Friday, October 31, 2014

Still married

Today Nigel and I have been married for one year. Guess that means the honeymoon’s over, eh? Well, falling just shy of our 19th anniversary together, I’d say we already passed that milestone years ago, right? And yet, here we are.

We have so many anniversaries to mark our relationship, as most gay couples do. But the anniversary of when we legally married—when we became the legal equivalents of our heterosexual siblings—is special in its own right. This anniversary will always lag behind the others in number, but its significance outshines them all because on this day one year ago, we became family in every legal sense of the word.

Sure, we were together long before we were married, and long before we had our less-than-marriage civil union, but by marrying we became more closely joined than had ever been possible before.

We wanted to exercise our new right to marry, sure, but we also wanted to set an example so that young LGBT people could see a future that we couldn’t even have imagined—certainly I never did. And that’s why we acknowledge the anniversary of our marriage, even though it was the better part of two decades after we were a couple: Marriage matters.

So, here we are, married one year. And they said it wouldn’t last! But, what did they say for the 18+ year before then? Oh, the same thing. Good we didn’t listen to the naysayers, eh?

And, I have to say, I’d marry my Nigel again any day—every day, if I could. My life with him is so exponentially/logarithmically better than it could have been without him that there simply is no other choice. That’s good!

Husband and husband
Just one more

Despite it

All politicians are human beings—even if some of them occasionally make us doubt the truth of that statement. This fact, though, is the main reason I don’t usually mock politicians who stuff up: We all do sometimes. Then, there’s also the politics to keep me in line.

In hyper-partisan places like the New Zealand Parliament (or pretty much the entire USA…), one side will mercilessly mock the other. Sometimes folks deserve it, but most of the time, mocking politicians come across as mean-spirited bullies.

We see that right now here in New Zealand.

Green Party List MP Steffan Browning did something really, really dumb: He signed a petition that called on the World Health Organisation to “end the suffering of the Ebola crisis. Test and distribute homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks." Much merry mockery ensued.

Homeopathy is an “alternative medicine” based on the assertion that “like cures like”. So, they take something that causes illness and dilute it until there are virtually no molecules of the pathogen left. Believers claim the water—which is all that’s left—has the “memory” of the pathogen and is actually more potent than if there were still pathogens left. Understandably, it is regarded as pseudoscience and peer-reviewed studies have found it to be no more effective than placebos.

Obviously, people are free to believe any dang fool thing they want to, and if they want to place their faith in homeopathy that’s their right. After all, we don’t forbid faith healing either, despite lack of scientific evidence.

The problem here is that when Browning signed the petition, he brought his caucus—and his party in general—into disrepute and opened it up to mockery. He made opponents feel justified in dismissing the Greens as a party of nutters. The Greens have worked hard, and largely successfully, to improve their public image (I haven’t seen video of them Morris dancing at party functions in many years). So, by touting homeopathy and saying that he was “not opposed to homeopathy”, that he’d used it himself, and that it had “seemingly been effective in treating one of his children in the past,” Browning did the Greens no favours whatsoever.

I rolled my eyes when I read about this, but I didn’t join in the mockery. Part of the reason is that what he did was incredibly stupid, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with how he does his job as an MP. If the Green Party feels otherwise, they can—and should—deal with it.

I’m annoyed, certainly, when an MP promotes fairy tales as true (not for the first time, but that’s another story). I’m also annoyed because the Greens are a logical coalition partner for Labour—my party—and when someone makes the Greens look nutty it makes the potential coalition seem nutty, so, yeah, I think that Steffan was a moron who didn’t think beyond himself, and so, probably shouldn’t be an MP. But, like I said, that’s for the Greens to decide.

So, while I’m incredibly annoyed at Steffan Browning and the immense damage he did to a Labour-Greens coalition, I’m not dumping on him further because of the National Party: I don’t want to do their bidding.

Jonathan Coleman, who in his best days, it seems, is a smug, arrogant bully, said Steffan’s actions were "very, very dangerous" and he was promoting "a wacko idea". In typical Coleman kindness, he added: "I think he really needs to engage his brain, it's a really stupid and dangerous idea."

Jonathan Coleman wouldn’t know subtly if it came up and bit him on the bottom. Maybe he’ll consider his own behaviour more carefully the next time he’s in a corporate box at a sports event. Just for example, of course.

But consider Jonathan’s boss: John Key called Steffan.s proposal "barking mad". It may very well be so, but it sure doesn’t sound very “statesmanlike” for the current prime minister to attack rather than distance. John Key controls government, so he has no need for personal attacks.

So, even though I know homeopathy is silly, and even though I’m incredibly annoyed at Steffan Browning, I won’t condemn him precisely because that’s what John Key and Jonathan Coleman want me to do. They can suck it. There’s a legitimate argument to be made here, but I’m waiting for John and his lackey Jonathan to make it without sounding like pre-teenage schoolyard bullies.

Personally, I don’t think John and Jonathan are capable of rising above the schoolyard. Certainly I’ve seen nothing to make me think they can. Regardless, Steffan should NOT have given them the ammunition to shoot him

And now I’ve said all I will.

Update November 4: The New Zealand Green Party has demoted Steffan Browning, taking away his responsibility for the natural health portfolio (folding it into the overall health portfolio, which is handled by the competent and widely respected Kevin Hague). Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said in a statement, "the Green Party supports evidence-based health policy." As do most people. She continued: "Individuals can make choices about their own health treatments, but it is critical public health decisions are evidence-based and that consumers have appropriate evidence-based information about alternative health products." That's a perfectly sensible and rational position, in my view. I also think it was good to demonstrate that there are consequences when an MP strays from party positions or brings the party into disrepute or exposes it to ridicule. As far as I'm concerned, this story is now over.

Everyday is Halloween

The graphic above was posted to the Facebook Page of Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian. I think it makes a good point. And, no, I don’t think something is missing.

Betty Bowers is, of course, the comedic alter (altar?) ego of actor Deven Green, who has portrayed the white, upper middle class, self-satisfied, smug, self-righteous Betty for many years now. Her parody videos have often been spot on, while others have pointed out the hypocrisies of the ultra-religious, as well as their ignorance of what’s really in their holy book. No wonder I’m such a fan.

The graphic above is typical of what “Betty” posts to Facebook and Twitter, and many are taken from the Betty Bowers videos. Personally, I think the graphic related to her video “The DOs and DON’Ts of PRAYER” is one of best ever of these sorts of Betty Bowers graphics.

Betty’s previous Halloween graphic said “Halloween: The day that Satan introduces your child to the gateway drug to homosexuality: CONSTUMES!” And this is why, I think, the graphic above doesn’t include gay people: She already made the point. Betty frequently mocks homophobic religious nutters, so I think that including us in that graphic up top might actually have crossed the line into mocking gay people rather than those nutters, particularly since many of the things on the list of scary things really are scary to people, while gay people should never be. In other words, I think leaving gay people out of that one was definitely the right call.

I’m a huge fan of Betty Bowers partly because the parody and mocking is obvious, unlike those who engage in what I’ve called “Deep Cover Parody” in several posts. I think Betty Bowers doesn’t risk raising Poe’s Law, unlike all the deceptive deep cover parodies out there, and so, I think Betty Bowers makes points far, far more effectively.

And, of course, “Every Day is Halloween” made me think of this Ministry song.

Roger Green provides lots of interesting Halloween linkage.

Happy Halloween to those who care about it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fighting the good fight

The New Zealand Labour Party is fighting a move by Prime Minister John Key to take away workers’ rights to breaks. John Key is determined to do this and is rushing it through Parliament, but Labour is opposing him, as it should.

John Key’s spin is that workers and employers can “negotiate”, but that’s impossible for low-wage workers who have to accept whatever their employer offers. But, come to that, how many workers EVER “negotiate” basic terms and conditions? For most wage workers, employment contracts are almost always presented as a done deal—take it or leave it. I personally don’t know any wage worker who has ever negotiated basic terms and conditions, like breaks. Maybe some have, but it’s not nearly as common as John wants us to believe.

So, as is usually the case, John Key is being dishonest with New Zealanders. Most ordinary workers will lose the automatic right to breaks, and that’s the reality that John and National are either lying about or utterly unable to comprehend.

The Labour Party has set up an online petition with a goal of 50,000 signatures by tomorrow. This evening they promoted it on Facebook with the graphic above and said they needed 2500 signatures to meet their goal. When I looked (and signed) a little while later, they needed just over 800. Ultimately, John Key will do whatever he wants to, but it’s good to make him—and the news media—aware that he has opposition. Labour will no doubt repeal this bad law when it is next in government.

That graphic, by the way, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It presents the issue in clear, easy to understand and relate to terms, and provides a simple, low-commitment action. It’s exactly what you’d want to see in a web graphic of this sort.

Taking away workers’ rights to meal and rest breaks is only one of the things that John Key is doing TO New Zealand. Unlike many of his other attacks on ordinary New Zealanders, this one began before the election. So, since New Zealanders voted for John Key’s government, I guess Kiwi voters are okay with giving up their rest and meal breaks on a company’s whim because John wants them to do so. I won’t say “I told you so,” because John actually did that months ago.

Instead, I’ll say the obvious: It’s going to be a VERY long three years.

Update 30 October: John Key has successfully passed his bill to take away breaks from workers. This was predictable, of course, but it says quite a lot about John Key and his National Party that the VERY first bill they passed is an assault on workers. That's no surprise, of course, but it says a lot. The graphic below posted to Facebook by the New Zealand Labour Party pretty much sums it up.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Unions Matter

Today is Labour Day in New Zealand, the day in which everyone basks in the benefits that unions helped create, without ever acknowledging it, or maybe even being hostile to unions. I wasn’t always so strongly pro-union, but I’m pretty staunch now.

Rightwing rhetoric is filled with talk about how “awful” unions are. The rightwing says they’re “greedy”, that they’re “thugs” and that they rob workers of “choice” and “liberty”. In every case, the opposite is the actual truth.

Unions exist because capitalism is not friendly to workers. That’s not a slam, just a fact. Pure capitalism is pretty much anti-worker by definition, because it’s not its job to care about workers or working conditions.

Capitalism exists (now) to return maximum profits to shareholders, and nothing else matters. In order to maximise profits, businesses must keep costs to a minimum. Labour is always a big part of the cost of doing business, and so, workers are likely to feel the squeeze.

So, it’s not that businesses are necessarily run by inhuman monsters (even if sometimes there are…), but, rather, it’s simply managers’ jobs to contain ALL costs, including labour. Unions exist to balance companies’ drive for profits with humanity.

Unions fight on behalf of working people who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice or power. Sometimes they’re low-skill workers at the bottom of the economic ladder, but other times they’re well-skilled workers who realise their employers are looking to squeeze them.

I was a member of a union for a couple years, and we joined to protect ourselves. I worked for Independent Newspapers Limited (INL) at the time, and the company started massive reviews of its operations throughout the country, most of which resulted in staff cuts. I showed the terms of reference for the review to a trusted person, a senior manager in another industry, who told me, “they’re going to do you.”

So, I organised for us to join the Advertising Guild. The idea was that if INL really intended to eliminate our jobs, we’d have someone fighting on our side. In the end, INL sold out to Fairfax, an Australian company that was reasonably okay, but it was later acquired by another Australian company that’s always been notorious for anti-worker policies. By then I was long gone, and no longer a union member, but I was glad to have had union protection as an arrow in our quiver to fight against corporate bosses who didn’t care about humans. At all.

This was a revelation to me. I’d grown up buying much of the Republican Party’s anti-union propaganda because I didn’t know any working class people. When I met real working people who needed unions, my opinions changed. When I became a victimised worker, they change even more quickly.

In the overall scheme of things, not much has changed in the years since then, except to get worse for workers. Here in New Zealand, our current government under John Key is openly hostile to unions and to workers. Their hostility to workers is exemplified by John Key’s determination to end guaranteed tea breaks and meal breaks for workers. Less noticed is his similar determination to end collective bargaining and the right to strike in many cases.

That’s the now that matters. Yes, it’s important to remember that collective bargaining is what gave us the eight-hour day we celebrate today (despite the utter nonsense of rightwing propaganda). And it’s also important to remember that organised labour is what gave us the workplace rights and protections that ALL workers—working class and middle class alike—take for granted, whether they acknowledge their debt or not.

The most important thing to know is that the importance of unions exists as long as big corporations seek to exploit workers. As long as companies think that they can treat workers like serfs, we’ll need unions. As long as we have politicians, as we do now, who promote the interests of the wealthy and businesses and reject workers’ rights, we’ll need unions.

Unions almost always give far too much deference to business, even with little in return. That’s because despite the rightwing propaganda (well, lies, actually…), unions see their role as forging a partnership between business and labour. More often than not, it’s only adversarial when business chooses to make it such.

We ALL need unions. Some of us need them more than others, and some of us know that more than others.

Happy Labour Day!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

That’s our tucker

My previous post today talked about different food in different countries, specifically, what I found as an American expat in New Zealand. There are even more differences, as I was reminded today, that can turn up in unexpected places. Like fast food places.

I had McDonald’s for lunch today (deal with it!) and chose the Angus Kiwiburger, an updated version of McDonald’s NZ’s classic burger, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. They said of it:
The Kiwiburger is back. It’s packed with a 100% NZ beef patty, a freshly cracked egg, beetroot, tomato, crispy lettuce, cheese, onions, mustard & ketchup on a sesame seed bun. Reunite your mouth with the old school taste.
The burger was first trialled in Hamilton, then added to the menu nationwide in 1991 with TV commercials with a catchy jingle. You can see the original commercial online, or a later version that accompanied a limited return of the Kiwiburger is below:

The jingle mentions 46 different items of Kiwiana, which is interesting since the Kiwiburger itself hearkens back to classic takeaway burgers—making it Kiwiana of a sort itself. The lyrics of the original version are:
"Kiwis love Hot pools, Rugby balls, McDonald's, snapper schools, World Peace, Woolly Fleece, Ronald and Raising Beasts. Chilly Bins, Cricket Wins, Fast Skis, Golf Tees, Silver Ferns, Kauri Trees, Kiwi Burger, love one please... [spoken] McDonald's KiwiBurger. The classic New Zealand burger. [song resumes] Cause We Love All blacks, Thermal Daks, Egg & Cheese, Walking Tracks, Beef Pattie, Marching Girls, Tomato, Lettuce and Paua shells, Gumboots, Ponga Shoots, Floppy Hats, Kiwifruits, Beetroot, Buzzy Bees, Moggy Cats, Cabbage Trees, Onions, Kakapos, Kia oras, Cheerios, Jandals, Sandals, Ketchup, Coromandels, Swanndris, Butterflies, Mustard, Fishing Flies, Hokey Pokey, Maori Haka… Kiwi burger That's our tucker!"
The resurrected commercial in the video above has a longer spoken part which means the lyrics don’t pick up until “Swanndris”. All the lyrics are printed on the tray liners they’re using at the moment (detail photo up top of this post), and that’s actually where this post began.

“I’d have a tough time explaining to Americans what a lot of that is even referring to,” I said to Nigel after I’d scanned the list. He suggested I post about it, and even went to get me a pristine tray liner so I could scan it (it turned out to be too big to scan, hence the detail photo).

First, I have to say that as a new immigrant, the idea of egg and beetroot (slices of beets) on a burger seemed frankly appalling. I was used to the bland burgers that McDonald’s and Burger King sold in the USA at the time, and, well, the idea just seemed weird.

But a new immigrant has a duty, I think, to dive into the local culture, so I tried the Kiwiburger and quite liked it (for the record, the Angus version is even nicer—worth every cent extra it costs over the original version). That wasn’t the first time that happened to me, and it still happens.

As an aside, I visited Australia for about a week before I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, and there I found a burger chain called “Hungry Jack’s”, which is what Burger King is called in Australia. They had a burger called The Aussie, which is very similar, except they add bacon and BBQ sauce. McDonald’s Australia for a time had a burger they called the McOz, but it didn’t include an egg and was eventually discontinued.

Back here in New Zealand, a local chain called Burger Wisconsin (of all things) has a burger called the Kiwi Classic which sounds like a cross between the Kiwiburger and The Aussie. I’ve never had it, but it sounds nice.

Aside from explaining a burger with beetroot and an egg, and assuring that it’s quite nice, there are other things mentioned in the jingle that may not be obvious to overseas folks. Here are the ones I think may need some explaining: Chilly Bins (coolers or eskies), Thermal Daks (basically warm, usually floppy pants often worn by farmers), Beef Pattie (note the spelling…), Gumboots (rubber boots), Ponga Shoots (refers to the koru of the ponga, a new frond of the silver fern), Kiwifruits (the fruit is ALWAYS correctly called “kiwifruit,” and never just “kiwi”; the “s” isn’t actually used to denote plural, btw), Buzzy Bees (children’s toy), Moggy Cats (mixed breed cats), Cabbage Trees (Cordyline australis), Cheerios (small saveloy sausages, especially popular at children’s parties; also known as little boys and, apparently, cocktail sausages, though I can’t remember having heard them called that.) Jandals (flip flops or thongs; derived from “Japanese Sandals”), Coromandels (refers to the Coromandel Peninsula or ranges), Swanndris (a brand of warm outdoor clothing), Hokey Pokey (technically honeycomb toffee, but actually refers to hokey pokey ice cream, which is popular in New Zealand).

As with everything else in a nation, some things are open to differing interpretations (as for example, cheerios). I’ve included what I’ve learned the words to mean; others can disagree in the comments.

One last thing: “tucker” is, basically, food. The word’s used, one way or another, in several slang phrases, but I think that’s enough Kiwi language and culture education for one day.

Besides, I seem to be strangely hungry right now…

Hold the mayo

Roger Green recently wrote about “Mayonnaise and other important topics”. Mayonnaise isn't really important, of course, but it reminded me of one of the finer points of adjustment to expat life: Food choices. And mayonnaise choices.

When I arrived in New Zealand, the brand of mayonnaise used by most people that I knew was from Eta (a brand of Heinz-Wattie’s). I thought it was too sweet and too runny, so I didn't use it. Awhile later, Hellmann’s mayonnaise suddenly showed up in our grocery store, replaced soon after by Best Foods Mayonnaise (it’s the same product with different names). This was probably after Unilever bought Best Foods in 2000. It was the sort of mayonnaise that I liked.

We eventually settled on the Light version because it had half the fat of the regular version. One day, I happened to see a jar of it and a jar of Eta side by side and I compared the labels. It turns out that the Light version of Best Foods had about the same fat and sugar content as the regular version of Eta. That reminded me how different countries can have very different tastes.

Time passed, and we drifted away from mayonnaise. I later tried—and liked—Heinz’s “Seriously Good Mayonnaise”—in fact, there’s a jar in the fridge at the moment, though it may be a bit elderly by now. Mayonnaise, it’s fair to say, isn’t much of a "thing" for me anymore.

When I was growing up, my mother used Kraft’s “Miracle Whip” (though I have no idea why), and it was all I knew. Because of that, I don’t dislike it as Roger does, but, then, I haven’t had it in many, many years, so who knows? Things may have changed. I could get it from Martha’s Backyard, though I never have. I could also get Velveeta there, but haven’t done that, either. Some things are perhaps best left in the past.

As I’ve said previously, when I first arrived in New Zealand I had to find substitutes for products I knew and liked, though many of the ones I liked in the USA later showed up here, thanks to the brands’ multinational owners. Best Foods Mayonnaise was one such product.

I’ve also said that my tastes have changed over time, and I don’t necessarily still like the products I did when I lived in the USA. That’s probably inevitable as we adapt to our surroundings, and as our tastes change over time, which happens to most people.

I think that the globalisation of food product brands can make things easier for expats trying to adjust, but I wonder if it really serves us to have the same things in nearly every country. If variety is the spice of life, then the world is becoming a pretty bland place.

Obviously mayonnaise isn’t an important topic (for me or Roger), but it IS an example of how things have changed over time. When Best Foods Mayonnaise arrived in New Zealand, I was thrilled to have something I'd liked in my homeland. Now, I wonder if maybe it’s emblematic of the slow “banalisation” of the planet.

Whatever, mayo like all other condiments is a matter of personal taste. I couldn’t possibly care less about what someone else likes or doesn’t—just as long as I can say “hold the mayo” if I want to.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

NZ the best country for LGBT tourists

Lonely Planet has issued a list of the top ten “most gay-friendly places on the planet”, and New Zealand is ranked second. New Zealand is the only country on the list—all the others are cities—so that makes this the best country in the world for LGBT tourists.

I mentioned this to someone recently, and they joked, “that’s because most Americans wouldn’t know the names of any New Zealand cities.” Funny, and probably true, but not actually the reason our entire country is on the list, and not just one city. Lonely Planet says of New Zealand:
The Land of the Long White Cloud has long been lauded for its inclusive and progressive behaviour toward the LGBTQ community. In 1998 New Zealand was the first nation to adopt the label of ‘Gay/Lesbian Friendly’ when referring to businesses and accommodation – an initiative now recognised globally. The country offers a brilliant network of gay- and lesbian-friendly homestays which run the length and breadth of the country from the top of the semi-tropical North Island to the depths of the glacial South. Since passing same-sex marriage laws in 2013, New Zealand has actively promoted same-sex marriage tourism to the likes of Australia and other Pacific nations where equality laws are less progressive. [the link was in the original]
So, it was that NZ is welcoming of LGBT travellers throughout the country that put the nation on the list, and I think that was the right thing to do: While there are regional variations, with some places offering more to LGBT travellers than others, there’s nothing like the vast difference in tolerance levels one would find in, say, the USA. This is partly because New Zealand is a small country, but it has more to do with how laid-back Kiwis are—even those who aren’t particularly personally LGBT-friendly are unlikely to be hostile. It’s simply not possible to make that same statement about a lot of other countries that have LGBT-friendly cities (including some on the list).

Earlier this year, Lonely Planet also named Queenstown as sixth on a list of the world’s “Top 10 gay wedding destinations”. For those into weddings overseas—gay or straight—Queenstown would be a spectacular place to have it.

Last year at this time, Lonely Planet ranked Auckland 10th on their list of "top 10 cities" in the world, as part of their "Best in Travel 2014" series. Later in that same series, they also ranked the West Coast of the South Island as eighth among the "top 10 regions" in the world. I mentioned both in a post last year.

New Zealand has a lot going for it as a destination for all travellers—there’s so much to see, do and experience in this beautiful country. But it’s the specialness of New Zealanders and our culture that makes this country an outstanding choice for LGBT travellers. It's nice to see that recognised.

The image accompanying this post shows New Zealand on December 27, 2004, and is from NASA's Visible Earth team.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

‘The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made’

Air New Zealand is back with yet another Hobbit-themed safety video. However, this time I think they nailed it: It’s cheeky as their best of these videos are, not taking itself or the source material too seriously. Great job.

Below is their Hobbit-themed safety video from two years ago, “An Unexpected Briefing”. All their Hobbit-themed videos can be seen on their YouTube Channel.

Related posts about Air New Zealand safety videos:

Fit to fly (2011) about the safety video “Mile-high madness with Richard Simmons!”

Betty White and Air New Zealand (2013) about the safety video “Betty White – Safety Old School Style”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Santa is gone

Forget the elections (in New Zealand or the upcoming ones in the USA). Forget wars and rumours of wars. Forget poverty and inequality. Today it was announced that Auckland will not have Santa this year.

The Santa, displayed for the past 15 years on Whitcoulls at the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Auckland’s CBD, is privately funded through the business promotion group, Heart of the City (usually abbreviated, somewhat inappropriately, as HotC). They’ve announced that due to lack of funding, Santa will not appear this year.

HotC is in financial difficulties for a variety of reasons, and has said they can’t afford the $180,000 it cost to put the Santa and reindeer up and take them back down. I do think that cost sounds a little over the top, but I have to take their word for it that that’s the actual cost. Since ratepayers/taxpayers won’t cover the costs (nor should they), if the business promotion group doesn’t have the money to display Santa, well, I guess he’ll just have to stay in his workshop at the North Pole.

Still, this doesn’t sound very imaginative for a business group, does it? Could they not come up with a way for ordinary people to donate to “Save Santa”? People use online fundraising for all sorts of causes, big and small, so was it inconceivable that they just might raise the needed funds?

I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but if HotC is really so incapable of creative thinking, so inept at looking for solutions rather than slashing budgets and a beloved icon—honestly, the only truly visible thing they do—well, maybe they’re really not very good at what they do. If so, they could save the businesses who fund them heaps by winding up the organisation altogether.

Oh well, what can you do? Santa is gone thanks to the brick-brains in HotC, and that’s that. Maybe we’ll just have to fight poverty or something instead of railing about the loss of Santa.

Update 23 October: Santa is saved! According to the New Zealand Herald, some private businesses have come forward to assure that Santa is back this year. That’s great, but I have to wonder: Why the hell didn’t HotC think of that? They could have issued a public appeal and—gasp!—fundraised for it instead of just cutting their budget and walking away. "We are overwhelmed and delighted by the public interest and support for the iconic Santa. The generosity of these businesses in guaranteeing that Santa and his reindeer ride again is a fantastic outcome for Aucklanders and Heart of the City,” HotC said in a media release. Yeah, but no thanks to them.

I know that HotC is still dealing with the repercussions from firing their CEO earlier this month amid allegations of tax evasion and “issuing false invoices”, but that doesn’t excuse the complete lack of vision from HotC.

I took the photo at the top of this post for a post in November, 2009.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Learning new things

Yesterday, I watched part of the Commission Opening of the 51st New Zealand Parliament. Yesterday, I also learned it’s called the Commission Opening. Never too old to learn new things—or to have an opinion about them.

The Commission Opening was held after a proclamation from the Governor General issued on October 8, summoning the Parliament to meet yesterday. The primary purpose of that day is the swearing in of Members of Parliament and the election of the Speaker.

The Governor General doesn’t attend the Commission Opening, but sends three senior judges who wear those awful old-fashioned wigs and flowing red robes. They’re led by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, basically a guy carrying symbolic black stick, a bit like a length of thick dowel, like for a towel rod or something. The three judges, the Royal Commission, read the Letters Patent and other formalities and declare Parliament open on the Governor General’s behalf.

The Members of Parliament—newly elected and returning—are then sworn in by the Clerk of the House. Members of Parliament can either swear an oath or they can make an affirmation, and they can do so in either English or Te Reo Māori.

The oaths, not surprisingly, end with “so help me God,” and many people assume that the people who choose the affirmation are atheists or agnostics, but making the affirmation doesn't mean they're NOT religious; it could merely mean that they believe in secular in government. In fact, the use of the oath or affirmation cuts across party and ideological lines, so I truly don’t think that in NZ the choice of one or the other means anything. I noticed that two of the candidates for Leader of the Labour Party gave the oath, and the other two gave the affirmation. Big deal.

The clerk called MPs up to the Table of the House in alphabetical order, generally in groups of three (it can be groups of up to five). However, sometimes it was one at a time because someone wanted to give the oath in Māori, or because one person wanted to give the oath or affirmation, but the next folks on the list wanted the other.

Incidentally, the option to give an affirmation wasn’t added for atheists and agnostics. It actually originated with the English Parliament’s Act of Toleration of 1689, which was introduced for Quakers, who don’t make oaths. Even so, it was a practice that was already becoming common by that time. It became customary in other countries that derived their laws from England, as New Zealand and Australia did, for example.

Both New Zealand and Australia require MPs to swear an oath/make an affirmation stating loyalty to the Queen. In NZ, they say:
"I, [name], swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

"I, [name], solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law.”
If I were an MP, I would say the affirmation, just as I did when I became a New Zealand citizen, and for exactly the same reason: “I feel it's inappropriate to make a plea to, or pledge based on, one particular religion; it has no place in a purely civic matter.” There’s nothing new about that—I’ve talked about it in one form another on this blog many times—but that particular sentiment is something I wrote 12 years ago.

Even so, and staunch secularist that I am, I nevertheless DON’T object to people choosing the oath if they prefer it. Instead, I object to the wording in both the oath and the affirmation.

The oath should be to New Zealand, or even better, to the people of New Zealand, at whose pleasure the MPs serve, and who they really work for. I’m actually not alone in that, and even rightwing blogger David Farrar has supported that, too.

I first started thinking about this when I watched an Australian citizenship ceremony on Australia Day (carried live on Sky News). Their citizenship affirmation says:
From this time forward
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.
I think that’s far better than what either country uses for their MPs oaths, and also better than New Zealand’s citizenship affirmation:
“I [name] solemnly and sincerely affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand, Her heirs and successors according to the law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen.”
My problem with the wording of NZ’s Parliamentary oath is that it is only to the Queen. I think NZ’s citizenship affirmation is an improvement, but gets it backwards. I’d rather she wasn’t mentioned at all—like the Australian citizenship affirmation (an aside: The oath equivalents of the affirmations I mentioned are identical except they swear rather than affirm and add the word “God” in a phrase).

Obviously, not everyone shares my views, and not just diehard monarchists, either. For example, National Party MP Simon O’Connor thinks an oath/affirmation “only works” if it’s to a person. In a series of increasingly churlish Tweets, he said:
“Those MPs wanting a change to the oath/affirmation wording clearly do not understand the point of an oath/affirmation.”

“An oath/affirmation pretty much only works if to a person. You don’t make oaths to concepts, pieces of paper, or poetic words.”

“Queen of NZ represents all kiwis regardless of partisan politics. I guess some only want an alternative that suits their view of NZ.”
US officials swear an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America” something that embodies concepts, is a piece of paper AND has poetic words. I don’t even think O’Connor would be silly enough to claim that US oaths don’t “work” because they’re not to a person!

Moreover, the Queen doesn’t “represent” any person, Kiwi or otherwise. Instead, she’s the symbol of our Parliamentary democracy, and it and the government formed under Parliament do things in her name, but it’s not because she “represents” individuals—that’s Parliament’s job! In fact, most of the ceremonies surrounding the opening of Parliament are meant to symbolise the independence of Parliament from the monarchy.

He’s right that she’s supposed to be above partisan politics, but that has nothing to do with anything: The question is, to whom should the members of Parliament swear their allegiance and loyalty, and I say it should be the people of New Zealand. He said to someone else that oaths “can be to anything, but their practical value is limited if there isn't someone specific to hold you to that oath.” I think that’s flat out absurd.

I also think it’s ironic that O’Connor decided to slam those who don’t see things his way as people who “only want an alternative that suits their view of NZ,” because that’s exactly what he’s doing.

This obviously gets at the whole question of republicanism (lower case r, thank you very much), about which a minority of Kiwis on either side feel very strongly, but about which the majority feels—well, if not nothing, than maybe very, very little. I’m convinced that one day New Zealand will be a republic (and so will Australia and Canada), but not any time soon. However, the whole question of form of government is irrelevant.

Regardless of whether New Zealand is a monarchy or a republic, I feel that the elected representatives in Parliament OUGHT to swear their loyalty and allegiance to the people of New Zealand. It really is as simple as that.

The State Opening of Parliament was today. I didn’t watch it. I had real-life things to do today, and, besides: I’d had enough pomp and ceremony already.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

American v Australian junk food

As a bi-national, I often straddle the border, metaphorically speaking, between the USA and New Zealand. Add into the mix Australia and the UK, both important to New Zealand, and I often find myself explaining three countries to my American friends.

Like food for example, junk food in particular.

The BuzzFeed video above, “Americans Taste Test Australian Food,” was originally posted in late January, and I planned to share it here shortly afterward. Things happened. But maybe it’s just as well, because now I can compare and contrast it with the Australian counterpart, “Australians Taste Test American Sweets”, at the bottom of this post.

The first thing I noticed was that the Americans were much harsher than the Aussies. Granted, the Aussies were taking the piss sometimes, but the Americans seems very unadventurous to me, something I’ve often found to be true of Americans when it comes to trying new and unfamiliar foods.

However, someone should have served Vegemite to the Americans properly, not with a spoon!! That was just plain unfair, and their reaction is totally understandable.

Several Australians commented on the connection of various products to American pop culture (TV shows/movies). It reminded me of the time a co-worker asked me “why do most Americans drink their coffee black?"

I think that gets at the larger point here: Up to a point, we experience food products—junk food in particular—through the context of our own culture, or through our impressions of another culture, usually received through pop culture.

Sometimes another culture’s food will enter our own, but often it’s adapted for the new culture. Much of the readily available “Mexican food” in the USA, for example, might more accurately be called “Mexican-inspired food”, though that might be overly pedantic. The point is, it’s adapted for American tastes (in the same way that McDonald’s uses much leaner beef in New Zealand than in the USA; Kiwis don’t like overly fatty beef in their burgers).

I think these videos demonstrate yet again how people see the world, and experience it, from within their own cultural realities. The Americans tried unfamiliar food products that don’t have equivalents in their culture and didn’t like them. The Aussies tried American snack foods, were vaguely familiar with many of them because of American pop culture, and mainly liked the foods they were trying (or, at least, they didn't seem to hate them as fervently as some of the Americans did).

Compare and contrast yet again.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The speed of change

I stopped posting about the arrival of marriage equality in various US states because things were changing so often that it would have meant posting too often. Lately, the changes have become much faster. So, I’d better post before all 50 states have marriage equality.

The map above is from Wikipedia and shows the current status of marriage equality in the states. Dark blue means marriage for same gender couples is legal, while the deep red/maroon colour indicates the exact opposite: Same gender marriages are banned. At the moment—and moment is a good word!—31 US states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. A further six US States have had their marriage bans struck down, but those rulings are currently stayed while the appeals process winds down. The likely end of those stays varies, but Wyoming’s ends Thursday US time at the very latest. Together, these 37 states account for about 80% of the US population. Challenges to the remaining states' bans are at various stages.

What all of this means is that marriage equality will be in all 50 US States soon, probably by early next year at the latest. It’s now looking likely that this will happen without the US Supreme Court ever ruling on the Constitutional issues that are at the heart of all the bans being struck down by courts around the country. Not that long ago, no one would have predicted that.

It was a little over ten years ago—May 17, 2004—that marriage equality arrived in Massachusetts, the first state to gain it. It was another four years until the second state, California, gained marriage equality, only to temporarily lose it when voters approved Proposition 8. 2008 turned out to be the turning point, though we didn’t realise it at the time. The loss on Prop 8 galvanised a movement and led to where we are today.

As the chart below shows, from 2008 through 2012, there were usually two states a year that gained marriage equality. But in 2013, eight states gained marriage equality (though Utah temporarily lost it). The pace has continued picking up speed in 2014: So far, fourteen US states have gained marriage equality, and it’ll be fifteen states in a few days when Wyoming joins the list of free states. And that’s with more than two months left to go this year.

Things have happened quickly over the past couple years, but it actually took decades to get to this point. It’s important to remember that. It’s also important to remember that there are far too many places in the world where LGBT people's struggle to live with freedom and dignity is the battle, and marriage equality isn’t even something they can yet dream about.

But as the USA nears the finish line in this struggle, it seems to me that most people are glad to see it end. Obviously the hardcore opponents are unlikely to change very soon, but the softer opposition is clearly moving on. Mainstream Americans seem to be ready for this story to be over, and it soon will be.

This is very good news, indeed.

The map at top of this post is by Lokal_Profil [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

The chart lower in the post is by Arthur Schenck [CC-BY-NC-SA NZ 3.0 license].

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Equal cat time

This week, I’ve posted photos of Jake and Sunny on two different days: First when they were shorn, then a couple days later when they had a tanning party when we were all outside. Today, it’s some equal time for Bella.

The photo above is of Bella this morning, right after I opened up the curtains. She doesn’t seem pleased about that. I didn’t make the bed until she got up. Of course.

The photo below is of her trying to nap on the lounge floor. I think she was a bit annoyed that I used the flash to brighten the shadows a bit.

There are times when Bella’s not asleep (or just waking up), and I’ve even posted photos of her when she’s been fully awake. But the truth is, taking photos of furbabies—dog or cat—is generally easier when they’re at least drowsy.

And, for anyone who thinks I’ve posted too many photos of the kids this week, well, if history is any indicator, it’ll be a long time between drinks. Normal blog topics will dominate in the meantime. Probably.

But, honestly, how could I NOT post photos of such cuteness?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Midweek Diversion: Static Era

Blogging and social media have introduced me to a lot of people I never would’ve come into contact with otherwise. My series of posts for NZ Music Month provided a perfect example of that, one that has a new development.

One of the bands I featured last May was Static Era because I chatted on Twitter with lead singer, Emma G. After that, we became Facebook friends, and I found out she shares some of the most interesting things I see on Facebook: Things that are actually funny (not fake funny), interesting, or even inspiring. So, she’s become a part of my extended social media circle.

A couple days ago, she shared a link to their latest music video (above), for their song, “Addicted to a Dream”, the third single from Dare To Fail. Emma’s vocals are strong as ever, and the sound is epic, but the song explores some really dark themes—once again their song’s story telling is compelling, and I think the video works very well with the song.

Band member Chris Yong said on Google+:
I'm really proud of this video because it's different, and it's different for a reason.

Firstly, I don't feature in it at all and that's because this video is about the story within it.

Secondly, some serious thought went into this video to give it meaning. It's not a pop video, it's a bit dark in places and that's intentional. This country has some dark issues that people don't openly talk about and you never know who is experiencing what behind closed doors.

Last but not least, remember to look after one another. You may never know that just being a decent person, listening and being there for someone helped a person through a difficult time, but to them it made all the difference.
The group has also put out a “Behind the Scenes” video that talks a bit more about how the song and video came to be. That’s a nice addition.

I’ve said many times that I especially like music and music videos that carry a message or that explore deeper themes (and, of course, I like empty entertainment, too—depends on my mood, maybe). So, even though Static Era is harder rock than I generally listen to, I quite like this song and video.

And I know about it—and them—because of social media—no wonder I find value in it.

Today in cuteness

A few minutes ago, I went out to hang some washing on the line and the dogs came out to join me, as they often do. Sunny lay down first, and started dozing, then Jake joined her, lying down so he could use her hip as a pillow.

It was very cute, so I pulled out my phone to snap a photo (above). Unfortunately, this alerted Sunny (maybe she thought I was getting a snack?) and she raised her head just as I was about to take the photo. Oh, well.

It’s now been a couple days since their clipping, and they’re adjusting to the shear reality of it (see what I did there?). The first night they were cold, and yesterday they were clearly zonked. Today, they still stare at me a lot, which would kind of freak me out if it was different dogs doing the staring.

Anyway, sometimes a photo of furbabies being cute is just what’s needed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Labour Leadership election

I haven’t commented much at all about the Labour Leadership election, and I won’t be doing so today, either. So much of the discussion by both the right and the left has been unhelpful—even toxic—but the fact is, I just don’t see anything to be gained by a public navel-gazing about my trying to decide who to back. So, I won’t.

To be sure, I have definite opinions about the candidates, but I haven’t made up my mind how I’ll rank them. They all have the chance to convince me to rank them first—I say they do because I’m not listening to the social media ponderings of pundits or activists, whether they’re party members or, most likely, non-members.

My discussions are being done in private with other Labour voters as well as other party members. This decision is too important to treat it like an episode of “New Zealand’s Got Talent” or whatever.

Nevertheless, some people who know that I’m a NZ Labour Party member active in the last campaign may wonder about what’s going on. Earlier today, Tim Barnett posted detailed information about the contest, which I’m reprinting in its entirety because I think it answers nearly all the questions folks may have:
The resignation of David Cunliffe on 30 September 2014 as the 14th Leader of the Labour Party triggered a Party-wide Leadership Election. Nominations close on October 14th 2014, with the result announced on November 18th 2014.

Here are 10 Key Facts about the Labour Leadership Election:

Another smackdown

Yesterday, I wrote about how one of the most prominent spokesmen in the anti-gay industry was finally challenged on his nonsense. Today I found out he’d had another smackdown when one of his usual deceptions was revealed as a lie.

In the heated discussion on “Fox News Sunday,” professional anti-gay religious/political activist Tony Perkins, who is a leader of the anti-gay hate group the “Family” Research [sic] Council [whatever…] made a lot of claims that were either utter nonsense or that were deliberately deceptive (in blunt terms, he brazenly lied).

Tony never says anything new, and quite frankly it’s tiring to have to constantly debunk the same bovine excrement over and over and over. So, in my post I didn’t even bother to take down one of his biggest lies and smears. Fortunately, Politifact was on the case.

While trying to provide “evidence” for his religious belief that marriage is only for male/female couples who make babies, Tony declared: "We know from the social science that children do best with a mom and a dad."

I knew that this was a bald-faced lie, one designed to attack the right of same-gender couples to marry, sure, but also to smear and defame all same-gender couples that are raising children, or that may do so in the future. The intent behind this tired lie is to portray all LGBT people, but especially those with children, as dramatically inferior to heterosexuals and, therefore, portray us as people who don’t deserve equal treatment under the law.

So, Politifact decided to look at Tony’s claim. They went to the “F”RC website, which lists 10 supposed “reasons” to support their claims. It didn’t go well for Tony:
Perkins said that based on social science, we know "that children do best with a mom and a dad." The research cited on the website of Perkins’ group, the Family Research Council, does not provide any support. It relies on books rather than peer-reviewed research, it quotes selectively or mischaracterizes from the work it cites, or at best, challenges the quality of the methodology behind findings that go against its position.

In contrast, we found recent peer-reviewed social science research that finds that at the very least, children of lesbian parents do as well as other children.

We rate Perkins’ claim False. [emphasis added]
It’s worth reading the Politifact site to see why the stuff on Tony’s site doesn’t support his claims, let alone contain relevant facts. It turns out, this isn’t the first time that Politifact has ruled the parenting assertion as false: They did so back in April in response to idiotic comments made to ABC (USA) News by another prominent far-right professional anti-gay religious/political activist.

Politifact goes on to note something that I have, as well:
The American Psychological Association produced a comprehensive review of studies going back three decades. The most relevant section focuses on research that compares the children of lesbian or gay parents. The studies looked at children in terms of their school performance, their relations with their peers, intelligence, self-esteem and a number of other variables.

According to this review, "the belief that children of lesbian and gay parents suffer deficits in personal development has no empirical foundation." [link in the original]
Despite all the real, verifiable and reputable evidence, activists in the radical right anti-gay industry persist in spreading the same lie and smear. It keeps popping up everywhere (even here in New Zealand). While it’s good to see rightwingers being smacked down for repeating the lie, it does get tiring to have to do it so often. Maybe that’s just another tactic the radical right is using, trying to wear us all down.

Fortunately, truth and facts don’t take time off, and radical right anti-gay activists are now seeing themselves regularly (and easily) debunked. Sadly, neither the constant repetition of anti-LGBT lies and smears, nor the debunking of them, seem likely to end any time soon. But as long as they keep lying and defaming, we'll keep exposing them for what they are.

And that’s a fact.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A great and positive video

The video above is a video for National Coming Out Day 2014 from the USA’s largest LGBT rights organisation, the Human Rights Campaign. I think it’s a brilliant video.

Throughout the world, too many gay kids grow up in fear—of other kids, of their churches, their communities, their governments—sometimes even their own parents. Too many gay kids never make it to become gay adults.

The folks this video highlights are helping to change all that, slowly, yes, but change it nevertheless. Coming out matters as much as it ever has—maybe even more so, given the hostility and danger that LGBT people face in some parts of the world.

That’s why all of us who can come out have a duty to do so, and to be out, loudly and proudly, because each of us, no matter how insignificant we may think we are, has the potential to make some scared, lonely gay kid—or adult—feel a little less alone, and maybe—just maybe—a little more loved.

If it helps just one person, it’s all worth it.

Shear ordinariness

Today I took the dogs for their spring clipping, getting them ready for summer. Above is a photo of them in the car, as we got ready to head back home. It was a perfectly ordinary event, really, part of an ordinary day—something I don’t document on this blog nearly enough.

The thing is, the spring clipping is very noticeable, as Sunny, in particular, goes in looking like a sheep and comes out as a cute little dog. Jake’s transformation is less dramatic, but no less cute.

I noticed that they kept staring at me after their grooming, and there are two possible reasons for that, I think. The first is that they can see so much better after their clipping that they can’t help themselves. The second possibility is equally plausible: They always stare, but we can only notice it when they’re newly shorn.

In any case, when we got home, they followed me everywhere as I moved around the house. I think they were afraid I might leave them again.

Bella, meanwhile, was somewhat confused when I stopped in the house and didn’t have the dogs with me. When I came back later with them, she came up to the gate to greet us as we walked in the yard. She seemed to have missed them.

In any case, the photo below is of the kids right after we got back in the car. It’s the photo I shared on social media, so it was natural to share it here, too.

Since I wasn't far away, I decided to have an early lunch at Carl’s Jr., which I rarely go to because the nearest one to us is in Albany, a bit of a drive and well out of my way to go to. Below is the photo of my visit I shared on social media; note the lack of actual food in the photo. I’ll return to that point another day.

Aside from lunch, there was a quick trip to the grocery store, that stop at home to drop off the stuff, before heading out again to pick up the dogs. Like I said, an ordinary day.

But I realised part way through it all, that I never document one of my days on this blog, and I think I’d like to from time to time. More about that, too, another time.

Right now, it’s time for bed. Like I said: It’s an ordinary day.

A bigot gets schooled

The news media has long used anti-gay bigots to provide “balance” when discussing LGBT issues. This lazy practice is made all the worse by the news media never holding those bigots to account. Until now.

The clip above is from Chris Wallace’s “Fox News Sunday” programme. It features conservative Republican attorney Ted Olson, who was the co-attorney in the case that led to the end of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 as well as the case challenging Virginia’s ban of same-sex marriages.

The anti-gay bigot is hate group leader Tony Perkins of the “Family” Research [sic] Council [whatever…], who spun the same distortions, red herrings and outright lies that are his usual tactics. This time, the host stood up to him, and this time someone who is way smarter than Perkins and who actually knows what he’s talking about—Olson—was able to expose Perkins spin as utter nonsense without ever once getting personal or condescending.

The smug Perkins’ crusade against marriage equality boils down to three propositions: 1. Gay people are icky, 2. Marriage is only about making babies and raising them, 3. If gay couples can marry, then heterosexuals won’t.

Let’s rehash life in the real world yet again (again): No one gives a flying flip that Perkins hates gay people or that his organisation thinks homosexuality should be a crime. In a free society, people are entitled to hate whoever they want, no matter how stupid that hatred is, and they’re entitled to think other people are icky, even though thinking that makes them look really, really stupid. Obviously, everyone has the right to think stupid things—that is not now, nor has it ever been, an issue in this debate (engaging in or inciting violence based on that hatred is another matter entirely).

However, bigots like Tony and his gang DON’T get to impose their bigotry on others or to enshrine their hatred in law. If the people he hates so much aren’t free to live their lives in peace and with legal equality, then no one is free. Tony’s brand of theocratic authoritarianism is the very opposite of freedom.

Marriage is not about babies—how many times do we have to repeat this before they understand it? If marriage were only about making babies, then heterosexual couples who cannot or choose not to have children would be forbidden to marry. Tony and his cronies retort is that they could make babies, and their god could miraculously allow couples who can’t have children to be able to (which underscores that their argument is entirely based on religious views).

There are two things wrong with Tony’s pathetic marriage = babies line. First, as Ted Olson said, “There are thousands and tens of thousands of children in same-sex house holds. They deserve the same respect and decency that other people have that are living right next door.” Exactly so.

But if the divine miracles thing for “barren” couples was really a reason in favour of marriage, then it would be equally true for same-gender couples. If Tony's god can’t miraculously make a same-gender couple have a baby, then it isn’t a very powerful god, and I don’t think Tony and his gang would argue that. So, instead, they've conjured up a god who, quite coincidentally, of course, thinks just like they do, with all the same prejudices.

Tony and his lot always—always—say that allowing same-gender couples to assume the commitments and responsibilities of marriage will somehow destroy opposite-gender marriages—clearly the most stupid argument rightwingers have ever come up with, and they have quite a lot of pathetically stupid arguments. Ted Olson exposes that idiotic talking point as the nonsense it is by pointing out the obvious: “There’s no heterosexual couple that is going to decide to get divorced, or not to get married, or not to raise children, just because another couple next to them is treated equally and with respect and decency.” Exactly.

For me, some of Olson’s best points were refuting Tony’s claim that the recent decisions are a “back-alley type Roe v Wade decision” (the irony of the phrase apparently escaping Tony). Tony, as per usual, whined on and on about judges deciding things, and Olson schooled him: “We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights precisely because we want protections from majority rule. When the majority in a legislature or a popular vote take away rights of individuals that are protected by the Bill of Rights, then we have an independent judiciary to rectify that situation. It's happened again and again and again throughout this country's history."

Tony has never presented a single rational secular reason for opposing marriage equality, and all of his supposed arguments are, in fact, based on prejudice, religious bias or both. Still, the entire anti-gay industry is just like Tony, though some are even worse.

It was great to see someone—especially someone on Fox—standing up to Tony for a change. Until now, Tony’s transparent anti-gay bigotry has always been given a free pass, and challenges to his dopey talking points, shallow thinking or the utter nonsense of his “arguments” have been very rare and mild.

When even Fox starts to lose patience with a rightwing extremist, then the game is over. Tony just refuses to accept reality—I don’t think he is capable of doing so.

All of which means that while this was a rare rebuke for Tony, it won’t be the last time—at least, not until all 50 US states have marriage equality, and that’s not far away now.

Related: A shorter version of the video can be found on Talking Points Memo: “Fox Host, Ted Olson Gang Up On Tony Perkins In Gay Marriage Debate”.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Miracles of the modern world

One of my sisters-in-law and a cousin-in-law (yes, I know that’s not a real title…) have been on holiday in the USA. Weird enough, since we were meant to go with them*, but also because of how different this world is now.

When I first arrived in New Zealand in 1995, hardly anyone I knew had an email address. So, the only way to keep in touch with folks in the USA was through expensive International Long Distance phone calls, or posted letters. It took up to a week for a letter to get from the USA to me, and up to two weeks for a letter to get from me to an address in the USA. All of which means that communication was either slow or expensive.

Now, things are very different.

I’ve played “Words with Friends” with our travellers while they’ve been away, and I’ve kept up with their adventures on Facebook. It’s almost as if they were in another part of New Zealand, Australia at the farthest.

This week, we spoke with my sister-in-law via Facetime (and she showed us her hotel room in Las Vegas, where she was at the time). Several family members were at our house that night, and we all said hello. I couldn’t have imagined such things 18+ years ago.

When our travellers went to their last stop in San Francisco, the first thing I thought of was how many people I know who live there, or in the greater Bay area or, at least, not all that far away from there. But all those people I know? I’ve never met any of them in real life. Welcome to the modern world.

So, members of my New Zealand family went to my native land, but we connected as if they were in NZ, and they went to places where I know people, only I’ve never actually met those people in real life. That pretty much sums up the world many of us now live in.

I love the world we live in.

*We'd planned on going with them, but our airfare is in my mouth, so to speak. Longtime readers will know what I'm referring to, others may want to look through the blog archives

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Shattered earth

New Zealand’s most dangerous faultline—and one of the most dangerous ones in the world—is the Alpine Fault, which runs along the west of the South Island. It produces a M8 earthquake once every three centuries, more or less, and the last one was around 1717. So, scientists are going to drill into it.

It might seem like a risky idea, but it’s not particularly new. Scientists have drilled into faults before, usually after an earthquake. But with the Alpine Fault, they have a chance to look at a fault that hasn’t ruptured in nearly 300 years, but which has a high probability of producing a severe M8 earthquake sometime in the next 50 years. On average, the fault ruptures every 330 years, give or take 60 years.

So, scientist are drilling into it in a project called the Deep Fault Drilling Project (DFDP). They hope to better understand if better, and also maybe even find ways of providing advance warning.

A common question, included on GNS’ “DFDP-2 FAQs”, is: “Will drilling into the Alpine Fault cause a large earthquake?” We non-scientists naturally wonder about that. They answer:
No, for several reasons. The volume of rock affected by drilling is extremely small (with dimensions of the order of a few metres) compared to the scale of the Alpine Fault itself (with dimensions on the orders of tens to hundreds of kilometres), and the depth of penetration (1.3 km) is very shallow compared to the depths at which most earthquakes nucleate (several kilometres). Drilling operations will be conducted using techniques that minimize the degree of pressurization in the borehole and no large-volume fluid injection experiment will be undertaken. Finally, the low levels of earthquakes occurring naturally within several kilometres of the DFDP-2 drill-site, and their low magnitudes, indicate that the rock mass is generally not close to failing.
Nevertheless, local councils have emergency plans in place, just in case, but that’s something they’d have anyway—we still have no idea when the fault will rupture, and local councils have to be prepared all the time, just like local councils do in every other part of the country. In other words, the fact they’re drilling into the Alpine Fault doesn’t increase the need for emergency preparedness—it’s the same as it always was.

Hopefully, the DFDP will gain all the data they’re wishing for, yes, but also maybe it will help the development of early warning systems. Anything that does that is a good thing, and this project isn’t nearly as scary as it may sound.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

No labels

Social media can be fascinating. Or weird. Well, probably usually both at the same time. Sometimes, though, it leads to unexpected places and ideas that aren’t as simple as they seemed.

Like labels, for example.

Someone I know on Facebook “Liked" a post from a US-based group of RWNJs (well, they ARE…). That’s the only reason I saw it (and, I presume, a similar situation must be how the non-RWNJ person saw it).

The post was a link to story on a rightwing site about Raven-Symoné rejecting the label “African American”, and it included a YouTube video (above) of her talking with Oprah Winfrey about it.

The Facebook post made me think of one of Roger Green’s recent posts about a political discussion about race on Facebook and how civil it was.

In the discussion on the post, Roger commented:
“…at least some of the people I know personally BELIEVE that not talking about racism IS engaging. It’s those ‘race baiters’ who stir up conflict where there would otherwise not be conflict…”
That’s what I was thinking about when I read what the US RWNJ page that shared the link added: "Well said! Time to tell the race baiters to get packing... Oprah's facial expression was priceless.” So, after reading that I knew what was coming when I followed the link, and it didn't disappoint me—at all. It positively dripped white privilege and wilful blindness to the complexities of race in the USA. And general ignorance, too, but one expects that.

However, I then went directly to the video on YouTube, and the whole thing became something entirely different.

The YouTube information tells a far more complex story. Raven-Symoné, it turns out, rejects ALL labels, including gay—funny that “Conservative Tribune” didn’t mention THAT, isn’t it? Anyway, the rightwing site tried to make it all about race when, in fact, her sentiment is broader than they implied (to suit their ideology, of course).

I’ve heard this same rejection of labels from many young LGBT people—and it frankly baffles me. I grew up in a much different time, when people who were LGBT had labels thrust upon them, always negative, sometimes deeply derogatory. We took those words and made them badges of pride—fuck the straight bigots who thought they’d make us feel badly!

Meanwhile, we worked hard to make the world a better place, one with social and legal equality for LGBT people. And we succeeded—slowly at first, but now to the point where full equality in the major countries of the Western World is imminent. We made this happen by being out everywhere, every time, and that was what made the difference.

But now we find younger people who reject labels, who demand the right to fall in love with either gender and to have that respected. People like me—who fought hard for LGBT people to be treated as human beings—automatically respect the right of people to define themselves, and yet, I struggle to accept this new reality.

Part of that is because in my day we had to choose sides. There was no nuance, no equivocation, no context or complexity: One was either gay or one wasn’t. Nowadays, young people demand to be accepted as people who may sometimes love someone of the same gender, and I cannot relate. At all.

At a very basic level, I feel betrayed. I didn’t fight all those years for LGBT freedom, and I didn’t endure being called “fag” (among less savoury terms) just so that young folks could refuse the freedom to identify as gay. There’s a part of me that thinks that these “don’t label me” types are ingrates who have no fucking idea what we endured to get where we are today.

But, then, I take a breath. I think about them and their reality. Most of those young people have never lived in a place or time where the basic human rights of LGBT people aren’t protected somewhere. Gay singers and actors have been everywhere, and gay politicians, too. They don’t know—as I have—a world in which being identified as gay could cost them their homes, their jobs, their family or even their lives. To them, being in a relationship with someone of the same gender is just something, whereas to us, it was everything.

But there’s also this: Why the hell did I go through all that pain, endure all that personal cost, if not to win the freedom for people to be themselves? I cannot pretend to speak for others of my generation, but, for me, my sacrifices mean nothing if today’s young people can’t choose to reject the very labels we fought so very hard to protect.

I honestly don’t know if I can ever understand or accept young people’s rejection of labels—at the moment, I kind of doubt it. But I defend in the most strenuous terms their right to reject the very labels I fought to protect. Freedom means freedom, even when I cannot begin to understand how it’s exercised.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Here we go again

The NZ Labour Party’s selection process for its next Leader has begun, only about a year since we last did this. I haven’t made up my mind who I’ll support, and I’ll wait to do so until later in the process.

Nominations for Leader will close at 5pm on Tuesday, October 14, and there’s been a lot of speculation (mostly by media pundits, it has to be said) that there may be more folks throwing their hats in the ring. At the moment, there are two candidates: David Cunliffe, who was leader at the recent election, and Grant Robertson, who came second in the leadership contest last year.

Just like last year, if we have three or more candidates, we’ll rank our choices in a preferential vote system. Last year, I ranked Grant Robertson 1 and David Cunliffe 2 and Shane Jones, who I did not support, third.

There were also be a series of meetings, which the Party calls "Hustings", where Party Members can listen to the candidates make their pitches. I couldn't make one last year, but I hope to this year.

The Party has issued some “expectations” that they want Members to “comply” with during the campaign time. All the discussion of the party leadership by media pundits, as well as ordinary people on social media and blogs has been, on the whole, not productive, as I’ve said already said, or even particularly helpful. I don’t know whether Party Members will actually comply with the “expectations” or not, but non-Members certainly won’t. That’s just a reality.

Still, trying to get Party Members to be more disciplined is a good idea, even if some choose to ignore the request. A disciplined party stands a much better chance of winning elections, and what’s the point of this whole thing if not to pick the person best equipped to lead the party to victory?

So, we’ll see how this goes. I imagine I’ll have more to say about this later.