Thursday, May 31, 2007

Flag Flap 2

Continuing on from yesterday's update of an earlier post is this: TransitNZ, the body responsible for maintaining the Auckland Harbour Bridge (among other roads and related infrastructure), has changed its policy on flying flags on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Effective tomorrow, only the official New Zealand flag will fly on both the bridge's flagpoles.

This became an issue earlier this year when TransitNZ refused to fly the tino rangatiratanga (Maori sovereignty) flag on Waitangi Day. At the time, they stood by their official policy that they would only fly the flags of recognised nations on their national day (and even then only if that country's highest diplomat in New Zealand requested it and if they provided the flag). However, they recently flew the flag of the European Union on Europe Day, even though the EU isn't a county, a move that angered Maori activists. Transit has since admitted that flying the EU flag was a mistake.

Transit's new policy has been interpreted by many as their attempt to duck having to deal with the issue of whether the Maori flag—which isn't an officially recognised flag—should be flown from the bridge. Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said:
Instead of focusing on that issue—addressing Treaty responsibilities and acknowledging the tangata whenua of this country—Transit New Zealand appears to have thrown its hands up in horror, and got rid of all the flags of other countries as well. ["tangata whenua" means, basically, native people, though it doesn't translate that way, meaning instead something more like the people of the land, the people who belong to this place].
Transit chief executive Rick van Barneveld said:
The Transit board appreciates the interest many people have in what flag is flying on the bridge on any given day. However, our focus needs to be about the safe and efficient operation of the state highway network.

It's often been said that looking at the flags and trying to figure out what country the foreign one belonged to was one of the few high points of commuters' tip over the bridge. It will be a shame to end the practice.
Personally, I think the solution would be to "out-source" responsibility for the flags to another body which would take its directions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, meeting, of course, the requirements set by Transit NZ (primarily for safety of both people and the bridge itself). As I said before, it’s unfair to make the road managers responsible for as highly-charged a function as deciding what flags to fly when. This probably isn’t the end of this matter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

No religion 2

After the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali, perpetrated by Islamist extremists, regional leaders felt one thing they could do would be promote religious tolerance in the region. That’s resulted in a series of conferences, the latest of which was held in New Zealand.

This year’s conference was marred by an extremist Christianist TV preacher who has demanded that
New Zealand be declared a “Christian nation”. The TV preacher has declared it’s “treason” to disagree with that particular view of New Zealand, and played up his offence at a declaration that New Zealand has no “official, established religion” (their declaration read “We formerly [sic] recognise New Zealand as a Christian nation,” poor spelling providing unintentional amusement).

Britain—and like most countries in the world—New Zealand has no official religion, no state church. It has a Christian heritage and history, but that’s not the same thing as an established church. The TV preacher ought to know that. Perhaps he does, but when he throws around words like “treason” one wonders whether it’s ignorance or political ambition at play—or both. He’s refusing to dampen speculation that he’ll stand in the next election and, in fact, he told his followers that his group would be running the country in five years, so clearly he has delusions of grandeur.

Far more worrying is the bigotry and hatred he’s spewed in his latest stunt. He said that in his “Christian” nation “alternative or foreign religions would not be afforded equal status to the established national religion, therefore restrictions on those religions would need to apply.” He went on to warn about Western countries like
Britain and France where “mosques are allowed to flourish”.

I have never heard the TV preacher express his bigotry so openly, apart from when he was attacking gay people to win headlines during his crusade against
New Zealand’s Civil Unions Act, or when he said that evidence of the devil at work in New Zealand was that we had a female Prime Minister.

Shane Jones, a Maori MP for the Labour Party, accurately summed it up when he said the TV preacher’s claims were “hyperbole designed to profile his own political ambitions”. He added that when dealing with the TV preacher, “we live in the real world and he lives in [his] world, and never the twain shall meet.”

As I’ve written before, the percentage of New Zealanders who call themselves Christian is declining, and is now barely over half the population. If the TV preacher were mainly concerned about his brand of fundamentalist christianism, that could rile him up because in a few years time self-identified Christians will be the minority, and nothing frightens conservatives more than change. But like a lot of people, I suspect the TV preacher is playing on those fears to promote his own political fantasy in which he sees himself as Prime Minister.

It’s never going to happen. Not only are New Zealanders increasingly secular, they’re also fair-minded, tolerant and anti-authoritarian—all of which the TV preacher is not. We are so tolerant that we even allow far-right TV preachers to run around leading political rallies for non-existent issues. Were he in power, he’d never allow that, which is why he’ll never amount to anything.

And if I were religious, I’d surely say “thank God for that!”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

AmeriNZ #13 – Lucky Lucky Lucky

Episode 13 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
I’m not superstitious but I still do certain things, like throw spilled salt over my shoulder. I also have an episode number 13. I begin with some quasi-meta stuff about rankings and iTunes comments.

New Zealand Music charts will include legal digital downloads from this week. They’re changing the charts as a result. You can see the current chart here.
A researcher has found that the NZ accent is getting stronger and more distinct, despite globalisation. A shorter version of the story is here.

There might not be a podcast on Friday, but I hope to have one.

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In Ed we trust

The latest Reader’s Digest poll finds that Sir Edmund Hillary is still New Zealand’s most-trusted person. The list also revealed that eight of the top ten trusted people were sport figures.

The Prime Minister, at 58, was the only ranked politician, but she came in just after a right-wing magazine publisher who has been mounting an attack campaign against her and the Labour-led Government.

The only religious leader, at 75, is a far-right TV preacher most famous for leading black-shirted marchers against
New Zealand’s then-pending Civil Union Bill. The marchers gave what was eerily similar to Nazi-style salutes as they marched, all of which did as much as anything to turn off ordinary New Zealanders. To his credit, the TV preacher learned from that mistake, and made sure that his marchers stopped wearing black shirts or giving stiff-armed salutes.

The results of the poll tend to reinforce the notion that Reader’s Digest demographic is older and far more conservative than the population generally. Or, maybe they’re just weirder. The Australian version found that the sixth most-trusted Australian was 8-year-old Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late “crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin (who was at 60 on last year’s list). Bindi was just ahead of her mum, American-born Terri, who was the seventh most-trusted Australian. The third most-trusted Australians, collectively, are The Wiggles.

Nevertheless, I have no trouble believing that Sir Ed—who conquered Mt. Everest 54 years ago today—is the most trusted Kiwi. He’s the epitome of how New Zealanders see themselves—modest, self-effacing, brave, quietly effective and outward looking (he is, in fact, the exact opposite of many of the others on the New Zealand list, that TV preacher in particular). Sir Ed is widely regarded the greatest living New Zealander, so it’s no surprise he tops the most-trusted list, too.

Photo of Sir Ed by Graeme Mulholland. It can be found here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The numbers game

All politics is a numbers game. In all democracies it’s about politicians first counting the numbers to see if they’ll be elected then, if they are, it’s counting numbers to see if they can do what they want by gaining support from other politicians.

Along the way, the power of the opinion poll is supreme. Never mind that some polls are totally worthless, and ignore the fact that even the best poll is merely a snapshot of a single moment in time, a moment that will have passed before the poll results are released. To all of us, and especially the news media, polls become some sort of final decider of what or who is in or out.

A new poll from TVNZ’s One News and Colmar Brunton showed the centre-right National Party, currently the Opposition, 25 points ahead of the Labour Party, currently leading the Government. I won’t even bother talking about the “beauty contest” poll about “preferred prime minister” (because, as I’ve said before, it’s meaningless when we don’t elect the Prime Minister directly), but it showed Opposition Leader John Key ahead of Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The next election is more than a year from now, so the current ratings don’t mean a whole lot. Most political analysts would agree with that assessment, but would add that the overall trend is what matters, and in
New Zealand, the trend has been against Labour lately. Recent evidence has shown that to be an unreliable indicator.

In the last NZ election campaign in 2005, the polls had Labour way out in front at first, but then the polling trend showed National pulling ahead. National lost that election. In the 2004 US presidential election, the polling trends pointed toward a victory by John Kerry, but that didn’t happen. So, observing trends doesn’t tell us anything much, either. The only way to truly gage public opinion is by holding an election, something polling companies themselves would surely admit.

So, while the current polling isn’t favourable toward Labour, that’s not the end of the story. It’s a long time until the next election, and anything could happen. In the meantime, though, it’s impossible to talk about politics without mentioning polls, and it’s obviously impossible for me avoid talking about politics. In my case though, it’s more about analysis than hysterics over poll data, more about commentary than the numbers game.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

6 days for 60 percent

In the context of a story about the opening of a new fundamentalist Christian museum, America’s ABC News reported that a survey they conducted found that an astounding sixty percent of Americans believe that god created the world in six days. There’s no mention of how those 220 million + Americans reconcile this belief with scientific fact.

The museum, however, has no such problems. To them, their god created everything, and on day six made Adam, cows, and dinosaurs all at the same time. They say that scientific evidence proves their view, um, somehow.

I know this is no surprise, but this story annoys me in many ways. First, their rejection of reason and intellect and science in order to promote a particular religious belief annoys me. The arrogance of these fundamentalists annoys me even more.

Back when I was a Christian, we were taught that there was nothing incompatible between evolution and the story of divine creation. This was a common belief among mainstream Protestants, most of whom pointed out that there’s nothing in the bible that says that those six days were 24 hours each, and not millions of years. It’s another example of how fundamentalists have co-opted the whole discussion and made their view the only debated perspective on evolution v. creation (which shouldn’t be a “debate” at all, but that’s anther matter).

The fundamentalists also never miss an opportunity to attack ordinary Americans, whom they always call—gasp!—secular. Apparently, accepting the fact of evolution leads inevitably to abortion and pornography (or is it the other way around?). A spokesperson for the financial backers of the museum said that only “secular scientists” would say that dinosaurs and humans didn’t live at the same time. Clearly, for them Christian scientists who back science aren’t real Christians.

They’re also not moral, according to the group, because they have no reason to be. Despite the fact common morality makes sense for a lot of reasons having nothing to do with religion, apparently only fundamentalists are really moral.

This sort of anti-intellectualism is annoying, but when it extends to denying scientific fact it’s downright dangerous. American kids are going to have to compete in a global economy, and no one’s doing them any favours by promoting stories that not even all religious people believe.

So, apparently the bumper sticker really is correct: “Fundamentalism stops a thinking mind.”

Friday, May 25, 2007

AmeriNZ #12 – Moving On

Episode 12 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
We’re doing much better, but today was difficult for me. Everything has been made better by the support we’ve had, including from all my new friends from my blog and podcast. Should we animal lovers be a little more upfront? Vicious dogs: They’re usually made so by their owners.
To get my podcast back on track, I talk a bit about Westminster-style parliamentary systems. In some ways, they’re much stronger than an American-style system. The exit of the UK’s Tony Blair is put into context of parliamentary systems, which opens up talk of New Zealand’s application of the system. Parliamentary systems like New Zealand has are more consultative, and so, do things that generally have more broad-based support.
Then, commentapalooza! A special appeal ends this episode—I hope you consider it.
Mentioned this episode:
Hello Waffles (one of my most favourites)
Ramble Redhead, episode 137 (another fave)
ArcherRadio 421—another fave (my first “gang bang” episode)

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Democrats screw America

I’ve often said that the US elections last November made very little real difference to America because Congress still had a conservative majority as it has for at least a generation. The proof of that came today when the US Congress caved-in to Bush and passed a bill to spend extra money on Bush’s Iraq War—no timelines for withdrawal of US troops, no enforceable “benchmarks” that the so-called government in Iraq would have to live up to (since Bush is empowered to ignore benchmarks if he so wishes), absolutely nothing that will in any way bring an end to this disaster. Instead, Bush gets what he demanded all along. It’s a complete victory for him.

In the end, the whole thing amounted to exactly what the Republicans said it was: Political grandstanding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “The debate will go on.” Yeah, you tell them, Nancy! The Bushies will be quaking in their boots in fear of your fury. And, the Republicans haven’t changed since the election, either:

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio choked back tears as he stirred memories of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to take them on? When are we going to defeat them,” he asked.

It’s the same tired rhetoric that the GOP has been peddling for years, lying that the war in Iraq is in some way related to the “war on terror”. That’s the same GOP, of course, that blocked implementation of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, leaving America vulnerable to attack while they “choke back tears”. Give me a break.

Among Democratic Presidential candidates in the Senate, only Christopher Dodd pledged in advance to vote against the bill. Joe Biden said he’d vote for it. At the roll call, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted no.

So why single-out Democrats? Because they promised things would be different. Republicans got America into this disaster, with Democratic support, of course, and they never said they’d change anything. So, I never expected anything of Republicans. In fact, Republicans won’t change unless the threat of losing their re-election bid forces them to.

Among Democrats, only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came even close to setting the right tone:

Senate Democrats will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush’s failed policy or we get a new president.

Those November elections clearly changed nothing. Despite polls showing that huge majorities of Americans oppose Bush’s war (including 80 percent of independents), absolutely nothing has been done to end it or to even exercise a teeny, tiny little bit of oversight—you know, as Congress is supposed to do.

It would seem that Emma Goldman was right: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal."

Thursday, May 24, 2007


A new survey from the Pew Research Center has found that Americans who have gay friends or family members are more likely to accept their sexual orientation than those who don't have such friends or family members. No kidding.
An analysis of survey results suggests that familiarity is closely linked to tolerance … Overall, those who say they have a family member or close friend who is gay are more than twice as likely to support gay marriage as those who don't—55 per cent to 25 per cent.
This underscores what we were telling people way back in my activist days—if LGBT people would only come out, we said, their friends, family members and co-workers would know a real GLBT person, and it’s much harder to hate someone you know, especially someone you care about or love. So, this research only proves what we were saying way back then.
White evangelical Protestants were the least likely to have gay family or good friends at 31 per cent followed by Hispanic Catholics at 33 per cent.
This is most likely the result of gay family members not coming out, and would also explain why liberal democrats and people in urban areas are more likely to know gay people than are Republicans and rural people.

So, for progress for GLBT people in America the advice is the same it’s been for a generation now: Come out, come out wherever you are. Either that or give up the fight and move to a country that’s more tolerant; there are many to choose from.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bandwidth okay again

My bandwidth with Podomatic reset last night, and I won't get near the monthly bandwidth limit again for a few weeks. Download away! Still, I need to come up with a more permanent solution, and I welcome suggestions, as some have already offered.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

AmeriNZ #11 – I’m still here

Episode 11 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
This is a short episode, because I’m running out of bandwidth (resets around the 23rd), and also because I’m talking about the sudden death of our dog this past Friday. I explain how Saibh (rhymes with “five”) fit into our lives, and some of what she meant to us. In some ways we’ve been through this before, but this feels more intense. We’re trying to adjust.
The paraphrase I read from November 1998:
What is it about these small, furry animals that they become such an integral part of our lives that we feel their deaths as keenly as if they were human? Some people—including many at work, no doubt—would say it’s just because they’re obviously part of daily routines and rituals. If that’s all it was, we’d miss a toaster when it failed. Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows that they’re so much more than an animal sharing a living space and daily routine. They’re as much a part of us, "as if they were human”.

To avoid ending on a down note, there’s a competition for Kiwi shoe polish that will give away a trip for two to New Zealand. You can enter here.

At right is the album art that was supposed to accompany this podcast (I didn't realise that podomatic overrides other settings).

Please leave a comment, or send an email to me at

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Dreaded day

Ever since Saibh died, I’ve been dreading today. Over the past three and a half years, more or less, she was my constant companion—wherever I was, she was close by. I’ve always had a bed for her in my office, and she spent most of her day sleeping in it. Even when I wasn’t in the room, I’d see her in her bed whenever I walked past the door.

The space is empty now. For the first time ever, I’m completely alone in the house. I have the TV switched on, a bit louder than is necessary, just so the house doesn’t feel so empty and I don’t feel so alone.

Today is also heavily overcast with rain expected. That doesn’t help. But despite everything, we’re basically doing okay.

I’m past the initial shock now, and even moving past the guilt. When she died, I thought if I hadn’t opened the doors that day, she’d never have known that dog was out there, or if I hadn’t gone out to bring her in, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten that extra bit excited that was needed to cause the heart attack. But neither her behaviour nor mine was unusual in any way, and, as Nigel pointed out, if it hadn’t been that dog on that day, it would have been another, and maybe on a day when I wasn’t there with her.

The vet speculated that she had a congenital heart defect and, if so, she was sort of on borrowed time. We now know that many of the animals from that breeder had severe problems—physical or mental—often leaving their owners with no choice but to put them down. We never had any of that (Saibh was from an earlier generation from that breeder, well before the problems became known). And, Saibh never suffered.

So, time, along with some clearer thinking, has helped somewhat.

But what’s also helped immensely is the huge amount of support we’ve gotten. On Saturday we took a road trip to Nigel’s sister’s house in
Thames, and she organised for more of the family to come round for lunch. They’d all signed a sympathy card for us, and gave us a couple scented candles. It was a loving gesture that meant a lot to us.

We’ve also had support from family and friends by phone and email, and my friend
Jason did his own memorial post on Saibh.

What has astounded me, however, is the fantastic support from my new friends I’ve met through this blog and my podcast. There were the comments on my blog post about Saibh, as well as sympathy from my friend group on Twitter. And there have been emails, too. Many people have shared their own stories of a lost beloved companion animal, and that’s comforting, too.

In many ways, what this has shown me is that the specific technology isn’t the point of the Internet, but instead, it’s still the human connections that matter most. There are people I’ve become friends with who I never would’ve met without this blog or my podcast, but despite the unlikeliness of it all, we’ve connected and shared parts of our lives. Long may that continue.

Which brings me back to Saibh. It was chance that brought her into our lives, and chance that took her away from us. We’re still deeply sad that she’s gone, and I’m sure there are still more tears to be shed. But for the first time since Friday, I can appreciate what she brought to our lives, and what all the human connections still bring.

Thank you to all of you who left comments or offered support in other ways. We truly appreciate it. We’re working through our grief and we’ll come out on the other side in time. Thank you all for helping to make that path a little bit easier.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Saibh 1999-2007

This morning our dog, Saibh, died suddenly from a suspected heart attack. She had no previous illness nor any problems we were aware of. She’s been my constant companion since I started working from home four years ago. Obviously, I was her companion, too.

This morning she went spare, as she often did, when another dog appeared in the park next to our house. I went to her to bring her inside, as I often did. She looked at me, then back at the fence barking all the while, turned slightly, raised her head and then stumbled a bit as I got to her. I picked her up as she went limp. She died in my arms.

I tried to revive her, hoping she’d only fainted, but I knew better. I rushed her to the vet, breaking speed limits by enough, probably, to threaten my licence. It was too late.

Nigel met me at the vet, and they gave us several minutes alone with her to say goodbye. She looked like she was sleeping and would wake up at any minute. She didn’t wake up.

We’re at a loss. The house seems so quiet, so empty. The cat can’t figure out what’s happened, of course. He’s lucky, but he’ll miss her, too, once he realises she’s not coming back.

There are people who think that devotion to a pet—a companion animal—is silly or worse. Fuck them. This dog meant the world to us, and our world got a little bit smaller today.

Goodbye, Saibh. We’ll miss you.

There won’t be any podcast and probably no blog posts until next week sometime when I feel a bit better.

Update 19 May: We've had some wonderful words of sympathy here and by email. Thank you to you all—your words mean a lot to us. Special thanks to my friend Jason who put up a great blog post about Saibh, sharing some of his own memories. At times like this, I love the Internet.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Budget bore

The New Zealand budget was released today, and that’s pretty much all the local media is obsessed with. Quite frankly, it’s only interesting to people who live here—and probably not that many of us, either. Here’s the quick summary: No personal tax cuts, except as part of a new retirement savings plan. Business lobbyists, who are more often than not promoting greed, are already complaining about the fact they’ll be compelled to contribute, too, despite the fact that the company tax rate has been lowered.

Rather than descend into the abyss of Budget Mania, I thought I’d pass on a comparison for the benefit of my American friends. The
US media was recently focused on the fact that gasoline prices in America had hit record prices.

Today in
Auckland petrol cost NZ$1.57 per litre. That works out to around US$4.38 per US gallon. If the Budget’s new regional petrol tax of up to ten cents per litre is added (though it will likely be less than that), the price would work out to about US$4.66 per US gallon.

And we still manage. And, despite whingeing and moaning about it, people will do just fine without inflationary tax cuts, too. But those petrol prices—something we can do absolutely nothing about—now that’s worth moaning about!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

No tears

American TV preacher Jerry Falwell is dead at 73. Pardon my total lack of “Christian” charity, but good riddance to bad rubbish.

Falwell was racist, sexist and homophobic and I’m not sorry he’s dead. He defended “separate but equal” racism in the
US and apartheid in South Africa; he said the “anti-Christ” would be a Jewish male; he opposed women’s rights and, of course, a woman’s right to choose.

But he was singular in his hatred of gay and lesbian people, once famously issuing a “Declaration of War” against gay people. He used his TV pulpit to spread lies and slander about gay and lesbian people and, in so doing, gave encouragement to politicians’ anti-gay crusades as well as the violence of bashers. His words and actions would have left gay and lesbian children of his followers or other fundamentalists feeling that suicide was their only way out, and some no doubt took that route because of him.

So you’ll have to excuse me for not feeling the least bit sorry he’s dead. I only wish his hatefilled ideas had gone to the grave with him, but, sadly, they haven’t.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

AmeriNZ #10 – Civil Unions and Stuff

Episode 10 is now available—it’s just me this time. The episode is free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
New Zealand civil unions are marriages in all but name. All marriages and civil unions are basically property contracts. But the protections are important. Married/civil unioned couples in New Zealand don’t file joint tax returns. Wage and salary earners don’t need to file tax returns. Taxes pay for nearly everything—including health. Property taxes, called rates, pay mostly for local amenities and infrastructure maintenance. Comments are commented on, and a short review of my weekend. Please leave a comment, or send an email to amerinz[at]yahoo.com.

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Media defence

I’m a frequent critic of the news media, usually when I consider them lazy, complacent or in cahoots with a particular partisan viewpoint. Such behaviours are, in my opinion, an indefensible abrogation of their duty to citizens. The news media ought to be helping people be better informed participants in democracy.

However, there’s another side to this issue, namely, the increasing difficulty that journalists are having in reporting news due to government interference and censorship. The most obvious example of this may be the
US practice of “embedding” journalists so as to control their reporting on Bush’s Iraq war, but most Western countries have curtailed access to information as part of their own “war on terror”.

Recently, the leaders of Australian media companies took the unusual step of speaking out together against that country’s increasingly bad record on press freedom. In fact, the group Reporters Without Borders ranks
Australia 35th out of 168 nations for press freedom. Australia presently has some 500 regulations specifically intended to suppress information and reporting.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Australia 35th on its 2006 press freedom index. Finland was ranked first, Britain 27th, the United States 53rd and last was North Korea at 168th.

Speaking of censorship and suppression of information in the Asia-Pacific region, the report said:

New Zealand is in this context a successful example of virtually total respect for press freedom.

Contrast that with
Australia, where John Hartigan, chief of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian media operations, News Ltd., declared:

There has been an alarming slide into censorship and secrecy that has severely reduced what ordinary Australians are allowed to know about how they are governed and how justice is dispensed.

If one of Rupert Murdoch’s men complains about lack of press freedom, it’s worth taking notice. Actually, even Television New
Zealand experienced this:

ONE News cameraman Leo Shelton was standing on a public street when private security detained him, while corrections officers searched his vehicle and seized every tape inside. Corrections ignored TVNZ complaints at first but then returned the tapes four days later. The Australian government department said ONE News needed to ask permission first before they filmed from a public place, though local media said they had never heard of any such rule.

The irony of this is that the news crew was filming exterior shots to use in a favourable report about prisons.

Here in
New Zealand, the press is freer than in many other countries, which makes its rare slip-ups all the more jarring. Recently a Chinese reporter, apparently associated with Falun Gong, was prevented from attending a press conference with a Chinese official. But that’s about as bad as it gets here.

And, it’s also worth noting that even if
Australia, like the US, is introducing more repression and secrecy, its press freedoms are still ranked higher than the US.

Overall, the media tend to do reasonably well under increasing censorship and repression. My complaint is simply that I want them to do better, in fact, for them to do the best possible. It’s really the only hope we have of turning back the tide of repression because dictatorships cannot become established when exposed to bright light.

Liberal's Just Another Word

The real comedy in this is the reality behind it. The Bushies are just so damn easy to make fun of (thanks to Center of Gravitas for posting this).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Political beauty contest

New Zealand doesn’t elect its prime minister—it elects Members of Parliament, and they then select the prime minister. So far, that’s meant the leader of the largest party in Parliament.

So when a poll shows who’s the country’s “preferred prime minister,” it’s pretty meaningless—most of the time. A new poll has shown that for the first time in eight years, Prime Minister Helen Clark is not the country’s preferred prime minister; Opposition Leader John Key is.

It gets interesting when the NZ news media speculates on why this is the case. They blame Prime Minister Helen Clark’s support for the “anti-smacking” bill, combined with what’s seen as John Key’s pragmatic search for compromise.

The reason that’s interesting is that it was the media that created the controversy over the “anti-smacking” bill in the first place, by providing little or no true analysis of the bill and instead helping to fan the flames of opposition by those who had a visceral reaction based on a poor (or total lack of) understanding of what the proposed bill would do. And that’s not even counting talk-back radio, whose often hysterical hosts focused their anti-government and anti-Labour Party venom onto that one bill.

This isn’t the first time I’ve criticised the NZ news media over this same issue. But what makes this annoying is the fact that there continues to be no real analysis of public policy or government, nor any historical perspective. For one thing, after eight years in power, it’s to be expected that a prime minister might be suffering in the polls. Historically,
New Zealand voters get a kind of fatigue after a few years and start looking for change. There has also been a media beat-up over economists’ bleatings.

So what does the poll tell us? The “beauty contest” tells us nothing, but the Party poll shows that Labour may be in some trouble—for the moment:

In the TNS poll of decided voters on the party vote, National has 48 per cent (42 last time); Labour 36 (down from 44); New Zealand First 2.4 (1.2); the Greens 8 (6); Act 0.5 (1.3); United Future 0.6 (0.9); and the Maori Party 3.7 (2.7).

Translated to seats (if leaders with electorate seats kept them), National would have 59 seats, Labour 44, the Greens 10, the Maori Party five and one each for Act, United Future and the Progressives. National would need Act and United Future to govern, or the Maori Party.

What’s important to remember, however, is that all polls are nothing but snapshots of a single moment. As the media and public move on to other issues, the poll numbers can reverse, or perhaps become somewhat worse for Labour. Even if that happens, we’re more than a year away from the next election. Time, as they say, will tell.

Meanwhile, retail sales have shown the fastest quarterly growth on record. They’re a good indicator of how people are feeling about things—when they feel things are going badly, they don’t spend; when they feel things are going well, they do spend.

This, combined with property values that continue to rise, paints a picture of a country that’s happier with its condition than the poll numbers reflect. When the election does roll around, people will ask themselves if they want to risk it all, if they want to potentially lose everything that’s going well, in favour of an unknown quantity. That’s a question I’d like to see pollsters explore, but I won’t hold my breath for it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Going, going, not…

Today our neighbours tried to sell their house by auction. It didn’t sell when the hammer fell.

Trying to sell houses by auction is common in Australia, much less so here in New Zealand. Realtors love it because they get a fee whether the house sells or not. The seller benefits only when there are many people who desperately want their house. This doesn’t happen very commonly.

More often than not, New Zealanders who attend a real estate auction are looking for a bargain and won’t pay what the house is worth (again, except when a house is wanted by lots of people). So, more often than not, it’s a very bad deal for the seller.

When a house fails to sell at auction, the highest bidder has the first right to negotiate with the seller. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, the house is then usually marketed in a conventional way, and the seller often pays more fees to the realtor for ads and other marketing, and probably a commission if the house sells.

We would never consider selling at auction. Not only is it a bad idea for the seller more often than not, it’s also incredibly nerve-wracking—and pointlessly so when it fails to achieve a sale.

Our neighbours’ auction was the first one I’d ever been to. There were roughly 22 adults there, of whom three people placed bids, but only two actually bid until the end. The auction started late, then took maybe 15 minutes before the lack of result.

I’m sorry for our neighbours, and—let’s be honest here—if it had sold for lots of money that would have been good for all the neighbour’s property values, too. But it was interesting to see, especially since I’m unlikely to go to one again.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

AmeriNZ #9 – Loose Ends

Episode 9 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
This week, I tie up some loose ends left hanging from Tuesday’s show, and Ramble Redhead’s show, too. You’ll learn some more about me, how I think and how I am. I’m honest about how I feel about several things, all of which lays the groundwork for future episodes. Shownotes and comments at amerinz.blogspot.com, or send an email to amerinz@yahoo.com
Special mention in this episode:
Nik in Paris
iSay iSay iSay
And commentors and Frappr Mapprs.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Thursday, May 10, 2007

US copies the world?

A bill has been introduced in Congress which, if passed, will bring the US in line with many other countries in the world, including New Zealand (via Joe.My.God). The Uniting American Families Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), will allow US citizens and legal residents in same-sex relationships to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes.

Under current
US law, only married heterosexuals can sponsor their partners. LGBT American citizens who marry their foreign partners in places where same-sex marriage is legal (like Canada or the US state of Massachusetts, for example) still cannot sponsor their same-sex spouse because the infamous “Defense of Marriage (sic) Act” defines “marriage” for all federal purposes—including immigration—as being between one man and one woman.

A press release on the bill from the group Immigration Equality quoted Sen. Leahy as saying:

The promotion of family unity has long been part of Federal immigration policy, and this bill promotes that principle by providing all Americans the opportunity to be with their loved ones. Our immigration laws treat gays and lesbians in committed relationships as second-class citizens; this injustice needs to change. It is the right thing to do for the people involved, it is the sensible step to take in the interest of having a fair and consistent policy, and I hope that Congress will act to help demonstrate our Nation's commitment to equality under the law.

Rep. Nadler is quoted as saying:

Our bill recognizes that American families come in all shapes and sizes. Our laws should work to keep loving families together and not tear them apart. This is a matter of basic fairness and compassion. I am proud to work with Senator Leahy on this issue. We simply ask that gay and lesbian Americans in loving, committed relationships receive the same treatment as everyone else.

Both men are correct, of course, and it’s a law change that’s way past due. However, I doubt very much it will pass and, if it does, Bush will certainly veto it. He ran two elections attacking gay and lesbian Americans, so I personally can’t imagine that concepts of “fairness” and “equality under law” would persuade him to do the right thing. I mean, when was the last time he cared about doing the right thing about, well, anything?

If this law had been in effect in 1995, there’s no telling where we might be living now. For us, things worked out for the best, but we should have had the same choice as other binational couples where one partner is an American citizen.

But let’s get real here: This is only one of hundreds of ways in which the
US government treats LGBT people and families as second-class, and for most people, this won’t be the most important issue. But it is one that affects me the most directly, and I’ll be watching.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

NZ good for mums

New Zealand was the fourth-best country in the world for mothers, according to a new report from the US-based Save the Children published in the Dominion Post (via Stuff):

Sweden took first place, followed by Iceland and Norway. New Zealand tied for fourth with Australia and Denmark. Finland, Belgium, Spain and Germany rounded out the top 10.

All of which is good news, but
New Zealand also ranks 20th out of the 43 most developed countries for child well-being, the article says:

The death rate for children under five years was six per 1000 live births, putting New Zealand in a better position than Australia, Canada, and the US, but worse off than Britain, Japan and the Scandinavian countries.

Clearly there’s room for improvement, but considering that
New Zealand is doing better than Australia, Canada, and the US, there’s hope for achieving improvement. All up, the statistics show that ordinary life in New Zealand is pretty good.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

AmeriNZ #8 Talk with Another

Episode 8 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Shocking revelation in this episode!

I took a break from work to talk with another podcaster one of my must-listen-to podcasters. Despite my having had too much caffeine, we talked of many things: Music—80s music in particular (apologies to Tim Corrimal for getting his past guests mixed up), where Auckland is, north and south in the mind’s eye, names for the voices for in-car GPS systems. Driving on the other side of the road. Talking to the past and the future. Why no photo of Arthur on the blog? Arthur reveals some shocking information—well, it surprises the other podcaster, at least. Frappr comes up, as does blog posting and stuff beyond podcasting. Tech talk about digital video and still cameras (when I talk about tape, I mean analog, btw).

Also, be sure to check out my two-part guest spot on Ramble Redhead’s podcast.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Preaching practices

A report on ABC (US) television’s World News Tonight yesterday talked about how evangelical Christians in America are urging their followers, especially childless couples, to adopt or foster children as part of a nineteenth-century sounding “orphan care” (they take their charge from a bible passage that tells people to look after widows and orphans).

Critics have suggested that it’s merely a political move to counter criticism that by focusing so much on opposition to abortion, rightwing christianists act as if the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth. Their other obsession—gay rights—has led them to oppose not just same sex-marriage, but also adoption by same-sex couples. Their new-found promotion of adoption by their ranks deals to both by providing a place for unwanted children as well as an alternative to the parents they seek to exclude, and that’s politically useful, even if it really isn’t the reason.

Other criticism centres on promotion of their religious beliefs—promoting to their adopted children may be one thing, but clearly they have no right to force it on children in foster care. They counter that they don’t believe in compulsion, but their track record creates some scepticism of that claim and, in any case, religious fundamentalists of all types expect varying degrees of compulsion by definition.

Most of America’s estimated 65 million evangelicals are white and rightwing Republicans. Most children needing adoption or foster care are from racial or ethnic minorities. Can these rightwing white folk provide a home to children who have a racial and cultural identity so different from their own? And what if a child they foster is gay or lesbian or transgendered? Given their belief structure, are we to believe that they wouldn’t attempt to “change” or “cure” the child? Suicide is already the leading cause of death for GLBT young people, so is it really a good idea to potentially, at least, put them in harm’s way?

So, rightwing christianists think that same-sex couples are automatically unfit to be parents. I happen to think that many rightwing christianists are unfit, too, especially to be foster parents, because of the harm they may do to a child they don’t understand or accept. The trouble, you see, is that when anyone starts with the presumption that all people in a class of people are unfit for something like parenthood, you invite the same charge back at you. The difference, of course, is that I’m prepared to accept that some rightwing christianists might make good parents, while they’re not willing to make the same admission.

So, in a turnabout is fair-play kind of mindset, I couldn’t help but think that if evangelicals are promoting adoption and fostering among couples that can’t have children themselves, maybe it’s as case of “They can’t reproduce, so they recruit.”

Further reading:

Evangelicals Start Adoption Push (AP via ABC News)

Evangelicals See an Evolution of Their Own (ABC News)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Adieu, liberté française?

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France is, by all reports, the first good news that George Bush has had in many, many, many months. That, of course, would make it bad news for pretty much everyone else.

Is it that bad? I don’t speak French, so I’ve had to rely on English-language news media and bloggers and the picture I get is one of Bush circa 2000, the very face of friendly fascism planning much mischief without scaring the people— au contraire, he actually won them over.

On BBC World this morning, French pundits were talking about how good it was that France had elected the son of immigrants, and that the runner-up was a woman, Socialist Ségolène Royal. Yeah, well, one does have to look for something positive, I suppose.

George Bush reportedly phoned Sarkozy to congratulate him as soon as the results were known. On a visit to the US, Sarkozy was practically worshipped by right wing Republicans and had been invited to the White House, an unusual move for a mere minister. By contrast, departing French President Jacques Chirac has never been invited back after being the first foreign leader to fly to America as soon as possible after 9/11. Chirac opposed Bush’s Iraq war, and the Bushies didn’t like that—or Chirac. It would seem logical to suppose that Sarkozy will be more accommodating both to the occupation of Iraq and to the Bushies’ policies generally.

Curiously, the report on New Zealand’s Newtalk ZB radio news this morning said that Sarkozy had “trounced” Royal. They clearly need new script writers, ones who understand what words mean, because a 53-47 result is hardly a “trouncing”. It’s a wide enough victory margin to be clear, but not large enough to claim any sort of mandate, and so, Sarkozy didn’t “trounce” anybody. Fortunately, TVNZ’s news breaks on the Breakfast programme didn’t say anything absurd like that.

It has to be said that New Zealand’s relationship with France has been somewhat fraught. It’s been argued that part of the reason that Britain signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was that it was the only way it could gain control of New Zealand because it didn’t have enough troops in the region. Their goal, this theory goes, was to block French expansion (some historians rubbish this idea).

More recently, France’s gleeful insistence it could freely test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific became a source of division. When French government secret agents committed an act of terrorism in New Zealand (sinking the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour in 1985), things got even worse. In the end, New Zealand was bullied into releasing the French government terrorists (one of whom later received a medal in France) because France threatened to destroy New Zealand’s trade with Europe if it didn’t.

It has since been revealed that then-French President François Mitterrand personally ordered the attack, though this wasn’t known at the time. Nevertheless, when Mitterrand left office, no one in New Zealand was sorry to see him go.

President Chirac decided to renew French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and NZ-French relations soured again. Afterward, he did seem to make an effort to make amends up to a point: He wouldn’t apologise for the nuclear testing programme, nor for the act of terrorism in New Zealand. Nevertheless, he welcomed Prime Minister Helen Clark several times, and relations have improved.

We’ll have to wait and see if NZ-French relations under Sarkozy will be more like Chirac or Mitterrand, or if he can move beyond both. Personally, I’m not optimistic because it seems to me the last thing the world needs is another right wing head of state, regardless of country.

Footnote: French translations in this post, including the headline, are from AltaVista Babel Fish Translation; blame them if the words are wrong...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Another Guest Spot

I’m a guest on another podcast, Ramble Redhead Episode 132, which you can get here.

Ramble has had a lot of great interviews on his podcast, and while my guest spot probably lowered the high standard somewhat, anyone who really wants to know more about me will get some new tidbits from this episode, including things I haven’t gotten around to mentioning here or on my own podcast.

I also encourage you to give a listen to some of Ramble’s older shows. Be sure to check out the catwalking video, too—you have to see it to believe it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

AmeriNZ #7 – Secrets

Episode 7 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

There are some things that bloggers and podcasters don’t, or shouldn’t, reveal. Many don’t use their real names (I do), and many use a nickname (well, I do that, too). I won’t talk specifics about how I make money, but there are other things to say about it.

Neil Finn is a doofus. The American Ambassador says interesting things. Comments galore (I loves me my comments!). New Frappr Mappers! I’ve added a link on my blog to Amazon to make it easier for my American friends to buy books I mention or recommend. If you buy a book through the link on my site, I might even make a coin or two out of it.

Finally, a mashup—the first mashup I’ve made. Yeah, I know that these things are usually done to a dance music beat.

Mentioned this week:

Nik in Paris wedding episode
Also, if you haven’t done so yet, check out Kalvin at Hello Waffles. I kid around, but he really is one of my “most favourite” podcasters.
Next podcast is on Tuesday New Zealand time.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Media smack

In a possibly unprecedented move, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Opposition Leader John Key held a joint press conference yesterday announcing a compromise on the anti-smacking bill currently before Parliament. The cross-party compromise (also involving smaller parties) means the bill is assured of passage.

Under current law, a parent who uses violence against a child can get off in court by claiming it’s “reasonable force”. The bill will eliminate that defence. However, far right Christian groups, including a prominent one from America, went into overdrive to claim that “good parents will be sent to jail!” and other lies and bullshit (I wrote about this here).

The compromise directs police to not pursue cases that aren’t in the public interest or that are “inconsequential” (in other words, the should only purse real child abuse). One far right NZ TV preacher claimed this was a “glorious victory”, even though the politicians weren’t paying any attention to him personally.

Now media pundits are bemoaning the fact that amended bill contains language directing the police, the old “slippery slope” argument. Since the NZ news media were pushing the controversy so hard in the first place, one wonders if it isn’t just the controversy that they were interested in.

Actually, if I were to make one criticism of the news media in New Zealand, it would be that all too often it promotes controversy and division where there’s none and, in so doing, they end up manufacturing the news. Clearly this is something that happens in all Western countries, where the “if it bleeds, it leads” negativity rules. In general, New Zealand journalists are at least paying attention to what Parliament and the Government is doing, unlike their American colleagues. That’s something, at least.

With peace breaking out over the anti-smacking bill, and possibly other issues, I wonder where the news media will look for their next conflict to form.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

AmeriNZ #6 - Arthur meets Adam

Episode 6 is now available, a talk episode. The episode is free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.
This week, I talk with Adam of This Boy Elroy. Adam’s podcast was one the first of its type I listened to, and it was an inspiration for my own. I also found other podcasts and blogs through Adam’s site.
Don’t talk about religion or politics?! What else could a couple proud liberals talk about? Well, there’s plastic grocery bags, JoeMyGod, Australia and much more. Is America doing penance? Is American democracy doomed? A frank and opinionated conversation—as you’d expect. We had some Skype problems that I tried to edit out, and my sound levels drop toward the end for some reason.
You can see the This Boy Elroy video I mentioned here.
I’ll post my next regular podcast on Friday New Zealand time.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Selfish Harry

Prince Harry is going to war. Some see that as a brave, honourable thing to do. I say it’s incredibly selfish.

Harrry, 22, said that when his unit was deployed to Iraq, he’d have to go, too. It wasn’t right, he said, for the people he trained with to be put in harm’s way while he stayed safe and secure. If he were any other Briton, that would be a noble and maybe even admirable sentiment.

But Harry’s not any ordinary Briton: He’s third in line to the British (and New Zealand and Australian and Canadian…) throne. When he arrives in Iraq, he’ll instantly become the highest value target in the entire country. He’ll be putting his unit—and the British forces generally—in much greater peril just by being there. And, of course, he will cost the British taxpayers a lot of money as the army tries to increase security around him.

Add it all up, and Harry may think he’s being noble or honourable, but he’s really just being selfish, and probably a bit arrogant. For the sake of the British forces in Iraq, and the lives of his own unit, he should do the right thing and stay home.