Friday, November 30, 2007

AmeriNZ #58 - A Busy Friday

Episode 58 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 have a lot of work to do right now, so this is just a short catch-up episode.

Differences are emerging following the Australian election. Australia plans on withdrawing combat troops from Iraq by the middle of next year (New Zealand has never had combat troops in Iraq). The new government also plans to formally apologise to Aborgines for the Stolen Generation, something that defeated Prime Minister John Howard steadfastly refused to do.

In talking about the Aussie elections, I compared Australia with New Zealand and I said that it was more likely that New Zealand's Labour Party would be better positioned to form government than the National Party because Labour has more potential coalition partners. The next day, the New Zealand Herald published a front page story claiming that a new poll had found that if the election were held then, the National Party would win enough seats to govern alone—but does it really mean that? A week and a half earlier, a poll from rival Fairfax Media showed Labour up and National down.

All opinion polls are mere snapshots of one fleeting moment, but some are more worthy than others. For example, in the US the mainstream news media made a big deal out of a Zogby poll that claimed to show that Hillary Clinton would lose to any Republican. However, the poll was a worthless online poll and a Gallup poll released about the same time showed the opposite—that either Clinton or Obama could beat the Republicans. The Gallup poll was a real poll and had credibility, but the mainstream news media ignored it.

Since I'm an expat, it makes sense I should talk about that, so on Fridays I'm going to give you the Expat Briefing, telling you one thing about being an expat that I haven't really talked about before. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have, too.

Mentioned in this episode: Ramble Redhead

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

America At Its Best: That's Progressive

Text the Queen from a funeral

Stuff.co.nz had one of their silly online polls asking “where is the most inappropriate place to text?” The options were, a funeral, the movies, a meeting, driving in the car, a place of worship, a public toilet, in front of the queen.

And where do Stuff readers think is the more inappropriate place to text? A funeral won all day long. Personally, I would've thought that texting while driving was a wee bit more inappropriate (or, at least, stupid), but no.

The context for this is that the Grumpy Brigade has been beating up on Prime Minister Helen Clark for supposedly sending text messages during the Queen's speech to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Have you ever heard any of those speeches? Texting could provide some blessed relief.

At any rate, “In front of the queen” was thought to be the second most inappropriate place to text by Stuff readers who took part in the poll, which just reinforces the image of people who answer Stuff polls as having massive chips on their shoulders, waiting for any and every opportunity to stick it to the Prime Minister and the Labour-led Government. They're the Grumpy Brigade. They're also pretty thick, apparently.

As for me, I vote for whatever position I know will be opposite to the majority (whether I actually hold the position or not), and I do it from multiple computers just so I can mess with the results. I have utter contempt for online and phone-in polls, especially when the media pretend they have any validity whatsoever. This is my way of gaming the system.

Now, anyone have the Queen's cell number so I can text her from a funeral?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Outsource greed?

The directory assistance calls for New Zealand are to be outsourced to the Philippines, with a loss of about 100 New Zealand jobs. To me, this is just another corporate arrogance and greed.

Directory assistance is one aspect of the directories business that Telecom New Zealand sold last March for $2.24 billion to a private equity consortium. All entities that have “private equity” in their description seem to have greed as their mission, in my opinion. Generally speaking, private equity firms seem to be interested only in the maximum profit they can achieve, even if that means stripping all the assets out and destroying the company they bought.

I don't happen to believe the Yellow Pages Group's propaganda that New Zealand customers will have great service, and I definitely don't for one second believe that outsourcing to another country will provide service superior to what is available here in New Zealand. I don't think many New Zealanders do.

It's not just about language, though I think that will be a problem. It's also about culture, about understanding slang and idiom and all the other things you can't learn in a training course. A technical help desk is one thing, but telephone directory service is a different animal.

Maybe another company will enter the market, offering New Zealand-based directory service as their point of differentiation. Personally, I bet it'd be superior to any foreign service.

I just wish we could outsource corporate greed for a change.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

AmeriNZ #57 - Aussies and expats too

Episode 57 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.

The Australian election was held this past Saturday, and the changes were huge. But for GLBT people, the changes may not be so big. I also tell you a few more things about being an expat. Then, it's on to comments, including an audio comment from Nik-in-Paris, then the results of the latest poll on my blog. Finally, a listener tells me about a new sweepstakes where US listeners can enter to win a trip to New Zealand.

The results from my latest blog poll are in, answering the question: Regardless of what you actually have, do you think Christmas is better in hot weather or cold? Among 22 responses, 2 people or 9% favoured Hot weather, Cold weather was chosen by 15 (68%), I don't care by 3 (13%) and “What's this, a trick question promoting New Zealand summer?” by 2 (9%).

Take part in the new poll question about NZ alcoholic beverages.

Also mentioned in this episode:
My blog post Election lessons UPDATED
My blog post Howard's End
Nik-in-Paris Podcast #64.

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

President visits White House

Today the President visited the White House: Al Gore, the man who won the 2000 US Presidential election, was at the White House occupied by the man who lost, only to be installed in the office by the US Supreme Court. As surreal moments go, this is pretty high on the list.

Gore was visiting as one of the American Nobel Prize winners. I wish the visit would help remind people that Bush was installed as president after bad rulings from the Supreme Court and after what can charitably be called “irregularities” in the way that Republicans ran the 2000 election in Florida. That's not likely.

It's natural to suspect that the Republicans have been operating a vote suppression agenda, trying to manpulate laws to suppress votes from probable Democratic-leaning voters (the “Real ID” act for example), and following the politically-motivated firing of US Attorneys who weren't sufficiently aggressive in prosecuting (persecuting is a better word) Democrats for imaginary “voter fraud”. The hit man in that effort, Alberto Gonzales, is still under US Justice Department investigation amid charges he lied to Congress, a criminal offence. Gonzales' neocon allies have set up a “defense fund” to raise money to pay his legal bills.

My own bet is still that eventually several members of the Bush Administration will be convicted of various crimes, and my hope is that some will go to prison. I also suspect that had the man elected in 2000 actually been sworn in, none of that would be the case.

Meanwhile, there was great news today that arch-homophobe Republican Senator Trent Lott will retire from the Senate in January. The far-right Lott lost his job as Majority Leader when he made statements supporting racial segregation championed by Strom Thurmond. Though he back-pedalled furiously when the news broke, nothing could save Lott when even Bush couldn't overlook it. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Election lessons

As soon as the results of an election are known, the pundits swoop in to declare what it all means. They can't help themselves, but sometimes I really wish they would.

Most of the mainstream media on both sides of the Tasman have been focusing on concrete things, like Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. This pledge earned him an invitation to a UN meeting on climate change in Indonesia, which Australia had been banned from because of Howard's intransigence on Kyoto.

The Australian media have also been speculating on who Rudd will appoint to cabinet, while being fascinated that Australia will have its first female Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard (when Rudd is in Indonesia, she will be Acting Prime Minister, the closest Australia has gotten to a female Prime Minister).

In New Zealand, which has had two female Prime Ministers in a row, the reaction to the Rudd election has been positive. In particular, the Prime Minister must be looking forward to having a neighbour and close ally working on climate change and an agenda very similar to her own party's.

The only silliness on this side of the Tasman has been from amateur pundits or, predictably, the Opposition. The song goes something like this: Both Howard and Clark have been Prime Minister of their respective countries for around a decade, both are formidable campaigners and forceful leaders of their governments, and in both countries the Opposition led in the polls after changing leaders. So, therefore, Helen Clark will be toppled.

This is utter nonsense—and wishful thinking on the part of the Opposition and the Grumpy Brigade (made up of people who like to complain about Labour and Helen Clark almost reflexively).

First, the obvious: The two countries are separate and different. In 1996, Australia's Labor Government was defeated by Howard's conservatives. That same year, New Zealand re-elected a conservative Government led by the National Party. New Zealand's Labour Government wasn't elected until 1999.

A year is a long time in politics. The Opposition imagines it can go through an entire year without making a single mistake, without someone in their caucus saying something stupid. Those are pretty incredible assumptions.

Which is not to say that Labour will be reelected; again, the election is about a year away. Labour can do or say something stupid, too, of course. But no one should write Labour's obituary yet, and for one very good reason: Labour has plenty of options for coalition partners, but National would probably have to win enough seats to govern alone, and no party has been able to do that since elections under MMP began in 1999.

There was certainly a high level of anti-Howard voting going on, but it's simplistic in the extreme to suggest that was the only motivator. Australian voters simply liked Labor's message better. That's the way elections work: The party that best presents what voters want will win.

So, the results in the Australian election mean nothing for New Zealand (or the US presidential elections either, for that matter). Not that that will stop the pundits from trying to say it does mean something. They can't help themselves.

Update 28/11/07: A new poll published today by the New Zealand Herald claims that if the election were held right now, the conservative National Party would win enough votes to govern alone. The story was splashed large on their front page (no surprise, that), but despite the hype, it doesn't really mean what the Herald implies since Labour was barely down and National was barely up. They could also probably use a gentle reminder: The election is still a year away and any poll numbers today won't stay the same. The only thing that was interesting about the poll results was the sudden drop in support for the Green Party. If that continues, it could possibly indicate trouble for the Labour-led government—a year from now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard's End

Australian voters ended John Howard's eleven and a half years as Prime Minister and brought in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and its leader, Kevin Rudd, to form a new government. Howard's conservative Coalition was first elected not long after I arrived in New Zealand.

Howard's concession speech ended on a gracious note, after earlier partisan jabs, saying "I wish the government elected by the people today the very best of good fortune in the years ahead." Earlier in the speech, he said "I accept full responsibility for the Liberal Party campaign and I therefore accept full responsibility for the Coalition's defeat in this election campaign." Some pundits have said that having to campaign in his own electorate seat took his attention away from the national campaign and marginal seats that the ALP ultimately won. In the end, Howard appears certain to have lost his own seat, too.

The issues that defeated Howard's government were varied, including Howard's unpopular labour laws, inaction on climate change and other issues. Howard attempted to frighten Aussie voters into supporting the Coalition, but unlike previous years the effort fell flat. The ALP's commitment to an “education revolution” also interested many voters.

In his victory statement, Kevin Rudd said “I will be Prime Minister for all Australians.” In the campaign he said Howard's labour laws will be reformed, and his first action will be to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

For the US, this means the Bush Administration has lost its last staunch supporter among major allies. Australia will withdraw its troops from Iraq. Also, the US will be completely isolated on climate change, both through its continued refusal to act in any meaningful way, and especially through its refusal to ratify Kyoto.

I doubt there'll be any change in the relationship between Australia and New Zealand.

Gay and lesbian Australians won't be played as pawns by the ALP, but I don't expect to see any dramatic favourable change. Howard's government moved to outlaw same-sex marriage (as a wedge issue in electoral politics), and consistently prevented the establishment of civl unions. There's unlikely to be any change on marriage, but states may at least get the power to create civil unions if they want to.

I was never a fan of John Howard or his right-wing government. I'm not sorry to see either go. But to me, the greatest thing is watching democracy in action. Last night we stayed up until around 1am (NZ time), until Rudd's speech was aired, watching the change as it happened. I know that'd be the height of boredom to many people, but for me witnessing the power of democracy is something I'll watch any time I can, especially if it affects me in some way (and what happens in Australia always affects New Zealand).

I have to admit, though, I always like democracy just a little bit more when I agree with election results. This morning, democracy is a close friend of mine.

Friday, November 23, 2007

AmeriNZ #56 - Kiwi Thanksgiving

Episode 56 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.

Today I mostly tell you about my odd Thanksgiving Day in New Zealand, which was unusual, even for me. This gives me a chance to tell you about Auckland's poor public transport system. The US Ambassador to New Zealand is a good one. Then there's a visit to The Commonwealth: It suspended Pakistan until democracy is restored. Then, the Queen visited Uganda to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and visited people with HIV/AIDS. Finally, there's even something about the Australian elections, which will be held tomorrow. No comments today, but those will return on Tuesday, along with a wrap-up on the Australian election.

The closing music today is “Regifting for the Holidays” by The Alice Project from the Podsafe Music Network.

Leave a comment or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Home for the holidays

To me, there's no time when expats are more likely to miss their homeland than at the holidays. Which holidays those are will vary from person to person, depending on their circumstances, background, and so on. For me, without a doubt that holiday is Thanksgiving.

Maybe that sounds weird. After all, I'm exactly where I want to be. I have a great life filled with love and happiness and I really don't want anything—I am home. And yet this one day, uniquely among American holidays, makes me keenly aware of what I don't have or, more accurately, what I have to recreate in a distant land.

The thing I think is weird about it is that Thanksgiving has really mixed memories for me. I have wonderful, happy and vivid childhood memories, complete with smells, tastes, sights and sounds, but I also have tragedy: My father died on Thanksgiving Day many years ago, shortly after my mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

In the years after my parents' passing, Christmas became a whirlwind of visits to partners' families or my own, when what I really wanted was to celebrate at home. Eventually, I came to care less about that as I cared less about Christmas itself. But Thanksgiving remained because it was more likely to be the holiday we could spend at home.

Then I moved to New Zealand, where Thanksgiving is a curiosity at best, and unknown at worst.

Some years, I would try and approximate a Thanksgiving dinner using local ingredients for the American ones I couldn't get. One year Nigel and I went to Denny's because on their menu, largely the same as in America, they had “Turkey Dinner”, which was an okay American diner-style version. I think a couple years I basically ignored the holiday, since it was just another Kiwi work day.

In recent years, Thanksgiving has mattered more to me than it did in my early years here. Maybe that's me reconnecting with my roots, or maybe it's that I'm so comfortable and secure in my “Kiwi-ness” that I can add back the one American tradition that I now find matters very much to me.

But I also think it doesn't do anyone any harm to spend one day a year reflecting on what one is thankful for, and that's part of what my Thanksgiving is. For me, that also means being thankful for what I no longer have, like my parents. I don't feel sad that they or others are gone, but grateful that I had them at all (and not just because I wouldn't be here if my parents hadn't been). Thanksgiving, then, is a celebration of all that's good about life and being alive.

There's one thing I've never done that I've always wanted to, and that's to host a Thanksgiving dinner for fellow expat Americans. I hope one day that'll happen.

In the meantime, I was actually wrong earlier in this post. I said that I don't want anything, and that's not true: I want everyone to experience love and happiness, and I want them to have one day a year when they can be truly thankful for it. You don't need a holiday for that, but it helps.

Related: Thanksgiving Downunder (my post from 2006)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AmeriNZ #55 - Being an expat

Episode 55 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.

Today I talk about being an expat, based largely on my own experience. I tell you somethings a new expat can expect to feel, both good and bad. I also tell you how it resolves itself, eventually turning into “home”. I also share some of my general feelings about being an expat and what that all means. After comments from Episode 54, I say a little about my Kiwi Thanksgiving. Finally it's a slightly revised version of my 30 second podcast promo. There may not be a podcast on Friday. We'll see.

Leave a comment here or send an email to me at amerinz{at)yahoo.com. You can also ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Mentioned in this episode, posts from my blog:

Twelfth Anniversary

Eleven Years an Expat

Ex but not ex-

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Monday, November 19, 2007

John Howard and God

Embattled Australian Prime Minister John Howard chose a speech to a Korean Christian church in his electorate to imply that his conservative coalition government is more Christian, closer to his God, than the Opposition is:

"I'm not suggesting that God is either Liberal or Labor. He is neither. But I am suggesting that the influence of Christianity in such policies as families, individual responsibility ... personal choice and free enterprise sit very comfortably with the values of my party."

This isn't the first time Howard has tried to appeal to “Christian” voters. Previously he used the Karl Rove-like tactic of raising the spectre of same-sex marriage as a wedge issue. This time out, it looks like an act of desperation: Howard's coalition is trailing the Australian Labor Party in all opinion polls, some of which are indicating that Howard will lose his own electorate seat.

But wouldn't it be funny if it turned out that God was an Aborigine?

Japan's floating butchery

The Japanese whaling fleet set sail for their annual whale slaughter. This isn't new, of course, except this year they plan on ignoring a 40-year ban on slaughtering humpback whales.

No one in the civilised world takes Japan seriously when it claims to be conducting “scientific research” on whales, so why they persist in lying about what they're doing is beyond me. Maybe they're delusional.

This year, there will likely be human death in the waters of Antarctica, too. Greenpeace is pledging to disrupt the whale slaughter, and extremist groups are likely to show up, too, ones not reluctant to use violence. Under international law, New Zealand, as the closest nation to the slaughter, will be required to come to the aid of any stricken vessel. Ironic, isn't it? Japan openly flouts international law on whaling, but New Zealand will obey the rule of law to provide assistance at sea.

Japan is the very definition of hypocrisy when it denies that it's hunting and slaughtering whales. But it's also guilty of nationalistic hubris because apparently the reason they risk the enmity of the entire world is that they feel their culture is being threatened. Yes, and they normally put to sea in traditional whaling craft, don't they?

I am definitely not a supporter of animal rights activists. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan (I'm an omnivore, actually). But you don't have to be any of those things to see that slaughtering whales is just plain wrong, and Japan is lying about what it's doing.

It's time for the nations of the world start placing sanctions on Japan until they start obeying international law. Sadly, I don't expect that to happen. The slaughter will continue and some people will foolishly take violent action against the Japanese whaling fleet. And all over some lies about overblown nationalistic pride.

Related: CBS News - Australia, New Zealand Protest Whale Hunt

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Offensiveness in the air (waves)

This won't be even remotely surprising, but I think that far right christianists are funny. Maybe unintentionally, but funny nevertheless.

New Zealand's free-to-air TV3 has started airing the series “Californication” late in the evening during “adults only” time, and the frothing faithful have not been happy about it. Outraged calls to talkback radio followed the airing of the first episode, and the far right has demanded the show be pulled, along with the usual threats of boycotts of advertisers.

Sadly, some companies have apparently pulled their advertising, but the far right christianist group “Family First” is beside itself that the NZ Police has not pulled its advertising from the show. The group's head told the media, "Sadly and perhaps ironically, the police who advertised during the first episode and who are dealing with some of the increase in sexual crime, offensive language and behaviour and drug crimes promoted and normalised by this type of programme have said they are unwilling to remove their advertising."

Let's look at a couple bits of that for a little fun. He says the police are dealing with “increase in sexual crime...promoted and normalised by this type of programme”. Sexual activity is not the same thing a “sexual crime”, except to his group any activity outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, and they probably think it should be a crime. He says the police are dealing with “offensive language”. Really? When did the NZ Police start arresting people for using blue language? I'd really like to know since nearly everyone I know could be at risk of arrest.

The point, of course, is that the programme doesn't “promote” any of the things the christiansts say it does. It depicts some of them, but that's not the same thing as promoting them. We adults are a bit more sophisticated and intelligent than the christianists give us credit for, and we don't take our television programmes to be guidebooks for living.

If the far right means to suggest that it influences children and youth—which is no more likely—despite it being aired during “adults only” time, then that's also none of their business. Parents have the ultimate responsibility for what their children watch on TV and it's weak of the christianists to demand that someone else do the hard work of censoring for them. The most powerful and effective tool for parental censorship is still the simplest: It's called the “off” switch.

To me, the offensiveness here is self-appointed, self-righteous “moral guardians” trying to decide what we can and cannot see on television. So, I'm going to engage in a “buycott” and go out of my way to support advertisers they're opposing. Still, just in case the wingnuts were telling the truth, I don't think I'll swear in front of a cop.

Friday, November 16, 2007

AmeriNZ #54 – Big Giant Head

Episode 54 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 with a few words about Tuesday's podcast. Then a couple domestic news items. It's confirmed: I'm a Big Giant Head, or I write like one. Then I talk a bit about the Australian election, and then how some Maori activists need to study public relations. I tell you about Episode 55, which will be largely based on a listener request. There probably won't be a podcast on Fridayof next week.

Be sure to vote in the poll on my blog!

Leave a comment, send an email to me at amerinz(at}yahoo.com, or ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

Closing music: “Bill O'Reilly: The Legend of the Big Giant Head” by David Ippolito from the Podsafe Music Network.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

It's Genius, I tell you

Ever since Eric over at Confessions of a etc., etc. told me to suck it over our podcast ranking rivalry, it's been war—war, I tell you! Well, the tables are turning.

Since he's switched his feed away from Podomatic, over the past few days my podcast has again become the number one ranked personal journal podcast on Podomatic's internal daily rankings. It's only a matter of time until I'm again number one overall (cue evil laugh).

So today, I go over to his site and see there's a thingee showing the “reading level” of his blog. “College (Undergrad)”, it said. Not bad. So then I followed the link and had my blog evaluated:

cash advance

Little ol' me with only a bachelor of arts degree writing like a bleedin' genius. Ha! Of course a completely plausible explanation is that I'm just a pretentious queen with a good thesaurus. Nah, I'll take genius.

Update 18 November: After adding only two posts, the reading level of my blog dropped to "College (Postgrad)". Who knew a more conversational post and one somewhat fragmented post could have such a devastating effect? And so I must endeavour to raise the level of vocabulary in this venture so as to avoid further linguistic descent, however quixotic that effort may be revealed to be. (there, that should have raised the level a bit...)


Because fair is fair, turnabout is fairplay and all that, I bring you this story.

Yesterday I was doing my morning ablutions, and this particular day included using the hair clippers in the main bathroom. A little more fluffing about the house and I was ready to take my shower. There was no hot water. I tried running the taps to convince the continuous flow hot water heater to start up, but that failed, as it did at every other tap I tried (what's that I hear you muttering about the definition of insanity? Bah! I was just checking everything to narrow the problem).

After checking the taps, the next thing was to go to check the gas bottles (LPG) and the heater itself. I went outside in a pair of sweatpants and a towel draped over my shoulders so I didn't risk inflicting the ghastly vision of myself on the neighbours (who weren't there, anyway). The bottles were full (as they should have been, since they were just refilled). The gas heater looked normal. I flicked the power switch, just in case, tried all the taps again, still nothing.

I tried the kitchen tap, which is on its own gas heater, and that worked fine, so there was no problem with the gas. I also checked the circuit breaker to make sure that nothing was tripped.

So, having checked out everything I could think of, I rang the authorised service agent for the water heater. They were fully booked-out for the day, and probably Friday as well. When I told them we had no hot water, we went onto the “priority” list.

The guy arrived around 3.30 that afternoon, checked the heater and determined there was no power going to it (electricity is used to light the gas to heat the water as it's used; very energy-efficient, but it does need power). He told me to ring the power company to make sure there was no load management in the area (in which they send a signal to shut off electric water heaters to reduce electricity demand). The gas man thought that our gas heater might be hooked up to the power for the old electric hot water heater, and so, might be turned off. Turns out, there was no load management, so the gas man said I'd need to ring an electrician to find the fault.

Back on the phone. The first electrician couldn't come until the morning. The second couldn't come, but recommended another. He couldn't come, but recommended I try still another. At first, I wasn't impressed with him, if I'm honest, because after I explained the problem he was saying he didn't think it was a problem an electrician would work on, so I explained it a couple more times until he got it.

Then he asked, “Is there a power point in your bathroom?” (a power point is a called something like a “wall outlet” in America). There is. “Is it working?” I said I thought so, but I'd go check. As I walked, he explained that very often the electricity for water heaters is connected to the bathroom.

When I got there and looked, I immediately saw that the little blue breaker switch for the GFI circuit was tripped. I reset it, turned on the tap and the hot water returned. I told him he was the first person to mention that, he chuckled and said, “no charge!”

Apparently, the GFI breaker for the bathroom is the one in the power point; there's nothing in the main panel as there used to be. Because this has never happened before, I had no idea the electric ignition for the hot water heater was controlled by that breaker, but it makes sense because there's water there, after all. I also learned that the power for the en suite (“master bathroom” in Americanese) is also controlled by that GFI breaker. I hadn't noticed because I didn't use any power in there (the lights, of course, are on their own circuit).

Thinking back, I remember doing something very unusual for me: I unplugged the clippers while they were still running (normally, I switch them off, then switch off the power point and unplug the clippers). I have no idea why I did that, but it must have been enough to trip the breaker and I didn't notice or hear it (thinking back, again, I wonder if I did hear it pop, but it didn't register; or, is that just beating myself up?).

So, the whole thing was my fault. The cause was my own stupidity. I, too, do stupid things.

Since I spend so much time and so many words making fun of Bush and the neo-cons or the far right christianists, I thought it was only fair to make fun of myself. Clearly, nobody's perfect. C'est la vie.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

CNN busted

CNN is so busted! TMPtv (via TPM's Horse's Mouth site) has produced this video showing precisely how CNN, that supposed reputable source of news, used "creative editing" to make US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declare that "Congress hasn't done anything." Trouble is, that's not what she really said, her context was specific and her words didn't support the slant of CNN's story. What I don't get is how on earth CNN thought they could get away with this. If you want to know what's at the heart of my criticism of the mainstream news media, this video is pretty much a textbook example.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bush to sneak in homophobe

Bush is about to strike again, using a recess appointment to install arch-homophobe James Holsinger as Surgeon General (via Joe.My.God). Holsinger will be able to serve in the position until the end of 2008.

Holsinger gained notoriety for writing an incredibly stupid paper in which he claimed, among other things, that—like plumbing—humans only “fit” one way (male and female), sexually speaking, and anything else would inevitably lead to disease (no, I'm not making that up). He also founded a church, part of which is dedicated to the “ex-gay” scam.

Some would argue that recess appointments are a well-used tactic by presidents, and that's true. But using it to install as surgeon general a spectacularly unqualified, bigoted ideologue who couldn't win Congressional confirmation is as underhanded as it is despicable. But, then, we can expect nothing else from Bush.

Meanwhile, the US has set new records for sexual infections among heterosexuals. Apparently Holsinger will need a new plumber.

Related: My earlier post on Holsinger.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AmeriNZ #53 – Politics with Jason

Episode 53 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.

Jason's back (he was last on Episode 20) for an extra-long episode where we have a wide-ranging talk about all sorts of things relating to politics. We begin by talking about a theme Jason sometimes writes about on his blog, namely the way soldiers in Iraq tend to be forgotten, and about how if this is a war, how come only the soldiers and their families are called to sacrifice? The poor treatment of the soldiers is the fault of both Bush and Congress, and this has nothing to do with supporting the war itself.

Then it's on to a talk about Bush's assault on the Constitution and the foolishness of their actions. This leads into talk about torture and the “war” on terror.

After a brief interruption, it's on to the 2008 election, first up Ron Paul and his weird use of Guy Fawkes to raise money. Are Hillary's “negatives” real? Guiliani and others get a mention, too. I'm not a big fan of the presidential selection system, but I see some positive possibilities with the change in primary dates. Jason's less convinced. I tell you what I think historians will say is the great tragedy of the Bush administration.

We leave on a hopeful note, about how we can steer the world to a better place in many ways by moving away from fossil fuels and toward energy independence. Hey, I said it was a wide-ranging talk!

Leave a comment, or ring my US-based listener line, 206-339-8413. You can also send an email to me at amerinz[at}yahoo.com. Join my e-mailing list to find out when episodes are released.

Mentioned in this episode: Jason's "Those We've Lost" series of posts.

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Fellow American expat Darren, who with his wife Dawn was on my AmeriNZ Podcast episode 32, is taking part in Movember fundraiser (thanks to Dawn for blogging about this).

This annual event raises funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation by having men gain sponsorship and grow a moustache (a “mo”) during the month of November. It began in Australia as a way of raising awareness of, and money for, men's health issues, and it's now spread across the planet.

And men's health issues need all the attention they can get. According to the Movember site, “Every year in New Zealand 2,656 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and about 600 die of the disease, making prostate cancer the second largest cause of male cancer deaths, after lung cancer.”

In general, men are reluctant to see a doctor for any health issue, and probably nothing frightens men more than a prostate check. Yet if it's caught early, prostate cancer is treatable and often curable.

Movember seeks to raise awareness of men's health issues as well as raise funds. Again from the Movember site, “donations are made directly to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand who will use the funds to create awareness, increase support networks for those men who suffer from prostate cancer, fund research and scholarship programs.”

It's a great cause, and a solid, recognisable and effective charity, but one we've never supported before.

So this year, Nigel and I are sponsoring Darren, and you can, too, by going to his “Sponsor a Mo” page (then just click on the little blue “Sponsor” link). All donations over $5 are tax-deductible within New Zealand; I have no idea what the rules are for overseas donors, but should that really be the main concern?

Movember is a bit of fun with a serious and positive result. I hope you'll join us in sponsoring Darren.


I've had plenty of jobs where I've said—only half-jokingly—that a nap lounge should be installed. I always found that early afternoon crash hard to get through.

Well, a column published on Yahoo! Health confirms that there's good reason for napping.

Apparently, “power naps” ranging from 5 to no more than 30 minutes (depending on the person) have benefits including “enhanced cognitive function, better reaction time, more patience, stress relief, and better overall health,” as well as being “one of the best ways to lower stress on your heart”.

In societies descended from Northern Europe, napping is seen as a sign of sloth. Yet there have been many famous people who napped, including “some of the best minds in history, such as Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison”. Those people were certainly not lazy slackers.

In a post last February, I mentioned a CBS News report that 15 percent of 24-hour US companies were encouraging naps. So, at least some companies see the value of napping.

Even so, despite the evidence of napping's benefits, the examples of highly-productive nappers and the companies that value both, I don't expect our culture as a whole to suddenly see the light. I used to share that dominant view. When I was younger, I hated the idea of napping and thought it was a waste of time. Now that I'm a bit older, I see the attraction as well as the value—and I find naps come much easier than they used to.

At least now I can say that I'm working on my health—as long as it's not at work, of course.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Completing repairs

Just a little over four months after the weatherbomb that blew a tree onto our house, the repairs are nearly complete. Finally.

A couple weeks ago, a company came and erected scaffolding (pictured—it's about three storeys high at the far end). And there it sat.

Last week, the plasterer came to repair the damage from when the tree fell and scraped down the back of the house. A few days later, the painter came to paint the repaired plaster (if you look under the window toward the middle of the photo, you may see a shiny, lighter area; that's the new paint, which the painter said will fade to match the look of the existing paint. The colour is a great match, despite what the photo makes it look like).

Today, the roofers came and replaced the damaged bits of roofing iron (which is actually steel, but that's another story). The roofing material has been sitting in the little courtyard next to the garage (intended for additional parking or for a boat or something) for the better part of a month. It was delivered by a big truck with a crane to lift it off and lay it on the ground.

On Wednesday, another contractor (the fifth, if you count the scaffolding company) is due to come and install the spouting (what we called “guttering” in America). And then, the repairs will be complete. The scaffolding will be removed soon after that and then, finally, it'll all be done.

Four months later.

Jake's pleased to get that courtyard back, unobstructed. Okay, so I have no idea if he's pleased or not, but I would be if I were him. Or, maybe not.

The main thing is that these repairs are nearly done. I'd be quite happy if this was our once-in-a-lifetime encounter with storm damage, but somehow I doubt we'll be that lucky.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

Today is a special day in history. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, at Compi├Ęgne, France, hostilities on the Western Front of World War One officially ended when an armistice was signed. Hostilities in other areas continued for awhile afterward, and the war didn't actually end until the infamous Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year.

The allied nations, including the US and the British Empire, once observed this day as Armistice Day, but after World War Two it became Veterans' Day in the US and Remembrance Day in the British Empire. Many Commonwealth countries continue to observe Remembrance Day, and some people continue to have two minutes silence at 11am.

The day is longer the main war remembrance day in New Zealand or Australia, having been overshadowed by Anzac Day. But pretty much wherever you go in New Zealand you'll find a war memorial, especially to “The Glorious Dead” of World War One. New Zealand's suffering and loss from that war was horrific.

It bothers me sometimes that the horror and utter pointlessness of World War One is often forgotten in modern times, especially in the US where it's increasingly being forgotten. Yet that war ushered in the twentieth century and its unprecedented thirst for blood spilled in war. So far in the twenty first century we haven't managed to equal the horror and evil of the last century, but maybe that's just from lack of opportunity.

It's World War One—its futility, its devastation and the arrogance of the people who started it—that I think of when the current American administration rattles their sabres, as it is so keen to do, and especially when little Bush talks of World War Three.

As the saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Maybe we all need Remembrance Day.

Photo: This photograph was taken in the forest of Compi├Ęgne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I. This railcar was given to Ferdinand Foch for military use by the manufacturer, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. Foch is second from the right. (Photo caption text and image from Wikipedia).

Friday, November 09, 2007

AmeriNZ #52 - Fast Friday

Episode 52 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.

Finally, a shorter episode! I recorded today during my lunch break (don't worry, there aren't any eating sounds). Today I catch-up on the things I didn't time for over the past week, like comments, but I also give you updates on some things I've talked about on earlier episodes.

Any Australians want to take part in an episode? Let me know. I tell you about some upcoming episodes, and a couple things about earlier ones. What's my most-downloaded episode to date? I'm planning another guest show for Tuesday.

I'm also a guest on ArcherRadio Group Shows for Thursday and Friday of this week.

Leave a comment, or ring my US-based listener line, 206-339-8413. You can also send an email to me at amerinz[at}yahoo.com.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

AmeriNZ #51 – Mark from Slap

Episode 51 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.

Oh! Canada! It's an extra long episode today, as I talk with Mark from one of my favourite sites, Slap Upside the Head. Mark is Canadian, currently living in Montreal. We talk about all sorts of things, like his growing up in Canada, and something of what the country is like. Are gay rights really better in Canada? What can the Canadian experience teach American activists? We fit in some talk about terrorism, the influence of right wing religionists, and even sports! Canada, the US and New Zealand all get some compare and contrast action.

Leave a comment or call my US listener line on 206-339-8413. And, you can always 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.

A couple Slaps we talked about:

Peace Activist Ejected By Church

Point/CounterPoint: The Dumbledore Controversy

My "Guest Slap" on Mark's site called It's All About Maps

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Twilight for Guy Fawkes?

It may be that Guy Fawkes is fading in New Zealand. Last year, I wrote how I just don't get its relevance here.

It essentially celebrates the foiling of a plot by Catholics to topple the Protestant King of England and the Protestant aristocracy. Given its focus on the English monarchy and ruling elite (England at the time offered very little power to common people) along with its strong anti-Catholic message, what relevance does that have to modern New Zealand?

Of course, to modern New Zealanders (especially those born here), Guy Fawkes is nothing more than a fireworks extravaganza. The historic roots, having so little relevance here, are largely ignored. But the last remaining tenuous link with England's Guy Fawkes Day may soon be broken.

This year, the government shortened the sale period for fireworks from 10 days to four days prior to Guy Fawkes (November 5), and raised the purchase age from 14 to 18. A complete ban is still possible, as the Fire Service and SPCA want, but the government may wait and see how this year went. It's been a cool, rainy weekend over most of New Zealand, and that's helped reduce the risk of fires.

Ironically, there were injuries this year at official public fireworks displays, long promoted as an alternative to personal fireworks. Taken together—these injuries and the wet weather—I'd guess that Guy Fawkes will probably limp along for a couple more years, but I say it's inevitable that one day people in New Zealand will no longer “remember, remember the fifth of November.”

Saturday, November 03, 2007

AmeriNZ #50 - Fabulous

Episode 50 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 the 50th episode of the AmeriNZ Podcast! I also commemorate the twelfth anniversary of my arrival in New Zealand to live, and it's the date Nigel and I take as our anniversary, too.

Today, I share some memories of my arrival in NZ. I also give you a behind-the-scenes look at what went into the creation of my podcast. I then have comments, before moving on to some time with Nigel. Intermixed are phone messages I received, plus plenty of things I've never played publicly before.

I also move the curtain so you can see some of the behind-the-scenes magic. The jet landing sound effect has been part of the intro since episode one, as has the Morse Code. I also tell you about some of what led to the creation of the podcast.

Thanks for your support over the first 50 episodes! I hope to make the next 50 better and better.

Mentioned on this episode:

Ramble Redhead where I was a guest (part one)

Ramble Redhead where I was a guest (part two)

WinMorse code generator

The Holiday Time post from 2006

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Twelfth Anniversary

Twelve years ago today I arrived in New Zealand to live. It was an extremely hot, sunny day when I emerged from the airport. Nigel had just started a new job and couldn't meet me, so I took an airport shuttle to the house, got the key that Nigel hid for me, and went inside.

Leading in from the front door was a path of laser printed sheets, one letter per sheet. They spelled out "Welcome Home". I knew I was.

In the early years, there were times I missed America so much that I quite literally ached. But over time, that feeling eased, helped, if I'm honest, by the introduction to New Zealand of familiar American brands like Ritz Crackers, Oreo Cookies and Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice. Mind you, it wasn't that I actually wanted those products—it was just that seeing them made me feel somehow more at home, and in those early days I'd take help assimilating wherever I could find it.

Since that time, we've been back to America twice, and we'll be back again eventually. We've bought and sold houses, I've changed jobs a few times, and become used to driving on the left side of the road. I have, in short, built a life.

I'm asked from time to time if I miss America, and that's not an easy question to answer. Of course I miss the friends and family I left behind, and there are places in America that are very special to me. Sometimes I miss them, too. But really, how can I miss something that in so many ways I carry in my heart? I may not live there, but I still love the country of my birth. Not even Bush/Cheney/Congressional Republicans can change that, try though they may.

Of course, I love this country, too. It took a chance on me when it let me move here; I hope that I've justified that faith. I love my life here, and I love my Nigel. For me, that trumps everything.

My post on my eleventh “Expataversary” is here.

A related post on being an expat is here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

AmeriNZ #49 - HalloweeNZ

Episode 49 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.

A short special extra episode today (so that Friday's is episode 50, to be honest). Do we have Halloween in New Zealand? What about trick-or-treating? Or, is it all just “creeping Americanism”? People still try to promote Halloween in NZ, but, as I wrote last year, I think it's probably already peaked in New Zealand.

After that, I tell you about the cabinet reshuffle and the promotion of a gay cabinet minister. Comments, a couple announcements, and that's it.

Be back tomorrow with episode 50.

You can leave a comment on my lister line: 206-339-8413, or here.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes