Tuesday, October 30, 2007

AmeriNZ #48 - Preachers' Kids

Episode 48 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 special episode, and one of my favourites yet! I'm joined by two other gay podcasters who, like me, are preachers' kids: Tim Corrimal (Go Rainbow Radio and There Are Some Who Call Me Tim) and Eric (Confessions of a Southern Boy in Yankee Land). We have a wide-ranging conversation about being preachers' kids who grew up gay. What's it like for a gay kid growing up, literally, in the church? Were we affected by Biblical passages used against gay people? How do we feel about religion now?

We share some stories from our growing up, talk about some differences between “mainstream” and “evangelical” protestants, and plenty of other things, too. This conversation was too interesting to me to cut into two parts, so I hope you'll forgive the longer length episode.

Complete shownotes and links on my blog, www.amerinz.com. Leave a comment on my listener comment line, 206-339-8413, or on my blog, or send an email to me at amerinz(at]yahoo.com. Join my e-mailing list to find out about new episodes as they're released.

You can email me MP3 files at amerinz{at)podomatic.com

Mentioned in this episode:

Go Rainbow Radio

There Are Some Who Call Me Tim

Confessions of a Southern Boy in Yankeeland

Hello Waffles

Tranny Wreck Radio

Lutherans Concerned North America

Dignity USA (GLBT Catholics)

Ernest Angley

Purchase Dusty Springfield's “Son of a Preacher Man” from iTunes (USA)

Purchase Dusty Springfield Ultimate Collection CD from Amazon.com

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The leader of the neo-conservative Act Party, Rodney Hide, used to have a reputation for grandstanding on issues, making a big fuss over often trivial things. Good entertainment, but not much else. One of the founders of the party was particularly distressed at Hide's focus on trivial matters, and felt that it made the party look insubstantial.

For whatever reason, Hide stopped his grandstanding and, coincidentally or not, his party's fortuens plummeted. Well, he's back.

Last week, there was an altercation between two MPs in which one, Travor Mallord, a Labour Party MP and minister, admitted throwing a punch at Tau Henare, and MP of the conservative National Party. Mallord apologised, Henare accepted, and that was that. Or, not...

Hide demanded that the Speaker of the House investigate, but she said she had no jurisdiction in the corridors outside the House, where the altercation happened. Hide disagrees with her and now says that if she doesn't act, he'll lay a complaint with the police.

Hide knows that the police would probably back away from any action on the incident (can anyone seriously imagine the police prosecuting an MP for throwing a punch within the Houses of Parliament, even if it was outside the House itself?). So, his motivation must be to get publicity for himself and his party and, conveniently, cause embarrassment for the Labour Party. Just like the old days. I preferred it when he stuck to the real business of Parliament, but those days may be in the past—a bit like the party's ideology, but that's another issue altogether.

Friday, October 26, 2007

AmeriNZ #47 – Evidence

Episode 47 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'd planned a special episode for today, but it didn't happen, and it's evidence of how hard it is for me to arrange a Skype conference with people in North America. So, it's just an ordinary episode today. Still, I had my first voicemail message!

I tell you about the upcoming podcast schedule. Episode 50 will be on Friday, November 2 (the day before in North America), which will be a very special day for other reasons. You can leave a message about that on my new listener comment line (206-339-8413), or you can email an MP3 file to me at amerinz(at]podomatic.com.

The NZ Prime Minister is about to reshuffle her cabinet, and I tell you a little about that, and about hw a gay Minister might be promoted. I explain what it means in American terms, and then I talk a bit about the upcoming US elections and how I'm able to vote in them.

Leave a voicemail on my US-based comment line (206-339-8413), leave a comment here, or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com (if you put “comment” in the subject line I'll read it on the podcast).

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

White House dumbness

Okay, this definitely sounds like I'm repeating myself: The Bush White House has again come out with a position that makes them sound just plain dumb. This time (via Joe.My.God), it's a statement on their opposition to HR 3685, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The statement (a PDF is downloadable here) uses all sorts of mumbo jumbo to try and make it sound as if some sort of legal analysis has been carried out, though internal contradictions in the statement make that highly unlikely. Maybe it was the lack of good legal minds in this administration (keep in mind that many of their senior lawyers are products of a law school associated with a far-right TV preacher and were selected primarily for their adherence to a fundamentalist christianist agenda).

At any rate, the thing just reads like typical Bushie spin, just more PR puffery on behalf of the Worst President Ever. But buried inside it is moaning about “religious freedom”. The religious exclusions already contained within the ENDA bill aren't good enough for the fundies/Bushies.

All of which reinforces that compromise with winguts is impossible. Personally, I think effort and money should go toward electing sane and rational people and then undoing all the damage done by the Bushies. Everything else is just wasting resources which are far more limited on the side of reason than the side of the Bushies and their backers. I think it's time to start rebuilding and repairing America rather than trying to “compromise” with those hellbent on destroying it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

AmeriNZ #46 – Continuation

Episode 46 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 is an upside down episode as I go over comments first. That's because of the feedback I got about continuing my podcast. I AM continuing, by the way. After that, it's on to a discussion of our Labour Holiday weekend and some of the things we got up to. I have some interesting guests coming up in the next few weeks, beginning the end of this week or next week. Have a topic you want to hear about? Let me know. Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz[at)yahoo,com (if you put “comment” in the subject line, I'll know to read it on the podcast.

Breaking News: I now have a listener line! Feel free to call and leave a comment on (206) 339-8413 (located in Washington state, USA).

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Family matters

It's been a busy Labour Holiday weekend. My mother-in-law arrived on Friday, and we all visited and shopped a bit leading up to a birthday party Sunday afternoon (for the wife of Nigel's cousin). All of which isn't unusual, since family events, big and small, are often on the agenda.

But even Jake had some “extended family” news this weekend. To tell that, I need to back up a bit.

Nearly four months ago I wrote about Jake's arrival in our family. A few weeks later, I wrote about Jake graduating from Puppy Pre-School. After this second post, I received an email from someone who wondered if they had adopted Jake's blood brother. After exchanging a few emails, we worked out they had.

It turns out that they'd googled “cavoodle” and eventually stumbled across my blog post (gotta love the Interwebs!). In the old days, it would've been nearly impossible to find out what became of your companion animal's real siblings.

Anyway, on Friday afternoon my mother-in-law and I took Jake in to have his stitches removed (he yelped a little, but was otherwise unfazed, btw). Afterward, we took him to the adjoining pet store, as I did earlier in the month, to buy him a new toy and some refills for this rubber thing called a Kong. We put a treat in it and Jake's occupied trying to get the treat out. When we leave the house we give this to him so he doesn't mind our leaving him quite so much. Bribery, really, but it works.

So we're in the store and one of the clerks starts ooohing and aaaahing over Jake (clearly a very smart woman), and asks what he is. I tell her he's a cavoodle. “He came from here, actually,” I tell her. This couple shopping nearby hears all this and they introduce themselves.

It turned out that, quite by chance, they were there to pick up Jake's brother, who had his operation that morning. So we chatted for awhile, trading notes and anecdotes like proud new parents. They pointed out his brother's favourite toy, so I bought one for Jake (and he's already pretty much destroyed it). When Jake's brother is fully recovered we're going to organise a “play date” for the boys.

So, even Jake gets to participate in the extended family thing like his daddies. It's almost as if he was “meant” to be with us.

Friday, October 19, 2007

AmeriNZ #45 – Carcast

Episode 45 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 don't normally have podcast shownotes as consecutive blog posts, but I've been busy this week.

Anyway, it's a mixed bag today, starting with my second “carcast” (the first was AmeriNZ #25, if you want to know). I give you some updates to Tuesday's episode, then it's a bit of a rant about bad customer service, and then I share some of my recent thinking about the podcast. From there it's back in the “studio” as I share five things you don't know about me (and challenge other podcasters to do the same—about them, of course) and then I go over comments.

Mentioned in this episode (thanks to Nancy):
Brockovich forces NZ firm to drop 'sexist' ad

NZ brewery offers beer for laptop

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

AmeriNZ #44 – Weird

Episode 44 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 was weird news about a “terrorism-related” raid in New Zealand but, at the moment, it should all be taken with a grain of salt. The local election results are in and I tell you a bit about that. There's a weird TV commercial running in New Zealand. Leave a comment or send an email to amerinz[at)yahoo.com; if you put “Comment” in the subject line, I'll know to read it on the podcast.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Retiring times

The first American Baby Boomer has applied for Social Security. According to an AP story, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is the “first baby boomer” because she was born one second after midnight on January 1, 1946. She will become eligible for the Social Security retirement benefit when she turns 62 next year.

There were 80 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, during the so-called “Baby Boom”. It's estimated that 10,000 people per day will become eligible for the Social Security benefit over the next twenty years.

Because of this huge “demographic bulge”, and the fewer number of workers in later generations, America's Social Security Trust Fund is projected to be broke by the time GenX is retiring. Here in New Zealand, the current Labour Government set up a fund to save up for this time to ensure that every New Zealander receives the retirement benefit, and without reduced amounts paid. People are also being urged to save for their own retirement to supplement the bare-bones state benefit, and the Government has introduced Kiwisaver to help encourage them to do so.

As far back as high school, I was convinced that there'd be no Social Security benefit when I reached retirement age. If things don't change, when I reach that age I'll be elegible for the New Zealand retirement benefit. Because of a treaty between NZ and the US, anything I receive from Social Security will be deducted from my NZ Superannuation. We'll see.

Meanwhile, lesbians in New Zealand are holding meetings to discuss the establishment of “Elders Villages”—essentially retirement centres for lesbians. Retirement living for GLBT seniors is just starting to get media attention, but we'll hear much more about it with growing numbers of GLBT seniors.

California wars?

No matter how you look at it, the situation for California's gay and lesbian people is a mess. The state's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger again vetoed a law legalising same-sex marriage in California, doing so at 5:30 on Friday afternoon. He vetoed a similar bill in 2005, saying the voters should decide. After the 2006 elections returned supporters of the bill, the California legislature again passed the measure, and again Schwarzenegger said the voters should decide. Maybe he didn't realise there had been an election in 2006.

He also claimed the state's Supreme Court needed to rule on challenge to a proposition that, he seems to think, banned gay marriage in California. But as gay journalist Rex Wockner has pointed out, it seems to have only banned California recognising same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

Wockner also notes that the state's Supreme Court could strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, citing the state constitution. If it does that, or if a Democratic Governor signs a new bill into law after Schwarzenegger leaves office in 2010, then far right activists are sure to try and pass an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. The wingnuts have also pledged to end the state's current “domestic partnership” legislation.

Some would argue that as a Republican, Schwarzenegger had no choice but to veto the bill, given the control of the party by far right christianists. But California isn't like the rest of America, and it doesn't have to do what the national Republican Party wants—the party needs California far more than California needs it. Speculation is that Schwarzenegger plans on running for the US Senate after his term as Governor expires and his veto is to prevent the far right christianists and other wingnuts from putting up a right wing challenger. Personally, I think this ignores the fact that these vetoes will help galvanise Democratic voters to defeat Schwarzenegger.

All of which means that the GLBT communities in California are in for a rocky few years. California is often America's laboratory, trying out ideas that eventually spread to the rest of the country. If the far right is ultimately successful in California, that could mean the march toward freedom and equality for GLBT people in other states will be delayed even more, and justice delayed is very much justice denied.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Spring is sprung, a tree no longer is

Those October showers, they bring November flowers... are you singing along? Not as catchy as the Northern Hemisphere equivalent, but it's just as true.

We've been having a lot of rainy weather lately, along with some absolutely brilliant, sunny days. That's Spring. But this year we've also had many windy says, some very windy. The past two days have been in that category.

This afternoon, part of another tree behind the house came crashing down. Fortunately, it wasn't near enough to the house to hit it and, in any case, it fell in the opposite direction. Before its demise, I could see the tree whenever I turned away from my computer to look outside. It looks very open out there now.

The damage from the first tree to fall over, the one that did hit the house, still hasn't been repaired. Last week a contractor came to look and measure and said they'd all never seen so much storm damage, which is why repairs were taking so long to complete. I thought to myself that while that storm had been bad, it wasn't a cyclone or anything; I can only imagine what will happen when one of those hits, and climate change means that severe storms are becoming more common.

At least two trees (or parts of them) that could have hit and damage the house are now no longer able to do so. I guess that's something.

Aussies to the polls

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced the next Australian federal election will be held on Saturday, November 24. Speaking to the media after informing the Governor General of the election date, Howard said "Love me or loathe me, the Australian people know where I stand on all the major issues of importance."

Current polling shows that most Australians do know where Howard stands, and they think it's the wrong side of the issues: Recent polls have given a 12 to 18 percent lead to the opposition Australian Labor Party. But don't count Howard out just yet.

Among political schemers in the West, only Bush's kingmaker Karl Rove come close to Howard's ability to bring about victory from seemingly certain defeat. Whether the growing list of Howard opponents is enough to finally end Howard's reign will be known in six weeks,

Meanwhile, Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Green Party, accused Howard of pandering to homophobia in a effort to win votes, largely because of Howard's strident opposition to same-sex marriage in Australia. It wasn't even a federal issue until Howard made it one after seeing how successful Karl Rove had been in exploiting it.

A report to the Australian Parliament by the country's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found 58 laws that stand between GLB Australians and equality, largely because of the lack of any recognition of same-sex couples. Polls have found that 71% of Australians favour equal rights for gay people, but Howard is unmoved. He told Sky News, “We are not in favour of discrimination, but of course our views on the nature of marriage in our community are very well known and they won't be changing."

Australians have until 8pm on Wednesday the 17th of October to enrol to vote.

Mayors, not kings

It's the start of the first business week following the local elections, and already the news media are vastly over simplifying things, reporting, as the NZ Herald did this morning, “Mayors pull plug on big projects”. Other news media outlets have reported similarly. Trouble is, that's not the way things work in New Zealand.

A mayor is one vote on a council and without majority support, it doesn't make any difference how much they huff and puff. They are not kings. Still, it makes for some drama:

In Auckland City, rerun Mayor John Banks has pledged that Auckland City won't pay for upgrades to Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, saying he woud “leave the funding of the grandstand upgrades inside Eden Park to the cash-rich Government and the rich and powerful Rugby Union.” He has a point there—months old, unfortunately. There's a strong argument that Auckland City ratepayers shouldn't pay for upgrades to Eden Park for what is essentially a national event, but that issue was decided months ago. Now, central government is talking about moving the World Cup Final out of Auckland. Drama will continue.

In North Shore City, surprise Mayor Andrew Williams has declared there will be no civil airport at a soon-to-be ex-airforce base near the city. He may or may not have a majority of the votes on the North Shore City Council (this is unclear), but there are others involved, too, over whom he certainly has no control or influence. Williams became famous—infamous to some—and lost his Council seat in 2004 because he tried to get the North Shore City Council to drop the Christian prayer from the opening of Council meetings. Here, too, there may be some drama.

The results for Auckland and North Shore City show that residents and ratepayers should be in for three colourful years. While the mayors will be in the middle of things, they won't necessarily get their way. And if voters don't like the results, they'll turf out their mayors and councillors in three years time because that, too, is the way things work.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Left, right and wrong

One of the things I first noticed about elections in New Zealand is how labelling politicians with terms like “left wing” and “right wing” are merely for convenience, rather than the sure-fire indicator of ideology they usually are in America. For that reason, maybe, many NZ journalists prefer the terms “left-leaning” or “right-leaning”, and maybe that's a good idea.

The two biggest NZ parties—National and Labour—are both made up of people on the right and on the left, relatively speaking, so not even the party names indicate ideology. Sure, Labour Party politicians tend to move to the left from the centre, and those of the National Party tend to move to the right, but neither is absolutely one or the other and both parties house a continuum.

It's even more confusing in local elections, where parties are almost entirely absent. What parties there are tend to be mostly alliances for the sake of election campaigning, where a few core principles are shared but often little else. Determining what party is “left-leaning” or “right-leaning” is, more often that not, speculation or extrapolation.

Nevertheless, some people are to the right of centre and some are too the left. To me, some things are also right in the other sense, and some are wrong. I think it's pretty clear by now where I stand in that continuum, based on what I choose to comment about and the positions I take.

But if I get pedantic about terms like “far right”, insisting on being precise in placing some people or beliefs outside the normal spectrum, blame New Zealand and it's lack of easy political characterisation. The fact that such distinctions still matter to me can probably be blamed on America, because there they matter very much. And that, basically, explains both what I choose to comment on and the language I choose. The fact that I comment on political things at all, though, is a testament to both countries and the importance placed on democratic debate. That, at least, is one very good thing.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

They keep on giving

Conservatives in the mainstream media keep giving me plenty of things to comment on, bless their stoney little hearts, and I'm happy to accept the gift. Today's turn is the New Zealand Herald and its coverage of New Zealand's local elections, Auckland's in particular.

The Herald is New Zealand's largest daily newspaper and seems to have a vendetta against the Auckland City Council that endures irrespective of who's mayor. Which makes it odd that their reporter, Bernard Orsman, seemed barely able to contain his glee that Aucklanders who bothered to vote returned failed mayor John Banks to the position they turfed him out of three years ago.

On the Herald website, Orsman wrote: “In a remarkable comeback, Mr Banks capitalised on three years of soaring property and rates bills, political infighting on the left-leaning council and poorly managed projects like the $43.5 million Queen St upgrade.”

There's much in that statement that's debatable, including the “left-leaning” description, unless he meant as compared with the right wing bunch who ran the council prior to 2004 (the same crowd, actually, who will now have a big majority of the seats on the Council). “Poorly managed projects”, a list he adds to later in the article, can also be a matter of opinion. He later says the City Vision councillors “went crazy with the chequebook”. While his main point that rates and water rates soared was true, his language was inflammatory and unprofessional in a supposed news story. That kind of language, and the overall tone of much of the article, belongs in an opinion column (and opinionated blogs, like this one).

Orsman wrote, “Mr Banks entered the race in July, promising a new style and new policies. He has promised to consult ratepayers in future and build goodwill,” but had also quoted him as saying “My mayoralty will be driven by goodwill, affordable progress and constant decisive leadership.” It's this last part that's worrying, because it was Banks' arrogance and chutzpah that defeated him in 2004; is Auckland in for a re-run? Will they kick him out again in three years? Orsman can't answer that, but neither did he raise the questions or even acknowledge that plenty of Aucklanders are worried about Banks version 2.

Among those who will be watching are those in Auckland's GLBT communities. In his campaign, Banks made overtures to GLBT voters, but as Mayor last time he was openly hostile, and in fact has a long history of homophobic statements (which he denied while on the campaign trail). Many of the Councillors elected with him are likely to be homophobic (at least one is rabidly so). They will all need to be watched.

In brighter news, New Zealand elected its first out lesbian Mayor, Jenny Rowan, who was elected Mayor of Kapiti Coast, which is about 40 minutes north of Wellington. Also, a man described as an “arch-homophobe” by GayNZ.com was defeated in his attempt to oust the gay-friendly Mayor of Waitakere City in west Auckland.

All of which means we should be thankful for the alternative media who will tell us what the mainstream news media can't, or won't. I have a feeling we may be relying on them quite a bit over the next three years.

Friday, October 12, 2007

An inconvenient lie

The wingnuts just never give up, do they? They continue to argue that climate change is “a lie”, despite the lack of any credible scientific evidence to support them. In fact, all credible scientists support the fact of climate change, the only arguments are over things like the speed of that change, its likely immediate impact and possible preventive action.

Recently, a judge in London issued a ruling that, while admitting the overall validity of Al Gore's documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and of climate change itself, nevertheless found what he called “significant errors” in the film. Among those “errors” were that Gore didn't say what atolls, specifically, were abandoned and he didn't provide proof that polar bears were drowning because they can't find sea ice.

The supposed errors the judge found were themselves overstated. Some things, like specific numbers of drowned polar bears, are unknowable, but with the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean open for the first time in recorded history this past Northern Hemisphere summer, experts have stated it is happening and has happened. There is debate over the cause of bleaching of coral, the drying of Lake Chad and the lack of snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro, but that doesn't mean that climate change isn't the cause, as the judge implied. His harshest ridicule was reserved for the prospect of rapid sea level rise. However, just this year scientists discovered that the Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than previously thought. In sum, the judge's ruling was filled with errors, too.

Nevertheless, it provided the sort of fodder that wingnuts look to exploit to promote their views. To help use this ruling to attack the movie, right wing NZ radio host Larry Williams turned to NZ politician Muriel Newman, a former MP for the right wing ACT Party, who has set up a far right “internet think tank”.

After beginning the discussion by calling the film “propaganda” and “political spin”, Williams and Newman went on to describe the film or its content using words like: Reckless, alarmist, nonsense, wrong, lie (twice), exaggerate (3 times), falsehood/fiction/fabricated (9 times), and Newman also claimed it was an attempt at “brainwashing” children (apparently indirectly quoting one of the British litigants).

Williams pointed out that “to be fair” the judge upheld the existence of climate change, which Newman described as “very disappointing.” She advocated that a right wing counter documentary be shown on television and in schools, and Williams rightly pointed out that film is filled with errors (to say the least!), to which Newman responded it was “no worse” than Gore's award wining documentary.

I found this ironic because moments before she'd claimed that in an interview Al Gore had said, according to Newman, “that it was quite okay to exaggerate to get the message across, so he knew it was fiction.” As it happens, she was exaggerating what Gore said (read it for yourself here). In any case, on Newman's planet it's obviously okay when the far right exaggerates.

The comments left on the discussion area of Newman's website are filled with climate change deniers and other neo conservative rubbish. Her website polls routinely find that 90 percent or more of respondents favour various right wing positions. Obviously, she can't be blamed for what her followers think and say, but apparently the centre and left are required to repudiate Al Gore for every misplaced comma in “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Those are only two examples where Newman (and Williams) hold the centre and left to different standards than they do the right. This is why reasoned debate with the far right is impossible, and attempts at compromise are futile. No matter what, in their eyes they're always indisputably “right”.

I think in the future I'll do what I normally do and immediately turn off the radio if I hear Williams voice (actually, the three NZ radio hosts who make me do that are all on NewstalkZB; two of them use guests who reinforce their right-wing views and treat them as if they're impartial). I also don't pay attention to the nonsense spewed by Newman, whose neo conservative rubbish is mere noise most of the time. Clearly I've been correct on both counts. How convenient for me

To hear the radio segment for yourself, go here and look for “How convenient is the truth?” An MP3 of that and other political segments from NewstalkZB can be found there. For a less biased critique of the ruling and film, go here.
Update 13/10/07: I had the misfortune of seeing part of Fox "News" Channel's morning (US) programme last night, and while gloating at the judges weird ruling on "An Inconvenient Truth", they reported that "a New Zealand think tank" (the one Newman heads, obviously) was calling for Gore to hand back his Oscar (Newman actually said the Academy should rescind it). Fox "News" was trying to make it sound as if a huge groundswell of reasonable, rational people were making this demand, rather than the usual handful of far right windbags, and of course they didn't bother to report that Newman's "think tank" is a collection of neo conservative climate change deniers. But this isn't a surprise: When does Fox "News" channel ever worry about being fair and balanced?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The future of reading?

It's been a long time coming, but I think I've finally seen the first evidence that electronic books might be about to arrive. I know that technically they've been a round a long time, but there's been one thing missing: A good portable device to read them on, preferably one that can access the publication directly from the Internet, rather than requiring a cable, and one that's easy and even fun to use.

There have been plenty of previous attempts, ranging from documents read on computer through to those read on a PDA. But all these devices were heavy or bulky or inelegant to use or, as I wrote last January, failed the bathtub test: They're too expensive to risk dropping into the bath while you're soaking.

A new device solves all those problems, apart from the bathtub test, so it suggests a way forward. The Apple iPod Touch is a small, lightweight touch-screen driven device that, among other things, can access the Internet wirelessly. It's essentially an iPhone without the phone, which immediately makes me more interested in it.

The iPod Touch is too small to become a real-life electronic reading device like those I mentioned at the end of my January post, but a larger version might be. There are rumours that Apple is working on one that could be around the size of a book (but much thinner) that would either be a revived Newton or a tablet-style Mac. If they made it bathtub-proof, too, it could be the device I've been saying was necessary before “e-publishing” could ever really take off.

However, Apple has been roundly (and rightly) criticised for the way they locked-up the iPhone in an attempt to control both consumer choice and developer contribution. Apple has been stupid.

If Apple really does release a larger device, it won't become the reading device of the future unless they treat it like a Mac, and not like an iPhone. Openness is key. If they get it right, it could be the iPod of reading. If they don't, it'll just be the latest in the long line of failed attempts. I'll certainly be waiting, and reading, to see what happens.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Google whiney nutjobs

Okay, this has got to be among the silliest things I've ever heard: Certain winguts have been accusing Google of treason (seriously!) because of Sputnik.

Google changes their logo on their main page to mark certain holidays (usually American) and certain other events. One of those other events was the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. The winguts launched themselves into space over this for two reasons: First, they saw it as somehow glorifying a totalitarian regime and Cold War enemy (the Soviet Union).

But the main reason is that Google hasn't altered its logo for US Veterans' Day or US Memorial Day. A writer at Wingnut Daily wrote, "When they ignore Veterans Day and Memorial Day, I think they're telling us something about the way they view America.”

Give me a friggin' break! Has it not occurred to these nutters that Google is a global service, accessed from pretty much everywhere, so changing the logo for strictly American holidays, no matter how noble, might be a tad inappropriate? Despite what the wingnuts seem to believe, America is not the world.

Google said that they didn't commemorate those days because they wanted to be respectful. After all, their logo changes are lighthearted fun, which is a bit hard to translate to a solemn observance. That's not good enough for the right wingers, who have suggested possible logos for those days. I looked at them, and they're all purely American, sometimes to the point of jingoism.

Clearly their real complaint is that Google tends to support more centrist politics, which drives the right wing insane (to them, of course, anyone to the left of Atilla the Hun is a leftwing extremist). I get their politics, and I understand why they need to overstate their case in extremist terms; it's their most-used tactic. But to me they just sound spoiled, whiney and downright silly. To me, they're nothing but right whingers.

Update 13/10/07: Last night I endured an attack on Google on the Fox "News" Channel. Their morning (US) programme was reporting that Google was an extremist leftwing entity because it refused an ad from a Republican Senator attacking MoveOn.org. Fox "News" didn't show the rejected ad so I could read it, but I bet it was an attack ad designed to raise money for the GOP and the Senator, who claims that MoveOn has targeted that race. I tell you, those wingnuts are absolutely obsessed with Google! They really, really need a hobby.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

AmeriNZ #43 – Votes and Books

Episode 43 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.

First up, I have some bits of good news to report. Then I talk about our local elections, which are drawing to a close. We've already mailed in our ballots, but there's huge concern that many people won't bother. Why is the turnout low? I talk about that and also about how hard it is to get information about candidates. A little computer talk, then the puppy update.

I then talk about the New Zealand authors who were on the poll on my blog. It asked what authors, if any, people had read at least in part (this last part was for me, because I often fail to finish books).
The results were: Janet Frame: 2, Elizabeth Knox: 2, Witi Ihimaera: 4, Owen Marshall: 2, Frank Sargeson: 3, Peter Wells: 3 and None of these: 12. I talk about all these authors. Then on to comments and we're done.

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Jake's adventure

Yesterday, Jake had “the surgery”, and everything went well. I took him there about quarter to nine and he received a check-up and I was given options for 2 different blood tests as well as intravenous solutions during surgery. I thought this was really weird: The tests would make sure everything was working properly (kidney, liver) and the intravenous solution would keep him from dehydrating, and it would make recovery faster. Why on earth would anyone not choose these? Just because of cost?

I chose everything because I wanted him to be as safe as possible. Cost, at that point, wasn't a real consideration. If I couldn't afford it, I'd have waited until I could. His needs come first in this instance. Actually, the more thorough blood tests I chose also set a reference point so they can determine what's normal for Jake in the future, so that's an added benefit of the more expensive option.

The vet took my contact phone numbers, and I told her to please make sure that it was known how important it was that someone rang me as soon as Jake was in recovery. I explained how we'd lost our previous dog a few months ago, and our cat just a month ago, and so I'd be worrying until I got the call. As I told her this, I felt myself tearing up, which surprised me, but I was determined I wouldn't start crying, and I didn't.

Just as I was about to leave Jake with the vet, the alarm went off for a fire drill. It added just the right element of farce to the events to take the edge off the seriousness I was feeling.

True to her word, the vet rang me as soon as Jake woke up after surgery. Everything went well. I picked him up around 4.30, and he seemed somewhat indifferent to me, an after effect of the anesthetic, as he was pretty laid back generally. That evening his behaviour was exactly as they'd said it would be.

This morning he was much brighter, almost back to normal. But he's clearly still a little subdued (he's sleeping at my feet under my desk as I write this). He goes back in two weeks to have his stitches out.

This is one of those things that responsible dog owners need to do, both for the benefit of the animal and for society generally. All other things being equal, it wouldn't have been a very big deal, and it only was one because of our recent losses. So I'm probably as glad as he is that it's over.

Monday, October 08, 2007

That rugby game

Okay, I can't avoid it any longer: I'll have to weigh in with my take on New Zealand's early exit from the Rugby World Cup. I think it's some sort of national requirement or something.

Anyway, the New Zealand All Blacks won the first Rugby World Cup back in 1987, but no All Blacks team has been able to win it since. This also wasn't the first time New Zealand was knocked out by France. Australia also left early this year.

I was disappointed at the loss, but—to be brutally frank—not upset. It was, after all just a rugby game, and the Rugby World Cup is just another tournament, and not a very good one.

To rugby fanatics, the loss of this match, and so the Cup, is the worst thing imagineable. But I think it says something about the the New Zealand psyche that we'll have weeks of talking heads on TV and radio and in newspapers going on and on and on and on about it, dredging up the whole mess over and again, pointing fingers in every direction possible. In Australia, the same thing will happen—but for only a few days. Then, they'll pretend it never happened at all.

New Zealand is still unsure of its place in the world, and desperately wants to do well at international events to “prove” it's a real country. Australia, by comparison, full of a kind of chauvinistic nationalism, considers itself “the lucky country,” and doesn't feel it needs that kind of sporting validation, no matter how hard it tries to get it.

I admit I'm not much of a rugby fan, anyway. I was interested in it when I first moved to New Zealand, because it's a much better game than American football—faster, more interesting and with better looking players who don't wear pads or helmets. But the game has been expanded through professionalism to the point where there are far too many games played far too often and far too early in the year (the rugby season now starts in summer, while the cricket season is still going).

Actually, New Zealanders in general have been cooling to rugby, as attendance figures demonstrate, and for pretty much the same reason I have: There's just too much of it. Which makes it all the more strange that people will care for very long about the loss of the World Cup.

The Rugby World Cup is an intensely flawed competition—not very interesting in the early stages (boring, actually), and then moving closer to the finals everything rides on a single game. That's stupid. The New Zealand All Blacks won game after game over four years, losing few, and entered the World Cup ranked number one in the world, then they lost one match and they're out.

Personally, I think they should take only the top eight teams in the world and have them all play a round robbin series, which is more likely to produce a winner worthy of the title. The argument that the Cup helps the so-called “rugby minnow” nations (like Canada and the US) to gain international experience is just plain silly—that's what test matches are for. The World Cup should be about finding the real, true and actual best team in the world, not just the one that managed a few lucky games.

After a few weeks or months of agonising, attention will finally turn away from this loss. Then, attention will eventually turn toward the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which will be held here in New Zealand, and hopes will rise again. I understand that feeling: I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. But no matter what, I know the difference between professional sports and life, and that the former has no bearing on the latter. I just wish the pundits did, too.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A gay heavenly body

An asteroid between Mars and Jupiter has been renamed 7307 Takei in honour of openly gay actor George Takei, who is perhaps best known for playing Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series and movies. In it's description of the asteroid, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory “Small-Body Database” (where the picture above comes from) describes the human namesake, saying:

George Takei (b. 1937) is an actor best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek television series. He also has a lengthy record of public service through his involvement with organizations such as the Japanese American Citizens League and the Human Rights Campaign. The name was suggested by T. H. Burbine.

Other bodies named for Star Trek-related individuals are 4659 Roddenberry, named for Gene Roddenberry (creator of the various Star Trek series and movies) and 68410 Nichols, named for Takei's co-star Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura (and who had the first bi-racial kiss on American television).

But just how long do think it'll take for the frothing far right chistianists in America to go batshit crazy over the fact that when they look up into the heavens they could very well be looking at an object named after an openly-gay man?


Of all the lame-brained nonsense coming from the Bush White House, his veto of the S-CHIP measure to provide health insurance to children from low-income families, has got to be among the most inexplicable. Nearly three quarters of all Americans—Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike—support S-CHIP, but Bush vetoed it anyway.

Bush's reason for defying American voters is that the bill offended his neo-conservative belief in profit-motivated private health insurance, regardless of whether people can afford it. Sound harsh? remember that Bush once declared that children whose parents couldn't afford private health insurance could always be taken to emergency rooms for treatment.

This bill was not, despite Bush's claims, a step toward national health care in America. I wish it was. But I continue to believe that the children of poor and working class parents shouldn't be made to suffer while the larger debate over healthcare rages on.

Meanwhile, Bush gets hundreds of billions of dollars to fund his Iraq war, but refuses to spend money on sick children. Glad he has his priorities so in order.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Jake goes shopping

There aren't many places where you can bring a dog with you, but some pet shops allow it, and the one from which we adopted Jake is one of those shops. So when Jake needed another bag of puppy food, I decided to bring him along as a way of giving him “car time”.

As it happens, the vet is attached to the pet store, so I took Jake there first (gentlemen, you may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph) to make an appointment to have him de-sexed and microchipped. He, of course, was oblivious and just excited to be out and about.

Jake is six months old tomorrow, the age at which the vet said he could be microchipped. His small size meant it wasn't a good idea before then, despite the fact it's technically required at a younger age. Best wait, the vet said, and get everything done at once.

Jake was really excited in the store, not surprising with all the yummy (to a dog) smells. I was afraid he might help himself to a dried pig's ear (I am glad I'm not a dog...) in front of the checkout counter, but he didn't. I think he'd had about enough by then because he sat down and waited for me.

On the ride home, he lay on the seat, sometimes dozing, sometimes watching me. He travels well, actually, and outings like this help keep him in practice.

The photo with this post was taken a few weeks ago, but it's nicer than the one I took today.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

AmeriNZ #42 – Compromise

Episode 42 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 begin today by jokingly talking about changing my podcast's name to get higher in rankings (yes, I was kidding...).

I'm tired. The clocks have changed, which I say is unrelated. Still, things are going well. Mainly, today I talk about ENDA, compromise with conservatives, and troubles within America's fundie right wing. I tell you a little more about my past, as well as my political beliefs.

The rest of this episode is apparently the Eric Cast, sort of, as I talk about our war, uh rivalry, uh fellow podcastship-ness. Or whatever. Maybe I'm just tired. Comments let me comment, too. There might not be a podcast on Friday. I've now passed six months of podcasting.

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Toward conclusion

The Rugby World Cup is finally starting to wind down. Last night I saw an episode of “The Simpsons” I hadn't seen before. In it, Homer, as Joan of Arc's father, says:

“We're French: We don't have a word for 'victory'!”

Personally, I'm hoping that proves to be the case when New Zealand and France battle it out in Cardiff.

Also in that episode, Ned Flanders, as the King of Troy, receives the Greek's gift of a giant wooden horse and remarks, “From now on, whenever anyone gets wood, they'll think of Trojans”. That has nothing to do with the upcoming rugby match (unless I make a forced reference to the French needing protection); I just thought it was funny.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Same old National?

New Zealand's conservative National Party has long had an image problem. People believe that its central focus is privatising core government services (like health and education) and selling state assets—selling off everything that's not nailed down, as many put it. Lately, they've managed to reinforce that image.

National became identified with privatisation after neo conservatives siezed control of the Labour Party in the 1980s and began the work. While much of Labour's reforms were overdue following years of economic mismanagement by National Party Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, Labour was voted out by an electorate reeling from unrelenting economic upheaval. What Kiwis got was a National Party also under the control of neo cons who saw as their mission completing the work Labour began.

These upheavals were in the era of Reagan and Thatcher, of neo cons presenting their plans with the arrogant TINA dismissal: There Is No Alternative (as an aside, the neo cons were lying, of course, because there are always alternatives). Right up until they lost power in 1999, National was looking to sell state-owned assets and privatise government functions. By that time, the electorate had been victimised enough.

Labour came to power with a mandate to pull back. Since it's been in power, Labour has moved to put people—rather than just “The Market”—back into the equation when providing health and education. They bought back New Zealand's rail tracks, neglected by private companies. They bought back Air New Zealand, after private business nearly destroyed it. They reintroduced a state-owned bank, Kiwibank, after all the main trading banks in New Zealand came under Australian ownership, including former state-owned banks (Kiwibank was the initiative of coalition partner Jim Anderton, and has been a huge success). They mandated change in telecommunications and electricity supply, after National's hands-off, “let the market decide” created a mess that hurt ordinary Kiwis, as well as New Zealand's competitiveness in the world.

However, New Zealand voters eventually get sick of whoever's in power, and after eight years voters were looking for alternatives. A series of blunders and ministers doing stupid things didn't help matters, and National soared ahead in the polls.

Then, they started releasing policy.

So far, they've promised to sell-off “part” of state-owned assets. They released their health policy, and neglected to mention that they planned to remove caps on doctors' fees, letting them charge whatever they want, while keeping Labour's subsidies. They're again planning on having poor people “work for the dole”, despite that idea being a demonstrable failure here and overseas. Now they want private companies to build and own school buildings, renting them back to schools—at market rates, of course.

When there was a firestorm of protest at their health plans, National later claimed that it was only a discussion point. But to most people that claim sounded hollow, designed to limit damage. In fact, it looks like the same old National, preparing to unleash “market forces” (better known as the profit motive) on the health and education sectors. Encouraging privately-owned state schools is, of course, just one step shy of privatising education altogether, as they were planning to do under their former leader, Don Brash.

So, National has been slipping in the polls, and this was even before the latest plans at privatisation were announced. New Zealanders have had enough of the neo conservative policies of the 1980s and 1990s, and National is seeing that their party was only popular until they reminded people that neo con economics is the very heart and soul of the party.

So far, Labour hasn't benefited from this: National has lost ground in polling, but Labour hasn't picked up support. They deserve to. Sure, Labour hasn't been perfect, but they've kept a steady hand on the wheel of the ship of state. In addition to the things above, they kept us nuclear free and out of Iraq, two things about which National under Don Brash would have done the opposite. Despite the constant whingeing and moaning from the right, things are going great. I have absolutely zero confidence that a return to trickle down economics to benefit the rich and very rich would improve things, so I have zero confidence in National.

Today the conservative New Zealand Herald published an editorial critical of National, concluding:

The next election is a good year away. National still has plenty of time to capitalise on the voters' desire for change, and offer some compelling new ideas to make a change worthwhile. So far we have seen none.

If the Herald can be so critical of a party that takes so many of the positions they advocate, it's easy to see why voters are becoming increasingly sceptical of National. New Zealand has been there, done that, and they know damn well that there is an alternative.