one might win at a fair, in the colours of a part and with the party’s logo on it). They can also have ribbons or streamers in party colours affixed to their car or person (no bumper stickers, though), so long as they don’t have the party logo. On election day, people can also wear lapel pins with party name and logo.

The point of all these somewhat odd and complicated rules is to prevent voters from feeling intimidated or feeling coerced. While a few hundred complaints are received by the Electoral Commission every election, and even though 76 percent, according to the report, deal with this stuff, there has apparently NEVER been any suggestion that any voter felt intimidated or coerced under the law as it is now. Why change?!

Current law restricts free speech: People are not allowed to openly express political opinions on election day except in certain restricted ways (and even less so online, which the report doesn’t adequately address). The committee heard no evidence that the situation under the current law has caused any harm. Even so, the committee wants to further restrict freedom of speech—why?!

I was a Scrutineer (what we in Illinois called “poll watchers”) in two elections: 1999 and 2002. In both cases, I wore a Labour Party rosette in the polling place (weird to me as an American-born Kiwi), and in both cases I could hear voters asking elections officials about it (they said, of course, it was permitted under the law). To be honest, as a Kiwi of American origin, I’m not sure that scrutineers should be allowed to wear party rosettes IN the polling place, but I see no reason to further restrict other people’s free speech—and, to reiterate, the committee is NOT proposing to end rosettes in polling places, just an end to such displays for others.

The committee report notes the rising importance of early/advance voting (before election day) and notes that the Labour Party members of the committee saw no point in the election day restrictions because “no such restrictions apply prior to polling day and in light of the increasing and significant numbers of voters who choose to exercise an early vote.” I completely agree with that.

Still, other parts are worth note: The committee dismisses stand-alone referenda, and suggests that the government move toward electronic voting, make things easier and better for Kiwis living overseas, and a whole host of other things. But the area I’ve highlighted is one where I think they got it totally wrong.

Democracy is both robust and fragile: It can survive despite all the odds, and yet it does best with careful nurturing. The report of the committee advocates some minor and needed tweaks to New Zealand’s election system, misses others, and makes wacky suggestions about one—like a solution in search of a problem.

Democracy, however, is not a problem to be solved; attempts to restrict it are.

Our weekend diversion

On Anzac Day we visited family in Hamilton. Not unusual by itself, but we haven’t been there in quite awhile.

Anzac Day (April 25) is a Public Holiday in New Zealand (well, the morning is…), and like a lot of New Zealanders, we too the Friday off, too. So We headed off to Hamilton to stay the night—dogs, too. We were staying with Nigel’s cousin, who we’d never visited in her new house.

First, though, we were meeting up with family for lunch at the mall in Hamilton called Te Awa (bad phone camera photo above) at The Base. The site itself is a former NZ Defence Force base that was no longer needed, so the land was handed back to the local iwi, Tainui. Sensibly, they’ve redeveloped the land, and it is now a major shopping destination for Hamilton and the Waikato Region.

The last time we were there, we were living in Paeroa and the mall hadn’t been built: It’s very different. Now, after many years back in Auckland, two things struck me about the mall. First, the clientele was much browner than the malls I usually go to (just a fact, not a value judgement), and second a value judgement: The younger men were particularly attractive. Sure, we get both in our local malls, but not with such density.

I probably didn’t see as much of the mall itself as I could have, but I have to say that one other impression overshadowed everything else: The American-ness of the way in which the carparking area was very pedestrian unfriendly. Just like American shopping centre areas, it would have been easier—and safer—to drive than to walk. I thought this was really weird, and really—really—bad planning. Maybe one day they’ll fix it.

Still, the lunch was very nice, the time with family even better, and we enjoyed our time with them and at Nigel’s cousin’s house. The dogs seemed to like the trip, too.

We went home on Friday, and still had a whole weekend ahead of us—now THAT is what I call a good holiday weekend!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekend Diversion: Beautiful


I don’t usually do these Weekend Diversions about a specific song, but this one warrants it. “Beautiful” (written by Linda Perry and performed by Christina Aguilera) is a positive song from 2002 in a genre that sometimes doesn’t encourage that.

I blogged about Linda Perry, who wrote the song, last week. What I didn’t know until I was researching background information for that post, was that Perry originally played the song for P!nk, who asked to record the song. Perry refused. She later also played it for Aguilera who sang it, and Perry knew she was perfect for it and agreed to let her record it. Supposedly this caused a divide between Perry and P!nk that has never healed.

I referred to this song twice before: Once (briefly) to mention how TVNZ censored it, and also last year about how it was one of those affirming songs that come along every so often:
I noticed awhile back that every few years, or maybe once a decade, a song comes along that reminds youths that they’re okay—despite what their peers say, despite what society says, they’re really okay and they just need to hang on and things will get better. Some examples: “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” – Billy Joel (1985); “You Get What You Give” (aka, incorrectly, as “You’ve Got The Music In You”) – New Radicals (1998); “Beautiful” - Christina Aguilera (2002), and others.
That was written in the context of my effusive praise for P!nk’s “Fucking Perfect”, which has a similar theme (at the time, I didn’t know her connection to “Beautiful”). Someone really ought to do a study on these sorts of songs and why they pop up every so often.

Anyway, “Beautiful” is one of my favourites, though I like all the others on that list, too. It was also one of the last CD singles I ever bought, and it included the video above. I loved the affirmative imagery in the video as much as the lyrics or performance.

TVNZ’s censorship made me angry.

When it was still a charted single, TVNZ decided to censor the video. The specific section they censored is this (link takes you to YouTube). A few seconds, but ones that mattered. TVNZ claimed they were acting in place of parents, which was a bullshit excuse for blatant homophobia. New Zealand has among the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world, and positive images like that could have helped some struggling young people to feel better about themselves. There’s the old joke about, “no sex, please, we’re British”. Add to that, “no gay-affirming, please, we’re TVNZ”. No, I’ve never forgiven them for that act of homophobic bigotry. Deal with it.

Maybe that bit of official censorship cemented my appreciation for “Beautiful”, not that it really needed any help. In any case, I still find it a positive, affirming song, and an affecting video—and one of the best things that Christina Aguilera has ever done. Reason enough to watch again.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fighting the fight

The photo above is from one of the NZ folks I follow on Twitter and whose blog I read regularly, Frank Macskasy. I’ve consistently found his blog to be among the most thorough NZ politics blogs out there and, unlike some others, very accessible. I highly recommend it.

The photo is from his post today about the Stop Asset Sales March today in Wellington. Some of his other photos depict children participating, which is something that frankly makes me uncomfortable, no matter which end of the spectrum is doing it. Parents can and should teach their values, and that should mean political values, but taking children to political rallies and having them hold signs that they can scarcely read, much less understand, just seems a bit wrong to me, again, not matter the end of the spectrum.

Still, I think it’s important to help convey the message that plenty of ordinary New Zealanders oppose asset sales, and the photo above is one of my favourites that Frank posted. Honestly, I don’t see anything that can now stop the partial sale of Mighty River Power, and those shares will inevitably end up in foreign ownership. Both are colossally bad for New Zealand.

But it’s important to document that the National/Act Government started selling off the property of the New Zealand people without a real mandate (despite their propaganda claims) and with huge opposition. A saner future government, one that actually cares about New Zealand and its people, must fix this—and learn from it.

In the meantime, reality—not spin—must be documented.

Update 28 April: Protesters at the National Party Conference being held at Hanmer Springs came up with a clever way to protest: The set up a "toll booth" at a "privatised bridge" to show what New Zealanders can expect from National's privatisation agenda, in this case, its so-called "public/private partnership" method for building infrastructure. The protesters weren't collecting money, just making a point.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Twitterversary

Today is my “Twitterversary”: I joined Twitter on April 25, 2007—six years ago today. I don’t seem to have mentioned that before. I now mention it mostly in other ways.

I had a look through my blog archives, and the earliest post about it I could find was February 6, 2009, nearly two years after I joined. Twitter itself began in 2006, becoming publicly available in July of that year.

Twitter was the second social network I joined, after MySpace (I joined Facebook a few months after Twitter). My original plan was to use those social networks to promote my podcast. I did that for awhile, but Twitter was one of the first that I started using for other things—or, to put it another way, it was the probably the first that I stopped using to promote my podcast (although in those days I hardly used Facebook for anything). I set up a separate Twitter account for my AmeriNZ Podcast in December of 2009, and one for 2Political Podcast in July of 2010.

Over the years, I’ve tired other social networks, including several from Google: Buzz, Wave and Google+ (the first two are defunct), along with Diaspora and several podcast-specific ones. I stopped using MySpace pretty much when most everyone I knew did: When Rupert Murdoch bought it. But it’s only been in the past couple years that I’ve actually used Faceboook. I still use Google+.

However, Twitter has endured through all that, even if there were periods at the beginning when I’d go a very long time without signing in, much less Tweeting. As the service has grown, it’s gained some useful inventions that came primarily from users—especially “@” replies and hashtags. And that growing usability made me use it more.

I’ve watched quite a bit of history unfold in real-time: Storms and natural disasters here and overseas (including the Canterbury earthquakes, the fatal tornadoes here in Auckland’s North Shore and the Japanese earthquake), the Iranian rebellion, the Arab Spring, demonstrations all over the world. There has also been live commenting on live TV (including interesting things like the recent enactment of marriage equality in New Zealand). Some of it has been fascinating, even exciting, and of course a lot had been pretty banal. Still, I’ve enjoyed every minute—and when I didn’t I just closed Twitter for awhile.
I’ve also interacted with dozens and dozens (hundreds?) of people. Some of them I knew already, most of them I didn’t. Some I later met in real life. There was also one I’m sorry that I never got to meet. That human connection is part of what has kept Twitter fun for me.

In the early days, I sometimes got in Twitter arguments, until I realised how silly the very idea was. Now, I just have discussions that, even when the remarks are pointed, remain civil. One such sometimes-heated discussion had a very positive result.

I’ve also enjoyed the discipline of the 140 character limit—brevity being something I obviously pay little attention to on this blog. I enjoy being able to make an observation, wry remark or joke in 140 characters or less, and I know when I’ve done it well when the Tweet is Re-Tweeted (shared) or favourite. Instant feedback is part of the allure of social networks for me as it is for many people I know.

The image above is my first Tweet. Well, sort of: The image comes from a service called My First Tweet (not affiliated with Twitter). I retrieved it on my Second Twitterversary. I believe that the photo was what I was using at that time, not what I originally used (which, if memory serves, was my podcast album art). In any event, of you think the Tweet isn’t very spectacular, consider that the very first Tweet ever sent was “just setting up my twttr”, sent by Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey on March 26, 2006. In fact, the next 13 Tweets were all the same thing.

Twitter really is what you make of it. At the moment, I’ve made 29,289 Tweets, an average of about 13 1/3 per day. Some days I send a lot, like when a news event is happening. There are also periods in which I won’t send any at all for days. The future is likely to be more of the same.

And it will be Tweeted.

Still unhelpful

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: NZ’s far-right religious “coalition” created to fight against marriage equality says their website was attacked, and they instantly accuse their opponents of having done it. Actually, this is a new story.

Bob McCoskrie, the guy behind the anti-gay marriage Protect [sic] Marriage NZ (and the related Family [sic] First NZ), claims that his website was attacked. According to a press release reported by last night by the website for TVNZ’s One News, McCoskrie says that about 9pm on Sunday night, four days after marriage equality was enacted by the New Zealand Parliament, his site was subjected to a Denial of Service attack.

Bob said his site was taken down by his webhost, adding, “This is no ordinary webhost—we are using a host in the US that specialises in hosting websites that are likely to be attacked.” Meaning… what, exactly? That this was a huge DoS attack, so big his webhost couldn’t cope? He doesn’t say.

But what he does say is extraordinarily unhelpful for someone who claims to value honest debate:
“It is disappointing that some opponents [of] our stance towards marriage are resorting to desperate—but failed—attempts to shut us down. We were also disappointed that our original web host company based in Christchurch was targeted with offensive emails simply because they were a business that we wanted to support and who were willing to host some of our websites.”
What would Bob’s opponents have to gain, now that the bill is law? He says, “We know that campaigns around the world seeking to protect [sic] marriage are benefitting from the resources on our site.” Maybe, but all of it is available from other sites, and most of it is just reposted from foreign, mostly American sites.

What else does Bob offer as a motive? He says his site as “has registered close to 25,000 pledges” from people who say they will vote against any MP who voted in favour of marriage equality. Um, so? At the moment, there are 3.3 MILLION eligible voters in New Zealand, of which 3.087 MILLION are enrolled. 25,000? That represents about .008% of enrolled voters—less than one percent. That’s hardly a serious threat. As time passes, people will move on—they always do—and by the time the election rolls around in a year and a half, even those who were opponents last week will have moved on, too (apart from Bob’s most ardent far right supporters, possibly).

Bob is merely projecting, making assumptions that, because Bob thinks his opponents feel threatened by him, they must be behind it. This is the second time that Bob has claimed that his site was attacked by his opponents, and neither time has Bob produced any actual proof.

Bob is defaming all of his political opponents by accusing “some” of being behind the alleged attack (and alleged is the appropriate word here since Bob is making accusations of criminal behaviour). This is extremely offensive.

As I said back in July:
No one should support censorship in a political debate, nor the suppression of arguments for or against a matter of public policy. Similarly, politically-motivated attacks on any website to suppress its speech and ideas, or to make it appear that is happening, are unconscionable and must be denounced. But in doing so, offering unsubstantiated smears against one’s opponents is no more acceptable, and completely unhelpful for robust fact-based debate.
That’s every bit as true now: Bob must not make unsubstantiated smears against his opponents.

But let’s play Bob’s game: The attackers were actually people from HIS side! They’d have a lot to gain: They’d get media attention for Bob, something he often struggles to get otherwise. As a bonus, it would look like reinforcement of their absurd claim of being “victims” of what his supporters like to call “homofascists” (though, as far as I can remember, Bob himself has never used that slur). This MUST be what really happened, right? I mean, it makes total sense to me, so it must be true! Yes, I'm being sarcastic.

My point is simple: Anyone can make a plausible claim about one’s political opponents when one doesn’t have to provide any proof. Allegations of criminal activity are serious, and should not be a soundbite for political propaganda.

Because, propaganda is what Bob’s press release actually was. He ends by declaring that he expects his website “to operate for a few years yet as the full impact of the law takes effect and as new attempts are made to redefine marriage even further to allow polygamy and group marriage.” Far right religious activists are obsessed with polygamy—despite the fact it’s illegal in all the countries that have enacted marriage equality for same-gender couples, and that the only countries that permit it are also the most stridently anti-gay.

Bob’s obsession with polygamy is related as more than the silly closing line of his propaganda: He never lets facts get in the way of a good yarn. If he wants to be taken seriously, he needs to start dealing in the fact-based world. If he has verifiable proof that his opponents were really involved, he must produce that proof. Otherwise, we must assume he’s lying for political gain.

Hacking and DoS attacks are very real problems, but let’s have a little perspective: Just today, the AP's Twitter feed was hacked, sending out a fake Tweet about the White House being bombed, which instantly sent the Dow Jones plummeting 140 points (the FBI is investigating). Also today, servers at Auckland University were hacked, affecting 4500 students, potentially including illegal access to their enrolment information and scholarship applications. This is what real cybercrime is and does. I’m sorry, but a NZ political site getting a DoS attack is an inconvenience for maybe a day, and unimportant compared to attacks like these.

So, yes, cybercrimes like hacking and DoS attacks are wrong, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted. But it’s every bit as wrong to make unsubstantiated smears against one’s political opponents just to try and score some propaganda points. Once again, Bob’s contribution to New Zealand’s political debate has been very unhelpful.

Looking ridiculous

It’s not easy to win good attention on the Internet, as self-proclaimed experts constantly remind us. However, losing the Internet is easy.

In New Zealand,we have a couple prominent far-right religious political activists (that description is my honestly held opinion). A lot of people, me included, think that they tend toward self-parody, more often than not, but part of the reason for that is we’re political adversaries. Fair enough.

One of the two, Colin Craig, is a millionaire businessman who also runs a registered political party he calls the Conservative Party. It ran candidates in the last general election and failed to gain any seats in Parliament. Craig himself previously failed in an attempt to be elected Mayor of Auckland. As a result of all his political activity, he often tends to end up on the wrong end of Internet “buzz”. This time, he’s really shot himself in the foot.

New Zealand has a satirical website along the lines of The Onion. I’d never heard of it until yesterday, but now thousands of New Zealanders know it exists, and we have Colin Craig to thank for that.

The site, The Civilian, ran a satirical piece on the enactment of marriage equality called “Maurice Williamson looking pretty stupid after floods”. As such sites do, it attributed a quote to Colin that he didn’t actually say. Because satire sites make stuff up. By definition.

Colin didn’t think it was funny and called in his lawyers. Yesterday they demanded (the letter is viewable on The Civilian), on Colin’s behalf, that the article be taken down, a specific apology be posted and $500 be paid to help cover Colin’s legal fees. They claimed that quotation marks made the quote appear real, particularly when it appeared along side an MP’s quote that “we understand may largely be accurate.”

Debatable as all that is and may be, when someone sets his lawyers after someone and threatens a defamation suit, it’s pretty serious. Which means, of course, it then became a massive joke on the Internet.

The Civilian itself responded in character (see article link above), adding the apology, slightly modified, to the beginning, and adding: “We would like to note that we have also taken the additional measure of bolding the statement in question so that everybody knows which thing it was that Mr. Craig did not say.”

This was an extremely mild reaction compared to the many people who took Twitter and other social media to mock Colin far more pointedly than he ever was in the original piece. Some of what I saw was even verging on being nasty (and no, I didn’t save any of them, so I can’t link to them to illustrate this).

All of this made it a story that was reported by New Zealand’s newsmedia, and this morning the New Zealand Herald posted it’s story—and quoted in full “What Colin Craig did not say in the satirical post on the Civilian.” They even put that line in boldface.

What we have here is a perfect example of what many call The Streisand Effect: “The phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.” Colin didn’t like being made fun of, and ended up making sure that anyone in New Zealand who wanted to see it for themselves could—and would. The vast majority of us would never have known about it had he not tried to censor the piece in the first place.

In that Herald article, Colin asserted that he does indeed have a "well developed sense of humour". Obviously, many people disagree with him on that, and he’s as entitled to his opinion of himself as others are to disagree with him. However, he also said, again according to the Herald: "But when it comes to statements being reported in the public sphere ... there is no room for humour." Is Colin joking?! Politics is the BEST place for humour!

Let’s not forget this whole thing happened because Colin proudly placed himself and his party as opponents of the marriage equality bill and tried to persuade Parliament to reject it. After his defeat, he still talked about trying to get his way on this issue. As a self-proclaimed opponent of a matter up for public debate, as someone who advocated a position on a public issue and tried to influence Parliament, and as someone who apparently wants to be an elected politician, he has to learn to expect ridicule, satire—and also strident opposition. ALL politicians and persons debating in “the public sphere” must expect that! Colin doesn’t get any special treatment or special rights or a special exemption. Quite frankly, if he can’t handle that, then he may want to reconsider whether politics is really a good career for him.

We all hope that political debate (and election campaigns) are focused on the issues. In New Zealand, they are most of the time. But satire and humour are an integral part of any debate or campaign—indeed, they may help keep things from getting too serious and too pressured.

And that’s no joke.

Update: Colin Craig has withdrawn his complaint, according the Dominion-Post. Unsurprisingly, the article reports that The Civilian's editor said the site's "servers had been struggling to keep up with the massive spike of traffic caused by publicity of the incident." The same article also reported that Colin "said after legal advice, he would be filing a complaint against a television network by the end of the week." It'll be interesting to see how folks on the Internet respond to that.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Language of love


Social networks are an amazing thing. I find all sorts of blog topics through them, and this video is no different. My good friend Stephen Fry* Tweeted a link to this video, and when I watched it, I was amazed.

The video, “The Language of Love”, features 17-year-old Charlie struggling to find the words to be true to himself and his best friend. It was written and performed by Kim Ho, under the guidance of Australian playwright Tommy Murphy, and was directed by Laura Scrivano as part of the Voices Project from the Australian Theatre for Young People. I think it’s really powerful.

As I’ve said several times before, I like spoken word performance, whether a monologue, performance piece, dramatic poetry—I think there’s something magical about words performed by the human voice. As a podcaster, that probably figures. But this video is also notable for the writing and acting, which make it even more appealing.

They’ve also posted a “making of” video to go along with this video. It’s also worth checking out. The original version, “Transcendence” (which became “Language of Love”) is also online.

I love social networks. I find all kinds of amazing things through them. This video is just the latest.

*I am, of course, joking. Stephen Fry is the biggest celebrity to follow me back on Twitter (I’m one of 51,621 people he follows, and one of 5,713,561 people who follow him), but I’m quite sure he has no idea who I am and never sees my Tweets. Still, the fact that he does follow me does make me smile.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Weekend Diversion: 4 Non Blondes


We all like songs other people hate, and vice versa. Arthur’s Law, and all that. This week’s Weekend Diversion is a perfect example.

I liked “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes since it was first released back in 1992 on the album Bigger, Better, Faster, More! Part of the reason I liked it was, if I’m honest, this video: I loved the hat worn by lead singer (and writer of the song), Linda Perry. But I also liked the song itself, of course. Interestingly, Perry once said she wasn’t a fan of her own band at the time because of what she called the "fluffy polished bullshit" sound of the album this song was part of.

The title was chosen to avoid confusion with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?”, the phrase actually used in the song; “What’s Up” is not in the song at all. It was reasonably successful, reaching 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100, as well as number 2 in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom (though it only made it to 33 in Canada).

Critical opinion of the song is mixed. It’s made a couple lists of the best one-hit wonders, as well as couple lists of the worst song ever. Yep, every song you love, someone else hates, etc.

To me, the most remarkable thing about that song is Linda Perry herself. She’s long been a force in music as a writer and producer. Among the many artists she’s worked with, she co-wrote and produced much of Pink's very successful album Missundaztood, and wrote “Lonely Girl” and the #1 hit, "Get the Party Started". She also wrote “Beautiful”, the #1 hit for Christina Aguilera, for which Perry received a 2004 Grammy Nomination for “Song of the Year” (Aguilera won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for that song).

Perry, who has always been openly lesbian, is engaged to Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene in the long running TV show, Roseanne.

People may love or loathe the song, but I think respect for Linda Perry’s talents—and integrity—should be pretty universal.

As an side, I replied to a comment on last week’s Weekend Diversion and mentioned, obliquely, that I’d be posting this video. I was aware I’d started a post about the song, and at the time I assumed it was an unfinished post from last year. Turns out, it was actually from August of 2011, but since it had nothing but links, it wasn’t even a rough draft. Technically. I should look through more of my drafts folders to see what I haven’t posted!

Documenting

Can you trust what you read on a blog? Is the information reliable, or the opinion supported by credible evidence? It’s actually not that hard to tell—the answer is a bibliography.

Lots of people tune out at the mention of a bibliography, yet, in sense, that’s what links are. I hadn’t really thought about it like that until a few years ago when I asked on this blog whether I should keep dead links. My friend Mark from Slap said something in the comments that’s stuck with me ever since:
I also leave them as is. Links are still the closest thing we've got to a bibliography when it comes to web pages.

It sucks when material is removed from the web, and it's frustrating for readers, but even if a link doesn't work anymore, the citation can be important.
He’s absolutely right, and I’ve been sure to include links ever since. There was one post (I’ve forgotten which one, but it was a long time ago) in which I used footnotes instead of links, and it was to make sure the sources of my information were documented. I didn’t do it again because, among other things, I didn’t want to make readers scroll down to find out what the footnote was for; links are easier for readers.

I believe that among the duties of any blogger is providing links to background information so that readers can check things out for themselves. So for example, if I mention a statistic or reprint a quote, I usually provide a link to the source I got it from. Sometimes, that’ll be a link to another of my posts, possibly the first time I mentioned the same thing. Whenever possible, I trace things back to the original source, rather than link to someone else who quotes from it (and if I link to another of my blog posts, it’ll usually have the original source links).

This is similar to what I do in my “offline” world. I often make PDFs of articles that I find interesting or that I know I may want to refer to in the future to check all the sorts of things that don’t always get recorded in histories, or that may not be easily accessible. Many times, they’re for future blog or podcast topics, and I need the original links to include when I publish.

Here’s what I do to document them:

First, I often use Print Friendly to make PDFs of articles. Many sites have it as an included option (including this blog; if you look at the comments for any post, you’ll see the button). This usually creates a highly readable print version of the article, and it includes the original URL in the PDF (and the URL’s clickable, which is a bonus).

Some sites don’t play well with Print Friendly, though, and then I usually use Print instead, choosing the option to make a PDF. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always include the complete URL and the fragment that does appear is often not clickable; not very useful when you want to return later.

So, I add an electronic post-it kind of note inside the PDF, where I paste the original URL. I have the full version of Adobe Acrobat, but you can probably do it in other PDF creator programs, too; I don’t think Acrobat Reader let’s you (someone can let me know in the comments if it does).

Both of these options are fine for minimal citation, since it provides all the basic information now required by many standard academic style reference manuals (intended for research papers). The required style is moving away from including the date retrieved (Wikipedia still uses that), and date is the one thing that’s not directly accessible in my method (unless I type it in the note, which I haven’t yet done). Still, I suppose it could be inferred from the date I created the PDF.

I do all of this because I’m pretty pedantic about documenting things for my blog and podcast, whether I ever use the information or not. If was ever to write a book, I’d be glad to have all that data for citation.

I know that most people aren’t even nearly as obsessive about citing their sources, particularly if it’s for something they may never use for blogging. But if I’ve learned one thing from the recent marriage equality debate in New Zealand, it’s that documenting source material is really important for establishing credibility.

Be all that as it may, you now this is what I look for when evaluating information I find on blogs or news sites: Links to sources. They really are the closest thing we've got to a bibliography for web pages.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Final analysis

All stories eventually end, and in New Zealand that includes political debate. Kiwis almost never return to a debate once it’s done—they simply move on. That’s true no matter their position on the issue they debated, and it’s one of the things I like the most about NZ society: It doesn’t keep re-litigating the same issues over and over and over like the USA does.

So as we leave New Zealand’s marriage equality debate for the history books, I thought I’d add my final thoughts on why our side won.

1. It was time.

There’s no denying that momentum is clearly in favour of marriage equality, and that momentum is picking up speed. Since the Netherlands became the first country to enact marriage equality a dozen years ago, the rate at which countries and US states have done so has become faster. So, for New Zealand (as for many countries), it was never a question of if, but rather of when. That being the case, it made no sense to wait—Kiwis are a practical people.

2. US President Barack Obama.

It was only May of last year—not even twelve months ago!—that the US President declared he supported marriage equality. Here in New Zealand, Kiwis immediately took to social media to pressure NZ politicians to do the same, and Labour Leader David Shearer finally did (after his predecessor ruled out a law change). Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key of the conservative National Party made supportive noises, but said there was no clamour for change. Just a few days later, Labour MP Louisa Wall announced that she would sponsor a member’s bill to enact marriage equality, and did so by the end of that month. Two months later, the bill was drawn from the ballot and the debate began.

Obama’s public support made it easier for politicians to support marriage equality, just as UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement seven months earlier (“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative") made it acceptable for NZ politicians, especially in the National Party, to think about publicly supporting equality. President Obama then provided the final spark that started it all. Would it have happened without that? Sooner or later, absolutely—but I’m convinced it would have been later rather than sooner.

3. The intellectual bankruptcy of our opponents.

I’ve long said that there’s no such thing as a rational secular reason for opposing marriage equality, and that all arguments against it are based on religious beliefs, anti-gay animus or both. That was certainly the case in New Zealand, where the opposition came from church leaders and professional far right religious activists. I repeatedly debunked them on this blog, calling out their misrepresentation of polling data (here, and also here and again here), their thinly-disguised bigotry and their absurd arguments. Ah, their arguments—they helped us win!

Our adversaries argued that marriage equality for loving couples would be a “slippery slope” leading to polygamy (by which they actually meant polygyny, since polyandry isn’t legal in any country). Of course, polygamy is illegal in every country and US state with marriage equality, and the countries in which it IS legal are all anti-gay—sometimes viciously so. It was one of their dumbest arguments, and no one outside their small circle of true believers ever took it seriously (related, see also “Bob’s big lie”).

So, with that silly argument going nowhere, our adversaries next turned to the raising of children as an argument against marriage equality because a married same-gender couple would be able to adopt children. Gay people could already adopt children, only gay people in a couple could not. Most people saw this situation as plain stupid.

This tactic is where our adversaries’ bigotry most clearly shone through: They played it as if adoption by gay people would be something new, and they deliberately tried to tap into latent prejudices otherwise mainstream people had about gay people raising children. To do so, they relied on debunked studies that the radicals claimed “proved” gay people make bad parents. I blogged specifically about that last month and also the next day.

This was their most disgusting and offensive campaign tactic because they deliberately tried to portray gay people as bad parents—and quietly implied that gay people shouldn’t be allowed around children. You’d be forgiven for thinking Anita Bryant was their leader!

None of that was enough, of course: Fair-minded mainstream Kiwis saw through the lies and thinly-disguised bigotry of the radical right. While our professional adversaries didn’t resort to the bald anti-gay rhetoric and slime that earlier activists used in 2004 and especially when Homosexual Law Reform was advanced in the 1980s, the reality is that they simply didn’t have to: Ordinary, non-professional radicals did it for them all over the Internet and on talkback radio. Instead, the professionals used their dogwhistle politics—but found out that mainstream Kiwis couldn’t hear them or didn’t care.

4. New Zealand is a secular country.

Our adversaries couldn’t get any traction with their arguments because they were all based on conservative religious beliefs. New Zealand is a secular nation, even though a majority claim religious belief. Unlike the USA, religion and politics are firmly separated in New Zealand and Kiwis clearly like it that way. Even among religious people, many think it’s rude to force their religious beliefs onto others.

Also, New Zealand doesn’t have an influential religious right. In fact, most Kiwis get annoyed with rightwing religionists and their moralising, their tut-tutting and their tendency toward theocratic politics.

So, our adversaries always had an uphill battle in which it was highly improbable they could win.

5. New Zealanders are a fair-minded people.

No one’s perfect, of course, and sometimes populism raises its head, but in general New Zealanders just don’t get all that worked up about how other people live their lives. While plenty of New Zealanders supported marriage equality—the majorities soaring the younger the Kiwis polled—I still believe that a huge percentage simply didn’t care. Since allowing same-gender couples to marry wouldn’t affect them at all, most Kiwis, sensible people that they are, couldn’t see why they should stand in the way of the happiness of same-gender couples. Nothing our adversaries ever said provided any reason for mainstream New Zealanders to stand in the way of freedom and happiness.

6. Our side was calmer.

Both sides had some loud-mouthed extremists, but the worst our side got was people attacking other people’s religious beliefs, something that I think is always the wrong thing to do, as I wrote about recently.

While our adversaries were arguing that polygamy, ruined children and loss of religious freedom would be the result of marriage equality, our side simply pointed out that there were only two consequences of marriage equality: 1. Same-gender couples would marry, and 2. Opposite-gender couples would marry. While our adversaries often sounded shrill or hysterical, our side had the rational, reasonable steady calm of the bill’s sponsor, Louisa Wall, and also the Green’s Kevin Hague. As a result, their side sounded—rightly—like it was against freedom and liberty, while our side seemed—rightly—as advocates of freedom and liberty.

In the end, media debates among advocates of the two sides came down to a contest between their shrill, dour, would-be dictators against our quiet, calm rational fact-based advocacy. Our adversaries could never overcome that.

7. Their side was obviously desperate.

As the debate went on, and our adversaries’ tactics failed to convince anyone, they started to appear to be desperate. They chopped and changed from one attack to another hoping that something would stick, but nothing ever did. Everything they said was easily and calmly debunked, even when they attacked the process itself. While they’d never been perceived as likable (because of their overt rightwing religiosity, their moralising and their theocratic authoritarian nature), their obvious desperation in the final weeks made Kiwis just tune out and ignore our professional adversaries. Now that the battle is over, those same adversaries sound like they’re eating a steady diet of sour grapes.

And now the battle is over.

In this post, I’ve highlighted some of what I think are the main reasons our side won. There are more reasons, of course—chief among them, the hard work of Louisa Wall and other advocates for the bill. There are also more details related to the reasons I’ve talked about here. Many of those details can be found in some of my other blog posts about this debate.

The Governor General has signed the bill into law, providing the required royal assent. It goes into effect in four months.

And that’s basically the end of this story. In the final analysis, that’s all that now matters.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Define Me

This video by Ryan Amador (featuring Jo Lampert) shows the singers symbolically washing away anti-gay slurs. It’s kind of a powerful image. According to the Huffington Post, where I found this, proceeds from sales “will be donated to organizations actively involved with supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.” That’s a very good thing.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Just another day

There were people who declared that today wouldn’t happen. They said that because marriage equality was enacted, New Zealand would be destroyed. Seriously.

The spittle-flecked denouncements of the law by the cranks, crackpots and weirdos could be found on talkback radio and all over the Internet. The far right’s overreaction was as predictable as it was unhinged.

The professional political far right activists tried to leverage their loss to gain some power. The one-man band known as Protect [sic] Marriage NZ used its Twitter feed today to complain about a possible change to abortion law to make access more transparent. What, precisely, that has to do with marriage protecting is beyond me.

The one-man Conservative “Party”, led by millionaire businessman and religious extremist Colin “God Bless” Craig, solemnly declared, “the day of reckoning on the redefinition [sic] of marriage is still to come.” The press release then moves breathlessly on to promote its main agenda item: Binding referenda on nearly every issue. Considering that each referendum costs New Zealand taxpayers millions of dollars, one must wonder how Colin plans to pay for them all—certainly not from his personal fortune, though he’s not above wasting millions of his own money on his pet far right causes, including his own failed campaign last election.

What the far right—professional and crackpot alike—share is contempt for elected representative democracy. I’ve gone over this before during the marriage equality debate, but the people DO decide every issue when they vote. Some on the far right also complained about “unelected” List MPs deciding the issue, apparently forgetting that if they cast a Party Vote, these whingers and moaners did, in fact, vote for the List MPs of their preferred party. If they don’t like their party’s List MPs, that’s an issue for them to take up with their party, not try to end democracy because they don’t like what the MPs they voted for did.

Like far right activists during the campaign, far right commenters also deliberately misrepresented the level of support for marriage equality. Like troglodyte New Zealand First MP Winston Peters, they quoted a TV show’s cellphone text poll as if it was evidence of anything other than the rightwing’s determination to register how very much they were opposed to the bill—at 50 cents per text. So they have a lot of money to send texts to the poll—so what? Real polls consistently showed that most New Zealanders support marriage equality, and they damn well know that (or should). Not even the professional activists trumpeted this non-poll, even though some of them had trumpeted other non-polls, and they deliberately misrepresented the results of real polls.

That was the reaction on the fringes. Of course the vast majority of New Zealanders were nothing like the cranks, crackpots, weirdos and professional activists on the far right. Most New Zealanders were either happy about the change or indifferent, since it doesn’t affect them.

Unlike the fringes, mainstream New Zealand knew that today would be just another day. But really, this wasn’t just another day: It was a day with greater justice and equality. It was actually a better day.

Favourite moment


It’s not surprising that my favourite moment of the marriage equality bill’s progress Parliament was the end. But it’s not just because of the result, wonderful though it was. Instead, it was the great atmosphere in the House itself.

The song in this video is “Pokarekare Ana”, which some regard as an unofficial national anthem. It’s apparently not uncommon for expat Kiwis to join in singing it far from home, and it was used in a lovely Air New Zealand TV ad back in the mid-1990s (one of my favourite TV ads ever, actually) and another version was used in the 2000s (MP3 of the audio only and also low-quality video). All of which means, it’s quite well-known among New Zealanders.

The singing of the song last night may have been spontaneous, or it may have been the waiata the Speaker mentioned. In either case, once it got going it was lovely, and all of us watching at our house joined in, even if only to hum along.

Some foreign media outlets noted this (and the YouTube video has rather a lot of views for a NZ Parliamentary video), and commented on how civilised the NZ Parliament is, that after a political debate they join in song and share hugs. Yes, well, I can attest that this isn’t always the case. Still, the warm cross-party collegiality was very nice to see—I just wish we saw it more often.

And all of that is why this video is my favourite part of the whole evening.

Favourite speech


All three readings of the marriage equality bill produced memorable speeches, and from both sides of the aisle. Interestingly, each time my favourite was by a National Party MP, and this time was no different.

The speech above is by the National Party’s Maurice Williamson, the MP for Pakuranga. It’s fair to say that ordinarily I wouldn’t compliment Williamson for anything, but his was a great speech—entertaining, on point, and all wrapped up in WIN. This was the speech that made the rounds on the Internet today, and justifiably, I think.

All the speeches are available to watch on the NZ Parliament’s YouTube Chanel, InTheHouseNZ. The date was April 17, and all are “Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill - Third Reading – Part #”, where the # is 1 through 20.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Becoming real

When I was a kid, I expected life to be a certain way, and that way did not include being true to myself. I simply couldn’t imagine that one day I might be a full citizen.

When I was a young teenager in the early 1970s, a house was built at the end of my street, near where I caught the bus to high school. The house fascinated me because it was unusual: A duplex, or, two houses that shared a common wall, which was like a kind of mirror, reflecting one house to the other. I’d never seen anything like it before.

It wasn’t the construction that fascinated me, but the possibility that it provided, a solution to allow me to possibly live happily ever after.

The duplex as it appeared around the time of this post.
As that young teen, I came up with a complex (though imaginative) plan: I would find a male partner and together we would find a lesbian couple and we would pair up for opposite-gender marriages. He and one woman/wife would live in one side of a duplexed house, the other woman/wife and I in the other half. Or, so it would appear: We’d cut a door inside so that, once in side, we could go and live with our real partners.

The idea was to camouflage the reality of our living arrangements, and I realised that a drawback was that we had to have a way to get from one side to the other quickly in case someone dropped by unexpectedly. I imagined secret doors to make it easier to get from one side to the other unseen, the doors themselves hidden to keep the secret.

As a kid and still as that young teen, I assumed that one day I’d have to marry a woman because that’s what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be with another man, but I just didn’t see how that could ever happen. Ever.

Within a few years, I was telling my mother that I’d never get married, the closest I ever came to actually coming out to her (my parents died before I got the chance). That was my less complex plan.

A few more years later, I became an activist fighting, as I put it at the time, for social and legal equality for LGBT people. I meant things like anti-discrimination laws and other things that would make the world a little less hostile. While I may have dreamed of full equality, I couldn’t really imagine it, a few legislative successes notwithstanding.

That’s because I knew that our relationships were still vulnerable, even if we hired lawyers and drafted the reams of documents and contracts that people—well-meaning friends and enemies alike—said was the best we could do or expect to protect ourselves. I’d seen too many cases where a bigoted judge swept all the documents aside when they were needed the most.

But then I moved to New Zealand, with its more relaxed society and greater tolerance. I felt safer. Civil unions came around in 2005, and we eventually took advantage of it to increase our legal safety. Although everyone we knew considered us married, and referred to the ceremony as our wedding, to me it just didn’t seem the same.

Now, that’s all changed. Young LGBT Kiwis will never again grow up with institutional inequality to ensure that they never feel quite as good as their heterosexual friends and family members, not like a real a citizen. Now, they’ll grow up with the expectation that they can meet the love of their life and, if they want to, they can get married, or not, just like everyone they know. They can be real citizens—no, they can be real people.

To be sure, there’s a long way to go before we have full equality, and that’s in general, not just about LGBT people: There’s much work yet to be done. And, it’s important to note that this enormous victory happened because of the work of all those who went before. But tonight is for simply celebrating: New Zealand took a huge step toward full equality, and that is a wonderful thing.

So at a moment like this, I have to I look back at that newly-out young man, struggling to make the world a little less hostile. I remember that closeted young teen who concocted a bizarre web of deception to find happiness. And I remember the child who got society’s messages that he wasn’t as good as everyone else, not a real citizen—not a real person.

I survived all that because I ignored it—maybe not the best strategy, but it allowed me to grow up and learn that I had a right to live happily ever after, too. Today, society has acknowledged that fact, too, and that’s the best feeling ever.

And equality arrives

The New Zealand Parliament has just approved the marriage equality, making this the first Asia/Pacific nation to approve marriage equlity, and the thirteenth overall. I couldn’t possibly be happier about it.

The final vote was 77 - 44.

Real Beauty Sketches


Yes, this is basically an ad, but that doesn’t mean the message isn’t important. It’s from Dove, as part of their “Real Beauty” campaign. It comes from a simple fact they mention in their YouTube description: “Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.” What this means is that most women think they’re less attractive than they really are.

So, Dove had a police sketch artist draw women without seeing them. First, he draws as he listens as the women describe themselves. Then he draws as he listens to strangers describing the women. The results are remarkable: Without exception, the strangers saw beauty that the women could not see in themselves. Instead, the women focuses on what they perceived as their flaws or shortcomings.

Dove has been at this for years. I remember many years ago when they ran a billboard campaign featuring real women. The fashion and cosmetics industry hasn’t moved as far as it should have by now, but that makes campaigns like Dove’s all the more important.

This campaign is designed for women, but I’ve seen studies that have found that men have a similarly negative view of themselves. As with women, one of the reasons is the unrealistic images portrayed and advanced by advertising. Maybe one day some company will launch a men’s version of Dove’s campaign.

In the meantime, I think that something that helps women be more positive about themselves is a good thing, even if they hope to sell stuff by doing so.

Related:

Adweek has more on the ad.

Not everyone has a positive view of this ad, the campaign or Dove generally.

The Wikepedia article on the campaign has a succinct look at it, along with links to more criticism.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Arthur’s Law

In yesterday’s Weekend Diversion post, I mentioned what I call Arthur’s Law about pop culture. It states:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
I started calling it “Arthur’s Law” because it’s frankly catchier than what I used to call it: “My Pop Culture Mantra”. Besides, calling it a “law” makes it a little more forceful, I think, and I’ve become a bit more assertive about using it.

I came up with it because of Twitter. I noticed that people were posting Tweets trashing a song, movie or TV show—the very same things that other people posted adoring Tweets about. I also noticed that some people became a bit offended or hurt when they saw people trashing what they liked or, especially, what they loved.

Then, I noticed comments on some gay blogs that were especially nasty about pop music (and sometimes even more so about songs that younger gay men liked). I was going to blog about it at the time, and wrote a rough draft in which I referred to the commenters as “grumpy old men”. I never published that post, though I referred to the commenters in a post two years ago.

I reached a point where the obvious suddenly dawned on me, and that was what I now call “Arthur’s Law”. Because of it, I never trash TV shows, movies or songs, though I’ll sometimes say if I don’t like something. But saying that I don’t like a song or whatever doesn’t require me to be a jerk about it! I guess social media—Twitter, Facebook, blogs—taught me something useful. I wish more people learned that lesson, too.

You’d think we’d all know this, though. When I was a kid and started buying records, I realised right away that other people didn’t necessarily like what I did. Everyone else must realise this, too. Because of it, I learned to keep my likes largely to myself, and to avoid trashing something that another person might like—I knew what it felt like when people did that to me. That caution continued when the social network age began, so maybe it made me more likely to notice other people’s assertiveness about declaring what was good, or, more likely, awful, in pop culture.

There’s so much negativity in the world, I just don’t see the point of adding to it by being unnecessarily negative over something in pop culture which—let’s be honest—probably won’t endure very long.

So, I just relax and like what I like and forget about everyone else. Law or not, it’s the most sensible thing to do.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Weekend Diversion: Agnetha returns



The video above is the new single from Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA, “When You Really Loved Someone”. It’s from her new her solo album, A (pictured at left), which will be released in early May. It’s her first English-language single in nearly a decade.

The single is a sort of Europop explosion, and I like it. It only vaguely reminds me of ABBA (or, more accurately, makes me think of what ABBA might sound like today). Instead, it suggests the talents of Agnetha herself who—dare I say it?—looks damn good at 62.

Apparently, the New Zealand, Australia, Russia and UK iTunes Stores were among the first to offer pre-orders of the album. However, the only way I could find it in New Zealand iTunes was to search her name—it wasn’t promoted or in the “Pre-Order New Music” section. Considering how huge ABBA was—and still is—in New Zealand, that’s just weird. Yes, when I finally found it, I did pre-order the album (and got the single immediately).

I was a fan of ABBA back in the day, slowly buying their older, lesser-known albums in addition to what was current. I also saw them in concert during their only North American tour, “ABBA: The Tour”, back in 1979. Scenes and performances from that tour were recorded and played on the USA’s public television, as well as being released on DVD (which I own).

I didn’t bring any ABBA records with me to New Zealand, but in 2010 I bought the Bonus Track Version of “The Albums” from iTunes—basically digital versions of all their released albums, plus some added tracks, like the Swedish version of “Ring, Ring”, some alternate mixes and versions, and various other tracks. I’d planned on buying it for myself as a 50th birthday present, but I was a bit busy at the time and only got around to it a few months later.

So, I have a long history with ABBA. As with all pop music, I take it as it is—I don’t expect anything more than what it is. I know plenty of people who hate pop music because they want more meaning or more complicated music or whatever. Some of them are determined to inform me of how wrong I am for liking pop music. I don’t pay any attention, repeating in my head what I’ve dubbed “Arthur’s Law” regarding pop culture generally: “Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.”

I like this song. I hope I like the album, too, since I pre-ordered it…

Contrasts in the news

Two news stories highlight the difference between the LGBT victims of discrimination and our adversaries who pretend to be victims for political advantage. Realty trumps pretence every time.

In the US state of Missouri, a gay man was arrested and removed from the hospital bedside of his husband after the patient’s blood family objected to the gay man making medical decisions. It’s a long and twisted story, and one I didn’t want to comment on until more information was available. Fortunately, Think Progress has published an account of the entire series of events.

The important points in the story are this: The two gay men were joined in civil union, but civil unions are not recognised under Missouri law, so the two gave each other medical power of attorney, and executed what legal documents they could to approximate the rights of marriage. Keep in mind that the rightwing often tells same gender couples that they should do this instead of receiving any kind of formal legal recognition of their relationship.

The hospital appears to have violated federal rules for dealing with a situation in which blood family challenges the legal right of a same gender partner to make medical decisions, as John Aravosis noted on AMERICAblog when he discussed the conflicting statements made by the hospital. It isn’t yet clear whether the hospital’s actions were motivated by anti-gay animus, mere ignorance of the law, or some combination, but at the very least it seems the hospital staff inappropriately sided with the blood family.

This incident shows how useless a ream of legal papers can be when a same gender relationship has no legal standing. Back in 2009, I wrote about another case of a same-gender partner being excluded from a partner’s hospital bedside (and a follow up a year later). Three years ago, President Obama issued orders that were designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

So, the Missouri incident shows how nothing short of marriage matters in ensuring that same gender couples are treated equally. There are 1100 federal benefits that only married couples receive, but it seems to me that being able to at one’s partner’s bedside in a hospital is pretty high up the list for anyone.

Contrast this with the phony story out of Washington State. After marriage equality was enacted in that state, a gay couple went to the florist they’d used for years to get flowers for their wedding. The florist refused, citing her religious beliefs. Then this past week, Washington’s state Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, took the unusual step of filing suit against the florist for violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. Now the couple, represented by the ACLU, may also sue.

As you can imagine, the radical right (including here in New Zealand) are citing this as an example of what will happen with marriage equality—but there’s one HUGE problem: They’re lying.

The actions of the florist were illegal before marriage equality was enacted in the state: As a business serving the general public, they can’t refuse to serve someone because they’re gay or because they have different religious beliefs, for that matter. The state’s anti-gay group acknowledged this, declaring that the state’s anti-discrimination law’s protection of LGBT people "was bad then and is bad now”. Nice people, eh?

This isn’t the first time the radical right has lied like this. EVERY case of supposed “anti-Christian” “persecution” has turned out to be a religionist having violated anti-discrimination laws that were already in place before marriage equality. The radical right wants people to think that far-right religionists will somehow face new legal sanctions for defying anti-discrimination laws, but the fact is, NOTHING has changed: What was illegal before remains illegal, and nothing new was added.

The bottom line, then, is that in the Missouri case we see the real, painful consequences of the lack of marriage equality, a situation potentially faced by LGBT people in most of the US. On the other we see a “fauxrage” by the radical right, pretending some sort of new “discrimination” when, in fact, they’re merely whining about having to obey existing anti-discrimination laws. The real victims here—the only victims here—are LGBT people, and the radical right knows it. For them to claim otherwise is just more spin—and lies.

The image accompanying this post is from Wikimedia Commons and has been released into the public domain.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Same old dog

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s obviously the same for the Republican Party. For me, that’s great news. For the republic, not so much.

After losing two presidential elections in a row, Republican Party grandees thought a review would be a good idea. They wanted to work out not so much what went wrong, but rather how they might win again. They failed.

The result of their partisan navel-gazing was the conclusion that in order to win, they merely need sell their message better, to make their party sound, well, nicer. Nothing in the party has actually changed.

Today the party recommitted to its losing ideology: Unlike the majority of Americans—and an overwhelming majority of younger voters they struggle to connect with—the Republican Party opposes marriage equality. They adopted their anti-gay resolution unanimously and without debate, so they clearly didn't even have to think about it for a moment. They also oppose abortion and any gun control, even though majorities of Americans favour less rightwing positions on those issues, too.

Instead of showing any understanding that times have changed and the party must, too, the grandees instead served weasel words: “For many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be. If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”

Well, duh! So what are they going to do about it? Better voter outreach and better use of technology to try and use tactics more like Democrats. They will fail.

As Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who worked on John McCain’s failed 2008 campaign put it in the above-linked Bloomberg article, “We are making a foolish mistake if we think the problem is simply mechanics. What counts is message and policy, and we have to modernize the conservatism that works.”

That’s it exactly: The problem isn’t that voters—including young voters—reject conservatism in its entirety, it’s that they reject Republican positions on these “social issues”. How can Republicans win if they turn their back on the majority of voters? How can their party endure if they reject young voters—the future? They can’t and the party can’t.

The radical right is pushing back hard. As their support dries up, they make ever more forceful demands of the Republican Party and issue ever more strident orders. A few days ago, a veritable who’s who among anti-gay hate group leaders, wingnuts and far right “Christian” activists sent a letter to the head of the Republican National Committee ordering them to continue opposing marriage equality or the “social conservatives” would take their toys and go home. Or something like that.

Among other nonsensical rubbish, they told the RNC this pearl of idiocy:
“And we would like to point out that in the four blue states where voters narrowly voted for same sex marriage in 2012, Mitt Romney, who refused to discuss the issue, lost by an average of five points more than the state initiatives to preserve marriage.”
First, So what?! They were states Romney wouldn’t carry no matter what. The radicals are implying that opposition to marriage equality in those states was stronger than mere Republican support, but there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there’s any truth in that bizarre claim. Their wishful thinking doesn’t make it so.

I found it funny how hurt they claimed to be: “We deeply resent the insinuation that we have treated homosexuals unkindly personally.” They haven’t merely been “unkind”, they’ve often been vicious—lying, smearing and defaming LGBT people with reckless abandon. Unkind? Hardly!

The Republican Party listens to the radical right at its peril. A recent CNN poll found that the Republican Party is viewed very unfavourably. While Democrats are viewed only somewhat more favourably overall, the Republican Party is unpopular among virtually all demographic groups, including even in the southern US states. Two-thirds think Republican policies favour the rich and about half think the party is too extreme. The party bowing to the will of the radical right will not help that image at all.

Worse for the party, more than a quarter of their own supporters think the party is unwilling to compromise, according to a recent Gallup Poll. That judgement of the Republican Party is higher among Republicans than it is among any other group of voters—including Democrats and Independents! The question then is, if more than a quarter of their own supporters think the party is too inflexible, how can they hope to win elections if they reaffirm their fealty to the radical right? They can’t.

To me as a Democrat, all of this is good news. As the Republican Party withdraws to its ideological bunkers, it will become increasingly irrelevant and will lose elections more and more frequently. I like that. However, it’s not good for any democracy to have only one viable party. It’s also not good for the Democratic Party, which could adopt a kind of ideological mush, taking only focus group approved positions on issues.

A thriving democracy needs a diversity of opinions and it must have real competition in the “marketplace of ideas”. The Republican Party is firmly stuck in the past, refusing to evolve or change, and following the orders of the radical right to never embrace the positions favoured by the majority of Americans. Instead, the party doubles down on their out of touch positions and only talks about how they can improve their marketing to the very voters they’ve rejected. Good luck with that—because luck is the only thing that can save them now.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Non-comprehensive

Word from Washington is that LGBT people will be left out of “comprehensive” (so-called) immigration reform. Does it matter?

First things first: This matters VERY much to me. If immigration reform doesn’t include LGBT people, then Americans like me will still have to choose between love and one’s homeland. Let’s be blunt: It can’t be called “comprehensive” if it deliberately excludes LGBT people. Even so, no, I don’t think it matters.

When the infamous Defense [sic] of Marriage Act is repealed or struck down, then legally married LGBT couples will be treated the same as any other married couple for immigration purposes. We don’t need immigration reform for this, we just need a wise Supreme Court or a—what’s the word?—sensible Congress to make this happen. It can be done, and it must be done.

But married couples aren’t the only issue.

US immigration law doesn’t recognise ANY couple's relationship* other than marriage (unlike many countries, including New Zealand). So, in the USA, heterosexuals who aren’t married have similar problems to LGBT couples—with one HUGE difference: They can always marry and change the status of their relationship in the eyes of US immigration authorities; LGBT couples cannot do that at the moment, no matter how many decades they’re legally married.

What is needed is for the USA to catch up with other developed countries and provide recognition of relationships aside from marriage. The point here is the happiness of US citizens, who ought to be able to sponsor their partners, whether they’re legally married or not. This MUST be included in anything politicians dare to call comprehensive immigration reform.

However, as long as unmarried heterosexual couples are as disadvantaged as unmarried same-gender couples, I’m not all that bothered by our exclusion from “comprehensive” immigration reform. If Congress moves to deliberately exclude us, THAT would be something worth being upset about (and I have no doubt that Republicans would like to specifically exclude us).

The point is, and always has been, equality: LGBT couples should be treated exactly the same as heterosexual couples. So, if only legally married couples are recognised for immigration, then ALL legally married couples must be recognised, including same-gender couples. If non-married couples are recognised, then all non-married couples must be recognised. Simple, really.

I am keenly aware that activists argue differently. Were I an activist, I might, too. Instead, I’m just a guy who had to choose between love and my homeland, and I chose love. I don’t want other people to have to make that choice, but if it’s at least a level playing field, then I think that’s progress.

Treat LGBT couples the same as heterosexual couples, first and most importantly. Then, make US law catch up with other countries and recognise couples in non-marriage relationships. Fairness. Equality. Surely these words must be at the centre of any immigration reform called comprehensive!

So, LGBT couples are, for now, left out of comprehensive immigration reform. As long as we’re treated the same as heterosexual couples, you won’t see me complaining about that treatment. But that patience will not last forever.

And don't call it comprehensive until it really is.

*Most countries, including the US, do recognise family relationships (like parent/child, for example), but for couples, the US recognises nothing but marriage.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Worth Quoting: Annie Lennox

I recently posted links to two commentaries on Margaret Thatcher that I thought were interesting. They can be found in the comments to my post about her. Today, I saw another interesting commentary that I think it’s worth presenting here.

Annie Lennox, a singer probably best known as half of 80s (mainly) group, Eurythmics, wrote this today on her Facebook page:
Margaret Thatcher's death has provoked an outpouring of polarised responses, clearly reflecting how people felt, and still feel about her, right up to the present day.

As a political leader, her style was strident (some would say strong), inflexible (some would say firm), authoritarian (some would say powerful, tough (some would say resolute), arrogant (some would say assured), snobbish (some would say she had a sense of values), and faintly ridiculous, (some would say patriotic). She was the headmistress and we were the renegade schoolchildren. She was the leader and we were the ardent followers…all depending on which side you happened to be on. Despite the evidence of her gender, she could never be described as a Feminist. She was more of a singular woman in the old boys club than a defender of women's rights.

Although she was the daughter of a humble grocer shop owner, her aspirations far outreached her roots, which is tremendous but… she failed to have any real understanding or connection with ordinary people, riding roughshod over their lives, leaving them to deal with the aftermath of a decimated industrial era. Entire communities disintegrated with generations being left to cope for decades down the line.

I admire dedication, strength of purpose and vision, these are all fine qualities but when political policies are so brutally hard line, that they affect people's entire existence at a pen stroke (whilst being told to pull themselves up by their boot straps), you can be sure that the spirit of dictatorship has arisen. From my own perspective I keep recalling the heavy sense of oppression that saturated every aspect of the Seventies, and I can't say I have any sense of fond nostalgia.
When I first read that, I assumed that Annie meant “…aspect of the Eighties”, since Thatcher’s rule was mainly in the 1980s, but I’m not certain. After all, Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 and, before that, Leader of the Opposition in 1975. So, she was central to Britain’s politics in the 1970s, too.

I’m sharing Annie’s post partly because of her unique perspective: The pop music scene in Britain in the Eighties that she was part of was heavily influenced by the Thatcher regime. Some of what was, in my opinion, the best British music of that era was a direct response—often angry, challenging or protesting. I especially like pop music displaying a passion for changing the world, rather than merely a passion for making money.

In any case, I think perspectives like that of Annie Lennox are interesting: Not at all vitriolic, but firm, with convictions and passion quietly displayed. Dancing on Thatcher’s grave is something that many people clearly feel they need to do, and I won’t judge them for it. But for me, I prefer to listen to the quieter, more reasoned voices of opposition reflecting on why Thatcher was bad, not just screaming that she was.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lambda Legal at 40


This video shows some of the highlights of the first forty years of Lambda Legal, one of the MOST important groups working to win the equality of LGBT Americans. It’s been a long march toward freedom, but Lambda has been there. I hope one day they outlive the need for them, but we’re far from that day. Until then, I heartily endorse them.
Via Joe.My.God.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Thatcher

They say if you can’t say something nice about a person who’s just died, you shouldn’t say anything. Not very useful advice for a blogger.

So: Margaret Thatcher died. What can I say about her that’s nice? Well, as a Member of Parliament she was one of the few Tory MPs who voted to decriminalise homosexuality in Britain in 1966. That same year, she also voted to legalise abortion. Those are two good things I can note.

Let’s see, what other nice things can I say? Um… well… um…

The fact is, there is very, very little about Margaret Thatcher’s career that was positive, and a huge amount that was absolutely horrible. Of course she’s notable for being Britain’s first female Leader of the Opposition and first female Prime Minister, and, politics aside, those are achievements for which she should receive recognition.

However, when talking about a politician, one can’t put politics aside, and I found hers to be mostly reprehensible. Like her good friend, Ronald Reagan, she believed that if you cut taxes on the rich and well-off, the benefits would “trickle down” to everyone else. It was, and has been amply proven to always be, an utterly daft idea, but for the rightwing (then and now), it’s a core principle.

She also had unshakeable dedication to selling-off state owned assets—the people’s property—as well as fervour for destroying unions and workers’ rights. Also carried forward by today’s conservatives.

As bad as all that is, she, like Reagan, also unleashed not just intellectually bankrupt ideas, but also hard right ideologues. And it was in pandering to them that she cemented her position on my list of reprehensible politicians, especially through the imposition of one law: She backed Section 28.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 said:
Local authorities shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
It was motivated by anti-gay animus, and born of the outrageously loony rightwing belief that kids can be “recruited” into homosexuality. Thatcher herself backed Section 28. She told the Conservative Party Conference in 1987: “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.” Her party would continue to defend the bill, even as the then-Labour government got ready to repeal it in the early 2000s (they succeeded in 2003, after earlier attempts were rejected by the conservative House of Lords, and after Scotland repealed it from applying to Scotland).

Section 28 had no criminal penalties, and there were no successful court challenges relying on it. However, many councils and schools engaged in self-censorship to be safe. LGBT student groups folded after the bill was passed, rather than risk legal trouble. Still, Tories continued to back the bill right up until repeal (and some long after).

Campaigning in 2009, and as part of a series of apologies for Thatcher’s policies, Conservative Party Leader David Cameron (now Prime Minister) acknowledged Section 28 was "offensive to gay people", and went on to say “I'm sorry for Section 28. We got it wrong. It was an emotional issue. We have got to move on and we have moved on.”

So, whether out of political necessity or genuine contrition, many in the modern Conservative party are clearly backing away from Thatcher. Apparently, she is as divisive a figure for her own party as she was for Britain and the world beyond. Still, I doubt any Tories took part in the reported celebrations of Thatcher’s death.

Despite everything, I don’t celebrate her death, not that I’m above doing so for true enemies (as I did here, and especially here). It’s just that awful as her politics were, they had nothing to do with me personally—and that’s kind of a prerequisite for me to be actually pleased a politician has died.

Still, you might think that neither am I the least bit sad that she’s died. "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."
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The photo at the top of this post depicts US President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan greeting UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Denis Thatcher at the North portico of the White House prior to the State Dinner held 16 November 1988. As a photo taken by a government employee as part of the of their official duties, it is in the public domain. It is available through Wikimedia Commons.

The final quote in this post is a related, but possibly obscure pop culture reference.